New York- a short photo story

Central Park NYC

Belvedere Castle in Central Park with Bean.

Open Loop NYC

Bean’s favorite activity of all…riding a hop on/ hop off bus around the city… sitting on top of the bus.

The Lady

Viewing the Statue of Liberty by the Staten Island Ferry.

Children's Room at NYPL

A must do…visit to the New York Public Library.

Macy's NYC

Hotdogs and Macy’s, a New York experience

Freedom Tower NYC

Freedom Tower NYC

Minimalist Souvenirs

Minimalist Souvenirs

I believe most minimalist that I am familiar with do not buy souvenirs when on vacation. Someone said your vacation is your souvenir. Maybe they are right. However, I like to buy souvenirs. While I do not like to get little trinket items for myself, I do like to buy things for other people. While not everyone will want something from somewhere that I have been, there are a few special people who will feel cared for and thought about when given something thoughtful from our travels.

Honestly, I despise souvenir shops with the names of whatever location plastered on lots of cheap items that are made in China. Depending on whom I happen to be traveling with, these places can be difficult to avoid completely. If I happen to be in a shop like this and find postcards that are inexpensive, I will buy a few. I have friends who enjoy collecting postcards and this would be a thoughtful gift for them.

My favorite place to look for souvenirs is the grocery store or local market. It may seem an unlikely place, however, there is a wealth of interesting products. (Oh, the grocery store is my favorite place to go anyway). You can always find items that the local people use every day. For instance, on our trip to Costa Rica, I bought season packets for Gallo Pinto, one of the national dishes of the country. Of course the instructions were written in Spanish, but for anyone interested in using the mix there were also pictures.

For New York, I have no idea what I will bring back. In Paris, there are Eiffel Tower key chains I can haggle with the Senegalese for a better price. In New Orleans, there is the beignet mix from Café du Monde. The list goes on.

I am not a shopper. I have never been interested in spending hours in shops looking for stuff I don’t need. I truly don’t know what the attraction of buying souvenirs for people is, but I really enjoy it. It is like a treasure hunt. If you have been to New York and bought simple, interesting souvenirs, what did you buy? What do you recommend?

Travel Planning- New York City

Every year, my department closes for a week in the summer so that the individuals who participate in the services offered can go to camp. That means VACATION for me! This year I decided that Bean and I would go to the Big Apple. I wanted to make the trip last year, but we were not able to fit it in. We have time now and we will be going with my mother.

I always like to let Bean know that we are going on vacation at least a week in advance so that she can get mentally prepared to take a plane and be in a new location. I told her with three weeks to go this time. I now realize that it was much to soon. The first thing that she said when I told her we would be going to New York City is, “I’m so excited! I get to see the talking animals!” I stopped for a minute and thought “What?” Then it dawned on me she was speaking of the zoo animals from the movie Madagascar. I told her, “No honey, remember, the talking animals went into the wild.” We had to watch the movie so that she could see for herself that the animals really left the zoo.

This trip was much more difficult to plan than Costa Rica or any of the places that we went last year. I always set a budget for a trip and the cost of a decent hotel room for a week in New York   threatened to blow the whole budget. I feel like I will need a vacation from my vacation because the planning has been so intense.

Here are a few things that I have done to make Bean and my mother’s first trip to New York City truly memorable and fit our budget

1. Airline

For those of you who haven’t flown a budget airline like Spirit before, I highly recommend that you try them. The thing that I like about them is that you go with the expectation of receiving nothing but a seat and that is exactly what you get. Whereas, if you try another airline, you might expect to get at least a free drink and not even get that and you are disappointed.

I chose to fly with Spirit because the tickets were super cheap and being a minimalist, I do not need to a carry on. Bean has her backpack. I have my tote and my mother will have her tote as well. That is all we need…along with a seat.

2. Lodging

So that the most fun we will have won’t be looking at the walls of a hotel room, I did A LOT of looking for a place to stay. I looked at budget hotels, hotel deals, hostels, and Airbnb. The best option for us was Airbnb. (It is air bed and breakfast for those who don’t know). That didn’t prove too easy either as the first few people I asked seemed to be a little apprehensive about having my delightful Bean in their home.

I did find a place that seems to be on a lovely street in a decent neighborhood. We are not as close to Midtown as I would like, but for my mother and Bean, the location looks good. If you have not used the service before, make sure that the references are good and the host communicates with you. If you just want a cheap place to lay your head at night, then any listing will do.

I was sharing with a friend that we would be using Airbnb in NYC and Bean overheard me. She proceeded to tell anyone who would listen, “We are going to New York City and we are going to have breakfast in bed!” My mother and I are going to make that happen for her on at least a couple of mornings

3. Transportation

As my previous posts state, I am not a fan of driving in a big city when there is public transportation available. I don’t often take cabs, and have never tried Uber, so we will be using the transit system. For a week of unlimited rides, we will pay $30. I don’t know how that can be beat. I am looking forward to people watching and comparing the users of this system to the one that I take on a daily basis.

 4. Activities

This is the second area that threatened to blow our vacation budget. I wanted my mother to see a Broadway show, just because that is something you MUST do when in New York. She said she didn’t need to see one. I was fortunate to find discount tickets through travelzoo.com.

There are many websites with information on how to have a great time in New York City without spending your life savings, but the best one I found, I stumbled upon it by accident. When visiting Paris a few years ago, I came by chance on a tour group that was pay-what-you-want. I did my search and found it again. There may be others, www.freetoursbyfoot.com is amazing. They have a wealth of information on boat and ferry rides, museums, theaters, bus tours, walking and bike tours and so much more. I highly recommend looking at this site.

Here you have it, my basic list of everything that I did to make this trip as amusing and inexpensive as possible. While on vacation, I will post a few photos of our activities here and on our facebook page which you can view at www.facebook.com/myspoclife . Remember to like our page!

Decluttering Books

I can’t remember when I began to declutter. I have always been a person who enjoys having a view of my walls, my floor, my window ledge. I have given away my clothes since I can remember. If I am done with it, out it goes. The two things that are hard for me, as it is for most people, are books and things of sentimental value.

In the previous post, I stated how much I love books and I love reading. Many years ago, I indulged in my passion for books by building up a pretty sizeable collection of not only books I love, but also children’s books. At that time, I did not have a child and I wasn’t really thinking about children, but I enjoyed owning books that brought me joy when I was younger. I formed a sentimental bond with these dear books.

I have moved a few times in the past five years since Bean has been born and while everything else I took with me was minimal in nature, the boxes of books were not. The poor movers, they almost broke their backs bringing 10 (or more) boxes of books up the stairs. While I felt a little sympathy at their plight, I could not bring myself to part with my books.

At the end of last year, after much contemplation, I decided to upgrade to a smart phone. I don’t really like to be connected 24/7, so it was a difficult decision to make. At the time I did not have a computer in my home, but I did want Bean to practice French using electronic mediums. We could also read on the train without carrying five or six books around. The smart phone seemed like a reasonable compromise.

Since then, I have begun to read more on my phone when I am riding public transportation. Reading on my phone has helped me to look at my book problem and re-evaluate the situation. IT IS SO HARD! I like the look of my books on the shelf. I like the variety of color and height and subject. I like to remember what the book was about and to imagine the new worlds inside of the books I have not read. (Since my book binge all those years ago, I haven’t really bought any books, opting instead to download them or check them out from the library.) I finally decided to tackle this last stronghold in my house, get rid of every book that I haven’t yet read and that I will not be reading in the next year.

Reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, like so many others, I have embraced her thinking which is, if you haven’t read a book that you have kept for a long time, that book is no longer for you. Thank it, let it go and make someone else happy.

I think that is just what I needed to hear. Bean is still too young to read many of the books that I bought with some unknown child in mind. Some of the books she will have no interest in. The books that were for me, if I haven’t read them by now, it is true, I probably won’t read them. I just like the idea behind them. I have started to purge my books.

My conflict with getting rid of my books is should I sell them or should I give them away? I don’t need the money from any of the books, but if I can get a few extra dollars to treat Bean to something special that always makes her day…and I love making her day. In my neighborhood and in the neighborhood where Bean’s school is located, there are little free libraries. Usually they resemble oversized birdhouses with a window and a door. You can leave a book or take a book or both. I have considered leaving books in the boxes. The problem with both options is getting the books where I want them to go.

I know I wrote about the joy of public transportation. I really love it, but the bus is really not the place to go when you have 150 books to take along with you. I would ask a friend or a family member, but then we would all need to care numerous boxes out to the car and then unload it again at the location. I suppose that isn’t so bad, but the very idea makes me want to leave the books on the shelf.

Since I am here to give inspiration on living a minimalist life, I will definitely tackle this problem. When it has been resolved, I will let you know the outcome. If you have had difficulty decluttering books or items of sentimental value, please leave a comment explaining how you overcame the difficult.

The Beauty of Boredom

The Beauty of Boredom

When I first embraced minimalism completely, I was thrilled to get rid of all of the things that no longer served me. It was amazing to see how I could look at something that I might use and make that final decision to get rid of it. Every time I get to a level when I feel I finally have everything out of my house that doesn’t serve me, suddenly, it is time for another round of clearing out. My house has never been so empty and so full at the same time.

I have come across testimonials of individuals who say that once they got everything out that didn’t serve them, there was this void, this space they then needed to fill in their lives. I can say that yes, this is a true occurrence that will take place in the life of anyone seeking to get the unessential out of their life. It happens to me as well.

I was already a fan of simple living when I embraced minimalism. I refused to live as most people do these days, busy from sunup to sundown. I feel I was blessed to burn out at a young age, and I never recovered. When I was a university student, I worked two jobs, went to church, ran a weekly young women’s bible study and traveled. I did it because everyone lived that way. It was through international travel that I learned things could be different.

With my focus fully turned on clearing out the unessential, I discovered again the unbeneficial things in my day…too much time on the internet, procrastination, laziness, so on. While I still struggle with a few things on a daily basis, I have been able to improve because I am now aware of these issues. When I engaged in those behaviors, I was trying to escape what I didn’t want to admit to myself, my life bored me.

So what to do with the boredom? Get Creative! I know that the answer to the questions will be different for different people. For me, there is a variety of ways that I have chosen to fill my life and enrich it for now and the future.

  1. I read

Many years ago I was involved in a multilevel marketing business that encouraged its members to explore self improvement. While I didn’t make much money with the company and I don’t enjoy this type of business, the focus on challenging ourselves to be the best we can resonated with me.

I do the best that I can to read at least 15 minutes of a good book daily, and that doesn’t count the Bible (which I do read). There are so many interesting authors and individuals in the world who are doing great things. Reading what people worldwide are doing in a wide variety of subjects and interests, inspires me to keep a sense of wonder for what the world offers…regardless of any limitations we may put on ourselves.

  1. I learn

I believe in the importance of continuing education to keep our brains healthy and our minds alive. For the last 10 years or so, I have been working on improving my French language skills. I have never set a time by which I would like to be fluent, instead I have set the expectation that every year when I visit France, I will speak better than I did the last time I was there.

I tend to come across a subject about which I have questions and I dive into it until I am oversaturated with information. I thought this was just a recent occurrence, but according to my mother, I have always been this way about new information. I really love to do this about a location that I am visiting. I like to have a general knowledge before traveling and then a complete immersion when I get there. I truly enjoy learning.

  1. I explore where I am

I love to find off the wall, out of the way places. I remember when I was a young person and I found this free coffee shop ran by missionaries. It was in between my neighborhood and my university. Not many people knew about it and I enjoyed sharing my find with others. They would have a mini concert on Saturdays and serve chili that you could buy for a dollar. It was great!

I still do that to this day. Wherever I happen to be, I like to explore where I am living. In my current neighborhood, I find it amazing that many of the residents who have lived there much longer than I don’t know there is a farmer’s market, or a lovely children’s theatre or a French conversation group. I take pleasure in finding and participating in my community. There are always so many activities available, it is definitely necessary to do only the one that truly brings a sense of joy.

 

  1. I focus on relationships

Bean and I have a great relationship. I know some of that is because of her age and personality, but it is also because I make it a point to be present with her. Whether I happen to be with her or with others, I make it a point to be with them, not focused on my phone. There is always something competing for our attention. The best thing we can do is focus on the one we are with. This focus will give value to their lives and help them to feel thankful to be with us. We never know when we will not be given that chance again.

  1. I practice self care

Because I don’t need to rush from one appointment to the next, I often have time in the afternoons to walk home from work. Yes, it is much easier to take the bus. Sometimes I do when I haven’t had a good night’s sleep. However, when I think in the long term, the best thing that I can do for my sleep habits and my body is to exercise daily. The easiest way to exercise daily is to incorporate it into our day, so I walk.

I get up early in the morning, one hour before I really need to be awake. I take time to feed my spirit. I read, I pray, I meditate, get ready for the day ahead. This time that I spend in the morning could be a little extra sleep for me, but I have found that the best way for me to get through the day is to honor this time.

Many of us feel so busy with the lives of our family and the duties of our jobs that we don’t take time to eat right. The easiest way is just to do it. Don’t overly complicate it, the best thing to do is get down to the essentials in this part of life as well.

This summer, the easiest thing for me to do (since the garden has been amazing) is eat salad. I eat a fruit salad for breakfast, which Bean LOVES. I take all of my salad fixing to work in a mason jar and eat a vegetable salad for lunch. It wasn’t an elaborate or intensely thought out diet, but this simple act of caring for myself in my diet has improved my body and cleaned my mind once again.

If we feel ourselves stuck in boredom, we can spice up our lives with creativity! Whether the boredom has been caused by cleaning out all of the unnecessary obligations and items in our lives or just because

life is so routine, we can take a moment to sit in silence and find how we can enrich ourselves and find beauty in the boredom.

Public Transportation Safety

I suppose I have been riding the RATP/CTA and other forms of public transportation for so long that I often forget how terrifying it was the first time we used public transportation in a big city. After thinking about it, I suppose many people have unfounded fears that they can overcome only by trying new activities.

When we were children, I remember once taking the bus with my family to the mall across town. I know it took a long time, but my memory is just of getting to the mall. The small city were I was raised did not have a very accessible transportation system. I don’t think we took the bus much more after that.

The first time my family took the train in a big city, we were visiting my aunt who lived in Chicago at the time. She always drove, and didn’t spend much time on the El. She told us, “Don’t look at anyone; don’t talk to anyone.” We were terrified!

During our ride, a young man got on the train. He began to rap and ask for money. I was scared! Was he going to attack us? Was he going to rob us? My aunt told us to watch out for those people! What should I do?

All that fear was unfounded. I am not saying that I am not wary or suspicious at times when I get on public transportation, I am just saying that it is unnecessary to be deathly afraid. If we arm ourselves with the tools that we need, we will be able to stay safe in most situations.

Here are a few things that I do (or have done) to stay safe while using public transportation:

  1. Be aware of the surroundings

I am most annoyed by people who are on their phones all of the time and when their phone is stolen, they complain. I know that most people remain connected regardless of where they are. If we don’t see the person eyeing us holding our phones when we are entering/ leaving the train, how can we expect to protect ourselves?

And what about the people who take a nap on the train while holding their electronic device in their hands? I have mentioned to a few people, usually seniors, that they probably should watch their things.

I make it a practice to limit my online activities when I am on public transportation. I try to look up and look around. I look people in the eye, nod, make a connection so as to deter any ideas that I am a target. I am not perfect, and sometimes I am truly not interested in anyone, I just want to zone out. I do my best to fight this feeling so as to model (especially to Bean) how to interact when on the bus.

  1. Act Confident

People who appear to be unsure of themselves, lost, or tired tend to be more vulnerable to a person who is seeking a prey. Even in times of distress, I find that it is best to put on a brave front. When it is possible, I do everything I can beforehand to know something about the area where I am headed.

There have been a few times when I wanted to “discover” a new area of my city. I hopped on the bus with Bean and almost immediately felt uncomfortable. We rode a few steps and I did not feel any more comfortable with the people I was around or the area in which we happened to be. We got off of that bus fast and headed back to an area where I felt safer.

I didn’t show anyone that I was lost, uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the area. We just got off and headed back. I kept my eyes open for safe havens, my ears open to people who might have presented a threat and didn’t go there again. I presented an intimidating front and no one asked any questions.

When I was younger and living in Paris, the house I stayed in was maybe 10 minutes walking distance from the train station. I would spend the weekend with friends and then head back late at night. The train would often arrive after midnight and I still needed to walk those long ten minutes. I pulled out my phone and pretended to be having a conversation with someone to whom I was telling my journey. There were times I was actually on the phone with someone, but when it didn’t happen, I felt better especially when walking in areas that were not well lit.

I am older and wiser now, but if the need arises, I would certainly use this tactic again.

  1. Know where to find help

When we ride a train early in the morning to the airport, or late at night coming back from my brothers, or just when we want to feel safer, Bean and I ride right next to the door where the conductor of the train drives. If there isn’t a seat there, then I make sure we get a seat by the call button.

I have had to use the call button on a couple of occasions when there was a fight or an unruly passenger was disrupting the ride for everyone and no one wanted to say anything. We should never be afraid to speak up about behavior that puts us in danger.

In foreign countries, the button may be a little more difficult to find, in that case, ride as close to the first car as you can. Check out what the trains and buses are like before you get there. The more we know about what we are going into, the more confident we can feel about the situation once we get to our destination.

  1. Use all available aide

If an event should arise and I am accosted on public transportation, I most certainly will make a noise about it. I am not the type of person to go about complaining about every little incident. I am more likely to brush off a seeming threat as a fluke, but traveling with Bean makes me much bolder.

Self defense professionals say that we should kick and scream and yell, whatever we need to do. Perpetrators of a crime are more likely to run away if there is too much attention being drawn to them. While I pray nothing of the sort will ever happen, I am certainly going to make a noise…and if you are standing there just watching, beware, because I am going to demand that you get off of your phone and help me!

I am sure there are even more ways of staying safe when traveling on public transportation. I am certainly keeping it simple. If there is something that you do in particular to help you feel in control and aware, please share in the comments below.

A Car Free Life

I was at work the other day and a co-worker asked me, “Candace do you know how to drive?” I always find that a very funny question. I am in my late thirties, I have been born and raised in the United States, I talk about the road trips that I take, of course I drive!

I explained to her that about five years ago, I gave up my car for a simpler way of life. Living in a big city, driving a car has its advantages, just as not driving has its advantages. However, when I chose not to drive, I knew that it would make MY life simpler. I didn’t do it as a part of a movement. In fact, I had no idea that people gave talks on giving up your car. I just knew that mentally I needed the space that a car took up in my mind.

The neighborhood in which I live, indeed most of the neighborhoods on the north side have a HUGE parking problem. If you have an apartment that offers parking, you must pay for it and just like your rent, the parking goes up every year. It is also in short supply. If you are not fortunate enough to have parking available to you, you must look for parking on the street.

Street parking is a story in itself. It took me forever to learn how to parallel park. People parking on the street, they are still learning to park too. They hit your back bumper and your front bumper. They give you less than an inch to get out of your parking space. That is if you can find a parking space! I remember getting home after 8 p.m. and praying to find a space. Often, you must drive around and around the block looking and sometimes, it is necessary to park your car blocks from your house.

When I think about registration and city stickers, oil changes and additional maintenance, shoveling out of the snow in the winter, driving in the snow and ice, some of the highest gas prices in the nation, tickets, insurance, accidents and other drivers, WHEW, I am surprised that anyone would choose to drive. Knowing that I would be going through an extremely stressful time of my life with a divorce, I gave the car to the ex and took to public transportation.

I absolutely LOVE public transportation. I know that it can be very smelly at times, dirty, and filled with strange people. But in spite of that, it is so convenient for me and the lifestyle that I choose to live. I have not felt my safety threatened. I have rarely been late, and I don’t have to worry about the person in the next lane. I let someone else do the driving and I can read!

On occasion, I someone comments on whether riding public transportation is good for the health of my child, or their baby. My Bean was premature when she was born. She began riding public transportation the moment she was released from the hospital and she has never once been sick due to the bus or train. I put her into her sling and off we went.

A few of the things that really enjoy about living a car-free life:

  1. Interaction with others

Before Bean was born, I was pretty much invisible. I am not naturally gregarious. I could get on public transportation and no one would speak to me or look up. There may have been a random person who commented on my hair or general appearance. Maybe someone needed directions or a little assistance, but mostly my ride was tranquil.

After Bean was born, things changed. It seemed that everyone wanted to know about her. Since I wore a sling, I had so many people ask, “Is there a baby in there?” that I wanted to answer “No, I have potatoes. I am just doing my grocery shopping.” I was forced to interact with people and I found I enjoyed it. I thought that the attention would disappear at some point when Bean got older, but it hasn’t.

Bean is a social butterfly. She never meets a stranger, even if we are on the bus. She greets people, asks them questions, tells them about her day, and most people LOVE it. We have made some lovely acquaintances that will be in our lives for a long time because of riding the bus. In fact, Ms. Becky, who is helping us with our garden, came into our lives because Bean said “Hello.”

Our daily commutes are a joy instead of a drudge. Even if Bean is not with me, I try to remember to say hello to the driver, nod to someone I see every day, and be more present in the commute.

  1. Letting someone else drive

I do enjoy the fact that I don’t need to drive. This has to be one of the main reasons I choose to continue taking public transportation. I am able to focus my energies and attention of Bean when she is with me and on my personal development when she is not.

If I were in the driver’s seat, I would be much more stressed. It would be necessary for me to have my focus on being a good driver. On the train or bus, I am able to read to Bean, practice our foreign language skills, read, and relax. We have played games, colored, and drawn pictures (which Bean promptly gave away to the people sitting around her.) I find those activities preferable to having my eyes glued to the road.

  1. Limiting daily activities

Living simply/being a minimalist involves your daily actions. It means choosing what the most important task to do is and doing that task. When you take public transportation on a daily basis, you realize quickly that you can not do everything. It is simply not possible to pick up your child from school across town, take them to extra-curricular activities on the other side of town, go grocery shopping and then be at home for a relaxing evening. I suppose you could do it if you want to be irritated and stressed every day, but who REALLY wants to be that person.

By living a car-free life, I am forced on a daily basis to choose one activity that requires my attention and I do that task. This is also where my routine comes in handy. For example, I know that certain stores have a sale on Monday, so I schedule Monday as the day to go shopping. When I have what I need, I go home, prepare dinner and for the next day and continue with our evening routine.

I do not rush to get more done. There are only 24 hours in a day and if you choose your activities wisely, that is all you need.

  1. Daily exercise

This has to be the second favorite reason of mine to live a car free life. Getting daily exercise was not stressed when I was a child, we just played outside every day. That is not true of many of the children who are being raised today. Bean has exercise automatically built into her life. Even though we live within one block of the train and several buses, we often walk to our various destinations on the weekend. As a result, Bean is a great walker and doesn’t easily tire when we are walking all day on vacation.

Many people spend large amounts of money for gym memberships when all they need to do is get out of their car and walk more. I easily walk 30 minutes or more a day just because I need to get from one bus stop to the next or to make it to my job. I often walk home after work so that I can be more active, especially if I know I will have more sedentary activities at home that night.

Not owning a car allows you to take a nature walk every day. Just this morning, Bean and I spotted a beautiful spider web, a worm stranded on the sidewalk (which we helped back into the soil) and newly blooming wildflowers. This all happened within the five minutes it took us to walk from our house to the train. It was an excellent start to the day.

  1. Set monthly fee

Being budget conscious, I like to know what expenses are coming up monthly and how much they will be. I buy a monthly pass at the beginning of the month and it costs me $100 for the two of us. That is all. No rising gas prices to be concerned about, no parking tickets, no unexpected breakdowns to factor in, just $100 a month, month after month.

I know that it isn’t often someone sings the praises of public transportation though they may mention how much they like a car free life, so here I am. I am encouraging you, if you have the ability to walk, bike or take public transportation to do it. I promise after you too see the benefits, you will wonder what took you so long.

Returning to Routine

When I am home, Oh how I love my routine. I love the way that the simple and often mundane tasks that I do on a daily basis get me one step closer to my goal. I can look at my week and think “BORING”, but if I just do the tasks and remember that at the end of the year, I can look back and say “FANTASTIC”, it will be worth it.

However, getting back into the routine after an extended time away is really difficult. I often like to write down what I did when I was on vacation so that I don’t forget that I was actually on a vacation as soon as I return. I like to relive the lovely moments, the moments of enlightenment and joy with Bean. But in spite of it all, getting back into the routine is just what we MUST do.

A few things that I do that help me to get back into the routine:

  1. Leave my house clean before I leave. It helps that I am a practicing minimalist. I don’t have much to clean or dust. I just leave everything a little better than I normally would, and when I walk into the door after vacation, my house says “Welcome Home.”
  1. Wash clothes before I come home. Whenever it is possible, I like to re-pack our bags with freshly washed clothes for our return trip. Often, the places we stay have a washer and dryer available for use. Sometimes, like in Costa Rica, for a few dollars, they will wash your clothes for you. This is worth it for me. I don’t need to come home and look for something clean to wear or be concerned with having a massive load of laundry. I open the suitcase/backpack/tote and put everything away.
  1. Return one day before I return to work. I don’t always do this, but if Bean and I have a day to lay around the house, go for a walk in the neighborhood, and talk about our vacation and our return to “real life” the next day, I find that it is easier for Bean to make the transition. I haven’t always done this. I have been guilty of trying to get every little bit of vacation time that I can, up to the last few hours. (One time I even walked into my job straight off of a road trip). However, I have found that I can appreciate the time away more when I have time to readjust to life at home.

Maybe it is due to Bean’s age, but our transition back into routine flowed more smoothly this time than I can ever remember. Bean was ready to get to day camp. I went back to work with ease. As usually, life continued on while we were gone.

The garden was amazing. Our dear friend Ms. Becky helped us tend the garden when we got back. While we were gone, the rain came down and helped with the watering of the garden. My harvest of lettuce was HUGE. I believe this is the best gardening year we have ever had.

In the short time we have been back, we have had a few sleepovers, get-togethers and trips to the park. We will be experiencing even more summertime activities in the coming weeks and I am looking forward to sharing them with you. Stay tuned!

The Joy of Packing Lightly

I remember when I was in my early teens and went away to the first overnight Jesus camp. It was a whole new world. My friends and I thought we were there to get closer to God and also to meet other people. We had no idea that we were really supposed to be there for the daily fashion show.

The guys were not as bad as the girls, but the girls blew my mind with all of the changes of clothes. They changed clothes in the morning, after lunch and then again for the night service. Some young people even changed clothes for hanging out after the night service. I had never seen anything like it. My friends and I felt like country bumpkins because we only brought one change of clothes per day. I internalized the feeling of being different and I wanted to fit in.

The next few years of camp, I made sure to have as many changes of name brand, beautiful clothing as the next person. One year, I brought with me thirteen pairs of shoes. Thirteen pairs of shoes for one week! At the end of that week, I felt it was all just too much. Slowly, but surely, I began to change my ways even though I still went to camp for a few more years.

Watching other girls struggle to fit all of their clothes into their humongous suitcases and then into the car, experiencing the stress of trying to keep up with everyone else, realizing there was more to life, I changed. Through out the years, I have taken with me smaller and smaller bags as I travel. It has made being on the road a joy, a delight.

Coming back from Costa Rica, more than ever, I looked around at all of the people burdened down with so much stuff. They were struggling to keep up with each other, struggling to get the bag to turn this way and that way. People unloaded bags because there was too much stuff and stuffed other bags with more stuff.

Coming and going from Costa Rica, Bean had a backpack and I had a shoulder tote. If something wouldn’t fit, I didn’t buy it. Stopping to people watch and needing to go through customs made me so thankful that I don’t pack the way I did when I was younger. If anything can give me stress coming back into the U.S. after a trip, it is going into customs.

The thing is every city is different. Flying into Chicago is vastly different than flying into Dallas. It is like arriving in heaven or hell. I can’t stand waiting in line in one city when I know that in another city you can just scan your passport and answer questions online. This time, we flew into Miami. I didn’t have any idea what to expect.

We got lines, lines and more lines. I am thankful that even though we had to wait in line, they did move fast. Having two small bags made that a breeze. Bean carried hers, I carried mine and we waited and walked the line. We answered the questions and we were done.

Once we were finished with customs, we were able to find our connecting flight and relax for a little while. I then overheard something that gave me pause. The airline no longer transferred bags from one plane to the next plane. All of the poor people who needed to catch a connecting flight after clearing customs then needed to go to the baggage claim and pick up their bags. They would then need to re-check their bags before catching the next plane. Many people missed their connecting flight because of this.

What a hassle! If I ever had a doubt as to whether I was really making the right choice by traveling light, it surely evaporated in that instance. If I had more bags, traveling would have been a drudge. My joy in my vacation would have evaporated as I lugged 50 pound bags around the Americas…managing my child and all my stuff.

I am so glad that I discovered the joy of traveling lightly and I encourage you to leave your stuff at home when you travel. You also will be able to experience the freedom and joy that comes of packing lightly.

A Message to the Vagabond

While Bean and I were in Costa Rica, we came across an individual at a street fest. He was walking around selling wares like many of the others. He happened to stop and speak with us as he heard us speaking English with another tourist.

The thing that made our exchange interesting was that he asked if life in the United States was easier than the life that he was leading in Costa Rica. He came to Costa Rica from Togo/Ghana and he said that he was finding it difficult to make it. I told him I understood, and that life had its difficulties in the United States as well. It was simply too deep a subject to delve into while standing on the corner.

Since meeting the young man, his question has plagued me. I wish that I had tried to articulate what I really feel about making a life. I want to answer him now that I have the time. It isn’t a very difficult conclusion to reach, but when there are a million other things going on in the middle of a festival, it is difficult to think up the answers to life’s many questions…especially if you have a child tugging your arm asking for candy.

In my opinion, life anywhere requires a certain degree of planning and preparation. We must know where we are going and find a plan of how to get there. I don’t mean that this is always an actual location. It can be in our relationships, in raising our children or how much money we are going to save in a year. It doesn’t matter if you move from one country to the next in order to improve your life, if you don’t know what you want or how to improve it, you will never arrive at the goal.

We can not run away from ourselves. This is a point that I believe we often forget. Whatever issues we have been struggling to overcome in our home country/job/ relationship, if we do not take the time to discover the root of the problem, we will bring that same issue to our next country/ job/ relationship. A change of location does not equal a complete change of life.

There are different economies that affect countries all over the world. In those countries there are still rich people, poor people and the middle class. It may be harder to find in some places than others, but they are there. I believe that when we find what we want to do in life and we go about achieving our purpose in life, instead of living hand to mouth, we will discover the beauty of living, regardless of the money we make.

While I was not able to give the young man my thoughts about making a life, I truly hope that someone else will be able to share with him something that will guide him to living a life of which he can be proud. It is my wish for you as well. Blessings.