Twenty years

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Twenty years ago today I picked up my backpack, kissed my mum and dad, got on a plane and flew to London to meet my best friend.

I planned to go for a few months.  See some sights, kiss some boys, drink some beer, buy some clothes. I  wasn’t planning to stay for three years.   I certainly wasn’t expecting them to be the three very best years of my life.

But by golly they were!

The best.

Except for the extra 10kg.  And the decidedly poor decision making when it came to haircuts.  And drinking blue alcoholic beverages.  And wearing flannelette boxer shorts in lieu of real actual shorts.  And falling asleep on the last tube to Cockfosters.  Actually the stupidities are too numerous to list…..

It feels like a hundred and twenty years ago.

But like yesterday too.

 

What’s in your bags…

 

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Sure as eggs the quickest way to jinx your packing mojo is to tell people what you’ve put in your bags – before you’ve actually had time to work out if what you’ve actually put the right things in your bags.  So despite your askings and your messaging and your down right annoying harping on at me for the past five months to release details of my packing list there was no way I was going to jinx it – way too risky!

Only now, less than a week out from departure (or is it return?), hanging out in Sweden where it’s -20C, wearing my friends clothes do I feel quietly confident there is limited risk in releasing the information for public consumption. Short of the bags going missing all together I think we’re safe!

So if you’ve ever wondered (which you probably haven’t) what a Packing Ninja, allergic to ‘quick dry travel wear’ packs to cover five people for six months in six different countries over about six different weather patterns, with some farms and some Winter and some trips to the theatre and some Festive Season festivities thrown in for good measure.

Wonder no longer!

Clothes for the kids
2 summer t-shirts
5 long sleeve t-shirts
1 pair jeans 0r cargo pants
4 pairs leggings
1 pair tracksuit pants
1 skirt (3 skirts for Peach as she is in a jeans / trousers refusal stage)
1 ‘going out’ outfit
1 set thermals (leggings and top)
1 thick wool jumper
1 fleece or hoodie
1 thin cardigan
2 pair PJs
Underwear: 5 socks, 7 undies, 2 singlets, 2 pair tights
Work boots
Runners / sandshoes
1 winter coat
Gloves, hat, scarf & sunhat
Swimmers
Bed time lovey

We purchased a rain jacket and wellies for each child, plus at least 4 pair of replacement leggings for the smaller two kids (one put holes in every single pair and returns home with none, the other outgrew literally everything), going-out shoes for all three and last week new jeans for all three. A new coat for Pea and pair of winter boots for Peach were gladly inherited from a friend.

 

 

Clothes for Her
2 tank tops
5 long sleeve tops
1 turtle neck
1 wool cardigan / jacket
1 wool jumper (batwing sleeves + caravan gas cook top = swiftly dispatched)
1 light weight cardigan
1 tunic dress (worn once – bad packing decision)
1 long skirt (suitable for winter and summer – worn at every outing)
1 short black tube skirt (worn constantly)
1 pair black legging pants (that got lost in the caravan and thus not worn)
1 pair denim jeans
1 pair grey jeans (ruined with bleach & swiftly deemed too uncomfortable for farm work)
1 pair cotton elastic waist pants (packed at the last minute and worn constantly!)
1 pair patterned summer pants (the #1 ‘why on earth did I pack this’ item of the trip)
1 pair super thick black tights + 1 pair black tights + socks and undies for 7 days.
PJs
1 set thermals (top and pants)
Puffer vest
Puffer coat (which got donated to Wally)
3 light weight fashion scarves
2 thick wool scarves (+ 1 knitted whilst road tripping), gloves and hat
Work boots
Black knee high boots
Silver sandshoes (dead and buried somewhere in Italy)
Swimmers

I purchased an all weather winter coat, wellies, cream brogues (to replace the dead sandshoes), Converse high tops, a pair of high waist totally practical but extremely ugly work jeans (mmmm!), a t-shirt and second cotton cardigan, another pair of boots (feeling a bit of buyers regret about those), more scarves than necessary and a couple of dresses picked up in the sales that I didn’t need but wore none the less!
Could have left behind the summer pants, tunic dress, my ruined jeans (so they didn’t get ruined) and gone easy on the scarves.
Wish I’d bought more t-shirts than tank tops as they would have been more practical and when debating the jeans that were slightly too small or the ones slightly too big, I should have gone with the too small option!

 

Clothes for Him
8 short sleeve t-shirts
3 long sleeve t-shirts
2 button down dress shirts
2 cotton cardigans
2 pair jeans (both and buried by France!)
2 pair work pants
Wool vest
Wool coat
Lightweight windbreaker coat
Set thermals (top and pants)
Socks & undies for 7 days
Work boots
Dress boots
Swimmers

He purchased two super warm thermal tops, jeans, wellies and a flannel shirt plus inherited my puffer coat.
Wish he’d bought a pair of smart trousers and a second pair of new jeans.

 


Toiletries
Basic toiletries in small bottles for use on arrival (shampoo, conditioner, body wash)
First aid kit – some inclusions were an asthma puffer, epi pen, hydrolite, bandaids, worm treatment, headlice treatment, diarrhoea medication, sudafed, zyertec, paracetamol for kids and adults, basic antibiotics. Did I say bandaids?  Pack the bandaids!
Hair clippers for Him
Hair straighteners for Her (pass absolutely NO judgement)
Sharp hair dressing scissors
Hair elastics and clips
2 x hair brushes
2 x nail clippers
Cotton buds
Hankies

We purchased bandaids!
Wish we’d bought a hairdryer which would have been more practical for drying socks than straighteners!


General stuff to make caravan life easier
10 turkish towels (glad I packed double as they often took a while to dry)
1 QS quilt + cover
2 single bed fitted sheets
1 king single fitted sheet
1 QS fitted sheet (a waste because our van beds were only king singles!)
5 pillowcases
1 lunch box & small thermal bag (for snacks on the plane and picnics)
3 drink bottles
4 cakes of Tuff Stuff Soap (because man that stuff is THE BOMB)
1 picnic rug (which we used all the time and was especially handy on the plane)
3 Stuff-sacks – for packing the quilts and coats in smaller spaces
5 PUL wetbags (for storing everything from underwear, to kindles, to dirty clothes)

 

We purchased a double bed quilt + cover, single bed quilt + cover (we always planned to purchase these in the UK as they are better quality than available in Aus), five pillows, basic kitchenware (cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, utensils, sharp knife, fry pan, casserole pan, coffee pot, clothes pegs, over door hooks), fire blanket, first aid kit and small electric oil heater.


Electronics
2 Kindles
Laptop
2 iPhones with international SIM cards (frustratingly we needed to buy UK SIM cards too)
European plug converter (NB Italy requires a different plug to the standard European plug)
UK plug converter
Point and shoot camera + battery charger
1 iPhone chargers
Cigarette lighter USB charger
Good quality small torch

We purchased a better quality torch (partly because we forgot we packed the other one)

 

 

Toys & activities
Small bag of Lego
Pencils & felt tips for each child
Uno
Playing cards
Animal bingo for Peach
2 Activity books for Peach
One huge bag of school work

We purchased colouring books, plasticine and three small sets of Lego (at Legoland), a skipping rope, a soccer ball and some craft things.  There were a few additional things added at Birthdays and Christmas to spice things up a bit but for the most part the girls fared pretty well with the basics and playing with toys that were at the places we stayed.

 

If you’re planning your own long trip and want some packing advice, beyond the standard pack and then halve what you have and then take half of that (which I actually always do!) the best tip I got was from my sister who did a trip around Australia for a year:

“Pack things that balance between being something you love because you’re going to be hanging out with that stuff for a loooooong time and being something you dislike enough to throw away, because sure as eggs you will be SICK TO DEATH of them when you return (or in our case they will have fallen apart from over use!)”

I think we found the balance there just fine.  Though if the cool weather sets in soon after arriving back in Adelaide I will have been wearing the same clothes continuously for an entire year. And that could, ever so slightly tip me over the edge!

Before we left I was worried the girls would miss things from home and wondered about how many ‘creature comforts’ I should pack to help them feel settled and secure.  I received some great advice from the mum of a family currently traveling the world and following her advice to leave all the ‘stuff’ at home I bought only their pillow cases, their favourite lovies and let them choose what clothes they would bring (the ‘do you want the blue or the red socks’ kind of choosing).  I’m super pleased we bypassed the hooplah of toys, pictures, books etc that I’ve read about other families carting around the world because they were more than ok with those few reminders of home.

When all our stuff is piled up some people are incredulous that we could fit our lives (plus school) into three suitcases and a duffel bag.  Others are shocked at the pile of stuff we’re carting around with us – interestingly it’s only when we precariously balance the car seat on top of everything that anyone ever makes that comment!

Even this self confessed Packing Ninja is looking forward to taking a break from packing for a while.  But I’m quietly chuffed I managed to nail the packing list as successfully as I did!

What would you add or take away from the list?!

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Crooked End Farm

Gloucestershire, October & November 2015

 

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It’s been nearly six weeks since we left Crooked End Farm*, in the Wye Valley west of Gloucester.  Finally I’m feeling the sharp edges of our experience smoothing off.  The frustration and disappointment are starting to ease and instead of the mud and mess and chaos and disorganisation and gastro bug that ran rampant through our caravan immediately coming to mind, I find myself instead smiling and thinking of the funny stories, foreign accents, laughter, smiling faces, silliness, great cooking and beautiful new friendships we made.

Crooked End was supposed to the flag ship farm of our trip, the place where we were going to bunker down and learn all we possibly could about running a successful multi tiered, permaculture based, farming enterprise; pigs, sheep, market gardening, a cafe, farm store, holiday accommodation and a CSA style box system…. It sounded like farming Utopia to us.  Skipping the minutia, Crooked End wasn’t in any way shape or form what we expected.  And Utopia it most certainly was not.

Despite making me question everything I believed about permaculture, despite the less than favorable living conditions, despite the disappointment that our expectations and the reality didn’t match up, we did have the opportunity to make the best out of a bad situation.  Together with the other WWOOFers we were pretty much left to our own devices, which meant we could put some of our farming theories into action, try out a few things, be proactive and test out our (or rather Wallys) knowledge of how things could be fixed or made more productive.  I enjoyed being in the farm shop and it was an enormous confirmation of my suspicions that such an enterprise is an entity to itself and not merely the added value many people make it out to be (there in avoiding the possibly costly mistake of setting up our own farm shop / cafe).  We also learned plenty about how each of us cope in adversity, what happens when things don’t go to plan,  the importance of having a plan in the first place, time management, scheduling, the role of WWOOFers (both positive and negative), the enjoyment of teaching, the requirement for family and farm life balance, being realistic about your skills, your circumstances, your finances and the absolute necessity to stack your enterprises not scatter them.  We learned that whilst a dream is great it is nothing without action.

Most importantly every day we were there we were reinforcing the belief within ourselves that what ever farming path we decide to take we possess the skills and the attitude to work it out – we don’t need to copy someone else.

But if I’m completely honest, the real reason we stayed were the delightful, intelligent, funny and lovely human beings we shared our lives with.   No amount of adversity could ever beat the feeling, if just for a few fleeting hours a day, that you are twenty-something again!!

 

*whilst Crooked End was a pretty average experience for us as WWOOFers it has a fantastic farm shop and cafe plus a gorgeous cottage they rent out for holiday accommodation.  Go stay.  Just remember to pack your wellies!  www.crookedend.co.uk

 

Six months

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Six months ago we were saying our final teary Queensland farewells, to one of my very best friends.  We were heading down the highway to our new life.  We were officially Nomads.

Six months later, we’ve said a final teary farewell to our little caravan. She’s been our home for the past five months and has risen to the challenge of traveling thousands of miles with us.  She has gone to live with Del and his wife and will see out her days with the odd weekend trip to Blackpool.  Finally the relaxing retirement she deserves! We are officially Nomads no longer.  We’re off to London and hopefully back to Sweden to experience a real winter. We’re on holidays.

In less than two weeks we will be back in Australia.  We are officially on the down hill slide to the next adventure.  And honestly we’re all kind of excited about that.

But right now I’m perplexed at how, in six months, I could completely wear out all six of the new pairs of Bonds undies I bought in Grafton but not even make a dent in the contents of the Satlz and Pfeffer we bought in Holland…..

 

Dear Paris

 

Dear Paris

The first time we met, my now husband and I kind of struggled for things to talk about (clearly things have looked up on that front), until we happened, completely by accident to discover a mutual disdain for your very self.  We both absolutely, unequivocally, disliked everything about you. The dog poo in your streets, the rudeness of your railway staff, the extortionate nature of your prices, the ineptitude of your hotel receptionists, the staleness of your baguettes, the closed stations of your Metro, the Euro of your Disney.

I know it’s not very nice to hear that someone doesn’t like you, but I think you’re probably big enough to handle it.  Plus it seems every other madam, monsieur and their poodle loves you enough for you to feel pretty good about yourself without us making too much of a dent in your self esteem.

So it was with great dismay we found ourselves, in 2008 the parents of a kid who was so determined to the do and be the opposite of everything we expected that by the age of three she was a fully fledged, card carrying, tri-colour waving, Francophile.  For the past four years our darling second born child has gone to bed dreaming of wearing a pink and black dress, walking a white poodle and climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower – up the outside!  I’m not game to ask if she intends to wear the skirt and take the poodle up the tower with her……

Either way we’ve made it abundantly clear over the years she was going to have to keep that dream boiling for a looooooong time before it was likely to become reality. I do believe the phrase “if you want to see Paris you’ll have to take yourself there” might have escaped my lips on occasion or two.

Except in November last year we just happened to be driving right past your front door, on our way back from circumventing Western Europe. Even at your glamorous and serious best even you dear Paris would have to agree it would have been pretty mean spirited of us to deny the poor Francophile a quick glance at the Tower on our way past.

We decided to gather up our big girl pants, stash our mean spirits into a box for the week and took the plunge. Me, my monsieur, my trois enfants and the petite chateaux we’ve been calling home for the past few months trundled in to town on a dubiously grey Sunday afternoon. You may remember, we were the ones who tried to go the wrong way up a one way street onto the motorway, on the way to the really nice Indigo caravan park on the river.

Perhaps you’ll remember seeing my daughters face light up when I woke her up that night and took her out in the freezing night to show her that we could see the lights of the Tower through the trees of our campsite.

Maybe you’ll recall the pure joy in her eyes and the grin that stretched across her face the next morning when after walking 6km into the city she was actually, really, seeing, the real, actual, Eiffel Tower, for real, in actual real life, [OMG] [squeee].

Perhaps you’ll remember her running up every single one of those 704 stairs (inside!) the tower and being so very excited and grateful to have gone with her Dad in the elevator to the very top of the tower, despite the disappointment of it being a total white out.

Do you remember us eating croissants and drinking hot chocolate, and making cheese baguettes on our laps on the river in the freezing cold, and me riffling through piles of stinky old vintage clothes looking for the perfect souvenir, and trying to find the non existent artists at Montmartre and trying to pick only five pieces of gateaux at the patisserie and trying to get past the buskers in the Metro without the baby dancing to every single one and all three kids playing ponies along the Champs Elysee and walking 5km home after promising we were catching the metro all the way back…..?

Probably not. But I will. And I want to say thank you.

Thank you for being different to what I was expecting. Thank you for being nicer and kinder and friendlier than you were in the past. Thank you for being softer around the edges and lighter of heart. Thank you for making my child’s dream come true, whilst we were there to experience it with her.

I sincerely hope the tragic events in your streets the week after we left don’t change those things.

In the words of my French friend “you are lovely”.

Elizabeth

 

Under the Tuscan sun

October 2015

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If you plan to be heading anywhere close to Tuscany for more than, oh let’s say 72 hours, I’m going to give you a heads up.  You can thank me later.  You should prepare yourself for people to, and I am only exagerating slightly when i say ‘bombard’ you, with much ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhhhing’ and a whole lot of ‘I always dreamed of living for a month in an Italian villa / Tuscan farm house / Florentine apartment’ and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun is my all time favorite movie’ before they grill you on exactly which cities you intend to absorb your Italian culture in. This extended stay in Italy thing seems to float a LOT of boats. Every second woman and her dog, it transpires, is out to do a Diane Lane or Elizabeth Gilbert, and dreaming of Tuscan suns, falling down farm houses, spunky Italian men hanging out in vineyards (really who isn’t),  lively conversations in fluent Italian after, oh you know, four days in Rome.

I have to admit it does feel rather nice to do something a lot of other people seem to want to do, though it does come with its draw backs.  The down side of providing an opportunity for others to live a vicarious grand tour through you, is you are immediately at the mercy of a lot of unrequited travel dreams. Unlike somewhere obscure like, well let’s say, Sweden, everyone seems to know everything there is to know about Italy. Even if they’ve never been there and what they know was gleaned from bad cinema.  Everyone has an opinion about where you should be absorbing your Italian culture; Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan….. And well after a while that can become just a little bit annoying.  Especially if your dream is just a little bit different to the stuff of chick flicks.

After smiling and nodding and then telling people we were actually going to Italy to work on farms, nobody seemed to be all that excited about the Italian dream anymore.  Well not our Italian dream anyway!  Which I don’t really get, what’s not to love about gelato and panforte and pancetta and limoncello and espressos that make your eyeballs pop out and it being totally kosher to serve your children pasta with butter every single meal of the day.**  Every day of the week and getting bits of olive branch in your bra and dirt under your finger nails.  You’re right!  There is absolutely nothing not to love about that!

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Our Tuscan experience officially kicked off in Pisa.  After finishing our first farm job at Monte Pelpi we had a few days to fill in before we started our next farm job near Siena.  We ummed and ahhed about which city would be best to visit and in the end decided to go with the most convenient option.  Because we’re kind of lazy like that.

Granted the city of the Leaning Tower is hardly Rome or Milan or Venice or Florence but it suited our purpose perfectly.  There was enough of the Italian classics; piazzas, churches, twisting lanes, Renissance architecture, city walls, cafes on the street, leather shops, Pinocchio puppets and other tourist ticka-tacka to make us feel like we were experiencing the real deal and of course if being surrounded by 40,000 other tourists is part of that experience then the Torre Pendente doesn’t fail to deliver.

After The Day with The Plan in Berlin we played it safe in Pisa, we stretched our original two days to four so we could take things easy.  Good thing really because it took us literally a half a day to find our caravan park.  I mean if we’d stuck to the actual roads and avoided the alley ways in the middle of town we’d probably have been there in half the time, but that isn’t what we did.  All roads may lead to Rome but in my experience every single road in Pisa leads to a dead end.  In four months this is the first (and so far only) time we have had to get out and manually turn the van around, do a 49 point turn in the car, before reattaching van and car and making our get away.  And no there are no photos.

Despite our navigational challenges, we seemed to happen upon a fairly successful sightseeing formula in Pisa; I like to refer to it as the eat and walk principle.  It goes something like this; wander around for a few hours, have gelato, wander back to the caravan park, have lunch, sleep, wander back into town, eat pizza, wander home.  Among all this eating and wandering we managed the wrangle everyone into the obligatory ‘finger holding up the tower’ photographs, someone bashed out a few inappropriate handstands in front of a religious icon, we had great pizza in a little lane way, we rustled up enough Italian to buy fruit at the market, we purchased shoes for Pea (who is notoriously bad for shoe purchasing) in one sided hand waving Italian / English in seven minutes flat (which included time for the credit card payment to process), the obligatory Italian handbag purchase (i believe in starting them young), we had ‘the moment’ when after all these months they kids finally seemed to realise they were in a different place seeing different things than they would ever experience back home and listened to classical music in cobbled streets.  All this was topped off on our last night, when as if by magic we got lost and happened to find ourselves turning a corner into the grounds of the Piazza del Duomo to find the Tower and surrounding buildings eerily deserted and beautifully lit from below.

All in all Pisa was a great start to a great month in Tuscany.

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From Pisa we risked a few more 49 point turns and made our way along the back roads to Siena. All this taking of the road less traveled was very picturesque but potentially a foolhardy plan, considering we had to have the shock absorbers on the car replaced, at astronomical expense, a few weeks later.  But you live and learn.

IMG_0917Our second Italian farm was considerably different to our first.  We are very fortunate to have amazing friends (well I think they’re still our friends) who happen to have parents who happen to have a property that happens to be in the Chianti region of Tuscany.  I know right.  When we first started throwing around this crazy idea of spending time working on farms overseas we got in contact with them and they suggested we come and stay with them for the month of October to help with the grape and olive pick.  Like we were going to say no to that!

So for a month our home was a glorious converted barn at Fangacci , which is about 20km from Siena (if you want an awesome place to stay, check it out, that’s it in the photo up the top).  As well as growing olives on their property Vera and Gabriele also grow cherries and other stone fruit.   During our time at Fangacci Wally picked grapes on a neighbouring farm, did some general maintenance and learned a great deal about pruning and tree crops.  We spent many hours working through various holistic management matrixes and sharing ideas over good wine and great food.   We worked on our (extremely poor) Italian and got our cook on. Wally and Gabriele fostered a lovely relationship during their time together and the girls and I felt like we were wrapped in a big blanket of Nonna Vera love!

Contrary to legend the sun didn’t stay out for much of our time at Fangacci, in fact it rained so much there was a palpable foreboding  that it would continue to be wet the entire time and the olive picking premise of our stay may not eventuate.  Whilst we waited for the rain to stop and the olives to ripen we fell in love with Siena; the weekly market, the history and beautiful architecture, the best gelato shop, the most expensive gelato shop, the bag shop, the pasta place the locals go to and the general hustle and bustle of town.

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About a week before we were due to leave the sun stayed out, the olives did their thing and it was all systems go for a picking palooza.   If all olive picking is always as great for the soul as our week picking at Fangacci, I’m signing up for annual olive picking; milking olives off the branches was like spending a week at a meditation retreat. Other than the odd conversation in broken French / Italian / English, a burst of hysterical laughter or translating French nursery rhymes, it was just us and the trees and the sun.  And blessed silence.  Oh the silence.

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For our trouble three litres of the finest olive oil we have ever had the pleasure of tasting is packaged up and making its way home to Adelaide.  It will be waiting for those days we need to be teleported back to Tuscany or want a bit of sun on our bread or Cathy and David come to visit and we need to pay them back big time for sharing their mum and dad with us!

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Our seven weeks in Italy certainly didn’t turn us into locals and I’m pretty sure it didn’t tick too many boxes when it comes to other peoples dream of Italy.  But it ticked a lot of boxes for us.

Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert we didn’t become Italian linguists simply by immersing ourselves in the language, but we could order espressos and gelato without completely embarrassing ourselves (a feat harder than you may imagine!).  And whilst Diane Lanes, Frances might have felt a burning desire to cure her depression by dumping all her money into a tumble down stone farm house,  we know it’s way easier to go stay in one for a while, drink wine, swim in the pool and let someone else deal with the Italian builders!

We didn’t become locals by any stretch of the imagination, but we did experience a country in a way and depth a mere stop over doesn’t allow. And when it came time to leave the van just wanted to stay where it was….. frighteningly close to a 2m drop off the side of the road.  Which was totally the Universes way of saying ‘don’t leave, stay in Italy just a bit longer, the gelato is soooo good, I refuse to let you say arrivederci that easily….’.  And as the tractor pulled her out, we kind of wished we were staying longer too.

 

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** If you too have a child who is all ‘I’ll-only-consume-pasta-with-butter-and-salt-and-narry-shall-another-food-group-touch-my-lips’, take them to Italy. They will quite possibly decide they want to eat anything BUT pasta.  Because they’re helpful like that.  Children.

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Be adventurous; when you go from plain pasta with butter to wild boar, rabbit and pheasant in one week your mum will throw a party!

School schmool

I know right.  Something that’s not a retrospective travel diary.  Who’d a thought it.

I’m slogging away and trying to use what little internet time we have to keep up with where we’ve been, but this is rather timely to post now so I’m taking a break from my standard travel diary format.

School finished in Australia this week.  Between getting teary at seeing  year sixes and sevens celebrating their last days in primary school and wondering how on earth it is that half my friends are sending their kids to private schools next year without me having even a sniff of an idea this was happening, I’ve been thinking a lot (like a LOT, a lot) about exactly what it is my kids have learned over the past two school terms.

I recently heard ‘schooling on the road’ or ‘schooling whilst traveling’ is a thing, with it’s own real name.  It’s called ‘Road Schooling’.  Personally I prefer my own term that I came up with some months go.  Round these parts we like to call it “Roam Schooling”.  Part ‘real’* school, part home school.

You can read my initial expectations of Roam Schooling here. Suffice to say the reality hasn’t exactly lived up to my expectation of the reality.  To be honest, it’s all gone to shit.

See Roam Schooling or Road Schooling or what ever you want to call it, in  my opinion is one of those things where “a bit of this and a bit of that” really doesn’t shake together to make something awesome.  And believe me I was expecting awesome.   Awesome of the my kids have just been snatched away by aliens and replaced with education junkies thriving on book learning, who want nothing more than to sit all day and write a travel journal and paint water colours of international landscapes variety.    Expectation.  Reality.  About as far from each other Australia and Sweden.

Of course this is just my experience, with my kids and I’ll be the first to admit my kids can be all kinds of special in various ways that other peoples children are not.  But in all seriousness I just don’t know how other people manage to do school on the road and survive, never mind find their kids neatly slot  back into school on their return from Wanderlust.  Of course we have the added layer of emotion because our kids will be returning to a completely new school environment, one where the teachers won’t have any concept of how they have grown and changed and developed beyond academic learning.  If I’m honest I really worry that my kids will be seen to have fallen behind, when I know in so many ways they have thrived and florished.  This has been playing on my mind a lot.

Anyway back to Rome Schooling; this thing we’ve been doing is not ‘real school’.  At least not the we have a teacher who knows what they’re talking about, who has a lesson plan, gives us photocopies of stuff, doesn’t actually make us finish all the activities in the book before we can attend to basics like eating, has a magic board, singy songy songs about letters and blends, actually knows what the full seven steps to writing success are, breaks up the day with walks to the library and the toilet and the oval, kind of ‘real school’ my kids are used to.  The books from school came with us, along with a wad of photocopies outlining the projects and learning objectives that would be met by their peers for the remainder of the year.  My teacher sister gave me an (admittedly awesome) set of resources and an idea of how to set a timetable but that’s about as much ‘real’ school as we’ve got.  Which to many who have Road Schooled before us, is all together too much ‘real school’, whilst others think we’re just not making enough effort.

Neither, might I add is this thing we’ve been having a crack at even close to home schooling.  At least not the we sit diligently in our allocated educational space and work on exciting and motivating projects selected to best enhance the personal interests and skills of each individual child and incorporate educational outcomes into ever single every event we possibly can variety that my (exceptionally inspirational and medal deserving) home schooling friends are serving up to their (exceptionally lucky) kids. Most days I’m lucky to get through the schooling experience without opening a bottle of wine never mind finding motivating projects. **

AND to make matters worse, it’s not let’s visit a different museum, gallery, monument, historical site every day and write a journal or paint a water colour picture to sum up our rich travel experiences.  Because we all know we had the day with The Plan and subsequently have avoided  such activities with fervor.  And we’re living on farms and most of the time the kids just want to play in the mud and beat each other with sticks or make Elf-Yourself videos.

So what have we been doing?  Our average school day would kick off at the allotted time (which ranged anywhere from 8am early on to 2.00pm last week) with me searching for the required books, discovering someone left all their pencils in the rain or the car or the van, looking for a lost ruler or rubber (or both), breaking up a fight about who lost the rubber or ruler, taking the baby to the toilet, making yet more food, sanctioning “drinks breaks” (FFS it is not a break if you didn’t even start already), being called to assist with some pressing task or another.  An hour later I’d usually have managed to corral the children, argue with them about the necessity of dragging themselves away from training feral kittens to chase a piece of carrot on a string along a wall or other such matters of high importance and then if all the stars and the moons align everyone would sit down and work ‘independently’.  On a really good day I could work one on one with one or other of the big girls on some Educational Objective deemed necessary under the auspices of the National Curriculum, whilst the baby played quietly with Lego or paints.

And if all the stars and moons didn’t align.  Well let’s just leave it at saying it wasn’t very nice.  Over the past five months I’m fairly sure the stars and moons were only in alignment maybe six times.

So last week I just stopped doing it.  Stopped.  No more.

If I make my way past the guilt that I may have single handedly ruined my children’s abilities to keep up with their peers, that they won’t be able to read, to write, to modify a narrative, to even know what the hell a narrative is in the first place, to address the core learning areas about the Colonial period in Austrlaia, to create a power point presentation with a higher ratio of informative facts to text flying onto the page, to stay focused, remember their six (and seven and eight and nine) times tables…..

If I climb over the fear that the new school will deem me entirely responsible for any of their academic short comings (and believe me, there will be short comings) and instantly strike me down as an unfit parent…..

If I put my big girl pants on, suck it up and admit I’m kind of bummed I wasn’t even a smidgen as good as I hoped I’d be at this Rome Schooling caper……

If I take a big breath and be really truthful, I have to say, it feels so, incredibly, absolutely, wonderfully, refreshingly, liberating-ly, freaking GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD to be done with school work.

Just tonight I read this blog post that has helped any concerns about quitting on the book learning evaporate instantly.  This resonated the most with me;

“…subjects like maths and reading are the least important things that are learned in a classroom. We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are kind and brave, above all.”

If our Roam Schooling classroom has achieved nothing else it has started to shape contributors that are not just kind and brave but also creative, resourceful, mindful, adventurous, loving, helpful and hardworking.

I might not have been able to convince my seven year old that reading is not the work of Satan.  I defintely haven’t managed to convince my ten year old maths will actually help her in real life.  I’m the proud owner of one single artwork.  But I am proud to say this trip has educated them in ways that might not pay off next week, or next year, it might not take them beyond next week, it certainly won’t get them through a NAPLAN test, but when they are twenty or thirty or forty it will be a deep, hardwired part of who they are.

Here’s a small sample of my favorite lessons from school on the road;

 

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BE CREATIVE: make your own fun, like playing ‘double ponies’ outside the Metro in Paris.

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BE ACTIVE: no matter how bad the day has been get outside and play field soccer like we did at Crooked End.

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LOVE BIG: you never know where you’ll find people who are ready to nurture and love you.  It might be someone elses grandma or a German WWOOFer or anyone in between.

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BE KIND: to people and animals and yourself.

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EAT GOOD FOOD: when you go from plain pasta with butter to wild boar, rabbit and pheasant in one week your mum will throw a party!

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BE HELPFUL: it feels nice to do something for someone else, even if it’s as simple as helping your sister work out the drinking fountains

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PRACTICE GRATITUDE; nothing says thank you like a hand written note.

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BE INQUISITIVE; not everyone wants to look closely at the entrails of dead animals – but if you want to you should go for it.

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BE TRUSTING; not all strangers are bad and if you talk to them clearly and confidently you might get something nice in return.  Like sweets (if someone offers you sweets that you don’t have to pay for, that’s not so good though.  Don’t trust that person!)

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BE A GOOD FRIEND: may this be the first of many many improptu pedicure nights with your sisters

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BE BRAVE; because nothing much else will help when you decide you want to comb a 1tonne, 5ft 6″ cow with big horns.

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BE YOURSELF; even if it means being the only grumpy person in the photo – it’s ok, there’s filters for that now.  Just don’t expect everyone else to match your mood.

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BE RESOURCEFUL: don’t wait for someone else to fix your (constant) problem. Take advantage of opportunities when the arise!!

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BE ACCEPTING: even if you think it’s just an opportunity for your big sister to boss you around accepting help can be advantageous, especially if you get to see the view of Dijon from the top of the fence post.

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BE A DREAMER:  some dreams come true.  Some don’t.  But some do – like dreaming about seeing the Eiffel Tower for four years and then actually being able to do it (rock on!)

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BE PATIENT: sometimes the thing you never thought you could get used to becomes something you can’t imagine living without.

 

 

*real is simply a reflection on the schooling reality my children have experienced in their lives up to this point.  It does not in any way reflect a belief that I think institutionalized education is the ‘real’ way to educate a child – just in case you were planning to get all up me on that one – take a big breath.

 

** this experience has done nothing but reinforce my belief in the exceptional benefits that come from home education, for both children and parents.  However as my children will be returning to a mainstream school (for the foreseeable future) I felt that we weren’t in a position to fully surrender to the completely different pace (?), vibe (?), outcomes (?) of home education – i don’t know that I fully understand exactly what the difference is, maybe somonee can enlighten me.  I also found it really really difficult to manage the two very different (and often challenging) personalities and learning requirements of my big girls whilst still trying to keep a four year old entertained in a limited space, or somewhere that is not her home.  AND I have no patience. I’m not convinced I’m cut out for the adventure.