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A Roadschoolers Perspective…

A Roadschoolers Perspective…

September is here and most kids are buying their school supplies and cute new clothes for the year. My brother and I are currently traveling the world in a red van, being homeschooled. Just like in public school, we study math, reading, writing and History. We also study other subjects public school doesn’t cover such as Greek and Roman Mythology, Astronomy, Languages, and Life Skills. For Languages my brother and I are learning Italian. We know over two hundred words and phrases! My brother can read way above his grade level and I have developed a love of creative writing. Homeschool has really been a great thing for us!

The only downside of being homeschooled is that I haven’t been able to spend time with many girls my age. The social aspect of school is one of the best parts of a public school. Now that we’re in Europe, it’s much harder to keep in touch with my friends back home. The time difference is really a difficult thing to work around. Now that school started, my friends are at school until the afternoon. I am getting ready to go to bed by the time they get home. It’s been hard but we still manage.

The question that most people ask me is where am I most excited to go. That’s a very difficult question to answer. The pictures of Asia are very captivating and Chinese food is the best! I think that is the place I am most excited to go. The Asian culture is very fascinating and I want to learn about their various traditions and holidays.

This trip has been absolutely amazing! I can’t believe that I am lucky enough to be able to experience all of it. My family and I are exploring this beautiful planet one step at a time. We’re discovering amazing new cultures traditions and FOODS!

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog! I’m still not very good at it, but I’ll keep practicing. Buona Notte!

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Where is America?

Where is America?

Where is America?

From Main Street to Main Stream

I admit I am a history and geography junkie. I have been fascinated with the story of mankind and its interrelationship with our planet for as long as I can remember. I can spend hours poring over maps, tracing routes and noting how the topography of a landscape affected the way humans utilized the natural resources to their advantage. I can, and often do, spend hours in museums wondering at the creativity and sheer productivity of our ancestors, who relied on skill and painstaking ability to produce, rather than technology.

When looking at the intricate beadwork on a Native American moccasin, I can easily imagine a woman sitting for weeks on end, skillfully sewing each bead into a beautiful star pattern. I imagine the work she had to do to make the bone needle and the process of creating the leather for the moccasin before she ever sat down to sew. When viewing through a glass panel in the San Antonio Museum of Art, a pair of gold earrings belonging to an Egyptian woman who lived 5700 years ago, I nearly get chills picturing her placing them on her bedside table after returning from a lavish banquet. They couldn’t possibly have known that something so small would last to be part of a museum display enlightening humans hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years later.

My fascination doesn’t begin and end with the ancient or foreign, however. I can register equal interest at a museum detailing the rise and fall of the logging industry in southern Oregon or an Old West Museum in Tombstone, Arizona proudly displaying gunshot holes in the wall from a shoot out 150 years ago. Standing over Ethan Allen’s grave in Burlington, Vermont after reading the heroic tales of the Green Mountain Men was a profound experience for me. These efforts to preserve a part of American history are just as exciting and important to our national fabric as any other.

I grew up in Montana. I’ve traveled a great deal, but the world is big and keeps getting bigger. I have an insatiable desire to see and learn more about all cultures of the world. However my husband and I set aside this year, this one year, to hit the road in an RV with our three kids and really, I mean really, get to see, feel and understand America: where she has been, where she is going and what (and who) she is made of.

I may have to admit ahead of time that I had some pretty high expectations for this trip. Maybe they were just expectations spring-loaded with stories of the great American landscape I had grown up with. As a kid, when we would take road trips, my dad would constantly embellish the landscape around us with historical tidbits and stories about the places outside our windows. At the time, I thought being required to memorize the school mascot of every town we drove through was ridiculous, and usually performed a dramatic eye roll for many of Dad’s narratives on settlers, miners, farmers and homesteaders. Despite that, most of Dad’s stories have stuck with me to this day and I still cannot drive through the pass outside of Bozeman, Montana without recalling the story of Jim Bridger and his barefoot escape from the Crow Indian tribe who had captured him.

So with expectations riding high and gas prices low, we set off four months ago on our big “Find America” trip. We ate pasta in Portland and collected shells on the beach in Astoria. We breathed deep in the Redwoods and inhaled ramen in Little Tokyo in L.A. We crossed the Golden Gate bridge twice and remembered the Alamo in San Antonio. Where are we now? To be exact, half way through our trip, riding high on I-10 en route from San Antonio to New Orleans, but to be honest, we could be anywhere. What’s that supposed to mean, you might say?

I would tell you that if I were in Medford, Oregon it would look exactly the same as if I were in Selma, Texas. Sure, the flora and fauna changed a bit, but the view out my window is essentially the same. We have rolled through, literally, thousands of towns, both big and small, by this point. I have seen the same cookie-cutter, box store, strip mall shopping centers in each one. We must have passed a thousand Targets, Wal-Marts, Home Depots, Subways, Olive Gardens and Krispy Kreme’s by now, leaving each of us with a constant feeling of deja vu. The “sameness” of each day’s landscape is astounding to me. The housing divisions and suburbs look the same… same manicured lawns, same Honda CR-V parked in the driveway. The people even look the same as we all buy jeans and tees from the same stores!

Even more disturbing to this small town girl, are the Main Streets of each of these towns. Stately, stone buildings, once teeming with the entrepreneurial spirit of post-war America are now empty, defunct of purpose. Dusty windows showing years of neglect sag under signs that once advertised the location of “Harper’s Family Hardware, est. 1915” or “Durham Drug Company” or “Royal’s Clothing Store”.

Now, I’m not a complete Luddite. I fully acknowledge the amazing convenience of getting your groceries and cleaning supplies from the same place and then being able to grab your latte at the Starbucks, conveniently located by the door, on your way out. I know what to expect on the menu at every location of Applebee’s and can receive the same crappy service at every Verizon Wireless location nationwide. But I can’t help feel that something is being lost, something vitally important to our national identity, when most every town in America begins to feel the same due to a repetitive infrastructure built on an edifice of convenience.

One of my favorite parts of living in Italy, and this may sound strange, was the lack of convenience. I had to buy meat from the butcher and veggies from the veggie stand and bread from the bakery below my apartment. I shopped at the market in the piazza for fresh pasta and cheese and took a few minutes to sip an espresso at the cafe on my way home. It took longer, sure, but the meat was cut by an expert and the bread baked by someone who had been doing it for 30 years. The veggies were fresh and the farmer could wax poetic about tomatoes for ten minutes while you browsed his stand.

I surely want to give credit where credit is due. There are some amazing transformations and regrowths happening on Main Streets all over America. The desire to have a skill, whether it be growing vegetables or resoling shoes, and then sharing it in a more personal way, through a small business for example, is spreading its roots everywhere. But so are the big box stores and the mega-shopping centers and outlets of convenience.

Let me be clear, here. We have seen some amazing things on this trip so far, some due to the unbridled creativity of Mother Nature and some to the ingenuity of man. The Redwoods were breathtaking and the Golden Gate Bridge, shrouded in fog, is amazing to behold. Watching seals catch fish where the Columbia River meets the ocean was an unforgettable experience and the Alamo… well, less exciting. Why is the Alamo so famous, again?

The “must-see” American landmarks and the destinations touted in travel magazines ARE fantastic sights and are worth spending the time to travel to. But for me, what I wanted to discover on this trip, was the America in between the landmarks. That was where I felt I could really get a sense of who we are and where we are going. We do catch glimpses of the real America now and then, most days really, but they are being pushed to the fringes and I feel are harder and harder to find.

Maybe this is where my sense of nostalgia meets my obsession with the story of mankind. The Native American woman beading moccasins couldn’t possibly have known that her handiwork would outlast her, that it would be a point of inspiration for a small town Montana girl hundreds of years later. I keep wondering what it will be that we, as 21st century Americans, will leave behind, what we will choose to create as a lasting contribution to mankind. Will it be these buildings and parking lots? Or will it be something else? Something better? Something we can be proud of when generations look upon our legacy through museum glass many years from now?

I encourage you to get out to the fringes. Go see the landmarks and the museums. Eat at the small, independent pizza places. Buy your hammer and nails at the family hardware store. Get your boots re-soled instead of buying new ones. Travel! Create! Learn! It might take you longer, but you might get to discover the real America on the way.

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Did I ever tell you about the time I took my life back? And other terrific stories…

Did I ever tell you about the time I took my life back? And other terrific stories…

That’s a loaded title, I know… I’m obviously promising a lot of great content with such a title and you’re wondering if I can deliver. I will certainly give it my best!

I should probably start by introducing myself. I’m Kaleigh.. A year ago, I might have introduced myself as a successful business owner, an aspiring sommelier, a.k.a. wine geek, a wife and a mother of three kids. If you had inquired further, I might have mentioned that I owned two restaurants with my husband, was responsible for 25 or more employees, worked 80 hours per week and rarely saw my kids. What I probably would not have told you, was that I was burned out, had started to resent my job and it’s demanding responsibilities and that I felt absolute guilt every time I missed one of my kid’s soccer games or plays or school fundraisers because I had to be at work.

I could see my husband, Engjell, heading down this same path. We rarely talked about it though, because we were so busy and because we were so successful. This was what we had worked so hard for, wasn’t it? We had focused all of our time and energy into owning a successful business and were making money at it, great money, so who were we to complain? And then one day, we did talk about it. We each knew that the other person was feeling enormous stress and pressure as it was clearly taking a toll on our relationship, too. We talked about how fast our kids were growing up and how much we were missing by being at work and not at their games. We talked about how much we had come to resent our jobs, rather than enjoy them. We talked about what we could do to make a change.

Let me preface this next part by saying that both Engjell and I love to travel! He grew up in Eastern Europe and then moved to Rome as a young man. I met him there as a student abroad and had been backpacking around Europe and Northern Africa prior to moving to Rome. We moved to the U.S. after we had our daughter in 2005, looking to finish university and make something of ourselves. Well… we did make something of ourselves, I suppose. But in doing so, we had left many things behind, including our freedom to travel. We wanted to travel again and we wanted to do it with our kids… to show them the marvelous diversity that existed outside of the tiny place we called home.

Carl Jung once asked, “What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key to your earthly pursuits.” And so it is… What were we chasing? We had a successful business, enough money, a mortgage, two and a half kids… okay, three… and everything they tell you is the key to happiness. And yet, we weren’t happy. We were finding that having all of those “things” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Our kids were growing up without us and before we knew it, they would be off to college and we would be left with a pile of things, but only a handful of memories with our kids.

The decision to sell everything we owned to travel full-time… the house, the cars, the restaurants, the furniture… wasn’t easy and the process wasn’t automatic. It took us almost two years to get everything sold and on the road, but once we made the decision and started to take steps toward achieving our goal, everything fell into place. There were a few times when we both felt that we had made the wrong choice, that giving up our comfortable way of life was a crazy decision. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t laying in bed, terrified, the night before we left for our big adventure.

So let me introduce myself. I’m Kaleigh… I am a wife and a mother. I live in a motorhome and am traveling around the U.S. for one year with my family. The road is my home! I still love food and wine, but now I get to experience those things for pleasure, not for business. And if all of that wasn’t enough, I get to spend every day with my kids! Next year, our family plans to downsize to backpacks and travel for one year around the world. We plan to revisit places we love, like Rome, and to experience new places we have yet to fall in love with. We don’t have definitive plans for what comes next after our two years of travel are over, but neither do we feel pressed to make them.

In just the few short months we have been on the road, I have come to realize that true wealth is the experience. It’s our first time at the beach together, it’s eating noodles in Little Tokyo in LA, it’s watching my kids make new friends on the road, it’s in the journey… And so I encourage you to rediscover what made the hours pass like minutes for you! Life is too short to spend it otherwise! Take your life back too!

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“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith,”… and an RV.

“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith,”… and an RV.

When we first started to share our plans with friends and family of selling everything to buy an RV and travel full-time, we were met with two kinds of responses: “That’s my dream! I have always wanted to do that!” or, “An RV? Like a house on wheels…? Why would you ever want to do that?” Every time I would explain our plan and then our reasons behind it, I was hoping to hear the first response, the affirmation that our plans weren’t completely crazy. Let’s be honest, there is a fine line between brilliant and crazy and Engjell and I like to use it as a jump rope.

Fresh out of culinary school, Engjell and I decided to open our own restaurant at the age of 25. A crazy idea, no question. Traditionally, you would work for years under great chefs before considering opening your own restaurant, but we were given an unusual opportunity and we jumped at it. We also decided to enter the International Pizza Competition in Las Vegas in 2012, certainly not expecting to win, only hoping to learn from some of the world’s best pizzaioli… and trust me, that was crazy. But I have come to the conclusion that life rewards a bit of crazy…

We not only competed at the Int’l Pizza Competition, we placed second in our division! We found great success with our restaurant over six years and were able to open a second one. We put all of our energy and passion into making what we initially thought was a crazy possibility, a golden opportunity. So why bite off another chunk of crazy and sell off our successful business and our comfortable home and our safe life to hit the road?

There’s a meme that floats around social media that says something to this effect: we spend our life working a job we hate to pay rent and to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. That sentiment really began to resonate with me the last few years. I would see my friends on Facebook copy and paste that meme and even shared it once or twice, myself. I found myself pouring over pictures of places I hadn’t been to and reading Travel magazine articles about cultures I had yet to experience. But to what end? I could copy and paste a thousand memes about life, travel or happiness, each time pretending that a re-post was the best way I could express those desires. But what good did it do me to like a photo on Pinterest or cut out a magazine article if I was never going to take the steps necessary to make those sentiments a reality?

So there we were, living what we had expected to be our American dream come true and finding that success, money and stability wasn’t the recipe for happiness we had been sold on. I wasn’t even enjoying cooking anymore and that was a problem. It was time to take the leap of faith and do the crazy thing…

Oddly enough, freedom took shape in the form of an RV for us. I was gung-ho on traveling the world with a pack on my back and our kids trailing behind us, but when Engjell first pitched the idea of starting out for a year in an RV, I flat turned him down. I can imagine this is a scenario of familiarity for many full-time RV couples…

But slowly, RV life is growing on me. I appreciate the opportunity to see how other Americans live their lives and the beautiful and incredible landscape in which they are doing it. I can see my kids absorbing their surroundings at a furious pace and my hope is that these two years on the road will help mold them into human beings of consequence. I want them to know that happiness isn’t always the big house with the picket fence and high-paying job, that sometimes, many times, it will be something much less predictable and comfortable.  I want them to know that it’s okay to do the crazy thing…

So what is your crazy? What’s holding you back? I made a thousand excuses for why we shouldn’t give up what we had to pursue this adventure. It was scary and intimidating and not everyone we told about it gave us the nod of approval, but it was worth it! The days are fleeting and life is waiting for you to bite off your own chunk of crazy! Cheers!

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“Buy an RV,” they said… “It’ll be easy,” they said…

“Buy an RV,” they said… “It’ll be easy,” they said…

Actually, nobody lured us to the idea of living full-time in an RV with the promise that it would be easy. I made that part up. I’m not even sure what I was expecting, but the utopian version of RV life I had naively concocted in my daydreams is not even close. My Dad is one of the unluckiest people I know and one of his favorite sayings is, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Science has yet to release this study, but I’m confident they will find bad luck to be a genetic inheritance… thank you, Dad!

Three weeks into what we were dubbing “the adventure of a lifetime”, our RV engine blew up and needed replacing. We were told the entire problem stemmed from careless mechanics on the part of the dealership where we had purchased our RV.  We were quoted $11,000 and a window of 3 weeks to a month to get our home on wheels back on the road. I’m not emoji savvy, but I think the appropriate emoji response is the poop emoji… (insert poop emoji here).

I’ve been an incurable optimist for the entirety of my life, but usually not without a good side order of realism to balance things out. This might be one of the biggest ways in which Engjell and I are different: he is a committed pessimist. He can name fifteen reasons why the glass is half empty when you only asked for ten. I think my reckless optimism drives him insane, but in the end, I like to think we balance each other’s personalities out. Naturally, our kids have no idea what the status of the proverbial glass really ought to be.

However, this first month of life on the road has challenged my “happy, go lucky” spirit much more than I ever anticipated. Every day, it seem like a different appliance is sounding its alarms or the batteries are dead or the heating won’t work. To be fair, some of the issues have stemmed from pure user error and our learning curve has been pretty steep, but just as many of the problems have been legitimate. All of a sudden, Engjell is the optimist, running around excitedly and grinning ear to ear, every time a new alarm goes off because he gets to fix something! I have never known anyone who loves to troubleshoot like Engjell does…. He’s in his element and I can tell this trip, despite the setbacks, makes him happy.

Just as important, it makes my kids happy. In one short month, they went from barely being able to entertain themselves without a tech gadget to playing games requiring imagination and creativity for hours on end at the park. Just when I thought all was lost and my kids had sold their imaginations to the electronic devil, life on the road comes to the rescue!

So now I realize, it wasn’t that my optimism had vacated the premises… I just had a bad attitude. Embarking on a new and grand adventure was never going to be easy and I had no right to force my expectations of perfection on it. Ninety percent of happiness is perspective but I let myself forget that important detail for one long, excruciating month. A wise friend reminded me last week of the adage that “anything worth doing will rarely be easy”. If Engjell, the Grand Poobah of pessimists, can find something to smile about every time an alarm goes off, I sure as heck can find a way too.

It becomes clearer every day: it’s not whether the glass is half empty or half full, the point is that it’s refillable. Cheers!