Why linkbaiters are doing it wrong and always have been.

appleFor the past five or six months, my Facebook news feed has seemed intent on telling me all the things I’ve been doing wrong.

First it was apples. Have you labored under the delusion that there is, in fact, a core? WRONG.

Tic-tacs. Do you open the spout on top and shake a few into your hands? WRONG.

Bananas. Peel ‘em from the stem? WRONG.

Eating Chinese takeout? Opening ketchup packets? Consuming oranges? Putting a straw in a soda can? Hard-boiling eggs? You, dear world, are doing it wrong.

The first time one of these articles – the “just go ahead and eat the apple core” one - came across my feed, I was intrigued enough to click over. The second and third times I saw a similar admonition about my eating techniques, I felt mild interest and clicked to see what I was missing out on (as it turned out, I was already eating my oranges the so-called “right” way.) By the fourth and fifth times, I was tired of them.

But by the tenth time or so, my initial curiosity and later, boredom with the concept had been replaced by irritation.

And then this morning, I saw this: Read More →

Announcing Build Your Big Dream!

build your big dreamIf you’ve been following my work over the past ten years, you might know a few things about me. That while pregnant with my third child and miserably working full-time in an office job, I launched a freelance writing career and never looked back. That I’ve earned a full-time income from home for most of the last decade, with babies and small children underfoot (now five in all). That I’ve written four traditionally-published books and have contributed hundreds of articles to dozens of national magazines like Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Yoga Journal. And that, in 2009 I launched a blog called The Happiest Mom (now The Happiest Home) which I’ve used to completely overhaul my career and life and truly achieve the dream of working for myself on projects I’m passionate about, blending my home, work, and family life in a way that’s satisfying and sustainable for me.

But you might not also know that I offer classes and coaching programs that can help you claim YOUR big dream, too.  Read More →

In defense of the long email

my work space - dining room

The first time I was introduced to the world of email, I was eighteen years old and in the first week of my freshman year of college. Sure, I’d messed around with email before in a class or two, but it had never been available to me at any time or in pretty much any place I might want to use it. Now, I suddenly had access to a 24-hour-a-day computer lab in my dorm, and every library or study area I ran across on campus had computers and internet access.

I spent the first days before classes started getting acquainted with the VAX machine in our dorm computer lab. It was a small, no-frills monitor with a black screen and bright-green blinking letters; logging in required a complicated series of keystrokes I could no longer repeat if I had to. There were no browsers on these machines, no games, no applications of any sort – only email.

Considering I only knew a handful of other people who had email addresses at that time – one of them being my roommate, who I spent most of my waking hours with anyway – you’d think I wouldn’t have had much use for an email-only computer. Oh, but you’d be wrong. I became obsessed with sending emails, mostly to my sister (who worked for the state government and was one of the first people I knew to have access to email for work,) a couple of friends who were attending colleges in other cities…and, yes, my roommate. (Hey, we had differing class schedules and had to stay in touch during the day!)

I sent long emails. Novel-length emails. Emails detailing the contents of my breakfast; describing the cute boy who sat a few rows down in my Econ class; lamenting the fact that I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to pass my Econ class…and questioning my decision to major in business, which had required me to take Econ in the first place. And my friends, and my sister, and yes, my roommate sent long emails back to me.

Our emails were like the long, handwritten letters you see copied into historical books; narrative reports of daily life filled with everyday news, spiced up with an occasional exciting bit of town drama. Only instead of reporting on the health of the chickens or our neighbor’s barn fire, we’d complain about exams and describe the day the police stormed our dorm and took out the three nice boys down the hall in handcuffs, never to be seen again. (Nice boys they were, but not very careful about the booming marijuana business they were obviously carrying on from their room.) Read More →

“Can’t.”

Of all the words in the world, perhaps my least favorite is “can’t.”

Why? Maybe it’s because of how often it’s used to rain on somebody else’s parade. For example, people love to tell you that you can’t do things:

“You can’t just…(quit your job, get up and move to another country, say exactly what you’re thinking, change your mind, change your life.)”

People also love to tell you about the things THEY can’t do:

“It’s cool that you’re doing that, but I can’t (travel, eat well, save money, change careers) because (my job is too demanding, my kids have too many evening activities, I have college debt, I have a family to think of.)”

That last kind of “can’t” is the worst, because there’s a tinge of “Must be nice!” to it.

And “must be nice!” might just be the pettiest, most dripping-with-envy, and least productive phrase in the English language.

It implies not only that the other person got whatever it “must be nice!” to have through some kind of illicit, unfair or irresponsible means, but also that the person who wants whatever it “must be nice!” to have is helpless to change their own circumstances. Read More →

Where you can find me this spring: Conferences & Retreats

camp makearoo

Conference season is kicking into gear, and after a cold and gray winter, I couldn’t be more ready to do some traveling and, of course, learn from and hang out with talented bloggers, vloggers, writers, and podcasters.

I wanted to share where I’ll be so we can connect if you’re attending any of these conferences. (And if you’re not signed up for any yet, but you’re a blogger/writer/aspiring blogger/aspiring writer, go for it. Conferences and networking have been vital to my career.)

March 21 – 23: Blissdom Conference, Dallas, TX

I'm a BlissDom Community Leader

I’ll be a Community Leader in the “Don’t Niche Me In” category at this year’s Blissdom Conference in Dallas, TX. What does that mean? If you’re a new attendee – or a veteran! – who needs help finding a session, figuring out how the schedule works, or just need a bit of hand-holding, I’m here to help. I’ll also be walking attendees through the workshop portion of sessions and offering any guidance you might need along the way. The CL’s role is to help you make the most of your Blissdom experience. This will be my third year at Blissdom and my second as a Community Leader, and I can’t wait.

April 12 – 13, Bloggy Boot Camp, Phoenix, AZ

 

What can I say about Bloggy Boot Camp? This will be my third time speaking at a BBC, and I’ve just been so impressed with this smaller, more intimate, affordable, and extremely hands-on conference. At Bloggy Boot Camp you’ll learn real skills that you can start implementing on your blog today.

Sarah Powers, Managing Editor at The Happiest Mom, and I will be co-presenting. I’ve loved working with Sarah over the last few months, and I’ll be drawing on that experience to speak about the process of hiring support staff for your blog, how you know when it’s time to grow, and the logistical ins and outs of working with an assistant or editor. Sarah will speak from the perspective of a blogger who also works as an editor.

If you can’t make the Phoenix event, keep in mind that Bloggy Boot Camp travels around the country so there’s a good chance there will be an event in your area soon.

May 2-4, Mom 2.0 Summit, Laguna Niguel, CA.

I'm Speaking At The Mom 2.0 Summit

I’m so excited to be speaking for the second time at this stellar event. Mom 2.0 is where you find seriously heavy-hitter bloggers, but even if you’re less experienced, there’s plenty to learn (and lots of high-quality networking to do) at this conference. It’s always in an absolutely gorgeous location, and the speakers, amenities and events are top-notch. I’ll be sharing more about my session as the event draws nearer.

May 10 -12, Camp Makearoo, Lake Geneva, WI

 

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be the keynote speaker for this awesome event. Started by my colleague and good friend Toni McLellan, Camp Makearoo’s mission is to help you find a way to make a living doing what you love. Bust the “starving artist” myth and find a way to thrive while pursuing your passion!

Whew! It’s going to be a busy spring, but I can’t wait to get out and learn, network and grow as a writer and businessperson. Will I see you at any of these events?

what does it mean to be successful?

raising teens

my son Jacob and I at Epcot center

After going through infancy and toddlerhood and a rather rocky preschool period with my first two boys, I experienced a steady increase in parental self-confidence.

Seeing my sons thrive and grow and, yes, learn to fall asleep on their own despite any missteps I might have made in those early years helped me to realize that there really are many ways to raise great kids, and that what matters in the end is the big picture – not whether I get every little detail “right.”

But now that I’ve got two teenagers in the house – Isaac, 13, and Jacob, 15 – I admit that some of that confidence has been shaken.

Sometimes I find myself second-guessing my values and choices, much the way I did when they were six months old. I find myself looking at the decisions they make, and wondering how much the not-so-great ones reflect on me and my parenting style.

Mostly I find myself in the uncomfortable position of, once again, worrying about doing it right.

Doing school “right.” Parenting teenagers “right.” Raising productive members of society “right”.

But somehow the choices I’m faced with now seem more fraught than they ever did when I was choosing between cloth and disposable diapers. Because what my sons have entered now is a period of years that will directly affect that nebulous quality of life that we call “success.”

Which raises the question: what, exactly, is success?

The older my kids get, the more I feel that definition – according to the rest of the world, anyway – is wrapped up in school, grades, and achievement.

And I’m just not sure it’s a view I can completely buy into.

It’s not that I think academic achievement is unimportant. School is, after all, my kids’ “job.” They spent the majority of their waking hours either in a school building, or at home dealing with homework. Their performances now will affect the college they might be able to attend, either due to admissions criteria or the chances of getting scholarship money. Yes, what they are doing right now matters.

But at the end of the day – or should I say, at the end of this decade of their lives - how much will it matter? And to what lengths should I go to make sure they get the grades, ace the tests, nab the resume-impressive opportunities?

And – if I’m really honest – how much of me cares about these grades and performance because I actually think they are what will bring my kids happiness and success later in life, and how much is it more that I’m worried about “what other people will think” if my kids don’t perform?

While I of course want my kids to do well in school, to achieve, and have all the options in the world available to them, the older they – and I – get, the more I realize that their success in high school is not how I want to define their success as human beings. Nor how I want them to feel defined.

That’s a controversial position to take. My boys attend a public school system with high academic standards. Grades and tests and what college you get into are a big deal here. The 8th grade awards banquet is like a pageant of adolescent excellence. I can only imagine what’s in store for me as Jacob (a freshman) reaches the upper grades.

And of course I want my kids to do well. To try. To know the satisfaction of reaching a goal or making the honor roll.

But when I think about how all-important those GPAs and test scores and college applications are supposed to be in the life of a mom to teens, I’m just not convinced. Not convinced that better grades equal more success in life. Not convinced that getting into a “better” college means you’ll be richer down the road. Not even a little bit convinced that being richer down the road would equal being happier, either.

The more I am on this earth, the more I think we’re here to experience what it has to offer, to get to know the people we share it with. I believe we do that through learning. But learning is not the same thing as proving you’ve learned.

Not every kid is ready to take the world by storm at the age of 14 or 15 or 16.  Not every kid is able, ready, or willing to “apply himself” between his freshman and senior years, as much potential as the rest of us might all see in him.

Some teens are immature, some are disorganized. Some are late bloomers – I’m a great example of somebody who fumbled through my teens and early 20s, not hitting my stride until I was well into my third decade of life. Heck, I never even finished college, and yet I consider myself very happy and pretty successful, as my personal definition of success goes.

Look at today’s kids. They are already smarter than us – not wiser, no, but smarter – in so many ways. How will they harness the information they’re constantly swimming in? How do we teach them to use it for good, to innovate for the right reasons, to be thoughtful and kind and not just smart?

Is it possible that the way we have traditionally measured and judged human achievement and success is not only hopelessly outdated, but was inaccurate to begin with?

I think it’s our job as parents, as a society, to redefine what success means. To reward innovation and creativity and kindness and optimism and the willingness to try just as much as we reward getting the right answers on a test. To recognize – truly recognize – kids for their different strengths and talents.

To acknowledge that the path to success does not look the same for every young adult, and very often does not include a linear path from high school to college to chosen career. 

I want my kids to succeed. But success means so much more to me than A’s and B’s on a report card or numbers on a test. And I think it’s time I was bolder in making that statement, right out loud.

Because the last message I want my teens to pick up on is that they are somehow doomed or “less than” because they have a less-than-dazzling high school performance.

We all know examples of successful people who had so-so high school careers. And we all know examples of people who excelled in school and are now miserable, broke or underemployed.

So then, what is success? I believe it’s rooted in having the sort of tenacity and resiliency that allows a person to pick up and try again, no matter how many times they fail or fall down. A network of loved ones who will offer support and encouragement when things don’t go well and a cheering section when they do. And the optimism and imagination to see that there is more to life just around the next bend in the road.

That is my personal definition of success. And if my boys achieve that, I’ll be very happy regardless of their final GPA or which college they get into…or don’t.

“But what about school?” Thoughts on education during our trip abroad.

 

Since going public with our plan to take an extended family trip to Ecuador in 2014, we’ve gotten a few “what about…” kind of questions from concerned family and friends. Questions like…

  • What about the water?
  • What about crime?
  • What about work?

But by far, the most commonly-asked question has been, “What are you going to do about school?”  

So far as we can tell, we have three basic options for educating the kids while in Ecuador:

1. Enroll them in a local Spanish-speaking school. I worry that since we’ll be there for such a limited time and will be learning Spanish as we go, the kids wouldn’t get much benefit from this scenario. It also seems unnecessarily disruptive, since we’ll be leaving after a semester or two.

2. Enroll them in an international or English-speaking school. I haven’t been able to locate any in Cuenca, and my understanding is that they can be quite expensive. Plus,  we want to have the freedom to travel and time to spend immersing ourselves in the local culture, and I think an international school might be an obstacle in some ways.

3. Homeschool. This choice is currently emerging as the clear winner. It’ll give us a lot more freedom and flexibility to design our time abroad how we want. Also, our local district offers some virtual programs and online classes for high schoolers, so there’s a possibility we can tap into those options even while out of the country.

You’d think I’d be jumping up and down over the homeschooling option. After all, I’ve often thought of myself as a homeschooler at heart, and we did homeschool for one year, when my son Jacob was in first grade.

But actually, I feel just as much anxiety. As a parent of teenagers, the topic of education seems much more fraught than it might have five years ago.

After all, taking elementary-school-aged kids out of class for a semester or two so they can embark on a rich cultural adventure seems like a no-brainer: they’re already strong readers and ahead in math; any other gaps can be bridged gradually and the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

But while I’m confident I can teach my 13- and 15-year-old sons to think critically, to use proper grammar, or to correctly structure a paragraph, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that I can’t teach them, say, chemistry or astronomy as well as an experienced and knowledgeable teacher could.

And even though the logical side of my brain reminds me that there is not a single year-long window of time during which a person can learn any given topic or else the opportunity has forever passed, I also know that re-entering high school behind in some subjects could be a challenge.

As a temporary homeschooler I won’t have the luxury of crafting a custom curriculum or letting a subject unfold over many years. There will be a lot of pressure to get it all done at once. And while I am confident my kids will still turn out to be knowledgeable, well-rounded people, the “but what will everyone else think” voice in my brain does make me worry.

So now I’m trying to turn that voice off. I have a lot of jumbled thoughts in my head about what it means to be “successful” and what I believe about achievement and education and learning to explore in a future post.

But for now, I can sum it up by saying that I think there are a lot of ways to define success, and for my kids, it is probably not going to look like the typical path.

(Considering I’ve never been very interested in doing anything the typical way, I suppose that’s not surprising.)

Yes, as temporary homeschoolers we might face a bumpy re-entry to life in the US. My kids might not learn everything they need to know to move on to the next grade level in all their courses. They may have a permanently dented academic record.

But I guess I just have to have faith that the rewards will be rich enough to make up for any losses. That my kids aren’t defined by their GPAs or test scores. And that I’ll have the courage to express that belief loudly and proudly in the face of criticism or curiosity.

As a mom I’ve made a lot of “off the beaten path” decisions and this, I suppose, is no different. I’ve made great choices, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. And I know it’s all valuable as long as I keep learning.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly what I’d like to tell my kids about life, learning, and achievement. That success isn’t some number or goal you reach and then stop; that achievement isn’t something you reach for just to prove your worthiness to others.

As far as I’m concerned, life is all about getting to know the world we live in, being of service to others, and waking up each day ready to move on to the next adventure.

And if my kids learn those things, then I’ll consider them as successful as they need to be.

When life is good, why change?

 

I’ve always been equally drawn to, and repelled by, change.

I don’t know if I can explain it except to say that, every so often, I feel a very strong urge to shake things up, while at the same time another part of my psyche clings desperately to whatever comfortable, familiar status I’ve reached.

I experience this conflict in my work. My personal life. My choice of surroundings. Heck, I could probably chalk up a baby or two to a sudden and impossible-to-ignore need to complicate my sleepy, steady life.

In my recent post about our family plan to spend time abroad, I wrote:

The thing is, I do love our life. We’ve actually held a pretty firm line against the modern-day craziness, the go-go-go of one activity or sport after another. We eat dinner together as a family most nights, spend leisurely weekend days with close family and friends, laugh together, and don’t stress too much….We live in a beautiful, cozy haven filled with friendly people and great schools.

That’s just it. Sometimes I feel like we’re too comfortable. And then I think: am I nuts? What’s wrong with comfort? Isn’t that what humans are supposed to work toward: peace, prosperity, quiet nights in the rocking chair?

Or is there something to be said for making sure we’re really awake?

Recently I started to read Jeff Goins‘ book, Wrecked: When A Broken World Slams Into Your Comfortable Life. 

The book focuses on experiencing, really experiencing, the world and the lives of people in it, so that we can allow our perspectives and mindsets to experience a radical shift…rather than staying cocooned in the comfy, protective bubble of relative wealth and luxury that most of us who possess high-speed internet and access to Target occupy.

I’ve read enough of Jeff’s stuff to know that he is a well-respected, talented writer who seems like a genuinely nice guy. I’d liked his writing enough to buy his book, after all.

But as I read it, I first felt vaguely on edge, and then that edginess turned to annoyance. By the time I got to the middle of the book, I felt genuinely angry. Why?

I think it’s because what Jeff was suggesting – leaving behind the blurry veil of ignorance to embrace something much grittier and less shiny and palatable – was darned uncomfortable to contemplate.

While in one part of my brain I acknowledged the truth in his words, I also found myself mentally resisting what he was saying, like a toddler kicking her feet and clinging desperately to a toy.

Only in my case, the “toy” I was clinging to was the idea of a comfortable, easy life. I’ve worked hard to achieve it, after all. Isn’t it supposed to be mine for keeps?

I think Wrecked made me uncomfortable because I it made me recognize the fallacy in that idea – that I deserve a certain way of life, and that I can hold on to it, make it mine, for good. If I just ignore the reality of the rest of the world. If I just earn enough money.

But nothing is guaranteed. And while a certain way of life may be earned, that doesn’t mean it’s deserved.

Or that it can’t go away. Or that it’s all there is.

This isn’t a pre-midlife crisis. I’m not living a life of quiet despair, trying to “find” myself, or wondering “what’s the point of it all?”

Rather, I think I’m recognizing that comfort and ease will only get me so far. And that, if I get too comfy-cozy, I run a real danger of living the majority of my adult years not fully awake.

Things that I never imagined in my much-poorer existence ten or fifteen years ago have become mine, and I barely even notice the difference. Things I never imagined my kids would have are just an assumed part of their life. Things I never thought I’d care about – like what people might think if I did X or drove Y or lived in Z – now weigh heavy on my mind, much as I try to shake those thoughts and comparisons away.

I don’t begrudge us any of what we have – which would seem quite modest to many, and unbelievably lavish to others – but I want to have my eyes open wide enough to see it for what it is.

So that’s why, though my life is happy and good, I look for ways to shake it up. To stay awake. To make sure I’m not sleepwalking through these days and months and years.

Kristen Tennant, a blogger I have respected for years, recently wrote a post called Not Playing It Safe. While I love the whole post and the sweet story she shares, this is the part that jumped out at me most:

No, it can’t be the promise of branches that will hold or fruit that is ripe and sweet that motivates us to take risks. It can only be the promise of adventure—of some motion that wakes your life up and takes it from where it has been slumbering to some new place.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

There is no guarantee in adventure, except that it will be often uncertain and occasionally uncomfortable. And that it requires your attention and focus and participation. It requires you to stay awake.

Maybe to really keep my eyes open, I need to challenge the side of myself that would really rather stay riiiight here.

And whether it’s a small adventure – a new friendship, maybe – or a big one, like an international move, it’s worth stepping outside of my wonderfully peaceful life to open my eyes, wake up, and get living.

Why Ecuador?

Cuenca, Ecuador

Last week I shared that my family is planning an extended stay in Ecuador.

At which point, I’m guessing about half the people reading said “Ecuador?”

How did we settle on Ecuador? Why not Italy or Indonesia? Why not France or Finland?

I’ll admit that up until last year, Ecuador wouldn’t even have been on my radar as far as a place that I’d want to visit. For some reason South America seemed both not exotic enough for an adventure abroad (it *is* an America, after all) and also a little bit scary (aren’t there like, drug wars and stuff down there?)

But after doing some – okay, a lot of – reading, I found myself seriously considering a continent that we previously wouldn’t even have given a second thought. Here’s why:

Why South America:
South America first emerged as a contender when I read The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International EducationAuthor Maya Frost made the radical decision to pull her daughters out of high school to move abroad, settling in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

After reading the book – which is more about living abroad in general than South America specifically, but still includes a lot of great tidbits of information about Argentina – I started researching by reading expat blogs and forums.

I was intrigued by what I read about Latin American culture, specifically the focus on families and love of children (to be fair, lots of countries and continents seems to trump the US in this regard).

It’s also a lot safer, overall, then we might be conditioned to think. Of course there are not-so-desirable and even dangerous places in South America, but we’ve also got those right in our own states and cities. In general, I found that a lot of crime against tourists is preventable. (More about that in a future post.)

I found out fairly quickly that, due to an expat explosion, Argentina and specifically Buenos Aires have become much more expensive places to live than they were 5 or 10 years ago. But I kept reading that in general, South America offers a low cost of living – crucial to us as we will be maintaining a household in the U.S. and would like to spend less, month-to-month, living abroad than we would living here.

In other words, when everything balances out at the end of the month – the cost of food, utilities and rent there plus the cost of our basic bills here like insurance and the house payment – we wanted to spend less money per month than we do now just maintaining our basic North American lifestyle. And we found that there are areas of South America where we can reasonably expect to do that.

“Living cheap” definitely wouldn’t be the only reason I’d choose a specific destination, but considering we have a family of 7 and limited funds, it’s definitely a factor.

Why Ecuador?
When looking for countries where we could find that laid-back, slower pace of life along with a super low cost of living, Ecuador came up again and again…but so did a lot of other countries. Here’s what put Ecuador top of our list:

  • It’s not too hot. Yes, Ecuador is on the equator, but the area we’re considering is up in the Andes mountains. Cuenca is said to have a “spring-like” climate year-round, with highs in the mid-70s and lows in the mid-50s. (Those are the kind of temps a northern girl like me can get behind.) Even the areas on the coast with lower elevation seemed to have pretty reasonable temps, with mid-80s year-round being a common theme.
  • A cool mix of cultures. Ecuador is a small country that offers many different cultural experiences, from European-settled colonial cities to small fishing villages, each offering its own history, art, music, festivals and food. There’s also a huge amount of geographical and biological diversity in the country, which I’ll explore in another post.
  • The U.S. dollar is the official currency. Maybe this seems like a silly reason to choose a specific place, but with all the transitions we’ll be going through as residents of a new country – language, culture, and just getting familiar with the terrain – the last thing I want is to be trying to figure out how the value of the currency works. I have a hard enough time figuring out the exchange rate when I go to Canada.
  • Ecuador is on Eastern time zone. Okay, yes, admittedly this is another silly little thing but I am awful at figuring out how to adjust for time zone, and it’ll be nice to know I don’t have to worry about that, especially since I’ll continue to work remotely. When I’m facing so much that is new and strange, I think it’ll be comforting to know that when it’s 9 AM down there, it’s 9 AM “back home,” too.
  • It’s about an 8-hour flight from Chicago to Quito. I liked that the flight is a reasonable distance, meaning if we had to get back for any reason or if family or friends wanted to visit, it would be possible. During certain times of year flights are pretty reasonably-priced, too.

I admit they are mostly very practical, even boring reasons – but hey, South America is a big place, and you gotta start narrowing down your options somewhere.

Which leads us to the question: Why Cuenca?  But that will have to wait for a future post!

Oh, and in case you’re curious, we are planning this trip for late 2013, so we have a year to prepare. Which is good, because I think we’re going to need it!

Until next time!

My big fat South American family sabbatical

Did you know that “Ecuador” is so named because it is located on the equator (which is, hello, “ecuador” in Spanish?)

Yes, you say? Everybody knows that? It’s obvious, you say?

Well, I didn’t…or at least, I never put two and two together. I guess I just never had a reason…until we started researching moving to Ecuador. 

What? I guess I better back up.

I’ve been hesitating writing about this, because I feel like once it’s out there, all public-like, I can’t take it back. And part of me worries that the part of me that likes to get excited about new ideas and new places won’t override the part of me that strangely also kind of hates change and will cave in when the other part of me that enjoys comfort and habit starts freaking out, and the part of me that worries about looking like a flake thinks it’ll be terribly humiliating if the whole thing falls through if the scared-comfortable-habitual parts of me win out.

But wait, I gotta back up some more. Yes, we are planning a move to Ecuador. Not a forever-move, or even a particularly long time – a year max; probably less. But definitely an extended journey, a length of time too long to be considered a mere “vacation.”

(Here’s where I apologize if you are a close friend or family member and are hearing about this for the first time. We’ve been mulling this idea over for many months, and at this point I’ve forgotten who we’ve actually discussed it with, and who we haven’t.)

Here’s our motivation for this crazy plan:

Particularly those two on the left. My big boys, 13 and going-on-15. Growing up so fast that I almost can’t remember what they looked like when they were the ages of the younger boys. Growing so fast that keeping them in shoes that fit is becoming a serious challenge.

Their lives are changing. They’re getting busier, focusing on peers and school and sports and slowly distancing themselves away from the little rituals and comforts of home.

This is all very normal and desirable….and yet, it makes me feel a little panicky. I just don’t feel like I’ve had enough yet. Haven’t made enough time. Haven’t paid enough attention.

To quote Elisa Bernick, author of The Family Sabbatical Handbook, “…our family, like many others, had a vague sense that the best of life was slipping away and we were powerless to do anything about it. There was simply never enough time or psychic space for us or anyone we knew to savor the good lives, the marriages, the children that we were all working so hard to make.”

The thing is, I do love our life. We’ve actually held a pretty firm line against the modern-day craziness, the go-go-go of one activity or sport after another. We eat dinner together as a family most nights, spend leisurely weekend days with close family and friends, laugh together, and don’t stress too much.

And yet…as my oldest son stands on the cusp of manhood I find myself greedily wanting more. Time for us to have an adventure, all together, without anyone else’s expectations or needs or schedules getting in the way.

Another motivation is that I want my kids to experience what it’s like not to live in small-town, white-bread America.

Again, I love our town. We live in a beautiful, cozy haven filled with friendly people and great schools.

But I get the nagging feeling sometimes that my kids have it a little too easy. They’ve never had to struggle to learn a language or feel like an outsider. Besides the opportunity to learn a second language, I’m eager for them to experience another culture by immersion. Talk about an education.

Jon and I both love to travel, and share a sense of adventure and a “who says we can’t?” attitude that we definitely want to pass on to our kids. Sometimes I thank my lucky stars that I managed to marry somebody who cares about following the status quo as little as I do.

Finally, we want to do this because we can. Jon and I are both self-employed; my work is totally mobile, his becoming increasingly so. I know there are so many families out there who would love to have the flexibility to try something new and different like this; for us to have the opportunity and not to take it feels like a waste.  Being self-employed definitely has its downsides…it’s just silly not to take full advantage of the benefit of geographical freedom!

There are a lot of details to work out, which I’ll be delving into in future posts so you can follow along as we plan this great adventure! But one question that might be on your mind right now is probably “Why Ecuador”?

There are a lot of practical reasons for this destination, which I’ll share in future posts, but in the meantime I wanted to leave you with this photographic persuasion:

This is Cuenca, Ecuador, the city we’re most strongly considering.
We could still be swayed to consider another place, but this one is ticking all the boxes, including that “makes my heart beat a little faster when I look at it” box. Isn’t it pretty?

Maybe you think this is nuts. Maybe you think this is the coolest thing ever. Maybe you couldn’t care less. Either way, fair warning: I’m going to be writing a lot about Ecuador, living abroad and the idea of a “family sabbatical” over the coming months.

(But even if you don’t care anything about international living, you might still want to follow along, so you can point and laugh the first time I eat a guinea pig.)

Not to mention the first time I try to carry on a conversation entirely in Spanish.

It’ll be fun. Stick around.