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Portable Parents Blog bio picture

Welcome to our Blog!

Welcome to our Blog!

That is us on the left.  We are the Lannin's, Sean, Gina, Grant, and Genevieve (but her friends call her Gigi).

In July 2008 we sold everything we owned and started a new life.  We began by traveling and for the past 8 months we have traveled through Latin America on an open ended adventure.

We started the blog as a way to let friends and family know what we were up to, but we have also met many new friends from all over the world through the blog.  We are happy to share our story and adventures with others, and hope that you enjoy it as well.

We love to hear from you so send us an email at sean(at)portable-parents(dot)com or use the Contact Us form.

The Lannin's

The End

We all have our favorite blogs that we follow, some of them religiously… eagerly anticipating the next post to see what excitement besets the blogger in question.

I was captivated by many family travel blogs during our research and preparation for our trip and in fact have made new friends exchanging information and ideas about traveling as a family to different parts of the world.  Most of these families however I knew nothing about, my only contact or knowledge coming from their daily, weekly, or monthly blog posts.

When their trips were over the posts would often just stop!  No further information or even much of a build up to the day they stopped posting.  I can understand why this happens…in fact, it is probably “more normal” than making a formal post about a final post

…but

This post will serve as our last formal post.

We began the blog a year and a half ago – that is a long time to write about your life let me tell you.  Like most things in life there were highs and lows trying to maintain the blog but there were more bright moments than not.

What I enjoyed most about writing the blog was the people we met through it and the process of recording some incredible moments in the lives of our family.  Gina and I are incredibly blessed for having the opportunity to travel with our kids and having these memories available to our friends and family to remember is very, very cool and something I know we will cherish for all of our years.

I think it is appropriate to thank everyone that has participated in this journey, either by emailing or commenting…or simply by taking the time from your busy lives to visit our blog.

So Thank You!

We returned to the U.S. 5 weeks ago, visiting Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky.  We can say that the fall in the South East is amazing and recommend the Blue Ridge Parkway to anyone in the neighborhood…beautiful.  Our focus is on finding a place to “settle down”, finding schools for the kids, and plugging back into life in the U.S..

Our plans have changed from 2 years ago, it won’t be Ecuador but some state in the U.S. that we settle – but the focus to simplify our lives and spend more time as a family is still at the forefront of our decision making.

I am guessing that this will not be the last post, just the official post to let everyone know that our focus has changed, and if updates are warranted we will get them posted.  We will also continue to receive emails and comments for the foreseeable future.

We have a couple of other blogs in the works that revolve around other aspects of our lives and as these are finished we will post links for anyone interested in following these escapades.

So…thanks again for all of your support!

Sean, Gina, Grant, Genevieve (Gigi)

The End

A Creative Life

I smiled when I read the words…they were SO true!

I happened upon a blog of a man that was describing how when he thinks he has come up with a new idea, he soon finds that others have beat him to it. Its kinda like the “new car syndrome” where after you purchase a new car you suddenly see the same model everywhere when in reality they have been there all along but you simply had not noticed them before.

When Gina and I decided to travel with our kids I thought that was an original idea. Perhaps the approach we are taking is unique (there I go again) but after some research we found lots of families that had done the same thing. The Traveling Families section of our website links too many of them.

Now granted it is not like a majority of the population has suddenly decided to cash it all in and spend a couple years traveling the globe with their school aged children, but there were more like minded souls than I would have originally thought.

When I was younger I would get disappointed when I had what I thought was a unique idea only to find out that there was already a whole group of people already interested in the same thing. Nowadays I view the revelations of not arriving first differently, as a confirmation that I am heading in the right direction.

During my last day on the job, our Art Director came into my office to wish me well and talk about the journey we had before us. He told me to be aware of the signs along the path, that they would tell us if we were headed in the right direction or not. A smile came to my face when he said this, because in another couple of weeks Gina’s mother was getting married to a professor of Cultural Studies whose understanding and support of our trip would make the absence of her daughter for a year or longer bearable. And in fact we planned and executed a reunion in Buenos Aires around his speaking engagement a year later.

There have been other signs along the way. I think we are getting better at recognizing them both through practice but also because our pace of life allows us the time for observation and reflection. I know that we are not the first couple/family to change their lifestyle, to remove themselves from the rat race and create a simpler life for ourselves. But our interests in Natural Building, Sustainability, Permaculture, a more rural, simpler lifestyle are somewhat unique for people with our background.

We were reassured that we were on the right path last week at the Cob workshop, not only were there a number of “hippies” participating but there was also a commercial airline pilot that recently decided to change careers and a corporate IT Project Manager that took the leap and is now planning to build himself a smaller life on a few acres in Missouri. Not only are these sign posts that we are heading in the right direction but they give us strength and resolve to forge ahead…as one guy said “it is nice to have these conversations and people not think I am crazy”.

Why would someone leave a 6 figure job and the nice cars and houses? Some would say we are crazy – but a few others in the wilderness we find ourselves would provide friendship and sustenance along the way and encourage us to push forward to create something uniquely ours. And I think that is ultimately what it is all about, not being the first person with a particular idea but combining different ideas to create something uniquely yours.

Creativity is often both a conscious and unconscious process. Creativity includes taking seemingly disparate ideas and combining them into something new and unique, this is the path we are on and only time will tell where it ultimately leads…this is our creative life.

Want to read more from Sean?  He also writes for AffordableCallingCards.net where he blogs about his life as an expat.   Come by both blogs and share a comment!

Natural Building

We decided to have a little fun and try something different, instead of just visiting museums or national parks we wanted to really experience something that none of us had tried before…and for that matter, generally very few people have ever tried.

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It was very likely that if we purchase property in Ecuador it would be an adobe home, both Gina and I really liked these buildings and they were beautiful. All of the adobe bricks were handmade from materials on the property, and the home was built without the use of power tools…pretty incredible.

We had done a little reading about different types of alternative buildings, materials, and were trying to determine for ourselves exactly what “green building” meant for us.

Some readers of our blog told us about a company in Tennessee that taught workshops on Natural Building, and specifically how to build a Cob building. It turns out that they had a workshop around the same time we were planning on passing through the area, and after reading more about it and discussing the idea with Gina we decided to sign up.

Natural building is a building philosophy that encourages the use of natural materials (yes, little in your house is natural), but more than simply using these materials it encompasses an attitude towards places, buildings, the environment, and how we live in these buildings. Natural building observes the way in which nature works and then tries to mimic this approach.

I don’t know what Green Building means! Everyone is using this term to sell some type of product or service that it really means so many different things that inevitably it means nothing. A few years ago I saw T.V. commercial advertising a show about some celebrity building a green home, curious I stuck around to watch the show, here was a celebrity that was building a 10,000 sq ft “green home” by throwing in a few high priced gadgets not many of us could afford (and apparently getting endorsement money or the products for free for filming the home) – all the while tearing down the previous 6,000 sq ft house to make way for the green one!

Our workshop was a little different than this. Set in a remote, rural community in Tennessee, the workshop taught us all aspects of building your own Cob building and in fact was a hands on workshop where we had the opportunity to build a complete building from the ground up!

…Getting very dirty along the way!

For those unfamiliar with the term; Cob is a structural composite of earth, water, straw, clay, and sand. It is hand sculpted to form the walls of the building…very similar to making a mud house when you were a kid…only now your closer to 50 than 40 and at the end of the day most all of your body is sore.

One of the really cool aspects was the fact that the kids were welcome and we were even encouraged to attend as a family. I am hard pressed to identify many workshops where kids are allowed and I seriously doubt many mainstream construction/building workshops would allow/provide the opportunity for kids to work side by side with the adults.

The workshop was held in Woodbury, Tennessee by Barefoot Builders and included a couple of dozen people that were interested in learning how to build their own home using clay and sand. Everyone was from very different backgrounds and came from as far away as New York, Texas, and Canada which resulted in some interesting and fun conversations.

Both of the kids had a good time. There was another 8 year old girl from Ohio that came with her dad to the workshop so Gigi quickly made a lifelong friend. They all jumped right in (literally) and started making cob.

No…we do not have any plans to build a Cob house anytime soon, but can certainly foresee the possibility of building Gina a small art studio some day. Not only would a space made from earthen materials feel wonderful to the artists soul…but knowing that you built it with your own hands would make it especially rewarding.

Want to read more from Sean?  He also writes for AffordableCallingCards.net where he blogs about his life as an expat.   Come by both blogs and share a comment!

Sticker Shock

It is easy to get used to feeding a family of 4 for a couple hundred bucks a month, spending $7.00 including drinks for a Chicken and Rice dinner for everyone was nice…those days are gone.

nomoney_fs

During our first 3 weeks back in the U.S. our biggest adjustment to life in the states are the prices of everything, $1.00 lunches, $8.00 shoes, and a bag full of organic veggies for $5.00 are now distant memories…replaced with $4.00 cups of coffee, $9.00 sandwiches, and a poor public transportation system.

Where we often went weeks without taking money out of our bank account, instead using the $100 or so of cash in our pockets to live…now we are faced with a daily assault on our savings.

It does not help that motel rooms and dining in restaurants are the norm for us right now, it is expensive to travel in the U.S..

We are trying to combat the high prices by using creativity and spending time thinking about different ways we can save money. Here are a few methods we use to save a few bucks everyday.

Many hotels offer significant discounts through advertisements in Hotel Discount Guides. Rest stops along the interstates often provide tourist information and provide lots of free info and hotel guides. In some cases we saved $30.00 per nite using coupons over the hotel rack rates.

To combat the high cost of eating in restaurants while on the road we often share meals. We actually began this practice years ago to try and reduce both waste and the expense of eating out. Most portions served in restaurants are more than 1 person could/should eat and leftovers usually get pushed to the back of the fridge and thrown out weeks later. We rarely order Gigi a meal of her own – she is just not a big eater and her meals always end up coming home with us.

Gina and I often share a meal – we occasionally run into a place that will want to charge you a “sharing charge” but we have decided we will simply NOT pay these and will get up and leave if they instist. Grant has the biggest appetite these days, but there are times when he may not be as hungry and share a meal with one of us.

Another great way to save money is to simply not order drinks. For the four of us this saves between $8.00 to $12.00 a meal! Besides saving money we avoid sugary sodas or other less healthy choices.

Gina and I both enjoy a cup of coffee but paying $2.50 for a cup is just a bit ridiculous to us. To get our “fix” we make sure to take advantage of the “free” coffee available. First, the hotel room usually has a pot where you can make a few cups to just start your day. Most/many places we stay offer a continental breakfast that includes coffee – we make sure we get our daily quota at these coffee stations. If things get desperate and we have to splurge for a cup of coffee we have 2 strategies.

1) If we purchase coffee in a restaurant we will bend the rules by ordering 1 cup of coffee and sharing the re-fills. We try not to abuse this service and justify it in our heads by drinking less than we would normally if we had paid for 2 cups.

2) 7-11 offers very good coffee with free flavorings. You can get about any type of coffee that you want and save yourself $2.00 to $3.00 for a cup. They have flavored creamers and Italian syrups, and you can even make yourself a mocha.

Everyone likes snacks to nibble on during a long car ride, the kids especially seem to be bottomless pits. Instead of tossing down handfuls of expensive and unhealthy junk food we have found a couple of ways to increase the health and decrease the cost of our snacking.

Our family loves popcorn but without access to a stove it is not possible to make up a batch. An alternative is to purchase microwave popcorn in the grocery store and use the microwave in the motel room and throw it into a big bag for the car ride. While it is not as healthy as raw popped corn – there are many choices on the grocery store shelves that are fairly healthy and certainly a better choice than chips.

Another great snack for long car rides are peanuts. While they are a little messy…they are healthy and if purchased in the shells are fairly inexpensive. There is something about having to shell your own peanuts that make you eat less I think.

So, as we adjust to life back in the states, and specifically the extreme differences in costs of similar items between Latin America and the U.S., we are biting the bullet a bit and looking for ways to save a few bucks along the way. Bouncing around the U.S. is certainly not a long term solution but we are using this time to research different parts of the country for possible relocation and meeting wonderful people along the way.

Want to read more from Sean?  He also writes for AffordableCallingCards.net where he blogs about his life as an expat.   Come by both blogs and share a comment!

The Best Homeschool Day Ever

Gigi has looked forward to our return to the states probably more than all of us (maybe combined), looking forward to swimming, playing at the beach, and for the past several months Gigi has counted down the days until she was going to swim with the dolphins. Somewhere along the way we agreed to a trip to Disney World as well…so for an 8 year old girl Florida is next door to heaven.

Dolphin Tricks

Dolphin Tricks

We all look forward to “Field Trips”, substituting getting out and seeing, touch, and exploring sights instead of reading about them in a book or studying other not as fun subjects. To this end we were all looking forward to our Dolphin Field Trip, a chance to learn about these amazing creatures and get a firsthand experience with them.

There are a number of places that you can swim with the dolphins in Florida, we chose the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key Florida, about 45 minutes South of Key Largo. The DRC is a non-profit education and research facility whose mission is to

“promote peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment”

While not much to look at from the front, inside the gates is an incredible sanctuary for dolphins, with some 20 dolphins housed in coral pools in the Gulf of Mexico with fencing to protect the dolphins from large predators…including people. At the same time the dolphins can easily jump the fencing and get out, but as most of the dolphins have actually been born at the DRC this is their home and open water is a scary proposition. We were told that one of the boy dolphins frequently “escapes” and swims around to the other side of the lagoon and jumps back over the fence to be with the females.

Gigi and Gina

Gigi and Gina

The facility is organized around individual lagoons with between 2 and 4 dolphins in each lagoon. A nice covered (read shady) boardwalk runs through the middle of the lagoons with benches available for sitting and observing (and talking to) the dolphins. Each lagoon has a display with the dolphins pictures, bio, and some facts about the DRC facility. Every ½ hour there is an opportunity to watch the researchers/trainers interact with the dolphins and learn something about their behavior and abilities, ask questions, and really have a great time being entertained by these amazing creatures.

While most groups are between 6 and 16 people, Gigi and Gina had an opportunity to get into the water with only themselves, the trainer, and 2 of the dolphins.  This gave them a bunch of hands on time with the dolphins and Gigi was able to pet and pet and pet the dolphins for the entier 1/2 hour.  She had a blast, and as the smile on Gina’s face can attest…so did she.

You can find out much more from the Dolphin Research Center website as well as make reservations for one of their many dolphin programs.

The day was a hit, and the kids proclaimed the day the best homeschool day ever!

Click on the above photos to see ALL of the Dolphin Photos…

The Story of Stuff

Here is another case where those of you that read our blog for the travel stories will wonder what this post has to do with anything travel related, well, the short answer is that it doesn’t – but it has a lot to do with the changes we made in our personal listoryofstuffves that led to our decision to spend time traveling.

I first ran across The Story of Stuff some time ago and thought that it was just great, taking very complex political, economic, and social issues and presenting an overview that was suitable for many different age groups.  What is this video all about?  Taken from their website:

“From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever”

This is the type of piece that usually creates divides among those that watch it…left v.s. right, liberal v.s. conservative, socialists v.s. capitalists or any other labels that are conveniently used to marginalize differing opinions – how about mainstream from contrarian?  To this end, what I like most about this information is that you can find a whole host of resource materials that were used for the making of the video, including a reading list and a list of NGO’s that are currently involved in many of the issues discussed in the piece.  I love to read about these types of issues to educate myself on what we (yes you) are doing to our planet and ourselves, and appreciate having such a comprehensive reading list as a starting point.

So, what does this have to do with our “travel blog”?

In effect we have chosen to opt-out of what is described as the “materials economy” in the video.   Our decision to sell our stuff and leave the rat race is a statement that we are no longer interested in participating in this linear, unsustainable system in the same way we did before.  Besides having a lot of fun, seeing new places, spending time as a family, and all of the other cool stuff that traveling involves we are also trying to determine how our lives will be shaped in the future by these decisions.

There are issues that the video did not raise that are more important to us than some others depicted in the video.  For example, there is no discussion about the impact this system has on families and communities other than portrayed by the man moving from Work to T.V. to Shopping – but it is our opinion that this “busyness” in our way of life leads to many social ills AND now we can speak from experience of the differences between spending a few minutes a day as a family compared to spending every minute together as a family.  We favor the latter!

When we started our journey we questioned many things about our lives.  We questioned the importance (or sanity) of many things that all of us take for granted, both of aspects that were in our lives as well as those that we not in our lives at the time.  Ultimately the answers to these questions resulted in a complete liquidation of all of our stuff and a desire to permanently change the old relationships we had with a lifestyle that we deemed as unsustainable.  Whether you agree with this or not (or whether you were hoping for a travel story) I think The Story of Stuff has something in its message for all of us and “just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.”

Want to read more from Sean?  He also writes for AffordableCallingCards.net where he blogs about his life as an expat.   Come by both blogs and share a comment!


The Eagle has Landed

After much anticipation the Grandma has landed in Buenos Aires!

Really the plan to meet up with Barbara and Giles was drafted more than a year ago when we found out that Giles had the opportunity to speak at a conference in BA – we have all tentatively planned on meeting up in the city, and things worked according to plagang-in-buenos-airesn.

Gigi started her personal countdown 4 months out.  Each morning she would let us know, 120 days dad.  119 days mommy…

This past week she has been bouncing off the walls and floors (literally) in anticipation of seeing her Grandma!  As the days grew closer the spins and whirls and leaps became more frenzied until the day before she was supposed to arrive I thought for sure that she would explode.

We tracked their plane on the internet, checking flight status, but also enjoying watching them chart the same course that we traveled only months prior.  Flying over Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and the border of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile where we spent a couple of cold nights on the Salt Flats of Bolivia.  Finally on to Buenos Aires…

Two subways and 20 blocks of walking and we arrived at their hotel just in time to see their luggage head up the elevator.  We made our way up to their room and hugs and smiles and tears filled the room as family that had not seen each other in more than a year said their hello’s.  The moment made the year absense and the anticipation worth it, and the pent up energy was visible releasing from inside Gigi.

After spending time getting caught up we headed to a small cafe for lunch and spent time walking the streets of the city.  Gigi and Grandma walked arm in arm for more than an hour, talking and window shopping as they went.

Grant now has shoes!  Grandparents being grandparents they were not going to let a little thing like price stand in the way of their grandson having a pair of shoes – and we were able to find a “cool” pair that also fit (size 13′s!) for our little 13 year old.  Grant said “dad, my shoes size is always my age”, very true, and we can only guess at what his feet will look like at 18 years of age.

Tango Dancing

Tango Dancing

What is a little window shopping in Buenos Aires without some Tango dancing?

Buenos Aires Tango

Buenos Aires Tango

We strolled back to the hotel and spent more time catching up and planning the next days activities.  They will be in town for 10 days, and then we fly out to Miami a few days later.  Gigi has a list of everything she wants to do and show her Grandma in the city, we know that she has the energy to see it all…not sure if the rest of us do.

We visit for a couple hours more but it is getting late and everyone is tired, long flights and lots of energy was spent her today.  But as we say our goodbyes and head out I think to myself that it was a good day.

Buenos Aires Zoo

Lions and Tigers and Bears…

The Buenos Aires Zoo, or Jardin Zoológico is located in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires.  For us it is only a hop, skip, and a jump from our apartment in Palermo Viejo or about 10 blocks.  In fact, we walk by the zoo most days looking to catch a city bus or a subway ride.

The city location is pretty unique for zoo’s, but considering it was built almost 135 years ago it is better described as the city of Buenos Aires having built up around it.  It sits on 44 acres but feels much smaller and is easily walked in only a few hours.  We visited with Gigi on a weekday in Winter and their were a fair amount of people visiting, I would guess that it gets very crowded during warmer Spring and Summer months.

Patagonian Mara

Patagonian Mara

I am not a big rodent fan, but these little guys were pretty cute.  The Patagonian Mara lives in Central and Southern Argentina and apparently in zoo’s, and usually inhabit the dry grasslands and scrub desert.   They live underground in burrows, and were docile and not afraid of humans…probably because all of the kiddies were giving them food.

If you click on the picture you can see more of the photos we took of the animals at the zoo.

One of the really cool things about this zoo is that you can feed the animals, everyone but the cats (lions and tigers) and the giraffe.  There are kiosks all through the park where you can purchase “approved food” for the animals and then lots of opportunities to feed all kinds of animals.  Besides being a lot of fun, giving the animals food means that you can get much closer to zoo animals than is the case in most zoo’s.

Feeding Elephant

Feeding Elephant

The elephants were only a few feet away from us, picking up the food that kids were throwing over the fence.

Gigi Feeding Sheep

Gigi Feeding Sheep

In some cases the animals would eat out of your hands.

Nutria Eating

Nutria Eating

Even this little guy, a Nutria that lived in the lake, would be your friend long enough to get a little food from you.  See his webbed foot?

Our favorite animal, and one that we had never seen before, was the Panda Rojo or Red Panda.  These little guys were awful cute.

Red Panda - Panda Rojo

Red Panda - Panda Rojo

Gigi wanted to take one home with her, and every other animal as well, but we did not think that the Panda would like living in her suitcase.

Gigi and Hello Kitty

Gigi and Hello Kitty

We had a great time at the zoo and because it is so close to where we live in Buenos Aires we will probably go again.  Grant stayed home…he was too cool for the zoo, but after hearing what a great time Gigi had he wants to go and take a look at all of the animals for himself.

Education or Schooling?

The Homeschool Alternative

When we decided to live and travel in South America Homeschooling was a natural alternative for us, we obviously did not have the “luxury” of public school and since we were not planning on being in one place for more than a couple of months enrolling the kids in a local school was not possible either.

However, besides the practical considerations of the trip there were other considerations as well. We began looking at alternatives years ago for a host of reasons.

The debate surrounding our public schools continues to rage on. With each new presidential administration comes the next new “fix”, and in my opinion the next nail in the coffin of a completely dysfunctional system.

Many people never question whether they should send their kids to the public school system. They are told they have to and they do it. For others the available options do not meet their needs, and for some they have discovered the homeschool option.

For our family, we began looking into option other than public schools early in our first childs education. We were naïve and did not understand a lot of things, but we knew that this http://portable-parents.com/blog/2008/05/portable-parents/drugs-are-not-the-answer/ was no way to treat kids…AND certainly not our kid.

We now understand the issues facing the public school system in our country, we have educated ourselves about the history of public education, and we took steps to get our kids an education that respected them as individuals. For the past 3 years Gina has volunteered at both the kids’ schools, racking up the top volunteer hours at both schools. She has witnessed firsthand the impact of overworked teachers, underfunded programs, and a system that rewards compliance over creativity.

Buenos Aires Botanical Garden

Buenos Aires Botanical Garden

My primary reasons for recommending homeschool as an alternative is that it allows students to learn naturally, it encourages creativity and free thinking, and that it treats them with respect and dignity. These are severely lacking in our current public school system.

Homeshooling is legal in all states. Homeschooling is growing and according to the National Center for Edcuational Statistics (ominous sounding agency) there were 1.3 million homeschoolers in 2003. My sense is that it is growing at a faster pace than ever before, and that what once was a cottage/religious based movement is now mainstream and picking up energy.

Homeschooling quite obviously fits our current lifestyle, both in providing the portability we need for our travel schedule but also allowing the kids experiences to facilitate learning. They are learning many lessons from touching and walking and talking and seeing and experiencing, and not from simply reading it in a textbook in a classroom.

Current State of Affairs

A couple of weeks ago when we announced the Big News that we were returning to the U.S., I answered a number of questions that we had received from readers of the blog and one of these was I thought we could have done a better job with our homeschool efforts.

The grandparents apparently took this to mean that my comments meant the kids received NO EDUCATION, won’t receive any again next year…and are surely to suffer at the hands of their parents unless we rush them into public school – or some such thoughts. After emails and skype calls on this topic…what better way to explain ourselves than turn it into a blog post :)

Before I discuss our experiences, and perhaps more clearly articulate what has and hasn’t worked for us this past year, I thought we could look at the state of the current public school system a little to find out what we are missing…sounds like fun to me!

Well I have not been in the U.S. for a year but understand that there are problems with a few budgets…like ALL of them. We have many friends that are school teachers thankfully many of them still have jobs…but in our hometown many others have lost theirs. This will result in few teachers per student and I believe require more parent participation.

For those of you that have not been in a public school classroom lately – the functional schools are completely supported by parent volunteers and I would contend would not be able to provide much education at all if not for these parents.

We happen to have a college professor in the family now…and I have heard about the stresses he is under, not only personally having to take a reduction in pay and do more with less, but also as a result of the broader impact the devastating cuts are having on his university and his friends and peers lives. Not easy to deal with I imagine. Budget cuts devastate California higher education and similar headlines dominate the news…simply insert your state of choice.

Canby, Oregon – our hometown – probably has it better than many school districts, Los Angeles schools are not faring well;

The Los Angeles public schools are facing a huge budget deficit. The Board of Education voted Tuesday to cut thousands of jobs over the coming year — everything from teachers to janitors.

Angry teachers, holding picket signs and mock pink slips, chanted outside the doors of the downtown Los Angeles school board offices.

Inside the packed board chambers, fifth-grade teacher Araceli Castro pleaded with school board members not to fire her.

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that these issues will not affect our children. That the pressures and stresses teachers, parents, and communities face as a result of these fiscal crises won’t also weigh on the shoulders of our kids as well. These pressures combined with typical peer pressure, drug use, violence, drinking, sex and a host of other social problems are also there to greet our children every morning.

A vocal advocate of school reform, John Taylor Gatto wrote an article years ago titled “The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher” where he gave an account of the lessons he taught to his students each day as directed by the school board. These lessons were:

  1. Stay in the class where you belong
  2. Turn on and off like a light switch
  3. Surrender your will to a pre-destined chain of command
  4. Only I determine what curriculum you will study
  5. Your self respect should depend on an observers measure of your worth
  6. You are being watched

I am not convinced that the kids are missing out on all that much truth be told!

The Lesson of Experience

Ok, so what exactly have our experiences been this year? What went right and what could be improved?

We began the year with a formal curriculum, in fact, we added a 5th suitcase to our gear that stored nothing but books and school supplies. For the first 5 months we used these books and curriculum to varying degrees. In Costa Rica we read every night out loud to the kids, and each school day they completed their assignments as outlined in the curriculum.

Look at that...

Look at that...

It became apparent the not all of the information was interesting to them, and a big struggle is that we have 2 very different kids and no single program will satisfy both of them. In Ecuador we began using the internet much more for a variety of different subjects, which also helped us find resources more suited to each kid.

Gigi was enrolled in a local Spanish school for part of the time we lived in Ecuador, so had homework that Gina helped her complete. Grant used a combination of our formal curriculum, online math and science, and writing when we could get him to cooperate.

When we got “thrown out” of Ecuador we decided to leave the suitcase full of books behind. At this point the kids were not using them, having moved to more internet based work, and it is a huge deal trying to lug 50+ pounds of books around. We did not know what the future held and the thought of dragging this suitcase all over was not appealing.

Once in Peru the kids continued using the internet as a primary source of classes. Grant had gone through a math CD program we brought with us from the states and that we had ordered a new one while in Ecuador but we missed it – we spent months trying to get it shipped to us in Peru.

While the kids were doing schoolwork the tension over getting them to do it increased. Gigi is the most stubborn little thing on the planet and when she chooses not to do something there is no changing her mind (reminds me of some parent/teacher conferences we had). Grant continued his studies, substituting online math for the missing CD.

For 8 weeks we traveled from Trujillo Peru to Salta Argentina and we moved a lot in that period of time, seeing southern Peru, Lima, Machu Piccchu, Boliva, and finally crossing the border into Argentina. The kids read a little and Gigi used the time on the bus to work on her math books – but for the most part the formal schooling took a back seat to getting around.

I mentioned that we “degraded” into unschooling, meaning we went from a formal curriculum to an informal. Unschooling does not use a fixed curriculum, and is interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning.

The “issue” for Gina and I is that this was not part of the original plan AND unschooling is very difficult to get your head around…both of us having come from a very traditional approach to our education, ie, a public school system.

So, the long and short of it is that the kids did get a good education this year, some of which was structured either from the suitcase full of books that we drug with us or from a small private school in Cotacachi Ecuador or from workbooks and CD’s or from a host of visits to museums and other cultural activities and adventures.  In addition, they learned about a lot of other countries, cultures, animals, etc., that they would not have had a chance to learn about in their public schools back home.

Schooling v.s. Education

But, for me there is a much bigger issue or questions that we need to ask ourselves. One of these is “are the lessons kids need to learn inside a classroom or outside?” and “is what is being taught in our classrooms true?”

The plight of indigenous peoples is a lesson that the kids would not get from a textbook…at least not the true story. We made friends with a indigenous family in Ecuador and learned about their way of life and shared some of our foods and customs. Ecuador’s indigenous population is greater than 80%, in the U.S. that number is less than 2%. Estimates are that 20-40 million Native Americans lived in what is now the continental US in 1492, what do our history books tell of the decimation of this population?

I was reflecting the other day that we have spent more than a year together with our kids 24/7!  I get emails from people wondering how we do it, and I will admit that there are times when we could all use a break from each other, but this is also an amazing blessing as well.

There are tremendous educational benefits for the kids as a result of this closeness.  While we might have sat down to dinner as a family once, maybe twice a week, now all of our meals are spent together.  The conversations we have with the kids at the dinner table cover the full gamut of topics…some more educational than others but all important to their individual development and the strengthening as a family.

I will have memories of bumping along some road in some country in South America watching the landscape rush by for the rest of my life.  But these memories also include spending time with Grant and Gigi and answering the myriad of questions that only 13 year old and 8 year old minds can think up.  Most of the questions I did not have answers to, but confessing my shortcomings to each of them is educational in its own right.  There is NOTHING taught in the classroom that is more valuable than these lessons shared looking out the window of a long bus ride.

Public schools are all about ensuring that everyone “fits” and that as many as possible revert to the mean.  Those that can’t keep up or disturb the process are dealt with, and those that show promise or interest beyond the rote education are ignored.  I think there are other ways to give our children an education that will actually benefit their creativity and individuality, and further their understanding of things that interest them.

So, what is in store the coming year?

The short answer is more of the same.

We will work at improving certain areas…like trying to find ways to make learning more fun for the kids – and for the time we are in the U.S. will have the benefit of additional resources (namely a language they can read) such as libraries and bookstores.

It is unlikely that we go back to the formal curriculum we began with last year, but will likely incorporate a little more structure than we had the last few months of the school year.  Our research indicated that it takes time for a family to find their way with homeschooling, discarding what doesn’t work and trying new ideas.  We are working our way through the ups and downs as well.

Grant has indicated that he wants to play High School sports, so if Gina and I honor this wish Grant will enroll in public school again in the near future.  Our experience with homeschooling has given us ideas about how we might assist and structure a learning environment for him that allows him to follow his interests more than is likely provided in public school.

…and you never know…

As I take a break from writing this book length article to grab a cup of coffee, Gigi is in the kitchen reading a book to Gina while Grant sits next to her hugging her and listening (and bugging) to Gigi read out loud.  This is not part of some formal curriculum – but I will take it just the same!

GLUTEN FREE BUENOS AIRES

GLUTEN FREE BUENOS AIRES

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I have been eating gluten free for the past 7 years (this is Gina).   Eating gluten-free in Central and South America has been somewhat more of a challenge than I anticipated.     This has been especially true in Argentina, with a huge portion of the population descended from Italian immigrants.  Italian dishes such as Milanesa (either beef or chicken pounded, breaded and fried, usually covered with red sauce and mozzarella) and pasta have become Argentine staples available on every menu in every city we have visited.  AND every Argentine adult starts their day with café con leche and medialunas (half-moon shaped crescent rolls) with dulce de leche; a total wheat-fest, which has left me hungry in more than one hotel/hostel along the way!  But, in my quest to stay on track and feeling healthy,  I have discovered some gluten-free gems that I thought I would pass on to the next celiac or wheat-allergic traveler coming to Buenos Aires.

Gluten-Free Empanadas from Celigourmet

Gluten-Free Empanadas from Celigourmet

The most complete gluten-free Mecca I have discovered is Dietetica 100% Natural in Alto Palermo, located at Bulnes 2042, Buenos Aires, phone number 4821-1674 (on Bulnes between Santa Fe and Arenales), around the corner from the Alto Palermo mall.   You can take the Subte D line  and the Bulnes stop drops you off almost at their front door (look for their big red sign)!  This shop has the most complete assortment of prepared gluten-free foods I have seen anywhere in the world!   Their freezer section has breads, pizzas, pizza dough, medialunas (crescent rolls), empanadas (meat-filled turnovers), raviolis and other artisanal pastas, quiches, tortas, and various other tempting delights, both savory and sweet.  On the shelves you can find locally made budines (“puddings” to the Brits or loaf cakes to us Americans) in various flavors,  and cookies, including another Argentine staple, the alfajor (shortbread cookie sandwiches, filled with dulce de leche and either dipped in chocolate, white meringue, or just plain with coconut around the edge of the dulce de leche).   They also have a large selection of ready-made boxed GF cookies and crackers, rice cakes, GF pastas and a few packages of mixes to make your own GF bread, cookies or cakes.  Additionally they have a large selection of GF flours to make your own flour mix for scratch cooking and baking, as well as GF soy sauce and other sauces.  I have not seen Xanthan Gum anywhere in South America, so for those travelers coming long term, bring some with you!     For all you Americans missing peanut butter, you can also find an organic brand of peanut butter here (not as tasty as Jif or Skippy, but with honey or jam hits the spot).  There is also a large selection of organic products, bulk nuts and dried fruits, gourmet oils, sauces, sushi making supplies, herbs, supplements and essential oils.   If you eat gluten-free, organic, or are just a foodie this is the store for you!  For more information you can call them at 4821-1674 (I believe they even deliver), email them at 100xcientonatural@fibertel.com.ar or try their website at www.100xcientonatural.com.ar.

Within walking distance from our apartment in Palermo Viejo I have found a few other stores that have a few gluten-free items as well.

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Celigourmet, located in Palermo at Charcas 4787 (on Charcas between Godoy Cruz and Fray Justo Sta. Ma. De Oro), phone 4776-5448, is a store solely dedicated to making gluten-free products.  This find was pure delight!  This store has the most complete assortment of baked goods like muffins, small budines (puddings or loaf cakes), cookies and ready-made gourmet cakes and tortes, as well as prepared foods such as pizzas, pizza crusts, empanadas, tartas (a cross between a quiche and a calzone), crepes, canelones and sandwiches.  Their torta menu includes cheesecake, brownies, tiramisu, chocolate mousse cake, lemon mousse cake, and many more.  Prices for these range from $38 pesos for the small (about $10 US) to as high as $85 pesos for a large (just over $20-something US).  They also have small rolls (these are delicious!), pita breads and small baguettes…alas, no loaf bread!   Another find here was tortilla chips!  Celigourmet has another location at Paunero 1927, Martinez, and phone 4798-2990.   They are open Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays 9:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  You can also email them at celigourmet@hotmail.com or visit their website at www.celigourmet.com.ar.

La Esquina de las Flores, located in Palermo at Gurruchaga 1630 (Gurrauchaga and Honduras), Buenos Aires, phone 4228-5000, is a combination café and health food store that sells 100% organic certified products.  It is located just a few blocks off the rotunda in Palermo.    The selection of gluten-free foods here is limited to GF pastas, boxed GF cookies/crackers, a few ready-made mixes, plus they have fresh, locally made loaf bread (pan de molde) on Thursday mornings at 9am.  They also have a large selection of alternative flours such as bean flour, rice flour, and quinoa flour (although they don’t appear to be  certified gluten-free like they are at Dietetica 100% Natural, so eat at your own risk).   If you are looking for cocoa for baking or peanut butter, this is the place to find it!  You can email them at info@esquinadelasflores.com.ar or you can visit their website at www.esquinadelasflores.com.ar .

For a quick GF pasta or cookie fix, Diet-Cer, has 3 locations.  I have personally visited the one located in Palermo on Jorge Luis Borges 2433, phone 5786-0257.  You can take the Subte D line to Plaza Italia, then head away from the Plaza on Jorge Luis Borges for this shop.  They have two other locations I have not visited at Ave. Scalabrini Ortiz 2174, phone 4832-2870, or Guemes 3961, phone 4832-7707.   They have a decent selection of GF pasta, boxed cookies/crackers and a few boxes of bread mix, cake and cookie mixes.

Jumbo supermarkets have a small selection of gluten-free cookies/crackers and boxed mixes, but no pastas.   The Wal-Mart in Corrientes had a  very nice gluten-free and organic section, so I will go out on a limb and say that the Wal-Mart in Buenos Aires does as well, but I haven’t been there to verify this.  They also had a delicious American-style crunchy peanut butter.    Most  “dieteticas” carry at least gluten-free pasta and cookies, so pop into one in your neighborhood and check it out.

You can find gluten-free rice cakes in almost every supermercado as a fall back.  And, if you are lucky, you can find chipas near where you are staying in Buenos Aires.  Chipas are the Argentine version of indigenous mantioca-cheese bread.  chipa1 You can find variations of this in many countries in South America (pan de yuca in Ecuador, pao de quejo in Brazil).   I had my first chipa on a bus in Missiones, Argentina – they are very common bus food in much of Argentina and in many cases made in a Chiparia, dedicated to making only chipas, which means, gluten-free!  The ingredients in a traditional chipa are mantioca flour (a version of tapioca/yucca flour), cheese, milk and butter).  They can be round, like a bagel, in sticks or in little balls.  They also sell them as snacks in the movie theaters here in Buenos Aires!   Outside of BA they will cost you $1 peso per chipa, here in BA they will cost $2-$3 pesos per chipa.  My local panaderia here in Palermo (located next door to the GluHotel on Godoy Cruz and Honduras) makes them daily but usually sells out by the afternoon.  (Plus, they are made in a regular bakery so celiacs will be contending with cross-contamination.)  Many stores sell a chipa mix in the flour section in a little blue bag so you can make them yourself, or many of the above-mentioned outlets sell the raw ingredients and you can google the recipe.

I hope you have as much fun shopping and eating here as I have!  To my fellow wheat-allergics or celiac friends in Buenos Aires, Buen Provecho!