Archive | June, 2012

Wanderlust – Traveling as a Child with Driscoll Robbins

30 Jun

As we contemplate living abroad for a year or so with our two young kids, I can’t help but wonder how this will affect them and if they will even remember the experience. I turned to our friend Driscoll Robbins to shed some light on the matter.

Driscoll grew up in San Francisco but traveled extensively with his family as a young child. It was through these travels that inevitably led him to the business he runs today, Driscoll Robbins Fine Carpets, located in Seattle, WA. I have to say that these are the most luxurious rugs you will ever see – it is easy to see his impeccable eye for detail and design. Here he shares his stories of growing up in a semi-nomadic family and setting out on his own adventures with his wife Annie and two young sons. I think these kids have more airplane trips under their belts than I do!

I am so excited to share his thoughts and photos. Thank you so much Driscoll!

Q: I know a little about your travels as a kid but can you run through the timeline real quick? How old were you and where did you go?  

My family had two trips each lasting about 1.5 years.  The first trip was 1971-73.  I was 4 and my sister was 2.  My parents had a VW camper van which we lived in for most of the trip.  The second trip was 1977-79.  I was around 10 years old.  This trip my parents bought a Mercedes camper van in Europe which we lived in.  Both trips started out in Europe.  A portion of the trips were spent driving through Europe but most of the travels took place in Asia including Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and India.  My sister and I were home schooled except for a 4 month period when we attended a boarding school in Pakistan.

Driscoll, and his sister Zoe, lounging on their first trip to Asia in 1972.

Q: Tell us more about how you got around – planes, trains, automobiles?  

Our mode of transportation was strictly our van.  We all slept in the van together.  On warm nights my sister and I would sleep in a tent outside the van to give my folks a little privacy.

Q: Were these travels work-related for your parents or simply just for pleasure?  

During our first trip to Asia, my parents became interested in oriental carpets.  They bought rugs along the way and at one point my dad flew to NY with the rugs to make a little business.  Through trial and error, they bought enough rugs to open up a rug store in San Francisco when we returned from the first trip.  The second trip was clearly focused on searching for unique and collectable oriental rugs. On the return of the 2nd trip, my parents opened up a store in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco where they ran their business for the next 20 years. Continue reading


Entering the Unknown

25 Jun

So. We are moving. To the country. To a farm, no less.

We decided a few weeks ago that we need to shake it up a bit around here. We need to have an adventure and save up for a bigger adventure. We just aren’t checking off any of our goals while living in the city – mainly a lot of travel – and moving away seems like a good way to light the fire under our asses. We don’t necessarily want to leave the city – we like it here, we have tons of friends here, there are a zillion activities for our kids here – but I think it is what we need. A little shift. A little unknown.

We are moving to my parent’s farm out by a place called Dabob Bay, off of the Hood Canal. I take the kids here constantly so it is not going to be a huge shift for them, but quite a change for us. It will be far away from yummy sushi and flaky pastries, walkable parks and the zoo, five different grocery stores and oodles of people watching. In exchange we will get acres upon acres of nature to explore including woods, creeks, ponds, beaches and pastures. We will get animals everyday and plenty of homegrown veggies, fruits and harvested seafood.

As it turns out, the timing couldn’t be more perfect – our friends were looking for a house to rent in our neighborhood so voila, renters were in place a week after we made up our mind to move. My parent’s just finished renovating the cottage on the property and I found a sweet Waldorf school on a farm nearby for Maya.

It will be interesting to see what we miss and don’t miss. What plans we hatch up and what goals shift. We truly have no idea where we want to go from there so the possibilities are daunting but exciting. Nothing like a little unknown with two toddlers in tow.


The Wave

23 Jun

This is why I love driving a VW Westfalia – the wave. It’s either a hang-loose or a peace sign or sometimes just a wave but it all means the same thing – you are a part of the VW community, hello and happy day! There is a funny thread on that talks about the courtesy among VW drivers – the curiosity where ever you go, the friendliness you meet along the way…it is really like an understanding for who you are. It’s weird and I love it.

There is a documentary about the VW that I am interested in seeing called The Bus. Should be a fun hour or so – and will be sure to get us antsy for some road adventures but Sebastien is still too little to be on the road for very long before the whining and crying starts in which makes for a miserable trip. At one, he can make it about two hours. That doesn’t leave much for vast exploring but just enough for some fun camping trips this summer.

Anyhoo, here’s waving to you and yours! Have a lovely weekend folks.

Finding Utopia

19 Jun

Last night I read an article in the latest Vanity Fair that gave me goosebumps and ideas – a sometimes venturous combination. There is something about the 1960’s that does this to me – it gets me every time. I know I have the benefit of time on my side where I get to read and watch about the best of the times and skip over all the dark and dreary bits, but still, it was a magical time to live. I am sure of it.

“If you were between 15 and 30 that year, it was almost impossible to resist the lure of that transcendent, peer-driven season of glamour, ecstasy, and Utopianism. It was billed as the Summer of Love, and its creators did not employ a single publicist or craft a media plan. Yet the phenomenon washed over America like a tidal wave, erasing the last dregs of the martini-sipping Mad Men era and ushering in a series of liberations and awakenings that irreversibly changed our way of life.” Vanity Fair, June 2012

These articles spark a desire for the ultimate utopia – where everyone is kind to each other, people live within their means and it happens to be sunny all the time. This place doesn’t really exist, I know that, but a girl can still dream can’t she? I have visions of living in a community where everyone likes each other, socializing is fun and spontaneous, there are tons of kids running around free and spirited, that darn sun is out most of the year and there are rows and rows of fruit trees, veggies patches and plants as far as the eye can see. (I told you this was utopia remember?) Oh and I also want it to snow in the wintertime…with mountains nearby and the sea as well. (Let’s just take this dream all the way, shall we?)

Maybe it’s the vibe of these types of articles that set me down this path – they are always so romantic and engaging. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing sometimes but I don’t think it is a horrible way to set some goals. I want what they had. Is it even possible anymore?

So I am off to find some cool places to live. I will start interviewing and investigating. If you live somewhere dynamic and want to share it with me, contact me. I’d love to hear all about it.

Photo Credits: First Photo, Second Photo, Third Photo

My Favorite: Pregnancy Books

18 Jun

A few friends have asked what pregnancy books were the best to read- there are SO many bad ones that it is nice when someone else filters them for you. When I announced I was pregnant, I received a stack of books. A stack that had been handed around among my friends, growing by one or two books at every turn. I devoured them all – wanting to know every last thing I could. It turns out that only a few were worth my time and here they are:

Penny Simkin is a local childbirth expert and she wrote the one and only guide that I feel was comprehensive without a lick of judgement or patronizing wording. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn is basically the only book you need. She also wrote a book for the father-to-be called The Birth Partner which again was the only words written for the father that didn’t sound moronic. My friend Chris wrote a great post about the condescending tone that most parenting books use when talking about the Father’s Role. Who writes these books? And the better question, who is buying them?

Anyhoo, I digress. My all time favorite pregnancy book for your mind, body and soul is called Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful by Gurmukh. While I never got around the doing the actual breathing exercises, the words are calming enough. It is a beautifully written book that alleviates any worry or stress you may have about your upcoming birthing experience. It was just a really nice read and one that I would recommend if you are into yoga and such.

If you are planning on having a home birth or a drug-free birth, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is a classic. It is written in another lifetime entirely but illustrates the best variety of birth stories I have read so far. It is a magical book full of the raw knowledge that can only come from birthing hundreds of babies on a farm. She literally changed the way the midwife profession is perceived in the States. I am super excited to see the recent documentary about The Farm.

Once you have that gorgeous little nugget of a baby, you will be faced with a gazillion decisions. One of the first will be to vaccinate or to not vaccinate- or to vaccine a little. I read The Vaccine Guide and thought it to be a pretty thorough guide. It gives you the history of each vaccine and spells out what they are all used for. You can make your own decision thereafter.

That’s it folks. That is all I needed to read to make confident decisions. Quality or quantity…then you can spend those last precious pregnant moments relaxing on the couch or walking through the woods. Enjoy!

Top Photo  Bottom Photo

Waking Up At Work

17 Jun

Imagine you wake up to the sound of the very annoying cell phone ring owned by your co-worker. It sings in your ears until you make the move to hop out of bed. Oh, but here, looking right at you, is that lovely co-worker insisting that NOW is the time for juice and talk and going over the morning meeting minute sheet. You find yourself waking up inside your office. Yes, there is the familiar tacky office art and your trusty leather chair. Wtf?!?

The Boss

No sooner have your feet hit the floor when bam, your assistant is rattling off to-do’s and shoving marbles in your mouth. You saunter down the hall to the bathroom to brush your teeth, wash your face and get ready for the day but your assistant is trailing you like butter on toast. You can’t shake her. So you succumb to her charm and she happily walks right past you to take a seat on the stool to watch. She is not a very good watcher however – she immediately starts rearranging the bathroom drawers, taking everything out one by one while you try and hop around her to use the sink. She is not a very good cleaner either so you hastily throw your stuff back in their drawers as you scoot out the door backwards making sure your assistant doesn’t go back in to start the whole mess over again.

She gives you a kiss and a funny story so you forgive her almost immediately.

Off to the kitchenette you share with the rest of your office – now here in addition to your assistant is your boss, your co-workers, some stuffed animals and a plastic baby or two. Seems as though everyone wants an explanation as to where on Earth did you put the lego tower and why is the picnic spread I put out last night missing? All you can hear is your stomach growling. You start cooking.

As you hurriedly scarf down your toast and eggs, one of your co-workers insists on sitting on your lap. He’s a little smaller than the others so he must think this is perfectly acceptable behavior. You just want to eat. But now that lap-sitter co-worker is stealing your food! And the other guy is spreading his entire breakfast all over his face, chest and table (oh and did we mention he isn’t very skilled at clean-up either?) And your boss really likes the look of your meal and demands you make her a plate as well. RIGHT NOW! You are starting to realize that you work with some bossy yet ridiculously charming people. And you are still hungry.

Getting dressed is no easier a task. Trying to find those black pants in the back of your closet is proving difficult when that darn boss of yours is hammering you to repeat that story about the merger for the one hundredth time. You think about throwing her out of your office room but know better – this will only start a war that could lead to an harassment case that frankly you just don’t have the energy for. Seems as though that small co-worker (the one that likes to sit on your lap at mealtimes) decided to drop in during your sleeping hours and interrogate you about yesterday’s meeting. Interrupted sleep does not a motivated or giddy mind make.

When you are finally groomed, fed and dressed it is only 8 AM and you feel as though you have been to Hell and back. Already. At 8 AM. Hell and back.

Welcome to your morning. Have fun at work today. Mwah!

And the War Continues…

14 Jun

The Mommy Wars. The Parent Wars. Whatever you want to call it, they are still raging and destroying. A few months ago, I wrote a letter to my college alumnae quarterly magazine and they published it in the Winter issue. The next magazine revealed a really heartbreaking response. And here we are, Summer, and the discussion continues! There are TWO letters regarding my inquiry in the Summer Quarterly and a mention from the Editor about how this dialogue is “interesting.” The best note I have received so far was sitting in my inbox this morning from an alumnae named Anne. I have read and re-read it three times already today. I teared up, laughed and snorted a little all from one note!

I feel like a broken record (but I’m used to that – I have curious toddlers remember) but I honestly just wanted a little ditty (a column here, a mention there) about how other Smithies were raising their children. I can only imagine that a women’s college produces quite a few mothers – I mean, you do the math. Being that these mothers hale from a spirited and rigorously academic institution, I thought that perhaps a fair number of them were using spirited and rigorously thoughtful ways of raising their children. Just as the Quarterly highlights the extraordinary feats of alumnae in government or the sciences to inspire those practicing in these fields, why not also highlight the extraordinary mothers to inspire the young who may be searching for some higher meaning in sweeping up yet another pile of cracker crumbs or explaining for the one hundredth time what cows like to eat.

Aside from the notion that “motherhood is commonplace” and therefore not remarkable enough to deserve even an itty bitty paragraph on the side of the last page, I think I was more upset that a fellow alumnae who most likely went through the same exhaustive schooling as I did, sat on the same Seeyle steps as so many women before her and went out into the world with a boat-load of hope, motivation and can-do attitude only to find that it is harder than ever to fill out that “superwoman” costume, was doing what too many women in our day do – criticize, scrutinize and look away. Where is that support that we as women are built to give each other? Where is the love and understanding? I mean, give me a break folks.

The fact that Mommy Wars even exist makes me sad. (I am just going go with the whole “Mommy” thing here even though I know there are plenty of stay-at-home Dads out in the world. Sorry fellas) Working mothers think stay-at-home mothers live the high life and vice versa. It is like two ships passing in the night – no one is listening to the other side. No one is appreciating the other point of view. Perhaps I was naive to think that as Smith women, we would be above that, that we would have used those precious and expensive learned skills to listen, to assess, to empathize…to really support each other as mothers, as workers, as women. But here we are, criticizing and scrutinizing and all in 200 words or less.

I hope Anne doesn’t mind me quoting some of her note to me – I would love to just copy and paste the whole darn thang but want to keep most of it for myself – to pump me up as needed. So here is your little snippet: “The quote came down in my family (or in my head) as “A liberal arts education makes your mind a better place to spend the rest of your life.” That’s why you shelled out all those bucks and worked your ass off (I’m assuming) – as did I – not because we then ‘owe’ Smith or the world some amazing product – an MD, an internationally recognized work of art, a Nobel Prize, but because wherever life takes us – we bring good minds trained to assess, look for context, perspective… And when the outside experience sucks (as it will for most people at some time) or is mundane (as it is for everyone much of the time) our minds are not only better able to deal with the ‘out there,’ but have richer resources ‘in here’ to divert ourselves, steel ourselves, see beyond…”

Isn’t that just the truth?

Sooooo, can we all just agree that being a working parent sucks and being a stay-at-home parent sucks? Oh, is that too negative? Let me try again. Can we all just agree that being a working parent is the bee’s knees and being a stay-at-home parent is the cat’s meow? We are all doing what we feel we need to do so let’s pat each other on the back for sticking up for what’s best for us and our family. Regardless if Smith ever publishes something meaningful relating to motherhood, thanks to the responses I have received from various alumnae (along with friends and family), I am now more confident than ever that I am doing what is right for my family. And while I won’t get a promotion from my children or a raise from the household Gods, I get “paid” and “accolades” from the fits of laughter and hours of snuggle time. I know that right now, this is the most meaningful way me, myself and I can use this time.


Biking Around the World

13 Jun

This family of five, with roots set in a Cumbrian village in England’s scenic North West, has been circling the globe since 2000 on one adventure after another. They have been cycling, sailing, canoeing, camper-vanning, eco-touring, road-tripping, railroading and backpacking as a family in places as diverse as New Zealand, Samoa, USA, Canada, Sweden, France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Aland, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and at home in the UK. They have clocked up over 12,000 family bike miles in ten years!

They have graciously let me highlight some of their travels and share their words of wisdom. If you would like to read more in-depth stories about their adventures and goals, please visit their site Family Adventure Project. All photos taken by the Pelling family as well as all quotes.

“I see childhood as a time for experimenting with the world, a time for play, for learning, for trial and error, for splashing about in society, dipping a toe into the outdoors, and trying out different character traits to see which suit. I’d rather like to see adulthood as that too.” January 2012

Kirstie explains why they believe adventure is good for their family: “We believe family adventure has as much to offer ordinary families as it does the extraordinary ones who venture in the extreme. Family journeys have great educational potential. While on the road, we’re out to learn whatever we can not just about journeying as a family but also about the landscapes, climates, cultures and natural wonders we encounter. Cycling is our thing and by traveling light, powering ourselves, camping out, we aim to live and learn with minimal impact, in harmony with nature. We hope our children’s early encounters with the world and other adventurous families we meet on the road will help to nurture a lifelong interest, love and respect for life itself.”  Continue reading

Your Young Roots

11 Jun

I attended my 10 year (gulp!) college reunion a few weeks ago and I am having trouble really articulating what it meant to me. Where do I start? I guess I’ll start at the beginning…just a quick look-back.

I grew up on the west coast and knew I wanted to go somewhere completely different – western Massachusetts seemed to fit the bill pretty well. The land of quaint liberal arts colleges, full of New England charm. Mine was no exception. Founded in 1871, it has a long list of traditions and a pedigree to match. There was just a tiny difference between this school and most of the others – it was for women only. Now before you go bald scratching your head over that one let me explain. Well, actually, I can’t explain it. I didn’t really think too much about it until around November of my first year when I suddenly looked around me and not a man did my poor eyes see. Oops.

As it turns out, without the distraction of boys, friendships were stronger, studies were harder and overall, college life was an emotional roller-coaster much like any other school. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t fill out a transfer application to Stanford (more than once) but I never ended up sending it. I am so thankful that I toughed it out because this school gave me a gift I don’t think many others had the passion to give. Continue reading

Small Footprint Right Outside a City

7 Jun

I usually won’t post someone else’s photos on this blog but this house was just too stunning to pass on. I am going to quote the description right from the designer and homeowner’s website since it spells it out so effectively.

“This little house is where Jessica and her family have been living for the last several years. It sits on a five-acre property on Sauvie Island, an agricultural island on the Columbia River 15 minutes north of Portland.

The house is an interesting experiment in reduction and reuse not only because it is only 540 square feet or because it was remodeled using nearly exclusively reclaimed materials, but because the building itself is now being recycled for the fourth time. It was first built in the early 1940s as part of Vanport Village; a quickly erected development built to house shipyard workers. When Vanport Village flooded in 1948 this particular little house was floated down the river to Sauvie Island, where it became the goose-check station. Years later it was remodeled to become a rental house.

When Jessica and Yianni bought the property in late 2008, they decided to remodel it without adding to the existing footprint. Their first step was to redesign the interior for maximum space efficiency. A ‘great room’ houses the kitchen, dining room and living room with large, comfortable, built in sofas that double as twin beds for guests. Drawers under the sofas hold children’s toys and a wall of shelves houses books and more. The ceiling was opened up in the main space, but the bathroom and bedroom have lower ceilings to accommodate the parent’s sleeping loft above, accessible by a walnut ladder. The children’s room has two bunk beds as well as a full bed for guests. A pull-out closet makes maximum use of the narrow space near the bunk beds.

New high-efficiency windows come right down to the sofas and offer a fun way for kids and cats to enter and exit the house. The walls were insulated, then faced in reclaimed wood siding, most of which was found on site in one of the barns. The new floors are local Oregon white oak, and the dining table was made from locally salvaged walnut. The range is a vintage Craigslist find, and the tub was a salvaged from a friend’s demolition site. A wood-burning stove easily and efficiently heats the small house.

As part of the remodel, the worn out roof was replaced with a green roof, planted with moss and ferns gathered along the Columbia River Gorge. The green roof offers insulation as well as a playful visual counterpoint to the traditional white cottage.

Despite its size, the house is welcoming and comfortable and nearly every weekend it is full of family and friends coming from Portland to enjoy a day in the countryside. In addition to living in a small footprint, Yianni and Jessica have been working towards food self-sufficiency. Their first year on the property they built a 1200-square-foot green house, planted vegetable gardens, rows of berries, and fruit trees. They are also raising chickens for meat and eggs, keeping bees, and making cheese from the milk of a neighbor’s goats and cows.”

Now how inspiring is that?!

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