Sunday, December 17, 2017

Travel as a Family Ritual

With my dad and sisters, 1972. We are wearing sweatshirts bought when we traveled
to Long Beach, Washington,where we went clamming. This picture was taken in Yosemite.
My parents loved travel. They started traveling with us, their three daughters, from the time we were small. We did a lot of camping, first in a tent and eventually in our Prowler trailer. Dad taught us how to fish. We went crabbing in the cold Northern California waters, clamming in Washington. We took a car trip from California to North Carolina. From Southern California, we crossed the border into Mexico, wandering the markets of Tijuana, buying hand-painted marionettes and stenciled leather purses.

When my dad took a group of high school students on a "round the world" six-week tour one summer, Mom was jealous but didn't sit around moping. Instead, she took my sisters and me on our own adventure: a tour of the Gold Country, where we stayed in haunted hotels and went gold panning.

I loved spending time outside of the structured life of home and school. Traveling helped me experience a fresh spontaneity and freedom with my family--and to see that the world had so much to offer beyond the scope of suburban life. 

As life would have it, I never had kids. Would I be as well-traveled if I did? Hard to say, although I have been inspired by others. In many places Dave and I have been, we've met traveling families with kids of all ages. Some are on vacation. Some live abroad, others nomadically.

A few years ago at a writing retreat, I met RenĂ©e Dineen--and I was blown away to learn she has traveled to 48 countries with her family of four, starting when her kids were infants. Her son Braedon is now 12, and her daughter Raegan is now 10. As the title of her blog—Travel Moments with Kids—proclaims, traveling as a family is not only doable but immensely rewarding. As a fellow travelling writer, I wanted to feature her on my blog so I asked her a few questions. 

Renee and her family in the redwoods of Northern California
When did your love of travel first blossom?

My husband Sean and I started traveling early in our relationship. Before kids, and for a short while after our son was born, we did what we called Mystery Weekends, short holidays planned by one of us. The location was kept secret until we arrived at the airport or headed out on our drive. After our son was born, we continued to travel but slightly less spontaneously, though by the time he was two, he had clocked over twenty airplane trips across the US, a week in Paris and a five-week holiday in Italy.

In 2010 we moved to Switzerland for work, providing a whole new level access and exciting places to explore. Our time in Europe deepened our bonds as a family. Travel was no longer a hobby but a unifying custom—an established practice we knew would accompany our lives as a family forever.
Halong Bay, Viet Nam

What inspired your travel blog Travel Moments with Kids?

People often ask me how I became such an evangelist for traveling with my family, and how those experiences landed me in the blogging world.

Returning from the US in the summer of 2014, I didnt want to forget a moment, more importantly the possible meaning of those moments.  Most of these moments, imaginably all of them, were unplanned. In this way, traveling as a family has not been a means to an end but a series of spontaneous and meaningful moments that has shaped my family. It has shaped us as individuals, spouses, siblings and parents. 

So in December 2014, I began to capture what I’ve come to refer to as moments. Each moment is explored in one blog entry. A moment is not just the description of an experience but an exploration of what makes it a time of deep knowing and discovery.

The inspiration to put these writings into the world is about shedding light on the topic of family travel, a decision that undeniably opens up different doors to the world—a world that even those who don’t travel have a deep desire to understand. 

To write the blog has been a personal practice of mindfulness, a way to remember the awareness I held during each precious moment.  I also applaud myself and my family—and forgive us for our mistakes. 

Paros, Greece
You make it look easy. Is it?

Parenting is hard no matter what. Many people hold beliefs that traveling with kids makes it that much more difficult, exhausting, and not worth the time or effort—validated further by our own bad experiences with our parents or a failed first attempt with our own kids.  These reasons are often focused on concerns about safety, unpredictability and personal discomfort—all presumably resulting in more work.

For me, the "work" of parenting is not much different at home than it is elsewhere. The topics and content of the day may be, but not the heart of parenting—the harder work.

What also continues to be a motivation to travel is that while traveling, we are more focused on each other and on us as a family. Because of this we actually find that we need this time together. And so the next trip planning begins!

Athens, Greece
What is your biggest discovery about family travel so far?

Obviously there are a lot of travel specific tips and advice we have learned: like how to research new locations, pack more efficiently, and the best websites for travel deals.  However, these are not the most important things I wish to share.

If we choose to expose our kids to a bigger world—one full of cultures, traditions and practices that differ from our own—we loosen, we expand. We see that there is not just one way to parent. There is not one best way to travel the unpredictable, ambiguous new worlds we enter. And we can’t figure out any of this alone! We learn it on the journey of connecting to people and cultures. Travel reminds me of this every time. The world has become a teacher for all of us.
Lake Lugano, Italy
What do you hope happens as a result of traveling with your kids?

I cant predict the specific impact our travels will have on my kids, and Ive come to realize that I dont need to. What I do know is that who they are, how they see the world, what they understand about Sean and me and us as a family unit will be greatly affected by each place they visit. Travel changes lives.

What else do you want your followers to know?

I hope that Travel Moments with Kids might somehow inspire  parents to expand the borders of their lives as a family and as individuals in this world—a world in which we are all ultimately striving to be happy, healthy, developing people who leave this life having lived on purpose. 

If you’d like to contact Renee, you can email her at renee@travelmomentswithkids.comHer travel moments and more about her story can be found at:

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What if Your Life Ruins Your Book?

Definition of irony:

You write a novel based on the story of how you met your wife, the first woman you ever loved.

When the novel is released, you and said wife are in the midst of a divorce after 15 years together. And not one of those civilized divorces that people claim exist, but one of the cheating-screaming-lying-Imma-lock-you-outta-the-house-Imma-sue-you-Imma-kill-myself divorces.

I can write a funny sentence about it now...but at the time it was as excruciating as it gets. And ultimately, as transformative as it gets.

Yes, I'm an example of the worst thing that ever happened to me becoming the best thing that ever happened to me...but damn that shit was painful.

And in the midst of it, my novel Complementary Colorswhich had been two years in the making, was released by a small press.

I sat like an earthquake survivor in the midst of the ruins, this novel in my hands that fictionally portrayed my destroyed relationship as an exquisite encounter between soul mates.

How could I promote this book that now felt like a big lie? Even though it was fiction, it was so close to the bone my skeleton ached. How could I stand in front of people--quivering, manic mess that I was--and read a love scene based on the woman who broke my heart?
The newer edition of this one features
a photo taken by my husband, Dave.

When my first novel, For the May Queen, was released, I did radio programs, interviews, readings--resulting in lots of sales, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and emails from readers. I just didn't have the heart to do anything for Complementary Colors...and while it found its way into a few readers' hands, it mostly limped off into oblivion. A few years later, the small press folded and the book went out of print.

Last year when I was teaching in China, my colleague Paul and I starting meeting every week at Starbucks to share our writing. He did something no one else has done, to my knowledge: ordered my books (my memoir, both novels, my poetry collection, my book about teachers) and read them all. He loved Complementary Colors and encourage me to republish it.
Friends in China. Paul's in the back with his arms up.
At first I balked. But then I re-read it. And it felt good. It was the kind of book I like to read. It's about a transformative time in the life of a woman. It's about art and poetry and sex and love.

I don't feel anymore that the book is a lie. It is emotionally true. And emotional truth is timeless, not dependent on "the way things turned out." The book portrays a moment in the life of a woman who is and is-not me. And I'm proud of us both in our fallible humanness...and our ability to transform.

When I was in the pit of despair during that breakup, my friends and family gave me so much love and support. And such is true in the re-releasing of this novel. Jan McCutcheon of Coyote Creek Books took on the project whole-heartedly. The gorgeous new cover art is courtesy of my best friend from high school, Nancy Larrew (of Blue Five Productions). Without Paul Mullen (author of curse this blue raincoat), this novel would not have been given a second chance.

And I am deeply grateful to my husband, Dave Rhine. He never once said I should put this story behind me. Instead, he knows that without my life stories, I would not be who I am now--the woman journeying through life and the world with him.

(Complementary Colors is available here.)