Party of 4 » Journeys http://partyof4blog.com one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams Tue, 27 Dec 2011 15:54:46 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.0.1 Pulling the Plug /2011/07/pulling-the-plug.html /2011/07/pulling-the-plug.html#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2011 13:12:31 +0000 Michael /2011/07/pulling-the-plug.html
Wendy and I have been talking a lot lately about pulling the plug on our various digital devices. We all of us in our family experience the frustration that comes with trying to connect with someone who is physically present, but has their attention on a smart phone, computer, or TV. Jacked in, they called it in the science fiction circles I used to run in. Then it referred to a plug hardwired into your brain that you would physically plug into “deck,” some type of computer.

Turns out you don’t actually need a cord dangling out of your head to turn off the outside world and do away with all those pesky human interactions like paying attention to your kids or playing with your sibling. Any old device with a screen will do just fine.

Last weekend we stayed near the beach in Rockport, MA, courtesy of homeexchange.com. We hunted for shells and beach glass, spent time with friends, and explored a new town. We still had our devices with us, but their hold on us was loosened. We connected more with each other, and we thought about possibilities.

Now we’re plotting our escape to somewhere with no cell phone coverage, no Internet access, and no TV. Somewhere inspiring, somewhere warm in winter, somewhere to get tune with each other. Then, when we get home, we’ll put the TV in storage and leave our smart phones and computers at the office for a while and see how that goes.

Have digital devices begun to take over your life? Do you have a place to go to unplug? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Rider By My Side: Living Large on the Road /2011/06/rider-by-my-side-living-large-on-the-road.html /2011/06/rider-by-my-side-living-large-on-the-road.html#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2011 01:17:33 +0000 Michael /?p=663 “Travel is all about surprises.  If you want things to be predictable, stay at home.” So begins a typical blog post by a traveling threesome living a dream life. This family—a husband and wife and their five-year-old— cut loose from their predictable digs in L.A., and went abroad for five months, stopping in Australia, Egypt, Thailand, South Africa, and many other destinations. Catch them at riderbymyside.com.

They’re back in the States now, but still on the road, touring the country for the nicest possible place to settle down.

They epitomize the free spirit our family is cultivating this year. I asked them what was hardest about cutting loose and how the journey has changed them. Said dad Bryan Kamenetz:

“I don’t really feel like we gave anything up in order to travel, much more that we have gained a tremendous amount. Everything that we don’t have as a result of our travels has turned out to be meaningless, or something we did not have anyway. We gave up an apartment—it was more like we gave up paying rent on an apartment, which was something that was easy to do. We gave up a lot of things we didn’t really need. The biggest challenge was just getting started, getting rid of all the stuff we didn’t need and finding someplace to keep the few suitcases with things we wanted to hold on to.”
Their travels brought them home, wherever they found themselves.
“My perspective has changed in how I feel about home—that it is not a physical place. It is where my family is.  It is where I am comfortable. It is where my friends are. I have felt completely at home in Bangkok and completely adrift in Bakersfield.”
For others looking for a way to live a dream, he offers these words of encouragement:
“It’s easier than you think. The hard part is what you’re doing right now.”
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Fruits of the Journey /2011/06/fruits-of-the-journey.html /2011/06/fruits-of-the-journey.html#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2011 00:22:52 +0000 Wendy /?p=648

We’re halfway there. In January our family set out on a yearlong quest to live more adventurously, planting a few new seeds in the garden of our lives. Now here we are in June, already reaping so many exotic and unexpected fruits from our escapades.

Among the highlights were a long-awaited trip to India for this yoga-loving Mama and a 10-day silent meditation retreat for peace-seeking Daddy. In a way, the whole family was with us on each of these journeys. All four of us are now, by contact, a bit more worldly and much more Zen.

Michael has become an Olympic-level meditator (if there is such a thing, which unfortunately there isn’t) who sticks diligently to his 2-hour-a-day sitting practice. I have taken to calling Michael “Buddha Daddy” when he calmly shifts me out of an agitated state with a suggestion to “Let it go.” But really, the whole family has taken notice of his more positive outlook on life and his deeper enjoyment of, well, everything.

And my trip to India made quite an impression on Amelie, who turned 6 yesterday and is now a kindergarten graduate reading at Level G. The English major in me could not have been more thrilled to discover that my journey halfway around the world inspired a poem that she wrote at school:

Mama’s Home
by Amelie

Exciting!
Looking at the pretty, sparkly jewelry
Smooth and soft
Rough presents
Everything smelled like India
Everybody saying exciting yells
Everything was different!

What’s next for the Party of 4? Stay tuned (and say a little prayer) as Michael begins flying lessons next month. And we have a few more surprises to yank out of our magician’s hat during the rest of the year. So stay with us and see if we can pull it off. With two small kids, incessant deadlines, and hardly time enough to make dinner most nights, we’re never quite sure that we can manage much of anything. But by some happy accident, we do.

Party on, and peace out.

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House Swapping: Adventure on the Cheap /2011/06/house-swapping-adventure-on-the-cheap.html /2011/06/house-swapping-adventure-on-the-cheap.html#comments Mon, 06 Jun 2011 20:40:16 +0000 Wendy /?p=634 When it comes to traveling on a budget, there are few better ways to go than swapping houses. Our family has been doing it for years with friends in New York City, who happily swap their spacious East Village apartment for our quiet Woodstock country house. Last year Michael and I officially became house-swapping junkies: We signed up for an account on HomeExchange.com. Within a matter of days we had offers from people as close as Washington, DC, and as far as France and Spain. We opted for an easy weekend road trip to Amherst, MA, home of my heroine, Emily Dickinson. (This year I’m angling for something a little more exotic. We’ll see what comes our way.)

Meanwhile, this past Memorial Day weekend we once more got a taste of the freedom and possibility that we love about house swapping.

Our girls had the chance to experience life as tragically hip city kids.

Here they are in Tompkins Square Park. We don’t remember city playgrounds like this when we were kids. Back then they were sad assemblages of skeletal monkey bars and creaky swings. Now the city playgrounds are beautifully maintained wonderlands of chutes, slides, tunnels, and sandpits.

Amelie poses under a cupcake. And indeed our NYC adventures included a quest for some of the city’s best sweets and eats. We loved the ice cream at Stogo on East 10th Street.

Jade poses near Angelica Kitchen, which was surprisingly family-friendly. Our kids adored the miso soup.

For Amelie, our weekend wouldn’t have felt complete without face painting and a carousel ride in Central Park.

Bottom line: Home exchange is a great way for families to travel affordably and feel like the whole world is open to them. We can’t wait for the next one.

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Leaving the Kids Behind, but Keeping the Heart Connection /2011/05/leaving-the-kids-behind-but-keeping-the-heart-connection.html /2011/05/leaving-the-kids-behind-but-keeping-the-heart-connection.html#comments Fri, 20 May 2011 15:26:15 +0000 Wendy /?p=606

Hello, Party of 4 readers! The party goes on, though we are so busy with new adventures that we hardly have time to blog about them lately. As I type this, Michael is completing his 9th straight day of silent meditation at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne, MA. Okay, so it’s not exactly a party over there, but it was Michael’s long-held wish to experience this retreat. Our Party of 4 live-your-dreams project gave him the push to finally do it. I can’t wait to hear about it when he returns on Sunday.

When Michael left last week, he drove down our country road with a big grin on his face. I couldn’t help but marvel at the ease with which he was able to say goodbye to his children (and of course, to me!). Contrast this with my hand-wringing anguish as I prepared for my 17-day trip to India last month. Perhaps it goes to prove that after all our talk of equality and 50-50 parenting, there are still so many differences in our emotional landscapes as mamas and daddies.

And yet, after my journey I realized that my anguish was needless. (Isn’t all anguish needless?) At the dark root, I fretted that my absence would create a rift in the child-parent bond that knits our family together. Of course that did not happen. Like all kids, mine are winningly resilient. They danced gracefully through more than two weeks without me, and upon my return our intense attachment was as alive as ever.

Which brings me to my Ah-Ha Moment. I realized that it’s okay for moms and dads to step out of their roles for a brief spell. No, not just okay. It’s healthy. Even fabulous.

Before I go, here are a few tips to ease the heartbreak of parting for globetrotting parents.

1. Plan a special parent-child outing before the big trip. The weekend before I left, I took Amelie out for British high tea. We bonded over finger sandwiches and our mutual love of all things sweet. And we both savored the exclusivity of one-on-one time together before the goodbye kiss.

2. Get some lockets. With a silver heart around her neck, my big girl knew mama was always close. Little girls love lockets, and mothers enjoy the chance to flash their children’s smiles at anyone who will indulge them with an admiring glance. For boys, perhaps a pocket-size or bedside photo of the departing parent will do nicely.

3. Remind yourself of the brevity of your journey. Two days after you return it will seem to everyone as if you never left. So you might as well give in and love the adventure. Parents travel every day. And you know what? They COME BACK. (Most of the time!)

4. Use your mama (or papa) superpowers. Oceans away from my children, I imagined myself like Hanuman, the monkey god of Hindu legend who famously leaped from the southern tip of India to the island of Lanka. A mother’s heart can stretch over continents, beyond sunsets and thunderstorms and vast deserts. Yep. Love can do that.

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Back from India /2011/05/back-from-india.html /2011/05/back-from-india.html#comments Fri, 06 May 2011 10:09:29 +0000 Wendy /?p=587 Almost two weeks have passed since little arms greeted me at the door after my big, fat Indian adventure. I scooped up my two girls, kissed their daddy, and wiped away a few tears before sliding back into my whirlwind life as a working mama. Like a good soldier I have fallen in line with the rhythms of school, work, deadlines, meals. Nothing has changed…yet everything is different.

We pulled this off, my little family and me. My girls wear bindis and bangles, and I tell stories about wild elephants and morning walks in the tea fields. Our Party of 4 has been kissed by adventure, and I have a few more pictures to prove it from India Part 2, my second week.

With my friend Milena and an entourage of 16 people, we celebrated her birthday for seven straight days…

Exploring life on the streets in lovely Munnar…

Finding a home where flowers run rampant, and tiny tree frogs conduct the evening symphony…

Plying Kerala’s lazy backwaters via houseboat…

Feasting, and then feasting some more…

Immersing ourselves in local culture (note the Ganesh coloring book)…

And generally steeping ourselves in tea country beauty.

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Mysore Mosaic /2011/04/mysore-mosaic.html /2011/04/mysore-mosaic.html#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2011 17:26:51 +0000 Wendy /2011/04/mysore-mosaic.html I’ve left Mysore behind for the skinny, coconut-scented state of Kerala in southwest India. Here in Fort Cochin – where Western tourists have infiltrated the quaint city, armed with sun hats and digital cameras – my thoughts wander back to Mysore’s unapologetic authenticity…..


A flower vendor selling jasmine garlands to drape over altars or weave into women’s braided hair…


The chalk drawings known as kolam, which were originally designed to ward off insects but now just adorn the streets with domestic artistry…


My favorite hotel breakfast of fresh fruit, watermelon juice, and uppithu, a semolina dish with just a hint of Indian spice…


One of the city’s omnipresent and beloved bovines…


Colored powders at Deva Raja Market, considered one of the most beautiful open-air markets in India…


My sentiments exactly.

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Postcard from India #3 /2011/04/postcard-from-india-3.html /2011/04/postcard-from-india-3.html#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2011 15:42:41 +0000 Wendy /2011/04/postcard-from-india-3.html My stay here in Mysore is brief, yet I already have my rituals to savor, especially in the mornings. One of my favorite things to do is wander the quiet residential enclave around my yoga shala and photograph the women making chalk drawings on the stoops and streets outside their homes. The designs are lovely, mandala-like and ephemeral, kind of like my stay here, which will be over tomorrow.

When the yoga shala opens, I unroll my mat between two fellow students who have become fast friends, David from Down Under and a Brazilian beauty named Sara. Together we sweat and twist and morph our way through the Ashtanga primary series as the sensations of a Mysore morning filter through the windows: the calls of fruit vendors, the scent of jasmine garlands for sale, the clinking of chai glasses as the tea stalls open.

But what bewitches me most are the dedicated women who, in a daily ritual of chalk dust and pride, become artists for a moment. When I ask if I can take their picture they always smile, and in a flash we’re connected across cultures, allies in impermanence. Soon the rains will come and leave no trace of their intricate patterns…or of me and my Mysore days.

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Postcard from India #2 /2011/04/postcard-from-india-2.html /2011/04/postcard-from-india-2.html#comments Thu, 14 Apr 2011 08:00:03 +0000 Wendy /2011/04/postcard-from-india-2.html What a mad, dirty, lovable place Mysore is! I fell in love with this yoga-famous metropolis as my plane circled down among palm trees under a blazing sun. As my taxi entered the city we passed mountains of watermelons for sale, cows eating garbage by the roadside, gaggles of sari-clad women, and many barefooted, smiling children. In the city’s ramshackle core I felt the motherly urge to give every building a bath, with a bucket the size of a swimming pool and an enormous, sudsy sponge.

My first few days as a traveler, I could hardly look at a child without welling up. I miss my two beautiful girls back home, and their sweet daddy, with a constant ache in my heart. But slowly I am giving myself to this place and this experience. My brief time of hair-raising rickshaw rides, rooftop monkeys, and night-lit palaces enriches not just me but my whole family. It emboldens us to live with adventurous spirits and hearts open to the wild ride that is life on Earth. And that’s good for us all.

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Postcard from India #1 /2011/04/postcard-from-india-1.html /2011/04/postcard-from-india-1.html#comments Tue, 12 Apr 2011 14:39:31 +0000 Wendy /2011/04/postcard-from-india-1.html No matter where I am in the world, I have an uncanny feeling of coming home when I walk into a yoga studio. This is how I felt when I entered the simple shala of B.N.S. Iyengar, the 84-year-old Ashtanga master who studied with Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern yoga, in Mysore, India.

The guru arrived wearing a motorcycle helmet and a long white dhoti. He seemed ageless, with nary a line on his face; his teaching manner was commanding yet endearing, like strong coffee tempered by just enough sugar. Class was brisk, sweaty, and euphoric. Afterwards with two fellow students I drank my first raw coconut juice, straight from the fruit, at a roadside stand. It felt like a Mysore rite of passage, and now I can say I am truly here.

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