Beach time-family time in Charleston, S.C. Isle of Palms

Our family just returned from a huge family reunion at the beach planned by our 93 year old Grandmother. There is no better place to spend a weeks vacation with that many kinfolk than Isle of Palms, South Carolina. The Wild Dunes beach resort has homes right along the beach and boardwalk so families can easily walk to each other’s houses, kids can meet at the beach to surf or play in the pools, everyone can walk down to the bar and meet for drinks and music or gather at ones house for games.

We played croquet and cornhole. Took drives to Charleston and Sullivan Island to eat. Had a wonderful sunset boat tour and low country boil. We even had opportunities to kayak with dolphin and manatee.

There is something for everyone at the beach and our group aged 2-93. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to spend a week all together. A true gift. It Probably could have been anywhere but Isle of Palms was perfect!

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Dream of Traveling The World?

Dream of Traveling The World?

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A Mom’s first stab at processing the trip around the world.

We have returned home to an amazing whirlwind of friends and family. We are still jetlagged and have hardly had time to process the incredible experience we have had. We have read a lot about the transition process and realize that it is going to take time to acclimate and understand the effects our experience has had on us. In the meantime I have put down a few things about traveling that sum up some of the experiences I know have had an impact on my life.

Travelers: You meet amazing people on the road. The kind of people you meet while traveling are often other travelers. So you tend to share that love in common. Travelers are a strange and interesting kind of people. They always have great stories, come from varied and interesting places, and are generally interested in the stories you have to share. So they quickly make for good friends. Travelers welcome you back to their homes when you are in their country. Travelers understand what we are doing and usually tell us about those places in their countries that we really want to see, as well as places they have visited. They become quick and lifelong friends.

Locals: In addition to travelers, we have met many locals. There is nothing better than meeting friendly folks in their own environment. This is where you gain real insight into life in a different community. We’ve stayed in a homestay in the jungle of Borneo with a family. We’ve cooked Pad Thai with “Stumpy” in a hut in Northern Thailand outside Chiang Mai before elephant hiking . The kids played volleyball with the local children in the Amazon one afternoon – when we attended a dedication of a new playground in a local village. We went fishing with Rodney and his son, Harry, up their favorite creek in Australia. We celebrated Guatemalan Independence Day with our friends, Delia and her family and neighbors in a small town outside Antigua with a traditional Guatemalan-style backyard BBQ. We set off fireworks with friends in Bali on New Year’s Eve. In New Zealand, Laura Burton introduced us to her host family where she was living and student-teaching. Carrie and her family fed us and invited the children to school for a day. The DalMonte’s took us in and fed us home-cooked Italian meals and reminded us that family are the people you treasure most in this world even if they aren’t your blood. They made Cremona feel like it was a homecoming.

Stuff: I thought we packed pretty light for a year to start with. We had one rolling duffle and one backpack each. We then sent back or donated boxes of unnecessary items. We often left our big bags at a hotel in one city and traveled with just the backpacks for a few weeks and came back to the big bags. It really is true you can get everything you need wherever you are. We also have learned to lay off purchasing souvenirs – especially the junky stuff that seems to be sold in every corner of the planet. Most of our souvenirs of this trip will be memories captured in many pictures. Staying in warmer weather helped too. It wasn’t until we got to Europe that we needed “city” clothes and warmer stuff. Luckily things we’re on sale because it was spring, and we were all happy for some new clothes. Old shorts and “jungle clothes” were donated. For the most part…nobody wanted to see that stuff again. I was so surprised when I returned and saw the size of our house and the amount of stuff we had. It feels excessive. I feel blessed.

Food: One of the highlights of traveling is the wonderful and varied food. We ate so well I can’t say I lost weight. Especially in Southeast Asia and Europe where there are so many choices of food and everything is so incredible. Lee was so excited for Italy. Pasta has always been his favorite and upon arriving in Italy he declared he was finally “home”. We were also constantly on the move and very active and I felt healthier than ever before. I have noticed that in most of the 3rd world countries and in Europe the markets are so full of fresh food and the people always walk everywhere. It makes me wonder how we got so far away from it in the US.

Under the sea: We have had the chance to scuba dive over 25 times this year. I got certified when I was 18 and I have done more dives this year than the rest of my lifetime combined. I could do a blog entry just on comparing the beauty of each reef from Fiji, Australia, Bali and Thailand. Suffice to say that I have been as happy underwater as anywhere else on earth. I’m so glad we can do this activity as a family as it has been a truly amazing experience. The kids have become excellent and experienced young divers and it is fun that we can share this activity together. I expect and hope we will continue this sport for many years to come.

History: History comes alive when you travel. You can actually see the impact of exploration, migration, slavery and war on the faces of the people and the architecture of the cities. This is fascinating and enlightening.

Environment: If I wasn’t an environmentalist before this trip, I am surely one now. The impact of humanity on our world is staggering. Many places are far better at being environmentally friendly than we are. We visited several places and animals that I truly believe won’t exist in 25 years. I’m scared by what I saw. The impact of humanity and the lack of respect for our earth home is frightening. I hope something changes. I’ll be doing my part.

Togetherness: Living together and schedule free is a new concept to all of us. If you knew our lives a year ago we were about as committed to a busy schedule as anybody gets. Between school, work, volunteer-projects and sports we kept a very active daily schedule. Both our kids played select soccer so most weekends we could be found divided in two different cities texting play by plays. The past six months we were together 24 hours a day and at times in a room not much bigger than my old minivan. It amazes me that despite being together all the time we are never at a loss for conversation, we tend to actually enjoy each other’s company and really don’t miss the schedules at all. We are a real family. We fought plenty. Life was typical in those ways. But we are closer because of this experience. We were home less than 24 hours when Laney suggested we all play Monopoly. This makes me happy.

Sleep: I have noticed that we got more sleep than any of us ever did at home. I always heard about sleep deprivation buy we really did get 8+ hours every night. The kids are aware of how much sleep they really need. It will be hard to get it in as school, homework and sport commitments in the US do not make it easy for children to get 8-10 hours sleep that their bodies need.

Cussing: If you are thinking about traveling anywhere in the world be aware that your kids will be exposed to all sorts of language. I’m not just talking about the inevitable slip-ups that are part of being together for a year together. Australians curse like sailors. (Well, some of them are sailors! ) Australians curse all the time. It’s part of the language there. I even heard the Target lady describe on a loud speaker that one of the toys was a “Hell of a lot of fun”. They won’t curb their language for your kids as they expect you curse with your kids too. So be aware. In Southeast Asia, we had many experiences in several different countries where locals would be speaking to us in broken English and suddenly drop the “F bomb” right in mid-sentence. It is my hypothesis that most of these people learn their English from movies (and Australians) and believe Americans cuss all the time. They just use swear words for emphasis and don’t think anything about it. They probably don’t even know what they mean.

In summary, we have enjoyed the past ten months as much as any time period in the life of our family. We have done many amazing things, but more importantly we have done them together. We are a closer family for it. Our greatest souvenirs from this year will be out closeness and our memories of these adventures. While we have suffered heartbreak at times (most notably the untimely loss of David’s father and my cousin Craig) we have been uniquely connected and able to support one another.

We have also taken from those experiences the important lesson that life is short and every day is precious. Taking advantage of the time we are given is critically important and to do otherwise wasteful. More importantly, we hope to bring the same renewed sense of adventure and appreciation to our lives back in Lexington.

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Last Day of Travel

In nearly 10 months of traveling we have visited 6 continents, over 20 countries and over 50 different cities. We have hiked through jungles, climbed mountains, and rafted rivers. We have visited museums, castles and ancient ruins. We have seen concerts, sporting events, amazing art pieces, and rare wildlife in jeopardized habitats. We have met people from all over the world and learned about their history and culture. We have done it all together as a family and we have been changed by the experience. Tomorrow is the last day of our round-the-world trip. Monday we fly home to Lexington. But it is not the end of our adventure – because every day is a new opportunity for us to enjoy life, learn something new, share our talents, help others, make new friends and grow closer with our family and neighbors. We welcome you to join us. See you soon

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The Netherlands

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After a great visit with our friends the Boggs, in Wassenaar in western Netherlands, we made our way to Amsterdam for a 5-day visit.  Our trip happened to coincide with the annual national holiday – Queen’s Day.  This year was especially exciting as the Queen (Beatrice) had announced she would abdicate the throne to her son, Willem Alexander.  This would therefore be the last “Queen’s Day” for a while as next year the country would celebrate King’s day – in honor of the new monarch.  The holiday itself is a country-wide celebration and is particularly boisterous in Amsterdam.  There is much drinking of beer, wearing of orange and… trade of used personal items?!  That is correct.  The entire city is turned into a kind of large rummage sale.  So as you walk around the city locals have dragged out their items for sale and display them on blankets and tables.  You can wander from block to block buying beer, listening to music, watching revelers pass by on party boats and shop for everything that you would expect to see at a giant neighborhood garage sale.

After the big party and the following day of cleanup, Amsterdam returned to normal – or at least as normal as Amsterdam gets.  It really is a fascinating and beautiful city.  The canals and old dutch buildings are fantastic to see.  The museums are abundant – including fine art of the masters at the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum and fun science and technology displays at NEMO.  City tours show off the various highlights of the city including beautiful residential areas and parks, numerous canals, the Anne Frank House and Museum, the Royal Palace and the Heineken experience.  Amsterdam is a truly diverse city.  Statistics show that residents of Amsterdam represent over 170 different nationalities – making it the most diverse city in Europe.  Walking the streets of Amsterdam a visitor will see a true rainbow of ethnicities.  It makes for a vibrant and interesting city that is full of surprises.  The long-standing social leniency of Amsterdam also allows for a multitude of coffee shops that are like no others in the world and a red-light district that any visitor to the city should pass through at least once.

We really enjoyed Amsterdam and found it to be more interesting than many cities we have visited.  Like New Orleans in the United States, Amsterdam has a mysterious side that is intriguing and a perhaps a bit dangerous.  Getting a little outside your comfort zone is what travel is about, and Amsterdam provides plenty of opportunities to do that.

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Normandy

My Dad took me to see the movie Midway when I was a very little girl. It probably wasn’t the most appropriate movie for a seven year old but Dad and I bonded over WWII forever after. I have always been fascinated by the heroism and dedication of the greatest generation and the war that gave us the freedom we all continue to enjoy today.

It has been a dream of mine to see Normandy for myself. To walk on the beaches, see the bluffs, touch the bunkers and pray for the fallen. My experience was better than I ever imagined. It was something that touched all of us differently and even Lee at ten said that it was the best tour of our entire trip. That about sums it up.

Enjoy the pictures but they don’t do it justice. It’s the stories of personal heroism that made this special and ultimately it was these individual acts of courage and bravery that won the war.

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Paris…. In Pictures

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Munich in pictures

Just a quick pass through Munich, Germany but we really enjoyed our stay! Special thanks to David’s cousin Michele and her husband, Remco, for showing us an amazing city that we can’t wait to revisit and spend more time getting to know.

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Why Cremona?

 

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Why Cremona? As we are getting ready to leave Cremona, Italy and spend several weeks on the road in Europe, we are all coming to terms with the bittersweet combination of embarking on a new adventure while departing a place that has become our home albeit temporarily. For the past weeks our home has been a quaint apartment in central Cremona Italy. Cremona is a small and ancient city in the Lombardy region of Italy on the Po River. Many people have asked us “Why Cremona?” Of all the places in the world and all the towns in Italy why did you choose to spend several weeks in Cremona, Italy? The answer is, Cremona was a homecoming for me. My family and I have a history with this town (and a wonderful family in it) that made coming here a natural choice. Even if we hadn’t, Cremona would have been an excellent pick.

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Cremona Connections
In the summer of 1979, my parents were part of a group of about 250 folks from my hometown, Owensboro, KY, that participated in a foreign exchange program with Cremona. Mom and Dad visited Cremona and were hosted in the home of Giovanni and Maria DalMonte. The DalMonte’s had two young boys, Luca and Sandro. I was 10 years old at the time. My parents already had a fondness for Italy, and all things Italian, as they had lived not far away in Vicenza, Italy for 4 years while my father served in the US Army JAG Corps. My younger brother and I were born on the military base there. To make a long story short, a friendship was born that summer. My parents quickly became enamored with Gianni and Maria and remained in contact with them. A few years later, their eldest son, Luca, who had a great passion for America – arrived in Owensboro to spend a year residing with our family in Daviess County. He graduated from Apollo High School and enrolled at the University of Kentucky. Before he finished at UK, his parents returned the favor and hosted me (in 1984 at age 15) for a memorable summer in Cremona. Amazingly, 29 years passed before I managed to return. Luca and Sandro are grown men, and established professionals, working in Milan and Modena. Gianni and Maria have aged – but have done so gracefully and have maintained the charm and warmth that I remember from my last visit here. And Cremona has retained its charms as well.

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Cremona is centrally located and makes for easy travel to many surrounding villages, towns, and cities. An hour south of Milan – we have used it as the base of our exploration of Italy and have visited Verona, Venice, Bergamo, Brescia, Lake Garda, Modena, Maranello, Pisa, and Rome. More importantly, Cremona is a delightful destination in its own right. Home to Antonio Stradivarius, the violinmaker, Cremona houses many of his creations. It is a musical town where one can expect to hear violins, accordions, flutes and other musical instruments echoing off the ancient city buildings and carrying down the narrow streets. A “small town” atmosphere exists in Cremona and one can expect friendly faces at the many stores and restaurants in town. A walkable city, Cremona allows one to wander from a football (soccer) game back into town, peeking into specialty shops to procure an assortment of meats, cheeses and wines before enjoying a glass of wine while outside and before returning home to prepare a meal of antipasto and fresh pasta with local sauce. The hospitality of the DalMonte’s has continued throughout our recent visit and I only hope we can again return the favor to them. Meals, day trips, and personal tours are only the beginning of the things they have done for us while we have been here and their kindness will make leaving Italy, and Cremona, especially hard. I trust it will not take me 29 years to make it back.

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Shants…

During this year abroad we all have had to make sacrifices. The unfortunate outcome has been the wearing of “shants”.  Shants are pants that zip of into shorts.  My mom, brother, and especially my dad, LOVE them. I absolutely despise them. My dad has about 4 pairs of them. I thankfully found a pair that don’t zip (I call them jungle pants and still refuse to wear them unless we are in the rainforest, jungle, or the zombie apocalypse).

I enjoy teasing my family about them every time they think about putting them on. I am positive they love my comments about their choice of clothing.  Now that we have arrived in Europe, I thankfully have seen a decrease of Shants wearing by my family. Well, except for my dad refuses to purchase other clothing and still wears them every other day.

Below are some photos that might be disturbing to young viewers. These photos are rated PG for ugliness and disgrace to fashion.

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