Utopia…and Utopics.

My kids are fascinated with the idea of, and workings of, a Utopian society right now. We are reading Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and we have had many discussions, for the last month or two, about our own ideas of a utopia, what would work, what couldn’t, what shouldn’t even if it could. This talking has lasted hours and wasn’t just superficial ramblings, either. These convos have really challenged us in our outlooks and behaviour to really define what we want and value, and how we can practice those values in our everyday lives. It has even translated into ideas of business ventures!

“An absolutely new idea is one of the rarest things known to man.” – Sir Thomas More

With all of these discussions the thing that always comes up, is not just how to implement these ideas but how to share them with others. Everyone has unanimously agreed that it can’t be forced upon others by “preaching” or insistence that our way is “more right”, but must be a reflection of ourselves. The best persuasion is to show the success of a principle or thing, and the best way to do that is to prove it is a success in one’s own life.

Before you dismiss this Utopia idea as just wishful thinking, I will challenge you by saying it is not the idea of Utopia that has made the greatest impression on my family, but rather the principles and ideas that were spawned by the discussions. The most powerful principle that made a difference is the power of the mind and thoughts.

I’m not sure if everyone can relate to this or not, but I have been living under the impression that I have to change my children’s behaviour to be a success as a parent. They should behave, be courteous, know how to work and study, help other people, etc. etc. . If they don’t do these things we are judged and held accountable because we aren’t tough enough, nice enough, didn’t instill ENOUGH something in them to make them turn out alright. It’s all a lie and we have been conditioned to believe it. I have blamed much of some of my children’s challenging behaviours on Fetal Alcohol Exposure. I am now going to backtrack and say that I, and the psychiatric professionals, are wrong…sooooo wrong!

“For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
― Sir Thomas More, Utopia

What if these little people were just guided and accepted and not changed deep down inside? What if we stopped giving them labels and started having meaningful dialogues with children that allow them to develop their own beliefs about the world and it’s inhabitants without being weighed down by everything that makes us not enough? (Yep, it comes back to that other post about being enough, doesn’t it? It’s all intertwined…) It can be done! I, the parent, can actually stop tormenting myself that my kid isn’t as perfect as someone else’s and stop beating myself up when I lose my temper and raise my voice, or even stop losing sleep when one of them doesn’t have then skillset that they are “supposed” to have by a certain age.

Finding beauty in unusual places...Seamus (right) and the Fox

Finding beauty in unusual places…Seamus (right) and the Fox

That doesn’t mean that we never tell our children that something is wrong or unkind, but instead of a harsh demand to do better, we can tell ourselves that these are people, too, and sometimes they have the right to exercise their personal likes and dislikes. I don’t believe that we are supposed to raise our children to be someone that we like, or are proud of – is it a necessity to say that you are proud of their achievements? – just as we don’t have to be disappointed when they don’t fit the criteria for success set forth by the world. We shouldn’t set the goals for our kids, but collaborate with them to discover the goals they want and support them in achievement. Being satisfied that they are their own person, following their own hearts, knowing their own minds, able to make decisions that they can live with should be the standards we strive for. Giving them the opportunities to learn and grow and be supported in these efforts is the #1 priority we should have in our families.

When we started to discuss the responsibility we each have to make our own choices, that we are responsible for our own thoughts and actions, and we have the power to direct our thoughts into action, the whole world began to take on a new hue. No longer are we impotent audience members watching the movie of time play out on a screen, and we are more than participants, but actual screenwriters of the dialogue, directors who can call the shots of our roles, the choreographers in this dance called life!

The Fox loving up the Bear

The Fox loving up the Bear

If some of this sounds too “new age-y” or “permissive parenting”, maybe a little more effort should be put into the discovery of what our own ideas regarding what parenting really is and what we hope to accomplish. It isn’t enough to just say I want them to be this, that or the other thing. Do we really want to force our ideas and ideologies on the future generations or do we want to make certain that they equipped to think, act and reach the potential that they have born with? To teach ourselves to change our thoughts is to change our lives, which then allows us to change the world.

Some of our conversations have centered around how we think, some around how we act, and some around what we believe. This has led to a new dynamic in what the Clan uses as a diagnostic for our lives. When we hammer it out, discuss it all, try out the ideas, words and actions we use before we put them on display, we were able to really make some radical changes, some that weren’t supposed to happen for some of my children according to the diagnosis and prognosis given them. I would like to tell a little of how I have seen amazing changes in my children when they learned of, and began to harness, the power of thought, or rather, their own power. I will only give a brief examples, but they are significant and indicative of the possibility of change and higher thinking.

“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.” – Sir Thomas More

One of my children was diagnosed as a narcissist. He has made change that has lasted longer than ever before by harnessing the power of positive thinking, prayer and a undertaking to learn about living WITH people, instead of just existing. He now looks on in wonder that other people have feelings and he can get involved in discussions that don’t revolve around him and his wants, likes, needs and be respectful of others choices. He is able to have a discussion, and not just a monologue about himself. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but this is huge for him (and us! It’s hard to be interested in someone who only values themselves!)! He is now more truthful, more interactive, more helpful and definitely more enjoyable to be around.

Another child has less anxiety and even after travelling to a new country and housing, has had less of the “usual issues”, i.e. increased arguing, insomnia, etc., that usually follows changes.

The Caveman Clan on the move. Belgrade, Serbia 2016

The Caveman Clan on the move. Belgrade, Serbia 2016

“[how can anyone] be silly enough to think himself better than other people, because his clothes are made of finer woolen thread than theirs. After all, those fine clothes were once worn by a sheep, and they never turned it into anything better than a sheep.”
― Thomas More, Utopia

Have we discovered Utopia? I think we have identified what it means to us and applied the principles that make “utopia” something to aspire to or endeavor toward, rather than a far off dream-like idea of perfection that could never be attained. As we apply the principles we have defined for ourselves, as individuals and as a family, we have found some slices of heaven and we grow stronger in the knowledge that we don’t have just let life happen, but can actually make history and prepare for the future just by making good use of our time in the present.

Looking thru the keyhole... Bar, Montenegro 2016

Looking thru the keyhole… Bar, Montenegro 2016

* ED Note
The Fox gave name to our ramblings and ideas about finding the beauty and peace in life by calling the discussions “Utopics”. We will refer to them in this way from here forward…

The Cost of Travel for The Caveman Clan…

We are often asked how we can afford to travel. Now that it has become our way of life, we don’t think we can afford not to travel! The short, yet dissatisfying, answer is “we make it work”. The long answer is a bit more complicated. I will address a little beyond the short answer, but will have to put more effort into the breakdown and costs for the long answer…so I suppose that makes this the medium answer!

We are budget travelers. I am a very bad budgeter, so I can’t tell you that all we do is completely hinged on our budget, but I have very specific amounts that I am willing to spend on certain things. These things are housing, entertainment, actual travel costs, and a few other personal items. It also consists of a lot of work – researching, scheduling, contacting, negotiating, and sometimes changing gears when the situation calls for it.

Visiting Alexander the Great...

Visiting Alexander the Great…

Our goal is to spend less than $2000USD per month. Occasionally, it doesn’t happen. Doesn’t sound like much, especially for a family of 8, does it? (Honestly my usual goal is $1500/mo, but lately we have gone over and I’ve had to use some discretion in spending.) So, now you want to know how it is done? I will try to explain and some folks will think it isn’t worth it and some may be encouraged. No matter, to each his/her own!

We travel with only our backpacks and a couple of computer bags/daypacks for the electronics. We travel with only 3-4 outfits and 2 pairs of shoes each, which keeps our clothing costs very low and our packs lighter. If we buy something new, something else has to go! I did buy some much needed clothes here in Greece at the street market and now have an abundance of clothes, some of which will have to find new homes! We hand wash if we have no washing machine, or do a load every few days if we have one.

Mixed veg over rice and sheep's yogurt sauce (not pictured) all prepped in our tiny little Greek apartment!

Mixed veg over rice and sheep’s yogurt sauce (not pictured) all prepped in our tiny little Greek apartment!

Our food costs are usually the biggest expense, but no surprise there, with 4 teens and a 20 year young man in the clan! We are usually vegetarians now – I know many of my friends are exclaiming loudly that the Bacon-Lover-of-All-Bacon-Lovers has given up her carnivorous ways and the end of times has drawn near, but I have most of the time, but this is not an absolute. We will eat meat when we go to restaurants or with other people. This not only keeps our food costs manageable, but makes better use of fresh foods which in turn has been great for our health! (I am not advocating a vegetarian diet for better health – I believe that including meat in our diets can be just as healthy, but while we travel, we tend to adopt a more vegetarian lifestyle and it’s not only simpler, but more efficient.) Greece has been really great for fresh foods due to the weekly street markets that rotate areas each day – we have eaten more peaches in season than ever before! – and we utilize the Wednesday street market just outside our door and the market on Saturday a few blocks away (watch our Youtube channel for the video on our shopping excursion.) The food costs are much higher here than in some other countries, though, and one of the reasons for our impending departure, along with transportation and some personal things that have arisen. Our food costs have been almost double than in Montenegro and Serbia, so it has been a little overwhelming at around $900. We rent actual apartments or houses, so we have a kitchen and appliances for our food and meal prep.

I never spend over $700USD per month on housing, if at all possible, and with few exceptions, it’s possible. I often negotiate a monthly rental at substantial saving over the nightly or weekly rates. It is a little time consuming, but saving $1000’s is often possible for a few hours time!

Transportation is not always needed, as we tend to ride Shank’s mare (I couldn’t help but throw in that tribute to my mom – it means to walk, for the younger crowd!), but will use public transit other times. The public buses in Thessaloniki are high at 1Euro ($1.12USD) each way, so we try not use it too often as that will run the whole family about $18USD just to make a trip into the city. It’s about 2 miles from our apartment to Thessaloniki downtown, so it’s a longish walk, but not undoable on a cool day. On a hot day, we take the bus!

For long haul traveling, we use the budget airlines that are so amazing in Europe, trains, and buses. We are looking forward to some boat travel but haven’t made it work, as yet. I do not spend over $50USD per person, luggage included, for any travel, except when changing continents. That is another thing, but I still have managed to keep costs super low at those times, also.

The Fox at the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle

The Fox at the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle

We do not always visit every tourist attraction in every place we go. My thought is that we visit what we can and what’s important to us now. We can always come back when we need/want. We walk and explore for fun and education, visiting anyplace that catches our attention. We recently visited the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle (Proxenou Koromila 23, Thessaloniki, Greece) and it was a gold mine of history and Macedonian culture. It was inexpensive, not too large, informative and interesting (also has clean restrooms!), and we enjoyed it immensely.

This European travel has been a learning curve for us. We have frequently needed to rethink some of our plans and make new ones to accommodate our finances or personal desires. It has always lead to the most awesome experiences, but takes time to learn the best way of doing one thing or another. Large family travels aren’t for everyone! It takes time, determination, and sometimes even a little humility to plan these things, but I have just refused to consider that this would be an impossibility for us, just because of our family size. I believe it has paid off and getting easier and stress free as we go.

Much of our time is spent in the usual pursuits of life, so while we may not visit some of the really expensive tourist destinations, we also get to really live in each place we visit. We meet people, serve people, study, write, work, explore and enjoy. We not only slow travel, but we live slowly, which in this age of hurrying has really become an important part of our travels. We don’t have set schedules for a lot of things, we take joy in the simple things – have you ever taken your kids to a tiny unused amphitheater in Thessaloniki, Greece and listened to them recite Shakespeare? Did you walk along the Adriatic Sea early in the morning after picking up some hand made “burek” for lunch from the local bakery? Have you slowly walked through castles or ruined forts, playing knights in countries you never imagined visiting, much less live in? That is what our budget traveling has allowed us to do. We do it slowly, with meaning and thoughtfulness, differently than those who travel on vacation, but no less lovely, in a way that is important to us…

Cosmo, Seaside Promenade, Thessaloniki, Greece

Cosmo, Seaside Promenade, Thessaloniki, Greece