A little thought..

When you call that person “crazy” for their choice in a leader, religion, or lifestyle, just remember that, even if their choices are wrong for your life, there are forces at work in their lives that led to these decisions. If all was wonderful in the world, there wouldn’t be the struggle to be heard, the need to make difficult or unpopular decisions, desperation, fear or any other powerful motivating influence.
Today’s casual use of “crazy” doesn’t only imply mental illness, but stupidity. Neither applies to most people, in the spirit it is used. When you call someone a profane name or hurl a ripping insult, you don’t show them how wrong they are – you confirm that the the situations they are facing are not the only things against them and they become even more entrenched in fear based or desperate thinking.
We are not smarter when we demean or belittle another. We are not more powerful because we follow a certain ideology. This is not progress or higher thinking, it is bullying. Aren’t we a country, a world, trying to unite to stop that within our schools and amongst our children? Then be an example, be kind.
Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, you don’t have to react. We can have opinions, share opinions, discuss opinions without being hateful, cruel or antagonizing. Seriously.

Finding beauty

I recently saw that a scientific method was used to determine the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world. The celebrity was named, and without argument, she is attractive. The article went on to offer the formula to determine how you, too, can test your scientific “beauty” quotient. I did not read the article in it’s entirety, although by the photos it appeared to include some facial measurements and equations.


I find a lot of article geared towards women that tell us how much our work as mothers or wives is worth in monetary value by breaking down the cost of each duty. This is how we are validated, by the dollar signs next to our job descriptions.

The number of followers on Instagram is certainly a scale of how much our friends, family and strangers value us by giving attention to every aspect of our lives being photographed. One hundred followers must surely mean that no one except your aunts, uncles and grandparents care about what you do. The thought must be, “The very definition of pathetic”!

People take photos of other people in the gym or during what should be private moments, while they are unsuspecting that someone would give time to our ignorance and vulnerability, and post those photos on social media.
We now have words dedicated to the actions that undermine our very existence (such as fill-in-the-blank shaming).

If we aren’t admired for our beauty, social status, or wealth, there are a few ways to redeem ourselves – we may be valued and accepted for our contributions to the “correct” political or religious organizations, but only IF we carefully follow the guidelines of what the proper thought should be, as determined by our colleagues, and really only assign said value to the organization and not yourself.

Not buying it...

Not buying it…

There are those who devote their lives, usually in some form of media or entertainment outlet, to telling us what the measure of beauty, success, admiration or validation should be or is. My question is, when did we, the world, decide that we would listen and believe them?

val-i-deyt: 1. To demonstrate the value of an object. 2. To give official sanction, confirmation, or approval to, as elected officials, election procedures, documents, etc.

As if life was not challenging to navigate already, now we called upon to “demonstrate the value” of our lives. Who decided THAT?!?! I’m not going to participate – call me a conscientious objector, but I do not want to attend that party.

I don’t want my daughters to believe that they aren’t beautiful if they don’t fit the scientific formula. I don’t want my sons to believe that the women they are attracted to must fit someone else’ ideal of the perfect wife. I don’t want my daughter to only feel they are validated or valued as women if they are wives and mothers (these are wonderful things, but not validating!). I don’t want my sons to feel like they are not masculine enough because they don’t have shredded abs or bulging biceps.

The Bear...He is enough, in every way.

The Bear…He is enough, in every way.

I have decided that the media, social or otherwise, cannot have my children and they cannot have me. My life does not need to be validated like parking receipt at a shopping mall. We are beautiful because of who we are, because of what we bring to the world, because we laugh, we play, we live messy lives. We are beautiful because we have scars, inside and out. We are beautiful and we are worthy! So, to anyone who says we are not beautiful, successful, admirable, or worthy of being called such, you are not only wrong, you are a liar!

My weight or jeans size doesn’t dictate how much I have to offer the world! My sex, nor my religion, nor my political views do not define me. I am not more of a woman because I am a mother, nor less of one because I am not a wife. I am a woman simply because I am. I am EVERY woman on this earth who has every been told she was not “woman enough”. I embody all that is feminine because I am me, a perfect Divine design. I am one of the most beautiful women in the world – granted there are about 3.5 billion others, but I am one of them, and we are all beautiful! I am beautiful simply because I am.

My sons will not be taught that they are validated by their sexual prowess or the career they have chosen. My children will not be taught to associate their self esteem because their identity is tied to the Instagram numbers that qualify them as popular. My daughters will not be taught that they are more “sexy” because of their large breasts, thigh gap, razor sharp hip bones, or lack thereof.

The Caveman Clan

The Caveman Clan

Why does our self worth get tied to the latest trend? Why can we not just believe we are very valuable as human beings no matter what someone else would tell us? Why do we have such trouble believing that beauty is more than just pretty faces? I don’t have all of the answers.

We don’t need the media to tell us that what we believe is wrong and they know what is right for us. Maybe we have to find that we are entitled to be beautiful and deserve to live beautiful lives. We must trust that, in our hearts, we do not lie – we are trustworthy enough to tell ourselves that we are beautiful… and we can believe it. We are more than capable of supporting and encouraging one another to find the courage to live a life of beauty, even if others would not appreciate it as such.

Might it be that the old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” isn’t exactly accurate – maybe it could be more completely stated that, “beauty is in the heart of the believer”, because the first step to finding the beauty in life is having faith that it’s there and start looking within, rather than outside of ourselves…

Cosmo lending a helping hand...

Cosmo lending a helping hand…

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

This thing could ruin our lives…if we let it

We have been stationary in Montenegro for almost 2 months now. There is a reason for that. I had some things to sort out. WE had some things to sort out as a family, also. I want to share the sorting.

The new clock tower seems out of place amidst the ruins...but still beautiful!

The new clock tower seems out of place amidst the ruins…but still beautiful!

What can cause someone to stop and stay in a tiny country on the eastern side of Europe for a few months, outside of medical problems? We have had issues. There are several that we have floating around in our family, but I have narrowed one of my own BIG issues down to one basic thing…I’ll get to that in a minute.

I have been fumbling my way through life and have been dissatisfied for a long time, like something is missing…and at the same time there is too much of something else that I can never put my finger on. Some people may think, “You travel, live in interesting places, do out of the ordinary things – How can you possibly be dissatisfied?! What right do you have to even say this?” . I have to come clean – all is not what it seems. I have not been who most people think I am for a very long time.

How can I be dissatisfied?

How can I be dissatisfied?

Most of my life, even in my childhood, I have harbored a huge secret. No one ever knew, and I refused to acknowledge this thing, even to myself. I hoped if I didn’t speak it’s name, it would go away. I hid it from my family as a child, while thinking that if they knew, they may not love me as much. I have hidden this from my children, because surely if they knew, they could not possibly care for me. My friendships, established or potential, have all had this lurking around like a poisonous toad. Ideas of romantic attachments abandoned (I know, 8 children and I should even think of that?!), with this thing that has been my silent, but ever present burden. A thing that has shaped my life, as well as my children’s, like a boulder shifting the flow of a river.

What could be so ever present and monstrous? GUILT. I have lost the “me” in life because I have hoarded guilt, heaped it upon myself, let it grow until it became the thing that I secretly consulted about my every decision in life. The guilt is so pervasive, it’s as though I have been raised by 20 Yiddish grandmothers! My childhood was overwhelmed by guilt of not being pretty enough, not smart enough, not good enough, just never enough!

At 5 months old, do I look like I was created to be guilty?  I don't  think so...

At 5 months old, do I look like I was created to be guilty? I don’t think so…

What would I like to eat? My initial response is the thing that makes me feel the least guilty…but no matter what it is, I will feel guilty. When I need new clothes, I mull it over and over, then no matter what I do, I feel guilty, because it costs too much, is too pink, it makes me look fat, one of the kids needed something and so on. I have felt guilty for turning on the air conditioner in a hotel room when the heat is ridiculous, I have felt guilty if we don’t clean our mess in a restaurant, I have felt guilty if I leave an Airbnb home (where we paid a cleaning service fee!) anything other than spotless!

Marriage and relationships failed, or just never began, because I always knew I was always guilty for some reason – I was not enough of something…or everything. I even owned victim’s guilt syndrome when I was on the receiving end of domestic violence, because I felt I was just as much at fault when hit me (he was sorry, after all, right?).

Of course, the parenting has left me a wreck at times. If my parenting skills were less than perfect, which of course they are every day, I have felt guilty. When I yelled, guilt. When I disciplined in anger, guilt. When I said bad words, guilt. When I wasn’t sunshine and giggles, guilt. When my eldest chose a self destructive path, guilt. The list goes on, of course.

My beautiful daughter, Faethe Rose.  She shines and sparkles when she smiles!

My beautiful daughter, Faethe Rose. She shines and sparkles when she smiles!

The real definition of guilt is FEAR. Fear of the unknown, of not being loved, being alone, maybe even a fear of just BEING. If anyone knew who we truly are, could they live with us…could we live with it? The problem with that is, that for any of us who live with guilt, AKA fear, aren’t really living at all. I want to live as myself, not who everyone else thinks I should be. In reality, I just want to live! Doesn’t everyone? Many of my friends have lived with guilt/fear for their whole lives because of their sexuality, religion, or something. You name it and someone feels guilty for it.

I want to share what I know. It’s all a lie. Where is the necessity in feeling guilty or afraid? We were taught that if we don’t feel guilty for what we have done wrong, we must not be sorry. We were taught that if we didn’t feel guilty about the wrongs, we won’t correct them. Without guilt or fear, we might not remember how to do better, be kinder, get it right.

We have applied “guilty” to our daily lives as if living is a crime and we stand trial for everything, everyday. Guilt is a courtroom verdict, the culmination of a criminal trial. Likewise, we are not sentenced to live in guilt and fear, just because we live! We are not on trial for everything we do and we have set ourselves up to perpetuate this life = crime mentality to future generations.

Being the baby ain't all sunshine and giggles...especially when you steal  your big brothers' ice cream, take off running and he catches up super fast!  #brotherlove

Being the baby ain’t all sunshine and giggles…especially when you steal your big brothers’ ice cream, take off running and he catches up super fast! #brotherlove

It’s all a fake, something we were sold and believed in to make us believe we should want the things other people tell us we should want. I also think that guilt doesn’t make us behave better, it just reminds us to hold tight to fear. If guilt was a motivator, alcoholism and drug abuse wouldn’t be a problem, because guilt would be enough to get everyone sober, right? People would stop hitting because they felt guilty, too. But that isn’t what happens.
I change my behaviour because I want to, not because I feel really horrible. If guilt were a true motivator, I would be a slender, sculpted powerhouse, super organized, dressed like a super model, all the while accomplishing astonishing feats of humanity…with a smile on my face! I am not (yet) any of those things, so clearly guilt hasn’t motivated me!

I was not created to be this guilty “lifer” and it’s just time to let it go. I was not created to be guilty, fearful, angry, mean, anxious, stressed, etc.. This stuff was learned, we weren’t born with these feelings. It is our choice then to continue on with these heavy burdens dragging us down, refusing to budge, even when joy and happiness would drag us up, would we let them.

Just me...being me

Just me…being me

My faith plays an important role in this. I know God is right here, encouraging me! I am a Divine creation. God was INSPIRED to create me! Let that sink in – I, AND YOU, ARE DIVINELY INSPIRED CREATIONS! Was He Divinely inspired to create a bone bag fattened on guilt and fear? Absolutely not!

Remember, the Bible frequently reminds us to “fear not” and many similar statements about not fearing or worrying. If He said not to do it, there’s a reason for it. That’s not the business God is about. I can’t find a single place in the Bible where God says to feel guilty for anything, or suggests it’s a virtue. I am compelled by my very creation to let go of this thing that keeps me separated from God, what we call sin, and live as the person He created me to be, not who someone else decided I should be.

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

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

My simple little realization has set me free. I am free to express myself, as the “real me”. While I can’t remember all of who I was, I will, and what I don’t remember, I intend to create. By knocking out guilt and fear, and all of the associated stress, from my life, I now have room for so many other personality traits that I had shelved – joy, happiness, strength, decisiveness, true independence – and get on with this business of living.

I hope you aren’t alone in your feelings and can let go of the guilt that keeps you from living, too. Everyone can go forward, drop the guilt and live a beautiful life!

Cosmo drinking it all in

Cosmo drinking it all in

A Terrible Parent Discovers People…

The Caveman Clan

The Caveman Clan

I really didn’t do the math to foresee that I would have 4 teenagers at a time. Having a flock of teens, most of whom have some form of behavioural challenge as a direct result of prenatal drug/alcohol exposure, was also not given any forethought. Not that it would have changed anything except that a lot more thinking and planning would have been involved!

I have never been one to consider that all teens suffer from a sort of sickness, or that parenting teens should evoke dread because of the perceived attitude issues, or disinterest or whatever malady of this day are attributed to young adults. I believe everyone is a unique individual, and while some struggles are often considered as being the “norm” for kids these days, there is no “norm” that applies for The Caveman Clan. I think some of the things that are challenges for our family are just as real for other families, even those families that haven’t been affected by drug abuse, neglect, eating disorders, or just plain ol’ wierdness. Here is a little insight my reality…

I have often considered myself a terrible parent. I have not been patient enough, devoted enough, understanding enough, gentle enough…just not enough. I have awakened of a morn with cheerful good humour and a devotion that TODAY, I will be gentler, kinder, and all things that signify more, or enough. As the day progressed, I became discouraged as I reacted to situations with the usual “not enough” behaviour I had come to despise in myself.

I think many parents can relate. The beautiful thing is that we can change. As I get the hang of things, I think I am learning some valuable lessons. Sometimes, the lessons that are really simple are the hardest to learn and apply. I want to share one experience that has been a life changer for me and for my Clan.

I have always felt that the Clan was about as democratic as could be – we voted on things that affected all and had family meetings to discuss plans, events, challenges, disputes, large purchases, etc. so that everyone could have “a voice and a choice”. I wanted everyone to be an active participant in life, not just a bystander. We have done this weekly, more often if needed, for years. Sounds great, right? It would go like this:
I would offer the obligatory opening, “Would anyone like to start”, followed by silence, then I might mention something that needed attending to, or something that bothered me, then the floor was open again and usually someone would say something…

The problem was that these turned into the weekly bitchfest! There was no end to the complaints against one another, the unrest that was unleashed, the dissatisfaction that could be released. Then, one day, I said that I had had enough, for what was the point in releasing pent up frustrations when no solutions were offered? No one objected. So, we were meetingless for sometime.

But I grew dissatisfied with the state of our Clan. There was arguing, retaliation for perceived hurts, daily distresses that just sucked the life out of me and the fun out of everything. Pouting and sullenness became routine for a few of my cavemen and I decided that we needed some change. I thought I needed to reevaluate, reorganize, reinvigorate, and specifically, to rethink, my parenting skills.

The Fox in contemplation.

The Fox in contemplation.

I began to study and devour parenting books, psychology books, FASD and adoptive parent blogs, etc., day and night. To be truthful, I did learn a lot, but didn’t feel confident that I had struck the “motherlode” of parenting gold. Why couldn’t I find any answers to the tough stuff?

Then it occurred to me that I couldn’t find answers to fit our needs because no one has ever had a family like ours and parented my kids before! We are unique, just by the very nature of our existence. We are so unique, yet our needs are so similar to the rest of humanity. Ahhh, considering humanity led me to consider human nature. It dawned on me that it wasn’t parenting skills that I needed to devote so much energy to learning, but human behaviour and leadership skills that needed understanding and developing.

I changed tactics and started learning more about people, rather than parents. For what are these creatures entrusted to me to raise up, but at their very core, just people. Little and frail and needy, but just people. Have I ever learned! I thought I knew people – whole ones, broken ones, weak ones, strong ones – but I was, as usual, so wrong. I learned about needs, desires, self confidence, relationships, communication, body language, and so much more. One thing that I truly treasure is how to effectively lead and gently influence my family, without pushing, pleading, stubborning, misunderstanding or shouting. It not only applies to my family, but all of the people in my world.

In all of this, I discovered that as I understood humans and people (not just my children), I found more of my purpose and calling, my relationship with God became more and developed. As I began to apply these new found ideas, my children began to respond, not in profound or earth shattering ways, but immediately and positively. They began to be active participants, sharing ideas, encouragement, challenges – and solutions! – things that had been difficult for them to express before. That’s not to say that everyday is a daisy, but life is good…really good!

As I changed my behaviour, they responded in kind. We put our heads together to develop practices that not only addresses all of our wants and needs, but offers empowerment, problem solving opportunities, and encourages self esteem building, as well.

The Caveman Clan studying Shakespeare

The Caveman Clan studying Shakespeare

One of our practices is to have a daily “Think Tank”. We address a need, a behaviour, or a situation and find real solutions. Occasionally, we share goals or desires in our think tank and everyone takes a turn at finding ways to help each other attain those goals, or consider the dangers or drawbacks. It may require us to divide and research and think in alternative ways. This has been a huge help in fostering communication. Is it still a family meeting? Well, yes, sort of, but everyone had a hand at developing the Think Tank and the boundaries that we felt were important. The focus is on solutions, discussion and encouragement, rather than just vomiting up more complaints and arguing.

I’ll share some other resources and practices that we have found helpful in another post….

FASD – A little or a lot

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. I won’t go into the stats or the diagnostics or the myriad of other issues surrounding this, this, this THING that has affected so many children and adults. This beast has silently filled our lives with a trauma that cannot be defined or fully understood.

Children do not have to be subjected to neglect or bad home lives to be affected. It doesn’t happen only to poor people or alcoholics. The effects are often likened to traumatic brain injuries because fetal alcohol exposure can cause a trauma to the brain and prevent or stunt development. Fetal alcohol exposure can behave like a traumatic brain injury, causing strange behaviours, delayed social, physical, or emotional skills, sometimes health problems, mental illness, and the list goes on. The symptoms may appear at birth or may be delayed and rear up in adolescence.

All of my adoptive children were affected by prenatal alcohol exposure and neglect. All of my adoptive children have shown some effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, from the minor to the obvious, and all behavioural.

Our family travels as part of our lifestyle – we enjoy world travel, performing acts service or charity, and worldschooling, something akin to homeschooling across the world. I would love to say this has helped my children overcome some of the challenges they face. It may have, but I won’t say it, because I don’t really know what my kids would be like if we had a stationary,average life. I interact with other parents of FASD affected children and some of their experiences are so much more extreme, with behaviour issues and mental illnesses that interfere with everyday living. That isn’t our experience, but it could happen – I just don’t know. So, I will explain some of my children’s challenges, which we are very open about, to give people a little insight to FASD – a little or a lot. ( Oh, and please feel free to laugh a little! This isn’t meant to be an essay on our life of horrors, but more of a let me help others understand, or an explanation as to why “thangs get a little different around here”…)

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden

I have 3 children who will avoid doing things at all costs. I mean all things, playing, working, socializing, ALL THINGS. They will stand for hours rather than do anything, even if they might enjoy it. Why? I don’t know and neither do they, and I have asked. Sometimes I will say go find something to do, or give options of things to do. They prefer to stand and not do things. Seriously, sometimes for hours. There have been times when one of these children will suddenly stop and just stand. A little overwhelming in a busy airport while on the move to the connecting flight, but we compensate and I am aware. Mind you, I know what this indicates, what brain malfunction could be responsible, and so on. What no one can answer is how to change things for these children. So we try.

All 6 of my adoptive children have honesty challenges (yes, as in “liar, liar, pants on fire”). Some lie more than others, with 2 children, at times, being a bit extreme in their efforts..They are terrible liars, seriously the worst. There is no reason for it, according to most, it’s just a habit, they say. They forge on, expecting that people will just start believing everything that they say, no matter how far fetched. Sometimes caught with evidence (I tell them the frosting all over your face and staining your teeth, or the wrappers stuffed in your pillow case, or the browsing history on your electronic device are all giveaways, but they don’t believe me!), they will still deny, sometimes resorting to hysterical crying and statements of “why don’t you believe me? I’m telling the truth this time!”, and I yet I will remain unmoved and wait for the truth to emerge. It always does. In this, too, we try.

Several of my children have eating issues, including one with an obvious gorging problem. The food issues will likely lessen in intensity, and, for one child, has even been overcome (she still loves to eat super salty and very sweet foods, and will become overindulgent with those). My 10 year old, Seamus, can eat more in one sitting than 4 adult men. I am not exaggerating! He has eaten in one meal more than 8,000 calories – he lives for buffets. Prior to his adoption, while still in public school, the teacher frequently lost him. Yes, they lost my 5 year old! He was always found with enormous amounts of food that he had liberated from the cafeteria trash cans. Once he was found with 24 pieces of toast in his shirt sleeves, with evidence of having already eaten at least the same amount. (I won’t even go into my rage at having 5 year old children left unattended or so poorly looked after that they have time to take 48 pieces of toast from the trash bins, stuff them in their clothes and hide in the janitors closet to eat it for hours on end!) Until recently, I had given Seamus the opportunity to indulge his lust for food within some reasonable limits in hopes it would eventually fade. It hasn’t, but I have had to restrict him to some degree, for, even though he doesn’t gain weight despite the huge intake, it was suggested to me that he may be accumulating fat around his internal organs and may eventually cause some serious health issues. We continue on and we try.

They were caught eating a WHOLE jar of chocolate body scrub because it had the word chocolate in it and they wanted candy.  They experienced NO ill effects!

They were caught eating a WHOLE jar of chocolate body scrub because it had the word chocolate in it and they wanted candy. They experienced NO ill effects!

Along with these food related issues comes the theft and dumpster diving. The theft is almost always surrounding the desire for food. The food itself may be stolen, but the money (usually just change) may be taken to procure the food, which is almost always junk food. ( Like lying, my children are terrible thieves. They always get caught, usually because of someone slipping up in word or deed. They keep on trying, though) My 16 year old son is experiencing some independence and defiance issues right now and despite eating normal meals provided at home, feels that he should be entitled to eat more fast food. That sense of entitlement has led to digging through trash bins at the mall ( or airports or wherever we are) and eating the remains of fast food he finds there. Yes, he knows the dangers. He is of average mental ability and has no reason to do this. He just can, so he does. So we continue on and we try.

I am not bitter about the following statement, but it must be expressed for those without experience to understand. There is a sense of entitlement that children in/from foster care have that is often overlooked or unacknowledged. Their whole world has become only about them. There are many reasons, from the teams of people who exist to monitor their lives to trying to relieve symptoms of the bio-life with interventions and often material things so they don’t feel “different”. This sense of entitlement doesn’t end with adoption. One of my children expressed his disappointment after being adopted because he thought he would get more stuff, do what he wanted and when he wanted and have fewer chores. He was sadly mistaken. We move on and we try.

My children, just because of their existence, have learned to manipulate people. They know that when they do wrong, people will be unlikely to chastise them if they know their background. People often feel sorry for them. Maybe people believe that because they were abandoned or neglected, that they should make up for it. I think people generally mean well. Unfortunately, this has led to my children never experiencing consequences, so now they believe that there are no consequences to their actions. I am a parent to children with brain trauma who feel there are no consequences to their actions. Let that sink in. This is the future of our world. Of course I work hard at counteracting this, I work very hard at it. We continue to try.

I have this idea that we should all be grateful for all that we have, especially our lives. I believe that it is a necessity and directs our paths. I thought this even when I was not Christian. Without gratitude, what reason is there for living? Gratitude is very hard to teach. Teaching it to people with brain trauma is even more difficult. So, we try.

Littles in the statue.  Krakow, Poland

Littles in the statue. Krakow, Poland

The theme of this is FASD, but it’s very different for everyone. There is no guide book for this! I just try to find the humor in the bizarre, when sometimes the only explanation for the oddity du jour is that the sane train derailed. I mess up, the kids mess up, maybe we should do things differently, maybe we should do more, or less. I don’t have all of the answers, except I breathe and I laugh and I pray a lot and when I make a mistake ( I do this ALL THE TIME!) I try to fix it and do better next time. When God blessed me with all of these children, He really had a lot of lessons that He wanted me to learn. I am still learning! While I am learning, we just try. We try to live and be happy. We try to live our lives by our faith. We try to be better. We try to overcome. We just try.

Seamus in Poland.

Seamus in Poland.

Something very important to me to mention is that my kids, ALL of my kids, are the best and coolest people I know! We are honest and forthcoming about their unique challenges and struggles, but that does NOT diminish their importance to me or their value to this world. Nothing I have said was with the intention of demeaning or embarrassing my children and they are completely aware of and supportive of this post to help bring awareness to FASD.
Castle hopping in Budapest!

Castle hopping in Budapest!

Blessings to all~ THE CAVEMAN CLAN

How we came to Europe…

I am currently in Budapest, Hungary, writing this long overdue post.

WHAT?? I know! How did this happen? I will tell you. It is a long story and I have found myself in want of time and words to explain. I have the time now and have made it my goal to be ever more mindful of updating this blog.
In March, we had the opportunity to spend a month on the beach in Baja, Mexico. It was idyllic. The weather was wonderful and we met the most amazing people. I had many experiences and felt a continues calling to full time service and continued travel, specifically to work with refugees and displaced persons. I started researching what that could and would mean and the children were very excited and had more ideas to add to the plan. Things evolved quickly!

The decision was made - going to Europe!

The decision was made – going to Europe!

We were blessed with finding airline tickets for under $85 per person to Stockholm, Sweden and the call to act upon purchasing them. Because the tickets were specially priced for specific dates, we had only 3 weeks to prepare to leave! Our goal was to minimize our lives and live with only what we could individually carry in our backpacks. Another post on downsizing needs to be written regarding minimalist living and how to prep 8 people for long term independent travel!

We realized that we were unable to take our ever faithful and loyal service dog and family member, Mattie Ross, with us. The challenges of transporting her and obtaining the necessary documents for her was difficult enough, without the consideration of the transportation. We were blessed to meet a wonderful man, Doug, and his son Oliver, who fell in love with our girl and gave her a home and new life. I miss her terribly, but have no regrets , as she is so happy and well cared for by one of my dearest friends. God intervened and brought Doug into our lives and I am ever grateful for him!

Doug, Jacquelyn and Mattie Ross

Doug, Jacquelyn and Mattie Ross

We left for Stockholm on April 21, arrived the next day and learned what jet lag really is! For two days, I was almost non-functioning. The tiredness and body aches were unbelievable! Never has anything like that ever happened in my travels in Latin America! As my grandmother would say, “Lawd, have mercy!” .

On the plane to Stockholm, Sweden

On the plane to Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is all that an organization-loving nut job like me could hope for! It was clean, well designed, a bin for everything – except it was wildly expensive and people very reluctant to engage on any level. After 2 days, we wanted to leave! With few exceptions, we found the overall energy to be very negative. We were scheduled to be there for 5 days.

Something happened to our family while we were in Stockholm. We were overwhelmed by negativity. It was like a cancer, with everyone on edge, arguing and yelling constantly. None of the activities we tried to engage in were fun, the children were angry constantly, and it was just an overall unpleasant experience. I do not blame it on Stockholm, of course, but something happened that shifted the excitement and exuberance of our family to anger and hatefulness.

Finding some love in Warsaw, Poland

Finding some love in Warsaw, Poland

Our intentions in Stockholm were to understand the refugee situation in Sweden up close and personal. It didn’t happen. My inquiries were ignored or swept aside and I could not locate any information on refugee camps. So I left disheartened and with no more knowledge than I had before I arrived.

When we arrived in Warsaw, Poland on Easter Sunday, there was a definite, immediate shift. Attitudes lightened and my family was once more a likeable bunch with smiles and happiness and a sense of excitement.

We loved Warsaw! Arriving on Easter Sunday was a bit of a mistake – there was nowhere to buy food! Every shop, store and restaurant was closed. We were hungry by late afternoon, but through the kindness of strangers walking down the street, we were directed to McDonalds. I have no love for fast food, but was never so happy to find a McD’s in my life!
Warsaw was what we loved – It was inexpensive, people were much more amiable, museums were free or almost and so much to see! I really wanted to stay, but was encouraged to move to Krakow, where we would find it less expensive yet. I also had some direction that I would find contacts who were familiar with Ukrainian refugees in Poland. I left excited that things were coming together.

We left after only two days for Krakow, Poland by bus. Krakow was lovely and had such a history about it. We visited the Schindler Factory museum and many other sites, including Wawel Castle, museums and the Jewish Quarter. We stayed for a week and, while enjoying it in many ways our stay there did not add to our knowledge of the refugee crisis as hoped and intended.

We arrived in Budapest, Hungary and have now been here for a week. It is a beautiful city, the public transportation system is wonderful and inexpensive and the CASTLES! I love the castles! It is less expensive for us as a family than Poland. Food is moderately priced, and with an Aldi’s Grocery around the corner from our apartment, we have fared extremely well.

Castle hopping in Budapest!

Castle hopping in Budapest!

Some of my children are experiencing some challenges in different ways than ever and unexpectedly so – two of my children are struggling with some issues that are having an effect on their opportunities to learn and grow. I know that teens express themselves differently and struggles are common amongst teenagers, but these things are little bit outside the norm and are likely relative to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which may be at the center of many challenges my children face. I will address these things in more detail and often, as this is everyday life for us.

Tomorrow, we leave for Belgrade, Serbia by train. We will be there for several days. I am still hopeful that, as we get closer to the areas affected most by the influx of refugees, we will be able to engage more and find more information relative to our intentions than we have so far. My next post will continue on about our intentions in more detail.
We appreciate the continued prayers for success and direction, as well as health and safety!
Blessings to all~ THE CAVEMAN CLAN

The Great Global Gratitude Tour

We came up with the informal name, The Great Global Gratitude Tour, last year. We were thinking of it in different terms than we do now. Why? Our perspective and goals changed…drastically!
Our focus was on ourselves and how we could visit all of the places we wanted to visit and learn how to be grateful (a real struggle for my kids who experienced neglect and abandonment, as well as foster care, but that’s another post coming soon), all the while homeschooling/unschooling, all in a rather la-di-da fashion. Our goal was to cram the experiences into our lives while we could to have something to write about, talk about, and thinking that we would really be living the life!

Reporting for duty...

Reporting for duty…

Now, everything has shifted. While we studied and prepared to meet our goals in various ways, some things became apparent. The more we studied our Bibles and prayed together as a family and individually, the more we felt a longing to really serve, not ourselves, but God. That may sound a little hokey, but it’s real! We could envision doing many of the same things, but our intentions changed.
I think (hope, have faith!) that instead of trying to teach my children (especially the ones who were labeled as “broken”) how to feel gratitude, love, mercy, gratitude, gentleness, attachment (all of those emotions that are supposed to just magically appear to those raised in conventional families), I can let them experience how to just be those things. By allowing them to be present, by seeing that they can touch lives in a very real way through joyfully giving of themselves, they will experience so much more than I can ever teach them.
Well, can’t we just do all that without without travelling the world? Yes, but we can also experience our world, educate along the way and open our lives to so many more opportunities and experiences this way.
Also, I have considered that as a single parent of a large bunch, I didn’t want my life with my kids to be limited to just one location, or the usual daily grind! We are an unconventional family just by our very existence, so we may as well go forth and challenge all of the usual conventions!
I have some posts in the works about some of the challenges that my kids have overcome, single parenthood, finances, and more, so look for them soon!

The next steps…

We will be saying goodbye to Alamos, Sonora, Mexico on February 5, 2016! We have enjoyed so many things about our stay here, particularly the peaceful atmosphere that has allowed to us to grow, learn and prepare for the next steps of our adventure.
Which leads me to…we have decided, as a family, to make our travels a full time service mission for the next year. Everywhere we go, we commit to an act, or acts, of service. If that means feeding people, painting buildings, or just providing support for someone in need, then that’s what we will do.
Are we missionaries? Yes, but not necessarily in a traditional sense. Our calling is to serve others in whatever capacity we are needed and live/travel simply. We will carefully follow God’s directions and set aside our wants in favor of His plans.
Are we going to proselytize? Not really! Our calling is to let our lives preach, to share the love of Christ through our actions and share the Word, verbally, when it will be most appropriate and accepted. In other words, we aren’t setting out to convert the world, but rather to bring hope, compassion, love and our abilities to those in need. Ultimately, I believe God plans to accomplish a greater work in us rather than us accomplishing anything great!
We plan to live very simply, travel by land (in the Beast, our big van) for now, with planes, trains, buses and boats when needed, find accommodations by camping, couchsurfing, housesitting, and the occasional hotel/motel/cabin, while leaving as small an eco-footprint as possible. Clearly, we haven’t given up on fossil fuels, as you can see by our choices in transportation, but we are going to endeavor to keep it “clean & green” whenever possible, and post about our successes and failures.
We are currently continuing to downsize and reorganize, so that we have only what we can carry in our backpacks, our camping gear and immediate necessities. Some innovative (I hope!) organizational/travel items and compact electronics are being shipped to us, so be on the lookout for reviews. We will review our accommodations, food, travel gear, electronics, transportation, and anything else that comes up.
From here, we travel to Tucson, Arizona and on to San Diego, CA to visit, gather up some much needed supplies (these kids are growing out of their clothes!) and reconnoiter for a few days. Then, we will re-enter Mexico at Tijuana and continue down the Baja Peninsula, camping much of the way. We expect to have a few weeks of semi-R&R this way, while still serving all the while. After that, we will be spending some time, possibly a few months, travelling the southern states in the US. When the details are worked out for the next leg of the journey, I will post about our longer term time/travel line.
If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to ask!