It’s been a while since I’ve published an installment of “Parenting Against the Grain” and I’ve missed it! I launched this series to highlight interesting choices that parents are making to live a little differently with their children. Today, we’re going Down Under to talk to a lovely woman named Carley Morgan. I’ve been wanting to talk to Carley ever since she wrote to tell me that SlowMama had played a role in the decision she and her husband made to take two years off work, mid-career, to slow things down, spend time with their growing son, recalibrate, enjoy life, and build an off-grid house. They started a blog called 1 Million Minutes to detail their adventures, which they are well into now. I’m so glad to finally be able to share some of Carley’s story with you and hope you find it as inspiring as I do!

Carley and Family

Zoe Saint-Paul: Welcome, Carley! Tell us a little about you and your family.

Carley Morgan: Our little family consists of my husband (40), myself (35) and our soon to be 5 year-old son. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta (Canada), and my husband and son were both born in Perth, Australia, where we currently live. In the past 8 years we have lived in the U.S., Nigeria, and Singapore. We love travel, adventure, and living less conventionally. Both of our careers were in the Oil and Gas Industry. I stopped working before my son was born, however my husband continued to work until our “1 Million Minutes” adventure began, just over a year ago. While I tend to be more right-brain dominant and am interested in yoga, meditation, and the more spiritual aspects of life, my husband is very much the left-brain rational and logical one. Our son is a nice mix of the two of us — I say he’s got my heart and his dad’s brain, but really, he’s a typical little boy who loves learning, playing, running, and anything remotely gross or related to potty humor.

ZSP: What motivated you and your husband to take a two year break away from work and regular life?

CM: We decided to take a year off in 2011, and later it morphed into two years. We were living in Nigeria at the time when a colleague of my husband’s passed away suddenly. It dawned on my husband — who really loves the work he does — that he could easily see himself working into to his 70’s, if not longer. So we thought, why not take some time now, while we’re still young, to do something crazy and enjoy life? Why not spend time with our growing son while we have the energy and physical ability, and then work a little longer later on, when climbing mountains and building a house might be too physically demanding? We also realized that if we took time now we’d have greater ability to spend time and influence our son and create memories with him while he still wants to spend time with us. We were also becoming concerned that he never saw his dad actually doing work. My husband was very influenced by watching and learning from his dad, which he believes is the foundation for his strong work ethic, and he resolved to make sure that our son appreciates that work is more than trips to the office and email. In this way, we see our time as an investment in our son’s future disposition.

It would take a few years from that point before everything fell into place.

Off grid House in Perth

ZSP: What steps did you have to take to make it happen?

CM: Before we had even spoken about taking time off, my husband had been conceptualizing a house for years  one that could be flat-packed and modular built, flexible, sustainable, beautiful, and cost-effective. We just weren’t sure when we would build it and like many people, had casually slotted it in as a project for retirement. So the house was already in the back of our minds.

Before we even knew when 1MillionMinutes would start, we put the intention out there to buy a beautiful piece of land near Perth and we made the purchase in January 2012. While we could have started 1MillionMinutes shortly thereafter, an exciting two-year job opportunity came up for my husband in Singapore, which fit nicely into our plans as it gave us some more time to plan and save and also had us physically located closer to Perth to facilitate logistics and to spend more time with my husband’s family.

Although we had been talking about it for a few years, I think our decision still surprised most of our family, friends, and colleagues. Official discussions with my husband’s employer were initiated in July 2014 and we received confirmation on his leave of absence around October 2014. That really set the wheels in motion. Through all of this, my husband continued to work on the house plans and I started making arrangements for the move and transitioning our son to our new life. I also started a two-year diploma program. So while March 1, 2015, is the official start date of 1MillionMinutes, it truly began two or three years prior to that.

Carley and Son

ZSP: What exactly were your goals, and where are you in the process of achieving them?

CM: Our main goal was to spend time together, make memories, enjoy our family, and influence our son as much as possible. Reconnecting with friends and family was also important and is now a beautiful part of life.

Building the house was another big goal for us. Although it doesn’t look like a whole lot from the pictures, we are well on our way. The hardest part is the design phase since it’s never been done before and a lot of work has gone into getting ready to build. Moving through the process has been my lovely engineer of a husband’s greatest source of frustration and achievement. Now that the design is nearly complete and the construction phase has begun it should be fairly smooth going.

Personally, I wanted to challenge myself, to learn something new, meet new people, add value beyond our family, and to find new ways to share myself with the world. I decided to do this by completing a 2-year diploma in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. Now that I’ve graduated, I’ll put some effort into building up a private practice.

We were extremely conscious of the impacts that stress and a transient lifestyle had on our bodies and minds so we wanted to focus on learning more about ourselves and being healthy. We did the best we could prior to 1MillionMinutes, but we both agree that we’re currently at our physical, mental, and emotional bests and really enjoy preparing healthy food, engaging in physical activities, and having the energy to work hard while still enjoying life.

Each day we realize that we’re accomplishing things that we hadn’t even intended to do; that’s what seems to happen when you have time and space and good health. Life begins to flow and opens up to amazing things.

Carley with Diploma

ZSP: What have been the most rewarding parts of this decision so far?

CM: By far, spending time with our son and our family and friends. Memories and relationships are very important to us and truly the only thing that can never be taken away. We are also really pleased with our health and fitness now, being able to volunteer in my son’s classroom, having the time to contemplate life and really think about things, explore them and make them a reality. I really enjoy working with my clients and seeing their commitment to health and healing and witnessing their progress. There really isn’t any part of this decision that isn’t a reward for us.

ZSP: What have been the greatest challenges?

CM: The single greatest challenge we had to overcome was the fear of actually going ahead with 1MillionMinutes and leaving behind a very comfortable lifestyle. This fear now seems ridiculous, but was overwhelming at times before we made the decision. I went through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster when we finally arrived in Perth as there were many logistics that were unfolding and the stress of the past few years ,and the move, finally caught up with me. But we were well-positioned as a family to take some time to relax, heal, and regroup so while it was a bit challenging, it has been a blessing for us all. My husband has had a few intense engineering issues with the house, but we have grown to work with and support each other through anything and really, challenges aren’t really bad, but simply part of the process.

ZSP: How has this two-years-off plan affected your marriage and your parenting? And what has been the reaction of extended family and friends?

CM: As far as affecting our marriage, it has strengthened and reinforced the love, respect, and commitment we have towards each other. The mutual level of trust has deepened and our desire to be the best we can be for each other and our son has grown exponentially. We truly enjoy spending time together and this 1MillionMinutes has been such a gift.

Our parenting hasn’t changed much as far as philosophies go — we’re very much attachment-based parents. However, given that we no longer have the stresses of a hectic work life, we’re both able to be more present, mindful, creative, and patient in our parenting. We are very purposeful in our interactions with him and really look for opportunities to help him understand what it means to appreciate nature, work hard, be thoughtful and creative when problem solving, be mindful, enjoy life, and be a compassionate human being.

When we first started talking about 1MillionMinutes most people humored us with the discussion, but didn’t expect anything to come of it so there was a lot of surprise at the beginning when we actually did it. Our close family and friends have been incredibly supportive and we’ve met may new friends who are very interested and excited to see what happens. We’ve also let go of some friends and others have let go of us. It’s really been an amazing journey so far.

Smoking Ceremony

ZSP: Can you tell me a bit about the Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony you held prior to building your new home?

CM: We are well aware that there’s more to this universe than meets the eye and we’re also very aware that we’re only caretakers of the beautiful property that we purchased; it will go on to exist far longer than we walk the earth. For thousands of years, others have cared for and communed with this land. It was important for us to build our home on in the most respectful and sustainable way and that meant learning about its past and honoring those who have come before us. Having Uncle Ben Taylor (a respected Noongar Elder and Order of Australia recipient) and his family share their history, their culture, their passion, and their spiritual ceremony with us was one of the most profound experiences we’ve been privileged to participate in. We respect Aboriginal Peoples and feel that the results of poorly implemented government and church programs, and their devastating impacts on Aboriginal Peoples throughout the world, is a tragedy. We recognize the importance of these types of ceremonies not only for our own benefit, but also for the role that they play in the healing process of Aboriginal communities. We are now connected to the land’s past and responsible for its future in both the physical and spiritual sense.

Carley and Family

ZSP: What lessons have you learned so far and how do you think you have changed from this experience? 

CM: Time is precious. Living in the present moment is far easier if you’re not stressed out and tired from work. While I still have to remind myself to be present sometimes, it’s far easier to do these days.

ZSP: If someone out there has a similar dream — to take a sabbatical from their life or to build an off-grid home — what steps would you advise them to take and what do you think they should know?

CM: Here’s what I would advise:

Start planning as early as possible so you can get your finances in order and be debt-free (or have enough money saved to cover ongoing expenses like a mortgage).

Simplify your life well before you get started. Sell or donate physical items you don’t use/need, dial back your social calendar, take steps to improve your health.

Spend time thinking about what you want to do with your time off.  How can you be productive? Set some goals and plan ways to achieve them. It’s not a vacation!

Evaluate the relationships you have in your life and know who your supporters are and how they can help you.

Work through the fear and entire range of emotions that come along with this type of life change.  They are there for a reason and understanding them ahead of time will put you in good standing to be conscious and grounded.

In summary, be clear with your goals. Know what’s important to you and why, and then make the time to make it happen.

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I love Carley’s point that this kind of sabbatical is not a vacation. I think another message that comes through loud and clear is: Why wait? Sometimes we need to in order to plan and prepare, of course, but who says reaching important goals and enjoying our families is only for retirement? It’s not easy to make such decisions, but I like how  Carley and her husband overcame their fears and made the leap. I sense that when their 1 million minutes is over, things will never quite be the same. Many thanks to Carley for sharing some of her amazing adventure with SlowMama! 

Friends, does the idea of taking time out to accomplish certain goals and dreams appeal to you? What would it take to make that happen?

Also, be sure to check out previous installments of Parenting Against the Grain:

Elimination Communication

Taking A Family Sabbatical

Going Furniture Free

The Modern Nomads

 

Images from Carley Morgan

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Pull Up A Chair

April 1, 2016

S and H at Easter 2016

We’re still celebrating Easter here. The girls were on their spring break this week — which in our particular homeschool world means we don’t have homeschool academy and our school work at home is at a minimum. We’ve thrown in some fun things along the way, in between my work schedule: watched our circus performer friend at the Festival of Lights in downtown Baltimore, joined friends for an Ethiopian lunch, had another friend over for a visit, had dinner at a favorite restaurant, ate some good chocolate, and drank some good wine (well, that was me).

I bought S and H sweet Easter outfits from one of my favorite children’s lines, but a friend had given them fancy white dresses a couple months ago and Easter Mass seemed the perfect time to wear them. Luckily it was warm enough here to just throw cardigans on top.

What’s new with you? Anything exciting on your docket this weekend? We have a fundraiser to attend for our homeschool academy tomorrow evening — a Texas cowboy-themed casino night. B and I don’t have cowboy boots or hats, and we’re supposed to run some roulette tables. I think I’ve played roulette a total of one time, on a cruise many years ago, and after reading the instructions I’m going to need a cheat sheet. I thought you just stuck a chip on a number or on “black” or “red” or “even” or “odd” — but no, it’s more complicated than that. So, we’ll see how this turns out.  They may wish they has just assigned us to the bar.

Speaking of which, I had the loveliest Spanish red wine when we were out last night. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was called, but I woke up thinking about it. It went so well with everything, including my chocolate dessert, so how about a glass of that today? Please grab one and have yourself a lovely weekend. See you back here soon!

 

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Boy

The head of the 28 year-old Lego Foundation says adults don’t understand the value of play, therefore kids are being denied something really important in their development today. In a piece in The Guardian, Hanne Rasmussen says all over the world parents are working hard to do best what’s best for their children, but they’re unaware of a substantial body of research showing that children should be learning mainly through play until they’re about 8.

Even if this makes sense to a parent, it’s hard to actually put it into practice when the surrounding culture doesn’t buy it. Generally it’s expected that once your kids hit 4 or 5, they should be moving into academics. Additionally, I’ve noticed that young children are often very scheduled, with school, various lessons, sports activities, and play dates. One reason for this is that parents are on tight schedules themselves, so in order for daily life to go half-way smoothly, it’s better for everyone to be on a schedule.

There’s more to it, though. As Rasmussen points out, there are concerns world-wide that in order for children to be competitive and succeed in the future, we must push them into academics, lessons, and schedules at younger and younger ages in order for them to gain the advantage. Again, though, people are unaware of the growing body of evidence that shows that the future, if it continues along the trajectory it’s currently on, will most likely belong to those who are the most creative, innovative, adaptable, and flexible. (Just read a few of Daniel Pink’s books.) Early childhood play is crucial for developing these things.

It’s normal to see play as a natural part of a 2 or 3 year-olds life, but when they’re 5, 6, or 7, it’s harder. I wrote recently about a little girl who came over not long ago and wasn’t interested in imaginative play so much anymore with S and H because she missed her digital devices. Playing computer games is not the kind of play Rasmussen is talking about here. In order for sustained imaginative, active play to occur, adults have to understand its value and not see it as a waste of time.

So, what’s the answer? I guess the people at the Lego Foundation have their work cut out for them trying to change the mindset of parents around the world. In the meantime, we parents can check ourselves when we start stressing out that all our kids want to do is play.

Image: Unsplash

 

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Good Friday

March 25, 2016

Lukas Budimaier

Image: Lukas Budimaier at Unsplash

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It’s Holy Week so I’m doing my best to be a little more reflective, a little more focused on the “lasting” things. The L’Arche community, for which I volunteered years ago, always reminds me of this. In a world of many tragedies and great sufferings, it helps to remember that while hardship inevitably comes our way, love surpasses it all.

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Are You A Superfan?

March 21, 2016

Springsteen with fans

I have six sisters, and one of them is a self-proclaimed super-fan. From the time she was a young teenager, she has loved Bruce Springsteen. Lots of people love the Boss, of course, but if you were to meet my sister, you’d never peg her for the “super fan” type. Truth to be told, she’s way too balanced and sensible to be completely irrational in her love for Bruce, but the evidence is still there: She has most of the albums he’s ever put out, managed to appear (via audio) in the recent movie made about his life, and has sacrificed a lot to be at his concerts — I’m talking flights, hotels, and babysitters. In fact, for a recent birthday, her dedicated husband worked some connections and they managed to get front row pit seats in Boston. To say that made my sister’s entire decade is probably an understatement.

Springsteen in Bean Town

I told you they got very close.

While I’m a fan of various artists, actors, and musicians, I can’t say I’m a super fan of anyone in particular. Not to that kind of degree, anyway. But I find it fascinating and I’d love to hear if you can relate. Would you consider yourself a super fan of anyone, or do you know anyone like that?

While you’re thinking about that, I need to share this video the Huff Post ran. If you’re a Springsteen fan, you’re especially going to dig it. Guess who sent it to me?

Images: O & D

 

 

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Pull Up A Chair

March 18, 2016

Green Waterfall

Were you wearing green yesterday? Whenever St. Patrick’s Day rolls around I realize how few green pieces of clothing I own. But I did manage to make Irish Soda Bread! I used a colleagues’s recipe and switched out a few things so I could live up to my reputation of being a health-nut, and it still turned out really well.

Yesterday was also the birthday of my mother-in-law. I’m one of the lucky ones out there who has a great relationship with her husband’s mother — I really lucked out in that department.

So in honor of my mother-in-law, who doesn’t drink much alcohol, and to celebrate St. Patrick a little longer, I think this matcha latte would be perfect. It’s green and creamy and healthy and yummy, so what more could you ask for? have you had matcha before? It’s a finely ground powder of a specially grown and processed green tea with supposedly many health properties.

Any plans for the weekend? Ours is full, but some fun stuff to look forward to, and we are heading into a spiritually significant week — Holy Week, the seven days leading up to Easter.

I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Andrew Coelho at Unsplash

 

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Inspiration & Laughter

March 15, 2016

The time change is kicking my butt this week — I feel so behind and it’s only Tuesday!

If you’re having a week like I am so far, here are two videos I thought might help.

First, some inspiration: I don’t know if you’ve heard of this man — Narayanan Krishnan. CNN named him one of their “Heros” in 2010 so I may be the only one who hasn’t seen his story, but wow:

And then, this. Totally happens to me and I’ve seen this happen on the subway myself. (Oh, and the same thing happens with crying… (not on the subway)… I’m not much of a crier, but if someone else tears up, that’s it for me. You?)

What’s inspiring you or making your laugh this week?

 

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Pull Up A Chair

March 11, 2016

Tasja Brewis pic

It’s been a whirlwind week and all I have for you today is a little story that might amuse you.

But first, grab one of these classic margaritas from Epicurious… I could really use a refreshing drink right about now. Plus, we’ve had 70 degree temps here all week —  crazy for early March! But a nice break from the cold.

So yesterday morning I was sitting in downtown traffic with one of my daughters trying to get north of the city for a 9 a.m. appointment when I suddenly realized: I need a bathroom and I need one now.

We were driving down a notorious city block called “The Strip” — for reasons that should be clear —  so there was no way I was hauling my child inside any establishment there for a restroom, even at 8 a.m. I can make it another 15-20 minutes — I just won’t think about it, I convinced myself. We could not be late for this appointment . I just had to bite the bullet.

Then we got on the highway and I realized that no, I really wasn’t going to make it, so I took an exit, stopped at a 7-11, and went in with my daughter, “Sorry, no public bathroom,” the cashier said, “You might try McDonalds, half a mile up.” So, we ran back to the car, and as I was about to close the door, a woman (who had been in the 7-11) came out and said, “I know what it’s like to have a kid who needs the potty so you might want to try that breakfast restaurant across the street there with the yellow awning — they’ll probably let you in.”

“Right!” I said, “Thanks!” (Having kids can be so convenient sometimes!) We hopped back out, made out way across the street, and the restaurant was closed. By now we probably could have been at the office where we had our appointment, of course.

We got into the car and once again, I thought, Okay, I think I can make it another 10 min! But two minutes down the road again and I knew that, nope — wasn’t going to happen. By now we were driving through a tony part of town, and I remembered a café in a swanky plaza that would surely be open for breakfast. I drove in like a mad woman and parked. At this point, every second mattered. I grabbed my daughter’s hand and we ran up the stairs to the cafe and I could tell as we approached that it was closed. In desperation, I tried the door anyway and… it was open! We ran in, past the kitchen (where a light was on), and found the bathroom. Once inside, my daughter said, “Mom, are you sure you’re allowed to do this?”

“Mommy sometimes breaks the rules” was probably not the best answer, but I did offer a better explanation when I was calmer. We ran into a busboy on the way out, who — when I said “I’m sorry we’re patrons here sometimes and really had to use your restroom!”  — looked at my daughter with a knowing smile and said, “Oh, sure, no problem!” Did I mention there are advantages to having kids? And also, thank heavens that door was open, as I had very clear visions of myself behind one of the manicured bushes under the balcony of somebody’s fancy condo and my daughter having to watch her mother get taken away in handcuffs for lewd behavior.

Speaking of which, any plans for the weekend? Haha. A few things on my agenda that I’m looking forward to,: including a Lenten event tonight at a friend’s church, a night out tomorrow with a friend, and a gathering with other families at an Ethiopian restaurant on Sunday. All of it will help my feel better about trying to get taxes done over the next few days.

Have a lovely and slow weekend and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Tasja Brewis at Life of Pix

 

 

 

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Mom and daughters

Before I became a parent I used to hear a lot of adoptive parents say that their kids were — to their great surprise — so much like them. Some children certainly look just like their adoptive parents: Friends of mine adopted a baby boy and I’ll never forget the day I laid eyes on him — he looked like a “mini-me” of his adoptive dad. Every time I get a Christmas card from another family I know who adopted a son and a daughter domestically, I’m struck by how much the kids look like the parents.

Of course, when you’re a white couple and your adopt internationally, looking like your kids is far less likely (unless perhaps you’re adopting from Eastern Europe or Russia). Still, it’s funny how I occasionally get the comment that one of my daughters in particular looks like me. Really? She has short, black, curly hair, dark brown eyes, and brown skin… and I have, well, pretty much the opposite of that. But apparently, there’s a resemblance in our features and mannerisms.

What I’m really surprised about, though, is how similar my daughters are to me in other ways. B likes to say that S and H are me, split in two. (They’re also a lot like him, but I’ll stick to talking about myself here.)

Each of our daughters is uniquely herself, of course, and I only wish I had some of their traits and talents, but it really is odd how many similarities we share. I know some of this is bound to happen over time as we live and share our lives together, but many of these things were there from day one. I mean, how can two little girls, born on the other side of the world in a completely different culture, think the same (very subtle) things are funny, or do things exactly the same way I did them when I was little? There are too many things to list, and some of them are hard to explain, but it’s these quirky things that amaze me the most.

There’s no guarantee that adopted children will be anything like their new parents, and I know parents with birth children who say they’re so different from each other that sometimes they don’t even feel related. But it’s a real gift when adoptive parents and children discover and experience similarities in each other. It fosters a strong sense of belonging, as well as destiny — the sense that it was meant to be, even ordained in some way. Which is extremely helpful when it comes  to family bonding.

Do you share a lot of similarities with your children — whether they’ve come by birth or adoption? What has surprised you the most when it comes to what you share — or don’t share — with your children, or even with your own parents or siblings?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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