Hiking Samaria Gorge

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Beginning the Decent down into the Gorge

Hiking the Samaria Gorge on the island of Crete, Greece will go down in infamy as one of the crazier things I have asked my children to do. Until further notice, it will also be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever accomplished aside from childbirth. I am going to tell you this story in the hopes that you are inspired to push the comfort zone of your family and take your adventures to the next level.

Preparing to Hike the Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge, is one of the more challenging Gorge hikes in all of Europe due to many factors. The length of the Gorge (16km) which is 10.3 miles. The accessibility of the Gorge. And the weather, plays a huge factor in your hiking experience. all of the traveling to get to the Gorge may be for not as it is closed frequently due to weather.

It may be of no surprise to many of you, that I took very few preparations. . . My children and I had been walking everywhere for over two months. We were well conditioned in that sense, but we had done no “formal” hiking training. Because the kids and I had been living in Greece a natural adaptation to your environment occurs.

Greece is rough terrain all the way around. Nothing about Greece is easily accessible. Because of that reason alone, millenia’s worth of Greeks have built their homes, temples, churches and villages into the rocks and mountains. You get used to it, but luckily we had experienced this for a couple of months before the Gorge hike.

I also planned our Gorge hike around my mother’s visit. She has always wanted to hike it as well and a second set of adult hands was the best preparation I could give myself.

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Things Needed to Improve your Experience

  • Ankle supporting hiking boots. The only shoes that we had at the time were Keen brand sandals that did not support our ankles at all. That is by far the part of me that hurt the worst in the days after.
  • Pack Food. There are almost zero resources within the Samaria Gorge National Park. There are no food or drink vendors until the very end. Once you’ve actually left the Gorge and you begin the 2km walk to the closest town.
  • Time Management. Plan on the hike taking you 7 to 9 hours to complete. This is especially important if you are planning on catching the evening ferry leaving Agia Roumeli.

The Logistics of the Samaria Gorge

After having experienced it first hand, the getting there and back aspect of the hike is the most challenging part. The Samaria Gorge National Park, begins in the tiny village of Omalos which is most easily accessed by public bus. The bus leaves the Chania bus station at 7am and that is the only bus heading to Omalos daily. With this restrictive schedule the absolute earliest you could begin your hike is at 9am.

Because the Samaria Gorge is nestled deep in the White Mountain Range it creates its own lovely weather (insert sarcasm). It rains there a lot. Many tourists attempt to hike the Samaria Gorge and make it to the entrance to find that it has been closed for the day due to weather. This is how we began our hike.

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We were lucky, in that the park only delayed its opening that day. We were able to begin hiking shortly before 10am. Because I was hiking with small children the delayed start posed other concerns. The Samaria Gorge ends in a very small village called Agia Roumeli. Agia Roumeli is only accessible via the gorge and by boat. There are no feasible roads leading to it. Therefore, if you cannot complete the hike by 5pm you will miss your one and only chance to leave Agia Roumeli for the night. Which is on the 5:30pm ferry.

There are numerous hotels that you can book if you book early in the hiking season (May 1 to October). You pay heftily for these hotels as they are well aware that you have no other options. Given that the bulk of my party’s members were under the age of 5, I got a hotel room in advance.

The gorge spits you out at the Libyan Sea and it is absolutely stunning.

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Leaving the Gorge

When you complete the Gorge, or get rescued by a Donkey, you eventually make your way to the ferry. The ferry is packed to standing room only with people. That ferry takes you to a parking lot where you catch your 6pm bus that takes you back to Chania. I highly recommend staying the night in Agia Roumeli. Enjoy the small population of people (200) that live there year round. The beautiful, but cold, Libyan Sea is an amazing added bonus.

The Samaria Gorge Hike Worth It

I tend to live by the mentality that there are few things in life, when done with conviction, that are not worth it. It was AMAZING. My children surpassed my expectations entirely. They didn’t just surpass them, they astounded me. On at least three occasions someone fell and bled. There was an obvious need to constantly push everyone to eat quickly. To take a fast break, so as not to get rescued out of the Gorge when the 5pm close of the park expired.

The moment that we walked out of the Gorge into the Libyan Sea will be remembered forever. My barely four year old became the youngest person to ever complete the Samaria Gorge hike. I did it, with an 18 month old strapped to my back. It was so worth it! Within 24 hours of our journey down the Gorge, our four-year-old asked to do it again. There are no plans to do it again any time soon. Someday I would like to do it again and do it even better. Get out there, your children will surprise you and best of all, you will surprise yourself.

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Bringing History to Life for your Kids

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Instilling a Love of History

For years, I have heard people say how much they disliked history growing up. “It was my least favorite subject in school.” This is a very popular opinion. When learning is a series of memorizing dates and names then I agree, it is boring. History is losing its hold in the mainstream classroom. It will be cut out in years to come. There is a way to create a love of this subject for your children. Maybe, you’ll learn to love it again too.

Bringing History to Life

Throughout the world, history is inches from modern life. It is everywhere. Most of the planet courses and pulses through immense amounts of ancient history that a lot of people do not know is there. For example, throughout Greece and Italy, every time a new subway line is dug another archaeology site is uncovered. This is not typically an issue in the United States due to its incredibly young history in terms of the wrinkle of time, but the history is still there. No matter what your topic of interest, there is something to see and explore in close proximity to you.

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If the Civil War is your American History preference then the East Coast is covered in fascinating, patriotism inspiring locations to explore that are FREE. From reenactments to open battlefields and everything in between. The possibilities are endless for your children to learn. The subject matter that these places evoke is vast. From slavery and Civil Rights to architecture and medical treatment. You and your family can, in theory, learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know in regards to life and war during the 17th century; all sparked by a few stops in the Eastern United States.

The Midwest has its own claims to fame in regards to the Civil War, but what you will find the most of is beautifully preserved Native American history. California is full of Missions, Gold Rush, Wild West, and the list goes on and on. Every single U.S. states offer something wonderful if you’re willing to seek it out.

Where do you Start?

This is probably the question that I get asked the most; along with “how do you find these place?” The process is rather simple. Google. I kid you not, we live in a day in age where I can google “Historical Landmarks along route 66” and I will get a plethora of results. Not every stop is mind-blowing, but with enough early research, they can be. For example, when we were PCS-ing from Camp Pendleton to New River, NC I searched for “things to do off of route 66 (insert state).” That led us to Meteor Crater, which was amazing! It also gave us endless amounts of things to do in the states that I thought would be “long and boring” to drive through.

In that particular 47 hour trip, I remember being leery about driving through Western Texas and New Mexico. Hot long hours in the car, but with some research, we were able to make stops like Cadillac Graveyard in Western Texas, which sparked great conversations about art as a creative movement and art history.

Letting the History Guide Your Travels

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There are many times while traveling that I have visited destinations ONLY to see a piece of history that I cannot see anywhere else. Even people who don’t particularly care about history do this. Rome, for example, is a destination entirely based on seeing history. Nobody visits Rome for the cultural exchange. It is too touristy for that. People go to Rome to see the buildings and places where world-changing history took place.

The above photo is a small portion of a building complex on the Eastern coast of the island of Crete in Greece. I had no other reason to visit that area. EVERYTHING else I wanted to see was hours away on the Western side. I had waited my whole adult life to stand on the grounds of this particular building. My kids were unimpressed and that was fine with me. There were pieces of it that they loved like the peacocks walking around freely, which led to a long conversation about peacocks and symbolism for royalty. History brought to life, literally, in a bird. This conversation turned the entire outing around for my kids. Suddenly, other aspects of the complex began making more sense.

Learning to Let Go of the Learned Outcome

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Deciding to make time for living history adventures is the hardest part. Switching from an “I’m too tired to care about that” lifestyle to a “Let’s go see what it’s all about” lifestyle is difficult. It will not always be exciting. It will not always provoke insightful conversations. Not everything you try to achieve presents as a win when first executed. Teaching your children to love history through going out and seeing it, being a living part of the history of that place, will, however, teach them a deep appreciation for history. Appreciation is where it all begins. Get out there.

 

A World War II Tour of Germany

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World War II history enthusiasts the world over gravitate towards Germany to see where the history began. Though World War II history is dispersed all over Europe, Germany is the perfect place to start experiencing it. Here are our top Three things to see for your World War II history buffs.

Dachau Concentration Camp

The first concentration camp made by the Germans, which would be the model for all death camps to follow. Dachau, of course, is a very haunting place, but it is also full of vital Nazi support information that will help you to better understand all future strategical moves. While visiting Dachau you will see the blueprints for the concentration camps. As-well-as, the desk that holds all of the inmates’ identification cards. You learn so much about what the first 24 hours in a concentration camp might have been like.

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Dachau is now home to some very moving pieces of communist Germany artwork. These pieces were primarily dedicated in the late 1970s and early 1980s in memorial to the lives lost at the Nazi hands. The grounds of Dachau have been left in as original a state as possible and you are able to wander in and out of most of the buildings, which are also handicapped accessible. The grounds are barren and grey but full of history and stories longing to be told.
When deciding to visit Dachau you should plan on spending a long afternoon or morning there. You could easily spend a full day, but half a day is all that is really necessary. Make sure to dedicate some time to the photo catalogs that were confiscated after the war and to reading about the prisoners whom historians have uncovered their beautiful pre-Holocaust lives.

Berchtesgaden and Hitler’s Eagle Nest

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An absolute must do in Germany, whether you’re a World War II history buff or not is Hitler’s Eagle Nest. Part birthday gift and part fortified hideout this place is amazing. You need at least a day to fully appreciate the magnitude of the site and another day to wander through the amazing village.
Getting to the top of the Eagle’s Nest is quite the ordeal. You must purchase bus tickets from the visitor’s parking lot and then you are shuttled the 8 miles to the top, but you learn a lot about the land along the way. Once you have reached Hitler’s private entrance you walk through a passageway cut through the mountain where you find Hitler’s private elevator. The history of the people that have walked through that space is very chilling. The conversations had in the elevator can only be imagined, but I am sure they were quite extraordinary.
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Once you have reached the top of Hitler’s Eagle Nest you have the option to eat as the original building has been turned into a restaurant. The most impressive thing is the scenery itself. The view is spectacular, the isolation is inspiring and the available hiking should be done time and time again. At the end of our trip, we wished we had had more time to hike there. A full day wasn’t quite enough.

Nuremberg, Germany

This beautiful, historical city has so many things to offer. If time allows a few days here would be best, but for World War II enthusiasts there is one stop, in particular, that must be done. The Nazi Documentation Museum and the Old Nazi Rally Grounds. All of the documents that truly exist, but are hard to imagine are housed here. Disclosing the Nazi secrets to the public and educating visitors in regards to how a tragedy of this magnitude comes to be.

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Planning Your World War II Tour of Germany

When deciding to travel throughout Germany the very best way is by car. Car rental is very affordable and driving is quite easy. The largest issue with traveling by car is that there are signs for amazing things to see everywhere! Getting to your destination in a timely manner is difficult due to off-highway exploring of other wonderful sites.

If World War II is your main focus, I highly recommend starting in Germany as these sites mentioned above will give a very solid foundation for what you will see elsewhere in Europe. If you make it as far as Hitler’s Eagle Nest then you are only 45 minutes from Salzburg, Austria and many many more World War II sites in Austria and beyond. Get out there, but remember the solemn space that many of these places try to hold and tell the story so history doesn’t repeat itself.

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Hallstatt, Austria UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Tucked deep in the Austrian Alps is this jaw-dropping beauty of cultural preservation. Halstat, Austria presents as a place that time forgot. Somewhere you can go and wander in aimless joy for hours. It’s 16th-century homes and alleyways are home to shops and cafes. Visitors can entertain themselves for days no matter what your sightseeing aspirations might be.

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Fun In Every Season

Hallstatt offers something for everyone in your travel party. There are endless amounts of snow skiing and glacial cave exploring to be had during the winter months. During the summer there is boating on Lake Hallstatt. Of course, there is always eating at the quaint cafes and taking in the breathtaking views at every turn. You can sit and watch the glacial run-off for hours, which courses through the village via little channels.

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One of the most famous outings in the Hallstatt region is the Echern Valley Glacier Garden and Waterfall. Accessed by trailhead and a beautiful day well spent. Guides are available and full of information. If hiking is not your thing the food in the village is to die for and cultural tours are affordable and given daily.

The Salzwelten is fun for the whole family! A mine with many descending levels and a subterranean lake allows a full day of exploration. You get to the lower levels of the salt mine by sliding down slides! What could possibly be more fun than that? Fair warning though, you do have to be FOUR or older to enter the mine, but it is a must do in the area. You reach the entrance to the mine by sky car and gain an immense amount of knowledge about the WORLD’S OLDEST SALT MINE.

Getting to Hallstatt, Austria

Getting to this beautiful village is half of the fun! The scenery is stunning and one should stop at every wide shoulder to take a photo of the Alpine backdrop. The easiest way to get there is by car, but the bus does run to Hallstatt and is a short ride from Salzburg. Make sure you make a morning drive out of whichever option you choose because finding accommodations in the dark would be a great challenge. The village is very small and therefore is booked very far in advance.

A few Airbnb options exist, as well as hotels ranging from four walls with a mattress to luxurious winter retreats. Deciding how you’d like to spend your money and time will be a challenge that requires planning as there are so many options. A bit of advice though, you will spend very little time in the accommodations you choose.

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Hallstatt, Austria is a place where you want to spend endless amounts of time, but I highly recommend that that time is spent slowly. Taking in the architecture, the apple strudel, the beautiful pear tree that has claimed one of the homes. There is something incredible at every turn so take your sweet time and breathe it in. No one is in a hurry here. Time is allotted for slow strolls and swan feeding. This is one you really need to get out there to see.

A Season of Changes

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I have been very quiet on here the last few weeks, well really it’s been a month. I’ve been majorly slacking over here and there are a few reasons why. Though I do not need to justify my lack of writing to anyone, I want people to know that I love keeping and writing a blog, but I am a busy mom and there are seasons where saying nothing seems to be better.

Learning to cohabitate Again

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Deployments are a messy thing for families. We have spent the last 8 weeks learning to live with each other again. Greg has been re-acclimating to the volume that is a house with three little boys in it. I am trying to re-motivate myself to be a domestic goddess though that is such a tiny, rather unenjoyable, aspect of my identity. We have added extracurriculars for the big boys. They wanted to do cub scouts and jiu-jitsu so that is consuming our weeks right now. We are desperately trying to make new friends since we are living in a new place that is unfamiliar to us. 

What’s New with Me? Well, I am really busy growing. Growing as a mother, wife, spiritually (as there are more Baha’i members in this region of N.C.), trying to settle a home that is rather small for all of us, juggling visitors, holidays, and upcoming trips. Mostly, I’ve been writing elsewhere. For the last year, I have been writing for Daily Mom Military Magazine. I have a weekly column that keeps me very busy, but on top of that I have been doing Holiday gift guide reviews for them and that has taken up a large part of my “extra” time since November. I have also been shoveling myself, the children and the dog back and forth to overseas clearance doctor appointments. 

What’s New with Greg? Greg has started what they call the FRD. Basically, it’s a miniature flight school to switch from one flight platform to a new one. In his case, he has gone from the Huey Helicopter to the C130 Hercules. What that means is he is studying hard and long hours on top of doing an online school program called EWS (Expeditionary Warfare School). He is very busy. Like woa busy. Of course, on the weekends I keep him very busy as well.

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What’s up with the sudden D.C. trip?

Well, a dear friend of mine (also a bridesmaid in our wedding) is having her first child here in the D.C. area. She has asked me to doula and encapsulate for her so the kids and I are renting a one bedroom apartment in the D.C. area for two weeks! So far the weather has been quite kind to us for D.C. in February. I’m hopeful that we will have a new baby to ooo and ahhh over soon (any day). 

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What’s up with the sudden India Trip?

A similar situation, a friend asked and I said “yes.” It goes back much farther than that, but an old college dance partner of mine as requested my presence in India. Therefore, the kids and I are going for a quick trip that will hopefully curb my international craving until later this year. I will say that saying yes to friends and being a better friend was my main New Year focus phrase. I am really bad at falling into the “out of sight out of mind” friendship category. I also love my friends tremendously, but I can’t always find the energy or time to call so 2019 has presented me with two opportunities to serve my friends better and I’ve taken them. 

Financially, I cannot say yes to this extreme any more this year, but I hope that the acts are noticed and the memories made until I am able to serve them again someday. I am trying hard to invest more in the people that are already in my life and spend less time trying to market my friendship capabilities to new prospects. 

I hope that Winter’s time of rest and hibernation has brought you a clearer mental state, a better understanding of how to reach your goals for 2019 and most importantly, perspective.

Can You Travel Europe in a Wheelchair

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Can You Travel Europe In a Wheelchair?

The short answer is YES! YES, YOU CAN! The involved answer is still yes, with some assistance, perseverance and a plan. All of Europe is older than the concept of accessibility for all, but a lot of advances have been made to accommodate those willing to travel. You will encounter a lot of difficult things, but what you gain from visiting these gems far outweighs the struggles.

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Although I am fortunate to not have a child dependent upon a wheelchair, our middle son shattered his right foot our first night in Rome. He broke it so severely that he was non-weight bearing on it for 6 weeks. 6 weeks translated to 6 European countries with a wheelchair that I purchased second hand from a pharmaceutical vendor. In some instances, this accident changed my travel plans completely, but on the other hand, it forced me to see the larger world through the eyes of someone with a disability.

The Can Do and Cannot Do of Wheelchairs In Europe

The good news about traveling in Europe is that your transportation options are incredibly accessible. Riding on trains with wheelchairs is a wonderful experience for reasons that I will share momentarily. Across Europe, you will struggle to roll over curbs and cobblestones, but roll you shall. Visiting monuments, because of their age, will be the largest struggle. Many European treasures have made their first floors and entrances wheelchair accessible, but making tiny towers and upper levels accessible is difficult and few and far between in European monuments.

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The GREAT news is that almost all museums and the grounds surrounding the most famous monuments are all wheelchair accessible! Some of them you can even go up to the top in now! The countries that I found to be the most accessible in our European travels were:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Germany
  3. Austria
  4. Czechia
  5. Poland

The least accessible, by far, were:

  1. Italy
  2. Greece

europe with a wheelchair 7I know this is not what you wanted to read, because who doesn’t want to go to Italy and Greece? I’m here to tell you that you should and you can! These two countries are just not as easy to navigate in a wheelchair because of the narrowness of sidewalks, roads, entrances. The lack of elevators throughout is an obvious challenge. Also, both of these countries have less funding to make accessibility improvements. The museums and archaeology sites, however, are very accessible!

European Resources For Tourists

I was offered assistance, for free, in every single train station throughout Europe. Each country has its own accessibility program within their railway systems. You can book the handicap seat online, which allows for a lot more room to fit the wheelchair in. If you locate the accessibility office within the major city railway hubs then they can schedule assistance at all of your stops to help get you and the wheelchair off the train AND will hold the next train to load you on! A HUGE HELP!

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If for some reason you cannot book the handicap seat online then they can help you change your general seat to the handicap seat at this office as well. Truly a wonderful resource. These offices are usually very busy places so give yourself ample amounts of time to fully utilize everything they have to offer!

A website that was particularly helpful when our plans abruptly changed was www.sagetraveling.com. This wonderful sight is a little difficult to navigate, but will help you learn about the accessibility of specific sites, monuments, cities, restaurants, and other local resources and tours that cater to the accessibility audience! Before you even start planning your trip to Europe you need to spend some time exploring the resources that Sage Traveling has to offer.

Making Travel a Priority

Travel is not only for the physically sound tourist. There are resources out there and help everywhere to achieve your travel goals. Make a list of places you want to see. Prioritize that list and begin researching how to make it happen. You can do it! From sightseeing alone with a child in a wheelchair like I did to hiring an accessibility savvy tour guide. Anything is possible if you take a chance on the capabilities of yourself and hidden helpers throughout the world. Get out there.

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How to Have Nice Things AND Happy Kids

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We all enter our relationships with “things.” It is inevitable that we will bring something special with us into our homes together. As babies arrive on the scene we want to include them in the “specialness” of these family heirlooms, but like any other child, they couldn’t care less. So how do we teach our child respect for an inanimate object? They don’t have to love it right? But they do have to respect it and give it enough space to protect it.

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I was raised by an antique dealer. According to my siblings and I, we were raised in a museum. Some of my father’s tactics worked beautifully, others not so much. As someone who was raised to respect everything inanimate, I have obviously brought into my marriage a plethora of antiques and “special” items that my family continues to grow around. Here is how I manage the chaos and collectibles.

Start Them Young

We have three little boys. Rough, rowdy, loud, wall-climbing little boys. Our belongings take quite a beating from them, but the only things that have been broken have been broken by movers. When each child is around age two, I begin schooling them on gentleness. A simple enough concept in regards to the family pet, but I am also teaching them to be gentle with the glass doors of my antique wardrobe. As the kids get older we begin to expose them to the craftsmanship that goes into making such treasures. At a farmers market one summer we watched a blacksmith craft in traditional fashion. Our oldest son, who was then 4, was fascinated. The blacksmith talked to him about how many hours went into making the items that were for sale.

When we got home our son stared at an antique Swedish immigrant chest that I had acquired that year from my father. The trunk is covered in hand hammered ironwork with intricate puzzle locks. After some contemplation he asked “mom, how long do you think it took to make your trunk?” My heart swelled. This was THE learning moment. We came up with a number we thought was reasonable based on how long it took the blacksmith to make his wares.

When the conversation was over our 4-year-old had a whole new respect for that trunk. The amount of work that went into making it, the journeys it had made, the skill it took to create it, the cost of something so grand to a family hundreds of years ago. You could see his gears turning. He understood. From that day onward he understood why it was so important not to stand on it, not to throw the lid open, etc.

Creating Habits of Care

Of course, the conversations did not stop there. I tried to not nag the family constantly, but over time rules were put in place about ball throwing in the house, not touching mommy’s red lamp. Life goes on, but some wonderful things happened as well. Our boys learned to care for things. They learned to oil wood, to dust and clean mirrors, and maybe best of all to detail a vehicle. Now at ages 6, 5 and 2 when I say “that is not how we treat our things” the lectures do not have to take place. They know the right way to care for it, they know exactly what they did that was inappropriate, they understand and it’s not because mommy dictates so, but because of a respect for the piece.

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Of course, this approach to care can be directed at anything that you deem important to you. If your collectible of choice is breakable you might not want the kids to help you care for it and that’s ok! Eventually, you’ll teach them to dust it and maybe you’ll take them to a pottery class, or the manufacturer museum, etc. There are numerous ways to include your children. What we don’t want is for your child to feel like Ferdinand in the china shop. Teach them to care for it and it could live on forever.

Persistence and Teaching are Key

There is no reason why you shouldn’t have nice things and children! I don’t suggest a new and expensive couch as the things that bear the most physical weight typically fall apart the fastest. If you enjoy beautiful things then you can teach your children too as well. Now that our boys are a bit older my father (woodworking magician) can show them how to repair and refinish the antiques in our lives. Teaching them more about the craftsmanship and difficulty of the work will continue to embed deep respect for the object.

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Over the Holidays my father re-wired and re-hung the prisms of this victorian lamp for me

If you do not personally know someone who works with these specific mediums do not fret. There are local people everywhere who would love to apprentice a younger generation in the ways of the past. With any luck, we can all raise respectful children that care for family heirlooms for generations to come.

 

Visiting Biltmore Estates with Kids

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Tucked deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains is an architectural masterpiece that is worth your time. Losing yourself for a full day on the Biltmore Estates is a very easy thing to do, especially if you are toting little people. I have now visited the Vanderbilt family’s claim to fame two times in our 2.5 years stationed in North Carolina. Partly, because the house and landscape are so incredible and because it is different every time! With different, exquisite decor for every season and endless exhibit installations, you need to go! “But how do you tour things with small children?” With patience and a plan.

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Planning Your Biltmore Estates Visit

You do not need to pre-book anything at all. Upon entering the grounds you will come to what appears to be a visitor center where you purchase all tickets and tours for your visit. This will take a bit of time. There are dozens of tour options. From the main levels only to servant quarter tours and the roof and rafters tours. You cannot go wrong with any of them! You need to allow approximately 2 hours per tour. The tours are not 2 hours long, but you will want some time to compartmentalize all of the new information you are learning, to ask questions and potentially have a bathroom or food break. There are a lot of stairs in the Vanderbilt Mansion. There is elevator access, which can reach most of the levels. Your experience will be richer by taking the stairs. The staircase itself is a marvel and the information delivered by tour guides while climbing is worth hearing. If stroller trumps baby-carrier then that is perfectly fine and you can still do a few of the tours this way.

Although, the tour guides will answer every single question you have with class and tact; I highly recommend watching a Biltmore Estates documentary or reading a book before going. The tour guides treat guests as if they have basic knowledge of the family history as to not insult anyone. Names and dates can get very confusing very quickly.

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Planning Your Visit to Include the Kids

The majority of the tour options are quite kid-friendly. Obviously, some tour guides have that kid-friendly spark more than others, but all will gladly answer the children’s questions. I found that my children enjoyed the Roof and Rafter tour the best because you get to see the call bells of the servants, the original electrical guts and the exterior roof walks. My science-loving kids thought that this stuff was pretty cool. It is also a more specialized tour. Therefore, the tour was smaller than the main level handheld tour that EVERYONE does.

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If you are on the fence about spending money on an extra tour that your children may or may not enjoy-then don’t! You can do a general tour, which includes the basement, kitchen, and two main level floors. This tour alone will take every bit of 2+ hours and is handheld audio guided. The kids can have an audio guide as well, which I have always found helps them feel included in the experience.

If you do not want to go into the house at all with the kids then you can spend your day exploring the grounds and gardens of the Biltmore Estates! There are endless trails, gardens, greenhouses, fountains and when you are finally hungry there are the stables! Yes, that’s what I said, the Stables! The original horse stables have been converted into a beautiful shopping area and restaurant to include an ice cream parlor, toy store, and Christmas shop! Yes, these were well-treated horses. It really is THAT big.

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A Biltmore Estates Vacation

Whether you are planning on spending the day or a week you are going to have a wonderful time exploring. The Estates are approximately 20 square miles. From the roof of the mansion, the Vanderbilt family owns everything the eye can see. Also on the grounds are a hunting reserve, numerous restaurants, two hotels, a golf course, private fishing tours, and the list continues. If you want to spend a week on the Estates you can do so without ever needing to leave the grounds. If you want to spend thousands of dollars or simply less than a hundred, both are entirely achievable. Regardless of how you vacation you are certain to have a wonderful experience. You and your children will consider it time well spent. Get out there.

Happy New Year 2019!!

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We spent a beautiful first day of 2019 doing what we love most! EXPLORING! 2018 was a dousy and wonderful at the same time. Every single year I say “ok there’s no way next year can be crazier than last year.” Somewhere in the Universe, I challenged the galaxy to do me one better and it never fails the next year is ridiculously crazier! In 2018, the kids and I visited ELEVEN different countries. broke many a bone, ate and ate everywhere. We visited as many museums and archaeology sites as they would let me take them too and every single beach we saw. We swam in four of the seven seas and one ocean. . .People have been asking, regularly since our U.S. return in September, what is next?!?!?! The blog followers are getting the inside scoop on what 2019 has in store for our family.

Big Changes and Travel in 2019

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The things that are set in stone for 2019:

  1. Spending 2 weeks renting an apartment in Washington D.C. this February! One of my dearest friends and bridesmaids is having her first baby! This doula/placenta encapsulation specialist and salty seasoned mama is going to go be her birth worker for a couple of weeks. Simultaneously we will use the two weeks to see every free museum available in D.C. as the kids will be in tow of course.
  2. The kids and I are headed to New Delhi India for the month of March! One of my college friends is getting married in a small town outside of New Delhi and our presence has been requested. I am very excited about India. I cannot extend the trip this time, but I’m hoping three full weeks there will be enough to satisfy the wanderlust pallet for now.
  3. An end of summer permanent move to Iwakuni, Japan! Mother Marine Corps has spoken and a move to Japan is in our near-ish future. We all have to pass a medical clearance before this can happen though.
  4. I would love to head back to Mexico for a few weeks this summer.
  5. If we do make it to Japan by September then the kids and I will be heading to Bali in October to rendezvous with other worldschooling friends!
  6. The kids say that Tokyo Disney and Tokyo Legoland need to be on the list too!

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Personal Goals for 2019

I’m not typically one to make “resolutions” for the new year, because life is busy and it happens all the time and I refuse to feel guilty about a shift in expectations of myself. Goals aren’t designed to make you feel bad. Goals aren’t made in the spirit of failure. I do however make lists of things I’d like to improve. Improvement is a success in my opinion. 

Despite your endless amounts of encouraging words. Despite so many of you putting me on a pedestal of inspiration. There are still things I’d like to improve upon and I want to include you all in on those goals because I am human and I need your support for many of them to be a success. These are my top 10:

  1. I want to run an average of 15 miles per week. Ten is the goal, twenty is the dream.
  2. I want my family to spend a minimum of 20 hours a week outside. Not necessarily all together, but 20 hours none-the-less. 25 is the dream, 20 is the goal. 
  3. I want to move to Japan early enough to catch the Mount Fuji hiking season, which is not up to me at all.
  4. I want to read more. I have a huge book list and I  fluctuate severely between reading a ton and not reading at all. I want to gain more consistency. 
  5. I want to grow The Wild Bradburys facebook page to a thousand people. This is where you come in. Share it. Please. Send it to friends. Grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles. Anyone who wants to touch the life of a child. I hope that there is something for everyone on the page. I want there to be. So share your ideas with me so we can grow together!
  6. A PODCAST. Yes, Yes, finally I know. So many people have contacted me about launching a podcast. My goal is to begin working on it when I get back from India. April will be the month of the podcast. I want everyone that has visited the blog and page to be able to listen to a podcast and feel as if we are having coffee/tea at my table and hashing out adulthood, motherhood, spousal responsibilities, travel, dreams, homeschooling, natural living. There is so much to discuss and so much that should be talked about so let’s do it!
  7. In a perfect world, I’ll make it back to Greece in 2019. I love it so.
  8. Invest more time and energy into my dearest friends. They are so special to me and I do not sing it loud enough or often enough.
  9. Spend more time fueling the passions of our little people.
  10. Incorporate more European habits into our American lifestyle.

I hope that 2019 finds you hopeful, encouraged and motivated to be the change you want to see in your own life, in the life of others and in the world. Thank you for coming with me on this journey. Let’s make it a good one and get out there.

*Lydia

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What is Forest School? Incorporating More Nature Into Your Family

 

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Far removed from the feral Mogli child in the forest stereotype, forest school is an immersion into natural landscapes. In nature, children can study the world around them while learning creative, technical and social skills. By giving a child an opportunity to explore their natural world you are igniting a love of learning that, so far in my parenting journey, has not been matched. There is a sense of freedom, followed by belonging in the world that the outdoors gives us all. This feeling seems to be amplified in children as their wonder and curiosities for the natural world are their guides.

worldschooling with the wild bradburys what is forest school

Forest School Varieties

“Forest School” is a term that I use loosely to describe a gathering of children in wooded landscapes. There are Forest Schools, Forest Kindergartens, Nature Schools that are set up as a classroom outdoors. Following a set curriculum but using nature as their primary guide, These “schools” typically have an age range of 2 years to 7 years. This is also the threshold for truancy laws in most U.S. States. If enrolling your child in, essentially a private, tuition-based, forest school is not on your “to try” list then there are other options!

Some of the FREE options are some of the BEST options. There is a wonderful initiative called ‘Free Forest School.’ Organized by chapter locations within U.S. States, Free Forest School allows parents and children to explore nature in the safety of a like-minded group. There are no fees, no stress, very little planning. Typically, a chapter will meet weekly, sometimes more, in different wooded areas surrounding a city. Once in the area, they set out exploring. You are exploring with other families with the same intentions of learning from nature play.

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Another wonderful option is your local hiking or outdoor groups. They can be found on facebook, meetup, Instagram, etc. Through social media, you can create your own kid’s exploration club without having to found a Free Forest School Chapter. Meet as much or as little as you want! How many of us have been members of a mommy and me playgroup in our younger parenting lives? Probably all of us. It takes a little more effort to find outdoor spaces to meet, but with just a smidge of research, you can successfully move those mommy and me playdates to the outdoors, even with babies!

How Do I Incorporate More Forest School Concepts Into Our Family Life?

This is a recurring question that I get asked frequently as The Wild Bradbury followers see many photos outside in nature. If you are reading this and thinking “I like traditional schooling, but I want our family time to move to the outdoors more” then your solution comes in the form of TWO simple steps.

  1. Invest in Weather Appropriate Gear. The idea of the outdoors as your learning center is not based solely on fairweather opportunities. If you want your child to learn from nature then they need to witness it as the weather and seasons change. A lot can be learned from a drop of rain rippling on water. The forms of water are best learned in high-temperature snow (32 degrees). You can start with simple protection to make outdoor play more comfortable. Rain bibs, boots, and jackets (best made by German, Swiss, and Swedish companies). worldschooling with the wild bradburys what is forest school 4A similar wardrobe for snow and cold temperatures. Snow bib, hats, waterproof gloves, fleece lined coats, and lined boots. This might sound extensive but for approximately $75 for each of these two seasons, you can get years and years out of this gear, which also allows for extensive growing room. Feeling comfortable with your preparedness for the weather will make you feel more comfortable with your children being out in it. There is a saying in forest school that “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.”
  2. Say YES! You all have heard me say this over and over again. Once you have your gear in place there is no reason for you to say “no.” If you say yes, every time they ask, your children will suddenly be spending 2/3 of their time outdoors. Also, with very minimal effort! As you get more comfortable with your new lifestyle you will begin to venture farther from your home. Go explore the world around you! It is FUN and FREE!

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Reprograming Your Inner Child

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If you did not grow up exploring forests, riverways and wildlife then there will be a significant amount of personal reprogramming to do. Start small. You do not have to become Bear Grylls overnight. If you do not know who Bear Grylls is, well, start there. The outdoor experience is extensive and different every time you step outside. The time outdoors will be significantly richer for your children if you are a part of it. Therefore, you need to embrace the lifestyle change first and foremost. There is so much to see and learn about the world around us. Get out there.