Transitions

Transitions

It has been several weeks since I’ve last posted about our new adventure – far too long. It’s been a crazy several weeks as we’ve returned from Costa Rica, in two groups, visited with friends, searched for jobs, and more. The whole period has been fun but really has seemed like an interlude between our initial adventure in Costa Rica and our next adventure in Europe. I’m taking some relaxing time now while in the airplane to pause, reflect, and write.

When we last left our intrepid adventurers, I had just finished speaking at Universidad VeritasExperience Design Summit, returned home, went diving with Debbie, and then I and the young adults boarded a long plane trip with most of the luggage to California. Deb was to follow in two weeks with our dogs Lucy and Isis.

The conference was a great way to end my adventure in Costa Rica and in teaching. I met some great folks there, especially the other speakers. The Summit had great energy and the only down side was saying goodbye to my fabulous students. It was one of the best and most enjoyable teaching experiences I’ve ever had. Best of luck in your final year folks!

I had a day home to both go diving and finish final packing and preparations. We had the 6 largest checked bags and 6 carry-ons that were really heavy. I had most of the technology in the carry-ons including several backup drives, batteries, rechargers, and a lot more – the kind of things that usually flag us in security for inspection. Oh yeah, we were bringing our adopted Costa Rican cat, MnM, home in a cat carrier.

The trip back was a long one. We basically went from Liberia in Costa Rica to Atlanta with a long layover to LA where we stayed overnight, slept about 4 hours and then boarded a flight for Oakland, near where my parents live.

The trip back was long but not tough, although we had a tricky moment in Costa Rican security. Knowing we had several legs and an overnight, we had packed several baggies of cat litter for MnM. Thinking back, they did look more than a little suspicious! Well, the security folks in Liberia had to take them, after asking what they were. One of the really nice agents was very sympathetic (a cat lover I assume) but we couldn’t even bring one. I was worried we’d have to deal with a kitty accident in the plane but MnM showed herself to be an awesome traveler. She didn’t have any needs on board and didn’t make a peep.

We spent the next few weeks at my parents’ house in Rodeo. We had a great long visit and I got to cook most nights and make some dishes that I couldn’t really do in Costa Rica – like jumbalaya and minestrone. It was quite a treat to be able to make things that took a long time but where I didn’t have to cook in 95°F heat!

A very large thread through my time there was looking and interviewing for jobs. I made two trips to Seattle and a few into Silicon Valley. I have several promising opportunities and I have to say that this makes me feel far more settled going off to Europe and not feeling that I have to start this process from scratch when I return.

Two weeks after we arrived in California, Deb came in with the dogs. Her trip was far more grueling. When we left for Costa Rica, there were two of us to handle the dogs and even though we had two legs, the dogs stayed in their kennels the whole time. On the way back, it was a very different story – starting with the bus ride to San Jose.

Deb had ordered a cargo van for her and the dogs, explaining that she needed an open van, not a passenger van. She confirmed it with the company a few times leading up to her trip. Murphy’s Law then intervened. What arrived was a 12 person passenger van, with all seats and no space. The kennels had to be disassembled – which is a real pain because there are about 14 locking screws on each – and then put on top of the seats. The (large) dogs had to fit between the seats and poor Isis could not lay out fully. She was stressed and so Deb had to hold or pet her the entire 5.5 hour trip to San Jose.

They were flying overnight and so it was late when they arrived. Deb had to simultaneously deal with the driver, assemble the dog kennels, manage the dogs (including letting them do their business) and deal with the bags and a long line of baggage handlers who wanted to “help.” I feel horrible we weren’t there. And yet, it was not over.

She had a stop in the LA and was surprised to learn that in customs, the dogs had to come out and she had to manage them and the luggage. It’s not pleasant because poor, stressed Isis, who is almost 14, had an accident in the crate. We were all set up to deal with that on arrival but not really between flights. I picked the exhausted trio up in San Francisco and 90 minutes later we were all at my parents’ house, Deb having gotten two 45 minute naps in her nearly 48 hour trek. She gets the über-traveler award!

Deb arrived Tuesday. We used Wednesday to pack for Europe, which was a really interesting activity.

As I mentioned in previous posts, we sold most everything before we went to Costa Rica. We only took two stowed bags and two carry-ons each with everything we needed for 10 months in Costa Rica. For Europe, we were “downsizing” to one bag each for 5 weeks. We had the young adults’ backpacking backpacks, which were carry-on size, for them. Deb and I ordered two Tortuga travel backpacks for us.

These Tortugas are amazing. They look like soft carry-ons but have a strong set of backpack straps in a compartment. They open like luggage and wear like backpacks. I was a little worried because they looked small for what we needed, but everything fit perfectly. We are carrying only a few changes of clothes for 5 weeks in Europe along with laptops, Kindles, chargers, converters, mobile battery packs, and even some nice clothes (slacks, jacket and tie for me). This is about as minimal as we can get.

I flew off to Seattle Thursday. We were all wiped out Friday. Saturday we said sad goodbyes and thanks to my parents and headed to our friends’ Tony and Joy’s house for a visit before they took us to San Francisco airport for stage 2 of our journey.

It’s been a whirlwind, but we breezed through the airport with our minimal backpacks and are ready for stage two. For the record, if the ZA (zombie apocalypse) comes, we are now set.

travelers 2

The Travelers

We are starting our stage two, like stage one to Costa Rica, with varying feelings. Deb and I are super excited – but we have been to Europe before. The young adults have not and really have no idea what a place with such deep history and diverse culture has waiting for them. We are working through various levels of indifference, impatience, frustration, and boredom right now. That will change, we hope.

I’d love to say that our Nev and Aidan are very engaged and anticipating an amazing adventure, but I can’t yet. Right now, they are excited primarily by the selection of movies on the flight and the soda offerings. They can’t yet really value the experience they will have. Often though, the most profound memories and experiences come when you aren’t expecting much (or perhaps even dreading something) and yet you have an amazing experience. This is what we hope for.

Even at 10,000 feet on our way to Spain, pura vida remains with us, at least with Deb and I. We will continue to embrace this philosophy not just for the 5 weeks remaining in our adventure, but for the rest of our lives.

When I was doing research on travel for Boeing, one of the folks I talked with about travel said “travel changes you.” It certainly has for Deb and I. We hope and expect that the next 5 weeks will for our young adults as well! Pura vida!

The Road Home and Stuff

I can’t believe the first stage of our new adventure is already coming to an end so soon. A short 10 months after we left Seattle for Costa Rica we will be leaving and on to our next, shorter, adventure. We are already actively planning and packing even while we continue our adventure here. The return trip is much easier in many respects, but harder in some.

I noted that it was only the end of stage 1. As I mentioned earlier, we decided to leave early since we are heading into (technically we are already in) low and rainy season. It’s low, but not rainy. Still, many places are starting to close and many friends are moving back to their home countries until November. So, we are switching operations to Europe. We are “trading” our last two months in Costa Rica for about 5 weeks in Spain, France and Italy.

In stage 2, I return to California and my parents’ house for a visit for two weeks while Deb stays in Costa Rica with the dogs. The dogs have to wait until Sept. 15th to travel due to the heat. Deb returns on the 17th and we head to Spain on the 21st, starting our final stage, stage 3.

Deb is hard at work developing a loose itinerary for us all. We know we land in Barcelona, Spain and leave from Florence, Italy. Everything else is pretty open. We know we want to hit a few small towns in France on the way to Italy. We plan to visit Cordoba in Spain for the castles and Orvieto in Italy for the incredible church there that hosts the works of Luca Signorelli (an incredibly talented Renaissance painter, like Michelangelo, but with a penchant for depicting the apocalypse and scenes from hell). The Catholic Church relegated him to this church on a large butte. We will also definitely visit Rome; Deb and I are going to Gladiator Camp. We did invite the young adults, but sadly, no takers there. Deb will certainly be “badass!”

As Deb does the planning, I’ve been doing the packing and finishing up my class(es). We have also both been studying and working towards our Advanced Diving Certification. Never a dull moment.

On the class front, I got asked to add another class on Prototyping to my schedule. It is a two day workshop over two weeks of elapsed time. It’s been a lot of fun to put together but it’s also been a ton of work in the middle of everything. Fortunately, it works with my current schedule in San Jose – I teach Information Visualization Thursday evening and Saturday morning and then Prototyping Friday evening. I and my class usually head out for food and drinks after one or both classes so it’s been a lot of fun.

Just to brag about my students a bit, they just turned in an assignment to create an information visualization on some aspect of the World Cup and I was blown away by the quality of the thinking and the execution. These folks all have day jobs, mostly in high-tech, and then they take night classes several days a week. In just about a week they created some visualizations that in many cases are on par with work I’ve seen on the NY Times.com site (they are well known for their excellence in information visualization). More importantly, they have focused on some really interesting stories and insights from the Cup, such as why Brazil lost so badly(!), why Costa Rica did so well despite the fact that their FIFA statistics are not stellar and how Costa Rica used passing as a super power. I’m super proud and excited to see what they’ve done so far. Here’s a quick example:

ITAvsCRC

Costa Rica’s Secret Combinations, Mauricio Varela

In between trips to San Jose, I have been starting to pack. Fortunately, and here I reveal my inner geek, I created a big spreadsheet when we first came down itemizing everything in our 6 carry-on bags and 6 stowed bags to facilitate staging and packing. That makes it very easy to do everything in reverse. Mostly.

restaging

Re-Staging

In our two trips back, we returned here with some additional things. We added some “stuff” while we were here, most of which we won’t be bringing back, and of course some things didn’t last through our adventure. We mostly leave with the same number of bags and items. It’s interesting to see what made it and what didn’t.

First off, we have to account for additional things we brought back from the US. This includes paints, paintbrushes, and other material to paint Deb’s painting. I brought back additional technology, mostly for the young adults to make videos which they never did. Deb has all the material she got for her home made lip balms, deodorants, etc. – something she will continue to do when we return, so those all go back.

In the spirit of reducing “stuff”, we actually did not get much down here and what we did get will likely stay – being given away or sold. We will sell Fanta (our truck), our bikes, TV and a few other things. We will find good homes for the blender, crock pot, boogie board, hammock, yoga mats, printer, and sand-castle-making supplies. We used all of those things regularly but won’t need them or can’t get them home.

Very few things that we got here make the return cut list. Deb got a few hand-made bikinis. Those are coming back. They were also excellent purchases. I’ll leave them to your imagination. We’ll take our diving instruction materials back, along with Deb’s painting (which will likely be an adventure on its own). And of course, our newest family member “M and M”. That’s about it. It’s nice to maintain our low volume of stuff.

What is fascinating to me is what won’t make it back and what didn’t get used. We’ve been here almost a year and we really brought minimal supplies. Looking at where we are now, it is really clear to me what we truly need and what we don’t

The young adults have grown, especially Aidan. We are throwing away or giving away almost all of his clothes and shoes. The poor guy has no shoes that still fit – not that he needed them here! Likewise, Nev has a bunch of stuff that doesn’t fit. They, along with all of us, are getting rid of a number of clothes that we have simply worn through wearing them so much over the course of the last year. These include most of our swim suits, flip flops and t-shirts.

Then there is the technology. It’s been a hard year on our tech. Fortunately, I made sure we had redundancy in key areas. We’ve gone through four computer mice(!), three headsets/headphones, two digital pens, one Bluetooth music player, one keyboard, one tablet and a large number of recharging cables. Deb’s Mac and my parts of my tablet are on their way out as well. Kudos to all the smart phones, (Nokia, Apple, Samsung), Kindles, Xbox, and the Dell laptop which, despite heavy use all are no worse for wear.

In terms of what didn’t get used, there are many things. It’s good food for thought for others doing this (and we now know several!). We brought too many clothes and shoes. I brought several nice clothes anticipating that I might have to return to do some consulting. That was fortunate because I use them when I teach class, but I still brought too many short sleeve collared shirts. I found that black Armani t-shirts are versatile and great for going out here. I’d say that I could have cut my clothing by 2/3 and not noticed. In fairness, though, some of these things we didn’t use in Costa Rica we will use in Europe.

We didn’t use our nice Sony camera as much as we should have; it was just too big to easily take everywhere despite the nice pictures it takes. We are getting a smaller one for Europe so we actually use it. Likewise, we just started using the GoPro for diving but before that had not used it much. We didn’t watch any of the movies I brought on DVD and didn’t play most of the Xbox games we brought. And sadly, I never got a chance to use my volleyball.

Up until when I was asked to do a class on prototyping I would have added all of the backup drives I brought to this list. I had brought them more for safety but had not used them until I needed some key material for the class and then they became invaluable.

Almost everything else was used and used frequently, particularly cooking items, the very few board games and the large monitor (which was truly indispensible for my classes).

Of course, we didn’t come here to get “stuff” to bring back. Rather, we came for experiences and adventure, and we certainly got a lot – almost everything we hoped for. We all (mostly) learned a new language. We learned yoga and surfing. I got to play soccer in another country. We learned to dive. We got to explore the rain forest, the volcanoes, the jungle, and the beaches. We got to see (and in some cases live with) wildlife that we had never seen before. We got to have sunrise meditations and sunset cruises. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to teach in an exciting new University program. Deb got a chance to give back and work for a kids’ organization and help organize a fundraiser. We got to appreciate another culture and make lots of new friends, some of whom have become as close as family. We got to help our young adults unschool and learned a lot about ourselves in that process. We got to spend lots of time together as a family. That’s the “stuff” life is made of.

And that’s just stage 1 of our adventure. Stay tuned for more. Pura Vida.

PS: At least one of us (Nev) got to really appreciate Seattle’s cold weather!

Staging

We are in the final stages of preparing for our new adventure. It’s been a big effort to get here, with all of the planning, uprooting, and stuff-selling, but we are here now on the eve before our departure staging all of the things we are taking – and reflecting a bit.

We finally finished the house-wide deep cleaning. The house looks brand new. We hired a cleaning group to do the deep clean, but evidently, our standards are much higher and so we’ve had to do a lot of extra work. We tend to like our windows cleaned without streaks and our surfaces actually clean.

staging

Now I have a great puzzle challenge in front of me: packing. Or, at least I thought it would be a challenge. We are taking 8 stowed bags and 8 carry-ons and it’s starting to look like we actually won’t need all the space – which is a good thing. I guess reducing our complexity has its advantages.

What we are taking is well-planned (hopefully), pretty minimal, but technology-heavy. Most of the carry-ons have the technology. In addition to our computers, we are bringing a large monitor, hard drives, modem, routers, Kindles, Xboxes, communication equipment, music players, a micro-projector, DSLR camera, and a GoPro camera. We’ve gone completely digital and this is everything we’ll need to live, work (a bit), and unschool down in Costa Rica. We’re particularly excited about the GoPro camera and its application for unschooling, including Aidan’s video blogging. And of course, we have miles of cables even though much of this stuff is wireless. Ironic.

The stowed baggage is carrying some expected things and probably some unexpected things. We’ve got clothes and shoes of course, but we have tropical gear which is all lightweight, dries quickly, and weighs almost nothing. We’re taking all of our bike lights and helmets with the hope of finding some used bikes there. We are also taking all our family soccer gear including our Seattle Sounders ball (a gray ball will work great on the beach). I’m also bringing my beach volleyball (I can’t tell you how I’ve been waiting to play again). We’ll get surf boards in Costa Rica.

We’ve got dog gear, including night lights and paw protectors. The hot sand and total darkness will be very different for Lucy (our rescued 5 year old Weimaraner) and Isis (our 12 year old rescued Greyhound). We’re also bringing headlights, flashlights, and other hiking gear, including a pretty sophisticated snake bite kit. It feels a bit like the Amazing Race (our favorite family show).

In the unexpected category, we start with a sewing machine. Vie loves working on cosplay costumes and Deb plans to try to create a few outfits. There’s one unschooling opportunity there. We’re bringing a big monitor for some work but more so the young adults have lots of room to work on projects. Let’s hope the large beast arrives safely. A third bag carries a ton of sunscreen we had collected along with some tools and kitchen items. Aidan wants to continue to cook and try more molecular gastronomy so we need to bring some things we’ll likely not find where we are. The combination of cooking and chemistry is another unschooling opportunity. We’re bringing some favorite and some new games such as Settlers of Catan and 7 Wonders (and ok, Munchkin). At least the first two develop some good skills. For example, Vie has become a wickedly good negotiator. To round it out, we have two very large dog crates for the girls.

And just to be a bit hyper-prepared, I have a spreadsheet with all of the contents of each bag identified just in case we have any lost baggage issues :-).

For a year away, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot. Hopefully, we have what we need to spin up unschooling. It helps a lot being digital. And, if we do end up needing something, well, Amazon has $4.99 shipping to Costa Rica. That’s less than gas (and a rental car) to get to a store in a nearby town to get it not to mention the carbon footprint impact.

Our biggest worry at this point isn’t the luggage, or losing it. Or that our MINI will get repaired just fine while we are away (Deb got rear-ended a few days ago!). or getting to the airport (which is a whole challenge in itself), or hoping our transportation from the airport is actually waiting for us – though those are all fine things to worry about if we were inclined. The big worry is hoping the dogs make it safely, especially Isis who, after all, is the equivalent of an 84 year-old woman. It’s a big, stressful trip for them.

Unschooling isn’t just about school; it’s about life. We hope we can help show Vie and Aidan by example that even though there may be things we haven’t done before and things we could worry about, that we can work through all of this, including any unexpected things that come up. That’s what adventures are for. The plunge starts tomorrow.