Our Family Christmas Letter (+ a Destination Change)

If you are Facebook friends with me or on our woefully outdated Christmas email list, this may be the second or third time you’ve seen this. But if you missed it, here’s 2014 in a nutshell:

Dear friends and family,

It’s been another year in Florida. Probably the most exciting thing we did was get out and actually see some Florida landmarks. At the beginning of the year we visited St. Augustine, which locals like to call the oldest city in the U.S, although Wikipedia uses rather more adjectives to define it precisely as “the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the Continental United States.” Whatever its exact claim to fame, St. Augustine is atmospheric, in a Pirates of the Caribbean sort of way. Our first stop when we got there was the Pirate Museum, which boasts a creepy life-sized talking Blackbeard head, as well as a variety of real-life artifacts recovered from sunken pirate vessels off the coast of Florida. Our trip also included a visit to St. Augustine’s main landmark, the Castillo de San Marcos, which isn’t actually a castle, but an impressive fort built out of the native coquina stone, with seashells embedded in it. The highlight of our fort visit was watching the cannon being fired by a bunch of guys in red stockings and tri-cornered hats. The 4th of July found us in Miami, where we ate amazing ceviche while watching the World Cup with a large, noisy crowd of various Latin American nationalities. On the way home, we popped into the Everglades, which we experienced unforgettably via airboat. The mangrove-lined waterways had a sort of dramatic, unearthly beauty, at least until the still air and reflective water were shattered by the deafening roar and roiling wake of our airboat. We’re still nursing some environmental guilt over that.     Axa and Raj had another great year with Irish Dance, culminating in going to the Oireachtas (the big regional competition) with their team. Sarah’s still doing marketing at work, and has developed an obsession with Doctor Who, which has spilled over to the rest of the family in the form of a homeschool history class based on the Doctor’s travels in time and space, and a Whovian Halloween. Tony is still doing marketing from home, as well as managing the homeschooling. He also bought a massage table, and has become quite an accomplished masseuse (yet another reason to come visit us). Actually, if you want to visit us here, you’ll have to make it soon, since we’ve already begun packing up our house. Yes, the time has come to say goodbye to Florida. Our original plan was to move to a Greek island and start a commune. However, after our prospective co-communists eventually all bailed on us (you know who you are, and how much we’ll miss living on a commune with you!) we decided to try a different plan: Amsterdam! We leave in March. Sarah will keep working remotely for her company, and Tony is planning to do a Master’s program at VU University in Amsterdam. We are excited to get back on the other side of the Atlantic, and start a new international adventure, not to mention ditch our car and start biking everywhere like true Amsterdammers. We hope it’s been a great year for you, and that next year will be even better. Let us know what you’ve been up to, and have a wonderful new year! Love, Tony, Sarah, Axa & Raj
Planning an International Move

Planning an International Move

You’d think planning for an international move would be old hat for me since we’ve done it so many times. Unfortunately, we actually haven’t done it that much. The planning, that is, not the moving. We’ve moved plenty, but it’s mostly been on the spur of the moment, and after a mad few weeks of planning. The last time we really took a long time to plan was nine years ago, before we went to the Philippines for the summer. If you’ve read my book, you’ll remember that despite the exhaustive planning, we were such rookie travelers we ended up in the airport with no money and no place to stay, after having spent all 13.5 of the 14 hours on the plane with tomato juice all over my white pantsuit.

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Expatting Again

Expatting Again

Well, while we’re on the subject of announcing major life changes, I should probably let you in on where we’ll be moving next. Hint: our destination is neither U.S. nor subtropical. Because let’s face it–we have now lived in Florida for 2 1/2 years, which in Familia time is about two decades. By the time we leave, we will have lived in Florida for over three times as long as we’ve ever lived anywhere else. Oh, the ironies of life. The weird thing is, I think my internal clock is set according to moves rather than time in any specific location. So I don’t feel like more time has passed while we were living in Florida than Tunisia (8 months) or Ireland (3 months). I’m not sure what that says about my existential state.

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We’re Famous . . . Again!

When I was dating Tony, one of the interesting things that he told me about himself was that he had lived with his family in Indonesia as a teenager. While living there, they spent a summer visiting family in a little town in Idaho, where their exotic expatriate exploit made them instant celebrities. An article even appeared in the local newspaper about the American family who were living in Southeast Asia, and had now brought their international selves home to grace tiny Aberdeen Idaho.

It became an even better story after the same thing happened to us. In 2008, we moved our little family to Chiusa di Pesio, Italy so that we could reconnect with our Italian roots and claim our long-lost Italian citizenship. It was the first time such a thing had ever occurred in Chiusa, and our very existence there  caused something of a sensation. It seemed that everyone had already told everyone else our story. Still, in due time, we were visited in our home by a local reporter, who wanted to publish an account of us in the weekly paper, just in case someone had missed it.

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Welcome Home, Part 7: The Tornado Fun Zone

Yes, we’re currently on tornado watch, due to tropical storm Debby (note to self: find out if they usually get through a whole alphabet of storm names in a season). I didn’t know we had tornados in Florida before we moved here (among other things. This was obviously not the most well-researched move). Someone was killed by a tornado in south Florida yesterday, and when I saw the picture of her house, I freaked out a little. Or a lot.

Fortunately, this was not the first time I had heard of tornados here. Mormons in general are known for being a bit fanatical about disaster preparation. Not only are we enjoined to have a 72-hour-kit full of necessities like high-energy food, flashlights, emergency blankets, solar/hand crank radio, etc., but also a three-month supply of the normal foods we eat, and a full year supply of longer-term food storage like wheat and dried beans.

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Pregnancy, Adoption, Learning to Breathe, and Jane Austen with Magic

The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a unique memoir of a high-schooler who faked teen pregnancy for her senior project. Gaby Rodriguez is a remarkable woman. Born into a low-income Hispanic family with three generations of unwed pregnancy, she was a high achiever determined to be the first in her family to go to college. So it was a shock to everyone in her school to find out that she was “pregnant.” During the course of her project, she experienced societal stereotypes and how they influence the feelings and behavior of unwed mothers. She also gained special empathy for her own mother. When she unveiled the project at the end of the school year, it suddenly became more influential than she ever imagined.

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Best Places I’ve Never Lived

I realized the other day that there’s not enough time in a lifetime to live all the places I’d like to live. In fact, it’s a good thing inter-planetary space travel has not yet been invented, or I would be completely overwhelmed by possibilities. My blogger friend Amira (who presently lives in Kyrgystan) is doing a series on all the cities where she’d like to live. Some of them are so obscure I have to look up what country they’re in. Of course, I had to look up Kyrgystan when I first “met” her too.

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Halloweening, Familia Style

When I was a kid, there was a minister who lived next door to us. He refused to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters. Instead, they got little Christian tracts on how evil and satanic the holiday was. At the time, I just thought he was weird. But I could do without Halloween now.

In fact, not seeing spider webs, creepy masks, and gravestones all over people’s yards and store windows every October was one of the things I loved about living abroad. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t have to either let my kids gorge themselves on candy for the entire first week of November or be the “mean” mom who takes it all away.

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Casteluzzo Academy 2011, Term 3

My personal bibliophilia has not been the only thing we’ve been feeding with our weekly library trips. We are back in the swing of homeschooling, with a vengeance. We even have a very simple “school corner” set up. It contains a kid-sized table with two chairs, an adult-sized chair, and a few shelves with all our school books and paraphernalia. We are using Ambleside Online’s Year 1, Term 3 as our curriculum base for this term.

Charlotte Mason believed in a curriculum that was both wide and deep. This is the first term I have managed to fit in just about all the subject areas she recommended covering. The list of subjects looked a little daunting at first, but in the end, we only spend about an hour and a half each morning “doing” school. Some of our scheduled learning does fall outside that time, as does all the informal learning that happens organically as a natural result of children being children. I view our homeschool as a classical (or in my terms “renaissance humanist”) education from 9-10:30 in the morning, and unschooling for the rest of the day.

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Apocalypse Over

Jet-lag has been vanquished, but I’m still making those last lingering adjustments to post-expat re-entry. (you know, finishing up the spontaneous incineration of the ablative heat shield, also known as “trailing clouds of glory . . .”) So far, I’ve been to Trader Joe’s, the Library, Macaroni Grill, and even (gasp!) Wal-Mart. But I didn’t actually buy anything at Wal-Mart. So does that make it O.K.?

I still don’t have a good short answer (or even a good long answer) for the ubiquitous question, “where are you from?”

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