Review: The Perfect Fit – The North Face Sprout

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One of the things I have felt is important to this blog is a review section. It seems that there are many reviews of various travel items, but none tailored to the traveling family. That is where we come in. This component of the blog will be focused on sharing our finds, whether they be places to stay, essential items, or other tips for traveling with a child. We hope to have this setup so it will be easily searchable and not part of our more conversational main page. Expect a subsection that will be a link away from the main page soon. Our review rating will be a special “thumbs up” from our daughter Zoë. We will be using a 1 to 5 thumbs rating system to grade items.

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Having said that, here is my first stab at reviewing a product that we spent some time searching for: The Toddler’s Backpack.

Image We are backpackers. Sort of. By saying that I mean that we carried a backpack, not a suitcase, on our travels before baby. That isn’t to say we are bare-bones, fly by the seat of our pants, tight budgeted travelers. Far from it. We love our creature comforts. But we also have always tried to do things less western, and more minimalistic. We almost gave up our trusty old backpacks for this trip. Figured that it was time to convert to a roller bag. But once we had the dusty old sacks down from the attic we knew… We knew that we were going to rough it once more.

 So as good parents do, we decided Zoë would share in our… idealism. I set out with a zeal, as I usually do when it comes time to buy something, and researched all I could find about children’s backpacks. Sadly, to my shopping disappointment, I found there wasn’t much out there. Most bags were designed for kids who were about to head to school. Not for not-quite-two-year-old-toddlers about to traipse the globe. This category sadly doesn’t exist. The only bags we could find were cartoon covered, cheaply manufactured, one pouch affairs, that were not much better than a plastic shopping bag.

It was only after yet-another trip to browse REI, (did I mention I love shopping? Jenny does not share my passion), that we stumbled upon an ideal candidate. Not only was it made by The North Face, and the perfect size, but it sported a fashionable pink plaid that is all the rage with the toddler set. To see the various options and colors check out The North Face’s website.

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One of the first things you notice when opening the bag is that it is of quality construction. From the water resistant zippers, to the durable mesh that lines the dual bottle holders on the sides, the bag is built to be used.

The other nice thing is that it has two separate compartments. A smaller one in the front and a larger one in the back. The larger of the two also has a mesh inner pocket, perfect for stowing art supplies, snacks, or whatever else you want the little one to have access to.

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The back padding is nice and firm, yet soft and plush. The straps are padded as well and it is built similarly to other adult day packs.  Even though we don’t expect our little one to carry all of her own luggage, we do think it is nice for her to keep some of the things she will want on planes, buses, daytrips, etc.. Also I want her to share the feeling of responsibility, and to be able to carry a bag the same as we do, so she feels more a part of the experience. Already she gladly puts it on and runs around the house with it whenever we put our own on.

Overall the bag is a perfect size for a little one of maybe 2-4 years old. It has ample storage space for light items, and is comfortable for a child to wear. Also the quality of the design won’t leave you disappointed. This being our first review we are glad to give the bag 5 out of 5 thumbs! If we change our minds after traveling we will update the post with our updated impressions. See the gallery below for more pics.

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Why the Need to Leave

I have been asked by many people why I feel the need to leave my safe, settled home in Santa Rosa California, why Chad and I feel the need to pick up stakes and get the heck out of dodge. I know I have answered this in part in previous posts, but there are other parts to this decision that I want to share with you today.

Beauty and Wonder

I love to see and experience different landscapes. Living in different climates can take some getting used to (mostly it just takes my naturally curly hair a while to get used to the changes in humidity—think finger in a light socket hair), but it is so awe-inspiring and humbling to see God’s diverse creation. I prefer to live in hotter climates, whether humid or dry, I want to live in tank tops, skirts, and flip-flops. There are also types of landscape that I prefer, mostly tropical, lush landscapes, but I try to look for the beauty in all places. Most of the people that live here in Sonoma County rave that this is the most desired landscape in the world. We have rolling hills (mostly covered in vineyards) and Mediterranean type weather. Maybe it is just that I was born and raised here for most of my life, but I do not like it as much. I have lived and traveled through some climates and landscapes, but I want to see and experience more.

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 Culture and Society 

I definitely had a hard time with culture shock last time Chad and I traveled. It was my first time outside of the United States and I was completely unprepared for the differences in each country. I grew to love and look forward to those differences as our time in Asia progressed (well most of the time). I never realized how blessed we are in America (all social and financial classes included) until I saw how others lived in the countries of Southeast Asia. I am now looking forward to not only immersing myself in different cultures and societies but also to immerse Zoë in them. I want her to see all walks of life and know where she is in regards to it, I want to teach her that despite what the world says, does, or shows, we are held to a higher standard in Christ. I don’t want to just tell her these things, I want to show her. Traveling is the best way to do this I believe.Image

Good Eats

I love food. When I ask about someone’s travels, one of the first things that I ask about is the food. I can’t help it, I always am thinking about my next meal, snack, or morsel to eat. The places that Chad and I have traveled so far (Southeast Asia and around the west coast of the good ole’ USA) have had some amazing food. Thai food is by far my favorite food in the whole world, but there are very few things that I have tried that I have regretted. I realized while traveling that I have very adventurous taste buds. Honestly the only things I shy away from are foods that smell like rotten meat (durian fruit anyone?) and foods that are covered in ultra-hot spicy peppers. I love to experience new foods and tastes and love that in most of the places that we are going to go to, eating out is cheaper than cooking at home (Hooray!).

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 There are many more little reasons that add to the desire to expand our horizons and see the world, but these are the most important to me. Next week I am going to write about what I do not like while traveling, it should be a funny one so subscribe and make sure you don’t miss you! Thanks for reading!

(Photos taken by Chad)

 

Getting Stuck in the Web

As I have said in previous posts I am not very good at researching on the internet. I am constantly overwhelmed and feel like the words and pictures all start to blend together into one big blurry sentence that says “Stop wasting my time Jen and just ask Chad”. No, really, I swear that the computer tells me to just give it up and let the pro handle it for me. I can’t let myself believe that I am the only one that has such a helpful and insightful computer, or that has a hard time finding helpful information on the vast internet. I am really blessed to have a husband that is incredibly helpful in this area and has a talent (because it really is just that, a talent) for finding the best sites on traveling (and anything else for that matter). For those of you out there that are like me, I wanted to share a couple of the sites that Chad has found for me.

The first website I want to tell you about is an amazing find and I use it to answer almost all my travel questions and concerns. BootsnAll has all the resources on one site that a world traveler could need. BootsnAll is incredibly easy to use and has information on family travel, indie travel, and round the world (rtw) travel. It also has very helpful and useful forums and twitter chats. This site has been our go-to website while we are deciding where to go and what to see when we get there. If you are planning on traveling check out this site, actually, even if you aren’t planning on traveling check it out. But be forewarned, you may get the traveling bug from reading the insightful and fun articles written by travelers and looking at the gorgeous pictures of far away places.

From the BootsnAll forum I (meaning Chad) have come across a thread about blogs written by families that are traveling around the world. This forum post was started in 2008, so some of the blogs haven’t had a new post in a few years, but their tips and stories are still valid and helpful. Some of the blogs are still going though and I have enjoyed reading the archives and subscribing to them. One of these blogs is Part Time Nomad which is written by a fellow traveling mom originally from northern California who has been living in Taiwan for the past five years and traveling with her two children as she can. Her articles are fun and organized and very helpful for anyone traveling with children.

I also like to use Lonely Planets website, their travel guides are a good starting off point for any place that you are thinking of traveling. Their guide books have always been our main source of information for the countries we have traveled to in the past. Nowadays it seems really difficult to carry around books while traveling. So when we (yes Chad again) realized that Lonely Planet now has an app for the Iphone or Android where you can download the books right onto your phone! You can also download them right into your kindle or other e-reader. I jumped for joy when I found this out! Well, maybe not really jumped, but I definitely felt like I was on the inside. This means so much to me because I can fit an extra pair (or two?) of shoes in my bag instead of having to carry heavy books everywhere! I love it!

What websites, apps. or books have helped you while you were traveling or planning on traveling? Leave a comment if you want and help me out (give Chad a little break maybe). Thanks friends!

 

Doors and Windows

Things have been coming together like I could never have imagined this past week. It is amazing to me to see how God has opened the doors (and all the windows too!) to get us going on our trip! I know that some of you may feel that I come off as a holy roller, but if I leave out when writing this blog that we asked God for direction and He has given it to us clearly all along the way, it would feel hypocritical to me. I need to give the credit where it is due.

Chad has now given notice at his work, and the results of this were better than any one could imagine. Chad and his supervisor are getting all the details in order, so I cannot divulge much, but lets just say that any worries that we had about having income on our trip are now alleviated. This feels like the green light, there is nothing holding us back from planning and taking this trip. Whatever fears or anxiety that we felt have been answered very clearly by God that we are to go. Now where to go?

As of right now we are definitely going to spend a few days in Austin, Texas, and then Miami for a couple of days. These are both cities that we would consider living in if we do come back to live stateside. Our plan is to live in Thailand or Taiwan, but God may call us back to the USA and if He does, then we want to live somewhere warmer and cheaper than northern California.

After Austin and Miami, that is up in the air right now, we are thinking Argentina for a couple of weeks and then to Europe because by then it will be May and hopefully the weather will be nice and warm. Our goal is to keep warm no matter where we travel, so where we go when will depend on that countries seasons. Argentina’s winter starts in April/May so that is why our time there may be less or even cut out completely. I will have more on this next week when I write because I think Chad and I will be getting down to the nitty gritty planning now that we can! (Yay!!!)

On another exciting note, Chad and I (well, really just Chad) got our big ole’ traveling backpacks down from the attic yesterday! I wrapped them in about 4 plastic trash bags so they remained unscathed while waiting patiently for us for 4 years (almost 5 years now- ACK!!!). They were good as new and Chad and I walked around the house with them on to decide if we felt we could each handle carrying a heavy backpack plus a carry on bag and taking turns with a restless toddler. Zoë also tried on her little back pack and walked around with us (seriously too cute!). We agreed that it seems like easiest way to get all of our stuff to wherever we are going to go. The great thing is is that all of these plans are not set in stone, if we use the backpacks and they end up being too cumbersome we can ditch those and buy nice suitcases with wheels along the way. Yes, they do sell luggage in other countries. I need to keep reminding myself that we are not going to Mars, pretty much everything they sell here in America, they will sell in most other countries.

What having our luggage ready to go means to me, is that I can start packing and re-packing my bags! I know that I have three months until I really have to pack, but you just can’t rush these things. I can now figure out how I will take every pair of shoes that I own and maybe some clothing too. I plan on making a list of everything I was decided to pack for myself and for Zoë to begin with on our trip, then as the time and traveling happens I will let you all know what we really needed and what I could have left behind.

What is something that you have packed while traveling that you were so happy that you did? What have you felt you could have left behind? I would love the help (and Chad would probably appreciate me not taking everything I own). Thanks friends!

 

Chad here. Checking in. Sharing thoughts. Making Plans.

Hey! This is the man who is fortunate enough to be by Jenny’s side on this great adventure. Thought I would share a few things…

One of the most painful parts of leaving is telling others we are going. It is hard for many reasons. Most often it is hard because of the sadness, anger, and guilt that is returned. Usually from friends and family.
Sometimes I opt to run away, shut up, and be silent.
That is not an option when it comes to giving notice at a place of work.
And I work at a most unusual company.
Amy’s Kitchen is family owned and operated. They produce organic, frozen, and delicious meals that are microwave friendly. It is a place I genuinely feel part of. I sometimes consider myself family.
I am a systems administrator for their IT department. Computers and technology have long been my career. It pays the bills, keeps me interested, and offers a promising future. In my unique position I am also asked to assist the owners with their technology needs… in addition to dealing with the usual IT related issues of a major corporation.
Because of this, I am often in close communication with the powers that be and their families. I enjoy their company and I value their input. Amy’s grandmother, Eleanor, has been of significant help in encouraging me to finish my writing. She is one of the most unique and interesting people I have had the pleasure knowing. Amy is amazing as well, and her parents, Andy and Rachel, run the company and treat their employees with the respect and kindness not found anywhere else.
I tell you this not to gloat about my own self-importance, or to tout my own credentials. I tell you this because I find it painful to tell them that I am leaving.
Yesterday was spent driving around the county, frantically preparing some last minute items for the trip they are about to take to one of Amy’s international locations. I realized they will be gone for several weeks and that it would be the last chance I would have to communicate with Andy about my leaving. I really wanted to let him know, as they have been so encouraging and generous during my employment. I didn’t want him to hear second hand, and I didn’t want to tell my immediate supervisor without letting Andy know first.
I had thought long and hard about telling him this for many months. But each and every time I thought about approaching him my mouth went dry. So I panicked, and kept silent. It is frightening to leave such a good position and I was afraid of the reaction. I hate to disappoint.
But yesterday I had many opportunities to admit the truth. And I had prayed that if it was meant to be I would be given such an opportunity.
But I waited, and I waited. I talked about other things. About work, about their travels, about new iPhones. I dallied and I delayed.
It was as I was packing my bag to leave, and my hand was upon my keys, that I finally found my voice.

And the conversation took place.

And it went… better than I could have hoped!

I can’t say much just yet, but if I had a dream, and if it involved Thailand, and travel, and writing, and possibly continuing my work for Amy’s abroad, then maybe, just maybe all could be a reality.
I believe in communication. I believe that I must speak to be heard. That doors will be opened if I simply speak and listen in return. This world is full of opportunity. And if I don’t ask, if I don’t speak, then I will never hear what may be right within earshot.
More details to come later. I can’t wait to tell you more. It is all working together for good.

UPDATE:

I wrote this piece Saturday. Today the fantasy became more of a reality. I spoke to my direct supervisor. He also had ideas about working while traveling… And we are working up a plan. Details to come soon. Life is amazing.

Chad

P.S.  Stay tuned for another feature of this blog we are working on.  We are looking into reviewing products that we have found to be useful. The first up is a small backpack, just the right size for a wee little one!

A Scary Realization

As Chad wrote about in the last post (thanks Chad!) we are both very anxious that Zoë will get sick or hurt while we are traveling. This has been ever present on our minds and something happened yesterday that reminded me that I am not in control of this no matter where we are.

Before Zoë was born, Chad and I scoured all the data available regarding immunizations. I had gotten all my immunizations growing up and had all the necessary boosters as an adult. Chad had most of his infant immunizations, but after a meningitis scare with his younger brother which his parents thought was caused by an immunization, Chad and his parents were staunchly opposed to getting vaccinations. In fact the last four of the seven children in Chad’s family have never had any vaccinations. Understandably so, if someone had told me that my baby would either die or have brain damage, I would keep all my children far from what had caused it. By Gods grace, Chads younger brother came through that with out any lasting effects (despite his siblings teasing him that he did).

Chad and I decided to not immunize Zoë, but agreed that we would revisit the decision if we were going to travel to other countries. When Chad and I were finally ready to take on this trip, one of the first things we started discussing was whether to get Zoë vaccinated and if so, which ones or all. Both of us researched and I reread parts of “The Vaccine Book” by Dr. Sears (http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/vaccines) which to me is the most unbiased information about vaccines out there. We also consulted Zoës’ wonderful health provider, Sue Shea, FNP and she said the most important ones in her opinion were the hepatitis A and the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccinations since we would be traveling. After much discussion, Chad and I decided that we would have Zoë immunized with the DTaP. We were both worried mostly about tetanus, we don’t plan to be out anywhere too far from civilization on our adventures, but if she ended up getting hurt we would hate for her to be unprotected from that.

Yesterday, I took Zoë in to have her 18 month well-child check and also be given her first dose of the DTaP. I was trying to remain calm, but I am sure that all you other parents out there can agree, knowing your child is going to get immunized and will cry from the pain of getting a shot is stressful and makes you feel bad even if it is for their best. I was prepared though, I had given her Advil before going so she hopefully wouldn’t be too sore and had an ice pack ready at home for her to put on her little thigh if it swelled.

All went well with her exam, she is a perfectly healthy toddler (25 pounds, 34.5 inches tall, and meeting if not exceeding all her milestones). As we were finishing up with Sue (our amazing nurse practitioner) and she was about to get the nurse to give her the shot, I turned to grab Zoë’s water bottle quickly as she sat on the exam table. In that millisecond that it took for me to turn away from her, I heard a huge crash and turned to see Zoë on the floor next to the table. She was face up on her back already in what I call a “silent scream”. I snatched her up and comforted her while Sue checked her over for injuries. It was a horrible mommy moment for me, instant guilt and sadness overtook me as I sat there and held my screaming and scared baby. I felt that I should have been more careful, that I should have not let go of her, that it was all my fault and was a failure of a mother. Zoë stopped crying within minutes, and since she was already upset and seemed uninjured I decided to go ahead with the shot. She cried even less with that and we left the office with instructions on what to watch for with head injuries. We got into the car and by then my strong little girl was fine, I was a little less resilient and cried the whole way home. Our nurse practitioner was also shaken by the accident and called me every hour to check on how Zoë was doing (she is the best, have I mentioned that?). Chad and I were both praying that our baby would be fine, which she is, thank God!

The accident made me think though, here Chad and I are worried about Zoës safety and health while we are traveling and she ends up getting hurt here in what we had deemed as the safe zone. Yesterday I realized that no matter where we are, our daughters safety and well-being are ultimately in Gods hands. Accidents will happen no matter where you are, even somewhere as safe as a doctors office, and the trick is to remember who is in control. I have no control over what happens to Zoë, of course I am not going to let her swim in a pool of alligators or anything, but in the end, God is her protection and healer. So I will just continue to pray that God will keep her safe and healthy and do my part and try to remember that if something does happen, that I am not a bad mother. Children get sick and get hurt, this is a painful fact of life, but this life is not ours, it is Gods and He will see us through it all no matter where we are on this earth.

Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”Psalm 62:8

Doubt, fear and where do we go from here?

Change presents an exciting opportunity for adventure. Change is something to enjoy, learn from, and grow into. Change comes to us all in many forms. To some it is as monumental and overwhelming as choosing a new pair of shoes. To others it is as simple and easy as a new home.

For us it comes in the form of a journey. A journey outside of our comfort zone. To foreign shores, far from family, and without a means of income.
For many this may seem radical. A departure from any usual change. A daring and extreme venture.
Not to mention that we are doing it together, with a child. A child not yet two years old.

And somehow this seems exciting to me. I am thrilled at the prospect. I am absolutely sure this is what we are supposed to do, where we are supposed to go. I have the confidence, the surety, and fear nothing. All the chips will fall into place…

Doubt.

The fear of the unknown.

The lack of courage.

Terror.

The truth is that I am terrified at times. I am doubtful. I do lose heart. I look for excuses to give up. To say, “never mind,” and to cash out. I’ll stay here, I say to myself, I will settle for the normal.
The usual way, the safe way, the steady path.

But nothing in life is a sure thing. Nothing.
Not today, not your job, not your life. You control absolutely nothing.
There is no such thing as a guarantee.

There is something better.

Faith, hope, and trust in The Almighty.

For all of life’s gains and losses, tragedies and calamities, and terrifying cliffhangers, there is one thing I know. That it does not happen without reason. That we are being guided by an unseen hand. And He will not let us fall.

So why not try for the impossible? Why not silence the fears, the doubts, and the insecurity. This is an exciting world we live in. And the only way we’ll find it is to step outside our door and experience what is offered.

It is hard to leave family. It is very hard. And I do it with much hesitation. But I can’t let the hesitation get in the way of what we have the opportunity to do.

We were not given a spirit of fear.

One of the biggest fears of leaving is the health of our daughter. We can suffer far more greatly than she can. I wonder what the medical conditions will be, and if I will be able to give her the care she needs, if she needs it. Hopefully she doesn’t.
I believe she won’t. But we must do all we can to make sure that is not a problem. But once again it isn’t a sure thing. No amount of planning, care, and insurance can protect against every possible future.

Live in faith.

Travel is a daring venture to some. It is easier to leave, with a rubber band tied securely to your waist so you can return. To see without comprehending, touch without feeling, and hear without understanding, is not a way that we desire to venture abroad.
I believe we are called to experience more.

Give deeply and pursue what your heart tells you.

We aren’t leaving simply for the thrill of doing something extreme. We aren’t following our own selfish desires. I believe this is something we have been called to do. I believe that there is opportunity that awaits… And that we are uniquely positioned to do something… well… unique.

So I step outside of my gut wrenching panic attacks and remember that living in faith means not being afraid. For they cannot coexist.

Take a walk with us… On this wild ride… Into the unknown…

I hope we can be an example of just how far one can go when you leap off the ledge.

Chad