Seeing as our family is currently traveling around the world for a year, one might think that our lives are never-ending adventure, a continual parade of exotic days, unimaginable experiences, and all around pretty darn romantic. Occasionally, that feels true and we pinch ourselves and wonder aloud how we are so blessed to be this happily nomadic family.
Yet most of the time, our vagabond selves live lives that include many remarkable moments, while being simultaneously normal, down-to-earth, and full of the regular challenges that everyday life with four young children and two businesses brings.
For example, in this “Day in the Life” post that you are about to read, our day included bickering siblings, diaper changes, nursing sessions, toddler potty challenges, learning to be a more patient and trusting spouse, errands like repairing a child’s shoes and buying birthday gifts, sourcing out three meals plus snacks and clean water, dirty laundry, and a bout of food poisoning. How’s that for romantic?
(It’s also good to know that the two weeks prior to this consisted primarily of us staying put in an apartment in southern Turkey, where I made home-cooked meals, spent a lot of time on homeschooling, washed and hung laundry, grocery shopped, trip planned, and caught up with family and friends, while my husband focused on work, work and more work.)
Talking with a friend the other week, we discussed how every mom has those moments where she dreams of escape, and we’re all so prone to thinking that the grass is just a little bit greener over there…
or maybe over there,
but certainly not on the lawn where our feet are currently planted.
The reality is that it’s greenest wherever we water it, and that requires living in our present situation, to the best of our ability, with the grace that has been lavished upon us, and drinking deeply of all the beauty that we can see and smell and taste.
Because no matter where we are in the world, that beauty? It’s there.
7:12 a.m. I wake up to nurse Kepler. Realize I’m sleeping in a cave, and see light breaking through the shiny red curtain on the windows of our Guzelyurt, Turkey hotel.
7:28 Ryan wakes up, and we chat for a minute. He asks me when I wanted to wake up.
7:30 As if on cue, the iPad alarm goes off. Though still tired from the very long day of travel we had the day before, and not sleeping well in the slightly clammy cave room (super romantic sounding, not quite as awesome in reality, but nonetheless worth it). I rouse our slumbering kids, knowing that we want to get a relatively early start on our day.
8:00 I wanted to be at breakfast by now. We’re still getting ready in our room. Oh well.
8:23 The time we actually walk out the door to breakfast.
8:25 We sit down to a typical Turkish breakfast buffet, now familiar to us after nearly 4 weeks in this lovely country. We eat our fill of scrambled eggs, bread (white, of course), olives, feta-styled cheese, melon, watermelon, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, butter and fruit spreads, plus Turkish cay (black tea) and coffee (instant Nescafe, the sad standard, it seems, in most other parts of the world).
My supposedly-healthy kids want to eat the one thing that looks particularly processed, a large bowl full of some variety of sugary chocolate cereal balls. I persuade them to fill up a plate of the good stuff first, amidst a few whines.
8:33 The chocolate cereal question is back. I can see that one of the children has taken a bowl and perhaps misunderstood that I really didn’t want them to have any of it. Now everyone wants some. We compromise with very small bowls all around, and I sigh, but remember how well we’ve eaten during the past two weeks while renting an apartment and cooking for ourselves.
9:00 Still waiting for Daddy to come and join us, even though we’re basically all done. He’s busily working, making hay while the sun shines (translation: answering emails while there is reliable WiFi to be had). Working as we travel is how this trip is financed, so we have to make sure that we fit it in and keep a balance, and my hard-working hubby is awesome about making sure that what needs to be done gets done.
9:03 He’s here, good stuff! He grabs a plate and starts in on breakfast.
9:15 8-year-old Abbie and I finish packing up our room, so that we can check out, but Ry has gotten back on the computer since scarfing down his food. I wanted to check out by now, but as the moments tick by, we just wait patiently. Something I’ve been learning is that I need to respect my husband and not just nag him to be done. If he feels it’s necessary and important work, then it probably is. Trusting him is always better than thinking I know best. And so we wait.
10:08 At long last, he’s finished and into his backpack goes the laptop. I’m relieved to be able to get going. But the fruit of this learning-to-wait-and-not-nag business? He notices and sincerely thanks me for waiting patiently and not saying anything. We’re slowing learning to work better as a team. It makes for a pleasant, light-hearted start to our day, despite the late hour of the morning.
10:20 Backpacks in the trunk of our rental car, we set our GPS and follow it’s lilting Irish accent towards our destination. We call it the marriage-saver and say it’s the best $100 we’ve spent on this trip since it keeps us from getting perpetually lost in strange places with signs in foreign languages, if there are street signs at all.
10:35 Pulling into the very small town of Ihlara, we spy old men sipping tea from delicate tulip-shaped tea cups in the shade of blue tarps strung up as make-shift cafe umbrellas, young women in floral print skirts to their ankles and colorful headscarves laughing as they walk together down the dusty street; olive-skinned boys with tousled black hair ride rusted bikes across the street (no mind to the traffic) and join their buddies hovering at a convenience store entrance.
We pause the car, and I scamper out to join the young ruffians at the store, where they look curiously at me until the boldest one says “Hello!” and they giggle at their English cleverness. I say a smiling “Hello!” back to them before choosing two large bottles of cold water from the cooler and ask the teenager behind the counter to scoop me a bag of what appears to be trail mix. I spy some unknown goodies inside and hope that it will be edible enough.
10:55 Having paid our entrance fees, put on our natural sunscreen, grabbed our hats, and tucked the baby into the Ergo carrier on my back, we’re now walking down into the canyon that is Ihlara Valley.
One of the things I’ve been looking forward to here in Cappodocia is seeing ancient Byzantine churches carved into the rocks here. The 300+ steps we walked to get down into the valley are immediately rewarded as we step into a cool, dark doorway in the rock face and come face-to-face with these glorious paintings…
(Can you make out Jesus in the center, surrounded by angels, and then a ring of apostles and prophets around the outside?)
11:19 Tranquil is the word for this peaceful little sliver of heaven on earth. Ginger-colored rock walls soar above us to the right and left, a gentle stream meanders on its unhurried way beside us, and we hike on enthusiastically.
We pause occasionally, for such important outbursts as “Ouch, there’s a rock in my shoe!”, “Eww, what are these crunchy things in the trail mix?”, “Can I climb up that tree? No? Well, what about that one? Is it safe enough?”, and 4-year-old Johanna’s favorite impression from The Incredibles, “What are you waiting for? I don’t know, something incredible I guess… That was totally wicked!!!!”.
12:30 After another peaceful cave church from the 1200’s (a monastery, really), my husband joking about finding human remains in a dark part of the cave (thankfully not!), and with sadness I urge us to head back towards our car because we have much more to see today….
… but on the way, we take five minutes for Ryan and the kids to dip their hot, dirty feet into the stream while 1 1/2 year old Kepler and I look on, then we climb, climb, trudge, trudge, back up the 3,000+ stairs (doesn’t it always feel like 10 times as many when you’re going up, not down?).
I pop the baby in his car seat after nursing him, and we’re off to our next adventure. We just need to grab a bit of lunch, because we. are. famished.
1:07 Why can’t you find a roadside Gozeleme stand when you need one? We’ve been driving from small town to small town for over 20 minutes now, eager for lunch after our hiking, and yet our favorite cheap Turkish lunch of thin savory pancakes with things like cheese, spinach, meat or potatoes inside (similar to a crepe) is nowhere to be found.
Actually, there is nothing to be found in the way of things that are edible. This area must be too sparsely populated to warrant the usual road side stands, with their large iron pots cheerfully puffing out steam from the boiling tea they drink with it. One thing I never anticipated about traveling is just how hard it can sometimes be to find food at the moments when you really need it!
1:48 Still hungry, we pull into our next stop, Kaymakli. We’re here to tour the extensive underground cities that were dug out of the soft and carvable yet strong rock in this area. These cities were historically used for people to find safety and shelter during times of attack, including the early Christians who lived in this area during the Roman Empire. A kindly restaurant owner offers us parking in front of his shop while we go tour the cave, with the promise of a good, hot lunch after.
2:05 Convinced by the eager tour guides at the underground city entrance, we choose a guide to take us through this enormous city of interconnected tunnels, and down we go.
It’s intriguing, but also? It’s suffocating. Although the tunnels and rooms have surprisingly decent airflow due to well-engineered air shafts, all I can think of is how far below the surface we are.
As we duck to walk through a loooong and narrow tunnel, taking us from the 4th down to the 5th subterranean level, my claustrophobic tendency starts telling my body to get the heck out of here, and my pulse begins to race. I take deep breaths, reassure myself that this tour must be over soon enough, and put on a brave face for my kiddos who actually think this is fun (fun!).
2:48 Air! Sky! Walking on solid ground, not 5 floors beneath it! I’m a free woman and not a moment too soon. I hope it was educational for the kids, at least.
3:10 Our food arrives back at the restaurant, and we’ve allowed the server to convince us to try the stir-fry beef and vegetable dish with rice, along with a few bowls of lentil soup for the kids (one of their favorite Turkish foods). He generously brings us a free salad, even though we had declined, because we try to be extra careful about not eating raw foods that may have been washed in local water when we’re in developing countries (particularly in small towns). We felt safe in the bigger cities here in Turkey, but in this area, we’re not so sure.
Ry pokes his fork around, eating a few bites, I tell him to “make sure that the kids don’t eat any salad” (last thing you expect to hear from this health-loving mama, right?), but I still go against my intuition and enjoy the delicious salad myself, eating about half of it, along with the beef and rice, and a glass of ayran (a slightly salty, fermented milk drink).
Johanna and I head to the bathroom before leaving, and she starts to whimper and hides behind my leg as she spies yet another “squatty potty”. Most members of the family can handle these hole-in-the-ground toilets, but they push 4- year-old Johanna to hysterics. She typically declares that she no longer needs to pee, which of course, we know will end in disaster an hour down the road. I speak cheerfully and softly and encourage her that I’ll be holding her, and that I know she can do it. I fully expect a battle followed by a meltdown.
Instead, she succumbs and uses the squatty without tears, and I offer her a high-five while breathing a huge sigh of relief. Well, you know. While trying not to breathe too deeply. This bathroom stinks!
(sorry, no squatty potty pictures, but you can imagine it, right?)
4:16 Following the GPS towards our next hotel in Goreme, we stumble upon our first “fairy chimney” sighting in the tiny town of Uchisar and gasp in wonder!
We only see the large rock at first, but when I jump out of the car to grab some photos, I look down and realize there’s so much more than meets the eye…
It’s like a story-book land. I half expect to see gnomes or fairies, or at least some hobbits, bustling about this magical valley.
Ryan finds parking and for the next hour, this becomes our playground and we climb on, in, around, under these carved rocks in sheer delight.
I find an airy, open-feeling room in one of the rocks, with the most amazing view, and declare it to be my new kitchen, the place where I could happily wash dishes all day if I had a window with a bird’s eye view to this kind of beauty.
Over an hour in “fairy chimney” land and nary a mythological creature to be seen, but these three little imps running through the valley floor below made my heart happy.
5:45 We’ve pulled ourselves away from our cave playground (after buying a bag of unsulphered apricots from the nearby market, which apparently specializes in some, um, interesting herbs) and pulled into town, but we can’t find our hotel. We give ourselves a self-guided tour and try asking various locals where it might be.
6:10 Having located and then promptly flopped onto the bed of our new and far less inspiring cave hotel (that’s what you get when you’re budget travelers like we are– cheap hotels that are sometimes not all like the pictures on the internet), we lament that we got into town too late to visit the Open Air Museum, but vow to do it in the morning.
For now, we take a few minutes to unwind, and I nurse Kepler again before we head out to walk a little and capture the sunset on camera.
6:35 We arrive on a hill on the edge of town just in time to start frantically snapping shots of the glorious scene unfolding around us, as the sky turns to glowing embers and the honey-hued fairy chimneys begin to glow in the early evening’s warm light.
The kids want to scramble down the hill, and we try to decide whether it’s better for them to wear out the soles of their shoes (their ONLY shoes), or to get the bottoms of their pants stained and ripped. We agree on them riding down the hill resting on their feet, not bums, and just let them do what kids love to do.
7:50 After the sun is long gone, we find our way back to a main street to source out a restaurant for a quick dinner. Ryan suddenly ducks into a leather shoe store, baffling me in the process. Moments later he emerges, victorious, and my love for him grows as I realize that my resourceful hubby just asked the kindly shoe maker in his broken English (the shoe maker’s, not my husband’s) whether he could sew new velcro onto our son’s sandals.
After wearing his expensive Keen sandals for 7 months straight, the velcro has ceased to be sticky and his shoes fall off all the live long day. Now we don’t have to try to buy him new shoes, and we do a happy dance when he tells us he can fix them for the Turkish Lira equivalent of $5.
7:59 We really do need to eat now. First, we stumble upon a smoothie shop, something we miss so incredibly much from home, and we all share a couple smoothies. We slurp them right down to the very last drop of liquid perfection. Then Ryan and the kids sit down at restaurant and order, while I bolt across the street, on a birthday surprise mission for Ryan’s special day tomorrow. I’ve been waiting for my chance to schedule something spectacular to make his day one that he won’t soon forget.
8:12 I return, a precious white slip of paper in hand, grinning like a Cheshire cat, ecstatic that I got a great deal on a hot air balloon flight with such little notice. It’s a splurge, but he’s worth it. 🙂
Realizing what an early morning he has for his sunrise flight, and how late it already is, we pay and then head straight home. I eat a now-cold chicken wrap as we walk.
9:15 Once the kids are asleep (a relatively easy feat tonight, since they were SO tuckered out from our active day), Ryan pulls out the computer in the dark of our small hotel room to check a few more work emails, and I check on our travel emails and post a Facebook update. We finally settle into bed around 11 p.m., even though we know we should have gone to bed earlier.
And wouldn’t you know it? That one salad, after staying healthy through all of Turkey, was the one that did me in. I was feeling a bit yucky as I fell asleep but brushed it off as indigestion from eating before going to bed. But when Ryan got up at 4:50 a.m. to leave for his hot air balloon flight, I awoke feeling terrible, and he arrived back home at 8 to find me in the bathroom, sick as a dog. Ugh. I should have known better.
*This is what Ryan captured that morning during his hot air balloon flight. I’m only a teensy bit jealous.*
This isn’t exactly a normal day. We don’t know what those are anymore. We have 4 basic types of days:
- Busy sight-seeing days like these ones, where we just spend the whole day experiencing, learning, marveling, exploring, etc. I’ll confess, these days are some of the very best ones!
- Travel days– This might include packing/cleaning up apartments to move out, taking trains or buses, picking up or returning rental cars, taking flights, settling into new rental apartments, etc.
- At-home routine days– Where we are renting a place more long-term (usually 2-5 weeks at a time) and we stick with a regular meal schedule, I homeschool the kids with a focus on the basics like math and language arts, Ryan works much of the day, I will sometimes work a few hours or spend time on trip planning (researching, booking accommodations, etc.). I also do laundry, grocery shop, clean up messes, try to organize the kids stuff, etc. It’s just normal life, with different scenery.
- In-between days where we stay in one place and use it as our base, but take day trips or go out for part of the day, and spend the other part doing combinations of work, homeschool, planning, and eat our meals partly at home and partly out.