Post-Vacation Situation – Part I

Preemptive preparation for the return home
Written by Irina Gallagher

Post-Vacation PupIt’s safe to say that we have all experienced the difficulty of post-vacation. It doesn’t much matter where you went or what you did – on vacation, away from the daily minutiae (no matter how much you love your life), you become a different you. You are freer, more apt to experience new things, more likely to try new foods, you see amazing things that open your eyes to an array of new possibilities. You don’t care about getting to bed on time, because you’re on vacation! Who cares? You drink a pina colada, or five. Vacation.

Then you come home. And like a slow, annoying punch to the throat, all your normal responsibilities trickle in. It’s not that the tasks themselves are so horrible, but after seeing more of life than you do on a regular basis, all the minor details seem so absolutely insignificant, mundane to the core. Grocery shopping and laundry, seriously? The onslaught of insignificant chores is enough to induce a minor (or not so minor) depressive state. Your mind starts to examine the idea of how seldom you can feasibly travel and at that point you just want to hide under a rock for a while.

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Vacation School

Written by Irina Gallagher

Anna Maria Island SunsetI am a firm believer that experiences leave much bigger impression than do textbooks, so when we embarked on the homeschooling journey with our eldest kid a year ago, I told myself that field trips were a must. How much do you remember from textbooks or worksheets as opposed being “in the wild”? I’m guessing that the ratio is heavily weighted towards getting more memorable information from the real-life experiences of field trips.

My husband was lucky enough to live in Germany for a couple years as a kid. For his fifth grade trip, Dan’s teacher orchestrated a series of fundraisers so that her students could go to Holland for a week. Holland, people, HOLLAND. More than twenty years later, what do you think is one of Dan’s most prevalent school memories? It wasn’t his history textbooks that glorified Columbus, it wasn’t the hundreds of math worksheets, or any of the busy work. A school experience which he remembers more vividly than most was that fifth grade trip to Holland. Understandably so, how can a worksheet leave the same impression as stepping into Anne Frank’s hideaway? A weeklong field-trip to Holland is certainly not feasible for us currently, but we work with what we have and we savor the small field trips to parks, nature preserves, and science centers, because they absolutely still count.

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Why do we Remember?

Written by Irina Gallgher

IvanToday, my grandfather Ivan would have been 101. More than 15 years have passed since he died, but his family still spends this day reaching out to one another and remembering him.

It’s been so long, why do we still get together in the familial circles available to us in our current cities all over the globe? Why do we still cook the meals that he cooked (superior to anything we could possibly put together)? Why do we pass along anecdotes containing his warmth, his kindness, and his generosity to our children, many of whom were born more than a decade after his passing? Why is it that we still care?

Maybe it’s so that we don’t forget a person so dear to our hearts. Maybe it’s because it brings us a twinge of pain that our children, his great-grandchildren, will never be able to be in the presence of his strength and valour, his encompassing warmth and kindness. Or maybe we hope that through these stories, we are passing onto our children little pieces of a person who we wish was still physically with us. Perhaps through these miniscule remembrances, we bestow upon our children things which Dedushka Vania cannot pass on himself. And more than anything, we hope that some of his greatest attributes will make their way into our children’s personalities.

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Fifty Favorite Children’s Books

Picture Book Edition
Written by Irina Gallagher

Fifty Favorite Children's BooksMy kids and I love reading dozens of library books every week. We find books we like; sometimes books we disagree with – if characters are mean-spirited, the pictures are crude, or the words are impolite; books that we feel neutral about; and if we are lucky on a particular day, we find books that have the extraordinary juxtaposition of thoughtful, beautiful writing, and endearing illustrations. These books touch our hearts, remind us of something dear in our own lives, illuminate a spark of imagination, or just make us fall in love. This list is a partial collection of what we have found on the lucky days.


All the Way to AmericaAll the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
A true story of an immigrant who came to the United States from Italy bearing not much more than a shovel which is passed down through the family from generation to generation – each bearer using the shovel for completely different purposes, each generation encapsulating something of their heritage to pass down to their children. It’s a wonderful immigrant tale.

AnatoleAnatole
written by Eve Titus
illustrated by Paul Galdone

Paris. Charming, anthropomorphic mice. Typewriters. Delightful illustrations. Cheese. This book has it all. An absolutely lovely, lovely classic about a mouse who becomes the premier cheese connoisseur in Paris. Anatole is featured by Eve Titus in several sequels, but of course, read this one first.

BabyTreeThe Baby Tree
written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
If your young child is starting to ask “Where do babies come from?” – read this book. The story about a curious boy who is waiting for a baby sibling to arrive, is a wonderful, age appropriate (around ages 5-8), introduction to human reproduction. There is also an appendix for older children which provides more specific information on the mechanics of, ahem, things.

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The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Quest for Simple Happiness
Written by Irina Gallagher

My impression is that happiness is a very similar thing for most people no matter their background. After we wade through the nonsense that we think makes us happy – the stuff that we are tirelessly working for that just clutters our lives, I think most people come to a pretty similar conclusion. We want peace. We want to be with the people we love. We want everyone to be healthy and happy. It’s relatively simple. – Excerpt from Mortality Check and the Realization of Happiness


The Prisoner's DilemmaMy guest for this interview is not sitting in the same room with me while I ask him about his thoughts on his life and the room for happiness therein. He is not sitting quietly at his computer sipping a cup of tea as he leisurely answers my questions. His situation is the antithesis. The replies to my questions are coming through a contraband telephone. He is incarcerated for the third time in his forty-two years. For various crimes, he has spent more than a third of his life in prison. A bit over two years remain on his latest sentence.

Simplicity Sprouts: Tell me about your surroundings. Do you have windows?
Guest: My time is spent in a 10×4 meter (approximately 32×14 ft) room with forty other men. The room is filled with bunks. There is about 50 cm (20 in) of space between the beds. That’s our walkway. I have access to windows for most of the days. But the physical surroundings aren’t the scariest thing.

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Q&A on Happiness with My Favorite 6-year-old

The Quest for Simple Happiness
Written by Irina Gallagher with F. Gallagher

Directing the wavesHave you ever had a conversation about happiness with a child? From my experience, what brings children happiness is entirely uncomplicated. Their unsullied spirits value experiences over “stuff,” unless we have taught them otherwise. They relish simplicity. Think about the moments of happiness that they keep reminding you about or the perfect days of which they dream; there is an innocence and a purity in their happiness, right? It’s so important to foster this simple happiness and, as adults, it’s invaluable to take their lead.


Part I

Q: Please tell me about your happiest memory.
A: My happiest memory is the first time of going to the Level 3 class [swimming] with my teacher Miss M.B. She’s now not teaching me, but that was my happiest, my favorite memory. I loved it so much.

Q: Why was it so happy?
A: It was the first time learning how to do stuff in Level 3.

Q: What kind of stuff?
A: We did elementary backstroke and just [regular] backstroke. It was my first time doing sidestroke, elementary backstroke, and breaststroke with my feet in frog kick. It’s just such a happy thought. When I remember it, my heart is bursting with happiness. I really like it when that happens when I’m thinking about it. I think about it often when I think about other things.

Q: Would you say that you love swimming?
A: I love being in the water. I love it very much, as much as I can.

Q: What is your favorite part of swimming??
A: I just like doing all the strokes even made up strokes, like upside-down stroke.

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1999 Boxes – Forage Your Storage

Mission to Minimize: Action Phase III
Written by Irina Gallagher

Forage1999 as in the year or the number of boxes? Yes and yes. Both.

In our Mission to Minimize our possessions, one of our most arduous household tasks was to go through the dozens of storage boxes in our garage which haven’t been opened in years (literally, we had been hoarding some since 1999). In these boxes, we found a ridiculous amount of stuff. Boxes that we previously deemed to keep “forever until the end of time” caused us, now, to seriously question our adolescent judgement. Our garage was absolutely full of containers housing too many “sentimental” objects to number, too many things that we will never use, and taking up entirely too much space.

Trust me, I’m a complete sucker for sentiment, but some of the things we found were knickknacks for which we couldn’t even remember the source. A bunch of pennies strewn about a box classified as “important to keep” really could be put to better use in the kids’ piggy banks. (Were these, perhaps, magic pennies?). Apologies to whoever it was that gave us a rainbow terra cotta elephant plate a decade ago which didn’t make the cut. Thank you for the wishes that accompanied said plate. The good news is that the plate will soon find its way into the hands of its rightful owner who is looking for just such a purchase at Goodwill. (And so will the hundreds, if not thousands, of miscellaneous items that made their way to the Goodwill Express near us. I’m actually embarrassed at this point at the frequency of our visits to the donation center. I always imagine the employees rolling their eyes when they see our car – I know, it’s ridiculously egotistical to think they remember us so well. The poor souls probably just remember our crap. [For the record, we’re aware the Goodwill is not the most socially conscious enterprise of its kind, but when you have an intense need to purge your possessions immediately, we convince ourselves that the lavish car driven by the CEO matters less than someone walking into the store and being able to excitedly purchase a $50 doodad for $2.]).

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The Toy-Free Family Room

Mission to Minimize: Action Phase II
Written by Irina Gallagher

IMG_20150602_072615

Insanity. Absolute insanity. Every day. I can’t fathom how we lived before with every toy housed in the open family room space. Sure, there were bins for organization. The musical instruments here, the blocks there, stuffed animals over here. Everything was in reach. Everything was on the floor. It took about 30 minutes every night to put all this stuff in order. At the end of the day, every single toy in the house was strewn about the room. Yes, yes, we tried to abide by the “put this away first before you get a new toy out.” Lets just say that it wasn’t hugely successful. It was maddening.

We decided to minimize. Instead of keeping 8 bins of toys in accessible cabinets, we would only leave 2 bins out containing assorted objects. It was definitely a step in the right direction, but how was it that at the end of the day, there were toys still all over the floor despite the fact that they had only been played with for a grand total of 5 minutes collectively? It was still too much. Somehow, even this reduction wasn’t enough.

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Mission to Minimize

Written by Irina Gallagher

Minimize

There was really no precipice. All of a sudden, the contents of our house just went from being desirable to being an absolute nuisance. Up until a couple of years ago, our familial mentality was basically, “Yes, we’ll take these bizilbigs, blumtoopas, and wums. We might need them someday.” We stored these random objects in an assortment of boxes, which until very recently were filled to capacity. It may have been the arrival of our second child a year and a half ago that spawned this need to purge our possessions. Adding one little person to our living space may have been the breaking point in not being able to functionally fit in our space.

I liken humans to an organic substance that grows to fit into absolutely any volume. No matter what size your space is, you will grow into it. If you take a family of four living comfortably in a 1,000 sq. foot house and transplant the same people into a 2,500 sq. foot house, there is little doubt that those same four people will magically inhabit the entirety of the larger house to the same capacity as they had their smaller dwelling. We do have friends and family that are able to maintain an amazing amount of order in their homes regardless of square footage. Their beautiful living rooms are always immaculate and airy. I have an aunt whose house has not changed in literally decades. Every tea cup can be found in the exact spot in which it was housed circa 1976. Bless your pristine organization techniques and being able to maintain such structure. We, on the other hand, are the people that return from vacation and walk around a still-packed suitcase for a month before realizing that we’re missing a shoe. Even if we are getting a bit better about this, maintaining our 1,000 sq. feet of living space is really the maximum of our capabilities.

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