Author Archives: Leah Kalm-Freeman

HIGHLIGHTS 06/14/2015

With about two weeks to go before we return to New York, I’ve been thinking back over our past year’s adventures with an eye toward finding some sort of internal closure. I honestly can’t believe how quickly time has moved and I also genuinely understand how people take time to travel and then just never stop. Living on the road for multiple years with small children would definitely be a challenge, but there’s something completely addictive about repeatedly planning for somewhere and something new and different and then heading there and taking it all in.

With no more near term planning needed, I’m already mentally contemplating future travel destinations (Iceland, Vietnam, Cambodia, the American northwest, anywhere and everywhere is South America), albeit with a school holiday timescale. And as the children get older, I’d be open to having discussions with them about taking school on the road for a year – even if I know this is likely a pipedream travel withdrawal coping mechanism!

There’s little I’d change about our year. While it was so tempting to aim to visit many countries, I’m happy we decided to focus on fewer locations for longer. It’s a luxury we likely won’t get again (dreams of future school-on-the-road aside) and it enabled life to feel fairly leisurely (a spirit I hope to embrace when possible when we’re back in NY). The one thing I would have changed is to have added a little more time in Asia – a month-long exploration of Vietnam and Cambodia perhaps. And I would have liked to travel around Australia with more of a “theme” or focus – Aboriginal art by region, for example. But on the whole, this year has been a very very good one and I’m thankful.

Beyond the general loveliness of time with Carl, Grace, and Max and the adventure of moving beyond our home base and exploring other parts of the world, here are some of the highlights:

Family hikes in New Zealand. Some of my absolute favorite memories of times together as a family of four were on the trail – walking, talking, singing, looking, listening, and feeling our bodies carry us through so many gorgeous landscapes. I hope we keep it up when we get back home, even if the views aren’t quite as epic or diverse as New Zealand’s.

Living in a super small space and the minimalism it required. I embraced the concept, philosophy, and reality of living with less. I don’t think I’d want camper van family bunk beds or toilets you have to manually empty forever, but having less stuff means spending less time dealing with and thinking about stuff, which leaves more time for doing, pondering, and interacting. Also, there’s less to tidy up!

Feeling like I really got to know and love Carl’s sister and brother-in-law after many years of extremely quick international hellos-in-passing. Having family in different parts of the world reduces the opportunity for sharing day-to-day life, and I’m grateful for the chance to have broken through that geographical barrier.

Art projects and birthday celebrations on the magical turquoise deck in Melbourne. It really is a magical place and we’ll always have the messy, colorful, and creative memories to make us smile.

Getting back into the habit and joy of reading. I may need stronger glasses due to all the screen time, but my Kindle was like a fifth member of the family on this trip and it felt good. I also loved continuing the tradition of reading classics with Grace. Visits to English-language bookstores, and the excitement they generated, were a highlight of every country we visited.

Dinners for two in Fiji. Traveling as four with no school or babysitters or even closed doors meant that despite having much more time together, Carl and I ultimately had less time for the two of us. In Fiji there was a kids club and evening entertainment for the little ones, which meant Carl and I enjoyed conversations without little people interruptions and it was most excellent.

The architectural and structural organization and peacefulness of Japan, reinforcing my belief that space and aesthetics impact mood and emotions. Japan just makes me feel calm (even Disney!!); I also like the stationary products.

Realizing that the text on the lithograph we purchased in Tokyo wasn’t actually a philosophical commentary on the meaning of home but simply “I am nearly home and am drunk.” This may seem an odd and extremely micro highlight, but it’s more about the reality of embracing and finding humor and a little bit of joy in the things that get lost in translation. In our global, translatable, commoditized world I’m happy there are still things that aren’t always immediately understood.

Watching Max master swimming and chatting and sleeping beyond 4:30am. Go Max, go!

Sri Lankan curry and Sri Lankan temples and Sri Lankan smiles. We can’t wait to return!

Enjoying extended time in France with family and friends who feel like family. We can’t wait for more in summer 2016!

SRI LANKAN MEMORIES 05/01/2015

It’s difficult to believe that we left Sri Lanka nearly two weeks ago. All four of us really enjoyed our month there and I know we’ll be back to visit again (I want to climb Adam’s Peak, travel north beyond Anuradhapura, and return to the hill country to sip tea surrounded by actual tea leaves). Until then I will hold close some of my favorite memories and moments:

Family hiking   We hiked often and enthusiastically in New Zealand but just didn’t find the opportunity/inclination in Australia or Japan. It felt great to get back onto the trail in Sri Lanka. My favorite hike was probably through the gorgeous Horton Plains National Park – the earth itself was an amazing rainbow of colors, the views from World’s End were big and bold and green, and Baker’s Falls was an inspiring final stop toward the end of the loop. The whole experience was definitely worth the 4am wakeup call. We also climbed Little Adam’s Peak (with two very whiny children) and Sigiriya/Lion Rock (with two very intrepid children who embraced lots of steps and lots of sweat).

Curry, curry, and more curry   I especially loved beetroot curry; I’d never even heard of using beets in curry and now I know it’s delicious.

Fruit, fruit, and more fruit   (See previous blog entry).

Dambulla Cave Temple in the misty rain   Rain, proximity to the Singhalese New Year, and perhaps just a little luck meant we experienced the cave monastery in near solitude. After a gentle climb, we removed our shoes and entered the five caves covered entirely in Buddhist mural paintings and filled with 157 statues. It was just so quiet and peaceful and somehow didn’t feel like a super touristy experience, even though it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We met a monk who chanted a blessing for a family member’s health and tied white strings around our wrists.

Early mornings   Jetlag and Max meant I was often up fairly early, especially for the first week of our visit. I took the time to walk around the house where we were staying, to look, to listen, and to take a photograph. It was a calming practice and a lovely way to begin the day.

Watching Max master swimming   Max can hold his breath underwater for a surprisingly long time, but finally in the house’s lovely pool overlooking rice paddies he jumped and bobbed and gulped his way to staying afloat and taking breaths without the help of armbands. He was so proud and so were we.

Uncle   After basing ourselves outside of Galle for the first half of our trip, we spent the second half traveling around the country. Uncle was our driver. He kept us safe and informed as we traveled, and his kind spirit shone through in all he said and did. We miss his smile greeting us every morning, calm presence on our walks and tours, interesting stories, and general words of wisdom. He was also more patient with Grace and Max than Carl and myself put together.

Buddhism and Carl   Carl really embraced learning about Buddhism during our travels in Sri Lanka. Sometimes I feel like I’m the driving force when it comes to visiting museums and historic sites, but Carl was a Buddhist temple addict. In Anuradhapura he even went out for a day of temple visiting without us (but with Uncle, of course!), as Max was feeling under the weather and Grace wasn’t up for another day of very hot and sweaty exploring.

Seeing elephants in the wild; also seeing Max see elephants in the wild   Max loves elephants but after not spotting any on our morning safari drive in Yala National Park, we had essentially written off seeing them on our trip, particularly since we felt strongly about avoiding sites that had elephants chained up for visitors to see, ride, and touch. Uncle suggested trying a smaller national park in the Sigiriya area and we took an afternoon ride, trying to keep our expectations in check. After only about 10 minutes of driving we spotted three or four, munching away. After five minutes more we found a group of at least 20, including several babies, just hanging out in their natural environment. Seeing the look of wonder and excitement on Max’s face was almost as inspiring as the gorgeous animals themselves.

Riding the train between Ella and Nuwara Eliya   The train ride through hill country, up into the clouds and surrounded by endless views of tea plantations, felt timeless and romantic and adventurous. It may be a fairly touristy activity, but it sort of tricks you into thinking it’s just you out there taking in the gorgeous Sri Lankan landscape.

Tuk tuks!   I don’t know why, but I just like tuk tuks – the alliteration, the bright colors, the language of their frequent honks. Grace and Max had never seen or ridden in one before so it was a real first for them, and it made me oddly happy to squish in the back and ride all together. We were very lucky to have the safest tuk tuk driver ever when we were at the house near Galle, which made it a lot easier for me to not think too hard about the lack of seatbelts and general national disregard for remaining on one side of the road. We left Sri Lanka with a tuk tuk cushion cover and several mini tuk tuk toys, breaking my fairly strict no-knick-knack-purchasing rules!

Roshan, Suresh, Anura, Uncle, Cecilia   We are so thankful to each of our new friends who helped make our time in Sri Lanka such a fantastic adventure. Until we meet again…

FRUIT EXTRAVAGANZA 04/02/2015

Adventure Mondays

As a family, we love fruit – mixed into oatmeal in the morning, sliced and diced for snacking, topped with ice cream or in a tart for an indulgent dessert, arranged prettily in a bowl for general munching. We usually chop two big freezer bags full of it for airplane rides, too. Before we arrived in Sri Lanka, we considered ourselves fruit experts. Sri Lanka has taught us we have a lot left to learn!

We love the tropical fruit salads we’ve been having with breakfast – pineapple, papaya, mango, banana, and watermelon. These are all fruits we’ve enjoyed in the past, although they are particularly fresh and delicious here. But as we sped by a fruit stand in the tuk tuk the other day, I realized I didn’t recognize several of the items being sold. I set a goal to learn more and try as many Sri Lankan fruits as we could find. For the past two days that has been our (delicious!) mission.

Yesterday we went to the fruit market and we also asked the amazing cook in the house where we’re staying to help us source any and all fruit (he arrived this morning with a plateful of fruit, all picked from trees on his way from home!).

Here’s a list of what we’ve tried so far (* for first time to try):

*Ambarella – crispy, a little tart, and also somehow a bit nutty

*Annona Muricata (Soursop) – green and spikey on the outside with a white inside that tastes like banana/pear custard

Avocado

Banana – there are so many different kinds here

Carambola (Starfruit) – we initially tried ones that weren’t yet ripe, but then tasted some from the neighbor’s garden that were outrageously delicious

Coconut

*Guava – I think I’ve had this in juices before, but never eaten it whole

*Jackfruit – I still don’t quite understand the difference between jackfruit and breadfruit and we’ve seen both here in the trees. Jackfruit seems to be used almost as a vegetable and tastes a bit like roasted chestnuts when cooked.

*Jambu (Water Apple/Syzygium) – sort of like a cross between an apple and a radish or like a really light and watery apple with a rose flavor; the smaller ones are especially light, juicy, rosey, and delicious!

*King coconut (Thambili) – we cut it and drank the juice and it was amazingly refreshing; now I understand why there are so many thambili kiosks along the roads!

Lime – we picked them from the trees around the house and made them into a tart juice

Mango – again, so many different kinds it’s difficult to keep track

*Nanan – we haven’t quite managed to find the English name for this, but I want to because it’s delicious! It looks a bit like a small green shriveled brain on the outside and the inside flesh is a bit like a pear.

Papaya – between Fiji and now Sri Lanka, I think red papaya is my new obsession; I just can’t get enough!

Passion fruit – the ones we ate had yellow skin, which is different from the darker brown ones I’ve had in the past

Pineapple

Pomegranate

*Veralu (Ceylon Olive) – not sure these were quite ready to eat as they were quite hard and bitter

Watermelon

*Wood apple – you cut it open and eat the dark sticky pulp or make it into a juice

We’re still looking out for cashew apple, mangostin, rambutan, and sapodilla. And also for atemoya and sweetsop (which are closely related to the annona muricata/soursop we’ve already tried).

Adventure Mondays

Adventure Mondays

WHY I STOPPED BLOGGING 03/21/2015

The short answer: It just sort of happened.

The (very) long answer:

Before we began our year-long adventure, I thought about what I hoped to focus on personally while on the road – taking the time to make photographs with my camera instead of always using my IPhone and practicing my Photoshop editing skills. I was pleased that these personal goals dovetailed with creating a blog to record our family experiences on the road – several birds with one-ish stone! I really enjoyed the creative and technical learning experience of designing and setting up the blog site and initially I embraced and prioritized reflecting on our daily or weekly activities and adventures, using both text and images. But then several things happened that slowed the photographing down, and because it was linked to the blogging (with the one-ish stone mentioned above) it slowed the blogging down, too.

I began to feel that carrying my camera around with me was getting in the way of actually enjoying the moment. It was partially the physical size. As minimalist as I try to be and as much as I encourage Grace and Max to take responsibility for their own belongings, heading out with small children seems to involve carrying an extra bag of stuff, especially when hiking in changeable weather is involved – rain jackets, fleeces, diapers, water bottles, snacking provisions, a distraction toy or two. I found it was more enjoyable to simply slip my IPhone in my pocket than jam my camera into an already-full hiking backpack.

But it wasn’t just an issue of packing and carrying logistics. I found I enjoyed working with a smaller device to make photographs. Which surprised me. And also disappointed me. I had been hoping to get inspired and invigorated about “proper” photography and perhaps start conceptualizing some post-trip professional projects. And I felt like I was letting myself down when I ended up embracing my phone-taken Instagram images over the camera-taken blog ones. Also there was just no time to edit the images in Photoshop, even if I hadn’t been completely out of Photoshop practice, which I was.

Carl and I both underestimated the all-consuming, all-encompassing, personal-time-evaporating nature of traveling fulltime with small children. And this gave me feelings – photography defeatist feelings. So somewhat subconsciously I focused more on written entries on the blog (often bullet-pointed written entries typed late at night on the top bunk of the camper van in the company of a glass of red wine and/or jelly beans). And for a time, blogging life was all good.

But then those feelings started bubbling again. Why wasn’t I on top of life enough to focus on the two small goals I’d set for myself? Why couldn’t I get Photoshop to do just about anything I wanted it to do? Why didn’t I have a consistent visual style? Why didn’t my children ever listen, especially in the evenings before bed? Why hadn’t Grace miraculously taught herself to read? Why had Max un-toilet trained himself? Why were diapers so expensive? Why did Carl always lose his wallet and have such big ears? Why was I asking such irritating questions?! Why did I feel like I couldn’t’ breathe?!?!

And so I took a beat. And a breath. And I remembered that I’m fundamentally someone who needs at least a little time to myself to recharge and I just wasn’t getting it. Being on the road and exploring the world have so very many pros, but they don’t have babysitters or part-time nursery schools or extra rooms with doors to shut or consistent bedtime routines that leave you with a few adult-only hours in the evenings. And so I did what I could – I started to read more. And that helped. It also meant I used my camera and blogged less. And that felt ok. And then I took a big step: I sent my camera back to the US. And that felt good! (Also I binged listened to the Serial podcast. And ate a lot of biscuits).

I also realized that sometimes blogging just felt too neat and tidy, in a way that a quick IPhone photo didn’t. There were lots of happy, silly, invigorating, loving, lovely, peaceful, gorgeous, joyful moments all over the place. And pulling my phone out and capturing them felt spontaneous and honest and satisfying. I really try to focus on the positive in the hope of attracting more positive – in life, in conversations with my children, in social media (the operative word being try). But there were also frustrating, tearful, impatient, raised-voiced, disappointing moments all over the place, too. I tried to acknowledge and embrace both experiences in my writing, but somehow the whole blogging process just started to feel a bit forced and false. So I stopped. For about three months.

Over these months I’ve taken many photographs on my phone and posted some on Instagram, keeping a little photography in my life and also a visual record of our time in Australia and Japan. And I haven’t given up on blogging completely. After some time away, I’m feeling re-inspired to share periodic reflections. We left New York nearly nine months ago and I can’t quite decide if it feels like forever or just a few (sometimes shaky) breaths. I do know it will be bittersweet when this yearlong journey comes to a close. So I look west toward Sri Lanka, the next stop along the way…