Saturday, June 28, 2014

Teach Your Children Well

A couple months ago we decided to pack up everything and go on a trip across North America. We are going to spend a year seeing, hearing, smelling and touching things. We are going to "unplug", in a sense, and give ourselves a real experience. Something to remember. Since we made this decision, there is one concern that keeps popping into our heads and has been the topic of many discussions between Jessica and I. How do we create a stable and secure environment that our children can thrive in?

Jessica is a Montessori teacher and both Noah and Sam attend the school where she teaches. The school is amazing. It's not just a place where you send your kids to learn. It's a place where you learn, as a family, to nurture the development of your children. The basic concept is to encourage kids to pursue their interests in education and to let them learn independently with self-correcting activities. A teacher will observe her students and determine where their interests lie. She will then take students, one at a time, and give them a presentation. The presentation is done with the child sitting with his hands behind his back and the teacher slowly and deliberately completing the activity. There is not much talking during these presentations because talking can distract the child while they observe. They simply watch, and since it is an activity that is based on the student's interests, they are eager to try the activity themselves. The teacher leaves the student with the activity and allows him to perform it as many times as he wants. He can do it once and move on to one of the other activities that the teacher has already presented to him, or he can work on it all day. The teacher observes, once the student masters the activity, she gives him another presentation in the same category that is higher in difficulty. Boom! A self guided education that touches completely on the student's interests and keeps him in his zone of proximal development. 

So, we are sold on this method and it is really working for the boys and suddenly we are going to take them on the road and home-school (RV School?) them. So what do we do? Well, since Jessica knows what she is doing, she has ordered up some Montessori activities and copied a bunch of literature at her work. We have also been coming up with real-life ideas to help the kids learn. I mean, we are gonna be on a never ending field trip, it only makes sense. So, as far as curriculum, we have a pretty good idea of what we are going to feed their brains. The biggest challenge we face is coming up with a routine. Long car rides, living in a new place every few weeks, supply runs, and rolling with the punches are all things that have the potential to set our kids back developmentally. So, I have been really worried about it. Then, something happened this week that completely restored my faith in the resilience of children. 

We spent the last 10 days improvising our way around the state in our camper. It started with a family wedding in Traverse City that was a TON of fun. After that we just didn't feel like going home so we took up residence at Higgins Lake State Park. Jessica loves this park because there are playgrounds and beaches every 20 feet along the lake. The camp sites leave something to be desired because they are mostly unlevel, have little to no privacy and they are pretty close together. Regardless, we always have fun there and the boys love it. The other night, after dinner, Noah and I decided to take our gloves and bat and go play baseball. When we got to the field there were already some kids on the field playing a pick-up game with ghost runners and rule changes every inning to accommodate their lack of players. When we walked up, a boy who was probably 10 years old greeted us. His name was Grayson and he was from Lake City. He asked our names and then said, "You wanna play? It doesn't matter how big or small you are, everyone can play."

Noah and I accepted his invitation and he started talking to Noah, "How old are you? About 5? You can be on our team and you have an important job. You are going to be our pitcher."

My parental alarms started going off. Was I really going to let this 10 year old punk talk my 5 year old into pitching to a bunch of big kids in a game of campground hardball? Since I am a strong believer in the Montessori method, I stood back and just acted as a participant in the game and let Grayson run the show. So, there was Noah, on the mound, trying to throw balls over the plate against a kid 3x his size. He threw the first pitch and surprised everyone, including me. I could see in his eyes that he had something to prove. That he wasn't just a little kid, he was a pitcher with a job to do. I was overcome with pride as I sat on the bench waiting for my turn to bat (they put Noah and I on different teams). Noah threw 6 pitches to the first batter and struck him out swinging. HOLY HELL! Noah just struck out a big kid. Was this really happening? The next batter stepped into the box and Grayson yelled out, "Okay Noah, get him out and we win the game!" 

Apparently we had walked up during the last inning and Noah was acting as the closing pitcher in a close game. The next big kid stepped into the box and Noah delivered a strike over the plate. The batter swung really hard and just missed. I was immediately concerned for Noah's safety and then Grayson walked in from the outfield and gave the batter a look and said, "C'mon dude!" 

The batter responded, "Okay, I will play along. You gotta make the little guys feel good."

It suddenly became clear to me that these kids were awesome people. Everything they had done since we walked up was carefully orchestrated so they could make Noah feel special. I wanted to hug their stupid faces and tell them how awesome their parents were but I had to play it cool, just like they were. The kid in the batters box got two more pitches and missed them both. Noah struck him out and won the game for his team. The kids in the outfield ran to the pitchers mound and cheered Noah's name while lifting him off the ground. It was really an uplifting experience. It was getting dark so the big kids had to go back to their campers and I let Noah take some batting practice. He was so proud of himself and I was proud of humanity in general. 

There is a lot of bad news out there but occasionally, you hear stories like this. Special needs children being turned into sports heroes and prom queens by their peers. The little kid in California who got to be Batman for a day. Feel good stories that put a positive energy into the world. When you actually see it unfold it is pretty amazing. These kids didn't have an adult telling them what to do. They didn't feel bad for Noah. They were intrinsically motivated to do something nice for someone else. Maria Montessori would have been proud. 

So, as a parent, I will probably always have concerns about educating my children but as long as there are kids like "Grayson from Lake City" and his baseball pals in the world, I feel confident that Noah and Sam will do just fine. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Super Heroes For Sale!

I have never been close with my neighbors. I mean, I know some of their names and I wave to them but we just aren't close. Then, this weekend, I put price tags on all of my junk and opened my yard to them. It was eye opening. I spoke with neighbors for the first time who I found out I have a lot in common with. Does this mean that I want to cancel the trip and be an active part of my community? No, but if I could do it all over again, I would be a better neighbor and make an effort to get to know the people that live around me. One of the people that I met had a big impact on me. In fact, I dare say I will never forget him.

Won is a 72 year-old man from South Korea. He lives a couple blocks over and he is a garbage picker. His appearance is a little rough and he takes a long time to make a point but he is wise. Wise like you would expect an elderly Korean man to be. Philosophical and emotional. He came into my yard and purchased a steel tool cabinet that I had marked for $10. We settled on a price of $5 and he said he would be right back. Before he left, he told me a story about good people vs bad people. I was kind of busy and didn't have time to give him my full attention but that didn't seem to matter to him. He eventually finished his story and left. I am sparing you the details because A) I don't remember most of them and B) I don't want to bore you. 

He came back late in the afternoon to grab his cabinet and I was helping a neighbor kid patch a flat tire on his bike. He waited patiently and seemed to enjoy watching me help this kid out. I love working on bikes and had all the tools needed to perform the job so I didn't mind at all. The garage sale was slow and I needed something to do anyhow. When I finished, Won asked me to help him load the cabinet in his truck. I helped him out and he went back into my garage to look for more stuff to buy. He eventually bundled together a bunch of old tools and offered me $40 for them. I accepted his offer, he added a few more items without offering me more money, and then got in his truck and left to get more money. This time he came back quickly and I was sitting alone waiting for customers. He grabbed a seat next to me and said, "I want to tell you a story. It is a true story and I don't often share it with people but I want you to hear it." 

I briefly searched for a way out of the situation, realized I was trapped and decided to make the best of it. I filled up my lemonade glass and sat and listened attentively. 

A few decades ago, when Won first came to the United States he used to do a lot of fishing. His family was poor, renting a small place in a not-so-good neighborhood and he literally fed them fish that he caught from the lake to survive. One day while he was fishing, a man approached him and offered him a coffee. They got to talking and the man (who he referred to as a white man) showed a genuine interest in Won. They became close and fished together from time to time. The man was a well-to-do lawyer who enjoyed picking up the tab and helping Won's family with things. 

One day, the man told Won he wanted to buy him a house in a nice school district. Won accepted and moved to West Bloomfield. The man was a widower so Won decided to invite him to live with him and his family. They lived together for 10 years. Won eventually opened a shoe repair business on Detroit's east side and started making his own living.  

Eventually, the man told Won is was time to buy his own house. He picked out a house in my neighborhood and when it came time to sign the mortgage, the man stepped in and paid the house off. Won still lives there today and when he spoke to me about this man (who's name he never mentioned) you could tell he really felt a strong connection to him. I mean, sure, he bought him two houses and helped his family survive but it was more than that. It's the same way I would talk about my wife or best friend. They were connected. 

A few years ago the man became terminally ill and Won visited him often in his final days. He said to won, "Your children are successful adults who will raise their own families without struggle. They were a good investment." 

The man passed away and left both houses and a large bank account to Won. Won never used the money that was left to him to feed himself or buy things. He kept it put away. One day he got a call from someone in California. It was the man's son. The son was upset that all of these things had been left to Won instead of the family. The son kept asking, "Why did he leave it to you and not me?"

Won, who is not an offensive person, let the man voice his frustration and shrugged when he asked him why. The man, who was a lawyer also, became frustrated and hung up. 

Then, Won got real intense, you could tell he was about to deliver the moral and I found myself deeply engaged in his story. He said, "For 10 years he live with my family and never once I meet his kids. They never visit. Then he call me and ask me a question 'why he leave money to you and not his kids?' That is question he should ask himself, not me."

An intense stare and a long silence followed. I got it. His story made a real point and struck a chord with me. I helped him load up his $40 worth of tools and gave him a jar of my homemade kimchi as a gift. He wished me luck on the road trip and told me that I have a beautiful wife. He also mentioned that in his day, it was highly unusual for white women to date Korean men and that I was a lucky man. He drove off and I closed up shop for the day and while I packed up, I thought about his story. I don't know him well so it might not even be true but, it doesn't matter, the message is still there. We often ask others questions that we should ask ourselves. When I fight with my wife I ask her why she is being so crabby. A question I could probably answer myself. When my kids are doing something to get my attention I ask them why, when the answer (and solution) is inside of me. Sometimes, the most difficult questions can be answered quite easily when you ask the right person. 

I spent the weekend selling all of our white elephants and made a nice bundle of cash that I will set aside for our travels. We dropped the price on the house this week and our agent thinks that this is going to do the trick. We are tying up loose ends and everything is coming together. When I am out there seeing America I will try to remember what I learned this weekend:

Be kind to your neighbors and for life's most difficult questions, look within. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Birthday / Disaster weekend

My wife has thrown me TWO surprise parties since we have been together. One was a really elaborate party at Comerica Park where I walked into a room full of my friends on my 30th birthday. It was a total shock. When her 30th birthday came up I dropped the ball and didn't do anything cool. In fact, I can't even remember what we did that year. Guaranteed it was lame. That is why, this year, that was all going to change.

I took the family camping at Sleepy Hollow State Park near Laingsburg, MI. HOLY MOSQUITOES! When we were pulling up to our campsite my cousin, Mark, walked past with a fishing pole and asked me where the lake was. "Oh, I invited Mark and his family to camp with us." I said to Jessica as I prepared to back into our campsite. I unhooked the camper and Aeden and Delaney came over to play with the boys. "Oh, The Sherwoods decided to come at the last minute too." I told her. I started unpacking our chairs and putting the awning up and 4 of her aunts and uncles came over to see the new RV. At this point Jessica, who is an extremely intelligent woman, was still under the impression that these were just coincidences and/or things I forgot to tell her about. She finally caught on and had an amazing birthday weekend. I know this because I could hear the sound of beer cans cracking and her louder-than-normal laugh from 4 campsites away. In total we had 14 groups join us and we were a handful for the DNR to deal with but they were super nice when reminding us to keep the celebration to a respectful volume. We had a big pot luck dinner on Saturday and everyone reported to me that they had a great time. I was pretty proud that I pulled the whole thing off. Except for that ONE minor disaster...

These things are supposed to hold 30,000 lbs.
I wrote a nasty email to the company. 
I got the camper all set up and something didn't feel right. I pulled out the level and my suspicions were confirmed. The slideout on the RV was causing it to slightly tilt. Now, when you buy an RV they tell you "The jacks on the RV are for stabilizing ONLY. DO NOT LIFT THE RV WITH THEM." There are also warning labels on the jacks themselves that say pretty much the same thing. Now, I used to camp in a 14ft popup where I could get away with lifting the RV with the jacks and then sliding a piece of wood under the tire real quick. So, I went for it. I got to about 15 cranks on the left-rear jack when the plastic leveling blocks on the other side crushed under the weight and caused all of the weight to transfer to the front jacks which, in turn, buckled, sending the trailer jack off the wood blocks and sent my camper rolling partially off the RV pad. My Uncle Dennis was nearby and stepped into action. My jaw was on the floor and I couldn't believe my BRAND NEW RV was sitting face down like an AT-AT that tripped over a rebel tow cable. Then I thought about the kids. I told Jessica to check and see if they were okay. They were inside of the RV at the time. Luckily they were watching cartoons and it didn't even bother them. Uncle Dennis walked around the camper and said, "Okay, let's assess the damage before we do anything." We approached the situation with a calm attitude and discovered that the jacks, while bent and broken, were salvageable for the time being. There was a small hole in the underside of the trailer from the one jack but not a big one and one that could easily be patched. It could have been a LOT WORSE so, while it sucked, I feel grateful and I learned an important lesson about plastic leveling blocks and listening to manufacturers warnings. 

We returned home on Sunday and relaxed for a bit. Well, I did anyhow. See, when I relax, I block out all of the upcoming tasks and responsibilities that are awaiting me. I know it will suck but I will get through it. I learned this skill from an old roommate of mine who would plan these elaborate parties and before he knew where he was getting money for the party or if he had commitments from the entertainment, he would just book a venue and start promoting. Then he would let everything else fall into place. It's a strategy you see on those home makeover shows too. Always coming down the the wire. My wife, on the other hand, has a tendency to think, out loud, about all of the things she has to do this week. It really puts a damper on my relaxation time. I had a couple doctors appointments, Noah had a school performance (adorable. I am so proud), the boys had their last day of school, We had to clean out the garage and prepare for our garage sale this weekend, Hannah went to the vet and we loaded up on flea/tick/heartworm medication to take on the road with us, and we have still been showing the house to potential buyers everyday. We got through it all but I am exhausted. I will report back next week and let you know how the garage sale went. If I make $500 and get rid of all this junk I will consider that a huge win. If anyone out there wants to trade me a pair of trailer jacks for some golf clubs or a nice faux-leather couch, come on down!
They slept the whole way home after a fun weekend with friends and family!
We are eager to get on the road and we are toying with the idea of dropping the price on the house. Our original departure date of 9/15 is probably a conservative estimate. I can't imagine we will be here much later than August. So, if you are bored with reading about the preparation involved, things are about to start getting real interesting in the next couple of months. I can't wait! 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Complete Guide to Hitting the Road

This week has been quiet compared to the last few weeks. I mean, aside from the fact that we have been showing our house to potential buyers at least once a day and the fact that we are handling the odds and ends of leaving town for a year, we have finally managed to clear our heads and get some much needed sleep at night. Oh, and we went camping again...
We camped in the Toldeo area where the highlight of our visit was a trip to the ballpark to see the Toledo Mudhens.

So, I mentioned the "odds and ends" involved with our endeavor and I have had a lot of people ask me specifically about some of these things. So, I am going to explain as many of them as I can in the next few minutes and hopefully you will be inspired to take your family on an extended road trip. 

What are you doing about mail?

Strangely enough, this was one of the first things that popped into my head when we discussed our plans. It's funny that we live in this totally digital age where we can stay connected via SMS and Facebook in some of the most remote locations, yet, we still need an address for people to send us shit. I handled this problem by dissecting it one step at a time. First, I created a spreadsheet (if you have ever worked with me you know that I LOVE using spreadsheets). The spreadsheet contains the names of people and businesses who regularly send mail to us. I update the sheet every time I open the mail. It also contains a drop-down menu that has these options: Paperless, Notified and Discontinued. Paperless and discontinued are obvious. Notified means that I gave them our NEW address. Yes, a new address for a family in an RV. Our friends over at have provided us with an address in Grandville, MI. They scan all of our mail and email it to us. Then we simply click OPEN, FORWARD or SHRED. So, this is an ongoing process but we are making progress and every day that passes I feel more comfortable about the mail situation. 

What about your jobs?

Noah doing "Decimal Card Layout" in his classroom. 
Since I own a business, I am pretty much always working. All this means is that I had to find a few creative ways to do some of my daily tasks. The funny thing was, it was less hassle than the mail situation and I am 100% ready to take my work on the road. Jessica, on the other hand, is a teacher and will be taking a year off work. She notified her work and told them that she would love to come back next year if they'd have her. They seemed very receptive to the idea AND they even gave her some lessons and advice to take on the road for the boys. The boys go to school there too and of all the things I am going to miss about this area, that school is probably on the top of the list. It is an amazing place for students, teachers and families to get knowledge and support and it has honestly changed our lives. Montessori Stepping Stones in Mt. Clemens, check it out if you are looking for a school in this area. 

What are you going to do with all of your stuff?

STUFF! Everyone has STUFF! We all have things that we bought to make us feel good and we use them to bring us comfort until the effect wears off and we go buy more stuff to make us feel good. I know, I sound like Tyler Durden, but it's true. We have a lot of shit and the point of this trip is to go without that shit. We know that we can live without 90% of the things that we own and that's what we intend to do. So, we are having a garage sale in two weeks where you will be able to buy our shit for DIRT CHEAP. We aren't trying to make a ton of money. The objective is to move product out of our garage so come on down. As for the stuff that we need; appliances, furniture, keepsakes, etc. We are getting a storage unit. But don't be surprised if you see our stuff on Storage Wars next season because if it were completely up to me, we would just sell the house and everything in it. 

What about friends, family and holidays?

We will miss them all dearly. We will send postcards and we will be available for video chats at most of our stops. We also have two folding beds on the camper so for the people who just can't live without us, we encourage you to take a vacation and meet-up with us. Holidays won't be the same without family but I PROMISE we will be somewhere where people are wearing t shirts and sunglasses. 

Okay, what about the dog?

We have the luxury of having a very well behaved toy poodle who stays quiet and fits right in. She will be living on the RV too. If we are going on an outing she will either come with us or hang back and lay around the camper depending on the rules involving pets. If we do some backpacking or some bicycle touring she will either come with us or, if it's too much trouble to bring her, we will find a doggy daycare or nearby friend/relative to watch her for us. You can follow hannah on Facebook by searching Hannah Yum. 
Hannah and Sammy have a special bond. 

Where are you going? What places will you see?

We will start answering those questions the day we get into the car and start driving. Our general plan is to head to the Pacific Northwest before it gets cold. Then, we will gradually make our way south and go wherever our interests take us (and to Legoland...I promised the boys we would go to Legoland).

This is a "Smash Book" created by our Aunt Renee.
We will be using it to store our memories on the road.