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Making a Big Decision! (Part One)

Who were you before the world got a hold of you?

Before you were taught what was and wasn't realistic, before the circumstances of your childhood molded your heart and mind into shapes that were the inverse of the pressures placed on you, like a hand pressing into clay.

What were you like, what did you love, what was your nature, before the people in your life taught you how to be, before you began to imitate others, before anyone told you no enough times that you put parts of yourself away.

Were you bold? Quiet? Did you love trees and animals? Were you a loner? Clingy? What did you dream of becoming? Where were you happiest? What do you remember?

I've been thinking about this a lot, recently. Who was I before the world got a hold of me?

There are so many parts of my identity that, over the past 15 years, I realized weren't reallywho I amso much as learned responses to my environment, imitations of people I admired, adaptations I made due to circumstances - and which, as a child, I interpreted as parts of Myself and My Essence, because, well...
how could I know otherwise?

As a teenager and young adult, these parts of my identity were what I played up, what I made sometimes into a caricature, as I tried on different ways of being and tried to understand what I would look like when I came out the other side of the Tunnel of Adolescence.

But now, in my mid-thirties, I am starting to ask a lot of questions.

I've always identified as a City Girl. But, am I such because it's in my nature - or, because I have always lived in cities? It may seem a silly question, but it was a huge WTF moment for me.

Do I live in cities because I LOVE them and it's part of WHO I AM to thrive in an urban metropolis - or, was I born and raised in one of the busiest cities in the world, learned to appreciate it, and then sought what was familiar - and thus comforting and "safe" - as I made choices in adulthood about where to resettle?

It's never crossed my mind before to live in the countryside. And now, I can't stop wondering about it.

As I write this, we are one week into the new year of 2021 and I, for one, am extremely relieved to have the holidays behind me! I don't know about you but this was my first time trying to plan festive holidays for toddlers and a 5 year old's birthday while also keeping my family safe from a lethal airborne virus, and let me tell you, those aren't the most mutually compatible!

All jokes aside, while I usually find the pressure to have a GREAT time at the holidays bearable but stressful, this year felt heavy with expectation, with hope, with juxtaposition to "normal" years, and I'm just glad honestly to have it all done.

We ended up having a very sweet and lovely holiday season, as I hope you and yours did too - but I'm also very happy to just have regular schmegular life ahead of me now, without having to plan a pandemic party.

Now that we've cleared that hurdle, the rest of life lies here on the other side, waiting for us, just ticking along.

One of the strange things during the pandemic has, for me, been the same strange thing that happened while I was grieving: alongside catastrophe, life plugs along as normal; while everything has, on the one hand, been turned upside down, you still need to pick out clothes in the morning, food at dinner, still need to get groceries, still make decisions about your haircuts, and so on.

On the first Monday morning of the new year, after our children were dropped off at school, my husband Kevin and I went to get a coffee and plan the week ahead (we work together in addition to everything else).

And it hit me - now that the plans for thoughtful gifts, and Covid-safe festive activities, and a princess birthday zoom call with folks across three time zones (I shit you not) were behind us - well, now we had to deal with the elephants in the room, and Regular Life's Questions. And we realized we have a few really big ones to deal with.

My family is on the cusp of making some major decisions, and I want to share the process with you, friends, because while we always see the outcome of the decision-making process - the big move, the great leap, the new chapter - we often don't have a peek intohow other people make these choices for their own happiness, peace, and well-being.

I want to share the "whys" behind our choices, because many of you are also grappling with questions about where to go from here. Watching us make our decisions can, I hope, help you get clearer about what you need to make your own.

A big reason I created Girls Gone Happy is because happiness has not come easily to me, yet I've never let go of the belief that I can get close to it if I work at it. For me, this looks like a slow return to myself, a homecomingthat I anticipate will last the better part of my life, and a big element of that is making decisions that come from my heart.

The only problem? I often don't know what my heart is saying, after years of ignoring it and instead turning to my head, and other people, to tell me what is the "right" thing to do.

I wrote all of the cards in our four Card Decks as a way of asking myself the questions I know I need to hear - and, helping other friends like me to live intentionally and learn to listen to ourselves.

I know there are so many of us out there who want to choose their life, instead of feeling like it just happens to us - but this can also be a tiring and confusing process, actually creating a life instead of following a guide. Following a guide for your life can feel emptier, but the clarity it gives is also very reassuring.

What about you - do you love Life Questions - or push them away?

I know lots of deep and thoughtful friends who really dislike and avoid asking the "Big" questions. They are interested in psychology, they're sensitive, and they are invested in their own growth. At the same time, they find that asking big questions can make them feel depressed, antsy, or overwhelmed.

Often it's because they have so much going on in their lives, diving into these deeper questions feels like opening a pandora's box, and they don't have the time to really sit with what comes up. For some of them it's just too open-ended, and they don't like situations without a clear answer, path, or ending.

Other folks? We love and live these questions. Asking them makes us feel more alive. Sharing them makes us feel more connected. Finding answers to our questions makes us feel more whole.For some of us, going through life without these bigger questions by our side feels flat, dull, half-awake.

Neither one is better - they're just different! Which one are you - a Big Question lover, or someone who avoids them? What makes you so? How does this impact the way you move through life?

For me, this practice of Question-Asking fills the space in my life that I imagine for others religion or spirituality does. It connects me with my inner self, and with a sense that there is something bigger than the little details of everyday life that guides the course of my life, and the little lives I'm in charge of now.

It opens me to guidance from a deeper wisdom inside myself, rather than taking life advice from the same part of my brain that is busy calculating whether that farfalle on sale is actuallya good deal or not, and is trying not to forget to submit receipts for taxes in a week.

So - ready to take a peek inside our decision, and decision-making process? Here we go!

First - The Backstory

My family currently lives in Lisbon, Portgual. We moved here in February 2019 from Philadelphia, PA. We came when I was 7 months pregnant with my son, and my daughter was 3.5 years old.

Why did we come here? Well, that too was a result of a very long decision-making process!

The short(er) version:

Before my daughter was born, my husband shared his deep desire to live outside of the United States. He was born in Mumbai, and lived in Abu Dhabi until age 7 when they moved to New York City; he never felt at home there, had lived in Ecuador for years and loved it, and longed to expatriate again.

I, on the hand, had a lot of questions and even more concerns. What about our elderly loved ones? What would we do to earn money? How could we leave our friends and community?

Having lost both of my parents by age 24, I was acutely aware of how precious the time we have with our elders is, and how it can end so suddenly. I was both nervous, and felt guilty, about "leaving." I also felt afraid to create more chaos and rootlessness in my life, after feeling for the better part of my life that I had no solid ground to stand on.

We compromised on a 6-month-abroad/6-month-USA situation (not really considering the costs, at least initially), made a list of everything we wanted, and decided that the perfect place that ticked all the boxes was Bogota, Colombia.

We went there with our best friend at the time who had grown up in Bogota. He helped us to scout a place to live. At this time I was 4 months pregnant - and, like a blind date with your "perfect" match, we went in to this trip with the highest of expectations, sure that this was Day 1 of Our Story - only to realize there was no chemistry. We felt nothing. We returned home demoralized, but turned our attention to this other part of Our Story - having our first baby.

A year and a half later, having saved up for a two-month trip, we rented an apartment outside of Rincon, Puerto Rico, where we felt we could easily go with dogs and an infant. Then...Boom. Zika hit, my MIL got cancer, and the trip was cancelled.

Deposit kept by an insensitive host.
Hopes crumbled.
Kevin was depressed.
With a new baby and the consequent nesting - and with logistics more complicated than ever - he believed we would never leave South Philadelphia.

This spoke to deeper fissures in our marriage, that are all about Decision Making. I am slow to make decisions, always feeling I need more information to validate which is the best option. Kevin believes in choosing, experiencing, learning, adjusting. He felt imprisoned by my indecisiveness - while I hemmed and hawed, researched and questioned, worried and wondered, years would tick by with him living in a place where he felt disconnected and unsafe (more on that later).

On the other hand, I felt like every time I tried to plant roots he would rip them up; that after a childhood of instability the person with whom I was trying to create stability in adulthood kept knocking me off balance, pulling the rug out, and asking me to do things that felt scary and overwhelming.

We both felt the other person's decision-making style was at odds with the very thing we wanted to create for our family - and this pitted us against each other, making us resentful, protective, withholding, distrusting. We weren't a team.

Unable to endure Kevin's moping, and the dark cloud hanging over our heads another day, while pumping breastmilk and drinking a glass of Malbec one weekday at midnight when my insomnia was flaring up, I booked a trip for us to go to Lisbon for 10 days. A friend had gotten married there recently, the tickets were extremely cheap. Why not?

It was our first time flying with a baby, and our expectations were limited to "arrive, survive, eat a little, and walk a lot."

When we got here, we were shocked to be filled with that that "home" feeling we had felt when we first came to Philly. We didn't know how, or what it would look like, but we could imagine feeling at home here.

This was around the time Trump was elected President, which was devastating.

Over the past six months, I had been facing difficult truths about my own whiteness, and the ways I was tone-policing Black colleagues, dismissing their concerns, enacting white savior nonsense by thinking I could "use my privilege for good" in spaces where white culture was the norm. I realized the major problems with my work at the time supporting non-profits in the Philadelphia area, helping programs funded and imagined by white people to "help" POC to flourish, when in fact they were dismissing, excluding, and even harming the very people they were intended to serve. I felt it was necessary for me to stop and step away from everything, learn more, toughen my skin and become less defensive, and begin again with new awareness if I really intended to be the kind of person I meant to be in the world.

When we returned to the US, we sold our rental properties, closed our Philly-bound businesses, opened a new business we could run from abroad (hello, Girls Gone Happy!).

I was still uncertain - but the longer we stayed in the states, the more I began to feel it wasn't the place for me, too (more on that below). We moved here a year and a half after that first trip.

A deeper dive into some of these reasons, in no particular order:

Lower Cost of Living

We have been very focused on lowering our cost of living since marrying in 2011.

We are self-employed and have made our life work through running various companies over the past 10 years, and investing money left to me when both my parents died in rental properties and the stock market to create more passive income.

As much as we have focused on increasing our earnings, we have been equally focused on lowering our costs - because the less we need to live a happy life, the less we need to chase dollars, trading our time for money.

We also appreciate a minimalist and simpler life, and have worked towards this for the better part of a decade.

The line between withholding and simplicity, between anxious pennypinching and peaceful frugality is one I have danced on both sides of for many years, and I appreciate our lifestyle choices for giving me the opportunity to really engage with these lessons that I know I need to face head-on and learn in this lifetime.

Our work to lead a minimalist and frugal lifestyle are what actually inspired all the cards inside the Money Deck, born from the many questions I have had to ask myself as reassessing the values with which I was raised has brought me face to face with the beliefs and emotions tangled up in money that impact our everyday choices - and helped me be more free, and more myself, in the process.

Part of lowering our costs was moving from NYC to Philadelphia; then downsizing our houses three times over; and finally, moving to a country (Portugal) with a much lower cost of living than the USA.

The rationale was that this would allow us to spend more time together as a family and have more freedom over how we spend our time, which is our #1 priority.

Do you practice frugality, or are you interested in it? We found that living in the community we did back in Philly, it was hard to stay committed to it because the people and situations around us were at odds with it.

Our friends lived a very different lifestyle than what we were trying to create, and we often made choices out of alignment with the values we were trying to bring to fruition because we wanted to hang out.

Our families thought we were making things harder than they needed to be and didn't understand our choices, and were often quite critical of them. Moving to a new place, we felt, would also give us an opportunity to be somewhere that was more aligned to our values, and where we didn't constantly feel we were swimming upstream.

Over the past two weeks, I've come to realize how important this is to me - and how much I've lost my way with it in the last year.

Whether or not you're interested in the financial gains frugality has to offer, approaching it as a lifestyle and a practice provides the opportunity, over and over, to ask valuable Big Questionsthat I want to be asking, such as:

  • Do I really need this? What is uncomfortable in me that leads me to feel I need to buy this?

  • Is buying this aligned with my values?

  • Am I rushing again? If I take a moment to slow down, what do I notice about the need to spend on something to aleviate anxiety, stress, overwhelm?

  • Does buying something cheap and quick contribute to harm I don't want to participate in? (poor working conditions, animal torture, etc.)

Recently I've been buying crap and throwing frugality and minimalism out the window. Between Christmas, New Year's, a 5th birthday, and the ongoing discontent of a global pandemic, I've been buying more food, games, gifts, lotions and potions, wine, kids clothing - all totally justifiable, most of it not really necessary.

With a lockdown beginning here in Lisbon tomorrow, I've been spending money at local restaurants while I still can as though I'm a bear storing food in her belly for the six month frozen tundra hibernation ahead.

While we came to Lisbon for the lower cost of living, we've somehow managed to just recreate a similar situation for ourselves here that we had back in the US.

We decided after six months in our original apartment to relocate to a more family-friendly neighborhood - which came with a price tag. We're now renting an apartment in a pricey area (first time renting in 10 years which also is uncomfortable!). We're paying for nursery school x2. The groceries and restaurants in our new neighborhood are much more expensive. Our neighborhood has a tempting second hand kids store, bookshops, knick-knack stores, bakeries, cafes - all of which lead to the kind of shopping I do when restless, sad, or lonely.

And so, we find ourselves financially right back where we were before making all these changes.
Part of this is the choices we made to live in a more expensive area near school, friends, and parks. Part of it is the prices in the city have skyrocketed since we first started planning our move here back in 2017.

While this could be demoralizing, I remind myself that unlearning a lifetime of habits, and creating a whole new lifestyle for yourself, means that you're going to circle back to the same habits, comforts, and routines over and over before new ones take hold. Learning is cyclical.

It's clear that if we truly want to practice frugality and minimalism - enjoying a lower cost of living so we can have more peace, more time, more simplicity - we will need to make a bigger change to our lifestyle choices than just shopping at a different grocery store, or moving to a European version of the American neighborhood where we used to live.

Leaving the Culture of the United States

This one is always tricky for me to talk about, because all my family and most of my dear friends still live in the states, and it's really difficult to talk about what you don't like in a place where others choose to live without being offensive or making folks feel prickly.

But for the sake of honesty, this was a huge reason for our leaving. I will speak to my experience personally, and a bit of my husband's, without making assumptions about how others experience life in the states.

It was my experience that life in the states is very much centered around work.

Busyness is celebrated, there are no boundaries around personal time, the expectation is that you will bleed yourself dry for work, hustle harder, grind, give everything to your career. Exhaustion, depletion, and crisis-mode are normal ways to go through everyday life, especially for working parents.

Or, on the other side, that you will be a 24-year-old coach manifesting 7 figures while only logging on to Instagram twice a month to sell your online course that teaches others how to manifest 7 figures while only logging on to Instagram twice a month by creating an online course . . . .

I didn't feel I could live in either of these boxes. I tried, but I didn't fit.

While many of my friends truly love their work, they were nonetheless exhausted, working crazy hours, with little flexibility, freedom, time with their children - let alone friends - and still anxious about money, about promotions, ascending the career ladder, doing a good enough job . . . this felt wrong for both me, and my husband.

We are extremely fortunate and privileged to have other options, and for that I am eternally grateful, and have so many questions:

  • How can I best honor my parent's work that went into my having the opportunities I've been afforded in life by making good decisions that are responsible and kind and worthy?

  • What does it look like for me to live a life that makes me and my family happy, while not causing harm or participating in unfair systems that have stacked the odds endlessly in my favor?

  • What does fighting and breaking down these systems look like from where and who I am? How will that impact what our lives look like here?

While I tend to focus on injustices that cause financial constraints that make options limited and freedom out of reach for so many people, I also have come to realize over the years that many peopledo have options to create a life that would make them happier, or more at peace - more than they will readily admit or sometimes even consciously recognize - and they choose to stay in this hustle, for a variety of reasons.

Many people are truly unable to make a change for financial reasons. And, many others could make changes that would shift the entire energy, structure, and focus on their lives - but it would involve risk, stepping off a clear path (which we've already established is too uncomfortable for many folks), and possibly giving up the ability to advance in their chosen careers in place for something new.

These are not wholly positive options, and they're certainly not easy ones to choose. But the more I really looked around me, the more I realized that what I had thought were necessities were actually decisions, and what I had admired as the success of others were often golden handcuffs that kept them from experiencing any calm, peace, and often stood in the way of their connections with the people they loved the most.

If you're feeling stuck in your life, ask yourself - are there parts of my circumstances that I feel on a daily basis are unchangeable, but if I'm honest they are actually something I choose, and could un-choose if I needed/wanted to?

You might be very surprised by the truth that emerges. This was the question that got us to move from NYC to Philadelphia - it had never crossed my mind to leave New York, and the city seemed inevitable as part of our lives. But once I realized that there was an option there to move to a less expensive place, everything changed, and I realized that many of the circumstances I was trying to manage, I could instead choose to discontinue.

Since relocating to a different country with very different values, we don't - as my husband describes it - constantly find ourselves trying to swim against the current in regards to work. The Portuguese culture is very family-centric, child-centric, and values much more focus on home-life and well-being than the USA. At the same time, we are finding that many of the issues we faced in the states are re-emerging, or never left.

Connected to our increased cost of living is the need to earn more money, work more, feel anxious about earnings, feel guilty about resting, let the kids stay in school later and later each day to work more and more - and so, we brought it all here with us. In order to really leave these values in the past, our future needs to be setup in a way where we aren't needing to perpetuate these habits.

We're realizing that in order to truly disconnect from these values we don't want to build our life around, and bring to life the ones we do believe in, that there need to be some major structural changes to our circumstances.

On top of this, the United States is a violent and racist place. This isn't to say that violence and racism are not everywhere, for they sadly certainly are - here in Portugal there are absolutely issues of racism as well. As a white person, I can't speak to how the experience of racism is in either place, or how they compare, but I can share some things friends and my partner have shared with me.

Overwhelmingly, I have heard that in the United States, on top of the persistent and unrelenting fear of physical harm that many people carry with them all day every day, the veiled racism is perhaps most psychologically damaging. It's the white fragility, the gas-lighting, the tone policing, the theft of art, culture, ideas from Black people, it's the wage gap, it's how we share videos of black people being violently murdered with no content warning or respect for the human being, as though it's just another meme, it's the pandering to DEI initiatives, the performative woke-ness that fades as soon as the rash of outrage clears. The fact that Trump still received 52% of the white vote after all the evil he unleashed and bubbled to the surface over the past four years.

And, of course, it's the prison system, the banking system, the voter supression, the open police brutality, the murder.

The combination of ongoing laws and systems intended to oppress Black people, the prevalence of guns everywhere, and the feeling that everyone is under so much stress that they could become violent at any second.

Kevin had been stopped by the police six times in a 9 month period for riding his bicycle back home from a tennis match - never with any valid cause. I wouldn't go to sleep if he went outside after dark for fear that he was in mortal danger. I sat next to the phone until he walked in the door every time. This wasn't sustainable, or OK.

A month before we moved to Lisbon my daughter's preschool was under lockdown for the entire day because there was an active shooter in the neighborhood.

We couldn't even enter a ten block radius of the school. When I went to pick her up, all the parents, people on the street, shop owners - everyone acted as though nothing had happened, while I was openly weeping with relief and frantically embracing her teachers for keeping hordes of babies safe locked in the bathrooms for six hours.

The fact that nobody acted like anything out of the ordinary had happened was all the confirmation I needed that in the US, we have become so desensitized to guns and violence that we don't even realize how absolutely insane our situation is.

This, I wanted us to leave.

While pervasive gun violence and domestic terrorism aren't happening here in Portugal, classism and racism certainly do. And, while we left a workaholic culture, we find that many of the same values we were at odds with - a preoccupation with status, money, clout, educational prestige - are alive here too, especially in the expat communities.

As we find ourselves on the cusp of choosing a school for our eldest child, we are asking ourselves again who we want to be in community with?

Where are the folks who share our values?

How can we be in a community full of racial and socioeconomic diversity?

As we look at the communities of families at the expensive private schools, we feel strongly that this isn't what we want our children to believe the whole world looks and acts like.

As we explore public school options, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity - and diversity of opinions and teaching styles (more on that below) - doesn't feel right to us either.

It's again becoming clear that we need to bring more intention into our choices, and what - and who - we fill our life with, if we want to truly create something different for our family.

A Different Education

Before becoming pregnant, I met a neighbor who was homeschooling her eldest, and was pregnant with her second (she went on to have three). She was the first person I ever met who was homeschooling - my vision of it, previously, was that it was for very Christian families who wanted to give a religious education outside of the system.

Parisa was different. She was an Iranian-Canadian statistician who wore a fabulous wig so her hair always looked impeccable, was a brilliant mathematician, always smelled of amber and jasmine perfume, teased her husband cleverly, loved roughly snuggling their Rhodesian Ridgeback dog who came up to her armpits (he, enormous; she, tiny), and was the first person to talk to me about the problems of medicalized childbirth. In short - she intrigued me.

I was really gobsmacked by what Homeschool with Parisa looked like. She was creating incredible learning experiences for her child - he was interested in ballet and took a class with other kids, they went to museums during the day and did work at home together in a manner that was both relaxed and rigorous. I enjoyed seeing their connection, and learning from her. With her encouragement, I began researching homeschooling more - and was hooked.

The more I learned about homeschooling, the more it spoke to my heart. Ironically, I had been a public school teacher before setting off on my own, and had dreams of creating my own school, so I'm certainly not against formal education, I fully realize that homeschool is NOT for everyone! But I do have a nagging pull in my heart that, perhaps, it is for me - for us.

What draws me to homeschooling? Largely, it is the freedom that it allows us as a family, and offers to each individual child.I love the idea that my children can experience these early years of their life moving around, being outside, exploring, playing, and that we can do more directed learning for a few hours a day, without their having to be indoors, or in a regimented setting, for 6-9 hours a day.

I love that we can teach our children to be critical and independent thinkers by following the breadcrumb trail of their curiosity. While unschooling is a bit unstructured for me, I appreciate that this style of teaching takes the child's curiosity as the starting point, and guides them through learning about the things that pique their interest, and teaches them how to find information and answer their own questions.

To integrate this method into my child's education excites me deeply. I want to preserve their curiosity and love of learning, to help them see the world as an endlessly giving and interesting place, and for us to see that what we learn is completely connected to, braided with, everyday life around us. I also love the time it would afford us to be together as a family.

Part of our moving to Portugal was also so that, as a homeschooling family, we could take advantage of living in Europe and explore other countries, using them as our textbooks, as a living classroom - but life had other plans for us.

The Big Decision

So - what are the big decisions we are making that I mentioned at the beginning of this post?

Well, we are trying to decide two things - first, should we in fact homeschool? And second, should we move out of the city, and into the countryside?

When we moved to Lisbon, I was 7 months pregnant. We moved with four suitcases - one for me and Kevin, one for Rosie, one for the baby, and one full of homeschooling materials.

For the two months before I gave birth, I tried my best to create the foundation for homeschooling her once her brother arrived. However, I soon came up against unpredicted problems.

In Portugal at the time it was very unusual to homeschool - or even keep babies and toddlers at home - so there were literally no children around during the day.

It's a pretty monolithic culture here, I've discovered in the last year - very much "this is how things are done," without much divergence or questioning. There was a Dictatorship here until the 70's, and the effects of it can still be felt in the culture and mentality today in regards to diverging from the norm. Everyone sends their kids to "creche," you don't ask much about what happens there (the way we do in the states) because it's always the same as what you received when you were little. Folks also don't stay home with their kids - it's either financially impossible, or folks who have the means to, instead hire full-time home help.

The things I had taken for granted in Philadelphia - story time at the public library, meetups during the weekdays with other preschool-aged kids, even daytime children's programs at local museums - none of it existed here during the week.

It was impossible for my daughter to meet any other kids and make friends - and, she spoke no Portuguese yet, and we certainly couldn't teach it to her (we are still learning ourselves!) - so this made her rather lonely and isolated.

Always one to create something if I can't find it, I started to assemble a group of local parents who were interested in a kids yoga class, and I even found a potential teacher - but then ran into another cultural snag, which is timing.

People eat dinner and put their kids to bed much later here than we are accustomed to (10-11pm bedtimes vs our 8:30pm) so kids' activities often start at 6pm, when we are getting home to relax and prepare for dinner, so it wasn't even possible for her to make buddies by enrolling her in lots of afterschool programs (plus, not speaking a word of the language and being only 3.5 years old doesn't help, either). The other parents requested Saturday times or 6pm, which didn't work for our family. I was really at a loss.

One day, when Bodhi was about three weeks old, we were sitting at a favorite cafe with a terrace that hung over the playground of the local elementary school. I latched Bodhi to nurse him, took a sip of my coffee, and suddenly asked, "Where's Rosie?!"

My husband casually pointed in the direction of the terrace's fence, and went back to reading. I looked over to see Rosie wedging her head between the bars, watching the children play below her.

Not saying a word; just captivated. Silent, and mesmerized. And, suddenly, sadness.

My heart broke into a million pieces thinking about how faraway she must feel from all those kids, and how long it had been since she had the chance to consistently play with other children for longer than a quick random park meetup.

So, we sent her to school - and it's been terrific. So terrific, actually, that I feel some guilt at the thought of taking her out.

Our daughter just turned 5 on NYE. Because she's adapted very well to school here, I've started arranging tours of schools for us to explore where might be a good fit for her for Kindergarten, and each time, my heart drops a bit.

The schools here are quite traditional; once elementary school begins it's rows of little desks copying handwriting from the board and sitting still for the better part of the day. There are, of course, options for private schools, but these are mostly full of very wealthy expats; these schools often lack racial diversity, definitely lack socio-economic diversity, and don't necessarily fit the kind of learning experience we want for our kids in terms of movement, outdoor time, arts, and exploring. The fancier the school, the tidier the rooms and the quieter the hallways here, we've found. Cleanliness and perfection. Which is great for many - but not what we're looking for.

All of our friends here send their kids to school and are happy with their choices, so this isn't to knock these places. Each family wants and needs different things, has different preferences and priorities.As I try to find the place that matches our preferences and priorities, I realize increasingly that it might not exist, because as much as I told myself I had broken up with homeschooling, I realize that I'm still in love with it. Looking for the "right" school will never work if what I want for us is, in its very essence, not a school.

My daughter often asks to do "school at home," and I can feel the whole energy shift in our family on weekends and breaks when we are together more, unhurried, and connected.

Days are more peaceful. We feel like a family unit once again.

Free of the anxiety around being late, I'm less snappy and the kids are much more fluid about leaving the house.

We paint, we read, they are more independent and play together because we are given the gift of hours - days - of togetherness, rather than all vying for each other's attention at the worst part of the day, 5-8pm, when we are all tired, hungry, and spent.

I wonder whether this is what my family is like before the world got a hold of us - before we squeezed ourselves into school schedules, separation, silos. Before we did what everyone else was doing because we couldn't find our way in doing our thing. Before a temporary solution became a way of life.

Big Questions

So, what decision needs to be made? Well, as much as my heart yearns to try it and I do think I would deeply regret not giving it a shot, I have a LOT of fears and concerns about homeschooling.

Will they hate it?

Will I hate it?

Will it strain our marriage intensely?

Am I up for the challenge? Can I truly teach them what they need to know, when I feel there are so many things I don't understand or know myself?

We have made friends here who we are exploring cooperative homeschooling with - but will that work? Can our families blend? How do we collaborate without building our dreams around other people?

How will I be able to work and run my business while homeschooling them?

And - the biggie - should we live in the city, or in the countryside, to homeschool?

To be honest, I hadn't even thought of moving out to the countryside as coinciding with homeschooling. It's something we had discussed but ages ago, and never really circled back to in a serious way. Homeschooling in my mind was always here, where I could take advantage of parks, museums, cultural spaces, and the vast community here.

Also, we are city people, and always have been, We don't own a car, we love walking around, getting coffee at cafes, having unplanned encounters with friends on the street and letting the Saturday take us where it wants to.

We love going to little restaurants and pastry shops in our neighborhood, and taking the iconic yellow 28 Tram around the city to explore different neighborhoods.

We have Friday afternoon picnics in the park with friends after school and enjoy the magnetic pull of random acquaintances to our plaid blanket, as everyone wanders through the same park at this same time each week, unplanned and unhurried.

My husband is a member of an athletic club where he meets friends to play tennis, his passion since childhood, and it's easy for him to find other friends to play with here in a busy central location.

For me, time with friends is absolutely essential to me. My friendships are an enormous part of my life. I cherish running into friends in my neighborhood, grabbing a coffee during a work break, standing around together at the park while our kids play, walking from school together, walking my dogs in the blue night after our kids are asleep, feeling like teenagers criscrossing the cobblestone streets of our neighborhood with no plan at all...these things would be unavailable to us in the same way if we moved to the countryside.

But this is where my original question arises -who were you before the world got a hold of you?

I remember, as a small child, feeling I could speak to animals. Daydreaming about galloping on a horse across grassy fields every time I was on the highway with trees whirring past.

Every night I would pretend I was an owl in a snowy tree, nestling in my hollow cuddled up with my owl family (ie stuffed animals) watching the snow fall against the black bark of my tree, from inside its warm center. This was the most comforting place I could imagine being.

I remember being a quiet watcher; I remember loving grass and sky; I remember my favorite place on earth, my grandparent's house in Florida, where I could examine tiny soft lizards with thin skin on the stone path, rollerblade through pine needles and hold them, examine their sticky sap and sniff their Christmas perfume on a hot afternoon in the yellow wet sunshine, see real oranges growing on real trees.

I even remember, as I allow memories to return to me, asking my parents to move to the country, to live in a house with grass outside, where I could walk by myself without risk of being flattened by traffic, and ride a bicycle on smooth pavement.

I remember one night lying in bed and crying to myself, the quiet resigned crying that comes from a child's grief of realizing a dream won't come true, rather than the attention-seeking wailing that is a call for attention and comfort; I realized we would never move and I would always live on this street by the McDonalds with the flashing neon sign in the window blinking into my bedroom, and the tunnel access street with trucks and cars snaking up 2nd avenue for blocks beneath my window, burping smoke and farting honks into the night.

This was what it was, and it was time to accept it. (And, from the outside looking in, it was great - probably was too for my parents - but to my little heart, it was hard to accept.)

All these memories that I'd forgotten and pushed aside because they didn't align with the identity narrative of being a city person, and because at a certain point I made peace with what life looked like, where we lived, and chose to make the best of it. Funny how this then became integrated into my very personality and how I have defined myself for thirty years.

So - the things I love would be missing, many of them. But other things would be available to us in the country. Peace. Space. Nature. Fewer distractions. Perhaps things I would discover the truest part of me loves, but has never had.

The ability to open our doors and just be outside, without managing, scuttling, packing, warning, choreographing. Our classroom would become nature.

We could still enjoy the city, making trips in to go to museums, see friends, explore - but also have the wonders of nature at our disposal. A drive to the beach. Lakes and hills and trees. I've never spent prolonged time in nature. I'm afraid I would find it boring, but have a hunch I would find it healing.

We imagine a life where we aren't so distracted all the time, where we aren't silently hemmoraghing money on coffees and sandwiches, where our children can be quiet and play in muddy solitude, where we can be slower, quieter, together, where we can do crafts and projects, write and wander, cook and learn to grow food, exist on a different wavelength, at a completely different pace.

We would love to have another child (that's for another post!) and that feels both scary and more doable in the country - scary because we would be more isolated, doable because there are fewer logistics to manage (or perhaps just different ones, because we would have to wrangle three children into a car to go anywhere, rather than open the door and walk down the street... see?? This is confusing!).

So - these are our two big decisions.

It's funny - we spent many years with a whiteboard in our home office where we would sit to have late night planning sessions for the vision we had for our family.

So many conversations on endless winding walks through the little alleys of Philadelphia with our then infant daughter tucked under my husband's parka, as we plotted and planned and researched and dreamed and said "do we dare? Is it possible?"

And we made the list, did the research, took the trips, sold the houses, closed the businesses, sorted the visas, parsed through the logistics - figured it out - and landed here, only to look around and say "we did everything on the list. Now what? Where's the new list?"

I thought, for awhile, that This Was It. The moving was done, the settling had been settled, we were Home. We have moved 10 times in 11 years and I worried it was pathological. My family told me it was, and that it was dangerous to my kids.

For the past decade, one of the things that has hurt my heart the most is the feeling that I have failed to make a proper home for myself, and for my children. It haunts me. Each home I live in, I commit to making Home.

I have been so tired of moving. My lack of Home feels like the outward manifestation of my inner feelings of belonging nowhere, to and with no one. My rootless, rudderless, tribe-less being. And it terrifies and saddens me to think I am "inflicting" this on my children.

This story is reinforced over and over by the value system that implores us to nest, buy a place stay in a forever home - well, forever.

"This is what adulthood and stability looks like."

During this last move to Lisbon, and six months into being here, to our new neighborhood, I have really begun to challenge these beliefs.

I have started to ask why and when I move. I have inquired what the benefits are to being a person who won't settle for a situation that no longer fits, who is more attached to the nature of life's season than a set of walls, who lets life's path dictate choices rather than an apartment.

Why to me, it makes sense that a new life chapter would be accompanied by a new space, even if that's not the social norm. I've started to ask what this detachment teaches me and why it frightens me, and makes others angry and uncomfortable. It's been extraordinarily liberating to inquire.

It's what has allowed me to even consider that we might be at the start of another new chapter. Perhaps the chapters in my book are just much shorter than others'.

And so, we find ourselves making a new list.

Do we homeschool?

Do we do so in the city, or the country?

If we stay in the city, do we downsize to a smaller apartment to continue on our quest to decrease of costs of living?

If we move to the countryside, where do we go? Where are our people?

How can we set ourselves up for success and not feel isolated or miserable?

Or, will we find out that this is what our hearts longed for all along?

Two Very Different Approaches!

As I mentioned earlier, Kevin and I have very different approaches to making decisions. He researches, decides, acts, waits, and then makes another decision based on the outcome of the first one.

Learn, act, watch, make another move.

He often says that the only real difference between people who are successful entrepreneurs and those who aren't is decisiveness, and continuing to adjust and move forward and learn from choices, rather than being felled by them. But really, it's action - lots of people "know what to do," many talk about it - but how many actuallydo it??

I, on the other hand, like to map out moves 1-50 in my mind ahead of time, plotting each possible outcome and imagining what it would look at feel like. I then create Pinterest boards for different elements of this map. I find people who have done some version of moves 1-50, and I read all their blogs, watch their videos, and fall into the vortex of their Instagram feeds.

I join Facebook groups to learn from people, make lists and spreadsheets, and then stare into space daydreaming, thinking, fretting, and wondering.

I usually only make a decision once Kevin shakes me out of my daydreams and reminds me that the choice is still here, in the real world, waiting to be made. Or, after a really good session of writing all my ideas down in my notebook - or, a long-form blog, such as the one we find ourselves smack in the middle of this very moment.

Yesterday, I noticed that Kevin seemed quiet, and a bit at sea. I'd noted that the last week, whenever we talked with other folks about the decisions on our plate, he was quiet, a bit evasive, and seemed a little flustered.

When I asked him yesterday how he was feeling about things, he shared that he's not sure what the priorities are right now, and how to get clear about what the next steps are in making these choices.

I felt like doing a draw from ourClarity Deck and talking through the cards together would be the perfect way to get a little clearer together, so I sat him on our sofa - joined by our fluffy dog Barley, plopped in the middle of us - and we pulled cards and had a chat.

I filmed our conversation so you can see how it unfolded - he didn't know what we were doing when I set up the cameras so it's all raw and off the cuff and a true spontaneous discussion!

Consider the Source

One of the most interesting things to me was that Kevin drew the exact same card that I chose on NYE, when I picked a pair to help guide me into 2021!

Kevin and I both chose the Consider the Source card. He picked the topic of "Rest," while I chose "Family" - here is the card we both drew at random, within a week of each other!

In case you can't see it well in the photos, here's what this card asks:

"You are receiving strong messages from someone. How is what they are saying uniquely connected to who they are, and what they're all about?

Do you respect and admire their choices and behaviors, or not?

Consider the source of these messages as you evaluate them and decide how you want to relate to and learn from them in this moment."

For my pair (Family + Consider the Source), I took this as a message that while we have some big choices ahead of us, and I tend to seek a lot of input and opinions when making a decision, at the end of the day the decision is ours alone. I need to remember that everyone has their own perspective, their own values and priorities, and that nobody's input is going to be completely objective as we endeavor to forge a path ahead for ourselves.

Kevin got this card along with the Sidekick Card, which asks him to consider "Who is waiting to help you here? What must shift in you in order to receive this help?".

For Kevin - someone who is very decisive and doesn't seek consensus and input the way I do - this card seems to invite him a little more into my way of doing things, learning from and listening to other people who have walked this unfamiliar pathbefore us and who have valuable things to teach us, and are there to help - while, at the same time, the Consider the Source card reminds him, too, to take all opinions and input with a grain (or bag) of salt.

An Important Reminder

While these cards don't help us with the actual decision itself - neither of us felt like they were a sign pushing us in one direction or another - they were really consistent and important reminders that, as we know, the answers lie within ourselves - not in anyone, or anything, else.

And that as much as we can learn from others and value their perspectives, at the end of the day we are the ones inside of our lives, who will live each day with the outcomes of the choices we make, and therefore we are the ones who need to determine what is best for us.

Nobody else can know that, from the outside looking in.

I have learned, in this past chapter of life, to stop taking advice about what my life should look like from people who live a life I wouldn't want.

At the same time, when we come upon people who share our values and priorities, whose way of life resonates deeply with us -these are folks whose suggestions and guidance will hit a bit different.

So perhaps, in this next chapter, it's about receiving advice from people who are already living the life I dream of for myself and my family - and remembering that everyone's circumstances are unique, so all we can do is borrow ideas from each other, try them on, and make them our own.

Thanks for coming along on this winding thought-scapade with me today, friends! If you like seeing a little peek into our lives here and how we make decisions for our next big moves, drop a comment or send me a note at

I'll be adding more blog posts here and videos to keep you up to date with what we are choosing, and how we are choosing it, so make sure to get on our email listwhere you'll get a new blog post and/or video every Sunday full of our own stories, but more importantly full of new ways for you to think about your own life in creative deep ways, crafting for yourself the life that you are meant to be living!

Big happy new year hugs to you, friends.


Justine Haemmerli
Justine Haemmerli

Educator, Consultant, Founder of Girls Gone Happy

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