Adventure with Engagement AWE · Family · Travel

Face your fears! You first.

Acrophobia” is not what I have.  “Acrophobia” is the irrational fear of heights.  Mine is rational.  (My diagnosis).

As a family, we always set goals, have contests, challenges and payoffs.  The ‘payoff’ part of this is usually holding the right to flaunt each accomplishment in the other’s face.  But regardless, it’s stimulus to achievement.

My family is aware of my fear of heights.  At the beginning of our trip while we were still in our planning phase, we all agreed to face our fears.  It was apparent by this time, Colton and I shared our fear of height.  And we were going to delay facing up to our shortcomings (so to speak) as long as possible.

Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest free-standing building in the world at 2716 feet, was a no-brainer for Trenton, Tyler and Ron.  We (and by we I mean they) had already made it up to the top of  Kuala Lumpur’s 1483 ft. Petronas Twin towers. (This of course, allowed me to stand on the ground and photograph!)

piece of cake

By the time we hit Paris, I knew my turn to face my fear was coming.  The Eiffel Tower,  a mere 984 ft. off the ground,  seemed safer in the abstract.  Then,  I stood beneath it.  Colton braved up and said he would do it if I would, pointing out that in Lego building terms, the model is a mere 3428 Leggo blocks.  How scary can it be?

eiffle family




Colton fully conquered his fear of heights, once he got to the ground.  “Piece of cake!”

fam on eiffle



Mom is not there yet, but at least I don’t have to endure anymore chicken jokes.


Adventure with Engagement AWE · Family · Travel

Are you kidding?

“When I grow up I am going to be a model in Europe,” is something I never said.  EVER!

But life has a funny way of playing tricks on you.  This is especially true when you do the “As long as I live I will never”-thing.   But when I *Moved My Cheese to Europe, I needed to find work quickly.  I was traveling alone with no back-up plan, and needed to survive.  And thanks to my height and constitution, neither of which were a credit to me, I found work modeling-runway and print.

Now if you’re thinking ‘big bucks’ you are way off.  The tax base for expats working in Europe is 55%, leaving you little room to splurge.  Fashion models hit Japan for the ‘big bucks,’ while models come to Europe for ‘tear sheets’ for their portfolio to catapult their careers,  which was never my intention. I came here to travel, to explore, to meet new people and affording the adventure was an essential part of the journey.  The freelance nature of modeling gave me the time I needed to hit the road to new places again.

Living in Paris, like living in any large city, offers  you a large variety of delicacies most of which I could not afford. Once and awhile when someone paid for my meal, my tastebuds were cheering, because, yes, French food is as good as they say.  But the majority of the time, with my salary grade, I ate canned tuna and baguettes. Over and over again.

When we came back to France as a family, I was faced with options I could finally afford.  Croissants, baked perfections, escargot, Brie! And bi-jingo, I was going to share the experience with my family.   You could usually track the Hirn Fam somewhere along the Champs de Elysee by their audio track at the table: “Mmmmmmm,”  “Woah!”  “Yum.”

colt croissant

Did I treasure my memories of being a single female on her own in Paris all those months?  Of course.  But would I trade it all for no family, no money and 7 cans of canned tuna fish?  ARE YOU KIDDING?

colt yum

Have a great weekend!


*Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson

Adventure with Engagement AWE · Travel


Colt Dawn walkingThe French call one who wanders from place to place with out any apparent home a vagabond.   I like the sound of that better than the English version:  hobo, dawdler, loiterer or bum.  Although we had closed up our home in Alabama, and put our jobs on hold for six months, I don’t believe we could call ourselves card-carrying Vagabonds.  Though we didn’t always know where we were going, we always knew where we would eventually end up.

best boys lock

If we have to be ‘labeled,’ I almost prefer ‘hobo’ over ‘tourist.’  It was never our intention to merely be sightseers.  We lollygagged ourselves into places the normal tourist probably wouldn’t have chosen, not necessarily just to see or photograph highlights, but to actually meet the people who carved out their homes in those communities and hear their stories.

Mighty Seinne

We talked to strangers – which is a lot easier to do when you carry your bag of funny kids who don’t mind chiming in.  The kindness of the Southeast Asian people had spoiled our family, but made us each more resilient to any curt Parisian responses. And it’s a great lesson to teach your kids that: everyday is not a great day to everyone.  Dr. Seuss said: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

And when we ran out of people to talk to, we could always rely on our ‘fellow moseyers,’ built-in buddies.



Adventure with Engagement AWE · Family · Perfecting Dysfunction

Seek the Treasure

Here we go — only a couple more months and they’re back in school.  WHAT??

No one would be calloused enough to say that out loud the first week of summer vacation,  but I know at least one mom that secretly wonders ‘how long’ this 24/7 Social Director/Cook/Supplier-of-All-Needs/and Boredom-Conqueror-Job will last.

But I beg you, don’t let this summer get away without a plan.  Your family needs some time together spent more creatively than at home or at the pool.

It’s summer vacation.  Don’t fill it up with busyness, but make some plans.    I’m not talking about jumping off big – just a little dip into the strange and wonderful world of family adventure.  We call it AWE – Adventure With Engagement, because after all, everything goes off pretty smoothly in life until you add the people.  And then, it’s the wild west and you are slinging around your sassy lip and six-gun trying to control things.

New friend in S. Africa

You don’t have to jump right into a world trip like we did, but unless you take a step toward AWE, you will look back at the summer of ’17 when you stayed stuck.  There are so many close-to-home things to do with your family to drum up AWE:

At the beach, (or near a stream, lake or river) rent a salt-water metal detector and at low tide push your way onto the shoreline. There is nothing quite as exciting as hearing the sound the detector makes when you find a treasured ‘thing-a-ma-bob.’  Better yet, seed the earth with weird little hardware to be found by young kids.  I know a lady whose favorite beach vacation activity is to plant hidden treasures for early morning seashell hunters.   She gets up at dark-thirty and “seeds the beach” with store-bought oversized conch shells.  From her front row beach chair, she sits with her morning coffee and shares the adventure with complete strangers as they find treasures.

IMG_0803Bamboo Raft Thai?

Make a family plan before the summer is over.  Hike a different path, get mud and gook under your fingernails, climb a hill or a tree because it is there, offer your family’s help to a Camp for underprivileged kids, feed the hungry, seed the beach.   Love to hear your quirky ideas.

Seek the Treasure.


Adventure with Engagement AWE · Travel

The Big Game

No.  I’m not talking about NC’s win over Gonzaga in last night’s NCAA Championship, nor the Patriots’ Super Bowl Win, nor the Cubs’ World Series Win, nor Trenton’s latest achievement on the Soccer field.

I’m talking about South Africa’s win as one of the safest countries to spot The Big Five Big Game!  You know: African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and Rhinoceros  (oh my)!

These guys made the list as “the most dangerous and difficult to hunt.”  Out of the top five, we saw four!  What a tremendous experience!

Safari Guides are the way to go, because they know things!    African bush elephants are able to hide in tall grass despite their size, and black and white Rhinos are on the endangered species list, so they are also difficult to spot.  And you may have to wait around all day to spot the African Lion.   It’s never smart to head off in your own direction or you may find yourself in a mess.  Cheetahs and Leopards look  similar.  But Cheetah’s have spots and Leopards have rosettes, and by the time you get close enough to determine which is which, you may find a sudden end to your safari.  And life!   Best to trust your guide on this one because up close and personal is not where you want to determine spot-shape!  Of all these dangerous animals, the Cape Buffalo is responsible for most big game hunters’ deaths.  Wounded or not – they attack often by ambush.

We weren’t able to see the Leopard, but four out of five isn’t bad.    And we felt our experience with Cheetahs out-shined a single glimpse of a Leopard.

Cheetah and boysYou can sit back in your comfy chair at home,  tune into the Animal Planet, Nat Geo or the Smithsonian Channel and share the photographer’s experience in viewing.  But we think you should head for South Africa and tell your own story.  Memories get better every year!


Adventure with Engagement AWE · Travel

Imagine . . .

Ron and I always loved travel and measured ourselves by the experiences we had, the people we met, the people we helped encourage and the people who encouraged us.    We broadened ourselves by increasing our respect for those who approached life differently than we.  We all try to make things better – not always with success, but mostly with good intentions.

Maya Angelou said You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

When you come upon age-old cities, you change.  Self-realization, I guess.  America is so young, and these cities have seen so much change in their thousand-year existences.

Czech this out (and pardon the pun. It was too good to pass up):  Prague, a city of castles,  museums, theatres, and galleries is the capital of the Czech Republic.  The Celts, Northern Europeans, Romans, House of Hapsburg all had their hand in forming this city.  Prague was wiped out a time or two by fire and flood, hit hard by revolutions, and hidden well behind Communism’s iron curtain for many years.  By the time the Hirn family saw Prague, it was a Republic, complete with all of those lovely Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance Baroque and Bohemian influences.

These wonderful European cities are home to and the birthplace of so many fairy tales and novels.  Yesterday on Facebook, I gave you my version of what happens at night on the Charles Bridge.  Talking statues?  It may be fiction.  It may not.  But we always encouraged our kids to look beyond the logical and develop their imagination.    Take a turn:   First step, organize a family trip and seek these cultural treasures for yourself.  Second step, put together the facts. Third step:  make up your own story.    Then imagine . . . .

St. Charles Bridge.jpeg

How do you think J.K.Rowling got her start?


Adventure with Engagement AWE · Encouragement · Travel


Have you read Bob Goff’s book, Love Does, yet?  Drop what you’re doing, rush out and get yourself a copy.  It’ll save you thousands on therapy. Bob hits life head on, unafraid of what other people think of him, say to him or do to him.  In Bob’s mind, nothing matters more than Love Does!

“Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to do, but along the way they just kind of forget.  Their dreams become one of those “we’ll go there next time” deferrals.  The sad thing is for many there is no “next time” because passing on the chance to cross over is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.”

Bob calls himself a recovering lawyer and adds: “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

Oh how I relate!   Everything about what mattered most to me changed when my precious seven-year old son was killed.   That was the day the spit hit the fan (nice save, Dawn) and I realized how fear was affecting my life and the lives of my husband and my other three sons.

The world is full of people who share joy, sorrow, anger, fear and discouragement just like we do.  Don’t live your life in the planning stages.   Get out of your comfort zone and meet those who will benefit from your encouragement.

We each get motivated differently; the point is you need to get motivated somehow.  For us it was about taking our family through foreign countries, meeting the people and learning to love and trust ourselves and others once again.  For Bob Goff, it was giving away all the profits from his best selling book, Love Does,  to build schools and safe houses for women and children in Uganda, Nepal, India, Iraq and Somalia. Once in Somalia,  Bob was cornered by heavily armed rebels.  He pulled out his own personal large assault weapon – his smile and his whimsy, walked over to one of them, camera in hand, and asked if he could grab a selfie.  Seriously.

His reach is a lot greater than ours, but the thing is, at least we are reaching! How about you?   Reach out .

 Bob Goff.jpeg

Practice your smile everyday.  Then give it away.  You’ll never miss it!

Have a great weekend!



Adventure with Engagement AWE · Travel


If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. Lewis Carroll. His real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson but the writer called himself Lewis Carroll.  It didn’t really matter.  When he took his vision for his Alice of Wonderland-fame, through the looking glass, he had to start somewhere. But you know from the elaborate details of his story, there was a lot of day-dreaming and planning before the pen hit paper.  The point is, he started!

When people ask me how we were able to take the family world trip, immediately they see $$ signs and teams of people preparing the way for us.  But the team that planned, the team that saved, the team that studied health and safety issues, food safety and charted their way safely across the world,  was Team Hirn, who ran in conjunction with the US State Department/Travel.   Planning was intense – but so was the reward.

I know – sounds exhausting and you’d rather just take your family back to that tired old condo on the beach.  But unless you start to make a bigger plan, you and your family will never see the other side of the shore.

Don’t let fear stand in your way.  Yes, travel warnings have increased, but there are so many countries which welcome Americans, why would you choose to visit one that didn’t?  North Korea?  Angola?  Somalia? Iran?  Seriously?  There are so many wonderful places on earth, why on earth would you choose these?

Be like Lewis Carroll, whose story about Alice began in his imagination. See yourself in China, Japan, SE Asia and beyond. Then start making a plan – and commit to stick to it.  That’s is the first step to any success.

As Dolly Parton once said, “If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving  another one.”

long road.jpeg


Adventure with Engagement AWE · Encouragement

The Circle of Life

Life is full of color!   You cannot do life well standing still, or staying in one place or doing one thing.  A life in black and white was never an option for me.  I never could settle on one favorite color and the thought of walking it in one straight line was offensive to me. What we have accomplished, our sufferings, our joys cannot simply fit within that little dash that separates our birth and death dates.  Life should be a circle!

This great perception of life is sung in Zulu, a language spoken by over 10-million people including 95% of South Africa, and it opens the Broadway play The Lion King.  These are the lyrics translated:

“It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life”


The chalk hit the blackboard this week when I was asked to prepare a short three-minute synopsis of my story (as presented in our TV Series, Our BackPack) for my upcoming presentation in Washington DC this coming week.   There I stood with the chalk and eraser, putting more mileage on the eraser than the chalk.

What is my story?  Won’t fit in a dash, and I’ll bet yours won’t either.  From tragedy and loss, to blessing of two more healthy sons, back to the valley of the memory of loss.  From struggling to keep my family together after days of depression and healing from burns and skin grafts, to an adventure of a lifetime which incidentally wasn’t dropped from heaven upon us . . . we had to make the thing happen.  Can you fit it in one circle?   How big is your circle??

Each year of life my circle has increased in size as I include each of those who have become new friends, by living in their circumstances,  sharing their pain and celebrating their victories.  All for the sake of adventure, I share these experiences with you, not so you could think “wow, she’s a real go-getter,” but instead so you can add some color to your life as you say:  “I can do that!”  We call it AWE – Adventure With Engagement.  Grab some color for your circle!
hakuna Matata.jpegHave a colorful weekend!


Adventure with Engagement AWE · Parenting

Seek the treasure!

Our lives have become too neat.

Remember those days years ago – you were just a little kid then.  You and a friend decided life in your part of the ‘hood’ was just a little too dull, so became ‘explorers’ and set out to find new and exciting discoveries.  You cut your way through the unexplored areas beyond your backyard and ventured forward to find the treasure – whatever that was.  You didn’t know.  You didn’t care.  It was all about the experience.  And today, it’s all about the memory.


Guinea pig lunch in Peru


You met strangers in the jungle – kids that went to schools outside your county.  But you weren’t afraid because you had your buddy with you who could validate the experience or protect you from harmful enemies. Rather quickly you learned kids are kids wherever you go.  Sure there are some bad notes:  Straight out of the movie The Christmas Story you may find a Skut Farkus who taunts you mercilessly.  But they are rare finds.  And you suddenly realize, your fears of people like that are way bigger than reality.  (BTW, this fact helps you later on in life.)   Fear not the Farkuses of the world!


Remember those days?  That little kid still lives inside you.  Even though he or she is all grown up now, you may still have that kid in you still.  Don’t you think it’s time you share your grown-up kid with that little kid?


Seek the treasure.  Whether it is a walk through the deep woods with your family, hanging around a campfire, jumping a creek, finding a hiking stick or simply talking about life, moments like these are vital to your health!


And at the end of the day, as you sit together over a cup of cocoa picking burrs out of your jeans, you can talk to each other, about your experiences.  Fill your 2018 with good old-fashioned AWE – Adventure With Engagement.  It’s free for all Americans.  So wander with your family.  Seek the treasure.



Happiest New Year!