Adventure with Engagement AWE · Family travel · Perfecting Dysfunction

1000 Words or Less

Every family trip photograph deserves a comment.  “In 1000 words or less, tell us about this photo.”    A 2-D shot doesn’t begin to tell the story of what’s being said while that photo is being captured. And unless you use descriptions, you cannot see the whole story.  Our videographer’s photo of Tyler and Trenton in the Roman Forum tell the story of how sick the boys got of being photographed.  This was allowable contempt, because the guys are mostly so respectful.

forum boys

Traveling through the marble and bronze antiquities of Rome,  gave us entirely new ways of looking at things, thanks to the boys’ reactions.

The photo below shows Romulus and Remus, twin brothers given credit for the beginnings of Rome, who were supposedly abandoned by their father by the Tiber River around 750 BC.   It is said female wolf raised the boys.  Romulus killed Remus in a family squabble so the city was named for him:  Rome, not Reme.

romulus remusThankfully the boys kept their comments on Romulus/Remus statue to themselves.  But their ‘eye rolls’ and stifled giggles were unforgettable.

funnt sculptureWhen somebody offered to take my photo in front of the Vatican sculpture of the priest Laocoön and His Sons being killed by sea serpents, I overheard this comment: “This is a church.  Why don’t they put some clothes on those things?”

And no matter how Ron and I tried to educate them with interesting facts about Michaelangelo’s 17-foot marble sculpture of David, we still fielded the kid’s hysterical one-liners.

Forum parkThe 1000-words or less photo capture Colton utilizing his keen business skills as he came up with the money-making Roman Forum idea: “Make this grassy area into a Jolly Jump Inflatable Playground for kids to enjoy while the parents walk around looking at the really old stuff.”

Whoever said ‘children should be seen and not heard’ was WRONG!!

Every photo deserves a comment.  1000 words or less.  Or more.  Your choice!



Encouragement · Family travel

The Back Side

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”– Rudyard Kipling



 There are five senses, right?  You know that until you discover neurologists have been able to identify nine senses and some as many as twenty-one!


When you watch hi-def TV in glorious 4K, head to the cinema or even experience Disney’s 360-degree adventures, you only get to use two of your senses:  sight and sound.  Somebody out there may have already discovered using the sense of smell, but at best you will get an artificial ‘Febreeze-style odor.’ So in essence, unless you travel you are getting ‘fake travel, fake sounds and perhaps one day fake smells.’



Or you can slip your passport in your pocket and order a batch of the authentic, like we did.   Is it easy?  Lost luggage, passports, backpacks, kids, rain, snow, storms, messed up schedules, tummy aches . . . . . of course it’s not easy.    No adventure is!  Is it worth it?  Yes.  YES!!!

Thanks to the wonders of smart  phones, it’s easy to document your journey.  But never overlook the importance of shooting from the backside.


The back side is where you see your son or daughter pondering the sights you are seeing.  Be quiet.  You can almost hear their little mind-motors humming, as they silently reflect on something they read about before. Don’t interrupt them.  They are developing the questions they are going to pound you with at the before bedtime nightly ‘Discovery/Question/Answer Session” with mom and dad.

colt side view


Shots from the front of your kids show the viewer how cute your kids are, or how funny they smiled.  They leave the “happy family taste’ in everyone’s mouth – which as you know, is only 1/3 of the story.

venice bridge

Before you know it you will be able to tell others:  “There are more than five senses, folks.  I used at least nine of them when I traveled with my family!”

best back in Venice

Take the trip.  And remember, there is always more of a story from The Back Side!


Adventure with Engagement AWE · Family travel · Parenting

The Almafi Acci-dent

My dad can bench press 350.

Nuh, uh!!

Uh Huh!!!

My dad can rip the top off a camper without losing his cool.

. . . . . you win.

When a parent commits to 180 full-time days with your kids touring the world, you open yourself to 5K resolution.  Intense scrutiny.   Errors.  All amplified!  You’re watching your kids every moment; but even scarier, they are watching you!

Ron, the boys, a videographer and I were traveling in a 25’ rental camper, down the very narrow Almafi Coast road. Our camper was sucking wind going uphill and we were  carefully governing our weight going downhill, causing a traffic problem.


The Italian’s drive small, fast cars for a reason.  They are not known for their patience, nor do they bridal their passions.  We were getting the benefit of horns, hand gestures and passionate verbal assaults. Ron considerately would pull over from time to time, and let the cars behind zoom by before he headed out again.   But this is very difficult on  the Almafi Coast highway which is exactly 2-lanes wide with no shoulders or pull-offs.


In order to let some very colorful Italians by, Ron pulled off and in haste failed to see the large restaurant awning just above us.  Ripping metal is a sound you never forget.


 Tyler looked up at what used to be the camper skylight and ceiling and now was clear sky and said: “Oh no. . . dad’s not going to like this.”


Where there once was an awning and a skylight

Stepping out of the camper to assess the damage, Ron faced an angry restaurant owner screaming in his face and the Almafi Coast Fire Department and Police asking questions.  One lane had closed which allowed the travelers more time to do their drive-by smirk.  And there stood my husband, under the scrutiny of strangers and the watchful eyes of his three boys and wife, in total control and composure as he watched the awning being extracted from the top of his rental camper.


The roadside restaurant after the Hirn Family visit!

men after accidentSilence after humiliation is salve for the soul.

Ron showed us all his interpretation of true strength.  Nothing you can say to your kids will teach them more than your example.

I like the quote by Dave Willis:  “Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.”

Double-check your behavior.  Your kids are!


Dear Dawn · Family travel

What lies beneath?

Dear Dawn

“Thanks for sharing so many of the photos you took while you and your family toured the world . . . . “

Any blogger will tell you, we love getting ‘love-letters of encouragement’ from those who take time to read what we have written.  But let me make one thing perfectly clear:  Ron, the boys and I never considered ourselves tourists.  Tourists are generally people who go to the best of the best places (aptly called tourist attractions), stay in the finest most affordable hotels, eat at restaurants recommended by other tourists, and run on a strict schedule.   Sure, we came to many of the same places for the view,  but we were more interested in the people, their lives and the story of what lies beneath.

From our pre-planning studies of Venice,  Italy came a gondola full of questions: When and how the heck did they build this city?

venice bridge

In around 500 AD, these 118 islands making up today’s Venice, were hiding places for runaways who were trying to get away from Attila the Hun-type bad guys who had taken over their cities.   When it came time to build a city, they wondered:  ‘How do you build cities of marble on marshy lagoons?’  “Wood piling,” someone called out.  Someone brighter than he asked: “Dove e il legno?” which is short for “Are you crazy? There are no woods in Venice.  Where are we getting this wood?  And how do we keep it from rotting in salt water?”  The answer came from western Slovenia’s water-resistant Adler tree trunks, used to make  the 12, 000 posts which were sunk deep into the Venetian lagoon mud and are still responsible for supporting more than 10,000 tons of marble buildings and bridges.

venice canal 2

Before you hop on that world-tour bus, sit down as a family and discover the back-stories of the places you are going.  A little research will take you a long way.

Any world trip offers enough surprises as it is!  And you never want to be one of those tourists who gets back home and says:  “I wish I had know that when I went!”   

Dawn Venice

Actually there is a good lesson in this for you and your kids:   Whenever you are faced with something you don’t understand,  always ask: “What lies beneath?”


Family travel

Portable Eeeee-hah’s!

What’s an eeeee-hah to you? 

  1. The sound a cowboy makes when he gets his giddy-up on.
  2. Civil War forward attack cry.
  3. The sound of pure victory of celebration.

We choose #3.  As we traveled around the world, we never let a celebration slip by! Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years (celebrated Chinese-style in January), Easter and birthdays.  Colton ended his Vietnamese birthday celebration in tears when the big reveal presented a birthday cake made up of strange fruits and veggies.  (The people at that Vietnamese restaurant wanted so badly to impress him.  But how do you impress an eight-year old with Lotus Root and Kumquats?)   We promised him the goodness of guacamole if he would be patient and wait for a French Eeeee-hah.


Tyler was a little easier.  Like all teenagers, he was sleeping late his birthday morning, so the boys and I headed to the Montenegro version of The Dollar Store on the quest for a Rubix Cube.  Instead, we found all sorts of great junk to get a laugh out of Tyler.   Eeeee-hah!

happy bday Tyler

Celebrations should be portable.  Candles, cake and costly gifts are not required to produce a hearty eeee-hah.

This weekend we celebrated Ron’s birthday by accepting an invitation to a party and a challenge to dress from the clothes we found at the Childrens’ Harbor Thrift Store.  This party was a khaki and Polo-free zone!  Ron and I fully filled the funky requirement with our stylish combinations, giving a new meaning to the word: ‘tacky.’

Thank you to our friends who always look for new and creative ways to celebrate life.  We’ll never forget it.  Fact is we won’t be able to ever forget it.  This photo is in the cloud!!  Forever!

No matter what limitations you have – location, finances, or bakery-access, always celebrate the special moments of life creatively.  Don’t wait for the perfect time.

Eeeee-hah’s should be a part of everyday life!

Family travel


Answer:  The gift that keeps on giving.   Question:  What is ‘being able to adapt?’

If you are fluffy, you may not be a good candidate for World Travel. Traveling around the world is not soft.  But it builds character, and by that I mean, shaves the fringe off the fluff and gets down to the bare basics of understanding.  We who lead cushy lives,  will never understand how others in the world live unless we walk in their rice paddy.

If you cannot live without cell service, lipstick,  massages,  pedicures or two-ply toilet paper,  world travel may not be your thing.  But before you decide, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is the life I carved out for myself significant?
  2. What kind of standard have I set for my kids?

You will get through life no matter what you choose.   But you only have one shot at it. Don’t let your days slip by without recording the exceptional moments outside lunch at the club or tennis matches.   The good stories usually come to us in the unexpected and unpredictable.

We found ourselves in Vietnam for Colton’s birthday and did our best to find him a birthday cake.  We explained to the restaurant staff, the ‘birthday cake concept’.  Big smiles from them told us they understood.  They didn’t.

Colton’s birthday dinner was certainly healthier than McDonald’s.

bday candles vietnamAnd then came the cake.

The kitchen staff is still scratching their heads as to why we would light the fruit and veggie plate on fire, blow it out and clap our hands.  Adapting is the courage to face the fact that your way may not necessarily be the best way.

colton bday vietnm

Adapting.  Once you are able to pass this course, you are able to experience real living, value each moment and each day and each birthday cake!



PS.  And when we got to France, we hit the patisseries to re-celebrate Colton all over again!


Family travel


Cowboys have a unique language all their own.  It’s a rootin-tootin’ sort of vernacular which still effectively applies today.  I was pretty much born in third gear, but some days I feel like there is a ‘hitch-in-my-get-along’ and I need a good ‘giddyup’ to get where I’m going.

But other days just ‘moseying from campfire to campfire’ is the best way for me to go.  When we traveled we agreed to take as many forms of transportation as were safely possible.  (Safety took on a whole new meaning in China and Vietnam, where maniacal driving is the norm.)

But once our leader Ron gave us the go-ahead, we did the ‘giddyup’ onto the bullet train, rafts on rivers, and assorted animal and human forms of travel assistance.Bicycle India

Camel India

elepant Thailand

Don’t let a hitch-in-yer-get-along mess up your travel plans.  Some of the best times we had weren’t reaching our destinations, but reaching for our destinations. Don’t worry so much about how you get there, just get there!



Family travel


Kremlin/St. Basils St.Petersburg

Russia!  The very thought of you . . . . .

Before trip jitters. . .





We wrestled with each of these Russian preconceptions.   Did our homework.  Studied. Practiced our Previets and Spasibas.  But you never really know the people in a country until you spend time with them.  And here are some of our take-aways:

Cold – Of course it’s cold!  Check out the map.  Did you hear the one about the little Russian boy who was afraid to come to America because he heard the temperature occasionally reached 107-degrees Fahrenheit?  Another child countered:  “When I visited America it was -16 degrees Fahrenheit!”  Locations?  Phoenix, Arizona in the summer and Fargo, ND in winter.  Russia has her extremes as well!  Check your locations!  Dress appropriately!

Scary kids
Russian children welcome Colton to school!

Unfriendly – Russians in general have a wonderful sense of humor and warmth,  but they are protective of this treasure and share it with those they consider friends.

Ty Stocks Russ
Russian teen time-out.  (Just kidding!)

Dangerous – Einstein said:  You have to learn the rules of the game and then learn to play better than anyone else.”  That is true when you visit any city anywhere!   The feared KGB is still around to enforce laws, with a friendlier name:  The FSB.  This  Federal Securities Bureau keeps the law. Carry your passport with you wherever you go when you travel though, or you may be facing some healthy fines!

Tr. mysterious
Trenton loves mysteries!

Mysterious – Of course Russia is mysterious!  Revolutions, regimes, from Tzars to Comrades, Russia has a lot of history and stories to tell.  You can read about it, or experience it for yourself.

Our suggestion?   GO see for yourself!


Family travel


I’m talking about family trees – you know, the ones that grow every which direction with funky branches, odd shaped leaves and often a few nuts.

How is yours holding up?  Have you bought into yet?  Do you know if your ancestors were honorable people, or not?  Were they captains of the Mayflower, or of the Titanic?  There’s not really a lot you can do about it.  You have enough work to do to keep your own family tree solid.

Our family tree was hit by lightning, which took out one of our branches and shook the stability of the whole tree.   And since then, Ron and I have been working hard on strengthening our root system.  Hopefully, your tree won’t ever be exposed to such a hard hit.  But we all know, strong wind, disease, drought, too much rain, too much snow and too much weight can cause damage.  And does.

Neither Ron nor I are professed arborists.  But we recognize the value of keeping our family tree strong.  It takes lots of work!  It takes time to check out the branches, vision to be able to stand back and observe ‘tilt,’ knowledge to correct it, and willingness to prune. Every tree is held together by the root system.  Because sure as sunlight, there will be intense heat, rain, snow, wind, storms and disease to fight.  Roots allow you to bend, not break.

A strong root system will hold, so your branches can shoot out in many different directions, growing stronger in difficult situations.  We encourage our kids to express themselves, to reach out to new territory, to offer themselves as comfortable perches and feeding grounds to the fearful and hungry.   To provide shelter.

And mom and dad — you are the lifeline.  Lead by example.  Take care of your family tree and especially the root system.  So when you take a hit, others may look at you and say:  that tree survived regardless of the elements.  So it must be possible. Grow your family strong!Roots2.jpeg




Family travel


We sent our video guy ahead of us to clear the path for our coming to the school:  the Hirn Family visits an India Classroom.  As best as he was able, he explained to the heads of the school who we were – the Hirn’s from Alabama, USA – and that we wanted to simply observe classroom education in other countries. We had three boys and wanted them to have the experience.  And it was an experience, indeed!   Turns out our videographer hadn’t completely bridged the communication gap.

No, we were not the International United States Delegation in Charge of Developing India School Curriculum, nor were we able to offer them any suggestions  whatever about what the United States could do to assist in this endeavor.    They escorted us to our seats down front and to the left of the class, and we watched them repeat the things they had learned (which apparently they thought we had written,  but we have no memory of doing.)  Then they nodded our direction so we could show our approval of a job well done.

The Hirn Delegation remained expressionless.

These classrooms like so many others in the world are bare-boned.  Students here sat in chairs — no desks, no books – as they listened and repeated word for word what the teacher said.  It was exhausting!  But like so many other foreign schools, they haven’t been afforded the tools or the opportunity to learn as we do.

They probably thought to themselves:  “No wonder.  Look who’s writing the curriculum!”

In the words of Lil Wayne:

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good . . . Oh Lord don’t let me be misunderstood.

Talk soon