Tuesday, September 24, 2019

My favorite tip for traveling with kids in Europe

Angus napping in our Toddler Tula.
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We all know "Are we there yet?" as the classic road-trip backseat question, but you're just as likely to hear it when your vacation plans are more urban. I'm not a beach vacation kind of person. I love cities, and in particular I love European cities. I love how walkable they are and how much more you can discover while on foot.

But what about when your city walks involve tiny feet?

I spent the summer traveling around Europe with my 6-year-old and 3-year-old. We did not bring a stroller because we traveled light. The 3-year-old still napped, so a stroller could have been useful. Instead we brought a toddler tula, easy enough to wear like a belt until needed. As you can see from the dreamy photo to the right, Angus just loved smuggling up and snoozing on Daddy while we strolled through Bordeaux. Le sigh!

Our favorite purchase was the kids' pedometer we bought for our 6-year-old. He's competitive and responds well to rewards, so the minute he asked to be carried or to stop walking, we'd ask him how many steps he had. Then we'd tell him we were gonna win if we carried him, and the complaints ceased.

We (and by we I mean David) did a lot of research about what device to buy, and we settled on the VivoFit Jr. 2. It's a Garmin device, and it links to an app on my phone. It's waterproof, and it's also a sleep tracker ... so I can check how he's sleeping and what time he generally wakes up (early. very early).

My favorite part is the rewards and chores you can create.

In Europe we had a scavenger hunt and he could earn "coins" if he, for example, saw a Swiss flag or a street musician, or whatever else I decided to add to the list.

Now that we are home, I keep a list of chores. Some are daily (brush teeth, practice piano) and he gets little alerts on the watch to go do them. Others are just on his own. If he wants to save 100 gold coins, he can do things like ... dust the baseboards, read for an hour, rake leaves, scratch David's back for 5 minutes, or basically anything you want to invent as a parent. Graham is very rewards-based, so he'll save up his gold coins for the various rewards we've listed: buy a new game/app, trip to the ice cream store, go to the movies, solo dinner date with Mom, etc.

I have to say, I thought the newness would wear off after our trip, but it's been 4 months of the device and he's still really into it. The best part for me is that he's become a surprisingly good piano player -- purely because at 6:37 every night, his watch buzzes and reminds him to practice piano.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

What I Read on my European Vacation

This summer I spent a month in Europe with my family. We moved around too much for me to officially use summer as a verb, but it still felt luxurious and escapist to the nth degree. The trip originally began as a music tour, the first and last dates booked almost a year in advance (that's how you have to do it when you tour abroad). I knew I had a month of shows to fill between a starting festival in Scotland and an ending festival in Switzerland ... and I started working (I do all this myself!) to fill in the dates.

That's when it became clear that my dad would not survive the year.

I stopped booking shows. I left the two bookend dates both because I had contracts and because I had hope, but I didn't fill in the rest of the dates. When Dad died in June, I still had these shows on the calendar, but I didn't have much of a good reason to leave the family for a month and go to Europe alone for only two shows.

So we cashed in five years of Delta and Amex points and brought the entire family along for the adventure. We even paid-it-forward a bit by buying a plane ticket for my cousin, who had posted about her longing to see Europe. I figured my dad would have wanted an adventure for his niece as well, and I really needed to feel some connection to the rest of my family at a time when this only child had just lost both her parents.

I miss that time in Europe.

It's a weird and wonderful thing -- when you have everyone you love within inches of you. You can turn off your phone. You can completely disconnect. My previous three years of panic attacks whenever the phone rang were over. I'd already received the two awful calls. The diagnoses, the long illnesses, the nasty ends and the exhalation of relief when it was over. Any phone call or email I missed this time merely meant that I'd missed a job or audition (I did -- I missed many, but oh well), and not a family emergency.

There was so much quiet. There were so many castles. I read nine novels and multiple travel books. Because we traveled with the kids, and because we walked all day, we were home early and tired. Rather than scrolling the ol' social media, I opted to get out my Kindle (Kindle paperwhite for travel is everything -- any book you want in an instant) and I read. I didn't read anything deep. My favorite genre is anything with the Eiffel Tower on the cover, no matter how dumb or difficult it looks. I will read it.

Wee Graham also read a ton. We subscribed to Epic! while we were there (and still do because I haven't canceled my free trial)so he had loads of books downloaded to his tablet as well. He read books ranging from Raucous Royals to Loch Ness Mysteries and shared all his acquired tidbits of trivia on our tourist travels. 

So here's the list of books I read while on my escapist trip abroad, not counting the typical Rick Steves Paris, etc. I'm in a 2019 kind of mood where basically all I want to read are books written by women, but I do make occasional exceptions as you can see.

P.S. from Paris by Marc Levy
Ghosted by Rosie Walsh
Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Reid Jenkins
I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella
Bizarre London by David Long
One Day in December by Josie Silver
Rosie's Traveling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

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If you're more interested in Graham's life:
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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Graham's career, which is quickly outpacing my own.

Summer is almost over, and as we settle into pumpkin spice season, I have far too many emotions to control. I used to love the smell of fresh notebooks and sharpened pencils, but now it just reminds me that my mother is not here to complain that notebooks are made for the right-handed. And my dad is not here to say, "Y'all stop fighting," whenever I complained of having to pay my quarterly taxes.

I do have some good news to share soon -- and that mostly revolves around Graham. Graham has grown into the most magical child I could have imagined, and I'm bursting with excitement to share his announcements. I'm also imploding that my parents aren't here to cheer him on in all the magic that he's created.

I'm doing some writing on my own and some recording, but I'm also taking some private time to focus on my kids. Graham has his own career blowing up, and Angus is a charming 3-year-old whose life has thus-far been completely overshadowed by cancerous grandparents. I'm looking forward to getting to know him.

Check back here often for a big announcement from Graham.

And if you'd like to jump on the I knew Graham before he was famous train, then you can follow him here. I'm learning how to be a good stage mom, but let me defensively assure you that his Instagram account and book reviews are all him. I monitor it because I'm not a novice when it comes to scary-internet-worlds, but he writes posts by himself (i always announce myself when it's me who's posting). The other social media i'm still trying to figure out how to manage -- but most things are going to be auto-imported from Instagram, his platform of choice.


other media platforms that i have not yet announced, but whose handle i've grabbed:
www.facebook.com/GrahamReads    ...

Friday, September 13, 2019

My house is for sale! And I'm becoming a recluse.

 I played my last public show of the year last night. It was good fun, and it was so nice to see so many smiling faces. Thanks to those of you who ventured out on a 100-degree weeknight. It was particularly cool to play Headliners with a super-quiet and listening-room type of audience. I love that stage, but it’s historically not the room for stage banter. Steve Cooley played his original banjo compositions to a room full of people hanging on to every note. That was a delight.

Honestly I’m kind of tired of playing public shows where I invest all my time and energy into marketing and begging people on Facebook to leave their houses and come out. It’s exhausting. House concerts have long been a favorite of mine because the crowd, while much smaller than a club venue, is typically 50x more appreciative and has 50x more fun. I make friends. I tell stories. I hear stories. I play music the way I believe music was meant to be shared: troubadour-style.

All that to say, that I’d love to plan a tour entirely of house concerts. But I’m also hesitant to make any plans at all right now. For the first time since before I had children, I am somewhat free. 

The death of both of my parents in less than a year was awful, but it has yielded a new freedom. I’m no longer bound to Louisville, and I’m not driving to doctors and hospitals five times a week. I’ve cut back on my teaching time significantly, meaning I can focus more on session work that can be done remotely. I mean, I still have to earn a living, but it doesn’t have to be in one place. 

That said, this fall will bring me to several new places — for work, but also for smiles. I’ll be in Telluride, the Dominican Republic, and Texas, and I’m writing you today from Nashville, where I had a last-minute job pop up. It’s good to be able to run down to Nashville without worrying you’ll miss too much (though childcare is always a challenge, I’ve got an amazing flexible babysitter). 

Through all that threatening to sell my house off-market, we went and made such an ugly mess of moving boxes that we just decided to move out completely and go ahead and list the house officially. So if you’d like to buy the childhood home of one Graham Caldwell, whose career I can tell you with full confidence will be more epic than mine, then that might prove a good investment. I’m ready to divest of “things” and concentrate on as many experiences as I can collect and give.


Here's my house listing! That would be a good way to support a local artist -- the house is valued higher than listed price, so it's kind of a deal. It appraised at $255k three years ago, before we put on a new roof and some other upgrades. Plus, it's in the Highlands and you don't really need a car there.

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