Combatting the Mid-Winter Blues

Hello everyone in the midst of winter! It’s February here in North Carolina, and though the ground isn’t covered in four feet of snow, I’m still battling the same seasonal affective disorder as years past, thanks to the endless rain and lack of sun. So, in honor of this auspicious time of year, I thought I’d republish a reminder of things I’ve done in the past to get through the very hardest parts of the winter. 

If you’re in the thick of bleak midwinter (and possibly staring down several more weeks or months of frigid temps, snow, and ice), hang in there! I know how you feel!

Midwinter is always the time of year that gets to me in New England. We’re in the thick of the cold and snow and, despite being teased with some 50-degree days recently, we’ve been staring down -4 for the past week. A blizzard with 18 inches of snow is coming tomorrow.

This time of year causes certain problems.

One, I find it almost impossible to drag myself out of bed for a run if the temps are below 15 degrees F (if that sounds horrible to you, believe me, it does to me too). I do not take running lightly. It is critical to my being tolerable to the rest of the human race, so imagine how fun I am to be around in the winter. Two, Spring feels forever away. And I need the hope of Spring.

Continue reading “Combatting the Mid-Winter Blues”

Our Year in Pictures: Pre-Location Independence

Inspired by Tanja Hester’s post of her first year of retirement adventures, I thought I’d create a similar post of the ThreeYears’ 2018. After all, it was a big year for our family. We became location independent, we bought a new house, we went on several big trips, and the kids started new schools. As I was putting the post together, I realized that we had a lot of pictures! So I decided to break our year up into our pre- and post-location independence, which happens to fall right in the middle of the year (so handy!).

Here are the ThreeYears’ adventures from January to June of last year.

January

We started off 2018 in Chile, in the last week of our three-week long trip to visit Mr. ThreeYear’s family in Santiago. We also took a side trip to northern Chile, to the San Pedro de Atacama desert. That trip took place in the final days of December, so I won’t include pictures here, but read all about it in this post.

We bought lots of fresh fruits and veggies (because it was summer in Chile!) at the feria, the local market two blocks from our apartment.

Continue reading “Our Year in Pictures: Pre-Location Independence”

Why a Prepaid Disney Vacation is the Best Vacation

Have you ever taken a prepaid vacation? Maybe you went to an all-inclusive resort, a cruise, or a tour vacation. By prepaying before you go on the trip, you cover the cost of lodging, food, transportation, and oftentimes gratuities and incidentals like phone calls. We just got back from a prepaid Disney vacation, and I am convinced it’s the best way to enjoy Disney World.

Our family got back from our epic week-long Disney trip two weeks ago. It was the very first trip Mr. ThreeYear, Junior Three Year, and Little Three Year had ever taken to Disney World. I’ve been several times throughout my life, but we were never interested in making a trip with the boys until now.

First of all, my brother-in-law is a big Disney fan. He and my sister have gone multiple times since they’ve been married six years ago, and they invited us to go with them about a year ago when they started planning the trip. Second, they agreed to plan 100% of the trip for us. If you’ve ever been to Disney, you know that to get the best experience requires some major planning. And my brother-in-law was more than up to the task.

He read Disney blogs, researched the ways to get the best deals on places to stay, reserved our fast passes exactly sixty days before we left so we could get the best ones, and even filled out our online Disney Destinations profiles for us. All we had to do was pay for the trip and show up.

Disney World is very expensive, unfortunately, especially when it comes to food, so we made the decision to go all-out on this trip, which will be our one and only Disney trip while the boys are young.

Here’s how we did it. Continue reading “Why a Prepaid Disney Vacation is the Best Vacation”

The Art of Frugal Entertaining

One of the components of well-being, based on research by Martin Seligman and many others, is meaningful relationships. In a study done in the 1960s on the residents of the small community of Roseto, Pennsylvania, and reported on by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, researchers found that all of the residents in the community, who had immigrated from Roseto, Italy, had low incidences of heart disease and other illnesses and enjoyed long lives, despite the fact that they ate poorly, exercised little, and smoked heavily.

Researchers were intrigued and spent several years figuring out the key to the unusual longevity and health the Roseto community enjoyed. Finally, it was determined that the key to the community’s good health was the tight-knit community, the feeling that there was always someone to whom residents could turn if they had a problem. Families and extended families were large and well-connected, and there was a deep sense of community in the town.

We are social creatures. Many of the things we do are for social reasons, whether or not we realize it. I am convinced that the terrible swath of gun violence in the US has come from increasing levels of isolation and loneliness in our society.

One of the reasons our family moved to North Carolina was to live closer to extended family and to cultivate a community of friends and neighbors with whom we had close relationships.

In order to cultivate those relationships, we’ve had to work at starting and nurturing those friendships.

Mr. ThreeYear and I picked the neighborhood we did precisely because it was bike able, kid-friendly, and “warm.” It’s lived up to our expectations. Just last week, Little ThreeYear was invited to ride his bike in the cup-de-sac with some classmates. Mr. ThreeYear and I have met all of our neighbors, and have started several friendships with neighbors with similar interests.

Despite our efforts, families with kids are busy with work, after-school activities, homework, and sports on the weekend. So finding time to hang out with our newfound friends will require some concerted effort on our parts.  Continue reading “The Art of Frugal Entertaining”

Where the Heck Did Our Leisure Time Go?

One of the benefits that appealed most to me as our family started on our journey to financial and location independence was the idea of leisure time, of having time to rest, enjoy our friends, see new things, and linger over meals.

Life is so hectic. It’s “go, go, go” all the time in our society. It’s “what’s your side hustle?” “What day of the week is your child free from activities?” (if there is one).

One of the appeals of technology several decades ago was the idea that it would free us up to have more leisure time. To sit and linger over a meal with family. To plan coffee dates with friends. To sit in a park as a family and do nothing and feel no guilt about that. John Maynard Keynes, an economist writing in the 1930s, imagined a future where the work week would last fifteen hours, and our biggest problem would be what to do with all our free time. I’ll give you a second for a chuckle.

Now, Americans have less leisure time than ever. In an article from 2016, The Atlantic notes that “elite men in the U.S. are the world’s chief workaholics.” The upper class in this country stays at the office longer, takes less vacation, and just works more than the middle and lower class.

But why?  Continue reading “Where the Heck Did Our Leisure Time Go?”

Our Trip to the Desert: San Pedro de Atacama

Merry Christmas! The ThreeYears are currently in Chile. We just got back from a side trip we took to the San Pedro de Atacama desert, in the northeastern part of the country, close to the Bolivian border. San Pedro de Atacama is the driest desert in the world by amount of rainfall received, but it’s also nestled in the Altiplano of the Andes mountains, so there are mountain-fed rivers and streams and salt lagoons everywhere.

Mr. ThreeYear is from Chile, and his entire family lives here, so we visit as much as we can, usually for about three weeks. We plan a side visit to one or two spots we’ve never visited for each trip, so that we can see somewhere new in South America. This year, we picked the San Pedro de Atacama desert, because Junior ThreeYear wanted to visit a desert and see an observatory.

San Pedro de Atacama Desert is a tourist destination, so it’s quite pricey. Here’s what we did to plan a great trip without breaking the bank.

The Flight

Luckily, in the last few years, a number of discount airlines have sprung up in Chile. We eventually decided on JetSmart, an airline with several flights per day from Santiago to Calama, the airport nearest San Pedro. We did an online search from the US just a week before our trip, so we could have gotten better rates if we’d planned ahead more. We looked at JetSmart and Sky, another discount carrier in Chile, and eventually chose JetSmart for its prices and flight options.  JetSmart is definitely no frills, as we found out. The planes are new and clean, and you have ample space between seats, which was very nice. However, if you took anything bigger than a small carry-on (8 kilos or less), you’d be charged for it–about $16 online per bag, $21 at the ticket counter, or $37 at the gate (the prices increase as you get closer to the plane). Also, you have to print your own boarding passes or download them to your phone, or you’ll be charged $8 per boarding pass at the ticket window. Soft drinks, coffee, and a small selection of snacks and sandwiches are sold on board (a Coke or a small container of Pringles is $2.50).

JetSmart--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our plan with JetSmart, which we took to Calama.

The four of us carried two backpacks and two carry-ons, one of which was over the size limit, as we found out at the gate (the website where we booked the tickets was not clear about size limits of carry-ons). Luckily, the gate agent took pity on us, and said she wouldn’t charge us since it was close to the right size. We boarded the flight and flew two hours up to Calama, a small mining city in the middle of the desert.

We paid a total of $540.12 for four tickets from Santiago to Calama. We probably could have gotten a better deal if we’d booked earlier, but we thought $135 per person was reasonable.

The Rental Car

By far the best decision we made during our trip was renting a car. We booked the car online via Priceline, and paid $115.49 for four days and three nights. We rented through the local company Econorent and booked a four-door Nissan Sentra.

At the airport, we picked up the car, then drove to San Pedro de Atacama, after getting directions, because Mr. ThreeYear didn’t have cell service in the airport (he has an international plan through work). Driving through the desert was eerie, at first. Everything is so vast, dusty, and rocky. Continue reading “Our Trip to the Desert: San Pedro de Atacama”

10 Things I Learned This Summer

On Wednesday, the school year starts for the ThreeYears. The Junior ThreeYears start fifth and second grades and I return to my two school districts to teach ESL.

This is the second year that I’ve been off in the summer. We spent part of it on an epic road trip, then spent the rest of the summer enjoying how beautiful New Hampshire is in August.

10 Things I Learned this Summer--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

I didn’t work this summer. Aside from writing blog posts 2-3 times per week, I did not write or do freelance work. I did not take online classes for my master’s. I just took care of my kids (ok, that is admittedly work, and a lot of it. But I didn’t do other work).

We had lots of beautiful time at the beach, the lake, and at home to hang out. I wasn’t particularly good at making the kids keep up with reading or math, or any other schoolwork. They mostly played. We used a lot of the strategies I wrote about here to keep ourselves occupied.

I tried to rest as much as possible, and think. I read a lot of books. I watched some TV. I wrote in my journal, something that’s gotten short shift since I started this blog. I followed links I read about on other blog posts.

Here are ten things I learned, or learned about, this summer, that I thought I’d share:

1. Quitting Social Media is Possible.

I watched this TED talk by Dr. Cal Newport, then read his book, Deep Work. This guy is not on social media, and he’s young. But he’s rejected it his whole life. He says the three common objections that people have for quitting are not true objections: it’s a fundamental technology. No it’s not, he says. It’s a form of entertainment that is addictive. It’s vital to my success as an entrepreneur, etc. Actually, he argues, doing work that is thoughtful and profound is rare and valuable in this day and age. And you can only do that type of work by shutting down distractions. What’s the harm? It’s no big deal if I’m on FB/Twitter/Instagram/SnapChat/etc. It’s more harmful than you think, he argues, as these technologies are designed to be addictive, and as you spend a larger and larger portion of your day on social media, your attention becomes more and more fragmented and you permanently lose your ability to sustain attention.  Continue reading “10 Things I Learned This Summer”

How We Survive and Thrive in Summer

Summer looks and feels a little different for most of us, but for those of us with kids, there are some big logistical challenges to overcome. My friend who has works full time starts planning her kids’ camp schedule in February. Another friend who works part time has her husband work remotely on days she goes into the office. I’m home with my kids all summer since I’m a teacher, but I definitely need a plan for fun and sanity.

Read on for how I’ve finally figured out, after many summers, how to include both, without spending a fortune.

Survive and Thrive in Summer--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Two years ago, after seven and a half years as a stay-at-home mom, then two years as a part-time marketing manager, I did an abrupt career change and became a part-time ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher at my kids’ elementary school. It’s been such a wonderful way to make a difference, earn money, and see my kids every day.

And the best part of it is that when summer finally arrives, the boys and I are off! We are free to enjoy the summer, go to the beach, and have playdates.

Even though we look forward to summer all year, I’ve learned over the years that ten weeks of expansive free time makes mama and boys less-than-happy. Continue reading “How We Survive and Thrive in Summer”

Breaking “the Rules”

Last weekend both of my boys celebrated birthdays. This year, those celebrations looked a little different than this time last year. Last year, I decided to do a homemade birthday party extravaganza. Unlike Mrs. BITA’s homemade party, which seemed to be lovely and fairly easy to put together, or Mrs. Frugalwood’s family gathering, the ThreeYears’ homemade Minecraft party was a lesson in what not to do when creating a homemade birthday party.

Breaking the Rules--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Don’t get me wrong. The party was a straight-out hit. I had no less than four small people tell me “this is the best party ever!” with zero trace of sarcasm in their tiny voices. They were having major fun, which may have had something to do with the Brewing Station, with six bottles of sugared soda that they got to “mix” into different potions.

But the party planner almost did herself in. In my efforts to do it myself, and reproduce Pinterest, I drove myself nuts. I made a homemade Minecraft piñata, for the love of all things holy. I created the aforementioned Brewing Station, and affixed handmade labels to each of the two-liter bottles of soda in six phosphorescent artificial colors. I made recipes for the potions they could create, and had my boys weigh in on how realistic the colors were for each potion (“No, Mom, that’s a Potion of Healing, which is red, not green”). Continue reading “Breaking “the Rules””

How to Create Beautiful, Frugal Flower Gardens

Do you love to garden? Is Spring your favorite time of year, when the flowers start blooming and there’s color bursting out of every bed?

I absolutely love to create flower gardens. I also know I could spend a small fortune buying plants and shrubs to create the perfect landscape around our house.

Flowers--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Since our family is on a three year journey to double our net worth and become location independent, it’s not a priority to spend a lot of money on landscaping when we’ll be selling our home soon. But I love to constantly improve our gardens and so, have learned to save lots of money but still create beautiful flower beds.

Continue reading “How to Create Beautiful, Frugal Flower Gardens”