Archive: Extreme Parenting

Extreme Parenting: The No Impact Man on Green Living with Kids

Colin Beavan and his family spent one year trying to take the term “green” to the extreme. By the time his book was finished and the documentary had launched, the No Impact Man had lived without electricity, a car or even throwaway diapers- not an easy feat with a toddler running around. Now, a few years after No Impact Man launched, Colin still strives to live as environmentally as possible. He is a vegetarian, an avid biker and has an apartment completely furnished with second hand furniture. He also heads, a site dedicated to helping people get involved in the environmental agenda. Colin spends time visiting colleges and schools, publicly speaking about environmental issues and lifestyle. He’s also working on a book about how to live a life that’s both better for humans and the planet, which is set to hit shelves near the end of the 2013. MomTrusted talked to Colin about his environmental experiment and how any family can lead a greener life.


MomTrusted: Can you summarize the documentary and book No Impact Man?

Colin Beavan: It was a year in which my family and I lived as environmentally as possible in the middle of New York City. When I say that we lived as environmentally as possible, it wasn’t about making sure we did the recycling, but, for example, not making any trash at all or using a more efficient vehicle and actually trying to make no carbon emission through our transportation at all. We worked in all the areas from trash to consumption to travel to household operation, trying to live for a year making as little impact as possible.


MomTrusted: What were you hoping to gain?

Colin: I needed to ask this question: Is it possible to live doing more good than harm, environmentally speaking? Also does the modern, consumer lifestyle actually make us happy or is it possible that there’s a way of life that’s both better for us and better for the planet?


MomTrusted: What were the added challenges of doing this experiment with a toddler?

Colin: For one thing, she was in diapers and so obviously we couldn’t use throwaway diapers. We went on to cloth ones.


But I think that having a toddler made it easier in a lot of ways because I came to see everything through her eyes. For example, one time I went to pick her up from childcare and we were on our way home in pouring rain. She was riding my shoulders. I had an umbrella and I was struggling to keep the umbrella over her. Obviously in New York City, it’s hard to get a taxi when it’s raining, but if you can’t get in a taxi because you’re leading an environmental life experiment there seem to be lots of empty cabs around.


So we’re walking along, it’s pouring rain and I’m wrestling with the umbrella in the rain. The wind would blow and Isabella would start crying and the rain would hit her. I said, “I’m trying to keep you dry.” Then I realized she wasn’t crying when the wind blew the umbrella off of her. She was crying when I was keeping the umbrella over her because she wanted to feel the rain. So I took the umbrella down, we got soaking wet and splashed our way home. I thought, “What have we come to that we struggle to not feel the elements?”


In a lot of ways she wasn’t an extra challenge, but made it easier.


MomTrusted: How do you explain the concept of going green to your children?

Colin: It doesn’t need much explaining as far as the kids are concerned. For example, if you say to a kid, “So this is how our energy system works: What we do is we find a nice mountain and we blow the top off of it. We harvest the coal out of the mountain and, while we do that, we actually make it so that all the drinking water for the people down stream from the mountain becomes poison. So the people can’t drink the water anymore. Then we take the coal from the mountain and we throw it in a big fire and make electricity. When we burn that coal, it pumps this poison called carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and starts to make the planet warmer. It makes it harder for a bunch of species to survive and could actually make it harder for us as human beings to survive.” Now when you tell that story to children, usually they think, “What the hell is wrong with you grownups?”


So when it comes to explaining stuff, kids get it really well. It’s the grownups that have a hard time getting it.


MomTrusted: What advice would you give to a family interested in leading a more environmentally friendly lifestyle?

Colin: Look for those areas that are more environmental and help the family at the same time. For example, if the family is concerned about their diet, moving toward a non-processed, plant-based diet is good for the family and is good for the environment.  If the family’s concerned about not getting enough exercise, then look into ways that actually use your body to transport yourself. If money is an issue, conserve energy around the home. Move toward things that would actually improve your life.


Extreme Parenting: The Family on Bikes


The biking family: John, Daryl, Davy and Nancy Vogel


The Vogel family spent multiple years of their lives on bikes. During their largest journey, they traveled 17,300 miles along the Pan American Highway. Their journey took them from Alaska to Argentina, through 15 countries. The Vogel’s twin sons were 10 years old at the time. Mother, Nancy Sathre-Vogel talked to us about traveling by two wheels, with two kids.


MomTrusted: What made you decided to start your biking journey?

Nancy: Although we are more known for cycling from Alaska to Argentina, that journey actually started a couple years earlier when we made the decision to take a one-year career break and cycle around the USA and Mexico. Our twin sons were 8 at the time, and my husband and I decided we wanted more time with them. We had also lived overseas for most of our sons’ lives and wanted to show them their own country – and there’s no better way to do that than on a bicycle.


As we cycled the Pacific coast on that one-year trip, we met some other cyclists who were on their way to Argentina. “Let’s go!” we thought. But reality kicked in and we realized we were not adequately prepared for such a journey. We continued with our loop around the USA and set our sights on a separate journey at another time.


Our “one-year career break” kinda, sorta got extended…


MomTrusted: I know you’ve done a lot of family bike trips. When was the first and where did it take place?

Nancy: We haven’t taken all that many family bike trips, but each one was, shall we say, rather long? Although my husband and I bike toured extensively before our children were born, their first bike tour came when they were 7. That summer we took a 4-day trip into the mountains around Idaho, and then a few weeks later a 2-day trip to the Snake River canyon. That was it until we set off for our one-year trip around the USA, which led to our 3-year trip from Alaska to Argentina.


MomTrusted: I know you and your husband are both teachers. How did you budget for your trips?

Nancy: For our first big trip, we financed it completely with savings.


Once we decided to cycle the length of the Americas, we had to get creative. We rented out our home (it was paid for, so rent was income), wrote articles for magazines, sold ads on our website, and anything else we could do to bring in a few bucks. Anything not paid for with those, came out of savings.


MomTrusted: What was the biggest challenge of bringing kids along on your journeys?

Nancy: I think the hardest part was dealing with the critics. Although my husband and I felt that our travels were the best childhood we could provide for our children, there were those who felt we were using and abusing our children. Because of their criticism, I spent countless hours evaluating and reevaluating my motives to see exactly why I was doing what I was doing. I came to the conclusion that biking around the world might not be perfect for all kids, for our children it was the best thing going.


Our society raises us in such a way that we should grow up to want certain things. The expectations of society are that we will want the big house in the suburbs, three cars in the driveway, soccer and gymnastics for the kids, and all that. When we made the decision that the expected life wasn’t the life we wanted, there were people who felt very strongly that we weren’t being fair to our children. That’s a hard thing to deal with.


MomTrusted: What’s the best part of having your kids join you on your travels?

Nancy: We got to see the world through their eyes. Children have this ability to see things that we adults miss, and they brought us into their world. We were also received differently by the people we met because of our children – the kids opened doors we never would have known existed!


MomTrusted: What are you doing now? Do you have any other big adventures planned?

Nancy: For now, we are living in Boise, Idaho. John and I have the parenting philosophy that we want to give our children as many varied experiences as possible. They lived the expat life overseas when they were small. They spent four years living full time on bicycles. Now we want to give them the opportunity to put down roots and be part of a greater community.


Our sons are still homeschooled, but are taking advanced math and science through the local schools. They are also in Boy Scouts and on a robotics team. One of them has taken up running and is part of the local cross country and track teams; the other is on the swim team.


We are loving our lives here in Idaho!

Extreme Parenting: 360 Degrees Longitude, the Family That Traveled Around the World

John, September, Jordan and Katrina Higham at Machu Picchu


John Higham, his wife September and their two children Katrina and Jordan took one full year to travel around the world. During their time on the road, water and in the air, they saw 28 countries on five continents. Higham wrote 360 Degrees Longitude, a book documenting the family’s journey. He talked with MomTrusted about his family trip.


MomTrusted: How did you decide to take a trip around the world?

John Higham: Before our children were born, my wife and I spent a year in Japan on a work assignment. We had traveled previously, and knew what a life changing impact traveling can have on a person. Nevertheless, that year in Japan was the genesis for wanting to take our kids abroad for a year. Initially, we were going to travel to four places and spend three months in each place. It grew from there. See “Chapter Zero.” [in 360 Degrees Longitude]


MomTrusted: How did you budget for the trip?

John: About three years before our RTW [around the world] trip, we took a month-long “prototype trip” to the most expensive place we could think of: Switzerland. From that we scaled the budget for 12 months and for other less expensive locales.


For more information, visit the family’s website.


MomTrusted: How did you choose the countries you visited?

John: Initially, we were going to cycle from London to Istanbul over summer, and from there the plan was to follow the sun (stay in warm weather) to Africa, Asia and South America. This worked out, but we really screwed up in a few places by arriving in what I thought would be a shoulder season [the time between high and low season in a travel market], but it turned out to be freaking cold. Of course, cycling didn’t work out so well after my daughter broke her leg….


Also, we wanted our kids to have some ownership in the trip. A few years before we left, we started putting sticky notes on a giant map and discussing those places as a family. We let the kids pick one destination each. My son picked China to see the Great Wall (he had studied it in school) and my daughter picked Tanzania because of her love of lions.


MomTrusted: How old were your children at the time?

John: Eight and 11. In our prototype trip, we concluded that there were long periods of time where there wasn’t much to do so we wanted our kids to be old enough to keep themselves entertained with a book. They also couldn’t be too old where hanging out with the ‘rents was embarrassing.


MomTrusted: What was the biggest challenge of bringing kids along on your journey?

John: I’m struggling here. There were far more rewards than challenges… stuff management, maybe. You just have more stuff, but the adults tend to manage most of it from hand washing their clothes to helping them spell a word when they write in their journal. Also, finding the time for meaningful homeschooling.


MomTrusted: Tell me about a time that you really wanted to jump on the next plane home.

John: Never happened. Never. The thought did creep into the shadows of our minds after Katrina broke her leg, but my wife and I each gave each other that look and both knew what the other was thinking. It wasn’t even discussed, except in terms of “we have to cope because we’re not going home.” Many friends even offered refuge in various cities across Europe, but we soldiered on.


MomTrusted: What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned on your journey?

John: I never planned to write a book.  I’m an engineer by training and profession.  But when friends would ask questions like, “what was your take-away?” the responses felt so vacuous that summing up my thoughts in a book was natural.


But if I were to pick two things, they would be that as a family, you can overcome any obstacle as long as you share common goals and do it together and that around the world, people are more alike than they are different. Media tries to amplify the differences and it is very divisive. Travel is a great humanizer.


MomTrusted: If you could, would you do it all over again?

John: Oh, yeah.  Even 6+ years later, it occupies my thoughts every waking moment. I yearn to do it again, this time with just my wife.  And maybe the occasional visit from kids and grandkids (which had better still be 10 years in the future!).

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