Learning to Live with Less

Growing up in the US during the seventies and eighties, I was like many children during that time. My parents worked hard to give me and my brother a happy childhood by spending as much time with us as they possibly could while both working outside the home and by making sure that, not only were all of our needs met, but that we also had many of our “wants” as well. As each generation before them, they wanted to give us more than what they were able to have while they were growing up. I don’t find any fault in that at all. I never went without anything that I needed and, by being a mostly good kid, I earned a lot of the things I wanted. I’m sure that there are some that feel that I was spoiled more than necessary. However, I always tried to make sure my parents knew how much I appreciated the things they gave me by taking care not to break them and by always thinking before I made a choice to do something so that they could always be proud of the person I was growing up to be. My brother and I understood that they were going without the things they wanted (and sometimes needed) to give things to us.

Having lived in St. Kitts for a year and a half now, I’m starting to wonder when each generation giving “more” material things to their children will be enough. When does it just become a habit? I mean, I don’t really need to give Kylie more than what I had growing up because my childhood was as close to perfect as anyone could ask for. So, is my obsession with buying her everything I think she’ll like really about making her life better? Or is it robbing her of the chance to learn how to earn what she wants for herself? Will having lots of things really make her a happy adult? Or would it be better for her, in the long run, to enjoy the things she has and find happiness in experiencing life? I think island life is going to be good for all of us because:

  1. I can’t shop all the time nor is it enjoyable when I have to.
  2. The latest and greatest name brand items are just not available here so I don’t feel the need to keep up with everyone else.
  3. The cost of importing non-essential items just isn’t worth it so you learn to live without them.

One of the things that I really like about the people here is that everyone is happy to have the things they have and they don’t seem to judge others for what they have or don’t have. Not that they don’t strive to better themselves and provide more to their children but they’re just happy living life. It’s not unusual to see a teenage boy riding down the road on a pink bicycle or carrying a pink backpack to school. The bike gets them to where they need to go and the backpack carries what they need. Who cares if they’re pink? It’s just not that important. This is the way I imagine generations before me grew up; before all the commercialization and constant push to have more things in order to validate your life. Continue reading “Learning to Live with Less”

Cotton Candy and Carousels

Our first trip home since the big move held a mixture of emotions for all of us. We were all so excited to see our families again but were also missing our “girls” who stayed behind with some friends while we travelled. I think the hardest part for me was the fact that both of our dogs love our house back home as much as we do and would have been so happy to be back to see their friends and neighbors as well as lay in the cool grass of the front yard where they’ve both spent almost their entire lives. I’ll admit, I felt a little guilty. Continue reading “Cotton Candy and Carousels”

Kylie’s School

At this point you may be wondering why my blog is called Living the Life of Kylie. Well, one of the reasons we decided to embark on this adventure is our three-year old daughter. We wanted to give her the opportunity for a true world experience; to expose her to different cultures, languages, traditions, etc.  Being a “hick from the sticks” myself, I know how self-conscious it can make you to walk into a room full of intellectuals from other countries and feel like you don’t belong there. I don’t want that for my girl. I want her to feel confident to go anywhere and know that she belongs there as much as anyone else.

When we returned to Saint Kitts after importing the dogs, we enrolled Kylie in the Ross University Preparatory School that is located on the campus of RUSVM. With a multi-cultural population, there are so many opportunities for Kylie to gain experience from children her own age. She has children in her class from Scotland, Romania, Saint Kitts and the US. Some of them speak multiple languages. There are children in other classes from all over the world.

Her class is the Preschool 2 level which includes 3 and 4 year olds. They have Spanish lessons at least once a week and IT classes twice a week in addition to PE and other social skills activities. One of her teachers also teaches them American Sign Language.

I’ve been so impressed with the older children as well as they tend to take the younger ones under their wing and show them the ropes. Since there are several opportunities throughout the day for them to interact with other grade levels, Kylie has really surprised me with how quickly she has joined in. At first she was more relaxed around the older kids than she was in her own class. We still have the occasional moment where she clings to me but normally she’s off and running and ready to join her friends. It’s a welcome change. I’m sure some of that is coming with maturity too.

Another opportunity that I’m particularly excited about is the chance for her to study music involving different instruments. She’s always loved music and often makes up her own songs. Ever since she saw the first episode of Little Einsteins, she has been begging for a violin and a piano. She also loves to hear drums and is constantly drumming on things around the house. While we’re still looking for a violin instructor, we think we may have found a drum teacher for her and there is a piano teacher at the school also. This is her first time sitting down at a drum set (proud moment for momma even if it doesn’t sound like much to the outside world):


The first few months of chaos (part 2)

When we first went back to the US to pack up our things, Kylie & I did a lot of shopping. I know, that sounds like fun but it was hard work. During our first month on the island we pretty much determined that the little luxuries (like peanut butter, toilet paper, and brand name tampons) were very expensive. So, off to Sams and Target we went filling up huge carts and running up credit card bills as we went. Our goal: to fill up the shipping container with as many of these items as we had room for after our major needs were packed. Of course, most of the major needs were centered around Kylie and her books and toys, the dogs’ food and beds and a few things thrown in for Matt and me. After being on the island for a month prior to this though, dropping a grand on paper products didn’t seem bad at all. (It’s funny how quickly your perception changes when you’re faced with a $14.00 jar of JIF – yes, I said $14.00 US or $39.99 EC). I’ll talk more about the craziness that is Grocery Shopping in a later post.

As I said in part 1, we sold my Volvo and it hurt. What I didn’t say was that we sold our xTerra too! But, we sold it to Matt’s best friend Stephen and well, you have to know Stephen. He’s awesome and selling it to him was like entrusting someone with your favorite pet. We know the adventures will live on even though we’re not there and that’s very comforting. It also helped to bump up our savings account for living within our budget on the island.

I know I keep saying “the island”. Well, Saint Kitts is a small (meaning you can stand in the middle and see both sides) island in the Eastern Caribbean and is part of the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis. Here’s a little more info to help you picture it:


As we get out and explore I’ll post pictures and give everyone our take on island life. By the way…we still haven’t received our shipping container with everything we shipped!

The first few months of chaos (part 1 – Importing the dogs)

Before we left the US, we sold my Volvo S40 for a mere $2,100. It hurt to do it but there was no sense in letting it sit in a garage for who knows how many years. Our first priorities when we arrived on the island were to find a car (our rental was only paid for during the first seven days) and find somewhere to live. Well, we finally found a car; apparently the ONLY car left on the island for sale. A 2001 Nissan Sunny for the low, low price of $6,500 (Are you freaking kidding me?). Oh well, it is island life by the way. So, one obstacle down and one to go. I started contacting realtors while Matt was at work each day trying to find the perfect place to live that would allow not only the three of us but also our two labrador retrievers. The first realtor said that she only had properties that either didn’t allow pets (or children) at all or only allowed one small pet (and older children) so, okay…forget finding perfection. After three weeks we were starting to get desperate because our temporary housing was only for thirty days and the university already had another new employee lined up to move into our temp house as soon as we moved out! Luckily, Matt had a colleague that owns a second home on the island and his renters that had been on the island for three years were leaving at the end of the month for New Zealand. With four bedrooms (or three and an office), a loft that could accommodate a few more and a big enough yard for the dogs to romp in we had finally found the place we’ll be calling home for a while. Our landlord is the greatest and didn’t even charge the normal pet fee! So, at the end of the month, when we should have been settled, Kylie and I left the island to go back to the US to get our dogs and pack the remainder of our belongings while Matt made the move to the new place. Luckily we had brought very little with us the first trip so it was an easy move for him.

So, after two weeks in the US trying to visit everyone, finish up doctor and vet visits and get our container packed, Matt joined us and the five of us climbed in the rental van and headed to Miami to ship the dogs to the island. We had a fun road trip and were really proud of Kylie and the dogs for doing so well during the two-day drive. Then, after checking into the hotel in Miami and getting Matt on the shuttle to the airport, Kylie & I drove back to Ft. Lauderdale to drop off the dogs for their flight later that night. Even though I had prepared for this for months, it was very difficult to leave two of my babies (and that IS how I feel about them) with a total stranger and trust them to take care of my girls when I knew very well that they had no clue what was going on. I was so worried that they would think I had abandoned them. I even forgot their paperwork and the shipper had to drop by the hotel to pick it up on his way to the airport with them. This was the beginning of my breakdown. Here I was, in Miami, alone, with my three-year-old daughter and I was literally unable to stop crying. I wanted my dogs back. I turned to my Facebook friends to help me through prayer and reassurance and called my parents and Matt’s parents. The whole time, Kylie was walking back and forth to the bathroom bringing me tissues. She’d say, “Here mommy. Here’s one for your eyes and one for your nose.” She was being so sweet. When did my little baby grow up and how was it that she was now taking care of me? In order to get my mind off the fact that I had no idea if my dogs were okay or not, Kylie and I decided to have a “clean out the traveling food” party. So, for our bedtime snack, we had cookies, chips and cereal! It was good to think about something else for a while.

The next morning, we gathered our stuff and set off for the airport. First, we had to return the rental car and get all of our stuff to the terminal. We had a lot more stuff that I realized! Luckily there was a cart rental station nearby so we rented one and loaded it up. After walking for what seemed like forever, we got on the skytrain and went to check our bags and get ready for our flight. Everyone in the airport got a kick out of Kylie riding her Trunki® through the airport. I have to admit, it WAS cute! She had her little stuffed Toulouse kitty with her and both of them had big smiles on their faces. It was too cute. We boarded the plane and talked about what we were going to do when we got to Saint Kitts and got to see Daddy and the girls (the dogs were supposed to have arrived in Saint Kitts at 6:30 am). When I talked to Matt around 10:30, the dogs had not arrived but he had been told that they should arrive around noon. Even though I was getting nervous, I knew there was nothing I could do to help them at that point so I just took a deep breath and tried my best to just focus on Kylie. We played on the plane and talked a little about our trip. Then she fell asleep.

When we landed, I immediately called Matt for an update on the girls. It was almost 2:00 pm. They had JUST ARRIVED!!! They hadn’t had food since about 4:00 pm the day before and not much water. Who knows if they even got to have a potty break; nobody could tell us. As it turned out, their “direct flight” ended up being a “three-stop flight” (my poor babies had to take off and land THREE TIMES)!! To make matters worse, they arrived just ahead of me and Kylie which meant that we weren’t going to have enough room in the car to get all of our luggage, their crates, and all three of us into the car. AND, Matt was with them all the way on the other side of the airport. Granted, it’s not that big of an airport but when you have five large bags and a toddler to handle, it’s not very easy to move from one end to the other without help (and of course the people helping rely on tips and I didn’t have ANY money). So, after getting “warned” multiple times not to leave our bags unattended (I could only carry so much) we got everything moved to the other end of the waiting area where we could see Matt who was having his own set of problems.

When the dogs arrived and were taken off the plane, the guys just barely parked them in the shade. It was HOT and there was no air moving at all. Neither dog had water so, of course, Matt was concerned for their safety. That’s when he started getting the runaround from the customs agents. First of all, the checklist that we were given from the university said to have $210 US in CASH to pay for their import fees. It said nothing else about any other fees. Well, that’s not how the local officials saw it and every time Matt turned around someone else was asking him to pay another fee. We ended up being short of funds and the ATM at the airport wouldn’t take my debit card. Needless to say, Matt was getting more and more worried about the dogs’ safety as they continued to sit in the hot sun in (basically) their small plastic ovens. Finally, he told the woman behind the desk, who had kept getting distracted and doing other things between each step in the import process, that he didn’t care if the paperwork was finished or not, he was going to get our dogs OUT of the sun. We managed to get their harnesses and leashes (which the shipper had taken off of them in Miami and handed to me along with all of their identification info) to him so that he could get them out of their kennels. While he was doing that, I wrote a check (which they finally accepted) for the remaining fees so that we could finally go to the house. Seeing them was the BEST feeling I’d had in a long time. They were still alive!!!!! Meanwhile, Kylie and I got the car keys from Matt and found the car (again after getting chastised for leaving our bags unattended and with a threat of having them seized) and got everything that we could loaded into the car. Matt brought the dogs over and we started trying to figure out how to get everything to the house. We started the car and turned on the A/C full blast to help cool the dogs down since they were panting terribly and we were worried that they were going to suffer heat stroke. While Kylie played in the front seat I gave each of the dogs as much water as I could get them to drink in the back seat. Then it happened. Kylie got out of the car and shut the door. Not realizing that she had locked all four doors from the driver’s side control panel, I shut the back door. Matt had gone to arrange a cab to take the dog crates and our larger luggage since we never did figure out how to make it all fit. Major CRAP moment!!! Now, what were we going to do? Our dogs, who had been traumatized already by the long flight and being separated from us, were now locked inside a running car. Luckily it WAS running and the A/C was going full blast or else we’d have had some broken windows on our apparently “gold-plated” used beater of a car. Lucky for us, the airport was closing and several of the workers noticed our frantic attempts to get into the car. They called friends and eventually, someone came with some equipment to get the door open enough to roll down the window so that we could unlock the door.

We finally made it to our house around 5:00 pm and collapsed in sheer exhaustion. The next morning, I awoke to an email from the shipper in Miami (who had told me my girls would be on a DIRECT FLIGHT to minimize the chance of something bad happening) asking me how they were doing and asking me to let him know when we were ready to return to the US as he would be happy to arrange the return shipment. I’m still not believing he actually had the nerve to send that email. And, if we fly them again, you’d better believe I’ll be taking out a loan for a chartered flight because I’ll never let them out of my sight for a flight again if there’s any way I can avoid it.

Welcome to paradise…


Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Writing and Speaking for the Pop Culture Literate.

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