unconventional family conventionWhat does a 'normal' family look like?

Think about it. What image comes to your mind when you think of a 'normal', happy family?

Do they live in a house in suburbia, have 1.2 kids that go to school, parents who work and own two cars?

Well, part of our mission and purpose for the 'Unconventional Family Convention' is to redefine what's 'normal' for family life.

Normal for people with kids can include vagabonding, 'homelessness', 'unemployment' and truancy.

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"But those things sounds so 'bad'," you say.

How can your children and marriage be happy, normal, stable and solid if you're constantly wandering and experiencing change; if you have no consistent home where your kids can grow; if you can't 'hold down' a regular job; and if your children never go to school?

Well, the group of families we spent time with on the beach in Guatemala last week (after El Salvador wouldn't let us in) prove that stability comes from the strength of the family culture, and not from living a 'normal' life.

Not one of us holds a 'regular' job (in fact, we're unemployable.) Each of us has moved countless times (and some of us are official vagabonds). All of our children are skipping school. But I would say that each and every one of these families is happy, 'normal' and stable (besides being really, really cool.)


Last year for our first unofficial 'convention', we hung out with LivingOutsideoftheBox, A King's Life, Mayan Running Adventure and the Kelly family for Easter and Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala.

This year, we tried to hold our 2nd annual unofficial convention on the beach in El Salvador (but they wouldn't let us in their country), so we ended up (after some wandering), in a sleepy little beach town.

Located on the southern coast of Guatemala, Chapeton is very small. We did find a hotel... there's not many to choose from. Although the price was right, this was the kind of accommodations that would have given me the heebie-jeebies on our first travel adventure driving to Costa Rica in 2007.


Our hosts had never had so many guests at once who stayed for so long (not to mention never having foreigners before). All together we brought 9 adults and 22 kids... not one of whom complained about the toilets without seats, the 'pipe' showers that were cold (but refreshing), or the questionable mattresses.

However 'sketchy', you couldn't beat the ambiance.


Of course, this was our accommodation as usual... nothing beats camping on the beach!


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As soon as we arrived, the kids (and Greg) jumped into the water (some of them still fully clothed) or started digging in the sand.




The rest of us more mature (or boring) adults simply waded and enjoyed the peaceful conditions (isn't it nice how ocean waves drown out the noisy sounds of children?)





The next morning, the guys went for a run on the beach.




The kids had already set off at dawn on a coconut hunt, and returned victorious with breakfast (this became a daily tradition.) One day, they came back with 50+ coconuts!



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My favorite -- young coconut. You can scoop it like yogurt.

This was good for breakfast too.


The remainder of our three days there were spent digging in the sand...








Playing in the waves...

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Lounging, or walking, on the beach...

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Watching and learning from the fisherman...

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This is a baby Great White!

Practicing the ukulele...

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Exploring the town (that didn't take long)...

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Watching the sunsets...

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Cooking and eating, of course. (We were like a swarm of locust on any food placed on the table. Our hosts had never seen anything like it)...

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Building bonfires...

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This is where Parker slept at nights, so he could get up early.Unconventional Family Convention - 162

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Posing...     Unconventional Family Convention - 115

And talking...

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The best part?

Not only did we have an amazing time, but the best part of the entire experience was the environment of love, respect, cooperation, and a shared vision on living.

Our conversations weren't just 'chit-chat', but deep and meaningful, about the books we've read or we're reading, and how to live life deliberately.

To maintain oneself on this earth is not a hardship, but a pastime,  if we will live simply and wisely. -- Thoreau

When we faced challenges (like running out of food -- there wasn't much available in town) or money (there were no ATMs), we worked together and discovered solutions. We helped each other out.

And the children were the best examples of all. Hugging, friendly, and having fun, there were few (if any) fights, and it would be difficult for an outsider to tell who are siblings and who aren't, they share so much love for one another.

Due to a lack of formal schooling and negative peer influence (and abundant parental influence), these kids -- from 16 to 2 -- haven't learned to make fun, to judge, to mock, or to ridicule. Instead there is only respect, patience, kindness, and fun. (IMHO)

The older children and younger children are friends, playing in each others games, loving and compassionate (like the 14 year old who spends the 4 hour drive talking to the chatty 3 year old, without annoyance, only tenderness.) This is the true definition of 'socialization' -- the ability to relate and respect people of all ages. (Don't get me started on that...)

The younger children learn to be more 'mature', being a part of the activities the 'big kids' devise -- gathering and opening coconuts, building bonfires and forts. Everyone looks out for one another.

There's lots of mentoring that takes place naturally -- older children teach the youngers how to play the ukulele, make fireworks, clean up and help out. They also model the behavior that you want young children to learn, through positive peer pressure, without stigmas -- serious study and reading, meaningful conversation and discussions with adults. There's no activity avoided because it's 'not cool'. Everything is open to investigation, with curiosity as our guide.

The younger kids are devoted to the older ones, and the older children respect that devotion and respond with tenderness and friendship. This is one of the greatest 'side effects' of this lifestyle and approach to education -- there's a vacuum, created by an elimination of the things that drain time and energy, such as time-consuming jobs, school and extracurricular activities. Filling the space that is created is an abundance of time spent together, pursuit of activities of interest, fun and play and lots of love.

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Watch how much fun we had:

Next year, we're thinking about holding an 'official' unconvention (with 'workshops' and everything.)

Where will it be held next year? Would you like to join us?



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23 Responses

  1. livingoutsideofthebox

    What fun!  So glad we got to spend it with you last year…now we’ll have to find a way to make it happen next year!  Hahaa!  Seriously, what a great time for all!  I’m a bit green with envy…
    We miss you guys!!

  2. Lisa

    Sounds like a great time! I’m curious why El Salvador didn’t let you in… anything in particular?

  3. mytreasuredcreations

    oh, that looks like so much meaningful fun and fellowship! I have never been to a convention of any kind, wouldn’t mind going to one of yours!!! 🙂

    PS young coconut is my favorite food. there is ton of it in the Amazon. 🙂

  4. catherineforest

    Oh wow! I really wish we will be there next year!! When we were in Costa Rica last winter, this is exactly what I had envisioned, but we were so… alone and this year, the US road-trip is fun but again, very lonesome. I miss a tribe. My girls are getting bigger (the twins are 9 and Mathilde 7) and I love that kind of interaction between different age groups and it happens way too rarely for us with like-minded families… Would love to be there!

  5. mytreasuredcreations

    I have been watching your videos on youtube today. You know a video you guys should post?? Your yoga routine. I am dying to know how does Greg get his killer abs!!!! hahahaha 🙂

  6. lmmcgarry

    Rachel thanks so much for sharing once again! The thing I most love and believe in is how a community & education is created by the kids. I really long to find a group of people like you all! I would LOVE to join you all next year- choosing to see “problems” as temporary challenges- my challenge is I am not married and even more unconventional in that my kids have fur, paws and hooves. Do single people ever meet up with all of you? -LM

  7. lmmcgarry

    RachelDenning lmmcgarry OMGosh!! Costa Rica has become my “heart home”!  Since I visited last year everday I am trying to figure out the path back this year and hopefully eventually every year!! :D. I am thinking about cancelling a professional education conference at the end of Jan. so we would have the money to come to the THIRD UFC of yours. YOU JUST SAID the the magic words “Costa Rica” !!!! Please let me know when you guys decide!!
    Thanks Rachel I hope you all are well and happy!
    A beautiful waterfall and swimming hole you can easily hike to along with my canine friends I made for my whole stay 🙂 AMAZING! Howler monkeys on the way back!

  8. chapeton1

    I am so pleased you had such a good time in Chapeton Beach…….I am one of the lucky who can call Chapeton Beach home…. although I live in Nashville, TN.  I miss that place, and hope to go back soon. I admire you guys to have the courage to get into those trips, especially with young kids. Be safe in your trips, and remember that there are more good Guatemalans than bad ones……..


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