Sunday, September 13, 2015

Finding Rest in Our Busiest Days

The days of young children in the house are hectic. Crazy. Busy. Demanding. Often overwhelming. (Can I get an Amen!?)

But if I'm honest, I love so very much about caring for and loving on a baby. One thing that's keeping me sane these days are nursing breaks.  I mean, the baby's gotta eat.  And I've gotta do it.  This is one of the very very few thing I must do, several times a day (everything else - like dishes and toilets and even answering the phone - can wait).

It's the break from the to-do list that feels so good.  I can give myself permission to let everything else sit for a minute.  The baby needs to eat and so I can put up my feet, I can breathe, I can stop doing, I can slow down. I can love my baby and I can rest.

Of course, not every feeding is restful.  There are two other hooligans to tend to and read to and snuggle with. And sometimes baby herself is restless. But still, those few minutes - when I'm intentional about it - help me refocus amidst the chaos and that brief rest becomes so restorative.

It wasn't always, though. I'd scroll through Pinterest. I'd peruse my news feed. I'd make mental lists of all the things I had yet to do.  I'd look at the toys on the floor and the smudges on the windows and the laundry heaped on the couch and feel overwhelmed.

No more.  I'm taking back the rest. I need it and my children need me to have it.

Once I get settled, these things are helping me make that time restful:

Reading a book on my phone (a fun one - engaging and delightful).
Cat napping (even just closing my eyes and breathing deeply makes a big difference in my mood and perspective and patience).
Telling stories (my boys love this and the house is quiet for a few precious minutes).

We all need breaks. Some of us (that would be me) need them to be mandatory - giving ourselves permission to stop the to-do-listing and take time to fill our own cups.

When do you stop to rest in your busy day?
And what helps you make those rest minutes restorative?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dreams, Risk, Fear, And Making It Happen Anyway


I've been thinking a lot about taking risks in these days.  Because you know, we're about the take the biggest risk of our married life: we're going to buy a farm.

I'm no stranger to risk; I was a foreign exchange student in high school, attended college in a different country thousands of miles away from my small hometown, and served a mission overseas teaching others about Jesus Christ in a foreign language.  We started a business with almost nothing when I was pregnant with our first child.  We lived in Europe with a toddler when I was pregnant with our second.  We bought a short sale in awful condition and lived in a construction zone for months with two little boys under four.  I went back to school when our youngest was still breastfeeding.  We've done quite a few "risky" things in our time.

And so, in the year of our tenth anniversary, selling our house in anticipation of a cross-country move and spending more than 3 months living in our car, in a tent, and on the couches of generous friends and family didn't seem like that big of a deal.  Except now we're at the tail end of those 3 months on the road and on the threshold of making a big, dream-come-true, real-life, grown-up decision, and the risk of that decision looms over us - big, dark, and scary.

I'm sure you've done this on the eve of your big decisions: you go over the list of pros and cons again. And again.  And again.  You crunch the numbers: the "if it all goes swimmingly" ones and the "if everything falls apart spectacularly" ones.  You worry incessantly and obsessively about the could-bes and the what-ifs and the I-don't-knows.  You talk yourself out of it.  And then you talk yourself into it again.  You're afraid to make the wrong decision.  You're afraid the risk is too big.  You're afraid you won't be able to make it work.

The thing is - dreams are not without fear.  Let's just get that out in the open.  It's scary to make big decisions.  It's scary to embark on a path you can't see the end of.  It's scary to do things you've never done before.  In fact, I don't think you can make life-changing decisions and chase big-time dreams without experiencing some of the biggest, scariest fears, worries, and anxieties of your life.  I'm learning that if you choose to go after big dreams, you can't expect to do so without facing the fear. But that's how you grow - not by avoiding or denying or shrinking from the fear, but by confronting it, accepting it, and moving past it.

How do you do that?  I'm not totally sure yet (I'm still in the shadow of the big fear), but these things are helping:

1. Make decisions based on your values.
We have a clear vision of what it is we want for our family and what is most important to us.  Not all the details, of course - we work those out as we go along.  But we've got the big-picture stuff sketched out.  This makes decisions (especially the big ones) a little easier to make.  Does this fit with our family values?  Will it help us grow?  Will it get us closer to where we want to be?  Will it make us a stronger family? And those answers inevitably shape our decisions. Tsh from The Art of Simple (one of my favorite people) is a big advocate of this and has great resources to help you get your own family values on paper.

2. Be realistic about your current skills, abilities, and resources.
Big dreams take lots of work.  Ours includes a working family farm.  We've learned to realistically assess what we do know and what we don't yet know and make plans to fill in those gaps.  Those plans have to figure into the number crunching and the time-frame planning otherwise they'll throw a wrench into your whole big-dream scheme. Read books. Take classes. Ask lots and lots and lots of questions. Make lists and take notes.  There's always a lot to learn - which brings me to the next point.

3. Do your research.
When you're working on a big-dream scheme, you've got to account for all of the factors that will contribute to your success and that could be stumbling blocks.  Talk to others who've done what you want to do. Talk to people in your field.  Talk to those you consider successful.  Ask them about their journey (because dreaming and accomplishing big-time goals is a journey - you've got to know that up front); ask for advice; ask them about what they wish they'd known when they started and things they'd wish they'd done differently.  Experience is a valuable thing and you'll get plenty of that on your own - but if you're open and teachable, you can learn a great deal from the experiences of those who've blazed the trail ahead of you.

4. Have faith in yourself and your plan.
It would be easy to second-guess and out-worry all your hard work and careful planning and big-dream scheming.  There's always something to worry about.  There are a million ways that things could go wrong (and in my experience, at least half of them will).  But if you let the worry take over, you'll never grow.  If you always play it safe, you'll never live the dream. 

There are hundreds of proverbs we could insert here (if you don't leap, you'll never fly; the future belongs to those who believe in the future of their dreams; don't follow your dreams, chase them - you get the picture), but the things is, at some point, you've got to take the bull by the horns (see what I did there?) and just do it.  Just get out there and do it.  Make that big decision.  Take that huge leap.  

In the end, even if it is a total failure (which if you're making decisions based on your values, are realistic about your skills, and have done your research, is unlikely) - it's really just an opportunity to learn.  Didn't Henry Ford say that? "Every failure is an opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely."  Yes, I think he did.  And for good reason.  

Every experience helps us to grow (even the ones we might think didn't turn out all that well) and I believe that that is one of the most essential and important purposes of life - to grow, to be authentic to our deepest desires and biggest dreams, and to discover and become the best version of ourselves we can.

A couple weeks ago, the topic in church was pioneers (a person who begins or helps develop something new and prepares the way for others to follow).  The speaker said: "We are making pioneering decisions.  Look back on your heritage, look to those decisions your forefathers have made that you are proud of.  And look forward and consider the decisions you make today that your children and grandchildren will be proud of."  My goodness.  That spoke directly to my heart and it still does.

This is what I want our children to know: Risk is scary.  Big decisions are scary.  But they make you grow and will likely be the moments you look back on and are the most proud of. We can do hard things. We can learn and make mistakes and do better. And that is what is most important.  The risks, the ones that fit your family values, that you're realistic about, have researched, and are prepared to take on, are totally worth it.  Get out there and do it.  Make it happen.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living in the In-Between

Do you ever catch yourself saying things like "When school starts again I'll..." or "I'll do such and such when...?"  We humans seem hardwired to be looking ahead, no?

Frankly, it's kept us alive through frigid winters and difficult seasons.  And a healthy dose of forward-thinking and goal-setting are important activities to keep us on track and help us become the people we want to be.

But I often find myself so intently squinting and straining to see the horizon that I trip over my feet or miss important moments right in front of my nose.  I suspect I'm not alone.

In this season of our life, we are between houses.  Oh, we joke about being homeless and living out of our car, but quite frankly, we really are without a physical home.  We've been living in a tent or staying on the couch with family for almost three months now and I keep catching myself thinking "When we get to our new house..." or "When we find a place to live..."

But don't we all have those "in-between" seasons?  In-between jobs, in-between semesters, in-between TV shows.  Obviously, some in-between seasons are harder than others, but life doesn't pause because we are in-between.  It doesn't wait until conditions are ideal, until the thing we've been waiting for happens. Because, really, life is the in-between.

And you know what I've been thinking about putting off?  Little things (like getting up earlier).  Silly things (like making a list of books to read this fall).  Things that I very well can be doing now (like setting new goals).  I don't need to wait for the next big thing.  I don't need to wait until we're settled down. I don't need to wait at all.

Because you know what'll happen if I do?  Most of the things I've thought about and put off won't happen at all.  I'll read fewer books than I could have.  It'll take longer to make a habit of getting up earlier.  And I will have missed everyday opportunities to reach and grow and accomplish new things.

So tomorrow morning - I'm getting up earlier.  And I might just start that book list, too.

What does living in your in-between look like?

*image: Great Basin National Park - Baker, NV

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Hit the Road: 5 Tips to Make Your Next Road Trip an Epic Adventure

Hit the Road: 5 Tips to Make Your Next Road Trip an Epic Adventure

We've sold our house.  We're putting our things in storage.  We're leaving the business in good hands.  It's summer and we have a car. 

So we're hitting the road.

We'll be camping, hiking, driving, visiting family, seeing the sites - an epic road trip if ever there was one.  Since we don't have a lot of room (ours is a Subaru, after all, not an oversized RV), or exactly how long this road trip will last (though we're certainly hoping to be settled down before school starts in late August), we are packing and preparing judiciously.

Sure, our situation is unique.  But if you're planning a road trip - whether for the weekend, the week, or the summer, these five tips will help you be organized, efficient, and ready for adventure.

1. Make a Plan

We're headed first into the Pacific Northwest by way of central Nevada and northern California.  Boy are there are some amazing things to see on the way!  We'll be staying in a lot of national parks and so will be doing some bare bones camping (some national park campsites have only an outhouse), but we're splitting those stops up with "comfort camping" at a KOA or similar campsite with showers, flush toilets, playgrounds, and even a pool now and then.  And we'll be staying a few nights with friends along the way, too.

We've found that one of the best resources for planning a camping road trip is recreation.gov.  National Parks have beautiful sites, are well-maintained, and come with lots of cool things to do and see.  We particularly love the Junior Ranger programs in each National Park which help kids learn about and interact with the special features of each park (check with the Visitor's Center for a booklet and later, a badge).

To make reservations, you just need to create an account (free), and then you can browse by state, region, park, and campsite.  This is a fantastic resource.  In many parks you can choose your own campsite (and see beforehand whether it's close to the entrance, the dumpster, the potty) - especially helpful if you've never been to the park you're planning to visit.

And you'll find some great gems: we stumbled upon a beach campsite on the Oregon coast (we were delighted to find it half-empty and snatched up a spot with an ocean view).  We've found that RV sites fill up fast, but tent site are generally quite plentiful.


2. Invest in the Right Equipment

The best way to keep camping and road-tripping for weeks on end manageable is to be organized.  I took an inventory of the things we would need (you know, that list-making obsession) and, since we just recently returned from a four day stint in the backcountry in Canyonlands NP where we stuffed all. of. the. things. in the back of the Jeep, we knew we wouldn't be able to live like that for more than a week.  Every evening we had to unload and every morning reload. "You guys are the kings of tetris," one passerby commented on our last day.  Yeesh.

So we invested in quality gear that will keep us organized and our supplies in good shape.  We've been building our camping supplies over several years so we have great gear, but we took advantage of the Memorial Day sales and bought a rooftop cargo carrier at REI (the last straw to making us a true Subaru family - chuckle).  Our camping gear will go in there - tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and pillows.

We've had not great experiences with suitcases lately.  We have a great set and they've been with us in many, many countries, but I realized that for packing into the car, they're really not that efficient.  Instead, I'm using three identical plastic bins - one for our clothes, one for our shoes, and one for the camp kitchen and pantry foods.  That way mud, grime, and stinky feet don't mix with clean clothes or kitchen gear and everything stays neatly compartmentalized. The bins fit just right in the back of the car with lots of room to spare and will be easy to get into and to put away.

This is also going to help us limit what we bring.  We'll have a minimal wardrobe (laundry can be done on the road) and a minimal camp kitchen (we've whittled this down to essentials over the years too and so know exactly what we need - and don't).  The one indulgence this trip are shoes.  We want regular running shoes for walks and exercise, our hiking shoes for trekking, flip flops for the shower, and a pair of "everyday" shoes for around camp or around town.  That's four pairs each for four pairs of feet - a lot of shoes.  But the bin keeps them corralled and in check.


3. Prepare for Long Days in the Car

Because space is limited, the boys are bringing only two toys each.  We're also bringing one book of Shel Silvertein's poems (because the boys have fallen in love with it in the last weeks).  But otherwise, for books, they'll be using an e-reader.  We can borrow both books and audiobooks from our local library - an excellent feature we'll be taking advantage of.

I'm a list-maker, so I've been scouring the inter webs and my favorite bloggers for great kids' book and audiobook recommendations and making long long lists.  I've also made a list for audiobooks the whole family will enjoy (more to come on that later).  And we'll be reading a few books out loud as well.  We recently finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; books two and three are definitely on the docket.

We don't have an in-car DVD player, but every so often we'll let the kids watch a movie we've downloaded on the iPad in the back seat (again, thanks to our local library we can check out up to 12 movies a month).  We just recently invested in this great headphone splitter so they can each use their own set of headphones and us adults in the front seat can still have a conversation.


4. Embrace Adventure

Two of our family rules are "Say yes to adventure" and "We can do hard things."  A few weeks ago we hiked 2.5 miles uphill in the desert to see Delicate Arch in Canyonlands NP.  We were so pleased to see so many families on the trail with kids of all ages.  And, yep, we heard some complaining: "I'm never doing anything like this again!" one kid wailed.  Granted, it was a tough hike.  And some of the things we'll be doing this summer will be tough, too.  But we want our kids to know that we can do hard things.  The best way to teach that is, well, to do hard things so we're going to keep doing them.

We also want our kids to be adventurers.  To look for new things to do and see and experience.  This is one reason why we love the National Park Junior Ranger programs so much - and why we want to spend as much time outdoors as we can.  It's good for the soul (as much for our grown-up ones as for their little growing ones).  They're bringing along an "adventure kit" - a notebook, pens and colored pencils, a mini magnifying glass, some string, a mini ruler, a little pocket knife, and a camera.  Just little things to help them interact with the world around them and record things we've seen and done (plus it's good to keep those little minds well-oiled for school in the fall).

There are lots of other way to find adventure, too.  Roadtrippers.com is a great resource for finding great sites.  Yelp has fantastic recommendations from great local eats to parks and other family activities.  If you'll be spending any time on the old Route 66, there are all kinds of apps and resources for finding the quirky and kitschy from Chicago to LA.  Then again, often the best adventures are the spontaneous ones you happen upon accidentally.  Really - adventure is out there, and it's easy to find as long as you're looking.


5. Be Chill

When my husband was growing up, his father would plan road-trips months (sometimes years) in advance.  And by plan, I mean chart the mileage, mark the rest stops, and create a minute-by-minute itinerary (and there was no stopping at all between scheduled breaks - the torture!).  We won't be following his lead.

Instead, we know we're traveling with an infant who needs to eat every three hours and two rambunctious boys who need to stretch their legs and burn off energy on a regular basis.  We're taking it easy.  We're planning to stop at the scenic look-outs and take the back roads and enjoy the journey.  We've learned (by plenty of experience) that things are most stressful when circumstances don't meet our expectations.  So we're letting go of those expectations.  Sure, we need to get to our next stop and set up camp before dark - but that's the only item on the agenda other than see what we see and take it slow and find adventure.

----------------------

These are the days lifetime memories and epic family legends are made of.  We'll try hard to remember that and let the days unfold as they will.  We're going to enjoy the journey.  We're going to do hard things.  And we're going to work on building the kind of family culture we feel so strongly about.  We're living with intention - in this season, that means living out of the car as we camp, hike, and explore our way north by northwest in search of adventure.

See you out there.



Image credit

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Big Unknown, One Day At A Time

This spring, we set a date to leave our house.  For good.


It hadn't sold; we hadn't even listed it yet.  And we had nowhere to move to, but we were going to leave just the same.  We're the kind of people who make a plan and then make it happen.  But this time, for this adventure, we've been taking one step at a time into the dark.

It started, as it so often does, with a dream.

We knew we wanted a small farm for our family.  We believe in responsible stewardship, self-sufficiency, and instilling strong values in our children.  We didn't need a sprawling cattle ranch, but we knew we did need open space, green fields, trees, some kind of water (a stream or a pond), and cold winters.

We almost accidentally stumbled upon a beautiful farm and loved it instantly.  It's in Ohio (some days I'm still floored that my children will be from Ohio).  Jordan flew out to visit it. We made an offer.  Negotiations did not go in our favor.  We withdrew the offer.  We listed our house.  We volleyed several low offers for the house.  We accepted an offer lower than we had hoped for, but with the right kind of people - our kind of people (they asked that we leave the bookcases!). We set a date to move and we're making it happen.


We're not ones to make decisions and move forward based on "what feels good," but we've felt so strongly about each step in this process.  Of course, we've had no idea what the next step would involve, but we stepped into the dark regardless.

Because we do have a plan.

We have a clear idea of the life and values we want for our family.  The details required in making that happen are murky and flexible, but we know exactly where we want to end up and how we want to live and what kind of experiences we want our children to have.

Things with the farm in Ohio are still a little up in the air, but that too, we'll take one step at a time. In the meantime, we'll put the bulk of our things in storage, live out of our car, visit as many national parks as we can, stop over to see family here and there, and take things one day at a time.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Proverbial List (And Its Inevitable Variations)

Things I did not get done today:
1. Mop the floor.
2. Get the kids to school on time.
3. Make dinner.

Things I started and did not finish:
1. The bookclub book - we're only meeting in 5 days. No bigs.
2. Folding laundry - hence the stacks (folded) and piles (not-folded) all over my bed.
3. Dishes - I've got one sink full of dirty and one sink full of clean.  I'm tempted to call this is a "glass half-full" kind of thing.

Things I did get done today:
1. Really productive business phone call.
2. Pinewood Derby award certificates.
3. "The Love Game" - played no less than seven times - wherein we take turns naming one thing we love about each person in the room.  Emeryck insisted on the frequency.  His favorite answer is "I love when _______ gives me hugs."  Funny - I love that too.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Budapest Problem


Our family has been dreaming of Amsterdam.  And, since we've been planning and plotting with determination, it seems only fitting that we should also look into taking a road trip across the country (with stops for Texas BBQ, of course), catching a boat in Florida, spending two weeks at sea with stops in nine different countries, doing our thing in Amsterdam (including day trips on bike to the surrounding countryside), hopping on over to Belgium, cruise down through France - with the requisite stop-over in Paris, hiking in the Alps, visiting friends (and small local cheese farms) throughout northern Italy down to Rome (because how can one do Italy and not Rome?), and then boarding on a plane and having a week-long fling in Iceland (bucket list!) on the return.



Paris, France Summer 2010

This, my friends, is what we affectionately refer to as The Budapest Problem.  We have such grand ideas about traveling because - once we decide to go, it seems we should really go all out.  This phenomenon has been an issue since before we got married (perhaps it has warped out of our dating history - to go out to dinner, one or the other of us had to drive six hours first), but the first time we put a name to it was when we were planning to go to Ireland for two months in 2010 to study Latin.


Blarney Castle, Ireland Summer 2010

Ireland is kind of a awkward place to fly into.  Direct flights are expensive (and not so direct from the US west coast).  So we started to look into other areas to fly into (and add a few extra days of adventure).  There was London (easily accessible to the Emerald Isle either by ferry ride or quick flight).  Or Paris (train + ferry, perhaps).  Brussels, maybe.  Frankfurt.  Milan or Rome seemed promising - we really did miss Italy.  Even Austria seemed like a great idea (we do really want to see those salt mines - and Jordan has seriously fond gastronomical memories of the sausage).  Romania isn't that far away (we knew friends who'd visited and had a glorious time).  Greece would be glorious.  I did really want to see the Croatia coast and those lighthouses.  And - goodness - Budapest!  Wouldn't that be amazing?


Cork City, Ireland Summer 2010

You see how that happened, right?


Versailles Summer 2010

Well, in the end we did end up adding five weeks in Paris and a week and a half more to see France (Mandelieu-la-Napoule is still a fairy-tale-come-true destination for us) with a ferry ride from Normandy to Cork City, Ireland.  When the Latin course was finished, we spent a week and a bit touring Ireland, missed (and caught the next day) a ferry to Liverpool, did two days there just so we could see the football match, and added another day in London before catching the plane home.


Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris Summer 2010

It wasn't Budapest, but it sure was glorious. And so, it's kind of hard to plan any kind of adventure without battling the Budapest urge head on.  Because, really, we have a pretty good story to tell about how that's worked out for us.  So we'll see how it plays out with Amsterdam (my bet is we regrettably drop the two weeks at sea but just won't find the heart to give up Iceland).