Finding Truth Close to Home

Last week I had an unexpected afternoon to myself. I ate a solitary lunch and was looking at my to-do list. It was filled with everything from cleaning and household tasks to writing and more creative endeavors. But all of those things made me feel antsy and I knew that I wouldn’t be productive. I needed to get out.

Muslin Concepts

So, I headed to the Denver Art Museum for the Christian Dior exhibit. As I stepped into the first room, my breath caught. The beauty of Dior’s earliest collection literally made me stop. I had forgotten how incredible it is to see haute couture up close. The details, the quality, the way the fabric hangs is absolutely stunning.

After wandering for an hour or so, I felt refreshed and energized. I thought about my to-do list and all the things that would eventually get done. I so often hear that writing is about sitting down and doing the work; That often the muse doesn’t show up and yet we still need to be ready. And while I totally agree with this, I also need to remember that without filling my life with beauty and new experiences, the muse has very little to draw upon.

I recently finished Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Devotion. The book is about Shapiro’s spiritual journey and a lot of it draws on her yoga practice. She writes about attending workshops and retreats around her home base of Connecticut. At one point, she is offered an opportunity to travel to India to study at an ashram there. The chance to go practice in the land of yoga’s origins tempts her. Honestly, even without a serious yoga practice, I’d imagine a trip to a new culture would be tempting to most of us. Shapiro turns down the opportunity and offers a reflection that has stayed with me.

Truths found out there don’t travel well.

Dani Shapiro, Devotion, pg 152

What she means is that if we can’t learn new truths at home, we aren’t ready to learn new truths. Traveling abroad won’t tell you what you can’t hear at home.

She’s not discounting travel or the beauty of learning from cultures outside our own norms. What she is saying is that we can’t depend on leaving home for a life-changing experience. If we are unable to be changed at home, we cannot expect to be changed abroad.

I needed to hear this. I’ve been feeling in a creative slump lately and it’s so easy to think that if only I could fill my world with a trip or an exotic experience then I would have material to spark creativity. I imagine how lovely it would be to walk the streets of Paris or Florence, surrounded by beautiful architecture where the very presence of greatness inspires so many of us. Or maybe a trip somewhere completely new like Peru or Palestine will spark that newness that is so exhilarating.

And while I will always feel invigorated by travel and exploration, I’m learning that the lessons I need to learn are right here. Now, a break in routine is often necessary to help us see those lessons. Shapiro didn’t limit her yoga practice to living room videos – she attended retreats and pushed her limits. When I was feeling overwhelmed by the routines of my small world, a visit to an exhibit twenty minutes away transported me to another place and time.

What I’m trying to remember is that intentionality starts at home. Where can I look to disrupt my routine? Maybe it’s a walk at a new park. Maybe it’s seeking out art exhibits that help me expand my horizons. Maybe it’s reading a challenging book in a different environment, rather than in my own living room. How am I holding both sacred – the need for new and the recognition that I can learn from where I am?

As January comes to a close and we enter February – perhaps the longest month of the year – I hope to keep this at the forefront of my thoughts. All the truths I need are close to home, right where I need them most.

How do you mix up your routine? What are some truths you’ve found right at home?

Are you signed up from my newsletter, The Compost Heap? It’s been a couple months since I’ve sent one out and I’m trying to get back in the practice. It’s a short letter with a thought, a book recommendation, and some other thing or two that has been interesting lately. You can sign up here: The Compost Heap.

Love Flowers Best in Openness and Freedom

Have you ever been to a place where your entire body exhales? Where you wouldn’t necessarily want to live year-round because you need a place to go and reset?

IMG_0021We were talking the other day about investing vacation homes instead of renting for a week and the discussion turned to finding a place that is incredible enough to return to again and again. Because, to invest in a vacation home means to invest time that could be spent exploring a new location.

There is one place I have gone, both when I was single and with my family, where my soul breathes. Where, upon arrival, I know that I can reset and reenergize.

Moab, Utah is about a six hour drive from Denver. It’s close enough to do in a day but as we drive from the city, over the mountains, into the canyons, and finally emerge in the red rock desert, it feels light years from our normal view.

I can’t put my finger on the exact reason I love this part of Utah so much. Maybe it’s the incredible red rock sculptures, so unique and different. Maybe it’s the dry desert air and the brilliant blue sky. Maybe it’s the fact that when we arrive, family time starts and we leave chores and “real life” behind.

Last year, we rented a condo for the week after tax season. We hiked in the mornings and swam in the afternoons. Bea scampered up the sandstone to Delicate Arch, pretending to be a mountain lion and only taking brief breaks to ride on Frank’s shoulders. We watched movies and grilled. The girls napped in the car after hiking Dead Horse Point and we spent that time slowly driving through the red canyons, dreaming about the future.

I’m reminded of what Edward Abbey says in Desert Solitaire,

“The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”

Perhaps I’ve seen love flower best among those red rock canyons. When we dream about the future and of our family story, I can’t imagine it without repeated visits to Moab. I think I have found the one place I would visit again and again.

As we wound through those roads, girls asleep we added another goal to our ever-growing list: Save for a vacation home one day.

Do you have a place that you return to, where your soul breathes? Do you like the tradition of one place or the adventure of going somewhere new?

This post was inspired by Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home in the World. It releases today and, while I haven’t yet read it, I am looking forward to her perspective on travel as a family and finding a place to put down roots. She provided this prompt in honor of her book’s birth-day: Share about a place you feel at home in the world.

Living in the Moment

When I was single, I rarely made travel plans. One of my favorite things was showing up at a train station in Paris and either taking the next departing train to a nearby town or asking the ticket agent where they would go for a day trip. I explored some beautiful places that way! There was something so liberating about showing up without a guide book and just wandering for a day. Sometimes this plan didn’t work out so well. I’ve spent nights in rural train stations and porches of abandoned houses, unable to make it back to my destination for lack of planning. But, overall, I loved the freedom and adventure that went without having a plan.

Unplanned weekend in San Sebastien, Spain
Unplanned weekend in San Sebastien, Spain

Looking back, I’m a bit surprised at this travel tendency. I’m actually an organized person who loves having a map of my goals and dreams. Perhaps by not planning a travel itinerary, it was a safe way to dabble in the exotic world of living life in the moment.

In January, a friend asked what my hopes for this year were. How was I going to see things differently? Honestly, I had no plan. Having a toddler, expecting another one, settling into a new house. These all seemed like such boring, midlife accomplishments that didn’t really evoke ideas of excitement or seeing the world differently. I felt that I was falling into a bit of the cliched two-kids-and-a-dog-in-the-suburbs life. Her question made me want to jump on a train without a guidebook, to just end up somewhere new.

I’m realizing that there’s a balance between using a map and living in the moment. Yes, my life feels very planned right now. But, I’m learning to see the small moments in these planned days. I’m living different kinds of adventures and my days with Bea are often just as spontaneous and unplanned as visiting an unknown destination.

What about you? Are you a planner or do you live life with spontaneity?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Taking Time to Remember

One of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed was on our early morning game drive in Chobe National Park, Botswana. The sun was rising and we rounded a corner to see an elephant leaning his head against a tree, his posture slumped. A few feet away was the carcass of another elephant.

Our driver told us that the elephant was in mourning. When one of the herd dies, family members return to the spot to stop and remember. The elephant leaning against the tree was creating a memorial.

Elephant in mourning
Elephant in mourning

It was a sacred moment and one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. It reminded me that the entire earth is created in God’s image and that animals aren’t so different from humans.

It also reminded me of the importance in taking time to remember. In the busyness of life, I often forget to stop and remember – big moments, small moments, losses, and celebrations. They are all worthy of acknowledgement.

In her collection of essays, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about stopping to make altars – of taking the time to notice. She cites the ancient idea of building an altar to commemorate an event and challenges the reader to do something similar by stopping, looking, noticing, and remembering.

Especially when I get bogged down in daily routines, when I stop and mark those moments, I am able to step back and see the strands of a bigger picture. Because it’s easy to forget, I’ve started a list in my journal – nothing in detail, just notes jotted down of moments I want to remember. I hope, when I look back, it will help me create an altar to my journey.

How do you remember important events? Do you create altars – through writing, painting, or other creative ways?

Other

When I decided to attend college in Paris, I went with four years of German language classes and absolutely no knowledge of French. I was told not to worry – that I would quickly pick it up through required classes and from interacting with Parisians through daily life. About a month after my arrival, I was sitting in French class, struggling through To Be conjugations when my professor stopped, singled me out, and demanded to know why on earth I would consider moving to France without understanding the language. She questioned my motives, my intelligence, and ended the rant with a surprise conjugation quiz, which I quickly failed.

My French classes were like a scene out of David Sedaris’ memoir, Me Talk Pretty One Day. My teachers were anything but nurturing and I became so paralyzed by failure that even grocery shopping and interacting with Parisians became highly stressful. It wasn’t until the summer between my junior and senior years that I found success by volunteering on a small farm in the Dordogne region in southern France, where only French was spoken.

View of the farm
View of the farm

Growing up white, educated, middle class, I could never consider myself Other. Even now, I fully realize my privilege: I understand how to navigate systems in place here in America; I not only can fluently read but also know where to research items that I don’t understand; I have friends who are experts in their fields and feel comfortable asking for help and advice. The list could go on…

Even though I wasn’t ethnically or physically the other while in France, I did learn a small bit about how language and culture can be an other-ing experience. I learned how difficult daily routines can be when a system is unfamiliar and when a phone call requires hours of practice with a dictionary. I learned how lonely such an experience can be and how easy and necessary it is to find others who are similar. It became a survival for me to have English-speaking friends – people I could relate with immediately and not have to worry about correct vocabulary.

While my experience was still one of great privilege, the lessons I learned have carried me to a place of greater empathy. As a teacher, I understood why some parents had trouble learning English or why, after working several jobs, just needed to speak their native language. I had an inkling of how overwhelming and lonely and frustrating it can be to move to a new country, to try to navigate unknown systems, and to connect with new people. I can’t imagine trying to do that with children – it was difficult enough as a single person!

Now, as we raise Bea, I struggle with how much privilege she has. Our daughter already has the appearance and vocabulary of a child whose parents value independence, inquiry, and education. While I wouldn’t want to deprive her of that privilege, I do hope to pass on the empathy I have gained by living outside my comfort zone. And, I hope as she grows older and creates her own life experiences, that we can encourage her to pursue opportunities of otherness, so that she gains her own empathy.

How are your experiences as the Other? How do you find ways to connect and empathize with people outside your normal circle?

Linked with SheLoves Magazine’s We Are The Other synchroblog.

Camping with a Toddler

We finally went camping over Labor Day weekend. Even though we had thought out exactly how we were going to Introduce Bea to Camping, we threw our carefully scaffolded ideas out the window, tossed more gear than we needed into the car, and headed up to Wyoming for three days of rainy camping.

Even though it was chilly, rainy, and we only saw one bison in all of Yellowstone, Bea had an amazing time, so I count it as a success. She loved our campsite, she loved sleeping in the tent, and she loved the caldera of Yellowstone. (An obsession of the moment is volcanoes, so Bea was thrilled to spot the geothermal activity in bubbling mudpots and steaming geysers.)

Checking out Dragon's Mouth mudpot
Checking out Dragon’s Mouth mudpot

We stayed at Flagg Ranch, which is located between Yellowstone and the Tetons. It was the perfect spot to visit both parks easily. After a day in Yellowstone, we went down to Jenny Lake in the Tetons, took the ferry across the lake and did a half mile hike up to Hidden Falls. Bea was able to do most of the hike herself, and loved being on a boat for the first time.

Even though we are nowhere near experts in the field of camping with kids, here are a few things we learned:

1. Bring Squeezes
Before becoming a parent, I hated fruit and veggie squeezes. Now, I appreciate their ease on park trips and playdates. On a long road trip, they are a necessity! We often drove through lunch, eating peanut butter and jelly or even stopping at a fast food restaurant. Giving Bea a veggie squeeze, while not an ideal replacement for actual fruits and veggies, made me feel a bit better about our lax diet.

2. Audiobooks
We wanted to limit screentime anyway on this trip and poor reception in the Tetons and Yellowstone made this goal easy. We turned off our phones and relied on imaginations and spotting animals for entertainment. During the long stretches across the fields of Wyoming, a selection of audiobooks from the library came in handy. (Our favorite was Bad Kitty.) I know in the future, we may change our goals on road trip screentime, but for now, I’m glad we set the precedent of audiobooks and conversation.

Bad Kitty during a long drive
Bad Kitty during a long drive

3. Ice Cream Stops
Bea comes from a long line of ice cream connoisseurs. We try to limit our dessert intake at home, but finding a daily ice cream stop became a fun event and a special camping treat. National Parks are filled with lodges carrying special ice creams and having a huckleberry ice cream fix made hiking and constant activity more fun.

4. Pack n Play
For Christmas, we bought a gigantic tent that has a room divider and space to set up Bea’s pack n play. This helped immensely in keeping bedtime routines at the campsite! Though bedtime was pushed back to sunset, having a familiar space helped Bea go down and get a good rest. Even though she ended up with us every morning, she started out on her own and stayed in her bed for a good portion of the night. Bea won’t use her pack n play next summer, but I’m glad for a tent with two “rooms,” as it makes it easier for us to come in later without disturbing her.

5. Finding Adventures
As soon as camp was set up, we went in search of the amphitheater near our site. For some reason, we couldn’t follow directions and between a walk with me, with Frank, and with our friend who joined us for the weekend, we didn’t find the actual amphitheater until the last day. I think this turned out to be a good thing because it gave us an adventure and a goal each day during a key time – dinner prep, packing up, or other times when it was easier to have Bea away from camp.

Finding the amphitheater
Finding the amphitheater

We are definitely still novice campers! What advice or tricks make road trips and camping easier for your family?

Backyard Camping

About this time, five years ago, Frank and I were driving around, running wedding errands. We were dreaming about our future and all the amazing things we planned to do over the years together. We started talking about things we wanted to do and see in Yellowstone, where we were honeymooning. Suddenly, my eyes filled with tears and I started crying.

I was so worried that, because we were driving to our honeymoon, I would never leave the country again for adventures. Ever since I was in high school, there have only been two or three years I have not taken a vacation outside of the United States. From my first solo trip to Estonia to living in Paris for four years to making international travel a priority once I got a job, I had only missed a couple years.

In the years since that meltdown, we have traveled internationally. Frank’s planned style of travel is so different from my show-up-and-see-what-happens method and we’ve had some amazing adventures, hiking the West Highland Way and going on a safari in southern Africa. Our new goal is to visit all seven continents. (I only have Antarctica left, but Frank won’t go until he’s caught up with Asia and Australia.)

Victoria Falls, Zambia
Victoria Falls, Zambia

For so long vacation only counted if my passport was stamped. And then, two summers ago, Bea was born. Not only did we not leave the country, I barely wanted to leave the city. We ended up babymooning at a fancy hotel in town. Bea was born at the end of July, so even after her birth we just nested at home. Last summer, we went on our first road trip with her to Utah, one of my favorite states. It was fun and filled with hiking, but my passport still lay dormant.

This year, we have no plans of leaving Colorado. For Christmas, we caved and purchased a behemoth 8-person tent. Compared with our two-person backpacking tent, this feels as big as our house. Our goal is to figure out amazing car camping so that Bea falls in love with the outdoors in the same ways we have. We’ll start in the backyard, move up to the Reservoir, and perhaps, by August we’ll make it into the mountains with her.

Trying out the new tent
Trying out the new tent

It’s taken some time, but I’m finally ok with viewing vacation differently. With a toddler, adventures happen in our backyard. I know that one day, my passport will be stamped again and until then, I’ll enjoy all the amazing places I haven’t yet discovered within driving distance of our home.

Where is your favorite vacation spot? Do you like roadtripping or international travel best?

Linked with The High Calling’s Best Vacation Stories linkup.