Caution Leads to Independence

On New Year’s Day, we bundled up and went for an icy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our winter here has been incredibly dry with very little snow but that week of Christmas was cold. When we got to the trailhead, old snow had iced over and we carefully set out for our mile “hike” around Bear Lake.

IMG_8042Adventurous Bea ran down the trail, sliding down any incline on her stomach, penguin-style. She spun, rolled, and dove through the snowy path, shedding her coat because she had worked up so much heat.

Cautious Elle rode atop Frank’s shoulders, taking in the view. Suddenly, Frank hit an icy patch and they fell into a snow bank. I don’t know how he did it, but Frank managed to fall and catch Elle all in one motion. She came away unscathed but startled.

When Bea falls and is surprised, we’ve learned to acknowledge her accident, give her a quick hug, and get her back on the bike or trail as quickly as possible. Once she’s back to the activity, she’s usually fine. Elle takes a bit more work. She needs to snuggle in and really observe her environment again.

After the tumble, we came to a hill at the edge of the lake. Someone had built a little snowman on top and Bea began sliding down. Elle watched for a while as we invited her again and again to join the fun. Finally, Frank took her in his arms and held her in his lap as they slid down the small hill. After that one experience, all Elle wanted to do was ride down that hill in our laps.

This experience reminded me of what we call “gradual release of responsibility” in teaching. When someone is learning something new, you can’t just throw them in the deep end. You model how to do it, then you sit beside them doing it together, then you have them do it on their own knowing you are close by to support until eventually, they can do it independently.

It’s a reminder that caution leads to independence. That, until we feel safe in a situation, we can’t take risks. Until Elle felt safe and secure with us by her side, she wasn’t able to slide down that hill alone.

When I was picking lean in to define my year, a friend reminded me of the importance of leaning into our community for support. It’s a reminder that asking for help and support is what makes us stronger and allows us to take greater risks.

As I look at this year and what it holds, I know that I’ll need my community to help me along the way. In big ways and small, the comfort and rooted knowledge that my friends and family are here to support me give me courage and strength to lean into new responsibilities and adventure. They also give me the courage to lean into those small, daily tasks that would feel overwhelming without their encouragement.

I know that leaning into what God has planned would come to nothing if I didn’t lean into the people God has placed in my life to help me along this journey.

How do you depend on your community? In what ways does leaning on others for help give you the ability to take greater risks?

 

Life Vests Are Awkward

One of my favorite memories from our recent trip to Oahu is the moment I learned something new about Frank. I always thought he was a mountain man. He loves hiking and exploring and much of our early relationship was founded on trails through the Rockies.

IMG_5457Seeing him in the ocean, I realized he’s not just a mountain guy – he’s a nature guy. Growing up just an hour away from the New Jersey shore, Frank grew up swimming in the ocean and couldn’t wait to dive in.

Even though I grew up in California, swimming in the pacific just wasn’t part of my childhood. We’d go to the beach and play in the waves but the water was cold and the days were often foggy. My idea of a great beach experience includes a sweatshirt and a hot mug of cocoa.

One of the activities was a catamaran and snorkeling excursion. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new, so I waited to try out snorkeling until we were on the boat. While everyone pulled on flippers and dove into ocean to join a sea turtle feeding on the reef, I was handed an incredibly awkward life vest and told to stay near the lifeguard.

It was a humbling experience. I did not look cute or anything – I looked like an adult in a giant yellow plastic vest. I bobbed on top of the waves. I was kind of self-conscious.

But I’m so glad I tried! I saw beautiful fish. I got to see that sea turtle having a mid-morning snack. I experienced part of the world I never would have seen if I hadn’t just strapped on that vest and jumped in.

It was a reminder that I never look as graceful as I imagine but if I let that stop me, there are many experiences I’d miss out on. I’m learning to take a few more risks, life vest and all.

Have you ever had an experience that was way more awkward than you imagined? What are some risks you’ve taken lately?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “try.”

Summers Are for Saying Yes

I had the honor of sharing these summer adventure ideas over at the MOPS blog this week.

During the school year, we are a schedule-driven family. Preschool three days a week; MOPS one morning a week; one day free for play dates or pajama days, whichever we need most. Most of the time we need to be out the door by 9:00 a.m. and home no later than noon to start to wind down for naps and quiet rest.

summers-are-for-saying-yes-1002x539I love the idea of being a “yes mom.” Someone who recognizes the beauty of the present moment. Someone who isn’t so tied to a schedule that those precious detours are savored. But, my firstborn, Type A personality just doesn’t make that a natural habit.

Summertime is different. For the entire month of June, we have nothing planned. Just a few penciled-in activities, a few loose play dates. Nothing is set in stone; nothing must be done.

I decided that this would be the perfect time to practice being a “yes mom.” Bike riding and Popsicles after breakfast? “Yes!” Backyard camping midweek? “Yes!” Pajamas and forts and movies? “Yes!” There are so many possibilities and I want my kids to feel like they have a say in what we do during these days.

Of course, at nearly 5 and 2 years old, my kids need some sort of routine. Without a loose rhythm to our days, freedom quickly turns to chaos and magical moments turn into hot tempers. We’re still not in a place to spend all day at an activity. My toddler still naps for a few hours and my preschooler needs quiet time, even if she doesn’t think she does.

Here are some morning activities that are totally outside our normal routines, off the track from our usual memberships, but still easily done before lunchtime.

Take public transportation to an ice cream shop.
My girls are still in the stage when all big trucks and public transportation can stop an activity. Buses and trains are just so cool! Denver has a great light rail system and a newly renovated downtown central station with coffee shops and an ice cream parlor. A favorite summertime activity is to drive to a station that isn’t too far from downtown and catch the train to Union Station. We walk from the light rail into the beautiful station, arriving just in time for the ice cream shop to open. What tops a train ride? Ice cream before lunch!

We eat our cones, maybe play in the water fountains, and then head back to the train. Because kids ride free, this can all be done for the cost of one adult ticket and ice cream cones. Not a bad way to have a fun morning adventure.

Find a trail for a wandering day.
After reading, Best Friends for Frances, a story about Frances the badger by Russel and Lillian Hoban, my preschooler longed to go on a “wandering day.” A day without grownups, where she could wander all by herself. Even though we live in a fairly safe neighborhood, the idea of letting my 4-year-old just head out the front door on her own is way outside my own level of comfort.

One of the best parts of our neighborhood is the state park that’s just 10 minutes away, right in the middle of the city. With miles and miles of trails, we can easily find a wandering spot. We’ll pack plenty of snacks and my daughter can run ahead without fear, while our toddler and I follow at a slower pace. We’ve found a few trails that are less than two miles, which is the perfect distance for this phase of life. I can carry our youngest and know that our oldest is able to complete the loop without help. Finding an outdoor park to let my kids roam free is a way I can instill a love of the outdoors without waiting for the weekend.

Host a front yard Popsicle party.
Our neighborhood is filled with kids and grandkids on their bikes. One of my summer staples is buying a huge box of cheap Popsicles. Even though I find this a stretch to count as an “adventure,” my girls live for Popsicle parties with their friends. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or after nap time at the heat of the day, the kids come out and gather for bike riding, Frisbees, scooters and skinned knees. The moment an injury occurs, the popsicles come out and everyone is magically healed. Originally, I tried buying the fancy organic fruit-only pops but I soon realized that the kids just want iced sugar. And since it’s summertime, why not?

I’m learning that, to be a “yes mom,” I need to keep my expectations attainable. I can do bigger things like the light rail but I can also easily keep popsicles on hand for the next three months. I’m learning that, to create a sense of adventure, it’s all about attitude and looking for those small opportunities to take us out of our normal routines.

What are some ways you’re saying yes to everyday summer adventures?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/summers-are-for-saying-yes/.

Dare

“Be daring, be different, be impractical; be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. Routines have their purposes but the merely routine is the hidden enemy of high art.” Cecil Beaton

Yesterday at MOPS, we were talking about living a “Wow Life” – finding cures, solving world problems, being bigger than the ordinary. The reality is that our days can be mundane – making breakfast, reading Quick as a Cricket again, watching Daniel Tiger, shoving cleaning, reading, and rest into nap time.

I think it can be easy to categorize the mundane as a stay at home mom problem, but really, I fought the mundane long before Bea entered the picture. As a teacher, I got bogged down in just teaching second grade, in just teaching in the United States, in just… It can be so easy and comfortable to fall into a complacent routine. And, as Beaton notes, routines have their place.

What I’m grappling with these days is the merely routine. How do I create routines that give comfort and expectation without complacency? How do I embrace the known while continually keeping an eye on the unknown? How do I teach Bea to go out on fantastic adventures, knowing that home will be a safe constant?

I want to live a daring life, but I am gradually redefining what daring means in this stage. For some, daring means packing up, moving away, living grand adventures. For others, daring means moving across town. For me, daring means finding the confidence to embrace this phase in life – however mundane it looks from the outside, knowing that I am part of something greater, something far more daring than I can see today.

How do you embrace the daring adventure in your life?

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

Brave

“The ship is safest when it’s in port. But that’s not what ships were made for.”
Paulo Coelho

I’ve always had an adventurous streak. When I was 15, I saved my money and flew to Estonia to spend three weeks with family friends. In these early days of email, I sent maybe two messages to my parents. (These had to be word processed, saved on a disk, transferred to a work computer, copied into an email, and finally sent.) I had an amazing experience and I know my parents were confident in my safety, even without reliable communication.

A couple years later, they put me on another plane. This one was headed to Paris, where I spent my college years. Email had improved and I was able to keep in daily contact. Even so, an 8-hour time difference taught me to trust my intuition, even as I desperately wanted my parents’ advice and encouragement.

And again, a few years later, a trip to Kathmandu led me to three months of sketchy internet in the midst of a Maoist crisis. By this time I had learned to edit emails, to share details that put my parents at ease and saved the more intense stories for when we were safely face-to-face.

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Rafting in Nepal

Throughout it all, my parents trusted me and taught me to approach life and opportunities with courage and confidence.

Now, as a mom of a two-year-old, I see my daughter’s independence and adventurous spirit already emerging. In fact, one of her favorite questions is, “Should we go on an adventure?”

Backyard Superhero Adventures
Backyard Superhero Adventures

Even though we’re years away from kindergarten… And college… And real adventures, I find myself preparing for those days. I have a feeling my strong daughter will do life Big and it’ll be hard to let her go.

But, staying close, staying safe, isn’t who she’s meant to be. I don’t want to force her into a safe harbor – I want her to go out into this world. So, in the meantime, it’s my job to model and encourage bravery. Maybe it’s not in grand adventures, but in small moments: In letting her walk “by herself” to the park (some 20 feet ahead of me); In opening the back door and letting her explore without me in view; In trying new things myself – from a part time job to opening our home to new friends to taking a class to learn a new skill; In letting her see that courage doesn’t end as a child, but continues throughout life.

How are you living courageously? Any advice for letting kids go?

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.

Summer

Even though it’s not officially summer until the end of the month, June signals the start of the season, in my mind. I’ve never had a job that didn’t recognize summertime – either in that it was only for that short season or because we had it as a break. Even with only working a couple days per week, the last gallery tour of the year made me gear up for summer mode. Even my weekly book club is scaling back and incorporating family picnic dinners instead of discussions into our routine.

I’m looking forward to this summer. Bea is old enough to start backyard camping, and our goal is to finally figure out family camping – it’s been two years, which seems way too long! I’m looking forward to boredom and hammocks and parks and water tables and hiking and no schedule. In some ways, I think we’ll have more fun since Bea is more adventurous. In other ways, I’ll have to be more creative in getting us out of the house, since the backyard seems smaller than last year.

Last night, Frank and I kept the TV off and our phones put away and sat on the back patio, drinking beer and watching the garden after Bea went to bed. As we were chatting, we saw a hummingbird fly to our newly planted, hummingbird-attracting flowers. It flitted around for a while, drinking nectar and exploring. I hope s/he spreads the word. Bea has been looking longingly at our feeder, saying, “I hope birds come someday!” Now, maybe they’ll come back during the day.

Can you spot the hummingbird?
Can you spot the hummingbird?

The outdoor time, the slower pace, the lightness and warmth, the fresh fruits and veggies, grilling and eating outside. Even in the unbearable heat that seems to last longer each year, summer is such a social and active season. It seems to reset the busyness of spring, with tax season and planting and reconnecting. Summertime is when we rest and slow down.

What are some of your favorite summertime activities?

Someday

“Someday, ride elephant!” Bea loves holding a photo of Frank and I riding Mashumbi in Zambia and wishing for a similar adventure. Ever since “someday” entered her vocabulary, Bea wonders about the future: Someday she’ll ride a pony; Someday she’ll go to the park; Someday she’ll go the yogurt shop on a daddy-daughter date; Someday she’ll sleep in a tent and go for a hike.

Riding Mashumbi in Zambia
Riding Mashumbi in Zambia

So much of our lives takes place instantly in the Now. Between toddler-time, the immediacy of social media, and the general urgency of life, I forget to stop and wish for the future. Frank and I used to look through travel books and dream of the places we would visit…someday. We haven’t done that in quite a while. There’s a balance – because someday never actually comes, it can be easy to get stuck in the dreaming phase. Someday turns into new furnaces, preschool tuition, and small getaways that never add up to a big adventure.

I know that this season – of kids and mortgages and small adventures – is precious and passes so quickly. But as I do my best to live in the moment and savor the Now, I want to keep the hope and wonder of Someday alive.

Here are some of the things I want to do Someday:
1. Visit Antarctica
2. Explore Chicago and spend an afternoon at the Art Institute
3. Become an expert in… Something…
4. Go on a polar safari
5. Work with an organization that advocates for a better world

What would you like to do someday?

Trip vs. Travel

Frank and I just returned from a quick trip to Santa Barbara over the weekend. We left Bea with Grandma and Grandpa, and since it’s tax season and Frank can only take one two-day weekend in the next three months, we flew in at 10:30 on Saturday and left at 2:30 on Sunday. It was fast but rejuvenating.

The weather was perfect: mid-70’s and we arrived just in time to change and drive our rented Mustang convertible to the courthouse, where the wedding ceremony was. We had a few hours between the ceremony and reception, so we headed back to our inn, which was a block from the beach. We walked to the wharf and found a tasting room, overlooking the ocean. We were able to taste some of the local wines and then headed back to the reception. After dinner and a bit of dancing, we had some time (and were kid-free!) so found a bar near the hotel and chatted over one last gin and tonic and Glenlivet.

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View while wine tasting

The next morning, we walked downtown to meet Frank’s family and to herd the kids toward the beach so they could run, splash, and fly a kite. After packing up, we had lunch overlooking the harbor, sipping local rosé and pinot noir before heading back to Denver.

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Lunchtime view of the harbor

We reflected that, even though it was fast, it was such a refreshing time to be together. We also wondered about the last time we traveled. Since Bea was born, we’ve taken trips to see family, to explore favorite National Parks, to get out in nature, but we haven’t had the sense of adventure, of the new. I think the last time we traveled – the last time we truly explored – was our safari in southern Africa, the summer before we had Bea. I had forgotten how soul-filling, how exciting it is to explore and discover brand new places.

This year, we celebrate our 5th anniversary and were thinking we should return to Yellowstone, where we honeymooned. After this excursion, I’m wondering if we need to find a place neither of us have been and do some exploring together.

Where do you feel rejuvenated? Where do you think we should go – Yellowstone or somewhere new?

Adventure

Ten years ago, I packed my bags and left Paris, ready for my Next Adventure. I had graduated in December and was in the typical “What Now” post-college quandary. I was contemplating going into education, but wasn’t sure if that was the right choice. I also missed the mountains I had grown up around, but wasn’t ready to go back home. I thought about places that had mountains, and one day, on a whim, I Googled: “Teaching English in Nepal.” After looking into various options, I settled on going to Kathmandu with a group called i-to-i, a volunteer abroad program. I took the TEFL certification courses and soon was ready to experience a new part of the world.

The flight alone was amazing. After our layover in Qatar, the plane was fairly empty. I slept most of the time until, right before we approached the Kathmandu Valley, a flight attendant woke me and asked if I wanted to see the Himalayas. I was up immediately, crossing to the other side of the plane, looking out on the world’s tallest mountains.

The next three months were unlike any other trip. I settled into my room at our guest house with the only other American in our group, also named Annie. My mornings were spent planning lessons on the rooftop, overlooking a city strung with prayer flags and drying laundry. On clear days, you could see Mt. Everest in the background. The smells of burning garbage, cooking dal-bhat and incense permeated my days. The constant noise of chimes, vendors, animals, and Bollywood soundtracks filled the air. It was, by far, the most foreign culture I had experienced.

In the afternoons, I would cross the polluted Vishnumati River and head toward Swayambhunath Temple, turning down a side street before the path led to the Monkey Temple. There, I taught 6th and 7th grade students at New Arunodaya English School. Since there were no supplies, I would think up vocabulary games and teach sentence structure using bits of chalk the students had snuck into the cracks in the walls. Because the Maoists were terrorizing the city, school was often closed for strike days. For those strikes, Annie and I would head out of the city to Pokhara, exploring other parts of the country, knowing we were safe on the tourist buses. On some occasions, all of Kathmandu would be shut down and we would spend hours on the rooftop terrace, playing gin rummy with the other volunteers.

There was such a dichotomy of experiencing Nepali culture. There were certain dangers of terrorist activity: One day I was planning lessons when two bombs were thrown in the lobby of a bank next door; Or the time our raft trip down the Kali Gandaki River was postponed because the bodies of people killed by the Maoists were dumped into the push-off point. The pollution was unlike any I had experienced – the country just doesn’t have the resources to properly process trash and waste. Some days, I was overwhelmed with walking along dusty roads, dodging traffic, wishing for sidewalks. I got tired of eating dal-bhat every night for dinner, but knew I was privileged to have toast and eggs for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch rather than rice and lentils twice a day. Yes, the rivers and roads were littered with trash, but I watched women sweeping the dirt entryways each day, keeping their homes tidy. Even with terrorism that was part of daily life, I encountered amazing, open-handed hospitality. It was an experience where nothing fit into any box, and I learned to embrace all those sides.

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On the last day of school.

On my last day of school, at the end of April, I watched my students running around and wondered what their future would be like. At the time, it seemed that Maoist presence would continue to disrupt life and education of these young people. I wondered what they would end up doing; if they would travel or go into tourism. As it turns out, the fighting subsided. This was before social media and I only kept track of one student: Prem. He graduated and is now leading tours of Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Trail.

I left Nepal with a desire to continue teaching. I returned to Colorado and settled into normal life, so thankful to fill a water glass at the sink without first having to use my backpacking pump to purify it. I’m not sure how much of a difference I made in the lives of my students in those short three months, but I know I came home with a broader worldview and sense of self. They gave me an insight into cultures so different from my own – from sanitation to home size to the daily reality of living with terrorism. They instilled in me a sense of empathy and connectivity that I’m not sure a simple vacation would have given me.

The best part of the trip? My roommate, Annie and I stayed in touch, ended up living a block from each other in Denver and traveling to Ecuador together. The past 10 years have given me an unexpected friendship, for which I am thankful.

What is an adventure that has shaped your life and worldview?