Building Foundations of Wonder

I’m honored to be over at Kindred Mom today, wrapping up their series on Cultivating Family Culture. Our hikes are still slow and filled with meandering and I don’t know if we’ve ever reached our destination. But both girls readily pick hiking on a weekend, so I call that a success. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to Kindred Mom to join the conversation!

IMG_8298My husband and I are both avid hikers. We met on a snowshoe hike; our first anniversary was spent hiking the West Highland Way, a 100-mile trail in Scotland; our pre-kid days were filled with rambles through the mountains of Colorado. So, when we found out we were pregnant, we dreamt about raising outdoorsy kids who loved hiking as we did.

Our first year as parents didn’t look all that different from our days before kids. We’d pop our daughter into the Ergo and then, as she grew, the hiking backpack and kept on trekking. It wasn’t until she became an independent toddler that our expectations of family hikes were put to the test.

It’s not that we thought our 2-year-old would be able to hike more than a mile or so, but we were hoping she’d be content to stay in the pack in between her own sprints along the trail. We didn’t reckon that our hikes would dwindle down to a quarter mile exploration. Our norm became an hour drive into the hills, a half hour or so walk, plenty of snack breaks, and an hour drive back home.

On one of these excursions, my husband’s best friend, Uncle Steve, came along and completely reframed my mentality of hiking with kids. As we drove to the trailhead, I found myself warning Steve that this hike would be short and slow. I apologized for the way kids stopped all the time and tried to create realistic expectations.

Steve responded by asking our daughter what wildlife she was hoping to see on our hike. A Mountain Lion!! was the enthusiastic response.

We piled out of the car and within a couple hundred yards of the trailhead, Steve bent down and exclaimed, Look! I found wildlife! Our daughter ran over and knelt beside him, inspecting the centipede that was inching its way along the trail. After that, every few feet, they would find more wildlife: an ant, a snake’s hole, a bird or a butterfly.

This hike changed my mentality of exploring nature with my girls. Now, we ask what wildlife they hope to see each time we head to a trail. Read the rest over at Kindred Mom and join the conversation!

Do you stop to watch the centipedes? How does noticing the small things change your perspective?

Appreciating Spring Snow

One of my favorite things about springtime in Colorado is that the weather changes quickly. The other day, it snowed in the morning and by the time we picked Bea up from track practice in the afternoon, we were wearing t-shirts and enjoying the sunshine and dry ground.

IMG_8673We’re up in the mountains, decompressing from tax season. We’ve found the importance of getting away after such an intense season. When we stay at home, we fall into old habits and patterns. A change of scenery is the break we need to reset.

Yesterday, we went swimming in the hot springs near our rented cabin. The girls loved climbing the rocks around the creek, finding the best natural pools to splash in, and soaking in sunshine and family time. We woke up this morning to a wintery landscape. Our mountain views were obscured with clouds, the trees had a perfect outline of snow clinging to their branches, and Frank started a fire in the wood stove as we ate breakfast, played games, and did puzzles.

I know a lot of us are itching for actual spring – for blossoms and predictable sunshine. I am, too. I can’t wait to plan our garden and put away the winter clothes. But I also appreciate this quick turn of weather. It’s a reminder of our family’s current season, as we reconnect and refocus on life as a family of four. In a lot of ways, reentry is like a Colorado spring. There are sunny beautiful memories, there are cozy wintery moments, and there are gales and winds that kick up the dust.

I’m remembering this takes some time and after years of practice, our expectations for these post-season getaways are much more realistic. We shut down, limit our screen time, and focus on the four of us. But real life doesn’t actually stop. The girls still bicker; I still long for alone time; Frank still has some business to wrap up. Those moments seem much more bearable and pass much more quickly when we’re intentional about this time of reconnecting, and I’m glad for these pattern breaks as we enter this next season of spring and a more normal family life.

What is spring like in your part of the world? Do you like unpredictable weather? How does that translate to your daily life and expectations? 

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

Small Actions Take Courage

I had the honor of writing about my experience in our school’s Family Literacy Program for the MOPS Magazine. They’ve republished the piece over at the MOPS Blog today so I thought I’d share an excerpt. I hope you’ll head over to read the rest!

nordwood-themes-179255-unsplashWe sat together, sipping coffee. She asked how I took my coffee and I replied, “Usually black.” She told me she was the same. Back home, they grew and roasted their own coffee, which she would drink black. But here … We smiled and rolled our eyes toward the cream-filled mugs.

We talked about family and I asked her if she had plans to go back to Ethiopia to see her mom. She said, “No.” Last year, her father had been brutally killed, their house burned down, and her mother and siblings went into hiding. Now, they’re able to talk on the phone sometimes, but it’s hard. She doesn’t want to go there; they can’t come here.

When I signed up to be a tutor for the family literacy program at my daughter’s school, I hadn’t anticipated these stories. Stories of leaving children behind; of worrying about policies impacting their families here. Stories of loss and hope and struggle; the reality of living as an immigrant or refugee in America.

My first thought was that I had absolutely nothing to complain about. My life seemed easy, privileged and unreal compared with my fellow moms. Who was I to feel tired or annoyed with my kids? Who was I to question my next steps or identity as a stay-at-home mom? These women were working multiple jobs! They really knew what stress and work-life balance (or imbalance) looks like!

But that’s not fair – not to them or to me. I’m learning to stop and listen, but not to let the stories of others overwhelm my own journey. Maybe I don’t have to decide to move my family to another country, but I do have to make small decisions that will impact our future. Read the rest over at the MOPS Blog!

What are ways you’ve been gusty lately? How do you remember that your own courage matters, without comparing your journey?

Spending Quality Time With Art

My top Love Language is Quality Time. During tax season, this means we are very protective of our weekends. We try to make sure to eat at least one meal as just the four of us and we keep Frank’s one day off as relaxed as possible. Of course, things happen and we engage with our community but we also realize how sacred these days are during this busy season.

IMG_5323Last weekend, I met a friend for the Degas exhibit at the Denver Art Museum on our family day. Our meetup had been planned for a while and I was looking forward to catching up with my friend as well as seeing an incredible retrospective (my favorite type of exhibit.)

I came away from those couple hours spent in the museum completely refreshed. It reminded me that, while Quality Time usually refers to the people in our lives, I think it can also refer to the things that bring us joy. Ever since quitting my job at the Clyfford Still Museum a year ago, I haven’t prioritized the time to go to galleries and exhibits. Before I’d get my art-fix at work but now, I have to be much more intentional.

Walking through the galleries, looking at Degas’ stunning use of texture and movement IMG_8509in his sketches, seeing images of my old neighborhood in Paris all filled me with happiness that I didn’t realize I’d missed. I needed to spend some Quality Time with paintings. Walking through the galleries filled a travel itch and reminded me that Denver’s culture scene is growing and getting richer every year.

I’ve been reflecting on other ways I need to build in quality time with things I love. I already create room for reading and, while that is indeed fulfilling, it doesn’t necessarily get me out of the house. How can I use the time I have wisely to create spaces for me to really thrive? Sometimes, it means taking some time away. My experience at the museum would have been completely different had the girls been along. Sometimes, it means modeling something I love. When I’m reading, the girls know not to interrupt. (In theory…)

The friend I went with recently created a bucket list and she’s been faithfully working on it. Some of her goals are big. But she said the key to a good bucket list is keeping most of it small and local. What can you achieve with a Groupon and a day off? She’s inspired me to create my own list. What are things I want to do in the next year? What can I do now, without much planning? What’s worth asking for help or babysitting?

I’m realizing that, while my “love tank” will always be mostly filled by spending quality time with Frank and the girls, I also need to remember ways in which quality time might not include them. I’m learning to not feel guilty about leaving them for a morning, especially when I come home refreshed and ready for another week of tax season.

How do you prioritize activities that are life-giving for you? Does your family share your passions or do you find ways to fulfill those on your own?

Books Referenced:

51ItBwnbJ6L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Discover the Forest

Before we had kids, Frank and I took for granted how much we would expose our future children to nature. It was easy for us to get up to the mountains on a regular basis. Nature and being outdoors is an important foundation of our family’s values – after all, we met on a snowshoe hike, went camping in national forests for our first dates, and honeymooned in a national park. When we are stressed, nature is a life-giving way to reconnect with each other and a reminder of what’s important.

Bea’s first hike was when she was 2 weeks old. We took her up to Golden Gate State Canyon, one of our favorite destinations. In fact, our hiking patterns didn’t change much her first year of life. I bought an Ergo jacket that fit around the carrier and we took her snowshoeing in the winter and hiking in the summer.

Hiking with Dad
Hiking with Dad

Things started slowing down as she got into a napping routine and we had one too many meltdowns on the drive home. But, we found closer hikes and continued to bribe her into the pack with snacks. Last year was the first year our hiking drastically changed. Bea no longer was interested in the pack and insisted on walking it all herself. We found beautiful two-mile hikes but it seemed like a lot of effort to drive all the way into the mountains for such a short excursion.

When we were looking to move last year, we never dreamed we would move away from the mountains. The reason we live in Colorado is to enjoy what it’s known for: hiking, nature, exploration. Even though our new home is just six miles east of our old house, it added just enough time to make the mountains feel even farther away.

So it was a pleasant surprise when we first drove over to Cherry Creek State Park, just 10 minutes from our house. We had been before on occasion, but not often. The past six months, it has become our go-to hiking destination. Having a state park so close has made a world of difference! We can go for a hike and be home by lunchtime. Plus, the park is filled with kid friendly trails. Our favorite is Butterfly Hill, a loop that Bea can easily do on her own.

We also found that we are within 2 miles of Jewell Wetlands, 50 acres of paths and overgrown trees. Bea loves exploring the seemingly endless trails, visiting the wildflower and butterfly garden, and feeling as though she is lost in the woods. It’s a good reminder that getting out and exploring doesn’t need a parks pass, a long drive, or a big time commitment. It can be an hour of tramping through the swamp, looking for spiders and bugs, and talking about nature.

We’re happy that we can continue to reinforce our family values of being out in nature, even if that nature is in the middle of the city.

Here’s the thing – getting out in nature isn’t just part of our family’s values. Research has shown that exposure to nature improves kids’ awareness, reasoning and observational skills. It helps build imagination and lowers their stress level.

Tomorrow, September 26, is National Public Lands Day. Families are encouraged to explore forested areas near their cities. Check out Discover the Forest to find a park near you!

Discover the Forest is a public service campaign created by the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council with the primary goal of inspiring kids and their parents to re-connect with nature. The campaign brings to life the joy and excitement kids have when they discover the wonders of nature, helping create lasting memories, interest in their environment and a lifelong relationship with it. The campaign website, www.DiscoverTheForest.org, includes an interactive tool that enables users to search for nearby forests and parks, as well as downloadable activities for them to print and take with them when they visit. The campaign also features online communities on Facebook and Instagram(search Discover the Forest) and Twitter (@cheecker).

You’ll most likely find us at Cherry Creek State Park tomorrow, hiking slowly with our girls. Where is your favorite place to enjoy nature?