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?

Building A Foundation of Feasting

I feel like you’d be happier all by yourself in an apartment in Paris than here with us. Frank and I were talking about this stressful season when I’m alone with the girls and he’s alone at work.

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Photo by Paul Dufour on Unsplash

My mind drifted to my freshman year in Paris when we would gather in my friend’s chambre de bonne at the very top of a building right in the midst of the city. We’d open her loft window, swing out onto the scaffolding, and climb to the rooftop with glasses of wine in hand. We’d sit and watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle on one side while the dome of Les Invalides glowed in the night. I imagined living in such a spot for a month – just long enough to immerse myself in all the quaint and beautiful pieces of Paris while leaving before the seven-flight trek up the stairs with groceries or walking down the hall for the bathroom would get old.

Frank nudged me and said, Don’t respond too quickly! In his perfect world, he would come home to the exuberant embrace of his family, the pack all piled together. In my perfect world, he’d come home and I’d retreat to an hour or so of absolute silence.

The reflective season of Lent has passed and we’re into the joyful season of Eastertide. For the next fifty days, the church celebrates Christ’s resurrection in this time before Pentecost. It’s a season of feasting and proclamation that Christ has risen, indeed.

We have two more weeks until the end of tax season and then our family will celebrate its own version of feasting and joy. We’ll head out of town to reconnect outside of our normal routines and come home to a period of re-entry when we all learn to function as a family of four again.

In a lot of ways, this tax season has been one of the hardest for our communication. There are a lot of unknowns; the girls are in different phases; I’m involved in different types of things. The only constant with tax season is that every year is different – what we learned last year may or may not apply this year. And so, we need to feast and be joyful. It may not come naturally at first and feasting may look different for each of us. For Frank, he needs to feast on proximity with his family; for me, I’ll need to feast on solitude in the midst of reconnection. We’ll need to be intentional and extend lots of grace.

But the underlying spirit is one of celebration. Just like we’re celebrating spring and resurrection and new life, we’ll be celebrating this time as a family again. It doesn’t mean that every single moment will be happy and picture perfect but I need to remember that the point of it all is redemption and newness.

How do you celebrate this season of spring and redemption? What are things you’d like to be feasting on after Lent?

Recalibrating Toward Rest

I’ve never really been cutting edge. Growing up, my clothes were hand-me-downs from my fashionable cousin. I get most of my books from the library, so it’s rare I’m reading material that came out at the last minute. Maybe it’s because I’m such a processor that I have to sit with new ideas for a while before committing to action. Maybe it’s just that I’m not cool enough to be a trend-setter.

IMG_8155Right after I started blogging, seasoned bloggers declared that this medium is dead. No one reads blogs anymore! No one comments anymore! The golden age of blogging has passed! Many of these bloggers moved on to write books or create podcasts, which is awesome. I’ve loved many of their books and podcasts. Now, a few year later, some of them are coming back to blogging. In their newsletters, they’ve said they miss this type of conversation.

When I finally took the leap to start writing publicly, it was a bit disheartening to hear that the blogging world was dying. Was it worth it? For me, it has been. I didn’t start writing to get a book deal or build a huge platform. I did it to help view life more intentionally. For me, when I write an essay meant for public consumption, I have to put some thought into my life experiences and the message I’m learning from those moments differently than if I processed in a private journal. As with most creativity, this journey has been more for me than for recognition.

With the announcement of the return to blogging (by some – I’m sure many others are still making the case for the death of blogging) I wondered if blogging had ever really died or if bloggers just needed a rest.

When I’m reading too many heavy books, I know it’s time for a break in that genre when the entire world seems hopeless. Often, I need not look farther than my Goodreads list to see that too many books on mass incarceration can shade my outlook on justice in this world. While these books are necessary, I need to balance them with fairy tales and memoirs to remind me that there are many stories in this world.

When our house seems claustrophobic and the mess seems unbearable, I know it’s time to get outside for a walk or a trip to the park before I tackle the clutter. A change of scenery, even for an hour or so, shifts my perspective of home.

I’ve written before about how we all rest differently – that sometimes rest looks like a nap; sometimes it looks like a hike in the mountains; sometimes it looks like a walk around the block.

What I do know, is that before we declare something dead, we most likely need to take a rest first. Whatever it is – from something as benign as blogging to something as impacting as spiritual burnout – I wonder if we need to pause and rest first. Maybe this means resting from the news or resting from reading Biblical commentaries. Maybe this means resting from journaling or a specific type of exercise. Maybe your rest means more of those same things but in different ways. When I get overwhelmed or easily annoyed, it’s time to rest. It’s time to recalibrate my mind and body, even if just for a few hours.

We’re entering our family’s tax season schedule. If I let myself get overwhelmed, I easily go to extreme places of death and destruction. What I’m trying to remember is that, before I declare our family dead from lack of connectedness, I may just need to rest, to call on my community for help, and to recalibrate what I know to be true.

How do you find rest in the midst of chaos? How do you recalibrate your expectations of an experience or situation when you’re overwhelmed?

The Privilege of Getting Away

Last week, we made the trek up to the Black Hills of South Dakota for our triennial family reunion. Especially since becoming a parent, I look forward to these gatherings. Kids running wild in the field, cousins reconnecting as though no time has passed, reminiscing and retelling the same stories, laughing, crying, singing hymns, watching any kid in range and resting in the knowledge that others are doing the same for my kids.

This year’s was the first time a member of the founding generation – my grandmother and her siblings – was unable to attend. My parents’ generation became the oldest; We are now at the age of our parents when these gathering began; Our kids are making memories and forming relationships that will create a foundation for adulthood.

Each reunion is held in a different location, so every three years we explore a new part of the country. Each area offers things we wish we could recreate each time and each area has things we gladly leave behind.

This year, our location was at Custer State Park and one of my favorite perks was the spotty network coverage. I had taken social media off my phone beforehand, since I wanted to be fully present, even in the downtimes. But, it wasn’t really necessary. My phone stayed in my room most of the time. I think I only took about five pictures the entire week. Staying present, living in the moment, keeping memories in my mind not on Instagram was easy and refreshing.

It also meant that I turned off the news. The reunion began with the aftermath of the Dallas police shooting, but we were already out of range by the time the ones in Baton Rouge occurred. Taking a week off seemed like a respite in the midst of story after story of anger and tragedy and loss.

IMG_1317Frank and I took an ATV ride along some old mining trails in the hills and, though it was far from a quiet hike that I’m used to, being in the country and away from people reminded me of the vastness of our world. When life seems crowded and loud, I lose sight of the fact that we have so many thousands of miles of space here in America. Space where I can be without seeing anyone. Space to remember the grandness of our earth – that we humans are still quite small in this grand scheme. Space to see my first “Trump 2016” sign in someone’s front yard and to remember the difference of living in a secluded rural area instead of a crowded urban one.

As we bounced along the trail, I also recognized the privilege I have to disconnect. I am able to turn off my phone, to drive seven hours for a change of scenery, to go into the hills. My life back home carried on; I returned to everything clean and organized and normal.

For so many, the privilege to disconnect is not available. They cannot turn off and have a loved one reappear. They cannot go into the hills and return to a society that suddenly accepts the color of their skin. They cannot change their lives by changing the scenery.

I needed that week off. A week to focus on family and relationships and to marvel at the fact that generations of people gather to play together, to sing hymns together, and to support each other. I also needed to stop in the midst and remember those who do not have this gift.

By stopping to recognize, it made my time away sweeter. It made me more grateful for the privilege I have. It made me stop and pray and acknowledge those who do not have this. And it made me reflect and long for a time when getting away for a week doesn’t mean coming back to more news of anger and tragedy and loss but to a time when we can reconcile and redeem our relationships.

How do you disconnect best? Do you find you need to take intentional breaks from the news and social media?

Redeeming a Lost Weekend

We have two weeks left in tax season. These will be the craziest two weeks, but it feels good to be in countdownable mode. On my desk calendar, I have an x-ed out Hooray tax season is finished!!! on April 15 and had to move it to April 18. A whole weekend farther away.

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These girls can’t wait for tax season to end!

For some, the extra weekend will be welcomed – they will have a few more days to squeeze into the deadline. For us, it means one more weekend without Frank. One more weekend of bedtimes alone and one more weekend explaining to Bea that daddy actually does live with us. (Something she’s not always convinced of.)

Whenever April 15 falls on a Friday, the deadline is pushed to the following Monday. This is because Washington, DC celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16. And if it falls on a Saturday, all city offices shut down the Friday before.

The first time this happened, I was furious. I wrote a letter to the mayor of DC, wondering why Emancipation Day couldn’t be observed the following Monday. Or, why one city’s remembrance affected the entire country.

This year, my initial response was frustration. It seemed so selfish of DC to steal this weekend from us. I’m certainly not against remembering the emancipation of slavery, but I am against extending this already stressful season two more days.

But then, Frank and I were talking about laws and holidays and how something that seems good and obvious and helpful to me can actual be detrimental and frustrating and even harmful to others. I guess, especially with a heated election season, so many issues are coming to light that can be polarizing – laws that help some but hurt others; policies that keep some safe but put others in harm’s way.

It had me thinking about how I want the world to suit me. I want holidays to recognize my ancestor’s achievements; I want laws that make my life easier; I want job opportunities that help me achieve the lifestyle choices that make me most comfortable.

That’s not reality, is it? I think any one of us would agree that the world doesn’t actually revolve around us… Until we want it to. Until it’s a complete inconvenience. Until our own privilege is stepped on.

I suppose, what I am ultimately learning from this Emancipation Day inconvenience is that remembering a movement toward racial reconciliation is important. That for many, this is a day of celebration, of remembering, and of working toward a better future. And I guess, when I view it in that light, I remember that the world is bigger than a tax deadline. That, if I’m going to teach my kids about living in a just world, I need to use every opportunity to do so. That for us, we may not have even known about Emancipation Day unless it directly inconvenienced us.

It’s sad to admit it. That, unless something messes with my plans or schedule, I’m not going to recognize it or observe it. So, this year, instead of being grumpy that Frank is working yet another weekend, we’ll drop off homemade treats for the office and then we’ll find a way to observe Emancipation Day.

Perhaps it will be to introduce Bea to the Black American West Museum or simply go to the playground at Curtis Park. Either way, I’m going to choose to redeem our lost weekend. Hopefully I’ll keep this lesson in mind – that when life’s circumstances frustrate me and my own needs, I can step back and find a way to honor and remember the needs of others.

How do you respond to inconveniences and seemingly unfair situations? Do you naturally view life through the lens of others?

And, Denver friends… Any ideas of an activity we can do to honor and remember Emancipation Day?

Broadening Family

My mom is one of seven kids and, while I didn’t grow up in a big family (just two of us!) I loved the benefits of having a big extended family. I have four cousins born in the same year as me and we were buffered closely by older and younger playmates. Family gatherings consisted of nonstop playing mixed with arguing mixed with making up without adult supervision.

Not only was my mom’s immediate family big and close but her extended family was, as well. We have family gatherings every three years that consist of around 80 people. These have been happening for thirty years and by now, we’re just all cousins. Occasionally we take time to figure out the once- and twice-removed categories, but really, we’re just family.

Even now, it’s interesting to see which cousins I’m closest with and which I see most often. I have a second cousin who lives close with a daughter right between Bea and Elle. We get together fairly frequently, and it’s so cool to see our families interacting in ways I never would have guessed at a reunion twenty years ago.

On an adventure with "uncle" Steve
On an adventure with “uncle” Steve

Bea has a few people whom she calls “aunt” and “uncle,” even though we’re not related and I love that they treat her like their own actual nieces.

I think having access to a big family has broadened my view of family in general. Once the lines start blurring for cousins, why not for close friends, for people who care for us regularly, for our community? I love viewing friends as family.

And, as I think about redemption and what this world could look like, isn’t that the goal? That our friends neighbors are family without any other distinction.

How do you view family? Are you closer with friends or with your actual family?

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

Remembering My Season

We’re six weeks into this family of four adventure and things are going well. Elle is transitioning from newborn to baby (how does that happen so quickly?!) and all things considered, this has been a good transition. Elle is a classic easy-going second child – she sleeps well (though I forgot how noisy newborns can be!) and is fairly relaxed in her demeanor.

IMG_8548The weather here is changing, too. We still have warm days, but the nights and early mornings are wonderfully chilly – a reminder that autumn is on its way. Now that the heat of summer has passed and we’re settled as a family, we took last weekend to finish painting our house. We went from a completely white interior to one filled with color. A few rooms have remained purposefully untouched, but every other space has our own colors added to it. Our house feels more like ours and – barring the unforseen – we’re done improving for a while.

Even though I’m technically on maternity leave, Elle and I went to a coffee for the new teachers at the museum last week. It was wonderful getting dressed up and out of the house, even with a baby in tow. I had forgotten how much I love this job and opportunity and how fulfilled I am being at the museum, surrounded by art and thinkers.

It’s been good taking a bit of a blogging break. (I’ve been absolutely loving the Strong Women posts! I hope you’ve been as encouraged as I have!) There have been some discussion groups that I wish I had time for and people are gearing up for the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’ll admit, I was so tempted to join. I love a good challenge, and it would be a wonderful opportunity to build community. I look at other people taking risks and planning things and look at them with a bit of longing – wishing for more time so I could join, too.

IMG_8459And then, I remember my reality. I’m just not in a place to commit to projects or consistent writing, nor do I want to be. I want the freedom to snuggle Elle while Bea naps. Or write or read if they’re both napping. It doesn’t come naturally to me, though, to sit back and allow myself to rest in this moment. Because we’re settling so well and because I have energy, I feel like I should get back to “real life.”

I’m glad autumn is on its way right as I’m feeling the itch to add more to my plate. It’s a tangible reminder of the seasons of life. I’m still in this season of nesting and snuggling and bonding with my newest girl. I’m in a season of playing Chutes and Ladders and imagining and dancing with Bea. I’m in a season of very active mothering, which means remembering to give myself permission to leave things on the back burner. Writing will come when it makes sense; Museum activities will be refreshing when they make sense; Adding more to my plate will come one day.

In the meantime, I need to remember this season and these moments. I already know how quickly these early infant days pass and I want to be present for them, to not wish them away.

So, as the air cools and I look for the first leaves to change, I’m also remembering to stop and rest. To be thankful for this season. To look forward to the next, but not to rush it. And to remember that this season right now is precious.

What type of season are you in? Are you content or do you always look for the next thing?

Celebrating Legacies

We just got back from a weekend in California, celebrating my grandma’s 90th birthday. (Does this sound familiar? I’m so lucky to have both amazing women still in my life!) On the way out, a woman on the airport shuttle asked if my grandma was doing well. In reality, some days are better than others. My grandma has developed dementia, so days and moments can look vastly different.

Bea & Grammy
Bea & Grammy

Celebrating her life, surrounded by friends who have known her for decades longer than I’ve been alive, was such an amazing reminder of the legacies we build early in life. Have the last few years been tough, both for my grandma and for those of us watching her age? Yes. They have.

And yet, I think about her sense of adventure and love of travel – qualities instilled in me at a young age that formed my own worldview. I hear about her love of art and encouragement of drawing, which led my dad, my cousin, and my brother to pursue careers in art. I hear about her hospitality and value of community. I think about her value of family and the importance of creating safe spaces for us.

I am so thankful for the woman my grandmother chose to become. Because, she grew up in a family environment where she did have to make a conscious decision to be different from her family. I am thankful for her spirit, for her grit, and for her determination in creating her own family and writing her own story.

GG, Bea, & Grammy
GG, Bea, & Grammy

Mostly, I’m awed and grateful that Bea has been able to meet and develop relationships with both of my grandmothers – women who have shaped and formed who I am and have taught me so much. Hopefully she’ll know them for a long time as she grows up, but for now I’m glad she has a legacy of strong, thoughtful women as role models.

Who has shaped your journey? Is there a woman who has created a strong legacy for your family?

Keeping the Future Open

I never paid much attention to my LinkedIn profile before Bea was born. I had been at the same job for seven years and, while the lure of other districts or overseas experiences was tempting, I was content to stay put. About a month after the newborn fog started to lift, I had sudden stress about my resume. Who would hire a stay-at-h0me mom? What does one even put for that gap? Would I ever be employable again?

Who needs a job when you can have hammock time?
Who needs a job when you can have hammock time?

Fortunately, these anxieties were calmed as Bea and I found a routine and I settled into a groove of enjoying my baby and getting to know other moms. About a year later, I got a part-time job working at an art museum. As an art history major with a graduate degree in education, being on a team of gallery teachers seemed too good to be true. The job’s flexibility and the fact that I was able to combine two of my passions has been an amazing experience.

As we think about our next child, some of those same marketability fears have started to creep in. What do I want maternity leave to look like? What are my priorities in this phase of life? How can I keep my foot in the door but also focus on my family?

One of the most amazing things about working part-time and having a more independent child is the ability to pursue interests that had always been put on the back burner while I had a full-time job. Is now the time to pursue those other interests?

And then I step back and realize I’m trying way too hard to control the future. I am amazed at the doors that have opened for leadership opportunities, for teaching experiences, and for use of my time and talents in ways I could not have imagined. As we near this next phase of family life, I need to stop and let go. To remember that when I stop trying to over-plan my life, doors open to possibilities far beyond my imagination.

What is your view on women and family and work? How do you find life-balances and holding careers loosely?

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

Privilege of Choice

When Frank and I got married, we decided we wanted to wait three years before having kids. While neither of us were old, I was in my late-twenties, he was in his mid-thirties and we had done a lot of world exploring before meeting. We still had things we wanted to do together and places we wanted to visit so we determined that three years would give us time to enjoy married life before beginning a family.

First three years packed with adventure
First three years packed with adventure

Three years and three days after our wedding, Bea was born. Our family started just as planned and we’ll be adding our next child almost exactly three years after Bea’s birth. (Can you tell we’re both first borns?)

My One Word for this year is choose, and as always, it’s been showing up in ways I hadn’t anticipated. When I thought about choose, I thought about my own life, but choose seems to be showing itself more in ways that highlight my own privilege. I have so many choices because of my privilege – to choose when to start my family, to choose to stay home with our children, to choose to work part-time, to choose a partner who fully supports these choices…

I just began reading The Mother & Child Project, a series of essays highlighting the maternal and infant health issues around the world. I’m not even 100 pages in and I’m already hit with my abundant privilege of choice. From vaccinations to family planning to breastfeeding and so much more, my choices are made without regard to the high value they carry. Many mothers across the globe do not have these choices.

One of the big issues addressed in this book is access to family planning. This is a hot topic in many circles here in the United States. To support contraceptives as part of health care is not a dinner table discussion – people have big feelings about this topic. And yet, our debates and personal choices here translate to life-threatening lack of options in rural communities in developing countries. Here, with access to healthcare having children close together is more of a personal choice. In rural areas lacking in proper healthcare, not allowing a mother to wait at least two years between pregnancies can cost her life.

Reading these essays has me reflecting on the great responsibility of choice. Living in a country that helps determine aide policies and practices to countries who desperately need solutions to maternal health problems, I realize my choices are not just my own. I may feel passionately about certain policies, but I need to learn to step back and question if they are universally best or simply best for me and my family. If they are simply a personal choice, I need to weigh whether the fight for my own personal freedoms outweighs the health and survival of those who do not have those same freedoms.

At the end of the book are pages of resources that give tangible ideas for ways to help the crisis of maternal health. Frank and I will be reviewing our budget to see how we can begin giving to some of these organizations. In the meantime, I’m looking at my own privilege of choice and considering how I can alter my worldview to remember all I can take for granted.

How does your privilege of choice play into decision making? Are you a global thinker when it comes to personal decisions?