Tuesday, January 27, 2015

If the moon is a coin...

I threw our stroller in the dumpster yesterday.  The stroller that was given to us 8 years ago when I was pregnant with Zoe.  The stroller I pushed around Brooklyn, for countless hours on countless days, while my first born napped.  The stroller I pushed while chatting on the phone with my mom and sisters, soaking up every possible motherhood nugget before I had any of my own to offer.  The stroller I pushed while walking the streets of Park Slope with my first mommy friend for life. The stroller I pushed a baby and preschooler in.  The stroller they later pushed their own baby dolls in.

I briefly considered giving it to someone else but after all the miles it worked, keeping my little lovies safe and comfy all these years, it was showing it's age and exhaustion.  Wobbly and rough around the edges, it wasn't fit to pass along.  So, out it went.

I realize I'm being sappy  but I'm not sad about it.  Just contemplative.  I will carry a touch of melancholy for a long time, knowing there will be no more babies for me but the wonder of witnessing my children growing is overshadowing that more and more.  I couldn't be more grateful.

Tonight, Zoe had her first official go at 1st grade homework.  They are to observe the moon all month and write in a "moon journal" every night before bed.  The kids and I went out after dinner and soaked up the spring-like evening air while pointing out constellations and discussing the magic that is the night sky.

After quietly completing her first entry, she shared her observations:

"If the moon is a coin hung in the sky to pay the old dream maker whenever he goes by."

She didn't write that last bit.  Her class learned it in school but looking at the moon tonight made her wonder whether or not it could be true.  

I'm so thankful to be able to have these conversations with her now, Owen listening in and contributing in his 4 year old way.  To hear something I've never heard coming from her and be able to ask her about it.  To learn from her and watch her grow.  I think about how much has changed and how it's just the beginning...

...I find the strength to heave that old stroller in the dumpster, take a walk with my big kids and discover together what this world has to offer us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Slow and steady...

Some of you may remember a few years ago, I found myself in a pretty dark place.  Thankfully at the time, I was writing a lot so spilled my guts on this blog and got the help I needed.  Support came in the form of emails, comments, phone calls and in person conversations all of which started me down the healing journey I'm still on today..the one I will always be on.  

The most important thing I learned was I wasn't alone in my deepest fears.  Not the ones I openly discussed but the ones I was afraid to utter lest I be heavily medicated against my will.  Little did I know how many of us think our deepest fears are too disturbing to be expressed aloud.  I know now keeping lines of communication open is crucial.  Sometimes the difference between surrendering to fear and conquering it is realizing you're not the only one living with it. 

The past few years of my journey have been about crushing my demons.  I've accepted they will never disappear completely.  Passive remnants of them will stick around my whole life but with vigilance, you can be damn sure those suckers will remain mere dust, trapped under the solid foundation that is my renewed spirit. 

I've worked hard to get to this point.  I've set lofty goals and pursued them with my heart and soul.  Some challenges were surmounted, some met and some abandoned but whatever the outcome, it's been important for me to keep piling them on.

Lately though, that tide has changed a bit.  I've realized while I don't regret setting any of them, some of my lofty goals caused me to burn out.  Two of the most notable were:

1) My marathon accomplishment.  A million dollars would  not tempt me to erase this from my life experience but it caused a loss of focus in my running.  My motivation had always come from the desire to run farther.  No part of me will ever want to run that far again so I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to find another source of motivation.

2)  My determination to write a book.  This kicked my writing ass, wiping out any and all confidence in my talent.  I have felt embarrassed to write anything since the attempt because everything sounds like crap to me. 

So, I decided to take a few steps back.  To look at these things from a different angle and see what happens.  I needed these years of lofty goal crushing effort but think it's time to have faith in the work and settle into something more slow and steady.  I committed myself to a modest running challenge I feel confident will keep me focused all year and I will be back here more often, silencing my inner critic and saying whatever I feel like saying even if it's not perfect.

Wish me luck!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The other side of the coin

My favorite tree has forever been the maple--hands down.  I grew up in Vermont and am 100% emotionally attached to my home state.  As a matter of fact, the East Coast as a whole lives so deep in my bones that as soon as we entered Pennsylvania on our big road trip this summer, I felt a layer of tension I didn't even realize was there release.  The deep, dense forest and endless green replenishing my soul, the word "home" whispering just under conscious thought.  I experience this every time I go east and know I always will.  Once while driving north from Boston to Vermont, I unrolled my window and became so overwhelmed by the smell of hydrandeas I could feel my heart break knowing how many times since moving west I'd missed out on this explosion of springtime life.  No doubt about it, the East Coast nourishes and comforts me from the inside out.

When we first moved to Colorado 5 years ago, the dry air and resulting brown grass were like a punch to the gut.  I was speechless, but for reasons I hadn't expected.  Afraid I couldn't appreciate the striking Rocky Mountains as much as I'd anticipated, I got to work recalibrating my expectations.  It didn't happen right away but over these past 5 years I've grown to love what this part of the country has to offer.  Loving the mountains is easy, but feeling connected to the foothills took this green mountain girl a lot longer.  It wasn't until this bonus year of ours here in Boulder that I realized I not only appreciate it, but cherish it.  As the abundance of life back east quenches, the absence of it here clarifies.  Now grateful for the stripped landscape each winter, I can get lost in thought tracing silhouettes of bare serpentine cottonwood branches, now my 2nd favorite tree, against the never ending sky.

These 2 lives used to make me feel torn and incomplete.  Now I know without them, there would always be something missing.  We will move on to a new place sometime soon.  I will mourn the loss but can't wait to see what part of me I discover when we get there.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tea Time

Life these days is moving so fast I can't seem to hold onto a single thought that interests or inspires me.  Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a head-detatched-from-my-body kind of way...which still sounds bad...but...ugh, this is exactly why I haven't written a single word here in 3 months...

Our family is still stuck in limbo, but I'm handling it a hell of a lot better than last year.  The uncertainty of our future brought about depression and anxiety this time a year ago, but after our unexpected opportunity to stay in Boulder another year materialized I was able to let go of all of that.  I was relieved, and still am, but the release of that junk didn't exactly result in a magical transformation. Yes, I'm much more positive now we will ultimately make it through on top.  The depression and anxiety were replaced by random, tiny bursts of gratitude and a deeper understanding of what it means to be mindful.  Progress for sure, but this new "one moment at a time" way of life I've adopted doesn't have any patience for rumination...

...but I miss it.  I've been teasing my brain, seeing if I can find any corners to sit in a while and think...and write..and share...but I can't seem to take the time to cozy up just yet.  I hope to soon...

...in the meantime I wanted to share this photo of one of my favorite things.  For the last 20 minutes of each day this week, these two rapidly growing and changing miracles in my life have been sitting in a dimly lit kitchen with their ol' mother, sharing a cup of tea and a chat.  These snapshots of our life together are what feed my soul right now...witnessing spontaneous giggle fits when one of them "accidentally" says something naughty, the laughter gaining hysterical momentum as they catch each others "Mommy's totally letting us laugh at that!!" thrill saturated eyes.  I can't wait to finally give these kids a picture of our future but am grateful to be fully here with them now.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Road Trip on a Budget...with Kids

Hey everyone!  So sorry I've been quiet lately--my life is seriously jam packed right now with every spare minute "to myself" going towards work or other commitments.  I'm dying to find my pockets of time to write again but this season is just not the one for that.  In the meantime, I wanted to share this post I wrote for my friend's website Karyn Burns ABC's Posters.   When our family was on our big summer road trip (which feels like forever ago now) Karyn wrote to ask if I could collaborate on a post about traveling with kiddos on a budget.  I promptly forgot I committed to her and then randomly got it all down on paper a couple weeks ago.  Karyn is just as, if not more, busy than I am right now though so we had to put the collaboration on hold.  We will work something out soon but for now here is the post I'm finally getting out to those of you who asked for specific tips on this topic.  Check out Karyn's website (and purchase a poster or 2 while there!) and stay tuned for our earth shattering collaboration sometime soon.

Have you ever considered packing a month’s worth of necessities into your car and driving across the United States?  Sounds pretty romantic doesn’t it?  I think we’ve all had that daydream at some point.  Now, have you entertained the dream knowing you have extremely limited funds and 2 small children?  No?  Neither had I before my family took to the road this summer.

A few months before the trip, my husband and I were in our living room after putting the kids to bed, reviewing the day’s events.  Out of the blue, he said “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but what if we drove to the East Coast this summer?”  Depending upon where you live this may or may not sound like an insane idea but since we live in Colorado and have 2 young children (ages 6 and 3), I was befuddled by his ludicrous suggestion.  I listened anyway because he’d told me not to interrupt him until he managed to get his line of reasoning out. 

Truth be told, a part of me was thrilled from the first with the absurdity of it all.  My side of the family was going to be convening on Cape Cod for an annual vacation we’d had to miss out on 2 years running.  Our current financial reality does not include 4 plane tickets to the East Coast so missing it again was a given.  After my “Say WHAT?!” moment, I promptly embraced the role of co-conspirator.

We talked out a pros and cons list and found there were countless pros vs. 2 cons.  The pros were too many to fit in one blog post so I’ll reveal the cons alone:  1) We are totally and completely broke and 2) there are 2 small children living in our house who might make 5 days in a car the most hellish 5 days we’d ever lived through.   As you must do when a pros and cons list paints an indisputable picture, we took a deep breath and committed.

We were able to figure out the saving money piece pretty easily that very night.  Venturing the kids would be blinded by excitement at the thought of seeing their cousins and therefore ignorant of the reality of being in the car for days in a row, we left that piece in the “to-do” pile...and broke the news the next morning.

My breathless reveal of the surprise we had in store for them was met by an incredulous 6 year old and her tearful objections.  She could not believe we were going to make them sit in the car for just shy of a whole week.   I knew I had to spring into action so started hatching a plan for fun and games in the car.  I promised her a good time and believe me we had to deliver.

Long story short, here is a list of tricks we discovered to make our “Road Trip on a Budget…with Kids” a success with a few examples of how to incorporate the ideas.  I’m not going to lie, it takes some prep but the amount of time spent getting ready was more than worth the hours it paid off.  I am proud to say we came home with more money in our bank account than we would have if we’d stayed home.  Granted, we had some help with gas (thanks Mom!), temporary use of a hybrid car instead of our beater (thanks Mom-in Law!) and relatives who wouldn’t let us pay for anything once we got to The Cape (thanks family!) but still I think that’s notable, to say the least.

1)      No Eating Out

-Pack light clothing-wise so as to leave more space in the car for food.

-Bring healthy salty, sweet and protein rich snacks as well as a few tried and true creature comforts for each traveler.  This will help to avoid impulse buys when you are all tired/wired.

-Stock a small bag for the car full of enough snacks for the travel day.  Keep extra snacks in a suitcase in the trunk.  Replenish the bag from the suitcase stash when at your rest stop for the night.

-Before the trip, buy fixings and pack lunch each day before heading off again (or before you go to sleep).

-Stock a cooler in the trunk with dinner possibilities: frozen burritos, single serve mac and cheese…anything you can pop in a microwave or add hot water to.  If you think of it, bring along some utensils but most truck stops on major interstates have everything you need to prepare an on-the-go dinner.  Hey, they even have showers if you’re up for that!

2)      Couch Surf

-Pre-plan your stops and stay with people you know whenever possible.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  Most people will be happy to contribute to the success of such a grand adventure! 

-If you can’t stay with someone you know, search online for hotels beforehand or on your phone when approaching the destination.  Prices are often higher if you walk up and reserve the room in person.

3)      Scavenger Hunt

I was inspired by the all the amazing downloadable scavenger hunt choices out there but decided to create ours myself.  If you would like help creating one, let me know--I'd love to give you a hand!
-Create, or snag online (there are TONS of free ones available for download), a car trip scavenger hunt for the kids.  Have a sheet for every state you pass through so they have something new every once in a while.  I kept ours in envelopes saying “Do not open until…” and presented the sheets at every state line.   Every point earned was worth a minute they could stay up past their bedtime while on vacation.
-Include a “Mystery Item” for each state by mapping your route and spending some time (pre-trip) on Roadside America.com.  There you can find kooky, oddball destinations pretty much anywhere in this country.  For instance, we stopped at the World's Largest Ball of Paint in Alexandria, IN and painted layer number 24,085!

4)      License Plate Game

-Don’t forget this classic.  It’s an easy way to get everyone involved and can pop up just when you need it in the form of a distraction (“How many license plates have we found so far?...Which ones to we have left?”).  Not to mention spotting a hard to find plate is exciting even for the adults.  Download a free printable like this one so the kids can keep track of what’s been found.

5)      Map It

-Print out road maps for each state you will go through and give the kids highlighters.  Encourage them to find and map your route.  This helps quell the “Are we there yet?”s because they can see for themselves.  At the start of the trip I presented each of them with a brand new clipboard and fancy pen attached so they had a convenient way to write on their maps, license plate game and scavenger hunt sheets.

6)      Geocache

-If you’ve never heard of geocaching, read about it here.  It is our all-time favorite family activity.  We use this $10 app but if you don’t have a smartphone you can buy a GPS unit such as this.  After that purchase, geocaching is FREE any and every time you feel inspired to go on an adventure.  We challenged ourselves to find a cache in every state we went through.   Finding one was also an item for the scavenger hunt.

Geocaching at sunset on Lake Erie
7)      Technology

-When all else fails, take advantage of any technology you have.  To be honest, our 3 year old was more apt to want to watch a movie than play the games we had prepared.  We accepted this and moved on with our lives.  Don’t beat yourself up if the kids just want to zone out to a dvd, a game on your tablet/iPad/phone or music for hours on end (although whatever you do, don’t forget their headphones!).   It’s okay, their fried brains will return to normal before you know it and you’ll get some amazing quiet time for a bit.

8)      Keep It Simple

-If you are worried you will all get stir crazy despite your preparation, don’t worry—you’re right!  Try not to anticipate every snag by overloading the car with more possible distractions.  Talk to the kids beforehand about the trip being a mix of fun and boredom and that you will all get through it together.  It’s better to have a fairly easy to keep in order car and a few hours of complaining than it is to have a jumbled mess of a car with the same (if not more) amount of complaining.  If you can’t resist getting more stuff, keep it to things they can stash in the pockets on the back of your front seats:  workbooks, books, stickers etc.

There you go—hope you have as much fun and argue maybe a little less than we did.   Have a great trip!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fresh Start

After a roller coaster of a school year, I finally feel like myself again. The last few months in particular have been trying but this past month I've s.l.o.w.l.y worked myself back into the grateful, hopeful person I usually am. The other day I found myself feeling excited at the prospect of being given the opportunity to enjoy Boulder for one more year. It's still possible something could pop up for Nathan somewhere else, but it's more likely than not at this point we will be here another school year. That reality is hard for a couple of reasons but wonderful for a lot more. I spent most of this year counting all the "lasts" and dreading having to leave. Now, I'll be able to soak it up in a more positive light because instead of being the last year here, it's a bonus year here. Plus, now the job slate is cleared for Nathan and we can go back to crossing our fingers for a great job on the East Coast. We are going to have to be creative financially but we are no strangers to that, so bring it on Boulder. You're going to have to entertain these Stith's a bit longer.

Days like today do nothing but boost the positivity level because it was a perfect summer day and I was lucky enough to spend pretty much the whole day outside hiking.  Since moving here we have hiked a few times but haven't made it a priority because our kids haven't been terribly great at it. In fact they usually kind of hate it. We make the most of it when we do go and find the positives for sure but we just don't run out and do it every chance we get. Today though, was another world. They hardly whined, walked the whole way themselves and had a great time from start to finish. Nathan and I feel like another layer of this beautiful city is now accessible for our family and the timing couldn't be better.

This morning I spent a few hours getting lost in the Chautauqua trail system with my great friend Jessica. She and her family are moving away soon and we will miss them like crazy so I was so happy to have this long morning to hike and chat with her.

Soaking up the pre-hike atmosphere. We came up here to Flagstaff Mountain to geocache but there weren't any caches nearby. Nathan and I were about to hop back in the car to find another spot but Zoe asked if we could explore. So glad she did!

Cool little pavillion you can rent out for bbq's

So many beautiful views and wildflowers!

So proud of these kiddos today!

I mean..come ON! How lucky are we??

They loved this "baby tree"

Sunrise Amphitheater. Nathan and I vowed to grab some coffee and doughnuts and come up here someday soon to watch the sunrise because....

...wouldn't you?

Watching big sister put on a show. Didn't take him long to join in.

On our way down in the car we came upon this mother fox and her 4 kits. Nathan had just been telling the kids he is always hoping to see an animal when he is out hiking. Pretty special!

Afterwards we went to a park near our house (Park East) to cool off in the water. We walked quite a ways in the stream like this and it took me way back to 88 Monument Avenue, the house I grew up in. A friend and I used to pretend we were explorers and would slowly make our way up the brook behind our house. I had kind of forgotten about it until today.
A nice pre-dinner soapy bath, dinner outside on the patio and post-dinner popsicles were in order of course. Not a bad way to kick off summer vacation.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

To unplug or not to unplug?

I don't know if you've noticed but parents are under a lot of pressure. Not only are we spending our days keeping our children alive, but we have to make sure their childhoods are happy ones. I know that might sound horrible or overly simplified..or dramatic depending on your personal life journey and current situation but it's true. This job we've committed ourselves to is relentless. My kids see me at my absolute worst. I am constantly trying to improve the way in which I deal with the emotions that come barreling out when I'm pushed to my limit. There are times when I feel I'm improving and times when I feel I've lost my grip on every skill I've crafted since giving birth for the first time 6 years ago. In other words, I am nowhere near perfect and my kids could be the first ones to tell you that.

This truth is hard to grapple with sometimes because I hate the feeling I get when logic is kicked to the backseat and raw emotion and knee jerk reaction take the wheel. At the same time I know these moments, as long as I take responsibility for them and apologize when I need to do so, are important to the emotional development of my kids. I know without showing them my imperfections and modeling owning them, they would probably grow into people who bury their emotions and have difficulty dealing with adversity.

If I were more well read and professional, I would start this paragraph with, "Research shows..." but I'm going to choose to be perfectly honest and admit I'm too tired and short on time to find any articles supporting my argument. Instead I'm going to fess up that my "research" is what my therapist tells me she has seen in her professional experience. I not only believe her because she's awesome and really smart but because this "perfectly imperfect" angle on parenting is the one I've believed in even before my therapist validated it for me.

Anyway, that wasn't the point I was going for when I sat down to write this. What I really wanted to talk about was on top of all this built in pressure the job comes with, why do we all (fellow parents, friends, family, society, our own damn selves) insist on finding ways to add more pressure to the mix? Breastfeeding (or not) and all the scrutiny that goes along with that...vaccinating (or not) and all the scrutiny that goes along with that..."screen time" or "media" (or not) and all the scrutiny that goes along with that...co-sleeping (or not) and all the scrutiny that goes along with that...the list goes on and on and on and on and....

The most recent thing to get my goat in this respect is all the judgment surrounding how much parents use their phones. I know, I know...and I kind of agree but I wish we could all lighten up about it just a little. Don't get me wrong, I know plenty of folks who could benefit from a smartphone intervention. As soon as I'm done with my current "20 hour a week" resident manager job (aka "you must be available to your residents 24/7"), I plan to put it far out of arms reach or even turn it off once in a while in an effort to break my habit of checking it every 3 minutes.

Like my love affair with chocolate though, I will never strive for a life without my phone. Yes, once in a while I'll need to work a little harder to scale back on the amount and frequency but in the grand scheme of things, these "vices" are part of enjoying life and I think that's okay.

I feel sure there has been more than one time when a stranger has walked by me and my kids at the playground and silently chided me for staring at my phone but you know what? That stranger probably kept walking and missed the part when I put my phone in my pocket and resumed the endless "Ice Cream Store" game I was fully engaged in 2 minutes before they walked by. I can also admit to more than once waving my kids off as they pleaded with me to watch them on the monkey bars so I could text my sister. You know what? I watch my kids on the monkey bars every other day for as long as we are able to stay at the playground. I lift them up when they can't reach and coach them through their fear almost every time they ask. I talk to my sisters at most every other month so yes, when I find a moment to exchange a few quick texts with one of them, I jump on the opportunity. Once in a while as I'm sitting quietly watching my kids play together, I might take a minute to read an article on my phone that caught my eye. I didn't have time to sit down and do so quietly over a cup of coffee because someone was tapping my shoulder at 5am expecting me to spend the morning making breakfast smoothies and wiping butts.

So if you wouldn't mind I'd like us all to agree on a few things: 1) let's put our phones somewhere we can't see or hear them when we are driving 2) maybe we could stand to put the phones away during family dinners and 3) leave us overworked and overtired parents alone about how much we use our phones. We'll work on it if we think it's becoming a problem for our families but in the meantime we're just doing our best to keep our kids alive and happy.