A Year’s Journey

Blog: It’s been a while since my last post. A lot has happened. Here is a recap and a forecast of what the future may bring. Wish us luck.

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a post. We have pushed the pause button on our RV journeys for the time being. We made it through 12 states and ended up deciding to settle back down in Idaho, almost right where we left off. Our house is still being rented out (with amazing renters I must say) so we decided to keep living in the RV, since it only made sense.

Yes. I said it. We are STILL living in an RV with two kids and a dog and so far we haven’t lost our minds. So far.

I must also add in there, that we are living on the ostrich farm that Dan works for. So now, instead of just having one dog, we also have four Great Pyrenees, three goats and about 450+ ostriches (and growing…). It is quite a life to say the least.

In the last 12 months, we have downsized immensely. We have learned to live simpler, happy, more fulfilling lives. We have grown as a family and learned a lot about ourselves. We have seen the western United States and visited 17 National Parks and Monuments (if I counted right… it may be 18). We found beauty in nature. It has been beyond amazing.

We have also struggled. My health has not improved the way we hoped it would. Being in close quarters with two kids sometimes makes me feel like I am losing my mind. Living in an RV is not as glamorous as one would think (ok… no one thinks RV living is glamorous). I miss taking long, hot bubble baths. I miss sitting at a real dining room table having dinner. There isn’t much room for toys, so they end up on the floor ALL THE TIME. My kitchen is tiny and there are times (everyday) that I seem to find myself trying to cook with two kids and a dog all in the 21 sq ft of space. I miss my old kitchen soooo much.

However, in this year, Alexander and Evelyn have excelled in their academics (homeschool). They get along SOOOO much better. They have learned to help one another. With all of our traveling, they have learned to make friends quicker (although they are still pretty shy). They have pushed through long hikes and have thrived without technology. I’m beyond proud of all their achievements and their growth. I’m honored to be their mom and humbled to be their teacher. It has been a good year.

So… what do we have in store for year two?

For starters, I have a short children’s book being published in the next month. It is exciting because it started off as a quick story I made up on the fly and progressed into a fairy tale the kids loved talking about. We are very excited to see it come to life and anxiously await the release.

We are still going to be at the ostrich farm. I have begun to work in the social media and customer service realm while Daniel still works as the Assistant Manager. American Ostrich Farms is an amazing company. They have values and morals and I am proud to have my children see daily what sustainable meat production is like. I love everything about the ostriches and am excited to start working with them in soap production, using the ostrich oil in phenomenal soap.

The kids are still homeschooled. Alexander is learning to play the guitar and they are both in Jiu Jitsu. We love the flexibility of homeschooling and the ability to focus on what we need to or advance as we see fit. The kids love being able to sleep in (almost as much as I do). It just works better for us so we will keep it going.

This summer, we are planning on returning to Wisconsin to visit family for a week or so. We are also hoping to make it to the Redwoods in California as well since it was part of California we missed the first go-around. We have built a greenhouse so I already have plants started and we are going to plan a huge garden. Maybe do a farmer’s market or two. Maybe just donate the produce to the homeless shelters. We will see. I have never had the green thumb, but I feel as though this may be the year.

This has been a long rant, and for that I do apologize. I want to thank all of you for your support, encouragement, love and friendship. It means the world to me to have you in my life and the messages I have received since starting this journey have helped us keep our heads above the water. I have met so many new friends on this journey and I hope to continue to keep in touch and meet many more.

Until we meet again.

Invisible Sludge

When your nightmares come to life yet you are the only one that can see them… Autoimmune disease and the true reality of a fake perception.

I have had the dream for as long as I can remember. It is one where I am running but I am stuck in some sort of sludge. not physical sludge, but one that I can’t see. It is pulling me down, making me slow, letting the bad guys get closer and closer. I can see my escape but I don’t know if I can reach it before they get to me.

Now I am an adult. I know I am fast. I have made myself that way over many years of training. I know I am strong. I eat well and make sure I don’t get sucked into a vicious cycle of fast food and unhealthy choices. I have made the decision to avoid the sludge. Yet, somehow, the dream has breached into my reality. My body doesn’t function the way it did even a year ago. It is painful to step up or down stairs; to squat down to give my children hugs. The exhaustion clings to me, pleading with me to stay in bed or lay down a bit longer. Sometimes the pain is so bad that it brings me to my knees. The dream has seemed to taken over a body that was trained to fight, but I haven’t surrendered to it.

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Even though my body may want to quit, I have two beautiful children that keep me striving towards my super-hero status. 

Learning to live with an unknown autoimmune disease is almost as if I am living in that nightmare. My body wants to quit on me, but yet, my mind keeps trying to tell me to keep running. To not give up. To keep moving. Just a year ago, I was the definition of health. I felt great, my body was strong. I was Super Mom (well at least thats what my kids thought). However, things started changing. Fast.

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My life just a couple years ago. Fit, strong, and unstoppable

Now, I look in the mirror and I am a girl trapped in glass. My body still looks the same. However, it is the battle that is going on inside that has changed me. That is the hardest part. I look like a very healthy woman. So healthy that my immune system doesn’t know what to do but to fight itself. It has left me blinded in one eye and has presented me with issues such as extreme fatigue, joint pain, migraines, and painful muscle spasms to name a few. I keep hoping this is just another nightmare that I will awaken from, but I know better. This is my new normal, at least for now.

 

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Even with only one eye, I am still able to see how lucky I am

I am not a person who posts the bad things about my life. It just isn’t my style. However, with this post, I am hoping for people to realize that what their eyes may see when looking at a picture or a person isn’t the whole story. Just because people make look healthy or happy doesn’t mean they are. Perception is not reality. In fact, I have talked to many people who are sick, have been sick or who are disabled and I would never have known if it weren’t for their courage to talk to me about their experiences. What you see with your eyes is only an optical illusion when it comes to a person’s life and their struggles. Please remember this when you talk to someone. We rarely know what a person is going through and we never know the whole truth about their feelings or their pain.

I haven’t given up on my body. I keep fighting, even when it causes repercussions that last for days or weeks. I still have unfinished dreams and goals that I need to achieve and nothing will stop me from trying. I have had a rough year but it is only a year, not an eternity. I hope that one day, the dream will end. I will make it out of the sludge and get away. However, even if the sludge is still trying to hold me back, I will continue to run away from the darkness trying to take over. I will keep running towards safety and I wont let this nightmare get to my heart and soul.

So until then, the nightmare continues, even when I am awake. The sludge is slowly incapacitating me. I am trying to run but my body is in fighting something it can’t see. This may not be my dream anymore, but I do know how it always ends. Somehow, someway, I always manage to escape. Maybe that is what life is all about: making it through the sludge and coming out a better person.

 

The Mountain

Whatever her name may be, she is more than just a rock towering into the sky. She is a living creature that opens your eyes to a whole new world.

She goes by many names. Some call her Tacoma. Others refer to her by Rainier. Less common are the names Talol, Tahoma, Tahima, Tacobeh and Pooskaus. The locals simply call her “The Mountain”. She is the tallest peak in the state of Washington and demands respect; flaunting 26 glaciers and taunting climbers to conquer her summit. She is impressive in every sense of the word and leaves you feeling almost heartbroken as you leave her when your time is over.

Our four days at Mount Rainier National Park felt like a month. Each day brought new spectacular sights. Ranging from waterfalls to glaciers, The Mountain was a world of its’ own. The first day we spent trekking up to Comet Falls. It was a rather exhausting hike, but I wouldn’t rate it as challenging. The inline was impressive; lined with beautiful pines creating intricate root pathways. Evelyn instantly opted for a bird’s eye view on top of Daniel’s shoulders while Alexander and I lagged behind in awe of the pace he established as he rucked with a forty-pound child sitting on top of his backpack that weighed at least another 30lbs. As that duo raced up the layers of rock and roots, Alexander and I took turns taking pictures of the water, trees, path and whatever caught our eye. When we grew tired, we talked about will-power, determination, and what a real winner was. I explained to him that giving up was the only way you would lose in life. You may not win a race or a game, but giving up was a guarantee that you would never reach that finish line. When we reached the falls, he knew that while he wasn’t the first person up that mountain, he still made it to the top. He was still one of the few who was able to sit on the ice while feeling the water mist over him as it plummeted into the river below. It was a victory in itself. A life lesson that would not be soon forgotten.

Day two was a bit simpler as we stayed in the wooded section. We started by stopping at Reflection Lake and letting Daniel get his cold water fix. Then we headed over to the Box Canyon and a section of the Wonderland Trail. As we walked through the forest, the lush greenery engulfed us. The trees took on new life as they grew in ways that seemed physically impossible. The flowers looked like they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book and the serenity was beyond description. The kids took off along the trail and discovered huge Red Cedar trees that had fallen during the winter. The giant beauties made one realize how small we are and how even the greatest, most powerful entities can come crashing down with the right combination of elements. The environment helped me realize just how small all of our problems are in relation to the world.

 

Day three is what I think of as my reward day. We drove towards Sunrise Visitor Center, looking for a great hiking spot with a spectacular vantage point. We got just that. We parked at the White River Campgrounds (all roads past that were still snowed in). We hiked on a trail that lead to a breathtaking view of Emmons Glacier. The trail was perfect for the kids as we meandered across one side of a mountain, over a river and to another ledge. While working our way up the ledge, a beautiful turquoise color glimmered through the trees on the other side. We soon caught a glimpse of one of the most beautiful and secluded alpine lakes I have ever dreamt about. It took us longer than expected to navigate a wildlife trail down to the water, but the event was worth it. The water was gorgeous and felt amazing. The first two feet of it was warm, reminding me of the Emerald Coast waters in Florida. Then, as my feet sunk down, the water turned crisp and cold. As I treaded, the water churned and the warmth gave in to the icy glacier water beneath. It made me want to stay in that piece of heaven forever. However, the trail still beckoned us towards the view of The Mountain and Emmons Glacier.

We made our way back up to the top of the ridge and walked along the cliff as far as the trail led. While it was simple, it gave one the sense of true adventure and conquest. The landscape was practically untouched and the glacier added so much depth and mystery to The Mountain. Cracks and crevices littered the untouched snow. Rocks struggled to emerge from the ice, even if just by a bit. It was almost as though the glacier was calling for us to dare attempt its assent. Showing us that only the most worthy opponents would ever reach the summit.

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After that third day, I didn’t think there would be anymore surprises that The Mountain had in store for me. Day four was meant to be a simple day that included the kids getting their Junior Ranger badges and a short hike. It turned out to be the most inspiring day of the trip; not because of what the mountain did for me, but what it did for my daughter. As we exited the truck, getting ready to start our hike, Evelyn became upset that she didn’t have a pack like the rest of us. Alexander had been carrying his own Camelbak with enough water for both him and his sister. I explained to Evelyn that she had to show us that she was big enough to hike trails all on her own, without asking to be carried. The fire in her eyes lit up and she instantly pushed ahead of us to be the “trail leader”. We first visited some mineral springs on a short and touristy path. That path led us to another that was said to have beautiful scenic view at a certain point. No one realized that by the time the day was over, we would have hiked over 1400 feet in elevation and nearly seven miles. The trail was serene and once again, we were nearly alone and isolated. We reached yet another section of the Wonderland Trail (it is a 93-mile trail around Mount Rainier) and finished right before the sun set. The entire trip was filled with laughter, chatter, and conversation. Not a single complaint left Evelyn’s mouth. She was determined to prove herself worthy. That she did.

While this may not seem so inspiring to most people, it left me speechless. She is only four years old and is by far the most stubborn, decisive and independent women I know. She showed me that it doesn’t matter how big you are, you can still make it in this world. She taught me that it only takes one step after another to reach your goal. She taught me that complaining isn’t going to help you get there. Now when I think about saying that someone (especially myself) can’t do something, I think of Evelyn and Longmire.

Although we were only on The Mountain for four short days, I have a different perspective of this life I was given. Lately I have been told that I haven’t had the best of luck. I understand how someone on the outside could say that when they see the black and white. Words like blindness, autoimmune, disability seem to make a person feel helpless. It is frustrating to not be able to do the same things you know that you are capable of doing. It is hard to face it and even harder to accept it. However, The Mountain changed that.

Mount Rainier. Mount Tacoma. Whatever you choose to call her, know that she is not just a mountain; she is an experience. She gives you a way to challenge yourself, discover your possibilities and face your fears. She taunts you to push yourself to another level and then rewards you in ways that only she can conjure. She showed me life in a different light. Even if the cards I have been handed recently aren’t the greatest (according to some people), I still know that I am the luckiest woman in this world to have such an inspiring family and a life that enables me to appreciate all this world has to offer. She showed me how blessed I am, no matter what life has in store for me.

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The Mountain.

A Monumental Day For Our Nation

Our National Monuments are under review and there is only a couple more days left for our voices to be heard. These places are more than just landscapes. They are our future.

Looking back at my life, one of my fondest memories was around the age of nine. My mother and step-dad loaded my sister, grandmother and I up in a bright blue rental van and took us for a road trip. I remember the van being cramped and my sister and I fighting most of the time we were awake on the drive. The trip took us west from Denver, into Utah. North into Idaho. East into Wyoming and South Dakota and finally back home. It was a long two weeks in the van, but reflecting on the trip, the experience opened my eyes to see a different world and helped shape me to be the person I am today.

In those two weeks we were on the road, I was able to experience some of America’s greatest National Monuments and National Parks. We drove through the Garden of the Gods, Canyon of the Ancients, and though beautiful arches. We floated in the Great Salt Lake in Utah and stared up in dismay at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as my mother told me the story about the sisters who escaped the great bear and were lifted into the heavens. We took a helicopter ride over the Badlands in South Dakota and learned about Crazy Horse and the Presidents that were carved on the huge mountain. We explored Yellowstone and watched Old Faithful erupt with such force that taught us the magnitude of the Earth’s power. In short, we discovered that America was full of amazing features, lessons, and beauty.

That trip has entered my mind more and more now that I am grown with children of my own. I have never taken them to Disneyland. I don’t take them to places where everything is commercialized. I take them to places that open their eyes, widen their imagination and let them experience the natural beauty of the world; not just the commercialized points of interests aimed at getting richer.

In just the past two months, we have been places that I will hold onto forever. We have explored the Lehman Caves in the Great Basin of Nevada, leaned over the cliffs of Cedar Breaks in Utah. Ridden our bikes through Bryce National Park and hiked Zion. We sat on a cliff in the Grand Canyon, Arizona and took in the beauty that only water, rock and a lot of time can create. We camped in Joshua Tree, both in the Colorado and Mojave Deserts and discovered a hidden waterfall in the Toiyabe National Forest. Along the way, we learned about the land, animals and one another. We laughed over campfires and hot coco. We had snowball fights and jumped in rivers. The memories we made were our own without costing us massive entrance fees and long lines.

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Today is the anniversary of the American Antiquities Act. This act gives the President of the United States the power to designate national monuments. It protects the public land that hold so many memories, wildlife and hidden treasures. Without this protection, our children and their children may lose the right to see these great places.

While I have many political views, I am not one to post them publicly. This blog is not about my views on politics, but my views on protecting this great country of ours so we can enjoy it for years to come. All national monuments are currently being reviewed to determine whether or not they should indeed continue with the protection they currently have. It is up to the American people to do their part in this. The administration needs to know why the monuments are so important to us. They need to remember how it feels as a child, standing at the base of an enormous mountain, under a beautifully sculpted rock, or in the middle of a fossil bed. These monuments not only need to be protected to keep history alive, but they also need to be there to encourage  children to be active and promote fields of study such as geology, ecology, biology, wildlife conservation, paleontology, seismology, anthropology and many others.

Please take the time to tell your representatives what these places mean to you. Take the time to let your voice be heard. Go see these monuments and witness the truly spectacular beauty and history they hold. Get out and be a part of something greater than yourself. We have until June 10 to be heard. Don’t wait and hope that someone else will do it. We may not get another chance.

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Idaho: Coming Back to My Reality For Two Weeks

After two months of travel and adventure in Western USA, coming back home (for two weeks) was more than I expected. d

We are back in Idaho. Home sweet home. However, Idaho brings about a whole new set of emotions with it. A little less than two months ago, we set out on our first adventure. There was so much to see and so much that we didn’t even have time to see. We added trips to Utah with Zion, Bryce and Cedar Breaks and Arizona with Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. These were not on the initial itinerary but were phenomenal additions that helped me cross off some bucket list items. The entire trip was breath taking with a lot of great pictures, memories and feelings along with it.

Coming back to Idaho was a wakeup to reality though in a way. The day after getting back into town, I had a couple doctor’s appointments and today rounded it off with another optical appointment. Each brought back the harsh reality that I am not the same girl I was a year ago and there is a big possibility that I will not be the same girl a year from now. It is a hard pill to swallow.

Going on the first trip was almost an escape from reality. There were issues that we had to overcome. Days like Bryce Canyon where I can barely remember the day because the pain in my eyes was so bad that I laid in the front seat on our way there trying not to throw up. However, the storm settled and I pulled it together to go on a bike ride with the kids, soaking in their smiles and the beautiful landscape that unfolded before my eyes. The reality of how life has changed in the last eight months was always present, but less to deal with since in a way I was trying to run away from the reality of it. I suppose it was bound to catch up with me.

Oh! But I have missed Idaho. I miss the “suspiciously nice” people that live here. I miss the scenery. Good friends and a familiarity that I hadn’t had in nearly two months.

The thing that got me was the doctor appointments. It wasn’t bad enough that there were still no answers or solutions to the puzzling health issue. It was the fact that I was returning to my former place of employment. The place I had to quit because I was no longer physically able to work. My old life. It hurt more than I was prepared for. It hurt bad enough that my doctor had tears roll down her cheek as she gave me a hug and told me WE would get through this. Being there reminded me that my life has taken a huge 180 and brought me from a professionally motivated go-getter to someone who can’t read for more than 5 minutes without pain and can not work because she got death the wrong cards. It was not the place I was ready to be at.

The first couple of days in Idaho also made us think a lot about where we want  to be. Do we stay in Idaho where the mountain streams beckon to our wild west side? Or do we leave the West and move closer to family, who will not only provide the support and history but also allow for our kids to grow up while getting into mischief with their cousins? How long will we travel full-time? We are currently doing two weeks in Boise followed by two weeks on the road. What is our end game? There are so many things on the table that make things hard to figure out. What we do know is that we are happier having a simpler life. We are in a house that is about 400 square feet but are more relaxes than when we lived in something five times the size. It brings with it an easy fresh start, new adventure, or good memory. Life is better when it is less complicated. Less stuff. I focus more on the stuff that matters instead of the stuff that I once collected to impress those around me.

Coming back to Idaho has really shown me that while you can’t hide from your life, you certainly can embrace the new normal and make the most of it. It has made me appreciate the relationships I have with my friends, family and those I meet along the way. It makes me realize that we need to have an end plan. Maybe even a place to settle down and make my own. It had me torn about where I should be. For just the beginning of the Grayt Adventure, it sure seems to pack a lot of emotions with it. Good thing, we leave for the next chapter in less than two weeks. Maybe it will bring yet another perspective of the future. Only time will tell.

Hiking with Children

While the trail is not tranquil when kids are involved, it can still be magical.

Traveling across the country has been quite an adventure. It is filled with exploration, discovery and adventure. Hiking with our children is an adventure of it’s own. It is a different experience than you would have without children; a different perspective.

When hiking solo or with other adults, the conversation is generally limited. There is a peaceful connection to your surroundings. You become part of the landscape. You go at your own pace, tackle your own obstacles and find a deep inner peace within yourself.

This is not the case when you have children, at least young children. Evelyn is four and Alexander is seven. Alexander is old enough to keep up and be adventurous, but hasn’t quite hit that age where he absorbs the quiet energy of the trail. Instead, he is powered by the excitement of the adventure and the challenge of jumping off big rocks, climbing hills and jumping in every stream or puddle along the way. Evelyn goes at her own pace. Sometimes she runs along enthusiastic bout being a trail leader. Other times, she barely moves at a snail’s pace, secretly hoping we will offer a piggy back ride. Generally, her hand is intertwined with mine as she floats along the trail giddily telling me everything that comes to mind. She talks about the butterflies, fairies, rocks, flowers and just about anything that she sees, touches, hears or feels. Those are the moments that I hold onto as much as possible.

I have also discovered that children think about food more than I ever imagined was possible. We could be at a beautiful waterfall, and Evelyn will turn around and say, “This is a great place for a snack Mom!” It’s incredible how much the topic of food is on their brain. They do expend an inordinate amount of energy trekking through the forest, so we do make sure to bring lots of snacks that are both nutritious and delicious. IMG_1181

Hiking with kids is also interesting in the fact that you have to go at their pace and their level. Sometimes, this means taking an extra five minutes to get past an obstacle. Sometimes, it means going a different way because there is a really cool rock that they just have to climb on. You have to be alerted to everything and point out hazards in order to avoid more cuts and scrapes. In fact, you wind up with more scrapes trying to minimize the dangers of thorns, rocks, and branches as your body seems to be the perfect barrier between them and the danger. You also ration your water differently than you would if you were solo. You know how much your kids will guzzle down or spill or use to wash off a rock so you not only hide an extra bottle, but you enforce a hydrate but don’t gulp rule. It rarely works. IMG_1219

The biggest thing about hiking with kids is seeing the small stuff. The forest is a huge place that makes the biggest adult feel small. For a child, the forest becomes a magical, enchanted land. The trees are teaming with life. My kids watch the beetles that are hauling their food across the pine needle carpet. We stop at ant hills to observe their behavior and make hypotheses about what each of their roles are. We notice the different animal droppings along the way. We take a break to compare the tracks in the mud that we see. Nothing is done with efficiency or speed, but when it comes to raising children, those are not terms often used anyway.

While hiking with children is not the serene, healing experience that it can be when alone, it is worth every moment. Conquering a trail give the kids more confidence. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. It brings them back to nature and offers countless learning opportunities. Their senses are awakened as they get lost in the trees and their imagination is sparked. There are no computers. No iPads. No video games. Just Mother Nature and two children soaking in every moment. As a parent, this is the best thing you can offer: a place to thrive and become independent. It is worth every mile.IMG_1123

How to be a “Leaf in the Wind”

The lessons I am learning as I work at letting go the idea of normal.

I had a conversation with my mother yesterday. Being Mother’s Day and all, I tried my very hardest not to engage in any kind of argument, however, being she is my mother and I her daughter, that can be quite difficult. It also didn’t help that I called at a time when I was not feeling the best. I was on edge and didn’t have much patience for some reason. I would love to blame it on the medications I am on to help save my sight and even though being grumpy is a common side effect, I am bound and determined to be in control of my emotions. This means I was just not in the mood.

Before I begin this story, I suppose I should also tell you that my mother does not know of my medical issues, therefore she really doesn’t understand the basis for us renting out our house, buying an RV and traveling. She does not know that I have lost vision in one eye and that I had to quit my job due to the illness, not because I wanted to explore the country, homeschool my kids, and start a blog. She believes that I chose to do this because I am a “leaf in the wind” of sorts; not wanting to settle down and establish roots. I’m still waiting for the right time to tell her, but telling her over the phone is not the place and considering I haven’t seen my mother in over ten years, I am not sure when this conversation will take place.

The conversation started with the traditional “Happy Mother’s Day” stuff followed by me letting her know I was currently in San Diego. We talked about the kiddos a bit and how nice the shower pressure was in the hotel compared to the RV. (Surprisingly, I was not as thrilled with staying at a hotel as I thought I would be after living in an RV). She then asked me the loaded question: “So how does it feel to just not to work and travel all the time?”

“Deep breath. Know your audience. Count to ten. Close your eyes. Another deep breath. Remember…. It is Mother’s Day.” My mental list for relaxing was not quite working. Yes. She is right. I did quite my job and yes, I am traveling. But I had to quit my job. I am losing my vision. I can not stare at a computer all day. Even as I write this post, my eyes are closed due to the immense pressure and pain caused by straining or even trying to move my eyes. We are traveling because I want to see this country while I still can. We are not on a vacation. We are living the RV full-time lifestyle. I am homeschooling two kids. That is more work than ANY job I have ever had. In fact, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss having a “real” job that earned money and allowed me to run away to a corporate environment while my kids drove their other teachers to drink. We are not bringing in the same money we used to. It is not all fun and games all the time.

I love traveling around the country. It is beautiful. The people are unique and diverse. There is so much to learn, see, visit and experience. However, it isn’t always that spectacular. It is a lot of work trying to figure out campsites, places to visit, YOUR BUDGET. It is exhausting when you realize that on top of seeing the beauty of the country, your first priority is to teach Math, Grammar, Spelling, Reading to the little people living with you and now provide all three meals of the day.

Being a “leaf in the wind” requires a whole new perspective. One that allows you to accept any change and to roll with it, whether it is good or bad. It means that some days, even though life may be shitty, you figure out how to let it turn to gold. I’m not quite at that point. I am more like a kite. I have let myself fly in the wind and am getting used to the breeze. I am learning how to soar and I pray that when I land in the branches, it is only temporary.

I wish I could tell you how to be a leaf in the wind. How to accept and embrace all the changes. Hopefully one day, I will be able to write a post about that. Until then, I have learned a few things I can share:

First: There is no such thing as normal. We are all mutations of sorts. All abnormalities trying to get along and survive in this crazy world. I don’t want to be normal. I want to learn how to embrace my new normal. Whether it is a good day or a bad day, it is MY day.

Second: Stress comes in more forms than one can imagine. Whether it is working, planning a trip, homeschooling kids, getting dinner ready or even going for a walk; there is some sort of stress that is wrecking havoc in your body or head. Having an autoimmune condition is slowly teaching me that I need to embrace the stress instead of fight it. If something is too much, I need to stop the battle. If not, I only fuel the stress.

Third: You BECOME the people you surround yourself with. Negative people only come branches keeping you from flying in the wind. I was able to see some great friends this weekend that reminded me of all the good energy that I need in my life. I am also so blessed to have a husband that is willing to sacrifice so much and be so supportive of me in this crazy time. If I gave into the fake people, the negative people and the people who thrive on insecurities, I would only suffer more. Instead of letting the negative people control me, I let them go and do not waste my time trying to make them happy. It is better this way, even if it is hard at first.

Finally: Breath, laugh, reflect, relax and enjoy the ride. You may not be thrilled at the ride you are on or satisfied where it has led you, but it is YOUR ride. Make the most of it. I don’t have the best relationship with my mother, but I am bound and determined that that aspect of my life isn’t going to hold me back. My body is fighting itself, but it isn’t going to keep me down. Gas prices are through the roof in California, but that doesn’t stop me from taking a walk on the beach. YOU are the only one who can make your day be good or bad. It is alway YOUR choice on what you FEEL.

So going back to my phone conversation. It was Mother’s Day. I didn’t lie to make her feel better but I did tell her (for the 50th time) that this wasn’t a vacation. I love homeschooling the kids. I miss working in so many ways. However, I was okay. I was making the most of every day. I was exploring and I finally was able to SEE the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. Maybe this summer when I am finally able to visit her and introduce her to the man I have been married to for eight years and her two grandchildren, I will tell her more about the life I have been living. But until then, I am doing my best. I may not be a leaf in the wind just yet, but I am doing alright being a kite in a field.

All Dogs Need a Heaven

The beach should not just be reserved for people. Dogs need some sand, sun and freedom too!

This morning, I awoke to an amazing life. We are currently in San Diego for a long weekend and have been able to visit great friends, eat delicious food, play on the beach and enjoy life. Today was my day. My kids handed me flowers, my husband handed me a card with a homemade mimosa and my puppy snuggled up next to me. It feels good being a mom.

Since it was my day, I got to choose what to do. I had never been to the Pacific Ocean before, so that was the first thing on my list. We drove through the psychotic traffic of San Diego and found our way first to a pleasant park called Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. There wasn’t much for the kids there other than the grand views, some trails and the water, so we decided to go out to Ocean Beach.

Ocean Beach is the big deal in San Diego. It is where you can sit and watch surfers, play in the sand, get into a volleyball game and truly experience the San Diego laid back way of life. Your stresses disappear as quickly as the sand falls between your toes. It is a slice of heaven.

Now, we are not newbies when it comes to the beach. We spent five years living in the Panhandle of Florida where the turquoise waters of the Emerald Coast illuminate the sparkling white sand of beaches that are found almost nowhere else in the world. We love the beach, but today I saw what we were missing in Florida: a dog beach.

Maggie is a yapper dog. She is a whopping 9lbs of energy and excitement so when we take her out, she is bursting at the seams. So she will bark at every dog. Jump up and then sometimes growl when she isn’t allowed to play or sniff whatever she wants. She has never had an issue with another dog, but what kills me is that 20 seconds when she first meets another one or her continuous yapping when she sees another canine roaming the streets.

This made me quite hesitate at first. My excited yapper dog surrounded by dog’s whose right paw weighs more than her. However, I took a deep breath, unhooked her leash and watched her beeline for the first animal in view.

Without the leash, there was nothing I could do, but an amazing thing happened. There was no barking. No growling. No yapping. Just a quick sniff and few playful chases and she was back at our side. In fact, that is how every encounter with ever dog turned out. I saw no out of control animals. No growling. Honestly, I see more aggressiveness on the children’s playground everyday.

We spent the next hour or two sitting at the beach. Our kids played in the sand and laughed as the dogs ran over the sand castles. Maggie spent her time dashing into the water, chasing (other dogs’) balls, and running wild and free. All without any yelping, barking, or issues of any kind. When she needed a break and some salt-free water, she came over, dried off in Daniel’s towel (not by Daniel’s choice), got her water and went back out. She hung out with us, the kids and greeted the other dogs and people that wandered by. It was most likely the best day of her life.

Sitting there in the sand, watching the dogs run freely may have been the best part of my day today. It was a moment when one of my amazing children was able to be free and happy and live to the fullest. I am so blessed to be able to watch my beautiful human babies do this on a daily basis, but today it was my dog’s turn. Seeing all the dogs on their own playground, their own beach, their own slice of heaven; that warmed my heart.

It is a shame that there are not more dog beaches and parks in our society. Every person on the beach today picked up any waste, to include litter that had blown in with the wind. The dog parks and dog beaches seem to be the cleaner than the dog-banned ones. Places like these give dog owner the ability to reward their children. It gives them  place to go to help their animal and people to talk to that have common interests. Finally, it makes the dog a better dog.

When we finally left the beach, Maggie was a different dog. She didn’t take off running towards a new dog that was on its’ way to doggie heaven. She didn’t bark or yelp or even jump on any dog on the walk back. She didn’t even freak out at the squirrel antagonizing her on our walk. She was satisfied and I think she is beginning to understand that she gets a whole lot more positive interactions when she stops being a yapper.

I think it is the time to push for more dog-friendly places in this country. Parks where the dogs can play, roam and be dogs. Not tiny fenced in areas that feel more like a kennel than a park. We need places where the focus is making life a little better for them. A place where they know what Heaven on Earth actually feels like.

I Could Never Homeschool My Kids… Until I Did

I never thought I would be the parent who homeschooled her child. Now, I wish I would have done it sooner.

I could never homeschool my children. Not that I am not smart enough. I am certainly educated. It is more than that. While I think I am a pretty amazing mom, I just never found that patience that is born with teachers. Going over the same thing a hundred times with a frustrated child until they get it right. Not having the adult stimulation that my insanely nerdish brain craved. I tried doing the stay-at-home mom gig a couple of times. It was truly the hardest job I ever had. I am not the Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker kind of mom who organizes play dates, bakes fancy cupcakes and keeps the house meticulous. In fact, I think my kids spent more time at a CrossFit gym with me than at parks when I had them “full time”.

The truth is: I need to work in order to maintain sanity. I need a sense of individuality. A sense of professional accomplishment. A time away from the chaos of two children that ask for my attention more than is humanly healthy. I need that time away from my family to appreciate them that much more. Even to maintain a schedule. My brain loves being a night owl, but that isn’t quite conducive when you have small children.

Homeschooling was never on my mind. My kids needed to be in an institution where learning was the centerfold most important thing on the agenda. Not breakfast, dishes, lunch, dishes, vacuuming, taking the dog out, picking up toys, dinner, dishes, baths, etc. Get my point? Kids need to be in an environment where they are with their peers and have to learn how to adapt to other’s personalities and a structure that is provided by someone who did not have anything to do with their creation. The Teacher.

Teachers are these strange creatures that I admire, not want to be. They get paid pennies, yet still manage to instill wonder, magic and knowledge into the heads of the children in the classrooms. I have always been amazed at anyone who desired to be a teacher. It simply wasn’t something I possessed or even wanted. So I thought.

As Spring Break began this year, I embraced a new, exciting, terrifying adventure of being a teacher. Not a licensed one, but a homeschool teacher. Yes. I took my children out of school and made the decision to homeschool them.

The decision was not an easy one. However, it was the best decision for our family for many reasons. The first reason was that I was forced to stop working due to my health. While I would love to have sat around drinking wine all day while the kids went to school, it made no sense to keep paying for the preschool my daughter attended. Plus, I needed a new challenge in my life. Another huge factor was my son. He has pretty severe ADHD. Smart as hell when he is focused, but imagine trying to focus in a class of 24 first graders hopped up on sugar. It wasn’t working. We tried changing his diet. We tried meditation. We tried jui jitsu. We tried caffeine. We tried fidget gadgets and even counseling. Even the IEP that was established didn’t do anything. Pretty much anything and everything we read online, heard from friends or could imagine, we tried. Nothing seemed to help much. In fact, his academics and self-esteem seemed to be going on a downward spiral. He would come home crying saying he was dumb, overwhelmed, stupid.

When your first grader thinks he is stupid, something needs to change.

That was the point when I took him to the psychiatrist. My heart was so heavy. I felt like the worst mother in the world. Why couldn’t I fix this problem and unlock the true potential that my child had in that amazing brain of his. The shrink made me feel better by acknowledging I had done everything I could and more. She said that the best thing for him would be medication.

I was going to be medicating my seven year old son so he would fit into an institution of learning that was not designed for him. It would help him focus. It would help him feel not so overwhelmed. It would make him excel. Medication was my last option.

As I sat in the pharmacy line at Walgreens, waiting for my turn to pick up the prescription, I began texting my husband about the plan. I told him the drug’s name and instantly received a response back: “WE ARE NOT GIVING HIM THAT DRUG!!!”. Wow. Turns out, my husband had  the same drug prescribed to him as a juvenile. He hated it. It made him feel so sick and not himself that he ended up refusing it all together. There was no way he would let someone put his child through that torture.

It turns out that most kids have to go through three or four different drugs before they find one that “works” for them. This is over the span of one to two years. I couldn’t agree to putting my son through hell for another couple of years until we found something that would work.

That is when my husband sat me down and talked to me about homeschooling. At first, I kept my old opinions that I could not do as good of a job that TRAINED teachers could. My kids needed that structure. They needed that establishment. However, my son was failing in that environment. We could always transfer him to a private school with very small class sizes but that would cost an arm and a leg. It wasn’t the answer. We made the decision that we needed a complete change in the way he learned. His brain was overly active. Why not teach him in an active environment? Teach him how his brain learns best. That idea was the key to solidifying our decision to homeschool.
The first month of “homeschooling” was more or less a relaxed time of getting to know one another on a more delicate level. I watched my kids play and taught them lessons based off what they should know. I analyzed how my son reacted to physical, emotional and mental stress. I discovered triggers that would make him shut down. I figured out tactics I could use to get him excited about learning. My kids became my test subjects in a fascinating and educational experiment.

One would think that when starting a homeschooling program that the best thing to do would be to sign up for a program. I’m not that kind of person. There are so many online schools out there that are great to use, but I don’t want my kids sitting in front of a computer. They need to learn by doing and I don’t want to use a program as a way-out for myself to sit around and drink wine. Instead, I have spent countless hours scouring various resources and developing a plan for what the kids will learn about based off their ages. Evelyn isn’t set to start Kindergarten until 2018, so she has a lot of leeway when it comes to what she has to know. We are still working more on the Kindergarten level, but at a slower and more playful speed. Alexander is actually already working on the second grade level for the most part. In less than two months, he went from struggling with first grade math to flying through his second-grade math assignments. It is a night and day difference.

My white board is an outline for what we should get done in a day. There are still worksheets, but also fun activities. Today we did Even/Odd assignment where I sent him on a bike ride to count various objects and determine whether they were even or odd. We play with hot wheels. We visit National Parks. Last week, we actually sat on a cliff in the Grand Canyon and did “schoolwork”. This week, we were in Joshua Tree National Park learning about desert plants and animals and how they survive. Our RV shows a map of the United States and both of the children can point out what states we have traveled as well as name their capitals.

I won’t lie and tell you that I don’t miss working. If I could go back, it would be hard to say no. However, I do have a new job that is exciting and just as challenging. I am nowthat strange creature I admire; just on a smaller scale. Homeschooling has given my son hope that he can thrive in the intellectual realm. I believe that one day the kids will go back to “school” and I will  find a new challenge. When they do return, they will have the skills to adapt to the environment, the knowledge that they have discovered while out of that environment and the patience and tolerance for others who struggle. Struggling doesn’t mean a kid is dumb or stupid; it just means that they learn differently than those that don’t struggle. Different can be good.

I never thought the day would come when I would say “I love homeschooling my children”. However, seeing the results and eagerness to learn has made me a true believer. Homeschooling isn’t the answer for all families or all kids. It isn’t an easy way out. It is hard work, lots of patience and should include a nice glass of wine at the end of the night (for the teachers…. not the kids). It saved my son from a low self-esteem, a hard struggle, and lots of tears. It raised his academic performance almost overnight. It enabled him to excel. Those results make me proud to say that I am his teacher or rather: HE is my student.

Claustrophobia and the Grand Canyon

Claustrophobia and the Grand Canyon. How one saved me from the other.

Claustrophobia. The fear of tight spaces. It is a very common fear and well known. Up until recently, I thought that it was a fear that a person was born with. I had never had this fear. I could crawl in the tightest spaces, unafraid of anything. However, a couple months ago, I learned what claustrophobia was… the hard way.

I was laying in an MRI machine again. With the rapid progression of my visual loss and the way my body has been attacking itself, it was no surprise that yet another MRI was ordered. I’ve had several and tried to approach this one on the light side as though it was another well-deserved nap since my body was continuously running on empty lately. I laid down on the cold, hard table and the technician placed the face mask over my head. In my mind, I remember thinking not to comment about feeling like a hockey player and just relax. So I did. I fell asleep quite quickly since lately my energy levels had been nonexistent. All of a sudden something happened. I think I went to swallow some saliva and ended up choking instead. Worst possible thing to happen in the middle of an MRI. With a face mask tightly secured, I couldn’t sit up. Frantically, I hit the panic button. Again and again and again. My eyes popped open and all I could see was this shield blocking my face; immobilizing me. Keeping me from fresh air… from breathing. I reached for the mask, trying to rip it away. The technician came into the room and retracted the table as slowly as I thought was humanly possible.

When I finally was able to sit up and gasp for breath, the technician looked at me in amazement. She asked me what happened and all I could tell her was that I started choking. When she asked me if I wanted to come back to redo the MRI, I told her that I was able to finish and that it was just a random occurrence and that I was ok to complete the procedure. Turns out: I wasn’t. That simple occurrence made me develop this random thing that is called claustrophobia. I was terrified of that mask being secured over my face again. I laid down and the moment it went over my head, I freaked out and jumped up again. My heart raced. My anxiety was through the roof. What happened to that nice nap I had expected? Now, it had been replaced by fear.

I knew that if I was going to make it through this procedure the way things were progressing. I had to calm myself. I didn’t want her to know what was going on so I asked for a drink. I knew that seeing that mask cover my face would elicit the panic I felt. So I took a drink and closed my eyes. I laid down and took deep breaths. The sound of the mask clicking into place raised my heart rate but I knew if I opened my eyes, the panic would take control. I too a deep breath and pictured a place I had never been. A place open and wide. A place bigger than life: the Grand Canyon.

The remainder of the MRI, I took myself to a place I had only seen in pictures. The Grand Canyon. It was a place that was deep and vast, open and wide, free of anything confining. I felt myself standing on the edge of a cliff with my kids as the wind flowed through my hair. Nothing held me back. Inside, there was still fear that everything would cave in and that I would choke to death, but I made my mind believe that there was a place that this could never happen.

That is how I made it through that day. Even after the radiologist ordered contrast and I had to endure another thirty minutes of deep breaths and my imagination taking me to a far away place. The Grand Canyon saved me from claustrophobia.

Today, I finally made it to the Grand Canyon. While my imagination did a pretty good job letting me know the freedom it brings, my mind did not do it justice when it comes to the depth and magnitude it holds. While sitting on the edge of a cliff, my husband said it perfectly “you can feel it’s silence”. In fact, it is so large and powerful; you feel as though nothing can escape its’ greatness. It is deafening. Frightening. Calming. Tranquil. For the first time since that MRI, I felt as though everything was okay. I was just a dot on this Earth that existed in such a small amount of time. My panic and fear was not even an blip in history. The greatness of the canyon was almost too much to take in; a counterbalance of what the mask felt like in the machine.

Now as I sit writing for the first time of that new fear, I feel a sense of relief and gratitude. Maybe I was meant to know what it was like to feel constrained and fearful so then I understood the relief of being free and grateful. Maybe I would not feel the greatness that the canyon holds if I had never felt the restraints of being out of control.

I would love to sit here and describe the Grand Canyon to you. I would love to tell you about the way the layers of rock and earth delicately fall upon one another. How the stone is older than the dinosaurs and how water and wind eroded the land to form the beautiful landscape. However, the Grand Canyon can’t be described. It can only be felt. Lived. Seen. It is a monument that pictures can only capture the surface of the power that it holds.

While I sat in that MRI, imagining myself at the Grand Canyon, I saw a beautiful canyon with an open horizon before me. Freedom and solitude that I needed to get through a procedure. Today, I saw time. Evolution. Peace and serenity. Today, I saw Mother Nature in all her beauty. Today I witnessed the power of the Grand Canyon.