The Fix-It Fairies

Publishing my first book is an exciting time. I love how a simple story I once told my kids has transformed into something real.

A couple of years ago, I did what all moms do. I made up a story to comfort my daughter after she got hurt. She questioned why it took so long for her cut to heal and while the nerd in me wanted to talk about the process of cell regeneration, I knew that my three year old would not take that as an answer.

Instead, I told her of a group of fairies. These fairies were not magical but they were hard workers and they would come when she was sleeping to help fix her cut. These fairies soon became a part of our household conversations. Both Evelyn and her brother, Alexander would talk about the progress the fairies made the night before, and for once, they were excited about healing, instead of painful aware of the long process it took. Evelyn’s addiction to Bandaids even subsided as she realized it would make the fairies work even more difficult if they had to crawl under the Bandaids in the middle of the night.

About a year ago, my husband told me that the Fix-It Fairies needed to be shared with the world. So, one day, I sat down and wrote out the story I had been telling the kids. I didn’t think too much about it, but instead of stressing, I sent out the first draft to a publisher. Within a week, there was a response: it was being sent to the editors. Then a month later, I was sent a contract. Now, here we are and this little story, made up out of desperation to calm a hurt child, is about to be released.

May 15, 2018.

I am shocked. I am excited, but mostly, I am thrilled that this story that helped my own children can be used to help children everywhere. It is about hope and hard work. It is fun and is something I hope to read to my grandchildren when they are young. It is something that I hope my children will always treasure and look back at, knowing that they inspired these fairies to come to life and helped me create the book.

Writing a children’s book was a fun adventure for me. The process of getting the book from random thoughts in your head to being on paper to getting published for the world to see is a lot more stress than I had originally thought it would be. However, it is worth it. I also had a lot of help from my wonderful husband and my awesome kids, especially when it came to the illustrations. If I had to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat. In fact, the kids and I have already started thinking of other books that we should write. We shall see.

If you do want to check out the book, It is on Amazon:

The Fix-It Fairies by Samantha Gray

The Mom Belt System

After spending the past few months watching my children learn Jiu Jitsu, I have begun to realize the sport of MOTHERING has it’s belt system too.

Mothering is a really tough sport. Whether you are a full-time mom or a super-full-time mom, it is ROUGH. It is a rewarding and heartbreaking sport though. There are many highs, lows and lessons learned that you would never have imagined. My children are ages 5 and 7, and are both obsessed with Jiu Jitsu. As I have watched them at practice, day after day, I have started to think about how the sport of mothering is much like the sport of Jiu Jitsu. There are different belt colors: White, Blue, Purple, Brown and Black. The kids have a whole different set of colors, but for parenting purposes, I’m focusing on the adult belt system. It starts with the white belt. 

The WHITE belt is ALL about survival. You need to make it through the round without getting your ass kicked and hopefully learning a few new techniques and strategies that will make you look semi-good (if you tilt your head and squint in a dark room). That is the birth-5 year-old parents in my opinion. They are learning the sport of mothering. They have transitioned from a fun-filled life to having responsibilities, but it is still new, exciting and terrifying to them. You have enough skill and talent to keep your kids alive, but the amount of knowledge you still do not know is almost impossible to imagine at this point. You are constantly getting schooled about what to do and what not to do. You win some battles, but most of the time, you feel as though you are caught somewhere between an arm bar and a choke-hold. You look up at that clock more than you should and try to hold on as best as you can until it is bedtime or even that five minutes rest you can squeeze in between matches. It is exhausting and your entire body and mind hurts all the time, but as time goes on, you adapt. You learn. You adjust. Then, somewhere in the chaos, you graduate to a blue belt.

The BLUE belt. The blue belt mother has the fundamentals of the “sport” down. They know what the moves are but still are in an experimental mode. Yes, at this age, blue-belt mothers experiment. A LOT. They test out different sports, adventures, classes, techniques, toys, foods, bribes, pretty much everything you can thing of. There are self-help books, mothering books, cooking books, and random inspirational books littering their counters or Kindles (most of them only skimmed through). They are trying to figure out what path they can take that will lead them to the most success in their game. The hone in on that special skill that they take to a match in hopes for the right moment to shine and conquer. Blue belt mothers are constantly on social media or engaging with other mothers looking for praise, support, or the feeling of normalcy. They are constantly seeking the latest and greatest way to give their child that edge on life that they need at this level. They are finally starting to win some of their matches, while still being surprised on almost a daily basis of things they have never seen before. The blue belt is rewarding and inspiring, but at the same time still full of humility and defeat. This belt is usually in the 4-10 year old mothering age-range. Once they have a set standard of what works and doesn’t, moms get promoted to a purple belt. 

The PURPLE belt. I think of this belt as the tween belt. It is for the mothers who have children progressing into the teenage years. The hormonal years. This is where the real mentoring of the sport begins. They are still working on their own techniques, which the kids will certainly test on a daily basis. However, for then most part, their mothering-style will be set quite well. They will continuously reinforce the basic lessons of life and technique, style, and grace with their children. They will start reaching out to those around them and give them advice (wanted or unwanted) on what they are doing right or wrong and ways they can improve their mothering game. They are gearing up for that age where they can refine their own certain skills and prepare for the future. Their children should already understand the basic concept of this world. Even if this mom has new babies at this time, she is confident in her abilities to raise the child they way she sees fit. Once the purple belt is “mastered”, we move to the brown belt. 

The BROWN belt is reserved for the mom of teenagers, specifically ones that are close to being ready to leave their care and move out on their own. She has endured countless hours of no-sleep, stressful days and nights, numerous teacher meetings, more flash-card than she wants to admit, and at least a handful of days where she was left with no-voice, due to whatever circumstances (we don’t judge). These moms have been there. Done that. And SURVIVED! They are just putting the final touches on their children; grooming them to go off and be adults. They are preparing themselves for what the world has to offer. Hoping that their journey as parents is as fulfilling as their progression through the ranks was. It is not an easy time for a brown-belt parent, but seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is a rewarding one (so I believe is the case). When that child finally moves out of the house, the mom graduates to a full-on black belt. She has made it to the top. Her children are out of the house, successful, and maybe even starting a parenting jiu-jitsu journey of their own. 

The BLACK belt. After many years, sleepless nights, all-out battles with the children, devotion like no other and undying love for the sport of mothering, one may reach her blackbelt. It is when a mom has made it through the trials and tribulations of parenting. She has felt on top of the world, yet at the same time feared the judging eyes of everyone around her (whether or not they even existed). She raised, trained, and mentored a (or multiple) human being from a helpless creature to an adult. It is a magnificent time. She is a mentor. A leader. A coach. She has made many mistakes along the way but came out on the other end a winner because she never gave up. She is there to give advice to her students when needed. She is there to watch them make their own mistakes, because that is how they must learn. She is there to guide and cherish them, but to also let them fail if they have to. Hopefully, her children will not believe they are too good that they don’t have to reach to her for advice and guidance, but it is only a natural part of the belt progression where the white belts and even blue belts will think they are all-knowing and need to learn the hard way that some of their techniques simply do not work. It takes a strong black belt to foster the lower-belt mom’s confidence and knowledge but respect the fact that they must make their own choices in their fights. They must determine what path they take. Because that is the only way they can grow. In my opinion, the black belt is the hardest role as a mother. It is having the ability to let your children make their own choices, their own mistakes, and their own successes, while still being there to support them in the process. 

I currently am a blue belt in this sport of mothering. My kids are young, but I have survived the first phase of their lives. I am learning everyday on how to raise them correctly while still trying to get over the constant feeling on inadequacy and failure. I am trying not to take comments and social media personally, while making my own opinions on how my children should interact with this world. I am trying new things all the time and read way too many “how to make sure your children are successful” articles. I make mistakes by the dozen and feel like I tap out to my self-doubt more than I should. I hope as I earn my higher mom-belts, I will be able to look back and say I did a good job or at least I did the best I could do on any given day and any given match. 

Being a mom is a rough job. It doesn’t get easier either. I just hope that someday, I can make my coaches proud of the journey I have accomplished and the lessons I have survived. As I look towards the future, I also hope that one day, I will be at least half the black belt as the ones I look up to and have guided me through this crazy journey of Jiu-Jitsu mothering. 

 

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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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

Reflections of Barstow

Barstow is not the place I would want to spend any amount of time, but it did get me out to explore Southern California.

For the past three weeks, we have been stationary at a Marine Corps Logistics Base located in Barstow, CA. When we first arrived to the town of Barstow, my husband instantly looked at me and said “I am so sorry for bringing you here.” The streets were littered with garbage and neglected houses and buildings. Every block had at least one homeless person pushing a cart or holding up a sign. It seemed as though Barstow had been forgotten a long time ago. The town was dirty, run down and not on the safe side.

Dan had a contact job working out of Fort Irwin, an Army base located in the middle of nowhere about an hour outside of Barstow. It was four days on, three days off for three weeks, although there were quite a few days when the weather didn’t cooperate so he didn’t have to report. While we were not excited to be in Barstow, we were lucky enough to have the security of being on a base and we decided to make the most of our time there. IMG_0402

The first weekend we were there, we took off and went camping in Joshua Tree National Park for two nights. It was amazing. The first night we spent in the Colorado Desert on the south side of the park. With not a singe Joshua Tree in sight, we had a great time wandering the desert, hiking and exploring. IMG_0296

The second night was spent in Black Rock Canyon of the Northern part of Joshua Tree. It was a dense concentration of Joshua Trees and offered a lot of fun for the kids. In the park, we climbed the great granite boulders. The kids had no fear as they found small cracks within the rocks that kept them scaling higher and higher. I have never been afraid of heights, but watching my children ascend the rocks, I felt the fear of most people when they are out of their comfort zone. The kids are great being safe though and with our careful watch and guidance, we all made it back down without a scratch. The fear was certainly worth the views from the top!IMG_0367

A few days later, Dan had a day off so we decided to go to Big Bear City for the day. The town is a ski resort town located on a big lake and is pretty much the ideal place to be if you like the outdoors. We drove up Big Bear Mountain and explored life above the clouds. Just miles away from the  Mojave Desert, the forest brought with it a new sense of life and purpose. The pines create a canopy that allows just enough light in to highlight soft wildflowers that speckle the ground. The needles create a soft blanket beneath the trees, causing sound to be absorbed and making the area perfectly calm and tranquil. Evelyn and I dropped the boys off at the top of the mountain to ride down on their bikes while we explored some more and drove down to meet them at the bottom. IMG_0529

That weekend, we headed out to San Diego. I was fortunate to meet a couple amazing individuals from San Diego in Denver when I was training for my job with the VA and we have been in constant communication ever since. We spent the first night with Shannon and her husband Mike, catching up on life. Our other friend Abe, his wife Jane and daughter Lei came out that night and hung out making the night exciting and full of laughter. Being in the company of friends that were more like family instantly made being on the road feel not so foreign. The next couple of days we explored San Diego a little. We went to a dog beach on Ocean Beach (previous blog), and wandered. San Diego has terrible traffic and so many people so it can be quite overwhelming at times. However, watching the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash into the tall cliffs was refreshing and made me understand why so many people are willing to deal with the craziness of the city. Leaving was bittersweet since I feel as though there was so much more to explore and see. Also, I felt as though I was leaving my family again, even though I know it would not be the last time we see each other. I am still trying to talk them into buying an RV so we can all travel the country together. IMG_0411

When we got bak to Barstow, we immediately started planning out next trip out of the town. Big Bear City was so refreshing that it was no-brainer to go back and spend a full weekend there. We opted to camp to avoid having to pack up an RV and drive it up the mountain. Plus, camping offers a little more intimacy with nature and more adventure underneath the stars. We went on bike rides around the campsite, a hike along a mountain stream and built a squirrel house made of pinecones. Evelyn and I once again dropped the boys off at the top of the mountain for more intense biking while us girls enjoyed some ice cream shakes down in town. Just being there made the world feel small, calm, and peaceful. It is a place we will surely be back to visit. IMG_0666

Our last week in Barstow is best described as hot. The temperature was in the triple digits and the dust and wind made it almost unbearable. On Monday, I took the kids to Fort Irwin to escape the heat at the Army base’s splash pad and various parks. The base was a mini-oasis in the middle of the desert. The splash park was conveniently located right next to one of two Starbucks on base and the kids had a blast playing in the water and running around like crazy. On Tuesday we decided to make the RV look a little more like home by changing out some curtains and decorating the kids spaces with posters and stickers. The RV still looks quite bland, but it we are slowly making it our own and figuring out ways to modify it so it suits our needs better.

There was another family at the Marine base that we were staying at so the kids had three other kids their age to play with this entire time too. It was nice watching the kids all play together. They would run from RV to RV or hide off in the trees that line the park. Even on the hottest days, they would be out on their bikes or coloring with sidewalk chalk. They too were homeschooled so the kids instantly bonded. It also helped Alexander at times focus on his work so he could get back outside to play with his new friends. Leaving today was a bit sad knowing that they would most likely never see one another again, but we did exchange addresses so the kids can send postcards and maybe keep in touch.

We are currently on our way to June Lake in central California. As I sit here in the truck and reflect, I look out the window at an endless stretch of desert. A sign for Death Valley alerts me that we are a mere 121 miles away. Evelyn is fast asleep in the back while Alexander watches a movie on my Kindle. Barstow is in the rearview mirror. The past three weeks here have given us a taste of what life is like on the road, even if we were “stationed” in Barstow the entire time. It showed me that there is no excuse to just stay in and be miserable. There is beauty and adventure anywhere you go, even if you have to take a day trip to get there. I hope that I will never be back in Barstow again, but I am grateful that I was there and that I was able to experience Southern California these past few weeks.IMG_0540

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.