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. 

 

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

Instant Gratification

Instant gratification and the effects of having everything right at your fingertips.

America has become the land of instant gratification. We revolve in a world that allows you to make your coffee in under ten seconds, connect with anyone around the world with no delay, and even have items delivered by drones within a couple hours after ordering them. At restaurants, you see entire families staring at their phones; having multiple conversations with anyone and everyone but the ones right in front of them. Children are handed an iPad instead of waiting patiently or engaging with adults while they wait for their food. Even dining establishments offer games to play to keep their patrons occupied while they wait.

I remember as a child riding my bike to a friends house just to see if they were home and wanted to hang out. I sent letters to old friends and family. I stacked jelly packets at restaurants while waiting for the food to come. I got toys on my birthday and Christmas, but rarely any other days. The world was simple back then. And then the computer era happened and it made life easier, quicker. Better?

While all the technology sounds great, could it be that this technology is distracting us from what truly matters? Does instant gratification take away our ability to be content with what we have and enjoy the richness of life? Or is it simply numbing out minds; allowing our culture to become narcissistic and disabling any hope for lasting, physical relationships.

While I sit here any type this, I think of the effect technology has had in my life over the years. I look at my Facebook page. It is a love-hate relationship. I find it rather odd that I can say I have a relationship with a website, but in reality, that is exactly what it is. It provides me with an outlet to discuss things or vent if need be and satisfies a social desire. I hate the drama of it, yet, somehow I am still pulled in late at night as I scroll through the endless stories of friends and family. Sometimes it can actually make me feel useless or not good enough. I see friends buying lavish things that I envy, even though I have no need, use or even want for them. I hear about husbands constantly buying their wives gifts all the time or random vacations. While I love seeing my friends happy, there is a part of me that may start to doubt my own life, adventures or even my marriage.

Why do people so quickly hop from now relationship to the next? Why are we unable to work on our marriage like previous generations did before. I never remember hearing my grandparents air out their dirty laundry, but now, all of cyberspace is open to the drama and has more than just an opinion or two to offer. How can two people be a healthy couple when the world is involved in their private business?

Moving away from a traditional house and into an RV opened my eyes to the destruction of self gratification. As I make my coffee in the morning, using my teapot and french press, I genuinely await the delicious taste that is being developed. The act is no longer a mindless act of putting a K-cup into a Keurig, but instead there is a process. Just like that of a great BBQ. You can’t just throw a rack of ribs on the grill and expect them to be falling off the bone in one minute. You make it an all day event. It becomes the centerpiece and highlight of the day. The guys sit around and talk by the grill while the aroma spreads throughout the neighborhood. The children eagerly await the feast and when it is finally ready, everyone comes together to cherish in that moment.

Technology isn’t always bad. It does connect us to those in another world. It makes life easier and allows us to discover more than we ever thought possible. However, keep in mind, that this is the only life we have. We need to embrace the real moments and not just the digital ones. We need to put our phone away and pay attention to what is in front of us. We need to cherish the process; for without the processes, the moments are hardly worth remembering.

Honey, you shrunk my kitchen!

The kitchen doesn’t have to be large in order to still work efficiently and create lasting memories for your family.

The kitchen has always been my favorite room in the house. It isn’t just the place where food is stored, it is a place of memories. A place where lessons are learned, magic is created, and imagination comes to life. I have been cooking for as long as I could remember. I have never been the best when it comes to baking pies and breads; maybe that is why my waistline still likes me. However, when it comes to the savory dishes, the eclectic salads, the tantalizing side dishes… well those I am pretty good at. I love making food memories. I love the process and the delight when a creation takes place. The reward of hard work. That is why the scariest part of moving into an RV was the size of my kitchen.

In order to come to terms with the shrunken version of my favorite room, I moved in phases. The first phase was getting rid of all the nice things that have limited function, but can be replaced. Basically, anything made by Pampered Chef. I love Pampered Chef and still have a couple things, but I know how to use knives with great efficiency and I have found that over the years, it is easier to grab a knife to dice up vegetables, rather than finding that one tool specifically made for that one specific vegetable, putting it together, using it for 5 minutes and then having to disassemble it and clean it. Second phase was knowing what I needed as far as pots and pans. Having a good pan is more value than having ten. I reduced my pots and pans to six total. (You don’t want to know what I did have). I also grabbed my Ninja, my crockpot, and my electric skillet just in case I needed extra help. Finally, I had to limit the amount of mixing bowls, as well as serving dishes, tableware, wine glasses (glass breaks on the road. I now have beautiful stainless steel ones!), and anything that was “excess”.

Little did I know that was the easy part. Imagine if you will, having two children (age 4 and 7) who LOVE to help you in the kitchen. Reduce the space to a small countertop, six square feet of walking space and having everything to include the stove, oven, sink, and fridge in that same area. It gets a bit tight. You have to get a little bit creative; use other tables in the RV. You learn that since you have to do dishes by hand, one of the sink’s sections is for clean dishes and one for dirty ones. You learn to prep even hours before you are going to start cooking. Prepping is what saves your sanity.

Then there is the food. In a “normal” home, you have a huge fridge. You have a huge pantry. you have the ability to house anything and everything your heart desires. You don’t have to worry about what you put in your grocery cart as you wander the vast aisles of Whole Foods. You have the room. Now…. in an RV. Things are different. But it isn’t bad like you may think. The fridge I have is SMALL. I think it my fridge may actually be envious of college dorm refrigerators sometimes. Cupboard space is limited. We have no room for junk food. We have no room for things we don’t need. We don’t have room to waste.

The average family in America wastes over 25 pounds of food a month. We don’t have the luxury to have that food just sitting in our fridge, growing new colonies of mold. We see everything in our fridge and it all gets used. Our fridge looks like the picture perfect image of the Ketogenic Diet. It is simple, yet elegant. Meat. Cheese. Milk, Veggies. Fruits. The masterpieces you can make when you have clean, fresh food. I am still able to make those inspiring dishes. In fact, I am actually forced to make them, because now, I don’t have the room for any frozen dinners, pre-packaged food, preservatives or fillers. Just real food. I also have to be creative while doing it. No more spreading out over an entire room, using 20 dishes to create one meal. I have become more intimate with my cooking; and I love it! I also love the amount of money I save as a result! We now spend about $100 a week on food for our family of four!

The best part: my children love it too. They still get to help. They will help me prep and they are more aware of what we get when we are grocery shopping. We don’t do snack foods. I don’t go and buy the 5lb container of fish crackers anymore for snacks. Instead, they ask me if they can have a cucumber with lemon squeezed on it. They know there aren’t any gummy snacks in the cupboards so they don’t ask. Instead, they ask for grapes. It makes me realize that even though my kitchen shrunk, the memories made in the kitchen didn’t. Now, I am giving my children the knowledge, the skills, and the nutrition to set them up for success later in life so one day, they can create their own food memories.

The First Week

I have always been a very passionate and ambitious person. I set my goals high and want only the best. However, what is the actual definition of “the best”? Is it is the biggest house, fastest car, nicest watch? It is an office with a view or your name on the building? To be honest, no matter how much money I had, I never felt any better than how I felt when I was struggling to pay the rent as a teenager living on my own. I have had many great jobs. I have served my country in more than a few ways and I love the mission associated in making this world a better place. But no matter what money I have made or what job title I have held, I still have not felt as though I was living the BEST life. My husband and kids are great but I am nowhere near the best wife or mother. I have always excelled in things, but never found that true passion.

What I have found is that the more and more stuff that I bought, the more stressed out I became. The more shoes and clothes I have to choose from, the harder it was for me to decide what to wear to work. When you accumulate so many things, they begin to own you instead. You work hard to enjoy your time off, but end up spending all your time off maintaining the things that you have.

SO WHY NOT JUST LET IT ALL GO?

That’s what we did. We sold or gave away pretty much everything. It was overwhelming at times. It hurt at first, but then I felt relieved not to have all of that extra stuff burdening me. The same stuff that I thought I had to have in order to live the best life. In less than two months, we moved from a 3 bedroom house with a  3 car garage (that we didn’t even park in due to too much stuff) to an RV. Two adults. Two kids. One dog. Just an RV.

It’s been one week. How does it feel? Honestly: amazing. Life is simple. It is easy. The kids go outside more because there is not enough room for them to spread out. We don’t buy as much food because our fridge is smaller. We don’t waste any food because I don’t think we can if we tried. We are closer as a family. The kids even put their shoes away! I guess when you don’t have much room for things, you can’t really make a mess.

Do I miss my stuff: no. I really don’t. I am learning that the best life isn’t one filled with things. It is filled with memories. With adventures. With moments that mean something. I don’t need to go to the store to buy everything I need. I already have it right here with me. So far, week one is a complete success. I know in the next month, I will be making a list of the things that you need to prepare for when downsizing to this extreme. Right now I think the biggest adjustment is just learning how to relax a little bit more. Maybe being ambitious isn’t the greatest thing in life. Maybe life is.