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.

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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.

Life Lessons: Learning to Ride a Bike

There are no lessons quite like the ones that you learn when you first ride a bike.

There are many lessons we learn throughout our life. Some of these lessons we learn the hard way: why it is not advisable to touch a hot stove. Others, we learn through watching our friends, family members or complete strangers. Then there are some that we have to live through. Experience so we can truly grasp their meaning and the lesson that is associated with it. We have all had our hearts broken but in that process, we learned to love, trust, understand, listen, and learn. However, with all the lessons we learn throughout our life, none are as important as that day when we learned how to ride a bike.

As I ran countless laps up and down the street today, pacing next to my daughter as her lime and fusha bike wobbled over the pavement, the memories of my first bike roared back. Nearly thirty years ago, my sister was the one next to me, holding onto my pink banana-seat bike telling me what to do, encouraging me along the way and also letting me experience what it felt like to meet the old dirt road we lived on. There were so many things to do and for someone so little, it was overwhelmingly scary, but empowering. The trust I gave her to keep me safe and to teach me how to ride this machine was more than I ever would give her again but you have to take that risk sometimes. In a few short hours, I went from completely relying on her to having freedom like never before. This machine could take me anywhere I wanted to go and all I had to do was peddle. That day, I was unstoppable. It is a day I hope to hold onto for the rest of my years.

Looking through a mother’s eyes, the same experience is quite different. My son had mastered the skill within a short day but my daughter has been a bit more reluctant. Her fears of me letting go overpower her actual skills that she is able to go for stretches without needing my assistance. Her eyes light up as we go together, but anxiety hits when she thinks that she is alone in this journey. As a mom, I don’t want to ever let her go. I want to relish in the fact that she needs me, even though the cold hard truth is that she doesn’t. She has the skills to ride the bike on her own, she just wants me there for that safety net; the one to grab her off the bike before she meets the road. Teaching her how to ride a bike is also teaching me how to let go. My baby is no longer a baby. She is growing into a strong, independent girl and one day I will have to let her go live her life as she deems to live it. I know I will always be there with the bandaids when she loses control, or maybe even a bottle of wine later on when she feels like her whole life crashed, but today I have learned that sometimes it is best to let them go.

As a kid, there are many lessons you learn as you master the skill of riding a bike: trust, independence, hazard avoidance, risk assessment, perseverance, and self-aid. As an adult it changes: acceptance, patience, when to hold on and when to let go, and first-aid. The moment my kids rode away from me for the first time is probably more heartwarming than the moment I rode away from my sister so many years ago. Because in that moment, I knew that no matter how many times they may fall, they now know how to get back up and ride again. All you have to do is keep peddling and you will be ok.

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.