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.

 

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

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.

Nevada: More than “Snow-capped”

I never thought Nevada was anything but a desert with a big city, but little did I know…

Nevada. The word rolls off your tongue as if it were a fancy drink at some posh restaurant. In fact, the word simply means “snow-capped” which holds true to its form. Before coming to Nevada, I never thought much of the state. We all know about Las Vegas; the gambling, money, sex, drugs, and booze. A city in the middle of nowhere that never sleeps. We have heard of Reno, however many do not know why Reno is familiar, just that it exists. However, the actual state of Nevada is something that until now never inspired me. Never made me want to visit and explore. It was just a vast state in the middle of nowhere; on the way to somewhere with a city that never sleeps.

We left Idaho a day earlier than planned. The weather was not great and the kids were not enjoying the cold wind that swept across the reservoir. While we loved the Salmon Falls Dam, it was time to move on and go for another adventure. Shortly after starting our journey, we arrived in the quaint city of Jackpot, NV. It is the typical border town that you would think of, except here there were run-down casinos everywhere and restaurants that didn’t open until dinner time. A quick coffee and we were out on the open road, expecting less than an exciting journey. Personally, I was looking forward to a nice nap so when my husband asked if we could listen to a Joe Rogan podcast, I was all for the idea. Evelyn was quickly passed out in the back, Alexander was reading a book about plants and trees and Maggie was laying in my arms as though a child who I had rocked to sleep. However, instead of closing my eyes, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the landscape. The road separated the mountains so as we drove, I stared at the snow-covered hills colliding with beautiful fields that had just started to bloom. It was truly the beginning of spring and the countryside captured each moment with grace and beauty.

We ate lunch in yet another run-down town of Wells, Nevada. It was good cooking yet pricey for what we got. It may be the first time I saw a kids menu that was all over $10 at a diner. However, the service was nice and the break from driving was well worth the money.

As we got back on the road, I couldn’t help but think to myself what our time in Ely, Nevada would be like. We had booked a full three nights there and if it were anything like Wells or Jackpot, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy it. However, my husband completely surprised me with a beautiful reservoir in Southern Idaho, so I had to trust that we would have a wonderful time no matter what.

We arrived in Ely around 4 pm. It was beautiful. The sun was out and the 70 degree weather was something that I cherished more than ever after a long winter in Idaho. Ely is tucked in an amazing valley that has views in every direction your eyes can wander. We had opted for a KOA campsite that turned out to be almost perfect. It had trails that the boys went mountain biking on. It had a park that the kids have played on each day. The service was wonderful and there was so much nature around that we knew we had plenty to look forward to. The next morning, the boys went mountain biking while Evelyn and I played around being lazy girls. We then ate lunch, packed up the truck and went to Cave Lake, just a short trip down the road. The weather was intermittent rain, but it didn’t slow us down at all. The lake was breathtaking. Its’ water was a turquoise color that made you wonder how nature could create it. There was a trail around the lake and the kids and Maggie ran freely, climbing and exploring the area. When we came back, the boys went to another lake to fish. It was the first time that Alexander actually became engrossed in the activity. Normally, he would fish for five minutes and be bored, but this time, he became obsessed and managed to bring home two brown trout.

Today, we decided to go for another adventure. I was a bit concerned since we actually woke up to snow. Yes… snow. Two days ago the temperature was 70 and sunny and today I woke up in the same place to massive snowflakes coming down. We bundled up and headed down the “Loneliest Highway in America” toward the Great Basin National Park. The clouds hung low as the snow continued to fall while we began our journey. After a few minutes, the snow turned to rain which eventually ceased, but the clouds still obstructed a lot of our view. On the way, I joked that there was no way anyone else would be at the park today because the weather should be a great deterrent. Then, out of nowhere, Daniel’s eyes opened wide and said “LOOK at THAT mountain!” I peered out my window into the distance. There was no mountain in view. Right as I was about to ask him what he was talking about, an enormous cliff appeared in the fog right before my eyes. As I stared in awe, the fog lifted and the remainder of the mountain range took shape. Sharp cliffs rose from the ground, peppered with pine trees and sage brush. The sun reflected off the new snow that was blowing off the peaks and the landscape transformed once again to an exciting wilderness that beckoned you to explore it. Never have I thought that something this beautiful existed in this state that I once believed to be only desert.

When we arrived at Great Basin National Park, we went to the Lehman Caves. We had a wonderful lunch that Daniel had packed for us and then waited for our cave tour. The kids completed a Junior Park Ranger book and were awarded their badges in front of the tour group who all were very receptive to them.

The caves were wonderful. There was so much to see and learn. The tour guide was quite accommodating to the children and very good at engaging the group. The Lehman Caves were founded over 100 years ago and to this day are still a great site to see. Learning about caves, stalagmites and stalactites in a book has nowhere near the same impact as seeing them in person. We all got “kissed by the cave” as water dripped on us and witnessed with our very eyes how over a million years ago, something as simple as water formed the natural wonders we are able to view today. It just proves that education doesn’t always have to be in the classroom.

Our Nevada trip has come to a conclusion. We are heading for southern Utah tomorrow. Fishlike National forest first, then Zion National Park and beyond. While we are leaving Nevada for now, many things will stick with me. I know not to underestimate any place before experiencing it. Seeing my son come back from a afternoon of fishing with his dad has carved a deep place in my memory and heart. Watching my daughter scale rocks like she is a (semi) pro shows me that while she is my baby, she is more than capable of handling herself. Finally, I realize that a simple element like water and a lot of time and patience can make everlasting beauty. Things like that help me see life in a whole new perspective. Maybe while I thought I should move fast or get instant results, that isn’t what Mother Nature has in store for me.  In all actuality, time and patience, love and courage, and most importantly faith is what I really need in order to be completely satisfied with this wonderful, crazy, perfectly insane life that is only mine.

Nevada. Never put all your trust into a name. It is a state capable of a lot more than just being “snow-capped”.

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.