4 priceless benefits of spontaneous family road trips

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I took this picture as we were packing to leave Cottonwood State Park in eastern Oregon this weekend. It was raining at home on the other side of the mountains (big shocker), and was bright and clear in this gorgeous high desert canyon.

This weekend was a ten.

And it almost didn’t happen.

We were being lured into the drive-our-kids-all-around-creation expectation and not listening to our we-parents-know-what-is-best-for-our-family hearts. We wavered. Yet! I somehow pep talked our little clan into loading up the gear at rush hour on Friday and hittin’ the road. In no particular order, the stats on this adventure were:

-two nights with stars that appeared to jump out at us

-one cool breeze blowing through the Twinkie’s windows while we slept

-one rattlesnake encounter on our hike where we all screamed like toddlers

-one twirly horned ram sighting on the top of the cliffs overlooking the canyon

-one novel read that I couldn’t put down

-one epic s’more session over a roaring camp fire

-an entire day spent talking and catching up while we lolly-gagged around our campsite

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It got me thinking how important these trips are for our family happiness and my own mental health.

 

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1) A change of scenery promotes relaxation and mandatory fun.

In our harried lives at home there is the predictable weekend sleepover (resulting in fried teens come Monday morning), as well as the rushed meals so said teens can ski-daddle to wherever it is they go to find social acceptance. With road trips, meals at a picnic table in a gorgeous setting prompt conversation, story-telling and an all around slower pace.It’s magical. I learned more about what’s going on in their lives in one night on this trip than months in the quickie car conversations we’ve had in the Mom Taxi going hither and yon.

2) A simple environment and routine manifests creative thinking and clear-headedness.

It always amazes me how many ideas come flooding in when I’m out and about (especially places with panoramic views), away from my vacuuming duties and laundry mountains. Living in the Twinkie is a simple deal and I am dangerously close to pitching this whole suburban thing and heading out indefinitely on the open road. In an Airstream everything’s within reach. The clothing choices are limited to the Barbie-sized closet and there’s only so much you can fit in a bathroom mimicking an airplane loo. It’s fabulous! When stripped of my wife/mom commitments, this little creative mind can come up with so crazy plans and projects.

3) Family bonding is inevitable when living in a small space.

It’s hard to hide when you’re within nine feet of your parents. We do give them the twin beds in the back (selfless parents that we are) and they can retreat when they need to, but I’m still within earshot. Thankfully, I got to hear about the books that were being devoured, some Elvis movie trivia, and random thoughts about the teen scene in general.

4) A digital sabbatical is more alluring when adventure is involved.

Ask the offspring to give up the phone madness at home on a weekend, and there might just be some sarcasm flung my way. Tell them that our new found nature digs has no cell coverage, and you’re met with surprising indifference. It’s an it is what it is kind of thing. I must say, I enjoy seeing their faces rather than the tops of their heads.

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I’ve been seeing the quote “The days are long, but years are short” a lot lately. ‘Probably some sort of divine message that I need to make all of this count, especially the hours that my beautiful girls are within my hugging grasp. How is it that school and friends’ homes get the bulk of their presence? I guess we’re just in that chapter right now, and I can honestly say I’m not guilty of holding on too tight. I might even regret not holding a little bit tighter.

These adventures on the road are part of this. I want to hold on loosely (as 38 Special would croon) and drink them in as much as humanly possible. I think they get this and indulge us with these excursions. I’m grateful.

When was the last time you took a road trip with your crew?

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Five design tricks to create simplicity in your home

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Even as  a young kid I was enamored with good design in people’s homes. My own room was a constant changing environment that mimicked what I saw on TV and in my friends’ homes. I had a pal in elementary school who lived in an amazing design-rich home. Her insanely hip mother owned an art gallery and their walls were a rotating display of giant colorful paintings. The square footage of the house was massive, but this woman did not feel compelled to fill it. There was negative space (probably so the art could “breathe” or something poetic like that) and everything was clean and white. I loved exploring the rooms during sleepovers, studying the giant paintings, admiring the fact that there was nothing to compete with them in the room.

This was the beginning of my love affair with simple home design–Scandinavian design in particular.

Clean palette. Lots of space. Unfussy furniture. Mix this with my paradoxical passion for color and you’ve got yourself quite a happy, clean environment!

I do not live in an all-white house and I probably could still afford to 86 some gear in our abode. Yet, I have figured out some design tricks to hep a home feel open, more fresh and inviting with a nod to some current design trends.

 

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1) Large art beats a collection of small pieces every time.

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When trying to simplify a room, go with bigger pieces. I think it has something to do with the eyes having one specific resting spot on a wall instead of having to dart your eyes all over the place to take it all in. When I visited the homes of my portrait clients, I always suggested an investment in one bigger piece instead of a hodge podge collection of smaller prints. Small prints are for bedside tables and albums. The statement piece should be loud and proud (be it a family portraitor an oil painting) and command your attention.

2) Create monochromatic rooms with wall paint and furniture & add colorful accessories to accent.

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If you suddenly decide yellow makes you feel queasy, you can pitch the yellow chevron pillowcovers without a huge financial loss. ‘Not so much with a couch! Also, you can edit accessories when your tired eyes need less color in view. You can change them out seasonally to match the mood of your days. I love white, but my husband fears it, so we compromised with a pale yellow. It’s calming and also cheerful in our dark Northwest winters. The colorful pillows and art I’ve got going on give it some personality. I change it out constantly (just like my childhood) and it’s easy because it doesn’t involve moving furniture or spending a lot of money.

3) Clear off those surfaces.

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Use a leafblower if you have to! A clear kitchen counter is as close as I get to nirvana these days. The mail lives in one little wooden bowl (not to be unleashed to other areas of the downstairs) and my whittled down kitchen utensil cannister enjoys its big open space on the island. I gave up decorative trinkets for Lent and never went back. Clear surfaces = serentiy. Believe it!

4) Create a furniture layout that invites conversation.

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I love doing this verses circiling up the seating to worship the idiot box (as the hub likes to call it). It does wonders for developing some quality family gathering, as well as free up some space because you’re not limited to TV watching angles with furniture placement. Better yet, nix the screen altogether–a feat I could personally do, but I fear the family may show up with picket signs.

5) Negative space: It’s a beautiful thing.

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Try not to subscribe to the typical room layouts…night stand/bed/night stand/foot-of-the-bed-settee/dresser chair/dresser/vanity….It’s your house. You can do whatever you want with your space. Don’t need a dresser because the closet is just enough space for you? Get rid of it! Voila’! Space for the eyes to rest. Don’t use your dining room? Sell the table and chairs and toss in a chaise and a bookcase–instant Library of Calm.

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I do little trial periods of hiding furniture pieces in the attic to see if we miss it. I’ve got quite the stash for our spring garage sale. Look me up if you’re in the area and are in need of a burlap ottoman. 🙂  Looking at this collection of sale-bound gear has motivated me to avoid purchasing decor “just because it’s lovely”. A minimalist home doesn’t have to consist of stark wood and two Eames chairs…although it is so lovely.

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You can take most appealing design ideas from this aesthetic and incorporate them into your own home. Just the subtraction of stuff can do wonders to simplify your space. It sure has for me.

Here’s to having homes that make us feel calm and happy!

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5 Ingredients for a Big, ExtraOrdinary life

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I found this ad as I was looking through a glossy at the dentist.

It was for a car. A big car.

According to the people at Suburban, BIG car = BIG life.

Hmmmm….this got me thinking of the definition of a big life. By America’s standards it may appear that big life means: A packed scheduled, huge home (maybe even a second home), many vehicles and lots of lots of stuff.

I choose to define a big life as an existence full of relationships, faith, good health, adventures, contentment, margins for down-time, and purpose within a career.

These are all parts that move the needle on my Happiness Barometer.

As a family we still have so far to go in the way of taking the big out of the material and putting more emphasis on my list above. That’s a true statement on the car ad: There is so much more to life, but of course I’m going in the opposite direction from the thinking of our friends at Suburban. So much more exists on the other side of making big purchases to fill up our big lives…according to one of my favorite minimalists and authors, You can buy happiness (and it’s cheap). The good news is you don’t have to pare down to 200 square feet of dwelling space or live out of a backpack to feel the thrill of a BIG LIFE.

I put the word ExtraOrdinary in my blog title because I’ve always felt the pull to live differently in this conventional world…or should I say conventional U.S., because I do feel people in other parts of the world seem to get it a lot more than we do. Stuff clouds our collective American view and creates the disconnect so many people complain about. I’m a proud U.S. citizen, no doubt about that, but I do wish as a country we could re-prioritize our lives to maximize inner & outer happiness. I believe that a Big ExtraOrdinary life comes from making intentional choices. Along the way I’ve identified a few that have made all the difference.

 

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1) Invest time in your marriage/relationship.

What’s that quote from H. Jackson Brown? “Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery.” I tend to believe this. I was fortunate enough to get it right with husband-picking the first time around (I know lots of people figure it out later in life) and so much of the climate in our home is determined by how the hub and I navigate this vida loca. Over the last 18 years it’s been a team effort and I feel the reason it’s been a solid team is because we invest in date nights, vacations sans offspring, and the weekly check-in. When kids came on the scene, I craved time with him minus the crying and airborne peas and carrots.These days I yearn for peaceful couple time in the absence of teen drama. He’s my first choice every time when it comes to adventure partners….it was a joint decision to make this life ExtraOrdinary.

2) Choose work that fills you up.

It’s very hard to head in the direction of a Big, ExtraOrdinary life when you don’t want to get up and face the day. There are a lot of people out there who see the 30++ hours a week as a break in pursuing ExtraOrdinary-ness (if I can create a new word)..it’s a weekend thing. It can’t be! Big lives happen each any every day of the week. Yes, we have to do the laundry, go to the dentist and write checks to the cable company, BUT an unpleasant job that sucks the very humanity out of a you is always going to get in the way of living the life you know you are worthy of. There might be major financial sacrifice or a change of location in choosing work you love, but ExtraOrdinary is waiting and it will be worth it.

3) Put family before career.

It is a wonderful thing to love your job. I’m finally there in my 3rd grade classroom, but I’m very careful about creating boundaries between work and the clan at home. That old cliche’ about “it all goes by so fast” and “you’ll turn around and your kids will be all grown up”—both true. I’m looking at my high school-bound child #1 and can’t believe that in five short years two unused rooms will be collecting dust. These days, family adventure has never been so important. Luckily, child #2 is extremely skilled at getting us out in the world, whether it’s the park for a evening picnic or a weekend hike in the mountains. We are also intentional about dinners together at the table (with a napkin!) to catch up and make plans. The Airstream purchase manifested from our desire to travel as a family and explore the U.S. together.

4)  Recognize your talents and put them to use in everything you do.

Post 40th birthday, I finally stopped wishing for skills I didn’t have. I had confidence in the contributions I knew I could make in the world starting with my own house. I’m an extremely creative person with no left brain (luckily, I married a left-brainer—together we make a whole brain!) and if a project requires imagination, I’m your girl. It’s been so fun to create in every area of my life: our home, charity fundraisers, birthday parties, holiday gifts, Airstream interior…the list is long of the various things I’ve taken on, but I have to say there would be no ExtraOrdinary if I didn’t own the gifts I’ve been given and use them. Some of you—God bless ya—are left brained people who can organize, establish and regulate for yourselves and others. How amazing that we can make the world better by the specific gifts we’ve been given! And in turn, create an ExtraOrdinary life for ourselves.

5) Travel as much as you can to as many different places as you can.

I always come back from a trip amazed by how much is out there beyond my own little world. I love, love, love getting off a plane in a new city ready to explore. My 6’6″ spouse is not as willing to head to places like Australia (Melbourne, I need to visit you!), but I will get to the far ends of the earth at some point in my life. I did the Eurail thing after college by myself and I can honestly say it shaped me more than 4 years of college did. My AFS exchange experience in Tunisia in ’88 played a huge part in forming the person I was to become. My biggest dreams involve plane tickets & a small backpack and/or an Airstream and U.S. map. I have the same dreams for my girls because I know for a fact that it invites ExtraOrdinary in.

There are some great posts out there about being ExtraOrdinary. This one is great and of course, Courtney rocked this subject with clarity, as usual. I think it’s something we all want more of. Who wants to be conventional when you can squeeze every last ounce of amazing (and yes, I’m using it as a noun) out of your well-lived life.

What makes your life ExtraOrdinary, friends?

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Who else fantasizes about living in a tiny house?

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I believe I’ve found it.

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…only available in Spain, of course.

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(The rest is here at JestsonGreen)

The perfect big-windowed simple house to plunk down in a field of sage brush. Light galore and rooms big enough to be alone. Perfection.

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Hellooooo…Laaaaa-raaaa….

You have two kids, two dogs, a busy husband and a lovely home in the country. How is this kind of small house fantasy even helpful at all?

I guess this is the practical part of this series.

I do a lot of daydreaming. My husband would tell you this. My kids would definitely agree that I dream out loud. Lately, though, I’ve been keeping the small house dream locked away deep inside. Honestly, I think it would freak out anyone related to me if they knew what I was thinking.

I get it.

It’s not practical.

We just built a barn, for crying out loud…we are not going anywhere (for now…in five years…who knows?). I realize this, yet my internet wandering rests with Kirsten Dirksen, who whets my appetite for small dwellings with style (thank you, Dan, for the link!). Tiny house books are creeping into my bookshelf, hiding behind cookbooks and giant photography anthologies. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I’m betting it has something to do with a desire for a drastic change during a time of steady progress into a simpler life.

I know the answer to my change-loving, wanderlust-prone heart’s questions:

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With prayers of gratitude, I scoop in all the contentment I can muster into the crevices so desire and wonder can’t fill them with not-right-now visions. I find that fantasizing and having an active imagination about the future really can co-exist with current happiness and contentment. Yet, I realize that it’s important to not let curiosity turn into longing. Longing is never good. It suggests that something is missing…and there might be, but it’s definitely not in the dwelling category in the life of my family. I’ve found that my small house fantasies increase when my life gets more hectic. Work commitments/kid taxi schedule/weekend plans = more time on the couch with Tiny House Swoon on the laptop.

So, for now I’ve decided that it’s okay to window shop where these teeny tiny abodes are concerned. It’s entertainment and also plants teeny tiny seeds of thought for the future.

Surf on!

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Why I never use the word BALANCE

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Balance has been a word that has rubber-balled it’s way through my life from the moment my kids came into this world. I’ve never been one to put complete focus and attention in one area. I am just shy of looking like a poodle on a unicycle juggling tennis balls most of the time. In my quest for simplicity, I have felt a little inadequate, guilty, and in some instances the F word crept in as well…

FAILURE.

Feeling like you’ve failed at some things is one thing, but the worry about screwing up the psychological development of your children can sit on your chest like a stack of parenting books. You know, the books that are hard to get to because you’re so busy teeter-tottering on a wobbly tightrope.

I know now that balance is an illusion.

To best serve my career and family I must choose a different word entirely. I heard the perfect replacement word recently on a podcast: Harmony. It resonated with me, so I looked it up.

Harmony: agreement; accord; harmonious relations: congruity.

My own definition: things are going so well that it feels like a million me’s get it all done with reasonable amounts of effort.

In the search for this new friend Harmony in one’s home (he is not under the couch cushions…I checked), I’m beginning to understand how to do it.

 

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1) What do I want?

2) What do you want?

Asking for what you want sometimes takes bravery, as in:

“Instead of going to a three hour long track meet this weekend, I’d really love to attend this writing workshop. Can you be our family representative on the field on Saturday?”

Or it could take less bravery and more innovation, as in:

“It seems like 10 years since we’ve had a grown-up conversation without teenage voices interjecting demands. Wanna go on a adults only get-away?”

Granted, question one is a lot harder to ask then question two, because question one benefits one person and in the other it’s a win/win. BUT that doesn’t make question one any less important. Women are so quick to squish their own demands when it comes to a full calendar of living in the car and fluffing the nest. That saying still rings true in my house: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

‘Tis true that your idea of harmony may not jive with your partner’s or your children’s grand pre-teen narcissistic ideas, but that’s where the question asking comes in. You’ll never know if you don’t ask! Of course, passive aggression can be a monster living under your staircase (He loiters at my dinner table sometimes). There might be emotion-stuffing, something I refer to as the Emotional Mute Syndrome, but take heart! If you ask the “What do you want to create harmony in our schedule and home?” as you smile sweetly, the answer might surprise you. When I ask this question of my girls, their expressions can look somewhere between complete shock or skepticism. When I asked my youngest what she wanted her Saturday to look like, she gaped at me as though I had poured spaghetti sauce on the floor and rolled around in it. I think kids are used to being told where to go, what to do and how it all is going to go down. Now, whether said Saturday resembled anything like what she envisioned is up for debate, but I did ask and got points for that. I really do try to cram in some 12-year-old friendly activities so that she feels listened to.That’s the goal:

All family members’ ideas matter, as well as his or her feelings about how things are going.

Voila’….Har-mon-ee.

Sometimes to recognize harmony, you have to have discord….like loud, boy-band, tone-deaf discord. We’ve had some “Hey, waaaaaiiiit a minute” moments when we have family meetings about the family climate.

There’s frustration.

There’s dissatisfaction.

There’s even a chance of someone committing the ultimate sin, walking away from the discussion.

Yet, there is always a coming back to home base. We figure out what’s working and what needs to change. Not everyone will be cheerfully doing a happy dance about things, but we do try to address all needs on the table. I like modeling that for my kids—it’s so important to show them that asking for what you want and listening to others’ wants should always trump throwing up your hands and hitting the road.

The self check-in is also a key to this Harmony Thing. I do this at least once a week…usually at 2:00 am when I wake with a nap jerk.

Is our schedule too full?

Are we getting enough alone time as a couple?

Is clutter creeping back into the house?

Are my kids acting stressed out or tired?

Have we eaten more than one meal at our dinner table as a family this week?

Do we flop into bed at night satisfied with our days?

I use that inner compass to find the Harmony North Star…it’s out there, I just need to adjust my sails.

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What questions do you ask yourself to readjust your own harmony sails?

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3 Ways for your family to Zag while the world Zigs

via Be Happy

It’s not that the 70′s were this picture-perfect time frame. Goodness knows we ate enough cheese doodles and watched enough horrible syndicated Brady Bunch to cloud our judgement and arteries (it was all so great, wasn’t it?). Yet, lately I seem to be old enough to reminisce about the “good old days” when we road our banana seat bikes until dark in the summer without fear of abduction (even though there probably was some risk), and ran through fields and climbed trees because we were shooed out of the house by our moms.

When someone called your house and you weren’t there, the phone rang and rang. The caller couldn’t find you anywhere in the world…you simply were unavailable and you didn’t have to have an excuse about why.

I miss those days.

Yet, the random reality is that I, just like so many of the we’re-so-connected-we’re-not-really-connecting generation, have a permanent crick in my neck from looking down at my devices, texting to everyone and their dog, checking the weather and pulling up the blog to see who’s commenting on my commentating.

Something is askew.

I’d like to make the crooked straight. I know that it will happen in phases, but I’m anxious to implement changes so that in my own little way I can put some of that memorable childhood back into my 21st century children. Three things need to be dealt with head on:

1) Digital Sabbaticals-

The hub and I have been talking about committing to an UnPlug Sunday plan where we avoid TV, cell phone games (the kids), blogging and pinning (me) and laptop work (him). There are a couple of really good books on this subject that can help in this process: This one is perfect for our upcoming Summer of Fun (yes, it has a title). 

Airstream Adventures will also require some unplugging en masse for maximum enjoyment. There’s too much fun to be had and too much sun to soak up that we’ve been missing for 9 months of rain here in the NW! To even forfeit one second of this fun to a glowing screen is a crime. Not to mention the fact that an absence of digital distraction can kickstart some great family conversations and memories. It’s amazing to read the expressions of your children when you’re conversing…we’ve decided to refuse to look at the tops of heads and we are all feeling the benefits.

2) Reduce team sports commitments-

Ah…The “parent of an athlete” thing.Those of you who are close to me know that I have some serious opinions about involving a child in every sport known to man, driving all over creation for every tournament with the intent that they will some day be the all-star who scores the giant scholarship. Do I sound jaded? Okay, to be fair, I really understand wanting to give a kid every advantage in succeeding, be it sports/academics/the arts/etc. and that there will be plenty of activities in their lives to accomplish this. What I have trouble with is lining up the daily/weekly schedule with multiple practices for multiple sports, choosing club sports over school sports to win the political game that is getting a child on a team. By setting limits in our home regarding sports, we’ve created margin for our weekends and evenings and my girls have invested more into the one they’ve chosen.

We have decided to heavily promote kids being kids in our house. 

3) Permanent changes in diet-

I’ve been stuffing my brain with documentaries and books about this and have been inspired to show my kids what I’ve learned. They are amazingly receptive and willingly join me on the couch for movies like Food, Inc. and Hungry for Change. They seemed to get it, which thrilled me to no end. My offspring will now suck down some green juice before school as long as it’s heavily laced with strawberries, of course. I was guilty of some spinach chunks last week and it’s been a battle getting them back in the saddle! There are more trips to grocery stores for organic produce and we put our heads together to decide what would be good choices for meals that would please everybody. The airpopper is always going here—replacing the array of salty crap-ola we used to have in the cabinet. They’ve always been fruit lovers, but the vege thing is creeping in as I use every culinary creative bone in my body (sadly, there aren’t many) to make squash and peppers more appealing. It has taken awhile, but my girls truly understand the danger in trans fat, fast food and a processed food-heavy diet. They do love their treats—I’m not a parent to deny them a doughnut or piece of cake, but it won’t be a Twinkie (another fun memory from my childhood!), if you get my drift.

The food thing, I’m finding, comes down to modeling. If I diligently fire up the smoothie blender each day, choose produce over chips on a weekend afternoons and avoid sugar, they are seeing me win the battle over poor food choices. It’s not a special thing mom’s doing to fit into her tankini on spring break (although that would be lovely). It’s habit and normal and hopefully they’ll want a piece of that.

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On child-rearing in this century:

I love this essay (originally found it in Downtown Chic by the my favorite design family, the Novogratz). It’s worth reading.

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Friends, what are you doing to Zag while the world Zigs? What is making your family life more simple and wonderful?

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Searching for courage in all the right places

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The world is desperate for, even envious of, people living purposeful lives that are free from fear.

Jeff Goins

In a reflection about the past couple of years, I evaluated the heaping piles of reading material and bookmarked blog posts consumed on simplicity and minimalism. It’s quite impressive, really. When I am intrigued by something, somehow every orifice of the earth is excavated to hunt and gather books, movies, articles, websites and blogs that fill my internal subject file with wisdom. I’m stopping short of calling this simplicity quest an obsession, but lately as I scan my bookshelf, it feels it might be heading in the direction of “dog with a bone land”.

I decided to ask myself why.

Why do I feel compelled to read the thoughts of people who have successfully pursued a more simple lifestyle?

The simple answer…

I’m looking for courage.

I’m mining the minimalist masses for inspiration and stories of change that mattered.

I’m learning that people really can let go of the conventional and embrace the meaningful.

I’m understanding the degree of discipline and self-evaluation it requires.

Intention. Purpose. Meaning….these are new friends at my table, asking the hard questions, pointing to the places where courage lives and waiting for action.

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What it comes down to is this: I can do hard things.

In 43 years I have:

-Endured a whole heart surgery process with my first child

-Run four marathons

-Started over with my husband in New York with two toddlers in tow

-Started over again after we moved back to the Northwest

-Successfully dealt with eating issues in college that nearly broke my spirit

-Created a thriving photography business

-Published a book

-Met with my parents to talk about the damage of their divorce

-Dealt with and healed from said damage

-Re-entered teaching after 13 years and discovered the whole climate has changed.

 

I. Can. Do. Hard. Things.

 

Then…..why the heck is it so hard to hold up two shirts and decide which one needs to go?

Why does clearing out my attic in this house feel kin to building the Golden Gate?

Why do I get stomach flutters when faced with the neck-breaking pace of our week’s schedule?

It’s not rocket surgery, as my daughter likes to say…and although I know this, the process somehow has become a little more pie-in-the-sky than I’d prefer.

By reading stories from successful simplifiers, I think I’m looking for someone to make it look easy…and I might even be looking for permission, which seems ridiculous, given my can-do list above.

What is the metaphorical jack-knifed truck in my minimalist highway?

Fear that I might not succeed is one. What if the crapola in the attic never gets to a small manageable pile? What if I miss items that have been ruthlessly purged? What if my friends and family think I’ve lost it? What if I don’t appear minimalist enough to the community I write this blog for?

Yet…with every story of simplifying, I find a little smidgen of courage. With every blog post read over breakfast I gain a little more wisdom about why it’s important.

You know what?

I decided I’d like to provide that kind of inspiration for others on the fence. Sometimes it’s just plain awesome to read about someone else’s process and how they overcame their hard things.

There’s a book in the works. I’ve been chronicling this journey for awhile now. I’m diligently writing it for an hour and a half each morning before I leave for my 3rd grade classroom. It’s encouraging to read what I’ve written and discover that I’ve come a long way, baby.

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It also helps to chronicle what’s been done for change and what still needs to be done. Writing keeps me sane and I love it. I’ll keep you posted as to the when and where of it all.

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How ’bout you, friends? What gives you courage to move forward with something you know is needed in your life? What are your hard things?

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Four Questions for the Chronic Volunteer

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I’m convinced there are a lot of women sitting in meetings making grocery lists on scratch paper or daydreaming about sandy beach vacation induced naps. I also have on good authority that a woman’s schedule can quickly be overrun with countless organizational get-togethers and frenetic activity revolving around chronic volunteering.

Friends, this can quickly become breeding ground for some B & R: burn-out and resentment

I’m not sure there’s wisdom in creating a mental tally of gold stars for oneself simply because the calendar looks like a crossword puzzle. To be honest, I worry about women I know and love when they proudly list off a daily schedule of meeting to meeting schlepping , only to stop for a triple tall mochachino because their tank is completely dry. If a woman’s kitchen island is consistently covered in scraps for to-be-made school art projects while the minivan sits in the driveway stuffed with sports gear for a whole team…there needs to be a pause and an evaluation.

Believe me, I’m not picking on women who volunteer precious time to help with school and the community. As a teacher, I personally benefit from this selflessness.  I see the results of the same select few in my own town and am extremely grateful for their sacrifice. I enjoy the school book fair and library events as much as any mother in my area. I do feel these volunteers frequently for-go their own needs and secret desires because either a) an excessive volunteer schedule has been modeled for them by their own parents or b) they feel their own worth only when they are serving.

As women we naturally take a look around the “camp” and see the needs.

We are do-ers and problem solvers .

Many of us are first in line when it comes to bringing the chips and dip, chaperoning the annual aquarium fieldtrip, or addressing the gala invitations. We know that such tasks, events, projects and programs won’t just magically appear and run well without people there to create the magic. Yet, I challenge these service-minded women to identify the volunteer opportunities they feel deeply committed to, with a head and heart-filling connection. Now, I might be making the sorting of art supplies in your child’s Kindergarten class sound far more meaningful than it will ever be, but the main idea here is:

What matters most to you?

Let me dwell in a sea of honesty and self-deprecation and tell you that I am not first to raise my hand when the PTA comes a-callin’. I discovered years ago that this was not an environment where I thrive and present my best gifts. I also recognized that internal eye-rolling and nervous nail biting is not something that will help my kids’ school programs. There was some interior battle going on for awhile with those awful snotty mean girls living in my subconscious. They try their best to convince me that “good moms bring cookies to PTA meetings and they stay late”. I was finally led to the self-realization that I would be better off serving somewhere else.

What did I choose?

Women with breast cancer, dogs who need homes, a small school in middle-of-no-where Kenya, and a group of kids at a local high school who are risk of not graduating. In taking inventory, I found that my superpowers include capturing the spirit of people and animals with my camera, helping to create a fundraising event, writing, and building relationships to support growth. I will not be found alphabetizing novels in my kids’ classroom (much to their relief, I’m sure) or cold calling people for donations. It’s taken me years to recognize my “triangular shape peg-ness” when faced with circular shaped holes in the land of volunteerism. It’s taken even longer to not feel guilty about it. We should serve with joy and an excited heart…I believe this happens when we recognize that the gifts we possess are specific…diverse abilities and talents are poured into chosen people for a reason.

Yet, I will say that everyone can wash dishes, put away chairs, serve at a shelter, or cook for a neighbor in need. These circumstances pop up all over the place (especially when you’re part of a church community) and such serving is joyful, fulfilling and valuable. Whether a person chooses to wash dishes at every church picnic depends on their burning desire to serve in this area. It’s possible to have a running schedule for a cause you believe in and sprinkle in the occasional Sunday school teaching opportunity. Yet, trouble brews when the list of causes and occasional opportunities overshadow a day-to-day existence and already-packed schedule. Visualize the Sunday school gig being parlay-ed into  a month-long thing because there’s a constant need and someone is not able to say “no”.

Are you that woman?

That selfless, I’m-here-to-help, whatever-you-need, “Oh, it’s no trouble”, “I don’t mind at all” sweetheart whose volunteer list is rolled out on the floor like a roll of Brawny paper towels? Do you ever ask why this is? Do you kick yourself around the block for over-committing yourself?  Is there exhaustion, resentment, complaining…burn-out …loitering in your heart? This is a good time to grab your own lapels (hard to do, but so effective)….

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1) Which of these volunteer opportunities have significant meaning and personal investment in my life?

2) Which of these opportunities would be the easiest to let go of?

3) What will I say when I tell this organization that I’m no longer going to be volunteering?

4) How will I keep myself from taking on more opportunities to serve when I’m trying to pare down?

It’s a cycle friends…even (gasp!) an addiction of being available to do what others ask of you 24/7. Own your gifts (maybe that’s the first step—really identifying what those are) and then plugging into a few places that fit into your life. Pray and ask for opportunities to jump in your path that will Lego themselves into your gifts without force. We’re not talking about wedging yet one more commitment into your schedule like stuffing a pro wrestler into a pair of Spanx. It shouldn’t be stressful and a source of moaning and complaining (that’s your first clue that it might be best to let it go).

If you’re smiling and humming while driving to volunteer somewhere, that’s a good sign.

Go with it…and don’t obsess that you can’t fit in more.

More does not prove your worthiness.

You are worthy simply because you are.

Part of that worthiness lives in the gifts you use to serve others.

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The secret to raising happy, well-balanced kids

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There seems to a belief in the U.S. that scheduling one’s children in countless extracurricular activities helps them get ahead in life.

It may seem logical to want to expose your child to a large number of interests, just to see what “sticks” as far as attention and talent go. I remember sitting with my girls when they were toddlers wondering if I had little prodigies in the making. Prodigies of what I didn’t know, but I was curious, nonetheless. My own mother was a musical genius at a very young age, for Pete’s sake. A pie-in-the-sky dream was brewing that I had a Mozart or Monet on my hands and didn’t even know it yet!

So what did I do at this tender age of interest development to bring forth such mastery?

I scheduled my kidlets to the hilt, of course, and proceeded to drive to every mommy and me class known to man. Art, gymnastics, pee wee soccer, swimming, ballet…it was a quest to uncover The Interest with which my children were going to begin their love affair. This would be a discovery of the talent that would take them to high places through years of practice and hard work and possibly lift the burden of heavy college tuition hikes. Say, what?

Yeah…I went there too.

Who am I to dictate, dig out, discover, prophesy, or predict what my kids would glom on to in the way of activities? I’m thinking varied exposure to things is a good thing, but I’m finding out that if you really pay attention to your kid’s strengths and conversation, you will be led to where you need to take them.

When I finally realized how silly and anal I was being about searching for these destinies, I let it go. Things really started happening with my girls as they asked me for opportunities for new activities. There was basketball, soccer, piano (more us than them on this one) and one very intense year of I-love-all-things-about-horses-please-let-me-ride-every-day. I embraced the horse girl thing, knowing that at some point my youngest’s athletic skills would probably trump her stable time. I actually had a moment of sadness when she couldn’t identify a horse at a parade last summer. Memorizing horse fact books used to be the favorite past time. Yet, I also was proud of her for recognizing that a girl just can’t do it all. It’s also a good thing to see that the mother of a girl simply can’t do it all (or drive it all) either.

We’ve had many discussions about what it means for school work when there are too many scheduled activities and events packed in a week. We’ve always sent the message that academics come first and if there is “slippage” in any way, other activities will be stripped away like bark on a whittled stick. I think the message that “sometimes you just have to choose the one you like the best” is a good one.

Over-scheduled kids have a much bigger chance of becoming over-scheduled adults…and we all know how that turns out.

Aside from the harrowing school time vs. athletic time dilemma, there is another thing that has been haunting my 21st century thought process (I’m a little late to the party).

Do you think kids really play anymore?

How is your memory of your own playtime? Is it full of days spent with dolls in your bedroom, banana seat bike races, driveway matches of H.O.R.S.E. and twilight games of Capture the Flag? It seems like my memory has more vivid images of these games and hard-core playing than anything else from my childhood. It’s where I learned to entertain myself (being an only child), fight fair with friends and listen to others’ opinions of which game should be next. They were times of being completely engrossed in my backyard refrigerator box fort without a care in the world. My imagination was marathon running to the point of having to be reminded six times to “come in, it’s getting dark.”

I find it disturbing to constantly see the tops of kids’ heads in public settings. You know…the stance of being fully engaged in texting or gaming with slumped shoulders and glassy eyes. This doesn’t seem right.

Has the gravity of our situation with this tech-savvy generation freaking anyone else out?

I’m just short of not being able to sleep, it bothers me so much. Of course, not to the point of being an excellent example with the closure of my own laptop (I’m working on that), but it does make me think these kids are seriously missing out on something they might see as old-fashioned.

It appears there is a lot of running from one activity to the next with gaming and tech time smashed in between.  In my own car I finally implemented a no-device rule. We either talk or listen to horrible pop music stations (I’m held grudgingly hostage by One Direction) and the car time seems to be a time of bonding and catching up. I actually learn quite a bit in the car about what’s up at school. I think it has to do with having the back of my head to them—-they must feel safer sharing stuff when there’s no eye contact.

I do believe kids learn about their strengths through playing, or as my girls have taught me to say “hanging out”. Interacting and genuinely having to communicate with one another is invaluable to learning to navigate the world in general.  I’ve had many conversations lately with other worried parents that the art of communicating (especially in the written word) is losing steam, especially with an internet connected generation. It has to be conscious and consistent—overscheduled kids miss out on this.

Down-time (with the benefit of being device-free) is crucial to social development and the ability to identify one’s own strengths.

If we interact with our kids and listen to their hearts speak, we know our kids. We hear the changes in interests and desires. We are keen to the possible directions their interests can lead them. It is then that we can make a commitment to a desired activity and support it with everything we’ve got.

Every once in a while I have a candid one on one conversation with each of my children.

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1) Which of your activities bring you immense joy and a sense of accomplishment?

2) Which of your activities do you see yourself doing in two years?

3) If you stopped participating in ____________ activity, what would you miss about it?

This usually takes care of it. Sports tend to win in our house, but the interest and passion is genuine.

I’m going with it.

Do you find a packed kid activity schedule to be an obstacle in your home? I’m interested in how you handle it.

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This week on my SIMPLICITY RADAR

Radar

Good reads:

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Dan and Vanessa Hayes have written a book for moms….and friends, it’s a great one. If you’ve ever tried to be SUPERMOM instead of a super mom, this one is for you. So many  useful tips and lots of great videos and links. They poured their hearts into this project and it shows.

For the next two days, a pdf of the “Super mom vs. Supermom” will be available on the Edit and Forget it page on Facebook. You can request to be a member through this link. After that, I’m assuming it will be available on their site.

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Thank you, Jen Hatmaker, for completely obliterating existence as I know it in the Blair abode.

If simplifying, sorting and tossing were Olympic sports, you would’ve watched me on TV last month, instead of the crazy people on death defying jumps and small skirted cuties scraping ice chips off their tushes in the rink.

I am on a mission, friends, (hence the debut of c’est blog).

Mrs. Hatmaker is a personal hero of mine. In her latest book, Seven, Jen’s family identified seven areas of excess and in seven months fought against “modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence”. This woman makes me think—seriously think (and laugh out loud too, because she’s hilarious) about our own family ways. I feel a surge well up from deep down that has been festering like an active volcano with an eruption plan.

The good news is there are a lot of people who are stopping and redirecting themselves…and their families…just like the Hatmakers.

There is hope for our excess-filled nation. The promise of a new awakening to Less is More excites me to no end and books like this one push the movement further into view. Thank goodness for that.

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Documentaries:

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I have Amazon Prime and watch lots of documentaries for free. Stumbled on this one somewhere and I found it hopeful for a generation who might be changing the game.

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Blogs:

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For the design obsessed there’s Home Adore They feature many small dwellings that are loaded with good design and space efficiency.

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For the tiny house obsessed (raising my hand over here in Washington):

Small House Swoon

and

Tiny House Swoon

provide some dreams for what may be possible someday.

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Project 333 wardrobe additions:

After purging random multi-colored items that never seemed to go with anything, I have assembled quite the widow wardrobe. I found the perfect addition to my summer capsule items:

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Lovely for day or night (just add wedges and a sassy scarf). It is made of swimsuit material, so if you wanted to spontaneously hurl yourself into the waves, it would most definitely be okay.

Speaking of sassy scarves, I’ve been turned on to a wonderful company that creates the most beautiful accessories (and all for a fabulous cause):

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I figure this will be my go-to scarf for all of spring and summer. It’s light, neutral and goes with everything.

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‘Hope you find some of these helpful. Thank you for being here as I blissfully blog away the ideas scampering through my busy brain.

I’m uncovering a whole-lotta awesome in this quest for less.

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