all of it

We are back home. I spent more than six hours in a car today with two kids, and I should be sleeping, but I can’t. So I am doing what I always do when I can’t sleep, and I’m writing instead.

We had a fun week. It was far from a perfect, relaxing vacation because parenting doesn’t present that scenario very often anyhow. But especially when you are the lone adult with two kids, relaxation in the typical sense doesn’t happen much.

But I stole moments here and there, and I accomplished that mostly by letting everything else go. I gave them no real rules except safety and sunscreen. We lounged and watched movies and swam and played in the sand and ate more popsicles than I care to admit. I came home exhausted from hot sun and sibling arguments, but they are high on ocean waves and sandcastles and the novelty of vacation-only Lucky Charms. (Seriously, I think that was their favorite part. I likely could have saved a lot of money and just taken a box of Lucky Charms to our neighborhood pool.) But sometimes, I think you need to hit the pause button on all of it and give yourself room to breathe with no rules and no expectations.

 

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I brought along Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to reread it. I’d set some lofty writing goals for my summer, and I thought it might help me gain focus and courage. I found myself gravitating so much to the life advice it offers though, rather than the writing advice. Early in the book, she explains, “E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”  Sometimes I feel like it is only one foot in front of me that I can see, not even two or three. But I just keep moving one step at a time.

I’m growing suspicious, to be honest, of people who plan much farther than a few steps. I’m growing suspicious of someone if they seem to have it all laid out and expect things to follow in the pattern they want. I’m learning to let things happen and try my hardest to let go of all the fear and doubt and panic. Life is in the right, always. Just do the best you can in that moment, and watch it unfold.

When I step outside of myself for a moment, I see things so differently. I see a reality that I never planned on, but one that offers moments better than anything I expected.

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I’ll undoubtedly remember this week as the vacation when I survived a road trip alone with 2 kids under 7, and then the three of us piled in one queen bed inside a condo so tiny you have to turn sideways to get past the dishwasher and reach the oven. I made spaghetti and tacos and store-bought cinnamon rolls, and we ate dinner in pajamas almost every night. I chased them all week while feeling burdened and worried about my grandmother at home, and I know that will be one of the first things that comes to mind as I recall this trip years later in my mind’s eye. But I’ll also likely remember early morning hours of reading Bird by Bird while the kids slept, and Lamott is so good to remind me that “perfect means shallow and unreal and fatally uninteresting.” 

I’ll surely also remember this as the trip when Jude lost another tooth and delivered a constant lecture on the approximately 148,372 facts he learned about sea turtles in kindergarten. And Norah’s freckles grew everyday while she counted seashells aloud, one by one. Who knew this is where summer of 2016 would find me? I certainly never did. But I’m grateful for all of it.

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While we have not moved her yet, my family has decided to bring my grandmother home with hospice this week. We do not know the exact hour, but it likely won’t be long. The very best moments of my life have come from being brave, staying open, loving fiercely. But this, in many ways, is the bravest thing I’ve ever done. Bearing witness to the very end of a life that shaped my own so intensely.

I’m deeply sad in ways I really cannot even begin to describe, and I know that it will be months of grief as the words come together for me. But I also know that human life means this one thing if we are doing it right: we will lose people we cannot imagine living without.

I see people who hold these things at a distance, who put relatives in homes or avoid thinking about what we will all come to face one day – that we all die. Every single one of us. That idea is both the most crushing and the most freeing of anything at all.

And we cannot choose what happens to us and how it all will end, but we can choose what kind of people we will be in the meantime. And I’m trying my hardest to stay open and willing, brave and honest, here and now – even when it hurts. As Rumi says, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” I thought my heart had expanded enough in this season, but the universe wasn’t finished with me, I think. Here we go again. I’m holding on tight for what lies ahead – the pain and the softness. All of it.

 

beach week

Back in April, I booked a week in a little beach condo for the kids and me. We traveled so much together in my former life – much more exotic locations and expensive trips. But I’ve had such an expensive spring, and my budget looks very different than it did a couple of years ago. So we settled on a little spot on the Florida panhandle that is a short drive from home.

I’ve felt a lot of unease about this trip in light of my grandmother’s health struggles as she is still in a hospital bed in Atlanta. But we transferred her to the university research hospital to get more answers and better treatment for her, so I’m trying my best to exhale a bit and enjoy my time with the kids in the meantime.

I loaded the car on Sunday morning,  and we were on the road by 10am. I bought them each a blank notepad and a fresh box of crayons for the ride down, and that got us 3 hours of entertainment in the car. The rest of the trip was full of I Spy and Letter Hunt, and we finally arrived to our tiny condo in the midday heat.

It’s a studio apartment of sorts with one room that features a bed, a couch, a television, and a tiny kitchen where you have to turn sideways to squeeze by the dishwasher and reach the oven. We unloaded the car and put our things away, and then I braved the grocery store with the kids and at least a million other vacationers. Empty shelves and long check out lines and chaos. We came back to the condo, and I made a quick dinner that we ate on paper plates. We threw on bathing suits and raced to the beach, and we were just on time for the magic hour.

 

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I am so worried about so many things right now – family health struggles and my own bank account and the thousand things I need to address in this season of my life, but the ocean always makes you exhale in a deeper way and realize things will eventually be okay, right? (Asking for reassurance here.) Hardship comes and goes, and in this past few years, it feels like I’ve had more than my fair share. But tiny moments of peace also come and go. I try and squeeze every last bit of comfort I can from them.

 

I’m reminded again of that Mary Oliver line I don’t know what a prayer is, but I know what it means to pay attention. I’m paying attention this week. To freckles and sandy eyelashes, splashes and giggles, sno-cones at sunset.

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Waves roll in and out, over and over. The world keeps turning. Nothing is better than the ocean at showing us that paradox of change and impermanence in the face of eternity. It’s a big, wide world. And struggle exists for every single one of us eventually.

 

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We have three more days here before we head back home. So far, it is a vacation in the truest sense. The kids sleep late while I am up with the sun, and I read with coffee (or write as I am now) while they snooze. They wake and we lounge around with breakfast until we go to the beach mid-morning. We drag our things there, they play for hours, and then we return for lunch and a break from the heat. Late afternoon finds us at the pool, and we’ll shower before dinner and go straight to pajamas most nights. Then we indulge in mugs of ice cream and a movie and sleep to do it all again the next day.

Leisure can feel weird when you are in a season of struggle. We feel like we should be paying our dues somehow. But I’m remembering another Mary Oliver line where she asserts, You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. We are loving what we love this week, without regret or reason. I’m taking these tiny moments, bottling them up as best I can to float me on.

mountain weekend

I spent the weekend in the north Georgia mountains with my closest friends. Fall is just beginning here in Georgia, and it still reaches close to 80 degrees on some days. But it’s close, and you can feel it. A chill in the mornings, and when the sun is dimmed by clouds, it feels like October. We are just on the cusp of something new.

 

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It was almost dark by the time we got to the cabin on Friday. We arrived to turn on the oven and bake the dinner I’d prepped. We lit candles and opened wine and settled into the cozy space that was ours for the weekend. I never miss a beat with these few. It can be days or weeks or months between get-togethers, and it feels like it always ever did. After dinner, we explored the outside of the cabin a bit. Jittery like a little kid with all the darkness and isolation around us. I live in a fairly roomy area of the Atlanta suburbs, but even so, I can forget what it really feels like to be removed from lights and houses and shopping centers and restaurants until I venture somewhere like this.
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We talked a lot on Friday about changes and thresholds in life. I read once that we have rituals for all kinds of experiences – weddings, funerals, birthday parties, etc. You use those rituals to remind yourself that a chapter is done and another is beginning, and sometimes if a ritual doesn’t exist for something you are encountering, you just have to invent one. We decided to create some rituals of our own this weekend as each of us, in her own way, is moving forward to something new and burning away the old. The landscape of fog and barely tinged leaves was a perfect backdrop for that idea. A moment to settle in to the reality of what is left behind and what is to come.

 

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Saturday was drizzly and gray all day, but it didn’t bother us in the least. We ventured to a couple of local wineries and enjoyed back country roads.
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The second winery we stopped at was tiny and quaint, and they had a small fridge of cheeses and a fireplace when you walked in. After a little tasting, the woman who worked there suggested we buy a bottle and head around the back to the small “grotto” they have with live music. We followed her suggestion, and the rain scared away much of a crowd, so it was almost empty. We talked and laughed and just lingered in that way that wine and music and gray skies inspires. It was perfect.

After staying there for a while, we drove a bit more to find funky roadside pottery and fun spaces.

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The very best parts of the weekend were those little nondescript moments though. Huddled in a cabin with rain outside and space to breathe. Space to talk and laugh and share without judgment or expectation.

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A friend sent me a text last January with that Cynthia Occelli quote that reads, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the rhythm of seasons and the metaphor of growth in my own life. You go through periods, I think, when all you can do is the next right thing. One after the other. And you do the best you can, but it is painful and you feel buried, so to speak. Your shell cracks and it’s rough there for a while. It feels like complete destruction for certain. But the growth emerges eventually. Seasons change. Life moves forward. You find yourself different and bigger and stronger.

 

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I’m still so uncertain. But I know I’m bigger and stronger, and I know love exists in so many forms. Joy exists in so many places.  And nothing feels better than a new season.

our week away

The kids and I enjoyed Disney World last week with my mom as my university was on midterm break.  It was a trip planned and paid for ages ago before everything changed, and I feel grateful that we got to enjoy it together.

Disney is not a vacation for parents. (I’m not sure how many ways I should say that to make it clear, but really and truly, it is exhausting.) But there is something magical about seeing it all through your kids’ eyes and watching them get lost in all the fantasy.  These two had such a great time.

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It was a good lesson for me to live in the moment.  I didn’t take as many photos as I “should” have – not one single picture of all four of us together, which I kind of regret.  (Remember the days when we were little, and our parents would take a handful of pictures on vacation and that was it? Expectations are so different these days.)  But at the same time, there’s something to be said for just throwing your things in the car and hitting the road to forget everything else for a while.  It’s liberating in our current world of Pinterest and planning and iPhone sharing.

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I booked a few character dinners for them ages ago, but that is all the planning I really did.  Other than that, I just let them hold the reins on this one, and we followed along – which meant riding Buzz Lightyear too many times and walking most of Disney World with my almost-three-year-old strapped on my back in the Ergo, but it was worth it. It was a good reminder to live in the moment and enjoy what is right in front of you without thinking ahead to tomorrow or next week.  They are growing into such incredible little people these days.  It makes my heart beat a little bigger to see them interacting and growing and learning.

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As we arrived home, we were in negotiations with some potential buyers on our home, and it looks like we are officially under contract now.  It’s both exciting and terrifying.  I have no idea where I am going with the kids, but I’m trusting something good will fall in my path.  Send good thoughts our way as the kids and I begin the next chapter in this journey.

Mexico: The Remix

Norah has been having fun with my camera phone now that she knows how it works.  I delete approximately 300 photos everyday.  (I’m not exaggerating.)  But I kept a few from our trip that were kind of cute and interesting.  Life through the eyes of a two year old is pretty fascinating!

 

Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

en la playa

We’ve returned from a week in Mexico, and while I was a little disappointed that our first couple of days were pretty overcast, it ended up being a great trip with sunny skies as the week went on.  We had a fun time.

Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

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Traveling with these two was NO JOKE this year. I know it was dumb of me to do so, but for some unknown reason, I expected this year to be a little “easier” than last year’s trip with a one and three year old. (hahaha, LOLOLOL.  That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in hindsight.) But now that Norah can keep up with Jude, they are on the move all the time. It is exhausting to prevent catastrophe and keep them reasonably quiet and in line in airports and restaurants. But the reward is pretty sweet as I watched them explore together and make memories. I hope they have many more adventures together, some even without me one day.

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Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

We spent the majority of our time at the resort, but we ventured out on a bus to see more a couple times.  We wanted so badly to tour Chichen Itza, but I just didn’t think they could handle a total 4+ hours of travel time back and forth for that purpose, so we’ll save that one for another trip one day.  Even with our quick jaunts though, the Yucatan delivered with bright colors, kind people, fresh corn tortillas, and one delicious mango margarita.

Cancun 2014

Cancun 2014

All in all it was a great trip, and seeing the ocean for a few days always makes summer seem more official somehow.

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Cancun 2014

We’ve got many more things to strike from the summer goal list though — I’m hoping for more grilling out, more pool days, more library trips, more reading, and more trips to the farmer’s market. Home never feels as good as when you’ve been away, and despite the piles of laundry and emails to answer, I’m glad to be back and looking forward to what this season has in store.  Cheers to summer!

cold

January and February are never really my favorite months.  As I look back and see this,  I am reminded that seasons change and dreary skies turn to sunny ones eventually again.  I do the January doldrums every year, I suppose.  And I eventually recover.

But this year is especially cold in Atlanta.  (And everywhere, I guess.  Thanks, Polar Vortex.)  Single digits this morning and schools were even cancelled a couple of weeks ago due to such severe cold.  The ten-day forecast is not helping me feel better.  This is sticking around for a while.  Ugh.  Do I even have enough sweaters?  I guess I need to keep up on the laundry this winter.

I intend to check in about my January goals soon, but right now I am just going to vacation a moment in my old pictures.  Ahhh, summer sun.  I miss you.

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summer 2010
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Costa Rica, 2011
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Costa Rica, 2011
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Vancouver, July 2011
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Aruba, summer 2013
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Aruba, summer 2013

I hope you are staying warm wherever you are.  I am trying to enjoy the winter hibernation as best I can.  Lots of soup on the menu lately.  This one was new to me and I LOVED it earlier this week.  And this old favorite is making some reappearances as well.  Stay cozy, friends.