Sofa-Bed Solutions

The fourth bedroom in our home serves a dual purpose. Most of the time, it is set up as my office.  I love the long workspace of my desk, and I spend at least an hour here each morning, checking email, doing Bible study and journaling.  Everything is at hand, and the space is cozy and comfortable.

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Several times a year, we convert my office to our guest room to accommodate friends and family who come for a visit.  When we bought the house, we considered our options:  Guest bed?  Or pull-out sofa?   Rather than have to work around a bed when we don’t have guests, we decided on a pull out sofa, and committed ourselves to finding a solution for the infamous sofa-bed mattress horror show.

The first way that we tackled this problem was by adding additional support to the sofa bed frame by way of 1×6 boards.  Mark, my clever husband, added two anchor pieces to “lock” the boards in place along the end of the frame.  Otherwise, our guests might find themselves on the giving end of a 1×6 board when they get up for a snack in the middle of the night!

 

Mark also numbered the boards for convenience, as they were custom fit across the entire frame.

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The boards do offer added support, but there is also some movement and flexibility by using 5 of them rather than a single piece of wood.

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Ahhhh…the sofa-bed mattress.  A tool of the Spanish Inquisition, no doubt, wrapped in a mattress cover, and sold to unsuspecting homeowners.  There just isn’t anything nice I can say about it, so I’ll move along.

 

We bought a three inch memory foam mattress topper at Costco, and straps to keep it rolled up for storage.  These things are unwieldy, and rolling it up is like wrangling a squirmy calf.  I recommend a second set of hands and a cocktail for afterward.  You’ll have earned it!

 

When my parents come to visit, I typically make the bed with two standard blankets, an electric blanket and a comforter.  I also stash an extra quilt and blanket under the bed in case they need some extra warmth.

This sofa-bed set-up works well, and although it can’t beat a real mattress/bed, my parents usually stay for a couple of weeks without complaint.  The extra time and effort it takes to set it up is worth it, because well-rested guests are happy guests!

 

Faith and Feminism: Part 2

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Proverbs 31:25-27

To be honest, I don’t spend much time reading Proverbs 31, because it’s kind of a spiritual Pinterest board.  The Proverbs 31 woman is perfect, and I always come away feeling like a big loser.  She’s industrious, and I been known to binge watch a wee bit ‘o Netflix.  She is strong and dignified, and I yell “It’s a calamity!” every time I have a hot flash.  She “rises while it is still night and provides food for her household,” and I would NEVER rise while it’s still night, for any reason.  Get yourself a bowl of cereal, ya’ll!  The Proverbs 31 woman sets a high bar.

It may surprise you then, dear reader, that Proverbs 31 is exactly where I landed a couple of days ago as I set goals for the first part of 2019.  (I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t hoping for a verse on resting in my hammock.)  And as I read through this chapter, I realized that the Proverbs 31 woman is kind of the ultimate feminist.  She is strong, capable and owns her choices.  There isn’t a sense of doubt or insecurity in her actions, and she thrives in her work, while caring for her own.  Like I said, she’s Pinterest-worthy.

The first “Take-Away” I’m getting this year from Proverbs 31 is:  She can laugh at the days to come.  Dear reader, I haven’t laughed at the days to come since I quit working.   I told Mark the other day that I feel like I’m waiting for the guillotine.  I know I will eventually go back to work, and some days I just want to go back right now to put myself out of the waiting.  The longer I spend as a SAHM, the more I love it, and I’m fearful of returning to that busy pace and full mind…even though I really loved my work!  So what’s my goal on this?  First, be present in today and ENJOY this chance I have to live a simpler, more focused life.  And second, have FAITH that when the time comes, God will provide just the perfect job for me to go back to…one that I will find stimulating and fulfilling.

Second “Take-Away” is this:  She speaks with wisdom. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it seems we are invited to have opinions about every.  little.  thing.  Sure, I’m talking about news and social media posts, but also in “real life”…and especially between women.  If I truly believe that women should have the same opportunity and access to choose what they want for themselves, then why do I spend one second of my time evaluating decisions that aren’t mine?  There is wisdom in keeping my opinions to myself, and choosing how and when to speak, because at the end of the day, I just want my daughter, sisters, nieces and friends to be happy and fulfilled.  You want to be a doctor and work 50 hours a week?  I ordered you a great pair of tennis shoes with arch support!  You want to join the military and serve your country?  I feel safer just knowing you are on the job!  You want to be a stay at home mom and wear yoga pants five days out of seven?  Do that, and I’m with you!  Are you fit?  Paleo?  Covered in muscles?  Yay!  That hard work is worth celebrating!  Do you have softer curves and junk in the trunk?  Me too!  Babies find us irresistible!   You hold political views that are the polar opposite of mine?  I LOVE that you’ve thought about these issues and come to your own conclusions– we need thinkers in this world!  Being a strong, intelligent and influential woman is not confined to certain jobs, degrees, political parties or body types, so let’s all hold hands and take a leap off the opinion train!  

“Take-Away” #3:  she does not eat the bread of idleness. First of all, I love bread.  Sourdough, 7 grain, challah, a crusty French baguette…it’s all my favorite!  Secondly, I also enjoy hours of idleness.  You know what eats my time?  Social media.  Pinterest.  I can literally spend HOURS in a day scrolling and clicking through content that I don’t even need or want.  It’s a time suck, and it doesn’t leave me happy or fulfilled.  I’ve removed Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook from my phone (fare thee well, my brethren!) and from the favorites page on my laptop (cartoon crying…) with a goal of 30 days without a peek. Like a social media Whole30.  What am I hoping for? I don’t know, and stop asking such difficult questions!  I guess I am hopeful that by unplugging from all the likes, shares, pins, comments and funny animal videos (I miss you already!!!), I will be MORE plugged in to the moment in front of me and the people I love.

Christmas is behind us, and the New Year has begun.  School is about to begin, and I will once again have the house to myself.  I look forward to time alone to think and learn and grow.  As I pursue my purpose, I’m drawn to less.  Much less.  Less worry, less opinion and less idleness.  But of course, my hope is that in the less, I will find MORE.

As always, dear reader, I thank you for the opportunity to share my two cents!  Much gratitude and appreciation for all of your kind comments and messages.  Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Faith and Feminism: Part 1

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Two years ago I decided to get a tattoo. I was turning 44, and I was quite suddenly very comfortable in my own skin and secure in my place in this world.  Mark and I were in our beloved California, visiting our favorite little hamlet north of San Francisco.  (The town is magical, but I probably won’t ever blog about it because it’s ours, and that would feel like telling a secret I was sworn to keep.)

On the eve of my birthday, I walked into the local tattoo parlor and had “Faith” inked permanently onto my right wrist in Hebrew.  You see, in addition to settling into myself, I had also made a permanent, unchanging realization about the importance of faith in my life.

Everyone has faith in something.  I would say that for many years in my life, despite a belief in God, I had very little faith in Him.  My faith was in myself and my ability to DO and HAVE.  I saw the good in my life as a reflection of my own ability and grit.

For many years, things rocked along, and I saw success in my career and personal life.  During this time, I gave God the time and recognition that one might give their mother-in-law or second cousin twice removed.  I was hyper-focused on the “rightness” of following God’s laws, and had very little empathy.  I confess that during those years I was often unkind and graceless in my responses.  My faith was a way to satisfy my need to be right.  A hammer to drive home my point.

I really don’t know when God began to change my heart.  If I look back, I realize that little by little, I began to desire knowing Him, and the more my mind learned, the more my heart was remolded.  I can’t separate the events that led to a deep, abiding, living faith;  was it the study of Ephesians that we did in church?  or the conversations with my friend Sara about living a life of faith?  or the fact that my children were baptized and I was deeply moved by that experience?  I believe that God orchestrated all of these things and many more to drive me toward Him.

What I’ve learned about God is that He pursues us.   For a person like me who desires total autonomy and control over the events of her life, this chase was essential in transforming my faith.  It’s hard to ignore Someone when then are always at your heels, pulling you into Their goodness and grace.  Finally, I stopped and gave Him my attention and that has made all the difference in my life.

If you know me, you know that I find a great deal of satisfaction in my success as an educator.  It thrills me to be good at what I do, and I thrive in situations where I can help and do for others.  For many years, my job was my identity.  It shames me to say that my views on stay at home moms were not altogether charitable.  I “couldn’t imagine feeling fulfilled” as a stay at home mom, and there was never a time where I was compelled to seriously consider making that kind of a move.  So, nobody was more surprised than me, when that exact idea sprouted and grew inside me.

It took me three years to quit my job.  I almost couldn’t let go, despite knowing it was exactly where God was leading me.  By this point, I knew that I was in a season where I had to step back and serve my family.  Again, so many events and conversations led to this knowledge, but little by little the idea of staying home filled my every cell with peace and confidence.  The more time I spent in God’s Word, the more I began to hear the Holy Spirit confirm this monumental move.  Not that it was easy.  Obviously.  I struggled with leaving a job I loved to stay home, and it took over one thousand days to actually do it.

You know what’s funny about stepping out in faith toward the thing that God has for you?  It isn’t a recipe for “the easy life.”  Silly me, I kind-of assumed that once I did step away from work I’d be happy as a clam and that life would be shinier and less of a struggle.  Not so, dear reader.  My first year as a stay at home mom was bumpy.  I battled loneliness so big it was almost tangible.  It filled me and deflated me at the same time, and I frantically filled my time because I don’t know how to rest.  In early October, my husband and I were in a horrible car accident where our brand new car was totaled, and the firetrucks had to close the freeway to get us moved to safety.  Then, my beloved husband, Mark was diagnosed with cancer and we began the spinning plates act of appointments, tests, treatment and recovery.  I seriously underestimated the emotional burden of cancer.  At the same time all of this was going on, both of my kids were struggling to adjust to new situations at school, and they often felt the stings of failure, rejection and loneliness that seem to infuse adolescence.

Heartache, loneliness and fear were our constant companions, but at the same time, those things were being constantly beaten back by the love and comfort of God.  It’s hard to explain that while I felt so many layers of worry and pain, I also reaped a harvest of gratitude during that difficult year.  The accident?  We missed being T-boned by an 18 wheeler barreling past us in the fast lane, by less than a yard.  Our injuries?  Minor in spite of the fact that we were rear-ended at a full stop by a car going 50 miles per hour.  The totaled car?  Insurance paid more than we needed to get an even better vehicle.

Mark’s journey with cancer was also chock full of blessing.  His treatment was completed by an amazing group of doctors who pioneered the radiation therapy he received.  The side effects were horrible, but didn’t last as long as they did for most patients.  His recovery has been complete and his levels are exactly where they should be.  Again, we reaped a harvest of gratitude for God’s faithfulness to our family.

When I think of gratitude, I always think of the Apostle Paul, and how he sang songs of praise while in prison.  For many years I assumed that he was just a better person than me.  More holy and good.  What I now understand is that hard things are still hard, but when our orientation is focused toward the goodness and grace of God, there is also joy and gratitude.  We are able to see the nuggets of grace strewn throughout a disastrous situation, and our shortcomings do not determine the outcome.

My faith in God continues to deepen and expand.  He absolutely leads me to the best thing, and stays right there through it all.  He is generous and good, and He teaches me to be humble and reflective.  Rather than transporting me out of the hard things in life, my faith bends me toward the heart of God and I am changed while we walk through them together.

Being changed is not the same as being better.  While I have a deeper bend towards doing the kind and loving thing, I still get it wrong sometimes.  Well, let’s be honest.  I get it wrong a lot.  The change is in my direction and orientation.  Imagine being lost in the woods and blindly searching for a way out. Faith in God gives me a fixed point, a landmark to head towards.  I know that if I always head toward Him, I will most certainly find my way…even if I step in the wrong direction sometimes.

This work is not completed.  There is much more I need to learn, and so many more ways to follow faithfully.  But faith was given to me, and He is growing it day by day.  I’m so grateful for the chance to live more simply, with time to reflect and learn.  My fulfillment these days is not tied up in a job, or my success as a wife and mother, but following God in faith to achieve HIS good work.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God;  for anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  Hebrews 11:6

 

 

Sequoia & King’s Canyon Nat’l Park

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”   John Muir

I’ve become a little lax in following actual rules since becoming a stay-at-home mom.   This past October, for example, I pulled the kids out of school for a couple of days so that we could jet out to our beloved California.  This has never, ever been done before in our household.  Mark and I are both educators.  We know how important it is to have butts in chairs all the days possible.  School is important.  Necessary.  But Mama gets lonely and a little bored at home all alone day after day…as evidenced by the many pictures of our cats in my Photos folder on my phone.

I convinced Mark that it was SUPER IMPORTANT to pause for a family getaway, and he agreed without too much of a discussion.  Maybe because of the cat pictures.  Or the way I enthusiastically greet him after work and follow him around retelling all the EXCITING  events of my day like a maniac.  Bless him.  He’s a good man.

We chose Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks because we didn’t have a lot of time, but wanted a big impact.  October is a great time to visit California– the weather is cooler and the parks don’t seem overrun with visitors.

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There isn’t a major airport near Sequoia/King’s Canyon, so we flew into LAX on a morning flight.  (It goes without saying that we got a great deal on plane tickets through Google Flights…it’s our go-to flight finder.  Our flights from Dallas to LAX were about $120.00 a piece.). The drive was roughly four hours, and once you’re in the mountains, the scenery makes the time fly by.

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One thing you should definitely keep in mind if you plan to visit Sequoia/King’s Canyon is that there are two entrances.  The North entrance is about a four hour drive from LAX, but it is open all the way.  The South entrance is under construction, and there are road closures and areas where the road is only a single lane.  We found very little traffic going into the park on a Friday afternoon through the North entrance, and even though it was a much longer drive, it probably saved us time in the long run.  When we left the park, we used the South entrance because we left in the morning.  The outbound lane moved along just fine, but the incoming lane was a traffic nightmare.

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The weather up in the mountains around Sequoia/King’s Canyon can be a little dicey in October.  The weekend we visited there was snow forecasted so we packed our hats, gloves and jackets.  Although we left before the snow, it was quite chilly and we needed everything but a heavy jacket.

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There’s lots to see in Sequoia/King’s Canyon, and as you might imagine, a lot of it involves giant trees.

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The kids were really in awe of the giant redwoods, and enjoyed walking the path around the groves.  Both of them, however, like to strike out on their own and bushwhack along trails and off the beaten path.

 

We pulled over quite a bit to hike around, and I bet this is what the kids will remember most.  The weather can change quickly up in the mountains, and at one point we had to call the kids back because fog was rolling in fast and thick.  By the time we got back to the car it was a complete white out.

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We stayed in the Wuksachi Lodge and Village in Sequoia and it was quite comfortable.  The lodge is not a Ritz Carlton, but it is clean and comfortable, with a ski lodge feeling.  One thing to note is that it’s quite a trek uphill from the parking lot to the lodge.  We had rolling carry-on luggage, and managed just fine, but there are luggage trolleys for those who have more to carry.  If you need assistance getting everything up to your room, just let the desk workers know when you check in.  They are happy to help those who need an extra hand.

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Finding food in Sequoia is a challenge simply because everything is so spread out.  There is a small store by the John Muir Lodge, and some snacks for purchase in the Wuksachi Lodge, so we brought our own snacks and drinks and stored them in the mini fridge in our room.  This wasn’t our first rodeo, ya’ll.

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the Wuksachi Lodge, and the food is quite good.  For dinner, I recommend making a reservation AS SOON as you check in because they have limited seating.  We did that, and got a decent reservation time, but others who did not had to eat dinner at 9 o’clock!   Also, be sure to request a window table, because the view will only enhance your delicious dinner.  We recommend the pot roast with mashed potatoes.  It.  Is.  Sogood.

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After two days hiking among the giant trees, and exploring the wild woods it was time to head out.   We left through the  South entrance and along the way we pulled over to watch a black bear meander through the tall grass.  She was beautiful!

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Once we left the park boundary, we stopped for lunch at the Gateway Restaurant and Lodge in Three Rivers.

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I can highly recommend the fish and chips lunch, and if the weather is decent, ask to sit outside beside the river.  It’s the perfect way to end a journey into the woods with those you love.

As always, I would love to hear from my readers!  If you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to comment below.  Thank you for following along!

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

“If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”  

                                                                                                           Seamus Heaney

When we first arrived in Dingle it turned out to be completely different than we imagined.   Sometimes the unexpected can throw me into a tailspin, but it turned out to be one of my favorite adventures during our most recent trip to Ireland.

Dingle is the name of a town, a peninsula and a scenic drive.  It is part of the Gaeltacht region; an area where Irish Gaelic is the predominant language.  Most signs are in Irish Gaelic and you’ll hear Irish Gaelic songs and ditties spilling from the pubs.  It’s really charming and beautiful.  We fell in love with the pastel colored buildings and busy streets in this fishing town, and can’t wait to go back for a second visit!

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We drove to Dingle on a sunny July day, after a three day stay in Kenmare.   First thing you should know is that Dingle is a rather large town.  Almost a city, in my opinion.  There are one million pubs in Dingle, and if you should happen to be there when the World Cup is going on (as we were), you can expect a. LOT.  of pub noise all through the night.  It didn’t bother us too much, and in fact, added to the flavor of our experience there.

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Another thing to keep in mind is that Dingle is a popular tourist destination.  Bus loads of people arrive there, and it’s crowded.  If we ever go back, I’d like to do it on the off season, when it’s just the Dingle-ites and a few of us lookie-loos.

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We stayed at Sraid Eoin House B&B in Dingle, and it was lovely.  The room was clean, fresh and inexpensive. It was bright and we had plenty of room to spread out.  The hosts were warm and friendly, and we were very pleased with our choice.

The REAL treasure of Dingle town, is that you’re at a natural starting point for an adventure around the Dingle Way.  Dear readers, this drive is worth every bit of the time you take to traverse it!  I can highly recommend Rick Steves Ireland guide as a wonderful road map to this adventure.  He kindly includes distances to each stop and a brief description of each.  We decided on the must-see stops as a family, and started out after breakfast and a cup of coffee to go.

One of the things that impressed us was just how ancient some of the sites along the Dingle Way really are!  We stopped at several ring forts (also known as fairy forts) from the Iron Age (600-500B.C.), and my kids were fascinated by their construction and purpose.

As an added bonus, one of the ring fort sites included some darling farm animals that we were able to pet and enjoy!  This really made an impression on my daughter who loves animals of all kinds.

There are also several groupings of beehive huts which are fun to explore.  Be sure to carry some cash, because many stops require payment of two or three euros per person.

What we appreciated about the Dingle Way is that we could stop and spend as much time as we liked at the sites that interested us most.  Being stuck on a tour bus, or being herded through the sites holds no appeal for us, and is the primary reason we prefer to rent our own car.

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The views are spectacular, and we stopped often to look around and smell the clover.

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After a full half day exploring the Dingle Way, we stopped for some lunch in one of the small villages along the way.  The area is quite popular now, as scenes from Star Wars were filmed there, and the local pub had two sculptures; one of Yoda and another of Darth Vader.  It was cute without being commercial.  My daughter and I shared AMAZING fish and chips, while my husband and son split a yummy pot roast lunch.  IMG_20180708_120748962_HDR

 

After lunch, we headed north toward the Cliffs of Moher.  This drive yielded one of the most interesting driving situations we had in Ireland! The “highway” out of Dingle is a single lane “two-way” road, with cliffs and mountains on either side.  It was truly beautiful, and I’m so glad we went ahead and drove that way, but there were a few hair-raising moments along the way!

You know, there are places we visit that are a huge hit with all members of the family, and this was one of them.  I got to see my kids excited about hiking around and exploring some really incredible sites, and we all walked away with the feeling that we had seen something we might never see again.  This area is chalk-full of magic and intrigue.  Don’t miss it!

Taisteal sásta! (which means “happy travels” in Irish Gaelic)

 

Tender Shoots of Hope

There’s something wonderful about good conversation over a cup of coffee!  Some of my favorite memories with friends and family are when we sat together, sharing the stories of our lives.  Often when a group of women get together, the conversation invariably turns to motherhood.  Not long ago, during such a conversation, I realized how much shine we sometimes put on our birth stories and those first few months of new motherhood.  Each of us recount the beautiful moments, aglow with the memories of tender love and triumph at a dream realized.  It truly is a beautiful time, and one of the most profound experiences ever.  Ultimately motherhood changes us in ways we didn’t even know were possible, and the outcome is something amazing to behold.

The thing about pregnancy and motherhood, though, is just how differently we all respond to this potential wrecking ball.  Many women I know have slipped effortlessly into motherhood as though it were just the addition of a new pair of yoga pants.   Their natural instincts to care for their baby, make us breathless with the beauty of it all.  I’ve known quite a few new mothers who seem almost ethereal during and after pregnancy, and their glow pulls us all into the warmth of new love.  I always imagine Mary this way, as I sip hot chocolate by the twinkling Christmas tree.  But maybe that wasn’t her experience at all.  Maybe, like me, she found it challenging to adjust during those first weeks of motherhood.

The devastation and shame that women feel when they find themselves struggling as a new mother is very real.   It’s almost tangible.  I know what it’s like to panic at the last moment (just before they wheel you into delivery), and say to your partner, “I can’t do this.  I’ve changed my mind.”   There is an actual human being at the end of the story, and I remember feeling unable to deal with the hard right my life was about to take.  I felt the bitter shame of not experiencing instant love and adoration for a child they said has just been born from my actual womb.  Sadness and panic came in waves those first few weeks, and I could not get my head above the deluge of “shoulds” in my mind.  “You should instantly bond with this child.”   “You should know what to do.”    “You should be enjoying this.”   “You should be able to do this without so much help.”   “You should not feel so sad.”   “You should be a better mother.”  

There is a whole spectrum of feeling those first few months.  Normally, (and I know this because I had two very different postpartum experiences) I think we slide around the spectrum, but stay mostly on the “positive feelings side.”  Sure, there are moments, hours and days when we feel hopeless and overwhelmed, but overall, we cope through those hard times.  Being a new mother is hard, after all.

I remember going to the pediatricians office with my three-week old baby, and the doctor took a hard look at me.  The haze of exhaustion and despair had settled over me like a heavy cloak, and I remember having to force myself to lift the corners of my mouth to smile.   The doctor said my name several times until I was focused on her, and then she said these life-saving words:  “It’s not supposed to be like this.  You aren’t supposed to be so sad, and I need you to call your OBGYN today and let her know that you’re struggling.”  What did she see?  What clue prompted her to throw me that lifeline?  When she peeked behind the curtain of my false smile, was she able to see the horror of my thoughts?  How did she know that we were not going to make it?  That the fear and sadness were so thick that I could hardly breathe?  Even now, my heart aches and my eyes tear up at the memory of her seeing me and my distress.  She saved us.  She gave me a directive, knowing I would never say “I need help.”   She stepped in and forced me to take the first step to help myself.

I did call my OBGYN.  She put me on a very low dose of Zoloft, and within a week the warmer shades of light began to clear my mind.   There was a specific moment when I knew that I was getting better, and that things were going to be ok.  I was reading to my month-old baby, and suddenly realized that I was ENJOYING spending time being a mother.  It hit me that I had a growing swell of love toward this little person that I was just beginning to know after so many days together.  Those tender shoots of hope and love were able to penetrate the fog of sadness, and eventually fill my heart and mind with their beautiful abundance.

New motherhood is not all gloom and doom, dear reader.  It is warm, full of joy and drenched in the most profound love.  But we must stand beside those who are suffering.  We must.  Whether that means sitting quietly and being an extra pair of hands to help, or holding a new mother’s face tenderly and declaring that you will not rest until she comes out on the other side, or acting as a champion for change as my pediatrician did, we must do something.  We are sisters, and sisters cannot be allowed to suffer alone.

The ugliest truth about postpartum depression is that it is mostly kept a secret.  I’ve known many mothers during my life, and not one time did the topic ever come up before I experienced it myself.  Sure, the pregnancy books I was reading devoted a whole paragraph to it, but I thought it was for “those losers” who weren’t as strong as me.  My arrogance is appalling, isn’t it?  Let’s to better.  Let’s drag this nasty beast into the light where it belongs.  Let’s give it a name, and stand beside our dear friends and sisters when they meet it.

I believe one of the greatest gifts of motherhood is the capacity to grow love in the most challenging of spaces.  Whether it’s through adoption, fostering, step-parenting or having a child in what we might call the “traditional way,” mothers are made not in the giving birth, but in the way we lay ourselves down to something bigger.  We become sisters when we learn empathy and compassion for mothers who are yet childless and mothers who struggle to thrive.   Our stories are important and precious.  They allow us to reach out in comfort and support, lending a hand and lifting those who are floundering.

 

I wrote this post over a month ago, and have left it sitting in my drafts.  My hope in sharing is that maybe these words will find their way to someone who needs them, whether it be a struggling new mother, or someone who loves her.  The beauty of hard things is that they help grow our empathy and deepen our compassion.  Courage, dear sisters.  

 

Skellig Michael

You know, I’m drawn to things that “can’t easily be done.”  Unless the hard thing is avoiding pasta.  I’m not drawn to that at all.   When I was reading through Rick Steves Ireland for the first time, I stumbled upon the section about Skellig Michael, and the idea of taking Mark and the kids on this impossible adventure took root.

Skellig Michael is a world heritage site, about 7 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland. There are two Skellig rocks; Little Skellig and Skellig Michael and both islands are primitive, rugged and inhospitable.  At around 800 A.D. a group of monks came to live on Skellig Michael, and their dwellings (as well as the 600 steps to reach them) are still there at the top of the rock.  These days, a group of somewhat salty men dedicated to preserving the island live on Skellig Michael on a rotating basis.  Bless them, because there is no running water, fresh water, electricity or flushing toilet to be found out there.

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During our first visit to Ireland, I scheduled a tour to Skellig Michael the day before we were to depart for the States.  Somehow, when reserving our trip, the issue of a departure time was never discussed and we literally missed the boat.  IMG_20180705_093503517

Skellig Michael tip #1:  confirm departure time and location several times before the day of your trip.

I’m not going to sugar coat the retelling of how I handled this monumental mess-up.  I was beside myself.  The thing is, my son was looking forward to our Skellig Michael excursion more than any other activity we had planned in Ireland, so I deeply felt the guilt of letting him down.

When we decided to return to Ireland, booking a Skellig Michael tour was the first thing I did.  We ended up booking with Skellig Tours with captain John O Shea.  Most of the charters to Skellig Michael depart from Portmagee, but John sails out of Derrynane Harbour, which worked well for us because we were staying in Kenmare.

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Skellig Michael tip #2:  Book as early as possible.  Star Wars has made this site wildly popular, and reservations go quickly.  I booked months in advance.

Let me be very clear about something:  the boats that take you out to Skellig Michael are smaller than you’d think.  And you’ll be crossing open ocean.  This excursion is only possible during the summer months (May to August) and even then, many trips are cancelled due to rough seas.  If you are prone to seasickness, buckle up.  This is no quick jaunt across a placid lake.

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Skellig Michael tip #3:  laying down on the boat will help with seasickness.

Disembarking onto Skellig Michael is described as “jumping off a trampoline onto an ice rink.”  (Rick Steves, Ireland)  I found that to be an accurate description, and although I was happy to be off the boat, I was immediately taken aback by how stark and uninviting the island actually is. Yes, I watched the videos and read the brochures, but the ruggedness is somewhat shocking.

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As I said before, there are 600 steps to the top of Skellig Michael.  They are uneven and cracked, and there are no hand rails.  Vertigo is an issue as well because the steps are so steep.

IMG_20180705_182047_184The real prize is reaching the top where you can explore the ancient beehive dwellings of the monks who lived there over 1200 years ago.

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And of course the view is spectacular!

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Skellig Michael is literally crawling with sea birds.  Their loud squawking will almost drive you mad, and the gulls especially, will dive bomb you for your sandwich.  However, it’s the adorable puffins that really make a lasting impression.  They are not afraid of humans, and will resolutely growl if you get too close to their nests.  Puffins are not aerodynamic birds, and watching them fly is a hilarious sight.

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The length of time on the actual island is short; about an hour and a half.  It’s such a remarkable experience, though, that I highly recommend making the effort to go if you have the chance.  The fact that humans existed on Skellig Michael is almost unbelievable given that the conditions are so harsh and inhospitable.

Skellig Michael tip #4:  Pack food for a quick lunch, but keep in mind that you will have to eat furtively while hiding by a stone wall because the sea gulls are overly aggressive and will swoop down and steal that sandwich right out of your hand!  I imagined a leisurely picnic at the top of the rock, but the reality was probably closer to a maximum security prison cafeteria…guarding our food and avoiding eye contact, while shoveling it all into our mouth as quickly as possible.

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If you must know, I did not, in fact, make it to the top of Skellig Michael.  There was a seasickness situation on the way over, and I think I almost died.  By the time we actually set foot on the island, I was dizzy, weak and shaking like a leaf…not a great combination for climbing 600 steep, death-defying stairs.  One of the salty preservation men bellowed, “Then why’d ya come at all, lassie?!?”  How do you explain to a pirate-y man with a ruddy complexion and copious amounts of chest hair that nothing makes you happier in life than seeing your children’s eyes wide with wonder?  What words really express the satisfaction a mother feels when she gives her son a rare and miraculous adventure that he will likely never have again?

Skellig Michael tip #5:  When explainging mother-y feelings to a pirate-y preservationist, just liken your love to the love he has for the island.  He will slowly nod and softly say, “I understand ye.”

 

 

 

 

My Top 5 Must-Haves for Air Travel

I get on a plane six times a year, on average, and it goes without saying that I always travel with snacks, water, my phone and something to read.  Over the last 8 years, however, I have also curated my must-have items for air travel.  Whether the flight is 2 hours or 12, these five things make travel less of a chore for me and my tribe.

  1.  Small backpack: I normally travel with just a carry-on, so having a small backpack to fill with in-flight necessities is a must.  My FAVORITE small backpack is the Swiss Gear City Pack Backpack.  I just love the design and layout of pockets, and this pack carries a lot of stuff!  The Patagonia Atom Backpack is also a nice size, and BONUS: the laptop/tablet pocket fits my MacBook Air.   Both of these backpacks fit under the seat in front without spilling into my “feet space.”
  2. Travel “cooler”:  I almost always travel with some type of fruit (If you pack fruit for an international flight, you MUST eat or dispose of it all before you land!) and keeping it chilled through security and boarding is easy peasy with an insulin travel case.  I purchased mine at The Container Store, but Amazon has many varieties as well.  The great thing about these, is that they are small, and the freezer packs contain gel, not liquid, so I’ve never had a problem going through security.  Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 8.22.09 PM
  3. Charging “Brick”:  I know that airports have MILLIONS of charging plugs, but just try to find one that’s working and available when your phone or tablet is at 2%.  Add children to the mix, and you’ll absolutely need one of these like you need oxygen.  We purchased our portable charger from Amazon, and it keeps us all charged!Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 8.33.26 PM
  4. Earbud/Charger pouch:  I LOVE my charger pouch from MochiThings.  It holds more than you think it will, and my earbuds stay tucked in the side pocket.  Plus, it’s easy to find in my backpack because of it’s round shape.  I’ve had mine for over 5 years, and it’s still in great condition.  I can normally fit earbuds, phone/tablet charger and a few other small things (like my car key and/or a flash drive) in my charger pouch, and still have room left over. Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 8.47.16 PM
  5. Foot rest:  Ok, about foot rests.  A foot rest is not, in any way, going to help your image.  They are not cool or nifty or neat.  They are utilitarian items which your spouse and children will make fun of any time you set it up.  Just wave, say “bye Felicia” and ignore those jokers.  Second, you can kindly disregard this recommendation if you are a normal to giant-sized person.  Foot rests are for Hobbits and short humans.  My rule of thumb is that if a flight is more than 3 hours, I pack the foot rest.  My wee legs get tired of dangling after about 120 minutes, but I can usually tough it out for a while if I know we will land soon.

    I bought this actual foot rest off of Amazon, and it’s the bomb.  Ten bucks for a world of comfort is a bargain, I say.

So in reality I pack a great deal more than the five items listed above along with my snacks, water, phone and book.  I’ve read enough zombie apocalypse novels to know that you should always travel with bandaids, Neosporin, a flashlight and a Sharpie pen.  But that’s a post for another day.

Happy travels, everyone!

 

 

Muir Woods National Monument

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”  John Muir

I like to think of the Golden Gate Bridge as the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,  so Muir Woods National Monument and all that lies north of San Francisco is obviously the magical land of Narnia!  It’s truly one of my favorite places in all the world, and there is SO much to explore.

A quick history lesson:  John Muir is the “father of the national parks.”  He lived in the 1800’s, and traveled all over the United States, studying nature and advocating for the preservation of land as national parks.  This is a MUCH abridged version of a super interesting dude, and I encourage you to read more about him, especially if conservation and nature are your jam.  How fitting that Muir Woods be named after such an important man!

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Muir Woods National Monument is just across the Golden Gate Bridge and to the west.  It’s only about a half hour drive from the GGB, and a worthwhile way to spend half or all of a day. The road into the woods is SUPER bendy, so if you’re prone to carsickness, I’ve found that opening a window to the chilly breeze makes a big difference.  But my goodness!  It’s a beautiful drive, and the air is just fresh and full of oxygen!

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You’ll want to arrive early, because the parking situation at Muir Woods is atrocious.  We normally time our arrival for 15 minutes before the park opens, and have always found a place to park.  If you wait to mid-morning, or even worse, afternoon, you’ll be walking a half mile to a mile before you even arrive at the entrance to Muir Woods.  And remember that fresh air?  Well, once the tour buses arrive, it’s not so fresh.  More of a “death by diesel” situation, where you want to take shallow breaths through the mouth as you cross the parking lot to the main entrance.

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Another reason to arrive early is because there is nothing so heavenly as wandering through the massive redwoods in the early morning quiet.  You’ll be able to hear the river in the background, and the wildlife is still out and about, getting ready for the day.  The way the sunlight streams through the trees, spotlighting small sections of the forest floor, as the mist is burning off is really beautiful.

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The main trail in Muir Woods takes you down along one side of the river, across and then back.  There are quite a few turn around points over the river, so you don’t need to commit to the whole circuit, but I highly recommend going back as far as you can.  Spend all the time you want to spend in this “cathedral of nature” before the crowds arrive, soaking in the magnificence of these incredible trees.  It’s like going to #church!

 

If you’re traveling with kids, they will LOVE exploring the hollow trunks and fallen trees.  There are lots of neat nooks and crannies for them to examine, and the size of the redwoods makes a huge impression on children.

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You’re probably wondering when I’m going to bring up the subject of food.  Well, right now would be the time!  About a month before we headed out to Muir Woods for the first time, I happened to be watching Food Network’s show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and they had a segment with Tyler Florence.  He was visiting Muir Woods National Monument, and shared his love for the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup at the Muir Woods Trading Company.  I can attest to the fact that they are delicious and satisfying!  I also recommend the honey cornbread.  It’s.  So.  Good.

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After a bit of lunch, it’s always a good idea to go for a hike!  When deciding on a trail, you may want to talk to a ranger or park employee to get some input, or do a little research online.  There are quite a few trails off of the main path, but we have only explored two of them.  If you are looking for a GREAT hike, and have some time, I recommend the Canyon View Trail just off the path beside the Visitor Center/Trading Company.  There are several maps of Muir Woods, and here’s another.  The Canyon View Trail will take several hours if you go at a leisurely pace, but the payoff at the top is worth it!

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When you come up above the forest, and stand on the rock, you can see as far as the Bay. It’s really incredible.

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What I love about nature, and specifically Muir Woods, is that it levels and elevates man, stripping away all of the nasty ways we get tangled up in our “rightness.”  We are simply mankind, gazing upward together, feeling gratitude for a moment.  I find it impossible to hold on to defensiveness or judgement while walking among giants.  Being filled with awe leaves no room for scraping and clinging to what we think is “ours.”  I leave refreshed, with my heart wide open to the world beyond.

And also, I am pretty sure I saw Channing Tatum and (his wife at the time) Jenna Dewan on the main path in Muir Woods a couple of years ago, which is pretty much a celebrity endorsement of this post!  🙂  Happy hiking!

San Francisco, CA

“San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art.  Every block is a short story, every hill a novel.  Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal.”  

                                                                                                                   William Saroyan

I first visited San Francisco in 2011, and fell in love.   I’d never seen anything like it in terms of architecture and style.  It’s as quirky and colorful as you imagine it to be!  The drive into the city from the airport is a buffet for the eyes as everything is SO different from where I live.  The buildings, the shops and the people are a gorgeous feast that awaken my artistic thirst.  I drink it in happily, and fall in love all over again!

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Flights from Dallas typically arrive at SFO around 10AM, so we drive directly from the airport to have lunch.  Let me recommend The Blue Mermaid (in the Argonaut Hotel) for a great spot to dine.  They have a nice patio (with heaters if it’s chilly) and the service is top notch.  Blue Mermaid has an award winning crab chowder, and it is so delicious!  I order a bowl of it and a side of garlic/parmesan French fries every time-  it’s my standard order.  Oh my goodness.  So yummy!  The Argonaut Hotel is lovely, and if you eat at the Blue Mermaid, you are welcome to visit the hotel restroom to freshen up after a morning of travel.  The Blue Mermaid is right by Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.  The area is REALLY touristy, but also a fun place to walk around.

Another really great place to walk around is China Town.  I’m sure there are several tours that include China Town, but since we ALWAYS rent a car, I can’t recommend one.  What’s really wonderful about China Town is that you leave just about everything “American” behind once you pass the boundary.  My husband is a Diet Coke drinker, and we could not find a single bottle in all of China Town!

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Exploring the shops and markets was such an adventure and we left with jade rings and figurines, origami Christmas ornaments, and neat gifts for the kids.  I highly recommend a stop in China Town!

Another really interesting place to visit is Fort Point.  Basically, it’s a fort built under the Golden Gate Bridge.  What I loved about this museum is that you can walk all around the fort- even up to the top where you see the underside of the bridge.  Just know that when the fog horn sounds, you’ll jump out of your skin!  It’s.  So.  Loud.

 

On the way to and from Fort Point you’ll pass Crissy Field, and on the Fort Point side of Crissy Field is a  Warming Hut and Cafe.  Not only will you find something lovely to nibble and sip, but they also sell unique gifts, books, and posters.  Definitely worth a stop.

Over the years we have visited Coit Tower, the Embarcadero, the Presidio, the Full House house and Lombard Street.  All are worth at least a drive-by depending on your level of interest.

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No lie.  Driving in San Francisco is a hair raising experience.  The city is so incredibly hilly, and there are times you feel as if you are driving straight up or straight down.  This is not the time to be driving a stick shift!

After wrapping up a glorious day in San Francisco, you’ll be primed and ready for a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.  I definitely recommend making a stop to walk along the bridge, if you have a chance.  It’s quite an amazing experience, and you will feel a deep sense of awe at what man has built.  Even if it’s a foggy day, make time to stop.

Just past the bridge on the north side, is an exit that will take you up to a lookout point where you can see the bridge and the whole city on a clear day.  It’s definitely worth the time, if you go when there are not a million cars trying to get up there.  We’ve learned that mornings are best.

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Driving across the GGB going north is free, but be aware that if you re-enter the city via the GGB, you will have to pay a toll.  Always ask your rental car provider for their policy on tolls.

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Take your time exploring San Francisco, or pack it all into a half day-  either way the flavor of this city will soak into your heart and stay there forever.  There are lots of reports out there about the decline of this majestic city, and I can reluctantly agree that we have seen some of that over the last 8 years.  However, we’ve never experienced anything that frightened us or put us off to returning, so my best advice is to simply practice safety precautions as you would in any other unknown place.  So open your heart, explore the hidden streets and share in the experience of this amazing city!