A biased viewpoint.

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Summertime Travel Tips

Anyone else pack a bit, ehem, prepared when they go on a trip with their kids? I mean, I went away last month with my husband for our anniversary and I was so casual about packing that we actually had to turn around because I forgot the sunscreen, for our beach get away. 

But when it comes to a trip with the little people in my life? I have issues. My motto? More is better! Bring it all!  In my defense, that is partially  because we live in a country where there aren’t 24 hour convince stores on every corner, stocked with diapers/wipes/medicine/blankets/food/milk/toys or whatever else I might have forgotten or might need at 3am. But I guess if I’m being honest, my overpacking existed even when we did live in the land of milk and honey. So, what I’m trying to say is, I’m trying to be better.

We just spent the weekend at the beach, and of course our car was fully loaded down, for just three days.IMG_1404

I kept taking things out, really trying not to over pack, and yet here we we were filled to the brim. As I was doing this, I kept thinking, it’s a lot work to go anywhere with small kids. Is this really worth all the extra work? Yes, yes it is. Well, most of the time it is. Because a change of scenery is good, for everyone. Even if vacations don’t look like they used to (did we really used to go to the beach and relax on the sand, read, go for long walks, surf, eat?) Feels like a lifetime ago! But it’s okay that vacations look different. And feel different. And come with more stuff, as we pack up our family, as we  still seek to pursue adventure, fun, and re-connect with loved ones. We will not be deterred! We cry, over carseats piled with snacks and toys. We will seek adventure! We say, as we strap down surfboards, now along with boogie boards, swim floaties, and pack n’ plays. We will save money! We chime in unison, as we pack 5 bags of food to make our own meals. (side note: Another thing we are learning, even when trying to save money, it’s always a good idea to eat out one a meal a day, if at all possible, so it actually feels like a vacation for mama!)

So as we enter a time of summer, travel, visiting family and friends, I thought I’d share some of my tips and woe’s in hopes to help your own family vacation perhaps go a little more smoothly. Cause I know I’m always on the hunt for help when it comes to traveling with small human beings!

Bag o medicine. Even if where you are going has a 24 hour convince store, who actually wants to get in the car and drive to get medicine if one of your children wakes up sick? This bag has Tylenol, Benadryl (ya know, for the kids who touch/eat everything!) , Band-Aids, Neosporin, thermometer, a few essential oils (like Thieves and Snifflease), Vicks, Nose sucker, and Zyrtec (sometimes my kids get a raspy cough in a new place, and my doctor said it’s usually allergies, so he recommended giving half an Zyrtec).
Bag o clothes.  Obviously, this just has clothes. But I’m learning to bring extra jammies because let’s be real, kids love to pee and poo on themselves when they sleep and you’re in a new place. Nothing better than waking up disoriented to a kid who has wet the bed (or worse!) and you’re scrambling to find something to put on them at 2am.

 Bag o tricks. These are my secret weapons. We’ve traveled with our children ranging from newborn to 5 years old, and I have really come to appreciate these random items! 1. Night light. Often where you’re staying is new, which makes navigating at night difficult, or practically impossible. I plug it in the bathroom, or just in the kids room, and it makes a new dark place not so scary at night for them, and easy for me to see them when they wake up needing something during the night, as they often do! 2. Paper plates and cups. If you’re trying to save money and packing some food for meals, the least you can do for yourself while you’re on vacation, is not have to clean the dishes as well! 3. For this particular beach trip, I packed one bag to bring to the beach. I was committed to only having a small snack, water, diapers, and baby powder while at the beach. (usually I am quite loaded down, so this was a big success!) 4. Which brings me to my next point, Baby Powder. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to do the beach with small kids without baby powder. It gets sand off your kids like magic. Trust me, you can only tell them to go rinse their sandy hands in the ocean before lunch, to then have them walk back to you and somehow still have sandy hands so many times. Baby powder. Or trying to change a baby on the beach? Sand in all those nooks? Baby powder. Don’t want sand all in your car?BAM.  5. Travel highchair/seat. It packs down to a small bag, and let me tell you, nothing gets more annoying than trying to get a squirmy child to sit at an adult table or holding them in your lap for every single meal, 3xs a day, while you’re on vacation for a week or two!!


Bag o toys. Every time, for some reason, I don’t want them bring toys. I guess it feels like we have enough crap already, and I figure they’ll have plenty to do at the beach/camping/playing with cousins. But the truth is, there is always down time, and having one little backpack they packed themselves with their favorite toys is pretty handy. And if I’m really on it, I’ll throw in a new car, new coloring pens, or new notebook just to make them feel special.
Bag o food.  In our family, snacks make the world go ’round. So when we are traveling, it’s no different. It helps when the kids get restless, bored, start fighting, or are tired of sitting in the car/airplane. I just stuff their mouth full of food! I know your kids have their own favorites, but I have noticed with my own kids, new snacks hold their own entertainment value! On planes, I always ask for an extra bag or two of the little pretzels/chips.  Also, some of our favorites are carrot sticks, graham crackers, nuts, raisins, small pretzels, small goldfish. I even pack these amazing suckers, they are made from juice, so they won’t give your kids a sugar high! (cause, hello, who wants sugared up kids while in confined spaces with everyone eyes on you?!) And, I make them suck on them, no biting allowed, almost guaranteeing 10 whole minutes of silence! (…is 10 too many?!)

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Bag o Leave Behind. I finally have added items to this list! I used to pack their owls (these things that project stars and play music). I’m very proud of myself, btw.  I’ve also now left home the sunshine bunny alarm clock that tells them when they can get out of bed (yes, to much husband chagrin I brought this everywhere when we traveled!) The baby monitor! The video one… that’s right, I’d risk ruining it as I packed it because I could not leave it behind!!  (My husband is so proud of me). Now, if I know the location has an outdoor area far from the kids bedrooms, we’ll bring just a sound monitor so we can hear them while we’re outside post bedtime. Bedtime stuffed animals. I used to let them bring 2-3 each, and a special blanket, but multiply that by 3 and that’s an entire bag for bedtime stuff! So they get to pick, one animal or a blanket. Only took me like 4 years to figure that one out.

Flying tips.  1.Limit water intake! Nothing is harder than trying to take a small child into a very small bathroom, two people barely fit! Especially if you are for some reason traveling with your children alone. I discovered this the hard way, how do I take one kid to the bathroom? what do I do with the other two?! Well, either ask the flight attendant to watch them in their seats, or cut them off at the source! Very little liquids. They can rehydrate the next day!  I only give them something when we take off and land, to help their ears pop. That or gum, works great. 2. Don’t underestimate the power of stickers. They can keep my kids attention for a looooong time. 3. Ice. When the stewards come by, my kids will take for every to chew on a cup of ice, and it will hydrate them a little, since by now they will be winning endlessly about how thirty they are! 4.  iPad. Duh. Download a movie or two, and BAM, you’re good to go, maybe even a few new games. 5. Whatever you do, don’t let them taste the sweet freedom of the isle!! (with a squirmy toddler, good luck!) My best luck has come when I keep them in the seats as long as humanly possible (ie don’t let them even know the isle is a place they can BE, it will be tough at first but will make life so much easier for you in the long run!)

Driving tips. 1. Same liquid advice goes for long car rides. When you have little kids, no one goes to the bathroom at the same time. So if you give them normal amounts of fluids,  you’ll be stopping every 45 minutes for someone to go to the bathroom, and it will 100 million years to get anywhere. 2. Two words, Dollar Store! If you have some serious miles ahead of you, I would recommend a trip to the dollar store. Stock up on random new toys (and if you have the time or energy wrap them up too!) and let your kids open one every hour or two. We drove cross county (okay more like just from CA-TX) but it was 3 loooooong days,  with a 2 year old and newborn. (by my freakin self as my husband drove the Uhaul!!) So, as soon as the baby would go to sleep, I’d give the 2 year old a snack or new toy to keep her quiet. 3. Porta Potty. If your child won’t squat and pee on the side of the road, bring a port o potty that uses a ziplock bag, and that way, you can just pull over on the side of the road, anytime anywhere. Let’s be honest, that sounds better than some of those gas station bathrooms along the way!! 4. I bought this really cool tray sort of thing that straps onto their carseat, giving them a tray with small sides. For coloring, playing cars, doing a puzzle, having a tea party, whatever. My eldest never really liked it, but man my son loved driving his cars on it for hours and hours. Something like this  5Cups/bowls. For all the snacks. It will not only help with the spillage factor, but its fun and different and your kids will be fascinated by it, promise. 5. Book on tape. They will pry be more into it than you think!! Just try it okay?

Well, that’s it for now. Good luck out there. Traveling with small kids is a lot of work, but just remember, they pry won’t remember it anyway. Oh wait, I meant to say, you’re building memories and spending time as a family and that is pretty special. And worth the extra work. Also, don’t forget, you can print all the photos you take and make a photo book to show them later in life, reminding them you used to travel and do fun things!!

 

365 days.

52 weeks we’ve been back in Nicaragua. A year ago, I returned back to this country with mixed feelings; excited for a new adventure, apprehensive to start all over again making friends and building community, and somehow how hopeful for what the future might hold running a business here.

A lot has happened in a year.

If I were to package up our first three months, tie it with a bow and smack a label on it, it would read, “shit show.” Not just because, quite literally, every single day one of my 3 kids would poo or pee their beds or themselves. Those events alone earn that label. But also, because we were camping out in our empty rental house with no furniture/washer/kitchen utensils/toys and trying to spin it as an adventure only lasted so long.  Oh ya, and thanks to the roosters/parrots/birds/pigs/horses everyone thought 4:45 am was a great time to wake up. I am not a nice or sane person before 6am. Certifiable shit show.

The following three months could be labeled “what were we thinking.” I mean, for the love. Who decides moving internationally with 2 small children and a baby is a good idea? And at the same time trying to start a business? In the third world?   Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. Perhaps I’m still raw from the previous three months.

The holiday season months? Let’s label that “hello, therapy.” Turns out sometimes you can get into a hole and not know how to get out. We dug ourselves in a marriage hole, separate holes actually, as we were surviving the shit show around us. And whenever we popped our heads out, one would bop the other on the head. We forgot how to be nice, speak nice, and it was killing us. I mean, is it just me, or doesn’t it feel like you do just about anything when you have the love, affection and support of your significant other? Well, we were not loving giving a whole lot of affection, and the outside stress and strain was almost more than we could bear. So a dear friend suggested counseling, something we couldn’t quite understand how exactly it would help. Sure it pry feels nice to vent your feelings to someone else. But since we had never done it, we just naively thought that was it. Turns out, when you talk about your crap with an unbiased, third party professional, someone who is unequivocally FOR BOTH of you, it helps!!  It was a game changer for us. Oh ya, and lest I forget, I actually started praying again. Real, honest, and strategic prayers and dang that guy cause as I spent more time Him, he kept refining my heart and graciously showing me my crap that needing working on. Thanks to those two things, we’re pretty much floating on clouds of bliss. Alright, honestly, it’s more like we love each other again and are figuring out how to do that even better. Oh ya, and breaking bad habits. And… the list goes on. You get the point.

The spring months, I think I’ll label, “finally.” Finally the business is up and running. Even though it was only just over a year and a half from pipe dream to operation, it felt like forever! I am so incredibly proud of Brandon, and in awe of the amount of patience and grit it took for him to get here. Like, amazed. Finally we are meeting people and making friends, circling around different churches, groups and people, and finding our peeps. Finally my Spanish is decent enough so that I don’t have the insta nervous sweats every time someone talks to me. Finally, this place feels like home and I am so thankful for that.

As I was thinking about what we have come through over the past year, I found that the reflection did my heart and soul good. Sometimes we’re in a hard season and it doesn’t feel like we’ll ever get out. Are you there? Is this time right now squeezing you? Bending you more than you thought possible? Do you feel like you’re drowning? I can tell you one thing for sure, it will end. I promise. And I’m pretty sure we’ll come out on the other end a better person. Or stronger. Or more broken (which isn’t always a bad thing). But those broken parts of us can be healing if we let them. We can choose to cling to the One who can strengthen us, breathe fresh life back into us, and renew a steadfast spirit within us.

 

15 years.

My husband and I had our 15 year wedding anniversary yesterday!!! Months ago we began talking and dreaming about doing something extraordinary, because, let’s be honest, being together for that amount of time and still actually loving each other, seems like a thing to celebrate! Talks started big, Brandon threw out words like “Antartica and weeks” which sounded lovely but oh so unrealistic. I countered with words like “same country please” and “who can watch our kids?” Two weeks quickly melted to 5 days due to more work on Brandon’s plate than he ever expected. Five days on a tiny Caribbean Island off Nicaragua gave way to perhaps something closer to home as the country has been holding it’s breath for the last six weeks during civil unrest. Five days gave way to zero days as the woman who was going to watch our kids last week/weekend was stuck in the town of Mategalpa (about 2 hours away) for 9 days because the roads were completely blocked. Like no one/nothing to or from that town. So this weekend came, and we held our breath. I was trying to not get my hopes up, realizing my heart would be crushed if the day came and went with little more than a nod.

But, despite all the odds, I am writing to you from our lovely condo by the beach while I listen to the sound of the ocean.

Even though there are road blocks, and marches, and uncertainty lurking around the corner of the streets, and our hearts, we went. Even though it feels weird and selfish to go do something fun while the whole country is uneasy and stressed out, we went. Even though we felt a tad uneasy leaving our children an hour away at such a time, some dear friends stepped up and offered to check in on them and take care of them if there is any emergency, so we went. And this morning, even though our baby girl had a fever when we left, and my guilt was so high hot tears came, we know how much she adores Dora, so we went.

We are here. And it feels magical. When most days you’ll find us drowning in a sea of children, the opportunity to be alone just the two of us is life giving. It reminds me how much I like that guy!! He’s kinda pretty awesome. I can’t always see that when we are doing life side by side. When we are busy attending to, helping, correcting, loving, and raising three small kids. When we are trying to start a business in a foreign, third world country. When we are trying to re-build community, friendships, and find a church. So it’s moments like these that are essential to who we are as a couple. To honor and remember and smile at the commitment made such a long time ago, by two ridiculously young and slightly goofy looking kids. A commitment that needs more than the occasional nod at each other across the tops of kids heads. This weekend is a chance to be alone, to reflect and remember how it all began and celebrate what a fun, exciting, wild, hard, and amazing ride these past fifteen have been. There is no one I’d rather do life with than the man taking a nap right next to me.

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A new spot.

I have found a new place I want to hang out. Not a new, cute coffee shop, or delightful corner at a restaurant. My new place is going to be my closet That is, of course, if I can get over the smell of Brandon’s shoes. I mean really, no one should be wearing shoes without socks, especially not in a warm climate. But this is happening, regardless of that, um, minor set back. I’m not on an organizing kick, or having typical girl trouble picking out an outfit for the day (why is that so hard sometimes?!) Nope, it’s going to be dual functioning, half closet, half new place where I’m going to commit to meeting with Jesus. I’m going to start meeting with him the way Priscilla describes how her grandma meets with Jesus. “The way she’d meet with any important friend-faithfully, personally, punctually.”

I used to have a little nook in my closet. I watched the movie War Room about two years ago, and it took me a little bit to get past the warm cheesyness that I only like on my pizza. But once I did, man, it did something to me. I wanted that kind of prayer life. So I started making changes. I created a little spot in our guestroom closet in Katy. I say little, it was huge because of course even the closets are bigger in Texas. This was the place I went to for my quiet time. I cleared one wall of rubbermaids, and beneath the adorable hanging onesies, I started writing out prayers and posting them there. New prayers, old prayers. The cries of my heart. Thanking the Lord. Begging the Lord. Praising the Lord.Reminding the Lord. Reminding myself. It was a beautiful time in my life, but I immediately stopping going into that closet when my third was born. I lost all ability to find a spare moment for myself, and when those rare moments came, for my sheer survival, I slept.

However, my youngest daughter is now one. One whole year has gone by with zero time in my prayer closet. I’ve still been praying, but not nearly as regularly, and not at all strategic. And my prayers more so feel like a desperate cry. Please help me____. Please forgive me for ______ again. There is less thankfulness than there used to be. Less time just basking in His presence, and more so a feeling of just doing it because I am desperate and need Him. Which, of course, being desperate and needing Jesus isn’t a bad thing. Hello, that’s life. That’s real every day life if you are breathing. But I feel like I’ve been in this state, this pure survival mode mentality, for just a little too long. It’s almost as if the crisis has passed (ie the mayhem that was packing up life in Texas, living out of a suitcase for 3 months, and moving internationally with three little kids) and I’m still in survival mode.

It’s time to breathe. It’s time to form new habits and disciplines that my heart, mind, and body need in order to not just survive, but thrive.

I ordered Priscilla Shier’s book, Fervent, over 4 months ago. I re-discoverd it when I cleaned out my nightstand. Is anything more delightful than finding a book you’ve wanted to read just hiding and waiting for you? Okay, maybe money. Or a new nail polish. Oooo or earrings! Anyway, I digress. The book is amazing. I’m only on chapter 3, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a game changer for me. The way Priscilla talks feels like she’s speaking right to me. She’s sassy, strong, and determined. She isn’t messing around, and her desire in writing this book is to help others figure out how to find their own “Battle Plan for serious, specific and strategic prayer.” Ya, I’m going to say an emphatic YES to this.

I’m still working on Jennie Allen’s Dream Guide for the year, click here to check it out. Because man I just love it. But every time I sit down to dream and think through the year, I can’t seem to come up with anything. So, I’ll be patient and wait for that. Because right now I’m tempted to just put whatever comes to mind down, just so I can fill out that blank white paper staring back at me. But I will not succumb to my own peer pressure. I am not going to make goals that I’m not convinced are what I need to be doing for the year. So I’ll wait.

In the meantime, I’m starting the prayer closet. I’m pretty sure any time spent alone and undistracted with Jesus won’t be time wasted. Oh! And I also got a treadmill for Christmas. Does it mean I’m getting old, or am just boring, if I am really excited for this? I haven’t found my rhythm in working out yet here in Nicaragua and I have a sneaking feeling it’s messing with my mental well being! I need to get some stress relief in! I need some time to pound the preverbal rubber, and get some endorphins released!

So cheers to starting new things. Here is to creating new disciplines and habits. Here is to saying, um yes, I’d like 2018 to be different. I’d like to be a stronger, wiser, more passionate, kinder, more loving, version of myself. Who is with me?

The Front Seat Husband

I just wrote an article for a lovely online magazine and adorable shop called Charming House Market. Click here to check it out.  I think you will find what they have created to be well, charming, and it’s also a fun place to shop! They have a blog too, and that is where they just published my article! I’m so excited!!!!

 

Since the birth of my firstborn almost five years ago, my husband has slowly moved from the front seat of my mind, my day, and my routine, to barely hanging onto the rear bumper. We said ‘I do’ almost fifteen years ago, and while my love for him has only deepened through the years, it’s recently that I’ve come to see this slip from his rightful place in the lineup. I think it’s because he doesn’t need me to dress him, bathe him, feed him, wipe him, fix his hair, or brush his teeth. And that means his needs come last to the other three in our house who cannot perform any of those tasks on their own.

Sure, everyone says it will change. As my kids get older and they don’t need all those basic needs met by their mama, I’ll have plenty of time and energy to give to my husband. In theory. Because I have a feeling that I’m forming some bad habits. And while it’s 100% true that my kids are young, and at very needy ages, does that mean my husband and I just have to put each other on hold for the next year? Or Two? Because, while I don’t have any children over five yet, I’m pretty sure kids don’t get any less needy, their needs just change over the years.

And that’s okay. I am their mother, and it’s my job to take care of their needs. A job that, most days, is kind of the best job ever. And I am busy filling the storage on my phone with videos of them and creating any sort of art with their handprints and footprints because I am aware that these precious ages where fun is had collecting rocks as we walk around the block, and being completely enthralled with bubbles isn’t going to last very long. But I fear this season has been longer than just a season, and it’s taking a toll on my most favorite person.

But change is possible. And I think this particular change has to start in my heart and mind and move into what I say, think, and do. I have to stop thinking that because my husband doesn’t need me to feed him or dress him that he doesn’t need me. My children, even at young ages, need to see their daddy being loved on, being made a priority, above them. Even if it means they are ignored sometimes. Or told to wait. Or served last at the dinner table, while they squirm and use their utensils to serenade us. And to keep up good habits, like “table time”, a magical time after dinner when we send the kids off to play on their own, for ten whole minutes while we talk about our day.

It’s almost as if the daily grind and routine, as inconsequential as it feels, is exactly where the change needs to occur. Because every parent knows regular date nights are a necessity, but since that usually only occurs once a week if the stars align and budgets allow, I think the greater concept of date night, of putting each other first, of serving one another’s needs regularly, needs to happen on a more micro level.

What have I done, today, to show my children that I love their daddy? How did I, today, demonstrate to my husband that he is special and thought of? How did I speak to him, today, in front of the kids, neighbors, and these four walls? Because those are the moments that make up a lifetime together. The minutes that turn into days, that span months and years, that ultimately decide what kind of marriage we are making. The good news is; tomorrow is a new day, a brand new chance to get my heart right before the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to fill me afresh so I can, indeed, love and serve my husband in way that I cannot possibly do in my own strength. And I will take it one day at a time until new habits begin to form and the love of my life knows he is loved by me, not because I tell him but because I am now showing him. Every. Single. Day.