Where have I been? I’ve been taking some time to finish our homeschooling year, wrap up ministries before the summer break, and spend time with family and friends. Time seems to be flying by faster than ever. Each moment seems more precious than the one before. The cliches about time (the ones I heard a million, gazillion times when I had newborn babies) are ALL TRUE!!!
In thinking about time, I’ve been trying to be more intentional with how I spend it and focusing on people and relationships first. This means I’ve been slowing down, sitting down, and quieting down. It’s taken a few weeks to start breaking the habits of busyness. It seems like I am hardwired to be in constant motion (sometimes due to choices and situations; sometimes due to survival of taking care of and living with kids.) It can feel strange, extending, and challenging to slow down but with each moment focused on the less comes more of the life-giving, life-enjoying, and more meaningful things. This heart work is worth it and I have been enjoying it!
Instead of a summer bucket list, I’ve written a “brief guide” (see above) for how I want to live my summer. It’s the more and less of summer which I hope will lead to creating habits of the more and less of life. I hope you are having a great month and taking time to slow down too. ❤
“A mountain has no need for people, but people do need mountains. We go to them for their beauty, for the exhilaration of standing closer to mysterious skies, for the feeling of triumph that comes from having labored to reach a summit.” – Earl Hamner, Jr. (The Waltons)
It is a rare occurrence to find myself without children and without plans. About a month ago, it happened. I had a few hours in between appointments and I had time to kill. A million possibilities crossed my mind but many were not feasible or rooted in reality. (You can’t get to a warm, tropical island and back in a time span of 2 hours. Just saying…)
I was already overcaffeinated, so a coffee shop wasn’t the best choice. The weather was cold and I was not prepared to be outside, so no walk or a hike. I really did not want to spend a lot of money (or be tempted to spend a lot of money), so I needed to stay away from the mall. BUT I was in the mood for some sort of discovery. Then I remembered seeing an ad pop up in my Facebook feed. Something about one of the largest indoor antique stores in Lawrence, MA. It was only 10 minutes from my location.
Mind made up, I turned the car down the road and I pulled into a small parking lot nestled next to a large brick building. It was overshadowed by towering red-brick mills with tall, rounded, brick stacks touching the bright blue sky. I opened the old door of the mill and stepped into a wooden stairwell. It smelled damp and old. This was a good idea!
There’s something special about entering a place of historical significance. Some people call it nostalgia, but to me it feels more like connectedness. Old places and the items they hold, are windows into time gone by. They are doors that connect people from past to present. The shadows left behind by people who lived real lives with all the same, real and raw, emotions, struggles and celebrations that we live with now.
The Canal Street Antique Mall is huge. There are floors and floors of furniture and vintage goods tucked in every nook by various owners and dealers. I strolled through the rows of furniture, looked at the spines of aging books, touched woolen clothing and held glitzy, lacy hats over my head. I was looking for something smaller than any of these items. High up on a shelf, bundled in rectangular, plastic boxes, I found them. Hundreds of postcards waiting to be combed through and read.
The front of a postcard is beautiful, but the real treasure is the message on the back. I could spend hours reading each one and that is what I did. I made myself comfortable on the old wooden mill floor and surrounded myself with stacks of sorted cards. I read as many messages as I could. The messages included things about reminding the reader to pick up the sender at train stations, others were asking for visits, many declared their regrets for missing events due to their vacations, and many, MANY addressed the temperamental New England weather-the snow, heat, rain, and cold. (Not much has changed. New Englanders are still always talking about the weather.)
I became attached to two of the postcards (pictured below.) One of the cards shows the White Mountains and an another of an Appalachian Mountain Club hut. Maybe they stood out to me because I had been dreaming about an adventure, the mountains, and hiking. If you followed my hiking trip of 2016,you read about last year’s adventure at the huts. I have been looking forward to a return trip since then.
When I had killed enough time, I decided to purchase these two postcards and be on my way. About two weeks later, in most perfect timing, Fearless Leader, sent out the call for hikers with a proposed plan for a Summer Hike. The route would take us through the White Mountains (peakbagging Mount Washington- the tallest peak in the Northeast) and would involve spending the nights at two huts. The Madison Hut would be one of the huts we would stay at! The very same hut as pictured on the postcard.
Of course, I answered the call with a YES! I will be preparing for my grand summer adventure and looking forward to many smaller and equally exciting ones along the way. I invite you to come along with me through my blog and follow my trip preparations. (More details of our trip below.) Mountains here I come. You are a place of adventure, beauty, discovery, and a door between past and present. Until then….
The other day someone asked me if I was going to finish writing about my June hiking trip. It’s true, I never concluded the adventure in writing. Back in June, when I stepped off the trail and into the sunny parking lot, I thought it was the end of the trip. In actuality, the step turned out to be only a pause, a short rest, to catch my breath before continuing down another trail.
I have been “hiking” all summer. Each smaller adventure an extension of the mountain hike with different landscapes to view and different people to hike with. “The Summer of Adventure” has truly lived up to its name. I have experienced many wonderful, challenging adventures. From finding the wonder in small, daily tasks that required great feats of patience and faith to fearlessly jumping out of perfectly good planes with my grandmother.
Reflecting back, something stands out greater than all the adventures. Each adventure acted as a catalyst for community. My summer days were graced by unique and beautiful people who allowed me to visit special places and belong to groups of special people.
Take Kat, for instance. I met Kat and her family at Galehead Hut, 3,800 ft high the White Mountains. Her clear blue, twinkling eyes and her warm welcoming smile invited us (fellow hikers) to join her in celebrating the completion of hiking all of NH’s 48- 4,000 footers. Her family had packed a bottle of wine to celebrate the accomplishment and the bottle was passed around and poured into chipped, plastic camp cups. With plastic cups raised, we all joined in a song led by the hut croo, “For she’s a jolly good hiker. For she’s a jolly good hiker, for she’s a jolly good hikerrrrrrrrrr, which nobody can deny.” As I swallowed my sip of wine, I was overwhelmed by the special moment and how strangers had suddenly become a family (even if for a moment) sharing in Kat’s accomplishment and inspiring us to hike higher mountains. Communities do that. They celebrate with each other and inspire each other to greater things.
We continued our hike the next day and cleared the tree line sometime mid morning, that’s when we heard trumpet music. (Trumpet music 3,000 feet up on top of a mountain sounds beautifully out of place.) It didn’t take us long to find the source of the music. Mexican Buddah and Honey Bear, two thru-hikers, one with a guitar and one with a trumpet, had stopped for lunch, to rest, and to make beautiful music. Surrounded by breathtaking views, the wind as their accompaniment, and the White Mountains as their audience, we stopped to chat with them. I remember thinking how absolutely wonderful the meeting was. I felt like Alice in Wonderland stumbling upon the most interesting of characters running after the White Rabbit (or in my case the next White Mountain.) Communities embrace one another and respect where each person has been. Communities are made up of many different, uniquely talented people who share a love of a common interest. And communities benefit from those unique talents and gifts which each member has to offer. Mexican Buddah and Honey Bear’s music was a gift to us and their serenade was a reminder to continue on what ever journey you find yourself on but to remember to stop once in awhile to take in the views.
Towards the end of the summer, I had an opportunity to revisit a community that was forged and formed 20 years ago. My 20th year high school reunion of the EWG Scarlet Knights. So much of who I am now was shaped in those few years of high school (the good and the bad.) The impact of those years and the people I shared them with have somehow come along with me like no other time in my life.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked through the doors of the function room. Would I remember people? Would they remember me? What would they remember about me? All of my anxious thoughts dissolved when I was greeted with smiles and big hugs. I know not everyone has a good experience at their high school reunions but mine…well, mine was awesome and I think that has to do with the special people that were in my class.
I was especially impacted by one of my classmates who worked so hard to make the reunion happen. She reached out to all of us, kept sending Facebook messages and reminders, and genuinely made you feel special and you were wanted there. She went out of her way to interview former teachers and collect pictures for a slide show. She pulled people in from the outside and strengthened the community from the inside. Community takes leaders who are willing to put in the work and remind its members that they are special and needed.
I could write all day about all the other people I met, the friendship formed, relationships which were strengthened, and the communities I was welcomed in. I had set out to be intentionally adventurous and it happened in more ways than one. The last adventure of the summer started where it all started.
My last adventure was shared with my most important and most intimate community. My family-my husband and three beautiful children. We were in the White Mountains, hiking on a trail that was the complete opposite of the trail in June. This trail was wide, flat and there were no inclines. The weather was perfect for hiking and exploring. We stalled along the trail watching chipmunks eat mushrooms and searching for heart shaped rocks. It was completely peaceful and I felt so loved and blessed to be sharing it with these four beautiful souls. These four people show me unconditional love on a daily basis. They make me want to be a better mother, wife and Christ-follower. These four people make the path (whatever it looks like) worth taking. All communities should be like that. Loving each other and making the trail easier. They should walk in grace and extend grace to the other members. Communities should encourage each other to be better each and every day.
As summer of 2016 closes, I am committing myself to community. I want to build up the communities I belong to by using the talents and gifts I have been given. I want to embrace my community members by encouraging them to use their unique gifts and callings. I want to help people find their value and their purpose in life to make the world a better place. And I want to keep hiking. I want to hike with my communities in truth, grace and most of all love. To celebrate with them and mourn with them and hike beside them on whatever path we find ourselves on.
“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
The cloudy skies had deceived me. From the lodge’s window, their appearance had led me to believe the outside temperature was cool so I had dressed in layers. But after fifteen minutes of hiking it became clear I had overdressed and the temperature was not what I had expected. It was perfect. Not too warm, not too cool but I was hot, sticky and sweaty in my long-sleeve, layered shirt. The sweaty clothes were an added nuisance to my heightened awareness of the weight on my back. I questioned whether or not I should take off my pack and remove a layer but in the end decided against it. This began a constant struggle and debate I had with myself during the whole hiking trip. To add or remove a layer-that was the big question.
The Avalon Trail was pretty, well maintained and well marked. On the way to the summit we laughed and talked as we marched in a single line, one behind the other. Joyfully we stepped over slippery stones as we crossed over streams and waterways.
I cannot remember at what point the trail turned on us. Some time early in the day, while we were very joyful and happy, the trail went from something like this*:
and turned into this:
(Please note, these pictures not do the trails justice. The depth and the grade are lost in these shots. These are challenging trails to conquer. They are filled with rocks, roots and many hidden places to trip and lose your footing.)
While scrambling up over the rocks and gracefully executing pas de bourrees over the slippery roots, I realized that I had expectations of this trip. Even though I had said over and over again how I did not want to know anything about what to expect or where we were going, I had unknowingly made my own conclusions. Conclusions that included a what a trail should look like, what the weather should be like and how much effort I would exert.
I laughed to myself at my own realizations. What had I expected? A mild, gentle graded trail? A waltz in the woods? We were hiking in the Granite State. The White Mountains! Hello! GRANITE. ROCKS. MOUNTAINS. There’s a specific reason why things are named the way they are. I had figured this would be a challenging hike but did not know just how challenging it would be. Oh, but to have this challenge made me happy and feel blessed to be alive. No guts, no glory. Right?
At the top of a rock pile, we made a steep climb, and final scramble over the boulders to the summit of Mount Avalon (elevation: 3,442 ft.) The view from Mt. Avalon is gorgeous. Some people say it is one of the best views of the Presidential Range from all the mountains at Crawford Notch. We paused for a few moments to take it all in. Our very first peak bagged.
It’s funny how sometimes you can see things more clearly when you look back at them. When I look at this picture now, I can clearly see something I missed then. Dark, streaky rain clouds at the horizon. A turn of weather, earlier than we expected.
Minutes after we left the summit small drops of rain began to fall. Just a few spits of raindrops at first but soon the rain became steady. There would be no chances of drying out now and it was getting cold too. We stopped to put on our rain gear and cover our packs with rain covers and ponchos. I still felt sweaty-cold from the morning and my hands were the starting to feel numb. I put on my winter hat and gloves trying to get as warm as possible. We had about five more hours of hiking ahead of us.
As we hiked, clouds continued to pour buckets and buckets of rain over our heads. The woods offered us no protection from the showers. The rain added an extra challenge to an already challenging trail. Mossy rocks became hazards and roots were sneaky and slick. Small streams started to form in between the rocks of the steep paths we walked. We tried to avoid stepping in puddles and mud but our efforts were in vain. Extra concentration was needed as we contemplated each step and where to hold our footing.
As wet and cold as were nobody complained. We cheered each other on. The rain did not snuff out our joy or extinguish our movement. We were women on a mission and bagged two more peaks. Two 4,000 footers. Mt. Tom (elevation: 4051 ft) and Mt. Field (elevation: 4340 ft) Here I realized that not all summits have beautiful views as (as I had expected.) Mt. Tom and Mt.Field had trees and cairns. I concluded that the view was not as important as the accomplishment and I was content in knowing we had safely reached each summit.
Some time toward the end of the day, the rain stopped (thank you, Jesus.) A trail sign with the hut’s name was a very happy, welcomed sight. I felt as if I was about to cross the finish line of a marathon. One last push and I would be done. I dreamed of a hot cup of coffee, dry warm clothes and regaining feeling in my fingers. I felt like I had been baptized by water and fire. My strength had been tested and I had persevered. It was a great feeling, a mixture of exhaustion, hard work and accomplishment. One last steep, rocky incline and I was about to find out that a night spent at the huts is the cherry on top of a day’s long hike…
PS-For those wondering about the practical side of things, using outdoor facilities is extra “fun” in the rain. Lots of stuff (rain gear) can get in the way and a bare bottom in the cold is a jolting experience. If you want to feel at one with nature, try going the bathroom on the side of the trail, in the freezing cold rain. I guarantee you will get the full experience Mother Nature has to offer.
*This is not a picture of a trail in the White Mountains but an accurate depiction of what I thought the trails might look like before I left for the trip.
The window was left open all night and a cool mountain breeze flowed across my bed and over my face. I snuggled down into the cozy flannel sheets that lined the cot and allowed my eyes to get accustomed to the light that filled the room. Our room was quiet but busy.
One by one, we popped out of our beds and got dressed. We checked and rechecked our packs, tightened straps and made adjustments. We texted our goodbyes and final instructions to our families, then turned off our phones and rolled up our phone chargers. We wouldn’t need them where we were going. No electricity on the trail and no electrical outlets in the huts.
It was our last chance to add or take away from the weight and supplies we were going to carry on our backs over the next three days. For me, there was nothing to add or take away. I had gone over all my supplies about fifty times and carefully packed clothes in Ziplock bags labeled for specific days. Normally, I am not this organized but for this trip I felt it a necessity. Maybe it was my way of trying to control the unknown.
Most of my pack was filled with clothes because I was very serious about not being cold. I packed layers and layers of items for every situation I could think of. Yes, even if it started snowing, I was prepared to be warm. A few second thoughts and nervous feelings about overpacking ran through my mind but I could not bring myself to remove one single item from my pack. I decided to call it done.
Once everyone was ready, we headed down to the lodge’s kitchen. I stuffed myself full with a hearty, warm breakfast of oatmeal, eggs and fruit. Loving Leader had suggested we have a big breakfast and a big dinner, and eat snacks and bars (things easy to pack) for our lunches on the trail. We had an important task to do before leaving the dining room area, we needed to fill our hydration bladders. My water reservoir was much larger than the one I have used in the past for running. It was awkward to fill but I pretended to look like I knew what I was doing even as the water sloshed in the sink and over my bag. Screwing the cover closed, I felt accomplished and I carried the water upstairs to put into my pack. I was surprised at how much 3 liters of water weighed and somewhat dreading the extra weight to my pack but I knew that this was a non-negotiable item.
After Loving Leader led us in devotions and prayers, I felt full in almost every way. Full of food, full pack, full hydration bladder, full heart, full of energy, full of anticipation. One more comfortable, indoor bathroom facilities use and then we checked with the front desk about the day’s weather forecast. The forecast called for cloudy skies with rain in the afternoon. The expected rain would be the “heaviest” around 1pm-2pm. Not perfect weather but not terrible weather either. (At least, this was my thinking.)
On Wednesday, 9:20 AM, under cloudy skies, we headed out of the lodge’s doors and stepped onto the Avalon Trail ready to “bag” our first peak. Three expectations were about to be tested.
Today was our first official day of homeschool and part of me really wanted to write about our first great day of school. BUT another part of me felt obligated to pay homage to the “Summer of Fun” and close out our summer with a respectful farewell.
In the beginning of the summer, I wrote an article called My Summer Plan that MOPS International published on their leaders blog. In my article, I declared that this summer would be a time for me to lighten up, be more carefree, notice goodness around me, and go on new adventures. After I wrote that article, the girls and I created a Summer Bucket List and we started making plans to have some serious FUN. We wrote down whatever their hearts desired- big or small- it did not matter. This was a dreaming list. When the list was complete, we posted it on the fridge and looked to see what we wanted to do first. Most of the activities were easily achievable–icecream, the beach, stay at a hotel- those were things we normally do in the summer. But there was one item on the list that I knew would involve some creative thinking. Item- GO TO HAWAII!!!
This was my youngest daughter’s contribution to the list. I knew we could never afford the planes tickets, the hotel stay, or find the time for a real trip to Hawaii; but I did not want to stifle her enthusiasm to add her thoughts to our bucket list. If we could not get to Hawaii, I would bring Hawaii to us.
Last week was our last full week of “fun” before homeschool started and we started the transition into our “fall schedule”. My parents had come for a visit. It was a perfect time to “take a trip” to somewhere tropical. To prepare for our trip, I borrowed books on Hawaii from the library.
Our favorite was Froggy Goes To Hawaii by Jonathan London. I think we read it three or four times and laughed at the same places every reading.
On the day of the big event, I gave everyone their boarding tickets and we patiently waited for the time to board the airplane. Froggy got a boarding ticket too!
I had the kids help me make Coconut Playdough. (I found the recipe at The Moon and Back Blog.) I wanted a strong coconut smell so we added a lot of flaked coconut (almost a whole bag) to counter the smell of vinegar. This playdough recipe has good texture and the oil leaves your hands feeling soft. Coconuts seemed to be the favorite thing to make.
As the kids were creating with playdough, I prepared dinner. The menu consisted of ham, grilled pineapple, grilled potatoes & onions, mango salsa, and POI. Poi is a Hawaiian word for the primary Polynesian staple food made from the underground plant stem or corm of the taro plant (known in Hawaiian as kalo). It is a traditional part of Native Hawaiian cuisine and is produced by mashing the cooked corm (baked or steamed) until it is a highly viscous fluid. 1 I wanted a traditional dish at dinner and the recipe to make Poi seemed like it would not be too hard to make. I questioned myself during the recipe- it seemed too simple. Peel, chop, steam, mash, add water. It was suppose to turn a purple color (which I was excited about) but it ended up a gray color (which I was not so excited about.) It did not have a bad taste (like a sticky, gooey potato) but no one had a second helping. I was happy that we all tried something new.
The flight to Hawaii was delayed (a.k.a dinner was not ready) until 5:30 PM. At that time, we all boarded the “plane” and found our appropriate seats. After two rounds of “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” (Merv Griffen) we had arrived in beautiful Hawaii.
There were paper-leis to be made, palm trees to be decorated, and Hawaii coloring sheets to be colored. The weather was perfect and my husband found a great album of Hawaiian songs on Rapsody to add to the great atmosphere.
We ate and ate and laughed and laughed until the mosquitoes corralled us into the house. We closed out the night with a creative dessert that my parents provided. I was touched when I found out that they went to five stores trying to find gluten-free treats and palm trees to keep with the theme and a creative look .
What a wonderful way to close out our summer! I think I told my daughter at last ten times what a great idea she had to think to put it on our list! And she beamed every time I told her. The family all agreed that a “trip” to Hawaii needs to be a annual event at our house and a regular item on our Summer Bucket List. A Fond Adieu and Aloha to the Summer of Fun 2015! Thank you for helping me rediscover fun and helping me notice all the good things right in front of me. Next stop, a”Fall for Fun.”
PS The next day, we played Coconut Bowling (bowling was also on our Bucket List) Highly recommend this game. Highly recommend doing it outside. Coconuts are hard!
We went on a short family trip over the weekend. I knew that we would be spending a bit of time in the van- about 3 hours each way. Although the kids would have been thrilled to watch movies the whole time, I wanted at least one way of the trip to be completely screen-free. With a little research and a few Pinterest searches, I came up with some ideas.
Here is what we did…
We started our trip off with a quick trip to Wendy’s (no fast food judgments-LOL.) My son found a creative (and disgusting) way to entertain himself. I also had plenty of other healthy snacks on hand. Granola bars, dried fruit, pretzels, almonds, and Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks. The fruit snacks were a hit. I rarely buy them so they were a treat for the kids to eat.
The Kid’s Meals came with a toy (King Julien’s crown) which provided about 5 minutes of entertainment. And since we like to “Move it, Move it”….
We had some great music to listen to in the van. Yes, we are that family! We sing loudly and “dance” in our seats. Recently, my son has started to demand “MUCK” “MUCK” (translation “music, music”) from his car seat and we are happy to oblige with a “please” and “thank you.”
Our top music album choice this weekend was TOBYMAC’s ***THIS IS NOT A TEST*** This album was just released August 7th. It is a great collection of soulful dance and pop music. With family friendly and uplifting lyrics, it is hard not to move or be in a good mood listening to it.
Check it out! http://tobymac.com/
I was surprised at how long coloring occupied my little guy. Before the trip, I printed out free coloring pages of some of my son’s favorite things- tractors and monster trucks. I put them all on a clip board and handed him one crayon at a time. I was afraid to give him more than one as the whole crayon box would have been poured out. This was also a great time to practice and reinforce color recognition. “Oh, you want a GREEN crayon.” “Sure, here is a GREEN crayon.” It is amazing how much learning is done naturally.
For my older girls, I found some fun car bingo sheets. We are still working on reading skills, so I loved the one from Stuck On You. This BINGO sheet had pictures AND words. It was simple and clean looking. (link below)
For older kids try: http://www.free-puzzles.net/travel-games-for-kids/printable-games/scavenger-hunt/scavenger-hunt.pdf
We did not get to use this in the car but we used it in the hotel. I found this idea online and modified it for my family. I purchased practice golf balls and had a bunch of pipe cleaners. The kids stuck the pipe cleaners through the holes (fine-motor skills) and created “creatures.” Or try to lace one pipe cleaner through all the holes. I tried but couldn’t do it. Even my husband got in on the fun. 🙂
Their Road Trip FINAL QUESTIONNAIRE was great but the questions were geared for a husband and wife trip. I came up with my own questionnaire that could be used with the whole family. (See PDF below.) It’s going to be a great way to get the family talking on our next road trip. Something to look forward to on our next adventure!