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Monday, August 14, 2017

Why Nature Hikes?

I've been posting a ton of photos lately of all the outings and adventures I've gone on with my three kiddos this summer. They are little - ages 3, 2, and 1. (Ok fine, the oldest is almost 4, but he's my baby and I can't face that fact yet, so please let me just say he's still 3.)

Now, I don't have a huge social media following, and I really don't want one. I have about 200 Facebook friends (probably only half of whom actually follow me) and about 100 Instagram followers (again, probably only half of whom are real friends). So I don't post these photos and memories for my friends to enjoy, although that is a fun side benefit. And I don't post these photos to rack up more followers or build my brand or whatever you'd call it. I post these photos for myself... so I will remember the time we saw dinosaurs at Brookfield Zoo, drove to the beach on a whim, explored the lakeshore, went to a children's museum, went down the rocket ship slide at the park, walked to the local ice cream store, or got super muddy playing by the river.

Time flies when you're having fun, and these kids are equal parts awesome and exhausting. My posts are like postcards mailed to myself. Digital memories and scrapbooks that I'll be able to look back on, to enjoy these memories all over again.

But of all the things we do together, my favorite is always nature hikes. I got to thinking about why that is. I like zoos, playgrounds, and museums too. Visiting family and friends is always fun. Heck, I even like taking them to Aldi. But nature hikes are the best. Why?

  1. Nature > People. Playgrounds are nice and all, but have you ever noticed how many other kids and parents are hanging out there, ruining the atmosphere? Uhhh, how dare they. Contrary to all evidence, I am not a kid person (my own perfect offspring notwithstanding), and I really don't enjoy spending time in a place designed to attract the little heathens. Also, if you're an introvert like me, you simply cannot think straight if you are surrounded by other people for too long. You need some peace and quiet. And if you're an introvert with three small kids? You need to get them outside for your sake and theirs. As a wise person once said, "They can't bounce off the walls if there ain't no walls."
  2. Nature calms my soul. I've read a million articles about the healing power of nature, but all the evidence I need is in my own body. The way my lungs expand, my pulse slows, and my anxiety coasts (instead of raging). Being outside makes me a calmer mom, which makes me a better mom. Also, God made nature, so getting "back to nature" is getting back to God, yeah? When we enjoy nature and thank God for it, that's actually a powerful form of prayer. We are joining with the created world in singing God's praises. (See Psalm 19.) 
  3. Nature = Discovery. Cabin fever is a legit thing, especially when you share your cabin with three hurricane-force kiddos. But also, what is there to discover at home? You live there, so you kinda know your way around. Getting outside means there are limitless discoveries just waiting for you to notice them. Look under some rocks - worms! beetles! dirt! Look in the river - fish! ducks! frogs! Look up above you - sunlight! clouds! trees! Look on the ground - grasshoppers! sticks! flowers! animal footprints! There's always something new to notice, if you keep your eyes and ears open. This is fun whether you're 3 or 33 or 103. For real, I hope I'm still going on nature hikes at 103. (Just kidding, I hope I'm dead by then. But if I'm not, I better still be enjoying the great outdoors.)
  4. Nature fosters the arts. Monet and his water lilies. Keats and his nightingale. Ansel Adams and his landscape photography. Bob Ross and his mountains and friendly trees. Need I say more?
  5. Nature fosters the sciences. Newton and his laws of physics. Audobon and his study of birds. Mendel and his garden peas. Again, need I say more?

So there you have it. Why do I take my kids on nature hikes? Because I want them to be curious, calm, and observant. I want them to be little artists and scientists in training. I want them to have fun exploring the beauty of God's green earth. I want us to make memories together that involve more than sanitized plastic toys and animated movies (which I'm not knocking, by the way. Don Bluth, you are my hero.)

I have no idea what my kids will grow up to be. But if they grow up to enjoy nature and appreciate being outside, I will have gotten at least one thing right.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Mother's Day Note to Self

On those days when you feel like you're failing at motherhood (and maybe life, too), try to remember that you come from a long line of fiercely devoted moms and grandmas... Women who loved their children with abandon, with joy, with a love stronger than all the forces that tried to stop it. You have this love pulsing through your veins. You have this faith entwined in the roots of your family tree. You have this steely resolve locked in your marrow, encoded in your DNA.

Embrace the struggle. It is worth every stretch mark, on your body and on your heart. It is worth every hour of lost sleep. It is worth every tear, every headache, every ache and pain. Your children are worth all this and more. Keep loving them as only their mother can. They will NEVER have another mom. You are the one, the only one. Cherish this special job the Lord has given you. Step humbly and bravely into this refining fire. Squeeze all the memories out of today's adventures, swallow that nectar, and let it fuel your tomorrow.

Your great-grandma did. Your grandma did. Your mom did. And now, it's your turn. 

Chase your kids around the backyard. Read them Goodnight Moon before bed. Be their jungle gym and their tickle monster. Give them piggyback rides and back scratches. Bake them M&M cookies. (Maybe even let them eat a few before dinner.) Sing to them the old songs, the old poems, the old rhymes... the ones you learned by heart before you could read a word. Do everything your mom did for you. Do everything they will do for their children someday, unconsciously, automatically, from an alchemy of instinct and memory.

You say you can't do it all. But look, you're already doing it! Don't give up now. Don't listen to the lies in your head. Open your eyes and stare into the depths of your children's. See how much they trust you? See how much they need you? See how excited they are just to be near you, to feel you wrap them up in a cozy mama hug? Listen to the melody of their laughter. Study their magnificent miniature fingers and toes. Inhale their sweet tangled hair. Being a mom is tough, but loving your kids is easy. Your heart made that decision long ago. Now follow it, like a path in the woods, and just see where you end up. Your knees might get scraped, your feet might get blisters, your face might get sunburned... But it is worth it. If your children know their mama loves them, no matter what, then it was all worth it. And if that is true, then you most certainly have not failed.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Au Revoir, 2016! Bonjour, 2017! (Old Year Review, New Year Goals)

Yeah, I know, it's February. Not exactly the typical time for a "year in review" post, but what can I say? I'm a rebel. With a blog.

I've been feeling really scattered the last few years. (This is perhaps due to having back-to-back-to-back babies, but who's counting?) To keep myself grounded, I started picking a word of the year. For 2016, the word was WISDOM. The fact that I picked that word says more about what I felt I needed than about what I actually learned in 2016. However I did learn some important lessons, come to think of it. . . .

1. Girls ain't so bad. I was seriously scared of having a daughter. Girls, ugh... all that drama. And lipstick. And dresses. And pink. I was a major tomboy as a kid, and even now as a grown woman, I can literally count on one hand the number of times per year I wear dresses. There was a reason I jokingly referred to my first two pregnancies (with boys) as "dodging the pink bullet." I was scared to death of how to raise and interact with a girl, even in baby form. But as is often (nay, always) the case, God knew what I needed better than I did myself. And so, I was given my third child, a daughter named Ruby. She put all my fears to rest, almost immediately. She sleeps great, she eats great, she smiles constantly, she gives me the biggest open-mouthed grin whenever she sees me after any length of time apart (even an hour) and leans into my neck, pulling on my hair and trying to consume me, it seems. I cannot imagine our family without her, and I cherish every moment I get to hold her, tickle her, and see her return my smile with her own sweet little giggle. So, yes. Lesson learned. Having a daughter is a pretty cool thing. (Caveat: Check back for an update once she hits the preteen years.)

2. I can do hard things. I've heard of folks repeating this to themselves as a sort of pep-talk mantra. "I can do hard things, I can do hard things, I can do hard things." And there were definitely times this year when I resorted to that strategy. But mostly I just cried, or prayed, or sighed with exasperation, or snuck off to a closet for a few stolen moments of sanity-restoring solitude. This year I had three kids under age three, for three months. It was as crazy and exhausting as you probably imagine. There were definitely days when I thought, sincerely, that I would not make it until my darling husband got home from work. But now, having come out the other side, I can say that I survived. I did not lose my mind (completely). Hard things got done. By the grace of God, the crucible did not destroy me. And you know what? It's one thing to believe/hope/pray you can do hard things. It's another to actually prove that to yourself. And that knowledge is a very powerful thing.

3. I need people, even (especially?) when I don't think I do. So, as a proud introvert, I was not prepared for this epiphany. People = a necessary evil. Sure, I have a handful of good friends, and I like my family most of the time. But anyone beyond that? Not so much. Enter the year of adjusting to three kids, and I learned just how desperate I could become for adult interaction. You try spending 12 hours changing diapers, cleaning up messes, preparing meals, feeding small humans (and if you're lucky, yourself too), and see if you don't miss even something as simple as a "Hey, how's it going?" from a store cashier. This year I came to realize the value of friendships. My old friends and my new friends all supported me in amazing ways, from bringing food to our home when Ruby was a newborn, to texting me with encouraging words, to praying with me when I felt like I was going insane, to sharing their own struggles in a humble way that made me realize I was not alone in this journey. There were times when I couldn't make it to our get-togethers. And guess what? I missed them. Truly missed them. Much more than I thought I ever would. For someone who craves time alone like a fire craves oxygen, that was a pretty big deal.

4. Nature heals the soul. This year was a tough one, a marathon of hard days and interrupted nights, all running together. But whenever I had those awful days/weeks when I wondered, Will I ever feel like myself again? there would come a moment when we would get outside, and something in the wind would restore me to myself. That might not make sense, but it worked. Every time. We went to the beach, to the park, to the back yard. I felt the sunshine, inhaled the breeze, saw the clouds, heard the squirrels and the birds . . . and something clicked back into place. It was almost like a dislocated shoulder, and I had almost gotten used to the pain, when suddenlypop! I felt my soul snap back where it belonged. So if I learned my lesson, this year I'll do the wise thing and force myself to get outdoors more often with the kids. It truly resets my spirit and gets me back to feeling like me.

That was 2016, in a nutshell. Pain endured, wisdom gained.

So what do I hope to gain in 2017? Well, my new word of the year is JOY.

I have wasted far too much of my emotional energy on things that do not bring joy, either to me or to others. So the goals for 2017 are to fix that. How? Here's my game plan:

1. Do more things that fill me with joy. Like reading, writing, hiking, baking, doing art projects, snuggling with my kids, and going on dates with my husband. By definition, this time will have to come from somewhere. So I will spend less time doing stuff that does NOT fill me with joy: reading product reviews for future purchases, mindlessly surfing the internet, watching Netflix late at night (when I should be sleeping!), and sitting around feeling tired/sorry for myself.

2. Choose to rejoice. Even on the hard days. Because guess what? If God made this day, we're supposed to rejoice in it! And as Elwood P. Dowd once said, "Every day is a beautiful day." Indeed. Happiness is a feeling, but joy is a choice. (I'm probably stealing that idea from someone who said it more eloquently, but you get the point.)

3. Refuse to let anyone steal my joy. That includes mean people, angry people, sad people, and the devil himself. This even includes me and my melancholy-prone self. I've gotten into a bad habit over the years of letting other people's reactions dictate how I feel. If they're disappointed in me, I'm disappointed in myself. If they're mad at me, I'm mad at myself. If their feelings are hurt, I must be guilty (and guilt-stricken). No more! This is the year I want to make a devoted effort to control my own attitude, not give anyone else the power to control it.

That's it! That's enough. :) What are your goals for the year 2017?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

"I Went by the Water" (a poem)

What a week! In the last seven days, I've attended a funeral and a baptism, lost a whole day to a debilitating migraine, and watched our next president get sworn into office.

Everyone seems to be posting about Trump's inauguration, or the women's march in DC, or how unhappy they are about one or the other. . . and honestly I'm just so sick of politics, I can't stand it anymore.

As an antidote to all this, here's a poem I wrote over the summer on a solo hike--an uber-awesome and all-too-rare thing when you are a mom of three under three! I remember the day was hot, near 80, and I was sweating as I hiked around the lake. My husband was home watching the kids. I'll post some pictures from that day too, if I can find them.

I Went by the Water

I went by the water to sit and listen.
To open my ears and let the truth come flooding in, 
suffocating my fears with its thick rippling drops.

But there were airplanes in the sky,
Screaming over my head,
And their engines were louder 
than the butterfly's song. 
I could not hear the frog's heartbeat 
nor his suspicious blinks 
eyeing me half-submerged 
in the muddy shore.

And the airplane's wings were stronger 
than those of the dragonfly buzzing, 
the seagulls shrieking, 
the oriole soaring, 
the crane gliding 
into the waves like a blade through flesh.

And every time I thought, 
A flicker of silence! 
That's where the truth is. . . ."
It was a mirage, 
shattered by the foolish roar of another jetplane, 
carrying executives to important meetings, 
shuttling vacationers to five-star hotels... 
and utterly crushing the whisper of the lake, 
the tiptoe of the squirrel, 
the hush of the grass 
twinkling in the breeze.

Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, grass, outdoor, nature and waterImage may contain: plant, flower, sky, grass, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: plant, flower, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: plant, flower, grass, outdoor and nature

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