500 Thoughts

hans-peter-gauster-252751-unsplashSometimes the inside of my brain feels like this photo here → 

I seriously have about 500 thoughts running through my head tonight, these being the first few:

  1. At least three blog ideas (actually way more) where I simply need to find the time to write
  2. The packing and prepping for my daughter’s first dance competition of the season, tomorrow, which involves a weekend away and a desperate need to pack healthy snacks so I don’t feel like loser mom for not properly feeding my artist-athlete with a nut allergy
  3. Wondering how our powder room remodel is going, why our front porch is still torn up from some foundation work that needed to be done months ago, and why both of these things are taking longer than expected
  4. Why I hear a clicking noise inside Roxanne (my relatively new Jeep) and whether that’s just marginally annoying and I can live with it or if it’s actually something bigger I need to get looked at
  5. How to “market” myself better professionally internally or externally should it be warranted, and why this is getting more important than ever before
  6. Whether I should be posting/blogging/whatever on LinkedIn and what I should write about if so
  7. Whether I should be posting/blogging/whatever on Yammer which is our internal social media tool at work to “market” myself better professionally with my colleagues
  8. Music I want our little family of five to make for Christmas (a really “out there” idea even they don’t even know I want to do this year but we have the equipment and our own studio to pull it off)
  9. What Christmas gifts and donations are needed for
    • Immediate family
    • Extended family
    • Colleagues, Secret Santa and charitable donations at work
    • Teachers, friends, and charitable donations for our three school kids
    • Church charitable donations
    • Other coaches and teachers for our three kids and
    • Anyone else I’ve forgotten, because yes, there are years I have forgotten and I feel horrible about it
  10. When the shopping for all of the above needs to be done, when I’ll have time to wrap it all and deliver it
  11. How much anxiety I feel about going to CrossFit tomorrow because I have missed quite a bit this last month due to travel
  12. When in the world we’re gonna get a tree or see Santa, and both of those need to happen sooner than later
  13. Whether we will EVER get Christmas lights hung on our house but that depends on when the front porch slab is returned to its proper position and the yellow tape over our front yard is removed so the people hanging lights don’t fall into a foundation hole 8 feet deep
  14. When in the world the front slab of our porch is gonna get returned to its proper position so that UPS and Fedex can deliver packages to our front door, which is gonna happen a lot this month
  15. When I’m gonna get around to cleaning the house, because even though I actually hired someone to help us earlier this year (because, uh, duh: see all the above), she fired US for being slobs, telling us she is not our maid, even though “maid” is literally part of the name of her business: go figure on that one
  16. When I should start planning our trips for 2019, because planning is half the fun for me
  17. When I can start making the small health and behavior changes I learned about after reading The Blue Zones and taking the quiz mentioned in the book, because I have the potential to live healthfully to age 97 if I do
  18. Whether I have enough money saved for retirement to live until 97 (and I think we all know the answer to that one)
  19. Will any of my kids be in a position to take care of me or want to while I live to 97
  20. When in December I can invite every cool woman I know to my house for good wine, delicious food, and laughter
  21. Wait: when are the kids’ Christmas concerts?
  22. Oh shoot: I have no more vacation this year
  23. Whether my oldest understands how to use a planning calendar to stay on top of his assignments and goals
  24. Why am I worried about anything when I’m healthy, we’re happy, and we have everything we need when so many people don’t.
Pretty sure I need a glass of wine.

Alone Time in Sin City

jonathan-petersson-607955-unsplashSitting here in my hotel room in Las Vegas, contemplating my professional life. I know how funny that sounds. A personally know several dozen people who would tell me my priorities are screwed up and I ought to be out right now, enjoying the night life here.

Eh. Vegas isn’t my favorite city in the world. The incessant ding-ding-ding of the slot machines the minute you get off the plane, the faint but lingering scent of stale cigarette smoke, the couples pushing baby strollers at 2 am, the cost of you-name-it here, the sparkling pasties attached to DDs on the Strip?  Eh.

I mean, God love Donnie and Marie, Celine, and everybody else here who has or ever once had a show.  The shows are pretty good. And I do love me some Cirque du Soleil. I make a point to catch at least one of those every time I come. But that was Sunday night upon arrival.

Now it’s Tuesday.  Tonight I need a little me time.

Besides, we may be back in the spring with the kids in tow! This is not a place I would normally prioritize bringing them, but the hubs is in conversations about teaching a master class at a university here so we all might tag along since his portion of the travel is a work expense. We do try to show the kids every little thing about the US so I guess it’s time to open their eyes to Vegas.

I’m sure the pasties will make an impression. Good thing we are up front and talk to the kids about everything. We don’t hide too much from them. We try to explain what the world is really like so they’re prepared for what they’ll see and encounter when they’re on their own.


Enough of that.

I came for a three-day conference on, get this: ethics and compliance. In Vegas. Isn’t that funny? It’s not really a town known for….ethics.

The conference is good stuff. Hearing the speakers lit a spark in me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but honestly I could have spoken on a few of the topics. I’ve known that about myself for a while, 20-30 years at least. I used to teach our consultants, a few clients, and fellow auditors in the region when I worked at Protiviti and PricewaterhouseCoopers, so this isn’t an epiphany.

It’s simply been a while since I’ve done it and being here reminds me that not only should I teach classes again, but also I should do it on a national level. Besides, speakers often get comped for the conference fee and lodging, so why not? It’s a quick way to get known nationally for your work, and that is incredibly helpful especially during recessions and times like now when whole industries are being disrupted.

And so far, the blog is fun but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Besides, our CFO told me I would make for an awesome college professor because I can take an esoteric topic and make it tangible. Yes. Yes, I can.

Forget for a moment whether I’m doing that in this blog. I’m just sitting here typing tonight, stream-of-consciousness style, because this stuff is on my mind and I needed a little alone time in Sin City.

Sigh….the thing is, it’s been far too easy to just sit back, learn a few things, and passively collect my continuing education credits at these conferences but I get incredibly antsy if the speaker is bad. Or if they pull a bait-and-switch on the topic, like the one session that was supposed to be about artificial intelligence but turned out to be a 101-level class on data analytics for compliance purposes.

I can’t just sit there and listen to drivel. Nor can I just walk out all that easily. Truly, I’m there to learn (ethics and all….) but by the time I get up and try to find another worthwhile session, I’ll miss the crux of the conversation, so I stay put.

Sometimes you can get a nugget or two out of the talk. But sometimes you can’t. It’s situations like that when I start making a personal list of what groceries we need, what tasks I need to tackle for the kids if only I was home, what updates I should make to my LinkedIn profile, what work emails I need to send, and what I should be doing to market myself better.

And that leads me to my final point of the day.  One of the interesting tidbits that came up this week, echoed in recent conversations at work too, is how valuable authenticity is, especially to Millenials. And let’s face it….the torch is passing right now from the Boomers straight to the Millenials so it behooves a “middle-child” GenXer like me to pay attention to what Millenials need since they’re the economy of the future.

Millenials don’t want posturing. They don’t want fluff. They want people to be real with them. And I think I’m a pretty down-to-earth realist. I don’t try to sugarcoat. I DO try to be positive, though. So why shouldn’t I be me, and use humor to teach people the business concepts I work with every day? Why shouldn’t I share the knowledge I’ve gained? I’m a woman who understands technology, risk, and ethics, and I have a knack for communication. Why shouldn’t I give that a go?

Doesn’t this world need new leaders to step up? I’m not a new leader but it is time to step up. Time to roll the dice.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash

 

 

 

Dating Advice, aka Love Lessons for My Children

My dating life spanned a whopping 20 years. Not really my preference for it to have bridged an entire generation, but those are the facts. You could make the case that I’d learned a thing or two over the years. Or given the length of it, you could just as easily say I didn’t.

First a little context: I came of age in the mid-80s, a time when the bulk of my peers did their best to postpone adulthood into their late 20s or even their early 30s. Even still, some really great people I know successfully married at a relatively younger age, leaving it to the rest of us to sort maniacally through the pool of remaining available people.

It was fun for a few years, sure. And then it got depressing, fast. Around Year 17, I got used to the idea of being by myself forever. Sure, a companion throughout life would be awesome and having a family was a dream that eluded me, but marrying the wrong guy was not the answer.

Now these many years later, I am married and watching my young kids grow up. They are still at home and not yet in the dating scene, but the oldest is now older than I was when I first fell in love. It seems time for me to collect my thoughts about this subject.

Believe me, I’ve definitely had more than a few facepalm situations with guys over the years but luckily for me I’ve never been a victim of domestic violence. I’ve never been divorced either, nor do I intend to be. But what follows here is not marriage advice. Oh no! I’m not ready to go there yet.

Nope, for now all I’ve got is some dating advice. Maybe it’s a little on the heavy side. Then again, if it was all sunshine and rainbows, it might not have been a 20-year venture! lol So yes, everything I write about below I’ve learned the hard way, and this is what I jotted down over the span of one evening. I’m sure I will add to it over time, too.

To keep things simple, I’ve written it for my daughter but the advice just as easily applies to my sons. And while I often size up a date/boyfriend/love interest, it’s just as easy to flip this advice around and use it to examine one’s own behavior.

tyler-nix-525388-unsplashSo kids? Listen to your mother as follows, in no particular order.

  1. Love, the kind of love that I wish for you, is a verb that transcends all time and place. You will learn this over a significant length of time. It won’t be the first date. It won’t be the 100th. I don’t know when you will discover it, but I hope you do. And when you do, it’s that kind of love that should propel you into marriage.
  2. Love isn’t a 50/50 proposition because nobody knows where the 50 yard line is in the game of life. It moves all the time because your needs and his forever change. Give because you want to. Give because you love him. Give in a way that doesn’t keep score but on the flip side, don’t go broke or be a doormat in the name of love because that’s not love. That’s desperation.
  3. Love most certainly can be a one-way street, and you will find out that’s true when you get your heart broken. It will hurt like hell. But the best kind of love flows like a current between you both. You’ll be able to feel that and will know it’s right.
  4. Learn to love yourself. Very easy to say but perhaps a little harder to do. Nevertheless, know your worth and hold your head high for as long as it takes. I hope it doesn’t take 20 years for you to figure this out on your own but you never know. You may come to doubt yourself over and over again, but don’t think there is something inherently wrong with you. Sure, we all have things to learn and there are ways we can and should grow, and you will. You really don’t need someone else to prove you’re worthy. You simply are. Don’t forget that, ever. You are an amazing, beautiful, wonderful human and you deserve to spend your days with someone just like that in return.
  5. Know what you want out of a date or a relationship. Are you just looking for someone fun or interesting to hang out with on a short-term basis or are you looking for “The One”? Allow this to inform your dating strategy and be up front about your objective with the other person relatively early on. Don’t waste your time with someone who wants the former when you want the latter and don’t feel pressured by someone when it’s vice versa.
  6. Say no as often as you want or need and dump any guy who refuses to respect that the first time you say it.
  7. Figure out what your primary love language is as you will be lonely with someone who doesn’t know how to speak it. If you don’t know what a love language is, read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It’s a quick but eye-opening read. Understand that some guys simply cannot learn a different love language other than the one they speak. If you care about someone, learn to speak his love language to really connect with him on a deeper level.
  8. Get attuned to a person’s vibration or energy level and recognize whether yours resonates or clashes with it. This applies to friendships too. Notice whether you lift each other up or if your dude routinely makes the mood spiral down. Being blue once in a while is normal but avoid negative energy vampires as if they’re contagious, because they are. It’s futile to think you can fix him.
  9. Frantic guys are often dealing with insecurity and need to keep busy or constantly crack jokes to make you laugh to feel good about themselves. Sure, it can appear admirable or even be fun at first, but over the long haul, it’s exhausting. Again, check your energy level when you’re around this guy.
  10. Dull Dan, not his real name, may be a really nice guy but he lives a ho-hum life that will bore you to tears. If you’re so bored on a date with him that you start eating the candy necklace off another guy’s neck, you might want to take that as a clue he’s not the best guy for you.
  11. You should be able to sit together in comfortable silence for any length of time without it getting weird.
  12. Be bold enough to ask out the best looking person in the room. Don’t worry if he turns out turn out to be gay when you’re not. Maybe you didn’t realize there is a thing called “gay-dar” and you need to turn it on and tune it in. Hopefully the first person you ask out isn’t gay, but if he is, don’t let it knock your confidence levels down a notch or two for a few years.
  13. While we’re on the subject, confidence is a magnet. Project it yourself and seek it out in others. Do not mistake arrogance for confidence. And while we’re at it, giddiness and gushing on your part is understandable when you’re very young but it’s a turnoff when you’re no longer a teen. Compose yourself and keep your dignity intact.
  14. Every once in a while you’ll meet someone who refuses to change his haircut or get rid of his old clothes. He doesn’t see the world changing around him while you do. Move on. He’s not for you.
  15. Dump immediately anyone who insults you. He’ll claim he was just joking but he does it to feel better about himself. It’s not your job to make him feel better about himself.
  16. Breaking up can be hard to do but do it as soon as you know, and do it face to face.
  17. Ever hear the term “failure to launch”? There comes a time in every young adult life to get a job, start earning a living, move out on your own, and generally grow up. Don’t devote so much time helping a lazy boyfriend off the launch pad that you start to neglect what you need to do for yourself.
  18. Trust your gut. It is always, always, always right. You won’t be able to put it into words. You feel it in your gut for a reason.
  19. If you’re ever lucky enough to meet someone with eyes and heart enough to peer into your soul, and he genuinely loves what he sees and vice versa, don’t EVER let him go under any circumstances. You’ve met your soulmate.
  20. If the relationship “looks good on paper” or he meets some basic criteria to be an acceptable mate but you struggle to connect on an intimate, emotional level, let it go. You’re not right for each other. Sure as hell, don’t take three years to figure this out.
  21. Dump whomever doesn’t introduce you to his friends or let you come over to this house within the first month. See his home. See how he lives and with whom. If he doesn’t open up, he’s hiding you or he’s hiding a life – or a wife – he doesn’t want you to know about.
  22. Give a new relationship a three-month trial. If it doesn’t have positive momentum by then, move on and be relentless about it. I don’t care how awesome he may seem. If he can’t figure out how smart, amazing, wonderful, and beautiful you are in three months’ time, he won’t ever figure it out. You want different things. He doesn’t really want YOU.
  23. Dump the possessive, jealous guy who tries to physically control your body or emotionally control your life. He will try to dictate who you are friends with, where you work, what you wear, and where you live. Dump him fast and don’t look back. His insecurities bleed into more than his love life.
  24. Notice whether his secretary at work screens every incoming call from you or if he’s given you his number to dial him directly. You deserve direct access after that trial period, baby.
  25. Pay attention to how your date treats everyone and everything: cashiers, waiters, parents, siblings, friends, children, the elderly, strangers, animals, the environment, property, and possessions (his or others). You want someone who demonstrates consistent kindness and care no matter who or what is the object.
  26. Absolutely talk about sex, religion, money, child-raising, and politics. Every single taboo! He’ll have an opinion on the first thing, for sure. But if he has no opinion on the latter, he may not have a brain, a conscience, or a care in the world. You do. Make sure you’re compatible when it comes to these things. Make sure. Do you want to spend your life going to church alone? Whatever you do, do it together. Do you want to find out years later that greed and “every man for himself” rules his heart? If you believe in God and he thinks it’s hocus pocus, it won’t work out in the long run. And be totally aligned on the subject of whether you will have kids before you jump into marriage. Don’t waste time trying to convince him of your point of view if it’s different. There are compatible men out there. It may take you much longer to find one and you may have to move to find him, but invest in one who is.
  27. Guys who strive for high status come from every kind of background, but they’re not looking for a companion. They’re looking for a trophy. You are worth far more than that.
  28. Pay close attention to weird idiosyncrasies like the fact that he never, ever takes his socks off, constantly slurs his words, shuffles his feet, sprawls and slumps over whenever he sits a chair, doesn’t know how to look someone in the eye and shake their hand upon greeting them, or cannot put his phone down or turn it off, even for a moment. Do you really want to deal with this forever? If it bugs you now, it will bug you always. You can’t fix him. You have to decide whether you can live with it. So if it bugs you now, believe me, you can’t handle living with it.
  29. Understand your own growth game and his. Are you content with life as-is or do you continue to learn and grow at a high pace? Do you like exposure to new places, people, and things? Then you want to be with someone whose growth potential is as high as yours or you may find that you will leave them behind. It’s ok if your growth potential isn’t on hyperdrive, but you want to find someone whose pace matches yours or else you’ll eventually be emotionally, socially, spiritually, or intellectually misaligned.
  30. Dating will introduce you to new things you find you enjoy. However, don’t twist yourself into a knot becoming a brand new person in an effort to be likable. Discover new things and keep doing them because you love it, not because you love him or want him to love you.
  31. Beware the guy who lavishes you with expensive gifts as he thinks you can be bought. He doesn’t care about your soul.
  32. Beware the guy who heaps praise on you, especially early on. He doesn’t know you yet. It’s called flattery, and when he discovers you actually have substance, he’ll go silent and run, because he has none to offer in return.
  33. Beware the guy who gets pissed off when he finds out you make more than he does. He’ll feel threatened and he’ll be pretty angry about it. In reality, he should be happy for you and applaud your success, but if he can’t, he’ll NEVER get over it.
  34. Notice what it takes for him to lose his cool and how bad it gets. You really don’t know a guy until you’ve seen him angry.
  35. When the time is right, go on a trip together. Believe me, you see a whole new side to a person when you’re with them for 24 hours straight. Make sure you enjoy that person because 24 hours is nothing compared to a lifetime.
  36. Honestly ask yourself whether you like his friends. If they all seem like a bunch of jerks, it’s because he fits right in with them when you’re not around. In a similar vein, ask yourself whether you like his family.
  37. If it all starts to go south after three months, dump him. He’s been on his best behavior up until then but he’s reached his limit. His real personality is starting to reveal itself.
  38. Ambition is healthy but there are limits on both ends of the spectrum. What does he want to make of himself? Does he have any goals what is he doing to reach them? Is he willing to sacrifice everything and anything to reach them, including ethics?
  39. Be open-minded about looks, status, education, and age such that you don’t miss the joy of discovering the beauty inherent in all kinds of guys. Be open-minded but know and hold out for whatever really makes your heart sing because the best kind of love fits like a glove.
  40. Avoid the serial playboy. They get their kicks purely from the pursuit. They don’t need a prize. Don’t waste your time or dignity trying to convert them.
  41. Recognize alcoholics and drug addicts and avoid both. Sometimes they are really good at hiding their addiction. You’re not a social worker, unless you ARE a social worker in which case I would tell you to leave work at work.
  42. Avoid at all costs anyone who is overly aggressive, or physically or emotionally abusive. DO NOT GO THERE. You are more precious than he will ever appreciate.
  43. Break up and don’t look back if you fight all of the time. This should be a big, freaking, honking clue!
  44. Don’t waste your youth fixing broken people. Seek to be evenly yoked and help each other soar.
  45. Do not be afraid to go after who you want when you know in your heart it’s the right thing. Don’t be afraid of looking like a fool or disappointing anyone or stepping on someone’s toes. You may get your heart broken big time and you may never fully recover from it but I’m telling you, do not give up your shot at happiness, waiting for the perfect time in the future to tell him how you feel. “If it’s meant to be it will be” is bullshit. Love isn’t just gonna roll before your feet and present itself. You will have to work for it. Sometimes you will have to stick your neck out there and risk it to get what you want. Because if you don’t? You’ll spend years trying to catch lightning in a bottle a second time, only to find it can’t be done. Respect marriage vows but everything else up until then is fair game.
  46. Sexual compatibility is a real thing. Sexual intimacy is absolutely sacred and beautiful. Let love be the foundation of a long-term relationship. Please be a full-fledged adult perfectly capable of taking care of yourself, satisfy yourself first with green lights on all the aforementioned dating advice, and by all means protect yourself, but try before you buy. Wait a really long time before you do because all sales are final. There are no returns.
  47. No matter what: you and he get to choose whether you will be a “we”. Only you know who is right for you. Not me, not your dad, not your friends, not his parents, and certainly not exclusively him. Ideally you choose each other, with no rush. The right love is forever.
  48. Jitters are normal. When in doubt, don’t.
  49. Flowers are nice. So are kisses on the forehead. Then again, I’m a sucker for romance.
  50. Despite what I said earlier, be with someone who makes you laugh with ease and vice versa. Levity helps you get through life together.
  51. It’s not a race, it’s not a contest. It’s ok to call timeout once in a while. You owe loyalty to no one other than yourself until you pledge loyalty to him in marriage.
  52. You’ll know if he’s The One. You won’t have to ask yourself or anyone else for confirmation. You’ll just know.

Love, Mom

Photo credit: Tyler Nix on Unsplash.com

Travel Truth

We’ve all heard it said that if you really want to know someone better, travel with them. Somehow I always thought of this advice when it came to friends and people with long-term romantic potential.

But who’s to say you can’t do this with one of your kids? Especially a teen, those mysterious creatures who often withdraw from parents from ages 13-21.

sebastian-leon-prado-547564-unsplashI have these really cool older cousins who raised two children. My family would get their annual Christmas letters and I’d read in awe about how one parent took one of the kids on a trip in high school somewhere in the US, just the two of them, and then they’d switch out where the other parent would take that same, now college-age kid on an overseas trip, just the two of them. They did this for both children.

Being a travel buff, I thought that was an AMAZING idea. My cousins’ kids were so fortunate! And now as a parent with means to do the same, I am taking action. So many years I wanted to travel but virtually none of my friends had the time or means to go so I went solo, aching for a companion. Little did I realize that one day I would give birth to them.


oakie-696139-unsplashIt all started when our oldest turned 13. Growing up he loved geography and soccer and we’d talk endlessly about the places he wanted to visit one day. Seattle was consistently at the top of his list, so he could see the Sounders play. I planned to surprise him with a long weekend trip to Seattle, just the two of us, but by the time I worked out a mutually agreeable weekend, a whole entire year passed. We made the trip the summer before he started high school instead of the year he became a teenager.

Our Seattle trip was so much fun he wanted to do it again, so we traveled to New York City for a long weekend this summer too.

My oldest is beginning to think this is an annual excursion for us, and while I’d love that, I have two more kids in the hopper, so I hope I can afford all this when their turn arrives. Sure it seems doable today, but the other two are closer in age so these trips will add up quickly. I don’t want to over promise, but let me tell you: our time together was magical.

I drove us seven hours to New York, so we got a lot of talking done in the car. We had an almost adult conversation where I shared some things that have been bothering me and he gave me the advice we always give him. He even admitted that he was coaching me to take my own medicine and I chuckled over how I couldn’t argue with him or I’d invalidate the advice I dole out as parent.

We visited Ellis Island, talked about today’s immigration challenges, and discussed my immigrant grandparents and what it must have been like for them to leave their homes and family forever 100 years ago. We visited the 911 Memorial Reflecting Pools and I recounted the story of that frightening day and how worried I was for my friends who lived in the city. We marveled over the endless number of foreign languages we heard over and over again, all day long. I suggested to him that all Americans should visit New York City at least once in their lifetime to see first-hand what a melting pot the city is, almost like Muslims are expected to travel at least once to Mecca, and maybe just maybe as a result, Americans wouldn’t be so afraid of “others”.

We talked about travel, anthropology, sociology, art, movies, musicals, Hamilton, celebrity, history, politics, Manhattan neighborhoods, gentrification, the cost of living, what he wants to study in school, where he wants to live, religion, sex, family, weddings, marriage, and child-raising. Yeah. What didn’t we talk about?

rob-bye-319816-unsplashI took him to a high-end restaurant and he navigated his way through the menu, ordering process, and all manner of dining etiquette through tip calculation. I bought him a New York style slice of pizza and taught him how to fold and eat it. I taught him how to hail a cab, orient himself on the streets and avenues, catch a ferry, and use the subway. I’m excited that I taught him the ways of New York City, and I hope he always remembers it.

He asked a ton of questions and I answered them all without reservation.

My son, who is very content playing video games, talked the whole time. We laughed. He was attentive to whether I was tired or thirsty, and he opened doors for me and others. He was unceasingly polite. He couldn’t get enough of the people energy in Times Square and had to walk through it each day.

He asked if he looked like a tourist or if he was behaving more like a resident. You see, he might want to live in New York one day. I could see him trying it on for size and vibe and watch his face light up as he recognized one landmark after another. I like how he’s a worldly kind of dude for his age.

I saw glimpses of the man we’re raising, and he’s only 15. Last year he tried to engage me in a pillow fight. This year, he gently asked me about something that was tugging at my heart and making me sad. The amount of personal growth he demonstrated from one year to the next and the level of compassion he had shown me was remarkable, and I was dumbstruck over how mature, deep, and intimate our conversation was, because we were talking about things I don’t even discuss with some of my closest friends. I doubt we would have connected at that level had we been at home and stuck in our normal routine. Correction: I am certain we would not have connected at that level.

Do you have any idea how precious this time was? It was New York, and as Midwesterners, we don’t walk nearly that much on a daily basis or cram so much into our day. It was go-go-go the whole time. Exhausting but equally exhilarating. I didn’t want our trip to end.

I better start saving for next year, and for two more kids after that. He’s already got fingers crossed for me to show him around Boston next summer.

Are you longing to connect in a more meaningful way with your kid? Go on a trip, just the two of you. It doesn’t have to be big thing, but go somewhere overnight you’ve never been. You just might find that where you actually travel is deeper into each other’s hearts.

Photo #1 by Sebastián León Prado, photo #2 by oakie, and photo #3 by Rob Bye, all on Unsplash

Road Trip to Hocking Hills

bryan-minear-315814-unsplashI can barely contain my excitement: before long we will be hitting the road for a little mini spring break with the kids. I took today off of work to run errands and take care of a few things around the house but tomorrow we hit the road headed south.

Initially I had planned some time for us at one of the water park hotels near Lake Erie but stories about bedbugs and an accident at the pool a few weeks ago made me change my mind. I don’t know…visions of an overcrowded hotel and young families with spring fever flashed through my head like a nightmare. You know you should always listen to your gut!

Besides, my body is itching to move and get outdoors. It’s finally spring, glorious spring, and the weather will be a perfect 60° to enjoy.

We are driving in-state but in the opposite direction, to an area in southeast Ohio called Hocking Hills. It’s still very early spring here so the trees won’t start blooming for another few weeks but I can’t wait to go. This area reminds me of where I grew up: woodsy, hilly, and a little bit more on the country side versus urban or suburban. There are several parks and nature preserves with a variety of hiking trails within a few miles drive of that area.

We’re renting a cabin for the five of us. It has a nice wrap-around porch, an outdoor hot tub, lots of windows, indoor fireplace, three bedrooms, three baths, and a loft. Hopefully some good, quality family time inside.

And when we aren’t hanging in the cabin, we’ll hike to Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, and maybe a few others. My husband and oldest will have just returned from an exhausting week-long trip to Disney with the marching band, so they may be a little road weary but the three of us at home are raring to go!

It’s the first time we will take the kids to Hocking Hills. I hope they like it and like living in a cabin. It’s only a 2.5 hour drive for us which makes it a pretty nice getaway….far enough but not too far.

I thought we’d make our way down there all the time now that I live in Ohio again, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Last visit was already seven years ago when my husband and I booked our 10th anniversary trip. We stayed for a long weekend but it was so nice, I cried when we left. Even though it was November and the leaves had fallen off the trees, the setting was so lovely, so calming. Trees were outside every window. We will need to make this trip again in the summer when you are surrounded in cool greenery and can hear the breeze whistle through the leaves.


We didn’t have “spring break” when I was growing up in public school. At the time, it was something exclusively for college kids. You see, in the US, college kids typically get a week off in the spring and many of them carpool to Florida or somewhere beach-bound and party all week long.

However I didn’t get to enjoy the classic spring break experience like many other college students. I didn’t have the money to take a trip and asking my parents for it was out of the question.

For me, spring break was a week where I could work full-time and save up money to pay for my next semester of tuition. Those were the years of barely getting by…and I wasn’t very resourceful or creative in finding ways to travel back then. Talk about a missed opportunity! I have a handful of regrets in life and finding ways to travel and explore in college is one of them. That’s the perfect time to bond with others and discover what brings you joy….and I didn’t know how to make that happen. Given how much I loved travel even then, in retrospect it’s surprising to me that I didn’t search for ways to make it a reality.

And this is one of the ways we try to guide our kids differently so they either have or make those opportunities.

I count my blessings that things have changed altogether for the positive since then and we are fortunate enough to take our entire family on our trips. I want them to see and experience the same places I have over the years, and foster that love of adventure.

It wasn’t until my oldest started public school that I really experienced spring break for the first time. Our school district allocates a week in late March for this purpose. Now every year we take advantage of the week to either escape the generally colder weather here or just to have a change of scenery. We’ve gone to Florida, Washington DC, Sandusky (OH), and Traverse City (MI) in years past. It’s usually the first excursion of a few within the year, but this year I am particularly eager to get out of the house.

Can’t wait to go go go…

 

Photo credit: Bryan Minear on Unsplash

 

 

The Standardized Vacation

On a recent Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, the host and her co-host sister talked about the benefits of a “standardized vacation”. It struck a chord with me.

I’m a travel buff. Have suitcase, let’s go! I’ve been one to explore new places as often as I can for as long as I’ve lived but there is something to be said about hitting the easy button especially now that we have kids. Enter: the standardized vacation.

Here’s the basic premise: same location, same hotel, same time of year, same length of time, same people, same restaurants, same activities.

Beautifully simple.

Nothing to think about, nothing to plan. Just do what you did last time, and build upon what you know, if you want.

anton-sharov-133628-unsplashMyrtle Beach, SC, has become our go-to vacation, like 5 million other Ohioans if I had to guess! We found our favorite hotel about 10 years ago, and we even get booked to the exact same room each time we go. It’s glorious.

We know exactly what to pack. Rule #1 is more bathing suits, fewer clothes. Rule #2 is bring a laundry basket and a small bottle of Tide so I can do a quick load mid-way through the trip and recycle what we wear. Rule #3 is bring whatever gadget you can’t live without and the charger. We’re not hard-core enough to unplug entirely while we holiday.

Last night my husband and I laid in bed and talked about how excited we were for this trip. We drive it. He’s not a fan of the drive, but he talked about how he was actually looking forward to it this year because he knows exactly what to expect. No thinking involved whatsoever.

Seriously, we laugh the whole way to South Carolina because nearly every car on I-77 has Ohio plates and we know where they’re going: Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. It’s 11-hours non-stop, which means we have found ways to minimize the number of stops along the way and make it a 12 hour trip max, barring traffic.

Our routine involves hitting the road at 5am. We gas up and load the suitcases the night before. The kids sleep walk to the van with their pillows and PJs on, and they’re crashed out for the first four hours of the trip. From our house in Ohio this takes us to Charleston, WV, where the kids change clothes, we all get a potty break, we gas up if need be, and switch drivers. I’m better on the curvy roads though West Virginia regardless of the weather, courtesy of growing up in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia.

Waze is my favorite travel app for this trip. It’s crowd-sourced in terms of traffic jams, road hazards, and speed traps monitored by police or state highway patrolmen. Waze conveys the speed limit and whether you’re over it, and gives you that wonderful metric, the estimated time of arrival, otherwise known as the “time to beat”. LOOOOOOVE Waze.

The car is still pretty quiet as the kids are now awake but on their devices with their headphones or maybe they watch a new movie we buy and laugh. The two of us adults get loads of time to talk and talk, or we take turns napping while the other drives.

I drive four hours till we hit the North Carolina border while all of us nosh on ham sandwiches, snacks, and drinks we’ve packed, and then we stop again for a bio break, gas up and switch drivers for the last time. Then my husband drives the final four hours to our hotel where we check in, unpack, relax for a bit, and then head out to dinner.

We hit up Walmart for some food while we’re in the area. Our hotel has a kitchenette so we alternate meals out and in for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is free at the hotel so we eat up and take our time feasting on all kinds of hot and cold food items.

I remember the first time we made this trip as a married couple with an 18-month old baby in tow. I basically had my husband back the van floor to ceiling with the entire nursery: you know, Pack-n-Play, stroller, tub toys, travel high chair, lovies, baby food, an entire box of diapers….it was endless. You couldn’t even see out the back window. He looked at me like I was nuts. I wanted all the comforts of home. Nothing like having a baby attached to your hip on vacation. It defeats the purpose of getting away for a few days if you don’t have a way for your precious kid to be mobile, clean, and safe.

Now it’s funny how little we need. Beach towels, beach toys, electronic gadgets, headphones, chargers, bathing suits, sunscreen, sandals, laundry basket with detergent, clothes for three days to last us through eight, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and that’s it. I don’t even sweat it anymore. If we forget something, we just buy it down there.

It helps that we go the same week each time, for the same length of time. We know what restaurants we’ll hit up. We rent beach chairs for the week. There is nothing else to even think about other than which putt-putt place we’ll visit on which day. If we want to sleep, we sleep. If we want to splash in the pool or lazy river, we do. If the kids want to build sandcastles or boogie board, they do. No debating, no thinking about it. We just rotate between 3-4 activities at most. It’s as low key as vacation can get.

And me? Mama Louie? I sit and read under a giant umbrella with my coverup, sunglasses, sunhat, and SPF maxed out, courtesy of a melanoma diagnosis 25+ years ago. It’s a bummer as all the kids just can’t quite understand why I can’t play with them in the sun. Thankfully they have these bronzed bodies courtesy of their Hawaiian and Asian genes and didn’t inherit my pale Eastern European skin.

Man, we love the ocean. Now some people prefer lower-key, very scenic Hilton Head over Myrtle Beach because they think the latter is over commercialized. Parts of it are, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t walk Ocean Boulevard at all hours, slipping in and out of the souvenir shops. We just skip that. It’s pretty easy to avoid the mass of humanity while you’re there.

Yep, our hang is the beach itself and the amazing putt-putt places. Our kids think putt-putt (mini-golf to some of you) is the most glorious thing ever. It doesn’t take much to entertain our kids and we’re fine keeping it that way, at least for a few more years.

We’re all excited to go back. Hawaii, California, Utah, Colorado, and Florida have been incredible these last few years but it’s time to hit the easy button and return to our home away from home, just the five of us. We have often wished that we were there with a larger group but then we realize that others may not enjoy the next-to-nothing we like to do, so our week away is always just us.

I can already hear the waves in my mind.

Image by Anton Sharon on Unsplash.com

Itching to Go Go Go

Saturday morning. For the first time in ages we don’t have anywhere we need to go, anything we need to do. Seriously. I just checked our online family calendar and the last time our Saturday was completely clear was July 22. Almost seven months ago.

Sigh. Life as an American family in the Midwest.

For the last two weeks, I had forewarned the whole family that today was the day we would clear out this storage room in our basement, the one we have dubbed the “yoga room” ever since we moved in 13 years ago. I always thought it would be cool to have a little sanctuary in the home, a room where you could light a candle, go to be still and quiet, meditate, pray, or maybe even stretch and do some yoga. All these years later, it’s still a storage closet.

I should take a picture of this room to show you what it looks like today. It’s a total mess. We just throw things in there when we don’t have a home for it or don’t know what to do with it, or maybe the kids have outgrown something. But today that room is out of control. We still have empty boxes from when we moved in stored in there.

So today is the day we’ll clean it out: stage what we’ll keep, donate, and trash.

Except I’m itching to go. Go anywhere. Oh man, the travel bug has bitten me hard today.

Honestly we have a WHOLE DAY with total freedom and we can just get in the car and go. I don’t know where. Maybe we’ll make a trip to Detroit and visit the Henry Ford Museum. We’ve never been to Detroit, really, and my friend’s visit to the museum last year inspired me to go check it out. It’s three hours away from our house. It’s a day’s round trip, if we want to make it that. I suppose there are other places we could go but they aren’t novel. Traveling to Columbus is pretty close, and our family there is wonderful and the shopping is amazing, but it isn’t something NEW. Besides, I’ve got that new year’s resolution going about not buying one stitch of new clothing. That’s mostly a rule for myself, but there is no need for temptation.

So now I’m torn between the knowledge that June 30 is likely our next totally free weekend when we can tackle the yoga room (believe me, it’s a family of five effort but why in the world would we want to spend a potentially beautiful summer day in the basement??), and the wanderlust I feel right now. Darn it. I don’t want to be the rational, responsible adult at the moment. I just wanna go go go.

I’ve always loved road trips. Seeing new places. Anything, anything at all, to inject a little diversity into the same old, boring, day to day experience.

And I am bored. I don’t travel for work like I used to. I used to get my fix of travel as I often flew to a new city every week, sometimes a couple of times during the week. Now I commute 30 minutes one way on a country road to another small town which is a remarkably pleasant, bucolic drive. Sometimes the sunrise will leave a blanket of pink fog on the gently rolling farmland and it takes my breath away. I wonder if any of my coworkers making the same commute see how beautiful it is, or whether they take it for granted. Equally as lovely are the golden sunsets I sometimes catch on the drive home; honestly the scenery is what you’d see in a movie, it’s that gorgeous. And once in a while, I am completely mesmerized by a huge swarm of starlings dancing over the countryside, morphing into their fantastical shapes. Sometimes the air is black with starlings, like you’re staring at a lava lamp in the sky.

I never stop to take a photo because I can’t possibly recreate the beauty I see with my own eyes on an old iPhone.

 

Beautiful as that commute can be oftentimes, I am itching to go go go!

I’m trying hard to resist the urge to take a random day off because that’s not really enough to satisfy the travel bug. Every single day, I’m reminding myself that we are using a few days of the kids’ spring break in late March to hit up a water park an hour from our home. It will definitely be a change of scenery, but I’m a little worried that it won’t be enough to tame the travel bug. I also get to head to Georgia for two days in March for a conference.

And if those two trips aren’t enough, then at least our trip to Cuba in April should do it. My husband turns 50 next month. He loves cigars and music, and obviously neither of us have been to Cuba before so boom!  Royal Caribbean had just the right offering to satisfy him. As a musician, he had the good fortune of traveling the world a bit more than I have, so the usual ideas of where to go to celebrate his golden birthday were not so novel but Cuba fits the bill.

He and I have an ongoing rivalry as to who will visit all 50 states first. He’s currently beating me 47 to 45 or something like that. I am a teeny bit miffed about it because I had been way ahead of him for years, but during one of our anniversary trips he got to knock off Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi when we road tripped it from New Orleans to Destin, Florida. He hadn’t been to any of these states before. So not fair!

For the record, I haven’t been to Alaska, Oregon, New Mexico, North Dakota, or Delaware. I’m sneaking in one of those states this year. Don’t know how. Don’t know exactly when. But I’m going.

I’m itching to go go go. But today, the yoga room is calling my name.

PS – Four hours later the yoga room has been mostly emptied out. Some stuff has been already been donated, and the rest has been staged for this week’s trash. I’ll be channeling my inner om inside that room in a few months. I promise to share pictures.