Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Though I gently leave your side, I will never leave your heart."

It has now been two years. Two years since we had to say "good-bye" to someone we expected in our hearts to live forever. You know, grief is a funny thing. Despite all this time, I still battle with that side of my mind that refuses to accept that Dad is gone. Maybe it's because he's not really truly "gone" in the sense that death makes us think he is. But he isn't here anymore in that way where I can just pick up the phone and get an earful of his wisdom or feel the embrace of one of his incredible hugs.

I finally, two years later, made it to visit Dad at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a stunning day - cold, but the sun was shining and the ground was covered with snow. I'm not sure what I imagined the day would be like on my first visit there, but it was quiet and peaceful because of the snow.

Words started pouring out of my mouth as I stood where he laid to rest. My voice sounded confused to me as I fought to accept that I was standing where he now is buried. I begged him to hold me and to help me understand the grief, to help me work through the things that were challenging in my life, and to let me share all of the amazing things that have happened in our lives since he left us two years ago. As I gathered myself to leave his side, I walked down the street and was offered a ride from an older couple who had been there to visit their son who had also died less than two years ago. We talked like we had been long-lost friends and shared in our grief. The man told me that my Dad was among great company, and when he dropped me off, we were all in tears. It was a powerful moment, but one I know that we were all thankful to share.

Life isn't fair, we all know that, right? People we love get taken from us long before we are ready to let them leave our sides. On my Dad's tombstone are the words, "though I gently leave your side, I will never leave your heart." Those words were written by my Dad in a letter that my stepmom found. She said it didn't matter who the letter was to or what it was about. Those words captured who he was so completely and she imagined he was saying them to us when he died.

Life might not be fair, but it is glorious. Although he is not with us now, my life was full because he was a part of it. He taught me so many things about myself and how to look at the world even when I was reluctant to understand them. 

I am thankful that he was my father through all of it both good and bad, through the tears and the heartache, and the through the joy and laughter. And I am forever grateful that he is in my heart - that he will always be in my heart.

I miss you, Dad. It doesn't get easier, it just gets more normal that you are not here. I love you with all my heart. 


Saturday, January 10, 2015

This is my 40

Wow, 40, you truly snuck up on me. It seems absolutely crazy to me that I am 40 years old. Heading into a new decade of my life, and I swear it just gets better. I don't feel 40. Then again, I have no clue what it is supposed to feel like. A wise man once told me (that wise man being my grandpa) that you are only as old as you let yourself feel. Amen to that.

So, this is my 40. I would say it feels more like 20, but I was not a fan of 20. My body was younger, sure. My mind though? Yeah, not so much. My mom has always told me I was born with an old soul. That may be, but emotionally, I was a lost soul in my 20s. Constantly searching for who I was, while leading a life codependent on my relationships to help define my worth...

Let's just say, I couldn't wait to get to 30. I entered the last decade in a completely different place. I was single for the first time in forever, I had just completed my first semester of law school, and I my heart was confident and ready to take on the world. That's when I met Big R, and the rest is history. No wonder my 30s were so incredibly awesome :)

So, what does my 40 look like? It looks like another step into this amazing world I have somehow created with the love of my life. It's being a mother of two incredible young boys that fill my days with adventure and insanity. It's venturing back into the world of work as a newly revived attorney armed with far too much knowledge about how to globally effect change. It's embracing my rediscovered love for writing and finding ways to share it with other people.

At 40, I have finally accepted my body and all its imperfections. All those rolls and flab that remind me I created two beautiful children and the extra pounds I happily put on sharing a bottle of wine and too much chocolate with Big R. I'm slowly but surely figuring out the things in life that are important (i.e., see previous sentence), and those things that our society wants us to think are crucial but really mean nothing in the whole scheme of things. I know now that I can find myself with a quick yoga practice or an invigorating run, that going to the gym often depresses me (unless, of course, it has free child care - the little details, hehe), and that sugar is my nemesis.

Yep, it has taken 40 years, but I think I'm finally starting to figure out a few things about myself.  The biggest thing I have learned about myself is how much more I need to learn. I'm finally comfortable with who I am. I understand now that life is full of obstacles, adventure, impossible challenges, and sweet successes. It can be hard, and that's ok. My approach for this new decade is to remain open, to love life, try new things, and savor my experiences both good and bad. This might not always be the recipe for success. I can guarantee though that it will be all of the ingredients needed to live a full life.

So, hello 40! It is so great to see you! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hello 2015

Wow, 2015, here you are. I feel like I have been looking to 2015 for awhile. Perhaps it is because this past year has been absolutely full of nonstop memories or maybe it is because this is the year I turn 40 (I know, what?!). It is truly hard to believe that only a year has passed since we last celebrated the coming of a new year. Before I sat down to write this post, I glanced at what I wrote last year.  I was ready for a fresh start, but I also braced myself for a year full of challenges. Let's just say that 2014 did not disappoint us in that category.

It is very strange to think that we started the year off skiing in the Austrian Alps, and spent the first half of the year traveling constantly. We definitely knew we were going to miss living in Europe, and we tried hard not to leave with any regrets. But despite the travel, life did not stop. School stayed busy for me, the Army worked Big R to death, and the boys kept things exciting all the time. Our biggest adventure by far though was our move back stateside. The transition felt like it lasted forever. If you have ever been fortunate enough to experience an overseas assignment, you know exactly what I mean. It. Never. Ends. The process for us began in late January when we found housing, and once Big R's orders were finally cut in late March, the planning, scheduling, and packing went into full swing. Our house was packed up mid-May right after we sent one of our cars back. In July, we received and unpacked all of our household goods, and things finally ended when we had both cars parked in the driveway in August. I'm exhausted just thinking about it, and I am so very happy that whole mess is now behind us.

We had a blast finishing our tour in Germany including a Mediterranean cruise and a final trip back to Sweden to visit with family. It was downright awesome. Getting back to the U.S. was bitter-sweet because even though we were sad to leave Europe, we got to see so much of our family over the summer and spending holidays with them was just that much easier. It's pretty amazing what a difference it can be to have your friends and family in similar time zones.

So, this next year...I'm not sure it'll be much calmer than the last. It certainly promises to be exciting. I'll be heading back to work (so crazy, right?). It's only an externship, but it's with an amazing legal environmental nonprofit in Nashville and I can't believe I'm getting the opportunity. Another research project is also on my agenda to keep me on schedule to receive my degree in May. Yep, I'll officially graduate in May, and I have no clue what I'm going to do with myself when that happens (maybe I'll actually start blogging again!). Big R will keep doing that thing that he does to make sure the Army is happy, and the boys will undoubtedly work very hard to test my sanity on a fairly consistent basis.

I am going to try harder to post stories about what's going on in our lives. There are too many things that happened over this past year that you never heard about. Great, amazing, and awesome stories. Sure I'm busy, we are all busy, right? Life is just flat out busy, but that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. If it's life that keeps me from writing about life, I'm going to bask in the irony. But when life gives me a moment to share, I promise to do just that.

This next year promises to be an interesting one for our family. I'm both excited and anxious at the same time to see how it develops. So, hello 2015! It's so good to finally see you.

Happy New Year, Everyone! 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Travel 'Must-Haves'

Along the wall in Dubrovonik, Croatia
I have been feeling rather nostalgic lately for travel, especially after looking at all the pictures from my friends' travels overseas. I was talking to a friend still stationed in Germany, and we got into a fun chat about all the places we have visited and the things we were sure to bring along every time. I thought it would be fun to respond to my nostalgia by putting together a list of those things we were sure to have with us on our adventures - a short list of 'must-haves', if you will.

Big R and I share a passion for travel. I am convinced it is something that drew us together. So our travels started long before we were living in Europe, but being there definitely upped the ante and solidified our must-haves list.

Arriving in Hallstat, Austria

First and foremost, we travel light. By light, I mean truly down to the minimums. We spent a week in Europe together with a small backpack each. True, it was May, but when we took a November trip to Normandy, the story was the same. Life is different when you travel - you wear less and your priorities are different on an hour to hour basis. I have to mention, too, adding kids to the mix was a huge game-changer and required us to add a few more items to that list of must-haves.  So, I added a couple items at the bottom that we make sure to bring along to keep our sanity in check while we travel with kids in tow.

1. Favorite Guidebook. Our favorite guidebook, hands down, is Rick Steves. Backdoor travel is our game, and he is the pro at every turn. There are many great guidebooks out there though, and to save money, I would always plan a visit to the library the week before our trip and grab the best guidebooks available for our destination. You can download guidebooks onto your kindle or Nook as well, but we found that it was better to have an actual book in hand to look at the maps and find resources quickly.

2. Reservations. This is a BIG one. By this, I don't mean a reservation for every meal or anything that ridiculous, but definitely have hotel reservations taken care of way before hand. We did this MONTHS in advance using our favorite online booking (e.g.,,, tripadvisor, etc.). Not only is this the best way to ensure you don't blow your entire budget on accommodations, it relieves a ton of stress especially if you are traveling in a foreign location. We did our first backpacking trip to Europe without a single reservation and I immediately decided I was getting far too old for that kind of stress. It's not worth it. Just always be sure to know the cancellation policy, and pay a little extra for flexible fares. If you are traveling with babies, most hotels will have baby cots, and it's worth the extra cost for that as well!

Also, reservations are often needed for popular museums, political buildings, etc., so check ahead to be sure you don't miss out because you didn't know you needed a reservation months in advance. Lastly, many locations are great to see with a tour. We booked a bike tour of Rome and it was one of our favorite ways to see a city. Yep, RESERVATIONS are a must.

3. GPS / Directions. If we were renting a car or driving to our destination(s), we never left home without our GPS with addresses already pre-programmed in. We also brought maps when we could print them off because the GPS was notoriously wrong (e.g., our GPS kept wanting us to drive through the Alhambra to get to our hotel in Granada - clearly that was not going to work).

4. Small travel bag. We always made sure to bring along a bag for day trips. Whether it was a small backpack, messenger bag, or large purse, we always made sure to have one. That's where I kept our wallets, camera, snacks, guidebook, etc. I finally found the perfect bag that worked for us while we were living in Germany. I still use it all the time.

5. Two pair of shoes. Shoes are always a huge pain on vacations because they are awkward and bulky to pack. Despite that, I brought two pairs on every trip, and this is why: regardless of how comfortable your shoes are, if you wear them every day for 4 days of constant walking, you will get blisters no fail. I would plan my "outfits" to alternate with my shoes each day. This saved my feet every trip.

6. Sunglasses. NEVER leave home without them regardless of what time of year it is. We forgot them for a trip to Copenhagen because it was supposed to be cooler and it was overcast when we left Germany. That was a HUGE mistake. Nothing worse than a headache on your trip from squinting. Believe me, make sure to pack your sunglasses in that extra bag.

7. Cords for charging electronics / Adapter plugs for international travel. These are an easy thing to forget, and not having them can be a huge problem (especially if you have kids!). Be double sure to pack at least one cord and adapter plug every time you travel.

8. Water bottle. We take our camel back water bottles with us everywhere we go. My bag has a slot on the side to carry it, and it has saved us on numerous occasions. Tap water is safe to drink in most countries (although, double check that carefully before drinking it). My friends also use their Nalgene bottles to store things they don't want to have spill or break (i.e., peanut butter, granola bars, shampoos and soaps) - such a great idea!

The last few items are extensions to our list since we expanded our family. I can't encourage you enough to travel when you have kids. Do it. I agree, it's a lot of work, but it gets easier with each trip (here you can read a few pointers I have about traveling with kiddos).

9. Carseat / stroller / favorite child carrier. If we were renting a car at our destination, we always brought the carseats. We found out early on that renting a carseat through a rental car agency is painfully expensive, and you never know how safe or nice the carseats will be. It's a pain to lug them along, but there are ways you can carry them. (If you use a roller bag, here is a great device I discovered to help carry that carseat.) Also, several airlines (primarily in Europe) will let you check them for free or at least cheaper than it will cost to rent one at your destination. We were not big stroller users. It never worked well for us, so we never brought one on our trips. I can only recall one trip where I wished in hindsight we had brought it along because it was hot and the city would have been easy to navigate with a stroller. I have friends that never leave their stroller at home because their kids are well-behaved in them and they use them to visit museums. We felt the same way about our child carriers. For little r, it was my Moby. Super easy to pack in our bags, and he would sleep in that carrier instantly. We used it to carry him until he was 3! For baby c, it was always the Ergo. I still bring that everywhere we go.

The Moby was a comfy place for little r to sleep

baby c will let me take him anywhere in this carrier

10. iPad or other electronic device loaded up with your child's favorite shows and movies. I have absolutely no shame when it comes to traveling with kids and using an iPad to keep them quiet. We were able to enjoy many a meal in peace because of having it in tow. My day bag has a slot that fit our iPad perfectly, so we never left it behind. Our friends used it with headphones to keep their kids quiet in museums as well.

11. Favorite go-to snacks. There is nothing more impossible than trying to travel with a young child who is hungry. Bring a handful of their favorite snacks on every trip that won't make too huge a mess. Gummy Bears were always our go-to. Snack bars also work well. My friend brings peanut butter on her trips and a plastic knife so they could grab bread at a local store and keep the girls happy. Whatever works best, just be sure to bring it with you!

12. Blankets or lovelies for the kiddos. Both of my boys have blankees. As much as I never wanted to bring these around on the streets of Rome or walking the city wall in Dubrovnik, I refused to leave them behind. It was an instant way to keep them calm and help them feel secure in a scary place. We guarded them with our lives, but it was totally worth it to bring it along.

And finally, the most important thing to bring on every trip, adventure or vacation, is a good attitude especially if you are traveling with kids. Our best trips were always the ones where we were flexible and let things slide off our backs. We had our accommodations reserved in advance, we generally would know where we were going and what we wanted to see, but we felt out our moods, the weather, and the environment to find the best food and the greatest city walks.

Did I leave anything off? Definitely let me know if there's something you can't leave behind when you go on vacation, if it's not on our list!     

P.S. Those of you that know me, also know that I NEVER go on a trip without my travel yoga mat. Literally NEVER. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Monster mom

Monster mom is here full on in our house. Our children can't hide, they are exposed at every second to the wrath of my craziness. Seriously, I do think my inner monster is alive and putting it back is going to take some serious work. I've been caught in that mommy moment lately where your skin tingles because you feel like you are literally on the edge pretty much all the time. I'd say I'm exhausted, but honestly, that's not it at all. I'm just done. D-O-N-E. Love being a mom, love every inch of my children's soft skin, the never-ending kisses, and the unconditional love. That has been answered full on with irrationality this past few weeks. Daddy has been training, and being alone with the boys has not been difficult in the "doing it all by myself" category. Instead, they miss him, and the attention they get when we are both here. That's something I never really saw coming. This isn't the cause of all my monstrous tendencies, though, of course. Life is far too exciting for it to be one simple thing causing the mayhem.

My morning madness has turned into overwhelming insanity these days. Thank you day light savings for throwing my children into a sleepless funk that provides me with an extra hour of screaming laughter. It's fantastic on so many levels. HA! Little r has decided that he wants my undivided attention and baby c is in his way. That translates into pure, unadulterated antagonization. Baby c never gets a break from his brother's torment no matter how often I pull them apart. The poor kid is one crying mess until we get in the car to take little r to school. My general response to is to send him to his room. Little r responds by slamming the door and having a meltdown. Oh, and baby c isn't purely innocent in this whole scheme, that I am fully aware, but good grief! I know there is a solution to this deep in my bag of tricks, but that bag is completely AWAL at the moment.

As a mom, do you ever feel like you have forgotten how to talk without yelling? That the room starts spinning and you can't see straight because the crying is like nails on chalkboard? Yep. That's me. The worst part is, I know this all stems from me. I know that my little men feed off of my emotions. They sense my stress, they know I miss their daddy as much as they do, and they know I have a lot of things on my list to get done. Children know these things. They know them better than we think they do. Little r continues to be an expert at finding my buttons. His brilliance in this department is almost uncanny. Push, push, push. It's like that game we played as a kid where someone sits on top of your chest while you are laying down and slowly taps on your chest bone. It doesn't hurt, no pain at all, but it drives you completely mad anyway.

I love being a mom. I'm just not super crazy about this part. This part right here that wipes the smile off your face at breakfast when the cereal starts hitting the floor to a giggling soundtrack, when you disappear for 5 seconds to feed the cats, get dressed or brush your hair only to turn around and find your 5 year old pulling your toddler around the house by his blanket screaming his ever loving head off. The tantrums that happen because you refuse to let your children eat halloween candy all day long (wow, I NEVER hated candy more than I do this year), and the guilt you feel as a mother when you realize your toddler hasn't had a vegetable in several days. It's kind of all that. I love being a mom, but this is the tough part. I really don't want them to grow up too fast. In so many ways I already miss the sweet little babies they were, but pushing past this one small phase would be fantastic.

We have moments of insanity...

Moments of pure adorable calm...

And moments like these that make it all worth it...

Yep, monster mom is here, and I'm ready to send her packing. In the meantime, if you see her, try not to judge too much if she's wearing the same thing you saw her in yesterday or if she has yogurt in her hair. We are taking things one moment at a time these days, and we will get through this with some part of our sanity intact.