How to Read More Books with Little Changes

I read a lot – I would guess I read between 100-150 books a year, maybe more. I’m always surprised that when I talk to people and realize that reading that much is unusual. I am a fast reader, so I certainly have an advantage there, but I can’t imagine my life without reading. Reading has given me experiences in times and places I will never experience personally – it’s like a whole other way to know the breadth of life.

In order to make it easy for me to read a lot, I have a few easy strategies that I use to make books (digital and paper) part of my daily life and to encourage myself to read and finish books.

  1. Download the Libby app. You have to have a public library card to use it, but it’s really easy to set up with a public library card. Then you can download new books (both digital and audio) directly to your phone, or Kindle, or iPad – whatever you prefer. They are completely free and you get them for two weeks and they automatically return (no late fees! no driving to the library!). Pro tip – if you won’t finish a book in two weeks, turn the wifi on your kindle off and you’ll keep the book until you turn the wifi back on. I always keep a book on my iPhone, so instead of mindlessly scrolling, I can read a book waiting in carpool line, at the doctor’s office, or really anywhere!
  2. Sign up for BookBub emails. Not sure what you want to read? Tell BookBub what categories or types of books you like, and they will send you an email daily with books that fit your interests that are less than $3 on Amazon. You click, download, and boom – new book on your phone or Kindle.
  3. Try an audio book. Some books are better in audio format anyway. Malcolm Gladwell is a big believer in the power of an audio book, and he puts a lot of effort into making a compelling audio book that almost feels like a (really) long form podcast.
  4. Participate in a book club. Maybe it’s in real life, but maybe it’s online. I’ve followed Reese Witherspoon’s book club off and on for a while, and I enjoy the idea of having an “assignment” sometimes. I’ve read books I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, and enjoyed reading and sharing with others who are reading the same work. The connection and conversation can help to bring the book to life. Reese not your speed? Check out this wide selection of book clubs for everyone.
  5. Hear about a book that really grabs you? Immediately order it on Amazon. I only do this when I’m really excited about a book, but then I know that when I have that paperback laying around that I really want to read it. And then it stares at me from my bedside table because sometimes it takes me a while to start a real book because digital books are so much easier!
  6. Become a Book Fairy. Somehow the idea that I get to pass on a book and make someone else happy makes me more motivated to finish it, especially if I’m going on a trip and I can leave it in a new place. I’m heading to New Orleans this weekend and working to finish a book so I can book fairy while I’m there and leave it for someone else to find.
  7. Reading something you hate? Stop. Life is short. This isn’t high school English. You’re allowed to quit.
  8. Participate in a reading challenge. I’m doing the Women Reading 2020 Challenge, and it’s forcing me to stretch outside of my normal book selections to complete the challenge. The stretching is interesting, and I love checking things off and feeling like I’ve accomplished something. But if you search “reading challenge”, there are so many options. Print it out and post it somewhere you will see it.
  9. Read something light. Love romance novels? Thrillers? Erotica? YA? Whatever — read what makes you happy. I love to read Stuart Woods books. They are all basically the same, but I always enjoy the experience. So I keep reading them. Whatever – it’s just a hobby that I do for fun. No guilt.
  10. Put your kindle app, or your Libby app, on the first screen of your phone. Remind yourself to jump into it when you have time. Talk to other people about what you are reading. Let it be part of your daily life. Reading doesn’t require you to sit down for hours to finish War and Peace. Read a little, here and there, of what you enjoy, and let it bring you happiness, insight into the world, education, and fun.

Top 7 Reasons to Get an Au Pair or Exchange Student

I’m putting au pairs and exchange students together for this post because our root motivation for hosting an exchange student and for welcoming an au pair are similar. We have done both at different times depending on our family situation.

We love to travel. Learning about other places, other cultures, and experiencing the many pages of life enrich your life through experience, perspective and learning. BUT – have you traveled with three kids under 8? I have. It’s not for the faint of heart and it can definitely be exhausting. So while they are little and traveling internationally is more difficult, we have opened our minds to a broader definition of what it means to travel. At its core for us, travel is about opening your mind to people and places different from home.

Here are the top seven reasons that getting an au pair or exchange student are awesome:

  1. True relationships take time to develop. As you live together for six months to a year, you get to know each other in a way that is really different than a casual conversation. We learned that our exchange student from the Netherlands loved to drink buttermilk at home. We experienced some pasta carbonara prepared by an Italian in our kitchen. We went to a German Christmas market in Austin. Although all relationships have challenging moments and frustrations, the way you get to know someone through little day to day interactions is so much more meaningful than visiting a cultural festival.
  2. Welcoming a new person into your home gives your children (and you) a chance to grow in hospitality, empathy and kindness. We spent time talking to our kids about how the au pair or the exchange student might be feeling and asking them to imagine what it would feel like to move to a brand new place where people didn’t speak your language.
  3. Lifetime relationships. We can’t speak to this right now since it’s only been a few years, but I hope that this will be true. I studied abroad in France, and my host family had been hosting students for over twenty years. They had attended weddings of former students and maintained relationships over that time. I hope that my girls will grow up with a friendly face in many countries to welcome them when and if they get a chance to visit. The young women we have welcomed into our home can be big sisters in a way that we can’t as parents, and might someday become sounding boards as they get older.
  4. The food. Did I mention the carbonara? The gingerbread? The chocolate? As someone who loves to eat and cook, getting a first hand look at how someone from another country chooses to eat is endlessly fascinating and frankly delicious. Our exchange student loved natural peanut butter — it wasn’t something she could get at home. I bought so much peanut butter that year!
  5. The playtime. I am a big believer that my kids need to experience a variety of people, who insert a variety of backgrounds, ages and personalities into their developing social skills. Learning to build relationships and get along with all kinds of people is an awesome skill. As I watch our au pair play The Game of Life (again!) or hide and seek, and interact in a way that is different from what I would do, I am reminded that these moments teach so much in ways I cannot do myself, because I can only bring myself to our relationship. Our exchange student would spend a lot of time playing with the girls too, and their bond was something really special. Plus while they play I can cook dinner or do laundry. Mom life.
  6. The inspiration to get out there and explore. Because of our exchange student, we went to the rodeo in Llano, which actually was fun for all of us. Because of our au pair, we went to the German Market in Austin, which was a festive experience we wouldn’t have had without her. In small ways, it reminds me to get out and do stuff, to explore Austin and the surrounding area and to appreciate what is unique and special right here at home. And being happy where you are is pretty great.
  7. The power of opening up. You can read everywhere about how people are more isolated, behind screens and further from family than at any other point in history. Loneliness and isolation are rampant. Well, this is an antidote to that. You are welcoming another person face to face. When you open yourself and your home, you allow joy, chaos, fun, laughter, light and challenges in. And through the process of being open, you will find more of yourself and more of the world. You are modeling openness to your family.

We have participated as a host family with exchange students and with au pairs because we find that it aligns with our family values of respecting differences, openness, and kindness. Modeling by participating in these programs has offered us an easy way to show our kids what we mean by learning about other cultures in way beyond books, videos, projects or local festivals.

Plus, it’s been fun and interesting.

Small Town Lights

Johnson City, Texas, bills itself as the “Twinkliest Little Town in Texas.” Now, I am a big city girl, not a small town or country girl. But even I can appreciate the quiet and ease of a small town Christmas lights experience.

We’ve done Trail of Lights in Austin several times. The parking is a nightmare, you are crowded in like sardines, and at the end of spending over $100, I do not go home feeling joyful and festive. I feel annoyed, tired, and irritated that my ungrateful children do not appreciate the sacrifice I made to go. Every time, I vow never to go back. And then someone gives us free tickets and so we agree. But NOT this year. (I mean, no one gave us free tickets, and I’m not paying for that madness).

I do understand the draw though – it’s a beautiful and special seasonal experience to be under the twinkly lights,  watch the kids light up with joy at Santa, and enjoy something that is fleeting and only available for a little while. For that reason, I love going to Johnson City for their lights. It’s free. You park right next to the lights. It’s not crowded. It’s completely lovely.

We like to leave in the afternoon and stop off for dinner at The Oasis. The view at The Oasis is stunning, and the food and drinks are fine. There’s a ballon animal maker who roams the tables. It’s relaxing and about halfway there.

After The Oasis, we make the rest of the drive (a little less than an hour) to Johnson City. We park and explore. This year we went with another family, and we parked right by the trees. The trees — the Pedernales Electric Company uses their trucks with the bucket to cover the trees around their offices in lights. They are bright, and there are thousands of them. It’s so magical. The girls climbed on the rocks and played tag. We all did spins under the trees to see the lights swirl around in front of our eyes, and it made me feel like a child at Christmas again too. The local FFA was offering hot chocolate for a donation, so we all sipped on hot chocolate and talked and took some pictures.

We walked over by the courthouse with our hot chocolate, and we had fun taking more pictures with all the wooden holiday decorations – Whoville, Mickey and Minnie, reindeer, etc. There were only about ten other people there. We look over to see Santa sitting in his pavilion, no line, just waiting for children (or adults) to join him for important Christmas list discussions. Harper noticed him first, and her look of pure thrill was worth the drive. She dashed over to talk to him and he was warm and friendly and they had a ten minute discussion about her life and her wishes. Where else can you do that? We did take some pictures, but we already have some fancy pictures in fancy dresses, so the girls focused more on the experience of talking instead of the picture taking. We strolled around the courthouse and then everyone was getting tired (classic Ruthie – my legs hurt).

We drove to the lake house, which is thankfully only about thirty minutes away, and got everyone settled for bed. It was a relaxing and festive evening and a lazy morning.

Winter Fun with Kids in Telluride

Well, despite Ruthie and Theo getting sick, and the resulting total lack of sleep that meant for Tommy and me (and them), we had a good time in Telluride for the first time. I totally understand now why it’s frequently described as the best US ski destination, a really cool town, etc. The hype is real. It takes a while to get here, but this is a really special place!

Our top activities and memories from this trip, in no particular order:

  1. Sledding at Town Park. The park is really close to the condo where we stayed, and the condo had sleds in the closet (win!). The kids loved sledding down the hill. The second day we went sledding, we had the whole hill and most of the park to ourselves, except for a few people walking dogs. It’s a perfect sledding destination.
  2. Playing in the snow. Ruthie had never seen snow (not really, anyway – Austin snow doesn’t count!) before this trip, and Harper had only experienced it once on her trip to New York City for her fourth birthday. Just the sensory experience of playing in the plentiful snow, either on the balcony or at Town Park was pretty magical.
  3. Skiing – for Harper and Tommy. Ruthie only agreed to ski down the bunny hill once, but Harper skied all day. She has a long way to go to be ready for the big mountain, but she loved it and worked hard at it. We weren’t sure how either girl would do – I wouldn’t describe either of them as very physically adventurous. But the coaches were really great with the kids, and Ruthie was able to hang out inside and play when she decided she didn’t want to ski anymore. Tommy has only skied twice before this trip, and he didn’t really like it much either time. But this time, he got a great instructor for his lesson, and he loved it. It was beautiful weather to ski and not crowded.
  4. Playing games. We are a game loving family, so it’s no surprise that we packed a few games to play here and took full advantage of the games in the condo as well as at any restaurant we visited. Tip – the Steamies Burger Bar had a great collection of kids board games – we could have played for hours. The food was decent and it was very casual and easy to take the kids to. We played a lot of Too Many Monkeys, Connect Four, Yahtzee, Candyland, and Go Fish on this trip.
  5. Drinking hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps – this is Tommy’s top cold-weather drink. It’s pretty great!
  6. Visiting the Telluride Public Library. They have an amazing kids play area with a playhouse, lots of toys, lego table, costumes, light table, and so much more. The kids didn’t want to leave after several hours, and it was a perfect indoor break from the cold. We also got a library card and rented Mary Poppins, which we had been wanting to show the kids ever since we saw the new Mary Poppins movie in the theaters.

This trip was not without its challenges. Ruthie hates wearing all the cold weather gear, and had frequent meltdowns about hats, gloves, socks, etc. We were all tired. Tommy and I love to travel and are committed to sharing that love with our kids, so we powered through. Theo seemed a little out of his routine (of course) and traveling with a baby is never easy.

A couple of good strategies we tried for this trip —

I shipped a Blue Apron box to our condo, so I could make a couple of meals in with all the ingredients for a good meal without having to worry about going to the store. Saved money and time, plus it allowed us to not eat out for every meal.

We borrowed the kids cold weather gear – it’s a lot to buy and think about, and I was so grateful that our friends had kids the same sizes and were willing to share. Thanks!

We packed two giant rolling suitcases instead of more smaller bags, so it’s easier for us to get through the airport even with all the snow gear we needed.

We did laundry, so we didn’t pack a lot of extra anything.

And we knew we would forget something important — it was underwear for the girls. The only kids underwear I could find at a store in town was 1-2 sizes too small for them, but they had to make do. Sorry kids! It’s a lot to remember.

And hopefully, this trip will be a lot to remember in joyful ways for them too. I’ll be so glad to see my bed tomorrow night!

Where are we going? Or, nine hours of travel with three kids.

Tommy loves surprises. LOVES. So when we decided to go to Telluride two weeks ago on an impulsive trip to see snow and check out Telluride, he was so excited to keep it a surprise for the girls. This required some sneaky planning on our part, because we had to borrow ski clothes (Thanks Hegners!) and do all the packing at night after they were in bed.

Thankfully for pulling this off, our kids are not very perceptive. We had two large packed suitcases in the garage for almost 48 hours before we left, and they never noticed or asked about them. I’m pretty sure we could hide Christmas presents under their beds and they’d never notice.

Of course, we were so excited/anxious about having to wake the kids up, get them dressed, and leave for the airport by 5 AM on Sunday morning that neither of us got much sleep. Not the ideal way to start a nine hour travel day with three kids, but there we were. For me, it was like waiting for Christmas morning as a kid – there is so much joy in getting to bring joy and have fun with your own kids that I never really understood until I was living it. The older they get, the more fun that kind of thing is getting.

At 5 AM, we woke them up and told them to get dressed. We handed them a waffle and got them in the car. They were so sleepy and confused. We asked them to guess where we were going, and they guessed Mimi’s house (because she gets up early) and the Thinkery Children’s Museum, which as you may have guessed, isn’t open at 5 AM on Sunday morning.

We started driving, and as soon as we got close enough to the airport, Ruthie finally guessed that we were going to get on a plane to fly somewhere. Ding ding!

We told them we were going to fly to Montrose, which meant nothing to them. To be fair, I hadn’t really ever heard of Montrose before we started talking about Telluride, so I’m not sure it’s surprising that a 4 and 6 year old hadn’t heard of it.

We made it through the airport pretty smoothly considering we had all the kids (one of whom is two months old) and quite a bit of stuff (ski clothes are bulky!). Everything hummed along on our first flight to Dallas – Theo slept, the girls watched downloaded episodes of Story Bots and Magic Schoolbus. But when we got to Dallas, our gate was occupied. So we waited. Then they decided to send us to a different gate, and then it was occupied. Then there wasn’t an agent so we couldn’t deboard. Our time to connect was getting shorter and shorter. And of course, the baby needed a diaper change, we wanted to buy lunch, and the kids had to pee. Finally, we get off, and head for our next gate (in a different terminal). The kids loved the sky train at DFW, which was a good reminder to find some joy in what feels mundane to us.

We get to our gate, but they’ve moved our flight 15 gates away. So off we go, stopping for an emergency bathroom break for Ruthie, during which time Tommy bought some sandwiches at a kiosk (which the kids later refused to eat). While I’m waiting for Ruthie and doing a lighting speed diaper change on Theo, they call last call for our flight.

We make a mad rush through the airport (me carrying Theo, the girls trailing behind, still playing “don’t step on the gray tiles!” — not the time ladies!). We are the last people on the plane, but we made it.

By this point, we realize that Ruthie seems like she’s gotten sick (cold? flu?). Her nose won’t stop running, and Theo is getting restless with being held for hours. Harper is getting whiny because she doesn’t like her lunch, wants a different seat – you know, normal kid stuff from being cooped up all day. Okay, only five more hours of travel to go!

We survive the flight – the kids see snowy mountains out the window as we start descending into Montrose. AND — we are going to see snow! They finally figure it out.

Then we get off, Tommy takes the girls to the bathroom because I’m wearing Theo in the ergo baby carrier. I manage to get all three checked bags off the carousel by myself with the baby strapped to my front – feeling like maybe we will make it now. Everyone is friendly and you can feel the vacation vibes in the tiny airport.

We get to our shuttle and get our bags loaded – still have to get diaper changed, nurse Theo, and wait for our special guests. We also give the girls some Benadryl (in case they get carsick and to encourage naps – did you know Benadryl is the magic drug for carsickness?) and some Motrin (to help with any headache from the altitude). One nice thing about the shuttle is that they provide car seats, so that was one less thing we have to bring. Ruthie is looking worse and worse. ūüė¶

My friend Sarah from Boston arrives, and five minutes later my cousin Jenna from the Bay Area arrives. And we get loaded and we are off. It’s a beautiful drive – the shuttle driver plays tour guide and points out interesting things along the way – a herd of elk, Ralph Lauren’s ranch, etc.

We make it to the condo, and it’s lovely! Everyone is hungry for some real food, so we head to a recommended pizza place (The Brown Dog) to fuel up. The girls are so tired that they basically refuse to eat. But the rest of us loved the Detroit style pizza and craft beers. I have to admit, I was a total grump from being so tired, taking care of a baby, worrying about Ruthie, etc. We ended up staying in the condo for the rest of the evening, and I went to bed first at 7:15. Well, with Theo, so technically second I guess. Ruthie is pretty puny for the rest of the night. Nine hours of travel with three kids is not for the faint of heart, so hey, we survived, and I think that’s probably a win.

Shopping at the American Girl Doll Store for the First Time

For Christmas, Mimi (Tommy’s mom) gave all four of her granddaughters a trip to the American Girl Doll Store in Dallas plus a hotel stay at the Westin in the Galleria. They just love spending time with their cousins and their Mimi, and we are so blessed to be able to see each other pretty often. Their relationships are really special and amazingly, they almost never argue about anything.

The hotel is a very short walk to the store, which is wonderful on this very cold day. The Westin is really nice with big spacious rooms; we got rooms on the 18th floor, and the views are pretty awesome. It’s one of my favorite hotel rooms that I have stayed in – just feels really right and clean.

We all made the drive to Dallas yesterday, and the girls were all up bright and early this morning (between 5-6 AM) brimming with joy and anticipation for the big day. The whole weekend was planned as a girls outing, but Theo and Tommy came too because Theo is still nursing every three hours or so, and it’s too long for him to be away from me not to come for the whole weekend. Theo is spending today with Tommy and Pops and Dodo in his longest stretch away from me today while we do our shopping. Crossing my fingers that he does okay with his bottles!

Anyway — back to the main event —

We arrived at the store right after it opened, so it wasn’t too busy…maybe only about five other shoppers. I definitely recommend getting there right when they open. We went back later for our lunch reservation and it was much busier, and it would not have been the relaxed shopping experience that we were able to have. At the store, each girl got to choose a doll. Harper and Ruthie didn’t know a lot about American Girl before this trip, and I never had an American Girl doll as a child, so it was the first time for all of us.¬†The girls were immediately entranced, rushing from display to display to play with the many accessories and kits invitingly set up for them to explore. Although we were there to choose a doll, the girls were most drawn to the different sets that allowed them to play all kinds of interesting imaginative things, from adventuring in space to baking a wedding cake.

56cvgjppsqcrobtizifsxg

After a lap of the store, which took almost 30 minutes (!), the girls started to choose. There are really four types of American Girl Dolls: the original ones with books, themed accessories, and tied to a particular time and place; the Truly Me which are designed to look like the owners; the bitty babies (so cute!); and the Wellie Wishers designed for younger girls.

Savannah immediately chose a Truly Me that looks like her, and Charlotte chose one that looks like her shortly after that. Harper asked a salesperson for a doll that looked like her, and she was directed to Kit, who has short, straight blonde hair like Harper. Harper seemed to really like her and the dress she came in. Kit is one of the dolls that has books and a story to go along with her, and I think with time Harper will really enjoy that. Ruthie took a long time to decide. She liked Blaire, the girl of the year for 2019, but she really liked Blaire in her blue fancy dress, not the bumblebee sundress she comes in. We eventually decided on Blaire for Ruthie, but immediately had to change her into the blue dress. Blaire has books and a story too, but at this point, Ruthie is too young to really engage with that aspect of the doll.

The girls each chose some outfits, pets or accessories to go with their dolls. It was surprising to see what they each wanted – a pet pig and a wedding cake set for Ruthie, a watch and several outfits for Savannah, and a pet bunny with a cage and accessories for Charlotte (who has a pet bunny at home). Harper really wanted glasses for her doll, even though Savannah pointed out that Harper doesn’t wear glasses. The salespeople kindly opened each doll so that the girls could immediately start to carry their dolls around.

tbya8zdet4+la%slqquekg

The girls asked if they could take their dolls everywhere today – and the answer was– of course! Ruthie and Charlotte got tired of carrying theirs at some points today, but Savannah and Harper have held onto theirs tightly, playing as we go along in different ways — look, mine is doing the splits! Talking to them, and telling us about what they like and don’t like.

We had a lunch reservation, so we headed upstairs to the bistro for lunch. Our table was a tight squeeze for all of us and the doll high chairs that we had to fit. At the bistro, there were two menus — one for girls 4 and under, and one for everyone else. I thought this was a little annoying because the regular menu included an appetizer and a main course, but then they brought the little girls food with the appetizers. But anyway, I think I’m the only one who was bothered about this.

wywnd9duspeyxrguhahsrg

The food is okay, but presented in a really cute way. On the table, there are conversation questions to ask at your table, and we discussed what we would do if we won the lottery (something that probably doesn’t hold much meaning to these little girls after their shopping experience), what our dream job is, and more. Each doll got a placement, plate and cup…AND YOU GET TO TAKE THEM HOME! Yes, that’s about how excited the girls (especially Harper) were about this. Everyone was getting pretty wiggly and a little whiny, so after lunch it was nap/rest time (and pumping time for me — woohoo).

myzxiigytouhbay8kylzbw

I love watching the girls play, even just in the little bursts as we have finished shopping and eaten lunch, because I find it fascinating to see how they develop and interact with each other and how they learn to understand the world around them by reenacting what they see and experience. I grew up playing Barbies all the time, and I spent many hours pretending that the Barbies had a hot tub, became a doctor, and got married, etc. I have to say, I appreciate the rich opportunities for imaginative play in really constructive ways that American Girl offers in really child-like ways. It’s expensive (I’m glad there is a compatible line at Target), but it opens up the kind of expressive, interactive pretend play that I think is so healthy and natural for elementary age children. I’m really grateful that they had the opportunity to visit the store and choose a doll (it’s inspiring), and I hope that they will spend many hours engaged in exploring how to treat each other through pretending to be many things. Can they play this way without the official doll? — Of course! But just as an adult can enjoy a beautiful and lovely thing in their life, I hope my daughters can enjoy a beautiful doll and all the possibilities it creates.

 

Packing for a Road Trip with Three Kids

Today is the first time I’m going to pack for a road trip with three kids. I like to plan, be efficient, and be prepared. My packing list feels long — I need clothes for all three kids, plus a bunch of baby stuff. Oh, and I will need things too!

For Harper & Ruthie —

  • Outfits for three days, plus spares ¬†– I fold each outfit together so that it’s easy for them or Tommy or whoever to figure out what goes together, so they don’t end up with a ridiculous combination on the last day!
  • Pajamas – Although the girls don’t usually wear pajamas to bed – they prefer to sleep in just undies, but I pack them just in case and for hanging out in the hotel room.
  • Toothbrushes, hairbrush, detangling spray, toothpaste ¬†– Their toiletry list is blessedly short compared to mine.
  • Things to do while we have downtime – Each girl has a backpack with activity books, little plastic figures for playing pretend games, and simple games
  • Their travel journals – Each girl has a travel journal where they can write a sentence or two about their day and draw pictures to remember their trip. I believe that “writing for a purpose” helps to build their love and confidence in writing, and they are excited to have their own way to document their trips.
  • A few snacks for the drive and movies for the DVD player in the minivan
  • A few books to read while we are there

For Theo — this is more complicated!

  • Outfits for three days, plus spares – This will be a lot. Yesterday he wore seven outfits…between blowouts and spit up, it was a mess. I will pack his outfits in gallon sized plastic bags so it’s easy to just grab one without having to rummage through a bag of loose baby clothes, which just don’t stay folded very well.
  • Diapers and wipes, of course – When we fly with a baby, I just purchase diapers at our destination if it’s going to be more than two days, but we are driving this time.
  • Stroller
  • Bed – I am bringing this.
  • Pump – I will be shopping with the girls on Saturday, so I’ll need to pump at some point. I’m planning to just park the car near the American Girl Doll store and pop out for a few minutes when the timing makes sense. We will also need breast milk, bottles, and all the parts for the pump plus a cooler for storage.
  • Diaper bag for going out places – I’m loving the backpack style Land bag we got.
  • Heavy baby blanket for a play spot – He loves to play on his bag and kick and move around, so I’ll definitely want him to be able to do that with a blanket on the bed.
  • A few toys

It’s definitely a little different than being able to pack everything in a backpack for a year! With Harper, I would have spent a week researching, reading articles on the internet, and planning the trip. Now, I’m grateful to be more confident and be able to get everyone packed in an hour or so. And, if I forget something, they have stores in Dallas. We will be staying in a hotel attached to a mall, after all!

 

Bringing Back the Blog

It’s been a long time since we’ve written on the blog. Although our lives are much more conventional now than when we were on the road full time, we still enjoy our adventures and hope for many more in the future. As the girls have gotten older and we have gotten bolder about taking them places with us, we are excited for more travel together as a family and as break outs from our whole family group.

I enjoy reading our blog and remembering our trip because memory is a fickle partner – ever evolving and changing what really happens every time you remember. My hope is that with the blog, we will be able to revisit our journeys without as much evolution in what really happened!

The other reason I am writing is that, in a digital age where we can photograph our lives hundreds of times a day, the sheer volume becomes unmanageable and hard to enjoy. Although I’m not sure that shoeboxes of photographs are necessarily more enjoyable than a Facebook timeline, and the Facebook timeline is certainly more easily accessible. But anyway, the narrative of what we are feeling and experiencing at the time is missing, and I enjoy looking back and knowing where I was, both literally and figuratively.

We have a short trip to Dallas (oooh–exotic) to the American Girl Doll Store, but I thought it would be a great opportunity to re-open our blog for my own enjoyment and to help me appreciate the journeys with our growing family.

Returning Home

We spent the month of December as nomads, roaming between the homes of friends and family who generously welcomed us (thanks y’all!). It was a whirlwind of catching up and being amazed that people had managed to have birthdays and new babies while we were away. (In my mind, everyone else remained frozen in time while I traveled. Turns out, not the case at all). It was a soft landing to return back to our previous lives.

The soft landing can only last so long, and eventually (January, time of so many new beginnings), it was time for one for us. We gathered our things and moved to Austin, where we know only a few people. I know very little about the city. I don’t know what we are going to do for work. But now that the last box is unpacked (okay, I have one left, but it’s just going to wait for a new burst of motivation), it’s time to address the burning question on everyone’s mind – what are you going to do for work? (Okay, I think it might actually be — when are you going to have babies!?! but I’m not answering that here.)

I haven’t felt ready to write a post wrapping up the trip until tonight, when I poured myself a glass of wine and sat down…and I felt ready. The trip was amazing. Most importantly, I think it gave Tommy and I the chance to really grow as a married couple and learn to work together better, be more patient, and understand each other’s way of communicating better. I cannot articulate very well the changes there, but I can feel them every day.

I think I have become a little gentler on others and myself. I made an unconventional choice, and I feel more openness to others who make unconventional choices. There are a million ways to live, many of which I haven’t chosen yet, but certainly I don’t know the future. I never dreamed I would take a trip for 14 months around the world. I’m sure plenty of people thought me a little crazy and irresponsible. It was the right choice for me. So – whatever to those people. And I am working on being less judgemental of others. We all have our own challenges and rough roads, poor choices and regrets. I don’t need to heap my foolishness or scorn on top of the climb for someone else. Keep yours off mine too. Being out of the loop of gossip within a circle made me appreciate more how very pointless and damaging it all is. I’m sure I’ll slip and I know I already have, but at least I have turned my face toward a different direction.

I have gained peace with less planning. By nature I am such a planner, wanting to research each decision in order to make the right one. Travel doesn’t allow for that, and often surprised us with delights in the least expected ways. I don’t need to make a plan for everything. I can trust that God will carry me forward. Patience.

I place more value on taking care of myself. I am more aware of my need for personal time and more aware of how to fill that time for maximum satisfaction. I am more spritually aware than I would have been attending church and listening to sermons each week (at least that’s how I feel). I can see my perspective a little clearer, and I have more peace with the fog and doubts that travel with me no matter where I go. Experiencing other religions in small ways only enhanced my own relationship with God, as did lots of quiet time away from the hustle and bustle.

I am excited to turn thirty in a few months. My twenties have been filled with surprises — marrying my college sweetheart, living in NYC, working in finance, starting a healthcare business with my Dad, taking a trip around the world….if you had asked me at 18 – not a single one of those would have been in my expectations for my twenties. Without a plan for work or really much else, I’m excited to see what adventures my thirties have in store.

Finishing in Style

We’re home! ¬†Sorry for the blog delay – our travelling laptop finally died in Indonesia and since returning home we’ve been lost in a fog of 40-hour travel, jet lag, tearful reunions and then car-buying. ¬†So, while it’s exciting to be home and we’re so focused on looking forward, we’d be remiss to not recount a last bit of Indonesian awesomeness.

Having heard so many wonderful things about Bali, we made a conscious decision in July to finish our trip there.  Even though it made for a screwy routing; look at a globe Рwe skipped Indonesia between Malaysia and Australia, then went all the way to Japan before backtracking 3,473 miles just to spend 2 weeks in Bali before heading home.  Which made it really disappointing when Anna developed some sort of really nasty stomach illness (Bali Belly) during our first day in Ubud.  She was pretty sick for 6 of the last 9 days, finally getting better in time for one hectic day of shopping in Ubud (imagine that, she feels well enough to shop) and then 2 amazing days at Bali Prime Villas in the beach hideaway of Seminyak.

My aunt, Kita, had been pestering us (Kita does the nicest pestering possible) to accept her offer of a nice hotel stay (her treat!) since India. ¬†Finally, we found the right spot (Bali Prime Villas) and the right situation (end-of-trip celebration) to say yes. ¬†And I couldn’t be happier that we did. ¬†Here are some pictures:

Anna, being excited in our bedroom.

This was the outdoor bathroom. There was an outdoor shower, in addition to the massive tub.

This was the outdoor kitchen and dining room.

And the thing that pushed it over the top: our own private swimming pool.

After 6 days, trapped indoors watching old seasons of House and Chuck on DVD (pirated DVD stores abound in Indonesia), our fancy villa was music to Anna’s eyes. ¬†And after playing fetch for her for 6 days, I was just excited that they had a room service menu. ¬†We made the most of our time – we arrived at the earliest possible check-in time, ate all but one meal room service, got fancy massages and spent most of the day lounging beside our personal pool. ¬†We read, we played cards, we watched Kansas basketball (the only sport I could have talked Anna into) on the large flat screen. ¬†Mostly, we relaxed and soaked in the final hours of our adventure of a lifetime. ¬†Though Seminyak is a beach town, less than 5 km from world-famous Kuta Beach, we only made it to the beach for about an hour. ¬†Both days, we debated taking the free shuttle to the beach for the day and then decided that we had a pretty nice spot already.

When it finally came time to leave, we were relaxed and ready for the 40 hour return trip home.