An Ode to Opportunities

Sometimes a thought pops into one’s head that is so compelling, one must drop everything to consider it.  To pursue it. To follow its course and see that thought through to an argument. A case for something. And when one is done wrestling within one’s inner monologue, it leaves one completely convicted, breathless, until truth is the only thing that remains. Friends, today this happened to me.

I was going to publish my final post about our recent trip to Iceland. But this is too important. I had to get these words out before they made my head explode.

I’m reading a book right now, in which a widowed father is taking care of his young, disabled daughter. They’re not wealthy. For her birthday, he gives her a book, something he knows she will love. He sees how happy it makes her, and then he explains that this is only part one of two books, and that if he saves up enough, perhaps, by her next birthday, they could buy the second part. But she doesn’t care. She has already started reading.

It brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m a new parent. Maybe it’s because I want to give my children anything they want (even though I won’t). And when they want something I don’t have, or cannot control, it breaks my heart. Maybe it’s because this very story is in a book that I got from my local public library – an incredible freedom and privilege that I take for granted even though it touches my life directly every . single . day. My family and I have access to virtually any book we want to read, at the click of a button. It costs me nothing. It is free, and freedom is a beautiful thing. It makes you stop what you’re doing, and makes you observe a silent moment of gratitude for the things you know you take for granted. Do that, right now.

Friends, there are so many opportunities we have every day that we don’t spend enough time thinking about. If you’re reading this right now, you are alive, breathing, not living in modern slavery or extreme poverty, not lacking clean water or nutritious food. You likely have the ability to go outside and explore your neighborhood, read or listen to books, eat a scoop of ice cream when a craving hits (sugar-free, gluten-free, non-dairy options, anyone?), save up enough money to fix something broken in your home, or take your kids on an outing to enrich your time together or broaden everyone’s horizons. These are wonderful opportunities.

So, when we are faced with senseless tragedies nearly every day, let them remind us that nothing is guaranteed. Not our health, not our jobs, and certainly not tomorrow. But we can find strength in the Hope that we have now, and happiness in the moments we give thanks. Take a deep breath, and savor it, knowing that every breath is a gift. Go take a walk around your neighborhood, read a library book, utter a silent prayer, have that conversation with your spouse that you know you’ve been meaning to have but just haven’t yet, and give thanks for those freedoms and opportunities. Hug your loved ones extra tight this week, my friends.

Iceland with Kids: Part I

Well, we did it. I don’t know how exactly, but somehow we managed to fit the basic needs of two adults, a six-month old, and a two-and-a-half year old, to travel around Iceland for ten days  into two backpacks. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you know that we try hard to organize our time and budget around the things we value most. Traveling as a family is one of those things, and our goal is always to travel as lightly as possible. The more we travel, the more we see the value in being able to move freely, without dragging bulky suitcases behind us, and having our hands free. This held true for our recent trip to Iceland.

Our plan was to take only backpacks that Ryan and I could each carry on our back. Our packs are not huge. Ryan has a 45-liter pack, I have a 30-liter pack, and we packed everything into these.

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A few people we ran into before boarding our plane stared hard at our two little ones and our backpacks, and mentioned that we must be checking in more baggage. No, we were not. And, you know what happened? Nothing. We had what we needed, nothing more. No big deal.

So, because we always get asked, here’s what we took (or didn’t take):

Baby Gear. I carried Arya in the Ergo carrier. Johann, our toddler, has good stamina and can walk really well, but he is easily distracted. We borrowed a second Ergo-carrier for the trip, worthwhile since we used it on a couple of our longer hikes. (No one is paying me to say this, but we love the Ergobaby brand; it’s the only soft-structured child carrier we’ve ever needed to use, it is arguably the most ergonomic for adult shoulders and backs, and we’re sold on it for life.)

We carried a small daypack that functioned as our all purpose diaper bag/snack bag/plane distraction bag. We did not take a stroller. We did not take travel cribs or pack n’ plays. We did not take carseats, but considered it since we were renting a car in Iceland. We were on a tight budget for this trip since we had saved up for it, and wanted our money to stretch as far as it would go. The flights were cheap but nothing else in Iceland was! In the end, we decided to rent carseats there. This worked for us, since the idea of toting two cumbersome carseats sounded entirely impractical and totally against the purpose of traveling light. (There are many strong opinions out there on renting carseats, and regardless of what you believe, do what works for your family.)

Clothes and shoes. Three sets of clothes for all and a fourth set for each kid – just because. (Always bring spare clothes on-board for yourself and your kids.) We knew that we would be outdoors most of the time, that there was still snow on the ground in lots of places, and that the average temperature would be around forty degrees Fahrenheit. So we packed layers, including fleece layers, an outer rain/wind shell, and hat and gloves for all. This took up a lot of space in our packs, even though we rolled everything tightly! We also had our handy Scrubba Wash Bag. I seriously love this thing. Ever since I found it before our backpacking trip to Spain while Johann was a baby, we’ve brought it everywhere, and it has made traveling light so much easier for us. We packed hiking boots for ourselves and Johann, and we wore street shoes on the plane. Arya didn’t need any shoes, but she did have this rad bunting and baby booties that kept her warm and dry!

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Toiletries, health and grooming items. Not much here. Toothbrushes, a small spool of floss and travel size toothpaste, hairbrush, the concealer stick and eye pencil that forms my only makeup, one sunblock that we could all use, a small tube of diaper rash cream and tylenol for the kids in case they needed that, a disposable razor each, and a few Q-tips. Anything else we could hunt down locally.

Diapers. We opted for disposable diapers on the trip. We packed enough to last three or four days for each kid, we bought more locally when we ran out. A pack of wipes, and a couple of bags to hold dirty diapers on the go, clothes to be washed, or dirty shoes.

Snacks & Entertainment. Arya is still breastfeeding, so no special baby feeding supplies. She has started solid foods recently, but eats what we eat (we are huge fans of the Baby-Led Weaning method!) so no special baby feeding supplies there. The only toys we brought were a small teether and sensory doll that she loves. She was happy with these during the whole trip. Babies are generally pretty easy travelers! This was Arya’s first flight, and we were nervous about that, but it helped that it was a nonstop flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, and seven hours and fifteen minutes flew by. We did not buy her a separate seat, so she was on my lap for most of the flight and napped or played happily.

For ourselves and Johann, we packed dry snacks that would last a couple days so we wouldn’t have to hunt them down as soon as we got there. Nutritious, high-calorie things like apples, dried fruit, nuts, hard cheese, crackers, etc. This is the name of the game for high energy toddlers who just will not sit still for any amount of time. We also threw in Johann’s toddler headphones and found that he was more interested in the seat-back screen entertainment on the flight than he was the last time we traveled overseas. It’s cool to see his attention span get longer as he grows older! He watched bits of movies and played the games that were on offer, and was generally was very well-behaved in his window seat.

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We chose not to bring anything special for him besides snacks and headphones. He created his own entertainment. Or maybe he was forced to, because we didn’t bring anything? Either way, we were very proud of how well he did away from all of his familiar stuff. We asked him once, towards the end of our trip if he remembered our house and his toys and all his books…and his eyes lit up! We were touched at how fondly he remembered home, and were surprised to see how his memory is developing. It was a highlight of our time away.

By the time we added our travel documents, handkerchiefs, small electronics, camera, empty water bottles, chapstick, etc. our packs were nearly full. We were ready to see Iceland!

If you are wondering about specific items that we brought or didn’t bring, I’d love to try and answer your questions about it! Please leave me a comment or send me an email!

Next, I’ll share some of the things we saw and did. Iceland is much more kid-friendly than you think! Stay tuned.

We’re Going to Iceland!

We’re heading to Iceland with our baby and toddler next month. We have heard about Iceland’s jaw-dropping scenery, rugged terrain, numerous wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities, and that it’s cold no matter when you go. We can’t wait to experience a new country, its culture, and unique environment. Well…when I say “we,” I really just mean Ryan and I. Johann, our 2-year old, knows that we’re going somewhere on an “airpeen” soon to “ike.” We mentioned that we will do some hiking when we get there, and he loves to hike. Arya, our 6-month old, doesn’t seem to care, but she’s generally up for anything.

We weren’t actually planning to go to Iceland this year. However, we had saved up for a trip somewhere. An acquaintance had shared pictures from their trip to Iceland, and when a recent search showed cheap flights from Seattle to Reykjavik we booked it. Everything else fell into place quickly. Now, we’re in the trip planning phase, which I personally find almost as exciting as the trip itself. I’m poring over maps, reading up on places to explore, things to see, do, eat and drink. I’m pretty excited.

We’ll spend ten days in Iceland and, rather than try to see it all, we want to explore just a couple of areas really well. We also want to make time and space for our little ones to nap, play, and to just be, well, little ones. We found a guesthouse at one destination and an apartment in the other that are more affordable, spacious, and a bit more homey than hotels. They both have either private or shared kitchens where we can cook our own meals – a huge bonus since food is expensive there. We booked a rental car for part of the trip and can’t wait to drive around seeing the countryside and tiny fishing villages at our own pace.

We’ll be there in May, when the average spring temperature will be the 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit). We’ve been told that the weather can change on a dime, which means being prepared. We normally travel light, and don’t want to have bulky bags so we’ll be layering up!

Our son has enough base layers and insulating layers. He recently started sporting this awesome waterproof coverall to get a little extra rewearing time on his clothes (we’re outside a lot, rain or shine). But we still need to scrounge up some layers for the baby. She won’t need much since she isn’t crawling yet (one reason we chose to go on this trip now). New parents – if you’re reading this, take note: there are many advantages to traveling with babies before they are mobile!

So how do we pack lightly for Iceland with a baby and a toddler?

In our travels over the past two years, Johann mainly rode around in the Ergo carrier. Now he walks, and the baby rides in the Ergo. We thought it wise to borrow a second Ergo from a friend for this trip. It packs down easily and we can use it if we need to hustle to catch a flight, or if we do a longer hike and Johann’s little legs get too tired. Other than the carriers, and a daypack that we use as our diaper bag, we’re playing around with what exactly we need to bring.

When we went to Spain, Johann was an eleven-month old baby, and Ryan and I got away with just taking backpacks! No stroller or suitcases or anything. Even when we went to Germany and India last summer, I thought we struck a great balance between what we brought, what we decided to leave home, and what we bought locally (diapers!). Now we’ve got two in diapers, and will need enough clothes to cover all of us for a seven-hour flight and at least three days. Cold/weatherproof clothing, accessories, and hiking boots are heavy and take up so much space. Yikes! That’s already a lot of stuff.

Is it even possible for two adults to backpack around Iceland with a baby and a toddler? I suppose anything is possible. But this sounds crazy even to me. Still…Ryan and I often reminisce fondly while looking at pictures of our backpacking trip through Spain. That was one of the best things we did as a (then) new family of three. It made the unknowns very real. We felt released from the fear and anxiety about international travel with a baby, and knew it was possible to travel light, too. Not easy, but certainly doable, rewarding, and memorable. It challenged us, convicted us, humbled us, and made us better parents. Now we’re deternities to do the same for our new family of four.

Stay with me over the next few weeks as we figure out how we’re going to do Iceland with a baby and toddler!

How do you decide what to bring and what to leave behind when packing for big trips?

On flowers, forgotten shoes, forgiveness and flexibility

We decided to go to the Tulip Festival this weekend. If you’ve ever spent a spring season in the Seattle area, you probably know what this is. Miles and miles of tulips, even some daffodils and irises, all over the fertile soils of the Skagit River valley, against the backdrop of the beautiful Cascade mountains. In five years of living in the Pacific Northwest we have been slowly working through our list of things to do and see here, we just hadn’t gotten to the Tulip Festival yet. Our family isn’t necessarily hardcore about flowers. But, since it’s such big deal around here, we wanted to go. So when a friend called me up a few days before, and invited us to tag along with their family, we said “sure!” We like them, our kids are the same ages, and we could think of nothing more wonderful than hanging out with friends and letting our toddlers run around while we all enjoyed thousands of glorious tulips on a beautiful day. So, this was the year we would go to the famous Tulip Festival.

We hopped on the Interstate Saturday morning, braved the traffic at the crowded exits with the thousands of others who also wanted to see the tulips, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when we finally pulled into the parking area of ‘Tulip Town.’ We decided to walk around a bit and get our bearings since our friends were delayed in traffic. I strapped baby Arya into the Ergo carrier, while Ryan tended to putting on Johann’s socks and shoes. (The kid has kicked off his socks and shoes since birth, so we’ve learned to just leave them off for long car rides and save ourselves the work of putting them on again and again.)

And, then Ryan says “you grabbed Johann’s shoes, right?”

Um. No. You were supposed to put his shoes and socks in the car. You’re joking, right? It was the one thing I had asked for help with as we were heading out the door that morning.

No response.

“Ryan, please be joking.” Crickets again.

And, then, I got that sinking feeling. “Just remember that you love me.”  (We had just celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary the day before, and love was in the air.) And, then the facts were revealed. Ryan had put his socks on, but had totally forgotten about his shoes which were safely still tucked away in the closet. No, no, no! This was bad. We were over an hour’s drive from home. What better thing to leave at home than the shoes of a two year old boy with lots of energy, when you’ve planned to spend the entire morning in a place like this!? We didn’t have spare shoes in the car. No stroller, or backup baby carrier. We are minimalists, after all. We don’t even have that much stuff to bring on these day trips, how could we leave behind something as critical as shoes!? I’m usually so prepared!

I am a planner. Ryan is the flexible spontaneous one. I like knowing what’s coming in any given situation. He finds it easy to improvise and make the most of things. No shoes? This didn’t fit into my plans for the morning. At that moment, we had two choices. A: we could stay and try to make the most of it. Or, B: pout and go home. After a few minutes deliberation, (during which time I did pout, but also decided to forgive Ryan) we decided to stay and try to make the most of it. Besides, the nice festival folks had just fleeced us for $12 to be here.

Johann could have run around barefoot, if we were perhaps in another country or we didn’t care much about keeping our toddler’s feet unhurt. But that wasn’t really viable. So, Johann could ride on daddy’s shoulders (which they both love). But I had a feeling it wouldn’t last long. There was at least a mile or two of walking involved, Johann could get restless, Ryan’s shoulders could get sore, and we wouldn’t want to inhibit our friends from seeing everything they wanted to see too. But we would see how it went.

We walked around a little bit, while we waited for our friends to arrive. Johann was content to ride on his dad’s shoulders. He did ask a couple times to “get down” but didn’t fuss when we said he couldn’t because he didn’t have shoes on. When our friends arrived, they didn’t have a spare pair of shoes either. But they had brought a double stroller for their kids. Their toddler was more content to run around so they offered Johann his seat. I wasn’t sure about this at all. For the past several months, it has taken a ton of coaxing to get Johann to sit in a stroller. He prefers to walk or run everywhere and doesn’t enjoy sitting in the stroller anymore. To my surprise, Johann rode the entire way in their stroller. Happy as a clam. Maybe it was the novelty of it, or maybe he was just being extraordinarily good. But everything went fine. The kids were all well-behaved, and everyone had a good time. It turned out to be a lovely morning. The tulips were truly stunning.

We all went out to lunch afterwards. By that time, Johann had stopped asking to “get down.” Maybe he remembered that it wasn’t an option any more. We parted ways with our friends after lunch, and got home later that afternoon where Johann played in the backyard and “helped” his dad with some yard work (with shoes on). He did eventually burn off all the energy that had built up over the course of the day.

Everything had turned out fine. We finally made it to the Tulip Festival. It wasn’t such a big a deal that Johann didn’t have his shoes. What was I so worried about earlier? So we messed up and left something behind. Who doesn’t do that from time to time? My change in attitude was the turning point of the morning. I could have sulked, placed blame, and chosen not to have a good time. This parenting thing is hard. It doesn’t need to be made any harder by beating ourselves up when something doesn’t go well. Little eyes are watching and little ears are hearing how we respond. I am grateful for my husband, the wiser parent in many regards, who balances me out and models what it means to try to make the most of a less than ideal situation.

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As we were walking out of the tulip fields back to our parked car, we stopped to admire the kites flying by the entrance. It reminded me that there is freedom in forgiving ourselves and our spouses, and finding the flexibility to blow where the wind takes you. I want my kids to learn that! And, I am learning that too.

The Virtue of Contemplation

There are seasons of exploration. And then there are seasons of contemplation. Opportunities to slow down and soak in change. A chance to grow amidst life’s transitions. This is that season for me. For us.

Last year was a year for exploring. It was soul-enriching. We went new places, did new things, and had a ton of fun. And then, in October, our second child was born. Our new baby girl Arya has added a whole new kind of enrichment to our family life. She has given us the opportunity to slow down and figure out life with two littles. It’s been a couple of months of hard work to maintain peace and find balance in our new life. We have worked hard to simply keep up with the mundane, but still very necessary things. Things like keeping our two dogs walked, making time to exercise or finish an important conversation with the spouse, keeping everyone fed and bathed and in clean clothes, tackling the never-ending piles of dishes and laundry (compounded by the fact that we have two kids in cloth diapers). But we’ve also cut back and slowed down in other areas, to savor and give one hundred percent to the things that truly matter. Things like serving others. Fostering friendships, old and new. And we’re hearing things better. Sounds like leaves falling off trees while taking our toddler to the park, and hearing our toddler give his baby sister kisses (which may be the sweetest thing we’ve experienced yet).

If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know that I’ve blogged about this before. For years before our kids were born, we said our lives won’t stop when we have kids. When Johann was born it was a hard change, but it seemed like we fell back into an active life soon enough and he just came along for the ride. While life is certainly harder now with two young kids (and it’s only been three months!) in some ways not much has changed. We’re still the same people, we still have the same values, the same priorities, the same purpose and the same drive. We’re just in a season of contemplation. Transition. Figuring out our new normal.

Ryan and I are talking about what backpacking, camping, and travel will look like for us this year. People still ask us if we’re crazy for continuing to do this stuff with two littles aged two and under. We may be! And, we hear a lot of “I don’t know how you do it.” But the things we do: get outside, travel, be still in nature, live with less stuff, live responsibly towards our planet, be more self-sufficient, continue enjoying financial peace and debt-freedom…among other things, these stem from our values, our WHYThese are things we so desperately want to pass on to our children that we are being intentional about them. A little planning, and starting small goes a long way. Arya went out on her first real hike at four weeks old. It was a tame forty-five-minute back-and-forth thing, but it was enough for us to see that she, too, has inherited her parents’ love of the outdoors. We took her to the mountains to play in the snow and went sledding all day at nine weeks. She is already adventurous like her big brother, and every bit as flexible and easy-going.

Life is good, and it’s about to get very, very exciting indeed.

So, I’m still here. And, I’ll be back to post more frequently as we move towards our new normal. Thank you so much for sticking with me, for reading, and for the words of encouragement.