6 Days....

20160706_195402 In 6 short days, my husband Kirk will be finished working at the hospital. For good (I hope.)

And in 6 days, the way we approach our work, our time, and our family will also change.

And if it wasn't for all of the legwork we began nearly 3 years ago, when I had my life-changing realization and we ran our marriage through the ringer, well we simply wouldn't be in this position today to change our work and our family's story.

My husband has always had music buried in his bones. Our lives together have been colored by the soundtrack of his songs and the timber of his guitar strings.

I wasn't always supportive of this. I wanted him to grow-up. And so he did.

As I tucked away my dreams for writing a book, he also set aside his music aspirations. We worked, we consumed our work, but it didn't fulfill. We began our family and realized that we lost our ability to communicate about dreams and living creatively to our girls because cowardice and fear had led us on a different path.

Last New Year's Eve, as we looked forward to 2016, we set big goals for my writing and his music. And we surpassed those goals beyond all of our expectations. And as early as December 2015, we dreamed of a day when Kirk could work part-time to have more free time to develop his music.

It wasn't just about the music though, but about having our precious time together as a family. For Kirk to have an active hand in raising his children, instead of just tucking them into bed at night with a story.

Of course, time is always against us, isn't it? We're in our early 30s and society tells us that we're too old to really accomplish much. But we've come this far, haven't we?

So next week starts a new chapter in which we will both chisel away at our goals for 2017, work on our passions, create a stronger family and home life, and jump off the mind-numbing treadmill of the 9-5 (or more like 9-7 plus Saturdays, as was the case with his hospital work.)

Nothing about this new direction has been easy, and we expect it to continue to challenge us. But this life wouldn't be worth living if we weren't willing to tackle the mountain, come what may.

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2016 Annual Review and 2017 Intentions: Good-Bye Hustle, Hello Quiet

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As I look forward to the start of 2017, I am also very aware of the mistakes and triumphs of this past year. And as I took some time these past few weeks to truly reflect, I saw certain patterns emerge and also identified a slightly different course for this new year. Here are my thoughts on 2016 along with how I'll be changing directions in 2017:

Home |  In late spring we bought a house and moved into it toward the end of the summer. Buying this house was a huge step toward our family's values, namely living small and frugally. Instead of buying what the bank told us we could afford, we bought well below our means.

And these walls are definitely feeling like home even if it's not as organized as I would like. So my goal for the first few months of 2017 is to declutter, organize, and prepare our home to welcome our newest addition later this spring.

I'm also cutting myself some slack on how my home looks even if it's not picture perfect or design mag worthy. Even minimalists feel the pressure to have--if fewer things--still all the right things. I'm over all of that and content with my grandma chic style because it makes this home ours.

Travel | We traveled a significant amount in 2016. Despite making a major purchase (house) and completing a full-gut renovation of the bathroom, we still traveled a total of a month over the course of the year. And while I am grateful for the experiences we had, our schedule was overflowing this year. I actually missed having lazy days on the beach, but we were too busy with traveling to other places and working on our house to enjoy where we live.

We sold our Casita for a myriad of reasons, many of which may make their way into a post someday. Owning the Casita created this sense of pressure to use it; it's a costly possession, and we didn't want it gathering dust in the backyard. But I will say for now that I feel a sense of relief that we'll be staying local this year. We may take a trip in 2017 to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary, but it will be simple and affordable.

Finances | We spent SO MUCH money in 2016. A mind-boggling amount went toward the down payment on the house, renovation costs, and buying new household items to replace the ones we got rid of.

We also prioritized travel and a good portion of our extraneous funds went toward trips in the Casita. While I am grateful we had the money to spend on our house and travels, we saved almost nothing and made little progress on old debts.

So 2017 is going to be a shake-up year: selling the Casita will free up some major funds. We already cut our grocery bill by about 40% over the last few months and will continue to eat frugally in 2017. And although Kirk is quitting the hospital and a salaried position to work freelance, there is a possibility of making more. Or making less. Either way, our reduced spending will make the transition easier. We'll kick off January by joining the Frugalwoods' Uber Frugal Month Challenge (so, you know, don't ask me to go shopping or anything.)

We already paid off the birth center and midwifery services bill (thank you Samaritan Ministries!*), and we will also be paying our 4Runner off a year early in February. I knew it was dumb when we took a car loan out on it (our first car loan, ever!) and I don't plan to make that mistake twice. Once it's paid off we'll divert that monthly payment to a savings account and save up for the next vehicle.

Work | Oh, work. What a wild, overwhelming, exciting, and time-consuming year of work it was! 2016 was definitely my year of hustle as I worked to grow Cohesive Home. Not a day went by that I didn't work on it in some capacity, whether that was writing emails, writing and recording podcasts, creating content for Instagram and the blog, meetings with Melissa, and writing a column for Metro Family Magazine.

Part of the issue is that I also teach 4 sections of university-level humanities online each semester (and 1-2 during the summer.) It was difficult to find time for all of my "jobs" without completely ignoring my kids, my husband, and my home.

And while I am grateful for the experience, I also realized I am not cut out for hustle. Yes, there are so many amazing, entrepreneurial women out there who are able to balance growing a business with growing a family. I am not one of those people. And I am done.

So in 2017, I will be drastically cutting back on my role in Cohesive Home. I've made some changes to my online courses to simplify my work tasks, and I will direct my energy toward my home, my family, and my own well-being. I also finished writing my first children's chapter book, and my goal is to secure a publishing contract by the end of 2017.

Family | Finding myself unexpectedly pregnant has been such a divine blessing. It allowed me to shift my self-centered focus on work back toward my family and growing this little baby. And I've already started cutting extra responsibilities from my life, so that I can be engaged and connected when little one joins us.

I want to be fully present with my girls and the new baby, to have time to sit in stillness and enjoy each day for what it is instead of fretting about what I'm not accomplishing. Instead of non-stop hustle, I am creating space for peace and stillness. I'm longing for that respite and realize that I am the only person capable of making that change actually happen.

My oldest daughter will be in "first grade" next year; I want to deepen our home-school study together and create space for more learning opportunities while connecting more fully with her. And my younger daughter is nearing three years old, and I desire more one-on-one time with her through imaginative play, reading books, and cuddling.

And finally, my husband: he gamely supported me during the "Year of Cohesive Home" and now I want to support him in his dreams. So I will be taking a step back to create space for him to make big things happen.

My family is everything to me and my absolute priority. Time to actually live out what I value instead of just talking about it. And if you read all of this, THANK YOU!

What are your 2017 intentions and goals? Would love to hear in the comments!

* We're members of Samaritan Ministries, a Christian health cost sharing organization. We absolutely LOVE it. I could wax poetic about my love of this organization all day, so email me if you have questions about it. And if you join, let them know I sent you!

 

Part Four | San Luis Obispo to Home

This is the final installment in a series about our cross-country road trip in our Casita travel trailer in the summer of 2016. To catch up on previous posts, head here: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. After the 4th of July finale of our trip in Morro Bay, we reset our navigation to head east toward home. We visited family the morning of July 5th in San Luis Obispo before hitting the highway and heading north toward Sacramento.

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For a good part of that day I felt off. I hadn't really recovered from being sick in Yosemite, and we had pushed ourselves to keep going. (Note to self: don't cram so many stops in a short trip!) Our pace was slower leaving California, and we stopped that night at a Wal-Mart slightly northeast of Sacramento on I-80. Not the poshest overnight stay, but it worked.

And that was really the motto of much of our trip: make it work. We did this trip on the cheap, and it was mostly unplanned, meaning lots of nights in Wal-Mart, Cabela's or Bass Pro parking lots.

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The next morning I woke up feeling significantly better, and we began our drive into Nevada. After so long in parched and drought-stricken California, our eyes feasted on the thick green pines that bordered the highway, and the iridescent and clear streams along the way.

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We had no idea northern Nevada was so picturesque and vowed to return to this area again someday. High-tailing it across Nevada, we made one short stop at a pioneer-themed visitor center (of which I cannot remember the name.)

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The girls played in a life-size covered wagon, and we briefly explored the exhibitions. I wish we hadn't needed to leave so quickly, but we had a timetable to keep. Traveling this way--with time and distance working against us--made us crave slower, intentional travel. Someday.

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We blitzed into Utah and stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the white salt coating our feet and confusing our senses. We entered Salt Lake City at sunset, with a strong wind on our tails.

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We had our first "big city" dinner in some time, sushi at the Whole Foods in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City. We don't normally feel out of place in most stores, but after several days without showers (again), we stood out like dirty hippies trying to assimilate in an upscale shopping area. Which was actually the truth; road travel had reduced us to our simplest selves, and we found we didn't actually care.

We ran into some difficulties finding a place to sleep that night. The first Wal-Mart we tried had no overnight parking signs, and we didn't want to risk a knock on the door at 2am. The second Wal-Mart was in a sketchy area, so we agreed to move on. At that point, we were exhausted and spent another 30 minutes driving to the northside of SLC to a Cabela's. We fell into our beds right around midnight.

We woke up the next morning intending to grab breakfast and groceries with Cheyenne, Wyoming our stop for that evening. The kids were strapped in their car seats and the sun warmed our bodies with its early morning light. Then we turned on the 4Runner to find every light on the dash lighting up. The car was running normally, but when you're towing through mountains, you don't exactly want to take your chances. Panicking, we called my brother, who happens to be an expert Toyota mechanic. He suggested we go to an Auto Zone, get the codes pulled, then decide whether or not to take it to a dealership. The code was something unusual that he hadn't heard of (of course) so we made an appointment at Bountiful Toyota. Our appointment was for 12:30, so we gamely surprised the girls with a matinee of "Finding Dory" to relax after a stressful morning.

After spending 3 hours (yes, 3!) at the dealership, they found nothing wrong, and we left with only an oil change. We were grateful that it wasn't something expensive or a complicated fix that would further strand us, but we were also a bit perplexed. After some encouragement from my brother to continue, we stocked up on food for the day and hit the road.

We flew across Utah and entered Wyoming where we encountered buffalo grazing next to a public rest stop. The rest of the day passed quickly as we once more traversed through rural areas with limited infrastructure. Having grown up outside of Chicago and then spent most of my adult years in Oklahoma City, I had difficulty contemplating how people live so far removed. Once again, my perceptions on lifestyle were challenged by experiencing firsthand the vast and diverse nature of our country.

As the last rays of dusty orange dappled the low-lying Wyoming hills, the sunlight was replaced by an inky blue sky stretching and dancing overhead. As we listened to C.S. Lewis's audio of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the landscape created the sensation that we were reaching the ends of the world. Months later, and I am still haunted by how the stars burned overhead as the landscape disappeared into the deepening dark of nothingness.

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The next day we continued our trek into Nebraska, dreading our return to normalcy. We knew that when we returned we would face another major transition: moving into our new home. Quiet contemplation pervaded the 4Runner as we pondered the future, our dreams, and the jobs we needed to return to.

After midnight we stopped at a nondescript gas station as Kirk had developed a heavy headache. But it was more than a headache, more than he could describe, and it frightened me to be in a desolate place with a sick husband and two kids asleep in the back. He paced the borders of a field behind the gas station, and I sat in the dark silence of the car, waiting. I had never seen him like that before. What had happened to him? 

After some persuasion, I convinced him to let me drive the rest of the way to our stop in West Des Moines, Iowa. It was my first time pulling the Casita that trip. And it was also my first time pulling it ever. But my deep-seated fear had nothing to do with driving a trailer at 1am as it did with wondering how our travels had irreparably changed my husband in ways I could not recognize yet.

We safely reached our stopping place, I chose as level of a spot as I could, carried the sleeping kids into the Casita, and dragged Kirk into bed. We still cannot define what happened that night when he physically could not continue on the road without my help.

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Each mile the next day brought us closer to home. And as the landscape flattened, so did our courage. So much of the trip was a test, a chance to taste (in the smallest measure) the traveling lifestyle. Not traveling once a year as a vacation, but exploring as a way of life, a complement to our passions and values as a family.

But return we did, and two days later we moved into our little house, wondering when we would have another chance to challenge the road and explore beyond the borders of comfort and convenience to truly experience unfiltered adventure....

A Quiet Christmas and Look Toward 2017

20161226_113536 Our December was hectic and overflowing with my daughter's involvement in the Nutcracker and Kirk transitioning to a new job. Last week I turned in my grades for my online humanities courses and hid my laptop. 2016 had been a year of too much technology, constant digital connection, and limited face to face interactions of the kind that sustain and renew.

Our Christmas was quiet and slow. The girls are still at an age where they are unaware of all of the toys available during the holiday shopping season. We didn't step foot in any big box stores at all in November and December, and we tend to avoid the toy aisle as a long-standing practice. It's not that we are anti-toys, but prefer to influence our kids rather than marketers.

Of course, the girls pored over the Nova Natural catalog and had a few requests. We simplified Christmas to a few categories (which may change next year), and the girls each received:

  1. something to read
  2. something to wear
  3. something to play with
  4. a family experience

Since we talked about this ahead of time, there were no tears or disappointment, and I think they both really loved everything they discovered under the tree. We also stayed on budget and didn't experience the normal holiday pressure to over-consume at the expense of our finances. Rather than focus on material things, we focused on time with family and quiet time together at home. We cooked magic muffins (our own recipe), local pastured bacon, and gluten-free sticky buns topped off with virgin mimosas (for the girls and I; Kirk had the real thing), went to church, and attended my nephew's first birthday party.

As we look forward to 2017, I am envisioning a simpler year filled with deeper connections and a continued movement toward our dreams. Part of our transitioning to a simpler life is selling our Casita as we prepare for the birth of our next baby in late spring of 2017. I'll talk more about why we're selling the Casita and if that means we're done traveling in my next post about my plans and intentions for 2017.

Hope your holidays were peaceful and a time to reflect in preparation for the coming new year!

 

2013 Casita Freedom Deluxe For Sale

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With another little adventurer due in April, it's time for us to find Golden Silverwind a new home and hunt down a more spacious travel trailer to fit our growing family. Don't worry; we won't be off the road for long.

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This 2013 Casita Freedom Deluxe '17 has journeyed across the United States, trekking into the northern sand dunes of Michigan and out to the coast of California, from Yosemite to the salt flats of Utah, handling it all beautifully. This is no run of the mill camper; each one is custom made to order out of a small, family-owned factory in Texas. Be prepared to be stopped often by strangers; people LOVE asking questions about the Casita.

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It tows easily and drives smoothly; sometimes we even forgot it was behind our V-6 tow vehicle. Although we're selling it with sway bars and a Tekonsha Prodigy P3 brake controller included, you'll hardly need them. And its compact size means you can even pull right up to the In'N'Out whenever you get a craving; no special parking spot needed.

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The Casita is fully factory upgraded: vinyl floor, front door with window and inner screen door, electric hitch, 16,000 BTU heater and A/C, 2 propane burner stove, 3 way fridge, and LED lights. The fiberglass shell means no leaking and quite frankly, you won't find that in most other traditional travel trailers. It's designed tight and well, meaning you can actually enjoy being on the road.

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Post-factory this little Casita has been gussied up with a 40w solar rooftop panel, custom black chip-free paint on the front exterior and propane cover, custom white painted cabinets to brighten the interior, custom black-out and sheer shades on the dinette windows, individual sun-shades on exterior windows, and upgraded rear stabilizer jacks. Ask our Tiny Ass Camper friends (who are rocking the full-time Casita life); you can't even buy it from the factory with all of these upgrades. It's almost embarrassing how well-designed and functional our Casita is.

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It's diminutive size makes fitting into awesome campsites a whole lot easier and cheaper. National parks and state parks? No problem. Boondocking? Why not. Packing up a campsite takes very little time, and it hitches up so quickly and easily you can be on your way fast whenever the whim to roam hits you.

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It's the ideal size to travel efficiently while also in comfort. Cook dinner, watch the sunset out the large windows, and even take a hot shower in your own bathroom. The dinette converts quickly to a queen-sized bed when you're ready to hit the hay. There is even a surprising amount of overhead storage and a fairly spacious closet to hang your clothes.

We switched the side captain's chairs and small dinette out for a small twin bed (25"x 73") with a 4" foam cushion, but we can easily convert it back to the old set-up if white leather swivel chairs and a cozy little cafe table are more your jam.

All interior cabinets were painted white to match the fiberglass and brighten the interior, with a protective poly finish. Even your messy dog can't mess them up. Windows are sliding, locking, and protected with screens. (Amazing lakefront views not included.)

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We're looking for the ideal new owners to travel far and wide with Golden Silverwind and take it on new adventures. New to traveling? We'll show you all the ropes on how to hitch it up, tow, and maintain it. Believe me, we want to see this travel trailer in good hands.

 

SOLD!

PRICED TO SELL: $18,500

On Changing Seasons

20161009_151923 Although it is an unseasonably warm 72 degrees today in Northern Indiana, we know not to get too comfortable. The weather here is fickle and there could just as easily be snow tomorrow.

More telling of the changing of seasons is that we'll be putting the Casita in storage for the winter very soon. The process of cleaning it out, blowing out the lines, and dropping it off at the storage unit reminds us that the traveling season is over, and it's time to settle in for a cozy winter.

Oddly enough, I'm actually looking forward to the snowy and dark season ahead. We spent the summer rushing from one activity and life-change to another: lots of travel, buying our house, hosting houseguests, and a flurry of activity over at Cohesive Home. Truth be told, a quieter season is in order to restore balance in our home.

It's tempting to continue the frenetic pace in winter, and I feel that urge even more so with the impending birth of our third next spring. But experience with past babies has prepared me to embrace a period of restfulness while pregnant.

And surely, this winter will still be full of activity: ice-skating and playing in the snow, hot chocolate and cookie making in a tiny, warm kitchen, quilting and sewing for the baby to keep my hands busy and heart content. We'll light our beeswax candles, gather evergreens and pinecones, and spin vintage classical and Christmas records on the player.

Living seasonally means turning an intentionally blind eye away from modern busy culture and choosing a slower pace in the season that calls for it. We can try to force a growing season and harvest year round or we can instead look joyfully toward a season for planting, a season for growing, a season for harvesting, and a season for rest.

Let's look forward to peace and lighter schedules this winter, shall we? And if you're intrigued by the idea of living seasonally, subscribe to the Cohesive Home podcast to catch the first episode of Season Two, which starts Friday, November 4th. In it, my co-host Melissa and I will discuss and share our tips for living seasonally, no matter where you live.

I would love to hear: what are your favorite winter activities? Share in the comments below!

Living Simply and Frugally at Home

apples As I mentioned yesterday, we're working really hard to shift our income sources to activities and work that align with our values. Rather than depend on one employer to supply an entire income, we're creating multiple income source while also reducing our lifestyle expenses.

As I dive deeper into the realm of frugal and simple living, I'm realizing how much the small choices we make at home and out and about impact our bottom line. To put it in very basic terms, are the purchases we make worth the per hour working cost? If my husband has to work 2 days' worth of hours to pay for something is it worth it? Freedom comes at a cost and often it's in the check-out line.

So here's a few ways that I'm reducing our expenses while also creating a lifestyle and home that supports our plans for the near future:

Reducing Household Waste: This might seem like an odd initial step, but stay with me. When we throw away old or uneaten food, we're throwing away the money and energy it took to purchase it in the first place. When we throw away a bunch of packaged food wrappers, it also means I spent a pretty penny on convenience to feed my family. On the flip side, when I make my own sourdough bread (which is pretty damn good) or make a crock-pot full of yogurt from a gallon of local milk, not only is the quality better, but the cost much cheaper. Less trash in the landfill, more money in our pockets.

Do Without: Rather than run out and buy something when I discover a possible "need," I'm waiting. It takes some major self-control for me to not hop on Amazon and ship the best option in two days. So I disconnected my payment form on Amazon and other places where I shop online too often. I'm making lists before I head to a store and passing up impulse purchases. I'm not perfect at it, but when I visualize the end goal of saving money, it makes it that much easier.

Recycle and Reuse What We Already Own: Another step I've taken toward reducing our household costs is to dig around at our house or to ask others if they're giving away an extra {fill-in-the-blank.} We're about to switch the girls back into bunk-beds (which we already own, with mattresses, thank goodness) to make space in their room for a crib. And as much as I would LOVE to crack out on redesigning their room with new bedding and all that jazz, I'm forcing myself to source bedding from our house that can be re-purposed. Could an oversized comforter be split in two to make individual blankets for their beds? Could I sew something out of leftover fabric? Instead of buying pretty jars to hold our bulk items I'm recycling empty bottles and jars from our home. My gal, Melissa Risenhoover, taught me that Bonne Maman jam jars are perfect drinking glasses, so I began to buy that brand to slowly build up our drinking glass collection. The more uses I can get out of a single item, the less it costs in the end.

Make Like My Grandma: Finally, the last step I'm taking is to cook as many meals as possible at home and to prep snacks to prevent eating out. My grandma had a whole pantry stocked with canned and preserved foods that she had grown or made herself. I'm purchasing supplies in bulk from the local bulk store and keeping often-used items always in stock. I have a rotating menu of meals I regularly and quickly cook, and I keep it simple. As much as I am an absolute foodie, I stick to what works, is healthy, and also cost-effective for my family. Those "special unicorn" meals are always in rotation.

We also plan to plant a garden next spring and grow as many vegetables as possible as well as revive some of our old habits like making sauerkraut and kombucha on a regular basis. It takes time to add these habits into our lives, but the end result will be a healthier family and (I hope) a bigger savings account.

I would LOVE to hear how you live simply and frugally while also adding value to your life. Share in the comments or message me on Instagram!

 

Pursuing Dreams While Raising a Family

20161009_131256As a little girl I was filled with wild, exciting dreams for who I would be as an adult. Aren't we all, though? There isn't anything remarkable, in a sense, about a child dreaming, except that the dreaming often ends when the first job, bills, and weighted sense of responsibility fly through the door of adulthood. My parents gifted me with the belief that I could accomplish nearly anything I tried, and so I did. I've tried on different careers like a toddler changes clothes throughout the course of the day, and similarly, I've enjoyed them all at a very surface level.

When Kirk and I crossed the threshold into married life at the ripe old ages of 22, we excitedly embraced all of those adult decisions and tossed aside any other aspirations. Our dreams became mature and practical, like good-paying jobs and the desire for a nice house in a safe neighborhood. And it was for those material aspirations that we made our schooling and career decisions. There's nothing inherently wrong with desiring those things, except that we pretended like what deeply mattered to us didn't and our priorities were confused.

Shortly after our oldest was born nearly 6 years ago, we entered a dark period. We deeply intuited that something was missing, and we weren't entirely sure how to fill that empty aching that we were both experiencing. Sure, we loved our new role as parents and the promise of our future family life, but at the same time were scared witless.

It is far easier to play pretend, to shrug on the assurance of middle-class living goals, and to instead shove all the mismatched puzzle pieces of life that remain under the rug.

Fast-forward to two years ago when the shit hit the fan, and our multiple charades were crumbling to dust around us. It was time to come clean, with each other and ourselves, to carve out an existence that felt honest and real.

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These days we share our dreams with each other and our girls, and more importantly, we dream and plan together. Instead of shame and guilt over who we cannot be, we're embracing our future selves. We're traveling an unknown road, and yet, we already know where we're going.

We've heard through the grapevine of others who think that pursuing a music or a writing career, like we are, is reckless with children. And to that I respond: pretending to be something we're not is reckless. Our old lives had a shiny veneer of respectability, but the inner support walls of our family were weak and flimsy. We pursue this more honest version of ourselves not out of selfishness, but to show our children that dreams do not die when childhood ends. We are fighting for a better life for our family, all of us, one that is ripe with happiness, unity, deepening of our faith, and fulfillment.

There is a way to bring dreams to fruition AND create safety and security for your children. We're doing the delicate dance of clutching both of those goals tightly, lest we forget either of them in the process.

So my hope for you is that these words encourage you to find hope in dreaming, to pursue what matters to you, and to create a family life that encourages you all to be your very best, most fulfilled selves.

No regrets.

 

 

 

Part Three | The Family Cabin to Morro Bay

20160703_151252The few days we spent at the cabin were restorative. We ate delicious meals home-cooked by Kirk's mom and aunt in the screened in sun porch, made s'mores around a bonfire, took a hike around the property, and had plenty of time to catch up with family. Kirk's brother even proposed to his girlfriend, and we celebrated our niece's first birthday. 20160703_200447 20160703_095803

20160703_115234We're so grateful for that time there, a place that has been seared in my husband's memory from childhood visits. The cabin lived up to the legend, the stories, and the family culture that I had heard so much about. And we feel we were destined to make that last trip--mine and the girls' first and only time--because all of the cabins burned down in a forest fire several weeks ago. After standing for nearly a century, no trace is left on the land except charred ground and memories.

What else do we retain in the end except memories and photographs? Traveling and experiences create an indelible record that cannot be erased even after the places are gone.

We left on the 4th of July to head to San Luis Obispo to visit family that wasn't able to make it to the cabin for the weekend. Originally we had planned to visit them before we went to the cabin, but then we got sick. Now that our plan had changed, we were simply figuring it out as we went.

As we weaved our way down and out of the mountains while following Kirk's brother, we smelled something funny, like burning rubber or oil. Not something you want to smell as you're towing down switchbacks.

Miraculously, there was a general store in the middle of nowhere that also sold engine oil. Like the gas station in desolate southern Utah, we practically kissed the ground in excitement. It was one more rookie mistake to add to the list; thankfully nothing was damaged.

We traversed central California, passing fields of drought-damaged orchards and barren fields with barely a speck of green anywhere on the horizon. And it was hot; that heat filled the car and made me eager for the coast.

We heard a rattling noise somewhere between the 4Runner and the camper, a noise we had heard off and on throughout the trip. We pulled over and discovered our license plate was hanging on by a metal shrapnel. Somehow all of the travel had caused it to tear, perhaps some sort of wind tunnel between the truck and camper, and it was about to fly away. Kirk ripped it the rest of the way off, and we headed on.

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After having dinner with Kirk's brother and fiance, we went our separate ways, in search of a campsite for the night. It dawned on us that it was a holiday weekend, and we didn't have a reservation. I hunted down a few options on my phone, and we crossed our fingers as we headed into Morro Bay.

As luck would have it, the RV park located right across the street from the beach actually had an opening! We did our happy dance, set-up camp, and made a mad dash for the beach at sunset.

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20160704_19151620160704_19174020160704_19190720160704_19311920160704_20065520160704_203409The girls were soaked through their clothes, and there was a chill in the air. Kirk made a mad dash back to the Casita for dry clothes, and we regrouped. We walked along the shore, picking up seashells and sand dollars. As we headed back toward the path for the campground, we ran into our site neighbors. We had met them earlier, and they invited us to join their beach party to watch the fireworks over neighboring towns.

We shared stories, talked about living simply and the love of travel, and the kids built sand castles in the deepening dark together. The fireworks erupted all around us, and afterward we made a sandy walk back to the campground together, shining flashlights and herding children.

20160704_22031220160704_220359Despite all of the trials of the day--the number of hours we spent making our way across California, and my fears of having no place to spend the night--we found that sometimes having no plan is the best plan of all.

The next morning we packed up, ditched our trailer at a friend's house, and drove up into the high hills of San Luis Obispo to visit family before leaving California for the trip back home. Subscribe to catch Part Four where I share what happened the last leg of our trip and how we unexpectedly got sidelined in Salt Lake City.

 

Part Two | From Yosemite to the Family Cabin in Sequoia

So after our big day at Yosemite, we woke up the next morning ready to tackle a bigger trail. But we never actually made it there. 20160629_172708

Our youngest suddenly got very, very sick and began throwing up. In our tiny camper. Part of me just wondered if she had eaten something that she shouldn't have, and it was making her sick. She is two after all!

Kirk and V left for a few hours to pick up some necessities in town and get out of the way. I took care of the little one, and we tried to make the best of our "sick day." In the picture below, she's watching video of Kirk playing. It was the ONLY video I had on my laptop. Seriously, you would think a parent with kids of a certain age would make sure to download some emergency entertainment before entering an area without wi-fi. Duh.

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After about 6 hours, she was feeling much better, so we hoped we were out of the woods. Wishful thinking.

The next day (so our third day at Yosemite), we woke up ready to attempt a drive back into the park. I wasn't feeling so well, but I didn't want to miss our last day at the park. We decided to try a scenic drive and began winding our way up to Glacier Point. We had nearly reached the top when a park ranger said the lot was full, but could bus us in (after a 45 minute wait.) We declined and turned around.

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Instead we drove over to Wawona and had lunch at the Wawona Inn. Or well, I guess it's called the Big Trees Lodge now that they've had all those trademark issues. The hotel is looking a little rough, and you can definitely tell the national parks are struggling for funding. Still, it was a beautiful and elegant space to have lunch.

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So here's the deal. To get back to our campground, we had to drive from Wawona into the Valley (about 30-45 minutes on switchback roads) an then another hour to our campsite. And I started to feel incredibly, horribly ill. I truthfully wondered if we could make it back to the camper before we would ALL be sick. We did manage to stop at Tunnel Viewpoint for Kirk to get a selfie. Priorities! (Also, that looks like our 4Runner behind him, but obviously it isn't.)

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I'll spare you the details, but we barely made it back to the Casita. Within a few hours of each other, the rest of us were all violently ill. It was actually kind of comedic, all of us crammed in that tiny space and sick together. But it was pretty terrible in reality. Here's the deal: getting sick like that in our camper was always one of my perceived "worst nightmare" scenarios. I always wondered how traveling families dealt with illness in a tiny space. And now I know the secret: you just do.

We're still not sure why we got sick or if it was food poisoning. We did eat some questionable stuff on our road trip out West, so who knows.

The next day I was just totally done. Tired of being in the camper, tired of the trip. We had a camper full of dirty linens and clothes, and the campsite we were at made a big stink about us washing our laundry there (because we had been sick.) So even though we all were exhausted, we hitched up and drove about 1.5 hours to Fresno to stay in a hotel.

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It was glorious. We slept, did laundry, watched TV, and showered like it was going out of style. The next day we headed to Target to get groceries and then drove a few hours to Sequoia National Forest, where Kirk's family cabin was (yes, I said was....I'll get to that.) We had our first real meal in a few days at a local burger joint in the middle of nowhere California, and it was just what we needed to handle the drive ahead.

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The directions we got from his mom and aunt were vague and hard to follow. Of the "turn right at the deserted hotel with an empty pool" and then "take the right fork after the meadow" variety. No cell reception, no accurate maps of the area, and we definitely never saw that meadow! The roads were dirt and rutted and wound through the mountains. The 4runner and Casita did beautifully and Kirk was a pro at navigating the roads while towing. I was white-knuckling it the whole time and praying we wouldn't get stuck on one of the narrow roads.

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But we made it, just in time for the "neighborhood" 4th of July party.

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After the previous few days, we were thrilled to rest, to spend time with family, and to eat good food. And we're so incredibly grateful that we chose to make the trip there this summer, because we would have massively regretted it otherwise.

Subscribe to the blog to catch Part Three where I'll explain what happened at the cabin and why it's the last time we'll ever go there again.

Part One | What REALLY Happened On Our 15 Day Road Trip

20160625_184055 Although we've been back from our blitz across the US for over two months now (*tiny sob), I really haven't talked very much about it. It's much easier to post pretty pictures to Instagram....

So, earlier this spring my mother-in-law mentioned a 4th of July gathering at the family cabin in the Sequoia National Forest. It was January at the time, and the snow out the window was thick and depressing. We weren't sure what was next for our family (eventually moving full-time into the Casita or finding a rental), but trip planning was something I could do.

We planned to travel westward from Chicago on I-80, spend a few days at Yosemite National Park, hang out with family for a few at the cabin, head out to the California coast to visit more family, and then travel south to see the Grand Canyon before heading east again. It was an overly ambitious, completely naive plan.

This is what REALLY happened....

We traveled westward on 1-80 through Iowa and Nebraska, mostly in heavy rain and took a break at the Council Bluffs, Iowa Visitor Center (which was actually really cool.)

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Hit a 50 mile road closure in Nebraska and drove through countless ghost towns to meet back up with the highway. Never did find out what happened. Stopped at a semi-creepy roadside attraction.

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Hit Denver at sunset, switched onto I-70 and decided to drive through the mountains in the dark. Yea, that was scary, and I wasn't even driving.

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20160626_064942Woke up in Frisco, Colorado surrounded by mountains and had a quick breakfast and stocked up on more food at the natural grocery store. Love us some hippie food!

The drive through the rest of the state was gorgeous, and we stopped to play by a river and started to feel more relaxed.

 

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Southern Utah was like another planet full of immense red plateaus and completely desolate. I both loved it and was slightly freaked out by it.

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Then we nearly ran out of gas. Nothing will start a marital spat quicker than admitting you forgot to watch the fuel gauge. We drove off the highway, windows down in the hot, hot heat in search of a gas station in a tiny town. We barely made it, but we found a closed gas station (it was a Sunday) with the pumps on. Hallelujah! Chalk that one up as a MAJOR rookie mistake.

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We had hoped to meet up with our traveling friends, the Currens, who happened to be only about 30 miles away, but were afraid of losing time if we headed northward. So we decided to head south toward Las Vegas with an In'N'Out Burger our reward for a VERY LONG day. I could have just slept in the parking lot, but we instead found a slightly sketchy Wal-Mart to sleep at instead. Priorities.

Let's just say it was incredibly, horribly hot in the Casita without air that night. #wereallythoughtthatonethrough

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We woke up outside of Vegas and spent the day baking in the car through the deserts of Nevada and Southern California.

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We made it to Mariposa County, near Yosemite NP, around dark and rolled into our KOA campsite in total darkness. But we made it! It was a glorious feeling to take a shower after 3 nights boondocking at Wal-Marts along the road.

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20160628_080814We woke up early the next morning, packed up our hiking gear and snacks, and made the hour long drive into Yosemite. Having grown up among the flat cornfields of Indiana, I had never really seen anything like Yosemite before. Wild rivers, deep canyons, trees growing out of the side of domed rocks; the drive itself was thrilling, but still did not prepare us for what awaited us in the Valley.

20160628_092448If you've never been to Yosemite before, it's an incredibly large national park. A small portion of it is called the Valley, and it's where El Capitan, Half Dome, and Mirror Lake can all be found.

20160628_092926We drove into the Valley and caught our first view of El Capitan rising out of the forest. Once we finally found parking and made it to the Visitor Center, we decided to hike the trail to Mirror Lake.20160628_164603

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20160628_115726The water level was fairly low in the lake, but the Merced was flowing nearby, and there was a swimming hole filled with people splashing in the sun. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and spent the afternoon completely losing track of time, playing in the mountain cold water.20160628_125841

We hiked to the lodge and had ice cream and dinner (in that order) before heading back to the campground. 20160628_141455

But as we were driving out of the valley, we wanted one last close up view of El Capitan.20160628_172803

Then we saw people playing in the Merced by the Swinging Bridge. So we stopped to play, simply because we couldn't imagine that day ending.20160628_180751

20160628_182554It was a perfect first day at Yosemite, and we had ambitious plans to attempt the Mist trail the next day (or at least the lower section of it.) We woke up the next morning and made oatmeal in the camper....everything seemed to be going well....

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And then our youngest started complaining of her stomach hurting. What followed completely changed our plans for the rest of the trip.

To be continued....

Why I Took My Homeschooled Daughter to Visit a Public School

20160907_112143 So I had a total freak-out about a week ago and convinced myself I needed to send V to public school.

Seriously.

It all began when my workload with Cohesive Home started getting out of control. Then school was back in session at the university, and I began teaching four sections of humanities online. And all the while I was feeling rundown, and quite frankly, completely out of sorts. Cranky and tired. If you're a parent, you get it (please tell me you get it!)

We weren't homeschooling in the way that I envisioned. We also weren't homeschooling the way others in my Instagram feed were doing it. You know what I'm talking about: circle time with carefully curated classics (ever so slightly watered down for the kindergarten set), inspiring art projects that would make a college level art student weep, engaging science experiments using nothing but baking soda, household products, and the kitchen table.

I convinced myself that 1) I was doing it ALL wrong and 2) my daughter would be happier in public school.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do I feel the need to compare everything I do to people that I don't actually know?

Melissa, my Cohesive Home partner and BFF, tried to talk me off the ledge. But it didn't work.

We went to visit the local elementary, which is perfectly nice and a very good school. V had a tummyache the whole time, and I was incredibly nervous and like "WTF are we doing!?"

So I saw Bad Moms with some of my fellow homeschooling mama friends, and they helped me get my head on straight over crappy burgers at a diner afterwards.

They encouraged me to quit worrying about what every other parent is doing and focus on what's working for us.

You know, not to brag, but V is close to reading. She's writing words on her own. She knows how to add and subtract, understands skip counting, and is fascinated by and gets the water cycle. And she's only five. Five!

Just this morning she asked about why the days are getting shorter and colder, and Kirk gave her a demonstration of the earth spinning and rotating with a globe and a flashlight.

She created a "replica" of the stage in Sound of Music while listening to the soundtrack and acting out the scenes before breakfast, measured and made a french press of coffee, and helped serve breakfast.

My guess is that we're all going to be okay. Homeschooling is difficult, but we can make it more complicated than it needs to be. And I'm going to quit being so hard on myself.

So for now, she won't be going to public school. And we're going to live out what we value: slow days full of educational opportunities, plenty of good books read aloud, and yes, some traditional learning at the table.

Who's with me?

 

A Big Change on the Horizon

20160801_160323 Last year when I went to Storyline Conference last year (and I highly recommend it) Don Miller suggested that we think of our life story like a movie storyboard.  Thinking that way has radically changed my perspective on where we've been and where we hope to be in the future.

It can be easy to get caught in these static views of our homes and family life or to over-identify with a certain label or perspective. And then when life changes suddenly,  you're grappling with figuring out a different narrative (or maybe that's just me!)

We still identify as an adventurous, life-loving, minimalist-living family. But our storyboard is about to take another twist. Now that we're mostly settled in our little house, we're trying to embrace our local culture and to dig into a more stable and soulful home life. But the biggest change?

IMAG6383We're selling our Casita this month! It was a hard decision  (like lots of crying and second guessing), but it's the right decision. Our family is about to undergo a big change (which I hope to share soon) and the Casita won't be a good fit for us. Rather than store it all winter here, we're hoping to pass it on to someone else who can love it as deeply as we do.

If you or someone you know is interested, direct message me on Instagram. We'll be posting an official listing and video tour hopefully this weekend or early next. It's pretty much the coolest travel trailer ever and whoever does buy it is lucky (I'm kind of already jealous of them!)

Don't worry--travel will still be part of our family's story, but just in a different way. And as I am able I will continue to share why we decided to sell the Casita and what are plans are for the future. One thing is for sure: we love shaking things up when life gets too settled! Stay tuned for more from our family as we embrace living small and loving our beach town community.

Our 2016 Homeschool Plans

20160726_130222 This is technically our first year homeschooling (although I played with it last year) as my daughter is now kindergarten age. We sent her to a Montessori preschool at age 3, and it was simply too much. Love the methodology, but not the 4 days/week program.

When we moved to Indiana, I decided to keep her home and reclaim simple childhood. You know, lots of play, fairy tales and make-believe, and open-ended toys and games. Lots of time in nature and storytime at the library helped to reset my girl.

This year we have a loose plan as I am more and more convinced that formal academics are not needed until age 6-7 (as is customary in other countries), although I recognize some children are simply ready for it sooner. Realizing what my daughter needs and meeting her where she is has all been part of this journey.wp-1472054423594.jpg

My dear friend Melissa gave me her kindergarten Oak Meadow curriculum, which is Waldorf based and intentionally slow-paced. We'll combine that with Math Lessons for a Living Education Level 1 and my other sweet friend Calli's nature study program based on Nature Anatomy. We're also going to slowly make our way through Jessie Wise's The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, but I'm not pushing it.

So much of our philosophy on homeschooling intertwines with our desire to keep our home and lifestyle simple. In the past I would have been eager to jump into serious academics straightaway. But as I've adjusted to a minimalist lifestyle, I've realized that there is beauty and wisdom in slowing down and enjoying the present moment. Rushing childhood shouldn't be the goal, but meeting the child's learning needs--whatever they may be--is.

Gatherings | Our Summertime Visit with the Risenhoovers

Do you have a gal pal that you talk to more than your family? Melissa Risenhoover is kinda my BFF and the mama that I turn to for advice, support, and lots of belly laughs. She's got my back, and I have hers, and oh, we also happen to be business partners for Cohesive Home. So earlier this spring she asked if she and her fam could spend their summer VACA with us in Indiana. My response? OF COURSE.

At the time we didn't own a house and lived with my parents. But we definitely weren't going to turn down a visit from our old neighbors from OKC. (Did you catch that? We all used to live on the same block in a post-war neighborhood nestled between the twin temptations of Target and Whole Foods.)

So back to their visit: they arrived on a Thursday, and we spent the weekend visiting the beach, getting ice cream, and hanging at the park.

Friday we play at the playground across the street from our house, walked around our small downtown, and ate lots of ice cream.

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Saturday we made a huge round of eggs for everyone for breakfast.  Melissa and I actually got ready so we could take new headshots for Cohesive Home while at the farmers' market. Then we packed up our market basket and tablecloth so we could have a picnic in the park.

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Did you know there is such a thing as organic and dye-free cotton candy? Well, there is, and it is AWESOME. I may have bought a 1/2 lb. of dark chocolate sea salt caramels. And totally don't regret it.

We also stocked up on our favorite locally roasted, fair-trade and organic coffee. It is so delish.

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My husband, Kirk, watched the kiddos so that Brandon could take photos of us on the lawn. I don't have any to share with you (yet!), but I'm pretty sure people thought Melissa and I were having our engagement photos taken. #BFFS.

And did I mention my husband is a saint for chasing 5 kids around?

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Melissa and I knocked out some Cohesive Home-work in the afternoon, then ran to the local Italian deli to stock up on beach picnic fare. It was so hard to limit ourselves because everything looked amazing.

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We drove over into Michigan and let the kids play in the sand + surf while we toasted to the weekend with wine.wp-1472054568405.jpg

 

We watched the sunset from the beachside playground and let the kids burn off steam before heading back home. The weather was absolutely perfect, high-70s and sunny.

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Sunday we mostly hung out on the front porch drinking coffee and watching the kids draw on the sidewalk with chalk and make fairy houses in the neighbor's flower bushes. Don't worry--she didn't mind.

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wp-1472054553854.jpgWe had such an AMAZING time with the Risenhoovers! We weren't sure what it would be like to have 9 people staying in a 675 square foot little house, but it actually went so well. I think the key to entertaining in a small house is keeping your expectations low and your home welcoming. More on entertaining in small spaces in a later post.

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But for now, let me just say you don't need to give up entertaining when you move into a tiny or small home. We all feel so much closer as friends having had this experience together!

We're looking forward to more gatherings with their family, hopefully exploring a new location together. And now that they left, we're getting back into the swing of things and settling back into our home just the four of us.

Until next time.......