A Capitol Fourth–the top eight things I learned in Washington, D.C.

[Also known as why haven’t posted in ages. Because trips with small children take a lot–a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of energy. They also pay back in the most amazing joy imaginable.]

  • I’m the sweetest member of the family–given that I had 10+ bug bites and the rest of the family had one. In total. For the three of them. Talk about taking one (or ten) for the team.
  • I’m also the most patriotic/filmable–until I freak out on camera. Which will happen about one nanosecond after I see myself on-screen. Google the Capitol fourth for 2013 and you’ll see why. I guarantee I don’t love Barry Manilow as much as it seems. Neil Diamond is a whole other story.
  • If you give the kids unlimited access to iPads and permission to have chips for dinner, they will still play gem store in the hotel room and request some real food instead. No dice on getting them to choose something other than soda to drink.
  • Being on the Capitol lawn on July fourth is hotter than you can imagine (hot enough to shut down said iPad). It will still be the most amazing Fourth of July experience you’ve ever had, and not just because of Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond. There’s something about celebrating our country in the Capitol with thousands of other people willing to spend their day doing it. Plus flags and fireworks. It was the quintessential fourth celebration.
  • Museums suck you in interesting with their endless supply of oddities, but the kids will nonetheless request to return to the botanic gardens every single day. I guess those iPads haven’t ruined them yet.
  • I know a lot more about history than I thought, and I’m also more proud of it than ever before. That’s a souvenir I’m happy to take home with me.
  • We have a lot of conversations about squirrels. Just saying.
  • God is good, everywhere, all the time–in the blessings He’s given to us that make these trips possible, in the goodness of our children, in the safety He provides, in the patience and stamina He graces us with–even when I’m too busy enjoying those things to be giving Him the glory, He still doesn’t cease lavishing it on me. Praise God from whom all blessings–Capitol fourth included–flow!

(Sibling) rivalry reaches a new height

“Of all the things you want to be, allergic is not one of them.”

K is crying because M has allergies and she does not. In fact, everyone in the family has allergies except her, and despite the fact that I’ve explained there are really no worthwhile benefits of being allergic, she wants allergies simply because her brother has them.

How quickly and irrationally we covet. How quickly and irrationally we all covet.

This week it was living abroad. After seeing my sister’s different life and lifestyle, living overseas, I became certain that my life would be better in London. B, as usual, offered the wise counter argument: having what someone else has is not the same as having what you need. Just because it’s new or different, just because it’s right for someone else, does not make it the answer. A different place does not guarantee a different lifestyle, nor does a different lifestyle require a differ place.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3)

What do we “kill” when we covet? K was willing to trade her health; I was willing to trade the joy of my life in San Diego. We are both seeking to spend on our own pleasure and satisfaction.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:7-8)

James’ solution points us to God, that by offering ourselves to God instead of to our own satisfaction we can resist the sinful nature that draws us to both compare and covet. He does not promise that we will be free from this “double-minded” nature. Instead, James pushes us to “wash” and “purify.” And then, like a washed shirt, we will be used and soiled again. Wash. Wear. Wash again. Meet God. Get distracted. Come meet Him again.

“Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:9-10)

The final part of James’ instruction is what really strikes me. It’s okay to be sad, to be frustrated by the human nature that draws to covet, and even the life that we lack. In fact, it allows us to take the process seriously. When we recognize our shortcomings, we allow the Lord to do the heavy lifting, and to further engage us with the life He has for us. To want what He wants. That might be living abroad, and it might not. I hope for K’s sake that it doesn’t ever include allergies. But whatever it may be, I’ll welcome it with the appreciation that a gift from my Lord–the one right and meant for me–truly deserves.

Living light, travel-style

One week: that’s how long I had to plan my trip.

When B got word that he would spend the week in Copenhagen, we faced the real possibility to put a plan into action that had long been considered: that I would fly with him to London, that I would fly on to visit my sister in the north of Scotland while he was on business, that I would meet him in Copenhagen for a weekend together. There was nothing standing in our way: we had people to watch the kids, we had miles to buy the ticket, we had no commitments at home that couldn’t be rearranged. We prayed, and every door was open.

Except I almost couldn’t walk through.

It was the application of the dream, the feeling that people didn’t just do things like take a trip abroad on a week’s notice, spend a weekend in a foreign country, leave their children for eleven mind-numbingly long days.

Live light, God whispered. Let go of those worries that are weighing you down. I have done–and will continue to do–the heavy lifting.

It’s so hard to let go, for me to live light. I’m so used to carrying the weight that it feels frivolous not to. But if I continue to do so, I’m preventing God from really working, both in my life and in the lives of those around me. It wasn’t just about me; in fact, it might not have been about me at all. It might have been about my parents, or the kids, or my sister and her family. It might have been about our marriage or B’s job. But holding on, it keeps me from being free to be the tool, to grow and stretch and acts as God needs me to.

“To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.” (Proverbs 16:1)

When He asks me to walk through the door, it should be willingly and with joy that I do so. Here am I; send me.

I don’t know what was the real purpose of the trip, but I know that it was amazing, that even this small act has taken me one step along the path God has for me–not to mention the great fringe benefits of seeing my extended family and discovering chocolate-dipped pancakes on a stick. Only with God can being used feel so very good.

Florida 2012

 Jet lag notwithstanding, we are back from eight days in Florida. Yes, Florida. In August. Because it’s cheap. Though we might have spent our savings on ice cream. Here are the highlights, in no particular order:

Hogsmeade: our home away from home.

1) The amusement parks. We did not do Disney, as everyone expects. Instead we did Universal, mostly because Universal’s Islands of Adventure includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We spent more time in Hogsmeade than we did at the hotel, which also meant we had to summon fresh enthusiasm for another trip through Olivander’s, another ride on Flight of the Hippogriff, etc. Summoning such enthusiasm was surprisingly easy, because the kids had so much fun, even with the heat and crowds and occasional rainouts. Worn out wizards decompressed at the Dr. Seuss water play area while grown ups lounged in the shade. Favorite part? Raiding Honeyduke’s–Hogsmeade’s candy store–and then working through butterbeer, a chocolate frog, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans with the gusto of a Gryffindor. Might not have been K’s favorite part, seeing as she had beans of pepper, soap, dirt, and tomato all in a row. No, not tomato. Vomit. Praise Jesus she didn’t know the difference.

A wall of water, just about to hit K. That’s just the way we roll.

2) The water park. Between my germaphobia, aversion to cold water, and complete distaste for submersion, water parks are not my thing. But there was something amazing in watching M assess a large water slide, then tackle it anyway. He was fearless, and I was impressed. And besides, there’s something truly relaxing about spending an hour floating down a lazy river, watching the kids climb in and out of their inner tubes, floating faster to be chased down, leaning back to flip over. It was also truly something different, which in itself is a novelty. We did not, however, try the wakeboarding. Great value at $12 per day, as long as you don’t ingest the fatal amoeba in the water (true story). Memories are fantastic, but every germaphobe has her limits.

Winter, the tail-less dolphin. Can’t see her? Don’t worry, neither could we.

3) The beach. Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, St. Pete’s. AKA paradise, especially after sharing a small room amid the hustle and bustle of Orlando. We opened the door to our condo and everyone seemed to spread like oil hit by soap. Space! Space for the kids to play, space for the adults to read, space to do whatever we wanted in our own little bubbles. It seems antithetical to a family vacation, but in fact the space worked as an antidote to the nerves close quarters can fray. The water was bath-warm and shallow for-nearly-ever, home to dolphins and crabs and one very confused mussel. Plus there was a fantastic soft serve and shake place right in front of the hotel. And yes, we had both.

4) The Olympics. I know: the Olympics are in London. I’ve never been much of an Olympics fan, and if we’d been home, I might have ignored them entirely, especially seeing as they are being replayed most extensively in primetime when the kids would normally be asleep. But in Florida, working on California time, we turned them on almost every night. The four of us, worn out from a long day, would collapse on the couch, sweetly smooshed together, and watch whatever sport we happened upon. We’d explain the rules and admire the different athletes’ abilities. We’d ooh and ahh. We’d get pjs and brush teeth during commercials. It was the most simple, quiet, quality time we got on the whole trip, a surprising gift and one I’d have missed if we hadn’t gone. I’ll never look at the Olympics the same again.

Beach fun. Don’t adjust your eyes. The camera just steams up in the humidity.

So that’s it. Alright, there were some bad moments, too. Every vacation has them. For the last two days K kept asking for a day off, and you can only substitute ice cream for dinner so many time before someone melts down. But for the most part, it was a true departure from the norm, and surprisingly successful. And there were lots of little good moments as well, like mini golfing and feeding alligators and watching the Peabody duck march. Most satisfyingly, we were all ready to come home. Okay, it would be better to have come home without having to go back to work, but someone has to pay for all those memories.

December Remembers

It did not escape my attention that I posted only one time during the month of December. To be honest, December sort of got away from me. The holidays are one of my favorite times, and as a general rule, I squeeze every last drop of holiday goodness out of them. I begin checking out Christmas books and stocking supplies for holiday crafts in early October; I make lists of every last cookie I’m going to make, and to whom they’ll be given. I come up with fabulous plans to make the most of the holidays. Between advent calendars and daily ornaments and paper chains, we often at least four different ways to count down to Christmas.

Except for this year.

Early in December, I took a week to visit my sister in Scotland. Not only had I never been to Scotland in the seven years my sister has lived there, but I had yet to meet my beautiful new niece. Plus I’d never taken a trip so indulgently independent. It was a wonderful trip. I spent time with my sister and her family that is priceless to me, deepening a relationship that I’d long convinced myself was too difficult to develop given the distance. I helped them set up their Christmas tree and laid my niece down for her naps and put reality to what had long been just random names and places. No matter how hard it was to be away from my family–especially in December–I was tremendously glad I’d done it.

But reality is reality: when I returned home to the gauntlet of the kids’ last week in school, the presents to be bought and wrapped, the cookies to be made, I quickly realized that we were not going to squeezing all those drops this year. Very quickly, I set aside many of the “things” I’d convinced myself made the most of the holidays. We ended up with one advent calendar. Fewer cookies. Store-bought lasagna. Simply wrapped gifts. Stream-lined decorations. I put the Christmas craft supplies away for another year.

This will not come as a surprise to you, most likely. The holidays came just the same, even though we didn’t count their impending arrival with ceremonious fanfare. Presents were given and received. We still watched the beloved holiday classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, even though I didn’t plan their viewing down to the last detail, and we enjoyed them just the same. We hosted two parties but also spent many hours just puttering around the house the four of us, relishing cold mornings and warm days, late evening Christmas lights and early risers playing board games. There were days working out in the yard and around the garage mixed with Sea World and the Natural History Museum and days trips to see family.

The best gift I gave myself this Christmas was that trip, and the releasing of details it demanded. I panic sometimes, thinking that in order to really enjoy something I must do it in as many different ways as possible (just as my husband, who had to propose to me three times, just because I wanted to make sure I really relished the moment). This year, I realized that enjoying something simple–maybe just once, maybe because that’s all you’ve got–is not given up, and that all those years I was doing so much, I wasn’t quite enjoying the holidays as I thought. Not to say that those craft supplies are going to Good Will, but it may take us a lot longer to get through them. In fact, that’s next year’s goal: to leave something out, and leave room for some genuine enjoyment.

Adding up a great vacation

One: waterslide. Over and over and over again. Backward forward tummy side repeat.

Sandcastles: the ultimate sibling project

Two: pools. Excellent for towing, wrestling, throwing balls back and forth.

Three: trips to the giant and impressive wooden playground. Also known as the Jedi temple and princess castle, on occasion.

Four: number of us who saw and swam with the giant sea turtle.

Five: hours captive by the unexpected wildfire. Blissfully spent at the beach, entertained by said turtle, and capped with an oceanfront dinner.

Not counted: rivers, hula shows, flowers in hair. No less priceless.

Six: beaches visited. All good for twirling in the waves (K), snorkeling (us and M), and building sandcastles (all).

Seven: days with ice cream sundaes, shave ice, brownies, or some combination therein. The other day we had Hula Pie. Yes, that’s technically a combination, but I didn’t have to make it.

Eight: beach visits. Also (not surprisingly) the length of time we spent in Kauai. For once, just enough. We returned home tanned but not burned, full but not bursting, and still a happy family.