The Very Awful, Disastrous Vacation of 2017: Part 2

Continued from the last post, aptly named “The Very Awful, Disastrous Vacation of 2017: Part 1”

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As we pulled into the gas station, the dreaded “low tire” light came on in our vehicle. Simultaneously, the heavens opened and rain began to drench the parched Nebraska landscape. A quick look in the rear view mirror showed us what we absolutely did not want to see: a flat tire.

Now, here is the part of the story where things get a little fuzzy, mostly because I choose to know very little about car repair. What I do know is that my wonderful, super hero husband proceeded to lay down in that puddle-filled parking lot, remove the flat tire in the pouring rain, and put the spare tire on – only to discover that there was a broken valve on it and it wouldn’t hold air. I’m not sure what transpired next, but through a combination of divine help and his natural MacGyver inclinations, he managed to get one tire functional enough to limp us along to his parents’ farm.

We arrived later in the evening, wet, tired and hungry, and ever so grateful for a safe, dry spot to lay our heads that night. After all, we needed our rest so that we could hit the road the next morning for our ultimate destination – a secluded camping spot in the mountains of Colorado. A place where the girls could run free, we could hike, and still head down the mountain to explore city life, as well.

A place that was, unbeknownst to us, currently receiving several inches of snow.

Let’s just take a moment to recap. In the last 48 hours, we had dealt with vomit, a plague of mosquitoes, a sweaty night of little sleep and more vomiting, rerouting due to flooding, a deluge of rain, a flat tire…and now snow at our next destination. The cold, rainy front that had been forecast to exit well before our arrival was now parked directly over Nebraska and Colorado, with no signs of budging anytime in the near future.

We were done.

Once again, we called mommy for help.

And once again, my mother-in-law gracefully allowed us to extend our farm stay for a few more days, bless her heart! So we settled in, the girls in my in-laws’ camper, the hubs and I in my parents’ camper. And it rained. And rained. And rained some more, for good measure. The puddles in the driveway became small ponds. The sandy yard became one gooey, mucky mess.

Our dream vacation had come crashing down around us. I had thrown my beautiful, beloved spreadsheet away somewhere in the rolling hills of Iowa. We were stuck in a tiny camper (that had now sprung a leak in the ceiling) on a tiny farm near a tiny town in the Middle of Nowhere, Nebraska.

And we were having a great time.

I had time to read, sleep, drink good coffee (the Middle of Nowhere does boast a pretty great coffee shop), and have some good chats with family. My husband had plenty of time to chill and watch sports with his dad. The girls were having the time of their life, playing with cats, dogs, and spending time with their grandparents.

God knew what we needed: plenty of down time, rest, and time with family. It took a rocky start to get our attention, but His plans prevailed. And it was so much better than anything I could have come up with on my spreadsheet.

We did eventually experience a break in the weather, and high-tailed it to Colorado Springs for a jam-packed day of experiencing all the goodness that area offers. We still refer to it as our Colorado trip, even though we spent a scant six hours or so in the state. We are still more than a little traumatized by parts of that trip, but they are also a reminder of God’s goodness and the wisdom of His plans over ours.

And maybe, just maybe, I am slowly learning to trust the Lord more than my spreadsheets. 🙂

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

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The Very Awful, Disastrous Vacation of 2017: Part One

I have been hit with the annual travel bug.

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It happens every year. Just for a few days, I want to remember what it is like to live in a climate that gets above 50 degrees F, feel some semblance of warmth on my face, and not have to put on Arctic gear to go outside.

That’s not gonna happen.

The next best thing, then, is to start planning our next trip. Trip planning is a team effort in the Long household. My husband is the king of finding hidden gems to visit and quiet, unique places to stay. As for me…it’s time for some serious Excel spreadsheet action, baby.

As you may know from previous posts, I love planning. Figuring out details, creating a stream-lined, flawless family experience…that’s my jam. All those tiny cells filled with important details give me peace of mind…or feed the control freak in me. Take your pick.

This year, however, the hubs and I are unusually ambivalent about planning our trip. Trips have always been a part of our life together. Visiting family in Nebraska, camping in Wyoming, yurting in Iowa…it’s what we do. So why the hesitance this year? It recently dawned on me – we’re still traumatized from THE VERY AWFUL, DISASTROUS VACATION OF 2017. Yes, you should only shout it at people in all caps – it was that bad.

Oh, did I ever create a beautiful spreadsheet for that trip. Each day was meticulously planned…how many miles we would travel, what sights we would see, what we would do for each meal, where we would stay that night, and overall how much we would spend for the day. It was a sight to behold.

It was a bright and sunshiny day, unusually warm for October, but around these parts we don’t complain about things like that. We were poised to embark on the trip of a lifetime – Colorado Springs, CO. Breathe in the fresh mountain air, take in the sights at Focus on the Family, soak in God’s creation all around us, and most of all, enjoy quality time as a family. The bags were packed, the car was loaded, my parents’ Little Guy trailer was firmly affixed to the vehicle – we were ready to rock.

And then my youngest daughter said she had a stomach ache. No worries – I threw a trusty plastic bag-lined ice cream pail in the car, just in case.

“Just in case” turned out to be an hour down the road.

My husband and I sat there, wondering what to do. How long would the bug last? Do we need to go home? This wasn’t on the spreadsheet. I had not scheduled us stopping to take in this particular sight. In the end, the spreadsheet said we would be spending the night in Minnesota, so to Minnesota we went.

After several unscheduled vomit-filled stops, we pulled into our campground in the early evening. It was everything we could have hoped for – beautiful, quiet location, not too busy, lovely new bathrooms…and mosquitoes. It was like something straight out of the Bible – a cloud of mosquitoes descended upon our camp, leaving us running for our tiny trailer. Our tiny trailer with very little ventilation. And a vomiting kid. And it wasn’t supposed to get much cooler than 80 degrees that night.

It was a long, long night.

Morning sprung bright and dewy, and after sprinting through the cloud of mosquitoes to the lovely bathrooms, we were off. Next stop – an actual oasis of a campground in rural Nebraska. A quiet forest of trees amongst the endless rolling hills of nothingness that is my husband’s home state. Today would be our day.

And then the weather warnings starting popping up on my phone – our sweet oasis was about to get slammed with severe thunderstorms and significant flooding. This, too, was not on my spreadsheet. Thus, we did what any self-respecting almost-40-year-old person does…

We called mommy.

Literally.

A consultation with Google Maps showed that if we took a detour and traveled an extra hour, we could spend the night at the sweet, dry, safety of my in-laws’ farm. My in-laws were graciously willing to host us at the drop of a hat, and so, with a sigh of relief, we began the trek toward their farm. All we needed was a quick stop for gas and dinner. Crisis averted…all would be well.

And then, as the skies opened up and let loose a torrential rainstorm, the dreaded “low tire” light came on in our vehicle.

Check back next week for Part Two of this debacle!

 

 

The Dream Job

Late last summer, I had a chance at my dream job. Don’t get me wrong…I love my current gig, but this job was THE DREAM. Working from home, doing what I love for a company that I respected…it was everything I could have ever hoped for in a job.

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The timing seemed perfect, too. My girls were entering a season in their homeschooling where they were mostly independent, and I had serious concerns about how I was going to fill my time. (Oh Katie of six months ago, what a funny, funny girl you were!) This position had the flexibility I needed with being a homeschool mom, but would have filled up those hours I was worried about.

Everything was looking promising. I made it through the first round of interviews, and was chosen as one of the candidates for the second round of interviews. I submitted my carefully written, extensively researched second interview with bated breath. I even found a cute top on clearance at Kohl’s that would be perfect for the final, third round of interviews.

And then, while sitting in the Culver’s parking lot on a date with my husband, I got the email. I hadn’t been selected for the final round of interviews.

Honestly, I was kind of crushed. Okay, I was completely crushed, actually. Even though I had a perfectly great job, this was THE DREAM. It would have been a game changer for my career as well as for our family in some very positive ways. The timing was perfect…why was God saying “no” to this opportunity?

Then the school year started, as did Bible study, Sunday morning commitments, Awana night, and youth group. Multiple trips to the gym needed to be made to fulfill school phys ed requirements each week. Orthodontist appointments kept popping up on the calendar. I was running to town at least twice a day, every day, and when you live at least 20 minutes from town, that time adds up quickly. I was paring down my trips as much as possible, but it was the reality of that life season.

And I was exhausted.

God knew. God knew what was coming, and He knew that there was absolutely no way that I could handle working 16-20 hours per week on top of my family’s needs. He knew that I was potentially biting off more than I could chew. Even though the situation looked like it would have been perfect by my earthly eyes, His heavenly eyes saw the bigger picture.

We are back in the throes of the regular school and life routine again. Remembering what last fall was like and how exhausted I was, I have cut back on my hours at work for the next month or two. Guess how many hours I am working right now? THREE. Right now, in this season, I can handle working THREE hours per week. Can you even imagine what life would be like if I had been committed to working 20 hours per week right now?! It would not have been pretty, I can guarantee that.

Once again, I am reminded of God’s perfect plans over mine. I am a planner by nature, and I can happily spend hours concocting what seems like a perfect plan for our future. A well-executed plan gives me great joy, and sometimes I want to clap my hands and do a little happy dance when those plans come together just so.

But what about when the perfect plan falls apart? In reality, I still need to find joy in that situation, clap my hands and do a happy dance because God protected me from His less than perfect plan for me…which also means that He has an even more perfect plan in mind.

Jeremiah 29:11 sums it up perfectly: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (NLT)

Amen? Amen.

 

 

2019: Just Write

Ha…see what I did there? Oh, 2019, we’re off to a punny start…

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What happened in 2018? Why did I suddenly stop blogging?

Well, I have approximately 4.2 million (or nine) half-written blog posts about the craziness and hard things that happened in 2018…situations that just sucked the life right out of me and left me with nothing. Literally…I had no words in the second half of last year. I would sit down to write and NOTHING.

Actually, I take that back. I would start writing, and before I knew it, my post sounded like a bad country song: my dog died, the car broke down again, my body is falling apart, etc. All true things that really did happen, but the posts were downright depressing. No one wants to read that!

Here’s the great part, though: it is no longer 2018! Phew. New year, new goals. Looking back, I realize I was way too hard on my blogging self last year. My goals were too ambitious, and I was flat out trying too hard to make something happen before it was ready to happen.

Moving into this year, I have one blogging goal: just write. I’d like to post once a week, but it might only be once a month, and that’s okay, too. Life is going to be big and beautiful and mundane and messy, just like every other year, but this year I give myself permission to flex with the seasons of life rather than holding myself to impossibly rigid expectations.

As in all things, personal goals are good, but in the big picture, what I really want is to accomplish God’s goals for me this year.

We’ll see what He has in store for 2019!

Freedom from Busyness: Part 2 – Choosing Activities Wisely

Well, let’s just jump right into this. Some of you are going to love today’s topic, and some of you are going to be haters. I’m okay with that. We can still be friends, right?

Before we jump into today’s somewhat controversial topic, I’d like to introduce you to Sarah, a like-minded friend whom I met in college. Sarah is a full time working mom with two adorable children. She has been collaborating with me on this series, lending the perspective of a simple lifestyle while working full time. I am grateful for the input that she has shared and am excited to share her wisdom with you all today! Welcome, Sarah!

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Looking at my calendar used to give me anxiety. Each day had at least one activity for our kids, not to mention any activities that my husband or I were involved in at the moment, too. The thing was, it was all good stuff: story time at the library, pottery classes, gymnastics, piano lessons, Bible studies, homeschool groups, basketball leagues…you get the picture. While it was all good, it was also all exhausting. My husband and I would race through our weeks, often feeling like we didn’t actually get a chance to see each other until the weekend.

Isn’t that what parents do, though? Isn’t part of our job to make sure that our children develop interests and chauffeur them to a myriad of activities? Well…yes and no.

Yes, it is part of the parent’s role to play chauffeur. However, we always need to keep our limits in mind. Here are three questions to ponder before signing kids up for activities:

  1. Can I handle this commitment and does it work with our family schedule? At our house, my husband and I have learned through experience that we can manage running kids to activities two nights per week. That’s our limit. Family time is a priority for us, and being gone more than two nights per week leaves us feeling harried and disconnected from our kids.

    At Sarah’s house, one night a week is what works for them. Eating dinner as a family is a priority at their house, as well as allowing a healthy amount of down time for both the parents and kids to regroup each day.

    We both have spouses with somewhat erratic schedules, so it is also important for both of us to weigh out whether we can handle carting kids to these activities without our spouse’s help.

  2. Is there a lifelong benefit to participating in this activity? This is an extremely subjective question, and the answers will vary wildly depending on a family’s values and interests. My kids love Star Wars, and taking a class called “Jedi Training” sure sounds fun, but is there any lifelong benefit for my kids in this class? Probably not. They also love participating in the AWANA program and youth groups at our church. My husband and I feel that these programs have lifelong benefit to our kids, as they are developing relationships with positive peers and adult mentors, as well as growing in the knowledge and relationship with Christ.Sarah says, “I started my kids in swim lessons quite young because I believed in the lifelong benefit of this. We spend a lot of time around water in the summer, swimming, fishing, kayaking, etc. This was something I felt strongly about my children doing. Since the age of three, they have both been in swim lessons in the summer. I have also done one round of swim lessons in the fall, stopped for the winter (because I didn’t want that commitment during the winter months) and then started again in spring. We will continue to do this.”
  3. Does my child show demonstrated interest in this activity? While I always want to encourage my children’s interests, I also want to make sure that we are focusing our energies where they are truly interested and invested. My kids have never shown interest in playing soccer; thus, I am not going to sign them up for soccer. However, my daughter did show an interest in playing ukulele. After discussing it for several months (to make sure it wasn’t a short-lived interest), we found a wonderful teacher who gives online lessons. This was a perfect for for our family, and my daughter is thriving in these lessons!Sarah has a different approach to this question. “I have brought up activities that I have wanted my children to try, or thought they may like to try, sometimes before they have expressed interest. I think it is important for my kids to try different activities to see what they like and don’t like. So, on and off from a young age, both of my kids have tried a variety of things. Most of this has taken place during the summer, when I am not working. They have both tried gymnastics, soccer and going to a day camp.” The key to this working for Sarah is to doing what works for her family schedule – in this case, doing these activities during the summer, when she is home with her kids.

Okay, these questions are all well and good, but how does one narrow down the choices with their kids? I think Sarah has a brilliant approach to this: “When my child has to make a choice between activities, she always compares everything to swimming (her most favorite activity), and so far has always chosen swimming over everything else.” Teaching our kids to make these tough choices early on will help them see where their interests truly lie, as well as instill in them how to live a balanced life. And that’s a legacy we truly want to leave with our children, right?

We’ve established our limits, prioritized our activities…and next week, we’ll take a look at the idea of rest. See you then!