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My word for 2019.

I think it all started unintentionally when I bought an audacious skirt for my 40th birthday.  Truth be told, I wouldn’t have bought it if my good friend who managed the farmer’s market where I bought the skirt didn’t soft sell me a little. But my comrade in sewing, she wooed me with the yardage. Oh the yardage on this skirt. And I certainly wouldn’t have bought it before I turned 40.

We will get back to that skirt in a minute.

On New Year’s Eve, a few nights ago, we sat on our deck looking out at the pitch black jungle and wrote letters to ourselves.

We addressed them: 

“Dear Me on Dec 31, 2019…”

We have done this every year even when the kids couldn’t write the letters themselves.  Chris and I would interview them asking what they liked to do right now and what they want to learn to do in the next year.  We put this all in the letter and our future self gets to read what we were like a year ago and also remember the intentions, dreams, and wishes for this year.

We added a twist this year.  

On a separate piece of paper, we wrote down all the feelings and moments that we need to let go and the beliefs that no longer serve us.

One of the kids wrote, “Being a drama queen.” (She tried several times to burn this and it wouldn’t catch, leading to many sighs and outbursts. Cue eyeroll from rest of the family.)

Other kids kept it private and one asked me to spell “believing.”

I took a peek and it said, “Not believing in myself.”

Cue heart melt.

This child forcefully threw this old pattern with a deep exhale into the fire to burn. 

I thought about the stories that I wanted to finally let go and my inner little girl tugged at the hem of my shirt and whispered that I should also write, “Not believing in myself.”

This year my oldest turns 21. We are celebrating almost 9 years of homeschooling.  We have managed to craft a life that is both crazy and beautiful.  But I am still shy about talking about it.  I am still hesitant to share any of it because of the many stories I have made up in my head:

No one cares. It’s no big deal.

I don’t want to share our private experiences with the world. It’s no one’s business.

I don’t want to be a show-off when I talk about how we live.  

I am afraid of the haters that will pick apart how we live, the choices we have made, and our painful failures.

I don’t believe that I have anything valuable to share with the world.

Crazy stories that have prevented me from blogging or teaching or posting on Instagram or writing the book I really want to write.

After I wrote all of these stories down, I threw them into the fire and my intention for this year flashed before my eyes as I added to my letter to myself.

BIG.  Live BIG.

When I look at those old stories, I see how I wrote them to keep me small and worthless. So small that I never had to be courageous or powerful.  

If I didn’t matter, then I didn’t have to live a life that mattered. 

My choices could blow up in my face without a peanut gallery heckling me and I could turn back at any moment. 

I have made BIG choices in my life but for the most part, I kept the how’s and why’s to my inner circle – my safety net of those who love me unconditionally and trust my intentions.  

I not only burned those old stories.  I re-wrote them based on reality and not a myth I created.

People care and my story matters.  

On several occasions, I have been asked about our story – by strangers in the airport; by people who have “heard” of us through some friends of friends of friends; by people who read my blog; by family and friends who want to know more.

I can still be private and share personal moments. 

When people reach out about snippets I share, it’s normally because I have shared something vulnerable that does not betray a confidence nor an intimate moment with someone I care about.  

When we share our stories, especially as women, and also especially women of colour, we add to the conversation.

There still aren’t enough of our stories that I can search and read and for my girls and my son to hear about all the different experiences written by different types of people.  

So…

I have a greater responsibility to share my story…

How does a first generation Canadian woman, born of immigrant parents, end up in the jungle of Costa Rica? 

How does the daughter of a teenage mom earn a full scholarship to university and completes her degree while raising her own child?

How does she decide to homeschool her children when her upbringing has told her that the only road to success is through the school system?

How did she dream this life for herself when no one else dreamt this big for her?

My story is a story about a girl with a BIG imagination that couldn’t dream any smaller and I am proud of the trails I have blazed and the life I have created.  

I am done with haters and I choose not to focus my attention on them.  

I too was once a hater.  A hater of the people that lived BIG because I was afraid of living that big myself.  A hater of those that lived a different life than I chose for myself.  This hater-mentality is fueled by jealousy, comparison-itis, and a lack of imagination.  

I am done with that.  I tell my story because it is mine. You can hate it and judge it all you want to make yourself feel better but that’s your deal.  I will just keep living it and owning my mistakes, saying sorry, forgiving, and keep on creating.  But if we all stop hating and criticizing for a moment, we just might all lean a little into compassion and kindness which I believe takes more strength and courage than posting an insulting comment.

I have something valuable to share with the world.

Every time I share what I have learned, there is the potential that I help at least one person.  

That one person could be that young mom that doesn’t know if she has what it takes to be a mom. (Yes you do!)

That one person could be the mom of teens that doesn’t know if they should still hold on a little longer. (Yes you can!)

That one person could be that parent wondering if there is a different way outside the school system. (Yes there is!)

That one person may want to tell her story but is unsure if she matters. (Yes you do! Please tell it! We need more of your stories.)

So here it is.  The beginning of BIG. 

Actually let’s go back to that skirt at the beginning of this story.  THAT was the beginning of BIG. I just didn’t know it then.  All I knew is that skirt and its 4 yards of material and bold colour palette and fancy glimmer spit in the face of all things small and shy.  I bought it not being fully certain that I would wear it or would just aspire to.  But I knew that I wanted to begin my forties with a dash of grandeur and a pinch of flash.  

And on my 40th birthday, I did just that: with this skirt, a rainbow, and an endless sky.

2019 will be the year of big dreams, big shares, big risks, and big projects that stretch me and scare the crap out of me.  This all begins with sharing my story (and getting used to posting pictures of myself).

What are your BIG dreams this year?  What intentions have you set?  Can you go bigger??

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2018: A reflection.

Ground was my word of intention for 2018.  I set it in December 2017 because I knew that when we returned to Costa Rica in January, we would be moving into our home and I wanted to plant my roots.

I loved the word Ground.  It invoked the earth element.  The need to stay in one place.  2017 felt a little airy.  We floated in and out of rentals and countries.

I also forgot about the other definition of ground – the act of grinding: to destroy by crushing.

(Note to self: Be careful of the words you choose and look up every possible meaning before you set a one-word intention for the year.)

This last year turned out to be one of the shiftiest where it dared me to ground in ways that my physical circumstances wouldn’t or couldn’t allow. I destroyed old stories but it was tedious work, a grind.

Our house is still being built but its foundation feels solid.  I expected to ground myself in the stability of the land but instead I grounded myself in the land by watching it shape us this year instead of us shaping it.  I grounded in its movement and growth after we disrupted and destroyed with our building process.  A year later, new growth is already thriving around a tree stump from a tree that fell in a storm last January.  

My 2018 could also have been the word, WET.  It was a wet one.  The rain gave us so much water but it made it difficult for us to ground and everything became slick and muddy.  We had to be aware of every step and where the land couldn’t support us, and if we didn’t, we lost our footing and it took us out and this lesson had to be learned the hard way.  

I built myself from the ground up this year, focusing on the things that I could hold on to for stability that I could create instead of relying on the physical place where you build your home on clay and a truck of rocks is on everyone’s wish list.  

What were my “rocks” this year that I used to build a stable structure? 

One of the rocks has been our farm community.  The families that live there have supported us and allowed us to create family here. I organized a weekly event for the kids for December on the farm, a countdown to the end of the year.  It’s a Waldorf tradition to celebrate advent by celebrating the different kingdoms – mineral, plant, animal, humanity.  We celebrated each one and on the last week, we had the Festival of Light, celebrating us. 

I created a form of the advent spiral and built a spiral of ferns. The two 11 year olds lit the large candle and placed it in the middle and then all 22 community members that live on the farm, took a little tea light and walked in to the middle of the spiral and lit their light and walked out, placing their light on one of the stars on the spiral.

Walking inwards, I invited everyone to reflect with appreciation and gratitude on the past year and walking outwards, to make intentions for the coming year.

As everyone whispered their dreams, wishes, and thanks, we created a collective constellation of stars that represented our community – each person represented a point of light that brightened the place where we lived in one way or another.  We also began the evening in a circle, turning to the person to the right of us to tell them why they mattered.  

This end of year celebration reminded me that these simple moments of true human connection provide us with more stability and support us all firmly in this land more than a million truckloads of rocks.  Even when the land shifts and even when we are swimming in mud, I can always put on the boots and head over to my neighbour for a cup of tea.

This year made me strip everything down to the bones.  What do I hold steady within me when everything outside changes and shifts?  After years of finding stability in outward routines, rituals, things, and places, can I finally be that rock?  Living in the jungle in an unfinished home without electricity, an injured partner, living in a community that is slowly its own groove taught me uncomfortable lessons of how we can be steadfast in the midst of change by owning our response to it.  

We can choose to be the point of light in the spiral of humanity or can stay on the outside wondering if the spiral is stable enough or if our light shouldn’t be so bright or if we should shine at all.  

This brings me to 2019 and my intentions…

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Redefining Christmas.

Days of Christmas Past.

This was the first year I was away from Toronto for Christmas.

It was a strange feeling.

When the first of December rolled around, my kids kept saying, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas.”

I asked them, “What does it feel like then?”

Then like a BB Gun filled with pellets that don’t make you bleed or wound too deeply but still hurt like a mother, they fired all the memories of their Decembers past. And I bruise easy.

“Remember when you made us an advent calendar and we had a family activity to do every day?”

“Remember when we made those St. Lucia buns and gave them out to all our neighbours?”

“Remember our tradition of the Lord of The Rings marathon right before Christmas?”

“Remember the year we made quilts and stuffed animals for all of our little cousins?”

“Remember those snowflake pipe cleaner things we used to throw at the tree?”

“Remember all the baking Mom?  ALL the baking!!!”

“Remember when we decorated the tree and the house all together…that was a favourite advent calendar family activity.”

“Remember our candlelight dinners just on Winter Solstice and not every night??”

Yes of course I remember. I still catch myself looking at them as if they were the same little people all huddled on that tiny love seat in the picture above. I remember helping them sew those felt slippers on that window ledge that they outgrew a long time ago. I remember putting their love notes and chocolate in that red Christmas truck falling over. I remember working tirelessly that December to finish THE family Christmas quilt.

The Lopez7 Christmas Quilt.

December is hitting us hard in more ways than just my husband’s knee.  Nothing makes my heart hurt more than coming to the realization that those holiday traditions I had steadily created for over ten years are gone.  Traditions that my children grounded themselves in and came to look forward to each year have been ended unceremoniously by me and our move.

We went to visit family in Toronto for the last two Decembers.  I wanted to somehow lessen the blow of the death of these traditions.  We visited with family and friends like guests who were on vacation.  The focus was spending time with the people we loved because we missed them and moving was still hard on the kids.

We decided not to go back to Toronto this December. In July when we made this decision, I was optimistic. We would make new traditions here.  I already started planning some family activities in the fall for December – activities that reflected our new home and the physical and emotional growth of our family.

I was all set to start prepping everything as soon as we returned from California. Then…

Husband leaves for eight days for a funeral…

Husband injures knee…

And then the kicker…

Eldest daughter sends a text message saying she is not coming for Christmas…

BOOM.

I took off everyone’s favourite hat, “Mom’s Festive and Fun Hat,” and quickly donned the least favourite one, “Mom’s Utilitarian Survival Beret.”

The first day of December came and they looked around the house. Nothing. No calendar.  No special love notes.  No decoration. No family activity to countdown the month. Nobody asked about it but I knew they were a little disappointed. I just sighed in defeat and said, “I just couldn’t this year.”  

That’s when the reminiscing began.  Each memory shared felt like a tiny shard of glass getting lodged in my heart.  I could see the headline now: “Death by Christmas Past.”

No, we couldn’t go to the tree farm and get our Balsam Fir and put all of our handmade ornaments on it.  No, we don’t get to experience that magic of sitting by the window with a cup of hot cocoa mesmerized by the magic of the first snowfall of the season. No, we don’t have snow to build snowmen or go sledding with friends.  No, we weren’t going to go ice skating at the park by our old house or by the big Christmas Tree at City Hall.  

I held back the tears and held back what I was really thinking…

“Yes I suck and I have ruined all of your lives but you know what?

Come take a ride with me as I play your guide – the ghost of Christmas Past.

Let me share with you where I have been for the last 20 Christmases…

…the 5 million parties we went to when I really wanted to curl up in bed and sleep;

…the meltdowns when we did go to those parties when we all should have curled up in bed together;

…the all-night baking/sewing/gift-making/love-note writing/wrapping; 

…invoking the spirit of my inner linebacker and grinch as I navigated the city and shopping;

…everyone getting sick right after Christmas like clockwork – Christmas, Boxing Day, Sick Week; and feeling a chill in my bones I couldn’t shake until May.

Chaos and overwhelm somehow became apart of my own inner tradition as I held the container for you all!

Bah humbug!”

Of course, I didn’t say any of this because I knew what they meant. I made it fun. I made it special. I made it magical. I created and clung to those traditions like that Christmas quilt which I left behind in Canada.

At what point do traditions become stifling obligations? When do they shift from beautiful rituals to going through the motions because it’s something we always do? When do we let go willingly before life forces us to?

And just like our move, I pulled the rug from under them. I shook things up without even being fully aware of why again. I sensed that it needed to happen because our family was changing. Maybe I did it too abruptly, switching things up on them this year by not going to Toronto but when are we supposed to move on and leave traditions behind? You could outgrow traditions without even knowing it and then you are the one left holding on to the Christmas quilt, a collection of stitched together memories that you can’t let go.

In the picture below, Honest Ed’s no longer exists. A staple from my childhood memories with my grandparents. My eldest in this picture is not with us this December like she was in this picture when we visited Toronto two years ago during the holidays. And none of these winter boots fit my children anymore – the last remaining winter apparel we had.

My #2 and I found a small poinsettia plant at our local farmer’s market. She really wanted it. We bought it and brought it home. The kids eyes lit up. I knew why it didn’t feel like Christmas in the traditional sense. Their physical senses couldn’t register Christmas. But that symbol with all of its bright red and green was like an immediate association to the festive season.

I set this in motion 20 years agoAll those memories were related to the physicality of Christmas. They were all so little and that was part of the celebration. But now they have grown. Now we have the opportunity to focus on the essence of Solstice and Christmas – returning to the light and the hope of rebirth. These things we can talk about in the scope of creating new traditions.

I didn’t try to create from scratch traditions to replace our old ones. Something has to take place within us. We had to still honour our destruction of the old and sit in the darkness of the seed of potential. I have learned this lesson over the last two years as we have adjusted to our new life.

So we pared it down to the minimum and I saw a common thread.

My 9 year old wanted me to read lots of stories – the old winter and Christmas ones I used to tell.

My 11 year old daughter just wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies for Christmas. She remembered all of those Christmases baking together and wanted that one thing.

My 13 year old wanted to have a Christmas feast with family.

My 15 year old wanted to listen to holiday songs all of December in the car so we could all sing along.

My 20 year old wanted to make sure we all knew she loved us even if she couldn’t be here.

Chris and I wanted to see how our family could be of service. How could we help our neighbours?

We all wanted to spend as much time as we could with my aunt and my cousin who visited us for Christmas. We all hung out and talked and laughed and cooked and ate together. We connected deeper than we would have had we not moved so far away.

Although we replaced the snow with sunny beach days, the Christmas tree with a Christmas mobile made up of branches from our land, and hot chocolate with turmeric tea and honey, the same things gave us comfort and joy without the “extra frills” as my grandfather would say. Chris’ injury and our life in general in the jungle are great teachers for us to remember what is essential and how this time of year is an opportunity to listen to our natural rhythm to move even slower so we can show up for each other in small ways, giving what we can.

Branches and a leaf cur into a star from our land and yarn spun from sheep’s wool in Ontario.

We didn’t have our own tree and our decorations were packed in a box waiting to be opened again someday when we could give them a home and incorporate them into our new traditions.

People say Christmas is a commercial holiday like other holidays. But should we throw the baby out with the bath water? Yes if you go through the motions without questioning why, I can see the need to throw it away. But if you celebrate with an intention of connection and grounding into a rhythm of the year, it can be a beautiful tradition that your family can return to as a way of celebrating each other and reflecting on how to enter into the light together wherever you are.

Even though my daughter wasn’t here for Christmas this year, we held her in our heart and talked to her on Christmas Day sending her love. It was because of our strong traditions for twenty years that we felt her absence deeply but it also reminded us of how strong our love is for each other that transcends distance and a sentimental quilt.


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Knee deep.

It’s been a wet season and our house is surrounded by mud.  The sticky kind.  The kind that ruins white tees, breaks flip flops and busts knees.

Speaking of knees.

Chris left for eight days to Toronto right after we returned from California. We came home and he turned around and left to be with his family because his uncle passed away.  It rained and rained and rained. The kids and I had many adventures adjusting to life back in the jungle including a crazy Sunday morning when a tree blocked our private road and my #4 had to get to practice for a performance.

That story is for another post but back to knees…or one knee in particular.

I went to the airport to pick him and a friend up from the local airport and a flood of relief washed over me.  I imagined sunning on our deck while Chris cleaned the poo buckets and sitting in the passenger seat of the car, navigating the roads and life – my favourite position.  I thought about taking my friend out the next day while Chris shuttled the kids around.  I fantasized about staying on the land for a few days while he did the groceries.

Needless to say, I am now on Day 23 still dreaming about that moment of relief.

The day after he got back, he fell.  He fell hard. I blame myself a little because I woke him up to take the dogs for a walk so the cats could come home.  It was during the wee hours of the morning that our big puppies yanked him while he was in the mud and brought him down on his left knee. Yes, brought him down on a corner of a concrete cinderblock.

I heard a yell and looked out our bedroom window to see him walk away with the dogs so naturally, I went back to sleep appreciating every second of my husband’s return.  I did not have to take the dogs for their little walk today. The cats hurried back in the house.  I went to make coffee and Chris hobbled in with blood dripping from his arm and his leg.

Now I am not the type to get queasy with the sight of blood.  Ask my kids. I have cleaned many a bloody wound, pulled out a lodged earring out of a bloody ear hole, and kept everyone calm when my eldest broke her nose in the middle of a forest as blood spewed all over her white outfit.

I looked at him as he leaned on the counter and began to wipe the blood off his arm and leg.  I also felt a little deja-vu.  He had scraped his leg pretty bad on said cinderblock a couple of months ago (again while walking the dogs).  Sensing a pattern? Too bad we didn’t catch on quick enough the first time around.

The gist of our conversation:

Me: “Are you ok?”

Chris: “Yes I am fine. I fell. The insert expletive dogs.”

As he wipes away the extra blood, I look at the wound and scrunch up my face and start talking in a neutral non-emotional voice.

Me: “It looks pretty bad. I think you may need stitches.”

Chris: “I will be fine.  I don’t need to go to the clinic. Let me just clean this up and stick a bandaid on.”

Me: “I think you should go to the clinic. Take a look.”

Chris takes a flashlight to his wound because, like I said, this is the wee hours of the morning and both knees start to buckle and he almost faints.  Chris is not so good with the sight of blood or needles or anything wound-ish really.

My #5 is also there and he looks at it and agrees with me and draws a picture with his hand for his dad describing exactly what it looks like and basically air draws a big hole in the knee.

It’s market day so we need to get going to drop off #2 at work. We vhead to the clinic.  I wait to see if the doctor can speak English well in case Chris is a little foggy with the pain and all.  Chris can understand him completely and I leave to go pick up the rest of the kids and my beautiful friend who is now in the middle of this chaos.

13 stitches (5 inside and 8 outside) later, I turn on a sort of auto-pilot for the next two weeks.  My fantasy staying home all day everyday slowly fades away.

What needs to be done now?  Ok what needs to be done this morning?  Now what needs to be done this afternoon? And please can someone just figure out the evening for me…

I am a logistics Jedi master and plan my days with the least amount of energy expenditure and meeting the greatest number of needs.  I cut out most extra curricular activities for the kids and general commitments.

I say NO because I KNOW.

I know if I continue to force a rhythm that included a healthy fully functioning partner, I will fizzle in a few days.  I have done this before.  I haven’t said NO enough or tried to keep up my normal and quickly crash and burn, staying in bed and taking a lot longer to recover.

So I do the opposite of the “shoulds” I hear in my head and carve out MORE “me” time.  

Yes you heard me right.  More time for me in a household depending on me.  But that’s exactly the point.  I can’t let my tank drain empty especially now that it’s draining twice as fast.  I have to fill it twice as fast.

More time alone in the morning.  More time to journal and to read.  More time to connect with other women and my projects.  More time to sleep.

I ask the kids to step it up and they do.

#2 cooks although we all have to accept what she “feels” like cooking even if it’s just salad.

#3 and #5 take on cleaning and animal care like nobody’s business and gracefully accepting that they can’t go to fencing class this month.

#4 helping me with the poo buckets and sleeping over at friends’ houses after late evening practices for her performance. (Shout out to all the friends who let her stay overnight so I could rest a little earlier.)

They keep me company as I run errands.  They do the grocery and market shopping.  They buy me ice cream when they think “we” need it.

I don’t take on everything and pretend it’s ok.  I ask for help and am honest about what I can and can’t do in each moment.  

Some days I am Superwoman and in one heroic day accomplish my complete to-do list including going to the bank and being first in line! (Truly a superhuman feat here.)

Some days I am out of breath before I even get to the bottom of my stairs.  Not because I am out of shape but because I think about the to-do list and want to melt into the hammock and avoid responsibility.  

Kids: “Mom, we have no food.”

Me with a eyeroll: “You exaggerate.”

Kids: “Mom, we have nothing in the cooler or the pantry. Seriously.”

Me: “Are you guys too young to fast?”

Kids: “Mom!”

Me: “Ok. Ok. Going.”

This is rough for my husband who loves to move and loves to take care of us.  He is not comfortable lying down for an extended period during the day.  He pushes his recovery by trying to do too much hoping that if he acts as if nothing has happened, it will heal faster. I plead with him to rest and only because my will is greater than his at the moment, he finally relents and surrenders and because he is sick of me and everyone else asking, “Hmmmm…what do you think the universe is teaching you?”

We are moving slow and learning our new dance together.  The choreography is a little simple with my husband’s one leg only available and all but we are learning so much how to communicate better and how switching roles helps us appreciate the other more.  I appreciate how much he does and he appreciates how much I can focus and can ask for help.

I have gained confidence and he has gained introspection.

We’ve gained an understanding of how important knees are to the body as this injury has humbled us both.  We both ask for help from each other and from our community.  We ask help from our kids.  We recognize the fragility of our bodies and how imperative it is to take care of them.  

Whether he likes it or not, the Universe took him out without major damage as a warning shot – slow down and look up more.  Actually, look down too.  Pay attention and ask for help.  

And to also ignore the wife when she asks you to walk the dogs at 4:30am.

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Not a Vacation: Part three.

Due to recent events, including a certain husband splitting open his knee and being out of commission until further notice, blogging once again has been put on the back burner.  On the front burner: taking care of the kids, an injured partner, and animals.  Overall, channeling all my energy into being present and being aware of my own tank.  Ah, life.  But here is a late post on our time in California when we all had perfect mobility…

I had posted previously about not having a plan.  What I did have was an intention.  Actually it was a prayer.

Dear God,

I have not travelled with a young adult fresh out of adolescence, two teenage girls, my fiery Leo, and a son going through the 9 year change.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know when to have ice cream for dinner.

(Because well, ice cream is the best temporary bandaid and distracting indulgence besides breast milk and tin foil.  There are days I really wish I could still whip out a boob to make an ouchie feel better.)

And any extra advice would be awesome. Thanks.

Love,

Rozanne

How could we find a rhythm that worked for everyone’s particular needs?  Some of us don’t eat breakfast before 10am.  Some of us need two breakfasts by 10am.  Some of us need to move.  Some need to lie down and relax.  Some of us want to do a bit of shopping.  Some of us would rather take an ice pick and stab ourselves. Some of us are too cold to spend the day outside at the beach. And some just don’t want to hike in the forest during a wildfire  (well, just one of us but in hindsight, I completely understand).

#2:  Mom, it’s getting smoky. I can’t breathe.  Please can we turn back. The ranger said not to go south.

Me:  It’s not smoke, it’s mist and he said not to go TOO far south.  We are only going about 4 miles south.

#2: MOM!

Me:  We’ll be fine.  And what if this is it?  My last chance to see go see the redwoods in the Cathedral Woods grove.  Besides, the Rangers know where we are and it’s not that smoky.

#1:  Did you say something Mom?  I couldn’t hear you above all the coughing.

It does look a little hazy in this picture.

 

On our first day together as seven, I get my prayer is answered and I receive a little advice.

All of us are looking at a map.  I want some nature but I also need to make an international call in the afternoon so I also want a little cell service too.  Another wants to go to a secondhand bookstore.  One wants ice cream, of course.  One wants to see the Mission District.  One would like to wander.  One is jet lagged or hung over or both and is happy to not move so much. One is just happy to be all together and doesn’t care what we do.

My heart begins to beat faster as my mind starts to anticipate an exhausting day where no one is happy.  Then as if in neon lights, one word flashed before me, or more like one sound whispered in my ear, when in my mind, I was already imagining my late afternoon temper tantrum.

SHHHHH.

I stopped and listened.  They weren’t asking for much.  And what if I could just choose to be happy now and let the day unfold?  To throw myself into YES and WHY NOT?  I also stopped and expanded my vision. I saw a rare moment.  This opportunity to shift myself at the beginning of our time together.  I could imagine a day of synchronous flow where everyone would go to sleep full – a fullness of being together and of being enough.

This is our normal. Why change because we are in a different location?

In that moment, I was going to let go and be present without expectation.  In that moment, I decided to simply appreciate our life.  With this attitude, our days turned into exciting mysteries and adventures and it felt so natural.

No stress. No major fights.  No lectures.  The only bickering that happened was due to the endless musical chairs in the two back rows.  But nothing like some eye rolls and heavy sighs thrown at them by me to defuse the situation.  It’s like going to YELLOW alert, a warning.  Nothing is worth fighting for that will get mama to RED.

Some unexpected surprises that maybe wouldn’t have happened had I attached myself to a plan:

  • Only after unexpectedly climbing a mountain to make a call, we see dolphins in the ocean. True story.  I got my nature fix – beautiful ocean views and cliffs, but had to climb up a rocky mountain to get cell service and had a lovely call with women about a project very important to me.
  • Attending the huge Dia del Muerto parade in San Francisco and having the best burrito on church steps with the best people including family and some friends that drove all the way from Sacramento to say ‘Hi.’
  • A big breakfast with family in San Francisco before the goodbye which the kids say had to make this list. I agree.
  • Sea Lions lounging under the pier in Santa Cruz
  • Hiking in the Henry Cowells Redwood Forest during a wildfire happening just south of us after locals telling us maybe not a good idea that day but instinct prevailed over common sense yet again.
  • Hugging some of the oldest cypress trees in California and marveling at their structural and haunting quality:
  • Seeing zebras graze wildly at sunset (Do I look at the dozen zebras or the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean? Best dilemma of the day.)
    • Zebras on one side…
    • Ocean sunset on the other…
  • Having game-changing conversations with locals in Santa Barbara at a coffee shop (Thanks Ashton and Cathy!)
  • An impromptu hike in Santa Barbara which was recommended by Ashton where at the top, kite gliders were jumping off and gliding into the sunset.  It already has inspired one daughter to try it as soon as she can travel without me so I don’t have to watch.
  • Stumbling into a small bookstore to find this amazing book by Mary Beard: How Do We Look
  • Chris fulfilling another dream of playing volleyball with his kids in the Manhattan Beach – the mecca of beach volleyball.
  • Exploring tide pools just as the tide went out – perfect timing to stop – and climbing rocks in Laguna Beach.
    • This photo is SO staged.
  • Walking 7 km to Balboa Park in San Diego while Chris was in his conference which was a breeze for my people that had been hiking a little bit each day and we had no idea how many gems we would find there like an art museum where 17 and under are free, a Japanese garden, a busker teaching the kids how to make gigantic bubbles…
    • His happy place…
  • All of the stops on Highway 1…
  • Finding the perfect long sleeve for one daughter and hoodies for two others.
  • Surprising courtyards and secret trails leading to dead ends, cliffs, tide pools, and other surprises.

It was a beautiful time together that really spelled out what is essential to our family and how we don’t change much of who we are or are expectations based on being in a different location.

I decided to look up the word “trip.”

Here is what I find on etymonline.com:

trip (v.)

late 14c., “tread or step lightly and nimbly, skip, dance, caper,” from Old French triper “jump around, dance around, strike with the feet” (12c.), from a Germanic source (compare Middle Dutch trippen “to skip, trip, hop; to stamp, trample….”

The senses of “to stumble” (intransitive), “strike with the foot and cause to stumble” (transitive) are from mid-15c. in English. Meaning “to release” (a catch, lever, etc.) is recorded from 1897; trip-wire is attested from 1868. Related: Tripped; tripping.

trip (n.)

“act or action of tripping” (transitive), early 14c., from trip (v.); sense of “a short journey or voyage” is from mid-15c.; the exact connection to the earlier sense is uncertain.

This was trip and not a vacation.  We skipped and danced around California together.  We treaded a little lighter when our hearts became heavy with news of the fires.  We slowed our pace and began to appreciate the trees and having each other a little more.  We stumbled onto the most beautiful pieces of this earth because we were curious and open to mystery.  We were in search of all things beautiful as we all sank into gratitude for just being together.

There were many moments when I would look up and see my people all together holding hands and laughing or posing silly or getting excited about another taffy store.

When we look at our life, we are on a short journey or voyage every day.  We stumble and trip because sometimes we look too far ahead or we stumble onto  miracles themselves.  We tripped the catch that held us all in a space from the past to allow us to be a new family together.  We slipped and trampled and fell into a new cadence together while discovering how each of us like to move in the world right now.

Last thoughts on our trip and some updates on recent events next…

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Not a Vacation. Part two: Not a Plan.

An aside:  Sorry for these late follow up posts on our trip.  It feels a bit anti-climactic now. Sigh. Chris had to leave unexpectedly as soon as we returned from our trip to California so needless to say it has been quite the week without him, managing my first time in the jungle with the kids alone.  That’s a whole other story including a fallen tree, an almost-tipped over car, and lots of rain. Lots.  So I have all these saved posts on our “not a vacation” and will try to share them all without interruption now…although having a plan always backfires lately…

Almost two weeks ago in our Manhattan beach hotel:

Me with a sigh and being so random as usual: “I could really use an Earl Grey tea right now.”

(And I never actually have ever craved an Earl Grey tea before this moment.)

#2 while reaching into her front pocket of her bag:  “I packed some just in case, Mom. Here you go.”

This type of conversation is pretty normal.  Whether it’s black jeans, oil of oregano, or lip balm, someone has packed what another one inevitably needs.

This might make one assume we are all superb planners and had checklists and itineraries for this latest travel adventure.  

No, not really.

You might be thinking how could I NOT plan for our family of seven??  Logistics, food, housing, etc. All of these must be researched and budgeted right?

No, not really.

Moving to the jungle has really changed my idea about planning.  I soon learned how planning are deeply intertwined with expectations and assumptions. We have found ourselves in terrible tangles – emotional tangles especially – when plans fall apart.

Looking back at some of our travel experiences, the best ones were when we were forced to throw the plan out the window and think on our feet and the worst one – the trip that must not be named – was essentially awful because I did not go with the flow and listen to my instincts, like maybe not taking two children with pneumonia on a 30-hour car ride.  (You would think the dead battery at the start of the trip would have gave me pause. Nope. We. Must. Keep. To. The. Plan.)

Traveling with little people does take some forethought but really not as much as one would need IF you are keenly aware of how these little people function in the best of times and the worst of times. 

When are they at their best and how can we fit the most transition travel points in that time frame and how can I sacrifice a little bit to avoid getting everyone at their worst at the very same time during the most harrowing part of the travel? 

(Like during the trip that must not be named.  Did I mention I forgot to pack shoes for a child and we didn’t figure that out until she had to go to the bathroom really badly at a disgusting rest stop?)

When you start traveling with your family, start when they are babies.  We have traveled with each child as a babe.  Whether it’s a 2-hour road trip or flying to an island, my kids are seasoned travelers now. Even when we had no money, we would walk, bike, or take the bus just to experience something new in order to appreciate the old or shake us all out of a dead routine.

Once I figured out that everyone loses their shit during the day in the car after sitting more than 2 hours, we drove through the night.  The benefits of driving through the night? Quiet car, quiet roads, and quiet music. And if we had to drive in the day, we would stop right at the 2 hour mark for snacks and stretches and running around until they passed out.  The trip may take a little longer but everyone makes it to the destination without hurting one another or mama having a nervous breakdown (again, like on the trip that must not be named).

This still applies to our family.  On our recent travels, we stopped to get out of the car to see the beautiful vistas on Highway 1 or to hike a little. Sometimes I would forget about the time, enjoying the scenery, only to hear a quiet protest about the music a child has chosen.  I give Chris a look and he stops the car.  We all get out and then back in and everyone falls asleep.

 

Let’s rewind a little.  There are a ton of places to go in the world.  Why California? How did we decide to drive the coast?

California popped up in our radar because my husband had to be at a “work” event in San Diego.  He has gone to California at least once a year for a work event or to teach a workshop and we have never joined him.  (More on “work” in the next post.)

One of his bucket list bullet points in BOLD is to drive down the Pacific coast with ALL of us, to start in San Francisco and drive down to San Diego on Highway 1. This was a dream for him and the kids were excited about a road trip because oddly enough, my kids still like long car rides even after the trip that must not be named. (They tell me they actually don’t remember much about that trip.  I tell them it was because they were all passed out with high fevers and out of it.)

Without considering any costs involved and looking at the beaming face of my husband, I said, “If we have enough money right now, book the flight.”  

Now let me give you a clear picture of our life in this moment.  We have earmarked all incoming money to getting solar power.  ELECTRICITY.  The income we calculate would go to this or at least should.  

But like I said, this was HIS dream.  I was indifferent.  But the thought of the seven of us together on driving down the coast and also supporting making a dream come true helped me let go of the possibility again to have a fridge. 

Sigh.  No cold drinks.  Yay!  Dream coming true.

Another glitch: his dream specifically states ALL of us yet our oldest daughter was going to be in Europe and she wasn’t sure if she would find the money or have other plans that kept her in Europe when it was time to meet us.  

He booked the six of us and then had faith.

Fast forward to a few weeks after we booked our flights.

My husband decided on a whim to look up flights from Europe to San Francisco. She had no idea where she would be at the time, as per usual, and that proved to be a challenge looking up flights.  At this particular moment, she was in Lisbon.  He tried Lisbon, Porto, Paris, Madrid.  They all had exorbitant fares.  Finally he tried Barcelona – the place she lived for four months and where we said goodbye to her two years ago.  A direct flight from Barcelona to San Francisco on the exact date was $175.  ($175 CANADIAN!). He quickly texted her if this was ok and she emphatically said in I think she texted these exact words, “I will get my ass to Barcelona and on that flight no matter what!” And just like how any other 20 year old would react, followed with more texts filled with excited emojis.

(Perfect and the trip soon became how many photos could I take of all five of them together before they would all stage a mutiny and throw my camera over a cliff.)

Santa Cruz pier before my mini meltdown asking them to pose normally so I could have one nice photo of my children…

After the meltdown:

And then I gave up:

And I had to get creative and catch them when I could…and sometimes with their dad…

Again on a whim, decided to look up rental cars now that he knew he had to find one that seated seven people.  He found an amazing deal for a seven-seater for the time we were there. We had just enough money in that moment (again, earmarked for solar) and we would pick it up in SF and drop it off in LA where our flight would be leaving from.

After that, we went on with our life.  I remember we tried to sit and book some air bnbs but I got overwhelmed and we went for brunch instead.

Zero planning.

What we knew for sure: 

  • When and where we were arriving to: San Francisco.
  • When and where we were leaving from: LA.
  • Who was going: The Lopez 7.
  • How we were getting to San Francisco to San Diego and then to LA to fly out: A sweet SUV.
  • Why we were doing it:  Making a dream come true.

We had only these five “for sures” up until about a couple weeks before we left.

Then things started coming together in what I like to call as a serendipitous general outline.  

Not a plan.

We started with asking trusted people to take care of our animals here. Check.

Next, we had to figure out how we were getting to San Jose and where we would stay for a night. Check.

We would be in San Francisco and what did we want to do? Well, if the priority for us was to spend time with Chris’ cousin and for our kids to meet their cousins, then could we stay with them for a couple of nights? Check.

And then again, we left things for a few days as we tidied our home and bought pet food and cleaned our car.

About a week before we left, we plotted out where we would likely stop on the way to San Diego from San Francisco based on recommendations from friends and family.  We decided to book hotels on points and not on points for the cheaper locations so that we would collect more points by booking these particular hotels, allowing for some free stays toward the end of the trip.  (There is a definite reward for staying loyal to a particular hotel especially as a big family who needs to stay in suites with kitchens but can’t afford the normal rate).  

I resisted the old urge to plan itineraries because it had been a long time since we travelled together.  I had no idea what our rhythm would be and what would be interesting to them.  We would let it flow and depend on locals to give us the goods when we got to where we were going.

The kids packed the day before asking their normal questions:

  • What is the weather like there?  Cold. Like 16-20 degrees.  Brrrrrr. Sorry Toronto, but this is cold to us now.
  • Will we do laundry? Yes.
  • How many outfits?  5.

Their standard packing list:

  • A book or two or three…depending on the child. (Or five if your name begins with an F.)
  • A journal plus writing/drawing utensil of their choice.
  • Outfits
  • Personal Hygiene Items (Varies from a single toothbrush to five different natural cleansers if your name begins with a J and is an actual J sound).
  • Running Shoes for Travel Days and Mama’s impromptu 8k hikes.
  • Flip flops or slides. (Unless we are going to Canada in the winter.)
  • Water bottles.
  • The Family IPad. (They take turns carrying it but use it together.)

Each person adds things their personal items like a stuffed toy, a compass, more books, nail polish, supplements, a to-go coffee mug, etc. We have learned through over 19 flights in the past two years what makes travel comfortable with the least amount of stuff because the kids soon learned that everyone carries their own bag because mom and dad won’t pay for checked baggage or carry your bag (unless your nickname is a single letter and your duffel bag is bigger than you, then we may help a little).

We have also learned that anything that we forget was not meant to come with us and that we can always figure out what to do about it.  Always.  Things can be purchased and mama can cuddle when a stuffie is left at home.

This all may look like a plan but it really wasn’t.  There wasn’t a formal planning session.  As things came up, we made decisions.  As we got to places, if a child asked about ice cream, we asked where the best ice cream could be found and went which turned out to be the highlight of the trip for one of my kids – an ice cream connoisseur, “Yes, that was my favourite because who does Honey Lavender as a flavour?? Genius!!!”

It was the most enjoyable and relaxing time with my family for many reasons but one of them is definitely because we didn’t really plan any of the magic that unfolded and that really began with the solid YES to making my husband’s dream come true – a dream we all ended up sharing in the end.

Next post…Some highlights from California and if this isn’t a vacation, what can I call this? 

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Not a Vacation. Part One.

My children used to love the book, Not a Box by Antoinette Portis.  In the book, a bunny plays with an ordinary box and uses its imagination to transform it into many things so it’s “not a box.”  In my most desperate and exhausting moments when the kids were little, I would remember this book and give the kids a box to play this game which would last hours or days and sometimes give me enough time to fold a load of laundry or lie down on the couch with a pillow over my face trying not to completely fall asleep.  If we didn’t have a box, the kids would play “not a laundry basket,” “not a pillow,” “not a blanket,” etc.  (I had to intervene when one tried to play “not a baby” with their baby brother.  “Yes, he actually IS a baby and not a horse.”)
Little did I know that would be the beginning of a lifelong exercise in questioning the conventional definition of the function of different things, and also systems, words, and concepts.  I challenged what “school” and “education” meant.  I redefined “success” and “home.” I recreated a concept of “marriage” that fit my husband and I four years ago after twenty years of the original idea failing both of us.
This brings me to the latest word and concept that I have decided I can’t use anymore.
Vacation.
Today I am in San Jose having returned from California.  My family of seven travelled the coast for ten days.
Before we left, I was telling people we were going on a family vacation for the first time in a couple of years.  Our last family vacation was to Barcelona two years ago. Even as I said the word, it felt weird to use it. I hadn’t used it for a very long time. Looking back I didn’t even call our Barcelona trip a vacation, it was what we call in our Filipino culture (and in Spanish) a despedida party – a farewell party.
Years ago, I used this word to describe our stays at all-inclusive resorts when my husband and I had 9-5 jobs that where we needed to “book” our vacation.
I looked up the etymology of the word “vacation” and its root “vacate” in one of my favourite and overused websites etymology.com:

vacate (v.)

1640s, “to make void, to annul,” from Latin vacatus, past participle of vacare “be empty, be void,” from PIE *wak-, extended form of root *eue- “to leave, abandon, give out.” Meaning “to leave, give up, quit” (a place) is attested from 1791. Related: Vacated; vacating.

vacation (n.)

late 14c., “freedom from obligations, leisure, release” (from some activity or occupation), from Old French vacacion “vacancy, vacant position” (14c.) and directly from Latin vacationem (nominative vacatio) “leisure, freedom, exemption, a being free from duty, immunity earned by service,” noun of state from past participle stem of vacare “be empty, free, or at leisure,” from PIE *wak-, extended form of root *eue- “to leave, abandon, give out.”
Using the word decades ago made sense.  We were abandoning work obligations to have leisure time.  We were free for those two weeks per year, empty for a moment of having to go to a job.  We could take those two weeks and go away to a place where we didn’t need to cook, to clean, or move from lying on the beach and numb out a little. By the second last day of those vacations, I would start to feel anxiety and dread at having to go back to our life – daycare for AJ, work for us.
This term doesn’t really apply to us anymore.
We never feel the need to vacate our life and even worse, to make it void.  Our time in California was an extension of our life where work and leisure blend like the Pacific Ocean blends into the sky on the horizon, the consistent vista on our drive.
We did what our family normally does – enjoy each other, be in nature, and honor the needs of each member.  We didn’t have a plan only an intention – to be open, to surrender, and to be present, to be together, and to watch and observe to see how it all would unfold.
Our family took this “vacation” and imagined it so differently than the most convenient definition of it.  Taking “not a vacation” exercise to its extreme but shifting the experience over and over again to fit the moment.  We took this time together and figured out many ways to reinforce our connection as a family, getting to know each other as seven very different components that have changed individually and as a collective over the last two years.
We were fully “us” and never left any part of who we are behind.  It’s been a long time since we were all together an “us.” We weren’t that much different together, but we explored it in a different place.  We appreciated every moment of being together.  This adventuring in a new place helped us focus on being present with each other.
Each one of us reflected how easy and relaxed this experience was although this was the first time in awhile that the seven of us had an extended period of time together without break.  Yes there was some bickering about who sits where in the car, the music being played in the car, and the level of tidiness of our hotel rooms, but in the end, there wasn’t intense conflict or frustration.
This is a “part one” because this experience together in California was so much more than us tagging along with Chris to satisfy his work need.  It was so much more than visiting a new place.  It really changed the way I see travel with my family and being tourists.  It changed the way I saw how I have
Next up…how we planned (or “not planned”) this “not a vacation”which kind of reflects the way we have been living life lately…
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Before and after.

Once upon a time there was a family of 7 that lived in a tiny house in a big city.  After 10 years of living in their tiny house in a big city, they decided to build a house in the jungle in a place that they didn’t know much about.

They did not know how to build houses…especially in the jungle.  They did not know how to immigrate to another country.  They did not have guarantees of happiness or ease.

They decided to sell most of what they owned and try anyway.

This family, especially the parents, could not anticipate in their wildest fantasies how it would be done and all the challenges they would face and all the amazing lessons that would be learned along the way.

They didn’t know the amount of patience and tenacity (and money) they would need to get containers to their land, build without electricity and water.

They didn’t know how hard it would be to dig a well on their land and that they would have to build a gravity-fed rainwater tower.

They didn’t know how a single slide and individual bedrooms could help their children feel instantly at home.

They didn’t know that they could live without electricity whiile harnessing a incredible amount of will power from an infinite Source energy and learneing they could tap into whenever they need it.

They didn’t know how their children and adolescent teens could find so much freedom so far away from the city.

They didn’t know they could trust the rhythm of the land and the environment to dictate how they live.

They didn’t know if they would find friends that would become family.

They didn’t know they would have two dogs and two cats.

They didn’t know they would make the choice to move into an unfinished house and trust that everything happens in the right time.

They didn’t know how they would have record rains during the first year they moved in.

They didn’t know that their 11 year old would wake up at the crack of dawn and wake them up to see the colour of the sky – a colour that they had never seen before.

They didn’t know that having their morning coffee on their deck overlooking the jungle and their little pond would feel nothing short of a miracle.

They didn’t know their teenagers would love to be alone in this house in the jungle to balance their social time with friends in town.

They didn’t know how bright the full moon could be or how dark the night could be with the new moon.

They didn’t know that they would feel the mixture of relief, pride, wonder, and confusion of how they ended up in the jungle two years later.

They didn’t know how much faster their plants would grow after watering them with their pee.

They didn’t know they would attend community potluck gatherings in a camp kitchen where the lights would turn off and the children naturally playing in the dark while adults lit candles because most of the children on the farm live or have lived without electricity too.

They didn’t know that their children could sit and be content in a place that on first glance was pure jungle with just a single afternoon sunbeam shining through the trees and the smell of freshly chopped cilantro wafting through the land.

What they did know is that when they made the choice to move to the jungle, they couldn’t worry about the details.  They had to trust that this was the path that they needed to take.  Their intention was to follow their intuition which sounded a lot like the mom’s grandmother.  Their intention was to live a life of YES even with so many unknowns because they knew in the end, they could never know the outcome of their choice.

They knew the only decision they could make would be quick and the one that tested their persistence and faith.

They knew it would be uncomfortable, even painful, and that they wouldn’t have assurances or answers for their children, their family, or their friends.  

They knew this decision would mean saying goodbye to their daughter.  

They knew it would take courage and faith to leave, to give up old dreams that no longer fit them.  

They knew it would be difficult to articulate why.  They knew they had to do it.

They knew they had taken leaps before and everything turned out ok when they had a solid foundation of love and support.

They knew this choice wasn’t “for” their children. Living a creative life is never on behalf of someone else.

They knew they would grow.

And they did. 

And this family lived happily before and after.

 

 

 

 

***

NEXT…our favourite places and moments on the land in the house…

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Are we there yet? Part two.

One of the things I missed most about our old house was our chalkboard wall.  One day, I took a workshop from my friend Ancel and she used chalk to write on her wooden walls to explain a lesson and I realized that I actually had everything I needed already – chalk and a wall.

This is kind of the way we have been living over the last two years.

What do we have and how can we use it? 

In part one, I talked about things being unfinished.  Today I want to focus on what we have been grateful for and we have used what we have to make the best of life even in a place where it can be challenging to build on so many levels.

When I count the blessings we do have and all the miracles we have experienced in the short two years we have lived here, the list is long. But the following list is what has mattered most lately.

Water. Lots of water.  We have a robust rain catchment system that consistently has 12500-15000 liters of water at any given time in a town that can and has been experiencing a water shortage.

Simple cooking. We have a cooler, a gas cooktop, and a kettle which keeps us eating fresh and not wasting as much food and looking for simpler recipes with more fresh and less ingredients.  We look for things we can eat with one bowl and one utensil.

Shelter.  We have a beautiful deck for sunning with a roof over it and container rooms that keep us cozy on those windy and wet tropical storm days.

Each child has their own space which was important for my teens if they were to give this “jungle living/moving to a new country” business a shot. 

If you asked them if they wanted their own room or electricity at this point, they would tell you how much they love reading in their room alone by candlelight. 

A Strong Marriage.  I have understood how love liberates my children but never quite knew how love could liberate my husband and myself as we continue to navigate our commitment to each other as we ourselves change and transform. 

After the challenges of moving here and feeling the ebbs and flow of money and adjusting our paths to allow our own individual selves to thrive, I understand how love can liberate. 

Love doesn’t have to be tied to anything external – the right circumstances, the right words, the right conditions. It is intertwined with trust.

It can be there as an intention when you are lying on a single sleeping bag on the floor beside each other while sharing half a shipping container with four kids for two weeks or lying in a tent with all of the kids, a tent that needs to be dismantled before 7:00am every morning as the construction crew comes to finish up the rooms or even lying and laughing in a hammock together at the life you are building on an even more solid foundation than you began 24 years ago.

Resiliency.  My children empty pee buckets to help water the fruit trees and fill washing stations to wash dishes to save water and because there is low water pressure in the kitchen.  They have been stung by scorpions, caterpillars, spiders, wasps and mysterious things that we haven’t seen but know they exist because of the bites we notice later.

One bright spot is that we don’t have many mosquitoes but we have been smacked in the head at night by a bat, a giant moth, a giant cockroach, or a giant grasshopper.  (We learned quickly about the downside of headlamps.) When we moved in, it rained and rained and rained.  All of us have fallen at least once in the mud. 

We have tented. We have walked dogs and pee and poo buckets to the guest house so the crew could finish the bathrooms.  We have cooked outside in the dark and in torrential downpour, misjudging our solar lamp light duration and not being able to find batteries for the flashlights, and hoping the unexpected crunch in soup was from an undercooked carrot and not from a bug.  I have chased a kitten into the jungle and suffered a plant sting all the way up my leg.  We have opened boxes where ants have built nests.  

Nature.  Even with all of that above, my children sometimes sleep in the hammocks outside to keep the dogs company or to stay up late gazing at the stars on a clear night.  They strap on their rain boots to explore the creek or take a walk to have some clarity.  They have their “sit-spots” in the house and outside of the house where they watch the same hummingbird build its nest or watch the tadpoles in the pond. 

Can you find #5?

We map the times and dates of nature’s rhythms like the migration of the raptors or the time when thousands and thousands of a type of gnat swarmed the air so that we couldn’t even see in front of us and then having dead bugs all over after they all died on contact.  We marked when the cicadas were loudest and when the howler monkeys are closest to our house (about every 4 weeks).  And there is always a Morpho butterfly flying past at least once a day.

We still don’t know the names of all the plants or the birds we see but they are all coming back to the land as we all learn to live together.

My older ones love being alone at home and feel so peaceful being up there and lately have come to understand why we did this, why we are doing this.

Community.  We don’t live in isolation.  In fact, a lot of people joke how busy we are and how often we go down the mountain.  It’s the price we pay for having homeschooled kids be part of programs and activities that constitute their social life.  It’s just enough time to hang out with other kids of different ages without getting too much into the drama of having peers and the accompanying drama.  The kids have mentors and teachers who connect with them and who love them.

We have met wonderful people who have helped us navigate life here and life in the jungle including our own community here on the farm.  I facilitated “Mapmaking May” where the 11 farm kids did mapping activities together once a week for a month. Here are the kids working on invitations to be delivered to the other farm kids:

We have potlucks and car pools and the kids walk to the neighbours’ houses for play dates.  We coordinate efforts in unique situations like when there was no gas available in the gas stations and one community member would send a message or stop by at the house to let us know that there was gas at one of the stations. 

I have also found creative and supportive people in this community to partner with on projects that I am passionate about, fulfilling a desire to continue my love of learning and teaching.

Lastly…I have been blessed to have the opportunity to really be clear with the definition of home.

Home is really more than shelter.  It is more than four walls, a floor, and a roof. It really is found in our heart and the space we create in there.  I felt this strongly when we rented 7 different homes in just over a year and the kids wanting a stable place to land, to unpack, to rest and people to connect with. To slow things down long enough to appreciate this place. 

What is essential is a sense of belonging, the feeling that we are loved and supported.  The lessons that my children have learned about home have been ones that will stay with them forever. 

Home will always mean the 7 of us, no matter where we all end up in the world.  Home means feeling the familiarity of people and places – market days and Pilates on Saturdays and fencing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and strength club and beach volleyball with friends and silks class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sundays are for cleaning and dance parties.

And of course, ice cream always at the spot where they know our names and what flavors we like.  

We may not have a finished house but we will always have a finished home.

***

Next post: A further thought on being unfinished and some before and after shots of our house with our favourite moments…

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Are we there yet? Part one.

The kids have long since learned to never ask this question en route to any destination.

When they were little, they would ask this every 5 minutes and I would say, “Half an hour more!” And then they would be happy for the next five minutes because little ones actually have no concept of time.  They just wanted an answer.  As they got older, and their concept of time evolved, and their logic, I began to simply respond “No,” because if we were there, we’d already be there and there would be no need to ask the question in the first place.

But we have travelled quite a bit in the last two years…

(Facebook has a way of pushing you to change your perspective sometimes.  This photo was taken on our first visit to the land after moving here.)

It seems as though we always ask that question in some form or another.  

Are we there yet?

Lately, this question has been asked of us every few days in this form:

“So…how’s the house coming?” 

The house is not finished.

No we don’t have solar yet and with all honesty, we have been comfortably living without electricity for 10 months. Really. Ask the kids. We don’t have hot water, finished bathrooms, or a finished kitchen.  We don’t have much furniture either. 

We have had to make choices with our money over the last couple of years transitioning our life here – buying a car, trips to San Jose for the kids’ tournaments, trips to Toronto to see our eldest daughter and our family and friends, attend funerals, experience individual trips for Chris and myself to support our own projects and goals, and plan an upcoming trip to California for an opportunity to check off a bucket list item.

Since we made the decision a few years ago to not wait to live our life and go with our gut, we have had to choose between faith and fear.  If an opportunity presents itself, and we have the money in that moment, we go for it even if it means living another few months without a fridge or a tiled bathroom.  

We are still building and grounding.  But we are focused on a different build right now. We are building a solid foundation inside and letting the external unfold as a reflection of how we feel, or our faith, and our support of each other. We realized how we were so afraid to call this place home on an unconscious level when we first moved here that this literally manifested in our incomplete house.  But once the conditions of the external environment stopped affecting our internal thermostat, we began live in the potential of what can be and to take full responsibility for the creation of our life by focusing on our internal foundation.  This has been our spiritual practice living in the jungle and now we are beginning to see our external life match this by feeling truly supported and committed to our life here.

If the outside world expects me to feel insecure or incomplete because my house is, can I step back and choose otherwise?

Of course there are days that the unfinished house fill me with insecurity and test my faith.  I can physically feel my heart begin to close, my breath quicken, and my stomach turn.  I stop. I feel my body.  I ask for space to breathe deeply.  I ask for guidance and support to hold me. I close my eyes and I begin to count my blessings.  Every morning I have started to count every little and big blessing this life gives me.  And each time I celebrate how much faster I can move through it – how fast I can get to embracing uncertainty with joyful expectation instead of being afraid of it.  

The time it takes has shortened in the last four years.  I used to be paralyzed by it even in the comfort of a fully functioning house in Toronto.  In fact, that house was very old and time had started to reveal its age.  We covered a lot of the cracks with a coat of pretty paint and in the back of our minds, we knew one day we would have to strip it down and look inside and possibly re-build.  

My cycle of fear and rage used to last years and then months and then weeks and then days and now hours and sometimes even minutes.  Ask my partner of 24 years.  He has been patiently holding me through it all. Now we hold each other which helps us shorten this gap together.  But it is a lifelong practice that never really ends.  I can only work on building the bridge to the gap in this moment. We can only build from this place over and over again, solidifying the foundation with patience and optimism.

So no we aren’t finished yet…but at least we aren’t tenting anymore.

 

***

We have received so many blessings…part two of this post and the list of what we are grateful for building is up next.

  

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