Less is More.

8.17.18

I remember when I was a new mom and made the decision to stay home full-time with my first-born son.  I decided to treat motherhood like a career.  I studied parenting books, listened to parenting podcasts, joined mommy groups and filled my days with “enriching activities,” like Book Babies at the library and Kindermusik.  My husband would come home from work and ask about my day: I’d proudly tick off all of the things we’d “accomplished.”

As our family grew from three to four and finally to five, I continued to add activities with each additional child. Last summer, I often felt like a pinball: bouncing from one drop-off to the next pick-up.  I heard myself bark orders at my kids, “Hurry up and change out of your swimsuit. It’s time for math camp!”  “Hustle! We need to eat lunch in the car, so we can to make it to tennis on time.”  I would wake up at 5:30 each morning in order to find time to attend a yoga class or to run and shower before swim team at 8 a.m. At the end of each day, I felt exhausted and unfulfilled. I missed the lazy days of summer when my kids were in preschool, back when time was measured by rest break whistles and afternoons included naps at home.

This summer, for the first time, I took a dramatically different approach to scheduling my kids’ activities.  First, I told the kids that they weren’t allowed to do swim team. I didn’t want to drag them out of bed each morning at 7:30. And, selfishly, I wanted to eliminate three trips to the pool before 10 a.m. Unlike previous summers, math camp was not offered at our school. Consequently, I eliminated four trips to the school to drop off and to pick up kids after swim team practice. I also told the kids that we were going to skip all summer camps.  In the past, my kids signed up for various sport camps and educational camps at local colleges and museums.  Instead, each kid picked a single activity for each day…and the rest of the time was free for creativity, reading, biking, swimming and just being kids.

My husband and I plotted out time for old-fashioned family vacations. We went on a road trip to the Black Hills and took hikes, caught fish and visited Mount Rushmore.  We spent nearly a week in a cabin without WI-FI or cell phone reception. We played board games, read books, enjoyed campfire s’mores…and each other.

We also spent a week exploring beautiful Oregon as a family. We went rafting, biking and hiking near Mount Hood.  The kids swam in the river and jumped off rocks.  We visited the Coast and caught crabs, discovered starfish, saw seals and witnessed the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The result? We had the best summer ever. It taught me that less is more.  I would never argue that kids don’t need a little structure or routine; but, by eliminating all of the extras and allowing my kids time to just be kids, we created a summer that was both restful and “enriching” in a completely different way. The unscheduled time allowed my thirteen-year-old to discover a love for fishing and biking, which gave him a new independence. The unscheduled time provided the opportunity for my twelve-year-old to launch a slime business with a friend; it taught them real-life lessons about profit, loss and successful marketing plans.  And, the unscheduled time enabled my seven-year-old to build forts, create Lego action scenes and simply play with friends…something that was difficult to fit into our previously over-scheduled calendar.

This summer, I learned that it’s okay to not fill every free minute of our life with “enriching” activities. I found that there is real value in unstructured playtime.  I discovered that it’s okay to carve out a little piece of my day for myself. I also realized that my kids are getting old enough to take on more responsibilities around the house, which is actually a positive parenting move. Yes, this summer taught me a lot of important life lessons. And, I’m sure that if my new-mom self could travel through time and witness my evolved approach to motherhood, she’d think that I was doing everything wrong! The truth: Now, I know better.

xo Kara

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What Does Your Calendar Say About You?

11.8.16

Last week, my kids celebrated the end of their first quarter with a Recognition Rally in the school gym. As I sat in the bleachers with the other parents, watching the principal award each honor roll student with a certificate, it hit me: We are already in the second quarter! Where has the time gone?

Before I sent my baby off to full-day kindergarten, I was worried that I would be depressed and lonely. How would I spend my time? Maybe I would go back to work part-time? Focus more on writing? Get my photos organized and the “2016 Family Album” caught up? Or, finally clean out my storage room? Maybe I’d start cooking more meals from scratch and stockpiling my freezer with casseroles and soups? All great ideas in theory, but not in action…

Instead, I find myself rushing from drop-off to work out…to Costco/Target/Trader Joe’s…to the physical therapist’s/dentist’s/hair salon…home to change a load of laundry, clean up the house and to make dinner…and back to pick-up. Occasionally, I’ll sneak in a volunteer meeting or lunch with a friend. But, mostly, I feel like a little gerbil on a wheel: Running, running, running, but not really getting ahead on any of my grandiose plans…

I remember reading an article in the New York Times by Carl Richards titled, “Your Spending Choices Often Reflect Your Values.” In it, Richards asserts that if a future cultural anthropologist were to stumble upon one of your credit card statements, he could make basic assumptions about your values based on how you spend your money. He encourages the reader to take time to look at what you say you value, versus the values reflected on your receipts…and, to be more proactive about aligning the two.

When I look at my family’s crazy schedule on my iCal, I recognize that there isn’t a lot of free time right now. Our after school hours are jam-packed with homework, dinner and the juggling of three kids’ extracurricular activities. My husband’s evenings are often consumed with meetings and various call shifts. We are all racing against the clock to get everything on our “to do” lists accomplished before bedtime.

If a future anthropologist were to find my iCal, no doubt he’d think we were a little crazy and over-scheduled. But, he’d see that I value my family (they take up most of the space on my calendar). And, I value my health; I deliberately carve out time each day to exercise. He’d also see that I value my friendships, extended family and volunteerism. (Luckily, my iCal does not reveal all of the time I waste on mind-numbing Bravo TV and other guilty pleasures.)

As I sit and ponder where all of my time has gone, I realize that I need to be more intentional about setting aside time to do things that are important to me…and intentional about defining what is important to me. As my blog gets ready to celebrate its first anniversary, I need to decide if I want to make it a priority – or if I want to pursue other goals…

I also want to encourage you, my beloved reader, to look at your own calendar and to see if it reflects what is most important to you. Because, it’s true: Our time is finite, so we must cease the day!

xo Kara

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Grateful and Authentic: A Work In Progress

10.21.16

I recently celebrated another birthday; this one carried very little pomp and circumstance. However, it encouraged me to take a step back and to look at the big picture…to celebrate all of the experiences that have brought me to this point and to ask myself, where do I want to go from here?

During the past year, living a grateful and authentic life has become my personal mission statement. While I clearly have not mastered the art, I have learned a few things along the way:

  1. Be thankful and ask for help. Last January, I began keeping a prayer journal. Each morning, I try to take a minute to document my blessings; I celebrate everything from my strong cup of coffee to the sweet freckles on my daughter’s nose. Then, I pray for help… This simple ritual starts my day off on the right foot, with a thankful perspective and a calm heart.
  1. Collect authentic friends. I hear myself telling my kids to fill up their lives with friends who lift them up, make them happy and like them unconditionally.  Lately, I’ve had to remind myself to follow this advice, too.  Life is simply too short and too busy for “friends” that add stress and subtract joy.
  1. “No” is not a bad word. I’ve learned that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. There are only so many minutes in each day. And, we all have a limited number of days. So, I have become more selective about how I fill up my calendar. Just because I think that I have time to take on another volunteer project or other commitment, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for me (or my family).
  1. Each day is a gift. Ever since my birthday, my enthusiastic five-year-old (who loves everything birthday-related) keeps asking me, “Are you 41? Are you still 41?” Each, innocent question connects me to my aunt, who passed away at 41. It reminds me not to take anything or anyone for granted…
  1. Be brave and try new things. Writing this blog is completely outside my “box.” Putting my thoughts out into the “Universe” for others to read and judge is terrifying. Whenever someone mentions that they are following me, it makes me feel a little self-conscious (like I forgot to wear my cover-up to the pool). But, I appreciate the encouragement; it’s much more fun to have an audience than to write for myself.

So, thank you for joining me on my journey. I encourage you to take a step back and to admire your life…If you’re inspired to create your own “mission statement,” I’d love  for you to share it, too.

xo Kara

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Success is a Marathon

2.5.16

Sometimes it takes a funeral to put life in its proper perspective.

At the end of one’s story, what really matters?  How is success defined?  By the size of one’s fortune?  By the number of degrees earned or honors bestowed?  By the level of fame achieved?

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a funeral that celebrated the life of my friend’s father.  I heard the story of a man who lived the American Dream.  He started a small community bank in the early 70s and grew it into a company with more than 1.25 billion dollars in assets today.  He was a devoted husband, proud father and grandfather.  He was a pillar of the community, giving generously to worthy causes and serving as a church leader.  The church was packed with family, friends and community members who braved a blizzard, accumulating more than 18 inches of snow, to honor his life.

As I listened to his loved ones tell stories about him, I was struck by a common theme.  He was not remembered for his achievements, but for his kindness.  In the end, it is not the lines on one’s resume that really matters.  It is about love given and received.

One of his favorite sayings was: “Success is a Marathon.” Having completed one marathon in my life, I think I understand this analogy.  I remember committing to a plan, mapping out my long runs and preparing both mentally and physically for the race.  During the actual marathon, there were times of euphoria when my steps felt light and easy, experiencing what is called a “runner’s high.”  I also remember a time when I looked at my watch and realized that I still had hours to go and a cramp in my side. . . I will never forget the final stretch, which was a slight incline, but it felt like I was scaling a mountain with thighs made of heavy lead.  Other runners had fallen and were literally crawling up the hill to reach the finish line. It takes grit and determination to finish a marathon and to experience success.

This last week has not been an easy stretch.  My dad was back in the hospital and I found myself facing some discouraging challenges.  I felt uninspired to write about gratitude or to write period.  But, the funeral served as a beautiful reminder that success is a marathon.

For me, my ultimate goal is to succeed in living a loving life.  When times get dark and heavy, you need to keep your eyes focused on your goal and to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Oh, and lots of prayers help, too.