balance, favorite things, gratitude

Turning 10 During the 2020 Pandemic

There’s something both highly obsessive and therapeutic about packaging up my daughter’s birthday favors and treats every year. For the 9th time, I stayed up late on one of the last days of September long after she and everyone else in the house had gone to bed. Even in  the state of the world in the year 2020, with no in-person birthday parties and no pressure to make a class set of 25 (non-edible) treats, the tradition lived on, just in a slightly different way. I still found myself at the annual 11:38 p.m. Friday Night Crafting Party for One.

In my opinion, a 10th birthday during a global pandemic was all the more reason to NOT break tradition. We went with mask-friendly headbands and teeny tiny stuffed animal heads, both items Amazon purchases. I also sprung for pre-packaged international snacks from Cost Plus World Market.  

The motherly micromanagement of putting together birthday swag is most definitely why I do this every year. The placement of the little presents on a bed of multi-colored decorative shredded gift wrap paper really makes me happy. Simply folding down the tops of flowery paper bags with a satisfyingly crisp crease and sealing it with a sticker brings special meaning to my life.  My daughter has over 5 years of legible handwriting under her belt and although I always intend on having her hand write most of the tags and little messages, I ended up taking over. In her preschool and primary grade years, it was a great opportunity for her to practice fine motor, counting, and 1:1 correspondence skills by letting her fill the bags. Now that she is a decade old, I officially reclaimed  that job too, because she had other things to tend to (sleeping?) and I needed the feeling of having control over SOMETHING, especially in these times. 

The favor bags held a little more purpose this year, as the birthday celebration itself was obviously super different. We opted to drive around the neighborhood and hand deliver the packages so she could have quick socially distant visits with friends. No big production of a drive thru birthday parade (our street is way too busy for that anyway), and no awkward invitations for anything that resembled a party or gathering.

It was the most low key and controlled birthday celebration we had ever experienced in the history of her 10 birthday parties. We enjoyed it. We had mother daughter time, she had friend time, and there was no post-party mess to clean up or any disappointment of a big celebration being over. She claims that she never wants to have another party again. Sounds a bit extreme, but it will definitely work for now.  

You would think that by now I would have realized that birthday goodie bags and handmade party decor aren’t the most important part of the celebration. This year however, they served as one small reason to reconnect with other humans  in person, even just for a few minutes since it had been such a long time.

Therefore, the decision is final. I will continue this crafty birthday bag ritual until she’s 50.  

family, gratitude, health, health and wellness, live in the now, mindful

The Concept of Time in The Year 2020

My toddler son made a couple of big kid transitions during the past two months while sheltering at home. He outgrew his afternoon nap. He doesn’t need a stroller or anyone to carry him anymore during long neighborhood family walks.  

These milestones were never on the calendar, marked neatly in a box labeled with a specific date and time. They just happened. He definitely didn’t plan ahead for them either, (however, in the potty-training department, I wish he would). The attention span and thought pattern of a 3 year old probably doesn’t include the concept of what’s going to happen five minutes from now. When we attempt to tell him to wait because something is going to happen in two minutes, it’s sometimes a risky move; an invitation for a potential meltdown.   

With everything that has been going on in our world over the last months, thinking with a toddler mindset can be beneficial sometimes. Some of the most stressful moments that I’ve experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic stemmed from unproductive thoughts about something far into the future that I have no control over. It was either that, or I was looking back too far, sulking over silly things that I miss; ways of life and memories that are no longer a reality. 

Last year, when my father passed away, I wrote a post about looking to the future only ten days at a time, to help heal and grow through the grieving process. Now a new adjustment is necessary. Five minutes. The future that may exist in the next five minutes seems easy enough to handle, especially when the answers that I want aren’t there, and it may be quite a while until they come. 

It’s also a very grim and humbling experience to remember that so many people have fought until the end for the next, (or last) five minutes of their lives. Struggles and challenges have taken on such an intense and whole new meaning for everyone: health, life, food, finances, safety.  If a “struggle” involves not having an exact plan for something that is a non-emergency or non essential  situation, waiting for five minutes at a clip is good with me.

My son lives his life and makes his toddler moves based on what’s right there in front of him. He sometimes refers to the past using phrases such as “earlier” or  “last earlier”, when he wants to talk about something that may have occurred a week ago, or even pre-pandemic. At this point, many of us are questioning what day it is anyway, so making less references to the past could be a good thing.

The word “tomorrow” isn’t a high frequency word for my son yet either. Wouldn’t it be interesting to view life this way, even for a small chunk of the day? If tomorrow wasn’t on your radar, but the next five minutes of your future were guaranteed, how would you spend the time? I’m going to ask myself this question the next time I’m stuck in an unproductive thought or worry. Most likely that will be sometime tomorrow, being that today is Sunday. 

Until then…

How do you try to keep yourself focused on the present moment during a global pandemic?     

gratitude, health and wellness, travel, working mom

The Astro Friday

I like to think that the Instagram posts of date nights with my husband are largely sponsored by my mom and the kindness of her heart and free childcare. I apparently missed the train on monetizing my social media presence, but the gift of time is a real thing. I’m just as accepting and grateful to enjoy opportunities for “extra time” to have fun and reset the soul. 

My husband and I took a quick overnight getaway to Santa Rosa one weekend, an hour away from where we live. The place where we chose to rest our head was called The Astro Motel. It’s a gem that was recently renovated into a beautiful mid century modern themed roadside inn. We were in vintage aesthetic design heaven during our entire stay. All of the interior and exterior color, decor, and authentic pieces from the 1950’s and1960s made my heart happy. 

Our little trip also included an unnecessary 4 minute Uber ride to a brewery that was pretty much just around the corner. We enjoyed live music, beer, a food truck dinner, Saturday brunch, and an unplanned couple of hours of antiquing.  I was inspired by creative people, small businesses, and a part of the Bay Area I know very little about. I’m glad that I could enjoy it exclusively with my husband because it’s nice to have a break from having conversations in the presence of little ears.     

 The weekend getaway brought on the same type of renewed energy that our precious phones or devices obtain when they’re left plugged in overnight to achieve the coveted 100% charge. 

Sometimes the bonus minutes that are gifted to us in life allow us to focus on less things all at once. Those moments hold so much value. Maybe it’s seven extra minutes of awake time in the morning that was traded out for another round of snooze, allowing less of a rush out the door. Other times, it’s a rare random half hour when the house is empty or quiet and there’s time to actually gather thoughts, read, write, or do something creative. Twenty four hours or so of uninterrupted one on one time with your spouse is also a pretty nice token of time to treasure. 

So this is another thank you to anyone who has ever helped others or helped yourself with the gift of time, the extra minutes, an extended stay, or even more time with a beloved borrowed library book by means of a renewal. The truth is, the time we have has an unknown limit, but when we feel like we have some to spare, we should enjoy it.

https://www.visitsantarosa.com/

balance, declutter, family, gratitude, health and wellness, live in the now

Keep the Original

December brought on a big wave of house reorganization and another much needed reminder of the People Not Things philosophy. The story remains pretty much the same since I started this blog. 

I still have too much stuff. 

I have more than enough. I went “shopping” in cabinets, closets, and the garage. I rearranged and recreated new living spaces all around the house. I transformed my living room with less than 3 simple furniture moves and now I have a new and noticeably better open space that also sometimes doubles as a behind-the-scenes home gym. 

The inventory is constant. I just hadn’t stopped and evaluated it since the summer. My kids discovered new old toys; awkward additions to their brand new Christmas gifts. I was reminded of how much blank paper I have in the house. Unopened printer ink cartridges that I forgot about sweetened the deal.

I still believe that I have enough craft supplies to entertain the most bored child who ever walks through the front door. I came up ahead and “made money” with gift cards that were freed from the junk drawer. Free crafts and caffeine might make for an epic rainy day experience. If it happens to be a high UV day, the family and I will be thoroughly protected from the sun AND from germs for many years with the amount of sunblock and hand sanitizer that I found.

The rediscovery of all this great stuff came with a price, even though I didn’t make any new purchases. I easily spent hours sorting through piles, bags, and papers. My kids had their share of screen time sessions (when they weren’t playing with their old new toys)  as I wrangled clothing, shoes, and USB charging cords. 

I learned the same lesson all over again. Every item or group of items in my house requires varying amounts of time and attention. Reusable grocery bags sometimes delay the departure to the store by about two minutes due to the trip back inside the house or to the other car to get them. On a cold day, three to four warm winter coat options are nice to have, but storage and maintenance, along with the decision-making process could easily add up to the equivalent of total coat-wearing minutes altogether. 

The one item that holds the most value after this recent decluttering session is one of the new board games that my daughter got for Christmas. She asked me to learn and play the game with her at the height of the “stuff shuffle”, and I was a bit stressed. Initially, I didn’t have enough patience to focus because I was devoting my time and my thoughts to the things that needed to be put away. It was a poor showing of being present.

Luckily, my board gamer husband and YouTube stepped in, and we all learned to play and enjoy it around the family table. I then realized that the neatly stacked pile of other board games (new and vintage), that are rarely played deserve time and attention. Playing Plastic Bin Tetris for an hour in the garage to either put something away or apprehend an item isn’t as fun. 

A reminder.

I’m once again trying to slow down the stream of incoming items that arrive here. I am aware of the inventory. I have a lot of stuff. I have the people. The amount of time and energy however, are unknown and limited. Some of the clutter will outlive some of the people. It’s a morbid thought, but it’s real. 

So instead of cleaning the cleaning supplies tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy all the things that will never fit into a basket or a box on a shelf in the cabinet: Eye contact. Hugs. Holding tight and laughing. Sending a genuine text to say thank you. Tastes and smells, and certain sounds that keep me grounded. Letting go and breathing.

I’ll never be able to store these things away and rediscover them later in their original form. But there’s time for all of it now. I’m sure of it.

I’ve cleared the space.       

family, gratitude, health and wellness

That Was Fun

It’s a real gift to access any bit of information that you need on demand. I could have just done the math, but the answer to my question was a tap away, so I just looked it up. 

It’s been exactly four months and 23 days since I lost my dad. 146 days. I know what this length of time has felt like, but I wasn’t aware of the exact number. It’s already felt like at least a year. 

So much has happened, including vacations, the transition back to work, and the celebration of birthdays, family milestones and gatherings. I’ve been blessed to have my family with me, direct household and extended; at least one member close by at all times, even at work. 

It’s a rare occurrence when I am completely alone with the time and space to just be involved in my own thoughts with no other tasks or to do’s. These times often occur in the car on solo drives from here to there, 10-15 minutes at most. When I’m behind the wheel, especially on sunny cloudless blue-sky days, I reminisce. I remember the days that he would drive us back home from San Francisco from my grandma’s house. We never said much on those drives, but I still felt safe and connected to him. Other memories include road trips up to the lake for a camping trip, or back down from the mountains, heading home from a ski weekend in Tahoe. 

Sunny day windshield memories live on in my mind, and the most recent ones hurt the most. The day of his funeral and burial was one of the most beautiful days I’d ever seen in the Bay Area. The convoy from Vallejo to San Francisco was a bittersweet tribute to his life, and I had no choice but to catalog a new memory in my mind. The way the sunlight hit the hearse and that little back window with the weird curtains to shade his casket was a new memory of saying goodbye to Dad. 

I said goodbye yet again a month or so ago, and it caught me off guard. Mom and I spent the morning preparing Dad’s truck to be officially handed down to a dear family member. We made sure it started and we cleaned it up a bit. We decided to bring it back to my house. She drove the truck, and I followed her and drove behind for the 12 minute journey back home. There wasn’t one cloud to be found in the sky.

Once the tears came, I decided to make it a full on emotional release. I cued up my Bob Marley playlist, and watched dad’s truck lead the way back home. Every turn and stop gave me glimpses and memories of him picking me up from school, and towing the family boat. I wasn’t able to see him through the window or in the side view mirror driving this time.  

Mom and I arrived safely and parked the vehicles in the driveway. I wiped away the remaining sun-blinding tears so I could ask her how the truck was running. She was happy and excited that it was running well.   

“That was fun!”, she said.

I was so thankful for that little moment and those three words. The simple statement reminded me that the memories that I invite back into my mind are fun memories. The outer layer of sadness from loss is real, but the fun times that I’ll always know are still there, just like those cloudless blue sky days.

https://howlongagogo.com/

balance, family, gratitude

Ten Day Hero

Recently I learned that a lot can happen in the span of nine or ten days. In March, I traveled to the other side of the world. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, but it taught me that I can take on challenges and gain some life changing perspectives in less than two weeks. 

On Memorial Day, my father died unexpectedly. The initial stage of raw grief went on for over a week until the final formal farewell. It just so happened that his funeral and burial fell on the ninth day after his death. The nine days that led up to it were the toughest days of my life, just waiting to say that final goodbye, ready to transition to the gone but not forgotten state of mind. It was more proof that you can do anything in nine or ten days.

Since then, I’ve been living life nine days at a time. Mentally, it’s a manageable increment. I can set goals and appreciate the good in life. I can do what needs to be done while acknowledging that the new void isn’t going to go away or ever be filled. Living in the now is ideal, but in the current circumstances, looking forward and looking back in nines and tens seems like a good approach at this time. 

Throughout this journey, there’s been one true hero who has helped me power through this new life without dad. 

Mom. 


She has helped me organize and reorganize my thoughts and my things. She’s been there for my kids and my husband, helping us with what we may need day to day. She gives the kids daily doses of spontaneous laughter and silly sessions that only grandma can provide. She’s taught me how to enjoy going to the gym.

Similar to our adventure back in March, she decided to embrace a travel opportunity that was bittersweet. She decided to still go on an Alaskan cruise that she and my dad had booked last year. The decision was a challenging one to make, but she did it. She left home for a bit and saw the sights. She enjoyed the time with other family members, all in the spirit of my dad. Ten days later, she came back, even stronger and more positive than ever.  

Everyday, she shows me and reminds me that I am brave, just like she is, even as we stand at the edge of the deepest type of sorrow, when the tears just flow during those odd spontaneous moments. 

I told her I was proud of her, and I admire her for how strong she is. She responded by saying it’s because of me. I’m not sure if she knows my secret. I’ve just been following her lead.

She’s the true ten day hero.

Grandma returns home after ten days at sea.


gratitude, health and wellness, thailand, travel

A Little Bit of Travel Scents

Ten weeks ago, I was in Thailand. I was taking it all in, pushing myself to live in the moment, but excited about archiving my experiences through writing. To keep the memories alive, I’ve been relying on photos and random rounds of reminiscing with my daughter and my mom.

The one thing that instantly brings me back however, lies at the bottom of a an up-cycled Zipfizz tube. I “borrowed” a small amount of body lotion from the Anantara Riverside Hotel in Bangkok. Every time I flip the cap and take a whiff, the memories flood back. Then I realize how silly I must look, standing in my closet taking a hit of jasmine-scented lotion aroma from a pink plastic tube. My face before and after this ritual is ridiculous, I imagine. I dare not apply any of it on my skin anymore. A very small amount remains in the tube.

Currently one of my most prized possessions.

I tried tracking down the lotion and other bath products through the hotel spa, and I was even willing to pay for an actual bottle of it. However, it cannot be ordered or shipped out of the country. Bummer. Whatever remains is still enough to keep the memories and travel archives going with sights, sounds, and scents.

Until then, how do you keep your travel memories alive?


Below are some snapshots from Anantara Riverside Bangkok. It is located along the Chao Phraya River. It was our “home base” for the start and end of our Thailand travels. Yes, it is a very pleasant smelling hotel. In addition to that, the staff and customer service is superb. The hotel grounds are beautiful and family friendly. The food is delicious, and the pool and amenities are fabulous. The riverboat ferries that dock right from the hotel were fun and convenient for exploring around Bangkok. I would love to go back someday and take my whole family so we can discover even more around the area.


https://www.anantara.com/en/riverside-bangkok

balance, gratitude, travel

Moving Walkways

In September, we made the purchase. I clicked confirm for round trip tickets for one adult, one senior, and one child from San Francisco to Bangkok and back. Fast forward to mid March, and there we were: three travelers, two carry on roller bags, and one backpack each between the three of us, standing curbside on the passenger unloading zone. My mom, my daughter and I walked through the automatic glass doors of the International Terminal at SFO. I felt strange and hopeful. I felt calm and collected, but I already felt like I had stepped into a time-warp portal that didn’t quite feel real yet. The need for the restroom was real, however. We had already started our preemptive hydration efforts before we left the house, so that was the first order of business.

A few hundred steps later, we checked into the flight, checked our bags, and met up with our other extended family members. My aunt and uncle, cousins, and nieces joined us for step one of the adventure, and they would be with us for the remainder of the trip. The reunion was sweet, and we became a team of 10.

We completed the non-negotiables as a group. We went through security. Personal items were re-organized, and shoes were put back on. We purchased light snacks in addition to having lunch. Two more family members me us; my cousin and his girlfriend found us as we were finishing up our meal, and it became the ultimate family gathering in the airport. Any travel anxiety, or “hurry up and wait” feelings seemed to fade at a regular rate because we were enjoying each other’s company, especially the kids. My daughter and her 3 younger girl cousins were about to begin their own unforgettable childhood travel memories.

However, our Waiting To Board the Plane Celebration resulted in almost missing the final boarding call.  In this particular part of San Francisco International Airport, the stores, restaurants, and amenities are located at the upper level, (quite comfortable and fun for hanging out), and the actual gates, boarding area, and jet ways are located downstairs. We had a substantial route cut out for us to actually get to our gate.

The young world travelers

Luckily, we hustled down to where we needed to be. Scooping up my four-year-old niece just before setting foot on the down escalator will always be a moment that I’ll be proud of.  It required balance and maneuvering on my part to prevent us from both toppling all the way down to the bottom, backpacks, snacks, and all. The two of us and the rest of our party arrived safely just in time to the entrance of the jet way, and with the turn of events actually in our favor, we found ourselves immediately on the plane. I think we could all safely say that this was an exciting way to start our adventure, and it was even beneficial to be able to board the aircraft ‘right away”. The positive outlook that my family had on particular travel moments during this trip will forever be ranked high in my memory banks. The fun definitely continued, and I’m hoping to continue watching the replay through my writing (and photos the that are on my phone).

Until Then,

What are your most memorable family travel experiences?

balance, gratitude, health and wellness

The Furthest Point Away from FOMO

My mom casually apologized to me after we settled back into our beach view villa for a mid afternoon break from the day’s activities.

“I’m sorry we never really traveled like this before”.

Before meaning perhaps during my childhood, early adulthood, or anytime before this current situation of approaching  40. She had somewhat of an upbeat tone as we both enjoyed fruity cocktails and the feeling of true vacation relaxation, 4 days into our Thailand adventure. It just clicked at some point. International travel is a life changer. It’s amazing and incredibly fun. It is especially fun and life changing when you witness your own young child taking it all in while learning, enjoying, and melting down (only once during the whole trip) every step of the way. I didn’t follow up my mom’s apology by asking why we never traveled like this back in the day, because now as an adult, of course I get it.

Taking a journey to the other side of the world was expensive. Between transportation, accommodations, and in my case, unpaid time off of work, this was definitely a big financial chunk of my year. The fear of the unknown and the fear of missing out took my anxiety levels and emotions on a crazy roller coaster ride. I also left other family members at home for 10 days, including my husband, my toddler son, and my dad. However, in some circumstances, and for this particular opportunity, it was worth it.

The lead up to the trip dates back to almost a year before our departure when my cousin, (my mom’s brother’s daughter, who is like a sister to me), called me and informed me of her destination wedding plans. Thailand. Not just mainland Thailand, but for the big event, a remote island in the gulf of Thailand by the name of Koh Kood (known to the locals as Ko Kut). One of the least populated places in the country. I’m pretty sure that she strategically chose her wedding date and made these plans about  the same time that FOMO officially became a thing and was at the peak of trending on social media.

After a few think alouds and productive conversations with the family members who would be directly affected by the endeavor, (and on that note, SO supportive), we decided to go for it.  My mom, my daughter and I traveled to Thailand for 10 days with the company of our other extended family members, and had the experience of a lifetime. As stated before, it was all worth it. I can’t wait to officially write about the amazing experiences and small moment stories that support this claim.

Thailand is about to takeover the blog for a bit. And for the record mom, no apologies needed. Ever.

On The Tuk Tuk:
The Faces of FOMO no More

Until Then,

Where was your first and/or favorite international travel destination?

balance, favorite things, gratitude, health and wellness, mindful

Morning Routine

During the school year, the first 53 minutes of my morning are filled to the max with a whirlwind of must dos that begin right from the moment I exit the bed.

  • I must make myself look presentable so that everyone who I interact with at work today, including my 26 students take me seriously, but also appreciate the elements of a good outfit of the day.
  • I must make sure my own two children are awake and allow time for that process in itself.
  • I must load up the lunch bags, nuke the veggie bacon, and toast the waffles.
  • I must haul the daily “baggage claim” collection of items out the car, which feels like we are taking a week long road trip to somewhere.
  • Above all, I MUST get the hot coffee into the vessel, then it has to be safely placed in the vehicle with the same care that I give to the children when they get buckled in.

The continuous action of opening and closing doors, drawers, containers, and bags puts me in a bit of a tizzy. I also have to factor in the additional flights up and down the stairs well after shoes have been put on for those forgotten items that are either game-changers for the day or completely unnecessary. The scarf that I went back up to get which ended up making me overheat and literally start sweating during Writer’s Workshop probably wasn’t worth the extra minutes.

My brain is already working overtime well before 6:50 a.m. That is the target goal time in which the kids and I bid my husband farewell and get into the car to drive 10 miles in the opposite direction to drop off my two-year-old son to my mom and dad’s house for the day.

Upon arrival to my childhood home, both of my kids in tow, the morning mental reset begins. I get to breathe for a bit, about 15-20 minutes to be exact. Mom and Dad’s house is familiar and comforting. I enjoy the sights and sounds and reminders of my upbringing. The kids get to play together for a few minutes. I get to sit and chat with my parents and catch up on breaking news regarding family or other topics. I sit and sip my beloved coffee. Sometimes I find treasures that are perfect for a Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday post.

I cherish this window of time each morning despite the angst and grumpiness that may have occurred an hour or so before. I’m truly grateful for my parents taking on the full time job of watching my little one, (again for a second time), but also for the blessing of a few moments to just enjoy the company, the moment, the Now.

The morning rush inevitably starts up again, when I usher my daughter out the door so we can head back toward school. We say our goodbyes and hit the road. Even though the angst of the day starts creeping back, I feel good knowing that my favorite morning must do always helps me to recallibrate the stress to gratitude ratios of the daily grind. I have a lot to pack, plan, and do every morning, but I have a lot more to be happy about and to be thankful for.

Until then,

What are your favorite or least favorite parts of your morning routine?

Thanks for reading!

Jenn