Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Change on the Outside, Change on the Inside

Although we use the blog these days to record happenings in our family, mostly for ourselves, we also keep it public to allow others that are interested a sneak peek at our lives. Occasionally, I feel inspired to wax eloquent on the internal processes that go on in myself & that I witness in those around me. These posts are always a little harder to write & post because it involves a bit of baring of my soul. Admittedly, there are times when the change & chaos on the outside, monkey with our contentment on the inside. This is true for me, but it is also true with each one of us. Just three and a half years ago, we were still living in our house in Flower Mound, Texas, with a full-price offer on the sale of our house of the previous nine years, scurrying furiously to get our house empty & move into our rv fulltime. Since then, we've traveled the United States, all the while learning things about ourselves and this world we live in that we never could have accomplished whilst staying put in our "good" life we voluntarily left behind in Texas. We renewed old friendships and forged new ones as we went, learning/relearning to put relationships & experiences over and above things. After 14 months of travelling, we settled down in Sandy, Utah for Steve's career. We made this area our "home" for nearly 22 months, but in spite of the time we spent here, it admittedly never felt like home.  During this time, we made the decision to do something we never thought we'd ever do...have a fifth child! If you don't know the story behind our sweet Katie, you can read about it here.

Most of what we own fits in this 5x10 storage unit
Ultimately, although we were absolutely, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt confident that God had led us here to Utah, we were also convinced that it was only for a season. It truly is beautiful, with awe-inspiring views of the mountains nearly everywhere you turn. Our first winter was a bitter one, and we were shut indoors with cold temps, lots of snow, & endless inversion which ruined the air quality, which admittedly got old. However...really what we were craving was relationship! We were spoiled from our season of traveling, where we intentionally met up with family & old friends & spent the sweetest of times together, and where we connected with others whom had made the same radical change we'd made & thus were always ready to connect, without the usual reality of dealing with complex & overloaded, overbooked work, school, & social calendars. Truth be told, I wasn't that scared of settling down & trying to make new friends, because I had already been stretched & had gotten much better at choosing vulnerability & transparency with others early on in meeting others. I had radically improved my ability to quickly create & enjoy community with a wide array of personalities. I was altogether unprepared for the difficulty of creating & enjoying that kind of community in the area we were now living in.

 At the time, I admittedly blamed both Western culture & the Mormon culture, of which we simply didn't fit into, despite our family size. (I know some of you thought that was a shoe-in, but it wasn't!) And, I confess that I grew cynical, not a good thing. I grew to expect that I would be ignored or spoken to rudely when out & about, shopping, running errands, at the park & playground with the kids,etc. And...I discovered that I began to adopt some of those same manners that I despised in those I met or crossed paths with.  Now...let me be clear, not *everyone* was rude or unfriendly.  There were a few that were friendly, but I think by the time I met them I began to suspect ulterior motives, and that made me uncomfortable; I had already begun building my little wall of defense.  By the time we were ready to actually leave Utah, I had made a personal vow to attempt to always smile & choose politeness with whomever I meet out & about, no matter how they act or react. And guess what?  That's still a challenge here in the South! There's far more friendliness & politeness here, but I'm also challenged by how much rudeness there is! Had we moved to Utah after being stationary most anywhere, I think that I would have still noticed the rudeness in Utah, but I also think it wouldn't have been such a slap in the face, so to speak. Moving to Utah after our time on the road made the contrast especially noticeable. I'm holding fast to my personal commitment to choose smiles & politeness, but it isn't always easy!

Fast forward to the present, we're back in the RV again, waiting to close on the sale of our house in Utah [We closed on Sept 23 !!!], which has been fraught with drama, honestly. It's definitely been a test!  This latest change was a big change, no doubt! Our littles are pretty easy going, so I'm not saying they're not affected by the change, just that, as long as "home" is a peaceful, happy place, it really doesn't matter so much where that home is or what it looks like.  The bigs, well, they're older, so it does really affect them, and I'm delighted that they're actually willing to talk about it!  As the saying goes, "don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone." Fortunately, I'm a little wiser, more experienced in the ways of life, so I knew & prepared the kids ahead of time, for that reality. Leaving Utah was hard, really hard. The endless showings (did I mention...endless?!) were taxing. I don't miss them.at.all. The endless need for perfection that honestly took monumental effort to achieve, with 5 kids & 3,000 square feet of space, was challenging. Even so, we did indeed make lifelong friends in the last few months before leaving, so saying goodbye to go to another area with no friends was also difficult.

Even though Steve did try to mentally prepare me for what awaited in Alabama/Florida, the kids & I were altogether unprepared for leaving suburbia where everything we could ever need & want were just minutes from our house, to live in areas where a 20 to 30 minute drive was necessary for "a" grocery store, and not necessarily one you like. Shopping for other items besides food was an even longer trek. Leaving all the kids at home for a quick 15 to 20 minute round trip to the store for milk, eggs, etc. was no longer an option. That, combined with the lack of friends (after having just made great friends) & the crazy humidity (after living nearly 2 years with hardly any) & the ferocious fire ants that made it difficult to impossible to let Katie play on the ground made us all feel a little stir-crazy & isolated...& a few "Oh no, what have we done now???" thoughts flew through most of our heads & hearts during those first few weeks, especially! All of this combined with a house that just would.not.sell certainly compounded those feelings!  

This was taken on June 2 just before taking Steve to the airport, same day I left the house for good.
And...in light of all of these things & a job that wasn't exactly as anticipated, we did question whether we had done the right thing, whether we had chosen wisely. We had some interesting discussions with our bigs.  I was reminded of the importance of *showing* our kids how to weather the storms in life, because rest assured, it's not a matter of *if*, but *when*, they will come! It has been a great season to remind ourselves & each other that God is faithful, that he works all things together for good (Rom 8:28), that He is worthy of our trust always, even when things don't seem to be working out according to our own (seemingly great) plans. We've had the chance to reflect on our time in Utah & remember why we chose to leave (and all those reasons still hold true today). It might be easy to second-guess, but this is the path we've chosen...and, here's the reality, there is so.much.good that we would have missed out on had we stayed. Yes, you read that right! It is through challenging times that we often learn to focus on true contentment, on our relationship with God & with each other.     

Here are some of the *good* things that we have been blessed with *because* we were willing to sacrifice much of the familiar & good things we already had.

First & foremost, a stronger marriage, so much stronger than we had when we were still living our good, familiar life in Flower Mound, Texas. I confess that at that time, Steve was no longer my "best" friend.  There's a lot of reasons for that, and certainly not ones for this post, but there was definite emotional distance that had crept in over the years. Even the difficult season of being separated, with the kids & I in Utah, while Steve was here in Alabama/Florida, was *really* good for our marriage. This has to be the *best* benefit of all the change we've been through. A stronger marriage makes a stronger, healthier, happier family. And that...is p.r.i.c.e.l.e.s.s. I married a good man, imperfect, yet who has matured & learned to be a better husband & father through the years, & is unequivocably my best friend. Falling in love all over again is a really good thing!  

Another benefit? Maturity...on most of our parts, I think. When Steve was 2,000 miles away, I was left to manage our household on our own. I learned some important lessons that I wish I could have taught my former self. When you are the only parent, you can't exactly get annoyed that the "other" parent isn't helping as much or in the way that you wish!  I had no choice but to give 100%, all the time. My appreciation for Steve grew, and I also realized how much he has grown in his role as dad.

Given the reality of trying to sell our house & pack up/empty it, with ceaseless showings and no husband/dad around to help, I really had to rely on the kids to step up & help out more than ever. It was crazy hard, but with very few exceptions, they rose to the occasion! And...I saw some maturity surface that made my momheart proud! I watched one of my more naturally selfish kids observe my efforts & my weariness, mentally calculate the cost of helping out, and then volunteer to ease my burden! And, it happened repeatedly! Not only was it a huge help, it gave me a glimpse into the amazing young lady that she is becoming.   

Our family has grown stronger. I think that I've had more thought-provoking discussions with my bigs, whom I'm realizing are growing up way too fast! We've talked about hard stuff, funny stuff, interesting stuff. Sure, they still drive me crazy, but I truly love my kids & so enjoy being with them, doing stuff together, & processing life together.

Yet another benefit is more quality time. Our commitment to do something fun together on the weekends has been great for our family. Not only are we truly enjoying the area, but we are really enjoying being together. Honestly, our weekends when we were in Utah often consisted of everyone kind of doing their own thing. Quality time is my love language, so this is awesome for me!  Even the kids have commented on how much they appreciate that we've made this a priority.  I think it's super important for the strength of our family, but also for the kids' relationships with their dad.  Since he's gone to work every day, he doesn't get nearly as much time with them as I do!

Looking back, I realize that our "good, normal" life in Flower Mound, Texas was actually rather provincial in some ways. There was a lot of "keeping up with the Jones" mentality that we fell prey to. Traveling around and now living in what definitely feels like the middle of nowhere has opened the eyes of our kids to the reality that we fit somewhere in the sea of socioeconomic status. There are many that live much more extravagantly than we do, and simultaneously,  we live oh-so-extragantly compared to many. It's a good perspective to have & hopefully helps keep the focus off of our own selfishness & materialism. We are human, so no doubt this will always be a struggle, but I think it is a really good thing that our kids' eyes have been opened to this.

We have also learned some interesting things about what is important to us. I'm proud of my girl who has adopted the "I choose contentment, no matter where we are" attitude!  She informed me that when we first left Utah, she was really struggling with this. She told me she prayed & asked God to give her contentment, & he has!  This is beyond beautiful & the best example to all of us! Another girl has decided that she is a city girl & misses it immensely. I've learned that my preference is to either live in suburbia...or live where I can have a small homestead.  I don't prefer living further out from town & all it has to offer without the ability to have our own space, including a garden & the ability to raise animals. But...most of all, I'm learning the skill of choosing contentment & choosing to laugh more & have more fun with my family daily. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice & be glad in it. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fort Pickens and the beach at night

While staying here in this part of Florida in the RV, we have a "rule" that we must leave the RV and "do something" every weekend. It's super important for morale and sanity. Monday through Friday are for work and school, and weekends are reserved for fun, family bonding, sunshine & fresh air/exercise.  

We've been entertaining the idea of attempting to float the Blackwater River on tubes with the whole family, but it's been a bit tricky to actually coordinate. We planned to go this weekend, but the weather seems to have shifted, and it was simply too chilly to risk being on the river for 4-5 hours with the littles. Soooo....we decided to go explore Fort Pickens instead. We decided to drive along Santa Rosa Island, so it took nearly an hour and half to get there, but the drive right next to the beach and surf was so beautiful!

Ready to enter the ruins of Fort Pickens
A good view to show how close the fort is to the ocean
Fort Pickens was built in 1829 to 1834, the largest of four forts built to defend Pensacola Bay, Florida, and its Navy yard. It is one of only four forts in the South that was never occupied by Confederates during the Civil War. You can explore the fort with self-guided tour brochures located just outside the visitor center.  It was nice & cool inside, with a pleasant breeze blowing through the fort, and warm & sunny outside. The ants were kind of crazy, so you had to be careful not to stand still for long because they'd climb on your feet & up your legs! The kids had fun exploring the dark tunnels & such with flashlights. Steve tasked Shanan with taking pictures, and she might have taken a few...or a gazillion.

You were free to roam the whole complex as you wished
Except for drills these guns were never fired; the fort was never used in any active battles
The fort is very much intact (for being 170 years old), except for the section in the upper right that was destroyed in an accident
When we felt like we'd seen the place well enough, we left & decided to eat dinner at Thailand's Best in Navarre, thanks to a coupon that Steve had. Steve was quite enchanted with the iced Thai coffee. Jake was a little too loud (isn't he always?? & aren't most 3 year-old boys??). Food was good, but it wasn't exactly Thailand's best. ;)

Every photo has Jake making some kind of silly face
A family that goes to jail together...

Steve surprised us all by suggesting we go back for a walk on the beach after dinner. Of course, he admonished everyone to not get wet or sandy. Who do you think listened? Who do you think disregarded that bit of instruction?  Jake decided to run....and fall down...and run...and fall down...and get very sandy & wet! He had oh.so.much.fun and made so much noise, but that's totally okay at the beach! I had a blast chasing him & trying to keep him from actually going in the water--no small task, I might add. Steve was a good sport & didn't get annoyed by Jake's thoroughly sandy, soaked apparel. I might have stripped him naked for the ride home....Jake, that is. ;)

We enjoyed a surprise stop in Navarre Beach at sunset
Intentionally spending time together with the whole family on the weekends is definitely something that we all see as a big positive for living in the RV again.  RV life isn't a perfect life, but it's definitely a good life!

Pure cuteness
Starting to feel Fort weariness at this point

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Grandparents' Annual Visit

One thing we can always count on....no matter where we are or what our current living arrangements are, Steve's family will always make the effort to come visit us & see their grandkids, no matter how great the sacrifice. This year was no exception! They willingly drove 1117 miles to visit us here in Florida, or Lower Alabama as people often call this area of Florida. There really isn't a whole lot to do here in this area, but we still convinced them to go galavanting with us to see the best of the area & also not go crazy trying to cram all ten of us into one hotel room or the RV to just hang out.

Jake and Genna did not take it easy on Uncle Jon
The Hampton Inn they stayed at in Crestview had an awesome pool & hot tub that the kids and Steve & I thoroughly enjoyed. We did convince Grandma & Uncle Jon to join us for a little fun in the pool one time, but we were never succeeded in convincing Grandpa to even get his feet wet. Grandma invited the big girls to spend the night one night, and Genna & Jake invited themselves to spend the night another night. ;) Jake could not have been more excited to get a chance to have his first sleepover with "the funny guy," aka Uncle Jon. :)

Grandpa holding Katie for the first time at the hotel pool
The kids and I went to the zoo in Crestview with them while Steve was at work. The littles were excited to go back to see the little patas monkey that they had seen when the big girls were at summer camp, but she was already out in her transitional cage. The umbrella cockatoo, Derian, was probably the highlight of this visit. He was so incredibly loud, but he did talk, laugh, & even cry. He definitely entertained us for awhile.  The kids were also delighted to see a lemur with a tiny baby lemur on its back and another on its chest. They were incredibly cute! There's just something about babies...humans and animals!

Mia's Italian Resturant on the first night
Somehow, we persuaded (maybe forced?) them that if you're here in this part of Florida, you simply must go to the beach. Jon said he hadn't been to the beach in about 25 years, so I think he was actually excited. Navarre Beach is less than an hour from here, and it really is spectacular! The sand, the surf, the color of the water...it's all as good as it gets in the beach world. We packed lunch, water, beach toys, and two chairs for those that thought they needed them...and off we went. It was a yellow flag day, so the water was clean and clear, gentle with very mild waves.

This was the farthest we could get them in the water
Uncle Jon making castles with the kids
Navarre Beach was beautiful and uncrowded on this gorgeous September day
We arrived, ate lunch, then the littles got busy playing on the beach with Uncle Jon, while the bigs promptly got in the water. Steve spent quite a bit of effort trying to convince his mom & dad that the water was, in fact, really awesome, not scary or rough, and also very shallow...but alas, ankle deep was as far as they were willing to go. Apparently, it was fun to watch us have fun?? It wasn't exactly what we had in mind when we invited them to come to the beach, but that's okay! Uncle Jon, however, clearly really did have fun playing on the beach with the littles, in spite of the fact that he got scorched pretty badly, even though he had sunscreen on. I was relieved to hear him say that it was worth it! :)

On Sunday we visited the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola
Enjoying the limo service
Jake enjoying the ride
We had planned to spend our last day together on the Blackwater River because it is the other truly awesome thing about this area. However, the forecast was calling for bad storms all day, and we had driven through a real gullywasher the day before on our way home from the beach. And honestly, it seemed like another swimming activity would not be the best way to spend our last day together. Sooooo...we re-evaluated what we could/should do, and we finally decided to visit the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. Not only is it free, but they also provide free wheelchair loans, which we definitely needed. Although Shanan & Alyssa were initially hesitant about pushing Uncle Jon and Grandpa around, they actually had a lot of fun with it. The weather, of course, turned out to be stunningly hot and beautiful, with nary a storm until late in the day, but we still had good times at the museum.

Katie enjoying spending time with Grandma
We all had a lot of fun this visit, but I think we might have worn out Grandma & Grandpa. ;) Thanks so much for always being faithful to come visit us every year, Grandma, Grandpa, & Uncle Jon!

Time for goodbye
Jake playing hard to get when it is time to say goodbye
Until next time Grandpa