5 humble things that are total game-changers

I wrote this beautiful, thoughtful, philosophical, photo rich blog post on Sunday night. There were links and quotes. It took hours. Just when I was dotting the final i’s and crossing the final t’s something happened and I lost it. All. No sign. Sadness.  Thought maybe I would try to recreate that today and maybe I will. However I had a few things I wanted to get off my chest just in case I don’t get it right. *editing at 9:44pm to say yeah that’s not going to happen…bygones.

So instead I present to you: 5 Things I feel are undervalued and need more praise.

1. Getting outside in the fresh air (preferable somewhere really pretty and natural but it’s not a deal-breaker if you’re just outside on the sidewalk) for a brisk walk or a slow jog. Here’s my facebook update from earlier if you missed it.

Today I was feeling a little bit melancholy and was really REALLY not feeling like going on my run...but after every run I make a point to tell myself, "you certainly don't regret doing THAT do you?!" so although I sooooo wasn't feeling it, I sat in my car for a minute talking myself into it, then I made a mellow yet uplifting little playlist and decided to at least walk. I was a bit sore from yesterday and figured that I would just get out and enjoy the pretty day. The minute my feet hit the forest floor I felt better. There is a reason they use the word "grounded" . Having your feet on a natural surface is good for your soul, people. I walked for a while, feeling a little better with every step. Then I decided to just do a really slow jog. I ended up having the best run I have had in ages and ages. I was able to run for further and longer than I have in ages and ages. By the end of my run I felt positively euphoric. All the sad cloudy thoughts were replaced with thoughts of gratitude and resolve. The outdoors + exercise are real, powerful antidepressants. If you are feeling sad or depressed, see if you can manage to talk yourself into putting on your shoes and just walking outside...start there. Put your arms over your head and take a few deep breaths....

Look at the views I was rewarded with today..

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2. Crock-pots. Seriously people. They are not sexy but they could not be more fabulous.  I feel like we just do not talk enough about how life changing and wonderful the humble crock pot is. It’s not that I actually hate to cook. I quite like it when I have a plan and time and ingredients on hand. I really rather enjoy it. But! There is nothing I hate more than figuring out a meal at 4pm when I am at my most tired, frazzled and domestically unmotivated. A crock pot is not quite what I consider “cooking” but it means homemade food for my family and it lets me get it all out of the way at 10am when I have a moment to think. More often than not,  it takes about 10 seconds to get something really tasty going. When you have 7 people going in 7 different directions at dinner time it’s another big plus. And truly, you can get pretty creative and healthy in there too,  you don’t need to use cream of something soup or velveeta if you don’t want to.  I am a great devotee to my crock pot and have never, not ever bought a block of velveeta substance. I refuse to call that stuff “cheese”. Sacrilege.

3. Laying out your exercise clothes, down to the socks and bra and hair tie before you go to bed. And your kid’s clothes too. Total game changer. Seriously can’t tell you how many minutes have been lost and swear words said trying to find matching socks or a running bra in in the dryer in the mornings. It’s amazing how much more in control you feel of your day just doing that one simple thing.

4. Canned pumpkin and boxed cake mixes.  You all know you can do this right? Just take a cake mix, (I usually use a spice cake) and a can of pumpkin and mix them together. No other ingredients. You can kind of almost feel ok about giving your kid cake for lunch especially if it’s baked up into a muffin shape.  That’s another thing. If you want to make banana bread or pumpkin bread but you don’t want to wait an hour to eat it, then make muffins instead. Bakes in half the time and portion control. Why do people make things in loaves at all come to think of it?

5. Good music.  Which may be defined differently by everyone. But truly.  Music. Just today it played a big part in stalling my downward cycle this morning by motivating me to get moving.  Later, as I was doing some boring/essential online shopping Ella came and asked me to put on the “Happy song” and then instructed me to follow her moves.  Which are a lot more challenging for me than for her. Had a brief bonding and blood pumping moment there.  Music is good. I recommend mixing up your playlist often and asking for ideas from a variety of people. I have found some of my all time favs in my teenager’s downloads. 

Ok so that’s my random hit list this week.  Happens to fall on Works for Me Wednesday so I’ll link up with that. What’s working for you today and what are your game/life changers?

Houston we have lift-off. A moving update.

Upon making this announcement back in when was it…May? I was plunged into an existence of hurry up and wait and limbo.  We have hustled like mad only to be faced with wait after uncertain wait. We have waited on contractors, we have waited on passports and visas and jobs…you name it, we’ve waited on it.

I am not what you might term a patient person. A flexible person. A go with the flow kinda person. I’m not what you might think of us someone who is comfortable with uncertainty who is cool with things up in the air.

But you know what?  Life teaches us things.  As my wise brother Seth told me a few months ago, life is exquisitely and sometimes chillingly, designed to identify our weaknesses and hit us right where they exist so that we can make them our strengths. In other words life is pretty much designed to suck really  hard,  so don’t be all upset and put out when it does.  (Ok that crude summation is mine and I don’t really think life is designed to suck but I do think the hard parts aren’t a mistake for the most part).

Look,  after the last few months is “enduring uncertainty with grace” now my defining characteristic? Um…NO. But I will say that my progress has been undeniable. Even if I am the only one who can see or feel it. I can say that as the months have gone on, I have found that I am becoming more patient, more accepting, dare I say a little more mature? A little less apt to throw a hissy fit over that which is is outside of my control?  Just a bit I hasten to add! Whether or not gloating tempts fate to bring more to test me (and yes, yes it does), there will be more…oh so much more testing in this department. Of this I am certain.  So let’s just say that where I was a total and utter failure I am now just a total failure.

Let’s just say that embarking on a life changing process, where not one single thing has been able to be checked off, I have had a ton of exposure therapy to my abject fear of not having things checked off, to my phobia of not being in control of things.  Let’s just say that my tolerance for surrendering has improved.  And you know what? It feels really good.  Like the way running feels good when it’s over.  It sucks when you are going through it but you like the results. It feels good to be healthier and stronger even if you know you have a long way yet to go.
But let’s talk about to today. Today I finally, finally got to do something concrete and that feels good too. Actually it feels pretty amazing. And amazingly terrifying.
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We booked plane tickets.

(For half of the family.)
So hey…baby steps, right?

This is happening.

So here’s the thing. The December plan was actually a really solid, good and nice plan. And I do wish it was still The Plan.

But it’s not.  Here’s a little back-story to why:
When  I was a kid I went to a wonderful little school in our neighbourhood. I have the happiest memories from that school. In fact I still have literal dreams (happy ones) about that school. When I knew we were going back I didn’t dare even hope of getting the kids into that same school but we tried nonetheless. The thing is, that school is considered to be a very fine school indeed and lots of people want their kids in just that very same school which means there is a wait list a million miles long for it. Miraculously they were able to find a spot for Gracie but it was not looking at all hopeful for our dear little Finny. Not only was it not looking good for that school for Finny, nobody in the city had a spot for Finny!  And then angels interceded and miracles happened and suddenly there was a spot for Finny but…major caveat.. only if we could get him there in mid-October. 
School there is year around and if we don’t get him in before the end of this school year (mid December) then he would lose his spot and there is absolutely no chance of him (or Gracie for that matter) getting a spot in 2015. 

All this meant that instead of leaving in three months according to the latest incarnation of the plan..we…at least me and the younger three kids had to leave in 3 weeks. So yeah..last few days have been somewhat stressful with that new revelation.

We put forth our case and pleaded with the school for more time and they (facing their own pressures) very kindly conceded to let us come as late as the first week of November which gives us a few more weeks to wrap things up here, finish out the soccer season and let the kids have their last Halloween with friends. (This was a big crisis when the mid-October plan was announced). Most importantly, this buys as a few extra weeks as a family.  Benj and Gabe will remain here to finish the semester and to have some all boy bonding time with Aaron.   And my stomach is already aching with missing them all. But I think it will be good for those guys to be able to have some one on one focused guy time.

As for the rest of us. We’re out. Day after Halloween. Did I mention terrified? And so excited? And so freaked out? And already tearing up about saying goodbye to people?  And so ridiculously thrilled about meeting not one but two sweet nieces soon? And beside myself about seeing my nephews again and hanging with my parents and sibs…who will GET TO SEE MY KIDS GO TO SCHOOL FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER? And over the top delirious over the fact that my kids will be going to school in the very classrooms I went to school in?  And in deep mourning not being here for Thanksgiving? And wondering how I will survive being away from my husband for that long? And contemplating the magic of a true family reunion with everyone…everyone in the family for the first time ever????????? All of us siblings, with all of our kids and all of our spouses for the first. time.ever?????? Since leaving home I have had one visit with all of my siblings present. And one visit with most of the siblings AND my kids and husband. But never with all the pieces in one place. And wow…that’s going to be amazing. And absolutely freaking out about getting everything ready to leave my poor big boys motherless for a month. (Dude they are so freaking excited, they can’t wait. I wish I was kidding but I’m not. No one to nag them over doing their chores and putting on their oils and washing their hands the second they get home? SWEET! They're gonna miss me when I'm gone...they will......pretty sure).

People. We have tickets. I can’t even believe it.
We leave November 1st.  Every year when November 1st rolls around I say to Aaron , “hey guess what, it’s moving day, wanna move?” Because we have moved 3 times now on November 1st.  It’s the day we move.  Let’s do this thing.

Elaborating on the cliff-hanger of yesterday

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my friend Deborah dubbed me master of the cliff hanger today after yesterday’s post and I hate cliff hangers (does anyone not?) so I figured I would not leave you hanging longer than absolutely necessary. What’s one more afternoon of wrinkled laundry in the hamper right?

The other night I could not sleep. This is unusual for me since oils came into my life. For the first time in living memory I am no longer a chronic insomniac and it is so so special to me to be able to say that, but  the other night was a notable exception. I was having a devil of a time staying asleep.   Now if you’re a parent or you know much about kids you probably know that babies and toddlers often have sleep disturbances right before they make a major developmental breakthrough and apparently I am still mentally and emotionally an infant because after this weird restless night I finally popped awake for the day and out of the blue as my eyes opened blearily I had an epiphany. “We should leave in December!”

I had not been wrestling with this at all consciously. As far as I was concerned we would be leaving the moment we had passport and visas in hand so it was very odd, because apparently my sub-conscious had been trying to work through the logistics of it all while I remained blissfully unaware. But it made sense.

Here’s the thing. The Great Passport Debacle Continues.

OMG as an aside…I just wanted to say that  the minute I get this one I am going to start applying for the next one in 10 years because THAT IS HOW LONG IT SEEMS TO TAKE.  Anyway. Currently? We are all just sitting around completely unable to proceed. Here’s the thing. My passport was “dispatched” (according to the South African home affairs office) on August 4th. Yes, a month ago today.  There is as yet, no sign of said passport. Chicago consulate always unhelpful and curt are becoming increasingly surly with regards to our daily inquiries. NO! THEY certainly haven’t seen it and cannot possibly be prevailed upon to hazard a guess as to when it might show up. *INSERT ALL THE SWEAR WORDS HERE*** You guys! Governments SUCK.  Whenever I have to deal with consulates I fall more deeply into love with the idea of Anarchy.

The most frustrating part is this. Without my passport we can’t apply for visas (and who knows how long THOSE bleepitybleepers will take? Also A. can’t get a special skills work visa which will make him infinitely more marketable in the job search. Buggidy bug!!!!

Since we have missed the boat on a natural stopping/starting point now that the kids are in school, I figured it made more sense to let the kids get this semester of school and the soccer/cross-country season under their belts. This would also allow Aaron to join us in South Africa for a holiday in December and settle us in..(rather than making our way there alone). 

Additionally since we have resolved to be separated as a family for no more than 3 months (assuming Aaron can’t get a job before we leave), I figured it made a lot more sense for that period to fall over the Great White Northern Winter. Because if  Aaron can’t find suitable employment in time and we have to abort mission and come home, I can’t think of anything more depressing than having to do it just as Winter is hitting its stride.  Autumn in Ohio is pretty much my favourite thing about Ohio and so it is a pretty great consolation that we will be here for that, and get to experience one more (hopefully) Thanksgiving (which is my favourite thing about America I think).

On the downside, the kids won’t have a low stress intro into South African schools. Since school there is year around they will be hopping in with both feet when it starts in January but Aaron has pointed out that they will have the advantage of being ahead here by a semester so hopefully that helps. They are bright and diligent kids so we are fairly confident they will be ok but I was really hoping to make it as easy on them as possible since I predict that the culture shock is going to be pretty intense.

The downsides aside, I had been doing a really great job of focusing on all the advantages not least of which is knowing that this gives us a reprieve from the horrid inevitability of saying goodbyes to our wonderful friends.  Staying longer has also allowed Ella to have the amazing joy of going to school with Muss Cindi as her older siblings before her did. And these things have kept me from going mental over this ridiculous delay and I have genuinely been rather cheerful about it all.

But then yesterday I read a newsletter from the sweet little preschool Ella is registered for in South Africa (thanks to my insanely helpful and together childhood friend Heather…nobody should attempt a move such as this without an insanely helpful and together friend like Heather, God bless her every day)  and oh my…I got so  intensely homesick. The things they are doing are the things I did as a child. They are celebrating Spring Day and they are making Spring bonnets for a Spring bonnet parade just like I used to with my friend Viki…..and it just made me sort ache with such profound longing.  It really was visceral.

I realized that in addition to missing my family so much all these years I have missed my past, my own personal culture.  My children’s childhoods look so completely different from mine. And that’s ok. They have had quite  lovely childhoods I think.  But I have always felt like I was on a movie set raising them. It has always felt like pretend. Because their childhoods resemble the ones I saw play out on American TV (which we got on a year or two delay in South Africa) rather than anything I experienced in reality. So I know the parts and I play them pretty well but I don’t have any sense of personal connection. I was never there. I never went to kindergarten, I went to nursery school (and yes I know it is called kinder there now but you know what I mean..). I wore a uniform to school and we had break, not recess and it was outside on the lawn, not in a lunch room…and just a million tiny things like these.   I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced it can truly understand but…I try to explain anyway.

I have often said that when I get on a plane to South Africa I feel like I am exhaling and I didn’t even know I was holding my breath. Maybe everyone feels like that when they go home.  I wonder if I will spend all my time in South Africa feeling homesick for America. I am certain there will be a good deal of that.  I know I will miss our friends terribly.

And honestly,  I think daily how much easier it would be to just let this plan go. Just fly to South Africa and have a lovely holiday with my family at Christmas time and come home to my warm comfortable easy life here.  It would make a lot more sense.  Everything here is so settled. Yesterday we bought a van. It’s very nice.  (And yes, the timing is ridiculous no doubt but was that or pay for rental fees for the next 3-6 months and we figured that since we don’t know for sure that this move will pan out permanently since the job search is not going very well it made a lot more sense to invest in a van before we sunk anymore money into a rental. I really don’t have great timing for totaling cars do I?) 

Anyway, the van. Much as I despair that we had to buy one I have to admit…it’s lovely. I like it a lot. Mostly because it has push button start which means I get about 30% of my life back not having to rummage through my bag for my keys whilst saying bad words.  It’s the little things, kids.   Anyway the new van is pretty much a metaphor for life here in Ohio. You just push a button and there you go. Easy. I very much doubt that this is going to be the reality for my transportation or life in South Africa. Not to mention driving in South Africa is already giving me heart palpitations.  When I sum up how I see things in my mind in the most simplistic of ways lately it’s this. Everything here is easy. Everything there is…real. And real is scary. (And in reality, real in South Africa is legitimately more scary than in a lot of other places we could be moving to).

But today as I sat in the nice new (used) car, waiting for Benj at the orthodontist, a song from my youth came onto the radio. I used to listen to it every day during a period of my life when everything was on the horizon. I didn’t know where I would go in life and who I would do it with and what it would be like. But it was sure to be wonderful and exciting and magical. Ah…the late teens..the most exciting of times.  ANYWAY so I was transported back to this state of mind when this line from the divine Miss Mariah Carey’s (with profuse apologies to the divine Miss Midler) “Hero” jumped out at me. And I know this is very 16 of me but here they are:

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don't let anyone
Tear them away
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time
You'll find the way

Ok hardly earth shatteringly profound, I know, I know… but in that moment I was slapped with the reminder that dammit this is my dream. It always has been. And I owe it to my 16 year old self who trusted that I was going to make everything I dreamed of happen for myself to see how it plays out. Maybe I will see that it is not all it is cracked up to be but I just cannot live with not knowing.

Sweet pre-diva Mariah offered additional encouragement as I glumly wondered if we would ever get all the pieces together to make this work, as I worried about all the money we would be spending and all the lives we would be disrupting…she wailed….

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive..

That’s when I was reminded with wry smile of how totally LAME I was being to even allow the thought of chickening out to cross my mind. People.  A move like this does not take heroic effort, people do more brave things every minute of every day and it is ridiculous of me to allow fear of unknown and the love of ease to lull me into letting my dreams go and living a life half asleep.  If it’s not going to work out for the right reasons that is one thing but because I’m scared of the unknown and a little discomfort? No. Unacceptable.

And so it’s a go. It’s still a go friends. It’s a delayed go. But it’s a go.

And then…we shall see.

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Speaking of heroes. Are you following the Humans of New York blog/ facebook/instagram feed? Every update takes my breath away. It’s humbling, powerful stuff man. These people have more courage, grace and determination in their pinky finger nail than I do on my bravest most digging deep, all-in, day. Inspiring, heartbreaking and if you’re living to really wake up and live your life… instructive. If you’re not following, do yourself a favour.

What’s your dream? Are you living it? If not when will you be going for it?

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