21 June 2013

Pajama Picnic

I've learned, over the past few weeks, that finding a good time of day to ride with kids in the summer can be just as challenging as finding a good time to ride in the winter. I typically won't ride with the kids if the temps are under 30 degrees. Now I realize that riding in temps over 85 or 90 isn't so great for them either. Both kids are home with me on Mondays and Fridays now. If we don't leave the house by 9 or so, a bike ride is difficult to squeeze in during the day.

When I posted about this a week or so ago, Melissa at Her Green Life made a brilliant suggestion: What about a pajama picnic in the park? Since Fridays are the hardest days - with a grocery trip before nap time and Benny's summer reading camp after nap time. That doesn't give us much time to ride. Unless we leave early in the morning.

Pajama picnics are perfect. Eliminating getting dressed makes getting out the house much easier and faster. I packed yogurt, granola and fruit and we stopped by the local bakery for some pastries and coffee. Since the kids had just woken up, they had lots of energy to play. And because it wasn't too hot yet and the park was still shaded, they played for much longer than when we typically visit the park.

Given the success of today's picnic, I think we'll make this a habit on Fridays. Thanks for the suggestion, Melissa!

19 June 2013

Finding Balance

Is it possible? I'm not sure I'll ever know. Just when I think I've figured out this working/parenting/living arrangement, something changes and throws the whole situation into chaos (or peace, depending on the circumstances).

Working independently has been such a fun, stressful, educational experience. I'm so thankful for the flexibility it allows me and the time I can take for my family. At the same time, it's incredibly unpredictable. I'm lucky to have three clients now - all interesting and important organizations in their own ways. I thought I had a well-planned summer that included a lot of balance.

Then I volunteered to organize a relatively large neighborhood bike ride (somewhat unwittingly). Then I learned that two organizations will need more of me in the next few months. Then I think about teaching in a few weeks and know that will be an all-consuming endeavor. Always a cliche, but so true: when it rains, it pours.

So, after a sleepless night - mostly filled with anxiety about getting everything done - I decided to give myself a break instead of running myself into the ground. I hate backing out of responsibilities, but in this case it came down to staying sane and doing a good job. It's easy to put my own needs on the back burner. This time, I decided that it doesn't benefit anyone when I do that - least of all my kids and my husband.

I'm still learning how to say "no" to things. It's hard for me. I like to help and to do a good job. I also like to be a good mom and a reliable worker. And I like to have time to run and bike. Clearly, balance needs to be involved in this situation.

Gaining perspective and inspiration from Simply Bike today, this is me at 35:

Learning to say "no" to preserve some semblance of balance.

Putting myself and my family first.

Realizing my limits and listening to my inner dialogue.

Feeling guilty about letting people down.

Understanding that my health - mental and physical - are important components in my life.

Relishing in lazy summer days with my kids - not burdened with unrealistic expectations.

Recognizing, perhaps for the first time in my life, that for me stress equals anxiety that can get out of control and create sleepless nights.

Valuing quiet time with my husband to nurture our relationship.

Maybe 36 will look different in a few months, but this is 35 and it's not so bad.

16 June 2013

To All the Fathers

Nate became a dad nearly six years ago. And he embraced it wholeheartedly. The fatherhood role suits him nicely. He is kind and patient and fun and strong. He gets great joy from watching and being with the kids. Benny put on a guitar performance for us this morning. It was his surprise for Father's Day. 

Happy Father's Day, Daddy!
(Strum, strum, strum)
Me and Lila love you!
(Strum, strum, strum)
We hope you have a great Father's Day!
(Strum, strum, strum)

He warned us that he was going to make us cry before he started playing his song. I definitely had tears in my eyes when he finished.

I've always been a big fan of my father-in-law. He and his wife moved to Montrose, Colorado, from Iowa nearly three years ago. It's been such a treat to have them closer to us. Plus, they live within proximity of some stunning mountains and areas. It's been fun to watch Mike as a grandfather. He is amazing in that role and adores his grandchildren.

Nate became a double daddy nearly three years ago - to a daughter. He was terrified of having a daughter. But he's changed his perspective (at least while she's young). He and Lila have a great relationship. It's wonderful to watch it blossom. 

And finally, my own Dad. He's been a wonderful father, but I didn't fully appreciated him until I had kids. He, like Nate's dad, relishes his role as a grandfather. And my kids love him.

Happy Father's Day to all of the dads I know. It's so amazing to watch so many great fathers everyday.

15 June 2013

New Summer Challenges (to Biking and Other Things)

In just over a month, the weather in Denver turned from snow storms and 30 degrees to 100 degrees. That's weather whip lash and it's just wrong. I figured we'd have at least a month and a half of spring-time weather. I knew that June travel plans would make biking everyday a challenge, but I didn't think the weather would play into it. And kids. That never seems like a challenge - until it's too hot to ride with them.

As noted, we were in Calgary last weekend. It was a lovely trip. The kids are at a good age to travel - naps don't get in the way of plans as much any more and they can be plied with plenty of snacks if eating schedules are thrown off. We incorporated a bike ride into the trip because I'm finding it's one of the best ways to see a city. It was a relatively quick ride, but man I appreciate a good bike lane. And Calgary is filled with them.

So I can kind of deal with the challenges of biking and traveling. The heat, though, I'm still figuring that challenge out. If we want to ride, we need to leave the house before 9 a.m. There's not too much open at that time of the morning that's also within biking distance. As a result, we're going to have to get out of the house earlier and seek out some alternative activities. And, I'm just going to have to accept that some things won't be bike-able. Like the art museum and the botanic center and some other outings. Perhaps public transportation is a viable option that I haven't considered yet.

Other challenges? Well, I'm finding that "school's out for summer" attitude has hit me too. While I should be prepping for my online class and getting ahead in my other work so I can take a big vacation at the end of the month, my motivation hit a stonewall about the same time as Benny was finished with kindergarten. I'll figure it out, but boy, it's frustrating.

I am excited to report that Struckman Consulting was featured on the idealist.org blog late last month. It was a nice surprise.

10 June 2013

Canadian Wedding Weekend

On Thursday, we packed up and headed to Calgary for my brother's wedding. My baby brother's wedding. It seems so strange that my youngest brother is now married (he's 30, so he's not a baby any more).

Calgary is lovely this time of year. We decided to spend a morning exploring the city by bike. It was the  perfect family activity. Benny had a great time on a tag-a-long. He'd never ridden on one before.

Calgary has an extensive network of bike trails and routes. We ended up riding along the Bow River from downtown to the west of town. Since Benny was using a tag-a-long, we could ride much farther than if he had been on a bike. I knew it was a success when Benny told Nate that "this was a really good idea, Dad." Nate agreed.

My brother met his wife, Reny, at my other brother's wedding (in Edmonton). It was great to meet Reny's family and friends and celebrate throughout the weekend. I got to spend some time with the ladies of my family for sushi on Thursday night. We spent a majority of Friday afternoon and evening at the rehearsal and dinner, but I did manage to squeeze in a henna tattoo, courtesy of Reny's family.

The wedding was a unique mix of Catholic and Indian traditions and was one of the most interesting and beautiful weddings I've ever been to. But, Benny and Lila were in the wedding, so I didn't have a whole lot of time to take pictures. Lila wasn't too interested in sitting down.

Lila coloring during the ceremony // Benny and Lila - no words // the beautiful bride // our family

The weekend kicked off our summer travels. Next up, a tour of Nebraska, Iowa and western Colorado.

We had a really great time, despite some lack of sleep due to schedules that conflicted with nap time and bed time. Lila was a trooper until about five minutes before the plane landed yesterday. She crashed. Hard.

04 June 2013

School's Out for Summ-ah!

First day of Kindergarten.

Kindergarten. Check.

Benny has learned so much this year. He can read (!) and write. He knows about dinosaurs and volcanoes and treble and bass and ceramics. He brought home armloads of artwork. He often pulls out nuggets of knowledge and shocks me with how much information he soaks up. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Kids do that stuff all of the time. But he's my kid and I think he's so smart. Last night he told me that Hawaii is the only state that was made of volcanoes.

This year, we rode bikes to school many more times than we drove. At first Benny wasn't excited about riding everyday, but he has built up quite a stamina and now the one-mile ride isn't a problem.

Benny made some great friends this year. He also learned that kids can be mean, which is a hard lesson for a five-year-old (and it's really hard to witness as a parent).

I learned things too. I learned that it's not easy to get out of the house to get to school on time. I learned, unlearned and relearned patience in the morning. I learned that Benny doesn't like PB&Js (what?!?) in his lunch. Or leftovers. Or vegetables. Or really anything besides yogurt. I learned, through volunteering in the classroom, that I could never be a kindergarten teacher. They deserve our utmost respect!

I'm also learning about how city schools differ from rural schools. I attended the same school with the same 11 classmates for 12 years. I had the same teachers as my siblings, played on the same teams, had many of the same friends. Benny's class will be split into thirds next year. He'll have new faces and he'll have to say goodbye to some of his friends - even if it's only for a year.

One of the most important lessons I learned, which wasn't even on my radar, is how much I love living close to a quality neighborhood school. It's important that my kids receive a good education, but there's more to it than that. I don't want to have to schlep my kids halfway across town to go to school. I think it's important to build a sense of community and attending a neighborhood school helps with that. I know traditional public schools aren't for everyone. But they are for us. We are willing to do the afterschool work to ensure that our kids have a well-rounded education. Really, I just want them to love to learn and be inquisitive. I think every educational institution espouses those goals. So, although Benny and Lila will attend larger schools, I hope we have set up an environment that feels relatively small - knowing and going to school with our neighbors, participating in our schools and neighborhood and feeling connected in that way.

Last day of kindergarten. Those freckles!!!

And now, here we are. School's out for summer. Next year we'll be learning more, making more friends and generally enjoying life. But for now, we'll all be enjoying a well-deserved break!

02 June 2013

Camping with Kids

As a kid, I didn't really camp. Even as a young adult, I could probably count the number of times that I slept outside in a sleeping bag on one hand - and that was usually in our backyard. I never really thought of myself as the camping sort. And then I moved to Montana after college. Into the mountains. And I discovered that camping, particularly in the mountains, is just about the best thing to do on a summer evening.

Pre-kids, Nate and I took at least one backpacking trip together every year. We spent our honeymoon in the Canadian Rockies, exploring Banff and Jasper National Parks. It wasn't the most romantic of honeymoons, but it sure was memorable - not to mention affordable!

When we moved to Colorado, I knew we would be a camping kind of family. Nate grew up camping every summer with his family. Epic trips all over the western U.S. and into Canada and Alaska. His family has amazing stories about hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, only to discover that the tent stakes were at the top of the canyon. They slept outside and were visited in the night by a rattle snake. So they slept on picnic benches.

We started camping as a family when Benny was just under 2 years old. He was a natural outdoorsy kid. There's nothing like wide open spaces, camp fires, rocks and streams (and most specifically rocks and streams) to entertain a toddler for hours.

We took a couple of years off of camping when I was pregnant with Lila and when she was a newborn. But we started back up last year when she was about a year and a half.

Here's what we do to make the trips memorable (but not the unprepared and miserable kind of memorable):
  • Use a large tent. We bought a family-sized tent when we started family camping and it has been a great investment.
  • Bring plenty of layers. We typically start out in shorts and T-shirts, but once the sun goes down, everyone changes into pants, sweatshirts, hats, gloves, jackets/coats. 
  • Plan for cold sleeping weather. Early and late in the season, we pack footie pajamas for the kids and pack extra blankets for sleeping. It's easier to remove stuff than it is to shiver through the night.
  • Expect the unexpected. Last year, we went camping on the first day of a fire ban. We had planned on cooking over an open fire in the campground. Although we had checked the forest service website before we left (no fire ban then), we didn't plan any alternatives. Luckily, there was a town relatively close by so we ate out. 
  • Don't forget water. Lots and lots of water. It's easy to get thirsty at higher elevations. The kids typically suck down much more than they do at home.
  • Wet wipes are your friend. Since Lila is finished with diapers, I don't regularly think about wet wipes. Always have them on hand while camping. They are great for wiping off dirty hands and faces (s'mores are messy!). And, if someone has "issues," they're great for road-side stops. I won't go into further details, but I will say that I wish we had packed wipes for our trip last weekend!
  • Teach your kids to pee outside. It sounds uncivilized, but there aren't always bathrooms around and kids can't always hold it. We taught Lila how to squat this spring (she calls is "squawking") and that skill came in very handy in the mountains.

01 June 2013

Six Months of Biking

Today marks the first day of the sixth month of riding my bike (nearly) everyday. I've been slacking a bit on actually taking pictures of the exercise, but I am riding!

It's a big month for biking in Colorado. Denver has it's own Bike to Work Day (June 26) and the Denver Century Challenge is in two weeks. I was planning to ride, but it's not going to work with our schedule. Maybe we'll cheer some of the riders on.

June also marks the beginning of summer riding - when it's harder to blame the weather for not riding. Happy riding!