Homebody// Love at Home

In February, we wanted to go away for Valentines Day. We were saving money for it. And when it came down to it, it felt burdensome to even attempt. Kareem thought, well for the amount of money we were going to spend, we could buy our own inflatable hot tub! And that’s what he did. If you’re rolling your eyes right now, I was too. It sat in parts until my birthday in late April. Finally we assembled it, filled it, and let it heat up. The first night in the hot tub was truly blissful. I could not believe how much relief I felt.

Last year for my birthday, Kareem got me a treepod. Have you seen these? It’s ridiculous, kind of expensive, and incredible. It’s a “hanging cabana.” So he got this for me against my will and then it just sat around. Kareem and a friend were going to build a contraption to hang it from. Anyway, this year for my birthday, he got a stand together for it. And it is amazing!

My backyard is an oasis. My backyard dreams have really been coming together over the past few years. I got these ridiculous pieces, but I also wanted string lights since we moved in. Check. Trampoline. Check. Swing set. Check. Raised beds. Check. It is becoming my favorite place. And between every busy thing we have going on, I just want to hang out in my backyard!

We have been traveling less. Not only because it seems like our time is not ours and stuff is happening constantly, but also because pandemic and the joy of my perfect backyard. (jokes) But seriously, I am itchy to travel. It’s really the T I M E that is holding me back. I have no idea how I used to do it!

I guess one could say that I made time for it, but also I think the circumstances of life have changed. My job has changed and the commitments of my children have changed. Another huge change is sharing my kids with their dad and my stepson with his mom. There are just a lot of moving parts.

I flew twice in 2020, which I didn’t share much about at the time because it was somewhat a controversial choice. I flew to Utah and Orlando in the fall. Since then, we have mostly driven, though I did fly a few times last year. But I have not been out of the country since pre-pandemic. I had two international trips planned for 2020, but did not get to go of course. Now the world is opening up, but my schedule is not.

In the meantime, we are making things happen and at the end of the day, I have my backyard paradise. Adventure is out there, but it’s also right here. The kids are always singing the song Love at Home (sometimes by choice, sometimes by force). They’re right- there is beauty all around when there’s love at home. <3

KC on the Cheap

So President’s Day weekend was calling my name, and we are just coming off a bit of a financial slump with Kareem having lost his job etc. Too cold to camp, we were racking our brains to find a fun getaway we could treat our kids to…. after throwing around LOTS of ideas (and now generating lots of fun long-weekend getaways to try out some other time!), we landed on Kansas City. Mostly due to a deal on lodging that I got for there- I have said it many times, but flexibility is key when trying to travel on a budget! Be open to the deals.

I have been to Kansas City a handful of times, but never was super enthralled with it. Had a good time each time, but was never really compelled to return. I was usually there because of an event happening, not as a destination. Well, this time it was a destination and I was determined to find some fun- and as close to free as possible!- things to do there.

We arrived late- later than I wanted to- Friday night. We got some food and got to the hotel to get some sleep- I knew we were going to be busy!

Being Presidents Day weekend, I wanted to include some presidential stuff, so on Saturday we hit up Independence, MO. Truman Home National Historic Site includes multiple sites that were significant to President Truman’s life, and guess what- it’s all free! Some of it was still closed due to COVID, but we had a nice home tour and saw some other sites as well.

We hit up the Presidential Library and Museum. We spent much more time here than I thought we would. The kids were very engaged, and it was awesome. The tickets for this were $12 a piece, but all the kids were free, so total was $24. Pretty great!

We hit up Clinton’s soda fountain for ice cream, which was super affordable. This was the spot where President Truman worked as a kid.

We walked around some other sites in Independence including the Community of Christ Temple which will reopen to visitors on March 1. We also visited the Visitors Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We did the (free!) tour and watched the (free!) films and did the (free!) exhibits and playroom. The kids really enjoyed this stop.

We also stopped by the National Frontier Trails Museum. I don’t remember the breakdown in ticket prices, but it cost us about $24 total for our family of six. We really loved this museum. And afterward, we hiked out to see the swales (ruts leftover from the wagons on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Santa Fe Trails) which was one of the kids’ favorite parts of the whole trip. And that was free, of course.

When doing places like this where we know that evening entertainment may be limited, if we are staying in a hotel, we try to get a hotel with an indoor pool for some (free!) wear you out type of evening activity. We also like a hot breakfast provided. 😀

On Sunday, we visited two art museums. At the Nelson-Atkins, we did the outdoor sculpture park trail. We did not do the interior of the museum this time, but it is free. We also visited the Kemper Contemporary Art Museum which is much smaller than the Nelson-Atkins which was a contributing factor to our choice of bringing small-ish kids with us. This museum also had free entry and free parking. There was also an area for the kids (or any visitors, it was not just for kids) to create art.

After that, the biggest ticket item we did was the science museum. The tickets were $14 each. However, we had FIVE HOURS of fun there and could have stayed even longer. It was definitely worth it.

The science museum is located in Union Station which is still a working train station. We walked around there and enjoyed the beautiful architecture. We walked across the freight bridge over the tracks, and they have a model train exhibit which stole Jimmy’s heart. All the kids really enjoyed it. And this was all- you guess it- free!

We ate at Fritz’s restaurant and walked around Crown Center. Fritz’s is very reasonably priced, and the kids loved seeing the trains deliver the meals. It was very fun.

We did an evening sunset at the Liberty Memorial high atop a hill in the middle of the city. Which, of course, was also free. And a really lovely memory together.

On the way home, we went out of our way to visit St. Joseph, MO and the Pony Express Museum. This Museum charged $8/adult and $2-$3 per child, depending on age. Kareem wasn’t able to join us, so we did this very cheaply as well. This was very neat, but it was the only site we really enjoyed in St. Joseph, so I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to go there again.

We hit up Let’s Make Art. If you’ve followed me for long, you know that we are big fans of LMA and their YouTube channel. We got to see the store and the kids got to go in the back and see their filming studio. They loved this! We let them pick something out from the store, but my cousin had given them each $25 to spend on the trip, so it was free for me. 😀

We needed some outdoor time- it was so gorgeous out! So we went hiking at one of the four remaining covered bridges in Missouri. (More about that here.) This wasn’t a long or strenuous hike, so we lingered and had a lovely time.

We also stopped in Marceline to see Disney’s boyhood home and dreaming tree and barn. My stepson is a HUGE Disney fan, so I knew he would love this. And so we enjoyed the sunset from the barn.

So. A very FULL weekend that did not empty our pockets! Attractions for six of us altogether was about $150. Can’t beat that! We used some Christmas money we had gotten and a tank of gas, and it was really worth it. None of the kids wanted to leave, and they all had lots of great things to say about the trip. A success!

Solo Hiking, Travel, and Selfies

**post warning: lots of pictures of ME in this post**

I used to hate selfies.

I thought they were dumb. This may really surprise you, since I now not only post tons of selfies both solo and with a group, but I also own a selfie stick. It was a gift, but an inspired one.

I didn’t really develop any selfie game until I was on my own a lot. I wasn’t yet a single mom, but my ex-husband was traveling a lot, and I was alone with the kids a lot. And I began taking pics of us via selfie. I’d love for my kids to know that mom was there too. 🙂 Once I was a single mom, then it was on. I also did a lot of solo travel and solo hiking at this time, so I would take selfies to document my travels.

Looking back at travel photos, I had tons of pictures of artifacts in museums or gorgeous landscapes, but my mom would be like, where are you? And I was like, she’s right! When I look at friends’ photos of trips and things, I’m looking for pictures of them, not of stuff I could go see myself. So I started taking more pics with me in it.

I also sometimes am somewhere by myself and see something weird and I’m like, okay I need photographic proof that me and this thing were in contact! 😀

I have had largely positive experiences with solo hiking and solo travel, though I have to say that in the past year, I have had a couple weird solo hiking experiences that have made me even more safety conscious.

I always advise that you bring the ten essentials on every hike you take. Recently, I was on a hike with another family and a kid scraped their knee. I left my pack in my car because it was only like a two mile hike. I never do this, but I did it. I wish I had my things! It’s always best to be prepared. And when you’re solo, it’s even more important.

I love solo travel. I’ve done domestic and international travel by myself and I enjoy it. Not too long after I got divorced, I went on a trip to Iceland, Wales, and England solo in summer of 2018. Often when I plan these solo trips, people will offer to come with me or come with for part of it. I declined these offers for this particular, mostly because I had already made my plans, gotten my tickets, etc and didn’t want to change plans around or cause undue cost to my potential travel partner. But I also knew that I would learn a lot doing this trip by myself, given what I had been through. Being completely by myself and responsible for myself on a trip like this teaches you a lot about yourself. And it reminded me of my own value and strength. I had a really great trip solo. I was able to be very flexible. After a particularly difficult hike climbing a mountain, I changed my plans and left Wales early and included a new stop in England. I also met some really cool people which I may not have been as open to had I been with others. Had a great trip!

Solo hiking is a little different. I don’t usually want to meet cool people on a solo hike, ha ha. I go for the solitude, peace and quiet, or I’m looking for something in particular. For whatever reason, I feel more cautious hiking solo than traveling solo. Not sure why. But I will say that I have had more negative experiences solo hiking than solo traveling. Being aware of your surroundings is very important in both settings. Choose your trails wisely. Let someone know where you’re going. Here are some of my tips for solo hikes.

At this point in my life, solo travel is not something I do often. I try to plan all of my trips with my kids. If I’m going to spend the money, I want them to come with me! And I’m remarried, so the kids can’t come, then the husband will! And I love it this way. But solo hiking does still happen. Or hiking with my non-human hiking buddy Jeff. He’s a pretty good pal. 🙂

I’m also totally open to hiking pals if you want to be one! Requirements- can’t be in a hurry and must appreciate really cool rocks. Litterbugs need not apply. 🙂

The Little Things

I’m going to try to blog more again this year.

I say this always, but lately I have had a legitimate reason not to blog. The shift key on my laptop hasn’t worked for a while. This has been super annoying and somewhat problematic. At first, I didn’t think it was a big deal. But the longer it went on, the less I’d use my laptop.

I don’t love typing long emails or blog posts or anything of significance on my phone. And I don’t do that stuff at work, so it has been only when necessary that I have really done it on my phone.

Life update: Kareem got a new job! We are so pleased. With this new job, he received a new computer set up- laptop, a couple monitors, etc etc. His old monitor from his old job was up for grabs, so I grabbed it. His old work computer was a Mac, which is what my laptop is. So he had a couple Mac accessories like a keyboard and mouse which I also commandeered.

We then adjusted our dining room. When school closed down in spring of 2020, we all worked from the dining room table. Before that, it had been a lovely dining table that I always had decked out for whatever season and sometimes we had dessert or played games on it.

When Covid closed everything down, the dining room became an everything room for everyone. We all had work and school from the dining room table at different points during the day, so there were like seven computers and a bazillon papers and it became like a mega desk.

For one day during the pandemic, it functioned as a dining room. That was our wedding day- aww….

Photo Credit: Ben and Becca Lee Munson

After a few months into the pandemic, Kareem switched jobs and they gave him a stipend for office furniture for his home since he would be working remote. He decided to purchase a desk and chair which was more comfortable and appropriate for his needs. We adjusted the dining room table and made room for the desk.

Since then, our dining table is used mostly when we have company. Or it collects piles of school work, backpacks, projects, gifts, mail, art supplies, and every other kind of thing you can imagine, until I can’t take it anymore and clear it all off. Since the dining room table is usually full of crap, then everybody does art and games on the kitchen table and then THAT has stuff on it until it’s time to eat. The stuff goes on the passover and then I get annoyed. We also all use Kareem’s work desk for our stuff when we need to do a Zoom meeting or something, because my laptop sucks and Rami just has his school Chromebook. So everybody leaves stuff on his desk, puts stuff on his desk, and does stuff at his desk so his work space is not really his. It hasn’t really been efficient for the family.

With the new work set up and my pirating of his old work set up, we decided to just accept what is happening and make the dining room function better according to our use of it- a workspace. It is not really used as a dining room anymore. So I moved the dining room table into my kitchen, took the leaf out of my kitchen table and moved it to the dining room creating a desk table of sorts. We set up two long table tops along the wall to function as a kid/art workspace, and we feel like this is going to function much more nicely for our family.

Really, I’m mostly glad to have a working shift key again. It’s the little things, I tell you.

It’s a Wonderful Life

A month and a half ago, we were feeling pretty worried.  Kareem had lost his job due to circumstances of the business that had nothing to do with him, but it felt so terrible because we were just a few weeks from the most wonderful time of the year.  I remember feeling like I should be freaking out, but I felt pretty calm.  Surely it would take no time to get a job.

Depending on when you talked to me over the past month and a half, I was either feeling very hopeful or during those moments of worry, I was feeling very concerned.  I told Kareem, you’re with me now and we’re a miracle.  It’s going to be okay.  But there were those moments where I was like, oh shoot.

Moving into this season of hope, joy, love, and peace, we have had to accept some realities of our circumstance.  Not just financially, but also being a blended family has raised some challenges, mostly in the scheduling department.  Many people cannot relate to this, but imagine how you schedule your holiday plans around your family and your in-law’s family…. Now add in four additional family schedules and blend with some complicated feelings, and well, your annual traditions just might not be happening the way you always do them.  That is mostly okay with me, but this year, it has been more difficult for me to accept.  I think because of the additional challenges we were facing.  I was like, geez is there something that I can control?  Answer: nope.  Not at this time.  🙂

Now that Christmas is right around the corner, I wanted to pause and reflect.  This has so far been my favorite holiday season to date.  It has been simplified in a sense, and not because we haven’t had the money.  More because of the scheduling aspect.  I have been more intentional about how we are spending our time, prioritizing differently, and spending lots of family time.  We also did gratitude reflections everyday during November, which is something I did while going through my divorce but haven’t done it with such frequency since.  It made all of this into a bit of an It’s a Wonderful Life moment- “Oh look at this wonderful old drafty house, Mary!”  That was us everyday.

I heard my six year old girl singing “Count Your Blessings” on her own, to herself last night.  It brought a tear to my eye.  Here in the midst of our mess, she’s reminding me to count my blessings.  This past month, I told Kareem, we are not going to get down and in our feelings about this.  We are going to serve others, lose ourselves in the service of others.  There were moments when we had opportunities to give time or gifts or of ourselves this past month and either one or both of us thought we couldn’t do it.  So we did it anyway.  And I will tell you what, it has been such a blessing to us in every way.

We experienced so many tender mercies during this trial.  And no, it’s not over yet.  But it is amazing how when you’re expecting something to look a certain way or have one specific solution in mind for a problem, you sometimes don’t see the incredible blessings that are getting you closer to that dream or hope or solving that problem that you are working on.  Our Christmas season has been made so merry through love and care of our family and friends.  Our kids’ dreams are going to come true one way or another, and the season has been simplified through circumstance.  We have had get togethers with friends that cost zero dollars, spent movie nights and fire nights and looked at Christmas lights all for free.  We got invited to do cool things with friends and family, attended family parties, and have just had a merry old time despite thinking we may not be able to.

I have also been so blessed by hearing from people in my life, both past and present, who share such uplifting things.  They remind me of what’s important and what life is all about.  It’s all very “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as I eluded to earlier.  All in all, I am so grateful for this Christmas season, and I am full of hope and peace for this season of our lives and what’s to come, which is really what it’s all about anyway.