Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thrifty Toddler Activities

Let's get down to business, it's not easy keeping a toddler happy. Despite the fact that my house is filled to brim with toys, Lucas gets bored pretty easily. Plus, he's not really a "toy" kid. He's way more into rolling the vacuum cleaner around the kitchen or climbing into the computer chair and pressing all the buttons on the keyboard or switching our little white IKEA lamp on and off, on and off. These things will only ward off meltdowns for so long. Then it's time to venture out and get creative.

I am a thrifty mama on a serious budget, so our fun has to be low cost or (preferably) no cost. And thankfully I've found that's not so hard to do. So here are my Top Five Thrifty Toddler Activities that are making this summer magical.

1. Playing at the Parks
Park time is always a favorite activity and one that we enjoy often. With so many parks in the area we can easily play at a new park every day of the week. Heck, we could find a new park for every day of the month between Reno and Sparks. A great resource for finding new parks in your area is through your local parks and recreation department website. Explore new parks and have some good (free) fun on those nice days.

2. Wallowing in the Crick
If you live near a creek, river, pond or lake -- playing in the water is a great way to beat the heat.We are blessed enough to be a five minute drive from a nice slow moving part of the Truckee River where Lucas loves to splish splash near the shore and toss rocks into the water. 
If we're feeling especially adventurous and well rested Lake Tahoe is only an hour away and offers some splendid sand to dig in. If we want to go to Sand Harbor, however, parking is $10 a pop, so this is a once in a while treat for us unless we feel like hiking down to the beach (also lots of fun!).

3. Blazin' a Trail
Head back over to the parks and recreation site and find some trails to hike! The local parks departments usually have a nice guidebook you can pick up for free or you can look online and check out the online PDF. You can easily find flat, toddler friendly trails to hike. Most guides will show maps, distance, amenities, difficulty level and elevation increase. Lucas can't get enough outside time and this is a great way to explore nature together. Trails with ponds and ducks are always a big win. Ducks are my trump card to turn a bad day around.

4. Family Friendly Events
Check out local family friendly events going on around town. Reno and its surrounding cities have so many special events to offer, almost all of which are absolutely free. During the summer and fall months there is no shortage of great events to enjoy each month. We're currently looking forward to Hot August Nights, The Great Reno Balloon Race, and the Virginia City Camel Races.

5. All About Animals
When you need to beat the heat, air-conditioned stores are your friend. Air-conditioned stores with animals to look at, superfriends. Lucas and I frequent the big chain pet stores where he can say hello to all the animals. Adoption days at the pet store are also great since he doesn't understand these animals can actually go home with you (though its a major act of willpower on my part not to turn our home into a cat/dog sanctuary). Big sports stores like Cabelas and Scheels have great big fish tanks and taxidermy displays that keep Lucas entertained as well. 

Also, he really enjoys riding escalators. Two story shopping centers are big winners regardless of whether or not they contain critters.
 Do you have any fun thrifty activities to ward off toddler boredom?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Life in the Desert

Sarah Bessey, one of my favorite bloggers, is hosting a synchroblog right now on What is saving your life right now? I jump at the chance to part of her beautiful community, so here dives my voice into the pool...

                                Home, means Nevada,
                                Home, means the hills,
                                Home, means the sage and the pine.
                                Out by the Truckee's silvery rills,
                                Out where the sun always shines,
                                There is the land that I love the best,
                                Fairer than all I can see.
                                Right in the heart of the golden west
                                Home, means Nevada to me.

                                                        -Chorus to "Home Means Nevada," our state song

The desert is breathing life into me, saving my life in ways unimagined. I'm reading Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, a phenomenal collection of short stories set in Nevada. I read its stories, and they read like old nightmarish lullabies. Familiar and soothing and unsettling all at once. That barren land, open and wild -- that place I now call home. It is beautiful. It is salvation.

Each speck of life thriving against the inhospitable terrain seems more vibrant for the struggle. Wildflowers sprout from rocks; purple blooms face the blinding sun, determined to survive. The wind sweeps loudly through the trees; scrapes sagebrush down the wide roads and rocky gulleys for the sake of noise. The night creatures howl and cry out in the moonlight: we have lived through the day, we are still here, we are alive, alive, alive.

Yes, we are. Alive.

I write story after story, each journeying deeper into the heart of the desert. Each exploring what it means to call this place home. Each revealing something new in how the land has touched my soul. It is rugged, savage, unforgiving. It is vast, quiet, majestic. It is my home, our home. It is saving my life. Yes, it is.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Purebred Love

My family has a sort of sorry history with pets. As in, we are incapable of keeping them unless they fall under the rodent/weasel category. It's a strange niche, but it's ours. We've tried dogs and cats more times than I wish to share here, but they end up going back where they came from, or in particularly special cases, they get to spend the rest of their days at the ranch and become my grandparents' problem.

It's the one thing I felt I missed out on that when I was growing up. It's something I really wanted my kid to have. That bond that I wasn't given the chance to understand. As soon as we moved into our house I couldn't wait for the opportunity to have a real pet, a dog, at long last.

Then, we got Odie.

Oh, Odie.

He was about the most lovable puppy you can imagine. Then in about a month he was an uncontrollable beast, weighing in at about 80lbs and still growing like a weed. He was untrained and wild. We had our rough patches, me and Odie. He exhausted me when I soon became pregnant, especially since he wouldn't leave me alone. We'd go to the river and he'd swim laps around me until I went back to shore. He'd sleep by my side of the bed every night and I'd trip over him in the dark. I wondered how we'd ever make it once the baby came. How would I ever take care of a baby with Odie underfoot ALL. THE. TIME.

And I worried, constantly, about how I'd ever put the baby on the ground without him being trampled by this big furry oaf. I worried about chubby little hands getting to close to big teeth. I worried myself all the way into putting an ad up on craigslist "Free Dog, Lab Mix, Friendly but Wild." I didn't really expect anyone to want him, not after I told them about his inability to adapt to strangers without mauling them with excited love. About how he was pushing 100lbs and had zero training. But the e-mails came pouring in, same day, and I suddenly had people wanting to come by the house. To take our dog away.

I sat there and cried and didn't answer e-mails. I pet Odie, told him I loved him. Then I replied to the e-mails. I told them all they couldn't have him. I just couldn't do it. I loved him too much. We'd figure it out somehow. We'd keep him outside and fence off the yard and we'd make it work. The heart wants what it wants, and mine wanted this big ol' monster of a dog.

And you know what? It was the best decision I ever made. When Lucas was an infant, Odie was calm in the house. It was like we suddenly had a whole different dog. When Lucas was crawling and chasing and petting (love-slapping), Odie was tolerant and sweet. He never growled, or snapped, or even ran away. He just got it. This was his boy. This was who he was put on this earth for.

He's 110lbs of purebred love, made for my boy and no one else. He waits for Lucas to throw the ball, retrieves it even when it only rolls a few inches across the ground, drops it at his feet and waits. He licks his legs, his hands, his feet while Lucas giggles and giggles. He follows Lucas from room to room, plops at his feet, waits to hear his name. "Oh, Odie" Lucas says while he pats his monster dog, "Guh Dawg."

It's true. It's true. Oh, Odie. I love you, man.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Can I get real with you for a moment? I mean really real. I mean put myself out there in a way that makes me feel frightened and exposed and I'm not sure I want to do this, but I think I'm going to do it.

Sometimes I think I'm sitting here making motherhood look a whole lot better than it actually is. I'm writing out the beautiful moments, because those are the ones I want to remember. The storybook moments and days spent holding hands at the park. The moments where I feel like the universe all comes down to me and him and nothing else. That is not the whole story. Not nearly. It's more complicated than that. It's more difficult than that.

I wish there were more of those Norman Rockwell moments. I struggle for them, long after them, but it's not much use. The truth is, most days Lucas spends the majority of his time rolling on the ground screaming and tantruming for various albeit equally inconsequential reasons. Most days I'm lucky to get a single hug or snuggle, no matter how brief. Most days, food ends up spit out or thrown on the ground while he yells "done." There are always redeeming moments that I look back on at the end of the day. There is always a smile or a sweet gesture that makes it all worthwhile. He'll hand me a car and say vroom and I'll melt into a weepy pile of love. But I'd be lying through my teeth if I told you it was all wonderful.

Because this is what most of our days look like: him breaking my heart right and left while I try not to fall apart and cry.

Can I tell you it's harder than I thought it would be?

I had this idea in my head of what having a baby would be like. And I knew, to some extent that it was fantasy, that I really had no idea what was going to happen, regardless of how prepared I was. But I felt, surely, that I was going to be good at this motherhood thing. That being a mother was going to be magical in ways I never imagined, even if harder in ways I never expected. I felt like this was something I was made for. I saw a life that was beautiful, like all those moments I've shown before.

I did not see reality. I didn't see myself wearing a ratty robe and eating cold fried chicken over the kitchen sink for breakfast with a baby on my hip (not one of my prouder moments). I didn't see myself crying and covered in vomit, watching The Biggest Loser while soothing my screaming newborn atop an exercise ball. Such moments were unfathomable. It never crossed my mind that I might not be that good at this. That I might struggle. I had no idea I would lose sight of who I was for a while, and that it would be a long journey back. A difficult journey which I still find myself navigating. It is easier now than it was before, but it is still hard. I think it always will be. You know, for all the advice and comments that everyone seemed so keen to give, no one told me it would be this hard. I wish someone had.

I don't know if it would have made the day to day any easier, but it would have made the struggle less lonely. I hope maybe someone will read this and feel less alone when someday they find themselves drinking a super-sized screwdriver far too early in the evening, while the love of their life screams red-faced and furious because he can't eat the crayons. These moments are part of the package too.

And when I look at it on the whole, the experience is still very beautiful. The worn and ragged aside the blessed and peaceful. The love made more exquisite by the struggle. There is something indescribable in the patchwork of motherhood, something I don't think I could ever have seen lest I was in the thick of it as I am now.

Can I tell you it's worth it, no matter how hard it gets?

At the end of the day, I rock him back and forth and his small hand reaches up to touch my face. His chubby fingers stroking away the heartache of our battles. I hum and sing the same songs every night. He is quiet, usually, and this is his way of thanking me. This is when the chord between our hearts pulls tight, and I feel loved once more. This is when I know he is mine. It is the moment I can count on to wash the wounds clean, to bandage and brace for the next day. Until tomorrow, my love.

The heartache is worth it. Can I tell you that?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Standing Still

My beautiful birthday orchid.

Lately the days here have been quiet, still. Though the summer has been full of excitement, there is a peaceful pattern that life has taken on. We aren't moving anywhere fast; driving wildly towards some new goal or another. I'm trying to write a little each day and plan new things to eat on our weekly menus and find new places to explore on the weekends. Little things. Happy things. They are enough for me.

It wasn't always like this. It won't always be, I know.

But it's the first time in my life where I haven't felt debilitated by wanderlust or felt a need to accomplish some huge feat right this very instant. It's the first time ever that I've truly slowed down. I'm happy where I am. I'm okay not knowing what my long term plan is, signing it in blood and getting it notarized. I think I'm finally realizing just how much life I have ahead of me. How malleable and beautiful it truly is.  

I turned twenty-four today. Birthdays haven't been a huge deal for me since high school (before that they were a totally big deal because my mom threw some pretty bomb birthday parties). Twenty-four is fairly unremarkable. It's not a quarter of a century yet. My insurance rates don't go down. I can already drink and vote and drive a car. I don't have the milestones of marriage and graduation and a baby directly ahead of me anymore. Twenty-four is a pause, a comma, a breath, and I am ready for it.

For me, it feels like a year to examine my dreams and accept that they may not be realized for a while. It is a year to trust that where I am is where I am supposed to be. It is a time to spend with my husband and child and be content. To love where I live. To love who I am. To do things that make me happy. To be happy.

This is where I am, and there is no place else I would rather be. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Closing the Gap

 I feel like I need to have this quote printed in beautiful, large script and placed where I will see it daily, hourly. Where it will be a part of my life. Where I will see it in my sleep; feel it like a phantom limb. I need it to be there for me while I bridge the seemingly endless gap. And if the day comes when I close the gap at long last, I will have it there as a reminder. That I was here once, and I fought my way through.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Ira Glass

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Love Letter to my Body

It's been a while, hasn't it? I haven't been spending as much time on the internet and stepped away from blogging. It was getting volatile, but I think I've found a balance now.

I didn't know how to come back out of the blue. But I guess this is as good a time as any and as good a reason as any. SheLoves Magazine is hosting a synchroblog challenging everyone to write a love letter to their own body. It's scary, and a bit weird, but I'm on board. I'm here and I'm saying it and that's all that matters.

Dear Body,

I am here to tell you that I love you. It is first and foremost and true. It is important.  

You are loved. 

Perhaps you didn't always feel that way, and I'm sorry. I should have stood up for you when you were young and growing and needed support. When your skin wasn't as tan as I thought it should be, or when your hair didn't look like those girls in the magazines, or when your legs refused to grow any taller, or when catty girls said unkind words out of insecurity, or when that boy at camp told you that you were pretty, except for your nose. I should have told you that you were perfect. But I didn't know that then, did I?

You are perfect.

I know it now. I embrace it. You are perfect because you are mine. You are made for me and me alone. You are my one and only. For all the imperfections the world may see, I will strive to see none of them. Because I only have one body. This is it. And it is enough.

No, you are more than enough.

You have shown me a strength I didn't know existed within me. While I lay gripping the sides of that hospital bed, twenty-one hours in and no strength left, and they told me to push and I screamed "I can't," you did, and you brought him into this world screaming and perfect and alive. You did that. You carried me through illness and countless miles and bringing my child into this world.

You have carried life.

It was a hard journey before and during and after. You were tired, and I was frustrated. But you healed and grew strong and all the while you kept him alive. Those breasts which are no longer perky and unmarred and that stomach which is no longer lean and young are reminders of your sacrifice. You have nurtured and loved in a way only my flesh can, and it is beautiful.

You are beautiful.

And I cannot tell you enough. I cannot thank you enough.  

Thank you. 

I love you and this is my vow: 

I promise I will care for you as you have cared for me. I promise I will be gentle with you as we grow older, that I will always remember what you have done for me through the years. I will remember your strength and power when they are no more, and I will respect you. I will treat you well and we will enjoy our years in stride. We will take this journey through life together, and I will trust that you and I are exactly where we need to be. Together we will be unstoppable. Because you are perfect.

And I won't ever forget it.

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