5 Steps Toward Financial Independence You Can Begin Today

Saving around $400 and month for just two years [or about $275/mo for 3 years] would have been enough for the down payment on the first two properties we purchased. Now, that $400 a month puts over $600 [net] into our account each a month. It will continue to pay us over $600 a month for the rest of our lives, our daughters’ lives, their children’s lives, and so on

stairs-1404722_1920

Taking Action

If you’re feeling a call for a little more freedom, a little less powerlessness, and a lot more independence with your finances; there are some clear and simple steps to get started. Maybe real estate investing isn’t for you. Maybe your answer is index funds, or maybe it’s something entirely different and unique. Regardless of your path, you can start taking action today.

write-593333_1920

  1. Track your money.

    We use a program/app called YNAB (You Need a Budget) to track every penny in and every penny out, but there are many other options out there. You can even track your spending with a pencil and paper. It’s impossible to do step #2 without step #1 though, so start today.

  2. Prioritize your spending.

    Use what you’ve learned through tracking your spending to prioritize your wants and needs and spend accordingly. When we began tracking our spending, we found that we were spending money regularly on fountain drinks at convenience stores and salads and sandwiches at a well-known chain. Loaf N’ Jug and Subway are nowhere near a priority for us. We prioritized our budget accordingly. We fund necessities and priorities first. They are now directly aligned with our values and desires for life.

  3. Make cuts where necessary.

    Prioritizing spending leads to the realization that you, “…can afford anything but not everything.” Thanks, Paula Pant! Making cuts is inevitable. For example, we value travel and experiences like hiking, backpacking, and skiing. Those are line items in our budget that get funded and prioritized. This means that other line items get less, very little, or no funding at all – like eating out, television, clothes, phones, etc. They are of little priority to us.

  4. Be prepared for lots of conversation.

    The truth is the steps to financial independence are pretty simple, but the road getting there isn’t always easy. Being a part of a family means compromising at times. Becoming financially free means taking a look inside at what’s really important and what’s truly driving your spending habits. The trouble with money typically has nothing to do with money at all. Taking a hard look at these things can be just that, hard. I’ve had many tearful conversations with my husband about what’s important. We’ve argued over priorities and spending many times. Those conversations and arguments were tough at the time but ultimately strengthened us as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. They were well worth it.

    money-2724241_1920

  5. Start saving now.

    Now that you’ve prioritized your spending and made some cuts, you can start looking at saving in a different way. We look at saving as “paying ourselves first,” after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Cashflow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki. When you think of paying yourself first, saving becomes a gift rather than a sacrifice. It doesn’t even really matter how much you begin saving when first getting started, just that you begin. You’ll be able to continue prioritizing and adjusting as you go until eventually, you’ll surprise yourself with how much money you’re able to save.

    Just start the habit of paying yourself first by putting something aside each time money comes in. Saving around $400 and month for just two years [or about $275/mo for 3 years] would have been enough for the down payment on the first two properties we purchased. Now, that $400 a month puts over $600 [net] into our account each a month. It will continue to pay us over $600 a month for the rest of our lives, our daughters’ lives, their children’s lives, and so on

    That’s paying yourself first!

Learn More

Knowledge is definitely power in this case. No two paths to freedom are exactly alike. Do some digging of your own, and start taking steps toward your own independence. Here are some resources that continue to help us as on our financial journey:

  • BiggerPockets – a website, forum, and blog that answer any real estate question you may have. They have a great original podcast that is tried and true and have recently added a new podcast called BiggerPockets Money, for all things FI (Financial Independence). They also publish and release noteworthy books to guide you along the way.
  • Afford Anything – a blog and podcast that addresses all areas of FI, including real estate.
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad and Cashflow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki  – great, quick reads to begin shifting your mindset with money
  • YNAB and/or Mint  – budgeting software/apps to help you begin tracking your spending
  • Mr. Money Mustache – a radical blog with a unique approach to extreme frugality and living a fulfilling life without sacrifice

If you haven’t read our FI story yet, you can read about it here, in CHRONIC ILLNESS held our keys to FINANCIAL FREEDOM.


Are you already on your way to financial independence? What tips, tricks, and/or resources can you share? We’d love your help! Comment below.

CHRONIC ILLNESS held our keys to FINANCIAL FREEDOM

One of the biggest mistakes we make as humans is to believe that our pain is exclusive and our beauty is ordinary. – JM Storm

key-1030724_1920

Connecting the Dots

The year 2011 marked the beginning of the long and winding road, in search of answers to my mounting health concerns. If you’ve been down this road, you know well the number of blood tests, prescriptions, doctors appointments, and referrals I’m speaking of. You know the countless hours spent in the car, in the waiting room, awake in bed, and then out of bed with Google to keep you company in your search for answers. You may also know well a nagging feeling, like a tugging at your soul; a tapping on your shoulder; a whisper in your ear saying, “These days – they are precious, and they are numbered.”

That voice has a way of cementing abstract ideas into reality:

  • Everyone’s time is numbered.

  • The future is uncertain for us all.

  • Time is money.

  • Time is far more precious than money.

By late 2013 I cemented all the abstract ideas above into my reality – a true pivot point in my life. A teammate at work was telling me about yet another class or meeting or professional development opportunity (it doesn’t really matter which), all occasions I typically jumped at and volunteered for first. This time I found it too heavy, not just a weight, but an utter waste of the precious time I had with my family. When she heard me sigh, she let me know that there would be a stipend involved to make it worth my time. That’s when I let it all sink in by saying, “I don’t NEED more money. I NEED more time.” Those are ideas you can’t unthink and words that cannot be unsaid. It was true. I had all that I could buy with money (keep in mind I’m not a fancy person or a big spender). I was short on time, and I didn’t know how my money could buy me that yet.

The following May, in 2014, I found myself without a job, staying home to work on my health and enjoy being fully present with my family. This was a profound leap in our home, because we had always been a two income family. Our goal as a couple was pretty typically American in nature – work hard, save for retirement, earn a good pension, and enjoy life some day when you retire. It’s not that we didn’t have joy in our careers and daily life, but we always had this “some day” idea in the back of our minds. As though if we just worked hard enough and long enough it would all pay off when we were 65, fully vested, and could enjoy the the benefits of our retirement. Then we could live it up!

But

What if some day never comes?

It took some troubling test results before that question really sank in.

One leap does lead to another and another if you keep leaping, taking just the next step. The search for freedom with health in our house – freedom from specialists and tests and pills and waiting rooms – lead us to growing our own food. The search for freedom of time – time to enjoy life with our children while they were growing up – lead us to prioritizing and tightly budgeting our money so that we could afford to become a one-income household. These bits of freedom just fanned the flame and hunger for even more. We began homeschooling our daughters, freeing up even more time to spend together and to go, do, and see what we wanted when we wanted. Then we began asking ourselves, “Could we actually be financially free?”

castle-1290860_1920

The “Ah Ha!”

For those of you new to this idea, financial freedom (insiders like to call it F.I. for financial independence) means freedom from a W2 income. There are many ways to get there – dividends from stock investments, residual income from intellectual property, passive real estate income, etc. However it happens, the end result looks the same – enough money saved, reinvested, then passively flowing back in each month to fund the monthly budget for the rest of your days.

In 2016 we took the first steps in answering our question about achieving financial freedom, by purchasing our first two rental properties. We spent hours reading, researching, listening to podcasts, and generally soaking up as much information possible. We decided we could really wrap our heads around investing in rental properties. We felt confident we could make it work and survive the hits that were bound to come. We were certain that our hard earned savings could make a much better return through real estate, than the nearly zero percent we were getting in our savings account. We made the leap. We took the first step. We didn’t know all the steps, but we didn’t need to. We knew the first one, and in spite of fear, we started taking the next steps too, one after another.

real estate

Now, roughly two and a half years later, in 2018, we’ve turned about $60,000 into 16 rental homes and counting. We cash flow (that means after all withholdings and expenses) nearly twice what I was bringing home each month as a public school teacher, after over 14 years of service. This income will continue growing its self, while our tenants pay down our mortgages and rent rates increase with inflation. It will do so for the rest of our lives, the remainder of our daughters’ lives, their childrens’ lives, and so on if they desire. That’s freedom! That’s independence!

stairs-1404722_1920

Today we still have some things to figure out. We’re doing it as we go. Very soon, we’ll be able to walk away from W2 income all together. It’s taken just two and a half years to decrease our spending and increase our passive income enough to do that. We’d like to have a clear and affordable plan for healthcare in place before doing so. (I’ll share that all here too.)

In the mean time, there are a few things I know for sure. If you’re interested in FI, you can get there too. It doesn’t take a magic wand or a lottery ticket. Those are sure ways to have you feeling powerless with money and wishing for more of it for a lifetime. Working toward financial freedom can empower you if you’re struggling with your health too. I’ve made a list of clear, actionable steps you can start taking today, in this follow-up post called, “5 Steps Toward Financial Independence You Can Start Today.”


How would financial independence improve your chronic illness? Are you already taking steps to get there today? Let us know what you think! Share with us in the comment section below. Like I always say, imperfect progress is so much better when shared.

 

/Have Family, Will Travel/: 24 days in Ecuador

Day 4: Isinlivi to Chugchilan

We’re sitting on the deck of the hostel, outside the dining room, Chris drinking his coffee and I my tea. They are always hot, ready, and included here from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Claire and Lilah play a game of chess while we wait for breakfast. Lilah beat Claire the night before, with a little help from Mom when Claire was getting overconfident and boastful. She’s eager for a win with this rematch.

Our face and necks are greasy with a thick layer of sunscreen after the realization that the cloudy day before had not filtered the sun light as much as we thought. The sunburns are in obvious places – noses, cheeks, necks, arms – but also places I can’t remember being burned before – eyelids and the lengths of my fingers. The sun takes no solace on high-altitude travelers so near the equator. We vow to continually slather on the sunscreen. Chris will even set a timer on his phone to remind us to reapply frequently.

The morning is relaxed, as we’ve already repacked our day packs and are ready for the day ahead. Humidity has foiled my plans of washing in the sink as we go. None of the clothes I hung on the makeshift line the night before are fully dry. Some are worn damp, while the rest are carried in a plastic bag in my pack for the day. I’ll hang them again at our next hostel and cross my fingers. The only thing we have left to do is wait for our 8:00 breakfast, courtesy of Llullu Llama. Breakfast is clearly ready when Balloo, the hostel’s resident Saint Bernard, sits with his nose against the glass of the dining room door.

This morning we don’t make it in for breakfast in time to sit together at one table, so we split up into pairs. Chris and Claire chat with our dinner friends from the night before. Lilah and I make new friends from Canada. The conversation is just as good as the breakfast of house made yogurt that is traditional for the area. It is slightly sweetened and much runnier than we’re used to. We poor it over a bowl of fresh fruit and top it with a homemade granola that is my favorite part of breakfast. They bring bowls of the thickly sliced and fresh made sourdough bread with large plates of scrambled eggs. Lilah makes hers into an egg sandwich.

20180121_093131

After grabbing our sack lunches, purchased from the hostel, we set out for our 13.7 km hike (about 8.5 miles). Unlike the previous days, we only have one item on our list today, a long walk, and we’re feeling pretty good about it. The steep downhill path marks our beginning. We have many backpacking buddies setting out from Llullu Llama at the same time. Claire quickly leaves her parents and sister in the dust to keep up with her new, cooler and much younger, international friends. The remaining three of us stick together at Lilah’s pace.

20180121_092918

I begin to know well the trouble with a steep downhill slope on a through hike. Unlike the joy found in the downhill after tagging the summit of a Colorado peak, on a through hike a nice downhill only means there’s an even steeper uphill ahead. We will gain more and more altitude as we go along the next two days, so I will learn to dread losing the elevation I just worked so hard to gain.

20180121_095635

 

We take the ups and downs with a fair amount of ease (Lilah needs a sucker to get her legs moving pain free), until the road Ts just after a long, sandy path through a shallow white canyon. After studying the directions provided by the hostel, the crossed through parts with new notes that are no less confusing, we decide to turn to the left and head up another steep, green slope. Our hunch is correct, and we soon meet up with Claire and her buddies. We wait on the path as they make their way back up after breaking trail to get a closer view of a cave downhill. When they make it back, our large group continues on the slope that gets steeper and more exposed as we go. Rereading our notes, and a defeated glance at Chris’ GPS, tell us we’ve chosen the wrong way. So many trails up these slopes that lead to farmers’ fields and rural homes make it confusing.

20180121_110208

Heading back downhill, we soon find ourselves in a deep cut path that feels much more like a jungle or rain forest than the exposed one above. We are pleased to walk for some time through comparatively flat terrain, past small farms and along a river. The sounds are soothing, and our legs and feet quicken while the going is easy.

20180121_112921

20180121_112145

Claire isn’t happy about her parents’ insistence to stick together, as she sees her friends fade into the distance ahead, but she stays with us until we cross the river and sit down beside them again for lunch.

Lunch is a welcome comfort, with no better spot than by the river. As we fill our bellies with mouth fulls of the chunky sliced fresh bread smeared with butter and filled with ham and queso fresco, it begins to sink in just what we have ahead of us. I had expected to be much closer to our destination by lunch, knowing that the flat ground we’re on now means there is much harder work in store for us this afternoon. We have a lot of altitude to gain, and the sun is just beginning to beat down, hot and unrelenting.

20180121_115316

Satisfied, with plenty of lunch to spare still in our packs, we set off again. In no time at all we find ourselves on a steep dirt path, sun blazing over head. Stopping briefly in front of a quaint, little church in the square of a tiny, quiet town, gives us time to assess what we have ahead of us.

20180121_130142

It looks very familiar to what we found near the end of our trek the day before – the steepest of narrow paths, switch backing over and over again to an unseen summit. At the same time it begins to dawn on me that perhaps this sunscreen we’ve been reapplying religiously throughout the morning, wasn’t the best choice for this particular location. We’ll later be advised, by our new Canadian friends, that natural, zinc-based sunscreens just won’t cut it with the equator so closely looking over our shoulders. “You have to get the waterproof kind, with lots of chemicals, if you don’t want to burn,” she’ll tell us. Oh boy! Lesson learned.

The abundant love I have for my girls and husband are of no question or doubt, but making our way up the side of this hill, it’s every man for himself. There is little energy to spare on enthusiasm to consolation for a fellow traveler. I do turn around just a couple times on this ascent, for a quick, “Good job, Lilah!” or “Way to go Claire!”, but that is all I can spare. The yelling only makes breathing harder, while stopping somehow makes the sun burn deeper and my muscles refuse the work of beginning again.

I’m just not made of the tough stuff of the natives of this land. With each labored step and heavy breath, it begins to sink in, just how tired and hot and thirsty and sweaty and sunburned I really am. (What a sob story, huh?) My thoughts drift to the Andean men and women who live in these valleys and on these hills, their fields straight up the side of a mountain. It’s a wonder to me their crops ever take root at all on such a slope, but they do, all by hand with shovels and hoes and fingers. The men and women work while being covered from head to toe, mostly in natural wool fibers, the women even in felt wool hats with babies strapped to their backs. The thought of it alone is suffocating. Yes, they are certainly made of tougher stuff than me. Me with my excellent indoor plumbing (I can even FLUSH toilet paper – a rarity in Ecuador) and reliable electricity. Me with my air conditioning and garage, where my car sits waiting to take me to a Walmart right down the road. Me with my packages, delivered right to my front door at the click of a button. I see clearly that the things I have privately wondered at giving up for real living and beautiful scenery have spoiled me much more than I’ve realized, and I like it all so much I probably never could. I’m just not that tough.

An unfamiliar noise pulls me from my thoughts as we finally round a corner to what’s almost the top of this massive hill. Lilah remarks that it might be a lion or a bear. When we get high enough, we see clearly that it’s a black pig rooting in the dark, volcanic soil. We’re grateful for the comic relief and laugh about the sights and sounds of a random pig on the trail. They are much less frequent than dogs, cows, and sheep we see so often.

At the top of a hill we meet up with our hiking companions again for yet another break under the shade of a gazebo on the edge of a cliff. Chris indulges the rest of us, though I know it’s killing him on the inside. We never take this many breaks on typical hikes, and this day is dragging on.

We share in more laughs with the German, Canadians, Sam from Denmark, backpackers from the east coast, and a couple others we’ve not officially met. Then just before we buckle into our backpacks, we slather on even more Trader Joe’s sunscreen stick, SPF 45 (purchased because it was small and could be packed outside of our liquids) though it seems completely futile at this point.

The remainder of the hike is fairly unremarkable, other than the locals we pass. It is a slow, steady incline mostly along the side of a road. It is a rare, newly paved and modern, wide road. The cars, trucks, and buses honk as they fly by, as is their typical warning in this country. We get over far and quick, with little doubt we’d be hit if push came to shove.

20180121_144355

Just after I pass a woman of at least eighty, with a huge load of corn stalks strapped to her back with a shawl, we make it to Chugchilan. It’s a little before 4:00 in the afternoon. I feel grateful, both that we’ve arrived and don’t have to carry full stalks for corn on our hot trek. Hostal Mama Hilda is the third hostel on the main road, and we enter the large, wooden gates with a sigh of relief.

20180122_081920

20180122_081927

20180122_081912

Javier, Chris’ climbing guide, made the reservation for us two days earlier after we met with him in Quito. He explained that Mama Hilda still owns and actively runs the hostel, and that she is one of the original leaders who worked to bring tourism to their town. She is just inside the gates, sitting at the side of a white stucco building, cleaning some beans by hand with the help of another young woman. Her hair in two long, dark braids resting on both shoulders, she appears to be of seventy or eighty. She stands and hugs us as we introduce ourselves. She call us “mi amore” as we meet and for the remainder of our stay. This is the first time I feel disappointed and a little shame for my lack of Spanish. She is the kind of woman I’d like to sit down and have a long chat with over a cup of tea, but I just don’t have the skills to do it. I know I’m missing out.

We are very pleased with our room and accommodations for the night. We have a private room with a double bed below and two bunk beds above in a loft for the girls. There are hammocks in their room and outside on our patio. They cheer and yell as they discover it all. We enjoy the lush courtyard, with many flowers and patches of green grass. Hummingbirds flutter and feed on the nectar of the flowers near our porch, while we hang our clothesline and clothes again.

20180121_150316

20180121_152218

A couple of our new Canadian friends come in for a visit, before we take quick showers that get so hot they sting, quickly turning ice cold, then right back to stinging hot again. Then we walk over to the hostel next door, Cloud Forest, where some women, cut off a big leaf of aloe and scrape out the gel for us to use as a salve on our burns.

We enter the dining room at Hostal Mama Hilda that night for dinner, smelling clean and looking slick and shiny from the aloe. We have a filling, four course meal with the only other backpackers staying at our hostel that night. They are a couple from Austria who’s English is as sparse as our Spanish. None the less, we find much to talk about and feel like fast friends.

Our bellies once again full, we head back to our room. One more slather of the cooling aloe, then it’s time to settle in for a peaceful night’s rest. It’s dark and quiet and comfortable. We give little thought to what will come tomorrow. We are too tired, too sunburned, and too sore to worry about our hardest day yet.

<–Day 3

Day 5 –>

 

/Have Family, Will Travel/: 24 days in Ecuador

Day 1: Airports

We drive north on the long, desolate road between Rocky Ford and Limon. The land is a flat and barren brown with the touch of winter. Our hearts are full and hopeful for lessons and adventures to come; while our minds are creating anxiety and worry for all that we may not be fully prepared for. We’ve spent much time learning rudimentary Spanish and practice packing. We will be living on just the basics for the next three and a half weeks. We’ve made efforts to leave our vanity at home as it wouldn’t fit into our allotment of one bag each [2 for Chris – he has extra climbing gear in tow].

20180118_112050 (1)

The airport in Denver is familiar, making it easy to navigate. We are on our AeroMexico flight and settled with no trouble. The adults enjoy the extra leg room they’ve been unexpectedly given, while the girls enjoy all the comforts of a flight out of days gone by with USA domestic air travel. Our female flight attendants wear fancy red hats with matching lipstick while they happily serve full meals and unlimited drinks, and we watch free movies and television if desired. It’s not until arriving in Mexico City, that these fish are thrown swiftly out of the pond.

20180118_112418

Navigating bag changes, immigration, security and a loooooong layover in Mexico City prove to be a bit of a challenge. Where are you now basic Spanish we’ve worked so hard to acquire?…not quite as helpful as we’d hoped. And despite our most sincere plans to act and appear as far as possible from the entitled gringo and gringas we are, three of us find ourselves with a Starbuck’s drink in hand just a few hours into our journey. The warm comfort of caffeine may have been worth the brief compromise in our values. The seven hour layover in the loud and uncomfortable airport prove challenging, and very little sleep is found by all, until we board our flight to Quito at 1:30 a.m.

This leg of the flight has all the comforts of the first – full meal, unlimited beverages, and many movies and TV to choose from – but none of those things were desired more than a very long nap. Two hours into my nap, I wake to find Claire, eating noodles, salad, yogurt and desert (Reminder: it’s 3:30 a.m.) while giggling to a movie she’s found to pass her time. It’s clear that tomorrow will be a long one as well.

Day 2 –>

7 REMINDERS that keep me on the path to peace and freedom

reminder

Try as we might to avoid them, some emotions continue to creep up on us and pay us an uninvited visit, fear, anger, jealousy, embarrassment, resentment, scarcity. They are all part of life and learning. They’re not always bad, but they can pull us off course and deter us from our true self and intentions. It’s important to listen to our feelings, be open and honest with ourselves about them, give ourselves the chance to feel them, and communicate them to others when necessary. Denying them or stuffing them, only makes them grow. It’s possible they may be leading us toward something our heart is needing. For example, we may not like feeling lonely or have a hard time talking about it, but it can lead us to connection, if we let it.

There are times that thoughts get the best of us. Times that stress, fear, anxiety, or exhaustion take over, leading to irrationality. Those feelings are usually liars. In those times, there are a few reminders that can bring us back to center, where our heart and soul are in the driver’s seat, keeping us on the path to peace and freedom.

light-bulb

Here are some of my favorites.

  1. You are worthy just as you are.

    When I’m feeling internal pressure to be perfect, push harder, or get more done, this is a helpful reminder. Of course I’m not perfect. It’s not fair to expect myself to be. I’m entirely done “hustling for my worthiness.” (Thank you for that Ah Ha! Brené Brown.) Longer to-do lists and great achievements don’t necessarily make me a better person. Often they just make me worn out mentally, physically, and emotionally. That doesn’t help anyone.

    *Try reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown if you’re struggling with worthiness or feeling like you’re not good enough.

  2. There is enough for everyone.

    There is enough good for everyone. There is enough money for everyone. There is enough achievement for everyone. There is enough joy for everyone. You name it, there is enough. I not only want to celebrate the achievements of others, but also help them get there. I can’t do that if I get caught up in that icky feeling of scarcity, causing me to feel a tinge of jealousy for another’s accomplishments. This reminder helps me when I get off track. Knowing there’s enough for everyone, means there’s even enough for me too, and it gives me confidence in taking steps toward freedom in my life.

    *Here is a great article to help you with an abundance mindset.

  3. Always act out of love.

    Enough said…pretty much. When I’m angry, taking things personally, feeling resentful, or having trouble with trust, I do myself a service by taking a deep breath and choosing to act from a place of love.

    Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   -Victor Frankl

  4. Things are rarely black and white.

    The world around us often presents things as black or white these days, as good or bad. This is a powerful tool in advertising, politics, fitness, etc., as it incites fear and judgement. Making decisions out of fear is not a good idea, unless you find yourself on a path with a grizzly bear, and even then it’s questionable. I find that things are rarely black and white. Most often, there are many, many shades of gray. I use this reminder when I hear myself labeling things, people, or situations as good or bad. It’s a helpful reminder when I’m judging others too, a quick way to open the door to empathy.

    *Want to know more about moving away from black and white thinking? Here’s a great Huff Post piece, or try this new Brene Brown book. The section on “Speaking Truth to Bullshit” is helpful.

  5. You find what you’re looking for.

    This is such Pollyanna thinking, (If you don’t know that movie reference, you better figure it out!) but it’s so true. The more I look for the good in the world, the more I find it. I know it seems so obvious when stated as such. I can still find myself complaining about the town I live in, the state of such and such, parents these days, or any number of things people complain about. You know what happens when I complain about the town I live in? I continue to find more and more wrong with it.  BUT if I want to find good parents and good things happening in the world, there’s plenty of that going around too. A funny thing happens when you start looking for the things you want to see, you find them. Maybe not right next door, but at least down the street. Eventually, you see far more of the “good”, and far less of the “bad”. I call out the good. I look for the good. Eventually, the good comes looking for me too.

  6. I choose to live in trust.

    So much that happens around us is out of our control. We only control our own actions, words, and deeds. The way others interpret, react to, and share what we say and do isn’t in our hands at all. In fact, it’s really none of our business. Because I’m searching for true connection these days, I have to remind myself to live in trust. When I live in trust, I do and say the things my soul is calling me to do. I can do them without worrying about what people think of them or me or what they might tell other people about me or what I’ve said or done. I can act from a place of authenticity with far less fear, anxiety, and regret, and I don’t waste nearly as much time worrying about how others are acting or treating me. I allow myself to trust that they are doing the best they can as well. This creates lasting connections and lessons that allow me to continue my path of learning and growth, to lead a life of fulfillment and freedom.

    The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” – Ernest Hemingway

  7. Nobody needs a martyr.

    I find joy in serving others. I’ve often felt called to do what I can to better the lives of others, and I know my life is also better for it. Sometimes, as a wife, mother, and community member, I feel OBLIGATED to serve. That’s ok, but not when I’m a martyr about it. Truly, nobody needs a martyr. If I volunteer to coach my kid’s t-ball team, but then walk around with my shoulders slumped and complain about how busy I am to the other parents, I’ve done no one any good. I could have said no. I could have asked another parent/s for help, or I could have chosen not to complain. If I’m serving because I want the recognition, sympathy, or accolades of others, I’m best not serving at all. Nobody needs a martyr, and hopefully reminding myself of that is helping me be one a lot less often. I would much rather be the “trickster”, as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it.

…the path that does not worship suffering and torment, and does not…say that life is nothing but a grim march of pain…this is the path of the trickster, not the martyr. The trickster (represented forever in world mythology as the fox, the crow, the coyote, the monkey) sees through our delusions of seriousness and exposes the play underneath all our drama. The trickster says, ‘You are welcome to die for your cause if you really want to, but I’m not here to spend my life suffering.’ “- Elizabeth Gilbert


We’d love to hear your thoughts on these reminders, or if you have some additions of your own. Imperfect progress is so much better when shared. Do share!

Money Modesty, unzip your lips and start talking

money-1885540_1920

Ah yes, Money, the 4 letter word (or is it 5?) often considered a forbidden discussion point, except in a confessional with your financial planner or CPA. Every day money flows into and out of your life, just like air, but it can be as taboo to discuss as your sex life . If you talk about money, especially your own money, the only plausible reason would be that you’re trying to gloat to others, or you’re trying to hit someone up for a loan. The fact that we’re so secretive with our own financial situations and understanding of money is a big reason that most Americans are in the financial pickle that they’re in today, but let’s attempt to change that… shall we?

It’s okay if you’re not rich to talk about the moola

The rich, however you define them, don’t hold exclusive privilege of openly discussing money, nor is the topic reserved for those “financial elites” who’ve supposedly got this thing completely figured out. Once we are able to have conversations with one another about our own financial situations, mistakes, questions and beliefs, the floodgates of learning and opportunities will open wide. I’m not saying your opening line at a party should be “Hi, I’m Ted, I make $60k a year and owe $24 thousand on my Honda”, but if we can become comfortable in keeping a conversation going or asking difficult questions about money, then little-by-little those walls that potentially keep us confined to our financial prisons will deteriorate and crumble.

The problem is we’ve been conditioned as a society that discussing money is rude and should be considered off limits from everyday conversations.  It’s rude to pry into someone else’s life and discuss something as intimate as money. It’s thought to be dangerous to discuss your own financial decisions, ideology or status because it will paint a target on your back.

I say BS!

I’m sure there have been one-offs in the past that gave good reason to be guarded with money-talk, but I argue that the benefits of unzipping your lips and starting to freely discuss money far outweigh the negatives. Once you liberate yourself to partake in these conversations you’ll be quite amazed at the number of “Ah ha” moments you’ll encounter. Opportunities will start to present themselves in the most unusual ways. You’ll gradually begin to make better choices because better choices are constantly being presented to you. So if you’ve allowed yourself to have a limiting belief and feel resigned to be in the financial situation you’re currently in forever, I implore you to shut down that thought, and open your mouth and ears, it may serve you well.

Everything I know about money, I learned from someone else

Everything I know about money I learned from someone else who wasn’t afraid to disclose their own understanding and beliefs regarding money. I am thankful they weren’t afraid to discuss, whether in a face-to-face conversation, blog post, or books, how money works in their lives; weren’t too bothered to share how well they did with this particular investment, or how much money they lost during the last recession. They allow others to learn from their mistakes and set the precedent that it’s okay to discuss money with them. By openly having those discussions not only are they teaching but they are opening themselves to benefit as well. Once you’re no longer afraid to have those conversations you are able to truly listen and gain a new perspective, hear of an upcoming opportunity, or avoid a potential pitfall in the not too distant future. By not having these conversations, we’re shutting the door, locking the cage and resigning ourselves to a future where all the insights, opportunities and mistakes are our own, unable to benefit from the awesome power of a community.

holiday-123849_1920

Ready to start?  Great, begin with these 3 things

1. Talk to your spouse about your own financial situation

You’d be surprised by the amount of married people who move along in their day-to-day lives without really discussing or trying to understand their partner’s thoughts about money; whether spending, saving, investing or otherwise. They’ve either been burned by a money fight in the past, and are none-too-eager to re-open that wound, or they just have an assumption that their partner is already 100% on-board with their own money beliefs and plans. The procrastinating sort may even know that they need to have the conversation now, but just need to wait until tomorrow, or next week/year when things slow down. Either way, you may want give that a second thought, you need to make sure you and your partner are talking, on the same page and committed to keeping your financial house in order if you’re committed to keeping your marriage in order.

Start with defining a simple goal, perhaps it savings, or making a future purchase, but start with something easily defined and perhaps something  which you’ll both agree. Share what’s on your mind, and be sure to ask what’s on theirs. See where you differ, and how you’ll work through those differences. Often you’re not going to be able to have it all figured out in one conversation, so make sure to follow-up, and if changes need to be made, do it, just make sure you’re both in agreement and not afraid to keep the dialog rolling. It’s easy to default to one person in the marriage as the “money” person. We’re just as guilty in our household as any other. Recognize that is far from ideal, both partners need to understand and be part of the decision making process, and take responsibility for handling different tasks that make up the family finances.

Once you’ve mastered the “easy stuff”, start working on the more difficult topics:

  • Does your spouse want to stay at home but you think you can’t afford it?
  • How, and to what extent are you paying for the kids college fund?
  • When and what does retirement look like?
  • Ready for a career change?

…Now you’re getting it, and here’s where you’re going to most likely encounter the real conflicts. Seldom are you both to agree on how things need to be handled, and seldom are either of you going to be 100% correct about the path to get there.  By not being afraid to start and continue the conversation you’re making the small, manageable changes or decisions now, rather than later on when your options are limited, or non-existent.

2. Little Johnny and Suzy need YOU to talk about Money with them

One of my biggest gripes with today’s society is the outright disservice we’re doing our children by keeping them out of the discussions about money. Of course nobody feels like it’s a disservice, they think quite the opposite, that they’re protecting their kids from the discomfort, and complexities of money so that they are free to enjoy their childhoods and put off the hard stuff until “they’re ready”.
<Insert game show buzzer sound here> Incorrect.
If this is you… Stop! Now! Your kids, whether age 3, 10, or 22, need to understand money, how it works, what things cost, how saving, giving, tithing work. What is debt and interest? What’s a salary? How do taxes play into this craziness? By doing this, they’ll start to form a basic understanding of what mommy and daddy’s financial situation is like and more importantly pique their curiosity. Your goal here is to have them asking lots of questions, and be transparent with your responses. I’m not saying they should have passed Accounting 101 by 3rd grade, or have access to your brokerage accounts, but they need to be in touch with reality so they can learn from your situation. Perhaps your situation is not where you’d like it, maybe you’ve got a bit more credit card debt than you’d prefer or less retirement savings. Don’t hide that from them. Share that with them. If you don’t, you’re putting them in the same situation your parents most likely put you, unaware and disengaged. Not being able to learn from both the things you’re doing right or wrong in the financial picture. Simplify these lessons, but make sure your children are given that education that they so desperately need, and deserve… your children and future America will thank you.

3. Talk to the those you want to learn from or can teach

Now we’re going to really get outside the comfort zone. Talking to strangers, acquaintances, or friends about money isn’t going to feel natural at all. Either you’re going to feel embarrassed about your own situation, or feel like you’re ignorant and don’t want to come off as someone who doesn’t know much about money. On the flip side, you may worry that you’ll come across as a blowhard who wants to make everyone envious of your net worth. Either way, it’s not true. Be humble. Be transparent and honest, and talk to the people who may have some really good insight or experiences from which you can learn. You may feel like you’d be a burden to them, or have nothing to offer in return for their ideas and advice, but the thing is, most people in a solid financial situation enjoy having those conversations. More often than not, they would genuinely love to help. Or, if you’re someone who knows a few things, has learned a few lessons by making mistakes, be ready to share with those who may benefit from it. Sure, tossing out unsolicited advice is annoying, and you’ll want to avoid the temptation to proselytize to an audience that doesn’t want to listen, but people should know that you’re ready and willing whenever they are to talk shop about money.

You can’t (and shouldn’t) do this alone

There are very few people in this world who’ve made it to become financially free without some advice or help along the way. Be open to that help, invite it in with open arms, and be ready to give it back when you can. Don’t stop the discussion because it’s awkward. This may be the very moment that something clicks that didn’t before, or you hear someone else explain how they were in a situation exactly like the one you’re in today, and what their way out was like. You have the power to change your situation. You will be the one responsible for putting forth the plans and committing the effort needed to get here, but don’t reinvent the wheel. Ask lots of questions. Listen. Start those conversations now and be ready to reap the rewards!

Resources to accompany this article

  • Smart Couples Finish Rich – David Bach
    Good book with practical exercises to get you and your significant other talking and preparing for a prosperous and rewarding life.
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki
    Amazing book that will change your mindset about what money is and how it works.
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad for Teens – Robert Kiyosaki
    Building the understanding of money, assets and liabilities that kid’s should be learning in school, but aren’t

/BE/: More Maker, Less Taker

There’s value in letting go.

If your home clutter is leading to life and mind clutter like mine was, (Who am I kidding? It still is, *work in “imperfect” progress after all.), this helpful advice I received from a friend a while back, may creep up on you like it did me. Simple advice that seems innocent and sweet at first, but stalks you and won’t let you go.

messI had been complaining to him about my daughters’ toy/clothes/messy room problem. I praised his childrens’ rooms, saying how neat and clean they were. That’s when he said,

“We use the one-in, one-out rule.”

What!? How had I never heard of this rule? For every one item in, one must go out. I could teach my girls a lesson in giving and present it as a hard and fast rule, as though there’s really no choice in the matter? Because it was nearing Christmas when this awakening occurred, it seemed like the hands of fate were giving me this moment to try it out. After running it by my husband, it quickly became the one-in, two-out rule, and here we are today. Sort of.

It was only just a few months ago, while looking through my closet, that it finally occurred to me that I hadn’t been practicing this rule myself. My love of a good clearance rack and allowing myself to get caught up in the feeling of being rushed, had me saying over and over again, “I’ll clean out my closet soon, but I don’t have time for it now.” So I continued to bring in more and more, without sending anything out. This left me with two full closets and one full dresser, all to myself. Yet I only wore the same few items in repeat rotation. Many of the items in my closets and drawers had only been worn a few times, and some of them still had the tags hanging from them.

Then this video about disposable clothes started circling social media.

A hard truth finally sunk in. I was buying a lot of disposable clothes. Imagine that…

Somewhere (probably halfway around the globe), someone worked in a facility, using materials grown under the sun or manufactured in another facility (probably halfway around the globe), weaving the fibers together to make a cheap cloth. That cloth was sent away to be sewn together into pants or shirts or dresses. Those were packed into plastic bags and cardboard boxes and loaded onto containers to be shipped (halfway around the globe…you get the idea), where they could be unpacked and repacked a few times until they found their way to the racks of my favorite big, red, and white store. So much time and energy so that I could feel good about buying something at 50% off, wearing it only one or two times at best.

What I’d been participating in is called, “fast fashion.” I didn’t know it had its own name until recently viewing the documentary Minimalism on Netflix. This “Ah Ha! moment” was the catalyst for cleaning out about four giant, black trash bags full of clothes from my closets. They were handed down and divied up accordingly.

Not long after the purge, something happened. Any marketing expert or fast fashion supplier would have predicted it, but I was caught completely off guard when this thought went through my consciousness, “Now that I made all that space in my closet, I should go get some MORE clothes.” It didn’t go away quickly either. I caught it in mid scroll, after looking on several web sites for winter shirts on clearance. I had to walk away from my screen to go spit out the sour taste, you know, from puking in my mouth a little bit.

closet

I exaggerate, but I haven’t let myself buy any new shirts just yet. To be honest, I don’t really trust myself at this point; however I have challenged myself, beginning with my clothes closet (there are many other closets in need as well), to be less taker and more maker. It’s not just about wanting less, or even about needing less, though both are valid. I truly want to be more creator and less consumer. Not really because of a viral video, or a bestselling book, or a trending documentary. Those things have all been very inspiring. I love the way I always find what I’m looking for – the perfect nudges in the right direction to continue motivating my imperfect progress, at just the right time – but that’s not why I want to continue buying less and making more. I want to do it, because it’s the next step in making my life simpler, easier, less hurried and stressful. It feels good to have less – less to clean, organize, take care of, find space for. It gives me more time and space for the things that really matter.

If these words are ringing true for you, or they’re helping you find what you’re looking for at all, then I challenge you too. Be more maker, less taker. Find ways to create more in your day, and consume less. It should fulfill that same primal need we all have, to please the hunter and huntress inside. It will reward the dopamine and adrenaline seekers in us, while filling the world up the goodness we have within.

There is value in letting go, but If you’re like me, you’ll need some reminders to help you along the way. We’ll inevitably need and want to buy again in the future.

stopHere are some mental stop signs I try to present myself with before making a purchase:

  • Do I need this or want it? – Of course it’s fine to want, but it’s good to slow down the process and find your true motivation.
  • Do I have a place for this in my home?
  • What am I willing to give up if I bring this into my home?
  • Will I still like/use this a year from now?
  • Will this stand the test of time or is it a fad/trend/cheap product that will break/or go out of style after only a few uses?
  • How and where was this made?
  • Am I shopping as an emotional response or out of a rational necessity?
  • Is there something I could do/make/create that would give me the joy and happiness I’m seeking, rather than buy something to fill me up?
  • Try making a list of all the things you already have, rather than a list of items you need.
  • Try leaving the store. Do you still want it one or two days later?

And because many things that seem trivial often have a deeper origin, it always helps to remind myself:

  • I am a recovering perfectionist, still in recovery, and I want to get better. I want to be comfortable presenting my authentic self to the world. Any perfecting I do on the outside, only hides what’s happening inside, but does not change it.
  • No one, including myself, should expect me…or my home, hair, clothes, children, etc…to be perfect.
  • I am worthy just as I am.
  • I am enough.

Finally, the true challenge, to put something new into the world. Sometimes this can seem like a daunting task, but if you think about it and keep it simple, I’m sure there are many ways you’re being creative every day.

Here are a few ideas I have, if you need a little help getting started.

  • Try creating an experience, rather than going shopping with friends or family, like visiting a local rock climbing wall, picnicking in the park, taking in a live event or class, etc.
  • Create joy by singing and/or dancing along to music, or making up your own song.
  • Create and document new ideas through journaling or writing.
  • Create inspiration by finding and sharing your favorite quotes.
  • Create space, in your mind and soul, by enjoying a good book in nature or doing something that makes you happy.
  • Take something old and make it new again.
  • Create love by doing what already makes you feel like a good wife/husband, mother/father, friend, family member, teacher, etc.
  • Get outside. Get away from a TV, phone, and computer. Listen to what you hear coming from inside you. Follow that! It will lead you to what it is you’re meant to create.

 


So go make, create, do! Then please share your ideas and creations, what ever they may be, with us in the comments section below. We sincerely want to know how you’re progressing in this challenge. Let’s share our imperfect progress with each other!

 

/Resilience/: Overcoming Chronic Illness

screenshot_2017-01-21-17-25-192

It came to me in whispers here and there for years – a little blip in my lab work after my first daughter, painful trips up and down mountains, icy cold and painful toes that turned the bluest blue fall to spring, simple rashes that wouldn’t go away…These inconveniences were only that, inconvenient. My full, busy life could not stop for mere convenience.

When you ignore the whispers, they grow and build strength, getting louder and louder. Eventually they scream at you. Like a hot kettle or boiling pot, they won’t be ignored forever. They want to be heard. The obligations of a polite, “Excuse me?” will turn into a, “Listen up!” when you don’t pay them the same courtesy.

It’s impossible to say what might have been, had I taken heed of the whispers. I waited for the screams. There was a time I looked upon this illness (mine is Relapsing Polychondritis with a side of Lupus) as an affliction. I spent so much time hiding it away, only to feel its weight much more heavily only my shoulders. I carried it alone until the burden of it was so heavy, so tiring, that I felt it right down to my bones.

I did not quickly come out of the closet of denial and fear, but little by little, I began to share my story with those who asked or wanted to listen. Experience has taught me that the surest path to healing, is bringing to light what ales us. Shame, embarrassment, fear, denial, illness of any kind –  those things only multiply in the dark. They become stronger. It’s when we quit hiding them away that they lose their power and we can truly be free of them.

Another thing happened when I began to shake off the shame of being “sick” and share my experiences with others, they began to share their experiences with me as well. I’ve learned that so many of us struggle with health. So many carry the whispers, carry the screams. A diagnosis is not validation. There are no contests won by the number of prescription bottles in your medicine chest. Quick fixes from pill bottles are only that, quick. And we have so much more control over our health than we’re often lead to believe. True, sustainable health is found with true and sustainable change, and we have so much more control over our health than we’re often lead to believe. Change can happen all at once, but often it’s a little choice here, a step in the right direction there, one small decision at a time. In the words of Beau Taplin, “Whoever said the small things don’t matter, has never seen a match start a wildfire.” For those feeling exhaustion, pain, sickness – what ever it may be – there are a few universal truths of health that could lead you to better days, as they have me.

I know now that this disease is not an affliction, but a blessing. My life is a stranger to the one I was living when this all began and better for it.

screenshot_2017-01-21-17-54-432

If I could go back to the whispers, what advice would I give myself? First, listen to the whispers. Listen. Then take control of:

Diet

Chronic illnesses are tricky. There’s often not one specific blood test or lab work that can be performed to diagnose and treat. Sometimes doctors are checking symptoms off a list, combined with lab and test results, to make a judgement call about what the most likely cause is. In these cases, the treatment then becomes a judgement call as well, lots and lots of trial and error combined with published studies and information they may be getting from drug reps. In a resounding majority of these situations, the result is a prescription scrawled on a pad that allows a bottle to be filled with pills. We are so quick to follow this standardized series of steps. And if you’re an autoimmune sufferer, you probably know that enough complaining to your rhuemetologist will result in a prescription for some sort of steroid. I’ve been there. I’ve needed them. They have made me feel so much better so quickly. Their immediate result is profound and positive for most sufferers. Long term, not so much. They can contribute to diabetes and other chronic conditions that require more pharmaceuticals.

We do jump at the pharmacy route. We accept that putting a pill in our stomach a few times a day will get us where we’d like to be. Why then is it so hard to believe that the food we put in our mouths 6,7 times a day or more, will affect our health as well. I trust my rhuemetologist and pulmonologist, but they’re education and experience deals in all things above. That’s why it’s not surprising that they don’t suggest, recommend or even truly believe adjusting my diet could have a positive effect on my health. I can’t control the opinions of my doctors, what published studies in medical journals say, what the pharmaceutical reps are pushing. I can control what I choose to put in my body.

I have learned after years of feeling out of control of my health, having had doctors say things like, “eventually” and “there’s not a lot you can do”, that I do myself a great service mentally and physically to control the things I can. I don’t need a medical journal to tell me it’s a good idea, because I have discovered for myself that it is. By adjusting my diet, I have made dramatic differences in the amount of pain, fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues, and general discomfort I feel. Now food is medicine. I take it when I’m hungry, and I eat as much of it as I want. I just stay away from certain things that aren’t worth the pain they cause.

I began with an elimination diet – cutting certain items out of my life for 21 days. Then slowly adding them back in, in small portions and one at a time to see how my body reacted. Water retention, bloating, digestive trouble of any kind, pain, headaches, brain fog, rashes are all signs that this item is not good for your body. First I eliminated sugar, which made a dramatic difference in weight and water retention immediately. Next I cut dairy. After only a few weeks, my eczema had cleared and my seasonal allergies were so much better I wasn’t taking my prescription any longer. The allergist I saw said these events were unrelated, but it was enough of impact to encourage me to continue working on my diet. I eventually learned I had a wheat allergy (confirmed by allergy tests), after consuming wheat daily my entire life. The beauty of an elimination diet is, when you add items back into your diet slowly, it becomes very clear what your body can’t handle. You don’t need any test or any doctor or any amount of money to do it. Many people have told me something like, “I could never live without cheese!” or “I could never go a day without bread!” The truth is, living without those things becomes much easier when you feel relief from chronic pain or debilitating symptoms in their absence. No cheese stick or pretzel is worth the pain they may cause.

Below is a list of the most common allergens, and a good place to start when eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet. A general rule is to cut them out entirely for 21 days, and slowly add them back in. You can eliminate one item at a time or cut multiple items at once and simply add back only 1 at a time.

  • sugar – refined/processed sweeteners of any kind, It’s a good idea to cut sweeteners all together at this time, including honey, maple syrup, sugar substitutes, etc. If you MUST have some sort of fix at some point in your elimination, try to stick to a small amount from a natural, unprocessed, whole-food source (i.e. dates, bananas, unsweetened apple sauce, etc.). After 21 days add back slowly and in small amounts natural sweeteners like raw honey.
  • wheat/gluten – Remember that many processed foods contain wheat or other grains that may contain gluten, even lunch meat. The best way to ensure you’re truly eliminating it from your diet, is to prepare your own food for 21 days. At least be very diligent about reading and understanding food labels and ingredient lists.
  • dairy – After much trial and error, I’ve learned that I can handle butter (I use a good grass-fed butter like Kerrygold) and very small, infrequent amounts of some hard cheeses. Butter is mostly fat and contains nearly no milk protein, and hard cheeses that are aged longer have little to no lactose. Everyone is different, so for the first 21 days, cut all dairy.
  • corn & soy – These are common allergens and frequently found to “intolerances” to those suffering with autoimmune issues.
  • A little Googling will lead you through a tangled web of other suggested food eliminations like eggs, or egg whites, or egg yolks, or night shades (i.e. tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc.). I find this very confusing and haven’t noticed any major differences with these items. You may decide you want to continue experimenting with eliminating these foods too.

Routine

This may sound patronizing or placating, as it did in my first conversation with my rhuemetologist when she suggested it, but I’ve since learned it is an important foundation in feeling better. My best days are days built upon routine. When I:

  1. Go to bed at the same. time. every. day.
  2. Get up at the same. time. every. day.
  3. Take my supplements and prescriptions at the same. time. every. day.
  4. Exercise/meditate/journal every. day.
  5. Eat whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and proteins every. day.

I feel so much better. This is simply putting health at the top of the priority list. All other priorities fill in the rest of the blanks and flow much better for it. Prioritizing loved ones and responsibilities over health doesn’t work well for long. I find that the more I add to my list of priorities, the fewer things I actually do well.

Do fewer things. Put your health and well being first, so that you can give your all to the other, true priorities in your life. It’s worth it.

Managing Stress

I quit my job. Quit. Not because I’m independently wealthy or won the lottery. Not because I was fed up, or hated it, or didn’t value, appreciate and enjoy the people I worked with.

Mostly because, I used to think that managing stress meant pretending it didn’t exist. In my defense, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a conscious effort at denial. I truly had very little stress management tools in my tool box. Exercise and reading have been prescriptions I’ve carried around for a while. I sprinkled in some heavy doses of zoning out in front of the T.V., denial (see above), and some do-everything-myself-to-prove-I-depend-on-no-one. And my prize for all of this kicking the can down the road of life, exhaustion and pain. Literal, physical pain. So I walked into my boss’ (also a great mentor and dear friend) office, garbled some words about being done with the whole barely-getting-by-in-my-personal-life-so-I-could-hold-it-all-together-at-work-thing, walked out, and fell apart in a mess of tears. I’m putting it back together now, in my third year away. It’s taken a while, but I’ve learned a few things.

My job was stressful. Yes. I did have less stress when I quit working outside my home, but I found a way to carry stress with me everywhere, over most anything. My stress often sounded like the limited belief, “I don’t have enough time!” The stress, in the end, was in me rather than outside me. So I needed to add some more tools to my toolbox. Do I still “stress” at times? For sure! Now I just know a little more about how to set if free instead of lock it in a dark closet.

Here are a few key practices that bring me peace and help me get a rational perspective on my circumstances.

  • Job – Really. If that’s a big stress inducer for you, find a way to get freedom from it.
  • Meditation – The Daily Calm and Omvana apps have been great help in this.
  • Exercise (see below)
  • Journaling
  • Listen to what’s calling you and find a way to chase after it. Make it happen.
  • Learn to be comfortable saying no (I’m still working on this one.)
  • Do less better – The One Thing by Gary Keller is a big help with this.
  • Get outside. Get a little fresh air and sunshine. My husband likes to say, “You should spend at least 20 minutes outside every day, unless you’re too busy. Then spend an hour outside.” (He thinks he heard it from Joel Salatin.)

Exercise

I have a hard time recalling an instance that continuing to lay in bed or on the couch feeling sick and achy actually made me begin to feel less sick or less achy. Remembering times that exercise made me fell better is easy. It happened this morning, and yesterday, and the day before that, when I was really grumpy and exercising put me in a better mood too.

Furthermore, I have never had a doctor tell me not to exercise, even with significant lung damage due to my autoimmune disease. They’ve told me not to take supplements or vitamins. They’ve told me not to worry about what I am eating, but they’ve never told me I couldn’t excercise. I practically begged them to give me an excuse not to excercise, because I was so tired and sore that I just wanted to they down and not move for a very loooong time. Doctors have always encouraged it.

That’s the funny thing about exercise, when you’re feeling too tired to get up and get moving, exercise gives you more energy. When your joints or muscles feel too weak or sore, exercise strengthens them. Weak joints are supported by strong muscles, causing less pain and problems. When you’re too grumpy or stressed to add one more thing to your list of chores for the day, exercising releases endorphins and dopamine, bringing feelings of pleasure and blocking pain. (Read more about the hormones released during/after excercise here and here.) It also ensures a much better night’s sleep.

The point: Get up and get moving. Excercise! Even when you think you can’t do it, and especially when you don’t want to.  Make it sustainable by doing something you truly enjoy. Make it a habit by pushing yourself to do it regularly for a few months. Eventually your body, mind, and soul won’t let you quit.

Eliminate Toxins

This is not a political statement. It is just about allowing ourselves to be open to the fact that chemicals are all around us all the time, some beneficial (like water), some harmful (like lead). The more processed foods, beauty, and cleaning products we consume, the bigger the potential for chemical toxicity in our bodies. 

I once had an long conversation with a woman at a conference. We had a lot in common, both from rural areas with families dependent on farm and ranch. She worked for her local USDA office. She told me about a microscopic fungus in a grain that grows wild in the fields where she lives. It looks like all the other grass that nourishes them, but if the cattle eat it, they become very ill, with a number of problems. There’s no easy way of identifying the grass that will harm them at a glance with the naked eye. After her story, we began talking health. She couldn’t believe that I try to eat organic and avoid GMO crops like corn. She was personally offended. I just asked her to consider her story of the fungus and the cattle. How was it that this microscopic fungus could cause such debilitating problems in cows, but we couldn’t even allow ourselves to consider that chemicals we put in and spray all over the food we eat may possibly cause problems in humans? Just consider it? That’s what happens with politics and money.

So leave money and politics aside, and allow yourself to consider the fact that the more chemicals you put on and in your body, the bigger the toxic load you ask it to carry. How it processes all of those chemicals, sequesters them, fights them, and attempts to eliminate them from your system is still a big question mark in many cases, with new chemical/compounds being developed daily. If there are great alternatives out there, that create fewer questions and worry, why not use them? Remember that every time you spend a dollar you are voting. Your vote is saying I want to see more products like this on shelves and in stores.

To eliminate toxins:

  • Read labels – A pretty good general rule is, if it has more than five ingredients, it’s not food.
  • If your beauty and cleaning products aren’t forthcoming with their ingredients or you don’t recognize the names of the ingredients, don’t buy them. There are good options out there.
  • Avoid boxed and bagged foods, aka processed foods
  • Grow and cook your own food whenever possible
  • Talk with your doctor about the toxicity of your prescription medications. Evaluate what medicines are truly necessary and if there are better alternatives or you can take a smaller dose. – My doctor does this with me every time I visit her. She encourages the smallest dose of the least toxic medications she believes I must continue to take. She regularly discusses her plans for when I may eliminate prescriptions as well. She is not the first specialist that treated me. I’ve learned the hard way that there are a lot of doctors out there. Keep looking until you find a good match.

Spiritual and Emotional Healing

Keep an open mind. Physical health is dependent on emotional and spiritual health. Sometimes the path to feeling good may also feel a little weird or mystic. Just be open. I’ve found great freedom in places I least expected (see I’ve been seeing a holistic doctor, masquerading as a chiropractor…). The answers aren’t the same for everyone, but they’re out there if you keep looking and don’t give up. Loving your life, your body, and the way you feel is worth trying and trying again.

Some ways I’ve found healing are:

  • Seeing a chiropractor
  • Researching and taking supplements, herbs, and vitamins
  • Journaling – setting goals, writing affirmations, keeping track of food/excercise progress
  • Prayer
  • Reading
  • Meditation
  • Being open and honest about what I’m feeling

We wish you the best on your path to a life and body you love a feel good in. Please share your tips or questions below. We’d love to know more about you!

The Road Less Traveled

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

20160908_075435

We took the road less traveled recently, when we rode a narrow gauge train from Silverton, CO to its Needleton stop. We were four of five travelers exiting the train at this spot, the other a bow hunter on opening day, looking to stock his freezer for winter. We set off at 3:48 p.m. with heavily weighted packs, backpacking 6 miles into Chicago Basin along Needle Creek. This was the most weight our eleven and six-year-old-girls had ever been tasked with on a hike.

We set up camp far into the basin, on a tiny flat spot in the steep slope of the grass with fresh mountain water near. It was a perfect base camp, providing shelter and rest between day hikes to the top of 14k+ peaks and the beautiful glacial melts of “Twin Lakes.”

Yes, this trip left us with seriously sore muscles, aching backs, creaky joints, growling stomachs filled with limited food (you pack it in, you pack it out, and extra food = extra weight), and (at least one) lost toe nail(s?). But as we were packing our bodies and goods out four days later, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Robert Frost’s well known and eloquent words.

img_20160905_145325710

Later that afternoon, we read the poem aloud over giant pasties from Eureka Station in Silverton  (our sincere recommendations!). The English puff pastry hand pies were traditionally filled with a beef stew, to be topped with brown gravy (for my husband). My nontraditional pie was a Reuben inside, pastie outside. These hand pies (and the french fries and sweet potato fritters we scarfed with them blush, blush) made the already brilliant writing in The Road Not Taken so much more enjoyable minus an empty stomach.

There truly are things you can only see along the road less traveled by, and we’re trying to fill our hearts with all them all. Though we’re ever so grateful for the amazing food in town, as well as the super duper hot springs down the road that evening in Ouray, here are just a few things we couldn’t find where all the other tourists’ shoes had trod.

  • unique cairns leading (and at times confusing – we’re looking at you Mt. Eolus) the way
  • water gently rolling over giant slabs of smooth granite
  • friendly and brilliantly white mountain goats that adore human urine (Really! They follow you around licking it from the rocks.)
  • rock hopping stream crossings
  • moss covered anything
  • pushing perceived physical and mental limits
  • stairs built of rock, by human hands and muscle, going straight up the side of a mountain
  • giant boulders perfect for reading giant novels upon (The Signature of All Things) by the sounds of a rushing stream
  • content children, creating entire new worlds without any store bought toys
  • tiny chipmunks waiting for their chance to make away with any food scraps left behind
  • wild fruit grown by God’s hand – strawberries, raspberries, currants
  • close encounters with waterfall after waterfall
  • pumping filtered water from a fresh mountain stream, just steps away from a temporary tent home
  • dehydrated meals in a bag that actually taste so very gourmet on an empty stomach
  • yellow aspen leaves littering a narrow, dusty mountain trail

img_20160907_140607821

We took this road, far and deep into the mountains, and I do think it made a difference. And that difference? Well…

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.

It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail


Are you feeling a little nerve-shaken or over-civilized these day? You may not be able to run off to the mountains, but you can certainly find a little bit of wilderness close to home. Just stepping outdoors for a minimum of 20 minutes can boost moods and incite feelings of creativity. Longer walks, 90 minutes or more, have been proven to have tangible effects in brain function that can ward off depression. You can read more about it in this article from TIME.

If you’re looking for ways to get a little wild closer to home, try some of these suggestions.

First

Turn off the TV, phone, computer, or screen of choice.

Then:

  • Find a bench to sit on, and take in the views.
  • Take a walk around the block or through the neighborhood.
  • Go to the park. Take a little swing or go down the slide, with or without kiddos.
  • Find a lunch spot with tables outside, and enjoy your meal in nature.
  • Hop on your bike. Run an errand, or just peddle around for the heck of it.

/Favorites/: Bedtime Stories

On an Alaskan vacation several years ago, after looking at far too many souvenirs from oriental trading with a town/place sticker added, I decided that I’d look for unique children’s books as keepsakes from then on. The thought of possibly supporting a local author while enabling my picture book addiction, seemed like a win-win. I can’t say this collection has grown as large or as quickly as I’d hoped, but it’s a start. Below are a few of them, Sitka Rose being a gift to my oldest daughter from her “Mimi” on that very vacation.

IMG_20160211_090212601-2

IMG_20160211_090231681-2

A couple nights ago my daughter reminded me of our new collection when she brought me Petite Rouge (above). It’s a treasured find from a small toy store in New Orleans, near the French Quarter. I must admit, my heart skipped a couple beats at the thought of it reading it that night as a bedtime story. It’s one of those children’s stories I actually enjoy reading at least as much as my daughter likes hearing it. I may have even felt a little guilt as I self-indulgently read it in my best Cajun-Creole accent (the phonetically spelled words made me feel like a pro). Pure pleasure!

Now this had me wondering, “What other books would I do cartwheels over?” In the spirit of sharing, I’ve put together a list of the most favorite bedtime read-alouds at our house. Keep in mind that I did condense it a bit. I saved this list for the hidden gems that are so fun for both reader and listener. They’re gender neutral and good for young and old alike. I have no affiliates to the links or authors – just want to share a love of reading. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner

IMG_20160211_090723502-2

If you haven’t read any stories about this charming, mischievous Siamese cat that thinks he’s a Chihuahua, you’ll want to check one out from the library today. He has an excellent Spanish accent! We have a bundle of them in our library at home, but the original is a must and a favorite.

Beware of the Storybook Wolves by Lauren Child

IMG_20160211_090809569-2

This book is just fun to read aloud. With a fairy godmother, witch, and two wolves you’ll get to try out a lot of voices. It’s such an original idea with a cute twist of an ending.

What was I Scared of? by Dr. Suess

IMG_20160211_090011502_HDR-2

A read aloud list would hardly be complete without Dr. Suess.  His writing is great for this, with its rhyme. This Suess story is short and sweet, just right for bedtime. One of its main characters happens to be none other than, pale green empty pants. How could you resist reading more about those?


molly lou mellon

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell

This story about being unashamed and making the most of your imperfections is a parent’s favorite kind of story, one with a message. The illustration are a treat too. It is also the first of a pair about little Molly Lou. If she wins your heart over, you’ll want to check out Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon next.

 

 

 

A Sock Is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

IMG_20160211_090355891-2

I never knew I needed a pocket book (a book about pockets), or had so many pockets in my life for that matter, until I read this book. The text flows and sounds sing-songy when read aloud. It’s also short, good for tired parents and the shortest of attention spans in your house.

Our Tree Named Steve

 

Our Tree Named STEVE by Alan Zweibel

This one is a real tear jerker, but worth it. It’s such a heart-warming story with a symbolic representation of the growing love and loyalty of a family over a lifetime.

 

IMG_20160211_090131586-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George and David Small

You won’t find any political slant in this book, just fun, interesting facts about our former presidents. It’s well written, sounds nice read aloud, and will entertain even the toughest of critics. My copy is a few elections behind, but I see they have an updated version available.

MissRumphiusBookCover

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

I purchased my copy of this book long before I ever had children of my own. Its message was just as poignant to me then as it is now ~ give back and make the world a more beautiful place by finding what you love and sharing it. You’ll want to read about the lupine lady too.

Honorable Mentions

 

I said above I have a book problem, too many of them.  Well I couldn’t just end this list of recommendations (it was getting a bit long) without pointing out a few others that are well worth a once over.

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen – This lion may help you look for friends in unlikely places, let go of old ideas, and reserve judgment.

Me First by Helen Lester  – We’re lucky to learn this unfortunate lesson secondhand, being first isn’t always best. It will allow you to practice that witch voice again too.

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer – This is for all those kids and grown-ups that want to bring every creature they come meet.

It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw – This is a super quick read, for the youngest in your house, that rolls off the tongue as you read it aloud.


Do you have favorite books to read to your kiddos or books that make you cringe when you see them in tow for bedtime story time? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below!

 

 

 

The Road Less Traveled

imperfectprogress.me

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

20160908_075435

We took the road less traveled recently, when we rode a narrow gauge train from Silverton, CO to its Needleton stop. We were 4 of 5 travelers exiting the train at this spot, the other a bow hunter on opening day, looking to stock his freezer for winter. We set off at 3:48 p.m. with heavily weighted packs, backpacking 6 miles into Chicago Basin along Needle Creek. This was the most weight our 11 and 6 year old girls had ever been tasked with on a hike. We set up camp far into the basin, on a tiny flat spot in the steep slope of the grass with fresh mountain water near. It was a perfect base camp, providing shelter…

View original post 590 more words

/Have Family, Will Travel/: 24 days in Ecuador

Day 7: Rucu Pichincha and Settling In

We stiffly roll out of bed with the rise of the sun. No alarm clock is needed. The geese, dogs, and bustling noises of the city only take a brief, two-hour break between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. Today Chris gets an early start, catching an Uber and riding the TeleferiQo up the side of a mountain to above 13,000 ft, then hiking the remainder of the way to the top of Rucu Pichincha at more than 15,000 ft.

20180124_092721

In his final push to acclimate, he falls, tearing open each finger and removing the skin from the tip of his thumb completely. He doesn’t notice the pain as he takes in the views and has another chance encounter with our Austrian friends from Hostal Mama Hilda on our Quilotoa stay a couple nights earlier. They greet each other with a loud and fond hello (What a surprise to see any familiar face at all!), but both parties quickly head on their way. Chris is eager to finish his hike as quickly as possible, needing to return to Wifi for a day of remote work.

20180124_111301

The girls and I rest and settle in while Chris is out. I trudge back up this cobbled road

20180125_091309

and past this beautiful, nearby entrance I’ll pass so many times in the days to come,

20180125_091342

to buy some necessities in the little tiendas nearby. This morning I realize it’s hard to get an early start in Ecuador, if you’re relying on stores and shops to do so. I go home empty handed, returning up the same path at 9:00 a.m., when the shops are open. Letting go of old habits and routines isn’t easy, but I think I can get used to the slower pace I’m finding here.

20180125_091546

I learn to get my fruit, vegetables and eggs from Luci, in her shop up the hill; my fresh empanadas and rolls from the better of two panaderias on the same block; and the other staples from this small store (pic above) bursting at the seams with goods, leaving only a small foot space to come in and find what I may need. Then I return “home”, through the gates, as I will each morning this week, to make breakfast. Doing the dishes in this small, metal sink, with this tub of Lava dish soap and sponge quickly become second nature.

20180125_091112

The view out this window as I clean up helps.

20180125_091116

Chris returns home in a time for a full day of work (we are 2 hours ahead of Colorado here), after his hand gets some cleaning and doctoring. The mistake on the loose rocks of Rucu Pichincha will not only make working at a keyboard more difficult, but will also cause some trouble with shoelaces and gloving up during his hike tomorrow and later in the week.

He gets to work as I head out, taking a $3.00 taxi ride to the Supermaxi. Going to a real supermarket feels like a betrayal of our goal to live as the locals do, but there are a few items I just can’t find up the street. I’m hoping to get some olive oil, butter, and healthy proteins, rather than the soy and margarine-types I’m finding in the tiendas.

In the afternoon the green lawn and resident golden retrievers (Luna and Sisa) provide plenty of entertainment for the girls, between homeschooling and frequent games of Uno. All I need is the balcony and a warm cup of tea in hand to feel comfortable and settled. And the days begin to blend, one into the other, as we make a temporary home, half a world away in this busy city.

<–Day 6

/Have Family, Will Travel/: 24 days in Ecuador

Day 6: Back to Quito

Our stay at high altitude in Quilatoa (12,841 ft) will help Chris acclimate for his big climbs, but it also means we’ll need to cut something from our previous plan. Over breakfast (more yogurt over fresh fruit, bread, and eggs) we decide to make our way back to Quito, where we’ve booked a stay in a home on Airbnb. Staying the night in a hostel near El Chapo to climb Los Illinizas will be scrapped. Chris needs to get to a home base with good WiFi, so he can spend some days working while he continues to acclimatize for his big peaks later in the week.

We say our goodbyes inside to the many acquaintances in the hostel, and head outside to decide just what the best method to get back to Quito is. There’s not much time for discussion or to wish Laguna Quilotoa a sincerely fond farewell, as a man in a grey truck offers us a ride as soon as we step on to the road. We think the $6 fare for a private ride to Zumbahuaha sounds fair. Chris throws his large pack in the back, and we all jump in. We’ll find a bus to Latacunga from there.

Just a few minutes into the trip, Chris and Claire are grateful once again for the motion sickness meds (Bonine) and the Sea Bands they’ve worn on their wrists for the drives on this trip. The combination has really done the trick on the winding mountain roads taken at high speeds.

In no time at all, we arrive at a street corner in the small town of Zumbahuaha. Before we can even attempt to locate the bus to Latacunga, we’re offered another ride. This offer is $20 for the private, 1.5 hour ride. We accept quickly, knowing the bus would be cheaper and perhaps more entertaining, but take much longer with its frequent stops. Our driver playfully fights off other drivers as they approach us and offer their services as well. He rushes us to his truck before anyone can steal his passengers and fare away.

I manage to keep my eyes open for the entire trip to Latacunga this time. The highway is nicely paved, and though it winds up and down through the mountains, the drive is respectively smooth and safe. If it wasn’t clear already, it’s now crystallized that there is never a shortage of transport in Ecuador. Step out on any busy road or highway, raise your hand, and you’re sure to have someone stop and offer you passage, locals and touristas alike. No need to have your own car or plan too far in advance. Every mile or two, stands another Andean woman in traditional dress, elderly man, or local young man or woman seeking a ride. Our car is full, so our driver gives a couple quick beeps of the horn to say, “Look out!”, as he zooms on by.

We’ve learned in our short time here, that car horns say so many things; sometimes they’re greetings, sometimes warnings, other times friendly reminders that the car behind you is in a hurry, and I’m pretty sure sometimes they’re saying, “Hey! Check the intersection again. Maybe you really can go, but you haven’t noticed yet.” That’s a lot to say in a beep. One thing’s for certain, you better know how to use the horn when driving in Ecuador.

In no time at all, we find ourselves back at Cesar’s home in Latacunga. We quickly grab Chris’ big red duffel full of climbing gear and set off for the bus stop yet again. Our second time here, we’re much more familiar with this routine. We each pay for our 15 cent bathroom breaks and board the bus for Quito. This bus ride is much the same as our first, with frequent stops, letting passengers on and off as we go. There’s always loud music in the background, the driver changing stations often along the way, from reggaeton to cumbia to a more modern Latin pop. The drive wouldn’t be the same without it.

Finally after a half day of travel, we arrive at the bus terminal in Quito. It’s large and imposing, shiny and full of noise and people. It has a similar feel to an airport, but with a style I can only imagine in South America. There are bathrooms, with a woman sitting outside collecting money while she hands out measured stacks of toilet paper. The fee has risen to 25 cents in the bigger terminal. There is a two story section with vendors in small shops that resemble storage units with the doors raised. They sell fresh fruit, empanadas, burgers and sandwiches that sit out on counters at room temperature. There are little shops selling codes to recharge cell phones with data, next to others selling packages of candy and chips. The girls and Chris share a couple of chicken and rice empanadas warmed in a microwave after he buys more data for his phone. Then we’re on our way.

20180123_124404

We ignore our intuition, and accept a ride from a man that isn’t an official taxi driver. He speaks quietly, ducking behind pillars, and walking quickly as he dodges the eyes of officials in the terminal. Why exactly we follow through with it is unclear, but we let our guard down and regret it before his car is ever begins to move. Quito is a very large city, and our directions to our Airbnb home in an obscure corner of town confuse the driver. His driving is quick, erratic, and emotional as he takes us in a direction we know is wrong. For the first and only time on this trip, we find ourselves scared for our safety. He stops at a light, takes off his hat, and nervously wipes sweat from his brow over and over again. His honk to the woman ahead of us, when he’s clearly in the wrong, isn’t friendly at all. It seems to be much more confrontational than the cute little “beep, beeps” in the back country. He even yells obscenities and shakes his fist at the poor woman he almost causes to wreck, while he continues to ignore Chris’ GPS and pleading to turn around. I comically growl out, “Tu es no correcto!” in the meanest voice I can muster. My Spanish es no correcto too. The worry that we are a car full of naive gringos easily taken for ransom, becomes a near certainty in the whirling mind of Chris. And just as he puts the finishing touches on his secret plan to take control of the steering wheel, while I use my backpack straps to restrain the driver, all the worry and dramatic planning is suddenly for naught. Unexpectedly the driver begins to understand where he’s being asked to go and begrudgingly turns around and follows the voice on the GPS (Chris translating from English to Spanish).

We finally arrive on the correct street, where we hurriedly overpay the driver who increases our fare at the last minute. We’re eager to get him on his way, so we don’t argue when he explains it’s our fault he went the wrong way in the first place. Humbled and defeated by our $10 lesson, we walk, our shoulders slumped and our steps much less confident, down the road in search of our home for the week.

20180125_091503

At the end of this cobbled street of volcanic stone,

20180125_091330

we find this gate.

20180125_091207

It leads us to this warm and inviting walk,

20180125_091038

where we’re met with the immediate comfort and security of what will be our home for the next six nights.

20180125_091048

Our welcoming host, Jim, takes us back up the road to show us the local tiendas and bus stop, but we come right back here. Drinking our coffee and tea, we sit on this deck near our bedroom, looking out on the city. Chris uses the WiFi to work remotely, while the rest of us relax.

20180123_154629

The city is not at all quiet, but somehow we quickly find peace here. Not even wanting to leave in search of something to eat for dinner, we opt for bowls of oatmeal, all the necessary ingredients already available to us in the kitchen. 20180128_080102

We never knew that geese could scream, but here, in the middle of this gigantic city, the geese in the backyard behind ours, do just that. They scream us to sleep, with the accompaniment of car horns, music, and bus engines. We don’t mind. We sleep long and deep and without a care.

<–Day 5

Day 7–>

/Have Family, Will Travel/: 24 days in Ecuador

Day 5: Chugchilan to Quilotoa

I’m in the middle of explaining what today will be like to Lilah, as we head down a hill and out of Chugchilan for our last day of hiking the Quilotoa loop. I tell her that it will be the hardest day, with the most elevation gain, but that it helps to know what we’re in for in advance. We use our hands to mark off thirds of our trip, showing that we only have a 1/3 gap left to complete. I go on to say each step we take closes that gap and puts us closer to the end. “Doesn’t that make it better?” I ask. “To know what we have ahead of us and know that if we push ourselves we’ll get to the end faster?” I think I almost have myself convinced, but Lilah’s definitely not buying it. She would prefer not knowing how hard it’s going to be, and she’d like me to quit talking about closing the gap.

20180122_091334

The lip service is selfishly for my benefit, after waking this morning to massively swollen eyes and a sun burn that seemed to worsen as I slept, I need a little pep talk. I saw myself in the mirror, ran back to bed, crawled under the covers, and hid my face under a pillow. I decided I’d just stay there and pout all morning. This didn’t last long, because Chris was soon calling – time to repack our day packs and head to breakfast at Mama Hilda.

Again we filled up on fresh, sliced fruit topped with yogurt and scrambled eggs with bread, while we chattted with our Austrian friends from the night before. She tells us of their plans to climb Rucu Pichincha with a guide when they finish the Quilotoa loop in a couple of days. They are hiking the trail in the opposite direction we are, so we won’t see them again. We took quick photos of each other, settled our tab, and slathered on more sunscreen we borrowed from Mama Hilda’s office. Chris had a small amount he’d brought for his volcano climbs that we decide to use instead of what we used the day before.

Now we are just beginning our third and final day, sack lunches in tow. We’re all in long sleeves, high collars, and hats (if we have them). My hair is down around my face, and I’m wearing my buff as low as I can get it over my head like a beanie, to protect my sunburned face as much as possible. It feels perfect on this cool morning, but I know a hot afternoon is in store.

20180122_093110

Most of the day will be spent gaining elevation, with a couple deep drops mixed in. The clouds are sparse in the morning, and it’s sunny for our walk past more small farms and green fields. Everyone is in much better spirits now that we’re moving and all is going well.

20180122_092303

We meet up with the couple from Spain we met on day 1 of our backpack, as we begin a steep ascent on a loose, sandy slope. Our feet struggle to find purchase in the slipping soil, and it’s a slow go. It doesn’t quite seem right, but seeing them in the distance gives us confidence to push on. They make it past the sandy wash along with Chris and Claire. Standing on a flat spot above, they all realize the trail ends there. From above, we can easily see where we went wrong and where the actual trail will take us. We’re getting pretty used to this turning around business, and it doesn’t take much effort to stay calm and not worry about all the energy we just spent working our way through quicksand. Going down is much speedier. We alternate taking big steps, sinking our heels deep into the moist sand, and quickly sliding on our butts when it’s too steep to step.  This is fun! We reach the bottom with pockets full of sand.

20180122_095857

20180122_112906What goes down must come up in this game, and we’re soon on our way. Up, up, up, until we pass through the tiny village of La Moya. We admire the bright colors and signs that seem to cater to backpackers, then stop for a quick break and more sunscreen by the school. The children are out playing, and quickly leave the fenced area to come look at us. One girl, braver than the rest, starts a conversation. She wants to know where we’re from and if we’d like a picture with her and her friends. Of course! There seems to be a delicate balance between taking a picture as a memory and respecting the privacy of the locals. This feels right, and we have permission. The school bell rings and everyone is on their way, them to school and us up the trail.

20180122_110032

20180122_110735

Not long after we leave La Moya, we find ourselves heading upward on a small dirt path at the edge of a steep hillside. It’s a beautiful view, with a sheep herder to greet us. He is friendly and seems delighted at seeing our young girls on the trail, asking their age. They are easily the youngest touristas we’ll see the entire three days too.

We can see our trail lead ever higher in front of us. Looking farther ahead, it’s clear that we drop deep down into the valley below, to cross a river. When we reach the river, Chris and the girls take off their shirts and hats, wetting them with the cool water. This is good for morale as we head right back up the other steep side of the valley.

Continuing to gain elevation, we eventually find ourselves high atop dry hills with no shade. Andean men and women come out to greet us or just look at us in wonder, just as we do them. Again I admire their clothing and feel in awe of their grit, as the heat of the sun and my full coverage clothing begin to weigh on me, heavier and heavier with each step. Still we walk on and on and on, the girls chatting happily behind us.

20180122_125950

It’s here that I find myself in a familiar place. There’s a point, for me at least, in every difficult climb or backpacking trip, where my mind begins to build an irrational wall. A wall graffitied heavily with phrases like, “Why are you doing this?” “What a dumb idea.” “You can’t finish this.” “This sucks!” “This is all Chris’ fault.” “Is this even worth it anyway?”…I know this wall well. This wall makes this place, half a world away from home, seem like every place and no place I’ve been at once. And as I finally get up the nerve to tell Chris, “I’m done. I have nothing left,” the first and only tears of the trip leak out the corners of my eyes. He knows this place well too, and so he knows just what to say (which isn’t much) and just the right amount of space to give me to let it all out. I quietly cry as the girls continue happily behind me. I don’t want them to see my tears. They’re doing so well with no complaint. It’s right at this moment, a man (I think is a farmer) offers me a ride to the top on his motorcycle. I’ve been praying for this exact gift for many steps now. Somehow I manage the words, “No, gracias.” He laughs with me as I thank him, and I think we feel a bit of solidarity with each other. No doubt, he’s felt the pain I’m feeling now many times over.

20180122_135243

We round a corner and find this little shepherd’s hut adjacent to a green hill of sheep. There the girls take a seat, and I do the thing I should have done long before the tears came, eat a granola bar, drink lots of water, and take the energy chew Chris offers me. When we’re only a few switch backs from the top, the clouds move in quickly. We’ve heard many stories of hikers making it to the top of this or that, only to have it all hidden by clouds just as they arrive. I know Chris and I both share this same sinking feeling. It only takes a nod and a phrase (“Go ahead. We’ll catch up.”) for him to open up and fade into the distance of the slope above. I wonder if this is even hard for him at all.

Just then, I find the burst of energy I need to quicken my pace to the top too. I don’t want to miss the view either. Three more switchbacks and I see Chris with tears now. He’s overcome by the view I’m sure, and so many other emotions only the grateful tears can communicate. I make my way to the edge, and that’s all it takes to know it was totally worth it. Not just that, but so much better for it.

20180122_141229

The view of Laguna Quilotoa isn’t the only gift at the top. The air is cool and moist with a perfect breeze. There is a mother and son selling drinks and snacks in a hut. The girls get warm sodas, and I get a hot tea in a metal cup. We sit without a word, taking in the view. As soon as I finish my tea and return the cup, we set out again, working our way up and around the rim of the volcano’s crater to the town of Quilotoa.

20180122_142020

20180122_142052 (1)

The going is unexpectedly easy and enjoyable now. The clouds are cool and moist, covering us as we go. We talk, laugh, sing, tell stories and take pictures for the hour and a half it takes to get to town. My mind works to think of synonyms or sayings for penultimate, but it’s the best I can come up with. This is it alright, the penultimate.

20180122_154013

20180122_154640

We come through the fog and into town.

20180122_161319

Quilotoa appears to be designed for tourists alone, with a new park and many hostels. We’ll stay our final night at the second hostel we come to. We’ll see many of the backpackers from Llullu Llama at dinner and breakfast. We’ll know again that familiar feeling that there’s nothing like the gratitude created by a long, hard hike, and so we’re grateful for it all – the food, the room (with a fire lit by a boy at the hostel), the rest, and even the shower. This shower was a warm trickle, to a backed up drain, in a bathroom that smells so bad we will keep the door closed for the whole stay. I will gag once or twice at the smell, but none of us will complain.

And our gratitude will rock us to sleep with the comfort of knowing that even though we have a few things to figure out tomorrow, we have also have few steps to take on our sore, tired feet.

<– Day 4

 

 

%d bloggers like this: