Category Archives: vacation

The Hermit Life: Saying Goodbye to February’s Darkness

I live, write and mother from “God’s County.” There’s even signage on our back road one-lane highways to prove it. Yes, I’m a cheese eating, Packers and Brewers cheering, God-fearing Wisconsin girl through and through. While I’ll likely never leave the great Badger state, here’s the thing: February in Wisconsin is the table by the kitchen in the darkest corner hell.

February and I are not friends. It’s been cold for too many consecutive weeks and people haven’t seen hide nor hair of a human being not covered in marshmallow shaped coats or fur skinned hoods since Christmas. The icing on top of that lovely cake is the fact that there’s only light for about 2 minutes a day in February.
This February my four-year-old assigned animals that have the same likeness to each of our family members. I was given bear.

“Why bear?” I asked.

“There are mama bears in stories that get mad when others bother their family. Plus, you like to sleep.” She said.

There’s a burn, four-year-old style.

My overly-observant daughter has a point. In fact, if I’m going to survive a Wisconsin winter it would ideally be spend hibernating with my bear cubs. Unfortunately, people don’t take well to shut-ins and society expects me to change the children out of their pajamas for Mass and company.

Therefore, until I’m rich and famous and can snow bird on out of here for 8 weeks every winter – February is about surviving.

I can’t imagine life without the four seasons. Plus, having the cold tundra of winter keeps many creepy-crawling bugs out of our state by a deep freeze that kills them all off once a year.

However, the pros just don’t outweigh the cons when it comes to a Wisconsin winter. By the time Lent rolls around every year I often feel like if there’s another doom and gloom day in my soul I just may roll over and play dead until spring. Things are always the worst at the darkest hour of the night (or in this case, year). Thankfully, hope rises with the March sun. There may be snow/sleet/rain and hail, but there’s hope.

Last weekend my husband and I took a late-winter trip to Door County, sans kids. We hiked through the freshly fallen snow and bare trees to a violent and spitting Lake Michigan.

The trees were heavy and bent with the wet, sticking snow of a late-season storm.

They were my peers, the bent trees. Hunched over, naked and frail from a winter of coldness and little light.

A tree doesn’t turn from its source of light as we humans do. Trees search for the light and chose to grow toward what they know sustains them. They grow heavenward. In the cold bitterness of the darkest times they may bend downward but they survive because spring will come and they will bloom again.

With gratitude, I too know the story doesn’t end in February. Just when so many of my branches are on the brink of snapping, Lent comes and the pain is reigned in and re-focused heavenward. This carries me until the bloom of spring – when we are all resurrected.

This winter I’ve put my hermit like behavior to good use. You may have noticed my absence in the social media words. It’s been deliberate. When I’m not changing a diaper or crying into the reproducing laundry pile I’ve been wading knee-deep through the messy dream of writing a book with my dear friend and fellow writer/speaker Woman at the Inkwell. It’s funny how our dreams tend to bend us ever so slightly and look a bit messy.

It’s March and I’m ready to do just that, march forth. God willing, beauty will bloom in the chaos. At least it will be spring, and there will be light.

Winter Trees, Door County, WI

Budget Woes: Is Vacation a Necessity?

With the start of another year, many are reflecting on personal and familial habits that may need to be re-examined. For families, the top slot on this list is often the family budget.

The budget tends to burst at the seams comes January. December can bring, “It’s a little much, but it’s such a perfect gift for —-,” and, “We can’t stick to the grocery budget, it’s the holidays and we’ve got things to bake/cook and memories to make.”

Every January we sit down with the budget and cut the fat. It’s not that difficult of a job. We know what we’re comfortable spending in each category and it’s easy to see where we are falling short. We look at the numbers and plan out the next year for our family. We think about each month and what our needs will be and everything runs smoothly – until we get to the summer months and one budget category jumps out.

That category: Vacation.

Should we take a family vacation?

No matter how much (or little) money there is, we’re frugal. It’s just how we live. What we have we save because we know there’ll be a time of need. There are student loans that could be paid or a home that could be saved for. Do we spend a large chunk of money over the course of one week in the summer?

The answer for this family is a resounding YES! For us, a vacation is a necessity and something that needs to be budgeted into our lives.

A few years ago my husband, who struggles with a chronic health issue, had a complication after a surgery and I had to rush him to the hospital. There was a serious question as to if he would live or die. I called a few friends to sit and pray with me as the doctors worked and I waited. During that time I didn’t think of our budget, the student loans or if I’d gone over on cell phone minutes. Instead, I was haunted by something my husband had recently shared with me,

“My favorite thing in this world is when we’re traveling and you all fall asleep in the van. I love to drive my sleeping family.”

This memory was interrupted when the doctors came to tell me they had found the problem and that my husband would make it. My friends smiled and looked at me for tears or leaps of joy.

There were tears, but the only thing I could think of to say was:

 “I want to go on vacation for our anniversary.”

Our favorite things are important, especially if they help bond us as a family unit. For us, it’s vacations. They are the thoughts that haunt us when we are reminded that this life is temporary and they are the first memories of our very young children.

There is something to be said about cramming five people into a mini-van and living out of a cooler for five days every summer – if it’s done together.

We’re not millionaires over here, so vacations mean other sacrifices throughout the year. We can do vacation on a dime. My husband and I even play “fun games and challenges” to help ensure vacation is possible for our family. You can make dinner for five out of a cooler for consecutive nights and those “free weekend if you take our timeshare tour” trips are actually really fun – and they serve lunch.

Taking his three daughters to Disney World is my husband’s dream. Old age isn’t likely for him, so I’m determined to make it happen sooner rather than later. We even have a code phrase for the dream in our home. “Someday, when we go to the Mouse’s House” we say as we dream while attempting to not tip off the children. It’s a bit early to share our dream with them. We’ll wait until the vacation category in the budget can grow. Until that time, vacation will always have a place in our budget, even if it is a small one.

Does your family have a “Mouse’s House” dream vacation? Does your family have a favorite vacation spot you want to recommend?

Vacation: taking time to climb rocks

I took a weekend vacation and never went back to work

After two years of hard work and 6 months of extreme family sacrifice, my husband recently defended his graduate thesis and received his master’s degree. The very first thing we did (even before the poor sleep deprived man took a nap) was book a mini family vacation for the following weekend.

Over the past few months “family time,” has gradually slipped further and further down the priority list. It was the season of our life and we feel confident the sacrifices we made will pay dividends for our family, but something had to be done.

Have you ever started a deep cleaning project and stopped to take a break only to find yourself mortified by the mess you’d made? Things tend to get worse before they get better.

We put all other pressing things we had let slide over the past month on hold and picked our family up off the floor.

We visited Wisconsin Dells, staying away from most of the tourist attractions and focusing on quality, low-key, family time. We took a horse-drawn ride into Lost Canyon, boarded a “choo-choo” train in North freedom, WI, and had a morning under the big-top at Circus World in Baraboo.

As with any family vacation with small children, there were casualties. Anna was kicked by a horse, there were 4 scrapped knees, mama and the baby got too much sun, the brakes on the van died and Tessa’s ear found the not-so-friendly end of an iron stool on the train.

Amidst the excitement and wonderful family time, the cloud of stress and indecision that had been hovering over us lifted and feelings on recent big changes in our life became more clear.

I recently accepted a position at a parish to work 25 hours a week coordinating Faith Formation. The parish is wonderful and the people working in Faith Formation are wonderful. At first instinct 25 hours per week sounded like a bit much for me. I work from home 10 hours a week, freelance write, and you know- mother 3 kids 3 and under. I was offered flexibility and I do have this master’s degree in theology collecting dust on my shelf so, I signed on the dotted line.

But something funny happened while we were on vacation, taking time to enjoy each other and not letting the stresses of everyday life live in the forefronts of our minds. Somewhere between the picnic lunches, relaxing in the hot-tub and spending family time together, for the first time in recent months prayer found a way to pierce through a barrier it couldn’t break through at home:

Joseph decided this is not what he wants for his family.

I’ve been blessed with a loyal and true man. In the almost five years we’ve been married we’ve had many decisions to make. Some of them were placed upon us and out of our control (medical emergencies), and some of them we brought on ourselves through the mistakes we’ve made. And, we’ve made a lot of mistakes.

It has taken my husband a while to figure out what he wants to do “when he grows up.” It’s been hard, having him figure this out as we had 3 kids in 3 years and while he also had 2 heart surgeries in that time. He’s worked really hard to finish his master’s degree and put himself in a position to advance his career.

The only thing he has been sure of in the five years we’ve been married is that he feels called to help me fulfill my call to write. He doesn’t want me to add something to my plate that does not promote that calling, and does not want me going back to work – taking time away from my callings of motherhood and writing.

How blessed I am with a husband who feels even more strongly about my callings than I do.

I will not be going back to working outside the home after all. I’ll be sticking with my work from home job and freelancing. Since we made this decision we have received several affirmations so we are going to trust in my husband’s plan for our family, and in God, that this plan is the best one for us.

My weekend vacation led to my not going back to work.

Vacations are important (even the Pope agrees). They give us a chance to step out of our everyday responsibilities. They give us the opportunity to see our life through a different lens. This time, for us, that lens was a bit clearer and we were able to identify the mismanagement of our priority list.

There are many ways to take a vacation or “time-out” in life. Sometimes they lead to bigger and better things than souvenirs and pictures for the scrapbook. Have you taken one recently?

Mommy Time!

Remember that person you were, years ago? Before the Catholic knight in shinning armor, and before your union was blessed by the little miracles with tiny feet and full diapers? I hope you remember, because I had briefly forgotten. That person was young, hopeful, slightly misguided, and full of dreams too numerous to fill the many years she prayed would come.
This weekend, I have been reminded that although that young college girl made some mistakes and had no idea what to base her life on—she was always a special piece of God’s love! That’s right, it’s college gal pal reunion weekend! No husbands, no children, just old friends and new fun times!

We came with high hopes. Catching the train into Chicago and spending the day at Navy Pier, followed by some shopping on Michigan Avenue, was the name of the pipe dream. After an hour of going the wrong way, singing and laughing, we arrived at the train station just in time to watch the train roll on by us. We laughed like school girls and, although our post baby bellies may have jiggled a bit more than they did when we shared our laughs in dorm rooms, it felt oh so good!
We decided the truth of the matter was that we all just needed some time together and a little break from the everyday tasks of taking care of those we love—so we could remember why we love them so very much. This took about 10 minutes for me. I think God made mommies this way to help remind us to see His face, along with ours, in the eyes and messy faces of our little ones.

We split our time between the mall and the hotel hot-tub. I ever bought a few things for myself! My two VERY generous friends got sick of watching be struggle with spending money on myself to get a pedicure and decided to treat to me. Oh how thankful I am for great friends who remind me I need a little pampering now and then, and then letting me keep my mommy neurosis—and get my toes done as well!

Our toes! I had a hard time letting someone pamper me–but I thought if I spent some of my pampering time praying for the person doing the pampering–then it was ok!

I’m truly thankful I’m not the young gal I was in college. I’m also thankful to be blessed with these woman who still enjoy me, even though I’ve changed so much. I still enjoy them as well. We don’t believe in the same things, live our lives the same way, or always understand the decisions made by each individual, but we were given to each other long ago—when we really needed one another, and in a way, we still need each other today. We challenge each other, laugh together and never judge one another when a zipper doesn’t zip—we just head off to grab the next size up, handing it over without actually saying the number out loud. What more can you really ask for in a friendship? As we wind down tonight, one hand on the wine cooler and the other on the laptop, I feel so blessed to have shared this time with these beautiful woman, and so blessed to be able to wake up in the morning and return to my amazing family, and go to Mass together as a family. God bless the evening Mass!!

One of the faces I’m missing this weekend! Anna Clare 5 months (this was taken the day I left)

Celebrate the woman in your life today! The ones we share our faith with, the ones we laugh with and the ones who help us grow into better woman! I’ll be sure to say a special prayer of thanksgiving, asking the ultimate mother to join with me, at Mass this week! God bless you all, and thank YOU for being in my life!