For The Love of Travel

travel

Like so many of others, I love to travel. So many of us feel the urge to wander, to discover,  to seek a new adventure. I find this want to be virtually ingrained into my psyche, like an ancient genetic trait surviving from the days of our ancestors and their nomadic ways. Unfortunately, though, many of us tend to live under the misguided pretence that travel is expensive. If finances are leaving you believing that you are unable to take that much needed get away, there is hope. The key is to make a plan: set a budget, find the best deals, decide on the most convenient time, believe that it can happen, and follow through with your plans. As with all things, travel can be a major part of anyone’s life if prioritized and managed well.

One of my favorite past times is to plan an upcoming trip and try to find the most economical way to do so. This is a list of tips and tools that I have found helpful in trying to plan a vacation on a budget:

~The Great American Road Trip

One of the best things about living in America is how far you can get in just your own vehicle. From my home in mid-America, it is possible for me to get to either coast in less than 2 days. Some people may not find that idea appealing, but some of us love a road trip. Not only do you get to visit your destination, but also see all the sights along the way. With current gas prices at a low, my family has recently been able to enjoy more trips than usual. On one excursion, we made a 20 hour drive to Florida for about $350 in gas. That $350 paid for 7 people to take a vacation cross country and go somewhere we had never been. Definitely worth the time and money.

~Cheap Airline Tickets 

When time and convenience don’t allow for a long road trip, there are many ways to find cheap airfare. According to an article by Huffington Post, a recent study showed that the best time to book domestic flights in the U.S. is approx 54 days before your flight. For international travel, this number may vary. You can visit their site for further details: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/01/best-time-to-book-a-flight_n_4875266.html

I have also found that tickets tend to be cheaper during the week (Tues-Thurs) than during the beginning and end of the week. Using a credit card that offers points can also gain discounts on airfare. Signing up for email alerts can help keep you abreast of sales and promotions. I find that Frontier and Spirit airlines frequently have good deals on domestic airfare, especially if you are willing to travel light and avoid baggage fees.

~Visit During Non-Peak Seasons

We made our recent trek to Florida during mid-August which, as I was informed by locals, is part of Florida’s off-season. Because of this, we were able to find great deals on vacation rentals. One condo we stayed in was on a small island and right off the beach. It was perfect: two bedrooms, full kitchen, four beds, plenty of room, and even beach toys in the storage for us to use. All for only $150/night. During peak seasons, the same condo rented for $400/night. And the weather was still perfect.

~Bring The Kitchen Sink

Or, actually, stay somewhere that has one. When looking to save money on subsistence while out of town, try to stay somewhere that has a kitchen stocked with utensils and cookware so you can cook your own meals. This is very common in most vacation rentals and can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re feeding a large group.

~Groupon Is My Best Friend

There are so many ways to get discounts on travel. One of my faves is Groupon. It is easy to use and you never know what you might find. I mostly use it for finding things to do and places to eat while we are out of town. This helps keep the cost down on those extracurricular activities that you might normally spend too much money on. You can also find deals on hotels and even whole vacation packages. The deals are normally good  (close to half-off the regular price) and tend to be for businesses that are either off-the-beaten-path or new. While I have never purchased one of the vacation packages, there have been many times that we have taken our 4 children on whole “Groupon” weekends; going to restaurants, a bounce house, bowling, ice skating… all deals I found on Groupon for half the price.

We have a houseful of children and constantly live on a budget. But we still make time to travel and explore. I love it. My kids love it. It may seem like a lot of work to accomplish it on limited funds, but the experiences you will have and the memories you will make are priceless.

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Another Love Letter To My Babies

For My Babies
My sweet babies. You have saved my life, again. You teach me new things everyday; about life, myself, love, parenthood, patience, joy, struggle, beauty, sweetness. Everything. You require so much from me that I am forced to stretch myself to my limits, but you give so much back in return, sometimes when I least expect it and always when I need it most.
I have been losing my mind lately. Not completely. Not insanely. I haven’t flipped out on anyone. I haven’t completely broken down. While there have been atleast a few days in the past week that I found it difficult to get out of bed, I still have done so and faced the day with a smile on my face most times. Not all times, to be sure. I partially blame it on stress, partially on hormones, and partially on past pain that sometimes still wraps around my heart.
We came home from a wonderful two week vacation that was full of fun, love, family, and adventure. I really needed a break when it was all said and done. A break to get our home back in order. A break before both Dylan and I went back to school. A break off of work to just have me-time and feed my soul after the two weeks of family-fun-adventure. But my schedule and our finances didn’t allow for that. I think that is when my psyche started to fall apart a bit. All of these circumstances came together to make a perfect storm for me to have a slight mental/emotional breakdown.
And it’s been just over seven years since we lost Dad. I think there might be something psychologically significant about that time frame. I think emotions that I was never capable of dealing with all at once, slowly seep out at times. And seven years is just one of those boiling points for me and my heart. So, when the stress started to build up, I went to talk to my Daddy in my mind and heart like I might normally do. But I couldn’t hear the sound of his voice. I couldn’t imagine what he would say. And it killed me. I have come to grips over the years with the fact that he is deceased, as shall be every person’s fate some day. I have learned to believe that he still lives inside me, an essential ingredient to the very essence that makes up who I am. But at that moment I couldn’t feel him. An equally terrible feeling came over me, too. No one can ever take his place.
And then my babies snuggled me. Then my two gorgeous children wanted nothing more in the world but to be by my side and tell me how much they love me. There are many others in my life who love me. Your daddy was also sweet and loving to me during this time. He told me he loved me and bought me flowers and cooked dinner and tried to not be afraid of the tears I cried. But it was the love that I received from my two sweet babies that really healed my heart (again).
Rowan, you are such a beautiful, smart, strong little girl. You tell me everyday how much you love me. Dylan, you are so sweet and loving. You just told me earlier tonight how I was the best mommy in the whole world and that me and Daddy were your most favorite mommy and daddy ever.
I have a painting on my bedroom wall with a quote on it that reads “To love and to be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.” The love I share with you two is the epitome of this. It is your beauty that helps me to see the beauty inside myself. It is your sweet strength that reminds me of how strong I am. It is your powerful love that brings me back to the reality of how much love I have in my life.
I will have more moments in my life when I have to face sadness, stress, loss, grief. You will, too, my loves. But to face the feelings, to feel that pain, to cry those tears is not a sign of weakness. For after doing so, you may be stronger than ever before. During my moment of feeling sad and weak, your love helped mend my breaking heart. And I will love you forever and beyond. Thank you, my loves.
Sincerely,
Your adoring Mama

11 Things to Remember Every Day

Happiness, Healthy Living, Mind

My own personal list of daily reminders for how to be happy, have peace, and follow my dreams.

(1) I am beautiful.
Inside and out. I was created from stardust and the infinite Universe. I am a unique creation with endles possibilities for happiness.

(2) Listen to and care for my body.
Drink water. Lots of it. Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Get plenty of sleep. Exercise. Do yoga. Be good to my body.

(3) I am loved and loving.
There are so many beautiful souls in this world whom I love and who love me also. The most important of these being the love that I have for myself. I only need to connect to feel this love. Call a friend or family member. Tell my mother I love her. Hug my kids. Do something kind for myself and/or someone else.

(4) Be grateful.
Focus on the good things and give appreciation for them. Give time and energy to those things that bring me joy instead of feeling bad about things I don’t have. Be grateful for all the good in my life and make the best of it.

(5) I am strong.
I have already proven this time and time again throughout my life. Even the fact that I take the time to focus on self improvement, heal past wounds, and consciously focus on my happiness is an immense sign of resilience, bravery, and strength.

(6)  This too shall pass.
To be remembered in times of hardship and also in times of joy. The most painful moments of my life will eventually just be a memory to grow and learn from. Every happy moment will also pass. They are all to be appreciated.

(7)  I am creative.
Give time to my creative outlets. Write a poem or ponder a thought. Draw a picture. Let myself be inspired. Read a book. Visit a museum or some other inspiring place. Go for a run. Play the guitar. Listen to music. Dance. Commune with nature.

(8)  Focus on my dreams and goals.
Both long term and short term. Make a to-do list of the daily tasks and feel the joy of checking them off. Make a list of dreams and long term goals and give attention and energy to it everyday. Enroll in the classes to finish my psychology degree. Practice and study in preparation to obtain yoga instructor certification. Plan that family vacation to Disney or the adults-only trip to South America. Even the smallest effort is still a step towards following my dreams. The more energy and focus I put towards the dreams, the happier I will be.

(9)  I am divine.
Pray and/or meditate. Realign my spirit with and feel my connection to God and Universe. Fill my heart with love and gratitude and then extend it out to the rest of the world.

(10)  Stop judging (myself and others).
No one is “perfect” according to society’s standards, and yet we are all perfect beings. I have the right to be here, just as naturally as the trees and the birds. I have no right to judge someone else’s life. I am not them, so I will never truly know what it is like to be them.

(11)  Smile. Be happy.
No matter what life has in store for me, I decide everyday how I choose to view the world. Make the choice to find the good in life. Make the choice to be happy.

.colorado flowers

(Bouquet of wildflowers picked while hiking in the Colorado mountains. 😀 )

That Moment (to my children)

For My Babies, Poetry

that moment when I see you smile with unbridled joy
and the purity of your soul is so obvious it brings tears to my eyes
when your beauty not only lights up my world,
but also reminds me of the beauty inside myself
that moment when I am filled and overflowing with love for you
and I realize it is love like this that makes life worth living and makes all things possible

meandthekids

Confessions of A Self-Help Addict

Mind

It’s official. I am a self-help book junkie. It’s kind of a difficult thing to admit because it sounds so cheesy. The stigmata that reading self-help books is a sign of weakness or for those with low self esteem may make it difficult to accept. I can’t help but envision the Saturday Night Live skit with Stuart Smalley telling himself in the mirror “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” But I can no longer deny my obsession.
I have always loved reading and psychology, so the jump to the self-help genre really wasn’t that much of a leap. I should have known when I instantly fell in love with such inspirational books as Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. While these are not quite self-help books, they made me think of life in a different way and see my pursuit of happiness as something that I should be more actively taking part in.

Then there was a book on meditation, and then another book, the Art of Happiness which was written jointly by psychiatrist Howard Cutler and the 14th Dalai Lama. Memoirs by other people pursuing their happiness and facing their demons such as The Last Lecture and The Glass Castle also helped to fuel my fire. I moved on to another book on pertaining to meditation, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. I’ve read The Secret and also Hero, both are by Rhonda Byrne and are part of her series of books that focus on positive thinking and the Law of Attraction. I discovered Deepak Chopra who has several books which also discuss the connection that exists between all things, the great impact of our thoughts on the exterior world, and therefore the importance of positive thinking. One of my most recent favorites is The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book really made me understand that if we truly love ourselves we will have a limitless well of love to share with others also. I just finished Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life by Debra Moffitt, and I am starting The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent by Esther and Jerry Hicks.
I think it’s quite obvious that I have an obsession.

I have accepted this fact, though. I am even proud of myself for taking an active part in finding my own peace and happiness by attempting to learn from others. We all have emotional wounds. We all have our own issues to work through. The very term “self-help” implies power and initiative; a person taking responsibility for their own life and happiness and attempting to help themselves. If any person expects to be happy it will take at least some, if not an immense amount, of conscious effort on that person’s part. They do not call it the “pursuit of happiness” because you do nothing and wait for it to happen to you.

I am an altogether inspiration addict. On days when I feel down and slow or just plain depressed, words of beauty and wisdom can touch my heart and remind me that life does not have to be as hard as I sometimes make it or perceive it to be. Simple poetic and philosophical quotes can serve as reminders of how strong and wonderful I am, and be sweet mantras to repeat in my mind as I breathe life into my body.

What effect have all these books and words of inspiration had on my life? Am I a living example of happiness and success? The changes have been monumental, but they are taking place on the inside, which is where all change has to start. I am writing more (alot more). I am healing wounds from years past. I am being better to my body. I am unapologetically making more time for myself and focusing on my health as a whole: mind, body, and spirit. I am more aware of my thoughts and what it is that I’m focusing my time and energy on. I am being more compassionate with myself and loving myself more. I am forgiving and accepting myself on a daily basis, which in turn makes it easier for me to do the same with others. So, I would definitely say that my obsession has atleast been beautifully fruitful.

I will continue along my journey, learning about life and myself and finding the beauty in all of it. I hope to inspire others to do the same. I will not give precedence to the view that attempting to learn about and heal oneself is an act of weakness. On the contrary, it is a great act of bravery. We will all have to heal our own wounds and learn to care for ourselves if we want to find our own peace and happiness.

Maybe someday I’ll even write my own self help-ish  book.

                                                                      Steps-to-Self-Help-Motivation-300x292

“Give me love and nurture me today, and I may still be starving and dying tomorrow.

But teach me to love and truly care for myself, and I may flourish for a lifetime and beyond.”

~Sandra Lea

Letting Go of Fear and Worries

Happiness, Mind

The last few weeks have had the potential to be quite stressful. Family obligations, work, bills, kids. All that good stuff. There have been a few times when I felt the stress and worry creeping up on me. When there were issues arising that I ultimately had little or no control over, but that affected me and/or the ones I love. I found myself starting to get that feeling where my mind starts going through all the bad scenarios that could happen and my heart is wrenched in fear. Sometimes stress is good. The fight or flight instinct kicks in and motivates me to get things done. Sometimes, though, stress turns into useless fears and doubt that end up doing way more harm than good.

I’m getting better, though. I’m noticing it more when I start to feel this way. I’m being more gentle and compassionate with myself. I’m realizing that I can only control myself and not the exterior world. I can only do what I can do, and then leave the rest to God and the Universe. It does nothing good for me to worry. There is no reason to allow fear and stress to make me unhappy. That only takes away from life and makes situations worse.

In one particularly recent moment, there was an issue I was stressing about. I felt the stress, then worry, then fear leading up to freak-out mode. And then I caught myself. I spent some time doing the things I could do to help the situation, and then I went on. I stopped worrying and stressing about it. It would have done no good. To worry about it would have only put me in a negative mood, bringing out the worst in me and therefore turning a potentially great day into a horrible day. Instead, I gave myself credit for doing what I could do and admitted to myself that the rest was out of my control. I didn’t worry about it and had a great afternoon with my kids. And the situation turned out fine. It all worked out. I would have spent all that time worrying for nothing. I would have wasted a whole day stressed out and worried about the future. All for nothing.

Most of the things that we find ourselves worrying about will never really happen. Most of the things we worry about, we actually have very little control over. We can only control ourselves, our thinking, our behaviour. We can ultimately only be responsible for our own happiness.

Time and energy are all we really have in this world. I would much rather use mine to focus on positive thinking and things that make me happy rather than waste it uselessly stressing and being afraid of things that will probably never happen. It’s crazy to me now when I think of all the time and energy I’ve wasted on worrying about something. But I’m not going to fret about that, either. That is the past. I cannot change it, and I have no real reason to want to. Instead, I will be grateful for this moment and fill it with all the happiness I can. Because I can.

That Moment <3

Poetry, writing
that moment when downtown looks as perfect and pristine as an Ansel Adams photo
when a simple countryside inspires and takes my breath away like Monet
when a soft breeze both comforts and energizes and sends me home in my soul
to some sweet moment of love and laughter
when I can suddenly look around me and see the beauty in everything
that moment of peaceful bliss that is always locked away so deep in my heart
just waiting for me to find it
Monet-_Der_Rosenweg_in_Giverny

Composing My Morning Ritual

Healthy Living

Yesterday I started drinking hot water with lemon and honey first thing in the morning. Or, actually, I started drinking hot water with lime and honey since as I decided to do this, I also realized that I did not have any lemons. I did have some limes left over, though, from a guacamole recipe. Drinking lemon water is a much more popular practice, but my research showed that limes are probably just as good and possibly better for you than lemons. However, there is much more literature on the benefits of drinking lemon water, so I will probably switch to lemons after my next grocery store trip.

There are many health benefits to the practice ranging from boosting the immune system and reducing illness, assisting with weight loss and stimulating the digestive system to being good for the eyes and skin. The flavor is also quite yummy. The honey really does it for me. It has a flavor similar to drinking hot tea, but mellow and simple while at the same time sour and sweet. And it is so easy and cheap to prepare. The main reason I’m doing this, though, is to help me in my morning ritual.

Mornings are often hard for me. I have always been a morning person, given that I get good night’s sleep. However, my work schedule frequently has me getting home late at night, and I have two young children who frequently wake in the middle of the night in need of anything from a drink, a cuddle, or a trip to the bathroom. Needless to say, I am often groggy and slow to get going in the morning.

It is mainly because of this that I feel I could greatly benefit from an easy morning ritual. I can’t always do yoga first thing in the morning. I don’t always seem to have the time to meditate. But I am surely going to have SOMETHING to drink. Coffee has been my friend for a long time now and will continue to be at times, but this is obviously not the healthiest option. And there is always the dreaded, inevitable caffeine crash. Why not instead make something easy, cheap, AND good for me? Lemon water is a healthy alternative for me to look forward to from the time I get out of bed. Something to help me wake up, and the purity and ritual of it make me feel centered and ready for my day. A new part of my morning ritual to put me in a more creative state of mind; one that will make time for yoga and meditation and find creative ways to deal with the tasks of the day.

So far I am enjoying this subtle change in my morning. I do not see such a small addition to my day as being life changing in itself, but I do so it as a sweet beginning to composing a beautiful morning ritual. More than that, though, I am happy for just being more mindful and actually attempting to create a morning ritual to help get my day started off right. It’s little healthy steps like this that help to cultivate and grow my own being: by being good to myself, making time for healthy habits, and continuing to learn about myself and the world around me.

                              

A Meditation On Love

Happiness, Meditation
I am beautiful, and my heart is full of love. I do not require anyone else’s love to be happy. I have enough love inside of me. I want others to be happy. And I want to be in healthy relationships with those I love, but my love for myself, and therefore my happiness and peace of mind, cannot depend on other people or things. This is not necessarily because of their flaws or potential to hurt me, it is simply to say that I have to love myself and be happy with myself before I can experience any other type of truly loving relationship. If I have no love in my heart for myself, then I have no love to give to anyone else. But if my heart is full of my own love, then I have all the love in the world to give to others. I want to share it with everyone, and I don’t require it from anyone else to be happy. I have enough.
Slowly learning these lessons is a beautiful and life changing thing. It means caring for myself, listening to and appreciating my body, changing destructive behaviours, using positive thoughts to motivate my self-love, and in turn my love for the world. It means reaping all the peace-finding benefits of loving thyself, and therefore being able to truly love others. It is filling my heart with a beautiful, nurturing love and appreciation for myself, which allows me to also see the rest of the world with more kindness, appreciation, understanding, patience, and love.