Documenting The Journey Of A Man On A Quest For Mindfulness, Peace, and Joy

Category: Outdoors

On Sabbatical – Weeks 12 and 13: Tapping Into the Wisdom of Family, Elders, and Familiar Land on a Road Trip to Canada

We drove many miles. 

We connected with family.

We enjoyed poutine. 

There’s our 2,220 mile international road trip in a Canadian haiku nutshell, folks.

When the pandemic foiled our plans to visit Canada in 2021, it was a disappointment. Then again, the pandemic was the cause of many disappointments for many people. In the grand scheme, it wasn’t a huge loss. We just kicked the plans back a year. Which, like so many pandemic disappointments, had a big silver lining, because it meant that we got to make the trek while on sabbatical, which meant extra days of fun and not needing to thread the corporate needle of available PTO days! 

Being a Canada native, I still have many ties to the country, mostly in Ontario. I moved to Wisconsin when I was five years old, and I lived there through the end of high school. Nearly every summer, though, my parents would take my brother and I on the twelve-hour drive from Neenah, WI to Magnetawan, Ontario, where my mother’s best friend owned a tiny lakeside plot of land in a private campground called Lost Forest Park, or as we affectionately call it – LFP. For a handful of years, we would stay as visitors in our friend’s trailer, but the lot next to our friend became available for sale, and my parents were motivated and able, so they purchased the adjacent lot, and from that moment on, this place has been our family lakeside getaway. Why would we stake a claim to land that was a 12-hour-drive from home? In part, because of all the joyful memories built up there over the years with our friends and other neighbors, and in part because just three hours south of LFP is the greater Toronto area, where many of our extended family still reside. We would often couple the drive to LFP with a tour into the city, to see my grandparents, or cousins, or other friends, or some combination therein. Or, once we had our own trailer in the campground, sometimes those relatives would leave the city for a vacation to come visit us in “cottage country.” 

During my college years at the University of Minnesota, I still had the summers “off,” and I did make it back to Ontario a few times. After that, though, life started happening. I was an adult. I started a business. I was living in Minneapolis, which is a 17-hour haul from Magnetawan. As much as I missed that place, it was hard to make time to return. Still, once I met Kristyn, we did make it there once as a pre-child couple, and once again with our fresh, three-month-old firstborn in tow. That most recent visit was six years ago. It was time I made it back to where it all began for me. 

And so, we drove. Many miles we drove. Eventually, after the DVD’s borrowed from the Hennepin County Library wore thin from use in the minivan DVD player, we arrived. 

Keys to success for long car rides with kids:

  • Start early in the day. If you start before sunrise, they can be sold that it’s still nighttime and that we need to sleep for a while. 
  • Fill a laundry hamper with a variety of books and toys that don’t make noise and get mileage with the kids’ attention. Hand puppets, fidget poppers, sketch pad or LCD writing tablet. 
  • Save the big guns. Start out with the toy hamper. Once all options have been exhausted, proceed to playing verbal games like “I Spy” or “Find the colors of the rainbow.” Once the appetite for games has run dry, proceed to playing their favorite music. Once voices are tired, should you so choose, then and only then resort to a screen. If you start an 8-hour drive with a screen, you are likely doomed for the tail end of the journey. 
  • Plan for more time than Google Maps says. 
  • Before the road trip, train kids how to do an efficient and germ-free “bush wee.” (Thanks Bluey for the lingo.)
  • Bring extra hand sanitizer. 
  • Pack tons of snacks. Then pack a reserve bag of extra snacks. Pack your snacks somewhere you can actually reach them without stopping the vehicle. 
  • Don’t forget an in-vehicle garbage bag and wipes/napkins. 
  • If any issues on the road arise, when in doubt, throw some fruit snacks at it. This usually solves the issue. 

THE FIRST EIGHT DAYS BY THE LAKE

We spent the first eight days in Canada at my parents’ recently upgraded trailer at LFP. It’s still new to them, and thus very new to me and my family. As we entered the park grounds and made our way down the winding gravel road, trees hugging the shoulderless edges on each side, I could feel a buzzing inside of me. A buzzing of excitement, but also of… familiarity. Comfort. I’ve been here before. I know this place. This place knows me. 

Even though many of the structures and people in the park have changed, the land has not. The lake is still there. The beach still has sand. The chipmunks still startle you with their shrill chatter. The pine needles still stick to your foot when you opt to traipse around in bare feet. 

We packed a ton of fun activities into these eight days:

  • tubing
  • wakesurfing
  • fire pies and s’mores
  • late night card games
  • kayaking
  • sunset glow-in-the-dark frisbee toss
  • jumping, crawling, and floating on the giant “lily pad”
  • trampolining
  • hammock laying
  • late night bonfiring
  • made many trips to the dusty old “log” (lodge) to play ping pong, air hockey, foosball, build block towers, and have dance parties 
  • ate popsicles with our toes in the water
  • calmed down for the night by sitting on the end of the dock, watching the sun set with our toes dangling in the cool lake water

THE MAGIC OF RETURNING TO THE SAME PLACE OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME

Anyone who has ever traveled away from their home to see a new place they want to see knows – it’s fun and exciting to see new places. And there are those that live in the same place for years upon years of their lives, and those people know the value in staying put, owning your property, becoming familiar with the land, and having a place with years of memories built up. 

There’s another kind of magic that gets unlocked when you leave and return to the same place many times over the span of 35 years. I felt this sensation again and again while at LFP, and it is hard to describe. 

First, there was part of me that was expecting everything to be like the way it was when I was there as a teenager. I know I’m older now, that I have a family and a whole life in Minneapolis, but it was like I was expecting everyone else to have been frozen in time. What do you mean the neighbor kid that used to be five years old is now graduating high school? How can it be that some of my favorite neighbors no longer own a spot in the park, and haven’t been coming for years, or aren’t even alive anymore? 

It’s more than that, though. It’s like a mixture of equal parts comfort and surreality. Comfort of knowing the place, knowing the sights and the smells, but the surreality that it’s no longer the time that is so deeply engrained in my memory. You know how the music you listened to as a teenager stays with your forever? It’s not because the music back then was so much better than it is now; it’s more about how that’s the music you were listening to as you were in the years of building and shaping your true identity. The music gets attached to that. I think a similar imprinting has happened with me at this place. 

Part of what I enjoyed about training for a marathon and logging all of those miles on the trails near my house was that it gave me the opportunity to gradually observe the changing of the seasons, the passage of time. One of my favorite patches of trail was running from my house to Bryant Lake and back; the lake served as a sufficient “carrot” to motivate through a longer run, because the view of open water never ceases to revitalize my body and spirit. Depending on the time of year, the trail looks different: in spring I could see right through the bare trees and get a view of the lake 1/4 mile before reaching the beach, whereas in summer with full growth I’d have to make it all the way to the beach before seeing water, and in the fall I enjoyed the awesome reds, oranges, and yellows of the foliage along the way.

Returning to LFP over the years has a similar effect; it unlocks a different, larger way of viewing and processing the passage of time. It gives new meaning to what the concept of “five years” or “twenty years” means to me. It allows me to tap into younger versions of myself, to actually feel the feelings I had felt years ago. Memories, for me, are typically much more about what I did than what I felt. But when I return to this place, which I’ve been to so many times, I do remember the feelings. The feeling of freedom and adventure I would get, being allowed to walk the “roads” of the campground unsupervised (because it is a private and close-knit community). The feeling of anticipation as I’d look out at the lake to see if it was calm enough for an ideal waterski. And I’d especially feel the feels when looking at the sun setting over the western edge of the pine-topped horizon, a view that I’ve drunk in so many times in my 37 years, a view that never gets old. Watching the sun set over that lake now, and the sense of calm and closure of a day well lived that it brings, it’s like I not only get the sense of calm from today’s day, but a larger, deeper, aggregate satisfaction from all my previous sunset watchings combined.  Like there’s some extra frequency I could tap into, a parallel timescape that I could touch by standing in the exact same place I’d stood years before, and years before that. 

Never underestimate the power of returning to a place in nature from your childhood.

 

STOKING THE EMBERS OF RELATIONSHIPS

Much like the cool embers of a fire need stoking in order grow back into a warm fire, a relationship that has cooled off over time can also be rekindled. If too much time passes, those embers will be colder. The feelings fade over time, unless you make time for rekindling and reconnection. 

This is a notion that came up as I reconnected with old friends and neighbors at LFP – people I hadn’t seen or talked to in six years. It didn’t take long to jump back in to comfortable, friendly chatter, but I realized that, had a few more years gone by, there would’ve been so much to get caught up, it would’ve taken longer to warm back up to each other. 

It serves as a reminder that for any relationships I value, I need to make an effort to stoke those embers if I can feel them cooling off. 

Reconnecting with longtime friends

 

GETTING PULLED BEHIND A BOAT AT THE SAME TIME AS YOUR KID

Of all the types of rides one could do, I have to say that getting pulled behind a boat is up there with the best of ’em. Whether you are in an inner tube, on some sort of ski or board, or using your bare old feet, getting pulled behind a boat at speed is as close as most of us get to walking on water. Nothing quite instills the same quality of joy in me as skimming across the top of a calm lake, feeling the smoothness of the water as I slice through it, the wind whipping my air, and soaking in the same lake-top view the loons get to enjoy every day. 

So it stands to reason that when I got the chance to get pulled behind a boat, on a circular tube, with each of my kids taking turns to ride the same tube with me, I was an enthusiastic “yes!” The best part about that experience was my view of my kids’ faces. Holding on to the same tube, our faces were mere inches apart. Once they got comfortable going at a speedy clip, I demonstrated a few other ways to lie on the tube (as opposed to on the belly), such as bringing your knees in and crouching on all fours. After lying back down, my kid scooched up on all fours for the first time, and the view I got looking up to that ear-to-ear smile, with wind-strewn hair and nothing but sunny blue sky overhead, knowing that I once felt that same, first-time-tubing joy on this very lake, and getting to be there and share in it with a point blank view of it all… that is a hard moment to top. 

 

HIKE INTO PARRY SOUND WITH KRISTYN

One day my parents treated Kristyn and I to the gift of time; they offered to watch our kids so we could get away for some hours of togetherness between the two of us. Lucky for me, I’m married to someone who, like me, enjoys the simple things in life, so we used our gift of time to seek out the nearest hiking trail for some quality time outdoors, which led us to the North Shore Rugged Hiking Trail in Parry Sound, an inlet of Georgian Bay, which itself is a part of Lake Huron. 

We clocked a good number of miles ambling along this not-so-well-marked trail system. Hiking with Kristyn is one of my favorite activities. When you hike with someone else, because you are both moving, and you are both surrounded by nature, and you are not sitting face to face with each other but are moving alongside each other or in a line (i.e. not making direct eye contact), it opens up a new level of conversation and thinking. Movement sparks creativity and insights. The shared rhythm of moving together aligns that energy. It was such an enjoyable few hours of my life, and the only thing I needed was a trail, a water bottle, and my partner. 

Kristyn hiking happily

We ended up finding a glorious sit spot with many flat rocks, warm to the touch from soaking in the day’s sunshine. Our shoes and socks came off. The spot was pretty secluded. We stayed. We meditated. It felt like one of those spots you find in nature that you want to make your home and never leave. Eventually, though, the time did come for us to make our way back.

Taking in the view of Parry Sound, ON

The sparsely detailed map we had seen at the trailhead showed the trail went north along the shoreline and eventually hit an end point where you simply turn around and come back south, with a few various pathways all heading the same direction. We had made it to the end of the trail, and as we started to make our way back to the parking lot, we took a few turns we hadn’t taken on the way out. We did this on purpose to explore one of the other pathways we hadn’t seen on our northbound jaunt. We got to the point, though, where the trail started forking in odd ways, higher up into the hillside, with residences becoming visible through the brush. We were still on a system of trails, but it was starting to feel wrong. Some might have said we were lost. Kristyn, unworried about the situation, pointed out, in one of the many conversational sparks of insight one gets while hiking, that, “Getting ‘lost’ is really just having too much attachment to a place that’s not where you are right now.”

From that moment on, any time I feel lost, whether it be a physical, locational lost or a mental feeling of being lost, I will remember this wisdom and fill myself with mindfulness that wherever I am right now is where I need to be. 

 

CHANGE OF PLANS WITH A SILVER LINING

As we approached the end of our planned stay at LFP, an unpleasant surprise developed. We were supposed to go stay with my cousin for two days, and then my aunt and uncle for two days, but the latter group got COVID-19. Boo! They were vaccinated and had mild cases, but it still meant that we could not stay with them for two nights as originally planned. We opted to stay an extra night with my parents and tack on an additional night with my cousin in Stouffville. While it was a bummer to not see them, there was a definite silver lining in that we removed one transition from the itinerary. The first night with kids in any new sleeping arrangement tends to be a bit chaotic, at least for our family, so as things unfolded we were glad to have one fewer “first night in a new place.” 

So after one final rainy day at the trailer, we packed up and headed three hours south into the city to stay with my cousin, her husband, and their two boys aged 3 and 1. 

 

CONNECTING WITH COUSINS

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for my three cousins from Mississauga. For the first years of my life, they were my only first cousins, and my brother and I were their only first cousins. Among the five of us, I am the oldest. The next oldest is my cousin Allison, a year and a half younger than I. Because we were (and are) the two oldest, there was always something a little extra magical about our bond. Even though we never lived close to each other, grew up in different countries, and would only see each other on rare family get togethers, it still feels like she is the “sister I never had.” What a treat it was to get our newly formed families together and live under the same roof for a few days! 

It was a treat, and it was also mild pandemonium. Anyone who’s been in a house with four kids under the age of 6 knows what I’m talking about. 

But truthfully, it wasn’t really pandemonium at all. I was so impressed by these parents of two young boys. They are in the middle of making baba ganoush while also calmly attending to a needy one year old and also having an adult conversation with me. How? I don’t understand. I can’t even make mac and cheese without needing complete silence and eight feet of space around me on all sides.

While the daytime hours were fun, the good times really heated up after the kids got to bed. What I enjoyed most about these few late-night convos with my cousins was that we skipped over common small talk and got right into real talk. What are we striving for as parents? How does one get financially free? Just how different is a Canadian accent to a Minnesotan one? (Hint: if you need to find out the answer to the latter, just put a Canadian and a Minnesotan together and have them both pronounce the sentence, “I left my house to go to a boat conference.”)

I also immensely enjoyed their ritual of evening tea after the kids went down. Not the way I make tea, which is to microwave a mug of water and then toss in whatever tea bag was within closest reach out of the Lazy Susan. No, they made tea. With a kettle. And a teapot. A teapot we would all share. And we drank the tea out of a Turkish tea set (like this). And there were lemon wedges. This all probably took an extra four minutes to prepare compared to my bachelor-style method of tea-making, but the impact of the difference was immense. I could feel a greater sense of bonding, of community with the four us, simply by all sharing tea out of the same pot. We laughed, we cried, we laughed some more, all while sharing in our tea. When the pot emptied, we refilled it. (We did need something to wash down the salt of the ketchup chips.) This was a shared ingestion behavior that I was grateful to take part in and have modeled for me. I’m looking forward to integrating this ritual into my own home. I’m now in the market for a Turkish tea set.

 

UNLOCKING THE WISDOM OF GREAT GRANDPARENTS

With my cousin’s house as our home base, we ventured into the city of Toronto on two different days to visit each of my grandmothers. It had been years since I’d seen either of them, and I was excited and grateful for the opportunity to introduce my children to their great grandparents. 

I also knew that this would be a rare chance for me to have quality face time with my aging grandmas, and on our hour-long drive into the city I considered what I might want to ask them, what knowledge or story did I most desire to selfishly extract and internalize. It dawned on me that the only reason I’m even here is because of the choices they made, because of their successful parenting of their own children. So I decided that no matter where the conversations went, and no matter how distracting our kids were, at some point in each visit, I was going to ask each of them, “When you think back to when you were raising your kids, or even as you look back with hindsight, what kind of parenting philosophies or strategies did you use? What do you think to be the most important things in raising children? What should I do with my kids?”

Their answers astonished me. Not because of what they said, but because both my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandmother said virtually the exact same thing. 

The one answered my query with a more thorough response: “Let children be their individual selves, whatever that means. Resist the temptation to compare one child to the other. We are all different, with different strengths and skills, no matter how ‘equal’ or ‘fair’ the parents may try to raise them. One kid might need more affection, where another might need more movement and rough play. Give kids what they need even if it means one needs ‘more’ than the other. ‘Fair’ isn’t always fair.” 

The other grandma, upon hearing my question, answered without hesitation: “Let them be. Just let them be.”

When my second grandma uttered those words, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It sounded so similar to the first response. And, my grandmas are right. By the time kids get to be 4-5 years old, they really don’t need much help anymore. They want to do things for themselves. They don’t want to be taught – they want to do. They don’t need to be corrected – they will end up figuring it out on their own. It’s my job to keep them safe and then get out of their way. I am deeply grateful to have received this insight and reminder from the elders in my family.

If there’s something you really want to know – ask your elders!

 

GOING WHERE THE ENERGY FLOWS

We capped off our road trip with a one-night stay at a family friend’s house. They are long-time family friends, they have a great house with a backyard pool, they have two older kids (and our younger kids love playing with older kids), and they live in an area that was on our way home, but none of those are the reasons we made a point to visit them.

We slated one of our road trip days for this visit because of how, over the course of many years, the adults in that family made Kristyn and I feel along the way. We felt cared about. We felt seen. Noticed. Loved. They are the type of people that make sure to send you a note on your birthday, that ask about you when they speak to one of your relatives, that just genuinely seem like they give a rip. So many people today are so busy with their own lives, they don’t make time to look up and stay connected to those close to them (or those that were once close). These folks do. I felt a deep sense of knowing that we needed to make an effort to see these people. 

Turns out, I was right. We had a glorious day. The kids paired off nicely and entertained each other while the adults got to sip and chat (which is usually the goal, is it not?). 

Two of my favorite quotes from this 24-hour visit:

Adult, while playing a late-night card game, a tad frustrated after losing several hands in a row, and then losing the next one because of having taken too many tricks, but it was actually her low cards that had won the tricks and the high cards had not – “F*@!, that’s not how I thought I would be angry!”

6 year old to 11 year old, who have never met each other, while standing next to the diving board – “Should we hold hands and jump off that?” They did. <3

 

IN CONCLUSION

We then drove home by way of Chicago. It was a fairly uneventful two-day drive, which is exactly how I prefer my two-day drives to be. 

I am so glad I invested the time and energy into making this trip a reality. You know it’s the sign of a good time when you’re already thinking about when you’ll come back to a place before you leave it. Until next time, Canada!

 

On Sabbatical – Week 10: Into The Woods With A Child

In the wake of Bro Day, I have been feeling like I’m losing touch with the purpose-driven fervor with which I started this sabbatical. I had, and still have, many goals for this “mini-retirement,” and it feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface on a few, while others remain untouched. I think it may simply be the slower speed of summer settling in. I’m enjoying my life. I’m seeing friends. I’m being active. Yet there is still this nagging feeling like… I’m not doing it all. Like I’m “supposed” to be doing something different or better or more when I choose to simply relax, be in my body, breathe, and stare at the trees for twenty minutes, or when I choose to go be social with a friend. Letting go of the idea of how things are “supposed” to be is one of my sabbatical’s ongoing pursuits.

SUPER MUCH FUN HAS A PRICE, AND IT’S A PRICE I’M WILLING TO PAY

I’m learning to embrace the balance that having “super much” fun (as my four year old would say) requires. Not just ordinary, go-for-a-jog or play-a-game kind of fun, but coordinated events, travel to exciting destinations… super much fun. Namely, it requires planning. It usually also requires a period of cleanup and decompression afterward. When you are in planning or cleanup mode, it is harder to be present in the moment and enjoy the now. That’s the price of having an epic Bro Day or a first-time camping adventure with your kid. It’s a worthwhile price to pay – exchanging the time of planning and cleanup in order for next-level experiences to be had. I just have to remind myself that it’s OK to have humdrum days too, and there is peace and joy in them, if I’m willing to be mindful enough to see and feel it.

TENT CAMPING WITH A KID

For the first time ever, I took my oldest to a campground for the weekend. Just the two of us. This was on my “must-do list” at the very beginning of summer. Why? It’s one of those things I just had a gut feeling about. An intuition that this is the summer where the age is right and the time is now. I love the outdoors and getting by with fewer amenities than I have around me in everyday life, and I want to share in that love with my children. So my six year old child and I embarked on a two-night tenting adventure into Minnesota’s St. Croix State Park.

Here are my top takeaways from the experience:

  • There is a fine line in parenting between giving your kids agency over their own choices and giving them firm direction on how things must go. I believe in both approaches, depending on the situation. When it comes to camping and being outdoors, there are certain things one has to do. Make a shelter. Get water. Apply bug spray. I found that proposing how things will go was a useful frame for both of us. It set the kid’s expectations and put us on the same page for the next minutes of life. Comments such as, “We are going to do this, and then I’d like your help with…” or “Here’s the plan. I want to make sure this all sounds good to you. First we’re going to ___” were useful ways of me directing the flow of activity while keeping the kid engaged.
  • Kids love jobs. I couldn’t give them enough jobs. The key was really selling it that my situation was dire, that I desperately needed aid, and that I couldn’t figure out the exact solution on my own.
    • “I could really use your help with these dishes. I don’t have enough hands to use this drying towel to dry them after I’ve washed them. What can we do?”
    • “Can you do me a huge favor? This might be a really tricky job, but I need someone to go around and find little sticks for the fire. Do you know how to do that?”
  • If the situation was such that I did want to give the kid a chance to choose, I would propose a short list of equally acceptable choices, rather than an open-ended question which could have less than agreeable outcomes. So instead of, “What do you want to do next?” it was, “Up next we could go for a hike, go to the beach, or go on a scavenger hunt. What sounds good to you?” I was good with any of those options, so it was a guaranteed win-win.
  • Kids love cold and hate hot. I knew this before camping, but it was reinforced with their relentless, unending love for swimming in frigid lake water and with their sincere trepidation around a bright, hot campfire. It is quite clearly a survival instinct to fear being burned and to be completely at ease around cold (because water is naturally cold!), but it is odd how we grow into loving hot beverages and hot showers as we become adults. Kids have an instinct that these hot things aren’t as good for us as their colder counterparts, and they’re right. Hot beverages can burn your tongue. Hot showers do dry your skin. Part of my parenting journey is learning to be more like my kids, because they have innate wisdom I have somehow unlearned.
  • I was reminded that children of all ages are still developing verbal skills. They don’t have the communication acumen to actually say what they need or are thinking all the time. (Come to think of it, neither do I!) A disgruntled, “Ugghhhh, this is taking for-ev-er!!” while on a hike is really just their way of saying, “I don’t know where we’re headed and am afraid I’m going to get tired before we get there. I feel lost. And I’m bored with this. Can we make this fun somehow please Dad?” It’s easy to get triggered by kids’ complaints. I continue to ask myself, “What is my kid really saying here?” and it is an incredibly useful reframe that helps me co-regulate with them and move us both back into calm and joy more quickly.
  • Spontaneous hugs from your kid because they are just feeling pure happiness toward you might fill my heart up more than anything else in the world.
  • Queen-sized air mattresses. You’d think they’d offer plenty of space for one adult and one child. Heh. We would start the night with each of us on one half of the bed. As the sun comes up, I would wake to find the child’s half of the mattress completely empty and bare, the kid located in my spot, wrapped like a tight burrito in all of the blankets, and me balancing on the mostly-deflated mattress edge with the slightest scrap of sheet around my ankles. Next time, we’re getting cots.
  • Car camping with a six year old is almost all the same gear as camping solo. It really was not much more work at all. I packed one extra chair and pillow, a few extra clothes (which are small), and an extra box of spaghetti. And bubbles.
  • Kids don’t like “hikes,” but they do like “searching for raspberries.” They will hike 5x farther with a little rebranding.

The payoff of a keen eye on a morning hike

GOOD PROBLEM

On our final night in the woods, we made a campfire. Two weeks prior to this camping trip, we had our first encounter with sparkler sticks – the classic 4th of July variety. As sunset turned to dusk around our campfire, my kid got the idea that they wanted to create their own “sparkler” using a stick and igniting it in the fire. Up until this point, the responsibility of fire had been left solely to me, but this seemed like a golden opportunity to begin to have a deeper learning and experience with fire. They brought me a stick and asked if they could stick it in the fire, but I replied that this stick was too wet and wouldn’t burn properly. So they found another one and asked again, but I answered that this stick had green leaves on it, which meant it won’t burn properly because the wood is too new. Again, they searched the ground for the right “sparkler” stick, and this time, they were sure of the stick’s caliber. I could tell by the look on their face; this must be a good one. And while the stick was not wet, nor was it green, it was laughable in size – it was a piece of bark no longer than an adult thumb. I instructed, “This looks like a good type of wood, the only problem is, look how short it is. If you tried to hold it to the fire, in order to get close enough for it to light on fire, what would happen?” And they looked at the fire, and down at their thumb-sized piece of bark, and back at the fire, and finally gazed up at me and, with a nod of approval, replied, “Hm. Good problem.”

As they retreated to scour the campsite yet again in search of the perfect stick, I was struck with that phrase. Good problem. The kid meant it. They were happy to have been given a good problem. One worthy of their solving. One that presented a challenge yet was reasonably solvable. One that was not a “no,” but was an invitation to work toward a solution. With a child that is intrinsically motivated to find a solution, a reasonable problem is the ultimate brain food.

Ultimately, they did find the perfect stick, and we had ourselves a fire ritual. At the kid’s request, I lit the end of the stick in the fire and then handed the flaming stick to the kid. While it didn’t expel sparks, the flame died out and transformed into a glowing, smoldering ember, much like a stick of incense. Under a starlit sky, with the orange ember glowing, the thin stream of smoke drifting with the breeze, and the feeling of power that comes with wielding fire, 100% of the kid’s being was there, in that moment, completely absorbed by the now. So was mine. It was a special moment to share together. I cannot recall a time in my life where I’ve spent more minutes staring at a stick. Our first fireside ritual is a memory I will take with me always.

My Sabbatical – Week 4 – Prioritizing Pursuits And Accepting The Truth Of My Actions

A sabbatical is glorious in many ways, and it also has its challenges. With the stripping away of a more rigid daily and weekly structure, with a reduction of commitments and obligations, which grants me additional free time to allocate as I choose, comes a challenge. A challenge of variety, of options, of opportunities, of… open-endedness. There are many endeavors I wish to pursue, and all of them require minutes of the day (although some, such as living more mindfully, can be practiced throughout the day). How to prioritize? I have many goals I want to tackle all at once. I want everything to happen now. I want to be fluent in Spanish. I want to have five songs written and produced. I want five boxes to fill themselves of the stuff we don’t need and donate themselves to places and people that will use them. I want this blog to write itself. There are ten different website updates I want to make to this very site, not to mention the three other websites I want to be building, but each little change takes me ages since everything is a first, and firsts have a steep learning curve. And I know this kind of sounds impossible and “woe is me,” but even though I don’t have a day job right now, even with all those extra hours in the week, it’s still hard to make time for all of these things. Or even half of them! What things make the cut and which get left for later? This is the mental battle of my early sabbatical. 

I’ve noticed, though, that I am making time for certain things. I am preparing (and happily eating) home-cooked food daily. I’ve set up an exercise space in the basement and am getting out on the sand volleyball courts regularly. I am saying “yes” to my kids almost whenever they ask to play with me. Perhaps it turns out that the actions I’m making time for are my top priorities. We are what we do. 

Impromptu scooter ride midday on a weekday, because on sabbatical, Dad says, “Yes!”

One of the goals or tasks I keep writing down on my various lists is the project of purging. I’ve been wanting to purge, purge, purge. Strip things down. Declutter our house. Declutter my mind. But with planning for international travel coming up next week and trying to live slowly and not be too “busy,” I haven’t been making room for big purge projects. However, one thing I have been doing is playing with my kids and being present with them. Maybe that’s a fair trade-off? Maybe that’s what this week of sabbatical is supposed to be about. If I had been on a decluttering spree and grinding away at my laundry list of hobbies, I would have missed the following interaction with my kid.

With a delightfully tactful and simply-stating-an-observation tone, I had commented, loud enough for my kid to hear, on how hard it is to see any portion of the actual wood floor in our playroom. Any parent can relate. The kid stopped, eyed the playroom up and down, and turned their head to me and replied, “Daddy, I think we have too many toys.” Oh, I agree, young one. I agree. And so, without any further prodding or encouragement needed, we purged. Now, it was not the poetic, total toyroom overhaul that it could have been, but together, we picked up stuff and agreed whether it should be shelved or binned. 

And so, by letting go of the perceived need to be self-improving and making progress doing my long list of goals, and simply being a present father with my child, I not only got some decluttering done, but I also had a positive, bonding moment with my child. 

Letting go is getting me where I want to go. 

 

TANGENTIAL PARENTING HACK: If your 4-7 year old kid doesn’t enjoy “picking up” the play room or bedroom, suggest “neating” instead. Our kids all out sprint the other way when we mention picking up a room, but if we neat it, carefully replacing items to their homes ever so delicately and neatly like a member of the royal family might, oh, neating is so much fun! 

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SILENCE

Sunday, June 12, 2022

I messed up earlier today. I intervened when I should have done nothing. Or rather, I spoke instead of silence. Silence is tragically underrated. Silence is where magic happens. A silent lake at night divulges a loon’s call from miles away. Silent, tantric stares with your partner can unlock an unknown depth of intimacy. Silence is where you learn. 

My co-parent and our kids were having a calm, strategic bedtime negotiation around the remaining screen time of the night, and since it was a “Mommy Night” (we trade bedtime nights), I was doing my job, which at that point was to stare out the window and do nothing. Be a fly on the wall. Let what happens, happen. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t doing my job. During a pause in the mildly tense but perfectly under control negotiation, I commented that, “this conversation is sure taking a long time,” attempting and failing to imply the logic of, “think of all the minutes of screen time we could have gotten by now had we simply agreed on something and started watching.” I just couldn’t help myself from intervening and trying to help the situation. The thing is, the intent of offering assistance doesn’t make all actions right. And the discomfort I felt in that moment is a me problem. 

Upon conversation with my partner and further reflection, many of my missteps in life stem from an underlying tendency toward perfectionism. A sense of editing and revision to live every moment with maximum efficiency, maximum rightness. Why is that instinct there, to always be improving, always be optimizing, maximizing, even if it doesn’t matter? I have a few ideas, and I’m also jotting it down as a future journal prompt for further unpacking. 

Ultimately, I need to trust my partner to live their own parenting journey. And I need to trust my children to have their own journey. From every stumble, at least I can always learn. 

 

REFLECTION FROM A HAMMOCK: BEING OUTDOORS IS BLISS

Sunday, June 12, 2022 continued…

I had been on such a high to come out in the gazebo tonight and write. I got what felt like a huge breakthrough earlier tonight by taking “one teaspoon more” as I embarked on nighttime cleanup duty, which started out with picking up the front yard while it was still light out. 

When it’s a Mommy Night for bedtime, it’s a Daddy Night for cleanup. I ventured out to pick up the day’s toys, chairs, and miscellanea. I left the camping hammock suspended between our two Eastern White Pines for last. It was a gorgeous Minnesota summer night, and the sun was just about to set over the neighbor’s house to the west. But I had cleanup chores to do and a long list of personal hobbies to pursue after that, so I briskly unclipped the hammock from its straps and had it half packed into its stuff-sack when I froze. I looked up and the pink and orange setting sun and thought to myself, “What the heck are you doing right now? You love sunsets and this weather is lush.” And so rather than charge ahead on my task list, I slowed down, reattached the hammock, and sank in to a reflective meditation by sunset. And laying there, ever so gently rocking back and forth, gazing up at the canopy overhead and the drifting clouds above, I had the following epiphany. 

You can sum up one of my truest pleasures in life in two words: being outdoors.

These are phrases transcribed from the 4:22 Voice Memo I captured on my phone while in that hammock meditation: 

  • “I find myself realizing that being outdoors does bring me joy. It’s as simple as those two words. Being outdoors. … Every time. Every time I’m connecting with nature, it brings this overwhelming sense of peace, where I feel like I can actually… touch my soul, feel my soul.”
  • “It feels… indulgent. Like I’m somehow not deserving of just sitting outside and enjoying the sunset, like I should be doing other, more productive, things. For my family. For myself. But… this is nourishing myself. Just, chillin’ horizontally, on a hammock, with my weight suspended, with a gorgeous sunset, underneath a forest canopy, is… one of the best things there is in life! And I just need to remember that in my day to day. When I’m outdoors, my bucket is getting full.”
  •  (Tangential commentary on the benefits of hammocks): “There’s something about the way a hammock works on your body… because you’re horizontal, because your hips are relieved of any pressure, the opposite of when you’re sitting… because you have this anti-gravity posture, it feels like you’re… cheating, like you’ve found the loophole of physics to allow your body to relax. It’s like the same tranquility of floating in water, but without all the work of paddling and holding your breath, not to mention the needing-to-find-a-spot-to-swim bit.”

I can’t get over how cool it is to be experiencing the recurring theme that slowing down and doing less results in more clarity, more joy, and, paradoxically, more progress

 

MUSIC IS MY MUSE

Sunday, June 12, 2022 concluded…

Eventually, the sun did set, and duty called. It was time to put away the dishes away, so I headed inside and popped in my AirPods. I’m washing, listening to this “Wondewall” remix on SoundCloud, and I’m dancing, quite well I might say, and it’s hitting me, that dancing may be a “tier two” passion of mine. If I’m being honest, I’m no Michael Jackson, but I do have rhythm. I started playing piano at 6 and played until middle/high school, where I transitioned to saxophone. I also played drums in the church youth band. I played a few small-town gigs in a jazz combo. I went on to play in Jazz Band at the University of Minnesota. I’m constantly tapping out percussive beats and improvising goofy song lyrics with my kids. And yeah, when it’s dishes time, I drop in the AirPods and get my dance on. Is there any better way to get the dishes done than to dance with them?

It’s good to acknowledge your strengths. I believe there is huge benefit to leaning into one’s strengths. And as vulnerable as I feel writing this, that I will come across as arrogant, I believe that it’s OK to be proud of my skills and that there is power in naming things, and so I will name that I have a skill of shared rhythm with my kids. Shared rhythm is one of the many concepts I’ve learned from Kristyn, and I believe that it’s an area that I often excel in, and I’m connecting just now that it may be in part because I’m a naturally rhythmic person. Shared rhythm is not necessarily percussive, of course; having a back and forth conversation or going for a walk together are also shared rhythm. But in the literal sense, I can feel things click with the young ones. For example, when my kids ask me to do “Run-Unders” with them, they are referring to me dribbling an extra large yoga ball, in our basement, as high as I can without ricocheting back off the ceiling, in a consistent, steady beat, so they can time out a sprint underneath without getting tagged by the ball. It’s wicked fun, and in the game we share the rhythm of the bouncing ball. (Of course, the huge yoga ball does eventually crash into them, but only when they choose the rhythm of silliness and stopping mid-sprint to let it crash into them, at which point I let go of the old game and pivot to align with the rhythm of silliness.) 

Then it was time to do the dishes for real, not just dance to a remix of Oasis’ crowd-pleasing masterpiece from the 90’s, and I switched over to Spotify. Spotify is one of the few apps I happily pay for every month. It’s a rare subscription bill I look at and am 100% at peace with paying. I absolutely love having the world’s music at my fingertips. Of its many delightful features, Spotify’s algorithm customizes a set of six “Daily Mix” playlists tailored to your listening habits and grouped by an overall “feel,” with “Daily Mix 1” typically being more of your frequently played, go-to songs, with Daily Mix 6 being the collection of the 10 random songs of that one obscure genre you secretly like and rarely, but every so often, listen to. I hadn’t used this feature in a while, and today, Spotify curated the most serendipitously customized “Daily Mix 1” to not only my specific, eclectic taste in music, but did so in a series of 8 or 9 songs in a row that perfectly fit the mold of the mood I wanted to be in. First with a couple blood pumping, foot-stomping jams like “LIGHT” by Parcels and Jungle’s “Smile,” then into a more relaxed, but still toe-tappin bass line of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up – Pt. 1”, and then slower still with a brand new release from Jacob Collier featuring Lizzy McAlpine and John Mayer, “Never Gonna Be Alone”… and as I’m writing this about music, it is really hitting me that music, rhythm, dance… these also are things that make my soul shine through.

Being outdoors, music, good food, family… what more does a man need?

And yet, even as I’m dancing away, synchronizing my dish scrubs and rinses with the beat of some of my favorite tunes by my favorite artists, allowing the rhythms and melodies to take over my body, in my own house… I’m noticing that it’s hard to truly, truly let go, to truly be the wacky, shirtless dish dancer that my soul wants to be. I think up more outrageous dance moves than I actually allow my body to do, even when no one is watching. It’s like there is this deeply rooted fear of judgment of others, fear of doing things someone might judge me for doing, fear of doing something other than what society expects me to do. 

Above all else, I need to allow me to be myself.

 

FINAL THOUGHT 

Writing is hard. I’ve had different pieces of this post written for a while. Procrastination gets the best of me. Steven Pressfield’s “Resistance” is real. It’s easy to find excuses to do anything but simply opening up a blank page and starting to write. Self-judgment. Perfectionism. Resistance takes many forms, and they all get in the way of doing the work. I suppose I am grateful to have made the first step, which is acknowledging their presence and typing this paragraph anyway.

OK, enough yammering, onward to Week 5 – a week in Costa Rica!

 

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