Valerie’s Posts

The Paradox of the Working Vacation

working vacation

I’m sure I’m not the first to say that a working vacation often ends up to be not quite either working or vacationing.

So that has become very clear. I work more than I vacation, but I do vacation more than I did when I was at home. The question is,is a working vacation better than just working? Vacations can be stressful, many of us need a break after our vacation just to recuperate.

(Also, some may say, “What right have you to vacation so much?”  I mean vacation more as in rest and recuperation.  As in olden days when they take the sickly boy to the shore for months on end to recover his health.  That’s pretty much spot on.)

I can work anywhere, and the kids can school anywhere, but if we don’t take advantage of where we are, what’s the point in not just being at home?

And then there’s the idea of costs, if I am getting only two or three hours of enjoying where I am and taking time to recover in the day, is that worth the cost of essentially supporting two households?

Then I consider that those three hours used to be spent in the most stressful time of day—homework, shuttling people around, figuring out dinner, trying to wrap up work on top of that. Replacing that with a few hours of R&R seems almost priceless.

If the goal was to maintain some kind of balance, I’m not sure I’m achieving that quite yet. As the benefits go up, so does the cost, both in terms of literal financial cost, and the cost on my time to ensure I maintain those financial milestones.

So in a way, I am seeing the good things have come out of this experiment, but the harder things seem to have kind of kept pace. That might sound like balance, but really it is just more of everything.

For the most part, the children prefer this lifestyle hands-down. I can’t speak for Ben, I will let him speak for himself, but the others want to stay on the road forever and wish everyday that Dad could join us.  They miss the pets and occassionally miss some sense of home, but after four weeks away and two weeks at this house, it seems they are not really wanting to go home. However, they seem to be wrapping up their interest in being here in this particular spot–can it be the wanderlust in our blood has that short of attention span?

It seems 3-4 weeks is about right in a new place, especially if one is working and can’t spend all day sightseeing. In that case, it takes about two or three times as long to see what one would have seen in a dedicated week and really get to know the surroundings. (Only yesterday was I able to stop using Siri to get to basic places around town.)

And I’m starting to feel that more than a month starts to feel a lot like the same old drill we had at home, but with not quite enough familiarity, not nearly enough time with my significant other, and definitely not enough bandwidth on the Internet, which was been a constant source of stress for an inherently Internet-centered lifestyle and on some days has tripled my work time (and frustration).

But yesterday I finally realized I had way faster internet using my iPhone hotspot on the beach, and the clouds parted and I felt sunny again, although that also will have a cost.

Our next three weekends will be filled with friends and more lively activities, so it should be a good time. Today  all five of us played some maniac tennis (everyone on the court with no rules except trying to keep a ball in play) and watched the sunset on the beach while Lucy and Noah swam a little bit, which is a lot more living than I used to do on any given day.  Who can put a price on that?

None of this is meant to sound ungrateful, the whole point was to observe the pros and cons and learn what I can about whether working travel is a sustainable way to run a family.

The jury is still out, but I’m hopeful. As I said to David tonight, it is like a tricky puzzle that you pick up and work with, occasionally putting down and saying it’s impossible, then picking back up and trying again. I do that in a figurative sense several times a day with this way of life.  I don’t think this puzzle is impossible, it it’s just a little complex, and more often than not, I enjoy the challenge of solving it.

“Always Wanting Another Now”

Lao Tzu

I had a wonderful conversation today with my dear friend Monique, my old walking partner.  I walked on the beach while she pushed her stroller through unseasonably warm Farmington.

We talked about how we fall into the trap of always wanting another “now,” when this moment is the only one we can live in.  We spend all our energy striving for future change and “progress,” but paradoxically, we only progress as we accept and pay attention to the moment we are living in, rather than wasting this moment wishing for another one, a different kind of now.

This moment is the only one where we have a body and can act and choose to be wise, kind, and grateful.  Yet we so often mentally leave this moment to fear, strive, worry, and plot our future or lament our past. But in the past and in the future we are paralyzed, because we can never live there.  It literally takes away our God-given body to always have our mind in the past or the future where we cannot act.  How ironic that we come and have this physical experience only to end up spending all our time disembodied—mentally the past or future where we are powerless—our eyes closed to the moment’s lesson God has already provided for us here, in the one place we can act, in this very moment.

Our intellectual mind wants to know the plan–sure, we trust there is a divine program going on, but could we just see the whole blueprint first just in case?

I think it is a matter of trust–do we trust that God can provide this moments lesson here and now, where we can work with it, and that the lesson is the right one for us?

Why do we assume that our own weaknesses or past mistakes can derail the Divine ability to make this flawed moment the perfect teacher? Can we trust that God is big enough to make this imperfect moment and our flawed self into the perfect lesson?

And wasn’t that the beautiful, painful, grace-filled plan from the beginning?

The circumstances and players of this moment in my life is both irrelevant (because all moments have divine power to teach so much), and also so very important (because this moment holds the most relevant and perfect lesson I need in this moment).  My moment’s lessons, when I stop to look, breathe, and feel my body from the inside, are often exactly what I need, I learn that I am safe, that there is beauty, that I am held.

This kind of post I usually reserve for my other blog with spiritual thoughts, but this idea of not wanting another now is so critical to this experiment.  To learn from this, I have to be here in both mind and body, and it’s strange how hard that can be in this crazy world.


Forced Simplicity

you want dinner again?

I remember reading about one man who lived through Hurricane Sandy out east who said that it was actually really nice to simplify his life down to just making sure his family had shelter and food.

I think I understand that a little better now with this experiment.

When it comes to the kids, I do need to make sure the education is happening (but I chose online school for a reason, knowing my pretty expansive limitations).  Each of the kids has a daily checklist that needs to get done–school, chores, music, etc.  My job is to make sure they do that stuff, but Ben and Sophie are almost entirely independent with it (a financial incentive has helped that along), Noah is an early riser and often almost done with school before I even get up, and Lucy, well, she’s the youngest and we’re still working that out.

We have skillful days and less skillful days, both her and I.

So really that leaves me mostly with making sure they are fed, something I honestly always resented before–they wanted dinner every day!  They’d ask me about it every day, sometimes even before lunch!  They would always wait until I was clearly in a time crunch and losing my mind with work around 4 p.m. when it wasn’t even relevant yet–“What’s for dinner?”

It made me crazy.  And because I was checked out and a mess the last two years, the week generally consisted of a pasta night (cooked by Ben), Little Caesars, In-N-Out, breakfast for dinner, cereal, Harmon’s deli family dinner, etc.

Why is it different now, out here in this rented house in the middle of nowhere?  I don’t know, but maybe it’s because that’s really all I have to do.  I don’t need to get them up and out the door in the morning, I don’t need to get them to a million places all afternoon.  I don’t need to stress out and worry and fear about my mothering like I used to.   I just have to feed them meals.  And I do!  Some days, all three!

I shouldn’t be so impressed with myself for doing what millions of mothers do without a second thought every day, but I literally felt plagued by the routine and drudgery.  I can’t explain it. I don’t know why it was such a big deal and I never came to terms with it.

Yet now that feeling is gone.

We eat balanced, home-cooked food almost every night.  We make breakfast.  We have lunch food and snacks in the kitchen.  They’ve stopped hiding and sneaking food like kids in a famine because they weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from.

I am spending a ridiculous amount on groceries, though.  I’m sure it’s not more than I spent before, because it was hidden in take-out and school lunch expenses, and I have teenagers after all.

Sometimes Ben and Sophie cook, but when I stand now in the kitchen and take my turn, I’m not resenting it and feeling pulled mentally away to do a million other things I should be doing.  I sometimes even stay present and enjoy it.


I really can’t understand what has changed.  I need to think more about it. But I can only say that it seems like I just have less things on the list, which makes me feel like I can do it.

At the end of the day, I find great comfort in the fact that my family responsibilities really just include food and shelter—and of course a hug here and there.  Before, our life was a disaster.  Now we understand that post-disaster simplicity.

I’ve Been Afraid of Changes

Not really, I love change—I am fueled by variety.  But I love that song, because I’m a walking mid-life crisis, and that song is the anthem of the female mid-life crisis.  Let’s just remind ourselves of how great it is:

And yes, I built my life around a lot of things that the landslide brought down, but this little family remains.

So, changes.  First of all, the kids and I never spent this much time together, and now it’s sort of isn’t an option. I don’t think I fully understood that my alone time was officially over.  It might have made me nervous had I realized it earlier, but I’m surprised how comfortable it is to be with the kids all the time now.  That’s not to say I’m not crabby and yelling too much still, but I don’t feel like I want to run and hide like I used to.

Ben will go and body surf or longboard on his own, and Sophie and he will ride the beach cruiser bikes that came with the house around our little beach community. But very often we are all together, driving for a little sightseeing, shopping, actually preparing and eating meals together. I realize this is normal for many people and doesn’t require such extreme measures to make happen, but this wasn’t the case for me, apparently.

We eat in, we get bored.  It’s nice.

I heard from Amy (a brilliant psychologist, so it must be true) that it’s a good idea to change environments when you want to make changes, because the old physical environment and associated triggers will be gone, and you can create new habits that go with the new surroundings.  I have definitely seen that.  The kids are more diligent on the daily job charts, the house seems to be running way more smoothly.  Aside from my own personal habits that still need attention, the family functioning is greatly improved at this point over how we were.

You can say perhaps the novelty will wear off, but aha!—the experiment has perpetual novelty built in.  So bam! [Mic drop].

[mic retrieved] So a big factor is that when schoolwork is over, sometime after lunch, there is no where to be. No music lessons, no gymnastics, no activities planned.  It’s so interesting to see what happens then.  Ben and Noah play foosball and actually interact sometimes, and I can see Noah just loves that. Noah discovers a puzzle in the cupboard and puts it together, or he pulls out his Legos.  People get out the kites in the garage.  Sometimes the kids go to the beach without me (although they don’t love that because Noah and Lucy can’t get in all the way).

Of course, everyone still begs for screen time, which I begrudgingly indulge more than I should to get my work done. I justify it when I think about how much time I watched TV as a kid, and look how great I turned . . . . oh, wait. Dang.

But overall, it is clear our family is getting more familiar with each other, and, unable to avoid each other, actually are building some friendships.  More inside jokes are popping up.  Older kids are interacting with younger kids, explaining stuff.  We have interesting discussions at the dinner table that happen spontaneously.

It seems by opening up our home to include the whole world, our little family seems more of a central unit.  Whereas before, our little physical home used to be the center, yet we were all simply satellites in our own orbits.

Day One: The Experiment Begins

love the spin family at sunset

It is day one of our great experiment of family vagabonding–seeing the world while taking care of business (school and work) online.

Well, if you want to be exact about it, it’s day 15.

But for me it was day one, because this first big trip was about being by the ocean, and today was the first day I actually got in the ocean.  Here I am, waking up a block from the beach every morning, but some days I might as well been in a cubicle in an office building in Tulsa, for all the difference it would have made in my day.

This is because of that obvious, irritating, and forgotten maxim—”Wherever you go, there you are.”

As we removed so many things that can cause discomfort–bad weather, altitude, complacency, predictability, interpersonal drama, never-ending house chores, all that stuff–I’m left with what discomfort still remains, and realize I brought myself with me.

So this won’t surprise anyone, but I haven’t stopped being a drop-down drunk workaholic who can’t get up from her computer for 5 minutes to go look at the water, or eat, or shower.  The “one-more-thing” paralysis that starts when I first check email in the morning before rolling out of bed, and ends some days long after the kids have gone to bed.  Here in paradise, I still find I’ve lost the entire day and haven’t changed my clothes or been outside for a truly unhygenic amount of time.

When we stayed with Kath and with Amy, they all noticed it.  I got sideways glances from all of them, just as if I’d started sipping a secret flask at 9 a.m.  “You need to go outside for a minute,” they’d say.

When I’m by myself, I can pretend it’s not completely unreasonable.  The kids know how I am, and have essentially honed the skills of Boxcar Children–schooling and feeding and taking care of one another as needed—when mom’s on one of her work binges.  And it just so happened that one of the more intense work spells hit right as we left for our experiment and has only just started lightening up.

I can justify that this is just one of the joys of self-employment, but if I’m honest with myself, that’s not it.  It’s just obsessiveness and imbalance.  Self awareness stings, and with all the good things I’m noticing about this different way of life, seeing what doesn’t change with the external world is a hard pill to swallow.

So it was almost 4 o’clock, just an hour before sunset, when I finally walked into the water today, finally keeping my promise to show Lucy how to boogie board. Sophie and I jumped waves and admired the coming sunset, and I felt the water push and pull me back and forth while the sky went up in orange flames.

I often use the metaphor of the ocean to explain how I feel God working in my life, a gentle push and pulling (and sometimes the barrel wave that flushes your sinuses)—it moves me in a way I only can see when I look back at the shore.  I had to work to let go of work, to let the waves move me and stay in that glorious now.  That shouldn’t be hard, yet habit makes it so.

Ben was riding wave after wave on a boogie board several yards down the shore.  Lucy came nervously to jump waves with us, and I’d hold her up when a really big one came.  Noah played happily in the sand.  My mom watched the coming sunset.

I could do this every day—get my work done and then head to the shore.  I could work to live instead of the other way around.  I have to make some changes inside of myself, not everything can be changed by circumstance.

My mom was visiting for the weekend and snapped the breathtaking picture above at sunset. Little silhouettes of everyone but Noah, still intently playing on the sand, are swimming in all that glory.

I’ve learned so much just in these two short weeks about myself, my relationship with my kids, my marriage, what helps, what doesn’t.  I can see how removing everything but the essentials really simplifies and clarifies things, but that includes a clearer spotlight on my own unhelpful habits.

I’ve vowed to go to the beach every day, even if I don’t get in.  I came to heal my body, mind, spirit and family, and that can’t happen at my computer.


Here is Ben's album cover from 1973. Also known as his symphonic band picture from this year. He can't wait to finish the scouting event so he can start back on this hair project again. Can you believe how beautiful this boy is???

Fall band concert

I was such a proud mama tonight! Ben was awesome in jazz band to start out, then Sophie had her debut with the flute in the beginning band, then been finished up with the symphonic band, the top Junior High band in the state, and one of the top in the country. They looked great and had a fun time making music and being the center of attention. Ben got his symphonic band pictures back and lamented that he had to cut his hair for the big scout celebration where he is playing trumpet next week. I will have to send that one next.

Noah turns nine!

I need to put more down about this, but here are a few pictures from Noah's birthday yesterday. He wanted pizza at the Pie, his first visit there, then we went for cake and hot chocolate at Gourmandise. He had a nice SLC-style birthday. I can't believe my sweet little guy is losing his pudgy cheeks and growing up.

Farewell Spencer

Sophie and I skipped work and school Wednesday to go see off my nephew to the MTC. Have fun in Ontario, Spencer!

Sophie and her cousin Julianna got to go to baptisms afterward at the Provo Temple.