Same event, different story

BalloonBurnerMy hair whipped around my face and into my eyes so I could no longer see the crowd gathered round. I held tight to the ropes, turning my back on the cold air. And then came a short blast of burners. Heat rushed past my arms and the nylon envelope of the balloon billowed and began to lift up. Within moments I released the ropes and ran to grab the edge of the basket to keep our pilot on the ground.

Eyes to the Skies 2004

Me and my oldest two girls at the festival in 2004.

It was my first festival working the balloon crew. And I was loving it!

For the past fifteen my family has visited the Lisle Eyes to the Skies Hot Air Balloon Festival. The first few years we rode our bikes in the early morning haze, babies in tow, to watch a field full of balloons inflate. The 6am launches became a family tradition. Some years we headed out for more than one morning’s festivities, during the multi-day event.

Later we feared our move to an adjacent city would dampen our experience of the festival. Instead we were surprised to find our new home on a flight path for balloons launching from the fair grounds. One dawn we were awakened by the familiar sound of the burner blast. I looked out the window above our bed to see a hot air balloon floating over our house. During a more recent festival a beautiful sport balloon touched down in the field behind our house. Other years we’ve sat in our backyard on Fourth of July weekends watching groups of balloons drift in the distance over our fair city.

During the years of attending balloon launches on the festival grounds we have walked among traditional and shape balloons. We have stood inside a cold air inflated envelope (the fabric part of the balloon) for a TV news program. My children have climbed into baskets to gaze up into the balloon, and watched pilots fire the burners as they passed on floats in Fourth of July parades. We’ve witnessed launches and landings and even helped pack an envelope.

It was the same balloon festival that we returned to year after year. Yet every year was different.

From the very beginning, when I learned that the festival took volunteers to help the balloonists inflate and take down, I knew I wanted to be a part. “Work a balloon crew” went on to my bucket list (along with, of course, “ride in a hot air balloon” – never mind that I’m afraid oBalloonInsidef heights).

This year, with our children older and valuing sleep over balloons, my husband and I took the opportunity to join the morning launch crew (the 5:30am shift). And it did not disappoint. We learned a lot. We worked. And we had fun.

It may be another fifteen years before I’m actually airborne in a hot air balloon. But until then, I expect I’ll continue to experience new facets of the sport each year. Because the best bucket list adventures aren’t about the destination. They’re about the journey. SingleBalloon

Family Bucket Lists: Forming a lively family identity (Reason #4 to Make Yours)

Nametag“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

As my husband read those lines and closed the pages of C.S. Lewis’s book The Last Battle, I sniffed back a tear and rubbed my cheek against the top of my daughter’s head. All three girls snuggled with us a little longer, holding onto the hush before hustling off to bed. With the end of that book, the last in The Chronicles of Narnia series, we closed several years of family read-alouds. Between listening to my husband’s unique vocal cadences and tossing around thoughts in response to the questions from the companion guide, Roar, we had developed a comfortable routine that stayed with us through all seven books and across seasons and miles of road trips and family nights. Who would we be now without Aslan and Narnia?

Even so, we tucked our kids in bed that night with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. We did it! We reached our family goal of reading together through all the Chronicles, from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe through The Last Battle. We had the bittersweet victory of checking that one off of our family bucket list! And we had all been changed and defined by the experience.

While individual bucket lists reflect each family member and reveal new pieces of his or her identity, the act of sharing those lists creates a new identity for our family. And more importantly, the family bucket list we create together reflects a new identity we are moving toward.

As we try fresh ventures and visit unfamiliar places, chances are we will discover some things worth repeating. We may establish a new family vacation spot we return to each year. We may take up a different family pastime. We may journey long and slow toward a larger goal that spans years and miles and shapes our daily routines. These adventures become part of our family’s identity.

Recognizing what we want to see and do with our children while they still reside in our homes draws out our hopes for what family means to us. It encourages us to express what we want our family life to look like. We receive the opportunity to clarify aspects of our family identity as we list out who we want to be together.

The bonus? Because of the active nature of bucket list living, we will actually become who we declared we want to be. We will seek out ways to do and be what others often only think of doing and being. That identity we desire will travel from page to life.

While our family has closed the book on The Chronicles of Narnia, our own story is far from over. Our girls will always reminisce with a bit of joy and tenderness over those years spent listening to Dad read Lewis’s tales. But that shared experience and the rich symbolism from those stories travel with all of us into each new adventure we undertake. We remain defined by the Narnia years and the things we learned together from those pages. And that’s worth so much more than a mere check mark on a list of things to achieve.

Celebrating Amidst Imperfection

A symmetrical evergreen bedecked with ribbon garland, white lights, and glass ornaments sits in the front window giving off a subtle pine scent. The soft sounds of carols play throughout the house, mixed with the crackles and pops coming from the glowing embers in the fireplace – the perfect counter to gently falling snow outside. And in the kitchen, mom pulls a fresh batch of cutout cookies from the oven.Cozy Winter Fire

Um, yeah. I don’t know whose house that is, but it’s not mine. In fact, yesterday I didn’t even have an oven in my kitchen for baking cookies. And there’s no room for a tree in our living room because of  kitchen carts, tarps, and one uninstalled toilet. Our fireplace is buried behind the refrigerator, kitchen table and cabinets.

We’ll get the house put back together soon enough. And there will be a tree and a fire in the fireplace and cookies in the oven. But I’ve given up on striving for the “ideal” holiday. Much as I’d like to envision my family enjoying a magazine-perfect Christmas, reality says it’s not only not possible, it’s not even preferable. These idyllic images come at a price. They take time, energy, and money. And ultimately they require a level of control that none of us has.

We set ourselves up for disappointment every year when we put a checklist of expectations on our holidays. They’ll never match up on every count. And in fact, we may miss the value the very flaws themselves bring to our homes. I’m guessing my kids will remember more clearly this year where Christmas decorating was postponed as we scattered to friends’ and family’s homes to live while our floor was being refinished. It will stand out in relief against the backdrop of all the other Christmases where the day-after-Thanksgiving-putting-up-the-tree tradition was kept.

What will you do when reality and expectation don’t line up this year (as surely there will be at least one aspect out of sync with the holiday of your dreams)? Will you do as the Who’s down in Whoville and choose to sing anyway in spite of the lack of Christmas-as-you-wished coming? Will you embrace the flaw as a memory-building opportunity? Or will you miss the celebration because you’re caught up in a lament for what couldn’t be?

I’m hoping for the resilience to find a celebration amidst the imperfections.

If it’s sickness – minor, major or terminal – that is throwing off your plans, be sure to check out this article I wrote with tips from experts and everyday moms on how to weather sickness amidst the holidays.

Now tell me this, dear reader: was there a time where the thing that threatened your celebration ended up being the source of fond memories? Share your story with us here.

Sharing Mother’s Day – An Obligation or Celebration?

'078/366: Mother's Day' photo (c) 2012, Mikey - license:

For moms, Mother’s Day can be laden with expectation. We expect to be pampered and coddled – breakfast in bed, a trip to the spa, dinner at a fancy restaurant. But what we don’t expect is to be lost in all the craziness of family obligations. Yet for some women with family living nearby (or within a few hours’ drive), or for moms with blended families, Mother’s Day can become anything but a day of pampering.

If this is you and you’re already dreading the second Sunday in May, let me give you a few tips that can help you survive (and possibly find celebration):

•    Recognize your expectations. If every year your family follows the same disappointing script, recognize what’s not working about it for you. If you’re hoping for breakfast in bed, but that never happens because your mother-in-law insists on a family brunch, note what it is that you miss. Maybe it’s sleeping in. Or maybe it’s alone time snuggled in bed with your kids. Take time to parse out the underlying needs or emotions.
•    Share your desires. Perhaps your husband would be willing to initiate changes on your behalf but he doesn’t know what you want. Tell him. Give him the opportunity to please you.
•    Reframe your concept of Mother’s Day. Maybe your family won’t budge. Sometimes tradition is tradition and there’s no changing. Instead of thinking of what you wish Mother’s Day would be, accept it for what it is – a day to honor the generation of mothers ahead of you, or a day for your stepkids to honor their mom.
•    Grieve the loss. If you know you’ll never get the Mother’s Day you crave, acknowledge your sadness. Mourn for what you’re missing. Mourn and then move on.
•    Start your own tradition. So Mother’s Day isn’t about you. How about asking your husband and children to honor you on a different day. Call it “Mom’s Day” and tell them how you’d like to celebrate. Then put that day on the calendar. Ask your kids to intentionally hold back any gifts or celebration for you on the second Sunday in May so that special your day gets it all.

Observing special days doesn’t always happen perfectly. But taking the opportunity in advance to decide how we’re going to view the day can go a long way to improving our experience. If you’re a mom faced with recognizing someone else’s Mother’s Day instead of your own, think about what you’ll do to make this year different. You may find the result to be something worth celebrating!