Ritual: Cation House

One of my favorite weeks of the year is coming right up: our annual trip to the Cation House. I originally wrote this post for my friend Cara Meredith‘s blog during her 2015 guest post series on rituals (please go check out her blog – great stuff happening over there!). I can’t wait for another week of beach-y rest, relaxation, and walking down Memory Lane even as we create new memories.Cation House

Writ large on the walls of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Pablo Neruda’s words strike a chord in my soul: “I spin on the circle of wave upon wave of the sea.”

My life has felt like constant spinning, waves of joy and laughter, wash of chaos and drama, waves of peaceful beauty. My parents’ lives spun on disorder and turmoil until they spun into each other and, quickly, marriage. They attempted to overcome the tidal pull of established patterns; they did their best to remain upright in swirling waters. Still, my Airline Captain father flew in and out of our lives on air currents rather than water.

While I attended college my parents purchased a Time Share blocks from a NorCal beach (we lived a short drive from SoCal beaches). Recently I asked my mom, “Why?”

“To create family memories, to have a place we could come back to year after year.”

My parents, siblings and I never spent a week there as a family. My family, however–my mom and nephew, my husband and sons–has spent a week there every summer since Teen was two years old. We call it the “Cation House.”

We look forward to the Cation House all year, one of our most significant shared family rituals. The three kids have each created school essays and projects about the Cation House. Each generation swimming against currents of the past, I asked my boys which traditions, rituals, have meant the most to them in our family life: Cation House!, their unequivocal shared response.

When we all lived in SoCal, we rented a minivan and made the ten-hour journey a road trip. Now that four of us live in NorCal, the others fly up and extend their stay on either end for a longer vacation.

Each vacation is the same. We go to the same beaches (Lovers’ Point, Asilomar). We walk the same streets (Lighthouse Ave and Ocean View Blvd). We take the same pictures (kids in wet suits, holding sea stars). We do the same things (“journal pages” before dinner, hiking at Point Lobos, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Farmers’ Market, beach, beach and More Beach!).

Each vacation is different. The kids grow (drat that, both blessing and curse). The toys change–Thomas the Tank Engine has been replaced by an inflatable kayak. Some years we paddle boat, others we maneuver a surrey-bike. Scheduling has gotten harder as kids get older, with more demands competing for their time. We have had to drive/fly the older two in late, allowing them to miss days without missing the whole experience (always a cost to us and to them, but the week is a priority and so we flex). Last year, surprisingly?, the boys could not only tolerate but enjoy a lecture on sea turtles by the American Cetacean Society, held at the Stanford Marine Research Center. How can we possibly have gotten here?

Rituals help us remember and reflect. Each year we remember years previous: the first trip when Teen and Nephew laughed “diapo” back and forth for the whole drive, their 2-year-old diaper “dirty joke”; the many times enthusiastic boys stripped naked and charged lapping waters before adults could grab suits and towels; the time boys slipped behind the bakery counter and helped themselves to cookies; the year boys felt sufficiently confident for Guy to take them kayaking.

Each year we reflect on who we have been, where we have been, how we have changed and where we are going. Kids have grown, demonstrating God-given gifts, strengths, aptitudes. So have adults. Several years Guy and I walked late at night, wondering if God would grant us only one child; other years we pondered job responsibilities and changes. During the years we’ve visited the Cation House, my dear dad and precious grandma have passed; siblings have married, cousins have been born; my family moved most of a long state away. Mom has cheered family in different directions while her big once-family-filled house has emptied, filled, emptied again.

Fifteen years ago, realizing my frazzled Mom needed a vacation, I queried: “Don’t you have a Time Share? Could we take the babies and go?” So we did, and It Was Good. We moved at kid-speed. We walked and played at beaches and play grounds. We prepared easy food. We relaxed and read and talked, good for our souls. We pondered, “Why don’t we do this again next year?”

Next Year became Every Year. What began as a vacation became a ritual. With The Kids we have created family memories, a place they can come back to year after year. These kids plan to come back, again and again, year after year, together and, eventually, with their own families. Undoubtedly, they will go to the same beaches, walk the same streets, take the same pictures, do the same things. Each year it will be the Same and Different. They will Remember and Reflect. They will spin on the circle of wave upon wave of the sea…and of family ritual.

Thankful Thursday – Poke-Cation GO!

We had a long family conversation before we left on our Southern Oregon vacation. The kids wanted to bring computers and games to play during down-time. The parents wanted everyone unplugged, but mostly we wanted peace. Kids got their way this time with the caveat that they had to instantly put it away when asked. They agreed and (mostly) complied.

We had no comparable conversation about their phones, however. Even though Tween’s “phone” is a donated iPhone 5 with no SIM card or data plan, both boys have phones firmly in their possession at most times. And both have, on said phones, the Pokemon GO game they have eagerly anticipated for the last year. So Guy downloaded it as well, and we played as a family.OR pokemon

Pokemon roam a wide habitat, and so we avoided arguments about any destination. Pokemon of many varieties, a Pokestop, a lure, or a gym could always be found–even on hiking trails and in National Parks. Spontaneous conversations bubbled up among strangers all searching for the same things, and so we shared laughter and camaraderie with people we’d never met. A comment by one stranger sent us to a darling nearby town we would have missed entirely except that it had more Pokestops than anywhere else we’ve seen. The dog got more exercise than ever in her life because Pokemon eggs incubate as you walk. The parents got an afternoon ‘off’ to wine taste in the Rogue Valley while Teen drove Tween around town hunting Pokemon. The kids didn’t fight but rather worked together…all week long!

Early on Tween declared, “This isn’t vacation. This is a Poke-Cation!” And I expect that our shared play time will make this trip memorable in more ways than one.

We also found Great Cats: http://www.greatcatsworldpark.com/

We also found Great Cats: http://www.greatcatsworldpark.com/

and Teen's favorite snake: http://thereptilezone.com/

and Teen’s favorite snake: http://thereptilezone.com/

OR corn flower OR dragonfly OR berries

Deschutes River, Bend

Deschutes River, Bend

Creating a Life

Today’s guest post comes from a friend with whom I have cherished memories of galumphing through Scotland and England–drinking LOTS of tea, enjoying plays, memorizing poetry, and discussing life, love, future, literature and more literature and a scattering of theology (she was one of the first female theology students I met in college and she introduced me to the work of one of my favorites, Henri Nouwen). I admire her–and her current life’s work–more than she knows, and I’m thrilled she agreed to create for the blog. Having just returned from a week of family vacation, I too am thinking about the memories and experiences that create this life, the time spent, rather than the stuff accumulated, that makes all the difference.

Create Challenge #25: Jennifer Root Wilger

For some time now, I’ve been engaged in the all-encompassing work of creating a school. It’s been an amazing journey that has resulted in the creation of a student body, a dedicated staff, and a curriculum so unique that we had to create a new word, “socio-academic,” to describe it. Yet, strangely, as I approached this opportunity to write about Temple Grandin School, other creative endeavors have captivated my imagination. These are both related and unrelated, and I suspect it is partly the expression of my own creativity that prompts me to look for connection.

When I was assigned a blog date in July, I knew I’d be away from home, traveling with my family. As it turns out, vacation is a great time to think creatively. It’s not such a great time to think creatively about the work I left behind, and am soon to resume. Instead of thinking about work, I’m thinking about family. My 25th wedding anniversary is approaching, and my in-laws have recently sold the home that welcomed me into the Wilger tribe. To commemorate this beautiful spot, nestled in the mountains of Colorado on the Florida River, I created a photo book, which we delivered to my husband’s parents last week. As we looked through years of kids growing up, holidays, and summer fun, even my father-in-law cried.sf_trip1

Days later, on the same trip, we took our kids to San Francisco. Drawing on his college experience living in the city, my husband eagerly plotted a route that would lead us through his favorite neighborhoods. We spent the morning exploring and creating experiences to add to our collection of family memories. Unfortunately, while we were out and about, two bags were taken from our car. We had left nothing of monetary value – no iPhones, computers, purses, sunglasses. In haste, the thief had grabbed my bag of books. The bag I always bring with me on vacation, and mostly abandon in the back of the car. The bag of good intentions, too heavy to cart into one-night lodgings. The bag of half-baked ideas, and the resources that I hoped would power them to fruition.

I felt like I’d lost half my brain. But as I frantically tried to reconstruct the bag’s contents, I realized that we’d also lost a small stuffed monkey. Imbued with laughter and love, this little critter had been a part of our family for our children’s entire lives. Out of a huge menagerie of animals in a faraway place, he “found” us and followed us home. His real and imagined antics are a part of our family culture. Through our tears, we immediately launched into tales of his next chapter, in which he would, of course, continue making his mischief in the world. “I can just see him karate-chopping those thieves,” “I bet he’s on his way to Las Vegas…does he know they don’t accept bananas as poker chips?”

Our memories and experiences are the foundation upon which we create a life. The relationships we build (yes, even with inanimate objects) form and shape us in ways we can’t predict. Returning to the topic of creativity, I can see clearly how relationships and experiences from my entire life have contributed to my creative endeavors at Temple Grandin School. In the coming weeks, as we approach another school year, new conversations will generate ideas to augment or replace those that I’ve “lost.” New relationships will form even as existing bonds are strengthened. The school takes on a life of its own, a creative community powered by our shared life together. I can’t wait to see the surprising places creativity takes me, my family, and our entire school community this year.

JWilger fam

Jennifer Root Wilger is Executive Director and Co-Founder of Temple Grandin School, a creative community where intentional relationships and experiences enable students with high-functioning autism to recognize and realize their potential. Over the course of her adult life, she has been paid as a writer, editor, teacher, and caterer. These and many other experiences have enriched her life and family. Jennifer is married to Tom (for 25 years!), and they have three children, Micah (20), Jeremiah (13), and Josette (10). They live in Colorado with their 4 fish, and are currently seeking to add more mischief to their menagerie!

One Year Later

alien flowerA year ago today, in our last few hours in Costa Rica, I wrote this post:

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

toucanTsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.CR beach

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

slothWe expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?

*****

So how was this summer? In so many ways, just the same. In one essential way, completely different: we didn’t travel, and my heart aches for missing it. However, the garage is really coming along…

passion flower

Slow Down

An ordinary afternoon dog-walk around the neighborhood turned gruesome. A car passed just as I noticed a squirrel hunkered in the middle of the lane. Car 1 slowed down, paused until two cars were directly opposite in the other lane, and then blared its horn. Horn terrified Squirrel who leaped sideways under the tire of Car 2, followed by the wheels of Car 3. No kidding, I squeaked in horror.

All three cars drove on, while Dog and I had to continue our walk past twitching, then dead-still, squirrel. Because God loves all His creatures, I prayed for this little one.

I felt dirty, complicit for having witnessed this scene. It happened so quickly but it seemed Car 1 deliberately honked at exactly the wrong moment, that it could have honked earlier or later, or simply stopped for a moment. That the rush of life was just too much.

Last summer I read a book that referenced “the Gronk,” the driver behind you who honks incessantly the very second the red light turns green. Like the extra five seconds he might rush you to the gas pedal mean that much? Seriously, dude, chill!

A few days later Guy and I took Dog for another stroll. Same neighborhood, different street, equally gruesome: the smallest fawn I’ve ever seen lay in the roadside grass. At first we didn’t notice it as it was so out of place; someone driving too fast must have hit it hard to launch it out of the road and over the sidewalk; and then we saw it twitch. Morning commute had it out for this beauty.

All this during the first week of summer, and meanwhile my kids’ friends were too busy or too tired to play and their moms already seemed harried. Don’t get me wrong, we have a few things going on, too, but balanced with a big dose of summertime do-nothing. Because “Boredom = Opportunity.”

Summer is not a sprint. Honestly, it’s a gift, much like the Sabbath we so dutifully ignore. Long, hot days make our bodies and brains want to move slower, to float in the pool, to sip cool drinks over laughter-filled chats with friends, to play and rest – and work as necessary – in a different rhythm.

We slowed down with a week of family vacation. Leisurely strolls along the beach, hunting for beach glass, reading good books, eating and sleeping as much as needed and then a little more.

“Regular” life necessarily isn’t vacation, but we can bring elements of vacation, of rest, into “regular” life:
Turn off social media
Do something that stretches you beyond your comfort zone
Move your body playfully
Learn something new
Make dinner a family carpet picnic of kid-friendly finger foods
Schedule outings with friends
Create something; if that intimidates you, color in a coloring book
Turn off the TV and read a book
Play a board game
Pamper yourself
Do something you haven’t done since childhood and laugh yourself silly along the way

Yesterday I worked, and then I met a friend and her sweet daughter for a mani/pedi. I usually do my own nails, but after a week of beach walking my feet were a wreck. It felt terrific, and the time with these dear ones filled me up. During a brief conversational lull I glanced up at the large screen TV – mercifully playing without sound – to catch a glimpse of a road sign that read:

LIFE IS PRECIOUS
SLOW DOWN

Yes, that’s it! Perhaps we don’t even see the carnage we create as we race from Point A to B to Z, the lost life or lost opportunities or the children for whom we’ve scheduled too many activities when they truly only want more time with us, their parents.

What would it take for you to slow down? What can you do today, tomorrow, this week, this month, to intentionally stop the madness? Life is precious, and I don’t want to miss the beauty.

slowing-down-gift

The #Day Challenge

I’ve picked up an odd habit this year: I have said Yes! to an assortment of (mostly) online challenges, all for a set number of days:

The 30 Day Power Purge
Soulful Spring Cleaning: A 30-Day Life Reboot
Lenten disciplines, an annual 40 day adventure
The Body Love Experiment 21 Day Challenge
40 Days of Prayer (for a season in our church life)
Clean Eating 30 Day Challenge

Hmm, now that I look at the list, I see that my challenges center on a theme: cleaning out and cleaning up, whether it’s the kitchen junk drawer, my attitudes or relationships, my eating and exercise habits, or my prayers. Sometimes I crack myself up!

With the arrival of summer vacation, I am reminded of the theme song to one of my favorite animated TV shows, Phineas and Ferb:

There’s a 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem of our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

Phineas Ferb

Around here it’s 72 days of summer, unless you’re in middle school and then you have 73. In any case, a finite number of days with the challenge to fill them well.

Truth: my kids can get pretty sludgey. I can almost watch them melt into primordial ooze as they stare blankly into screens – phone, computer, or TV. They’ll get up eventually, to eat or use the facilities, but return to their well-worn cushions of thoughtlessness. They get less creative and more grouchy as the day wears on.

I can’t have it, and I know from years of experience that they lack the drive of Phineas and Ferb and I lack the skills to make a good summer cruise director. However, I make a pretty good chart and so, some years ago, I devised a summer activity chart for each child. They have to do 5 activities each day, each for at least 20 minutes, and all of them at least once between Monday and Friday. There is no screen time between 9am and 4pm unless both boys have completed their five activities. If they complete all activities at least once before the end of Thursday then Friday might contain even better activities and treats.

Each year I tweak each kid’s chart – new interests and strengths (and occasionally, new weaknesses) require different activity suggestions. I’ve intentionally made the activities general so the kids can apply their creativity to how they will complete the activities.

For example, this year Teen’s activities include: reading, exercising, Eagle Scout project, creativity, writing, Bible, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Tween’s activities include: reading, physical play (exercise, but at 11yo it’s still “play”), creativity, Bible, trumpet, Khan Academy, Typeracer.com, writing, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Yesterday was the first Monday of summer. I reminded the kids Sunday evening that the charts were coming. All warning aside, when they saw the charts you might have thought I’d told them the world had cancelled summer. Teen threatened to leave the house, all day all summer. Tween, less mobile and just as determined, followed suit. I calmly explained that less than two hours of activity suggestions in 14+ hours of sunlight – and they have lots of choice in every regard – was not an unreasonable request, and yes, they’d still get plenty of screen time, fun- and friend-time. And then I left them to it while I walked the dog and walked off my frustration.

I do realize that at 11 and 16 years old it is less plausible that they will enjoy checking things off a chart. However, I also realize that they don’t transition well, that they benefit from lists and suggestions, and a chart has proven more effective than repetitive mom-reminders. And I need a) time to do what I need to do and b) time with them, and the chart helps them know what they should do with and without me.

Despite their initial loud and dramatic protests, they settled in. Among other things, Teen went for a bike ride that led to a hike that led to tree climbing; Tween played tether ball, cleaned the tortoise enclosure, and we read together.

As we read, Teen came in with a bottle of bubbles a friend gave him in honor of getting his driver’s license. He obviously thought it was funny to blow bubbles at us; we found it funny, too. The bubbles were captivating, iridescent in the sunlight, big and small and beautiful. He put the bubble wand in front of Tween’s bedroom fan, then went to fetch another bottle of bubbles so he had two wands to create a bubble wonderland. Tween bounced on the bed to catch bubbles with his hands, his feet, even his mouth.

bubbles

We played and laughed and caught and popped bubbles for I don’t know how long. Eventually Teen was done. Tween and I finished reading our chapter, and then I made the craziest suggestion: push me on the swing? Tween couldn’t believe it.

We have a swing in the big pine tree in our front yard. It’s been on my mind for weeks, waiting for the ‘right’ moment, and this was it. I sat on the swing and, at first, Tween leaned against the tree, ridiculously smirking at me. He couldn’t believe Mom was doing such a kid-thing. But why not? So he pushed me, and I squealed, and we laughed some more.

The day started with battle cries and ended with hysterical laughter. Energized by day’s end (and not drained!), I’ve created my own activity chart. My sons’ mother, I also benefit from lists and suggestions, evidenced by the number of #Day Challenges I’ve undertaken this year. So I’ve joined my kids in the challenge of how to fill our summer days well. My chart includes: work (of course), exercise, reading, creativity, Bible, blog, “project” (a little something I need to get into gear), and purge (once begun, constantly in progress).

And on Day 2, I can already say with confidence: it’s working for all of us. I’ve completed at least five if not more of my activities each day, and so have the kids. Today they didn’t complain at all. I had to go to the office for a couple hours and Tween texted me a picture of his chart with check marks and the word, “Finished!”

Too soon we’ll have to say, “Finished!” to summer and “Hello” to a new school year. But I’m determined to fulfill this 72-day Summer Challenge and live the days well.