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Extended Stay Travel, Pandemic Edition, Part II

I shared in my last post that our family goes to Santa Barbara for my husband’s work trips about once a year. We use the time to visit family and friends, but the main purpose is work, which means a lot of things are out of our control. We’ve had to troubleshoot quite a lot over the years, so let me share some of the unique challenges we’ve had and how I’ve reframe how I think about work travel generally.

family at a restaurant
Prioritize fun even on a long work trip.

Extending the extended stay

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Extended Stay Travel, Pandemic Edition

My family makes trips to Santa Barbara for work and to see friends and family once or twice a year. My husband still works remote for the university and when we first moved to Modesto we were optimistic that our visits would be well-timed, quick, and fun. But we are well into the third calendar year of the pandemic and none of the trips have been very well-timed or convenient, but there have been lots of moments for fun.

Thank you to the tourist who took a picture of me and my kids looking happy and not exhausted and cranky on day 9.

I’m excited to document what it’s like to travel and do an extended stay with a young family. This is a unique type of travel because it’s not a vacation! These trips are typically open-ended, meaning we don’t know when we can return home and have to extend the stay one day at a time to fit the needs of Nick’s work. Our last two trips were 8 and 11 days long, but were projected to be 5 and 7 days long, respectively.

My partner puts in much longer hours on these trips, around 10 hours, but it’s not out of the question for him to do a 12 hour day. When working from home he works a typical 8-5. His trips might loom on the horizon for months, but we never know the precise dates until a week or so before, which makes planning really hard. (He’s had to take emergency trips solo, too, as it’s just the nature of his job.) It’s also important to remember that usually I am not solo-parenting at home, but it feels that way on the trip. We live out of a hotel room, have one car, sometimes have to keep up with school, and have had very limited access to services during the pandemic (no housekeeping and no room service).

Tips for doing extended stays with a family:

1. Buy your food from the grocery store, and only eat out when you must or when it’s been planned.

It’s expensive and emotionally and physically taxing to eat every meal out, particularly with little kids who don’t want to wait or sit still, and those with food allergies. Generally, I don’t think eating out at restaurants with my kids is fun. There, I said it. Now you know I’m not a cool mom.

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An overdue update

It’s been a long minute since I’ve posted on this blog. Lately, I’ve had an itch to pursue my creative passions, so I’ll be writing here once again.

Let me update you on how I’ve been over the last few years. I’m still a full-time mom, with aspirations of writing, actively working on my craft. I’ve returned to a regular writing and reading practice, and that’s been hard won during the pandemic. I still love listening to podcasts. I dabble in yoga. My ideal day includes a walk in my neighborhood, a trip to the library or farmer’s market, and eating homegrown tomatoes. I am a novice once again in the kitchen, having to adapt my cooking and baking to be allergen friendly. I advise wayward students here and there, and would like to offer my services more widely if anyone needs guidance about higher education.

My kids have grown up a lot! Rory just celebrated his seventh birthday, and is finishing the first grade. He’s a great reader, loves video games and Star Wars, and is doing baseball this season. Iris will be turning three in June. She is fearless when it comes to climbing, and very chatty about all topics from gardening to movies. Both of my kids were diagnosed with food allergies after a couple of puzzling and frightful years. They are otherwise healthy and active, and even though things like cake and ice cream are stressful for us, they give me no guff about eating fruits and veggies.

Nick still works remote for the university, and my next planned post will be all about how we’ve learned to travel with him for extended stays. Despite living in the central valley, Nick’s favorite hobby is mountain biking, and he loves the trails here. He keeps us in batteries and lightbulbs and always has a project or three going on our fixer-upper.

I post on Instagram without much regularity, but you can find me there if you send me a message. I hope you’ll come back soon and check out what else I’ve been working on.

Our trip to Big Trees during spring break

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Life in the age of a pandemic

How’s it going out there? What are you up to? 

Oh, me? I’m okay.

I’m usually a stay at home mom, who now just stays at home all the time with both my kids. I’ve lost that saving grace aka preschool, which used to guarantee three solid hours of my oldest being educated and cared for by professionals.

My kids don’t understand why we FaceTime so much, why we exchange things with loved ones in an awkward dance on our porch. We don’t make promises anymore about plans with friends or trips to the park. On walks I carry hand sanitizer because no matter how many times you tell a five year old not to touch anything, he will forget and accidentally run his finger along a chain link fence. We don’t go on walks anymore because people don’t know what six feet apart means. I don’t like feeling like I’m in a game of chicken to see who will flinch first. Inevitably, I walk off into the ditch while the other person holds their ground.

Every cough, every sneeze, and every runny nose puts us on high alert. And if you know us at all you know our family has had SO many colds this past year. Before we are entirely over one we were onto another. My son came down with something the week after we took him out of school. Was it a coincidence that he picked up a common cold or had he incubated something deadly? Knock on wood, we’ve been the healthiest ever since he stopped going to school.

I recognize how good we have it. Nick already worked remotely and he can continue to do so safely from our attic .I didn’t have a job outside of the home to lose or a job I must now try to do while also caring for my kids. Our overall security hasn’t changed, but everything feels different. Scary. Uncertain. Risky.  

The messages don’t make sense. They say, “Stay home.” Only leave the house for essentials. But my Instagram is filled with local businesses encouraging our patronage in these tough times. Pizza has been deemed a necessity, but what about cake? Is there room for frivolity? The stakes feel so high. I’m a reasonably good cook and I don’t need someone to make me dinner, but damn it sure is nice. Coffee is my love language. Is a once-a-week coffee reckless or am I single-handedly keeping a mom and pop shop afloat, thus making me a true patriot?!?

I reach out to friends and family via text, different chat groups, Instagram, Facebook. Those little pings of communication are a lifeline to the outside world, a reminder that I’m not alone, and that when this is all over, we will hopefully all see each other again. Even if a relationship is a little broken, I have no intention of discarding it at a time like this. I’ll patch it up with tape and hope it’s enough to see us through.

It feels awkward to ask if I can call, especially those friends who I’ve gotten out of the regular habit of talking to, like I’m admitting how weak I am that I need a pep-talk to get through a very banal day. I hope that my vulnerability and willingness to try is encouraging for them, too. Maybe it’s permission they didn’t know they needed to reach out and ask for help. I’m here. I’m home. All the damn time.

I see my parents with a backyard between us. But we’re negotiating those terms, and I’m terrified. My mother says if it’s her time, it’s her time. This doesn’t placate me in the slightest.

People say they’re willing to risk it all to get their hair done/eat at a restaurant/see their grandkids/fill in the blank. No one says they’re willing to suffer an awful, painful, slow death to fill in the blank. No one says they’re willing to witness the suffering of others, but that’s what we’re doing when we expect normal life to resume. And we want 20% off with free delivery.

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Hello, Little Miss

We welcomed my daughter, Iris Paloma, in June and she rocked our world this summer in the best way. She’s amazing! Nick and I are so happy. Her brother is in love and shows her a lot of affection.

I knew there would be big changes going from one to two kids, but I never had a concrete sense of how I’d see those changes. There are literally more people I have to keep track of, that’s for sure. We all got a virus in mid-August, and it’s been a lingering thing that’s turned into secondary infections. Nick got it first, then my son, then me, and just when I thought I was getting over it, Iris got it. I cannot tell you the number of trips to the doctor we’ve taken. I literally can’t because I’ve lost track. It’s an infinite number of tissue boxes and cough drops and antibiotics…

I’m a highly sensitive person and having alone time cut down further by a precious little baby is really hard. I’ve had to loosen some of my standards and let go of some of my ideals in this transitional season. Here are some of the changes I’ve made:

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When You’re Done

I’m 36 weeks pregnant and I’m just done. Done with it all, and yet there’s not much I can take off my plate. We still have to eat three times a day at least, laundry needs to be washed and folded, Rory needs a responsible adult to watch him and engage with him for 12+ hours a day, etc.

But still, there are some things I’ve figured out to help me cope with being over it that are worth a post. I think this advice is applicable to anyone who is in a really challenging season of life, not just their third trimester of pregnancy.

Lower your expectations and ask others to lower their expectations of you

There’s no sense in pretending you’ve got boundless energy when you don’t, so get everyone on the same page as you. Give yourself grace, and be honest with what you’re capable of doing, even if it’s half as much as usual. I didn’t do this when I was pregnant with Rory, and it’s a huge regret. I tried to power through every ache and pain, and I took on way more than I should have professionally and personally.

Currently, one of my biggest hurdles is keeping up with planning and cooking meals. I’ve relied on my partner to take on even more of the cooking duties, and when I’m the one in the kitchen I’ve had to majorly scale back what I cook. Sometimes our meals aren’t all that balanced, other times they don’t really hit the spot, but at the end of the day we got food on the plates and tummies fed. That has to be enough for now.

If you need to scale back in any area of your life, it’s okay. When your situation changes and you have more energy, you’ll be ready to go back to your usual routine or have the energy to create a new one.

Ask for help and make it easy for others to offer you help

The hardest part of this might just be identifying specific areas where you need help, or if you’re generally the person everyone counts on it might be asking for help at all. Get really clear with yourself about why you need help and try to let go of any guilt or judgement. Don’t compare yourself to others who appear to have it all together; appearances are deceiving. If something is tough for you, you deserve to ask for and receive support.

Have a list going on your phone or in a notebook of things that need to get done but that can be outsourced. For me, this has meant asking my mom to pick up a pair of maternity leggings when she told me she was out shopping already, or asking my friend to pick up eggs at Costco when she was already making a run. It may seem small, but both examples were a huge help and solved an immediate problem for me. Not having to run out to the store meant I had energy to do things like take my son to his swimming lessons.

When you’re in a really hard season of life, you have to find ways to work smarter, not harder. You’d be surprised how people respond to pleas for help–I’ve found that most people want to help if the requests are reasonable.

Set aside time for fun

Having fun is often the first sacrifice we make in a difficult time, but I think it’s worth preserving. Fun is a natural release valve for tension. If you never make time for fun, you’re always going to feel stressed. I can’t escape being physically uncomfortable and the worry that comes along with being this pregnant, but I can give myself a break to enjoy myself and forget about my cares for a couple of hours at a time.

During the last month I’ve gone to get a pedicure, had two massages, went to dinner with a friend, and had a fancy afternoon tea with another friend. If I hadn’t made the effort to set up these activities, I would have stayed at home feeling sorry for myself and mindlessly scrolling on the internet. It may take a mindset shift to prioritize your own fun and sense of enjoyment, but it’s worth it. It might sound like a lot of time to take off from my regular responsibilities, but all of these activities were one to two hours max once a week.

You have time for fun, I promise. If you have time to worry, switch things up a bit. Spend one hour you’d normally spend down a rabbit hole on the internet and call a friend for a chat while you make yourself a delicious chai latte or paint your nails.

Give yourself all the rewards

I started putting stickers in my calendar for doing mundane things like the dishes and laundry. I have a whole system of stickers, in fact, to denote how good of a job I’m doing on a day to day basis. I buy myself junk food when I’m grocery shopping. I hit the drive through after playdates. I bought a new red lipstick a few weeks ago after running a million annoying errands to get ready for Rory’s birthday party.

My normal self would have felt a lot of guilt and shame for so many indulgences, but I’m literally a different person right now. If you’re not sleeping normally, overworked, pregnant, undergoing treatment, grieving, or transitioning through a really tough phase you need to be extra gentle and kind to yourself. Now is not the time to be regimented, stingy, harsh, or judgmental. Go ahead, eat the cookie.

Of course, be responsible. Don’t plan a Vegas bender just for getting through a work week, but give yourself a reasonable reward for getting up when you just really want to lie down.

Release whatever or whoever weighs you down

If there is something or someone holding you back or weighing you down, let go. Wish them the best (internally/figuratively), and move on with your life. Unfollow, hide their status, and ignore cards, texts, or emails. Maneuver around whatever guilt trip is set up for you. You are wise and know what’s best for you, so trust your gut.

We all have relationships or habits that no longer serve us, and often we keep them around longer than we should. The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of a different outcome. During a chaotic season is the perfect time to make a change, to release, and let go. I swear it’s going to be okay.

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Serendipity Space

We are back in Santa Barbara for Nick’s work trip. It’s been hectic commuting for work and back up to Solvang where my in-laws live. They’re kindly putting us up and hanging out with Rory all day while Nick works and I play. I hitch a ride to town and then see where the wind takes me. Literally. It’s super windy here and I feel like I’m getting pushed around!

Usually I try to plan what I’m going to do while in town–run errands, see friends for lunch, take walks at the beach or on campus, write, etc. Sometimes I over plan and end up feeling like I’m pressed for time (or stuffed because I scheduled two lunches on the same day by accident). I approached this trip a little differently. I decided that it was really important for me to have alone time. I wanted to work on the novel I’m trying to finish, have time for blogging, and squeeze in some good old fashioned journaling. I brought some novels, which I have yet to crack.

It’s been great not feeling rushed, but I miss seeing ALL of my friends! I know it’s not possible to see everyone over the course of a few days unless you can get a firm commitment ahead of time. I’ve become more acutely aware how little flexibility most of my friends have in their daily schedules, and I’m trying to honor that by not putting pressure on anyone. I’m left with a lot of free time, and honestly, I am trying to fill it with writing. But so much of writing is also spent avoiding writing…

I’m working on reframing these unscheduled hours as serendipity space. It’s a concept I heard about on the Edit Your Life podcast. It’s the idea that if you over-schedule yourself, you miss out on serendipitous opportunities, those little happy accidents that only happen by chance and can’t be planned. One example of that on this particular trip occurred when I sent a random email to my friend Jamie who also moved away from Santa Barbara not long after we did. Our partners still work for the university remotely, and we both have family in the surrounding areas. Over the course of our exchanges I mentioned we’d be in town in early February, and then out of nowhere she turned out to be heading here for a memorial service. We agreed to play it by ear, and if it worked out that we could meet up, we would.

Jamie and I were able to meet for coffee yesterday, and catching up after not seeing her for two years felt great. In a lot of ways we follow along with each other’s lives in our new towns and new homes, but there’s so much we don’t say on social media and it was nice to talk about those things. We both tend to be fairly private people, but we know which topics we reserve for face to face (or at the very least, in the privacy of a text or email) that only a long friendship can inform. If I had filled my calendar with appointments and plans, I never would have been able to say yes to meeting with Jamie.

Serendipity space is the kind of practical magic anyone can create if you’re willing to leave blank space on the calendar.

Image by Jess Watters via Stock Snap.


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Five Holiday Problems with Easy Solutions

Christmas is upon us. I hope you have your shopping and wrapping done. I hope you have a meal planned, maybe some cookies already baked and ready for Santa. But if you don’t, that’s okay. I’m here to give you permission to opt out (and by you, I mean me). You don’t need another holiday gift guide, what you need is to cut yourself some slack.

Five Holiday Problems with Easy Solutions

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How to be More Efficient with the Time You Have

I often feel my focus is very split between my day to day activities and those lurking to-dos that require way more attention than my toddler will let me give to them. I have more to do in a day than I feel like there’s time to do it. I write reminders upon reminders. I block off time just to think. I’ve got lists about lists… It doesn’t always come together perfectly, but I’ve come up with my best ideas to be more efficient with the time you have, whether you’re scatter brained like me or if you’re just in a frazzled season of life.

Don’t put things off.

I received two invitations for upcoming parties, and instead of losing them like I usually do, I actually RSVPd immediately. I called and emailed the party organizers within minutes of getting the invites, wrote the dates down in my calendar, and just felt very on top of things for once. Consider if the thing you need to do is quick and if it is, just do it. Don’t put off making a decision if it’s something that can be done without much hemming and hawing.

Seize every opportunity.

During our summer getaway, we were strolling during our last morning in Carmel by the Sea. There are tons of cute shops there and suddenly it struck me that I could get a jump start on buying gifts for several holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries upcoming. We bought really fun food gifts at a cute boutique and it was an enriching experience because we were smelling and tasting things and looking at all the beautiful packaging. I crossed off every person on my list who had an upcoming celebration—in total SIX people who I would have had to shop for individually at a later point. Take the opportunity that presents itself, whether it’s an unexpected chunk of time in a waiting room that you can use to review your budget or a cool boutique that can serve as a one-stop shop. It really helps if you review your calendar frequently and look ahead at upcoming events and significant dates. Speaking of dates…

Set a date.

Ever since I started doing You Need A Budget, I always consult my budget before I make purchases. I had a bridal shower to attend this summer, but I knew I didn’t have enough in my July gifts budget to buy anything. On the first of August I made my new budget, put in the money I needed for a gift off of my friend’s registry, and then took action. I still purchased the gift well in advance of the shower, but I did so only after consulting my budget and my calendar. It took some impulse control not to just buy the gift immediately, and I still do advocate doing things immediately when possible, but it’s just as efficient to complete tasks on a set date.

Group tasks together.

This isn’t a new concept. I’ve written about it before when I wrote about a Power Hour, which I learned about from the Happier Podcast. It’s one of my all-time favorite tips! I love to employ this tactic by grouping together tasks I dislike. I recently took a free afternoon to round up a bunch of gifts that needed to be mailed. I wrapped the items, wrote cards, packed the boxes, printed shipping labels, and dropped them off at the post office. I find it’s more efficient to do a bunch of things at once, especially if I don’t love the task.

Calendar several months in advance.

I recently committed to something that I had to back out of, and I feel terrible, but it was my mistake for not flipping through the pages of my calendar. I was so focused on stuff in October, that I forgot about a trip in November. To maximize efficiency, always look forward in your calendar. I find that during busy seasons, it’s most helpful to plan two to three months ahead. Update your online and paper calendars at the same time, and start to-do lists. Take a long view of things so you’re not caught off guard.

Image credit // Jess Watters via

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Binge Worthy this Summer

It’s been a while. A hot minute. I can’t claim that I’ve been up to much lately. I think the longer I go between posts, the more I feel like I don’t have anything worthwhile to say. So here I am tapping the microphone. Yep, it’s still on.

follow me on Instagram @inventedcharm

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