Outside the Comfort Zone: Where the Magic Is

 This post originally appeared on ACMB in July 2017. By Jennifer Soos.

“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can not have both.” —Brené Brown

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” —Mark Twain


Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

I took my 11-year-old to Guatemala for a week earlier this summer. By myself. And no, I’m not quite as crazy as that might make me sound.

We did, however, get soaked in a rainstorm or two.

We did not always know where we were or where we were going.

Between the two of us, we speak enough Spanish to get in over our heads, but not actually enough to be very useful.

It was at least 1000% humidity everywhere we went.

There was an earthquake. (Like an actual 6.9, things-crashing-from-cabinets-in-the-middle-of-the-night quake.)

The nearby volcano sputtered and spewed into the sky the day after the earthquake.

We walked a million miles, hitchhiked, and navigated taxis, shuttles, boats, the famed Guatemalan “chicken buses,” and tuk-tuks in order to get to all the places.

There were no beaches for lounging, no resorts, no familiar menus, and not much English to be found.

But at some point nearly every day he looked at me, wide-eyed and grinning ear from ear, and said, “Mom, it’s like the movies!!” And I was reminded, once again, that parenthood is one of the greatest educations on the planet.


San Juan

As a control-freak-in-recovery, there were many, many opportunities for my old scripts full of fear and anxiety to play out during our week of adventure. But, louder than those tired old myths, were many reminders of something much more important: outside of our comfort zone is where all the growth happens.

On our first day in Panajachel, we spent the morning and early afternoon on a boat tour exploring three villages nestled in the mountains and volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlán, the deepest lake in Central America. When the tour was over, we returned to the docks, got off the boat, and my son looked at me and said, “That was really cool. Now what?”

Once again surrounded by the totally unfamiliar, we set out to find our hotel. They aren’t big on addresses in Guatemala, so this isn’t quite as simple as one might think. My phone service was a bit sketchy, so I felt a bit vulnerable due to my usual dependence on Google maps and GPS. From the waterfront we started making our way in what I hoped was the right direction. As we walked, we passed storefronts full of colorful, unrecognizable things. People whizzed past us on bikes and mopeds and in cars weighed down with oversized loads of firewood and giant mountains of produce. The street was noisy and unruly and full of smells that would assault you at every turn. And, everywhere we went, people stared. We are obviously American/ European, with very fair skin and light hair and eyes. Guatemalans as a whole are incredibly friendly and welcoming; but, I always felt like we were walking around with huge neon signs over our heads that said “Tourists.” This makes it impossible to just fly under the radar, which is my most-preferred mode of transport.


The farther we walked, the more overstimulated and overwhelmed I felt by all the unknowns and uncertainty of navigating the afternoon that still stretched out in front of us. I could feel the weight of being the sole adult responsible for my precious child settle into the middle of my chest. Everywhere I looked were people and things I knew very little about and felt distant from because of the language chasm. My son asked, “Do you know how much farther until we are supposed to turn?” I did not. And I also had no idea what we were going to find when we did locate our hotel. (It had been booked through a travel service by my friend who lives in Antigua, so I’d not seen many details ahead of time. Also very much NOT my usual M.O.)


Cuidad Vieja

Just as I was getting to the edge of the cliff in my head and about to launch off into Worry-About-Everything-Land, I looked up from my phone and its frozen map. I saw him walking in front of me, steady and confident, mesmerized by and delighted in his own fascination of this amazing place, with his day-pack securely fastened around him—packed completely by himself—full of protein bars for when he couldn’t eat the food, sunscreen, his camera, his water bottle (which he’d carefully filled with purified water), and also my water bottle and my rain jacket that he had offered to carry for me. In that instant, it was shocking to find not even a remnant of the once-timid, frequently anxious little boy I had known for some years walking in front of me. Instead, there trekked a fearless, young creature utterly comfortable in his charge up this dirty, unfamiliar street 1,500 miles from home. About that time he said casually over his shoulder to me, “Well, we’ve rocked it for three days so far, so I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

I smiled and chuckled at myself. I turned off my useless map and switched to the camera so I could take a photo of him, hopeful I would remember this moment of transformation.



In contrast, just three days before, we had exited a plane, navigated immigration checkpoints and baggage claim in broken Spanish, and I had felt his nervousness bubbling over in this new place. People are not allowed inside the airport in Guatemala City without a ticket, so just outside the exit doors looms a large throng of people jockeying to see if their friends and relatives have arrived, a crowd of drivers hawking their rides to you, locals approaching you to sell everything you can imagine, beggars, and most certainly pick-pockets and other undesirables sprinkled in the teeming faces. It is quite an intimidating “welcome” to a city that is not exactly safe for Americans in particular. Before we got to the doors, I stopped him and we situated our luggage. I put my phone out of sight and secured other valuables as I had been instructed to do. I told him to swap his backpack around to the front so he could keep a hand on it. He observed all of this, looked outside, and then looked at me with eyes that asked, “Where on earth have you taken me?”

“It’s OK,” I said. “We are just being smart. Remember, this is an adventure. Our driver is out there somewhere, and we have to find him. Stay close and everything will be OK.” I don’t know if he believed me or not, but he took a deep breath and trusted me anyway…and as he stepped through those doors into a wall of heat and diesel fumes, he walked further out of his comfort zone than he had ever been before.


Lake Atitlán

Now here we were, just 72 hours later, and it was him reminding me that outside our comfort zone is where all the excitement happens. He was a walking example of how resilience will grow like a weed when we take risks and prove to ourselves that we are, in fact, capable.

The very next night we found ourselves nearly at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour trip back to Antigua, when he felt like he was going to be sick if he didn’t get out of the vehicle immediately. This time, neither one of us hesitated to just jump off, into the darkness onto an unfamiliar grid of cobblestone streets, miles before our intended stop. As the shuttle drove away, it started to rain, and he laughed at our possible recklessness, feeling instantly better once on solid ground. We looked up and down the streets and, as he handed me my rain jacket, he asked me once again, “So, now what?” I smiled back and offered, “Kiddo, I have no idea, but I do know we’ll figure it out.” And, sure enough, we did.




Summer Bucket List

Do you guys do this?

For the past couple of years I’ve asked the boys to compile their summer wish list at the end of the school year… partly because I’m curious about what they are interested in and partly because I worry that if I don’t put it on a list and then on the calendar, we’ll get to the end of August and I’ll feel awful that “we didn’t DO anything this summer!!”

I made the mistake of Googling “summer plans” and “summer routines” the other day.

I was instantly overwhelmed with posts by a ridiculous number of über-super moms who basically run summer camps for their kids for nearly three months…I was exhausted just reading about it. So I stopped. (After I had gleaned a couple of little gems that I might be motivated enough to try.)

Anyway, several of the moms talked about the “Summer Bucket List” which we kind of already do… so I got curious about my real-life super mom friends and their kids’ summer plans.  Wanna share lists??

Lincoln’s (work-in-progress) List:

Go fishing

Visit Schlitterbahn water park

Build a tree house

See the bat cave with Pop

Fourth of July trip to Lake Livingston

hand-feed the deer (in our yard)

Ropes course and zip line at Natural Bridge Caverns

make pottery

Playdates with his friend E.

Whitman’s (work-in-progress) List:

Birthday party in July!

swimming lessons

go to the beach

trips to the movie theater

a visit to Chuck E Cheese

gymnastics lessons (?!)

Parkour lessions (yes, these exist.)

I’d love to see some other ideas… here’s to summer fun!!

Ten Years: Update

I just got a phone call from Ian’s mom… she is at the bakery right now picking up his cake that was our RAOK #2 this week.

I just had to update because I was so certain that my time at the bakery would be so much better than theirs – that whole giving is better than receiving thing, right? She insisted that the bakery owner call me so she could thank me… the minute she heard my voice I could tell she had those “brimming tears” (and me, too, of course.) She was gracious and lovely and I wished her a very, very happy birthday party weekend.

And y’all, I just know that when she hung up the phone she got one of those awesome hugs!! So yay for us – her time at the bakery WAS almost as good as mine!

Happy Birthday Ian!!
Happy Birthday Ian!!

Bird seed ornaments

The summer is in more than full swing around here…in fact, I’m nearly motion sick from how quickly it is flying past. The boys and I did this little project this week and there were some questions and inquiries on Facebook, so I thought I would do a post.


I used this recipe as a guideline, but definitely had to make more of it…we did it times five. That was enough for about 8-10 large cookie cutters.


With some wax or parchment paper spread out, you set the cookie cutters on it and then fill them halfway with the bird seed mixture. Lay the ends of the pieces of string (we used kitchen twine) into the seed and then fill the rest of the way. Pack the seeds down as tightly as you can…and that’s it. Let them dry – ours took about 24 hours and I flipped them over once – and then they will pop right out of the cutters, ready to hang!

I’ll update this weekend with photos of bird enjoying their new feeders…

Paleo…heard of it?

I’m aware that I have been fairly absent from here for the past few weeks.

I’ve been experimenting, again.

I’m not really ready to divulge all the things that have gone on in the past few weeks, but I will say that I’m over 3 weeks into a 30-day-trial of a paleo-style food plan.

“What’s Paleo?” you might be asking.  Yeah, me, too.  And I’m by no means an expert at this stage of things, but I have read a lot, tried several meal plans, read some more, bought a couple of books, scoured some blogs and forums, looked up some research data and then did a little more reading….so I feel like I know more now than I did three weeks ago, that’s for sure.

There’s quite a bit of information out there about a Paleo-based nutrition plan…but here are the places with my favorite explanations:

Mark’s Daily Apple

Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution

The Whole 9 Life

I’ve been doing the Whole 30 Program from the Whole9 website…it’s part life-style change and part cleanse and I’m already astounded by the impact it is having on me.  In a good way.

So consider this a teaser post…as I’ll wrap up officially when the 30 days are up. But I can tell you I’m already planning on a short break and then starting right over again with another 30-day plan.

In the meantime, here’s some of the stuff I’ve been eating:

Sweet potato with broiled barramundi and zucchini, summer squash and peppers
Those are zucchini “noodles” made with a julienne peeler and steamed for just a few minutes.
Lots of roasted vegetables
Zucchini cakes
Homemade pesto…on eggs!
Lots of salads full of crazy vegetables (like this wrinkly cucumber!)
Tons of that roasted okra I’ve been raving about
Plenty of eggs, all styles (photo credit: clothesmakethegirl)
Grilled and roasted chicken (photo credit life ambrosia)
Steaks of all varieties (photo credit myrecipes)
and grilled shrimp – one of my favorites! (photo credit sunset)

I thought I’d show you that before we talk about all the things I HAVEN’T been eating!  Stay tuned for more on Paleo in the next few months…

Just in time for the holidays…

I’m back. Yay!

I still have presents to wrap and some cooking to do, but I wanted to drop in here and share some projects I did last week for Christmas.

Historically my Christmas tree has been a “no touch” affair. One of my favorite collections is my crystal tree ornament collection. For about 15 years now I’ve been collecting Christmas tree ornaments, mostly Waterford, but there are a few Swarovski in there. With white lights and silver accents I think they make a stunning tree. NEWSFLASH TO SELF: You have a 2-year-old and there is a train under your tree…you can NOT have an entire tree full of breakable things. Can. Not.

So this year, the ornaments stayed in their gorgeous, satin-padded box…and we covered the tree in (mostly) handmade ornaments and other not-easily-breakable things. I’m quite smitten with it.

One of the projects was making some big red and green ball ornaments to go on the tree.  Because, actually, I didn’t have very many kid-friendly ornaments outside of the ones they have made at school.

Yarn wrapped around small balloons, dipped in glue…hang to dry, pop the balloon. How fun are those?

I found the instructions on Pinterest. And if you aren’t addicted to that yet, by all means, click through and prepare to waste an hour or two. My boards can be found here. And the link to these ornaments is here.

A little tip: the more you cover the balloon with yarn the easier it is for the balloon to “pop” after it has been covered with glue…it will kind of stick to the yarn of course. I tried to use water balloons because I thought they would be the best size, but I couldn’t blow them up. Seriously. So I just used regular balloons, barely filled. And a pair of tweezers will come in handy to get the balloon pieces out.

Here’s my favorite handmade ornament – my oldest made it in his preschool class last year:

I’m pretty sure it is a plain glass ball covered with glitter and tissue paper. Lovely.

My youngest’s ornament from last year…hand-print snowmen. Those teachers are so clever.

Of course, we must have the requisite photo ornaments:

And there is always a selection of memorial ornaments:

Periodically we add a memorial ornament for our first son and last year our oldest wanted matching ones. He placed them on the tree this year insisting they be grouped "because we are brothers."
And our precious pups...one gone last year and one this. This is the first year in more than I can remember there won't be any rawhide under the tree!

As much as I adore my fancy-schmancy ornaments, I really loved having a tree totally decorated by my boys…and not caring that 90% of the ornaments were bunched on the bottom third of the tree!

If we make more of these yarn ornaments next year, I’m going to add silver yarn into the mix. And who knows, maybe we’ll string popcorn and cranberries, too. It might be awhile before my crystal sees a tree again.



Just logging in to let you know that I have some technology challenges these days.

A week or so ago, my laptop officially gave up. (I was able to revive it momentarily by hooking it up to the TV as a monitor.)

And then our house was burglarized.  As in someone-busted-in-our-front-door-and-stole-all-our-stuff kind of burglary.

So now, I’m without the computer and the TV that made it functional. They also took my brand new camera. All of which is replaceable, of course. And we’re grateful to have not been home when it happened…for that I feel fortunate.  I imagine I’ll have a replacement computer and camera at some point in the future – and then I’ll be back!

In the meantime, I’ll still be cooking and thinking about the pictures I wish I was taking.

I’ll be filling out insurance forms and trying to understand why we pay them money every month.

And I’ll also be mourning the loss of the stuff that is NOT replaceable…like my grandmother’s jewelry and the suite of pearls my husband created over the course of three pregnancies/deliveries. Among other things, of course.

And hoping that karma is real.

Hoping not to be gone for long….

PS – if you are local and feel like checking out the pawn shops, let me know…I’ll fill you in on what to keep an eye open for! 🙂