A Dallas Mom Getaway at First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas
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My friend Ruthie and I met when we had the same first day of work nine years ago at The American Red Cross, her in development and me in communications. We started in September and for Halloween just a month later, I asked her if she wanted to dress up as Laverne and Shirley. I was pretty psyched when she said yes, and more so when I found out on Halloween day she had never even seen the show. This girl was fun and impressionable.

We’ve schlemiel/schlimazel-ed our way through her engagement, the arrival of my daughter, the wedding, about four million new jobs between the two of us (mostly mine) and now, Ruthie becoming a Mom herself to a baby boy, also welcomed through adoption.

With all this life, the scales finally tipped for a while before we realized we had gone far too long without some quality time together. We needed to make up for a few dozen phone calls lost to now each having our own child yelling from the backseat on the drive home from work these days. Soon I realized Canton, Texas, First Monday Trade Days, a flea market held on the weekend that holds the first Monday of the month, was calling our name.

I love this trip because it’s just far enough to feel like you road tripped out of town but extremely doable in one day. I’m all for extended time away from the fam, but adding hotel rooms and goodnights on FaceTime always brings a few more layers of logistics. When I tell myself I’m too busy for just one full day with my friend, I feel like I’m really acting a little self-important that the world can’t turn without me, you know?

Canton is the perfect girls’ day formula: very easy country drive filled with wildflowers, no place to officially go or be, folding tables with mountains of visual inspiration for new conversations, and tapping into our intuitive need to hunt and gather. We’ve done a couple of great spa days together, but I thought this was so much more fun and economical. It was one of the best days of our friendship ever.

Before you go:

Bring cash, more than you think you need (but not a dime more than you’re actually allowed to spend, if you’re me). ATMs are scarce and have fees, and not only does cash help negotiating but generally this is an experience still left untouched by digital payment methods.

Don’t knock the value of the little carts the veterans pull behind them. I did, until I got home and had to massage the imprint of roller skate laces out of my shoulder from where they dug into me while being hauled on my back - more on that later. A folding wagon is coming with us next time. I even brought large reusable shopping bags but forgot them in the car when basking in the glory of a day without being responsible for everyone else’s belongings.

The hardest part of feeling like a trip to Canton was successful (re: the huntering and gathering at least) is knowing where to start, as the grounds are actually bigger than they look. The main pavilions have more mass produced items. (Most of which, by the way, includes phrases acting as a very intense reminder that a lot of these fine people don’t…vote like me, which I, surprisingly, seem to be more accepting of based off what they are willing to print on t-shirts and hand paint onto reclaimed wood signs. So, no harm here but - you’ve been warned if reminders of a divided nation kill your vibe.)

To get the “best junk,” bypass the main entrance to the trade days and head to the back of the Canton Civic Center, taking Flea Market Road off of W Dallas Street to the RV park. The blue building by the parking lot has the cleanest restrooms.

This is how Google Maps should take you from Dallas to the Promised Land.

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From then it is really just on like Donkey Kong. Ruthie decorates like her house is on Fixer Upper and I decorate like my house is on Clarissa Explains It All, so in terms of being pleased with the decor offerings laid out for us, we’re fishing in a barrel. All gold as far as the eye can see. Vintage red firetruck ride-in cars for dapper young babies for her. Flintstone’s 30th anniversary commemorative glassware commissioned by Hardee’s for me. Of course I got the glasses. I mean, what better way to remember my love for Hannah-Barbera shows and my Dad taking me to Hardee’s every day when my Mom signed me up for both public school and Catholic school kindergarten. He ordered a double cheeseburger with large curly fries and a strawberry milkshake, then turned to me at age five and said, “What do you want?” like I even knew life outside what my Mom put in front of me. I said, “Uh, the same.” And ate that for lunch every day with my Dad for the year.

Sorry to digress, but these are the types of stories you get when enjoying a day on the scenic route.

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One thing out in the fields that kept stopping us where those “tacky in a way you want to participate in” metal yard decorations. We were admiring a vendor’s space when I literally said, “I always look too closely at these groupings thinking the perfect one is going to find me.” And I found her, a weird stand-alone red and white mushroom, just like the ones I painted on my walls in college. Where trust me, I had a ton of friends (sarcasm font may be applied).

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This was love. But I wanted to say I got a deal to enhance the story, so I had to haggle and then do the walk away move. So we went forth.

My best find of the day were these vintage roller skates in exactly my size for $3. We just got a new bike trail behind our house and I will be “that person on rollerskates.”

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Ruthie has a good eye. She spotted this guy, and he had gorgeous handwoven baskets and other items. Ruthie and I keep a pretty big/little sister dynamic despite a slim age difference, just because she is so wildly accepting of my bossiness and unsolicited advice (thank you KRUB you are the best). But then she will pull something super grown-lady-ish, like picking out a nice handwoven basket for buying fresh produce from her special farmer’s market vendor, Omar, and it’s like, who’s raising who here?

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Father’s Day is just around the corner…

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In the end, we walked and talked, got just the right amount of lost and went home filled with finds sure to completely enhance our life. Including my metal yard garbage twin flame.

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But mostly, we just had the best time together.

Here’s the deal, for me at least. Us emotional laborers used to get together regularly and just listen to each other’s real stuff: quilting, bridge club, walking over to each other’s houses. I know it still exists, but sometime the pace of life these days doesn’t make it happen, at least for me. Standing get-togethers and girls’ weekends become lunches, lunches become coffee dates then keeping up on social media, phone calls become texts. By the end of a full day as we sat over our not-to-be-missed bison burgers and fries at the neighboring Dairy Palace, we were way out of the highlight reel that conversations can so easily stick to these days. We both promised to do it again ASAP, knowing our husbands and children could not only handle themselves but also appreciated our friendship and the treasures we so dutifully source for our homes.

On that note, has anyone been to Round Top?

LillyComment
The Only Four Questions I Ask Kids About Art & The Best Children's Art Exhibits in Dallas this Summer
A post-dance recital trip to see Zeke Williams’ TWO FOR ONE, on view at Erin Cluley Gallery through June 8, 2019, concurrently with the child-friendly exhibition THE ART OF CHiLDHOOD.

A post-dance recital trip to see Zeke Williams’ TWO FOR ONE, on view at Erin Cluley Gallery through June 8, 2019, concurrently with the child-friendly exhibition THE ART OF CHiLDHOOD.

Post written by Lilly

I have a confession to make. Five years into the game, this summer is the first that I’ll be home with my daughter full time. We have a half day preschool two days a week, and then I’m on my own. Trying not to burn out with a packed schedule or go too stir crazy confined to our home, I've promised us both one outing a week.

While I plan to switch it up, in the Texas summer, museums are a Mom’s best friend. Spacious room to get those steps in, new ideas to explore and, the best part, they pump A/C like the art has to be preserved at a crisp 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

The only daunting task of taking a child to an art experience for me can be how to engage in exhibits in a way that inspires meaningful conversations and carves those precious brain pathways. The good news for me is, my first summer out of college I was fortunate enough to intern at the education department at Dallas Contemporary. I walked in with a freshly embossed art history degree, note cards and highlighter in hand, ready to study their current exhibition and impart all of its facts and symbolism onto young children. The executive director blew my mind when she explained my dialogue with our student visitors that summer would be limited to three questions.

At first, I was a little shocked. How could the children get the full experience without obtaining the valuable insight of the artist’s intention and biography? What the program knew better than I, a classic museum brat raised by an arts supporter, is to many, the facts around art can only intimidate. I learned how many people who do not get to be in an art exhibition space by high school, when surveyed, respond that they do not like art because they “don’t get it.” The facts and background that I saw as necessary in exploring artwork can certainly add value to the process but just as easily distract from our personal feeling with the work and even intimidate. Art has become so much about displaying what we know that it can limit our ability to just sit with what we feel. It can easily be thought that if one doesn’t know about an artist before visiting an exhibit, he or she won’t be able to have a full experience.

Now, I take my daughter to museums. We often get to a point in our conversations where our curiosity inspires us to explore the audio tour or provided materials, but, thanks to the insight I learned that summer, that’s not where we begin. My agenda is limited to those three questions I learned one summer, plus one more of my own.

What do you see?

What do you see that tells you that?

What more can you find?

How does that make you feel?

(Something I’ve learned: If a child has a hard time visually exploring an artwork, drawing it is a great start! Most museums have pencils and paper available for this reason, but I always grab a notebook and pencil on our way out the door to help facilitate this and make the most of our time. Markus taught me through his example that kids enjoy this even more if you sit and draw with them yourself.)

I love these questions for making the priority of experiencing art personal. We go deep in exploration to see what we can find, we back our claims with visual evidence, we go back in for more and we get curious and share openly about how it makes us feel. This often inspires us to learn more about the artist’s intention for comparison, but we’ve begun the experience simply recognizing that art is about our reactions, not what others believe we should understand or think about it. A bonus to this process is that there’s no need for us parents to study up before packing the car and heading on an art adventure.

Speaking of adventures, there’s a wealth of summer art programming available in the Dallas area that I am super excited about! Here’s everything on our initial summer art punch list - so far!

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Dallas Museum of Art: Jonas Wood and Dior: From Paris to the World

This is just the ultimate summer art exhibit line up for me. I’m so excited to see a contemporary art show take focus at the DMA. I’ve been following the Dior exhibit since it’s beginning, so tempted to travel to see it each time I saw photos, and couldn’t be more proud or delighted it will be in Dallas. Last time Heidi and I went to a fashion-focused exhibit (Jeremy Scott at Dallas Contemporary) we had weeks of ideas around making, exploring processes and design. I think Jonas Wood and Dior are a wonderful complement to each other for taking a group of mixed genders and interests to one fun day at the museum!

Arlington Museum of Art: Keith Haring, Against All Odds

I’ve never been to the Arlington Museum of Art (and it’s slightly questionable that they do not currently have any information about this exhibit on their website), but I cannot wait to attend this when it opens at the end of June. I love Keith Haring and am excited to see works that specifically highlight his passion for creating dialogues around social justice. There’s a lot of great conversations to be had in his work around inclusion and practicing respect and empathy for others, and a perfect way to explore the AIDS epidemic and its social reactions if your children are of an appropriate age. All while getting to see such an iconic style up close. A great way to meet up with Fort Worth friends!

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The Perot Museum of Nature and Science: The Art of the Brick

I’ll admit that when I first saw the press release for this exhibit I thought, “Ok, LEGOs are cool. We get it.” I was absolutely WOWed with this exhibit exploring how contemporary artist Nathan Sawaya uses LEGO bricks to recreate famous and new artworks. It’s a great way to expose small children to famous works of art in a context they’ll enjoy. I also loved the way the exhibit is presented, showcasing the amount of LEGO bricks in each work and the ratio of size between the artistic recreations and original artworks. Seeing LEGO in this new way, not just for building towers and bridges but for creative expression, has inspired us to play at home in new ways. Another great exhibit for children of different genders, interests or ways of thinking.

Children and parents enjoying storytime with Dallas contemporary artist Zeke Williams at Erin Cluley Gallery. photo credit: Kevin Todora c/o Erin Cluley Gallery

Children and parents enjoying storytime with Dallas contemporary artist Zeke Williams at Erin Cluley Gallery. photo credit: Kevin Todora c/o Erin Cluley Gallery

Photo credit: Kevin Todora c/o Erin Cluley Gallery

Photo credit: Kevin Todora c/o Erin Cluley Gallery

Erin Cluley Gallery: The Art of Childhood

I may have to check my bias here as I was fortunate enough to be able to assist with this exhibit before wrapping up my time working at the gallery, but this gallery exhibition for children is phenomenal. Twelve children were selected to curate the show, resulting in a beautiful salon wall of contemporary artworks in the gallery space. There are also floor mats and cheater quilts by contemporary artist Zeke Williams for more rough and tumble exploration, areas for puzzles and drawing and wall installations where children can color and create in a collaborative way with others. This space has all of the trappings of an institution-level children’s area with front door parking, a low key environment and contemporary art (Zeke Williams’ TWO FOR ONE in May and Denton textile artist Taylor Barnes’ SACRED SPACES in June). Sign up for Erin’s emails and be in the know about the story times she has planned, where artists in her program will share their favorite children’s art books.

Where are you headed on art adventures this summer?

LillyComment
The ManKind Project’s NWTA Weekend
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Post Written by Markus

On a Monday afternoon last September, Lilly sent me a text: “Hey, I found this weekend men’s retreat that sounds interesting, would you consider going?”  I was on a huge deadline push at work that day and I read the text quickly before replying “Sure, thank you.” Lilly had heard of a similar retreat a year or two back that I also attended and based on that experience, it was an easy decision for me. That prior retreat was on the shores of a lake nearby and it was a silent retreat. No talking, no phones – just being. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and it was incredibly grounding, calming, and centering for me. Apparently, I was now the kind of guy who regularly goes on retreats like this – bring on the silence and a break, I thought.

What I didn’t know was that this weekend was a bit different than the first one. This one was called NWTA (“New Warrior Training Adventure” – I’ll be honest, I rolled my eyes at the name) a three-day “retreat” that seemed to be the main event put on by an organization called The ManKind Project (MKP). I was still trying to figure out what any of this actually was and I figured that if MKP or this warrior weekend was really such a big deal, then I would have already heard of it before now.

Full disclosure – Lilly hadn’t found this new retreat as something unique and interesting just because she cares about me (although she does and she would) – but because it was a long shot at trying to get things moving that were stuck, specifically in/with me. Things like emotion (me not expressing emotion, me not understanding Lilly when she expresses emotion, me having low empathy), listening skills (or lack thereof), reliability in general, and my lack of a well-defined purpose beyond “work hard and be good for my family.”

GETTING READY

That same Monday afternoon, I got a (slightly) better picture of what I was getting into as I was texting Lilly:  “OK, so what is this retreat exactly?”, “Where is this place?”, “What do people who’ve attended say about it?” On the MKP site they describe the weekend as “not a retreat” (thanks guys - wait, OK what is it then?) and they refer to it as “a real-time hero’s journey” (way to be dramatic about it, I thought).

The official MKP description of the weekend is: “You'll get more than you're willing to hope for: purpose, passion, vibrancy, joy, healing, connection to self, new energy, clarity, power, freedom, understanding, brotherhood, trust. Over 64,000 men have now taken this journey, and every man's experience has been unique.” That description also didn’t help me much – that’s just a list that sounds like it was pulled from a BuzzFeed clickbait post titled “13 Things The Modern Man Needs To Be a Hero (Number 8 May Surprise You!)”.

Boy, it seemed like these guys really weren’t doing much to pitch this to the average guy as something that might seem even remotely appealing – unless he was a guy who needed a Hail Mary attempt at keeping a marriage together, which was the case for me. With that context, it honestly didn’t matter what they called this non-retreat adult man sleepover weekend. Like so many other decisions in my life, this came about because it was finally too painful to not change.

As I was looking for any third-partyreviews of this experience/weekend, the trail pretty much ran cold. I could find almost nothing online about this organization or the weekend – which meant my imagination began to run wild.  What little I did find seemed questionable at best and what I didn’t know at the time was that there were two things at play:

  1. MKP is by definition a men’s group (explicitly welcoming to GBTQ) by each man’s own definition.  Saying that to say – as a group, men are generally less effusive, and are already less likely to write reviews of their weekend non-retreat experiences.  My opinion is that this is one reason why there are few reviews out there.

  2. The weekend has been running for over three decades, is held in many countries, and generally still takes the same shape today as the early years. A fair amount of the efficacy of the weekend is based on the construct of following a hero’s journey where a large part of it is the unknown of the path before you. To this end, MKP asks attendees to talk in generalities about the weekend and leave the specifics for each man to experience on his own during the weekend. In my opinion it’s this request, coupled with #1 above, that leads to the shortage of actually useful third-party information about MKP online.

Where this really doesn’t work in MKP’s favor is that online, the vocal minority has the floor. The guys who are attending and having awesome, life-changing experiences are not writing about it – at least not where other interested guys can find the reviews. For me, that was crucial and I was basically taking a leap of faith with little time to decide whether to spend $750 (wait - seriously, $750? Seriously.) for the weekend. MKP does offer case-by-case options and they want to make sure that cost is never a barrier to attendance.

Lilly sent me that text on a Monday and the way the timing of this retreat fell, it was that upcoming weekend in a rural area outside Houston. If I would have paused at any point between that moment and the weekend (I didn’t) to make a list of the things I thought were not working in my life and that I might like to examine during the weekend, it would have included:

  1. Lack of emotional attunement

  2. Lack of traction/consistency in progress

  3. Lack of connection with my inner child

  4. Unawareness of shame (and the major role it was playing in directing my life)

  5. Lack of a clearly-defined purpose – sure, I wanted to be a good husband, good dad, and have a good career – but I had never defined the actual goal and hadn’t considered what greater overarching purpose there might be

  6. Fears that I had never faced that were redirecting my life by me avoiding them

  7. Though I couldn’t put my finger on it, what I now recognize as a constant need for approval

Even though I didn’t put it into those words before the weekend, I had a strong sense that something was going on. I also believed that I was the only one feeling like this and that these problems were unique to me. That led me to avoid talking about them, which only made them worse.

LESSONS FROM THE WEEKEND

The best way to describe the weekend actually is MKP’s standard description from earlier in this post. Each man’s experience is different. It’s an opportunity to take a look at things in life that are working (and things that aren’t working) in a different context. Think Joseph Campbell and his paradigm of the myth of the hero’s journey – especially the quote “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

The other best way to describe the weekend is describe what I got from the experience, including lessons about these topics below. By “lesson”, I mean something that I absorbed to a level deeper than just a theoretical surface-level understanding.

  1. What a man is, and what he is not (most of the images and archetypes celebrated by our culture are at best incomplete, and at worst, destructive to self and others)

  2. Emotional attunement (even just the “base” emotions of happy, sad, angry, afraid, ashamed)

  3. An understanding of agreements – the moments where I agree to do something and how I do (or do not) honor that agreement

  4. Integrity (aligning my words and my actions) + accountability (doing what I say I’ll do)

  5. Shame

  6. My inner child’s deepest need (and out of that, my mission)

  7. Understanding that I’m not on earth just to be a work-horse productivity machine

  8. Actually hearing my real Voice for the first time (both figuratively and literally)

  9. Connection with other men, besides just surface-level

  10. Connection with the Earth, with Nature, and with Life

  11. A deep sense of connection to the men who came before me in prior generations and those who will follow

The weekend was surreal in terms of cultivating a sense of reconnection to myself – and coming back home (literally and figuratively) was even more surreal. Everything at home felt very familiar yet also very different.  Our house looked the same when I walked up to the door, but my connection to it felt much stronger. I can’t explain how overcome with love, gratitude, and adoration I was when my eyes saw Lilly, My Love, for the first time after I came home.  

It was a deep sense of appreciation for an ocean of incredible qualities about her. For believing in me, for finding the weekend and encouraging me to attend, for her support in general – and a deep appreciation for her as a woman, especially for her intuition, for her emotion and her attunement, her love, her physical beauty – and her smile, her kind eyes, and her presence.

We talked some, but mostly we were quiet. I couldn’t stop looking into her gorgeous green eyes – holding her gaze, staring at her pretty face and taking in her beauty.  Lilly had picked up dinner for me and I was ravenous from the drive home – but I could barely be bothered to eat it, I was so taken by her. I’ve always been smitten but this was different. Just being next to her was enough and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The intensity and intimacy of our connection that first day back and across the next few days felt like something from a classic love story.

The first week was back to “normal” life was so surreal. I wore out Porangui’s album Ayahuasca Remixed which has the most awesome primal, tribal energy and beats. One of my favorite quotes from the movie Fight Club kept resonating in my mind “After fighting, everything else in your life got the volume turned down.”  It felt like everything in my life, especially the mundane work-life items, had become very muted in my daily life. The hard landscape was technically still the same but it seemed like everything had changed.

Before, it was a world where there were “so many” “important” things that I needed to stay aware of, pay attention to, and do something about. I had a death-grip attachment to viewing myself as Work & Productivity Man - and that attachment had long been trying to fill the voids in my life that I now call Identity and Purpose/Mission.

The thing I needed the most from the weekend (though I couldn’t have put it into words) was to have some kind of experience where I at least glimpsed a sense of trusting myself again. The experience of the weekend gave me a peek at that sense of trust and I could feel deeply that a very old need and wound was beginning to be met and healed. At the time I didn’t know quite how old and deep that wound was. I also didn’t know that the first week back was NOT actually the new normal, not yet at least – and not without a lot of hard work still ahead of me, and in so many unexpected areas of my life.

That first week passed and after that, the weekend was still semi-fresh on my mind – but definitely a little less fresh and a little less intense.  It seemed like “reality” was setting back in and I began to wonder if my weekend experience had produced real, lasting change – or if it was just an isolated experience to itself with no ultimate tangible translation to me actually living my life.

TODAY

One of the things that has not been lost on me is what purpose the weekend experience has served for me, besides the obvious shifts in emotion, Voice, and Connection. Those three weekend days together with the first days back at home were nothing short of an experience like looking directly into the Sun. It was white-hot, bright AF, and nurturing, and it let me directly experience first-hand the heights of what is tangibly possible for me in my life – and here’s the kicker – with what I already had inside myself that’s been there all along.

The toughest thing for me since the weekend was that realization that the initial “new normal” was not actually a new normal – at least not yet. I would compare it to the experience of coming back to “real life” from a proper vacation. On so many prior vacations, I’ve tapped into what I would describe as the core essence of my being – and that’s been via Connection to both myself and the world around me. I’ve gotten there essentially the same way every time – slowing down, breathing deeply, being present with myself, getting out in the Sun, and moving through nature. The Markus that came back from those trips was instinctively more focused on Energy, “Vibes”, and Fun than before the trips.

The main word I would use to describe MKP as an organization is Connection – with oneself, with other men (and with women), with emotion, with love, with nature, and spiritual connection (not religion - think along the lines of native American spirituality) with the ultimate goal of being a better man for those we love and the world around us. The other word I would use is Awakening – to the world, to others, and most importantly to oneself. I would describe this Awakening as the first step toward Recovery. By this I mean Recovery in the sense that Russell Brand defines the word: “recover[ing] the person you were born to be.”

Something I’ve noticed on many occasions since the weekend is increased attunement and intuition. One way this manifests is during times when I notice the opposite - a strong sense of mis-alignment in my life. That can be anything – the way I’m breathing (or not breathing), how strong (or weak) my Voice is on any given day, where my energy is focused, and especially my purpose/mission.

There are plenty of days that I wonder how I ever got to 36 years old before learning some of these (seemingly) very basic things that I learned about myself and about life at the weekend. I usually counter that with this quote from Steven Tyler, “I’ve got a lot of great excuses. Don’t we all? So what if I was 60 years late - I was busy getting ready.” Busy getting ready – that was me, and that was OK.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I discovered something deep and important that weekend. I got glimpses at deep, powerful Truths that I’ve felt all along but hadn’t touched and couldn’t put my finger on. I heard my Voice for the first time.

What I got from the weekend actually was the “more than you’re willing to hope for,” just as advertised. There was the immediate impact and the lessons listed above – but it didn’t stop there. The weekend served as an initial catalyst and the amount and depth of things that have been healed since still blows my mind. I can 100% say that I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t attended that specific weekend last September. Either directly or indirectly, my weekend has somehow influenced all my growth since then.

Two Joseph Campbell quotes have also resonated very strongly with me since September. One is, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” which I have taken to heart. For a long time in my life I wanted to (and did) conceal who I was, so this hits very deep for me.

The other is Campbell’s description of The Hero Path. This has been my understanding of life since the weekend:

We have not even to risk the adventure alone

for the heroes of all time have gone before us.

The labyrinth is thoroughly known

we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.

And where we had thought to find an abomination

we shall find a God.

And where we had thought to slay another

we shall slay ourselves.

Where we had thought to travel outward

we shall come to the center of our own existence.

And where we had thought to be alone

we shall be with all the world.

Before the weekend, I would have called this poem overly dramatic or trying too hard. After the weekend, each line resonates deeply. “Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.” I had thought that my problems in life were due to something outside myself - but when I took an honest look, the issue was actually me. When I started to change, magically so did my problems. “Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” What initially felt life-threatening was actually life-giving through the Connection that can only come from vulnerability and openness.

Check out the MKP FAQ page for more details about the weekend - I’d also love to answer any questions.  Hit me up in the comments below or send us an email for more!

Markus Comments
Spotify Morning Mix and Our Morning Hacks
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Mornings can be such a challenge. On one hand, there’s so much magic in this space we get to share together as a family before we have to reckon with the outside world. But also, we need to get out the door and be ready to take on the day! I want a pace for our mornings that feels calm, manageable and my own (versus running against the clock), but with good energy flowing through ourselves and the house before we go see what the day brings.

Music is such a big part of this! Markus can lure me out of bed best with music. He loves to get the speaker cranked up in the kitchen where he’s typically making coffee to get him in his headspace for the day. His tunes have the added benefit of being just loud enough where I can’t go back to sleep and I eventually relent and show my face to the world. A few minutes after that I start to perk up and actually enjoy the morning’s music myself.

Whether it’s musicals, the classics or something new, we gravitate towards fun, energetic music in the mornings to help our outlooks and days follow suit. Here’s what we’ve been cranking in the morning lately!

Don’t forget you can follow our Open Hearted Home Family Friendly Spotify Station for all of our playlists for cool families.

Here’s 10 other ways we “hack” our mornings:

  1. Markus: Very first thing, every day - a drink of water. No set amount, but always cold.

  2. Lilly: I wake up almost every morning by doing Morning Pages, a practice of writing three pages of stream of consciousness thoughts in a journal never to be read again. It’s like flossing or (for a tad grosser example) scraping my tongue, where I can clear out the first gunky layer of thoughts and let my brain go to more interesting places over the course of the day. I write out what’s on my mind, which eventually lets me air out my worries and on the spot I write them into prayer and surrender them for a higher power to deal with. It’s my way of taking my mind out of the picture for a minute and just handing the day over to the greater forces. Our girl is a morning cuddler in our bed, so to be able to pull this off I got her a journal and pen of her own that she practices letters or doodles in while I write. We both get out of bed in a different frame of mind if we’ve done our morning pages!

  3. Lilly: When we have to be out the door at a certain time, we use this visual timer to guide our daughter as she works on developing her focus on singular tasks and concept of time. Not wanting it to take on any bootcamp and/or Captain Von Trapp vibes, we typically offer it as a helpful tool and set it for a little longer than we know it takes our girl to complete one of her morning tasks, such as finishing breakfast or getting dressed for the day. We also set it for five minutes as a “tidy timer” so we can take a moment and try to put away at least a few things that made their way out in the morning so we can walk back into a well-cared for space when we come home towards the end of the day.

  4. Lilly: Markus makes me the “perfect” cup of coffee every morning. I think this may have begun a few years ago as a short term project to get on my good side, but like some great ideas, it’s worked so well he may be stuck doing it and reaping its rewards of my affection for life. Below is the recipe should you need to start your day with the best cup of coffee ever or get on someone’s good side yourself. I treat this as a morning smoothie and it holds me off until a late morning snack or even lunch.

  5. Markus: This recipe is a twist on the classic Bulletproof coffee recipe that’s been around for what seems like forever by this point and that’s still my personal favorite. The version I make for Lilly takes it up a notch in terms of creaminess and overall nutrients. Although “true” Bulletproof coffee by definition has very specific steps/ingredients (here’s the rabbit hole), generally I:

    1. Make coffee

    2. Pour 16 oz of coffee into blender

    3. Add:

      1. 1 Tbsp organic ghee

      2. 1 Tbsp MCT oil (Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil)

      3. 2 Tbsp Nutpods (esp. Hazelnut, Peppermint, or Pumpkin Spice)

      4. 1 scoop collagen peptides

    4. Blend on high for 30 seconds

    5. Pour into a huge mug and try to contain my excitement at how frothy this drink is that I just made in my own house by myself.

      (Two notes about MCT: (1) Don’t go cheap, speaking from experience here.  Avoid MCT oil that contains lauric acid - your stomach will thank you. (2) Make sure that your blender container is made of HDPE or glass and that your mug is ceramic or glass (metal is fine too).  MCT generally melts plastic and styrofoam.)

  6. Markus: I start most mornings with a 10-minute Daily Calm app session. The daily sesion is new each day and the 10 minutes are about evenly split between guided meditation, “quiet” time (not necessarily “silent” because you can choose your own background sounds), and a daily topic for reflection. There are tons of background sound options like waves on a beach, rain in the jungle, or my personal favorite called Open Ocean, that makes me imagine I’m deep down below the surface of the endless sea. When I start my day with the Daily Calm, the rest of the day seems to flow and everything seems more manageable that I expected, even the tougher parts of the day.  When I don’t start my day with the Daily Calm, it’s generally the opposite - it’s that simple. The narrator usually recommends sitting up tall, although my favorite way is laying down on my back with a towel over my eyes so it’s totally dark.

  7. Markus: After the Daily Calm session, I’m usually in my personal power hour. My brain and body are awake and my energy is calm and focused. I’ve found this to be the best time to write, especially in terms of flow and general quality. Usually I’ll walk away from a writing session pleasantly surprised and feeling like I can’t take credit for the words on the page, even though I remember typing them just minutes ago. When my brain and body work together like that, it feels like an out-of-body experience where I’m just observing and that I’m just along for the ride. I’ve had zero writers block with this approach, rather it’s always the opposite - I feel like I could easily write for hours more.

  8. Markus: Music, preferably loud. The genre all depends on the day, though typically hip-hop, rock and pop are big players. On days where I feel that I’m dragging, I’ll generally throw on something with a beat that’s faster than my heart rate, like a good NYC house music playlist.

  9. Markus: Sitting Still.  This is the toughest one of every morning, even the weekends. It’s also the best one. This is normally on the order of 5 minutes and happens at the tail end of the morning routine. No phone - usually just me and my coffee.  This is the calm before the storm.

  10. Lilly: Sunday is our one day a week where we don’t set an early alarm. I wait for it all week! We’re at a glorious phase of life now where we all sleep in a little and once Heidi is up she climbs in our bed for a good dose of snuggles and laughs. So my “hack” is saying no to morning plans, Sunday school or anything else that might make it longer than a week before I can savor this slow wake up. Until it’s time to nudge Markus out of bed for that morning coffee!

What’s your favorite way to start the day?!

Lilly Comment
Enjoying Disney World in January with a Five-Year-Old Girl

Oh boy, has an innocent family trip to Disney World become a topic of debate or what?

Camps are divided over whether a Disney trip is the family vacation of choice, to the point of it now almost existing as a subculture. Those outside this subculture often not-so-gently remind parents that for the costs and commitment of Disney, there’s an entire “real” world out there that children can explore through travel.

Personally, this is one where I love the middle ground. Yes, we love (and need!) slow, simple vacations and immersion into new world cultures through travel. But, we also LOVE Disney World and its magic and ability to put us into that child-like creative space where, like Walt believed, anything is truly possible with an imagination, some engineering and a little bit of pixie dust.

With that in mind, I’ve wanted to take my girl to Disney World since she was born. My grandfather and parents loved to take me growing up, and it was a travel tradition from my family of origin that I was excited to pass on. My two cents on Disney travel is there is a time, a place and a way to do it where it is experienced in its fullness before going down the (white) rabbit’s hole and everyone becoming exhausted and jaded. I waited patiently until my daughter’s fifth birthday - that time and place where I hoped a trip of this intensity would be exciting, memorable and magical to her but have her still at an age where I could control the experience and keep us all from being overwhelmed.

Spoiler alert: it worked.

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Since my girl is a Christmas Day birthday, it felt like a good way to (barely) offset costs of the trip and make the announcement a special memory by presenting the trip as a surprise from Santa, Mom and Dad. A new suitcase “all my own” has been the top of the list of desires for our girl, so she awoke on Christmas Birthday morning to a new Disney-approved suitcase filled with some second-hand costumes, Disney surprises and a letter from Santa with the exciting details.

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The timing also worked out perfectly where we could book our trip about 30 days out to let anticipation build and to travel at one of the record low attendance weeks for the parks. I partnered up early with a Disney travel planner, Small World Big Fun, who was a massive help with locking up our hotel and meal reservations. Meals seem to be the hot ticket item and I specifically had my eye on Cinderella’s Royal Table (inside Cinderella’s castle). My agent, Jody, looked for available reservations first and booked our trip around one available table left at the castle in the month of January (!!). From there, Jody was a massive help in working with me on an awesome itinerary based on what we wanted to be sure to do on the trip and our total budget. It was a huge relief to get the bulk of planning done over what felt like just a few emails, down to reservations for some of the best rides in the parks!

Another thing we took care of was getting PhotoPass, which is an package that allows parks employees to take your photograph at the parks with the images going straight to the DisneyParks app on your phone - with full photo rights for all images! Traveling as a little threesome, it was a great relief to know we would have all of the family photos we might desire (which was going to be a LOT based on my financial and time investments, k fam?).

Based on our daughter’s age and the length of the trip, we opted to just focus on Disney parks, side-stepping Universal, etc. and we stayed on the Disney resort at Caribbean Beach. We got a “preferred” room which put us about 60 seconds away from the resort bus stop and about three minutes from the lobby building. This seemed like small beans at the time of booking, but once we got on the property we noticed that some room blocks were a 10 minute walk from the bus! I would rate Caribbean Beach as just right for our needs on this trip - a cozy place to crash at the end of the day. If you’re bringing along smaller babies (that need a break at the hotel or in the rooms during the day) or grandparents, I might suggest going up one hotel tier. Disney hotels are rated as “value”, “moderate”, and “deluxe”, with Caribbean Beach being a moderate hotel. All of the staff at the hotel were excellent and accommodating and our room was spotless every day, which is all any of us required. Tip: The best part about staying at a Disney hotel are the free wake up calls from Disney characters! Just call in your wake up times and your phone will ring with a recording by a surprise character. Having the phone ring “for her” was such a highlight of the trip and she still talks about speaking with Winnie the Pooh on the telephone!

Since we were staying on Disney resort property, we took the Disney Magical Express bus from the Orlando airport to our hotel. This is such a nice cost savings (maybe “cost savings” is a bit of a stretch at Disney, but airport transfers are something I often overlook when budgeting our vacations and they can be SO expensive?! Not the case with the Magical Express.) and it’s extra helpful if you’re checking bags. Checked bags are magically picked up by special baggage handlers and then dropped off in your hotel room - so you can just get going without having to wait at the baggage claim or lug large, heavy bags upstairs with the kids in tow.

A few tips on this: Make sure you are wearing or carrying onto the plane everything you want to have with you for the first day! It can take half a day or so for the checked bags to make it to the rooms. There’s nothing like having to walk around all day in your flight clothes when you’re wanting to get into the spirit of the parks! Also, even if you plan to only carry-on bags and not check any luggage, I recommend still bringing the bag-tags that are mailed to you so you can use this service for transfer of your carry-ons from the airport should they get gate checked. We had a full flight to Orlando and our bags were gate-checked at our departure where I was very happy to realize I had the bag-tags in my purse - which meant we could avoid stopping at baggage claim in Orlando and instead got straight onto the bus to the hotel.

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We kicked off the Disney happenings with what I think is the best thing we did on the entire trip: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party at the Grand Floridian Hotel (GF). The hotels themselves were such a marvel for our girl, it was fun to savor just that for a moment at the GF before getting overloaded with the parks! I made the tea party reservations in advance and for the cost (about $45) I thought the programming and surprises were above what I would expect if I were paying the same price for a similar experience at home in Dallas. The event is capped at 12 children, but our little girl was just one of two guests for the afternoon! Stories are still told in our home about the things that Alice and the Mad Hatter said, how they decorated cupcakes and drank Apple Juice Tea and designed their own tea set to take home. (Tip: We were headed out to one of the parks from here so the bell hop at GF took our teapot off our hands and sent it over to our hotel for us!)

This is also a children-only event - hallelujah! That left us parents available for a leisurely seated meal at the hotel to catch up and exhale from a long morning of travel which may have involved turbulence-induced child vomit. (There is a high tea at Grand Floridian at that time with champagne that looked Heavenly even though we passed on it, should you be inclined.) Everyone was really in vacation mode and feeling the Disney magic after this!

PhotoPass does the heavy lifting at the tea, since the kids enjoy themselves while a photographer takes care of getting photos that go straight to your phone.

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From here we went over to Epcot for the evening, which was a nice transition into the parks madness. The best part of heading over here from the tea party was traveling by Monorail! Epcot is a great half-day park if you logistically need one, like we did after arriving mid-day. By now we were up for just walking around to see the sights and we weren’t looking for anything so major that we had to do a lot of waiting (especially since we had Fast Pass reservations for the Frozen ride thanks to Jody!). The big show at Epcot for us was meeting Anna and Elsa. It was enchanting to see the generosity and friendship values of Disney Princess Lyfe already impacting our daughter, as she kept her floral bouquet and pinwheel from her tea party to gift to Anna and Elsa when she met them.

This was a day with a -gasp- costume change! Wearing costumes to the parks was not a thing during my upbringing, so I was trying to get on board and understand the ins and outs from a distance. Santa brought some costumes via Facebook yard sale and one Etsy semi-splurge with the news of the trip. I wore a backpack to the parks where I packed the costumes and clothing changes in gallon Ziploc bags. My girl simply changed from Alice to Elsa in the restroom at Epcot with no fuss.

Since we’re on the topic - I originally thought she would wear her Cinderella dress only to breakfast at Magic Kingdom and then change into play clothes, but I did not know at the time that every Disney cast member is required to call a child “Princess” or “Your Highness/Your Majesty” when dressed in costume. My favorite example of this occurred when we were all completely beat and walking out of Magic Kingdom at the end of the night when the park closed. As we were walking, two security guards got down on one knee and bowed to our daughter! It was worth tracking some princess dresses down, finding ones that I was on board with for photos and also packing an outfit change or two so she could get into the spirit. Even the way she carried herself walking through the park was more elevated in her costumes - princess manners!

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After the World Showcase, we had dinner at Seasons and loved Soarin’ and a few other rides before sitting down with some French macarons to watch Illuminations. A perfect first day!

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Magic Kingdom was the big show and our destination for our first full day at Disney. Planning this for the second day was great for us as we still had lots of energy and were feeling transported into a magical world where everything registered high on the WOW factor. We got in right as the park opened and headed to the castle so we would have plenty of time before our 10:00 a.m. breakfast reservation. We did not do the Bippity Boppity Boutique, but I had heard a rumor that the Castle Couture shop right by the back side of the castle would pixie dust your hair on the house. Our daughter loved this! We also had time to ride the carousel which was a really nice way to take in the park and get jiving. Right in front is the Sword in the Stone which I love for photos. We even saw a boy pull the sword out!

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Choosing to experience the magical and special feeling of dining inside Cinderella’s castle was a no-brainer for me - especially for a little girl’s trip where the alternative way to have the same experience was to wait in line to meet a bunch of lovely 20-year-old college interns dressed as princesses. Instead of dealing with butterflies and trying our collective patience waiting in line, I’ll take checking celebrity meet-and-greets off the list while seated and eating.

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From there it was all of the best park stuff, from Pineapple Dole Whip to Dumbo and fireworks. The creature of habit that I am was quite pleased.

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On the morning of our second full day at Disney, we were completely beat - our daughter had fallen asleep standing up on the bus the night before! We were also relieved that after two days of early mornings and late nights, I hadn’t made a reservation for this day until noon, so we were in no rush. We still woke up early and got to Hollywood Studios, rushing straight to the back corner for Toy Story Land.

Slinky Dog Dash was the only ride I was not able to get on FastPass before the trip so we headed there first and had our only hour-long wait of the trip. I’m still surprised to say, we enjoyed it. It’s so easy to shortcut and plan out every minute of a day here - but we enjoyed actually needing to stand around a little and pass the time, making conversation and letting anticipation build. The details in Toy Story Land are bananas and this was our daughter’s favorite ride by far. We even lined up later that evening to ride again and almost did it three times! So with that said, I wouldn’t write off an attraction just because it’s not available for you to FastPass!

Hollywood Studios was a great third day park for us. Our five-year-old is too short to ride a few of the rides at Animal Kingdom, but she could ride Tower of Terror (which impressed me!) and the Toy Story rides, so Hollywood Studios seemed like a more age-appropriate choice of park for this trip. This was also my favorite park when I was little and I am selfish. Logistically, with this park being smaller and featuring more show-based attractions, it made sense for our tired feet! It was a leisurely day that helped us wind down our trip. I also can’t believe that it will have the Star Wars land there soon, so I wanted to soak up the kind of old school vibe of the park before it gets too crazy with the addition. Our daughter did not know what to make of the Star Wars attractions or shows that were there at all, and she was switching back and forth between reactions of curiosity and being freaked out. Now all she asks us to play at home is the Star Wars musical score and she is obsessed with Chewy!

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The last day we had an evening flight, so we had a leisurely wake up at the hotel and went to Disney Springs for lunch and poking around before our flight. This area has changed so much for the better! The shopping is great and we loved Raglan Road Irish Pub. It was lively, even at Sunday lunch, so it didn’t feel like a downer way end to vacation. The Irish performers are great and even invite the kids on stage! The gluten-free fish and chips were the best I’ve ever had.

Our energy as a family on the flight home and over the next weeks was so vibrant and connected! This was just the perfect amount of time for us to peek up from our New Years routines and winter to do something fun and commemorate such a special milestone - going from toddler to little girl. We are so proud of our daughter and this trip and all of the sacrifices, planning, and even figuring out a new app (if you’re at Disney your life is run by the Disney app) was completely worth it to us. It was also a great conversation starter for our family on the magic of making joy for others, saying thank you and practicing gratitude, using our table manners and patience - all things that I’m focusing on as we get ready for Kindergarten!

Share your favorite Disney memory below or let us know what we need to do next time!

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travelLilly
All You Need is Love: A Beatles Birthday Party

Post Written by Lilly

I’m writing to you today from some alternate reality where my tiny surprise-baby miracle-daughter is five years old.

For some reason, this was always such a distant future and major milestone for me when she was a baby! Five years old - leaving the entire baby/toddler/preschool phase behind for little girl life. To make the milestone even sweeter, we added another little bundle of love to our family last year when my sister had a baby girl. Both girls’ birthdays fall during the week of Christmas. To celebrate them both and their milestone birthdays, we combined a big fifth birthday party with a big first birthday party! The party was also a reason to open our new house to a few of our daughter’s school friends plus our adult friends and family. It was also a relaxed, daytime holiday party - with a kangaroo (spoiler alert!).

The best thing I did in prepping for the party was to send a random-feeling email to my friend Kelli at Nine Photography and ask if they might be around and up for shooting a kids’ party - they were! Knowing that Nine Photography was at the party, everyone in my family was able to attend the entire event without needing to keep their phones nearby for photos the whole time - and so they were able to participate in every moment while still knowing they would enjoy the photos for a lifetime (and that the photos would be awesome). I hope you enjoy this snippet of Kelli’s beautiful work - all the images in this post were taken by Nine Photography.

I turned to my ever-faithful Etsy for Beatles themed party invitations that got everyone into the spirit!

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With the Christmas decor already up at our house, I wanted something that would excite our guests as they walked up to the house - and also something that would help them find us, since we had recently moved and it was the first time here for many of them! I considered using one of the companies in Dallas that create gorgeous turnkey balloon installations for parties but I happened to find this balloon arch kit on Etsy. It’s a hilarious-to-me observation that we’re all going this buck-wild on balloon displays these days, but why not - especially since the price was fair? Balloons are awesome, most especially in beautiful rainbow colors draped across an entry way. Party on.

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This sounds a little crazy now, but a few years on a Facebook resale group a Mom was selling some adorable wooden signs with Beatles song titles painted on them, along with some other Beatles party decor. Our entire family loves the Beatles (my Dad played Here Comes the Sun and Back in the U.S.S.R. on the way to school every day for two straight years when we were in high school - without explanation now that I think of it, but that’s beside the point). I originally planned to use the signs for our girl’s second birthday party (that I never threw) - but everything happens for a reason, and it was the perfect theme for our family’s double-birthday!

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Abbey Road continued from outside our front steps into our entry with a crosswalk I made by taping black plastic table-covering sheets over our entry tile and taping white cardboard crosswalk panels on top. The Union Jack flag helped set the tone and gave a proper backdrop for guests to take photos walking Abbey Road - with or without shoes, of course.

While looking for similar craft ideas online, I found a Yellow Submarine felt tablecloth concept someone had made. My girl and I had a blast going to the craft store to get big pieces of felt - and then we cut and glued with hot glue the layers together to create the tablecloth below the Sunday before her party. I try not to “over-craft” for a birthday party where I’m likely to be tired (or over it) by the end of the party. There’s such a balance between getting into a vibe versus going overboard and risking being burnt out! This tablecloth was the perfect thing to drape over our dining room table to help the theme along - and it added some anticipation for both us as we were coming up on our big day. I loved making it together and I added the paper flowers around the back to femme it up for our birthday as a tribute to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, “cellophane flowers of yellow and green, towering over your heads.”

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Everyone loves a delicious and beautiful theme cookie at a birthday party, which can be very tricky to find gluten-free - especially in December when the bakers are also slammed with holiday orders! Thankfully, Nancy’s Sweets was available and down to experiment. I Amazoned her (it’s a verb, get on board) my go-to gluten-free flour substitute which she used for the most adorable little-girl Beatles cookies (and smash cake) of all time.

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Since this was the first party we’ve hosted at our home, I had never booked “entertainment” before. Enter The Creature Teacher - who had the draw of being able to move inside if it was too cold, with Markus gently reminding me that the number of people I had invited wouldn’t fit in the house if it was too cold anyway.

Our handler brought five animals that Heidi hand-picked to show everyone out of the huge selection they have available. At Heidi’s school they are still talking about The Creature Teacher!

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I was originally going to rent a bounce house so kids could jump and dance to Beatles music. I am so happy we went with The Creature Teacher instead, especially with hard-to-predict December weather - and even at a party with a lot of adults, where it was tough to tell who was enjoyed the animals more - the parents or the kids! The Creature Teacher should definitely host happy hours.

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Nothing says “my parents are making up for my birthday falling on Christmas Day every year” quite like a live kangaroo jumping around your backyard.

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This is my sister and I with our birthday babies. Growing up, we played with baby dolls almost every day. It was so surreal to plan this party and share this moment with her! It felt like another one of our pretend days from when we were kids ourselves. Also - LOOK AT THAT BABY, I CANNOT BELIEVE IT IS I WHO HAS BEEN CHOSEN TO SPOIL THAT BOO-BOOS.

Heidi’s cake request was for one that she and I baked together at home, which I was happy to oblige.

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I know I’ll never forget this day and also that I’ll remember these adorable little personalities on our precious girls at these ages so much better with such cute photos and memories of them interacting with the party. Grandparents, parents and little kids all enjoyed being in Beatlemania for a day, remembering that All You Need Is Love!

With that said, I already need a theme to top this one next year! Hit me with your favorite theme below!

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Lilly Comment
The Glorification of Slow: Documenting Life with B Family Films

Post Written by Lilly

My job as a Mom often feels like it boils down to the title of CMM: Chief Memory Maker. I’ve taken on the responsibility of orchestrating and manifesting the collection of memories and joy in our family. I’m the birthday party planner and family vacation concierge. I buy the toys. I tend to set our weekend agenda. I pack the lunches with the little notes tucked inside.

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I spent a lot of “the early years” running myself exhausted and spending money on making memories, probably to the point of short-circuiting all three of us. Nothing says “this is a happy family” like three faces with forced smiles and traces of an organized event or city scene in the background, all squeezed neatly into the frame of an Instagram shot. Life forced us to slow down and after a while, I took the hint. It’s the slow time, not rushing from one activity to the next, that allows the little details of life to come into focus and become our memories - things like heart-shaped banana slices on freshly-baked bread or seeing the same little Mason jar cups and plates sitting on our dinner table every night.

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I’m a living, breathing Mom which obviously means that I therefore love family photos. I previously thought that we had already taken our family photos as far out as one can reasonably go in terms of fresh creative direction, locations, and themes. That said, I was recently smitten with B Family Films and their idea to document the parts of life that are often not photographed or even seen by other people outside the family. When B Family Film’s Cara asked if we would be willing to participate as a pilot family for their film process, I was quite excited and intrigued by their concept. Would our boring daily life and imperfect-as-hell home be worthy? And would it really look and feel like real life?

When we got the photos and videos back from Cara, I was overcome with emotion. I’ll let you see for yourself - here’s the video they created:

The threads that hold our beautiful, ever-evolving family tapestry together are connection and contentment. In our fast-paced world that pushes us to focus on the external, it’s often a minute-by-minute practice just to stay on track with either of those two values at the forefront. By entering our messy, simple life and translating it into such a thing of beauty, Cara created a work of art out of an ordinary evening in our home. I believe this is the type of honest, unpolished expression that can change our world by honoring the intent and highest purpose of our home - to serve as a vehicle of pure love.

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It’s almost a mini-rebellion to think of all of the gorgeous and stately spaces and landscapes around Dallas and know that, truly, I want our photos to be taken right here in our home. This is the home that currently still has the same color of paint on every single wall as when we moved in, still driving me a little crazy when I see it. The home with the dollhouse made from shipping boxes and duct tape, where I always lean in for one more goodnight kiss from my girl as she scampers off to bed. Few things in this world are truly mine, but this loving space and the connection to Markus and our daughter that I feel are what I know to be real.

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When we think of home design now, it’s often associated with designer curtain rods, impressive art collections or envy-inducing spaces. I’m the biggest fan of all of these. While they’re great, having a family was always the dream and priority for me. And what we dream for and prioritize requires sacrifice. When I was working in overdrive to pay for weekend activities, updates to our last home and other things I thought made life good, all I was actually doing was prioritizing my family last.

So we wear the same few clothes a lot now. We have fewer new things. Our vacations that bring us so much respite, discovery and delight may be few and far between and may be missing that social media WOW factor. Most of all, I keep a daily contentment practice that just because I’m not working on “impressive” projects with outward validation doesn’t mean I’m not doing big things. Every day here with these people is my gift. Walking into the door of our house (on our better days) brings that same exhalation I used to have to wait to feel on our best vacations. I continue to say no to things and to be mindful of our schedule and life because the little moments feel so good, too good to miss.

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These aren’t just mundane photos to me. They’re aspirational. They are the environment and people that inspire me to keep becoming a better version of myself. These are images for which I know the passage of time will only increase their value. We’ll look back and think of who we were in this chapter - a time when we all ate off of those plates at that table every night and when the corner of the living room always held that little pile of paints and musical instruments. One day our daugher won’t be here to run to us into a whirl of excitement as we come in the door. I work purposefully on a slow, simple life to allow that to happen as often as possible and help us look back on these days with fondness and no regrets. Thank you so much to B Family Films for honoring my work.

GrowLillyComment
Music in the Home - Our Spotify Playlist and 25 Things You Didn't Know About Us!
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Post Written by Lilly + Markus

The first place that I had when I was dating Markus wasn’t really much of my place at all. I had decided to stay the summer in Lubbock to take classes and sublet a bedroom in an apartment across town from campus (Jefferson Commons what’s up!). It was completely opposite what feels homey to me - nothing on the walls, hardly anything of my own while most of my things were in storage. Markus lived close by and would come over on his bike after he was done at the Domino’s Pizza we both worked at - six miles away! Almost every night we’d just sit around, eat dinner and listen to music on my white brick iPod. I have so many memories there, and I’m constantly reminded of conversations we had during those days whenever I hear a song from that time playing in the background today. It was a space that didn’t have any of the trappings of home to me, but thanks to so many memories from the music, it felt like it was our first home.

Music has continued to be a way for us to feel connected and build family memories no matter where we are or how we’re resourced. Lately, we’ve been making a point to eat at home on Saturday nights. Markus takes on dinner that evening and does something thematic. Last week, he made taco bowls with agua frescas and a Mexican Restaurant playlist on Spotify. A few weeks before that, dinner featured a sing-a-long of 90’s alternative songs (again, thanks to Spotify) that weirded Heidi out more and more as the meal progressed.

I am a big believer in using sense memory in the home to evoke feeling. Few things can help a feeling come to life for me or cultivate memories like a great song.

When we think about what makes a space feel ours, music is at the top of the list. In fact, many of my favorite memories in our homes have been the moments before anything is moved in and we’re far from settled - but we have our trusty music speaker and each other, twirling and singing along to some of our favorite songs in our new space. It’s the same for hotel rooms, cabin rentals and driving in the car. Playing our music and moving along together makes any space ours.

Our collective connection to music brings us together with people who we may usually only see differences with. It elevates or captures our moods and encourages us to take up and explore space. When Markus and I thought about how music has become such a central part of our family and home life, we unpacked some great stories from our childhoods to life today. When we thought about ways to share our home, music made so much sense!

We’re happy to share our first family friendly Spotify playlist with you all. We hope if you queue it up at the start of an evening together, it will enhance your time and memories as a family. We’ll share a new one each month, highlighting different themes - so follow our family friendly Spotify station if you enjoy the first round draft picks!

And to celebrate our kickoff...

Here’s 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Us - The Music Edition!

  1. Lilly: My Dad booked concerts and worked on production and promotion (that part also with my Mom) out of college and as a hobby when I was young. The first time I remember being on a tour bus (Vince Gill’s) I was five years old. When I was six, I was standing stage left on the backstage wings when George Jones walked by and went out on stage. Everyone had t-shirts with his face on them and screamed when he came out and everything on his face changed. I had no concept of who he was at the time but to me, that was cool.

  2. L: My parents loved seeing live music, even if they weren’t involved, so it feels like we always were at an outdoor concert event with friends and a blanket spread out for everyone on the weekends. My sister and I typically helped the band by performing intense dance numbers in the front of the stage three feet from the amps (again, no earplugs).

  3. L: My parents were passionate about taking us to see our favorite musical acts growing up. They drove us all over Texas to see Pat Green and to New Orleans to go to an ‘NSync concert. We were always allowed to bring friends and my Dad would rent commercial vans to drive all of our friends and us to concerts.

  4. L: I have no ability to play music and can barely read it. My parents tried hard with piano lessons starting in Kindergarten and then I think my Dad had the idea to switch me to voice when I had been attending piano for a while and wasn’t getting it. I can’t sing well but those lessons were a really fun thing I did on my own as a child with Ms. Piper.

  5. L: Ms. Piper could get me really enthusiastic in lessons because she was so encouraging. She got me a spot singing on an old fashioned river boat that went up and down the river where we lived in Kentucky when I was six. I was very excited but also super nervous and shy! Our entire family was super supportive and came to ride on the boat. I also remember afterwards that my Dad was talking to a friend and smoking on the dock when we got back and when he flicked his cigarette some landed on me, briefly lighting my costume shirt on fire. None of the adults notice before I snuffed it out and I walked around with a little burnt hole in my shirt for the rest of the day.

  6. M: I was the Frontman for a burgeoning punk rock band when I was in high school. I was a vegetarian at the time, so naturally I chose the name “Raw Meat.” It was me, my younger brother Lukas, and two of our friends. We weren’t serious enough to write more than a handful of questionable-at-best songs although we made sure we recruited one of our other non-musical friends to be our manager. We “designed” and ordered Raw Meat stickers that we could sell at the merch table after shows though we ended up “playing” less than five “shows” total so I had hundreds of stickers left over. The culmination of our musical career was one show where someone shouted “We need a cleanup on Aisle Stage” during one of our songs. It stung - but we had no misgivings and we laughed our butts off over that one.

  7. M: My first year at SMU I was a member of the Mustang Band, playing the tuba. I chose the tuba because it seemed big and manly, qualities I hoped would rub off on me by osmosis. We played all home football and basketball games and even though I had to wear a tie once a week for games, I had someone else tie it for me so I didn’t learn it for myself until years later. Anytime I hear “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain” today, it still stops me down - it’s the melody to the SMU fight song that I’ve played countless times.

  8. L: My Dad grew up having to work really hard to have anything for himself, which I respect and admire. So I was shocked when I said I wanted a guitar and he drove me straight to Guitar Center and helped me pick one out. I never learned to play it (see Number 3 in the list above), but it is the guitar we have in our home now that Markus plays which is special to me.

  9. L: After Heidi was born, my Dad surprised me with his great grandfather’s fiddle that his grandfather also played. It hangs in our music room and I can see where the varnish was worn off from them playing it on the front porch for nightly entertainment. It inspired me to turn our front living room area into a music room.

  10. L: I was a radio DJ in college for KXT radio in Lubbock when it was independent radio station on Texas Tech campus. MY DJ Name was Miss Schnozberry Pie (Super Troopers reference) and I posted a “pie of the week” to my MySpace page (yes). My parents would have friends over and listen online and prank call the station.

  11. L: MySpace page and picking the music for it was a serious art form for me for about two years and if you were cool the too you’ll feel that.

  12. M: In college, I got bit by the DJ-ing bug and dove in head first with a mixer, vinyl, and two turntables (but no microphone). I had a radio show at SMU where I would play hip-hop mixes - think Ludacris, Lil Flip, and Mystikal. I played a few parties and could not get enough of the different combinations of songs and especially beatmatching and transitions - this was before digital vinyl and sync buttons. Good DJs still stop me down these days when I hear a sick loop or a transition combo I haven’t heard before. I made a sweet logo based on the Starbucks logo that featured my name, DJ M-Pulse.

  13. L: We were both obsessed with making mix CDs in high school and college. My favorite thing was to drop MP3s of funny movie quotes in between songs. This is why I have mad respect for The Ticket turned The Dallas Stars’ (and former elementary school classmate) Michael Gruber aka Grubes!

  14. L: I told Markus after the second time we hung out there was one CD he had to love if we were going to date. That was all of the context I offered, but it was a mix CD of the Old 97’s. He gladly took it and texted me later that there might be an issue with the CD because it was only playing one song on a loop, “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa. I had mixed up two CDs - I kept Push It in my car to listen to when I needed to get psyched to take a test. (Cut to feeling validated years later to Dwight Schrute jamming to “Eye of the Tiger” in his car before going into a sales meeting). Markus eventually got the right CD and we went on to see Old 97’s in concert in some form or fashion more than 30 times.

  15. L: The first time Markus got in my car I was trying to act aloof and mature and when I turned it on, Ludacris’ “Back for the First Time” was blaring out the speakers. Markus still keeps a copy of the CD and will queue it up to start playing when I start my car to surprise me.

  16. L: The first time I rode in Markus’ car I noticed how long it took him to find a song he was really into on his iPod before he started driving and I immediately felt less alone in my weirdo ways.

  17. L: After a few casual dates over two days Markus and I ended up spending the rest of the last week of the semester trying to pack my house but mostly sitting on my kitchen floor passing our iPods back and forth to each other playing “the absolute best song.” Each one became a prompt for a story or time in our life which is how we got to know so much about each other so quickly.

  18. Our friends from Domino’s Pizza (where Markus and I met working together in college) had a great cover band that always did big shows for the last day of classes. Markus and I were both at their show at the end of fall semester and were vibing hard. Alas, I could not date him when I considered it the next day because he listened to techno music. The following semester for the last day of classes we went to the same concert - we had been dating one week and we had the best time together watching the band with all of our friends.

  19. L: We did not have a first dance song at our wedding! Not one we can go back and listen to at least. Our friend’s band played for us (still such a highlight of the night!) and picked one of his songs for our first dance (titled “I’m Going to Love You Til I Die”) and one for after when my Dad stepped in (called “Where Did My Money Go”, which still makes me laugh). What music we’re into and defining songs for our relationship has been so cyclical for us and I love how this worked out to not be too attached to any one song.

  20. M: We got to see Willie Nelson play a show a few years ago and we were less than ten feet from him. I had found out about a rare show at the Granada in Dallas through being on Willie Nelson’s fan club email list and tickets sold out almost instantly, though I snagged a pair. I also got us a dinner reservation next door that gave us early access to the venue before doors opened which is how we got so close. It was hands down one of the best shows of my life and Willie still had it.

  21. During that show, we struck up a conversation with an older couple near us. The husband shared with us that he was a huge Elton John fan and gave us the inside tip on how to get Elton John tickets - join his fan club online. It turns out it came in handy two years later when we got tickets for awesome seats before they were even on sale to the public. We were close to the stage and he opened with Benny and the Jets - another one on the Best All Time Shows List. ALWAYS JOIN THE FAN CLUB!

  22. M: One thing Lilly loves to give and receive more than anything are bizarre, unique but thoughtful gestures. One year, she organized all of the “kids” in the family pitching in for her Mom to awaken to bigpipers on her front lawn for her birthday. For Lilly’s 32 birthday, Markus and Heidi had Lilly’s picture at the Willie Nelson concert printed and hung on the wall at our favorite family grub restaurant, Taco Joint, on their Willie Nelson wall. Lilly laughed (and cried) so hard and now it’s an even better reason to go to Taco Joint - while listening to some tunes!

  23. M: We went to Telluride, CO for the first time a few years ago during the summer to hang out, hike, and see what the town was about. During our one-hour cab ride from the airport to the town, our driver asked if we were in town for “Ride Fest.” We didn’t even know what it was but he said it was a big deal and that it was coming up in a few days.  He told us that Widespread Panic was the headliner and that any remaining wristbands or tickets were probably tough to come by. Fast forward to a few days later when Lilly told me after an outdoor yoga class that she’d gotten a wristband from another yogi who’d been able to slide it off her wrist intact! I was smitten and impressed, I’d never even heard of that as a possibility. We were able to buy another wristband for me at the gate and this went down as another one on my All Time Favorite Shows list - the backdrop of watching the Colorado sun set behind the mountains surrounding Telluride’s box canyon was a spiritual experience.

  24. L: One of the first things we decided on as parents was our daughter’s night time song. We played “California Stars” by Wilco every night as we rocked her and patted her little baby butt to go to sleep. Today we’ll catch her singing it to herself to self-soothe or we’ll hum or sing it to her if she takes a break from big girl world to rest on our laps. When we’re lucky enough to see Jeff Tweedy in concert Heidi always asks if he played “her song.”

  25. L: We’ve been eager to introduce our girl to music lessons, but costs and time have never been on our side when trying to balance it with all of the other adventures of early childhood. We lucked out when a 10 year old girl in our neighborhood started offering lessons at $5 for 30 minutes and $10 for an hour, with an official book and Skittles candy with every visit. The relationship between Heidi and her teacher has been so beautiful! Plus, I was shocked to turn the corner after just three lessons and hear our five year old playing Mary Had a Little Lamb by herself! Never underestimate children - or Skittles.

LIVELillyComment
Home Actually Is Where the Heart Is
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Post Written by Markus

Home. It’s a short little word – but the story behind it is usually anything but short. We each have a home with our family of origin that’s out of our control as children. That first home sets the tone for much of our lives through adulthood in huge ways, even when (especially when) we don’t recognize how it’s even happening.

Home is often a charged word – case in point, realtors refer to selling “homes” and not “houses.” The association of the word is for family, love, happy memories, and warmth - and at the beginning and end of each day, it’s where we belong. These days, the shelf-life of the average childhood home isn’t great and the divorce rate is high. My original home officially dissolved when I was almost 16 which means that I made it a lot further with my original home still technically “intact” than many of my friends did.

Where we are today as a culture, I believe (not a shocker here) that we’re in an epidemic crisis of lack of human connection. As we get more and more “connected” digitally, we slowly phase out in-person human-to-human experience and conversation. We have home-buttons on our browsers, home-screens on our phones, and home-pages on our websites. At the same time that we’re using the word “home” so much in our digital experience, we’re also decreasing actual human interaction. Why meet someone IRL just to talk when a text message can get the same information across – and don’t even talk to me about calling someone without texting them first.

I believe that today we’re in the greatest possible time to be alive so far in history as humans on this planet. So many critical problems that once threatened our very existence have been solved. Advances in medicine, science, and mental health keep expanding what’s possible for us. As the digital arc of our culture keeps increasing and does not yet seem to have a peak in sight, I believe the need for connection and home is greater than ever. For a long time I ran away from connection and from home because the associations for me were too painful. They were the opposite of family, love, happy memories, and warmth. Beginning when my parents’ relationship got rocky, home for me was a place of loneliness, fear, painful memories, and unbearable emptiness. Looking back now, I’m able to connect the dots in reverse and see that it was all part of beautiful healing story although I would have punched you if you’d have told me that during the hard times.

CHILDHOOD + SHAME

My childhood was pretty normal in many ways – from K to about 6th grade, my parents seemed to generally be happy, functional adults and family/home life held a positive association for me.  Though it was a modest upbringing, my parents had friends over for dinner all the time and home life was pretty peaceful. If you’d have asked me at the time, I’d have said that my parents were doing most things “right” and I would honestly have given them an A+ grade. It wasn’t until very recently that I was able to consider for the first time the idea that maybe my parents didn’t do as many things right as I’ve always believed.

At first blush, the idea seemed absurd to me because I’d believed the opposite for so long. As I kept turning it over in my mind and my heart, I started to see there was something to it. I began to accept the idea that maybe my parents weren’t 100% A+ parents.  I saw that actually, the way they raised me and their own patterns of unresolved trauma had planted deep, painful, untrue core beliefs about myself.  These also sent a loud and clear message about lack of belonging and a fear of the world around me that shaped my major life choices in huge, damaging ways – enter Shame.

Shame. I define this as “the deep belief that something about myself is utterly unacceptable and so I must hide it from everyone or face humiliation because of it.” A constant state of self-loathing and disconnection from the parts of myself that are unacceptable – which for a long time was pretty much everything. I could have easily told you anytime what my perceived flaws were. Body issues. My family’s modest means. Feeling different for being from another country. Believing that I was weak, stupid and lazy.

Where did the shame come from? Both of my parents seemed to lean toward shame as a preferred method of raising me. From that standpoint, there was much that was functional about shame – namely that it squashes behavior that the parent is looking to stamp out, like house training a dog the old school way. The problem is that it also stamped out my heart, my sense of belonging, and my identity – and left me with an ambient fear and mistrust of the world around me. The kicker though was how shame decimated my sense of self-confidence and took it another step further, leaving me with the opposite – a constant sense of specifically NOT trusting myself.

Not. Trusting. Myself. On paper it doesn’t make much sense. I’m an average guy who’s been through a fair amount of challenges and though I’ve made my share of mistakes, I have plenty going for me. Enough book-smarts to make school mostly a breeze and to find success in the engineering field after college. Being told on many occasions that I have innate leadership qualities that come across automatically when I first meet someone. Learning most new things quickly enough to feel like I’m a natural at almost anything that I try, to the envy of others.

But yet – even with those qualities and more, I was still actively not trusting myself. I believed deeply, strongly, critically that in each moment, I was the LEAST qualified person to face that moment for myself. It made zero sense to me until I started looking back and recognizing the shame and humiliation that drew the lines so early in my life. I was an active, engaged, bright child and I absorbed eagerly the things that were told to me by my parents.

When I wet my pants on the preschool bus when I was four years old, my mother completely let me have it with her words through shaming.  When my parents found out I had a crush on a girl in second grade, they made fun of me in front of family friends until I hid under a table crying from humiliation. It was deeply confusing for me - having to trust these two people as a dependent and at the same time being hurt so deeply by their shaming me for things I couldn’t help. I had to trust them 100% - whatever they told me, I believed was true.  The only way I could reconcile this in my mind and my heart was to believe that they were right about me. They were right when they told me that I wasn’t really a four-year-old because four-year-olds don’t wet their pants, they know better. They were right about me looking stupid and weak for having a crush on a girl and so I buried future crushes deep in my heart so no one else would see.

SELF-DESTRUCTION AS AN ADULT

For decades, the shame from my upbringing was a huge part of the lens through which I viewed the world, and more importantly, myself. I never even saw it - although looking back, it was clearly driving the bus. Much of my energy was going toward concealing myself and the parts that I believed were unacceptable and weak. My body did not measure up to what it should be – so I held my breath all the time. My productivity did not measure up to what I should be able to get done in a day – so walked faster than anyone else and I never took breaks, ever. My knowledge of any given topic was not as extensive as it should be, especially at work – so I kept my mouth shut and didn’t ask questions. Most importantly – I withdrew and isolated so that others wouldn’t see these Horrible Truths about myself.

I was constantly trying to prove what I was NOT, although I could never pile up enough evidence to convince myself that I was NOT these things. Not stupid, not lazy, not fat, not worthless, not embarrassing, not bad – but the toughest one was about belonging. I could not pile up enough evidence that I belonged, no matter where I was. The kicker was getting into an intimate relationship and then slowly sabotaging things because of how deeply I believed that I didn’t belong and that I was unlovable. I assumed that I must have lucked into hiding something that she didn’t see and I knew that I had better make damn sure that she never sees it, whatever it is.

I was completely oblivious to these self-defeating patterns for most of my life until a Cosmic Two-by-Four hit me over the head and made it too painful for me NOT to change. I think of Cosmic Two-by-Fours as messages of Love from the Universe that keep getting louder and louder until they’re impossible to ignore. These are messages of Love, yes - but Love presented through hard Truth, meaning that Pain is usually right there with Love and Truth. There’s growth that needs to happen and a lesson that needs to be learned - and for someone who’s been very stubborn and oblivious like me, it seems there is no other effective way than getting hit over the head with it.

My loudest, heaviest, most painful Cosmic Two-by-Four landed squarely on my forehead a few years ago when, after 18 months of hiding it, I told Lilly that we had substantial consumer debt spread across several credit cards. All of it had accumulated over the prior 18 months from living expenses in excess of our monthly cash budget. It started “innocently” one month when we didn’t have enough cash to cover what was on the cards, which at that point was a relatively minor amount. However, the instant that I realized this situation, I saw it as a weakness and a loud and clear message about my self-worth – and so I hid it. I did the same thing the next month and the month after that. This only made things worse for the climbing debt - and even more so for my mental health, my physical health, and my relationship with Lilly.

The progression inside my mind was always the same – from the initial sting of “uh-oh” during that first month, all the way to the house of cards crashing down. This was the same progression that I learned through shame and humiliation as a child, except as an adult I was now an Olympic-level pro at it.  Before, someone outside me had to convince me that I was bad and it took a little time and forceful words for me to absorb this message. Now, it was an inside job and the pathways in my brain and my heart were well-worn from years of practice. What used to take at least several minutes now took less than a split second - it went like this:

  1. External evidence of a perceived weakness: in this case, not having control over finances.

  2. Immediately assigning meaning about myself: “I am stupid, incompetent, and don’t have what it takes.”

  3. Immediately assigning meaning about my fate: “I don’t belong, I am shameful, I am bad, I am worthless – and things are not going to be okay because of me and there’s nothing I can do to change that.”

  4. Hiding and isolating: “OK, so I know these awful things about myself, but if I can just hide them from everyone else, maybe I can fool them enough to squeak by unnoticed until everything eventually still falls apart because of me.”

Every single day during those 18 months it went like that – although it kept getting louder and more painful. The trouble with this four-step progression is how good I had gotten at it. It was such an ingrained pathway in my brain that all the steps happened together, instantly. Just thinking about the credit card debt at any point during that 18 months immediately took me to “I am bad” and “Things are not going to be okay because of me and there’s nothing I can do to change that.” But I could never even put it into those words - instead it was a deep-seated feeling in my body that gave physical life to these crushing beliefs. I was constantly in a mode of fear and reaction – not ever making choices on purpose put only living in pain and running like hell from it and what it meant about me. It felt like I was barely holding up a massive dam that was about to break and that if I relaxed for one moment, it would all be destroyed because of me.

I kept up a front that everything was OK although Lilly could sense that it wasn’t. The amount of turmoil and tension inside my mind and body kept growing like a pressure cooker ready to explode. That stress culminated in me coming down with a bad case of shingles (yes, shingles) toward the end of that 18 months which was another Cosmic Two-by-Four asking quietly for my attention – although it still wasn’t quite painful enough to get through to someone as stubborn as I was.

The next few years from the day I told Lilly the news played out in excruciating fashion. I’m not proud of the things I said and I’m not proud of how little I did to make the situation better. This was a time of crushing depression that included the darkest days I’ve ever known. I was a shell of a person at best and I was a terrible example of what it means to be a man. The pain was unbelievable and seemed endless – I still don’t know how I made it through that time although I’m incredibly grateful that I did.

 

HEALING + A NEU HOME

Healing for me has played out through many different paths – though they’ve all had the same thing at the core: opening my heart. Mine was closed extremely tight, so let me tell you – this was not an easy or fast process, and that’s a huge understatement. The major elements, in terms of the momentum they gave me, are below. They’re so interconnected that it’s tough to even put them in chronological order, and even tougher to list them in order of “importance” or impact – so, they’re in alphabetical order. There’s not one in the list that I could remove, each one is that important on its own. I could write plenty about every single one (stay tuned).

  • Brainspotting

  • Breathing deeply (instead of only shallow breaths)

  • Carrying an Amor Fati coin in my pocket each day - and spending plenty of time with it in my open palm, just breathing and accepting

  • Connecting with my inner child through following my creative instincts

  • EMDR

  • Exercise, specifically old-school heavy weightlifting plus HiiT cardio

  • Getting involved with an international men’s organization called The Mankind Project

  • Journaling

  • Letting go

  • Love and Support from Lilly, to whom I’m eternally grateful

  • Meditation

  • Nutrition – especially acknowledging foods that are inflammatory for me and generally don’t work for my body or brain

  • Pursuing stillness, listening, and “being” instead of “doing”

  • Seeing a psychiatrist for the first time (this was a tough one to swallow)

  • Solo time in nature

  • Talk-therapy

  • Tough conversations (so many)

Without any of these, I would not be here today, not a chance. For so many years, I lived in a very oppressive place with a very cruel jailer and tormentor – my own mind. There was nothing I did that it didn’t see and it criticized me for every single thing I did and destroyed me anew for each one, whether good or bad. The cumulative effect of the Medicines in the list above has been nothing short of life-changing through deep healing for my heart.

For the first time in my life, I’m able to live each day in a place that is not oppressive and where I’m not driven by a constant seeking of belonging, validation, acceptance, and approval. It’s not that I don’t need these things anymore – I do, and deeply. But now I don’t need to seek them outside myself because I know intrinsically that I already have them within me - and that they were there all along.

THAT was the Big Secret that I didn’t know all along. Shame told me that I was embarrassing, bad, stupid, and worthless. Shame told me that I needed someone outside myself to tell me that I was OK and that I was enough. Shame told me that I was “less than” – literally less than every other person. Shame told me that I was a threat to my own being and that the only way to survive was to hide.

As I stand here today, I’ve heard my own Voice. I’ve literally faced every fear I’ve had. I’ve held that little boy’s heart gently in my hands and I’ve cared for it well. I can feel deeply that I’m the best person for the job of caring for that heart - not the worst, like I believed for most of my life. I’ve felt Truth -  and mostly it’s been quiet, shapeless, and without words. This was an inside job all along and I was so well-equipped to handle my own life - I just had unhealed trauma that kept me in self-defeating patterns and that hid the Ultimate Truth from me.

That Truth is that I am Love; that you are Love; that we are all Love and all connected. We all belong with each other – in the words of Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I did the best I could with what I had and what I knew at the time. Though it’s easy to look back to find evidence to the contrary so that I can beat myself up like I did for so long, I know deeply that this is true.

Today I can honestly say that I’m comforted by knowing that I will never experience the same level of darkness again as the darkest days I’ve known. That’s because of the healing I’ve experienced so far and the connection I have with myself and my heart. No matter what circumstances happen, I know more than anything that I don’t have it in me to hate myself anymore or to abandon myself anymore.

The pathways of self-loathing are still there just like expressways that get built and that have millions of cars running down that pavement over decades. If you put up a “road closed” sign, some cars may stop driving on the road - but the pavement is still there. It takes time and hard work to build new paths and to get familiar enough to go down that new road - instead of the old familiar ways that I drove down so easily on autopilot. I can still recognize the patterns and the old conditioning - but usually when I recognize them, it’s because I’m noticing how things are playing out differently and how I’m NOT going down those roads anymore.

The darkness and pain I experienced were excruciating. That said, they were well worth it to gain the healing and growth that my heart and inner child had so desperately needed for such a long time. There is no way to overstate this deep, critical need. Every moment of my life was driven by a need for external approval to accumulate any evidence of acceptance and belonging – anything to counter the pervasive ambient self-rejection and self-hate.

For many years, “home” was a four-letter word to me. After my family of origin fell apart when I was in middle school, “home” was the last place I wanted to be. I barely used the word “home” in conversation, I would say “house” instead. Though I still have a sense of loss for my family of origin and the home we once had, that grief now feels healed. Today I’m fortunate enough to be creating a new home with Lilly – our home that belongs to us both, and that’s our daughter’s home and her family of origin. It sounds cliche – but now, our home really is where my heart is. This is an Open Hearted Home where the expectations are to be, to share, to listen and to love. I’m here to be. I’m here to share and to listen. I’m here to Love.

Markus Comments
A Sabbatical
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Post Written by Lilly

Well hello.

It’s been a minute since I’ve had a reason or moment to sit down and write like this. It feels like I’m finally getting to catch up with some old friends! And yeah, I’m putting it out there that this time around the ol’ blogging block I hope to meet some new faces as well.

Where to begin?

The highlights: January 2016 I found out my life as I knew it and had meticulously designed it wasn’t working anymore. June 2018 I realized the career track I had exhausted myself and my family to get a seat on didn’t appear to love me back. And there’s nothing I hate like unrequited love.

That left me waking up in my sister’s guest room, two weeks after abruptly leaving my job, on a quick visit to her place. The adrenaline of instinctual, rapid fire change was wearing off. I was very fresh into a life of the great unknown and for the first time wondered, “What the f*ck am I going to do?”

Doing life in the way I had previously been attempting it was not an option. But neither was doing nothing.

I had spent the first decade of career and child-bearing years scatter shooting, going into every open door with full force and emotional attachment. I had a wonderful database of memories that could clearly point to what I didn’t want to do again. So that certainly helped.

My pivots in young adult life had been sharp and fast and historically not landed me in places where I felt both feet on the ground and at home. The new plan was to move more slowly and intentionally, explore more for the sake of exploring and less for the need to feel a part of anything bigger than me. Me finding and being me right now was enough.

So back to the guest room, staring at the ceiling. An answer came like two deep gong chimes.

CREATIVITY. AUTHENTICITY.

Like a bad Christmas Carol remake, the message left just as quickly as it came my way. I wanted to chase it out the window to make sure it didn’t forget to leave the rest of my instructions (an ironic thought for me because, when do I ever bother to read the instructions anyways?).

I had no instructions, but I had two north stars. The voice was right. My creativity and authenticity were my favorite things about myself. I thrive when they are recognized and encouraged. More than that, I realized in environments where they felt unwelcome I felt the same. I light up when someone feels more empowered to be their most fearless, weirdest, badass self when they were around me. I may be new to gong chime messages and striking out on my own, but this clicked.

That morning now feels like five minutes and a lifetime ago. I’ve flowed through some interesting projects and transitions - developing and chairing a non-profit fundraiser, starting a part-time job in an incredibly creative field and moving to a new home! Adventures have come my way by asking the world to bring me into a life that is more creative and authentic. I’ve known what is and isn’t for me by asking myself if it’s an opportunity where I will learn how to be more creative and authentic and/or be able to encourage those around me on the same path. All along the way, I’ve tried not to respond to moments or opportunities put in front of me like this was “it.” I was on sabbatical: exploring, retreating, playing. I had a feeling one day all of these experiences would click to what I was meant to do, but for now I was meant to do them in a way that was recreational.

Over this time, the primary place I’ve tried to practice my creativity and authenticity is with my family in our home. Routines, conversations, systems and even decor have all been overturned to test the status quo and ask ourselves if we’re living the way we are meant to, not how we think we should based on those around us or stories we’ve been told about finding success in its traditional definition.

As tempting as it was to have a perfect elevator speech of who I was and what I did, I stayed open and trusted myself that one day all of these seemingly casual and sometimes unproductive experiences would come together into a larger, neater plan of what I should *actually* do with my life. But the main thing I’ve come to know is, this exploration is what I’m good at. I love exploring with an open mind and sharing with an open heart. And the journey, the exploration and the sharing might be the actual plan.

With a new home to turn into our oasis and incubator for the creative and authentic family we aspire to be, new tools we’ve found for our paths and an eagerness to continue to find new ideas, it feels like the right time to open up about our story and invite you to come by here now and then to see what we’re up to!

Welcome to our home sweet home here on the Internet. An online studio where we work through our adventures, findings and feelings. The door is always open and we aim to keep our hearts and minds open here too - sharing our lives without shame in hopes we can make the world a better place with an eagerness to listen and learn from you all as well. We aim to always be ourselves here. Come by and be your fullest, realest most amazing self here too!

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