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How I’m cutting out the clutter and living my Great Adventure with my family this winter

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I spent my final semester of college on a study abroad in the Middle East. Our campus was on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and we traveled frequently around the region. We floated in the Dead Sea and slept in cabanas by the Sea of Galilee. We roamed through Petra’s ancient wonders in Jordan and we climbed Mount Sinai to witness the sunrise. We marveled at the Great Pyramids and sailed the Nile at sunset.

Upon the completion of my studies, I stopped over in Europe with a few of my friends. We backpacked five countries in two weeks and had the time of our lives. One of our final destinations was Switzerland. We stayed at a hostel in Interlaken, the country’s outdoor Mecca. After a day of rafting the mighty Lütschine, we talked late into the night with some fellow travelers.

One of them was named Ralph. He was charming, athletic and drop-dead gorgeous. He was a mail carrier from Australia who had saved up his money for a year-long adventure abroad. He was going home the next morning. Feeling remorseful about the end of my own travels, I asked him how he thought he would adjust back to his humdrum life after being given a glimpse of the world.

His answer still resonates today:

leaves6“Before this trip, I was always planning my next great adventure. It has taken this trip to help me realize there is so much close to home I have yet to experience. My next great adventures will be in my own backyard for many years to come.”

This has become my mantra in life. Sure, I still love to travel. I always will. But there is so much to explore here and now. With a glorious October behind us and a winter wonderland within our gasp, opportunities abound.

Fall and spring are busy times at our house but we have chosen to live deliberately the next several months and scale way back on extracurricular commitments. We’ll instead spend dark evenings snuggled up by the fire reading books together. Playing games. Cooking fancy dinners and eating together without being rushed. Going to movies, museums, skiing and the rec center. My son will not die if he doesn’t sign up for indoor soccer  with his friends; my daughter is overdue for some time  off from volleyball.

As parents, when our kids’ activities wind down, we have become addicted to asking “What’s next?” and clamoring to sign them up to the next big thing instead of just letting them be kids. I’m tired of “scheduling” playdates to work around crazed schedules; what happened to just ringing your friends’ doorbell and asking them to play?

And, most importantly, being a family means spending quality, meaningful time together.

Since we have started focusing on living more deliberately with less clutter, my family has had some amazing adventures. We discovered a 40-foot pile of leaves at our town’s left recycling drive and spent hours playing in that golden pyramid as we launched into a sherbet sky.leaves13sm

A week ago Saturday, we signed up for Lookout Nature Center’s free naturalist-led Full Moon Hike. As we snugged together on top of Mount Falcon, we breathlessly watched the harvest moon slowly, deliberately climb the horizon as a titanic swarm of a million stars pierced the sky. Like that luminous moon, we were bound together by gravity and time.fullmoonhike

I am amazed what I find when I leave my daily routine. Whether I am leaping off a giant pile of leaves or watching the full moon rise, I feel fortunate to find it all here in my backyard.

Just as my Australian friend wisely proclaimed so many years ago: Wherever you live is your Great Adventure.

And remember just how extraordinary life can be when we slow down to enjoy it.


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  • comment avatar Tiff November 3, 2008

    Oh, Amber, I love this post!

    I am a travel freak, and had a similar experience after jetting all over Central Europe. I expanded my horizons, but also turned inward a little bit more to appreciate what was around in my ‘normal’ life.

    I don’t know if where I live is as important as how I live in it…when I’m all spazzy and freaked out and go go go, then I tend to miss the good stuff. Slowing down is the hardest part, but when I do, there’s so much to love in the small stuff!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 3, 2008

    Great point, Tiff. “Bloom where you’re planted” is what it is all about!

  • comment avatar One Mom's Opinion November 3, 2008

    I’m reminded of this every time that family comes to visit which isn’t often. We make an effort to show them the town and area, we usually discover something new and are reminded how much we have in our area that we don’t see often enough.

  • comment avatar Lauri November 3, 2008

    I think it’s a good reminder to appreciate right where you are at for the moment. Life is too short!
    i have found some of those perfect moments lately and been glad that I took the time to allow them to happen!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 3, 2008

    Great perspective, Lauri!

    It’s funny because we were recently in Boston and did a Duck Tour of the city. After it was over, I had a much deeper appreciation for the area and couldn’t helping thinking how little I really know about Denver’s history. And how some random tourist on a tour here would probably know more!

  • comment avatar Lori November 3, 2008

    This post is a terrific reminder.

    Sometimes I lament the loss of my gallivanting days. You’ve reminded me that there’s plenty of gallivanting to do right here! And you’ve pointed me toward some new places.

    I put this up on Perfect Moment Mondays — thanks for contributing!

  • comment avatar serf 'rett November 3, 2008

    Is the correct answer 50 pounds of worm castings?

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 3, 2008

    JUST SAY NO TO 50 POUNDS OF WORM CASINGS. (To find out what this is all about, the insanity is )

  • comment avatar Sabrina November 3, 2008

    Ahh. . .I have had to remind my husband (HATES our hometown Houston) many times that there is plenty of adventure in our own backyard. That perfect day is anywhere our family is at any given time, for sure!

  • comment avatar nikko November 3, 2008

    This is so true. There have been many times when we have moved away from a city/state/place and then wished we had done all the things that we said we were going to do but never had “time”.

    The older I get the more I realize how important it is to live in the moment and not plan our lives away!

  • comment avatar Gina (mannyed) November 3, 2008

    I, too, am usually thinking about the next big trip. One day when The Husband was just The Boyfriend, we were touring around Central Park and someone playing the guitar for a crowd of people stopped playing and said, “we should just all stop, think about how great Central Park is, and be thankful that we are hanging out in a place where many people long to visit right now. And I thought, yea, wow I do take living so close to NYC for granted.

    We had amazing fall weather on Saturday so we hopped the subway and hung out in Central Park.

    Funny that you mention the duck tours in Boston. I did that one, too. I usually try to do one of those tours as an intro to whatever new city I’m visiting and it dawned on me in Belfast that I never did one for NYC. I should do one and maybe learn a thing or two, or twenty about NYC.

  • comment avatar Jamie November 3, 2008

    I also love this post… I am not a travel bug by any stretch – I am very content in my own backyard – I love Alberta – you are an hours drive from almost any type of scenery you could ask for – besides the ocean…. it is a pretty amazng place to live!!!

  • comment avatar LuluMom November 3, 2008

    Yes, so very Wizard of Oz, we all think we need to travel but it is all right here in your own back yard. Hey, maybe we should all make a list of our ten fave CO fun trips, off the beaten path.

  • comment avatar Melissa D November 3, 2008

    Words of wisdom from a hottie Aussie? LOVE IT! ;o)

    One favorite place in my backyard is the Olde Course in Loveland. We’ve golfed at our fair share of beautiful places and none are as fine as our beloved home course. It’s beautiful, mature trees, ponds and amazing views of the Rocky Mtns can’t be beat.

    Great post, Amber!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 3, 2008

    It was that much better coming from an Australian hottie. Wink, wink. 🙂

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 3, 2008

    Oh, and I love the idea of compiling a Top 10 list of our favorite off-the-beaten-path trips!

  • comment avatar GrumpyAngel November 3, 2008

    I’ve actually already scheduled a post for later this week about a cool place in our “backyard”. Point Reyes, CA! There’s so much still to explore in our neck of the woods.

    Great post!

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine November 4, 2008

    sounds like two great finds.

    there are so many places in the state of colorado that i want to visit. now that the kids are out of the house, my husband and i are planning to take trips to far off places, like the sand dunes, mesa verde, durango and that area, and countless mountain towns. places we just haven’t gotten around to.

  • comment avatar Amy S. November 4, 2008

    What a great post! I loved this insight and have thought about it a lot myself.

  • comment avatar Nicole November 4, 2008

    Our adventures are usually, quite literally, in our own backyard. With 3 kids 4 and under trying to go ANYWHERE in public is a nightmare. And traveling is just insanity. So we stay home. A lot. And you know, the kids never seem to tire of the Little Tykes Cozy Coupe. Or the sandbox. It takes so little to make a kid happy!

  • comment avatar Fabiola November 4, 2008

    Just perfect!!

    I loved it so much that I wrote my own post about it.


  • comment avatar marian November 4, 2008

    what a great blog!! and a great post !
    I have never travel the world other than Mexico but I have always loved coming home and holding the things that are dear too me, marina

  • comment avatar Jenn November 4, 2008

    I agree that coming home after being away is always great. Whether it’s an 8 hour flight or 1 hour drive. My favorite Calgaryish thing is the zoo or maybe ice skating on Allen Bill Pond.


  • comment avatar Beth Paritn November 4, 2008

    Amber, that post had a great lesson. It is so easy to get stuck in a rut where you live.

    I was trying to remember moving to Boulder in 1987 and when I first went to Denver to hang out. I can’t actually remember going to Denver until about 1991 or so. I used to go to Rock Island, and I know I went to Tattered Cover when it was in Cherry Creek. But I haven’t really explored Denver much except in the last few years.

    One of my favorite places is the walkway along the Platte River west of downtown. It’s a good place for birdwatching.

  • comment avatar marina November 5, 2008

    love your story and posted it up on my blog. marina

  • comment avatar Jana November 6, 2008

    This is exactly how I’m feeling – we recently moved from Australia to Philadelphia (via Washington D.C.) and though I miss exploring down under, I’m finding so much in the big city that we now call home. It may not seem as adventurous to me, but for my kids, are days are just as fun.

  • comment avatar PJ November 8, 2008

    Love the idea of exploring your backyard. I’ve spend many summers abroad, not something I’m able to do at the moment. But I recognize that I MUST be thankful and appreciate the adventures that await me RIGHT HERE, right Now! Thanks (I came over from Marinas at Daughter of the King)

  • comment avatar White Hot Magik November 11, 2008

    While I have never really traveled, I can certainly understand the sentiment. Friday night I went to a chamber concert at an art museum in Roswell. It was fabulous, and I felt like I could have been somewhere like New York for the night. I had no idea. There all kinds of fabulous things going on locally, we all need to explore them more.

  • comment avatar Ballerina Girl November 12, 2008

    Great post…I knew that I had to read it from reading Fabiola’s blog.
    My backyard is always changing…right now we are in Brazil, and we are trying to explore our backyard as much as possible!
    Who knows where our next backyard will be, but I will be sure to explore it.
    Thank you for sharing, and hope to see you at my blog!

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  • comment avatar Holly November 17, 2014

    Love this! Our family lives two and a half miles from the Everglades. We are an hour’s drive from the Florida Keys. We can see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico in the same day. Most of our family trips have been in-state. I think it’s good for kids to learn about the place they are from, and spending it with family is so important because all too soon the kids will be grown and gone.

  • comment avatar Daria November 17, 2014

    Love it! I took the opportunity to take the kids to the Botanic Gardens last weekend and we loved it! Sledding, skiing, just hanging out – those are all SO important. We are busy with sports, but it’s imperative to have downtime too. And my kids often just ring the doorbell of kids in the neighborhood. I love it. 🙂

  • comment avatar Daria November 17, 2014

    That said, I LOVE the idea of traveling with the kids & exposing them to new cultures & ideas. I’m taking my oldest to NYC next month and a family trip to Italy & Spain this summer. The next 8 months is going to in love more travel than their entire lives to this point I think.

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