Thursday, April 24, 2014

Growing Up

I had a beautiful post planned for today.

I was going to write about how my oldest daughter is growing up, and how it makes me both proud and sad.

Today, as I was about to walk out the door to pick her up from school and take her to her driver's test, the phone rang. It was someone calling to schedule a job interview with my Lexi.

What?!?!

How can this be happening?

This is the day I've been waiting for and dreaming about. The day my daughter can drive herself (and her siblings) around, and have her own money to spend.

Now that the day is here and she passed her driver's test, I'm happy, proud, and so very sad.

She is growing up so fast.

I remember when she was a baby, people told me this would happen. They warned me she'd grow up fast. I didn't believe them. How could my sweet little bald baby girl ever grow up?

I guess "they" were right, because she is growing up, whether I like it or not.

But here's the kicker.

It's not just me that nervous, excited, and sad about this new chapter in her life.

Lexi asked me to proof a paper she wrote for her journalism class tonight.

I got teary eyed after the first paragraph.

She nailed it.

Here's her paper (posted here with her permission!), because, honestly, I couldn't have said it any better:


Growing up
Growing up is a part of life. There's no stopping it. Along with growing up comes a lot of responsibility and pressure. I am experiencing this all first hand. I just got my driver’s license, got a checking account, applied for a job, and learned a lot about responsibility. It’s a lot to take in. Sometimes I think my brain is going to explode from all the new information, but mostly I think my parents are going to have a nervous breakdown because their “baby” is growing up.
Driving alone is terrifying. I know I’m a good driver but what about all the other people who aren’t good drivers? Having a parent in the passenger seat was like a cushion of protection; there was always someone there to tell me what I did right and mostly what I did wrong. Even though they were extra critical of my driving I know they were just trying to make me a better driver. I feel lost without them there. Literally, I feel lost -- I have no sense of direction. I almost miss them being there to tell me to turn left or right or to slow down.
Applying for a job is another big step that I had to take. Driving brings freedom, and expenses. The price of gas has me a little freaked out and I decided babysitting may not cut it anymore. I have been babysitting since I was in fifth grade but I have never had a real job.I now have an interview scheduled for my first “real” job. I am starting to realize what the real world actually looks like.
A job comes with a paycheck, and yet again more responsibility. A paycheck would be a little too much cash to carry around, so my parents had me open a checking account. I now have a debit card, a PIN number, a checkbook, and a ton responsibility. I have to keep track of my card and my receipts. I have to keep my check register up to date with deposits and with drawls. I have to know how much money I have at all times, and my parents want me to learn how to budget, so they’re having me pay for things like gas, lunch money, my cell phone, and sports fees. If I screw up, I will have a very awkward conversation with my parents about why I have no money to pay for gas or my cell phone. While I’m pretty good a budgeting and saving, I am also really good at shopping, meaning I love to shop. That is my biggest problem with balancing money. I have to learn to say no to myself, I don’t have to buy everything I like right when I see it. In fact, I can’t do that. It would be irresponsible. And now that I’m 15, I’m responsible, right?
Yes growing up is apart of life, but is it okay if I want to stay young a little longer? Is there anything wrong with wanting to rely on your mom and dad for a little longer? Or wanting to be a little kid again? No I don’t think so. Everyone wants to be young because the fact of the matter the older we get the more responsibilities we get. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay young, but I think we all need to stop and realize that growing up is a privilege that some people will never experience. We can either dread growing up and the responsibilities it comes with, or we can learn to appreciate the life we live, responsibilities and all.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

15 Years

15 years.

That's how long I've been a mom.

I spent much of today getting ready for tomorrow's big celebration. And wiping my tears. I just can't believe that my oldest child is about to be 15.

15 is big.

We're talking driver's license big.

As in she won't need me anymore.

Ok, that's not entirely true -- she'll need money, laundry washed, and food.

I pray she'll also need me for a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear to listen, and a celebratory high five or an everything-is-going-to-be-ok hug.

I dug out Lexi's baby book today, because she asked me what time she was born and I had no idea. I found the answer -- 5:54 p.m. -- and then I got sucked into reading all the details I'd written. I smiled when I read the list of people who gave her gifts (co-workers at the time, who are still some of my best friends 15 years later, even though we are no longer co-workers). I cringed when I saw the picture of my nine-month-pregnant-belly. And I teared up at the pictures of sweet baby Lexi with my grandparents, all three of whom have since passed away.

I spent a little more time looking at pictures from the past 15 years. I am so amazed at how fast the years have gone. My little bald headed baby has grown into a beautiful young lady. I am so crazy proud of her, and I can't wait to see what the next 15 years hold. I just pray they don't go as fast as these first 15 years did.

When I think about all the things I want to tell my first born child, I simply can not find the words (which is a first for me!). But I did find a song that pretty much sums it all up.  Here are my favorite lines from "Find Your Wings" by Mark Harris:

I want you to know
As I watch you grow
I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams
And that faith gives you the courage
To dare to do great things
I'm here for you whatever this life brings
So let my love give you roots
And help you find your wings 

video

Happy birthday to my sweet Lexi. 
Remember -- I'm here for you whatever this life brings.
It's good to be your mom.
xoxo


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Break Up

Our front step looks a little different today.



There's something missing…. something that has been a fixture for the entire seven years we've lived in this house.

Something that has made life easier.

It's silly how sad I am about giving back my milk box. Today, when I looked outside, I was crazy sad to see it was already gone. The girls had plans to leave Tim (he's been our milkman for seven-plus years) a plate of scotcharoos, along with one of their famous "you're the best milkman ever" notes.

So very sad.

So very silly of me.

It's just a milk box.

But really, it was much more than just a milk box.

Yes, twice a week Tim left milk (and the occasional surprise, like a bottle of orange juice or a box of Rice Krispie treats) in the milk box. We even exchanged Christmas cards.

But we used the milk box for so much more than just milk.

It's where people left things for us if we weren't home, and where we left things for people to pick up. I can't even tell you how many times I told people to "just leave it in the milk box."

I need to find a new place for people to leave catalogs and cd's, not to mention homemade Christmas goodies?

But, it is just a milk box. The bottom line is, that milk box was costing us a fortune. 

I never did the math before, but when I did, I knew we had to cancel the service. Obviously, you pay for the convenience of the milk delivery, and for years, it saved me time and money (who really goes to the grocery store to buy milk and leaves with only a jug of milk?) But the price of gas has gone up, which means the price of milk delivery must also go up. And my life has changed: I now work a flexible job from home, so I have time to stop at the store on a regular basis. And the way my kids drink milk, five gallons of milk a week isn't enough anyway. Soon, we'll have another driver in the family, and I plan on sending her on milk runs often.

So the milkman and I broke up.

It really felt like a break up -- he even called me to make sure I really wanted to discontinue the service. I think he got a little teary eyed even.

But, it boils down to price.

We just can't afford it.

Milk delivery is just one place we're cutting corners. Other ways we've discovered we can save include:

  • Coupons. I'm still learning about this, but I've dabbled in coupons off and on over the years. Again, working from home helps here. I just have more time to explore, research, print, and clip coupons. I've found some great websites with tips, but I am by no means a pro yet. Yet.
  • Personal shopper. Well, not really. That's just a fancy name for what has got to be the world's greatest aunt. Brad has an aunt who works nights, and drives home by Sam's Club. She's offered to do my shopping for me. She picks up milk at least twice a week, and whatever other groceries I need. It works for both of us: she gets her shopping "fix" without buying things she doesn't really need, and I don't have to go to the store everyday, and buy things I don't really need. I just paid my bill to her yesterday -- for $20 more than what I was paying for milk alone, she was able to buy not only milk, but also things like apples, lettuce, toilet paper, and more. Seems like a no-brainer now that I've looked at the numbers.
  • Unsubscribe. I recently spent about an hour cleaning out my inbox and unsubscribing from various things I had subscribed to once upon a time. I've discovered if I get an email about an awesome sale, I am tempted. Most of the time I just browse the website, load my cart with things I want, and then never actually order anything. But sometimes I do buy the things in my virtual cart. By stopping the emails, I've made it a little more difficult to be tempted to shop online. It takes an effort to spend money, and honestly, I am not really one to sit at the computer and search for things to buy. But if I get an email, I am instantly sucked in.
  • Cash. This is Dave Ramsey 101. If you use cash, you're more careful about what you buy. Cash feels more like money than a credit card, or even a debit card. It's true. I really do think twice about buying that coffee when I have to hand over cold, hard cash. And it feels so good to still have $20 in my purse at the end of the month!
Stay tuned to see how those money-saving tips work for us. We'll also be working on teaching our kids to do a better job of managing their money. Smart Money, Smart Kids is full of great ideas. I seriously recommend pre-ordering your copy. Click here to do that (I got the chance to read the whole thing already… great stuff).

Meantime, I'll be searching for a container of some sort to replace my milk box so when Christmas rolls around, we'll be ready for Christmas cookie drop-offs! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

3 Lessons I Learned from the Biggest Temper Tantrum Ever

Here's a news flash for all you parents out there:

Sometimes, being a parent really sucks.

Like when you want to enjoy a nice, relaxing lunch out as a family, but one strong-willed child throws the mother of all temper tantrums, and changes your plans completely.

Been there. 

Done that. 

Just two days ago, actually. Yet here it is, Tuesday already, and I'm still thinking about how much being a responsible parent sucks sometimes.

On Sundays we like to eat out after church. Often, it's the only time the six of us sit around the table at the same time all week. It's sort of our little family tradition. This week, the kids picked my favorite: Ground Round.

Sundays are Penny-a-Pound at Ground Round, so it's always busy. Little Miss Strong-Willed-Morgan did not have patience to wait for a table. After running away from us a couple of times, not listening, and sassing back, I'd had enough. 

I took her to the van for a "talk" and had every intention of returning to the restaurant after we both calmed down. I could feel people staring at me as I dragged Morgan by her arm out of the lobby and across the parking lot. It might have looked like I was hurting her, but when I let go of her arm, she turned the drama up a notch and went limp and just laid on the sidewalk. So I hung onto her arm and pretty much dragged her to the van.

As I replay the scene over and over and over in my head, I've realized that the this monster temper tantrum actually taught me a few important lessons.

Lesson number one: don't judge other parents. It may look like they're being mean, but I bet they're just trying to control the drama.

After a few minutes in the van, it was clear this temper tantrum was not ending anytime soon. She kicked, screamed, cried, and pulled out every single excuse in her very big book of excuses:

"I'm starving!"

"I have to go to the bathroom!"

"Give me another chance!"

"I miss my family!"

"Please let me eat lunch with Jake!"

Unfortunately for Morgan, the kicking, yelling, crying, and attitude kept those excuses from working on me this time, that and the fact that she had already had three chances to shape up.

So we left.

In all my nearly 15-years of being a mom, I've never actually had to leave a restaurant (although I have ditched many a full grocery cart over the years). Usually just going outside is enough to fix things. 

But not this time.

Not even the idea of feeding my child for 41-cents could convince me to take her back into the restaurant.

Morgan continued her meltdown the entire seven minute drive home, and for another 25 minutes in her bedroom. 

I wanted to cry too -- I was really craving Ground Round popcorn and ranch dressing.

But, I knew if I didn't follow through, I'd regret it the next time she threw a tantrum. I had to be strong, stronger than my popcorn craving. She eventually fell asleep and woke up a different, happier kid.

Lesson number two: don't take an overtired, strong-willed child out for lunch on a busy Sunday.

I'm still bummed about missing lunch, but I'm glad the rest of the family could enjoy our Sunday tradition, and popcorn. I bet they enjoyed the popcorn and I bet they had a big bowl of ranch dressing to dip it in.

And I promised Morgan we'll try again next week. She has brought up the subject of her "really bad, naughty tantrum" several times since Sunday. We've talked about why how she acted was wrong, and talked about the right way to behave in public, and the right way to talk to adults. And I promised her we'll try again next week (she keeps saying "next year"… no way am I waiting a year to get my popcorn and ranch!)

Lesson number three: Talk about what happened, in kid terms of course, and, when the time is right, do something to reinforce what you've been talking (in my case preaching) to your child about.  So today, I asked Morgan if she wanted to go out for lunch. Of course she said yes, and as we walked in to the Ground Round, she reminded me of all the rules we talked about. Maybe it was because the restaurant wasn't busy, or because it was just the two of us, or because she hadn't hit "starving-mode" yet, but today's experience was a thousand times better. We had a nice conversation, a yummy lunch, and, of course, popcorn and ranch. 

Let me tell you, that was the most delicious popcorn and ranch I've ever had!







Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Next Must-Read Book

I've had the opportunity to do some really cool things in my adult life:
  • I interviewed Garth Brooks (and he hugged me..still gives me goosebumps!)
  • I traveled to Ground Zero shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • I gave birth to four pretty awesome kids.
But now, I've been given an opportunity to try something new, something I've never done before, but something I'm super excited about.

I've been chosen as a member of the "launch team" for the book "Smart Money, Smart Kids" by none other than Dave Ramsey (I know… goosebumps again.. that man is amazing) and his equally amazing daughter Rachel Cruze.

So what does that mean?

I'm still figuring all that out, but the first step was reading the the first two chapters of the book. Pretty awesome, yet common sense, stuff. Here's a link to check out those first two chapters for yourself: www.smartmoneysmartkids.com. Scroll to the bottom, enter your email, and start reading. You can pre-order the book on that same page, and I gotta say, I think it will be money well spent. I am reading the entire book now (I guess that's a launch team perk!) and loving it. I can't wait until it's available for everyone to read!

It's funny that I'm on this launch team though.

I don't exactly have a perfect financial history. I can't even count how many times my parents bailed me out of money troubles in college, and even as recent as a few years ago. But, the last time we borrowed money from them, my parents got smart. They put conditions on the loan:
  1. It was a loan. That meant it had to be paid back. And there was a deadline for the final payment.
  2. They made us take Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. 
We paid the money back on time, and we took the online class.

Did our money ways change? Kind of. We paid off a bunch of stuff, built an emergency fund, and then fell into our old habits again. We've never had to ask for another loan, and we've paid cash for lots of stuff, but we're not exactly living the Dave Ramsey way either. 

But we're climbing back on the Ramsey bandwagon. Topping our list: doing a monthly budget together on paper and building that emergency fund up again. 

I'm only about halfway through "Smart Money, Smart Kids" but this book has inspired me to be a better example for our four kids. I want them to know how to handle money now, so when they leave (ahhh… the oldest will be gone in just three years! Sniff, sniff) they don't make the same mistakes we made.

 My parents always say they wish they would have taught us better money management, but while we can't turn back time, we can change our family tree. My kids, ages 4-14, already know more about saving, spending, and giving than I did in my 20s. Here's just one example: Our oldest begged for an iPhone ("I'm the only one out of the entire 1,600 kids at my school that doesn't have an iPhone") -- we said not before upgrade time, and we won't pay your data plan. So she saved. And she saved. And she saved. Then she stumbled upon a great deal -- her grandpa upgraded and when she asked to buy his old one, he pulled the grandpa card and gave it to her. Bargain! It's been three months, and she has paid her $30 data plan on time (early, actually) every single month. She's accepted babysitting jobs in the middle of a crazy basketball season, just to make sure she has her phone money. Now, she's planning her summer: summer school (biology -- five hours a day!), weight training, and a summer job. When I told her that sounds pretty busy, she calmly explained that she needs to save up for her data plan and get her shopping-fix so she doesn't have to work during basketball and track seasons. 

Smart kid.

I'm working on being an equally smart mom.

***What do you think? Will you check out this book with me? 






Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Blessed

As I looked through pictures from Lizzy's first grade program last night, these two stood out more than any other pictures.



These pictures are more proof of what I've slowly been realizing: we are blessed. 

How many six-year-olds are lucky enough to have both out-of-town grandpas and two great aunts (and two parents, a sister, and a brother) come to their 20-minute program in the school gym?

Not many.

I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now. It started when I got a frantic phone call from Lexi's friend's mom. She and her fiancĂ© had to leave town unexpectedly for a funeral and she was in need of a place for her 14-year-old daughter to stay while they were gone. Of course I said yes, and of course she felt like she was totally imposing, and of course she wasn't. 

But it started me thinking about something that, in my nearly 15 years of motherhood, I'd never thought about before: what do people do if they don't have family around to help with their kids?

I'm spoiled.

Not only do we have awesome great aunts in town that would drop everything (and have dropped everything) to help with our kids, both sets of grandparents are only a few hours away. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've called an aunt or a grandparent in a total panic because I suddenly need a sitter overnight, or a kid needs a ride, or I need someone to stay with a puking kid while I attend a mandatory meeting. 

Seriously, how do people do it without family nearby? I am in awe of you all. And I am feeling extra blessed knowing that two grandpas drove to town specifically for Lizzy's program and two aunts gave up sleep and "me time" to watch Lizzy as Little Bo Peep. 

I can only hope that one day my children will be equally grateful.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

I've become my mother…..

When I was a kid, my mom would hang a fancy blue tablecloth in front of her closet doors, move the piano bench or a kitchen stool into the room, and have us kids stand there and pose for pictures. 

It worked great -- if you ignore the ugly 80s sweaters and hair, it looks pretty darn good, maybe even professional (by 1980s standards, of course) doesn't it?

It was the 80s, so of course Mom shot on film and didn't want to waste a bunch of film, so we had to be on our best behavior for the entire photo shoot. I don't remember having professional pictures (aside from our yearly school pictures) until we were seniors and got to have senior pictures done. Yet our childhoods are very well documented, thanks to my mom's bedroom-turned-photo-studio.

I realized last week as I hung a tablecloth in front of the closet doors in my craft room, I have become my mother.

I really wanted to take some pictures of my kids together and Valentine's day seemed like the perfect excuse to snap a few. I told them all I wanted for Valentine's day was a few updated pictures of them. How could they argue with that?

The little girls were happy to pose for me while I figured out if the tablecloth would even work.



Despite their help, I wasn't in love with the tablecloth (sorry Mom). I remembered seeing something on Pinterest about making a photo background out of plastic tablecloths. So that's what I did. It took me six tablecloths to fill the space, but they worked so great, because they are long enough to cover from floor to ceiling (I kept getting carpet in the shots with my cloth tablecloth). My professional photographer friends would probably cringe at my makeshift background, but it worked.. and it was cheap! I held the tablecloths up with push pins, and added the "I love you" banner I found on sale at Hobby Lobby.






Now, came the hard part: getting all four kids in the same place at the same time. I wanted to use natural light, so I was hoping to get them together before it got dark. 

Like that would ever happen.

My kids are busy! The big kids weren't home much all week, between school, basketball practice, basketball games, and church class.

So I had to come up with a compromise.

That compromise was to take their pictures individually and piece them together into one picture later. It took a couple of days, but I finally got at least one good picture of each kid (my standards for a "good" picture have been lowered immensely over the years… we're talking if their eyes are open, it's a keeper!).





I put the four pictures together into one using an app called "pic collage." It was super easy, and a creative way to get around the my-children-are-never-home problem!
I also used the Pic Collage app to make individual valentine greetings. We sent these to grandparents, godparents, cousins, aunts, and a few other special people. It was easy, cheap, and fun, and who doesn't love getting a cute picture in the mail?
I guess it's not so bad to be turning into my mother… if only I had her photography skills. At least I have technology on my side! 












Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is my mom's birthday. I won't tell you how old she is, because I'd like to remain her favorite child. (Yes, I know there are three of us, but I'm pretty sure I'm her favorite.) What I'd like to do instead, is tell you how amazing my mom is -- she's got the patience of a saint, and for some reason, it's taken me quite a few years to figure that out (I can't tell you how many years, because I also refuse to tell you how old I am!)

I’ve been writing since I was 7 years old – my first “project” was cleverly titled “Jody’s Journal.” The weekly newsletter, typed very slowly on my mom’s super-cool typewriter (hey, it was the 80s!) included all the highlights of my family’s life. I sold copies of the Journal for 25-cents a piece and while I never could talk my older sister into forking over a quarter for her very own copy, my grandmothers were faithful subscribers, and probably even bought more than one copy. More than 30 years later, I realize I never thanked them for reading my literary masterpiece and for making me believe I was a brilliant writer. I never thanked my mom either, who never once complained about all the paper I wasted or all the correction fluid I used (I think I made mistakes on purpose because correcting them on the typewriter was so much fun!)

This morning as I cleaned up scraps of paper piled on top of my computer keyboard I thought of my mom’s patience, and that kept me from freaking out on my 14-year-old daughter, who made the mess I somehow got stuck cleaning up. As I thought of my mom and of my childhood, I calmly cleaned up the papers, found the keyboard, and when the computer finally came to life, I smiled when I saw what my daughter had been printing and cutting out: she was printing inspirational quotes. Some of them were really great, and exactly what I would tell her if she asked for my advice. So how could I be mad?

As a mother of four creative kids, I spend a lot of time cleaning up the messes brought on by a burst of creativity. I find myself thinking about my own childhood, and my own mother, as I clean. How did she not lose her mind cleaning up our messes? My little brother used to raid the kitchen cupboards for things to use on his farm: mini marshmallows became hay bales, cans of soup/peaches/vegetables were grain bins (once the labels were peeled off). Mom never yelled. When the marshmallow hay bales dried up, she quietly cleaned them up and threw them away. One by one, she took back the grain bins, and upon discovering what was inside the can, made us something delicious to eat.

My four-year-old is currently obsessed with taking notes – she never goes anywhere without a pen and paper and leaves papers scattered throughout the house. I get annoyed, and sometimes I yell at her. And then I realize, it is just paper. My mom never yelled at me for my paper messes. Her patience with my habit of using up all the paper and typewriter ink was nothing short of amazing. In fact, I think her patience and encouragement likely shaped my career: I’ve been able to make a living as a writer of some sort my entire adult life.


I should probably tell my mom thank you and happy birthday. I would write her a thank you letter, or a birthday card, but all the paper in my house has disappeared….

Monday, February 3, 2014

Answered Prayers

Every night, I ask God to help me be a better mom.

I ask Him to make me more patient, more forgiving, and less of a perfectionist. I ask God to help me remember my kids are KIDS, and to help me take it easy on them, even if their rooms are a mess and they forget to feed the dog.

Most days, I wonder if He is listening, because I often feel like I am the world's worst mom.

But then, there are little miracles, and little signs that God is listening and is even answering my prayers.

Today, that little miracle came from my 12-year-old son.

Jake wasn't sure what time basketball practice was, so he promised to text me after school and let me know.

True to his word, he texted me.

Here's our conversation:

A few minutes later, Morgan and I arrived at Jake's school. He was standing on the sidewalk, waiting very patiently, but looking very cold. I beeped the horn so he'd see me and he ran over and hoped in.

This was our conversation:

Jake: "Mom, I just have to say, thanks for being a great mom."
Me: "Um, you're welcome."
Jake: "No, seriously. I was just thinking about how lucky I am. While I was waiting for you, I watched some other kids getting picked up by their moms and I could tell their moms aren't nearly as great as you are."
Me: "You are such a sweet talker. Keep talking."
Jake: "I'm being serious Mom. Those moms were honking and yelling at their kids and seemed really annoyed that they had to pick up their kids, and that they even had kids. So thanks for always picking me up and taking care of me."
Me: "Sorry I honked at you."

I couldn't say anything else.

What a good reminder that God really does hear my prayers, and even answers them. Sometimes it just takes awhile to realize.

So tonight, when I talk with God, I need to thank Him for listening, for helping me be a better mom than I was yesterday, and for blessing me with really great kids.

And tomorrow, I promise not to honk the horn at any of my kids.