Friday, December 28, 2012

Growing Older

I know, I know.  I'm still in the first third of my life, give or take.  But I'm going to say that this growing older thing is the source of my turmoil right now.  I'm not talking about anything physical, parts falling apart, etc.  This is totally the emotional turmoil that's got me all wound up.

I didn't cry this much before I had kids.  I swear.  (Dang hormones.)

But, I see a child that is running around talking, having intelligent conversations, and I know that when we first moved here, that child was in a baby carrier.  Cue watery eyes of nostalgia.  Where had the time gone?

I look at college athletes and think, "Wait.  I'm not their age anymore.  I'm a decade older."  Where has the time gone? Eyes water.

I mention something to my students that happened in 2000, recent history for me.  They weren't even born yet.  What?  How is that possible?

I have friends from high school who already have five or six kids.  Again, how is that possible?  Didn't we just graduate?

I have friends from college who have been married, divorced, and remarried.  Already. Are we even old enough to be married the first time?

I'm on the brink of celebrating a decade of marriage and I still feel like a beginner, you know?  Sometimes I feel like a visitor at the in-laws', even though I know I'm not.

And, I think the thing that makes me most emotional is change.  When people that I know and love move away.  Or when I know that they're going to move.  G&J at church will only be here for another eight months.  My beloved neighbors will also be PCS-ing around the same time.  J&S got married and moved.  My team at work was the same for two years, and has changed each year for the past two (teacher friends have moved).  Every year my heart becomes even more stubborn about accepting different circumstances.  And every year, the Lord is faithful throughout those changes, but it is still a source of growing pains for me .

I got a Christmas card from my best friend from college in the mail.  I read the Christmas letter.  I was sitting on the stairs, I remember, and the kids were eating at the table, and Eli was standing in the kitchen. I just burst into tears.  The kids were confused, and I was confused, and Eli was definitely confused.  I was just so sad.  There was nothing sad in that letter, per se.  But the fact that all those things happened and that I was not a part of it--THAT was sad.  (And I will admit, it brought on a little wave of jealousy of the people who ARE a part of her life.) We live so far away, and we are in such different spots in our lives, and I wonder how it is that we consider each other friends, let alone best friends, after not being a part of each others' lives for so long.

I think about the amazing women at church and then am sad about how we aren't really friends in the way that I once could be friends with other women.  You know, before the husband and the kids came along.  I, of course, would never go back, would never have it any other way, but my heart still mourns for that possibility a little, and that makes me sad.  Getting together with them monthly is a small fix, and I'll take it, but I just wish I could do/have it all.

Many times, I feel like a terrible friend since my life is so me-and-my-family-centered, and I probably am.  But, I have been reassured by other loving older women that this is just a passing phase in my life as the mother of small children.

Man, I hope so.  And maybe someday the hormones will work themselves back out and I won't cry at ridiculous stuff anymore.  Maybe?


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Beaver Christmas Decor

We've lived in this house for 2.5 years, and out of three Christmases, this is the first year I've actually put some thought and effort into decorating.  Two years ago, we barely had a tree and stockings hanging from the mantle (but Elsie didn't have a stocking).  Last year, we didn't have a tree, but we had stockings.  The kids' stockings were the generic red ones that I got 50% off (so, $.50 each) after Christmas two years ago.

So, yeah.  This is the year I put on my grown-up decorator pants.  And this is what I came up with--except I forgot to take pictures of the dining room, so I'll have to take care of that tomorrow.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Debt Update December 2012

Made a hefty payment this month.  We'll pay off this thermometer by the year's end!!

 Second 10K Chunk, started 5/1/12
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We had gotten away from reviewing our budget every month, just automatically going off the last month's budget, so this month we plan to get back on track.  So excited for the next debt update posting!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Random $ Thoughts

An acquaintance of mine posted a link to an article on Facebook, and I'm not sure if the idea behind this is brilliant or stupid.

Here, I'll let you read it yourself.  I'll wait.

::gets up and brushes her teeth::

::feeds the cat so he won't keep sitting on her every time she sits down::

Okay. I'm conflicted.  The concept behind this--the arbitrary forgiveness of debt--is fascinating.  That other people would willingly buy random debt for pennies, and then just forgive it seems like a Christ-like story if ever I heard one.

But it just doesn't seem fiscally responsible, you know?   I'm just going to wager a guess that most of the people donating to this cause are members of Occupy Wall Street because, well, they are "the 99%".  From the stories I've heard and read about OWS, they seem to attract the "woe is me, I had to take out student loans, and I can't pay them back" crowd.  So, instead of paying on their own loans, they're rewarding people who defaulted on their debt--so they can rack up more?  (It's statistical.  The root of the problem is not solved, just the symptoms.)  So, instead of taking care of their own messes, they're giving their money to others, "giving a drunk a drink" if you will.  I know, I know.  This is an extreme what if scenario, but this is where my mind goes.

Perhaps my heart needs work.

We voted on some financial matters at church this month, and I abstained from voting.  My heart is hurting over this, too.  Am I faithless?  Do I believe that God can do big things?  YES, I DO!  I sat in church this morning and counted 18--EIGHTEEN!--small children on the steps for the children's sermon, knowing that when we came here, there were three or four children that would be there regularly.  God has done big things in our church and I know that he's not done yet.  So, why do I have anxiety about the money stuff?

For the same reason the OWS thing seems conflicting to me.

Because I'm selfish and depraved.  I'm a sinner.  And I have to re-remind myself about God's nature and sovereignty and BIGness, and about the gospel story--every day.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Forgive me if I've pontificated on this before, but it's something that is on my mind again as I sit exhausted.

This year, the state legislature, in an effort to "help" some of the districts on the coast whose counties benefit most from the tourism industry, mandated a late start date for every district in the state.  Teachers in my district were originally supposed to report on July 30, with students returning on August 6.  Instead, students across the state had to wait two more weeks.  Great for them, right, because they got two more weeks of summer?  Teachers reported on August 13.  Great for us, because we had two more weeks of summer, too?


I say it again.  NO!

This has not been a good thing.  What this did for us was to take two weeks out of our school year.  The end date is the same, so breaks were eliminated.  Practically nonexistent.

We started August 20, and then got September 3 off for Labor Day.  We have not had a break since.  That was TWO months ago.  Essentially, that's one whole grading period without a break.  We'll have Veteran's Day off, and three days at Thanksgiving, six school days at Christmas, one workday before kids return after the holidays, MLK day immediately after that, Spring Break at the end of March (but not if we have bad weather days--then they'll take days away from Spring Break), and nothing else.

I'm exhausted.  And I'm not the only one.  Teachers at my school are taking personal and sick days (scheduling doctor's appointments during the school day) just to get a break.  I can't afford to take any sick or personal days, because I might actually have to use them if Elsie and/or Oscar get sick.  Last year, I was using them as fast as I was accumulating them (1 per month) when the kids got sick.

The trade-off for not having teacher work days or holidays built into the schedule (except for a paltry few--for which I am most thankful!) is that I'm having to use "home time" to finish school stuff, or let it go undone.  Trying to balance out my time and spend time with my family frequently means that the dishes and laundry go undone and that there is a layer of dust on stuff.  But, floors are mostly vacuumed (Roomba!) and trash goes out on Mondays, so I'm not completely crazy.

I am behind at school and I am behind at home.

I'm exhausted.  Did I say that?

I know, I know.  Wah wah wah.  You work your job without breaks here and there.  And we even get summers off, right, so what the heck am I complaining about?

I'll just say that until you (or state legistators) set foot in a classroom full time, you can never truly understand and appreciate how draining it is to interact with other people's children all day long.  And then to go home to your own children who drain the rest of your energy (I don't even know how single parents who are teachers do it).  When will you get to recharge your batteries?  Teachers need the time away from students to do this.  That's what summer is for.  That's what integrated breaks are for.

I'm exhausted.  I don't know if I'm going to make it to the three-day weekend coming up.

Prayers, please.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

November 2012 Debt Update

Nothing much to report for October.  It was a ho-hum kind of month and we made minimum payments.

 Second 10K Chunk, started 5/1/12

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This next month, Eli's captain's pay should kick in and we will be throwing a chunk at the debt snowball in an effort to finish off this thermometer before the end of the year.  Wish us luck!


Monday, October 29, 2012

HGTV Observations

Last night I was watching television in lieu of sleeping--I just don't sleep well when Eli is out of town--and I realized I've spent most of my TV-watching time on ABC, USA, and TNT.  It's been a long time since I watched HGTV, and since I didn't want to procrastinate too long, I flipped over to it.  Its 30-minute show lineup is perfect for being productive between shows.

A new show was on, one I haven't seen: House Hunters Renovation.  The gist is that people are looking for fixer-uppers.  I wish I could tell you more, but I didn't end up watching much of it. But, I did hear something for the first time that I've never heard on these house-hunting shows.

House Hunter (paraphrase):  We got approved at [$ amount], but I'm not willing to spend more than [much lower $ amount] because we have dreams and goals and things we want to do when we retire instead of pay on a house.

Wow!  This is very much my attitude toward our little house.  It's a starter house.  We'll have it paid off before Elsie graduates high school.  We will not upgrade or move unless we have to, really.  We could spend more on a mortgage payment, but then we would be "house poor".  We have dreams for our retirement, and a large house with a large payment does not mesh with those dreams.

I see a lot of shows on HGTV where people set a budget and then end up going over.  I don't know if this guy stuck to his guns, but I hope that we can.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

October Debt Update

Thank you, JT, for your kind words concerning our progress in our debt reduction. And then it occurred to me that it's already 2/3 of the way through the month and I haven't posted about it yet.

Well, then.  Here we go.

In September, we only paid minimums on our loans (the last of our non-mortgage debt).

 Second 10K Chunk, started 5/1/12

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In October 2011, I finally added up how much debt we had left since starting Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps in February of 2008.  We had reached the halfway point, but the last debts were Eli's two massive student loans that totaled more than $50,000.  It was overwhelming to look at that large number, but when someone suggested that we split it up into manageable chunks of $10,000, the debt thermometers were born.  We finished the first one in May 2012, and hope to be done with the second one by the year's end.  We can hope, right?

So, we've been working with these visuals for a year, and we've paid off $16,913.71 in this year's time.  Sometimes it's depressing to listen in on the Dave Ramsey show, and people pay off twice that in a year's time, but then I have to remember that hey, we could have been SPENDING that money and NOT getting out of debt.  Progress is progress.  We have $35,000 left to go.

To just lay it out there for anyone also in our shoes, the longer it takes us to get rid of this debt, the harder it is for me to maintain the intensity.  The upcoming increase on the focus on materialism in our culture (commercial Christmas) is not going to make things any easier for me.  It will only serve to cause me to battle my inner definitions of wants and needs.  The catalogs have already started coming in the mail...

So, if you would keep us in your prayers as we continue this journey to be good stewards of the resources provided to us by our Lord.  We want to eliminate our debt so that we can use these resources to support  missionary friends overseas and in other ways that we feel led to give.

Thanks, guys!


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Random Pics Post

S'mores while camping at Paul Johnson State Park in Hattiesburg, MS.  June 2012.

Looking at pictures on the phone, summer 2012 (sometime between the beginning of June and the beginning of July).

Swimming with Mimi, Texas, July 2012.

Family play time with Aunt Julie and cousins:

Goodbyes for Goldilocks.  Oscar was already in bed.

At Bama game, September 2012.

Hopefully, this is enough to give you a quick fix.  :)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

September Debt Update

Hello, September!

The back-to-school month of August is always a budget buster, even when I plan ahead.  So, for next year, I need to remember to have funds for several forseeables throughout the year:

  1. School supplies -- dry erase markers to start the year, pink erasers, pencil top erasers (200),  markers (one pack thick, one pack thin), BIC mechanical pencils (4 packs), red pens (40), glue sticks (30)
  2. Achievers Team lunch -- approx $8 for one day of lunch with my team members during planning week
  3. School lunch -- need approx $30 in my account to start the year (would love to have $200-$250 for the year)
  4. Clothes -- this isn't a need, but this year I needed jeans since all mine were too big or torn up; next year it might be something else, but I sure would love to take advantage of tax-free weekend if I can (first weekend in August), so approx $50?
  5. Team t-shirt -- approx $12 to buy new t-shirt
  6. Baby/wedding shower fund -- $40, each team member puts $5 for a gift card per event
  7. Birthday lunch fund -- we order in on team member birthdays and pay for their lunch, ~$40
  8. Birthday celebration fund -- we celebrate birthdays for students once a month, I'm responsible for snacks for those twice, ~$60
  9. Relay for Life Fundraiser Lunches -- $20
Anyway, the debt thermometer this month looks good.  I'm not so sure about the paper budget, but the debt thermometer looks good.  Did I already say that?  :)

 Second 10K Chunk, started 5/1/12

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Fundraising Thermometer

This month is month twelve of the debt thermometers, and I can't wait to share our total at the end of month--how much we have been able to pay off in a year.  It won't be as phenomenal as some people who call into the Dave Ramsey show, but it will still be awesome.  Why?  Because it's money we don't owe anymore!  And we only have ~$36,000 left in student loans!!  Until next month!


Note:  After writing this, I realize that I probably sound like such a dork to people.  Yes, $36k is a lot of moolah, but it's so much better than the $105k we started with in 2008.  I seriously feel like a "debt marathoner" when I say "only" before naming a large amount of money.  Before we started training for our marathon in 2007, we could barely run a mile; after a few months we talked about having to run "only 12 miles" for our long runs, when we worked up to 15-16 miles.  We were crazy.  So, yes.  What we have left is a lot, but it just takes a mental shift in knowing we will overcome rather than be buried by it.  :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

2 Years of O

There are no more babies at my house--today Oscar is officially 2 years old.  I have two little people living with me.  When did that happen?

I crack up at my youngest little person.  He wants to do everything that Elsie wants to do.  If she says something, he wants to repeat it and does, putting "too" on the end.  Makes for some humorous situations.

Elsie:  Mommy, I need new panties!
Oscar: I need new panties, too!

Elsie:  I want to be a princess!
Oscar:  I want to be a princess, too!

Elsie:  I just farted.
Oscar:  I just farted, too!

And yes, we use the word "farted."  That's just life. 

For a while Eli was concerned that Oscar might not have any musical genes, but he has become musical, singing to himself, making up happy songs (particularly when there is cheese involved).  At bedtime, he wants me to sing "Jesus Loves Me Dino" ("this I know" somehow sounds like dino to him).  He sings along loudly.  He love the Sing-a-ma-jig that we have, and can match it tone for tone.  No worries, Eli.

His favorite saying is "Go to bed!  Right now!"  Elsie used to tell me to put him to bed when he was annoying her, and now they tell each other.  It's pretty funny, except not so much when he tells me.

He wakes up earlier than Elsie and loves to just talk talk talk.  The other morning Eli left early, so he put Oscar on the bed where I was still sleeping. He practiced: "Mommy, go to bed, right now!"  "Daddy, go to bed, right now!"  "Eh-see, go to bed, right now!"  And he cycled through again and again.  It was entertaining, to say the least.

He'll frequently tell me "I want to carry you."  I always tell him I'm too heavy, and then we "figure out" that he wants me to carry him.  He's getting clingier and clingier and we're probably going to go through full-blown separation anxiety soon, much like we did with Elsie when she was a little over two.

And recently, he has started telling me that he needs to go potty, and I'm not sure what to do with the information.  Sometimes I set him on the seat, and others I just ignore since he's never done anything on the potty.

But, he's also still so sweet and super cuddly.  Where did my baby go?

Oscar, in the hospital at birth:

My little man, within the last couple of weeks.

Frankly, I'm glad he grew out of his "ugly baby" phase.  Now I just want to kiss his sweet head every time he comes near me.

We will not, however, forget that he is going through a biting phase.  This is a "picture of Oscar's teeth" on Elsie's inner thigh.  Poor girl has been bitten more times by Oscar than by ants, and that's saying a lot.  Thankfully, it's slowing down and happening less frequently now.

As far as birthday parties, we didn't do anything formal.  We spent the weekend at the beach with Eli's mom's side of the family and had cupcakes for him there.  I'm okay with that, I think.  It was just crazy because Eli was gone to drill.

Anyway, that's my little man.  Can't believe my baby is not a baby anymore.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August 2012 Debt Update

Well, at this point probably nobody cares about our debt progress, but I'm trying to keep track of it for the purpose of looking back when we become debt-free, and when people ask how we did it, I can say, hey, I have a whole string of blog entries labeled "debt"--you should go look at those.  Or something.

Anyway, July was pretty much a bust.  We made minimum payments on students loans, and that was about it.  Still, progress is progress, right?

 Second 10K Chunk, started 5/1/12

  fundraising ideasFundraising Thermometer

This slow-down in progress was 100% my fault.  You see, a cash budget is only good if you don't lose the cash.  The night before we left to go see my family in Texas,  I ran to Walmart--twice--to get some last minute items.  On one of the trips, it was raining when I exited the store, and when I got to the car after a quick jog, my purse was--forgive me for this Southern term--tumped over.  I glanced back up the row and didn't see that anything had fallen out, and I went home.  The next morning we got on the road and drove--and at some point during our trip to Texas, I realized that the cash was missing, and that I hadn't put the cash in the envelope system, so it could be anywhere.  Once we unpacked the car, I looked for it--even took everything out of the car and vacuumed and cleaned while in my parents' driveway.  Not there.  I dumped out my purse and cleaned it out.  Not there.  I emptied the trunk.  Not there.

When we returned to Alabama, I went into Walmart as a last resort, knowing that if it had fallen out in the parking lot, it was long gone.  The manager went into the office to look if someone had turned it in.  Not there.  Surprise, surprise.  So we spent the month surviving without our cash, which meant that any "extra" money that would ordinarily go to our loans, went to making up for me losing the money.

Moral of the story:  Put cash in designated envelopes and don't lose it!!  Lesson learned the hard way.

This month coming up is a weird months since Eli is spending half the month at annual training for the National Guard and the other half of the month at his civilian job, so cash flow will be forthcoming, but not regular.  We'll make minimum payments again, and will break the halfway point on debt thermometer #2 with just that.  Hopefully we will do more, but it will come at the last minute.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mobile Home

I just got back from a partial week at the MEGA conference in Mobile.  The state department of education puts it on in jointly with the Mobile County Public Schools.  Evidently this has been going on for decades, but in seven years of teaching in Alabama, this is the first I've heard of it.

And I'm hooked.

I think I will have to set aside a week in July for the rest of eternity to attend this thing.

Anyway, so in 12.5 year of having ties to Mobile, this is the first time I was in Mobile all by myself.  No husband, no kids.  Just me in this city that my husband has been raving about for years.

Heretofore, I didn't really understand the draw.  There's nothing wrong with it, but there hasn't really been anything about it that really made it appealing, either (you know, except family), before this week.

I've been there often enough that I know general navigation skills, so I was able to go directly to the Civic Center from I-165 and park to take the shuttle.  And when we (the people standing and waiting) realized on Monday that the shuttle service didn't start until Tuesday a.m., I was able to lead a group of educators on foot (hey, free parking is free parking) to the Convention Center.

Tuesday I was able to take the shuttle and then for lunch I was wandering around downtown.  The place that I had staked out close to the Convention Center to eat was packed to the gills with educators, so I knew I had to take it to the streets.  And as it turns out, I had an expert on that very subject.  Summer of 2006, Eli actually worked in downtown Mobile at the wind-sail-looking government building, which was two blocks south of where I was, so I called him and asked him about where to go.

I ended up in a cute little old-fashioned soda shoppe that also serves sandwiches -- Three Georges on Dauphin Street.  I sat at the counter watching the jerk make sundaes and floats and ate my lunch combo, and then I chose my dessert, and then I paid for my meal.  Yeah, that's right.  I didn't have to pay for my meal until I could ring it up all together.  I then walked back through Bienville Square to get back to the Battlehouse Hotel, where my session was.  Yeah, I pretty much felt like a pro.  I ate way too many sweets, so I hiked it back to the Civic Center when the conference was over.

Being on foot in the city for three days made me appreciate the beauty of the architecture, of the oak trees hanging over the streets, the uniqueness of the heritage of the city.  I loved the old-world feel.  The wrought iron detailing and balconettes on buildings, the Spanish moss, the community squares where people sat and ate their lunches and fed seagulls. It might be a place to move if I could get a job at a building somewhere downtown!  Alas, that may have to wait until retirement since the state board of education is based in Montgomery.

I think what really struck me (pun intended, and you'll understand in a minute) was the storm that rolled in on Tuesday night.  As I looked across the bay, getting ready to drive to my hotel, lightning danced from one end of the sky to the other, reflecting off the choppy bay.  The wide open waterscape made the sky look SO HUGE! No trees or buildings to block the beautiful light show.

I'm amazed. A beach retirement is looking more and more likely...

Love you, Eli.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Patience and Perseverance

One time, I was talking about Elsie's crazy tantrums, and someone observed, "You must have prayed for patience."  Indeed.  What a wild ride.

I'm coming to a point where I have to put on my own big girl panties in dealing with the kids.  They want they want they want.  Lots of things.  They scream and cry if they don't get them.  (The older one is usually the leader, and I've taken to calling them Pete and re-Pete.)  I completely understand why there are spoiled kids out there, because the tantrums stink, and life in the short-run would be so much easier with less screaming.

But, I'm starting to weigh the long-term effects.  What are we teaching our children?  That they can have anything/everything they want, any/every time that want it?  That's hardly a life lesson.

Here are some specific thoughts on the subject I've had lately:

TV -- It's summertime, it's hot, and we're watching more TV than we do during the school year.  I'm not proud of that fact, but it is what it is right now (though as I'm typing this, the kids have the couch cushions off and are building castles and trains and boats, taking trips to the beach and the circus, and whatever else their imaginations fancy--it's actually pretty refreshing and gives me hope that I'm not ruining their minds this summer...well, except that they're humming the tune to Elmo's World as they're dragging the cushions around into new formations).  I know people who use the "on demand" function of their cable provider to show kids shows when they're wanted.  I see some use for this function, but I know that it is overused to proactively eliminate tantrums.  Elsie frequently is screaming at me that she wants to watch Dora.  Well, Dora's not on.  Deal with it.  I've had opportunity to talk with her about a television schedule, about being patient, about not getting to watch what she wants to watch.  And yes, I've had to weather the tantrums.  BUT, they are becoming fewer and farther between.

FOOD -- We visited my family in Texas a week or so ago, and one night we had my mom's taco salad for dinner.  The kids were at first resistant to eating (lettuce can be a deal breaker for them, haha), and my mother suggested that she had something else they could eat.  Yeah, that would have made feeding them easier.  But guess what?  We are not short order cooks.  So, we held the line and the kids did eventually eat what was put in front of them, even if they didn't eat a lot of it (more for me!).  For my particular brood, I'm not concerned about eating habits because they are generally bottomless pits that will eat most anything.  So, if they choose not to eat what is being served for dinner, there is not a menu change.  I'm not saying that it's never happened before and won't happen again (I'm a human being, remember), BUT I am saying that I'm more mindful of not giving in to tantrums, riding it through--isn't it our responsibility to teach our children to respond in appropriate and productive ways to the experience of disappointment?

So, in this trying time with two children at a willful age, the challenge of parenting is one that will make my hair go gray at exponential rates, will make me scream and cry myself, but when we survive--because we will survive--it will make us stronger, and I may actually have more of that elusive patience.  And will be blessed beyond belief.

Until then, cheers.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 2012 Debt Update

Hello, July!  The heat finally caught up to us, and the thermometers are spiking, which is not such a great thing except for the air conditioning.  On the flip side, the debt thermometer is creeping up and up.  This month we made about $1500 worth of progress.  Again, this was more than I could have imagined, but I am married to a hardworking man.  I've had to finally accept not working this summer since summer school didn't pan out.  It's frustrating that I can't help to make headway, but I'm thankful for time with the little'uns...usually.  One of the greatest epiphanies I had this month is that as the kids get bigger, the grocery bill will increase quite a bit (something about them being bottomless pits and growing children and all that).  I am so thankful that we will be blessed to have our student loans paid off by the time that happens, and that it won't be such a stretch.  Because guess what?  God provides.

 Second 10K Chunk, started 5/1/12
  fundraising ideas
Fundraising Thermometer

A third of the way there, and Eli hasn't even left to do his Army training (the weekend warrior two weeks a year, which is really like 2.5 weeks), so we will make more headway in the next two months or so since Army work is more lucrative than public defender work.

Anyway, thanks for keeping up with us, and thanks for your prayers and encouragement!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Professional Bucket List

I never thought about having a bucket list for my career; now I do, and it consists of just one thing I would like to do before I retire.  I'm sure other things will come up, but this one is pretty huge.

1.  Become a participant in the Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program.

I have been thinking about next summer (2013) because my best friend D and I are going to take a trip.  2008 was an adventure in NYC and Boston.  It's time for another adventure.  It's expensive.  We're not out of debt, and she's paying off loans and saving up for a doctoral program.  We need a solution.  At some point today as I was researching amazing summer teacher development opportunities that are free, I got this harebrained scheme that we should find teacher travel grants so that our travel could be paid for.  So, that's where my tangent took me.  Eventually, I arrived at the Fulbright website, and started thinking beyond 2013 to about 2022.

So, the gist of it is that I would go for one academic year overseas to teach in another country (right now, participating countries are Czech Republic, Hungary, India and United Kingdom--also Mexico and France, but you have to be fluent in the native tongue for those placements) and a teacher from that country would come to the United States and teach in my place. Amazingly, teachers are encouraged to bring their families with them when they do these exchanges, and I think that this is the most appealing part of this program. I'm not sure how this would work at the local level, but it seems that the prestige of such a program is something that school districts are supposed to be all about, so we'll see.  That's why the prospective date is 2022--plenty of time to establish myself here and feel things out at my school district.

There are other reasons why I'm thinking a decade from now will be perfect:

  • We'll be out of debt.  This means that we will also have lead time to save up to travel to nearby countries while we are abroad.
  • The house will most likely be paid off.  That's my goal, anyway.  Typically, teachers do a housing exchange.  So, the teacher coming this way will stay at our house and we can stay at his/hers (maybe).
  • All current and future Beaver children (God willing) will be of school age, so there will be no need for daycare.  This will also be great for family travel.  And though they won't be able to spend six years of their lives overseas, as I did as a military brat, they will get to experience living in a different culture for a short time (August to July, typically).
There are, of course, some loose ends:
  • What to do with Coco?  Well, ten years from now, he will *probably* be deceased, but I know that some cats live well past 20, and he'll be only 19 years old.
  • What about the National Guard?  I don't know.  We may not be doing the National Guard anymore.  Just depends on promotion opportunities for Eli at the six year mark, and that's four years from now.  And if we are, then we'll have to figure that out...
  • What if my school district does not want to participate in this program?  I don't know.  It's a year-long application process, so anything can happen.  I would probably talk with the Superintendent before applying, just to get an idea of their level of support.  
  • Who would want to come all the way to the US and live in Opelika, Alabama?  I don't know that either, but I'm hoping there's someone.
  • What if there is no funding and the program is cut?  Well, crap.  Hopefully there will be something similar.
So, it's a big dream.  And it's a bit crazy.  But count my professional bucket list as officially begun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Toy Clutter

E & O were playing the other day and I realized that they were playing with baby toys.  Yes, that's right.  I still had infant teethers and squeaky toys in the mix of their day-to-day toys.  That (well, that and the fact that I couldn't close the toy drawer in the kitchen) was when I opened my eyes and realized that things were bad.  So, I spent a day organizing their stuff, paring down the mess bit by bit.  I did learn that it's much easier to do this when the kids aren't around, just in case you were thinking about getting rid of some toys, too.

The first thing I did was sit down with paper and pencil and think of general toy categories.  The two main categories were "inside toys" and "outside toys".  I have not yet dealt with the latter.  I started downstairs.

As for inside toys, I made some easy decisions for storage on a few things:

1.  Balls -- kitchen cabinet.  Balls of all shapes and sizes, and frisbees (I know, I know--outside toys, but they're not right now)
2.  Food/Play Kitchen Items -- kitchen toy drawer (we don't have a play kitchen, but we play like we do)
3.  Books -- bookshelf, top shelf
4.  Stuffed Animals -- bookshelf, bottom shelf, blue basket
5.  Blocks -- bookshelf, bottom shelf, recycled animal cracker container (jumbo) from Sam's Club

That was the easy/obvious part.  So, I went through and put the aforementioned toys in the aforementioned locations.  Most of them were already there, but perhaps had too many or had foreign toys that needed to be cleaned out.  I created a bag of stuffed animals to donate, and put all the baby toys in a bag labeled as such.  Everything else got sorted into general categories.  When I was done I had these categories left over:

  • Miscellaneous medium-sized stuff -- stacking rocker, jack-in-the box, popper, V-tech laptop, LeapFrog drum, Animal sounds toy, chatter telephone, princess piano, Super Grover play set, dancing duck (don't ask), another block set, froggy castanets, rain stick of sorts
  • Kids' meal plastic toys
  • Cars/trucks
  • Dress up stuff
  • Baby dolls and accessories
The kids' meal toys got thrown away, except Strawberry Shortcake, because Elsie saw that pile and exclaimed, "My girl!" and pardoned her girl until a later date.  Everything else went upstairs.

Upstairs was also a wreck.  In addition to the previous categories, I was also dealing with:
  • Bath toys that were no longer in the bathtub
  • Miscellaneous large toys -- music table, 2 baby strollers, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse couch, pink U-chair, play vacuum cleaner, Sit-N-Spin
  • Random toys that don't fit any category, the most prominent being these foam pieces that my sister brought.  They would go on one of those piece-together foam play mats, but they are the edge pieces, not the square centers.  Elsie LOVES these.  She has quite the imagination, so sometimes they are a castle, sometimes a bathtub for her baby, sometime a chair, a boat--you get the idea.  Also in this category are the kazoo and the hand-clapper toy.
  • Small plastic animals/animal finger puppets
Anyway, one I had everything sorted, I decided they needed a home instead of one big toy hamper, which turned into two, which became the floor in the hallway, bathroom, all bedrooms.  When Jill moved in, I put together a Closet-Maid Cubeical from Target.  I had the fabric drawers, but I couldn't find them; thankfully, I came across those drawers recently.  The original intent for the organizer was for toys, but it was used for something else for a while, and then it was covered with baby clothes.  Only now can it fulfill its purpose.

The miscellaneous medium-sized items stayed on the middle shelf of the downstairs bookshelf, and the large miscellaneous items are in the spare room, near the Cubeical.  All other categories got a shelf or a drawer in this glorious organizer.  Except bath toys.  Those are in a mesh hanger that I got at the dollar store and they are hanging in the shower.

I think the relief here is that every toy has a play where it belongs, not just a place where we shoved it to get it off of the floor.  Like items are grouped together.  I do not feel like my house is overrun with toys.  

Yes, we'll have to do this again and again, purging as we go as the children grow.  But for now, it FEELS GRRRRRREAT!

Can I get an "Amen!"?


Monday, June 11, 2012

Some Downstairs Clutter Progress

My last post of 2011 was about how much stuff we had in every corner of the house.  (Just thinking about it makes me sigh rather loudly.)  From the New Year until the end of school, not much progress was made in controlling the mess.  We were busy, we were lazy.  Yeah, just read the linked post and you'll see all the same excuses I'll refrain from giving.

I've been seriously contemplating the idea of discipline lately--in finance, in health, in housekeeping, in spiritual practice, in self-control, in being consistent with parenting, etc.--and about what a pain in the buttocks it really is.  And it's so annoying!!  What do you mean I can't have a long-lasting quick fix for everything, all the while putting forth very little effort?!?   What do you mean I can't front load the effort and do nothing more and still reap great rewards?!?

But seriously, that's another post altogether.  For now, I'll just point out that no matter how many times you run the Roomba, the dishwasher, the washer and dryer--you will never be finished.  Not until death (either for you or the appliance/gadget).  This is the most discouraging reality right now.  Making progress to remove clutter has been like digging a hole in the wet sand on the beach.  Those dang waves keep coming and bringing more sand to fill it in!  It's maddening!

Here's another piece of rocket science:  the less stuff you have, the easier clutter is to take care of.  Pure genius or common sense?

Despite everything I've just written, there has been progress--that is, if you count shoving stuff into closets and into the garage as progress.  Right now, my entire downstairs is decluttered, with only a few "hot spots" that include the top and outside of the fridge, and our wall-mounted mail sorter.  I could also count my craft closet (water heater closet, whatever), but then again, it's a closet and you don't know it's cluttered until you open the door.  Mwahahah.  Oh, and the garage.  Don't count the clutter in the garage.  Not yet, anyway.

Don't get too excited for me.  While I did a little bit of actual decluttering, I did a whole lot of moving clutter somewhere else so that it wouldn't be in the downstairs area that is highly populated by our church small group on Sundays (don't look in the garage).

But even though I know it's somewhere else and not completely out of the house there is still a feeling of serenity to be had in hanging out downstairs in my partially clean house after the kids are in bed.  And it's actually easier to have them help me clean up before they go to bed because they are no so affected by the sensory-overloading clutter.

I'm going to leave this update at that today, and maybe I'll make more progress upstairs before I continue on this train of script.  Until then..


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What happened yesterday (Timmy details)

Yesterday morning, after I returned from taking the kids to daycare, Timmy was laid out on his back on the back patio, mouth wide open, panting, crying out in pain, pupils fully dilated even in the morning sun, and he was dirtier than he's ever been.  I didn't understand why until he started trying to crawl and his entire back end was dead weight.  He was not like that yesterday evening when I fed them.  Coco was standing watch nearby, meowing nervously, with a look of terror on his face--I'm not kidding.  The look on his face when Timmy cried out was one of fear and confusion.  After calming down my self-talking repetitive chorus of "this is bad; this is not good, oh crap" I called Eli, who I knew was about to go into court, because I didn't know what to do (or didn't want to be the one to do it, maybe), and he said he would be home at lunch and we could figure out what to do then.  I knew that I had not accurately communicated the severity and urgency of the situation.  Timmy could not wait four hours.  I could not make him suffer for four hours more.  I made a snap decision to take him to the vet.  I went outside, and he automatically, without me even making known my intentions, dragged himself into the cat carrier that sits outside for shelter from the sun/rain.  He knew it was time to go.  

About a year ago, I had to take Timmy to the vet because he lost a lot of weight and was really sick.  It had built up and I was ready for the vet to tell me he needed to be put to sleep.  Turns out it was just a bladder infection.  Today, I was unprepared.  I mean, when I saw Timmy, I'm pretty sure I knew, but I didn't have any time to get used to the idea.  It's a much different thing to have a pet die of natural causes than to have to make the call to euthanize, even when they are in pain, and the prognosis is slim.  It was the right thing, but that didn't make it easier.

When I went to go get the carrier and pay the bill, the girl at the desk chirped at me, "Are you here to pick up?"  How morbid would that have been if I had been there to retrieve his body?  I just said to her flatly, "No.  He was euthanized.  I'm here to pay the bill."  She had that look of a person who realized that there was a foot in the mouth.  Sorry--I had to rain on somebody's parade.  But honestly, when I brought him in, she was talking about him meowing because he didn't like the carrier, and I corrected her that he was crying because he was in pain.  She wanted to know if he needed his boosters today.  "No, not if he's going to be euthanized."  I said that to her, in those exact words.  And she still greeted me that way when I returned.  Not her fault, really, since it's a good customer-oriented attitude 99% of the time, but still.  As I left, she did tell me that she was sorry for my loss, and then put on a fake pouty-lipped sad face that I wanted to punch.

I've had hamsters die, but I've never been around for the death of an animal that I cared about.  I had no feelings for my mom's dog (sad, but true) though I was there when she died.  My cat, Jasper, just disappeared from my parents' house after I graduated from college; that is, she just stopped showing up to eat.  Her sister, Secret, was died tragically and had to be euthanized, but I was living away from home and it wasn't as personal from three hours away.  

I'm trying not to beat myself up over the fact that I didn't go see him before it all ended, that I didn't even bother to tell him goodbye to his contorted face, or look him in the eyes and tell him that we loved him.  And that we didn't bring the body home to bury him, and that he died dirty, not fluffy and white. But he was a cat.  A loved cat, but just a cat.

So, Timmy was essentially our first child.  And he'll be the first one who will leave a tangible absence in our home.  And though it was mixed relief to see him go, he will be missed by the entire family, including Coco.
Especially Coco.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Timothy Dudley Meets His Maker

Neon-Cat Timothy Dudley lived a long life.

Yes, I was one of those people who posted on FB that my cat died (sorry, Jill).  Such a downer, right?  I think I was much nicer that I originally was going to be when I said,

"...RIP to Timmy, the neurotic cat that for the first several years of his life with us I put "a new home for Timmy" on my Christmas list until I realized that I wouldn't wish him on my worst enemy.  So, we accepted him, tolerated him, and love him, warts and all.  Sad to see you go, buddy--Coco's going to have to create his own warm spots and steal them from himself, I guess."

My original inspiration was to write something like, "RIP Timmy.  Feel free to share your good memories.  ::crickets:: ::crickets::"  But that was possibly just my trying not to get emotional about the loss of this feline.

Timmy was gross.  Everything about him: the drool, the bathroom habits, the breath.  Only love could endure such grossness.  The ultimate grossness was in the last few years, though.  I guess we stopped taking pictures of Timmy when the kids came around, because I can find very few on my camera, and all the old ones, pre-kids--back from when Timmy was our child--are on a dead laptop somewhere.  Thankfully, he was an attention-seeking diva (so long as you didn't try to touch him) and my sister was able to grab a couple shots of this party crasher when she was taking pictures of Elsie at approx 9 months (has it really been that long?)..

And then there were a few more recent photos, taken since Oscar has been alive.  In the last two years or so.  Elsie is trying to talk to him as he chills under the coffee table.

He was so very patient with the kids.

And Timmy hiding out under the music table.

Maybe you don't know the story about how Timmy came to us.  We had been married a year, and all of Eli's friends were getting cats.  So as to not be left out, we got us a cat.  It wasn't that easy, really, since I'm allergic to cats.  Eli put out the word at the no-kill shelter that we were in the market for a hypoallergenic cat.  An elderly gentleman came to the shelter with his 5-year-old purebred Devon Rex, and wanted to find someone to adopt the animal since the man's wife was battling cancer and the cat was driving her crazy.  We thought we had hit the goldmine (hypoallergenic cats aren't cheap) and so we went to go "interview" with him.  That night, we met Timmy and we brought him home.  The old man cried as we left.  A few days later he dropped some of Timmy's toys by our apartment, and that was the last we heard of him.

Turns out Timmy didn't like women.  He would purr all the day long if you were male, but he would not purr for me.  I was starting to take it personally until I realized this trend.  Turns out, this cat was extremely devoted to Eli, the alpha cat.  I have never been first choice.  I was always his last resort--if Eli was gone from the house too long and Timmy desperately needed a cuddle, he would eventually stoop to cuddle with me, but he was sure to let me know I was not his first choice.

Timmy was neurotic.  He had terrible bathroom habits.  And we found out from the breeder that the old man knew about them, but failed to disclose this information.  We had been duped.  But by this time he had, in some strange way, grown to be part of our family.  Dangit.

We lived with that for 8 years.  8 looooong years.  But you know, in the end, Timmy was a part of our strong marriage.  You've probably heard me talk about it before, but I think the secret to a strong marriage is being able to talk about poop, and Timmy gave us plenty of fodder before we had babies.  There's something positive I can say.  Haha.

And I really do have funny and good memories of Timmy, and being the optimist that I am, they take up more space in my memory than the other 60% of the yuck, and will replace my last memory of Timmy.

  • Timmy surprised us by playing fetch with twist ties during his first couple of years with us (before he got too old?).  When I would be working at the table, he would bring the twist tie over in his mouth and drop it at my feet.  If I ignored him, he would climb up on the table and drop it in the middle of whatever I was working on.
  • He loved to sleep on anything that I owned that was black.  It was annoying.
  • He drooled in his sleep.  And then he licked it up in his sleep.  To death.  The lick spot would be 3 times as large as the original drool spot.  It was disgusting.  And amusing.
  • He regularly peed in the tub, where at least it was easy to clean up.
  • We were upstairs in our apartment in Tuscaloosa, and we heard someone let out a long, shrill scream inside our apartment.  We raced downstairs, and Timmy was sitting on one side of the living room window, and a stray cat (female, we suppose) was on the other side of the glass, and our neuter cat was all hot and bothered. It was so freakish.
  • I didn't realize the extent of Timmy's devotion to Eli until Eli left Timmy with me for the summer while he went to Mobile to work (2006).  Timmy was so out of sorts--he wasn't eating, he wasn't sleeping, and...he wanted to cuddle with me.  That's when we decided to get another cat, and Coco came into our lives.
  • Last week, the kids had been playing with blue sidewalk chalk on the back patio, and Timmy and Coco rolled in it.  Amusingly, Timmy had blue stripes on his face, a la William Wallace.  It was fierce.
  • Timmy would show his displeasure with the little cat disturbing his peace, but would give up his warm place to Coco 99% of the time.
  • He loved the acoustics at the top of the stairs, and for several years tried them out every. single. night. Of course, I'm a lighter sleeper than Eli, so I heard it every. time.  To Eli, it was a novelty if he was awake while Timmy was "singing".
  • Timmy loved to be outside, to pretend to be a "jungle cat" in the bushes and hiding behind plants.
  • The cat didn't want to be touched, usually, but he loved to be observing the action, as close as he possibly could.  He really was a "people" cat.  He just only liked a limited number of people.
  • He used to try to climb Eli's guy friends' legs, even though he didn't have front claws--so the result was very amusing.
  • When we first got him, he shaved his own belly by constantly chewing on it, so it was this fat little pink belly that I just loved to pet if he would let me.  After living with us, he didn't shave his belly any more, but that didn't stifle my urge to pet a coworkers belly when she wore a pink hoodie over her baby bump (I swear, it was all Timmy's fault! And I didn't end up touching it, I just wanted to every time she walked by).
I'm sure there's more, but I have one final thought:

Timmy had a reputation from visitors as being "the mean cat," but really, how can this gentle giant be anything other than sweet? ;)  

(I mentioned he was devoted to Eli, didn't I? I think he was bribed..)

Timothy Dudley, while we had mixed emotions about your habits, love always won out.  I hope you're getting the most out of your Great Belly Rub in the Sky.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Debt Snowball Visual

I know I already did my debt update for the turn of the month, but I pulled up a debt overview visual on (free 7-day trial).  I started this particular version of the snowball in January 2011, and I just want you to notice the orange line and what a dive it has taken in the last two years!  As of right now, our payoff date is July 2016, but look at how fast that orange is dropping!  We'll have this paid off by the time Elsie is in kindergarten!

Anyway, I write about our Dave Ramsey-inspired journey, but for some people (me), a visual is very powerful (which is why I have debt thermometers).  I hope that it is inspiring to you, too.


Edited to add:  I've been asked, so I want you to know that you can click on the picture to make it larger.  We have two separate loans outstanding and they are coded in blue and orange.  When we finished paying everything else off, they had about the same amount owed (hence they start in the same area), so we started tackling the one with the highest (3 times higher, actually) interest rate first--the orange one.  When we are done with the orange, we will start putting the same amount of time and energy into the blue.  Notice how the blue line changes slope right where the orange line drops off the graph--that's the snowball effect.  The payments we are making on the orange loans will be rolled over into the blue loans, paying it off faster.  Anyway, sorry I didn't explain it better to begin with.  :)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Saturday Craft and a Day at the Farm

I've been going through baby clothes and I found a pair of overalls that drove me crazy when Elsie was little, probably would now, too, if they fit her.  The snaps inside the legs would never stay snapped, so anytime I put her in them, she would wind up with her diaper hanging out the bottom.

When I came across them again, I decided to make them into something else, something she can wear now, even though the pants part is (was) 18-month size.  First, I cut off the legs, i.e. the snaps that don't work.

Then I found a scrap of fabric left over from Elsie's 2-year cowgirl birthday dress.

I cut as much of a rectangle as I could from it.  Then I ironed the rectangle.  Then I pressed it in half to create a crease where I could cut it in two later.  I pressed in a finished rolled hem (my mom would be so proud).  Finally, I cut the rectangle into two rectangles.

Each of the two rectangles is about twice as long as the width of the denim overalls, give or take.  I didn't show the next part, but, right sides together, I stitched the ends of the two strips together, making one large circle of fabric, then pressed the seams open.  I pinned the seams to the side seams of the overalls, right sides togeher, raw edges together.  And with some time and energy, I pleated and pinned.  And then I pressed the pleats in, and then sewed the two pieces together.


As kind of an afterthought, I took a piece of the pattern from a scrap piece of fabric and zig-zag stiched it at the top of the back.

Sorry the pictures of the finished garment aren't so great.  I actually had a reason to make an overall dress.  Our little friend was having a 3rd birthday party with a farm theme.  It was held at a local farm that had lots of farm animals, a hayride, and of course, food.  One of the party favors was a farmer hat.  Elsie loved hers. Oscar wanted nothing to do with his.

Above and below:  Evidence they're my children.  Nothing dainty about them.

Above:   Wonder what's in there?

Below:  I ain't afraid of no goats.

(Okay, so it was a pig, but you're singing the Ghostbusters theme now, aren't you?)

Above:  Wook, Mama!  Sheep!

Below:  I touched it! Ewww!

Above:  Elsie thought she wanted to take a pony ride, but then quickly changed her mind.

Below:  Wook, mama!  Stick!

All in all, it was a great day spent with my two favorite children.  :)