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Monday, March 27, 2017

Book Review: Smile

My daughter is a prolific reader.  She seems to gobble up books as though they might be gone tomorrow.  This is both awesome and troubling at the same time.  It is awesome to have a child that I don't have to ask to read.  She gets to read about experiences that she'll never have and learn some good lessons.  Hopefully this will help her to not have to experience some of these lessons in real life.  The troubling part is beginning to be finding books that have challenging vocabulary but the content is appropriate.  I don't have time to read as much as she does, so I can't pre-read everything that she does.  I have to rely on librarians, teachers, and reviews to know what is good for her to read.  We made it to the public library today and she checked out 20 books.  I have set aside 3 of them to read myself to ensure the content is appropriate.  To help others that are facing a similar "problem" I have asked her to begin writing reviews of the books she's reading.  Hopefully this will help you know whether a book will work for your child!

Title: Smile
Author: Raina Telgemier
Pages: 214
Chapters: 8
Age Read: Late 8, 3rd grade

Short Summary: Raina is a loving girl who injures herself and wonders could this ruin her life? After she is treated for it she realizes that injuries can be fixed. Raina starts out as a sixth grader and ends up in high school.

Review: Smile is a wonderful book, both serious and funny. Smile is written as a graphic novel. It has great content and is a quick read. Raina is a caring and loving character, but when her friends turn on her and she's on her own, it starts to get ugly. Raina learns 2 very important lessons: 1. It doesn't matter what others think, it only matters what you think of yourself.  2. It doesn't matter how you look, it only matters how you feel. Others don't get to choose how you feel, you do. I rate Smile as a 5 star book. I hope you read and enjoy the book Smile!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Thankful for my Jobs, PARCC update

We had a quiet afternoon yesterday, since none of the neighborhood kids were around for a change.  I cooked pizzas while Carolyn drew at the table.  James joined her for a while and then drifted to the couch.  He looked exhausted, but it was a little strange that he just curled up on the couch under blankets without anything to do.  I had a feeling he was getting sick.  So when he woke up this morning still feeling crummy I didn't hesitate to take his temperature.  But at 98.3, there was no fever so I put him on the bus.  Around 11 I had finished enough of my work to go for a run.  Just over halfway my phone rang and it was the school nurse.  James' fever was 100.5 so I needed to pick him up.

As I made my way home I felt terrible that he had to wait an extra 20 minutes for me to get him.  He probably was feeling terrible and because I was out for a run he had to wait longer.  But I had figured he made it long enough that he wasn't coming home.  When I got there to bring him home, the nurse relayed their earlier conversation.  Since this was the first time James came home from school, the nurse asked if he thought I would be home.  To that he replied "my mom is always home."  The nurse chuckled and said she thought I might sneak out occasionally.  How ironic I was out for a run at that time.

I brought James home and tucked him into bed.  He watched tv for a while as I ate lunch.  He asked for his lunch but didn't eat it.  Once he fell asleep I snuck out of the room to finish my work for the day.  And this is why I am so thankful for my job.  I was able over the next 3 hours to juggle getting work done while caring for James.  He got to sleep in our bed, take a bath, and then lay on me without anyone being stressed.  There were no arrangements to make and he didn't feel like a burden.  He knew that once that fever appeared, I would be there.  As frustrated as I've been with the crazy hours I've been working (30 this week), the flexibility I have is unmatched.

I love the extra snuggle time I get to have with both kids.  I am so thankful that I can make extra income to help our family without having to sacrifice the level of care the kids receive.  So the next time I start to think about working outside of the home again, I just need to come back to this post.  I will remember that God led me to these positions for a reason.  And until the kids are old enough to not want extra snuggles when they are sick, this is where I need to be.

As an update to my earlier post about refusing the PARCC, I am happy to report that so far the school has been wonderful.  During the practice tests, Carolyn has been allowed to simply read a book.  We plan to visit the public library over spring break next week to ensure she has enough to read during the testing windows the week after break.  Once the letter was delivered I didn't even hear back from anyone at the school.  So looks like we will have no issues.

For those interested, I also updated my other blog tonight as well.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Heartache for Local Families

I feel like we are constantly bombarded with ways to give and serve internationally.  Or when there is a big disaster, we're asked to give to help massive efforts for those displaced.  To apply for my new teaching certification in 2 new states, I had to get fingerprinted (again).  Since we live in the unincorporated part of town, this means I had to go to the Lake County Sheriff, located in Waukegan.  So I drove through parts of North Chicago and Waukegan to get there and get back.

As I drove through these towns, my heart just ached.  The number of run down buildings with boarded up windows was sad to see.  Many of these weren't even businesses, they were homes.  And my response is, who is helping these people?  In particular, who is helping these kids?  How do we expect these kids to make a better life for themselves if we don't do anything to help?  And how long are we going to ignore the needs of the people right around us to serve others thousands of miles away?

So I sat down this afternoon to find a place to start giving to.  It took me about 15 seconds to find a charity in Lake County that gives to places that serve these communities.  I likely need to spend some more time researching these charities to ensure a large percent of the donations go to actually help people.  But I've found that the smaller the organization (ie local,) the less administrative costs.  So I'm going to look at as a potential place for us to being donating regularly.

Those of you that go on big missions trips, that's awesome if that's what God has laid on your heart.  But for those that don't feel called to that, for those that don't feel they have funds to go on a big trip, what if you took the time to find a local charity?  What if you took $10-20/month and donated it locally?  Could you contribute more than that to give another family hope for the future?

My next step is to find places where we can volunteer regularly.  I know I have skills that could be a blessing to others in my background as a math and physics teacher.  In this season of thinking about the sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us, I am going to consider the sacrifice of time that I can contribute to help those that need it the most that are practically right in my backyard.  I challenge to find something to contribute to locally on a regular basis.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Happy Birthday Mom!

This is the hardest day of the year for me.  It is getting a little easier as the years go by, but is still a lasting reminder of just how much my mom has missed.  I know she sees everything from up on heaven.  And I'm sure she's having a delightful party with her mom, dad, and grandparents up there today.  But I didn't get to hug her at my wedding.  She didn't get to snuggle my little ones when they were born.  And I will never again get to hug her.  She isn't on the other end of the phone when I need motherly advice.  She'll never get to attend any of
the kids' sports events.  But I have to be comforted knowing I will get to see her again once God calls me home, hopefully not for many more years.  The sun is shining today and I like to think that it's her looking down and saying how proud she is of our children and all the people they are becoming.  We had a cake today to celebrate her birthday even though she couldn't be here.  She liked to celebrate, so I know she smiled as I had cake and ice cream with the kids this afternoon.

Have you heard of TRX?  I took a class with it at Park Center one time when I had free classes and it wiped me out.  Seriously the hardest workout I've ever done, short of plain running.  Anyway, I found a cheaper version on Amazon (TRX wants $150 for a few straps?!) and at $35, ordered it.  Yesterday I tried out a workout I found online, getting a feel for what everything should look like.  This morning I went through and timed how many reps fit into the time suggested.  I prefer to count reps rather than look at a timer.  I know it's all mental, but it's good to know what works best for me.  Are you a time or reps person?  Here's what I did today.  This morning, this afternoon
Chest Press - 7, 8
Low Row - 10, 11
Squat - 13, 14
Burpee - 6/6, 7/7
Deltoid Fly - 8, 9
Power Pull - 10/10, 11/11
Sumo Squats - 13, 14
Hamstring Curl - 13, 14
Lunge - 10/10, 11/11
Crunches - 12, 13

My abs are feeling it the most right now which sounds great to me.  I'm going to try and keep increasing the reps until each exercise is at a maximum.  What's awesome is my heartrate even gets going with this.  So until the weather is warm enough to sustain getting out there regularly, I will switch between this and kettle bells.  Complete body work out in 10-12 minutes!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

How to Make 1 Income Work

My goal here is not to feed into the debate of SAHM vs WM.  Every family needs to decide what is best for them.  But I do feel like there are a lot of women that wish they could stay at home but can't see how it could ever work.  Or may you are just getting married and thinking that when you have kids you would like to stay at home but can't imagine getting by on just 1 income.  Having lived it, I can tell that it is definitely possible.

What you have to decide is what sacrifices you are willing to make.  I've never been a Starbuck's person.  In fact, I hate the taste of coffee.  I've never been one to love eating out all the time, I prefer to know what's in my food.  I don't wear make-up as in high school my skin was super sensitive and I just never started doing it after that.  So these may be some areas to consider reducing your budget with.  We chose to cut back as much as possible.

One of the biggest things that helped us was the decision to take 1 year at a time.  We looked at our budget and our income when I got pregnant.  We knew that our house was purchased based on 1 income.  This is key if you are planning for the future as housing is going to be the biggest expense each month.  I tried to find some side jobs and as a former teaching was able to pick up some tutoring for extra money when the kids were tiny, but never worked much until they started school.

Once our first child was born, we said I would stay home for 1 year and then we would evaluate where we were financially.  Jon was only making around $40k/year before deductions at that point.  We had no car loans, but both had significant student loans.  But there were 2 major reasons why we decided to try me staying at home for a year.  First and foremost, it was what we both really wanted for our child.  We wanted one of us to be with her as much as possible.  It made sense for it to be me since I could then breastfeed, a huge savings for our budget.  Second, we looked at what I was making.  I was 25 when Carolyn was born and finishing my 3rd year of teaching.  I was making similar to Jon at around $40k.  By the time we considered paying for day care, gas, taxes, and work clothes expenses, the amount we would get to keep from my paycheck was pretty small.

So what did we give up?  We stopped going out to eat.  But who really enjoys going out to eat and wrestling a baby the whole time?  Once our contract ran out, we gave up cable.  We opted instead to use Redbox to rent movies, check them out from the library, or watch movies we already owned.  We shopped sales to reduce our grocery budget.  Along with meal planning, this made a large impact on our monthly expenses.  Jon packed lunch for work each day to keep our food expenses as low as possible.  Realistically, because we were quite young when our first child was born, we did not have an extravagant lifestyle so we didn't miss much of what we cut.  When it came to clothes, we graciously accepted all hand me downs available.  Especially when kids are tiny, they outgrow things so fast that most of what we received was nearly new.

Something nobody tells you when you're about to have a baby is that month to month, babies are cheap.  The first few years of life, when kids are most malleable, child care is most expensive, and you can have the most impact by staying home, that's when kids are the cheapest to stay at home with.  Babies don't need to take classes.  If you join a moms group, you can find playgroups to attend or park gatherings to get out of the house.  Going for a walk is good exercise and most little ones love it.  Once you've come out of the sleep-deprived coma of the first 2 months, you can even use your baby as a "weight" to combine bonding time and a work out routine.  Our kids loved it when would lift them over our chest (just not right after nursing).  The first 6 months there don't have to even be any additional food expenses.  If you breastfeed, that is all the baby needs.  And if you are home with the baby, you don't have to worry about pumping.  Our oldest had maybe 6 bottles while our youngest had none.  For the next 6 months, purchasing real food for the child to try is minimal.

My kids are now 6 and 8, our income has increased dramatically since those first few years.  One year we were less than $1k away from receiving the EIC on our taxes.  As the kids have grown, I have increased my work with 2 online companies.  Now that both kids are in school I find myself often working 5-6 hrs/day.  But because we've always done such a good job with our finances, my paycheck can fund all the things we gave up when the kids were tiny.  I love being home each day when the kids get home so they can just play.  And they would tell you the same thing.

So if you feel in your heart that you want to be home with your kids, know that you can make it work.  It might not always be easy and you will have to make some sacrifices, but you can make it work with some planning.  One thing when looking at your income to consider is how much less in taxes you will pay with an extra dependent and a significant reduction in income.  If you'd like ideas of things to cut, I'd love to help.  Start by writing down all your expenses for a couple months and I'm happy to take a look for you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Refusing PARCC

As spring approaches, so does the state testing in our public schools.  I shudder to imagine that weeks are devoted to tests that tell us so little about all of the students.  But most of us sat through it when we were in elementary school.  I actually remember enjoying getting the score reports (but I was/am a little weird).  But testing today has taken on a new name and has lost a lot of meaning.  I don't mind the MAP testing that most public schools in this area do.  In fact, I can entirely see how they can use it to help guide instruction.  Since MAP testing takes a total of 2 hours for the math and reading, including prep time to get the kids settled beforehand, I also don't see it as a huge intrusion.

PARCC testing is a whole different animal.  For starters, it is not nationally normed.  Therefore, the results mean basically nothing.  So the children sit through hours of testing to get a score that doesn't provide any real information.  It also is not tied to any state funding.  So why would schools spend these hours that might otherwise be used for actual instruction?  That's where the bureaucracy of public schools come in.  But the more of us that have our kids refuse to take this test, the quicker we can sweep PARCC out the door.

Tomorrow I will be sending my 3rd grader to school with a letter to the principal informing her of our family's decision, signed by both me and my husband.  I have sent an email tonight to her teacher as a heads up.  I have also stuck some small slips of paper into Carolyn's folder so that she does not have to verbally decline.  I have asked her teacher to let me know if she the school will require her to verbally decline in case we need to prepare for that.  As I was printing out the letter tonight and trying to explain this test to my kids, I could see their inner struggle.  And that is part of what is sad about all of this.  I am left to explain to my 8 year old that in this one instance, it's okay to refuse take a test (multiple tests, really).  I want her to continue to be a good citizen within her school and continue to be generally obedient to her teacher.  I had to try to explain to her why this test is different from all the others.  I hope I did a good enough job and I hope the school makes this easy on her.  I will update with more as this process continues.  Our school got a late start this year due to construction so testing is not scheduled until the second week of April.

For those looking for resources on how to help your child opt out, check here:
Facebook Opt out Group
Raise Your Hand IL

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Parenting is Hard

This has been a bit of a different week.  We got our first real snowfall of the 2017, yay.  It is beautiful to look at while I am having my quiet time each morning.  And the kids are having a blast playing in the snow.  It helps that it's nice and warm.

Our front door is currently broken, so the kids have to ring the doorbell each day after school. Yesterday I went to answer it and one of our neighbors was with my kids.  Carolyn informed me he accidentally took the bus home and there was no one at his house.  I was a bit stunned and unsure what to do.  This boy is in second grade, it is March, and his first grade brother knew to stay at school.  I did not have a phone number to reach his parents.  Everyone came inside and I asked him if he had a phone number for either of his parents and he said no.  My kids worked on their after school routine as I tried to figure out what to do.  We've only been living here less than 3 months and we have interacted with this family only a few times.  After a little while I texted another number, who luckily had the mom's phone number.  I called only to get voice mail.  A few minutes later she called back and said she would be home in 30 minutes since she was at work.  Then she texted a few minutes later to say her husband would be home in 10 minutes.

While I sorted this out, I sent all the kids outside to play in the snow.  The boy did not have snowpants, so we dug out our extra pair we happen to have.  I sat down to fold some laundry, which happens to be just out of the line of sight of our swing set.  When I finished, I went to check on the kids and the neighbor was gone.  I asked my kids where he went, if he said what he was doing.  They boy said they didn't know and he hadn't said anything.  Then we saw the garage door open at his house and a car home.  But his backpack was still at our house and no one was anywhere to be found.  Carolyn and I took his stuff to him and the dad acted as if all of this was no big deal.  He informed me they have a key hidden in the backyard "in case something like this happens."  I informed him that his son did not know any phone numbers to call to get in touch with his parents.  He seemed surprised by this but not too concerned.  The mother later wrote of his going home, saying he's always been a bit of a wanderer.  Debriefing the whole situation last night I actually said to my husband "everyone does things their way, I'm glad we don't do it that way."

At floor hockey tonight I talked to a couple other moms with sons in the class.  One has a son in James' class and we're going to attempt a play date soon.  We all lamented how difficult it can be to stop siblings from fighting with each other.  They have a bit of a different experience with two boys that are 4 years apart compared with my kids.  Somewhere along the line I mentioned that we don't really watch tv other than sports and the one mom looked at my a bit stunned.  I talked a little about what I did when the kids were little and they seemed stressed just thinking about it.  But here's the thing, parenting is hard, and we all just choose what kind of hard we want to do.

I chose to have things really hard when the kids were little.  We stayed away from screens completely until Carolyn was about 3.  After that we slowly introduced some computer time and when sick we would let them watch some Curious George or other PBS shows.  I emphasized time at the park, we ran around in the basement, and we had lots of cuddle time to read books.  The kids cooked with me from a young age and I let them make messes with art supplies.  Most days were really exhausting, but I committed to limiting screen time because I knew in my gut it would pay off.  And honestly, I feel like we are already seeing the pay off.

In our house, we don't fight often about how much time the kids get playing Wii or PS4.  We don't often discuss what the kids would like to watch on tv.  There are no favorite shows because we just don't watch anything often enough.  Any behavior battles come from things seen at school or read about in books.  That seems to be much easier to combat.  Our kids are perfectly comfortable working a computer, chrome book, or iPad.  But they don't rely on these things to entertain them and that makes our house a happier place.  I got asked today how I get my kids to stay in their rooms until 7am on the weekends.  This was after I mentioned that they are in bed by 7:15pm most nights.  And honestly, I don't know why it works.  Perhaps because we started the rule from the time the kids were old enough to read their clocks.  Our kids need a lot of sleep, so we've always emphasized the importance of good rest.  I enjoy knowing that I'll get to stay in bed until 8 if we have nowhere to go.  I won't hear the tv blaring but I might hear a radio on after 7.  I might hear the kids playing together.  I might hear nothing because the kids have slept in or have chosen to stay in bed reading.  Or I might hear nothing because one or both kids are snuggled in with me to start the weekend off by relaxing.  That's just the way we've set things up.

Every house has to figure out what works best for them.  Once you figure out what works for you, try your best to be consistent.  Because, in the long run, that consistency is what your little one is craving.  Even when they resist, that resistance back from you is what they need.  Sure, some mornings I'm too tired to walk James back to his room so I let him come snuggled earlier, but then I usually get up later.  He knows that we value rest and he can count on us for snuggles when he needs to feel connected while resting.  Plus, I know he's growing up fast and these snuggle sessions will only last so much longer.  But I'll have shown him the importance of rest and hopefully, some day, that will help him to feel more peaceful.

For post 3 from my tough times blog, go here.

Friday, March 10, 2017

After School Routine

We all want to see our kids become independent.  We also want our kids to help around the house and we would like them to do it without complaining.  The best way for kids to learn a new skill is for them to do it.  So when we moved, I seized the opportunity to start a new after school routine.  I wanted it to be quick and to help with keeping the house in order.  I wanted to teach my kids that if they do a 5 minute chore each day, then there is no need for large scale clean up on the weekends.  Enter our "Am I Ready to Play? lists.

The most common question after the kids walk in the door and have a snack is "Can I go play?"  Instead of running through the list of things they need to do every day, I wrote the list out and put them up on the fridge.  Within these lists are the chores expected each day.  I divided up tasks somewhat based on abilities.  Since they're just printed off the computer, I can change them whenever I want.  But I've found much less complaining about helping around the house because it is just expected.  What was one of the worst parts of my day before we moved has become a time I look forward to.  Now I get to hear a little about the day and witness my children learning skills they will need as they grow older.

There is one caveat to all of this - the chores are not done the way I would do them.  In fact, we often find ourselves redoing the chores another day of the week because my children are 6 and 8.  This is a simple fact of them being young.  I only require them to redo a chore if I note a lack of effort.  Over time I have noticed that they are in fact getting better at each chore.  I figure after about 6 months we'll switch things up.  But for now, this is working really well.

The children arrive home just after 3pm and I find they are back out the door to play by 3:15/3:20, depending on how big of a snack the need to eat and whether there was any homework.  I am so glad we chose to do this!

And here's the link to the other blog I mentioned.  First post is up, going back to my first major battle 17 years ago.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Me Time" made me stressed out

We hear constant feedback as mothers about we should be sure to schedule "me time."  We're bombarded with how important it is to take time to do what we enjoy.  I feel for this idea, hook, line and sinker.  Settled into a new home and new community, with both kids in school full time, I thought I should have plenty of time each day to get my work done, keep the house running, do some small projects, exercise, and have time to read or just zone out each day.

Each day I would wake up, make the kids breakfast, put together their lunches, and get them out to the bus.  Then I sat down to my quiet time with God.  I have a few different journals to pray for my immediate family, a book I'm reading about praying more effectively, and I read a chapter from the Bible each day.  After about 45 minutes I'm ready to tackle the rest of the day.  I would check in on work email, delete personal emails (you know, the 9000 advertisements we get every day lest we actually need the discount once or twice a year), check our bank statement, then choose a job to work on.  This is where I started to fall into the mental block.  I only "need" to work about 3 hours each day to meet my self-imposed earnings for the month.  But with 2 jobs, I have been working closer to 5-6 hours each day.  I was losing all the time I thought I was entitled to.

And that's just the thing, what time am I entitled to?  Where did this notion come from?  We have amazing technology to help make so much of what we do more efficient.  But what are we doing with that extra time?  I have an addictive personality and I know it.  I have often tried to disguise this as putting my everything into anything I try.  And that is quite often the case.  But if I happen to open a computer game, this can be the end of the day for me.  Yet I can't quite bring myself to delete the games.

So this week I am trying a new mindset.  I am limiting my time on facebook, keeping the games closed, and making productive choices with my time.  Monday I went grocery shopping and didn't get all of my work done before the kids came home.  I was able to finish up before 8pm though so had an hour in the evening for myself.  I chose to talk some with Jon and read a book.  Much better than zoning out to a computer game.  Tuesday I switched the order of my jobs, completing the tasks that require the most focus first.  This proved to work well and although I didn't finish working until 30 minutes after the kids came home, they didn't even seem to notice.  They have become pretty self-sufficient with getting themselves a snack and unpacking their backpacks.  I chose to go for a 2 mile walk in between jobs since I can really only do this while the kids are at school.  I still had some work to do last night, but was done before the USWNT game was over.  This included a 45 minute conversation with my sister in the afternoon.

Speaking of that conversation, she convinced me to start writing again.  I have an alternate blog I am starting to put together where I'm going to write about all the tough moments I have been through since graduating from high school.  My hope is that some of the writing will help others facing seemingly insurmountable situations see how things will be okay in the end.  While the kids were at floor hockey I did some writing on my laptop.  I did some more writing before bed last night.

Today I did some writing while waiting for pages to load.  This probably made my work take longer, but I was having trouble making my brain stop.  I still managed to finish all my required work by noon and started in on the application process for my Utah and Alabama teaching certificates.  How is it that after over an hour I feel like I accomplished next to nothing?  Hopefully I will have more time in the next week to get everything sorted out before the fingerprint cards arrive.  I am hoping to have this all in the mail by spring break so I don't have to worry about it anymore.  The kids had an early release today, so I didn't end up with any extra time.  After they arrived home I spent some time cleaning in their toy room.  I put enough things away that they were able to finish before dinner.  I plan to really finish on Friday if I have some extra time.  But really, I only spent 15-20 minutes in there.  I sometimes need to just get over the mental block of tasks that seem so daunting.  If I just take the 15 minutes I have and use them productively, I can complete the seemingly endless list.  And reality is, you probably can to.  So what if the toy room didn't get finished today?  It is better than it was and I can continue in the right direction the next time I have a chance.

So for me, I am skipping the idea of "me time" because it just wrecks my day.  Instead, I'm focusing on productive time.  I will get my work done, enjoying the extra money to pay off our car super fast to open up our budget for fun vacations, upgrades to our home, and donations.  I'm going to enjoy my time I am so lucky to have with my family instead of stressing about how I don't have as much time as I would like.  We've set things up so our kids can have a relaxed childhood.  They get to come home every day and just play (after their 5-10 minute chores), and that's why I work from home.  We have been so amazingly blessed by God.  It's time to focus on the positive and how much we do have instead of how I wish things were.  I'm ready for the next adventure that God has for our family, as I'm sure it's a great one.