Monday, December 29, 2014

No Need for Resolutions

Every year, I do what millions of others do. I make a promise to myself in hopes of making the coming year better than the last, one way or another. Several times my New Year's resolution has related to my weight, being happier, eating healthier, having a more positive attitude, being a better teacher, enjoying every moment with my boys........the list goes on and on. This year, there will be no promises, no resolutions.

Over the past few months, I have realized how lucky I am, how imperfectly perfect my life is, how much I love who I am, who my kiddos have become, and how much I appreciate the relationships I have with the people in my life. I have zero reason to promise myself that it will be "better" next year. This does not mean that I have everything that I want or that our life is easy. It just means that I am content with where we are, who we are, and the progress we are making. At this point in life, Joe and I have high hopes for the future and goals we hope to reach, but none of which require me to change me. I can continue to be exactly who I am.

Having no resolution, nothing to change, is so liberating. I feel no need to pep myself up or tear myself down. There is no fear of letting myself or my family down. My only hope for this year is that I end it with the same feelings about resolutions-not needed.


Friday, November 28, 2014

No More News in This House

I made a decision today. There will be no more news in this house.

It is a well known statement that "everything you see on the news is sad, depressing, negative". Currently, more than ever before, this is true. I have spent my life with the core belief that people need to be informed, educated, current. I teach middle school history, where I focus heavily on the mistakes of the past and how current events connect to them. I do still believe in these things, wholeheartedly.

The reason for my family's boycott of the news, is not that I don't care about the atrocities that plague the earth, it is quite the contrary. I am saying "no" to news because I care too much. For every hour of news viewed, I spend three lying in bed being sad, wishing I had the power to stop it, worrying about what the horrible news of the day could mean for my family and loved ones. It has gotten to the point where I sleep very little and I worry too much.

The truth is, I get one chance to be happy, to love and teach my boys, to live a life I am proud of, and I refuse to let the things I can not change take those things away from me. I don't want to know anymore. I want to focus on my family, encouraging my students, and make memories with my friends. I want to live my life with as much peace and happiness as possible.

If something that could threaten the health, safety, or happiness of my family arises, I am sure I will hear about it through the grapevine. The one that consists of the people who love me and my family, the one that has our best interests at heart. With the time I have used to worry and be sad, I will be happy, peaceful, encouraging, positive, and hopeful. I can only hope that our decision will bring the same for our boys.

There is so much beauty in this world. I want to see it.

Peace and Beauty

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to be a Successful Parent of a Student

As teachers, we are constantly telling children how to be successful students; it's high-time that parents get their own list of ways to be successful parents of students. Here are six tips every teacher wishes their student's parents would use:

1. Communicate Professionally: When sending an email to a coworker, you make sure that what you say and how you say it is professional, appropriate, and respectful. Do the same when contacting your children's teacher. Remember, they are professionals, who deserve respectful interactions. Pointing fingers and blame, using language and tone that insinuates disrespect, and jumping to conclusions are not helpful, nor do they help to establish a positive partnership.

2. Communicate with your Child First: If you are confused about their progress, grades, homework, etc., start with the source. Ask your child before clicking the send button. Your child should know the answers to your questions, but if they don't, give them a chance to ask their teacher before you jump in. This helps them be responsible for their learning and teaches them communication and advocacy skills.

3. Let Them Struggle (Just a Bit): Many parents contact teachers at the very first sign of an issue. It's not a horrible idea to open the lines of communication and offer support early on, however, "saving" your child from the struggle is not always a benefit to them. Students who work for their grade, who have to put in a little extra effort, get far more out of earning the grade. I have seen the excitement and accomplishment in the eyes of my students, who (after months of hard work) have finally earned that "A", and it is a defining moment in their education. Let them have it.

4. Grades are NOT Everything: As times in education change, so does the purpose and meaning of letter grades. Earning an "A" used to mean you were a responsible, smart student who turned in their work on time, attended class daily, and participated. Now grades truly (or should) reflect what your child understands and can demonstrate according to the standards of the grade level and content of the class. Striving for a specific letter grade is not the point of education, instead we focus on progress. Gaining knowledge and being able to demonstrate that knowledge in a deeper, more thought-provoking way is the main goal and grades are made available to help teachers, students, and their parents see that progress. Long story, short....B's are not bad!

5. Support and Partner with Teachers: If your child is struggling, and you have given them time to work it out on their own, partner with the teacher in finding ways to help support your child and their learning. Ask what is being learned, ask specifically what your child is struggling with, ask what you could do at home to help support and reinforce what is being taught in the classroom. Remember to support your child, without undermining their teacher. If parents and teachers believe they are on opposing sides, the student's education is at risk. Working together and being on the same page, is what is best for all.

6. Give Teachers the Benefit of the Doubt: You love your child, you know they are smart, you want to help them be successful, but remember, they are children. They are not always honest, nor do they always know/remember the correct answers to your questions. If your child comes home from school with information that does not sit well with you, or you have questions and/or concerns, stay calm and contact the teacher using the same professional communication discussed in tip #1. Maybe your child was right and further action or discussion is warranted, but maybe their interpretation is not entirely accurate. The last thing, either the teacher or the parent wants to do is complicate a child's education by adding their own personal frustrations to the mix. Remember, trust but verify.

Parents and teachers want the same things for their children/students. We want to support them, teach them, prepare them for their future. If we have the same goals and end-game, doesn't it make sense that we should be on the same team, working together?
When I became the parent of a student




Sunday, September 14, 2014

Given' it a Go

For months, I have struggled with creating a healthier menu for our family. Since we have been so budget-conscious for the past three years, we have been living on foods that consist of the coupon-worthy/last until the end of time variety. Although I know we are trying to do the best we can with what we have, I think that there has got to be a way to do better! That is why Joe and I are giving a natural, non-processed, non-boxed meal plan a try. Due to our budget constraints, this will take some planning and preparation, but we are committed to giving it our best, beginning Oct.1st.

Our goal is not to be on a "diet", nor is it to put restrictions on our boys, it is to make sure that what we eat is the most simple, healthiest food available. Get back to the basics, as it were. We are a very active family, and we want our food to work with that lifestyle. We have always tried to instill a love of "real" food in our children. We have a garden, which we plant, water, harvest, and create meals from as a family. This has become a cherished part of our time together.

The gist of our game plan:
1. Cut out packaged foods
2. Focus on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats
3. Make and/or bake all our meals from the purest ingredients possible

Plantin' some corn
Based on our own family needs, there will be some exceptions to the rules:
1. Baking ingredients are fair game. I see them as essentials, and refuse to drop them from our diet.
2. If at a restaurant or are guests in someone's home, we eat what is offered. Our goal is not to be rude or impose our experiment on others, but if friends/family come our way, we will make the meal based on our new guidelines. GUESTS BEWARE!

I know this will not be easy, could be quite time-consuming, will probably be budget-strenuous, and could require a great deal of imagination, but I think it will be totally worth it!

Stay tuned for our weekly menus, the ups and downs of our foodie adventure, and how it all pans out (pun intended)!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Creating a Home We Love

My husband and I are always on the lookout for thrifty ways to make our home beautiful. When we were looking at our current home, we almost walked away from it, because it was so plain, whitish, and dingy, it made us think that it would need a lot of work to get it in tip top shape. I'm so glad we looked past our initial reactions, because after just a few short months of living in our new home, and minimal expenses, we have transformed it into the beautiful home we have always wanted.

We have big plans for actual renovations, updates, and personal touches, but for now, with the need for a budget-friendly fix, we are so happy with the changes we have made. When we moved it, our first order of business was to repaint the main living spaces to take care of the dingy feeling of a home that had not been lived in for over two years. This went a long way, but we had even bigger plans for a couple choice rooms.

First, we focused on our son's new bedroom. It was very hard for him to leave our first home. To help him get excited about the new house, we let him choose the colors/theme of his new bedroom, which we would have up and ready by the time we moved in. Little did we know, that he would choose two, lets say interesting, color choices. Red and golden (he also threw black in there, but that's where we drew the line). It took us weeks to figure out a way to give him what he wanted, while still making his room tasteful and doable for us. A friend made an awesome suggestion, and we went with it. We painted the top of the room white, the bottom red, and added a golden stripe between them. We all loved the outcome, especially our little man.
Before                                             After  
Next up was our spacious but blah loft. We have always planned for this area to be a playroom for our boys, but the whitish walls made the room seem boring and dirty. So, we found a kid friendly color pallet and chose two colors that would look well together. We painted the top two thirds of the room the lighter of the two, and the bottom third the darker. We then added a chair-rail to tie it all together. I LOVE this room! I have always wanted an older home with character, and I think that our remodel gives it just that. Character!
Before                                                After 
Last, was our half bath. Once again, the room was dirty and white. This time, we had to worry about it about the size of the room when considering colors. Since the bath is quite small, we wanted a light, neutral, yet interesting color. We chose a light blue/green. We also switched out the boring, plain mirror for one with lots of character. These two small fixes, have given the room a huge improvement.
Before                                             After
As I said earlier, we still have some BIG plans for the rest of the house, but these easy, inexpensive changes will help to tide us over until we are ready to make bigger updates. The fact that this will be our home for many years to come, makes each of the projects we complete, all that more satisfying and exciting. We can finally make our home, ours!

Happy Day

Pancake Picnic '13
It is extremely fitting that this post will be #200. Today, my boys and I had our second annual Pancake Picnic in our backyard. When comparing the pictures from our first P.P., I realized just how much our lives have changed. Obviously, we are all a year older.

Nolan has his own plate this time, he's using a fork, and sitting on his own. Where last year, he was pretty much an observer, who spent his time in my lap. Liam is the same silly, happy pancake muncher as he was last year, with one exception, he has grown into the greatest big brother Nolan could have ever asked for. I have changed too. I'm happier, healthier, and am feeling a sense of peace within our situation.

Pancake Picnic '14
Even the background of the pictures have changed. A year ago, we were living in our first home. This time around, we are enjoying a lovely meal in the shade of an Asian Pear tree that grows in the yard of our forever home. Life has changed so much in the past year. It's difficult to remember what life was like at the time that last year's picnic occurred.

 I love the changes that we have gone through, the progress we have made, the little men that my sons are becoming, and the love that is growing. Happy day!  

Silly boys!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Crockpot Korean Fusion Pulled Pork Tacos with Spicy Slaw

Our family has been working on a pretty tight budget for the past couple years. As part of our budget, I do the grocery shopping with special focus on coupons and sales. One item that tends to go on sale often and has coupons in the Sunday paper regularly, is the Campbell's Crockpot sauce. Since we are not fans of eating the same three dinners, over and over again, we try very hard to come up with creative recipes that will use the items we have already purchased (based on sales and coupons). 

This is one of my proudest recipes to date. It is healthy, delicious, inexpensive, easy, our whole family loves it (even the 4 year old and the 18 month old), it makes a ton of food, and it even better as leftovers, which is HUGE for me to say. I HATE leftovers! 

The delicious outcome
Ingredients:
Boneless Pork Shoulder
Korean BBQ Campbell's Crockpot Sauce
2 Cups Shredded Cabbage
1 Cup Red Onion
3/4 Cup Cilantro
Corn Tortillas

Sauce:
2 Tbls Soy Sauce
3 Tbls Vinegar
1 Tbls Sugar 
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Black Pepper

Optional (for spicy):
Diced Cyrano Pepper or Diced Jalapeno Pepper to taste

1. Put the Pork shoulder into a crockpot with the Korean BBQ sauce as directed on the package  (until the meat falls apart easily) 
2. Shred the pork.
3. Make the sauce, adding the pepper(s) if wanted.
4. Mix all remaining ingredients to make the slaw, then mix in the sauce.
5. Put the tacos together, adding as much of the slaw as you would like.
6. ENJOY!!

*My husband and I love spice, so we split the slaw into two batches and only add the peppers to one of them. That way we can have spice, and out boys can enjoy their meal without a burning tongue and watering eyes.

We hope you love this recipe as much as we do!!! Please, give it a try and leave a comment about how it turned out. I would love to hear about variations and/or issues that you come across.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Super Hero Party

My son is a huge super hero fan. He loves them all, but his favorites are Flash and Hulk. When it came time to choose a theme for his party, he couldn't decide between the two. So, he didn't! 

I love to be creative with parties. I find nothing but pleasure in planning and throwing them. I try to be creative with theme, decorations, party favors, food, etc. Once again, I scoured my brain for ways to make sure that this Super Hero party wouldn't be a generic, cookie cutter version. My first assignment, was the food. There is an amazing bakery, here in Sherwood, that creates beautiful, yummy treats. We used them a few years back for another one of Liam's birthday parties. We asked them to create Hulk hands and Flash lightening cookies. They turned out awesome, and were a huge hit!

The next order of business was themed (yet, not canned) decorations. I went simplistic this time around. Putting out colored table clothes, napkins, plates, and silverware and pairing them with a few of Liam's toys. I put together a themed table for each of the heroes, and moved on to more important things......party favors!


I have to say, that this is one of my proudest party ideas. I'm a reading teacher. My boys love books. Normal party favors tend to be cheap toys, candy, and nick knacks that are thrown away. I wanted to make Liam's party favors useful, memorable, and worth taking home. So I went with books!

I searched local book stores, Facebook buy/sell pages, and garage sales, for new/like new children's books. I was able to come up with quite a stash for less money than the normal goodie bags would require. I displayed the book options in a decorative basket, near the front door, so as not to forget them. This also allowed the children, to flip through and choose the book that they wanted, while heading out.

To personalize the gift for Liam and his guests, I typed up and printed a little note on address labels and stuck them on the front cover of each book. Once again, our guests loved the idea! I have received more compliments on this idea, than any other. I'm so happy that everyone liked it, and I love that it promotes reading!



The last hurtle to get the party started, was an activity for the kiddos. I hate party games. Especially, for infant/toddler parties. Kids just want to play. Party games are complicated, can be difficult to organize, and they require that someone who is throwing the party, be taken away from their guests to facilitate. I'm just not a fan. In past parties, I set up a cookie decorating station, homemade playdough, Mr. Potato Head felt game, and created a punch for the prize game, You can check out these ideas at Teddy Bear Picnic Birthday Party and To Infinity and Beyond!

This time, I created bookmarks that went along with the Hulk/Flash theme. I printed them in black and white, and put markers and crayons on the same table. This way, each kiddo would leave the party with a book and bookmark that they colored, and would have a fun, calm activity to do, while at the party.

This was a super easy and simple way to throw a birthday party, and I got nothing but compliments for how it turned out. I learned that parties don't need to be fancy, expensive, and super-structured to be a hit. They just need to be well thought out and creative!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

We're Broke

I've been considering writing this post for some time now, but always decide against it for various reasons. I have gotten to the point where, I just can't wait any longer. Our friends and family need to know why they hear "No." so often.

The Brooks family is broke. Sort of. We are not broke in the sense that we don't have money that could be dispensable, we do. We are broke in the sense, that it is gone, used, has a purpose. My husband and I, chose to go down the debt-free future path, about two years ago. We have worked hard, and paid off a lot of debt. But selling our house, renting, then purchasing our forever home, put our debt-pay-off-plan on hold for about 9 months. We are finally getting back to it, and have set a pretty lofty goal for ourselves. We want to pay off one of our student loans by this time next year. It is doable, if we stick to our budget......if we say, "No."

Smart Advice from Mr. Dave Ramsey
I hate to disappoint people, especially the people I care about. So when we are asked to go out to dinner, go to a movie, take a trip etc., it's very hard to always say the same two letters: N. O. It's also hard to feel as though we are skimping on things. When we give gifts, they are small, simple, basic. When Christmas or birthdays are approaching, it takes months of planning ahead, and a great deal of budgeting to get the job done. Although it seems counter-intuitive, this a major reason for putting our family on a budget. We want to send our parents on that trip they have been dreaming about. We want to pick a gift, based on the interests of the person, not the price tag. We want to be able to be the generous, thoughtful people, that we wish we could afford to be. We want to travel as a family. We want a future free of the stress associated with debt.

We don't want our friends and family to stop including us (or trying to), we don't want to be thought of as "cheap" or "stingy". It's quite the opposite. We want to give ourselves the opportunity to be the "yes" people in the future. With debt hanging over our heads, we would never truly feel comfortable with larger purchases, family/friend vacations, dinners out without reading every price on the menu, or shopping for ourselves without feeling guilty. Becoming debt-free will help us do all of these things and more, while still being responsible and thoughtful about our money.

Joe and I, own our choice. We stand by it. It doesn't bother us to miss out on these situations for the time being, because the goal is that we will be able to enjoy them in the future. We want to instill smart finances, and financial responsibility in our boys.

I don't feel sorry for us. I'm proud of our choices. My goal is for the people around us to understand WHY we say, "No.", WHY this is important to us, WHY we make the choices we make.

Our Debt-Free Future Inspiration


Monday, June 9, 2014

Judge and Jury

We have all been there. You're at a party, playdate, the park, a grocery store, and your little one throws a tantrum, is "the bossy one", takes things from others, says something inappropriate, etc. You chose the scenario, but we've all been there. It's hard enough, that our job as parents is to be able to decipher this behavior, pull out the mommy/daddy trick that will defuse the situation, and do it all without breaking a sweat. Now, add on the pressure of doing this in front of dozens of judging eyes. We have all felt it.

I had a conversation with an older mommy, over the weekend, when she made the statement that, "she could just start interacting with other moms (now that her children are grown, and have their own babies), because the competitiveness is finally gone." Sad. Our best resource, as parents, are other parents, yet we feel so judged that we sever these ties. Later in the weekend, I was able to have a very insightful conversation with a long-time friend and mama, where we discussed the pressure associated with the prying eyes of other parents.

Being a parent shouldn't be about doing it "best", it shouldn't be about having the "perfect" kiddos, it should be about doing the best we can to raise happy, mindful, caring human beings. But, for many of us, we worry too much about what others think about how we deal with sticky situations. Having the experiences of this past weekend, have put me in a very thoughtful mode. In reflecting on my sons' behavior, my responses to it, my concerns about how others see me, comments that have been thrown my way, etc., I have devised some advise for myself. Reminders, if you will. Things to keep in mind, when I find myself being judged........or.......judging.

1. We've all been there!: We all want to pretend that we haven't, but we have all felt the heat, head-rush, panic, and embarrassment, of tough parenting situations. We have all been blindsided by unexpected behavior. We have all given ourselves the, "In _________ situation, I will do _________......" pep talk. So, get over it. Stop blaming the parent.

2. The judgment you feel is in your head: We all let our minds run wild with, "I bet she thinks I am a horrible parent!", "No one is going to let my son/daughter play with their kids.", "I'm sure, they are running home to complain about how I handled that situation." In many of these situations, what we believe is being thought/said behind closed doors, is probably far worse than reality. Stop worrying about what others think. Do what's best for you and your kids.

3. The judgement you feel is real: We all do it. We see a tantrum, or a grabby kid, and we think "Why isn't she/he doing this?" It's normal. Really, it's an important part of our development as parents. "Judging" a parenting situation, where you are a bystander with a front row seat, but none of the embarrassment, is the perfect time to re-evaluate your possible responses. Unfortunately, most parents don't use this opportunity to hone their own skills, they use it to belittle the parent who is "screwing it up". Judge the situation, not the parent.

4. We all do what is best for our kids, and us: If I have learned anything, since having two children, it's that there is no manual for being an effective parent. There is no "perfect" game plan. What works for one sibling, doesn't work for the other. So why would we ever think, that what works for one of OUR kids, would work for someone else and theirs??

5. Don't offer advise, unless asked: For the same reason, as #4, offering unsolicited parenting advise is a load of crap. It is a mommy or daddy's way of feeling as though they know what they are doing. Don't do it. It's not helpful. I will be honest. When someone tries to give me unsolicited advise, I instantly recount every one of their parenting "mistakes". If I'm asked, awesome, advice away! Otherwise, parents will see it as pure judgement and will tune you out anyway.

6. Train wrecks are normal: Before becoming a parent, I always thought....."My kids won't act that way!", "I wouldn't let my son/daughter get away with that.", "What are those parents doing?!" In reality, these situations are normal, unavoidable (to a certain extent). Kids learn what appropriate behavior is through parental modeling, shared interactions, and yes, misbehavior. Tantrums are a way for kids to process their feelings, before they have learned how to process them appropriately. The fact that these situations exist, is not a testament to the horrible standards/teachings of the parent, but to the normal development of a child. It is our job as parents to teach the coping, social, emotional skills needed for our babies to grow into productive, reasonable, caring adults, but it is a process, it takes time, it takes trial and error.

7. Making mistakes is part of the process: We have all reflected on a parenting faux pas and thought, "I should have handled it this way, or that way." Good! Try it next time. Stop beating yourself up, for not doing it last time. If you keep trying, eventually, you will find the response that works for you and your child. As I tell my students, the only true mistake, is not learning from them, when they occur.

I will try my hardest to be a reflecting, not judging, parent. To be a comrade, not a teacher. To be here for my friends, without feeling the need to "fix" or "change". I will take pride in my parenting philosophy, not shame in my mistakes. I will not judge others or myself, only support and encourage.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Things to be Learned at Outdoor School

The district that I teach in, is lucky enough to still have an outdoor school program. Even in a time of budget cuts, and lost programs, our district has seen the value of this wonderful program, and has made it a priority to continue offering this life-changing experience to our sixth grade students. Due to becoming a mommy (twice), and having young ones at home, I have not been able to go to outdoor school with my students, since my very first year teaching, until this week. I was not lucky enough to grow up in a school that offered outdoor school, and had my first experience with it, as an adult volunteer when my sisters participated. I saw the value then, but I see it even more now.

This past week has been filled with memories and learning that could have never occurred within the walls of even, the most amazing of schools. The life-lessons, hands on and first hand learning, the relationships forged, and independence gained, throughout the four days we spend at Camp Magruder, were so amazing! I wish that there was a way to show, each and every parent, teacher, and student, what this program does for our kids, but unfortunately, my words and experience will have to do.

There were many, many aspects of camp that helped to shape the minds of those who attended. Here are just a few:

Earth Field Study: Oregon Coast
Curriculum: The field studies offered at outdoor school follow the national 6th grade science standards to a "T". All week, I heard students saying, "Oh, we already learned about this!", or "Oh, that's what Ms. Science Teacher taught us!" The awesome thing about this is that, the students were able to see what they had already learned, in a real-life setting. They were able to expand on their previous knowledge in a hands-on way. It made their past learning "real", "purposeful", "useful".


Relationships: Our school went to a camp which also housed a school from a district quite different from ours (in distance and experiences). It was life-altering for many of our students to meet, and become friends with others who are not like them in every way, who come from a different way of life, and who have other interests. Their relationships with their peers also changed. Many students who haven't said more than two words to each other all year, were now room mates and friends. Finally, their relationships with their teachers.
Animal Field Study: In the Woods

Our students got to see us in a different light. At camp, teachers are fun, silly, and have all the time in the world. I try to be/do these things in my classroom to, but with standards, testing, several classes, grading, questions, etc., some of those things happen on a limited basis. I was able to have several, good, happy, relaxed, conversations with my students. Not about Social Studies, or how they can get a better grade, but about their interests, their favorite part of the day, their hopes for the future, etc. Those relationships and the bonds strengthened through this experience is, in and of itself, worth every penny!

Beautiful Lake in Camp
Independence: Every year, I am shocked by the number of students and parents that tell me that they have never been apart over night before outdoor school. Every year, these same parents and students worry about the time and space that will come between them, while participating in ODS. Every year, I remind both parties, that this time away is good for everyone. Kids need to learn some independence. They need to build strong, trusting relationships with their peers. Parents need to see the pride and success that their children feel when they come home with millions of stories to tell. Independence is a trait that everyone needs to learn at some point, why not when enjoying nature, friends, and gaining education?!

Sustainability: Outdoor school isn't just about trees, life cycles, bugs, and science. It also has a wonderful component that we could all use refreshers on from time to time. At every meal, students learned about ways to save energy, live in a sustainable way, help the environment, and how these tips can affect the world around them. They discussed/taught by example the benefits of buying local food, composting, growing your own food, and overall environmental awareness. I think of myself as someone who cares deeply about the world I live in, and I do my best to make my footprint a small one, but I learned so much from being surrounded by while at camp. It reminded me of the things I already know, but have "forgotten" and the easy changes I can make to help my local area: environmentally, socially, and financially.

Please, support and push for outdoor school programs in your school districts! These programs teach our students invaluable life lessons they just can't get anywhere else!

Forest Field Study: The View from the Hike

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In Our Corner

Buying and/or selling a home is a very scary, very emotional process. I have learned how important it is to have someone who knows this process, inside and out, in your corner. We found that in our real estate broker, Marie Boatsman. She is absolutely A-MAZ-ING! Over the past 5ish years, she has helped us buy two homes and sell one. Each time, with patience, kindness, insights, and years of experience that were invaluable to us. We met Marie, when a friend recommended her, and have never thought to go with anyone else since. We would never enter into a real estate transaction without her help and guidance. With each of our situations, she went above and beyond in helping us end up with everything we were hoping for, and more.

When we bought our first home, we were looking for a fixer-upper so that we could buy in our prime location. When she took us to look at our first home, we were nervous. We liked everything about it: the size, neighborhood, overall location, layout, yard. You name it, we we were in love. But it seemed out of our reach. How could we afford something so perfect? She worked her magic, and within a few days, our offer was accepted. We not only got the best home available, but we were safely within our budget.

Five years, and two babies later, we decided that we were out-growing our beautiful first home. We turned to Marie for help, and she went above and beyond helping us to get our home in tip top shape. The house was on the market for less than three weeks when we received an offer, which we countered with a full price offer, and the buyers accepted it! It was extremely difficult to leave our first home, but Marie helped us feel comfortable and made sure we were knowledgeable about all of the steps of the process.

Fast forward a few months, and we were ready to being the search for our forever home. We, once again, turned to Marie. Not only did she help us find our dream home, in a not so great buyer's market, but she helped us to navigate a new home-buying obstacle......the short sale. We put an offer on our home, expecting it to take months to hear back. Within three weeks we had heard from the bank, and they had accepted our offer! Then came the next hurdle, the inspection. Because the house had been a rental for years, then sat empty for a bit, the house needed some maintenance. We were told by everyone (including the house's real estate agent) that banks don't help with these costs. Marie submitted a new offer based on the things that needed to be done, and a couple of days later we heard the amazing news. They had once again, accepted!

Marie made all of these deals happen. She used her expertise to help us to get everything that we wanted out of each and every transaction. Every one of these situations had the potential to be an uphill battle, with tears and disappointment at the end, but Marie is a miracle worker, and refused to let that happen. We couldn't be happier to have her in our real estate corner, and we are so so so happy to call her a dear friend.

If you are in the market for someone to help you find or sell a home, contacting Marie is the first step in reaching your real estate goals!
Here is a link to her Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/mbrealestatebroker

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Big 3-0

I have spent my whole life ignoring this specific number, this specific birthday, this specific realization. When I was young, I never thought of thirty as "old", but I have always thought of it as mature-the end of the childhood/young adult phase of life. It always seemed so far away. A distant future, that I didn't need to think about just yet. Then it happened, time went by-elementary school, middle school, high school, college, grad school, the first 5 years of teaching, a wedding, and two births-and here I am.......thirty.

Why does the jump from twenty nine to thirty seems so big? Why have I always thought of my true grown up life beginning at this exact day? I have no answers, I have no reasons; but it's true. Did I really change over night? Of course not. Did I go to sleep youthful, energetic, and happy, but wake up wrinkled, tired, and frail. Nope. Yet I still feel it. A change.

Thirty is just a number, it is just one day of my life. Nothing more, nothing less. But it does seem to hold a great deal of power over many of us. I still believe that thirty isn't old, but mature. It's no longer in the distant future, it is now in my past. The day has come and gone, and the only thing that has changed is my answer to the question, "How old are you?"

I would have to say, that the hardest part, is that it seems as though yet another chapter of my life is behind me. Yes, there are many more ahead, but this one was great. One that I wish I could revisit from time to time. Not just in memories and in pictures, but really visit. I do embrace the future. There are many wonderful memories to be made, new chapters to write, pictures to be taken. But no matter where my future takes me, it can't change how thankful I am for my past.

Thirty years is a long time to learn, grow, and shape yourself. Every one of the days I have lived has made me who I am, and every day from now on, will shape the future me. So, although I'm working on truly embracing this new era of my life, I am owning my uneasy feelings. I am embracing my day to day. I will enjoy it. I will love life. I will be thankful. Everyday.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Buying a Short Sale

When we began looking for our new home, we had no intentions of focusing on a short sale or foreclosure, but it didn't take long to realize how great of an idea it would be. We had the perfect situation. We were renting a comfortable, nice home in a great neighborhood, we had the down payment saved, and we felt no rush to find a home or move. We were ready to find the perfect house, even if it meant waiting months to hear whether or not we got it. We also realized that the homes we were most excited about, just happened to be short sales. We found quite a few right off the bat, that we wanted to give a shot. The first house we made an offer on-we were out-bid. But were given "second place" position-meaning, if the first buyer's offer fell through, we would be next in line.

The second was a beautiful home, in the perfect neighborhood, but was a rental for years, so it didn't have the best up-keep, and needed lots of updating. We decided to put an offer in on that one as well. Our plan was to keep looking at any other homes that we liked, while waiting for either of the short sales to come back. We thought that news from the bank (one way or another), would end up being our timeline for finding something else. We thought we would have tons of time! Short sales usually take months. We had three weeks. The bank accepted our offer on the second home almost immediately (for a short sale), which floored us, our Realtor, and the seller's Realtor. No one expected that.

When we found out, we panicked a bit. We had just seen another home-not a short sale-earlier that night, and were trying to decide between the two. Luckily, the offer came on a Friday, so we were able to give ourselves a couple of days to figure it out. We decided, too quickly, to put an offer in on the new house. The second we signed the paperwork, I panicked. I knew instantly, that I didn't want the offer to go through. After letting Joe know how I was feeling, we quickly contacted our wonderful, patient Realtor, and rescinded our offer. I felt horrible, but I knew that it wasn't the house for our family. I'm so glad that I spoke up!

We thought long and hard that weekend. We came out knowing that the short sale home was the one for us. We waited for the inspection, which came back with a few issues, but we had a plan. We asked for the bank to lower our price based on the repairs needed. Once again, we were told that dealing with a bank might be difficult, and the seller's Realtor was sure that they wouldn't accept our new offer. Three days later, we got news that the bank had accepted it. Yay! Once again, we waited for the appraisal to come back. Today it did. Once again, great news!

It has been six months since we moved into our rental, and here we are packing again. Short Sales are nothing to be afraid of. Although I know that our situation is not at all the norm, it is possible. Short Sales can offer buyers a wonderful home, for an even better value. This time, the move will be far less emotional, more exciting, and we can't wait to make our new house, our home!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rental Life

We have been living in a rental home for almost 6 months now. It has gone by quite fast and has been a relatively easy adjustment to make. Although it has been easier than we expected, there have been some rough parts, some of which we didn't plan to be an issue. When we moved, we thought it would be nice to live in a home where upkeep was not our responsibly, where we could call the landlord anytime we had an issue. Well, that hasn't been as easy as we thought. Having a landlord to call when something goes wrong, means that you have to deal with a landlord. Ours has not been so wonderful.

When we moved in, we realized AT THE WALK-THROUGH (apparently, no one had any idea before that), that the fireplace and the stove didn't work. We could care less about the fireplace, but a stove is a bit of a necessity. When the issue was "realized", the landlord told us that it would be fixed before we were to move in a week later. Needless to say, that didn't happen. In fact, a week after we moved in, it was still being figured out.

Who figured it out? Oh, not the landlord. We did. We talked to HomeDepot, we had to be here for the handyman who took the old stove out, for the men who were to install, then the electrician, then the when the men came back to install it for a second time. All of which HAD to happen during a the normal work day, of course. Then there was the hot tub. When we moved in, we were told we had a choice: use the hot tub and be responsible for maintaining it, or they would pay to have someone come to clean and weather it. We chose the latter. It took almost a month for someone to take care of it, with the water sitting in it, running periodically.

All of these issues were made enough, but then came the realization of going from a house that is our own, into a house that is not. Our boys' bedrooms are plain, boring, and covered in scribbles and stickers from the previous owner, there are boxes of the owner's junk in the garage, that was left for us to find, pack, and store, but the worst part has been the drive. We only live one town from our previous home. It adds about 15 minutes to Joe's drive in the morning (because he leaves so early), but about 20-25 minutes more to both of my commutes and Joe's evening drive. This has been quite an adjustment both for our evening family time, and our wallets. It costs us about another $100 a month in gas to live where we are-a fee we didn't plan on.

Now that we are in the process of purchasing our forever home and we can see an end in sight, we can see our time in the rental for what it has been, a time to look for our real home, time to save a bit of money, and time to figure out what we are not willing to give up. Location, size, yard, and neighborhood. I'm sure that there will be time where we have fond memories of this house and our time here, but I'm not holding my breathe for that day.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Teddy Bear Picnic Birthday Party

Since my baby boy was a wee squiggle, swimming in my tummy he has had two nicknames- Gummy Bear (given to him by his Auntie Alyssa, because she said that he looked like one in the ultrasound photo), and Teddy Bear (his middle name is Theodore, after my husband's grandfather). So it was only natural that his first birthday go along with these nicknames. In searching for Teddy Bear themed party ideas, I quickly realized that everything was for baby showers, and NOT birthday parties. Well, I wouldn't let that detour me! I had done a home-made birthday party before-my oldest son's 2nd birthday was Toy Story themed, and I made everything from: activities, decorations, signs, cupcakes, snacks, games, art projects, etc. I could do it again..........so I did.

I scoured Pinterest for ideas, then I was on the prowl for anything and everything that just might work. I don't know if I'm extremely lucky, or if planning ahead, looking in several places, and being open to changes is the answer, but it all fell into place perfectly. I love the Teddy Bear Picnic song, and we have a plethora of the stuffed scoundrels lying about our home, so once again.....I went with it.

Here is how it turned out, where I purchased the supplies, how I made the projects, and other miscellaneous things you might want to know, when planning a similar birthday extravaganza:

 Don't Forget Your Disguise!
A line in the song refers to all the Teddy Bears wearing a disguise to their big party, so our guests got to wear them too. Bear-ear hats were waiting right inside the door, with a sign reminding them to take one. They were easy to make, only required a sharpie and brown paper, and the kiddos LOVED them. They wore them all day, and many took extras home.


Teddy Bear Picnic Table
This is the "picnic" table where the goodie bags, and yummy treats were housed. Gummy Bears, sandwiches, Teddy Grahams, Trail Mix, cupcakes, and adorable bear cups to store the tasty treats, were laid out for snacking.



Teddy Bear Picnic Framed Lyrics
Also, a Dollar Store picture frame displayed a verse of the Teddy Bear picnic song. These were placed throughout the house for people to read. I tried to match the verse with the activity that would take place in that area. Now, these verses are hanging in my Teddy Bear's bedroom. What a great keepsake!

Picnic Party Favor
Each child that attended the party went home with a Teddy Bear plate, set of silverware, and a Teddy Bear storage container filled with gummy bears or teddy grahams (depending on their age). I was told by several parents that they loved this idea, because their kids were getting something they would actually use. The kids were begging to eat dinner with their new plates/silverware, so I'm guessing that they liked the idea too.

Cookie Decorating Station
This was one of the best ideas! The kids absolutely loved decorating their own teddy bear cookie. It was nice for me, because that was one less thing I had to prepare before the party, and it was nice for the parents/kids because the kids were entertained. It was extremely easy to set up, required little time, and was very inexpensive.

1st Birthday Picture Collage
I made one of these for my older son's second birthday, and it is still hanging in his bedroom almost two years later. It was a mommy-favorite, and more than anything, I wanted to do it again for my little Teddy Bear. Cut out the number needed from a cardboard box, glue/tape pictures to cover the cardboard, then hang! It's so fun to see the changes in your baby when sorting through the pictures, and it's fun to reminisce with party guests when they take a peek.
 Easy Teddy Bear Cupcakes
This is the easiest decoration idea yet! Bake cupcakes, frost, stick a teddy graham on top. Done. Quick, easy, inexpensive, and everyone loves a cupcake with a little something on top.

Teddy Bear Ice Cream
No picture of this sweet treat. Sorry! But it is also a wonderful way to make good use of that cookie cutter. We thawed, then refroze ice cream into a foil pan. Then when it was time for ice cream, we pulled out our trusty cookie cutter, and used it to "scoop" the ice cream. There was a little trial and error (1.take the ice cream out and let it sit for a bit before trying to cookie-cutter it. 2. Warming the cookie cutter under hot water first really helps), but it was so so cute, and the kiddos were so excited to get a teddy bear-shaped ice cream.

 Teddy Bear Sandwiches
These were awesome! Everyone loved them, and they were so easy to make. Since bears like fish, we made tuna sandwiches, then used the same cookie cutter (we were getting as much use of the thing as we could) to cut out adorable little teddy bears. I'm still in love with this idea, and I think I will try to do it again for future parties of various themes.
Teddy Bear Smash Cake
Everyone one year old needs his or her own cake on their birthday. We enlisted the help of the boys' Meema in making a teddy bear cake, just his size. It was perfect for our little guy, and it was oh so sweet!

In the end, I'm so glad that I couldn't find any generic red and blue checkered plates with teddy bears on them. I enjoyed making this party unique and special, and I enjoyed seeing how much everyone who attended enjoyed the little touches. More than anything, I love that I can show my little Teddy Bear pictures of this wonderful day, and tell him that his mommy did this all for him!

Nolan's 1st Birthday Party: One Year and Ten Days in the Making

Big Brother!
Every mommy dreams about, and dreads their child's first birthday. Party planning tends to be one way to bury the sadness that your baby is growing up. Nolan's first birthday came with an extra side of sorrow, when I realized that it fell on a conference day (meaning I would be working through the evening hours). Knowing that this is probably our last, first birthday party and that his actual birthday would be one I would spend away from him, I went full force into making his party a special day for both my boys, as well as Joe and I.

Cookie Decorating Table
I spent over a month planning for Nolan's big day. We came up with the perfect theme, and created several crafty projects to make the day fantastic. We were all looking forward to it......then life happened. Three days before Nolan's party, Liam got a fever. We had planned to go out on a family field trip the Friday before the party, since we wouldn't be able to celebrate on the big day. Because of Liam's fever, we stayed home. We kept hoping he would get better in time, but when Saturday rolled around and he was still feeling crummy, we decided to cancel. It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make so far.

Gifts!
Every one of Liam's birthdays have been awesome. Joe and I have taken the day off every year to do something fun, and his parties have always gone off without a hitch. Now, poor Nolan. Mommy works 10 hours on your birthday (the first one!), then we cancel our family outing, now the actual party! It made me feel horrible!

Snacks!
Joe was fantastic in helping me see that we could salvage the situation. We quickly came up with a plan to reschedule for the next weekend (in between two other birthday parties). We were so lucky that everyone was able to come, even with the very short notice. Then life hit again. One week, to the day, of Liam's fever beginning, Nolan started acting uncomfortable. We were going to have this party, even if it meant that I would give flu shots, antibiotics, and vitamin C as party favors, so we rushed him to the pediatrician to try to get him healthy ASAP.
Nolan's cake
We were relieved (as relieved as you can be to hear that your child is sick), to find out that he had an ear infection and would be given antibiotics to help kick it in the rear. At least he wasn't contagious and we could treat it! By the time his party rolled around, his ear infection was better, but the antibiotics were making him quite sleepy/spacey. We had his party and it was awesome, even if he looked like a zombie the whole time.


Thank you to everyone who joined us in celebrating our Teddy Bear's first birthday! It meant a lot to us that you changed your plans, just for him. We have such amazing people in our lives!


Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Red-Eyed Return

Back before Liam was born, there were two years when a mysterious and persistent rash occurred around my eyes. Both years, the redness began right around the holidays: the first, the week before Thanksgiving; the second, on Christmas Eve. The rash began the same way, a pin-prick sensation all over my eyelids-top and bottom. The intensity of the pin-pricks quickly went from an annoyance, to a burning sensation. It felt as though the skin around eyes was sunburned and chapped. They were dry, peely, and sometimes swollen.

My dermatologist, primary doctor, several specialists, an ophthalmologist, and my Thyroid doctor, all tried to figure out what could be causing this occurrence, as well as a treatment which would cure, or at least, help treat it. I went through countless topical ointments, natural lotions/creams, allergy tests, and even a biopsy, with no sign of relief or answers. After 6 months (the first time), the rash went away on it's own. We may have done something that helped, but no one knew what. The only thing that seemed to help, was to be on prednisone, a strong steroid, with many side-effects. Even several rounds of this only eventually worked(?).

The next year, when it happened again, we were ready with the steroids, but still had no answers. The second time around, it only lasted for three months. Only three months!?! Only three months of looking and feeling horrible. Only three months of even more stares than just being bald warrants. Three months of sick days, missed family functions, and hiding out in our apartment. I'm used to looking "different", I'm used to the stares, but the pain of the cold, the wind, the light, were so horrible that all I wanted to do was hide out.

The next year, I was pregnant during the holiday season, and like my other auto-immune "issues", pregnancy seemed to hold off the red mask. I flinched at every tingle or dry patch the next year, but nothing came. Same for the next. Then another pregnancy. I was just starting to feel comfortable. Big mistake! I was just starting to think that something might actually have gone away on it's own. That maybe, just maybe, alopecia, eczema, allergies, and a wonky thyroid might be enough for one person to handle.

I was wrong. Over the weekend, I felt the familiar tingle. I tried to head it off with benadryl, lots of eye-approved, all-natural lotion, and extra care to not touch my eyes. It didn't work, and every day since, it has gotten worse and worse. Yesterday, was horrendous! My first day back with my students, and my eyes were sore, red, dry, heavy, and swollen. Just walking to the door of the school was a painful errand, with the cold and the wind stinging with every step.

Since Nolan is still nursing, even the ointments and steroids that helped in the past, are not an option. So, I continued to be proactive. I have put lotion on my eyes every hour or so. I take benadryl at night before I go to bed (since that's when my eyes tend to swell), and again when I wake up (to correct the swelling that has still occurred), and I am washing my hands constantly. Today, I am much better. Still red, a little sore, and the tiniest bit swollen, but I feel as though I have just a tad of control over the situation.

Although I am quite aware that I have no real control, and body will do what it does, I at least feel as though I am making progress. Hopefully, being persistent will have it's payoffs.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Limbo

Selling our house was the best choice for our family, both financially and for our future comfort. Renting hasn't been as difficult as we thought. We really like our rental home, the neighborhood is awesome, and the space has been wonderful. The difficulty with the situation lies with this feeling of being in Limbo.

Before deciding to selling our home, our family had spent almost a year being 100% focused on reducing debt, budgeting, living on less, and preparing for our future. We did a very good job at it too. When we sold our home, things got busy, jumbled, lost in the shuffle. We have done a very good job sticking to our monthly budget, even through all the craziness. However, all of our extra money is no longer going towards debt, it's sitting in our bank account waiting to be our down payment.

I never, ever, thought I would say this, but I miss putting every extra penny towards our debt. It felt so amazing to know that with every month, we were one step closer to our financial goals. It was also wonderful to see the changes in our family while working toward these goals. My husband and I became closer, we are now a true partnership, and since money/things were no longer the focus, our kids benefited from more time/effort/attention. It was awesome!

We have still carried these priorities with us into the rental, but since our focus is different, it feels different. We are ready to get back on track, but to do that we need to find our home. This is a bit of a chore in that, we don't want to rush our decision, the buyers market is quite slim, and we are still very unsure of the area we want to live in.

Wish we could focus on both
We have considered staying in our rental for a year or two, to help pay down debt, really take our time finding our forever home, and figure out what we really want, but we have quite a few big issues with this option as well. The commute is horrible for Joe, our rental costs as much as our previous mortgage (especially with the added commute for both of us), and most of all, we want to be settled for our boys. Liam starts kindergarten in a year and a half, and we want to be where we are going to be by then. Also, moving has been hard on Liam. He still says that he misses our old house, he asks to paint/decorate is current bedroom, and he misses Sherwood.

We don't know where we will end up, or where we want to end up, but one thing is for sure...it's not Limbo!