Stop Comparing and Reclaim Joy!

I’m a little late writing a post this week, but it is for a good reason.  I had the pleasure of celebrating my eldest’s 8th birthday and throwing her a wild animal party with her friends this week.  Note to Self: Hosting a birthday party with 20 kids will physically and emotionally drain you as a six-month pregnant woman.  Whew.  Survival was only made possible due to my better half being there to help every step of the way.  Hooray for helpful husbands!

Each time one of my children turns a year older, I reflect on life as it was around their birth.  Birthdays have a tendency of making us reflective that way.  Particularly when it comes to children, we think about growth and development.  I saw this quote by author and artist, Doe Zantamata, that seemed fitting to share this week, in which our family celebrated my beautiful daughter’s birthday.  Zantamata wrote on her blog The HIYLife, “If your parents ever measured you as a child, they had you stand against a wall, and made a little pencil mark on the wall to show your growth.  They did not measure you against your brother, or the neighbor’s kids, or kids on TV.  When you measure your growth, make sure to only measure your today self by your past self.”  I needed this reminder as much for myself as for the healthy raising of my children.

Just this week, as I was attempting to make my daughter’s party cupcake tops look like zebra stripes using chocolate sprinkles on top of white frosting, I stood there comparing myself to others.  To be precise, I said out loud to my husband, “If my Mom could see how poorly I was doing this, she would be rolling over in her grave.”  My husband, in his kindness said, “If your Mom was here she would be playing with the kids or dipping these strawberries in chocolate and would not be fussing over your cupcakes.”  I smiled at the idea of my Mom actually being there and how she would be too busy helping to critique.  Don’t get me wrong, my Mom had her thoughts on such matters, but she was never one to compare.  Of course, my self-bashing still continued as each cupcake seemed to get worst and worst.  I began mumbling negative thoughts under my breath and starting to plot my submission to the Pinterest Fails, as surely another woman out there had done this better than me.  They really looked nothing like zebra stripes.  The chocolate sprinkles were just too big to pull off the idea I had in mind.  My husband suggested that I just skip the striped plan and make them black and white.  Done.  They actually looked much better after his suggestion.  But the thought occurred to me, would I have been so hard on myself had I not thought of what my Mom was capable of in the kitchen or the myriad of amazing results I’ve seen on Pinterest?  The cupcakes somehow became more acceptable when I just looked at them as my personal offering to the party guests versus the end product of all marvelous things created by others in the kitchen.  It was amazing how much better I felt once I let go of my urge to compare myself to others.

Unfortunately, that’s what the natural part of me does.  It’s the same with this blog.  As I’ve mentioned before, I struggled to start such a blog based on the mere fact that others out there write better than me.  My logic told me, “what’s the point in writing at all, if others can do it so exceptionally well?”.  Even worse, I’m certain I do it with my kids too.  I make a conscience effort not to do it, but if I can get caught up in a cupcake decorating frenzy, I have got to be doing this to my kids without even knowing.  My two girls, with only two years between them, seem to constantly be in a struggle with what each of them has and does not have.  I fear I may be adding to it.  While my husband and I are constantly telling them that it’s most important to be themselves, as Everyone Else is Already Taken, I may very well be comparing them merely in just how I discipline them.  I cringe at how many times I have said to my eldest, “How is it that your sister who is two years younger can listen and follow directions, but you can’t?”  Ugh.  It’s embarrassing to even type such things, but I’m an impatient and an imperfect woman and these things happen in our home.  I don’t condone them, but still they happen.  I would never let my girls speak to themselves the way I sometimes speak to myself.  Nor would I let them compare themselves to any other kid.  Yet I seem to do comparisons naturally.  Any chance I can place some blame on being taught how to do Venn Diagrams as a kid?

All joking aside, comparing yourself with another is an ugly habit and it begets ugly feelings.  I find that most all of my moments of discouragement and disappointment are rooted with my actions of comparisons.  Not comparing my today self with my past self, but comparing myself with others.  Come to think of it, the last time I had a good cry-fest (these happen more frequently while I’m pregnant) was last week when I was sitting comparing my life without having my Mom around with others who still get to have their Moms around.  I even wrote a post on Over The Big Moon entitled Because of Him about working through the process and letting go of my “have not” attitude.  Oh vey, Readers.  I think we may have a bigger beast on our hands than I realized.  This issue really is just as Theodore Roosevelt stated, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I don’t want to rob myself nor my children of such joy.  I’m praying that my heightened awareness of this matter within myself and in our home will help me to eradicate it.  As always, I invite you to share your insights and suggestions in the comments section.  Obviously, I have much to learn.  I see and understand all the drawbacks that come from comparing ourselves to others.  That part I know.  But how do you stop from comparing yourself to others and comparing your children with other children when it seems to come naturally?  Is it as simple as Bob Newhart says in one of the most hilarious bits I’ve seen regarding therapy?  Do I just STOP IT?!

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The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

The first time I heard the quote, “The grass is greener where you water it,” was from my husband.  He was saying it in regards to relationships, which was even more inspiring to me.  I had already known that I married a selfless man, but even after all the crud he has endured being married to a less-than-selfless woman, here he was still championing the idea of “watering our lawn.”  This is the type of man you want to marry and I’m so glad I did.

Since I heard that quote, it has resonated in my heart.  It’s a much more optimistic take than it’s “original” counterpart, “the grass is always greener on the other side.”  The biggest difference between the two quotes, as I see it, is accountability.  This matter of accountability is among the top lessons I want my children to learn.

COMMERCIAL BREAK:  Writing that last sentence actually makes me wonder – if I had to choose five, or even ten, principles I want my children to learn, what would they be?  And, am I doing my part to make sure they’re learning those principles at home?  Hmmm…something I should ponder.  Also, I would love to hear your insight on the most crucial principles our children need to learn.  NOW BACK TO OUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING.

I think the main reason accountability is such a big deal to me is the mere fact that it seems to be a lost principle in our society.  I recall the lyrics of a Jack Johnson song called Cookie Jar released back in 2003 where the blame is continually placed on another.  Certainly, there are outside influences in our lives that play a role but we also need to take accountability for our part.

I have read countless stories of heartbreaking and horrific things that have happened in the news.  The thing that fascinates me the most is how people choose to move on from their given point.  The story of the Coble Family’s tragic event in 2007 haunts me as much today as it did back then when I was only a mother to one.  A mother to three then, Lori Coble, had taken her kids to a local mall that I myself attended frequently.  Lori’s own mother joined them on the venture.  Nap time approached and it was time to drive home.  Lori and her mom were in the front seat of her minivan while her three kids, ages five and under, were strapped safely in the back.  Traffic had come to an abrupt stop on the freeway, a freeway I often drove myself, and the big rig behind them was not able to stop in time.  All three children were killed.  The story is heart-wrenching, but I recall the touching remarks made by Lori and her husband, Chris, exemplifying their faith during the aftermath of their unimaginable trial.  While they were uncertain how they would even move forward from such a tragedy, I marveled at how well they did move forward.  Shortly after their loss, Lori became pregnant with TRIPLETS!  The Coble couple had lost a little boy and two girls in the car accident and here they were, just months later, expecting a little baby boy and two baby girls.  The triplets were born around the year anniversary of the death of the eldest three Coble children.  I wish I knew more of how this family was doing today.  My prayer is that the faith that it took for them to move forward in any manner is still a strong impact in their home.

This is just ONE of numerous stories where the victims chose to water their own grass.  I will add, and I hope this does not contradict my point, that they did sue those parties whom they felt were at fault for the loss of their children.  The action of accountability in this instance, in my mind, is that they did not, to the best of my knowledge, throw in the towel and become bitter and hopeless about their loss.  They did not use this tragic event as an excuse to lose their faith or give up on life completely.  They went forward trying to re-create the life they loved in the best manner they knew how.  They made an effort to replant their grass and water it accordingly.

Perhaps I can offer up a better illustration, and far less tragic, of what I’m trying to say.  There are parts of my childhood that I do not believe were healthy for a child to have to experience.  While I was not at fault for those circumstances, I would have been at fault for letting them define me or for allowing them to somehow excuse any poor decisions I made in my adulthood.  Had I allowed myself to place the blame on my childhood misfortunes for all my wrong doings, I feel I would have been doing myself an injustice.  Instead, I chose to seek help.  Perhaps I sought it later than I should have, but I did nonetheless and I’m grateful for it.  In attending counseling, I was able to make sense of the reality of my childhood.  While there are parts that I still deem to have been unhealthy, I feel no benefit comes from blaming.  I actually feel stronger having not placed blame.

Obviously, my own story pales in comparison to the horrific one that the Coble family experienced.  That’s not the point.  The point is that we have two options in life when a trial, of any magnitude, hits us.  We can choose to sit on our side and complain about our own lawn and feel resentment for the prettier (or perceived to be easier maintained) lawn on the other side or we can stand as proudly as possible and water our own lawn.

Whatever phase your “grass” is currently facing, it can become green again.  It may take some replanting on your part or merely some watering, but it can be done.  And, heck, if you find yourself in the fortunate circumstance of enjoying your own lush grass, perhaps shoot some water over to the other lawns that can use some refreshing.  A little “water” goes a long way and how beautiful the world could be if we all enjoyed the blessings of green grass.

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Seeking Light

This past weekend was quite a memorable one for me.  A date night is always a treat, but my husband and I actually managed to have two date nights in a row.  Both evenings were awesome, but the second night had an unusual twist to it that I would like to share.

We went on a double date with our friends to celebrate a birthday milestone.  We started our night off with some delicious Mediterranean Food and then walked over to a tiny independent theater in our downtown area.  We had never been before and the place had such a fun vibe.  It only seats 24 people and the refreshment bar is in the same room as the theater.  They serve Coca-Cola in the vintage bottles, popcorn in a big silver tin and dish up candy in a white paper sack.  We were seated in the front row and ready to watch a series of Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films.  I have a soft spot for Short Films, but that’s a post for another day.

The first movie was a touching film from Denmark, the second was a thought-provoking short from the UK, the third was a suspense-thriller from France, and the fourth was just horrific.  I’m of the opinion that you do not have to explicitly show something to get the general idea of the subject matter.  Clearly, the Writer/Director of this Spanish short film does not feel the same as I do.  I like how the review on CraveOnline puts it in regards to That Wasn’t Me, the film’s flagrant messaging and shock tactics leave it feeling sleazy, and coated with a discomforting goo. Not the kind of grotesque veneer you’d expect and want from a film about the horrors of child soldiers in Africa…”  In the middle of one of the more disturbing scenes, my husband got up and left the theater.  My friend’s husband immediately followed him.  Then, my friend and I followed as well.  We all knew why my husband got up and left and I think we were all a little upset at ourselves for not walking out sooner.  We agreed that we needed to go find something upbeat to do in an effort to recover from what we had all just witnessed on the screen.  The night ended with some fascinating people-watching in a local restaurant while dining on churros and ice-cream.  All was well in the end.

Now, I told you all of that, to tell you this.  The images from that movie did not leave my mind.  I tried to inundate myself with scripture reading, Facebook, praying, Pinterest delights and the like to dull the memory of the graphic scenes I watched.  My methods helped, but I slept awful the first night and spent most of the second day trying to redirect my thoughts onto something positive.  As I was working so hard to bring peace back in to my mind, I got to thinking about people that can’t just walk out of the movie theater and seek out light.

Some people are not as fortunate as I am to live in a home that has joy and peace.  Many have to live in dark circumstances with constant negative influences.  This reminded me of a story I read by Susan Wyman where she was sharing her struggle with family discord.  Then, she had this thought about being in complete darkness and imagined herself lighting a tiny birthday candle.  Wyman says, “It seemed so insignificant, yet the power of that minuscule light was enough to displace the blackness…The quantity of darkness surrounding us in the world simply does not matter.  Light is eternal and is vastly more powerful than darkness.”  Her words ring true to me.

All these thoughts reminded me of my New Year’s Resolution for a Bright New Year.  I’m blessed to live in a healthy environment, but that doesn’t mean I cannot make it brighter.  Or perhaps strive to bring more light to those that are not as fortunate?  I think more than anything this week, I wanted readers to reflect on whether or not they are living among the light or darkness?  If the light, share it with those around you and cherish the gift that you hold.  If you find yourself walking in darkness, have faith that your own light is ‘enough to displace the blackness.’  And, if possible, do as my husband did and walk out of the darkness and seek the light.

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First Friday Find: Love Journals

This is not a recent find for me, but it is a pertinent find for this month and may be new for our readers.  Years ago, I read this excellent idea about using Love Journals in place of greeting cards with your spouse or loved ones.  The idea was ingenious in my eyes!

I started to implement it right away with my husband for Valentine’s Day.  I got my hands on a notebook that had an extra slot on the inside.  In the slot, I gathered all of my past love notes to him.  Now all of our notes are in one convenient location.  Then I kicked off the notebook with Valentine’s stickers and a love note.  My husband appreciated the sentiment and, shortly thereafter, he got me a Love Journal in which he leaves me sweet messages as we come upon each holiday.  Sometimes, we even give surprise notes of appreciation and adoration between holidays.  It’s fun to have all of our love notes in one spot and the convenience is a definite perk!

Being a Mother to young children, I rarely get the chance to peruse a card aisle anymore nor do I enjoy the high price tags for the cards worth sending.  I guess I’ve become a bit of a curmudgeon that way.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sending a note out of the blue or finding the perfect card for someone, but this expectation that we need to buy cards to express our love each holiday sort of rubs me the wrong way.  It feels like one more To-Do on my list.  Ever since we got these journals, all I need to find time for is expressing my heartfelt feelings.  Plus, when it comes to the love I have for my husband, in particular, there has yet to be a greeting card that can express how I feel better than I can.

We’ve had our journals for a few years now and I honestly have no idea where we purchased them.  I’m including a couple links for notebooks that I thought would serve as cool Love Journals.  BookFactory® Notebook sells one in multiple colors.  This one is very similar to the one my husband bought for me.  We prefer blank pages, but I also found this really cool lined page journal you could use called Red Embossed Heart Writing Journal.  Both of these are fairly priced and would be a great way to ignite a loving tradition.

Hopefully, you will find Love Journals as beneficial as we have in our home.  We’ve saved money, we’ve saved time sneaking off to the card aisle, we’ve centralized all of our notes for one another, and we’ve let our love flow more sincerely.  Basically, Love Journals have been a blessing to us.  I hope they become a treasured gift in your home as well!

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Second Chances

I’ve had a rough couple of days.  I don’t do well when stuck indoors for long periods of time, which has been the case lately.  Cabin fever sinks in quickly with me.  I also don’t do well with a toddler screaming every time that I don’t hold him and every time he does not get what he wants.  Add on that my middle one is sick, my daughters are having nightmares due to the season of beheaded zombies hanging from porches, and my husband has been working literally day and night for the past six days.  Sleep has eluded me.

I can’t help but hear Claire Foster’s line in Date Nightwhen she is confessing to her husband that she fantasizes more about being alone than leaving him for another man, “There are times when, on my worst day, I’ve thought about just leaving our house and going someplace, like checking into a hotel. Being in a room all by myself, in a quiet, air-conditioned room, sitting down, eating my lunch, with no one touching me—drinking a diet Sprite, by myself.”  Insert Dr. Pepper for Diet Sprite and she’s described what I long to do on days like yesterday.

Checking in to a hotel would have been much better than the breakdown I had yesterday morning when my husband was finally off from his 16-hour shift at work.  The worst part is that I selfishly was upset over my circumstances and here my husband had just worked a 16-hour shift of running around physically caring for people.  I was acting like a brat, honestly.  Still my husband kindly took my ever-screaming son and let me go and cry.  That’s love right there.  Just a few minutes to cry in peace with no one touching me.

Crying helped, as it sometimes does.  I still felt pretty pathetic though for being such a ninny about my plight instead of tending to my husband’s well-being.  Sometimes we have really bad days at work and they last longer than we’d like.  That happened to be the case for both of us this time.  He handled it gracefully, I handled it poorly.

Later, I was listening to a song called Second Chances by Gregory Alan Isakov off of his album The Weathermanand this one line hit home, “if it weren’t for second chances, we’d all be alone.”  How many second chances has my husband given me and I him, I wonder?  These last few days have been a series of second chances.

I’ve had a second chance at putting my daughter’s minds to rest before they fall asleep, a second chance to figure out how to properly discipline my son for his uncharacteristically difficult behavior, a second chance to look at my husband’s needs and sacrifices on our family’s behalf, and a second chance to not beat myself up over every time I guiltily wanted to walk out the door for even a couple minutes of peace from the chaos.

I hear all the time that I should cherish this time, as it will go quickly.  I already know it goes quickly.  I already miss the days that my eldest was a tiny baby.  I do my best to treasure every moment with my children, as I have known people that have lost their kids unexpectedly.  The very thought of losing my children makes me physically ill.  But is it really so bad to want the moments of yanking and pulling, incessant screaming, and blatant disobedience to move by a little faster?  I hate that I feel guilty for not enjoying these moments like I’m “supposed” to.

Life is such a conundrum, isn’t it?  I remember when my Mom first passed away, I wanted time to speed up so that I could be old and die and be with her again, while I simultaneously wanted life to slow down so I could take in every new baby smell and giggle from my girls.  I suppose the same goes for the action of cherishing this time with my kids.  I want the tantrums to speed by and the precious moments shown below to stand still in time.

Thankfully, my children, just as my husband, give me second chances.  They forgive me for all the wrong choices that I make, my unnecessarily raised voice, and my blindness to times that they just want my full attention and nothing more.  As Amy Krouse Rosenthal writes in her children’s book One Of Those Days, “Luckily, every single one of those days eventually turns into night.  And every single night turns into a brand-new day.”

So, here’s to a new day of second chances!  Without them, we’d all be alone.

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Acquired Tastes Not Required

A friend of mine recently gave me a CD to listen to with her favorite cover songs on it.  If you’re not familiar with a cover song, it’s when a music artist does their own rendition of a song that’s already been made popular previously.  Some covers are better than the original.  Others are not.

Most of the songs on this CD were covers performed by a duo named Tuck & Patti.  I can honestly say it was difficult for me to sit through the songs performed by Tuck & Patti.  As I was listening, I remembered that my friend’s husband had mentioned that his wife’s taste in music was weird.  I didn’t want him to be right.  I wanted to side with her.  Sadly, I couldn’t.

How do you break it to someone dear to you that you don’t like something they have given you?  I decided to not bring it up at all.  A week or so later, she asked me what I thought of the songs.  I’ve never had a good poker face and I hate to lie, so I fessed up that I wasn’t too keen on the music.  She seemed visibly heart-broken.  Not so much about the fact that I didn’t like it.  More of the fact that I didn’t see the beauty in it and that she and I didn’t share that bond.

I felt for her.  When I’m so in love with something, I want everyone to love it as much as I do.  The hope that if they gave it a try it would bless their lives in the same manner that it has blessed mine.  It doesn’t always work out in my favor.  Even worse, I sometimes have taken it personal; as though them not liking something I care so deeply about somehow implies that they don’t like me.

I was determined to give the songs another go.  My friend had expressed how a couple of the songs were her absolute favorite songs ever.  I could tell by her demeanor that these weren’t just any old song, these were meaningful and rich songs for her.  I listened a second time.

This time, I decided to listen as though I was my friend.  I was driving at the time, but I pretended that I was in the comfort of my home and I was alone in a room reflecting on the beauty and passion of the song.  I started to see it a little bit.  For a moment, I understood how she could find these covers powerful.  Then, out of nowhere, my natural instinct came back and I couldn’t handle another second of the song.  Sometimes you can acquire a taste for something.  Other times not.

Our life here in Oregon is an excellent example of differing opinions.  Our whole family instantly fell in love with our new hometown when we moved here late last year.  The weather, slower pace, strong community feel, and general splendor has swept us away.  I want all my loved ones to come move here so that they can enjoy the same blessings.  However, this weather and lifestyle is not for all.  I need to remember that.  I wonder if we sometimes spend more time trying to be salesmen rather than listeners.

COMMERCIAL BREAK: When I was 19, I applied at GAP for a sales position.  The woman took my application and informally asked me a couple questions.  One of those questions was, “Why do you think you’d be a good fit to work at GAP?”  My response, “Because I won’t force anybody to buy what they don’t want to buy.”  Epic fail.  I knew it the moment I said it.  Worst answer ever for a sales position interview.  NOW BACK TO YOUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING.

Maybe we’re not salesmen, but rather judges?  Do we spend too much time thinking of why our likes and interests are better than others?  Or worse, do we like what pop culture tells us to like for fear that our own ideas will be mocked?  Certainly, I’m old enough now to not feel that pressure.  I don’t imagine our youth today are afforded that same luxury.  I recall a friend confessing to me, when we were teenagers, that she didn’t want to tell anybody about her interests because two of our mutual friends would inevitably tease her and find fault in her opinion.  What a sad way to run a friendship.

I think it’s important that we hear one another out, even if that hearing means listening to a CD of songs that you care little for.  Continue to share your interests in hopes of sharing that special bond, but don’t shy away the moment interests differ.

In my teenage years, I recall walking around in bookstores and mocking the people in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section.  I was certain that I would never be with any guy who was in to such silly things.  Truly, this fact was on my childish list I had made of the “perfect guy.”  No Fantasy or Sci-Fi nerds.  Well, guess what?  I married a Dungeons and Dragons’ playing, The Hobbitloving, fantasy monster drawing, Sci-Fi nerd.  And, surprisingly enough, he is the perfect guy for me.  My husband and I see eye-to-eye on all of the important stuff in life.  That’s what matters.

We would all do a whole lot better focusing on what we have in common versus where we differ.  I have no plans to listen to Tuck & Patti for pleasure, but I will gladly take all the custard that I despise out of my donut so that this same friend can have a double dose of the custard she craves in her donut.  And we will sit and enjoy each other realizing our mutual love for donuts is the only bond we need.

My goal is to stop trying to sell people things that I love or assume that if something makes me happy then it will make everyone happy.  Based on my interview with GAP alone, I’m not really cut out for sales in the first place.  I’m hoping to do a better job of finding out what other’s interests are and hope that such actions don’t always result in a CD of Tuck & Patti.  Sometimes I may get lucky with the recommendation of a funny show, a yummy treat, or a great book.  More than anything, I want to encourage my loved ones to enjoy the things that make them happy rather than try to convince them that they are somehow missing out on life because they aren’t interested in the same things as me.  We can’t all be Princess Bride quoting, New Girl watching, Blind Pilotsinging goofballs like myself.  It’s inconceivable.

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Real Is In

My friend posted a video on her Facebook page yesterday about Pinterest Perfection.  In the video it speaks to the impossible task of living up to the Pinterest world.  At one point, the woman confesses, “Real is in.”  Well, if real is in, I’m about to give our readers a full dose of real.

Do you remember my post two months ago entitled No Excuses, No Explanations?  Well, I’m stocked full of them right now.  You may or may not have noticed that I did not post last week.  I noticed because it got added on to my list of reasons why I’m feeling like a pure flop right now.  Are you ready?

I was already feeling blue before last week even hit me.  Three out of my four closest friends in my new hometown somehow managed to plan all of their end-of-summer vacations at the same time.  How dare they, huh?  Add on that my BFF (Best Friend Forever) was visiting from Southern California and she left to go home on Monday.  Post-BFF blues kicked in.  Add on that my husband had been working crazy long hours.  Are you seeing how my social support was lacking?  That’s a sure sign of impending doom for my emotional well-being.

Then last Tuesday, I tweaked my back in the morning during a routine struggle to get my son in his high chair.  I could tell right away it wasn’t good.  I tried to work through the pain.  I couldn’t take any of my known remedies, as there was a small chance that I was pregnant.  As a result, I was left with Tylenol and ice as my only relief.  Thankfully, I live in a very supportive community.  I had a friend come and put my son down in his crib for his nap.  That allowed for some rest on my end too.

So as not to drag out the story, I will sum this portion up with the basics.  Husband called off from work, a trip to the ER was had, tests confirmed I was not pregnant so I could receive appropriate medication, x-ray showed a straight spine in all the wrong places, and my legs were completely uneven.  In short, pain killers and muscle relaxers were not going to give me enough relief to get back to better.  Plus, we had to cancel a destination wedding we had planned to attend this past weekend since driving for hours on end would be physically impossible.

Then, hormones hit.  Oh, blasted hormones.  How I despise you!  As if pain hadn’t made me grouchy enough, hormones had to arrive on the scene.  Sadly, my family were the real victims in this downward spiral.  My eldest daughter took the brunt of it.

Every single time I think I’m going to seriously lose my mind with my eldest, I am forced to look at myself in the mirror.  Does anybody else out there sometimes turn in to this ugly person that affects the behavior of all those around them for the worst?  Generally, I would like to think that I bring out the best in others.  That was certainly not the case this past week.  I would gladly have preferred being sent away from society so as not to emotionally damage those in contact with me.

So, as things were looking particularly bleak, I began to add on more negative thoughts to really make the week eventful.  I started to think of all the things I was NOT doing right.  Our budget is a good example.  Two pay periods of following the budget.  Then BAM!  Back to School needs hit.  Now, I’m over budget, lacking in my usual social support, taking things out on those I love most, in pain, and fighting my primal desire to turn in to a werewolf the way Jacob does in The Twilight Series.

I managed to hold it together enough by continually pondering this analogy I once read:  If you get a flat tire, you fix it and get back on the road.  You don’t go and poke holes in the remaining three tires.

I really did try the best that I could to stop jamming a knife into my remaining three tires.  My husband may say differently.  He said one of my screaming fits with my eldest was almost comical.  He referenced remarks made in Bill Cosby, Himselfwhen Bill Cosby speaks about how his wife was once beautiful and then she had kids.  It may sound hurtful, but truly it’s the most honest bit of comedy gold when he describes how children change us.

I really was trying, then nature poked a hole in one of my remaining tires.  I came down with what feels like a sinus infection.  Surprisingly though, I’m surviving today better than I anticipated.

My friends have returned from their vacations, the close friend that tended to me all week is still talking to me, I had additional friends help me out, my husband and children seem to still think I’m pretty special, a Chiropractor visit made my legs the same length again, and we had a few fun and memorable things happen over this past week.  My son said his first official word: shoe; and we hosted a last minute outdoor movie in our backyard with the help of some friends.

So, there’s a nice dose of real for you.  Feel free to share some of the “real” you have going on in your life.  I find that sometimes we just need to cry on the side of the road for a bit before we fix that flat tire and get back out there.  My crying is done.  Time to fix the flat.

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First Friday Finds: You Need A Budget (YNAB)

**When I find a great deal, a fun product, a great activity, or a motivational thought, I like to share it.  That’s the whole purpose of this blog really.  I want to share some insights that I’ve found helpful for living a richer and fuller life.  I thought it might be fun to expand the blog a bit and include some tangible discoveries in my life that have proved fruitful.  For now, I’ll feature these items on the first Friday of every month.  We shall call them First Friday Finds.**

I’m particularly excited to share this little gem, as I finally began to utilize it fully in my life.  It’s a budgeting tool called You Need A Budget (YNAB).

I was first introduced to YNAB by a friend of mine a few years back.  At the time, I had not mentally prepared myself for the daunting task of creating a budget.  I didn’t even know where to start.  In the beginning, I used the tool solely as an opportunity to keep track of the comings and goings of my money.  Sadly, I didn’t even look at the budget portion of the program.  It worked marvelously in keeping track of my checking and creating reports on my spending habits.

It wasn’t until recently that I began taking our finances more seriously.  Perhaps my blog is serving as a motivation even to myself.  I let myself begin.

I knew the premise of the program’s Four-Rule approach to budgeting, but I had yet to watch any of their classes on how to start the budgeting process.  I am happy to report that I got around to watching the Getting Started with YNAB video early last week.  It gave me the umph I needed to try my hand at setting a budget.

I had read bits and pieces of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness.  I knew my husband had to be a part of the budgeting plan.  We sat down the night before pay day hit and hashed out where the money we would be getting HAD to go.  The process was quite painless.  The program does all the work for you.  We were done within the hour.  Lot of good all that procrastinating did me (repeat in sarcastic tone).

The best part is that it’s a livable budget.  You can change it when necessary.  The whole concept makes it less discouraging.  I don’t feel like I’ve failed at budgeting if I overspend in one category.  I just have to be aware that another category is going to lose out when I do so.  Then I easily adjust my budget with YNAB from there.

Add on that they have a mobile app and it makes it even better.  While out shopping, I can quickly look at my phone to see if I have money left in my budget for that item.  It was perfect for doing school supplies shopping this week.  I wasn’t mindlessly stocking my cart.  In fact, I even ended up under budget.  This was especially good since I had budgeted only $5 for another category purchase and ended up spending $7.30.  The establishment I was at only allowed cards to be used for purchases over $5 and all I had was my debit card.  It forced me to buy more to get the item I needed.  This is probably why Dave Ramsey works in cash.  But an unexpected expense got easily worked out with the switch of some money from my under-budget school supplies category.  The best part, I can add all my transactions on the go with the mobile app and it adjusts my budget before I even hit the next store.

I’m so tired of living paycheck to paycheck.  My husband makes good money but through a series of poor decisions, we have let our finances get the best of us.  I feel like this might be our chance of actually getting above water.  It’s changing our way of thinking and spending.  That’s a good sign.  Our willingness to stop doing the habit that’s not working and begin doing something that has been proven to work seems like a step in the right direction.

Check out the YNAB website.  They have a free trial demo.  I already have more money remaining in our checking than I normally would at this time during the pay period cycle.  Imagine how much freedom you could have if you could more readily rid yourself of debt.  Or better yet start making those saving accounts sky-rocket.

The ease of the program has almost made it, do I dare say, fun to budget.

I’m just beginning our journey to being debt-free and I’m excited!  I hope this program offers you the same hope for a healthier financial future.

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No Excuses, No Explanations

I was watching Julie & Julialast night with my husband and I heard the quote, “No Excuses, No Explanations” used at one point.  Sadly, I’ve already forgotten who said it and in what scene.  I had heard mixed reviews on the movie, but I found it rather interesting.  I imagine I had a more personal connection to it since half of the story is about a woman starting her own blog, as I have here.

The quote got me thinking of the concept of not giving excuses nor explanations in life.  I am a woman who will gladly offer up both.  I’m particularly fond of explanations.  I attribute my love for them due to my long-winded nature.  Surely you don’t just want to know that I cannot attend a movie with you this coming weekend, you must know WHY I can’t join you.

My husband is quite the opposite.  Anytime that he has ever called off for work, he always says, “I will not be able to make it in today.”  He never gives an explanation.  As a result, he’s never lied when calling off from work.

COMMERCIAL BREAK: I was once discussing the virtue of honesty with a group of women.  One woman commented how she had called off of work with the reasoning that she was having trouble with her eyes.  Her boss asked her what was wrong with her eyes.  Her response, “I just can’t SEE myself coming in today.”  Honesty at it’s finest.  BACK TO YOUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING.

It doesn’t matter if my husband has been throwing up all night or if he has plans to play with his family all day, he will not be making it in to work that day.  In his eyes, there is no more to tell.  Personally, it drives me mad that he doesn’t explain the situation, especially when it’s a legitimate reason.  I imagine it aggravates the boss as well.  My husband and I could debate the pros and cons of explanations all day long, I’m sure.

However, I would like to believe that all might agree that there really is no good excuse for using an excuse.  Florence Nightingale, a pioneer in Nursing and author of Notes On Nursing, was quoted as saying, “I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.”

I’m reminded of my first year of marriage.  Marriage requires a lot of patience, compassion, and forgiveness, amongst other things.  That first year though seemed to require a lot of forgiveness on both of our parts.  It’s tough trying to make two become one.  I suppose this is why I find explanations helpful.  However, my husband brought something to my attention during one of my apologies.  I always coupled my apology with an excuse.

I’m sorry I yelled, but you yelled first.  I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, but I am about to start my period.  I’m sorry I didn’t (fill in the blanks), but I didn’t know you had (fill in the blanks).  The excuses were always there.  He patiently asked me if I could just apologize.  He didn’t need to hear my reasoning or excuses.  All he wanted to know was that I was sorry.

Take the first excuse I wrote.  We discussed that it didn’t matter who raised their voice first, the point was that we shouldn’t raise our voices at each other.  If he raises his, it doesn’t make it okay for me to do so, and vice versa.  As it pertains to my moodiness and impatience before I start menstruating (is this TMI?), his belief is that there should never be an excuse to treat someone poorly.  I believe he’s right.  As crazy as I feel at the time, it doesn’t automatically justify being mean to anyone.

“Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.” – John Wooden in his book Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court

Perfectly put, Mr. Wooden.  Honestly, I’ve improved quite a bit in omitting excuses to my friends or my foes.  It’s the excuses I give myself that are really starting to tick me off.

Take this blog for example.  I’ve had a desire to write about more personal topics for quite some time now.  Thankfully, I had a friend encourage me to do so, even after I had offered up every excuse under the sun.  One of my excuses being that nobody wants to read another blog.  It’s all been written already.  What can I possibly write that hasn’t already been written and, frankly, been written better?  The excuse sounds so true in my head, but really it’s quite comical.

If every writer let that ridiculous excuse stand in their way, not one fresh idea would be written.  Who cares anyway, right?  I don’t have to do this perfectly for it to be enjoyable or fulfilling.  Unfortunately, I have this notion that I have to be perfect at something or it’s really not worth doing.  Why try at all if someone else already does it better?  What a sad way of thinking, huh?  This is one of the many ways that my distorted thinking gets me every time.  I create these lame excuses to convince myself that it’s okay not to try at all.  But it’s not okay.  I’m tired of standing in my own way with a myriad of empty excuses.

Let’s learn to drop the excuses and, if we’re feeling really bold, the explanations.  Let’s take some accountability for our actions.  Let’s offer up sincere apologies.  Let’s try a little harder each day so that excuses aren’t even necessary in the first place.  Let’s try to be understanding about the fact that others are struggling with their own internal excuses.  Let’s believe in our abilities to meet our goals instead of excusing ourselves as to why they’re unachievable.

Let’s begin.

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The day my husband came home from his first day of Nursing school was one of the happiest moments I had ever seen him.  Truly, his excitement was equal to that of the expressions I saw on his face when our children were born.  I couldn’t believe what a difference one day at school had made.  He had found his niche; his passion.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I envied him in that very moment.

The memory of his joy on that day has led me to support him in career choices that weren’t the direction a wife might encourage her husband to go.  Today was the third time that I happily supported my husband in following his passion before following the money.  It’s odd to me how at peace I feel when such a decision is made.

Our family’s future is temporarily less stable than it would have been had he accepted a Nursing Management position.  Yet, here I sit typing about how happy I am that my husband is following his passion.  A happy dad is a happy family.  I’ve heard that term be used for moms in the past.  I believe a happy dad is just as critical to the family unit as a happy mom.

I still envy his level of passion.  I have an invested interest in a lot of things, but I’m not certain I would call it passion.  Can you learn to become more passionate?  I haven’t seen any self-help books on that topic as of yet.  I have seen my fair share on distorted thinking though.  I’m pretty sure envying ones passion and feeling like a failure because you don’t have passion like that is on the list of distorted thoughts.  In fact, I know it is.

We all have our strengths and our weaknesses.  None of us are an all-or-nothing individual.  My husband is passionate.  I admire that.  His passion inspires me, as I’m sure attributes of me might inspire him.

I recently had a discussion with a woman who I look to for guidance and encouragement.  I’ve been open and honest with her about my insecurities and my feelings of inadequacy.  I’ve expressed to her how I feel like I don’t have a talent to share.  She, in her ever positive way, pointed out all the goodness in me.  I responded, quite typically, with all the negative in me.  She then shared with me what seems like such a simple thought but I never processed it, I guess.

She asked me whether or not I would even enjoy those talents that others had.  Take sewing for instance.  I can’t sew for the life of me.  I wish I could.  I am amazed at what people can create with some cloth, thread, and their imagination.  But, truth be told, I don’t enjoy doing it.  So, why be sad that I can’t sew?  Why not nourish the talents I do have and actually enjoy doing?

I imagine that is how I’ll find my passion.  I’ll focus on the things I naturally enjoy and nurture those gifts.  Instead of longing to be a sewer, I’ll leave the sewing to the seamstresses of the world.  I have gifts and talents, whether they be big or small.  Thanks to my friend, I’m learning to embrace those parts of me rather than feeling remorse over what I don’t excel at or enjoy.

And, thanks to my husband, I’m learning how a life of passion is worth its weight in gold.

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