Monday, July 7, 2014

Beach!

June has been a busy month in our household, including a trip to the beach!

I hadn't really planned anything for our summer.  We were pretty much buried the entire school year and thinking ahead to summer just wasn't possible.  But when I looked at the calendar and realized my kids were going to have a FOURTEEN WEEK summer, I knew I had better get planning.  Seven sets of idle hands make for quite a busy workshop.

So I booked a very reasonably priced condo at Port Aransas and got everyone packing.  Austin was ready for days before we left.


Our condo complex was on the beach so we were able to walk right down the boardwalk to the sand and waves.


The waves were pretty rough this year and the kids spent hours jumping and splashing.  And I counted.  Wave.  1-2-3-4-5-6 heads popped up and I managed to hold onto Austin.  Another wave.  1-2-3...



Then, they'd come back to the beach for a snack and a "rest," which essentially consisted of them feeding the seagulls half of their snack and running around screaming while the birds chased them.


They also built a few sandcastles for Austin to destroy.  (At least, that's what he thought they were for.)


In the afternoons, we chilled out at the condo and in the evenings, we picked up dinner and avoided the whole eating-out-at-restaurant-with-kids stress.  After that, we'd go for a swim in the pool.  Megan perceptively noted, "When we get in the pool, it kind of empties out and we have it all to ourselves."  Ah, the benefits of having an army of children.

We couldn't have asked for better weather and the kids are already planning next year's beach trip.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rockin' R

So...last weekend I did something I had no business doing:

A triathlon!

Seriously, I have gotten so very out of shape since November that racing of any type should have been the furthest thing from my mind.  But, I knew I needed something to get me back in the game, and that something was the Rockin' R Triathlon in Gruene, Texas.


This photo of Gruene Mansion Inn Bed & Breakfast is courtesy of TripAdvisor

It's a beautiful course along (and in) the Guadalupe River, with huge trees arching above the road along the water.  The weather was gorgeous too!

After the Tiny Texan Tri last year, I felt pretty confident that I'd keep exercising and stay focused on getting back in shape.  And while I will admit that I didn't touch my bike at all after that race, I did keep running and swimming through the first part of the school year.  In November, I started toying with the idea of training for a half marathon (it seemed like training for one sport might be a little easier during the school year).  Then, life smacked me upside the head, the stress of everything I was (trying to) balance caught up with me and I cut way back on any sort of exercise.  I ran some here and there, but it was very inconsistent.

As the end of the school year got closer and I started to see light at the end of the tunnel, I started running a few times a week.  I ditched the treadmill and ran outside ONLY.  The sunshine and fresh air did me so much good.  And, all that fresh air might have gone to my head a little after my long winter of deprivation, because I decided in April that I should do the Rockin R, even though it was coming up in just a few weeks.

I got back in the pool and didn't drown.  I dusted off (literally) my bike and didn't die (though my legs thought they might).  I ran with a little more purpose- not very fast, but with a focus on consistency.

And then I signed up for the race.  I told myself that I was going to be slow.  That it was going to be hard.  That I was going to do it for the fun and the fitness and not focus on my times.

When my alarm went off at 4, I thought to myself, "It's a good thing they make you pay for races in advance, because I wouldn't be getting out of bed if I didn't have money on the line."

I got my transition spot set up, and started to worry a little about the water temperature.  It's been unseasonably cool and we'd had some rain, so the Guadalupe was a chilly 72.  About half the racers were wearing wet suits.  Oh well. It was only 400 meters.  I wasn't going to freeze.  

I was also a little concerned about my lack of full preparation.  The race was the Sunday after our last day of school.  I had spent the weekend grading finals.  I hadn't had my bike tuned up.  I hadn't even taken the time to get bars or anything to eat.  I had a banana and some electrolyte water.  That should do it.

And then the race started!  I watched the first swimmers start off across the river and I wondered why they were swimming with their heads up.  When I got in, I figured it out: Rocks!  There were massive rocks just below the surface.  I half swam, half pushed myself across the rocks and then, when the water got deep enough to really swim, at first, I had a hard time finding my rhythm.  I was still a little concerned about the rocks and the water was so MURKY!  I couldn't see a thing.  (Note to self: Do not watch episodes of River Monsters before open water swims.)  I got into a rhythm eventually and finished the swim without a problem.
(400 m. in 9:40, for those who care about such things.  Not too bad for me right now.)
  
Next up, bike.  My transition time was forever long.  (2:36)  My laid back attitude about the race was starting to work against me, but I was having a good time!  The ride was a beautiful one with "rolling hills."  That means there's nothing too strenuous, but it's definitely not flat.  I was SO slow.  That one ride I had taken really hadn't done much to give me any bike power.  No surprise there, but really, it was bad!  I did enjoy the ride (who doesn't love having police officers to stop traffic at every intersection!) but I felt pretty much like I was crawling along.  (13 miles in 57:56; 13.8 mph)

I had told myself when I signed up for the race that I could walk the run if I had to.  I knew that I might not have the endurance that I needed to finish otherwise.  Plus, there was a killer hill right at the start!  They promised the run was pretty flat after that, and some of the racers said it was "okay to walk the hill after the bike."  The second I hit that hill, I suddenly told myself there was NO WAY I was going to walk- not even a single step- on the run.  I don't know why that suddenly became so important.  I think I was a little frustrated by my slow bike and I didn't want to compound it by strolling along for the run.  I found a pace I could sustain and I kept it up.  I was feeling pretty good!

And then I saw the one mile marker.  "What the heck?" I actually said out loud.  I definitely felt like I had been running much longer than that.  But I told myself that the first mile is always the toughest and it was only a 5K.  I stuck to my "run slowly, but run" strategy and finished the race feeling strong.  (5K in 32:59; 9:59 min/mile.  Total time: 1:44:51)

Sorry for the lack of pictures on this one!  I was going it solo and didn't really take any myself.  But what a great day!  It was just the summer jump start that I needed.  It was a much-needed lesson in the value of jumping in and finishing- not perfectly, not even well- but finishing anyway.

Oh, and was I sore the next day?  You bet.  Totally worth it.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Wonder Woman

Dear Wonder Woman,    
      
I’d heard of you before- you’re sort of an American icon- but I’d never seen your show until last month.  I saw a rerun on Endless Rerun Channel, and there you were, in all your leotarded, spinning glory.  I’m impressed.

I was sort of curious as to what you’ve been up to for the last few decades.  Then, as we neared the end of the school year, I realized that you hadn’t disappeared after all.  No, you’ve cloned yourself and taken on a new superhero persona: Wonder Room-Mom. 

You don’t wear leotards anymore (I totally understand how awkward that would be after a couple of kids) and I haven’t seen you spin, but your powers are clearly on display.  You use your super weapons- Pinterest and Sign Up Genius- to conquer End of Year parties in a single blow and plan teacher appreciation activities that are the envy of all.

You are, Wonder Room-Mom, a dazzling sight to behold.  You help your children build national monument models, dress up in themed costumes, and get to soccer practice all without breaking a sweat.  I am in awe.

But I have a request:  Can you cut the Mortal Moms some slack?  I know, with all of your superhuman strength, that it might be hard to fully comprehend their experience, so let me give you a little peek into the lives of the Mortal Moms who surround you.

We Mortal Moms love our kids too.  A lot.  We feed them, provide for them, keep them clean (most of the time, unless they’re boys), hug them, and discipline them.  We help them with their homework as much as we can.  We try to keep track of their activities too.  We do laundry, we go to work, we clean the house, we tuck the kids in at night.

But we’re not like you.  We don’t have superpowers.  When our kids build a model of Plymouth Colony, the glue drips, the toddler scribbles on the outside, and we realize that we’re out of popsicle sticks.  We appreciate our kids’ teachers- maybe even more than you do since we so heavily depend on them to make up for our mortal deficiencies- but all we can manage is a Starbucks gift card with “Thank You!!!!” written on it.  We hope that the multiple exclamation points will fully convey our deep gratitude.  And we really hope the teacher likes coffee.  We Mortal Moms are so busy with feeding our kids and washing their laundry that not only are we unable to execute Pinterest-worthy crafts and costumes, we’ve forgotten our Pinterest passwords.  We’re constantly behind and every time an email comes in with a friendly reminder of an upcoming project/party/playdate, we are plunged into the depths of despair as we try to figure out how on earth we are supposed to fit in one more emergency run to the store for supplies.


So we salute you, Wonder Room-Mom, and thank you for all you do.  Just remember: We’re Mortal Moms, and we’ll keep doing our best, but we’ll never be you.   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Leave it to the Government, Part 2

Here's just a brief update on my Obamacare experience.  I know lots of people are trying to navigate their way through the new healthcare landscape, so maybe this information will help.

I enrolled in a plan, but I couldn't find any way to pay for it.  The healthcare.gov site told me to expect someone to contact me "within a few days."  I got an email instructing me to call a certain number.  Bingo! That's what I was waiting for!  I called and the lady had a good amount of my information already.  She wanted more of my health details.  Although I'm normally very cautious about that sort of thing, I went into "dealing with the government" mode and just answered the questions.  It wasn't until we started to get to the end of the call that I realized she wasn't actually associated with my chosen health plan and couldn't do anything to help my current situation.  I don't really know who I was talking to or what her job was.  I think her title was something like "healthcare advisor."  I did a panic-stricken mental review of the info I had given her.  No SSN, no credit card number.  I am still keeping a close eye on my accounts and so on.  This health care debacle is an identity thief's dream.  There's so much confusion, so little information, and so many people involved, how can consumers be sure they're talking to the right people?

At any rate, figuring that I wouldn't be covered if I hadn't paid a premium, I went back to the drawing board.  I called my health insurance broker (she's helped our family find the best insurance options ever since Bryan struck out on his own with his business) and explained my situation.  She was able to get me set up with insurance that was pretty much what I'd had before.  It's "off the marketplace," meaning it's not a healthcare.gov plan.  I pay about $120 a month and have a $3600 a year deductible.  This plan might not work for everyone- there were a couple of health conditions that might have been excluded- but it covered me, in spite of my MS.

Unlike what I saw on the Obamacare plans, after I've hit my deductible, my plan covers everything.  There's no separate deductible for medications, no 80/20 up to $15K or anything like that.  If you do sign up for a healthcare.gov plan, PLEASE be sure that you have a trusted broker go over all the details with you.  There are so many bumps and hiccups in all of this that it's impossible, I think, for the average consumer to make a good decision without guidance.  Many doctors aren't covered.  Some medications aren't covered.  Think of it this way: Our health care is now as complicated as our taxes, except that if you make a mistake on your taxes, you could get audited.  If you make a mistake on your health care, you might find yourself in a life-threatening situation.

Here's what I'm dealing with now, though: I'm having a terrible time getting UNenrolled from the other plan.  When I first enrolled, I tried calling to pay.  Then I tried calling back to unenroll.  I was on hold for over an hour each time and ended up hanging up.  I've called once more with the same result.

This experience has made me even more concerned about what the recent changes are doing to America's healthcare system.  You see, I wasn't calling the government.  I was calling Blue Cross Blue Shield.  I had their insurance for ten years before Bryan died.  I always got through right away when I called before.  Now, they're just swamped.  My broker is reporting two and three hour hold times, despite the fact that she has "priority."

UPDATE: I did succeed in getting unenrolled from the marketplace plan.  Apparently, if you don't pay long enough, they'll drop you!  They were very nice about it.  Sounds like it's happening frequently.

So March 31st is the last day for open enrollment on healthcare.gov (though it sounds like extensions are being granted).  Take your time, do some research, and find what works for you.  Call someone who knows what they're talking about.  And, above all, just don't get sick!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wacky Wednesday

I have been planning a "Day in the Life" post for awhile.  I always love reading about other people's ordinary days, so I thought I'd do a post on one of our ordinary days.

We, apparently, don't have ordinary days.

This past Wednesday, for example, wasn't ordinary, except, I suppose, for the fact that it, like all of our other days, was peppered with anything and everything out-of-the-ordinary.

Like most of our days, the events actually started the evening before.  Steffen brought me my phone, and I saw that there was a little water under the Otterbox screen.  He must have splashed some water on it.  I took it out of its case, cleaned and dried it off, and then popped it back in.  After the kids went to bed, I realized that the phone's flashlight was on.  And it wouldn't turn off.  I figured there was some secret setting that I was missing, and I didn't want to wake Nathan up to fix it, so I just buried it under a book so that the light wouldn't keep me awake and went to sleep.

At four the next morning, my alarm went off.  When I tried to swipe it to turn it off, I couldn't get the phone to unlock.  All I could do was tap the side button to make it snooze.  At that point, I saw that the phone was once again wet.  Uh-oh.  Maybe it hadn't gotten "splashed" after all.  This was looking like an all-out dunking.  Nine minutes later, the alarm went off again.  Hit snooze.  Nine minutes later, same procedure.  I decided to turn the phone off.  No luck.  That thing wasn't going to be turned off.  I tried turning the volume down.  Nope.  That didn't work either.  Nine minutes later, alarm, hit snooze, and so on.

By six o'clock, I was seriously considering smashing the phone.  But I was determined to see if it could be fixed before taking any drastic measures.

At six-thirty, I realized I had forgotten to print the kids' assignment sheets the night before.  (We go to a university model school.  The kids go to school two days a week and then do assigned homework on the other days.  Teachers post the assignments on a website and parents print them off at home.)  Usually, I print assignments a week ahead so that I know what's coming, but I had been sick the week before, so I was still playing catch up.  Normally, printing all the kids' assignments takes ten minutes.  Unfortunately, the company that manages the assignment website had made some changes overnight.  Every assignment for every child had to be clicked on and printed (or cut and pasted into another document) individually.

It took me forty-five minutes to get all of their assignments together.  (I am still not actually sure if I got every assignment on their sheets.)

I was now really behind.  I don't schedule anything extra on Wednesdays unless I am left with no other choice.  This particular Wednesday fell into that category, and two of my boys had appointments that morning, and they had to be dressed decently.  I went to make sure the kids knew to start on breakfast and then school while I ironed the boys' clothes.  And, of course, at that very moment, an entire bowl of cereal got spilled in the middle of the kitchen.  I cleaned it up, made toast to replace that serving of cereal, and started laughing.

"Well, this day can't go anywhere but up!" I told the kids.

Not true, my friends, not true.

We had a "my shoes don't fit and I hate all dress clothes of every kind" meltdown.  I still managed to get the boys to their appointments on time, and we even did a good amount of school while we were waiting.

That, however, was pretty much all of the school that got done that morning.  All of the other kids were distracted and all of the morning chaos had, it seemed, rendered their brains useless.  I did my best to get everyone back on track and reminded them that their long-awaited Sonic dinner reward was going to take place that very night.

Over the course of the morning, I had taken my phone to the repair shop where they informed me that the damage was probably too extensive to make a repair worth it, especially since the phone was a few years old.  Sigh.  I spent a few minutes mapping out a new battle plan for the afternoon, including a trip to the AT&T store to get new phone.  The battle plan was beautiful.  This day was going to turn out okay after all.

And it would have if it hadn't been for the general unwillingness of the soldiers to follow the plan.

I did get my phone.  (Nathan persuaded me to ditch my iPhone in favor of a Galaxy S4.  Excellent choice so far.)  School, however, wasn't going as successfully.  You see, my kids are assigned the same amount of homework to complete Wednesday as they have over the entire weekend.  That means that we have absolutely no margin for error on Wednesdays.  And since "errors" are the name of the game for just about every day at our house, Wednesdays have a tendency to become disaster days nearly every week.

By three o'clock, I was "fit to be tied," as they say.  I made it quite clear that, until every last assignment was done, the next bottom that moved off of a chair for any reason was going to be grounded.  We did manage to get school done, but the house looked like it had been through hours of a two-preschooler-free-for-all.  I told the kids we needed to clean up quickly so that I could pick up Whataburger and get to AWANA on time.

And it was at this point that I realized I had made a critical mistake.  I had promised the kids Sonic.  A couple of kids had told me they'd rather have Whataburger.  I figured one carcinogenic meal was as good as another, so I said sure.  But what I didn't know was that two of my children think Whataburger is "disgusting."  I was faced with a major meltdown of epic proportions.  I tried to turn back the clock.  We'd revert to Sonic.  No dice.  Two of the kids think Sonic is "disgusting."  I tried convincing them that it's all disgusting, so it really doesn't matter.  I told them they needed to work out a compromise.  They made about as much progress on that as Congress.

Finally, I saw that there was no way these kids could have their reward that night.  The fits were too loud, too disrespectful, and too ungrateful to warrant any sort of treat.  That unfortunately meant that the non-fit-throwers had to suffer right alongside the guilty, but that's life.  I sat them down individually and told them that the reward would come at the end of a good day, a happy day, a pleasant day.

After they became convinced that I wasn't going to change my mind, everyone calmed down slightly.  The house was set, if not exactly to rights, at least in some semblance of order.  We got to AWANA on time, and we pulled ourselves together enough when we got home to get lunches and backpacks packed for the next day.

And, just after the kids went to bed, the battery on my old phone FINALLY died and the alarm stopped going off every nine minutes.  Peace reigned supreme at last.

At least until the next morning.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mission: Organization

Happy February!

I spent December and January pulling this family out of survival mode.  I'm pleased to report that we're starting to find our footing and feel more settled.

This wonderful turnaround has been largely accomplished with a Mission: Organization.  We've engaged in these missions before.  I got the idea from a friend who teaches organization workshops.  I think humans, for the most part, operate better when things are orderly.  In a large family, organization isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.  The more people you're trying to get moving in the same direction, the more structure you need to reach your goals and get where you want to be.

And everyone knows things don't just stay in place.  They have a way of surrendering to the law of entropy.  Legos get stuffed in kitchen cabinets.  Pens end up in the toy bins.  Socks land in the t-shirt bin.  And this...


can turn into this...


in a hurry.  (Austin has no idea how that happened.)

So, I've come to realize that regular missions are necessary to maintain order.  Once we've got good systems in place, these missions can be just short, targeted strikes against mess, but sometimes, if things have been especially crazy or we've had major upheaval to our life (like a move or a new school), we have to put some serious boots on the ground to get our house and schedule back on track.

There are different ways to go about organizing.  I usually like to tackle a room at a time.  Here are my Mission: Organization steps:


  • Set aside a few days and cancel other things.  Plan easy meals.  Get everybody revved up about it.  (Or at least let them know what's coming.)
  • Throw stuff away.  LOTS of stuff.  Nearly all of us could live with 1/3 of what we have.  The more stuff, the more mess.  I tell my kids constantly that the more they have, the more they'll have to clean.
  • Have piles for Goodwill and piles to sell, if you're the selling type.  I used to be, but I don't have the time anymore.  I take clothes in good shape (read: Megan's clothes) to resale shops, but other than that, it all goes to Goodwill.
  • Start with the closets and work your way out.
  • Drag everything out, throw away as much you can, and only keep what you need.  Seeing all the stuff out in the open is usually a shock to the system.
  • Growing up an Air Force brat, it seems like if you had more than your allotted weight of stuff to move, you were charged $1/pound to ship the rest of the stuff.  When faced with an item (or a group of items) that I can't part with, I ask myself if I'd pay $1/pound to ship it.  I'm cheap, so the answer's usually no.  And then I get rid of it.
  • Sort things in a way that makes sense to whomever is going to be in charge of putting it away.  The younger the person, the simpler the system.  (The less the person cares about tidiness, the simpler the system.)
  • Label things.  I have neglected this in our new kitchen, and I have to get around to doing that soon.  I can't hold the kids responsible for where they're putting things if I haven't taken the time to label.  Note to self:  My family cannot read my mind.
  • Don't bring in new junk to take the place of the old junk.  Once again, I'm cheap, and every time I get rid of stuff we're not using, I just see it as a colossal waste of money.  (Except, of course, in the case of items which served a good purpose but just aren't needed anymore.)  
These take care of the "stuff" in our home, but I find that the most important organization I do in our family is the time I spend evaluating what's working and what's not and getting routines and thoughts out on paper.  The only way to quit dealing entirely in the realm of the urgent is to start planning ahead and figuring out how to take care of things before they become crises.  

People are often curious about the strategies that I use to keep our family going.  I might post more on that later- I do spend a lot of time thinking through these things.  From this "brain work" comes chore charts (you're welcome, kids!) and routines and processes that get us back on track.  And back on track is a great place to be.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Road Map

About a year after Bryan died, I did a post reflecting on the grieving process, and I said that I'd be posting some more thoughts on that over the next week or two.  Week, months- it's all the same, right?

This might be a little overdue for me, but I hope that it comes at just the right moment for someone else.

One of the challenges that I had early on in the grieving process was feeling a little lost.  Grieving is by its nature a messy process, but I knew that the God who promised to give us "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (1 Pet. 1:3) had to have something to say about how to grieve well.  There are people who allow circumstances to destroy them, to make them bitter, to give them an excuse for every other problem they fail to overcome.  There's no guarantee that suffering will create a stronger person.

So, where was the road map?  Where was God's divine example on how to grieve in a way that forms good character, a way that pushes us further in our journey to maturity?

Job.  The road map for grief is in the book of Job.

People talk a lot about Job.  We reference the "patience of Job" especially.  But there's a lot more to the story.  First, there's the why: Job had it all- family, home, health, possessions- and God allowed it to be taken away, just to test him.  Job didn't lose it all because of his sin; he lost it because God was letting everyone see that Job would still be the same man without all of it.

Then, there are the well-meaning friends.  Job's friends hurt for him.  They wanted to see him get over this thing and move on.  They all had answers.  Most of what they said was good, sound theology.  Much of it was beautiful.  ("Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects...For he bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole.  He shall deliver you in six troubles, yes, in seven no evil shall touch you." 5:17-18)  And they were all wrong.  Their timing was off, and they didn't understand God's purpose any better than Job did.  Incidentally, Job wins the award for best sarcastic response in the Bible, when he disdainfully replies to his friends, "Surely you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!" (12:2)

Job even had trouble grieving with family members.  We tend to be a little hard on Job's wife, but, remember, she lost everything too.  And her response was very different than Job's.  She wanted him to let go of his integrity.  Surely their troubles warranted that.  They were suffering.  He was sick and in pain.  She spoke out of anger and bitterness and told him to "Curse God and die."  And in those four words we have an example of how to grieve poorly.  Perhaps Job's reply helped his grieving wife to gain the proper perspective and mindset: "Shall we indeed accept good from God and shall we not accept adversity?"  (2:9-10)  Everyone grieves differently, and many take out their anger on those closest to them.  It's tough, but families have to stick together during hard times.  At the end of the journey, no one wants to look around and find himself estranged from everyone he once held dear.

The most important part of any map, though, is the crossroad.  As long as the journey is heading on a straight path, the map isn't very necessary.  But, when faced with two options, we'd better know which road leads to our desired destination.

For most of the book, God lets Job go.  He complains, he protests his innocence, he asks why.  In a word, he mourns his loss.  But then comes chapter 38.  It's the crossroad.  God speaks, and Job has a decision to make.

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 
'Who is this who darkens counsel
by words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?'"
Job 38:1-4

God says, "Enough."  And Job must decide.  Does he cling to his argument?  After all, God never said in His reply that Job deserved what he got.  He just talked about His omnipotence and Job's humanity.  Should Job just say, "But, LORD, You were wrong."  In other words, does Job take the path of pride and bitterness and anger?  Or does he choose the path of surrender?

Job, of course, chooses surrender:  "I raise my hand over my mouth."  But many of us fail to make that choice.  We continue on the path of bitterness and some even turn against the LORD in their anger.  I'll say it again: Suffering does not guarantee a stronger character.  What we allow suffering to do to us depends on the choice we make at the crossroads.  

When you reach the crossroad, choose surrender.  Choose hope.  

"Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning."
Job 42:12