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  • Make A Wish

    October 31, 2009

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    The other afternoon Sean and I went out for a walk. It was a glorious Indian summer day, warm and peaceful and perfect in every way.

    He spied the very last of the ripened dandelions and plucked it out of the ground.  “Okay Mom,” he said, “Be quiet.”

    I stood quietly and respectfully off to the side while he stood as still as a totem pole, eyes closed and holding up the dandelion to his lips.  Then he whispered, “I wish Vivian could come see me every year!”

    He inhaled deeply with a squeak and then blew with all his might, scattering his wish to the wind. He blew and blew and blew until there was nothing left but a bald stem.

    As we continued our walk towards home, I told him I thought that was a nice wish.  I told him I thought it was much better to wish for people than for stuff.

    He nodded in agreement.  Then he said, “You know a prayer is kind of like a wish you share with God.”

    All I could do was nod in agreement.

    What Happens When A New Car Kinda Gal Marries A Debt Free Kinda Guy

    October 29, 2009

    Go get a beverage, it’s a long one today…

    * * *

    A week or so ago, I saw on my Twitter stream that Dave Ramsey was looking for stories of people who have been living debt free for 10 or more years.  Since we had just celebrated our 11th debt-free anniversary, I took the time to send him our story in a paragraph or two.

    I was really surprised when the producer emailed me and asked if I would talk to Dave on the air on Friday because our story is not all that exciting. It’s not like we were $100,000 in debt, clawed our way out using Dave’s program and now live on a yacht in the south of France.

    We have been quietly living debt-free for eleven years because prior to our marriage we agreed that is how we would live.  But to be honest, 99% of the credit goes to Antique Daddy.  He does most of the work and provides the leadership and it has blessed me beyond measure.  Even though sometimes I don’t like it.

    Our story starts back in 1996 when I first met AD.  I was immediately and wildly attracted to him, not just because he is hot but because there was just a steadiness about him that really appealed to me.  Beyond being a person who shared my faith, which was of number one importance to me, he was sane and responsible and disciplined — all the things I am not.  The longer we dated, the more it became apparent to me that those things were deeply engrained in his being and not just paint on the surface, so when he finally asked me to marry him in 1998, I squealed and said, “I though you’d never ask.”

    AD and I both grew up lower middle class and poor but that experience shaped how we view money in very different ways.

    I hated being poor and not having the nice things that I saw that others had, so I worked hard and spent every dime I made on clothes and shoes and cars and other stuff that is probably at this moment in a landfill somewhere.  In my 20s, I got myself into credit card debt (twice because I’m a slow learner) in my quest to have nice things.  I was in my 30s before I finally learned that retail consumption is a monster that cannot be satisfied.  To this day, at the core of my being, even at nearly age 50, is a poor little girl who wants nice things and is a world champion rationalizer when it comes to new shoes.

    AD’s story is that his father died unexpectedly when he was eleven-years-old.  He grew up watching his mother sell Tupperware to support him and his two older brothers.  She did well, but there wasn’t a lot of extra money.  He spent many an evening at home alone while his mother went off to give a Tupperware party.  Like me, he decided that he didn’t like being poor and so he saved every dime he earned, which he pretty much still has.  To this day he thinks long and hard before buying even the smallest thing.  At the center of his being is a poor fatherless little boy who is scared of not having any money.

    I tell you this to illustrate that how we feel about money and how we deal with money is less about money and more about whatever ancient hurts and injustices we lug around with us.  We don’t just one day arrive at a financial philosophy, it has been shaping and building our entire lives.  But at some point, you have to face it head on and decide if it’s working for you or if you need to make a change.  If you are in debt, you probably need to come to terms with the emotional cues that are sparking your spending habits and fueling your bad choices.

    As we were planning our wedding, I read somewhere that the number one thing that people fight over is money. So prior to tying the knot we had a number of in-depth discussions about money and we realized that we had to figure out a way to merge our views on spending and saving if we wanted to stay married more than a week.

    I strongly encourage everyone who is thinking about getting married to do this.  It is reallllly important.  You’ll still fight about money but at least you will have some insight into your partner’s point of view.

    Before we walked down the aisle, we hammered out what would be our family’s financial philosophy, which is basically this:  If we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it. Period.

    Beyond that, the other thing that has served us well is that we agreed that neither of us would spend more than $100 without first talking to the other person.  There is a little bit more to it than that — we live on one income and below our means, we maximize all tax-free or tax-deferred financial vehicles, we never ever ever revolve credit and a few other very basic tenants. But at the core of it all, we agreed that we would not worship at the altar of conspicuous consumption.

    This agreement has on more than one occasion chafed me because I really like certain things that might be described as conspicuous, like new cars.

    I bought my first new car in 1977 when I was 17. It was a sweet little ride, a 1977 Mustang, black with red pin stripes, wire wheel hub caps and red look-like-leather seats.  To my credit, I paid for it myself – my parents did not help me other than with half of the initial down payment. Their financial philosophy is this:  “You kids are on your own.”  And honestly, that has served me well too.  All that to say, I love me some new car smell.  I do. It is intoxicating.  I am a new car kind of gal and I knowingly married a debt-free kind of guy.  And over the past eleven years, it has vexed me and blessed me all at the same time.

    So then, in 1995, the year before I met AD, I bought a brand new off the lot Jeep Cherokee.  I have not bought another new car since and probably never will again.  In 2003, five years into our marriage, the Jeep had seen better days and it was time to replace it.  AD found a super deal on the car I drive now. It was three years old at the time, had low mileage and was just like new, although a little short on new car smell.  I took it for a test drive and agreed that I could be happy with it.  We paid cash for it, drove it home and I have been driving it ever since.  My little old car is 10- years-old now, but it gets me around in a reasonable amount of style, if not conspicuous style.

    In the interest of honesty, because Antique Mommy is nothing if not honest, I will confess that sometimes I see my friends driving new cars and I feel an itsy bit sorry for myself because I want to drive a new car too.  But the thought of taking that kind of cash out of the bank, which is the only way AD would go along with buying a new car, makes my stomach turn.  And it makes my paid for car look pretty darn good.

    The real benefit of living debt-free these past eleven years has become most apparent in this past year when the economy seems to have gone to hell in a hand basket in a hurry. The unemployment rate is supposed to be something around 10% but it seems to me that 20% of the people we know have lost jobs, including us.  But because we have been savers and not spenders, we have insulated ourselves as best we can against the uncertain ebb and flow of the economy. We expect we can ride out this storm and the storms in the distance that we hear but do not yet see.

    My final point is this:  A lot of stress comes into our lives that we cannot control, but the stress that comes with debt is a very often a choice (obviously there are extraordinary and extenuating circumstances which I am not trying to address here).

    If your circumstances are not extraordinary or extenuating,  you have the choice to eliminate the stress of bill collectors, living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about making ends meet by taking baby steps towards systematically eliminating debt, living within your means and a instituting a methodical savings strategy. And you will get there. It won’t be easy, but you CAN make it happen. And that would be an awesome gift you give yourself and your family — much better than anything you drag home from the mall.

    If you are not there yet, or don’t know how to get there I encourage you to check out Dave Ramsey or Crown Financial Ministries. And then make an agreement with yourself and your family to work towards becoming debt free.

    Living the good life means living the debt-free life.

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    Intro To Pumpkinology 101

    October 27, 2009

    Last week Sean’s kindergarten teacher asked me if I’d be willing to come up to the school and lead a couple of 15-20 minute classes on pumpkins. I know my way around a pumpkin and it sounded like fun, so I said sure, why not.

    When I arrived at the school,  the teacher gave me a 10-second overview of the lesson plan, three pumpkins and a knife. Then she blindfolded me, spun me around three times and pushed me towards my classroom.

    The lesson plan was this:  She would send three or four children at a time to my room where we would list on a whiteboard all the characteristics of a pumpkin. Then we would read a short book on how a pumpkin starts from a seed, grows into a pumpkin, and then the seeds from the pumpkin return to the ground where more pumpkins grow.  Oh I’m sorry.  I just gave away the ending.  Hope that doesn’t ruin it for you.

    Anyway, after the book, the children were to explore the pumpkin.  They were to put their hands in, on and around the pumpkin, they were to experience pumpkin slime and become one with the pumpkin.  At which time I would send them back to the teacher covered in pumkin guts and she would send me three more unsuspecting children (insert scary maniacal laugh).

    If I’ve learned one thing as a mother, it is this:  managing children is a lot like throwing a party.  Any possible thing that can be done ahead of time, should be done ahead of time.

    With that thought in mind, I decided that I would cut the tops off the pumpkins before the children arrived to my room so that I wasn’t faced with wielding a knife while a small crowd of 5-year-olds tried to “help”.  But the pumpkins the teacher had given me were as hard as bowling balls. The knife that I had just wasn’t cutting it.  Cutting it!  Ha!  I crack myself up.

    About time this, another teacher, Ms. Danielle, happened by my room and saw that I had worked up a bead of sweat trying to cut the top off a pumpkin.  She did not point and laugh but politely asked how it was going.  I said, not so well and I jokingly asked her if she happened to have a chainsaw.  She said, no, but she did have a hacksaw.  I laughed and then I noticed she wasn’t kidding, so  I said, “Dudette? Seriously?”

    Ms. Danielle slipped away and quickly returned with a hacksaw.  I immediately had a series of thoughts: 1) Ain’t it great living in Texas!? 2) Mental note to self:  Do not tick off Ms. Danielle.  3) Wow, she’s got her own hacksaw!  4) If she keeps a hacksaw in her purse, I wonder what she has under the car seat?

    Side Bar:  If I were lost out in the wilderness with someone, I would pick Ms. Danielle over Bear Grylls because for one thing, she carries a hacksaw and that would be useful. And two, she seems pretty pragmatic.  I’m sure she would not get naked and jump into a freezing cold river for demonstration purposes as Bear likes to do.  And three, being a woman, she would ask for directions and we wouldn’t get lost in the first place and we would go shopping instead and we would not have to eat bugs because we could just go to Starbucks or Panera.

    There for a minute, I thought there was point to this post, but apparently I was mistaken.

    All in all, I think the Intro to Pumpkinology class was a success.  No one threw up or fainted or suffered any permanent psychological damage other than three small pumpkins.

    Eleven

    October 26, 2009

    So then, not too long ago we celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary.

    I went on line to look up what the traditional gifts are for eleven years and it says they are steel and fashion jewelry – basically power tools or cheap jewelry.  If they had checked with me they would know that it’s not steel or jewelry, it is picture frames.

    A few days prior, I happened to notice on the calendar that the big day was nigh, so I said, “Dude. Did you know that our anniversary is coming up?”

    “Yes,” he lied.

    “Really?” I queried.  “When is it?”

    “It is soon,” he said decisively, “Very. Soon.  It is….coming up.”

    So because both of us stink at event planning and having ducks in a row, on the day of, we separately snuck off to generic big box stores to buy each other thoughtful meaningful gifts to express our love; gifts that said, “You are the love of my life, you are my passion.”  And what better expresses that sentiment than picking up something from the clearance end cap at the very last minute?  And I really think that doing it this way is a greater expression of love just because of the creativity and challenge involved.

    Later that evening, we went out for dinner and when we got to the restaurant, we handed each other slightly used gift bags which may or may have not featured Rudolph.  As they say, it’s not the gift bag that counts, it’s the gift. Okay “they” don’t really say that, just me.

    In his bag was a photograph I had taken of Sean and him which I had stuck lovingly placed in a frame that I found at Target for $5.99. But it looked like it cost at least $7.99.

    In my bag was a digital picture frame which is now sitting on my desk with the past eleven years literally flashing before my eyes.

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    Pumpkin Patch

    October 22, 2009

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    Grow Where You Are Planted

    October 21, 2009

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    Even if everything around you is falling apart.

    This massive tree is growing skyward,  seemingly unaware that half of its root system is exposed. The path that runs alongside this tree is a good six feet below the base of the tree, so as I walked along the path, I was looking up into its tangle of roots. And yet it grows. It reminded me that if we are rooted deeply enough, we can flourish and grow in less than ideal circumstances.

    When Leaves Fall Moose Mate

    October 19, 2009

    So then, Sean’s homework assignment for tonight was to draw a picture representing fall.

    I was excited about that project because of the many creative possibilities.  I envisioned that he would draw a field of pumpkins or falling leaves. Or maybe pumpkins or falling leaves. Or something like that.

    So I gave him a piece of paper and read to him the task as stated on the assignment sheet.

    Side Bar:  I learned early on in college that if you can figure out what the professor wants and give it to them on time, you can raise your letter grade by at least a factor of one.  And the way you figure out what the professor wants is by reading the syllabus. The professor often explicitly states what is expected of you on the syllabus.  That’s just a little trick I learned.  So if you are in school right now and you are reading this, here’s a little golden nugget of advice:   Read the dadgum syllabus. Read it twice.

    Then I gave him some art supplies and said, “Go to town Picasso!” And he did.

    When he handed me his masterpiece for inspection, I was a little bit surprised. There were no falling leaves or pumpkins. There was what appeared to be a moose staring at a tree.

    So I asked him, I said, “Sean how does this represent fall?”

    And he said with a bit of exasperation as one might have when speaking with someone as unlearned as I, “Mom. Moose look for a mate in the fall.”

    So I said what anyone in my situation might say. I said,  “Oh.”

    And then I scratched my head and wondered if maybe we might be watching a little too much Animal Planet.

    And now, I  want to take this opportunity to apologize to the parents whose children might come home from school tomorrow with a little too much information regarding the mating habits of moose.

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    Mr. Moose looking for a Mrs. Moose.   Clearly.

    Haystack Jumping

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    How Team Sports Are Like Working In An Office

    October 15, 2009

    In the past few years Sean has played on a couple of sports teams. He played baseball for a couple of seasons and now he’s playing soccer.

    What I have observed in watching Sean play soccer and baseball is that team sports are the precursor to working in an office.  You’ve got the same cast of characters, only in miniature.  Basically the nose picker and whiner and the kid who just lies down in the outfield grow up to get jobs.  So we make Sean play sports, not for the exercise, but to develop his interpersonal office skills.

    In sports and at the office, there is always someone who thrives on drama; every minor scrape is life threatening.  Their dream is to be carried off on a stretcher.

    There is also someone who is constantly kissing up to management – they live to report every minor foul and inequity.

    There is the dude who always shows up about half way through the game but takes full credit/commission for the win/sale.

    Then there is Mr. Chatty Pants who is like a gnat buzzing around your head. He likes to chat you up while you are trying to keep your eye on the ball.  And then in the name of teamwork, he takes credit for the goal you scored.

    And many others.

    I worked in a number of different offices back in the 70s and 80s and in all honesty, I didn’t do very well. I never seemed to be able to figure out how to navigate office politics and personalities.

    Had I played soccer when I was growing up, I might be a CEO now instead of a blogger.

    I Spy With My Little Eye, Crazy Things In My Car

    October 13, 2009

    Some of us gals who attended She Speaks last summer decided that a fun way to keep up with one another would be to link up and do a Crazy Things themed post every so often.  And today is our first one.  (I thought) Today’s theme is (was) about the crazy things you find your car. (Turns out not. Just crazy wherever you find it. Oh well.)

    I didn’t even have to look under the seat to find something crazy. And frankly, I’m glad. My fear is that somewhere in the deep dark unexplored depths of my car, the Goldfish and Gummy Bears are mating and evolving into higher life forms. And that is information that I don’t need.

    I used to be very particular about my car. I kept it immaculate.  I did.

    Then I had a child.

    Now my car is more or less a sludgemobile.  It is a moveable feast, a roving footlocker, it is a portable classroom, it is a conference room on wheels — it is an I Spy photo shoot waiting to happen.

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    I spy a tiny planet and crocodile, an iPod and a nail file…

    That’s all I can do.  Making up those I Spy poems is not as easy as you might think.  Have at it.

    So then, as you can see, there are several things I never leave home without – Carmex lip balm, germ gel, my cell phone, a hair band and reading glasses.  And Saturn and an alligator. Those things all work in harmony to keep me glued together.  There was a miniature Tootsie Roll but I ate it before I took the picture.

    If you care to reveal what crazy thing(s) you have in your car, I’d love to know.

    If you want to play the full version of the game, click over and see our lovely hostess (Vanna gesture) Hillary, also known as The Other Mama.