Monthly Archives: January 2011

What 3 Things…

This weekend, while driving to the bowling alley, Carter asked me a question. I don’t know what prompted it, but it was a good question. Keep in mind Carter is 15. “Mom, if you could give me 3 pieces advice about money what would they be?” He’s such a deep thinker! I don’t know where these things come from, but what 15 year old asks a parent for financial advice? When they’re not in trouble:).

Anyway, it was a good question and we were about 3 blocks from the bowling alley…at the most! I had to think quickly. So I told him, this is just off the cuff, the first things that come to my mind.

  1. Buy lottery tickets and buy them often! If it comes down to milk or lottery tickets – go with the lottery tickets! You can never go wrong buying lottery tickets.
  2. If there are still checks in your checkbook, you still have money in your account. Just keep writing checks until they’re gone.
  3. Get lots of credit cards! Its free money! If they extend you credi,t it must be ok to charge that much. After all, the credit card companies would never steer you wrong!

Ok, not really, but it would have been fun to see his reaction:)!

So here’s what I really said:

  1. Learn how to create a budget and live by it. I think this would be the single most valuable lesson I could learn. If you have a budget and you live by it, you wouldn’t go into debt. You would be deliberate in how you spend your money, with a plan for every dollar. How freeing it would be to operate that way. Clearly, we don’t. How many of us, if we laid it out on paper ahead of time, would plan to buy a $33,000 car, with a 63 month loan, that would depreciate in value by 60% in the first 4 years. But that’s the average cost of a new car and the average length of loan. Somehow when you put it on paper it’s all more clear. (Side note: we don’t have a $33,000 car or a 63 month loan!)
  2. Start saving for your retirement as soon as you can. The earlier you start the quicker it will grow. Have it automatically deducted from your paycheck and put away the max your employer will match. You just can’t make up for a late start.
  3. The last one took me a bit longer to come up with. But #3 was to learn as much as you can about investments. Make investments your hobby. Learn about mutual funds. Familiarize yourself with annuities, stocks, portfolios. Get into it. It will pay off in the end.

The more I think about it there are so many more things I want to tell him. We’ll have to have another conversation…or many more conversations!  So now I’m wondering, do we teach kids enough about money? Do we as parents do a good job of preparing them to manage money as adults? I think I better add this to the list of things I need to teach the kids before they head off to college.

 Right after I go to the store for a lottery ticket!

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Filed under Advice, Frugal living, Goals, Legacy, Lifestyle, Money, Parenting

What a Week

 

This has been a rough week. Nothing in particular, just one of those weeks when I can’t get traction; everything seems to go wrong. Yuck piled on top of yuck. I’m glad it’s Friday, and I’m glad I survived the week. It actually ended on a positive note, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
I was thinking today and last night about how some weeks are just so bad. There are those weeks where one thing goes wrong, and then another, and another. Then I just know it’s coming; the next yuck thing. But maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe the yuck thing would have been there on a good week too, I just wouldn’t have noticed because I was focused on the good that week! Could it be that I make my own bad weeks? I knew on Monday this was gonna be a doozy. I had some early morning travel and an evening meeting for work. Throw in a couple soccer practices, a couple basketball practices, and hubby’s birthday and whammy! That’s a big week. But not necessarily a bad week. So, maybe its about focusing on the positive and that’s what I’ll see?
Ok, let’s look at the week with a new lens.
What an awesome week this was! I got to do some work travel and met some really great people. I had a great conversation with a co-worker on the way to our evening meeting. Dinner on hubby’s birthday was great! And the week ended with finding a super volunteer that’s going to be a huge asset and getting more grant money for an upcoming event!

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I’ve been thinking a lot this week about why I’m blogging. I’m not sure. I love to write and I’m really enjoying it. But, I don’t know what my goal is. I like to have a goal. Otherwise how do I know if I’m accomplishing what I set out to do? What do you think? What do you want to read?  Random life happenings? Carefully thought through essays? Commentary on current events? I’m curious.
I’ll keep working on finding my voice and setting a goal. You think about what you’d like to read and leave me a comment:).

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Filed under Goals, Lifestyle, Positive, Randomness

The Perfect Number

So what’s the big deal with the family of four? Who decided everything should come in 4s? Family packs to the Baseball game come with 4 tickets, 4 dogs, and 4 drinks. When you stay at the great wolf lodge you get 4 passes to the water park.

I like 5 better! I think its the perfect family size. I think we should change the standard. You have no idea how many hotels we’ve “snuck” one of our children into. They want us to rent a second room since there are more than 4 of us. Really? Why on earth would I do that!

Maybe we need a name for this movement. Keep 5 alive! (Sounds like the old drive 55 and stay alive campaign.) Strive for 5! (This makes me think of vegetables…eeewww!) Family of 5! (Kind of dry and not very exciting.) Maybe we don’t need a name…

So I just looked up the statistics and now I’m shocked! Did you know that the average number of children per family that has children (confusing, I know, but this average doesn’t include all the families that would be a zero because they don’t have children.) is only…..1.86 for the US!! There are only 2 states that average over 2 children per family with children. Can you guess which states they are? Bet you would guess one of them, but not the other. Utah. Yes, that’s the one I thought you would guess. But, the other one…Idaho! Who knew? I didn’t.

So why did everyone quit having kids? Here’ my total guess at the reason our average has gone down.

  1. We don’t need kids to help us “work the land” We’re pretty spoiled, all we have to do is drive our car to the grocery store and get whatever we need.
  2. Kids are super expensive! Believe me! And when they are teenagers…they eat A LOT.
  3. More people are choosing to have fewer kids so people are coming from smaller families. I think we gravitate to what we know.
  4. I think more people today struggle with fertility than years ago. I don’t know why. I would like to explore this question and I think I have lots of friends who have some ideas.

I don’t think this trend is going to change anytime soon. That makes me a bit sad. I love having three kids! I come from a family of 4 kids. I love when we go home and there are lots of people there! And each of my brothers has 3 kids; none of us went for the 4. I wonder why? I always feel a bit sad for only children. I think they miss out. Please don’t get angry with me if you are or have an only child. I know it’s not always by choice! And even if it is – you get to choose not me:) – thank goodness huh? I just love having brothers. For me siblings are comfort. People who you can always turn to, who know you and love you warts and all. They share stories of growing up; the parents we had, the cars we drove, the pets. I know it’s not that way for everyone; I get that. And if your siblings aren’t people you are close to as an adult, I can see where it wouldn’t motivate you to have lots of kids. But for me, that mattered.

So, I guess I’ll just have to keep “sneaking” my kids in to hotels and paying for my “extra” family member. It’s totally worth it! I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Tiger Mom vs. Soccer Mom

 Have you heard about the new book by Chinese author Amy Chua? It’s called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and it’s all about the advantages and benefits of Chinese parenting styles. Simply Google her and you will see a plethora of commentary on parenting styles.

In a nutshell she says that parents need to push their kids harder. They need to set higher expectations for them and failure is not an option. Neither are sleepovers, video games, watching TV or choosing their own extra-curricular activities. It’s kind of a win-at-all-costs parenting style. Which she seems to say makes them more successful than Western parents. The sentiment seems to be that driving and directing children in this uber-focused fashion will lead to more successful adults.

Contrast this with Soccer Moms who listen to their children’s thoughts and feelings and let them make choices. These can be the parents who want every child to be a winner. Who insist on creating awards so that each child receives one. Soccer Moms are noted for putting their children’s interests ahead of their own – according to popular media.

It has me thinking…am I a Soccer Mom or a Tiger Mom?

I think children need discipline. I think they need parameters and boundaries and most of all expectations. And they need love. As a Mom I should be their soft spot. The place they will always be loved; the place they can always turn. It’s not my job to criticize them or to berate them -there will be plenty of others who will fill that role in their lives. But being the soft spot is not without its responsibility. As a parent I need to call them out when they aren’t living up to their potential, when they are making decisions that go against the values our family holds. Because I love them I can tell them they crossed a line. I can tell them (and I often do) that getting a B isn’t good enough. I would not say that if I believed a B was the highest grade they are capable of getting. I know they can do better and so I expect better. Does that make me a Tiger Mom?

I don’t believe in rewarding mediocrity. If you put forth little effort you shouldn’t be surprised when you don’t get outstanding results. I think giving a trophy to every player just for showing up is a mistake. It sets the bar too low. I don’t want my children to just show up. I want them to give it their best effort.  I want them to work hard to get better, using the natural talent they have with practice, drive and determination. I don’t care if they are the star player or the top student in their class. I do care if they gave 100% effort, pushed themselves, practiced hard and were mentally engaged. I care that they used all the resources at their disposal to improve their performance.

I also know each of my children is different. They have the same parents, but they all have different expectations put upon them. And they need different expectations. My oldest had to be pushed to break the rules a little. To not be so concerned about doing exactly as he was told. {Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t encourage him to do anything illegal or immoral, just to step out of his box a bit.}  My youngest has to be reeled in on a nearly daily basis. They are different people with unique personalities, talents, skills and interests. To treat them all the same expecting the exact same thing of each of them makes me think of the depictions of communism I saw as a child. Everyone equal, no concern for the individual. The beauty of having three children is how unique each child is! I sometimes wonder how they all came from the same parents. I am a different Mom to each of my children and I think that’s the way I should be. I think my job as a parent is to figure out each child’s currency; what motivates them. What drives them? To help them figure out what feeds their soul, what really energizes them? I think by figuring that out I can help them find internal motivation. I feel such frustration and sadness for kids who are extrinsically motivated. It would stink to go through life waiting to be rewarded for everything. I love that feeling of accomplishing something I set out to do. And I think kids enjoy that too. As parents we have to be careful not to create an environment where every action earns a reward.

I let my boys choose their extra-curricular activities – within parameters. I get to veto an activity if it’s too expensive, takes too much time, etc. But once they commit to an activity, they must see it through to the end…painful as that can sometimes be. Whether it is basketball or mathletics, you committed to the team and you need to keep your commitment. When the season/event is over is the time to reevaluate your participation. Forcing your children into specific extracurricular activities is selfish on the parent’s part. And a little bit arrogant. This assumes that they cannot know what they will excel at and find joy in themselves.

If kids don’t have the opportunity to make choices how will they learn to make them well as an adult? If they are never allowed to make mistakes how will they learn consequences?  And if they never fail as a child what will happen when they face failure as an adult – and they will face failure as an adult?

My husband and I, not our kids, are in charge in our home – no surprise to anyone who knows us. We make the rules and our kids are expected to follow them. If they choose not to, they know there are consequences. But our level of control changes, lessens a tiny bit each year. Giving them opportunities to make decisions, try them out, experience the downside of making the wrong choice. And to experience the personal satisfaction and pride in making a decision, working hard toward a goal and succeeding.

Parenting is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And it seems to get a little more challenging each year. Surrounding myself with other Moms who share our values has been vital to me. Having them to bounce ideas off of and problem solve with is such a gift.

I’d have to say I have a bit of Tiger and Soccer Mom in me, but I would like to think I’m a balanced Mom. 

What kind of Mom are you?

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Enough Already

I’ve chosen not to make my blog a political blog – just seems like it would get me into trouble. I would rather use this forum to talk about our lives as a family. But, the name of my blog is Considering the Options; daily decisions that change our lives. And I think we as Americans are making some daily decisions that are changing lives – our own and those around us. I think we all need to consider our options a little more carefully.

I have to say, enough already! Today, just days after the horrific shooting in Tucson, the rhetoric in the media and blog land has pushed me to speak up. In the last 24 hours I have heard countless individuals and media figures analyzing every word that Sarah Palin uttered in her videotaped response to the shootings. Her comments are being broken down syllable by syllable, delving into the meaning of every one of them. Analyzing the “true” meaning of the phrase. The video is played again and again in 15 second segments. Everyone has an interpretation of what she was “really saying”.

She is not alone in facing relentless criticism. The airwaves are flooded today with commentary on President Obama’s “performance” last night. From his smile to his tone of voice to his body language. Every minute detail is being scrutinized. And opinions abound about the intentions driving every gesture and word. Nothing went unnoticed and noone hesitates to offer their commentary.

I did not watch Palin’s video in its entirety, nor did I watch the President’s entire speech. Sometimes I feel the need to tune out of the craziness – to shut it all out. I suspect the vast majority of people, even some of those who are waxing poetic about the language and demeanor, didn’t watch them either. And yet, everyone has an opinion about how wrong they both were.

I find it much like the way lots of folks read the Bible. They pull small phrases, words, very short passages and use them as the basis of their faith and understanding. If you try hard enough, you could probably find words in the Bible to support any thought, ideology or belief. But you would be wrong. The Bible is one book, with many authors. You must read it in its entirety to understand it. Reading one verse in the Old Testament won’t give you an understanding of the Bible. It may make an argument for you, or seemingly justify your behavior. You can pull one phrase to support radical beliefs or to make your argument that the Bible is not relevant today. But you would be missing the point. All the books and chapters in the Bible were included for a reason. As a collective they tell the story of my God and His people.

When we pick and choose what we want to hear, we lose the meaning. Our super-focus leads us astray.

What if, we all just took a step back? What would happen if we would listen, truly listen to the message? What if we all seek to understand where someone is coming from? Maybe, just maybe we could begin to move toward a place of collaboration. A place where we work together to find solutions to the truly challenging issues that our country is facing today. What if we brought passionate people, those with expertise, and problems solvers together at the table? What if they brainstormed creative, innovative solutions to the challenges we face?

Oh the places we could go, the problems we could solve. If only we could understand.

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Defective Scale

I just bought a new scale today. Not because I set some crazy New Year’s Resolution to lose weight or get fit. No, we just had a really old scale that was super inaccurate. We got a Cadillac of bathroom scales. Not only does it tell you your weight, but also your body fat, bone mass, BMI, and hydration levels. It’s super cool! And you can program 4 people into it and it will save all your info. {Side note: who decided that 4 was the perfect number for everything? I think 5 is a better number! But that’s another post..} So, you can set your goal weight and it stores your progress.

But it must be defective. So disappointing. It shows I weigh 6-8 pounds more than the old scale! Clearly there is a problem with the new scale. And my percent body fat is just shocking! I think it must be wrong. Don’t you think?

Seriously though, it has made me think a bit about the whole weight thing. It’s a sticky topic. People are pretty sensitive when you start discussing weight. Just watch the clerk at the DMV when they ask you your weight. They know no one wants to answer the question and everyone lies. I’m not a little girl, never really have been. I’ve been overweight for all my adult life. I didn’t think I was overweight as a child or teen, despite the razzing of my dad and brothers. I’m not sure when it changed, probably college. The freshman 15 followed by the sophomore 7, etc. Throw in three pregnancies and here I am – overweight.

But, I just have to wonder if we don’t all have a “set point” that we naturally fall into. Here’s my thinking. I haven’t dieted or made an effort to get more exercise since March. And I haven’t gained any weight. So what gives? (I’m not complaining mind you) If my eating habits are completely to blame for my weight, wouldn’t I continue to gain weight? I get that you have to burn more calories than you take in. I’m not stupid. I guess my point is, I think there are people who are naturally thin and those who are naturally thick :). There are all kinds of body types; all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some people just drew the short straw and happen to be thick in an era when thin is in. Maybe I missed my time – should have been born in the Elizabethan era (or whenever it was) when curvy women were perfect and those skinny women needed some meat on their bones.

There is a stigma today. I’ve heard the comments -even made some of them myself. If you are overweight it’s because you aren’t disciplined, have no will power, don’t work hard enough, just eat crap, and on and on. You probably have diabetes, heart disease and are in generally bad health. If you are thin you’re healthy, disciplined, driven and successful.

It’s not fair. Whaaa! Maybe I should throw myself on the floor, stomp my feet, complain to someone? Lot of good that will do me. Ultimately there is no way to change your genes. So, I will always have to work a little harder to get to and maintain a healthy weight. That’s the breaks. I just hope all the thin people of the world will remember, it isn’t the same for everyone. This is your thing – the break you got. Enjoy it, relish it and remember it when you face whatever your struggle is. We all have our thing.

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To Resolve or Not to Resolve

That is my current question. New years is the perfect time to think about changes for the coming year. It’s like a clean slate. You can commit to do anything for a year, because you are starting at the beginning. It’s neat and clean. 12 whole months before you to achieve all you dream of doing. 12 pristine months not marred by an oops or slip up. 12 months of potential. It’s tempting. But the failure rate is astronomical. I don’t know the statistics (97% of them are made up anyway), but I know that most new years resolutions are not kept. I’ve made a few in my day. I’ve kept far less. Maybe this year’s list will be a little more do-able. Let’s see…

In 2011 I resolve to….

…do laundry at least once a month and give my family the opportunity to feel the sense of accomplishment in washing, drying, folding and putting away all the laundry the rest of the time.

…maintain my weight rather than loose a bunch. Ok, if I failed at this one it wouldn’t be all bad. I could stand to lose some weight (ok a lot of weight), but I think this is the most broken new year’s resolution so I’m just going to resolve to maintain. How hard can that be?

…start several craft projects. There are so many new things I want to try this year! I’ll have to make a list of what I want to do.

…watch a lot of soccer games. That’s pretty specific! I resolve to go to most of my boys’ games, even those they will be playing outdoors in January and February. I’m a little crazy that way.

…nag my kids incessantly about their long term projects. I also know it probably won’t help.  But I will do it. I will help them set timelines to pace themselves, remind them of the deadlines and give them the stink eye when the night before it’s due they say, “this is gonna take me longer than I thought.”

…not start smoking. I did it for a short time in my college days (didn’t everyone?), but it’s a nasty habit. I can guarantee you I won’t take up smoking this year!

…continue enjoying a glass of wine with friends or a cold beer with my hubby. Everything in moderation.

…keep trying to make a budget and stick to it for one month. This has been on my 101 in 1001 list for 6 months now. I keep trying and eventually I should have had every conceivable unexpected expense crop up so there shouldn’t be any unexpected expenses, right?

…eat a quazi-balanced meal with my family at least once a week. Or maybe once every two weeks -life is quite crazy.

…follow my gut. That little voice inside me that gives me a heads up when I’m about to make a bad decision. You know the one, when you think logically or on paper something looks like the right thing, but deep inside you know it’s the wrong choice or the wrong time for that choice. The older I get the better I have gotten at listening to and trusting my instincts. They don’t lead me astray.

If I were to set some lofty goals for this year they might look something like this…

In 2011 I resolve to…

…exercise 20 minutes every day (or maybe just 5 days a week)

…write at least one blog post per week

…have a family dinner 3 nights per week

…include a vegetable at each of those meals – and actually eat the vegetable myself

…finish all the craft projects I’ve started before beginning a new one (that’s just crazy talk!)

…have a date night with my husband once a week (I’d even settle for once a month:))

…reduce, reuse and recycle a lot!

 …write actual letters to people I care about once a month

…send thank yous for every gift one of my family members receives this year (I’m embarrassed to say we’re terrible about this)

…scrapbook a few hours each week!

Good thing I’m not actually setting those lofty goals or I’d really have to work hard at them since I put it out here in the universe for everyone to see. No pressure there.

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