Monday, December 12, 2011

Elf on the Shelf Shenanigans

Have you heard about the Elf on the Shelf? If not and you have kids, you'll want to read on!

Santa recently opened up the North Pole for scout elves to leave their home and visit the homes of children around the world. The scout elves have a very important job and that is to watch how the kids are behaving and then report back to Santa each night while the kids are sleeping.

But beware, scout elves are a bit mischievous (must be all the sugar available at the North Pole) and they tend to hide in crazy places. They have been known to make a mess too.

Our Story:

We were so lucky to adopt an Elf about three years ago. I went to an adoption center not far from our home and selected the elf that I wanted for my boys. He showed up the next morning, hidden in our tree. He brought his story along with him and left a book under the tree. The boys named him Bernard, after the number one elf in The Santa Clause.

The first two years Bernard was with us were great. He didn't seem to get into to many predicaments. Nothing like what we have heard about from other families who have Elves on their Shelves.

Last year he brought back a great poem that he wrote. I wanted to share it with you today:

Gavin and Ean, my favorite two boys,
I've come back from up north
Where we've been busy making toys.

Santa sends you his love and a great big ole smile.
He knows you're being good,
he's been watching all the while.

He wonders if you can help, can you spare a few toys?
He'd like to give them away
To other good girls and good boys.

Only pack up the ones you don't play with anymore
Just place them in a box
And leave them by the front door.

I will return to the North Pole as you sleep during the night
I'll give them to Santa
to have for his big flight.

I know you won't mind, you are both very sweet.
And when I come back
I'll bring you a treat!

(it's a great poem, isn't it? The author should be so proud and I'm certain won't mind if other elves happen to use it!)

This year, however, things changed. I'm thinking that Bernard has gotten a little comfortable with us. He's been a bit naughty this year. First, he clearly found it funny to make fun of the author of this here blog:


 Nice tiara there Bernard! Someone fancies himself a bit of a Princess??

As if that wasn't enough, he decided to have a little party with a couple of our other holiday friends.



He even made a trek down to Cincinnati when we went to visit this weekend. This really surprised the kids.

There's just 13 days left until Christmas and this year Bernard has a lighter load as he only has to be here a week at a time. I think that he has too much time on his hands and he's spending his time concocting new tricks.

I'll keep you posted.

I truly have no idea why those pics are sideways. I can not figure out what is wrong. Do they look right to you?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

10 Ways to Know There are Boys Under My Roof

For the past three years I have been a single mom with two boys on a full-time basis. They would go to their father's every other weekend, your typical parenting arrangement.

As of this past month, the boys have been spending a week with their father and then a week with me. I never realized how much I miss them and how LOUD they can truly be until the place was empty.

This weekend after they returned, it occurred to me that anyone could walk into my house at any point in the day and know whether or not it was the boys' week with me or their father.

Here are 10 Ways to Know There Are Boys Under My Roof:

1. You can hear statements like "Quick, smell my feet!" (Yes, I heard this EXACT sentence on Sunday!)

2. There are Legos in the bathroom.

3. You have a sore on your foot/twisted ankle/wrenched knee after stepping on a Hot Wheel.

4. You are being explained the "ins and outs" of Star Wars even after saying "I have no idea what you are talking about."

5.There's the popping of guns going off. I live in a historical neighborhood but not a war zone!

6. The toilet isn't flushed, the lid is up and there's no toilet paper on the roll.

7. The couch cushions and pillows are all over the floor.

8. As you walk into the house you find a jacket, followed by a backpack, then another jacket, a pair of shoes, a Storm Trooper (see # 4), another backpack and one sock, all within three feet of each other.

9. The television is playing Sponge Bob on loop.

10. There's two girls ringing my doorbell!

Even with all the noise, the mess, the fighting and Sponge Bob, I wouldn't trade one minute of my time with them for anything!!

My kids aren't naturally horizontal, Blogger keeps doing this to me and after 45mins, I quit. Just tilt your head, K?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back to School: Am I Crazy for Doing This?

 eeeeep!!

I'm starting grad school today!

It's been fourteen years since the last time I was a student!

Fourteen years since I had to worry about due dates, research papers, group projects, late night study sessions and so help me, grades!

Fourteen years since I stepped foot onto a college campus.

Fourteen years since I felt pride in what I hold inside of my brain!

I've spent the past couple of days wondering if I can do this again. Do I have it in me to handle three classes, my kids, two blogs and working? I haven't taught in over 8 years, can I even remember what I learned as an undergrad?

What if I'm the oldest person in the classroom? What if my years away from a classroom give me little to use as a frame of reference?

I hope that I do not look like an idiot in front of my professors or my peers. I hope I can contribute to discussions with intelligent thoughts. I hope that I am able to be a valuable member during group projects.

More than anything, I really hope that I am able to be successful as a graduate student.

I never imagined having a Bachelors degree, let alone a Masters. Education wasn't something we discussed in my family. My parents weren't big scholars. They didn't enjoy school, in fact my father had a very rough time with his schooling. They didn't talk to me about going to college or anything post high school really. I just sort of found my way to a university, all the while never really thinking I would succeed.

My education is one of the things I am most proud of in my life. Recieving a masters degree is something that I can not even fathom, even now.

Personally, I have a lot riding on the next two years. It's time I get back into the classroom full-time. While I once doubt my ability to be an effective teacher, I now know I have something to offer children with special needs.

I'm very excited to increase my knowledge of child development, best practices in education and the learning challenges of the special needs population.

In the back of my mind, there is this doubt just tiggling away...I really don't want to let myself down.

For more on my fears about starting graduate school, check out my personal finance blog, The Debt Princess.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Full is Your Bucket?

I have borrowed the title of this blog post from  How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life. I did not write this book. I do not benefit from the sales of this book (unless you use the link to buy it from Amazon). And I am not claiming ownership of it. I just enjoyed this book and the title fit.

Do you have a Bucket List? Are you actively trying to mark items off of that list as you go through your life? Is the list something that you feel like you will never accomplish?

I was reminded of my own bucket list while reading a blog post from Budgets Are Sexy. It is one of my favorite blogs and J$, the author is hosting a giveaway over the next few weeks. The giveaway sponsor, Life Insurance Finder, is giving away $500 to help you achieve something on your bucket list. (This blog post is one of my entries into the contest.)

I sat down to type out my Bucket List, also an entry for the contest on the post and got to thinking; What have I done to bring these to fruition?

On my list are:

1. Be credit card debt free. If you follow my other   followed my former blog The Debt Princess then you know what a huge accomplishment this would be. I'd prefer to do this by paying off the debt and not filing for bankruptcy.

2. Get a passport.

3. Have a reason to use said passport.

4. Travel the world alone.

5. Travel internationally with my children while they are still young.

6. Fly in an F-16.

In looking at my list, I think the $500 could help me knock off one item and be applied towards the goal of another.

I could certainly use the money to apply for a passport, whether it will be useful or not is not yet known. And I would apply the rest of the $500 to my quest for being debt free. I have a credit card bill that is around $475. I think I could pay it off!

I'm fired up to win! Are you going to enter too? (I kinda don't want you to though ;))

What's on your bucket list?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's [Not] in the Label

He loves to learn, is inquisitive beyond any creature I've ever encountered.

He is disturbed by changes in his schedule and has a hard time transitioning with unexpected events.

He absorbs information like a sponge and reads anything he can get into his hands.

He prefers to avoid loud situations and isn't inclined to take risks.

He is above the rest of his class in academics as well as cognitive thinking processes.

He often cringes when receiving physical contact; other times he craves strong bear hugs and "rough-housing".

He wants to be a scientist, discover something new, make something amazing and be well known for his brain.

He frequently obsesses about certain objects, unanswered questions or open ended schedules.

He processes language as an adult and has the vocabulary of a collegiate scholar.

He has trouble with certain textures, materials and tastes.

He analyzes situations from all angles and usually comes up with the correct summation without difficulty.

He struggles in many social situations and has difficulty making friends his own age.

He is my eight year old son, Ean and he is amazing!

There is also a high probability that he has Asperger's Syndrome.

I say probability because I have never had him tested for AS. I have done this for a number of reasons.
Ean was about 20 months old when I noticed some delays, mostly gross motor. He didn't jump until he was nearly 2. His coordination was poor and is to this day. He was unwilling to take risks when playing on things like a jungle gym, a balance beam or trampoline. He did not accomplish a front roll until he was nearly 4yrs old and had been in gymnastics class for 6 months.

He also had trouble in social situations. He was afraid to approach other kids and would get very upset because he felt like he couldn't play with anyone. On the flip side, he loved speaking with adults, especially Senior Citizens. He seemed to be drawn to them.

When he was around 2 he became an extremely picky eater and he continues to be. He began spitting foods out and often times vomiting when he didn't want to swallow something. He began to throw temper tantrums at the dinner table when anything new was introduced. At 8 years old, dinner will still end the same way if I were to force him to take one bite of a new food.

Around the age of 2 1/2 to 3, he began to show a great deal of anxiety. In some situations it was so severe that he would, again, vomit from the stress. His anxiety peaked about the age of 7 and has since shown a great deal of improvement however there are still many times when a panic attack occurs.

Ean began counseling when he was about 6 1/2. At the time he was tested for a sensory impairment but did not qualify for school services. He did see an Occupational Therapist for 2 years to work on controlling his body (The "How Does Your Engine Run?"program did wonders for him, I highly recommend it!).

He also spent a few months with a Speech Therapist to work on feeding issues. It was a VERY slow process but after 6 months, he began eating peas without any issues. He loves them now but that is the only new food he has added in 6 years.

The school psychologist suggested we conduct the testing for Autism when Ean was in the first grade. As a former special education teacher with a number of years working within the Autism spectrum, I felt it was unnecessary. During all this time, Ean has done extremely well in school. He has shown very few problems in the classroom. In fact, the teachers have been shocked to find out he was in counseling because he was such a model student. The issues seemed to only occur at home. I felt that in all likelihood he might be diagnosed as having a high-functioning form Asperger's Syndrome.

I was concerned that Ean would become a label and not an individual. I encountered a number of people who would ask about him. I would let them know I suspected he had AS and they would ask about what it was. If I were to state that it is a very high-functioning form of Autism, I would immediately hear a sigh in their voice and a "ahhh." I don't want Ean to become a "sigh." I want him to be "EAN!"

There are some individuals who benefit from being labeled, of this I have no doubt. I also feel that in many situations, a label can bring about unnecessary roadblocks. I worried that this would be the case with Ean and so, we have worked outside of school on coping skills. He does quite well with them too. I'm very proud of him.

Everyone is more than their label! I believe that part of achieving a Five Star Life is moving beyond the label and being joyful in everything that makes a person unique! As Ean grows, I hope he continues to be accepting of his differences from "the norm" and begins to understand how truly amazing his uniqueness makes him.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Insane or Genius? Does it Really Matter if the End Justifies the Means?

There was never a genius without a tincture of madness. - Aristotle

Today I made a suggestion to my ex-husband that could very well backfire on me. Awhile ago it was suggested to me that I consider this idea as possibility. Initially I thought it was crazy but yet, I could never quite get it out of my mind.

I married a man who is not prone to compromise nor is he interested in ideas that are not originally his. While married, I frequently had to make suggestions in a round-about way that gave him the feeling that he came up with the idea.

Today I took a leap and suggested that we go to Walt Disney World together. Together as in, myself, my two sons and him. Together as in, we'll see more of each other in that time than we have in the three years we have been divorced. Together as in returning to the place where we honeymooned only this time with our children.

Am I insane or what?

We don't discuss things well. We don't get along well. And compromising is something similar to a drug deal; I'll give you this, if you give me that but we're doing it without looking each other in the eye and we won't speak of it again.

Yet, I have a feeling this idea could also make me a genius, well a financial genius at least.

He and I both want to take the children to Walt Disney World. We were sort of in a rush to be the first one to do so. I knew that he was going to get there before me until I talked to him today. He let me know that as he looked into the cost of a trip there, he didn't think it was doable.

Once I made the suggestion that we go together, splitting the cost of airfare, food, tickets and hotel rooms (not the same room but maybe two rooms joined together by a door that can lock!!). I realized that this insane idea may actually be briliant. And to my surprise, he is actually thinking about it. He just might see the sensibility in this idea.

And so, like Aristotle said "There was never a genius without a tincture of madness." My insane idea of going to "the happiest place on Earth" with the man who I once loathed, at times hated and sometimes pair his name with profanity, could turn out to be a pure stroke of genius!

And if we can conquer a trip of this magnitude, maybe the next 13+ years will be smooth sailing!

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm a Gluten Free Drop Out!

Yup, I failed! I'm not very ashamed to say it. I could not handle a gluten free lifestyle.

My journey and eventual failure began about a year ago. I developed some health issues of the gastrointestinal nature (I'll spare you the details. You're welcome!). I lived with them for a few months without giving it too much thought. Finally it occurred to me that these issues were not normal. My research on the internet left me with two options.

I was most probably lactose intolerant or had a gluten sensitivity.

Neither of those two options left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. This girl right here LOVES her cheese and her bread! My abdominal love handles  cushioning  plumpness  (fine, I'll admit it) fat would be proof of my long time love affair with both.

I decided that I'd choose the lesser of two evils and promptly broke up with dairy.

For six months, SIX MONTHS I avoided milk, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream! I avoided cereal, because no matter what they say, soy milk is not all that. I passed on Mint Moose Tracks. I ate my favorite Mexican foods without cheese.

And I found very little relief! Certainly not enough to warrant a lifetime without pizza!

I happily reunited with dairy products and received a personal phone call from dairy farmers across the country (ok not really but I'd like to think they appreciated my renewed relationship!).

I returned to the internet and with a giant gulp of air, decided to attempt a gluten free diet.

I have a track record of jumping into things head first without taking the time to look at all options. *insert family and friends saying "DUH!"* And this gluten free diet was no exception.

I did well. In fact I found it to be rather easy to make the changes. Sure I wasn't able to have toast or pizza or a nice warm waffle with butter and maple syrup, but I was making do.

Until I wasn't!

About three weeks into this I began my actual research. I asked my go to experts on the Gluten Free lifestyle (Kate of Not the Crazy One and Tiffany of The Nerdy Baby) some very serious questions.

When in the hell am I going to feel better?

Their answer...awhile! Some improvements after two months, a few more after six months and major improvements within nine months to a year!

WHAT?

This was not information that I had prior to starting this journey. Nor did I know that gluten can be found in SO MANY things. Foods like soy sauce, ketchup, chocolate, gum and ranch dressing!!

The good news is that there are many gluten free options of the foods I love out there. I found this to be true at a number of my local supermarkets. What I also found out was that gluten free foods are not budget friendly.

And so my head first dive into a gluten free diet left me with a few concerns. I was hungry! And I am broke.

My budget just can not handle the increase in food prices. I have very little to work with and I rely heavily on coupons to bridge the gap between what I have and what I need. Gluten Free foods do not always fit into the category of budget friendly. There are certainly ways to do gluten free on the cheap, just not as cheap as I need it to be.

And so, with great reluctance (ok only a little reluctance), I decided to postpone this lifestyle until such time that I can afford to increase my grocery budget.

I grabbed the first sandwich I could find and bit into it. Yep I'm a Gluten Free Drop out and damn it tastes good right now!


I was advised that the book Healthier Without Wheat would have been a great resource for me to read before making dietary changes. I will read this before I try a gluten free lifestyle again.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Welcome to A Five Star Life

In 1992, I started my life as an adult. I entered college, fell in love for the first time, dabbled in college life and received my first credit card.

In 1997, I left college, started my first job in my desired career, dabbled in the single life and started paying for the debt my college years allowed me to acquire.

In 2001, I met a man. Meeting that man led to getting married, having two kids and becoming a stay at home mom. It also enabled my husband and I to acquire even more debt.

In 2008 I began a new life, as a single mom with two beautiful boys. A single mom who had no job, nowhere to live and debt. Life as I knew it changed both for the better and for the worse.

Since 2008 I have learned many, many lessons about life. I have struggled financially. I have struggled personally. I have had to parent two young boys who were very much confused and scared. I have had to fight for my children whose needs were special.

I have slept less, ate more and cried even more.

I have worried.

I have been angry.

I have questioned my choices.

However, during this time I have learned to enjoy some of the most amazing moments with my children. I have been given a gift of clarity.

I have watched a little boy with very few words and a severe case of shyness become a big boy with no fear and a rapidly expanding vocabulary.

I have watched an amazingly brilliant five year old with more anxiety and fears than any adult could handle become an eight year old with clarity and wisdom beyond his years.

I have laughed.

I have smiled.

I have cuddled and hugged and kissed.

And I have cried tears of joy.

I have learned to take those small average moments in a difficult life and turn them into above average memories.

Please join me as I blog about these above average moments. I will be writing about anything that comes to mind; my children, politics, a great new product or a moment of complete and utter crap.

I hope you will stick around to be reminded of the little things that can make your life A Five Star Life.