Togetherness

The family that _________ together, stays together!

Is it possible to fill that blank with just about anything? Well, barring any illegal activities… yes, it is!

There have been many versions of the saying through the years, and in fact I think it started as ‘The family that prays together stays together’. While this saying may have started out as a slogan to get families to church, I find it has much more meaning when you look at the word ‘together’.

You would think the emphasis should be on the activity the family does, however, I think it’s more important to be together. This isn’t meant to minimize the effect prayer has, but rather to take a look at togetherness in the family setting.

The family that cooks together, stays together!

When I was a child, we were exiled from my mother’s kitchen. Anyone that dared to traipse in there looking for a snack would have to answer to the guardian of all our food, my mother. I frequently have to explain to my mother, that I don’t have time to guard food. I put the best choices I can in easy reach, and hope for the best. It is demoralizing when I have to throw away wilted salad, and then vacuum up debris from chips they got into while I was busy, but I try to remember that more often then not the salad bowls are in the sink to wash, and the chips are still in the cupboard!

When you start to have a larger family, food preparation time can really eat into your schedule. So why do it alone? I like to prep vegetables at the kitchen table, where my two-year-old can always be found. He always is curious about what I’m doing and we have fun naming each item and their color. It also helps me be more mindful of my selection of veggies! If he says “Green!” three times in a row, I know I need to get some more colors into my veggie diet.

Of course, there are endless blog posts about food creations you can make with your kids, in fact I have one myself! Play with Your Food was a post I did last year with Halloween food crafts. But what these posts don’t tell you is the finished product isn’t always so pretty, as the nice pictures bloggers put into their posts, and afterwards, the kitchen is a huge mess. I actually remember taking pictures for that post at such an angle that readers would be able to see the huge mess the kids had made. Although I did mention the mess in a post later that month, about Being Present in the Moment. Maybe, this year, in an effort to be more transparent, I’ll include the mess in my blog pictures, so people will know what they are getting themselves into when they decide to cook with their kids.

One thing I can’t show you in a picture, is the pride my kids have, as they grow older and are able to (and do!) make better food choices for themselves. With the knowledge of how to prepare food, they are given more to choose from than just whatever plastic bag they can rip into. Plus, it becomes an activity that brings them fond memories of their early childhood and time together with us, their parents.

The family that eats together, stays together!

Many people don’t even have time to ponder if sit-down meals bring a family closer together, never mind actually have one. With all the schedules of parents and children’s after school activities, it sometimes seems impossible to get everyone under the same roof, forget about getting them to the same table. But I am a supporter of the family sit-down meal.

When children are small, it is mostly on you to clear enough room in your schedule for a sit-down meal each day. If you don’t, you not only rob your children of time with you, interacting unfettered by the outside world distractions, you rob yourself! We spend so much time doing the less than pleasant part of parenting, it is a really nice change to just slow down and take your children in for a moment. How big they are getting, how much they have learned and what thoughts run through those little minds.

When the kids get older, it becomes more difficult to find that slice of time when everyone can sit down. I remember that my mother somehow made it work, and there was an 18-year age span between the four of us. So, when I started school, my brother was graduating and going to college, and my little sister had just been born. When we all got older, my mom still made us sit down for dinner at least once a week. And I adore her for it. I can recall the enthusiastic way my dad and brother would discuss New England sports, and how my sister and I, only 4 years apart, would kick each other under the table, and then my younger sister would say something adorable and everyone would stop and say “Awwww, how sweet.”

Of course, you can only remember these things if there are no phones at dinner, and although back then, it just meant you would let the phone ring, or later, let the fancy new answering machine pick it up, it’s the same concept. No phones at dinner!

The family that cleans together, stays together!

All this cooking and eating makes a huge mess, of course, and it’s why so many chose not to do it. It takes less time to get through the dinner routine if you don’t pull out all the stops. I mean, for some of you, as you read through the last two sections were already picturing your kitchen sink with plates, pots and pans, the floor and table covered with food and not enough energy to deal with that.

When you have a heavy load, it’s always easier when you have some help. Plus work aids in digestion. So, we all clean it up together. Someone takes the baby and cleans him up, someone else put away the leftovers, while another cleans the table and floor. In 10 minutes we have the whole mess cleaned up and everyone can relax. I have never had a meal cleanup last longer than 15 minutes. I know you may think that’s impossible, it takes forever to do all that work, but in reality, it just doesn’t take that long.

I have many friends that clean the house themselves, to avoid the long, inevitable, drawn out task of getting their kids involved in the effort. Even older children can break out the toddler tantrums when you ask them to do chores. So, I use the same tactic I use with my toddler when I want him to eat something, I make them pick between two things I want to happen. Then I just do the other one and my work has been cut in half. I will warn those that are very particular about how chores are done, you may find yourself going behind your children and re-doing the task up to your standard, but don’t use that as an excuse to skip having them so it. When children see what it takes to keep the house nice and tidy, they appreciate you more. Plus they’ll live on their own someday, and they won’t be able to say that you never taught them how to clean!

The family that games together, stays together!

You begin to see that anything that your family does together can have benefits for your family and strengthen your bond, but what about broadening your horizon, and getting into your kid’s turf for a little bit. My parents never had video games, in Ireland, they were lucky to have much at all, but I got into gaming in college, and now I play with my kids. The games they have are very different from what was available to me, and most of the games, I really can’t see myself playing. But I do play Minecraft with the younger kids and last weekend, we started a action role playing game called Diablo, with the older kids. While they saw it as a chance to show off their superior gaming skills, my husband and I used it as an opportunity to teach team work. With four players on the screen, you need to work together to accomplish the game’s goals. Not only that, but you have to sometimes sacrifice for the team. It is obvious that the other games they play teach them to grab all the loot and horde it for themselves. But in Diablo, your team is stronger if you support each other by sharing loot with the team, so that each player has the best statistics for game play.

It’s great for families to do things together, and you don’t need things to be perfect to spend time with your kids. Other things we do together include working out and vegging out in front of the TV; Being super productive and finishing a big project and being super lazy and doing nothing all day. Any and all of these things are opportunities to spend time with your family. Then, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to use the bathroom by yourself again!

What are some of the things your family does together?

 

 

 

 

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Taking Care of YOU – Health Scare

I don’t take care of myself. It isn’t a priority to me. As I type that out, it really looks like crazy talk. Who says that? “My health is not a priority.” Everyone knows that you aren’t supposed to own up to that. But in fact, the first step to making your health a priority, is to acknowledge where your efforts to stay healthy stand.

If you must quickly decide your first three priorities, what would they be? You have 30 seconds to decide. Go!

  1. Children
  2. Husband
  3. Job

That’s what I came up with, did you notice anything missing? I am not even in my top three!?

I love being a Mom, I think I’ve made that clear. I love my husband, and everyone knows you have to put effort into a good relationship. I love my job, I am good at what I do, and it gives me purpose, but also, I just need my job. We have kids to feed!

I don’t just need to move myself up on my priority list, I have to. This is a cautionary tale of what can happen, if you choose to ignore your health for too long.

Quick background, I was athletic as a kid and teenager. I carried a little extra weight when I was young. My mother had an aversion to vegetables, and loved things like Shake&Bake and Hamburger Helper.

Senior Prom 95

All dressed up for my Senior Prom

I didn’t start eating properly until high school. I thought I was so fat. I would make my own dinner of steamed vegetables and whole grain rice and turn my nose up at my mother’s roast beef and potatoes – a staple in my diet my whole life. My health was a priority then. In fact, all my priorities back then had to do with … ME.

The girl in this picture had a different top 3 priorities, namely getting fit, making money and picking the right college. Me, me, me.

And that seems to be the nature of young people. Even the high school students I meet as part of my brother’s memorial scholarship fund hold community service as a resume builder. The school district had made it policy that the students must complete 30 hours of community service in order to be eligible for graduation. And as young people tend to do, status was awarded to those that volunteered at the chicest charity.

But, I digress.

I’m not young anymore, and I don’t prioritize my health, and that seems to be the status of too many moms. If you follow my blog, you know that an x-ray recently showed a small tumor on my right femur. Doing his due diligence, my doctor promptly ordered an MRI, but told me not to worry, it was most probably benign and it was very small.

I haven’t received the official doctor’s reading of the images, but I am not happy with what I saw on the MRI. Yes, I am such a smarty pants that I requested to have the MRI saved to a CD, so I could look at it at my leisure, Google bone tumors, self diagnose and generally drive myself crazy.

Small bone tumor on right femur

The bullseye in the middle of the picture is a small bone tumor on my right femur.

Due to an error on the MRI order, the technicians at the hospital decided better to be safe than sorry and scanned both legs. I am so thankful for whatever error caused them to make that decision. I do have a small tumor on my right femur, as seen in the image on the left. I don’t know what it is. I’m not a doctor, but from what I’ve gathered, it’s kind of a little growth on the outer part of your bone, like a barnacle on a boat.

I could be completely wrong.

But I had to look through all the images closely to find that small anomaly. It’s strange to imagine this small bone blemish, being in close proximity to my knee, happened to show up on my knee x-ray. Because it did, I happened across this:

Left femur tumor

My left femur with a scary looking tumor.

A scary looking thing on my left femur. What is that!?

It was the first thing that took my notice when I opened up the pictures on the disc on my laptop at home. How lucky was I that they even scanned my left leg?

I spent a whole day looking up MRI images of femurs to try to figure out what it is. I stopped. It was making me sad and scared. I will speak to my doctor about it at my appointment next week.

The second thing I noticed while I looked at my MRI was not the related to tumors at all. I think it is a much more telling factor in my overall health though. Look at all that fat!

Cross section of my meaty thighs, ugh.

Cross section of my meaty thighs, ugh.

When did that happen!? For those of you unfamiliar with these types of images, the white stuff is fat, the darker area is muscle, and in the middle, are my bones. My fat doesn’t even totally fit on the screen.

I can’t stop looking at it, how it has found it’s way into my leg muscle, how hard it must be for my wimpy small muscles to lug that extra weight around and how unhealthy I know it is for me.

This can happen too easily, if you don’t keep yourself as a priority.

I continued to workout after college. I continued to work out at gyms into my 30’s. So where did I go wrong?

In 2011, I was in a terrible car accident.

My poor Corolla, RIP

My poor Corolla, RIP 2010 – 2011

The lady in the White Trailblazer was texting instead of driving, and struck my little and stationary Corolla at over 40 M.P.H. It resulted in many injuries, including a disc herniation in my neck. I could barely walk, let alone work out. My new routine consisted of flexing my neck muscles. The rest of me got very little use. The next year, my brother died, and I became terribly depressed. I became pregnant in 2013, and used it as an excuse to eat way too much. When the baby came in 2014, I wasn’t even doing my physical therapy anymore, and just took naps in the middle of the day with my little one. Now, it’s 2015, and my knees are killing me!

It is important to process and recover from setbacks, like the ones I had. I was off work for nearly 2 months with the car accident, and nearly 4 months in 2014 on maternity leave. Looking back, I wish I had made myself more of a priority. I became swept up with the idea that I would lose my job, and so started putting in longer hours and eating lunch at my desk. This led to exhaustion which caused me to wake up late nearly every day, and skip my breakfast. Somewhere amongst all this, I forgot that in order to give people the best of you, you must be at your best.

Now, I’m past the time of needing to make a change. I have to make a change. If things stay the way they are, my kids will have to take care of their mummy, and that is not what I want for them. No one ever wants to burden their kids.

No waiting for New Year’s resolutions or cheating at holiday parties, I need to move more and eat less. Any favorite tips you have, things that worked for you? Help get off on the right foot, by leaving helpful comments below. Thanks!

Just Say YES!

To keep your sanity, just say NO YES!!

There are many sources of advice on how to say “No.” An internet search will pull up many tips and hints on how to say no to people to lower your stress and increase your productivity. I’m going to tell you the opposite – just say YES!

With the myriad of things each day we have to do, choose to do or do because we finally have two minutes of down time, it is important to limit how thin you spread yourself. Only, that isn’t what people are doing. We end up saying no to family time and yes to more work.

I’m not economy expert, but I can see people happy to still have a job, while they watched coworkers laid off or forced into early retirement. It certainly doesn’t seem like a good time to ask for that vacation time off, does it? Sometimes, the work of those that have gone is foisted upon you, as the positions at your job go unfilled.

So, when you shuffle on home at the end of the day, you just need to relax. We’ve been told, letting stress build up is no good for your health. So, you have to take action to control your stress. Maybe you workout to combat stress. Maybe you eat your feelings. Whatever your plan (or non-plan) may be, you have your routine to keep your sanity. So, when your family asks you to change that, it is understandable why you might get a little nervous and cling to your routine with a resounding “No.”

Work commute

Even though this is part of my commute, I still need to de-stress when I get home from work.

All work and no play makes Supermom a dull girl. It’s a good thing I’m not yet Supermom, because I can set my routine aside and get me some yes.

If you follow my blog, you may know I’ve been suffering some leg pain, and recently was told I have a bone tumor in my femur. So, when my husband asked me out of the blue to go for a walk with him one evening after work, I definitely had a valid excuse. When I opened my mouth to answer him, “Yes.” came out instead. It wasn’t a long walk and we didn’t break a sweat, but I had a chance to connect with my husband, which I would have missed out on had I declined his invitation.

My 12-year-old suddenly emerged from his room, which is a rare circumstance indeed, and asked if he could watch TV with me. I had too much to do to play couch potato in the middle of the afternoon, he must see how busy I am. “Sure.” As we watched one of his favorite shows, he started telling me about the people on the show. Then we ended up having a conversation about his future, and that he may not want to go to the regular high school, here in our town. Even though all his friends will be going there, he thinks he wants to go to the Technical High School. Now, we could have discussed this later, he has the rest of this year and next school year to decide. But I was there for him, and now we both know that when he needs a sounding board, I’ll be there for him.

I am by no means a superfan of sports, but I like cheering for the local teams, and this time of year that means watching Patriot’s games. (I love the Bruins, but the channel their games is broadcasted on, is not in our cable package, BOO COMCAST!). Then, the baby indicated he wanted to explore outside. The sun was going down, and it would be getting cool. I was all comfy, settled in to watch the game. Don’t I deserve some “Me” time?

Instead, I said “Okay.” and outside we went, where this happened:

IMG_0927

Maybe that isn’t so much, but I bet it meant something to him, more than looking at the leaves through the glass door, or hearing me cheer for the Patriots. Then something even better happened. My husband came outside to join us and snapped this picture of me and the baby:IMG_0923

That’s my hubby’s finger in the upper right hand corner, but who cares? I love this picture. And all I had to do was say “Yes.” So, go out there and get yourself all of the Yes you can squeeze in.

What did you say yes to today?

Things Work Out

My sister sent me this poem in an email some years ago. I don’t remember what the occasion was, maybe it was during the time of my divorce, or that time I got fired for accidentally exposing my company’s owner as fraud (I’ll have to write about that one). Whatever it was, it passed and things did, indeed, work out. I’m hoping they will again, as I go in tonight for the MRI on my femur to check out that bone tumor. As the doctor said, it’s most likely benign, and the only evidence that this moment gave me a little scare, will be this post, which I share with all of you.

Things Work Out

by Poet: Edgar A. Guest

Because it rains when we wish it wouldn’t,
Because men do what they often shouldn’t,
Because crops fail, and plans go wrong-
Some of us grumble all day long.
But somehow, in spite of the care and doubt,
It seems at last that things work out.

Because we lose where we hoped to gain,
Because we suffer a little pain,
Because we must work when we’d like to play-
Some of us whimper along life’s way.
But somehow, as day always follows the night,
Most of our troubles work out all right.

Because we cannot forever smile,
Because we must trudge in the dust awhile,
Because we think that the way is long-
Some of us whimper that life’s all wrong.
But somehow we live and our sky grows bright,
And everything seems to work out all right.

So bend to your trouble and meet your care,
For the clouds must break, and the sky grow fair.
Let the rain come down, as it must and will,
But keep on working and hoping still.
For in spite of the grumblers who stand about,
Somehow, it seems, all things work out.

This is actually part of my commute to work. I get to start the day with this view.

This is actually part of my commute to work. I get to start the day with this view.

How to Stay Strong in the Face of Bad News

There will always be times in your life when things do not go your way. To be able to move forward despite your disappointment is a skill that any supermom, or any one for that matter, needs to master.

For many years, this was a skill that eluded me. I looked to my brother and his struggles and learned from his example. He never let obstacles slow him down, he would just adjust course. To read more about his story, please read my post Loss of a Sibling.

It would seem that recently, life has been testing my ability to stay strong in the face of utter defeats. I think I’ve done well coping with my new struggles this year, and I hope you can employ these tips and stay strong.

#1. Reach out for support.

It is my time to shine. I had a good year at work. I met my goals, I even surpassed some. I did get a “Good job.” from my boss for the marked improvement in report submission. The improvement is appreciated. Perfect time to ask for that promotion, right?

Maybe not. But next year looks good.

I was crushed. I held it together, and finished the meeting with my boss. We finished with a strategy to get me that promotion, next year. After she left my office, though, it was time to call in my support group. I called my husband first, who promptly called my boss a jerk. After, I called my mom, who of course decided that my boss was only trying to keep me down because I was her work horse, her secret weapon. I made her look good, and it just wouldn’t do to have me be promoted out of there.

These things aren’t true, of course. But in that moment, it’s what I really needed. Because I didn’t want to end that meeting with a smile and a handshake, I wanted to scream in her face! Doesn’t she know how expensive things are? How hard I’ve worked? How much I needed that raise? How can I work properly when I’m constantly worried about providing for my family? I can’t even afford their health insurance benefit anymore. Each year the premium has risen, so they are taking more and more out of my check. A small raise would help at least cover their expensive premiums, but without one, my check gets smaller and smaller.

But your support group shouldn’t just put down those that disappoint you. Nothing will show my boss that I deserve that promotion more than taking her constructive criticism and coming back more dedicated than ever. After that initial emotionally charged period, your support network will help you move on to the next step. From the extra hug I got from my husband the next morning before work, to a coworker that gave me tips on how she got her promotion when she was in a similar situation at our office, they give you the support to come back strong.

#2. Be sad.

Sometimes, I just have myself a little cry. It may not sound like something a strong person would do, but to keep your emotions stuffed down in side you is not good for you. A very smart lady said “It takes a shit ton of strength and courage to be a sensitive person in this world.” (Thanks Hattie Cooper/The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Dating in 2013)

People tend to give you space and time to be sad when catastrophic events occur. I still shed a tear for my brother at random moments. Misting up over the miscarriage is more difficult, because I didn’t tell people at work what had happened, and I don’t want to. Taking those few moments to have a cry can reinforce you. It is a release of the stress and emotion building up inside you. Let it go, let it out, and you’ll feel better.

For smaller disappointments, this strategy still works. Give yourself a little time to release the emotion from each small disappointment. If you are a private person, that is fine. Excuse yourself and find a space where you can release the emotion. This leaves you unfettered and ready to handle the next emotional thing that will happen in your day.

#3. Process what happened.

After you let out the emotion, there is more room in your brain for making plans.

At a recent doctor appointment for my chronic knee pain, the doctor let me know at the end of my visit that I had a tumor on my femur. His attitude was laid-back, meant to keep me calm about what he was telling me. They wanted an MRI of my femur, so they could better judge if it was benign or malignant, but I shouldn’t go home and worry because they were confident it was benign.

Well, Google isn’t so confident. It seems these types of tumors are more common in young people who are still growing. So, to have developed this in my late 30’s tells me (again the source being Google) that it is most likely malignant. Freak out time!

Nope, I’m going to stay strong. The fact is, it could be malignant, but all the Googling in the world won’t diagnose my tumor. I need to get an MRI, and then maybe a biopsy, gather the data to determine what type of tumor it is. Either way, some type of treatment will be called for, and I can deal with it when that happens.

To try to process something that hasn’t happened yet can just drive you crazy. There are so many ‘what ifs’ out there, it’s a miracle we make it through each day. But we do, most times without incident. So, stick to the facts.

#4. Make a plan.

Plans are great. They can fill you with energy. It is like looking up at an insurmountable peak, and then seeing that around the corner, there are steps that you can take to the top. The steps are your plan. My boss and I made goals for the coming year. Reaching those goals will make it easier to get a promotion. So, I made plans on things I can do at work that will help me reach those goals. My husband and I, though crushed by our loss this past summer, plan to continue to try for another baby. Just making that decision helped me recover some of my strength. We have also planned a memorial on what would have been the baby’s birth date. He wants us to get matching tattoos to remember our son – that plan isn’t final yet. My doctor and I have a plan for my femur. I’m going to get an MRI and see him again at the end of the month.

Having a plan can make you feel in control over a situation that may have left you feeling helpless. You are not helpless, make a plan, or adjustments to your previous plans, to get to where you want to be.

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Moms are pure strength. We have to be strong for many reasons. But it isn’t something that just happens overnight. If you are feeling downtrodden, reach out to your support network, feel all the feels, but keep your focus on the facts of what happened, then, make a plan to get yourself back on track. This will lead you to see the strength that is within you.

How do you stay strong? Please share in the comments.

My Work Doesn’t Offer the Best Health Insurance for MY Family – Open Enrollment

I’ve been watching all the pennies lately, trying to improve my financial well-being. I have reconfigured our budget, consolidated our debt, clipped coupons and overhauled our rewards programs. There are great resources out there to help the financially non-savvy, such as myself, educate themselves about how money works and what steps to take to reach your financial goals, whatever they may be. One of my favorites right now is The Black Belt of Finance blog. Check it out.

For many people, it is open enrollment time. Time to review and update your health insurance benefits, either through work or with the your state’s health insurance marketplace (which you can find via www.healthcare.gov.)

Once I got to the place in my career where health insurance was a given benefit, I naturally assumed the plans my job offered were the best that were available to me. Maybe at one time, that was true. Before the Affordable Care Act, it seemed reasonable to assume that because your employer was paying for a portion of your insurance premium, that you would never be able to find a comparable insurance plan for less money. Really, it wasn’t something that was even on my radar, to shop around for health insurance. If your employer offered it, you took it.

That seems to have changed, and people should sit up and take notice, because they could be saving themselves money!

For my particular situation, it was a few factors, all happening together, that made my insurance shopping a must.

First, my employer decided to so some shopping themselves. They did a review health plans, and decided they would stick with our current provider. That’s fine. However, as part of the review, they took into account changing to high- deductible health plans. They found it would save them money. Emphasis on them. The employees ended up getting a raw deal. The insurance company saved money, and my company saved money, but the employees ended up with big bills, even though my employer still paid 75% of our premium.

Second, the Affordable Care Act provided new ways to get health insurance along with subsidies to help you pay premiums. Really, you are trading having your employer pay a portion, to letting Uncle Sam pay a portion.

Third, my family grew quickly. I used to only have to insure my self and my son. Then I got married and had a baby, which doubled the number of people I had to find coverage for. It has also been discussed beginning to include my step-children on our insurance. If we choose to do that, I would be covering 6 people.

Let’s take a look at some real world numbers, to make the point clear:

Back in 2013, on my old health plan, I paid $434.16 a month for my portion of the insurance premium. What I got in return for my hard-earned money was a plan that did not require a Primary Care Physician (PCP), had no deductible, I didn’t need referrals to see a specialist, I paid a flat rate for my prescriptions, and I only spent $1990 that year out-of-pocket. I felt that maybe I wasn’t getting a deal, but the chuck of change that came out of my check bought me freedom from the dreaded medical bills, which can wreak havoc on a budget. Total expense: $7199.92

Now let’s look at 2014, when the new plans were offered. I opted for a High Deductible plan with a Health Savings Account. Our company (maybe out of guilt) offered to deposit $1500 in our HSA. This was a crucial selling point to those, like me, that were upset at losing our previous plan, while expensive, provided us a sense of peace that the bills were taken care of. It was also important, because my individual deductible was $1500 ($3000 for the family). I knew I would reach my deductible early in the year, because I had the baby in 2014, in April to be exact. So, for the rest of the year I enjoyed cheaper prescriptions, and no bills when seeing the doctor. We all did. For this, I had to pay $390.32 a month.

That’s right, $44 separated the nirvana of not worrying about medical bills, to me doing all the work, chasing down insurance payments and making sure nothing slipped through the cracks. How many times have I wished I could pay $44 a month for someone to take this headache off my To-Do list. On top of the premium deduction, I also put $180/month into my HSA. I spent the full $3000 deductible out of my HSA and rolled over $660 to 2015. I also spent $684.67 on prescriptions. Total Expense: $6868.51

When you compare the two years, the cost is very similar, if you include the cost of my time to handle all the bills.

So, then 2015 came along. The premium went up to $421.72. The new plan wasn’t so bad, maybe more work on my part, but what could I do, it’s what my work offered. The big difference was, since I didn’t have a big medical event (thank goodness), like the delivery in 2014, we didn’t hit our deductible until September. And forget the money in the HSA, it’s gone. Because not only do I have to pay the deductible, I have to pay full price on prescriptions until I meet that deductible. One prescription I had been on for years, I had to suddenly stop taking, because I went to refill it and it was $800! So far, I’m on track to spend more in 2015, than I did in either 2014 or 2013. Prescriptions alone will end up costing me $860. New glasses cost $329.93, I didn’t get myself any, I couldn’t afford new glasses, even though my prescription changed. And i have yet to re-order contacts for my husband and son. Total (Estimated) Expense: ~$8000

I found myself no longer making decisions based on what was best for my health, but what I could afford. Oh, how I missed 2013. Keep in mind, this is for a healthy family. My children only have been to the doctor for well-visits.

So, I took a look at what was offered through my state’s insurance marketplace, and found my children were eligible for insurance at no cost to me, and my husband and I were eligible for a subsidy. In fact, I can insure my family for $86 a month through this system. If I kept my plan through work, the rates for 2016 would be $441.54 per month.

Of course, this sounds too good to be true, so I had to check it out. I would be back to the old co-pay system $20 to visit the doctor, $50 to go to the E.R., my prescriptions would be $10 each. It doesn’t offer vision benefits, and I couldn’t find a place to even add vision, but the benefit I currently have is crap. It’s only good for 25% off my glasses and contacts (which we all wear except the baby), and when we got new glasses last month, we couldn’t even use my insurance vision benefit, because we took advantage of the buy one get one free promotion at the store. I would also have to go back to the old system of seeing my primary care physician any time I needed to see a specialist, to get a referral.

I’m not a financial guru, or any type of expert on insurance, I can only tell you how this change has felt. Seeing how things have played out in 2015, which is more indicative of how this new plan will work for my family, I feel betrayed by my company. But my upbringing tells me not to accept hand-outs. My company has shifted the health insurance cost onto me, but it is my choice as to whether or not I should pass that burden on the U.S. taxpayers, something frowned upon in my family.

And yet, my parents grew up in Ireland. When they went to the doctor, it was part of the public health care system. Today, people would say if you can’t afford health care, you shouldn’t have children. That wasn’t the case then, as my dad was 1 of 9 and my mother had 11 siblings. I remember clearly my father discussing that medical care was not sought in many cases in my extended family. Many of my relatives that stayed in Ireland died of different types of cancers, mostly weeks after consulting a doctor, because for them, you didn’t see a doctor until you were gravely ill.

So, here I am, with a decision to make. An extra $350 a month in my paycheck would be huge. The cost to my employer, if I opt to go with them would be $1766.16. The cost to the tax payer, if I opt for the subsidy, $408. I think no matter which I choose, the insurance company comes out on top.

Have you shopped around for health insurance? What has been your experience? Do you have any advice for me? Please comment below. Thanks!

Making Friends

I remember when my son first took the basketball court. I was so proud a tear came to my eye.

I played in school, and was very good. All I wanted for my son was a chance for him to have the great experience that I did with organized sports. The camaraderie of  defeating your opponents together. What could bring you closer?

It started of well, with me cheering him from the sidelines, but all too soon I realized my cheers had become constructive criticism. “Pass the ball!” “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” “Watch the ball!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my son talking out around the three-point mark with a player from the other team. Over the noise of the gym, I could still make out what they were talking about, they were that far away from the play. They were talking about Thomas the Tank Engine.

“Get your head in the game!” My son rattled, turned his head with a start, and tried to comply. I wish I hadn’t turned into that mom, but I had. It would be best if I could have controlled myself without learning the lesson the hard way. In a way, I’m glad I got it out of my system so early. We still had more than half the season left, and in that moment, yelling from the sidelines, I could see a truth about my child that I had all too conveniently ignored. He is not competitive. And that is fine with me. He just wanted to make friends.

Friends

We had just moved from Virginia to Massachusetts and my son saw basketball as a place to forge friendships. In his young wisdom, he knew sport can bring people together, in victory or defeat. Once I saw that he wasn’t there to crush his enemies, I recognized his attempts to be friendly. The remainder of the season, I kept my mouth shut, and offered praise after each game. “That was a great pass!” “Your shot was so close, maybe next time, bud!”

Then something wonderful happened. He made a shot, and his face was priceless. I had another tear well up in my eye. I didn’t miss it because I was relaxed and enjoying the game, instead of trying to coach him from the sidelines. But he didn’t look to me when it happened, he had his teammates congratulate him, and that is why he was there. To have friends.

With my competitive nature, I can truly understand if you are unable to get to the zen state, where you watch calmly from the sidelines, and let the team coach instruct your child. A small suggestion to those who need to be involved, volunteer, get a team of your own to coach, and instruct the athletes of the future. Then take your coach hat off and enjoy your kid’s game. Maybe they’ll even win when they aren’t distracted by all your yelling and screaming.

Being Present in the Moment

As parents, we have many responsibilities, ambitions, tasks and burdens. Corporations should thank us, because multi-tasking was undoubtedly created by parents. With technology making our tasks more accessible, i.e. mobile banking, online shopping and even an APP to help us talk to our kids, we are being driven to produce more results, more often.

In my childhood, I remember clear boundaries being drawn in regards to my parents’ time. When my mother sat down each month and handled our bills, we were not to bother her. My siblings and I would find something to do, and if we argued about it, we kept it down because Mum was busy and interrupting her was not an option. We weren’t scared to interrupt her, we weren’t under threat of punishment and we weren’t all that considerate that we left her be simply because disturbing her concentration was rude. My parents’ boundary lines taught us to prioritize our needs, so that everything we experienced wasn’t an emergency.

Well thank goodness I don’t have to set boundaries! I can just do all those things on my phone while I attend to my children’s every need and want!

Wait a second… but that isn’t a good idea.

Aside from the fact that children do need to be taught boundaries, I am doing no one a service by splitting my attention in too many directions at once. Can I really enjoy their performance at the soccer game, if I’m making my shopping list through my grocer’s weekly ad app? Am I really listening to the song my son made up on his guitar, if I’m running through a To-Do list in my mind? Will I hear the baby’s first word, if I’m listening to the news while making dinner? Probably not.

I have often struggled in my life to be present in the moment. I barely remember my college graduation, with all the logistics of my whole family coming in from out-of-state, getting them checked in to their hotels and figuring out what restaurant could accommodate us, I forgot to stop and take a picture. I had no pictures of my graduation ceremony, or myself in my cap and gown. The professional photographer at the event only has a picture of me hurrying back to my seat. I couldn’t even take a moment on the stage, to savor the culmination of my college career. I had to throw my gown back on, late that night at the hotel, and snap a few pics.

These days, I’m slowing down a little. It is important to me to make these memories not only last, but exist! Making memories is an active participation task. You must do your part to not only plan these things we do with our family, but you must participate as well. I have gotten a little better at it now that I’m more mature, but I wish I knew these things when I was younger, especially as technology has become a larger part of my life.

These are a few tips, that I would have given to my younger self:

Life isn’t made up of ambitions

When I was small, I was a bit of a dreamer, and spent much of my time planning my future. I’m not talking about the normal run-of-the-mill “I want to be an astronaut” day dreaming. I mean I did research, made lists and planned it out, I even had a list of dogs I wanted to own! (Although, I DID want to be an astronaut, very much so, for about 6 months.)

Now that I am older, I realize life isn’t about the specific job you hold, things you own or places you visit. It is the attempts to achieve your ambitions. It is the memories you create for yourself and others. Especially when you have children. Those memories will hold value to your children when they’ve grown, and they will pass those values to their children.

Set a time to focus on your business, and take care of your business during that time.

When I come into my office during the day, I have time set aside for daily tasks, like running reports, checking emails and making phone calls. It works well at home too. When I get home, I have a little 30 minute routine that I go through that gets me up to speed with the rest of the family.  I talk to my husband, during this time I assess his stress level. If the baby has been crying all day and has worn him out, it is easy to tell. Because he is a man, he just says “The baby cried all day, I’m going to lay down, you’re up.” (A side note, I’ve encouraged my stay at home mom friends to use this line as frequently as needed.) My husband will fill me in on the day, what the baby did or didn’t do, and since I want to teach the baby to talk, I ask him about his day as well. Did he play with his favorite toy? Did he take a nap? Did he drink juice? He just sort of gazes at me happily, I can only assume glad to be part of the conversation. I check in with my older son the same way.

The reason I can take this time to connect with my family is because I have set aside time to deal with the business of running my house. It is so tempting when I see the mail by the door on my way in, to pick it up and start going through it, but knowing that I have time set aside to handle my correspondence leaves me free to check in with the rest of my clan. I planned dinner the evening before, so I’m not stuck trying to figure out what to eat and there is nothing thawed, or I need to go to the store for that one ingredient item, which somehow ran out. And the mail will be handled, just not in this moment.

My secret productive hour? It is actually in the morning. Since I’m blessed with a stay at home spouse, I don’t need to prepare the baby to leave the house for the day. Most days he is only waking up when I am leaving. I realize this is not everybody’s situation, and morning can be quite hectic. But take a look at your day and find that time you can get down to business. Then stick to it, everyday.

Note that it doesn’t have to be the same time everyday. On weekends, my productive hour can shift to just after lunch. Everyone is fed and happy, the baby takes a nap, and I have some quiet to deal with my responsibilities.

No one is saying emergencies won’t pop up, and thankfully we have the technology to make those easier to handle, but paying your electric bill at your kid’s dance recital is not one of them. Transferring funds into your checking account because your husband mixed up the debit card with the credit card might be.

During an activity, don’t worry about the mess.

My kitchen must be cleaned daily, as most people’s do. So, when I decided to do those Halloween food crafts two weeks ago, I started to notice that we were making a huge mess. I immediately shut that thought down.

How do you eat this thing?

How do you eat this thing?

That is the old me, the me without a graduation picture. When I shook the thought off, I caught a glimpse of my stepson opening his mouth super wide to bite into the skeleton pretzel brownies. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for anything, especially not a little extra mess in the kitchen. Ok, a super big mess. But who cares? I’m still going to have to sweep the floor. The odd thing is sweeping the entire floor takes about the same time with a little bit of dust as with a lot of pretzel salt and brownie crumbs. You’re still covering the same area. So, don’t worry about it and instead pay attention to what is happening in front of you.

You are responsible for you

Well, sort of…

You are responsible for your kids, yes, but can you make them feel differently about a moment by changing your behavior? No.

I really wasted so much time worrying about everyone feeling good in the moment, that I failed to notice how I felt about what was happening. When I look back at those memories, they are faded somehow. On my graduation day, I was totally worrying that everybody was comfortable, watching all the interactions between my friends and parents, looking out for my brother, in case there was an area he couldn’t take his wheelchair. But nothing I could have done or not done would have changed their day. It only changed my memory of the day. I definitely wasn’t thinking about how I felt about completing my degree and savoring the victory of a job well done.

Feelings go hand-in-hand with memories, and strong emotion can boost your memory. So, take a second to feel all the feels. And you don’t have to do this only at special family events, do it every day.

Pay attention to these tips, and when you look back, you won’t see lists, bills and your phone. You will see your life, made up of wonderful memories.

This post was inspired by the photography of Eric Pickersgill and blog post by

A Penny Saved…

Why is a penny saved, a penny earned? Anyone that uses coupons and rewards programs can tell you it can be hard work maximizing your savings.

I remember when I was young, clipping coupons with my mother. I liked looking at all the lovely things we could buy with the slips of paper. My mother would have us clip every single coupon in the paper, because who knows what you’ll end up needing. She would tell me that coupons were free money that came in our newspaper. Free money!? Sign me up!

My mother spent 3 hours organizing her coupons yesterday. Always clipping every single coupon she comes across, she has substantiated this chore with the excuse that she clips not only for herself, but she shares her coupons with her children. She clips diaper coupons for me, and dog food coupons for my sister, and she even finds Costco coupons for my sister in California. She carries little scissors around in her purse, in case she comes across a coupon she needs to clip in the field. Every time I see my mother, she has a little envelope filled with coupons for me. Aw, thanks Mom!

It’s great that my mom has time to do this, but even she can recognize that sometimes it’s not worth the effort. For instance, our local grocery store offers a rewards system where you can earn points, and then use those points toward discounts on gas. But she found out that her local gas station normally sells gas at a price that is the same, or even lower, than the discounted price she would receive from the store’s gas station. Not only that, she would have to drive farther to get the store’s gas station. So, she just doesn’t use the program, it really isn’t worth her time.

And that is the key to using your coupons and rewards to your benefit, not detriment. Your time has value. If clipping coupons takes up all your time, or you have to run all over town (or the next town over) to use your rewards, what is the point?

So, here are some tips to streamline your savings process:

Use an online coupon site. What I have found that works for me, is a free service, like coupons.com. I can open my store’s sale paper in one window and the coupon site in another, and go through and clip coupons for the items on sale. Why would I need coupons for something already on sale? Because I’ve been burned, that’s why.

I have found in the past, after coming across what I thought was a great coupon, only to find out that the item was still more expensive than its competitors items. For example, I once had a coupon for $1.50 of General Mills cereal, which would make the price $2.79 at my store. But when I checked my store’s deals for the week, they had Post cereal on sale $2.00. That coupon was really useless. It wasn’t saving me any money at all, and I spent time to obtain it.

Don’t spend too much time organizing your coupons. I normally split the coupons I get into 5 categories, I put them immediately into my coupon binder and the process only takes a few minutes. My coupon binder has 6 pockets. I leave the first one empty, then the other five are split into Non-Food, Pantry, Refrigerated, Frozen and Store.

The first pocket is empty, until I am actually shopping. When I’m in the store, and I have picked up an item, I move the coupon into the first pocket. then when I check out, I don’t have to fuss with the coupons I haven’t used on this trip.

Non-food is just that, anything that you don’t eat. From cleaning supplies to personal hygiene items; medication to dog food, it all goes into the same pocket. Why? There is no point to separating them out further, as I normally only do my shopping for household items once a month or less. Why spend time organizing them? How many dog food coupons can you have? Just lump them together.

I think the Pantry, Refrigerated and Frozen sections are self-explanatory. When I’m in the middle aisles, looking at Pop-Tarts, I don’t want to have coupons in my hand for frozen chicken. And vice-versa.

The last pocket, Store, is reserved for coupons that must be used in a particular store. So when I get my coupons printed out from my local grocery chain, I stick them straight into that last pocket. Then, if I find myself out and decide to do some shopping, all my coupons are at hand. I stuck some Macy’s coupons in that last pocket that I got in the mail. I didn’t think I’d get to use them, since I had no plans to visit the mall anytime soon. Then, when we were coming home from a family outing, we decided to talk a walk through the mall. We ended up at Macy’s and my older son asked for more school pants. (He has a strict school dress code this year, so I didn’t buy much at the beginning of the school year.) As I paid for the pants, I pulled out the coupons and ended up getting 20% off khakis that were already on sale. Score!

Post in the comments your favorite coupon cheat and look for future posts on rewards programs and my recent experience using Swagbucks. I look forward to hearing from you.

You Are Enough

What does happy look like to you? Right now, you may be thinking of things that you need to get done and goals you want to accomplish. I remember when I was younger, thinking that I would be happy when… queue list of unobtainable standards. Once I looked like Cindy Crawford, I would be happy and could enjoy life. Once I had that car in the ad, my life would take off with possibilities. Until then, I would not allow myself to enjoy anything. Achieving your dreams is hard work, right?

I’m glad I dumped that way of thinking. It took the pressure off myself and it opened up opportunities I couldn’t see when I had my blinders on. I saw that I could obtain personal health, but I would never look like Cindy, I quit worrying about my status symbol car, picked up a $500 Chevy and was off to new places. Not allowing yourself to be happy while in pursuit of your goals is toxic.

Then I wondered if I’m still thinking the same way – only now, my unobtainable goal is being a supermom, and I have a million excuses why I am not or can’t be one.

Look around the internet and there is always a group that states their way is better and you’re doing it wrong. Some may be satirical (and hilarious!), but in the end, you have set the standard for yourself. For me, being a supermom means being pretty close to perfect. Since I feel nowhere near perfect, it perpetuates my view of my self as not yet supermom – a person who is striving to get there, but hasn’t quite met the criteria.

I do this to myself.

Part of my goals in writing this blog is to see all the effort I put into being a parent, so that I can have a more realistic view of how I’m doing. As I start to look at myself more objectively, I see that I expend an enormous amount of energy being a mom. When I’m physically present, actually caring directly for the kids, or when I’m on my break at work, and I’m looking for experiences we can enjoy as a family, I’m thinking about how to give them a childhood that will give them a leg up in adulthood.

Yesterday I told my husband that I’m not perfect. He immediately protested “Yes, you are!” and just that simple statement made me realize I am perfect, in a way. I’m the perfect person to take care of my family.

So whether the pressure on you comes from within or without, please realize that you are enough. You are the perfect person to care for your children and family. The fact that you are striving to be better shows how much you care.

In writing this post, I stumbled across #endmommywars, a movement to stop spreading judgement amongst moms and bring support to a group that needs it – parents. I also found this great post by one of the panel members, Erika Bragdon, you can find here. These are great tips to help with insecurity you may feel as a mother.

Remember to be kind to yourself. You are enough.

Also, add supermom to your dictionary:

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The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback