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Part of my goal here is to provide resources from other sites that I have perused that can help with saving money while still eating well and having fun. (more…)

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A few weeks ago, we had yet another milestone occur in our household. My seven-year old noodle lost her second top tooth. Let’s face it, when the first four or eight baby teeth come in, it’s miraculous and bittersweet. When they lose those first four or eight for adult teeth, it is just as bittersweet.

I did my part by having her write a note on the envelope for the tooth fairy as I shoved my husband out the door to run to the store. In our home, the tooth fairy brings a dollar and gum and we had no gum.

Between three kids, ages seven, eight, and nine years old, it seemed that teeth were falling out all over the place and for some reason, the tooth fairy never had gum on hand.

The next morning, my daughter came out of her room, chomping on gum and waiving her dollar about (which she lost almost immediately. My guess is, it’s in the boy’s piggy bank).

‘How does the tooth fairy do it?! When does she come in and get my tooth? Why does she give me gum?’ She asked in between chomping on her gum and handing pieces of it out to everyone.

The middle noodle piped up. ‘When I lose my tooth up in Oregon, I get FIVE dollars. Why do we only get a dollar and gum here in California?’

FIVE BUCKS?! Good grief, who does that?!

The middle noodle spends the school year up in Oregon with her mom. She comes to us during the summer and all school holidays. I chalked it up to divorced mom’s guilt. Fortunately for my pocket-book, I was not one of those moms.

The youngest looked at her pack of gum and then looked at me waiting for an answer about the five bucks. I just shrugged my shoulders and started picking lint off my sweatshirt hoping she’d drop the subject and go away.

A day or so later, when the middle child was back in Oregon, I was driving with my kids; the youngest girl started in again with the tooth fairy.

‘Mom, why does the tooth fairy collect teeth? Why does she give money? Where does she come from?’

I’d had it. I couldn’t stand it anymore.

‘Hey, you guys? Umm, about the that tooth fairy. Uh….’ I let out a big sigh.

Holy God here it comes, one of the ‘big’ talks in a kid’s life. I threw out a quick prayer hoping they wouldn’t be devastated. I had heard the stories of kids saying, ‘when I found out about Santa, the tooth fairy, and the easter bunny, that is when my childhood ended. It was all downhill from there.’

I cleared my throat. ‘I’m…….’

‘THE TOOTH FAIRY!!!’ My nine-year old son blurted out.

I let my breath out. ‘Yes. Does that upset you?’, I said, rather defeated. The response time was minimal.

‘AWESOME!!!’ My son did a little chair dance in the back seat.

‘YOU’RE the Tooth Fairy?! REALLY?? My daughter exclaimed.

‘Ya. It’s me.’ I said sheepishly.

‘Well, that explains a lot.’ My daughter said as she sat back. Everything became clear for her.

‘And about the Easter Bunny….’ I figured things weren’t going that badly, I may as well lay it all out. Kind of like ripping a band-aid off fast instead of a little at a time. One swift, but painful, movement. But at least it got done with quickly. Then the healing could begin.

‘NO WAY!’ My son yelled.

My daughter’s eyes grew wide. ‘You’re the EASTER BUNNY? YOU put the candy out?!’

Oh lord, I thought, I’m ruining her childhood. No more dreams to dream. No more joys left to experience. The boy seems ok, but I’m crushing her spirit! This is how people become addicts! Oh, God take the wheel!!’

‘Mom’, She said enthusiastically, ‘that SO rocks!’

‘Huh?’ I said. I looked in the rear view mirror. The kids were bouncing up and down in their seats. Could it be they were actually excited I was the tooth fairy and Easter bunny? Had I read them wrong? What else had I hesitated to tell them for fear of crushing their spirits?

Then, it came to me. The big one. The mother of all discoveries in a kid’s life. I didn’t even have to bring it up.

‘Mom, you have to tell us. Are you……Santa Claus too?’

I had struggled with telling the kids this one for a year or so. The story just didn’t sit right with me, and yet, I loved the idea of Santa. I loved the magic, wonder, and innocence of it all. Would I be able to keep the magic of the holidays without the story of Santa?

At the same time, I didn’t like lying to my kids. Not even this one. I let out a sigh. I crinkled my nose, as if to say, ‘do you hate me, children? Am I absolutely the worst mother ever in the history of mothers? I am worse than the mother who had a crack baby, aren’t I?’

What could be worse than lying and then having to come clean about Santa?’

They understood the look I gave. The furrowed brow combined with the sucking in of my breath through my teeth causing a hissing sound as if I had just stubbed my toe. I waited for the inevitable; the heartbreak, the crocodile tears, and the sadness of childhood lost.

Instead, loud whooping cheers, excitement, and laughter exploded in the back seat.

‘Aren’t you upset?’ I asked?

‘Upset? No way!,’ My son exclaimed, ‘Our mom is Santa Claus!! That is awesome! You’re Santa! We can just come to you instead of writing letters! I’ll start telling you what I want now.’

My son has always preferred to go straight to the source to make his wishes known.

‘How did you do it? How did you get all the presents under the tree without us seeing?! You’re really good at that!’ My daughter asked.

I smiled; got a bit smug over the kudos coming from the back seat.

‘Well, it’s not easy, you know…what, with all the buying and wrapping. It takes a lot of work…a lot of hard work.’

‘I can’t wait to go to school tomorrow and tell everyone that my mom is Santa!’, My daughter squealed.

‘Yes, child, I am…..wait. What? Well….I do, do a lot of work….’ For a brief moment, I owned Christmas. ‘No, wait…no….I’m not THE Santa…I’m not their Santa….I’m your Santa. Everyone has their own Santa, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy. I’m yours.’

The kids settled down a bit.

‘So, you guys really aren’t upset over this?’ I shyly asked.

‘Heck no!’ my son answered for the two of them. ‘This rules. I can’t wait to tell Cassidy.’

Uh-oh. I had not thought of the middle noodle. My husband and his ex-wife had not told their daughter about the infamous three characters and their true identity. My husband had a problem with having to continually convince his daughter about the myth of Santa, but not enough of a problem to burst her childhood bubble with the truth.

I tried to explain to my kids why we couldn’t tell their step-sister.

‘Ok, listen up, guys. It’s not our job or responsibility to tell Cassidy about this, ok?’, I said firmly.

‘Well, someone needs to tell her that you’re Santa.’ My daughter replied.

‘I’m not the Santa.’ I re-iterated, ‘I’m your Santa. Her dad and mom are her Santa and it’s up to them to decide when to tell her. Not us.’

‘Oh. Can we tell her you’re the Easter Bunny?’ My daughter jubilantly asked.

‘Well,’ I thought a moment, then realized how quickly my own kids put two and two together. ‘No, we better not. Let’s just keep it between us and allow other parents to decide when it’s the best time for their own kids to discover the truth, OKAY?’

I emphasized the ‘okay’ part, because I needed them to acknowledge we were in agreement. Otherwise, the moment their step-sister walked in the front door, they’d be all over her with the news.

‘ya, ok.’ They both agreed.

The rest of the drive home was relatively quiet, except for the random burst of giggles as the two kids talked about the biggest secret they have ever held in the palm of their tiny hands. It was a good one, I’ll admit.

I tell people this story and they are blown away at my kid’s responses.

‘Wow, you nailed them with all three huh? Gutsy.’ They say. ‘How could you do that to them, all three truths at once?! Were they totally crushed?’

These are the war stories of parenthood, and so the responses are filled with the same type of emotion.

‘I told my kids when they were about 12.’ A woman told me, looking remorseful, ‘broke their pre-pubescent hearts right in two. They cried for a day or so. They’ve questioned my actions since.’

‘You are so lucky.’ Some parents say, looking at me all wild-eyed, wondering how I did it. ‘I never told my kids. I just couldn’t. They figured it out at some point. But I could never bring myself to telling them. Too heartbreaking.’

I guess I am lucky. Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on, and my kids get all tweaky at the small daily stuff. Sometimes, I do too. Actually quite often.

Thankfully, the big stuff doesn’t seem to faze them too much. Maybe that’s the secret to parenting. Make the little stuff into big stuff and the big stuff into little stuff. Nah, it can’t be that easy. There is no reason or rhyme to it. That’s what is frustrating. Once we figure one thing out, that one thing doesn’t matter anymore. It becomes obsolete, because there is another thing to figure out..  Never ending. And this is why gray hair, or hair loss, or early death comes along.

Ok, maybe not but it sure feels like that’s why.

At least I have navigated this storm and ended up in unexpected calm waters. At least for now.

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At least it’s a pretty drive to Reno

At this moment, I’m in Reno in a waiting room at the courthouse.

Every other weekend the kids and I make the three hour drive to Reno so the children can have a one hour visit with their dad on Saturday and a one hour visit on Sunday. Then we make the three hour trip back home.

Originally, we all lived in Reno, Nevada, when I was married to my former husband. A few years after I divorced him, I was given permission by the state of Nevada to move back to California where I’m from originally, in order to get married to my fiancé. Needless to say, the kids moved with me as I was the primary parent (this was given to me due to the ex’s ongoing battle with alcoholism).

At the end of summer in 2011, we moved back to the San Francisco bay area to a small town called Martinez.

Originally, after the ex discovered my intentions to move back to California ( I had made the mistake of wanting to discuss it with him like adults), the ex demanded sole custody and, if that wasn’t accepted, he at least wanted joint custody. To everyone’s surprise, the court awarded the ex joint custody of our young children after he had jumped through hoops to ‘prove’ his sobriety.

I was shocked, devastated, and terrified for the kid’s safety.

For more than four years I had proven time after time, including catching him and his parents lying on the witness stand during the move away trial about a DUI he had received, that he was still drinking.

The court took his word after three months of him claiming to be sober and gave him joint custody. Because I was living in California, the judge had figured time would be split as such: the ex would have the kids every other weekend. He would get them every school break including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring break, and ALL summer.

It did not allow for me to see the children at all during the summer. I cried as I heard this. It was like hearing a prison sentence. I pleaded to the judge that it would be detrimental to the children if they, after mostly only being with me their entire lives, did not have access to me at all during the summer.

The judge reluctantly agreed and gave me one weekend a month.

After I left the court room I went to fill up the gas tank on my truck before driving the three hours home. I sat at the gas station and cried. I knew he would black out from drinking while the kids would be with him. I knew he would drive drunk with them in the car. I knew they would have to tolerate his fits of anger as he went through withdrawals on the days he didn’t drink. I knew all this because he had done it in the past.

I could understand why women go nuts in situations like this. But in the midst of I all, I ‘heard’ a voice quietly say, ‘It will be ok, they won’t ever see a summer with him.’

I drove home with the radio up loud to drown out my thoughts. When I arrived home I hugged my kids so tightly the told me they couldn’t breathe.

That night, their dad called them. He always called after every court date, as if being in court served as a reminder for him to do so.

He told them of all the exciting things they would be doing that next summer. He told them they would get to stay with their grandparents (on his side, who are alcoholics as well) for weeks. He promised them trips down the Truckee river on rafts and inner tubes, trips to Lake Tahoe to swim. All sorts of trips events took my breath away because once alcoholics start drinking, they forget about anyone else who isn’t drinking with them.

The kids being in freezing cold water like Tahoe or fast rapids like the Truckee river made me want to throw up.

Still, the voice kept telling me that they wouldn’t see any of it.

A few weeks passed and my head was swimming in fears. I was depressed and couldn’t sleep.

Then one day, my mom called and everything changed.

‘Remember all those times we talked of hiring a private investigator to follow the ex? I’ve come into a little money and I think it’s time we do it.’

I gasped. A private investigator. To follow the ex. Would it work? Would they be able to catch him? What if he had actually stopped drinking and it was all in my head? But what if they could catch him drinking? The judge in our case always seemed to be rooting for him, would she this time, too?

I looked up investigators in Reno and called one. It was a woman. We talked for a bit, she took down all his info, his address, description, employer, etc.

She said they would place a bug on his car. She said they could pick up his garbage and go through it to look for bottles. She also said they could tail him if he went into a bar and record him in there. But it was going to cost a bit.

I called my mom back and repeated to her what the PI had told me. There was silence on the other end.

‘Let’s do it.’, She said excitedly. ‘He needs to be caught in his own lies.’

‘Ok.’ I replied, ‘let me call the PI back and get this rolling. She said she could get the bug on his car tonight.’

Oopsie. The kid’s hour with their dad is up. They are heading out back to me. The ex canceled tomorrow’s visit, so we’re heading home after we refuel.

Don’t worry, I’ll finish telling you the rest. If you’d like to share your thoughts on this so far, please feel free.

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Start by reading the infographic and meet me at the bottom. Or, if you’re like me, scroll right to the bottom, read the post, grab a bite to eat, check facebook, make sure the kids aren’t demolishing the house,  then go back to the infographic.

The Descent into Credit Card Debt Hell

graphic by mint.com

I got my first credit card back when I started attending college. So it was, you know, only about five years ago. ha. Anyway, they based my credit ‘worthiness’ on my parent’s income, not mine. If they had based it on mine, it would have been declined. DUH. I was 19 years old and my working career consisted of a few years at a pizza parlor. The card was an American Express, believe it or not.

My mom snatched that card from my spendy little hands, before I even knew how to triumphantly say ‘CHHHARRRRRGE IT!’ properly.

Months later, I got a discover card. Then a Visa. Then the first bill. Guess they weren’t gonna let me keep that new guitar for nothing.

Then the burden of the debt climbed onto my back like a good little monkey. It’s almost like a rite of passage these days. I was fortunate, I didn’t leave college with a mountain of college loans. Then again, back then, tuition was $350 a semester and living in a three bedroom flat with several roommates brought the costs down.

Fast forward to my thirties. I was married with one child, we had our first house, a new car, and one other vehicle that I had been paying for on a five-year loan. We ‘thought’ we were living the American dream. We both thought, ‘well, this is what being an adult is about.’

Fast forward again another five years, we now had two children, two new vehicles, moved to another state with a bigger house and more debt. Crap. But my husband’s company was being acquired by UPS, so I knew we’d be able to pay it all off quickly.

Now, it didn’t help our situation that my then husband was an alcoholic, loved to buy things for himself, and ended up taking a job that paid $25K less than his current job. The stress of our debt was overwhelming and we lost everything except my truck. And when I say everything, I mean EVERYthing. We filed for bankruptcy, and walked away from our house and property. The trustee for the court for the bankruptcy scrutinized all our belongings trying to figure out a way that he could get money from us to pay off some of what we owed.

Eventually, we ended up with a $3,000 bill to the trustee because we had a little fart of a car that he felt was worth that amount. We wished. Plus we still needed the car, so we couldn’t sell it to pay off the debt. Even with bankruptcy, we ended up in debt. Go figure.

I didn’t realize the weight that the debt had placed on me. Even though I wanted to pay off that debt, I was truly relieved by the stress I was able to let go of after the bankruptcy. Still, it’s a better feeling when it can get paid off in full.

I vowed to take control of my personal finances and never depend on credit cards or credit again. My credit score was in the tanker, so I couldn’t have cared less about that and I knew if I did it right, my credit score would never matter again anyway.

Needless to say, the divorce came shortly thereafter. I became a wizard with the small income my two children and I were living off of.

Fortunately, by the time my 2nd husband and I were married I had educated myself on how to get out of debt. He came with quite a bit of it debt and had lost his house as well due to his divorce and the housing market.

When I told him my plan, and that I needed him to trust me, he let go of the financial reigns and allowed me take over. A month or so ago I came to him and showed him where we were.

Within three months, we have paid more than $4500 off and will be debt free in less than a year. That might not sound like a big deal, but that means we will have paid off more than $20K in just about a year.

This was without me going back to work (I stay at home). This was without us generating any more income than what we previously had. This was without ‘suffering’ through eating only top ramen. We eat really well, in fact. We still do things as a family (now with three kids) and he recently rebuilt the front end on his 1970 Chevelle.

When I told my husband our estimated ‘freedom from debt’ date he replied, ‘Really? That soon? Oh, man, that is amazing. Thank you.’. The emotion in his voice told the story of the burden HE has been carrying all these years.

I’m now starting to educate myself on sound investments because, baby, I’ll tell you what. Based on the money I was able to save each month to put towards debt, I will be putting towards investments when it’s all said and done.

We will not be in the 98% where people over 65 are either dead or dead broke. How about you?

The best part of all of this is, I get to show my kids how to make sound financial choices, how to save, how to spend, how to tithe (it’s not left at the church like we’ve all been taught!), how to create money and more. They see me working the finances, we talk about money when they get some and how to handle it, what it means, where it comes from, how to create more of what we have from what we have, etc.

I don’t know about you, but I was never given a financial education as a kid. No wonder I went into debt. I saw the credit cards as a kid, just never saw the bills that came in later! I won’t make that mistake with my kids. I hope you don’t either.

So the question is, are you ready to get rid of the debt you may have? Have you paid off debt? Would you care to share your story and how you were able to get out of debt?

If you have any tips that you feel contributed to you getting out of debt, I’d love to see them. If you are interested in how I did it, let me know and I’ll tell you what I did.

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As promised, here’s the 2nd video. Did you watch the first one yet? What did you think? I love when she asks about the Wiggles. Like I don’t know the Wiggles. Psshh.

This one is a bit longer, but Soooooo worth it. Your heart will get all gooey and squishy because you’ll ‘get it’. I’ve watched it several times and catch something new every time.

Validating others is like the old saying of chopping your own wood. It warms you twice, once when you cut it, and once when you burn it.

Validating (or edifying) others is the same way to me. I know they are receiving, whether they acknowledge it or not. Speaking good to and of someone is always awsomeness to the other person. It also feels good to do. We are so bombarded by negativity, the ‘sarcastic’ comments that really have a deeper dig than we realize, that when someone speaks highly of and to someone, and really validates them, people catch it.

Turn to whoever is closest and throw down a compliment. Validate them. I’m not kidding, it will totally change their day, your day, and shift the energy.

I’ve tried this with people I’m a bit prickly with (ex husband, ex in-laws, etc. There is a reason they are the exes). People I normally want to pinch so hard they cry. As much as I want to be far away from these people, I have to interact with them, so I do my best to do the opposite. I validate them. If there is a compliment I can genuinely give, I do. It changes the energy.

I’m not just kissing their ass. I’m not up for that. But I will throw down a genuine compliment or validate what they are saying.

It’s called being grown up.

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I posted this a bit ago on another blog I write for. I’m a huge fan of uplifting people. I love looking for compliments I can give to people. Let’s face it, we’ve all been through the wringer. No one gets out of childhood unscathed.  So I find things in my ‘spare’ time that I think others might enjoy too.

And, I usually play this kind of stuff when my kids are around. I figure, ‘good stuff in = good stuff out’. Hopefully it is sinking in without them even realizing it.

Anyhoody, here’s one of my favorites. In the coming days, I’ll post another one that’s a bit longer but will have you feeling all gooey with love and goodness. MmmmMMM gooey-ness.

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The Committee

I love to take photographs. Although, I’m not very specific with it. Meaning, I don’t use the aperture or shutter speed setting when I shoot (I’m learning to though!). I remember when my cousin posted on her facebook page, ‘I’m thinking of getting a digital camera’, her friend responded with, ‘whatever you do, PLEASE don’t just set the wheel to Auto! If you do, don’t bother getting one!!’

Well. The committee (in my head. That’s what I call ‘them’, but really it’s Ego.) started in immediately, ‘see? you shouldn’t be taking photos, you aren’t doing it right. No one would ever look at your work and want to know about it since you don’t put the settings down. Just stop now. Everything you do is half assed.’

Then the God brain kicks in, ‘Be QUIET you in there. Let her be.’

It’s a constant argument with almost everything I do. I don’t think I’m the only one because when I attended Alanon (friends and family of alcoholics) I got the term ‘the committee’ from them. Everyone had a committee running rampant there.

The committee above ruled my life for a VERY long time, making it harder than hell to be happy. I just didn’t know it was what it was, you know? I just thought I was one of those doom and gloom, rebel without a cause type teenagers.

It’s one of the reasons I love music so much. It drowns out the committee so I can do what Spirit is requesting of me.

When I was a kid, I had to have music on to do my homework. Otherwise, the committee would step in and start in with lies such as, ‘ugh, you know you aren’t good at math. This is going to take forever. You heard the teacher, you just aren’t getting it. You stink at it.’

Music comes on and it’s like holding a sock puppet in front of the committee. They focus on that instead of what I am doing. Then I can get on with things. I do it with my running, with my business, in fact, it’s on now.  Radio Paradise (www.radioparadise.com) has been a God send for me.

I wonder, when do we get our committee? Will my children have one? How do I help them to not have the same one I have? I admire creative types so much because, I don’t think they have a committee that is negative. It’s why children so live in the moment, I believe. Their committee hasn’t arrived yet. Personally, I hope it never does. I fill my children’s heads with as much positive talk as possible because I want that to be their committee, just in case that is how it works.

And once there, I’m not sure it ever goes away. If anything, we can only learn to drown it out with our God brain (higher self) or music or who knows.

I’m curious, do you have a committee? How do you work with it if you do have it? Can you shut it off, if you want? Is it positive, constructive, deconstructive, neutral, or only pounces in on really important stuff? If you have older children, do you see it in them? My kids are still pretty young, so is it at that magical time of ‘tweenhood or puberty that we are assigned a committee?

I keep telling my kids, ‘good stuff in = good stuff out’. Kind of like, ‘garbage in = garbage out’. What goes into the brain becomes what comes out in our lives. So I keep shoving good stuff into their heads, in hopes that is the case.

Any thoughts on this?

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