Back to School on a Budget

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No surprise here, for me planning and preparing for back-to-school has always been exciting. I think it’s where my love for monthly “calendar days” (i.e. the first of every month when I plan out the 30 days ahead) derived from. Yes, I agree, I’m a total nerd but it’s the planner in me.

As a parent though I have a confession, my love for back-to-school has dwindled. As much as I love the planning and preparing part of it all, I despise the spending. It is just too expensive. New clothes, new shoes, backpacks, lunch boxes, school supplies, etc. etc. the list goes on. I leave the weekend of shopping and preparing feeling like a “serial swiper” and that at some point someone is going to cut up my debit card and stamp insufficient funds on my forehead.

Nevertheless there are lessons in every thing we do. This year marked my fourth consecutive back to school shopping excursion and I *think* I might have figured out some tips and tricks that (hopefully) worth sharing. Here goes…

Tip 1. Student Supplies Blame it on the planner in me, but my first tip is to begin executing your list for the subsequent year on the last day of school on the previous. When your child comes home with a backpack full of a year’s worth of accumulated “stuff” go through it then and there. Make a toss pile, a keep pile and a recycle pile. Toss is obvious. Keep is for those special pieces of art and earned 100s for the scrapbook and recycle are those folders, markers, crayons, headphones, etc. that can fulfill the checklist for school supplies for the following year. Put them in a bag or box and set them aside, not to be used over the summer, and then pull them out before you head off for your shopping trip in July/August.

Tip 2. Clothes As a parent of two the reality is, buying a new set of full wardrobes for each one every summer would certainly add up to a cost I don’t want to pay if I don’t have to. Not to mention that it would also set a precedent of expectations that I personally find unnecessary. I don’t get a new wardrobe annually, why is that even a thing? I don’t want my girls to correlate new clothes with new  chapters in life, and furthermore …why should I? We are on a year-round schedule which means my girls are out of school for 4 weeks. FOUR WEEKS. Seriously?! Let’s be real. There is no way they have outgrown every article of clothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on board with that new first day outfit. I get that it is special; along with a few key items to prepare are certainly important. This is where the list comes back into play. I can’t speak to boys, but for girls, each year I know they’ll need a new white cardigan, pants, since here in NC they’ve been wearing dresses and shorts for months and mostly outgrown anything of length, and shoes are a given with young kids…they outgrow these so fast! So how do you get around the school clothes shopping spree without breaking the bank?

This part is a bit of effort, I admit it, but remember time is money and in this case time is money-saving! My advice is to make a list first. What do they really need for the upcoming year? Then go through their closets to see what they have, cross it off your list and set it aside for school, from there either pass down or take out clothes that no longer fit. Back-to-school is a perfect time for closet clean out and you avoid buying dupes of anything they still fit in. When you head to the store for the remainder of the list remember to hit up the sales. Thankfully there isn’t a shortage of good deals in July/ August but I’d also recommend taking a look at consignment deals. Here in Raleigh every summer they have something called the Kids’ Exchange. It is a 4 day event where consignors can sell any and all items for kids. I mean anything! The final day of the event everything left (in 10,000 sq ft) is marked 50% off. Crazy right?!! Every year I get up, show up and save. This year I was able to get everything on my list for both girls for the full year, we are talking winter clothes, soccer gear, next size up rain boots, even holiday dresses… ALL for $130.00. According to a survey on parenting.com, this is the same amount the average person spends on a single child for back to school clothes only. I spent half of this and got far more that will save me throughout the year. Win.Win.

Tip 3. Classroom supplies. This has been a controversial topic and I’ll be honest I think the debate in and of itself, is frustrating to me. People often forget that sometimes when we spend money we are investing in other people. That’s the push behind small businesses. Think of your child’s classroom as a small business. If you invest in it wholeheartedly your gains will return in large percentages. Teachers, like small business owners, don’t have the funds for bells and whistles that maximize learning fun and sometimes even the basics that are necessary. I have no problem spending a little bit more on classroom supplies to help all of the children, and the teacher, be successful. Sure, I may not buy everything in excess but if I can provide a few extra markers, pens, post-its because they are in bulk when I buy them, then by all means. Try not to get bent out of shape about the school supply list when it comes to “classroom wishes.” Remember, that extra box of tissues you send in might be the one reached for when your child sneezes or the extra crayon box may just be the ones your child use when he/she has broken their last favorite blue Crayola. Yes, I’m all about budget, but I’m also about perspective.

Tip 4. Use your resources. For many kids having a summer birthday can be a bummer. I know Charlotte has said time and again how she wishes she could have cupcakes at school. So instead of bringing her birthday to the classroom I try to bring some school into her birthday. When people ask what she needs or wants for her birthday, I delegate with intention. Maybe its a back pack or a new lunchbox, extra sox perhaps or that special dress she just might choose to wear on the first day. Not only does this get those kiddos that may not be as excited to go back to school get a little bit of excitement but it helps pull the cost off the parents. For close friends and family, I know not getting birthday presents isn’t really an option, even if I say, “oh she doesn’t need anything” so let’s be real, if they are going to spend their hard-earned money, let it be on something necessary and practical. I would much rather have someone take my advice on getting that new back pack she will love as opposed to a toy she won’t have time to play with once the school year begins.

In closing, I circle back to the topic of perspective. I know lots of kids who don’t love going to school and the first day back is more anxiety and eyerolls. So to them I say, try to make it fun. Unfortunately even for these kids back to school prep can be a headache so ask your student what is one thing that they want? What is one item that will help ease the those first day/back to school jitters? Then work with them to build it up as best you can. We didn’t have a lot of money or resources when I was growing up but I remember how special that single “back to school” outfit always was. I may not remember much else but I do recall  how exciting getting ready for the first day was. (Totally dating myself here) but I remember even just the night before I’d do a special beauty treatment (cue the mayo hair mask and Sea Breeze astringent) get my crimper and caboodle kit ready for the morning and set out my clothes and supplies for the following day.

The point? Bells and whistles are unnecessary on all accounts. Be practical. Be realistic. Set a budget, plan ahead and you won’t break bank. Even if your budget allows for it, why do it? Invest where you need to but save where you can.

Good luck!

A Chopped Kids Birthday

IMG_5763It doesn’t take long to realize we are a food family. We love to eat, try new places but nothing is more fun than cooking together at home. The girls, like so many other children today, are definitely into FN shows like the Kids Baking Championship, Cupcake wars and of course Chopped. So when I started chatting with Madz about what she wanted to do for her birthday, her love for cooking and different ideas morphed into the idea of a Chopped birthday party. I was a little nervous about how it would work but in the end it turned out to be a great success. I’ve had a lot of people ask how it would work or what the baskets would be, it was surpringly easy to implement once the logistics were figured out. Here’s how it all went down.

The Teams
-We had 12 kids split into 4 teams of 3.
-I pre-set the teams giving consideration to age, siblings and seeing as we had a mix of -kiddos who didn’t all know one another, tried to mix it up a bit.
-When the kids arrived they had a small activity box with their name on it. Inside were two thin strips of card stock and some tissue paper to decorate and MYO chef hat, an apron and a small spatula color-coded. They could find their teammates by matching spatulas.
-Each team had a sous-chef, aka an awesome mom willing to help with the appliances and pantry items.

The Baskets & Pantry
Round 1: Salad mix, ginger snaps, mandarin oranges and cheese triangles
Round 2: Cooked noodles, breakfast sausage, mushrooms and hummus
Round 3: leftover chocolate cake, popcorn, marshmallow peeps and unsweetened applesauce
The pantry consisted of a variety of items that we pulled out ahead of time. Although this was an area that spiraled fast and suddenly there were items not pulled for the pantry on the plates…i.e. an entire container of ginger spice LOL

Key Players
The Dad’s/uncle were crucial to this party. I mean they came to play and we couldn’t have done it without them. One dad played host-Ted and I shouldn’t say played, he dressed the part and rocked managing the mini-chefs. Two other dads and the soon-to-be uncle Cameron were our brave judges. They too, came to play, with their age appropriate critiques, good feed back and suggestions for technique. I swear, these 4 guys were the best part of the party and I had a small token of appreciation for them but in hindsight that box of chocolates wasn’t enough for what they had to eat. They deserved beer, lots of beer.

How it Played
-3 rounds (appetizer, entrée and dessert)
-10 minutes each
-Teams could request use of the microwave, food processor, mixer, blender and toaster but had to direct their sous-chef on what they wanted done. Note: There was no use of the stove, oven, grill or knives.
-After each round the oldest on each team presented their dish to the judges for tasting.
-Teams were sent outside for 2-3 minutes so the judges could contemplate, the moms could do a quick clean-up and restock baskets.
-We awarded medals to each team as they got chopped. I made little medals for best taste, best presentation and most creative then the last team’s medal said “Chopped Champions.”

In the end the kids had a blast! They all played and worked so, so well together. They cheered each other on and remained engaged even after they’d been chopped. I wouldn’t have changed much about the party with a few exceptions. I put a lot of thought into the baskets but not a lot of thought into the pantry and will probably need to head to the grocery store to restock on things I wasn’t expecting. I also didn’t get a group picture of my little chefs. We have lots of good pics but a group photo would’ve been good for the memory book. Lastly, it got chaotic fast. Not in a way that was unmanageable simply due to the parent-child ratio, but 12 kids between the ages of 3-11 and 12 adults made our house seem really small, really fast. In hindsight we probably could’ve done this whole thing outside however, you can’t predict the weather, hence the snow I’m looking at right now… but the use of indoor and outdoor did work incredibly well, so it all worked out. I’m sure if I had to do it over there would be a few more things but these are the highlights and it was a great time overall.

I can’t thank everyone enough. There is absolutely no way that I could have done it solo nor would I want to. It was nice to have a party where the parents could be involved and not just sidelined. I’m not sure if my judges would agree but they, along with everyone, were truly great sports. I extend my greatest thanks to all who made my Madilyn’s birthday so special. Thank-you ❤

Don’t knock it ’til you try it.

I’m an adult. I can admit when I’m wrong and I fully believe you are never too old to learn a lesson. I have learned so much in the past few years but recently a few things have continued to shine out brighter than others. First, time is money. Second, energy and efficiency are sometimes well worth the additional cost; and third, patience can pay dividends. Let me explain…

Lesson 1. Patience Pays
Last week I was in my preferred consignment store. They were having a huge clearance sale and even though I wasn’t just shopping for fun, I needed some items, I left empty-handed and frustrated.

Fast forward to Thursday, I received a promo email from the same store promoting that all remaining clearance items would be marked down to $2.00 or less Sat. & Sun. SCORE! This deal combined with my birthday coupon and I had instant relief of that irritating feeling I couldn’t shake. I made a plan and went to town updating my professional wardrobe with almost 20 news pieces for under $30.00!! No guilt here.

The lesson? Waiting can be well worth it and for those naysayers about consignment shopping- don’t knock it until you try it. Consignment stores have come along way in the past 5 years. This one particular is geared toward the 25-40 yr. old professional woman only and you can often find high-end options in fantastic condition.

Lesson 2. Time, energy and efficiency are all $$$ oh, and DON’T JUDGE.
This one is a little bit harder for me, I’m totally eating crow. I was judgmental. I try not to be but sometimes…I’m human. No one wants to be judged and I’m no different but I did. I judged and I fully admit, I was wrong. Here’s what went down…The first time I ever saw an ad to order groceries online I was critical and somewhat cynical. Who can’t buy their own groceries? That is completely unnecessary? What is this Real Housewives of Raleigh? Yes, I was not the best me in these thoughts.

The grocery store has always been a happy place to be. Correction. The grocery store used to be a happy place for me. I loved grocery shopping. That was then. Now, it is a little different. The season of life I live is a beautiful one. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it but there are definitely some struggles. Going to the grocery store with two little ones can definitely be one of them. It seems as though no matter how much prep-work and planning I did pre-shopping trip; no matter how many pep talks, bribes and potty stops, the grocery store is almost never a positive experience. Someone is always hungry, another always touching, someone will always have to go to the bathroom when we are on the opposite end of the store even if we went when we first came in, and then there’s the girls…Moms out there you get it… my shortcomings as a parent shine through when both girls draw on their  survival skills once we reach the freezer section because undoubtedly I’m causing frostbite on their fingers and toes in that 2 minutes we are walking through. Oi vey. It is exhausting. Yes, I have tried to go by myself. I have a 50/50 partner who can go too but I was recently finding that our schedules were amping up and our more recent trips had us at the rush hour of grocery lines. Bad. All bad. No fun. Zero fun. Two thumbs down!

By the way, speaking of judgment, holy hannah do i get judged in the grocery store. Do NONE of those old southern beatties have children??? Do they not remember THAT season of life? Compassion, people. Compassion. #blesstheirforgetfulhearts

Anyway, so you’ve probably guessed where this is going. I caved. I decided to gift myself an online shopping trip over the holidays. They give you the first one “free” eliminating the $4.95 fee for them to shop for you. Which, had I know was only $4.95 I may have jumped on this bandwagon earlier. I easily made that up with coupons and in-store savings. Fast forward to now and I can say I’m a mega-fan and I’m sorry, so sincerely sorry that I judged.

Ordering your groceries online does not qualify you for the next RH season and it does not indicate that you are anything less than efficient. The best part, believe it or not…I SAVE MONEY! I stick completely to my list, I am not tempted by smells or sales, my groceries are ready when I need them and I don’t wander aimlessly and overwhelmed because I’m distracted. Not to lie, it took more than once to become this mega-fan. The first two times I was still slightly self-conscious but this weekend the fridge was bare and our schedules were crazy. I had a small window of time Sat. AM to get to the store and but adding this to my to-do list was daunting. So I ordered them online and scheduled pick up after gymnastics before heading home to change and turn back out. We pulled up, the girls and I were able to keep up with our fun conversation while eating lunch on the go, they loaded it up and we never had to get out. It was by far THE BEST shopping experience. No fights, no frustration and no overspending. Even the girls said “mom, we should get groceries like that all the time” SOLD. A whole family converted. Truth be told, deep in my heart I still love my grocery trips, it is the only kind of shopping I actually enjoy but I do so solo with my preferred coffee in hand, up and at’em super early in the morning before the crowds when the produce is just set out. And yes, they still happen but when the life we lead inevitably gets crazy, thank goodness for online grocery shopping. #lessonlearned

Happy Shopping!

 

Why just January?

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It’s a monotonous Sunday morning. The girls were up early berating Brent for breakfast. Benny Rodriguez was fully engaged in puppy antics and the kettle was ready to whistle. There is ice, snow and northern type temperatures. None of us really mind. I’m bundled up with coffee and watching the Sunday AM Food Network line up of- every FNStar goes healthy- par for viewers in the month of January.

As the wife of a fitness gym manager, the mother of two young girls, and someone who admittedly has a dysfunctional relationship with food- I can’t help but analyze this disillusioned first month of every calendar year, aka: January and where I am with it.

First, let’s talk fitness. The easiest of the subjects for me because well, I don’t have any. I despise working out. Over the years there have been a few classes I’ve found that I like but I’m not paying hundreds of dollars for a class when I have access to a gym that I don’t use. I’m mentally and physically exhausted at the end of most days and the weekends are either fully jam-packed with no time for anything or completely the opposite, like today. The weather is forcing us inside and I have no desire to move from this spot unless forced by flames or freak outs. Sure, I’ve run a half-marathon, okay well two actually, but I didn’t have great self care; and certainly not because of my love for running. My training was minimal but I completed and hope to do so again this year. I don’t run for me. I don’t run for fun. HA! But I run for a purpose and that’s why I prefer half-marathons. It gives me the minimal motivation I need to prepare and complete some sort of activity; because as you all know if I PAID to participate I am going to finish come hell or high water.

The real focus for me is food. I have made mention a few times in my posts about the calorie restricted diet-turned-lifestyle-change I made in 2011-2012. It left me 40lbs lighter from my pre-baby weight and 90lbs lighter from the day I gave birth to my second baby. Yes, for those moms doing the math. I gained 50lbs when I was pregnant. Actually I gained 50lbs with both girls, putting my body through a crazy rollercoaster over the course of 4 years. Reflecting on this reminds me that my body is a ROCKSTAR! It has done so much and I have completely mistreated it. With Madz I got down to my normal weight but with Char I was so nervous about not losing the weight that I enrolled in what started as a diet class, and just kept going.

The class was all about understanding what you put into your body. How much you need. The good, the bad, the better and the ugly. I didn’t go extreme, I didn’t give up any of my favorite foods but I also didn’t exercise. Which I don’t recommend. Yes, I was able to slowly adopt a new understanding and appreciation for food, but I lacked activity for a variety of new-mom reasons, and the more I saw the numbers dropping the more I thought that I didn’t have to, but I should have. With everything there is moderation and it includes diet and yes, even exercise. I’m sorry but over-exercising, just like over-dieting is not attractive and interrupts one’s personal balance. Four years later I am a work in progress. Yes, I can now say that at my lowest weight in 2013 I was far too small. At 5’5 with no muscle or breasts to speak of (as a woman this counts in your numbers) getting under 110 was too extreme. While I know I don’t want to LOOK like that again. I battle the mental numbers of wanting to be that small. I could wear anything. I never had lines in my body and there is a sick twisted pleasure with that. Today, my obsession with the scale, the fluctuating gap between my thighs, and the way my clothes fit, continues to be a problem. I have some interesting side effects from my long term restricted caloric intake that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but I digress. The point is I try to abide by my mantra “everything in moderation, including moderation.” It is a take on the 80/20 rule but this applies to everything not just diet and exercise.

To the actual point…

Why just January? If it takes 4 weeks for you to see your body changing, 8 weeks for your friends and family, and 12 weeks for the rest of the world why just focus on January? Most people go hard for a few days, maybe a few weeks and then they fall back. It is simply unrealistic. This includes those beautiful people on the Food Network, too. I think it’s safe to say that we most likely won’t see the famous red-headed BBQ king doing Yoga in a commercial promoting healthy choices in June, let alone November. None of this is realistic, so why do we do it? What are we telling ourselves? Where is the motivation and why can it not be sustained? And for those who do make the change, when will you be happy? When will you reach that “happy weight” or “healthy feeling” without feeling restricted or adopting a lifestyle that is either a. too expensive (because so many of these are $$$-will you always be able to afford it?) or b. too restrictive? I don’t want a life without chocolate or cheese.  or c. when have you gone too far? What about balance?

I ask these questions not because I have the answers, I certainly don’t. I too am in the process of a wellness challenge to get back to my good habits, because yes the holidays are hard to avoid for the majority of us. I did this challenge in the fall and I’ll do it again in the spring. It’s not just about January. For the yogi’s, the gym-rats, the green-juice lovers. I’m envious. I wish I had the motivation but only to a certain extent. If I become something I’m not for reasons that society is expecting or telling me to, then I’m a fraud. I want to be happy, healthy and not be self-judged by the pictures I may or may no post on social media. I want to look at my smile; not judge the roundness of my face. I want to focus on the person my arms are wrapped around and not the thickness of my arms- I’m not there but I’m trying; and it is going to take me far longer than the heinous month of January 2017 to get there. For now I’ll practice patience, self-care and continue to learn how to fall in love with me. That is my 2017 goal.

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My top 5 of 2016 and a little more…

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With each and every year that passes it rings truer that time goes by much faster the older we all get. As I sit in reflection of 2016, I am reminded of a year full of unexpected changes and opportunity. We didn’t anticipate what 2016 had in store but we seized the moments as they presented themselves and rather took to task. Admittedly there were times where I thought I was out of my mind; and others that I thought I was going to lose my mind but each one was proof that faith, hope, trust and a whole-lotta-love make all the difference.  Just like a solid Jimmy V inspired day, there was work, there were tears and there were certainly many wonderful laughs.

My top 5 moments of 2016 are (in no particular order):

  1. Finishing a half marathon with my family waiting at the finish line.
  2. Dropping my littlest off for her first day of Kindergarten.
  3. Throwing all caution to the wind and planning a 2017 adventure with my partner in life.
  4. Blowing out my birthday candles and eating 1 cake with 4 forks.
  5. A bit more than a moment, but the week spent in the Guyan Valley for the Appalachian Service Project-everything about it was transformative.

These moments define the year for me and not one of them has to do with any of the aforementioned unexpected opportunities. Instead they are my little-big reminders of what matters and what my purpose is. Family, friends, faith, adventure and love. I  have never been one to want the world. Yes, we have moved ALOT and I am definitely not opposed to change and growth. I want to continue to be better but to be more is different than to have more. For my children, yes, of course. They deserve the world. I want them to dream higher and achieve more- move, groove, seize, earn, act, love and do more than I can ever imagine. For me, no. I want one thing- a simple life of love. Contentment. Ordinary. Basic. I’m okay with all of it. In fact, these things sound beautiful to me. The five moments above are stamped on my heart. In all of them there is love. They all speak to me in different ways. 2016 taught me a great deal about myself and opened doors even wider, to a better me in the making. I am not who I want to be, and I hope to never be because I look forward to spending each new year in reflection and in preparation of trying to get there.

As I send 2016 out, I am excited about 2017, kind of giddy actually. There are many adventures on the horizon and even more memories to be made. I anticipate all that has begun to fill my calendar but perhaps even more I look forward to those not yet revealed. Good, bad or ugly when the sun comes up on a new year #lifeisgood.

 

Just a Friday night at the Fowler Farm

Twelve hours later I am still laughing out loud to myself and thought, ya know with all of the emotions and stress this week has brought to so many…I’ve got to share.

Last night my littlest lost her first tooth. It is a big deal for any kid, sure, and she was no different. It has been loose for months and last night it started to do the forward bend. The short story is first tooth, out ..woot! Tooth fairy, done. But for anyone who knows my dear Charlotte, Charli, Char, Cha-Cha, Chuck or Icebox (the latest earned nickname) she is a wee bit for the dramatics and did not disappoint. So here is what happened…

About twenty minutes after bed time Chuck and Madz came storming down the stairs hollering over one another about how Charlotte’s tooth is almost ready to fall out. Great. Awesome. Let’s see it. Right? This is the normal response. Of course, like most kiddos she wasn’t going to allow for any of us to touch, wriggle or even attempt a sneak attack and even though we were all front row to this big event, Madz was giving us the play-by-play. She is a great big sister. She loves her little sister and honestly I’m not sure who was more excited about said tooth. Madz gets a little, okay a lot excited about well, alot. It is a wonderful and endearing quality but she is learning to let everyone have their own moment. After another 30 minutes of the two hollering at one another, something to the effect of “Charlotte just let me see. Here use this. Pull like this..eeeeeeeekkkkk” and then Char responding with “Maddie stop! It’s my tooth. It’s not ready. Okay, like this?” Finally after another 20 minutes or so without an extraction we accepted defeat and back upstairs they went. Then it came…

It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes when squeals, screams, hoorays, stomping, running, the whole upstairs was shaking, my overhead lights were flickering and Madz ran to the stairwell “CHARLOTTE’S TOOTH CAME OUT!” Followed immediately by Charlotte aka Icebox running and driving her sister to the ground, breaking her necklace in the tackle, pretty well telling her to shut it, without using her words (something else we are working on) I can’t say I blame her. As I walked up the stairs, I gave Madz the “well, you kinda of earned that” look and then asked for the tooth. The only problem? The tooth was gone. Somehow in the excitement this teensy-tiny little tooth went flying. Here is the scene, Madz is downstairs crying to Ashley about her necklace, Brent is making his way slowly up the stairs, most likely wishing to be back at hunting camp, and I make my way behind Charlotte. I toss my phone to the side (so wishing now I hadn’t) ready to find the tooth but as soon as I walk in her room she has caught her self in the mirror. She is paralyzed. It is the first moment she has seen the bloody, toothless gum. Now I realize this may put into question all the so-called good parenting moments moms are “supposed to have” but here is where it gets sooo funny to me and I couldn’t help it. I’m only human. She FREAKED at the blood. Like Home Alone in the mirror 3 times over AHHHHHHH.AHHHHHH.AHHHHHH. Freaked. out. And then went running downstairs for refuge.

It was seriously the funniest thing. Of course, I did my very best to keep my hysterics contained and just went to work looking for the tooth. But the whole situation was (in true Char fashion) over.the.top. Of course I was unimpressed trying to find it. White tooth, white carpet, messy bedroom oi vey. Thankfully daddy to the rescue! It seriously felt like a marathon saga. I pretty well needed the deepest, darkest, chocolate indulgence to recover.

Of course Char couldn’t just go to sleep. It was too much for her and she wound up compromising the tooth fairy not one, not two but three times in the middle of the night . #cheerstothechocolate

In the end the tooth was recovered, the child was calmed, the secret magic of the tooth fairy remains safe to live another day and as for Madz…well she apologized and accepted her sister’s retaliation. It is a fun life we live.

Here’s to the next one…

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-ox-

 

Being cheap has put us in debt.

Call it what you will but I’m open about it. I’m cheap. We all know this. I sugar coat nothing; but I realized that even in my efforts to be the “Frugal Fowler” I have incurred great debt.

Yes, it has been a while since I’ve posted. Sure, I’ve been busy but mainly uninspired. I’m finding less interest in seeking the best ‘bang for my buck’ these days and seeking more of the natural expenses life offers. No worries, I still go crazy for a great deal (Friday Freebies, you betcha!) No, you won’t find me grocery shopping at high-end uptown grocer’s market or buying clothes at the mall- thank-you dented cans and upcycled clothing- but there has been an internal battle-of-blah that tonight was momentarily interrupted by a harsh reality.

All my pennies pinched have been lost. I have accrued unanticipated debt and I’m taking Brent down with me.

This daunting revelation came to light tonight after (another) canceled date night. I was tired, my mother in law is in town, the kids want to just hang out, it’s been a long day, let’s just get take out and relax, maybe play cards at home. These all seem like credible excuses, and they are. The problem is, this has become my MO. Whenever it comes to going and doing things as a family, I’m in! But when it comes to just Brent and I, even on a special occasion, the guilt of spending money on just us takes over and I find a reason to opt out. Every year we talk about going somewhere for our anniversary. I’m not talking Paris, I’m talking a quick drive over to the ocean for the day or out to the mountains for an overnight. Some of which could easily be the equivalent to a solid date night in Raleigh when we are talking dollar signs. And yet every year we wind up doing something somewhat low key and “much more affordable” because of me. Brent is such a laid back individual and beyond rational and logical, so it doesn’t take much of my nonsense rhetoric to get a plan changed. Don’t get me wrong I love a good at-home date night just as much as the next guy-of course I do! But sometimes you have to go for a walk in the park, spend the money on gas to drive a few extra miles, take in a movie while fighting over the armrest or get up early and make that breakfast date happen. Tonight while mindlessly scrolling the WWW, I came across a pinterest-post-turned-conversation-starter and realized that all of my efforts at saving money have cost my marriage a great deal. We don’t just go, we have reached the negative when it comes to quality time. Debt incurred. Interest rates accruing.

Money is said to be a leading cause of divorce. I admit I’ve never done the research. However, anyone who hears the uplifting and encouraging numbers equating to marital success (complete sarcasm btw) knows that money is not far from the blame list (at the top nonetheless) for most. I find momentary peace in my vision of what these couples are like, we haven’t yet (and hope to never) painted that picture. Granted, we are by no means the picture of perfection. I wouldn’t wish our messy palette of paint on anyone, but the canvas is turning out to be quite lovely. The problem is that at this moment it is turning grey and that is my fault. For both B and I our top Love Language is Quality Time, and yet we are both so quickly to be dismissive of it. To put it back on the shelf. To NOT make the investment. I can’t help but think that we aren’t the only ones doing this. Of course we aren’t. But I’m not looking to invest in those marriages, I’m looking to invest in mine. Choosing not to is unacceptable and completely detrimental to what we’ve worked so hard to build.

From this moment forward, I will make the following addendum to my vows.

B, I promise to not allow my cheap-ass ways interfere with the quality of fun and adventure we experience together. I love you.

With Love.
One crazy-wild, uber-tired and openly cheap-ass wife ox

A letter to my daughter.

Today I dropped you off and your smile broke my heart. You beamed with pride and I still fell apart. You are everything I am and more than I ever dreamed of being. You are food for my soul and the oxygen I breathe. I’m terrified for you and yet you are fearless. I mourn your growth and you live in the extraordinary. I squeeze you tight and you don’t let go, but I know you will. Someday.

When that Someday comes please don’t forget that even when I cry for you in these like-moments they are but tears of joy. When I am awe-struck by your passion and grace it is pride that I wear on my sleeve for you. The world will try to break you my darling, please don’t lose your faith. You are stronger than you know and your heart is good. I know your beauty but the world may not. Beauty on the outside does not matter for you are one within. Your body will dull but your mind will sharpen. Life’s experiences will make you. The world will grow dark. I cannot change this. Oh, how I wish I could. Hold your head high. Live without doubt. Take chances.

When the demons strike, think of God. When your heart breaks, think of your father. When you feel alone, call your sister; and when life seems like it is folding around you and you feel the struggle of life’s pull, remember that my tears for you remain the same. Tears of love, pride and joy; for you are never alone. When all else fails my dear, remember you are capable. So go, be you, be strong and soar high… far beyond your measure.

-ox-

#FAIL…and repeat

If someone is lost in the woods, in that moment, it doesn’t matter how they got there. It matters how the heck they are going to get out. The lesson that can be learned on what not to do, and where not to go, can be assessed later. In the exact moment, in fear and panic, dwelling on the many wrong turns made doesn’t do any good in the outcome.

It was a typical Monday morning at the Fowler farm. I was rushing to get out the door. Madz asked me if I had had a chance to look in her folder as I was packing away her lunch. :::deer in the headlights look::: Nope. #FAIL All weekend came and went and I didn’t. So I pulled it out and came across an incomplete worksheet with a teacher’s note written on the bottom “please complete and return” ummm, where is the date? when is this from? why I haven’t I seen it? In that moment I asked her all of these and what week it was for and her answers weren’t adding up. As I began to explain to her that “yes, you do complete your HW in after school care, but if it says “Parent’s Signature” then I need to see it.” As I was displaying my mommy badge through my words, I could see her brain reeling. Her little Sicilian hands were up and her mouth was open before I could finish my sentence. She went from 7 to 17 instantly and I was not happy about it. I don’t tolerate back talk or disrespect and I firmly reminded her that I would not be spoke to like that. I was upset and she knew it, but the path to how and why was lost.

Instantly she began to cry. Something that she doesn’t do often but it is usually for one of two reasons when she does. Both triggered by the same emotion, passion. She is a deep feeler and I knew instantly that I had struck a nerve with her. Granted, part of me wanted to in that way that I want her to fully understand the boundaries of respect. I wanted her to hear me. I did not, however, anticipate what was to come.

Instead I took a breath and calmly asked her why she was crying, she said “because she didn’t want to get into trouble for not doing her homework in after school.” Okay, fair enough but I’m not buying that. She went on to “accidentally” divulge the real issue in a case of emotional verbal IBS. When finally the words came flying out at me “but mom the last time I did it at home I got it wrong.” CHA-CHING! There it is ladies and gents, the root of the tears and the real cause of the problem. I was stunned and suddenly looking at my 7 yr old self. The one I had been trying to nurture her from becoming.

Here we are trying to raise children to be independent and open; to understand that sometimes things happen. I may be a planner but I have tried to help the girls learn in my many areas of shortcoming. I want them to develop coping mechanisms that are useful. i.e. If we spill milk, no big deal it was an accident. We don’t overreact to accidents or to “failing” as long as we try. We talk out our problems. We don’t get into word-wars over who is right or who is wrong because it doesn’t matter. Nine times out of ten I’m proud to hear Madilyn reiterating to her little sister just this exact sentiment, but today was different. Somehow we/I had missed an important step along the way. How did we get here? What am I doing wrong? What level of perfection has this poor child been built up to?? Was it her? Was it me? Society? All of the above? #FAIL #FAIL #FAIL All of these thoughts running through my head felt like emotional overdrive and suddenly I wanted to cry. Instead I took a deep breath, knelt down to her and said “That is perfectly okay. You’re not always going to get it right. That’s OK. We learn from being wrong.”

Never have I said more true words to someone else that were really meant for myself. I was wrong in so many ways and continue to be. I am guilty of failing over and over again, in all aspects too. Work, home, as a wife, a mom, a friend…you name it. I’m a colorful failure for sure. I get really frustrated with myself when I forget to check a folder or pack a lunch or when I leave her stinky sneakers outside in the rain. Kudos to Brent for always being my backup to help save the day in my absentmindedness and to my friends and family for dealing with me. Today I forgot something else though, a key skill, I forgot how to listen. When I look back at the path that brought us to that moment, I was instantly upset by my lack of listening skills and yet I was doing the exact same thing to her. #FAIL What that lost path brought me to was beautiful though…

I don’t think I have ever had such a meaningful hug from my baby. When we finally met the other eye to eye, settled the score and heard one another, there was the biggest hug I think I have ever received. I thought to myself if I could stay in this moment forever I would. She didn’t pull away, she wasn’t quick to go, she had forgiven my failures and somehow we made it out of the woods.

Now I’m not blind. I know there will be many more moments just like this; but I feel like we built a foundation this morning. I know I will fail over and over a thousand times and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of her spunky side, but if I can lead by example in how to redirect my mistakes maybe, just maybe I’ll get something right.

-ox-