Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Another Utah Homemakers for America article

 Once again, I was published in the Utah Homemakers for America newsletter.  

This is one is very personal to me and I debated about having it published for several reasons:

1.  Many people had it way worse than us during school.  We felt very blessed with our situation both during dental school and after.  Yes, it was hard and at times, sometimes really hard but it never felt that hard.  Around us, there were people doing way harder things and we always felt we were so blessed with our circumstances.  Also, many (if not most) of our friends were in the same situation (most were graduate students of some sort) and there is real solidarity when going through something like that together.  

2.  This really exposes some very personal financial things and while a blog is indeed "putting yourself out there", I have tried to keep it pretty light and breezy.   So, this is more intense stuff and I hope I don't offend by what I have written.  I also don't want to come across as authority on frugal living because I am not. 

3.  My husband is a very private person and I try to keep him out of this blog as much as possible.  This talks about "us" which means it also talks about him.  

So, why am I publishing this?  

1.  One of my biggest concerns around me is what I view as people not using good judgement when it comes to money.  I see it on the small scale on up to our government.  It scares me.  As in, it keeps me up at night.  We need more people living within their means and doing all they can to be wise with their finances.  I feel if we do it in our homes, then it can spread to a bigger scale and it can be demanded from our government officials.  I recently voted against a man whom I thought was an excellent candidate in a local primary because I knew what his current salary was and then discovered he still had debt- a lot of it.  With his salary, he shouldn't have debt.  I feel we really need to have our financial houses in order and have tried, with my husband, to live that way.  

2.  Recently I have had more than one person say to me, "You have no idea what our financial struggle is like.  You've never been there."  I didn't say anything but sat down at the computer and wrote this because I was angry--really angry.  The way my brain works, I like to write as if a 3rd person is going to read it.  It think it is from years of editing other people's work.  I write often but rarely submit my things to publications.   My friend Tiffany, who got me to join Utah Homemakers for America, read it and said, "We should publish this."  So I did, after many days of thinking about it.  Again, I hope I don't offend anyone.  

So, for what it is worth, here it is.  

Personal Financial Responsibility by Guest Writer Janice

I met my husband when he was in his first year of dental school.  He lived in the basement home of an elderly lady, whose adult children gave him cheap rent if he would daily check in on her, take her blood pressure, mow her lawn and do simple things around the house.  She lived on the main floor and he was in the basement.

Early on in our dating, he took me to his “apartment” to show me where he lived.  The family hadn’t really cleared out much space for him in the basement but told him, he could “carve out some space” to live down there.  The basement was full of their things, from old clothes, boxes of stored items, camping gear, tools, etc.  They were doing him a huge favor by providing him a roof over his head and he was always very happy about his living arrangement.  He really enjoyed this elderly lady’s company, liked being able to help her and felt forever grateful the family had given him this opportunity to live very inexpensively while he was in dental school.  
He slept on a sofa bed he had discovered in the basement.  He was thrilled it was there because it meant he didn’t have to spend the money to buy a mattress for himself.  He owned one knife, one spoon, one fork and one plate which he had purchased at a second-hand store. His cup was an old canning jar.  He felt bad “intruding” on the woman’s space upstairs and he discovered down the street, about a mile from from his apartment, a church that would let him use their microwave to heat up meals.  He explained to me he had taken out student loans to pay his tuition, books and dental equipment and during his short breaks between semesters, he went home (one state over) and did lab work for his dad, who was a dentist, so he could earn money to pay for food and rent.  
We continued dating and it became obvious that if we got married, not only would I live in this basement with him but that I would be expected to live just as frugally.  By this time, I knew how much student debt we would have by the time he graduated and I was fully on board with this frugal life style.  I did have a college degree in English and found a job editing for local company that took in outsourced jobs from the local university as well as the community.  Being an editor sounded glamourous to me but it didn’t pay well and we lived well below the poverty level.  During our time in dental school, our dates consisted of Scrabble and Master Mind games, bike rides and occasionally car drives but that used gas we needed to get to and from work and school, so we had to be careful.  Occasionally, we would go to a local discounted arcade with five dollars of quarters and play until we ran out of money.  One of our happiest date moments was mastering the game, “Area 51” on one quarter.  We lived on cheap food and at the time, McDonalds offered 29 cent hamburgers on Wednesday nights.  We would go there, order eight hamburgers, eat three that night and save the rest for lunch and dinner the next day.  We loved those hamburger nights.  
During this time in dental school, friends would come over and visit and say things like, “I would never live here.”  We would smile, think of the scary pile of student debt that was earning interest (he had to take out both subsidized and unsubsidized loans) and continue living.  There were times when it was no fun.  Times, when I would drive past the student housing complex and think, “Wow. Maybe we should go move there.”  I laugh about it now because student housing was far from luxurious but it seemed like it at the time.  
My husband graduated, we had our first child and we moved to Utah and he started working for and buying his father’s dental practice.  We purchased a home from his grandmother who was being moved into an elderly care facility.  It was in the Sugarhouse area and was a true fixer-upper.  It was built in 1941 just before World War II.  My husband’s grandparents had lived a frugal life and not much had been done to the home since it had been built.  Our kitchen had original cabinets and 1950’s appliances.  The only bathroom had a bathtub and the shower in the house was a bent pipe with a shower curtain over the basement drain.  My husband’s grandfather had somehow tapped into the water supply and fashioned a shower head from some pipe in the ceiling. It was directly in front of the basement stairs and you couldn’t go downstairs while someone was showering.   The basement was unfinished with the exception of one small room.  The house had its original lead paint, a converted from coal to gas furnace, and no air conditioning. 
Within days after moving into the house, my husband and I sat down with our finances and had an honest talk.  He was making money now but he wanted the majority of his paycheck to go to buying his father’s practice so he could own it free and clear in a few years with little interest paid.  We also wanted to pay back our student loan as quickly as possible.  We had run the numbers and if we paid the minimum amount for our 30 year student loan, the interest would double what he had originally borrowed.  Compound interest is a scary thing and so, we decided to continue our “frugal” life.  We made a goal to pay back the student debt in five years instead of the 30 we had signed on for.   This time it was harder.  We had a child.  I was home all day.  We lived in a neighborhood where most people purchased fixer-uppers, and fixed them up.  I remember coming home from play dates and crying because of the beautiful things people had done to their houses.  We had the money to do it but instead we paid that money to debt.  Again, many people said to us, “I couldn’t live this way.  I would not shower in that shower.  You guys are crazy--a 30-year loan is there for a reason.”  Those were the nice things.  Other people were more unkind and questioned my husband’s ability to provide, commented on my ugly decorating style (almost everything we owned was used), and some accused my husband of being abusive to me by forcing me to live in this fixer-upper house while he paid back “his debts.”  Um, excuse me, we are married; they are our debts and we made this decision together.  
Every once and awhile, I would think, “I can’t live like this.”  We would have contractors come over and give us bids on a shower for the bathroom, a new oven, window coverings, etc.  We would then see the price and think, “Wow.  If we put that money towards our student loans, we could save on interest and pay back our debt faster.  We just can't spend the money.”  And, we didn’t.  
I would also play silly games with myself.  I would tell myself I would take my kids to McDonalds for lunch and then instead, take that cash out of my wallet and put it in our “debt jar".  I did the same with new clothing purchases for me, treats at the grocery store, movie rentals, etc.  At the end of the month, we would take that money and mail it in as an extra loan payment.  
At the end of four years, instead of the five we had planned, we had paid back our 30 year student loan.  And, the same day, we put our house up for sale.  We weren’t completely crazy. :) 
There could have been a million things that came up and made paying back our loans harder.  We had plenty of them, (a flooded basement, needing a new roof, no insulation in our attic, a second pregnancy) but we also know we were blessed.  A major medical crisis could have ruined our plans and that did happen to one of our friends.  My husband’s dental practice thrived when many of our friends in similar situations did not, through no fault of their own.  Owning a small business is scary and really, from month to month, we have no idea what our dental practice will do.  
Life, in general can be hard and full of trials and often financial things hit people unprepared and they can’t always meet their financial goals.  That said, many things can be avoided and we can live our lives in a way to limit those risks.  We can save until we have an emergency fund to pay for those unexpected expenses.  We can avoid debt at all costs.  And if we have debt, including our home mortgages, we can work, scrimp and save to pay our debts off early.  We can say no to our children and tell them they have to earn the things they are dying to have.  We can meet with our children monthly and talk about finances and explain how hard we work to have the things we own.  We can drop our TV cable, not have caller ID, and grow our own food.  We can take our children shopping and show them the difference in price between name brands and generic brands.  We can take personal responsibility and have our financial houses in order.  Peace of mind often doesn’t come easy or cheap but it is worth every penny.  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Story of the Great Dress (or could also be titled, Having sisters can be really fun)

Two weeks ago, my sister came into town to attend a wedding.  She and her family stayed at my house, in my guest room and I was able to see her in between the wedding festivities they needed to attend. At one point, she came upstairs wearing the pictured dress.  (This is from the web-site, that is not my sister.)  

I said, "That is a great dress."  She said, "I bought it at Nordstrom three days ago.  It is a great dress."  

She went to the event and came home several hours later.  She walked in my house and I again said, "Wow!  That is a great dress."  She said, "It really is a great dress.  I got a ton of compliments on it tonight.   I am sure Nordstrom still has it.  You should get one."

I said, "You are right.  I should get one."  

My sister is always a size larger than me because she is 4 inches taller than me.  When either one of us has an article of clothing the other person likes, and we want to own the same article, we know what size to buy because we have figured out this system.  It works without fail, 99 percent of the time.  She said, "This is a size ---, so I am sure you would be a size ---.  It really is a great dress."  

Dentist husband came downstairs to ask us something and said, "That is a great dress.  Janice, you should buy one."  Dentist husband wears scrubs 97 percent of his life (he would wear them to church if he could get away with it) and that he noticed this dress, made it a great dress.  He rarely notices clothes of any sort.  This must be a great dress.

You also need to know, some great dresses on other people, are not great dresses on my sisters and me.  We have very similar builds.  We have very broad shoulders and backs, and all of us have these genetically huge, muscular calves.  (Seriously, even baby pictures show us with these round calves of ours but we have nice skinny ankles, so all is good.)  Any dress that comes mid-calf makes our legs look really strange.  Anyway, a great dress on one of my sisters means something and chances are a great dress on one of my sisters means it will likely be a great dress on me.   Great dresses are also fun to find.  

So, without leaving my house, I went on-line, and ordered the above pictured, great dress in one size smaller than my sisters.  It came today.  You know what?  It is a great dress.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Then and Now

This very fat baby (age 6th months)

Is now in 5th grade.  

Time flies.

(He had to do a school project using a baby picture.  That is why I did this very non-birthday related post) 

Utah Homemakers for America

About a year ago, I was asked to join an organization called, "Utah Homemakers for America".  I don't join organizations lightly.  Besides being a member of my church, and the local PTA, this is the only other organization I have joined.  I researched it a lot (from their national web-site) and mostly was impressed with the Abigail Adams Project, and so I joined.  Recently, I was contacted about being a guest author for the Utah chapter's newsletter.  So, for those of you who are curious, here is the article I wrote:

America 101 by Guest Writer Janice

I recently got back from a family reunion vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  The vacation was to be one of daily beach outings and not much else.  I was thrilled to escape “real life” for a week and planned to do not much more then eat some yummy sea food, watch my kids play in the sand and read some fluff novels I had purchased for the trip.  

We flew into Raleigh, NC and then rented a car to drive the four hours required to get to the Outer Banks.  Before the trip, I didn’t even look at a map because my husband does the driving while I manage the kids.  There are always noses to be wiped, drinks to be passed around and songs to be sung to help pass the time.  Foolishly, I hadn’t even done any research about the area.  I was beach bound and that is all I thought about.

During the drive, I heard our GPS say something about Roanoke Island.  What?  Are we going to drive across Roanoke Island, the island of the first colony of Europeans in the New World?  This was the famous island where John White left from to return to  England to get supplies and when he came back, after a delay of three years, found the colony gone with only the word “Croatoan” carved in the bark of a tree.  I felt my heart race.  My excitement grew and I immediately started telling my family about this major event in American history.  I looked at my husband and said, “We are in history central.  This is America 101.  This is colonizing, founding fathers, and America at its roots.”  I immediately got out my iphone and started researching.

We drove across another bridge and onto Hatteras Island.  The famous Cape Hatteras lighthouse could be seen in the distance. Not only is this the tallest lighthouse in the nation but for over 100 years it sent a beacon of light out to ships to help them navigate the treacherous Diamond Shoals.  

We picked up the keys to our beach house and were told about the Lifesaving Stations on the island.  Lifesaving Stations were the precursors to the Coast Guard.  Along all of the coasts of the United States, Lifesaving Stations were established to rescue ships in distress along our borders.  Groups of tough, skilled men lived on isolated coasts and patrolled and watched for ships in need and at the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station on Hatteras island, saved over 99 percent of the lives on those ships.  

At one point in the week, we drove to Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk and went to the Wright Brothers National Memorial and learned all about the amazing birth of powered controlled flight.  My kids became Junior Park Rangers after attending two different classes and walking all over the national memorial set up there in honor of these two amazing men.  A week that was meant to be “relaxing on the beach” turned into an American historical adventure for our family with me giving nightly reports to my family about the things I had learned in this little part of the country and having my children tell me what they had learned from our trip.

As I was on our airplane flying home, this time more in awe of it because of my experience at the Wright Brothers National Monument, I thought about where I currently live, the state of Utah.  I am surrounded by American history and I am obligated to pass this knowledge onto my children. No, it is not 1580s or even 1776 history but it is American history none the less.  Utah is a state founded by people who came here for religious freedom.  In a country that was founded on that principle, they had to leave its borders, set up their own colony and only later be admitted in as a state.  This American history is fact and is just as important for my children to know about as the first colonies,  the birth of flight, or the history of the Coast Guard.  Utah is also where the Transcontinental Railroad had its last spike driven into the ground where finally, east and west coasts were connected and we were made one as a nation through the miracle of Industrialism.  I can explain to my children how government bonds paid for it and how the railroad helped the economy in the west and made traveling across the United States go from six months to just one week--and how science, politics and the economy are all interconnected.  I can take them downtown and show them the City Creek construction project.  I can explain that this is currently the largest construction project in the country and that it is keeping many people in jobs, paying their bills and helping our local and national economy.  I can tell them about how our mayor, at the time this project was announced, fought against the church that was paying for it but at the same time, praised them for helping improve “his” city.  My children need to know how people can praise and destroy freedom at the same time. 

As a mother, I spend most of my days teaching my children about life--from the basics of hygiene, to reading, to Christian principles such as the Golden Rule.  I now realize the importance of taking the time to teach them about this nation.  So, I challenge everyone to gather your children, take them to our local sites, teach them about American history (both old and relatively new) and plant the seeds of passion for this country and its history in their hearts. Let them see both the good and bad and teach them the values of history in our modern world.  The people before us have left us their lessons.  It is our duty to pass them onto our children.   

Saturday, August 21, 2010

No, it's true, really.

It's true, that I do have a nephew who has a beard and who looks like Kenny Loggins.  It's true, all of us  want him to shave it off but he is asserting his independence by growing it and even got a "beard card" down at BYU.  It's true.

It's really true that all of these people fit in one beach house.  And, we all got along with the exception of when my sister in red, who buttered up the judges (ie, "My kids have never seen the ocean before!  Can you  believe it?") and their team won the sand castle competition.  It's true, she did.  It's true, the rest of us were not happy. 

It's true, Dentist husband didn't shave for 10 days and grew this sweet beard.  He has a lot more gray in it than either of us realized.  Being married to me, caused the grey.  It's true.  (This was taken on day 8).  
It's true, my kids are going to be the shortest cousins.  This is all of the cousins (minus two who weren't at the reunion), by order of height.   The one cousin standing between toothsome #2 and #3 is the same age as toothsome #3.  It's true.  We were bred to be coal miners.  Also true.  Welch coal miners to be exact.
It's true, this picture is the cousins by order of age.  It's also true, I am the mother of two of the five girl cousins.  It also true there are 15 boy cousins.  

It's true that Dentist husband and I were on different teams and we are still happily married to each other.  It is also true, five days after we got home from North Carolina, I let Dentist husband take the three oldest toothsomes to see RUSH live in concert in Las Vegas.  I'm cool.  It's true.  

It's also true that school starts Monday and I am really sad, (as in fighting back tears sad) that the summer is over.  It is also true that I adore this man.  ADORE him.  As in, I couldn't be married to anyone else.  It's true.  

It's true most people use It's wrong.  Read below and you now forever know the difference.  It's true.

There is often confusion between its and it's.  If you delve deeper into this issue, you will see that there is good reason for the confusion.  However, if you just want to know what is right, the matter is very simple:


It's is short for it is or it has.  This is a 100% rule.  It cannot be used for anything else. If you cannot expand it's toit is or it has, then it is wrong.


Its is like his and her.  Possessive.

His is used for masculine things. (These are his pies.)
Her is used for feminine things. (These are her flowers.)
Its is used for neuter things. (These are its footprints.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Outer Banks Family Reunion: Did I mention we were in History Central?

Our beach house was an hour away from Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright Brothers accomplished the first, controlled powered flight.  With Dentist husband being a private pilot, this is a mecca of sorts for him.  Big deal.  Exciting stuff.  (Toothsome #1 really was having a great time, don't know why the sad face in this picture).

Amazing presentation about the Wright Brothers by one of the Park Rangers.  Did you know the historic first plane that actually flew, they didn't tie down and it broke into pieces just after the historic fourth (852 feet, 59 seconds) flight?  This is an exact replica.
Starting point for their flights.

Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station:  Weekly, the Coast Guard acts out how the Life Saving Stations (precursors to our Coast Guard) would fire Lyle Guns at ships and set up sea rescues.  

For a history loving fool like me, this was all very cool.  

Outer Banks Family Reunion, part 2, Plenty of Beach relaxing/chatting

After all of the competitive games, we stayed at the beach, played and chatted.  We would then head home, eat lunch and go back out to the beach.  

Skim boarders

Basic wave playing
Messing around when Aunt Janice says, "Pose." 
Me and my siblings. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Outer Banks Family Reunion, part 1, "The Teams"

We just got home from our trip to the North Carolina Outer Banks for my side of the family, reunion--28 people.  My brother rented a beach house for all of us to stay in (eight bedrooms, private pool and hot tub, game room with pool table and foose ball--the works) and we all headed back East for some fun family togetherness.  The first night, my sister in law announced that we would be competing in teams the whole week.  She had divided us up fairly (equal amount of young kids, mothers, teenage boys and fathers) and every day at 10:00 am, we were to meet at the beach for team competition.  (Our beach house was not directly on the beach but a short walk away).  

We are fierce competitors and none of these activities were taken lightly.  

The Teams:  Team Green (headed by my brother)

Team Orange:  Headed by Dentist husband

Team Blue:  Headed by my brother-in-law, married to sister number 3
The pyramid pictures were taken at the sand dunes near Kill Devil Hills.  That day, we had long jump (down a long sandy hill) races and running up and down races on the sand dunes.  We competed by category--sisters and sister-in-law, teenage boys, adult men (the fathers) and children under 11.  

Day 2:  Relay races (no photos because I forgot my camera).  Potato sack, egg on the spoon, three legged race and egg toss.

Day 3 Obstacle course:

Each team had to come up with two different elements as part of the obstacle course.  Each team was timed as whole, meaning, each person did the whole obstacle course and all times were added up as one group time.  Orange team schooled the rest of us that day.  

Day 4 Soccer  Again, no photos but each team had an A group and B group.  B group were the younger  players (and their mothers) and A group were the older (teenage, playing on their school soccer team) players.  Each half was five minutes and two halves were played.  Each team played each other.  This was very fun but exhausting.  Have you ever played soccer on the sand?  Brutal.   

Day 5:  Sand castle and hole digging.  
We had one hour to build a sand castle and dig a sand hole.  The sand holes were judged by volume of sand removed.  (Yes, we had a measuring tape and computed it.)   By Day 5, we had a crowd of people watching us compete--people who had rented beach houses at the same beach that we did and were at the beach at the same time.  They got really curious about what we were doing and came up and asked what was going on with our huge, loud, color coded group.  They were all very nice and fascinated by our large, very competitive family and after the first day, several vacationers actually made it a point to come out and see what we were doing that day. We asked two different groups of these nice people to judge the best sand castle.  Sister Number 2 really befriended (buttered-up) some of the judges and there was much drama after their sand castle won.  We think she got some insider votes.  (Again, we are very competitive)  

Third place sandcastle.
The first place sandcastle
2nd place sand castle

Inside our holes.  Again, team Orange schooled all of us on this one, moving over 110 cubic feet of sand. (FYI:  The sand holes had to have four right angles, thus the box shapes.) 

Day 6:  Red Light/Green Light and Simon Says.  This went on forever in that we all very good Simon Says players with the exception of my immediate family.  We obviously are not very good listeners because it seemed that the Toothsome family were always the first six people out.  That night, we had team trivia night, where we had to come up with two difficult questions about people on our teams to be asked in the group.  This was a true question, "Who has said out loud, 'I shattered that toilet!'"  

When all was said and done, Orange team beat the green and blue handily.  We have learned Dentist Husband and Sister #2 are forces to be reckoned with.  Also, when you have a nephew who runs over 30 miles a week (one of the top runners in the state of Maryland) on that team, they were hard to beat.  And, FYI, no prizes were won during all of this just the joy (and anguish) of competition.    More about the reunion later.  Time to do more vacation laundry.