Friday, March 1, 2013

Moving On, Us And Our Scars

When I last posted, I had found out that the baby I was carrying had a condition called Trisomy 18, i.e. "your baby is not compatible with life outside the uterus " About 6 weeks after we got the bad news, Baby Hope made her quiet transition from inside me back to The Father. I delivered her at a natural birth center down the street from where we live. It was a quiet, peaceful event and somehow we came home with a sense of calmness if not joy, which only makes sense when you consider God said he would do that for us, give us peace at the strangest of times. The months since have been mostly sunny with a chance of rain, if you know what I mean. But we are moving on, us and our scars, and I'm back at this master's degree. So about last semester...

You can imagine how much an event like losing a baby will screw up your plans to develop and execute a home made masters degree. However, I did complete most of my assignments from last semester. I have to say that the Finances course was LIFE. CHANGING. I took Financial Peace University at a local church and let me just tell you that if you have ever thought about taking that course, you can stop praying about it right now and just sign up. Go ahead, stop reading this and sign up now. So here's the class in a nutshell:

1) Put $1,000 in a beginner emergency fund
2) Get out of debt. Yes, including school loans ("what the...?!" Yes, including school loans)
3) Put 3 to 6 months of expenses into savings
4) Invest 15% of income into Roth IRA's and pre-tax retirement plans
5) Save for your children's college education
6)Pay off the house early
7)Build wealth and GIVE!

We got our beginner emergency fund in place, started budgeting like crazy and started hacking away at those student loans. Hopefully we can get those blood-suckers off our back soon and move on to the fun stuff.

I did what I could with my Child Safety course, but all that talk of kids stuck in a burning buildings and choking on hotdogs only brought on some killer nightmares. So I am moving on to bigger and better things: Physical Fitness and Food Science. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Another Day With Hope

Two weeks ago, we went to a sonogram to find out the gender of our baby. As the sonographer started looking at the picture on the screen, her face turned white and she started fumbling her words. I took a deep breath and said nervously, "So what do you see? How does the baby look?" She said, "Well...I see several concerning things. I'm going to have to bring the doctor in here." Almost exactly a year ago, I was laying on the same exam table, with the same exact sonographer, and I got a very similar reaction. Only a year ago, she was able to tell me that there was no heartbeat and that I would soon miscarry. But I wasn't quite prepared to hear what the doctor was going to say this day.

"Hi I am Dr. So-N-So and I want to explain what is going on with your baby. This baby has several anomalies that make it incompatible with life. I am giving her a 0 % chance of living outside of you..." Then she started to sound like the mom on Peanuts and quite like a zombie I dialed Doug's phone number. The rest is a blur. Bethany was throwing a fit in the corner, nurses took her somewhere, I remember a bag of grapes and a youtube video about a cat. Oh, and the baby is probably a girl. Somewhere on our walk home, Doug pulled up with the van and scooped us both into the minivan. We drove home a broken family.

We came home, we cried, we made phone calls, we started grieving the loss of our healthy pregnancy. There's really no way to describe what it feels like to be told your beautiful little baby is in fact, quite deformed and destined to die quickly. It's been an awful two weeks.

Somewhere in that time, my friend and mentor Debi said something that has echoed in my mind ever since. She said, "Don't grieve what you haven't  yet lost." The baby is not dead yet. She is alive and moving inside of me. Shortly after this, I was laying on my parents' couch, feeling pretty sorry for myself and upset with God that He wouldn't just heal my baby. I began to weep. I held my belly and cried out to God. What I said, I really don't remember. But I felt the baby move in me. It's like she decided to stretch out sideways and push really hard on both sides of my stomach to give herself more room. Almost like she was saying, "Hey Mom, I'm still alive in here! Can you quit squeezing your stomach and talking about me like I'm dead?" If I hadn't been a weeping mess, it might have been almost comical. I told her I was so, so sorry and we went to sleep.

I went to bed that night in a new frame of mind. This baby is not dead yet. I am going to do my best to enjoy her, talk to her, live life normally, and keep my crying spells short.

As I write this, a song in the background says, "My God is awesome, He can move mountains...keep me in the valley, hide me from the rain." I'm going to function in the reality that God can absolutely heal my little girl. And if He does not, she will die, go to be with Him, and she will be completely whole and healed in God's presence, with no deformities or pain. How could I not be relieved by that? We have hope either way.

And so, as Doug and I were walking to our friends' house to watch the debate last week, he looked at me and said, "I've been thinking about a name for her...what about Hope?" I loved it immediately. Because we have hope that she will be healed, but ultimately our hope is that God will take care of her...hope either way.

Thank you Lord for another day with Hope.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

This Semester: Finances

In my quest to better my home-running skills, my hubby and I designed 2 classes for this semester: Child Safety and Finances. Here is what I'm doing for the Finances course.


1) Complete Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (go to and click on "classes").  I found a course that meets every Tuesday night for nine weeks at a church down the street. So far it is LIFE CHANGING, people.

2) Create a account. Basically this links all of your bank accounts, credit cards, debt, etc in one place to help you chart spending and debt-reduction. 

3) Create a debt-free-in-5-years-or-less plan. When we get out of debt (which is basically $18,000 in school loans), we are going to sock away a full emergency fund, which is 3-6 months of expenses (thank you Dave Ramsey), and THEN we will start saving for our debt-free vacation. We want to go to Florida, beach it up, and celebrate becoming debt free! This will probably take us about 5 years if we stay focused and work our butts off at paying off debt. 

This is going to be a challenge for us because we're doing this on one income. But we are willing to make sacrifices, like renting a 2 bedroom apartment rather than looking for a house, and sharing a vehicle rather than paying for gas and insurance for two. I like this quote from Dave Ramsey: "If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else."  So that's the plan for the semester: create a spending, saving, and debt-reducing plan to get our "net worth" in the positives over the next few years. Boom!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Child Safety 101. With Jack Bauer.

Usually on Fridays, I clean. I do battle with my whole apartment--all the toys that have somehow escaped daily clean-ups, the folded laundry that never made it to the drawers, the random bags by the door that failed to get unpacked after church--we go head to head and I win every week. And then the whole place gets vacuumed and maybe dusted if I am feelin' it. It's a weekly victory I can count on. I do this so my family and I can relax in a clean apartment over the weekend. I feel cozy just thinking about it. But not this past Friday.

This past Friday, I completed my first assignment for my self-made Child Safety class: I got trained in CPR/First Aid/AED.

So I get to the class early on Friday morning. As I look nervously around the huge U-shaped table where all 13 of us train-ee's are sitting, I am definitely the only stay at home mom in this group. I'm carrying a packed brown-bag lunch and a baggie of Cheerio's for my mid-morning snack which I start munching immediately out of nervousness. I'm wearing my best (ok, borrowed) maternity blue jeans. I pull out my fat 3 ringed binder, filled with the official training manual that I had my husband print off and hole punch for me a few days ago. Oh, and I've already read the whole thing.

As we go around the room to introduce ourselves, my suspicions are confirmed. Everyone is here because they have to be for their job or to be a cub scout leader, which apparently is a big deal these days because there were at least 3 of these. I was last to go, and I was trying to think of a way to fancy-up the words "home-maker" and "stay-at-home mom" but nothing came. "Hi, I'm Catherine. I'm a stay at home mom..."

It was a very informative day! Let me share with you some highlights.

Highlight # 1: When you do CPR successfully, you will probably break the victim's ribs. 

What?! Yes. You will hear popping, grinding, and crunching as you break the ribs, doing chest compressions 2 inches or more deep into the chest. What you are actually doing is pressing down so hard on the heart that you squoosh all the blood out, then as you release, the heart fills back up. Squoosh the blood out again, let it fill back are manually doing the work of the heart while it is stopped. You are manually pumping blood through the body while you wait for an ambulance to arrive.

HO-LY COW. Did everyone know this but me? I'm sure I looked like I was watching a horror movie as kind Mr. Kidding (no, I'm not kidding, that's his name) demonstrated how this is done. I always thought you were just kind of bumping the heart to get it going again. You know, like giving it a nudge. Hey, start back up in there! I know that sounds stupid but good grief. This CPR stuff is gruesome work!

On a different note, as I'm watching the videos and demonstrations of all kinds of life-saving, I am completely distracted with thoughts of Jack Bauer from the TV show "24." You know who I'm talking about. The guy who can take out a whole room full of hostiles single-handedly while eating a subway sandwich and performing CPR on an almost dead guy. My husband and I are completely addicted to this show. We watch it every night. So as our instructor gets on the floor to demonstrate rescue breaths and chest compressions, I am imagining Jack bursting in through a ceiling tile, throwing poor Mr. Kidding aside, and yelling, "That's not good enough agent Kidding!" And with two bone-crushing compressions, he brings the dummy back to life and hands him a gun. They run out of the room to stop the bomb or the nuke or whatever. I've got to stop watching so much TV.

Highlight# 2: You must ask for permission before helping the choking victim.

Let me lay this out for you. Let's just say I am choking in the food court at the mall, probably on a Chick-Fil-A chicken nugget. You see me from afar, turning blue, holding my throat. You are trained in CPR/First Aid so you run over to help. You must follow these steps:

Step1: Introduce yourself to me.
Step 2: Inform me that you are certified in CPR/First Aid
Step 3: (Here is the kicker) Ask permission to help me.
Step 4: If I nod my head yes (I cannot verbalize this, you see, because I am still CHOKING), you may then begin to help.

I would just like to say to all of you certified people out there, if you ever find me choking or passing out from lack of air, consider yourself excused of steps 1 through 3 and just start SAVING MY LIFE, ok? Thank you. Jack Bauer wouldn't ask permission. I'm just saying.

Highlight #3: Dallas public transportation is a nightmare.

Class is over a half hour late. This normally wouldn't be a big deal but today, my husband and I are sharing a vehicle and I'm taking the bus home. Alone. For the first time. It occurs to me at this moment that every time Doug and I have used public transportation, he does the thinking and I just, well, do the sitting. We just recently got back from a road trip and while we were gone we stopped for a few days in New York City. You don't drive anywhere in that city, you take the subway. When it was time to get back on the subway, Doug would bring me and my daughter into the subway station, park us somewhere safe, then go off to the map to figure out the route.
Today I'm thinking maybe it would have done me some good to at least figure out how a bus system works. Because now I've missed my bus and there is not another one coming on that same route for an hour.

I'm actually a little shaky as I stand on the corner where the bus stop is. I'm terribly thirsty, I could use a restroom, and have I mentioned I'm 4 and a half months pregnant? I see a sign for the train system across the road and I know there's a train that goes near our apartment. Now if I can just get to that station and figure out the map...GULP.

By the time I walk 1/4 mile to that station, I'm on the phone with Doug. He is on his computer trying to figure out where I am. I'm at the wrong train station. This train will take me to Fort Worth. I start to cry. "I am walking home!" I say. Somehow this has turned into his fault. Well, the old boy calms me down and directs me a few blocks away to the correct train station. I cry most of the walk there, mostly because I feel like such an idiot. Fortunately this train is pretty fool-proof and it brings me within several blocks of home. I get off, start walking and keep going until I fall on my couch.

What a day!

Friday, September 14, 2012

How this thing will work...

Here is how this thing will work. Doug and I sat down one evening and made a list of classes. Most classes point to the goal of running my home more smoothly, and some are just for personal enrichment (electives!). I will pick 2 a semester, and we will design the courses ourselves. We will choose the books, online resources, and sometimes classes around town. From that will come projects, due dates, and syllabuses.  In no particular order, here are the classes:

  • Homeschooling (how to home school your kids, the philosophy of, etc.)
  • World History
  • Nutrition
  • Herbs as medicine, herbs for health
  • Household Finances 
  • Child Safely (CPR, etc)
  • Gardening
  • Home management
  • Cooking (I can cook, but I want to get much better)
  • Guitar
  • Singing
  • Basic Business Principles
  • Senior Project: start and run a functioning business--either "Catherine's Caramels" or meal-planning and cooking classes
We are going to budget a good chunk of money each semester for books, classes around town, possibly even a trip or two. For instance, I have a friend (incidentally she used to be my babysitter) who has 6 children and she home schools the older ones. From what I hear, her children and sweet, incredibly well-behaved, and seem to do well in the home-schooling environment. I think the best way to learn how to home school would be to fly out to their house for a week to observe, help, and ask questions. That will cost a plane ticket and maybe some time off for Doug who would have to take care of our kiddo while I'm gone. But that's the kind of thing we are willing to spend money on to do this right. Doug just graduated from seminary. We figured out that for all 6 years he was in school, we spent 20% of our income on his education (yikes!). We can definitely make this a budget item.

So! I have to start somewhere. This semester I've chosen Home Finances and Child Safety for my 2 classes. For the Home Finances course, I am taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University at a local church. It cost $95, it is every Tuesday night for most of this semester, and get this...they feed us dinner. My friend Abby said, "That's worth the $95 right there!" But the best part is that I've suckered my friend Noel to sign up too! It feels like college again except we're bringing her 7 week old baby along. I don't remember any baby carriers at Liberty. But back to the class. The main thing is to complete the FPU course and all the assignments. Doug and I also created some assignments. I'll probably go into more detail later.

Child Safety. I've babysat (nannied, cared for?) two other children besides Bethany since she has been born, one for about 8 months, one for about 9. During those times I thought, "Man, I really wouldn't know what to do if this kid started choking on his sandwich or had a seizure. Maybe I should get certified or something." I found a Infant and Child CPR class (thank you Nicole Vidal!) which is only one evening, and also an all-day general First Aid and CPR class. Other than that, I have a list of assignments, one of which is to create a emergency fire plan for our family and (don't laugh) conduct fire drills. 

 As for the senior project, I reeeeeeally wanted to make and sell homemade caramels out of my apartment. I've got a kick-butt family recipe that always gets raving reviews, but (sigh) Doug did some research and you have to have an industrial-equipped kitchen for that. Oh well, I guess I just have to get Andy, my apartment manager and friend, to install a six-burner stove and other state of the art kitchen equipment into our apartment. Thus is life! 

But if I can't do "Catherine's Caramels" out of my kitchen, I'm thinking of teaching meal-planning and basic cooking classes. The more I talk to women about how they run their homes, the more I hear that women (and often their husbands) are stressed about the process of getting dinner on the table. The list-making, the grocery shopping, the actually all looks so easy on Food Network! How does Ina Garten always have heavy whipping cream and marjoram in her fridge when she needs it?! People don't realize that even good, simple cooking takes time to prepare. If you want to have spaghetti and meatballs with salad Wednesday night, you really needed to start planning for that over the weekend. 

You're probably wondering who is writing the curriculum and "grading" my work and generally overseeing this whole process. Well folks, this is a self-made degree in just about every way. I'm deciding what I want to learn, I'm choosing the books and my husband and I are designing assignments and projects. No one will hand me a diploma at the end of all this, but I can tell you that if I stick to this it's going to benefit me, my family and whoever else wants to follow along for the journey. Who knows. Maybe you will decide to design a class or two for yourself to better what you're doing with your life. Or maybe a bunch of women will sigh with relief when I show them how to put a simple meal plan and grocery list together. For me, it's not about the accreditation (obviously, because there is none). It's about getting better at my job. I think everyone can relate to that.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I'm Making My Own Masters Degree

This all started with a conversation with Doug after a game of Settlers of Catan with our neighbors.
Me: "I feel like a loser. Everyone in the room last night either has a masters degree in something or has a plan to get one someday. I don't even know what I would get one in...and I don't really want to. What's wrong with me?"
Doug: "Well, if you could get better at something that you already do with your life, what would it be?"

I'm a wife and a stay at home mom. This is my dream job. I actually have a degree in Family and Consumer Science Education. I have busy husband, a 2 year old daughter and a baby on the way, so it was easy to list areas for improvement: managing our money, organizing our apartment, cooking, meal planning, child care...the list was long. I want to get better at my life. I want to do this well.

Instead trying to find a masters program at a university that will hit a couple of things on my list, I'm going to make my own. You heard me me. I'm making my own masters degree.