On the Road Again!

We’re moving back to California on September 13th! We’re sad to leave beautiful Alaska, but our family is homesick and ready to be back with all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Mira is especially ready to go, but I’m sure once we get there, she’ll miss our wonderful Alaska buddies here. Moving can be a tricky thing sometimes…

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So we’re wrapping things up here. And that’s been a super easy process. My car sold last month within the first hour of posting it on Craigslist. At first I was feeling a little nervous about being without a car for what seemed like a loooong time, but I reminded myself that we can be flexible (here’s a post I wrote about voluntarily getting rid of my car as a way to save money…we’re weird!). Plus, we have our feet, the bus, awesome neighbors who offer us rides, and Devin still has his rental car. And we like to hang in our backyard with neighbor friends anyways (as long as it stops raining long enough to go outside!).

We still don’t know exactly where we’re going to live yet. My older brother calls us gypsies and that’s how I feel right now. I have been getting periodic waves of anxiety about finding a house and friends and a church and generally starting new in another place. But I’m trying to be patient like last year when we were in limbo because we weren’t sure where we’d be living either. I wonder if our girls are going to think it’s normal to not have a permanent residence! At least we’re all learning to be more patient through all this moving and we’re learning to live with less stuff (which also means less stress). Most importantly, though, I’m learning to trust that God is taking care of everything (because He truly is). So each time I feel anxious, I say a prayer asking for peace. And while we’re still in Alaska, I’m trying to open my eyes to all the awesomeness I have right in front of me and know that everything will work out. In the meantime, we’re going to enjoy Alaska and all the amazing people we’ve built relationships with.

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Homeschool, Here We Come!

I’ve been prepping for our first year in homeschooling. It’s been pretty exciting and a little scary. I pray for guidance daily. Whenever I start to get anxious, I take a minute to ask Jesus for peace and wisdom. And it calms me. If you would’ve asked me (a previous English teacher of ten years) if I thought I’d homeschool my kids, I would’ve told you, “Nope!” But the last few years, things have changed, and here’s why we’re homeschooling (at least for kindergarten…who knows what will happen next year).

We started with a family mission statement as a way to keep us all on the same page. And I created a daily schedule and bought a few things from the Target $3 bin (like calendars, clock poster, a planner, etc.). Our goal is to keep it simple: reading and writing with lots of artwork and active play. There’s no rush. Since kindergarten is not compulsory in California, I won’t be keeping any records and plan on teaching about three hours a day, four days a weeks. Some days will be tough, some days will be fun. The goal is to work hard and have fun (sounds cliche, huh?).

Here’s our schedule (I’m guessing there will be lots of tweaking along the way, so I’ll be reassessing every 6 weeks):

  1. Beds, brush, dress, breakfast
  2. Reading lesson and bible verse
  3. Writing lesson and art
  4. Break: snack, playtime, i-Pad
  5. independent reading, family read aloud, or naptime🙂
  6. Daily Activity
    1. Library once a week (history, literature, science, cooking, books on CD, everything we can find!)
    2. Other days: field trip, park/playdate/co-op, birthday/holiday fun, hike with Nala, farm/garden, ballet/play/circus, learn a life skill (tying shoe laces, cooking, etc.)
  7. Chores/Volunteer/Extracurricular
    1. Volunteer: Meals on wheels, neighborhood library, children’s lunchbox, habitat for humanity, adopt-a-trail litter pickup
    2. Extracurricular: AHG, gymnastics, ballet, swim, music, theater, sports, cheerleading (ONLY focusing on one at a time so we don’t over schedule ourselves)

Wish us luck! Maybe I’ll even convince Devin to agree to a class pet! 

Grace and Forgiveness

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It seems like bedtimes are the times where I’m learning a lot about grace and forgiveness. A few weeks ago, I was soooo ready for bed…except it was only 7:30 and the Alaska sun kept trying to lure my girls back outside into the beautiful green grass. I had the urge to rush through dinner and bath time and storytime and prayers and toothbrushing and potty and… the list in my head just kept getting longer, and I felt more tired just thinking about how long everything was going to take when I was already tired! I was trying to keep a good attitude (an attitude of gratitude for all the lovely things I have), but I felt like I was losing the battle.

I kept my attitude in check until the very end. And then I lost the battle.

Here’s the haps:

Mira was reading a book in our bed, which was so awesome (she’s only five and she’s READING?!!) except: 1. The book was looooong. 2. Mira was tired like me and annoyed at her little sister’s antics (feet touching her, asking questions and commenting during the story, making weird noises, etc.) 3. Mira started to talk meanly to her sister (like, “STOP TOUCHING ME!” and “Be quiet or I won’t read to you.” etc.). 4. Dev had to work super early and things were dragging.

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My attitude began to slip and I ended up focusing on Mira’s mean tone. So to correct it, I said in an equally mean voice, “Don’t talk to your sister in that mean tone!” What was I thinking?? And the mess spiraled out of control. The book was over. Everyone was angry and I walked the girls to bed, telling Mira (again!) that I’m disappointed she was being mean during the story. She became even more upset (and I saw those eyebrows furrow even deeper). And I saw the situation clearly: I was being a mean mama with a mean attitude because I was tired.  Within seconds I started backtracking because I realized: 1. I was being hypocritical by talking to her in the exact way I was condemning, 2. My attitude was too harsh in reprimanding her more times than necessary, 3. We were ALL tired and grumpy and I should have been more understanding.

Next thing I did was apologize for doing exactly what I told her not to do (talking meanly) and then I started using a silly mean voice to make fun of myself, allowing us to laugh together at the absurdity of the whole situation! We said a quick prayer asking God for forgiveness for our crazy, and then I asked Mira to forgive me for my bad attitude. She immediately smiled and said of course. Whew.

Thank God for eyes to see and hearts that forgive.

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The Beauty of Prayer

I’ve been learning to pray. How to pray. Remembering to pray. Realizing that everything is better when I pray. In our family, we’ve started to say that prayer feels like a superpower and it’s so true for us!

Last night was such a clear example. Mira was upset because she wanted her stuffed animal doggie and we have a new rule that once we’re in bed, it’s time to go to sleep and the girls can’t ask for “one more thing.” (Things were getting out of hand at bedtime: “I need my purple, fuzzy, sock…no, the one with stripes…no, the one with white stripes.” I couldn’t handle the madness; plus, I just have less patience for the crazy at bedtime.) Well, Mira was already in bed and asked for her stuffed doggie that was downstairs. I reminded her of the rule and she shot me some super feisty eyebrows as meanly as she could. Man! She could be intense sometimes (hmm…reminds me of myself…yikes!). So I got annoyed and sent her into time-out. Then I did something that I do only 20% of the time: I prayed. I thanked God for my children and my job as a parent, and then I asked for help disciplining her. What followed was a little messy but so sweet.

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Just a hint of how intense those eyebrows can get…

I asked Mira to come out of time out and she acted like a wounded animal, giving me slightly less mean eyebrows. I asked if I could just hold her and she relented, reaching out for me and letting me pick her up. I held her for a few minutes, trying to just enjoy the cuddles and diffuse both of our feelings of frustration.

Then, I told Mira a story (she loves stories) about the rich man who comes to Jesus asking what he needs to do to follow him. And Jesus says the man must give away all his possessions to the poor (I looked it up… it’s Matthew 19:21). He must give up “more” and follow Jesus. Then Mira and I had a conversation about about how giving up more is the way to honor God. And it is the way to peace and joy and freedom in a sense. We started listing the “more” we already have: friends to play with, sunshine and green grass, noses to breathe fresh air, clouds that look like dragons, a dog that licks our faces, safety, comfort, food, cuddles, squirt guns, video chat where we see our families’ beautiful faces, and more and more. And within that short time, we were both smiling about all the things we have and are thankful for.

That was the answer to my prayer. We both ended feeling the love. I was so thankful for the opportunity to respond in love rather than frustration or anger (something I work on every second of the day!). Of course, after Mira went to bed and I told her she needed to go to sleep, she asked for water. That seemed like more “more” to me and I was tired and I asked her to go to sleep and she was a little upset again. And so the cycle goes again: we’ll keep praying for help to love the best way possible AND focus on the more we already have. 

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Remembering Those Who Shaped Us

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Last year, our family lost my Pops and Grandma. Pops was such a charismatic and loving man who welcomed everyone into his family, and Grandma was such a giving spirit who loved cooking and baking for everyone. Loss is hard. And it has been a tough transition for our family for many reasons, one of which is that the centerpiece of the family is now gone. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter were all celebrated at their house and that’s when our big family would come together and visit. Without Pops and Grandma, that unifying piece of our family is no longer there.

In reflecting on what giving, beautiful people they were, I realized that the centerpiece of the family didn’t have to be gone (and neither did the family gatherings). In fact, we could honor them by continuing that giving spirit….which led to The Milliam Memorial Fund. The Millam Memorial Fund is our way to honor the memories of Pops, Grandma, and Paul Millam. It’s also an opportunity to have a yearly gathering to eat, share memories, and choose organizations to award grants to.

20150912_155838Uncle Paul, Pops and Grandma’s son, was also a very special person in my life. He passed away in 1994 when he was only 36. Even though I was only 12 at that time, he had a profound influence on my life, taking me to Cirque du Soleil and the Nutcracker and rafting trips and hikes where I learned to appreciate the botanical beauty around his home. So the Millam Memorial Fund is a way to honor Uncle Paul too.

 

Because the Millam Memorial Fund is an endowment fund, it will continue on for many years, granting money to organizations that share Pops’ love of art, Grandma’s appreciation of education, and Uncle Paul’s passion for beauty. Click here to check out our webpage on Solano Community Foundation to learn more and donate.  And please check out our Facebook page here🙂

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Cooking with the Kiddos: Muffins with Cream Cheese “Frosting”

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Lately, Audrey has been asking to look through my one cookbook I have here with me in Alaska (The Wellness Mama Cookbook). She loves cooking with me and it’s fun to watch her culinary skills develop, like when she starts recognizing smells and perfects her egg whisking. The other morning she chose muffins. We made them and added pecans to some…yum! And the girls enjoyed them.

Today, we continued the fun and created our own cream cheese “frosting” recipe and decorated our muffins (our recipe is down below).  Mira had the genius idea to put the frosting in sandwich bags and cut off the corners so we could use them as cheap pastry bags. It worked perfectly. The girls made all sorts of designs and gobbled them up!

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Frosting Sharing🙂

Here’s our recipe:

  • ½ cup cream cheese
  • 1 T milk or water (add more or less depending on consistency you want)
  • 1 T honey (optional)
  • Blueberries (optional; I thawed about 15 frozen blueberries and it turned the frosting purple, and I found myself singing Purple Rain as a tribute to Prince)
  1. Put everything in a bowl.
  2. Use an electric mixer (or whisk) to combine ingredients into desired frosting-like consistency.

 

Ways to Track and Invest MONEY!

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Last post, I recommended The Total Money Makeover book because it gave a clear plan on how to get out of debt and save money. I wanted to also share some of the tools we’ve been using to help track and invest our money.

First, for tracking purposes, we’ve been using Personal Capital because it’s free and we can use it online and as an app on our phones. This is a great tool to view all our spending and income in one place. It tracks net worth and makes things very transparent, which can be a good thing when you’re working hard to save (but it can also keep you accountable when you spend more than you thought!).

Second, for retirement, IRAs, and the kiddos’ 529 college savings plans, we use Vanguard. It’s amazing. It’s the cheapest and has the best returns. Devin thinks Vanguard’s founder, John Bogle, should win a nobel prize for creating index funds because of the money it saves investors.

Third, we’ve been using Betterment to invest the rest of our taxable savings. It’s a cheap, robo-investor. And they also do tax loss harvesting, which lowers our year-end taxes. It’s super easy to use and they have a smart deposit feature where you set your bank account balance and anything over that will be deposited into your Betterment account (great for the psychology of spending…the extra money won’t be there to spend so it’s less tempting). Also, they do a good job of closing the behavior gap, meaning Betterment decides when and what to buy and sell (people who try to follow the market and do it on their own can end up with 6 ½% less annually than the market because of bad decisions, impatience, fear, etc. Check out this article if you want more information).

Betterment does have a fee that’s more expensive than a company like Vanguard, but with the tax loss harvesting and automatic rebalancing, it makes their fee worth it many times over. If you want to sign up for Betterment, click here (you’ll get 6 months free for signing up and we’ll get 1 month free for referring…yay!).

Total Money Makeover

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Some time ago, I saw a post on Facebook about a Financial Peace University (FPU) class created by Dave Ramsey. I didn’t know much about Dave Ramsey except that one of my favorite girls in the world, Ang, thinks he’s awesome. So I decided I should learn more about him.  Ang’s husband, Brian, said they’d read The Total Money Makeover first, so I checked it out from the library and was impressed.

I have to say, though, Dave Ramsey is like hanging out with a harsh, unapologetic personal trainer: “So my Total Money Makeover begins with a challenge. The challenge is you. You are the problem with your money. The financial channel or some tape sets aren’t your answer; you are.” He goes on to say, “Some of you are so immature that you are unwilling to delay pleasure for a greater result.” Ramsey’s “greater result” is being debt-free and saving/spending/giving LOTS of money.

Despite his somewhat off-putting arrogance, Ramsey does seem to have a good point if he has the following facts right:

  • 90% of people in our culture buy things they can’t afford
  • 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
  • 75% of the Forbes 400 (rich people)…said the best way to build wealth is to become and stay debt-free

Devin and I went on our own money-saving journey about two years ago, and I found that pretty much everything we were doing to successfully save money was addressed in his book. Devin took his cues from Warren Buffett and Mr. Money Mustache. But Ramsey has the same concept: save aggressively and spend passively.

Step 1: Save 1,000 FAST

Step 2: Debt snowball

Step 3: Finish the emergency fund

Step 4: Retirement

Step 5: College Funding

Step 6: Pay off mortgage

Step 7: Keep saving

 

After two years, we’re on step 7 and it’s working. These days we’re not as obsessive about saving every penny, but after two years, we’ve realized that:

  1. Spending means more time at work, so we all (including my 3- and 5-year-old girls) start to understand the concept of want and sacrifice and making a value choice.
  2. Time and money have tangible worth rather than just seeming limitless. I don’t want to trade time with my family for multiple pairs of pair fancy shoes (gourmet food though…that takes a lot more willpower).
  3. We are LESS STRESSED.

Overall, the book was a useful read and had some solid strategies to become debt-free (which ultimately means LESS STRESS). I’d definitely recommend you check it out from the library for free!😉

Our Little Baby isn’t a Baby Anymore!??!

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Wow, Mira is turning five. What a transition age. It feels like she’s moved into this big kid club where I catch her saying things like: “Hi, my name’s Mira and my mom is over there, so I’m okay” (introducing herself to a stranger and reassuring the person that she’s being supervised lol), “Audrey, uh, I don’t think that’s the best choice” (trying to help her sister avoid punishment), and “Ugh, not again??” (when she’s frustrated about something). It’s been so awesome to watch this little baby grow into a little kid. Every single day Devin and I comment on how long her legs are growing and how she’s learning so quickly. She is changing before our eyes and it is the greatest blessing that we have this slow, peaceful lifestyle to watch it happen.

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It feels like a lifetime ago that Mira entered our lives! I guess that’s how parenting is: the days are long but the years fly by. What a true statement. But I can still remember her so clearly the day she was born. I was a week past my due date and I’d been having contractions for a few days. To pass the time, we walked the lovely hills behind our house and marveled at the rainy beautiful greenery while I paused to catch my breath after a contraction (the same hills that were in Audrey’s birth story). Though I tried to stay calm, I anxiously awaited this child I had been thinking about almost my entire life. After a slow, almost 24-hour labor, I finally had Mira in my arms. And she was perfectly ours! We were in love immediately…and exhausted immediately! I remember asking my Dad if babies were supposed to cry so much! But we are getting into a rhythm (and are currently less exhausted but not back to pre-parent status) and have discovered that parenting is the most rewarding thing ever (that’s probably because it’s the most difficult thing ever). And now, we have this beautiful, independent, tenacious, cuddle-loving, book-reading, empathetic, Jesus-loving daughter who I call my sweet, sweet girl. Happy birthday, Mira Moo!

Learning a Little Bit of Patience

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We finally found out that we’re moving back to Alaska for another year! We’re excited (and relieved to finally know where we’re going to be living!). These past four months since we moved back from Alaska have been such a blessing (and sometimes in surprising ways…like actually enjoying sleeping in one queen size bed dog-pile-style with all four of us!). We left with the goal of being patient because we didn’t know where we’d end up (either back in AK or somewhere in Northern CA). And when we got “home”, it wasn’t exactly the home we left: we sold our house while we were still in AK because the timeline just ended up that way. And while I was pretty sad about not saying goodbye to our house, Dev reminded me that we sold the house not our memories: decorating our first real, gigantic Christmas tree, raising our crazy energetic Nala dog, countless nights taking care of our newborn babies, turning our backyard into a three-ring circus complete with slackline, rings, and a balance board, hanging out with some awesome neighbors, hiking the hills behind our house.

Our “home” since we got back has been a bedroom in my amazingly patient and gracious brother and sister-in-law’s house. These past four months have been such a special time with them, and it’s amazing that this long stay has made our relationship grow stronger (I’m guessing the average person would be much less kind housing an extra four people and a dog in their house)! But things have been pretty fluid here and we all love hanging out with Auntie and Uncle (especially the kids, like stalker status sometimes). 

And through this whole process of waiting to find out where we’re going to be, I think we’ve grown just a tiny bit more patient. We prayed for patience, and God answered that prayer by helping us appreciate our everyday blessings and by keeping our world in perspective: we get to cuddle in one bed together (rather than viewing it as a burden to sleep together), we get to spend time with family (rather than feeling anxious about not having our own home), we get to focus on the day’s enjoyments (rather than worrying about where we’re going to be living). There have been plenty of times where I felt impatient, but when I focused on all our blessings, I feel so filled. Attitude is truly everything.