Sunday, May 20, 2012

Explosion of Fun

My uncle, the youngest brother on my mom's side, came to visit last week. I asked my 7 year old how she would descibe Wendell's visit. She called it an explosion of fun--hence the title.  He came for my cousin's wedding and stayed until my mom's memorial.  If my mom is a firework, my uncle is dynamite. To announce his coming he left a message on our machine that went something like this...
GREAT NEWS!!! I get to come stay with you guys for a WHOLE WEEK!!!    How could that kind of enthusiasm not rub off on you?!  He did come and did stay for the whole week and it turned out to be a huge blessing to have him here.   With his movie-making magic and my photos we put together a DVD tribute of my mom's life.  He was able to color her life with the stories behind the photos. He is a master storyteller.

The first night he arrived was a whirlwind of fun. He brought each of the kids inflatable T-Rexes and water squirty toys. A water fight quickly ensued which I had to usher outside with Wendell dripping at the center of it. After dinner he announced that we must all go out for ice cream his treat. So off we went to the local creamery. He had all the kids surrounding him at the table licking their treats, laughing at his jokes, and staring in wonder at his riddles. Even kids that weren't ours came over to our table to join in the excitement.  At bedtime he told all the kids a gutsy version of David and Goliath. The story was puncuated with tickles and horsey rides on his knee. He is the cat in the hat.

He praised my homemaking skills, gushed about my amazing children, and laughed heartily at Brandon's good humor. He made me see that the grass really was greener on my side of the fence metaphorically speaking.  "There's nothing more important than family and you're doing a He** of a job!" Everyone needs an Uncle Wendell.

The neighborhood kids were fascinated by Uncle Wendell. I started calling him the Pied Piper because of the posse of kids he daily attracted. He loved having a fresh audience for his repertoire of jokes. He even made some up on the fly and the kids still laughed their heads off. He asked each of them their names and made them feel special by asking them about their lives.  When he heard that some of the kids were headed down to the canal he wanted to come too.

One day he spent the whole morning candidly telling me his entire life story-- the good and bad, no holds barred. How he suffered job loss, break-ups, lost his faith. How he put his life together, found true love, married and became a father, and how he owed that all to my mom who saved his life many years back by placing a timely phonecall that prevented him from taking his life. He told of his missionary adventures in South America, of sailing charter yachts to Hawaii and the Marshall Islands. He shared heart wrenching experiences of being a Red Cross volunteer in the guts of the San Francisco earthquake.

We took Adrie out of school and took the two youngest to the Indian museum and Cove Fort. An avid historian, Wendell gave the tour guides more info than they had to give.
He even came to my music practice. He put his video skills to work by recording us playing, each time shouting our praises, "You guys are FANTASTIC!!"  We played an Irish pub song and invited him to take the vocals. He's acknowledged he wasn't a singer but "what the heck,' he reasoned, "life is an adventure."  He was such a good sport and we had lot of fun that evening.

Wendell cooked us breakfast, dinner, treated us to lunch. He fixed my stubborn door hinges and replaced the lock on my bedroom door that never worked. He generally spoiled us. He let me cry to him about my troubles and gave me hugs and wisdom from the scriptures. He was truly a blessing and I'm grateful to have him in my life.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mom Memorial

My mom almost died so many times in her life due to cancer and various health challenges, I think I was in denial when it really happened. It wasn't until I woke up one Sunday morning a few days later and knew that waiting on my front doorstep was a tightly rolled up newspaper with her obituary. It didn't matter that I had sweated over writing that obituary all week. Seeing it in writing, published, announced to all the world, made her death real and it struck me with finality... and grief.

We celebrated my mom's life with a memorial service yesterday. It happened by the grace of many of my mom's dear friends, neighbors, and relatives. In her last few months, my mom, in predictable contrariness, said she didn't want a formal church service. It was fine for my dad because he liked to play by the rules. Not my mom. She wanted a party, a Dixie Land Band, with wild celebrating in the streets and treats--lots of them. She knew very well where she was going and couldn't wait to get there. In her last few months she lost some of that exuberance and just wanted to be sprinkled over the ocean with beachside family memorial service.     Maybe we'd had enough of funerals, but as a family we were content to go along with the latter.    Then a few good souls stepped in and called me, expressing the need to do something bigger.   My mom was a firework. How could a lighting a match possibly reflect the magnitude of her fire?   

With their help we planned what would turn out to be the perfect memorial service.   My mom's good friends and old neighbors hosted in their gorgeous made-for-entertaining home. My uncle (one of those good souls) emceed and we had a couple of musical numbers. One was my mom's own song, a vocal duet with piano accompaniment. My mom's dear friend (another of the good souls) performed a song she had written just for my mom. Then it was open mic. I learned all about my mom those in the music profession, those who knew her in her younger more energetic days, family that came to her reunions. My niece wrote a poem that so aptly described her as only a poem could. All of it was wonderful!
We had a video tribute of her life playing downstairs and mountains of fudge, cookies and refreshments. It was just the kind of party my mom would have wanted. For me, it was a happy reunion of relatives, friends, old neighbors that I grew up with. I learned all these wonderful stories about my mom from different perspectives that I never knew.  After it all I felt great satisfaction that my mom had gotten the attention she deserved. I also felt an enormous sense of closure, like everything was made right. It was a great lesson to me that these are the reasons we have funerals and memorials.

Between the memorial tributes, the obituary, and pulling out all the old photos, awards, letters, I have pieced together this whole person that is my mom and she is amazing! From a cherished baby in her mother's arms to a precocious toe-head child, to a mother with unique talents and ambitions--  I never thought of my mom as that whole person,  she was just "my mom."  How I wish I could go back with the knowledge and perspective I now have and befriend her. But, I'm happy to know I will someday. When it's my turn to die I know she'll be the first one to bust through the crowd,  wrap her arms around me and shout in joyous reunion "Love ya hard!"

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On a Roll (the coin kind)

So recently we decided to hunker down and get smart with our money. We're not bad with money it's just that you can always do better right? Like organizing.Ugg. We  know we should be saving for a rainy day but you add to that retirement, kids college, paying the house off, and it gets pretty overwhelming. I've struggled with how to prioritize all this so I was so happy to find someone that knows the answers,  Dave Ramsey! On his website he has many many good resources but I particularly have latched on to his 7 Baby Steps.

First: establish a  $1000 emergency fund--it's not a matter of IF but WHEN you'll use this
Then: Pay off debt--smallest one first so you get that sense of motivating victory
Next: Build a savings amount equal to 3-6 months of expenses. This your insurance policy for yourself.
4th: Save 15 % of income to a roth IRA for retirement
5th: Kids College savings in  an education savings account.
6th: Pay off your house
7th: Give, Share now that you're wealthy.

You can check his website for more info.

In order to accomplish those steps he inspires you to look at the world with new eyes--ones with dollar signs reflecting in them. Where can you save? What can you cut out so you can be reaching those goals quicker?   What is lurking in your closet or garage that could be sold for $$.

Brandon and I sat down with our budget. We don't really have any "extras" that we're paying for--no pedicures or fancy dinners, regretfully. A lot of our money goes towards kids lessons.  
Brynn's gymnastics $120 month
Competitions: $60-80/month (yes, BD wishes she would just break a leg already)
Brynn's violin: $60/month
Adria's violin: $60/month

Awhile back, Adrie quit gymnastics, which paid for Brynn's competitions. Then I called her coach and we cut Brynn down to 2 days/week. Recently we decided that Brynn would only compete every other month.   In addition I cut her and Adrie's violin lessons in half so now they only go every other week. No harm done and $60 saved.   And as nice as it would be to send them to a professional, we do save a lot of money by me teaching the girls piano, even if it means premature wrinkles.

Next I looked around the house: What could be making us money? The troublesome puppy, of course! I put an add in the classifieds and got a buyer $150. Believe me, no one's crying any tears.

 The closets and storage rooms had a lot of good stuff to sell. Normally I'd give it to goodwill but this year it's gonna be a yard sale--first of June--toys, clothes, books, furniture, baby stuff, and yes, dog stuff. Out with the old and in with the cash!

I shopped around and saved us $50/month on car insurance. Score!

It feels great to save and...remember when I mentioned about it's not a matter of if but WHEN you'll need that emergency fund?...  Just this afternoon the 4 year old and his friend chucked some of our landscaping rocks and busted out a couple of windows on our neighbor's car:(