Saturday, July 20, 2013


In case you don't know this about me... I am a planner. I love plans. I love checklists. I love marking things off all neat and tidy. I also have a very strange love of amortization tables and seeing things paid off.  I don't like debt, but house debt is a necessary evil if you are going to invest in rental properties. I have spent a HUGE amount of time over the last couple of months pouring over our finances and moving towards expanding our rental business.  I am a bit OCD when it comes to these things. Even if I have worked through the numbers once or twice, I must do it again and again to be sure I did it correctly.  At the beginning of this year, I pulled a notebook off my bookshelf.  It was a partly used notebook - well because we homeschool and notebooks get used randomly, but not always finished. As much as I love my iPad, I have a need to actually write my budgets down on paper.  I flipped to the back of this notebook and found several pages of Timmy's handwriting.  It was his Apologia Biology homework from a decade ago. These things stop me in my tracks. I always am aware he is gone from this world. Occasionally, little things pop up and it feels like I have been kicked in the gut and at the same time I feel joy because it is proof that he was, indeed, HERE! Where am I going... don't you love how I ramble? So, at the very front of this notebook I began my typical monthly budgets. We use our credit card for nearly everything and while it is online - again, I feel the need to actually write down the purchases and make sure we are in line with out budget. Yes - I have Quicken. I do it there too, but not daily. Yes, I said I was OCD, remember? Recently, I decided to do a much larger business plan. One that projected the next 5 to 10 years. I broke out the amortization tables (yes, I am a nerd).  I figured one scenario and then another. At the end, I felt satisfied. I had done the homework. I had built in several emergency plans. I was at peace with our decision to move on and purchase more properties. Then this life event happened... my newest granddaughter in love was born last week. And I really, really want to go down and just hold her. I want to talk baby talk to her and tell her that Mama Kari loves her to the moon and back. But I have these plans and they are written in a notebook. They say that realistically, I should rent these properties as soon as we close, save for a bit and then head to Florida. Disclaimer - I fully believe you should live within your means. For me there is living within our means and then living within a very strict set of sometimes INSANE means that I set up. Seeing the baby isn't really the problem with the budget. The other part of my insanity is that I think if we go to one place, then surely we should go to another. If we are driving to Tampa Bay, then why not go further and drive to the Florida Keys? Sebastian has never been and we haven't been in 10 years.  Coincidentally, about the same amount of time as when Timmy wrote those answers in this notebook that is sitting here staring at me.  We took the whole family to the Keys in August of 2003.  We had plans to take Timmy snorkeling for the first time.  Then Tim got a kidney stone and he had to get him home for surgery. The snorkeling got canceled and I remember very clearly telling Timmy that we would plan for another time.  Well, that time never came. We never were able to make it back down to the Keys. When you lose your child, you have so many regrets. Silly little things and big, important things.  So, I was sitting here looking at the page on the left that holds our long term goals for the next 5 to 10 years and on the page next to it - my son's biology homework. I was thinking that we don't know how long we have on this side.  We don't know what the future holds. We do know there is a sweet baby girl in Florida that we have never met. And we do know that we could make amazing memories with our kids in the Keys. So, here I sit wondering... do we stick with the plans or occasionally throw them clear out the window (with caution, of course!)? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fear and Motivation

So, I know I don't blog as often as I would like. There is always something else to keep me busy, but blog posts still roll around my mind.  Today, the topic of FEAR came to me. I have written about my fears here before. This is a bit different. It is not just about fear, but how fear is a motivator. It can either motivate you to act or motivate you to stay the same. There are a lot of big decisions going on in the Clayton household these days. My anxiety level is at a high.  That is not all bad. Actually, most of it is not bad at all.  I was thinking about how many times in my life that fear has kept me from doing what I needed or wanted to do.  I think back to being really little and being afraid of riding amusement rides. To this day, they terrify me and I have tried to conquer that fear. Ain't happening. Then I think about how I was afraid to even talk to a boy, much less walk up to his door and ring the doorbell of a boy I did not know. But, somehow, I did just that. On the other side of that door was the boy I would someday marry. I didn't let fear stand in my way.  When I was 25, we were ready to buy our first house. It terrified me! I ran numbers and wrote out budgets on backs of envelopes for weeks. I was just so nervous about making such a big decision. When we decided to homeschool, my right eye twitched for months!!! I kid you not, from May till August, my eye had a whole life of its own. I was sure I would mess my kid up and ruin his life. Finally, of all things, a bumper sticker gave me peace on that. I had been considering the Waldorf method for my curriculum. I had all but decided to enroll him in 5th grade, when there was a bumper sticker in front of me that said, "Education from the inside out." ~Waldorf homeschooling. I took it as my sign to go forward.  Not long after 9/11, something happened with my job. It was being merged with another department.  I had been working the same job, happily, for 8 years. I loved my job! I remember my boss, Bill, calling me into his office to tell me the news.  I was a basketcase.  The thing is... he was calm and understanding. He told me that he had a different job for me. It was a full time job that was an in office job, but he was going to take that position and turn it into a part-time telecommuting position custom tailored for me. How great was that? It was perfect, but I was stressed. I was afraid. He gave me a book and told me to read it. It was Who Moved My Cheese? It was a corny little book, but it made a lot of sense.  It is so strange how there are little pieces of your life that form you. Just chance moments, impromptu conversations, random life.  They shape you and transform you into a different you - hopefully smarter, stronger and better than before. So, today, I am on the other side of some decisions I was putting off because of fear. I am realizing that I still fall to the same old bad habits of letting the unknown control me to a certain extent. I would like to say that I have gotten a whole lot better at dealing with my "cheese" being moved, but I would be lying. I am, however, moving forward - pushing the fears back - making educated decisions and always looking up.

Friday, April 19, 2013

School is out - year 14 of homeschooling is complete...

This was her classroom of choice on a warm January day.

I have been puttering around my house this week. Cleaning a bit, decluttering a bit, taking a minute here and there to really look at some old school work, some old pictures, some of the past. We are getting ready to go on vacation and we were just finishing up the last bits of school. Savannah was sort of a ninth grader this year - I say that because I am taking high school as a journey rather than a sprint. We are in no big hurry to push her out the door and into adulthood. So... we are learning rather than checking the boxes. That may happen to be finished in just 3 more years or it may very well take 4. She started school a year early and I feel like we have the freedom to pursue gymnastics, travel, field trips and many other things before she grows her wings and flies away. Mind you - I have a rule... my children can fly and plant their roots no farther than two hours drive time away. I think we made some huge progress in writing this year. This is her second year of using Institute in Excellence in Writing. I'm so happy with the results. Wish I had bought it years ago for Timmy, but you live and you learn.  I don't assign literature to her because if she finds a book she likes - she finishes it in a day or two. I think if I made her break it down and read a couple chapters at a time - it would kill her love of reading. I know she understands and processes what she is reading because she "feels" the book much in the way I am when I read a book.  Math - oh how I dislike you - I decided that the definition of insanity was to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome.  With that - I put aside the algebra and I bought the ENTIRE set of Life of Fred. Now some of that is way, way too below her skills. I figured it was best to read a whole series though and I wanted to read it with Sebastian. So far - she is enjoying Fred's take on life and mathematics. I ordered Dave Ramsey's Foundations in Finance for teens. We are gonna work our way through Fred and this... and then back to algebra. I remembered that this is one of the reasons I homeschooled - to take the winding road and curvy path that is the best way for my child.

This was one of his favorite projects this year - making a life size body with body parts.

Sebastian is finishing his 2nd grade year. I see the most progress with him because when they are younger - you see the huge jumps in skills.  He is less writing phobic, but I won't say I have cured him of his phobia. I fear that may take many, many years.  It is not that he doesn't know the answer or isn't learning... it's just that he does NOT in any way, shape or form want to pick up a pencil and actually write it on paper.  I have learned some things about him this year - what works and what doesn't.  I started with some very creative lapbooks and unit studies. Getting him to write out the answers in each book took every little ounce of my patience. After Christmas - I decided that I was just not going to take this route anymore. I changed over to Story of the World for history and geography. I didn't require him to write the answers - just answer them back to me. I order tons of the suggested reading from the activity guide. He loves the mapwork and each day I tell him to choose a book to read. He will sit and read for a very long time without a single complaint. He loves his workbooks because they are very defined. He knows what is expected and laid out for him. So - moving on into third grade - we are gonna go with Mr. Q science and the worksheets, more Story of the World and several different workbook based programs to round out language arts. We are gonna keep on printing for at least half of the year before we move to cursive. I am toying with doing a couple days of school a week on summer break to break it up a little more during the next year. Not really sure where we are headed on that, but it will come to me eventually. Oh and after I wrote this - he finished his math for the year. He was dancing GANGNAM STYLE all around the house. I told him to sit down and finish his math. He replied, "I AM DONE!!!" and continued to dance all through the house. Silly boy!

So, here I am - 14 years of my life - homeschooling.  I started for Timmy. My motivation was that I was so tired of asking him what he did wrong at school that day. Did he have a negative note? Then it turned into letting him learn to be his own person. To explore who he wanted to be. Now it has evolved to my two other children. Who do they want to be? What trek should we take? I still have about 10 more years on this adventure. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A 20 year old card from my mom for my 21st birthday...

My mom gave me this card on my 21st birthday. Its been hanging on my refrigerator actually refrigerators - I think it has been through 6 refrigerators
since then. I cannot believe it has been 20 years. I mean, I feel like in many ways it has been 20 years. When I look at the card just hanging there every day - I never really thought about it being 20 years. I can't even remember my exact reasons for liking this card so much. I guess because it just fit.

"God gives us dreams a size too big so you can grow into them." 

When I was 21, I had been married for close to 3 years. Timmy had just turned 4 years old. I was in college and had a full time job. We lived in the converted in-law apartment attached to my parents' house. We wanted to buy a house and start our "real life". I had so many things I wanted to do. Finish school, buy a house, have babies, take vacations, make memories. It all seemed so far off - so big - so much to work towards. In 20 years - I have finished school. I have bought a house or actually 7 houses including my parents' house that had that in-law apartment where my house dreams were just beginning. I have had 2 more babies and taken more vacations that I can begin to count. And memories... I have an ocean full of them. And, yet, if my mom had given me that card today - it would still apply.

"God gives us dreams a size too big so you can grow into them."

I still want to buy houses. I still want babies - not my own, but lots of grandbabies and nieces and nephews. I love to think about vacations. And memories... I think this drives me the most. I want to make as many wonderful memories as I can. 

My birthday is hard for me. I don't love celebrating it because my sweet boy will never have another earthly birthday. It is hard to explain, but it is a feeling, an aching feeling. My head and even part of my heart tells me that God left me here for some purpose. I believe to be a mama to my kids. To be the other half of my husband. To be a good friend, daughter, sister, aunt and other mother to many. But I still have not great feelings about celebrating another birthday. And then there is this...

"God gives us dreams a size too big so you can grow into them."

Twenty years later and I still believe this to be true... I am gonna leave it on my fridge - for maybe another 20 years and see where I am then...

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

My version of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie with Ordering from Rainbow Resource

Ordering just one curriculum item from Rainbow Resource has somehow become my own personal version of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie... It goes something like if you are going to order, you should order $50 or more for free shipping, then you should order the whole elementary set of Life of Fred, then you should also get the bigger graph paper that is hard to find... Oh wait... You should sell some math curriculum you aren't using to help pay for this... You should probably ask your curriculum junkie friend, Christina, if she wants anything... You should order another Spelling Power workbook for next year, but wait are you sticking with Spelling Power? Maybe you should go research Spelling for the 40th time even though you always, always end up back at Spelling Power... While you research spelling, you start to read about Language Arts... Oh my... What should we do for that and should I figure that out while I have enough for free shipping? And look they have spiral bound graph paper in the size Savannah uses, but is that less paper than the ones you can find at the Harbison Walmart and not the Red Bank Walmart? That makes pyou think of Savannah's math and then you wonder if you should get the other older Life of Fred books for her since you are already ordering and there you are back where you started with ordering Life of Fred.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Milkshake Economics 101

Here is our economics lesson for the day... Savannah and I wanted chocolate milkshakes. Now I could have just went to McD's, but it has been an expensive month going to be followed by 2 more expensive months in the Clayton household. We are teaching our kids to budget and live within their means. We run our month from the 5th of the month till the 4th of the next month because we use our credit card for everything and that is how the cycle runs. We still have a few more days to go with an out of town competition coming up tomorrow. So... when the kids wanted ice cream... I had 3 choices:

1. Be mean and just say NO!

2. Run to McD's (so nice of them to just build one right down the street) and order us up          some ice cream.

3. Run to Walmart, buy some French Vanilla ice cream to make our own.

The first option costs us nothing... but we have been sick and food has not been our friend. Both Savannah and I thought ice cream sounded good to eat and that says a lot since we have barely eaten in a couple days.

The second option was to buy shakes at McD's. McD's being way cheaper than the Sonic option across the street will still run you about $2 a shake - could be slightly more or less depending on location. So - $6 for 3 shakes.

The third option - buy ice cream at Walmart - $2.97 for a half gallon of French Vanilla. We already had milk and chocolate syrup. We used maybe half of the half gallon (that's a tongue twister!).  So, about $1.50 in ice cream and maybe if we were going to be on the pricey side for milk and chocolate - 50 cents for that stuff. So, we are up to $2 for 3 milkshakes.

Here's the economics lesson... we could have spent $6 or we could have spent $2. The taste was basically the same. It took a bit more work, but heck... I needed to pull that blender out of the cabinet to find that I had not one, but two blenders. Then I asked why I had 2 blenders and Savannah reminded me that one was Timmy's. He bought a blender while were at Disney for mixed drinks and then just left it in my van. Yes, he was funny that way and that made me smile - so I'm glad I got a happy memory to go with digging out the blender. So... all in all... this is a no brainer here - it was a good idea to make our own milk shakes and hopefully some day - my kids will get that when they are at the end of the money and there is still some month left to go - they can make milk shakes and all will still be well with the world.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tears - not always sad - some come from joy

Over these past couple of years, I have become quite the crier. If you asked my brother when I was a kid - he would have told you that I cried about something every single day. I distinctly recall him saying that to me and challenging me to not cry for one single day. I was very determined to meet his challenge. Ummm... yeah... I lasted like maybe 4 hours and I cried about something. As I grew up, I became much less of a crier. I would say I didn't cry more than the average teenager or 20 something girl. I became more emotional in my thirties and well since my sweet boy has gone to heaven - forget about it - I cry all the time. Not because I am always sad though. Nope - not at all the reason. Just recently, my niece - Jo Jo - came to visit at Thanksgiving. It was the first time I had seen her obvious baby belly. When she walked into my kitchen to say hello - oh my goodness - I looked at her beautiful face and then I saw the sweet joy of that new life. And then the tears came to my eyes. Oh - so much love! When Rachel - one of my homeschool family - did her floor routine at the gymnastics meet... yep - tears and pride for how well she did! My other niece, Tabi, came to visit us in July. Oh her sweet boys - seeing them with my mom - their Great Grandma - happy tears. And then tears to say goodbye to them. Not exactly sad tears - just tears of emotion. Last night, I thought for sure I would be crying the whole time these lovely young ladies got ready for their dance. Well, I was in super curling hair mode and focused on that. When the beauty work was done - I walked out in my living room and I didn't just see my immediate family - I saw so many families that I love! We were all here to celebrate with our sweet babies. I still didn't let the tears fall although I knew they were right there. Then the picture taking began. This morning I have been sitting here looking at all the pictures and you guessed it - tears. I just love these kids so much and to see their happiness overwhelms me to the point of tears. At one point last night, I had Savannah and her cousin Karis get together for one of just the two of them. That was it for me - the tears they were coming. My mom said, "It's okay. Don't cry momma." I held it together, but the tears. You see these two cousins met when they were just a couple months old. We drove up here from FL in February of 1999. Debi and I wanted our sweet baby girls to meet each other. We dreamed about how they would somehow grow up loving each other even though there was 550 miles separating us. They saw each other a couple of times a year. They were instantly friends from the time they barely could walk or talk. And last night - they were going to a dance together. Oh tears - happy tears. A little bit sad tears, but more joy than sadness. You see I have learned something about tears over these last couple of years. I have learned that tears lessen the pain of grief, but tears also happen when you see how absolutely beautiful life still is.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My parents and their agape love...

The message in church this morning was about marriages. I was sitting next to my mom and I was thinking not only about my marriage, but about my parents' marriage. As we drove home from church, my mom said something about it not applying to her now, but she hoped that they had shown us that kind of marriage while my dad was alive. It was a very simple statement. Oddly it was very much what I had been thinking about during the service. One of the reasons I blog is because some day I would like my kids and their kids to have my memories written down. I believe understanding your family and where they came from is a wonderful gift. My story began with two people that loved each other. I may have doubted things in my lifetime, but one thing I never doubted was my parents' love for each other. For as long as I can remember, my parents did everything together. My mom has never driven. One would think that would have been quite the hindrance to her, but it really wasn't. I remember being a little girl - preschool age. I think my dad had off on Tuesdays (I know it was a weekday.) He would drive my mom to the bank and to the grocery store. He sat patiently in the car. He didn't have a smartphone or an ipad to keep him busy. He just sat and listened to the radio or maybe read the paper. Now, my dad wasn't perfect. He wasn't one to carry the groceries into the house and help put them away. He had his flaws, but they were pretty minor. I learned at that young of an age that my parents worked well together. She was what he needed and likewise for her needs. Another thing they would do was go to "the club" on Friday night. It was a not fancy social club with a fish fry and cheap beer. They would meet their friends for dinner and maybe some dancing. I was thrilled because we would get tombstone pizza for dinner and I could curl up in their warm waterbed to watch Dallas! Yes, I was an 8 year old hooked on Dallas. When we would go on vacation together, I could tell that they were genuinely happy to have a week off to spend with each other. As I got older, my mom began working days at the hospital every other weekend. My dad was not a hobby guy like my husband is. He didn't have projects and stuff to keep him busy on the weekend. He would get up, read his paper, get his car washed, maybe stop by a friend's house and then he would come home and read some more. He would glance at his watch several times an hour. I knew what he was doing. He was checking if it was time to pick my mom up from work. He was counting down till it was time to get her. He didn't really know what to do with himself while she was away. You could see that he was happy when the time finally clicked away on the clock and he would say, "Going to get mom." as he walked out the door. They would usually stop for dinner somewhere on the way home. None of this is earth shattering. It wasn't like he was buying her diamonds or she was kissing his feet. It was just subtle, daily life. And as I said - they were not perfect. I can hear my mom saying his name through gritted teeth, LEO ALLAN!!! when he would annoy her. I can hear him SCREAMING his loud booming voice over some stupid thing one of us kids did. They were not perfect, but they were good. They were good and loving and decent. Sometime before I had Sebastian, Tim and I were looking at getting a new ring for me. It was a sapphire setting that needed a solitaire diamond in the middle. My mom gave me her wedding ring set to see if that might work. It wasn't set the right way, but she told me to keep it anyway. I wear her wedding rings on my right hand. Every once in a while Sebastian will ask me about why I have two sets of wedding rings on my hands. I tell him that one represents my marriage to his dad - our choice to be a family. The other set represents my parents' marriage and the choice they made to give me the foundation of a wonderful family. They showed me what true agape love is.

Monday, January 07, 2013

So, I'm not a gardener...

From our garden back in 2009

I don't have a green thumb. I don't really like gardening. I'm not a gardener, but the good news is my husband is! He loves growing things. Here is the thing... I love watching the stuff grow. I just don't really love doing the work of getting it to grow.  When we first moved to South Carolina in 2008, that was a BIG thing on his list of things to do with our new big yard. He put in a smallish garden that year and I had no idea how much I would enjoy watching the vegetables grow. I mean... I would wake up in the morning and one of my very first thoughts was - I need to look at what has grown since yesterday. It reminded me of when he had a koi pond at our first house. I used to like to sit on my front step and just watch the fish swim when I would wake up in the morning.  It was peaceful and quiet and just brought joy to my heart. In 2009, he made the garden bigger and some things were hit or miss, but I still really enjoyed it. He even cut a tree down to the perfect stump size for me to come sit there and talk with him as he weeded the garden. I got a cute little gate entrance too! When 2010 rolled around, life was hectic. His work had demands of more of his time and well... 2010 sucked for us even BEFORE Timmy died. It was destined to be the worst year of our life well before May. I guess it was already written. Anyway, there was no garden in 2010. In 2011, we jumped into buying our second rental property at the end of January that year. It needed a good amount of renovation. All of Tim's free time went working on that during that spring. In the spring 2012, we were working on a third rental property. Again, not a free moment to garden. This morning Tim had a doctor's appointment. His doctor's office is right across from Lowe's. He meandered in there after his visit and he called me to ask, "Do you use turnips in your homemade soup?" I was like, "Huh? Parsnips, why do you ask?" He tells me he is at Lowe's and picking up some seeds to start some starter plants for our garden. Now, this is a simple phrase and a simple thing. In one little statement - I felt joy! Joy that we were going to have a garden, but more than that... joy that some part of our normal life was beginning to show again. Whatever normal is... because we all know that normal is never really attainable.  I guess I know how much he loves to garden. I know that it is something that makes him feel better in general about himself and everything that swirls around us. And then there is my excitement over getting to watch those darn vegetables grow. Even better - I told him after we finished studying the human body for 10 weeks, we would be moving on to plants with Sebastian and his friends. How perfect is the timing of that? Sebastian said in the background, "I don't like gardening." I told Tim and we both said at the same time, "He doesn't like anything!" Jokingly, I think. Anyway, I just wanted to save this snippet of how one little thing can make me giddy with excitement! I can't wait to see what our garden grows. You know it is growing a whole lot more than vegetables... is is growing a little bit of peace for our family.