Monday, August 20, 2012

Just Mama a Little Bit Longer

Two months ago I thought this blog was over. When I started writing it I always figured I'd end with my one year anniversary and go back to work part time or start a new blog calling it Just Mama and More.  But the More wasn't part of God's plan, at least not for now.

July was a tough month.  I had been holding on to my job praying that something might work out in the school district for a part time teaching position.  I desperately wanted to job share (work 2 days a week) or teach home bound (students too sick to be in a classroom) like I did when I was still pregnant with Naomi. This would enable me to bring in some income but still skirt the full blown cost of daycare for two.  But there were no positions open within the time frame needed and I couldn't leave my very patient principal waiting forever.

As a former colleague of mine put it, "God decided for you..." When my grandma was diagnosed with colon cancer a month ago that made up my mind for me.  I submitted my official resignation July 18th, packed up my personal belongings in my classroom, and to my great surprise fell apart on the car ride home.  Over seven years I had worked at this place where I smiled, laughed, cried, and most importantly grew as an educator and an individual.  Handing over my I.D. badge was so final.  A door had closed and it was....frightening.  But why?

What was my problem, I wondered over and over.   This is like a super awesome opportunity I have, to watch my girls grow up. Why did I feel so heartbroken to leave teaching when just a year ago I was so overjoyed to do it? Like staying home was OK as long as I had a job to go back to in case things didn't work out. I thought about it for a couple hours which became days, and fogged into weeks.

The question was placed on the back burner as life trudged on.  The guest bathroom mold  funk started to spread, the respiratory problems reappeared, and my credit score continued to sink along with my morale as Evil Mortgage Company needed yet another packet of paperwork to "consider" our Short Sale application. Then we found the perfect 2 bed 2 bath rental, clean, safe, and just the right price-a light through the chaos.  But in the end our credit was too shaky and my heart was broken.  First Evil Mortgage Company denied us refinancing on our house because we were current on our mortgage and could "easily" make our payments.  Then they denied us refinancing because our credit score wasn't good enough. So we can't own a home that is falling apart and we can't rent anything decent either! The whole thing made me furious and sick at the same time!

That's when my parents proposed an interesting solution.  Move in with them temporarily.  That way we could save money and build up our credit again.   Eager to remove the girls from breathing in the mold in our house, we began the painstaking task of going though everything and packing.  I felt like I was on autopilot, stopping only to make visits to the hospital to see my grandma and check my emails.  But due to the stress of it all the desire to write was gone.  I made a few sad attempts here and there but all that I produced was dribble.

Writing had always made me happy.  It was my stress relief, something that made people laugh.  Like teaching, I felt like I was good at it.   Your students made progress, awesome job!  Tommy understands the difference between prime and composite numbers for the first time ever, fantastic!  His parents can't believe the social growth their child has made under your guidance, you're a Godsend! Your students actually like to learn and are eager to come to school, You're a marvel! When teaching, I felt successful. Changing a diaper and wiping poopy bottoms and runny noses-not so much.

Like today as I didn't feel successful as I watched my tantruming three year old slam her feet against my bedroom door, slowly moving her time out chair across the floor.  I didn't feel worthy of praise as I pried out a banana peel wedged between Naomi's teeth and surveyed the toys and mashed fruit sticky on the tile floor I had just vacuumed and steam mopped that morning. I certainly didn't feel appreciated as Jenna screamed "I HATE YOU, MOMMY!!!!"  between sobs as I tried to explain to my youngest, "We only eat the inside of the banana, not the peel!" Like a dog defending his bone, Naomi only dug her tiny hands and teeth into the "gift" Jenna had stolen from the fruit bowl because she thought it was funny for Naomi to "eat like a monkey."

Some days, like this one, I feel like I stink at my job as a mom. If there was a hidden camera channeling a live feed of my mom disaster moments to cyber space I just know a former student would be compiling them for a video montage set to go viral next month: Large red letters spelling FAIL across my face. And even when things do go right the mommy profession is very much a thankless job. No one is there to show you charts of how many new words or skills your child has acquired this month compared to other's around the nation, or graphs of new social accomplishments your child has because of all the play dates or story time meetings you've scheduled.  The closest thing I've had to a pat-on-the-back is the pediatrician checkups where at least I can hear, "Great job on her skin, mom, what are you using at bath time?" or "Look at that measurement, she is off the chart for brain development-Keep doing what you're doing!"

If life offered award's mommys would be nominated as unsung heroes.  There are many successful moments that go unnoticed and unappreciated and I don't think the real impact of what we do on a daily basis really becomes clear until our children are grown.  That is a long time to wait....that is why I think it is so important that we give ourselves credit where credit is due.  We may not be perfect, but we give our all everyday-even if all we have left is an exhausted version of ourselves with a twitching eye.

Today was the first day of school and I was there not because I was teaching but I was bringing my Jenna  to her preschool classroom.  I am a stay at home mom.  Not the easiest job but most definitely the most important as far as my girls are concerned (even if they don't know it yet ). In the mean time I'm going to move the fruit bowl to the top of the fridge, go a little easier on myself, and try to fit in the things that I enjoy-just for me- just a little bit longer.  It's not exactly true to the title but I'm hoping you won't mind if Just Mama is a little bit more than a year.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Thank You

One year and two days ago I set off on a journey to be a stay at home mom for one year.  These last 12 months have been filled with many wonderful moments,sky high ups and grand canyon downs.  There were days when I wondered what in heck I was thinking. And other days, where I'd wake up with two tiny people, who somewhat resemble me when I was little, competing to throw their arms around my neck and smother me in mommy/daughter love (though some of that love is always a little more drooly than the other ;).

Before I started our little "experiment" to live on one income for one year, we set aside a financial nest egg and stocked our pantry with toiletries and other supplies. Then I created a list of goals I wanted to accomplish. Our nest egg is now nonexistent, we just unwrapped the last bar of soap today, and as I  reexamined my goal list, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I completed most of it. I got to visit my grandma twice a week, and sewed my very first dress for Jenna (Sure the dress had to be cut in half and hemmed into a shirt which Jenna refused to wear, then was downgraded to a dress for Naomi-but I still count it :)) I started this blog and originally set a goal to create 40 posts and even though I didn't always manage to get them out on time (I was shooting for 3 to 4 a month) I passed my goal with this being my 45 post. The front of the refrigerator, hope chest, memory box, and sliding glass door are filled with the 100+ art projects Jenna and I did together, and my recipe box is filled with stared goodies that Jenna and I will bake again in the future.

Looking back on this past year some people might think I was crazy for doing it and I'm not sure they'd consider my story all that successful.  But that would depend on their idea of what success is. A lot of my other goals, like the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving like meals I created or the rare days all the laundry was complete & the house was super clean all at the same time,  will probably be forgotten. But so much of this year will stay with me forever. I got to watch my baby, Naomi, take her first steps, say her first words, blow her first kiss.  Jenna mastered potty training, learned to count to 20, recites the Lord's Prayer, and, through listening to Mike and my conversations, she even figured out how to spell "park", "ice cream", and "bed."

A year ago I was pulling my hair out trying to manage new found food allergies and sibling jealousy.  Now we've got meals down to a science and the girls play together like best buds. So much joy.  So much growth.  So much change, and so much to look forward to in the future. The first of which is Mike's new job. He is now the Director of a preschool about 5 minutes from our home.  Jenna will be in the three year old class there this coming fall.  We are all very excited and I'm sure he'll do a great job.  We have also had an offer on our house and are praying God blesses that the "As Is" Short Sale goes quickly and smoothly.  As for me....let's just say I've got some options I'm working on for next school year and I won't know officially what my job status will be until August. Until then I've got two more months to enjoy being, Just Mama.

You might wonder, if I were to do the past year all over again, would I? Hands down, no hesitations-YES!  After all, children are tiny for such a brief moment in the scope of our lives. But more than anything, this year has been a blessing and a privileged.  I will treasure my time being home with my little girls for as long as I live. A wise woman once told me that there is no greater gift you can give to your children than yourself.  She gave that gift to me and I am so grateful to God that I was able to do the same for my two girls, even for this short time. In my mind, there's no greater success than that.

To my readers, thank you for joining me on this journey :)
God Bless You,

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mommy's "Privacy"

No Privacy at Bath-time; Bath, cartoon, cartoons, Comedy, Comics, humor, humour, images, stickman, stickmen
It was shortly after my cup of coffee, and half way through spreading Sunbutter on Jenna's toast that I found I needed to use the bathroom.  I finished making breakfast,  set it down on Jenna's little table where she was watching Beethoven, grabbed Naomi from her high chair and bee-lined it for the toilet. Sitting Naomi on the bathroom rug, I laid some toys at her feet just in time to hear Jenna calling from the other room, "Mommy?" "Where are you?" "I want you to sit with me."
"Mommy's going potty!" I called, which apparently translates to Everyone come join me while I do my business because not only did Jenna come running but Mindy, our terrier, came trailing in behind her.
"Mommy, whatcha doin'?" Jenna asked staring at me from the doorway as she chewed a large mouthful of her toast.
"Mommy told you, Jenna, I'm going potty." Naomi who was happily bouncing a baby doll up and down, stopped and grinned at Jenna as she entered the bathroom.
Jenna then packed two chunks of cantaloupe into her cheeks, "What kind of potty?"
"Number two, now can you please give mommy some privacy?" "Why don't you go finish watching your movie?"
"I don't want to." "I want to stay here with you and No-me (Naomi)."

Then Jenna plopped next to Naomi on the rug. Mindy slinking behind her, stalking Jenna's sunbutter toast with her eyes.Great. I thought to my self, The first time my daughter wants to have anything to do with her little sister it's when we are all crammed into the bathroom. I attempted to focus my attention back on my Mother Earth News magazine article about raised garden beds I had been attempting repeatedly to finish for the past week. Suddenly Naomi burst out crying and I looked up to see that Jenna was now protectively clutching the baby doll Naomi had been playing with-the very same doll Jamie hadn't played with in over a year and a half.

"JENNA!" "That was not nice!" I said as Naomi desperately yanked the doll back from Jenna.
"But Mother!" (Jenna's latest term for me when she is pleading her case-a direct result of the American Girl Movie Felicity-who called her mommy, mother.) "Mother! The doll is minnnneeee!" Jenna whined with great emphases as she pulled the doll from Naomi's tiny grasp for the second time.
"Give her that doll back this minute, young lady!"
Jenna scrunched her mouth up at me and glowered at Naomi, tossing the doll back into her sister's lap.
"And tell her your sorry." To this Jenna pushed her chin up in the air defiantly, her arms crossed over her Dora the Explorer nightgown.
"Now! Or when I get off this toilet you're going right into time out."
"sorry." Jenna's apology was barley audible but I wasn't in the mood to push it.
"Thank you, Jenna." "Now why don't you go watch your movie?" I sighed, rereading the same paragraph for the fourth time. Then it was Jenna's turn to cry.

"MOMMMYYYYY! LOooook!" She wailed.  There on the floor was Jenna's near empty plate, Mindy darting from the scene of the crime and hid between my legs and the toilet bowl.
"Mindy!" I said firmly, "That's a NO!" Mindy, realizing I was right above her and taking Jenna's side, darted out of the bathroom, into the bedroom, and judging by the sound of the crate creaking, put herself in the kennel for time out.
"Don't worry Jenna, I'll get you another piece of toast when I am finished."
Jenna sniffled pathetically, as I attempted to pick up the pieces of half eaten Sunbutter toast stuck goop side down in the bathroom rug I had just washed yesterday.

"Can I have cereal, not toast please?" I glanced up and Jenna had the bath towel, which was draped over the rack, wrapped around her head like the Virgin Mary and was using it to swing back and forth. I glanced around and realized Naomi was no where to be seen.  A brief moment of panic hit me. Where could she have gone in the last three seconds? Then I heard happy grunting coming from behind the shower curtain.  I pulled it back and there Naomi was happily chewing away at a remnant of Jenna's breakfast bread.

"Naomi!" "Give that to Mama." I said, "That's too big for you." Fearing her prize was going to be taken, Naomi shoved the entire piece into her mouth. "No!" I leaned over, grabbed my one year old into my arms and used my pinkie finger to pry the slimy goo from her mouth through her 8 clenched teeth. Naomi cried even louder in protest, and as I lifted her and sat her on my leg, a wad of warm chewed bread dropped into my slipper.

"OK!" "Mommy's DONE!" Exasperated I put Naomi down, quickly finished, flushed, and washed my hands. All the while I noticed Jenna behind me giggling impishly. Curious I had to ask, "OK." "What's so funny Jenna?" Jenna removed her hands covering her mouth, pointed at my bottom and giggled all the more gleefully,  "Mommy I just saw your privacy."
I raise my eyebrow, "You mean you just saw mommy's....." I stopped in mid sentence.  "Never mind..."
"Do you want to go finish your movie now?"
"Uh Huh!"
"Great idea, Jenna!" "Let's go finish watching Beethoven," I said forcing an overly enthusiastic smile on my face while simultaneously repressing the urge to point out that I had suggested this THREE TIMES ALREADY!  As Jenna ran to the TV, I swept Naomi into my arms and headed out the bedroom door toward the living room. Per our Doctor visit check up discussion earlier in the week, Jenna meant to say, "Mommy, I saw your private."  But it's funny she used the word privacy because it reminds me that since I've become a mom privacy seems to be a thing of the past.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Little Houdini

Naomi is on the move...not just toddling but 18+ tiny steps in a row.  Just three weeks ago she was my cautious  two step, wait, three steps, wait, one step, forget this, crawling is faster, drop to the ground, kinda girl. Then Jenna got sick, spiked a 104.8 fever, and was out of commission  for two solid days.   Naomi was in her glory! She canvased the play mat, scoured the book shelves, and had her way with all the toys (hers as well as her big sister's).

I was shocked when Naomi started speeding across the room in full stride taking 8 and 10 steps at a time.  I suppose she felt a lot more secure and confident (with Jenna off the living room floor) and gradually Naomi grew braver and bolder with her uninterrupted practice. There were brief moments she still looked like she'd taken one drink (of milk) too many, but even with occasional balance difficulties she could Speedy Gonzales her way across the room in the blink of an eye, or at least the time it takes to help Jenna put on her socks.

This new found confidence opened  a whole world of daring for Naomi. She figured out how to escape her high chair safety straps and has thrice caused me a mini heart attack as she attempted to climb down its side during dinner. Naomi consistently breaks out of her play yard, there one minute, under the bed or behind the couch the next like some magical disappearing act.  The other day I got fed up and plunked Naomi in her crib so I could use the bathroom. Jenna skipped happily through the door as I washed my hands, announcing proudly that she had shared some pillows with Naomi.  I rushed around the corner to find that Naomi had pushed them to the sides of her crib and was standing on them attempting to climb over the rail and onto Jenna's bed (we are currently brainstorming alternative sleeping arrangements because of this).

Then last week we were at a friend's house and Naomi's car seat carrier was on the floor (she had fallen asleep on the car ride over so we had brought the entire carrier in so we didn't have to wake her).  I had placed a ceramic knick-knack that I had confiscated from Naomi on the sill behind the couch.  Naomi was overwhelmed with temptation and totally uninterested in the age appropriate toys all around her.  Instead she pushed her carrier over to the couch, leaned it back, crawled through the seat like an inclined tunnel, pulled herself up on the couch and then stretched on her tippie-toes to try and reclaim the forbidden item.  I was sitting right next to her so I was able to grab her and deposit her diapered bottom back on the floor.  Her little mountain-like couch climb showed me that I was never to underestimate the gumption of an 11 and 1/2 month old.

Yes, my youngest is proving to be quite innovative. I suppose it was only a matter of time for all of this to transpire.  After all, Naomi will be one on Saturday, no longer a baby but a toddler with "big girl" interests. Gone are the days when she was content to sit and bang a pot with a spoon.  Yes, Naomi's first year sure has flown by. But I have no doubt that my energetic Little Houdini will keep me on my toes for years to come.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dearest Family...

Dearest Naomi, 
The toilet is not a toy.  Please don't try to flush it over and over again.  I know you like the swooshing sound but it costs Mommy and Daddy money.  Not to mention it's irritating-especially when Mommy is still sitting on the potty.  Please choose one of the million toys that people have spent thousands of dollars on for your entertainment. 
Much Love, 

Dearest Michael, 
I know that Refrigerator Blindness is a male disorder.  Perhaps it is a genetic mutation and not your fault that you can't find the kids' organic apple sauce in the second drawer or the jar of SunButter hiding behind the rice milk on the left side of the fridge's top shelf.  But if you try moving an item or two around before you ask me to come and find it for you, it will earn big brownie points for you and re-instill hope for husbands in general.   
Loving Regards, 

Dearest Jenna, 
It is wonderful to have snuggle time while you are awake but once you fall asleep the arrangement becomes very painful for Mommy.   Somehow without lessons, you have mastered the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do while asleep- I am so proud! But honey, your foot does not belong on my stomach, in my eye, or pressed between my shoulder blades and despite what you think, you can sleep just as good in your own bed as you can in mine.
With Love, 

Dearest Mindy, 
The neighbors can't hear you. They are 40 feet away and you are behind a glass window. Even if your growls were magnified 100x the volume of Mighty Dog people would not be afraid enough to stop their dog from peeing on our mailbox. Do the household a favor, rest your vocal cords a bit, and save your ear piercing barks for when it truly matters-like the next time Jenna tries to paint your hair with sidewalk chalk. 
Hang in There, 

Dearest Ducks, 
I am the one that fills your duck pond (plastic kiddie pool) and feeds you pellets each morning. I am also the one that built you the Fort Knox of all duck pens out of a dog kennel and fortified chicken wire so you'd be safe from those rotten fowl murdering raccoons. So why do you repay me, Baron, by hissing at me each time I enter the fence and pecking me when I gather the single egg Fluffy lays each morning? You'd better watch it my feathered friend or Duck a l'Orange just may be served at our next holiday meal.:) Fluffy, this of course excludes you. After all you are our only egg layer. 
Farmer Jamie 

Dear Frog Outside the Girl's Bedroom Window, 
You woke up the children one too many times with your endless nocturnal croaking.  I've given the raccoons your location. 
Tell God I said hello, 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Conversations with Jenna: Marriage

It had been an especially challenging morning.  After an hour long park visit and three large laps around the lake near our house, my efforts to expel the majority of my daughter Jenna's energy had failed.  Dress up clothes lay strewn about the living room, Naomi was wearing dog ears and allergen free shortbread cookie crumbs on her head-the result of Jenna "sharing" her cookie by decorating her sister with "fairy dust" like crumbs while I attempted to fold and put  laundry away. "Look Mommy, No-me (Naomi) is all pretty and sparkly like Tinkerbell!" On the way to Jenna's preschool I cursed the small box of Organic Chocolate Milk that Jenna had found buried in the back of our fridge and made a mental note to seek and destroy (or have my husband Mike consume) all remaining chocolate anything in the house so that this morning would not repeat itself in the future.

As we drove along I noticed Jenna's brow was furrowed as she picked at the bandage on her latest boo-boo. 

"Mommy, my finger hurts." 

"I know honey, I'm sorry." 

"My band-aid is falling off, see!" 

"That's because you are playing with it." "If you leave it alone the band-aid will stay and your finger will feel better." 

"I don't have a ring on my finger." (Jenna is a great admirer of my wedding ring set)


"Because I put things in my mouth?"

"Yep." (we had had this conversation before.)

"And once I stop I can wear jewelry and rings and crosses?" 

"That's right." 

"And someday I can wear a ring on my finger like your's and not a band-aid?" 

"Yes Sweets, someday you'll get married and you can have a ring like mommy's too." 

"Someday when I get big I'll get married."


"When I'm big and tall and I've got big titties like you?" To this I coughed on my handful of gluten free granola. 

"Something like that." 

"Someday when I'm big like you I'm gonna marry daddy." 

"I'm glad you love daddy so much Jenna but daddy is already married." 

"You're married to daddy?" 

"Yes, Sweets, I am. So you'll have to find someone else to marry when you grow big." 

"Who?" "Who am I gonna marry?"

"The person God has picked out for you." 

"But who is he?"

"I don't know, but God does and you'll meet him someday when you are big." 

"Is it Mr. Bill?" (Mr. Bill is our neighbor who is in his 60's)

"No, honey, Mr. Bill is too old to be your husband.  When you get big he will be G G's age. (G.G. is what Jenna calls her Great Grandma) You should marry someone closer to your age." 

"Like John Paul?" (a student in her 3 year old Pre-K class)

"Maybe, we'll just have to wait and see what happens someday." To this Jenna was quiet for the remainder of our drive.  I could tell by the way her tiny mouth puckered that she was mulling our conversation over in her head.  She didn't speak again until we pulled into the school's parking lot. 


"Yes, Jenna?"

"Can't I just wait until you're done kissing daddy and then I can marry him?" 

To this I couldn't help but laugh.  Can't beat a three year old's logic. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

How to Make Your House Look Clean in 15 Minutes or Less

I have a confession to make.  On any given day I would rather cook than clean.  This is the opposite case for my mother who de-stresses by cleaning bathrooms at all hours of the night.  Me-I bake cookies & cupcakes,  rice pasta with fresh pesto sauce, soothing homemade soups,... I'm not sure whether it's the mouthwatering aroma, the bliss of eating it all, or the fact that I am hacking a root vegetable into a million pieces with a large sharp knife that makes my worries of the day just melt away into a puff of nothingness.   So it is without saying that my mom's and my house cleaning standards (and cooking methods) are slightly different.

With the house on the market I am finding that my usual practice of keeping things clean but lived in won't do if we have any chance of getting a contract.  I am finding instead that I must always be ready for a showing at any moment which means I seriously have to up my anti from a  weekly vacuuming/steam mopping & biweekly dusting to all of the above every few days.

But the other day I was seriously taken off guard. We hadn't had any showings scheduled for two weeks.  The kids were up super late the night before for different reasons (one had a late afternoon nap and the other was breaking in a new tooth). I was exhausted, they were overtired and because of this combo the living room was in absolute shambles. While I prepared breakfast Naomi had happily cleared the bottom two shelves of the bookcase and Jenna was gleefully trying to "swim" through them as she laid on her belly and flailed her arms about, "Look mommy I'm Nim from the movie." I groaned as I placed Jenna's sunflower butter toast on her play table and glared at the TV playing the 36th showing of Nim's Island (her latest DVD favorite).

Just as Naomi attempted to chew the lamp cord for the 10th time in 15 minutes and Jenna was trying to dress our dog Mindy like her baby doll, I grew sick of it all, strapped the kids into the stroller and headed out the door for a belated morning walk.  About a half mile from our house my cell phone rang.

"Hey Jamie this is (I Can't Believe Someone Wants to Look at Your House) Real Estate Agent." "I've got a client interested in viewing your house." "Apparently the agent interested in showing it thought your residence was unoccupied and already made the appointment." "Would 10:30 still be alright with you?"  At first I was simply elated that someone wanted to see our house.  "Sure!" I said enthusiastically.

"Great!" She said, " See you in 30 minutes!" WHAT?!!! I glanced at my phone clock and panicked remembering the toys and books strewn about the house and the piles of dishes in the sink. Tightening my grip on the double stroller I booked it as fast as my two outta shape mama legs could carry me in the direction of our home. "WWWHHHHEEEEE! Faster Mommy, FASTER!!!" Jenna was in her glory!

I tore through the front door, stuck Naomi in her crib and then began to bark orders, tossing toys into their bins in a mad flurry as Naomi wailed from the other room. "Mama! I don't wanna clean I want ice cream!" Jenna protested.  If it were possible to shoot fire from your eye sockets this would have definitely been my moment, "Clean up your toys NOWWWW!" I insisted as I dashed to the kitchen and started to load breakfast dishes into the dishwasher only to realize that the dishwasher was clean. Was there time to unload and reload?  I glanced at the microwave: 10:20 a.m. NO! I'd have to hide them. But where? Ah Ha! The microwave...It's a counter top version-not included in the house-they won't have to look at it.  Where else can I hide stuff?

Before I knew it the dirty dishes were stacked and concealed in the microwave, the bill pile that I was preparing to sort through was whisked from the dining room table and shoved in the top of Jenna's desk.  I crammed the rest of the toys into the toy box, and threw the clean clothes I was folding on the couch back into the dryer.  Spray, spritz, splash the bathroom mirrors and counters were wiped clean with the hand towel and a new one was replaced. I rolled the top sheets of the beds into a ball, shoved it under the pillows along with the girls pajamas and pulled the comforters over the heap, forming a crease in all the right places. A super speed dust mopping of the house, I threw the mop into the shed, popped the dog into the crate, the kids in their car seats, and pulled out of the driveway just as the real estate agent pulled in.  It was close but we made it.

As far as I know things wen't well. Not sooo well that we got an offer on the house but hopefully it sparked their interest. But I've gotta tell you the experience was a little too close for comfort. I'd hate to have a repeat of that day and a last minute scramble to make our home look picture perfect so I've really upped the anti and make sure that the beds and dishes are all ready before we leave the house and that the vacuuming and bathrooms are done the night before. Now Mike is delighted to come home every day with things in absolute perfect shape, floors polished, toys in their just so place.  Must say that selling our home has it's benefits. Never has my house looked so clean.  Mike is in his glory and my mom is super proud that her prediction that I would "Grow up and keep the house like a pigsty" seems to be fading into the past.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The House Hunt

First I must say that I am very unhappy with this blogger website.  With all the changes going on in my life right now the last thing I wanted was for another "new and improved update" to come along and change my blog settings and format.  Now what took me forever to figure out is all messed up again! In the words of my dog Mindy, "Grrr!"

With that said I have decided to focus on some other stuff in my life that is more upbeat and not so dreary as my last entry.  Yes we are going to have to move but I'm trying my darnedest to look at the bright side of things and relish in the fact that home repairs will be a thing of the past in the very near future.  To aid me in my road to happy thoughts I've been doing extensive internet based research to find our "perfect" someplace.  Mike and I ticked off a list of house awesomeness and absolutely not's to narrow down that search.
Here's what we came up with:

House Awesomeness (AKA Would really like to have in our rental)
1) Minimum 2 bedrooms 1 bath  * Awesomeness= 3 bedrooms 2 baths
2) At least 1000 square feet (Our current house is 1140 square feet so awesomeness would be 1140+)
3) Allows a dog
4) Carpet limited to bedrooms alone * Awesomeness=No carpet at all (because of for-mentioned dog)
5)  Fenced in backyard
6) Close to Mike's work *Awesomeness=close to a park too :)
7) Fits into our price range (Probably the hardest item on the list)

Absolutely Not: Items That Would Prevent us From Renting A House
1) Not on a pond, canal, or other body of water (Alligator-filled Florida Waters and small kids/dog= bad combo!) 
2) Not on a super busy street.
3) Neighbors must seem relatively clean in the visible portions of their house and free from violent criminal record.

Personally I feel our list is modest & sensible. This past weekend Mike and I used $32 worth of gas driving all over our town to look at 12 rentals in the area.   It was an informative journey.  I've discovered that somethings look much better in person than online and others....well...let's just say I'd love to borrow the camera they used because it has the ability to transform the dilapidated and scary into something magical.

Overall Mike and I were quick to rule out houses that fit our Absolutely Not list, like the duplex with a junk car repair shop in the front yard, or the modular home with walls that shook every time the train ran the tracks 10 feet away from the backyard. (*Note to self: Add train tracks within 20 feet of house to list of Absolutely Not)

Apparently I am less discriminating when it comes to house age than Mike is because he was not too impressed with the 1950s cottage that I called a "vintage fixer upper" and he called "run down" and "ancient."  I simply pointed out that it was 1/5 of a mile from his work and that it had a fenced in yard.  Mike took me in the back, waving at the 4 foot gap and I made the correction: "OK, 3/4 of a fenced in yard." to which Mike responded, "If you want to call the number on the sign, knock you're socks off, but this place isn't fit for the raccoon that probably chewed that hole in the garage roof!"

It's amazing how many people don't return a phone call. The lady who owned "Raccoon house" (as it was later named by Mike) was no exception. I've been carrying my cell phone with me, even in our house, for five days just in case. I think Mike is secretly grateful because neither of us really felt we had found "the one." Still, we've still got time while we wait for our house to sell and I know things will happen when God wills it in his perfect timing. So I'm keeping an open mind, continuing my search, and dreaming of the day we find our perfect somewhere, hopefully completely fenced in and raccoon free.

Monday, April 16, 2012

When God Closes a Door...

(Disclaimer: Company titles and representative names have been changed in the following story.  Any similarities are purely coincidental. )

My family and I have been in mitigation with Evil Mortgage Company since August. I've spent over 20 hours on the phone being transferred to various Evil Mortgage Company representatives, 40+ hours re-configuring our monthly expenses/deficits and typing hardship letters on the computer. Somewhere in the rain forests of Brazil there is a 1/4 acre of trees missing so I could submit 62 pages of refinancing application pages through the mail. In March, after 8 months of work and three trips through the entire process, the work paid off...sort of.  We qualified for the Homes Affordable Modification Program but they only took into consideration Mike's gross pay and not his actual take home pay to configure their 31% payment reduction.  In Short their offer was only $113 lower than our current payment.

I sought the direction of Maria, our case Representative at Evil Mortgage Company.  She noted on our account that the payments were still too high and to my surprise her supervisor, Joyce, called me the next day, "I just wanted to make you are aware that this is the best deal that Evil Mortgage Company has to offer." "There is no chance of a lower payment being offered to you under any program." "If you are unable to meet these new payments then I can only recommend that you and your family apply to short sale your home."

Mike and I sat down and crunched the numbers.  $1,750 quote to  re-tile the girls' bathroom (which has the same problem our other shower had-tile glued on drywall), $1,800 to repair the ceilings, $10,000 to fix the siding , kitchen cabinets (crumbling), new garage door...and so on and so on.  As mentioned in a previous blog entry ( our home is in need of multiple repairs. Our house value is less than half of what we owe on the mortgage and the house still needs $40,000+ of work.

We prayed a whole bunch, sought the advice of my credit counseling agent, a real estate lawyer, a Realtor, a friend in real estate with multiple properties of her own, and our accountant.  All said that the only option we had was to sell.   It was hard to swallow but it just didn't make sense to stay in our home. If I was to write that I simply nodded my head and said, "OK, God- this is clearly the direction you wish us to go!" It would be a long shot from the truth. In all honesty, I had a whirl wind of emotions.

First I was in disbelief, "This just can't be happening to US!" "There must be something we haven't pursued!"

Then I was a last hope Crusader, "I'll just get a night job at Walmart, try again to published some writing, sell some more of our stuff, and maybe I can tutor at again!"

Mike was like, "You mean that website where you were waking up at 4:45 every morning to tutor for an hour for $5." "Did you forget you only made $168 in 5 months?" "Even if you were teaching we couldn't afford the house repairs."

Then I was  Xena-The Warrior Princess- furious.  "You know these companies are just out to rip off the American public!" "Government bailouts-my flippin' feet!!!" "Help to keep people in their homes-what a joke!" "More like help a bank executive buy an extra jet for his "work" "retreat" to Hawaii with his thong-bikini-packin' secretary." "I'd like to lower their interest rate straight to...."  (You get the picture)

The day the Realtor put the for sale sign on our front lawn I felt defeated. I had a difficult time going outside for most of the day.  There it was, staring at me, mocking me, not a For Sale sign but a sign of failure.
"All the work we put into this house." "All the shower repairs, new tile, new septic, new AC, new appliances, what was it all for?"

Mike tried to reassure me, "Honey it's not your fault." "You didn't know you paid 3x the price you should  for a piece of garbage!" "Besides who knew the economy would tank right after you bought it?"

At this not so helpful comment I loaded the baby into the car seat and called over my shoulder, "I'm going for a drive."

As I drove along the river, Naomi joyfully chewed the hair on Jenna's cloth Tinkerbell doll and I mulled the situation over in my head. "Lots of people are loosing their homes right now." "I'm not judging them for it." "They aren't failures in my mind." "Why am I so disgusted with myself?" Was this the house that I planned to spend the rest of my days in and share cheery Christmas mornings with the Grandchildren playing games in the backyard? No.

But it was the first step in my adult independence.  The place my husband and I fell from friendship into love, the first home that both our girls ever knew. Our first place as a family. Then the last most terrifying thought that had been hiding beneath all others I asked out loud,  "Are we loosing our house because I stayed home with the kids instead of going back to work?"Like a child falling from a tree, the wind was knocked from my chest, my heart aching. I pulled the car over.

"Were they right, all those that said it couldn't be done?" "That I was crazy for wanting to be home with my girls and actually attempting it?" "That I would fail?" "I guess they're right-This is most definitely a failure!"
And for the first time I allowed myself to cry. Not just one wimpy tear streaming down my cheek but full on shoulder shaking, nose blowing sobs.  I'm not sure how long I sat there like this but at least three pairs of joggers were wondering if they should speed dial a mental health facility or run faster.

When I was too exhausted to cry any longer, the fog of self pity began to seep out the car windows and I noticed Naomi's joy filled coos singing out from behind my seat.  There she was, laughing adorably, grinning happily as she repeatedly  thumped Tinker Bell against the baby view mirror. I opened the car door and smiled at Naomi while her legs did the Happy Happy Joy Joy dance they always do when she sees me. I lifted her into my arms and kissed her soft hair.

Had staying home been worth it if it means we loose the house? Naomi's little hand clasped my shirt collar, "Ma ma ma ma ma," then she flashed me her 8 tooth grin and nuzzled her nose into my chest. Even if I did go back to teaching we still couldn't afford all the repairs.  Even if I was teaching, money would still be tight.  With daycare and rising gas and food prices, there still wouldn't be any money left over. I thought Mike's words over in my head, "Who knew the economy would tank?" Yeah, and who knew house values would plummet and gas would skyrocket? Who knew my original mortgage company would sell our mortgage and the new payments would be unrealistic! "Who knew you'd have food allergies and that groceries would be so expensive," I said to Naomi as I tickled her belly. If I was teaching we'd still be struggling and we'd still be loosing the house.

On the drive home I freed myself from the guilt that I had been carrying for weeks and resolved to the fact that we would soon be moving.  We gave it our best shot but with all things considered I had made the best decision I could when I bought the house 5 years ago. I've learned allot about home ownership, we both have, and we'll be sure that we don't make the same mistakes twice. For now we'll find a place to rent for a while. No matter where my family ends up we'll be home as long as we're together.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Shooting" Sweet Potatoes

Looking for a nearly effortless, sustainable, fresh food source? One that takes care of itself and requires the tiniest amount of watering about every 10 days? No matter how black your green thumb may be, you’ll be enjoying a delicious harvest in just four weeks. 

Before I became a stay at home mom (for a year) I was a 5th grade teacher who adored science and did multiple experiments with my 10 & 11 year old students.  What science fair would be complete without the sprouting sweet potatoes in soil vs. water experiment?  It’s easy and aside from watering, requires very little maintenance.  

So I did some research and to my surprise I found out that sweet potato greens are actually edible and are a common vegetable in Asian, African and Pacific Island cuisine. The leaves have a spinach like flavor to them and the shoots (harvested red, purple, or light green before they turn dark green & woody) remind me of tender asparagus when sauteed. The bonus? Sweet potato leaves are super healthy for you too & packed full of vitamin A, vitamin K, antioxidants, dietary fiber, essential fatty acids and folic acid (according to the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences at Tuskegee University, Alabama). They also improve immune function, and help to fight against cancer cell growth & heart disease. Wow! Who knew, right!?  

I have always been a fan of the sweet potato tuber in pies, mashed, casseroles-you name it! But since our discovery of the edible greens I have a whole new appreciation for this diverse plant. Mike and I love to make sweet potato greens with a little minced garlic, olive oil, chopped mushrooms and salt and pepper.  They are great as a side vegetable the whole family gobbles up and the best part is they grow back in just a couple weeks. 


1) To grow your own sweet potato greens simply take a sweet potato and jab three toothpicks into the top third of the potato. 

2) Place in a mason jar so that the picks are holding the potato off the bottom of the jar.  

3) Fill the jar with water until just the bottom third of the potato is under water.  

4) Lastly, place in a windowsill and wait.  

Four of our Window Garden Sweet Potatoes.
Note : Pretty much any jar will do.
Here I have a mason jar, peanut butter jar and a beer mug.  

Various stages of growth.
Three weeks, Two week and One week. 

Roots taking over the bottom of the jar!
I like to use clear glass jars because you can see how the roots are progressing,
when it's time to water again, and if the water is getting a little funky and needs replacing.
Trust me...if the water is funky you will smell it before you see it ;O.
Just empty and refill. 

New shoots :)

Yummy sweet potato leaves ready for harvest.

Harvested leaves.  Because they are grown inside you don't have to wash them!
Another time saver!

Below: Finished product! Enjoy!

I’ve had shoots start to sprout within one week and some that don’t sprout until up to three weeks later.  It just seems to depend on the potato.  But once it starts sprouting it won’t be long before you find tiny reddish/purple vines shooting all over the place and thin white hair-like roots shooting from the bottom of the potato to soak up the water in the jar.

I’ve got my entire kitchen nook windowsill lined with them. They look beautiful as they grow, with the vines hanging down and, with the right container, look like some high priced Better Homes and Gardens display.  My family of four makes a side dish of the greens from 8 sprouting sweet potatoes every few weeks. We buy our sweet potato tubers for $0.79 a pound ( so you really can't beat the fresh food investment. The best part is they keep on giving. My three original experiment potatoes have been sending out new vines for the past 6 months. They are now pretty shriveled and pathetic looking but the greens are still coming. Mike jokes that they should be taken out and shot but I have plans to "shoot" them one more time just for the pure food fun of it. So give it a try, you've got nothing to loose. :)

Research Sources:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Free Harvest

My dad jokes that I’m a thief.  I’m not one... at least not on purpose.  There was that one time that our snowbird neighbor was two month’s later than usual returning to her house across the street and I helped myself to the oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit littering the ground.  OK! Some from the trees too! But I really don’t consider that true stealing being she wasn’t here to enjoy them herself. Our other neighbor east of us said our citrus owning neighbor was planning to sell the house. I didn’t have her Massachusetts number to call to ask permission and the thought of all that delicious citrus being devoured by squirrels and worms drove me crazy. I just couldn’t see them go to waste!  Maybe that makes me a thief but we offered to pay her for the fruit when, to our surprise, she returned at the end of the citrus season.  She said not to worry about it. So I don’t plan to fret about it either.  

It’s amazing how many people aren’t interested in the fruit and nuts on their property.  Because of this Mike and I have several spots in our neighborhood where we harvest the free food from their trees, Yes Dad WITH Permission! About a mile from our home there is a rental house loaded with papaya trees.  A husband and a wife two streets over never use their loquats and are quite happy when we take buckets of them away, protecting their driveway from the mess rotting fruit makes.  Another neighbor happily lets me do the same with her mulberries.

But empty lots are the best.  As a kid I used to harvest and relish the juicy blackberries that grew wild in our neighborhood.  The tradition continues now with my own family.  This summer I’d like to try my hand at homemade blackberry brandy.  By my dad’s shop there are two wild mangos that grow near the railroad tracks (stringy eaten fresh but great in smoothies) and at certain times of the year you can even glean some guava too (though the close resemblance of stinky feet odor isn’t my personal favorite).  

I’m always on the look out for free food sources as I travel the neighborhood.  Just the other day the girls and I scored an empty lot loaded with lemons.  We asked the neighbors next door if they knew who owned the tree so we could ask for permission. He said that he’d lived there 15 years and had no idea.  He helped himself but couldn’t reach the lemons at the top and told us we were welcome to them if I wanted.  My eyes lit up like a kid finding a box of free candy.  

I ran through the wooded lot and tossed the beach blanket I keep in the car over the poison ivy and thorn bushes, trudged through the brush, and had Mike give me a boost on top of some electrical meter box thing. Standing on my tip-toes I hugged a branch till it fell toward the ground and started picking. All the while Jenna and Naomi were in the van strapped in their car seats.  Through the open doors Jenna was demanding at louder and louder decimals, “Mama! Just what do you think you are doing?” “Answer me right now!!! One, TWO, THREE!!!!!” Too caught up in my moment of free, free, and more free food bliss to respond to my 3 year old going on thirty, I quickly picked a basket full of lemony goodness.  Oh the glories of free findings!!!

When I got home I scoped out my free harvest for the week, 12 lemons, 4 papaya, and a large mixing bowl full of loquats.  Food doesn’t get any fresher than this.  And what better way to stretch a budget than by not having to spend a penny. Now if only I could find some coconut or date palms without any interested owners!  :)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Block

I'm not sure what is causing it but I am having the toughest time trying to crank out a blog lately.  Each morning I wake up and I'm all pumped to get something written down. But there is pottying and diaper changing, dressing, teeth brushing, breakfast making, breakfast eating, hair styling, breast feeding, and if I'm feeling super productive, add laundry folding and dish washing to a.m. routine. By 7:30 my girls and I head out for our stroller walk. There is fresh air all around, birds singing, Naomi babbling, and the smell of Gain detergent and citrus blossoms drifting on the cool morning breezes. In those rare quiet moments my mind soaks in the much needed oxygen and starts to race. 10,000 blog ideas that popped into my head during the past week play in fast forward super speed to the tune of my 3 year old's rendition of Queens' Somebody to Love.

But the rush of genius never lasts long enough for me to find a computer. By the time I get home and have a moment to myself my ideas have gone poof or the subjects that seemed so kaleidoscopically colorful that morning has faded into something mushy and gray near the far back corner of my mind. The most I've been able to write this past week are three titles and  half a paragraph.  I was talking to my husband this evening about my lack of inspiration, or perhaps motivation, and I came to the conclusion that the one thing that is different now than when I was writing 4+ entries a month is that Naomi is mobile. In fact if you look back through my blog archive you can almost date the month in which she started crawling and note the steady decline in blog entries leading to her walking.

Now I can hear some of you clicking your tongues at me.  What else could I expect when I was insane enough to have two children less than 2 1/2 years apart.  If I'm not chasing after the one to keep her from giving the dog a haircut "like the girls do on Parent Trap," I'm rescuing the other from standing up and splitting her head open on the underside of the dinning room table.  By the time I get both kids in bed I'm too tired to send an email let alone blog.

The biggest question I get from people who find out I'm a stay at home mom is always, "Don't you get bored?" To this highly amusing statement I respond.... "Never!" There is no time for boredom. Sometimes I wish I had the time to set aside just so I could have the privilege to be bored. After all who could be bored when you were 5 minutes late 10 minutes ago and you're struggling to help your three year old find her missing shoe that you are pretty sure the dog has hidden in revenge for the for-mentioned attempted haircut, only to find that the 10 month old has found it and is using it as a teething ring to break in  her newest bottom tooth. Yet something seems strange when you sweep her into your arms and realize she is wet but it doesn't register why until the three year old (rushing to retrieve her shoe from the death grip clasped hands of her screaming sister) slips in the puddle of dog pee (Mindy's real revenge), and thumps her head on the tile with an unnervingly loud thud.

*Sigh*....Such are my days.  Filled with chaos and joy, nonstop motion, and very few moments to write. So please bear with me, my dear readers.  Jenna starts preschool soon and I'm hoping the three half days a week will afford enough "Me" time that I can get over this writers block.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Advice From My Editor

Humans.  We're imperfect.
For the past couple weeks I have been making mistakes left and right. Messing up my words, confusing my homophones like your and you're, forgetting stuff I paid for at the store only to have to drive back and retrieve it at customer service.

I suppose my last blog entry, Unclaimed Treasures, was no different.  Only I didn't realize there was a problem until my dad told me so.  You see my father, Curt Oxford, graphic artistic by day ( and weekend song writer by all hours of the night (type Curt Oxford in Youtube), also serves as my editor.  He's been rather occupied lately and seeing as I didn't want to wait a whole month to pass before I uploaded a blog post, I published my post in the beginning of March without his critique.  March is almost over.  He read it today.  Apparently there were multiple problems that were brought to my attention.

In light of this new found discovery I would like to appologize to any of you 11 people who happen to follow my blog.  My goal had been to try and celebrate our stages in life, especially our last and perhaps most beautiful one.  I had wanted to try and encourage people that there are more important things in life than trying to be thin, large breasted and wrinkle free and that it is the legacy that we give to the world that has true value.  I hope that although I am in my 30ties this did not offend anyone.  I am not trying to say that I know everything or think I have all the answers- I know very well that I don't.  So please excuse me if I came off seeming that way.  

There are clarifications that need to be made about my grandmother as well. You see my grandma is very special to me.  She inspires me in so many ways, especially in the strength  she  has shown throughout her life.   My grandmother's mom was killed in an accident before she entered the 1st grade. Things were already difficult for them financially before that happened. They were so  poor they couldn't afford milk so my grandmother was raised on black coffee instead.  They had no heat and during winter it was so cold that if you left a glass of water by the bed stand it would be frozen solid by morning.  My grandma has seen difficult times and overcame them.  So when I said in my last blog that my grandmother  "is my encourager through the tight times," I meant that she offers me words of encouragement that although money may be tight now this is only for a time and that a hope for a better life is on the horizon (I in no way meant to insinuate that she gives me cash just in case that is how it sounded)

Anyway the last blog entry was swept up a bit and hopefully is now free from offending.
 But in case it is not please feel free to email any complaints to and I'm sure my editor will be happy to relay the information ;)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Unclaimed Treasures

I remember watching The Waltons reruns on television as a kid. It always seemed interesting to me that the entire family: husband, wife, 7 kids, and grandma and grandpa all lived in the same house.  John and Grandpa ran the saw mill together and with the help of the boys, and the assistance from hard working Grandma and Olivia, they managed to clothe each of the kids and put food on the table. Three generations, equally useful & important, working as one unit to keep the family going. Out of all the characters I loved Grandma and Grandpa Walton the best.  They were so full of strength in spirit, advice, insight, spunk, humor, and most especially wisdom. They reminded me of my own grandparents in many ways.

My grandmother turned 80 this month and she is a treasure trove of all sorts of wonderful information from child rearing advice to cooking tips. She is my encourager through the tight times and the tough times, the bridge to my heritage and one of my very best girl friends.  I eagerly look forward to my daughters and my biweekly visits at G G's (short for Great Grandma so my grandma isn't confused with my daughter's grandma-my mother). 

My grandma works in her yard every day for hours, she reads two and three best selling books a week, experiments with the latest recipes in each magazine, and God help the robber that makes the mistake of trying to steal anything from her house because Grandma is going to TAKE YOU OUT! When I asked my grandma how it feels to have lived 80 years she said, "It feels like another day to eat cake!" I had to laugh out loud-Jenna loves cake too, just like her GG.

In September I had a little life milestone of my own when I turned 30.  Like my grandmother's 80th birthday, my thirtieth felt like just another day.  I didn't really think twice about it until my father in law showed me a pretty picture of my brother in law's 20 year old girlfriend and said, "Remember when you were young and beautiful?"  I nearly fell off my chair and spilled my cup of tea. What the heck is that supposed to mean? Remember when I was young in beautiful, as in I'm NOT anymore? From his tone it appeared my value had decreased in his eyes because my age had increased. This incident left me feeling just a touch indignant.

As I paged through magazines in the waiting room at my daughter's doctor check up a couple weeks later, I became increasingly aware of the multiple adds featuring anti-aging creams, plastic surgery, and other ways to "turn back the clock." I thought of people I know, so desperate to look younger that they photo shop themselves to the point that they almost look younger than their children in family photos. Others who don't want to be called Grandma and Grandpa because it sounds "too old".  I had to wonder why our society is so focused on staying young anyway?

Our culture has a warped value system based on youth and beauty.  It has done a great disservice in stereotyping old people as chronically ill, unable to work, behind the times, slow-thinking, useless financial burdens on society. But the truth is that Americans over the age of fifty own 75 percent of all American assets and spend half the money. A full 70 percent of these people own their own homes. (Yes I researched this-I may be a nerd but I'm an informed one!)  They vote and are active in the community to a greater extent than young people. You can find them out there doing sports and outdoor activities, or working out at the gym. In reality a lot of how we live the later part of our lives depends on our attitude and lifestyle. People who think that aging brings infirmity and illness may unconsciously let that happen where others with positive views of aging may take better care of themselves thus remaining active, vital, and healthy members of society .

In stead of trying to look young our society should be focusing on keeping healthy in both mind and body.  We must never cease in improving what we know, learning new skills, eating right, exercising, and continuing to explore the world around us.  We are never too old to learn something new and experience the joys life has to offer.  Each stage and each age of our life is beautiful in it's own way and has it's own purpose: a stage of discovery and growing, a time for bearing and raising children, and perhaps the most important is our last season for teaching what we have learned along the way. Our elderly are the unclaimed treasures of this world.  We NEED the wisdom of older people and our aging population needs to realize that they have that wisdom to share.

I came across a story by Dr. Annemarie Colbin on a website that really helped to sum things up for me.  (This is my paraphrased version )

One day a woman was walking through the woods and came across an old gnarled tree. It's branches were wide with plenty of room for birds to play and build their nests.  It gave shade to cool weary travelers from the summer heat, protection from the wind, and provided life-giving oxygen to the air. The tree was useful but old.  It's branches were twisted, its bark full of nicks and wrinkles.  Then the woman noticed some young and beautiful trees growing nearby.  Their bark was smooth and pretty but they weren't good for much right now...not enough room yet in their branches for the birds, and they barely made any shade.  It was then that the woman realized what truly counts is what you are doing for others not what you look like. 

This is so true. I've got some smile lines developing around my eyes and a small patch of gray hairs peaking out of my bangs but as far as I'm concerned these are just signs that I've been growing some life experience. In no way do I wish to be 20 again.  It took many plateaus and an even larger number of valleys to make me the person I am today. Even still I have so much more to learn.  I certainly have a lot of life to live and knowledge to give before I've fulfilled my purpose on this Earth.  I look forward to that enthusiastically.  After-all the alternative to getting old is an early death.  I think I'll take growing old and growing useful instead.    

Grandma & Grandpa Walton
89 Year old Yoga Teacher Gladys Morris
Old women by Brooks Reynolds 

Some of the most beautiful women I've ever seen were 70s+ years old, silver haired, wrinkles and all.  Their eyes still shone like those of a 20 year old and behind them were the memories of a lifetime and the wealth of wisdom that only life's experiences can bring. 
85 Year old Catches 700 pound marlin 
Vietnamese woman by Dan Heller

95 Year old Woman Sets Running Record 
 Very Old Womenin Kalash 

 Four Generations: Me, Jenna as a baby, My Grandma, My mother.