Not In Vain

A friend, Rick Orci, posted a question recently: “Anyone taken a year off to find themselves or some such equivalent? If so, what did you find/learn?” My answer was easy – YES! Unfortunately, I could not write my answer in 140 characters or less, so here I am blogging about those lessons. 😉 I hope this will either inspire you to take a similar journey or apply at least one of these lessons to your life.

It was Spring of 1999, I was sitting in a class listening to a presentation about the atrocities happening to women and children in Serbia. My heart was moved and asked myself, “What am I doing with my life? I’m here in this class, but then what?” I have so much compared to others – good health, great friends & family, etc. After this class, I spoke with the presenter, and I asked him how I could help. He said, “Go!” I responded, “What?! Go?!” This interaction brings me to my first lesson.

Lesson #1: Pursue your dreams

Do not overthink things. Ask questions, seek wise advice and then make it happen. Passion is the greatest adrenaline we have. Within a month, I was on a plane to Macedonia helping refugees displaced by the Kosovo War.
Lesson#2: Don’t put too much value on your things

After I returned home, I knew I would be back there soon. I sold all that I had except for a suitcase that fit all my belongings. It is amazing how emotionally attachment I was to my things, but also how liberating it was when I gave them up. I traveled back to Maecdonia and Kosovo three more times that year.

Lesson#3: Kindness and hard work will take you further than intelligence
By traveling overseas, I put my formal education on hold, but I learned more in that year than I could have ever learned in a book or a classroom. Albert Einstein said it well, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Eventually, I received my BS in Global Business 5 years later.
Lesson#4: A hug can heal all wounds and break down all barriers

I was nervous about working with refugees – one reason being that I did not speak the language. I learned that a lot of the women and children there just wanted to be heard. They wanted my compassion. They did NOT need the “Everything is going to be okay” speech from me. A hug spoke more than words could ever could.
Lesson#5: When you empower people, they subsequently empower you.

In the end, these women and children helped me learned more about myself than they will ever know. I also met my husband during this journey. He shared the same passion and ideals, and we hope to be serving again in the same capacity soon.

*Remember – Your actions now create memories that you will reminisce about for the rest of your life.*

Before I go, I will leave you with the poem titled “I Shall Not Live In Vain” from American poet Emily Dickinson:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”

Room to Grow

I cannot help but blog about a conversation at the breakfast table this morning between my hubby and me. First, let me just say it is amazing how differently men and women look at the world and all our responsibilities.

Our family might be in the situation where we will receive an increase of cash flow. I suggested to my hubby that we use this “extra” money for a lawn guy. He quickly adjusts his posture and said, “What?! Well, what if we used that money for a housekeeper?” I responded quickly and said, “OK!” We both broke out in laughter.

Now looking back on the conversation, when I said we should think about hiring a landscaper, what my hubby thought I suggested was that he was not pulling his weight in the household. What I really said was: “Honey, I know you work really hard and study even harder. Why don’t we give that little chore to someone else, so you can focus on the family during your ‘free time.'”

Communication is an art – sometimes it is concrete and other times it is abstract. It definitely adds animation to the marriage 😉

Honest Scrap Award

I received the honor of being given the “Honest Scrap” weeks ago from Carrie Anne (@cbadov) at Another day, another thought. She is an avid blogger, and I only wish I could be as dedicated.

My first award

So as recipient of this honesty award, I now need to tell you 10 truths about me:

  1. I don’t like chocolate. Yes, I said it. I live in a household of chocoholics, but I would choose chips & salsa over dessert.
  2. I love traveling and people watching. There is so much you can learn about a culture from just watching people and listening.
  3. Even though I’ve heard I’m a great cook, I wish I did it more. I’m too lazy to plan out a menu, go to the market and prepare it at home, even though my family always gives BIG SMILES when I do it.
  4. I’m truly blessed with the best husband a woman could have! He was an unexpected candidate, but one of my best life choices.
  5. The best part of pregnancy for me was feeling my babies move inside of me – instant bond!
  6. I don’t think every baby is cute. Fortunately, mine are beautiful 😉
  7. I question my mothering skills more than I’d like. I want the best for my kiddos, and in the end, I hope I am giving it to them.
  8. I enjoy reading people’s statuses and perusing through pictures on Facebook, Flickr & Twitter.
  9. I am not a writer or a photographer, but if I had more time, I wish I could put more energy in these areas.
  10. I wish I had a job where I could stay home and get paid. I like the challenge of business, but I love the comfort of being home and watching my kiddos grow up.

And now I forward this award onto the following bloggers (for them to reveal some truths to us too):

House of Buxton

As I type this post, I hear the washer and dryer cleaning and drying clothes. I’ve always wondered how 2 little people could increase my laundry duties by ten-fold. Laundry before kiddos was so different – it was an activity that I might do while I watch a movie. Now, it is a all-day or weekend activity, which made me wonder why.

Then, it hit me…my daughter wears a couple of outfits A DAY. She has her morning outfit, which she wears indoor as she watches cartoons and enjoys breakfast. This usually is a stylish t-shirt with leggings. Next, comes the outdoor wear. She insists that she does not want to “ruin” her other clothes while playing outside. This means she will want jeans, a plain t-shirt and a sweater or jacket depending on the temperature. Finally, after her afternoon nap, she likes to wear either her morning outfit or a new dressier one, so she could look nice when daddy gets home. At this time, she will include a barrette or cutesy hair accessory. Okay, now you see why I have piles of laundry just from one “posh” child. When should kiddos start doing laundry? Ha! 😉

* BTW, it is true when “they” say boys are low-maintenance. The only reason my boy will want a new outfit is when his current one is too dirty, and usually I’m the one insisting on changing it, so I do not have clean up after him 😉 *

My daughter’s wardrobe is not the only place where she has an opinion – SHOPPING! She is truly “my” daughter. For Easter this year, she picked out the outfits for all of us. I was looking for outfits that would not break the bank. After looking in department stores and other smaller boutiques, we stumbled into Children’s Place where she found the outfits. I wanted something to coordinate, but not entirely match. Voila! She picked out the dress and found her brother’s shirt within minutes. The cost was within reason, and the rest is history.
Yves Saint Laurent said it well, “Fashions fade, style is eternal.” I do not want to crush her sense of style because of the burden of laundry. But, I cannot wait for her to start contributing to these duties 😉

The kiddos‘ outfits are from – the place where style and practicality meet!

Happy Good People Day 2009

Recently, as a hobby away from the kiddos, I have been exploring social media. On my journey, I came across a dynamic Internet celebrity named Gary Vaynerchuck. Today for the second year, Gary is dedicating this day to praising the people that are awesome and good – the people that have helped you become who you are, or the people that have shaped your approach.

Unfortunately, I am not a video blogger – I have no Web cam, and if I did, I would not know how to use one, so today I write to you. The person who is awesome and good is NOT a blogger, NOT a Twitterer and currently does NOT even have Internet access. Her name is Polly Jeanne Lewis, and she is my paternal grandmother.

The reason I honor her is because she has shaped the way I raise my children and approach life. When I think about a motherhood, my grandmother, grandmommy to me, always comes to mind. I asked her for one piece of advice as I was preparing to have my first child, and she said: “Your children will come into your household, and they will leave when they are adults, but you hubby will be there the whole time. Don’t forget about him.” Those words resonate in my head still. Social media is amazing – I can blog about what it is like being a mommy, and I can stay connect with old friends and meet new people through facebook and twitter, but at the end of the day, it is my hubby that is by my side.

Another piece of wisdom that my grandmommy told me was to ALWAYS forgive people even if you do not know why they did what they did. Complaining and bickering only produce the fruit of bitterness, but forgiveness gives you power and freedom. Life can move at a fast pace, but sometimes it is nice to stop and smell the roses with special people like my grandmommy and just listen to how awesome and good they are.

As an adult and a mother, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of my elders. The lessons I learned from my grandmommy, I hope, have carried over into my life to be passed on to my children. I encourage you to have a chat with your grandparents, and just LISTEN. They have such great stories about where they came from and what the world has become. Today I honor my grandmommy for Good People Day, and I am thankful for wisdom and advice!

How to Help Stay-at-Home Parents

I was flipping through channels and stopped on an interview of Dr. Laura Schlessinger speaking about her new book called “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms.” Love her or hate her, she wrote a list that was right on. I’d like to add stay-at-home dads to the list, though, because they are working just as hard as moms.

5 Things Dad’s Can Do to Help Stay At Home Moms

  • Cut out complaining or bragging
  • Find something to compliment about the home
  • Find time to talk to your wife as “your woman”
  • Brag about your wife and kids in her presence
  • Provide break or “girl” time for your wife

Even though I stay at home with the kiddos with no monetary compensation, it is the best job I have ever had! Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.”

$imple $aving Ideas

As many of you know by watching the news or listening to the radio, we are in trying times. A poll estimates 67% of American households are cutting spending (source: Washington Post Poll: High Anxiety Act). After sharing some ideas with some girlfriends on how to enjoy life on a tight budget, I’ve decided I should share with others. I hope this helps at least one reader on how you can live a “posh life” without breaking the bank – no pun intended 😉

First, let’s talk about one of the greatest words in English dictionary – FREE! Did you know that if you sign up for e-mail newsletters from retailers and restaurants, they will send you coupons, discounts and possibly a free meal? I have been fortunate enough to receive a $10 gift card from Sur La Table, free food from Krogers Co. (or Fry’s for those on the West Coast) and free meals on the month of my birthday and anniversary from various restaurants. Before settling for McDonald’s for dinner, plan ahead and sign-up for newsletters at restaurants that you enjoy or you’d like to enjoy. It is amazing how many will send you a welcome coupon for a free appetizer or dessert.

Next, reevaluate the stuff in your house. This step was revolutionary for me and my family. We decided that we could not afford to move into a bigger house, and we need to be content with the blessing that we had in our home. As many of you know, with children comes a lot of stuff – most of which you only use for a finite period. I read an article in the Better Homes & Garden Storage magazine that adviced you to go into a room and go through every single item in it. Ask yourself: “Do I really need that item? Am I happy that it’s there? Or, would I be just fine if it were not?” If you can find stuff to get rid of, get rid of it – it just creates clutter and it might have some value to others. Clean out your closet. Try selling it on craigslist or donate it for the tax deduction – all of which turn old stuff you don’t want to use any more into money in your pocket. Not only that, it’s often a psychological load off your mind to clean your house. BTW I am the hugest fan of craigslist – I have sold over $50k worth of goods on it and met some amazing people along the way 🙂

Sell books, music and DVDs cheaply on the internet via services like Also, if you need to buy books, check it out – has new and used books, and even cheap textbooks! It also has a great selection of DVDs, plus inexpensive Blu Rays.

Rethink cable. Instead of spending money on cable, we have chosen to subscribe to Netflix for under $20. With Netflix, you can get movies and television shows in the mail and also on you computer. I’ve also heard the Redbox is great. Did you know that most cable shows can been seen on their web site or over hulu?

Finally, dig into your community calendar. There are often tons of free events going on in your town that you don’t even know about. Check out GoCityKids or your local newspapers & magazines. You can often get free meals, free entertainment and free stuff just by paying attention – even better, you’ll get in touch with what’s going on around you.

On the Road Again

Moving can be tough on kids, especially when daddy is away. I know this personally since I moved twice in a span of a couple years when I was a teenager. It was not easy on me or my brother. I did not want my kids to feel like they didn’t have any control and that they were never part of this big move. To ensure my kids felt like they’re involved, I began making a list of things I wanted to make sure to do before we moved from Arizona and also things I wanted ready for them in Texas.

First, notify the teachers far in advance that you are moving. I had my oldest enrolled until the day we boarded the plane. I needed that time when she was in school to get packed and do last-minute tasks for the move. I think it also helped her be distracted by classmates. On my oldest’s last day, her class put together a great good-bye book for her. She read it on the plane to Texas. At the same time, start looking for a new school for your child. This was really important to me – Is it accredited? Is it more like a school NOT a day care? Is it close to home or to work? As you can see, I am a detail person. After deciding which school, show your child pictures and talk about the new school to build excitement.

Next, start talking about where you are moving to. Tell them about the neighborhood/area and all the things you can do there. I think my oldest and my youngest thought Texas was “The Promised Land.” Well, I know others call it that, so I guess they weren’t off the mark 😉

Plan good-bye parties for your kids! Do not wait for others to do this for you, even though I was fortunate to have friends who did. I took lots of pictures, and my oldest and my youngest love looking at their Arizona friends. It is a great way to remember their “old” friends. Saying goodbye is an important step in the moving process.

Next, make sure living arrangements while you are in transition are “fun”. We were privileged to stay at good friends’ home in Arizona, which felt like a big slumber party. We also stayed at “Abuelita’s” home when we arrived in Texas. Let’s just say the week before moving into the new house was more like a vacation for the kids than a hard, long-distant move. As you see, I bolded “for my kids” because it felt more like the latter for my hubby and me.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you in Arizona and Texas who helped me along the way to make this move as smooth as possible. You not only blessed me but also my kids. So that is my final item on my list – ask for help! For such a big life-change, you cannot do it alone.

Home, Sweet, Home

As I mentioned in my previous post, the family relocated to Texas. In September, my hubby’s company flew us out to check out the area and look at houses. After a crazy weekend of house hunting, I began to reflect on the question, “What makes a house a home?” To me, proximity to everyday activities, a nice, safe neighborhood and place that can hold my family and future guests is perfect. A “house” indicates a physical structure. While it may have four walls and a roof, it does not have any charisma beyond that. Conversely, a “home” offers a sense of place in addition to giving shelter. My family adds our personal touches that it makes it our perfect home 🙂

BTW, it was not until the last house we saw that my hubby realized what he wanted. Therefore, I left the house hunting to my hubby, and I knew the kids and I would make it a home. Fortunately, after a few weeks of searching, we were blessed with the following:

  • A spacious front yard where the kids can play
  • A quiet street with little to no traffic for my kid’s safety
  • A nice neighborhood with playgrounds, pools and tennis courts to keep us active
  • A backyard for the kids to play, so they are not watching too much TV
  • Carpet and tile floors
  • An office for privacy and “mommy time”
  • Three bedrooms
  • Two bathrooms
  • A room available for a kid’s play area for those rainy days
  • A laundry room – in our old house we did laundry in the garage which was SO HOT!
  • A spacious kitchen for entertaining family and friends
  • Upgraded countertops for easy cleaning
  • A fireplace for the cold, winter days
  • A garage for the car and storage of bikes, etc.

NOT Waiting on the World

As I was sitting at a red light, John Mayer’s Waiting on the World to Change came on the radio. It began to make me think. What motivates us to change things and why should we wait? My conclusion is passion or “zeal.” Zeal is described by Webster’s Dictionary as an, “eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something.”

Motivation is an interesting and often unstable human drive. It requires setting realistic goals and dealing with setbacks and sidetracks. Once the initial thrill of a decision is over, it is not so easy to make the effort to keep going. In the past few years I have lost my passion and become lazy, and I did not even know it. Instead of aggressively pursuing my dreams, I have been waiting for opportunities to come to me.

When I was younger, without children, learning and experiencing new things, zeal was easy, and I was motivated to change the world. I could not understand people who became complacent and were no longer excited about life. People said I would settle down once I had a little more experience with disappointment and defeat. I disagreed then, and I hope to always disagree.

Zeal and passion that cannot survive the disappointments and defeats we encounter will become laziness that prevents us from making a difference. Being zealous and having a passionate spirit are necessary to change the world, but laziness can creep in and quenches our spirit.

As a mom, I cannot be everything to everyone. (BTW, this is daily struggle of mine.) I understand that people and circumstances can distract me – most of the time unintentionally. I know I need to recharge and not try to be the Energizer bunny. I was talking to an older lady recently who treats herself to tea at a nice local resort and enjoys a book in the quiet lobby. It refreshes her and gives her time alone to reflect on life 🙂

I need to learn to make time for myself. Since I have had two kids, I have become a “home body,” and I put a lot of my focus on my children. I am sorry, honey. It is easier to put the focus on them than myself because it is exhausting volunteering and serving others. But in the end, my children are going to leave home, and what will I have? Where will my time and energy go?

At the end of the day, I am a mother, a wife, but most of all I am Jennifer who is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” My dreams are my dreams. I need to not lose sight of my purpose. There are people who need me, and in the end, they will bless me more than I bless them.

Even though I get tired physically, spiritually and emotionally, I want to remain zealous and passionate. I want to change the world. I want to be zealous, even if it takes me a little longer and I have to go a little slower. Life is too short to be lazy. The world is ending, and I am not getting any younger. And, I do not want to be a spectator. I do NOT want to wait for the world to change. I want to be a part of it.