Thursday, January 28

Wednesday, January 20

More Florida Pictures

I've continued to pirate Florida pictures from my friends as they've posted them on facebook, so a few more might be trickling in over the next few days.

Raymond is a local here in Cincinnati, and one of the widowers I see on a regular basis. He's also been in charge of putting together some of the details of the Florida bago for years. He's a great guy, and a good friend.
Sheila-probably my closest widow friend, and my roomate this year.
Lisa, a woman I met for the first time this year.

Sheila, Lisa, and I quickly became inseperable-when Lisa left Sunday afternoon, Sheila and I were a bit like sad puppies looking for her everywhere. It was so awesome to get to know another neat person!

Tuesday, January 19

Florida

As always, I am at a complete loss for words to describe this weekend. I'm really bummed that my camera wasn't located-I got a few pictures on a disposable camera I bought, but I didn't get it out right away, and I'm sure they're not great. The pictures I have here I cannibalized from Facebook, I didn't take a single one of them myself. Also, they're terribly out of order. Deal with it.

This weekend was, first and foremost, amazing and fun. I was so grateful to meet up with people that I already knew and love, and deepen those relationships. There were too many inside jokes and fun shared to recount it all. As a bonus, I also met a handful of other truly amazing people. There's something about another young widow-it's not something that can be described unless you've gone through it yourself. Last year it tore my heart out to sit in a room full of them and know that we had each experienced the same hell. This year, it warmed my heart to see that we all had experienced it-and survived. We're each at different stages in the process, but we're there. We're talking, we're smiling, we're laughing loudly-we're healing. We're remembering and rebuilding-and that's all we can ask of ourselves. I'm so proud of my bago buddies. I miss them, miss them, miss them. I can't wait to see them again!

Now, on to the pictures: These first few, I have no words for, really. Thankfully-I missed most of this. There were two bartenders who apparently share the same birthday, and both were scheduled to work on Sunday afternoon. There was a huge party at the outdoor bar at the hotel-complete with a live band, dozens of people, freely flowing alcohol....and a midget stripper. That's right-a midget stripper. The girls hired him-the widows just went along for the show. I was in the middle of a phone call at this point, but I glimpsed the end of his show from the hotel window. I'm grateful I missed the live action show-but many widows were (kind?) enough to share their pictures.

Believe me, you're glad I'm sharing the tamer photos here.

There just aren't really any words, are there?
And....here is where I stop. But yes, it went much, much, much further. It was....icky.
Of course, he started out his show by pouring shots down the patrons throats. Luckily, I missed this part too. This is my roommate and widow-sister, Sheila. Perhaps not the best light to cast her in, no?
Of course, Janine is the one that posted this photo of herself on Facebook, so she can't get too mad at me, right?
It's hard to think too long about midget strippers when this a few feet away.


It's tradition that Sunday morning we have a rose ceremony to honor those that we have loved and lost. Last year, I cried mournful, bitter tears. I threw my rose into the ocean and sobbed as it bobbed slowly away. This year-I kept my rose. As I stood on the beach, I felt sorrow at missing Ammon, but also a deep sense of hope and conviction for the path ahead of me. It was a release of sorts. I cried for him-hard-but I walked away ready to move onto the next chapter of my life. In the wind, I felt that he is pleased with my healing.
Wind-surfing. Very cool, and apparently harder than it looks.
This weekend, and these gatherings, are mainly about companionship. See this laughter? All these smiling faces? This is why I travel to Florida every January. The beach is wonderful, and admittedly a huge bonus-but I would travel to Siberia to feel the warmth of these souls. How I love them, and how they touch me.
Dona, Janine, Stephanie, and Beni.
Victoria, Suzanne, Lisa, Sheila, and Janine ready for dinner Saturday night.
Some of the group, Saturday night after dinner.
CVS-a favorite outing. Everything you could need, right across the street!
Hanging with the widows makes me crazy. I have no explanation for this pose. Leaping for joy, maybe?
Peggy and Lois, fellow boating buddies.
Sunday morning rose ceremony
The two on the outside? They just couldn't stand to leave. Got halfway to the airport and changed their minds completely. One more day of beach time!
Like I said, hanging out with widders make me crazy.
So far, my favorite picture of the weekend-and some of my favorite people.

Thursday, January 14

Tomorrow

I leave in the morning for the land of surf and sunshine. After a cold snap in Florida, temperatures are scheduled to be in the 70's all weekend-I gleefully packed Capri's, tee shirts, and sandals into my small suitcase last night. I love and adore my children, and I will miss them. However, I am NOT sorry to be leaving behind the constant background noise they create, the demands they place on my night and day, and the responsibility of caring for them. It is a MUCH needed break, and one I have been anticipating for months.

Some of you will remember my trepidations about going to Florida last year. I have none of these feelings of fear or uncertainty this year. I know most of the people who will be there this year, and I can't wait to meet the people who don't.

I can't wait to go snorkeling.

I can't wait to get hugs.

I can't wait to laugh.

I can't wait to cry.

I can't wait to sleep in.

I can't wait to re-tell my story.

I can't wait to talk about Ammon.

I can't wait to walk on the beach.

I can't wait to swim in the ocean.

I can't wait to go to Florida!

Sunday, January 10

Photo Year in Review

I saw this on another blog that I frequent, and even though I'm a few days late, I relected to go ahead and blatantly steal it anyway. Here is our year in brief photo review:
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December

Saturday, January 9

A Moment...

...in my life.

Monday, January 4

Public Service Announcement

I'm feeling impressed to step onto my Life Planning soapbox. I really sincerely hope it's just a fluke and that none of my readers have a reason to hear this nudge, but I've ignored this impression before-almost exactly one year before Ammon died-and I won't let anybody else pay the same price that I have if I can help it.

The bottom line is this: Get your Will and Life Insurance taken care of.

Almost exactly one year before Ammon died, I felt prompted to secure life insurance for him. Prophetically, I felt no urge to insure myself-but I felt a pressing need to get a good amount of insurance on his life. He and I were a poor, struggling college family. I was pregnant with Brooklyn, and we were preparing to move cross-country from Utah to Ohio. I spoke with him about it several times, but it was easy to convince ourselves that we couldn't afford the money every month to plan for a future we couldn't conceive of.

I wish, desperately, fervently, and almost daily that I had heeded that prompting. I daydream often about what my life would look like today if I had.

Within a month of Ammon's death in April of 2008, I had finally secured life insurance and a legal Last Will and Testament for myself. Here is what I learned along the way:

Life Insurance-
Get the very most you qualify for. Many insurance companies also offer a plan that will allow you to increase your life insurance by a percentage every year-in my case it is 10%. Take it-the increase to your premium is negligible, but the benefit increase adds up greatly over the years. It is not possible to have too much life insurance-it simply doesn't exist.

Get life insurance on each one of your children. I know it sounds morbid, but children die. The cost for a funeral alone is staggering-the obituary, the cemetery plot, the casket, the cement foundation for the burial plot, the cemetery diggers to prepare the plot, the funeral home to handle the cremation or embalming-these things are staggeringly expensive. Add in missed time from work, travel expenses for those family and friends that don't live near, hotels for incoming guests, and it quickly reaches into several thousand dollars-all spent in the space of a few days. My children each have a maximum benefit of $25K. It seems like a lot, but it would quickly be spent in the event that I would need to collect it for one of them.

My life insurance is due every May-I begin getting notices in February and March stating my full premium for the year. I reserve a portion of my tax refund-again, in my case it is usually about $500, and I pay the premium for my life insurance (and the children's) for the full year. I never have to think about my life insurance, or wonder where the money is going to come from every month-I pay it every spring, and rest easy knowing it is taken care of.

This goes together with my first point-secure as much life insurance as possible. There are limits to how much life insurance you are eligible based on your income. As a single non-working mother, I am not eligible for as much as I would like. As an only parent, I will not feel comfortable until I have at least 500K in life insurance-the amount that each working husband and father should have on himself. Right now I have about 375K, which will increase when I renew my premium this spring. I will also re-evaluate this amount when I graduate from school and begin working. Let me repeat-it is impossible to have too much life insurance.

With my life insurance, there is a clause that will allow me to forgo the premiums for a period if I am seriously and/or terminally ill. I can't remember if I am also allowed to withdraw some portion of my benefit-I need to check into this. Ask lots of question, get all the information you can.

Last Will and Testament-
This is not a living will. A living will, to my understanding, covers mainly medical decisions if you are not able to make those decisions for yourself. A Last Will and Testament is a final will-the will that divides your assets (including life insurance) property, and any minor children in your care. A will does not have to be expensive. I got mine online, at LegalZoom. It cost me less than $100, and about an hour of my time. It's an easy process-I answered a fairly long series of questions, reviewed what the program recommended, and paid for it. Within a few days, I received my will in the mail, complete and completely legal. I had to get it notarized-a simple procedure that can be completed at your bank for free.

My will is three-deep with everything. I have a primary, a secondary, and a tertiary beneficiary, executor, and guardian. Keep this is mind when you are assigning a guardian for a young child-although your Mom or Dad, or your husbands, might seem like the best choice-what is their reasonable life expectancy? Most grandparents are well past an age where they would be able to care for young children on a permanent basis. Most of you know that I love my in laws dearly, and trust them with my children regularly. However-based on their age, they are my tertiary guardians for my children. Both my primary and secondary guardians would have to be killed or otherwise be unavailable before my in-laws would get custody of my children.

Again, in my case I chose to assign the executor (basically the person in charge of all your belongings), the guardian for my children, and my beneficiary to be the same person. This will become an enormous burden should I ever die. She will be in charge of everything-my finances, my burial, my children, my possessions, my debt, and my life insurance. I spoke with her at length about this during the whole process, and she and I both feel that although the burden would be huge-it's easier and makes more sense for one person to have all the responsibility. There is less chance for miscommunication or problems to arise if one person is in charge of absolutely every aspect-both the assets and the problems. It makes solving problems much easier.

This is another seldom thought of fact-it is important to check the laws for the state the you live in. A common decision is make minor children the financial beneficiaries of any life insurance. I chose not to do this, because oftentimes if a minor is named a beneficiary, the money then goes into a trust fund until they turn either 18 or 21. Sometimes this money can be accessed by a guardian in specific amounts to be used for the children's care, sometimes it can't. Also, if there is more than one child, it becomes necessary to figure out how to divide the money fairly. What if you have a child that develops serious medical problems, and needs more money? I decided I would rather have the entire lump sum go to the guardian of my children-I trust her to spend it wisely and use it for their care.

Another situation that may arise-my chosen guardian originally gasped when I informed her of how much life insurance I have. Her husband makes a good income, and they could arguably take on my three children without a drastic strain on their life. However-in the event that I were to die prematurely, I don't want my children to be a strain on another household. I want them to be able to live in a house that is large enough. I want them to be able to take piano lessons, family vacations, and have a car when they're teenagers. Even a family who is willing and able to take in extra children would be hard-pressed to come up with these types of things without a substantial payout in life insurance.

Talk to people about your decisions. Talk to everybody. It is a common known fact that my life insurance papers are in my fire safe. Everybody knows what it looks like, and they know where it is located inside my house. As a side note-under the bed or in a closet is not the best place for your fire safe. While the safe will not actually burn, if they are in a place where everything around them is burning (a bed, clothes, blankets, etc.) it is possible that the papers inside a fire safe will get hot enough to disintegrate without the safe burning. Mine is stored in the basement, away from all the furniture and toys. If I were to ever decide to move the fire safe, I would inform my family of the new location. Also, my family knows where my copy of the key to my fire safe is, and my mother in law has her own copy stashed at her house should mine be unavailable.

Speaking of copies-when you get your life insurance paperwork every year, along with your will, make copies. Each of my guardian/beneficiary/executor has a copy of my will and life insurance paperwork. Legally-they are no good. They are simply photocopies of my originals, but they are more easily accessible than the copies I have, and could therefore be useful.

Talk to your children. I know this is a tough one. My children have had the unfortunate experience of losing a parent suddenly, and I mentally kick myself every time I remember the times we assured them that nothing would ever happen to Mommy or Daddy. It is developmentally appropriate for a Kindergartner or 1st grader to wonder "What will happen to me if Mommy and/or Daddy die?" Answer these questions. In my opinion, it is dangerous to make blanket life or death statements. Assuring your children that Mommy or Daddy will never leave them is a promise that cannot be kept, and will leave them more heartbroken than they need to be in the event that it is broken. My children know that I may die-but they also know that I will do everything I can to stay safe, take care of my body, and be healthy so that I can stay with them as long as possible. It doesn't have to be a morbid discussion-but it should be discussed on an age-appropriate level. Also, it's important to discuss with your children what will physically happen to them if their parents die. My children know where they will live, and they know that there will be enough money to take care of them. They don't know numbers, and they aren't aware that there is insurance on them. I don't think those things are important-just that they know that if something were to happen to me, they will be taken care of.


For the moment, this is all I have stewing around in my brain. Please, don't put these things off. I know we all feel young and invincible-so did my husband when he woke up April 11th, 2008. We never know when death or tragedy will come knocking at our door. Take a few minutes and discuss with your spouse what type of policy you need, and re-evaluate the policy you have if you've already gotten one. Take a hard look at how much you have-and do not forget the value of a stay at home mom. Daycare is pricey, and a grieving spouse will often takes weeks or months off of work in the beginning to cope with the rapid changes. The last worry you want at this time is a financial one. Take my advice-get this taken care of today. You'll never regret it if you do, you could regret it every day for the rest of your life if you don't.

Grinding

School starts again today, an event that I am simultaneously dreading and looking forward to. First of all, the kids are starting to go a bit stir-crazy being stuck in the house with me all the time, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't falling victim a bit as well. I have enjoyed leisurely morning-not having to jump out of bed and get anybody on the bus, not packing lunches at night, no homework or textbooks to read. However, I've also gotten pretty lazy. The house has seen better days, despite all the extra time I've had to work on it. My eating habits have spiraled back to a place I thought I'd never see again, and the numbers on the scale and the waistband of my jeans reflects it.

It seems to be an unavoidable fact that I thrive under pressure. The more I have to do, the more organized and efficient I become. Although a busy day exhausts me, I always feel accomplished by the end. Today marks the first day of daycare for the kids, as well. Kadon is thrilled about this change-we've visited the daycare several times to fill out paperwork and tour the facility, and he has been asking me for weeks when they will be able to go to the 'new school'. I'm sure they'll be fine, but it's another grief-bridge to cross. Daycare is something I was so sure my kids would never experience, and yet-here we are. I'm okay with it, I think. I don't have a choice, and the consistency will be good for the kids. I've been blessed with friends and family that have done more than their share to help with the kids the last 21 months, but it's time for us to have more regular and consistent care.

I have a second confession to make-part of me is looking forward to the challenge that this new quarter presents. Typically, I've lined up a pretty brutal schedule for myself. I'm enrolled in Anatomy and Physiology lecture and lab, Chemistry lecture and lab, Sociology II, and Medical Anthropology. As always, I'm extremely nervous about A&P, and less so for the rest of the classes. I achieved a 4.0 for autumn quarter, and have determined that is my goal for the remainder of the year as well-so I have some serious work ahead of me. It's okay, I'm equal to the task.

Saturday, January 2

John Williams is the Man

I swear I'll get back to regular posting soon, but in the meantime-this video is hysterical. I've seen it several times, and shared it with my kids, and it never fails to make me laugh out loud. Enjoy!

Friday, January 1

Picture Purge

Part of the reason I haven't been updating is because I have gotten so horrifically behind in posting pictures. I decided today to go ahead and post the ones I had wanted to center entire posts around, rather than continue to let them block my blogging efforts.

A few weeks ago, Kadon had his annual preschool Christmas concert. It was an absolutely insanely busy day, but it was fun to get together with families from his school, and it was a good start to a beautiful season. Here is a picture of Kadon with his favorite preschool teacher. We've been blessed to have her as part of our family for two years, and she's become an integral part of our lives.
Due to my ever-increasing schedule at school, I was forced to enroll the kids in daycare starting this Monday. The combination of daycare and tuition and preschool was too much for my monthly budget, so this concert was the closing of his tenure at Winnie the Pooh Preschool, and as Mrs. Haller's student. She and I both cried the last day I picked Kadon up from school, and I'm still sad that I won't be dropping him off into her loving care next week when school starts again. I truly hope we are lucky enough to find such a loving home in the daycare I've chosen.


This is the other teacher in Kadon's class, Mrs. Sullivan.
I was able to volunteer in Kadon's class the day all the kids made these shirts--it was fun, and a neat opportunity to meet the kids that Kadon is friends with.
Jeremy and Ammon shared a love of seafood that boggles my mind. Since Ammon's death, Jeremy has asked for various seafood delicacies on a regular basis, but my ignorance has prevented us from eating it. Seafood isn't something I eat often, and even if I were to eat it-I have no idea how to prepare most of it. I finally called John, a fellow seafood-lover, and asked him to host a seafood night for Jeremy and his family. He purchased a bunch of seafood, I contributed some cash, and they all got together to cook it all. Janice, John's wife and I, ate chicken while everybody else savored the seafood. Jeremy was so excited!
Brooklyn finally had her first haircut earlier this month. The stylist looks a bit cranky here, but she was actually very pleasant.
The haircut was mainly to trim off the super-fine and wispy baby hair on all the ends of her hair, and didn't change the shape or length much.
She's still sporting a pretty 'mullet' like hairstyle, with the hair on the top part of her head shorter than the hair near the nape of her neck. I'll spend the next several months keeping the hair at her neck trimmed until the hair on top of her head grows out, at which point I'll be able to do a more inventive style, or let it all grow out as one length. The joys of having a girl!

This last picture shows some of my best friends. The missionaries for my church, since I moved here, have been a huge part of my life. First the Elders, and after I moved-the Sisters. The come to my house on an extremely regular basis, and I generally provide some sort of food for them. In fact, I have become known as the food way-station for the missionaries in the area-I keep bubble gum on hand, my guacamole is legendary, and my popcorn is craved. They search for any and all excuses to come eat here-a fact I attribute more to their kindness and generosity than my superior cooking skills. This time, they were able to enjoy my favorite hot chocolate and some yummy popcorn. Missionaries rock!