Going After Dreams While Saving For Your Kids’ College

DreamsCollegeSavingsLiving your bucket list dreams has to cost a lot, right? Can only the wealthy afford to check off their goals? Are the rest of us left to fulfill only one or two?

Not really. My family is living out more dreams at a time when it would seem least likely for us to do so.

My oldest child will be a sophomore in high school this fall. Her younger sisters are going in to eighth and fifth grade. College, or to be more specific, paying for college, looms bigger in our minds every year. We’re busy saving up, especially as education costs continue to rise.

Yet we’re also enjoying great experiences living the bucket list life.

FirstCubsGamesmLast week my two oldest daughters went to their first major league baseball game at Wrigley Field. They rode on a coach bus to the city, sat under the overhang between first base & right field, and enjoyed hot dogs Chicago style (or rather, my middle girl did – the one I’d least expect to). It was a breezy summer afternoon, with a slight drizzle, and for once the Cubbies won. My girls’ were in bucket list heaven (minus the beer someone dumped on their feet in the first inning – after all, this is real life).

That same evening I took their younger sister out for dinner and then to meet actor and author, Chris Colfer at our city bookstore. And their dad was on his way to Finland, where so far he’s already played three disc golf courses – adding to his own bucket list accomplishments.

The sum total of what it cost our entire family for all of those experiences? $22.50 ($18 for a hardcover book autographed by Colfer, plus $4.50 for a Chicago style hotdog). Definitely not how little I had expected any one of those to total. Yet there it was!

Now, we happen to live in an awesome smaller city that draws people like Chris Colfer. My daughters got their free tickets and transportation to the Chicago Cubs game through an organization we’ve all volunteered for. A work trip took my husband to Finland. All of us had to simply grab the (virtually free) opportunities that presented themselves.

If you don’t believe you should have a bucket list right now because money is tight, or it’s going to be tight, then you are missing out. Over and over again I have seen how the ideas and goals we’ve put on our bucket lists have become possible without breaking our pocketbook. Saving for college and fulfilling bucket list dreams are not mutually exclusive.

It’s impossible to predict when or how you’ll be able to reach a goal, but that’s half the fun of making a bucket list. Stare down the impossible and dare it to happen. [Tweet this]

After all, getting my kids through college without going into debt is on my bucket list!

Same event, different story

BalloonBurnerMy hair whipped around my face and into my eyes so I could no longer see the crowd gathered round. I held tight to the ropes, turning my back on the cold air. And then came a short blast of burners. Heat rushed past my arms and the nylon envelope of the balloon billowed and began to lift up. Within moments I released the ropes and ran to grab the edge of the basket to keep our pilot on the ground.

Eyes to the Skies 2004

Me and my oldest two girls at the festival in 2004.

It was my first festival working the balloon crew. And I was loving it!

For the past fifteen my family has visited the Lisle Eyes to the Skies Hot Air Balloon Festival. The first few years we rode our bikes in the early morning haze, babies in tow, to watch a field full of balloons inflate. The 6am launches became a family tradition. Some years we headed out for more than one morning’s festivities, during the multi-day event.

Later we feared our move to an adjacent city would dampen our experience of the festival. Instead we were surprised to find our new home on a flight path for balloons launching from the fair grounds. One dawn we were awakened by the familiar sound of the burner blast. I looked out the window above our bed to see a hot air balloon floating over our house. During a more recent festival a beautiful sport balloon touched down in the field behind our house. Other years we’ve sat in our backyard on Fourth of July weekends watching groups of balloons drift in the distance over our fair city.

During the years of attending balloon launches on the festival grounds we have walked among traditional and shape balloons. We have stood inside a cold air inflated envelope (the fabric part of the balloon) for a TV news program. My children have climbed into baskets to gaze up into the balloon, and watched pilots fire the burners as they passed on floats in Fourth of July parades. We’ve witnessed launches and landings and even helped pack an envelope.

It was the same balloon festival that we returned to year after year. Yet every year was different.

From the very beginning, when I learned that the festival took volunteers to help the balloonists inflate and take down, I knew I wanted to be a part. “Work a balloon crew” went on to my bucket list (along with, of course, “ride in a hot air balloon” – never mind that I’m afraid oBalloonInsidef heights).

This year, with our children older and valuing sleep over balloons, my husband and I took the opportunity to join the morning launch crew (the 5:30am shift). And it did not disappoint. We learned a lot. We worked. And we had fun.

It may be another fifteen years before I’m actually airborne in a hot air balloon. But until then, I expect I’ll continue to experience new facets of the sport each year. Because the best bucket list adventures aren’t about the destination. They’re about the journey. SingleBalloon

A Great Summer Read: A Minor, by Margaret Ann Philbrick

I’ve heard that a large percentage of people dream of one day writing a book. We all have stories inside of us waiting to be told. But far fewer of us actually do the writing. That’s because it is really, really hard work. So I’m excited today to introduce you to my friend Margaret Philbrick, whose first novel, A Minor, recently released. I was privileged to read chapters of her novel as part of a writer’s group we’re in together through the Redbud Writer’s Guild. Even those drafts, rough as they were at the time, were fascinating. Margaret is a poet and a gardener, which both come through clearly in her writing.

a-minor-novelAbout A Minor:

Clive Serkin, a teenage piano prodigy, seeks victory at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow, and enlists the help of world-renowned pianist Clare Cardiff. She becomes his mentor and teacher, and even though she is more than twice his age, Clive finds himself falling in love with her. After Clare is diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Clare’s estranged husband Nero takes her away from Clive to pursue further medical testing. Clive is faced with the challenge of traveling to Moscow and performing at the competition without his beloved mentor. Ultimately, he must discover if the music they share is enough to keep them together.

Q and A with author Margaret Ann Philbrick

1. What inspired you to spend four years working on A Minor?

My children all play the piano, and our oldest son’s teacher requested that a parent sit in on the lessons and take notes. We would then review with him during the following week. As he moved on to college, I was left with a notebook full of wisdom that needed to be shared, but I didn’t have the framework for an idea. While I was having lunch in South Haven, Michigan, I started talking to my husband about what it would be like for a concert pianist to lose his or her memory. That question took me on a one year research journey to find the answer.

2. Did you use the notebook from your son’s piano lessons?

Oh, definitely. In many ways the voice of the main character is the voice of my son’s teacher. There are aspects of her in the work that I’m sure she’ll recognize when she reads it, like her clogs. She always wears these precarious, high-heeled wooden clogs. I’ve never known anyone to wear shoes like this in the summer with bare feet. She’s a fascinating conundrum.

3.  Your book has some unique features, like a Discussion Guide in the back and recorded music in the eReader that anyone can hear while they are reading and live links to other resources. How did all that happen?

Well, I love Koehler Books because they are open to thinking outside the box of what a book can be. When I created A Minor, I thought about the music first. If you were only listening to the story, what would it sound like? Then I outlined all the musical works, and I’d listen to them while writing. It was important that the music told the story as well if not better than the words. Eventually, the idea came to me that I wanted the reader to have the same experience. Koehler Books was open to partnering with me in creating that experience. My husband, who is a lawyer, was an enormous help as well. The Discussion Guide is for the classroom or book clubs. As a teacher, it comes naturally for me to ask questions so people can learn more. The live links send the reader to the places where they can get help with memory issues in their own family or even for themselves.

4. Is it hard to raise a family and write a novel?

I can say my writing drives my kids crazy. My youngest son calls me the “bat.” Sometimes he comes home from a piano lesson, and I’ll be at my desk in the dark, writing by the light of the screen, too engaged to turn on any lights in the house. I try to write when they’re not at home, during the school day. It’s definitely not good for them if they feel like my “callings” are taking the place of them. Sometimes I’ve had to drop everything or step away from a project entirely, but raising children is a very short season and hopefully, I can write for the rest of my life.

About Margaret Philbrick:

Margaret PhilbrickMargaret Philbrick is an author, gardener and teacher who desires to plant seeds in hearts. Margaret is a graduate of Trinity University (Lit. major) and has a Masters in Teaching from National Louis University. She teaches writing and literature to children at The Greenhouse School www.the-greenhouse.com and H.S.U. She is actively involved in the fulfillment of God’s vision at Church of the Resurrection, www.churchrez.org and she helps empower the feminine voice by mentoring with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, www.awwp.org. Back to the Manger, her first book is a holiday gift book she created with her mother, an oil painter. Her newly released novel, A Minor, was published by Koehler Books. You can find Margaret in her garden digging in the dirt or writing poetry and you can connect with her on-line via her website at www.margaretphilbrick.com or on Facebook.

A Great Gift For Any Occasion (Hint: It Involves Sharing Time)

A recent issue of Family Circle featured the story of Lynya Floyd, who asked her friends on FaceBook to honor her birthday by leaving a message on her timeline – but not just a generic wish. She asked them to offer a suggestion. Floyd’s request? “Please note one epic adventure we haven’t been on that you hope we will have one day soon… And I promise I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make it come true.”

Isn’t that brilliant? What I love about her request is not just that she’s open for adventure, but that she sees the value in sharing it with others. Floyd made sure her friends knew she would follow any idea. Floyd goes on to share about some of the escapades that have resulted from that post. She talks about how she has learned more about herself, but it is also clear how much of a role her friends are playing in stretching her notions of adventure and how much she is learning about her friends from their responses.

Now, asking all your friends to suggest adventures may seem like a lot to handle, especially if dozens of friends offer their ideas. And it could be overwhelming, albeit thrilling, to receive them all at once. But there’s nothing that says you have to ask for it as a gift to you. Why not turn around Floyd’s idea and use it as a gift to someone else? Especially this time of year when many of us are racking our brains for unique and appropriate ideas for graduation and Father’s Day gifts.

What grad wouldn’t like the gift of a card offering to take them on an adventure of their choosing? High school and college graduation are a time of transition already and grads often have a mindset of anticipation. They are primed for adventure.

And for Father’s Day you could learn something new about your dad by offering this gift. Maybe you already know what adventure your dad would like to take. But when you ask with the intention of it being something he and you would do together, how might that change? In what way would he want to spend time with you that you haven’t before?

Adventures can take so many shapes and forms that fit any budget. Why not invite someone to tell you what kind of adventure they think fits you both – and then do it?

In the comments, tell us one person you’d like to gift an adventure with and what you think they might request (or what you hope they will request).

 

Bucket List Adventures Imperfectly Done

Grand Ole Opry NashvilleMy family visited Nashville for the first time last week. We spent five days of our spring break in the city and checked off multiple bucket list goals (including seeing Nashville itself). We had a great time that promoted family bonding, even though we could have done better at making the most of it.

Which is how it often goes. There’s life as we envision it and life as it actually happens. I’m getting better at accepting imperfection and embracing the benefits that come with the altered version. Here is how that played out for us last week:

The good

  • we all enjoyed the Country Music Hall of Fame – a bucket list tour of sorts for our country-music-loving eldest daughter. We were able to take our time (about two hours-ish) and were duly impressed. It was eye-opening to see the breadth of musical styles encompassed by the term “country music.”
  • we ate some incredible food. With a rented condo, we planned on only eating out for lunch. We made it to two well-known Nashville eateries: Jack’s BBQ and Arnold’s Country Kitchen. At Jack’s we people-watched out the large second-story windows overlooking Broadway. Arnold’s, with its communal seating and friendly busboy had a down-South homey feel.
  • we spent tons of time outdoors. The weather was amazing – in the upper 70′s/lower 80′s every day and sunny. Thankfully most of our itinerary involved the outdoors. We spent one day touring Belle Meade Plantation and then the Cheekwood Botanical Garden. A second day found us out on a Nashville disc golf course helping DH check another one off his list. And we walked around the campus of Vanderbilt University. After the horrid winter we had, the warmth and sunshine were so, so appreciated.
  • we relaxed. A lot. Planning dinners at our condo meant we spent most evenings just chilling – either playing games or watching TV. That downtime did us all some good. We arrived home at the end of the week feeling pretty relaxed and replenished.

The disappointing

  • we didn’t hear much music. While downtown we ate at Jack’s, not a venue with live music. We stopped in at one of the honky tonks, but with three kids in tow and no meal to eat, it felt uncomfortable. The upshot? DH and I will return to Nashville one day without kids and spend a lot more time taking in the music. Disappointing, but not a vacation wrecker.
  • we didn’t experience as much regional food. I had been hoping to try one of the hot fried chicken restaurants. But the way we planned our days left us miles and miles from one at lunchtime. Twice we just grabbed the nearest food we could find (including a food court at the outlet mall before touring Gaylord Opryland Resort). Bummer for us, since we all would have liked to have eaten better. Under the circumstances there was not much we could have done about it though. And I don’t regret the dinners at the condo for the downtime they provided.

I share this because the reality of any bucket list adventure is that it will not turn out one hundred percent according to plan. At the time, our family enjoyed ourselves so much, we didn’t particularly notice what was missing. It wasn’t until we got home and recapped the trip that we noticed the lapses. So overall it was a success. And that’s the point, right? It’s not so much about getting everything perfect as it is to be present to what you are doing and take joy in that. Plus, if a place or experience is that good, what’s not to like about finding a reason to do it over again?

When have you let go of “perfect” in order to enjoy an adventure as it happened?



Help for Spring Break, Spring Cleaning & More: March/April Articles

The kids are bickering, the house is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all. Does that sound like your family’s spring break? No? Maybe yours goes more like this: the kids are bickering, your car/hotel room/suitcase is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all.

Spring TipsParenting and its challenges has no end. There is no getting away from the needs of children and the pressures of running a household. But there are ways to keep yourself in the midst of the joy more often. There are solutions that help you get away from the stress to regroup and refuel – together. I’m thankful as a journalist that I can take some of these common problems and run them by experts and fellow moms for interesting, helpful and doable solutions. In the March and April issues of parenting magazines in the U.S. and beyond, I have articles that offer great insight and tips on these very problems. I hope you’ll read them for yourself so that you can enjoy your family – both during spring break and in the months to come.

Spring Break & Having Family AdventuresFlagler Parent

Planning a Spring Break that Doesn’t Break You, Calgary’s Child

Have You Ever: An Invitation to Adventure, Flagler Parent

Spring Refreshers & Why Kids Should Help with The Chores

31 Refreshers That Take 15 Minutes or Less, Okanagan Child

Chores Make the Grade, Houston Family

Sibling Spats

A Special Solution to Sibling Strife, Atlanta Parent

Public Restroom Comic

Parent-Child Relationships

Mother & Daughter, Shoulder to Shoulder, Family Australia Magazine

Humor for Moms of Preschoolers

The Perils of Public Restrooms with Preschoolers, The Village Family Magazine



Photo credit: Tulip Era in the Ottoman Empire… by Kivanc Nis on Flickr via CC License.

Bucket Lists & Delayed Gratification

I share in my Op-Ed published in today’s LA Times why I think crowdfunding is not the way to go when it comes to underwriting your bucket list adventures. Not that I’m against crowdfunding. It has a great history and serves a purpose.

One factor I didn’t mention that I think is at play in the rise of “narcissistic” fundraising is the degrading of our ability to delay gratification. The internet and other technologies have trained us to expect everything in an instant. But instant doesn’t work for bucket lists. In fact, instant disregards the very nature of a bucket list: we haven’t yet done something that we look forward to one day. It’s important enough, meaningful enough for us to put on a list and wait for it (or move slowly toward it, depending on your perspective).

I’ll admit that there have been multiple occasions where I have satisfied a life dream before even putting it on my list because I realized how much I had been longing to do or see that very thing at the moment it presented itself. And while those have been amazing experiences, the ones that would have otherwise been less significant but were long-awaited brought me more satisfaction.

My point? Be willing to wait on your life goals until you have saved up for them. The waiting can be an experience itself where you learn more and grow into someone who is better prepared to make the most of that life goal. I truly want to travel to Tuscany one day. It’s at the very top of my list. But in the meantime, I have a much longer list of things I will do to prepare for that day – like research where I’ll stay and what I’ll do. By the time I can afford it, I will be so excited and ready.

If you stopped by here after reading that Op-Ed, welcome. I hope you’ll check out my list of bucket list resources, which includes digital tools for writing and tracking your bucket list. There are some pretty cool ones out there that integrate social media (yes, you can engage with others about your list – I would just say refrain from asking them to fund it).

And if you haven’t already made a bucket list, particularly if you want to make one for your family that contains ideas of what you want to do before your kids are grown, check out my guidebook, Family Bucket Lists. I offer questions to help you make a more motivating, meaningful list than what you’d think of off the top of your head (if your list right now only involves travel, you are missing some amazing, easily reached goals). It is available in paperback and on every digital platform. You can download it now and be creating your list today or working through questions this weekend during family time.

 

Photo credit: Crossing of a 3rd item on the list by Kyle Clements
on Flickr via CC License

One Family’s Laid-Back Approach to Youth Sports (& How it Turned Out)

SoccerPhoto

Playing Club Soccer, Age 9

I went to a parent meeting for the high school girls’ soccer team this weekend. I paid for uniforms, “met” the coaches, and learned what it will mean for my eldest to play for her school.

But I hadn’t always assumed that day would come. In fact, for the last week during tryouts I sweated decisions we made about sports for our kids.

Because for the past 7 or 8 years I have pushed back against the industry that is club sports and that I believe too often manipulates parents’ fears for the financial gain of its operators. I campaigned for a more laid back approach to childhood where kids aren’t “molded” into superstars through costly channels. And I was about to eat my words… Or not.

Yes, our daughter made the team. Though she didn’t get a top-tier slot, we’re pleased with the outcome relative to what she has put into soccer thus far. I thought this might be a good time to share a little bit about our non-intensive sports experiment. Here’s a recap of what we did and did not do.

We didn’t:

  • give in to the pressure of a club coach who scouted our daughter on the soccer field in second grade and promised us that she wouldn’t make the high school team if she didn’t sign up for club level that year. His blatant play on our fears was what opened my eyes and set me off on my course of pressing back against the cultural establishments that raise the bar so high at great expense to players and their parents.
  • avoid club sports altogether. My daughter was intimidated by the intensity of club play as a second grader. But by fourth grade she wanted to give it a shot. And a less expensive club option came up. So she joined a team for two seasons. And then played on her junior high basketball team and ran track. Ultimately she found another soccer team to play on concurrent with her school sports.
  • focus on playing year round – for any of our three girls playing soccer. Even though all three have been standouts on the field and could advance with continuous training, none of us appreciated the lack of downtime. The cost of burnout outweighed the benefits in my mind. Some kids may be able to handle it (although research indicates their bodies may not). Mine preferred a break. So we have always taken breaks from everything – sports and other extracurriculars.
  • pressure our kids to excel. Although I won’t say I have never been tempted. When your child is scouted by a club coach or praised for their abilities, it’s easy to want to see them develop more and go further. Which can make a parent pushy. I have learned to temper my desire to see them succeed and go beyond the ordinary with a desire to honor their wishes. While I don’t always execute it well, I try to be encouraging and suggest options without ever forcing it.

We did:

  • encourage sports and being active. Whatever our girls have shown an interest in (within reason), we have signed them up for. And when they’ve tended toward coach potato behavior, we have guided them back into finding clubs and sports to join.
  • fuss at our kids to practice at home and work on the skills being taught by coaches. Only so much happens in a big group of kids during an hour or so practice. Every coach has asked for short practice sessions at home. We have always tried to have our kids respect that request. It hasn’t always worked out, but the aim is there.
  • relish time together as a family. When my kids weren’t busy we made sure that we were doing things as a family – often at home. We played games, did housework, and just hung out together. And we also kept the in-season schedules simple enough that most of the time we could be at games together to cheer on whoever was playing. Obviously a high school sports schedule is going to change that some.

I’m not saying that our decision not to follow the intense year-round club avenue is the best for everyone. I’m not going to say our choices got her on the team or even that she’ll play on a high school team beyond her freshman year (although, after the parent meeting, I’m hopeful). I’m also not in a place to say that club level play would have guaranteed anything either. I do realize our high school’s team benefits from excellent players trained through club involvement – I just wish for all of our sakes the stakes weren’t so high and invoked at such a young age.

What I will say is that none of us regret our decisions about sports. Our schedule has generally been stress-free because of our choices.  I can count on one hand the number of times my girls ate a meal in the car between events. Plus we haven’t shelled out thousands of dollars to “invest” in our kids’ sports careers. We also never made a decision for our kids based on fears for their future. We prayed for wisdom to make sound choices. We trusted God to go before them and make a way. We put family above the individual.

Looking back and considering where we are today, I’d say on many metrics, our experiment was a success.

 

Photo credit: Stewart Seman

 

Why You Need to Rethink Social Media This Spring Break

We’re a connected society. Ellen DeGeneres’s record-breaking Oscars Twitter selfie is just one proof. We text, tweet, pin and post our way through our days. We browse, troll and read too. It keeps us in touch and informed. We can be supportive and get support. But there comes a time when social media usage can do more harm than good. And that’s when we are on a break or vacation, in particular, Spring Break.

no cell phonesHere are two reasons why you may want to unplug from online connectivity for that week (which you are probably planning for right now):

- Comparison kills contentment. It doesn’t matter if you’re off on that much-awaited trip to your favorite destination. If you glimpse FaceBook posts from a friend’s getaway that is just as nice or nicer than yours, you may experience a let-down. Even more so if your break is a humdrum one to begin with or your plans have gone awry. In fact, no matter what you plan to do during your time off, hopping on social media may bring you down. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that subjects felt a greater decline in at-the-moment mood and overall life satisfaction the more they checked in on FaceBook. Social comparison plays a big part in that decline. Whether you will be home or away, relaxing or jet-setting, cut your risk of succumbing to the comparison trap by avoiding the urge to network online.

- Playing for an audience is distracting. Admit it, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand if you’re constantly wondering how it will play on social media. Should I tweet a photo of this meal? Update my status from this museum? These thoughts, conscious or unconscious, about how we will appear to others based on how we are spending our vacation can pull us away from engaging fully where we are at. Tell yourself you can review photos and post updates from your time off after the fact. Giving yourself the freedom to disengage from the expectations of the invisible social media audience allows you to satisfy the people right in front of you, especially yourself.

It might be hard to do – staying off of your favorite sites for multiple days. But I think you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Give your whole family the best chance to thoroughly enjoy all that you have planned (or unplanned) for your vacation. By setting up that expectation now, you can make the most of your time in advance (including notifying followers that you will be checking out for a week). And you can plan for no-pressure break that doesn’t have to measure up or appeal to anyone but you and your family.

Does the idea of a week off from social media relieve you or scare you? Have you ever taken time off from your online networks? If so, how did that go? I hope you’ll stop and share your thoughts.

 

 

One Way to Accomplish More in Your Life

Bucket lists are funny things. We are all proud to have one (in our heads). We love to chime at the mention of a cool exploit that we envision ourselves completing one day (and hence would include on our theoretical list). We like to tell the stories of things we have done and adventures we have taken (a long time ago). But for most of us, that’s where it ends. All talk, no action. Which is a shame.

The point being, most of us don’t believe it is actually possible to realize our life lists. <Tweet this>

Which is an even greater shame, because we receive invitations to make a life goal a reality every week. Those invitations include offers that are local and affordable. And we let them slip by.

I’m talking about email offers sent by deal-aggregators such as Groupon, LivingSocial, or Amazon Local. These companies do an amazing job pulling together cut rates for events, classes and adventures that could easily fulfill anyone’s bucket list, without breaking the bank.

In just one email today I found offers for:

  • a Brazilian cooking class
  • tickets for a Lionel Richie & CeeLo Green concert
  • a 5K Obstacle Race
  • a public speaking seminar

all of which cost under $40 apiece.

The breadth of the offers is inspiring. These companies understand how to appeal to an audience with varied interests. There is no reason you couldn’t find a deal to match something on your bucket list within a month’s time. A deal that takes place within driving distance of your home. That costs the equivalent of a night out or less.

It is possible to begin realizing your long-held aspirations right now. You just need to stop talking and start paying attention to those deals in your inbox. Take the first step to pursue that idea you’ve been considering for a while. It may be a leap into your next adventure.

I assure you that you will not regret clicking on that bucket list deal. You’ll only regret that you hadn’t done it sooner.

In the comments tell us: Have you ever bought an offer through a deal aggregator? What did it enable you to do that you may have skipped otherwise? If you haven’t found a deal before, what will you be looking for as you scan your inbox in the next month?

Photo credit: Rugged Maniac 2013 by Jason Meredith on Flickr via CC License