Children of Military Divorce

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Categories Discipline, Divorce, Grief, Mommy Issues, Older Children, Parenting, Relationships, Single Parenting, Talking to KidsTags , , , 2 Comments
My ex-husband deployed to Iraq when our babies were 5 months old.
My ex-husband deployed to Iraq when our military babies were 5 months old.

Early in my pregnancy, I made the mistake of referring to our twins as “military brats.” Their dad told me that he would not accept that term. Our children, M and J, would never be allowed to use our family’s military connections as an excuse for brattiness or other poor behaviour. His point has stayed with me. It extends to our divorce too. Divorce has been hard on the children, but does not furnish them with a free pass to be badly behaved.

Military life is hard on kids. The moving, the extended absences of a parent and the fear associated with having a parent in combat are no small things. We’ve honestly had it pretty easy. Instead of having to move to a different part of the country or world every few years, we were able to stay in the Austin area for 8 of the 9 years that I was engaged or married. That gave us the time to build a solid steel support network. Although I got to stay put, during the time I was a military fiancée/wife, my husband went to Iraq twice, Afghanistan once, Korea once and was activated for hurricane relief. He missed every one of our daughters’ odd birthdays.

My ex is currently stationed in North Carolina. We live in Texas. This absence is much harder for my girls than the ones in the past have been. Perhaps it’s that now, at age 7, their memories are long enough to know what they’re missing. Perhaps this absence, where Daddy is stateside and in garrison, not overseas or in training, feels different to the girls.

My ex got to master the two baby hold before he was needed in Iraq.
My ex got to master the two baby hold before he was needed in Iraq. He was also a champion diaper changer and baby burper. He did not cut nails or breastfeed, but he was otherwise as present as I was to our babies.

I don’t have much patience for excuses. Instead, I believe in acknowledging our mistakes and identifying their sources to prevent similar mistakes in the future. When my daughters try to pull the army or divorce cards to explain away poor decisions, I acknowledge that it is difficult to be military children and have gone through our divorce. I then remind them that those things are no excuse for bad behaviour.

On Monday, my daughter M couldn’t find the shoes she wanted to wear to summer camp. I was less than sympathetic. I reminded her that she was responsible for her things. If she couldn’t be bothered to store her favourite shoes somewhere she could find them, that was too bad. She could wear another pair. I was not going to help her look for her shoes beyond double checking the shoe rack where they should have been.

There were a lot of tears, but when I ushered the children into the car, M was not barefoot. She had, however, left a pair of shoes in the middle of the hallways. These shoes were neither the pair she was wearing nor the pair she wanted to be wearing. I made her get out of the car and put them away.

She was not happy about that. She cried and cried and cried. Finally…

Dress greens with daughter http://hdydi.comM: It’s because you and Daddy got divorced!
Me: What is?
M: That’s my sadness. That’s why I have tears.
Me: Uh, no. Your sadness is that you’re dealing with the consequences of not putting your shoes away.
M: But I miss my Daddy.
Me: And so you should. Would you like to call him? You can talk to him. You cannot blame him or me for you not putting your shoes where they go.
J: There is a big hole in my heart. Around the center of my heart is a empty part. The center of my heart is M. The empty part is of missing Daddy.
Me: Sweetheart, I know. I think I understand. Remember, my parents are also divorced. I know that there’s a pain that feels like it would go away if Daddy and I hadn’t split up. But if we hadn’t gotten divorced, you wouldn’t have such a great step-mom and step-sisters. And this is one of those really really difficult things that is part of our lives that we accept.
M: My sadness is because I’m not used to Daddy being so far.
Me: I don’t understand that part. I totally understand that you miss him. What I don’t understand is why you think he’s away more now than he was before. He was gone a lot even when we were married.
J: It feels more away. Because he doesn’t get to visit so often.
Me: He didn’t get to visit much from Iraq or Korea or Afghanistan.
J: This is different.
Me: You’re right. It is different. And your feelings are normal. I wish you didn’t have this sadness. Do you want to call him on my phone?
J: No! I want to see him.
Me: Let’s figure out a way to see him, then! He’s going to pick you up for Christmas. Maybe we can find a way for you to fly to North Carolina for a few days.
M: So you’ll take us and fly home and come back to get us.
Me: No, you’d probably fly by yourselves. It’s called “unaccompanied minor”. You’d be with Sissy, of course, but the airplane people would be responsible for your safety until Daddy picked you up, or I picked you up.
M: That’s a good idea.
Me: He’s going to expect you to put your shoes away, you know.
M: Moooooooom!

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In Which I Find My Limits

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Community, Divorce, Feeling Overwhelmed, How Do The Moms Do It, Mommy Issues, Perspective, Single Parenting, WorkingTags , , 8 Comments

Army Wife to Single Mom

When my now ex-husband left me last March, there were plenty of things I worried about, but my capacity to be a single mom wasn’t one of them.

I’d been an Army wife during wartime during my entire career as a mother. Our soldier had deployed to Iraq when our daughters were 5 months old for a total of 15 months. He left for Korea for 12 months a year after he’d returned from Iraq. His subsequent tour to Afghanistan was a nice short 9 months. That didn’t even account for his stateside training-related absences, which could stretch to three months. We divorced when the girls were 6; Daddy had been living at home for under 3 years of their lives. While I would have loved to have had a meaningful co-parenting relationship despite the distances involved, we frequently went weeks or months without being able to communicate, so parenting decisions fell to me alone.

I was fully capable of managing our home and children without another parent around to help. I worried how our daughters would cope with the trauma of their parents divorcing, not living with Daddy even when we was stateside, Daddy’s remarriage and associated step-mom and step-sisters. I worried about how I would manage on a single income. I didn’t worry about whether I could parent my daughters “without help.”

I Have Help

“Do you have help?” people ask me, all the time. What they mean, of course, is do I have family members in the area who will watch my children or perform house maintenance or pick them up from school in a pinch. I don’t have family help, but I don’t consider myself to be lacking in help in raising my children and managing our lives. I usually answer, “We don’t have family nearby, but we have a great community network.”

My help comes in the form of daycare providers, camp counselors, and babysitters whom I trust as partners in raising my girls. Do I pay them in money (and sometimes theatre tickets)? Sure, but that doesn’t make their help any less meaningful. My help comes in the form of J and M’s friends’ parents, their teachers and counselors, and their Girl Scout leader. They give me the context of what is age appropriate and help my girls build their social skills and academic skills. My help comes in the form of supportive co-workers and managers, who make my kids welcome at work social events, who let me telecommute to give me an extra hour or two with my kids every week, who treat my kids like their own nieces. My help comes in the form of the company I pay to maintain my lawn. My help comes in the form of the neighbours who will trade a few hours with my kids one weekend for me taking theirs another. My help comes in the form of the HDYDI community.

I Have Limits

Photo Credit: elcamino73
Photo Credit: elcamino73

I started feeling overwhelmed over the last few months. My home, always messy, began to feel dirty too, something I usually do not stand for. My shoulders and hands began to ache without reason, an early warning sign I’ve learned to recognize as a bellwether of a resurgence of depression. I suddenly started fighting dandruff, despite having made no change to my shampoo or diet. I started dropping the ball on work assignments. I found myself avoiding picking up my telephone messages, a sure sign that  depression was looming. Last weekend, I was so clumsy in the kitchen that, after breaking two plates, I avoided any food preparation that might involve knives or fire.

On Monday last week, the weight of life felt too much to bear. I asked my boss whether I could take the rest of the day and all of Tuesday off. With the kids at summer camp, I spent those hours cleaning my house, going to the gym, getting my eyebrows waxed, napping and reading. I talked to a couple of close friends about how I was doing. When I returned to work on Wednesday, my shoulder pain was gone. The dandruff had cleared. I found myself humming on way to my office. When I received an email inviting me to perform in a local venue that would have been on my bucket list (if I had one), I was excited, not panicked at the thought of adding the rehearsals to my schedule.

The 15 Month Cycle

It didn’t take much to set things to rights. I just needed some “me” time. At first, I thought my losing my Zen was a result of the post-adrenalin slump following the completion of a multi-year project at work, but it wasn’t work that had been feeling overwhelming. It was Life that was bothering me, the weight of the entirety of M and J’s well-being falling on my shoulders.

I had an epiphany. This was the longest I’d ever gone being a single parent. While I worried about whether my ex would come home from combat alive, I always believed that after at most 15 months, my partner would be home. I wasn’t alone always going to alone in raising M and J.

Don’t get me wrong. The girls’ father has seen them since we got divorced, but it’s hard for him since we don’t live in the same state. He’s seen them 3 times since last August, when the girls and I moved back home to Central Texas, leaving Daddy behind in El Paso. (He’s since moved to North Carolina.) Much as I love my kids, I did enjoy the childless days and the opportunity to pick up around the house and to go out for dinners and game nights with friends. I didn’t quite feel like I was off the clock, though. Daddy brought the girls home ahead of schedule 2 out of the 3 times he had them, so I can’t completely turn off mommy mode when he has them, unlike when we were married and he’d take a few days off after deployments to be with the kids. Then, it was important that I did stop being Mom to avoid the temptation to try to teach him how to be Dad. Daddy and the girls needed space to get to know each other again. That just isn’t our dynamic any more.

I had hoped and worked for an ongoing co-parenting relationship with my ex, but it hasn’t panned out. He’s just not a phone and email guy and has a hard time making “theoretical” parenting decisions. He needs to be present in the moment to make child-rearing calls, and he’s just not around. J broke my heart a while back, observing, “Daddy spoils us. He’s more like a grandpa than a parent.”

The 15-month respites I could rely on as an Army wife are no longer available to me as a single mom. So now, I need to use my help, in this case summer camp and an understanding boss, to find my own respite.

I have my mojo back and a much better understanding of where my limits are.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Mothers' Day After Divorce

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Categories Co-parenting, Divorce, Holidays, Mothers' Day, Perspective, Relationships, Single ParentingTags , , , 4 Comments

I was divorced in June of last year after 8 years of marriage. I never saw it coming. Mothers’ Day in the US is 2 Sundays from now on May 12. It will be my first since our family was completely restructured and the ground ripped out from under me.

My mother-in-law was my best friend and confidante, and the best grandmother I could have ever desired for my children. She is loving, yet firm. She spoils the girls as only grandparents can, but has always respected my rules and boundaries. Sadly, my former in-laws have chosen to cut me out of their lives, despite my ex-husband’s very clear indication that he didn’t desire that and wanted the children’s well-being to come first. I won’t be sending my former mother-in-law a Mothers’ Day gift this year after 9 years of cards, flowers, and gifts. The running list I had of perfect gifts for her needs to be put away permanently. The reality that this surrogate mother is forever lost to me is really hitting home. Rejection hurts.

Things with my ex-husband were as polite as divorce can be. We didn’t involve lawyers, except to spend our tax refund to hire a single lawyer to draft a divorce decree incorporating the terms we agreed to on our own. I sent my ex a note a list of things that I’d taken care of for his family that he would now need to own on behalf of our daughters: thank you cards, Christmas and  birthday presents, summer visits and, yes, Mothers’ Day cards.

I’m pretty sure that Daddy’s going to forget about the girls’ Mothers’ Day cards for Auntie and Grammy, but I need to accept that it’s no longer my place to remind him. I can still teach my daughters about honouring those who love them. I can make sure that my ex’s new wife gets a card from our daughters. After all, this is her first Mothers’ Day as a stepmom. If picking up cards for her inspires the girls to ask to get cards from Grammy and Auntie, I won’t say no. It’s not my place to tell them to do so, though. This post-divorce co-parenting thing doesn’t come with demarcations of what duties are his and which ones mine… and that’s not even the hardest part.

Who do you honour on Mothers’ Day? Do your kids send cards to their grandmothers, aunts, and godmothers? Who in your family keeps track of card- and gift-giving occasions?

Sadia is mother of nearly 7-year-old identical twin daughters, M and J. After 8 years as an army wife, she made the surprisingly minor transition to single motherhood. In August 2013, she moved back to Central Texas from El Paso, where she had moved a year earlier on orders from Uncle Sam.

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Switcheroo

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Difference, Divorce, Parenting Twins, Relationships, School-Age, Single Parenting, SleepTags , , , , , , , , 4 Comments

My daughter J cried herself to sleep last night, as she had the night before.

The first night, it was because I made her go to bed without a bath after she earned a timeout. She earned the timeout for backtalk and kicking at me for asking her to take a bath. Yes, that’s exactly as circular as it sounds. Last night, the tears were because I didn’t let her finish her science homework because she remembered it (after I’d asked 2 hours earlier and she’d told me she was done) 1 minute before bedtime.

Over dinner tonight, I had to lay out our ground rules again. I’m willing to hear the girls’ opinions, but they are to listen/obey first, then talk.

We’d talked specifically about what had gone wrong last night earlier in the day, after we’d all had a chance to sleep on it. I reminded J that I’d made it very clear that both my 6-year-olds were to be in bed at 8:30, no matter what.

“You didn’t explain that properly,” she retorted. “‘No matter what’ isn’t even words!”

“I know what ‘no matter what’ means,” her twin, M, piped up helpfully from the other bed. “It means, ‘no exceptions!'”

My girls have a tendency to react to bad behaviour from Sissy by being extra-helpful and extra-cheerful. It’s actually a great arrangement from my perspective, since it means that I have only rarely had to deal with both girls crying or acting out at once. Most of the time, they’re both very good-natured and bouncy, so I’m glad they don’t get down in the dumps together.

When I go to the bottom of what was bugging J, it was concern about the next week. Spring break starts tomorrow, and the girls will be driving off with Daddy to spend the week with him in El Paso. They live with me, and this will be the longest they’ve spent with Daddy since he and I separated last April.

Tonight, it was M who cried at bedtime.

“When the overwhelmness fills my whole body,” M explained through her tears, “it makes tears come from my eyes. I’m going to miss you too much. I hate this divorce. Divorce is a ugly stupid word. I wish no parents ever fought ever and there was no word of ‘divorce.'”

J was the one to try to lighten the mood, reminding her sister of a movie they’d watched with their school counselor at ‘divorce club,’ the monthly meeting for 1st graders with divorced parents.

The nutty thing is that, until the last month or so, J has been the one completely in touch with her emotions. She’s been the one who explains to me clearly exactly how she feels about all the recent changes in her life, while M has acted out and needed a lot of help to get to the root of her worries.

This sort of role switcheroo happens all the time with my girls. One will be extremely mature and in touch with her feelings, while the other is a mess with no idea what’s bothering her. After a few days, or weeks, or months, they’ll suddenly switch roles. One will bury her nose in a book 24/7, while the other wants to play, and one day, the arguments will remain exactly the same, but with J and M reversing positions. When they were babies, M was the one who loved to be held and rocked and snuggled, while J would cry to be put down. Today, J’s the one who lists “snuggles” in the “need” column on school assignments on needs versus wants, while M tells me that my goodnight hug was “too much squishing.”

Of course, there are a lot of ways in which M and J are consistently distinct from each other. M can talk the hind leg off a donkey and just be getting started. J takes earnestness to a fine art. M is a picky, picky eater, while J is usually open to liking new things if I can convince her to try them. J has the ability to warm a stranger’s heart with one word or look, while M can leave people writhing with laughter with her wry humour.

I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing conscious about the way that J and M go about reversing roles and maintaining balance, but I can’t help thinking that the sensitivity that they’ve learned from adjusting to each others’ moods and needs will serve them well in personal and professional relationships throughout their lives.

Do your multiples switch roles?

Sadia lives and overthinks matters of parenting in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is newly divorced and works in higher education IT. She will be at work, not at SXSW, this week. Her daughters, M and J, are identical 6-year-olds in 1st grade.

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I Know I Can't Be Objective

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Categories Attitude, Bureaucracy, Co-parenting, Development, Difference, Divorce, Education, Mommy Issues, Parenting Twins, School, School-Age, Unique needsTags , , , , , 3 Comments

My 6-year-old daughters are being evaluated for the Talented and Gifted program at their elementary school. If they qualify, they’ll get to participate in more in-depth study of certain subjects than their peers. The dual language program at their school, in which they participate, already incorporates components of the Talented and Gifted curriculum, and their teachers do a great job of giving them assignments that keep them challenged and engaged. Still, I really do think that they’d benefit from the additional small group environment of TAG.

Every parent knows that their child is special. I think there are very few parents out there who’d describe their children as average, even though the average child is, well, average. I’m not even going to pretend to be objective. In my eyes, J is the sweetest, most thoughtful child to ever grace the earth. M is the funniest, and it takes every iota of self control not to spend every second of every day kissing her most kissable nose. They are both brilliant. It’s a good thing that the people evaluating them for Talented and Gifted services aren’t their parents.

But, wait.

J and M both brought forms home from school yesterday. I’m supposed to fill out these “Scales for Identifying Gifted Students” comparing them each to their age peers. Under Language Arts, one criterion is, “Reads or speaks with expression to create meaning.” Under Creativity: “Is an excellent improviser.” Leadership: “Is sought out for peers for advice, companionship, and ideas,” and “Is viewed as fair or caring.”

I cannot be objective. I just hope that the teachers reviewing these forms know that no parent can be, and are looking more at the examples I provide than the rankings.

I also struggle not to compare my girls to one another. They’re incredibly evenly matched, but J is just a little more interested in current events than M. J was the one who cried every day of the Arab Spring uprising in Libya, while M merely listened to the news and commented. M is just a bit stronger in math. While J is content to work on multiplication and calculations of area, M has leapt ahead into volumes and higher exponents. I imagine that if I were the mother of just one of them, I wouldn’t pause to mark their abilities in those areas as “Exhibits the behavior much more in comparison to his or her age peers.” I’m not the mother of just one. I’m a mother of twins, and I can’t help but compare them to each other. I know I’m not alone in this; my friends who have several singletons frequently talk about how a younger child compares to how the older one was doing at the same age.

The girls’ dad gave me the pep talk I needed soon after I photographed each page of the forms and emailed them to him. “It is important,” he wrote to me, “not to compare our daughters with each other because is it not an accurate measuring stick. For this, I think we need to try to compare them to the other children we see and are familiar with.” He talked through with me some of the areas I was waffling on, and some of the areas that he was uncertain of, not having been around the girls very often this year. He was pleased to learn that J has developed an interest in World War II, and that M is started to want to read more about Native American life before European contact.

I was pleased to have his thoughts, his perspective, and his partnership in co-parenting our children.

Of course, my ex thinks our girls are even more brilliant than I think they are.

Do you aim for objectivity in parenting? How do you achieve it?

Sadia tries to stay half a step ahead of her genius 6-year-old identical twins in Austin, TX. She is assisted in her efforts not to spend all day kissing her daughters by escaping to her full time job in higher education technology in Austin, TX. Her ex-husband is currently stationed 900 miles away with the US Army in El Paso, TX.

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Marriage and Multiples

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Categories Family, Multiples in the News, RelationshipsTags , , , , , 6 Comments

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about how having multiples effects marriages.  There seems to be the idea that parents of multiples are more likely to divorce, though there aren’t any easy statistics specifically on this topic.  In response to this media coverage, parents of multiples are responding:

  • The website Mothers of Super Twins (MOST) is conducting research to a survey to better understand multiples and marriage. Please take a few minutes to participate in their survey.  I’ll post an update when the survey results are available.
  • Multiple Births Canada has released an information circular on the topic outlining studies on the topic.

I’m not planning to share the intimate details of my marriage with you, but here are few ways that having twins has impacted our relationship:

  • We’ve spent a lot of time talking about our values and priorities. Our decisions about spending money are more considered now that we are living on one income. We are now planning to sell our house and move to a larger house in another part of the city as we seek the right balance between work, family, money, school, childcare and community.
  • We have less time for ourselves and for us as a couple.  When our son was young we traded babysitting with other couples so we could have regular date nights.  Now that we have 3 children and many of our friends now have 2 children, the thought of caring for 5 children for an evening is overwhelming. As the girls get a little older and less reliant on breastfeeding, we might be able to arrange a night out more often.
  • We have to be more explicit about what we need (i.e. help with the children, time for a project, a few minutes by ourselves, etc), and we need to rely on each other more for support.
  • More of the physical space of our house and the space of our relationship are occupied by children. They demand our attention and our energy when we are with them and when we are away from them too.  We have to be more conscious about taking time away from being parents to being partners.
  • Parts of our lives are more structured as we make plans while considering our children’s schedules, the time and hassle associated with getting everyone ready, the stress versus enjoyment of the activity, and the other demands on our time (doing laundry every 2 days, preparing meals, keeping the house clean, etc).

Now many parents with more than one child, whether they are multiples or not, probably feel these pressures.  I think what makes these challenges unique to parents of multiples is that they are unexpected (going from 1 child to 3 children meant unanticipated changes for everyone) and they are more intense (having to feed, change and soothe 2 babies is the middle of the night is different than caring for one baby and one toddler).

Please take a minute to complete the MOST survey: Divorce and the Multiple Birth Family.  And, share your comments about how being a parent of multiples has impacted your marriage and your suggestions for parents of multiples.

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Pinching Pennies and Tightening Our Belts…It’s All About Saving More and Spending Less

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Categories Family, Mommy IssuesTags , , 6 Comments

Anyone out there remember learning about Victory Gardens? According to Wikipedia,

Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at private residences in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort these gardens were also considered a civil “morale booster” — in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. Making victory gardens became a part of daily life on the home front.

I have been thinking about those gardens lately…little plots of dirt and seed that united our nation. The reason why I was thinking about those gardens was because we as a nation seem to be facing a new challenge together: finding ways to stretch our dollars. There is no getting around it, the price of EVERYTHING is increasing, and people are changing the way they live their lives, much as the gardeners did. I truly believe that saving money and being thrifty and conscientious of our dollars and cents is going to be the new “in” thing. You can quote me on that the first time a celebrity announces they are clipping coupons!

I wanted to address several issues in this post, and if our readers are interested in reading more, I will address some of the more specific ways we MoM’s can save money in future posts.

Let’s start with this: Conflict over money is the number one cause of conflict and divorce. Yep, number 1! And with gas prices rapidly rising, grocery prices skyrocketing, and all of the child-related expenses (times 2 or more!) we face every day, living life is pricey.

As a stay at home MoM, or a paycheck collecting MoM, now is the time to keep your eyes wide open. It is not time to shy away from the truth of your family finances. Regardless of who pays the bills in your household, I believe it best for both husband and wife to be aware of the money coming in, and going out. Simple budgetting and regular discussions about your financial needs and wants will go a long way toward making your marriage with your financial partner strong.

Regardless of your current earning status, we as MoM’s are stewards of our family finances. More often than not, we are the main shoppers for our family. We have tremendous “buying power.” How we choose to spend our money makes us the most powerful consumers in America! (okay, maybe I made that up, but I bet it is close to true!)

Another lesson that I have been learning lately is to practice contentment. It is so easy to get caught up in the idea that things=happiness. According to the huge pile of “things” in my basement, awaiting their time to shine at my upcoming yard sale, “things” DO NOT=happiness. Nope, they actually=more dusting! I think I may have to stop watching HGTV, as that channel does not help me to be content!

What are your current money worries? Do finances play a large role in your daily life? Would you like to read more about this topic? What money saving topic would you like to see addressed?

 

 

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