Saturday, July 28, 2012

Judging Failure
How do you feel about failure?

How do you feel about your failure?

I hate it.
I want to be successful.
I want to be great,
important and meaningful.

I've written about failure quite a bit on my blog (see Learning to Fail and Failing in Soccer & Survivor)
I suppose it's a common theme in this season of my life.
In some ways I'm a big failure.
In some of the most important ways, even.

I'm not a pessimist. I'm not overstating the facts. Seriously, in some ways, I've really blown it.
My checkbook and a handful of important yet ruined relationships can testify to that account.

But now, standing on this side of good intentions gone wrong, I'm forced to have a different perspective on failing.

Don Miller writes in an April blog post that
"People who live great stories know that failure is not a judgement, it's an education."

That gives me hope. Great hope.
What if I could learn that my failures don't have to seal my fate but instead propel my next experience?
What if I believed that?
How differently would I think about myself?
My situation?
How would my job/vault/marriage/etc. play out?

Perhaps I am on the right track. Perhaps I can write a better story with my life!

What if failure is the fertilizer to the soil of my soul?
An education not a judgement?

I think I should start being a little gentle-er with myself....pronto!

Do you know about The Failure Club on Yahoo? This intrigues me greatly. Have you failed? How do you feel about your failure?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Corn on the Cob, Pioneer Women & Finance Friday

I was working at the store a few weeks ago.

While checking out an elderly customer asked if I knew where the employee was that - and she went on to describe a fellow employee. The woman explained she was looking for her because she knew she liked sweet corn and she wanted to give some away.

I explained the cashier she was looking for wasn't working that evening but intrigued I asked, "Do you sell corn?"

"No", she replied, she just liked to give it away, usually to people she knew from her church.

"Oh" I said and handed her her items "thanks for stopping in".

"Do you like sweet corn?" she asked.

"Yes!" I eagerly replied, "Very much!"

"Well, I have more than enough. I'll go home and bring back a bag. It's a big bag dear can you come out and get it from my car if I just pull up?"

"Yes mam!" I said.

Sure enough, within a few minutes she returned and presented a seed corn bag overflowing with delicious ears of corn. We had a pleasant exchange in the parking lot. She was surprised to find out I had 5 kids and I think she was pleased to know that we were certainly going to consume every buttery kernel she had gifted us. As we parted ways, I gently touched her arm and expressed exactly how much of a blessing her corn was.

I think my eyes must have expressed the weight of my gratitude because she paused for a full ten seconds before embracing me in a hug.

Perfect strangers we were.
A chance encounter, really. But significant nonetheless.

At home our pantry was getting bare, waiting for someone to go to the grocery store.
That someone was waiting for the 10th of the month.
When I left for work we had bare cupboards when I returned we had a corn feast.
It was a bit of a miracle.
I believe in miracles.

I also believe that the next time I fantasize about pioneer women and how much simpler their life must have been I will recall the hours and the mess it took to freeze all that corn.

Oh! I'm thrilled I was able to stockpile some corn and fill the bottom of our freezer. It will be perfectly delicious this winter with mashed potatoes & fried chicken ... it's just that what took my sons and me to do in 3 hours I could have bought at the grocery store for $4.00 in 5 minutes. Thus, pioneer women did not have anything easy.

I will confess one thing - the next time I sit down to my table, creamed corn before me, say grace and thank God for the food that He has provided I will mean it. Because that corn was a miracle.

Corn can be miraculous.

It's Finance Friday on To Write a Better Story - the day I dedicate to documenting our journey as a family of 7 living below the national poverty line in effort to create a better future. You can catch up on Finance Friday submissions here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Make Space

I hate cleaning out my closets

I'd rather give an impromptu speech in a foreign language naked in front strangers broadcast on international television.  I know, right?!?

member of the amazing EMERGE team
and yet every changing season I must. Seven people live here and we have four closets (feel sorry for me?). So I must locate the too small & off season clothes and make room for what will fit & cooperate with the pending extreme weather here in the Midwest.

In yesterday's blog I encouraged readers to "make space" in their life for meaningful relationships.

That is easier said than done.
I should know.

Recently, I was asked "How do you do it?"
Wife. Mother to 5 children (including twins). Work outside the home. Work inside the home. Go out to lunch. Read a book. Write. Blog. Sleep. Clean. Cook. Play.....

Honestly, it's not the first time I've been asked that.
Sometimes that bothers me.
Because I don't -emphasis on DON'T- have all my ducks in a row. My life is NOT perfect. My days are hard and long and exhausting and grueling and dissatisfying and I've developed a heel spur that might drive me directly to Nervous Breakdown-ville, a locale I've been working very hard not to visit.

Sure, I have my systems. I have schedules set into place. I've trained my kids to do their own laundry. But I've not got THE answer for how working/mothers/women/wives do it (I assure you if I had I'd have written about it by now and my kids' college education fund would be, um, you know ... in existence).

But this I know. This I remember:
I am not what I do.
I am not the laundry
cleaning lady
taxi cab driver.
I am not the parent educator
wanna be writer
wife of Aaron
who's happy existence balances upon my successful completion of the tasks in my life.

I am Stephanie.
And when I am feeling like I am forgetting that I am a person - I go about making space.
It's not easy.
I sorta hate it like I hate cleaning out our closets.
But I do it.
I carve out time, a lunch date perhaps, an hour with a good book, a delicious chocolate cake recipe or even walk the dog.
I make space in my life to be me.
Not mom.
Not wife.
Just me.

Does that make me feel guilty? Yes.
Does my family understand that I need it? Of course not.
Do I make a big deal out of it and throw fits if I don't get it? No.
But I find the time when I can.
Even though it makes the laundry pile up or dinner comes from a box -
I find time, make space, to be me.
It's not often.
And I certainly hardly ever found a way to make space when I had wee ones, but now that the kids are getting older, now that I can slip out for a few minutes here and there ....

I have found great value in making space.
I encourage you to do the same.

What are some ways you have made time in your life for what's important to you? Please share! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Little Girl in the Big City.

I live such a little life.
Little town, little influence, little importance.

Most days I like it like that.
Things are simple.
We live. We struggle. We laugh a lot and play even more. We have Sunday morning family time and a makeshift laundry room in the basement that runs like a 24 hour laundromat.

This is my life.

Some days, sometimes, every once in a while, I am able to step back out of the ball games, calendar planning, grocery shopping and taxiing of children
to nurture a different aspect of my life.

I had that day yesterday.
It was divine.

I woke early, got ready in the dark of my bedroom and snuck down the stairs of our home before my family awoke, to catch the 3 hour train to Chicago where 3 of my most significantly influential friends waited for my arrival.

We toured the city. Walked the Miracle Mile. Took photos by the river. Ate a luxurious lunch. Laughed. Shared. Challenged. Listened. Encouraged and bought too much popcorn for any human's proper consumption.

Then, with tired feet and a stockpile of memories, I returned to the station where I found a seat on the train and allowed myself to be propelled back to my small life and the responsibilities of it awaited my return.

With my head gently resting on the cool window, I found myself wishing for more time. More time in the city. More time to eat, shop, relax and laugh over lattes and Nordstrom's strawberry chocolate cake. Alas, it was not to be. So .... I was at a mental pinnacle ...would I wish for the more I longed for or relish the time I took?

I choose relish.
my gorgeous friend taking in the view from the Round Room 

As the trees and corn fields flew past, I closed my eyes and expressed my gratitude for the women with whom I was able to spend the day. Each of them, in their own way, in a short amount of time, managed to make me feel heard. They challenged me, encouraged me and edified me.
Little me.
Mom of 5.
Finding her way.
Making a life.

Do you have relationships with people who make you a better person? Who draw out your strengths? Who believe in you when you don't. Who see in you what you won't?
In my opinion, it is worth the time and investment to make space in our lives for these types of relationships.
Make space in your life.
Make the time, make the space, make the effort. Because it's worth it.
Don'tcha think?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Saving for Slovakia - Mission Monday

me & my playgroup friends
I'm going to Slovakia!

 It will be my fourth trip to that country and I couldn't be more excited!

This November, I will be using my professional training as a Parenting Educator with a Roma Gypsy community in Slovakia. Roma babies & preschool age children are behind developmentally due to lack of resources & education. We know that if those children start school delayed the systemic poverty in their lives will perpetuate therefore cementing the cycle of poverty in their communities.

This is not ok.

Part of our team was there last week doing some ground work. Literally. They spent a week cleaning up trash, fixing concrete & even hosted an American-style BBQ! The response from the Roma? Check out @HowellConnect's tweet:

& check out the photo from the picnic --->

Listen, I'm not a wealthy woman. I've been brutally honest about our current financial season on Finance Friday. I don't have vacation days, holiday bonuses or old family money and yet I contend it is worth my resources and time to participate in a greater cause that helps others live healthier, better lives.

So I'm going.
I'm tentmaking
and raising support
and I'm making it happen.

I couldn't do it without the love & support of my family who never fusses every time I have a shift at the store that takes me away from time with them. Nor could I do it without the friends and family who have given, supported, pledged & encouraged me along the way.

They believe in me and that's a treasure to my heart.

To know more about my trip check out the Glogster I made which includes a video about the plight of the Roma children and my friend's site Howell Connect.

If you want to help make a difference.
If you want to be a part of a good cause.
If you want to help me
*teach parenting classes in Europe
*provide tools/toys for children living in extreme poverty
*create a reproducible curriculum for use in Roma communities all over Central Europe

You can give.
Here's an online link or contact me directly for sponsorship information.

The need is big but a whole lot of little make much. Join with me today & follow me @Steph_Sikorski this November to follow along on our trip!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

RePost: I Bet My Bag is Bigger than Your Bag

I loved this post I wrote back in March. It's a rallying point for mothers everywhere who have to carry all their kids crap like me!
Bandaid? I got it?
Creamer? I got it!
video game? stickers? snacks? pens? paper? reading material? medicine? nail clippers?
I got it. I got it. I got it.
I carry it all with me everywhere I go. A mother of has to be ready right?

Some women spend their money on jewelry. Others shoes. But there is a distinct group of women who collect purses - name brand, expensive purses. And by expensive I mean ‘you could dig a well in Africa and feed an entire tribe with the money you spent on that purse’ expensive.

But to each their own.

I am not a part of the name brand purse touting army of women. Not that I don't admire the supple Italian leather, the sleek embroidered canvas or the hand stitched trim. I can appreciate good quality when I see it.

I don't carry those bags because I am a mother. Of five children. Two of which are twins. In my opinion, my purse needs to be a functional, not stylish, piece of my artillery. 

Primarily, I need a big bag. Not a large bag. A very big bag. It must be big enough to hold books, diapers, wipes, bottles, tissues, Band-Aids, batteries, antibacterial hand gel, chap stick, snacks, pens, drawing paper, gum, medicine, cough drops, permission slips, water bottles, watch batteries and toys of every variety. And that's just for the kids. I need: a camera, an energy bar, packets of instant coffee and sweetener, wallet, lipstick, makeup, coupons, the grocery list, to do list, prescriptions, business cards, reading material, keys, mini sewing kit, spare change, my phone, lotion, comb, dental floss and a flask (just kidding) (sorta).

In other words, if you need something just ask me.

Because I carry everything but the kitchen sink in my purse and because my children are always digging inside my bag with their grubby little hands on the hunt for spare change for the concession stand, why in the world would I ever invest in an expensive leather purse? That would be just be a cruel reason for a leather-donating cow to die. 

No, the kind of bag I need is more liken to a military grade duffle bag. Which I would consider carrying except I don't have a single thing in my closet to match army green. Because while I recognize I don’t have a lot of control over much in my environment, I can at least color coordinate to the best of my ability.

Which brings me to the final component of my purse dilemma. I can barely get my teeth brushed every morning. How could I ever expect to find the time to match the color of my bag to my outfit? In fact, for years I carried one purse that had both brown and black coloring because I imagined it looked somewhat respectable with whatever I wore. 

But recently I put all my purse anxieties aside because I have found the perfect purse for me. It's large. It's durable. It's semi stylish, relatively reasonable and, here's the best part, it has an interchangeable cover. It has the magical ability to carry everything a mother needs while masquerading as a trendy bag.

Which pretty much sums up what I imagine my reputation to be. While I might look as if I have it all together, semi-stylish and arguably up-to-date on the outside, I am quite loaded down on the inside with odd and end randomness.

But what mother isn’t?

I don’t need an expensive purse to prove my social status to the world. Nor do I wish to spend an entire month’s wages on a bag that carries my kids’ crap.  What I really need is a waterproof, stain resistant, durable, attractive and inexpensive small suitcase that can do all the cooking and cleaning. Now that would be a purse I would pay an arm and a leg for! Or I could just get rid of the kids. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Disposable Income Days - Finance Friday

I found this little cartoon from Moderately Confused in the paper on July 3, 2012.

It spoke to me.

According to a quick online search Disposable Income can be defined as a person's total income minus personal taxes.

According to, a hilariously depressing site I found where you plug in your income & expenditures and it calculates what you have left each month, our family spends $14.13 every hour (that's $2 per person) and we should have $5.17 left at the end of the month.


Wonder how far I can stretch that after back-to-school supply shopping, registration fees, class pictures, admissions to my son's football games, 5 new pairs of tennis shoes.....

One of my biggest struggles with Finance Friday editions is writing them. I mean, it would be easier if no one I actually knew read my blog. But that's every blogger's dilemma isn't it? Alex Williams penned my thoughts so perfectly in a July 13th article he wrote for the New York times entitled, 'Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30'. Williams writes about the struggles 30 & 40-something adults have in making close friends. He says,

"Differences in professional status and income also complicate matters. “It really does get weird when your friends are making tons more than you, or tons less,” said Adriane Duckworth, a former marketing executive now working as an artist in Hamilton, Ontario"

That's why I could easily picture myself in the Moderately Confused comic. I could see myself saying that to my hubby over a cup of coffee but never to my girlfriends. But surely they must know. I'm certain I've joked about money trees, lottery winnings or have failed to chime in about my latest shopping adventure. 

I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. We made this decision. I invited the hardship. I'm prepared to see it through. I really don't want it to be weird.

I wonder if it is though.

And here's my internal wrestle: how can I be authentic, in this season of my life there's nothing I long for more, and not make it weird? 

It's Finance Friday on my blog. I appreciate your visiting my corner of the blogosphere. There are a gazillion blogs out there ... it means a lot that you would take the time to visit mine!

Please follow me on Twitter @Steph_Sikorski

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 13, 2012

Desert Observations - Finance Friday

image from here
It's Friday again. It always comes after Thursday and proceeds the weekend.
It is also the day I have chosen to call Finance Friday.
You see our family of seven went from a modest income - one that paid the bills, treated the family to dinner out on Sundays and even put a little away each month to save for Christmas & back to school expenses - to a bold decision to leave that security.
We choose to leave the job with the secure paycheck for one that required fundraising for personal support.
Two years ago we had an annual budget to raise of approximately $50,000. It would support our family and the costs of the business including travel and a home office.
We never met that budget.
We never came close.

Now, two years later we are dealing with the consequences of that decision.
I've chosen to blog about (the HIGHS and the lows) it.
And today is another installment ....

Last week I had a Finance Friday post that I took down almost as soon as I put up. As far as I can tell 5 of you read it. But it's gone and maybe someday I'll have the nerve to publish it. My hubby said, "You know a blog is not your personal diary".

This week, while I'm not feeling nearly as emotional the harsh reality and numbers in red remain looming.
Times are tough.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

50 Shades of Grey Hair

After my first child was born I stopped coloring my hair. I barely had time to shower regularly (notice I didn't say daily) let alone worry about something as expensive, time consuming and vain as the shade of my tresses. That was sixteen years ago and today my own children say they don't even recognize me in the wedding portrait hanging in my bedroom. They ask, "Mom who married Dad?"
Four kids and a few years later my hair has grown increasingly dark. Gone are the peroxide induced blonde locks of my youth. Instead, due to hormonal shifts, lack of sleep or the alarming amount of hair I lost while pregnant with the twins, I am sporting a layered dark brunette bob that I've worked very hard to embrace. Change happens I told myself and I tried very hard to love my evolving look.
While trying to be mature about the whole aging process I admit I had a huge set back when I noticed a new color emerging just at my temples. Grey. Without haste I colored and covered it up and eight weeks later when it began to grow in again I l colored and covered it up. I repeated the process at seven weeks and then again at six. It was an alarming realization - I was going grey-er and grey-er and thus visiting my salon sooner and sooner.
Who's to blame for these white tendrils I'm wrestling? Genetics or (I suspect) my time spent in the parenthood?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My Greatest Fear

I used to cry myself to sleep.
I felt so bad for my new husband. He was going to die because he married me.
And he didn't even know it.

Laying in my bed, his warm youthful body next to me, I would fall asleep imagining his funeral. I envisioned myself as a widow and somewhere between vowing to wear black for the rest of my life and picking out his headstone I would fall into another night of fitful sleep.

My maternal grandmother was widowed at a very young age. My mother says her father was a delightful man - the polar opposite of her step father. My grandmother's second husband also died. Although of what I don't know. My mother is like a locked vault when it comes to family history.

Mom was also widowed at a very young age. My father died when I was barely a year old. He was shot while out on security duty. My mother remarried and while my step father is still alive he had a brush with death when I was 8 years old. I'll never forget the evening when the hospital called our home beckoning my mother to the emergency room as soon as possible. She left preparing to identify his body. Thank God he recovered and incidentally never drank an ounce of alcohol again.

Just Breathe!

Everyone take a deep breath. That's right. In. Now out. There! Feel better? 

Breathing deeply is good for your health. It is also a good technique to use when you feel like, oh say, lambasting someone for their annoying behavior. Also, it is advisable for parents to practice deep breathing so they don't kill their children. That or counting to three. My mother used to count to three. I thought it was so I would have time to run away from her wrath but now that I'm a parent I believe she was trying to calm herself before giving me what I deserved.

Parenting is, in my humble opinion, the absolute hardest job on the planet. And by hard I mean nobody's perfect. Nobody, not even Mother Theresa. Why? Because despite the fact she has the word mother in her name she did not, in fact, have children. If she had I can't help but wonder if she would have reached saint status.

No mother is a perfect mother. Not you and certainly not me. Let's just get that out on the table. You are not going to parent perfectly. You are, in fact, going to mess up. You will yell. You'll say inappropriate things. You will make your kids feel bad. You might even cross the line and punish them too harshly. You'll lash out and you'll make bad discipline decisions. It is even possible you will be late to pick them up from practice and they will start walking home in the dark, and you won't even see them when you drive by. Oh wait, that only happened to me.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Roses are Red

We have a phrase in our relationship: JUST BECAUSE
JUST BECAUSE might be the words of a text
or a spoken in a phone call.
I might get a kiss JUST BECAUSE
or an email.

JUST BECAUSE means I didn't call you to talk about the kids, tell you about our next ball game, I'm not telling you to pick up milk at the grocery store or asking you to run an errand for me.

JUST BECAUSE means I'm reaching out to you for no other reason except that I want you to know that I'm thinking of you. I don't need anything from you, I just want you to know you're on my mind.

And in our crazy lives - i.e. 5 kids - that means the world to me. Its like, yeah, sure I'm a mom and I work and I go and do and taxi and arrange and cook and clean and organize .... I do all that but I still mean something to him. He still sees me.
He still loves me.

So that's why, after a hard day at the store I couldn't believe his car was parked next to mine. I couldn't believe how handsome he looked as he emerged from the driver's side. I couldn't believe he held a bouquet of roses out for me....JUST BECAUSE.

I was his all over again.

And if all that wasn't enough. It never dawned on me that this single JUST BECAUSE gesture would mean something to our children. Our 16 year old in particular. She posted this on Instagram:

Could I love him anymore?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chicken and Church

In our little town (population 9,000) we have:
19 churches
4 stop lights (not counting the bypass)
3 fast food restaurants
2 Casey's gas stations and we used to have
1 Kentucky Fried Chicken
Then they closed and built a new KFC/Taco Bell combination restaurant just off the highway. 

The whole town grew excited!
New improved chicken AND tacos!! Hubby and I made lots of mental plans to make a run for the border on those late nights when we got hungry.
Except we were never up late
and I never get hungry while I'm sleeping.
Needless to say we've never ran for the border.
As parents to 5 active children we're in bed by 10:00 p.m.

Boring, I know.

Here's where I'm going.... the old KFC had terrible, really terrible service. So bad you had to be desperate for that special recipe, finger lickin' good chicken to go there. On two separate occasions I went to pick up a bucket of chicken and was told by the greasy faced teenager at the cash register they were - and I quote -

"Out of chicken"
I shook my head as if I misheard, "What?"
"We're out of chicken"
"How can you be out of chicken!!! You ARE Kentucky Fried CHICKEN!!"
He just shrugged.

The second time it happened (I am not kidding) I vowed never to go back. But when KFC closed and reopened under new management, in a new location (with tacos!!) I gave them another chance. I mean they do have amazing coleslaw. Everyone deserves second chance, yes?

Big mistake.

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