Welcome to Real

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In the beginning

Once upon a time (circa 2000), in a faraway land (Maryland), four young ladies found their soulmates in high school. No, not dudes. Best friends who balance each other in the best way and support each other through (literal and figurative) thick and thin.

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Fast forward 18 years…  We are now a doctor, a lawyer, a doula, and a financial planner deep in the weeds of young motherhood who learned to laugh together, cry together, learn together, and support each other through this season of life via one (in our humble opinion) very real, very wise, and brilliantly entertaining text chain, which is the foundation of much of this blog’s content.

We decided one day, on a whim, to start sharing our collective experience – the good, the bad and the ugly – with other people out there. The core value: keeping it #real with advice on parenthood, health, home, style, money and just whatever else comes up. LockersToLittles was that flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants adventure and wow, that was somethin’ else!

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That blog life

The last 3 months have been a profound learning experience. We’ve laughed our buns off, cried in frustration and all 4 of us have learned more about ourselves than any of us thought possible. And most importantly, we discovered that there are other people out there who want to share our experience – you!! Wow! Our feedback and followers have blown us away with their support, ideas, and general awesomeness over and over.

We are taking that feedback and blasting off into a whole new level of the blogosphere peeps! You spoke and we have listened are are ready to serve.

To Infinity and Beyond

We are here to help others grow into the best version of themselves, and in the process are working to do the same. The best workouts for moms with no time? We gotcha. Best way to save for retirement no matter what age you start? You bet! Kids won’t eat vegetables? Coming to the rescue! Wondering what’s up with eating brie in pregnancy? #answeredthat. Just want to commiserate about this season in life being hard AF sometimes??? Oh yeah. Between the 4 of us we’ve had a whole lot of life happen and if it hasn’t happened to us, trust us, we know a guy.

People! The sky is the limit. Or is it?

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So if you haven’t visited with us before, then WELCOME. To all our returning followers, THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS. You’ve been with us this far and we cannot wait to share what we have in store with you.

To reach our much desired goals, we need YOU! Please enjoy and visit or lightly stalk us on our various social media outlets. Got a topic you want covered? Give us a comment, girl! Share your experiences, this is #momtribe and #parentlife and we’re all in this together. Oh, and share! ALLLLLLLL the sharing!

Welcome to REAL AS A M*THER!

xo, Annie, Christiana, Kristy and Margo

 

Money Mondays: The Road to Financial Recovery

The disease of addiction has left virtually no family completely unscathed.  It may be a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, sibling, spouse, child or dear friend – but all of know at least one person struggling.

Thankfully, the stigma associated with this disease is starting to dissolve away.  The battle against those who would vilify the afflicted isn’t totally won, but I think we can all agree that where we are now in regards to general understanding and acceptance is leaps and bounds ahead of even where we were 5 years ago.

Addiction recovery support is something I’m personally passionate about, having known many important people in my life who I love, adore and respect who have benefited tremendously from treatment at a center specializing in the disease of addiction.  So, as a financial advisor, I felt personal responsibility to help in the best way I know how – which for me has translated into a volunteer education role at a local Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center.  Once a month, I lead a one-hour session with all of the in-patients in the facility (usually about 25-30 adults) focusing on financial education.

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This is how I start the session:  “Welcome, everyone.  My name is Margo.  I’m a financial advisor in the area.  You all are here at this facility because you are dedicated to your recovery from the disease of addiction, and you are serious about putting in the work toward that recovery.  Oftentimes, a part of the recovery from the disease of addiction includes financial recovery.  While battling our addictions, sometimes we make bad financial decisions, but believe me when I say that things are never too far gone to fix.  So, I’m here today as a volunteer educator because each of you inspires me.  Your dedication to your recovery means I’m dedicated to giving you the information, tools and resources to begin on the road to financial recovery, and once there, start practicing healthy financial behaviors to support your continued recovery.”

Here are some of the topics I cover:

  1. How to get out of debt, and why high interest rate credit cards are the things to avoid
  2. How to avoid bankruptcy and the steps to take to climb out of an impossible debt situation
  3. How our decisions affect those around us (i.e. What does it mean when we ask Mom/Dad to take a distribution from a retirement account before age 59.5?)
  4. How to differentiate between “need to have,” “want to have,” and “nice to have” and tactics to avoid overspending
  5. Why our credit scores are so important, why you deserve to be able to borrow at an affordable rate, and how to improve a bad credit score.
  6. How to avoid financial pitfalls like applying for a personal loan from a TV ad promising to minimize monthly credit card/debt payments.
  7. How to save for retirement, especially if your work offers a qualified plan with a match
  8. How to prioritize bill pay once out of the recovery center, how to sign up for online bill pay instead of auto-bill pay (and why), and how much to save moving forward.

I’m not going to share with you anything specific about conversations I’ve had in these sessions because all of that is private, but the thing I most want to share with you is this:  The people in that room are YOU and ME.  The face of the disease of addiction is the face of your peers.  It spans ALL ages and ALL demographics.  It is very smart and accomplished people who made the brave move to ask for help.

So, why this post?  Well, I wanted to suggest you all do a few things:

1. Do some soul searching to figure out how to use your talents/knowledge to help other people and then SIGN UP TO DO IT.  There are so many volunteer opportunities out there and 1 hour a month is totally doable for everyone.  It is exceptionally good for the soul and will make you feel like a million bucks, I promise.  If you want a book to read, check out The Happiness Project – One young woman was inspired to look into what truly makes us happy and (spoiler alert) it has to do with being grateful, helping others, and purposefully reminding yourself of the blessings in your life.  One way to accomplish this is through volunteerism.

2. Take some time to learn about the disease of addiction and how it is affecting your local community.  These are important issues that you should be informed about as you advocate for making your community a better place, and providing support to those who need it.  In my county alone, there have been more than 70 overdoses this year, 8 of which were fatal.  These are my neighbors and friends.  These are people who are deserving of our compassion and support.

3. Be kinder.  Many people are fighting battles that you are unaware of, and you’d be surprised how much a kind word or just general supportive gesture can change their world.  I know I’ve needed it at times, and I’m grateful for those willing to give it to me.

I can assure you that I get MUCH more out of these sessions than the participants.  I am reminded to be grateful for the support system in my life.  I am reminded to be vigilant regarding my behaviors and how I impact those around me.  I am usually taught at least one or two new things about financial pitfalls and how specific marketing can prey on those without the knowledge base to avoid financial predators.  (BTW: Why AREN’T we taught basic financial education in middle school or high school?!)  Most of all, I leave feeling inspired – inspired by people who have been through a GREAT deal of trials and who yet still are SO dedicated to self-improvement.

I’ve got a lot of improving to do.   So, these brave people help me remember to get to it.

Much love,

Margo

Dear Teacher: An Open Letter to My Son’s Teacher

Now that it’s summer time, and we have the time to reflect upon a successful kindergarten year for my son, I have been thinking of you, his teacher, a lot.

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A few years ago, I took my son to his preschool friend’s birthday party.  A few of the other moms in attendance were complaining to one another about our kids’ assistant teacher. They were saying, “She’s mean. She doesn’t like children.”   I said, “She isn’t mean; she is strict. Discipline is black and white for her – there is no gray area. She doesn’t harm the children, and she doesn’t say discouraging or disparaging things to them.  She is tough. I am ok with that. Structure in the classroom is good.”  No one seemed to agree with me, and that’s ok.

My reasons for feeling this way stem from a few things, not the least of which is due to the kind of mom I am.  I work long hours. When I get home I want to enjoy my children.  However, if they have been unhinged all day, it’s impossible to do because I spend all evening trying to reel them back in. I would rather spend the evening enjoying them, eating dinner, reading books, playing games, riding bikes, rolling around on the floor and snuggling on the sofa watching a movie.

I do understand viscerally the emotions these women are feeling, so my sharing this story isn’t meant to shame them for how they feel. I feel it myself sometimes. When my son is on the playground and another child shoves him aggressively to get by, I feel an intense desire to intervene and protect my son. “Wait,” my husband says, “and watch. Let him handle it first.” I stand by, my palms sweating and my heart beating, imagining myself march up to the parent of this kid and ask why they haven’t disciplined their kid for putting his hands on mine.  Then, something magical happens.  The kid does it again, and my son turns calmly to him and says, “Hey.  Don’t push me.  Ok?”  Just like that, it’s over.  As I’ve shared here, I learn very important things from my kids every day – usually, and especially, when I let them try to resolve their own issues.

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We were watching reruns of Friday Night Lights recently. There was a scene where the coach is yelling at the kids in the locker room.  Not speaking words of encouragement – straight up yelling at the top of his lungs.  The team members shrunk in their seats, feeling the heavy weight of disappointment on their shoulders.  Then, they worked harder, they ran sprints, they rolled in the mud.  They learned their lesson and they tried harder.

As I was watching this, a light bulb went off in my head.  I thought about my husband’s volunteer coaching gig at a local high school and remembered him telling me a story about a kid’s parent who wrote him a strongly worded email, chastising him for “yelling at” his son.  My husband is not a yeller.  He explained to the parent that he expressed dissatisfaction to the kid because he was disrespecting his teammates, but he didn’t yell.  And so I thought to myself, what is our obsession, as parents, with trying to prevent our children from being disciplined by the very people that we are asking to teach, coach, and discipline our children?  When I played sports, I got yelled at by my coaches.  I didn’t like it, sure.  It didn’t make feel good.  But you know what?  I am so glad it happened.  It taught me so much.

I want my kids to learn how it feels to do something wrong – to feel the consequences, most intensely and piercingly being when you disappoint someone you love and admire. Your teachers. Your coach. Your mom. Your dad. I remember those feelings in the pit of my stomach. I don’t want to protect my kids from that. It’s better that they make mistakes and understand the consequences in a space where those consequences don’t result in life altering outcomes like injury, jail, death, addiction. Teenagers are emotional and impulsive creatures.  I don’t want the first time for my son or daughter to be held responsible be years from now when he/she is a teenager and makes a bad decision like drinking and driving which can result in a DUI or worse, hurting themselves or others.

Emotional intelligence is more important to me than book smarts. Responsibility. Bravery.  I teach my son to stand up for what is right especially when it is hard. When he comes home and tells me that his heart hurts because someone was mean to his friend, I revel in that moment. He needs to understand empathy. Not sympathy. He can learn his ABC’s any day.  It doesn’t take a genius to teach ABC’s, but it does take a great teacher to teach empathy, kindness, bravery, humility and leadership.  Those things don’t develop when teachers are only allowed to dole out positive reinforcement instead of appropriate discipline.

I want that when my son is given accolades for an accomplishment that he feels true pride in knowing what he did was exemplary. I want him to motivated by this feeling over and over again.  It’s impossible to know this feeling if everyone gets a sticker, award or trophy. It’s also impossible to know this feeling if you are never disciplined for doing something wrong.

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We find ourselves in interesting times. We are begging for leaders of strength, kindness, good-heartedness and intelligence. However, we aren’t fostering the growth of them. We won’t allow our kids to fail. Parents handle everything for their kids. Strength is not made when you don’t have to work for things. Our children must learn how to effectively communicate with their teachers, how to stand up for themselves, how to ask for help, and how to learn how they can do better, be better and reach higher.  Minds, souls and bodies are all like muscles. You must work them to grow them.

I am sorry, dear teacher, for the precarious situation you now find yourself in. I was surprised when my son’s amazing preschool teacher called me one day a few years ago  to talk to me about my son’s day. No, not because he is perfect. He most certainly is not, and I am thrilled that in our household we do not have those ridiculous expectations. But because she felt it was necessary to proactively explain to me that he was reprimanded for doing something mischievous with his friends (climbing a fence) and against the rules. That call made me so sad.  Not because my son did something wrong.  He was four, and he’s a very fun little boy who values his friendships above all else, so I wasn’t surprised.

The call made me sad because the teacher likely has to make dozens of these calls a week, if not more, in an attempt to protect herself from angry parents who want to know why their perfect child came home and told them that he/she was disciplined in the classroom.  You, teacher, must spend your evenings making these calls instead of relaxing after a hard day of being paid WAY less than you are owed.  What, my fellow parents, are we trying to accomplish with this intense oversight?  This is not a rhetorical question – I actually want someone to answer this for me.  Parents: What are you trying to accomplish by making our teachers and coaches afraid to teach and coach our children?

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I don’t want my son and infant daughter to be me. I want them to be better than me. In whatever way that means for them.  As I see their shiny faces, looking up at me, happiness and interest and calm, I want the world to be a safe place.  But it isn’t. I can make my home safe but I can’t control the world. I don’t want to. Don’t get me wrong, if someone harms my child (physical abuse or worse), I will intervene (and God help whoever has to deal with me in that type of situation, believe me.)  But, that’s not what we are talking about here.  We are talking about normal discipline in a school setting.  Warnings, time outs, privilege revocation, etc.

I want my children to be equipped to thrive in the real world. To know triumph. To know disappointment so that the triumph is sweeter. To search and work toward a solution. To lose. To win. To be bad at some things. To be good at some things. To be prepared. To be unprepared. To love and innovate and shine independently from me. They don’t need to change the world – just themselves, and always in a positive direction. For as they become the best version of themselves, they will change my world, their world, and your world. All teachers are not the same.  Some are loving.  Some are strict.  Some are silly.  Some will like my kids, and some won’t.  But THAT’S LIFE.  My kids will learn, just as I did, that not everyone is going to like them, and that’s OK.  I want my kids to be prepared for the WORLD.

So to you, dear teacher, your role is an important one. You are my partner, and I am yours. We work together and support one another.  You aren’t the mother – I know that that’s my job. You are their teacher, and I am so glad you are.  Don’t give them the answers. Help them learn. Don’t let everyone win. Help them grow. Hold my child accountable. Hold us all accountable to ourselves.  I support you, and I hope for a world where you can do your job without fear of being fired because a parent is upset that you hurt their child’s feelings by moving them to the back of the line when they couldn’t listen or follow the rules.

Otherwise what is the purpose of school?

With Great Gratitude,

Margo

Lessons I’ve learned from my kids

Lying is bad:  “Mom, you don’t actually have eyes in the back of your head.  I checked under your hair when you were sleeping.  That means you weren’t telling the truth, and you have to sit in time out for 33 minutes because you are 33 years old.”

Image may contain: 2 people, including Lee Cook, people sitting and childHe has perfected the eye roll and he’s only 6 years old.

Rules are rules:  “Mom, what does S T O P spell?  Then why didn’t you stop at that corner back there?”

Don’t be mean: After Levi got his blood drawn, I was so impressed with how great he did.  No tears or fear.  I was telling someone about how proud I was of him, and how I couldn’t believe that the grown man next to him was scared and crying.  “Mom, that’s mean to talk about that man like that.  He has feelings too!”

Boundaries are healthy:  We are at the airport, and a kind-looking man in a suit leans down toward my 2 year old daughter Monroe and says, “What a pretty girl you are!  How old are you?”  She looks up at him, puts her arm out quickly in a Heisman move with her palm close to his face and screams, “GO AWAYYYYY!”  He tries one more time with the same result.  Guess she didn’t want to talk to you, dude, and it’s ok for her to say it.

Image may contain: 1 person, babySometimes it’s good to be sassy!

God lives behind our sofa:  “Mom, there is  a man in the front room behind the sofa.”  “Oh, don’t worry, Mom.  It’s just God.  Mrs. Sparks told the class that God is everywhere but he’s invisible so you don’t always see him.  So, I just wanted you to know that right now he is behind the sofa in the front room.”

I’m a bad mom for turning on Disney movies:  We were watching Ferdinand, and toward the end, Levi started to cry (more like sob.)  “What’s wrong?”  “Ferdinand sent his friends to the farm and he didn’t make it!  Now he might die!”  Then, at the end, after everyone was reunited and happy, Levi starts to sob again.  “What’s wrong?  It’s a happy ending!”  “I’m so relieved!”  Then, he starts to get mad.  “Why did you MAKE me watch this?  It was so sad!!!!”

Sometimes, it’s just time for bed:  Monroe, when she is tired, will grab her blankies and hug all of us and say, “Bye, bye, night, night.” Then she goes upstairs to her room and sings herself to sleep.

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Honesty is the best policy, but if you know they won’t like your answer, end with a compliment: “Monroe, are you going to use the potty?”  “No, mommy.  Love you!  Awww. So pretty.”

If it hurts someone’s feelings, it’s not worth saying.  (Also, avoidance is a strategy too.):  Levi was upset because someone at school wanted to marry him and he didn’t want to marry her.  “So, just tell her you love her as a friend only.”  “No, mom, that’s mean.  I just won’t say anything at all, and then when I am older I’ll marry someone else.”

Spiders have feelings, too: “MOM!  I didn’t tell you about the spider so you would kill it!!  It deserves a chance to LIVE!”

Time is relative:  “Four more minutes, Levi!”  “You didn’t say five minutes yet, so I still have five more minutes to play!”  (We can also place this in the category of: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, did it make a noise?)

Make sure you dress the part:  “I can’t go outside to play basketball until I find my new basketball shorts!”

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Believe in yourself.  The sky is the limit:  “Mom, you know how you help people make money?  Can you help Cracker Barrel make more money so they can add a drive thru so I can get their chicken dumplings whenever I want?”  “Well, honey, they aren’t my clients.”  “Well, why not?”

Everyone you meet is a potential friend, and deserves a chance:  “Mom, someone was mean to me at school today.”  “Well, Levi, you don’t have to play with them if they are being mean.”  “Mom, that’s not the right thing to do.  The right thing to do is become their friend so they learn to be nicer.”

It’s never a bad time to sing a song:  Especially in the grocery store, when you can get some nice amplification of your voice without much effort.  Monroe’s favorite tunes, including Moana, Maui, Coco, and Frozen, sound especially great in the dairy aisle when sung by a 2-year old.

HEADSHOTMargo is a financial advisor, software developer, and married mom of 2 who is surprised and delighted when she makes it out of the house in the morning fully dressed for work.

Money Mondays: How Exactly are Financial Advisors Paid? And By Who?

Hi friends!

So, I’ve mentioned in the past that you should find a financial advisor that you trust to help you plan for retirement and invest your money.  I’ve had people say to me, “Margo, how come the person who sold me insurance is offering to do a retirement projection for free, but other advisors are charging money to do this?”  The answer lies in how different financial professionals are compensated.

This is where it gets a little tricky.  It’s not as easy as it would seem to figure out exactly how financial professionals are paid.  And, most people would agree that it’s kind of confusing to figure out how to find a financial advisor you trust if you can’t figure out how the advisor is paid!   Some people have told me that this prevents them from even trying to find one at all – because when you don’t know how they are paid it’s pretty hard to figure out what it will cost you.  To compound the issue, many professionals call themselves “financial advisors,” but they all aren’t created equal.  They each may have varying expertise and very different “end games” when it comes to their relationship with you.  I’m here to tell you:  It’s confusing, and I’ll explain it to you.  I’m also going to give you a list of questions you can ask the advisor when you are interviewing them to figure it out, too.

To simplify, we can basically put financial advisors into one of three categories:  Commission-only, Fee-only, or Fee-based.  Fee-only and Fee-based sound the same, but they are actually quite different!  Here are the details:

compensation of financial advisors

Fee-only:  Fee-only advisors are only paid directly by their clients for the services they provide.  This fee is usually represented as a percentage of your account value or an hourly rate.  They do not sell any products like insurance or annuities, they don’t represent a bank or any financial institution, they don’t have proprietary funds like mutual funds to place into your investment accounts, and they don’t receive referral fees for sending you to other advisors, like an attorney or insurance rep.  In this scenario, the financial advisor only represents the best interests of their client – they aren’t there to sell a product or represent the interests of a bank or other financial institution.  Every decision they make is in the best interest of their client because they don’t have any conflicts or receive compensation from any other party or institution.  Fee-only advisors are true fiduciaries for their clients.

Commission only:  These are your insurance sales-folks and annuity sales-folks.  What’s good about them?  You need to have certain kinds of insurance: home, auto, health & life, for example.  These people have expertise, execution and only indirect cost to you out of pocket.  Some of these individuals will offer free financial planning meetings, but beware.  Their planning usually revolves around insurance products and getting you to buy one.  The reason that they offer financial projections for free is that they use the time to convince you to buy a product that they sell.

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Sometimes, in these financial planning meetings, they might encourage you to buy insurance or an annuity that may not appropriate for you because it makes them money.    I carefully vet the insurance representatives that I refer my clients to, so I know they aren’t going to inappropriately suggest a product to them, but there are unfortunately people like this out there.  I also review all insurance before my clients sign on that dotted line.  Having a neutral party who only works for you, and not a bank or an insurance company, review these sorts of things is a very smart move to make so you know it’s actually best for you.  And even though you aren’t paying the commission-only advisors directly (out of pocket) for the product they are selling you, you are paying them indirectly because of the fees you are paying upon purchase and/or the life of that product.  These products are not inexpensive, and the advisor receives payment from the company offering the product as a result of the money you spend to purchase it.

Fee-based: This is where it starts to get a little more complicated.  Fee-based advisors are a mix between fee-only and commission-only advisors. They receive a fee from you directly for managing your investments, usually a percentage of the total dollar amount of your account AND they sell products like insurance, propriety mutual funds, and/or receive referral fees for other professionals they send you to.  I know a lot of fee-based advisors who are wonderful – very smart and very ethical.  However, if the fee-based advisor isn’t as ethical, you can see where they might get into difficulty.  Are the investments they are choosing in your portfolio always the best ones for you?  Or are they choosing them because they receive a commission?  Are they selling you a product like insurance or an annuity because it makes them a commission?  Or are they recommending it to you because it’s actually the best product for you, and it’s the right choice for your goals and risk tolerance?  When it comes to fee-based advisors, you are potentially paying them both directly and indirectly for their advice and the choices they make for you/recommend to you.  Again, I know a lot of really great advisors who are fee-based, and one of the positives of this model is that they can sell you directly the products you might need to ensure you are comprehensively planning for your future.  However, it’s imperative that you find an ethical advisor if you are shopping in the fee-based arena.

If this sounds confusing, you aren’t alone.  I’ve been asked the following question by clients pretty often:  “How do I figure out which bucket my financial advisor falls into?”

So, I created the following list of questions to help figure it out:

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If your advisor is fee-only, the answers to all of these questions are NO.

If your advisor is fee-based, the answer to any ONE of the following questions will be YES: 1, 2, 3, or 7.  A YES to any one of those questions means they are not fee-only.

If your advisor is commission-only, they will always answer YES to #1.  Another hint:  They won’t be charging you an investment management fee, which is how you know they are commission-only instead of fee-based.

Finally, if the answers to #4, 5 or 6 are YES, it’s time to find a new advisor regardless of the way they are compensated.

If you are looking for potential advisors, the initial meeting should always be complimentary.  This is an intro meeting so they can figure out your needs and how they might serve you.  So, cost shouldn’t prevent you from reaching out to a potential financial advisor and “interviewing” them to see if they are right for you.

In that meeting, use the list of questions I give you here to figure out how they are paid, culminating with the final one:  “How much will this cost me, and will you quote me ahead of time, or as we go?”

There are great financial advisors out there, and armed with this information, I am confident you will find the best one for you!

Happy Advisor Shopping!!

Margo

HEADSHOTMargo is a fee-only financial advisor and mom of two.

Green Smoothie Wednesday

Yep, you read that correctly. GREEN Smoothies! Cue all kids (and arguably a large percentage of adults) tuning OUT. But stick with me. We all know that eating our greens is important for health and fitness reasons, and today we are blending up the original green superfood, spinach.

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Packed with calcium, iron, and vitamins, spinach has boasted major staying power through diet fads and gleaned nutritional street cred from modern nutritionists to legends like Popeye himself.

The calcium in spinach can help strengthen your bones to fight against injury, and vitamins A and C, fiber, folic acid, and other nutrients fight against colon and breast cancers. Spinach also helps to lower damaging protein levels in the blood and can protect against high blood pressure and heart disease.*

Basically, spinach has nutritional benefits for all ages and all stages of life. The good news is there are much more fun ways to get your daily spinach in than a bowl full of salad every day of the week. (And whose children would ever do this BTW?!) Enter – the green smoothie. Delicious smoothies sneakily stocked with spinach.

In our opinion, there’s no better way to keep healthy eating rolling through the new year than incorporating smoothies into your regular routine.  The great thing about using spinach in smoothies is that it actually has a very mild taste so it blends well with other ingredients. So, whether you are new to the pursuit of your daily greens, or a regular green-juice goddess, we’ve compiled a list of our Real as a M*ther all-time favorite green smoothies that are packed with nutrient-rich spinach and actually taste really good.

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Nut-Butter Banana (and Spinach! Just don’t say that out loud) Smoothie

  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup organic no sugar added nut butter of your choice (almond, peanut, and cashew butter all taste great)
  • 2 bananas
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (optional – omit to keep dairy free)
  • 1 cup milk of your choice (we typically use whole milk for our kids, but also love almond and coconut milk dairy-free options)
  • Our favorite optional add-ins: vanilla protein powder, chia seeds

Makes 2 large or 4 small smoothies.

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Green & Glowing At-Home Smoothie

Whenever we take our kids to Whole Foods, (which as you may know if you have ever taken 3 or more children to Whole Foods, is a frantic 2-hour endeavor with a $500 minimum) we all end up at the smoothie bar to fill up on one of their delicious Green and Glowing smoothies. When we are not at the store (hallelujah), we make this knock-off version at home.

  • 1 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1 cup frozen mango
  • 1/2 cup frozen peach
  • 1/4 cup dried unsweetened coconut
  • 1 -2 cups milk of choice (adjust for preferred thickness)
  • 1/4 cup flax seed
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • Our favorite optional add-ins: vanilla protein powder, collagen peptides (for the grown-ups “glowing” skin)

 

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Greens-on-the-Go Smoothie

We love this smoothie for the flexibility of its ingredients (basically whatever we have in the freezer actually works), the ease with which we can throw it together on-the-go (which is pretty much constantly – we have ten kids between us, remember?), and for the fact that it tastes vaguely like the most nutritious PB&J you’ve ever had.

  • 1.5-2 cups spinach
  • 1 tbsp nut butter of choice
  • 2/3 – 1 cup milk of choice
  • 1 handful of oats
  • 1.5-2 cups berries of choice
  • 1 shot of maple syrup
  • Our favorite optional add-ins: A shot of maple syrup to sweeten it up for the kids, a 1/4 cup or more of yogurt for a creamier smoothie, and coconut oil for extra good fats and coconutty flavor.

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Chocolate Crush Smoothie

Ok, so this recipe doesn’t involve eating any candy. Womp, womp. Sorry folks, this is a green smoothie post, after all. But, the nutrition-packed ingredients of this creamy smoothie give it a chocolatey, nutty, flavor that is almost as good as having candy for breakfast (or lunch for that matter – this is Kristy’s fave weekday lunch) and always keeps us coming back for more.

  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • 2 frozen bananas
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups spinach (or 1 cup kale)
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 avocado
  • Optional add-ins: Anti-oxidant boost (Kristy uses Nerium’s Youth Factor Superfood Powder), coconut oil or flakes

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So Fresh and So Green Smoothie

This smoothie is a super-refreshing pick-me-up any time of the day. We love it particularly while dreaming of warm tropical days, or while recovering from an afternoon of chasing our kids around the house. The superpowers of spinach and mint combine to make this almost, just almost a better green alternative to coffee. TBD.

  • 1.5-2 cups spinach
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup frozen mango
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 2 tbsp – 1/4 cup mint
  • Our favorite optional add-ins: vanilla protein powder, coconut flakes, chia seeds

green dessert

That’s a wrap on green smoothie Wednesday! Don’t forget any of these smoothies can be made into delicious smoothie bowls by decreasing the amount of liquid, and topping with nuts, fruit, and/or granola. Now, let’s see if Popeye was right about all this spinach. Watch out, 2019!

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Cheers, and Happy (green) New Year from all of us at Real As A M*ther! Moms to 10 kids, doctor, lawyer, doula/massage therapist, financial planner, and green smoothie makers.

 

 

 

Sources: * 4 Incredible Health Benefits of Eating Spinach by Melanie Rolland, @ guidedoc.superfooods

Bringing Home Siblings

This post contains affiliate links to help you find the products we have found helpful. We may get a tiny reward if you use our links but the recommendations are our own. Pretty Photo above credited to Jordan Marie Photography

All of us Real Mothers have gone through the fun adventure of bringing home a second or third baby to the family and I think we’ve collectively had just about everything go wrong that the rest of you could expect. The inspiration for this post was a friend’s recent experience of her 2-year-old trying to help “calm” a fussy 1-week old brother by very silently and sneakily feeding him an almond <cue full mom panic by proxy>. Luckily she was watching and everyone is ok.

We thought we’d put together a rundown on what will help avert disaster in sibling-land and make the transition as smooth as possible. Most of this is directed toward families bringing home a new baby with a first child (or multiple children) between the ages of 1-5 years old. Older kids are generally a bit easier to explain about baby safety, mom’s recovery, etc… hopefully.

Talk early and often

IMG_3444Being pregnant while managing a tiny terrorist is hectic in and of itself. If this is baby #3 or more for you on the way, that craziness is compounding. It’s easy to forget to talk to your kids about what to expect with a new baby ahead of time because frankly, you’re just in survival mode 90% of the time as it is. However, it makes a HUGE difference and it is much easier to manage baby’s arrival at home if you have had a few convos ahead of time and set realistic expectations for big brother(s) and/or sister(s). Some strategies include using books (see suggestions below), children’s shows (also below), incorporating a little Q&A or “talking to baby” session into bedtime, or talking about it for a bit when you see other people with small babies.

Don’t Miss Topics:

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Photo credit: Fiona Margo Photography
  • Where Babies Come From: This is bound to come up in one form or another. Rather than just avoiding the conversation, do yourself a favor and have these books: What Makes A Baby and Hello in There!, for a low-level detail, kid-targeted, but medically accurate way to explain how the baby got in there and how it gets back out. Some other great books are in This Fatherly Blog Post.

 

  • Shows: This is a parent and sibling win-win situation. Your kid feels like they are being treated to TV time, and you get help explaining the sibling transition from familiar children’s characters. Some of our favorites include “We Can’t Wait to meet the Baby” and “The Baby is Here!” (also books!) from Daniel Tiger. You can also view some great short videos about welcoming baby on  PBSKids.org.

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  • Baby Safety: As reviewed above, kids love to “help” mom with baby and are often distressed by the baby’s distress. Go over specifically:
    • Never put anything in baby’s mouth (including pacifiers because you don’t know where that thing’s been when the toddler finds it). If your kid is older the rule could be “without asking a parent”, but err on the side of never. Since younger kids understand positive “DO” commands better than negative “DON’T” commands – you can frame this as always bring things to a parent BEFORE giving to baby.” This also is important because younger kids may want to share small (CHOKING HAZARD) toys that they may not understand are dangerous to baby even if they are not put near the baby’s mouth. More than one sibling in our crew has tried to share a lego or two to cheer up their new baby, and they need to understand that sharing with a baby is ONLY okay when a parent approves the toy.
    • Never put anything over the baby’s face. Kids also love to “play peekaboo” or give stuffed animals to the baby which can smother tiny nostrils easily. Again, the positive spin on this is that blankets/toys/etc always go on the legs, NOT the face. Include not putting things in the crib/basinet with baby – little kids are remarkably good at “sharing” when you least want them to.adorable baby beanie bonnet
    • Never pick up the baby without a parent’s help. If your kiddo is much older, you can adjust this to their ability. But again, err on the side of caution when baby is tiny and needs head support. A positive way to frame this is “always ask for a parent to help you pick up or hold baby.”
    • We also find it helpful to have a “no-touching-on-the-face or hands” rule to manage germ transition. Point out they can kiss the toes or top of the baby’s head. And keep antibacterial spray such as this kid-safe one from CleanWell ALLLLL over the house.close up of baby feet
  • Mom’s Body: As a second (or third or fourth)-time moms’ belly grows larger, it somehow becomes an irresistible target for kids’ boisterous jumping, bouncing and otherwise projectile launching. You can be reassured, the baby is very well protected in there – but of course if a direct hit results in ongoing pain or bleeding, go get checked! Talk a lot about ways to be gentle with mom’s belly each time this happens.

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    Photo Credit: Kimberlin Gray Photography
  • Birth and Recovery: Also take the opportunity to talk about what the plan will be while mom is at the hospital or birth center. Go over how mom will be very tired and have some “ouchies” after the baby comes out and talk about ways the kids can help out – getting ice packs for you, rubbing feet, making faces or telling stories to the baby, helping to fetch diapers, etc…. Most kids love being able to help. Emphasizing their “big kid-ness” helps them feel special. If your kid is reward-motivated, you can even set up a points-chart that they earn a sticker for each helpful act to earn a new toy or privilege.

Gift From Baby

Picking up a special time-occupying gift for big kid “from the baby” goes a long way to establishing the baby-is-your-friend status we all want. Some good ideas can be found in this post: Plane Travel with Littles: Carry-On Packing List. Do yourself a favor and DO NOT buy toys that make noise. Boys and girls alike usually like to have their own babydoll of some kind to “mirror” what the parents are doing with the real baby, here are a few other options by age.

1-2 year old: Buckle Toys, Latch Board or Latch Barn

 

 

2-5 Years Old: Magnatiles, Dollhouse and Green Toys Cars + Track

Also consider a tablet loaded with educational games, see Fave Fridays: Smart Screen Time for ideas!

 

Of course, you know your kid best, get them something you know they’ll be excited about and will play with relatively independently for a while. Avoid toys with choking-sized parts even for bigger kids until you know they’re on board with the “nothing-in-baby’s-mouth” rule.

Lower Your Expectations

Most kids go through some form of regression when a new baby comes home. That can take a lot of forms. Potty-trained kids might have accidents again. Kids who have no trouble sleeping alone at night might suddenly be getting up. They will want to play in the baby’s bouncer, ride in the stroller, suck the pacifier. It’s a normal phase and will pass if you don’t overreact. Acknowledge it, talk about it briefly and move on.

Also lower your expectations for getting stuff done. Enlist more help. You will not get those luxurious “nap when the baby naps” moments as easily as when there was just one little being taking your time. (Did those really ever happen anyway?!) Set yourself up for success with a decluttered house, easy food in the freezer and loved ones on board to help as much as possible. If you have trouble asking for help, make a list ahead of time of things that would be helpful or set up a MealTrain or other chore-registry to delegate.

love sweet face portraitThis post is about preparing the kiddos, but part of that also involves preparing your coparent and other family/friends who will be helping. Make sure they know the priority is helping with the housework and the big kid(s). Your job is the new baby. They’re NOT there to hold the new baby while you ‘get stuff done’. I repeat: THEY ARE THERE TO GET STUFF DONE and only as much of the new baby stuff as you want to delegate. Liberally use the phrase, “My doctor/midwife said I need to be holding the baby as much as possible for bonding, immunity and milk production, so can you please <do the dishes, fold the laundry, go to the store, make dinner, take Jimmy to the park, etc…> while we go take a nap together?”

IF and only if you desire a moment away from new baby to shower, snuggle your big kid or whatever else, then others get to hold new baby. No one has a “right” to new baby time except YOU.

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Photo credit: Stacey Petersen Photography

If you don’t have family or a community to help, look at neighborhood list serves like NextDoor to hire a middle or high school aged “mommy’s helper” – cheaper than a nanny or babysitter, literally they just come over and do chores or play with your big kid while you’re home taking care of baby.

Enjoy the Before

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Photo credit: Jordan Marie Photography

The one guarantee with bringing another little life into the family is that things will be different. Better in many ways, harder in many ways, and just altered in many, many ways.

Watching siblings grow together and love one another is one of the greatest joys of parenthood.

Try not to worry too much about how you’ll manage it, because you just will. Do your best to try to soak in the remaining time while the newest addition is still easily portable, fed and clean on the inside of your body. Plan special outings that will be harder with a new baby like going to a movie or kids’ museum. Take a moment every day to pay attention to the little life on the inside as you did with the first baby without even realizing you were doing it.

Good luck multiples parents-to-be, enjoy the ride!

Anne is a mom to three (including one beautiful brand new baby) and family physician in California. Christiana is a mom to three, military spouse, attorney, and currently a stay-at-home mom in New England.

Discovering and Coping With the Energy Vampires In Your Life

Do you ever find yourself wondering, watching through exhausted eyes as the kids get back on the bus after winter break, why the holidays left you so unimaginably drained? The more I think about it, stories of heightened stress around the end of the year holiday festivities have my thoughts pointed in a singular direction. Overwhelming. Amounts. Of. People.

Photo Credit The Carson J Spencer Foundation blog

Whether it is travel, being around family, or the financial pressures we place on ourselves, it seems after that shiny disco ball rings in the New Year, a collective sigh of relief audibly guides us back to our sense of normalcy. Does anyone else ever find themselves asking… “why?”

After all, we can mostly push the proverbial pause button on school, morning routines, and after school/work activities for a bit. We’ve spent time at home, in our pajamas, sipping coffee and smiling at each other while the kids relished in the magic of the season, right?

Oh wait…I forgot.

 

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There were school parties; work parties; friend parties; shopping in crowds; returning gifts; family to see, cook for and entertain; traffic; neighbors; gaggles of children…must I go on?

The point is, during this time of year we are almost forced to be around people that we may not see throughout the year. Sometimes this is a great thing and we are filled up with warm fuzzies, but other times we leave a situation feeling drained, overwhelmed, angry, depressed, anxious, threatened, and just down right OVER IT.

If this is you, my friend, then you have yourself what I have become accustomed to calling, an “Energy Vampire.” 

Photo Credit headinablender.com

The easiest way I can describe this is in terms of positive and negative. A positive person is in tune, energetic, with a light that flows outward. A negative person’s energy is blocked from the source, so their energy is dense, almost like a black hole, within themselves. The blockage does not allow the energy to replenish, so in order for them to be filled, they have to seek the energy of others.

These individuals may creep up on you, engaging you in a conversation that leaves you feeling empty.  They may not even realize that this is what they are doing to you! They just know that they can dump their emotional “stuff” into your bucket and feel better, regardless of how it leaves you feeling.

No matter what you do, how you try to steer conversation or the direction of the friendship, this one person always finds a way to latch onto you and send you energy revolving in an orbit of negativity around them.

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Most of these individuals are emotionally and energetically immature, so they lack any sort of empathy to recognize the social cues one might give them that they are being too draining.  They also may not care even if you socially cued them right upside their head, because they derive energy from other individuals, and they don’t know how to stop themselves from doing it.

I can’t stop them for you; however, I’m gonna give you some garlic-laced energy ammunition to protect yourself.  Just in case your cat-like reflexes kick in and make you situationally aware when people are waiting for an opportunity to jump into your bubble, I am going to give you some positive tools to use when your emotional capacity is plentiful and you want to be of help.

Photo Cred Joyful31.com

1. Know Your Personal Boundaries

In order to ward off an “energy vampire attack”, we have to be aware of our own personal struggles, mood, and headspace.  “Energy vampires” tend to feed on the weak. The higher your energetic capacity is, the less likely your energy will be drained. Daily, self-centering practices such as meditation, and self reflection are helpful keys to prepare yourself when you have to interact with these types of people. If you know your cups are low, avoid them at all costs.

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2. Roll Deep When You Can

If you can avoid one-on-one time with an energy-draining individual, then do. Interacting with negative people is almost always easier in group situations.  Dealing with them in groups not only sways the attention from being directly on you, but often makes the individual less likely to engage in immature behavior. Supportive friends and family are always great allies in these situations.

3. Make a Clean Break

Sometimes, the best way to deal with “Energy Vampires” is to recognize them for what they are and simply keep your distance. Maybe for a short term, maybe for a long term, or maybe until they, or you, are in a better place to communicate with each other. But sometimes you just need to make a clean break. It is important to ask ourselves

“what value is this person/these people actually adding to my life?”

If you are spending way more time solving their problems, listening without reciprocation, coming to their rescue, or worst yet, taking the fall for them when sh*t hits the fanthen it behooves you have to take serious inventory as to what this person is adding to your life. This is not to say that we don’t stand by old friends when sh*t hits the fan. On the contrary.

This is where the old pros and cons lists comes in handy. It sounds silly, but, I absolve you of any guilt-ridden feelings in performing this task.   You need your energy for the things you love, giving it away to those who won’t hold it dear is not something vital to your happiness. End. Of. Story.

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4. Be Direct

If your kindness kicks in and you want to lend a hand, try and keep your conversations direct. Instead of saying things like “tell me about it,” ask them directly “what can I do to help you?” This can ring very deeply in their empty well, and help them feel listened to and appreciate you on a different level.

For example, as a sleep deprived young mother my energetic cups were often very low and easily sucked into others’ negative inner turmoil. Hindsight is certainly 20/20 as I look back and see that if I could have found the energy at that time to simply ask directly what I could do to help with these individuals’ problems, we may have been able to work together to forge a constructive way to work out our differences, and we would have all been better off. And I could have saved myself a lot of energy-draining days.

5. Have a Self-Care Plan

If interaction with your “vampire(s)” is inevitable (for example with a coworker one cubicle over, or family member that seems to always “drop in“), have a routine for self-care in place for after you are around them (to remember your awesomeness, of course).  Maybe it’s a hot shower to rid yourself of their energy, or doing something nice for yourself or someone your care for – it all comes back to doing things that make you smile and re-fill your energetic “cups.” Whatever it is, tell your partner that you will need to have that time to fill back up immediately after the interaction is over. Your relationship with yourself and with all parties concerned will be better for it.

Photo Credit The Country Workshop

Setting boundaries, remembering who you are, listening to your own needs, engaging in direct conversation, practicing self care, and making a clean break when necessary, are the key components I have found successful in protecting oneself from those who feed off of your energy. I hope these tools help you to recognize who the “Energy Vampires” are in your life (OR if you are one to someone else!) and  go more confidently into situations with your own potential “Energy Vampires” and allow you to more deftly navigate them so that you aren’t left with an empty tank.

Now, go forth and be awesome!

004-1-of-1Kristy is a mother of two, Massage Therapist, and proponent of total body healing in Virginia.

Finance Friday: Financial Resolutions

When I ask my clients, “So, what’s your 2019 resolution?” I get a lot of very similar responses, particularly with the uncertainty of the stock market as of late.  A lot of people are saying:

“I want to go on a financial diet.”

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BLLLEEECH.  “Diet.”  That dreaded word.  It makes it sound so… boring, and restrictive.  Yes?  Ok, so let’s rebrand it.  Let’s call it a “Financial Reawakening!!!”  No?  Too much?  Ok, well, whatever you want to call it, here’s what I suggest you consider doing right here, right now, in 2019, to improve your finances without feeling like you are sacrificing things and experiences that make you happy.

1.  Take a Good Look at Your Budget

I highly suggest you either use something like Mint.com (free!) or a good old-fashioned spreadsheet.  Whatever you use, the important thing is that you look honestly at what you are spending and why.

pexels-photo-870902.jpegStart asking yourself, “do I really need the gym membership/pet insurance/lawn service I’m paying $100 per month for?”  Or, “Am I really watching my cable or do I only watch Netflix/Hulu?”  See if you can cut out things that are monthly (re-occurring) expenses that aren’t really adding anything to your life, that you can afford to live without, or are costly services that you can manage to take on yourself.

2. Take Control

Speaking of re-occurring expenses, get a good handle on those.  I love Madison Reed hair color, but I haven’t ordered it.  Want to know why?  They want permission to bill me monthly and send me more on a regular basis.  As a financial advisor, I hate these auto-billings and reoccurring orders, unless it’s truly something I use every day and run out of on a regular basis if more doesn’t arrive at my doorstep.  Take back control.Cancel these auto-payments and take some time to understand what you really need, when, and order it yourself.  You’ll save yourself some money right there.

3. Start Small

Make some MINOR adjustments to start.  If you usually spend $500 per month on eating out at restaurants, cut it back to $450, then back to $400, and until you get to a point where you feel like you are still able to socialize and have a good time, but can still save money.  Do not say, “No, I can’t hang out.  I’m trying to spend less money.”  That’s a Debbie-Downer attitude that will spell out short-term budget success but long-term burn-out.  (And probably like zero friends.)

Don’t do it!

Have fun.  Go out.  Just be more budget-conscious when you do.  Maybe don’t order the surf and turf at dinner (every time) unless someone new you met on Bumble is treating you. 😉

4. Stop Boredom Shopping

No judgment, of course, but I see you – Yes YOU, the one reading this.  At the top of your web browser, there is that tab open to Amazon.  I challenge you to stay away from shopping online when you should be doing other things, like working, sleeping, or hey, catching up with your spouse about his or her day over a glass of wine (a budget-conscious varietal of course).

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Stahhhhhp it!

It used to be that when exhausted, burned-out parents zoned out at the end of a long day, they’d just watch TV.  (I’m not saying that I personally did, of course, I’ve just heard from certain trustworthy parents that they binge-watched a few shows after the kids went to bed…) Ok, ok, Netflix is still in the rotation. But now, with the enormous growth in online shops, we also have retail therapy constantly at our fingertips, and with our “virtual wallet” we can easily order just about anything (did you know you can buy a hot tub on Amazon?!?!) at anytime without even looking at our debit card, let alone our account balances.  That can be a very dangerous habit.  Make a commitment to yourself that you won’t shop when you are bored or sleepless.

5. Understand Needs vs. Wants

Before making any purchase ask yourself:  “Is this a NEED to have, WANT to have or NICE to have item?”  If it’s a NEED to have, like new tires to safely drive your family vehicle, then by all means, go ahead and make that purchase. (These are almost always the least fun to spend our money on, FYI.  Chock it up to #adulting. Womp, womp.)

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If it’s a WANT to have, don’t deprive yourself, but don’t go crazy.  An example of this is a fancy latte.  You may arguably need a cup o’caffeine to perform your best at work after your kids wake you up at 3am, but you don’t need a Starbucks “double-shot, extra whip, no-fat, extra whatever” you could make a pot of coffee at home.  However, sometimes it just feels good enough to be a little #extra that you can justify spending a few more bucks. Make a commitment to treat yourself to these WANT-to-have items a few times a week, but not every day.  Finally, if it’s a NICE to have (like a boat, a motorcycle, or a Prada purse), don’t purchase it until you have no credit card debt and at least three months of expenses in a savings account. Sorry to break it to you, sailor. 

When in doubt, skip the boat. (Keep the flippy-floppies.)

6. Treat yo’self.

Did you just save $100/month for three months because you were doing these things?  If so, go get a $100 massage.  Yes, I realize that means you’re saving $100 less for the year, but this is about long-term success.  Did you save more than that this year?  $5k?  Go on a trip to Italy with a friend for $3k.

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Treating yourself because you are making more sound financial decisions will reinforce this behavior and ensure it sticks.  And the longer you do this, the higher the chance is you will see REAL results.  Yes… just like a regular diet.  The rules are the same. Cheating never works and it takes longer than you’ll want. But it feels damn good when you succeed.

HAPPY NEW YEAR and sending my best for your Financial Reawakening!!!!

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Margo Cook is a Certified Financial Planner and mother of two on Maryland’s eastern shore.

Mental Health Home School

Mental health is a lifelong journey for every human. It’s something that comes up a lot this time of year in particular as the holidays bring with them stresses, memories and not-so-welcome comments from family members you are generally able to avoid in the rest of life. As a family doctor, the number of visits on my schedule for anxiety, depression, grief, panic attacks and all manner of stresses dramatically increases leading up to Thanksgiving and doesn’t let up until well after New Year’s Day.

I have had a personal journey with mental health in adulthood that I appreciate in particular because I can truly empathize with others struggling. I’ve been in low, low places and I’ve been peacefully, truly, deeply happy. I’ve been on medication for depression, anxiety and post-partum mood changes. I’ve seen therapists. But, some of the most important work I’ve done to grow has been reading and self-reflection and I wanted to share the 5 key resources that have been the most helpful.

1. The Science of Happiness, by Stefan Klein

The first book that introduced me to the concept that you have some control over your own mental health was The Science of Happiness. I read this book at the end of undergrad as I was heading into medical school and it. changed. everything.

The Science of Happiness: How Our Brains Make Us Happy-and What We Can Do to Get Happier by [Klein, Stefan]At that point, I had started to recognize that not only did my mood influence my behavior, but my behaviors influenced my mood and experience of life (hello, frontal lobe, welcome to the rest of the mature brain!). This book gave me powerful insight into the why of that and got me working on “Happiness Habits”. As a lifelong cynic who questions everything, I would never have believed any book telling me to do something without understanding why that would make a difference. 

2) The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

This book was my second mental health growth spurt and came much later. I had finished medical school and residency. Those 7 years were tough. We are confronted with very regular, literal life-and-death situations, sleep deprivation, lack of time for exercise or healthy hobbies, isolation from your loved ones and regularly feeling like you might be the dumbest person in the room – especially hard for those of us who used to be frequently the smartest person in a room (am I selling you on becoming a doctor yet??). I had been on and off medication and was ready to heal myself. I stumbled into this one at just the right moment.

The Happiness Project, Tenth Anniversary Edition: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by [Rubin, Gretchen]

Gretchen was in a similar place to me. We both were married to great people, had the family we planned, a nice home, a good job, but were still pretty miserable. I set out to do my own Happiness Project, setting out tasks, turning them into habits, and lo and behold!! I got happier! I was able to wean off medication in anticipation of getting pregnant again and wow, it really worked! I think I told everyone I know to go buy the book. You’re welcome, Gretchen!

3) The Universe Has Your Back, by Gabrielle Bernstein

Just when things had settled down a bit, life threw us another curve ball. My husband decided to go back to fellowship (extra medical training to specialize into a ‘niche’). Twice. This involved a 75% paycut, moving 4 times in 4 years, and, oh, we now had 2 babies and a puppy and I was also trying to be a good primary care doctor to brand new patients then having to ‘abandon’ them to move again over and over. It was rough. My rudimentary mental health skills weren’t really up to the task. The Universe quite literally barged in with The Universe Has Your Back and turned the tide.

I started it just as the girls were both sick at home, my husband was working 100 hours a week with a 3 hour commute, and I hated my own job at the time. We were massively in debt from the fellowships and had moved away from essentially all of our close support people. This book forced me to examine and change my own inner dialogue on a MUCH deeper level than I ever had before. The Universe began to quite literally speak to me, sparking several dramatic life changes that have turned into a happiness snowball effect. Can. Not. Recommend. Enough.

4) Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis

I probably don’t need to say a whole lot about this book since it’s blowing up the bestseller lists across the US and internationally. I might have fallen off the self-improvement wagon again as I had every other time had The Universe not led me to start working a side-gig that encouraged continuous personal development. We are expected to read 10 pages every. single. day. to improve your function in some way. They don’t specify what you read, just that you make it habit to work on yourself, a little bit, consistently. Even on the longest, most exhausted day, you can read 10 pages of something. Trust me. I picked this one next and found it inspiring, clarifying and full of real-life applicable advice.

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by [Hollis, Rachel]

I would add, however, that the part of it that most changed me and how I was doing with mental health was following Rachel’s podcast and posts on social media and going to the Made For More documentary – can’t WAIT for the next book which delves more into the action side of improving your life!

5) You Are A Badass, Jen Sincero

At the end of Rachel’s book, I couldn’t help but feel that I needed more direction. Rachel made me believe I was “Made For More”, but I didn’t quite know how to find what my ‘more’ should be or how to get there. You see, I had accomplished a lot by many measures – getting into a top medical school, becoming a Family Physician, making a healthy marriage and raising two (so far) thriving kids. From the outside, it looks like I am fairly good at setting goals and accomplishing them. The problem was, those goals were all externally defined – someone else said what the end result was and all the basics of how to get there.  I felt gratitude for being ‘successful’ without ever stopping to think about where I might dream of being beyond that.

You Are a Badass®: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by [Sincero, Jen]

Enter, You are a Badass. Jen Sincero’s book blasted open my eyes to the concept that you can simultaneously be grateful for what you have and where you are in life ANNNND have huge dreams about where you are going ANNNNNND ANNND AND make that life happen, whatever it is. I can’t begin to explain how big of a revelation this was for me.

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Jen breaks it down into how to get there in real terms, in cursy and hilarious fashion. With the help of this book, I have reached next-level happy. I discovered how to dream and made the first one of those dreams come true. I dreamed that even though we are on an incredibly strict budget, my husband and I could still go on a tropical vacation. I’ve never won or earned the “bonus” on any challenge in my life, but one came up in my side business with Nerium. Through goal setting, planning and consistent action, I earned a free, all-inclusive vacation to the Bahamas for us at a 5 star resort this June. BOOMSHAKALAKA!

Where are you now?

This journey has been my own. I readily acknowledge that everyone is starting or continuing on their own journey in different places. You may be light-years ahead of me, or struggling at the very beginning. I hope that one or more of these books might help some of you on the way. As always, this is my personal experience and not your own personal medical advice – talk your medical person if you need help.

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Dr. Annie is a family physician and mom of 3 in California.

The Spotlight on Fascia

Pssst. Insider tip.

I want to share with you a little trade secret that I’ve learned over the years. When I work on a client who experiences chronic pain, such as a neck spasm or a bad lower back, I don’t attack that pain with deep tissue work. Most folks come in and point to an area that is aching, and deeply embedded are a series of trigger points. They then ask me to “dig it out”.  While that is one way to go about it, I have found through experience that it is not the whole answer to ridding them of that pain permanently.

That’s because the secret lies in the fascial system of the body.

What is fascia? How does one go about even pronouncing that word? Fascia, or FAAAAAAH-SHAH (totally formal phonetic spelling, right?) is a thin sheet of fibrous tissue that surrounds and encloses a muscle or other organ. What that description does not tell you is that, it is continuous. It has no beginning and no end. It encloses EVERY organ, muscle, nerve, IN YOUR ENTIRE BODY! My meat-eaters (holla), if you ever have split apart chicken breast, it is the thin spiderweb looking material between the breasts.

Much like a sweater, if there is a bunching in the material somewhere in the body, it effects the whole unit, twisting and morphing it into imbalance.

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Exhibit A: middle knot effects the material around it

Imagine for a minute, you’ve had surgery.  When we cut into that delicate fascia, it turns

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Exhibit B: injuries pulling at right shoulder and left knee

from a flowy version of itself, to its evil step-fascia that is thick, sticky, and twisty……….scar tissue. That scar tissue is now adhering to the surrounding tissue, pulling it towards it like a black hole. If we walk around like that without finding that restriction within the fascia, eventually the body compensates with postural misalignments. This creates systemic muscular tension in random parts of the body, AKA, Myofascial Pain.

That is where we begin the journey to healing the body of chronic Myofascial Pain. To heal it, we must first understand what Myofascial Pain Syndrome truly is.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome is a tricky one to diagnose because we cannot test for with normal medical testing.  It is, for lack of formality and brevity sake, a person with a boatload of Trigger Points.

THIS GUY BELOW

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Photo Credit Spine Universe

Those yellow dots represent areas within the muscle system that are in chronic contraction, aka Trigger Points. Those contracted areas actually decrease blood flow to the muscle itself, so waste materials cannot flow out, and healthy blood cells cannot come in. The buildup of toxins, such as lactic acid, lead to muscular pain. Lack of formal scientific testing makes this syndrome subjective, which is where I come in. I love me some subjectivity!

Since each person is an individual, working with the fascial system isn’t limited by protocol. In the place of deep tissue work and Trigger Point Therapy, I use a method developed by a now pretty famous Physical Therapist named John Barnes called Myofascial Release.

In his description, John States that “Trauma, inflammatory responses, and/or surgical procedures create Myofascial restrictions that can produce tensile pressures of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch on pain sensitive structures that do not show up in many of the standard tests (x-rays, myelograms, CAT scans, electromyography, etc.)”

That is a super sciency way to validate them when my clients say I’m in “a ton of pain.” I can now say, “Dude, you totally ARE!” Badump…ching!

But seriously, when the fascia buckles down on a structure because it is under so much tension from being pulled in the direction of scar tissue, it is my job to then go and find that restriction and release it. Through gently applied sustained pressure, the fascial system is able to stretch out and those restrictions release, restoring mobility and function to the area.

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Photo Credit to Bliss Myofascial Release

Using a series of postural assessments and palpations, I can begin the search and release journey. However, no two people are alike. Much like their personal life, everyone’s fascia tells a different story. With injuries, different surgeries, different traumas, your body can tell the tall tale of the years you’ve put on it thus far.  This is why this type of pain is hard to treat with prescriptions, further surgeries, or even your typical Massage Therapy. It also means that this fascial work can bring along with it the emotional components of all of those years.

Releasing a specific restriction, especially one that has been plaguing a client with pain for months or years, can also release the emotional memory of that trauma. This is where this work goes above and beyond when it comes to helping heal the body.

One client of mine had chronic tension headaches that triggered recurrent migraines. Typically, to target this, we work in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, head, face, and back with regular bodywork.  Maybe we’ll release all the points, or maybe we will need 5-6 sessions. The problem is, it starts small, but then you drive home, tense your shoulders, make dinner, work at your computer, you continue with life recreating your recurring problem over and over.  Even with perfect posture, your fascia is still restricting your structure as you sit.

Through gentle fascial stretching of the head, my client began to have a sudden emotional release. As the tears poured out, she was awash with memories of her dog, who had been her first “baby”.  Her chronic headaches were a direct physical response to her sadness, anxiety, and stress over the tough decision months before to put her beloved dog down. She hadn’t been able to process that and grieve because she was in a stressful, overly busy time in life and had to suppress her own reaction to “be strong” for her family. By releasing the associated emotion, the fascial restrictions around her skull muscles released almost immediately, and her chronic headaches dramatically changed.

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Headaches are not the only thing that Myofascial Release can help. Check out the HUGE list here:———>whoa, that’s a huge list.

The magic of this modality is that we create a safe space for you to release your pain. Since feedback is encouraged, this type of work can help increase your own personal body awareness.

Finding a Myofascial Release Specialist is as easy as clicking this link. Simply search for your area, and it’ll give you a list of who is certified in this modality. After all, what in the heck is there to lose…other than your chronic pain?

004-1-of-1Kristy is a mother of two, Massage Therapist, and proponent of total body healing in Virginia.

Holiday Baking Hacks

“Twas the night before the holiday party and all through the fridge, not a stick of butter could be found, not even a smidge…with the children in bed and the dog in her crate, I’m wondering if Amazon delivers this late… “

 

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“No butter?!?!” It would be nice if the big man delivered late night baking essentials too…

The week of last-minute-everything

It’s the last week before Christmas, y’all. The final countdown. The week that in our home is unofficially known as “the week of last-minute-everything.” Between the perpetually forgotten stocking stuffers, out-of-stock toys, procrastinated holiday cards, cookie exchanges, white elephants, and school holiday performances; the office, classroom, and social holiday parties that often tend to occur during this same chaotic week have a tendency to sneak right up on me. Which is bad enough when you can’t find your ugly sweater, but even worse when you realize you’re on the hook to bring holiday treats for two dozen preschoolers and are plum out of a key ingredient.

We all wish we could bake cakes out of rainbows and smiles, but in reality, we need butter. and sugar. and eggs. And sometimes… we run out. So, here are a few ways to save yourself if you come up in a bind in the kitchen.

Favorite “Baking Hack” substitutions

Here are some of my favorite ways to get the job done when a run to the store is just not going to happen.

  • Heavy cream – for every 1 cup of heavy cream, substitute 3/4 c. whole milk and 1/3 c. butter. Melt butter and mix into milk.
  • Eggs – Substitute 1 tbsp cornstarch whisked together with 3 tbsp water, whisked together, per egg.  I use this substitute all. the. time. It’s great in a pinch, but also for saving eggs for brunch, for when that one vegan relative comes over, or even for cookie dough you know the kids will be sneaking. (No raw egg to worry about here!)person peeling the egg
  • Baking powder and Baking Soda – Contrary to popular belief, you can substitute baking soda for baking powder, and vice versa. ON ONE CONDITION. The substitution is NOT ALWAYS EQUAL. Baking soda is much more powerful than baking powder and contains an acid. Read carefully!
    • Baking Powder: Substitute 1/2 tsp of baking soda and 1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice for every 1 tsp baking powder needed.
    • Baking Soda: You may substitute baking powder for baking soda at a 3:1 ratio. So simply use three times the amount of baking powder as you would baking soda.
  • Sugar – Both honey and maple syrup (or a combination of both!) are good sugar substitutes in baking. Use 3/4 cup honey or syrup per every cup of sugar needed. Color will be darker if you’re subbing for white sugar here. (Note: Some recipes suggest reducing liquid and adding 1/4 extra tsp. of baking soda for each cup of sugar replaced. I haven’t done this, but you may notice less of a difference in texture with these adjustments)
  • Vanilla – Equal amounts of maple syrup, slightly less almond extract, or (something I always have in the fridge) vanilla almond or soy milk. When cooking for adults you can also spring for a boozy dessert by equally substituting any dark liquor like bourbon, rum or brandy.yellow pastry on white powder on brown wooden table
  • Butter – You have a few great options here.
    • Greek yogurt: For every 1 cup of butter required, substitute 1/2 cup of greek yogurt.
    • Coconut Oil: Substitute in equal amounts, but note that taste can be noticeable (I think this can be a bonus, but non-coconut lovers should proceed with caution). A combination of coconut oil and greek yogurt is also fantastic!
    • Applesauce: For every 1 cup of butter, substitute 1/2 cup of applesauce.
    • Avocado: Substitute equally.
  • Shortening – Coconut oil is the same texture and subs really nicely here. It will give your baked goods a coconutty flavor, as noted above, so not the choice for you if you don’t want that. You can also substitute butter (if you’re not out!) at equal parts plus two tablespoons per cup. But expect a softer dough if you’re making roll-out dough for cookie-cutting. making gingerbread cookies christmas cookie cutters

If it’s healthier holiday treats you’re after, some quick (and sneaky) ways to make seasonal sweets less sinful are to:

  1. Reduce sugar. You can do this without being skewered at the cookie exchange by adding extra vanilla and/or cinnamon if applicable. You can also cut up to 1/4 cup of sugar from most sweet bread and muffin recipes simply by sprinkling a teaspoon or two of sugar on top before baking.
  2. Choose healthy fats. Butter, coconut oil, avocado, and whole milk yogurt are all good fats that top hydrogenated shortening, vegetable or canola oils in our kitchen any day.
  3. Add fiber. You can easily add fiber to bread and muffins by reducing flour and adding flax, wheat germ, chia seeds, and/or oats in its place.  These substitutions not only add fiber but naturally cut calories and boost other nutritional benefits too.
  4. Add protein. You can squeeze protein into bread and muffins (and even cakes!) by adding a scoop or two of your favorite vanilla or unflavored protein powder. Chia seeds are a nice addition to some baked goods as well.

Turns out you can have your holiday cake (and cookies and muffins) and eat it too.  Now that’s some joy definitely worth spreading.

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fullsizeoutput_658Christiana is a Navy wife and mother of 3, attorney and former realtor, world traveler, home renovator and decorator, yogi, fitness enthusiast, and amateur late-night holiday baker. (Photo credit: Tara Liebeck Photography)