Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Embracing Minimalism


Only 2 more days until we leave on our full-time RV adventure! Part of downsizing from a 2400 sq ft home to a 400 sq ft 5th wheel is embracing minimalism! How did we get to a point that we could truly embrace minimalism in order to move onto the next stage of our life? It has been a bit of a journey. Moving across the country multiple times we always tried to purge before our moves but it wasn't until I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo that I really started embracing minimalism. The book outlines a strategic way to declutter your home and get rid of stuff you don't need. One key question she has you ask as you go through items is, "does this bring me joy?" That was a big change for me. I read this book about 4 years ago. I started going through things asking myself, "does this bring me joy"? It was a huge mind shift.

I had spent my entire adult life accumulating things. Always thinking we needed a bigger house, a bigger yard, nicer furniture, but you know what those things did not bring me happiness. I am even going to go out on a limb and say if you look deep inside yourself those things don't bring you true happiness either. Sure, having nice things is nice but beyond your basic needs being met having more things doesn't necessarily bring you happiness. I like nice things but honestly having a big house payment is stressful. Having a big house to clean and maintain is stressful. The most stressful and time consuming for us was having a big yard. We spent our entire lives wishing we had a big yard for the kids to play in but having had 1/4 acre lot the last 2.5 years it is so much work to keep up with the weeds, lanscaping, mowing, watering, and planting. 

In order to fit 5 people into 400 sq ft we had to get rid of almost everything. I am not going to lie it was hard! Furniture I didn't care about. We like getting things for a bargain and Facebook marketplace (and previously Craigslist) is the way to find nice stuff, at a good price. When we settle down somewhere next we will just buy furniture 2nd hand. Sentimental stuff was hard for me to let go. We sent several boxes of pictures with friends. Pictures, projects, and things the kids made we took pictures of that we will keep forever as digital photos. Hobby stuff was hard to get rid of too but when I thought long and hard most of it had been accumulated but rarely touched.

Nate and I both really enjoy travel. We enjoy meeting new people, seeing new places, and experiencing new cultures. We would rather spend money on experiences rather than stuff. We love being outdoors and things like hiking, camping, and being out in nature. Having less stuff, will allow us to explore without being tied down to a mortgage, a place to come back to, or a house to maintain. It will also allow us to spend extended time with our loved ones, both family and close friends.

A huge added bonus is I have sold a lot of our stuff on Facebook marketplace and while I haven't kept exact track of every dollar made I think we've made close to $2500. Not bad for old stuff, mostly not getting used. This also ties into our Dave Ramsey journey towards debt freedom. We were debt free except our mortgage as of June 2016 and once our house closes we will be completely debt free!

We are so excited for this next chapter of our lives and the opportunity to live a life of freedom and adventure. I hope to post regularly on my blog so subscribe and follow along!

I also will be posting on my blog Facebook page and Instagram.


My life the last 5 months!


If you liked this post, check out my posts:


Our Journey To Debt Freedom Part 1 and Part 2

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Tales of an Unexpected Homeschool Mom



If you would have asked me several years ago about homeschooling I would have told you that I have a lot of respect for moms that homeschool but it wasn't for me. I enjoy working out of the home and I feel like both my kids and I are better with a break from each other sometimes. But, here I am homeschooling 3 of my 4 kids as they enter 12th, 10th, and 1st grade.


1st Grade

10th Grade

12th Grade

This is a year of transition for the Brown family. Brennan started college a couple weeks ago at NDSU and moved into the dorms. Our house sure feels different with only 3 kids in it.


College Freshman

In June, Nate started a new job that is location independent. This led us to explore where do we want to live? We came to Fargo, ND for Nate's job 2 years ago. We could stay here but we no longer had to. There are lots of great things about Fargo and they kids truly have great friends here but for Nate and I we didn't feel like Fargo was our long term home. We considered going back to Fort Collins but once we looked at homes online and realized we would have to have a $300,000+ mortgage to move back and we decided that didn't make financial sense.

So where did this leave us? We prayed, talked about, and weighed pros and cons, but we decided to sell our home in favor of a 5th wheel and be truly location independent. Traveling full time in an RV has been a dream of Nate and mine but it always felt like a far off dream. Maybe once the big kids are out of the house. Maybe after all the kids are out of the house. We knew we could save up enough money to live this way for awhile but we never quite figured out how to afford health insurance or other things covered by a full time job. Once Nate was presented with this job opportunity we felt like the Lord was leading us to take a step out in faith and follow our dreams.

A big motivating factor was the ability to spend some extended time with our family who are spread across the country. My dad is in North Carolina and has been ill for awhile, spending time with him is a top priority. My sister is in Florida and just had a new baby. Spending time with our new nephew is another priority. We also have close famiy and friends in Colorado that we will spend time with too. We will also spend time each year back in ND with Brennan.




So here I am homeschooling the kids! I have two weeks under my belt and I am not going to lie. It is hard, a lot harder than I thought it would be. I constantly feel like I have so much to learn and I have to keep stopping to figure out things that are not inuitive. I am a perfectionist and a planner and like to do everything perfectly the first time and have everything planned out far in advance. I am learning with homechooling this isn't the case. I know we will get into our routine and things will get easier but right now it's still hard.

The girls are doing an accredited program where they watch video lessons filmed during live classes and we work at our own pace. They have 170 lessons to get through and take quizzes and tests online. I supervise, check homework, and help if needed but they are fairly independent. Phoenix has the heaviest class load so we have to make sure we start early enough in the morning so we are done by 3pm each day. The girls are still working and then have homework after their lessons to get through. It is a lot of material to cover.


Orion is doing Abeka as well but parent led so I can teach to his level. I bought a complete 1st grade set of teacher and student materials but can teach at his level. He is already on lesson 81 in math and 88 in reading. He is very active and wiggly and not in love with homeschool but I hope to incorporate more and more hands on activities now that I have honed in what level he is at in each subject area.





So my question to you is do you homeschool? If not, have you ever considered homeschooling? Why or why not? 


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mexico On My Mind!


I'd love your support in becoming cancun.com's lifestyle expert! Vote once per day! Share with friends! https://ceo.cancun.com/profile/michelle-brown

A little under 3 weeks ago I returned from an amazing trip with 3 of my long time friends to the Cancun area of Mexico. We had such a great time! We stayed at Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar in Playa Del Carmen. 


Beautiful Resort Grounds and Lobby Areas

 


Peacocks were only one of the many different kinds of wildlife we saw on resort property. We saw Coati, cats, parrots, turtles, flamingos, peacocks, and many other types of birds

This was my 1st time staying at an all inclusive resort. I have been on two cruises, which have all inclusive food and our cruise excursion to Cozumel had all inclusive food and drink, but each place is different. Here at the Iberostar properties if you are staying at the Beach or Del Mar side you can book 2 a la carte restaurants for a 4 night stay. We chose Japanese hibachi based upon online reviews and it was delicious, the best meal of our trip! The 2nd a la carte we chose was The Brazilian Rodizo. It was okay but nothing amazing. We ordered room service once for desserts and wine and that was a lot of fun and a tasty treat. We booked a room with 2 beds at the Beach side but they put us in a room with 1 bed so we ended up moving to a room at the Del Mar side near the lobby. We were near the Del Mar lobby buffet so we ate every breakfast there. The food was satisfactory. Nothing amazing but a huge spread and since it was all you can eat you can keep going back until you find something you like. For lunch we either ate at the beach or the pool buffet until the last day. The food at the pool buffets was definitely not as good as the lobby buffet. We had a really nice lunch at the Beach side lobby buffet our last day. We weren't that impressed with Star Rock Cafe or the Taco place in the shopping center but did have yummy crepes and coffee at the shopping center.


Japanese Hibachi, delicious food and entertainment

Parasailing, one of many activities they had at the resort

Jumping for joy! We love the beach!

The star of the resort, a gorgeous soft, sand beach. We could have spent all day relaxing on the beach

Our room was quite a walk to the beach but the grounds were lush with vegetation and gorgeous and we didn't mind the exercise. There were snacks, a bar, and bathrooms right at the beach. Depending upon the time of day the beach could be crowded but with a little persistence we could always find 4 lounge chairs. Each day there were different activities at the beach. We participated in yoga on the beach on day and Zumba on the beach another day. Both were a lot of fun. We also heard staff rounding up guests for pick up soccer and volleyball games. The water varied from very rough to fairly calm when we were there. The sand was very soft and never hot. There were hammocks near the beach and outdoor beds so plenty of space for relaxing. was seaweed but it wasn't overtaking the beach. There were rocks in some areas but the lifeguards kept swimmers to one area where there were not rocks.


Our 2nd favorite spot, the gorgeous pool. It was huge and had sun loungers, spa jets, quiet areas, and multiple swim up bars.


Swim up bar!

The pool area was a huge surprise just how vast it was. It wasn't super wide at spots but went through the property almost as a river. The pool started with the hot tub at the far enter in a covered area. and went most of the way to the beach. There were a lot of comfortable lounge chairs and shade by the pool, outdoor beds, and areas to relax. As you got closer to the beach there were bathrooms, swim up bar, ice cream counter, sun loungers, and jetted area of the pool. One pool was a little more lively and had the games and activities at it. One day we watched guests compete to try to stand up on a surfboard and jump over a rope strung across the pool. That same day they gave a short dance lesson by the pool. Plenty to keep you busy if you like to be busy. Plenty of opportunities to relax if that is what you prefer.


Best of friends on vacation!

The best part for me? Getting uninterrupted time to catch up with my girlfriends. I have known these ladies for 20 or more years but life has taken us all different directions and it is not often that we get to really catch up. The fact that Cancun has a direct flight from Denver and Minneapolis makes it as easy as getting to the east coast. Going through customs as quick and easy and we had arranged to a bus to take us to and from the airport with cheapcaribbean.com when we booked. Rain was forecast most of our trip but we only had one downpour and a couple short sprinkles. Mostly we had gorgeous sunny and 80 degree weather. We truly had an amazing time and I know it won't be a question of it we'll be back but when we'll be back!



Michelle

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

10 Disney Dream Insider Tips - Disney Cruise Line





We spent an amazing 5 days on the Disney Dream last month. It was a wonderful family vacation! This was our 2nd Disney Cruise Line vacation. Disney fans love planning so I wanted to share my insider tips for the Disney Dream.

1. Figure out when your online check in window opens and be ready! You must be paid in full and then first time cruisers can check in 75 days ahead, Silver Castaway Club members (1-4 cruises) can check in 90 days ahead, Gold Castaway Club Members (5-9 cruises) can check in 105 days ahead, and Platinum Castaway Club Level (10 cruises or more) can check in 120 days ahead. The most important thing is to grab an early Port Arrival Time (PAT), book Princess and Frozen Meet and Greet tickets (limited quantity), book Palo or Remy, and book shore excursions (don't sell out as fast typically). I put in just the basic info to grab a PAT and then go back and add flight, transportation, and passport info later. I also registered my son for the kids club online and was able to skip that line in the terminal. Print your paperwork when you are done. 3 days or less before your cruise you cannot make changes online or print documents again so make sure you print before then. If you forget the documents you can still check in, it just speeds up the process.

2. Each adult can carry on 6 cans/bottles of beer or one bottle of wine at embarkation and at each port. This is the policy as of October 2017. Save a little money and bring your own wine or beer.

3.Pack a day bag with swimsuits, important documents like passports/birth certificates and medicine, and give the porters the rest of your luggage. Your room won't be ready until 1:30pm but boarding usually starts around 11:30am. We always head straight for Cabanas for a yummy lunch at the outside tables and head straight for the AquaDuck water slide and pools. The day we embarked the pool deck was HOT so flip flops or sandals are handy.

4. Go to the spa raffle on embarkation day (3:30pm) for us. Not only did several people win $50-$100 spa gift cards, at the end of their quick presentation they ran $100 off special on the bliss package (hot stone massage, scalp massage, foot rub, and facial). I wasn't planning to book a spa treatment but did for the 1st night between dinner and the show and had an amazing 1 hour and 45 minute service. So relaxing! 

5. Book Palo brunch for your sea day. It was amazing! The food was so delicious, the service was great, the view was nice, and the adult only atmosphere was wonderful. Brunch on a sea day means you don't have to miss any of your evening meals and you don't have to worry about excursion timing. The Palo Lasagna, Veal, and Chicken Parmigiana were all some of the best food I have ever had. The cold buffet and desserts were pretty great too. Yum!

6. Check out the Midship Detective Game on deck 2 or deck 5. This wasn't overly promoted but it was a super fun game. I played one night with hubby and our 5 year old. My kids ended up doing all 3 missions over the course of the 5 days.

7. Play family Bingo! It may seem expensive or lame but it's not. It is a ton of fun. Even my teens loved it. Photographic evidence below!


Teens smiling at bingo!


8. Castaway Cay, a Bahamian paradise! I love Castaway Cay, my favorite port. So gorgeous. My insider tip is run the Castaway Cay 5K, it's a ton of fun. If you have kids too young to run, don't worry, the kids club on the island opens early just for them. Bring your swimsuits with you and change into your swimsuit after the race and enjoy a relaxing beach day. We found on the Dream, where there are more passengers than the Magic, the first family beach near the climbing structure was less crowded than the 2nd family beach near the Pelican Plunge water slide. Take time to ride the water slide, especially if you have small kids, they can ride a big water slide with a life jacket on. Adults, I highly recommend checking the kids into the kids club on the island for an hour and having lunch at Serenity Bay and enjoying some adult only time. Even more beautiful and peaceful than the family beach area.

Serenity Bay adult only beach at Castaway Cay


9. Room Service, use it! The cheese plate and the cake of the day are two of our favorites but you know what we loved this cruise? Pre-ordering room service breakfast the night before. Just hang the door hanger found in the desk drawer out the night before with a 30 minute time slot you select. I chose the time my alarm was set for and woke up to hot coffee, donuts, and fresh fruit. My 5 year old asked if someone would bring him donuts in bed once we were back home. Sorry buddy, real life isn't anything like a Disney cruise!

10. Dress up for events! Depending upon your itinerary you may have a semi formal, formal, pirate night, Halloween night, or other special night. My advice is dress up and participate! When else do you get to go all out and have fun? Our 5 day cruise had a Halloween night, a pirate night, and an optional semi formal night. We participated in them all! 


Semi formal night

There are pirates out in those waters!

Kids during the Halloween on the High Seas Celebration

Prince Eric and Princess Ariel

There were several times during our cruise where I looked over at hubby and said, "is this real life?" Our whole trip was amazing and we can't wait to do it again!


Michelle

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Writing...Because it is Cheaper Than Therapy...




We have reached the point in the summer where mom has had enough! I expect most moms anticipate summer with longing. They get to spend more time with their sweet kids, the days are longer, the weather is warmer, we can play outside, we can go to the pool, we can camp, we can go on fun vacations.

At first, it was fun and I am still loving the warmer weather (winter stay away forever) but my household has disintegrated into utter chaos. Orion is newly 5 and will start kindergarten in August. He is my most challenging child by far. He was a high needs baby who needed his mama all the time and never slept. His intensity has continued on. I love him so and he is so fun and cute but he thrives in routine.

This summer I have 3 high school age kids and 2 of which who drive. In my head that meant I could pay them to watch Orion. He could sleep in, play with friends, the oldest two could drive him to the park, to the pool, to the zoo. He would be happy and having fun and my youngest teen would be happy because she was earning money.

The reality has been starkly different. The oldest 2 are working 32-40 hours each week. Staying up late and sleeping in. Mostly they have been unavailable to drive the 14 year old and 5 year old anywhere. The 14 year old has been uninterested in much besides her phone. She has taken to staying up very late and sleeping in which doesn't work well when you are babysitting your brother. She has kept him alive and usually fed but engaging activities aren't happening and often Orion has dissolved to tears because one of the 3 big kids has upset him. So much for summer fun!

Then we have my job... super flexible, I can make my own schedule except for a few set meetings and events during the week. I can even bring Orion to work with me occasion and can do a lot of my work from home. Working for a non-profit you don't make the big bucks, you do it because you love what you do and you are passionate about the mission. Both of my jobs at the church offered me more flexibility to balance work and home life than typical corporate jobs. Trying to squeeze my work hours in around the demands of 4 kids who are home all summer and still trying to manage my household isn't working out well. Working from home is okay but then I feel guilty that I am not in the office more. Bringing Orion to work with me hasn't worked out well. I should have learned by now. At my last job I brought him every Wednesday morning, which worked fine when he went to his class at church. As much as he should do fine with helping me clean, put stuff away, just play, he doesn't and bringing him to work with me is never a good idea and should only be used as a last resort.

I am feeling exhausted, fed up, and like life is just out of balance. I feel bad I can't provide Orion better routine and structure and that his behavior is suffering. When I am at work I feel guilty that the kids are at home and I am not spending time with them. When I am at home spending time with the kids I feel guilty that I haven't got more work done that week. Mom guilt, it's real!

Only 30 more days until school starts...send wine, send coffee, send cupcakes, and most importantly pray for me. I hope we all make it...



Michelle

Friday, May 5, 2017

Run For Your Life


Want to win a 5 pack class pass to be used at any participating Fit4Mom location (Greater Denver, North Metro Denver, and Northern Colorado franchises)? Head to Facebook to enter! Giveaway ends 5/12!

Fit4Mom is an organization near and dear to my heart! I have never been athletic or much into working out but in 2010, when we lived in Maryland I heard about a Couch to 5K at our local running store and I signed up. Something in me changed! I set goals and beat them! I loved socializing with the other participants and successfully ran my 1st 5K race that summer.

The next fall I signed up for their 10K training and ran my 1st 10K race and just kept on running! In 2011 when I got pregnant with our 4th child, I knew I didn't want to lose this fitness I had built up. I was determined to run as far along in my pregnancy as I could manage. I ran until about 24 weeks when a cold snap hit Colorado and I was starting to really show.

The problem with stopping running is it is hard to get back into it! During our 2011 move from Maryland to Colorado and my subsequent pregnancy, I never did find a training group that was my speed. Then came a baby who never slept and was very high needs and running and exercising did not happen for this mama!

Two of my friends, who didn't know each other both opened Fit4Mom franchises in the area. I checked out their openings but I wasn't sure it was my thing. One of the owners, Darcy Peters, persistently encouraged me to sign up for the Fit4Mom marathon and half marathon training. If she didn't persist I would have never said, "yes"! A marathon seemed beyond my reach but with some time, a lot of hard work, and some encouragement, maybe, just maybe I could run a half marathon. 

That was December 2013 and I am currently training for my 4th half marathon! Running is my outlet. It keeps my mind clear when my world is chaos. It keeps me exercising. It keeps me connecting with other moms. It keeps me setting goals and working towards them. It keeps me doing something for me and me alone.

Fit4Mom was the group I needed. It was structure, it was accountability it was experienced coaches, it was friendship, and it was encouragement. I would have never crossed those finish lines without those ladies who logged all those miles along side with me. We have laughed and shared way too many TMI moments. There is something about running together, where you just bond. Running friends are the best friends!

May 2014 Colorado Half Marathon Fit4Mom Team

In May, 2014 I successfully completed my 1st half marathon, the Colorado half marathon. I started my race with all my teammates but one teammate stayed with me the entire race. She likely could have finished several minutes ahead of me but she never left my side. We finished together and it was an awesome feeling to have accomplished something that many people will never come close to!

My 2nd oldest and my youngest cheering Ginger and I on the race course


Happy Finisher!

I took a short break from training but started back in July to train for the Denver Rock n Roll half marathon in October. Fit4Mom was there again, along with my awesome teammates and friends. Training for a half marathon, you log a fair amount of miles over about 4 months. Not only did these ladies faithfully show up each week for our long runs, we often met up once or twice during the week to get in our shorter, midweek training runs. 

The Denver Rock n Roll half I was on pace with a great friend of mine, LeAnn. When she struggled, I encouraged her along, when I struggled she encouraged me. I beat my 1st half marathon time by several minutes and came in about 2 minutes under my goal. I was a happy runner!

Fit4Mom Northern Colorado Denver Rock n Roll Team!


LeAnn and I proudly holding those medals we earned!

After almost 10 months of training I was getting mentally fatigued and needed a break. A lot of my team mates went on to train for the 2015 Colorado Half Marathon but I needed a break. Darcy Peters, the Northern Colorado Fit4Mom franchise owner encouraged me to try a BodyBack class. I was hesitant to say the least. I had come to love running but don't love exercising otherwise. I had never dieted but becoming healthier and losing weight was appealing. Plus I loved these ladies and two set dates each week to see my mom friends sounded like a bonus!

From the end of 2014, all of 2015, and the beginning of 2016 I took 3 sessions of BodyBack and I came to love the HITT style workouts. The diet part was hard for me but I saw results! My family loved the dinner recipes and some are still in our regular rotation. It was awesome to do assessments at the beginning of BodyBack and measure how fast you could run a mile, how long you could hold a plank, etc. and then at the end of the session seeing how much you had improved. Then there is the before and after photos and inches and pounds lost. I always saw great results and it was awesome to do it in a supported, fun atmosphere, with women who had become my friends.

Then these crazy friends of mine, talked me into a race I thought I'd never do. Horsetooth Half Marathon. Those of you not from Fort Collins may not realize but this is a tough, tough race! You run up a mountain, partially down, then back up another mountain. I am social person and once several of my friends who I had made through Fit4Mom committed to Horsetooth Half I signed up. The training was great. Yes, lots of cold days in January and February but we were ready to race. The day of the race it was snowing like crazy, blowing sideways, not the type of weather you want for a big race you've been preparing for 3.5 months for. With my Fit4Mom teammates and friends, Joni and Dara by my side, the 3 of us crossed the finish line of the Horsetooth Half Marathon. I am still so proud that despite that weather, all 3 of us finished! It wasn't our fastest half marathon but we ran a half marathon, up a mountain, in a snow storm. There was nothing we couldn't accomplish!

Still smiling after a snowy and hilly Horsetooth Half

Fit4Mom isn't just running training or BodyBack, it is friendship and support, and healthy lifestyles and healthy families. Their flagship class, Stroller Strides allows you to workout while you bring your baby in the stroller with you. They also offer Fit4Baby, pregnancy fitness and StrollerBarre, classes for moms with baby. I have so many great memories with these ladies. Not only of running and exercising together but of ladies night out and fun times together.


One year Fit4Mom had a team at the Color Vibe 5K

Being part of the Fit4Mom family the past 3 years changed me and my approach to fitness. It has grown my love of running and it has shown me that I can dream big and accomplish those dreams. There is nothing I cannot do if I put my mind to it and work hard towards my goals. 


Another bucket list item, hubby and I climbed not one but two 14ers


Want to learn more about upcoming Fit4Mom events?

Greater Denver event- Anniversary Class for all mamas at all locations to attend 

North Metro - Stroller Strides Lafayette Grand Opening at Waneka Lake Park

Northern Colorado - Mother's Day 5K


All opinions are my own and based on my own experience participating in Fit4Mom programs. I was compensated for my time to prepare this post and share it via social media.








Michelle

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017 Goals


It's still the first month of the year so I want to post my goals. It has been a few years but I posted my goals here on my blog in 2013, 2012, and 2011. I like accountability so here you go, 2017 goals:

Health/Fitness/Running

-Do not purchase junk food for the home. Limit treats to special occasions. Eat Whole 30 85% of the time (eat healthy except occasional, purposeful deviation).

-3 non running workouts per week (CourtsPlus or West Fargo Moms on the Run).

-Run the Fargo Half Marathon on May 20, 2017. Run 200 or more miles in 2017. Run 3 times per week.

Marriage

-12 dates per year, 1 overnight trip.

Kids

- 3 one-on-one dates per kid this year.

Social

-Attend one social event where I can meet new people or get to know acquaintances better.

Spiritual

-Join a small group and attend weekly or bi-weekly for at least 3 months.

Financial

-Refill emergency fund.

-Pay cash for vacations.

-Buy a camper.

Personal

-Get Orion to school before 8:15am everyday. Being on time or early makes for a great start to my day.

-Get Orion to bed each night by 8:30pm. Getting Orion to bed earlier will give me some free time each night but still allow me to fall asleep around 10pm each night.

Home Projects

-Finishing staining trim, doors, and cabinets upstairs.

Travel

-Disney cruise.

-1 trip to Colorado.

-1 trip to North Carolina.


Those are my goals for 2017. What are your goals? What do you think about what I am trying to achieve this year?




Michelle