Monday, December 7, 2009

My Speech #4 for Toastmasters Tonight

Average Americans move every 5 years according to the General Population census of 2000. I have moved 17 times in 32 years. If you average that out it seems I have moved every 1.8 years of my life. Tonight I am not going to focus on why I can’t stay still, but instead share some of my views on making a move easier by Researching, Organizing, Preparing, and Adjusting.

First the Research! One of my favorite things to do when a new adventure presents itself is the research! This is especially helpful for moves that are months away. Research helps you feel in control of your move. It takes the mystery out of your new location and thus the fear that comes from the unknown. I always start with a Google search for people who are writing blogs in the new area. For instance when I was moving to Luxembourg I found that there was an American Association of Women that had a website and club in Luxembourg-ville. As part of their club they had a guide to living in Luxembourg as an expatriate. (An Expatriate or “Expat” is someone who chooses to live outside their mother country)This book became a treasure all the 5 years I lived there. The next research tool is to view real estate websites. Here you can get an idea of the cost of living, what the standard of living is and where you would like to live. With all of this background information you are ready to make a contact! By researching different clubs, churches, and sports activities you should be able to find an email address under the websites contact info. Before you know it you already have a friend in your new location! By researching those who already live there, the real estate market, and by making contact you already should start to feel in control of your own destiny!

The second step in making a move is to get organized! My husband and I have found a wonderful way to see the whole picture when planning a move. We call it the Master Plan. We take a dry erase marker and find a large window in a common area of the house, like the kitchen or living room. We start making lists of all the things we have to do to make the move happen. At first it may seem overwhelming to have all of those tasks before you, but then best part is crossing them off one by one. Being able to see those tasks checked off will assure you you are doing a good job and are actually getting things done. It’s like that old adage- how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Make sure you include a calendar within your master plan so your family can easily see deadlines for different tasks; make sure individual responsibility is assigned so it can be a team effort. Once you have your Master Plan in place start eating that Elephant!

Now you have researched and have become organized, it is time to prepare. Preparing your home for a move means making sure you are not moving junk from one house to the next. Get rid of all the trash, shred all the old documents. Give away all the non-fitting clothes. Make a pile for a yard sale. A move is a fresh slate! Plus by slimming down on what you have you will save money on your move. The less boxes you have the less the moving company charges. Next, prepare your new house. Call ahead and schedule utilities service for your new address. You will be happy you have cable and internet when you arrive! Now you are ready to prepare your household for living out of boxes for the first few weeks. Make sure all your important documents and move related information is accessible. I put mine into a binder that I keep with me. Prepare your family by having DVDs and toys in a suitcase that does not go on the truck. I also suggest having sleeping bags for everyone. It is so much easier than going through boxes in search of sheets that first night. Also of these things will make the transition so much nicer for your family.

Now you have arrived it is time to get adjusted to your new life. You already have an idea of what to expect because you have done your research, your move went smoothly because you were organized and prepared. Its time to start living your new life! It can be stressful to start all over and we all feel it in different ways. The trick is if you want to make new friends you have to be a friend. You can find opportunities to make friends by participating in clubs, church groups, volunteer organizations and by just opening your mouth to say hello. I have made friends in the grocery store! Don’t worry about finding your new best friend right away. I have found the in the beginning you make acquaintances that help fill that part of you that really misses your old friends, eventually you will click with someone. I have found that it is nearly impossible to have a new best friend in less than 6 months. Plan on it taking a good year to feel completely adjusted. But in the mean time embrace your new situation. Say yes, even to things you don’t normally do, stay in touch with your old friends but don’t hold on so tight you don’t have room for your new ones. Take this time to grow closer as a family, you can be eachothers friends. Explore your new town. When I moved to Lakeway we would unpack boxes in the morning and then just go an adventure in the afternoon. We found the playgrounds, the pools, the capitol building, the bats under the bridge, and the Chick Fil A.

Your life may have taken a new turn and it can be surprising, but you can minimalize your stress and awkwardness by Researching, Organizing, Preparing, and Adjusting. Take it from me, someone who has is continuously eating that Elephant called moving.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Newsletter

Since most of our friends and family are online I wanted to post our Christmas Letter here to save a little ink and paper. (We can say I am being sensitive to the environment but lets face it I am cheap and lazy) Most of you still still be receiving a card though don't worry! Here you go!

Dear Family and friends, 2009

As always life is unpredictable and I find myself writing to you from yet another location. Someday I will have an album of just Christmas Letters and pictures with a big map to sort out where we were!

In January we thought we were headed one way but it wasn’t working out. So Jason decided to go back to his old career in Customer Service. For 6 weeks he diligently applied and interviewed full time. Eventually he was up for 6 different jobs. We got the first offer and then consulted the others. We really felt like the offer to work for EA Games in Austin was the best choice for us. The move was short and the kids got to finish the school year. Plus we were able to stay in America! It has been one of the best choices we have ever made. Jason LOVES his job and we love where we are living. The best part is that there is a lot of room to grow and they are already talking about future possibilities. By the summer we may have a dramatic change again but with the same company. We feel very blessed in this time of economic trial in our country. If you want to hear more about Jason’s job he is always willing to talk about it!

Beyond adjusting to a new area everyone in our household has grown by leaps and bounds.

Adam is doing so great. He made the honor roll, is his class’ student rep, is taking guitar lessons, boy scouts, and participates in a club called Destination Imagination. It’s amazing to watch him grow into a creative talented handsome young man!

Kat continues to be sunshine full of rainbows. She is taking ballet again and girl scouts. She also made the honor roll and soon will be starting Destination Imagination. She is the best at making people feel loved and easily made a lot of friends here.

Alex continues to hang out with me and make us laugh every day. He finally got potty trained and is super independent. So much so that he only does what he wants to do. The trick is to make everything sound like his idea. His favorite things are food and video games.

We also picked up another dog this year, a manly one for Jason. His name is Luke. He isn’t always perfect but he is one handsome boy!

I am busy as the ward activities chairman and taking part in the local chapter of Toastmasters International. I also took the kids on two extended road trips this year. It’s been fun updating Facebook and our blog with all the crazy things we have seen and visited.

Hopefully you have been part of those visits! Or would like to come visit us! Life is fleeting and relationships with family and friends are what make it so sweet. We hope this season finds you healthy and happy, and that if we haven’t talked in awhile we can find the time to do so.

With much love,

The Livingstons

November Re-cap

OK, I don't know why Blogger is giving me a hard time but I am going to write everything out on here and then you all can look at the other post and try to figure out which pictures go with which!

This year we decided to drive to Phoenix for Thanksgiving. It turns out it is only 14 hours away. Not too bad if you do it in two days. Me and the kids drove alone so Jason could work some more and we had our usual adventures along the way.

First we stopped in Tayohville TX to see the worlds largest swimming pool. It is built on a natural hot springs so the water stays 75 degrees all year. Somehow it still felt cold when the weather was 65. The water was very clear and there were lots of friendly fish. Alex never got around to getting in but after 30 minutes Adam at least gave it a real go. I wish we could go there in the summer- it must be great!

We stopped for the night in Van Horn Texas at a cheapo hotel Nothing much to it but in the morning we had saw a little bat sleeping in the rafters of the porch. It was so sweet and fuzzy and close I wanted to pet it but if that thing had taken off we would have been screaming like little girls! It definatly got the adrenilin pumping to be so close!

When we got to AZ it was wonderful to relax and see family we hadn't seen in so long. Especially Jason's sisters family, and cousin's family. They had each added a baby. So we spent a lot of time cuddling our new niece McKenzli and getting caught up with favorite cousins. The food was great but the company was the best.

The coolest part of the trip was that we got to be there for the blessing of little McKenzli. Jason was part of the circle and it felt so good to participate in family moments. It feels like we miss so many!

Soon the week was over and started the drive back. On the first day we stopped at Rooster Culburns Ostrich farm. We got to feed deer, goats, ostriches, and donkeys. But hte wildrest part is the lorakeet inclosure. You go in there with a cup of necter and they go wild perching all over you. I was really proud of the boys because they loved it. Kat would not come in. I was a little freaked out but decided to go with it.

As we drive along we kept seeing billboards for "The Thing", as the exit got closer we just HAD to know what it was. So inside a gas station gift shop is a 25 cent tour. Some guy a long time ago collected weird things and now you can look at them. There is no theme. The actual thing turns out to be a mummy with no information on it. They like to keep "the Thing" a secret but I am just going to go ahead and tell you cause that collection was weird and mildly disturbing. Curse you billboards! You got me!

That night we drive to El Paso and stayed at a La Quinta. I love those. You can always count on a decent bed. But as we got there it had started to SNOW. THat\s right, in TEXAS it was SNOWING. The next day we froze our Arizona clad behinds off as we drove off into the white. It was 4 hours of white knuckled driving until I could get the cruise back at 80. I relied a lot on prayer in making my choices. I am glad I drove through though because the storm was moving towards Austin and I would have just been stuck. As we got closer to home the GPS took us on some small roads with flooding. Again the Spirit guided me in taking care of my little ones. We were lost with no service on our cell, and I am glad I decided to turn around in stead of fording the flooded road.

What should have been 8 hours was 12 but we made it home last night. Jason had the Christmas decorations up and the holiday music playing. It was so good to be home. But once my head hit the pillow everything I have to do for the kids birthdays, Christmas, and the ward activity started bouncing in my head. If I survive this Christmas Party I promise I will enjoy the season! Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Seeya Thanksgiving! Hello Christmas!

Mckenzli's blessing day

Jason and his cuz Stephanie and her new little one Sophie

Adam checking our Mckenzli

This is my cousin Crystal who I hadn't seen in about 9 years. Can you tell we are related? Turns out she lives by my in-laws. Thank you facebook for getting us together!

Cool trailer we had to take a picture of!

Awesome cookies a neighbor made- got to remember these for next year!

Touring the chocolate factory with cousins who won't look at the camera!

The big pool we saw

Random leg stretching at the rest stops

Monday, November 9, 2009

When did November get here?

Hello Friends! I am having a lot of fun lately being super organized and busy! We have finally hit that streak where we are all moved in, the house is decorated, we have friends, are settled into schools, activities, and clubs.....the streak where we usually have to move! But no we are still planning on staying here! Jason is having enough adventure by himself and I am running the whole family thing. But no complaints, I said many times over the years I would give anything to see Jason happy and loving his job and that wish has finally been granted. Even though he is a little road weary he is really loving it. Since my last post he has been to Edmonton Canada, Fairfax Virginia, New Deli and Mumbai India, and Manila Philippines. He gets back from that last one Wednesday. So while he is gone I have tried to be a good mom and make good memories for the kids instead of lonely ones. Jason was home for Halloween though! I was in charge of the church Trunk or Treat and it went great if I do say so myself! Adam and Alex went as Napoleon and Kip Dynamite. Sadly I didn't get a picture of Kat who went as a Fairy, it was all very rush rush that day! Jason and I reprised Nacho and Encarnation and our family won the best family costume award. By the time actually Halloween rolled around we went to a freidns for a party and trick or treating. The kids had a blast but I was done by 9. The haul wasn't as big as last year but that is probably good since Jason and I are trying to watch what we eat. The dogs also got to dress up as Yoda and a witch. I think everyone agrees it was a good Halloween. But the next day Jason flew off to India. In the meantime I have been volenteering for my friend as a face paint model. Here I am in one of her posters for Halloween-I also discovered this little product that is so easy I could make and eat them every day! I am still doing my ToastMasters stuff and presented speech number 3. It didn't get as high praises but I still got my blue ribbon! The evaluator said I have natural skills they just have to be honed. Like I am a good storyteller but I need to develop other speaking methods. If only I could teach him a Sunday School Lesson! You all can judge for yourself- here is the speech I gave last week-

Looking at me today you would never guess I was raised by Hippies. Tonight I want to entertain you with a story about my heritage and hopefully inspire you to define one of your own.

Some people have a linage that is easy to see by the color of their skin or the religion they practice. Sometimes I get jealous that I am just a plain old white American. But when my mother rolls her eyes I am reminded of what a rich heritage she has given to me.

A long time ago in the 70’s my mother and her family moved to Virginia. She was in high school and her sisters were college age. Their names were Linda Lorene and Lori. My mother is Lori. She worked at the local mall, where she met my father. In fact that year all the sisters met their husbands, and they weren’t just anybody, their names where Tom, Dick and Harry.

Well these fellows became like brothers as they were initiated into my mother’s family. It came as no surprise that when the chips were down they decided to find a solution together. It was a recession, much like today, there was violence in the world and gas prices were high. My father who had a bachelor’s degree couldn’t find a good job. Everyone was trying to make ends meet. So they decided they had to take action. For a series of 6 months the men would meet together and send the women away for a weekend and try to find a plan to support our families and be self reliant.

Finally they found their answer; there was a job opportunity for Harry in Ohio. The plan was to buy some land together and live in common until everyone was back on their feet at which time we would subdivide the land and build our own houses. The plan was set in motion and we all moved to Ohio. Linda, Lorene, and Lori, Tom, Dick, and Harry, Grandma and Grandpa, and 5 grandkids.

For the next 5 years we grew our own vegetables, we had a dairy cow, we raised pigs and goats. We also grew in size often taking in others that needed a place to stay. At the peak there were 22 people living in a house with 4 bedrooms, one bathroom, and an extra toilet in the basement. olliho

And my favorite story from all the many, many, stories of this time is one where my uncles and father were set to paint the farmhouse. The cheapest paint at the store was pumpkin orange. The spent the day painting that ridiculous color on the tallest side of the house. And just as they were finishing a storm rolled in and washed all that paint away. Tom Dick and Harry sat down, I’m sure laughing and crying at the same time, picked up a guitar and wrote a song about our farm. That song is the same song we sing every year at our reunion. Now the posterity of my grandmother is around 100 people. We all know the song, we all know the story, we all know the lesson about how family comes first and when we are discouraged we sing about the harder times.

My family has a heritage of wanderers, and adventures. I wish it was a box I could check on a census form, but I carry it with me and I will pass it on to my children and it is my most valuable possession.

I apologize if I exaggerated anything!! I had to leave out the spiritual side that is a huge part of that heritage because of my audience but it still made a great story. As for the Heritage I am creating for my own kids, I love being in the States adn making traditions for every holiday. This year my brain told me to make a Thanksgiving tree. Now this is near treason beacause every November 1st since we have been married we have decorated for Christmas. (secretly that is, we don't brag about it) because Jason loves Chritmas above all other holidays. Even his own birthday! But when the cat is away Mommy is in charge! We went to Micheals Craft shop and they had all of their fall and Thanksgiving stuff at 80% off! So we got about 20 bucks worth and put our fake Christmas tree together and decorated it. Here it is: Then we made our own ornaments about what we are thankful for:
Alex didn't hesitate. He said he was grateful for Santa, Food, and Money. Amazing. Jason has seen the pictures and he is saying that he thinks it's great. I am counting on him being too tired from Jet Lag to take it down when he gets back! We have missed him but not so much as today when Luke, our dog, cut his leg and had to go to the Emergency Vet. It was just so hard to get the dog in the car with the kids, drive 40 minutes into town, drag him and the kids in and everything in the rain. All that while we were dressed for church, (it happened right before we were about to leave). We did make it to church half way through. The kids were mumbling but I told them how much I needed the Spiritual food to get through the week. I am so glad we went. Here is our sweetie now wearing his cone of shame: So that is November for now. Stay tuned though- we are driving to Arizona for Thanksgiving, I will be doing one more speech, Adam will be competing for Destination Imagination club at school, and I have another church activity to plan! Not a moment to spare and I love it!

Monday, October 19, 2009

We are now officially in our favorite time of year; when we get snugly, wear sweaters, light the fireplace and start having a lot of fun! Here are some of the things we've been up to! I finally got a kitchen table! We sold our dining table in Houston back in May and I have been making do with a card table and the kids eating at the bar. We haven't had a family meal in ages. So after months of lurking on craigslist, and saving money we finally found this baby! I love how it fits our small space but seats 6. Also a dark wood. We initiated it with a fine Sunday dinner with friends and it has served us well since.
I also am spending a lot of time on the couch with my dogs and had to have Adam take a picture of this. They are so cute and I couldn't move since they were on my legs!
Since Alex is no longer in Preschool due to budget constraints, I am now spending a lot of my mornings playing under the covers like this:
OF course we had to have our pumpkin party and I am really impressed with how the kids really gutted their own pumpkins this year. Alex insisted on doing it himself and even though it took an hour got it done!

Jason is still really busy at work so I am keeping sane by expressing my talents. I had my first fashion night at my house last week and I think it was a sucess. I am also gearing up to present my second speech at toastmasters. The first one I did was memorized but this week I have typed it out! Enjoy!

When you were small did you have an obsession? Did you have a favorite food, color, or animal? When we are children we often describe ourselves by the things we love. As we get older these things are still a part of us but we tend to store them away as “childish things” I want to talk tonight about when childhood dreams come true.

When I was a child my favorite animal was a giraffe. It’s obvious why. I always felt a kinship with the giraffe, towering over everyone. The average 9 year old girl is 3 foot 9, by 4th grade I was already 4 foot 7. By the time I was 14 I was 6 feet tall.

Everyone knew I loved the giraffe; I would pick it often for school projects. Did you know that most of giraffe sound cannot be heard by humans? And they babysit for each other in groups, while parents feed on the trees.

Loving the giraffe made it easy for people to give me gifts over the years. I have jewelry, pillows, and stuff animals.

One of my first poems at age 10 was also dedicated to the giraffe.

The Giraffe is tall and so am I

My heads in the clouds I can touch the sky

Sometimes it’s ok, Others a pain,

I’m the first one to feel the rain.

Everyone knows I love the giraffe.

In 2004 we were living in Luxembourg and the circus came to town. As I would drive past the square I could see that there were giraffes in a coral. I HAD to go to the circus. I checked on tickets and they were too expensive. 25 euro a person! But for 2 euros you could see the animals. I packed my little family up and bought our tickets. We made our way past the lions, seals, goats, elephants. And then finally, there he was. The giraffe. Being Europe and not the litigious United States, there was just a simple fence, about my height. It was a small enclosure, probably no more than 20 yards square. There were no signs posted, there were no guards. I saw the opportunity I had dreamed about. I climbed up the first rung of the fence; I know had the top half of my body over the rail. I started to call to the giraffe. Giraffe! Come Here! Come Here! He must have thought I had food because he started to approach me. In a few long strides he was there against the fence. I couldn’t lean back far enough to see his head so far up in the sky. He brought his head down to look at me. I was struck with how enormous his head was and what it really means to be 20 feet tall. It was dizzying to be that close. I did not hesitate. I wrapped my arms around the giraffe’s neck and I hugged him. In a spiritual moment I cannot describe my soul touched his soul and I said out loud I love you giraffe I love you.

As a child I loved the giraffe, and I would dream of how great it would be to meet one. I didn’t know that when I was 26 I would get the opportunity. Not at a zoo, not in Africa, but just living my everyday life. We can look inside ourselves and unlock some of those childhood dreams so that when the opportunity presents itself we do not shy away embarrassed but wholeheartedly embrace it! I love you giraffe. I love you!