Seasons Change

20170910_110158Door 44 Jewelry is officially dead. I’ve shut down my Etsy shop and I shuttered all of my social media accounts. I wanted to pick it back up again. I really did, but after five months away from my workbench, I have no desire to go back to it.

This has been a strange year for me–a particularly difficult year, in certain ways, and a remarkably peaceful year in others. And so that strange dichotomy that’s preceded all of the critical turning points in my life seems to be back again.

The season of change is upon me.

I’ve had some fascinating experiences with nature in the months since I put Door 44 Jewelry on pause. There was the heart-stopping, awe-inspiring moment in Monument Valley Park the week that I decided to shutter the business for a while. I didn’t manage to capture an image of that incredible sight because my phone was to my ear instead of in my pocket where I could have grabbed it quickly and snapped a shot.

I was out for an early morning walk that day when a friend called. She’d been having a difficult time, and she needed to vent. I always strive to be an open ear and a steady shoulder to lean on for my friends, so I listened quietly while she vented. Although I was struggling internally with my own challenges, I tried to push my own problems aside and focus on hers instead. And then along came the powerful wisdom of nature in the form of a Peregrine falcon.

This falcon landed not ten feet in front of me on the trail. It had a dead pigeon in its clutch, and I could see that it was struggling to get a solid grip on its prey, which was just slightly smaller than the falcon itself. Our eyes met for a moment while the falcon adjusted its grip. It cocked its head, and I could almost hear it whisper to me, “Who is tending to your needs while you’re tending to hers?” Then it whisked its awkward burden to the other side of the creek where it began eating its meal.

I couldn’t begin to tell you what my friend was saying in that moment. I was so stunned by that close encounter that I couldn’t hear a word. All I remember hearing was the soft rustle of feathers on gravel as the falcon adjusted its grip on the pigeon and lifted off to glide gracefully across the creek.

When I was finally able to return my focus to the voice in my ear, I found that she was still venting away–completely oblivious to the fact that I’d been momentarily transported to another dimension through a spiritual encounter with powerful raptor. I didn’t bother telling her about that experience because she wouldn’t have understood the significance of it. I just resumed my walk and let her continue to vent until she arrived at her office and had to put away her phone.

That encounter with the falcon rattled me, and the question it seemed to whisper in my ear nagged at me for a long time. Then, several weeks later (just after I started my new job), I had another unusual encounter with nature. This time it involved two mating Dragonflies that hitched a ride on my vehicle as I was returning to my office one day after lunch.

I was sitting at a stop light when two dragonflies, linked in tandem, landed on the trim of the driver’s side window of my Jeep. If you’ve ever observed dragonflies in nature, you’ve probably noticed that they’re rarely still. So I was stunned to see not one, but two, dragonflies clinging to the felt weather strip around my window. They were so close and so still in that moment that I could see every detail of their delicate wings.

The brown female and her iridescent blue mate seemed to be desperately in need of a respite from their tandem flight. The light turned green, and regrettably, I had to move. I tried to accelerate as gently as possible so as not to disturb them, but as traffic picked up speed, the male lost his grip on the window and the two tumbled off and away from my vehicle. Fortunately, they did so just as I was crossing a bridge over the same creek where I’d encountered the falcon.

Perhaps they knew I was heading that direction, and they merely hitched a ride with me to the water.

As with most of my unusual close encounters with nature, I was again struck with a bit of intuitive wisdom that came to me like a gentle whisper in my ear. This time, I was reminded of my husband and the bond that we share. It’s easy to lose sight of the things right in front of us. During the transition of shutting down my jewelry business and going back to working for someone else, I’d lost sight of him. Of us. I’d forgotten, briefly, that I was never in this alone.

Even though we’d decided together that I should go back to working a regular job with a regular paycheck so we could more quickly achieve certain financial goals that we’d set for ourselves, I’d let myself slide into an unpleasant place where I felt isolated and alone. I’d been struggling with depression and sense of failure and loss after shuttering Door 44, and my new job was… well… let’s just say it’s quite a large step backwards for me in terms of both salary and level of responsibility.

To say I’m underemployed is an understatement. Those two dragonflies reminded me, however, that the only thing that truly matters right now is my marriage. Everything else pales in comparison to the partnership I share with my husband, and my current job (insignificant as it may be) is helping us to achieve our mutual goals.

It was at that point, after my visit from two very wise teachers in the form of mating dragonflies, that I started turning away from external distractions and began to focus more of my time and attention on the two things that truly matter in my life: my husband and our daughter. I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone and deactivated my account for several weeks. I stopped taking phone calls from friends who only wanted to replay and analyze the drama in their own lives, and I started focusing pretty much exclusively on my own family.

It was there, in the blissfully drama-free zone of our living room, that I finally found the peace and stillness I’d been looking for all along. And then I had the third and most recent strange encounter with nature. This time it was with a lone Damselfly while my husband and I were enjoying a day at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Mike’s Camera was there that day, and my husband was anxious to try out some new photography equipment. We were at the Amur Tiger’s exhibit while Matt was trying out a new camera lens. The tiger, one of Matt’s favorite animals, was particularly active that morning . We’d already had one wonderful experience with this amazing animal as he came unusually close to us and seemed to acknowledge us with a friendly rub against the fence and satisfied twitch of the tail–the exact same body language our housecat, Rose, uses to welcome us home whenever we’ve been away. But then I’d noticed that a lone Damselfly landed on the fencepost right in front of me while Matt snapped photos of the tiger and dozens of strangers milled around us (you can see Matt’s photos here).

Again, I was enchanted by the unexpected stillness of an insect that is almost perpetually in motion. The Damselfly rested peacefully on that post while I snapped photos of it with my phone. It sat there long enough that Matt noticed it, too, and we both photographed it with our respective cameras–he with his Cannon 550D and me with my LG V-10 phone camera. We joked about how everyone around us was straining to get a glimpse of the tiger, who was now playing hide-and-seek with the gathering crowd while we shared a magical moment with the lovely little Damselfly pictured above.

This summer proved to be a period of transition for me. I’ve come to realize over the past few months that it doesn’t matter what I do with my spare time. Whether I’m making and selling  jewelry or posting payments from insurance companies to patient accounts or overseeing the Accounts Receivable departments for three home health agencies in two different states, as I did at the last job I had before I got married… Those are all just pastimes. What’s really important to me now is whether or not I’m a good wife to my husband and a good mother to our daughter.

Somehow through that brief connection with a startlingly still Damselfly, I managed to find my way back to feeling centered and grounded again. As we transition into Fall, my favorite season, I feel more deeply connected to my family than ever. I’m no longer interested in hearing about the drama in the lives of others; and I no longer devote significant amounts of time to social media.

My focus is completely on my family now. And that’s precisely where it should be.

 

 

 

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Collections and Websites and Wholesale, Oh My!

 

 

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Chalice Earrings – New for Spring 2017

Things are about to get real here at Door 44 Jewelry! I have a full year of sales under my belt, and I somehow managed to exceed my wildest expectations for my first year in business. That said, 2016 was a particularly challenging year for my family. It was a year of financial instability and uncertainty for we three Reamys. My husband was out of work twice last year, through no fault of his own. It’s just the nature of his business. Sometimes one contract ends before the next one is lined up, and sometimes it takes longer to line up the next gig than we expect.

 

We were without an income for four of the last thirteen months as a result of two such incidents of poor timing, and that made me realize how vulnerable we are as a single income household. So, what’s a busy mom with an even busier 6th grader to do?

I considered going back to work full time, naturally, but there are a multitude of reasons why that’s a less than ideal solution for our family. What really needs to happen, I decided, is that it’s time to level up my jewelry business to a point where it replaces my former salary as a project manager in the tech sector. Last year when I launched Door 44 Jewelry, that felt like a pipe dream. Today it feels totally doable, and I’m going for it.

I kicked off this year by participating in the 2017 Jewelry Brand Makeover Bootcamp hosted by Flourish & Thrive Academy, and what an eye-opener that was. I learned more about growing a jewelry business in that 10-day Bootcamp than I learned in an entire year of promoting my Etsy shop. The biggest revelation for me, though, is how much I’ve yet to learn. So, I’ll be dedicating the next eight weeks to a more in-depth Flourish & Thrive Academy course called Laying the Foundation.

I’ve always suspected that I would ultimately end up working for myself someday. It’s not that I don’t play well with others. I do, when I’m on the right team. It’s finding that team that’s been a constant source of struggle for me in the corporate world. Too few companies are willing to do the right things for the right reasons. Corporate America is plagued with incompetent and unethical management, and the situation has only gotten worse since I joined the workforce as a young woman. I made a lot of money for some of my former employers through the years, but for all that hard work, I have little to show for it. I was never the prime beneficiary of my own effort, but that’s about to change.

That 10-day Jewelry Brand Makeover Bootcamp showed me that it is completely within my own power to turn my love of jewelry into a lucrative business that will benefit my family in ways I’d only dreamed of until now. It’s high time that my family and I become the direct beneficiaries of my hard work.

You can expect to see a lot of changes behind Door 44 soon. You may have already noticed some changes, but there is so much more to come. I see now how I can leverage my background in manufacturing and production management to produce more jewelry more efficiently so I can sell wholesale to my favorite boutiques and galleries around the country–maybe even around the globe! I see how I can leverage my project management

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Twig Earrings with Picasso Czech Glass – New for Spring 2017

experience and my accounting education to set up scalable and sustainable business systems that will make my business run like a finely tuned machine. I see how I can tap into my web development and copy writing experience to build an engaging web presence for my jewelry, and I can’t wait to showcase the new collections I’m currently developing on the new website I’ll be building in February as I work through the Laying the Foundation course.

 

2017 is the year that I stop dreaming and start making those dreams my reality. I hope you’ll stay along for the ride because it’s going to be a lot of fun. A lot of work, yes, but it’s the kind of work that I can fully get behind because, for the first time in my working life, I’m totally free to do it my way.

Why should the shareholders of some nameless, faceless corporation be the ones to benefit from your blood, sweat, and tears? Life is much too short for that nonsense. Do something you love, and do it well so you’re the one who reaps those rewards.

 

 

Six Weeks of Gratitude: Week Six

November is, for many of us I think, a time to be thankful. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found that I naturally tend to retreat inward around the winter holidays. I don’t retreat from the outside world so much because I want to escape, but more because I feel a strong internal pull toward introspection.
 
This is the time of year that I tend to take stock of my life. I review the previous ten months and consider whether I am pleased with the direction I am going, or if perhaps I need to adjust my course a bit. Or maybe a lot, as has often been the case in previous years.
 
This year as November rolled around and I felt that familiar pull to examine my life, I was pleased to discover that all is right in my world. It’s a wonderful thing to internally examine your life and find that everything is exactly as it should be.
 
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that my life is perfect. It’s far from perfection, as a matter of fact. It’s just that I feel for once that I am right where I need to be and that no major course corrections are necessary to get me back on the right track.
 
As I’m sure you can imagine, Door 44 Jewelry is a very big part of my life. Launching a business and taking the leap into self-employment is daunting, to say the least, but this has been an amazing year. So much so, that I wanted to express my gratitude to the many people—friends, family, fans, and customers—who helped make 2016 such a remarkable first year for me.
 
I am so grateful for the support of every person who has contributed to what has been a very successful first year in business, and there have been a lot of people involved. I’ve sold over 100 pieces of jewelry to customers all over the US, and just today I shipped my first international order. One of my wildly popular Trumpet Vine pendants, pictured below, is on its way to France as I type.
 
 
I realize that I can’t do what I do without the customers who buy what I create, so I decided to give away six pieces of jewelry over a period of six weeks to show my customers how much I appreciate them.
 
I’ve already shipped five of those pieces—the fifth one, a gorgeous Lepidolite Egyptian Moon pendant pictured below, went out today along with the order I shipped to France. So, I only have one piece left to gift to a member of the Door 44 community.
 
 
I’ll be giving a limited-edition silver and blue Winter Icicle pendant to one lucky winner on Saturday, December 17th. If you’d like to have your name thrown in the hat from which my husband will blindly pull one name next Saturday, just ‘like’ and share this Facebook post.
 
Follow Door 44 Jewelry while you’re there for exclusive savings and the latest news about what’s happening on my workbench. And if I haven’t already said it to you before, welcome to Door 44 Jewelry and thank you for shopping. Please come back again!
 
Have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Four Blue Moons

One of the things I enjoy most about the work I do is that I get to meet some wonderful people. Since I opened Door 44 Jewelry for business exactly ten months ago today, I’ve corresponded with dozens of customers from all corners of the country (I’m still looking forward to my first international order), and I’ve grown to think of many of those customers as good friends.
 
Two of my new friends are a sweet young couple from California. I first met them when they purchased one of my all-time favorite pieces, Blue Moon Rising. They also happen to have a little girl who may very well be the most adorable toddler on the planet. She was about eighteen months old at the time her daddy started wearing his new choker, and she was thoroughly fascinated with it.
 
 
As toddlers are prone to do, she got a little excited one day and tugged a little too hard on Daddy’s choker, so it came back to me for repair. I’m completely smitten with this beautiful little girl, so I decided she needed a Baby Moon necklace of her own, which I included as a surprise for her when I returned Daddy’s repaired choker.
 
 
At that point, we all agreed that Mommy needed a coordinating necklace, too. So, along came Mother Moon.
 
 
Since baby #2 is expected arrive within a month, I just had to add a second Baby Moon necklace in that final shipment last week, bringing the L. Family collection to four Blue Moons.
 
 
It’s customers like these who’ve made me fall in love with making jewelry all over again. These are the people who give meaning to my work. I’ve done a lot of jobs through the years. Some of them paid well. Some of them were fun while others were challenging. All of them were educational, but this is the first job I’ve ever had that feeds my soul. Thank you for that, L. Family. Thank you to all my customers–my Door 44 family!

Laptops & Tablets & Smartphones, Oh My!

I spent nine years of my former life as a corporate drone working for a telecom company in Alaska. During that period, the company went on to become one of the first fully integrated telecom service providers in the country. Professionally, those were some of the best years of my career. Personally? Not so much.

I was wired to the hilt. Even back then when wireless technology was relatively new and still extremely limited in rural Alaska, I was virtually accessible to my employer around the clock. I worked from home. I worked from the office. I traveled to some of the most remote regions of the state, and I was always tethered to my job by technology.

To say my personal life suffered would be to imply that I actually had a personal life. I didn’t. I was married to my job, and not necessarily unhappily so. Not for the first seven or eight years, anyway; but as unbalanced marriages inevitably do, mine eventually crumbled. I was struck with the harsh realization on a redeye flight home to Alaska after visiting family in Colorado that, for someone so thoroughly connected through technology, I was woefully disconnected from the things that actually matter in life: friends, family, nature–the kinds of relationships that actually feed a spirit rather than isolate the spirit with the illusion of connectedness while slowly starving it to death.

That startling realization marked the beginning of the end of my marriage to my employer. I quit my job a few months later, and I spent most of the following year getting reacquainted with myself. I disconnected all but the most essential communication services, and I refocused all of my attention on things that actually mattered, like my hopes, dreams, and creative impulses. I also moved back to Colorado that year, and thank goodness I did because I’d have never met and married my husband had I not cut those cords.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my return to Colorado. Ten years of being mostly unplugged from technology, and now I find myself being steadily reeled back into that tangled web. I suppose that’s a hazard of starting an online business–or any business, for that matter. This time, though, I’m determined to maintain a much healthier work/life balance because this time I do have a personal life. And a pretty wonderful one at that.

 

 

Whiplash

Change is good, right? Change means growth. Progress. New directions, perhaps?

When I was young and single, I was also fairly driven and focused. I set goals, and I went after them. When one goal was achieved, I set another one and went after it with a single-minded ferocity unique to those who are responsible only for themselves. The operative word here, of course, is “I”.

It’s easy to be goal oriented and focused when you’re the center of your own universe. Add a husband and daughter to that equation, however, and all that drive has to soften. The focus expands to a broader perspective. The single-minded ferocity gets redirected from personal interests to family interests. And personal goals? Well, they get prioritized along with everyone else’s.

It’s been three months since my last post. When I wrote that post, I believed wholeheartedly that I’d have my real estate license by now, and I’d be working full time in sales. It was easily an attainable goal, until it wasn’t. By the end of November, it was clear that my husband needed to find a new job soon. On Christmas day, we got a huge wake-up call in the form of a major medical event on my side of the family. By the second week of January, the instability at my husband’s workplace came to a head, and we went from a single income to no income at all.

Dead end. Time to change directions.

Matt found a new job quickly. He started today, as a matter of fact, so he was unemployed for just one month. We did what we could to make the best of the situation. We tightened our budget and prepared ourselves for what could have been an extended period without a steady income. The fact that he was home during the day and able to shuttle our daughter back and forth to school between job interviews gave me an unexpected opportunity to spend a few precious days with my best friend, Jenn, before she moves to Reno, Nevada this month. As an added bonus, the eleven hours of solitude I had during the drive to and from Jenn’s current address in Kansas gave me a welcome opportunity to think, refocus, and reprioritize.

Real estate is my dream job, but unfortunately, it’s also a job for which you have to spend money to make money. The loss of Matt’s income made me realize that we’re not quite in a place where we can comfortably afford to finance the pursuit of my dream job. We have more important objectives to meet first.

So, the dream job is on hold for now. Losing our sole income, even if only briefly, made it clear that what we really need is multiple streams of income. The steadier, the better. Real estate hardly fits the bill as it provides sporadic income at best in the first year, yet the expenses are both immediate and steady.

Another change of direction.

I’ve resisted selling my jewelry for as long as I’ve been making it, but desperate times call for drastic measures: Door 44 Jewelry was launched on January 28th. I’ve also resisted going back to my old line of work, but there are times to do what you want to do, and there are times to do what you must.

Let’s see where this new road leads…

 

Going After the Dream Job

I don’t remember exactly when or how my love affair with houses began. Was it when I attended my first Parade of Homes with my mom when I was ten? Or was it when I bought my first house at twenty-three? Perhaps it started even earlier. After all, I grew up in a small town with some pretty spectacular old homes and architecturally significant buildings.

Whenever it started, it’s grown into a personal passion with very deep roots. Houses are infinitely fascinating to me because they say so much about the people who inhabit them. Materialistic people live in ostentatious homes. Humble people live in modest homes. Warmth and love are palpable in the homes of the kindest souls. A good interior designer can make any house look beautiful on the surface, but she can’t infuse a loveless home with warmth.

Being a life-long student of interpersonal relationships, I suppose it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to residential real estate. The truth of the matter is that I’ve wanted to be a real estate broker since I bought my first house nearly twenty-five years ago. Having been single for all but the last two of those years, however, I never felt secure enough financially to make the leap from a corporate job with a steady paycheck and benefits to being self-employed and wholly dependent on the feast-or-famine nature of a commission-based income.

Timing is everything, though, and the time is finally right for me to go after my dream job. Thanks to my incredibly supportive husband, Matt, I’ll soon be a licensed real estate broker.

I’ll be wholly focused on preparing for my licensing exams over the next few weeks, so you may not hear much from me between now and the end of the year. Once I do get my license, however, I look forward to sharing my experience with you.

Wish me luck!

Back in the Creative Groove

The original intent of this blog was to share my jewelry, my creative process, and the ways in which my life influences my jewelry and vice versa. My plan at the beginning of 2013 was to step my life-long jewelry hobby up to a business, but I got married that year instead.

I thought I’d try again to launch the jewelry business in 2014, but instead I became a full-time mom when my stepdaughter came to live with her father and me. The first half of 2015 was an absolute whirlwind with job changes and lawyers and school and cello lessons and moving to a new city, but things are starting to settle down now, and I’m finally finding the time to get back to my personal goals.

Having been out of the daily habit of making jewelry for a very long time, I decided to get back into the groove by honing my metalworking skills and experimenting with some new wire-wrapping techniques. The following images are the results of some of my first focused attempts at wire work in… well… a very long time.

Nicole Hanna of Nicole Hanna Jewelry has long been an inspiration for me. Where she finds the time and energy to do all that she does is beyond me, but besides making gorgeous jewelry and writing fabulous tutorials for aspiring wire wrappers, she also runs a great page on Facebook that’s become a sort of gathering place where artists help artists by sharing tips, techniques, and tutorials. The page is relatively new, but I’m amazed by how quickly its membership has exploded, and that’s largely because Nicole has a huge following in the wire wrapped jewelry world. Seriously, if you’ve never heard of her, it must be because you’re not a wire worker. Or a hand crafted jewelry lover.

Anyway, long story short, Nicole has this way of getting people to step out of their comfort zone and create stuff they might not ordinarily attempt. This month she issued a challenge for group members to create something with a leaf theme using only wire, a single bead, and no tools besides wire cutters and a single pair of jewelry pliers.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not. Particularly if you’ve taken a couple of years away from wire work in order to focus one some huge life changes. Add to that the fact that I love tools. I generally work with a minimum of three different sets of pliers, so committing to using a single pair for this challenge was almost physically painful for me. This piece fought me every inch of the way. I scrapped my first attempt and restarted the design. I broke several wires. Nothing flowed properly or ended up looking quite the way I saw it in my mind, but I finally ended up with a piece I liked enough to submit for the contest. And then I broke the bead while I was doing the final polish. Ugh! Another repair (and more wire added to my scrap bin), another round of the whole clean/patina/clean/polish routine (my least favorite part of the whole process); and this is the result of all that wire and frustration (not to mention some pretty colorful language):

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Dew-laden Aspen Leaf – design inspired by Nicole Hanna of Nicole Hanna Jewelry.

It’s my interpretation of a dew-laden Aspen leaf in the fall. The colors are peaking here in Colorado this week, so it’s a timely tribute to my favorite season. The design is also a nod to Nicole Hanna’s style, which I adore even though I’ve never quite been able to do her designs justice.

As a jewelry artist, I don’t wear a lot of jewelry that I didn’t make myself, but I make an exception for Nicole’s work. I own three Nicole Hanna originals, and I gush about her work like a proud parent whenever someone compliments me on one of those pieces.

The second big challenge I took on this week was a pair of earrings designed by another jewelry rock star whose work I shamelessly worship. I mentioned Sarah Thompson in  a previous post after I’d taken her online course through Craftsy.com. I first discovered Sarah’s work a couple of years ago while I was looking for wire wrapped inspiration on Etsy. It was there that I first saw her Scorpio earrings, and I fell in love with her work the moment I laid eyes on them. As luck would have it, Sarah included that particular earring design in her new book, Fine Art Wire Weaving.

Here’s my first attempt at that design:

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Scorpio Earrings – Design by Sara Thompson

Fricken fabulous, aren’t they? I can’t begin to explain how inspiring her work is, so go check it our yourself at Sarah-n-Dippity! And tell her I said hello. Cuz that’s not creepy at all.

Now that I’m finally back to focusing on jewelry, this blog might start to have fewer words and more pictures. Probably not a bad thing, given my tendency to ramble.

Oh, one more thing… Welcome to all the new followers I’ve picked up over the past few weeks. Thank you for taking the time to read and share my blog.

Now, go make something beautiful!

Raising the Bar

I was never the sort of supervisor anyone wanted to work for when I worked in the corporate world. I had a reputation for being demanding and “all business”, as if that’s a negative quality in a manager. Given the choice, most people would prefer to work for someone who expects little and who is content to be perceived as “one of the gang.” I was never that boss, and I’m not that parent. Neither is my husband.

People will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them, so you might as well set the bar high.

As both a supervisor and a parent, I have always subscribed to the philosophy that people will generally achieve whatever expectations you set for them. Whether you set the bar high or set it low, your staff or your kids will consistently be right on target; so you might as well set the bar high. There are always exceptions, of course. There will be the occasional overachiever who will consistently surpass your expectations. Likewise, there will be the odd underachiever who will rarely be on target. I have some ideas about how to deal with those exceptions, but that’s a topic for another post and another day.

I received a very interesting phone call from my daughter’s 6th grade math teacher this morning. Apparently my daughter’s name came up in the core education team’s weekly meeting, and the team agreed that my daughter should be bumped up to the advanced placement curriculum for all of her core courses. The chairman of the team just wanted to clear the move with us before they went ahead and placed her on the AP track.

When I replayed the voice message for my daughter, her eyes grew wide with amazement. She didn’t really know what to expect when I told her I’d received an interesting message from her math teacher, but a promotion to the AP track was clearly not on her radar.

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Me: Are you interested in moving up to all advanced courses?

Dear Daughter: Yes.

Me: You realize that this is going to mean more work, right? The classes are going to be more difficult, and you’re probably going to have more homework.

DD: That’s okay. I’m up for the challenge.

I’m up for the challenge.

Those words are sweet, sweet music to this mom’s ears, and here’s why: Two years ago, shortly after we got married, my husband and I discovered that our little girl was struggling in math. At the time, my husband didn’t have primary custody, so we only had her every other weekend. We know our daughter to be very bright, so we had no reason to suspect that she was struggling in school. As we began to test her understanding of math with simple problems involving money or distance, however, we realized that she didn’t have a solid understanding of basic math functions. And so began our quest to gain primary custody so we could have more control over her education.

We were incredibly lucky. Not all custody cases work out in the best interests of the child(ren), and so many dads face an uphill battle when it comes to convincing a court that they are the stronger custodial parent. If I had any doubts about the existence of God prior to our custody case, those doubts would have been obliterated by the time our case was settled because everything worked in our favor. From the timing and circumstances to the random assignment of a district judge, it all flowed seamlessly, as if guided through divine intervention.

And all the while, we were working overtime to get our daughter caught up academically. We had her tested through Sylvan Learning  in the middle of her 4th grade year. At that time, her math skills were somewhere in the 3rd grade range, while her language skills were a little above her current grade level.

She spent the summer between her 4th and 5th grade years learning her multiplication tables inside out and backwards. During her 5th grade year, she discovered the payoff for all that effort when her friends started referring to her as “the calculator”. We had her re-assessed at the end of her 5th grade year, and (not surprisingly) she tested well above grade level in both math and language skills. Today, she readily admits that she’s glad we forced her to memorize her multiplication tables, which brings me back to my original point that kids will hit whatever target you set for them.

What’s most rewarding for me after all the tears and frustration over the past two years of working to fill the gaps in our daughter’s education are the tremendous leaps she’s made in terms of her overall willingness to take risks and the ferocity with which she rises to a challenge. The growth in her academic performance, as remarkable as it is, pales in comparison to the growth we’ve seen in her self-confidence and her work ethic. School is fun for her again, and she’s back on track to achieving her full potential.

We don’t do our kids any favors by setting low to no expectations for them. Too many parents are disengaged and disinterested in their child’s education. As a society, we all complain about the quality of our education system, and we’re quick to blame teachers when our kids fail to be prepared for the next phase of their lives upon their high school graduation.

What my daughter has clearly demonstrated for me, however, is that it’s not the school’s fault that she was falling behind in the 4th grade. It was clearly our fault as parents. The Ex is the sort of parent who was never fully engaged in her daughter’s education while my husband and I took it for granted that our very bright child was breezing her way through elementary school. Once we took a more active role in her education (and once we set some very clear expectations) our daughter went from struggling to keep up in 4th grade to leading the pack in the 5th and 6th grades.

Whether you’re a supervisor or a parent, set your expectations high, and establish clear standards. It’s the greatest thing you’ll ever do for your organization or your children. They may grumble about it in the beginning, but there will undoubtedly come a time when they’ll be grateful that you cared enough to raise the bar.

Simple Pleasures

At what point do newlyweds stop being newly wed?

My husband and I are coming up on our second anniversary soon. We tied the knot on October 29th, 2013 at the Jefferson County Courthouse. It was a cool, rainy morning, which must have kept everyone else at home because we were the only two customers in the County Clerk’s office that morning. We didn’t plan to get married on the spot, but we did. No lines. No waiting. No drama. Why wait?

Matt and I are big fans of simplicity, a fact that’s plainly evident by the title of his blog, Simplify. We’ve been a low-key, easy-going couple from the start. And one of the ways we maintain that ease is that we appreciate the little things, like simply spending time together.

In the first year of our marriage, one of the most simple pleasures we shared was a standing lunch date on Mondays. I’d drive to his office to pick him up, and we’d go out for lunch together. It became something we both looked forward to because it was a pleasant diversion from the inevitable Monday madness.

We came to appreciate our Monday lunches all the more when our daughter came to live with us full time in July 2014 and our former couple time turned into family time. Then last November Matt took a short-term gig in downtown Denver. I love my husband dearly, and there’s not much I won’t do for him. But driving into the bowels of downtown Denver at lunch time on a weekday? Um, no.

Such was the end of our standing weekly lunch date. For the next nine months, we didn’t get to see each other at all during the day. Until we left Denver, that is. Matt’s current office is just a 10-minute drive from our new apartment in Colorado Springs. Not only have we been able to resume our regular Monday lunch dates, but he’s also able to come home for lunch most days.

One of the things I’m enjoying most about living in Colorado Springs so far is getting to spend quality time with my husband again. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences in our lives.