From Mvelopes to Envelopes

Saturday, October 8, 2016

I think we may finally have done it.

For about 14 years now, ever since Jairus was about one year old, we have been working at controlling our budget.  It started with the great crash...the weekend that we realized that we had absolutely no money to our name, lots of debt, bills owing, etc, etc, etc... In the words of Miss Nelson..."something must be done".
I've written before about how at that point in our lives, James had been handling the finances, but as our family grew, our organizational system needed to evolve.  We agreed that I would take it on, and to this end, I started reading and researching the best ways to do that.  I started with a Dave Ramsey book, which was probably the best place to start.  I also read some Mary Hunt and we attended a Michel Bell seminar through, I think, Focus on the Family.  We would later step up our Dave Ramsey education by attending a Financial Peace University course and then moderated the course for another couple.  I used resources from Crown Financial (the late Larry Burkett's ministry) and this led us to Mvelopes, an online budgeting system that uses virtual envelopes.
I've now used Mvelopes for over 12 years for the most part, loved it.  It revolutionized our finances and we saw a huge improvement in our budgeting.  Between that and the FPU, we got out of debt completely, (except our mortgage), and completed the baby steps up to number 3 (#1 Baby emergency fund of $1000, #2 Pay off all debt, #3 Full emergency fund of 3-5 months of expenses).

Then we built our house.  That pretty much put us back to #1, with the exception of the debt, which we still stayed far away from (builder loan converting to mortgage not withstanding).  Since building, it's taken us a few years to regain our equilibrium.  The Mvelopes was still working for us...sortof.  Over and over I'd find that we were overspending and putting many envelopes into the negative.  A number of times over the last 4.5 years I'd actually had to just wipe all the envelope balances and start all over again, as we had so many negatives that our account had hit rock bottom, even though some envelopes still showed a positive balance.  It just felt like an endless cycle that I didn't know how to address.
I had a niggly suspicion that using "real" envelopes might help, and in fact, for a number of months had made it my goal to start using them.  I was meeting with a couple friends regularly to keep accountable with finances and ending our sessions with a goal for the next time was a common occurrence. Month after month passed and I didn't follow through.  We had made a few paltry attempts to start using paper envelopes, but we'd quickly realized that planning was essential.  You couldn't show up at the bank and ask for a wad of cash and only THEN try to figure out what denominations you need.  When old timers describe how they'd cash their paycheque, come home, sit at the kitchen table and divide it all into envelopes, they never mention how they got all the money in the right amounts (What, were they paid in one dollar bills?).  Then there's the modern issue of automatic withdrawals.  Close to half of each paycheque we receive actually needs to stay in the account for automatic bill payments like mortgage, or online payments as all of our utilities are.  These two big issues were an admittedly small hurdle that I just never got around to sitting down with my calculator and figuring out.  So it never happened.

About a year and a half ago, I discovered that there is just one Dave Ramsey ELP (endorsed local provider) in Ontario.  His name is Phil Medler and he lives way out near the border on the south west side of the province.  Fortunately he does Skype and phone consultations.  I submitted an email on the DR site and he shortly got in touch with me.  We had a phone consultation and quite honestly, I don't remember how the conversation went.  I knew however, that I wanted to take the next step and have at least a baseline session with him and figure out if he had any solutions to our problem of overspending, and also our imbalanced budget whereby our housing was far more than the recommended percentage.  It would be $175 though and that was a big chunk for us.  I put it into the list of what we hoped to use our tax return on both last year and this year, but it didn't happen either time.
Last summer when we were up to Fair Havens, I was excited to hear that Phil was up camping as well, and was offering a week long finance class after chapel.  We were unfortunately only staying until the Monday of that week, so we attended just the one day.  It was a great session and I was pleased that he was putting his own spin on the DR stuff, as I sortof felt that we knew all the DR principles already.  This year I was even more excited to find that he had returned, and it was during one of our full weeks of camping.  James and/or I attended each day except for day one as we had an important meeting back in Hamilton that we had to come home for.
Sometime midweek, Phil announced to the class that anyone attending would be welcome to schedule a consultation with him at NO cost.  This was the opportunity I'd been waiting for!  We ran up right after the session and quickly made an appointment for the beginning of the next week (SO glad we stayed for three weeks this year!).
The consultation was very helpful and encouraging, but it was actually the last class session the week before that ended up being the most helpful.  It was guessed it...paper envelope budgeting.

I sat through that session and for a good chunk of it, kept thinking in my mind, "Aw we don't need to do this....we have a better way....the online Mvelopes is far superior and up to date with modern budgeting...".  However, deep down, I had a funny feeling that this was actually the answer we'd been looking for.
By the end of that class, James and I looked at each other and agreed....we had to do this.  At the very least we needed to give it a try.

It took a few weeks until we could actually start and I worried during that time that I was just making more excuses.  I'll admit, I was scared to do it.  I was scared it, and I, would fail at it.  I knew how hard it was to stick to the grocery budget and while my early budgeting days saw me pulling over my cart before the check-out line to add up my purchases with a calculator and putting back anything that went over, I'd gotten lax about this, telling myself that we "deserved" that particular item in the cart.
The weekend in between the class and our consultation, it was rainy and dreary.  Perfect day to stay in the trailer and work on the budget.  It was due for an update anyway and I made sure to add to the grocery amount.  Then I figured out how much money we'd be withdrawing with each paycheque.  This is made easy since our budget is pretty streamlined: each paycheque is planned and allocated according to an excel spreadsheet some kind person shared with me on the Crown forums a number of years ago. The final step was to figure out the denominations for each of these withdrawals.  We were set.
As I said though, it took a few weeks because I couldn't make a big withdrawal, even after a paycheque, until our Mvelopes were all cleaned up of negative balances.  I didn't even quite make it to that point; I had to just jump in with one foot and figure out adjustments on the fly one day when a paycheque had come in and I knew if we didn't go for it, we never would.

To make the whole thing more palatable, I stopped at the dollar store and picked up a couple of mini file organizers.  I had had one of these years ago when I thought I would try paper envelope budgeting and ended up just using it to organize receipts, business cards and the like in my purse.  Now I sat at the dining room table with the organizers, a new box of dollar store envelopes, and my withdrawal.  It felt really good to get it all squared away, even if there wasn't much cash in each envelope yet.  Phil recommended keeping a rather small number of envelopes on your person at any one time.  My online Mvelopes has grown over the years...I probably have at least 50 envelopes there on the site, although many don't get used much as we don't have the budget to fill them on a regular basis. Phil said around 5 envelopes would be good, but I knew I couldn't pare it down that much.  I started with nearly double that: gas, groceries, Afton's violin lessons, "extras" (what we call milk and bread money), treats, and a few more.  Over the last month they've expanded to include medicine, car repair (which came in handy when I was out the other week and the Pilot suddenly broke; I had to stop and buy a part and get over to my mechanic--I was very glad I actually had the cash on me or I wouldn't have made it home!), kids commission, diapers/formula, parking, eating out, toiletries and kids miscellaneous.

Phil recommends some pretty strict rules when it comes to the envelopes.  No borrowing from another envelope for a different purpose is probably the hardest.  I would say that we've been about 90% successful with this, and when we've not held to it, it's been for nearly emergency-level reasons, or for a tiny amount (ie: swiping a quarter or loonie to get a desperately needed coffee).  I don't intend to let it go beyond that, and Phil advises that if you find you've run out of something then take note and budget more for it next month.  This sounds good theoretically, but I'm not sure how we'd make it work in all practicality.  Our budget, as advised by both Phil and Dave, is Zero based.  So if I needed to re-allot money to another envelope, then something will get less of course.  There's not much wiggle room in our's not like I can take from the "blow" money because we don't have any...even though this is something both Phil and Dave say you must have.  I get the premise behind this (so you don't go crazy with the tight budget and overspend) but I just can't bring myself to budget money to James and I to spend on whatever we want, when there are so many budget items that so desperately need it.  Ours is pretty much a budget of necessities.

So now, the report.  How is it going?


Even though I was scared at first that we just wouldn't have enough money for stuff we needed, I hung on to the fact that we have lived the last 10 or so years with no credit card, and with few exceptions, have had enough money for all our necessities.  Even if we constantly had negative envelopes, they usually got filled eventually, which means, we DO make enough money to live on, it was just a matter of timing that properly.  And I was right! (At least so far...).  I didn't think I'd have the discipline to stick to the confines of each envelope, but I've been like a nazi about it! (is that offensive?)  I'm hoping this isn't just a "honeymoon" phase and that it'll get harder to stay disciplined.

It's been great with the kids too.  We got back into our commissions practice this summer and every week each of the kids has a "zone" to take care of and they get a dollar a day for that. (I know, not much...but it's what we can afford with 4 kids.  Better than nothing!).  It's been great to actually always have the money on hand to pay them, instead of saying "you have to wait until your dad gets paid".  And now when they ask for stuff, I can either say, "use your commission" or "there's nothing (or something!) in the envelope for that".  I was really excited this year at the Ancaster Fair because every year we buy lunch there as a big treat...but usually we don't really have the money, but I'll take it from the account anyway.  This year we actually had eating out budget--cash!   Afton's violin teacher prefers cash and usually I've had to run to a bank and then get change if only the ATM was open but now it's all done and waiting for me in the envelope each week.  Such a great feeling!

I still like to use both Mvelopes and the paper envelopes though.  The Mvelopes is great for big picture organization, and of course to keep the auto-debits and online payments in check.  We have a lifetime membership to Mvelopes anyways so it's nothing for us to keep using it.

So that's the finance update!  I highly recommend the old fashioned paper envelope system!

Celebrate the Christmas Season with Vivaldi's Gloria

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

I love it when two of my favourite things come together: Christmas and Vivaldi. :-)

Tonight, I'm presenting another webinar for Landry Academy, at 9pm.  This is the third in my "Celebrate" series that features a composer and their masterpiece. (A year ago at this time was Handel and his Messiah and this past spring I tackled Haydn and his Creation). Along with the webinar, I leave each attendee with a gift; a devotional that I have written myself that connects the scriptures used throughout the composition, gives biographical info about the composer, and then some musical instruction while listening to a movement of the piece.  Last year my Handel devotional was 25 days long and was intended for Advent.  Haydn's was much shorter, at only 7 days (to match the days of creation) and this fall, the Vivaldi devotional is 12, not for the 12 days of Christmas! The Gloria happens to be 12 movements long.  I also create a youtube channel so that each day, if you are using the devotional, you can tune in and use that resource to play the daily music segment. It's always a lot of work to put these all together, but I really enjoy it!

So, if you happen to check my blog today, and you are free tonight for about 30 minutes starting at 9pm, hop over to the Landry site here and log into our webinar classroom.  If you've never done so before, I would advise giving yourself an extra 10-15 minutes, as some computers have to download the launching app for Blackboard Collaborate, the program we use to facilitate the online classrooms.

Oh, here's my "blurb"!

"One of the most joyful sounds we hear around the Christmas season are the sublime violin stylings of the adored Baroque era composer, Antonio Vivaldi. His "Gloria" is a rich musical tradition for many during the holidays. But how to introduce his music to our young families? The average orchestra concert hall is not a place we can easily bring our small children. Landry Academy's "Meet the Composers" teacher, Leslie Kent has just the solution for you. Join her TONIGHT at 9pm for a webinar that will give you the tools you need to painlessly introduce your children to one of the finest composers in the Western tradition. Each attendee will receive a free gift that will enhance your advent traditions. Hope to see you there!"


Such blessing

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I'm so excited; this picture will soon grace my living room wall...


Thursday, August 6, 2015

We've just come off a very exciting weekend. World Teeball Tournament!

Yes, I now have two little baseball players in the house.  Who would have ever guessed?  Let me tell you all about it. :-)

I have a friend I've known for a few years through homeschooling circles named Jacy.  A few years ago she was teaching Jairus sign language and we've had lots of discussions both online and face to face about schooling choices, special needs and many other topics.  Baseball has been one of those.  I knew from her email signature and mentions on FB that Jacy was a baseball coach of various leagues.
At the end of 2013, Jacy and her kids moved to Caledonia and the next spring, I started hearing about her running baseball in Haldimand county.  We talked seriously at that time about my kids joining, but between gymnastics and highland dance, our summer schedule was just too full.  Baseball sounded fun though.
This year when she began talking about it again, I realized that we could possibly be involved.  Add to that the recommendation from the sports psychologist to get Verity into other physical pursuits, and I was keen to try this out.  I had enjoyed baseball as a kid in elementary school--always made the school team, and I was concerned that my kids master the basic skills of catching and batting.  So near the end of May, we began coming out to teeball practices.

At first, Verity was not convinced.  Afton was more enthused.  Sadly, there weren't enough girls of Honour's age to get a team going and Jairus....well, we needed to feel out where a good place for Jairus would be.  After a few practices though, and the awkward "I'm not sure what to do" phase passed, Verity was much more agreeable, and the day the uniforms came home, she was downright excited. James was also pulled in to assist Jacy with the coaching, as she needed base coaches.  We really had no idea what this meant. :-)  Both the girls developed some nice skills and Verity's athletic training was evident as Coach Jacy groomed her for 1st base. Being from a town on the Grand River gave us the name the Riverdogs.  Their uniforms displayed a cute yellow dog on a navy background, cracking a bat in half with his teeth.

Our first game was played as part of a one day "Friendship" tournament in Hamilton. We showed up bright and early for the start of it, got one game played (lost), went to breakfast as a team at a nearby restaurant and watched the downpour begin.  The rest of the day was called due to the rain. :-S

One of the teams we were supposed to play came out to Caledonia a couple weeks later though, and played us on a Sunday afternoon.  We tied that game, but received the participation medal from the tournament at that time.  The kids, (plus Jairus for being bat boy) were pleased with this.

We all knew that the BIG event of the season was going to be the World Teeball Tournament in Ancaster over the first weekend of August.  As the weekend approached however, our numbers were low. Jacy had to reach out to some other players she knew of from other sources. It was questionable right up to the day or two before the tournament whether or not the kids would be able to play. Coach Jacy pulled it together though, and we had enough to go to Ancaster in the nick of time..

Meanwhile, in my house, things were getting chaotic.  We had rsvp'd to a wedding over a month before for the Friday afternoon/evening, without realizing that the tournament would start on the Friday night.  James ended up attending the 3:30 service with me, and then returning to Hamilton to get the girls and head over to the tournament while I went on to the reception.  I got home that night to hear that they lost.  Considering their track record, it wasn't surprising.  Honestly, I think most of the team and their families felt that our little teeball group would barely survive a game or two. We had also scheduled ourselves to leave for Fair Havens, for 2 weeks of trailer camping that weekend. Sometime in the few weeks leading up to the tournament, we realized that we'd have to put off our departure.  At first I figured it would be Saturday night, no biggie.  Then that was adjusted to Sunday when we realized there was at least one guaranteed Sunday game.  Again, our expectations were pretty low and we thought we'd be on our way after that Sunday game...

Saturday morning we were up at 6am to leave the house by 7 to arrive at the diamond for 7:15. Gametime was 8am and Coach Jacy wanted lots of time to warm up and mentally prepare the kids.
We were playing teams from all over Southern Ontario and Saturday morning was against a team from Windsor.  I was shocked that teams had come a four hour drive for this tournament!

I sat with a group of parents who watched in surprise and amazement as the kids played, frankly shocked that they held their own so well against this very strong team.  We won 31-17! A few hours later, they faced an all girls team from High Park in Toronto.  They were a very good team and the Riverdogs lost by 8 runs.

As we packed up our camping stuff on Saturday between games and in the evening, we were sure we'd play our two scheduled Sunday games and be on our way by mid-afternoon.  During that first morning game against another Windsor team, I sat with a set of now-familiar parents and marked the score as best as I could track on a piece of scrap paper.  I wanted to know when I could start planning our departure.  It seemed eminent when the Riverdogs lost by only one run. We still had one more scheduled game however, for 12pm.  A loss here would have us on our way to Fair of course...we won. This bumped us into another game at 4pm.  Surely we would lose here and be on our way, right?
No way!
The unthinkable had happened...we had made it to the quarter finals against an Ancaster team, playing on Monday morning.  We were happy that the kids had done so well, so unhappy to be missing our holiday! I now recalled a conversation with the girls on Saturday night, when they asked what would happen if we won our games and had to stay until Monday. Thinking that it was nearly an impossibility, I flippantly told them "Then we stay".  They were appalled at the thought, but I insisted that supporting our team was paramount.  Now I was so glad I had, even in my unbelief, prepared them for this turn of events!
The first Monday game was at 9am, a welcome change from the 6am alarms we'd needed the day before. Still, I harboured the expectation that we would likely lose, and then we'd hit the road. I had already sent a message to the program coordinator at Fair Havens on Saturday night, letting her know that Jairus wouldn't be at his program Sunday morning (so that his assistant wouldn't be waiting unnecessarily) but assured her we'd be there for the evening. I had to message her again on Sunday night!

Good natured, even though she got out!

Coach Jacy instructing.

Best bat boy ever!

This series was an amazing play by Verity and the 2nd baseman. She described the whole thing to me--how she went for the pop fly and missed, but he was right there behind her to get it!

It was during this game that I started to understand some of the logic of teeball scoring.  In teeball, every player goes to bat, so it doesn't matter how many outs there are (except that outs mean less runs, of course). It wasn't until one of the other moms came checking my scoring attempt over my shoulder that she started talking about how many runs we'd need to be assured of a win. At first I didn't get what she meant, but then as her and another couple talked, I began to realize that there would come a point when we'd be so far ahead that it would be physically impossible for the other team to bring in enough runs to win or even tie. Teeball games are 5 innings, but they can be cut short when that magic number is reached. During this game, it came down to a moment when the Riverdogs needed 3 more outs to eliminate the possibility of Ancaster even catching up.

And suddenly they had done it.  We were in the semi-finals.  When I met Afton coming out of the dugout, I congratulated her and gave her a big hug.  She was pleased, and then asked if we were leaving for FH now.  I realized that she didn't understand the significance of what happened....I explained with as much excitement as I could...and she started to cry. Oh no!

I had emailed my parents and sister the night before to tell them what was going on.  They'd all been away that day visiting my brother in Parry Sound so I wasn't sure if they'd be up to coming out to the game, but it was so exciting that I knew I at least needed to let them know.  My mom texted during that first game to ask if they'd be playing again at 11:30, the scheduled time for the semi-finals. As soon as the game finished, I confirmed that they would be playing only 45 minutes later.  They arrived just in time.
Again I kept a rough score as the game proceeded, warning anyone around me who checked it that I couldn't vouch for its' accuracy...I found it too easy to get caught up in the game and miss some runs. It ended up being an extremely dramatic ending. It was down to the end of the 5th inning...the last batter, with one runner on base.  If they both got home, we would be tied and have to go into another inning.  Last batters are typically the strongest hitters and this was no exception...but the Riverdogs were ready.  They gathered the ball and got it back into homeplate where our backcatcher was waiting.  The runner already on base came in...that brought the score to within one run of each other.  Then our backcatcher, with the pitcher helping, got the ball in hand and stomped on homeplate, well before the last batter got in.  We had squeaked through with a victory by one run. I sat in shock and looked around at the other families of our one was really celebrating...I think most of us were not quite sure it had happened! Slowly the realization set in however...we were in the championship game.
By later in the day, all the games had become delayed.  The 3:30 championship game wouldn't be starting until 4:30 at the earliest.  I took Honour and Tia (family friend) and headed home to get the van packed up. I was determined that we would be on the road as soon as the game was done.  For us, it was a double win--either way, we'd be on holidays in our favourite place in the world!

Well, to make a long story short (too late!) the Riverdogs played valiantly, matching the championship team from Windsor point for point for the first 2-3 innings. Then slowly the other team pulled away for a final score of about 28-21.  I have to point out, however, that we had played 3 games that day...9 games over the whole weekend...they were exhausted! The Windsor team however, had been "seeded" into the championship and hadn't had to play at all that day!

It was such an incredible weekend.  I got to know a number of other team parents quite well as we sat chatting through the games. I watched both my husband and my daughters improve by leaps and bounds--James as he coached, and the girls as they played.  All the children went through nearly a metamorphosis that was incredible to watch over the course of the four days.  One of my goals in putting the girls in teeball was that they'd know what it was like to be part of a team and work together. They experienced this in spades.  I can't say enough good things about the Haldimand Riverdogs and Coach Jacy!

The Lure of the Elite

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Recently we've experienced quite a detour along the comfortable road we had been traveling.  It's been not a little distressing at times, as detours so often are.  I'll start with the dance detour.

You might remember our plan about a year and a half ago, to help Honour set goals for her Highland dancing.  This had been coming along well.  She had come within two weeks of reaching her graduating-to-intermediate-level goal, which was still great, and she managed her own personal goal of winning a trophy, as you might have seen here

Last fall saw a bit of a stall with dance, as she began to have pain in her feet, just after reaching intermediate level.  I was suspicious that it was due to all the new dances she had to learn for intermediate and the different stylings they employed.  As the end of the summer neared, we decided to get some help as the pain was not going away.  Honour's teacher recommended an osteopath in Hamilton and so we went to see him...2 appointments later, I was not impressed and nowhere near convinced that this was helping.  She took a couple weeks off and it wasn't any better.  The family doctor had thought it was likely plantar faciitis, so next I tried a massage therapist in town who was also nearly done her osteopath work.  I liked her a lot and Honour had about 6 sessions, this time taking more time off--I hadn't felt that the previous break was nearly enough for her body to heal. She was off for well over a month this time and went back just before Christmas.  Physically, things seemed improved.  Just in time for the mental side of things to plummet....

Honour has always been my sensitive one.  Add to this, a teacher who tends towards the 'no-nonsense' style of teaching and you have a recipe for occasional rough spots.  Usually when Honour came home from dance class bummed because her work wasn't noticed, or she was reprimanded unfairly, I would encourage her to toughen up and deal with it.  A fact of life.
However, one night in February proved to be that famous breaking straw.  I won't go into details, but she came home more than bummed...fighting tears (and sometimes losing) and distraught until far after her bedtime.  I decided that a face-to-face with the teacher was needed.  A few days later, I stopped by her house to get a sense of the situation from her perspective.  And I learned that sensitive or not, sometimes you need to stand up for your kid and remove them from a situation beyond their ability to handle.

At first we considered another studio and contacted a couple teachers.  Over the weekend that followed however, Honour allowed her mind to consider an exciting prospect...a new activity.  She asked a few days later if she could try swimming instead of dance.  She'd done it for nearly 5 years...I realized that it was really not a terrible thing for her to try out a new sport.
So I looked into a couple clubs in Hamilton and she tried them out.  One club won out for a few reasons and now she's been going to a once a week 60 minute practice and really enjoying it.

I already look nostalgically at her kilt and Aboyne costume in my closet...and at her dancing pictures and videos.  Maybe she'll go back sometime...maybe she won't.  But I'm trusting that God is behind this move and accepting that he is perhaps finished using dance in her life to accomplish his purposes. She's got nice strong legs for swimming now!

This all might have been a little easier to manage if a similar thing hadn't been happening with Verity at the gym, at nearly the same time.

Last summer/fall marked the start of Verity's 6th year in gymnastics.  She would have been 4 years old when she started with a one hour daytime class once per week.  I remember how quickly she picked up all the beginner skills and each year after that saw her progressing quickly through the rec and pre-competitive classes.  She tried out for the competitive stream at some point...I can't remember quite when, and with no difficulty started the longer classes. By the time we moved out of Hamilton, she was going once a week for a 2 or 3 hour class.  It sounds a little long, but they always stopped for a significant break (often I sent essentially a meal for Verity to eat halfway through) and considering that they had to fit work on 4 elements (beam, bars, floor and vault) I could see why it took so long.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013.  We had moved Verity to a gym closer to our new home and she had made the transition well.  She had a nice group of friends all around her age (8 years) and level of skill, and she was up to 3 practices a week for 4 hours a shot. Again..sounds like a lot compared to your average childhood activity that meets once per week for an hour...but having been involved in this sport now for 5 years, I knew that the amount of time Verity was spending was nothing compared to gymnasts at the provincial or national level...or beyond. 18 to 24 hours a week was not unheard of, and if Verity actually went as far as Olympic level, she'd easily be training as much as your average part or even full time job. I know, Olympics? Sounds a bit crazy...but I wasn't about to underestimate my middle born daughter...she has a competitive streak a mile wide, and had confidence and fearlessness in the gym to match.  Her coaches were confident of national level competition in the next few years.

By the next summer, she was up to 18 hours and we were looking at a total of 9 competitions for the following season, including 3 provincial qualifiers.  The first was scheduled for early December. She now trained with a small group of girls who were anywhere from 2 to 4 years older than her.

About 2 weeks before this, Verity came home from the gym to tell me that she'd fallen while on the beam.  Just the thought of this made my toes curl.  She seemed fine however, and hadn't seriously injured least not physically.  I called her coach and got the low-down on what had happened.  She'd been attempting a move on the beam that had her reaching backwards (not sure which, she had a few backwards moves on the beam at this point) and that was when she'd fallen. Her coach explained that she'd given her a bit of time to process and deal with it, sit out for a bit, try the move on the floor, and then slowly got her back up on the beam.  It seemed like a good strategy.
But it didn't work.
By the time the qualifier rolled around, Verity's routines had had to be altered.  Her coaches removed a few elements that she was now too scared to try.  She was developing a block.  We assumed time would heal this, and that by the next qualifier in February, that she'd likely be back to "normal".
But it didn't happen.
She went off to an invitational in January and had better results than the qualifier, bringing home a few medals.  She was thrilled with this and I was sure it would kickstart her back into her usual fearless self at the gym.
But it did not.
We reached February and the second qualifier.  With each day that passed, Verity became more and more distraught.  Each drive home from the gym was now filled with frustration, anxiety and self-disappointment over skills she was unable to do.   She was certain her coaches were disappointed with her, certain they were angry.  I spent much time in conversation with her head coach and knew this wasn't the case, knew that they were not angry, but I could not convince her. "Coaches are different when parents aren't around, mom", she would say.  I was left speechless at this comment.  I trusted her coaches; I trusted her.  How could I put their word above hers? But how could I put a child's perceptions above these professionals?
The week leading up to the qualifier was far worse.  She was not sleeping, not eating right, complaining of headaches, stomachaches, having nightmares.  When I woke her up in the morning, she would have a pinched, panicked expression on her face. "I can't do my back walkover on beam, mummy, what am I going to do?!", she'd gasp.
Finally, 2 days before the meet, I'd had enough.  My 9 year old daughter was going to have a breakdown and I refused to allow it. I grasped her shoulders while standing in the mudroom and with a little shake, told her that she was not going.  She was not going to compete that weekend.  Truthfully? It was reverse psychology.  I was sure that if I said this, she would relax, she would calm down and soon be back to normal.  As the day and evening wore on, she would think and muse on the situation.  She'd realize that she just couldn't not go to the meet.  By the next day she'd come to me and say, "I'm ok now mummy, I'll go to the competition".
But she did not.
In fact, the next day, we took her to a sports psychologist.  We had started looking into this a few weeks earlier, and this happened to be the day of the first appointment.  I was hopeful that the psychologist would be able to see exactly what was ailing her, have some words of wisdom; a pep talk of sorts, and boom, Verity would be alright and raring to go the next day.  This ended up being the farthest thing from reality.
The psychologist, a woman working in the sports department of a nearby university spent some time talking with Verity on her own, and then James and I and Verity together.  It quickly became clear that all would not be returning to "normal" anytime soon.  We had one very sad and upset daughter on our hands.  The psychologist agreed that her not competing the next day was a good thing, and in fact included a ban on all future competitions for that season in her recommendations to us. Cutting back her hours was another. We were dismayed, and I was terribly glad James had decided to take time off work and join us that morning.  I would have dreaded the prospect of going home and trying to explain all of that to him.
We talked to her coaches and made the changes.  She would go back down to 12 hours of training and re-join her group from the previous year.

Everything would be better now, right?

A few weeks later, we went to see the psychologist for a follow up appointment.  I had hardly given it any thought; we had fixed this, right? We'd pulled her back and eased her stress load, and she was going to be fine now, right?
So wrong.
Again Verity spend some time talking with the professor in her office, and then I joined after a few moments. It was not enough.  She was still not ok.  More changes needed to be implemented.  The psychologist assessed Verity and diagnosed her with a "textbook" case of burnout.  I was stunned. We'd been long aware and wary of this dreaded evil of elite sport; burnout.  We'd read articles and journals on the topic; my husband had done a fair bit of research in the name of being forwarned and therefore forearmed...but it hadn't been enough.  It had slunk in undetected despite our best intentions and efforts. The recommendation was now a total and complete severing of Verity from the gym. This was what she wanted and this was what needed to happen if we valued her mental, and even physical, the psychologist said, health.

How can a parent choose otherwise in the face of such possible extreme consequences? Yes, she'd loved it since she was a small child.  She had lived, eaten and breathed it for nearly 70% of her lifespan.  She could hardly keep herself from doing flips, cartwheels and tucks all over our home (even after 4 hours at the gym) and anywhere we went during the day.  She was known to all our friends and family for her constant need for gymnastic movement, for this incredible gift of physical talent. It gave her immense confidence...(sometimes a little too much confidence...) and I recognized in her the same sense of identity as a gymnast that I felt as a child, being known for my singing.

But now it was all over.  James and I were heartbroken, confused and even a little angry.  Why was this happening?  What could God possibly be doing through such a shocking turn of events?
We still don't have answers.  We're still not sure why it all happened.  What we do know is that Verity has undergone a huge change.  She no longer runs into the living room and flips onto the couch.  I don't enter her bedroom to find her standing on her head, or draped over the edge of her bed in a lazy back walkover.  She has completely lost her joy and love for gymnastics, and that's been the hardest thing to understand and accept of all of this.  I read through a book the psychologist recommended: Little girls in Pretty Boxes, an expose of sorts about gymnasts and figure skaters.  It was pretty shocking and disheartening.  It did make me re-evaluate why I could possibly have wanted my daughter anywhere near such an industry. But I know that it's to be taken with a grain of salt; it's also American and I know that we have some significant differences in Canada.  We also became familiar with a set of developmental building blocks that the psychologist gave us a copy of.

More information on these levels here

Verity has been quite content, if not even happy, to be done with the gym.  We termed it a "break", just to give her that option of returning if things should change.  But it's been nearly 7 months now, and her attitude is no different.  I also know that she feels she couldn't return to the gym now, because of what the other gymnasts would be thinking or even saying about her having quit for so long.  She remembers what they would all say about others who quit previous to her.  It's a sad, but inevitable reality.

So our detour has become, seemingly, permanent.  James and I still question if we did something wrong...perhaps we shouldn't have involved her in this sport at all...perhaps we shouldn't have let her ease up into 18 hours of training over the years.  Or on the flip side, perhaps the psychologist was wrong and we just handed our daughter a horrible life lesson; that's it's ok to quit when the going gets tough.

For now, we trust. There's a song that I return to when things get hard and confusing.  When James and I had broken up (when dating), when we experienced marriage difficulties, when Jairus was born, when we buried our second son.

I will trust you Lord, when I don't know why
I will trust you Lord, 'til the day I die
I will trust you Lord when I'm blind with pain
You were God before and you'll never change
I will trust you...

FREE Webinar tomorrow night!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hello Loyal fans,


Just in case anyone is checking this and would be interested, tomorrow night you can see my lovely face live in webinar through Landry Academy.  Those deets again are Tuesday, June 23rd at 9pm.

This webinar is entitled "Celebrate Creation with Joseph Haydn" and will include a mini-lesson on Haydn just like I teach weekly for Landry PLUS a free bonus: A 7 day devotional about Creation--both the Biblical event and the oratorio by Haydn, written just for this webinar by yours truly.

You can access the webinar HERE.  I would suggest you log in about 15 minutes early, especially if you've never used Blackboard Collaborate as then you'd likely have to download their launcher app.  The webinar will take about 1/2 an hour.

This is the second webinar I've presented which will hopefully continue as a series--the last one was Celebrate the Advent Season with Handel's Messiah which I presented last November.  It was a great success and also included a 25 day Advent devotional (so if you'd like to see that, scroll down the page of the above link and you'll see it there--webinars are recorded so that anyone can watch them at any time :-) )  I have plans for a Bach webinar/devotional about St. Matthew's Passion and also Vivaldi and his Four Seasons. Very excited about these!

So remember, tomorrow, June 23rd at 9pm.  See you there!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Absolutely beautiful.