Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: The year of grace.

I quit making New Year's resolutions a long time ago. I am totally the type of person who would set myself up for failure by choosing lofty goals and promising to create new habits that I knew I'd likely not stick to. After a while it seemed pretty pointless, so I started taking a different approach.

While I have written down a few smaller, attainable goals the last couple of years, what I've really focused on is the general direction my life is going, and doing things that slowly add momentum in the positive areas and gently begin to turn the not-so-positive things in a better direction.

It's like navigating a cruise ship. Those babies don't go anywhere in a hurry, right?

Generally, such is life. You can't lose 100 pounds in a month. Most people don't become millionaires overnight. Your house won't be organized if it never has been and you won't have a perfect routine in place by next weekend. It's unlikely you'll be successful if you go cold turkey when you quit drinking Mountain Dew or quit smoking.

But we can move toward something better. We can make small changes over time. We can strive for progress, not perfection, and (my apologies to Martha) that's a good thing.

I like the idea of closing the books - literally and figuratively - on one year and starting a fresh chapter on January 1. New beginnings ... clean slates ... it's all about learning from, but then moving on from the mistakes we made last year and building on all the good we did.

I am aiming to make 2011 the year of grace. In the year ahead, I will make it my goal to grant grace to others at times when in the past I might have reacted quite differently. Grace toward my children as they continue to learn about life and what it means to be good people. Grace toward my spouse as he balances the demands of his job and the challenges of being away from his family. Grace toward my friends who all have their own families and schedules and issues that cause them to express emotions that have nothing to do with me.

Grace for myself as I work on being the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, in-law, friend ... the best woman I can be. And most important of all, I will work on humbly accepting God's grace which is given so freely. Occasionally He reminds me that my focus is a little askew - I am much harder on myself in some areas than I should be, and I don't work enough on the things that I should. In those moments I will choose grace, not guilt.

So I might not make the typical resolutions anymore, but in my own way I resolve to make good use of the clean slate we've been given. Another year, another chance to improve.

How about you?

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

It's a wrap.

We have just over a day left in 2010 and like so many others I am reflecting on the past year and looking forward to starting with a clean slate, making new memories, continuing to reach for goals (and probably making a few new ones) in the new year.

I can't complain at all about 2010. We've had our challenges and struggles and did a lot of learning this past year, but above all I am thankful we've all been healthy and Steve has been fortunate enough to be working all year. We didn't know whether that would be the case as we entered the holiday season in 2009, and I can tell you it's much easier to sit back and relax and enjoy Christmas when you know the paychecks will continue coming after the first of the year.

We got to see some new places in 2010. We enjoyed the beauty of Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia as Steve moved around for work. He expanded his resume and we expanded our comfort zone as we again learned to live and love and parent long-distance. We met some wonderful people and made some amazing new friends. We rejoiced when Steve was offered a job back here in Michigan, a mere 3-hour drive from home.

We took on a couple major home-improvement projects this year: installing ceramic tile, rebuilding our front porch, replacing all the windows and our sliding glass door, adding gutters, planting lots of perennials out in the yard. Little by little we are taking care of things we've been putting off for years, and that feels good.

Time and time again I thank the Good Lord for friends and relatives who love us, look out for us, and take care of us. From pumping up flat tires to plowing our long driveway in the winter, kid- and house-sitting, and regular "therapy" sessions over coffee, dinner, or margaritas, I couldn't ask to be part of a better community - both in our little neighborhood and in a broader sense in the pipelining community, our church family, our friends.

I look forward to the year ahead. We've had some time to recharge these past couple weeks as the kids have been home from school and Steve has had some vacation time from work. I'm ready to start the new year on a high note; life is good.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Enjoying the Christmas afterglow.

I have been so happy to have my family together for Christmas. This is what I've been needing, the missing link. I'm pretty good (at least I think so) at getting by when Steve's not here, but I miss him so much when he's gone and it's difficult to get into a celebratory mood without my favorite person here to share it with.

But right now? While he's here with me and our children? Bliss.

We've had fun as a family these last few days and I look forward to another week of sleeping in, watching movies, playing games, baking, eating dinners together, and maybe even a little shopping. As I write, Steve and the kids are out rounding up what they need to do a little skeet shooting. I'm so glad they are able to spend some quality time with their daddy, too.

We had a very simple Christmas this year. It was different for us. Steve's mom is away visiting her family until after the first of the year, and so our annual Christmas Eve gathering at mom and dad's house became a gathering at our house. We opened a few gifts, ate a bunch of snacks, and toasted with champagne. It was nice and relaxing.

Christmas Day was quiet, too. When we couldn't hold Rachel off any longer - about 6:30 - we finally got up and Steve put the breakfast casserole in the oven to bake while we opened gifts. The kids were happy with what they received, and I was happy watching the looks on their faces when Steve and I opened the gifts they helped us pick out for each other. We got Steve a new Gerber multi-tool and a new belt. They got me - God bless all three of them - a Keurig one-cup coffee brewer. I have been eyeballing them for months, but it's one of those things that I just couldn't justify buying for myself. I'm in heaven!

Now that all the scraps of wrapping paper have been taken out with the trash and grandma's Nuts & Bolts snack mix has been safely hidden away for munching on later, it's time to sort some laundry and empty the dishwasher (again). I enjoy these days following Christmas, though, as much as I enjoy the days leading up to it. Every time I turn around there is a reminder of Sam's and Rachel's thoughtfulness, my husband's presence, our blessed life. Barring the days following the births of our children, I can't think of a time when I was happier than I am today. I'd like to bottle this feeling, but since that's not possible I'll just bask in it ... enjoy it ... soak it up.

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas two nights before ...

It's 2 a.m. and I can't sleep.

It's not that panicked oh my gosh we'll never get it all done and Christmas will be ruined kind of can't sleep. It's more of a dang, we still have a lot to do in the next 20 hours kind of can't sleep.

I woke up remembering that I hadn't gotten out the recipe for our Christmas morning breakfast casserole, hence the needed ingredients had not been added to the shopping list.

Oh yes, there is still shopping to do. Food shopping AND gift shopping. The majority of both, actually.

We're not crazy. Life has just been a little off lately. Between budget-sapping vehicle repairs and energy-sapping coughs and colds and my own emotional unrest concerning my aging grandmother, we've had some hurdles to jump over before we could get down to the business of preparing for Christmas.

The joy of Christmas, though, is it will come whether we have a tree or not (we do now, and we will decorate it tomorrow ... er, later today). Christmas will be here and we will celebrate Christ's birth whether we find two gifts for each child or 10 gifts, and whether we wrap them or not (ask me tomorrow morning at 2 a.m.).

We may think we can't find the time in our day for it, but Christmas will come, our world will be blessed, we will be forgiven and find salvation, and there will be peace. There's some comfort in knowing that while we busy ourselves with earthly things and expectations and sail along through our daily lives, God is preparing to wow us like He promised He would. Even if we become distracted from the true meaning of all of this, He most certainly does not.

Just this evening there were a few moments with my family that made me forget about all the Christmas preparations yet undone and gave me that little poke I needed to get things back in focus.

We had just returned from our second trip to town after racing back there to pick up my truck from the shop where we thought it had been repaired after being towed in by a wrecker. I was more than a little frustrated because the "repair" didn't quite repair things, and here we were at the end of the work day with a long holiday weekend ahead. Steve had picked up KFC for dinner so at least nobody had to cook. There was this moment when everybody stood in the kitchen filling their plates, then one by one we sat down at the dining room table together. There was no "hey guys, let's all sit down here" and certainly we could have migrated to the living room and plopped down in front of the television. But there we sat together as a family, making our game plan for the Christmas Eve shopping jaunt and watching the candles of our Advent wreath flicker.

Then we laughed together - once we got over the initial shock - as Patch The Kitty got up close and personal with the Christmas tree by climbing the trunk. Hellooooo, Griswolds.

And then after dinner everyone helped clean up and we started our annual cookie-baking extravaganza. A few years ago we started a tradition of passing out cookies (wicked good double chocolate peanut butter thumbprint cookies) to several neighbors on Christmas Eve. I love doing this as a family, and making these cookies only once a year gets everyone excited in anticipation. These are seriously good cookies. And we had a seriously good time as we worked assembly-line-style with Rachel and me mixing ingredients, Sam melting chocolate, and Steve supervising from the sidelines while sipping eggnog.

Kidding! Steve helped, too.

After all that, it was nice to chill out and watch a few minutes of TV with Steve, then settle in for a good rest. I set the alarm for early in the morning (but NOT 2 o'clock!) determined I would have a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee and a little reflection before starting the mad rush of the day.

I guess the universe had other plans for me.

At least I got some of the aftermath of the baking spree cleaned up. And I found the recipe for the Christmas morning casserole.

I should head back to bed and try to sleep, but I rather enjoy the peace and quiet of the house at this hour. I have a feeling it won't be this quiet again for a few days, and that's as it should be - we have so much to celebrate.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What is wrooooong with me??

I've got the music playing.

Pretty poinsettias decorating the house.

Fresh fluffy snow outside.

Yummy candles burning.

Christmas cards arriving in the mail every day.

Even peppermint-scented soap in the bathroom.

Where the heck is my Christmas spirit?!?

OK, to say I don't have any Christmas spirit probably isn't accurate. I do enjoy the sights and sounds of the season and the anticipation of celebrating Christ's birth with friends and family. It's not like I've got a case of the Bah-humbugs. I'm just not as excited as I usually am 10 days before Christmas.

Today I sorted through the few little gifts I have for the kids in hopes that it would inspire me to list the things I still want to get for them and devise a plan of action.

Nope.

Maybe it's because we don't have a Christmas tree yet. But I kinda want to wait until Steve is home so we can all go pick one out together.

*sigh*

Maybe I need some caffeine.

Maybe I should take a cue from the animals. Look, they seem to have set aside their differences for the holidays and they don't give a rip what's happening in the world outside:
I have never, ever had any combination of cats and dogs that would curl up together like this.

Aww. I will declare this our own little Christmas miracle!

Here's hoping the excitement filters in over the next few days ...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moving Day.

We sprung granny from the nursing home yesterday. And just in time, because I think she was about to go postal on her roommate who liked to leave her lights and her television on all. night. long.

The medical care facility is a wonderful place for folks who need round-the-clock care. God blessed those nurses and aides and cooks and maintenance people with hearts as big as the sun, I think, and a whopping load of patience on the side. But grandma can do a lot for herself and really just needs someone to be there for some specific things - to keep track of her medications, to help steady her sometimes, to make sure she eats properly.  So rather than keep her in a busy, noisy medical care facility, we moved grandma to a quieter, homier setting in an adult foster care home.


The kids had the day off school yesterday due to the weather, so I asked Rachel to come along with me to help move grandma.

If there was ever a time I wished I could have snapped my fingers and had everything done in an instant, it would have been yesterday. I was not prepared for how physically and emotionally taxing the day would be, and I wasn't even the one moving! It just seems like every time I see grandma, which is at least a couple times a week, I don't even realize that my body tenses up until our visit is over and I'm about halfway home and I start to ache. I don't know why I get so tense but it's probably because I get nervous about grandma falling when I take her out, and it's hard to relax when I'm always on high alert ready to jump when she says she needs something.

Plus yesterday it was ridiculously cold and windy and a lousy day to move, even if all we were moving was two big boxes and two plastic bags and a Christmas cactus.

As far as the emotions of it all, I just had a hard time leaving her at her new home. Grandma seemed happy and excited about the independence she'd have now. But it's still not home, and I didn't want her to be lonely. On top of that, with her independence comes more responsibility for our family to make sure grandma's prescriptions are filled and doctor appointments are met and any of her other needs outside of what the AFC home provides are taken care of. That's fine, and how it should be, but I'm used to my parents taking care of all that so it's all new to me.

I don't want to fail her. Or my parents.

Nor do I want to let my own home and my relationships with Steve and our children fall into disarray because I've gotten so busy running around meeting others' needs. So I'm trying to carve out time for everybody. I took a couple nights to go visit Steve late last week for some much-needed mommy and daddy time. In the evenings I've been trying to read with Rachel or sit and watch TV and chat with Sam. And I've been trying - key word trying - to drag myself to bed at a decent hour at night so I can at least face every new day rested, even if I don't know what the day holds.

Sometime over the next week I'll have to find a few hours to do some Christmas shopping, and then wrap those gifts, and maybe even put up a Christmas tree. Because ya' know what? The holidays are coming whether I think I have the time or not.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pretty quiet on the homefront.



Our little Advent wreath on the dining room table is one of very few signs of Christmas around here. Life has been busy but no busier than usual, Rachel and I have been sick, and frankly I've been just too flippin' tired to do much more than the absolute basics.

I keep waiting for that burst of energy that comes after you've been under the weather for a few days, but I'm afraid the illness hasn't quite run its course yet. I sure hope it passes soon because the house is a mess and I want to do some cleaning up and making things nice and cozy.

It's looking like our plans to go to Texas over Christmas break won't be happening this year. Steve's work schedule just won't allow enough time to make the trip. We're all a little bummed, but the eternal optimist in me says we'll have a good opportunity to build up our reserves while Steve is working an insane amount of hours. Make hay while the sun shines and all that ... because we know how quickly things can turn around.

We've been getting lots of snow this week. Being near - but not too near - the Lake Michigan shore provides some interesting mixtures of weather. My friends right on the shore have just a few inches of snow while we, about 30 miles east, have about a foot of the fluffy white stuff. Sam and Rachel are going to make a killing getting paid for shoveling our deck if this keeps up.

Christmas countdown: 17 days!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The big day is here!

Today is a good day. It is a day I have been waiting on for a long, long time.

Nope, not my birthday. Not Christmas. Not a child's graduation or any other truly grand life event.

No, today is the day we have all the windows and the sliding glass door in our house replaced. We will finally have a clear view outside from the living room, I will be able to open all the windows in the spring because they will have screens, and the exterior door in the dining room will be much more secure.

I know. A little anti-climactic, isn't it?

But this is a HUGE day for us. As much as I hate the idea that we have to replace the windows in a house that's only 10 years old (and really they needed to be replaced ... oh ... seven or eight years ago) I am so excited we are finally able to do it.

We have been living with foggy windows for a long time. First the seal in one of the living room windows cracked, causing condensation between the panes. Then one by one the rest of them cracked, too, and before we knew it we could hardly see through any of the windows clearly. Eventually it got pretty drafty in here in the wintertime.

 
This was one of the worst. Makes you feel like you need to rub your eyes, huh?

When we tried to make a claim on the warranty, which was nearly up by the time we got around to it, you'll never guess what happened. We got blown off until the five year warranty period was up. (Oh yes, that's sarcasm.) I didn't feel like fighting it and didn't really want the same crappy windows replacing the junky ones we already had, so I made Steve swear that we would just have the windows and glass door replaced at some point - with quality products - and never have to worry about it again.

So here we are. Finally.

The installers have been here for just a couple of hours and I am already so glad the idea of taking this job on ourselves was only ever a fleeting thought. I'm pretty sure there are some things in this world that need to be done by professionals, and this job is worth every penny of that big check I'm going to write this afternoon.


 Install! Woohoo! (Terrible pic, I know. I was holding the dog with one hand and operating the camera with the other.)

I haven't had enough coffee to be too philosophical this morning, but I can tell you today is about much more than new windows. What we are able to do today represents for our family a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work. The ability to cash flow a project this big didn't happen overnight, and being able to do things like this is one of the reasons we make this crazy life of ours work - so we can pay off debts, get much needed work done on our home, provide for our children, and still have a little fun along the way.

Today I'm watching those sacrifices pay off in a big way and that makes it all worth it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas is coming.

There's no denying it. Christmas will be here in 24 days.

The trouble is, I'm not sure where the Pipe Lifers will be in 24 days. We are considering taking a vacation to see Steve's extended family in South Texas while the kids are on break from school, but the only way we can do that is if Steve has a good chunk of time off work. He may not know whether he'll have any time off until the last minute (that's what happened at Thanksgiving - time off, then no time off, then yay! a long weekend after all).

I'm not concerned about whether we take the trip. Steve and I have decided on a minimum budget we'll need to make it happen and we both feel it's time for all of us to go and see his family - including several aunts and uncles, cousins, and his grandmother - so if we can make it work, we will.

My hesitation is what to do about everything else leading up to Christmas. It's snowing this morning! And that gets me excited to do something ... Christmasy. But we might not be here to enjoy all the Christmas stuff at Christmas time, so I'm not sure I want to expend the effort.

Do I decorate like I normally would? Do we get a tree? We always get a live tree. Should I set up my nativity scene? What about the cookies we bake as a family and take around the neighborhood on Christmas Eve? We wouldn't be here for that if we go to Texas, and that's a tradition I have really enjoyed the last few years.

Not only have I not hauled out any decorations, but because of our plans being a bit up in the air I haven't done any shopping for gifts. NONE.

I'm in Limbo Land and I don't like it here! I'm a girl who needs a plan. And I can't possibly hang out here for the next three weeks without some holiday something-or-other going on.

That's it. I'm going to take advantage of the good mood the snowfall puts me in and do something. I'm not sure what yet, but I have a half a cup of hot cocoa to help me figure it out.

Enjoy your day!


Oh! P.S. ...  lots of excitement planned around here tomorrow ... perhaps to be considered an early Christmas present? Hmmm. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Granny and Advent.

Grandma with Sam in 2002.
My last remaining grandparent - my mom's mom - has been slowly making that turn around the bend from healthy and independent to not-so-healthy and unable to live on her own.

Among her issues is her tendency to fall, and sometimes not remember how or why it happened. Not only is she generally unstable physically, but she has had several small strokes and a few weeks ago suffered one significant enough for her to lose function of one side of her body, as well as her ability to communicate, for a couple days.

She has since recovered and a person who meets her today might be surprised to learn it ever happened, and especially so recently. But we know. I know she is a feeble shadow of the person she used to be, one who can no longer take care of herself the way she used to, and that gives me pause. It makes me think about how our lives are but a flash in this universe. We are on this earth for such a short period of time. Sure, we can make a difference while we're here. We can do much to impact the world we live in. And we can touch the lives of others in some positive way. But it just doesn't seem long enough.

Four generations: Grandma, Rachel, me and my mom in '07.
I know we might not have much time left with Grandma, so I want to cherish the time I have with her. I will have plenty of opportunity over the coming weeks as my parents and aunt and uncle (who together generally provide granny's care) are all at their winter homes in Florida. I've been charged with visiting granny a couple times a week at the rest home to check up on her and visit with her, take her anything she needs or wants, and make sure she is receiving the kind of care we all expect for her.

My parents are thankful for the respite and have expressed as much to me, yet they are concerned that keeping track of one more thing, caring for one more person might be burdensome for me. I do not consider it a burden. I do it willingly and think of it as a privilege. At least I can do something for this woman who has loved me all these years, and for my parents, too, to give them a break. Despite being so far away, I know they are ready to return to Michigan at a moment's notice if things take a turn for the worse.

I find it highly appropriate that as we begin this new chapter in Grandma's and our lives, this week we also begin Advent. Advent is the season of preparation leading to Christmas when we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ - His birth, and the impending second coming.

This week our pastor asked us something that really made me think. He said we frequently pray "amen, come Lord Jesus" and we truly expect that He will come again. But what if He came today? What if we said "come Lord Jesus" and He did?! Would we be ready? Could we answer for our lives, for all we've done and for all we've left undone?

My honest answer was I don't know.

Actually, my first thought was "holy crap, I never looked at it that way." I guess it's a good thing Pastor Bill didn't really want us to answer out loud. But seriously, who can say they're really ready? Grandma told me last summer on her birthday that she's ready. She said she's had 82 good years to do everything she has wanted to do, so when her time is up, it's up.

It's really caused me to think this week. Not only about whether I am ready, but if I'm not, what can I change about my life so that when the time comes, I am.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Voice of Truth.

I haven't posted in a few days because I have been either too busy, too tired, too distracted, or because I simply have so much buzzing around in my head it's been too hard to choose one thing to write about. I have a lot to accomplish today and it's one of those mornings that I feel pulled in 100 different directions, but I am forcing myself to take a few minutes for me and do something I love. So here I am.

Do you ever feel like the voices are going to make you crazy? The voices of your children, your coworkers, your extended family, your doctor, your best friend, your pets even, but sometimes worst of all your own voice inside your head? They can all be overwhelming, and they can distract us from what is really important. I am certainly guilty of allowing that to happen.

So today I just want to share this with you ...

One of the lessons we read at church this past Sunday stuck with me more than usual. It's been floating around in the back of my head since then, one of those things where you think "this is gonna' come in handy at some point in the near future so I should remember it."

From Colossians, Chapter 1:   
 May you be strong with all the strength that comes from His glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Well that about covers it, doesn't it? There have been many days recently that I have felt like a failure as a mother, but by God I have had many awesome moments with my children, too, and we have been able to eek out at least a little bit of goodness in each day. We have a long road ahead of us, but we will persevere. I am thankful for the kind of strength and patience only God can provide. 

So I've been kicking that Bible passage around for a few days, particularly this morning as I gritted my teeth trying not to yell at the kid who took a 20-minute shower and the kid who was goofing around still in pajamas while the clock tick-tocked away.

I was still running through the mental list of Things To Do when I came back from putting the kids on the school bus. The anxiety was creeping in. I walked into the front room to turn the computer on and the curtains were glowing pink. I opened them to be greeted with this:


Hear that? "Good morning, Jen. Don't worry. It's going to be a wonderful day. You are blessed."

Yeah, I didn't hear it, either.

I sat down at the computer, hit my bookmark for pandora.com and thought "I know. I can fix this. I'll play some Christmas music and I'll feel better in no time."

I had forgotten a) which of my favorite music stations I had left it on, and b) how loudly I left the speakers turned up last time.

This is the song that came blasting out at me:


I'm a little embarrassed to say how many times I've replayed this song this morning.

The voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says "Do not be afraid!"
And the voice of truth says "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

This is what one of my friends would call God's way of bonking me on the forehead in the style of a V8 moment. And like the child that I am, I sometimes need to hear something more than once for it to sink in.

Today I choose to listen to the only voice that matters. And I choose to believe what God's voice is telling me: I am OK. It will all work out. Our kids will do just fine in this world, maybe because of us, maybe in spite of us. I am loved. I am blessed. And you know what? It's not about ME anyway. It's about Him.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Happy birthday, buddy.

Today provides all the proof I need that Steve and I are good parents: we let Sam live to see his 12th birthday.

I'm only partially kidding.

Despite Sam's tendency to push us to our limits, stretch our resources, and make us question our sanity on a regular basis, our son really is a gift. Literally, his name means "asked of God" or "heard by God." I feel so privileged to have been chosen as his mother, and I can't imagine life without him.

The day we said goodbye to our beloved Razi. 
Sam made me promise to bring her collar home.

Who else would make me laugh like Sam does? Who else would force me to be so creative? Without Sam, how on earth could I have learned how every single emotion really feels, and how it feels to experience all of them in a 24-hour period?


Sam is a young man of many talents. He is an artist - his tools a #2 pencil and a piece of paper. He is incredibly curious and will satisfy that curiosity by deconstructing and reconstructing things. I love that he has rhythm and a great singing voice, though he is usually too shy to share it.

Sam is adventurous. He's a daredevil. He is always trying new tricks on his bicycle, and if you catch him on the right day he will take at least one bite of any new food you put in front of him. He figured out he likes mushrooms and black olives on his pizza (he is my son, after all). He likes to dip broccoli in KFC gravy. He also has a wicked sweet tooth.

He adores his daddy. And like Steve, Sam plays his cards close to the vest. Perish the thought that anyone would know he is excited or eager about anything.

 
At the races.

Incidentally, I cherish the moments I see that he clearly is excited because I just want him to be happy. I want him to be a good citizen, a productive member of society, God-loving-and-fearing, but above all, happy.


Boy, don't you worry you'll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby if you try
All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied

And be a simple kind of man
Be something you love and understand
Baby, be a simple kind of man
Oh, won't you do this for me, son, if you can?
~ Lynyrd Skynyrd
 
 
 We love ya, kiddo - unconditionally. Happy birthday.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tough day at the office.

Some parenting days are harder than others.

Yesterday was a tough one.

Today? Marginally better, so far.

It's really kinda' sad how one kid who requires some special attention can cause chaos in the lives of multiple people, namely his family. Plans get blown out of the water. Expectations diminish. Anger and frustration ensue. But not this time. We took control this time like we never have before.

Sam was disciplined again at school yesterday, causing him to have another day of suspension at home. He's not doing anything malicious, just stupid, irresponsible stuff that adds up over time.

Sam doesn't seem to think this is a big deal. We disagree.

We disagree so much that we decided it was time to show him just how serious it is. I spent some time yesterday - a day I had planned for other things - removing all the creature comforts from his bedroom. Like ... furniture. Clothing. Books. Toys. All of it. Except his bed and a change of clothes.

Now we'll see how much he takes for granted. We'll see if he starts to appreciate just how cushy his life has been, and how not cushy it will continue to be from this point forward if he doesn't do what is expected of him. We'll see if any of his things mean enough to him that he will do what it takes to earn them back.

Cruel? Nah. The kid still gets to eat and he has clothes on his back and a warm bed to sleep in. He has two parents and an extended family who love him. He has absolutely everything he needs.

Tomorrow's his birthday and I'm going to let him have cinnamon rolls for breakfast. I might even make him a cake. (OK, yes, I will make him a cake.)

See? I'm not totally heartless. He might tell you otherwise today, but I'm really not. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quality wins.

This post I read this morning over at Remodeling This Life was very timely for me. Emily writes about readers of her blog judging her based upon the type of cookware she has stacked on her kitchen shelves.

Forget about the judging part. We're all human and I think we all make snap judgments - however large or small or frequent or occasional - based upon the things we see people have or do. I'm not saying it's ok to judge, but that's a post for another day.

What I appreciated about that post today was affirmation of the idea that spending a little more for quality items does not make us any less aware of where our dollars are going, and certainly, simply owning items that retail for hundreds of dollars does not make us any less frugal or our lives any less simple.

We have become quite adept at finding bargains at Goodwill, garage sales, and through gifts and hand-me-downs. Yet over the past couple of weeks as the mail lady dropped off several L.L. Bean packages at our house, I couldn't help but feel that twinge of guilt, that nagging thought that maybe I should have looked harder at the thrift stores for some winter outerwear that would suit my children, and I perhaps could have saved hundreds of dollars on these items.

I spent more than I ever have on coats, snow pants and boots for the kids this year. I spent so much I'm embarrassed to even think about the total. But ya' know what? I likely won't have to do it again next year. More times than not, quality wins. And I'm fine with spending a few more dollars to purchase items that will last my children - who play HARD outdoors in the winter - for a minimum of two years (and yes, everything was purchased just a littlebit big) and they will still be nice enough when my kids outgrow them to pass along to someone else. Our experience with L.L. Bean has always been positive. Every item I have ever ordered from the company has been pure quality and worth every penny. The kids aren't always happy with this because it means they don't get a new backpack for school every year, but who cares? If the Bean backpack can take the abuse my son doles out, it deserves another year or two of service.

I also chuckled a little when I read Emily's post because just last night I posted on Facebook that I am in dire need of new pots and pans and I wondered if anyone had seen any Black Friday ads with wicked good deals on them. Our pots and pans have been in bad shape for some time, but I have put off buying new because I want to get really good ones that will last forever, or close to it. This might be the inspiration I need to start shopping!


FYI, I love L.L. Bean, but L.L. Bean has no idea who I am, aside from a happy customer with a debit card and two growing children.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Balance.

It would seem that a stay-at-home mom to two school-aged children would have plenty of down time during the day, no?

Umm, no. Not in this house, anyway.

I've been having a hard time juggling everything I feel I should be doing lately, much less finding time for me. I have struggled with the balancing act of homemaking, planning and cooking somewhat healthy meals, evening routines of homework and chores and personal hygiene (why is that so hard for some kids?!), tending to the formerly-in-rough-shape-but-now-good-as-new kitten (what's that people say about nothing "free" being free?), vehicle repairs, school functions, road trips, being wife and mom and daughter, and ... well, you get the idea.

And don't we have some holidays coming up soon? I will not freak out.

I am thankful. Grateful. I wouldn't want my life any less busy, because a busy life is a full life, at least in our case. Sure, I can't sit down to read a magazine without having thoughts of unfinished household business floating around in my head, and I don't always get those few minutes of writing I crave every day, but such is life.

I can honestly say that today I am better at finding balance than I was a year ago, and that's progress.

Admittedly, Christmas is barely on my radar. Yes, it was mere days ago that I was listening to holiday tunes while I worked on something, but that's effortless. I don't want to think about decorating and shopping just yet. I'm taking things one day at a time and there are still lots of days before December 25.

Plenty of time, right?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Feels like Saturday.

The kids are off school today and Rachel stayed the night at my parents' house last night. Sam and I slept in this morning (well, I did anyway). It was so nice to not have to wake up to the alarm clock and to have a quiet, leisurely morning.

It would have been nicer if my body wasn't programmed to wake up at 6 a.m., but I'm not complaining. On the way back from the bathroom I scooped up Patch the kitty and tried to convince him he wanted to snuggle with me in my nice, warm bed. He wasn't interested. He wanted to either eat my toes or gallop through the house chasing imaginary mice. He's becoming quite the cutie.

Eventually he wore himself out and curled up with Sam on the couch to watch some cartoons.

They look pretty comfy, eh?

We have a long weekend ahead. Today, whenever we get around to it, we have our usual Friday banking and errands, tomorrow Sam has confirmation class at church, and right after that we're heading out to spend the rest of the weekend with daddy (the kids are also off school on Monday). Steve is staying in a hotel with a pool and the kids are excited about that. He has Sunday off work so it will be nice to spend a full day just focused on the four of us. We'll probably do a little shopping, too, since Sam's birthday is right around the corner. I'm excited about having some family time, even if it's brief.

Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hey, what just happened?

This morning I woke the kids like I do every morning for school, but they did not respond the way they always do.

Oh, Rachel got up right away like she usually does. But Sam typically waits until the last possible second and springs out of bed, hustles to get dressed, and grabs something to eat on the way out the door.

Not this morning. By the time I had walked to the other end of the house and back after waking them up, Sam was out of bed and dressed.

I was speechless.

Then he came out to the kitchen and had a few pleasant exchanges with me and Rachel, fed the kitten, and asked if he could take the dog out.

I'm not kidding. He actually said, "Mom, can I take Ladybug out?"

Someone get me the smelling salts.

OK, he asked about the dog because she was still in her crate. She usually doesn't wake up and stretch until after I take the kids to the bus, but this morning she must've had to go potty earlier than usual so when Sam passed by her crate she sat up and looked at him with those sad eyes.


But I still can't believe he offered to take her out.

There was no fighting, no yelling, no ugliness in the house this morning.

I don't know where the aliens took my son, but they can keep him. I like the one they left behind. So far, anyway.

~ ~ ~

In other news, it was NOT my husband who bought the winning Power Ball ticket at an adult book store here in Michigan. As of this posting, the purchaser of the ticket has not yet come forward and the media are having a field day with the whole thing. 

Personally I don't give a hoot where the person bought the ticket - they're going to be a 100+millionaire!! I suppose there might be some uncomfortableness related to where he or she got the ticket, but really, can't we be adults about this?

Just in case, I sent Steve a text this morning to let him know if he is the winning ticket holder he should go ahead and claim the prize. $100 million could help me get over the adult book store thing really quickly.

Alas, he is not holding any Power Ball tickets, much less a winning one. The whole idea of it was worth a good laugh, though.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Technical difficulties.

My picture art project was done Thursday evening.

Stress the word was.

But because I used inadequate hanging materials to stick those buggers to the wall, I woke up Friday morning to two frames on the floor - one of them with the glass broken - and another fell off during the day, and another frame was on the floor Saturday morning.

So my apologies for not providing an update as promised on Friday.

I had a feeling this might happen. I sometimes get a little impatient and find ways to cut corners. Most of the time it works out good enough. This time? Not so much.

Don't use massive amounts of poster putty to stick picture frames to the wall. Just don't.


Talk about a lesson in haste. FAIL.

But now it's done! Properly! And I love it.


It was hard to find a good angle to show this off, but I can tell you this picture doesn't really do it justice. These are some of my favorite family photos and now I smile every time I walk through this end of the house and see them hanging there.

Happy Monday.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Empty.


I have emptied an entire can of black spray paint on eight picture frames today.

Indoors.

With Christmas music playing while I work.

I feel good.

I mean I feel good about how the frames look, silly. Of course I have windows and doors open and a fan blowing to vent the paint fumes.

Remember this post? No better time to get started on the next phase of the project than a day like today - rainy and dreary outside and not a thing on my calendar to get done. The Christmas tunes ... well, they have a way of keeping me motivated.

Update tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

10 things.

1. My son said some very hurtful things to me last night. I still love him. I might not like him very much at the moment, but I do love him.

2. My daughter continues to scream bloody murder at the slightest offense. I still love her.

3. There is potential for snow in the forecast this week. I'm OK with that.

4. When I got back from dropping the kids off at the bus stop this morning I saw some object hanging from the gutters near the front door. It was Rachel's coat. I got nothin'.

5. Patch the kitty has recovered from his head cold quite nicely. He has now begun to torment the other cat. Whiskers does not appear to be amused.

6. I'm not really feeling it at the moment, but I will force myself to have a good day today. My strategy includes playing good music, burning yummy candles, and wearing fluffy socks.

7. Lately we sound like a family of frogs in the mornings. It's time to get the humidifier going.

8. I paid to have some modifications done and new tires installed on Steve's truck yesterday. It felt good to have the cash for all of it.

9. I now have to stretch a little to get up into the truck. It makes me feel like I'm back in high school.

10. I miss my husband. I just saw him on Sunday and it's only Wednesday, but I miss him like crazy. Some weeks are harder than others.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nice view.

We had visitors this morning.
This was the view from our back slider, taken with my cell phone through the glass door.

These deer (no bucks - sorry guys) have been visiting us every day for the last few days.

Now, seeing deer in our back yard is not a big deal, but these deer have been coming closer and closer every day. This morning when I looked out the kitchen window they startled me a bit; they were maybe five yards from the back of the house. Of course as soon as they saw movement they backed off a little but they were curious enough to stick around.

Our older cat Whiskers has been very interested in them. Today I was able to slowly slide the door open enough to let her outside while the deer pranced around, twitching their ears at us. Whiskers sat on the back steps just mesmerized. The deer came a few steps closer to check her out, but they bolted as soon as she jumped down onto the ground. It was pretty fun to watch.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A kitty update.

The new kitty Patch went to the vet this week.

Poor Patch. He has ear mites (BAD), fleas (eww), intestinal parasites (ick), a fever, a head cold, and a brewing eye infection.

No wonder he seemed so laid back. He felt like poop.

It hasn't stopped him from making himself at home, though.

 
Look at Ladybug. You know she's thinking don't eat the kitty, don't eat the kitty. Or maybe what have you stupid humans gone and done now?

Ya' know how I'm always talking about simplifying life? Yeah, well, nothing about bringing a stray kitten into your home is simple. For one thing, I detest fleas. And I'm not crazy about having to teach a kitty to use the litter box, to use scratching posts, and that he can't sleep on my face. But I'm sure it will all be worth it in a few months when Patch is curled in my lap purring contentedly.

I can't wait for the first time one of my future grandchildren brings a stray home to Sam or Rachel and asks if they can keep it. Heh.

The good news is Patch is perking up quite nicely after just a few doses of antibiotics. Tomorrow he gets the treatment that will take care of all the pesky freeloaders, inside and out.

See? He's already gettin' feisty. 
Just look at those eyes.
Lord help us.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The "good" one. The "other" one.

This week I have been sharing about our son's struggle with ADHD and ODD and how it affects our family. Previous posts can be found
Here (re: recent discipline at school)
Here (re: his diagnosis)
and Here (re: my perspective as a parent)
They'll give you some good background if you haven't read them already.


Thank God it's Friday. I'm ready for a break in the morning routine and hopefully for some separation of these two yahoos I call my children. Somebody needs to go to grandma's for a night or two.

There has been a lot of screaming going on here lately. And when I say "screaming" I mean the serious, top-of-your-lungs, get the hell out of my face before I claw your eyes out kind of screaming.

No, not from me! From Rachel.

I used to joke that God thought we were such good sports for wanting another child - even though we already had one who was high maintenance - that he blessed us with the sweetest, kindest, most compliant child he possibly could. And a girl to boot. It was pretty fun that first few years, but now that Rachel has figured out she's an easy target for her brother's shenanigans she has begun to fight back.

We told Sam this would happen.

Rachel no longer follows Sam around and does his bidding so easily. She has grown into quite an independent soul. Great for standing up to her big brother; not so great for the mama who has to break up the tussles - sometimes physical, sometimes verbal, sometimes both.

Imagine a typical argument between siblings. Now multiply that by 100. Got that? Now take that and put it in a big Army tent filled with 100 people attending a church revival. Now drop a sports bar on Superbowl Sunday down in the middle of it. That's what it sounds like in our house on a regular basis. Some nights it's like the UFC. I could seriously set up bleachers and sell tickets.

And people wonder why I never turn the TV on during the day when they're gone at school. I'm enjoying the peace and quiet!

In all seriousness, I wanted to mention siblings today because it is so important for parents of kids with special needs to give as much focused attention as possible to the other children in the family, too. Yes, after the one has sucked you dry, you must somehow garner the energy to slap on a smile and take the other one for a walk or cuddle on the couch and read a book together. Just like any child, if the siblings feel they are not getting enough attention they will seek it out, positive or negative. I know this for two reasons: 1) because I see it happen with Rachel, and 2) because I grew up with an ADHD brother.

I see so much of myself and my brother in my own children. He would pick and pick and pick at me until I exploded. I wanted to hang out with him because he was older and cooler than I, but because of that he was also the one who could make me more angry than anyone else. By the time we were both in high school and he had his driver's license we were best friends. He can still drive me crazy, but I still adore him.

I hope the same will hold true for Sam and Rachel - that at some point they call each other friends. Sure they would like to bash each other's heads in right now, but they also spend weekend mornings making pancakes together in the kitchen, they kick around a soccer ball together, they build forts together, they draw pictures together. And I'm pretty certain they regularly conspire against me. So there's hope!

There have been moments when I wondered if having a second child wasn't our best idea. Perhaps if Sam was an only child we could provide him with more of what he needs. But that wouldn't prepare him for the reality of the world, would it? And even if we could turn back the clock I wouldn't give up my Rachel for anything. I wouldn't give up either of my babies. I wouldn't even change a thing about who they are.

OK, maybe I'd have 'em lighten up on the screaming. But that's it.

Oh, and I'd probably make it so Sam's feet don't smell so stanky. But that's really it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A parent's perspective.

This week I've been writing about our son, Sam, who lives with ADHD and ODD, among other issues. You can read previous posts here and here.

You might want to grab a Diet Dr. Pepper and some pretzels for this installment ...

Sam was back in class yesterday. Last night when he got home he obediently took his homework out of his bag, completed it, and showed his completed work to me before putting it back in his backpack.

Parenting overtime
Sam and I also continued our conversation - calmly and respectfully - about the consequences for his misbehavior. Here at home he is not allowed to watch television or use the computer, and he has some extra chores around the house for a while. (The bonus for me is we're all watching less TV, the kids are finding other things to do together, and the dog gets walked a little more often.) Sam's teachers and the student handbook make it very clear what will happen at school if he exhibits disrespectful behavior again.

At some point it becomes very difficult to know how to dole out the discipline. We have tried it all, and everything at this point becomes as much work for me as it is punishment for him. Even positive reinforcement/reward-based systems are difficult to put into place in our home because Sam gets so steeped in negativity that he just knows he'll never be able to do what it takes to earn XYZ. That doesn't mean I don't do my job as a parent, it just means I am often exhausted and frustrated and prayerful that some of the good stuff is getting through to him.

But we as parents can't spend all our time focused on Sam.

I remember reading somewhere that parents of children with ADHD/ODD should maintain their own hobbies, go out with friends, and basically have a life other than the one where they are constantly hounding their kid. I laughed. Do the people who write this stuff actually have kids with these disorders? It's hard, y'all. It's hard to not wallow in the anger and hurt I feel after Sam spews his negativity at me. It's hard to keep up with the much-needed routines and rewards when all I want to do is scream, "WHY CAN'T YOU JUST DO IT?!?" It's hard for me because I have the luxury of being here with Sam every single day and night, and it's hard for Steve because he isn't.

We have chosen to live this way - with Steve on the road - because even though he has to travel, Steve's job pays well enough that I can be here full-time to do just what I'm doing: focusing on the kids, the routines, the homework, the followup with teachers. And that's what our son needs. The last year I worked was pretty hellish for me. I'm not even sure how I kept my job for all the late mornings, leaving early, and all the personal phone calls I had to take. All because Sam got kicked off the school bus or Sam got into a fight at school or Sam was disrupting his class. God bless his teachers because every single one of them has been an angel.

Connecting with others
All that said, this is why I continue to have a social life. This is why I don't feel a smidge of guilt when I leave the kids in the care of relatives while I take an overnighter to go see Steve. I regularly meet friends for coffee and girls' nights out. I do things by myself - wander around in a book store, go get an iced coffee, sit in my truck at the beach and watch the waves, take naps, go shopping. Heck, even a trip to the grocery store without hearing "can we get some Pop Tarts?" a hundred times is bliss.

I am also fortunate to have close friends who are raising their own children of varying ages with similar issues, so it helps to have people to vent to and know I am not alone. I spend a good amount of time on-line, too, chatting with folks who I became friends with over a completely different mutual interest, but who also have kids who need extra attention. Even the friends who don't have kids can and do sympathize and offer prayers for us.

When Steve and I are able to parent together we try to always be on the same page. I try to keep him updated on what's happening here and how I am handling things, and I always ask for his input. I don't want him to always be The Bad Guy when he's home for such short periods of time, but it's such a relief when I can just leave some things up to him. Sam needs to hear his father's voice reinforcing some of the same things I have told him.

Outward appearances
For as frustrated as I get with him sometimes, Sam has also taught me to be humble, to have compassion for others, and to step out of my judgypants and look for the good in everyone. He has forced me to keep my sense of humor, because without it our lives - my life - would be a very depressing place.

I always hated it when people would say "you don't know what it's like to live with _______" but it doesn't bother me so much anymore. I truly believe parents who have never had to physically restrain their child from hurting himself or who have never felt the hurt of sitting in a psychologist's office and listening to the doctor tell them how their child has indicated he doesn't respect them or trust them and isn't proud of his family ... well, parents who have never done that probably don't get it. Parents who have never feared for their child's safety because one stupid thing a bully says to them at school could set off a string of self-destructive behavior ... those parents probably don't understand. Parents who have never prayed that their child would just be granted happiness for today don't know what it's like to live with a child who is so unhappy so much of the time.

Most adults would be appalled at some of the thoughts that run through my head when I am crazy angry with Sam. And they would be deeply saddened  if they knew what was on my mind at times when I hurt for him.

But people don't see this because it is not a physical handicap. People (including me) often mistake children with ADHD or autism or Asperger's Syndrome as children with lack of discipline. You know what lack of discipline translates to? Bad parenting. And that hurts.

I try not to care what people I don't even know think of me, but the fact is I always will care on some level. Who doesn't want to be liked and thought of as a good parent (or a good person in general)? When I catch those funky glances from people I want to tell them my son is hiding behind his hoodie because the world screams at him. I told him this needs to be a quick trip to the store and he pulled his hood up so he can keep up with me and won't be distracted by everything. What others see as a brooding adolescent is really a kid who is using his coping skills. He gets through his days the best way he knows how.

OK, maybe he doesn't apply his best every day, but neither does every "normal" kid. So please don't judge us. When you see me struggling to keep my composure or you hear me holler at my kid in the middle of the parking lot, don't assume I'm a lousy parent. When you see my son misbehaving or hear him throw a smartass comment my way, tread lightly; I can tell you with one glance whether I'd like your help or not. Chances are a friendly smile from you to both of us will do the most good.

Remember, everybody is dealing with something. Some people are dealing with a lot. So please be kind in your actions, don't think poorly of these children, and try not to blame their parents.

~ ~ ~

I am an open book, so questions and comments are welcome; however, I thought I'd answer one I feel might be brewing ...  Why write about this topic? Why share details about your son's struggles? Are you trying to embarrass him?

This is my answer: Why not write about it? It's no big secret that Sam has struggled with certain things since he was a toddler. His begindergarten teacher knew it, his kindergarten teacher saw it, and every kid who has been going to school with him for any length of time knows it. Most adults we are close to have seen some of Sam's poor behaviors and heard his sassy mouth (or heard me tell them about it), and they know at least something about how we have chosen to treat the misfires in his brain. If what he might read here someday embarrasses him, I have done my job as a parent. Kidding! But really, it is what it is and he can't change who he is so we work on acceptance. I think he's more likely to be embarrassed by the stories his friends and family will tell at his graduation open house, if we all live to see it.

I also write it because there is bound to be someone out there who will stumble across this blog, read Sam's story, and feel relieved that he or she is not alone. I want parents raising children with psychological and emotional struggles to know it's OK to be angry sometimes. It's OK to blow your top sometimes (but you might consider apologizing later). And especially if you are going it alone for whatever reason, it's certainly OK to ask for help.

Tomorrow: siblings.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Making progress.

Yesterday I wrote about our son being disciplined at school. You can read that post here. This is the continuation ...

So, because he forgot the signed note that would allow him back into class, Sam had to sit all day in the school's "student responsibility center." I couldn't take the note to school because I was tied up with something else.

Not that I would have taken it to him anyway.

We are long past that point where we quit smoothing out the rough patches in the road for our kids and we start letting them experience some of the stumbling blocks and pain that are a part of life. Screw up? Well you better figure out a way you're going to make it right. Make a bad choice? You'll reap the consequences.

Steve and I aren't drill sergeants, but we make it clear to our children what we expect of them, and we do our best to model positive behavior. We don't expect them to be perfect either, but we do want them to be good citizens. We also want them to know they are loved unconditionally and when the world has turned its back on them we will be here.

Sometimes that just isn't enough.

A few years ago when we had finally reached our wits' end with Sam and it was obvious he wasn't happy with himself, we called a counselor. Months of therapy and all kinds of testing revealed what we kinda' already knew: Sam would have a rougher time of things than your average kid, and we as his parents would have to develop some pretty thick skin and work our fannies off to keep him on the straight and narrow.

It felt good to have some answers. I won't share all the details of Sam's diagnosis, but I will say (and I've mentioned here before) that it includes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder along with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. You can Google either one of these disorders and find a crazy amount of information to sift through - some good information, some so-so. Some helpful, some not so much. And everyone has an opinion about whether ADHD and/or ODD are over-diagnosed or even legitimate diagnoses. I'm not going to argue those points here. What I will say is that from the time Sam was about 18 months old I always felt there was something a little special about him and I would lament to family members that he was high maintenance. I wasn't kidding, people!

A person can't help feeling compassion for the kid. He's genetically predisposed to emotional and psychological disorders. It wasn't until recently that he started to understand what it means to have chemical imbalances and how it can affect people. It's frustrating to know this about yourself and wonder why you were blessed with this particular cross to bear. From the parents' perspective, it's frustrating to know that most likely your wonky DNA caused some of the kid's issues.

On the flip side, it's pretty cool to know your DNA created all the great things about him, too. He's funny. He's a talented sketch artist. He is fiercely loyal to friends and family (though the family thing is a recent development, for which I am thankful). He is creative and a great problem-solver. He is amazing with children and animals, to the point that I sometimes call him the pied piper because children who know him - like, toddlers and preschoolers - seek him out. This speaks volumes to me, because it tells me that beneath that hardened exterior which Sam uses just to deal with life every day, he is a sweet boy. He values others and the relationships he has with them.

It's taken us a while to chip away at that wall and get Sam to realize it's OK to have and experience feelings. Showing love and happiness does not make you weak, and raging when you are angry or hurt does not make you stronger. We have worked with him a lot to help him find that middle ground. There are some days when it seems like we're not moving forward much, but we have made a lot of progress.

I recently pulled out a binder where I kept my own notes and some papers from his counselors and I was blown away at how different our days are now compared to just three short years ago. It's just that when you are in the thick of parenting a child like Sam, every tiny step forward feels like major progress. Just like every small great moment - a heartfelt hug, a game of cards with no arguing, hearing him belly laugh - causes so much happiness.

Hmm. It looks like I might have a series going here. I have so much more to share on the topic. More tomorrow ...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beyond frustrated.

Sam has a little problem with authority. Always has. He used to take it out mostly on me and Steve, but as he has gotten older he has begun to spread the love a little more - to his teachers, his grandparents, anyone who would have the audacity to give him orders, or even politely ask him to do something.

He will be 12 years old in a few weeks. I know some of this behavior is typical of a preteen, but when we have struggled with him all his life it's hard to know what is "normal" and what isn't. Either way, there are some things that are just plain unacceptable. Unacceptable in our home, unacceptable at school or in society. 

As an added bonus, Sam's moods are unpredictable. One minute he could be quietly working on a project with his sister, all lovey-dovey, and the next he is hollering about how unfair it is that emptying the dishwasher is on his chore list again.

He is also a negotiator. Read: manipulator. He's always trying to make deals with anyone who will listen. "I'll let you have my iPod for two days if you take the dog out for me" was a common one until Rachel finally realized that he will renege every time. He'll come up with some loophole like "well I didn't say when I'd let you have my iPod" and he will insist he hasn't truly defaulted on his end of the bargain, which of course sends Rachel into a tailspin. These kinds of things happen every day in our house. It's like a power play for Sam, a way to feel in control; he thinks life is so unfair and everyone is out to disappoint him, so he's going to get revenge by disappointing someone else.

As a parent, this is exhausting. We are always on guard, always trying to predict his next move, always feeling there must have been something we failed at to have caused him to be this way. OK, well that last one is mostly me, but still. I get frustrated because while Steve is working away from home he's not here to give Sam the evil eye or back me up on discipline or be a good male role model for Sam. Steve gets frustrated because ... well ... for the same reasons. He gets the phone calls from me saying "I've handled it as well as I know how, now what?"

I hate that it is this way, but when things appear to be going really good with Sam I start to wonder what's up. I try to be an optimist and not assume all the good is about to come crashing down, but I've been disappointed so many times I just throw up my hands in defeat when it finally happens. Because it will happen, and it did happen last night.

After an evening full of struggles over chores and homework and all the usual suspects, I finally tucked the kids into bed and sat down to get lost in some mindless TV. About 15 minutes later Sam calls me from his room. He needs me to sign something, he says.

Huh?

He came out from his room and brought me a packet of papers containing details about how he had been disciplined at school for disrespecting and defying two of his teachers, not doing his work, and disrupting class. He would not be allowed back to his classes until he brought this packet back to school, signed by a parent.

Really.

I might as well start beating my head against a wall. I swear it would accomplish more than trying to get this kid to make good choices.

We had a chat. He shed some tears. I sent him back to bed with the promise that I would be talking to his dad and together we would devise a plan to make Sam's life a living hell. (I'm kidding! Sort of.) I signed the papers and left them on the table for him to take back to school. I even put a check for his lunch money right on top of the pile so he wouldn't forget them. I set it all at his place at the table.

He took the check.

He did not take the papers.

Hear that? It's me beating my head against a wall.

More tomorrow ...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Seriously?!?

The kitty saga continues.

I had barely gotten used to the fact that we lost Snowbell when Sam walks in last night with an orange tabby kitten in his arms.

Like it's the most natural thing in the world.

Me: "Wait. Wait! Wha?"

Sam: "Can we keep it? Just for a little while?"

As the dog slobbered all over the poor thing I did a quick assessment. Kitty is in pretty rough shape. It had been hiding under grandpa's car and emerged at just the moment Sam walked outside.

Perfect timing, right?

Seriously?!?

I cannot say no. I am a sucker for kittens always, but this one just weaseled his way into my heart.

Meet Patch:


It's been difficult to type this because Mr. Patch apparently thinks I'm his mama. He likes to curl up on my chest, and he won't take no for an answer.

He's had a bath already, but it's going to take a few days to get him thoroughly cleaned up. He has something gray - paint, I think - all over his tail and on his ears. The insides of his ears are nasty; I cleaned them with Q-tips last night and it was not pretty. The pads on his paws are caked with grit, and he has a couple patches of missing fur (hence his name, Patch) where he's been injured or maybe got too cold outside.

But he's a sweet, sweet kitty. He is not bothered by the dog, who seems to think Patch is her new toy. I think he already has the litter box thing figured out.

He slept on my bed last night.

Oh, dear. This was not how I planned things.

Aren't life's little surprises the best? Heh.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sadness the way it should be: followed by laughter.

Bad news. I found our missing kitty.

Dead on the side of the road.

*sigh*

I was afraid of that.

But like I posted yesterday, we always kinda' know we take a chance with letting our cats outside. When I gave Sam and Rachel the news they took it better than I thought they would. Actually they didn't react much at all. Perhaps they had it in their minds as a possibility since Snowbell had been gone for three days already.

I told the kids I was sorry. Sorry that the story didn't have a happy ending. Sorry that life isn't fair sometimes. Sorry that our goofy, cuddly, beautiful Snowbell is gone.

I don't know what I expected. A moment of silence, maybe? A group hug? Someone to at least say, "He was a good cat?"

What I got was, "Hey, can we get two pets to replace him?" with a reminder that we never did replace the dead goldfish.

The goldfish Snowbell ate - and then puked up on the rug - while we were on vacation a few years ago.

I was processing the pet question when Sam started to chuckle.

"Well I guess he kinda' deserved that for eating the fish," he said.

Oh my. Did my son just say that karma killed the cat? Because it sounded like he just said karma killed the cat.

Now that right there is funny.

Morbid, maybe. But funny. We laughed ourselves silly.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

MIA

We have two cats. I haven't seen this one for about three days:


Snowbell is the mouthiest, but lovingest cat I have ever known. I think he thinks he's a dog; he'll greet you at the door, follow you around the house (I can't tell you how many times I've tripped over him as he tried to run ahead of me), and let you know when his food dish is anywhere near empty.

The cats come and go as they please. They have been spayed and neutered, so we're not concerned about adding to the kitty population, but out here in the country they have the potential to encounter any number of wild animals and who knows what else while they're outside. I suppose it's a risk we take, knowing full well that every time we open the door for them they might never come back. Especially Snowbell, because he likes to be outside at night. He's a great mouser.

Oh, dear.

Think good thoughts for him, will ya'?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ack! I just gotta' say it: nobody's perfect!

I appreciate a quiet Sunday afternoon when I can catch up on some of the blogs I follow, hoping to spark some creativity, see what friends and fellow writers have been up to, or sometimes just get lost in someone else's world for a while.

Inevitably I click from a blog I know and love to one on their reading list that looks interesting, and so on and so on. What a fun way to work my way around the world from the comfort of my own home!

But occasionally my journey into other's lives causes me to log off and smack my laptop shut in exasperation. I see perfectly-lit pictures of beautiful, clean homes and happy, organically-fed children, and I read about how they fill each day with fun and educational activities. It's all about love and hugs and rainbows and fuzzy little kittens.

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!? Nobody's life could possibly be that perfect.

My name is Jane. I school my children at home and I feed them only foods we grow in our back yard, sans chemicals. I support baby-wearing and I abhor spanking. My husband is a genius and an entrepreneur. We never speak a harsh word to each other in any of the three languages in which we are fluent. We don't own a television. We have no debt. Our children don't know who Hannah Montana is. We make our own furniture and milk our own cow. Look at my beautiful home!

Seriously? Hhhhhhh.

There was a time when I would have been a little jealous of Jane's seemingly wonderful life and might have even tried to be more like her - the her in the snapshot she posted on-line, anyway. Now I just sorta' lift an eyebrow. Just a little. I don't judge Jane, but neither do I assume that her children have never thrown temper tantrums, her husband loves his job, Jane lives caffeine-free, and she has never been embarrassed by the state of her home when company stops by unexpectedly.

If her life really is that way? Well. Then more power to her. It sounds exhausting.

The fun thing about blogging (and the Internet in general) is that we can present only the aspects of our lives we wish to share. We can stage our photos. We can skip blogging on our crappiest days and write twice as much about the best days. We can make our lives look as perfect as possible. Or we can use our space in the blogosphere as a place to dump all the drama and share all the frustrations of life. I try to land somewhere in the middle.

I use this blog as a sort of journal and even though I haven't been at it very long I look back on my previous posts and remember the good days, bad days, ugly days, and yes, even the seemingly perfect days. My life is about striving for ... I don't know ... goodness. Peace. My family's happiness. But it gets messy sometimes, and I'm OK with you seeing that because messiness keeps me humble. Messiness is real.

My friend B is forever reminding me, "progress, not perfection." Pretty good words to live by.

I can't help but think some people spend so much time polishing the facade that they forget to live the life, and that's a shame.

That's all. I just had to get that off my chest. I feel better now.

Oh, and chances are if you are reading this, my imaginary character Jane does not represent you. Jane is all those people whose real names I don't know but whose perfect photos and children and spouses and homes are just too sugary sweet for my taste.

Now I'm really done. Off my soap box. Carry on!

And for heaven's sake, enjoy the journey. It can be imperfect and beautiful at the same time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I applied for a job.

But that was three weeks ago and since I haven't heard anything I'm assuming I am not being considered for it.

And that's OK.

In fact, I'm kinda' glad. Because if nobody offers me a job I don't have to make the decision of whether I should accept it.

It seemed like good timing. A friend passed along the job posting when Steve was between jobs and I was doing my best not to freak out about the future. "Why not apply?" I thought. I really enjoy being a stay-at-home mom, but if it comes down to needing to support our family, of course I would look for a job. And if all turned out fine with Steve's work status (which it did) and I was offered a job, too, I might still consider it. Who couldn't use a little extra income these days?

Then I started to think about having to buy a whole new professional wardrobe again. And figuring out what to do with the kids after school. And commuting to work. And the inevitability of office politics. And how we'd have to leave the dog inside all day because she's a wuss in the snow. And the list went on.

There were positive points, too. For one, I would be forced to get out of my pajamas every day. (*ahem*) The particular job in question offered great benefits. And spending a few years working in an office again would end that gap I call "No Man's Land" in my work history - the big void that began when I quit my job in the spring of 2008 and will continue indefinitely.

That first week or so when I didn't get a phone call I was a little disappointed. I got over it quickly, though. I've been so busy with life and being a mom and wife and friend that I can't even imagine how I could do both - work full time and do all the other stuff. In fact, I'm not so far removed from that season of my life that I don't remember what it was like, and I can honestly say I couldn't do it all. All those years of trying just made me very very cranky. I'm not ready to put that kind of pressure on myself again.

Nope. I like things just the way they are. Is it an easy life? Nah. No one ever promised me it would be. But it is a good life. And for now I know I'm right where I need to be.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I love coupons!

You all know I am a frugal-minded mama. But I haven't posted much (or at all?) about using coupons because I'm not really sure what to say other than this: I love them!

I am not one of those women who gets all kinds of free stuff using coupons. I cannot get over the embarrassment I would feel over asking for three different transactions at Walgreens in order to get the most out of coupon-and-sale combinations. I don't know why. It's just a thing with me. I don't care when other people do it, but I won't. (Plus, I just don't like to shop that much - I like to get in, get my stuff, and get out.) Nor do I want to offer a how-to on coupon clipping or reports on which stores have the best sales; there are people who do this regularly on the Web and do a great job of it, and I would be happy to point anyone interested their way.

But today I just have to share my couponing success.

I am so blessed to have a friend who sends me coupons regularly, so between what she sends and what I can pilfer from my mom (ha!) and the coupons I get from the occasional Sunday paper I purchase, I have a pretty good stash going.

This is how I keep them:
 
I keep them like this because I had this old bill sorter lying around the house. Easy peasy.

I sort them by categories that work for me.

Often this is how my dining room table looks on a Saturday afternoon. I actually enjoy this. Which is good, because the time I spend sorting through coupons and matching them up with sales is worth the savings.

Especially this week.

It's been a few weeks since I last hit the grocery store, so I knew it was going to be a big trip. On top of that, it's fall and in the fall I always stock up on certain things, especially items I need for holiday baking.

I wanted to get it all done in one store. I chose Meijer because a quick glance at their ads showed some great deals and several items I wanted to stock up on. I spent some time last night perusing Meijer's Web site, adding items to my virtual grocery list (which I eventually printed out - LOVE that feature!) and organizing the largest stack of coupons I have ever used in one store.

This is how many coupons I used:
 

This is how much the coupons combined with the sales saved me:


I saved $92.48!! Totally worth the hour or so I spent getting it all organized.

For perspective, my out-of-pocket cost was $151.44, and my receipt tells me I took home 90 items which includes a $12 tub of cat litter (the priciest item).

Not bad, eh?

And to top off this sweet trip, as I was gathering my purchases at the checkout a sweet older couple came over to me and the woman handed me a $2.50 store coupon and said, "Could you use this next time?"

How cool is that?

I love coupons!