Sunday, February 28, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 2.28.10 edition

I slept through the USA v Canada Olympic hockey game this afternoon. Shameful, I know. I have been staying up late nearly every night over the past two weeks allowing the Olympics to keep me company after the kids went to bed. But after a long week and a jam-packed weekend I just couldn't take it anymore and the couch was calling my name.

Rachel enjoyed her birthday weekend which included a roller skating party with a few friends. I had a blast bowling with Sam in a tournament with his youth league on Saturday. In the middle of it all Steve's dad fell ill and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. (He's OK.) We had cake and ice cream with Steve's family for Rachel's birthday last night after dad came home, then as Steve headed back to PA for work today the kids and I visited with my brothers and their children for my youngest niece's birthday.

In the past week we have celebrated three birthdays. I never thought I'd say this, but I wouldn't care if I didn't see another birthday cake for months. Or pizza. I am so sick of pizza.

So as usual, the serenity of Sunday evening comes as a welcome change.

Looking to the week ahead, I can't wait to continue the deep-cleaning project I began in the house last week. (I know, I'll try to contain my excitement if you try to contain yours.) This also means the opportunity to do some more decluttering and getting rid of stuff. (Again with the squeals of excitement!) Sarcasm aside, I really do love seeing, feeling, and smelling a really clean house. And it's easier to maintain cleanliness once it's there. And it's much less distracting when trying to get two very-easily-distracted children ready for school in the morning.

I'm also looking forward to trying some new recipes. After feeling very uninspired when it comes to dinnertime lately, I've come across some great looking recipes I'd like to try. Mostly comfort food. Go figure. What else is there to do this time of year?

I'm sure there's more, but I am just too tired at this very moment to think of anything else.

Here's to a very productive and at least somewhat relaxing week ahead. Cheers!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Happy birthday, sweet girl.

Our baby turns eight years old this weekend. Eight!

It seems like just yesterday I heard the doctor say "It's a GIRL!" and my world changed forever. We hadn't found out the sex of the baby because we wanted to be surprised, and were we ever. I had convinced myself I was having another boy. I was fine with that. Prepared for it, even. A little brother for Sammy would be pretty cool. I imagined myself saying "the boys" when referring to our children. I grew up with two brothers and was already raising a boy of my own; I could do this.

But it was a girl. Our Rachel. And I was so ecstatic I didn't know how to react. I kept saying, "I can't believe it's a girl" every few minutes. I said it so many times one of the nurses finally asked me if that was OK. I assured her it was fabulous and that I was just so surprised. Our world of trucks and tanks and Bob The Builder suddenly exploded with pink and butterflies and ribbons and all kinds of girlie stuff. What fun!

I consider it a privilege that Steve and I have been able to love and nurture this beautiful girl from the day we knew we would be blessed with a second child. She is truly an amazing kid. She is bright and independent and sensitive and determined and full of faith. She's daddy's girl, yet I see so much of myself in her. I adore her even on the days when she has no problem telling me how much she dislikes me. I look forward to the years ahead and watching Rachel become a young woman and go out into the world and fulfill her dreams. Especially that part about going out into the world, but that's mostly on those days when she's determinedly asserting her independence.

Happy birthday, baby. We love you.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Making every penny count: It's what I do.

It would be wonderful if my husband's income was enough to cover all our basic expenses, a decent amount of savings, and plenty of fun extras without either one of us batting an eyelash. However, like much of the rest of this great nation, our personal economy took a nosedive this past year and we are just recently beginning to slowly but surely claw our way back out of the financial Pit of Despair.

OK, so it hasn't really been a Pit of Despair kind of experience, but who doesn't love a good reference to The Princess Bride?

It's been nearly two years (wow!) since I quit my job to be a homemaker and full-time mom. I was very fortunate that when I finally decided it was time, I told Steve "it's time" and he, my Westley, said "as you wish!" and found a job that would more than make up for the loss of my income. We've weathered a lot of ups and downs since then - frankly, more of either one than should be allowed by law - but generally it has been an amazing and fulfilling shift in our lives.

In order to keep things on track and the checking account in the black, I have morphed into a bit of a frugalista. Oh, I can't run with the big dogs. I can't imagine ever going grocery shopping and picking up $300 in free groceries and coming out 17 cents ahead. But I have become fairly adept at matching sales with coupons and recognizing the sale cycles at certain stores and stocking up when prices are at their lowest. I've become one of those people who hates paying retail for anything and often if I can't find it on sale and it's something we don't need right away, I'll simply put off buying it.

What's really cool is this is my job! And I love it! I'm the boss. I get to choose the hours I work (sort of, barring a sick child or a snow day from school) and where I work (sort of, because the laptop gets a little hot when I try to snuggle in bed with it) and what I wear while I'm working (though the yoga pants need to be washed more than once a week). I love providing a cozy home for our children to grow up in and home-cooked meals to nourish their bodies. I appreciate and adore my husband for working so hard to provide for us and for always recognizing that the work I do here at home isn't always a cakewalk.

In future posts I'll delve deeper into some specifics about how we scrimp and save and still manage to live a pretty abundant life. Just know that when you see this Buttercup lounging on the sofa eating bon-bons, those chocolatey balls of goodness were probably on clearance AND I had a coupon. For someone like me, a really awesome deal makes a treat like that taste so much sweeter.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Protip: Textured appliances are a no-no.

I want to know what idiot at GE designed this surface-like-elephant-skin refrigerator. A man, probably. Or a woman who has never had children or cleaned a textured surface. I hope they got fired.

Yes, we bought the thing. But I will claim ignorance, as I only knew it was white like we wanted and a side-by-side like we wanted when we ordered it. Who really gives much thought to the refrigerator when you're buying a house? As long as it keeps things cold and the freezer keeps things frozen and it's the color we want, who cares?

I care now. I cared this morning when I was scrubbing orange polka dots off the side of said fridge and wondering when we last ate or drank anything orange. Kool-Aid? Jell-O? I'm just going to lie to myself and say that somebody spilled their Orange Crush last week and never cleaned it up. Work with me here. Because if I really think about orange Kool-Aid it takes me back to about ... oh ... August. And I'm just not ready to reveal to the world that I haven't wiped down the side of my fridge in six months.

Well. There you go.

I don't remember the last time I wiped down the cupboard doors in the kitchen either, but that got done today, too. It would have gone a little longer if I hadn't sat down on Rachel's step stool in the middle of the kitchen floor during a rather lengthy phone call yesterday. Let's just say I should look around from that vantage point more often. Eww.

So, I believe my spring cleaning kick has officially begun. At this rate if I keep moving through each room of the house I'll be done by the time spring is actually here and then I can go outside and play! I can't help but feel pretty good about myself, too, because a clean and orderly house is proof that I actually do something during the day while my husband is off working to allow me the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom. Steve doesn't give a flying leap about the house as long as I'm here when he comes home, but I sure enjoy being with him a lot more when I'm not distracted by those piles of paper on the dining room table and those cobwebs up in the corner.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eating the frog first.

You might remember that I am a self-improvement book guru. I love them. I devour them, retaining the parts that I can use and spitting out the rest.

I read a lot on the Web, too. Blogs are like the USA Today for the self-help book guru with a short attention span. I love blogs.

I'm also the queen of "I read somewhere that (enter the latest factoid or cool tip on simple living)" without remembering in which book or at which Web site I found it. Hence, I buy Post-It notes in bulk and my bookmark list on my laptop is a mile long.

One of those cool suggestions I stumbled upon some time ago is the concept of "eating the frog first" when you start your day. I'll be darned if I could remember where I found it, but when I sat down to write this post, a quick Google search showed me it's not just a concept, it's a whole book! My apologies to author Brian Tracy, but this is one of those books I'm gonna' skip. I already get the idea and I can sum it up for you here: do the thing you most dread first to get it out of the way.

Now, in all fairness, Mr. Tracy goes into a little more detail about how to choose priorities and which tasks will make the biggest impact on your day when completed. That might come in handy if I were still a part of the working world, but in my case if I can manage to feed all the living things in this house and make it to the bus stop on time twice a day, we consider it a successful day. Bonus points if I can do a load of laundry and scrub a toilet before the kids get home from school.

Today I'm off to a great start, having polished off two frogs early in the day: scooping out the cat litter box, and matching socks. They are my two most despised housekeeping tasks. I would almost rather eat a real frog than scoop out the litter box. But then I'd have even more cleaning up to do and it wouldn't be pretty.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

I love that Depression-era mantra. It has become my go-to phrase when I start to feel like it's time to upgrade or replace something around the house. I always ask myself whether that thing really needs to be upgraded or replaced, or if I'm just getting bored looking at it. Perhaps I think it will be easier to use a newer one with more options, or I'm just plain tired of that missing button or broken handle, even though those things don't affect the item's usefulness.

Generally I find that I can get by with what we have. Sometimes I can find an acceptable alternative or substitute. But for certain things it's a good idea to just give in and replace them when it becomes obvious they need replacing, like my makeup (which is probably radioactive by now, and that's just unhealthy), or my socks (some of which are so threadbare they are beyond darning).

Or my son's shoes.
An excellent example of "wear it out," don't you think? Those are his fingers sticking through the holes. They've been worn out for a while, apparently. He made sure to tell me that repeatedly as we were shopping for new shoes yesterday. Hmph. Well thanks, kid. I guess I just couldn't see your nasty shoes through my crusty old mascara.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 2.21.10 edition

Whew. What a week! I had to double check my dates to be sure it actually is Sunday again already.

It's been a week full of ups and downs and lots of craziness.

Speaking of craziness, I'm really enjoying this blogging thing and I hope you've been enjoying reading it. It's been a great thing for me in a couple of ways: 1) It helps to keep some sort of record of this wild ride called Life, and 2) It makes it at least appear that I am sane. Because if I keep talking to myself someone might have me committed, and somehow having a semblance of an audience makes all the babbling OK.

On the other hand, now you all know what's inside my head. Hmmm. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea. It definitely warrants further mulling-over.

Anyway ... the Sunday night recap, in case you haven't been reading all along (and in that case, tsk tsk).

The kids and I started the week off by wrapping up a nice little vacation with daddy in Pennsylvania. We got cheated out of a fun day with Steve on Sunday, though, because he had gotten snowed out one day during the week and had to make that up on the weekend. No biggie - at least we were in a hotel with a pool to keep the kids busy.

Monday Steve kissed everyone goodbye as he left for work, then the kids and I got packed up, had a nice breakfast at the hotel, and hit the road. It took us 9.5 hours to get home from PA. Not bad. For the record, the Ohio Turnpike is just like I remember it from a few years ago - long, flat and boring. I was so glad to get home.

On Tuesday Steve sent me a text that he was coming home for the rest of the week because a snowstorm shut down the job. Again. Too bad we didn't know this was going to happen before we spent all that money on hotel rooms. But yeehaw (!!) for having him home for a few days.

Wednesday all hell broke loose when our dog ran off. I felt like the worst mom in the world for letting it happen (albeit accidentally) and I'm pretty sure at least one of the kids would have confirmed that I was the worst mom in the world if someone had just asked them.

Thursday morning was beautiful. Steve floated the river with his cousin to do a little fishing. By the time he got home he had gotten two phone calls and an e-mail with the news that work would start back up on Saturday instead of Monday. So much for enjoying the weekend with him. A conference with Rachel's teacher and a very positive report on her progress in school was the highlight of my day.

Friday dawned beautifully, too, but even colder than Thursday. The dog still hadn't returned. Steve left to go back to work. I managed to make it through the day without crawling back under the covers and bawling my eyes out.

Saturday morning Sam bowled with his league, Rachel went roller-skating with her Brownie troop, and we got a call that someone had found our dog! We enjoyed a (very late) night at a get-together with neighbors.

Today, Sunday: skipped church (again); took Rachel to a Girl Scout meeting; did a makeup bowling game with Sam for the one we missed while on vacation; picked up as few groceries as possible; loved on the dog; regretted keeping the kids out so late last night; promised myself I would scratch more items off my to-do list this week than last week.

Good grief, I'm exhausted just reading back over it. I never thought I'd say this but Monday morning will come as such a blessing.

Our Bug is back!

Ladybug came home to us Saturday afternoon after spending two frigid nights outdoors alone and one cushy night in the presence of a loving family with four dogs of their own.

The family who found her are from the Detroit area and were here at their cabin enjoying some snowmobiling. They told us that one of the guys, Randy, almost hit Ladybug while they were out riding Friday night. She had been curled up in a ball in a snowbank and just lifted her head when they zoomed by. When Randy realized it was a dog he almost hit, he told his buddies he couldn't leave that dog out there in the cold. They all turned back and began a 45-minute process to coax Ladybug to come to them so they could help her.

Once they had her, they took Bug to nearby homes and asked people if they recognized her. Nobody did, of course, but one of the neighbors (this was about two miles from our house) offered to drive Randy and Ladybug back to the cabin (about a mile from our house) and then take Randy back to pick up his snowmobile.

Isn't it already obvious how much love and effort went into finding her owners? I get a little emotional just thinking about it.

This family realized pretty quickly what a sweet dog Bug is. They fed her and got her warmed up in the house. They let her crash on one of their dog's beds. They told me it was obvious she was well cared-for, as she was housebroken, crate trained (she was lying in one of the open dog crates when they returned from dinner), and looked healthy and had a shiny coat. She hung out with the other dogs like they had known each other forever. Randy fell in love with her. He said he had decided that if they couldn't find her owner, he would take her home.

Fortunately we had recently attached Bug's license and rabies tag to her collar. I don't know why; I was filing some papers and found her license taped to the receipt from the county and I guess I thought it couldn't hurt. I'm so thankful I did. Her angels called the vet's office (closed on Saturdays), and animal control where I had left information about Bug in case someone did call. Animal control then contacted us, and the rest is history.

Ladybug has been sleeping A LOT since we brought her home. She seems to be moving in slow motion like she's stiff from being out in the cold for so long. I won't even venture a guess about how much longer she could have survived out there. I'm just glad she's home, safe and sound. And the kids? Their excitement is indescribable.

It just goes to show you can still find good people and happy endings.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Where have all the paperclips gone?

I was just saying to The Mister this morning that I felt like going on a shopping spree. It must be the sunshine causing me to want to spruce things up around the house because this is a bit unusual for me; I'm not much of a shopper just for shopping's sake. Besides, I know a shopping spree of any sort just isn't in the budget right now, and that is fine with me. That is, it was fine with me until I realized that someone has been messing with my office supplies.

I started gathering all of our income tax paperwork to drop off at the accountant's office, and I could not find a paperclip in this house to save my life. Not one. I found a few of those binder clip thingies, but that wasn't what I wanted. All I wanted was one stinkin' paperclip so all those papers could slide nicely into an envelope.

Pens? Pencils? Gazillions of them. Highlighters? More than we will ever use. Rubber bands, erasers, and Sharpies, even. And by some blessed miracle there are even staples in the stapler. But no flippin' paperclips. I resorted to the smallest binder clip thingy I could find.

I also printed out some "Lost Dog" fliers the kids and I made up last night. I intended to stop a few places and hang them up while I was out running errands. Oh, by the way, we're on our last 10 or 12 sheets of printer paper. What?!? I bought a ream of paper (500 sheets!) a year ago and I've printed maybe 50 pages since then. Apparently I need to keep the white, unlined paper in a different drawer.

I figured it might be easier on store clerks if I had my own tape and/or tacks to hang up these fliers, so off I went in search of both. Another miracle: I find not one, but two rolls of Scotch tape in the drawer where they belong. The tacks? Behold:
What the heck am I supposed to do with these? They look like a thumbtack version of A Chorus Line!

I'm pretty sure I know how they got that way and it has everything to do with a little boy and a hammer. I don't really care. What I can't figure out, though, is why they ended up back in the box. Ah well. I did find a few undamaged ones. I guess I'll have to hide those, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Random thoughts for a Thursday.

Did I forget to mention? Steve is home for the rest of the week. He left PA on Tuesday after yet another wicked snowstorm blew in causing the job to be shut down. Work will hopefully start up again on Monday. Check that. Just got a call that it will start up on Saturday. So much for enjoying the weekend with him. But you won't hear complaints from me. No work = no paycheck.

I was up most of the night last night praying and watching for the dog to come home. She didn't. I'm sorta' numb about this. I'm angry at myself, annoyed with the dog, sad for the kids. OK, maybe "numb" wasn't quite the word I was looking for. Maybe it's "paralyzed." Because I just don't know what to do. I at least called animal control and left a message in case anyone drops her off or calls to report they have her.

Random photo of an old stump in the back yard. Cool, isn't it? I love the twisty-turny patterns of the wood. I'm sure there is some great comparison to be made here about how it represents life in the bumps and lines and rough patches and varying colors from light to dark. Or maybe it's just a really neat stump that I'd like to plant a garden around someday.

It's a beautiful day today. Every time I step outside (hoping to hear the jingle of the dog's tags) I am warmed by the sun and I can hear birds singing like it's spring! It always amazes me how blue skies and a sunny day can boost my motivation to get some work done around the house. Well that, and the fact that I don't have any clean jeans.

I miss having a Starbucks nearby. Yes, I know it's expensive. No, I don't drink plain ol' coffee when I go there. Starbucks is a treat for me so I usually order a mocha or a frappuccino and make it totally worth it. I drank three frappuccinos over last weekend: one on the drive to PA, one while we were there, and one on the drive home. Oh, and on the drive home? I broke my own rule about never ordering "venti" anything from Starbucks. And lemme tell ya, that's a lot of frappuccino. It got me through the last six hours of the drive, though. Muah.

Lent, Day Two. Am I being tested? I did say I would spend more time with the kids. Guess what offers the perfect opportunity for spending more time with the kids? Losing a family pet. But guess what the stress of losing a pet does? Makes me want to eat everything in the house. Lord have mercy.

The worst kind of mommy guilt.

The dog was doing that thing where she licks her chops over and over and then sits there and looks at me like I just scolded her, even though I didn't. Then the retching started. She was in the middle of the living room and I was hopeless to stop the first round of doggy barf from hitting the carpet. I knew there would be more, though, so I quickly coaxed her toward the front door. When she paused I grabbed her by the collar and, as sweetly as I could, shoved her outside.

The whole thing took maybe 20 seconds - not enough time for me to slip my shoes on and grab the dog's leash, but plenty of time for me to think about the possible consequences of shooing her out into the big bad world without her being attached to anything.

Sure enough, Ladybug finished her little episode, went potty, and then realized she was FREE! and took off running into the wilderness, nose to the ground. That was sometime midday. It's now the middle of the night and she hasn't returned. So here I sit, worried sick, all the outside lights ablaze, and not wanting to think about how I might have to tell the kids in the morning that she hasn't returned. It was difficult enough for them to go to bed without telling her goodnight.

We tried standing outside and calling her name a few times, but it really does no good because she doesn't respond. Obviously. Around 11 p.m. I tried again and was certain I heard her barking in the distance so I got in the truck and rolled down the road a ways with the window down, her leash and treats at the ready in the passenger seat. Nothing.

Ladybug is a Plott Hound, a breed originally used to hunt bears and wild boars. Some are now bred and trained for coon hunting. They also tend to make great family dogs, and they become very attached to their pack of people. We adopted Ladybug from the humane society and we knew we would have to work those hound tendencies with plenty of exercise and opportunities to sniff around. That's not too easy in the middle of a Michigan winter. I have a feeling she's getting her fill of what she's been missing in recent weeks, and perhaps is standing at the base of a tree where she thinks she's treed a coon, barking, and waiting for one of us to come along and tell her she's done a good job. Ideally, though, she'll give up the hunt and decide it's much easier just lying around on the couch and letting her humans feed her without having to work for it. And then she'll pick up the scent of home and be waiting on the front porch in the morning.

Here's hoping.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

' ... and to dust you shall return.' Genesis 3:19

Today is Ash Wednesday. Christians begin the season of Lent today, which is intended to be a solemn time during which we are to be reminded of our sinful nature and Christ's ultimate sacrifice for our salvation.

I am a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There is a great explanation of Lent on the organization's Web site, here.

Often when we think of Lent we think of the practice of giving something up for 40 days, but we forget the next step of focusing on God and praying when the urge to use or eat or do the "thing" comes around. Many of us also fail to realize that Lent can also be a season of adding to our lives - getting up earlier and adding some Bible study into our morning routine; adding random acts of kindness to our daily to-do lists; adding more time focused on our children each day, or more time in quiet prayer.

I have committed to my own sacrifices this year involving much less junk food, much less computer time, and much more time focused on my children. I'm certain it will take lots of focus on my part and plenty of God's grace to get me through the next 40 days. Fortunately He's got enough to go around.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A glimpse at daddy's office.

These pictures are a little dark because it was a cloudy day anyway and we went out at dusk. But the kids got a good look at where Steve has been working, and that was pretty cool. I feel like such a goofball because we were so impressed with the scenery. What can I say? Michigan just doesn't have hills like these.

On the way to the job site. See the hills in the distance? Beautiful.

This is why they ask all those questions when you buy life insurance. What's that? NO, I would never go sky diving! That's crazy! My job? Oh, I dig around pipelines filled with explosive materials. And in my spare time I'm a firefighter. What? 

It's hard to capture the grade of these hills, but rest assured, they're steep. And Steve gets to hike up and down them. A lot. 

Occasionally he'll climb it with the truck, but sometimes that's just not safe.

Sideboom: a piece of equipment somewhat unique to pipelaying.
Sam, doing what Sam does. Throwing things.

Rachel looks so tiny, doesn't she? 

An open letter to the PA youth hockey folks.

Rule #1 for wearing your team name on your jacket: Act like ladies and gentlemen or the whole world is going to know what little heathens you and your teammates are.

Shame on you, Allegheny Badgers of Southwest Pennsylvania. Shame on you and anyone else who might have been staying with you at the Indiana, PA, Holiday Inn over Valentine's Day weekend 2010. You are some of the worst-behaved families I have ever had the misfortune of sharing space with.

Oh, be clear - I know how to have fun. And I allow my children to be children and have fun, too. But I also know how to set and enforce boundaries and follow rules. What is so hard about clearing out of the public courtyard of a hotel and drinking and talking quietly in your rooms after 11 o'clock as the hotel posts as their rule? Why is it you couldn't be bothered to tell your little tykes to stop running up and down the hallways and slamming doors at all hours? Was it really that important to do whatever it was you were doing until 1 a.m. that kept other guests from getting a good night's sleep?

I actually enjoyed seeing and hearing the kids playing hockey in the courtyard. I can certainly appreciate your communal meals and the bond you all seem to have with each other. And really, supporting your children in any sport they love to play is a great thing. But some of the behaviors I saw in these kids (and a few parents) were deplorable. I was willing to overlook a lot until the final straw on Sunday night cemented my abhorrence for this group: you booed the constable! Really?!? You booed the constable??? For simply enforcing (AGAIN) the posted rules? Where we come from, that kind of disrespect has pretty serious consequences. For one thing, I don't think I know any adult who would have done that, and if any of our children had they would have gotten an adult's boot so far up their behind they'd choke on the laces.

I do owe you some thanks, though. For one thing, you gave me many, many opportunities to point out to my children what I consider to be unacceptable behavior. Thank you. And thank you, too, for making this past weekend such a memorable experience; it will forever be known to our family as "that weekend in PA with those obnoxious hockey players." One more: thank you for teaching me that it is always a good idea to ask when we reserve a room whether there will be any hockey teams staying there at the same time we are. If there will be, we'll politely decline the reservation and look elsewhere.

We have several friends who travel all over hell's half acre to watch their children play hockey. I don't hate youth hockey. I despise disrespect, though, and if I ever learned that any of my friends acted so inappropriately I would totally call them out on it. Especially if they were in another city and their kids were wearing jackets with our local team's name on them. Your families left an impression on us about the people of the Pittsburgh area and it isn't a good one. I doubt the folks from your hometown would appreciate knowing what terrible ambassadors you were while visiting the city of Indiana. I've never been so glad to leave a place and go home.

Monday, February 15, 2010

So much to blog about ... so little energy.

I've had lots of stuff rattling around in my head over the long weekend and can't wait to share some of it with you. Alas, I am too exhausted to organize my thoughts before I get at least eight hours of sleep followed by a stiff cup of coffee.

So I leave you with the one halfway-decent-but-still-kinda-grainy photo I got of the kids in the pool. This vacation saw a lot of swimming, eating, sleeping, and watching cartoons. Can it get any better than that for a kid?

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Rachel's love language is gifts - giving and receiving. I gave the kids little goodie bags this morning for Valentine's Day, and Rachel - bless her heart - did a little regifting. She gave me the piece of candy she knew she wouldn't like. The girl knows I love chocolate. What I'm sure she doesn't realize is that I will treasure her note so much more.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Is it bedtime yet?

We made it. We got out the door right at the time we had planned (4 a.m.) and made it from Western Michigan to the city of Indiana, PA, in nine hours and 20 minutes. The kids did wonderfully. They were incredibly chatty for as early in the morning as it was, but they sacked out within about an hour. They slept on and off and chatted with me and listened to their music and ate their goodies and drank their juice boxes. There were many great moments along the drive - laughing, singing along with a song on the radio, listening to the kids' fascination over the ice hanging off the jagged hillsides - but the best one was when we saw the sign welcoming us to our destination. 

It was a long day and we will all sleep like logs tonight.

And just because I ribbed the kids about how goofy they were being last night, it is only fair that I admit (however reluctantly) that it was I, not either of them, who had to stop three times for potty breaks. They only came into the rest stop with me the third time because I told them I would buy them a snack. Stinkers.

Yes, I took a picture of my alarm clock. Just to remind myself - the gal who hates getting out of bed in the morning - that I could do it. And this was after I got out of the shower, even. Ha!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

T-minus 8.5 hours and counting.

This weekend the kids have a couple of extra days off from school for mid-winter break. We are taking the opportunity to go see daddy.

I know, it takes a second for that to sink in, doesn't it?

It's true. I am packing our two children and all of their electronic gadgets into the truck and driving from Michigan to Pennsylvania. It's about a nine-hour trip for an adult traveling alone. My guess is each little person with their little bladder will add about an hour to the trip.

We have snacks and drinks ready to pack in the truck. The gas tank is full. I have my Garmin - aka Jack The Navigator, a printout from Mapquest, and an atlas. (Yes, I am directionally challenged.) The plan is to boogy on out of here by 4 a.m. so that by the time we are in unfamiliar territory it will be daylight. I chose that particular time because I didn't want to leave after school today and be driving through snow-covered hill country in the middle of the night, and waiting until daylight tomorrow seemed like a waste of time. So 4 a.m. it is. I doubt the kids will sleep much tonight. To say they are excited about the trip would be the understatement of the year. They've been bouncing off the walls since we got home this afternoon.

I'm excited about the trip, too. I actually love to drive and I am always up for an adventure. Any change of scenery will be a welcome one, even if we aren't heading to someplace warm. If I could just get these kids to focus long enough to pack some clean underwear we'll be headed in the right direction.

Take a look at what I have to work with. Evidence that the cards are stacked against me.

All cute and innocent looking.

You can just about tell where this is going, can't you?


"Let's take a serious one." Impressed?

He: Oh, I just love my sister SO MUCH!
She: MOM! Keep this picture for evidence!

Please, enough of the paparazzi.

For posterity. And graduation open houses. 
We're gonna' have a great trip.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My chariot awaits ... a bath.

See all the mud caked on this truck? It's Pennsylvania mud. There's more inside on the floorboards. My dear sweet husband was kind enough to bring it back to Michigan for me. Before he headed back to PA he swapped trucks with me because he was, as he said, "beatin' the crap out of this one". Said he'd rather beat the crap out of the older truck. OK then. I dig it.

I had to take this one in for a repair the other day and I swear I was getting some weird looks from people. It hasn't been warm enough around here to create any mud. Nor has it been warm enough to stop at the do-it-yourself car wash. Think the guys at the auto wash would hate me if I pulled in there?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pop quiz.

1. When you ask me what I am making for dinner and I tell you and you respond, "Eww, gross. I'm not eating that," what do you get for dinner?
a) a double helping of whatever I am making
b) whatever you make for yourself
c) a knuckle sandwich

2. When you get off the school bus and hand me a piece of paper that says you have been misbehaving (again) and you are not allowed to ride the bus for three days (again), what is your punishment?
a) manual labor every day after school until bedtime
b) the honor of doing every rotten chore in the house to earn the gas money for me to drive you to school and pick you up for the next three days
c) you stay home from school until you can ride the bus again

3. When you have a book report due two days from now and you aren't finished reading the book yet, what should you do?
a) think about thinking about it tomorrow
b) turn off all electronics to eliminate distraction so you can finish reading the book tonight
c) do other things that look much more important than reading, like finding something for dinner

4) When I tell you to clear off this table because everything on it belongs to you and none of it belongs on the table, how long should you wait to clear off the table?
a) forever
b) as long as possible before mom's face turns red
c) wait? why would I wait? I do as I am told when I am told to do it

5) If you drop something on the kitchen floor, what do you do?
a) pick it up
b) blame your sibling and suggest he/she should pick it up
c) walk away, perhaps stepping on or kicking the dropped item in the process

This is an open book quiz and all material has been covered in class multiple times. A perfect score will earn you the right to stay up a half hour later than usual to watch your choice of programs on television. Anywhere from one to five incorrect answers may result in mom going on strike and the house being taken over by flying monkeys. There are no retakes.

'If ever two were one, then surely we'

There are advantages to being the only adult in the household. Nobody's snoring wakes me up at night and nobody steals my covers, for instance. The toilet seat in the master bathroom stays down. I can stay up as late as I want to and I can feed the kids cereal for dinner. I have full control of the TV remote and the thermostat. And there are fewer pairs of boots to trip over in the entryway.

Advantages, sure. But all together they could not outweigh the benefits of having my husband here at home.

There are the obvious benefits.


Beyond that, I just like having Steve around. He is my best friend and in many ways he completely spoils me. He cooks. He washes the dishes. He tucks the kids into bed. He does all that guy stuff like fixing things and moving furniture and roughhousing with the dog. He listens to me ramble on about all kinds of things and manages to look interested most of the time. He gives me a quick kiss or squeeze or high five when we pass each other in the hallway. He makes me laugh every day. He inspires me to be a better person. Oh sure, he has his faults. We all do. But we also have a way of overlooking those faults or learning to live with some quirky behaviors when we are in love.

I was reminded over the weekend how much I really do love having Steve around. He adds so much life to this place. Or maybe it's the combination of the two of us. I don't know. I just know that I miss him when he's gone and appreciate the times I get to be with him that much more.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Happy Monday.

This was the view outside my front door this morning. What a nice way to wake up and start a new week.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 2.7.10 edition

How can it be Sunday again already? It feels like the past week flew by and here we are ready to start all over again.

We enjoyed this weekend with Steve and even got a bonus round with him - another afternoon, another dinner, another round of goodnight kisses - as about the time he was gearing up to get ready to leave he got a call that his crew wouldn't be working Monday. While he was here in Michigan enjoying the sunshine, a storm was piling up enough snow in Pennsylvania to shut down the job. It will be nice to have Steve sleeping next to me for one more night, and waking up with him in the morning.

Other positive points this past week:
1. Sam received a glowing report from his teachers. We had set up a time when Sam and I could meet with his teachers and principal to assess how he has been doing in school in various areas - turning in homework, staying on task in the classroom, attitude, respect, etc. We have all been pushing him to do better in all of these areas because he doesn't have a whole lot of motivation otherwise. They tell me that in the past couple of weeks he has been doing wonderfully. I was so proud of Sam and told him so. It was just awesome that he could then tell daddy face-to-face about the good report when Steve got home.

2. The kids played together. Outside. Most of the day. They needed to blow off some steam this morning and I finally forced them outside. They got all dressed up in their winter gear and went off on an adventure together. We had to call them inside so we could go to town to run some errands, and the moment we got back they put their snowpants and boots back on and went out until I called them in just before dark. Most of the time we couldn't see them, but they are old enough that I trust they will be fine. Occasionally I open the door and listen for them; as long as they are within earshot I let them play. I adore days like this. Any time I see or hear the kids playing together - even if they appear to be plotting against me - I rejoice that they have found a way to stop picking at each other long enough to work toward a common goal.

My guess is the week ahead will fly by just as quickly as this past week did. The kids have Valentine's Day parties at school before they have a couple of days off for mid-winter break. That gives us an opportunity to head east to see Steve and show the kids the area where he has been working. I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, February 5, 2010


I know, what a lame post title, right? But it pretty accurately sums up how I'm feeling today. Thank God it's Friday!

Friday is payday. Thank God for my husband and the job he does to earn that paycheck every week.

Friday is doughnut day. Thank God for the guys at the fix-it shop who offered me a doughnut this morning while they were fixing the brakes on my truck.

Friday is the last day of school for the week. Thank God for the opportunity to relax and let the kids stay up late. 

Friday is free popcorn day at the bank. Thank God for ... cheery clerks who smell like popcorn?

Really, though, the best thing about this particular Friday is that Steve will be heading home after work. It will be a quick turnaround - we'll get him for about 24 hours - but just the thought of seeing him for the first time in three weeks is enough to put a little spring in my step. I'm giddy! I can't wait.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

'Graceful' timing.

There are moments in life when we are fortunate enough to be a part of something wonderful, something awesome, maybe even life-changing. And then there are moments that start out relatively insignificant and turn into something grand. The God moments. The times when I think to myself that the only explanation for what just occurred is that He is trying to get my attention. I have changed my thinking in recent years to all but eliminate my belief in coincidences. No longer do I find myself saying "wow, that was great timing." Rather, I have picked up a phrase that my husband used recently; Steve said one day that what I thought was "great" timing was really "graceful" timing. Quite apropos.

Yesterday afternoon when the sun began peeking through the clouds and the ice started dripping off the eaves, I felt I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful afternoon outdoors. I wasn't really in the mood, but I grabbed my camera and headed out for a quick walk anyway, knowing the fresh air would do me some good.

This was my reward.

A bald eagle soared over my head. Now, I've seen eagles before, and I've even gotten relatively good pictures of them, considering my only camera is a $40 garage sale find that I couldn't take a clear picture with to save my life. But this eagle flew closer to me than any one before - close enough that at one point I got a little nervous that the fur around my hood looked a little too much like a small fox. There I stood, squinting up into the sun, tears streaming down my cheeks (from the biting wind, I swear), and trying to both enjoy the moment and capture it through my camera lens. The eagle circled above me about four times, each time moving a little farther from north to south. I stood, awestruck, and watched until it was out of sight. This is the best of the photos I got, but it can't possibly show you the beauty I saw in that moment. I was truly blessed.

Graceful timing? I like to think so.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What pipeliners do to mess with each other.

Operator: "Hey man, could you paint some rocks and throw 'em down to mark that dig for me?"
Laborer: "Sure."  *grin*

Oh coffee, how I love thee.

I have never been a big coffee drinker. At least not in the sense that I can't function in the morning before my first cup, or even that I have to have coffee every day.

Oh, I love coffee in any form. Strong and black. Flavored or with creamer. Caffeinated, decaf or half-caff. Hot, iced or blended. I'll even drink the last sip at the bottom of the cup after it's gone cold. And I love the smell of a freshly-opened container of coffee grounds. But I'm just not one to head for the coffee pot first thing in the morning.

Until this week.

The past few mornings I have been brewing coffee while I make the kids' lunches for school. You'd think I found a miracle drug or the fountain of youth or something. I remember when I first started my career as a journalist and had to be in the newsroom at what felt like the most ungodly hour in the morning. I started drinking coffee just because it was there. After about the first two weeks I said to myself, "so this is why people drink coffee!" It warmed me up on those cold December mornings and kept me alert enough to do a phone interview and type up notes at the same time. Here it is 10 years later and I have said it again. "Oh yeah! This is why people drink coffee!" I had three cups yesterday morning and I got more done around the house in one day than I have in the past three weeks.

OK, maybe my industriousness has more to do with the excitement over knowing that my hubby will be home this weekend, but the coffee couldn't have hurt!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On books, relationships, and keepin' it real.


That's the number of books I found in, on and around our nightstands while I was cleaning the master bedroom the other day.

Fourteen! And any sane person who looked at all those titles would probably come to the conclusion that someone in this house is a total wreck.

I admit it. I am a sucker for self-improvement books. I devour books that have anything to do with struggles I am facing, or books that encourage me along a path I have chosen. Why reinvent the wheel? If someone else in this world has faced the same issues I am facing at any given time and they have managed to come out alive and stronger on the other side - and then wrote a book about it - I am happy to glean inspiration and ideas from them.

The biggest struggle for me lately is being apart from the love of my life while he is working in another state. I know it is a struggle for him, too. So what did I do? I bought him a book. Heh. OK, I actually bought it for him a couple years ago when he first started working away from home again. I had heard the authors speaking on a radio program and I liked their philosophy on how to handle oneself and protect those important family relationships when traveling for business.

(Uh, yeah, I found the book on the nightstand nearly two years later, with Steve's bookmark stuck in the page where he stopped reading. And he hadn't even gotten to the good stuff. Hmph.)

Well, this week I picked up that book to read it myself. Maybe gain a little perspective. Road Warrior: How to keep your faith, relationships, and integrity when away from home has a pretty strong underlying theme: traveling for work gets mighty lonely. Authors Stephen Arterburn and Sam Gallucci know this from experience.

Now, I'm not going to give you a full review of the book, but I will say it ranks pretty high on my Cheez-o-meter. Self-help books tend to do that because everyone who has a story to tell isn't necessarily a good storyteller. That said, Arterburn and Gallucci offer some pretty solid Christ-centered advice on how to protect your heart and your behavior to keep your integrity and your relationships intact while on the road. I'll give an overview.

First, it is important to remember that all of a road warrior's strengths and weaknesses travel with them - always - and that there is some serious potential for personal temptation when away from home. To ward off those temptations, the authors suggest using internal and external "filters". External filters are the things you do on the outside to protect yourself. The best tip, they say, is to look away (or walk away) from anything that does not belong inside your head or heart. Take pictures of your family with you and display them in your hotel room. Travel with your spouse when possible. Keep a rigorous contact schedule with your family while away. Bunk with a friend. If you find yourself in a work situation alone with someone of the opposite sex, speak of your spouse often (and appropriately) to keep an emotional distance between you and your coworker or customer. Internal filters are what a road warrior sets up to actively and consciously develop long-term memories (by being present at key events in their loved ones' lives), purpose (to be known for something other than the job they do), and relationships (because these are what long-term memories and life's purpose spring from).

They list five key relationships that are important to nurture: God for strength, spouse for intimacy, children for development, friends for accountability, and yourself for balance. Each of these relationships needs special care and attention on a daily basis. Each of them adds something unique to a road warrior's life that he or she needs, but cannot find in a hotel room or an airport lounge. The book goes into much more detail. It's a decent book and one that can be useful for either party - the road warrior or the spouse at home.

Here's how it all translates in the Pipe Life household:
  1. Remember the vows you took in front of God and everybody. They are serious business.
  2. Don't do anything you wouldn't be proud of in the morning; always keep your guard up.
  3. Call home, e-mail home, think of home, and above all come home every chance you get.
  4. Stay in contact with your friends, too. They love you and care about your well being and will keep you accountable.
  5. Keep it real. You might be a hero to your spouse and children, but you are not a rock star.
Having a spouse working away from home or frequently traveling for work is not for everyone. I have seen the devastation it can cause in marriages and families, but I have also seen how relationships can be rebuilt and healed after that devastation. It takes infinite amounts of trust and faith, lots of communication and strength of character for a family to make a go of this lifestyle and remain happy and fulfilled. It certainly is not without its difficulties, and I think we all have our moments when we wonder what the heck we've gotten ourselves into. But in the long run we are blessed with the opportunity to teach our children some pretty valuable life lessons about relationships and communication and sacrifice. Which is good, because I'll take teachable moments over being a rock star any day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mom? Mom? Mommy? Mom? Mommy?

How could anyone ignore this face?

I'm so glad I have Ladybug to keep me company during the day. Most days she hangs out on the couch and only lifts her head if I make a move to go outside or get something to eat, or if somebody comes to the door. But the other day I guess she really really really wanted to go outside and play because she kept coming over to where I was sitting and resting her chin on the arm of the chair. I couldn't help but grab the camera.

"Wanna' go outside, Bug?"

That's a yes.