Sunday, March 28, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 3.28.10 edition

The ultimate "clean slate" thought for the day ...

A quote posted on another blog I follow caught my attention. In his book The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, author Thomas Moore writes:
"You can't force simplicity; but you can invite it in by finding as much richness as possible in the few things at hand. Simplicity doesn't mean meagerness but rather a certain kind of richness, the fullness that appears when we stop stuffing the world with things."
When we stop stuffing the world with things. That's what gave me pause.

Over the past several years I have been on a mission to rid my life of clutter - physical clutter, emotional clutter, all kinds of clutter - that, in retrospect, I had spent years deliberately collecting. I surrounded myself with all kinds of things and people and became involved in as much as possible because that seemed like what I was supposed to do. I thought it would bring me comfort.

As it turned out, all the stuff and the people and the activities didn't make me happy at all. And I sort of knew that all along because even while I was dusting around the stuff and stubbing my toes on the stuff and fretting over what an acquaintance said at a dinner party and wondering how I would ever possibly find the time to focus on any one thing, I was finding joy in the simplest things.

Watching my children play in the yard.

Hunting for wild mushrooms down some back country roads with my husband.

Sitting in my big, comfy chair with my feet tucked under me and reading a book.

Gulping down an ice cold Diet Dr. Pepper on a hot summer day.

Hanging the laundry on the line outside to dry.

Finding the cats sleeping away the afternoon in a sunny spot.

I finally realized that if all these little things were making me happy, all that other stuff wasn't very useful to me. It was just more stuff to clean, more stuff to worry about losing or getting ruined, more stuff to think about, more people to try to please.

When I think of "stuff" in the literal sense, I think of how much I hated dusting the house when I was a kid. My mom had knick-knacks. Lots of them. She had collections. Every weekend I had to move all those pieces and dust the shelves and put all the pieces back where they belonged.

I loathed that chore.

I don't have collections. A limited amount of space and my love for personal sanity have encouraged me to continually analyze the usefulness of items in our home. If we don't use it, need it or love it, it probably won't have a place here for very long.

This has been an ongoing process, but one I don't think much about anymore. It's just a part of my life. I don't have to force myself to live in the moment; I just do. I don't overthink things so much anymore; I just let them be. My focus has shifted. When we stop stuffing our world with things we allow ourselves the freedom to enjoy whatever - or whoever - it is in our lives that we truly love.

~ ~ ~

Like most Sunday evenings I am preparing to switch gears in the morning, but instead of getting back into weekday mode the kids and I will be getting into vacation mode. They're on spring break this week and we're heading east to visit daddy.

I am ... wait for it ... leaving my computer at home. One less thing to pack in the truck and lock in the hotel room, and one less thing to distract me from fully focusing on my husband and children. So this is my last post until next weekend when we return home.

Unless I go through blogging withdrawals and then I'll look pretty funny sitting next to the pool typing on my phone.

I'm not above that, though.

Just sayin'.

Have a great week.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The tile: Water, meet Saw.

We couldn't possibly make C-shaped cuts like this without using a wet saw. I know we couldn't possibly do it because we tried.

And then we tried again.

And again.

See? Our attempts resulted in a lot of broken tiles.

I'm kidding. Sort of.

Some of those are just scraps from really great score-and-snap cuts, but several of them are from failed attempts at something more than we could handle. So we rented a wet saw. Have you ever seen one of these contraptions? Just the name "wet saw" seems like a bad idea, doesn't it? And the directions from the gentleman who helped us with the rental: "Just pour water in here and plug it in ..." gave me the heebie jeebies. It's a good thing I've watched so many episodes of This Old House so I knew the basics of how the thing worked.

And it worked splendidly, by the way.

Especially for thin little pieces like this:

It has been an interesting few days around here. We - myself and Sue, my partner in crime - have tiled about 300 square feet of floor space (resulting in both of us feeling like we've been hit by a semi) and the process has taught us many things which must be retained if we are to ever take on another home improvement project.

Um. I keep typing "we" like Sue lives here, but she doesn't. She does help me a lot while Steve is traveling, though, and after this latest project I have to keep telling her what a gem she is or she'll never ever help me again.

No seriously, she's awesome. I adore her.

Fortunately for me, she's quite adventurous when it comes to the DIY home improvement stuff.


Here are a few valuable lessons we learned this week, in no particular order:
  1. Buy more supplies than you think you could ever possibly need. The hardware store will allow you to return any unopened containers. I measured the space a bazillion times. I was sure three buckets of pre-mixed mortar would be enough to cover it, so I bought four just for good measure. We ended up using all four buckets and then had to mix up more from some leftover powdered mix I (thank God) happened to have for the last seven or eight tiles. That was a close one.
  2. Be prepared with all the tools the books tell you you might need. Don't go all "what the heck would we need that for?" Just trust me on this. And those workshops they offer at Home Depot? Attend them. Seriously. We did, and the hands-on experience was invaluable.
  3. Eat a good breakfast before you start, and have plenty of caffeine of some sort handy, and water to keep you hydrated.
  4. Also keep handy your favorite pain meds. Take some before you start. Take another dose as soon as you can. Lather, rinse, repeat. Unless you are a triathlete or do some sort of physical labor for your regular job you'll want to trust me on this one, too.
  5. Have a plan for the kids and animals. My kids are old enough to make something for themselves for dinner while I was busy, but not quite old enough to be truly helpful with laying tile. Since our house has an open floor plan and the tile couldn't be walked on right away, I put the kids to work creating barricades to keep the dog out of that room. They had fun with it and did a great job. (Speaking of the dog ... last night when I opened the front door to take some tiles outside to cut with the wet saw, Ladybug shimmied right past me out the door, bolted out into the woods behind the house and didn't come back all night. She finally showed up this morning around 10:45. *sigh* I may be asking Sue to help me install a fence in the back yard next.) Oh, and on the subject of animals, cats don't like wet mortar on their paws. FYI.
  6. Perfection isn't necessary. Strive for "95 percent of people won't notice this imperfection and I don't care about the other 5 percent." If I had sought perfection on this particular job I a) wouldn't have done it myself, and b) would have been thoroughly disappointed. As far as I'm concerned this floor looks great. Is it perfect? No way. But it has character, and I can certainly appreciate that.
  7. Pick the right person or people to help. Friends who can take some ribbing and who can be encouraging even after you royally screw something up are important. We had a huge job to accomplish, but Sue and I had fun along the way and I will forever be grateful for the help. And we're still friends, so we must have done something right!
It's spring break now for the kids so next week the three of us will be heading to Pennsylvania to spend some time with Steve. Sue and I will tackle the final step on the floor - grout - when I get home.

Then I'll wait a few days before I ask her about helping with that backyard fence.

In the meantime, my least favorite part of home improvement projects: cleanup. Ack.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The tile, revisited.

I bet you're hoping for those fabulous before and after photos I promised, aren't you? Well let's not rush things. We like to take our time around here. As witnessed by these first two photos.

Here is Sam working on the floor with daddy. See the date on the photo? March 2004.

Here is Sam working on the floor by himself. Same kid. Same flooring project. Six years later.

I could end this post right here, couldn't I?

How about just a minute to reflect? Go ahead. I'll wait.

OK, to truly appreciate the magnitude of this project and how happy I am to have it (much closer to) complete, I present What We've Been Living With:

On the left is the newest cement backerboard, all pretty and clean. On the right is the permadirty backerboard of six years ago. Disgusting. *shudder*

And the wide open expanse of permadirty. I can't even blame the poor picture quality on my camera this time. That's how gross this floor was.

The first three rows were the hardest. Yes, I know we were doing it all wrong! You're supposed to find the center point of the room and make a chalk line and start the installation at the 90-degree angle in the center of the room. Yada yada yada. I knew all this, however I was adamant that I wanted a full tile along the edge of the room leading into the dining room and no amount of adjusting and tweaking from the center point of the room would make that happen, so we started where I wanted to.

Also, somewhere between the second and third rows there is a hump in the floor. Our house is a manufactured home that was delivered in two very long pieces and joined together over a crawlspace. For some reason the seam had always been obvious in this room (lumpy floors have a way of being obvious), so we knew we had to find a way to work around it. I think we did a fine job, but not without a couple of foibles. More about that later.

See? We managed. No sledding hill-sized lumps or bumps here.

I feel like I'm back in my newspaper days being all disappointed that I didn't really take any action shots. But trust me, you do not want to see pictures of me and Sue while we were working. Really. Neither of us would mind telling you it was not a pretty sight. So these photos are about as interesting as it gets.

Moving along.

Did I mention that installing tiles can be a dangerous job?

 I spared you the really bloody picture in favor of a Barbie Band-Aid.

You're welcome.

The cut to the palm was the result of a surprise break-then-drop-and-only-half-catch of a tile. They're 16-inch tiles, by the way. Those are huge. The slash on the wrist? That's what happens when a lefty gets in a hurry and tries to use a trowel right-handed.

What did you think I was going to say, that I was really unhappy with how the project was going?

Fortunately that was the worst of the injuries. The rest was just hungry tummies and sore muscles. But all the aches and pains in this out-of-shape body are so worth it for the end result.

Ahhhhh. Beautiful. I'd like to kiss it, but I'm afraid once I got down there I wouldn't be able to get back up.

Full disclosure: We do still have some cuts to make that we realized we just aren't talented enough to do without a wet saw, so I will be renting one of those in the next day or two. And then, of course, when all the mortar is absolutely positively cured/set/dry/whatever, we will grout. And then trim around the edges. But look! The majority of the work is done. Hallelujah!

Later I'll post some outtakes. They involve broken tiles, two punchy DIY'ers, hyper kids, and freaked out pets.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Everything hurts.


Every part of my body hurts. My feet, my legs, my back, my hands, my arms. Even my hair, I think. I have blisters forming on my palms and chunks of dried mortar in my ponytail.

Today Sue - my godsend of a friend and helper - and I installed floor tiles in the entryway and one large room in my house. It took us some 12 or 13 hours - I don't know exactly how long because after the eighth or ninth hour I was quite delirious.

I should be in bed now, but I made the mistake of sitting down in a comfortable chair to drink a glass of water and I'm not sure I can move. If I didn't have to get the kids up in the morning I would probably just pull a blanket over me and sleep in the chair. For a week.

Alas, I do need to wake the kids for school in the morning, so I better take this tired body to bed.

Tomorrow: pictures of the tiling process thus far (still needing to make a few cuts and then grout) and a rundown of what we have learned by doing it ourselves.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pizza? Leftovers? Green eggs and ham?

I've got about a million things rattling around in my head this week. How can it be Tuesday already?

For one, my days feel a little broken up because I am forced to drop the kids off at school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon every day - about a 20-minute drive one way. Sam has been banned from the bus for several days for misbehaving.

Oh, the gasping isn't necessary. This, unfortunately, is a regularly occurring thing.

But it's not so bad because having to be at the school every day gives me a chance to pop in and chat with Sam's teacher. I did that yesterday, which was when I found out why the kiddo's math grade on his report card was so grim. Simply, he's not turning in homework.

Again, nothing new.

So Sam had a pretty rough night last night. No TV. Pretty much no fun at all. Lots of time spent at the kitchen table staring at his math book.

Which brings me to another thought: I am so blessed to be able to be at home for my children, focused on their needs and helping them become the best young adults they can be. Well, at least encouraging them to be the best they can be. Sometimes they do stupid stuff and, say, get kicked off the bus, but I maintain that doesn't make me a bad parent and it doesn't make them bad kids. It just means they make bad choices now and then. What kid doesn't?

Choices. More thoughts rattling around. Do we do this or that? Do we go here or there? Do we buy this? If so, when do we buy it? What are we going to have for dinner? Is it still too cold to leave the dog outside while I go get groceries? If I can only do one, should I fill the wine rack or buy a bottle of rum? Dust and vacuum or finish the laundry? Stay up and read or go to bed early? I feel like I'm trapped in a Dr. Seuss book lately.

But that's just my Side Show. A start. A beginning.
This way to the Big Tent! You'll find your head spinning.

or ...

Then again he came back! I was fixing some pipes
when that old-nuisance Lorax came back with more gripes.

or even ...

I do not like your math scores, Sam. I do not like them, Sam I Am.

OK, I took some liberties with that last one. But you get the idea. It's always something, it never stops, and at some point the lines between things get all blurry and suddenly I've forgotten why I got up and walked into the bathroom and why I'm holding this pepper grinder in my hand. Toss in something really important like health care reform to think about and my head just might explode.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

It's a good thing I have a keen sense of humor.

Also a good thing that spring break is right around the corner.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 3.21.10 edition

As far as Sundays go, they don't get much better than today.

Well, it might have been a little better if it had started out about 20 degrees warmer. And even a little better if I woke up next to my husband instead of in bed alone. But despite the chilly temperature and despite being minus a family member nearby, it was a pretty darn good day.

The kids and I made it to church on time this morning. That's no small feat.

I got to spend a little one-on-one time with Sammy while Rachel was at Nana and Papa's house this afternoon. I don't get to do that very often, and I actually enjoy sitting and talking with him.

I took a luxurious nap on the couch with the sun shining on me through the window, followed by a nice stroll outside with the dog.

For the first time in I don't know how long, I am engrossed in a book that actually makes me laugh out loud. I love it when stealing a few minutes to read here and there makes me feel like I am really indulging.

Looking to the week ahead, I have one big project I'd like to finish - the floor tiles in our front room and entryway. If I can get that done (with help, of course) and get the room put back together, I will be a happy camper. Happy, but no doubt sore and tired.

The kids have a short week this week; spring break begins Friday. At some point Steve and I will have to decide if, when, and for how long the kids and I will visit him in Pennsylvania next week. Any sort of vacation away from home means laundry needs to be finished, someone set up to watch the house and animals, bills paid, and all kinds of other little things taken care of before we leave. All worth it to see my hubby and for the kids to see daddy for a few days, though.

Here's to a very productive, very full week ahead. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

You might be a redneck if ...

... you use an empty cat litter bucket to mix up mortar for your floor tile.

Ya' think?

Or maybe using the cat litter bucket just means you're frugal and didn't have another bucket handy.

Here's the really cool part, though: the bucket, the mortar, the trowel, and the backerboard all represent the completion (or is it continuation?) of a home improvement project begun ... oh ... six-ish years ago.

Six. Years.

I guess I might be jumping the gun on that "completion" part. But continuation is good!

The kids and I are making the final preparations on the floor this weekend, then my wonderfully helpful future sister-in-law will be helping me set the tiles sometime in the next few days. Our front room, where our old dog obliterated the original beige carpeting, will finally have new flooring. We have been living with the cement backerboard for ages. The backerboard which the kids colored all over with markers. The backerboard which has gone from sort of gray like cement to sort of permadirty because you can't really mop that stuff. The backerboard which I grew tired of about five years ago and have been trying to keep covered with as many rugs as possible.

Can you tell I'm excited to get this job done?

God willing, I will have an update and some fabulous before and after photos sometime next week. Then we can finally call this project complete!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blissed out on Thin Mints.

It's cookie delivery time for our local Girl Scouts. You know what this means for every parent of a Girl Scout, right? Our dining room tables are covered with boxes of Thin Mints and Trefoils and Tagalongs.

This is a rare glimpse at my kids working together on something. All because they were promised when they were done sorting, they could knock themselves out on Samoas. 

I've already eaten too many.

Beyond too many.

I'm beginning to think for every five boxes of cookies ordered, the Girl Scouts should include one of those waistband extender thingies when they deliver the orders.

Not that I know what a waistband extender thingy is. I just assume they're out there.

I've already diverted some of the cookies to the freezer so daddy doesn't completely miss out on his favorites before he can get home to enjoy them.

And there are still plenty sitting on the kitchen counter.

We're gonna' need more milk.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The High Cost of Living.

Flipping through the CD changer in the truck this morning and I landed on this song.

I won't make a habit of embedding music videos into my blog, but I thought I'd make an exception for this one because:
  1. I loves me some Jamey Johnson. If this guy's voice does not reach right down into the depths of your soul, please have someone check your pulse.
  2. It appears there is no "official" music video for this song, but this one created by Stone Free Productions is done very well. I have no affiliation with Stone Free Productions. I just like the video.
  3. Steve and I both loved this song before, but for reasons that I may or may not ever share here, the words hit especially close to home these days. And no, nobody in this family is getting high. Or spending nights in motels with strange people. OK, Steve is spending nights in motels with strange people, but they're his coworkers. And he's pretty strange, too, if you really think about it. I'm joking now. Love you, baby.
Enjoy the video.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The $64,000 Question.

"What do you do all day?"

I knew it was coming. I knew one day my children would come bounding off the school bus and into the house and would ask me how on earth I spend my days.

I knew it would happen, but I still wasn't prepared for it.

Yesterday when Sam asked me what I do all day I was stunned into silence. Apparently he felt the need to fill that silence with something, so he continued with "Do you sit around and do nothing all day?"

Now, this is a very intelligent child. Yet somehow he did not feel the need to run for cover after asking me the most ridiculous question I've ever heard. I think I stammered for a second before I managed to tell him that no, I most assuredly do not sit around and do nothing all day.

"But you could, right?"

"Sure I could, but I don't."

"Well do you ever go outside? I mean, for more than to take Ladybug out?"

"Uh, yeah."

"For what? How far do you go?"

"For heaven's sake, son! What is this, an Inquisition?"

We laughed. As it turns out he didn't really want to know what I do all day; he really just wanted to know that if I wanted to I could do nothing. Perhaps he was thinking it would be great to be a stay-at-home dad when he grows up so he could sit at home and play video games and nap with the cats. If he wanted to. Not that he would. Right?

Just in case, my apologies to his future wife.

It struck me later in the evening that while I don't give a rat's behind what my children think I do all day, I do sometimes recount my recent activities to my husband because I really do care what he thinks. Despite the fact that Steve has never, ever asked me if I have been at all productive during the day, I feel the need to justify my job as a stay-at-home mom.

Well, you know, more than just pointing out that I do mother the children.

So there are days when I chat with Steve in the evening while he is in some far-off place for work and I bore him with the minutiae of how many loads of laundry I've done or how many places I stopped while running errands, just to remind him (read: myself) how important my job really is. Like I'm concerned I'm going to get fired or something.

OK, there are days the kids would gladly fire me, but other adults have assured me that just means I'm a great mom. I choose to believe them.


By the way, I feel it necessary to point out I am WAY too young to really be familiar with the 1950's game show The $64,000 Question. I'd say it should be obvious by my mug over there on the right that I couldn't possibly have ever seen the show, but before yesterday I would have also said it should be quite obvious that I keep very busy during the day. Pfft. Kids.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The peepers are back!

A sure sign of spring around here is the sound of frogs croaking in the swampy area behind our house. I heard them today.

I heard the peepers! I wish I were tech savvy enough to record them and post a link here.

Oh wait. Listen!

You can find just about anything on the Internet, can't you?

So the peepers I heard today were a little ... slow. And there were just a few of them. Must be only the really hardy (or really dumb) ones come out this early. It's still March, for crying out loud! But if you listen to that audio clip again and turn the volume way up you'll get a taste of what it sounds like around here when spring is truly on its way. The sound is absolutely, deafeningly beautiful.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Practical shmactical. Rubber boots are FUN.

There are few things in life as fun as a pair of rubber boots.

When Sam was little, every year I would get him a new pair of bright yellow rubber boots from L.L. Bean because his favorite thing to do in the springtime was splash through puddles - and good grief, we have plenty of those in our driveway. I would watch him jump around, occasionally squatting down to pop some bubbles or to pick up an earthworm he had uncovered. I loved allowing him the freedom to do something that would otherwise be off limits. All that joy made possible by a $20 pair of boots. 

I don't know why I never bought a pair for myself. Probably my practical side winning out over the fun seeking side. But lately everything outside is wet and squishy and it has become quite impractical that I didn't have a pair of shoes to just slip on to take the dog outside, or something washable to put on my feet to walk down the muddy driveway to the mailbox. Until now.

I feel a bit like Forrest Gump with his magic shoes. "They was my rubba boots." I could go anywhere!

I can't wait to get them dirty.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 3.14.10 edition

I needed to go to church this morning. I needed to see my church family, pray with them, sing with them, worship with them. I didn't care if anyone else in the house got up and went with me, but my soul needed to be fed. I had been beating myself up a bit because I haven't made it to any of our church's special Lenten services, nor have we gone to Sunday morning service at all in the past month or so. I know my salvation is not dependent on how often I attend, but I had been feeling like a slug in that department lately and really needed to be lifted up.

So I went. By myself. It felt like I had been driving for days and finally made it home.

The Gospel lesson for the day? The parable of the prodigal son.


The sermon? All about grace. The amazing grace offered up to each one of us by a loving God, and the somewhat ephemeral grace we humans offer one another.

The prodigal son and the grace with which his father accepted him upon his return. Now that's the kind of message I was needing today.

It was a busy week followed by an even busier weekend. I'm exhausted. Steve was home for the weekend - physically anyway - but spent much of that time frustrated over an issue at work. We did do a little bit of shopping with the kids Saturday and then Steve and I had a nice dinner out Saturday evening. Church this morning followed by social hour, then Girl Scout activities in the afternoon and a visit with some neighbors after that. I never thought I'd say this, but once again I'm looking forward to cleaning up and resting up from the weekend and getting back to the monotony of my Monday routine.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Did somebody say "awkward?"

I was shopping. Looking for a few basic items to add to my wardrobe. I stopped at one of my favorite stores - one geared toward women of larger-than-average size - and whatever do I see upon entering the store? A man. A thin man. And he's not just there helping his bootylicious girlfriend pick out a new pair of jeans. No! He's working there!

I made a beeline for the clearance racks in the back of the store, but he stepped away from the display he was working on to cut me off at the pass and ask if I needed any help. "I'm just browsing, thank you, " I said casually. And then I remembered that this is the store where I usually buy my undergarments and they happened to be on my list today. Good lord.

No problem. I'll just pretend this guy is Clinton Kelly of What Not To Wear fame (though it was a stretch) and make him my new best girlfriend (not as much of a stretch). Ummm ... use your imagination.

I'm not gonna' lie. I was so glad that when I was in the dressing room he was busy helping someone else. What would I say if he asked "how are those working for you?"

"Well Derek, this blouse hugs the rolls in my tummy too tight, and that one isn't long enough to cover my fat butt, and these pants look great but only from the knees down. Take a peek - what do you recommend?"

Uhh, no.

I tried on four blouses and three pairs of pants and got them back off and my own clothes back on faster than my kids can find the chocolate bar I've hidden behind the pork chops in the freezer. Of course I was incredibly embarrassed when I opened the dressing room door and there he was with one hand on his hip and the other hand in the air with one finger sticking out and he said, "I'll take the ones that didn't work for you."

Oh, rub it in why don't you?

One pair of pants worked for me. ONE. How discouraging. And I still needed to choose those undergarments I came for. I managed to get through that without the gentleman asking me if I preferred bikinis or briefs or high cuts or boy shorts.

Guess who was at the counter waiting to help me check out? Yep. Skinny Boy. Call me crazy or immature or sheltered or whatever, but something about this 20-something, hemp bracelet-wearing dude folding the underwear I so carefully hand-selected gave me the heebie jeebies. Furthermore, while I stood there trying not to watch him fold my new undergarments, a female clerk came over to ask this young man for advice for another customer. Apparently said customer was falling out of her bra in a couple of ways - from the sides in the area under the armpits, and in the front over the tops of the cups. I would expect any woman on the planet to know what I'm describing here. I would expect very few men to understand, much less be able to give suggestions on alternate cuts and/or materials for this woman. But that's exactly what the female clerk asked of the male clerk.

I'm pretty sure by that time my brow was all crinkled up and I was breathing out of my mouth.

After exchanging a few pleasantries and punching in the code for my debit card, I grabbed my bag and hightailed it out of there. Because, ya' know, I had to get home to pick up my kids from the bus stop.

Then came awkward interaction with Strange Man No. 2.

I approached my vehicle in the parking lot to find a man leaning against my pickup smoking a cigarette. I didn't feel at all threatened, so I cheerfully approached him with my keys in my hand, smiled and said "excuse me!" expecting him to step out of the 1.5-foot space between our vehicles and let me through.

Strange Man No. 2 barely acknowledged me, continued leaning on my pickup, and sucked that skinny brown cigarette in short, quick bursts like his life depended on it. I noticed there was a woman with him, standing outside their minivan with the passenger door open and looking around as if she had lost something under the seat.

"EXCUSE me!" Puff puff puff puff puff. No response.

Then from the other side of the vehicle I heard a woman's voice say "close the door!" and shortly afterward she came around the end of the van, grabbed the cigarette from between the man's lips, and stomped it out on the ground.

She looked at me, chuckling, and by way of explanation for her fellow travelers' behavior said, "Clients!" and then told both of them to get into the van, which they did, and then to close the doors, which they did.

Uhhhh. OK. That was fun. And about as many awkward interactions with strange men as I can handle for one day, thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shopping shouldn't be this exciting.

I am going shopping tomorrow. (!!!!!) Our income tax refund is scheduled to be deposited into our checking account and I have a list a mile long of items I want to pick up at Sam's Club. Beyond that, I am in serious need of some new clothes. And shoes. And, well, I might as well pick up a spring purse, too.

Oh, and I'm going to be looking for a new bathing suit, but we're not going to talk about that.

It's been a long winter, our food and household supply reserves are down, and my wardrobe is ridiculously lacking. So despite not being much of a shopper, I am excited about the opportunity to get out of town by myself and take my time to replenish things.

I can't believe I'm using the words "excited" and "shopping" in the same post. If I don't post again within 48 hours, someone should really check on me. It could be very good or very bad, but either way I'm pretty sure I'll be a zombie at the end of the day tomorrow. Good thing it'll be at the start of the weekend.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Our 'Hotel California' driveway.

Named such because if you come to visit us in the springtime you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave. Unless you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Seriously. You might get in if you're lucky and you come real early in the day while the ground is still firm. But if you stay for more than one cup of coffee you might as well finish the pot and plan to stay for dinner.

The whole neighborhood knows they can't visit the Pipe Lifers in the spring unless someone calls and asks "how's your driveway?" and we give the all-clear. The one good thing about it is it's like one giant science experiment for the kids. Why is our driveway always so muddy in the spring? Where does the water eventually disappear to? What kind of fun little creatures can we find living in the muck? How much can I make my sister scream if I splash in this puddle with a golf club?

Fun lessons aside, 10 years of this annual mud bog is enough. Mark my words, the driveway will be upgraded by fall 2010 before the snow flies again.

Stevie, sweetie, are you reading?

Somebody do me a favor and call him in September and ask him how the driveway upgrade is going, OK?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Laundry as therapy, and another frugal-living tip.

I confess: I'm in love with my washer and dryer. If I could marry a set of appliances I would choose those shiny blue babies in my utility room. Seriously. But only because I love so much the whole process of gathering, sorting, washing, drying and folding the laundry. The putting away of the laundry, not so much. Everything up to that point, though, I consider my own inexpensive brand of therapy. If it involves hanging our clothes and linens out on the line outside to dry in the sunshine, even better. There is just something calming - cathartic, even - about carrying out a task from beginning to end, watching the breeze push my kiddos' t-shirts to and fro like it's rocking a baby, and smelling that smell of freshly laundered blankets.

Really. Try to contain your laughter.

I didn't mean for it to turn out this way. I really intended for them to be just a set of very efficient tools to make my days as a stay-at-home mom a little easier. But I should have known. I love doing the laundry and any device manufactured to encourage that habit would eventually find a special place in my heart. It didn't take long.

Our first washer/dryer were a hand-me-down set from my older brother and his wife. They had purchased the pair new when they got married. By the time we got them when we moved into our new house they were well used but still in great shape. We used them for another eight-plus years before we donated them (still in working order) to a local charity when we bought our current set.

I shopped for at least a year before we bought a new set. I knew there were features I would never use and features I couldn't live without. I researched, I read countless customer reviews, and I prayed that the old set would last until we had the money saved to purchase new. I'm sure I drove the poor man at Sears up the wall as I opened and slammed and opened and slammed the doors of every washer and dryer in the place.

Having been through all that, here's the tip I have to share with you today: when it comes to large purchases, be patient, shop around, save up and buy quality.

OK, technically that's more than one tip. Consider it a bonus!

Anyway. These tips will save you money in a couple of ways. First, when you know which product you want, shopping around is just a good idea to help you find the best deal. The big box stores might be pretty close in price, but often they will match another store's lowest price or offer free delivery or any number of add-ons. If you have time to be patient (if your whatever-thing-needs-replacing hasn't blown up already) you can wait for that great sale on the one you love, and while you're waiting, save up the cash for it. Let me repeat that last one: save up the cash. It's a lot easier to wheel and deal when you have a wad of cash in your hand, and you aren't likely to overspend on stuff you don't need if you walk into a store with only your budgeted amount. And that tip about buying quality? Well, it usually means you won't have to replace that item again for quite some time.

I should note here that there is, of course, always the option to buy used and there are some great deals to be had out there. Think estate sales,, and your garden variety garage sales. Steve and I have never been averse to that idea and in fact a quick scan of our home will reveal more garage sale finds and hand-me-downs than items purchased new. That said, I admit I get a little princess-y now and then and just want something new. Fortunately for me, my dear sweet husband will usually oblige.

As it turned out we got an even better deal than expected with this particular purchase. The white set we actually bought was on a wicked good sale at Lowe's, but apparently there were a million other people who took advantage of the sale and the manufacturer couldn't keep up with orders. About six weeks after we ordered and paid for them they still weren't delivered, so we went into the store to see how they would make it right. They offered us an upgrade to what they had in stock, at no additional cost. So we got the sweet-lookin' blue set with more options delivered the next day.

You never know how patience might pay off.

And really. Who knew a person could be so infatuated with an appliance? I promise to not talk about my washer and dryer ever again. Or at least for six months. Honest.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Enough already!

People, PLEASE!! For the love of God and all that is holy, please stop giving my children writing utensils!

I knew it was bad but I didn't know just how bad until I found myself searching for something to put all the markers and pencils and colored pencils and crayons into and when I found a boot box (not a shoe box, a boot box) I thought "OK, this should be big enough."


I know pencils with your logo on them are a cheap and easy gimmick for your business. I know the dentist would rather give out pencils than candy for Halloween. I understand pencils are a fun way for Mr. Politician to get his name out there during the Independence Day parade. And I appreciate how the Easter Bunny knows that parents would much rather find a Happy Easter pencil stuck under the couch cushions in June instead of a handful of jelly beans.

But you don't understand. I can't throw all these pencils away! I am a (somewhat quirky) writer-type who appreciates office supplies of all kinds. I love few things more than sitting down with a new notepad and a handful of freshly-sharpened pencils or my favorite style of pen. And I do it all the time but somehow I am still drowning in a sea of Merry Christmas and Happy Halloween and Hoekstra for Congress and Hartrum for Sheriff and Emergency: Dial 911 and Only You Can Prevent Wildfires and Kindergarteners Are Awesome! and Have Your Home Tested For Radon and about a bazillion others.


And this isn't even all of them.

I must apologize to all the banker/insurance man/drug sales rep folks because unless your pen was one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time and comfortable to write with it didn't make the cut and went straight to the trash. I also tossed any pencils that didn't have an eraser or that didn't pass my "I like my pencils this long" test. As you can see, we still have enough writing utensils to last this family of four until the year 2053.

So please, if a holiday or other special occasion traditionally calls for gifting candy, feel free to give my children candy. I have no qualms about eating throwing away old candy. But pencils? I love them. I can't bring myself to toss a perfectly good pencil. We just don't need any more of them. There is a ridiculously large supply stashed in every logical place in the house.

Now ... finding a pencil sharpener around this place? That's a different story. Can't somebody make pencil sharpeners with your company logo on them?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 3.7.10 edition

Wow - what a fantastic week! We had lots of sunshine and that makes me a happy gal. I sure hope it sticks around.

I got a lot of stuff done around the house this past week and my plan is to carry the momentum into this week. I managed to keep the areas I spring-cleaned ... uhh, clean ... and at the same time continued sorting and pitching and organizing in other areas.

I'm sure there is some psychological explanation for my method, but this is what I have always done. When I get on a cleaning kick I will ignore the obvious things like vacuuming and instead work on the closets and cupboards until those are in order. Because my whole point is to organize the closets so when I do get to the other stuff I have someplace to put things away, right?

Yes, I also wash the sink before I do the dishes. What?

I fizzled out on the cooking I thought I was going to do last week. I had a pot roast FAIL and it kind of took the wind out of my sails. The kids and I laughed about it and ate mashed potatoes and cornbread for dinner that night. That was about the most memorable eating experience we had during the week, except for the mornings when I actually had a chance to sit down and eat breakfast with the kids - or at least sit with them and drink coffee while they eat. I treasure those moments.

It's been a tough time for missing my hubby lately. I'm trying to keep things in perspective and look at the big picture. This job is a good thing. It keeps the bills paid and helps us work toward some of our financial goals. But when I'm tired and achy and just don't want to deal with cranky kids or myriad other frustrations, I wish I could just turn to him for a hug and some moral support. As it is, I take comfort in knowing this won't be forever and even if he can't be here in person he can send supportive words via the phone and Internet. Gotta' love technology.

I don't get to curl up next to my husband in bed tonight, but I get the joy of a quiet house in which I can relax and recharge. Here's to a new week and a clean slate.

Friday, March 5, 2010

This is why we can't have a hamster.

Because it would get lost in this mess and die and start to stink.

But the stench might kinda' blend in with the preteen boy's room.

Look. There are things I don't kid about and this is one of them. When I say my children's rooms are so disastrous I trip over things every night when I go to tuck them in, I'm not exaggerating. (I did say this to someone recently so I'm just providing proof.)

And seriously, this is why we can't own any animals smaller than cats. If you look really closely on the right-hand side of that pinkish pic up top you can probably spot Whiskers The Cat curled up on Rachel's bed.

So guess what we're doing this weekend?

Hint: we're not getting a hamster.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A trip down memory lane.

"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose."       ~ Kevin Arnold, The Wonder Years
It's amazing how much the sunshine can boost my motivation. Today I tackled a project I've been meaning to get to for ages, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

I wish I could tell you it was something crafty that adds charm to the house or that is actually worth something, but realistically I am probably the only one who will notice or care. Which is fine with me because I'm the one who spends the most time in this house anyway.

This particular project involved hauling at least three boxes out of two different closets, completely emptying said boxes, and filtering through more than two decades worth of crap mementos and deciding which items to keep. The objective was to pare things down as much as possible to free up some very valuable storage space.

My criteria were pretty simple: When was the last time I looked at this? Does it still bring me joy? If my house burned down tomorrow would I miss this? If I were moving to an 800-sq-ft apartment across the country would I pay someone to pack this thing so I could take it with me? Will my kids care about this?

Among the items I kept are my baby book, a stack of poems and stories I wrote as a kid, my high school letters (softball, drama and band), an old fairy tale book (too delicate to put in the bookcase), the guest book and a few cards from our wedding, and a few random items from my college years. That's one small box. The other small box of keepers is full of newspaper clippings and wonderful cards and letters from my days as a news reporter.

It was a fun little trip down memory lane. I wished Steve had been here to reminisce over a few things from our wedding and honeymoon before they went in the trash bin. Who really needs a visitors' guide for Drummond Island from 1998 anyway? I did save the scorecards from the rounds of golf we played that week, though.

I let him win, by the way.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Harness the sun!

See that? It's my shadow cast across the kitchen floor.

My legs look so much longer and thinner in the shadows. Hmm.

Anyway. With the sun shining so brightly I figured today is a perfect day to share a frugal-living, money-saving tip.

First, there's something you should know. I'm no expert. And these are not original ideas. Every single frugal tip I will ever share with you is someone else's idea and you've probably even heard from your grandmother at some point or another. Our grannies are smart ladies, many of whom survived The Great Depression. So if you are lucky enough to still have a granny around, listen to her. Take notes, even.

Today's tip: Harness the sun. Soak up every single ray you possibly can like it might not be there tomorrow. OK, that might be my it's-been-a-long-winter-and-I'm-deprived-of-vitamin-D self talking, but I'm half serious. The sun is a source of light and heat. And it's FREE!

I am typing this post at 8:40 a.m. and there is not one light bulb burning in my house right now. There hasn't been for almost half an hour. That's because as soon as the sun reached above the treetops I flung back the drapes and let the light pour in. And really, there is no shortage of light in this house. Granted, the front of our house faces southeast (one of the best decisions we ever made, though we didn't know it at the time and it sure doesn't feel like it in the middle of July, but I digress) so we get the best of the morning sun to light up and warm up the house.

This saves money in a couple of ways. The obvious one is the electric bill. I simply don't need many (or sometimes any) lights on in the house throughout the day, and if I allow the sun to warm the house the furnace isn't kicking on and using electricity. And if the furnace isn't kicking on we're not using propane to heat the house, either. Cha-ching! Of course, this all depends on the time of year, the placement of windows in your home, and whether the sun is even shining, but any time you can harness the rays is a time you can save a few pennies. (This seems like a good place to mention another great decision we made but didn't know it at the time - skylights in the bathrooms. Love them.)

I know, it seems pretty trivial. But I have learned that living frugally is not about making big, sweeping changes in our lives; rather, it's about making lots of little changes that add up over time. It's a state of mind that eventually steers us away from mega consumerism and toward living simply and being content with what we have.

I could go on forever! This is a subject I have become very passionate about. As I've mentioned before, the little ways we find to save money all add up to allow me to continue my job as a stay-at-home mom. To me that's something worth working for.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It's a good day.

Ever have one of those moments that stops you in your tracks and makes you feel like all is right with the world? I had one of those tonight.

The kids and I had just finished dinner and they were helping me clear the table and chattering about the day's happenings. I got the dishwasher loaded and lit a nice smelly candle and poured a glass of wine (I love you, Sweet Traverse Red) and when I turned around to sit down, both of the kids were kicked back in the living room, cuddled under blankets and reading. Reading!! Be still my heart.

This is where the cheezy soundtrack starts playing in my head.

I thought back over the day and it just made me smile. I had coffee and visited with two awesome friends this morning; the sun was shining all day and warmed up the house enough that I could leave the front door open; the kids and I took the dog for a nice little walk this afternoon, and then Sam and Rachel played happily outside together until it was almost dark.

These are the moments life is all about, and the days that keep me going when I think I just don't have it in me anymore.

These moments, these days, and a really good bottle of wine. Heaven. It's a good day.

What is "normal" anyway?

Looking back over my posts here I realize there are times when I do little more than write about the happenings of the day or try to put a humorous twist on misbehaving children or sometimes just transfer the random thoughts from my brain to the computer screen. When I started this blog my intent was to not only keep family and friends posted on the goings-on of our family, but also to share some of the trials and frustrations - and really great moments! - of this lifestyle with other families in the same boat. Being a family with one spouse/parent at home and one on the road is hard and just knowing that others are out there struggling - and celebrating! - with the same issues can be a huge comfort. We've been living this lifestyle on and off for years, but when we first started I didn't really have any source of inspiration or a place to commiserate with like-minded people.

So I look at those random posts and I think "gee, I didn't really offer up any sort of wisdom there" but then I remember that the everyday-blah-blah-normal stuff is just what we do. Just like everyone else, we wake up in the morning and we go to school or work and we live our lives. We just happen to do it a little differently than others. But everybody has something they work around or deal with every day. People tell me how they couldn't imagine living like we do, but to us it's normal. I look at people with severely disabled adult children that need 24/7 care and I think it takes a special kind of person to live that way and feel "normal". I think of military wives who give birth to children while their husbands are in a combat zone, or people who live in hurricane country where it's "normal" to have a 72-hour grab-and-go emergency kit in the front closet and I think wow, these people are tough. Not me. I have a pretty cushy life.

Steve told me recently that while the wife of one of his coworkers was there visiting one evening the guys asked her to give some perspective on being the one left at home. (Hey, what a great idea for a blog!) She said what I think a lot of us would agree with and I've said before: It's hard being the one holding down the fort and not really knowing what the guys are doing out there.

Oftentimes we don't understand the logistics of the job so when our guys tell us (literally) what they did at work today, all we can do is listen. When they say they're going out to grab a bite to eat with the guys, we can't picture who they're with because we don't know their coworkers. When they complain because they had to go all the way across town to pick up something for the job, we can't picture where they're going or what they're driving through. The guys, on the other hand, know exactly what home looks like. They know we're here cooking dinner (or ordering pizza) for their kids every night. They know what our basic schedule is every day, and for a lot of us, they know there are people around to keep us safe, sane, and honest.

The guys asked Steve "what about you?" I imagine he had to look up from sending me a message to tell them that we communicate regularly. We send texts to each other throughout the day - sometimes a lot, sometimes once or twice. We chat on-line, we post updates on Facebook, he reads my blog, we talk on the phone. He sends e-mails to the kids and talks to them on the phone. He comes home as often as he can and we put off doing other things with our budget so that the kids and I can go visit him, too. Those are some of the things we do to make this work. And while it works for us, it might not work for other families.

We've been through those years when I felt insecure about my husband being out in the world by himself with lots of opportunity to stray. We've had those fights about where all the money goes when I'm here trying to pay bills and he's there trying to focus on work so the bills can get paid. We've done that back-and-forth comparison about who has the harder job - him, being away from home and family and working his butt off day after day, or me, being pretty much a single parent and covering all the school activities, all the discipline, all the household stuff and making sure he has a soft place to land when he gets home. None of the arguments very productive at the time, but all of it necessary to get us to where we are today, having learned how important it is to communicate our frustrations and worries to each other and talk things through before either one of us blows up. We laugh about it now, but the cliche is true: communication, communication, communication. It's also important to offer up encouragement, positive reinforcement, and remember to tell each other often how much we appreciate what the other is doing.

Well. That's a whole lot of rambling to say a couple of very simple things: 1) This is normal for us, and sometimes our lives are just as boring as anyone else's and my posts here on the blog will reflect that. I apologize in advance and hope you'll stick with me. I promise I'll make you laugh again soon. And 2) If your family is faced with the same kind of situation with one spouse/parent having to travel for work, take some time to find your own normal. Do what you need to do to make things as comfortable as possible for all of you. If that means the non-traveling spouse/parent keeping the home fires burning, do it. If it means packing everyone into an RV and homeschooling the kids, so be it. Whatever works. I'll be here rambling about our normal and hopefully providing a source of strength for others along the way. And if you'd like to leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail I'll gladly commiserate with you.

Monday, March 1, 2010

An oh-look-it's-already-March pop quiz!

1. It's Monday morning. You are a stay-at-home mom who is exhausted from a busy weekend. The kids are off to school and all the animals are sleeping in their respective chairs and/or corners. What do you do?
a) Crawl back into bed while the sheets are still warm.
b) Put some coffee on and watch the news.
c) Pull on the running tights and go for a run.
d) All of the above, in that order.

2. After much concern over changes in income last year, you learn you will receive a sweet chunk o' change by way of a tax refund. How do you use it?
a) Refund? What refund? I don't know nothing about no refund.
b) Finally! Those hardwood floors I've always dreamed of!
c) The responsible thing, of course. It goes in the savings account.
d) Well, spring break is just around the corner ...

3. There is half of a dark chocolate fudge birthday cake with chocolate frosting sitting on the kitchen counter, left over from the weekend. What do you do with it?
a) Eat it.
b) Freeze it.
c) Do not, under any circumstances, lift the foil from the top of the pan to "check" how much cake is left.
d) Throw it away.

4. When you sit down in your favorite chair you see a puff of dust floating up into the air. How do you remedy this?
a) Pull the drapes to block the sunlight.
b) Drag out the upholstery brush for the vacuum.
c) Sit someplace else.
d) Turn on the ceiling fan.

5. You're feeling like your blog needs a photo today but you have no decent pictures from the weekend to post. What do you do?
a) Take a picture of the chocolate cake and post it.
b) Take a picture of the sleeping animals and post it.
c) Post a random picture that's been hanging around for a while waiting for a good reason to use it.
d) Forget the photo. Nobody cares.

The answer to #5 is C, of course. I just love this pic. 

The correct answers to the rest of the questions are relative and depend heavily on what season of life you are in. However, if you answered that you went for a run this morning and threw away the leftover birthday cake, you might have taken a wrong turn in the blogosphere when you really meant to read the daily inspirational musings of someone a bit crunchier than I. Feel free to stick around, though. I'm working on that crunchy part. I can grow my own food and hang my laundry out to dry with the best of 'em.