Friday, April 30, 2010

It's been a good day.

Steve got home in the middle of the night last night, so we've had all day together today. He was here when the kids got up for school this morning, and was here to hang out and eat pizza and watch TV with us tonight.

This is a rare luxury for us.

It's been nice to feel "normal" today, to take care of the business of doctors' visits and vehicle repairs and banking and shopping, together. It is especially sweet to just sit with Steve and talk face to face and to be able to reach over and touch his knee or give him a kiss on the cheek.

To add to the sweetness, it's been a beautiful day with plenty of sun and a nice breeze and temperatures right around 80 degrees. As I write, a storm is rolling in and I can hear thunder in the distance along with the peepers in the marshy area behind the house. Awesome.

I love it, and I'm savoring every second.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

He's not just another pretty face.

 He's not just a pipeliner, either.

The pipeline pays the bills, but Steve's real passion is fire.

Structure fire. Wildfire. Fire is his mistress, he says. When fire calls in the middle of the night, Steve will get out of bed, get dressed as quickly and quietly as possible, and leave his family to go to her while we sleep. Fire makes him leave family functions in the middle of dinner, keeps him out late at night, and has at times caused me to wonder what he loves so much about it. When the danger of wildfire is imminent, he will spend his weekends on standby waiting for that one cigarette butt flicked out a car window or that spark from a trash burning barrel that ignites a field of dry grass.

In his younger years he spent weeks at a time in other states fighting forest fires. He is a member of our local volunteer fire department. When he has the time - like last spring when he was laid off from the pipeline - he works as a keyman with the Michigan DNR.

Sometimes I think Steve was born with some sort of Must Perform Public Service gene. Or maybe he just can't stand to sit still. Or maybe there really is some attractive or addictive quality to fire.

Whatever it is, it sure keeps life interesting.

As if we were somehow lacking excitement.

Working so far away from home recently has put a cramp in Steve's ability to participate in much of anything related to firefighting, including planning and setup for the department's annual fund-raising event which will take place Saturday. The Fireman's Ball is a pretty big event 'round these parts. Music, refreshments, prizes, dancing. And the best part: connecting with members of the community and fellow firefighters from near and far.

I think Steve will be happy to have a chance to stop in and say hello while he's home this weekend.

I bet lots of folks will be happy to see him, too.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Just roll with it. (Or: Once is enough.)

Some days the things I planned to do just don't get done and instead I end up doing something else entirely or nothing at all.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I was thinking making granola sounded like a good idea. Somewhere the wires got crossed and what I ended up doing was working on grout.

Granola. Grout. Whatever. I can't help how my brain works; I just roll with it.

So I don't have a granola recipe to share today, but I have a ROOM! with TILE! that's GROUTED! and SEALED!

If you don't understand why I'm so excited about a tile floor you can read about the process by which said floor was completed here and here. In true Pipe Life form, we've been living on the tiled-but-not-grouted floor for a few weeks. We finally got it grouted late last week, then yesterday I did the FINAL FINAL step of sealing the grout. Then I got down on all fours again and scrubbed every. single. stinkin'. tile. one more time.

Interestingly, as I searched my files for a halfway decent picture of the floor before it was tiled, I found this one that I took exactly a year ago - April 27, 2009. This one shows where Sam taped out a Four Square court. Ingenious little stinker, isn't he?

It's done. And now I can start moving furniture out from the places in the house it doesn't belong and back into our front room.

I liken this particular project to having a baby. You wait so long for it to happen, then when the day comes you're not sure you're ready but there is no turning back. During the height of the work certain people are threatened to within an inch of their lives. You laugh. You cry. At some point you wonder how anyone could have thought this was a good idea. But you work through the pain and at the end you have a wonderful prize for your effort. After a couple of weeks you have forgotten all about how much it hurt and you think it might be worth doing again someday.

Yes, tiling is like having a baby.

Except for that part about forgetting how much it hurt and wanting to do it again someday. The prize at the end? Beautiful. Totally worth it. Do I ever want to do it again? Not on your life.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I still want chickens. Sort of.

I keep telling Steve I want to raise chickens, and he keeps telling me I can't have any.

I think the reasons have changed over the years, but they have all been valid. When I asked him recently to tell me again why I can't have chickens he said, "for the same reason you're not planting a garden this year."


He also reminded me that we have all sorts of wild critters around here, including raccoons and coyotes, that would love to eat chickens. And it would be pretty easy for the wild critters to get at them because I would want our chickens to be free range. Laugh if you must, but I would love to be able to sit with my coffee in the morning and watch the chickens cluck and peck their way around the yard. I think it would be relaxing. They eat bugs, too, which would be quite helpful.

Oh well. Raising chickens just isn't meant to be in this season of our lives.

It's all good, though, because I get to live vicariously through our neighbors who do have chickens.

And bonus! They give us fresh eggs.

Beautiful, aren't they?

I should note that originally we (read: Steve) struck a deal with the neighbors to trade something fresh from the kitchen for eggs, and I have been pretty lax in keeping up our end of the bargain while Steve is gone. I willingly admit Steve is the better (read: more adventurous) cook in this house, and he likes to share the wealth with others. I? Can cook well enough to keep us alive. I can't shop in the pantry and throw things together like Steve can. But since I'd like the steady stream of fresh eggs to continue, and since my dear sweet husband keeps telling me I can't have hens of my own, I think I'll whip up some granola today and have it ready for the next time Mr. Neighbor stops by with a dozen eggs.

Granola I can do. Because I have a recipe.

Maybe I'll share the recipe tomorrow.

With pictures! Because that's about as adventurous as I get in the kitchen.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 4.25.10 edition

As I sit down to write this post the sun is finally making an appearance - or at least trying to - after a rainy, windy, chilly weekend, but I have absolutely no desire to go outside and enjoy it. I am just too doggone tired.

The bad news is the weekend has flown by. The good news is we packed a lot of great family time into it.

Friday evening the kids and I took my grandma out to dinner. It was so nice to visit with her. I stayed up late Friday night because Steve was on his way home for a visit. He got here a little after 1 a.m., and then of course we spent some time chatting and catching up.

Saturday we had a lazy morning, then Rachel and I attended a Mother Daughter Tea with her Girl Scout troop while Steve and Sam hung out in town and did some window shopping. We had dinner with Steve's family Saturday evening, then visited with friends and let the kids play until way past bedtime. We skipped church this morning in favor of sleeping in, had breakfast with the in-laws, came home to relax for a couple of hours, then Steve was off again around noon to head back to the job in PA.

My body is tired from an abundance of activity and lack of sleep, but my heart and soul feel refreshed and energized by the visit - albeit a short one - with Steve. It sure is hard to let him go when that time rolls around again.

As I do most Sunday evenings, I am looking to the week ahead and trying to plan at least some of my time so I don't get halfway through the week and look around and wonder what I've been doing with my days. It never ceases to amaze me how much work there is to do, whether it is the everyday housework or yet another project waiting to be completed.

My list for this week is already pretty lengthy, so I think I'm going to quit adding things to it and set it aside until morning. My list for this evening is pretty short, though: feed the troops, enjoy some down time, and get us all to bed at a decent hour.

If it were just me I'd go to bed right now and sleep all night, but somehow I don't think the kids would appreciate that.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Coffee, anyone?

Dear Children,
Four o'clock in the morning is a bad time. Whatever it is, if you are not bleeding all over the place or near death, please don't wake me to tell me about it. Waking mom at 4 a.m. violates the Pipe Life Household Code of Conduct. Frequent violations could result in random bouts of tears and blubbering from any one of us throughout the day, of which mom just doesn't have the time or patience to deal with. She has Things To Do.

Furthermore, please do not complain that someone else got to the last of the milk before you did. The early bird gets the worm, my dear sweet babies. Perhaps if you hadn't been wandering around the house at 4 a.m. you would have had the energy to get out of bed when mom said it was finally time at 6.

Please, kindly adhere to the rules and everyone can live happily and harmoniously. But only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Mom makes no guarantees of happiness nor harmoniousness prior to 6 or after 9.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Love you!

And while we're at it ...

Dear Dog,
Seven o'clock on a Saturday morning is too early. If I don't have to go to the bathroom at that hour, neither should you. I will happily take you for a nice, long walk after 8 a.m. by which time I will have had at least one cup of coffee.

Saturday is my only day to sleep in until the kids are out of school for the summer. Waking me early on Sleeping In Day is a violation of the Pipe Life Household Code of Conduct. Please don't do it again tomorrow like you did last weekend.

The couch is still mine, by the way.

Stop giving me those sad eyes.
Love you!

P.S. Thank you for not wanting to go potty this morning at 4.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fear me, for I have loppers.

Happy Earth Day! Are you celebrating? I am.

I will be spending Earth Day with my good friends Mr. Shovel and Mr. Lopper.

Loppers, despite sounding like some sort of weird skin lesions, are a device used to trim shrubs or other vegetation. I paid $1 for these at a garage sale a couple years ago.

How could I resist a giant, scary-looking pair of scissors? These are extra scary looking because they're old and a bit rusty, but hey, they get the job done.

I will be using my tools to eliminate, cut back, or otherwise destroy the bane of my existence: picker bushes.

Oh, they start out looking pretty in the spring, but they are a pain in my tukus and they are quite prolific.

I know we plopped our house down in the middle of the wilderness and wild living creatures of all sorts will forever be encroaching into our space. I get that. But picker bushes? I have yet to discover their purpose on this planet, so I will no longer allow them to take over my yard and grow up through the slats of my deck. They scratch my children's legs and poke my dog's nose.

 Wild strawberries? OK.

Woody plants with thorns? Not OK.

The picker bushes must die.

That's how I am celebrating Earth Day - by killing some of nature's bounty. Perhaps not what the founders had in mind, but at least I will be rejoicing in the sunshine and clean air I have the privilege of breathing while I work.

And I'm not dumping chemicals on the offending vegetation. That's gotta' count for something, right?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Must be magic.

That call or e-mail from the friend you haven't seen in ages.

That friend who knows you inside and out and who, when you see her again, will seamlessly continue that conversation the two of you started six months ago.

The message that says, "hey, I miss you. Everything is the same and everything is different. Wish we lived closer so we could have coffee today" without ever really saying any of those words.

The message that makes you laugh and feel like you've gotten a hug and that someone thinks you are special, all at the same time.

All wonderful.

But getting that call or that message at just the right time on a day when you really need it? That's some sort of magic.

I don't know how it works, but I'm so glad it does.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chicken, Day Two: Stock.

I haven't always been a fan of chicken.

We ate a lot of chicken in our house when I was a kid. Too many of my younger years spent trimming, cutting, cooking and eating boneless/skinless chicken breasts. Chicken salads, chicken stir fry, chicken fajitas. Lord have mercy.


I'm over it, though. I really like chicken now. It's so versatile. Buy a whole roasting chicken at the market and you can make several meals out of it - or at least two meals - depending on the size of your family and the size of the chicken. This is a great way to stretch a budget.

Meal #1: Roasted chicken. There are about 30 million recipes for roasted chicken if you do a search on-line. When I am cooking I have two requirements: easy and quick. Those requirements probably eliminate half of the recipes. When I roasted a chicken the other night I just stuffed it in the roasting pan, drizzled olive oil on it, then sprinkled it with a mixture of salt, black pepper, oregano, basil, paprika and cayenne pepper, then rubbed all that into the skin. I baked it at 400 degrees for about a half hour, then turned the heat down to 350 and baked it maybe another hour, until the internal temp was 180 degrees. It smelled amazing, the skin was a beautiful crispy brown, and those spices made their way into the meat just enough to give it a great flavor and just a hint of kick. It was GOOD.

Meals #2 and #3: Chicken noodle soup and chicken salad for sandwiches. These are my favorites at this point because my kids will eat homemade chicken noodle soup (particularly if I make biscuits to go with it), and I like to have the chicken salad in the fridge for myself for lunches. It's also great to have some leftover chicken stock in the freezer for yet another meal later. You could make more soup, add it to your mashed potatoes for some flavor, cook your rice in it, or any number of other possibilities.

So here is how I made my easy and (relatively) quick chicken stock. With pictures. Because I take pictures of everything. Which makes my family laugh.

Anyway. Chicken stock!
I saved everything that was left in the roasting pan after the roasted chicken dinner and after I pulled the leftover meat off the bones. Olive oil. Salt and pepper. Onions and carrots I had in the fridge. The carrots I didn't bother peeling, just washed them really good and chopped them up. Easy, remember? Celery I begged off the neighbors because I didn't have any and I didn't want the carrots and onions getting lonely. Plus they take nice pictures together, don't they?

In the pot with all of you! I turn on the heat and pour some extra virgin olive oil in there first. I go a little crazy with the olive oil because I love the sound of the sizzling veggies. And it tastes good. And I don't like my onions sticking to the bottom of the pot. I ground some sea salt and black pepper into the pot, too. It doesn't have to be fancy schmancy salt and pepper. It doesn't even have to be salt and pepper. I just thought they'd make a nice addition to all the spices that were already on the chicken.

When the onions looked limp and the veggies weren't sizzling so much anymore, I added the chicken carcass and all the spicy, ooey gooey goodness that was left in the roasting pan. It all adds flavor - all the bones and the leftover tidbits of meat. Cover it with water. I think this took about eight cups. Then turn up the heat 'til she boils!

This is the part when my younger child comes in from playing outside and says, "It smells like chicken nuggets in here!" and I say, "Oh, but it's much better than chicken nuggets, baby."
I let it boil for maybe 15 minutes, then turned the heat down and tried to forget about it for a couple of hours while it simmered. But I'm a checker and stirrer, so I can never forget about it. It's OK, you can't really ruin chicken stock with too much checking and stirring.

Mmmmm. Look at all that golden goodness. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Do you hear me? Let. It. Cool. At least a little.

When it's cool enough that I can pick up the pot and pour out the ingredients into a strainer without scalding myself, I do so. I should note here that my goal is not to have a clear broth. My goal is to create some sort of yummy, flavorful liquid with which to do some future cooking, so I don't get too cranked up if a few pieces of onion slip through the strainer. I'd probably fish out any errant celery, but that's just me. The carcass and whatever ends up in the strainer gets tossed. Goodbye, carrots. You served me well.

Yum! I ended up with six cups of stock to put in the freezer, plus a little extra to ... I don't know ... maybe make some soup for lunch today. I put it all in the refrigerator to let any fat settle, and I'll scoop that off the top before the container goes in the freezer. 

See how easy that was? It might not seem like much, but I get a lot out of this whole process. I get the joy of feeding my family good, wholesome meals for a very small investment of time and money. I get the pleasure of a house that smells of those home-cooked meals. If I do little extras like making chicken stock regularly, I get a freezer full of meal basics and bases that I can pull out at a moment's notice or when I'm too tired to start from scratch.

It sure beats ordering pizza. And I never thought I'd say this, but it beats having cereal for dinner, too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It started with just one chicken.

Or was it an egg?




This post definitely started with a whole chicken in my refrigerator. Well, the edible parts of the chicken anyway. Because I bought it at the grocery store where you find chickens wrapped in plastic, all de-feathered and de-clawed and with the insides all cleaned out.

Perhaps there's a reason I'm not a food blogger, eh? I'm not making chicken sound very sexy right now, am I?

But there's a reason for that. Chicken isn't sexy.

Oh sure, serving a juicy chicken breast over pasta and drowning it all in a creamy sauce is pretty nice, but chicken itself is not inherently sexy.

On that note, a protip: If you are at all squeamish about knowing where your food comes from and the process by which it gets from the grower to your plate, do not watch the documentary Food, Inc. before preparing (and eating) a big meal. They're not kidding when they say you'll never look at dinner the same way after you've seen this film.

While my chicken was sitting in the fridge waiting to be roasted, I watched Food, Inc.

Then I waited a couple more days before I could face the chicken. Not because the movie grossed me out. Not because I suddenly thought the chicken had feelings. Rather, because the movie is incredibly thought-provoking and I just ... I don't know ... wanted to think more about the chicken, I guess.

When I finally got around to it, I used the mix of spices in this recipe for Spicy Rapid Roast Chicken from, and I extended the cooking time a little because my chicken was bigger than three pounds.

Can I just say? YUM. This has now become my go-to recipe for roasted chicken.

I knew I should have taken a picture when I took it out of the oven. (See? A real food blogger would never forget to capture a shot of the finished product. Phooey.) It was tasty and beautiful. Don't despair, though. Tomorrow I'll show you (with pictures!) what I have learned about Chicken, Day Two. Hint: it's budget friendly.

That's right, dear readers, it's Chicken Week here in the Pipe Life household. Or Chicken Days, at least, until it's all gone. Stretching one small chicken to two or three meals - now that's what I call excitement!

And if you're still with me after all of that, first: thank you, and second: You should watch Food, Inc. Everyone should. Seriously.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 4.18.10 edition

I am so ready for summer break.

It happens every year about this time. All at once I get tired of making lunches for the kids for school, I get tired of waking them up every morning so they can get ready and catch the bus, and I get sick of checking backpacks and signing notes and making sure homework is done.

I just want to sleep in on a Wednesday morning. I want the kids to get their own breakfast. Even if it's Ritz crackers and root beer. I want to let them stay up later in the evening without thinking about the struggles it might cause the next morning.

Consistently warm weather and picnics at the beach sound really good right now. Sunshine and sand and the smell of SPF 30.

Camping. Bonfires. Barbecues. S'mores.

Swimming. Lounging. Fishing.

I'm ready.

Interestingly, while Rachel was at her Girl Scout meeting this afternoon I had some time to browse the sets of patio furniture and the few annual flowers that are out in the stores and I kept thinking, I'm not ready. I'm caught somewhere between wanting a slower pace for all of us for a while and racing against the clock to get everything done that I want done before the school year ends. That can be a recipe for some serious anxiety.

So this week will be all about taking things one step at a time and being happy with whatever progress I make each day. That's it. No pressure. Just forward motion and positive vibes.

Forward motion.

Positive vibes.

Ready? Go.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Goodbye, garden. I'll miss you.

Well that's that. I've decided against planting a vegetable garden this year.

I love having a garden. I especially love walking out there in the afternoon and picking a handful of green beans for that evening's dinner or grabbing a zucchini to grate for fresh zucchini bread. And I love the physical work it takes to keep the garden at its best. But the time and attention it needs are more than I am willing to give it this year.

Last year I had a pretty successful garden. Not the best garden ever, but my best garden ever. So the decision to not plant this year is bittersweet.

I'm being realistic. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

Sometimes reality bites.

I don't expect to be around much this summer as the kids and I will be visiting Steve as much as possible, wherever he is working. So it's either mourn for the gardenless summer now and get it over with, or kick myself later for taking it on when I knew I shouldn't have.

I do plan to have my own little salsa garden on the deck - a tomato plant or two, a couple of jalapeno plants, and a cilantro plant, all in pots (I'll buy the onions and limes and Corona and chips) - and that will give my green thumb something to fidget with.

(Yeah, I don't really have a green thumb, but it sounded right.)


As I have in other areas of my life, I am making a choice to pare things down in the extracurricular activities department. Eliminating the garden for this one year allows me to focus on other things that need my attention right now. Next spring when planting time comes around I will reevaluate and see how things look. Perhaps our circumstances will be different and I can look forward to spending the summer a little closer to home. Maybe not. Nobody knows.

So goodbye for now, garden. I feel liberated knowing you won't be hogging my attention and sapping my energy, but I will miss you all the same.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hey, Boss? I took the afternoon off.

I had what I considered a really lazy day earlier this week and I felt totally guilty.

My husband thought I was crazy for feeling guilty and when he asked me why I did, I had to think about it for a minute. I'm still not really sure. Just some of that stinkin' thinkin' creeping in, I guess. My mind telling me I should be more industrious ... make hay while the sun is shining ... don't wanna' get fired from my job for slacking off.

Steve told me he wished I would take a lazy day for myself once in a while.

Pffft! Well you don't have to tell me twice.

So I took yesterday afternoon off. I consider taking care of the house and the kids my job, and since I don't have to do much for the kids while they are in school during the day, I vowed I would do nothing even remotely resembling work around the house from noon until 4 p.m. when the kids got off the bus.

I almost made it. I did take some trash out because while I was sitting on the deck in the sunshine, eating my sandwich for lunch and reading a book, I couldn't make myself ignore the few things sitting there waiting to be taken to the trash bin. But that was the only "work" I did all afternoon. I enjoyed my afternoon off so much I'm thinking this should be a regularly scheduled thing.

In addition to generally just chilling out, I also enjoyed a stroll through the woods on the hunt for morel mushrooms. It's a little early, but I have heard reports that people are finding them in our area.

Straight out of the gate - bam! - I found one alongside our driveway:

I thought I was going to have a great hunt. Turns out I mostly just had a nice walk through the woods. I found only three morels, but now I know they're at least getting started.

I saw a lot of these little flowers while I was out, too:

I didn't know what they were, so I looked them up when I got back in the house. Wouldn't want my fingers falling off from touching a poisonous flower, ya' know?

Verdict: Erythronium americanum. Trout Lilies. Not poisonous. Not harmful at all. Native. These wildflowers bloom for a very short time in the very early spring. This other picture I took (below) shows a mature plant in a more "natural" state - two purple and green mottled leaves, and one stem supporting one pretty yellow flower that droops down toward the ground with the petals curling up toward the sky.
This one also happens to have some sort of small, winged creature hanging out amongst the petals. I let him live. 

Neat, huh? Ya' learn something new every day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ree rocks.

It's no secret that I am a blog hound. I love reading people's stories. Good, bad, or ugly.  It's the journalist in me, always curious, always wanting to delve deeper.

I like blogs that offer all kinds of tried and true tips for simple living, too. Or that walk me through the steps of a home improvement project or how to arrange flowers or how to cook a kick-butt casserole.

And wittiness. Wittiness will suck me in every time, no matter the topic of discussion. (OK, within reason.)  

So I follow lots of blogs that tend to provide my daily dose of humor and enlightenment and encouragement.

My absolute favorite these days: The Pioneer Woman. Ree Drummond is a city girl turned rancher's wife who homeschools their four children, taught herself to be an amazing photographer, wrote a cookbook, has a love-hate relationship with her Basset Hound Charlie, frequently has to chase cows out of her yard, and is fantastically funny.

She has thousands of readers and does media tours all over the country, yet she still writes like she's just sharing a fun conversation with a few girlfriends.

I've never met her, but I adore her.

Check out her Web site. I bet you'll like her, too.

Or you'll at least find a great-looking recipe to try for dinner. Mmmmmm.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sleep comes much easier these days.

Lately I have been falling into bed at night rather early for myself, completely and totally exhausted, and sleeping sweetly all night long.

I love that feeling.

I used to envy my husband when he would come home from work, eat dinner, shower, and fall asleep like someone flipped the "off" switch for the night. Back when I was working too, I'd drag myself to bed after the 11 o'clock news just to toss and turn and worry about upcoming deadlines at the office and wonder how I'd get everyone ready to go in the morning and whether I could make it to the kids' school parties and all kinds of other obligations we mommies tend to busy our minds with.

This went on for all of my married life.

Until I quit my job.

The two-year anniversary of my last day at work came and went with nary a mention here, but not because it hadn't crossed my mind. It's just that it occurred while we were doing exactly the thing I wanted to be able to do all those years I was working: taking my kids on vacation during spring break.

April 2, 2008, was my last day. I left my full-time job to be a homemaker and stay-at-home mom. It was a monumental event in the Pipe Life household, one that required much thought and prayer and discussion and yes, even more sleepless nights. I felt like I had hit a breaking point, for many reasons. Our house was in chaos. The kids needed some focused attention that I just didn't have the energy to give them. I needed some focused attention. Steve, too. I felt like we were all going in different directions and nobody really had any particular destination in sight.

I spent that first few days at home with the kids while they finished up spring break, then once they were back to school I slept for - I swear - two weeks. I'd get the kids off to school in the morning and go back to bed or hit the couch and sleep for hours. Sometime during that two weeks a lot of negative energy slipped away and was replaced by plain old energy. And it felt good.

I started cleaning and sorting and organizing and making lists of all the things I wanted to do around the house that I hadn't had a chance to do in ... well ... ever. When I went out to run errands I would bump into people I knew and they'd ask if I was bored yet.

"Wha? Umm, NO."

My mom told me it would take a year for me to feel like I was finally caught up. She was right.

I remember those first few weeks - the weeks after the Sleepfest of '08 - when the weather was beautiful and I would work around the house or out in the yard all day and then after the kids got home and we had dinner, we'd go for a walk. We'd talk, pick flowers, visit neighbors. Then we would all fall into our beds at night and sleep like babies - like someone hit the "off" switch.

All that physical activity, all that fresh air, and a wide-open summer to look forward to.

Kinda' like how it's been around here lately.

I'm lovin' it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Of straw hats, hostas and heaps of patience.

I don't have a lot of perennial plants or shrubs near my home. We live in the middle of the forest (OK, darn near the middle) and there is a lot of natural color and changing scenery throughout the year without me adding to it.

The longer we live here, though, the bigger this vision in my head of a beautiful yard grows. I see quiet gardens with stone paths and a fish-filled pond in the back yard. I imagine a small, soft, green patch of grass in the front interspersed with raised beds where my vegetable plants mingle with annuals and perennials that bloom at different times through the summer months.

And that's just the beginning.

Someday I'm going to be that old lady with the wide-brimmed straw hat and the slip-on rubber gardening shoes. You know the grandma who always has fresh cut flowers from her yard on the kitchen table and on the back of the toilet? That'll be me.

Gardening is a lesson in patience, I have learned. You can have the vision, but it takes time, money, and - dare I say - a touch of talent (or is it luck?) to bring those dreams to life. I didn't realize how interested I would be in adding to our landscape (and I mean "landscape" in the broad sense, not the ultra-manicured sense) until a few years ago when I discovered how full and healthy our hostas had become and how much joy I got each spring at the first sign of them poking up through the soil.

You have to understand, these hostas rode home in the back of Steve's pickup, probably caked with mud and half dead, after someone gave them to him. His crew had dug them up in order to install a gas service through the giver's yard.

I stuck the clumps in the ground at the edge of our yard and watered them with little hope that they would recover. But recover they did. And how.

Now I wish I had a photo of them to share. Maybe later this summer when they are looking their best.

For now, I'll share the latest installment of "let's see if we have any luck with this."

Hmm. OK. Not a great photo.

And really. Would it kill us to get a rake out once in a while?


Lilacs! White ones!

My mother-in-law was doing some trimming and clearing over the weekend and pulled out a bunch of shoots from her lilac bush beside her house. These particular beauties were actually growing horizontally along the ground beneath some other shrubs.

They might not look so hot now, but I'm hoping in three or four years I'll have the start of a nice lilac bush.

Realistically, it'll probably be 10 years. I'm OK with that. Because I love lilacs! And these were free! And I'm not going anywhere anyway, so I might as well pretty up the place a little, don't you think?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: 4.11.10 edition

Wow. What a beautiful Sunday. Both the kids were gone overnight, so I woke up to a quiet house. Got up and had a leisurely breakfast. Did some writing.

I really love my kids, but I also really appreciate waking up peacefully and in my own time instead of a) to an alarm clock, or b) to kids screaming "MOM!! He stole the remote from me!" or "MOM? Can I play a game on your computer?"

It was a gorgeous day from beginning to end, from the morning hours when the dog and I took our stroll and I chuckled at the dew dripping off her nose, to the evening when the kids and I enjoyed dinner sitting outside with my in-laws and watching the sun go down.

Life is good.

While I think of the week ahead and try to make a mental to-do list for myself, I am preoccupied by thoughts of a good friend who is struggling right now. I don't know every detail, but I know God does. I frequently stop to pray for her and hope that God, the world, her family, whoever she needs to, will offer her a clean slate. And I hope she allows that and embraces it and knows that she is loved.

Sometimes we need to go back to step one. Start at the bottom and work our way up again. Ground zero. Repair the foundation.

Wipe the slate clean.

May the week ahead be filled with blessings.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

You had me at 'Free'.

I love you, Barnes & Noble. I loved you before, but my cup overfloweth when you sent me an e-mail alerting me of your on-line sale.

Buy two, get one free.

On bargain books.

With free shipping.

There is one thing on this earth I love more than a new book, and that is a new book purchased from the bargain bin and shipped right to my door. Heaven!

I suppose I could have ignored the e-mail like I do so many others from retailers, but summer is coming and I look forward to plucking a book from the stack on my way to the beach or on vacation. Even sitting outside on the deck, feet propped up, with a book on my knees is luxurious to me. I plan to do it a lot this summer.

So I bought six books - three hardcovers and three paperbacks - for $26 and change. That's basically the retail price of one current bestseller. And at less than $5 per book it's cheaper than a combo meal at Burger King and (depending on the company) much more entertaining.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What makes you feel rich?

What real, tangible thing makes you feel like you've made it? Like you're living the high life?

For me, a couple of things come to mind: being able to go to the grocery store and get everything on my list - and maybe even a few extras - knowing that I have plenty of cash in my wallet to cover it. That, and paying bills as soon as they come in the mail.

There are other things that remind me we have a good life, sure. But nothing else makes me feel the way I feel when I can mark off every item on my shopping list without having to worry about what it all costs. Oh, I'm always aware of how much I'm spending and I always shop frugally, but to me there is a huge difference between having to count every penny as I drop items into my cart and not having to.

What makes you feel rich? What makes you feel like life is good?

Have you ever thought about it? There is no right or wrong answer. It's just a thought-provoking discussion I've had with friends. I was reminded of that discussion this week as I pushed a cartload of groceries out of the store to my truck and it felt ... just ... good.

What makes you feel secure? What thing or action outside of family and friends and relationships and love - because hopefully we all have those - makes you rest easy knowing that everything is OK, at least for today?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Do Not Disturb.

I bought a new candle today for the sole purpose of lighting it and smelling it in all its "island getaway" goodness while I soak in the bathtub.

You know, to relax. De-stress. Let the water wash away all my cares for a half hour or so.

Am I the only one who feels like it's work to actually take that "relaxing" bath?

For one thing, the tub needs to be cleaned. It has been used more for rinsing out the mop bucket and hand washing delicates than for actually bathing in lately.

(I know what you're thinking. We have a separate shower for that.)

And then there are the kids. They need to be in bed and securely on their way to dreamland before I can count on having any time to myself.

The telephone? Easy. I can turn it off.

Dog? She'll snooze in her crate.

Front door? Locked.

But I don't have any bubbles. Hmph. I'll have to rummage through the bathroom cupboards and see what I can find.

And I'll have to steal elder child's boombox to play some relaxing music.

On second thought, I don't feel like cleaning the tub. Maybe tonight's "island getaway" will be accomplished with the new smelly candle sitting next to my favorite chair while I read a good book.

Maybe sipping a rum-flavored drink, too.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Focus, Jen. Focus.

All Steve needed was a replacement part for the travel trailer. It cost less than $100. We would stop at the RV shop, he'd pick up the part he needed and we'd be heading home.

Simple enough, right?

Pffft. Not when he parks next to the prettiest darn 30-footer With An Outdoor Kitchen I've ever seen.

"This one's on special," the salesman says. "Just worked up the cost for someone."

I took a sip of my gas station coffee.

"How much?"

And that's when it all unraveled.

Fortunately we came to our senses pretty quickly.

Well, after about 30 minutes of checking out other trailers and talking about options and even hearing a payment schedule on the Beauty With An Outdoor Kitchen.

Payments. We have enough of those already, thankyouverymuch. We've already taken a couple of steps backwards in our journey to debt freedom. It seems like as soon as one payment disappears, it's not long before another monthly obligation pops up to take its place. It's time to get things back in focus and make good use of the momentum we've gathered this spring.

Sure, the extra space would have been nice when the kids and I go to visit Steve during summer vacation, but who really needs an extra fridge and sink and counter space on the outside of the trailer anyway? That's a luxury we just can't afford right now.

We are very fortunate to have what we have.

And I'm going to keep telling myself that this summer when, for the zillionth time, I am sweeping away the trail of sand from the door of the trailer to the refrigerator.

We do not need an outdoor kitchen ... We do not need an outdoor kitchen ...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Clean Slate Sunday: Easter 2010 edition

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

I'm lovin' Easter. What a blessed day. The weather has been beautiful, the smell of all the spring flowers at the Easter Vigil this morning was overwhelming (in a good way), we had breakfast with the folks at church, coffee with my parents afterward, then dinner with Steve's family this afternoon. And the Easter Bunny was especially good to the kids this year.

All that, and God's promise of eternal life, too. We are blessed beyond measure.

Steve has worked diligently this weekend to ready our travel trailer so he can take it to Pennsylvania when he heads back to work on Monday. Setting up in a campground will be a little cheaper than staying at hotels and will feel a little more homey.

I feel like I've been wandering around here like a lost puppy this weekend. I look around and see so much to do and I'm not sure where to start. I've chosen to just let it all go and enjoy having my family all together. I'm confident that once we get back into our routines - the kids back in school and Steve back to work - I will pull it together and find my focus again.

I've got a lot to get to this week. Spring break is over, so now begins the countdown to summer vacation. Much to do before school is out!

Here's to another busy, productive, blessed week.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Home sweet home.

I was exhausted - EXHAUSTED - last night when we got home from vacation. Do you know that kind of exhaustion when you are awake but not really conscious and you try to hold a conversation with someone but you stumble all over your words? That kind of exhausted.

We had a wonderful time.

The weather was beautiful.

Sam and Rachel spent as much time as I would allow in the hotel pool. They both had new swim masks and snorkels and it didn't take long for them to master the business of snorkeling. I watched a lot of this:

Which is much quieter than their usual pool play and took some getting used to.

We got to eat lunch with Steve a couple of days, and one of those days he drove us up the bumpy, muddy coal-mining road they use to access the job they're on. Holy hills, Batman! The pictures I took on my cell phone just don't do them justice. But man, is it beautiful out there. Even with the trees still bare and very few spots of green peeking out here and there, those hills, the humongous chunks of shale jutting out of them, and the little creeks trickling down through them are absolutely awe-inspiring.

The kids and I enjoyed walking around downtown Indiana, PA, and doing some window shopping. More than once we stood on the sidewalks and stared up at the big old buildings, soaking in the city's history. We also visited The Jimmy Stewart Museum.

I bet you didn't know film star Jimmy Stewart was born and raised in Indiana, PA, did you? Neither did we.

It was neat to find this out, though, because Sam happens to be a big fan of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" and therefore was quite interested in checking out the museum. Once we got there I, being thoroughly distracted with paying the gentleman at the box office and not completely dumping the contents of my purse, totally missed the sign alerting us of the ban on camera and video usage. So I took one photo before Mr. Box Office kindly pointed out the "issue with copyrights" and asked me not to take any more. I obliged.

The one photo I got is so sweet I had to post it, though.

My apologies to the Stewart family. I'm not trying to make money off Jimmy's image; my kid just really likes this movie. And after visiting the museum, now we have a list of other Jimmy Stewart films we want to check out.

More than anything else, I think this trip did wonders for me and Steve. It just feels good to wake up next to each other in the mornings (like "normal" married people!), to have some backup in the parenting department, to eat dinners together, to be able to look forward to seeing each other at the end of the day and being a part of each other's routine. Who would have thought jockeying for space or who gets to use the bathroom sink first would ever feel like a privilege? We sure do appreciate any time we can spend together these days. 

Steve has the weekend off, too, so we all traveled home together yesterday. Poor guy. Traveling with the kids takes a bit longer than traveling alone. Need I say more?

Tomorrow is Easter. Time to celebrate and spend some quality time with family and friends.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!