Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: The year of grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about you?

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

It's a wrap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Enjoying the Christmas afterglow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas two nights before ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kidding! Steve helped, too.

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

I guess the universe had other plans for me.

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

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

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What is wrooooong with me??

I've got the music playing.

Pretty poinsettias decorating the house.

Fresh fluffy snow outside.

Yummy candles burning.

Christmas cards arriving in the mail every day.

Even peppermint-scented soap in the bathroom.

Where the heck is my Christmas spirit?!?

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

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


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


Maybe I need some caffeine.

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moving Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pretty quiet on the homefront.

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

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

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

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

Christmas countdown: 17 days!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The big day is here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here we are. Finally.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas is coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your day!

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