Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Post Christmas lull ... and good news!

Two days after Christmas and it still kinda' looks like Santa's elves had a party up in here. And I am just now starting to feel like the cookies and candies and cheese and crackers and all that good stuff is beginning to wear off.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. We sure did. It was quiet - on Christmas Eve we made our annual cookie deliveries to neighbors/friends, then went to the candlelight service at church, then hung out at my in-laws' and did our gift exchange with them. Christmas morning the kids slept until a little after 7:30 (a Christmas miracle!) and then the four of us opened gifts and spent the rest of the day just enjoying each other's company. Sam was so happy with his new ski goggles and helmet that he wore them around the house most of the day, thoroughly cracking me up.

More than ever before, I just can't express how happy I am to be surrounded by family and friends this year. We have been blessed beyond measure.

It's been so nice to laze around and do a whole lot of nothing these last few days, but I'm feeling the pull to get back into a routine and get the house cleaned up and all the baubles put away. Just in time, I suppose, as Steve got the call today that he's been waiting for: he's starting a new job next week. Praise God. And that's all I'm gonna' say about that for now.

In other news, for the first time in ... shoot, maybe ever ... Steve and I have plans to go out on New Year's Eve! Neither of us is really into large gatherings of people, but we're going to brave it for one night to go out with another couple to dinner and then to our little town's version of a NYE ball drop. It will be nice to do something with just the adults, and I imagine this will be a bit of an early celebration for Steve's birthday (which is January 6th and by that time he'll be in Pennsylvania working).

I'm looking forward to 2012. This year has been a great year in many ways for our family, but I'm ready to leave some of the struggles behind, take what we've learned from them, and put some positive energy into making the year ahead even better than this one.




Thursday, December 22, 2011

Quiet time.


It is rare for me to be awake before everyone else. And in this house there is really nowhere to go that I don't run the risk of disturbing others' slumber, so I tiptoe around, sort some laundry, feed the cats, and pray I get just a few more minutes of the peace I so enjoy.

I am more of a night owl than an early riser, but I do so appreciate these mornings when I wake earlier than usual, and with a sense of purpose. A friend said the other day, "God woke me up early to spend some time with Him." That's how I feel this morning.

Often around this time of year - despite my promises to myself that I won't - I get a bit frazzled and caught up in the busy-ness of the holiday, and while I never forget the reason we are celebrating, I do sometimes lose my focus for a bit. It's never long before I hear that voice in my head telling me to still myself, calm down, take a breather. So I do just that in the early morning hours: I steady myself. I sit in the dark and stare at the glow of the lights on the Christmas tree. I count my blessings and give thanks. Or sometimes I just sit. And do nothing. Which is harder than it sounds.

I hope that in these last few days leading up to Christmas you are able to take some quiet time, too. Reflect on the gifts God has given you. Give thanks for your family, friends, home, health, job ... whatever is meaningful to you. And move about your day with a sense of peace.


Photo

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shopping day!

I have been too busy to post this week, but don't cry for me Blogland because busy is a good thing. My daylight hours have been filled with gift wrapping and baby sitting and a load of laundry here and there ...

Wait. No. No laundry. I think I might have made dinner the other night, though.

No worries. Steve has been filling in those gaps splendidly. He is particularly a great cook which is half the reason I married him. Ha!

So today I have nothing scheduled which means I need to make the most of my last day sans children. And that means shopping. I'd rather wrap 100 more gifts. (And people, that's saying a lot because I have wrapped just shy of three billion gifts this week.)

But wait. Most of what I buy today will need to be wrapped. Drat.

After today the kids will be home for the holidays and we'll be baking cookies and playing games and watching It's A Wonderful Life and if you believe it will be all fun and games I have a bridge somewhere in the desert to sell you.

No playing in the snow, even. 'Cause there is none. I've put in a request for a white Christmas, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. We live in Michigan, it's not too much to ask really.

Snow or no, we're gonna' do our best to enjoy the next couple of weeks together. Let's hope a vacation from school means the kids will sleep in. I can dream, can't I?

Have a great Friday, everyone! Nine days 'til Christmas!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Clean Slate Sunday: 12.11.11 edition

God is working on me.

It's difficult to articulate exactly how, but I can say it caused me to smile to myself this morning in church when I discovered one of our lessons was one of my favorite sections of verse.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NKJV)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

Through a combination of hearing or reading familiar Bible passages I know and love and digging deeper into those I'm not as familiar with, God is working on me.

Through the people I cross paths with and the things I see and read and experience, my heart is changing. Growing? Maturing in my faith? I don't know. Just ... changing. In a good way.

I've always said I am a work in progress. What I meant was that I am constantly working on bettering myself and becoming the best person I can be. Now I really feel like I'm not the only one at work here, and that's pretty cool.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Like a kid on Christmas morning.

I had trouble sleeping last night. Too much caffeine, maybe. Full moon shining through the skylights, maybe. But mostly because my mind was racing with excitement. I had spent a couple hours few minutes on Pinterest (hellooo, time suck) (proof: I just opened up the page to copy and link the address and spent 5 minutes there. Psh.) looking at all kinds of ideas for little baking projects and fun crafts to do with the kids while they are off for Christmas break. They are done with school after next Friday which leaves several days before Christmas to keep them busy.

I found some neat recipes for edible "gifts in a jar" and easy chocolate-dipped whatever-you-can-think-of with lots of little goodies sprinkled over them. Sam and Rachel both enjoy spending time in the kitchen, so I'm really looking forward to it. So ... if you stop by our house around Christmas this year you'll definitely get your sugar buzz for the day. Zing!

Leading up to vacation time, I've been working on cleaning and decorating the house for the holidays. We don't have a whole lot of storage space for holiday-specific decor, so I'm getting creative and using things we already have combined with everyday items. For some reason it feels like this year I'm a little more relaxed about getting all this stuff done, and that's kinda' nice. But apparently I can be relaxed and abuzz at the same time because as soon as I crawl into bed at night my mind goes crazy with all kinds of ideas to try the next day. I might get brave and post some pictures of our decor in the next few days.

Beyond that, last night I tossed and turned with excitement about a new prospect I'm finally moving on. For a few years I've been considering creating a gift-wrapping business for folks who don't have the time, don't enjoy, or just plain stink at wrapping gifts. It's something I really enjoy doing, so even if I don't charge a bundle I'll be coming out ahead ... and making a little spending money. A couple of friends have taken me up on the offer and this morning I picked up the first round of gifts I will wrap and then deliver back. I'm excited about getting started.

And maybe something in me knew today would be ... different. We've had a rough go of things these last couple of months and while our family is blessed in so many ways, Christmas gift giving would be tight this year. I had made peace with that. It's not about the gift giving anyway, right? But today we received some unexpected "contributions" to the Christmas budget. Gifts that will allow us to do a little more for our kids than we would have been able to otherwise.

What can I say? I am humbled. Thankful. Fortunate enough to live in a community and have family and friends who will rally to help others who need it. I know this because many times we have been on the giving end. The receiving end is decidedly less comfortable, but no less touching or heart-warming. And the kindness of others is not taken lightly in this house; I believe blessings will be showered upon those who give so generously.

That's certainly been the case for us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I have a love/hate relationship with dollar stores.

Particularly places like Dollar Tree where everything really is $1.

Last week at the lovely Dollar Tree I spent $5 (plus 30 cents tax) which meant I went home with ... you guessed it: five items.

Here's what I bought. Because I know you're dying to know what people buy at the dollar store.

1. A 3-pack of plastic ramekins (like what your mayo-on-the-side comes in at a restaurant). I bought some of these a while ago for the kids because they don't like their dipping sauces or ketchup or whatever touching their other food. Nevermind that they eventually dip said food into the sauce anyway. Listen, for $1 I found a way to avoid at least one dinnertime grumble, so I'm happy. They're also nice to portion out snacks so the whole bag of goldfish crackers doesn't get eaten in one sitting. Love.

2. Multiplication flashcards for Rachel. Because she had a homework assignment to make or buy some by Monday, and it was worth scrounging around for spare change to not have to make them. Love. Even if they do have Disney princesses on them.

3-4. Wire ribbon! In my favorite color blue ... and I love that the two rolls I picked up are winter-y instead of specifically Christmas-y so I can keep the bows I make with them up long after the holiday. Two dollars got me two different patterns, three yards each. Love.

5. Battery-powered lights. Love!

I've always wanted some sort of wreath or other door ornament with LIGHTS in it.
Here it's on the closet door in our entryway because when I put it on the front door the lights quit working.

I thought maybe it was the cold.

Pretty, huh? Ever since I was a kid I have loved to squint at the Christmas tree so the "focus" becomes the glowing lights ... and a blurry, but colorful background.

Am I the only one who does that?

Oh.

Anywho, those battery powered lights? Worked for about an hour after I brought them inside. Hate! Dislike very much!

Grrr. Stupid mass-produced-in-China pieces o' crap. Really. I should have known better. Not only did I waste a buck, now I'm contributing more junk to a landfill.

I have now created a rule about the dollar store: NO electronics.

I still love it though. Most of the time.

Are you a dollar store shopper? I'd love to hear about what you seek out ... or if browsing is just a time waster ... or if you avoid the places at all costs.

Friday, December 2, 2011

In which Jen posts another blurry picture ...


... facing the morning sun streaming in through the window behind this chair ... because if I reached to pull the curtain closed it would disturb the creature. And how could I not at least try a shot at the sweetest photo ever?

OK, maybe not the sweetest ever, but hound dogs with their lanky legs and floppy ears sure make good subjects.

I swear I did not make her ears do that.

I'm still trying to figure out how Ladybug got herself into that chair, did her turn around and around and laid down without disturbing the pillow. Smart one, she. You wouldn't know it if you lived with her, though. Aye yi yi.

Remember when I said I was gonna' retrain her? Mmm, yeah. Well here's my update.

The first few days were great. Bug was really starting to chill out. And then it rained. For like, days. Have I ever mentioned Ladybug is also a meteorologist? No joke. She can sense a front coming in and will start whining, acting like she needs to go outside when she doesn't really, and sometimes she'll even put herself in a corner - lying behind the couch with her nose facing the wall.

So not only could I not do anything to distract her from the thing that was causing her stress, I didn't feel like taking her out for our daily walks in the rain, either. I know: pet parent FAIL.

Y'all, the training has not gone fabulously since then. Life happened. We were gone a lot when Steve's dad was in and out of the hospital (leaving Bug in her crate or tied outside), the holiday season is here and Steve is here and that means more visitors than usual (more strangers, more knocking on the door, more voices she doesn't recognize), and as the weather has turned colder we have not gotten as much exercise outside (not only do the people not want to be cold, but Bug isn't a fan of the cold, either).

But all is not lost. We have made some progress. I know when people approach the house I need to either remove Ladybug from the picture by locking her in my bedroom, or at the least put a leash on her so I can control her. And treats are worth their weight in gold. Cheese, bacon, or whatever packaged dog treats we have on hand. I swear she'll recite the alphabet for you if you offer her a piece of cooked chicken. Ya' know what else is awesome? Delivery people and/or contractors who have the patience to play along and let me work with Ladybug while they're here.

"Don't talk to her or pay any attention, just let her sniff you while I hold her leash."

Yes, I'm that crazy dog lady now.

Hopefully I'll have more positive progress to tell you about in a few weeks. *crossing fingers*

Happy Friday!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Savoring small joys.

Yesterday I had every intention of writing a post, but I opened my laptop and then just sat here staring at the screen. For a long time.

I'm fighting this emotional funk that threatens to suck the happy and content right out of me ... and I'm employing every resource I have to keep it at bay. Christmas music playing, our colorfully-lit tree glowing, cinnamon-scented candles burning, a mug of something yummy in my hand (great coffee, special hot chocolate, or a fizzy Diet Dr. Pepper, depending on the time of day), household tasks - the few things in life I can control - under way. I've been using a lot of this quiet time during the day to have some pretty deep conversations with God, too. And it still seems like more work than it should be.

Part of it is just my body's chemical makeup, and I know that. When the skies are grey and gloomy like they were yesterday my mood often matches it. Proof: today the sun is shining brightly and I'm much more active than I was yesterday when I loafed around most of the day and went to bed early.

We can't control the sun. Sometimes we can't control our circumstances. But I strongly believe that most of the time we can control our own attitude, which some days can make things a little brighter.

It can be the smallest thing that makes a difference. Yesterday, despite feeling like there was a black cloud hanging over me, I had a few moments of sheer joy which I so appreciated. One of them was enjoying the scent of freshly laundered clothes - MY clothes. The smell made me happy. The stack of clothes reminded me that even though I have a limited wardrobe these days, I still have choices. Another of those moments was wrapping a gift for a friend's birthday. It's nothing big - something I saw during my travels over the summer that reminded me of her - but I found some pretty paper and pulled out my scrapbooking supplies to make it a cute little package. It was fun. I got some creative juices flowing and it felt good to complete a task, even one so small. I've learned to savor those moments.

I have a feeling it will be my task in the weeks ahead to have more good days than not-so-good days. It might require some effort and a lot more hot chocolate, but it will all be worth it.

Now I think the sunshine is calling my name. We have precious few of these beautiful days left before the snow comes back with a vengeance, so I'm headed out to enjoy this one.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Clean Slate Sunday: 11.27.11 edition

We've had a nice weekend, but I am ready for the kids to go back to school and for all of us to get back to our routines. I have a tendency to extend "holiday" mode and continue to eat more than I should and resist getting back into the daily grind of laundry and tidying up around the house and whatever else needs to be done.

So it's time to ditch the last of the pumpkin pie and start working off all those mashed potatoes and gravy. *ahem* Starting tomorrow morning.

I have a lot on my mind tonight and I'm trying to sort through it all. It is part of my nature to want to figure out the whys and hows and to fit the puzzle pieces together, but I also know that's not necessarily what I am meant to do. So I struggle during moments when my son, now officially a teenager, flexes those "I wanna be independent" muscles, and I thank God my husband is here to put him in his place.

But I can't forget the fact that Steve is here only because he is unemployed right now ... with Christmas just a few weeks away. And then there is our concern for his dad, back in the hospital after having trouble breathing ... they're working on dissolving blood clots in his lungs and he will hopefully be home later this week ... this latest bump in the road yet another reminder that his condition is rather fragile. And that's just not something you want to think about someone you love.

I've been thinking about my grandma a lot lately, too. Last year at this time she spent Thanksgiving with us, the first time she hadn't been in Florida for the holiday in decades. She would also spend Christmas with us, and see snow - again, for the first time in years - and welcome the new year, and then her health worsened and by February she was gone. I miss her dearly. I miss her more than I can even express.

Rachel and I put up a small Christmas tree this weekend - one I had found at a thrift store and thought would be perfect for all the kids' homemade ornaments and 1st, 2nd, 3rd Christmas ornaments, etc. It's in a corner of our living room and as I look at the glowing lights tonight it reminds me of how happy I was to have grandma here with us. In fact, last Christmas was one of the happiest I can remember.

It has been a weekend of giving thanks, and we certainly have plenty to be thankful for. At the same time, I look forward to celebrating even more in the coming weeks. I am confident there are big things in store for the Pipe Lifers, and when we look back at this Christmas season we will all remember it as one of our best.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season of waiting that leads up to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Today our pastor told the children in the children's sermon it is a season of hope and anticipation.

Hope and anticipation. I'm hanging onto those words. I'm looking forward to the next few weeks. And I'm looking forward to a celebration of grand proportions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ten things for Thanksgiving.

In no particular order ...

1. My family. If I mentioned them all by name I would go way beyond 10. Not only am I blessed with an amazing husband and two wonderful children, I have my parents, siblings, in-laws, aunts, uncles and cousins. I will enjoy spending time with many of them this weekend.

2. Our home. It's warm. Spacious. Comfortable. Us. It's always a work in progress, but that's OK. We have plenty of room for the kids to run and play outdoors. Just this morning Steve and I watched three deer hanging out just steps from the back door. I love being here.

3. Health. It might not always be perfect, but I and the people I love are generally healthy and able to get around. I am thankful I can get out of bed every day and not have to think too much about whether I will be able to make it out the door.

4. Faith. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe God places people in our lives and makes provisions for us long before we know we're going to need them.

5. Laughter. Few things in this world make me feel as good as hearing my children laugh, or laughing with Steve, or all of us laughing together. And we did as we watched a movie together last night - Smokey and The Bandit, of all things - and it was awesome.

6. Animals. Yes, they drive me crazy more often than not. But there is nothing sweeter than seeing one of the cats curled up in a patch of sunshine or watching the dog twitch and whine from dreamland. And the wild ones, too ... I love to watch the birds gather at the feeder in the back yard, spot a bald eagle overhead, see the deer grazing in the field.

7. Technology. When Steve is working out of town, technology allows us to keep in touch more than we would be able to without cell phones and laptop computers. Beyond that, technology provides some relatively cheap entertainment via computer and television.

8. The basics: food, water, heat, electricity. Warm showers, a light to read by. Dinner on our table every night. The kind of stuff we so easily take for granted.

9. Friends. Steve and I are fortunate to have many people we consider true friends. A good handful of them would be at our sides in a heartbeat if we needed them, and will celebrate alongside us during times of triumph.

10. Talents. God blessed each member of our family with talents, and I am happy to see those talents developing in our children ... and being polished in me and Steve.

My wish is that everyone reading this has someone they love (or at least someone you like ... ha!) to spend the holidays with. Look around ... there is plenty in our lives for which to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Putting those lessons to work.


I have been known to shed a tear during special services at church - weddings, funerals, baptisms, or even the children's program at Christmas. But yesterday was the first time I can remember tearing up over an ordinary Sunday service.

Perhaps I am just in an emotional state right now and it would take the tiniest little thing to make me cry. Maybe I'm just overwhelmed - not just about Steve losing his job, but about life in general. Kids growing up and constantly testing their boundaries. Holidays approaching - and all the expectations that come along with them. The pocketbook is tight and the house is a wreck (I'm working on that one today). Some days it's just a little too much ... though I have to admit it is somewhat easier to handle since Steve is here by my side.

Anyway, what touched my heart yesterday as I sat in that pew were some familiar words from Ephesians, chapter 1:
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (v. 15-19)
I bolded that last half for emphasis, because that's what really stuck with me.

And there was more. Between the Gospel lesson (Matthew 25:31-46) and the pastor's sermon, the same thing kept running through my mind. Don't worry. Don't live your life concerned with what you can or cannot do here on Earth, but focus on eternity. Allow life's trials to bring you closer to God through prayer. Continue to do for others. Be thankful for each and every blessing, and confident in His promise to provide.

I'm listening. And I'm trying.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

A day of rest?

We have had such a full weekend and the busy-ness continues until later this afternoon so I thought I'd take the few quiet minutes I have right now to scarf down a piece of leftover birthday cake update the blog.

I was so tired this morning and really would have liked to reset the alarm clock for our later obligations, but I am so glad I got up and went to church because I really needed to hear today's message. (More about that tomorrow.)

Our service starts at 9 a.m. and it's about a 40-minute drive, so we try to be out the door by 8:15. That's asking a lot of our teen/tween kids, I guess. Even Rachel, who was the only one to make it to church with me today, lamented on the way home that she has no time to rest, even on the weekends.

Being the sympathetic mother I am, I offered to not take her to her bowling league next Saturday morning so she can sleep in. But no! That's not what she meant! I suggested we turn down invitations from friends so we aren't tempted to stay out too late on weekend evenings. Oh no. That's not what she meant, either.

"But we always have to go to church," she says.

Yes, and the service is over by 10 a.m. and then we can go home and rest, I reminded her. Then I asked if she would like to skip her Girl Scout meeting this afternoon so she could rest.

Ummm, no. Not what she meant.

Bowling leagues, birthday parties, visiting with friends, hunting, confirmation class, Girl Scouts ... and compared with so many other families my kids are hardly "involved" at all. They don't play any after-school sports or do dance or gymnastics or martial arts or any of that. But a few different activities each requiring a minimal commitment can add up to some very busy days. So yes, I do sympathize with Rachel. Trust me, I would choose rest over most other activities including eating ... and really, I don't miss very many meals.

For me, joining my church family in a familiar setting, sharing hugs and handshakes and laughter, and catching up with each other and sharing the Gospel is as good as curling up with a blanket in a comfortable chair with a mug of hot cocoa and reading a book. It makes me happy. It lifts me up. I feel rested and cared for and loved when I leave, and I take that feeling with me out into the world.

Whether my children realize it or not, they do the same thing. I see it in the smiles on their faces when their Sunday School teacher seeks them out for a hug before they leave, or when one of the older gentlemen shows interest in Sam's hunting experiences or a picture Rachel drew. That's why I ask them to go with me. Someday they will make their own decisions and might choose a different path no matter how much I insist they follow the path of faith in God. If that ever happens I hope they eventually find their way back to a place where they feel safe and loved - a place they can lay down their burdens and rest. Yes, getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning is a pain in the behind, even for me. And no, we don't make it every single Sunday. But when we do it is so, so worth the effort.

 Here's wishing you a blessed - and restful - day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sammy!


Today our boy turns 13. As I write I have cinnamon rolls baking in the oven for him while he is out hunting with his daddy. Later we'll have a party at the bowling alley, complete with the double-layer rainbow confetti cake he requested and several of his friends.

Thirteen is a big one, isn't it? Sam is becoming a young man right before our eyes. Where we once had a teeny five-pound baby there is now an adult-size being living among us. It sure does give me pause.

There is so much I could say about Sam. We have had our share of struggles, he and I. But for as much as he resisted anyone's attempts to soften him up with hugs and kisses and love beyond measure over the years, he has transformed into one of the most amazing, compassionate and loving children I know.

I am particularly touched by Sam's gift with younger children. He has this comfortable way of engaging kids that makes me believe teaching or a similar occupation may be his calling.

I am proud of this young man and who he is becoming. Even if I still call him my baby boy, I know day by day he is gaining independence and establishing his own place in this world. It will be a while yet before he faces it on his own, but I know after one more year of middle school, once he hits high school it will be over in the blink of an eye. That's why I'm taking time to enjoy it - and him - while I can.


Happy birthday, sweet boy. Today is your day. We love you.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Shitcanned.

I've had just over a day to process all this, so here it is.

Steve was fired. Let go. Cut loose.

Was it related to the economy? No. Work performance? Absolutely not.

Steve lost his job because of personal differences with the company's corporate blowhards. Because he is, in their words, a "disgruntled employee."

WHO DOES THAT?? What is this, the sixth grade?

Listen. We have a son who will turn 13 years old tomorrow. He's in middle school. Sam is at a point when we are teaching him it is a fact of life that he will encounter difficult people. That's just how the world works. We tell him it is his job to always handle himself appropriately and do his best to be kind and respectful to others, no matter how badly their personalities may clash. Sometimes it is helpful to simply walk away, but you can't always just gather up your toys and go home.

Unhappy relationships are tough, but even the best of relationships take work to maintain.

Steve has said working for this company is like being in a bad marriage; nobody communicates, and everybody blames someone else for any infraction.

My husband tried. For months he has set a positive example by going straight to the sources of gripes and grumbles and insisting on working through issues so everyone can move on. In his supervisory role he was probably too kind at times, giving second (or third or fourth) chances and plenty of corrective instruction in order to keep people working.

But he didn't buy into the corporate BS. He is a man of high morals and is driven by things far greater than money: Integrity. Kindness. Family. That's what I see. If you ask him? He was taught to do things the right way - to do the right thing - no matter who was or wasn't watching.

As it turns out, his former employer talks a great talk about putting people first, but their follow-through stinks. In fact, the company's motto is People first 24/7. In our house we've added to it a little: People first 24/7. Unless you're not the right people.

In an interesting twist, my brother worked for the same company, on the same crew as Steve. They fired him, too.

Oh yes they did.

WHO DOES THAT???

In the grand scheme of things we will come out on top. Today I am angry and feeling defensive, yes. (And if Steve wasn't disgruntled before, he sure is now!) Because in 17 years of working in the pipeline industry - and I mean working, putting pipe in the ground, operating equipment, not giving orders or pushing papers from an office - Steve has never come close to being fired. Ever. Has he butted heads with some higher-ups? Of course he has! That's life. The people who have to keep everything within budget and on deadline don't always see eye-to-eye with the folks who have to stand knee-deep in the mud with rain pouring down while they try to bail out the hole so they can work. That's just how it goes. But each has their job to do and most adults can learn to overlook their differences and work alongside each other toward a common goal.

So yeah. I'm pissed off that of all the crappy employees they could have chosen to weed out, they picked two of the best workers in the field. Apparently your work ethic means nothing if you refuse to drink the Kool-Aid.

Whatever. Life goes on. The natural gas industry is a great one to be in these days. Business is booming and it won't be long before both of these guys have settled into new jobs, hopefully far, far away from the corporate madness. The paychecks might be a little slimmer but as long as we can feed our family and keep the bills paid, we're good.

Yesterday I teetered briefly on the edge of madness just thinking about how we'll make it through the next few weeks. Between Steve having some time off between work projects, then coming home to be with his dad during brain surgery, and now being cut loose altogether, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

But then the phone started ringing ... friends sent messages of support ... prayer warriors added us to their lists ... and so many people we love collectively took my face in their hands and forced me to focus on what is important: Steve. Sam. Rachel. Me. Our faith. Our family and friends. We are warm and well fed, and we have much for which to be thankful. Praise God.

I'm no Pollyanna, but I can say with confidence today that I know everything will be OK.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time to circle the wagons.

I am angry.

I'm hurt and feeling defensive of my family and I wish I could tell you all about it but now isn't the right time, so could I just ask you to pray for us?

Know that my marriage is strong and that in itself will sustain us through much. We are healthy (well, OK, some might question my mental state but that's nothing new) and our children are fine. We have hit a roadblock but we will push through it together. And, God willing, we'll come out stronger on the other side.

 Today? Some inspiration. Turn it up, baby.



When the darkness tries to get me
There's a light that just won't let me
It might take my pride, tears may fill my eyes
But I'll stand back up.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Feeling festive?

Is it too soon to be thinking about Christmas decorations?

Steve would say YES.

When I was in stores and saw Halloween candy on clearance on one side of me and Christmas stuff going up on the other side, I would have said YES.

But now that Thanksgiving is just around the corner I'm starting to get that itch to pull out the boxes.

I don't go crazy with Christmas decor, but I do like our home to look and feel festive. I have friends who decorate a tree for every room of their home - and those trees are absolutely gorgeous - but you will not see my house in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens anytime soon. Or ever.

Alas, we have our own brand of decorating style. It's cheap. It involves many hand-me-down and homemade ornaments and, at least the last two years, a tree plucked from the nearby forest. The first year we did this - too broke to go buy a tree - a friend tagged the monstrosity Steve brought home "aggressively festive." It took up half our living room.

Funny how they always look so much smaller ... until you get them in the house.


But she was beautiful, wasn't she? Every lopsided branch of 'er.

As it turned out, we all loved that tree. I discovered my children didn't give one wit about whether they had a perfect tree. They had only two requests: that we actually decorate a tree before Christmas Day (admittedly sometimes a struggle), and that the tree be real. In fact, they are so adamant about having a real tree that when I brought home a small, pre-lit tree I found for $5 at a thrift store recently, the first thing they both asked was, "Is this going to be our only tree?!?" I assured them it would not be.

The joy of an artificial tree, though, is that I can set it up and fluff it and decorate it at my leisure. I don't know yet where this new one will go, but I'm pretty sure I will be getting it out soon to satisfy that itch to start decorating. I would like to try my hand at a themed tree. What theme? I have no idea.

Wait. Is "aggressively festive" a theme?


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Today is a big day.

Sam's 13th birthday is approaching. It has caused me to do a lot of thinking about this boy and how he has grown and changed over the past few years. Shoot ... one can hardly call him a "boy" anymore; he is at least as tall as anyone else in the family and taller than several. But it's not just his stature. He is becoming more thoughtful and responsible every day.

It is with that in mind that I hesitated only a little when he asked me if he could sit by himself when he went out to hunt this morning. It's opening day of the firearm deer season (the kids have the day off school for it), and for a mama like me the thought of sending her firstborn out into the woods before dawn ... and carrying a gun ... can be a little unsettling. Because accidents happen. And he really is just a kid, isn't he? That means above all it is my responsibility to keep him safe.

The older he gets the harder it is to make those decisions that could mean the difference between keeping Sam tucked inside this safe little bubble at home or allowing him to go out into the world (or the woods, as it were) and face the potential to be hurt - physically or emotionally - and to learn some tough life lessons. Maybe to make some big decisions on his own. And hopefully, to learn what success feels like.

He is not alone today. We are fortunate to have within our extended family some wonderful men who have taken Sam under their wings while his dad is working so far away. We are also fortunate that deer camp is a big old school house down the road within walking distance from home. Sam has been there since Saturday afternoon - I literally have not seen him for more than a few minutes at a time. I hear about what he's doing in bits and pieces - hunting with his bow (archery season precedes firearm season) the last few days, going out with the uncles to move trail cameras and check bait piles and tidy up their stands, I guess. And when he came to the house to get his gun last night and to check with me that he could sit by himself today, he was practically glowing. When I told him he could as long as the uncles were nearby, he came to me and hugged me and said, "I love you, mom."

I'll take it.

I have not seen that boy so happy in quite a while. He is in his element. He's with the guys, away from mom. He is free to be who he wants to be (within reason) and to experience some independence.

It's a big day for both of us.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Increasing our (God-given) talents.

I usually reserve my Sunday writing until later in the day, but I had to sit down and make note of this before it slips my mind.

With Sam doing his man thing hanging out with the guys at deer camp, and Rachel having spent the night at Nana's last night (and me too battle weary to want to force her to get up and be ready) I went to church alone this morning. My preference is always to have my family beside me, but these occasional days when I attend worship by myself are a bit of a treat, too. (Shhh! Don't tell the kids.) I'm able to listen without distraction and focus on my own actions rather than always pointing out where we are in the hymns or coaxing tired kiddos to stand when appropriate.

As it turned out, this morning was the perfect time for me to be able to soak it all in because I really needed to hear the Gospel lesson for today.

In the book of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14-30 we read the parable of talents. In short, three slaves were given unequal portions of their master's money. While the master was away, two of the slaves increased what they were given and when the master returned he praised them for increasing his wealth. The third slave didn't fair so well.

"And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.'" (v. 24-25)

Because the third did nothing with what he was given - except bury it - the master called him wicked and lazy, suggested he could have at least invested that money to earn some interest, and took back from the slave the little he had been given.

"For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (v. 29-30)

"Fear robbed him of his potential," our pastor said.

Fear robbed him of his potential.

Something to think about: what "talent" is planted in you? Are you allowing it to grow, or is fear causing you to bury it?

We as Christians are all blessed with the gift of faith. We are not all equally blessed with talents (or money or beauty or children or fill-in-the-blank). It is our responsibility to nurture the talent (or money, etc.) we are given to make it thrive and to honor God. So that when our Father does the final tally we can say, "See? You gave me this and I turned it into this."

And He will respond, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Friday, November 11, 2011

The first snow!



I love waking up to the first snow of the season. Love it!

In Michigan we are blessed to experience the best (and yes, sometimes the worst) of the four seasons, and right this moment I can't think of anything more inspiring than going to bed with big, fat, fluffy snowflakes falling, and then waking up to a layer of The White Stuff covering everything.

OK, so it's not that pretty when you can still see the brown grass peeking out from underneath, but the trees! Oh, the trees are beautiful. And the snow gives everything this glow. Including my children who are so happy they could burst. They stood outside last night with their faces turned to the sky and their tongues sticking out to catch those fluffy flakes. By the time they came inside their hair was soaked and their hands were red and cold.


This morning when I parked at the bus stop Sam and Rachel jumped out to get in a few minutes of running around in it. They scraped what they could off the hood of the truck to toss a few snowballs at each other. I relished in Rachel's squeals and Sam's laughter.

Now that the house has calmed (save for the cats chasing each other around) I am beginning my day with some quiet reflection, glancing out the window frequently while I sip a cup of Mexican hot chocolate.

By the end of February I will be singing a different tune. But not today.

Hello, snow. We're happy to see you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is this a test?

Hear that? It's me, exhaling. Cautiously, but still.

There are times in life when I feel like God is testing me (or us) and we are now at the point in the most recent test when I am eagerly awaiting my grade. Did I pass? Did I set the curve? Heck, did I even meet the curve?

When Steve and I first started the Total Money Makeover ... oh geez, ages ago ... I remember reading in Dave Ramsey's book outlining the plan that we would be tested. Dave tells readers that about the time you think you've got things under control, when you have become much better stewards of what God has given you, the furnace takes a crap or the car breaks down, and there goes the rainy day fund you worked so hard to accumulate for emergencies.

And it does happen. Within weeks of deciding we would change our financial future for the better Steve was laid off from his job. And then our dishwasher broke. And if I think about it for a while I could come up with a host of similar "tests" that happened about the same way over the past five or six years: things seem to be going really great and then ... kaplooey.

Sometimes I think it's God's way of keeping us humble. Not too cocky. A friendly reminder of who is really in control.

I've learned - and I'm still learning - to take those days in stride. I no longer panic when it feels like someone threw a wrench in our plans. I rely on the knowledge that we have always been provided for, even in really lean times, and our children have never known the pain of going hungry or truly living without basic needs.

So when Steve came home a few weeks ago with some time off between work projects, I was actually able to enjoy having that time with him. OK, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least a wee bit concerned about how long he would be off work, but for the most part I trusted everything would work. And it has. He's back to the job this week, and while I don't think our current job-and-finance-related challenges are completely behind us, I do feel confident enough to exhale. Until next time. Because if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that there will always, always be a next time.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Rejoicing!

We have so much for which to be thankful!

I'm sorry if I kinda' left y'all hanging after my last post about my father-in-law, but I'm guessing most folks who read my blog also find me some other way - like through Facebook or church or e-mail or whatever. Anywho, the great news is dad came through surgery just fine and as of this afternoon it sounds like he might be home by tomorrow evening.

Can you imagine? Brain surgery, and then home just four days later. Whew.

And I'm laughing at myself a little because I said he did "just fine" but I can tell you Friday was one of the longest days of my life. The whole process was not without its hiccups, and dad certainly isn't completely out of the woods yet, but the surgery to remove what the doctors are pretty certain were cancerous tumors from his noggin went very well. We were able to see him Friday evening after he woke up and it was such a relief that he recognized all of us and talked and laughed with us. He even cussed a few times, which I told him he had a free pass on for a few days. Because of the location of the tumors there was a concern that he might lose his speech and/or ability to understand speech, so I didn't care what he said, and neither did anyone else ... it was just so good to hear him speaking.

The past week has been hectic and I'm exhausted - physically and emotionally. And for as much as I love turning the clocks back and gaining that hour of sleep again, I despise it getting dark at 5 o'clock in the evening (or whenever it gets dark now ... much sooner than I'm ready for).

So, I've got some catching up to do around here and a few blog posts rolling around in my head I'll try to get written over the next few days. In the meantime I'm basking in the blessings we've been showered in recently. Praise God.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'Pleasant words' in life's stormy times.

If I wanted to write all about me I'd lay it out for the world to see like the open book I am, but when it comes to others I try not to get too personal. So I tread lightly today.

Steve's dad is sick. Not a I should make him some chicken noodle soup kind of sick. It's not something extra rest and a few aspirin can conquer. No, we're talking more like a team of doctors and a pretty risky, yet potentially life-saving surgery. On his brain.

My father-in-law has had his share of health struggles this year and we have weathered them as a family, each one of us offering support and encouragement in our own way. We live next door to Steve's parents and our children see them nearly every day, so they are hyper sensitive to any break in routine or disruption of their time with Nana and Papa. That means I am, too, because when their grandparents aren't around I get drilled with questions about where they are and what they're doing.

Oh, it's not like we watch for Nana's car to pull in the driveway after work.

Wait. Yes they do.

Well, not in a stalker-ish kind of way, anyway.

And yes, I suppose the kids do wander over there some afternoons just to see if Papa has filled his candy jars with lemon drops and Tootsie Roll pops. Hey, they're kids after all. But the sweet treats and the always-stocked pantry are just a bonus to spending time with two people who adore them like only grandparents can.

So the thought of something being seriously wrong with their Papa is scary. And to their many questions I can offer few answers. We're all shaken. Nobody really wants to think about how fragile life is.

But today I am reminded through my little book of daily devotions that sometimes all it takes is a few kind words to lift someone up when the world has knocked them down. (OK, and sometimes it takes medical intervention, but then kind words wouldn't hurt, either.)

Proverbs 16:24
"Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."

I've never been one to sugar-coat the truth for my children, but I can certainly comfort them - with my words and lots of extra hugs and kisses - in the midst of a crisis. They look to the adults in their lives for safety, for a sign that it's OK to be scared and hopeful at the same time. This week I have encouraged them to take their worries to God, and to do their best to focus on all the good in their lives.

And I'm doing my best to take my own advice.

Father-in-law's surgery is planned for Friday. He's hanging out in the hospital being waited on and keeping up with his soap operas and bantering back and forth with the nurses until then. Afterward? I guess we won't know until the time comes. Maybe life will eventually get back to normal ... whatever that is. Or maybe we'll have to learn a new normal.

One thing is for sure: we'll face it together, this extended family of friends and neighbors and ... well, extended family. We'll lean on each other. We'll pray. And I will make a point to speak "from God's honeycomb" to each of my loved ones.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Clean Slate Sunday: 10.30.11 edition

I've started so many posts over the past several days, but my brain is so scattered I can't seem to hold a thought for more than a few minutes. If that.

This afternoon was rather perfect in terms of late-October days. Breezy and cool. Overcast, but bright. The kind of day that makes me want to bake some bread and snuggle up on the couch with a book. But I did not make bread and I did not do any reading. I did take a nap when I finally decided it was about the only thing I could focus on. It took me most of the rest of the afternoon to do a few loads of laundry and, a little at a time, clear some clutter and do some sweeping and straighten things up a bit.

The other day when I took the dog outside first thing in the morning I couldn't help but think of how the thick layer of frost on everything made the trees look exactly how I felt: heavy. Burdened. That day it was because Steve was leaving to head back to work in West Virginia and I just wasn't ready to let him go. Every day since then the heaviness has hung on, but for different reasons. Tonight is no different.

Sunday nights have always been my "chill" time. I finish up whatever tasks need doing before the new week begins and I prepare for the routine of rising early and packing the kids off to school. It can be exhausting or exhilarating, or a little bit of both, depending on the schedule for the week. No matter what, I try to take the time to count my blessings, take some deep breaths and some quiet time, and approach the week with an open mind and a grateful heart.

Tonight it's been difficult to calm myself. Life is in upheaval, and while it would seem chaos defines the Pipe Lifers' day-to-day, this period seems to be extra intense. Despite lots of unknowns, though, life goes on and we figure out how to roll with it. One day at a time.


For now, it's late (or mega early, rather) and I need to try to get some rest. I wish you a blessed week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stopping the clock. For real.




I'm not sure I was even aware this clock I bought recently for the dining room had a glass face.





Stress the word had.







It fell off the wall last night as Steve brushed by. I think he barely bumped the wall.

That "CRASH!" and the sound of breaking glass? Yikes.

Fortunately no family members were injured; just the clock.

Oops.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could really stop the hands of time and just hang out here for a while? Well, I'd really like to get over this ugly cold (or whatever it is) that I have, but other than that I'm really enjoying these few days with my sweetie here. He'll be gone again before we know it, back to the daily grind. It makes me sad to think about him leaving in a couple of days, even though I knew it was inevitable.

Yes. Life - and time - goes on.

Even the poor clock is back up on the wall, minus the glass, but working like a charm. 

And because in my world a broken clock can never be just a broken clock, there must be some great life analogy here, right? Like ... it's just what we do: when we get knocked down we pick ourselves (or each other) up, repair what we can, discard what we can't, and keep on moving.

Happy Tuesday!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Ugh.

I've been sick. Bleh. Since Saturday afternoon when I came home from a workshop at church and crawled into bed intending to take a quick nap before heading to a wedding reception with the fam.

The clock kept ticking and Steve and the kids got ready and I couldn't drag myself out of bed. And then I got chills and just couldn't get warm enough. It went downhill from there.

I'm starting to come around this morning. I managed to finally get out of my pajamas and hit the shower, and my appetite is coming back.

I am really glad Steve has been here to help with the kids (though I'm pretty sure he's the one who shared his germs with me). It's been good to have him here, in general. We haven't been doing much of anything special - just running the kids around and eating dinners together at night and hanging out.

It feels good. Even if I don't.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I can hardly move.

Today was a great day.

I went with Rachel's class to the State Park where we walked ...

and walked ... and walked ... and walked.

 The kids had a nature-themed scavenger hunt.

 We hiked out to the lighthouse.
(That's a mile and a half each way.)


My group of girls had plenty of energy, though.


Hm. Not the most flattering photo of me ... but at least I was warm! 
And Rachel looks cute as always.


 Big Sable Point Lighthouse.



Then this evening we all went to the kids' school to participate in a fund-raiser. It was a fun run/walk.

I walked. And now, between all that exercise and all that fresh air, I am so tired and so sore I can hardly move. But it was an awesome day and I'm so glad I did it. Too soon our kids will be grown and gone and I will cherish these memories.

Wait. Did I say "too soon?" Not too soon, necessarily. Just ... sooner than we can imagine on days like today.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

A paradox.

Steve has some time off between projects, so he's home.

He's home!! Maybe for a week, maybe a little more or a little less.

The paradox? He's not making a paycheck when he's home ... but the fact that he is home is a good thing.

Despite the financial hiccup his time off might cause, these few days of having him here are an answer to my prayers. I've been having a rough time keeping the kids on the straight and narrow and it will be heavenly having Steve here for backup.

Not to mention, Steve has been working hard, sometimes seven days a week, for months. He needs a break. He needs to recharge.

We need to recharge.

I'm happy he's here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apparently, I'd like to hibernate.

'Cept I'm gonna' need some elastic-waist pants before I settle in for my slumber.

Whoa, doggies! It's a little too early for the holiday plump, isn't it? I stepped on the scale this morning (like I needed that first thing in the morning) and what was already pretty obvious to my bloated self came into sharp, digital focus.

I've put on a few pounds.

OK, literally, a few. Like, four. And listen. I'm a big girl anyway so one would think four pounds either way wouldn't make much of a difference. But I can tell you that four lousy pounds feels like 100 pounds in certain pairs of pants.

Oooooh, the comfort food. Since the weather turned very autumn-like in a hurry I've been drawn to the oven and the big ol' containers of flour and sugar sitting nearby. Yesterday, on a whim, I made several dozen pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Ya' know ... for the kids. *wink wink*

Curse you, white flour and sugar!

And get this. I ordered a subscription to a new home decor magazine a while back? I guess there weren't enough subscriptions because said magazine flopped. So instead of sending me a refund, the company is sending me ... wait for it ... Taste of Home magazine.

Taste of Home! It's all about FOOD, people!

And I swear this is my final excuse: My walking routine has been interrupted by rain. (And perhaps *cough* a little *cough* laziness. *cough*) Yesterday my buddy and I finally got out to walk again after missing a few days and my legs felt like Jell-O the rest of the day. Sad.

I guess it's time to seriously consider an indoor workout alternative for the winter months so I'll be prepared when the snow flies and I'm too much of a sissy to wanna' walk out there. Because baby, I cannot keep this up all winter or y'all will have to roll me out of the house to greet the Easter Bunny come spring.

Now somebody hide the cookies.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Life as a construction zone.

"God at Work."

This must be it. God must be doing amazing things in my life right now because He certainly has my attention. I have been praying hard for our family, specific prayers for my husband and our children and outward from there - my extended family of in-laws and cousins, dear friends, church family. By the time I've mentioned everyone by name I need a nap.

And things are happening. Good things. So there are more prayers - prayers of thanksgiving.

Yet I find myself going back time and again saying, "But what about this, God? I still don't have an answer here. What gives?"

That's the thing about allowing God to do His work in our lives - there are no orange cones marking out the path for us. We are driving along a newly-paved road where the lines haven't yet been painted. We know we are headed in the right direction, but we want details. We want signs pointing to our destination and telling us exactly how many more miles we have to drive to get there.

We do have the Bible as our road map. Scripture gives us instructions on how to conduct ourselves along the trip. But it is in the details - not just about leading a Christian life in general, but about my life - where I get lost. One decision, one phrase, one day can make a difference in which on-ramp or detour we take and I want to know we're taking the right ones. I find myself saying, "I'll follow wherever you lead me, God, if you'll just give me a hint at where we're headed."

But then, if I'm willing to go no matter what, why do I need to know?

God is definitely at work in my life. He is teaching me patience. He is reminding me what it feels like to love someone unconditionally. He is granting me grace. He is showing me that I don't need to have all the answers rightnow. He is providing strength.

I am reminded that construction often means progress. It can mean sanding off the rough edges and applying a fresh coat of paint. It can mean building something tall and strong and beautiful where there was nothing before. And it can mean paving a path between here and our final destination, without knowing how many hills we will climb or valleys we will walk through along the way.


Monday, October 17, 2011

The antidote to crabby.

Do you know the best way to remind yourself what fun it can be to have children?

Spend a little time with a little one.

I helped out some friends today by watching their little boy for a few hours. At 18 months old, he is still young enough to be fascinated by someone tossing him a ball, playing peek-a-boo, looking at pictures of puppies, and finding a box of fruity Cheerios in the kitchen cabinet.

Sure, he can be demanding like any other child. But all he wants is for you to chase him down the hallway or pull a favored toy out from under a chair. And he will smile and wrap his little arms around your neck when you do.

I have a few minutes of peace and quiet before my own children come home from school. I'm going to enjoy every second of it while I remember the days when we laughed at peek-a-boo and they were happy just to be in the same room with me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Clean Slate Sunday: 10.16.11 edition

Today is one of those days when I am so thankful for the promise of a fresh start tomorrow.

I started my day with teeth clenched, upset at both the kids. On the drive to church I tried to take a few deep breaths and adjust my attitude, but it seemed like the more I tried, the more determined my offspring were to get under my skin.

I've been on the receiving end of more than my fair share of attitude lately and I'm sick of feeling like an emotional punching bag. Oh believe me, I don't just roll over and take it. But no amount of gentle correcting, sternness, ignoring it, yelling, privileges revoked or good behaviors rewarded makes any lasting impact. And let's face it - they outnumber me.

I waited years for my one boy and one girl to get to a point where they were more friends than rivals.

Well. Here we are.

How can I be unhappy that they are getting along more than not these days? I'll tell you how: they're common interest seems to be attacking me. There's so much attitude and drama in this house lately I feel like someone plunked me down in the middle of an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras.

It's exhausting.

I tried several times today to start from scratch - forgive them (even though they hadn't apologized), and let it go. Apparently they didn't get that memo. Probably because they don't listen to a dang thing I say. So their antics continued.

By the time we got home from church (where I coulda' chugged that whole chalice of wine during Communion) and our Bible study classes I could hardly keep my eyes open. It felt like my body was so tired of being on constant defensive alert it was just shutting down. I didn't fight it. I sunk into my bed for a nap and when I heard thumps and bumps and squealing coming from the other end of the house I blew my top.

"GET! OUT!"

I didn't care where they went or what they did, I just wanted them out of my house and out of earshot.

I knew they'd probably end up at Nana's house next door anyway. Which was fine. I really, really didn't care.

Oh, there were good moments today. But they were fleeting.

Even up to the point when I sent them to bed tonight, after they dragged their feet preparing for morning (even though they do this every school night and they know what to expect), Rachel was fussing at me because I didn't come to kiss her goodnight quickly enough. And you know what? I would bet a thousand dollars that if either of those kids is missing anything they need in the morning, they will blame me.

And then they will ask what I'm making for them for breakfast.

These are the days when I am so glad I can choose to start tomorrow with a clean slate. I can get a good night of rest and be ready to offer up some grace in the morning. I can pray for guidance, sleep off the bad vibes, and start over tomorrow.

If that doesn't work I think I'm going on strike.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Family Jokester.

Rachel joined her Girl Scout troop to ride in the school's homecoming parade last night. There was a Disney theme and the girls chose "101 Dalmatians" for their float. They were so cute - they all had white t-shirts that they painted with black spots. I met Rach at the end of the parade route.

Me: "Did you have fun?"

Rachel: "Mhmm."

Me: "Can I get a picture of you?"

Rachel: "SURE!!!!! Nyah! Neener!"


Me: "Come on. Can I just get one good picture of you?"

Rachel: "Yup!! Here!"


Me: *sigh*

"Let's go."

 Ya' know, if she had stood there and smiled nicely I would have taken the picture and probably e-mailed it to her dad and then made it the wallpaper on my phone or something. But no. These beauties go on the Interwebz for all the world to see.

When she graduates from high school I'm just going to print out my blog for her scrapbook.

Except she probably won't care, and then the joke will be on me.

*sigh*





Friday, October 14, 2011

Easy peasy DIY: Spray-painted sconces.

I am constantly on the lookout for frugal finds that can add character to our home.

As if, considering the personalities who live in this house, we need any more character. But I digress.

I've gotten into the habit of stopping by a local thrift store or three on a weekly basis. I do things a little differently than many thrifters; instead of having a list of items I watch for, I have a mental list of spaces I am trying to brighten up and I stay open to using anything that might work for any of those spaces. It could be a mirror, a piece of furniture, picture frames (with photos, printed quotes, or even empty), old wood or containers repurposed in some creative way.

One of my recent  finds was this pair of sconces.


I picked them up at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $2 each.

  Nice little detail.

A little wood ... a little metal.

 A little rust, even.

 Now, before I show you what I did with them I just want to point out a few reasons I choose second-hand items whenever I can.

1. It keeps stuff out of the landfills, and that's important to me. I need to remind myself of this when I am disappointed by a rather hefty price tag on a thrift store item. ($5 for an old Mason jar with a glass lid? REALLY?) Often the prices are similar to those for which I could find an item NEW on clearance at Walmart. Sometimes I'll pass. Sometimes I really like the second-hand item and I will go ahead and buy it. It just depends.

2. It's cheaper. Nevermind what you just read above. When you get down to it, if I outfitted my home via a Pottery Barn catalog ... or even the JCPenney catalog, it would cost a small fortune. Buying most of our decor from thrift stores and garage sales (and yes, the occasional clearance rack) lets me stretch the budget a little further. Plus, it often means we're supporting a good cause, too.

3. Quality. Many of the things I pick up second-hand have been taken out of old houses or donated to Goodwill because they appear to be past their prime. Old. Outdated. I love it when I pick something up and there's some heft to it. I love it even more when I flip it over and see an old, faded sticker that says "Made in the U.S.A." (I like to find "USA" on new stuff, too.) Craftsmanship and quality just aren't as popular these days as cheap (inexpensive) and readily-available.

OK, ready?

Spray paint is our friend.
I particularly like the Krylon Fusion because it sticks to just about anything.

I didn't even sand these - just wiped them clean with a damp cloth.

Nice, huh?

And since I have about a bazillion places I could use them and haven't decided on their permanent placement yet, I swapped one out where I had easy access to a wall hanger, just to see it up on the wall.

(Forgive the photo quality - it's rainy and dreary this morning, so not much natural light.)

Simple, shiny black.
*Love!*

 Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

 Yes! They're gonna' need some bling!

Maybe a simple teardrop crystal hanging from the bottom tip.

Hmm ... I'm going to keep my eyes open.

I'll try to remember to post a picture when I get them up on the wall for realz. Just remember, spray paint is a quick, inexpensive, easy way to make something new! When you're shopping around for items to spruce up your home, don't cast something off because it's ugly. Try to imagine it cleaned up and with a fresh coat of black or white or teal or red or your-favorite-color paint.

Good stuff.

And TGIF! Enjoy your day, y'all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I am not a dog whisperer.

But Dear God in Heaven do I need one.

My dog - despite my love for her and the wonderful companionship she provides - makes me crazy sometimes. Just when I think I've got her figured out, or that she's finally mellowing out, she throws me for a loop.

Ladybug has always been a barker, but for two main things: people and raccoons. Bring over a pack of dogs of any size and breed and she will run and jump and sniff and play with all of them. Excitedly. Without barking.

People? She barks at. Always. (Well, except us.) A strange vehicle pulls in the driveway and Ladybug either runs to the end of her lead (if she's outdoors) and barks non-stop, or runs to a window to get a better look ... and barks non-stop.

Oh, and? She slobbers. So you can imagine what my windows look like.


She's persistent, too.

I know you iz out der.

I iz watchin' fer you.

Where you at?

The other day while the plumbers were here I was so embarrassed by my own dog's behavior that I decided I had two options: 1) give up on this doggy business and find her a new home, or 2) commit to some serious training. Or retraining. Whatever.

Since 90 percent of the time she is The Best Dog In The World, I went for option 2 and bought a book about rehabilitating your "reactive" dog. Because as it turns out, as I was reading about reactive dogs - dogs that become fixated on other dogs, or people, or go bonkers when put on a leash, or can't seem to settle down in the car - I realized I was reading about my dog.

I iz tyred. But pretty sure you still out there.

Some history: we adopted Ladybug from a no-kill shelter. I picked her out from hundreds of dogs I saw on-line. When we went to visit her she was so laid back and came right to us when the volunteer dropped her leash. We took her for a walk and she pulled a bit, but otherwise she was great.

We learned that she was about five years old, had been picked up as a stray and had been at the shelter for six months. Black dogs aren't adopted as often as lighter colored dogs, they told us. My heart melted.

At home it took her a while to settle in, which we expected. She seemed a little jumpy over loud noises and quick movements. Bug wasn't housebroken (I suspect as a hunting dog she was kept outside in a kennel) so it was like having a puppy; we house trained her, and I trained her to sleep in a crate. Neither of those tasks was a small feat and I spent several nights falling asleep with my mp3 player drowning out the noise of her whining in the crate.
Bug has a few bad manners, mostly involving food. We have learned to never leave her in the house alone with an open bag of trash. And never leave your snack unattended on the arm of the sofa.

She has learned a few things in the three years she has been with us. She sits at the door for you to put her leash on for a walk, and sits and waits for you to put her food in her dish. She has warmed up to the cats. She goes right to her crate when I tell her it's bedtime. 

But she flips right out when a strange vehicle pulls in the driveway, or when people she doesn't know come into the house. Or approach the house. Or look in the direction of the house from a mile away.






I have learned that if I put her on her leash and allow her to sniff out the strange peeps, she will eventually settle down. (Makes sense - she's a hound. Sniffing is her life.) But honestly, she is a very muscular dog of a breed historically trained to hunt bear. She can look pretty intimidating when she's tugging at the end of her tie-out, barking and slobbering. Who wants to then let that animal sniff their hand?

It's a survival mechanism. Her head tells her strange creatures might be there to hurt her, so she's going to take care of them first. Scare them off. If they seem intimidated her senses pick up on that and it feeds the beast. She gets stressed when her barking doesn't make them go away, so that feeds the beast. And so on and so on.

It's gotten so bad lately that she sometimes barks when the phone rings. Or in the morning when the house creaks and groans as the sun warms it up.

I wish I was kidding.

In other words, I have a 59-lb wuss on my hands. One that could be dangerous (as any dog could) if we don't turn this train around.

So I have begun a new regime. First, Bug is on vacation. She's doing nothing but sleeping, eating, going outside to do her business and take walks with me. She's chillin' to give those stress hormones a chance to fizzle out. And I'm giving her lots of love and attention, she's playing with the kids, and she's getting treats just about as often as I say her name. I've even been feeding her her kibble out of my hand. She's learning mama=good and safe and fun things and the sound of her name=good and safe and fun things. Very zen, right? Let's hope so.

It sounds crazy, but I can already see the difference in her. She's much calmer already. I can tell she's a little confused and maybe even a little suspicious of all the treats flying around, but that's ok.

I'm gonna' journal our progress and I'll update here.

Have I mentioned my lack of the patience gene? Yeah?

Send some good vibes our way, k? I am up to the task but some added positive thoughts sure can't hurt.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The thing about grace.

I love the analogy I read on another blog this morning: (paraphrased) Some days are smoother than others; yesterday was like sandpaper.

Bingo.

A series of events over the past few days - little things - have got me in a tizzy. Each thing no big deal on its own, but all together a burden so heavy my heart aches from the emotions of it all.

I stay up late to chat with Steve about it and then I'm overtired.

The kids feel ignored and I think all my work is unappreciated.

I try to squeeze one more purchase out of this paycheck and then I'm over budget.

The laundry piles up. The dog won't stop barking. This broke. Something smells funny. The cat prince howls to be let out. Then in. Then out. Then in. Then to be fed. Then out again. The house plants are dusty. "Mom! She won't stop coming into my room!" Favorite pens get lost. The sewing machine doesn't work. It's too cold in here. We all overslept. It's hot in here. Nobody likes to try anything new for dinner. I moved a shelf and something fell on my head (I have a mark on my forehead to prove it). "Mom? Can I have a party for my birthday?" I can't find the box of Kleenex I just opened. The library books are overdue.

But. BUT!

It turns out the public library extends some grace to those who overlook their due dates. "These are late and I'd like to just pay the fine," I said.

"There's a three-day grace period," she tells me. "You're good. No fine."

Grace!

That's the thing about grace. The days when you think surely you don't deserve it, you still receive it. And it's a two-way street; the times you think you can't possibly muster the grace to offer someone else, somehow you do and you both feel better for it.

Do you know I just about skipped my way out of that library yesterday? All over not having to pay a 30-cent fine. Because after a crummy day just the smallest act of grace was a major bright spot. It made me happy. And it reminded me that I could show grace to others in very small ways that might mean the world to them.

Something to think about.