Thursday, April 28, 2011

Change? Bring it on ... in style.

This week has been a perfect example of how bizarre our life can be sometimes, and why being flexible with our schedule is a major key to keeping a grip on sanity.

Steve left Sunday evening to head back to the hotel where he has been staying during the work week, with a 6 a.m. meeting on his schedule for Monday morning. He knew he might be assigned to the night shift for a few days this week, so he anticipated perhaps a long day Monday trying to sleep as much as possible.

Well. He was scheduled for the night shift, but that wouldn't begin until Tuesday night. So he had the latter half of Monday and most of Tuesday to kill.

In the meantime Monday, my brother-in-law and I took a road trip to pick up the Pipe Lifers' new travel trailer.

I hate admitting this - because I don't like admitting I can't do some things - but I asked Steve's brother to go with me so he could drive my truck home with the trailer attached. I don't have much experience pulling trailers (OK, no experience pulling recreational vehicles) and Steve wasn't really keen on the idea of me earning my trucker hat with our brand new 31-foot trailer.

I didn't argue.

So we got the trailer safely home and parked in the yard, the kids promptly started messing with the entertainment system, and I began a mental list of all the items I would need to round up to outfit this baby. I had visions of adding a few touches of home here and there, considering this is where Steve would be living all summer.

Then the phone rang. It was Steve. "I'm on my way home."

Awwwww. I thought he wanted to sleep in his own bed before he started that night shift business. Maybe even take advantage of the extra hours off and hang out with moi.

Umm. No. Home boy spent three hours driving on $4.16/gallon gas to whisk his new trailer off in the middle of the night, check out of the hotel, and park at the campground where he had already reserved a site.

I think he's a little excited about this thing.

He ought to be. We've been looking and shopping and keeping our eyes peeled for a new (or at least new-to-us) trailer for at least a year. Steve is in this nomadic line of work for the long haul and having a comfortable place to go "home" to after work each day makes it a little easier to live apart from the rest of the family. If that's possible. And it will certainly make it more comfortable for all of us when the kids and I visit him in the summer.

So yeah, we need to be flexible alright.

*choke*

I'm gonna be flexing my Mad Budgeting Skilz muscles for a few years. But it's all good. I am so happy to see Steve excited about this. He works his tail off for our family and I'm happy to do my part to make it a little easier for him.

Oh, and that night shift gig? Lasted all of one night. He's working during daylight hours today. Go figure.

Here's a peek at the new digs:







It has everything that is important to us right now: Steve wanted the "living space" in the rear with plenty of room to chill and watch TV or play video games; I wanted room for the kids to each have a bed and for me and Steve to have the closest thing we could get to a (private) bedroom.

He's happy. I'm happy. Sam and Rachel are happy. I can't wait to spend some time in it with all of us together.

Come on, summer!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

What a great day. First and foremost, today Christians celebrate the resurrection if Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

It is Easter Sunday and life is good.

The Pipe Lifers began the day early by heading to the 7 a.m. sunrise service at church. Special days like today always make me a little emotional. I find myself wanting to remember every little detail and capture these wonderful moments to make them last. During the Easter vigil we remember our baptism and renew our baptismal vows. As I sit writing this I watch our children play outside and I think of how they participated in worship today. I love that they are beginning to really understand the words and the whys. We can't guarantee they will always be Christ-followers, but we sure can encourage them in their faith walk and pray they feel God's love every day. My heart swelled as I watched each member of my family receive the sign of the cross with blessed water on their foreheads, a reminder that each of us is made new and clean, our sins forgiven. Pretty powerful stuff.

We enjoyed a casual dinner with Steve's family last night, breakfast and fellowship with our church family this morning, coffee with my folks after church, and then brunch with Steve's family when we got home. I wrote my newspaper column, took a nap - glorious! - and then wandered around the yard doing a little cleanup and checking on my perennials that are beginning to poke through the ground. The windows are open in the house, it's sunny and beautiful this afternoon, the frogs are peeping out back in the swamp, the kids are playing together outside, and I am happy as can be.

The one bummer is that Steve already left to go back to work, but I am thankful we had at least a little time together this weekend. I miss him already, though.

May the sense of renewal Easter brings stay with us as we go back to the usual grind tomorrow.

Christ is risen!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How's it goin'?

Remember back at the beginning of the year when folks were talking about goals and resolutions and all that we would accomplish in The Year 2011?

Remember?

Take all the time you need. *wink*

We are already nearly one-third of the way through the year.

What did you contribute to that New Year's conversation? Did you decide to make 2011 the year for finishing all those projects around the house? Or would this be the year you finally dump the plump? Would you read through the Bible this year? Be kinder to people? More engaged in your everyday life?

I said I was going to make 2011 the year of grace. I wanted to change my reaction to specific situations in my life and instead of responding with anger or frustration or hurt feelings, I would try to respond with love and grace. Not just toward others, but toward myself, too.

I have found that I sometimes have to perform a delicate balancing act when life calls for grace. Sometimes I need to remind myself that granting grace to my children does not equal allowing them to walk all over me. Other times I need to remember that offering grace to a person who has said or done something hurtful can be a stepping stone to forgiveness.

This process has caused me to become very intimate with my inner voice.

As if I didn't have enough talking going on in my head already.

There are days when I repeat "grace" to myself all day long. "Grace ... grace ... grace." I smile in the face of discouragement. I take a deep breath when I really want to scream. I overlook the dirty socks on the floor (this time) and the less-than-stellar job done on sweeping the kitchen. I remind myself how freely grace is given to me.

I work on accepting it ... graciously.

It's pretty amazing the number of times the topic of grace - or just the word - has come up in my life over the course of the past few months. Sure, maybe I look for it because it has become a focus for me, but even in unexpected ways I am provided all kinds of reminders.

If I had to give myself a grade today on working on my 2011 goal I'd probably give a solid B. I'm doing pretty good on the grace front, but there is always room for improvement.

We are one-third through 2011. What did you aspire to this year?

How's it going?

Monday, April 18, 2011

A new frontier.

After a month-long layoff Steve is heading back to work this week. This is a good thing; regular paychecks are much better than unemployment compensation. Still, I'm a little sad. I like having him around.

No, it's not just because he cooks. Though I will miss that, too.

Once Steve gets back to the grind it will likely be gangbusters through the summer, and that means we won't see much of him.

This is just another curve in the road of our lives. Just when we've gotten used to having daddy here with us day and night, he has to say goodbye and we are back to seeing him maybe one night a week. The kids and I will get used to the old routine again, and we will appreciate the time we get to spend with Steve when he comes home or we go to stay with him. We've been down this road before.

Steve and I had an interesting conversation today. Yes, we've been here before, but what's different this time is we are starting in a different place - a better place - financially than we usually do. Typically we're spread pretty thin by the time Steve goes back to work after a seasonal layoff. This time we're current on all the bills and we've even been able to make some extra payments to eliminate some debts. That feels pretty darn good. But on the flip side, I'm feeling comfortable enough that I'm not ready to send my sweetie off to work again.

I guess that's a pretty good problem to have.

So no, I'm not complaining for one second. We'll make the most of this unconventional living situation just like we always do. And I will continue to be thankful every day for the job my husband has been blessed with and the life, in turn, he is able to provide for our family.

It's all good.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fun with fabric.

I have been a pillow-making fool this week.

Yes, excitement abounds in the Pipe Life household. *groan*

Why pillows? Well if you watch any DIY home decorating shows on TV, what do they always use to add "pops of color" or "texture" to a room? Pillows!

I've been slowly-but-surely working on cozying-up a couple spaces in our home and those spaces were begging for more interest. I get a lot of inspiration from fabrics in various colors and patterns, but if I bought enough to make drapes out of all the ones I liked I'd go broke. So rather than just drool over them in the store, I buy a yard or two so I can take the inspiration home and find a way to use it. Pillows are easy to sew, the kids enjoy stuffing them, and I get some added interest in my decor without breaking the bank.

What makes the Sit Here To Take Off Your Shoes chair more appealing?

A pillow!
 Don't you just want to squish your lower back into that cuteness and relax for a sec?

I cannot tell you how much I adore this fabric right now.
 *Love!*

 What makes the little conversation corner more inviting?

Pillows!

Oh, and formerly very lodgey-looking red and green plaid cushions recovered in something bold and fun.

Boring, slip-covered couch? *shrug*

Looks much better with pillows!

I made seven pillows - let's call them "custom" because that makes them sound very important - for less than $30. I've looked at pillows in department stores and the ones I like are $15-$30 each. EACH! Seems like I got a pretty good bargain, eh?

I would have given you a how-to play-by-play here but a) I didn't take pictures while I was working, and b) I am not someone you want to take sewing lessons from. I pretty much fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to sewing. Pillows are easy, though, so if you're considering ideas for sprucing up your place, check out your favorite fabrics shop (or find the fabrics section of Walmart) and be inspired!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Inching closer to freedom.

The Pipe Lifers don't live an extravagant lifestyle. Far from it. Which is really sad because it means we have very little to show for the debt we racked up and saddled ourselves with in our younger years.


Oh yes, there's that college diploma and all the knowledge and life experience I gained those years that I will forever appreciate. And the vehicles bought and paid for over time. That's something. But for the most part we'd be hard pressed to recall much of anything purchased on those credit cards we paid off and cut up a few years ago, and those were just a few (or eight or nine) of the unwise choices we made with money we hadn't even earned yet.

I talk a lot about finding good deals and decorating our home on a budget and being frugal at every opportunity, but I haven't blogged a lot about our debts and how we've been clawing our way out of this hole for years. That's because just like every other aspect of our lives, the story changes pretty regularly and sometimes even I can't keep up. One day we're on course to meet our goals and the next day we crash into a hurdle we never saw spring up in our path. Someday I'll write it all out and share our story with others who need the encouragement - it's a long story riddled with setbacks, celebrations, frustration, hard work and sacrifice - and our journey isn't even over yet. But today I just want to make note of some significant (for us) progress we've made this week so on those days when it feels like it's never going to end I can be reminded that, little by little, we're still moving forward.

This week we were able to pay state taxes owed to Pennsylvania and West Virginia (where Steve worked last year) knowing there was plenty of money in the checking account to cover them. We were able to pay off a lingering balance on the one credit card we have which Steve uses for work-related expenses. This morning when I saw that our federal tax refund had hit the checking account I was able to transfer money to pay off a line of credit at our bank - one we've been chipping away at for two years. Later today I'll pay another major bill that finally worked it's way to the top of the pile, and then I might just swing by Dairy Queen to celebrate.

Five years or so ago when Steve and I decided it was time to clean up the financial mess we were in I never dreamed we would be in a position to actually enjoy the time we have together while he is laid off from work, free of fret and worry. We can enjoy this time because everything isn't an emergency anymore. We have a little money in the bank to get us through. We are able to use that nice chunk of change we got back from the feds to hasten our debt payoff. That's pretty cool.

What I feel in my heart today is the kind of peace financial guru Dave Ramsey talks about. We've gotten to where we are by using the principles Dave outlines in his book, The Total Money Makeover. I can't say we follow the plan to the letter. My DR friends would shake their fingers at us knowing we occasionally use that credit card. And yes, we will likely secure a loan when we purchase a new travel trailer for Steve to work out of. But we tweak the program to suit us because we're talking personal finance here, and sometimes what we feel is best for our family means we bend the rules a little. That's OK. We're making progress. At times we take two steps forward and one step back, but we're inching closer to the finish line nonetheless.

So today we celebrate the death of three balances. We say goodbye to those nagging obligations with ridiculous interest rates. We do a little fist bump that says "way to go, baby" and we turn our sights to the next target on the list.

That would be Sallie Mae. She's been hanging around here like an albatross long enough. It would totally make my year if we could make her go away.

But first, Dairy Queen.


Photo credit.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In my next life I want to be a cat.


Oooh, so comfy.

A little to the left, mama. 

Could you scratch my ears?

Oh wait.

Nevermind. I got it.

Now if you would just stop moving around ...

and get that camera out of my face.

I could go back to sleep.

I just wanna sleep. 
But no. You persist.

SRSLY?

Stop it or I will eat your camera.

 I'M NOT KIDDING!

Now leave me alone.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sick and tired ... to sunny and quiet.

That about sums up my day.

I've been sick for ... oh, I don't know ... going on a couple of weeks. It started out as a sore throat and sneezing and watery eyes - I chalked it up to allergies brought on by springy weather - and then after several days I felt really good for ONE day and thought "oh, thank goodness that's over" and then the next morning I woke up with this rattling in my chest and started coughing. And I've been coughing and sneezing and sniffling ever since.

These are the days I rejoice that Steve is home, even though his being here means he is not out there working for a paycheck. He has been cooking and taking care of the kids and generally making sure the house doesn't fall down around us. Oh sure, we would figure it out even if he wasn't here, but it's so much nicer that he is here.

One night my head was so heavy and I felt so cruddy that I went to "lay down for a while" at around 6:30 in the evening and never got up. Around 10 I woke up hungry and stumbled out to the kitchen for a snack. Steve had tucked the kids in and the house was quiet.

God bless this man of mine.

Seems like the universe knew exactly how I was feeling because the weather we've had over the last few days matched my mood. We got a nasty storm Sunday afternoon and evening that covered the ground with snow again. Then a wicked thunderstorm (which I actually enjoyed) wiped most of that snow away again. Yesterday: dreary and drizzly.

But today is sunny and beautiful and it's a welcome change. It's amazing how a little sunshine can lift my mood, even when my whole body aches and I feel like my head is about to explode. A nap with the sun shining through the window is like a cure-all.

So I've been puttering around the house today, clearing a little clutter here and tossing a load of laundry into the washer there. Catching up on some reading. Being inspired as I flip through the pages of the magazines that have piled up recently. Enjoying a good cup of coffee. Watching the kitty stretch and turn as he naps in a chair.

I'm sick and every time I get up to do something it saps what little energy I've garnered. But the sun is shining and I have time to relax and take care of myself, and for that I am thankful.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A poem.

Rain pounds the roof
Like a cadence ushering spring
Thunder booms its voice:
Leave, bitter cold, leave

Thunder booms, rain pounds
Little girl startles awake
Finds her way in the dark
Seeing with fingers outstretched

Mama. Mama?
She shakes with fear
I pull her in as lightning flashes
Her body folds into mine

Like pieces of a puzzle
All in this tiny bed
Lined up daddy, mama, girl
Orange kitty and pink stuffed bunny

Stray hairs tickle my cheek
Hers or mine?
Small fingers take my hand
Breathing slows

I give thanks for the storm
That washes winter away
Crowds this bed
Cleanses my soul

Minutes pass, the storm fades
Hear the quiet? I ask
Yes, she says
Clutching pink stuffed bunny

They leave a space empty, warm
I love you, I say
I love you too, she responds
As she feels her way in the dark

Back to her own space
Her pillow cool now
But safe
Sleep, baby, sleep


Photo credit