Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

I wanted to write something thought-provoking about Memorial Day, but after a busy weekend and a day spent out in the sunshine today I'm just too tired. I do want to get a couple things in writing before I wander off to dream land, though - because this blog is as much a journal and way for me to remember things as it is a way to share stories and recent happenings with others, and a year from now I'll be happy I can look back on what we did today.

Rachel walked in the local Memorial Day parade with her Girl Scout troop. I was so proud of her. I took a couple of pictures of her with my cell phone, but apparently I didn't hit "save" because those pictures are nowhere to be seen. She looked so cute carrying a Girl Scout flag and wearing her Brownie vest with all the patches she has earned.

My parents came into town to see Rachel in the parade. It had been years since any of us participated in Memorial Day activities, and I chuckled with my dad - who served with the Michigan National Guard - about whether he had brought a handful of tissues with him. Dad gets choked up when he hears the national anthem, and I'm afraid I inherited that sappiness from him. An entire parade dedicated to the military and those who lost their lives serving our country would have us both a wreck.

Following the parade we stayed for the beach side memorial ceremony, and then drove over to the cemetery to see the grave marker at my grandma's and grandpa's grave (he was cremated when he died in '02 and they were buried together when grandma died this year). I was proud to see the American flag waving next to the stone; my grandfather was a Merchant Marine and served in WWII.

I imagine it would make anyone proud looking out across that huge cemetery and seeing so many of those flags. So many servicemen and women who called this area home. So much history. And we're a part of it in some small way.

I was glad to share this day with my parents and my children, and to allow my kids to witness and participate in the show of respect for all who serve this great country. And particularly on this day, those who lost their lives while doing so. We have several family members and many friends who have and do serve in the military, and we have been fortunate and blessed to have them all return home safely. I pray that continues to be the case. But for all those we welcome home, there are those who don't come home, and whose families forever have a void in their lives that will never be filled. We owe those families our deepest respect and appreciation for their loved one's service.

Happy Memorial Day.

Friday, May 27, 2011

It's Friday!

And the sun is shining. That makes me happy.

Except with the clear skies in the early morning comes cool temps and a layer of frost.

YES. Frost.

On the 27th of May.

I'm squinting at my petunias, hoping what I see through the blearyness is just the morning dew. But my brain is not tricked that easily.

Ah well. The frost was spotty so there's a chance I didn't lose anything. I went out to check on things and took my camera with me thinking I'd give an updated picture of my little flower garden, but the sun wasn't up quite high enough so most of it was covered in shadows.

I did get this, though:

My little helper. Not so little anymore.

And this. Yay for color!

I have been moving a lot of dirt and sod this past week making way for more perennial plants and shrubs. It's made for some sore shoulders and lower back, but I am really enjoying walking out there every morning and evening, seeing what's bloomed and what seems to have grown an inch in the past 12 hours. Or sometimes just staring ... and relaxing.

"There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling."  ~Mirabel Osler

More pictures later ...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Here we go AGAIN!

What a crazy few days it's been.

The kids and I went to visit Steve over the weekend which was absolutely wonderful because he was staying at a campground we are familiar with and we had a great time.

Sam found the new rope swing ...

Rachel was in heaven with the petting zoo barn cat's four new kittens (in addition to a mix of other animals including bunnies, baby goats, a deer and a pig) ...

And we saw one of the several peacocks all fanned out, which was absolutely enthralling ...

The crazy part was that we were hardly settled in before Steve told me he had arranged to go back to Pennsylvania to work, having reached his limit of frustration and micro-managing with his current employer. So Saturday - the next day - would be his last day.


This was not exactly a surprise to me. I knew Steve had been unhappy with some recent developments on this job and I had encouraged him to hang in there as long as he could, which he did. I had also let him know, in essence, that quality of life is far more important than money or location.

Actually I believe my words were, "Whatever you need to do. You're no good to me if you're grumpy and depressed all the time!"

So on Sunday we all headed home. We got to spend some quality time together as a family, and Steve and I had a nice day together today when we took our travel trailer (Steve's home away from home) to the RV dealer to have an awning installed.

Somewhere in the meantime, plans changed from Steve going to PA to Steve heading to West Virginia. That's just how quickly things can change. And that's fine; it's all good. He leaves tomorrow after Sam and Rachel get on the school bus.

Tonight I've been trying to do all the "normal" school night stuff to help the kids get ready for another day while also helping Steve get ready to go, however I can. And it's a beautiful night - crickets chirping, frogs croaking, a cool breeze working on blowing a storm in, and the sky turned a glowing pink/orange as the sun went down. I stopped to admire the color and was surprised by a rainbow painted across the sky in front of our house. I hurried outside to take pictures and I could hardly get the whole expanse of it with my little camera.
This one is my favorite:
 I'll take this as a sign we're going in the right direction.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Road Trip!

I'm excited! Probably not as much as the kids, but pretty excited nonetheless.

I am picking Sam and Rachel up after school today and we're heading out to spend the weekend with Steve. He's been working a ridiculous number of hours and it sounds like he'll be working right through the weekend, so the only chance we have to see him at all is if we go to him.

We finally have a weekend when our only commitment isn't until Sunday afternoon, so we're seizing the opportunity to get away. The buckets of flowers and stack of lumber in the front yard will be waiting for me when we return. Projects can be taken on any day, but too many more days without seeing my sweetheart would make me pretty sad.

I've got a few last-minute things to do (including packing) before I go, so I better get to it. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Just needed to share this one.

2 Peter 1:4 

In this way he has given us the very great and precious gifts he promised, so that by means of these gifts you may escape from the destructive lust that is in the world, and may come to share the divine nature.

Last night as I climbed into bed exhausted from a day spent outdoors gardening, I felt the pull to grab a book I keep on my bedside table, My Utmost for His Highest.

This is a book of daily spiritual readings compiled from shorthand notes of Bible teacher Oswald Chambers' lectures. I don't read it every day. Well, I do for periods of a week or two at a time, but it gets to be a little overwhelming for me. It calls for a whole lot of self-examination and, admittedly, there are some days when I just don't want to dig that deep.

But then there are nights like last night when I feel like I'm not quite through with what I'm supposed to do for the day, so I pick it up.

After what I wrote in my last post about abundance, while still - and always - having that nugget, however small, of "what if" and worry in the back of my mind, I found Chambers' words last night quite apropos.

The reading for May 16 says, in part:
"We think it is a sign of true humility to say at the end of the day, 'Well, I just barely got by today, but it was a severe struggle.' And yet all of Almighty God is ours in the Lord Jesus! And He will reach to the last grain of sand and the remotest star to bless us if we will only obey Him. Does it really matter that our circumstances are difficult? Why shouldn't they be! If we give way to self-pity and indulge in the luxury of misery, we remove God's riches from our lives and hinder others from entering into His provision. No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it removes God from the throne of our lives, replacing Him with our own self-interests. It causes us to open our mouths only to complain and we simply become spiritual sponges - always absorbing, never giving, and never being satisfied. And there is nothing lovely or generous about our lives.
Before God becomes satisfied with us, He will take everything of our so-called wealth, until we learn that He is our Source; as the psalmist said, 'All my springs are in You' (Psalm 87:7). If the majesty, grace, and power of God are not being exhibited in us, God holds us responsible. 'God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you ... may have an abundance ...' (2 Corinthians 9:8) - then learn to lavish the grace of God on others, generously giving of yourself. Be marked and identified with God's nature, and His blessing will flow through you all the time."
I am challenged by those words in a couple of ways. First, I recognize that I have a duty to see every aspect of life as a gift, every circumstance as something delivered with a purpose. Second, I am reminded that all the "wealth" in my life comes from one source: to God be the glory.

It was a lot for my exhausted brain to chew on last night, and it still is today. But what a wonderfully-timed reminder.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I am far from a minimalist. I like surrounding myself with things (and people!) I love. One of my favorite things to do is find great deals on items - new or used, large or small - that will add charm and/or comfort to our home, even if those things need a little sprucing up before I'll use them.

That's why it always surprises me that I feel so fulfilled when I unload things from our home that aren't useful or that we don't love anymore. You wouldn't think an inanimate object could cause or create negative energy, but the more I think about it the more I think there is something to the Chinese concept of feng shui. If the position of furniture matters, surely having a piece of furniture we don't even use or particularly care for in the bedroom would make a difference in the flow of energy, right?

We let go of a few pieces of furniture like that this weekend - items that didn't "fit" in our home anymore. The result, at least for me, is an amazing feeling of abundance. Abundance of space. Abundance of potential. And as I reflect on that I am reminded of the abundance in other areas of our lives.

Do you ever have those days - or even just moments - when you think, "wow, things are really coming together for us?" That's how I've been feeling lately.

Sure, I've been crazy busy and nothing is ever really perfect. I have a to-do list a mile long for the inside of the house, the grass needs to be mowed outside, and I don't get to see my sweetheart this weekend. Nothing about us being away from each other is cool, but on a positive note the abundance of work for Steve is a good thing.

The challenge for me is to continue to appreciate it all and forget about any notion that all good things must come to an end. I prefer to look at these times as seasons in our lives; we've been through seasons of struggle and trial to abundance and beauty ... Steve and I joke that it's always feast or famine, one extreme or the other, but rarely just "OK" and an even keel. It sure keeps life interesting.

Have a blessed Sunday. And don't forget to reflect on the abundance in your life.

Photo credit

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lots of irons in the fire ... and a little garden 'before & after'

I keep sitting down to write a post and it isn't long before I'm distracted by something else - the phone rings or the dryer buzzes or one of the kids asks for help with something. Or I remember something I meant to do 10 minutes ago before I got sidetracked with something else.

Spring has sprung and we are busy with life and that makes me happy. But I'm also a little overwhelmed with all the things screaming at me to be done. Heaps of laundry have only gotten higher this past week as I spent much of my days either prepping for the garage sale my family is having at grandma's house this weekend, or picking asparagus with the neighbors. Both ventures create a little bit of income - not much more than Fun Money to support my gardening and thrifting habits, but that's good enough for me.

Things will lighten up a bit once the garage sale is over tomorrow, and I can't wait to have a little more time to spend in the yard here at home. It needs some serious TLC. There are signs of hope out there, though. Early in the week I ripped out a chunk of green (and I use "green" here where others might use "lawn" because it's not really much of a lawn), and created a little flowerbed between a couple of our big ol' rocks.

Despite the fact that they are in the middle of ... well, everything ... these rocks are probably one of the coolest things we have going on in our front yard. The kids have climbed on them, jumped from them, BMX'ed over them for as long as they can remember.

Sorry kids. Mama wants a garden.

(And less green to mow.) 

 The dandelions are a nice touch, aren't they?

 First I dug out the sod (or whatever you'd call it). See that spot of green in the middle? I planted that Catmint about a week ago. It's there in the first photo but you can hardly see it.

 Since I already had some landscape fabric I had purchased for some other project, I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to use some here.

Tip: If you ever use landscape fabric, spring for those little metal stakes that secure the fabric to the ground. Totally worth it.

 I added a Creeping Phlox and Pincushion Plant here, and a couple of old pickling crocks I'll plant some colorful annuals in.

The solar lights add a sweet glow and make this little garden a quiet oasis in the evening. Once I have those annuals planted I might add some other rocks here and there in the bare spots. It's always good to have options!

Now I need to move over and work on the space between that middle rock and the next one. And about a thousand other places in the yard. 

Little by little, one at a time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Relaxing ... and letting go.

Yesterday I had one of those days when I didn't feel very appreciated.

Oh, people all around me made me feel OK. The adults I interact with regularly were kind. Heck, even people I don't know smiled at me at the grocery store.

But my own flesh and blood? Those little people I provide dinner for every night? They were mean. They were demanding and rude and ungrateful. I couldn't do a darn thing right in their eyes.

Well, I guess that's not altogether fair of me. They did go outside with me for a while and do some yard work, and they both complimented me on the new flowerbed I worked up. But beyond that it was crankiness upon snottiness upon grumpiness.

So when bedtime came I was ruthless. No idle chatter. No last-minute showing of a new magic trick. No discussing tomorrow's schedule or grabbing a glass of water. Nope. Get in bed, here's your kiss, now be quiet.

Oh, and I still love you, ya' little brat.

Once the house was quiet I turned most of the lights off and grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge. It was a perfect night to sit out on the steps of the front deck and listen to the frogs croaking and crickets chirping, and even a few deer rustling leaves on their way out of the woods and into the field.

I sat there in the dark in my worn out clothes and bare feet, just listening to the world around me and getting lost in the glow of the solar lights I stuck in that new flowerbed. There was a cool breeze but I was determined to stay out there until either I finished my beer or my toes got too cold.

It was heavenly. I'm pretty sure the moment I stepped outside my children jumped out of bed and sat in the doorways of their bedrooms across the hall from each other and plotted against me. I know this because when I had to step inside to answer the phone I heard a bump, thump, giggle coming from that direction. That's fine; isn't that what kids are supposed to do? It actually tickles me a little and I would have enjoyed the thought of it a whole lot more if I wasn't already annoyed with them. But I let it go anyway.

Back out on the deck I thought of how lucky I am, how blessed that when the day gets to be too much all I have to do is step outside my door and listen and let the breeze carry my troubles away.

I had to laugh a little when I remembered something my mom said over the weekend. We were shopping at a furniture store and I had two little signs in my hands - one said "Relax" and one said "Love" - and I was trying to decide whether I wanted one or the other or both. She pointed to "Love" and said, "you have that," and then pointed to "Relax" and said, "you need to figure out how to do that ... take that one."


I took the dog outside to sit with me while I finished the last of my beer, strolled around the yard with her in the twilight, and went to bed early, a little calmer, a lot less tense.

Hmph. Who says I don't know how to relax?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thirteen years.

Good morning! I hope all the mamas, aunties, Godmothers, caregivers (and the like) out there had a wonderful Mother's Day. I enjoyed a weekend full of surprises large and small which I meant to share with you last night until I got sidetracked doing something I was supposed to do earlier in the day. Oops. So that post got scrapped in favor of today's most important news in the Pipe Life household: it's our wedding anniversary.

Steve and I had so little time together over the weekend and we really wanted to see both our moms yesterday and we had other obligations to attend to, so we didn't get a chance to celebrate our anniversary at all. And of course today he is back to the daily grind. But rest assured, we will celebrate!

Thirteen years. Wow. Whoda thunk?

And what would an anniversary post be without a sappy tribute?

Because that's just my style. *grin*

He's a pretty awesome guy, that Steve.

And I am blessed to be able to call him mine.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A list.

Because I like lists. And I'm feeling very ADD this morning with my brain being pulled in about a bazillion different directions.

OK, maybe just 50 different directions, but that's still too many for one person, isn't it?

1. YAY for clean hot water! We had our water heater replaced yesterday. Steve and I had been discussing what to do with the water heater situation because a) ours was 11 years old and we had never done a thing with it in terms of maintenance and that was beginning to give me a very bad feeling, and b) in the midst of this conversation the hot water from every tap in the house started smelling like rotten eggs. Yeah. Not so great for showering in. Thank God we live in a part of the world where clean water - and hot water on demand - are a normal part of everyday life.

2. I am ready for this school year to be done. Kaput. In the books. Over and out.

3. We have barn swallows living in the cross posts of our clothesline. This is a bad thing in so many ways, except for this morning when I saw them dive-bombing Patch the Kitty. Funniest thing I have seen in a long time. Because Patch, of course, was doing somersaults in the air trying to catch those birds. I'm hoping I can get some of that on video before I ... ahem ... "take care of" the birds.

4. Everything is greenin' up! We don't have much of a lawn, but every day I walk around and check out the places I planted my clearance perennials last fall and most of them are popping up and looking quite healthy! My hosta plants are beginning to make an appearance, and spring wildflowers that have been creeping into the yard over the years are providing some color. This makes me very happy.

5. It's time to do our annual spring yard cleanup before people start asking if we're running a flea market.

6. Steve has been wrestling with some frustrations at work since the day he went back. I feel for him. I can't do much more than listen to him vent about it and encourage him and pray for God's guidance, so that's what I do. And I try to tell him often how much I adore and respect him for all he does for our family.

7. I can't wait for garage sale season to get started around these parts because I'm in the mood for some thrifty shopping. And can I just say? Shopping at someone else's garage sale is much more fun than managing your own. We've got a big one coming up at grandma's house and I'm wondering what I had been drinking the day I offered to take that on.

8. Rachel finished her book for the Young Authors competition this week. It's called "My Dad" and she used a bunch of family pictures in it and wrote a sweet story. It's really nice. But I'm afraid this poor girl has inherited some of her mama's perfectionism. It came out guns ablazin' when she asked me for help with the book. Eeek.

9. I want chocolate.

10. I should really try to remember to turn the thermostat down when I sleep with a bedroom window open. Especially when it's going to get down to 30 degrees outside overnight. Oops. I guess I get demerits on my frugalista card. What? I wanted to listen to the crickets.

11. Twice now in recent days I've discovered a raccoon munching away underneath my bird feeder just after dusk. I can't tell you how tempting it is to RELEASE THE HOUND! I totally would if it didn't mean I'd have to go find the hound after she treed the stupid coon. I just pray I never look out there and see a freakin' bear.

Pffft. Well that list didn't help clear my brain fog at all. Maybe I need more coffee.

Or less coffee.

Or a walk outside in the sunshine. 'cept I'll have to wear a helmet for fear of those angry birds.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, y'all. Make it a great day!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A sweet little 'before & after' in the entry.

The entryway in our house was one of the first areas I painted after we moved in. I didn't think much about the paint color beyond wanting something that a) was relatively neutral, and b) hid all the little toddler fingerprints.

A tan color called Sheepskin accomplished both, but I didn't take into account the color of the closet door and trim which ended up blending into the paint. So the entryway has always been rather blah and not at all a reflection of the cottagey style I've grown into.

But at least it hid the fingerprints.

The other issue I've had with the entryway is I've tried to corral the entry "activities" there with a chair for putting on and taking off shoes, a place to put said shoes, a place to hang/store coats, jackets, the dog leash, and drop keys and mail.

Oh, and if I could make it feel welcoming when visitors enter our home, all the better.

I think it's been a decor and functionality fail. Even my own family wouldn't use the chair; they'd grab their shoes and walk through the living room to sit on the couch and put their shoes on. Umm, HELLO??

So the entry has been my latest project. I decided to re-paint it with the lighter tan (or is it beige?) I used for the hallway and kitchen, and I've been keeping my eyes open for a small table I could tuck into a corner with a lamp and maybe a dish or basket for odds and ends.

At the same time, I've been helping my mom and aunt clear out my late grandma's house in preparation for selling it. While hauling some stuff out to the garage the other day I found this tall, slim piece of furniture stuck in a corner of the garage.

Perfect! I asked my mom if I could take it. And if I got it home and it wasn't perfect for the entryway I would make it work someplace else in the house. Five drawers! How could I pass up the opportunity for more storage?

You can probably see this piece had a hefty layer of varnish on it. What you can't see is how it smelled like moth balls.

It seriously smelled like moth balls.

I took all the drawers out and left the whole thing sitting outside in the sun all day, which took care of most of the smell.

And then I sanded it. I despise sanding with a passion, but I wanted to paint this baby and nothing was gonna' stick to that.

My paint of choice?

I have this thing for Flat White lately because I tried it on one piece of furniture and loved it. I should buy it by the case.

Anywho ... ready?

Piece of furniture: free (spiders and all ... *shudder*)
Two cans of spray paint: $7
Another can of spray paint for good measure: $3.50
5 new brassy-looking knobs:  $15 (Totally worth it.)
Total: $25.50


I think this piece must have been part of a larger set because one side was unfinished and had holes in it like it was screwed to another piece. I don't care. And I'm going to have to take it back outside on another sunny day and let it air out a little more because there's still a hint of moth ball smell when you open the drawers. But that's OK because I love it! (The furniture, not the smell.)

We now have a place to store extra hats and mittens within the kids' reach instead of in a box on the closet shelf, which in turn frees up closet space for bulkier items like sleeping bags and whatever else needs a home.

I also love how a prettied-up piece of furniture and a lamp make this space feel like part of the rest of the house instead of a doorway to hurry through to get to someplace more comfortable.

(Yeesh. These pictures are not the best quality but you get the point, right?)

I'm still working on collecting some items for the other walls in the entryway, but this little makeover has given me some wicked cool inspiration. I love it!

Monday, May 2, 2011

A tyrant is dead.

Wow. WOW. Osama bin Laden is dead.

This is one of those moments in history when we will all likely remember where we were when we heard the news. Public Enemy No. 1, the terrorist leader the United States has been chasing for nearly a decade since the attacks on our country on 9/11/01, is finally out of the picture.

I was here at home in the midst of a conversation with friends in a Facebook group - we were all about to sign off and head to bed - when someone posted that bin Laden was dead and the U.S. had his body. I quickly flipped the television to the first channel I could find with a news feed. And there was the confirmation.

I went numb. What is a person to feel at a time like this? I was relieved. I had goose bumps. I was cautiously optimistic - this was before President Obama addressed the nation - and my mind turned to where I was Sept. 11, 2001 (at work as a newspaper reporter), my friends and relatives who have and do serve in the military and how they would react to this latest news, how life has changed for all of us over the past decade, and whether our world will look or feel different - in a symbolic way - when morning dawns.

Sleep won't come. It's hard to look away from the video coverage of celebrations in front of the White House and in Times Square. America rejoices. But I share in the conflicting feelings some have mentioned and with which the Internet is buzzing now: as a Christian, what am I to feel? How am I to react?

Opinions will differ and many of them will be offered up by way of guidance in the days ahead. Scripture will  be taken out of context and used to support all manner of reaction from celebrating the fact that justice is served to mourning the death of a human being. Me? Certainly I think we are called to pray without ceasing. Pray for our nation. Pray for our service men and women. Pray for the middle east. Pray for the dead man's soul if you can find it in your heart to do so. For even Jesus Christ prayed for those who crucified Him: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

Beyond that, I can only feel what I feel and know that I, too, am a fallen child of God. I would encourage others - particularly my Christian brothers and sisters - to look inward before joining the celebration. Turn your face to God and ask yourself what He would have you do today.

Am I rejoicing that a human being was murdered? Not necessarily.

Am I sad that Osama bin Laden is dead? Not in the least.

Right or wrong, I guess I'll find out someday. And it's not for me to judge others for feeling and expressing what they are feeling right now, too.

One thing's for sure - I will crawl into my comfy bed tonight in rural western Michigan knowing I live in the greatest country on Earth, amongst millions of people proud of their nation and the men and women who protect our freedoms - including the freedom to worship as we please and to gather in the streets and peacefully celebrate or demonstrate. When I wake up (God willing) in the morning, none of that will have changed. And for that I am thankful.

God bless America.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The beginnings of something beautiful.

It was a simple thing - seed packets and small pots packaged together, never opened. Not much more than evidence of good intentions, probably picked up on a whim with no real visions of grandeur.

But to me it was something my grandma had touched. Something that made her smile when she thought of how those flowers would look, all bright and cheery in her windowsill.

Grandma never got around to planting those seeds before she died. So when my mom found them in grandma's house she asked me if I'd like them. I planted them last week and over the weekend the hollyhocks sprouted.

The hollyhocks. The seeds with the longest germination period of the three varieties I planted, and they sprouted first.

Way to keep me guessing, grandma.

The hollyhocks are the only perennials in the bunch (if I plant them outside they will come back year after year), and they are to me the epitome of granny flowers.

Here's a great picture of some mature hollyhocks from

Don't they make you think of a granny (or grampy) with a big straw hat and a gardening trowel digging around in the dirt?

Someday maybe these guys will grow as tall and beautiful as the ones pictured above. They may not bloom until next year, but that's OK. It gives me something to look forward to.

I'm not really one for planting flowers from seed, but what the heck. If they all sprout I'll have some sweet reminders of grandma in my garden all summer long.