Monday, December 23, 2013

An 'accidental' tradition.

You can always assume that when we bring our Christmas tree in the house it will be about a foot and a half too tall. So what do we do? We hack away at it from the top down. 'Cause that's how we roll.

But don't fear, it really doesn't change the look of the tree all that much. It's still all limbs and as wide as it is tall, and taking up half the living room as if it's afraid someone might forget that IT'S CHRISTMAS!

This is my view when I look left while sitting in my favorite chair:

When Steve sits in his favorite spot on the end of the couch we have to look at each other through spindly branches and around homemade ornaments. The star at the top is cardboard, made by Rachel. We used to have an angel. She might still be in another box I haven't gotten out, but I kinda' like the star.

Our tree came from family property behind our house. We haven't always gone out and cut our own tree, but a few years ago we were pretty broke at Christmastime and didn't want to (or just couldn't) spend the money to buy one, so Steve took the kids out back and found one for free.

It was so huge, so wide. It seemed ridiculous that we would bring it in the house. But we got it covered in lights and as many ornaments as those wispy branches would hold up. It was perfect.

So in the years since then the kids have asked each year when dad would take them out to pick out a tree. Even the times I have quietly mentioned how I would like a tall, thin, perfectly trimmed and sturdy-branched tree ... from a Christmas tree farm, perhaps ... the kids have poo-pooed the idea in favor of trudging out to the woods with dad to pick a very natural, homegrown evergreen.

I will admit drooling a bit over the gigantic, lush spruce that stands at the front of our church. But our tree at home - our "aggressively festive" tree, as one friend calls it - is just as beautiful.

  This year's pick (and my lumberjack husband sizing it up):

This was the first year I went with Steve and the kids to pick out the tree. It was fun - and being out there in the woods is always inspiring but particularly so when everything is covered with about a foot of snow.

We actually didn't bring the tree home on the first round. Steve's chainsaw wasn't working right, so we made mental note of where it was and went back another day.

Rach and I threw a few snowballs while Steve did the work.

It's funny how things work out. That first year Steve and the kids brought the tree in it looked so ridiculous it felt like a joke. Then the next year when the kids requested the same thing I'm sure I rolled my eyes a bit, but decided we could work with it. Now the thought of spending money on something we could get from our back yard for free seems almost silly.

Sometimes the best traditions are the unexpected ones that just happen. I like this one.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When the message smacks you right in the face.

Some weeks ago a friend posted on Facebook asking if anyone was interested in a Bible study based on the book "7" by Jen Hatmaker.

I jumped. Not only have I been craving a little more time spent in and studying The Word, but this part-time journalist/full-time mama and homemaker could really use a regular date with a few other adult women.

Fast forward a few weeks to now. I dive into 7 and I am immediately convicted.

I'm laughing, because Jen Hatmaker is hysterical and I adore her girl-in-the-next-pew, nobody's-perfect style. I am devouring the book. But I am also stopping every few paragraphs, going back and re-reading, reflecting on my own life, my family's consumerist habits and the very basic things we take for granted like all the clean water we could want and a warm, secure place to sleep at night.

(Go ahead. If you haven't already, Google Jen Hatmaker. I'll wait.) 

Reading this book now is perfect timing for me. Steve has been off work since the week of Thanksgiving, and probably won't be starting his next project until after the first of the year. This wasn't unexpected. We knew he would have some time off this winter, and I actually looked forward to having him here at home through the holidays.

Even when it's expected, though, is it ever really a good time to be unemployed (read: without a steady income)? And listen. I am the kind of girl who needs the threat of that looming deadline to get my butt in gear. I try to sock money away all year long for occasions such as this, but it seems like about the time we have a good chunk in the savings account the wheels fall off. Sometimes literally. Repairs on pickup trucks are expensive, and pickups are what we have. Household repairs aren't cheap, either. Home ownership is not for sissies ... or anyone who gets a little anxious when the numbers don't compute the way you want them to. *ahem* And don't even get me started on the expenses of raising children.

So when Steve came home we knew we'd have to go into survival mode, trimming the fat clean out of the budget and making every penny count. He did apply for unemployment benefits which equal about the same amount per week that he was earning in 1995 - when he was single and childless and still lived with his parents. It's at least a nice supplement to the last paycheck that will roll in this month, and all together it will be enough for us to make it to the next paycheck - whenever that is - well-fed and with our sanity (relatively) intact.

But what if it wasn't enough?

Seriously?! (Now I'm talking to myself.) How could we EVER not have enough?

I know there are folks living in poverty all around us. I know many go without food and shelter on a regular basis for reasons out of their control. I know that if I were in their shoes looking at me and my family I would think we were wealthy. Sadly, I often get stuck in the mindset that we are not.

As Jen H. explores in the book, I too often struggle with the "why" of my lot in life. Why am I so fortunate to have been born in the richest country in the world? Why have I had such a wonderful life, never knowing what it's like to go hungry or to not be able to see a doctor when I'm sick? It makes me a little bit ashamed of where we are right now, today: watching Monday Night Football on a large screen, kids tucked into their comfy beds, my bare feet not cold at all despite the chill outside, refrigerator packed with food, some of which will no doubt be tossed in the trash because half the members of this household don't like leftovers.

Yes. We occasionally throw food away because we can't eat it all before it goes bad or starts growing fuzz. This is not ok!!

And this is why I'm feeling convicted. We need to be better stewards of the resources we've been blessed with always, not just when we're feeling the squeeze. AND (and this comes from yours truly, Ms. Pare Down and Simplify herself) we need to stop filling every little empty space in our home and in our souls with stuff. If we busy ourselves filling those gaps where's the room for God to do His work in us?

It's definitely something to ponder, and I have been giving it much thought these last few days. Well ... our "more is more" lifestyle  - and that's a collective "our" as in "Americans" - has been on my mind a lot lately, especially with Christmas coming up, but Jen's book is pushing me to examine my own family's habits a little more closely.

I'm halfway through the book. Who knows, I could end up hating the idea of her experimental mutiny against excess by the time I get to the end. I doubt it, though. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The best Thanksgiving.

How was your Thanksgiving? I hope it was full. Of family. Blessings. Food. Black Friday shopping. Whatever makes you happy.

I think our Thanksgiving Day was the quietest, most relaxing on record for me. I felt like I really had things together, which is no small miracle. I have to admit I was feeling a little down because so much of Thanksgiving is centered around The Big Meal and so much of The Big Meal usually consists of foods I can't (or shouldn't) eat because of my allergies.

And I really hate that something like that gets me all depressed. So I took the bull by the horns and decided what I would really miss - pumpkin pie - and found a dairy-free recipe online, and whipped it up the night before. It was fabulous. I ate dairy-free pumpkin pie the following two mornings for breakfast.

There are a few things that I give the "Is this worth it?" test. I ask myself, "is this cake/pie/bread/whatever worth the stomachache/headache/sore throat/itchy skin it might cause me later if I eat it right now?" That's the difference between having a lethal allergy and one that only makes you feel like you're dying (or want to). Sometimes it's worth it. Most of the time is isn't. But enough about that. Because really? The BEST part of Thanksgiving was spending time with my family.

On Thanksgiving Day we went next door to my in-laws' for dinner. It was just seven of us: me and Steve, Sam and Rachel, mom and dad and grandma. Perfect. We ate, then while the guys went hunting Rach and I crashed in the living room and watched TV and took a nap.

It was snowing that perfect, pretty snow, too. So we took a couple pics outside.

I'm so happy to have Steve home for the holidays.

 And this girl ... God help me.
Rachey (stifling a laugh) and her Great-Grandma Jane.

Then Saturday we headed north to my Uncle Steve's house in Elk Rapids. We've been having this Thanksgiving get-together with my dad's side of the family for ... holy smokes, more than a decade now.

By my count we had 25 people. Perfect. I think as I get older I appreciate these family gatherings more and more.

Rachel colors with cousin Izzy.

My first time meeting my cousin Annie's (and her husband, Greg's) baby boy, Edison.
Squeeee! So fun having a baby around.

Food! Buffet style.

I snapped this picture right before we left. It was one of those moments when you just kind of stand back and take it all in. We are so blessed to have extended family we all love and get along with.

We're back to the grind this week - the kids back to school, me back to ... whatever it is I do depending on the day, and Steve taking care of things that need fixing or doing while he has the time, being that he's laid off and all. Hunting season is over (for firearms anyway) so there is a bunch of stuff hanging around that needs to be packed up and put away.

It's nice to have Steve here. I'm hoping we can sneak in a date night sometime soon, but I really enjoy just having him here. We have a lot of catching up to do. Such is The Pipe Life: miss them like crazy while they're gone, cram in the family time whenever and wherever you can.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Clean Slate Sunday: 11.10.13 Pre-hunting-opener-and-Thanksgiving Edition

Pre-hunting edition because firearm deer season begins later this week and that means our house is abuzz and the excitement spills out into the surrounding neighborhood, down the street to the 100-yr-old schoolhouse-turned-family deer camp.

Pre-Thanksgiving edition because ... hello. I've got the annual Iron Chef America Thanksgiving episode on TV and it just makes me more excited for the upcoming holiday. I love Thanksgiving. Every year we spend Thanksgiving day with my in-laws (and various extended family and friends), then we go to my uncle's house for another dinner and more visiting on Saturday. Family, food, football, relaxing, leftovers, maybe a little Christmas shopping. What's not to love?

The most exciting event for me, though, is that Steve will be coming home for a couple days of hunting next weekend, then after one more week of work he'll be laid off and home for several weeks.

OK, the layoff isn't exciting, but dang it's been a long year of (basically) living apart, we've had a lot of tragedy and unexpected deaths in our community these past few months which makes me miss him even more, and I welcome the opportunity for our family to have some time together to just ... be. I miss living the day-to-day with the love of my life by my side. Sure, we are both a little concerned about finances as anyone would be, but we've been here before and never starved - plus there are prospects for the future and I have a feeling that after just a few days off Steve will start to get a little twitchy and will be making some phone calls.

The man cannot sit still for very long. It's one of the things I love about him.

I have a busy week ahead, but I'll be watching the clock and counting down until it's time for me to head to the airport to pick Steve up. Thursday morning. Three days!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Just some pictures.

Lack of inspiration on the blog-front lately.
Well. Life is always full of material. Maybe just lack of inspiration to write it all down.

I have been taking pictures, though. Here are a few.

 Caught some robins bathing in a puddle in the driveway.

 Fall colors.

 Leaves on the deck.

 A holy seagull? *groan*

Pink skies.

Pumpkin carving with the neighbors.

My own little reminder of what a beautiful fall it's been.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I went here today ...

 I went to town to have lunch with a friend and I couldn't possibly go straight home without saying hello to the water.

Hello, Lake Michigan.
Soon the skies above will be grey and dreary and the sand will be cold underfoot and will sting our faces on the breeze. But not today. 

No, today was beautiful.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hello, October. Woof.

Today was one of those perfect fall days ... sunny and breezy one moment, the next moment overcast and a harbinger of what's to come.

I've had a lot on my mind. Some things I just need to put onto paper and sit someplace quiet and sort out myself. Others I can do nothing about but pray. For intervention. Guidance. Grace.

I also just finished with a pretty extensive DIY project - installing about 600sf of laminate flooring - and in the week it took me to finish it I let some other things slide. So of course now certain areas are in chaos until I find time to pick up the pieces.

This afternoon I needed to get away from all the crap about the government shutdown - on TV, online - and away from the phone and e-mail and just breathe for a few minutes. So I grabbed my camera (which was dusty! For shame.) and took my sweet, silly Gunnar for a walk down the driveway to grab the mail and say hi to my brother-in-law's dog, Baby.

It felt so good to just watch them play and smell the leaves and feel the breeze on my face. I got down on my belly and rolled around with them and got some great photos. It's amazing what a little time outside with our four-legged friends can do for the soul.

How can this not make a person smile?

My handsome boy.

I just love those expressive eyes.

 Giving Baby a little love.

 Rollin' around. We should all do this now and then, no?

 Hmm. Ball or apple?

 Oh, that tongue. Gunnar's just about worn out by this point.

Sweet Baby. There's a lot of energy in that little dog.

"Hey, that's MY ball!"

 Pure joy.

Dogs are so intelligent. We sure could learn a lesson or two from them. Like, need a pick-me-up? Go outside, meet a friend and toss a ball around. Voila!

Monday, September 16, 2013

And then the wheels came off.

We sailed right into the first week of school, all sunshine and roses and good attitudes and willingness to learn and try new things.

Wait. No. That wasn't us.

We stumbled into a new school year, still bleary-eyed from summer travels, bundles of nerves over each kid moving up to new buildings, a little attitude a la teen boy and preteen girly thrown in the mix.

By Day 3 we all overslept and when Rachel woke me up at the precise time we should've been heading out the door to the bus stop I said "screw it" and set my alarm for 45 minutes later so I could snooze a little more and still have at least enough time to make myself a piece of toast to eat while I drove them to school.

Some days I feel like I really suck at this parenting thing. I want to tell my kids when I was your age my mom left for work before daylight and I had to get myself up and ready and to the school bus. Every day. All by myself. Oh, and I had to share space with one of my brothers (by the time I was Rachel's age my oldest brother was off to college). Missing the bus was not an option. So why do they think it is? Who gave them the idea that asking mom to make a 40-minute round trip to drop them off at school just because they're tired so they want to sleep for another hour was ok? Me?? The one who would take another hour of sleep over almost anything? Surely not. *ahem*

I admit I have, at times, probably given my children mixed messages. I've been inconsistent. I have called in the troops (daddy) (grandmas and grandpas) when these children have worn me down so far my sanity is hanging by a thread. Other times my resolve is probably a little stronger than it needs to be and I refuse to budge on something that, in the long run, doesn't really matter.

That phrase "choose your battles" comes to mind.

Yeah, I'm not always good at that. But these kids? Oooh, they will make things up to fight about.

There are times - last night was one of them - when the wheels just come right off this buggy and we, the kids and I, careen down into a mess of overtiredness and ugly words and anger and frustration and slammed doors and lots of tears. My survival strategy is to ... well, for the most part I just hold on for dear life. But then I also remember this, too, shall pass, and I think about the good times, the times when there were no angry words, there was no sarcasm, and nobody felt like the world was out to get them.

I remember the small moments. When he squeezed my shoulders on the way out the door for a weekend with the guys. When she helped me bring in everything from the garden, in the dark, the night it was forecast to freeze. When they worked on something - anything - together or listened to music from the same iPod or he taught her something new or she pretended to be interested in what he was telling her about his latest project. Without bickering.

I am so. tired. of the bickering.

So I went to bed last night praying for forgiveness and mercy, and begging God to help me get through another day without further scarring my children. And guess what? The sun came up this morning. We made it to the bus stop with a minute or two to spare, though no one had showered or brushed their teeth and I don't care who knows. Life goes on in all its imperfect glory. Halleluiah.

I'm going to take a nap.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Back to the grind.

You'll all be happy to know we have survived two full days of school and we are no worse for wear.

At least I don't think so.

The weather has been nice - perfectly fall-like - and I have been busy tackling stuff I put off all summer while we were gallivanting all over God's creation pretending like the laundry would do itself and summer would last forever.

Summer's over, people. OH. VUR. (I'm saying this to myself and my children as much as anyone else.)

And sadly, there is no laundry fairy. Hmph.

So while we all adjust to earlier mornings again and the kids settle into their school day routines, I get back on task here at home. There is much to do. It's no wonder I always felt frantic when I was working full time and the house was chaos. Now I'm here all the time and trying to do all those extra little home maintenance things that got put off because we never had time. Oh, and some fun stuff too. And raise a coupla' kids and a few animals and some fresh tomatoes along the way. And write. Because writing = breathing for me, and breathing is important.

Also important: daddy! Steve is going to be home for the weekend and I can hardly wait. If I could keep him locked up at home and all to myself I would, but the likelihood of that it pretty slim. And that would be pretty selfish of me anyway.

I have a bunch of pictures from summer that I had intended to share, but in the interest of ... well, keeping things interesting ... I'll just post a couple of my favorites.

 Checkin' out Endless Caverns in New Market, Virginia.

Cool cavern pic.
Seriously, it was amazing.

 Pretty farm view. Just because.
This is what I picture in my mind when I think of Virginia.

 The kids taking in the view at one of the stops along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

Butterflies and bumblebees. They were everywhere at this particular overlook.

My loves.

The story of my life. Blurriness and all.

I don't know why, this picture just cracks me up.

So there you have it - a glimpse at how we spent much of August. I have missed blogging and I'm happy to have a little more time to get back to it regularly now. Lots of little things I've been wanting to share just so I can remember them myself in a year or twelve. Onward!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Memories from Mackinaw. And "Mackinac." (Love those Brits.)

My house resembles a war zone. My dogs need some focused attention. The kids start school in a month and we're not even close to ready. I have half a dozen half-baked projects scattered all over the place. And I am just beginning to tame the laundry. Oh, and there may be things growing in the refrigerator that could be considered uncivilized.

But I wouldn't change any of it if I had to give up the weekend I just spent with my girl.

Rachel and I camped for two nights with her Girl Scout troop in Mackinaw City, and spent all day Saturday on Mackinac Island. It was Rachel's first time seeing the Mackinac Bridge and visiting the island, and I am so glad I got to experience that with her.

On a shopping excursion Rachel had her fortune read by the creepy-looking gypsy lady in the box. Part of her fortune said, "Your cool thinking sees you through a mishap with a Taurus or Leo ..."

I'm a Leo. Ha!
Fortunately we didn't have any mishaps over the weekend. Except that Saturday was my birthday, and I did get pooped on by a bird. At least it wasn't in my hair. Happy birthday to me!

Getting ready to board the ferry to Mackinac Island. Rach was a little nervous. She got over it.

One of the horses that pulled our carriage on the first leg of our tour. The tour company uses each team for only four hours at a time, and we were lucky enough to be able to watch the handlers switch our team for fresh horses. They are all very good - and quick - at what they do!

 This was the 3-horse team for the final leg of our tour. That's Wade on the right. He was moving a little slow that day, so the tour guide was fussing at him (good-naturedly). Look at that face ...

One of our stops was at the Butterfly House.
It was awesome. The girls loved it. And I had a new camera to play with.
Beautiful butterfly pictures!

Rachel pointed out that this butterfly looks like a fish. And there was a little pond just to the right ... so he looks like he's about to jump in! Can you see the fish?

 One of my favorites landed on Rachel's finger.
 And she had a couple land on her hoodie.

 I think this is my favorite photo. I love the blue of the butterfly against those huge, green leaves.

 The carriage tour also took us by the cemeteries. If I had a little more time I would have loved to walk around and take more pictures there.

 Military cemetery.

Another stop on the tour:

 The view from Arch Rock down the shoreline.

 After our tour, Rach and I rented bikes and just rode around for a while. It was SO busy on the island that day! We even got in a little traffic jam involving bicycles, horse-drawn wagons and carriages ... we decided to get off our bikes and walk them through that.

 We took a little loop that goes right along the shoreline and stopped for a few minutes to take in the view.

 Me and my girl.

 A view of the Mackinac Bridge on our way back to the mainland. It had been overcast all day and it was a chilly ride back in the evening.

We had a fantastic time. I always feel so blessed (and exhausted!) after we spend time with Rachel's GS troop. The girls all get along so well and I love spending time with the moms, too - several of us go way back, but I consider each of them friends - and we're a good mix of cooks, nurturers, planners, outdoorsy-types. And thankfully, everyone has a great sense of humor. Because when your dinner burns and the craft project doesn't work out as planned and the campfire is mostly billowing smoke, a sense of humor comes in pretty handy.