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.