And Now for Something Completely Different….

We’ve had some major changes to our lives this year, which we’ve been reluctant to share with the interwebz.  In part, because they were embarrassing, in part because we didn’t want to air dirty laundry, and in part because, … well, we weren’t very grateful.

For quite some time our breadwinner was not receiving a living wage at his place of business.  He was a partner in a small town law firm and worked days, nights (sometimes through the night), and every weekend.  As a partner he was no longer on salary, but profit-shared at the end of the month.  Sadly, the economy tanked, profits dried up, and the firm was ill-prepared for the drought.  His partners outvoted him and continued to spend like happy days were here to stay, with no budget, no plan, and no interest in cutting spending.  This meant our family suffered.  Our breadwinner took on not one, but two additional jobs to make ends meet… so we could keep the lights on, buy the groceries, etc.  The children and I bartered for services we wanted that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.  We kept thinking this was a temporary thing: a bad month or two, but it turned into a very bad 18 months, with little heat in the winter and meager rations.  Our marriage took a toll, we blamed each other, and failed to see our own roles in things.  And we failed to be grateful.

While visiting family over Christmas break, a job offer came in from another state, we had to sell our beautiful home at a loss, leave our friends and parish, and my parents suffered some very serious health issues (my mother has leiomyosarcoma, a non-curable cancer, from which she became very ill, and my dad had a serious bicycle accident, which landed him in the hospital with a broken pelvis and separated AC in his shoulder).  Everything happened so fast.  His new job wanted him to start right after returning from our trip.  We didn’t have time to properly say goodbye or even return home together.  Our family was in crisis, financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  And we had to do what we had to do to keep our family together and afloat.  And I cried.  A lot.  I felt so much loss all at once and I still couldn’t figure out how to stop.  Or how to be grateful.

The fall-out from that decision was huge.  Matthew’s partners are understandably very upset about him leaving.  It happened suddenly.  They weren’t prepared for it.  They took it personally.  They had planned to retire in 5-10 years and expected Matthew to buy them out.  Despite his warnings that he wasn’t able to pay our mortgage, they were apparently oblivious to what we were going through… and continued to spend… a lot.  Now, by their own estimations, they owe Matthew $70,000, but are punishing him by not paying him what they admit that they owe him.  By our estimations, they actually owe him more than that, but we’re not going to get into the details here.  We need to stay focused: gratitude.

This business ended up with our family being separated for three months, our hero had to drive our one and only car to the new state, rent a room from a stranger, and start his new job.  I had to drive myself and three children cross-country (through the mountains, in the winter time, in an older, relatively unreliable car), pack up our beloved house and sell it, sell off a lot of our furniture, take care of major car repairs, and arrange a cross-country move with simultaneously caring for our three, special-needs children and two dogs all by myself.  Clearly, this was a path we felt we had to take–we weren’t doing this for fun.

So, gratitude.  Eucharisteo.  My sister gave me a book for Christmas called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  It changed my life.  At first I couldn’t stop crying (or even get out of bed), but there was a moment when things started to change.  I was driving my mom home from radiation.  She was vomiting in the car next to me.  I was dying inside and fighting the tears.  I felt like I had hit rock bottom.  It was the kind of sadness that gives you a lump in your throat, empty-rock-filled belly, and heat in your cheeks and nose.  The tears welled.  I inhaled hard to keep them from flowing.  So I could see.  So I could drive.  It was a foggy day in the NW.  I’ve always loved the pine trees, especially on a foggy day.  I took a leap and thanked God for the pine trees.  A weight lifted.  I could breathe again.  Then I thanked God for the fog.  More air.  My burden lifted a little more.  I thanked God for my mom and that there was a treatment they could give her for her pain.  More relief.  And I realized that my gratitude was changing everything.  It was the antidote for my suffering.  It was the antidote for fear, anger, stress, sadness… everything.  Gratitude could keep the tears at bay and help me to breathe again.  Gratitude got me through that time of transition.  It helped me keep going when I felt I couldn’t go a step further.  God helped me through it… one mile at a time… one revolution of my tire at a time.  Eventually, I came to understand that in my sufferings, there is always something for which I can be grateful.  And eventually, I came to learn that my sufferings themselves were gifts.  God was pruning me for something better.  He was stripping away many things I loved because He saw how sad we were and wanted to give us something better.  I was like an out-of-sorts child throwing a tantrum when it was time to leave the playground.  God was my parent, offering me food, rest, and something even better to do afterward.  I was so utterly ungrateful.

This new town has been a place of rest and recovery for us.  We feel we have been called here to rest and recover from our ordeal… and that He has better things in store for us here.  Our children are receiving much-needed services from specialist doctors we didn’t have available to us before.  We have enough.  We are smiling again.  And we recognize that all our sufferings were all for our benefit.  It is as it was meant to be.  Nothing is a loss.

Our initial sufferings taught us to persevere, to do without, and to advocate for ourselves.  The losses gave us the gift of detachment and childlike trust in God (we had no other choice–things were so out of our control and we couldn’t see beyond the bends in the road).  This gift is the one I’m most grateful for.  It’s become a welcome friend.  Our months-long separation solidified our marriage and reaffirmed that we’re better off together than apart.  We’re a good team and we love each other very much.  But the best gift of all has been the gift of gratitude.  We are so, so grateful!  We’re grateful for the speedy sale of our house, the good new buyers who love it like we do, that our family is all together again, that we have such great friends we’ll forever cherish, and for our new friends we’re just meeting, for friends we’ve been reunited with here, for good parishes all over the place, for good landlords who share our Faith (and not having to do home improvement projects), for our families and their support and unconditional love for us, for the former partners who gave him his first start and showed him the ropes, for trees with dappled sunlight outside our windows, for walking trails and close-by playgrounds, for good doctors, for health insurance, for a regular paycheck, and so many other gifts too countless to mention.  For second cars and second chances.  For a blog to chronicle our new-found gratitude.  For our struggles that chip off our rough edges and help us grow in holiness.  And most of all, for God and His overpowering, overwhelming love for us.  Now I find myself tearing up when I think about how much He loves us and just how very, very good He’s been to us.  Gratitude preceded the miracle.  We are so, so blessed indeed.

An Open Letter to My Kitchen Sink

Dear Sir:

I am not sure if our ongoing business relationship is going to work out, despite having several productive years together.  You see, I am simply not sure how I can satisfy you professionally anymore.  You run slowly, and I plunge you— several times.   Yet, you back up again.

I pour down all kinds of Liquid Plumber and other chemicals that their peddlers swear would help you in minutes.  They did no such thing.  So, I went to go and get some lye, which the man at the hardware store says comes highly recommended by the Mafia for the disposal of bodies.  Apparently, and thankfully I suppose, there is not a human body part in your pipes anywhere, because you still back up. So, then on yet another recommendation,  I bought some sulfuric acid, even though buying sulfuric acid and lye within several weeks of each other is frowned upon these days.  (I absolutely refuse to buy you cold medicine— don’t ask.)

I haven’t used the Liquid Fire sulfuric acid yet, because it came in a plastic bag and with a warning label that basically reads that I really shouldn’t be using sulfuric acid at all but, if I do, I should make my will out first.

So, here’s what I have done instead:  I have spent several hours “snaking” you, clearing out whatever crud I can find in your grease-laden pipes.  When I hit a dead end, where one pipe fed in to another, I went down my basement, found an opening to the new pipe, and snaked it too.  Alas, for all my efforts and after about six feet in to the pipe, I located another 90 degree turn. All the while, you insist on backing up.

In, summary, I feel as if I am giving in this relationship and receiving nothing in return.  I must insist that you being helping me help you, or I may have to consider washing my dishes out in the bathtub for the time being, because I absolutely positively refuse to spend hundreds of dollars on you by ripping out a wall, sending a camera down your pipes, or filling you up with some sort of witch’s brew that supposedly works when the official chemical of Mafia assassins does not…

Yours sincerely with honor and love,

Matt

Homesick

 

I had extra tomatoes and basil to use and decided to make Mrs. Young’s famous pasta dish.  It’s one of our favorite meals in the summer.  It has tomatoes, basil, garlic, pasta, olive oil, and mozzarella (which I still need to add).  Served, as she suggests, with Merlot, it’s possibly the most perfect pasta dish of all time.

And, for some reason, this morning, it’s made me feel very homesick.  I wanted to write to Mrs. Young and tell her how much I love her and her wonderful cooking.  I remembered her aprons with sayings about always cooking with wine (and sometimes putting it in the food too).  I remembered family movie nights and Rosary groups with their family.  And I suddenly felt very nostalgic.  She threw the most beautiful bridal shower for me nearly twelve years ago.  It was so elegant with china, crystal, bright blue hydrangeas from her garden, and Oregon sunshine.  Oh, how I miss her!

So, thank you, Mrs. Young (and the Young family) for your friendship and sweetness to us.  Somehow, this morning, I’m feeling very homesick for long-time friends and family.  And I’m very grateful for your presence in our lives.

Love,

Emily =)

Anniversary 2012

We are admittedly lazy in the romance department, ringing in our anniversaries by going out to eat (and often including the children).  And with a few exceptions, we can never seem to remember what we did for our anniversaries later. We try, but with kids, dogs, bills, and the other cares of life getting in the way, we never seem to have money or the time to do something really memorable and/or personal.

This year, however, we were determined to do better.  Twelve years together is something to celebrate.  And you never know how many years you’re going to have with someone.  Each anniversary (and each day, for that matter) should be celebrated as if it’s your last.  We are very grateful for the gift of one another and, despite our limitations, we wanted to remember this anniversary celebration.

We started celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary on Saturday, the night before.  We invited a whole bunch of friends over to pray the Rosary with us and enjoy some food and fellowship.  Every month we get together with other families from our parish for a potluck Rosary group.  This month it was at our house.  Emily made spaghetti, french bread, and a veggie tray (from our garden).  Except for the garden veggies, it was the same as our first dinner together in our first apartment.

 

 

Charlie and Matthew picked out the yellowy-peach roses.  Rose and Emily added all the other flowers (lavender, mini pink roses, and butterfly blossoms) from our garden.  The crystal candlesticks were a wedding gift.

We shared a cake and champagne with our friends.  The cake was fantastic–even if the bakery did get our wedding colors wrong.

Outside, the sky grew dark.  The wind roared, thunder boomed, lightening flashed, and the rain poured down.  We sipped hot drinks, watched the candles flicker, and enjoyed visiting with our company.  It was really coming down hard outside.  The 4th of July fireworks had been cancelled due to lack of rain (the burn ban), but rescheduled for that night.  We were sure that due to rain, they were going to have to reschedule again.  Oh, the irony!

As we tucked ourselves into bed that night, we heard (& glimpsed) fireworks from our windows.  The rain cleared up just enough to get that show on the road.  We missed them, but it was still neat to have big fireworks on our anniversary.

The next morning we went to Mass and, afterward, renewed our vows.  Upon coming home, we made breakfast and read for a while as a family (one of our favorite pastimes).  Then Emily gave Matthew the first of his twelve gifts: a shirt and silk tie.  Well, at least we think it’s silk.  It didn’t say.  Silk and linen are the traditional 12-year anniversary gifts.  And these are our wedding colors.

 

As you can see from the pictures, only three presents were ready in time for our anniversary, but Matthew will have 12 days of presents.  It means our anniversary celebration will go on and on and on (until the mighty Greeks are gone, yea-ah…).

Matthew gave Emily the gift of his time and attention, which is her very favorite gift in the world.  We talked, laughed, read books together, ordered the children’s school books, and just enjoyed being in one another’s company.

We are also digging through Quicken and our old calendars so that we can remember our past anniversaries and create something personal so they won’t be forgotten.  Perhaps some artwork or some type of decor for our house?  We’ll keep you posted on what we come up with.  Meanwhile, happy anniversary to all celebrating anniversaries this year!

Stuff and Nonesense

We apologize for the delay, but things have been busy.

The recent thunder showers finally lifted the burn ban.  4th of July fireworks will be this Friday, August 3rd.  The grass is growing.  The garden is growing.  And our water bill can finally stop growing!

The children have been taking swimming lessons.  (when there haven’t been thunderstorms).  We’ll have to post some photos… or video…. Rose and Charlie turn into chickens of the pool, complete with squawking and flapping.  And, at this pool, which is at someone’s house, there are actually live chickens wandering around the pool area.  It’s quite unexpected.  Clearly, there is some kind of subliminal chicken influence going on.

Here’s Charlie.  He tells visitors his name is Charlie, but they can call him Charles for short.  To a little girl at swimming class he announced, “Hi!  I’m Charlie, but most people call me Crazy Chunky!” while whirling around with a flourish.

Our friend, electrician, and general handyman, Tim, stopped by and knocked out that rascally baseboard radiator for us.  Matt merely asked him what tool he might recommend and he stopped by and cut that bad boy right out.  He said it was easy and would only take a minute with his reciprocating saw.  It was amazing!  And it did only take a minute.  Now, why didn’t we think of that?  Clearly, we need a reciprocating saw.  Just think of all the things we can do with one of those.  There are only several more rooms around here with defunct radiators.  Hmm….

One of our neighbors, who, for the record, considers herself an agnostic, drew the most amazingly detailed picture of our church and gave it to us.  We’re talking individual bricks, minute shadowing, leaves, the works.  We are all in awe.  We–all of us–frequently stop and stare lovingly at her work, grateful to own such a masterpiece.  One of the most interesting details is that, from her perspective, a large pine tree blocks the view of the front doors.  In real life, there is a pine tree on either side of the church, but they do not block the view of the doors, which are quite prominent.  Her placement of the tree in front of the doors seems symbolic to us of her own obstacles to entering the Church.

For perspective, here’s a photo of our church:

She could use some prayers as she was recently in a horrible, life-threatening motorcycle accident and air lifted to the hospital in the next town over.  She is home and doing better, but missing teeth and prone to headaches and dizziness.  The gift of this drawing was her way of thanking us for a meal and flowers we brought over after the accident.  Whenever we look at her drawing, it reminds us of her and her thoughtfulness and generosity.  And we pray for her and her family.

In other news, the circus is coming to town.  Seriously.  They are coming to our very small, we-never-heard-of-this-place-before-we-moved-here town.  What are the odds?  The elephants even put up the tents.  Or so we’re told.  We’re not yet sure if we’ll be going, but it’s the biggest news around here since the 4-H fair.  Whoopee!

And that’s all for now.  What about you?  What have you been up to lately?  Any home improvement projects?  Swimming lessons?  Getting ready for school?  Have you experienced a drought and relieving rain this summer too?  Anyone else experiencing a belated 4th of July or circus coming to town?

Rain

The sky is dark and gray in morning.

It rumbles and flashes to start our day.

Crystal drops, clear and clean

Fall fast and heavy on the stubbly parched brown earth.

It fills the plants with life, and us with hope.

Finally, finally, it is wet and cool.

The rain comes down loud and fast.

The sky is filled with lightening flash.

The air it rumbles, tumbles, growls.

Finally, finally, we see some green.

Finally, finally, we feel relief.

It’s too little, too late.

The corn has tasseled; July 4th has passed.

The farmers and fireworks vendors are sad.

And so are we.

But there is relief.

Thank You, God, for the rain.

 

 

Musical Rooms, Peace, and DIY Built-Ins

So we’re changing things up around here, making a big mess, and beginning a DIY project or two while we’re at it.

This rearrangement is a little confusing, affects four rooms, and will be completed in stages.  We moved to Elizabeth’s room, all the children (including Elizabeth) moved in to our room, and Rose and Charlie’s old room will get some much-needed TLC with paint and maybe a floor refinishing.  Eventually, we plan to move into Rose and Charlie’s old room, fix up the room we’re in now, and then make it into the new and improved guest room.  It has larger (for us) his and hers closets and a built-in bookshelf.  The fourth room affected is a very large room on the main floor.  It is currently the classroom/guest room/office.  We’ve decided to bring all (or most of) the bookshelves to this room, move the guest room upstairs, and attempt to build a wall-length bookshelf.  As we only have overnight guests a few nights out of the year, the children wanted to room together, and we needed a more functional and organized classroom, it made sense to switch things up.  Plus, after five years of living in this house, we needed some new perspective.  And what better way to do that than by playing musical rooms, no?  It’s free, naturally decluttering, and you wake up to a completely different view.  Win-win-win.

We gave our room to the children because it is larger and has three separate closets–one for each of them!  Elizabeth’s bed fits neatly in an alcove and the gigantic bunk bed finally has a wall where it’s not blocking a window.  The children are head-over-heels excited!  We’re excited too because the space is much better for family night prayers and reading stories.  Plus, due to their excitement, they are being so kind to each other.  I hear their sweet tones and keep thinking they have a friend over.  Nope.  They’re just being sweet amongst themselves.  See?  New perspective.  Priceless.

Here are some progress photos.  We’re sorry we didn’t think to get before photos, but our creative juices just cannot be planned.  When the rearranging bug hits, we go with it.

We had a ton of fun and made a glorious mess of our house.  So to keep some semblance of order, while Matthew and the children jumped on their heads on the beds worked, I made dinner.  It would have been easy to get a pizza, but instead, I used what we had, made a healthier dinner, and kept to our zero dollar budget.  Sweet.

It was all I could do to stay downstairs and cook while they were having all that fun upstairs, but I did run upstairs several times to check on them while the food was in the oven.  The dogs were riled up by all the chaos.  They kept running up and down the stairs with me, barking and adding to the commotion.  Actually, in retrospect, it was chaotic and a little overwhelming.  I’m glad I got to cook.

Well, I wish I could say we’re done and ready to show after pictures, but this ain’t no HGTV.  It may take a while.  In the meantime, we can give you a progress photo or two.

We weren’t sure why this room felt so ‘7o’s to us, but perhaps it has something to do with our hand-me-down solid wood bunk bed from the ’70’s, the garage-sale-find Jenny Lind table and chairs, and the shag rug.  It’s a work in progress, but at least it isn’t still looking like our classroom:

 

Do you see why we’re building a bookshelf?  (And did I mention we’re not handy people?)  We’re currently trying to remove this defunct baseboard radiator:

Yeah, it’s pretty much taken us all afternoon, several trips to the hardware store and Walmart, and is currently beating us.  But we shall conquer it in the end!  And then we can get started on that glorious bookshelf.  We’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

What Do You Do for Fun Around Here?

Well, for starters, we enjoy training our dogs.  As you may know, Ty is a therapy dog, and regularly can be spotted at the library helping children read.  He’s trained to go to hospitals, schools, nursing homes, or anywhere he’s needed.  Emily trained him a couple of years ago and they work together as a team.  He enjoyed celebrity status on the front page of our local paper this past April.  Not bad for a dog who was going to be put down because he wasn’t wanted anymore!

Emma (our mini labradoodle) was also rescued.  She came from an Amish puppy mill.  Sadly, she was going to be shot because nobody wanted a labradoodle who turned out more like the lab than the poodle.  She is a good agility dog, and will one day make an awesome therapy dog as well.  She enjoys solving problems and does everything asked of her–even super scary heights and getting on a teeter that drops under her weight.

We have a short clip of her doing a mini course with Emily last night to share.  She’s sort of funny about it with her initial reluctance to go in the tunnel and her stopping part way through the weaves.  She typically gets clicks and treats throughout the course, and she stopped to say, “I get treats back there, and I also get one right here.”

(We apologize if the YouTube player skips and does a deja vu in the beginning.  We’re not sure why that is or how to fix it.  Just scroll it back and try again.)

Enjoy!

“For the Blog”

 

Image

The children created this costume all by themselves, took pictures, and presented it to me for the blog.  It was totally their idea.  We had nothing to do with it.

Image

Image

Point of proof: It is not our style to outfit our children with Clorox container oxygen tanks.  Particularly ones that are really attached, via a tube, to the mouth and nose.  No sir.  Not for us.

They also took pictures of Emma (our mini labradoodle) jumping for your amusement.  These pictures do not do her justice.  Emma is famous around these here parts for leaping over a 4 ft. door or wall without even touching it… or, you know, jumping onto a counter from a stand-still.  Yeah,… she’s pretty much part-feline.

Image

You gotta give the children credit for coming up with this all on their own.  Except for the Clorox bottle oxygen tank idea, it was pretty clever, no?

Earth to Starbase Indiana

 

Our girls, Elizabeth and Rose, attended Starbase Indiana last week.  It’s a free program put on by the Department of Defense for elementary students at our friendly local National Guard base.  Last week was for homeschool students.  The girls learned to use GPS, used maps, designed flight protection for eggs, launched rockets, and generally did a ton of math and physics.  They are now so excited about science that Elizabeth wants to be a scientist fire fighter one day.  (Say what?)  Fire fighters need science too, you know.

 

Rose still wants to be a doctor.  In fairness to Elizabeth, they did have some awesome demonstrations by the base fire crew.

 

This (left) is what they used to design an egg-safety flight. Some children used rubber bands to make a “seatbelt” for their egg. (They were not girls.)  The picture on the right shows a wind machine behind the girls.

 

They also designed plastic space modules on a computer and used a 3D printer to “print” them out.  Welcome to Back to the Future!

 

The red module held by Rose (left) and the black and white plastic circle with the ball bearings (right) are some of things the 3D printer “printed”.  The children each made a mini space module and wore them on their lanyards.

This group of 30 children was comprised of only six girls, of which we provided two.  Our girls were on the Jupiter team, made up of four girls.  Their team came in first place for the whole week!  They took home science-inspired vortex trophies.  The best part was they honestly believed they had been in last place.  The looks on their faces: priceless.

Our girls could not stop talking about Starbase Indiana for days.  We are very grateful for this opportunity for them, and proud of their accomplishments!  Thank you to all who worked so hard to make last week possible.  God bless you every one.