Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gutters!

An update on Operation Rebuild is long overdue. Yes, we are still putting the house back together. Sometimes it feels as if we'll always be putting the house back together. We're getting down to smaller  projects though! The larger projects we've had left were the deck, the office, gutters, and exterior paint. We're still battling the insurance company and no additional funds have come through since we moved back into the house so we're chipping away at our big project list as money allows. (Money allows for very slow progress.)

This week, we had gutters installed! Note the word choice in that sentence. We had gutters installed. That's right. We actually paid someone to do the work. We didn't take this task on ourselves. Whew! That's a good thing, because some of those gutters are three stories high.

Oh, beautiful downspout, how I love thee!
No worries, though. We're taking on plenty of work ourselves. The family office space is undergoing an extreme renovation. It hasn't actually been an office space since we moved back home. It was a space to hold the Wii, the cable box, the pencil sharpener, and the printer. It was a space full of storage totes containing insurance paperwork and receipts. It was a space where all things office/utility room related were crammed. But, an office it was not. Soon, very soon, it will be a very nice, fully-functional family office and work space.    



This week though, I'm embracing the rain. Because I can finally walk out my front door when it is raining without racing through a waterfall. Honestly...I cannot remember how many times over the past few years that I have stood on one side of the door or the other, watching the water cascade over the porch overhang, trying to work up the nerve to run through. I can sleep peacefully at night as the raindrops clink against those sweet metal gutters knowing that the water is being effectively routed away from my home and not seeping into places it shouldn't be. 

Who knew I would ever be so excited about gutters? Fire changes your perspective in ways you can never imagine. 




Friday, March 13, 2015

About Hanging On and Letting Go

I am going to tell you a little story. Once upon a time, when I was fourteen and thought I was fat and clumsy (youth is totally wasted on the young), I found myself participating in an experiential leadership group. We called the group simply, Ropes. In  Ropes, a group of ragtag teenagers, all learning to cope with depression, eating disorders, self-harm, drug addiction, and the like (depression- waves hand) were learning to work with others and building our self-esteem by working through a series of physical obstacles and games.

I was bad at all of them.  Seriously. ALL. Of. Them. If we had to climb a rope, I fell before I reached the top. Walk up a 45-degree phone pole? I slid off. Get the group over an 8-foot wall? They just gave up and threw me over. I was always the obstacle. Well…me and one other awkward, very big boy. As the group worked through the planning phase of each challenge, they made plans for how to handle me and the big boy. I wasn’t bad on purpose- I just didn’t have the upper arm strength or dexterity to keep up with my mostly male, athletic group-mates. I always gave my best effort, but I always felt I was letting the group down and I was sure they were all angry at me. I could feel their frustration every time I screwed up a challenge and I know the big boy felt it too. 

One fine afternoon, we faced a seemingly simple (fun, even) challenge. Five tires hung from rope from an overhead support, dangling just a few feet above ground. Our challenge was to get the entire group from one platform, across all five tires, to the other platform, without touching the ground. We could only go forward, not backward. And, we had to get the baby across. The baby was a heavy chunk of an old telephone pole. We made a plan. The big boy and I were not responsible for carrying the baby. Our team mates just hoped we could get ourselves across unassisted. The big boy went first and he made it. And then, it was my turn. The whole challenge rested squarely on my limp shoulders. 

I stepped off the platform and grabbed for the rope. The tire swung. I immediately lost my balance. My foot slipped off the top of the tire. I nearly hit the dirt, but I managed to get my leg through the tire. Safe! I had one leg in the tire, one leg on top of the tire, and my head was swinging precariously just inches above ground. I didn’t have the strength to pull myself up, so I opted to just move horizontally to the next tire. I began to swing, working up momentum, until I could grab the next tire. I was able to grab the rope, but I was unable to pull myself up with one hand. I hung on, still swinging, and got one leg worked into tire number two. So there I was, one leg through each tire, one hand on each rope, butt swinging low, threatening to touch the ground and end the game.

Now, I’m not a quitter. This situation seemed impossible and it was certainly awkward, but I wasn’t giving up. No-ho-hooo. I was not about to quit while I was ahead and walk away with my dignity. Uh-uh. That’s what reasonable people might do. No, Siree. I am a determined soul.

I kept swinging, jerking my weight from side to side until I worked up enough momentum to pull my leg from the first tire and swing wildly toward tire number three. Everyone gasped and screeched as I flailed one leg and one arm inches above the dirt and landed myself in the same position between tires two and three. Swinging, sweating, and grunting in pain, I managed to repeat the same steps to get myself hung spread-eagle between tires three and four.

I was losing steam. I was sure my arms were stretching and my shoulders threatened to dislodge from their joints. I looked up at the platform ahead and a harsh reality washed over me. I realized that even if I could swing this one more time and get myself into tire number five, there was no way I was going to be able to get onto that platform at the end. I hadn’t been able to pull myself up yet and I just kept swinging side to side, making no upward progress. No matter how much effort I gave, I simply could not achieve the goal.  

It was time to let go. I had given this challenge everything I had and it was just more than I could handle. As I hung there from those two tires, butt hung low, head hung back, hair dragging in the dirt, I prepared for the fall. I knew I would hit the ground with a thud when I let go and I knew it would hurt. But, I also knew that when I let go, the other members of my group would lose the challenge and they would be angry with me. I knew that would hurt much worse, so I prepared myself for the emotional pain as much as I did for the physical fall.

I let go. I hit the ground with a thud. I waited for the worst, but it didn’t come. Every member of the group rushed over to me to ask if I was ok. They cheered and clapped. They said they would have never hung on as long as I did and they couldn’t believe I had pushed myself so hard. I was stunned. Who knew that others could see the strength inside of me, that I couldn’t see myself? I learned in that moment, that I was stronger than I thought I was. I also learned that I had support in places I least expected it. My pride wasn’t hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I was fine, empowered even. My group mates didn’t shun me. They supported me. I lived to get back up and face a new challenge the next day.




It was twenty-six years ago that I found myself dangling from those tires, hanging from a rope and losing my grip, but the memory is clear and fresh. It has become a metaphor for my life. Most days, I am swinging from a tire, holding onto a rope. Some days I am on top of the tire, face to the breeze, enjoying the beautiful sunshine. Some days I am stretched between two tires, butt dragging, sweat dripping, in great pain and anguish, losing my grip. Every now and then, I have to just let go and take the fall. But always, I live to see another day and face a new challenge.  


What's the point of this story, you ask? Bear with me. I have a few. First, you need to find your people and build a good support network. You will find yourself swinging from the end of your rope sometimes and occasionally you will lose your grip. Surround yourself with people who know your strengths and who will cheer you on when you’re swinging low and pick you up when you hit the ground with a thud. Yes, you will probably look like a crazy person in an awkward position and you might even bump your butt on the ground a few times, but that’s okay. Your people will love you anyway. 

Second, know when to let go. When you’re in a treacherous situation, you may need to just let go. For the love of dignity, when you find yourself barely hanging on, looking like a fool, just let it go. Some things are worth hanging onto and fighting for. Some are not. Learn how to tell the difference. If it's time to let go, suck it up and let go of that rope. Then dust yourself off and move on to the next challenge. Don't worry. Life is full of them. There will be plenty more.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Puppy Love

The Big Guy and I have been talking about puppies for quite some time now. As in, we should get one. It was time. Mister Jai is aging and the smoke he inhaled during our house fire has taken quite a toll on his body. We are of the belief that the old dog should train up a younger one, and we figured it was time to get on it.

I wanted a Great Pyrenees like Jai. They are noble dogs- independent and confident, That's what I say. If you ask the Big Guy, he'd say they're self-absorbed, stubborn a-holes who are too prissy to get their pretty paws wet.

The Big Guy wanted some sort of Retriever mix, preferably a mix of yellow and golden. He says they are loving, super-intelligent dogs. If you ask me, I'd say they are obnoxious, chewing, playful bundles of energy who never get enough love and attention to keep them from gnawing your door frame to bits.

And then one lovely January day, someone posted an ad for a litter of pups that were part Great Pyrenees and part Golden Retriever and in less than 24 hours...


This little guy came home with us. 

We had no choice. It was fate. And he was irresistible. 


He's already got that Great Pyrenees stance- all noble and independent. 

He has really been wonderful about house training and learning basic commands, but...he came equipped with those blasted sharp little puppy teeth. Destructive forces of evil they are. He annihilated my iPhone charging cord. He chewed the Big Guy's computer cord right in half. And then, he destroyed the cord to the electric blanket. We're thinking of calling him Zap. 

He's got some big paws to fill, but that shouldn't be a problem. His mama was 140 pounds. 


Sadly, that's about as close as he's been able to get to Jai because Jai in all of his independent nobility, cares not what we think about this old-dog-training-the-younger one thing. He is having none of it, and since the puppy's whole face fits into Jai's mouth, Jai wins. The puppy sneaks up on him when he's sleeping and pretends they're friends. 

Some day, puppy. 

But not today. 
   
   
  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Year of Good Things

On New Year's Eve, we once again opened our family's Good Things jar. All year long, the jar sits in our living room with slips of paper and a pen nearby. Every member of the herd is welcome to write a good thing on a piece of paper when a good thing happens, and then drop it into the Good Things jar for safe keeping until the last day of the year. Then, we sit as a family and take turns reading all of the good things that happened during the year.

Occasionally, a not so good thing slips into the jar and someone uses it as a vehicle to torment a sibling.  Sigh. Here and there someone slips something ornery into the jar. But, for the most part, it is a beautiful thing. It is a jar of memories that might otherwise be forgotten; the little day-to-day events that slip by way to fast.



This year was very challenging for our family. A lot of not so good things happened. One child was hospitalized with a virus. Two children had surgery. Our house fire continued to haunt us as the insurance payment remained in arbitration. We started the year with one child still in residential mental health treatment, and we ended the year with that child running away from home. It would be easy to let the challenges define the year, but it wouldn't be right.

This year was full of good things too. We cleared away the remaining construction debris in our yard and got siding installed on the house. We worked together as a family to build a fire pit in the back yard and together we spread three tons of river gravel around it. The oldest child moved into his own apartment and completed his second year of college. This fall, I went back to college and earned an A in all four courses proving to the college and more importantly, to myself, that my lapse in grades was a temporary fall resulting from the house fire. It was a year of recovery and healing.

The Good Things jar reminded us of even more special moments from 2014. There were 8th grade fancy dances, 4th grade school plays, homecoming parades and dances, and first color guard competitions. There were baptisms, tests passed, awards earned, and clay teapots selected for district art competitions. It was a year of smiles and celebrations.

In the midst of the challenges, there were good things. It was a good year.

Welcome, 2015! The Good Things jar is waiting to be filled with your joy.

 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Fire Pit

Hey! How ya been? Boy, how time flies, yo?

I know, I know. I've been a bad blogger. See, here's the thing- I meant to post. I did. I meant to post more back in October. I meant to post more in November. Then I woke up one day and...well...it's almost Christmas.

And here's another thing- I have this issue with order. I had some things I wanted to share and I just can't let go of them. (Cue the Frozen music.) I need to write in some sort of order. I probably need some type of therapy for this.

Anyhoo...

I'm going way  back to October. All summer long (I think I hear another song there) we worked on clearing our back yard so we could build a fire pit. The yard was full of post-fire construction debris and an insane amount of firewood and brush. We had our work cut out for us, but we conquered the mess and by October it was building time.  


Before we could build anything, we had to welcome the bobcat in to flatten out our space. When we rebuilt the house after the fire, we moved a lot of dirt to pour concrete piers and footers and we cut deep trenches to bury the electrical lines. We were left with a giant mound of dirt on one side of the yard. That mountain had to be moved. I was completely giddy when the yard was level again. It's the little things, ya know? That little tree was left standing on purpose- the kids are going to make a totem pole out of it.    



Then, the back-breaking brick moving began. We used a lot of bricks and broken cement pavers that had been left laying around the yard to fill in the open space in the fire pit, thus reducing the amount of dirt that had to be shoveled in, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. 
   

Still, we shoveled an obscene amount of dirt. 


The results though- oh, wow. I loved it.


We filled the top layer with gravel, built a small fire, and stepped back to take a good look at our beautiful accomplishment. 


And then, the Big Guy arrived with a butt load of river rock. A butt load is equivalent to three tons. Three tons. I actually thought I might just drop down in the gravel and die. We shoveled and we spread and we raked river rock for hours around our beautiful new fire pit.   


Finally, we were able to cook dinner over our new fire pit and sit back and rest our aching muscles. That was honestly the best hot dog I've ever roasted. The fire was apparently so bright, Fish had to wear shades. 


In the fall of 2012, I stood on the unfinished deck of my unfinished house and looked out over my destroyed back yard with the big mound of dirt and the deep trenches and the construction debris everywhere and I dreamed a little dream. I dreamed of a time when I would be living in my house again and we would walk out into our back yard and sit around our fire pit. I dreamed of a time that my yard would not be occupied by large construction dumpsters. 

The fire pit is a symbol of closure for me. It doesn't mean the deck is finished, or that the gutters are on, or that the insurance case is settled. But it does mean that we are living life again. 

It also means that we can enjoy a fire again. Outside of the house. In a contained fire pit. A fire pit that is too tall for anyone to fall into. A fire pit that is a very safe distance away from my house. 

What? You thought this meant I was over my fire issues? Not a chance.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Birthday Party#70: A Super Girl Party

Little Bean calls me Super Mom, but my super powers were called into question as I planned her Super Girl-themed 10th birthday party. Truth be told, I know nothing about super heroes. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Thank heavens for Pinterest. I started an inspiration board several weeks ahead of this party.

In addition to my limited super hero knowledge, I also have extremely limited time. Between work, college, and kids' doctor appointments, I didn't have a lot of time to work on this party. Fortunately, I have a house full of fabulous kids and I totally take advantage of child labor here. I cut out a background from black wrapping paper and Fish and The Boy's most amazing girlfriend...um...we'll call her Red...cut and glued lots and lots of windows for our cityscape background. I think it might be Metropolis, but I have muddied up so many super hero words and phrases this week- I just don't even know. I'll just go with cityscape.


Super Girl loved it. We found the family room floor to be littered with Kryptonite (crushed green plastic bottles) and that had to be removed before the party could proceed. Of course, Super Girls can't touch Kryptonite so they had to use their super powers and their special removal tools to get the job done. I attached 4 pieces of string to an elastic pony tail holder and the trick was for 4 girls to simultaneously pull open the elastic band by pulling on their string to capture the Kryptonite. Then they had to carry the Kryptonite over to a plastic tub and drop it in. (There was some cheatin' goin' on in this game.)  


I decided to keep our spider web up from Halloween so our Super Girls could shoot at the web. I was harshly informed that Super Girl doesn't shoot webs, Spider Man does. Yikes. Super Mom fail. But, you know, whatevs. The web was still up. Spider Man is a super hero. I was going with it. 

The Big Guy painted red and black point areas on the web and the kids took turns throwing bolas (those golf ball-ended ropes from the ladder toss game) into the web to collect points. 



While they were outside playing the web game, a sneaky villain  slipped in and stole the cake and presents! They located the villain somewhere in the back yard and shot her down with pink silly string. Once captured, the villain spilled the beans and told them where the cake and presents were hiding. 



 Super Girl was happy, her faith in Super Mom restored. 

Wondering about the #70 in the title? 5 kids, 18 parties each...equals 90 parties. This is #70. Amazingly, this is the first time we've had a Super Hero party. We've had tea parties, chocolate parties, beach parties, under the sea parties, medieval knights parties, Monster's Inc parties, A Bug's Life parties, Sesame Street parties, Teletubbies parties, candy parties, monkey parties, alien parties, One Direction parties, Toy Story parties...but no Super Hero parties. I managed to avoid this theme for 70 parties, people! I guess I couldn't avoid it forever. (But I got dang close.) 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Assault by Bug Repellent

Friday is supposed to be a good day. It’s the fun day of the week I look forward to. This particular Friday was one I was really looking forward to. The weather was nice and I anticipated a house full of kids and teenagers for our annual pumpkin carving. I couldn't wait to get off work and prepare for the party.

In spite of my excitement, Friday was not cooperating. Nothing I had touched had gone quite like I expected.  The cake pops that were to be dipped ever so elegantly in candy corn-colored layers had instead become unsightly orbs coated in glops of melted chocolate.  I had decided to just go with the flow and I had adopted a rather whatevs attitude.  Friday just wasn't what I had hoped, but I pressed on.  

I was boiling sugar into caramel on the stove while also trying to direct my young herd through a last-minute power cleaning of our well-lived in home. You know, multi-tasking, which always works out SO well. I picked up a few scattered hair bands from the sofa and flung them in the bathroom drawer on my way through the hall. I shot a sideways glance at the bathroom floor and noticed multiple rolls of toilet paper thrown in the floor (why kids, why??) and immediately my frustration level grew.

In my extreme frustration, I slammed that bathroom drawer. Hard. Very hard.



A bottle of bug repellent lined itself up ever so perfectly in the drawer so as to align its spray nozzle in such a way that my slamming the drawer depressed the spray nozzle and sent a stream of bug repellent directly into both eyes and my nose in a split second of pure horror. I was BLIND.

I’m not sure if I was blinded by the actual chemical or just from the sheer pain, but I was unleashing a torrent of profanities and indistinguishable screams that could probably be heard on the next block. I was near a sink, but I was not thinking clearly and I began to run blindly toward my own bathroom sink slamming face first into every door frame along the way. Every door frame. I plunged my face into the sink and began flushing my eyes with water which had the effect of intensifying the burning sensation three-fold.

I could not even fathom what had happened. I had just shot myself in the face with bug repellent. For the love of all things! How in the hell could that even have happened? I wandered, still half-blind, back to the kitchen to check on my caramel and then back to the sink for more eye washing.

In the meantime, a well-meaning family member reduced the temperature of my boiling caramel to less than a boil. I decided it looked caramelish enough and we began dipping bite-size pieces of apple. I was so very proud of myself. I had cooked my own, made-from-scratch, caramel and the Fish and I had coated the most adorable bite-size apples ever complete with little bat and pumpkin-shaped food picks.

About twenty minutes later,   those cute little apples shed their caramel coatings in an act of pure defiance.  I said very ugly things. Very, ugly.

But, Friday marched on as it does. Kids arrived with pumpkins to carve and I soon forgot my irritated eyes. There were ugly-but-delicious cake pops to be consumed. There were friends to converse with and hot dogs to roast. There were leaves falling from the trees and ooey-gooey roasted marshmallows being eaten around the fire pit in the back yard.

It was perfection, this Friday with all of its challenges and torments. Absolute perfection.  



If I had my stuff together, and had not sprayed myself in the eyeballs with bug repellent, and had not adopted a whatevs attitude, perhaps I would have actually taken photos of the pumpkin carving party. Alas, I didn't have it together. I did poison my own eyeballs. And I did say "whatevs, people. Whatevs." I did not take photos of our annual pumpkin carving party. But, I did take this last-minute pic with mah friend. So there you go.