Thursday, April 10, 2014

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, which is the strongest tomato?

If I grew nothing else in my garden this year, I would at least grow tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. Because from the time the harvest is over in the fall until we're starting seeds again in the spring, there is nothing like the taste of a meal made using tomatoes - or sauce from tomatoes - you grew yourself.

Pizza with thick, pasty sauce. Chili with chunks of last summer's abundant harvest. Spaghetti topped with homemade marinara. YUM.

The last couple summers, in the interest of saving myself some time and possible heartache, I purchased tomato plants. The frugal side of me couldn't stand the idea of shelling out the amount of cash I'd need for as many plants as I want this year though, so I decided to start some seeds myself.

I spent about $13 on three packs of organic seeds and a Jiffy mini greenhouse seed starter (which I can re-use). As soon as I got home I soaked the peat pods and planted my three varieties of seeds, labeled the lid and set it in one of my south-facing windows. Less than five minutes later my dog had one of the clumps of seed starter spread all over the floor.

Bad dog.

I was able to gather up most of it and stuff it back in the little mesh thingy that holds it all together, plant a couple new seeds, and set it back in the container. Within just a few days I had sprouts. Happy!

I cared for those tiny plants over the next few weeks, rotating the container so they'd each get sun and keeping them just the right amount of moist.

One day apparently the dog made the connection that what I was putting in that little dish at his nose level was WATER. You can imagine how that went.

I lost one plant.

And then one day a certain offspring grabbed something from the corner near the window and bumped the table where my seedlings were thriving, upending the whole container.

Ugh. Is all I'm gonna' say about that.

Miraculously, just a few of the plants didn't make it. But after that incident I had no idea which plants were which.

What I did know is some of them were beginning to outgrow their little home, so it was time to do some replanting. This afternoon I gathered up some containers and soil and did just that.

So much for labeling. I have no idea how many plants of which varieties I have.

 I have 17 seedlings in various stages of development. I'm not sure I won't start a few more. Because you can never have too many tomatoes, right?

I'm excited to see how these babies turn out, and if I can manage to harden them off in a few weeks without losing them. That's the part I lose interest in pretty quickly - the shuffling things outside during the day, in at night, out during day, in at night.

Though I suppose if they can survive my animals and my kids, they have a pretty good chance of making it to summer.

Wish us luck.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The gift of Clarity.

**big exhale**

Road trips have a way of helping me find my bearings.

Even though I love this place we call "home," while I'm away from it I tend to gain a little perspective ... a fresh view (that perhaps I'd lost over the longest. winter. ever.)

My adventurous spirit craved a change of scenery, a warmer climate, time spent with friends who speak with just a hint of a southern drawl. It was just what I needed for spring break this year, and lucky me! The weather timed things perfectly so that we missed the last of the snow showers while we were gone and the snow was almost completely melted from the yard by the time we got back.

While the kids and I were out in West Virginia visiting Steve last week we fell asleep to the sound of the peepers each night and woke up to birds singing every morning. It was heavenly. And sure enough, we're hearing them here at home now, too. Bliss.

This time around, despite the kids getting in a large helping of bickering during the days we didn't leave the campground, I came home feeling refreshed and with a renewed - or strengthened, maybe - sense of purpose. I have struggled over decisions made and directions chosen, but lately I feel like we're on track. I pray often for guidance - as a wife, a mom, a Christian, a friend, a steward - and while there is always room for improvement, today I have a sense of peace.

Dunkard Creek, near our campsite

We got some great family time in during our visit. We ate dinners together. The kids and I went shopping at the mall one day and Rachel finally got to spend her birthday money. I met up with and had a great visit with my girlfriend, Heather. One rainy afternoon Rach and I got hot cocoa and coffee and went on a book binge (lots of summer reading material!). We did a lot of chilling out, napping, reading (me), playing video games (the kids), and just enjoying the break.

My loves.
(This photo pretty well defines how different they are.)

 Camp chickens!
The girls were hanging out right around our trailer when we got there the first afternoon. Steve joked that he had them brought in specially for me, because he knew how much I'd love it.

 I did enjoy watching them scratching around all week!

Rachel enjoyed some quality time with our buddy's Basset Hound, Daisy.

Sweet ride, Sammy.

I'm always sad to have to leave Steve, but at the same time I leave happier because I have been with him. Back here at home I smile at some of the memories we made during this trip, and I look forward to being together as a family again when Steve comes home for Easter.

In lots of little ways I am continually reminded of what is important in my life - what is and what should be. And I am forever grateful that I am able to share my life - however unconventional our lifestyle may be - with these people I adore.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A rare quiet morning.

I'm enjoying this Saturday morning of quietness. It's the first day in what feels like forever that I have nothing on my calendar - no commitments, no place to be. So I'm sipping my coffee and making plans to attack what's left of Mt. Laundry (after I already did a few loads last night) and try to make some order out of the chaos that is our house lately.

I love my new job. As I've told friends recently, the work is not life-altering. I'm not changing the world by processing people's water bill payments or answering questions about citywide trash pickup, but I am making a difference in my own little world. I'm making a (small) contribution to our family finances. I feel a sense of purpose. I'm teaching our children that mom has a life other than the one she's been focusing on them all these years (in other words, you'll have to learn to get yourself out of bed in the morning because I'm busy). I'm learning to manage my own time a little better.

It's just 20-ish hours a week, four days a week, which is just enough to push me to be more productive in the hours I am at home. And to appreciate those hours with my family, and in this home I love.

Steve is getting settled in back at work, too. After having him home for a few months and over the holidays, it's taking some adjusting. But we're making plans to visit him over spring break, which will be nice. I will welcome the change of scenery.

We're finally getting a glimpse of the end of winter. Every few days temps reach up into the 40's, which is enough to melt a little more snow. The roof of the house is clear now, but most of our yard is still covered with more than a foot of snow, all heavy and packed so hard we can walk on top of it. Yesterday it rained, and then last night snowed just enough that there was a dusting on the deck when I woke up. I am so over this winter. I've been looking at garden boards on Pinterest and flipping through my spring magazines, making plans for when I can finally get out there and work the soil. This week I picked up a small seed starter and planted some tomato seeds - I can't wait to have some GREEN around here! And I have other projects I'd like to tackle, too. Mostly furniture pieces that need to be taken outside and sanded so I can paint or stain them. I know ... patience. I've never been good at that.

I also want to finish some blog posts I've had hanging around over the past month. I think of something I want to share, start a post, and then get distracted. Story of my life. So ... while I'm waiting for the ground to thaw out, maybe I'll get some of those up.

Think spring!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Starting a new chapter.

There's a lot happening for the Pipe Lifers these days.

Well. At least a lot more than has been happening over the last couple months while Steve was laid off.

After start dates got pushed back and pushed back again, Steve ultimately changed employers to one that could get him back to work now. He left Sunday and started work in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. I miss him. I miss him like crazy, especially after being a little bit spoiled by having him here 24/7 since Thanksgiving. But it doesn't take me or the kids long to get back into our "normal" routine here at home. And I know Steve's glad to be back out there working to provide for his family.

The difference this go-round is that I went back to work this week, too. (Squeeee!)

I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a homemaker and focus on raising our kids for the past six years. That doesn't seem very long in the grand scheme of things, but that's half my little girl's life! I've done a few short-term or very-very-part-time jobs here and there, but nothing on a regular schedule since I left my last full-time job.

There was much consternation (only from me ... because nobody else in the house seemed to care one way or the other) over whether I really wanted to give up my wide-open days. This is serious business, people! I haven't had to answer to anybody for six years. I haven't even had to get out of my sweatpants most days. That might've factored into my decision a little bit. *ahem* I might've needed a little ... encouragement ... to DO SOMETHING. I mean, it's not like I don't do anything when I'm home, but I certainly don't jump out of bed and shower and get dressed and put makeup on every day. I am just not one of those women. Couple that with a tougher-than-usual winter and being virtually snowed in for days on end and I am ready to fly the coop.

I started my new job Wednesday. It's part-time, Monday-Thursday. It's at the city offices in the town where my kids go to school, a fact which landed squarely in the "pro" column. Also a pro: I was already acquainted with everyone in the office. And I'll always have Fridays off because the office is closed Fridays.

Cons? We all know it costs money to get to work. Gasoline is one of our biggest expenses anyway because we live in the middle of nowhere. During busy times (sports, driver's training) I make several trips to town each week, so it's hard to tell how much more I'll spend on gas, if any more at all. But I know I need to pick up a few items of clothing, because y'all? I have a pair of corduroy pants. Oh, and a few sweaters that will get me by, but pants? This gal is lacking. I even wear jeans to church. And it's not like I have a closet full of jeans, either. Lucky me, lots of cold weather clothing is already on the clearance racks. I might poke around when I'm out and about this weekend.

So ... that's the big story for us these days - we're both back to work. I'm excited. It feels good to have a little more purpose each day as the kids need me less and less.

I've got two days under my belt. So far, so good.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Saturday worship and Sunday morning coffee.

We're smack in the middle of another cold snap here in Western Michigan.

Or ... colder snap. Because, ya' know, it IS the end of January. It's winter. But temperatures will be in the single digits the next couple of days with more snow piling on top of the more than a foot (and several feet where it's drifted) we already have.

A handful of churches in the area cancelled services today because the road commissions just haven't had time to clear everything, and once the snow is pushed back it reveals a layer of ice underneath. Treacherous.

I was bummed. For as much as I wasn't looking forward to going out in the weather, I really need to be "fed" among my church family. I can study the Gospel on my own any time, but it's not the same as hearing it surrounded by my people, who encourage me to live it out every day.

Alas, there is plenty to keep me busy here at home. Yesterday I was the one doing the feeding of my peeps, and it was my own style of worship. I cooked and baked - and prayed - all day. With Steve having been off work for a couple of months we are stretched pretty thin on the financial front, yet we have so much for which to be thankful.

We are well fed. We have a roof over our heads and a warm home. We are together as a family, healthy and able-bodied. We are surrounded by people who love us and provide a support system others only dream about. And so much more.

We've been confined to the house a lot lately with sub-zero wind chills and nothing extra in the budget for outside entertainment. It gives this over-thinker too much time to over-think. Lots of opportunity for the depression and anxiety I fight every day to weasel their way in. So I fight harder. Some days I give in to the urge to sleep all day. Some days I all but ignore my family and escape into someone else's world via books or the Internet. Or TV. And I don't even like TV that much, but I've come to feel a certain bond with the cast members of The Big Bang Theory.

It's bad, y'all.

But not today. Today we have fresh pumpkin bread to snack on and I hear productive activities all over the house calling my name. My morning coffee is kicking in and I know I better wrangle that energy into something good or before long I'll think the snowbanks are closing in on me.

Have a blessed day.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

And so it begins.

It's Day 1 of a New Year! Happy happy. Welcome to 2014.

Do you have plans? Resolutions? Goals? Anything of the sort?

Or are you of the mindset that any day is a good day for a fresh start?

I fall somewhere in the middle. I love the idea of folding up the previous year's wall calendar and hanging up a brand new one. I appreciate a clean slate. But I also think just like the start of a new year is a great time to make changes, so is the start of a new week, or month, or season.

With that in mind, I wasn't too hard on myself (or my family) when the house was still in a bit of holiday chaos as the four of us rang in the New Year together. Each day will be a chance to make progress toward improving myself and living a better life ... and part of that is accepting the fact that everything doesn't have to be in perfect order all around me before I can work on me.

If I were to choose a focus for myself for this year it would be this: mindfulness.
noun: mindfulness
  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
    "their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition"
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
This is going to take some work for me, which seems funny since as a journalist it's my job to observe and be aware of my surroundings, to take it all in without judgment. But in my personal life I often find myself overwhelmed - with information, options, responsibilities - which leads to a lot of mindless eating, anxiety (which doesn't help anything), "paralysis by analysis," and generally just feeling not as satisfied with my days as I could be ... and I think as God would want me to be. I think there are a lot of areas in my life that will benefit from me simply being more aware, acknowledging how I feel in a particular situation without automatically reciting my old standby (and often negative) self-talk.

I'm ready for some positive personal growth. Strengthened faith. Better relationships.

And yes, maybe a little less chaos around the house. But that might have to wait until the kids go back to school next week.

Let's do this.

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.