Posts

How can so much happiness occur, two days in a row? Again, it has nothing to do with the typical things that produce happiness. Well, that’s not completely true. Food does typically make me pretty happy. But this is about more than food. It’s about using a piece of equipment at will, and achieving success. There’s a theme in these last two posts: use equipment and it works like it should. That makes me happy.

IMG_3166

I’ve had a charcoal BBQ for two years. The gas one died, and I didn’t want to deal with propane.  Bradley helped me at first with it, but since he’s moved I haven’t been successful with my attempts. I don’t know what guardian angel decided to tap me three times and grant my wish, but I’m happy about it. I longed to be able to come home, throw some charcoal on the grill, and cook me up some meat. My last birthday request from the kids was to teach me how to do it. My copy cat attempts from You Tube were failing me, so I’d hope my kids would be more successful. They must have decided that buying a gift was easier than figuring out the trick to a charcoal BBQ, because they didn’t come through with my request. I’m not complaining about the gifts I got, though. Bridgette’s got a great gift for gifts.

So, here is my success. And yes, it tasted as good as it looks. See below for my tips that I’m HAPPY to share.

IMG_3171

Lighting the Charcoal BBQ

Build the briquettes in a pyramid (got these instructions right off the bag). I purchased a cylinder when I bought the BBQ. It was recommended and I know a lot of people like them. But I wasn’t successful with it so I decided to do what the bag says.

Douse with BBQ fluid, about 10 seconds, placing it all over the briquettes. Don’t ever put the lighter fluid on top of burning briquettes. I’m not just saying this to protect myself from a lawsuit. I really believe it’s not a good idea.

Light the briquettes… light more than one. I lit as many as I could. The flame starts slow, so it’s not a problem to do this.

LEAVE THE LID OFF. The briquettes need oxygen.

Check on it in 15 mins or so. At this point I moved the briquettes around a little bit. I checked in 5 or so minutes, then spread the briquettes in a single layer (again, off the bag), but touching each other. I blew on them, to stimulate some flame. I’m not sure if that helped or not. It was a still night, so I decided to give it a little kick with my breath.

The fire seemed a little slow to get hot, so I placed the lid on, with the vent opened all the way. Remember, it needs oxygen. That seemed to get more flame going. Soon there was smoke, and I removed the lid, placed my chicken on the grill, and let ‘er cook. Flames began to ignite because of the drippings, so I played around with it, flipping the chicken occasionally. When the flames got too big, I returned the lid, and kept the vents open. That seemed to reduce the oxygen, but gave it enough to continue cooking. I really just watched it back and forth with lid on and off. In between I weeded my yard and talked on the phone with Bradley. I love to multi-task, and since I could smell the chicken cooking, I was feeling very accomplished.

CHICKEN RECIPE

I used 5 chicken thighs. I like ALL chicken. Mostly dark, but if white is cooked so it’s not over cooked, I like it, too. I put the pieces in a Zip Lock with about 2 T of olive oil, some garlic mixture (2 T?) I found in my cupboard, and half a lemon squeezed. I rubbed those all together while in the Zip Lock and voila (my computer doesn’t have the French accents), and that was it!

Happiness.

Those words are usually reserved for romance, proud parent moments, or maybe a significant accomplishment in education or a career move. My happiness in this moment comes from none of those. It comes from something more ordinary, yet elusive up until now.  I am sitting on my back deck with a glass of red wine. The deck is clean and pretty, with lights strung from one side of the covered deck to the other. And, the rest of the yard is under control.

IMG_3155

I’m not happy because it was I who did it. Yes, I did do it. But I’d have been very happy for someone else to do it. I don’t feel the same satisfaction some people get because they accomplished a task.  I get satisfaction simply because the task is complete. Regardless of whether someone else has done it, or if I have done it, I own it. I own this house, this yard, my children (you know what I mean), these dogs, this life. It was important to me that the yard be functioning, and I wanted it completed.  It was an ongoing project since we’d moved in almost two years ago. It was like looking at an unmade bed each and every day, and I wanted it made!

As I mowed yesterday, I thought, “How long does it take a single woman without lawn mowing knowledge and who is ill equipped to mow a lawn?” The answer in this case would be, “About a month.” I’ll share with you some back story, but this post is mostly about the lawn mowing. It makes some sense as to why a big project like a yard overhaul might be difficult, for anyone. But I thought mowing the lawn would be easy icing on the cake, and when it wasn’t, I was reminded of how the most simplest of tasks aren’t simple if one doesn’t know what they’re doing. I need to remember this lesson when my kids confront me with a similar frustration regarding something I ask of them!

When I bought this house two years ago in August (I cannot believe it’s been that long), the back yard was a mess. The sellers had big dogs that they trained, and they had the run of the back yard. The front yard was decent, but the sprinkler system didn’t work, so it also began to deteriorate. I finally made a hard decision last November to pay for a landscape design and had it installed. I didn’t implement the new design in the front yard because the front yard was good enough. But I had the foundation of the back yard installed. It was flattened, sod was laid, and big concrete squares were positioned into a patio. I saved a lot of money by being responsible for planting the plants (I wish I could say that meant that the project was inexpensive, but it wasn’t). A couple of friends listened to me whine about it, and they helped me with some planting as well as some other yard work. When one is soley responsible for everything in one’s life, a friend who offers to plant a plant or do some trimming, is like an umbrella in a rainstorm. They are a relief and a refuge, and it hugely warms my heart.

The yard has been an ongoing project. It’s been through winter and spring rains (with some sunny relief), weekends and after work that I’ve soldiered through finalizing its completion. It’s consumed me as I raced to beat the seasonal time clock of the harsh summer sun. While others bemoaned the rain, I quietly praised God. When it didn’t rain, I spent an hour most nights watering plants in my desperate effort to save my investment.

So much attention was spent on the digging, moving dirt (clay and rocks), uprooting old shrubs, pruning, and watering, yet one other task was unavoidable; I had to mow the lawn. I procrastinated at this project because I was certain I’d whip it out in no time at all. I have three small patches of lawn. I had a reel mower that I’d not cared for well. In the moves from house to house it got ignored and sat outside. But I was certain that it was good enough for my small job. But I was wrong. It didn’t cut well. I decided to sell it and buy a new one. I assumed the poor cut was due to my lack of good care.

But of course, it wasn’t that simple. First, I tried to get the Fiskars reel mower sharpened. I called two places within 10 miles of my home and neither of them would sharpen a Fiskars reel mower. So, then I decided to sell it, and use the money toward another mower. I Craigslisted it, and fortunately sold it.

Buying a new mower wouldn’t be simple, though. Would I get gas, electric, battery operated or stick with my plan and go with the reel push mower. The latter was appealing on so many levels. No gas, no complications when pulling the start cord, and the biggest was this: I get to work out while mowing my yard (workouts have gotten very low on the priority list). I purchased the store’s recommendation and bought their reel mower.

It met all three objectives. I didn’t have to buy gas, there were no start complications, and I got a workout. Like, I really good upper body workout and not so good lower back workout. And, my grass looked like, crap. Ugh. I do hate that word. But there’s no way around it. The mower was eating it up the lawn. A goat would have given it a better finish. The mower missed large clumps of grass, no matter how many times I went over it.

The grass on the edges fell over, laying flat around the perimeter of the lawn. So, I purchased an edger. I had more decisions to make, but suffice it to say, the options for the edger were the same as for the lawn mower. I purchased an electric edger after work one day. I couldn’t wait to use it, but it sat in the garage for a couple of days like a piece of chocolate cake that had to wait until the big day to be eaten. The lawn taunted me each day I pulled out in the morning and pulled back in for the night, begging me to rid it of its scraggly perimeter, but my schedule wouldn’t allow for it. Since the plants were at risk, I had no choice but to place watering at a higher priority, and let the edge of my lawn hold out like a badly needed haircut until the stylist had an opening.

While the edge waited for attention, the weeds, grass, and blossoms popped up over night and every night. Edging was not the only thing that needed attention. I mowed the lawn first, hoping for improvement over the last attempt, with my brand new shiny reel mower. But there was no improvement! Crap. Crap. Crap. Between each “crap” I asked God to give me a break.  But I eeked out a wee bit of hope. It all rested in my new edger, in a hope that it would compensate for the sub par lawn cut. After assembly (another learning curve), I revved it up with hope beyond hope. But there would be no satisfaction on this night. I hadn’t anticipated yet another learning curve. I didn’t know how to use an edger.

You Tube here I come, again.

By the time I was done, green grass and wet mud spewed onto surfaces that weren’t intended for grass and mud. Bark dust was covered and grass stains smeared my cement squares that make up the patio. I love power wash, but I couldn’t imagine when I would find the time. My handling of the edger carved a new lawn design that looked more like a jig saw puzzle than anything else. I wanted to cry.

 

The amount of energy I was expending on my yard without success was depressing and I had an overwhelming sense of failure and loss of hope. My work days are full and I have a limited amount of time and money to spend on my home, and I’m tired of the constant effort that produces so little harvest.

I texted three or four friends who knew I’d been working on my yard and showed them some pictures and shared my frustration, to a severe degree. My filter was thin. They encouraged me, and offered help. As much as I like help, I knew that wasn’t the answer. Help would be never ending. My answer would be in new skills. I have to know how to whip out a mowed lawn, so I can still cook dinner or see a friend or pay bills in an evening. It seemed like such a simple task. I’d had the yard designed for easy maintenance, yet it was very hard (for me).

Yesterday my friend and her husband came over so he could show me what I might be doing wrong, and it made all the difference. He determined the brand new shiny reel mower was not cutting the grass (yea, I wasn’t all to blame) and he showed me how to use the edger. After some time, they left and I left too, headed straight to Orchard Supply to purchase a new lawn mower (I knew they were having a 20% off sale, plus they’re super nice and helpful there). As I pondered back and forth, feeling anxious about another wrong decision, a customer in the lawn mower aisle assured me that an electric lawn mower was a good decision. After 2 more stores (stock availability) I drove home with my new Craftsman electric lawn mower and determination to finish my lawn.

Again, a learning curve. I hadn’t considered the abuse by the heavy extension cord my plants would take, nor did I anticipate tripping my circuit breakers. After several trips to the garage I realized I need to turn off all the lights on that circuit when I mow and I need to move the mower forward and back, not in the traditional square or circle we’re used to with a gas mower. This will help with cord management. Oh, the things I’m learning.

Then, I decided to hang the deck lights that I’d purchased from Costco a year ago. Off to Orchard Supply for the fourth time in a day, to purchase eye bolts and quick links (new terms to me), per my instructions from Build.com on You Tube. After almost two hours I got them hung. The lights are heavy duty, so they’re weighty. I had a hard time on a ladder matching the hook part of the string to wood that would accept the eye bolt.

IMG_3152

All this detail for what seems like the most ordinary basic things. My friend and her husband were so gracious in ensuring that things were in good order before they left. While Blake was playing around with a sprinkler head, he proclaimed that he had broken it. I was a bit alarmed, but I trusted him to make it right. Within twenty minutes he’d muddied himself but it was fixed. That twenty minutes would have taken me hours, days, or weeks, dependent on my schedule, other peoples’ schedules, and their availability. I forgot to add that I had finally got the sprinkler system fixed, after many attempts to connect with sprinkler people. We never did meet in person. We communicated through emails.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese Proverb

Thank you Blake and Sally (OK, Sally was mostly here for support) for showing me what I needed to know, so I can mow my lawn, and cook dinner in the same night. And mostly, so I can enjoy my home. This makes me so happy. And maybe next week I’ll “get to” power wash.

I didn’t get to expand nearly as much as I wanted in my post, Paying Off Debt. In my effort to share some solid financial insight from Phylicia, absent was my own feelings about money, and how it fits in my life. Money has been a struggle for me much of my life. When I was growing up, money was scarce. Money and material things eluded us and I don’t remember thinking much about money, the absence of it, or the absence of anything. There was no confusion about it, because it didn’t exist. There were no extravagances about which I had to reconcile. If there were Christmas gifts, they were donated to us, but I don’t know from where. We never belonged to a church, even though my mother was very religious. One year I received a Barbie doll wrapped in newspaper. That wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I recall the instant I realized that the Barbie doll was used. Her hair wasn’t golden and didn’t fall straight down her back. Instead, it was sparse and wild. Nor did she come with any clothes. I don’t remember feeling another gift as distinctly as I remember that one.

As I got older, and I was in a foster home, things seemed much brighter, and more confusing. Christmas in my foster home was a big big deal, and a real thrill. With no less than eight kids in the home at a time, and every child designated at least five gifts, the tree overflowed with colored packages that glistened and summoned my name. But none of the packages bore anyone’s name. They were color coded, and because we weren’t allowed to rummage around under the tree, it was easy to pretend the whole inventory under that tree was for me. We all undressed those gifts with our eyes. I recall willing a pair of culottes, or a David Cassidy album to be my gifts.  I’d gone from not anticipating anything to having high hopes for specific items on a wish list.

As a young adult I got myself into deep trouble with a couple of credit cards. And, as an older adult, I got myself out of deep trouble from those credit cards. I recall vowing to pay off the credit card that had maxed out at $10,000. When that happened, I planned to reward myself with a dinner at what was then called Atwaters, atop the 30th floor of the U.S. Bank tower in Portland. I imagined sitting at a window table, overlooking the city, enjoying a medium rare Rib Eye steak, proud of my accomplishment.  But when I made that final payment to the credit card company, a $50 meal had no appeal.  I probably treated myself to homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy, enjoying an episode of 60 Minutes. That was an ideal Sunday night for me.

I could have paid the $50 for a meal in an esteemed restaurant. But I’d learned that my income didn’t support such an expense, and I was living a lie if I pretended it did. That issue is really at the crux of my decision making now. It’s not so much about the money that is spent on something, but it’s the amount of money I’m spending, in proportion to my income, and my giving. When banks consider lending money to a borrower, they call it Debt to Income Ratio. What is my debt compared to my income, and does it make sense for me to increase my debt, based on my fixed expenses, like my home, a car, insurance, healthcare, my kids, etc.?  I can ask the same question of myself that the bank asks if they are considering loaning money to me. Unfortunately, banks didn’t do a very good job of this formula several years back, and a lot of people received loans that shouldn’t have. This mentality influenced decisions that were made in my marriage and contributed to a catastrophic outcome.

When we encourage our kids to purchase items that exceed their income (or even ours), it’s creating a habit that could be very hard to break and we’re delivering a very confusing message. They don’t have the financial demands they will have as an adult. It’s easy to spend their babysitting money or our money on anything they want, when they don’t have the obligations of supporting themselves. But if we can teach them now how to live within their means, we’re helping them avoid the prison so many people face (as I did, when I had a $10,000 balance) of being held hostage to debtors.

Not only do people become hostage to debtors, but bad credit closes doors, and good credit opens doors.  Six years after my divorce, I was able to eek out a good enough credit score for a lender to take a risk on me so I could buy a home. I pay a premium for that risk, by paying a higher interest rate than someone who has a more impressive credit score.  With every mortgage payment I make, my credit is improving.  The bad credit score I inherited from my divorce stifled my ability to buy a house in the conventional sense the previous six years.  Finally after six years and now a few months of paying a mortgage, things are improving.  A good credit score is purchasing power.  A bad credit score leaves one feeling powerless in their ability to move forward regarding the big decisions, like a car, a home, and insurance.

I do believe it’s a confusing time in American culture. People often refer to the simple life of people in third world countries, and the happiness that people experience without the material things and conveniences we take for granted. I believe that’s true. But I don’t think third world country people face the decisions that we do every day, to have or not have, to buy or not buy. They simply live the life they’ve been handed, while we’re trying to live a life with values of a third world country, within a first world country economy, complete with award winning marketing strategies. It’s a lot to reconcile.

Possessing beautiful things isn’t bad. But debt isn’t of God, and when we live outside of our means, we aren’t living within God’s will for our lives. Proverbs 22:7 says “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”

Proverbs 22:26-27 says, “Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.”

I know first hand the truth of that. I recall a friend who lived in a very modest home and was frustrated at what she didn’t have in comparison to what others did have. On the other hand, I was intensely envious of her small home, with a husband who refused to spend outside of their means. At the time of that conversation, she had a home and I did not. My bed had been snatched from under me.

God’s point is, buy it if you can pay for it. That translates differently for everyone, because everyone’s financial situation is different. Sometimes I will shop at Goodwill. Sometimes I will shop at the Loft or Nordstrom.  I won’t go into debt for anything (excluding my house).

I could pay $9.99 for these. They were the perfect compliment to a blue and burgundy striped top I wore with some black slacks.

I paid $9.99 for these at Goodwill. They were the perfect compliment to a blue and burgundy striped top I wore with some black slacks.

I like nice things as much (and sometimes more) as the next person. I am seduced by the clothes at Nordstrom like everyone else. But I don’t like the clothes at Nordstrom more than I like my home, or my car, or falling to sleep at night when I hit my pillow.

Bradley gave me a compliment last summer that surprised me. “Mom, it makes me feel good that you are careful with our money.  It makes me feel safe, like we’re not going to run out or anything. You could pretend that everything is the same and act like we can do whatever we want to, but you don’t do that.”  The reason I was shocked was because Bradley has criticized me for being cautious and using coupons, or insisting on getting deals on something before I make a purchase.  When he’s been critical of that, I’ve been defensive and frustrated that he doesn’t understand that it’s not being cheap, but rather prudent.

Bradley had been watching me. So much, that at times, it caused arguments and frustration.  We weathered the arguments though and another message emerged.

I don’t want my kids to think I’m cheap. I want them to get a thrill out of a new piece of clothing or event. But I mostly want them to understand that we spend, we save, and we give, what we have. We don’t spend, give, or save what we don’t have, and it’s not because we’re cheap. It’s because no matter how cool those new shoes look or that purse feels, we’re living within our means. What they practice now they will practice when they are on their own or raising their own family. And their children will learn from what I am teaching my children. I think that’s how it works. I’m praying!

It’s been eighteen days since my last blog post. It feels like forever, but WordPress spells it out. Eighteen days. And as I ready myself for bed, longing for a goodnight sleep before the workweek begins again (my employer gave us President’s Day off, Yea!), I know that sleep will win out over posting a well written blog. Even with a three day weekend, other things took priority over writing. Writing takes discipline I’m not finding right now.

The last two weeks have been exhausting as I attempt to juggle work and manage parenting, home, social life, yard care (like a total makeover), etc.  I remember my prayer for 2015. It was a hopeful prayer.  I will always reach higher than my ability, so when I fall short, I’ll still attain a reasonable amount of accomplishment. But the effort can be exhausting, and I must incorporate God every step of the way. Otherwise, I subject myself to unbalance and confusion. As hard as it is for me to prioritize, because everything seems important, the one thing I get right, is beginning each day with my heavenly father.

But because I have a hard time prioritizing, I seem to put a little energy into every area, which is both satisfying and frustrating. I’ve put energy into my yard, my home, my kids, my friends, exercise, my prayer life, not as much into reading God’s word, and certainly I’ve put energy into my job. No energy into my writing. Nothing is complete, but everything has been touched.

A couple of weeks ago I had our deck worked on, and during that process, I had two of the dog kennels removed. What I’m going to do with that space now, I’m not sure. But something has to be done. The back yard is unsightly, and I so want the yard a livable space for spring and summer.

Most of that is removed by now, but still lots of work to be done.

Yuk! I long to have a livable outdoor space!

There is no time for me to write about any one thing in depth tonight. I could write about my job and the hurdles I face, or about Valentine’s Day, or about my kids and the parenting stretches, which can all be engaging. Instead I’m going to post a link to another blogger’s insights into paying off debt. I loved her expression of devotion to paying off debt, as it relates to her commitment to God and to her marriage.

So, take advantage of what Phylicia has to offer. In her post 5 Ways We Destroy Debt, she offers an inside look at her and her husband’s money management.  Money is a personal matter, and often people don’t share the intimate details of what they do with their money.  When people look put together, it’s easy to assume they spend a lot of money to achieve that impression. I’ve posted before how much I shop at Goodwill. Having Phylicia spell out the details of their expenses is helpful. Good money management can change your life. Like Dave Ramsey teaches, there’s financial peace in good money management.  I’m not perfect at it. I could improve, in fact. I hope you’ll get some good inspiration from Phylicia. I did.

My view when I walked in the door, and was greeted by our sweet receptionist with: "Do you like your new office?"

My view when I walked in the door, and was greeted by our sweet receptionist with: “Do you like your new office?”

I know that having a job isn’t a big deal to a lot of people. I know that there are good bosses, and corporations and companies that have wonderful work environments. I know having an office is standard for some. But I also know that there are a lot of people looking for work, or looking for a better job, or wishing they didn’t have to sit in a cubicle and listen to their neighbor on the phone or eating their lunch. I have been blessed. I have the great privilege of working at Atkinson Insurance Group, and every day, I really can’t believe it.

I don’t know why that is. I have been faithful and intentional and asked God for the right opportunity. But in truth, there was a nagging voice, with every resume I submitted and every interview I went to, that wondered how I would get a job that could satisfy so many of my personal needs. How would a 54 year old without a college degree and out of the work force for twenty years be granted a job that could satisfy a sense of purpose and provide a sufficient income? And, meet my logistical needs so that I could remain available for my son (and duh dogs)?

Yet, my personal needs have been met, and more. I’m heading into my fourth week on the job and continue to be intrigued by the insurance business. It keeps me engaged and captivated. Our work environment is friendly and respectful, and some days I eat better than my son does, because of some work function that brings in lunch. Last night I got home at 6:30 (that was rare, and it wasn’t because I was still at this job… I was working on a property that I’m managing). I asked Bradley if hash browns and eggs would be okay for dinner. I’d had Pizzicato pizza and salad for lunch, which isn’t fancy, but it wasn’t breakfast!

In the last twenty years I’ve made a lot of decisions. Every second, every day, we all make decisions. We decide what time we’ll get up and what time we’ll go to bed. Whether we’ll pray, read our bible, exercise, what we’ll eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or if we’ll eat the candy in the candy jar.  We choose church, or not. We choose to get drunk or remain sober. What job we’ll take and whether to go home after work, or accept an invitation to go out. We choose to retain a friendship, or distance ourselves. We choose to date, or not. Whether to marry, who to marry, whether to divorce and how to manage that. Some of our choices are easy, some are excruciatingly difficult. Our choices point us in one direction, and if it’s the wrong direction, we get to redirect ourselves with a choice that sets us in the right direction. Our choices are our own, and they all point us in a direction that gets us to one place, or another. And then there’s God.

This morning I had an out of the office training session. When I stepped in the office, I was greeted by our sweet receptionist, who stood and with her Vanna White arms directed my attention to my new office. The previous three weeks my co-worker and I had been sharing an office with two banquet tables. Even though I knew the office was imminent, I wasn’t prepared for the reality of it.

I took a picture and sent it to Bridgette and Bradley right away.

Bridgette sent me flowers. I wasn’t prepared for that, either.

I am grateful for more things than I can cite. Among them, for the ability to have made decisions along the way, the easy and hard, the good and the bad, that have led me to this place. I’ve had to redirect a million times, and God has been with me with every decision. Yet, I’m sorry God, because I still, really can’t believe it.