When the Lights Go Out….

People are always saying how they feel like the world is moving too fast.  Technology has a hold on us now more than ever.  EVERYONE in this country has a cell phone or even two, a laptop,  mp-3 player if there’s not one already on the phone,chargers for the above, and now capability to sync everything to the car.  Vanishing before our very eyes are the good old fashioned paper page-turners, replaced by digital books.  There has to be a concerted effort and serious planning to be done if you want to get away from technology.  Then people just think you are on some weird hippy phase. And if you are not up on the latest trend, good luck staying in business and even in tune with the world around you.  Those of us like me who balk a bit at the constant, stressful forward motion draw the line at some point and say, “Enough!”  I took a “no texting or talking while driving” oath not too long ago just to solidify my commitment to not getting sucked up by and thrown uncontrollably askew into the vortex of forward motion.  And then, yesterday, as if to test me, the lights went out.  Literally.

Cleburne was just one location in the path of puddle-jumping tornadoes that ripped through Texas to ring in spring with a vengeance.   I slept through the entire episode of trees flying, furniture tossing, and roof ravaging only to wake up when the super-loud noise-blocking fan in my bedroom stopped working.  That’s when I realized the power was out.  The morning revealed just how seriously the storm had effected our area.  And to add insult to injury, heaven forbid it…my teenage daughter was denied access to a hair dryer and straightening iron!  Oh the Horror!  The world was definitely coming to an end.  To think, of all the things going devastatingly wrong around us, she would be forced to enter middle school with wet hair. 

And thirty minutes after dropping her off, I got a text.  In the car, so of course I pulled over and stopped to read, “Mom, we are all in the cafeteria.  No electricity.  People are getting picked up.  Please come get me!”  Then another one from the secretary at the elementary school, “No power…I am going crazy…please come help!”  Funny the juxtaposition of technology and lack thereof.

After an exhausting day of running back and forth up and down hallways retrieving students and delivering messages to teachers(no radio back-up, no phone) we all marched back into our non-electrified house.  What to do?  Once the griping and grumbling stopped, creativity began to kick in.  Blessedly we live on a farm, so at least there is always something that needs to be done.  Chores aside, the children started playing with each other.  They spoke to each other in courteous tones.  They cooperated in making up games to play.  They read books to each other.  I cooked up a delicious pot of beans outside on the grill side-burner.  And as the sun went down and darkness began to settle in, so did a little bit of panic.  The super-mom instincts kicked in blessedly in order to side-line mass chaos.  I began to rummage around and gather up candles and flashlights.  Our house started to look like a candle light vigil or a night at the spa, whatever we could imagine it being.  The kids were given permission to pile up in the family room, so the whole thing started to have a camp-out kind of feel.  Always on the lookout for a teachable moment, I emphasized how back in pioneer days, this was how families operated.  Once the daylight was gone, folks went to bed.  We were just having a fun adventure, and we should look at it like just that.  Then we all snuggled into my bed and I read from my favorite series, Hank the Cowdog, by flashlight.  For once we navigated through an evening without the internet, TV, DVD etc.  We had time to talk and listen without distraction.  My husband, ever the problem-solver, came like a hero around the corner with his super-powered gasoline fueled generator, plugs in hand.  I sweetly suggested that we just go with the flow and enjoy the quiet, which we did for a little while.  Maybe we could even do this on purpose once a month just for kicks.

  And then, as if to prove a point, the lights came back on.  Maybe we all need to sit in the dark for a litte while in order to see the light.

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A few thoughts about parenting,,,

Out of the old and into the new.  Now that all of the past has been hashed out, whittled away and dealt with, time to move on to fresh perspectives.  Move forward.  On to the really interesting things in life!  Look out.  Here it comes!

A bone to pick…bad or quite frankly, non-existing parenting.  Working in the front office of an elementary school truly does give insight into why some kids are the way they are.  Not that being a teacher for many years didn’t.  But to get behind the scenes and observe the day-to-day goings on truly allows for a peek into another side of school.  As a classroom teacher, I did have the opportunity to meet with some parents.  Usually and unfortunately it was on the condition that a student was having problems or misbehaving.  On the rare occasion, and I do mean RARE, parents would come in a volunteer or just want to have a friendly chat.  Sitting at the front desk in the reception area of a school affords one to all kinds of experience with parental units.  Little Johnny has a momma who is a stripper.  Sweet Susy’s mommy is having an affair with Johnny’s daddy.  Oh, and by the way, Susy’s daddy is in prison for dealing drugs.  Yes, true example, with names changed of course.

The worst thing about sitting at the front desk is when people come in to visit their kids for lunch, and they are clearly strung out on some sort of drug.  Pupils dialated, limbs twitching, and an icky odor that lingers somewhere between cigarette smoke and burnt honey.  Most of the time they are “tweaking” on methanphetamine.  These folks also most likely have pencil leads for teeth and gaunt circles under their eyes.  Still others have greasy hair and reek of body odor.  And we wonder why their kiddo has rotten teeth and dirty clothes.  Too bad we can’t drug test them before we allow them to enter the school.

I realize that there is poverty.  This I acknowledge.  But being poor does not mean that you cannot have access to a bar of soap and water.  Being poor does not mean that your kids have to be unclean and unkempt, nor do you.  Simple hygene is just one of the basics of parenting.  Making sure your kids do their homework is another.  Don’t have to be rich to do that.  Here’s another.  Keep your private life to yourself, most especially if it is a negative influence on your children.  Keep your relationships with people clean, especially in front of your children.  Do not expose them to things, for goodness sake, that they are too young to have a choice whether or not they want to be exposed.  Do not chain smoke inside a closed house or car, causing your child to smell like an ashtray from head to toe…even inside their lunchbox! 

Make no mistake.  I am not claiming to be mother of the year.  I have screwed up royally and I have been disappointed in myself.  But come on.  Why have children if they are not one of the highest priorities in life?  Why have children if you cannot even manage yourself?  It begs the question when one observes such extremes at school…what on earth goes on at home?  There are plenty of people out there who are desperate to have children, and it makes me wonder why they can’t, when there are too many awful parents who don’t deserve to have the ability to bring new life into the world.  This is something I plan to have a serious conversation with God about some day!

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Misconception, Repossession, Depression, Re-direction

I held my breath and stared in disbelief at the newspaper article.  It was short and to the point.  No gory details or one-sided opinions given.  Just the facts that surrounding the incident of my daughter’s principal being arrested for DWI. Of course everyone already knew about it days before it was reported, and the grapevine was spreading incidiously each hour.  Inside I began to grieve for him and his family, and the school.  All I could think of was the pain that they would all be instantaneously submerged into.  And sure enough, the rumors began to fly.  The stories were varied and colorful.  What would happen now, and especially since his brother is on the school board?  I prayed for them for many days.  I knew the family somewhat, since our daughters played soccer together, and his had been to my house for a sleepover with the team.  That had been several years ago, but I liked them so much, and now admired him as the fearless leader of the middle school my daughter attends.  I knew what an uproar the removal of a principal could cause, and that the students would suffer the effects most of all.  As a teacher I have seen it happen many times. 

I was relieved beyond measure when the school year continued with him at the helm.  And my admiration grew even further when he held his head high and addressed the parents and everyone else as if nothing had ever happened.  Business as usual.  He carried on with the best interest of the school as a top priority and still does this very moment, even though his family has been torn apart, and the rumors about that are ugly.   I don’t know all the details and don’t really care to.  I continue to have the utmost respect for him because he did not cave, and neither did the school.  Thank God that this man was given a second chance and was able to navigate through all of the misconception that swirled in waves around him.  Of course there are those who are embittered by the “Good Ole’ Boy” system in this town and wag an accusatory finger in the face of the school board.  Goodness knows I have been a victim of that as well and all I can say is that I am thankful for the outcome this time. 

Not too long after all of this came out in the wash, I was to face yet another challenge in the remodeling project going on in my life.  That giant monstrosity, our former home, the “Box,” that was still parked behind the house got farther and farther behind on payments.  No, we did not purchase it outright, rather leased it in a manner somewhat like a car.   And we had a monthly obligation that was somewhat close to a car payment.  Once the house was habitable and we had gone through all of our savings, we could not make the payments any longer.  I knew it was coming, but hoped that I would not be home when someone came to take it away.  Secretly I has praying that it would just disappear one evening while noone was home, and then it would be such a relief to see the vacant spot.  Of course that is not how it happened.  Oh no.  Quite to the contrary I was at home with the children that night when a man in a large truck appeared at our gate.  He rattled off his purpose for visiting in a bland monotone, and then, in a softer voice explained that he was just doing his job.  What happened next is something that we laugh about now.  I let in the man and directed him to where the RV was, and then helped him back into the spot.  I even helped him get it hooked up.  Then I watched with a knot in the back of my throat as he pulled out of the driveway and rattled down the highway.  Not that I was in any way sad to see that thing go.  Good riddance!  The thought that was foremost in my mind was, “Oh wow.  I just went through a repo.  All by myself.”  I was mortified.

This blog has ended up being a coming out party if you will of all the things I swore up and down that nobody would ever find out.  But part of improving oneself is to admit mistakes and embarrassments, not hide behind them.  Hiding leads to depression and brothers and sisters, I had me some of that.  When all of the terrible self-pity and frustration set in, which was usually in the evening when I had time to sit and think, I fashioned to myself that the only way I could go to sleep was to drink myself there.  Funny thing about alcohol, when you wake up the demons are still present, and with the added bonus of feeling like not waking up at all.  Not to mention that the pounds sneak up gradually.  Someone whom I had not seen in quite a while told a friend of mine that I looked terrible.  “She’s been through so much,” was the reply.  Yeah, and it all showed up on my butt. 

Depression in such a stealthy enemy.  It is so terribly easy to fall into a pit of despair and lonliness when things began to fall apart around us.  It is easy to wonder, “Why me?”  It is difficult to answer that question, especially if you already know the answer is staring straight back at you in the mirror.  What stopped me from breakneck speed of the downward spiral was the day I started seeing things from the viewpoint of my closet.  None of my favorite clothes fit right any more, and I was actually at the weight I had been when I was pregnant.  What a mess!  If there had been a deep pit somewhere close by I might as well have been down in the bottom of it.  Had I lost my faith and trust in God so completely that I was now letting myself go?  It took a while, but very slowly and with many mud slides back down to the bottom, I climbed out.  Beth Moore in her books mentions this pit quite frequently so it was easy to recognize that I was in one.  Not saying that occasionally I teeter ever so gingerly on the edge, one nudge away from falling head-first back in.  But now I know how I end up there.  It is only when I try to take things into my own hands and do them myself that I end up on the bottom.  Pride, vanity, self-importance, impatience, entitlement, even a slight case of martyrdom all serve as places to stumble.  And once down it is so much easier just to stay there and wallow than it is to work a way back out.  Once out though, just the memory of what it was like is persuasion enought not to go back. 

I do so hope that our principal knows that there is at least one person who understands what he is going through and knows that it does not define who he is.  And I am glad that at least on the outside he is not a pit-dweller.

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Second Chances

Don’t we all deserve one?  Show me anyone alive who has not made at least one mistake.  Didn’t think so.  And how many times in our rental property property business have we been asked to give people second chances.  Sometimes we give third and fourth if we know there is a family with children involved, and the people are truly working as hard as they can in order to pay their rent and keep their lives together.  We are especially more in tune with the need now that we know what it feels like.  And it hurts us even more when we do not get rental payments on time, since we are stretching our dollars as far as we can already.  It is a difficult place to be.  An uncomfortable place.

For the past two years I have been holed up like an ostrich with its head in the sand.  Avoiding people became rather an art form.  Not only because of our financial situation.  There had been some things that happened before that all came down that made it seem as if everyone in town was talking about me. Then when we moved tongues really started wagging.  Not in the way I would have wished.  I made some whopper mistakes in judgement and in management of job responsibilities, and they effected alot of other people.  To this day it is difficult to bump into anyone who knows anything about what happened.  Some people know the entire truth.  Others made up their own.  Still others just believed what they heard, whether it was good or bad.  Either way, it has only been recently that I can hold my head up and ease my way back into life in this small town.  Not that I killed anyone or stole something.  What really happened is that I let myself down by not doing the best I possibly could where I was. I let alot of people down.  I failed.  One thing that helped in an odd way was to witness similar events happen to some high profile people, folks whose actions I would have never thought would be questionable.  At least when I was put under the microscope it wasn’t broadcasted in the local paper.  I can say that I tend now to feel a great deal of empathy for people who fall from their pedestals while everyone watches and gossips.  Here in this particular town we are many times at the mercy of unseen forces.  Forces everyone knows are in place, and pray they never upset.  And if they do, that they might get a second chance.  I have come to believe that it is up to me to decide I am ready for that chance and forgive myself.

Even up until a few months ago people who didn’t know me or were too far removed from the “loop” thought I had moved away.  After all, that is usually what happens when someone in a small town messes up and it becomes public knowledge.  And many people have left because the pressure is just too great.  Someone said to me once not too long ago, “We just figured you weren’t going to stay after everything that happened.”  How I wish I could see her again and thank her, because after I walked away and thought about it I became resolute.  Not that I didn’t toy with the idea of moving.  But the resolution to go ahead and try, to hold my head up and look people in the eye came that day.  To decide to not be beaten down.  To give me a second chance.  I have never backed down from a good challenge.  Now faced with the greatest challenge in my life I am going forward with renewed strength and courage.  And not just for myself, but for my children and husband as well.  We all deserve a second chance after all.

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Life on a farm is full of wonders. Walk around the bend of the forest just in time to see a quick fox dart into the bushes. Lie on a hammock and look up to spot a tiny hummingbird nest clinging to the branch above your head. They cycle of beginning and ending is constantly at work around you, and is so much more apparent “out in the country” than if you lived in the city. Life and death is in your face at all times, especially if you have animals. We are always witnessing new birth, as with our goats and chickens. Unfortunately death is right around the corner too. Coming to the understanding that life for everyone and everything will eventually end is a natural progression in thought on a farm. Just yesterday I spent the morning snuggling with a brand new baby goat, then sadly placing two others into freshly turned earth. We have had battles with something out there that likes the taste of chicken and lost all but one of our flock. So disheartening it is to walk out to the coop and discover nothing but piles of feathers. In response we now have the Fort Knox of Chickendom, reinforced with cement and copius amounts of chicken wire. It is devastating sometimes to produce and nurture something, only to have it wiped away by forces completely out of your control. So many things in life are like that and farm life lends itself to drawing endless metaphors.
On the other side there is always a new beginning. Spring is my favorite time of year, as I gaze in wonder at the unfolding of life all around me. All of the tending and preparation in the garden is rewarded with an abundance of growth. The stark and bland landscape of winter bursts into a sea of green as trees slip on their spring adornments. The air is crisp and clean with the scent of promise. These are things that I have come to rely on and take comfort in. When everything else around me is falling apart, or so it seems, life still has its own schedule and sticks to it unless interrupted by outside interference. It is this contsant promise of a fresh start that keeps my head above water. It is a reason to wake every morning looking forward to the new day.

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The Holding Pattern

It can be a rather perplexing existence, being stuck in limbo.  The old is gone, the new in front on a vast horizon that stretches out into the distance.  And there you are, somewhere in the middle of it all, not able to go backward, but not entirely sure how to proceed.  Such it was and in many ways still is here at the farm.  Every time I walk past the old white house on my way to the garden or out to the creek I take a deep breath.  When will we begin to work on that chapter?  It seems that the current one is extra long with hundreds of pages that keep turning and turning with no end in sight.  So I begin each day by asking what I can do to keep up the momentum and continue forward. 

We created a new and improved budget in which we keep track of every penny that is spent.  It is quite smart-looking, all done up in Excel with columns for every category from advertising to transportation.  Since we run a rental property business there are actually two budgets.  And since I am working from home one fact has become glaringly obvious.  The loss of my teaching salary has hurt us.  That and the way in which we were spending money with abandon before that.  It never ceases to amaze me how much money we can blow through and how quickly it flies out of our accounts.  To put it all on paper and see it as it happens really does extinguish the urge to head to Dallas and hit the malls.  One of the largest spending areas has emerged in the grocery column.  No surprise there, since one of my ardent loves in this life is cooking.  So the first thing I tackled was to get a handle on the food bill, simmer it down to a reduction, and serve it out sparingly.  Every sunday is coupon day.  And price comparison shopping in the grocery store circulars.  Then I pour through cookbooks, most especially the binders that I have assembled with recipes from the matriarchs of our family.  They are little gems of conservative cooking with tons of ideas on how to feed a bunch for not too much money.  Add to that our abundant garden that produces most of the year, and our grocery bill is cut down even further.  The garden is still an ever-changing work in progress and some seasons have been better than others.  We have gotten to the point where we have saved our seeds and start our own plants, thus cutting out those costs and ensuring that we have the purest food possible.

Limbo.  Such a curious place to be.  This is the place where the best lessons are gleaned since while we are waiting, we have plenty of time to study and learn.  I have to say I much prefer education at this stage versus gaining knowledge from mistakes.

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Good Things

The last impression I want to give anyone is that I have given up my appreciation for the finer elements in life.  Quite the opposite.  I appreciate them even more.  And with a new, keener sense of what good really is.  For instance, there is no substitute for good coffee.  Just as there is no substitute for homemade bread.  And there is a difference between Taco Bell and La Mansion.  Franzia boxed wine could never hold a candle to a fine Malbec.  And make no mistake, I love to indulge in a pedicure or a massage every once in a while, and as well a splurge at a yummy culinary shop.  Real butter is the only choice, just as is visiting my hair stylist, Hannah, whom I absolutely love.  I agree with Rebecca Rather, the “Pastry Queen,” that only the best chocolate should be used in baking.  These things will remain constant.  The distinction now is that I understand that there is such a thing as a budget, and that working outside of that causes problems.  It has become quite obvious that the good Lord saw that in order to get me to truly understand and embrace the beautiful things in my life, He would first have to clean the slate and take everything away.  There is a verse in the bible, not sure which one so I will get back on that, but is says that in order to gain our lives we must first be willing to lose them.  Once we are willing to give up all of those things in our lives that we let get in front of God, only at that point can we truly be blessed. 

I still struggle with  a few demons.  I get stuck in a rut and become frustrated by all of the things that still need to be done.  I find myself overwhelmed by the fact that there is a still-yet-to-be-completed house which now has the role of storing most of our worldly possessions.  All of the china, crystal, silver, family heirlooms, antique furniture, and too many other things to mention are all boxed up and stacked in the house we moved onto the farm.  It now serves, however, as something to reach for.  We sit and think and dream about what we are going to do in each room.  One day it will be a wonderful warm and inviting home.  Again, a clean slate.  With a chance to do things the right way this time.

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