Sunday, December 12, 2010

You're Not in Kansas Anymore, Grandpa!

Do you think he's sad to be missing the huge snow storm that's hitting Ohio today?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

All I Want for Christmas Is...

The recent buzz in our family is the news that my dad is finally embarking on his dream to travel the country in his RV, to explore sights, visit family & friends, & make new friends throughout his journey. My dad's been working toward this goal for nearly two years. (Although, the dream's been stirring in his mind for as long as I can remember!) He had to down-size his possessions, which turned into a huge project! Imagine a Tinkerer & Not-Happy-Unless-I'm-Busy-Man who owns a 3 bedroom, 2000 sq ft house with a full basement AND a 3 car garage who also happened to have a Garden Railway in his backyard---and then add tools, technology equipment, pool table, exercise equipment, and odds & ends that he's stored for entertaining his 6 grandchildren whenever they had time to visit. (We're all wondering if he saved his collection of Powerful Water Guns?!)

Over the past 2 years he's had help from friends & neighbors who helped him gut his house for numerous yard sales & trips to the Salvation Army to help him pare things down to exactly what he thought he'd need in his RV as he travels. My sister & our children & I helped him with the emotional task of taking apart his Garden Railroad this summer, hauling cement roads and riverbeds to the dump, collecting all of the cars, animals, and finally the models of all of our houses that Dad has built over the years, complete with shingles, windows, & photos of our faces peering out of those tiny windows. He put his house on the market last spring but with the current market, it didn't sell but we all encouraged him to rent it out so he could finally start his journey before the Ohio winter settled in and made it dangerous for him to travel. He's found a great family to rent his house and resigned from his job at Lowe's (a second home with close friends & coworkers) and he got all of the little details arranged so that he could be mobile for as long as he wants.

Josie's been interested in hearing about Grandpa's preparations and is well aware that California is part of the United States. So being a 7 year old who assumes the world revolves around 7 year olds, she's been hoping that Grandpa would drive to California to spend time with us in Fresno. She knows that he'll make it here eventually but there have been no promises made as to a schedule or an estimated date of arrival. For a girl who likes to 'count the sleeps' to special events, it's been hard for her to understand my response, "someday soon", when she asks, "When will Grandpa come visit us?"

Last week as we were driving home from school we were talking about all of the Christmas lights & decorations on the houses throughout the neighborhood when she casually said, "Think Grandpa will be here for Christmas?" and without waiting for my response she said, "I asked Santa if he could bring my Grandpa here for Christmas but I think I'll ask God, too. Between the two of them, I'll bet they can make it happen. I'm not sure where we'll park his RV, though."

I wasn't going to tell my dad about her comment because I felt that would put too much pressure on him as he's trying to figure out what his first destination would be. He was thinking of going to Florida to visit his brother, my Uncle Norm, who's been in/out of the hospital. He had already talked to my cousin, who lives in Florida, to discuss parking his RV on her property so that he'd be near my uncle & aunt to visit and help out but when he found out that my uncle would be in a rehab facility for a while he started to re-think his plans, thinking he might be in the way. When he mentioned his dilemma, I decided to go ahead and tell him about Josie's comment. Two days later, he called me and told me he'd be heading West, with the hopes that he could arrive in Fresno by the time our Winter Vacation starts on Dec 17th.

Josie has NO idea he's coming or that he's already on his way. He also managed to talk our "Errant" Jane & Uncle Jerry to drive out west with him. The three of them left Columbus, Ohio on the morning of Tuesday, December 7th with giddy plans to stop and see/do anything that they have the urge to do/see on their journey here. So far, they've spent some time in Nashville & when I talked to them today they were in New Mexico with the goal of being in AZ tomorrow to visit the Grand Canyon's South Rim & from there, they may go to Sedona and visit my dad's friend from his elementary school days, who now lives in Phoenix.

As my Aunt Jane said to me this week, "Can't wait to see Josie's face when she sees us pull the RV into the neighborhood and realizes her Grandpa is there! Can you imagine being seven and having all of your dreams come true?"

I can hardly contain my excitement about this secret I'm keeping from Josie so it's a good thing I have plenty of things to do to get my house ready for visitors! Errant Jane & Uncle Jerry will only get to stay for a few days before they fly back to Ohio to celebrate the holidays with their children & grandchildren but I plan on soaking up every single second of their visit.

There's nothing more precious than spending time with family, no matter the occasion.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks

The economic times have hit most of us and we're all adjusting to living on less, trying to make ends meet, and still save a little bit for a rainy day. I've been trying to teach Josie about the value of money and differentiating between Needs & Wants. We don't have a lot of 'things' and at her age, that really doesn't seem to matter. She LOVES getting hand-me-down clothing & toys from friends & family and knows the joy of seeing a yellow Sale tag on her favorite lunch snack or cereal at the store because we rarely buy things without that yellow Sale tag.

Josie's a great shopper: she loves to look & touch but rarely asks if we can buy something because she knows the answer without asking. She likes to earn quarters for helping me with chores around the house & when she does earn money or receives money for birthdays/holidays we put 1/3 in her piggy bank to save for something large that she wants to buy, 1/3 in her wallet that she can spend however she wants, and 1/3 goes to her Savings Account at the bank. When she has to spend her own money on things, she's much more thoughtful about the purchase. She is already beginning to understand that an item at the dollar store = about 4 chores around the house.

September was a very long month because it was the first month that my paycheck was reduced by the 10% contract that I lost due to budget cuts this year, in addition to a furlough day, and increased health premiums coming out of my paycheck. In my determination to live within my once a month paycheck, I was struggling to make it through the month after all of those Back To School expenses, various Field Trip fees, Spirit Wear checks, & supporting those school fundraisers. Proudly, we had survived nearly to the end of the month without touching my tiny savings account but we were out of shampoo, bar of soap, and I needed bread for Josie's lunch.

I knew I had $23 left in my checking account so I told Josie we'd stop at Target on the way home to get the 3 items on my list. I prepared her before going into the store that I had NO money for her to pick out anything at the dollar section and that this was going to be a quick in/out trip. She was fine with that until she realized that she had her Pink & Black wallet in her backpack. She quickly yanked it out and counted her dollars/change and told me she had $14.86 and asked if she could buy something with her own money. I told her she was welcome to look at the toy section but reminded her that I would NOT be adding any money to her stash.

We quickly grabbed the 3 items on my list and headed for the Toy Section. She had stars in her eyes and was clutching her Wallet tightly as she skipped through the aisles. We ended up walking up and down 3 aisles over and over for about 45 minutes as she collected various items she liked & told me stories of how she'd play with each item or why she thought each item was special. Her favorite & most cherished item was some Lego Thing that was $19.99 and she was pretty disappointed that she couldn't afford it. She kept asking me if she was taking too long to decide and apologized for not making a quick decision but I told her I was proud of her for taking her time and really thinking carefully about how to spend her money. She figured out that while she 'wanted' the items she could afford, she didn't want them as badly as she wanted the Lego Thing. She also figured out that if she saved for a few more weeks she might be able to come back later and buy the Lego Thing. After 45 minutes of debating and re-calculating her money, she finally decided to buy NOTHING so that she could save her money until she could afford the Lego Thing. She sweetly thanked me for waiting for so long while she decided and happily went to the check out so we could buy the three items we needed.

As we were getting in our car on a balmy 102 Fresno September afternoon, I heard some grunting noises and my head automatically turned to make eye contact with one of two homeless men meandering down the parking lot aisle. The grunting was coming from a younger man who appeared to be disabled. The older man immediately stopped and said, "We'll stop right here. We don't want to frighten you. We haven't eaten since Saturday (it was Tuesday) and I really need to feed him," as he pointed at the younger man. Josie heard it and whispered, "Why don't they have any food? Mom, they are so dirty."

The older man asked if I had any food in my car that I could share with them and Josie was still whispering questions, "Can't they go home and get food? What's wrong with them?" I knew I had enough money left to buy them each a sandwich at Quizno's across the way and quickly realized that as tight as my month was financially, we were much better off than these two men. I told them to meet us across the parking lot so I could buy them dinner.

As we drove across the parking lot I had a quick conversation with Josie about what it means to be Homeless & talked with her about the many reasons that people end up losing their jobs, homes, & possessions. I told her that we'd buy them sandwiches to help them out. When we got to Quiznos, the older man opened the restaurant door for us and the odor was pretty strong and Josie clung to my hand tightly. The younger man was so excited & was squealing and ran and grabbed a bag of cheetos and looked at the older man and asked something unintelligible. The older man gently took it from his hand and placed it back on the rack. I decided right then that the younger man must get those cheetos. I told them to order their combo meals and also purchased a bottle of water for each of them because it was 102 and horribly hot that day. Josie watched everything quietly.

When we got to the counter to pay for their meals, I got out my debit card to pay but Josie quickly pulled out her wallet and said, "I'm going to buy it for them, Mom. I think I have enough money." Turns out, the meals & the water came to just under $14 and I let her pay, knowing that she had truly understood the difference between Want/Need.

I left there with tears in my eyes as the older man held the door and said, "Thank you and bless you and your daughter. I promise to pay it forward to someone else as soon as I'm able."

As we got in the car, Josie had more questions, "Where will they sleep? Isn't it too hot to live outside right now? Can we go home and get our tent and give it to them? Where will they take a bath tonight? Why don't their moms and dads help them?" I tried my best to answer her questions and also tried to explain that there are issues that money can't fix. So much to try to explain to a seven year old.

In the end, she told me that she was really glad she didn't buy the Lego Thing or any of the other little toys because she didn't need the toys and those men needed dinner.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I'm so aware of all that we've been blessed with: loving family & friends, everthing we need (including our good health), and most of what we want. I'm so thankful for my compassionate & full of life daughter and the experiences that we share.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why I despise Sprinklers: a photo essay

Really, are any words necessary?
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cat Lrning (In Honor of National Day on Writing)

I was reminded that today is National Day on Writing and my good Mid-Western German-Catholic Work Ethic that I was raised to value won't allow me to slumber tonight unless I post something on my blog. After helping my sassy seven-year-old-going-on-thirteen daughter with homework, I figured it's only fair that she should, in turn, help me with posting on my blog. Therefore, with her nervous permission, I'm going to re-print two entries from Josie's spiral notebook journal. In order to keep her post honest, I will not be editing or revising her delightful writing.

Cat Lrning
When cats are born there eyes are clossed. Cats are very smart. They are very good hiders. The mom cats have babys. The dad cats take cear of them. The dogs chashs the cats. I love cats.

bog Lrning
Dogs are smart just like cat.
When bogs are born there eyes are clossed.
(both entries reprinted with permission from Josie)

Bedtime was a little exasperating tonight after fighting about dinner & homework & picking up dirty clothing from someone's bedroom floor. She could hear the strain in my voice as I asked her for the 3rd time to brush her teeth. She walked past me in the hall with the sweetest, most innocent smile on her face & said, "Someone needs a kiss and a hug. Let me help you out with that, Mom." How did she know that kiss & hug would make it all better?

Finally, after a long day of juggling Life as a single mom, I can finally go rest since I completed today's obligations. Props to Josie for sharing her writing in honor of National Day on Writing. Life experiences with cats and dogs provided the inspiration for today's magnificent piece.