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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

TMOART:14 - Let's get this show on the road!

If you've been around these parts for any length of time, you'll recognize the 'TMOART' abbreviation - but just in case you don't know..... it's time, once again for *insert drum roll*

The Mother of All Road Trips: 2014 Edition!!!

I've been talking about it a little bit here and there on my facebook page, but I haven't really gone into great detail about where exactly we're going on the trip. I always try to maintain at least a little bit of privacy on here, mainly by not revealing our exact location at any given point in time. Because I use our real pictures of our real selves, I try to be careful - although I've said it before and I'll say it again, if I had any idea when this thing started that it would get as big as it has (ok, in the grand scheme of things it's still a baby blog, but it's way bigger than what I expected) I never would have used our pictures. But it blew up and our pictures were already there, so all I can do now is hope that none of you are crazy psychotic stalkers.

However..... I will say this about this trip....

We are leaving Thursday morning. We are stopping at a friend's house in Tennessee - and I can not wait to see her! Hopefully she'll let me post some pictures of her too, because honestly, she's the person who truly got me started on this blogging thing. There will be at least one more stop in Tennessee, and then on to my brother's house in North Carolina for a night, where I will also get to see my niece and her daughters and her new husband.

After that, we are heading north to Virginia to see some more friends and to spend a couple of nights in a tent, and then off to Washington, DC for a day or two where we will see at least one more friend (hopefully more). Once we leave DC, we will head up into the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania to see my parents for a few days, along with a day trip to visit Penn State and get our traditional family picture taken on the Lion Shrine.

Our final official stop will be "back home" for me, which is in the southcentral part of PA. We'll be camping out for a few days there and visiting with lots of people who have known me for a lot longer than I'd care to admit - and then we'll pack up and head back west again.

We've been slowly getting ready for this trip - I went ahead and rented a really big van to do it this time so that we have room for all of our stuff and the kids won't be on top of each other. Plus this time, if we lose our transmission on the way back, it won't (theoretically) be on our dime like it was the last time.

I've been doing laundry and cleaning the house and trying to get things organized so that when we come back, the house will be at least semi-clean (for a minute or two), and I've been making lists out the wazoo. I already stopped the mail delivery and notified the local police department that we'd be gone so they'll keep an eye on the house for me and notify me if anything happens.

Today though, I did something that was just so totally surreal - I took one of our spare keys over to my neighbor's house and asked her if they would mind keeping an eye on things for us while we're gone. You know, walk through the house occasionally, water the plants on the patio, help themselves to any of the peppers or tomatoes as they become ripe, stuff like that. Normal, right? Of course it is - until you realize that I was on the verge of being homeless less than 4 years ago, and today I handed my spare housekey to the wife of THE MAYOR who lives next door to me.

The mayor. I live next door to the mayor.

One of these days, I'll get used to all of this homeowner stuff, right?

Until then......it's time to get ready for a road trip.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It's an amazing life

This is my life tonight.

Roughly half a case of bananas, 4 loaf pans, and my oven.

By the time that I'm done, I should have about 14 loaves of banana bread made. And I won't eat a single one.

Instead, it's all going to the local homeless shelter. They put out an announcement today that they were inundated with a huge donation of bananas, and they couldn't possibly use them all before they went bad. They've tried to freeze them before in the hopes that they'd get used eventually, and that just didn't work - so they asked for help with them.

I like to bake, especially when I'm stressed. Problem solved.

What's funny though is that my stress is probably some of the best stress that a person can have.

How is that possible?


My life is amazing right now.

I might bitch and moan about the amount of work that I have to do on the house - and trust me, there is so much work to be done - but it's my house, and I'm able to do most of the work myself.

I've been complaining about the kids a lot - and not without reason. Summer vacation is crazy insane at times, and the amount of togetherness is starting to grate on everyone's nerves. The fighting and bickering and laziness is at an all-time high, but at the same time - they are having fun most of the time. They have been working together to help clean the house and do their own laundry and help me do yardwork.... and there is absolutely no reason to complain about that.

I'm getting ready to take The Dude and the kids and do our cross-country jaunt to see friends and family. I was able to rent a 12-passenger van so that we can travel without sitting on top of each other or with the kids' knees up their noses or elbows in each other's sides, which will hopefully keep the road trip relatively bicker-free.....and considering that the last time we made the trip we came back without a transmission in my van, renting a vehicle seemed like a wise choice. We are going to hit some new stops along the way and do some really fun stuff, and we haven't even told the kids where all we're going yet because that's part of the fun.

Speaking of The Dude - he continues to put up with me and the kids and my neurotic tendencies, no matter what I throw at him. And if I throw too much, he calls me on it and throws it right back at me. He helps with the kids and the house as much as he can with his own responsibilities, and he continues to amaze me every day. Heck, we even have the chance to go on a real date - kid-free! - on Friday.

I see so many of my friends struggling right now. Seriously struggling. And it breaks my heart. I see marital problems, financial problems, issues with domestic violence, deaths of loved ones, kids using drugs - and I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have the life that I have right now.

But I also realize that it can be gone in a heartbeat. I refuse to take this life for granted. No matter how much I complain about petty crap, I know that it's petty and people have problems that are so much worse than mine.

So I will stay up all night to make different varieties of banana bread to take back to the homeless shelter tomorrow, because I know that someone there is having a much worse day than what I could ever imagine.

I'm not writing about this to get the attagirl's and the good job's that typically come when someone does something like this. I'm writing because I truly believe that we ALL have the power to make someone's day a little bit brighter. Maybe it's not by baking a bunch of banana bread. But we can all do something.

Donate your old clothes to charity. Buy something from that kid's fundraiser, even if it's overpriced garbage. Go to a local nursing home and visit with someone whose family has forgotten about them. Volunteer at your kid's next school function, even if you have to put up with those parents. Smile at someone you pass on the street.

Do something. I know you can.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Today has been a good day.

The boys and I got up and took The Dude's truck to go back to town and swap it out to get my Traverse back from him after his road trip yesterday. I didn't expect him to be up and moving after driving for almost 24 hours straight, but he was - so we snatched him up to run some errands. Before we left his parking lot, his landlord - who was my property manager at the ghetto-esque house - caught me to finally give me the last of my security deposit back and so we chatted with him for a while. He took us to a vacant apartment to look at some furniture that I am most likely going to try to buy, and then he went back to his office and The Dude went with us to run errands.

We went to the bank and to the car wash to get rid of the skunk smell in the Traverse and then stopped for lunch and had some amazing Mediterranean food (shawarma, anyone?) and then took The Dude back home, and then the boys and I went to WalHell to get a few things before we came back home.


Once we got back, I started working on bikes. I worked on putting a new rack on the back of my bike so that I don't have to stick stuff in a backpack every time we go somewhere. But, I needed a bigger allen wrench for it, so we hopped on the bikes and rode over to the hardware store to get one. Then we came back home.


Once we got back here, I got the tube and tire changed on Alex's wheel, and we put it on my new rack on my bike and rode over to the convenience store to air it up before we came back home to put it on his bike.


I got the wheel put back on his bike, and tightened up the handlebars on the 'spare' bike that he had been using while his tire was flat and then we came inside for a while. I did a few things around the house and grabbed something to eat before I headed back outside to the firepit/shed area to do some work. Several hours later, I felt like I had made enough progress - and suffered enough mosquito bites - that I could quit and come inside.

While I was outside working, at least 90% of the traffic that went by was either combines, grain trucks, or other harvest equipment. The drivers were all up high enough that they could look over the fence where I was working and almost all of them smiled and waved - a normal occurrence around here. It made me so grateful that I live here now, instead of in the city where no one would even look someone else in the eye.


After I came inside and showered some of the filth off of me, I sat down and played around online and watched a movie for a bit. After a while, I got up to do a couple of little things and as I walked around the house, it kind of hit me again.


It's crazy. I still can't believe that somehow *I* managed to buy a house. Not just any house, but a really cool, really big, really awesome house. It's mine.

It's still surreal. Unbelievable.

In a way, I'm still waiting for the bank to call me and say "Oh, you thought you were buying that house? Hahahaha, joke's on you, sister! There's no way we're going to let that happen! Bring the keys back immediately!"

OK, I know that's not going to happen....but in a way it wouldn't surprise me if it did. I still wait for the proverbial shoe to drop, because that's what has always happened.

But it's not going to happen this time. It is what it is. It's mine. The house is mine.

It's our home.

At some point, it'll sink in and seem real, right?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The house and stuff

As a continuation of the questions that people asked the other night, I figured I'd go with the topic of the house.

Honestly, this whole I Now Own A House thing is still so surreal. I catch myself smiling as I drive down the street toward it, thinking "Hey, that's a pretty cool house over there on the corner. Well, would you look at that? It's mine." Seriously. I have conversations in my head like that on a regular basis.

"I'm going to stroll down my hallway into my bedroom past my walk-in closet and go to my bathroom to use my toilet." Then I sit on the toilet and look around and think "Yeah, I think I'm going to rip this tile out of here and just paint the walls - because you know, it's MINE."

"I think I'm going to rip this hideous bush out of the flowerbed and plant something else, just because I can."

"I'm going to put my garden over there. No, I want my clothesline there. The garden can go over THERE."

It's an odd feeling, this MINE thing.

But at the same time, it brings a whole host of frustrations. I had help with the actual move, as in relocating stuff from the old house to here. But that's pretty much where it ended. The Dude hasn't been able to do a whole bunch because of medical stuff, so the majority of it has been on me. For the most part, I'm ok with that. I'm a bit of a control freak about some a lot of most stuff. What's hard though is when I ask for help, and there's no one there for whatever reason. Tonight, with Alex's help (you know, the 8 year old who just had a skin graft done on Monday?) I was able to move the pool table out of the way so that I could get the floor underneath it painted - I have been trying and trying to get help with that, but .... yeah. It's moved. The floor is primed. I should be able to paint it and get the pool table put back by the end of the weekend, with or without help from a grown-up. I also pulled everything out of Jared's room and primed his floor so that I can get his room done too.

(And before any of my local friends get offended, this isn't aimed at anyone in particular. Got it?)

I still have a ton of work to do yet. I have to finish the basement, which involves a few more steps to getting the floor done, then moving the massive pile of craft stuff out of the living room and sorting it out down there, to actually getting my craft stuff set up so that I can catch up on projects whose due dates passed MONTHS ago - literally. I am desperate to get my basement done just so that I can catch up on everything and get stuff out to the people who are waiting for it.

But honestly, looking around this place makes me realize again how lucky I am. I talked the other night about how I can afford to own a house and even though I know that for at least right now, I don't have to worry about having the money to make the payment every month, I feel a responsibility to make improvements on the house to make it acceptable (in my eyes) for the kids. I have a fear that something big is going to break and I'm not going to have the money to fix it. For example, the central air is acting a little wonky right now - and I'm terrified that it's going to cost me a lot of money when realistically it's probably something stupid. But I'm doing something amazing here - I bought a house. Me. Just me. Alone. It's mine.

And that, to me, is so amazing that I can't even begin to explain. I just can't. There are no words.

At the same time though, while it's mine on paper - realistically The Dude and I bought it together. We looked at every house together and we discussed everything and made every decision as a couple. He doesn't live here - yet - but ultimately, this is going to be the home that we share. He has had a bunch of health issues over the past few months that have put some kinks in some of our plans - but the plans are still there. For now, I am doing the physical stuff - and he is my biggest and loudest cheerleader. We are working toward combining households, but there are so many things that have to happen in order to get there.

Finally for the million dollar question about whether or not we'll ever get married.....I still say never.

(If you want some background on that, you can check out this post and then this post to get the basic understanding.)

Marriage still terrifies me to no end. The Dude and I have now been together for almost 2 1/2 years, and life is good. We don't get to spend nearly enough time together for a myriad of reasons, and I'll be totally honest and admit that I've been picking fights with him - but I'm going to blame it on stress and not seeing enough of each other and stress. I get pissed, I get unreasonable and obnoxious and hateful and yell at him, and he calls me out on it and then we kiss and make up. And then I sit here and wonder "what just happened?" and "why is he still here?" Bottom line is that he IS still here - and that in and of itself is terrifying to me because it's making me think that maybe he really IS planning on sticking around for the long haul.

Even after 2 1/2 years, I'm still getting used to the idea that he's not going to walk away any time soon - but that's still not enough to convince my overly dense head that he might just stay around forever.

One day at a time. It applies to so many things right now.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Take on Finances

In case you missed it, I posted a question on my facebook page tonight asking people what they wanted me to write about. A fairly common theme in the questions related to finances, and how I budget my money.

First off, let me say that I find this question.....hysterical? ironic? surreal? insane?

Let me explain.

For the majority of my adult life, starting in college, I was always broke. I didn't manage my money well at all. If I had it, I spent it - because that's what you do with money, right?

There were a few years, before I got married the first time, when I was somewhat responsible with money. I didn't have anything in savings, but my bills were getting paid and I could go out and buy stuff whenever I wanted to, but that was about it.

Throughout my first marriage, we struggled. The kids came quickly, and so did the expenses. We lived beyond our means, and it was hard to catch up when we fell behind. I have always been incredibly anal when it comes to balancing a checkbook and so ours was always balanced TO THE PENNY - which saved our asses when we had to live for 2 weeks with 38 cents in the checking account. But, I knew that nothing was going to bounce because we had that 38 cent cushion.

Fast forward through a couple more kids and two divorces. I wasn't working, but I still had bills. I sold anything that I owned in order to pay the utilities. I had payment arrangements out the wazoo in order to keep the bill collectors at bay. It was survival of the fittest to the nth degree - but we had food and we managed to survive.

And then my second ex-husband unexpectedly passed away. Through the fog immediately following his death, I was instructed to contact Social Security about benefits for Daniel....and I found out that we both qualified. We were within days of being homeless when we received our first checks - I hesitantly deposited them and paid our rent for the following month, and then sat down with the bills.

With that money, I was able to pay our bills. I was able to pay the rent and the utilities and buy a newer, more dependable van. I contacted anyone that I owed money to and set up payment arrangements and got everything paid off (eventually).

Now, a few years later....I have a system. As I get the bills, they get jotted down in my datebook. Just an abbreviation for the bill itself, and the amount due on the due date. That way, everything is laid out in front of me. Then, when we get our Social Security (towards the end of the month), I sit down and I pay every. single. bill. for the month. I write checks for what I have to and pay the rest online, but after about an hour or so, everything is paid. It's done. And what I have left is what I have left. With that money, I can go to the grocery store or whatever else I need, but I know that whatever is leftover is it.

Most of the time, what I have left has to last for 4 weeks, but every few months it turns into 5 weeks (we get our payments on the 4th Wednesday of the month) so sometimes things get a little tight on the 5 week months - but I've kind of gotten used to that.  I balance the checkbooks every few days, and then I average it out to see how much money I have left "per day" until the next payment comes in - I have a dollar amount that I am comfortable with, and if I go below that amount, then I know that I have to reign in the spending a bit.

I got lucky this year and I ended up getting a much bigger tax refund than I had expected (thank you, full-time crappy job)  and that helped immensely - it all went into the savings to use for unexpected house expenses and whatnot. Any "extra" money that I get goes into the savings - I can still access it, but it takes a little bit of effort because I have to actually transfer it before I can get to it to spend it. If I happen to get any "extra" money - it goes into the savings also. At this point, the savings is strictly earmarked for house and TMOART:14 expenses (if you don't know what that is, you'll have to stick around to find out). And for the first time in my adult life, I am actually looking into investing in some CDs in order to stash some cash just a *little* bit farther out of reach, without being totally unobtainable in the event of an emergency.

In a nutshell, that is my budgeting strategy. It works for us, but it may not work for anyone else. I still struggle with the idea that my bills get paid because my ex-husband died, but at the same time I constantly remind myself that "it is what it is" - and I make sure that I make the best possible financial choices that I can for my family.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Vehicles and Beds...

This is just going to be a quickie to answer some specific questions that have been posed several times over the past few weeks. I figured it was easier to just do it here....

The girls' beds....this is basically what they turned out looking like.

The first one is Emily's. She wanted hers to be lower than Sarah did, so this is what she and I designed. It's all just 3/4" plywood and there's a piece on the back (against the wall) to keep anything that is shoved into the cubbies from going out the other side - and to make the whole thing sturdier.

We are going to do the zebra duct tape on all of the edges - it's easier than sanding them all down and it looks cool. I think she's eventually going to paint the inside of the cubbies too, but that's up to her to decide.

Sarah wanted taller, so she designed hers to be taller - although it would drive me insane. I did put a second piece of plywood across the top of hers to further reinforce it to support the weight of her and her mattress. So far she has opted not to paint hers - we'll see if she changes her mind or not.

Both of the beds just take a standard twin-sized mattress. They are heavy and they are not going anywhere. Literally. They won't fit through the doors of the rooms.

Now on to the bigger question.....

The vehicle.

I still don't know what to call it. It's not really a van, or a car, or an SUV. I think technically it's a crossover, whatever that means.


My minivan died a few months ago, shortly after I paid it off. So I had to get something different.  But, I was in the middle of financing the house, so I couldn't run out and finance something else and risk screwing up my credit, right?

Enter the GrandpaCar - the Grand Marquis - I bought it from a friend's grandfather because I needed something that the kids and I could all fit into, but not have to be financed. It worked for us, but it was very crowded and uncomfortable.

I kept putting money aside into what I was calling the "house/van" fund - money to be used for both. I also got a very sizable tax refund which went straight into that fund. Once the house was settled and we closed and we had gotten done with the initial "big" expenses, I did some figuring and decided that I could start looking for another minivan. So I called a couple of the local dealerships and basically said "I need something used, inexpensive, mechanically sound, and can seat 7 - find it for me" and turned them loose.

One of them called me back the next day and said "I know you said minivan, but what about a Traverse? It seats 8....." The Dude and I went and looked at it with no intentions of buying it at all - I really just wanted to see how something that was NOT a minivan could seat 8 people. Long story short, I liked it. We went back home and I researched it and liked what I could find on the safety stuff and whatnot, and the price that they had on it was a couple of thousand below the blue book value. So we started talking money and I said that I was thinking about just scrapping my dead van - instead the dealership sent a couple of guys out to the house to look at it and they ended up offering me an insane (to me) amount of money in trade.

Between what they were asking for the Traverse, what I could afford to put down, and what they gave me for the dead van, I was able to get the payments under where I wanted them to be AND get a really good warranty on it. At that point, I would be stupid to not get it.....so I got it. I kept the GrandpaCar  for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that I have a kid who will be driving in a few months - and whether she likes it or not, she can drive that. And since The Dude's truck is iffy at times, he can drive it when he needs to go out of town or whatever.

Any other questions? :)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dear House...

I left you today.

When I found you, I was desperate. I had no place to go. I searched and searched to try to find a place that would work for my family, and I couldn't find anything. Finally, you came along. When the kids and I walked in and looked around, we knew right away that we could use you, even if it wasn't going to be very comfortable. The landlord was willing to work with a single mom with 5 kids and no income, even if it meant that he would have to wait for the rent payments to come through the homeless prevention program that was assisting me.

Emotionally, I was at an all-time low in my life. Depression had truly gotten the best of me, and I didn't know what I was going to do next. My church family moved us - seriously, they packed up our stuff and moved us because I just couldn't do it. Honestly, I don't know if they even realized the extent of the darkness surrounding me at that point in my life. Whether they did or not, they stepped up and rescued me.

I remember standing in the middle of the living room as people moved in and out, carrying boxes and bags and piling them up in any empty space they could find. When you were packed completely full, they started stacking stuff on the porches. I sobbed as the amount of stuff in such a tiny place seemed to swallow me alive.

It took what seemed like forever for me to get my act together and get things straightened up and organized. I donated tons of stuff to get rid of it and make room, because going from a 2 story 4 bedroom house with an office and tons of storage, to you with only 2 bedrooms and zero storage made downsizing not only necessary, but mandatory. It felt good to get rid of so much crap - both literally and figuratively, because as I got rid of some of it, I felt the emotional baggage go along with it.

As time went on, I started to see the light. I got my stuff organized and I got my feelings organized. I started living life again. I filed for divorce and waited patiently for it to become final, which would happen on my 40th birthday. And 20 days after that, my ex-husband died and I boarded one of the biggest, scariest, longest lasting emotional rollercoasters ever created. His death was the last thing that I ever wanted, the last thing I ever expected, and easily one of the hardest things that I have ever had to go through in my life.

I spent hours sitting at the table in your kitchen, dealing with Social Security and pensions and death benefits and bill collectors and the IRS, trying to make sense of it all. And when I couldn't focus anymore, I'd fall over on the futon in the corner of your living room and sleep for a few hours until I had to get up and face another day.

Within your walls, I started to rebuild my life. I started dating, and then I stopped to deal with the emotions of his death. And then I started to live again.

I helped my kids with their homework. I did their laundry and packed their lunches and baked their birthday cakes. I planted flowers and cut the grass and replaced light switches. I canned sand plums and strawberry jam and applesauce. I fixed the She-Beast time and time again in your driveway. I held my kids while they cried and I disciplined them when they needed it and kissed their boo-boos that they got from playing in the yard. I started dating this crazy guy and then fell in love with him and even got up the nerve to tell him that I loved him in the front room in the wee hours of the morning before a road trip to Kansas City to take a friend to the airport.

And through all of this, I learned so much about myself. I learned just how strong I can really be - and at the same time that I don't have to always be so strong. I learned that I can take care of myself and my family, but that it is also ok to ask for help once in a while - or to accept it when it is offered. I learned that if you want something bad enough, you can get it - even if it takes a lot of time, effort, and patience to get there.

As we've been packing up our lives and moving stuff out over the past few weeks, I've been hit with emotional waves more often than I'd care to admit. As much as I complained about how small you were and OMG Why Can't We Have A House With More Than One Toilet, I loved you dearly. You were there for me in so many ways, not just as a house, but as a home, a shelter, and a place to grow.

There are so many amazing memories that happened within your walls. But what I will remember most is that I found the most important thing in my life within your walls.

I found myself.

The Ghetto-esque House
Sept. 1, 2010 - March 7, 2014