Tuesday, September 22, 2015

30 Days or Else?

You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice. ―Bob Marley

My husband fixes and maintains printing equipment, which means he has to travel to the customer. There are plenty of customers in the Atlanta area, but he still has to fly now and then as well. For almost all of his entire career prior to December of 2007, my husband had a company vehicle, and after that time, he has been using our own vehicles and receiving reimbursement per mileage. That is about to end.

The company is going to the Runzheimer plan. With this plan he drives our own vehicle, but it requires that the vehicle must be less than three years old and originally priced at $22,000, so we are being forced to buy a new car every three years and be in a perpetually increasing debt mode (like our government); our vehicles are 2000 and 2002 models, and we bought both of them for less than that even with all their repairs and new tires.

The benefit to the company, besides it saves them money, is that it is supposed to present a better image. (Being the rebel that I am, I immediately thought that people could easily buy a newer vehicle that has dents all over it or a horrible paint job or has stuffed animals glued to it, because they do not have a requirement about these things! Would that be an acceptable company image, I wonder?)

We have 30 days to come into compliance or else—my husband will be out of compliance and no longer employed.

Nice, eh?

We also have to carry expensive business vehicle insurance. We will be reimbursed a flat fee monthly to cover these costs, supposedly because it is based on averages not actual costs, plus a lesser amount than before per mileage.

That is not all. Although I am not sure about this part right now, usually the Runzheimer plans require that you have used your vehicle for something like 80% business, because how dare you actually use your own vehicle more than 20% for personal use! Basically, you can use it for personal use, but you may have to pay back some of the reimbursement money to the company.

So, we probably have to go into debt for around $20,000 (at least) so my husband can keep his job...and yes, it is legal and has been upheld in courts. I guess companies see it as being no different than requiring uniforms or business attire, but I have a different take on it. The employees never like this plan, but the employers do.

It does not matter that we do not believe in buying new cars or we try not to finance cars or have a policy of trying to be debt-free or that we just went into debt (for half of the costs) to get our house resided so we cannot possibly pay a car payment on top of it. No, just 30 days or no job.

At least, this plan (so far) has not mentioned a limit on mileage. Some plans are five years old or 60,000 miles, which ever comes first, and you fall out of compliance. Some plans also limit which cars you can get as well.

I really do not like being backed into a corner and having our sole income threatened. We hoped to get a replacement car in about two years, now we have no choice, unless my husband finds another employer...which I would support, since he is currently on his third manager who has promised to promote him and has not yet. In fact, he has only had one review with this company and only one raise in five years!

Yes, I am just a tad bit miffed right now, but if God is in this and guiding us, then it will all work out well in a way that I obviously cannot foresee.

My Lord, all things work to our good and there is a reason for all things. I believe that, so temper my emotions and allow me to rest in You so that I can see Your blessing and guidance. I wish to step where You wish me to step and seek Your heart at all times.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Glimpse of Being Free

Sometimes two people stay together for the sake of the kids — two kids who sat under a full moon and pledged to be forever true. -Robert Brault

Although I have enjoyed being with my daughter almost all the time while homeschooling throughout the years, I have to say that I also try to image what life will be like in about three to four years when homeschooling will be over for me. Actually, I am not sure what I will do, but knowing myself as I do, I will submerse myself into something...or several somethings.

I get glimpses of that kind of freedom, the kind that my husband and I had for the first thirteen years of our marriage when we could do anything we wanted at any time within the limits of our budget and his grueling work schedule, of course. Last weekend my daughter left for an overnight birthday party and we had an entire 24 hours to be with each other, if I include the time we were at church, of course.

We decided on a movie. Now I really do not like going to the movie theater as much as I used to when it was just us before because it costs too much and many movies just are not worth it. However, there are some movies that just really are better on the big screen, so we picked one of those. Then there was the choice of going to a theater were we could see it in IMAX 3D  or not. I would have liked that but when we saw the cost—well, we decided that the old fashion 2D screen would be good enough.

Off we went like two carefree giddy kids to watch Jurassic World. By the time the movie was over, I was happy with my small life of  a middle-aged woman having been married 28 years with a teen daughter and ready to go back to my house that needs more attention than I want to give. Watching such high action movies with them throwing everything they can at all my senses has always been thrilling, but have to admit that I felt a bit worn out afterward. Maybe it was watching that woman running in high heels throughout the whole thing; it just made it seem so unrealistic!

During the movie, the thoughts of the first time I went on the SkyHike with my daughter kept going through my mind. When I was up there on that first challenge scared out of my mind, I was thinking of the scene in the third Jurassic Park movie in the aviary on that rickety catwalk and thought nearly out loud: "Why am I doing this when I don't even have dinosaurs chasing me?"

When my daughter returned  she asked what the movie was about, I said, "Well, it started with oo-oo and aw-aw, and then there's running and...screaming, just like the first three movies" 

In the end it was not the movie that was the best part of the time I had with my husband, it was just being together, remembering all the other times we have been together, and looking forward to the times we will be together. 

Thank you my Lord for the time that my husband and I can have together alone now and then.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ten Years and Two Weeks Part 3

Try as hard as we may for perfection, the net result of our labors is an amazing variety of imperfectness. We are surprised at our own versatility in being able to fail in so many different ways. -Samuel McChord Crothers

Now that the whole starting back to school thing is underway and the consignment sales are ending with me picking up the mound of clothes still left over later today, I have some time to write about how the painting of our new siding and windows went.

The man who was to do the painting was in his sixties and an associate pastor of some small church in the area. He was very nice and very likable, but...well, this is how the first day started:

He came on a day with rain in the afternoon as the forecast. This is typical of summers in Georgia actually, particularly this one, so the painter began only on the siding unlikely to get wet before the paint dried, like the porch and the outcropping under my daughter's window. Before he began, he talked about how he did not know he would be painting yellow on siding with grey primer. I totally get that as that primer color is meant for darker paint colors, but in the end, if the painter did a good job, the primer coat should be covered completely.

If he also said that if he had known he was going to have to paint two coats, he would have charged the contractor twice the amount to do the job. Now this is not my problem, as he is a subcontractor and his agreement is with the contractor, not me, however this is my house and so now I become concerned about how well the job will be done if he feels he is not getting paid enough to do it.

And so he started. He had plastic down on the porch floor but he did not secure it with tape, so as he spray painted, the plastic was pushed back by the pressure and overspray accumulated on the porch floor boards, which are stained like decking. All that was on the new materials so I was not yet concerned that they had not power washed, but I did think it was out of sequence. Then he moved to the outcropping in the front and mentioned that he did not know he would be painting the foundation also as it was the same color as the house. Even though it was in our contract that the house would be power washed before painting, he did not even wash the dirty foundation area before painting it.

Because I was not at all pleased with the quality of work I was seeing, I was thankful that was all he was going to do that day because of the threat of rain, but I also had another issue to consider: The paint color was not even close to the sample. It was supposed to be "Honey Blush" but it was not as warm as the sample. I mean it was significantly off as you can see in the picture. My concern was not so much that I did not like the color that was being put on—in all honesty, it was closer to the color I really wanted not on the samples and I am thanking God for that one—but it was that they had only bought one five gallon bucket instead of the two the job would obviously need and my greatest concern was whether or not color mix of second bucket would be the "Honey Blush" on our house or the sample.

Showing the painter the color difference, he said that I was only seeing the unfinished product, being that it was yellow paint on a grey base coat. Well, I was looking at the thick areas he had painted that were dry to touch and with my knowledge of paint I knew it was never going to redden enough to match that sample. So this was a good excuse to ask him to just stop while I talk to the contractor about the color, but I planned to talk about a whole lot more than that. The painter said he would not know when he could get back to this job as he had another and I was thinking that it might be best if he did not come back at all. Besides that, the trim color was definitely wrong. We found out later that the contractor gave the paint company the right number on their order form, but the paint company messed up and their number had one digit wrong on the label, so instead of the lovely cream color I wanted, we had three one-gallon paint cans of a deep rose color—no kidding.

My husband came home took one look and immediately wanted to fire the painter.

You have to understand that in the meantime my husband had been working several days on the new rails for the porch. This is the second time he has replaced them and this time was all because he had to replace a rotten post with one that was made smaller in width than the one we first had. He was hoping to get the rails done and then maybe hire the painter to paint them. That was definitely not going to happen now, so that was another major job that we were going to have to do ourselves. So my husband painted it with primer and we waited for the job to end to paint it.

We did not fire the painter because the contractor gave us assurances that everything would be taken care of and done right as to the painting and the chimney that was not square at the top. After a few days of delay and a few rainy days, another subcontractor came to pressure wash the house. The man also insisted on washing the sidewalks even after I said not to several times, since my husband had done it a few months before. Later we found out that they charged the contractor for washing the sidewalks that they should not have done. They also pressured washed the porch, including the new rail, which now has to be sanded because it torn up the wood in some places. To top that off, they used bleach. Now we have bleach spots on all of the wood on our deck, porch, and even our metal gold door threshold not to mention that my organic herb garden is now completely disseminated.

I knew all the gardens next to the house would be trampled and I moved what I could and the rest I knew would have survived that, but not from the bleach. After all that, they did not power wash the foundation under out deck or the chimney, so I took a brush and soapy water to do it myself. Oh, and the new paint on the foundation that had just been applied over the dirt, it all came off just as I knew it would.

At that point I just wanted to get it over with so we could begin fixing things ourselves. Every time someone came to fix something, it actually caused more damage.

We had a few good days without rain. The siding crew fixed the chimney, not to the point that we loved it, but it was acceptable.

The painter came and I brought him into my house to show him the rooms I had painted myself, so he could see the detail and how professional I like things to be. He complimented my work and talked about some interior work he had done. I did this as a kind way of saying I expected a better job on the outside as well. So the painter painted....

Even after all that, he painted, again without protecting anything other than using a hand held spray guard. I have to say the coverage was pretty good at eye level, but what was done on a ladder or where he had to bend, not so much. When he was done, we then had yellow overspray on the back deck, the garage doors which were not to be painted, the brand new windows which were to be painted but still, the brand new back door, the handles of the doors, the decorative rocks in my garden, and even our rain barrels that I had pulled away from the house so they would not be in the way!

I just wanted to scream! Really, how much more work does it take to tape and cover a few things like the flooring of the deck and porch or just lay a bit of plastic over a rock! He did not cover anything at all this time. I would have done it myself if he had told me that he was not going to, even after I talked to the contractor about these issues.

The trim was not much better. It was hand brushed, but it had no consistency: some of the trim was painted to the inside corner where it met the siding and some to the outside corner. It was laid on thick with lots of misses.

With the painting finally done—well, as done as they were going to do it, but I will get to that later—it was time for the new gutters. I have to say that this was the one thing I felt was done well, however my husband did not. We do still have some trouble spots that they could have, should have added rain diverters, but my husband will do it.

Are we done yet? No, then there are the windows. Yes, they were in but....

My Lord, my God, how I desire a perfect world! I am so very thankful that there is a heaven, a perfect place because You are there.

Friday, August 28, 2015

It Was One of Those Weeks

Adults are always so busy with the dull and dusty affairs of life which have nothing to do with grass, trees, and running streams.
-The Little Grey Men by BB (Denys Watkins-Pitchford), 1942

Officially, the first school day at Living Science is Monday, August 31. However, I realized about three weeks ago that there are a few high school classes that were scheduled this week. I thought my daughter had to be in the Algebra 1 classes scheduled in the mornings on Monday and Wednesday, but some of my stress was alleviated when I found out that those classes were for the Algebra Honors class, not the Algebra 1 Year 2 class in which my daughter is enrolled. Now that does not mean it is a more advanced Algebra class but rather a class that covers all of Algebra 1 in one year. The school does not offer Pre-Algebra, but instead breaks Algebra 1 into two years, which was the same track I was on with my homeschool before we decided to do the full STEM program at LS last year.

Still, I knew that this week was going to be just one of those weeks when formal homeschooling was really not going to happen.

I would not have to make the over one hour trip to the school on Monday because she had not classes as I had thought she would, except that I did: not to the school but to my daughter's piano lesson which is just about four miles away. For this week, I decided to keep her piano lesson on the new day, Monday, where it needs to be from this point on with her school schedule, because we had so much we had to do on Tuesday, the following day. So, we did the grocery shopping and the piano lesson, arriving home early to put groceries away.

Early in the morning, we had a routine dentist appointment for the Princess. From there we went headed back the way we came for a few miles to drop off clothing and books for the third and last of the consignment sales trying to sell off things no longer being used. (And I have to say here that the consignment sales for the last couple of years have not been doing all that well for us; I have not even sold half the items in the first two, when usually I would not have had enough left to be in the third one. Sad.)

Then the Princess and I had time to eat a leisurely lunch with time left over to stop in at Walmart to get a red binder she needed for Algebra class before her Physical Science class started at 1:00. This extra class would have conflicted with her piano lesson, if we had not changed it to Monday anyway. I spent some time at Goodwill while she was in class until 3:00 and then we went to Life Grocery for the board meeting, while my daughter sat in the cafe reading over her Physical Science assignment, which she found to be boring. We finally made it home as the sun was setting.

I was planning not to have to go anywhere. We did some lessons, but my husband texted late in the afternoon saying he would not be home after all to take the Princess and her friend to Youth Group. That is when I realized that not only was I not going to have those precious couple of hours alone that I appreciatively anticipate on Wednesday nights, but that I also needed to get gas for the van and water. (We filter our city water for the house but we prefer water that is even purer for drinking so we have to go out for it.) So we went out to get those things, came back, fed the pets, and then left to pick up her friend and drop them off. Meanwhile I looked around Douglasville as it has changed since I used to go there so often when my daughter was a toddler. We arrived home around 9:00.

We went to the consignment sale to look for clothes early and got just a few things. Then we stopped at Walmart looking for markdowns on school items and notebook paper. Afterward, we went to Target for the same and that is when I remembered that I forgot the main reason we stopped at Walmart was for underwear. My modest daughter hates shopping for such things, but when I folded her clothes this week, which she usually does herself, I insisted when such things are unraveling it is time to get some new. When she realized she could get the more modest boy short cuts, she was a much happier child.

We went home for a late lunch and a getting ready along with feeding the pets before the drive to the Princess' piano teacher. We had her staying there while my husband and I endured the 3½ hour LS Mandatory Parent Meeting beginning at 6:00, so we had to leave at 4:30 to make the meeting—I really don't know when these people think most of us eat dinner, I mean for us this one meeting would be about 6½ hours of our time with driving there and back! Normally, the meeting is 2½ hours but there is an extra hour before the main meeting for the parents of high schoolers because it is about the Senior Retreat in November. This is our first year with the retreat, but it very similar to the Science Expedition for the middle schoolers in the spring, except it is more intense, more educational, and instead of 200+ children there is under 100. Again they needed more men for chaperones having enough women and again my husband signed up. How could he not? Two teachers told him when they asked the boys in their class about what was the most memorial part of the expedition last spring, the ones who were rotated into husband's van said it was the conversations they had with him. What can I say, my husband has a gift and that is why we were good youth group leaders, back in the day.

As we were picking up the Princess a few minutes after the meeting ended, Trudy told me that she had acted out the entire play, all the parts, for her and a friend of hers who was visiting with her—the child is a such performer. We stopped to pick up some food at Arby's and ate on the way home. We got in before 11:00 PM but everyone was beat. Even the Princess, who has difficulty with sleeping most of the time, was completely out within fifteen minutes.

Finally, a day that I do not have to go anywhere! The late night before made for a late start for all of us this morning, but the Princess and I muddled through Greek and Latin, after I printed out the next Latin chapter because I was again not prepared ahead of time. Since lunch she has been off on her own, supposedly doing history. I am not going to worry about what is and is not getting done much today. Next week Living Science starts officially, so she will have classes on Monday and we begin our new routine.

Thank you, my Lord, for getting us through this week. Help us both to get into the routine next week.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

My Daughter, the Actress

The best acting is instinctive. It's not intellectual, it's not mechanical, it's instinctive. -Craig MacDonald

Last week my daughter tried out for a play our church is planning for Christmas. The hopefuls were given three different readings from which they could pick. My daughter went for the one based on  "Clue."

Now our neighbors go to the same church. Their daughter is best friends with the Princess—I think I will call her "Angel" here. The father was one of the judges who watched the auditions for the play.

"They were only given ten minutes to look over the reading," he told us. His eyes widen to emphasize how amazed he was to watch her not just read, but actually act it out. He told us that he was so caught up in her acting that he made himself close his eyes just so he could focus on her voice and the inflections: "She acted it out! From a cold read! And she is only fourteen!"

So, of course, the child had gotten the lead. I was not at all surprised actually. I have always known she is a performer and acting is as natural to her as walking—she gets that from me (the only reason I did not get the lead in a high school play was because the other girl looked the part more and the drama teacher told me I was the better actress but he felt he could work with her). We have done skits with the Princess for church and she acted out a poem for one of her piano recitals and she was Pontius Pilate in the traditional Easter play a few months ago. However, I feel this is the first time she has really auditioned. Of course, this is not an actors' group with real competition...at least, not yet.

I write that because this time the actors of all ages are not just learning lines, positions, and donning costumes. The woman who is heading this up actually has taught and is teaching them about acting. My daughter's assignment was to write out a background for her character and to try different accents that match the background.

Wow! Not at all what I expected for a church play with a modernized Christmas story. My daughter is one of the three wise men, which are lawyers in this play—a stretch, I know: lawyers being wise men. I just knew it had to be a comedy and it is.

So, my daughter did not know that we knew. She told us she was in the play but would not tell us about her part. She said she wanted it to be a surprise. She told us her friend is the part she wanted, the angel; she always wants the angel part so that is why I am going to call her Angel here. She told us about the play, but nothing about her part, so we teased her about it, saying that she was probably just a sheep. This went on all afternoon.

Eventually, she told us that we would not believe it if she told us and that we would not be proud of her. We told her that we were certain that she would be the very best sheep. Then she wanted permission to something and I said not until she tells me the truth. So she blurted out that she got the lead...and I said, "Uh-uhh. Now tell what you really got."

"I told you that you would not believe me!"

That was worth another five minutes before we told her that we had known since we talked to Angel's father after church.

So, now the work begins....

My Lord, it is wondrous to see my daughter's talents not only blossoming but also being recognized. Thank you for guiding her.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Daughter, the Writer

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say. -Mark Twain

I have been writing articles for a bi-monthly publication called The Lifeline for about 17 years. It is a small newspaper published by Life Grocery, where I have been shopping for organic and health foods since we first moved here. When I started writing there were several writers submitting also hoping to be published within the eight pages. Back then it was far more competitive with professionals having all kinds of impressive initials behind their names, which I do not. Also, the editor had many submissions from which to choose, more than she could put in print, so imagine how honored I felt whenever one of my articles actually got tucked into the last two or three pages.

I had been writing for years and I remember one time looking in the back, but not finding my article, thinking all the other articles must have been better. Then I looked around some more to the pages toward the front, because once or twice my article had been on the second or third pages--no, oh well. I closed it and that is when my eyes fell on the front page: there was my article! I remember it was the Christmas season and it was an article that I would not show anyone in my family, because it was about Christmas traditions I had changed to avoid the tradition of being overweight along with other health problems that seem to also be a tradition in my family. To have something of which I was so proud and not be able to share it with my family--well, it was two-edge sword. Since then my articles have popped up all over the publication and on the front page from time to time, each time it makes me smile!

My daughter has been writing creatively for years. She has started several fiction books, she tells me, but will not let me read them. I assume that is because I would spot areas where she should make corrections and that would take the fun out of it for her. However, my point is that the girl writes and I have been very heavy on Language Arts to give her the best tools to be a very good writer. This year, I felt that she was ready to stretch her talent a bit more.

I asked the editor of The Lifeline if she would be interested in taking submissions from my teenage daughter, sort of a teen writing to teens kind of thing. Through the years The Lifeline has lost writers and gained new ones, but these last few years the low number of submissions forced them to downside to just four pages. Being smaller, there is still as much competition for space, but there also is less diversity. I thought this would be beneficial to the Princess, who is highly health conscious, and The Lifeline in getting children and teens interested in organics. The editor said she always wanted a teen to write, so she would be thrilled to accept her articles.

We had so much going on with the science expedition, end of the Living Science school year, and the work being done on the house that the Princess and I decided that she would write to meet the June deadline, rather than try for April. I suggested that her article be about 250 words or less, for a better chance to fit in. In the past most of the writers articles were suggested to be 500 words or less, but sometimes the material just needs more space.

Although we had decided on the subject and I had talked with her about the format, because it was different than the writing she had been doing up to then, my daughter's first draft read like a science report. It had a too many facts, a bullet list even, and it was dry, not personable. I praised her on the research but explained that she is supposed to be writing to teens, not for her science teacher. I knew her first few articles were going to require a lot of editing, just because she was not experienced with this form of writing. I, again, suggested strongly, in that "mother said do it or else" way, that she create an outline, since she did not do it the first time, with the explanation would help her to keep her topic narrowed down to the one direction as we had discussed, since now she had all these facts in her head.

The second draft was better, but still lacked personality. Writing to teens...? So we worked on it together line by line, which I was trying to avoid, but it was her first time and there was that deadline...and I was trying to get my own article done also, which was about introducing her! We also had a talk about what I call soft and hard deadlines; I usually have a soft deadline for myself at least a week before the hard deadline because things can come up unexpectedly and the hard deadline does not change.

Submissions in on time and the editor loved my Princess' article! Asked her some questions by email, but we were sure it was going to be in, if it fit. Then we waited and waited and waited--this was my baby's first approved article and I was getting impatient to see it in print! The Lifeline is supposed to be published on odd months, but it did not get done until just this last week, six weeks behind schedule.  There was so much going on at the store with the redecorating of the cafe and the editor is also the operations manager, which might account for the delay, but it is out! Actually, I was at the store yesterday and they did not have the hard copies there yet, but it is online.

My daughter's first published article, "Teen Keen on Coconut Oil," is on page 3. She is now a published writer at just fourteen! Yes, this is a serious mama brag!

~ My Lord, thank you for the beautifully talented daughter you have given me. I am in awe of her. ~