Saturday, December 26, 2015

So thankful for our Christmas miracle!

If there is one thing I have learned this year, it is this: Just because I have been doing something the same way for so long, that doesn’t mean I must always do it that way. No, there has to be room for trying something new. For growth and learning. For “thinking outside the box.” Something happened a few days before Christmas that made me realize that maybe the same old method of Christmas shopping for my kids just isn’t a good system to rely on anymore.

What we usually do when Christmas shopping for the kids is I get them a few things earlier in the month – usually on Cyber Monday, since I prefer to shop online, but I also did something different in that regard this year. But, yeah, I usually get them a few things. Then, later on in December, my husband buys the rest of their Christmas gifts. (It’s pretty cool that we take turns with it!) But this year, he wanted the kids to have a more “memorable” Christmas. He suggested I buy them one “big” gift and he’ll get a couple of other “big” gifts too. No little gifts like pajamas or books or stuff like that. He wanted it to be different this year. So I agreed to it and bought the kids their most-asked-for (AKA "the items they’ve been bugging me to get them all year") gifts, along with a stocking stuffer. Little did we know that this Christmas was definitely going to be a memorable one, and that was NOT going to be based on the gifts they found under the tree!

Let’s stop for a minute to cover how my Christmas shopping experience went. And let me first say that I’m a bargain hunter! If I can score a good deal on an expensive item, then I’m all over that!

First, I waited for the right day. Since most of the shopping I was planning to do was online, I waited for Cyber Monday to shop for Christmas. It was worth the wait: Not only was an item marked down 50% but I also got FREE SHIPPING -- a perk many online retailers were providing on Cyber Monday.

I also comparison shopped. One way to find the best deals on the items I was planning to buy was by comparison shopping. I check prices on an item at different stores. I also kept an eye out for any coupons or "bonus savings" being offered on an item. For one Christmas present I bought, I noticed a site was offering it at a 20% discount price. I checked a store where I could buy it locally and it was being sold at full price BUT if I bought the item through the store's website (Barnes & Noble), it was on sale for 50% off! That's a nice slice of awesome!

Another thing is I didn't settle. There was one item I wanted to buy for my son this year that was something I was NOT ready to forget about. It was really bugging me to get this thing for him. The problem is, I had a hard time finding it at a price I could afford. Although it's an old item, ordering it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble meant getting a shipping cost that was MORE than the item price! Not cool! I didn't want to pay an arm and a leg for shipping. I was willing to pay a reasonable price but not pay more for shipping than the product price! So I kept looking. I decided to hit local stores. Unfortunately, none of them had it. BUT, when I went to, I was able to buy this item from the website. Awesome Thing #1: It was at a discount price. Awesome Thing #2: Ordering from the site meant FREE SHIPPING! Yay! If I drove to another town to get this item from a Target store, it would cost more than the price on the website. But ordering it from the site meant a lower price AND free shipping! I was stoked to come across this and it was definitely worth the extra time it took to find a deal that I was happy with.

Okay, now, back to what happened a few days before Christmas.

Gee, I thought getting hit by the cable company was bad! We got hit by another company with an even larger bill to pay…three days before Christmas. We could NOT get an extension on this bill. We were forced to pay it. And the amount that we paid was almost all of the money we had for our kids’ Christmas presents as well as groceries for next week. So we were looking at not being able to get the kids anything else for Christmas. They had 1 present from Mom and Dad under their tree (along with a gift they got each other, as well as gifts from family friends).

This was really depressing. I was SO upset! That stupid company ruined my kids’ Christmas!

I shared about this on Facebook. I had felt so down and out about it that I even said I had lost faith in the spirit of helping others. I mean, why would people DO that? They were right up there with people who break into houses on Christmas Eve and steal all the presents! They were right up there with the Grinch!

I have some AMAZING friends and relatives who took the time to offer support and some suggestions on Facebook on how to turn this thing around. A lot of people I know have been in just such a situation before and they shared some really helpful information on how to handle this. My kids have never been in this situation. There was always more than one Christmas gift from Mom and Dad under the tree. So I didn’t know how to handle it. How to talk to them about it or what to do to make our Christmas happy despite this setback. I mean, even with 7 kids, my parents STILL managed to get us all more than one Christmas present every Christmas! I remember that some years, we even had a family sponsor us and get us all gifts for Christmas! Heck, a whole fire department did, one year! And when Jennifer and I were on our own and I was struggling to put food on the table, I still got her more than one Christmas present that year, because I worked as a babysitter and cleaning a friend’s house! This kinda situation was completely new for me. It wasn’t new for my husband – he comes from a family of 6 kids and he’s been there – but I really didn’t know what to do. So all of those comments and messages from people REALLY helped a lot. I soon had a plan on things we could do to make the day bright all the same.

But I think God had another idea. And I think I have God to thank for what happened because, on that night, when I was feeling so low about all of this, I did what I usually do during my darkest times: I prayed. As I prayed, I acknowledged that Christmas is not all about gifts. And I understood that this was a good opportunity for my kids to appreciate that Christmas is so much more than about getting presents. But I said, you know, it would still be nice if they had more than one gift from Mom and Dad. And I just gave the whole mess over to God. I asked Him for help and guidance and just the strength to get through this.

After that, I felt a little better. One thing I kept thinking about that night, though, was the movie A Christmas Carol. The version with Patrick Stewart is my favorite, and it’s the one we own. I remembered in that movie how the Cratchit family enjoyed Christmas despite having nothing. The savvy Mrs. Cratchit still managed to get the family a goose for their Christmas dinner, and we at least had a nice ham for our Christmas dinner. The family was all together for Christmas and WE were all together for Christmas. The family sat together on Christmas Day feeling blessed to have each other and appreciating the little things. And we would do that, too! And at least the kids still got to make and decorate gingerbread men just like they do every Christmas. And we also had a Christmas breakfast of cinnamon rolls to look forward to with our usual movie of A Christmas Story. So some of the usual traditions were with us despite the lack of gifts.

But then something pretty awesome happened. And I’m starting to think that my saying “yes” to this very first thing is what allowed the other awesome things to come our way.

One of my fellow GSP authors saw my Facebook post and contacted me. He wanted to be a “secret Santa” and give us an Amazon gift certificate so we could get the kids another gift. At first, I was not sure about accepting his gift. Usually, I have this whole “We can take care of ourselves and we don’t NEED any help!” kinda attitude. I’m all for being self- sufficient! And, anyway, I didn’t post that on Facebook hoping someone would step up and help us out. I needed ideas on what to do! But I had a strong feeling that I should accept his gift. He wanted to do something nice for our kids. And I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by turning him away. So I accepted the gift from him and his wife. I used it to get the kids yet another thing they had on their Christmas list. (Thanks, Paul and Dorothy!)

And I think that by being open to someone’s kindness and generosity, it allowed for the other things to happen, too.

One of my sisters also heard about what happened. She knew I was really upset. So she and my sister-in-law (her partner) sent us a gift basket. I was so surprised when I opened the door and saw the delivery lady there with that gift. At first, I thought they had the wrong house! I even looked at the label, saw my name, and said, “That’s me.” Wow! I was really touched. The gift basket was filled with goodies, too. Turns out Jen knew about the surprise and made sure I was at the door to receive it. What a lovely gesture! I was so touched, I had tears in my eyes. (Thanks, Millie and Allison!)

Then we got another surprise gift. Soon enough, there was someone else at our door: One of my daughter’s best friends. She had a Christmas gift for my daughter – and a family gift for us, too! How nice! I was surprised and also very touched. I ran outside and, despite the rain, went to my friend who was in her car and hugged her, thanking her for the gift and wishing them all a Merry Christmas. (Thanks, Kim!)

Then another awesome thing happened, too. My husband was able to sell something and he now had a good amount of money available to buy our kids another Christmas present! He actually got them each 2 other gifts. And he was able to get me something, too! (I had already bought his gift earlier in the month.) So I was very happy that happened and what wonderful timing for it, too! Lots of stores were having sales on Christmas Eve, which made it lots easier for him to get stuff. (Thanks, Mr. Buyer!)

So Christmas was saved for us, after all. I consider this to be our “Christmas miracle.” It was certainly a time when my prayer was answered and we learned just how much we are loved by certain people in our lives. This has helped us to appreciate our friends and family all the more and be very grateful for when we are blessed in such an amazing way. I certainly feel that these things happened for a reason and I know that the true value of these blessings should be cherished and remembered. In the past, I have helped other families who have struggled with Christmas, and it was nice to be on the receiving end of that help this year. People really came through for us and we are grateful to them all. I am also grateful to another family friend who stopped by on Christmas Day with more gifts!

As to changes to our routine, I have decided to move forward in shopping for Christmas all year long, and not just in December. That way, we can avoid financial hits like we had this year. (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised we had TWO financial hits in December this year. This year has been awful!) Also, I am DEFINITELY going to make sure we have a savings account next year. As it is, we have no savings! But next year is THE year we create our savings so we can have something to fall back on in the event of another financial disruption.

This year’s Christmas was amazing and we were definitely blessed. I hope that by next Christmas, I can spread that sort of feeling to another family, too. Because it’s a great feeling!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

We got Grinched!

On Friday, I had some bad news for my kids after they got out of school: The Grinch had struck at our home. No, I don’t mean the band a friend of mine used to be a member of. I mean this dude:

Recently, someone in the neighborhood watchgroup called whoever it was that cut the cord on his Christmas lights a “Grinch.” For us, the Grinch was in the form of the cable company. Apparently, we had an old fee that my husband was not aware of (he pays the cable bill so he is pretty much in charge of what’s up with the cable account). And instead of sending a reminder, instead of posting one of those little red shut-off notices on our doorknob, they cut both our cable and Internet. That was their delightful way of wishing us a Merry Christmas.

I was pretty upset over that. The BIG thing that bothered me was that they did it without warning. It was, like, BOOM! Internet and cable gone all of a sudden.

But I was just glad I had taken care of what I needed to do on the Internet that day before it happened. The kids, however, had not yet had a chance to do anything on the Internet that day, because they were in school. Then they had to come home and find out there was no cable and no Internet. What a crummy way for them to start Winter Break!

I have a picture on my phone of a dog sticking out its tongue and at the bottom it says “Meanie head.” I wished I could’ve sent that picture to the cable company. But I was tempted to storm into the office and scream at them after Jesse saw for himself he could not get access to his Internet game site and started to cry. I wanted to yell at them. “I hope you’re happy! You made my little boy cry!”

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

But fortunately, we are well-stocked in DVDs, so of course we were able to watch movies instead. One movie was Hugo. I remember when Jen finished reading that book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, she encouraged me to read it too. It’s one of the books I have read in a day. It is a really good book and the movie is good, too. We watched it twice! Love that movie! (It’s not often we see a movie based on the book and end up loving both the book and the movie. For me, White Oleander comes to mind. Jen and I agree both the book and the movie for The Book Thief were also good.)

Also fortunately, the project Jennifer has been working on for days does not require Internet to finish. So she was still able to work on her project. (I don’t know what it is because it’s Top Secret. It’s something she is making for me for Christmas.) Also, one of Jen’s best friend’s had a sleepover here this weekend, so they mostly spent time hanging out and doing “sleepover stuff.” They also watched a movie on a portable DVD player.

And at least I have the Google, Gmail and Facebook/Messenger apps on my phone. So I was still able to have access to them. As well as Pinterest and Twitter (though I can’t see the profile changes Pinterest has made. I have to log in at the computer to see it, so I don’t know yet what is up with that). The thing of it is, though, that I HATE typing on the tiny keys on my phone, so I kept things brief and tried to avoid answering emails that were going to have lengthy answers or include links.

Some other good things came out of this experience. We have a lot of board games that were available for us to play. And we also have A LOT of books. In fact, Jesse has a stack of books from the library he still needed to read, so he tackled those over the weekend. He read 2 of them. I also did a lot of reading. In fact, I read 100 pages of an ARC of a new sci-fi novel that came out on December 1st that I am reviewing for Night Owl Reviews. I don’t normally read ARC’s of books, but I love to read sci-fi, and this one sounded like a good story. I was right, too: The novel is REALLY GOOD!! (Now I’m beginning to think I should not pass up on reading ARC’s anymore, because I’d miss out on a good story!)

Aside from reading, Jesse was still able to play games on the computer. (That is mostly all he does on the computer: He plays games. For Internet, he plays ROBLOX and Animal Jam.) He played GTA but he also learned how to play Solitaire. I actually had to reintroduce myself to playing Solitaire because I have not played that game for so long. I’d forgotten how addictive it is! Jesse saw me playing it and wanted to check it out. So I taught Jesse how to play Solitaire. He needed some coaching as he played but pretty soon he got the hang of it. He got really excited when he won.

I also spent some time organizing my files on the computer, updating stuff, and clearing out pictures on my phone to free up storage space. 

So, yeah, our cable/Internet got cut out of the blue, but we survived. And I’m glad the cable is on in time for us to see the Doctor Who Christmas episode.

I have a love/hate relationship with the cable company. I love what they offer us, but I HATE their inflated prices and sucky customer service. We actually plan to use an alternative source of cable in the near future, though we DO still need Internet. And it kinda sucked that they just cut us off like that. Not cool to do it without warning! But we got through it. They tried to knock us off our feet with that proverbial punch in the gut, but we got back up, dusted ourselves off, and STILL managed to have a good weekend anyway!

And I have come across stories from people who the Grinch has also visited, too. Some instances are much worse than ours and I’m glad ours only involved something minor like this. My heart and prayers go out to the people I know who are faring much worse.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Oh, what fun

My plan for today was to take my kids Christmas shopping. I figured we’d go to one store, they’d buy a gift for their dad, then we’d go home.

But something else entirely ended up happening!

As I was driving them through the terrible rainy weather we had today, Jen let me know she was not just planning to shop for her dad today. She also planned on shopping for her friends. I knew she wanted to shop for her friends this weekend, because the next week is her last week of school before Winter Break and she wanted time to be able to give her friends her gifts at school, but I had not expected it to take place on this trip.

Well, it did. And we ended up going to more than one store!

In fact, we ended up shopping at 4 different stores.

Jumping in and out of my car in the downpour then appearing at the store entrance drenched from the rain was a real hassle. But it’s not anything unexpected when it comes to Christmas shopping. For some reason, whenever we go Christmas shopping, it’s raining! (Which is why I prefer to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping online. No fun driving around in the rain or snow!) At one point, after I got into the car at store #3 once again soaked from the rain, I joked, "What does this remind me of? Oh, yeah. Christmas shopping LAST year!"

Then there was the nice little adventure of finding a place to park. That, too, was a hassle, but we got through it without incident.

Even so, we did have a nice time with their Christmas shopping. I had to remind Jen to keep track of her expenses so that she would not go broke before getting all the gifts she needed. I was also sure to remind her to look for deals on items and try to find something that seemed like the “right” gift for that person. She wanted to buy 2 gifts for 1 friend but I told her I didn’t think that was a good idea because it wasn’t fair if she got 1 friend 2 gifts and everybody else 1 gift.

As to Jesse, he was shopping for his dad as well as his teacher. Fortunately, with the little money he had saved up from collecting cans earlier this year, he was able to get both gifts with some money left over. He’ll be using that to buy a gift for his sister. (I consulted with each of them in private to figure out what they wanted to buy each other and plan to take care of that tomorrow.)

After we got home, they got busy wrapping the gifts and they now have them ready to take to school on Monday. Their gifts for their dad are wrapped and under our tree.

I may take them out shopping again tomorrow, but I also think it might be better if Jen goes with her dad tomorrow (since she still has to get her gift for me) and I just take Jesse to get his sister’s gift. At least that way, it’s only one stop for shopping – and this time for sure!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

It's raining trees!

As has happened many times lately, I woke up at 3ish in the morning. At first, I thought it was my dream that woke me up. But then, something happened that made me think it was something else.

Later, as I was lying in bed and trying to go back to sleep, I relaxed under the covers and closed my eyes. Then I saw a bright flash – while my eyes were closed!

I quickly opened my eyes and sat up, looking to the hallway outside of my open bedroom door. I figured one of the kids was up and had turned on the lights. But it was dark in the hallway.

Then I turned to look at the large window that is to the left of my bed. It wasn’t long before a large, expansive flash of lightning lit up my window.

Oh, it’s a thunderstorm, I thought, lying back down in bed. So I watched the occasional flashes of lightning that continued to light up my window every so often. When my husband finally came to bed, having not realized what was going on outside, he was confused when the flash lit up our room again. He asked me about it and I pointed to the window, letting him know it was from a storm. (Somehow, the storm might have woken me up. I can't hear the thunder or rain, but maybe something about the storm had awakened me.)

When I got out of bed at 5, I was too nervous to turn on the TV and computer like I normally do. I usually turn on the news when I get up so early. And even though I really wanted to turn on the news to check the weather updates, I wasn’t sure if it was safe to do so. I looked out the glass patio door and the kitchen window but I couldn’t tell if it had stopped raining. Finally, at 7, I felt safe enough to turn them both on. I hadn’t seen any lightning so I figured it was safe. Fortunately, neither of them exploded from a lightning bolt hitting the wires, or anything.

Now, I had thought this was just another storm. Nothing serious. But, oh my gosh, when I was driving Jesse to school, it looked like a tornado had swept through the neighborhood! There was tree debris everywhere, and one person’s porch arch had been knocked over, lying in the street. I had to drive around it. Some signs had been turned sideways and there were giant puddles here and there.

But the biggest form of damage was from trees! It turns out that trees had been knocked over in the storm. On Facebook, a local friend was talking about a tree being removed from her street. My husband told me he saw a tree that had been knocked over on someone’s house, and I drove over to see it for myself. The tree had actually been UPROOTED and it lie sideways over the roof of a house. Whoa! He also told me a tree had fallen on someone’s car on West 11th. I ended up seeing it on the news later on the day.

Apparently, a tree also fell onto a building at the University of Oregon, and tree damage also caused a falcon to escape at the Cascades Raptor Center. On the news, it showed other trees downed on houses, sheds and streets, and that the storm had even reached as far as Veneta, with more trees coming down over there. Yikes!

All of a sudden, I was feeling very grateful we only have baby trees in our yards. But there ARE large trees near our home. With another big storm headed our way again tonight, I’m crossing my fingers it doesn’t fall anywhere near our house or cars. And I hope our neighbors will be safe, too!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Inclemental weather

Yesterday, I was given a pleasant reminder that Winter has arrived here in Eugene. No, it wasn’t the weather app on my phone telling me it was snowing (even though it wasn’t snowing in my neck of the woods). It was my car sliding on an icy road. I couldn’t tell if the road was icy and I didn’t even think that it might be icy because I had just driven on that road an hour earlier and nothing went wrong. Well, that time around, something went wrong, and my car went flying.

Fortunately, my daughter and I were not hurt when the car bumped up against a sidewalk and stopped sliding (though I did wake up with some back pain at 2:30 in the morning), but it was enough to knock the steering in my car out of whack. It was so frightening, though, that I was no longer focused on getting my daughter to school on time. At that point, I just wanted to get her to school in one piece! I had to make safety our priority and slow down as I drove her the rest of the way to school. (I had to put safety first again after I dropped her off at school: I was planning to run a few errands but the steering in my car was off so I decided it was not safe to drive it around until it, and the wheel, was looked at first. It was pretty tense driving it home!)

Later that day, as I was watching the news (which I had also watched in the morning), I was surprised to see that there had been some crashes and car accidents here in Oregon due to cars sliding on icy roads. One accident was really bad: The front of the car was crushed in! Yikes! Another accident involved multiple vehicles. There is snow in some parts of Oregon but these accidents didn’t happen where there was snow, but plenty of ice! And even after city workers de-iced and poured sand on the streets, accidents were still happening!

It’s definitely that time of the year where we all need to be a little more careful when driving on the road. We gotta slow down and give each other enough space between cars for stopping at lights and stop signs. And even if it is not freezing cold outside or there is no visible ice anywhere, I have been advised that it's best to drive with the assumption that there is ice on the road.

Getting my kids to school on time is definitely important to me, but safety must ALWAYS come first. I tell the kids: “Safety first.” No matter what it takes or the cost, always put your own safety first. Even if it means they’ll be late for school or something. It’s like that quote in the movie Lucy: “I’d rather be late than dead.”

So. My kids might end up getting to school a little late during the winter. I’ll try to get them out the door earlier than usual, but there’s no way I’m gonna be speeding or rushing when I drive them to school. As it is, because of the damage to my car’s steering, I have to drive extra slower until it gets fixed.  I apologized to the kids about this. I told them there might be days that I won’t be able to get them to school on time because of bad driving conditions. (The schools do close if driving conditions get really bad but not if there’s a little ice on the roads.) But I also told them, you know, the school might understand. Heck, they might even expect some students to arrive late because of bad driving conditions. (To be honest, I really don’t like driving when there is snow and ice, but there’s not much I can do about it! Gotta get my kids to school, and all.)

And until my car is fixed, I can’t drive long distances, either. Which sucks, because I LOVE driving and I love driving long distances, too. (Lets me pretend for the duration of the trip that I’m traveling on the road. Ha!) So I had to cancel Jen’s violin lesson this week (it takes a half hour to drive out there) and I also had to reschedule Jesse’s doctor appointment that is later in the week. I am hoping my car will be fixed next week and I can go back to “jumping in and out of the car” to drive the kids to school and run errands or whatever.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gingerbread houses

Recently, on Facebook, I have noticed a lot of people posting anti-Christmas posts. Those posts are mainly about how we should not be decorating for Christmas, shopping for Christmas, or even THINKING about Christmas, until it’s actually December. While I understand the reason behind this sentiment, I also understand that everybody has their own thing set up for a reason. And, ya know, stuff’s gonna happen.

Like today, for example.

Yesterday, when I was driving the kids home from Springfield, I noticed a house that already had Christmas lights and decorations up. “What the heck! It’s still November!” I muttered. But, when my daughter told me that she wanted to make a gingerbread house this weekend, I decided, “Go for it!” Really, there’s no reason to put it off. And it’s not gonna hurt anybody, either.

One of her best friends spent the night last night and so the two of them each created a gingerbread house.

Here’s a picture of both houses:

Here is a pic of the house created by her friend:

And here is the house that Jen built:

Jesse also got in on the action. At first, he was making a gingerbread house. Unfortunately, the roof kept collapsing. Despite Jen’s help to try to fix his house and my assurances that he could do it, he deep-sixed the project.

Jesse ended up making a tower instead:

I am glad the kids did a fun project this weekend. They sure enjoyed eating their creations up! And I am looking forward to making gingerbread MEN, too, but when it’s more of December.