Wednesday, 29 January 2014

A Forced New Ride

Back in August, a week before school started, the children and I were headed to one of my doctor appointments.   We didn't make it to the appointment because a truck slammed into us at a red light.   Thankfully,  none of us were hurt, but the van was rendered immobile due to the way the body crushed into the rear tire.   Every safety feature worked and the parts crumpled just as they were designed in a wreck.   It was that side of the van that received the most damage and it was right over that tire where Clare was sitting.   The guys at the body shop were surprised no one was hurt.   She is still worried about car wrecks and last week, when we had a delayed start because of ice and sleet, I kept the kids at home because she was upset about the road conditions.  

You shouldn't be able to see through that section in the middle.

Closer view: top middle is the seatbelt holding Clare's booster seat.

We waited a week to find out that our insurer was going to total our 2006 Toyota Sienna.   We bought that van as a Toyota Certified Used vehicle in December of 2006.   We had just celebrated our tenth anniversary and the van would be our first vehicle purchase as a couple.   It was low-mileage (rental car company), reasonably priced, and Toyota was still offering 0% loans on their Certified vehicles.   It was an incredible deal and we were so grateful for it.   It replaced our 1995 Corolla that I bought new when I took my first teaching job.   I was never given a car by my parents and I did not buy one myself until I started teaching.   I used the family car, a 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass and later, a 1993 Corolla, when I needed to drive somewhere.   I lived at home for college since we lived in the same town as the university.   Yes, all of this does really happen.   And people do survive.   Such "hardship" even helps reduce college costs so said survivors aren't saddled with debt upon graduation and parents don't spend their retirements on college degrees which are becoming more and more of a gamble.  

My 1995 Corolla was still going great in October 2006 when we hit a 10-point deer while driving through east Texas.   Again, thankfully no one was hurt, and Emmeline and baby Clare didn't even wake up until we pulled to the side and stopped.   Insurance totaled that vehicle and we were faced with buying another vehicle six months sooner than we had planned.   Even then, we had planned to keep the '95 as Joey's car and trade in my dad's '93 Corolla for a minivan.   At that point, I had been appointed as his legal guardian, he was getting worse as his dementia and Parkinson's progressed, and we needed a larger vehicle to take him to doctor's appointments after Clare was born.   We visited our local Toyota dealership the day after Christmas and I enjoyed bartering for a great deal on our Sienna.   We enjoyed watching the A & E series, King of Cars, and I learned so much about negotiations from that show.   When the salesman figures out you know the slightest bit and are going to stand firm, they just give in.  Plenty of people seem to just open their wallets and say, "Here," so they can afford to let you have your fun, I guess.

I never considered anything other than Toyota when we bought the '06 Sienna.   There's a line in the Christmas classic, A Christmas Story, when adult Ralphie says, "Some men are Baptists, others Catholics; my father was an Oldsmobile man."   Well, my dad was an Oldsmobile man, too, until he bought a 1976 Toyota Celica.   Our family became devoted to Toyota after that, although he tried a 1985 Volkswagon Golf  and a 1996 Mercury Grand Marquis along the way, only to return to a Toyota Camry in 2000.    The '76 Celica had over 250,000 miles on it when we sold it to a mechanic.  

A New Van

After we found out our '06 Sienna was totaled, we started to look at a new Sienna.   I checked out all the Certified Used vehicles first, both locally and on-line.   I didn't find anything that compared to the deal we made in 2006.   They were either higher mileage or they were too close to the price of the new vans.   So, we went brand new this time and bought year-end 2013 Sienna.   I wanted a white or silver one.   We knew what was available at our local dealership and we loaded into the car the first Saturday after we received our check from the insurance company.   We arrived and were told that the ENTIRE SALES DEPARTMENT was shut down for the WHOLE day because of the Texas A & M vs Alabama football game.   The Service Department was open until noon.   Now, I had been looking forward to that game for months, but I never imagined a business would just shut down the whole day for a football game.   I fully expected tvs to be on all around the place and I hoped to be finished before kick-off, but never did I expect to be turned away.   So, we drove to a near-by town and bought our van.   The dealership is owned by the same company as our local one, so there was no real victory, but I refused to wait another week because of grown businessmen acting like little boys over a football game, albeit an exciting football game.  

At the little dealership, there were only two new Siennas and one used.   The used looked exactly like our '06 and was a bit high mileage, so we concentrated on the new.   One of the new ones was the same red as our '06 and the other was a grey, I thought, until I read the tag and saw "Cypress Green."   It's grey in shadows and shade; it's greenish in bright light.   It was not my first choice.   I really wanted a white van this time and I knew the other CLOSED lot had several.   The salesman was hungry for a sale, though, and the small-town branch liked that they were stealing a sale from the big boys.   He asked if I could learn to love the Cypress Green if we could get the price right.   It turned out, he could make me learn to love the color.   Also, if you take small children with you, you don't even have to do the whole stand up and start to walk out thing when the negotiations stall.   You just tell the salesman the children haven't eaten and you're going to go eat.   Number one rule for car lots: Don't let the customer leave the lot.   It was nearly noon and they were hungry.   Clare and Thomas were getting restless at that point, so it totally worked and suddenly, the sales manager was able to give in to our last offer.  

Overcast and there seems to be a blue tint, but there is no blue at all in person.   My parents' diesel VW Golf was blue and so I have issues with blue cars: SO many hours spent in repair shop waiting areas!    I'd have to get the most amazing deal ever to buy a blue car, or one with any slight hint of blue.

I don't know if it was as good a deal as I made in '06; I know the sales department will always win, kind of like the house in Las Vegas.   It seems I worry about everything these days.   Dave Ramsey and his followers would call us stupid for buying new instead of used.   My parents only bought one used car, the '83 Cutlass, during their marriage, but they drove cars for lots of years and many miles, so they seemed to get their money's worth.   They never cared about the age or beauty of cars.   We planned on driving our '06 Sienna until 2016, at least, but our wreck changed that.   Seven years for a Toyota is still the break-in period!   Now, we hope to drive our '13 Sienna until 2023, at least.   Wow, that looks odd when I actually type it.   I was in no physical shape to drive all over Texas to look on lots and some of the features of our new van were really helpful when my back pain worsened.    It's not the top of the Sienna line, but it's the nicest vehicle I've ever owned and I feel a bit guilty because that's my nature.   I also still miss our other van, but we're all getting used to this one now and I'm very thankful for it.  

Saying "good-bye" to our van :(    It was a very sunny day.   Clare still talks about missing the van.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Brightening Up My Front Porch

My first rule for outdoor furniture is that it must be used or deeply discounted.   It's not just because it's cheaper that way, but also because it's just common sense.   I grew up in south Louisiana, with heat and humidity.   Now, I live in Texas, with heat, a bit less humidity, and intense sunlight on our home.   Outdoor furniture takes a great deal of abuse under these conditions, so no matter how much I might spend on a brand new set of it, the wear-and-tear is still going to happen.   We gradually outfitted our back porch and last spring, I found furniture for the front porch at an estate sale.   The set was a little more than I wanted to spend, but it's hard to find pieces like these.   They are from the 1960s and were used on a screened-in porch.   Another selling point for me was their small scale.   It's hard to find diminutive patio furniture.  

The white finish would not have been my first choice because of our white brick, but I decided to wait until rust or chipping appeared.   It didn't take long since this porch is open on both sides.   A few weeks ago, I decided on bright colors instead of my usual black spray paint.   One day, I'll splurge and have these sandblasted and painted by a professional, but for now, I'm pleased with the look.  

My second choice for a door color would have been Tardis blue (Doctor Who reference), so I chose it for the bench.   I wanted a different color for the chairs, so I chose an eggplant purple that is actually understated like a black or dark green finish.    I sprayed each piece with a clear coat as added protection and to avoid any paint transfer when we sit on them.   The nice thing about metal furniture is that it can be easily painted when you tire of the color and want to try something different.  
Now, I just need to work some yellow in somewhere.   The green will come with the plants and grass in spring.

My next project: paint & stencil my outdoor cushions.   That's where I can bring in some yellow!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Snow Day '14

Or, as my Louisiana friends are calling it, Sneaux Day.  

The beautiful main gates of my Alma Mater, under actual, honest-to-goodness SNOW.

Yes, some of it actually stuck to the ground.   There was snow and ice on our cars.   The door handles and locks had ice!   It was exciting stuff here in central Texas.   Hot chocolate, homemade blueberry muffins for a leisurely breakfast, popcorn in the morning, two snowmen (see below), and the rescue of a lost dog (reunited with owner).    Yesterday, I stocked up the fridge and pantry and we hunkered down because it was going to drop below freezing and there would be wintry precipitation.   Not quite the hurricane prep of my childhood.  

If you squint, you can see their first snowman, their Olaf, in the picture above.   A close-up shot is below.   Another great thing about the fabulous movie, Frozen, is that Olaf lowered the bar for the physical appearance of a snowman so even Texas kids could appreciate the beauty of their humble creation.

Here is the second snowman, also inspired by Frozen.   "In Summerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"

"Mama, you have to come see!   There is snow on all the rooftops!!!"

Yep, our picnic table was absolutely covered in snow.

Today, I kept thinking about all those moms up north who deal with wet shoes, boots, gloves, and coats throughout the winter months.    I admire them all!   I think I'm better suited to deal with wet swimsuits and towels during the summer months.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Five Favorites: Helpful & Happy (01-15-14)

Today, I'm linking up with Hallie at Moxie Wife for Five Favorites since I have a few odds and ends that don't really need their own individual posts:

1.  Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner

Picture from

My youngest daughter has beautiful blonde curls.   If you've ever tried to comb--even finger comb--through gorgeous curls, you'll know why I spend more on hair products for her than I do for myself and I'm always on the lookout for good detangling and styling products.  

Recently, I read a few reviews for this conditioner from Trader Joe.   It is FABULOUS!   It leaves Clare's hair soft and loosens the curls a bit so it is easier to finger-comb or brush her hair.   She even wakes up with soft, non-frizzy hair!   All the females in our house are using this conditioner now.   I also read somewhere that lice do not like the peppermint extract in the this conditioner.   For a school-age child, that can only be a plus.   We'll stock up on this next time we head to Houston.

2. The Bitter Southerner

This on-line magazine makes me look forward to Tuesday mornings.   Every Tuesday is Bitter Tuesday when a new article is published.   These are beautifully written articles, gorgeous photo essays, and reflections which represent the complicated south of today.   No clich├ęs, no overuse of y'all, no anthems, just real stories about real people and you can subscribe to read more each week.   This week's story about The Southern Foodways Alliance was terrific.

From the "About" section:

But there is another South, the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It's also full of people who face our region's contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window. The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.
The world knows too little about these people, which is, alas, another reason to be bitter. But it prompted us to create The Bitter Southerner™.

3. My Boots

I've posted pictures of these pretties before, but that was just my post-purchase euphoria over them.   They were a very early 40th Birthday present for me and I've felt a bit guilty about the price for a while.   I've owned several pairs of boots in my life, but they were all bargains.   I no longer feel so guilty about this purchase, though.   Trying on over twenty pairs of boots paid off because these have become a go-to choice since my back pain has flared.    A good pair of boots is supposed to be one of the best things you can wear and I'm thankful for these right now.   And yes, they're pretty, too!

4. Good Neighbors/The Good Life

This British sitcom, now on Amazon Prime Video, is pure 1970s.   The kids even like watching it.   Tom and Barbara Goode decide to leave the rat-race and practice self-sufficiency on their suburban lot.   Tom quits his job, they buy chickens and a goat, and turn their front and back gardens into vegetable and fruit plots.   Their posh neighbors, Jerry and Margo, are their best friends, but not always overjoyed with this new lifestyle right next door.   I don't know; this show just makes me smile.   It also makes me want to build a chicken coop and buy a tiller.   And I probably have a bit of a crush on the late Paul Eddington, who also starred in the classics Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.

5. Wrapping Paper Storage

I'd like to know how much wrapping paper normal people usually own.   My mother owned many, many rolls of Hallmark wrapping paper.   We bought rolls after Christmas each year when they went half-price.   This year, I wrapped one of Emmeline's gifts in Raggedy Anne paper from a roll that Mama used to wrap my presents when I was a little girl.  

Mama owned four of the plastic paper organizers shown below.   We kept two of them and they are full, with smaller rolls inside larger ones.  

This week, I found this great idea on Pinterest from Practically Martha.   I emptied all but three rolls of one of those plastic bins into one hanging garment bag!   I can't wait to hang the rest of the rolls.   I think I've justified about an hour of Pinterest time with that.

Check out more Five Favorites at Hallie's site!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Big Dapper & Little Dapper

One of the most common comments (compliments) people make about my husband is how dapper he dresses.   My little boy is following in his steps.   Thomas loves wearing ties and he received a new one for Christmas.

Tonight, he asked to wear his new tie to mass and then he asked Joey to wear a yellow tie, too, so they could be dressed alike.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A Great Day

Last night, I made the kids' lunches so the meals were ready in the refrigerator this morning (whilst standing on a clean kitchen floor).   I made the kids' oatmeal and made my own eggs and coffee before we left for school.   I was able to go to a prayer group for moms that was held at a dear friend's house.   I stayed too late talking, but it was so nice!   I made supper all by myself (red beans and rice, cornbread) AND did the dishes.   The lunches for tomorrow are prepared. 

I haven't been able to do this much in twenty-four hours for a few months.   It's been a great day and I would just like to share that.   Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2013 in the Rear-View Mirror

A nod to Mac Davis in the title of this post!

Good-bye, 2013 and Hello, 2014.   I was tempted to type "and Good Riddance" in reference to 2013, but that wouldn't really be accurate.   I owe a great deal to 2013.   In Dickensian terms, I owe him, just as I owe his older brothers, for the lessons they have taught me, when I was willing to learn.

The sudden death of my mother in 2004 set in motion years of chaos for my family and me.   There are major private events and revelations I can't speak of because they aren't just my stories and I am still processing and dealing with them.   Such is life, though, isn't it?   From 2005 to 2010, my life revolved getting care for my father, becoming his legal guardian, managing his affairs, including properties, in two states, all while mothering children from newborns to grade schoolers.   At the age of 33, I stood in a buffet restaurant, frozen in place, as my eyes frantically darted about for my father (beginning the last phase of dementia) and my two-and-a-half-year-old who were both lost in the crowd.   I couldn't budge from my place because of a sleeping two-month-old in a car seat.   That and the seemingly endless stacks and piles of clutter in closets, garages, storage sheds at my parents' last home --always a "To Do" weighing heavy in my mind--are the two images that represent that time in my life.

When everything was settled legally after my father's death and we moved into our new home in 2011, it was as if my husband and I had been spit from a tornado.   I feel as if we've just been stumbling around, dumbstruck, slowly taking stock of all the damage.    And there has been a great deal of damage.   Stress put strain upon my already oddly functioning immune system and it weakened my judgment.   I left our family open to situations I would have normally viewed more clearly.   I turned inward instead of outward.    I've had to forgive myself though, because of the circumstances.   One of the main things I gained from 2013 was more empathy for people who aren't at their best.   By that, I mean that I have a more personal understanding of how things can fall, including our own efforts in the different areas of our lives, when we are dealing with illness, death, major life changes, etc... It has helped me to forgive others for things done in the past and given me a bit more insight into the questions of "How could anyone...?"

Resolved: To pray for empathy for others and to withhold quick judgments.   To realize more quickly that things should not be taken personally.   To practice a nightly Examination of Conscience.   To learn my lessons and move on, without beating myself up for past mistakes, just as I try to show the same forgiveness to others.  To de-clutter the physical things in my life I am holding to so I can move ahead, with freedom.

2013 forced me, literally forced me to my knees or to my bed, to stop and take stock of what is truly important.   I'm still learning and I know it will be a continual life lesson.   In November, I saw a tweet on a comedian's Twitter feed which has been posted several months before.   It was a piece by classical pianist, James Rhodes, called "Find What You Love and Let It Kill You."   It is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever read and I have shared it with many since.   I read it often, sometimes once a day, as a reminder that I am called to live fully, abundantly.   That means opening myself up to life and those whom God has placed in it.

This is that inspirational piece and please, take time to listen to some of Rhodes's beautiful performances:

Resolved: To view time as a gift, not to be wasted and to understand that true leisure that refreshes body/mind/spirit is not a waste, but has its proper place in our schedules.   To fully engage in the present.   Relegate Facebook and other social media to their appropriate very tiny corners of my life.   Put away the mobile phone.   Make our family's spiritual schedule and health a priority again.   Write, really write, in answer to the desire within me, in a dedicated, structured way.   Love my husband and children, in a dedicated way.   Open myself up to the task at hand: writing, praying, cleaning up spills, reading, listening to my children when they talk to me, whatever...just fully open to it, instead of fighting it or rushing through, always rushing.   To get into photos with my family instead of always being behind the camera, even if that means not taking a photo in order to really experience an event/activity.

In 2013, I valued health, which is so easy to take for granted.  

Resolved: To remember the difference I've experienced through healthy eating and physical therapy.   To continue those steps, for well-being, not cosmetic goals.

Finally, by the end of 2013, I was seeing a light at the end of an area of my life that has been a dark tunnel for a few years.   The revelation came when I opened my heart, just the tiniest bit of it, to gratitude.   A priest led me to this in the sacrament of Reconciliation with a brilliant penance.

Resolved: To add gratitude for people, events, and other blessings in my life to a nightly Examination of Conscience.   To accept that I am a low maintenance person when it comes to relationships and not compare myself to those of higher maintenance.   To remember that the squeaky wheels do get the grease, but I have always been happiest when I am realistic and content, without selling myself short or making excuses for others.

So, welcome 2014.   Welcome to all you may bring, including the lessons waiting to be learned.


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