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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Shadow of the Valley of Death... Remember the Light is Coming!

This past week got dark. I guess you can say I just couldn't handle all the downs that seemed to be hitting us back to back... to back. It was pretty miserable. The first week of July saw all my children sick. One at a time, each of the older three got strep throat. The baby was teething. HARD. Total meltdowns. Screaming fits for no reason. Biting on everything. Wanting Mommy to hold her CONSTANTLY! Then the back pain and migraines had to chime in. Sleeping at night became a bygone and by 1 in the afternoon, I wanted to crawl back into bed even if I barely managed to get up by 10 AM. My husband comes home from work one morning and I tell him we have to take the kiddos to the clinic. He mumbles something about, "if the van will even start". Talk about my heart wanting to skip a beat. He hadn't told me that the vans catalytic converter had gone out the night before when he was heading to work. Said he didn't want to add to my stress just yet. This was the third part to break down in less than a month. Before that, it had been our emergency break. Followed by the AC. Yep. We had to rig the brakes and drive with the windows down. In triple digit heat. Now this thing breaks! So we sound like an old Harley Davidson. Or like those big trucks that so many Texan men feel they have to drive to compensate for their lacking in other departments. Which is funny when you consider all the times we made fun of those guys... He was driving to or from work once and this guy on a Harley in front of him kept checking his mirror and looking behind him for the other "biker". 

Mental head slap here. 
The kids commented on the sound. I told them to imagine themselves on a big motorcycle with the wind whipping through their hair. Or in a big truck that no one else could touch. My husbands imagination is lacking, but I'm working on him. We can't talk when we drive. Can't hear each other or even ourselves above the wind and loud exhaust sound. Then we went to the part store to have them check the codes. Our Check Engine light is on. As is our Brake Light (though we know why on this one). The codes said we have a gas leak. My husband looks over the van after a new sound started. The fuel pump needs to be replaced. So now the van jerks as well when we drive. 

It is so hard to stay positive right now. After all, if the van breaks down any further, we are completely screwed. No secondary vehicle. No one close by to bum rides off of or borrow a vehicle from. My husband has school Monday - Friday and works 3 nights a week. Which is another reason I have been down. He put in for more work hours since his summer classes are less than the normal semester hours. He can work more nights. But they haven't been scheduling him for more. In fact, one week they didn't schedule him at all. So on top of our normal bills that we are unable to fully meet on his check, we now have other bills pouring in. Surprise! 

Which is about when another surprise came. We had hired a tax lawyer a year ago to fix an issue that the IRS brought up. It had to do with my tax return filed the last year I was married to my ex. He did his job, or that's what we thought, and we moved on feeling confident. Until now. We got word that the issue had not been resolved. I contacted the lawyer for answers and he got back to work. Now he sends me a bill for nearly $200! 

When it rains, it really pours. 

I was so done. I did not want to talk to anyone. Not even the love of my life. Didn't want to care anymore. I told myself I had to take it one day at a time. I tried to figure out what the heck I must have done to deserve all this. Why my life couldn't be what I wanted. I mean, I know people swimming in debt who seem to have happier lives than me. I know of people that have marriages falling apart (though they can't see it) and they are moving up in life like there is no tomorrow. So why aren't we? Here we are trying to obey the rules and live our lives the way God would have us do. Why are we struggling and suffering so much more? I once asked my Dad about that. He told me, "The good die young." The wicked prevail. Good people suffer. Why? Take a look around. The world is full of evil. No good deed goes unpunished. It is not that we can't be just as happy, but that we are put to the test. Will we stay true? Or will we falter and fall into the pattern of everyone else? These trials build our character. They make us stronger and wiser. We make better choices next time. 

Enjoy the view on the mountain top. 
Life comes with highs and lows. Some times it seems that there are more lows than highs. My current life, as a case in point. When we are standing at the high peak, we see endless possibility. We see a beautiful horizon. But when life throws us lemons and things go sour, we are in the valley. Full of shadow. Worries and fears creep closer. Darkness threatens our happiness. These are the moments when we truly have to recall the memory of being on the mountains top. To remind ourselves that things can be better, will be better. That there is another one coming. It seems impossible at times. And there will be times we fall into the darkness of our hearts. When we feel no one can understand what we are going through. When even my child's smile makes me feel inadequate as a Mother. 

These times will pass. 

Good or bad, every thing passes. Nothing is a constant. It took me a couple days to get over it. A couple days to cry myself to sleep and remember that nothing will change with me being in a bad mood. Time to make the best of what we have. Time to remember that things could be worse. And that blessings come when least expected. Like our new lawnmower. Our lawnmower broke down a while back. My husband has been "mowing" the grass with the weed eater. He dreads it. We have a 10'x10' yard. Tiny, right? But in 100+ degrees, it seems like an endless task with the weed eater. Then our neighbor comes over and offers us his electric mower as they are moving and will not have a need for it anymore. God moves in mysterious ways when we aren't looking for it. It won't make everything better, but at least it is one problem fixed on our always-growing list. 

Make the bad parts funny.

I have always been a fan of imagination. Not everyone can use theirs as well as I can, but it doesn't hurt to try. Your mind is a wonderful factory. It can make the worse situations comical, which helps you get through them. We "pretend" that our van is the Harley or the big truck. We laugh at the little things. My husband and I joke about showing up to my in laws in our monster van. He talks about wearing a wife beater and a flannel shirt with the sleeves torn off. Although, he says the icing on the cake would be if it backfired when we parked. I draw a line here. If it dares backfire, we will officially be in the "white trash" category, so I say no. Absolutely not. People can laugh and make fun of how we look. We will be laughing right along with them. This valley won't go on forever. My mountains peak is coming. I just have to get ready to enjoy the view and savor the memory.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Accepting the Challenge - Are You Strong Enough?

Today I want to get real with everyone. I got real with myself. Broke down. Cried. As strong as I have tried to portray myself... When I'm alone or when its just me and the husband, I break down. I let go of the strings and let the puppet with the smiling mask fall away. He understands. He is patient through it all. Supportive. Life, right now, is nothing near the perfect, happily ever after I may have dreamed up once. But it is also not as miserable as it could be. I have an amazing husband and our kids are growing up with happy memories. Sometimes I have to challenge myself. And today, I'm proposing a challenge to you as well. 
Accept what you cannot change, with patience.

We all have to accept certain changes. Life throws us curve balls, after all. And we get slammed in the face by them more often than we like to admit. Sometimes they knock us down. It is up to us whether we stand back up and try again, or whether we just stay down. There are so many times when I think that I should just get comfy and stay down. That I just don't have the strength to keep pushing forward. That has been when I turned to God in prayer. You aren't religious? Great! Neither am I. I'm just a follower of Christ. I have and read my Bible. I pray. I believe. That doesn't mean that I always feel happy. I don't always feel satisfied with my life. I'm learning that I have some things to accept even though I don't want to.
  1. Some relationships in my life are strained right now. Relationships that I care about, but can't seem to fix. I have to accept that things are the way they are and patiently take a step back. I'll work more on my relationships with God and my husband in the meantime. 
  2. I have something to fix with the IRS and an answer I'm waiting on from Social Security. Patience is something I am once again learning to have at a higher level. After all, the government agencies work at their speed - like the sloths in Zootopia... I have to accept that no matter how much I pray or hope, things will happen in God's timing.
  3. My pain is taking over my life in all aspects. My body is teaching me that I can't do everything I would like to anymore. I was denied a chance to serve in the military. I gave up an amazing job at Amazon. I gave up motorcycles. Well, now I'm giving up other things. A friend recently told me that due to my situation and what I'm going through, I might not be able to home school my kids. At first, I was shocked. How could anyone say that to me? But after thinking about it, I came to realize what she meant. My pain, my limitations - they have stretched over every moment in my life. We can't go to the park in the heat anymore. I can't drive anymore. I'm exhausted during the day, but I can't sleep through the night. Last night I had a panic attack. My pain was excruciating and so sudden that it frightened me. It was as though something in my lower spine was being crushed in a vise. I really did consider that I might wake up and be unable to feel my legs. If I fell asleep at all. I don't often have the strength or energy to do things with them. But their education and safety are important to me. I may have to admit that I might not be strong enough to teach them well enough to get them ahead in life.
  4. Bills come in and I just want to cry. Like this medical bill for services that have yet to help me with my current health. I have to accept that, for now, it is a step towards what I've been working on. But if it doesn't work out, it just wasn't meant to be.
I've been told I need to repent for my sins. Like when Job's friends called him wicked and said that obviously he was sinning, so repent and all would be well again. (Bible reference - Book of Job) He was righteous before God, yet his children were all killed, his servants slaughtered, and livestock taken. His wife even tells him to curse God and die. Job 2:9 (No wonder Satan didn't kill her too.) At first I believed all this hardship was because of something I had done wrong. A punishment. Not anymore. 

Some days, however, I just want to fold. I tell my husband often, "Just shoot me. It'd be a mercy." His answer, "No. You can't leave me." We do it jokingly. But I would be lying if I didn't desire death sometimes. I'd be fibbing if I didn't think that I would rather lose my legs than keep fighting this pain. But then I know that wouldn't help me in the long run. I have people depending on me. Broken or not. I'm not going anywhere and not giving up the fight. Not today at least. 

So hear my challenge and accept, only if you think you have the will for it. 

Get a piece of paper. Or three, depending on how you write your list. 
Your first thing to write is who would be affected physically if you were gone. How do I mean? If you died today, who would be affected? Coworkers? Spouse? Kids?  
Second list is of anyone that would miss you financially. Who do you support? Kids, spouse? Could they make it without you? 
Third list is of who relies on you emotionally. Friends, family. Who comes to you for advice? Who spends time with you when they just can't take the stress of their lives at that moment? 
Why do I suggest this? I believe that everyone in the world has at least one person out there that would miss them in some way if they were suddenly gone. More often than not, we don't realize just how much of an impact we make on others. We tell ourselves that no one would care. That's selfishness and self pity talking. It's baloney. Make your lists. Put them where you can find them. The next time life strikes, pull them out. Remind yourself why you fight. Why you can't give up. You can take the easy path. Give up. And you might feel good about yourself. But who will you hurt by doing so? I'm going to hold fast to my God. And being there for those I love.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Summer Grilling with Kikkoman

Summer is synonymous with grilling. A good time to get outside and cook while enjoying fun activities with family and friends. And even better when you experiment with new flavors. Flavors with Asian influence - such as Kikkoman! 

*Disclaimer: I was sent promotional products to share with my party friends from Kikkoman, via House Party. Everything said here is my own opinion and was not otherwise endorsed or scripted by my sponsors.*

This summer has been hot. And maybe grilling isn't as much fun unless you are getting together with family and friends. But it is the perfect time to begin trying something new. I had never tried grilling with Kikkoman until we had this party. But since I love the flavors that Kikkoman brings, I was excited to be chosen as a host and give it a try.  Kikkoman sauces have always added a burst of flavor that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
 (I'm smiling, can you see it?)
I just love shopping!
First thing on the list is to check out their products. Our local stores keep them in what they call the Asian section. I always keep soy and teriyaki sauces on hand. One of my favorite recipes is Korean beef. My husband and oldest son also love to share in this flavorful meal. 
My party pack had an amazing pair of grilling tongs to use. They made cooking our burgers super easy. I was happy to share all these great recipe books and coupons with my guests as well as friends and family. Still have a bunch of the shirts....
We made them slider size. The soy sauce and brown sugar made them irresistible. 
My Mother-in-law said she enjoyed the extra depth from the Kikkoman soy sauce in the burgers. My husband loved the perfect match they made to our cookout. My sister-in-law said they took the burgers up a notch. It was the perfect way to spice up the grill. My boys actually told me they were "perfect" while my toddler chowed down an entire patty by herself. She only likes beef if I have cooked it Asian style, which means I have to make it with soy or teriyaki sauce. 

Overall, I think we all love Kikkoman sauces. They are a household name here! 
Our end thought was that it would be perfect for a themed luau party! We can't wait to try it again. Have you ever used their products? Notice the smoothness? The extra kick in flavor they add? What is your favorite recipe?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

M&M's Were Made For Summer Parties!

I love M&M's, don't you? The perfect little treat. Either by themselves or with things. They go great in trail mixes. You can bake them into cookies and brownies. There are so many flavors to choose from. I remember growing up with only 2 - regular or peanuts. In addition to the multiple flavors, however, they also have themes. Right now, you should be noticing that M&M's, Skittles and Snickers bags are sporting red, white and blue. These can be used for fun events like your Independence Day parties! (4th of July for you millenials) 
*Disclaimer: I was sent products and promotional materials as well as a gift card to purchase M&M's from Walmart via my association with House Party. I was not otherwise endorsed or told what to say. All opinions are my own.*

During the summer, the kids are out of school. You probably have vacations or parties planned. Time to spend with family and friends. For us, we are visiting my in-laws. Grilling out and enjoying the time we have with them. What better way to accentuate good foods than to add a marvelous, yet fun, dessert? 
We decided to do just that. We made a patriotic themed rice crispy treat with the Red, White and Blue M&M's! This dish did not last long at all. And it showed off how well M&M's go with summer!
I love using and sharing M&M's. We keep them stocked in my Star Wars dispenser. Priceless gadget for keeping the kids limited and teaching just how unfair life can be with portions...

Are you an M&M's fan??
While planning this party, I found this cute game idea that I think would be fun later. What do you think? How else do you use these delightful treats?