Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Killer Bunnies Kind of Christmas

Merry Christmas!
A jolly old elf showed up in the bus. It turns out that the dog house (engine compartment) is a fine place to pile presents. Lots of excitement with everything from Wuggle Pets (weird little stuffed things), to KILLER BUNNIES! The kids' cousins introduced this game at Thanksgiving, which caused a month of "please Mom, please? Please? Killer Bunnies, Mom? Please?"

For the last hour they've been trying to teach it to Uncle Dennis, but it's a very confusing game, and difficult to teach when you hardly know how to play it yourself, but the name is cool.
In other exciting news, in the middle of the lovely Christmas sermon, I had to sneak out with a certain little girl who had a suddenly very wiggly, and (stop reading if squeamish) very bloody tooth. 5 minutes later we returned, tooth out, with a napkin in her mouth.

All she wants for Christmas is her one front toof.
Lasagna is on the menu for this evening, with lots of laziness on the side. Tomorrow we fix things in the bus and move more items out to the storage shed, Tuesday we get Benny new shoes (ouch), and Wednesday we pack. Guess what (Lord willing) we will be doing on Thursday???

Yee-Haw! Here's hoping our New Years post will be made in San Antonio, Texas with a toasty 60-70 degrees outside!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Know what? I think we'll make it.

The last few days have shown there is light at the end of the 2011 tunnel. We had a wonderful final performance for 2011 (minus the two songs we'll do for our church on Christmas Sunday), and it reminded me again of why we do this. First, we *love* it. There is nothing like the magic we feel on stage when we are together, as a family, each with their own instrument, their own style, coming together to make music. All our worries melt upon the first chord every time.

Next, and most importantly, I think we really can sometimes give a bit of light to others. The pastor leading Wednesday's cowboy church had some kind words after the service that really encouraged us all. He said that everyone that comes into this church, or any church, is bringing a load of weight on them from their week and their troubled lives. He told us that we are one of those groups that, when people sit down to hear us, they are able to lay the burdens down. Then he said he gets up there to speak, and the hard work has been done. Everyone has left the troubles of their week behind, and they can hear the message.

God is good. Every time I think we made a wrong turn, or wonder why we are doing this, He turns it on its head. It may be kind words of encouragement from a friend, or perhaps just the right article randomly clicked, or playing just one song that really shines.

Today Michael worked his last graveyard shift. He was supposed to work through the 27th, but the company cut shifts through the holidays, and canceled his last days.

In his first act as a full time participant in our band endeavors, he made a phone call for me on one of the millions of little issues that have bogged me down in the last year, and he resolved it. It may have been cloudy, cold and snowing outside, but in my world, the sun came out, the birds started singing, and I was walking on sunshine!

I have been grasping at the end of my rope the last few months. I happen to believe that being a full time mother and homeschool teacher to four children is a full time job. When things started flying this last year with my roll as "band mom", everything was magnified by about a factor of 10. Suddenly I was dealing with bookings, publicity, taxes, bookkeeping, music arrangement, band practice, wardrobe, booking a recording studio, working on the mixing, and all that jazz, er, bluegrass. Then came the move. House showings, decluttering, cleaning, repairs, packing... oh, and a bus that needed renovations, repairs, and let's not forget the unforgettable VIN plate, updated insurance, etc.

More than once it got to be overwhelming. I started into my "shut down" mode, where I could do little more than sit in a corner in front of facebook, or perhaps play solitaire - which is basically my equivalent of curling up in a ball and mumbling to myself.

One phone call... Really. You have no idea. Michael was working an increasingly stressful job that was destroying his health and keeping him unable to do more than some bus maintenance on his days off, when we didn't have shows to get to. Suddenly, he can handle making sure we have the best coverage for our bus, dealing with final hassles and difference of opinions in the CD mixing, and helping with the children, who are suffering from too little attention in schooling and character guidance lately.

It's been a difficult Christmas to get through, because we are getting set to take off just 3 days later, but we're trying to make sure it's still special for the kids. Benny has his pretty decorations up and as you can see, is looking mighty spiffy.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Those Awful Christmas Letters

Several years ago, likely due to my desperate need to blab in writing, I started writing a Christmas letter for family and friends. Yeah, I know. One of those letters. I made attempts here and there to make it clever and funny, mostly to avoid having it become nothing but a big, fat brag-fest, but it probably didn't work. It was a big, fat brag-fest. I can't help it I lack clever.

I wrote this year's letter and sat back to look at it and you know what? It was the biggest, fattest brag-fest of them all, and in that I wondered if it wasn't just a bit dishonest this time because of this. When I get honest, I sound like Pollyanna with a side of Eeyore, and that's just wrong.

Here's how it went.
I wrote about our great trip to Texas and Arizona last year!

Mostly true, when you ignore the fact that Michael threw out his back and spent part of it lying down, and I ended up doing much of the driving, as well as dragging the bass and heavy suitcases up and down hotel stairs and hills at festivals, all while playing the super together band mom. The south had record breaking cold, busting pipes in most of the rest stops and bathrooms across I-10 through most of New Mexico, meaning hours of no bathroom breaks...

Then I told about how we fixed up the house and got it on the market!

I admit, there was no room in the letter to whine about having 5-8 showings a week, often on little notice, and I am completely unable to keep a room clean for 5 minutes, let alone at every moment. Honestly, who wants to hear a grown woman whine about having to keep her house clean? That's beyond lame.

We sold the house!
First contract was dropped. Back on the market it went, and dropped the price enough to just escape with the clothes on our back. Oh, and let's not forget to mention that the new neighbor behind us poisoned the new owner's dogs just weeks after they moved in, putting my house all over the news and sending detectives to interview my son about his interactions with the dog killer.

We had a wonderful time at Silver Dollar City!!!

True, but in the contest they didn't like us much. Eh. We still had fun and they can not like us on their penny next year, too, 'cause it's an awesome place to visit.

We bought a great bus and named it Benny.
Of course, we paid double the quote to fix it immediately after returning and spent the next 5 months fighting the DMV to get tags on it. Oh, then there's my current panic attach about the insurance... Naw, I'll spare ya that one.

We have a new CD coming out!
We had planned to have it produced and recorded by someone in Texas, and due to some warnings against the contract we'd have to sign, pulled out with only just over a month to find a studio and no clue how to pay for it ourselves. It's now a month behind schedule and is showing no signs of actually getting finished in time to be here while the kids are still young.

Finally, Michael quit his job so we can go live the good life! ...
or end up in a cardboard box. One or the other, I'm sure.

How's that for a Christmas letter? And when did Eeyore move into my brain?

The truth is, I think the DMV stole my sense of humor about 4 months ago, and I stink at clever. So I simply say what we did and it sounds like a brag.

I love writing our Christmas letters, but this year I simply cannot bring myself to do it. Normally it would be finished by now, but Scrooge took up residents with Eeyore in my already over-crowded split personality just in time for Christmas.

Of course, then we go and have a fantastic evening of Christmas cookies, Charlie Brown, and giggles, leaving me completely conflicted just when I have a great mental Grinch going. (Oh, he's in there too. Forgot to mention that.)

It is entirely possible at this point that our busiest and most news-worthy year yet will end with no Christmas letter to show for it. Bahumbug.

I think I'll go have some eggnog and another Christmas cookie, listen to Christmas music, dream of warm beaches and let Pollyanna pound the daylights out of Eeyore, Scrooge, and Grinch for a bit. Wait...No. Not Pollyanna. I don't like her much. Too simple minded. Hmmm... I need a new positive personality to invite into the mix. Perhaps I'll think of someone over cookies and eggnog.

ETA: I forgot to mention Mary's dental surgery and the subsequent fight with the insurance company who tried to stick us with an $8,000 bill.

I'm sure I'll think of more... :-p

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Others Pray

Luke 5:16 And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.

This Sunday at church, while Michael and I were finishing up some coffee before the service began, a gentleman came up to us and asked us when we were leaving.
"Just over 2 weeks," we replied.
"Good, 'cause I'm getting tired of seeing you here every week," he joked.
At that point he became a bit more serious, and said, "You know, there are a lot of folks praying for you."

Pray? For us? I mean, sure, pray for world peace, or better yet, the dear elderly man down the road who lost his wife, or the young mother suffering from cancer... but for us? This is not the first time lately we have had such an encounter, either. One of the kindest, and no doubt one of the best women of prayer in the church, approached me a few weeks ago and wanted to know how we'll keep in touch because she really wants to pray for us. You could tell by the earnest way she said it that she knew what I am only learning. It isn't the clever ideas, the planning, or the money that makes the difference. In the end, it's the prayers.

I consider myself a very mediocre prayer. I do try to pray for all of the many people that cross my path daily who are in need. Regrettably, more often than not, the prayers are quick ones under my breath, and on to the next thought. This is likely due to an unfortunate combination of being terminally distracted lately, making concentrating on longer prayer time difficult, and likely a side effect of too much media saturation, which dramatically increase the number of people seen daily in need of prayer. Life becomes a focus on quantity, not quality. I say a lot of prayers for a lot of people, but I fear they are not the type of prayers I most covet, so I feel a pang of guilt at the end of the day as I rush through a list, if I even manage a list. Yes, more people pray for you when you connect through modern forms of media, in a life that moves you quickly from one place to the next, but I can't help to wonder if it is in the fewer, more direct and earnest prayers, where the real power of prayer is felt, and that is where I am sometimes sorely lacking.

The saints mentioned above were not likely to be the type of people living in a media saturated world, at least not to the level I sometimes find myself. Additionally, they are not praying for us out of obligation because we asked, but because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they wish God's blessings upon our journey. Going only by the way they mentioned it, I would guess that they are praying for us in a way I only wish I prayed for others. It's deeply humbling.

Although our family happily plays our music for a variety of venues, both secular and gospel, one of the reasons I love playing for churches is because, almost without fail, the church staff prays for us, over us, with no distractions, and never rushed. Lately we have been searching for churches who would be willing to host us on our journey, and naturally this helps, because there is a need to have some financial support in order for us to continue. However, in the end, it is the prayer that connects us to God's people and keeps our walk straight when we leave any given church.

Through those prayers we receive something far beyond our physical needs. We receive the full attention of the One who created the very matter that forms us, and the One who created our eternal souls, our very identity. We connect with the One who entered physical time to redeem those souls for His eternal Kingdom. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty important. We love the prayers, so thank you to all who have prayed on our behalf. It matters more than you know.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Official. He Quit

Today was the day. Michael gave his notice and his last day will be the 27th.

Now, I come from the idea that our finances are no one's business but our own, but no doubt many are assuming we are either rich, or they know we are not and think we're simply being irresponsible. The first one is almost laughable, kind of in the way I had to laugh when someone assumed we were rich to be having our fourth child. As for irresponsible? I suppose that depends on your priorities, as well as your faith.

After Michael emailed me the news that his talk with his boss was over and the date set, I nearly had a panic attack, then I squashed it. We all knew this day had to come if we are to get on to another chapter in our lives.

I'll let you in on a secret, and a major drive behind all of the upheaval this last year. In the last 7 years that Michael has worked at this job I have seen his health go from reasonably healthy, to high triglycerides, to full metabolic syndrome, while on a fairly healthy, (usually) low sugar diet. He has lost weight, and sometimes he would worry his concentration was suffering. I am convinced the reason for this is because Michael has worked the swing/graveyard shift for years now, and there is ample research to show this can cause some serious health side effects over time. The only thing left on the list of common health complications was cancer. We weren't willing to wait for that one to manifest.

He worked the shift because we needed the extra 15% shift differential to pay the mortgage and all our other expenses. We could cut corners down to nothing to make ends meet on the day shift, but even if we did, his job showed no signs of letting him take the day shift. They had no one else who would take his shift, though he tried recently to get on the day shift. The response to when he asked? A link to an article that recommend a medication to help him cope with the night shift, though the side effect warnings were worse than the problem!

(Side note: Yes, Michael will be looking at flexible or online type work on the road. We are just not that hopeful in this economy. I have more faith in the band, quite frankly.
Another company with the exact same work would never pay these days even close to what he was making, so the house would have had to go for that option anyway, and so our course was set.)

The band has always been the back-up, as much as we love it, and as much as we do want this to work. We're just normally too "practical" to assume such a crazy feat. However, it would seem it was likely God's priority, not back-up plan, because everything around us has forced this direction, like plans were being made to make sure we didn't chicken out. What good is a family band when the head of the household is sick or dies and early death by working at a lousy job that prevented any hope of a family vision and unity?

Perhaps he will get some unemployment for a time, due to the health complications that were associated with his job, or perhaps a flexible job where he can telecommute, but if not, another plan will be waiting for us. It's our job to find out what it is. Since his job rarely gave him much of his earned vacation and holiday pay, we have severance waiting to start us off, but ultimately, this is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to faith. We claim to have it, yet we hold on in a lousy job that destroys the health, limits our family's opportunity and influence, enslaves us to a mortgage and clutter, a yard and house we cannot keep up unless we limit other weekend activities, and simply exist like cogs through the factory of life. All for the illusion of security.

I will not panic. (Said through gritted teeth.) You cannot serve God and money, or God and mortgage, or God and job. Not even God and diesel for the bus. I have made my choice to Whom I will serve.

Three weeks. Breathe.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

When It's Cold Outside

The temperatures have been freezing, with tomorrow promising only a high of 11 degrees (-11 C) and will be dipping to -4 degrees (that's -20 C), and we are still stuffed wall-to-wall at Grandma and Papa's house. Idle hands are definitely the devil's playground in this house, so I picked up a big play dough set when shopping for jeans on a black Friday sale. It gave me at least 2 days of busy hands.We've had to pull out the Wii, Netflix, and a computer game or two on the side, because neither currently have boots and it's really getting too cold to spend a lot of time out there anyway. We'll do school tomorrow, some reading, but eventually I run out if ideas and they end up in front of Netflix.

We're staying warm at least. The younger two have been camped out in the living room with the wood stove burning through the night.

The weather has given us some unusually beautiful sunsets lately though. One of the kids snapped this picture recently over the lake. I found it on my camera when I downloaded pictures.

Amazing colors! I am really going to miss Colorado sunsets over the mountains when we're away.

When It's Cold Outside

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Want an Oompa Loompa NOW!

I have heard it said before to never ask God to teach you patience. I promise, I didn't! When you are 4 weeks out from a long awaited adventure, patience wears thin under good circumstances, but when Veruca Salt starts to look like a roll model for patience and temperance, you know you're failing the lesson.

The bus is still gone. We're asking for some unusual work to be completed, including a hitch installed, along with the recent addition of a generator that needs to be attached, and placed in line with all the regular vehicles they must fix. Plus the weather turned freezing cold recently, and the bus is too big to fit inside their garage, so it simply isn't finished.

We're all still stuffed into Grandma and Papa's house, and have been for a few weeks now as Benny sits cold, dark, and lonely in front of a garage somewhere. Every few days we have to go there to pick up something we forgot, then get it back here to find we have no place to put it. At this rate the entire contents of the bus will be stacked ceiling high in corners of the house.

I'm tryyyying to be patient, really I am, but want my bus back!

Additionally, the CD will likely be delayed until well into January. I haven't even heard some of the songs since we left the studio. We were running so late finishing up last month that we didn't have time to get rough mixes downloaded to enjoy in the meantime. I've been waiting for the actual first mixes to come in, but the guy mixing it just became a new dad, and the baby showed up 2 weeks late. I assured him I gladly break for babies and we could happily handle the wait, but when little problems popped up in the recordings that needed attention before mixing can proceed, due to no fault of the person mixing, my patience started to wear thin.

I want to hear my songs nooooow! It's been a month since we recorded and I haven't heard a few of them. (Insert whining sound.)

Last in the area of zero patience, connections for performance opportunities are slowly coming in, but not everyone books as far in advance as I'd like. I'd love to have things on the schedule now, but some places simply wait until a few weeks out, especially churches. So I wait, and make myself trust that the tour will start to take shape.

Sadly, lack of patience is not the only area causing whining. I'm running out of money, too. Correction. Ran out. I won't get into it much, but let's just say that bus repairs and upgrades, caps on teeth, (Michael's teeth this time), CD recordings, new glasses and contacts, and other last minuted items, have added up to more than our mortgage did, so selling the house early to "save" didn't quite work out. This is about when I envy how Veruca Salt's daddy would just pull out his wallet and offer to pay any price. Veruca Salt is not a good roll model. This can't be a good route.

"Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"

Ok, my heavenly Father is better than Veruca's. Attitude adjusted; whining over. We'll survive. The last week of December we'll be frantic trying to get everything finished and suddenly life will be put back into fast forward. I'll brace you now for the whining that will bring. ;)

Thankfully, we're doing our best to laugh through as much as this as possible. We're singing Christmas music right now for a few Christmas gigs we have picked up and that's always lots of fun. In fact, tomorrow I get to get up obscenely early to drive to the garage in order to retrieve some performance outfits before our lunch gig, because I don't have any of those moved in here yet. (Wait, that was almost a whine. Oops.) Well, at least Costco sells eggnog by the gallon. Yep. We'll survive. When the eggnog supply dries up, it'll be time to leave. Wee!