Create your own story

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This year I turn 40. I’m running away to Paris where I will surround myself with wine and crispy loaves of bread. I shall eat cheese and hike up narrow streets and bask in the overall glow of love. I’m taking Louboutin heels because there is no other occasion to wear them except for Paris. I plan on smiling more than sighing, walking more than sitting, eating more than sleeping, and looking into the eyes of the man God sent me to love. I may never leave.

But honestly, what do I really know of life?

A few things.

I sat in bed and sobbed after a week of radiation, the throbbing in my skull, wondering if this tumor in my head would finally kill me. I wondered if I’d ever be a mother or have a retirement party or if I’d have my eye ripped out like a freak with a patch.

My forehead was sweating during an eight-hour law school final, writing so furiously my hand cramped. I didn’t think I’d ever make it out and I’d forever be stuck as some government worker the rest of my life.

I remember taking shots of tequila in the big mass of New York and walking around in tottering heels with the world spinning and wondering why things were going in circles.

And oh, my babies. They were never supposed to be, but they were. And they grew inside of my abdomen for nine long months and rising out of me like little angels. My heart could barely take the happy.

And then there was moment I found out my 14-year-marriage was nothing but bones and dust and I found myself curled up in a closet, my mother begging me to eat toast since I seem to have forgotten to eat in a number of days.

And don’t get me started about the three-hour time-out battle with a four-year-old.

So I know a thing or two about life.

And if I could say anything about it to an alien, or an eighteen-year-old, which is basically the same thing, I would say that life is a collection of interesting stories. Stories you repeat to yourself when you’re old. Stories that are only interesting if they are tragic, or terrible, or unbelievably weird. No one wants to know about your boring chicken dinners.

Many of these stories you can’t control. They just blow up like a West Texas dust storm in the west, heading your way whether you want them there or not, and you have to navigate the fallout. And there are stories that you can control, where you make your life interesting and rich, and choose to take the hard road.

Go make good stories.

Sit down with a blank piece of paper and think about what your gifts really are – the things that only you have that no one else can do quite like you. The things that are innate in your soul that God has placed there to better the world. Think of how to improve these things and maximize these things and go kick some ass doing these particular things. Whether it’s taking karate or traveling to India, live out these great big stories.

At the cusp of 40, I want to shake the necks of all the 20-somethings. To not think of life as working and partying on Friday nights, but as a long journey, where you can choose to take the boring interstate or veer off on the side roads, where you get to sit at old diners and eat rabbit stew and meet folks like Earl. Take these back roads with gusto and develop an interesting history, so when you’re old you can look back and say that you lived, and earned your life, and you wouldn’t do anything differently.

Some things in life you can’t control. But other things you damn sure can.

Go live your life. You know, the one you imagined.

photo:

(threew’s):flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/11863037906/in/photolist-j5iaSj-dLtdNS-5eutgu-inwu5k-9AzoxK-byb7e5-rcsoUy-Ufdf-rcDYKM-a9kFWB-bvkwv1-rRTh2d-gZi7po-r8YDtH-dbBywi-9jKCtN-9kDNmW-dbBtJ8-jEcUh4-8HRbwV-s9soCH-95k1VZ-8qfkRJ-96cuD5-a37CLe-njBGrD-oP9M3P-dbBbao-dbBtuh-4iU33h-8Ywz6G-djHiXs-wEbcP-e3WKA3-oeReqX-dhgnqz-4iU2Sq-6fAPgC-8YtCvX-2WPkK-a37CcM-8HUgBS-8vpnnn-94n2Nq-95qjUf-25vgdG-dbBiPT-pF8KZ7-4iPXAz-9SAbDq

 

Layer upon layer

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Some days are comfortable.  You have the luxury of sipping coffee with two creams and your kids put on their shoes without argument and you’re listening to folk music in your car with fancy leather seats.  And you think to yourself that you are Quite Blessed Indeed as you sip and hum and smile.  A layer of peace and soft sheets at night to rest your head.

Some days are sad.  Old demons pull your hair and whisper things in your ear about how things used to be and aren’t.  You forgot to shave and you left the kid’s lunch on the counter and you are almost out of gas. And you sigh deep because Wendy’s forgot to put the salad dressing in the bag and you sent that text you shouldn’t have sent and lost your temper and work just piles up high on your desk like steel buildings scratching the sun.  The expectations are too big a mountain to scale.  And this layer is dank and stained, thrown in the wash for another time.

Some days are powerful.  Because you own this suit and you own these heels and you walk tall down this hallway plodding each foot down hard like a runway model.  Nobody gets to tell you how to negotiate this deal or write this contract or win this case or run this house because you got this.  And a smile creeps up from some inner place not from joy but from lust for it because there is a greedy rapture that comes from being The One Who Leads.  An alluring devil whispers,  there you go, kid. Own it.  This layer is a silk ribbon tied over fool’s gold.

Some days are bombs that explode upon your heart.  You were once just standing there stirring the pasta pot on a Tuesday and now you are curled up on the bathroom floor hugging your knees.  Because this couldn’t happen and she couldn’t die and he couldn’t cheat and you refuse to believe it.  Your life that was all planned out is now different and broken and will never again be the same.  You cry out with a deep moan like a wounded animal and beg for God to save you.   For that powerful you is gone now like a vapor, and a child remains. This layer is nothing but putrid and rotten, like a limp banana in the trash heap.

Some days are red hot.  Ah, yes. These days you can’t breathe for the passion, because you didn’t think it would feel this way and your heart races at the thought of him.  People walk up from behind and it frightens you because you were daydreaming of boats in Venice and long walks aside the river and park benches. And when you touch it’s electric and you are scared it might end for the fury of love is deep and unquenching. This layer is a long handwritten love letter, inscrolled with words meant for one.

But these are only days.  They do not make up a life. It’s the character that forms as a result of these days that matters. Layers upon layers of emotions and reactions, heartbreak and redemption.  A butter biscuit that can be pulled apart, warm and rich, the smell permeating and filling the kitchen with a promise that they will be eaten soon enough.

I thank the Son for being an intimate part of my days.  And I thank the Father for being a trusted anchor when I could not stand.  I thank the Quiet Spirit that resides in me on bathroom floors and in the midst of passionate kisses, on park benches and in fancy leather seats.  For our bodies and our lives are a temple on good days and in bad, in the dark and in the light.

We know our days are numbered. And in the end, there is nothing but dust on the earth.  Comfort is fleeting, power an illusion. Heartbreak temporary and passion fading.  These days, they will someday come to an end.  But the honey that drips so deliciously down, into our souls and into our hearts and makes our mouths water – this love that binds the days and hours and years – this pure blinding love of God that soaks into us and becomes us and radiates from us?

This remains. 

Thank you, God, for this beautiful life. For the good days and bad.  For all the delicious layers.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruthanddave/11594921303/sizes/m/in/photolist-iEB19g-5Vtv2T-4QMUfW-aeYy1C-HRAc-4HA4bo-bygN4M-7qKf2M-7qPax7-kZBJo-5YM8hY-5J3dVg-7W9ggD-7hrrUa-89YWxK-4N2vPg-j9eZNw-ebsUi8-mpcG9a-Jc2z-gqDYd-fgpmS9-8dtNMZ-8HnBqb-8Tsy2T-2Rd2uP-dzAiP4-8kQjNr-5yM6NC-oiBgg7-7zyig3-bqQzcf-GM7z4-5gG6gs-9Z2btD-7d44cG-8bQeFx-bk8aYd-9zbPmZ-71Aupm-818vFy-7Wget9-8fgFNg-4CybAc-8Ds238-3438Wc-5TTG9P-5YnPUD-nTbr9o-6hkavQ-bMQXzx/

Odd and Curious Thoughts (about a weekend alone)

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(1) Being the environmentally conscious city that it is, Austin has a city ordinance that you have to bring your own recycled bags to the grocery store or else you’re carrying frozen peas in your purse and balancing tri-tip steak between your armpits while hunting for your car keys.  But today, I traveled outside the city’s jurisdiction to Trader Joe’s, which is free of said restriction, and what do I see but some woman lugging in the bags after all.  I had an urge to run up to her and say “But honey! You don’t have to bring them! They not only have chocolate-covered potato chips but they give you bags!” But her assortment of henna tattoos revealed that she was just trying to be environmentally conscious.  Weirdo.

(2) I’ve begun to refer to Diet Coke as chemical water to warn obviously ignorant consumers to the danger of aspartame so when I stopped by people’s offices this past week see if they want anything from the break room I gave them a choice of 30 grams of sugar or chemical water and suddenly people are shutting their doors and I don’t know why.

(3) I planted a pack of wildflowers in my garden this year, but as I was driving today I saw fields of Indian paintbrush along the highway and I felt so guilty for trying to force flowers that were supposed to grow untamed and free into neat little rows and like wild horses these flowers would forever now be caged and I wanted to run out and pluck their little green shoots from the earth to spare them from a life in captivity.  But I didn’t because that’s dumb.

(4) I mentally judged a woman for not wanting to fill landfills with plastic bags and yet I contemplated ripping soul-less seeds from the earth to protect their unrealized ego.  Who is weird in this situation. Pray tell.

(5) So Dude is out of town for a work conference so I’ve spent all glorious weekend cleaning out closets.  I didn’t realize how much mental and physical energy went into getting dressed up, applying make-up, being mentally alert and ready for any required flirtatious banter, and generally being an affable and overall pleasant date on all occasions. From now on I need to stop dating and focus on closets because I never realized how much I can actually accomplish. IT’S AMAZING.

(6) At Trader Joe’s I got a frozen pizza and it turns out my evening is spent curled up in my [extremely] clean closets with wimpy organic flatbread creating grease spots on paper plates PLEASE MY DEAR COME BACK TO TEXAS I CAN’T LIVE LIKE THIS.

(7) When I have free time I make care packages, so fair warning, friends I haven’t had time to call in four months because you’re getting chocolate covered raisins and rainbow washclothes!! So excited, ya’ll!

(8) So in the garden I’ve been growing snow peas.  Every time I go out there I pick about seven of them.  Today at the store I noticed a huge package of them for $2.49 so basically all this freaking hard work is saving me nothing.  NOTHING.

(9) Yesterday I was at the mall and in the Talbots window was a model wearing a green sweater with blue tropical fish on it and I thought perhaps Talbots is running some covert campaign for population control because pretty much anything is sexier than a grown woman wearing fish on her sweater and I mean honestly we need these accountants and HR specialists and upper middle class Talbots couples to have babies so let’s stop with the fish already.

(10) I cleaned out the pantry and found a box of fudge cookies with Santa Claus on the box. Seriously, people.  This is how I live.

(11) At World Market you have to purchase the furniture in a box so Saturday morning in Austin some girl with one eye and no depth perception was trying to figure out how to use a wrench and screwdriver and when certain holes could not be found in the prefab wood despite the stupid instructions perhaps this girl drilled into where she thought it should go but this girl isn’t an engineer and just a lawyer so perhaps someone should come over and re-examine the work done post haste.  And don’t set your coffee on the table just words of wisdom I’m not saying it’s going to fall but PROTECT YOURSELF.

(12) In sum, a weekend alone is glorious and you can sleep until the dog begins to bark at you for a treat and you can make an entire pot of coffee all to yourself and vacuum with wild abandon and eat salad in a mixing bowl while watching another episode of Suits but then Sunday night rolls around and you get lonely for little people who suck all you energy and give you sloppy wet i-wuv-you-momma kisses and suddenly you’re wistfully staring out the window where they used to play and GOOD GRACIOUS IT’S BEEN THREE DAYS YOU CAN DO THIS.  Please, kids, I need you to come home.  I’m utterly lost (and slightly crazy) without you.  See: the wildflower incident mentioned above. Thanks, ya’ll.

Our Wrinkled Lives

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I’ve been busy. 

That’s what I tell myself when I want to write, poetic words about how Jesus rose or balancing a career or the absurdity of car names like Trail Blazer and Expedition but then a Yaris drives by with a missing window and no hubcaps and I’m like “sure those other dudes are jerks and ain’t nobody roaming the range in an eighty-thousand-dollar car but honesty, Yaris.  Have some self respect and get a paint job.”  Then I think about how Yaris sounds like a tropical disease and I flip through the radio but my speaker’s blown so I balance the iphone in my console and blow my nose on an old Starbucks napkin and think TONIGHT FOR SURE I will clean out my car but I’m caught swooning over the sappy love mix on spotify the Dude created amplified only by the walls of the cup holder and I think about how kind and wonderful he is until I suddenly I remember I have three loads of laundry waiting on the bed that I’ve already pushed over into a wad on the non-sleeping side so they’re in piles of “re-dry for critical wrinkle relief” and “who the heck cares/you just sleep in this ratty t-shirt, girl” because I was so tired last night I could barely stumble from my son’s bedtime stories to my own and I’m out of dog food and my car needs gas and I got a warning from the teacher to not pack peanut butter again because the fumes may waft into the air and destroy some kid’s life and I just don’t see how airborne peanuts can kill someone so I pack a cheese sandwich that no kid on planet earth likes and I think about my 7:30 am meeting and how that contract never got sent so I set my alarm extra early to sound like raging bullhorns and I drag out of bed and look at my face that somehow resembles a wrinkled sock and text at a red light and eat a chipotle burrito in my car when suddenly a black bean rolls in between the seats and I’m curled up all contorted in a three-hundred dollar suit searching for a rogue black bean so I laugh at myself and apply lipstick and get home to remember the freaking dog food so I feed the poor thing half a cup and seventeen treats and realize I didn’t clean my car and that laundry will have to wait again and I really, really hope that my poor dog’s extra fat sustains him until morning.

Where were we. Oh yes. Jesus. I wanted to write about Jesus.

There are times I get so busy I can’t even stop long enough to feel. I washed a pair of kid’s underwear in the sink and dried it with a hair dryer at 5:30 am for goodness sakes, and last week I purchased a hamburger at the gas station grill because I was there, and so tired it seemed rational.

I think that perhaps the gift of new life is even for times like these, when we get caught up and distracted. It’s not always a perfect season where we let dough rise and children play in flocked dresses and plumes of dandelion seeds flutter off onto the dewy grass below.  There are seasons for which we simply must hunker down and do our best.  We pray in traffic and forgive a co-worker and bring our positive best to the task in front of us that God has asked us to shoulder.  And we manage between the heated up green beans and leftover macaroni to ask for our children’s hands to be folded long enough to roll through a long and beautiful list of blessings.  We feel our breath again.  We stop and bow and mutter our own set of thanks.

So to you hard-working women out there, I say this – you not only CAN do this, but you WILL. You must.  So throw that hair back in a hair tie and do the dishes.  Fold the laundry.  Get to work early.  Pack a cheese sandwich (he’ll live – seriously he’s only 4).  You smile at adversity and co-workers that derail you and YOU ROCK THIS WRINKLED LIFE.  Not by your own strength, but His. Because you only have a short time, and you don’t have the luxury to half-ass your way through it.

Sometimes life just sucks. But also it doesn’t, because God has asked you to bear it. And to shoulder it for a time. Wait for the calm, and do your best to find it.  Center your own soul, even in the swirling mass of laundry.  Laugh, hire a housekeeper, have ice cream for dinner, let the kids stay up late, make forts, roll on the clean laundry pile, re-wash them, drink wine, eat on paper plates, and be grateful.  Forever and always grateful.  Even in this season. It’s all testing ground for your soul.   Maybe you’ll meet someone amazing, who smiles at your jokes and makes you feel crazy loved and you’ll suddenly begin to see sunrises and opportunities and chances to shine.  Maybe you’ll start to realize how strong you really are.  Maybe your face will still look like a wrinkled sock, but Estee Lauder has a cream for that.

“Waiting time is not wasting time. Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Wait for better times.  But also live abundantly and gloriously in the one you’re in. 

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pearlmatic/5660713161/sizes/m/in/photolist-9CdCNM-cPxMYq-9FL25a-4RYvK2-enikVz-bD96Lc-9dWMph-biy8Le-9jXmAt-71U5AJ-6ea8Av-KQR69-a7hxpk-9QvNRf-dJqU9o-8F2e8d-5ifqXj-61JYN-85MCzD-5ZtZ25-hZfbmj-7MHzTa-6mR4AQ-5aqc-a7kvnN-8Vt7oY-6yZwtH-79JKby-7kWjVd-8tU1Gb-a75pPp-79xH8U-8s34wJ-91zUsq-7yP1hW-LqY3-dUQ9Ni-c6KNY9-9GDfg7-8CPRdi-e1Tykw-8V7Rpa-7i4RXR-8PNX7P-9j3cC1-79xHCG-8EGA5n-muMbmN-6nsY17-7CjSKL-de9aCe/

Brushstrokes

The artwork of Georges Seurat is ugly when you stand up close.  The compilation of colors and brushstrokes and dots make no sense when you’re staring directly at them.  You go take a look at Monet’s Water Lilies from a foot away and tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I think life is that way.  Up close, it’s messy and ugly and disorganized.  But just take a look how breathtaking it is when viewed as a whole.

CAMILLE PISSARRO: “Landscape at Pontoise”, 1874.

Just this week, I tried to capture unique, individual moments.  Globs of paint just slapped on the page.

  • I walked into my daughter’s room and my son had happily covered himself in black Sharpie marker. I mean all over. On his legs and his hands and his stomach. “What in the world have you done?”
  • “Don’t you ever swing with your brother walking behind you,” I yell to my daughter as my son lands face-down in the dirt, screaming.  “Swing! Swing!” he says to me as if I didn’t just see what happened.  Then she starts crying because she feels bad and says  he shouldn’t have been there to start with.
  • “Can you read just one more chapter?” my daughter begs.  “Just one more?” She cuddles down into the pillow with sleepy eyes.
  • “You eat that carrot,” I say.  “It’s good for you.  There’s just one more on your plate, for goodness sakes.  It’s not like I’m asking you to eat a mouthful of dirt. Why are you making that face?”
  • “Ice creeeeeeam!” my son shrieks.  “Not for breakfast, kiddo,” I say in return. He throws himself down on the floor in protest.
  • I look at my daughter, with a headband and a ruffled purple skirt and a shirt that says Girls Rock.  She’s wearing shades with Tinkerbell on them and her hair is all messy. “But why are you wearing sweat pants underneath?” I ask.  “It’s 90 degrees out.” She shrugs.
  • “Is that hail I hear?” my husband says, as he rushes outside to check the garden.
  • “Time for bath,” I said as my son took off running.  I had to chase him all over the living room while he squealed with delight.  I finally grabbed his shirt and pulled him to the floor.  “Noooooo!” he yelled.  “No bath!”
  • “Let’s move,” I say to both kids.  We are late, as usual.  My daughter’s pony tail looks horrible.  It’s all lumpy.  And is that a stain on her jumper?
  • “I’ll just have Wheaties,” my husband said.  “But I made chicken pot pie,” I whined.  “I worked so hard and made the crust and everything.”  I’m not proud to admit it, but I think I stomped my foot a little.
  • Why is there a pair of scissors lying in the bathroom?  Why is this toothpaste open?  And why, for the love of everything in this world, do you kids always run around messing things up the very moment I clean them?
  • Re-fold that towel.  Put away your shoes.  No, not in the middle of the floor, but in your closet.  Please don’t hit your sister.  No, you can’t have another juice box.  Did you get into my makeup? PICK THAT UP, for crying out loud!

But when you stand back from afar, it’s a blend of screaming and laughing and crying that somehow makes up a family.  It’s the texture and pattern of our journey.  I try and gather up all these tiny brushstrokes in my heart.  At the end, I’ll look back and think to myself –

Oh dear God.  How breathtakingly beautiful.

Fire!

Last Tuesday night, I ate bad frozen pizza.  I rocked my son to sleep.  I trimmed my nails and waited for my husband to get home from work.  All fairly normal things folks do on Tuesdays.  Until I heard a bomb go off over our house, consoled our screaming children, saw my husband rushing inside wearing his suit with a look of terror on his face, and noticed huge billowing flames in our back yard.  Then, after three fire trucks, water leaks, and a night spent at Embassy Suites, I can honestly say it wasn’t a normal Tuesday.  We normally have tacos on Tuesdays.  Life was in all kinds of disarray.

With all the fires in Texas lately, I’ve played the “what would I grab if my house was burning down” game plenty.  You map out in your head the route you’d take.  Grab the computer.  Load up the guns.  Great grandma’s clock will probably not make the cut and that’s just life.  All your stuff falls like cards into some sort of loose priority order. Eventually, you just sigh with the realization that life’s not easily replaceable no matter how you slice it, but you have a pretty good idea of what you’d grab.

Until it actually happens.

The minute I saw our back yard ablaze – lightning had struck our house and back shed and all I could see through the kitchen window was one huge ball of fire – I did what any normal person would do in this situation.  I went to the pantry and started stocking my purse with nutri-grain bars.

Instead of remaining calm, I shrieked at my daughter, who was standing right next to me.  “FIRE!,” I wailed.  “PUT ON YOUR SHOES!”  Balancing on son on my hip, I grabbed a bag and with superhuman strength, loaded it up with crackers and squeezable fruit.  I then filled up a sippy cup with water, threw in some diapers, and if I remember correctly, I think I might have actually dug up some underwear.

If the flames reached the house and burned it down, taking with it all our treasures and family heirlooms, don’t you tell me we wouldn’t have plenty of applesauce and underwear to remind us of our past.   Because we so totally would.

I then grabbed the photo albums and threw them all into a box and set them by the door.  I was set.  At least we would have food, water, diapers, photos, and underwear.  Then, with tears on my face and nutri-grain bars in my purse, I left everything sitting neatly inside the house in one neat pile and went rushing out to the neighbors in some sort of anxious frenzy, my daughter running behind me wearing sparkly sandals.

“There’s a fire!” I yelled as I banged on my neighbor’s door.  “Big!  Big fire!”  I had resorted to caveman speech, apparently, and pointed in the direction of our back yard.  Our neighbors, bless their hearts, are nearing sixty, but they ran out toward our back yard like spry sixteen year-olds, the wife jumping the fence in her housecoat to help my husband fight the flames and her husband (recovering from knee surgery) turning on the water. Only then did I notice that my daughter, who was standing beside me, was sobbing uncontrollably and was holding my son’s diaper bag with white knuckles.  “He might need a diaper,” she said amidst the sobs.  I so love her.

Finally, three fire trucks came and I directed them to the back, all the while convincing my daughter that her daddy did not, in fact, perish in the flames.  Only until she saw him, standing there wearing a sweat-soaked dress shirt, did she believe me and stop hyperventilating.

Eventually the flames were extinguished and we went back inside, allowing firemen to stomp through our home in mud-soaked boots, peering in attics and corners and closets for evidence of secret fire pockets.  We eventually calmed down our exhausted kids and thought the drama was over.  Until such time as we discovered our carpet was a subtropical wetland and things were sloshing where in fact there should be no sloshing.  Hmm.  Slab leaks.  Six of them, from the size of the puddles.  My husband rushed to turn off the water, we navigated the automated maze of the insurance 1-800 number, and at some point a company appeared like Batman with fans and dehumidifiers and water damage information (we just nodded and promised never to turn the fans off).  I put the kids to bed on a mat upstairs and was ready to call it a night.

At midnight or so, my husband came in the room and instructed me to find a hotel.  “But the kids are finally asleep,” I moan.  “Can’t we do that tomorrow?”  He looks at me, his face soaked with sweat, still wearing his suit and nice shoes (now ruined).  He throws up his hands, and it hits me that perhaps now is not a good time for this discussion.  The “we’re a team” mentality is really the way to go in this situation, so I nod in agreement with any single thing that comes out of his mouth. Perhaps he’d like to shower. Perhaps he’d like to go someplace that might not burn up.  Perhaps he’d like to talk in a normal tone of voice instead of screaming over large fans that make our living room sound like an airplane hanger.  Yes, yes, yes to everything.

At 1 am, we loaded up our kids and headed downtown to a hotel.  They were thrilled, and my daughter asked if it’s really true that we got pancakes for breakfast. “It’s really true,” I said.  I heard her mutter something about it being wonderful as she nodded off in the car.

So now, a week out, we’ve had six plumbers give us all different ideas of how to completely re-plumb our house.  They all do agree on one thing, which is “this is a pretty big deal” and “don’t expect an easy fix.”

We are living in our second rental, soon to be third come Tuesday, and I think about our week.  The uncertainty and the contractor decisions and the reality that we are homeless gypsies for a while.   But mostly I think about how lucky we are.  Many people aren’t in the situation we’re in with a home to come home to. We have each other.  We have great insurance.  We have a problem that can be fixed.  But most of all, we have nutri-grain bars.

Life is, indeed, very good.