Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I wonder how much I will save now on our heating bills?

In our living room, we have two huge windows. Each window is about three feet wide and six feet tall, and they leak a LOT of air. That is fine in the spring and fall, but in the summer, hot air leaks into the house, and in winter, the cold air comes in.

In winters past, the cold air would come flowing in at such a rate that the heater was constantly running. Even keeping our house at a low 60 degrees would tax our heating system and raise our bill to a couple hundred dollars each month. That is far more than we can afford, and every winter we fall farther and farther behind on our bill. We'd have to play the catch-up game - could we manage to get our tax returns back in time to pay the past due bill before our power and gas would be cut off?

We rent, and our landlord, while awesome in many ways, is also a bit of a negligent home owner. I have a list of things I need him to fix around this house, and the only time he ever does any repairs is right before the township inspects the house - and even then, most of the repairs are temporary ones.

So, this lead to to look at alternate ways of weather-proofing that didn't require repairs or breaking rules the landlord set (example: we aren't allowed to put up plastic over the windows). So I researched and found many suggestions, including the idea of hanging quilted curtains over the windows.

We rarely have any extra money. But in late October I was given $35 to spend as I wished. I managed to buy two quilts, two sweaters, and a flour sifter at a thrift store for $30 of those dollars. The sweaters were modified into mittens and hats. The quilts were modified into window hangings (the blue ones in the picture above are in the living room, the other went on an equally large window in the kitchen).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An unusual day

Knock knock knock.

I answered the door to find a Fed Ex man with a large box. “Delivery for Patricia Betts,” he said, and thrust a clipboard into my hands. “Please sign.”

After he left, I looked at the box in puzzlement. I didn’t remember ordering anything! Giving the box a careful inspection, I noticed there was an envelope attached to the outside, addressed to me. The letter read:

Dearest Patricia,
     I saw your post on facebook about being frustrated with all the work you had to do. So I’m sending you a little something to help out. You can only use this gift for a week. Enjoy!
                                              A helpful friend

I reached out to open the box, but stopped when it shook. There was something ALIVE in there! Before I could react, the box burst open and six minions jumped out.

They were bright yellow, with blue suspenders and goggles. They giggled in high-pitched voices, which attracted Trouble. He came racing around the corner and then skidded to a stop at the sight of the little yellow creatures. His tail came down and tucked between his legs, and he whined.

“Ooooo” the minions cooed. A stream of gibberish rose from the cluster of minions, and they swarmed the poor dog. At first I thought they were going to hurt him, and I jumped up to stop them – but then I realized that Trouble no longer seemed afraid. He was wagging his tail and grinning his doggy smile as the minions swarmed over him, scratching behind his ears and under his chin. He rolled over and let the minions scratch his belly. 

“Okay, okay, very cute. But you guys need to get off him now. It’s time for his walk.” One of the minions jumped up. He raced to the door, pulled Trouble’s harness down, and tossed it to two of his fellows. They strapped him into it while the first minion retrieved the leash. And just like that, Trouble was out the door, with one minion holding the leash while the two others rode on his back like he was a pony.

“Wow, um…okay. I guess you guys are here to help me. I do have some chores that need doing. I’m supposed to go to the store and get fruits and veggies, and then I’m supposed to wash the dishes and make some bread. Can you guys help with that?”

They nodded enthusiastically. I gave the biggest minion some money and set him out to the store to buy produce. The short minion pulled up a chair and started washing the dishes. I told the last minion the ingredients needed to make the bread, and he started enthusiastically throwing everything into the mixing bowl.

I checked back with the minion doing the dishes. He was licking all the dishes before throwing them in the soapy water. I winced, but decided to let it slide. After all, the soap would kill any germs – right?

Once the bread was rising and the dishes were washed, I set the minions to doing the chores my younger children usually do. If all the chores got done before the kids came home, then we would be able to spend the evening playing instead of working. That sounded like a lot of fun!

It was time to punch down the dough. The minions washed their feet and then started jumping up and down on the dough while singing in their high gibberish language. The minions who had taken Trouble for a walk came back, and it was clear they had worn him out completely. He barely had the energy to give each of them a thank-you lick before collapsing for a long nap.

The last minion came back from the grocery store looking very excited, with several brown grocery bags. He was practically vibrating with happiness.

“Bananas!” He cried, and next thing I knew all six minions swarmed the bag. Happy noises came from the pile of minions, and banana peels flew in all directions. Within seconds, the bananas were gone. 

“Is that all you bought? Bananas? You bought twenty dollars worth of bananas?!” I asked, astounded. 

The minion who had done the shopping grinned up at me. “Banana!” he gloated, then groaned and held his distended belly. In fact, all six minions looked as if they had swallowed a watermelon whole. But they looked very happy. “Okay, guys – I guess you earned that. You guys did good work. But I want you to clean up those banana peels before you rest.”

It was fun to watch them picking up their mess. Their stomachs were so round that they couldn’t stand up, so they rolled back and forth, picking up the peels and rolling to the garbage can to throw them away. Then they rolled into my bedroom and piled up together in a great big pile. Soon the sound of their snoring could be heard through the door.

I could tell this was going to be a week to remember!

Writing exercises

During winter break, I'm assigning writing projects for them to work on. I've found some fun writing prompts for them to use, and as an example, I'm going to be writing along with them. The next several posts will be the stories I wrote using the prompts the children have been assigned. Those stories will be intentionally done simplistically, as a child would write, so as to show the kids what I am looking for in their own writing.

I hope my readers enjoy these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I've struggled this past week with this post. I have so much I want to say, and every time I try to write it out, the words get stuck but the tears start flowing. And what words manage to get past the tears - while accurate and heartfelt - also sounded trite and hollow.

How do I describe Chris? If I had to chose just one word, it would have to be vivacious. She had such a joy for life, and she could be so enthusiastic over the littlest things. I could always count on her for a smile and a pick-me-up whenever I felt down.

At the same time, she struggled so hard. Emotionally, she battled chronic depression. Her personal life - her marriage - was abusive in the extreme, and she fought to find the courage to leave. She fought severe anxiety disorder that made certain things - like filing paperwork - incredibly stressful.

Financially, she had been dealt one of the worst hands in this country of plenty, often feeding her four children with only $50 a week. Yet at the same time, if someone needed help, she was usually the first one there, giving her all to aid others in need.

Physically? When I first met her she had weight issues - I thought she looked fine but she was not comfortable or happy with how she felt and looked. Later, when Chris became a Zumba instructor, she dropped pounds fast and was thrilled with her appearance. She had chronic pain issues, which was a subject we bonded over. And shortly before her death, she discovered she had food allergies. Cutting things like gluten out of her diet gave her a rush of energy and health that she honestly didn't think she'd ever feel again.

As a parent, she was an inspiration. Chris home schooled all of her children, and was active in a local home schooling co-op. I loved reading the stories of how she taught her children, especially when she had groups to teach. She was so creative and made learning fun, not a chore. More than once I wish I had known her when I was a kid, 'cause she would have been a fun adult for me to hang around with! She included her "little demon monkeys" in nearly everything she did, from errands to Zumba, cooking to gardening.

And speaking of her garden - oh boy, could that woman grow a seed or what?! When we first met, she was living in a little trailer on a small lot in a trailer court, and the amount of food she managed to grow on that tiny little speck of land was truly awe-inspiring. Her garden, and how she used that produce to supplement her family's food supply, was so impressive she was even showcased on a news report about the impact of food stamp decreases for dependent families.

She was an advocate for so many things, for so many people. She fought for the right to grow food in the yard, not just for herself but on behalf of others as well. She stood up for those in severe poverty and spent countless posts on her blog sharing ways to support a family with pennies. Every year she made certain to dry extra seeds so she could give them out to families to wanted to garden but couldn't afford the seeds to do so. I still have some of her seeds here and treasure them. Her fight for religious freedom was a quieter battle, but still one she fought with passion.

Chris made me feel lazy...and I mean that literally. I would sit at my computer after having done housework, feeling productive and a little smug, only to find that she had outdistanced me in every way. But she had a way of never making it feel like she was competing - rather, she seemed to be saying "Look, I lead by example - you can do it! Don't give up!"

Earlier this year, she made the decision to leave her abuser. She created a secret group on facebook to get support in her decision and help during the was a good group, and it helped her a lot. We shared so much on that page - horror stories, funny anecdotes, legal advice, words of encouragement, and so much more. And when her abuser used his wiles to get her to take him back, those of us in that group were able to comfort one another and renew our commitment to help her leave when she was ready.

Which she did, a few months later. She admitted she was glad she had gone back in a way, because it eased that nagging little voice in her head that accused her of not trying hard enough to save her marriage. That second time she left, that voice was quieted. The first time she had known in her mind that it wasn't her fault, but the second time she knew it in her heart, and she was at peace with the decision.

She moved on. Those of us who loved her were so glad to see her personality return. She was happy, laughing and celebrating life in ways I hadn't seen in a long time. She posted on her facebook page, "It is wonderful being me. I can look in the mirror and smile at myself everyday and I can enjoy the company when I'm all alone."

She cut her hair. She started wearing make-up again. She splurged on some new clothes and genuinely liked how she looked in them. She even started dating again. Everything that went right just made her joy soar higher, and anything that went wrong was handled with grace.

I am glad that she got to have those last couple months of joy. Nothing makes her loss easier to deal with, but at the same time, knowing she was happy? It makes me happy.

I didn't know her oldest son, Isaac, well. Since I tend to discuss a lot of adult-themed topics on my facebook page, I have a general tendency to not add minors as friends. But I did read posts from Chris about him, and I did see his comments on her page many times. My general impression was that Isaac was a lot like my teenage son, still growing and facing that confusion and angst that all teenagers experience, but at the same time he had a wry sense of humor and a genuinely wicked wit.

The one story that stands out in my mind is when Chris gave him the chore of folding laundry, he asked how she wanted the sham-wows folded. She was distracted and told him "Oh, any which way is fine." So he folded them into origami boats. She was tickled by that.

Our world is richer for having known them, and our world is infinitely poorer for having lost them too early. Rest in peace, dear ones, and know that your memories will live on in the hearts of those who knew you.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


I didn't want to believe the news at first. Still don't, to be honest. But it's clear that it IS real, and it's time to put to words the tragedy that befell my friend Chris's family last week.

Last Thursday, a cowardly, disgusting excuse for a human being entered her house. He wasn't supposed to be there. Chris didn't want him there. She was divorcing him. She was moving on. And he couldn't stand that. So he entered her house when he KNEW their three children would be away.

He had a gun.

And he used it.

I don't know who died first. Was it Chris? Was it her oldest son, who was not biologically related to the jerk who took her life? Did she have to see her child killed in front of her? Or did he have to comprehend the murder of his mother before his own life was violently ripped from him?

I don't know.

The not knowing hurts.

All I know is that Chris was murdered, and her son Isaac was murdered. The sorry filth that called himself her husband took his own life a short while later. I'm sure he thought that was romantic - the whole "I won't live without you" aspect of his suicide. But it wasn't (and if you are reading this and disagree with that statement - go get help. Now. Because you need it).

It's clear from certain aspects and evidence that he planned this. He planned to take her life. This was not a spur-of-the-moment act of passion. He waited until his own biological children were out of the home. He fought to get his guns back from the police, and within 24 hours of acquiring them, his crime spree was done. A part of me is sure he waited as he did for the cops to show up in response to the shots....and when no one reported the shots (why? why didn't anyone call 911? I'm sure the sound carried) he took his own life.

As if this wasn't bad if the pain this family was going to have to suffer wasn't sharp enough...some cruel imp of circumstance made it so that their six year old daughter was the first one in the door. She was confronted with the results of this evil. That is something no child should have to face.

Evil exists, folks.

It visited Lansing, Michigan on the 5th of December.

The bright light of two lives were snuffed out.

It's not fair.

Yes, I know. "Life isn't fair." But nothing can convince me that this is how they were intended to leave this world. Their lives weren't just ended, they were stolen and destroyed.

This post is for mourning. Grieving. For anger and horror, confusion and tears. This is my attempt to excise the come to grips with this senseless outrage that no one should have to experience.

I will tell more about Chris, and her son Isaac, in a secondary post, which I cannot bring myself to write yet. But it will be about their lives, not their deaths. It will be a celebration of their impact on the lives of their family, their friends, and their community.

But I can't tell that part yet. Today is for sorrow.

But I will say this. If you are in an abusive situation, please, PLEASE leave. Just grab your children and go. I will open my home to you in whatever way I can. And I am not the only one who is willing to help you.

Please, just go.

Leave. Before he hurts you again.

Before he hurts your children.

Before he decides it would be "romantic" for you to leave this earth together.

Before your friends and family have to deal with the enormous, crushing sorrow that the people of Lansing are experiencing this week.

Don't hide your bruises anymore.

Get help.