Focus on your blessings

This is a re-post from my Facebook status, replying when someone had commented how much easier it is to just turn up the thermostat when cold, instead of chopping wood for my woodstove; just go buy groceries, rather than wasting time growing my own garden.

Please know, that when I talk about how aching and sore I am from chopping wood, pulling weeds, tilling, planting, dying from the heat while canning, I am not complaining. Well, I am, but not exactly. I am 43 years old. I’m female. I’ve done 10 years in the military, which means I have the joints of a 53-58 year old. But I can look at all of that wood and say, “Gee, if we have another ice storm, like in 2006, where we lost power for over 2 weeks with sub-zero temps, and folks all over our neighborhood had pipes bursting from no heat, we’ll be fine.” My mom, at age 43 could never have chopped wood for over 6 consecutive hours. Four years ago, I was 3 or 4 months pregnant with Beaker, and I carried 10 shingles at a time, up and down my ladder, 72 bundles of architectural shingles…and put my own roof on my house. I did it, without a nail gun. That means, by hand, with a hammer and  using a single nail at a time. Sure, it would have been easier to call someone and pay $8000 for it. But I don’t want my kids to think that they need to call someone for everything. My delicate daughter sees her mommy out, chopping wood, lifting huge logs, using a chainsaw and learns she is not limited because she is a girl. I tell the kids of our military time: 10 mile road marches, with a pack and rifle; show them pictures of mommy wrapping C-4 explosives in the military and they know that they can do this, too. My daughter watches me climb a tree, to get my son’s cat down and learns that mommy doesn’t say, “I can’t. I’m too old. ” My son sits on the floor with me in the kitchen, sweating rivers, while helping me peel tomatoes for canning, that HE handpicked from the garden and learns that cooking is a hot, tedious job and not just for women. He remembered picking the peaches last year, as I opened up a jar of my canned peaches. He learns that even at his age, he is NEEDED. When we used to go camping as kids, up in the Catskills, I’d moan that I was missing Miami Vice. My brother, Adam, would whine that the second part to Airwolf was on and he was missing it. My youngest brother, Christopher, would say, “Knight Rider is on and we aren’t there to see if KITT gets out of that trap.” My dad was born and raised in Brooklyn, like my mom. My dad tried to learn ways to not depend on the city and government for everything; show us how to do without luxuries like TV, electric, and learn about cooking over a fire…but we kids were too citified, ourselves. We missed our beds, electric, TV and White Castles. My kids are learning the different types of woodpeckers; how to make their own suet to feed them. They feel pride from picking the tomatoes we grow. They are learning how to entertain themselves. Yesterday, we were outside the entire day. YumYum showed Beaker what dandelions are, how to plant them (planted them in the abandoned house next door’s yard…not my yard). He showed her a ladybug he’d caught and told her what they eat. He showed her a jonquil he’d picked and explained how bees eat the nectar. He showed her a chunk of bark and the holes, telling her they were made by a woodpecker looking for bugs. No television, no VCR for the kids, the entire weekend. My kids are not limited by electric. My kids know we are very short on money. They learn to not look down on another child who wears patches on their pants or hand-me-downs. They are learning, as all of us military people have, to make-do. To build what you need, by scrounging. I deployed to Bosnia, for two tours. The first tour, in 1995, we had nothing, but built what was needed. The second deployment, in 1997, to Bosnia, the medics we relieved when jumping into that country, left behind MRE bureaus; bookcases made with rocks and boards; exercise equipment made from sandbags, rope, and cans from the chowhall. We were proud, because we had nothing, but we still managed to live for a year, comfortably, in a tent. To many, eating vanilla pudding brings back memories of childhood. It brings to my mind of stealing a giant can from the chowhall, opening it with my John Wayne (P-38) and gorging on it with my two best girlfriends in our tent. We had close to nothing, but we shared everything we did. Anyway, it’s not whining, the talk of aching and stiffness…it’s pride. I have spent the whole weekend with my kids. If I worked all weekend, yeah, we’d sort of have more money…but would we? My pay would be going to childcare, heating bills, electric bills, processed food. My kids are having picnics now, drinking from garden hoses, learning to occupy themselves. As kids, did we watch TV all day, and play video games? Did we eat lots of fast food? No. Our moms chased us outside. We ate home cooked meals as a family. We did without. We walked or biked to the store. Eating at McDonald’s was a treat. We grew up stronger, because of it. My kids are learning their life doesn’t come out of a light socket. They see beauty watching the wrens eat the bread or popcorn on the ground. The notice the deep blue sky, the tiny buds on my trees. They are learning they are not limited by age or gender. No, it’s not kvetching…it’s pride. I’m more active at 43, than my mom at 23. My neighbor said he’s never seen a woman chop wood; never heard of a woman who put on her own roof. My kids see that daddy has a broken chainsaw, so mommy goes to the library to get books on small engine repair to fix it. Sure, I can pay $80 to get it fixed, but my kids are seeing knowledge is power. How many kids can say, “My mommy is fixing a chainsaw?” How many kids feel it’s a treat to watch a movie on the VCR? It’s easier to pay for stuff, but is it better? Isn’t a home- cooked meal by your mom tastier? Don’t you appreciate the sacrifice of her cooking all day, Sunday, for a family meal? My kids see and appreciate the little things. Kvetching? No…I’m bragging. I know it’s wrong to brag, but I’m proud. My family has no fears of being unable to cope, if a storm knocks out power for a few weeks. No money for gas? Well, we’ll walk to the store and bring the wagon. Hungry between meals? No potato chips in the house…go in the garden and pick a tomato. No money for cable? Watch the birds; compare leaves; look for three different types of butterflies and identify them. Sorry if it’s coming across poorly. I grew up with money, but was reminded, “Ladies don’t do that.” I hated being a girl. My kids won’t hate themselves or feel they are limited.

My son is enthralled watching the green beans we planted in a huge pot, growing day by day. The bottom part of a bunch of celery is growing…and he is amazed. The lettuce cores are turning bright green and standing up. To him, this is magic .I tell people that I appreciate it when they give me toys for my kids, but please no movies, no battery-operated stuff. People don’t understand, or maybe they don’t believe me. Maybe they feel my kids are deprived if the push-truck they have doesn’t make “Grrrrrrr” noises. My kids play with the battery-operated toys for a bit and then forget and leave them on. The battery runs out and then they try and use it without the batteries, because I’m not spending $40 month on batteries. Sometimes, the imagination takes over and the item will work. Sometimes, it can’t be hand-pushed and NEEDS a battery. The toy then gets tossed in a corner and eventually my kids put it into a box to be donated to Santa Claus. (I told my kids their toys and clothes go to Santa Claus, who fixes them, paints them and gives them to kids. They love the idea of helping Santa. The Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and the Birthday Bunny do the same thing…take used toys and refurbishes them  😉

Anyway, I just wanted to get this off of my chest. Don’t focus on what you don’t have; glory in what you do! You don’t have a job? Neither do I. Enjoy the little things, like not having to set an alarm in the mornings, or not needing to wear uncomfortable shoes for work. Live in an apartment? You have a roof over your head. No money to go out for Mother’s
Day or your anniversary? Light a few candles, spread a blanket on the floor and have a picnic. Two “special” dinners I made for my husband to celebrate were with scraps I had on hand. One was a reunion dinner for he and I, when I had first returned from an 11-month deployment. I’d gone shopping and bought the backbone of lamb. I was thinking it would be like ribs, but cheaper. I marinated it for a day, broiled it niceley…but there was no meat on it. My husband felt horrible and tried to crack it in half, saying how delicious the marinade was. I’d stopped by a cornfield near our apartment (we lived in Germany) and plucked about a half-dozen ears of corn. I boiled them up, added butter and sugar…and they were dry and grainy. I didn’t know it wasn’t “people” corn, but corn for animals, as feed. Lastly, the wine I had, wasn’t wine anymore but turning to vinegar. The whole meal was ruined. Don laughed and tried to cheer me up, while I cried. Then we snuggled up and watched a movie on the VCR. He still remembers how hard I’d worked to make everything perfect…and to him, it was. The second holiday was our first New Year’s Eve here in the States, in our own house. I’d expected lots of restaurants to be open around 8PM. Little did I know that here in Southwestern Illinois, on New Year’s Eve and most holidays, the restaurants would all be closed, as would the supermarkets. We returned home and Don asked me what was for dinner. In desperation, I opened our almost empty refigerator and pulled a loaf of Italian bread out of the freezer. It had gone stale, and I’d planned to make it into bread crumbs or feed the geese at the local park. I cut the loaf into thick slices, opened a can of diced tomatoes. I toasted the stale bread, drizzled olive oil on it, spooned the tomatoes and sprinkled some parmesan cheese on top. He loved it! That was our dinner. I could have sat there, angry, or bemoaning what we did not have, but instead I turned it around. My ruined dinner from my redeployment back turned into a cozy night watching a movie, then a long walk at midnight around the city we lived in.

Focus on what you do have. How many folks are looking at he things you take for granted, and wishing they had what you do?


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