Sentiments

Last week I spent the day with a friend in the kitchen making soups for our freezers. We do this every year, turning one of our kitchens into an assembly line of production. It’s one of my favorite Fall traditions, and while I was chatting with another friend recently I said the only thing I get sentimental about were traditions. Not houses, not really even people … but traditions.

Stick with me, they come together shortly.

I’ve thought a lot about that statement over the course of the last couple weeks asking myself if I really believed that? I don’t get sentimental about houses? Or people? Just traditions? Could I really buy into that? Or did I say that in passing, was it an off-the-cuff quip that I said while saying goodbye. One of those add-ons that comes to you as you’re walking out the door and before you know the words have fallen out of your mouth before you really had a chance to chew on them?

I feel incredibly vulnerable after my last post. Which isn’t new, and I’m ok with feeling this way. I’m trying desperately not to glaze over it and just pump out lighter material to create space between the raw parts of me with the more polished parts I’d prefer you all see me as. Put Together Jodi vs Always Falling Backwards Jodi.

Manistee

When all you have to go on is what I put out there, the picture of who I am can become distorted. Lopsided, even. While my friend and I were making soups I brought up some of my recent past with her, something she’s been walking me through for years, regarding my family. The painful parts, the very dysfunctional parts, the parts of who I am that rock me to the core with indecision and bring up all kinds of loyalty issues and honor issues and boundary issues. For me, so much of the perpetual pain is fed by continuing to take part in the narrative.

When all I have to talk about with my family is my family, there’s a problem with accountability. And I just don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to perpetuate these types of relationships or sadness or brokenness in my life. I just don’t want to keep walking this same, very short, path towards more pointing and hurting and more digging and burying. And more pretending.

Which, when I publish parts of my story that only tell the same part of the story over and over again, I’m forgetting that what I haven’t told you yet is how I’m getting through it. How THIS IS MY TRUTH is also THIS IS HOW I GOT TO A NEW TRUTH which is also THIS IS NO LONGER MY TRUTH.

And all of it … is true.

adventures together

I feel old enough to be allowed to make these decisions for myself. But I’m crippled with the weight of these decisions. I remember being 5, 6, and 7 playing in my “peaceful tree” in Texas and knowing, just knowing, that I was meant to be a mom. Family has always meant more to me than myself. Which makes how it all played out for me a little bit cruel.

And yet, this is my chance. I read an article once about how humans create the family they didn’t have, that if (scientifically) a child comes from a broken home they’re more likely to create a “home” or have a family sooner because we are wired to belong somewhere. I read it as an incredibly powerful article, for me, at the time. It skipped all the emotional jargon and spoke to the anthropologist inside of me. Human behavior. As if the author was observing animals in the wild, she made it her work to study humans and the beginning of families.

Apple picking, beginning of fall

I’ve come to realize that my expectations in this realm are extremely high. The expectations I have for myself, the expectations I have for Family. The unicorn in my life is always right there. When Jessica turned seven it was the hardest year to date for me, reliving my own childhood through hers. But also, it was the best hard year to date. Because it was a game changer. I finally understood that I was going to mess this up, too. That like my family, my parents, I would not be perfect either. That I got to keep trying, I could step into the messy and I could GET MESSY and be me and do the human thing and I still got a family.

Junkmail poetry

So do I feel sentimental about people? I feel pretty connected to a handful of people, some who are no longer a part of my life. I have undeniable triggers that I’m still learning to identify so that when I start to reel and the edges go black and all I hear is the deafening silence of being forgotten: I don’t start replacing my identity with the words of my childhood abandonment.

Do I feel sentimental about houses? Nope. I can get worked up about a house, I can assign all kinds of emotions to a place and I can write for days about what different houses or rooms or spaces have meant to me, but I don’t want to collect them. I have a hard time saying I’m sentimental about people because people are not ours to keep. I feel incredibly grateful for the people who have been a part of my story, whether we’re still walking it together or not, I love my love stories. I always will. The friend love and the first love and the instant love and the hurried love and the hard love and the brother love and the sister love and the love that guides and the love that finds me when I’m sure that there’s no more love. I love love.

But traditions … well, traditions are everything.

They’re the Christmas table and the Thanksgiving feast. Traditions are the birthday calls and the hand written letters. The stamps and envelopes. Traditions are the fabric of a family. The blanket that always surrounds us when we’re cold. When we’re standing in the rain looking for some shelter – tradition is the umbrella. And you can be in six different cities, in every other stage of life. You can be on different continents and walking through different fires. You can be broken or happy, you can be celebrating or mourning. You can be as far apart as it gets and tradition is what always brings you together.

The first snow!
Decorating the Christmas tree.
Making hot chocolate and bon-bons.
Sunday dinner.
When a baby is born.
Birthday dinners.
Birthday cakes.
First day of school.
Anniversaries.
Wilderness.
UpNorth weekends.
Dancing in the kitchen to Butterfly Kisses.

Manistee

Manistee

I’m still that little girl daydreaming underneath a tree about her daughter named Jessica (true story), playing make-believe about driving a mini van and making dinner and always, always, playing house. I’m that little girl who is enamored by being kissed, who cannot wait to be loved. Who started writing everything down so she wouldn’t forget what this feels like.

While everything crumbled around her, she kept waiting for her turn.

These little white butterflies follow us everywhere. They're a little reminder from my dad (passed away almost 11 years ago). 👼

And she got it.

House Keeping: Building a life

** It’s a little weird to publish this, I know I was the one who said she wanted to talk about budgets but now that I’ve been sitting on this and revising this for the past couple weeks, it’s hard to not sound like a know-it-all or just a princess. Which there will be a number of you who come to that conclusion and thats ok. The three things you’re not supposed to talk about; money, sex and religion, are basically what I eat for breakfast so here’s where we call a truce. In relationship these topics are met with vulnerability and understanding. They’re fragile and solid, invisible and fully formed. They’re complex, and I love discussing them. Which is hard to do as a one-sided digital essay. I don’t know it all. I’m not the person you want to ask for stock tips or investment opportunities (unless you’re talking real estate and then I’m your girl) and I’ve screwed up many times with our budget and finances. This essay is an over all snap shot of the bigger picture and not a soap box for me to stand on and complain (there is NO complaining). We have everything we need and we value resourcefulness over resources. Want to skip this one entirely? I don’t blame you, here’s a sleeping kitten.

If you’re new here you might not know that 6 years ago we sold a house, started building another one, sold that one, tried to buy two more homes over the course of two more years in 2 different rentals and finally, four years ago, bought the house we currently live in with the help of real estate companies as Property Corner online. Over the last 3 years we’ve gutted this home and made it our (hopefully) forever space.

There’s a specific reason for this run-on sentence of a decision.

We wanted to be debt free, yes. But with Aaron’s job there’s a lot of personal risk involved. If Aaron would have gotten into an accident or died unexpectedly our income would have stopped with those tragedies and I wouldn’t have been able to afford our house payment. The decision to move and lessen our monthly output was a very tactile decision for our future.

putting the sign up

There isn’t a ladder for Aaron to climb as a business owner. He doesn’t work at a company where someone else just hands out raises or promotes him based on his performance. That’s his job, he’s the ceiling. So if our life requires more cash, we can’t knock on a bosses door and ask for it. Yes, there are perks to owning our own business and yes, sometimes there are good years of plenty and there might be profit sharing, other years we lose everything and start all over. Not only do we live a debt free life, personally, but also professionally. Aaron is the sole owner of his companies and it’s a core value for us to operate them without debt, partners, or venture capital.

Office of Elevator Up

Now, here’s my disclaimer. Please take this with a grain of salt. We started out very differently than so many of other business owners/professionals. Neither Aaron nor myself had any debt of any kind when we got engaged (We didn’t go to college, ergo no school loans). We bought our first house together before we were married and I “rented” it from Aaron until after the wedding.

We were a dual income household when we bought our second house (the house we sold in the beginning paragraph). I was pregnant with Jessica but working full time with health insurance and Aaron was employed full time as well. On paper we could afford the house but 6 years later with two kids (one of which we ended up paying for the prenatal care and delivery to the tune of almost $30,000 out of pocket), a start-up business and only one income; we were selling everything and then some to keep our house above water.

We took a substantial loss when we sold the house, twenty-thousand to be exact. Rolled that into our new build loan but when it sold before it was finished it sold for an appreciated cost and cut our initial debt in half. We rented for 2 years to save money and pay-off the remaining debt from the sale of our house. We had sold cars to pay our hospital bills and somewhere in there bought our minivan with a small loan and paid that off in those two years of renting as well. (Are we still on the same page?? Anyone??) We saved everything and our goal was to buy another house but with 20% down this time, no questions asked.

SO. You guys – we did. We bought our house that we live in now with 20% down and our mortgage is under $300 a month. This is why we did this. We can also now (and only now) afford to send our kids to private school.

Kitchen AfterKitchen After

We live differently on purpose. Now if catastrophe hits the fan, our family won’t crumble. We finally have better health insurance and this is the first year in the last eleven that we haven’t ended the year paying out of pocket almost double what we’re allowed to contribute to our HSA. This might be the year we actually carry a balance to be able to save up for emergencies where insurance is concerned.

I really like to budget, I love numbers. I get jazzed about this stuff and yes, with our low monthly output and no debt (aside from the mortgage) to our name – we can do more with our income. This is how we’ve given ourselves “raises” through the years. We reduce the amount going out so the amount coming in looks like it’s growing even though it isn’t.

But it’s still hard because money is still money and it buys really fun things and we still have to say no and save and work and have goals.

My eyes are a little bonkers. I realize this is either really interesting or completely irrelevant to you, I get it. I wish more people would talk about this because it fascinates me.

As a teenager I set myself up on a budget based on percentages. So, when I got a paycheck (or cash from babysitting) I would automatically calculate 30% of what I earned for savings, 10% towards gifts/tithes, 15% towards gas/car maintenance, 30% towards spending and the other 15% went into a slush fund of sorts to build up for things like insurance or my eventual cell phone bill. I changed the percentages when needed (like every 6 months if my expenses changed) but I was pretty strict with my self and how I managed my (very little) income.

Alllllllllllll these years later I’m still doing a version of this. Only it’s not based on percentages and instead of me calculating the amounts for our categories, our direct deposit does it for us.

EASIEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

I wanted to talk about this for a few reasons, one because I’m a geek and setting up budgets for automatic saving or spending (automatic bill pay anyone? Oh my gosh, now we’re talking. You’re so naughty) is one of my secret powers that I want to share with you but also, as it turns out, not a lot of people think the way we do about this kind of stuff.

I realize that if you find yourself in a similar situation to where we were six years ago your train of thought might not lead you to the hop-scotch selling and building and renting as it did us but I guess I’m weird? It’s like walking into a house and seeing the walls come down. I can just see it.

Aaron took some convincing, he sort of just expected to have a car payment and house payment and credit cards. Not to abuse, just because thats what he thought it took. Only, I don’t know … I disagree. We don’t have to have it all, I’m not interested in more stuff. Experiences? Yes, lets do that. Let’s travel and see and taste and explore. Let’s put our dollars to work in our kitchen, on our table, and in our hearts with our memories. Lets build a life worth more than counting numbers.

🍅🍅🍅

So I guess a budget is like really good boundaries, if we want to bring it from tactile to emotional because this girl loves a good metaphor. I love boundaries. There’s more freedom within them than outside of them. If I have absolutely no boundaries then I have no direction. Wide open spaces are only fun for so long and then you start wondering where you can put things. Where does this go? And what if I had a place for that?

I’d argue that I am not Type A. I’m creative and messy and full of feelings and I cry easily and laugh loudly and I like to giggle whenever it bubbles up and I love surprises and adventure and being a free spirit … who also can get down with a budget, a repeatable file system, grocery shopping and menu planning. I’m kind of different.

But thats what I hope to bring to you in this mini-series of “House Keeping”. My slightly bent, what-works-for-us routines. One last thing? There aren’t short cuts. It’s a lot of work to stay on top of menu planning and budgeting, there isn’t a quick fix, that I’ve found, that lasts. There’s just doing the next right thing. And then the next thing, and then the next. If ordering take out is the budget saving solution to eating at home, then do that. Next month maybe you’ll go to the grocery store on the weekend, and the next maybe you’ll menu plan too … 3 months into small changes you might be cooking your own food from your kitchen and adding up the savings towards a vacation. Or maybe towards the debt you might carry, or the eventual car replacement headed your way.

Whatever it is, doing nothing is actually doing something.

With that little nugget of gold, brought to you by inspirational posters every where, I’m out. Peace.

Conversations with God and Jessica

I woke up this morning sad, like I’ve been waking up every morning lately, I got into the shower and had a little conversation with God. I asked him what it would take to not wake up so sad every day. Well I sort of asked him and sort of threw my hands up and said “You’re it!” because let’s be honest, I’m not going to choose different today if it’s up to me. I’d like to stay in my sulking corner and rot for a while longer, thanks.

Then my daughter, Jessica, came into the bathroom as I was blow drying my hair and thinking refreshingly positive thoughts that went a little like “I can do this. It’s a choice. I get to make this choice, today is just going to be good.” and she was on the brink of tears because her day got flipped around and now what she was waiting for was going to happen at a later date and didn’t I know her life was RUINED and everything was NOT FAIR and she’s always LEFT BEHIND and people kept DISAPPOINTING HER.

Touchè, dear Jesus. I was looking in a mirror. I usually am with this one.

Last day of travel on the road trip we missed the part about needing a ferry (and reservations) - so we drove a little extra to find a ferry that didn't take them and crossed the Puget Sound to finally arrive at our house. It was a highlight. Cold, tired

So I had the conversation with her, the same one I thought I was having with God – I started talking with her about choices and how we can have everything we ever thought we wanted and look really happy and still be really, terribly alone and miserable and that it’s up to us to accept the happy things, to say yes to joy. We have to be thankful, really. We have to say “Today is enough, whatever it is, I can do today. I will choose this today.” Then I got honest with her and told her what I’ve been feeling like, that I wasn’t some adult looking down on her with all the answers because my life looked so much better than hers. I am the grown up, so of course I have veto rights and what looks like fun from her perspective is really just work for me.

Her face changed when I told her that I’ve been feeling the same way she is right now.

Center Lake Campground, Custer State Park

Because instead of seeing through her, I was looking her in the eye and telling her “I can see you, I am hearing you. I don’t have all the answers but this is what I think we should do. Do you want to try this with me? We can do it together today.”

Center Lake Campground, Custer State Park

I admitted how human I was. She could see all my cracks and the light shining through them. Sometimes I forget that she needs to see me bleed, too. On the trip home – our first night back on the road – we got to our campsite and set up. I had cried the night before after we said goodbye to everyone and then we were so busy packing and making sure we didn’t forget anything that I didn’t have any time to be sad again. But then we stopped moving and I sat down in the camper with Jessica at my feet. Aaron was talking to me and all of a sudden I couldn’t stop it. I put my hands over my face, and with Jessica watching, my body started shaking. I was sucking air and trying to hide and making ugly cry noises and my face was hot because I was covering it and everything was wet because the tears wouldn’t stop and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want her to see.

But she did. She saw it all and she moved the 24 inches from my feet to my torso and she put her entire body on-top of mine while I couldn’t control what it was doing, she laid there with me in my sadness. She stroked my hair away from my hands and dabbed away the stray tears flowing out of my hands and she whispered “It’s ok, mom. It’s ok to cry, I’m sad too.”

Jessica and I

And suddenly I wasn’t so sad anymore.

Home

We’ve been on a cross-country road trip for the past week or so, finally landing in the Pacific North West for an extended stay for the summer, then we traverse back across the country to land in the midwest again before school starts.

This has been in the works for over a year. Last summer we had a family vacation planned that suddenly got canceled due to the airline we were using and it kind of fell apart. Then my brother moved his family away and I fell apart.

I started researching this idea to relocate for this summer then and had to sell the idea to Aaron. I came up with a plan to save for the trip and the rough outline of what it would look like if just the kids and I did this, or if Aaron wanted to come too. And it changed a lot over the last year from conception to actually renting a house and driving across the country. We kept it a secret from the kids for 11 of then 12 months and worked hard to make this happen.

Then we woke up last Friday morning and left. Aaron had a fever over 100 for the first 5 days, I drove 90% of the trip out here. We lived through high winds, 100 degree weather days, cold nights, a thunderstorm every single day on the trip out here, over 2,700 miles, pulling a popup camper through the Black Hills and not entirely knowing what we were doing at any given moment.

But it’s been amazing.

I had all these grand ideas about writing a poem every day for the entire summer, then I was the one in charge of driving and I only just opened my journals to write the other day. I’ve written one. But I have more in me.

My expectations have been countlessly revised to meet with the realities of this trip. Of the actual movement, as well as the ideal outcome – and I’ve come to the happy place of taking what comes.

Yesterday we walked to my grandparents house and the vault inside of me opened. My grandma walked me around her garden telling me about her roses and flowers. What went wild, what she did or didn’t plant, who bought what for her and when. My grandpa told us he’d take us fishing and show me how to smoke my catch, then he let my kids ride the 4-wheeler and Jessica found my grandma’s piano and started pecking at the keys and everything made sense.

I came back to
the one place we
can all agree
belongs to me.

My varied history, nomadic pattern of history. A vagabond heart with a patchwork family … this place, this place doesn’t change. This place is one place I can always come home to.

The summer of the popup adventure

We’ve been in our house for just over 4 years now.

Untitled

As many times as I drive in and out of the drive way: today it hit me. How amazing this little slice is. I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood, I wasn’t part of a rat-pack of friends from my backyard, I couldn’t ride my bike to school, or walk to my library. We didn’t camp when I was a little girl, I lived a very different (often dual) life than my children are experiencing. And the popup in our driveway with the blooming window boxes and the basketball hoop with a neighborhood playground only a block away … It just makes me thankful for this life. The one I almost missed. The one I sometimes wish away. Today isn’t one of those days.

We’ve had some turnover in our neighborhood recently and as exciting as possibility is, I find myself being completely rooted to this house. A year ago I would have told you that once our renovations were finally done I would want to move. Collect the equity and run away.

I don’t know where I’m always going but I haven’t wanted to stop. Until now.

Summer is almost here and we’re preparing for an extended trip, which is why we bought a pop-up camper a few weeks ago. We ripped out carpet and cleaned it up and we’re shaving minutes off the set-up every time we practice. We spent our first nights in the camper this past weekend – the first night was chilly and we didn’t have enough blankets so we all huddled in together and fought off bug bites and woke to a downpour storm. We stayed dry! And we all woke up smiling, giddy almost.

I remember going to Shipshewana with my parents and buying my first tent with my babysitting money when I was 11 or 12. We lived in a subdivision where everyone’s backyards pooled into one big, uninterrupted green space; divided only by landscaping rocks and invisible lines etched out with mowers and ownership. I set up my green tent in the backyard and slept outside every night I was allowed to that summer. I spent days laying under the green tarp listening to the birds, writing in my journal, pretending I was in the middle of a great big field with mountain views and rushing water nearby. Only when I poked my head out from my miniature universe did I realize I was in the middle of a suburban sprawl, no mature trees as far as the eye could see; in the middle of empty lots and chemically induced grassy lawns.

When I was seventeen I camped on the beach with Aaron. I wrote a note to my parents saying I’d be back in the morning (pro-tip: not recommended) and we hiked out to the beach, set up a tent and watched the stars. It was that innocent, actually, and it was perfect. We wrote in each-others journals that night, instead of our own, as if we were writing a memory for the other person. That no matter what came of us, we’d always have this. A night underneath the stars, a night with the waves and the moon. I woke up next to Aaron for the first time on that rebellious little adventure and thats when I knew, I wanted to do this forever. Soon after waking up my parents found our tent on the beach and sternly told me to … ehum … come home. (True story.)

Waking up in our popup to the sound of rain pelting our vinyl roof with bleary eyed genetic clones of each of us staring up from underneath blankets, huddled in with their stuffed animals, I realized that this is my forever.

I love houses and I hope I always will. But I love sleeping underneath the stars more. I love watching the water, and feeling so small it’s actually painful in the grand scheme of things. I love running on the shore and spending time counting grains of sand. I love living in close quarters with the people I can’t get enough of. Picking roadside flowers and sipping muddy coffee under the awning while the dust dances at my feet in a furry with the rain.

It’s that innocent, actually, and it’s perfect.