Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chili Throwdown

Tonight was the last Man's Cave/Ladies Night at church. It was a chili cookoff and lots of fun. I made white chicken chili and Champs made smoked pork chili. They were both really good - and neither of us won. Too sad, too bad, oh well.

I guess it wasn't whether we won or lost, though, it was that we participated. Sometimes it is so easy to just sit back and let others do the living. I've been doing too much of that lately. My new goal is to get up early each day so that I can leave my desk by 4:30. I haven't actually made it yet, but I am trying.

I've done a lot of this not-living the last 4 years. It takes a concerted effort to step out and make things happen again. Sometimes the steps are very small; baby steps to the door, baby steps to the car, etc.

But regardless of whether it is bible study or chili, it isn't important to win - it's important to get up and go for it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Free Car Repair - or - Above What You Can Imagine.

I mentioned the other day that I was choosing the be encouraged in the Lord in spite of our financial issues. The most glaring thing we were facing was the sudden problems with our car last Thursday night. When it died, I just couldn't put it all together. The car was clearly leaking antifreeze, but it also had an electrical system light on, a rubbing noise as it drove, and the steering completely locked when I put it in park. It honestly looked like it had major issues and I couldn't begin to understand where the money to pay for it was going to come from. The one thing that Champs and I agreed on was that we were still going to tithe, no matter what.

Champs started looking at the car and realized that the reason the electrical light had gone on was related to the rubbing sound I heard as the car drove: The alternator belt had gotten wet with antifreeze. Because of this, it couldn't spin properly and it rubbed. This made the battery run down, causing the light to go on.

As for the steering, when Champs went out and bought the proper antifreeze to refill the reservoir, the steering unlocked. Turns out that was a safety feature designed to keep us from driving the car with a dry radiator and cracking the block. He narrowed it down to either the water hose or the water pump. Now our biggest problem was how to pay for it.

Champs called and got some estimates; $150.00 at one place, but he gave us no confidence he knew how to fix it. $350.00 at another place. At that point, I asked Champs to call the dealer. The cars nowadays are so much more complicated than they were when my father was a mechanic in the 70's. If it was only a bit more, I would be willing to pay to make sure it was done right.

Sullivan told us it would be $500.00, and then asked us what the mileage was. At 45,000 miles, the Bumper-to-bumper warranty expired awhile ago. However, what neither Champs or I took into consideration was the POWER TRAIN WARRANTY! The Sullivan rep told us the repair would be free - and it was.

This is exactly the miracle we were praying for. I couldn't begin to imagine where the money to pay for the repairs would come from. My Mother-in-law offered to loan us her credit card, but neither Champs nor I could see how getting further in debt would be the best way out of this. In the end, all we could do was just pray, determine in our hearts to expect the best from God, and then watch as He figured it out. This is exactly the miracle we asked for. Perhaps we should have asked for more? Next, Lord, John needs a good job. And yes, we are going to stand firm in what You've called us to.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Going Platinum

Earlier this year I posted about feeling guilty for being unhappy. One of the things I wrote about was how frustrated I was by my job as a brokerage service representative. After 4.5 years of taking call after call with no break, I felt as though my job was a soulless zombie, feasting on my heart day after day. Oh, how I longed for a new job.

You know the old saying, "be careful what you ask for because you might get it?" Yeah, that. In May I went to Minneapolis for a week to meet my boss face to face and for a special seminar for an employee board I am on. While there, I found out that another group was hiring. This group does high-level dedicated service for our top-producing agents. Knowing that the job would require the ability to create relationships with my advisors and would involve more variety and problem solving and not as much slavery to a phone queue, I lobbied hard for the job. I went and introduced myself to the manager (it was the only chance he would have to meet me before I applied) and then posted for the job. I got it! Yay!

What I failed to realize fully is that I went from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond. Suddenly I needed to be an expert on every area of our company. I can have an advisor call me for a brokerage issue, or a compensation issue. He could be having problems with a mutual fund or an annuity. She could have a complaint about an insurance policy or our marketing group. Like all jobs, this has a learning curve, and I have been climbing that curve since July when I started.

I know I will rock at this job. It makes the most of my best skills in finance and customer service and I am still very thankful that I got it. It's just that it's taking me awhile to learn it all and kinda kicking my butt in the process. Champs isn't working (he's been out of work since August) and I've been working too much. Oh, how I long for balance.

My goal this week is to leave my desk by 4:30 every day. I will dig deep and find it in myself to apply myself every minute and to produce my best work. Because this job isn't a soulless zombie feasting on my heart. It is feasting on other parts of me, however, and the time has come for me to be in control of my time again.

I'm not sure what the main point of this post is, so I can't wrap up with my pithy closing statement as I normally do. It's just that when it was time for me to blog, this job was on my heart, so that's what I wrote.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

You Have a Son.

56 Years ago today my parents were married. Back then, it was an all day affair; they got married just after lunch, then they had a short reception, then they broke to move to a ball room where they had a dinner, and then finally the dance and party. My sister came 17 months later and then, on my parent's 3rd anniversary, my brother Pat was born.

That day has garnered many stories from my parents. November 12 was a Wednesday. Mom woke up knowing that this was the day, and told Dad they needed to get Mary to Grandma's house and get to the hospital. My Dad, remembering how it went when Mary was born, decided he had plenty of time to take a shower and get some breakfast. Finally Mom had enough and told Dad they had to go NOW. They took Mary to Grandma, dropped her off and ran. By the time they got to the hospital, Mom was panting and trying to keep herself in control. Dad ran her into the lobby where he found a nurse and a wheelchair. He told them that he was going to go and park the car and would be right back. This was all of 35 minutes after Mom told Dad to get his butt in the car.

Dad ran out, parked the car, and ran back. He stepped off the elevator in time for a nurse to greet him and say, "congratulations, Mr. Higgins. You have a son". Dad walked into the Labor room in time to see the doctor cleaning himself off - almost as soon as he hit the cold air, Pat peed right on the doctor! Unlike today, when a mother goes through labor and delivery in one nice room with whatever family or friends she chooses to invite, when Pat was born the mother went first to the Labor room and then, when it was time, she was moved to the Delivery room. In my mom's case, Pat was born in the Labor room, and before Mom even had a chance to get fully prepped. Dad always liked to say how he called the hospital billing department and chewed them out for charging him for the Delivery room when my Mom never even saw the inside of it!

Now remember, I said that this was Mom and Dad's anniversary. Well, they sure weren't going to go out for dinner and dancing! Dad spent much of the day with Mom and then that evening he went out and got jeeeest a tad tipsy. Enough that he was crying in his beer and calling out "Bobbi, I love you!" Mom likes to tell that part of the story; I never heard that part from my Dad!

53 years later, my Dad has passed on and my Mom, while she misses my Dad, doesn't pay as close attention to dates as she used to. I'm glad I have the stories, though, to pass on here and to my daughter.

Happy birthday, Pat.

11/11/11, 11:11:11 Memorial

So I missed two things yesterday; I missed my blog post, and I missed two opportunities to make a once-100-years FaceBook post. Two times yesterday I could have posted "11/11/11, 11:11:11". I intended to step away from my desk in the morning to post, but I got so involved in work that I forgot. I then figured I would do it in the evening, but I waved the white flag at 9:30, just so tired all I wanted to do was sleep. Both opportunities missed. And I can say with some certainty that I will not be here to post the next time the opportunity arises.

Let's hope that in 13 months I can be on point to post 12/12/12, 12:12:12!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Choosing encourgment

The one and only reason I am sitting at this computer to type anything is because I promised myself I would write every single day for the rest of November. I have to be up at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow to work early, and then take my mom to the hospital for a CAT scan at 12:30. As it is is 11:30 now, this will be short.

Champs and I decided to tithe. We took the challenge to see God's faithfulness to our family. Although right at the moment I am discouraged like you would not believe, I am also choosing to be encouraged.

Why? Because we have no money. Christmas is 6 weeks away. We're behind on the house payment. Champs has been out of work for months. I've been so busy working that I haven't kept up with the bills and responsibilities here at home. And just tonight our car (oh yeah, we're behind on that payment, too) locked up and died in our driveway, leaking pink fluid. Champs thinks it has a torn coolant hose. I'm really glad I got to the driveway before the steering locked.

And at a time like this, I can choose to be upset with God, or I can choose to look to the bigger picture. If Satan is trying this hard to make us stop tithing, then God must have something really good planned if we can stay the course and be faithful.

Oh Lord, I hope so.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Display of His Splendor

For the first time in our marriage, John and I have been attending Wednesday night church and it has been really good. He goes off to "Man Cave" (where he has been encouraged to grow the beard I wrote about the other day), and I go to "Ladies Night". Our group has been going through the Beth Moore video series "Breaking Free" and also doing some small group sessions. It has been pretty good; I've discovered that I do have some things that I need to break free of, and I've discovered that in some areas, I am doing really well.

Tonight's lesson - the last in the series - was "The display of his splendor", and it talked about how we, as Christians, are Witnesses, Warriors, and Brides. The last point, that of being the bride of Christ, was to focus on how delighted God is in each of us. How unique we are and how He made us that way. Or, as the speaker said, "When God made you, He said "I'll never do that again!" Cute.

When we broke up for our small group session, we had the hardest assignment yet. We were to actually see ourselves as the display of His splendor. How? With the very practical assignment of working by ourselves for a few minutes to write 5 statements that would describe us to someone who didn't know us. They were to be positive statements only; no negatives. Do you have any idea how hard it is to say 5 positive things about yourself? Without adding a flip side of "of course, I talk way too much" or "I can't seem to keep up with my household duties"? No, it had to be positive.

So I scratched my head, tapped my pen, and then I wrote my list:
1. I have a good sense of humor (at least Champs says I do; it's one of the reasons he married me).
2. I am a good cook (just ask anyone who has had my chili or my lasagna).
3. You can depend on me to do what I say I will do (even if I'm doing 5 other things at the same time).
4. I am a strategic-thinking, organized problem solver (must be why I got my promotion this summer).
5. I am outgoing (the flip side is that I talk to much, but this was supposed to be all positive, no negatives, remember?).

And then, at the last minute, I decided to be an over-achiever and add one more to my list:
6. I give good massages (Really, really, good massages. 5 minutes of bliss kind of neck, shoulder, and hand massages. It's made me quite popular with my choir).

So there it is. A list - maybe complete, maybe only partial - of what makes me His Blond Girl. We had to share our lists with the others in our small group and I felt silly reading it off to the rest. I have to admit that I don't think it's much to brag about, but He made me and He loves me. So it is conceivable that even though the bills are unpaid, even though my house is a mess, and even though my hair needs washing, that I actually am a Display of His Glory.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

If I Won a Million Dollars

Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun. ~George Scialabba

Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure. ~Victor Hugo

So I tend to daydream a lot. When I am drifting in that space between awake and asleep; when I've been on the phone working on a tough problem for an hour; when work is done and I have 15 quiet minutes before dinner and I don't want to read or watch TV...I daydream.

My daydreams usually take the form of "what would I do if?" Some of my questions are painfully practical. "How would I cope if Champs died?" I answer that one quickly and move on. "How many cats are too many to own?" That one has answers ranging from one to ten, depending on my mood at the moment.

Some questions I ask myself often. The answer is usually the same, but with some variation along the way. Today's daydream question (a personal favorite) was "What would I do if I won a million dollars?" The first thing to consider is that I don't buy lottery tickets, and I have no rich relatives on the verge of passing, so I have no idea where this million would come from. Who knows? Raffle ticket, maybe, or from some essay contest. The "where from" is not an issue, really. It's that it showed up. Now what?

Well, I guess I have to think in order of God, Country, family. Meaning, 10% off the top for a tithe. So now there is $900,000.00. Then you have country. I'm thinking that Uncle Sam would want at least 30%, so now there is $567,000.00, give or take a Franklin or two.

Now the real fun can begin. Pay off every. single. bill. I can't tell you how much fun it would be to sit down with my checkbook and write a check for everything I owe to any person, any company, any loan. Pay off the house, the car, the back medical bills, every little thing. Oh Lord that would be the BEST DAY EVER!

OK, so after all that fun, let's say that there is about $380,000.00 or so left. Next up, fix the things in the house that must be fixed; new roof, new windows, new garage door, etc. A few plumbing issues, some odd issues with ceiling nails popping out of the drywall and a few issues in the crawlspace. Not decorating, just fixing - and we're down to oh, say, $300,000.00 or so.

A quick call to my financial advisor (whoever he is; it's not like I have one now!) and we've put away $100,000.00 or Sweet Girl's college and $100,000.00 for our retirement (which, I know, is not near enough, but oh well, it's not near enough now and I haven't actually won a cool mil, so I guess we'll just pretend that's not an issue.)

Well, in the space of a few days we're down to about $100,000.00 left. So this is where all the fun would happen. Some house decorating. A trip to Disney. A flat screen TV. New carpet. Knee surgery for our dog. A set of drums for Champs, a pink Buddy scooter for me, a clavanova for Sweet Girl, braces for everyone in the family (yes, Champs and me too), some great presents for family members, Oh, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Because if you're going to spend your fertile imagination on how to spend a free million dollars, then there has to be some Godiva in there somewhere!

Monday, November 7, 2011


OK, if my husband can take part in "No Shave November" and my best friend Geekwif can do "NaNoWriMo", then I have to get back a part of me.

From now on, I am doing "CaNoBlogMo" - or "Catherine's November Blog Month". Which means I will blog every day in November - starting now. I will try to write each day. No, I will not try. I will do. I have no idea what I will talk about. In fact, I apologize in advance if I
a. ramble.
b. swear.
c. complain.

We shall see, shan't we?

My Hairy Beast

In thirteen years of marriage, the hairiest part of my husband has been his chest. Or maybe his legs. It hasn't been his face. He has been a member of the clean-face club all the years we've been together. Until now. The men of our church (The guys of the Man Cave)are participating in "No Shave November". Anyone who has ever doubted that my husband is the red head I've always said he is (his hair tends to be brown-red)would, upon seeing his face now, know that he is a red head. And you know, for only be a week old, it's pretty thick already. It's getting to the soft/scratchy stage. Thank goodness he can shave his neck and trim it up. Not that he's got a lot of experience at that. Like I said, he's always been clean shaven.

Well, I take that back. John did have a goatee once. He grew it when I was in Minnesota for my job training, so I barely knew it. But he did valiantly grow it. For two weeks. That was all he could take before the itching drove him to take one last (unsmiling) picture of it, send it to me, and then shave it off with a cry of itchy desperation.

Anyhow, so here he is again, growing out a beard and trying so hard to carry on. It's November 7 and all he can think about is how badly his face itches. I'm thinking it must go away, or there wouldn't be so many men with beards. But the question in our house now is how long will Champs make it before he cries out and shaves the thing off? I'm hoping he makes it this time. Of course, I will be looking forward to welcoming back that soft sweet face I'm used to. Right now he's beginning to look like a sea captain.

And the only other question is "you haven't written in 6 months and the thing that broke the silence was facial hair?!?!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hunny McMonkey

Champs and I took Sweet Girl to Peoria today to get her a Build-A-Bear with her Daddy's voice recorded on the voice box. It was a wonderful day for the three of us. I have been saving our "Stuff for Stuff" rewards certificates and gift cards for quite awhile so Erin was able to have a spending spree unlike any she'd ever had before.

I expected her to be like most kids would - just go nuts and buy everything she's been wanting. But she didn't. After we made her bear, she turned to me and asked me if I was ready for my surprise. I was. She said, "I have lots of bears and Daddy has his monkey (I bought him a monkey for Father's Day 2 years ago and named him "Coach McMonkey), but you don't have one. I want you to pick out a bear and an outfit." I questioned her to be certain she was ready to do this and warned her that she would be giving up a portion of her spending spree.

Sweet Girl assured me that this was just what she wanted and sent me to the wall of animals. Seeing as daddy already had a monkey, I picked out a cute little monkey that is different than his, but similar enough to look like a pair. I named her Hunny McMonkey (Hunny was my nickname online when Champs met me) and dressed her up really cute.

And drove home with a full heart, happy that our daughter proved, on her own, that she is learning how to be unselfish and giving. I love it!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


noun \ˌmō-tə-ˈvā-shən\
1 a : the act or process of motivating
b : the condition of being motivated
2: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence : incentive, drive

Is it just me, or do you also hate when a definition of a word uses the word to define itself? What is motivation? Well, it's being motivated, of course! No wonder I can't seem to get a handle on it for myself.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about motivation lately. Do I have enough? Is it the right kind of motivation? Am I acting on motivation or just reacting to the events in my life? If I am merely reacting, does that count as a form of motivation in and of itself?

Yeah, as you can see, I have a few questions. The reason I have so many questions is because I realized one week ago that if I don't embrace motivation and begin to fight for what I have, to work to find the woman I used to be, and to stretch myself to become more than I am now, my carefully constructed house of cards will come tumbling down.

I have started fighting, but not enough. I need to dig deep and find the motivation for real change in me, in our marriage... in my life.

Yes, I want my condition to stop being lackadaisical and become very strongly motivated.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

But what if it is broke?

"If it ain't broke..."

You can finish the rest of the saying. A five-year old could. But it has occurred to me that I've been doing a lot of not fixing it around here lately. And a few things are broke. It's time to start fixin'. Three things have me thinking about getting busy and fixing what is wrong.

The first broke thing that made me think of this is my husband and his ongoing fight to fix his snow blower. For years it has just started up, spit snow out of its way, and then sat in the garage waiting for the next snow to come. This year, however, it got fussy. It would start, but then die after a minute or two of running. Champs cleaned the fuel lines. Nothing. He cleaned the injector and then the carburetor. Nope. He went and bought a carburetor replacement (because the manufacturer of his machine has gone out of business)and rebuilt the entire piece. He's watched videos of how to fix it, searched online and worked hard - and still it refuses to move snow. He does not have the answer, but he is not giving up.

The second broke thing that made me think of this is me. I have been struggling with being unhappy. I am overweight, overwhelmed, and under-motivated, as I wrote about here. It may be that for the first time, I am truly caring enough to try. I do not have the answers, but I am not giving up.

The third, and perhaps most painful, thing that is broke is my marriage. While I have been struggling with my frustrations and trying to keep them quietly under wraps where they wouldn't bother anyone, it appears that my husband has been dealing with frustrations and failings of his own - and hiding them, as well. I found the hidden damage. There are parts of our marriage that are broken. I didn't know it was broke. Not working at prime operation, certainly, but not broke. I have since learned differently. Thankfully, we have discovered this at the "fix engine" light stage, not at the point when everything grinds to a painful halt on a busy street. I am online, searching for answers, fighting to fix it. He is turning to the proper people to help fix it. We are talking - really talking - for the first time in months about what we can identify and what we know to do about it, regardless of how painful it may be to actually get busy and start doing the work. We don't have all the answers, but we are NOT giving up.

There's a few things broke around here. With God's help and grace, we are fixing them. The snow blower, however, may need to go to the shop.

Monday, January 31, 2011


Yesterday morning I woke up thinking that I was cherished and respected. I went to bed knowing that I was loved - but certainly not as respected as I thought. My husband hurt me in a way I was unprepared for.

Today he put the steps in motion to fix it. I am not happy, but I am convinced that I am loved. Possibly cherished. I've also learned that sometimes you have to fight for what you love.

Marriage is a labyrinth.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


I am in the position of feeling guilty. Now, being a good Catholic Irish girl (who has since gone Charismatic Christian), feeling guilty really is nothing new to me. It's a lot like breathing, actually.

The reason I feel guilty is because I guess I don't feel like I have any right to feel so... unhappy.

My mother always said, "if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all", and so I haven't been saying this or writing this, but I can't ignore it any longer. I am not happy. I have no right to be unhappy, but I also don't know how to break its hold.

I have a wonderful husband. No question there. I have friends who wish they had a relationship as good as we do. We talk, we work together, we laugh. When we argue, we make up. We treat one another with respect and still, after 13 years, recognize in each other the unique gift of God we have received.

I have a beautiful 10 year old daughter who is the light of my life. She is bright, sweet, and beginning to discover her inner teenager. She struggles with ADD, but triumphs in intelligence and spirit.

I have a good paying job. It meets our needs in a way that no job I could find here in town could do. I work on the phones, taking calls. No commute, no dress code. Fantastic pay and benefits.

We have a beautiful home. It has light, open rooms with enough space for the family, but not so much space that I can't keep up with it.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? What do I have to be unhappy about? I should be guilty for being unhappy with the blessings that I have.

But here it is: I feel like I've lost myself. Lost my motivation... and I don't know where to find it again.

Work has become a prison. I am stuck on the phone, taking brokerage trade and customer service calls, over and over and over, ad nauseum. My work style is to have a to-do list and move from one task to the next, switching around as needed to be efficient but not "stuck". When I was a Communication Specialist, this is how I worked and it brought me kudos. However, this style flies in the face of a phone job that is one call after the next and my performance is assessed primarily in numbers. How many calls did I take? What percentage of the time was I available to take a call immediately? How well did I adhere to the schedule? I have no room to set my pace or to breathe between calls. I honestly expected, when I went back to work, that I would quickly show my superiors that a remote agent can be hired off the phones and I would go back to a staff position. Three and a half years later, I am still on the phones, still taking calls, and beginning to realize that the unspoken rule that going remote means giving up your upward mobility is not just a thought, but a stone reality.

So of course, the next thought would be "if you're not happy at work, find a new job." But I can't. I am stuck. Our family cannot be without my pay and benefits. Champs was laid off for nine months and is now working again, but in a wonderful new career. He is an entry level pharmacy technician. He loves it, but earns about 2/3 of what he used to earn. I couldn't be prouder of him for making a change, but it means that I cannot, no matter what I want. We are already behind in our house payments and I am trying to figure out how to tweak the budget even more to keep us in the black. When we first moved here to Champaign, I tried to find work in my field as a Communication Specialist and there was nothing ... anywhere. I tried to get work that would use my Series 7 license, and again, nothing. My job working remotely for the big company in Minneapolis came just at a time when I thought we would be lost if I didn't work again. Now I am afraid to even try again, because I know I'll never be able to get this kind of pay and benefits again.

The next obvious thought, then, is of course this: "Well, work is only 8 hours a day, Blond Girl! Get over yourself and DO SOMETHING with the rest of your time." I know. I know. And yet I can't seem to break out of this malaise to do actually do anything. I feel like I am stuck working, balancing the checkbook and staying one step ahead of financial issues, and cleaning the house.

I used to love to do three things: I loved to write, I loved to sing, and I loved to bead jewelry.

I used to write all day at work and come home to write an entry in my blog every. single. day. And I had people who loved the way I wrote and were waiting for my next witty observation of life.

I used to be on the worship team. I sang special music in church. I bought CDs and listened to music. Somehow, since we've moved, I've lost my voice and become afraid to try. While God is still worthy of my worship - worthy of my praise - worthy of every song I could raise to His mercy and grace, I have... nothing. I can't and don't sing any more and I don't know why.

I used to thrill to create new jewelry. I could teach my friends how to design when they thought they couldn't. I would make something that shone, sparkled, delighted - something that had never existed before I thought it into being. Now my beads sit in a basket, collecting dust.

I honestly don't know what is wrong with me. I've lost who I used to be and I can't seem to define who I should be now. I cook. I clean. I do laundry. I take calls, pay bills, and keep this house going. I am a wife. I am a mother. But somewhere along the line, I've forgotten how to be a woman. Someone with value. I wake in the middle of the night, lost. Who am I? Where is Blond Girl? How do I merge the wonder and joy of the overwhelming love I have for my husband and my daughter with who I am? I don't know how. I don't have any motivation any longer.

I am lost. I am unhappy.

And I am soooooooo unbelievably guilty for feeling like this.