A Time of Plenty Pt. II – The Home Version

2014, although not a leap year, has been the year of the Grabow Anniversary – The Extended Version. We started celebrating a week in advance and then I think it was just hard to stop. Actually, it was more like we each had our own Anniversary weekend. Last weekend was the DH’s and this weekend was mine. It worked out this way mainly because the DH had last weekend off, and this weekend I had a Symposium to attend. (I know, super romantic, right.)

Warning, this post will be both picture/content heavy because while I want to share with you some of the fun that the DH and I have had this past week, I need to do that within the context of a not very fun part of our story.

Last Friday night, the DH and I went out for a nice dinner to celebrate our anniversary. It was a little hectic for me to drive all the way home from work, pick up the DH and then drive down to the restaurant, but it made more sense to go out that weekend than the next because the DH had that weekend off. Saturday morning I woke up and went shopping for the DH’s present. For a while now he has wanted some cologne, so I’d planned to get him some, but I didn’t find anything I loved. So, I went to the next store intending to get him a copy of The Natural, by Bernard Malamud. Only, unexpectedly I found this:

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It is seriously perfect for the DH, but it is also seriously pricey $170. I wandered the store for a bit, looking and thinking and looking and thinking and decided the look on the DH’s face when opening a Lego R2D2 and his joy in putting it together were worth it.

There was really no hiding/wrapping this present, so I knew I would have to give it to him that day. After lunch, I made him put on a blindfold and went out to the car to get it. The DH is a reserved kind of guy, so the video of him taking off the blindfold and seeing his present isn’t exactly eventful, but if you look closely you can see the most genuine and joyful smile (something I don’t get to see often). Yes, he did enjoy putting it together. At least I’m assuming he did because he pretty much worked on it non-stop from that point on.

After about 2 hours:

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That evening:

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By 11:00am the next morning.

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In addition to anniversary presents last weekend we had a couple of other great opportunities. I was having coffee with a good friend when she said, “Remember when you told us to let you know if we ever wanted to get rid of our couch? How about $50 for the couch and the chair that goes with it?” Zebra print might not be our first choice, but the pillows are reversible and this couch actually has feet and is very comfortable, so yes we took it.

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Last weekend was also the last weekend of a Tempurpedic mattress sale at Overstock.com, so yep. We FINALLY got the new bed we’ve needed for 3 years; and, really we got the most amazing deal! Believe it or not we still have savings! (Yes, I just knocked on some wood because I’m certain some car or another will need something soon.)

Our actual anniversary is 2/29, but on off years we celebrate on 2/28. This year I had to speak at a symposium, and attend a dinner afterwards, so we didn’t get to see each other much Friday. When I got home though, the DH gave me some nice flowers, a certificate for a massage, and this beautiful necklace.

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Also, I would say a big part of my anniversary present was the time I spent yesterday rearranging the bedroom to accommodate the new bed and chair. I love the new arrangement, and have spent much of my time in what I consider my new reading nook. The only thing missing is a foot rest.

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Sorry. I know the picture is dark.

As happy as I am to have had a massage today, and as much as I love my new necklace, I wasn’t kidding when I told Bradley that my anniversary present would be getting to watch him open the Lego set. You see, while it might seem like we just indulged in an frenzy of spending, I wasn’t kidding when I said we have needed a new bed for at least 3 years, or that we got the new couch and chair for $50 and that we are happy with them, cat scratched corners and all.

It also might have seemed like really good timing when on Friday I received an email inviting me to participate in a work related Snap Challenge. It would seem like a timely reminder, in our week of spending, of how hard some people struggle just to put food on the table. Only as I considered signing up to participate, I realized I can’t.

A year after my stroke (Yes, all the stories at least start with the stroke.), the DH and I had to file for bankruptcy. $18,000 in medical bills might not seem like enough to sink us, but after 4 years of me only making TA wages, and barely making any money in the summers we were already living hand to mouth, and had racked up credit card debt that we were just getting paid off.

Getting my current job was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because there was no way I would get to TA for another year, and a curse because there was no way we could afford to move. Hence, my year of commuting from Greensboro to Raleigh. Fifty minutes in the car from my house to the park-n-ride, then another 40 minutes on the bus to campus, and a 10 minute walk to my office. Even with the great gas mileage in my new car, I had to fill up twice a week and then some. I had no time to write, to see friends, to see the DH, or really do anything. I woke up and drove, worked, drove home, had some dinner, and then went to bed to do it all again.

After a year of the commute I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore, and that I would never get my dissertation done if I kept doing it. The DH had already left his job in GSO, so we moved to Durham. Yes, it is still a commute, but we could find a rent we can afford in Durham. What the DH couldn’t do for the first 8 months here is find a job. During those 8 months, we more than struggled to feed ourselves and the animals. The hell of it was that we needed help, we needed something like SNAP benefits, but according to their magic table, I made too much for us to qualify. Grocery shopping could send me back to bed in a fit of tears for the rest of the day because it was an exhausting never-ending calculation — if I get this thing we need, can we still afford the other thing we need. How many meals can I get out of how few ingredients? And we were the lucky ones because in December 2011, when no one was finding jobs, the DH found a job that he started in January.

While a large part of me is embarrassed to say look at everything we bought this week, and look at how much money I can spend to make my husband smile. A larger part of me takes real joy in having come this far; joy at being able to buy what I knew my husband would like, not just what we could afford. Sure, now I can go to lunch with colleagues without worrying about how much money we have in the account and who gets paid when. Now, I can have a coffee in the morning if I want. Now, staying within my budget and getting a good deal is a challenge, not a threat and necessity. We are by no means out of the struggle, but this last week of not having to do some unheard of calculus just to figure out how to buy the cheapest anniversary gift imaginable, it was too nice not to celebrate, not to share.

No, I can’t do the Snap Challenge right now. I’ve spent too much of my time living it. I know how hard it is to live on so little, and I know too many people in our position: too poor and not poor enough. That is why, as meager as it is, this time of plenty in the Grabow house will be celebrated and we will be thankful for every power, and friend, and people known and unknown who helped us get even this far.

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