Be it ever so humble…

Well folks, I have a funny little story to share with you this evening.

A few years ago, the hubby and I, in keeping with long-standing tradition, were trying to decide what to do for our anniversary at the very last second. I had been hinting for a long time that I would like to go somewhere overnight- somewhere quiet and lovely where we could enjoy some natural beauty, but we were broke and had four kids and getting away was tough. Well we managed it in the end by asking some friends if we could stay at their riverfront property where they kept a trailer and a screened in porch for shelter. They graciously said we could and we had a lovely time and I blogged about it here.

I blogged about how we stayed in the cozy screened in porch, but what I did not blog about at the time was that we had planned to sleep in the trailer.  However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the porch ended up being a better option.

Now I don’t write this story to embarrass our good friends.  They had an unbelievable amount of crazy going on in their lives at that time.  Being in the hospital for months with premature twins who were hanging on to life by a thread was just one thing they were dealing with. But apparently, what with all the hubbub of their lives, they were unaware when they gave us a key to the trailer, that the electricity had been unplugged.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal at all, except for one minor issue- the fridge and freezer had been left full of food.  And folks- when you leave a fridge full of food unplugged in the shimmering heat of a Tennessee July, you have a problem.

I probably don’t need to ask you to imagine the smell that reached our noses when we first entered that trailer, nor describe in any detail the cloud of insects that suddenly made a desperate bid for freedom through the open door where we were standing.  We stood there for a moment, retching slightly, closed the door, and made other plans.

But all through that lovely evening, as we kayaked in the river, cooked steaks and corn on the cob on the grill, watched the sunset and finally dozed off to sleep to a chorus of singing frogs, we couldn’t stop thinking about the trailer and the unpleasant surprise that would greet our kind friends, when and if they ever got out of the hospital and out to their property again.

So the following morning, we made ourselves a lovely breakfast, took a few deep breaths of sweet, dewy morning air and headed back to the trailer.  Thankfully, they had everything we needed- lots of paper towels, scrubby brushes, rubber gloves and plenty of Lysol.  Gas masks would have been nice, but we made do, holding our breath and scrubbing as fast as we could until we had to run out again, gasping.  The hubby even had some heavy duty garbage bags in the back of his car for us to haul out the rotten food.  It didn’t need much help mind you.  That food was nearly walking out the door on its own.

As we drove away later that day, our trunk full of smelly food, we felt happy.  Happy that, even though we had spent a good part of our romantic getaway in less than romantic circumstances, we had been able to repay our generous friends a bit and perhaps make their lives a little easier down the road.

Fast forward a few years, and you find me sitting on the couch in my older sisters living room, laughing heartily at her new plan for us to finish our house- by moving a trailer onto our property and working from there.  I soon realized she was in earnest however, and she asked me if I new anyone who had a trailer we might be able to borrow.  And guess what, I had an answer ready.

Turns out, our friends had let the riverfront property go, and the trailer had been in storage somewhere for some time. I’m not sure they even used it again after our stay there.  And when we asked, they once again graciously allowed us to use it, albeit for a longer period this time.   So apparently we had tackled that awful fridge, not so much for the sake of our friends as for ourselves.  God has a sense of humor I guess.

And now I suppose you would like to see some pictures.  Well, here you go.

The boys are really excited about the whole set up, at least for now, and it is a lot bigger than I remember it being, so that’s always a bonus!  And most important of all, it will allow us to take full advantage of all this wonderful outdoor space, and Lord willing, eventually, our home.

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We spent most of the afternoon over there today, getting things ready for the final move and doing a little yard work. The bulbs we planted years ago are finally up, which makes this place feel more homelike already, despite everything else that still needs doing.

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And a cute baby picture, just because. She spent most of the afternoon happily plucking clover or being raced around the yard in her stroller by her brothers. I am so thankful for a happy baby!

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And I’m thankful, more and more each day, for good friends. We are so blessed!

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Is it better to give?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, in between packing boxes and sweeping Godzilla-sized dust bunnies that have quietly come into existence over four years of behind-the-furniture neglect. This current upheaval in our lives has caused me to look back over the last several years and ask myself how we ever got here.  It has also made me ask myself what I would like to see in our future, if we are ever so blessed as to achieve our goal in finishing the house.

But mostly I have been pondering where we are at in this very moment- this tenuous, day to day, moment to moment craziness that our lives have suddenly become. I have had many people approach me with questions, trying to figure out just why we are doing what we are doing.  I have had people worrying, doubting, unsure of the wisdom of our decision. (which is totally understandable.  I am doing the same thing every day) For the most part, people have been understanding, but I have had the occasional person pitying poor me and my children for having a husband and father who is putting his family in this difficult position, declaring that if it were them, they would not stand for it.  This has been frustrating for me, since I do not like to be pitied, but I understand it is all part of putting our lives on display to some degree, as we have. I know our situation is confusing. And so I would like to try and clarify these things for people, and give some kind of outline to the jumble of emotions and myriad of extenuating circumstances that are defining our lives just now.

First of all, let me just say that this whole scheme is something I have been pushing hard for, not something my husband has been forcing me into.  It has been a decision made after much prayer and consultation with others.  And boy-o-li, as soon as we decided to take this crazy step and the prospect of getting out of our current house became a real one, the over-crowded feeling of seven people in two small bedrooms (and one bath)- the need to leave this less than friendly neighborhood- the urgent desire to finish a long awaited project- all of it intensified dramatically.  I suddenly felt that we had to get out or bust.

Sunday afternoon was particularly trying in this respect- Steve was out of town, we had come home from church slightly exhausted to a rainy, quiet afternoon.  I really wanted a nap, and so despite the rain, I told the boys I would like them to go play outside.

I had just dozed off when I was suddenly awakened by the unmistakable sounds of gunfire.  One, two, three, four, five, six shots in rapid succession, followed by a dramatic squealing of tires and shouts from down the street.  I remained on the couch, frozen for a second, realizing that I had just sent all of my children out into a war zone.  But before I could panic fully, they were all scurrying back inside, eyes wide, gasping about bad guys and guns and ‘what was happening?’  I herded them all to the kitchen, and then, peering cautiously out the curtains, tried to see what was going on.  But after the initial uproar, things quieted down, and it appeared that no one was hurt.  My heart stopped racing and I could breath again.

My sister and brother in law came by to keep me company for the rest of the afternoon.  As we tried to chat, the boys were noisily wrestling all over the living room, and several times I found myself trying to send them back outside.  But then I kept remembering that outside was not safe.  We made it through the evening, but the following morning, I was up with the sun, packing like there was no tomorrow.  This is only one of the compelling reasons for my preferring life in a trailer.

Of course there are days when the uncertain prospect of the future months has caused self-pity to creep into my heart, but it is far from my biggest struggle.  When I think about it, I am no stranger to roughing it.  It comes with the territory, being married to a contractor who is always moving on to the next renovation project.  But even if I had married a man with a normal 9-5 job, a man who followed the expectations of a society that considers having 2-3 children and a nice (finished) 4-bedroom house in the suburbs as ‘normal’, I’m not sure I would be content with such a life.  I love the challenge of a new project just as much as my husband.  I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty.  In fact, the busyness of renovation and the intense labor it requires satisfies something deep inside me.  I love going to bed at night, exhausted from a day of intense physical labor- feeling like I have accomplished something big.

I went out to coffee with some girlfriends several weeks back, and as we were talking about the house, one of them said-

“Nicky, if we had lived in the pioneer days, you would be the one up in the covered wagon with your bonnet on, heading west and we would be the ones staying put, waving goodbye and saying “Have a nice life.  We’ll miss you.”

I laughed heartily at this depiction of myself, and in a way, felt liberated that someone had recognized this fact about me and was willing to joke about it.  Because there are times when I feel ashamed of the fact that one of my favorite things to wear is a pair of sturdy shoes, a grubby t-shirt and a hankie over my hair.  I feel funny admitting that I like to come alongside my hubby and learn to swing a hammer or tackle an insanely large renovation project like the one before us.

Of course, I don’t want to live perpetually that way.  I am going to want to be settled in a proper home again, and probably sooner than is possible, given the amount of work we have to do.  But I don’t consider those things as the biggest obstacles to overcome.

What has been the hardest thing for me has been to finally get to the point of being forced to ask for help.  With that ‘pioneer spirit’ that I seem to possess comes a stubbornly independent streak- a determination that I will be beholden to no one.  For eight years we have held on, waiting for the time when we would have everything together, assuring everyone who asked that we would ‘figure it out somehow’.

And even now- even when I have put the word out that we are finally willing to accept help, I am humiliated and ashamed over the fact.  I avoid people’s eyes when they ask me about it. I find myself mumbling, making excuses, still trying to get out of further direct offers for help.   Deep down, I know this is all fear- fear of failure, fear of people donating their time and money and effort for a project that might ultimately fail.  It is an intense feeling of vulnerability- being this open.  The more people who are involved, the more responsibility I feel for making sure that we succeed- the more guilt I feel for having failed all these years.

In our struggle to come to this decision I have searched the Scriptures, hoping to learn how to be willing to graciously ask for help.  But when you read about helping in the Bible, it almost exclusively talks about being willing to help others, talks about being a cheerful giver- free with your time and money- not being stingy.  We have longed for years to be the kind of people that could be on the other side of the fence, helping other people out of tight spots, being the cheerful givers that God’s Word describes.

But being commanded to give to those in need presupposes that there will be those that are unable to give, at least of their money.  And I never wanted to be one of those kind of people- I can’t imagine anyone who would.

I was griping about this fact to one of my sisters once, and she gently reminded me that in my refusal to be willing to ask for help, I was denying other people the chance to fulfill that important function of the body of Christ.  I was willing to concede that she had a fair point.  But all that that left for me was an enormous piece of humble pie to swallow.  And humble pie is not tasty.

Since I posted our fundraiser link 5 days ago, we have received an average of 1,000 dollars a day.  How this makes me feel is difficult to describe- it isn’t exactly happiness- more of an uncertain gratitude that makes me second-guess everything about the worthiness of our goal and our right to ask for this generosity.

But slowly, tremulously, there is a new found joy underneath it all.  In our willingness to admit our need for help comes a death to self that is both painful and liberating.  It brings into view a larger picture than our own individual story, and characters are beginning to come into play from all over the world. It is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

So now I am simply praying for the grace required to play the humble role of receiver, trusting that if God allows it in the future, I will some day be able to be the most cheerful giver of all.  And I believe that begins with a simple Thank You.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…..

Dear Readers,

Next week (Lord willing) will be the beginning of a new era in the life of our family. And, as promised, I am starting the whole process (and hope to continue doing so) by sharing with you what we are about to undertake. The story of how we have arrived in our current difficult position is so long and convoluted that I cannot explain it all here, but along the way, I can’t count the number of times I have been asked the following questions-

“How is the house is coming?”
“What do you have left to do on it?”
“Is it at least livable?”
“Do you know when you might get into it?”

And perhaps the most frequent of all-

“Is there anything we can do to help?”

I hope to answer these questions in the following post.

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, and if we had known eight years ago what was going to transpire in our lives, what with job loss and financial upheaval, family emergencies and unexpected moves, (not to mention another baby and another and another) we never would have bought the house. But wise or not, we did it, and against all odds, we are still the owners. As I posted before, we have reached the point where it has become necessary to do something desperate. This will be the last try. If we don’t succeed, we will at least know that we have done everything in our power, and we trust God to open another path for us.

So, you asked how the house was coming on? What do we have left to do on it? Well, here is where we are at-

This is the front of our house. As you can see it has lovely dormer windows and an enormous porch. The entire front of the house needs to be scraped, sanded and repainted. The windows (throughout the entire house) need to be replaced, and the hubby is custom building them himself. These are just two “small” projects that need to be tackled.

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This is me, walking around the exterior. You will notice that about half of it is painted a different color than the original yellow, and all the windows are boarded up. We have had to go to some length to keep the burglars (and pigeons) out.

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This is the yard. Oh man, I feel like I would be willing to live just about anywhere to call this yard our own- even a trailer. The trailer has not yet arrived, but will go in the back corner where the parking area is. The boys have already marked out the spots for their new forts.

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I just realized I forgot to take any pictures of the front yard. It’s a good sized front yard that we leveled out a few years ago and ambitiously planted bulbs and trees. The bulbs and trees are starting to bloom, which seems like a good omen.

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You ask if the house is livable? I’ll let you decide by showing you the interior.
It’s a little difficult for me to share these with you, because it makes me feel vulnerable, like the whole world can now see what a mess we have to tackle. But I’m going recklessly on in hopes of some really amazing before and after shots down the road.

When you enter the house you are welcomed in, not by one, but by two living rooms.
The left one (which will hopefully be a library)

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And the right. It already has a functioning wood stove set up, so we won’t freeze to death if we haven’t finished before next winter. There is also a piano. We have to warm the soul as well as the body, right?

As you can see, the entire house needs to be wired and sheet rocked before anything else can be done. You might notice lots of empty blue electrical boxes which once upon a time were wired and ready to go. But stolen copper is good money apparently. So all that has to be redone.

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Walk through that room, and you arrive in my kitchen, the size of which makes me feel a little giddy. It’s not quite ready for cooking, unfortunately.

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And such a large kitchen needs a corresponding dining room. As soon as we move over there, I am tearing down the plywood on these enormous window holes. It will be such a beautifully light-filled room.

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I’m not bothering to show you any of the four bathrooms, (FOUR BATHROOMS!) or the enormous laundry room, (LAUNDRY ROOM!) since they don’t look like much yet. There are two very large bedrooms on the ground floor- our Master Suite, of which it is hard to get a good angle-

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And the guest suite, which is currently home to eight years worth of our excess stuff. The reason it looks so jumbled is that it has been ransacked on a few occasions by a person (or persons) unknown. Whoever they are, I hope they are enjoying all my old books. (Grrrr). My first job will be to go through this room, reorganize and probably throw most of it away. Fun!

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All right, bear with me- this is a huge house. Let’s head upstairs, shall we?

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This is the view at the top- the door to “The girl’s room.”

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We have called it the girl’s room ever since we started on the house. I am so glad we finally have a girl to put in it! Although it does seem like an awful lot of space for one little peanut, who currently lives in this much space.

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To get to the boys room you cross this large open area we aren’t sure what to call- the den? The playroom? The ‘what on earth am I gonna do with so much space?’ room?

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20150317-224237.jpg Oh, but wait- it goes around the corner too, and ends in some secret tunnels Daddy built in, just for his boys.

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Oh, and then there is this room. Just an extra, you know, for whatever.

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But the best of all, is of course, my own especial room, to do whatever I want with. There will be a lock on the door and much crafting within.

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So then you asked, “When do you think you might be able to move in?”

Well, I hope you have seen that we have a looooong way to go before this house can become a home. That is obviously the scariest and riskiest part of this whole venture. There is simply no guarantee and no timeline in place. All I can really say is, the sooner the better. Which leads me to your last question-

“What can we do to help?”

Oh friends, the time has come for me to be very transparent. This is not an easy thing for me.
There are two things that we need- skilled labor and money. My hubby is one of the most skilled laborers I know, but he is one man and he is finite. If he must, he will build this house one inch at a time over the next twenty years. Obviously, this is not ideal, and we would like to be able to hire out most of the work. But without going into financial detail, we are stuck. We don’t have the money to finish the house, and yet we cannot keep the house if we do not make this last effort. We have prayed so long for an answer to this conundrum, but it has seemed insurmountable. My hubby has worked tirelessly over many years now to build his fledgling business, and has accomplished amazing things. But it is a fledgling business still. I would like to build my own business as well, but cannot without a larger space.

Then one day a friend suggested that I just ask people for donations.

I snorted- I scoffed- my pride recoiled at the suggestion. But the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. A thousand objections arose, but still it nagged. I wrote my family about it, asking advice- they said I should do it. I still resisted.
Then one night, before I went to bed, I asked the Lord to make it clear what we should do. Before I even closed my eyes, a message pinged on my ipad. It was a facebook friend, not someone I am particularly close with, but someone who apparently had been thinking of us and our situation. She simply asked if I had ever considered setting up a fundraiser so that people who would like to see us get into our house could donate. Stunned by the timely message, I asked her if she had been talking to my family at all lately. Perhaps they had mentioned the idea to her. She said no- that the idea had just popped into her head.
Well folks, what would you do?
I caved.
So without any more hemming and hawing, I am here today to ask if you would consider helping us reach our long-awaited goal by donating to the following site.
http://www.gofundme.com/pctz2w

And of course, if you are not in a position to help financially, any and all prayers would be most welcome!
We (and the children) thank you!

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Chapter 5

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Still plugging away if anyone is interested….

Chapter 5

After I finished my fourth chapter in my literary career, I hit a wall.  I just wasn’t sure what to write since life has been monotonous in the extreme. School has been the same, day after day.  Dad still hasn’t got a job and Mom has been working long hours at hers, while Britt has been trying to wrestle with two.  Homework is just homework, janitor work is janitor work. I’ve been wishing that Adam would occasionally take some notice of me and have still been trying to convince myself that I wish nothing of the kind.   But today I can write again because today, something finally changed, and for the better,  But it took living through the worst day in history to get there.

I started the morning with the usual dream-intruded-by-alarm-clock routine.  I’d stayed up way too late trying to study for a particularly heinous history test, so I was doubly tired.  It felt like the sleepy hollow had swallowed me whole, and I couldn’t get out.  Eventually I just rolled out, landing on the floor and knocking that stupid three legged table on top of my head for the umpteenth time.  I left it lying there, grabbed my robe and stormed out the door, tossing a glare towards the snoring occupant of the top bunk.

If I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, a shower generally helps steer me in the right direction, so I headed to the bathroom.  It was still very dark and I stepped on- oh, I can hardly write it.  Sometimes, when we forget to put Cinnamon (she’s our cat) out at night, she decides to do her business in the house, and always in the same spot- the bathroom mat in front of the shower.  We have tempted her with treats and fancy litter boxes to no avail- she will insist on using that rug.

So cursing fates and felines, I picked up the rug, hopped over to the toilet on one clean foot to shake out the remainder, and then wadded the mat up into a ball and hurled it down the laundry chute, telling myself not to forget to warn mom about it.  I then hopped to the shower, first rinsing my foot off and then the rest of me.

I did feel better after my shower, but as I was brushing my hair, wishing it was thick and shiny like Britt’s, I noticed a very large blemish on the end of my nose.  Generally speaking, I have pretty clear skin, so I’m not sure where this thing came from- probably history test stress.  I groaned inwardly and began fishing in the cabinet for something to help.  Now Britt keeps all manner of supplies and makeup in this cabinet, all purchased with her own hard earned money.  I tell people I prefer the natural look to wearing makeup, but the truth is, I’m just too cheap to spend any money that I might chance to come across on cosmetics.  However, this was an emergency.  I began slapping on creams and astringents and anything else that might reduce the swelling.  I found a nice shiny new tube of concealer and was too busy opening it  to notice another face in the mirror.  When I finally looked up, I saw that the face was Britt’s and it was looking disapproving..

I could tell by her face that she was getting ready to lecture, so I dropped the makeup and prepared to get the worst over with.  I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t guilty anyway.  She laid it into me pretty thick, about how maybe someday, I might think about buying some of my own things for a change- how she was sick and tired of all her sisters using her things without asking, and then losing or breaking or ruining them by leaving the cap off.

The minutia of her list of grievances told me that this was something she had been wanting to say for a while now, but had refrained.  I tried to defend myself here and there but then remembered the jacket I had lost and still hadn’t told her about or the bottle of expensive lotion I had just dropped the lid to and hadn’t bothered to fish out from behind the sink. So I just took the rest of the lecture in silence, apologized quietly, and slid out of the bathroom, my red nose glowing like a veritable Rudolph.

As I headed downstairs, I noticed the offending cat sitting on the step below me.  She is always grumpy in the morning, but this morning I was grumpier.  I had no intention of letting her claw my leg in passing as she is so often prone to do.  So I took an ill-judged leap over the next three steps to avoid her, and as she reached out a lazy paw to swipe in my direction, I clocked my head on the low ceiling overhang above me.

Finding myself crumpled at the foot of the stairs, I thought about returning to bed then and there and calling in sick.  But I knew that darn history test couldn’t be avoided.  So I added a throbbing forehead-egg to my list of today’s facial flaws and continued to the kitchen. I have been a morning person since early youth, and am usually the first one up downstairs so it was no surprise that the kitchen was still dark  when I went in.  Another non-surprise?- it was still raining outside.

We are currently living through yet another record breaking wet streak, although it’s hard to imagine how it can be worse than a few years ago when it rained for 52 days straight.  Normally the wet doesn’t  bother me too much, but after 53 days, I start thinking that ‘moderation in all things’ would be a good motto for the weather to adopt as well.

I opened the cupboard above the sink and my day suddenly brightened.  There was actually a box of granola left for breakfast!  I pulled it out, but it felt very light.  I emptied it into a bowl, half of it was sugary dust, but I didn’t care.  I had a moment’s guilt, finishing the box, but after all, the early bird gets the worm.  And if I ate fast, no one would have to know that I was selfish.

I next turned to the fridge, but I should have known on a day like today that there would be no milk.  In my opinion, there should never be an excuse for running out of milk- or at least the person who finishes it should say something about it.  My granola hopes dashed, I thought about toast.  But no, I was in a bad enough mood to insist that I deserved that granola- with milk.  The store wasn’t too far- just ten blocks or so, and if I took Britt’s bike, I could be there and back before anyone noticed.  I grabbed a jacket and a handful of coins from the bowl on the shelf and headed towards the backdoor when I caught myself, the scolding of just ten minutes ago dimly echoing in my ears.

“I am so sick and tired of my sisters borrowing my stuff without asking.”

I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob, but finally thought better of it and headed back to the stairs.  I jumped the cat again, this time remembering to duck my head, and within seconds, I was knocking on Britt’s door and poking my head inside.

There she was, sitting on her little bed, and having obviously just taken a shower, she was brushing her long dark hair- such a thick, shining mane.  I unconsciously began twisting my own straggly locks into a bun at the back of my head, as if to get them out of sight, and looked around.  Besides the bed, there was little else in the room.  A desk was in one corner, a very small and decrepit dresser -missing five out of eight drawer knobs- was in another.  The final corner was dominated by a lifesize cardboard cutout of Harrison Ford wearing a storm trooper uniform and pointing his blaster right at me.  Normally I don’t mind Britt’s collection of Star Wars paraphernalia, but this morning, I was in no mood to be shot at, by Han Solo or anyone else. I glared right back at his cardboard face.

“Did you want something?” Britt asked, wondering no doubt why I was making faces at the corner.

“Yes,” I replied, “I wanted to ask…”

But before I could make my request she interrupted, saying-

“I’m really sorry about yelling at you before.  I didn’t mean to, but I just get kind of fed up sometimes, having so many younger sisters and never being able to call anything my own.”

“You have your own room,” I thought grumblingly, but on the outside I just nodded.

She went on for a while, talking about the stresses of school and work and all the decisions she was having to make about what to do with her life after she graduated.  I feel kind of bad about it now, but right then, I wasn’t in the mood then for sympathizing, or anything else really except eating my breakfast.  So it was my turn to interrupt.

“Yah, so, umm, can I borrow your bike to run to the store real quick? We’re out of milk again.”

She looked on the verge of annoyance again, but catching herself, she smiled graciously and reminded me just to make sure and take the bike chain with me to lock it while I was in the store.

I figured this would be a bad time to remind her that the bike chain had been lost a few weeks earlier when Becca had had the brilliant idea of taking the cat for a walk, using the chain as a leash. As soon as the lock had clicked around Cinnamon’s neck, she had taken off like a ginger-colored streak, yowling hellishly.  We didn’t see her for a few days after that, but eventually she made her way back home.  She was still alive (only just) but she was missing the bike chain.

I was thinking about this regrettable incident as I made my way back downstairs, and so forgot to think about the victim of the story who was still waiting on the fifth step, claws newly sharpened on the armchair below and ready for a fresh attack.

I drew a sharp breath through my teeth as I felt the needle-like barbs pierce through my sock and grip my ankle. I aimed a retaliatory kick in her direction, but missed and hit the wall. Forgetting all pity for what she had recently been through, and thinking only of what I had suffered this morning at her feline hands, I felt she deserved nothing more than to be chucked out in the rain.  And chucked she accordingly was, but not before she added several long gashes to the top of my hands.

My acne-fied nose was throbbing, my forehead splitting, and both ankle and hands were oozing small trickles of blood as I headed to the back door again to make another attempt at the milk.

But lo and behold, whom should I find in the kitchen but a pajama clad pair of ruffians with their hands in my bowl of granola.  I stood there for a second, watching as they dug through the sugary fragments, searching for the biggest clusters.

“Hey!” I eloquently managed.  “That was mine!”

“It’s okay, we left you some,” replied Becca cheerfully, hopping off the counter and going to the fridge. Sam had the grace to looked a little abashed as I picked up the bowl and surveyed the few dried up raisins in the bottom.

“Oh bother,” said Becca, “Did you know we are out of milk?”

 

——————

 

Looking back over the day, I feel a sense of guilt, as if my bad mood cast a pall on everyone else.  We were late getting out the door, and in our rush climbing into the bus, (have I mentioned that we drive a 1979 Volkswagon bus?  Well, we do, and its brown and battered and the embarrassment of us all.) mom spilled her coffee.  Now my mother is normally the sweetest, most patient person in the world, but she likes her coffee.  So there was an unusual amount of snappishness in her voice as she told us all to buckle up.  The old vinyl seat belts were stiffer than usual in the cold, so I ignored mom’s command.

Sam and Britt had had a brief, though silent tussle over the front seat (Britt had won of course) and so Sam was sulking in the back next to Becca who was sighing over the rain and tracing pictures in the window condensation- lots of frowning faces and redundant clouds.

Mom wrestled the giant stick shift into gear, and we were off.

Soon Mom and Britt were having the same old discussion- about how Britt was one of the only people left in her class- probably the only seventeen year old in the world- without a driver’s license.  Mom was repeating her usual arguments against it, the most compelling of which was the fact that even if she had a license, she would have no car to drive.  Another indisputable fact was that no one else knew how to coax that old bus onto the road- not even dad.  Mom had taught herself the art over several patient years, and even yet, it was unpredictable.

To prove her point and in the middle of her sentence, the horn on the bus began beeping as if being pushed by an unseen hand.  It wasn’t a short little beep either, like it sometimes was.  It was one of those long, unbroken, moaning beeeeeps that tended to catch the attention of every other driver on the road.  A truck passed us on the left, staring.  I crouched lower in my seat.

Mom, no doubt due to her low caffeine levels, cursed ( if you can count ‘darn old horn’ as cursing) and gave it a good hard smack.  At the same instant, Britt suddenly shrieked,

“Mom! look out!”

The next thing I knew, I had been propelled forward and smashed into the back of the driver’s seat.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had ignored the seat belt command, because Sam suddenly appeared on the floor next to me.  Becca was sitting securely behind us, looking shaken but unhurt and mom was asking everyone in a strained voice if we were all right.

In the dark and rainy mist, and with the horn to distract her, mom had failed to see the roundabout in the middle of the intersection in front of us.  She had driven straight into it.

She and Britt climbed out of the bus to survey the damage, but they soon came back, looking relieved.  The curb of the roundabout was so high that it had stopped us dead in our tracks, denting the bumper considerably, but nothing worse. And seeing as the bumper was already dented in many places, we weren’t too worried.  Mom backed up the bus , we all buckled up this time, and we drove on, rubbing our necks but feeling thankful.

However, my thankfulness was wearing thin as we arrived at school.  A splitting headache was forming behind my eyes and we were running late.  When we arrived at school and joined the long line of sleek minivans and other vehicles five years old or younger, most of the students were hurrying through the rain on the front walkway, heading to their first period classes.  Therefore, there was a large crowd of spectators in place to watch, as two minutes later, our entire bumper fall off with an echoing clang when Becca slammed the side door.

There was a lot of snickering and pointing as Sam and I ran around to the front, picked up the muddy bumper and tossed it pell mell into the back of the car. Becca had the hysterical giggles again, and Britt looked, to use a worn out phrase, as if she wished the ground would open up and swallow her.  Mom gave us all a “I’m so sorry, God bless my poor girls” kind of look and drove away.  We heard the horn start up again before she had left the parking lot and it wailed into the distance.

Life had to go on however, so in spite of our burning cheeks, we each headed to our classes, cursing our poverty.  In all the chaos and disruption of the morning, I had completely forgotten, as I slid into my desk, that history was the first period of the day.  The tests were already being passed out, and I didn’t have a moment to explain why I was late, or even to catch my breath.  I started fishing in my bag, looking in vain for my lucky pencil, which I realized I had probably left by my bed, along with all my notes.

Resigned to the worst, I pulled out an old stub without any lead in it, and was about to ask if I could go and sharpen it when I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder.  Em was there, handing me a pencil and smiling encouragingly.  Her smile dimmed a bit as she saw me, and I realized I must have looked a sight, with my red nose and my purple egg, my clawed up hands and my clothes muddy from the ridiculous bumper.  I rolled my eyes, and whispered that I would explain later.  Our history teacher was looking disapprovingly in our direction.

The dreadful test was finally over, and even though I have no idea how I did, I was just relieved that it was done.  The next period was choir, perhaps my favorite class.  We have lately been working on learning Mozart’s requiem, and I was perversely happy when Mrs. Byrd asked us to turn to page 33- The Lachrymosa movement.

As Em began on the piano, the dark and doleful tones blended so perfectly with my mood that I started in a little too exuberantly. Mrs. Byrd stopped directing and looked straight at me.  Her voice gently said,

“A little less please, sopranos,” but her eyes exclaimed “Tone it Down, Natalie!”

I didn’t much care.  I was feeling better already.  If life was going to be such a vale of tears, I might as well be singing about it.

I even thought, a little rebelliously, that if I kept on singing loud, she might tell me to take a break with the singing and let me have a turn accompanying the choir for once.  She usually has various students on rotation to play, (mostly Em) but I have only ever had one shot at it, and I was so nervous, I failed miserably.  But I didn’t know how else I was ever going to improve in this area of my piano education, so I sang with all the gusto I had.  My neighbor to the right, quietly, but very noticeable slid her hand up and plugged her right left ear. Man it bugs me when she does that.

But at the next break in the music, instead of asking me to go to the piano, Mrs. Byrd asked instead if I would please sing the solo on the next page!  I wanted to say no, but didn’t know how.  Cheeks flaming and cursing my own foolishness, I prepared myself to sing alone in front of the whole class.  Thankfully, the bell rang with two measures to go and I smiled in relief.  Saved by the bell.  But no, she took me aside after class and told me she would like me to take all the solos throughout the piece, since my voice seemed strong enough.  I sighed resolutely, stomach churning at the prospect.

 

But thankfully it was now lunch time, and if there is anything that makes me feel better, it’s food.  When I got to the lunch room, I saw that the sun outside was actually making a break for it.  The room was flooded with the almost forgotten sight of sunshine and soon, I was not the only student sitting in my chair, eyes closed, sandwich forgotten, letting the golden light bathe my upturned face.

Our school is so small that everyone has lunch at the same hour, and it’s usually a pleasant time.  Em was sitting with me, and I had already regaled her with the tale of our woeful morning.  If she wanted to smile, she made no sign of it. although in the retelling, I could tell that it wouldn’t be long before I myself would be laughing.

I opened my eyes and noticed Adam sitting in the corner, by himself as usual.  He looked up, catching my sideways glance and I blushed infuriatingly when he smiled.  He looked almost as if he would like to get up and come and talk to me, but before he could make up his mind, all three of my sisters came and seated themselves around the small table.  I could tell that they wanted to commiserate about the mornings events, and although I understood, I couldn’t help being a little bit frustrated.

But before my sisters had even gotten past discussing the depressing breakfast of dry toast we had had, we were interrupted by the art teacher, Mr. Lowe who suddenly appeared next to our table.  It was most unusual for a teacher to venture into the confines of that room during lunch hour, and an unnatural hush descended.  We all looked up at him, perplexed, wondering if we were in some kind of trouble.

“Sorry to bother you,” he said in a perfectly friendly tone. “But I seem to have mislaid a stack of sketches that I was hoping to grade this afternoon.  I was just wondering if one of you might have seen them while cleaning my classroom last night.”

His voice was not loud, but in the sudden silence, it seemed to carry to every corner.  I saw Britt’s face redden and Becca squirm uncomfortably in her chair.  Involuntarily, I sneaked another glance in Adam’s direction.  He was watching the scene with an inscrutable expression on his face and I shifted my gaze quickly away in time to hear Sam tell Mr. Lowe, in a slightly shaky voice, that she hadn’t seen them.  The rest of us murmured the same.  He thanked us and unmercifully continued,

“All right, but if you happen to see them, could you let me know?  It’s possible they got thrown out, so keep an eye on the trash, will you?”  And then, thank heavens, he left, leaving behind him four rather devastated females.

We could sense the stares of the other students on the backs of our heads and I felt as if our secret was leaking out to every corner of the crowded room, filling up the silence until whispers and giggles took it’s place.

Em looked at us, pityingly.  But I could see that Sam growing angry, and she suddenly lifted up her head and looked around the room, as if defying anyone to laugh openly at us poor, destitute girls whose bumpers fell off in the rain, and who had to clean the school for tuition money.   Britt, scraping together all the dignity she could as befits the president of a school, calmly stood up, threw away her half eaten lunch and walked out of the room.

 

The rest of that day was as miserable as the beginning had been.  Everywhere I went, I caught people staring, whispering.  I told myself I was imagining things- that I was making too big of a deal out of the whole affair.  I tried to convince myself that I could care less what they thought of us, and as I had tried to convince Britt that first night we had discussed it- it was honest work, and nothing to be ashamed of.

But at the end of the day, I caught sight of my sisters in the hall and I could tell they had been having a rough time as well.  As I watched them each head to their lockers with a defeated slump to their shoulders, I felt like I could cry.  Then I heard a sneering voice, the voice of a particularly scrawny sophomore named Jake who always seemed to be compensating for his small size by being the biggest jerk he possibly could.  He was standing in front of Becca, one of the only people in the school smaller than he was and blocking her way as she tried to get past him.

From a distance I could see that he was holding a can of soda open in his hand, and as soon as he was sure all eyes were on him, he deliberately poured the entire thing out at her feet, until she was standing in a puddle of brown liquid.

“Whoops,” he said in mock dismay, “I should probably find someone to clean that up for me.  You couldn’t recommend anyone, could you Becca?” He laughed in her furious face for a moment, and then, dropping the can, turned to walk away.

I seemed to be frozen in place, too angry to move, but I heard a locker slam behind me, and I knew instinctively that it was one of my sisters.  I soon realized it was both as I saw them pushing past people in the crowded hall. The sight seemed to wake me up, and I joined in hot pursuit, unsure of what we were going to do when we reached him. The noise in the hallway seemed deafening, and I found myself desperately wishing that a teacher would intervene before Britt got a hold of the little punk, because I’ve seen what she can do when roused, and I knew it wouldn’t be pretty.

I’m sure Sam was thinking the same thing, since she seemed to be torn between comforting Becca and holding Britt back.  But before Britt could reach him, someone else stepped between them.  All of this takes time to write, but it really was only a few seconds and before my bewildered eyes could register what was happening, Adam Hale had taken Jake by the scruff of his scrawny little neck and gently but inexorably led him back to where Becca was standing with Sam’s arm around her.  Britt stood by, watching and waiting, but looking as ready as ever to pounce.

Adam looked calm enough, but I could see that his eyes were hard as he growled something in Jake’s ear.  Jake shook his head, squirming as if trying to escape.  By this time, everyone was crowding around, and most people were laughing, glad to see Jake getting his comeuppance, since he was the pest of the school.  Adam then shook him slightly, as if he were a big bulldog, teaching a little puppy a lesson. Another attempt at escape, followed by another and rougher shake, and finally Jake squeaked out an apology.

Becca looked as if she would like nothing better than to slap him, but she contented herself with a good long glare.  Then Adam turned the culprit around and marched him out of the hall, the suddenly silent crowd making a path for them.  No one knew what to do, or what Adam was going to do, and I found myself getting nervous again.  I thought of chasing after them, and telling Adam to let him go- that he wasn’t worth getting in trouble over, when the pair suddenly returned.  Adam still had Jake by the scruff of the neck, but he was no longer struggling and looked as limp and defeated as the wet mop he was dragging behind them.

People didn’t stick around much longer, especially when Adam asked in an impressively cold voice if anyone else had a problem with the Price girls. It was all so much like something you would see in the movies that we all stood by, a little shyly and uncertainly, watching Jake mop, and unsure of what to say.  We all felt that a thank you was in order, but Adam’s face seemed to forbid thanks, and to say that he was only doing what anyone else would have done.  But the thing of course was, that no one else had done it- only he had ignored the disapproval and the scorn of a school full of wealthy, privileged kids who had never had to earn a thing in their lives.

Once the cleanup was done, he allowed Jake to slink away with the mop, and then turned to the four of us, gave us a funny little salute, and left without another word.  After a few seconds, we suddenly heard the old church janitor, Mr. Paddock, suddenly raise his voice, demanding in strident tones “Just what do you think you are doing with my mop!”  We saw Jake scurrying up the stairs in a hurry, and we all grinned at each other.

 

That afternoon, after we had finished our own cleaning, we had a powwow in the sanctuary upstairs. We agreed we would never tell mom and dad what had happened that day, but we also agreed that we were done with hiding and secrets.  We didn’t have much of a choice now anyways, but we all felt it was time we manned up and owned the situation. It was a relief really, but the real joy lay in knowing that someone in the school had our backs.

“It’s almost like finally having a brother,” Becca said happily.  

The new face of fruitcake

It feels strange to me to be posting pictures of new cakes instead of new doll designs, but I’m rolling with it.  I decided to grab these last few afternoons in my own familiar kitchen to try some new cake ideas since I would like to start adding to my repertoire and figured now would be as good a  time as any.

As popular as my uber-fancy raspberry cake has been, I wanted to have something a little simpler to offer and perhaps a little more affordable.  And as much as I love chocolate, I also like a nice simple vanilla based cake.

As far as cake styles go, I am always drawn to fresh fruit.  I mean, it tastes fabulous, looks great, and instantly turns a cake from ho-hum into something that really stands out.  It’s also super easy to decorate with.  So without further ado, I present two new “fruit cakes” for my shop.

Number 1-  Strawberry Shortcake Cake

This is three layers of a super yummy and moist sour cream cake, filled with a whipped cream and fresh strawberry concoction and frosted with vanilla whipped cream frosting.

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Now fresh fruit really needs no embellishment, but a little chocolate drizzle on the strawberries never hurt anyone.

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And on to cake number two

Lemon Blackberry Buttercream cake-

I think next time I make this, I will incorporate a blackberry puree into the buttercream icing, just for a little extra color, but I didn’t have enough berries this time.

The interior is three layers of a fluffy lemon cake, slathered with lemon curd and fresh blackberries.  The frosting, a rich lemony butter cream garnished with more blackberries.

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So there you have it!  Leave a comment if you are interested.  Any of these cakes are really perfect for just about any occasion, so let me know.

A Domain of my Own

Hey folks!  Just a few little announcements here tonight.  The first being, I purchased my own domain name for my blog!   Basically all that means is that instead of being climbingvineclothing@wordpress.com, I am now just climbingvine.net.  I decided it was high time I got rid of the ‘clothing’ in my blog title since I haven’t been doing clothing since the very beginning of this blog.  It is also much easier to tell people I am at climbingvine.net, than that other, longer title.  But don’t worry, if you are still typing in the old address, it will redirect you to my new one.  I have updated a few of my pages, and hope maybe to do some design update as well.

I thought it was a good time for a change, since I think the content of my blog is about to change quite a bit as well.  We are hoping to move in about two weeks, which means my needle is already packed away.  I hope it will be out again and stitching with renewed vigor by the next holiday season, but all of that is a bit up in the air because of the house.  You remember the house? I may have mention it a time or two.   I am really hoping, if the Lord and money allows, to take my loyal readers through all of the many steps needed to complete this mammoth task before us.  I think it will be fun, but there is no telling how long it will take, so stay tuned.

In order to help fund this project, I have almost decided to take this cake making business to the next level.  I have sold so many of them in such a short period of time that I think it will really be a help.  I have had a few generous offers from friends for kitchens that I might be able to use since I will be without one for the foreseeable future, but I still have lots of little details on that to work out. I’ll try to keep people posted on that.

Of course, I am not sure what kind of internet access I am going to have at our property, so posting will probably be spotty, but I really hope not to let this old blog fall by the wayside.  I have so enjoyed writing it, and looking back over almost two years now, and seeing how far we have come constantly surprises me.  So thank you for being willing to read my stuff and for supporting me in all my little endeavors.  It has truly been an encouragement to me.

And prayers would be appreciated.  We are headed into uncharted waters here, which leaves me inexplicably excited and a little bit terrified.  Eek!

Be not afraid

Life has been hard lately.  And not just one hard providence, but one after another after another.  There are so many areas in my life that are broken right now that I find myself compartmentalizing them, unable to think of them all at once.  Today is a day to pray for this, tomorrow for that, and I will get around to worrying about the third and the fourth at some other time.

Today was the heaviest day of all.  Today we went to a funeral for a child- a dear little child, no older than some of my own sweet children.  And the death of a child- that trumps everything else.  All other concerns and worries and cares- you can’t help but put them aside and deal with this one all-consuming trouble now before you.

As we were driving home from this funeral, eyes still swollen, throat still aching, I was trying not to think of all the things that must happen in our own family soon.  Big decisions concerning my dad and his illness, and how to be a support to my mother and sisters in the difficult days ahead when we are so far away.  How to be a help to so many other friends whom we know are undergoing many other trials.  And then of course, our big move and the project looming on the horizon, a project that has drained so much time and so many resources for so long- a project that, for my own sanity, I just need finished, one way or the other.

I was trying not to think of all this, trying to pray for the family we had just seen mourning the loss of their son, trying to focus on being thankful for what we do have instead of dwelling on what we need.   And then our van died. There In the middle of busy Saturday traffic at one of the busiest intersections of the city, we were suddenly sitting ducks while angry drivers zoomed around us, or honked impatiently as we made them miss green light after green light.  And my husband and I sat and stared at each other, while five children clamored in the back seat, wanting to know what was wrong.

I’m not sure how long we sat there, trying to figure out what to do- it sure felt like an eternity.  But I do know that my first feeling was one of anger- anger that such a long and crappy week had to end in this humiliating way, with my husband taking off his suit jacket and tie and popping the hood to see if there was anything he could do while I tried not to notice all the other passing drivers rubber-necking our situation.

And  then I was worried and afraid.  After all, we need our car, especially since our other car died a few months ago and we have been trying to make do with just one.  We knew the van was on it’s last legs, but I often felt like that van had been our widow’s jar of oil that just kept coming every morning.  And now it had run out.

There was a little despair mixed in there too, a few questions asking myself why we bother to strive and struggle and overcome at all, when things were just bound to get worse. It was as if our van became the proverbial “dead engine” that broke the camel’s back.

But before I could make matters worse by sobbing in front of my children, my husband, and a whole bunch of unhelpful onlookers, an apparition appeared. It was a short man crossing the street and wearing a ten gallon hat and a large, silver, belt buckle worthy of the state of Texas.  He could see that the hubby was trying to figure out how we might push the van backwards and across the next lane into a small parking lot and was willing to help by offering to direct traffic for us.  The boys were immediately interested in this “Yosemite Sam”,  pointing out his long drooping mustache and wondering if he had a couple of six shooters in his belt. (he didn’t)  So as this man masterfully halted traffic (he seemed to be hugely enjoying this power) I slid over into the drivers seat and tried to man handle the steering wheel while daddy pushed.

My faith in humanity slightly restored, I was looking intently over my shoulder, trying to steer, but when I turned back around, there were now two people pushing, and new arrival wasn’t Mr. Texas.  It was actually someone we knew- a friend from church. As soon as we were off the road, Mr. Texas disappeared, but our friend remained- helping us get our car into a safe place and then spending the afternoon shuttling us around to car repair shops and even his own home.  Not only did we need a bathroom, but he saved us from sitting in front of the Tax store, having to watch that ridiculous person in a statue of liberty costume twirl his sign for two hours.  We made it home in the end with a temporary fix, but things are looking pretty bleak for our van, the old dear.

I have now had several hours to think over the day’s (and week’s) events and have come to this conclusion.

I talk big about believing in a sovereign and all powerful God, but my words and actions simply do not show it.  The way I worry and complain, the way I grieve with fear instead of hope, the way I get angry when things do not go my way, you would think my “big God” was smaller than even me.

But as the simple actions of one man turned our afternoon from one of despair to one of hope, so my worry also began to change to a realization that God is big enough to send help, even for a seemingly insignificant little broken down van. I began to see that I don’t like to ask God for help, because I feel sure he is busy with so many more important things.  I take it upon myself to fix my own life, perhaps thinking that I am saving God much time and trouble.  I live in fear of bothering him, since he must be trying to deal with the rest of creation that is groaning so loudly.

And then my anger at our circumstances began to take a proper turn- towards the only entity who could possibly want me to think that God has limits. Surely there is only one power that wants me to forget that God is the God of little things as well as the big. So I shook my fist at the prince of darkness grim, and reminded myself that not a hair falls from my head without the will of my father in heaven. Or as William Cowper magnificently said,

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue, the theme of God’s salvation and find it ever new.

Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say, let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing, but he will bear us through.  Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe his people too. 

Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed.  And he who feeds the ravens will give his children bread. 

Or in stronger language still, from the book of Isaiah-

I, even I, am he who comforts you.  Who are you that you are afraid of man who is made like grass, that you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.  Be not afraid, for I am thy God.  I will strengthen thee.

Who am I indeed that I am afraid, grieving, and tempted to despair.  I have forgotten the Lord my Maker, who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundations of the earth.  I have forgotten the Lord my Shepherd who clothes the lilies and feeds the ravens.  I have forgotten that he holds us and our children and the details of our lives in his hand, even down to the most stubbornly unfinished house or the most erring of old vehicles. And in the forgetting comes the fear.

So I ask for help- help to remember the simple command.  Be not afraid.  

And help to take a big God at his Word.

I am thy God- I will strengthen thee.