Tricks of the Trade


Chapter 4

Yesterday evening, my husband began the process of teaching me how to mud sheetrock in the one room of our house that now has walls. It’s one of those things that looks fairly easy when you’re watching it, but turns out to be a lot trickier once you slap that first sticky blade full of white goo on the wall and start spreading.
“Just imagine you’re frosting a cake,” I told myself as I tried awkwardly to smooth the gloopy substance over the screws I was covering. In fact, the whole process had reminded me of making a giant batch of vanilla buttercream while I watched Steve put the huge mixer blade on the end of his drill and start whipping the mud in the bucket to a smooth consistency. He must have drawn the same comparison in his mind since when he was done mixing, he said, half jokingly to Etienne who had volunteered to rinse the mixer blade in the hose,

“Just don’t go licking it.”

I like making these comparisons in my mind whenever I tackle something new that I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle. It boosts my confidence. I have often, for example, noticed the similarities between construction work and, say, sewing. It’s the same idea, you know- studying the pattern or design, measuring and cutting the pieces and putting them together. I mean, is there really such a big difference between a needle and thread or a hammer and nails?
I’ve often thought building houses would be a really fun hobby that I would be totally capable of if it weren’t for two things. First, of course, the expense would be a hindrance. But the second, an even greater deterrent- my pitiful lack of upper body strength. Few things have put a damper on my attempts to help my hubby on his various renovation projects through the years than my puny arms. They were already whimpering at me after only a few minutes of reaching overhead to mud the screws on the ceiling.

“But why do you have to help?” you might ask. “Isn’t your husband a contractor? Can’t he do the work without you?”

And I would reply yes to the last two questions. But since we never seem to be able to find a home that is not in rather desperate need of repair, I have simply preferred to learn how to help than to sit around waiting for him to get home from work at night.
I can’t seem to help myself anyway. I am rather an impatient person by nature and if there is a big job that needs doing in front of me, I’m gonna try to get it done as soon as possible. (Unfortunately, this ‘get it done’ attitude doesn’t usually impact my list of daily housework though. Not sure why.)
That is why this whole house saga has been such a trial for me. I do not like unfinished work. I’d rather someone do a quick, half-ass job and call it done than have it sitting there waiting for some future, potential perfection. And I’m happy to do the half-assing myself. The hubby and I do not share this outlook, if you haven’t noticed.
I remember when we moved to Memphis five years ago. We were going to live in an apartment complex for the first time in my life and I remember thinking,

“Hooray! Finally a place to live where we won’t have to renovate!”

Steve was the manager of this particular apartment complex and as such, he had tried to find us a nice, ground floor apartment. But when we arrived, it was to discover a few of his workers frantically cleaning and scrubbing an apartment that obviously hadn’t been lived in in a while. The smell when we walked in was, to put it mildly, off-putting.

“Did the carpet cleaners make it yet?” Steve asked his workers, trying not to wrinkle his nose.

“They’re on their way,” was the reply.

So we decided to go grocery shopping while we waited for the carpets to get cleaned and hopefully released from the clutches of that awful smell. We got home late and all was quiet and dark in our new apartment. We unlocked the door, laden with groceries, expecting the fresh smell of industrial strength shampoo, but all that machine had managed to do was dredge up the foul odors of who knows how many years past, leaving us standing in a cloud of eau de wet dog.

“Should we?” asked my hubby.

“We should,” I replied.

And after putting our groceries in the fridge and our children in their beds, we tore out the entire carpet and left it in a moldering heap on the front porch to be dealt with later. Then we went to bed ourselves, breathing a little easier.
The next morning Steve had to go to work, but before leaving, he told me he would bring some tools home that night to help scrape all the old carpet padding off the subfloor so we could begin replacing what we had removed. But I couldn’t stand just sitting there all day, staring at that big old mess and waiting for the necessary tools. So I found a good substitute in my trusty old kitchen spatula.

And when, during my scraping, I encountered hundreds of little staples that had been holding the carpet in place, I discovered that a butter knife worked fairly well in prying them up. Of course neither the spatula or that butter knife ever worked very well after that, but the floor was cleaned and ready to go by the time the hubby got home.

In addition to the now unnecessary tools he had brought home that evening, he had several boxes of a faux hard wood laminate that was to take the place of the stinky carpet. And when I protested that he wasn’t going to have time to lay it all, he taught me how to measure and cut the pieces to fit and then spread the adhesive.

It’s just like making a quilt,” I told myself, going so far as to pull out my clear plastic quilting ruler to make the job easier. Even Steve had to admit it was the perfect tool for the job.

And now, with this biggest of all renovations before us, I figured I might as well learn to mud and add it to my list. Of course, we hope to be able to have the funds necessary to hire out the majority of the sheet-rocking and mudding since it is such a mammoth task. But just in case, I figure it’s a good idea to start increasing my store of construction knowledge. And who knows, I might even learn to hang the sheet rock itself.
But I should probably do some push ups first.


Sunshine and Sheetrock

Chapter 3

It has been 2 1/2 weeks since we moved, and I can’t decide if it feels like it has been 2 1/2 days or 2 1/2 months. The days here have flown by astonishingly fast and yet it feels like a lifetime ago when we were living in our little house, planning for this great adventure.
It has made a huge difference, these last few days, not only to be free of thunderstorms, but also free from catastrophe (knock on wood). Of course, it’s raining again now, but I feel as if we are better prepared to face it and are adjusting to the fact that living in a trailer means that the weather is just going to be in our faces a whole lot more. I hadn’t anticipated that side of things.
And as doleful as these first few chapters have been, the reasons and hoped-for benefits in moving here have not diminished in my mind. If anything they have increased- most importantly the benefits for my children.
So whenever I am tempted to bemoan the loss of hot water or my appliances or my full-sized kitchen, I watch my boys and am more or less content. Take yesterday, for instance.

We were all up early, and the air in the trailer was unexpectedly cold. But the forecast was for another bright and sunny day. The boys grumbled a bit, stumbling out of their warm beds, out into the chilly morning and up to the big house to use the bathroom, but they were soon back again, more cheerful and ready for breakfast.

Breakfast was also a little disappointing- our two options lately being toast and jam, or some form of eggs. But every morning, their sighs for the good old days of hot blueberry muffins or cinnamon rolls have grown smaller, and they are growing resigned to what mommy calls the ‘reduced menu.’

Normally, school begins directly after breakfast up in the living room of the big house where we have made things as cozy as possible with a few chairs and a table for writing. There is also a working fireplace in this room which has been very welcome on these cold mornings. James has already learned to build a good fire in it, and takes pride in this responsibility each morning.

But yesterday, I let the boys have the day off from lessons because something very important was happening. I myself wouldn’t let myself believe it until our old friend Mr. W. showed up on his motorcycle (oh the boyish thrill) to help us get started on our first project- sheet-rocking an upstairs bedroom.

I didn’t want to bother the men as they worked, but I kept an ear open from the trailer as I did the dishes, waiting for the sounds of power tools to start. As soon as I heard some, I quickly made a fresh pot of coffee as an excuse to go up and see their progress, even though they had hardly had a chance to get started.

As I neared the top of the stairs, I peeked through the railing and folks, I don’t exaggerate when I say I got a little misty. For there it was, in all its dusty white glory- our first piece of sheet rock up on the wall. But don’t laugh- you might have cried too if you had waited eight years to see such a thing. They made rapid progress after that, and it was such fun to see the boys up there, mostly getting in the way, but helping a bit here and there. I have so wanted them to be able to be part of this whole process.

Something I have also wanted for them is the liberty to roam free, both in our yard and the neighborhood. Both of these things were an impossibility in our last house, so much so that we have never even owned bikes for the boys (except for one that was stolen almost immediately after we had bought it). My youngest three didn’t even know how to ride a bike, and their recurring request for bikes had been perpetually met with,
“When we move to the big house, honey.”

Once we finally decided to move, it was nearly Etienne’s eighth birthday so at long last, we bought him a bike. He begged and begged to be taught how to ride all that first week, but we were so busy with moving and all. Finally, he just got up on the thing and taught himself to ride in about five minutes. His brother Sebastien asked for a turn and took about ten minutes to figure it out.
But one bike between four boys was a problem, so I went to the thrift store the next day and found some nice bikes for a really good price. Of course, the one I found for Sebastien was as pink and girly as possible, but I talked him into riding it by promising we would spray paint it soon, and in the meantime, he could peel off all the Frozen stickers and other paraphernalia that were plastered all over it. No Anna and Elsa around here folks.
So I’ve also gotten misty a few times these last weeks, seeing the boys tearing off on their bikes, exploring the neighborhood, meeting new friends and enjoying the park down the road. I have wanted that for them for so long. And they need it far more than I need a hot shower in the morning.

By late afternoon yesterday, the upstairs room was sheet-rocked. It still needed to be mudded, but I went and had a quiet moment in there with my baby girl, soaking in the sight of white walls instead of two by fours- white walls that were stained pink by the setting sun. We don’t mind pink so much, my girlie and I. And oh folks, it was a much needed morale booster.
Of course, we are only sheet-rocking this one room for now, as a place to store all of our belongings, which are currently strewn about the house, preventing the start of our next big project- redoing the electrical that was torn out and stolen all those years ago. But it was a beginning.

As I went back outside with the baby on my hip, I heard the sound of power tools again, coming from the backyard. Perplexed, I went to investigate, and up went my morale again. There was my hubby, surrounded by his four sons, finally able to grant them another of their recurring requests that had been answered with,
“When we move to the big house.”

Together, they were building a fort.

James came running down the hill, all excitement, a piece of paper flapping in his hands that he eagerly explained were his blueprints for the project. Etienne gave me a huge grin from a distance, waving daddy’s drill in his hand while Sebastien stood next to him, looking gravely important as he handed down screws and dropped every other one, bless his heart.

And Christian, fully recovered from his trip to the ER, piped up from across the yard,

“Wook mom! Wook! We’re finawy bildin’ it!”

“Yes, son,” I replied, more to myself than him, “We finally are.”


















Chapter 2

I would love to be able to say that our first week in our new situation went unexpectedly well- that all my worries and fears had proved groundless and that I went to bed every night encouraged and hopeful. But the arrival of an unprecedented amount of rain quenched our enthusiasm before we had hardly begun our work. It was rain in the truly southern style- drenching downpours that turned the lovely spring landscape into sodden rivers and our yard into a bog of clay. We slogged along as best we could for the first half of the week, but with the sudden and dreadful loss of my sister’s baby on Wednesday, all thoughts of our house were put on hold and the rest of the week was spent with her, visiting with family, cooking, cleaning and simply commiserating.
Saturday was the funeral- a slightly sunnier day, although the graveyard was still swampy from the recent floods. We said goodbye to my mother, who had flown in for a whirlwind 24 hour trip and then stumbled home to the trailer late Saturday night where I dimly registered, as I fell asleep, that we had church in the morning.
I woke up in plenty of time to get ready- it was difficult not to as the rain had begun to pour down and the thunder to rumble yet again. Feeling miserable, I crawled out of bed and grabbed the key to the house, reaching for a flashlight and an umbrella. But the umbrella had disappeared. There was nothing for it but to run. It wasn’t cold outside, but the drops of rain seemed to be as big as chicken eggs, so that by the time I reached the porch, I was completely drenched. I shoved the door open and lifted my lantern high, heading through the darkness to the bathroom. Halfway there, I stepped in an unexpected puddle of water. I groaned. Despite the boarded up windows, the house was leaking somewhere. Making a mental note to tell Steve, I completed my task and taking a deep breath, headed back through the rain, slipping and sliding through the mud as I tried to run, the hem of my pajama pants soon sticky with orange clay.

We were all so exhausted from the week’s events that it was no easy job getting everyone out of bed. I threw some bread in the toaster and tried to piece together some nice clothes for the boys since they had gotten their Sunday outfits dirty at the burial the day before. The rain continued to pour so hard that our driveway had become a stream, flowing out to join the river that an hour before had been the road behind our house. Once we were all dressed and fed, Steve and I watched the flooding outside.
“Do you think they will cancel church this morning?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “Do you want to try and go?”
I hesitated, but then, imagining being stuck in the trailer all day and missing out on the fellowship I was craving, I said,
“Let’s go.”
We had managed to find our one wonky little umbrella- a child-sized Winnie the Pooh emblazoned thing that was completely bent out of shape, but it did little good. We were all pretty well soaked by the time we had crossed the few yards to the van.
Then, as we hastened to buckle carseats, Steve looked across at me and said,
“You remembered to lock up the house, right?”
My falling face was answer enough.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll do it,” he replied as he wrestled with the stubborn buckles on the baby’s chair.
But seeing as I was already drenched and we were running late, I hopped out of my seat and ran. There was little point in tiptoeing through the puddles now. The water simply poured over the sides of my shoes.
When I got back to the van, dripping and panting, hastily applied mascara running down my face, I couldn’t blame my husband for laughing at his bedraggled wife. The whole week had been so awful, and now this. I had to laugh too. It was either that or cry, and I had cried enough that week.
We managed to get to the freeway, slowly making it through the waterlogged streets, and we were almost to church when I heard the hubby moan,
“Oh no, not again!”
“What?” I gasped, wondering what else could possibly have gone wrong.
He simply pointed in front of him where I saw the needle from the temperature gage on the van bobbing up into the dangerously hot zone. My heart sank as he pulled into the nearest gas station, stopped, rolled up his sleeves and popped the hood. He soon ascertained what he thought might be the problem, rectified it by pouring a full jug of coolant into the system, and started off again, fingers crossed. But by the time we limped into the church parking lot five minutes later, we were back in the danger zone.

I’m still glad we chose to go to church that day, as embarrassing as it was to show up looking like a drowned rat in a vehicle that was smoking around the edges. And even though the week’s events caused me to cry through most of the service, comfort was close at hand in the form of understanding hugs, smiles, and offers of help from fellow brothers and sisters. We managed to get the van home by means of a tow truck although it took two trips in smaller cars to get us all back to the trailer.
The rain had stopped by mid afternoon, all our visiting family members had flown back home, and it was time to start back where we had left off. The first step was to try and do something about our yard. After a week of slipping and falling through the mud on the way to the bathroom, we went to work with a will, Sunday though it was, to fix the problem. If an ox falling in a ditch qualifies for help on the Sabbath, surely we do too. And I was determined to have something prepared before the next rainfall, which was due that night. Thankfully the solution was near at hand- a long sheet of plastic and an enormous pile of gravel in the backyard, leftover from building a retaining wall a few years ago.
Even the boys joined in, struggling along with unwieldy half-filled shovels until the job was done- a straggling gravel walkway leading from the trailer to the house, giving a much needed foothold for whenever the yard should choose to become a river again.
We finished just as the sun was going down, and after a quick bite of dinner, decided we would all just go to bed, exhausted from the labor and the residual grief of the past several days.

We have managed to fall into a somewhat normal bedtime routine- the boys all bunking down in the ‘living room’ while her highness, princess Caroline sleeps in her royal pavilion. ( a sheet tucked in around her portable crib).
Christian, however, has continued to find excuses to be with us at night. Sunday night was no different. As I crawled into bed after brushing my teeth, I heard a scuffling and bumping from the cupboard above my head. Slightly alarmed, I reached up and pulled open the small door to be greeted by an impish face half hidden in his security blanket. Trying to be severe and failing utterly, I hauled him out of the cupboard and sent him back to his bed, ignoring his many protests.

He went to sleep quietly enough, but unfortunately that was not the last we were to hear from him that night. At 1:37 the following morning, I was awakened by an awful, gasping, choking noise interrupted by the occasional strangled scream. Behind that, I could hear James talking in a soothing voice and whacking someone on the back. It took me a minute to realize it was Christian and that something wasn’t right. I shook Steve awake as I jumped up, but Christian had already stumbled to our bed.
Steve picked him up, trying to figure out what was wrong, trying to calm down the boy who was writhing in his arms, struggling for air and turning blue in the face. My first thought was that he had somehow swallowed something and was choking, Steve wondered if he were having an allergic reaction. But after a few panic-filled minutes of trying to ascertain the problem and having no success, we got dressed and headed for the hospital, Steve flying through the streets and I in the back, holding up my baby’s head so he could get some air.
The streets were of course empty, as well as the Emergency room when we arrived, all three of us breathless to varying degrees. Within minutes, they had him hooked up to a breathing machine, and within a few more, were able to tell us that he was suffering from nothing more than a sudden and very severe case of croup. This surprised us both, seeing as he had never had any problems with respiratory illness before, and the severity and suddenness of the attack had taken us completely unaware.
But it was a relief as well, having such an obvious answer and the means to fix the problem quickly. They said they wanted to keep him for observation for a few hours, so needless to say we were exhausted when we were finally discharged and went back home. Christian was all right, but I went to sleep with a sense of foreboding, hearing the rain begin outside again and wondering just what the next day would bring.

But when we woke up (a little later than usual) it was to a morning so glorious that it felt as if the sun were brand new. The sky was so blue and free of clouds, the air so clean, with the oppressive, stormy mugginess gone. And optimism, in spite of everything that had happened, rose up in my heart.
Things seemed so inexplicably hopeful that aside from being thankful my youngest boy was all right, there was joy to be found even in the mundane tasks ahead of me- making breakfast, teaching school, taking out old windows and restoring them, mowing a yard and then keeping my baby from eating the grass- even walking up the gravel walk we had made the day before that now kept the residual mud at bay.

It felt like an unmerited gift, this peace that had descended in the face of trouble- a gift from God, granted no doubt on behalf of the many prayers that I know have been going up for me and my family of late. Goodness knows, my own prayers lately have been full of little more than despair and hopelessness.
And I realized, in a way I never have before, just how important those prayers are going to be if we are going to see this thing through- that though I have been so worried about the needed labor and money, it will all be given in vain if my faith is weak and I allow depression to creep in, sapping my energy and determination and putting limitations on what I think God can and can’t do.

And so we have pushed on in the strength that I now know only God can give. Progress has been small but it has been there. And Lord willing, tomorrow, the first work party begins.
















In the dark

I suspected the week was going to be difficult when I saw the clouds rolling in on Sunday night. I checked the forecast to confirm those suspicions, and sure enough, angry pictures of clouds and lightning met my eyes- seven days of storming.

This isn’t unusual for the time of year in this part of the country, but living in a trailer, we quickly discovered, makes bad weather more of a trial. (Just imagine the sound of water pouring on a piece of aluminum foil or thunder rolling around inside a tin can) The trailer is also inclined to be slightly leaky, so we prepared for the week with buckets and towels and wished we had a good stock of rubber boots to deal with the mud pit I knew our yard was about to become.

But things weren’t so bad. Yes it rained copiously, but the boys were enjoying it, tromping around outside with umbrellas and squealing in half- terrified delight when the thunder boomed too closely. I started some projects inside the house- scraping and stripping old windows that needed restoring, and the hubby got the toilet connected so we no longer needed to lug in buckets of water every time we wanted to use it. (It’s the little things, folks) Even Christian was adjusting to all the changes.
And the forecast wasn’t as bleak as promised. We had occasional interludes of sun between the floods, allowing the yard some time to dry and us some time to scrape the sticky southern clay off our shoes.

But then came the middle of the week. As we were preparing for the day’s work on Wednesday, we received a phone call- one of those phone calls that we never thought would come. My younger sister, my sister who has been through so many painful trials in her young life, was in the hospital. She had lost her baby.
It probably wasn’t the wisest thing I have ever done, leaving all my kids behind with daddy and tearing off to the hospital, half-blinded by tears, ignoring stop signs and missing three turns in my haste to get there, but there was nothing else to be done.

The rest of the day was a sort of surreal, out-of-body experience- a nightmarish deja- vu as I watched my sister and her husband walk the same path we did, almost nine years ago to the day. All through those long hours I sat with my mouth closed, knowing the futility of words in such a case, knowing no platitudes or comforting cliches would do anything to disperse the dense fog of confusion and pain that had descended on them. If you know their story, you know how painful such a turn of events must be.

This has been an enormous blow to my whole family, since the news of her pregnancy had come to us as a ray of hope in a very dark time. And yesterday, I must admit, I was angry- angrier than I have ever been with God. The rain outside was flooding the world, the inside of my house so dark with it’s boarded up windows that we could hardly see. I was so weary of the darkness, I went to one of the windows and wrenched off the board that was covering it, desperate for some light. But the water poured in and I was soon wrestling the sodden board back in place. And so I sat with my children in the dark, bitterly resigned to the fact that sometimes God calls us to be just that- confused children, sitting in darkness.

But moments of despair like these can’t last forever. I was soon forced to shake off my lethargy and go to the airport to pick up the first in a line of people who are coming to share this burden of grief with them. My sisters, my mother, other family members, and of course the body of Christ, fulfilling with zeal their call to mourn with those who mourn.
For to everything there is a season, and now, once again, is the season of mourning. Our hoped for season of joy is put off yet again. Tomorrow we bury my nephew Zion next to my daughter Hosanna and wait for a better day. Please pray for us.

A Trailer Tale

Well folks, I know I have already started a book this year, and I’m not giving up on it just yet, but I find that there is another story that is being played out right in front of me in my daily life. I was thinking of keeping you all updated on the progress of our house by putting in a story form. If it proves too much to do, I’ll just stick to posting photos, but I think I’m gonna need this outlet, just to help me feel human through the next several months. So humor me, won’t you?


Yesterday my husband and I, along with our five children, moved out of our tiny house in the Projects. When we first moved into that house five years ago, we told ourselves optimistically that it was a temporary situation until such time as we would finally be in a position to finish the enormous fixer-upper (or money pit, whichever you prefer) that we had purchased years before, when the real estate market was booming and Steve had had a job with good prospects. I suppose that in the big scheme of things, five years might be called temporary, but in the daily grind, it had begun to feel like an eternity as our family of five stretched to six and then seven, and we were still in our small house, still in a terrible neighborhood, and still as far from finishing our big house as ever.

And so, one desperate day, we decided it was time to take a risk and make one last ditch attempt to complete the mammoth task that had been haunting us for so long. We packed up our belongings and moved back across town, almost eight years to the day after we had signed the fateful papers that made us the owners of a four-thousand-square-foot retreat for pigeons, rodents and stray cats.

Now you might think that it would be impossible to downsize seven people from a two bedroom, one bath situation. But once we had fit the bare minimum of our possessions into our new ‘temporary home’ (a trailer we had moved onto our property) we knew we had achieved the impossible. And after we had all five children bedded down for the night for the first time, my husband and I were able to agree with our good friend who had lent us the trailer in saying,

“Congratulations. You now live in a clown car.”

But this ‘clown car’ is sitting in the shadow of a house so large that it could hold a clown convention, if there even is such a thing. And that house is what we hope to make a home of. That house is what we hope will make living in a trailer and roughing it, pioneer style, worthwhile.

Chapter 1

It had taken us several weeks to make a slow transition from our small house to the property, sorting through all of our things, throwing away more junk than I thought possible for such a small space. There was even more junk to be tossed sitting in our big house, where we had been leaving most of our excess stuff for the past seven years. Sometimes, when people ask me about the house, I like to tell them that it is nothing more or less than the most expensive storage unit in the history of the world.
But after several trips to the dump and filling a burn barrel several times over with old, moldy, cardboard boxes (and mouse carcasses) and giving the place a thorough sweeping and shop vacuuming, we made the final move. We locked the door on our tiny house and began our new adventure by pulling into the backyard late on a Wednesday night.

The first thing I noticed as we clambered out of the van was just how dark it was. Not only that, but the stars were so bright that I could see Orion and the Big Dipper (the only two constellations I have ever been able to recognize). As I pointed them out to the boys, I wondered when I had last seen anything but the faintest star or two overhead.
The darkness and the clarity of the stars surprised me a bit, since the house is still well within city limits. But then I remembered our old house, how the building across the street had installed flood lights to keep night time loiterers and thieves away, and how each of those astonishingly harsh lights were pointed directly at our house each night, illuminating our rooms, obliterating the night sky and making midnight trips to the bathroom an eye-watering misery. The quiet darkness of our new yard seemed like a welcome silence after much excessive noise. But it also made it kinda difficult to see.
So I gave my oldest son James a key to the trailer and told him to run ahead and turn some lights on, while we unloaded a few more things. But instead of the beacon lights of our new home appearing, I saw a smaller one bobbing down the hill towards us and an excited voice calling through the darkness,

“Hey mom! Look what I found in the trailer! It’s a super cool lantern! Just follow me and I’ll show you the way!”

I laughed as I followed him, pointing out that we were really living like Laura Ingalls now. He replied that he would rather pretend to be Argus Filch, leading us to Hogwarts. But a more unlikely Hogwarts replica you will never find- the trailer consisting, as it does, of a kitchen/living/dining room space, a very small bathroom with no hot water and no functioning toilet and a ‘master’ bedroom, which is separated from the rest of the ‘house’ by a gray curtain and contains a decent sized bed with just enough space on either side to wedge yourself along and climb in. (Before long, we realized that it was far easier just to fling yourself.)

The real challenge of course, lay in getting all the kids down for bed at once. We soon discovered that if we took the removable kitchen table from off the wall to which it was attached, there was just enough room to fit Caroline’s pack ‘n play. Thankfully we had purchased the smallest portable crib on the market when she was born, so that it would fit into our old bedroom closet. I never imagined we would need to make it fit into a space smaller than that.
Next we found that the bench seat in the living room folded down to make an adequate bed for two moderate-sized bodies and we had brought a small mattress along from our old house, which just fit in the living room area, making bed space for two more boys. So there they all were, tucked in amongst all our unpacked bags and boxes, and ready, at least in theory, for bed.

And then a question came from the hubby, half-jokingly, half-serious-

“Sooo, what’s for dinner, babe?”

The poor guy hadn’t had a bite to eat since lunch, and here it was, ten o’clock in the evening. I had managed to stock some food in the tiny fridge the day before, but as for cooking anything, it appeared that one of the boys was using my box of pans for a pillow. And even if I had been able to make anything, the table had been replaced by a crib, and every available seat had been transformed into sleeping quarters of some kind. Also, the lights had to be off if any sleeping was feasibly to be done. So there was nothing for it but a box of wheat thins and a hunk of Cheddar cheese eaten in the cozy confines of our bedroom.

It was kind of romantic, in a way, and we had a nice chat planning out the next days events. But you didn’t really think that all those kids would just fall asleep like that, did you? We were soon joined by our fourth son, a precocious rascal of a child who has his father wrapped around every one of his fingers. He declared that he was owed a share of our humble meal and unabashedly demanded a handful of crackers. After daddy had generously filled both his hands and told him to avoid making crumbs in the bed (Did I roll my eyes then? Yes I did. ) he started in with his predictable stream of questions.

“So dad,” he began. What you must understand is that if dad is in the room, I might as well be invisible. “Are we weally wivving here now?”

“Yep. This is our new house,” daddy replied.

“Hmmmm. It’s a wot smaller den I thought it would be. How wong will we wiv here? Will we still be here for Chwistmas?”

“I don’t know buddy, we hope not, but we might be.”

“Aaaand what about birfdays?”

“Well, we will be here for some birthdays.”

“Whose birfday is next?”

“Mine!” I replied, and he turned to me as if finally finding me an object of interest.

“Oh! It will be yours? Are you gonna get wots of pwesents?”

“I’m not sure. That’s up to you guys you know.” And then, always curious to see what he will say in response to such questions,
“Are you going to get me something?”

“Yeeeess,” he returned, after some hesitation, “But what do you wike for pwesents?
Maybe you would wike…….some fish?”

“Ummm, well, (snorting back laughter at this ridiculous idea) I don’t really like fish very much.”

“Okay,” he continued, thinking hard, and then as if conferring on me the greatest of favors, “Well, I guess I will only get you one fish den.”

After thanking him graciously, I told him it was time to get back in bed, but his face fell so tragically at this proclamation that I had to laugh. He, however, did not think it was funny, and met my laugh with real tears.

“It’s okay C,” daddy consoled. “You don’t need to be afraid. We’ll be right here.”

“It’s not dat,” he wailed. “It’s dat I have to go to the bafroom!”

Now the trailer has a small toilet, as I said before, but seeing as it isn’t hooked up to the sewer, we won’t be using it. Thankfully, the vast majority of our children are boys, so daddy prepared him to use our default option (a nearby tree). But it soon became apparent that a tree would not suffice, and we would need to make the trek to the toilet.
Now using our other toilet is rather a production. It is located at the back of the big house, and the big house was locked up and in the middle of the night, a lightless void inside.
Christian is afraid of using that toilet, even in the daylight, so I encouraged him to be brave as we put our shoes on and picked up the lantern. This toilet is hooked up to the sewer, but it is not hooked up to the main water line, which means every time we use it, we have to refill the tank with a bucket. I told you we were roughing it. So I let Christian carry the lantern light, hoping it would bolster his mood, while with a bucket in hand daddy headed for the garden hose. Thankfully, I remembered to turn off the alarm before we went in, but even unlocking the creaking door made him whimper.

Bu in spite of all the encouragement we parents could lavish on him, the darkness and the spooky ‘bathroom’ proved too much for his four year old nerves, and after several minutes of his weeping and my cajoling, he ‘pwomised’ that he would never need to use the ‘bafroom’ again, and we were forced to give up.

We sighed as we headed back, re-locking the house and leaving the full bucket by the door in case we needed it again. But by the time we had reached the trailer, Christian had broken his recent promise. I sighed once again, and once again, daddy headed for the garden hose.

There next followed a cold midnight shower, during which I was amazed the entire neighborhood wasn’t awakened by the shrieks. But it was enough to wake the baby, who was also poopy. Half an hour later the small ones, thoroughly cleaned and snuffling back tears, were back in bed and finally drifting off to sleep.

I thought about crying myself for a moment, but I couldn’t summon the energy. And despite all the drama and all the adjustments I knew were ahead of us, I went to bed smiling instead. Deep down I was still glad that we were here- still excited that over the next few weeks, we might just start to see some progress, and overall, relieved that the spirit of adventure in me hadn’t died quite yet.

And I reminded myself, as I knew I would need to over and over again in the coming months, that God was big enough to handle the big things in life (overwhelmingly large house projects) and the little things (the emergency midnight bathroom sagas of a four year old child). Somewhere along the way, I fell asleep.

This is our story

Well folks, this might be my last post before I fall off the grid, so to speak, and blogging might start to get spotty. My little house in the projects is echoing bare and empty. I have enough eggs and milk in my fridge here for the morning and have started stocking up my little trailer fridge. (it didn’t take long to fill that thing up, let me tell you) I did a deep cleaning of my big house today in preparation for the fact that my baby will soon be crawling all over the floors. Well, at least as deep as I can clean with windows that are open to the elements and never ending piles of rubble in the corners that seem to produce never ending heaps of dust. And I’ve sorted the last box of stuff for long term storage.

These past few weeks have been exhausting both mentally and physically. There have been a few moments of sheer panic where I have felt like we are making the biggest mistake of our lives. And there have been moments of joy and excitement as we begin to dig in and get our hands dirty, all the while imagining what it might be like to finally be done with this project. But whether we succeed or fail in the attempt, I hope to be able to acknowledge (with a cheerful heart) that this too is part of the story of our lives that God is writing.

This story- this tale that God has made me a part of, is so drastically different from anything I ever could have imagined in those days when I used to plan out my future. My plans were modest, unambitious and mostly centered around my home town, marrying a boy from my home church, having my own children so that I could add to the number of extended family already surrounding me. On days where I was feeling particularly ambitious, I dreamed of doing something as crazy as opening my own bakery. But on most days, even that seemed like reaching too far.

My story has, of course, looked nothing like that. Within five years of high school graduation I had somehow or other spent a year abroad and consequently married a man who was definitely not from my home town. I had ended up in college three thousand miles from my family and earned a degree in vocal performance, which last I checked, had nothing to do with baking cookies. And then down the years- moving and moving and moving again- having babies and losing babies- having jobs and losing jobs- making what we thought were good decisions only to find out later they were the worst decisions we could have made- but also finding amazing grace emerge from the seemingly darkest times.

Throughout these many years, I have often felt as if I had not control whatsoever over our story- like a pawn in the hand of an Almighty (and sometimes careless) God. I remember when we were living in Memphis several years ago- in an apartment complex in a bad part of town- the only white family for miles, or so it seemed. It was a difficult time for me- adjusting, trying to sort out what it felt like to be a minority, trying to be friendly to strangers in a strange world but really wishing I could just hide until this part of my life were past. During that time, we had some friends from our new church over for dinner. I was embarrassed to have them, since our living conditions were less than ideal, and it was clear from the moment they walked in our door that they had never been to this part of town in their lives. After their initial exclamations of surprise were past, they began trying to figure out how we came to be there.

Were we missionaries? Did we have a ministry to these people? Was there an organization we were part of? Surely there was some greater overarching purpose to explain why we lived where we did. But no- the simple answer was tough circumstances- Steve’s job and the fact that we had been apart for six months had finally forced us to be where we were. We hadn’t planned it- it wasn’t in the script. We seemed to have had no other choice.

Now of course that isn’t exactly true. Steve could have quit his job- I could have continued to live with my parents, any number of smaller decisions on our part might have changed the outcome of that time. I know, for better or worse, that we are responsible for our actions and that we are not helpless puppets pulled about on strings whichever way God directs. But I gave up a long time ago trying to sort out where human accountability and God’s sovereignty meet. Even so, I still feel helpless a lot of the time- that no matter how hard I try, the outcome of whatever we are dealing with is probably not going to be what I imagine or plan. It might be worse- it might be a good deal better- but in the end, it will be His plan, not mine.

Keeping all that in mind however- God might the author, but he has given me the role of main character. As such, he has made me capable of responding in a way that pleases or displeases him. He is letting me contribute to the outcome of my own story by how I act as each new circumstance rolls towards us. And as little as I might know about the final ending, I do know what kind of a character I want to be in the current chapter. I don’t want to be the timid and fearful woman that I so often see in myself, wanting to give up even before the next challenge begins. I don’t want to be the woman who lays on her bed and cries in self pity because her life doesn’t look like that of her friends. I don’t want to be the woman who is ashamed of the place that God has placed her, hiding herself from the world and those who might reach out to help.

That is who I don’t want to be. But who do I want to be? I’m not always sure what kind of character I am- my varying traits seem to change from day to day. But it is always safe to look to Jesus. Jesus who was poor and did not have a home to lay his head (we’re in good company!) But even more- Jesus, who lived his life in constant communion with the Father, asking for daily bread and not worrying about tomorrow. Jesus, who gave freely of everything he had, although he had so little. And Jesus, who died for us that we might learn to die to ourselves and live for him, no matter what the next chapter might bring.

Best Laid Plans

So this is just a quick update on our status, for all those who have been wondering if we are moved or not etc.  Short answer-we have not quite made the final move yet, and I’m reticent to say exactly when that is going to be since every day has thrown a wrench (or seven) into the works, gumming things up and generally slowing us down.  As I wrote last time, we finally got the trailer onto the property, but it turns out the trailer needed a few things done.  Nothing we can’t fix of course, but throw in a very capable hubby who is very capably working on many other houses, and things slow down even further.

It’s been a little bit comic, really.  The first thing that had to be done was to get some water hooked up to the house.  It’s amazing what you can’t do without water- something I discovered working over there for two days without it.  Let me tell you- a pack of baby wipes will only go so far.

The hubby finally got someone to turn it on, but of course, with all the cold weather we have had, one of the main pipes had burst under the house, and water was flowing where it should not have been flowing.  So we had to get that fixed.  Once it was fixed, we were able to function a little bit better (ie, a working toilet.) But there was already psychological damage done due to the lack of it on those days we had been there.  My four year old, who has always been rather particular about where he does his business, had a few traumatic incidents in our yard.  Again I say, a pack of baby wipes will only go so far.  But then, when we finally had the toilet functioning, he was terrified to use it because “dere was webs everywhere.”  We are working on knocking down the webs, folks, but he still refuses to use it, and had reverted back to where we were when we started potty training 18 months ago.  These are unforeseen hurdles.

Then there was the trailer, that needed some good cleaning and also a hole in the floor that needed fixing.  The electrical was a lot more work than I imagined to hook up, and once we finally got it hooked up, the refrigerator refused to work.  I am prepared, in theory at least, to live without a water heater, but I just feel like a fridge is one of those necessities. Perhaps I am being a wimp.  After all, Ma Ingalls lived without one.  But she had a cow to keep fresh milk in.

Then there have been all the normal moving hiccups- the inevitable realization that we have way more stuff than I thought.  Doing some serious purging- cleaning out all the stuff that has been in storage for years, (and finding several rodent carcasses amongst our treasures), fighting my boys tooth and nail for every moldy old toy that I wanted to send to the burn barrel and trying to keep the baby from filling her belly with foam insulation.  (thankfully my sister solved that problem by taking her off my hands for several days).

Then there is the emotional struggle that seems to make focusing impossible.  I really can’t wait to be finally moved over there, because this living in limbo between two houses is making me crazy.  But there is a sub-conscious part of me that is trying to hold onto the ‘comforts’ of our tiny house- my full sized fridge, freezer and stove, all my other appliances, my shower, and of course the internet, to distract me from what I should be doing. It doesn’t help that this is an abnormally busy season anyways.

“What did you say?  Did you say Easter was this week? But doesn’t that include holy week services and extra music and egg hunts and feasts? Shouldn’t we all have some nice new Easter clothes to wear? Shouldn’t I be making some fancy lemon desserts and roasting a lamb or something?   And wait, did you say it was my second born’s birthday today? But I didn’t even remember to wish him a happy day until lunch time, let alone have a gift ready for him.  And this weather.  Is it going to be cold or hot?  It’s dropping forty degrees tonight? But I already packed all the coats and sweaters, darn it.  And where on earth are the summer clothes?  My kid is wearing a black turtleneck and snow pants and its 80 degrees outside.”

So all in all, I think for sanity’s sake, we are going to stick to our little house through Easter Sunday.  I’d like to say for sure that we will be moved by Monday, but who am I kidding.  Tornado season is upon us, and you better believe I have my eye on the weather channel.  Because from what I have heard, tornadoes and trailers don’t mix.

At any rate, thanks for keeping up with our crazy adventure.  I hope to be able to post something more exciting soon, like progress on the actual house.  And thanks again for the donations that have continued to come in.  Every little bit helps, and there are a lot of little bits that need doing.  So thank you, thank you, thank you.