When push comes to shove

Dear people,

I’m sitting here in my quiet living room, with the sunshine streaming through my sparkling new windows, taking a breather after a seriously intense couple of weeks.  I’m exhausted but I’m also deeply joyful, grateful, satisfied.  

I know in theory that God’s timing is always perfect but I’ve never quite felt the truth of that fact so strongly.  This fall has been busy.  I always think that we are busy but things kicked up yet another notch in October and we were busier still. And through all the busyness loomed the nagging reminder that this house of ours that has come so far was still not ready to handle winter.  But the weather kept lulling us into a false sense of security- it was just.so.warm.  We were comfortable, the sun was shining, the temperature hovering around 80 degrees.  

But then the first cold struck and it was time to do a little panicking.  At least, I did.  We had the heating systems in place but still, due to all the myriad little things that always seem to accompany final inspections, we had not been granted permission to actually turn on the gas.  We prayed, we worked, we worked a little more, we prayed and finally all systems were a go.  The heat began to blow.  That night, the temperature dropped to thirty degrees. I breathed a sigh of relief- but just a little one.

We had heat now, but not much to actually keep it in the house.  Plywood and plastic can only do so much.  We had managed to install most of the windows in the two bedrooms upstairs, so we were comfortable up there but the downstairs was just so cold.  So every evening after work, the hubby and I bundled up and headed down to work.  Not only were we in a race to beat the bitter cold, but we had also made the slightly risky decision to host our first Thanksgiving here this year.  It was now or never.

I am continually amazed at the human psyche- how it can go from thinking a project impossibly big and never ending to a weary resignation that the task must be done to a grim determination that ‘as God as my witness’ (and helper) we will get this job done and in record time. And so we did.  The process went something like this-

-Pull one of the empty, half painted window frames into the workroom and put it on the table.

-scrape any paint residue off the interior and prime the wood with clear primer. Let it dry.

-apply the first coat of glazing. (For those who don’t know, glazing is kind of like clay- pressed into the inner edges of a window frame, helping to insulate and hold the pane of glass in place) 

-cut glass to size (after hunting around town for salvaged windows, prying the glass from the old frames and cleaning it) 

-carefully tape all panes to 1/16th of an inch from the edge for easier painting later. (Each window had an average of eight panes)

-install glass and staple it in place, praying that it won’t crack and need to be replaced. (This happened with about one out of every eight panes)

– apply second coat of glazing, scraping and smoothing it as straight as possible with the special technique your hubby tries to teach you.  This step usually took about two hours.

-scrape and remove any excess glazing from both sides of the window.

– allow to dry at least three days and then sand it.

-prime and paint again.

– carefully remove tape and clean the entire window.

– finally install.

-repeat 28 times

With three days left before Thanksgiving, we really went into overdrive, working late into the nights, getting up early, trying to clean and prepare for guests and getting what cooking done that we could. Wednesday night, while the turkey brined and as I prepped stuffing and sweet potatoes, the hubby and his brother installed the final window for the front of the house.  It was an amazing feeling folks. And the next morning, coming down into the blindingly bright rooms below, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness.  Happy Thanksgiving indeed.  

Now I wish I could say that this is the end of the window saga. The windows we completed were only the original ones we had refurbished from the front of the house.  There are still some to be made from scratch for the back of the house. But the biggest hurdle has been jumped and those remaining ten will come and now I will know how to help when they are ready. For now, they are insulated against the cold and we are toasty warm, incredibly tired but looking forward to a joyous Christmas season in our increasingly beautiful home.  

When I think back to where we were last year, I can hardly believe that things have come this far and I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart for the faithful love, prayers and support you have extended during this time.  We can’t say it enough. God bless.  Now here’s a photo dump for ya.






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A tale of two cakes

Once upon a time, this was a cooking blog.  So here is a story about my most recent cake.

I have been toying around with the idea of getting some kind of a cake making business off the ground for a while now.  I have also been debating whether or not to pick up needle and thread again.  Its usually a tug of war, depending on my mood- cakes or dolls or maybe something new? But most days I just vaguely wonder how I ever had the time to run a small business on the side of everything else that is going on in my life.  And keeping up a blog? How does one do that?

At any rate, my attempts at cake making have pretty much boiled down to me experimenting with various recipes and methods and seeing if anyone out there wants one.  I have sold a few but not enough to make it worth my time at this point.

This past Saturday was one of my son’s birthdays and we were also invited to a dinner party that same night with some old friends.  My son was busy scouring pinterest for birthday cake ideas and I was also asked to bring a cake to the dinner party so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone- make a kid friendly cake and a fancy one that I could take pics of and see if I could drum up some interest.

The son decided on a ‘build your own’ Minecraft cake which I figured would be easy enough- minimal decorating and maximum visual impact.  Then I thought that since I would need to make a chocolate cake for that one (to represent dirt) I might as well make two and decorate the second with something other than grass green frosting.  blech.

Visions of chocolate ganache icing and truffle filled raspberries were dancing in my head as I made my way to the grocery store but when I arrived, there was not a raspberry to be found in the store.  Sightly disappointed, I glanced at the strawberries but they were few and very lack luster- more white than red.  What I did see surrounding me (and no wonder- it is officially fall now, even if it doesn’t feel like it) were pumpkins, nuts and spices.  I decided to change tack completely and come up with some Autumnal spicy, nutty delight.

But first I had to finish shopping for the Minecraft, which including visiting the jello aisle (red jello for lava and blue for water) and the cereal aisle (rice krispie treats for sand or some unknown mineral that my boys get excited about).  A big bag of marshmallows topped my cart and a traditional giant bottle of root beer rolled around in the bottom.  My teeth were already aching.  But the fancy spice cake was going to erase the sins of the plebeian jello/marshmallow/green, store-bought icing abomination.

It was fairly late on Friday afternoon before I got started and not a great time to start either.  The thermostat was holding steady at 94 degrees outside and my kitchen wasn’t far behind.  Undaunted, I soon had the chocolate cake beating, the water for jello boiling, marshmallows melting on the stove and was prepping the ingredients for spice cake when things started to unravel.

First, the baby woke up.  I heard her little toddling feet coming down the stairs and they were to me as the footsteps of doom.  I looked quickly around and got panicky.  The flour bin was wide open on the floor, a chocolate covered rubber spatula was well within reach. Two bowls filled with sticky red and blue food product were full to the brim and a short distance away from the bar stools that she is past mistress of climbing.

I lost focus as I began covering things up, shoving things out of the way and generally trying to cover my tracks.  I got her a drink of milk to try and distract her from investigating what mommy was up to and in the meantime, the whipped cream frosting that had been beating in the mixer got away from me.  A grainy, lumpy mass of coagulated dairy was the result.  No amount of straining, adding of more ingredients or googling for answers was able to save me from tossing half a pound of butter and a pint of heavy cream.

Whilst googling, it finally dawned on me that several of my children were asking if I was making s’mores for dessert.  I soon discovered that burning marshmallows for rice krispie treats smells pretty much the same as the traditional campfire delight, but they really don’t taste the same.

And so it went.  It was dinner time now and all baking had to be put on hiatus.  The hubby called from the store to see if I needed anything.  I asked him to buy more butter for a fresh batch of frosting.

By the time I had dinner done and kids fed, the dishes had reached alarming heights in the sink and I had used all my mixing bowls.  Half an hour later, dishes were done.  I wiped my brow and continued on.  I managed to get spice cakes in the oven, a fresh batch of marshmallows melted and stirred into the rice cereal and new frosting started.  This time I was going back to an old favorite recipe that I knew I couldn’t flub- a swiss meringue butter cream.  The butter was softening, the eggs were separated but alas, I was completely out of sugar.  I hadn’t even noticed how much sugar I had been going through.  There was nothing but a bit of brown sugar left so with a sigh of frustration, I threw it in and hoped for the best.

Once the egg whites were cooked, I began to whip them up.  And I whipped and I whipped and they just wouldn’t stiffen.  It was only then that I remembered how much meringue and humidity don’t like each other. And boy howdy was my kitchen humid. The steam coming from my ears at this point wasn’t helping much. So much butter was at stake!.  So I stubbornly cracked the whip over that poor kitchen aid for several minutes more until Oh Joy! the frosting started coming together.  The butter worked its magic, I guess, or maybe it was an inspired sprinkling of nutmeg towards the end that convinced those weary egg whites that life might be worth striving for after all.

The result was a glossy smooth, buttery pile of deliciousness that tasted all the better for the substituted brown sugar.  Who knew?!  By ten o clock I had all the cakes and various components of the birthday party sitting on the counter, kind of ready for the next day.

The next morning, everything had to be finished.  Wobbly jello, sticky rice krispies, and a super crumbly chocolate cake had to be cut into blocks for building. Grass frosting had to be applied where necessary.  I was on a stool, having just remembered to tack up a last second happy birthday banner when the birthday boy himself finally appeared.   There was a bag of balloons sitting on the table, unblown, which he noticed.  Thinking hard, I told him in as excited of a voice as I could muster that I was going to let him blow up his own birthday balloons this year.  He bought it.  He and his brothers spent the rest of the morning blowing up balloons and letting them go, laughing hysterically over the kind of gross noises they made while I got the rest of the party ready.

The rest of the day went fairly well.  Friends and cousins arrived, the cake was a big hit and I think everyone had a good time.  By the time the last guest had disappeared, I had about an hour to get the other cake ready.  I had wanted to garnish it with candied pecans but now wondered if it were worth the trouble.  But I had come this far and apparently I am a glutton for punishment.  I got out the pecans and the pan and had poured them all in. But perhaps you might remember, as I clearly had not, that I was still out of sugar.

A quick rummage in the pantry revealed a stash of some kind of unrefined ‘healthy’ sugar that the hubby had purchased at Whole Foods a while back.  I figured it would have to do. It melted immediately but would.not.stick to the pecans.   I gave up and stuck them to the cake with at least the essence of sweetness still clinging to their sides.  But I still felt that it needed something. Then, in a moment of inspiration, I remembered a batch of homemade toffee sauce that I had sitting in the fridge.

Toffee sauce is one of my favorite things in the world, consisting as it does of nothing but brown sugar, butter and whipping cream all melted together and I knew that it would taste fabulous with the spice cake. So I decided to top off my creation with a generous amount.  But since it is a good deal runnier than most glazes, I decided to make a crater in my icing and just pool it all there, surrounded by my wanna be-candied pecans.   Then, with minutes to spare, I had to drag all my kids out of their sugar comas from their first cake encounter of the day, scrub them up and herd them into the car.

At last we were off, the hubby driving and me with my long suffering cake in my lap.  But the hubby had forgotten to mention that our friends had moved.  The drive would not be a quick hop onto the freeway as I thought but a forty minute trek into the country.  Not only that, but it was on top of one of the nearby mountains and in order to reach it, we had to follow one of the curviest, hairpin-bendiest roads we have ever encountered.  And this cake was heavy and Nicky-the-ingenious-cake-baker had decided to top it off with a large pool of very runny butter sauce.   It was an adventure in physics as I battled the acceleration of the car and the turns in the road by tilting and turning that cake so that I wouldn’t end up with a lap full of gooey.

But we made it at last.  And the dinner was delicious.  But I won’t lie to you.  By the time dessert came, I was feeling pretty nervous. I was sure that something else would be wrong with that cake. But as I ran my knife down through the several layers and pulled out the first slice, all slathered with swiss meringue and dripping with toffee sauce, I knew we were going to be okay.

It was a good cake. A really good cake. An almost-worth-all-that-angst-and-labor kind of cake.   There was a sizable piece of it left at the end of the evening so I left half of it with our gracious hosts and wrapped the last remaining slice carefully

in plastic wrap and put it in the car.

It was promptly stepped on by a wayward child.  You could almost read the word ‘Crocs’ imprinted in the buttercream.

But you know what? The hubby and I ate it anyway.  For breakfast this morning. It was still good.

 

Oh, my beloved Papa

About a month ago, if you remember, I went out west to visit my folks (who, by the way, have been married for forty years today!) and I went to check on my dad who is battling Alzheimers. I have been contemplating writing a blog post about that trip ever since I got back but it’s mostly a painful topic to write about and of course a rather personal one so I have put it off. But seeing as today is father’s day, I’d like to say a little something in his honor.
I went on that trip with dread in my heart, fearing that when I got there, we would have reached the point when he would no longer know me- that I would have to try to explain to my own father who I was. But as I walked cautiously into the house, it was instantly clear that he recognized me and there was even surprise and excitement on his face as he tried to figure out what was going on. He couldn’t quite remember my name, nor that a hug might be an appropriate form of greeting, but I took care of that for him.
It was a short visit- and an emotional one. He may have recognized me, but there was so much ground that he had lost since the last time I saw him. I had been warned, of course, but I wasn’t quite prepared to see my daddy unable to speak, unable to dress himself, to follow a game of baseball. I hated seeing him struggle to feed himself or even stumble over basic tasks like sitting himself down in a chair. And then once in that chair, it was painful to watch him sit hour upon hour with his hands on his knees, gazing into nothingness. Occasionally he would wake up to share a thought, but then, being unable to express himself clearly, would lapse into silence again. I knew he was sick, I had watched him declining from afar, but the last year and a half had taken a lot from him.
And yet, in spite of all the changes, dad was still dad. When I got there, the first thing I noticed was his ridiculously sun-tanned face- so brown and bronzed as to be almost orange. Dad the California boy has always been addicted to the sun, and clearly he hadn’t forgotten his love of sitting out in it, although perhaps he had forgotten a little bit how to go inside occassionally.
He also still loves a party and apparently my arrival meant a party, or at least a change from the normal. Everyone kept commenting on how perky and engaged he seemed to be all of a sudden, which made me a little sad since to me he seemed so distant and changed. But the last night I was there, his real old party spirit emerged. All of his children who could be there were there, mom pulled out all his old favorite music and he lit up from the inside out. There is a childlike, uninhibited quality to dad now which is actually quite endearing, once you can get past the fact that it is you father who is slowly reverting to infancy. He just stood there in the middle of the room managing to remember, at least in part, the lyrics to all his old faves- Stevie Wonder, Edgar Winter, Chicago- he was in a dancing mood that night too, trying to find the rhythm he used to have and even attempting to waltz me around the room a couple of times, laughing like a school boy. It made for some pretty awkward dancing, but also some pretty sweet memories.

And dad is still funny. That whole last night, he kept trying to remember funny stories and anecdotes and was even sharp enough for us to play a guessing game with him. Something would trigger a memory and he would ask,
“Do you remember?” and then were off with the twenty questions, trying to figure the memory out for him. More often than not, we would fail, but he has gotten to the point where he is less and less frustrated by his inability to communicate. He knew that the memory was funny, whether we pinpointed it or not, and he would laugh anyway. Dad really was a funny man and as I’ve been thinking about him this week, I did some of my own remembering. This is a story from my college days that no doubt was prompted by the endless remodeling projects in my life.
I think it was after my freshman year. I was twenty years old and had come home for the summer, bringing my boyfriend with me to stay all three months- that Frenchman that my family still didn’t know too well but who was hinting around at maybe marrying me some day. But that’s another story.
My mom and dad had recently decided to renovate the upstairs bathroom and I mean a complete overhaul. I can’t remember all the details- I’m pretty sure my uncle started the job and my brother in law was helping as well, but Steve (perhaps wanting to impress his girlfriend’s parents, who can say?) offered to jump in and do a lot of the work- for free. My parents agreed, and so the work progressed after a fashion. But predictably, it didn’t progress quite as quickly as they might have hoped.

Ahem

The whole situation made me rather nervous because I felt like an important part of my life might be hanging in the balance over this bathroom remodel. I felt like it needed to be a success, if you know what I mean.

There were other things going on that summer, of course. Both Steve and I were music majors, as well as another hometown friend and I can’t remember exactly why- no doubt prompted by the noble desire to share with our loved ones all the amazing things we had learned that year in college, but we three decided to give a big recital at our home church.
It was a mixed bag as far as recitals go- a violin sonata here, an organ fugue there and as for me, I pulled out the big guns. I sang some Puccinni. I was new to being a soprano- all my life I had only sung alto, or even tenor, so I kinda wanted to surprise my friends and relations with my new found upper range. But I wasn’t too cocky yet so I chose O Mio Babbino Caro, which sounds impressive but really only soars to an A flat. High Cs were (and still are) quite out of my league.
We printed out a nice program and I included a translation for my various songs and arias that weren’t in English, including O Mio Babinno. I chose the song for the aforementioned reason and because it is popular and beautiful. I didn’t really pay attention to the text at all, but this overly dramatic Italian song goes something like this-

Oh my beloved papa,
I love him! I love him!
I want to go to Porta Rossa
To buy my wedding ring.

Oh yes, I truly love him
and if you still say no,
I’ll go to the Ponte Vecchio
and throw myself into the river Arno!

I am anguished and tormented
So much so I want to die.
Papa please!
Papa have pity!

I don’t really remember how well the recital went- that was a long time ago, but I do remember after the concert, dad had gotten me some flowers and gave me a big hug. I could tell he had gotten a little teary-eyed during the event (no unusal occurence, daddy always was a big softie) but behind the tears he also had an amused twinkle in his eye as he handed me his crumpled program and walked away.

Under the words to Puccinni he had written,

Good grief honey. Enough, already. No need to jump in any rivers- I guess you can marry him. But can he at least finish my bathroom first?”

That was my dad then. And that is who he still is now, underneath all the sickness and forgetfulness, frustration and confusion. He is an unforgettable personality that might be fading a little now, but will carry right on over into eternity and there be renewed. Perfectly happy, perfectly funny, perfectly a joy to be around.

I can’t wait for that day.

Progress and patience

There is a scene in one of my favorite Narnia books that goes something like this-

“Quick! Quick!” shouted Aravis. “We might as well not have come at all if we don’t reach the city in time! Gallop, Bree, gallop!”

It was all Shasta could do to prevent himself from shouting out similar instructions, but he thought, “The poor chap’s doing all he can already,” and held his tongue. And certainly both horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could, which is not quite the same thing.

But at that moment everyone’s feelings were completely altered by a sound from behind. Shasta knew it at once. It was the same snarling roar he had heard that night by the river- the roar of a lion. Bree knew it too. And now the horses discovered that they had not really been going as fast- not quite as fast- as they could.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, we’ve been feeling a little bit like those horses lately. Of course, we have had nothing so terrible as a lion on our heels, but let’s just say, a few months ago I thought we had a lot on our plates and now I feel like they were only half full. I thought we were stretched to our limit this past winter, but I’m starting to feel like Elastigirl from the Incredibles and hoping I can return to my normal shape some day. Just when I thought we couldn’t go any faster, we needed a fresh burst of speed.

There were many months, you know, where I sat in the trailer and just looked at the house, wishing there were something I could do to forward the work. Now, there is so much work to be done, painting, sanding, slowly and painstakingly making the downstairs habitable, that by the end of the day, I hardly have the energy to fall into bed.  

The hubby’s brother was here for another month long visit, to help push the business along, and let me tell you, starting a business from scratch is not for the faint of heart. It.is.hard.

They were both so busy, I felt almost like a single mom for the time, but I was so busy, I hardly noticed.  

The biggest project we tackled during the last month, on top of all their business craziness, was refinishing our floors downstairs. Having had some success with the sanding and floor painting technique upstairs, we wanted to see what we could do down below. It is the cheapest solution out there, but in order to make a sub floor work as your actual floor, you have a little bit of labor to put into it to make it look half way decent.  

The problem with our floors is that some of them are original hardwood (in very bad condition) and some are just sheets of plywood screwed down. We debated for a while what to do. Carpet was out of the budget and some kind of cheap linoleum went against our inclination, but floor paint would not hold up so well in such a highly trafficked area as we knew the living room and kitchen are going to be.   We tried staining the plywood, but it failed to cover the myriad of old paint splotches and other messes that nine years of construction had left behind, so we sanded off as much of all that as we could (oy, my knees are still sore) and decided to see what a brown floor paint would look like.  


We painted the old hardwood first, after much patching of cracked boards and gaping holes. The first color we chose was a kind of reddish brown, but we thought it had too much of a purple hue to it. 


so we tried a darker one next- it was called ‘black bean’ (which still makes me laugh.We liked it better, but the floors ended up looking kinda plasticky so my brother in law suggested we ‘distress’ them a little bit. (of course, he described his technique in French, so it sounded much more artsy and interesting). 


All he did was take the sander and run it lightly over the top of the ‘black bean’, to make it look a little more authentic, or something of that nature.  Anyways, the result was that the reddish brown of the first coat underneath peaked through a little and we really liked the effect. So we finished up the hardwood and headed to the plywood to do the same thing, hoping the two floorings would sort of look matching by the end.  


But man, there was a lot to do to the plywood first. Wood filler and a putty knife became my best friend as we filled in all the myriad seams and nail holes and cracks and tried to level out discrepancies with a belt sander between the different boards that had shifted over time. Then all that wood filler had to be sanded smooth again before we could finally put a coat of paint on. Then, once the paint had dried, it had to be ‘distressed’ as well. 


We liked the result, but had discovered the great drawback to floor paint. It shows absolutely every footprint and smudge of dirt and scratches ridiculously easily. I was trying not to panic, imagining how much of my future life would be spent scrubbing my floors and hiding scratches when the hubby just suggested we slap a little polyurethane on it.Eureka! It worked! Although the super fast drying poly we bought turned out to take much longer to dry than the can claimed, so we had to construct an interesting network of planks around certain areas for a while, so as to be able to access the toilet and avoid stepping on the floor. 

After the polyurethane had cured for several days, we were finally able to install what I have been longing for for many years- a second toilet and a sink with actual running water! Of course, it’s only the half-bath that is functional, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

As for a bathroom with an actual bath, I’m trying my best to be patient. There was a good weekend that we set aside to start working on it in earnest, but both the hubby’s work cars died on that day and so the days had to be given to fixing those vehicles instead. The old van is still dead. You could pray about that. The hubby really needs a truck. 

And then, as many of you have asked about, there’s my kitchen. We haven’t been able to install a sink there yet, since we have been working towards replacing some expensive plumbing parts that were stolen a while back from under our house. But we were finally able to reorder them today. I have a fridge and a stove, waiting to be delivered, but without a sink, there isn’t much point in cooking up there yet. So the trailer still continues to serve as our life line for food and (tiny) showers.  

We have also been busy collecting furniture from people. Folks told me that when the time came, we would have no problem filling up this giant space with stuff, but I admit, I doubted them. I was a fool. So.much.furniture has been given. I am overwhelmed. Beds, chairs tables, dressers, rugs- all in good condition and some of it absolutely beautiful. Some old friends gave us the most beautiful dining room set- hutch, buffet, all matching and the table that can extend to fit about 20, if we squished (and had enough chairs).  

I finally got it all moved in yesterday, and last night, in spite of plebeian paper plates and grilled burgers for dinner, we ate our first meal in our dining room. I might have cried a little. 

We aren’t quite out of the woods yet. As you can see, we are still without windows. We are going to need some prayer for what to do about those as well as the days get hotter and hotter and we have no HVAC installed. AC is fairly useless without windows anyway.   

And for those who have asked, our options for the windows are either the hubby continues to build them little by little as he has time, or we hire someone else to do it.  And unless things change, the first option is our only feasible one, which means p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e for me.

So all in all, lots to be thankful for but still lots to be done.   

I am torn most days between being gratefully excited at how much has come together and a bit overwhelmed at how much still needs to be done and praying, praying, praying that God will prosper the work of our hands, both with the house and the business. But I am finding that the more exhausted and overwhelmed we feel, we feel God drawing closer still, in new and unexpected ways, to strengthen and encourage. 

My mantra every morning as I face the day has become- “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” And it’s a good one.

All things bright and……

   
Sometimes as parents, we say things to our children without thinking them through- sometimes make rash promises to them that they somehow remember with remarkable clarity, considering how everything else you tell them seems to slip in one ear and right out the other. And sometimes these words and promises are spoken by the other parent without you even being aware and then the parental ‘unit’ as a whole is held responsible. For instance-
“Mom! I’m tired of sleeping in Lina’s pink, girly room. When are we gonna get around to painting our room?”
“I’m not sure about that buddy. It’s not exactly on the list of priorities right now. But we’ll do it soon.”

“Well, when we do paint it, I want it bright red.”

“Bright red?” 

“Yes, and maybe dark blue and turquoise.”

“Hmmmm. Well, I’m not sure that will happen.”

“But mom! You said we get to pick out all the colors for our own room.”

“I said what?”

“Yah! Remember? Or maybe it was daddy? Yep, it was daddy. He said red would be fine.”

“Well, I made no promises of that sort.”

“But daddy said…..” etc. 

You get the picture.

Fast forward a few weeks and still, not having forgotten ‘the promise’ and ignoring all mommy’s suggestions of how nice and boyish a tasteful sage green would be in their room, they begged to go to the paint store. I finally yielded, with the proviso that I would have at least some small say in their final color choices.  

“Oh, you poor chump,” you might well be thinking to yourself at this point. “You took all your children to the paint store and let them pick out a color? How long have you been a parent?”
And yes, in hindsight, I now see that I should have gone to the store alone, picked out a dozen colors that I myself liked and then let them pick from my choice, thus fulfilling the terms of the promise and making myself happy into the bargain. But no, naively thinking it would be a fun outing, last week, I and my five children marched into the paint aisle at Lowes and approached ‘the wall.’

You know what wall I mean- the wall covered with little squares of every possible color shade imaginable- ten bajillion little colored squares, all shiny and bright like candy and every one ‘the perfect color’ for their bedroom. 

Thus the battle began. 

“This is the red I want mom! It’s perfect!” says the oldest child, holding up a scarlet card so vividly bright that I can hardly look at it without watering eyes.

“I don’t think I want red at all,” says the second. “How about a nice orange? Look- this one is called psi, psi….ummm.. What kind of pumpkin?”

“Psychadelic pumpkin,” I reply drily.

“Have you ever seen a black bedroom?” the third dreamily asks, thumbing through a rack of ‘midnight dreams’ and ‘matte ebonies.’ “A black room might be cool.” 

“I have to pee, mom,” says the fourth. “and look, Haha! the baby is running down the aisle pushing a paint roller!”

Back and forth we went, I trying to explain to my children about matching tones and how a color on a small card might look pretty, but once painted on four walls would be absolutely overwhelming, they insisting that it would be ‘so fun!’. I finally talked them down from the red, only to have it replaced by an almost equally garish blue. From ‘stormy sea’ to ‘tranquil sky’ we fought it out but in the end, the promise won out. Eight tearful eyes stared up at me and pled- “but daddy said we could choose.” ‘Ballistic blue’ it was.

The only thing I could do now was try to tone down the blue with a milder color- perhaps a gentle yellow? But once yellow was mentioned, out popped the ‘egg yolks’ and the ‘tropical sunshines’.  

I was so exhausted by this point that I said yes to the first one they agreed on but when I got to the counter and saw just how French’s mustardy it was, I quietly whispered to the lady to make it two shades softer. At long last, foot sore and battle weary we took our cans and headed to the car.

But once we were home and I had opened the yellow paint can, I saw my breath had been wasted on trying to tone it down. It looked three times brighter than in the store, and once on the walls, well, you’ll see.

 
It is difficult to describe the bedrooms in the upstairs of our house and even more difficult to get a good picture of them. There are crazy angles and rooflines everywhere and are full of what would generally be called ‘character.’ The boys room is particularly character-ful. It is an enormous space in the shape of an L (“L for Lewin!” the boys like to say) 

There is a small platform running around half of it with two steps leading to the ‘main floor’ if you will. There are sloping ceilings and big skylights and four enormous holes for windows without, of course, any windows in them yet. So deciding where to put our lovely colors was a challenge. But I did my best. 

I hoped the color would grow on me as I progressed but by the time I got it all up, I texted the hubby.   

“What do I do if I really don’t like the color we picked?”

“Do the boys like it?” he texted back.

“Ummm, yes. The boys love it,” I grudgingly admitted.  

“Then keep it.”

“Maybe the blue will make it look better,” was my next hope. But I guess I’m just a boring person. I don’t care for loud colors in a house and by the time I was done, I felt like the room was screaming at me. It didn’t help matters when the little neighbor girl popped her head in the door to see the progress and immediately said, 

“Oh my goodness! It looks just like my school gym! Those are exactly our school’s colors!”

  
 I’m sure some of you locals know exactly what school she was referring to. And although I have nothing against said school (Go Chargers!) it wasn’t what I was hoping for in a bedroom.  

But of course, the boys loved it.

By the end of two very long days of painting, I was exhausted and frustrated and trying to think of a way to make the room look better. I looked at the yellow and blue and tried to think of what it reminded me of, other than a junior high basketball team and then it hit me.  

It looked like Legos.  

Maybe I could salvage the situation by making a Lego themed room. We already had Lego yellow and Lego blue- since we had come this far, why not go all the way? I asked the hubby what he thought. He said he would try and find some accent paints to go with what we had chosen- in Lego colors.

To make a long story short, he came back with these.   

 My hubby has a gift for choosing colors and he suggested using gray to go on the platform part of the floor. (we are painting all the floors upstairs and saving up for carpet some day). I never would have thought of gray, but heaven knows, I’ve stepped on enough gray Lego pieces in my life. So on went the floor paint.  

   
And by the way, in order to give you a sense of the size of this room, the hubby and I measured just this back section and realized we could easily park the trailer in it.

Well, I thought the floor looked okay. But where to put the other colors? I couldn’t decide if his next idea was insane or brilliant. He suggests painting the light wells to the skylights different colors. Would that be totally over the top? But I figured at this point, there was no going back- might as well embrace the insanity. I got a ladder and started in.  

After the first light well was finished, all I could see was another sports team (Go Seahawks!) but I kept going.   

 And by the time I had finished the fourth, I had to admit that, although definitely bright, the effect was at least interesting.   

But I still needed to tie the colors in more.  

Underneath the plywood covered, windowless windows are four rectangular holes in the wall with storage space behind them.  

  Eventually the hubby wants to finish these out and put little hinged doors on them, to keep toys in etc, but that probably won’t be happening for a while. So to cover them up, I cut four ‘Lego bricks’ out of wood, painted them and nailed them in place, along with some very temporary curtains to cover the ugly plywood windows. 

We also needed some kind of rug to cover the vast floor space, so on our way home from church one day, we swung by a salvage store that just happened to have the very rug we needed. It had just come through the door and was priced incredibly low. We grabbed it, along with some smaller accent rugs in equally loud colors. At this point, I was all in. Go big or go home, right? And somehow, remarkably, the room came together.  That, or I had just been looking at everything so long that I was willing it to work, whether or no.

    
    
   
Yes, it’s bold and loud and childish and Lego-y, but really, nothing describes my children more. And after all, it is their bedroom. Why shouldn’t they have a say? They have certainly waited long enough to live (and play Legos) in it. 

   
 

The half way house

I’m not really sure what would be considered the half way point on this monumental house project of ours. Was it way back when we restructured the whole thing, gave it a new frame and floor plan? Was it when we spent two months digging out a full basement just so we could jack the whole building up a few inches and put some proper feet under it? Was it before the first or after the second complete wiring of the house? 

The hubby says, on average, that the half way point for most home construction is the sheetrock. Of course, I don’t think that average really counts for our house considering all of the special, extra and unexpected things that came with it, but it is true that a myriad of tiny things still need to be tackled now that the sheetrock has been installed.  

Obviously, there is the painting- lots and lots of painting- priming and cutting in and spraying and rolling and the backbreaking labor that results in 4,000 (4,000!!!) square feet of colored walls and ceilings. But we are nearing the end of that.   

 There is all the extra wiring that now needs to be done- the outlets and light switches and smoke alarms, not to mention (we counted twice, thinking we must be mistaken) the seventy-two (SEVENTY-TWO!) light fixtures that need installation. To be perfectly frank, at this juncture, we are nowhere near being able to afford real light fixtures in numbers that large so if you ever come a visiting in the future, you will probably be greeted with the sight of a lot of naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. We’re taking baby steps here, folks.

But naked or not, we finally got them all installed and today, for the first time ever, instead of searching for a plug at the end of a bewildering tangle of extension cords crisscrossing the house, you can now flip a switch and get some light in return. And you can’t imagine the wonder of a plug in an outlet! Don’t get me started on the marvel of outlets! These are exciting things folks. 

Even more exciting are the two bedrooms. For all intents and purposes, the house is still a construction zone. We are still functioning with one toilet and no other running water. There is no kitchen of any description unless you count the recess in the wall where my fridge will someday go. But last night, Oh Joy! we ditched the trailer for the night and slept in a couple of upstairs bedrooms we had been pushing to get ready.  

    My craft room and my girlie’s room were the first rooms we had painted and we got to thinking that maybe, if we could put a few finishing touches to them, we might just make them habitable. This meant dealing with the floors first, which were really in terrible condition.  

They are original hardwood, but after much consideration, we decided they were too damaged to try and restore. So this meant me and my palm sander got down on our knees and tried to remove as much of the ancient rubbly mess, sheetrock mud and paint residue as possible.    

   
Then lots of shop-vacuuming and damp-mopping and finally, several coats of a good floor paint.  

   
   
Then, there was a little trim to put up and we even managed a few doors.    

    

Eventually, we want the entire upstairs carpeted, but since that isn’t really in the budget right now either, we found some nice carpet remnants and had the edges bound, just to make the floors a little comfier.  (And please disregard the plastic where the windows should be. Be patient. I imagine we might just get those durn windows finished sometime this century.)     
   

But windows aside, some generous folks donated a few used beds to our cause so that by the end of a very exhausting day, we were thankfully able to collapse onto something comfortable.

   
   So now, although I nearly despaired many times along the way, I can finally say, nearly nine years (NINE!) to the day after we purchased this place, we are sleeping in it. 

Of course, we aren’t technically living in it yet. We are still going to be in limbo for a while, trudging back and forth from trailer to house for our water supply and a place to cook our meals. We are now working hard on completing one of the four (FOUR!) bathrooms and the kitchen will be after that, although it might just be a hot plate and a sink for a while. 

All that to say, I think we can safely say that we are past the half way point now, although I’m not sure we will ever be able to call this place truly finished. But isn’t that true of most things in life? What good would heaven be otherwise? 

For today we are grateful- grateful no longer to be seven people sleeping in a thirty foot camper- grateful for a couple of rooms that (when the door is shutting out the rest of the house) actually look mostly completed- grateful for so much support and help from family and loved ones and grateful for a light at the end of the tunnel. (and a light at the end of a switch.)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

Way back in high school, I was required to study a lot of Shakespeare.  And even after all these years, I still have a fair portion of it stored in the back of my brain, ready to pop out and serve in the place of more prosaic words when I’m feeling a little dramatic about life. 

For instance, I am currently sitting in a cozy chair before a warm fire, with the smell of fresh baked bread wafting through the air and trying to gear myself up for what I know is coming this weekend- the moving back to the trailer.  I find that boldly reciting speeches that begin “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!”  is a better way to psych myself up than your standard, “Alright! Trailer living! You can totally do this, Nicky! Home comforts are totally overrated anyway.”

Of course, I know better now.  After almost a year of living like a nomad and then the unexpected relief of being granted this month-long little breather, I know only too well that home comforts are nothing to turn my nose up at.  So I might as well look at leaving this cozy house and moving back to the construction zone for what it really is- a reentry into battle- a battle for patience, a fight for hope,  a struggle for contentment in the midst of uncertainty.  No use in a soldier being unprepared.

My kids have been struggling with this lesson as well. It’s been hard for them to understand the upheaval in our lives.  We have been bouncing around so much this year that I often hear them yearning for the last time that their lives felt stable.  I listen to them waxing lyrical about our old, way-too-tiny house in the terrible neighborhood that they couldn’t wait to move away from a year ago.   “If we could just move back mom, we would be so much happier!” they pine. “And what do you mean that house was too small for us? It was enormous!  It had two whole bedrooms! And besides, we only remember a couple of drive by shootings.”  

Or if we find ourselves staying temporarily in someone else’s home, “if we could just stay here mom, we would be so much happier.  Everything is so quiet and clean and comfortable. And look at this big screen t.v- with Netflix! I hope we never leave.”

Of course these are difficult things for me to hear from my kiddos and of course there are a million spiritual lessons I could apply to all these conversations with my boys. But I feel like the one we need most is to remember that God has not called us to live a life of looking longingly back over our shoulder to what was, nor of sitting comfortably on our backsides in a cozy, Netflix induced stupor (although don’t get me wrong, occasional times of rest are not only pleasant but necessary).  We are called to a forward looking life, a fighting life, a life of stepping out in faith.   

And so, after a pleasant respite, I am praying and hoping for the strength for all of us to jump back into the fray, not just to finish the task before us and then sit down with arms folded as if we have finally arrived, but so that we will be able to move forward with the next stage of life that God sees fit to call our family to. (‘Cause I’m not gonna lie to you, I grow a little weary of the whole ‘building a house’ thing)

So, once more unto the breach dear friends.  And thanks for praying for us.