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.

Not your average White Christmas

Shards of papery board litter the floor I walk on. Plastery crumbs crunch under my feet while small clouds of chalky dust rise at each step. The December breeze blows through the window frames still awaiting their shining panes of glass and I shiver in cold and delight as I look at our smooth, snowy, brand new walls. This may not be your average white Christmas. But after a particularly wintry year, it’s one of the happiest I’ve known.

A few days ago, however, I was not this happy. I was all kinds of discouraged and depressed and convinced deep inside myself that this important step towards completing our long-awaited home would never come. My life, you must understand, was doomed to be one weary, interminable ‘work until you drop’ cycle with very little to show for it. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been having a hard time facing each day.
But this morning I woke up long before the sun- expectant, excited, nervous- although still trying to wrap myself in that self-protective cushion that would prepare me for any dashed hopes or further delays.
This morning there was none of the usual grunting at the children to leave me and my caffeine fix in peace and get themselves a bowl of cereal- I had a broad smile with a side of sizzling sausage and eggs waiting for them when they woke up. The coffee was hot for daddy, the baby changed and dressed before she had a chance to complain, the blankets folded, the pillows and beds stowed away. I felt like my old self again- that self that decided to move us to this place nine months ago- full of optimism and energy and hope- that self who was so confidently sure that life in a trailer would never get her down.

Still I was cautious in my optimism. Only a fool wouldn’t be. But lo and behold, the work crew arrived exactly when they said they would. Not only that but they started in right away- no forgotten tools or last second runs to the hardware store.

Then I watched, breathless,  as the first heavy board was lifted overhead and the first screws went in to hold it in place. I may or may not have wept a little. Then I may or may not have danced a little jig and the workers may or may not have thought me crazy.
I have been sneaking up to the house all morning, in between school lessons, just to see how much they have gotten done. Man, those guys work fast!  Then back to the trailer, dancing another little jig. The boys may or may not have thought me crazy.
But throughout all my joy, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt- a shadow of shame, knowing (as I very well did) that the only reason I was so happy is because things are finally going right, at least for today. Today was a good day.  But alas, I have failed myself and my family over and over again on this journey as I have let the bad days negatively dictate how I have interacted with my husband, my kiddos and with the God who has written this story for us. I have been weak, I have lost faith, I have listened to the Tempter who told me to despair.

In the window of the trailer hangs a snippet of a Bible verse. It simply reads ‘Rejoice in it.’ The words catch my eye each time I head out the door and it is astonishing to me how many different ways I have reacted to this simple imperative.
Sometimes it does the job I wanted it to do when I first hung it up so many months back. It serves as a reminder that this day (good or bad) is the day that the Lord has made- so please, my dear, act in accordance with that fact.
Sometimes it prompts a guilty and grudging obedience and helps me to put on a plastic smile in the face of adversity.
Sometimes I have a little argument in my head with that snippet which usually consists in listing every excuse I have, to show how and why I should be exempt from such a command. After all, my life is legitimately difficult right now.
But more often than not, I feel fear when confronted with those words.  Yes, fear. I am afraid to rejoice because perhaps, if I allow myself to be glad about the fact that I live in a trailer with seven people while I stare at that stubbornly incomplete house, God will look down and say,
“Oh look, she has finally learned her lesson of contentment. She has finally understood what it means to be joyful in all circumstances. I think I will just leave her there. Why mess with a good thing?”
This fear makes me want to cling to my melancholy as a kind of insurance that we will get out of this situation some day.

Of course, in my more rational moments I know that this is nonsense. I know that God wants us to strive for better things and I know that he doesn’t want us to sit on our hands and accept that this life is always going to be hard, so why try?

I also know, in my better moments, that it is not the actual circumstances we are to rejoice over as if God is pleased when we laugh lightheartedly at the grief and pain and struggle in our own lives and at the world at large.
We don’t rejoice because of the mere physical day (good or bad) but because of the Lord who made it. We don’t rejoice merely because of the sheetrock we can finally see, although it is a wondrous sight, but because of the Lord (and his people) who gave it.
And we don’t rejoice at Christmas, merely because of the snow (if you are so lucky) and the lights and the music and presents. These things are just a bonus from a bountiful God. We rejoice because now we can say, every single day, in every single circumstance, that Emmanuel has come to be with us.

Oh Come, thou dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

 

 

Bricks and stones may break my bones

One of the wonderful things about this big old house of ours is the big old yard that comes with it. As aforementioned, it has already become the frequent scene of frolics and boyish larks- fort building and bike riding, sleeping in tents and eating al fresco meals, and even a few good water fights, early in the season as it is.

But delightful as finally having some property has been, it also has had its challenges. Now you might be thinking,

“Here’s the part where she starts complaining about all the extra mowing and trimming a big yard entails,” and you would be partially correct.
There certainly is a good deal more mowing to be done, and like any good southern yard that has been ignored for many years, it has done its best to return to nature by winding itself up in poison ivy and kudzu and a dozen other nameless and sinister vines and shrubs. But I like to mow, and trimming the hedges is a job I don’t mind too much- at least in the spring.
However, aside from the usual maintenance, I believe our yard is unique- unique in that over the years, it has become a kind of storage unit for the hubby’s many house project leftovers.
I sometimes wonder how so much stuff has ended up heaped in odd and assorted piles all over my yard and a mental image always pops up in my head in response to my wonderings. It’s usually a conversation between two imaginary men who work for my husband and goes something like,

“Hey man, so that job is finished. What do you think we should do with all this extra (fill in- lumber, brick, cinder block, sheetrock, etc.)?”
“Heck, I don’t know,” replies the other.
“I know, let’s stick it in the bosses back yard!” says the first guy.
“Yah, that’s a great idea,” agrees the second. “It’s not like they’re ever actually gonna live there anyway.”
And then they proceed to leave behind whatever was in the truck and drive away, laughing maniacally.

Of course, this scene is purely imaginary since we don’t actually own a truck and my poor van is usually commandeered for the purpose whenever Steve needs to haul something. But I’m pretty sure the van would never have been able to transport the enormous stacks of cinderblock that are sitting in our driveway or the piles on piles of lumber sitting in varying states of decay throughout my lawn. But there they are. Or I should say, there they were. Because a week and a half ago, I decided to tackle the yard.

There’s not a whole lot that can be done to the interior of the house right now since Steve is so insanely busy at work, so I wanted a project to keep my mind off all that wasn’t getting done inside. So I started in on the wood. A few years ago, we cut down several large trees in the yard and cut them into big logs, hoping to be able to use them in our wood stove at some future date. These logs had since become a moldering heap of mostly rotting wood, infested with every kind of creepy crawly creature imaginable.
So, armed with long sleeves and very thick gloves, I began the process of sorting through the remains, fishing out what wood was salvageable, squealing girlishly when a particularly leggy insect scurried into view and then tossing the rest onto a compost heap where they could finish the job of returning to whence they came.
And then it was on to transferring big stacks of two by fours to their new home under the house and the shoveling and removing heaps of sand and then burning old cedar shingles and siding in a rusty burn barrel.
I worked diligently, going to bed each night with aching muscles and a sense of accomplishment, but all the while ignoring the worst pile of all- the mammoth pile of bricks and stones. The bricks were the remains of chimneys from inside our house and several other places, the stones were all the big rocks that had been removed when we had dug out our enormous basement a few years ago. We hope to put them to future use in building walls, columns, etc.
I kept putting it off, hoping that somehow, magically it would disappear, or maybe those imaginary workers would come take it and leave it in someone else’s back yard.
Of course, I didn’t have to move that pile. I could have left it in the middle of my nice big lawn, all overgrown as it was with vines and a miniature forest growing out of the top. I could have waited until the hubby had time, which would probably be in about ten years- or could have called up all my girlfriends and said,

“Hey! Come for a playdate with your kids and we can all move bricks!”

But that brought me to think of my own kids.

“Now hang on,” I told myself. “You had all these kids for a reason, right? You just never knew until today that you brought them into the world so they could help you move the biggest pile of bricks on the planet.”

Inspired by these reflections, I gathered my big boys around me and, being the nice mother I am, offered them a penny for every brick that they moved from the middle of the lawn to the parking area where they would be hidden, neatly stacked and denuded of weeds, behind the cinder blocks.
They were actually thrilled with the idea. I’m not the kind of mom who remembers to give her kids an allowance, so any chance to earn money is usually jumped at. They set to work with a will. I was pretty sure that they were going to give up quickly. I mean, one brick doesn’t weigh much, but the stooping and picking up and trundling wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load across the yard gets old fast. But they kept at it.
James had been doing the math in his head, and told me exultantly that if he moved 100 bricks, he’d get a whole dollar. I smiled inwardly, thinking they would never get that far. But they did. And then they reached 200, then 300, then 4. By the time the sun was setting they were stacking their 800th brick and couldn’t wait to start the next day. I was amazed and also slightly alarmed. The brick pile, as I stared at it through the twilight, did not look noticeably diminished. And my wallet held two bucks and one quarter, but I couldn’t part with the quarter as it was sacred to the purpose of my Aldi shopping cart.

By the next afternoon I had four eager hands stretching towards me, demanding no less than fourteen dollars. Still being without cash, I asked them if they would accept a new lego set in exchange. Oh boy, wouldn’t they! But they would like it now please, mom.
I decided to oblige them, since they really had worked incredibly hard, and goodness knows, I hadn’t wanted to move those bricks myself.
So I loaded everyone up and drove the 20 minutes to Target, where we wandered the lego aisle for an unbelievable amount of time, considering how short the aisle was and how few sets they could actually get for fourteen dollars. At last they had whittled it down to two sets, and had reached a stalemate- two boys wanted one, two another. To my untrained eye, one set looked pretty much like the other (who knew there were so many differences to be found in lego helmets!) but the fighting grew so bitter that I was obliged to flip a coin.
We arrived back home, two boys exultant, the other two sniffling a bit in a disappointed way. But off they all went to build the new set. I figured their brick moving fervor was now passed and I sighed as I looked at the remaining pile, figuring we might be half way through. I set to work, thankful that they had at least moved 1,400 of the darn things.
But I must admit, I’m not as young as I once was and I only managed 100 before calling it quits for the night. As I unloaded the wheelbarrow, sorting the bricks into two separate stacks (one for the smooth interior bricks, the other for the rough exterior ones) I found myself chanting to myself ,
“Rough, smooth, rough smooth, take the rough with the smooth, take the rough with the smooth….”
Then I had to stop and laugh, thinking how glad I would be to take the smooth at some point. It’s been rough for a long time now.

The next morning was a Friday, and as I worked with the boys on their lessons, I tried to gear myself (and the boys) up to tackle the pile again. But before we could, a friend called asking if James’ best friend could come and play for the afternoon. I agreed, and resigned myself to the boys disappearing on their bikes for the day.
But as soon as he got here, the boys had him surrounded, making wild promises of ‘free’ legos if he helped move the stack of bricks.
“Boys,” I said uncertainly, “I don’t want to make your friend come over here just to work…”
But he interrupted with, “Are you kidding! Where are the bricks? Let’s go!”

Soon the bricks were flying again. After about the tenth load, I suddenly had the brilliant idea to back the old van up to the pile, open the hatch and fill it up with ten times the bricks that the wheelbarrow could hold. The boys were thrilled with this arrangement, and I soon found their little friend was a born foreman, directing the brick laying, keeping track of the numbers and announcing with authority when they had a big enough load. Then they all joyfully tumbled into the back of the van, perching on the bricks as we bumped down to the stacks, where they formed a line and handed them to me one by one, shouting, “Rough! Smooth! Rough! Smooth!” and laughing all the while.
It’s a true saying that many hands make light work, and by the end of that day, they had earned another lego set. I even took them out to dinner as an extra reward and let them have a big sleepover in a tent in the backyard. The next morning, I finished the negligible amount of bricks that were left (only about 400) while the boys played with their hard earned legos.
But after their friend had gone, I found myself staring disconsolately at the remaining pile of stones, almost as big as the bricks had been.

“Take the rough with the smooth,” I muttered, but as I bent down to pick up the first rock.

“Hey mom,” said my oldest, suddenly appearing at my elbow, “We’ll be glad to help you with the rocks. And don’t worry, we’ll only charge you half price.”

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Hope

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.

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Be it ever so humble…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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