Desperate times……

Well folks, I’m not sure exactly how to go about writing this post.   I guess the best place to start is to refer back to this post that I wrote long ago, at the inception of this blog.
It’s simply the tale of a certain house that we own, and that we have been trying to get into for many years now.
We have attempted time and again to push forward and finish the project, but have been continually hampered by circumstances (time, money, logistics etc.) Each fresh attempt has ground to yet another halt. So many people have wanted to help, but it was so difficult to know how to let them, and if we should put more money into it, when every time we have, someone has broken in and robbed us.
And so we have tried to make the best of living in our tiny house in the Projects- still hoping, praying and, working towards that day when everything would line up just right for us to finally finish and move in.
And I am here today to tell you that we still have not reached that day.
But we have decided to move anyway.
Lord willing, in about six weeks, we will be moving onto our property and into a trailer, where we can be on the spot to make one last ditch attempt to finish our house.
Now I know that many people will think this is a crazy plan.
And guess what- it totally is.
But we have talked and prayed long about it, and we are at peace with the decision. I am actually excited at the prospect. Don’t get me wrong- I am well aware that it ain’t gonna be no picnic.
But I am excited because we will finally be out of our tiny house, and though we will be sleeping in a trailer, we will be spending our days in an enormous (though unfinished) house. My boys will be able to run free in a huge yard, instead of being confined to a yard that literally hems them in with barbed wire. We will be in a neighborhood that has parks and places to walk without fearing for our safety. Daddy will be close to work. (and mommy much closer to her sister : ) There are so many other reasons that we feel that, as insane as it might sound, this is the wisest thing we can do right now.
But most of all, I am excited because we are literally stepping out in faith, trusting that since God has allowed us to keep the house for so long, that he will help us to finish it. And even if nothing goes according to plan, and we lose the house in the end, there will finally be some closure to a burden that has long been weighing us down.

Of course, this has implications for everything that I have been building with my little business over the last couple of years. Climbing Vine will have to go on hiatus for a while, which is difficult for me, especially since it seems like, with just a little effort, I could add a successful cake-making side to the business. But reality has struck lately, as I try to juggle so many hats. My current house seems to shrink by the week, making running a business here more and more difficult, I might almost say impossible. But there is a craft room of prodigious size waiting for me in another location, if only we can get there.
And we are going to do our darndest.
So pray with us as we begin this endeavor. I will be continuing to blog if possible, and hope to keep regular updates of what is happening there. I also hope to keep writing if I have a second. But if you want a doll (or a cake) let me know. It might be your last chance for a while.
But don’t despair- I’ve noticed that climbing vines are hardy plants that transplant very well.

Why I homeschool my kids

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I’ve been wanting to blog lately, but have been coming up dry for a topic. I’m still cooking and sewing and telling childhood tales, but most of my energy lately has been focused on homeschooling. And since I haven’t ever addressed that topic on this blog, I figured why not?
Last year, when my shop was going great guns, homeschool took a back seat. I was still doing it, but I had stopped making it my primary object. We took a break when the new baby came, but started up again in July, part time. In August, when the hubby took my oldest boy to France for a month, I took the time to reassess what exactly I wanted homeschool to look like.
I found I didn’t really have a clear answer. I’m writing this to try and clear the cobwebs out of my own mind, but feel free to keep reading and tell me what you think.
To be honest, I never really wanted to homeschool. I have no great theories as to why homeschool is the best, or why going to school is bad. The main reason I started was pragmatic. It was a financial issue. The hubby had just lost his job, so we took my oldest out of first grade at a local private school. Public school is not an option for us. We are zoned for some of the worst schools in the city, and my own small experience in public schools has left me a little scarred. So we brought him home.
He was and is such a smart boy- a strong reader and writer by the end of Kindergarten, and eager to please. All I needed to do was give him a stack of books, and a bit of guidance. He did the rest. Easy-peasy.
But things are different now. I am now teaching three. And two of them haven’t already learned to read and write from a competent teacher. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. I am not a good teacher. In fact, I will go so far as to say I really don’t care much for teaching at all. I have never been taught how to teach others and it doesn’t come naturally.
So now, instead of a quiet, studious six year old independently reading high school level books on my couch while his little brothers play blocks in the bedroom, I find myself in a totally different scenario.

Days begin with a nursing baby, a really grumpy three year old who never wakes up on the right side of the bed, and three big hungry boys who hardly let me get a shower before banging on the door, asking what there is to eat. Coffee is slurped while eggs fry, and then we multitask lessons. Daddy speaks french while they eat breakfast, while mommy drills them on Bible verses after they have put down their forks. Chores are completed.
Then the juggling of three separate classes- different levels of piano instruction, handwriting practice, grammar, phonics, reading, math- workbooks, pencils, crayons and notebooks scattered pell mell over our tiny house.

And then-
My nine year old is starting to push boundaries, to question why Mom is making him do all this.
My seven year old is often found crying in a corner because reading is still so hard for him and his little brother is passing him up.
My five year old is just five and can’t sit still for more than three seconds at a time.
My three year old- well, my three year old is a hilariously naughty piece of work. I’ll leave it at that.
And my baby. My sweet, lovely baby is wonderful and adorable and needs to be everlasting fed and changed and burped and bounced.
But every day I force myself to push on. My goal is to finish school with a group history or science lesson at lunch. And then we are done. More often than not, we succeed in getting most of it done.

I hope those who may be contemplating homeschool are not scared off by this picture. I know that homeschool is not for everyone. There have been many, many days when I wonder is it is right for us. I’ve read the pros and cons until I am blue in the face. I live in constant fear of failing my kids, of failing to teach them what they need to know. But for us, it still comes down to being the only viable option right now. Our house is too small, our resources are limited, my patience wears thin, but this is where we are. So I must look to the bright side. And there are more than one.

My oldest boy and I have discovered a shared love of writing stories. He is writing a thrilling chapter book, and every day I look forward to see what he has written next. We discuss plots and characters and he eagerly reads me each completed page.
And getting to assign him all my favorite books to read so we can discuss them together? Priceless.

My second boy is slow in picking up new things, but homeschool has allowed me to see a different side of him. Instead of being at the bottom of his class in a schoolroom, I have been able to see his slowness as a strength. A mind full of curiosity that has the patience to sit and figure out how a thing works- a passion for observing nature, and a willingness to keep at a task until he gets it right, no matter the time it takes.

And my sweet and goofy third child- his incessantly moving limbs would have him in constant trouble in a classroom. He seems to learn best swinging by his feet from the top bunk, and that is something I can let him do. The other day, he read an entire book while standing on his head. A little unorthodox, but it does the trick. He’ll learn to sit still someday.

And my three year old. He is hilarious and naughty and very bright. He is absorbing all that is going on around him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he taught himself to read by the end of the year. That would be a bonus.

And with all of them, when tears and temper and frustration inevitably erupt, I can put a pause on everything until it is resolved. I can deal with their hearts as well as their heads. I am seeing more and more how terribly important that is.

And with all the crazy of my mornings, I find the craziness is just about compensated for the freedom of the afternoon. No homework, no racing around town, no extra curricular mayhem. Just time to play- to take a walk, have a leisurely lunch or a picnic. And of course, take a nap!

So I suppose it’s not really a question of which is better. It’s more a matter of putting the best face on what is before me and being thankful for the ability to do it. And I trust, if we ever did put the kids in school, it would be the same.

Summer’s Bounty (otherwise entitled- Too Many Tomatoes!)

I’m going to pretend that I have made all the necessary excuses for my long blogging absence, and just dive right back in here. Or at least put my toe in. Life’s a little unpredictable these days.
It’s been forever since I have posted a recipe, which I blame mostly on the fact that I haven’t been cooking much lately. People have been bringing us meals, and we’ve been eating a lot of sandwiches, but I could no longer ignore the produce that seems to be bursting out of my garden this year, so it’s back to the kitchen I go.
Gardening is a funny thing. Last year I spent hours upon hours nurturing my garden, only to have it all rot in the excess rain. This year, too pregnant to care much, I haphazardly threw some tomato, pepper, corn and squash starts into the ground, and I am getting a bumper crop- especially tomatoes. Go figure.
So what to do?
One of my favorite ways to eat fresh tomatoes is in a caprese salad- you know, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil with a splash of balsamic vinegar? Well, this super easy recipe just takes that idea one step further. It’s a bread salad, and makes for a very light, satisfying dinner. It’s also a great way to use up any leftover crusty bread you may have lying around. Here’s what you need.

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And for the dressing

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The only cooking involved here is making the croutons. But I warn you, once you start making homemade croutons, it’s hard to go back to the store bought ones in a box. I happened to have this chunk of wonderful sourdough staling on my countertop, but most french style breads will work. Just cut it up into rough cubes. I like mine on the big side.

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Then throw them in a pan and liberally drizzle olive oil over them.

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Also a generous sprinkling of salt.

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Turn the stove on to medium high, and shake the pan occasionally to toast them evenly. Let them get nicely golden brown and crispy on the outside, but still a little soft on the inside. Remove them from the heat.

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Now just dice up the tomatoes and the fresh mozzarella.

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Then slice up a few basil leaves, which I do by stacking them, rolling them up tightly and slicing thinly. This is called a chiffonade, I think.

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Put the bread in the bowl, followed by the cheese, basil and tomatoes. Or the other way around. It doesn’t matter.

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A good dousing of olive oil is called for here, and a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar.

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Toss it with a little salt and pepper and garnish it with a sprig more of basil if you have it.

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And that’s it. A great way to make a dent in your pile of tomatoes, if you have one. We have also served this with leftover sliced chicken or beef for a heartier meal. Quite delish. But serve it quickly or the croutons will be soggy. Enjoy!

Caroline’s Corner

Well, this was the last stage in my quest for baby space, and my last big project before this baby makes her appearance.  As I posted before,   I managed to find a little armoire for my girl, but I needed a place to put it, some clothing to fill it, and a crib of some kind.

After serving four boys, I had decided not to store all their old baby stuff, and so have been starting from scratch for this baby, as far as supplies go.

I made some lists of what I would need, measured and brainstormed, and finally decided to make this space Caroline’s corner.

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Yes, it is in my room, and yes, that is my closet, full of stuff.  But where there’s a will, there’s a way.  I won’t show you all four corners of this room.   Steve’s cluttered and paper covered office, and the other closet aren’t really worth mentioning. Suffice it to say, we did a lot of reorganizing, filing, and tossing of stuff throughout the room to help make space.

This beautiful chest that the hubby made in college was just too big (and too prone to be covered in clutter) so I ended up rearranging the whole living room to make space for it in there.

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Don’t you just love the chain reaction of reorganizing?

This needed to be done, however, because……

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…look what I found under all the furniture!  Don’t look mom!  Ugghh!

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I stole this much smaller chest from the boys room, dumped their train tracks, filled it with my fabric scraps, and decided that the top would be the perfect perch for a Moses basket, since I didn’t want to get a whole new bassinet.

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So this corner is actually where she will be sleeping the first weeks of her life.

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The Moses basket was a gift from the ladies at church.

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Now it was time to tackle the closet. It had been way too long since I had taken an honest reckoning of the contents of my closet. I had to ask those difficult questions like, “when is the last time you wore this?” or “do you really think you will ever be able to fit into that again?”

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I purged mercilessly and as a result, was easily able to fit my remaining clothing into the boys much bigger closet.  The shoes suffered a similar fate.  It was very liberating.

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Then it was time for the closet doors (which have been half-way broken since we moved in) to be removed.  I cracked up when I realized there was still a last remaining piece of the old pink carpet in there, which used to cover all our lovely hardwood floors.  Pink carpet!  It was a sign.

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Once everything was finally removed, I brought the armoire in. I had found another small shelving unit that would fit into the closet, which is currently housing all the unsold merchandise from my Etsy shop.  I thought Caroline might like the stuffed animals.

I had also hunted up the smallest pack and play/crib I could find online and thanks again to the ladies at church, was able to purchase it.   A few little decorative touches later and we were in business!

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It’s cozy, but I think it just might work for the time being.

And it has been awfully fun filling up the armoire.  As you can see, I am not too worried about coming up with clothes for her!

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So that’s that!  Now I can put my swollen feet up and play the waiting game for the next few weeks.  Seeing that crib all ready makes me so impatient!

The Challenge Continues

I am sure you all have been on pins and needles, waiting to see if I managed to solve the puzzle of the ‘too small house’, so here is an update of the boys room.  After much thinking, I decided to keep the boys room as the boys room.  They really do need the space, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage nap and bedtimes with the girly in there.  So she will be in with us.  But more on that later.

If you recall my last post on the subject, here are the before pics of the four corners of the boys room.

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It was one of those projects that, once I began it, I wondered if it were worth it.  Things got pretty hectic in there for a while.

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My first idea was to get as much excess furniture out as I could.  So the white shelving unit found a home in a corner of the kitchen, where I like it much better.

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And then there were the dressers.  We have had those two stackable dressers/shelves since my oldest was born, and even though they are old and beat up, they are incredibly sturdy, so I wanted to keep them.  But I wanted to clear out the closet if possible, so out they came.

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Remember the deep freezer I had in this corner?  I measured it and thought it might just fit in the closet, so I unstacked the dressers and put them where the freezer was.  I also put up some little curtains over  the shelves, since they really aren’t very pretty.

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I had hoped the freezer would squeeze into the back of the closet, but I failed to calculate the baseboards into my measurements, so it didn’t fit as well as I had hoped.  I had to make a decision.  Which space did I value most- the boys room or my pantry? The pantry had a corner where I figured I could fit it just as well.  I decided it would make more sense in the pantry, so the boys helped me move it.  It does make my pantry a bit crowded, but it is so nice not to have a freezer in the boys room anymore!

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The ugly cot went into storage, and a toy chest got repurposed to my room.  But I still wanted more space.

I wanted a place that I could dedicate solely to the storage of legos, which, as you can see, have slowly been taking over the house.  So I came up with a crazy idea that I wasn’t sure would work, but I wanted to try anyway.

Here is the final outcome, for now.

Corner # 1 –

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I tried to fit all shelves and dressers here, and just managed it.  There are shoes and toys in the dresser drawers instead of clothes.  I got each boy a box for their clothes, that hopefully will help them put their own clothes away and keep them somewhat organized, instead of stuffed pell mell into a drawer.

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Corner # 2-

There really was no where else to move the piano, so this corner just got a good spruce up.  I put a lot of the music and books into storage, and hid other toys neatly in boxes on top. And what piano is complete without a pirate ship?

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Corner # 3-

Here is where things started to get a little crazy.  I decided to get rid of the bottom bunk of the bed, keep the top bunk as a loft bed and use the space underneath as the “lego room.”

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The boys love the new space, since with enough blankets tucked around the edges it easily turns into a fort.  And I am trying to implement the rule that all legos must stay within the confines of the bed/fort.  We shall see if that works. Ha!

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“Umm, but where are the boys sleeping?,” you might be asking. Good question.  No, I am not making all four of them sleep on the top bunk.

Just follow me to corner # 4, and I will reveal my hair-brained scheme.

This is the school room/closet.  The boys nice clothes are hanging on the left, my clothes are hanging on the right. (that’s part of my room rearrangement).  But what are those blue things hanging in the corners?

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I’m sure the suspense is killing you.

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Hammocks of course!

I found the hammock idea online, but didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on a project that I wasn’t sure would work.  So I went to the Goodwill and lo and behold, found a huge piece of sturdy blue canvas for ten bucks.  I cut it in half, added a loop of extra fabric from the armoire project to string some rope through, and had the hubby install some heavy duty rings into the wood frame of the closet.  The other side hooks underneath the top bunk for sleeping, and they store neatly away in the corners during the day.

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The boys have gone nuts over them.  They have been sleeping in them for about a week now, taking turns on who gets to sleep on the top bunk and who gets a coveted hammock. So far it is working.

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I was worried of course that letting the boys sleep in swings would get out of control very quickly, but it is actually working much better than having three or four of them piled together on the bottom bunk. They seem to sleep well and comfortably, and putting the hammocks away in the morning is much easier than making a bed.  So far so good!

So that is probably as much as I am going to do for the time being.  It freed up a considerable amount of space, got rid of a bunch of clutter, and gave the boys a few exciting new features to their room.  Now I just need to finish a few things for little girlie’s space.  So until next time!

 

Caroline’s Closet

Well, the journey continues as I try to reorganize this little house of mine.  Thanks for all of the input from my last post on this topic.   I think, after hours of walking around with a tape measurer, calculating every square inch ( no, I am not exaggerating)  that I am going to try and fit her in my room after all.   We have two smallish closets in our bedroom, and I am planning on emptying one of them if I can, and letting the boys keep their space for now.  But more on that later.

If I am going to try and fit her in my room, I wanted to find a piece of furniture to keep all of her things in.  I looked at different kinds of shelving options and dressers, but what I have always really wanted was an old fashioned armoire.  I love the look of a nice armoire, neatly organized inside, with room both for shelves and a hanging bar for dresses.  Problem is, I hate spending money on furniture, and everything that I liked was way out of my price range and way too big for my space.  That sent me to Craigs List, where the notice

“Old armoire for anyone in need of a Pinterest project”

caught my eye.  The pictures were terrible, and it was hard to tell exactly what I was looking at, but the price was definitely in my range- 25 bucks.  I thought it was worth a gander.

When I got to the ladies house, her garage was a sight to behold.  It was packed, floor to ceiling, with old furniture.  She assured me again and again that she was not a hoarder, and told me, as she dug the armoire out, that three old aunties and a grandmother had died in the last few years and left all of their stuff with her.

When I finally saw the piece, I wasn’t overly impressed.  The doors were half off, some of the wood on the sides was buckling, and the ugly blue paint covering it was all gloppy and peeling off.  But it had character, it was the right size, and I figured I was only out 25 dollars if it didn’t work out.  She loaded it up.

Now the hubby and I have differing views (ahem) on what constitutes a worthwhile project.  He took one look at my decrepit armoire as he helped me unload it, and just gave me one of his looks.  Some of you know those looks.  Let’s just say there are serious eyebrows involved.  But I am afraid the look only stiffened my resolve to make something of it, and I told him I would do all the work myself.  He never said a word.

The first thing to do was to get the awful paint off and see what we were dealing with.  Thankfully, the boys were more than willing to help with this job and had great fun peeling big long strips of blue paint off the old wood.  There were several layers, but they came off quite easily.  At my son’s birthday party, some of his friends even joined in the fun.

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See the character emerging?

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But the deeper we got, the more worried I became. The side and back panels were flimsier than I realized and there was a lot of water damage.  Some of the wood started peeling off with the paint, and the back was totally warped.

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I almost gave up, but I told myself to keep going since the frame was still nice and sturdy.  I removed the doors, which were worth keeping, got a hammer and just started tearing out all the flimsy warped wood.  I was left with an armoire skeleton and a big splintery mess.

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The skeleton needed some patch work as well, but nothing that a little wood glue and filler couldn’t fix.  But I was puzzled what to do next since I was very determined not to spend more money on this project, and I didn’t want to ask the hubby to go buy me new wood panels and cut and install them.  I guess I’m stubborn that way, or I am more intimidated by his eyebrows than I care to admit.  So I took my SOS to Pinterest and found one last idea that I thought might work.

I found an old gift certificate I had forgotten about (don’t you hate it when that happens) and placed an order.  Then I found half a can of old paint and started painting since the wood was not really worth refinishing.

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A few days later, my order arrived- A nice sturdy, brightly flowered fabric.  I just prayed the idea would work.

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Since I had pulled out all the old paneling, there were nice little grooves all around the edges of the armoire frame.

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I started with the back panel.  I cut the fabric with some extra length, so I could fold it over several times and sew it into a nice thick edge.  Then I took my putty knife and wedged the thick edge tightly into the grooves.

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It worked!  The fabric was nice and taut, and gave a very nice, smooth look when it was all tucked in.

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Emboldened, I did the side panels as well, making it double sided so the fabric showed inside and out.

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I love the overall effect!  Even the hubby was impressed.  The sides may not be terribly sturdy, but the frame is solid, and the fabric isn’t going anywhere.

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All that was left was to reattach the doors and bring it inside.

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Oh, and get some clothes to put in it!

The Great, Small House Challenge

I don’t generally consider myself a whiner, but if there is one thing that makes me sigh and wish for better things, it is the size of my house.  At 1000 square feet, two bedrooms and one bath for six people, it is just too small.  I know I am not alone in feeling this.  Pinterest knows I am not alone in this.  Ikea knows I am not alone in this.  I hardly know anyone who sighs and wishes their house was a little smaller.

On good days, I know there are advantages to the smallness.  Less to clean, less to maintain, less to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  “Remember the pioneers!” I say.  “Remember the sod houses and the one-room log cabins and the shanties on the prairie.  Remember it could be worse.”

Still, I can’t help those days when I want to scream if I bump into one more crowded corner or have one more box from an over-full closet fall on my head.  I get very tired of waking up from those dreams where I open a door I never noticed before and find a whole new wing to my house- empty, clean, uncluttered.   I try not to think about the other big, empty house we still own, waiting to be finished…. some day.

And now I have another baby on the way.  And she’s a girl.  And it may be frivolous, but I have this longing to create a sweet and pretty little space for her- a place I can call “the girl’s room”.  There would be flowers and ruffles involved.

I go through this cycle fairly frequently- wish, sigh, pity myself, then get sick of all that and do something about it.  I think I am done moaning now, so on to the challenge! I thought I would blog about it, just to help with motivation and keep myself on track and out of the slough of despond.  I have some time to complete this project since the baby will be in my room for a little while, but I am going to take advantage of that wonderful nesting instinct that tends to kick in about now and get started.

Here is what I am dealing with.  I am showing you the four corners of boys room in all it’s daily glory- unmade beds, unfolded laundry, a floor that needs vacuuming and general clutteriness.

Corner #1

The closet.  I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to reorganize this space.  I have been thinking of trying to fit a crib etc. in this space, but I have no idea where I would put everything else.

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Corner #2- The homeschool corner

Yes, my boys have a piano in their room.  We used to have it in the living room, but it made everything so awkward and crowded that I moved it here, where it fits much better.  I think it is going to have to stay.  The top could use some rearranging, to say the least, and I am debating over the little white table and chairs.  The boys do most of their school in the kitchen anyways.

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Corner #3

The bunk bed.  Thankfully all the boys still fit on this bed, and love sleeping together.  There is literally no other space I can fit it, so it will be staying where it is, but hopefully straightened up a bit.   Hah.

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And last but not least, corner #4.

Currently we have a camping cot in this corner for extra sleeping space.  My sister left it here when she moved and the boys love sleeping on it, but it isn’t absolutely necessary (besides which, it is just plain ugly.)  We also have, as you can see, a deep freezer.  Again, there really isn’t anywhere else this could go, and I really need the extra freezer space.  The boys room does tend to become my all purpose room as well- the basket on the floor is some of my extra sewing stuff.

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So there you have it.  Is it possible to find a space for my little girl, and a girly space at that?  Am I asking the impossible?  Perhaps.  But a girl’s gotta try.  Suggestions would be welcome!