Homeschool tour!

I like the beginning of a new school year. I often mentally feel like it is more of a New Year’s celebration than the one in January. And after this crazy summer, I’m really looking forward to some settled routines and or course, starting my cooking job back up again! 

Sometimes, when I get discouraged about how far we still have to go on our silly house, it is good for me to remember just how far we have come. And I am finding that very easy just now as we prepare to begin homeschooling again. 

Last year, as I ordered curriculum and made lesson plans, I was trying to decide between schooling in a trailer or schooling in a construction zone. It was a tough pick, but I finally decided on the trailer, mostly because there was less dust and more air conditioning. (why do we start school in August?). I probably don’t need to elucidate on how difficult schooling was in a trailer with three students, a four year old and a toddler.  You all have imaginations, right?   But we did it because we had to. And if there is one thing I have learned over the last year, it’s that you can do a lot more than you ever imagined possible when necessity demands it.  

We also did it so we could get to the point where I am now: trying decide which of the lovely and spacious rooms it would be best to do our schooling in. 

But really, I don’t have to limit myself to one small space this year.  James is starting a new adventure with Veritas Classical Schools which will help give him (and me) a little more challenge, structure and accountability in his homeschooling.  I can’t believe he’s in middle school already!  So I am giving him the whole upper platform in his bedroom for a place to study. 

Also, since he won the coin toss, he gets the awesome puzzle map on his wall. 

For my two middle boys (third and fourth grade) I am planning to teach a lot of subjects together.  So they get this nice, spacious corner in the upstairs landing.(thanks for the idea, Aunt Darcee!) I had a lot of fun putting this space together and am pretty excited for some of the curriculum we will be trying out is year.


And then there’s my kindergarten boy.  Heaven only knows how I am going to teach him anything since he “already knows everything, mom” but we are going to do our best. I’m hoping having his own personal space will get him excited.

I’m also thinking this adorable monogrammed backpack made by his grandma  and the world’s cutest little boy Alphabet Cards might help. I mean, aren’t these the cutest?!


At any rate, I’m super excited for school to begin this year and so thankful for how far God has brought us. Time is a strange thing.  In some ways, this year has been excruciatingly slow and painful. And in other ways, it has gone by faster than any before it. It’s good to look back and remember but now I am looking forward in hope- hope that those last hurdles before us will be overcome soon and hope that I might just be able to teach another kid how to read!  Wish us luck.

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Summertime…..and the livin’ ain’t as easy as I’d like

Ah, summer, my least favorite season of all- at least down south.  It used to be my favorite time of the year, growing up in Washington, where you waited all year for the rain to stop and the glory of summer in the Norwest to begin.  But moving here, I’ve had to learn to deal with a whole new kind of summer- the hot, humid, noisy bug-filled kind.  Throw into the equation a windowless house with very limited AC and I knew we were in for a rough season.

But as we prepared to continue working on the house and sweating more than is usually desirable, life suddenly threw one of those unexpected hardships at us. Or as our pastor quoted on Sunday morning from P.G. Wodehouse- 

“and there, unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping some lead into the boxing glove.” 

I won’t bore you with all the details here. Suffice it to say, this summer has put us through the ringer several times and everything has been more than a a little topsy turvy.  I can’t say we are quite out of the woods yet, but I can very thankfully say that in the midst of much upheaval, several very bright things happened. 

God finally gave to my long suffering sister and her husband a beautiful baby girl. I got to be there for the birth and welcome little Jubilee into the world.  To help celebrate her birth, a good measure of my family came for a visit- even my mother. We got to celebrate her sixtieth birthday while she was here and it was good.  The hubby and I also celebrated fifteen years of wedded bliss with an epic evening out and dinner spread out in courses across three fabulous restaurants. Pretty great.

And since most clouds have silver linings, this particular cloud brought with it a burst of progress on the house that I didn’t expect to see for a long time.  Doors, trim work, back stairs, the beginnings of HVAC and a much more permanent kitchen set up, just to name a few.

 If you recall, a few posts back, I showed some pics of the temporary kitchen I had put together. Did this kitchen work? Yes. But was it built out of a hodgepodge of wobbly shelves and random furniture propped up by bricks and then covered with fabric? Absolutely.

We had purchased some beautiful ikea countertops several months back, but were saving up for the cabinetry to put them on, which meant I couldnt use the kitchen sink we had purchased as well. I was making do with the utility sink in my laundry room which was definitely a step up from the bathtub I had been using before.

  Realizing, however, that it would probably be a while before cabinets would make an appearance, we decided to think outside the box and see what the piles of lumber under our house could provide. Within a few short days, we had some rudimentary supports built and the counters and sink installed.  What can I say? My hubby is a wiz with 2×4’s.

Next came a bit of shelving.

Of course, the raw wood was a little, well, raw looking so I pulled out a brush and a bucket of stain. Much better, no?

Since we had decided on this course for ‘cabinets’ we knew we would have to figure out a way to enclose them so we settled on curtains as the easiest and cheapest method.  I chose green fabrics since that was what I had in a box from a rummage sale a few years back.  I also found these super fun little clip rings that made installation waaaay easier.

I’m pretty pleased with how everything turned out.  Sure, its unconventional, but since when have we ever been conventional- hah! Besides, those are the sturdiest shelves I have ever seen and there is so much storage space that I won’t even need upper cabinets. 

 To add to my storage and to help fill the enormous space in the middle of the room, the hubby managed to salvage this old Ikea island from a job site.  And wouldn’t ya know, the counter on top matched the rest of mine exactly. It was in pretty rough shape, as you can see- some broken shelves and missing screws.

So it was 2×4’s to the rescue again, to reinforce the bottom, hold the whole thing together and put it back into service.

And voila! I have a kitchen! A genuine, beautiful, fully-functioning kitchen!

  I’m a little overwhelmed at the sheer size of the space but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. And I’m just overwhelmed to have it at all.  I guess I really never thought we would get here. 

So I’m taking this moment to push from my mind the other hurdles still to be overcome in our lives and just enjoying it. We made a batch of cookies today, in spite of the sweltering heat and just seeing all my baking stuff in action again makes me wonder- do any of you locals need a cake? ‘Cause I’ve finally got a place to bake ’em.

So long, farewell, Auf widersehen, good riddance

So yesterday marked the end of an era in our little family.  The blot on our landscape that has been making our neighborhood classier for more than a year has finally gone.  The trailer has departed.

It was rather an emotional experience for me to see it go- not a lot of regret, mind you, but a lot of relief and happiness accompanied by much retrospection over the year past.

Last summer was probably the worst summer of my life.  I wrote what I could about it here, but there were many other things that happened during those miserably hot months that I wasn’t able to share on a blog. And as I watched that old camper disappear down the road, I felt as if it were taking all the strain of those months with it. 

Of course, we aren’t out of the woods yet- the house still has a ways to go and you never know what’s coming next, but when I think back to a year ago, well, you get the picture.  The trailer served its purpose as a lifeboat- the thing that kept us afloat during turbulent times and for that we are grateful- and grateful to generous friends who lent it to us freely. Without it, we would not be where we are today.  But you better believe we all watched eagerly through the windows as they hooked it up and cheered loudly as it passed out of our lives.

It was an adventure getting it out of our twisty, turny, hilly back yard. And idiot that I am, I planted our little garden way too close to the front of it, so the truck could barely squeeze in there. I was afraid they were going to have to run over all my tomatoes.


But they just managed to avoid it. There was a tree or two in the way so we had to take a minute to saw off some protruding branches.

Then there was just the fun of inching down the curved driveway and avoiding the fence.  Let’s just say I was glad I wasnt driving the truck.

I was a little afraid that they just wouldn’t be able to get it out and that we would be stuck with it forever. 

But it’s gone- gone back from whence it came, leaving nothing but an enormous, ugly scar in our back yard. 

I’m trying not to draw too many comparisons from that scar to my own emotional scarring after living a whole year in that tiny place- except to remember that scars heal. Not only that, but scars can serve as reminders of the difficult times that God has brought us through and assurance that he will continue to be faithful no matter what comes.

One miraculous week

I thought about splitting this blogpost into two entries or even three but after some careful musing, I decided to cram it all into one so that maybe you can get the same overwhelmed, amazed-at-the-suddenly-rapid-progress feeling I have experienced this past week or so.

I got back from my trip to Washington last Saturday and spent the weekend more or less passed out from exhaustion on my bed, not even able to muster up the energy to notice if any work had been done around the house. And even when I had gotten a little bit of energy back, I couldn’t see much difference than before my trip.  Still no kitchen to speak of, no functioning bathroom and of course, no windows, although some progress had been made there. And of course there was unpacking to do, laundry to be washed, grocery shopping to catch up on- when momma leaves for a week, there is always plenty of catching up to do. 

But I was wrong in my first surmise.  Things had been done around the house.  Plans had been made, parts been ordered and delivery dates for certain, important appliances had been set.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know and not without a lot of preliminary work, I am sure.  And so, somehow, this week decided to be the week where several things fell into place and allowed us to take a big jump forward in settling in.

Monday morning, the hubby told me that I should probably start cleaning out the trailer and moving everything that hadn’t been moved yet up to the house.  I was reticent to do so, since it seemed like tempting fate to presume that we might be finally be done with the trailer at last. Surely something would come up to hinder progress yet again, I thought, and if there were actually any real wood anywhere in the trailer, I would have been knocking it every few minutes as I scrubbed windows, emptied out cupboards and bleached the minuscule shower curtain.  Would it be possible, really, to say farewell so soon to my least favorite bathroom and kitchen in the world? While I pondered these questions, work really was going forward on better ones. It was usually late at night, after the poor, exhausted hubby got home from work, but slowly the bathroom went from looking like this 


To this




Of course, this is a temporary fix for the bathroom.  (And when I say temporary, I mean it will probably stay this way for the next ten years or so) We planned on tiling the majority of it, but tile in such large quantities started to add up rather alarmingly, so we had to settle for this hideous looking green, gooey, waterproof membrane rolled onto the walls and floor.

But it looks better on the walls than in the bucket, it does the job it needs to and I would take this bathroom over the trailer one every day.  My babies inaugurated the room by bathing in it tonight and I won’t tell you how excited I am for my shower tomorrow morning lest you think me ridiculous.

And then, there is my kitchen.  This is also going to be a temporary fix until we can save up enough money for cabinetry etc., but it is more than passable for the time being. What we had set up before (to try and avoid running down to the trailer and back and forth for every meal) was really atrocious- a lopsided old table with a microwave, a toaster oven and coffee making supplies piled pell mell on top.  This is what it looked like after I had been gone for a week. Don’t look, mother.

This side of the kitchen is where my good countertops and kitchen sink will eventually go, so I decided to get rid of the awful table and get creative using the other side of the kitchen for the time being.  But in order to move my kitchen stuff out of the trailer and out of storage and into circulation again, I needed some kind of shelving. I have a nice pantry but no built in shelves and not a lot in reserve to be purchasing shelving.  Luckily, my basement and porch are brimming over with scrap wood and even a few odd bits of furniture that came with the house. 

This particular hutch had been sitting on my porch for at least a dozen years- seriously.  It was unbelievably filthy and I wasn’t sure it was even salvageable, but I thought I might as well try.

I didn’t take any photos of the in between stages, but after a ton of sanding and painting and patchwork and a tasteful yard or two of fabric to cover up the less fixable areas, the  boys and I succeeded in shoving it into the pantry where it fit perfectly and I had something quite usable.  


That, along with my favorite technique of stacking board and bricks to make shelves, and my pantry was in business.  It’s a cute little room, but rather difficult to get a good picture of.

I did something similar with another old hutch,although this one was in much better shape and hadn’t been sitting outside for the last decade.  I just spruced it up with a cute piece of fabric and now my “red” collection is housed there.  

I like red and decided it would be my accent color, which was easy to do since most everything I already owned in my kitchen was red.  


This was the other side of the kitchen- a blank canvas, if you will.

I had a few more random pieces of shelving (one of which definitely needed to be covered with a tasteful curtain), a good solid piece of wooden countertop and my trusty old kitchen island that I rearranged twenty times over until I found an arrangement that worked and would give me at least some counter space.

As soon as I had finished that, my beautiful, fifty dollar Craig’s list fridge was delivered and finally filled that space that has been mocking me with its emptiness for so long.  Oh the delight!

And then, this morning, best of all mornings, some dear people delivered a stove- a completely free gift that, like so many items now in our house, were apparently just looking for a good home. So this is my “temporary” kitchen. 

We are very, very blessed.



It seemed fitting, somehow, that the first meal I cooked in this room should involve bacon.


So now, everything we need to function in our house has been installed- errrrr, everything but the kitchen sink. That’s still in a box. But she’s a beaut, no?

And of course, the windows and the heat and air and a hundred other little things that would allow us to call this place finished. But oh, we are so much closer to that goal than we were even a week ago. 

 We are looking at a hooootttt summer ahead of us but we are facing it with hope, joy, thankfulness and a fully functioning bathroom.

What a difference a year makes

So a year and a day ago I posted this.  I was just rereading it, remembering as if  it were only yesterday what it was like having just moved into the trailer and then getting attacked by that awful stomach bug. And even thou we aren’t technically done using the trailer and a stomach bug today would still be just as unwelcome as ever, I am amazed at how far we have come from that bleak and miserable birthday.  

There is so much value in looking back over a year, not only seeing how far God has brought you, but realizing that all miseries must come to an end sometime, whether it’s a 24 hour illness or a difficult living situation or you name it.  Of course, it is also helpful to remember the bright spots in the dark times- a helpful sister, loving children, unexpected humor in the midst of it all. It reminds me that most of life is like that- a mixed bag of struggle and joy and hilarity.

This last week, I did something crazy and jumped on an airplane with my baby girl to come and see my folks out in Washington. It was about as spontaneous a thing as I have ever done- the boys were done with school, my church job wrapped up for the season, and something told me I needed to go see my daddy before he wouldn’t know me any more.  And grandma needed to see her granddaughter as well.  

It’s always painful, heading back home, knowing that things are difficult and knowing there isn’t really a lot you can do to help.  But daddy recognized me immediately.  He was so surprised and excited- he couldn’t quite remember my name, nor even how to give me a hug, but he knew me just the same.  There is pain in life, but it often makes the joys just that much sweeter. 

I came out ostensibly to be a help, but taking a breather from my own crazy life has been more helpful for myself than I imagined. My family surprised me with a little birthday trip to one of my favorite places and we spent a few days just quietly looking at the waves.   I had some rare, sweet, one on one time with my daughter


And she has gotten that special time with grandma and cousins I crave for my children so often.


Then, this morning, not only did I not wake up miserably sick, but the gloomy forecast that had been predicted for my entire stay decided not to go through with it and instead, blinded us all with a glory of sunshine.


My jet lagged baby decided to sleep until almost seven AM, which may not seem like much but it sure beats four.


And even though it was mostly shrouded in a haze, my favorite mountain managed to pop out and say hello.


I’d say it made for a pretty good day.  

I’ve been spoiled, really.  Life may have thrown me a few curveballs and will probably continue to do so, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to take a brave swing at them when your fellow team members are an unbelievably fabulous group of sisters, parents, husband, children and friends. 

Who could ask for a better gift than that? 

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.)

Saying Uncle (temporarily)

Hello dear friends.  Thanks for sticking with this poor old blog.  Writing has been on the bottom of the list just now. 

  It’s been an encouraging few weeks, despite the pessimistic title of this post.  Work on the house has progressed steadily if slowly.  Our glorious white drywall is beginning to bloom with painted color and every weekend more and more work is being done on the long suffering windows.  

It’s a little eerie, wandering through the cold, echoing, empty spaces of that house.  Large sheets of plastic shroud the holes in the walls where the windows should be and they seem to whisper “just wait a little longer- just a little longer.”

I am willing to wait, but the wait has been cold- very cold.  After an abnormally warm December, January’s frosts hit us hard and I won’t lie to you- it’s been a little tough. The trailer was not built to weather the cold and the interior of the house has no defense against it. Seeing as we are hooked up to a hose for our water supply, there have been several days when the water has been kept a frozen prisoner in the spigot. 

“We can do this!” I have been telling myself. “Think of the pioneers! Or better yet, think of the Walmart down the street that sells water!”

  But when the toilet in the house froze solid, I began to lose my nerve a bit.  It’s kinda hard to watch your kiddos huddled in blankets over their schoolbooks and after all that, running to your sister’s house everyone someone ‘has to go’ can be a litttle wearing.  

I talked to the hubby. We talked to God and we asked him if he could help us find a way to get tolerably through the frigid month of February or at least help us avoid becoming victims of cabin fever induced insanity. 

The next evening we received an offer of a temporary house- a house sitting gig that would extend (you guessed it) through the month of February.  

I debated the question for a while.  After all, I don’t like to back down and we have stuck it out this long, I kinda hated to give up.  Fears of the work grinding to a halt or people breaking in to steal more of our stuff have also plagued me, but the offer seemed like a pretty clear sign.  And then there were my kids to think of.  

So starting Monday, we will say farewell to the trailer for a while.  At least the kids and I.  The hubby will be dividing his time between the two places to make sure things stay secure and so the work can go forward.   

There are definitely mixed feelings of relief and uncertainty floating around in my head, but I am choosing to look at it as simply a vacation.  Y’all can pray that I will use it as such and that come Spring, we will return to the work with renewed vigor and (God willing) an end in sight.