Welcome to My Parlour

Some of my friends have been asking to see photos of my house. For most of the winter, the timing never seemed right to take pictures--not only because I was suffering from "my-house-is-never-clean-enough" syndrome, but also because the daylight hours are so limited in the winter months, and when the sun does shine in, it is thin, direct, and harsh--most unflattering.

Well, the world is tipping back into summer, and the sun has taken on a golden, glowy tone that has me cleaning out corners and doing odd fix-it jobs, dreaming of seeds and landscaping ideas, and eying up the can of paint destined for the bathroom walls in a way that is making it nervous. Also, it has enabled me to take some photos of my home that partly convey the way I feel about it. It is my "happy place."

So far, I have only photographed the kitchen and the living room, but it's a start--not to mention, where we spend most of our day (excluding my office, which is just off the kitchen in the addition/entrance.)

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One of our first renovations (which I'm pretty sure I mentioned last summer) was to remove a peninsula that divided the kitchen from the dining room. We had originally intended to put it back once we solved the leakage issue causing the mold we found on it, but liked how open the space was without it so much that we left it off.

The only unfortunate thing is that the flooring in the kitchen/dining area was very new, and now needs to be replaced because of the big L-shaped hole in it where the peninsula used to be. Hopefully, we will be able to do that this summer.

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While we have "made do" with a lot of free or re-purposed items, I love seeing how we can make them work and look beautiful together. I also love how almost everything has a story or some meaning to me. The table was a gift from my mom and step-dad. The "Faith" sign was a gift from our church family in Mena. The apron hanging below it was my Grandma H's. The spice racks on top of the stove were hers, also. The photo of the little girl beside the apron was a gift from my Aunty Lin. I made the angel cross-stitch while I was in India with Jason, before we even started dating. The cat-tails on the shelf were gifts from the kids from our dugout. And the shelf itself was a gift from my friend Candace, which she had her uncle hand-make for me. (Tucked into the "Faith" sign is a silk rose that Jason gave me while we were courting, but it's hard to see in this photo.)

Even the dishwasher was re-gifted to us from a couple at our church that was redoing their kitchen. She didn't want the dishwasher to go to waste--she loved it more than their new one, but had replaced it because it didn't match the new appliances! And she's right--it's 19 years old, and still works great, despite a year or two out in our shed! (So what if our appliances are now three different colours? Four, if you count the stainless-steel toaster!)

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Jason made this shelf out of a couple of weathered pallets to fill in the space left behind by the removed peninsula. I LOVE IT!! (He even re-used some rusty nails to complete the "rustic" look.) The little doll was made for me by my Grandma M. when I was a child. "Twinky" is made of muslin and yarn (for the hair), with a hand-embroidered face and moveable arms and legs. She is too special to leave in a box in the dark somewhere--and nice and handy when little Norah comes for a visit. The lava-rock mortar-and-pestle does get used in my kitchen. I am pretty sure that also was a gift from one of my grandmothers, but I don't remember for certain. And those two kids in the photograph are my brother and me as teenagers. Don't ask me how long ago that was... I'll never tell! :-)

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When we moved in, the kitchen cupboards (which are resin doors on wood-veneer particle-board boxes) had a wood-grain look to them, and a significant amount of wear-and-tear. The upper cupboards next to the range hood, in particular, had seen their better days. I loved the look of black and red cupboards, so I decided to paint them. I LOVE the results! Instant face-lift! Also, after about twenty minutes on YouTube, I decided that glazing them would not be beyond my ken, either, so off to the paint store I went. The red ones are glazed with black and the black ones are glazed with red. (The black also had a layer of red underneath, and the black was thinly applied to let it show through.) I just added the knobs to the drawers on Friday (the day these photos were taken), and liked it so much that I bought knobs for all the cupboard doors yesterday, too.

The red display cupboards originally had some etched glass fronts, which the previous owners had replaced with smoked mirror tiles. I am not quite sure what I am going to put in there--eventually, I think I'll put some glass or bead board, but for now, they are dust-catching zones.

There are a few "stories" in this photo, too--the little yellow "happy-face" mug was made for me when I was a child by my great-aunt Myrtle, who did ceramics as a hobby. (It actually says "Talena" up the side, spelled right, and everything!) Amanda recently gave me the matching tea-cup pictures as a thank-you for helping out with the cooking on her "India Night" Jolica show in January. My friend Renée took the photo of Noah in the bucket. And the cross on the wall was a gift from our Peace River church family when we moved away in 2008.

Just to the right of these red cupboards is the door into the addition, above which is this sign, scored on Etsy at Bedlam Country Crafts:

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As I tell my guests when they notice it and laugh, "I look at the sign, and I laugh a little, and then I realize that it's not all that bad... and my children get to survive another day." (You can also see the trim piece above that still needs to be painted, which is why the piece that broke off on the left has not been replaced.)

The living room is directly adjacent to the dining room. In fact, that is where I was standing when I took the long shot of the dining room and kitchen, above top. The colour of the feature wall was directly inspired by Jason's and my love of chocolate. :-)

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You can kind of see the little pony wall (brown in the left foreground, covered in pipe-cleaner crafts) that separates the two rooms. On the other side is a built-in bookshelf. That, combined with the tall shelf you can see here, is the sum total of space we have for our "library" right now. Sad, I know. And the top shelf is all cookbooks! We have totes-full of books in storage in the Sea Can, which I have dreams will have a room of their own someday--or at least, a room they can share with guests and the children's games someday, but that will at least allow them to be able to breathe fresh air again! (Right now, I try to rotate them out about once a year to keep our selection fresh and age-appropriate.)

The armoire hides our television and other electronics when not in use (a score off of our local Freecycle network). The kids like to play educational games on their laptop (right where I can keep an eye on them!) when they are finished with their school work. I like that the projector screen rolls up to reveal our lovely Stephen Lyman print when not in use, just like a flat-screen T.V. wouldn't.

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The front window looks out across the yard, the garden, the trees, the field... it's awesome.

The curtain rods were new last week. The curtains are old, but perfect--I scored them at my friend Larrissa's garage sale last summer. There were two more than we needed for the living room, so those ones went into the master bedroom.

I have plans to replace this futon with a big, overstuffed leather chair--just as soon as we can get that aforementioned guest/family room to put it into. Other than the spare bunk in Jude's room, this is our only "guest bed" at the moment, which irks me. Also, there really isn't room for it in the living room, and it's kinda ugly, but you do what you gotta do. The couch, which is extremely comfy to sit on, is extremely un-comfy to sleep on, so the futon stays. But someday, we'll have a big chair, and room for real side-tables! Someday!

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We'll finish the tour of the living room with the "school station", which consists of the small bookshelf behind this blue chair, and the dresser beside it. (There is also the whiteboard which is visible in the dining room in the very first photo, and several bulletin boards on display in our hallway.) Not your typical living room furniture, but a definite part of our current lifestyle. This blue chair is easily transportable on the laminate floor, and I often put it in front of our "library" shelves to face the room for visiting, or for enjoying the scenery through the windows. Also, the blue chair and the school dresser are both from my Grandpa and Grandma H's estate. The small book shelf is from my other grandparents. And the couch and cushion are from Jason's Uncle Dale--a gift he made sure would go to us before he died.

I painted the small yellow terra-cotta pot that I use to keep my garlic (sitting on the turn-table spice rack on the kitchen counter) with the verse "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me" from Psalm 23. Surrounded by so many mementos of family, and friends, and those who love us, I hardly needed that reminder... but it does seem to sum up the atmosphere of our home perfectly.

That, and the phrase, "Guests are welcome here."

... So when are you coming for tea?

Modern Convenience

Over the last few years, there are several things that go along with modern living that I have willingly given up: pre-packaged food, store-bought veggies (as much as possible) and a street cleaner that takes care of the snow in front of my house being among them.

Others were given up slightly less willingly. For instance, my dishwasher. When we first moved to the country two summers ago, the trailer we bought had a portable dishwasher in it. However, it didn't take long to notice that it was sitting in the location originally intended for the fridge. The fridge had been moved across the room to a very awkward position, stuffed into a coat closet into which it did not fit properly, therefore protruding into the room about 18 inches farther than necessary. This interrupted the flow of traffic through the house, and used valuable space (something that was at a premium).

In fact, it became such an annoyance, and the space I was working in seemed so crowded to me, that it wasn't long before I decided that I would rather return the fridge to its intended location than have a dishwasher. This would improve the efficiency of the kitchen, the traffic flow through the house, and for all I could tell, the dishwasher didn't work properly anyway.

I don't regret that decision. However, I didn't realize how having to do three loads of dishes by hand every day would actually affect our lifestyle, some ways more subtly than others.

For instance, I used to love to experiment with cooking. Experimenting is something that usually takes extra time, and uses extra dishes. With the amount of time already spent on my feet in the kitchen, hands in the dishpan, I had slipped into a "fast-and-tested" menu plan before I had even realized it, all because I had no desire to spend any more time in the kitchen.

Also, the post-supper dishes were usually done by my wonderful husband. This meant that by the time the dishes were done, it was time to put the kids to bed, and they had not had nearly as much time as they wanted to play with him.

After Jude (the kid who thrives on "quality time") found out that our new home would have a dishwasher, he declared that it was the part he was most excited about.

"Why?" I asked, curious. It's not like he usually did the dishes, after all.

"Because then Daddy will have more time to play with us after supper."

My reasons were different, but I, too, was looking forward to having one, so that I would just have more time in general. After a few hiccups working through issues with our extremely hard, iron-laden water (sitting a 1/4-cup of white vinegar on the top rack in every load is essential if we don't want our dishes to look like they are covered in chalk), it has proven to be exactly the reprieve I had hoped it would be from dishpan hands and aching feet and back. And the best part? I have started experimenting again.

Speaking of modern conveniences, I am happy to report that we have had a working furnace for several weeks, now. We also have power in our addition, thanks to a couple of electrician friends who made sure of it. And after a week of having no oven (it shorted out on me Friday before last), Jason brought our other stove over from the "parts trailer"--which has its own issues, but at least the oven works (most of the time.) Which means that finally, we are almost all the way "moved in."

We are thankful for these modern conveniences--the weatherman says the snow is on its way.

Oh Blah Dee, Oh Blah Dah

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I cut open this butternut squash a few weeks ago to a wonderful surprise--sprouts!

After sitting on my counter for several weeks, it must have decided it had had enough sunshine to rev up the next phase of the life cycle. I had grand plans of planting the sprouts and growing squash through the winter (indoors, of course). Those plans ended in a mass of black, squishy rot, since first of all I thought I would keep it in a plastic bag "until I had the time to deal with it." Apparently, "Time" made that decision for me. 

Lady Time seems to be holding a few other Rods of Doom over our heads these days, and we are working hard to make sure they don't land. Jason has been valiantly working away on erecting and connecting the diesel fuel tank for our furnace all weekend, but has met with several setbacks that have made the project stretch out in the most maddening way.

I can claim slightly more success in my weekend plans: I managed to get the second coat of paint on the addition walls this afternoon, meaning that after I paint the trim in there tomorrow, the room can become at least partially useful. (We still have to lay the new linoleum and put on the baseboard, but progress is being made.)

I also got some poles for my new, "permanent" chicken run tamped in tonight. Two down, fourteen more to go! And my back is already feeling it.

It sounds like Jason will be staying home tomorrow to continue working on his projects while the weather is good. I may only do school in the morning with the boys for the same reason. 

We intend to beat Time to the punch, if it is at all possible!

How was your weekend, friends?

Suddenly Busy Part 3

Well, in order to make this post about the last two weeks seem somewhat shorter and less dry to the casual reader (since anyone not directly involved in them may care a lot less than I do), I am going to put the highlights in bullet form.
  • After returning from our weekend in Sylvan Lake on Tuesday, Aug. 2, we knew we had our work cut out for us. The first stop for me was the paint store. For Jason, it was the hardware store--his trips there became almost daily. I'm sure he now knows all the employees by first name. Fortunately, he was just beginning his scheduled holidays, so had plenty of time with helping to get our new house ready! His main accomplishments that week were getting the trailer levelled with the help of our friend Brian, getting the pressure pump moved over from the other trailer and getting that and the septic hooked up, and getting the electrician here by Friday so we could bathe again. Yay!
  • By Saturday morning, we were cheering because Jude came back into the holiday trailer from his bathroom break to report that there was hot water. The celebration was short-lived, however. After only three quick showers, Jabin's bath-water came out cold. I waited four hours before trying to have my shower, and within five minutes the water was cold. Hmmph. Guess we'll need to change out the water heater.
  • We are now referring to our three homes as the "new trailer", the "holiday trailer" or "camper", and the "old trailer", or, more affectionately, the "parts trailer".
  • The first part to come in from the "parts trailer" was our other water heater. Jason changed it out by himself on Sunday, which was quite the job. I continued painting.
  • Upon removing the first baseboard from the dining room to start painting, I discovered (horrors!) mould behind it. And the same behind the second board, which came from the peninsula adjoining it. Further inspection (by removing the peninsula and lifting up the wall panel) revealed the bottom part of the wall frame to be damp, but there to be no rot or damage in the wall or behind the poly. We concluded it was from a leak from either the dishwasher or the sink, but since we had no running water at the time, had to wait a week to confirm it. In the meantime, we let the wall dry out and discovered we liked the kitchen better without the peninsula in it. Bonus!
  • Turns out it was a leak from the faucet, which is a really old unilever-style. When you lift it to the hot side, water pours out around the base. Changing out the kitchen faucet from the "parts trailer" is pretty high on Jason's "to-do" list right now (but really low on his "things-I-enjoy-doing" list! We had just put the other one in last winter, and it is much nicer, anyway--although, a real pain-in-the-you-know-what to deal with, apparently.)
  • Painting jobs completed: Living room; kitchen; Jude's room; alcove in our bedroom. Still to do: hallway; bathroom; dining room; kitchen cabinets.
  • While revamping the peninsula design, Jason built me a "weathered-wood"-look set of display shelves at the end of my cupboards from some old pallets. He does not really enjoy carpentry work, and I am so proud of him. He did a great job, and I absolutely love them! (I can't post photos right now, due to computer issues. I will be posting the "grand photo tour" once we are done renovating, anyway.)
  • We spent our first night in our new home on Wednesday, which happened to be my 34th birthday. My friend Laurie C. commented on my Facebook update about this, "Lucky girl! Not everybody gets a new house for her birthday!" She's right! :-D
  • Jabin's sock (see yesterday's post) has been successfully frogged and is well on it's way to complete recovery. I finally got over my grumpiness about my mistake. I'm not sure if that could be called an "adventure in knitting", but hopefully the "inconvenience" did teach me to inspect my heels carefully before moving past them from now on!
And that's about it!... so far.

Home Tour: Bathroom

I have a bathroom fetish. Meaning, that if you were to phone me and tell me that you were coming over in ten minutes, and my hair was messy and I had no make-up on and my house was a disaster, I'd spend that ten minutes cleaning my bathroom. (I'd probably also brush my hair, but to heck with make-up!)

So, I realize that a bathroom might be a strange place to some to begin a home tour, but to me, it is completely reasonable. Not to mention, my bathroom is the most "done" right now, although there are still some things I have on the "project list" for in there.

Bienvenue à la toilette!

As you can tell from the mirror's reflection, this is also the laundry room. The blue tank in the corner is our pressure tank. (We are currently trying to figure out why we can't get it to give us only normal pressure--it is constantly pinned right now. Thank goodness I know a plumber! *wink, wink at Dad, who is shaking his head that I inherited so little plumbing know-how from him!* Also, we have LOTS of iron in our water, so there is a bunch of rust around the drain. Also plus, because of the high pressure, it is constantly dripping, which doesn't help.) One of my future projects is to build a cabinet to enclose the pressure tank (read "hide it!") and put storage shelves above it. Good winter project, right? Or, maybe next summer... Uh, let's continue around the room, shall we?

I have an old wooden orange crate in the Sea Can, which will become my magazine holder next time I get out there and dig it out. For now, our bathroom reading material gets to partially-obscure the Anne Geddes print of oh-so-cute naked baby butts. It is sitting on top of the linen tower, which I managed to slide between the toilet and the vanity for towel storage--but had to remove the toilet paper holder in the process. I have plans to put one on the pressure-tank cabinet, but for now, the TP roll sits on the back of the toilet, or on the vanity. Oh, well.

Who puts sentimental stuff in a bathroom, right? Uh... Anyway, the shelf was made for me by my friend Candace's uncle way back in college. The muslin laundry bag was hand-embroidered by my maternal grandmother. (Or, at least, she was the one who gave it to me from the archives.) Some of the stitching has started to come out, so I may re-do it when I have time. The pot on the left of the shelf was painted by Jabin during this summer's art camp. The photo is of Noah at about 10 months. The little moon and star ornament (which is difficult to see in this photo, because I hung it in front of the dark candles) was a gift from my friend Vicki. The little basket is full of bath teas and salts.

The colour of the walls showed up truest in this photo. I had originally bought this paint for my very sunny living room, and got the first wall cut in before I realized I had made a big mistake. I still loved the colour, but realized it would be too overwhelming in a room with that much wall and sun. However, it is perfect in the bathroom!

The little glass canister has my laundry soap in it (I use Charlie's Soap, and only need a tablespoon per load, so it will take me forever to go through that.) The "bug bin" hides all the rest of my laundry supplies. And the clock (which I can see from the shower if I stand on tiptoes) reminds me if I'm enjoying the hot water a little too much in the morning!

Got these at a garage sale this summer. They are as straight as those goofy (but interesting) wire hangers will let them be.
.This is where the toilet paper holder used to be. I covered the holes and figured out a good spot to hang the hand towel in one shot by re-purposing this garden plant hanger there.

That's it for that little room, folks. If I can ever get my kitchen de-cluttered, I'll take some photos and show you around there, too!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's The Deal, Sparky...

We listed our house in the second week of July, asking kind of a middle-to-high-road price for our house size and location. Then we waited. And waited. Jason started to get a little worried that the house wouldn't sell, and I said, "Don't worry about it. If it's meant to happen, it will."

By August, we still had not had any showings, so we dropped our price significantly. We were hoping to sell by the end of the month, so that we could be moving no later than mid-September. "The market's been flooded," we were told, and with 108 properties on the market, we wondered if we even had a chance.

We waited for about another week, and then it suddenly seemed as if Peace River had, collectively, decided it was time to shop for houses. For the next two weeks, we had showings every day or two, sometimes more than one a day, but no offers. I was too tired from all the cleaning to be worried, but Jason was getting increasingly doubtful.

Finally, we had an Open House, after which we were told that one couple was interested enough to go through the house twice. That was on a Thursday. But by Sunday, there were still no offers.

That was when I began to doubt. See, we had always put our plan to move to Arkansas in the Lord's hands, and He seemed to be opening the doors. But if this door didn't open, we couldn't go. Not only that, even if we weren't moving to Arkansas, we needed to sell our house anyway, because another winter in this huge beast would bury us, especially considering I had already given up all of my students. So if we didn't sell the house, and ended up staying here, Jason was talking about taking a second job by the end of September.

The next day, we had a noon showing. The same couple looked at it again around supper time. Then they gave us an offer before bedtime.

The day after, they accepted our counter-offer, and we had another showing that gave us a back-up offer. The following day, that couple accepted our counter-offer.

So. We now have two accepted offers on our house. Both are for the same amount of money, for only $5000 less than our current asking price. Both for the same possession date. The financing condition on the first offer has been cleared, and their house inspection is on Monday, which is the only other condition, so I guess we'll know about that one pretty soon.

With the offers in hand, and a moving date on the horizon, with a 4-day weekend for Jason coming up, we took the time to go for one Final Hurrah to visit family and friends around Sylvan Lake and Red Deer on Labour Day weekend. While we weren't able to catch up with everyone (I mean, c'mon, like our friends are going to avoid making plans just in case any of their friends call them at the very last second to get together? Right.) we did get together with our old friends Chad and Renée M., and Candace V. (I got to see baby Zoe for the first time!), as well as my brother and Dad, my grandparents and Uncle Darrell and Auntie Joy, and Jason's entire family. It was a busy weekend, and it feels like all we did was go from this place to eat, to that place to eat, and then we did... guess what? More eating. By Monday, on the way home, we were stuffed, and felt kind of icky from a rather high percentage of our diet being fast or processed food for the weekend.

It was worth it, though. But I'm glad the feasting didn't last any longer. Tuesday, I made a wonderful vegetable broth soup to start getting our bodies back on track. Within a few days, we felt pretty good again.

Despite the fact that I am now packing, and changing addresses, and taking care of a million little last-minute things that need to be done when moving, especially a move of this magnitude, I also started school with the boys on Tuesday. We are only doing half-days right now, as I really don't have the time to do a full day of school with everything else on the to-do list. However, we are still managing to work on the three R's every day, as well as some other "fun" stuff incorporating science, art, social studies, etc. We are doing a unit study on the character trait of Attentiveness, and our current topic is the five senses, starting with hearing. On Thursday, we "made" an ear, using blankets for the ear canal, a jar of water for the vestibule, with socks wound up or attached to the jar for the cochlea and semi-circular canals. The kids got to climb through the ear, telling me where they were in it and what each part did, banging on a metal lid with a maraca for the hammer and anvil, and basically "being" sound all the way from the ear flap to the nerve (skipping rope) that went to the brain. This is only one example of the cool ways this curriculum incorporates learning and makes it "real" to the kids. So fun!

So, as I sit here typing, we are about two weeks away from our moving date. I have several boxes packed and stacked around the house, but plenty more to go. Chances are, my blogging rate is going to go down now that school has started again (as evidence is already suggesting), and then during the move I will be taking a hiatus. However, for now, I'll try to keep capturing memories with words as much as I have time for.

Thank you to all of you who have been praying for us during this time of transition, and who continue to do so. Your prayers are felt and appreciated.

The serious and the silly.

The boys and I got to ride in my Uncle Darrell's milk truck around the block--a first for them, and something I hadn't done since I was a girl.

I asked Uncle Darrell if they drink the milk from the truck or buy it from the store.

"We buy it from the store to avoid the 'appearance of impropriety,'" he said.

"Too bad. The stuff in the truck is probably way better for you," I replied.

"Oh, I know it is," he affirmed.

My boys and Candace's two oldest girls checking out the chickens. Noah got the biggest kick out of chasing them around the yard. Candace is raising several exotic breeds, as you can see.

The happy Winters family.

All of the traveling left Jabin a little sleepy the day after we got home!

I Am Posting By Default

I wasn't going to take the time to post today, and if I did, it wasn't going to be about this. But I am waiting for our kids to settle in their room after a very late night playing with friends, so I'll just dash this off quickly before heading to the sack myself.

In the last month, our life has been crazy. But the good news is, I can now look forward to that leisurely summer I was hoping for.

The reason is, there has been an unexpected and unavoidable delay on our house-building project. Our contractor's elderly mother has had a bad fall, breaking her leg--this on the tail of a stroke last fall that she has still not completely bounced back from. This was just the "straw that broke the camel's back," though, on a project that was too rushed from the start.

And frankly, I'm relieved. Jason is disappointed to lose the momentum we had gained on the project, but I am looking forward to approaching this whole thing at a more leisurely pace. It will be much better to break ground in the spring and be moving in next fall than all the scads of balancing acts we were trying to pull off in every facet of this project to make it work this year. Maybe I'll even have time to blog a little more than I have been! (Not that summer is ever really a great time to be sitting in front of a computer for hours, though.)

(So don't hold your breath on that one!)

Anyway, I have been doing a little bit of recording, finally. I have discovered that a recording technician I am not. Also, my rhythm sucks. But this first song I am working on is a huge learning curve, and the hours and hours I have put into it already will pay off when I approach my next project and complete it in a fraction of the time. Right? Right?

It won't be anything fancy--I am doing it with free downloadable software, and all the instrument sounds except my own voice came from my Yamaha, both of which facts impose certain limitations on what I can do with the song. But it's still better than the off-key, mistake-ridden version that we recorded when Candace and I (as Heart & Soul) did a concert in 2001. Plus, it's the new, improved version, with the third verse.

The song I am referring to is this one.

Anyway, since I was up until nearly 4 this morning working on it, I'm pretty much dragging my butt around right now--better go shower and sleep.

Hope you all had a good weekend, and a happy Canada Day to my fellow Canucks!


For years, one of my favourite magazines has been Kitchen and Bath Ideas from Better Home and Gardens. I would pick it up occasionally, drooling over page after page of granite counter tops, stainless-steel professional gas ranges, and immaculately-tiled back splashes, knowing that each and every kitchen must have cost a fortune in the remodel--a fortune I didn't have to spend on a kitchen I didn't have to remodel. But I liked looking and dreaming, anyway.

Now, the time has come. Here we are, busily planning our "dream house"--or as close as we can get on a budget. Suddenly, I am actually planning exactly how I want my kitchen laid out. And there are so many decisions to make! What kind of cabinets do I want? What colour? What kind and colour of flooring? Where should the fridge be in relation to the island? To the dining room? How big should the window be? What should the countertops be made of? Gas or electric oven?

And that's just the kitchen.

Did you know that when someone built your house, someone had to decide what kind of doorhandles to use, what kind of toilets to put in, whether to stucco, drywall, or put a tile drop-ceiling in, what kind of windows to use, and the list goes on and on. If you are one of those people who has a hard time making decisions, I am not sure whether building a house would be for you, or not. On the one hand, it might cure you forever. On the other hand, you might wrestle at length with every little detail, slowing down the building process, and then regret the decision you finally made every time you glanced at that feature after you move in.

It's exciting, it just feels a bit like we're in a hurry. Oh, wait. We are in a hurry--our goal to move in is sometime in September or, at latest, October. Eep!

So, if I don't call, e-mail, write, or comment on your blog, it's not that I don't love you and miss you. I am most likely thinking of you fondly at that very moment. And if you would think fondly of me in return, and perhaps send up a prayer on my behalf, it would be appreciated.

'Cause it just means that I'm neck deep.


Remember Jumanji? Remember the mosquitos the size of baby elephants that could break car windows and drill through solid oak doorways?

That's what the mosquitos are like here right now.

Nowhere so much so as our property. When we were out there last night, Jason said, "These are the kind of mosquitos that go home and smoke cigars and drink beer at night." And they were out for our blood.

Hopefully, they die down a little in a few weeks. In the meantime, here are some pics of the new digs. (Click on any photo to see it larger.)

There a TONS of wild strawberries all over the field. I hope I actually get to have some, before some bird or woodland creature snaggles them all.

"The mosquitos are coming! The mosquitos are coming!"

On the "road" side of the trees.

Look! I was there! Really, I was!

No, really!

"Be careful, Mr. Ryan. Not everything in here reacts well to mosquitos." (Poor Jabin! Today he got it even worse!)

The gory aftermath of the Killing of the Bloodsuckers--which ensued when we had to get back into our van to leave.

Embarrassed by Blessings

There are a few things with this whole "house-building" thing that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around.

I think the biggest and weirdest thing is that I feel embarrassed. Let me try to explain that.

The first year of our marriage, Jason and I lived in my dad's basement. Jason was going to college, and I was working ten-hour days as a courier in Red Deer. We were broker than broke. Every month we got a little farther behind, meaning we had to put a little more on the student line of credit just to survive. I don't know how we would have survived without Dad's help.

After that year, Jason got a job working in the computer department of a company in Calgary. He worked down there for a month before we were able to move into a little 900-square-feet-including-the-two-flights-of-stairs-and-the-teeny-
tiny-veranda condo, during which time he lived with my uncle and aunt--what a blessing they are to us. We made the official move the day before our first anniversary. Our rent was almost $1 per square foot, over-and-above utilities, etc. (We thought prices in Calgary were stupid then! HA! I bet that condo would rent for at least $1500 a month, now!)

One month later, Jason was let go from that job, due to what his ex-boss later admitted was simply a conflict of personalities.

Suddenly, we were in the situation of being saddled with a huge amount of debt (student-loan, plus some credit card debt I had accumulated through poor financial habits while single), and no income to speak of. My part-time job as a day-time supervisor at Roger's Video brought in barely enough money to pay for our groceries every month, let alone rent. As the months passed, and no job offers came in sight, we slid farther into the hole.

In Calgary, as in so many places, it's all who you know. And with the exception of my uncle and aunt, we knew very few people there--especially those that might have connections in the field Jason is trained in.

Well, that's not quite true. We knew a couple that Jason had become friends with during his years as the director's assistant at Sunnyside Camp in Sylvan Lake. As it so happens, they lived in the same neck of the woods as us, and happened to come into the video store one day and "let it slip" that the then-current director was planning on giving up his position soon, and we should maybe "get on that." While we were confident that Jason knew that camp inside out and backwards, he was also only 28 years old at the time--meaning that, if he got the job, he would be the youngest director that camp had ever had in its over-fifty years of existence.

The Lord saw fit to bless us with that job, obviously. THAT was a huge blessing. We got to move into a beautiful home, right on the camp property, that came as a "perk" of the job, meaning no rent, utilities, or upkeep out of our own pocket. The house was only 4 years old, as the previous director had finally replaced the original director's dwelling with a manufactured home while he was there. There was more room on one floor of that house than our entire condo in Calgary had sported!

And I was even a little embarrassed by that. What had we done to deserve this blessing? We didn't squander the opportunity, though. We used those years at the camp to pay off huge, gi-normous chunks of our accumulated debt, as well as to give as generously as we were able to causes and charities we felt led to support. But I felt bad, in some ways, that we seemed to have done so little to "earn" this financial boost, while friends of ours were struggling along on extremely limited incomes, or had huge mortgages to go with their houses.

While at the camp, our family expanded from two to five. So when it came time to move to Peace River, we knew we had to find a house with room for our rambunctious boys, and to house a home office for our various home-based businesses. We had never purchased a home before, and because our focus had been mainly on paying off as much debt as possible to free us up to go overseas (a long story that still has not materialized), we had nothing to speak of in savings. The government has a program that will help first-time home buyers without the requisite 25% down, but the problem was we didn't even have the amount of money they wanted!

Our original plan was to rent, then buy later when we had a better idea of what the town was like. We spent one whirlwind December weekend in Peace River, just Jason and 2-week-old Jabin and I, looking at rental properties here and in nearby Grimshaw. There was really nothing that appealed to us--everything was either too old, too dumpy, or too small (700 sq. feet!) Last-minute, we decided to look at a house for sale. From the asking price, we did not think it would be in our budget, but we thought It never hurts to ask.

The house was huge--it was originally 2000 square feet over two floors, but ten years after the original building was put up, a 1000 sq. ft. addition was put on the back. The basement needed to be almost completely re-done. There were various renovation projects throughout the house that were only half-finished, or extremely poorly done. The last person to paint had been anything but careful. And the movers had come only the day before, leaving muddy footprints all over the carpet.

We took it. In three weeks, we negotiated the sale of the house to something within our budget, took possession on December 21, and moved on the 22nd. Even that would not have been possible without financial help from family, and I am sure some divine pushes in the process.

Funny how you can expand to fill up whatever container you are in. Your habitually-traced steps just find new paths to create. Your junk finds new corners to fill. You actually buy more to fill up the space. (This is a materialistic habit which I abhor, but recognize it in myself, none-the-less.)

Little did we know that the dinosaur would be so hard to feed. Our first full month of utilities bills was January--the coldest month in our year. When I opened the envelope, it felt like I had been kicked in the gut by a horseshoe made of liquid nitrogen. I thought, at first, that it was because prices had simply gone up so much since the last time we had had to pay utilities. But upon comparing the bill to friends with similar properties, I realized that no, we had simply purchased Peace River's most energy-inefficient building.

We quickly realized that we would either have to make more money to live here, learn the fine art of living without eating, or move. Then, a miracle happened. Jason got a job offering 50% more than what he was making. The pressure was off. I began teaching piano a few months later. We could actually afford to do "fun" things again, once in a while.

And then winter came again. Despite not feeling the icy fingers of More Debt scratching out my eyes last year, we both recognized that there may never be a better time to move than now.

My mother's husband Mike, with his keen "spidey sense" for good deals on land, had us go check on the property we are now moving to sometime just before the new year. With his experience as a general contractor, and his willingness to take a summer and do so, he is going to be the major driving force behind our house being built. Because of that, we will be able to build a literal "dream house", for us, at least. No, it's not one of those bazillion-dollar homes that you see in magazines. But for the same or lesser mortgage, in a market where real estate prices have sky-rocketed in the last year, we will be able to get a nicer, much more efficient house on a sizable acreage that we would not have been able to afford for many more years to come without this help.

And I'm embarrassed. I catch myself trying to explain the situation, say too much, when people ask about our land, or the house we are building. Justifying what seems to me, in some ways, to be extravagant. The house is big, but not huge. Ironically, the cost of living there will be much less than here. We are hoping to have more money to invest in causes again--perhaps even save up for a real family vacation. And most definitely get our own cow! No more chlorinated water. (The well was drilled on Tuesday, and the water is fine.) I can grow my own vegetables. There are twenty-two acres of trees for me--uh, I mean "my boys"--to run around in. And with all this, I think I am afraid that people will think we are either living beyond our means, or that our means are a lot more than they really are.

Why do I care so much about what people think? Is it my sense of fairness? It's not fair that we have these blessings, and have been blessed so much, when other people struggle and have to go through years of toil and tribulation to receive the same payback. It's not fair that we can conceive a child almost by merely thinking of it, while other people have to go through expensive and costly medical procedures, or never even be parents at all.

And then it occurs to me. I remember all the times (these and many more) that we have been blessed by other people in our lives. I remember all the times that we have given to help others, even if it meant going without a little ourselves. And I realize that soon it will be our turn to "pay it forward." We have been blessed, so that we can be a blessing. Almost daily, I pray that I and my family would be a blessing to someone today.

The easiest way to be a blessing is to have something to give away. God, through our family and friends, has blessed us in a huge way--not so we can horde and hold on to what we are given. No, in His economy, the more you give your blessings and your talents to others, the more you receive yourself. And He only ever gives you what your abilities can handle.

Funny how that works.

Funny how easy it was for me to forget that. Time for me to stop being embarrassed, and to start pouring these blessings right back out again.

(I'm so glad we had this little talk.)

While I Was Out...

Well, you may or may not have noticed my near total lack of presence in the blogosphere over the last week. It wasn't a planned blog-holiday--really impromptu, actually. So, here is what I have been doing over the last week while I have NOT been blogging:
  • I HAVE NOT been finishing my guest room. There it sits, with a half-painted door, and only one coat on all the trim and shelves. I'll get there soon enough.
  • I HAVE been blowing my nose. A lot. I caught a cold from my kids, that they caught from someone else's kids last week. The only one in our house not sick (other than the dog) is my husband. My nose resembles an unwashed beet right now--red and scabby. Not such a good feeling.
  • I HAVE been scrapbooking! Over the last week, I have completed a dozen layouts, an astonishing 8 of which were done in less than six hours on Sunday, while I nursed my cold and Jason gave me a break from the kids. Here are a couple of the layouts I just did. You can see the rest in my 2 Peas Gallery ("My Scrapbook Brag Pages", left side-bar), mostly under "Family Album 2006." I don't have them all uploaded yet, but I'm getting there. (Something else I HAVE been doing.)

  • I HAVE been knitting. I finally finished the sweater I started for Jude in September, which he loves. I even made him a hat to go with it (which I have not photographed.) Noah was a little torqued that it was for Jude, not for him--but if it is slightly big on Jude, it fits Noah like a dress. However, I had mercy and am making a little hat for Noah, too, since I can complete that project in a few hours, and then get back to working on the sweater I'm making for my sister-in-law.
  • I HAVE been watching movies. Moulin Rouge has got to be one of my most favouritest movies ever. Anyone who has only watched it once, or only got into the first fifteen minutes, would never understand this. But the more times I watch it (and I've got to be pushing two dozen), the more I love it and appreciate all the nuances in the story-telling. And the music, what they did with it, is just out of this world.
  • I HAVE been doing more on designing our dream house. Tentatively, if all our ducks line up just so, we are going to be buying an acreage this spring, then building a garage with a small apartment above it to live in while we build our Dream House. That has been oh-so-fun to plan, but a little stressful, too. They say if you and your husband can survive your wedding, you're off to a great start. I think next-most on the "high-stress" list should be designing and building a house together. Sheesh.
  • I HAVE been catching up on office paperwork. YAY!
  • I HAVE been getting much more disciplined with making sure I do a little "school-work" and reading time with each of the kids each day. This has been something that I've struggled with working into the schedule since the arrival of baby #3, but since putting a visual reminder on Jude's Chore Chart, it reminds both of us! Clever, eh? All those chores have to be done every day before he gets to do any "special" fun thing, such as play X-Box, so if I forget, he is pretty diligent to remind me.
  • I HAVE been babysitting. But I mentioned that one last week.
  • Guess that's the end of my list. I'm starting to repeat myself. For the last one: I HAVE been playing with my camera's self-timer:
I can't promise that this next week is going to be much different, but we'll see how it goes. Miss you all! Hugs & kisses!

(And I have to say--I really do appreciate it when you leave me a comment on my posts. It totally brightens my day to know someone else was thinking of me, and wanted to let me know that, even if I am super-busy and can't comment back for a day or so.)