Little Changes, Big Differences

It would seem when your house has been flooded and you’ve been living in a too small FEMA trailer for months, everything else life throws at you feels like a personal insult. Like your van – the only vehicle that the whole family can fit in – needing to spend a week in the shop for multiple, expensive repairs. Or a medical bill you thought you paid off last year now being represented by a debt collecting law firm and charging interest and attorney fees on top of the original amount. Come on, rain! Stop pouring!

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Our mortgage company has graciously agreed to disperse our insurance money in dirty, little poots after we file hella paperwork for each vendor. While this adds work on top of work to finish the house, we hope it ultimately means we can get back into the house faster.

My dad and Ryan have been off this past week and put in some more hours at the house. We have finished hanging the dry wall and we’re starting to look for someone to tape\float\texture so we can get ready to paint. We had a guy lined up but we apparently lost him to Mardi Gras and haven’t heard from him in a while. Oh well, I guess. We’ve also nearly finished with the electrical needs.

We’ve made a few small changes that are making big differences already. First, we moved the light switches in the kitchen from the right side of the door way to the left. This is just the first step to installing a pantry to the right, but it feels more natural. In the four years we’ve been in that house, my muscle memory hasn’t reset, and I still reach to the left first. So, woo hoo for that!

We also installed a light and outdoor light switch at the back door. It may seem small but I’m thrilled not to have to walk up to a dark door anymore! We’re also getting ready for new doors. Birthday party guests will be sad to see the large doggie\kiddie door go, but I’m not.

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The biggest little changes we’ve made are in the kitchen. We widened the door way from the kitchen to the dining room and added a wall to cut the dining room in half.

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New Changes in Red

 

Now, the kitchen opens up more to the dining room making it more of one large space. It also allows light from the dining room to reach more of the kitchen. I plan to lay the same tile floor throughout and use the same paint color on the wall. It’s a perfect compromise for my tastes. I don’t like fully open floor plans; I like for each room of the house to be sectioned out. At the same time, however, I like for the house to feel open, airy and bright. Compromise achieved!

The wall broke our dining room into two small rooms. One side will connect to the kitchen as the dining area. The other side opens up to our foyer and will become a small study. Ryan was not on board with the changes in the kitchen until I mentioned we could also make a study for mostly his use. Marriage, amIright?

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Now there’s a Wall! On the other side of the wall is now a study!

This change will make a huge difference for us. Before we used this side of the dining room as a play area for the kids, but what we really needed was a space that could be closed off to set up the computer and paperwork associated with Ryan’s job, schooling and overall adulting. Previously, that was in our bedroom. We both hated it, but had no alternative. Until now. We plan to set up the desk, computer, and file cabinet as well as some bookcases and a chair with lamp in the new study. Our kneeler and icons may move here as well.  I fully expect to lose Ryan into this room until the children are grown.

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Now the study!

Fine by me because I’ll get full use of my bedroom back. Without the desk and bookshelves in our room I can resume my plans to make our room a bit of an oasis, complete with reading nook, pretty curtains, and house plants.

In the meantime we’re lining up contractors and making lots of lists. First list we made was “what is the bare-minimum that has to be done before we can move back in?” Our Mardi Gras break has been delightfully productive, hopefully this side of Easter break we will have more to show!

Current prayer requests are as follows: continued cooperation from the mortgage company, honest sub-contractors and no more large unexpected expenses.

The Patron Saints of Evacuation Academy

It is fair to say our first formal year of homeschooling began under adverse circumstances. Our house flooded in a bizarre, historical monsoon. We evacuated our home and bounced around landed at my parents for a few months before squeezing into the too small FEMA trailer we are in now.

Shortly after the rain stopped, we began Kindergarten.

To say those days were saturated with prayers would be an understatement. So much was uncertain and I spent many nights awake worrying about the kids. We had two opportunities to send Evangeline to traditional school and we deliberated a long time about what would be best. We had planned to home-school and had most of the materials, but would going to a structured new place be better for our anxious blonde little ball of nerves?

Ultimately, we kept Evangeline home and started home-school a month earlier than planned. There seemed to be a consensus among child psychologists and my own mommy-intuition of the benefit of resuming structure and schedule in our day. Even though we were living in unfamiliar places and moving often, at least the kids would know we do math after breakfast and reading before nap time and science in the afternoon.

I took comfort from two stories during this period: The Holy family’s flight to Egypt and Sts. Ursula and Angelia Medici.

Maybe comparing our flood evacuation to the plight of the Holy family from Harod’s sword is hyperbole but it brought me great comfort to think of the fear Mary must have felt and the grace she was granted nonetheless.

Saint Ursula’s story is pious fiction; what is known is that sometime in the 4th century in Cologne the Huns killed a group of Christian virgins. The story has evolved to include Saint Ursula as their leader. She a Christian princess sent to marry a pagan prince, killed in her travels along with her exorbitant number of ladies-in-waiting. For her position as protector of young Christian women, Ursula has been named the patron saint of school girls. Her name was used by Saint Angela Merici in the 1500’s who established the Ursuline monastic order dedicated to educating young girls and women.

This is the same order which sent nuns over perilous seas to the recently settled new world to educate women. Their involvement in establishing cities and clinics in unsettled lands cannot be over stated. Without their aid and support many areas, including New Orleans, would have succumbed completely to disease. Schools in the Ursuline order continue today.

It was with these examples in mind that I set out to start Kindergarten during the most tumultuous time of our kids’ lives. Evangeline has such a sensitive spirit and is so easily put out of sorts. Living somewhere new in uncertain times, she didn’t know what to do with herself. I prayed for the same grace God gave to Mary, to St. Ursula and St. Angelia Merici to educate my whole child: my daughter, my 5 year old, and my refugee.

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Saint Ursula Icon

I’ve kept Saint Ursula as our patron saint of Evacuation Academy. Each time I find myself frustrated I try to call to mind the importance and sensitivity needed to educate my young girl. I was given a most beautiful painted icon of St. Ursula by a friend and I cherish it most dearly. It is so precious I won’t let the kids touch it. Once we are settled back in our house, I plan to set it up in a place of prominence.

Our months of homeschooling have gone well. At least we haven’t given up completely. Few things have given me as much joy as teaching my daughter to read. She has an encyclopedia she carries with her everywhere to look up all the things that pop into hear head. She’s desperate to know every addition fact known to mathematicians the world over.

I am glad of our decision to keep her home. I of course don’t know what would have happened if she went to school each day, but I do know that I have been given opportunities time and time again to calm her anxious spirit and inspire her wonder about the world. For that, I am grateful to homeschooling.

FEMA Ain’t No Homestead

When we bought our house we had the intention of lessening our carbon footprint, establishing a sustainable homestead and all that responsible stuff. Four years later, we have failed to keep any vegetation alive. We are nowhere close to self sufficient or even as hipster as we thought we would be.  I hadn’t realized how much we had done, however, until we evacuated.

We hardly ever threw out food trash. What fell on the floor or didn’t get eaten at supper, the dog ate. What scraps were left over from preparing dinner, the chickens ate and what wasn’t suitable for the chickens went into compost. The only thing we threw out was leftover meat that went bad in the fridge. Sadly this happened a lot.

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Seriously not even three days worth of cardboard. It just keeps appearing. 

The kids usually play with any cardboard boxes and tubes that come from grocery shopping. When they are finished, what can’t be used for craft projects would get recycled. In fact, we were at the point where we recycled twice as much as we threw out. At least three times a year I’d actually remember to bring plastic grocery bags back to the store. This, is a great source of pride for be because without fail, I ride around with bags in the car for at least three months before remembering to bring them *in*.

We haven’t yet been successful ingrowing any food bearing plants but we have kept the established satsuma tree in our back yard from dying. Of this, we are quite proud. In the fall, we usually live off those satsumas. Recently we discovered succulents. We’ve had great success neglecting uh, maintaining succulents. These are still alive in the window sil of the flooded house. Faith, hope and love are still alive. Family took a big hit. Read into that what you will 😉

Being in the FEMA trailer, we do not have our dog, we do not have compost, we don’t even have recycling. Without the dog, we have to sweep up *a lot*. We’ve gone from taking the trash out every other day to twice a day. It’s absurd how much cardboard a family of 6 generates.

So what are we to do? We aren’t allowed pets, so dogs and chickens are out. Recycling doesn’t run through our trailer park and the closest recycling center takes only glass. That leaves us with compost.

What at one time seemed like such an overwhelming project and huge step into homesteading has now become our quick fix.  We got a large rubber tub and Ryan drilled holes into it all around. This weekend we filled it with dirt and start composting. I doubt it will make a huge dent in our trash can, but at least we’ll be doing *something*, a salve to our smug pride.

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I also bought seed starter packs from the dollar store for the kids to have fun with. If they don’t destroy them within a week, maybe we’ll have to see about some window box gardening.

As for the mountain of cardboard and glass, we are going to start making weekly trips to our flooded house and use the recycle bin there.  We also bought a token houseplant. It’s been in the trailer two days and so far hasn’t been dumped out, so there’s hope for that!

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Token Houseplant

We accept (through gritted teeth) that this trailer is going to be our home for longer than we hoped. Establishing some of our old habits, however, help us feel as though we are reclaiming our identity a bit. Even if we aren’t in the home where we have worked so hard to make our own, we are still the Carruths, and the Carruths compost.

2017 Reading Goals

If last year is any indication, I will be reading a lot in 2017. Last year I found a lot of delightful distraction in reading. I haven’t done very stringent goals in number of years, so I decided this is the year!

Official 2017 Reading Goals:

  • 42 Books
  • 12,000 Pages
  • Complete BWB Reading Challenge
  • Read books set in European countries

The last time I did a reading challenge, it was just too long and pretty obscure. This year BetterWorldBooks is hosting a reading challenge and their list is much shorter and more doable. That’s my kind of challenge.

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In addition to this year long challenge, I’ve started a life-time goal to read a book from each country in the world. I’m starting with the European countries.

As it happens I’ve already finished a few which apply to these challenges — Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (Book of Short Stories), I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai( a book written by a female ), Around the World in 72 Days by Nellie Bly ( book that’s over 100 years old ) and Saint Odd by Dean Koontz ( a fantasy novel ).

2017 is off to a fun start. I like the diversity I’ve gotten so far. Next up is more Neil Gaiman and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

For those who are interested, BetterWorldBooks has a Goodread’s group set up to help give reading ideas to fulfill the challenge. And of course, if you don’t want to join the group, but have suggestions that would fit in some of the categories, don’t keep them to yourself 😉 I have no idea what to read based on a fairy tale or set in a forest. Robin Hood?

Anyone else setting reading goals? Do you use GoodRead’s to track what you’re reading?

 

Dark Side of the Trailer

I’ve been putting off writing this post because every time I sit down, I realize how cranky I am and worry that maybe I’m not in the best head-space to voice fair opinions. Then today I realized I’m always cranky these days so waiting until a different day isn’t going to make much difference.

If you’ve been following along since August, you know that our house flooded. Since Thanksgiving we’ve been living in a FEMA trailer. The trailer is admittedly too small for our family of six. We were put in a two bedroom and have been assured that a three bedroom trailer is “on rush order” for us. That was over a month ago. I don’t think I’m a snob, maybe I am, but living in a too-small trailer wears on your spirit.

In the last week Ryan, myself and Evangeline have all sighed and said “I wish our house hadn’t flooded. Then we wouldn’t have to live in a trailer.” We go through the list of things to be grateful about : Our family is safe, we are all together, we have a place all to ourselves. But still the daily frustrations of living in a trailer win out over our better angels.

Know how when you have small kids your house is never clean, how with a larger family you’re always in someone’s way, how it’s always loud and someone’s always fussing at someone else? Cut your living space in half, take out all sound barriers but still keep all your kids. That approximates trailer living.

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The furniture is second-hand, low-quality and easily destroyed. This of course means, all of our furniture is destroyed. The floor is always grimy and starting to separate from the sub-floor. The mattresses are all spring and no mat. The whole lot is sunken in and does not drain. Every excursion from the front door involves mud. The kids have little room to play inside and limited freedom outside — even when we let them play in the mud. Three of them are sharing one bed. Everything is too small, we can’t all fit and we all just want to go home.

More than once, driving to the house to get the mail, I cried turning into the neighborhood. I wish wish wish I was driving home and not stopping by. I wish we had our house back with all of our things. I wish we could decorate and make our space our own again. Damn, I just wish we had enough chairs for everyone to sit at the dinner table.

My Prayer for Evangeline

Evangeline was extra helpful this evening while Ryan was away working on our house; she bathed the baby on top of her regular evening chores. As a thank-you, I let her stay up and extra half hour after the others went to bed, choosing whatever she’d like to do (provided it wasn’t loud). She chose to read her encyclopedia.

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She may be a dork, but she’s my dork

As homeschool parents, we have the fear that our children will be weird. By not socializing with other children every day, our kids run the risk of not quite fitting in. Like how you can spot a European in America – there’s just something a little bit different. It is not vanity that hopes our children will be liked but a sincere desire for our children to find happiness in community.

I do not usually have specific prayers for my children, just the general parent wishes – let them be safe, let them be healthy, let them find happiness in truth and please let them grow out of this eternal biting phase. But tonight, I have a specific prayer for Evangeline.

Lord above, please send to my daughter a good friend. Let her find someone who does not mock her dorkdom; let them not only embrace it, but share in it. Give her someone by her side who understands her and does not for a moment give her pause about being her full true self. Do not let her feel that she must hide herself from society, but rather give her the society of a kind, loving and true friend. Send her a like-spirit and bosom companion.

Lord, let her find a best friend like I had. And if that means coloring her hair blue with kool-aid or suffering a “British-phase”, well, ok

2016 Reading Goals — Crushed It

 

After the flood, we had internet, but no computer. Through a very generous gift, I have a computer now! But living in a FEMA trailer has left us without internet. Sigh. So that’s my new excuse for sporadic blog posts.

This past year was tough. In the spring Ryan finished his theology master’s, the summer our house flooded and we spent the fall and beginning of winter displaced, moving from one temporary housing situation to another.

badge-home-completed-1736dedbcd3c31946d5b98bb506c1051The only thing tougher than this past year, however, was my will to escape it. I’m not sure if I even made a blog-official reading goal for this past year. On Goodreads I set out to read 35 books. I wanted to see if I could reach 10,000 pages but put no other goal or restrictions on myself. I just wanted to follow my interests.

My desire to be immersed continuously in at least one story at a time culminated in 13,540 pages over 52 books!

I needed a lot of distraction! I got exactly what I needed from reading this year — not just distraction but also so many topics to keep my mind busy on. I made a few discoveries this year that I’m very excited about.

img402I posted before about the works of Anne Murrow Lindburg I read earlier this year. I recently read The Lost Star: The Search for Amelia Earhart. I’ve enjoyed comparing and contrasting these two women in my mind. Their personalities and ambitions could not be further apart. In a way they embody the figurative Eve and Mary: Amelia the pant-wearing rebel throwing caution and gender expectations to the wind and Anne the meek and mild mother assisting quietly yet competently her husband’s career. Highest, fastest, first and farthest, Amelia and Anne broke into the same male-dominated world and accomplished incredible things but each in her own way. And all in a time when women wearing pants was scandalous.

nbcirca1890-2Intrigued by early 1900’s female trailblazers, my interests turned to Nellie Bly. I’ll admit I only knew who she was because of a scene in The West Wing when the first lady is talking about going to the opening of a Nellie Bly monument. I may have learned about her from TV, but the point is, I knew and it was enough of a crumb to intrigue me. Anyways, she’s fascinating! Again, at a time when women were hardly allowed to venture beyond their own door step without a chaperone, Nellie Bly broke into the newspaper biz and became a pioneer of investigative and under-cover journalism. Her work has had far reaching effects beyond print media. After the publication of her report of going undercover in a prominent New York sanitarium, laws were quickly changed to add funding and professional resources to facilities treating the mentally insane – the beginning of a nation wide trend. For Christmas, I got a wonderful copy of her complete works I can’t wait to dig into, I’d also love to find a good biography.

Exhilarated to learn about Nellie’s monumental influence on New York’s mental institutions, I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In the 1950’s, Henrietta Lacks was a black woman in her 30’s when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the colored-only ward of Johns Hopkins. The book follows her life, family and treatment as well as the life of her cells which were discovered to be “immortal”. Doctors at this time were just discovering the fundamentals of cellular biology; a major obstacle to research was that human cells would quickly die outside a living body. The cells of Henrietta Lacks, however, readily reproduced and multiplied. This discovery accelerated tests of the polio vaccine and proved to be the missing piece to human trials. Because scientists had human cells, as opposed to rat cells, to test the vaccine on, they were quickly able to prove the vaccine safe for humans. Shortly after Henrietta’s cells were “discovered” children all over the country began receiving the vaccine – the beginning of the end to the polio pandemic. Her cells are still in circulation among researchers today and have been a part of nearly every major medical breakthrough along the way.

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If I don’t stop myself soon, I’ll ramble to no end. Honorable mentions from this year’s reading are: The Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz, my discovery of Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard and The Ocean at the End of the Lane), The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta von Trapp, The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder and The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, The Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge

I’m deciding on my goals, if any for next year. I also have more blog posts in the process of being written (read: in my head). It all comes down to how often I can get the kids to the library and keep them entertained while I soak up the internet access.

What about you? Did you set a goal for 2016? What gems did you discover last year?