Monday, September 28, 2015

Back to School...Sort of

Well, here we are, the end of September, and I haven't put up any back to school photos of my kids!  Of course, they only started on September 14th, so I'm not too behind, I suppose.

Ben is really feeling sad and left out.
He insisted on wearing a backpack but he knows he's not going anywhere...

Max with his wonderful teacher, Betsy, at Redland Montessori in Oregon City.  He started there in April last year.

 Meanwhile, in Gladstone, here's Ruby at her desk in kindergarten!!! How on earth do I have a kindergartener already?

Ben, in front of Ruby's school
 So now it's just Ben and me in the mornings 4 days a week, doing light housework ;)

Packing up the box fans for the season...

Allen's back to school for Year 3 of his carpentry apprenticeship on Monday nights.  

The title says, "sort of."  Here's why: I just received a message that due to a lack of enrollment, Redland Montessori will have to shut its doors.  I am sad that Max will not be able to continue there, but I'm glad he did have some time there to learn and grow, and I completely understand that Betsy is doing the best thing for her family even though it must be so hard for her.  It reminds me of the very difficult decision I made to leave MRA mid-year not long after Ben was born.  God knows how I ached from that.  We have loved our time with Betsy at her school.  

Now what? I don't know.  For now, homeschool-preschool while we investigate Headstart or St. John the Apostle's preschool.  But you can pray for me, because of my three kids, Max is definitely the one I would NOT have considered the ideal homeschool candidate.  He's smart as a whip, so I'm not worried about him academically, but he and his mama do tend to butt heads over just about everything.  Well, well, we shall see.  As they say, more shall be revealed...and of course, I'll keep you posted.  ;)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A shot in the dark

Well, I did it.  I entered one piece into an essay contest and applied for a grant.  The prize for the essay contest is $3000.  The grants are either for $6000 or $2000 if you are a runner up.
I know that I am one applicant among...thousands? Tens of thousands?  I really don't know what size fish I am and in what size pond.  "Small fish, big pond," would be my guess.

I didn't have much to lose.  The essay had no entrance fee; the grant had a $15 application fee.  That's not too much to spend on the chance to receive $6000 to use in order to take writing from being an avocation to a secondary vocation (secondary to being a wife and mother, that is).

I worked painstakingly on the essay and the application (which included attaching 25 pages of writing samples).  I'm pleased to say that I attached a personal essay and 18 pages of my novel (!) as samples.

What? A novel?

Yes, I guess so. You see, from childhood through college, I wrote scads and scads and scads of beginnings of stories (although I never intended any of them to see the light of day or for any audience other than myself).

But in 2008, I had a very J.K. Rowling experience:

Harry Potter, schoolboy wizard, popped fully formed into the mind of author J.K. Rowling on a train journey 10 years ago, she revealed yesterday. "The character of Harry strolled into my head," Rowling told Sky Television. "Harry arrived very, very fully formed. I really did feel he was someone who walked up and introduced himself in my mind's eye."
Rowling's staggeringly successful creation is going to be turned into a Hollywood film, due out in November 2001. Up to 40,000 people have applied to play the celluloid Potter.
Rowling, on a publicity trip around England on the Hogwarts Express train, said she wrote the final chapter of her seventh and final Potter saga many years ago: "It was like an act of faith. I had no publisher at that point. I will get there and rewrite what is there, but it was for my own satisfaction." (this article published July 17 2000)
She was on a train, I was driving to the Safeway at 45th and Woodstock to buy trash bags. All of a sudden, I was playing out a dialogue in my mind from a fully-formed character with her husband.  Within a day or two I had multiple characters fleshed out, complete with names, ages, appearances, and backstories, and the beginnings of a plot coming together.  This was shaping up to be something real, something that wasn't just the beginning of a story without a middle or end.

And took me off to the races. I started my first real teaching job (AKA teaching all by myself and not with a lead teacher in the classroom).  I met Allen and we got married later that year.  I started a new job at a new school, found out we were pregnant about three years before we'd planned to be, and then it was off to the races even faster!

When I was on maternity leave with Max in 2012, I happened upon what I'd written of the story on a flash drive (thank you, God, that it didn't get lost!)  I reread it...and was transported back to it all.  I added a few more pages and mentally added on to the plot.  But maternity leave was over far too soon and I was back to work part-time and fully occupied otherwise with a 2 year old and an infant.

I don't think I gave it another look until earlier this year.  I still liked it and still thought it was worth the work.  But finding the time for it...when?

I had a conversation with my brother-in-law a while back where he asked why I wasn't trying to make money with my writing.  I told him that I had this novel but that it would likely take a long time to finish it, not to speak of the difficulty of trying to publish a novel. "Maybe in my 40s," I estimated. He looked somewhat shocked (since he considers himself "old" at 25).  But I figure that a novel can only get better with (my) age.  I just get more life experience, and that turns into good writing.  It's encouraging, too to see that Ms. Rowling took 10 years to go from idea to finished product, from struggling single mom writing whenever she could to the richer than rich person she must be today.  I don't expect to have anything like a best-seller.  I actually doubt whether it would get published at all--such a cutthroat industry--but it would be worth a try, if I ever get it done!

Anyway, we'll see what happens.  I'll find out about the award at the end of November and the essay contest at the beginning of January. Of course, I'll keep you posted!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ah, Sweet Harmony!

It doesn't last all day, of course, but the times of brotherly/sisterly love and collaboration are pretty wonderful to behold...and amusing, too.

Exhibit A: Cinderella

In case you were wondering, Max looks just like Allen did at that age!
Ruby is Cinderella.  Max is the Fairy Godmother...but not the Disney version!  He's a fairy godmother who FIGHTS the bad guys and PUTS THEM IN JAIL!  The wand is a weapon, of course.  After a few minutes of playing the FG, Max said, "Never mind, I want to be Cinderella's enemy.  I'll be the wicked stepmother!"

Exhibit B: Three Witches

When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain?
They galloped up the steps on their brooms (or in Ben's case, a kiddie rake).

Exhibit C: Dress up "shopping" in preparation for various imagination games

You look simply mahhhvelous, dahhhling!

Ruby is helping the boys find their "perrrrfect costume!!!!" (Ruby always speaks with implied exclamation points)
Ruby is offering different dress ups to her brothers and using her best saleslady patter: "Oh, let's see if this is your no, let's try this. Oh yes, this suits you wonderfully!  Now, does this suit you?"
Even I was given something that would "suit me"...
Kind of Carmen Miranda-esque
As I type, Ben is wearing a pink tutu and holding a fake rose; Max is holding a "magic mirror," a few fake roses, and brandishing a magic getting another tutu.  

Never a dull moment around here, folks.  Never a dull moment.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Funny Kid Things I Will Undoubtedly Forget...

...unless I record them here.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
When Mom hands you a sandwich you're tired of eating, make bangles.

While on the phone with my mom, Max treated her to quite the story.  He was a mommy; Ben was the daddy.  The baby was in his tummy for a while (i.e. the baby--a plastic whiffle ball--was under his shirt.)  Then the baby was born.  Her name is Honey, but her nickname is Bucket.  After a while he put the baby back "in his tummy to grow more."  He said that his name was Jenny.

I love the look on Max's face: "Really, Mom?  Is this a Kodak moment?"
(Also, that phrase is now completely obsolete now that everything's digital...)

And no, this is not some kind of stealthy pregnancy announcement...just a game that Max thought up on his own.

That's right, Ben...the fact that you don't have a younger sibling at your age
makes you a record-holder among your siblings.
Ruby was your age when Max was born,
and Max was 4 months younger than you are now when YOU were born.
I just hope you don't get too spoiled by being the baby for *so* long ;)  

Another funny kid conversation of late: we were in the car talking about Heaven (all of our best theological discussions happen in the car).  Ruby was saying that she hoped she could bring some of her favorite toys and books with her.
Me: Well, maybe you will...but I'm sure there will be lots of things there that are so cool, things we don't even have!
Ruby: Yeah, like stairs!  And an attic!
Max: And closets!
Ruby: And a dishwasher and washing machine and dryer! And a minivan that doesn't cost any money!
It is so nice when they play together happily!
So all of who have those things here and now...well, I guess you didn't know that you truly are living the heaven-on-earth life ;)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hey, I'm over at Ordinary Lovely this morning!

Theresa at Ordinary Lovely had the neat idea to run a mini series of guest posts on the theme of how large families are living with contentment in small spaces, and I'm one of her guests!

Now, I wouldn't say that we have a large family, but it is large relative to our living space.  And I certainly can't say that I have perfect, serene contentment 100% of the time.  Just the other day I was in our kitchen getting dinner ready.  I glanced to my left and surveyed the scene: Ruby and Max were running in circles around a pile of books and Ben was looking on, roaring with laughter at the hilarity of it all.  There was something a bit absurd about it all, especially after spending some time housesitting for another family.  Our house looked so...miniature.  Fun-sized, if you will.

Read more here!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Renovation Updates

First things first: thank you so very much to all who have donated either money or materials to our renovation project.  We have been blown away by the kindness and generosity of friends, acquaintances, and strangers (well, "stranger" in the sense that we have one anonymous donor)

The house renovations are going well so far. Two projects down and the biggest one to go.

The Boys' Bedroom

Allen made the needed changes in about two (long) evenings' work.

Since taking this picture, we've cleared out that pile
and moved furniture around 

See the nice side rails?

Rearranged shelving
 My goal this week is to paint a mural on the back wall behind the boys' beds (as you can see, that wall needs something!)

The Kitchen Floor

We had a few boxes of tile donated by friends, but discovered--alas!--that they were not enough to do the whole area.  We called some stores and searched online to find more of the same type of vinyl tile, but couldn't locate any.

What to do?  At first our plan was to find another kind of tile which would complement the ones we'd been given.  This proved hard to do, since it was a very distinctive, glossy gray stonework pattern.  We found some tile at Home Depot called "Copper Slate" and decided to get a box of it; we'd work it in somehow...

As we did the dry fitting, we realized that we really liked how the copper slate looked, and decided to do all copper slate tile instead of a mix of the two types.  Thanks to your generosity, donors, we could do that without worrying that it was going to break the bank.

A reminder of the "before" look:

Caution tape is one of our favorite decor motifs
Allen took about three (long) evenings to do demo, underlayment, and tiling.

Goodbye, were a nice idea, though

Some of the lineoleum laid by previous owners
Don't you just love perspective shots like this one?


Ruby took this picture, which might explain why it's a rather low view

Any floor that causes Max to fall asleep on it is good in my book!
I REALLY like this new tile.  It's a much better camoflauge for our usual kitchen messes and it goes really nicely with the taupe walls and pumpkin accent wall.  And it's easier to clean without the grout.    It accentuates the kitchen cabinets.  It's great!!!

And we rearranged the kitchen furniture, too, so that the table is less in the way.  Rearranging is an extremely common occurence in our house (in case you hadn't guessed...)

Allen also had one last minute project to do: beautifying the shed. Here's how it turned out:

So now, it's on to the bathroom...the biggest project yet!  We'll keep you posted, of course.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Summertime Dinner Lethargy? The Slow Cooker's Got Your Back!

I can go for very long stretches of time without eating meat (as can the kids).  I could be good with a salad every night.  But no one else around here would be fine with that, and Allen gets antsy without some meat on the daily.  Luckily for me he has pretty cheap taste as far as meat goes: poultry, lunchmeat, and hot dogs.  This means that at least once a week I need to get my act together and cook chicken.

That's fine and dandy in the winter, when a nice warm meal in the stove is a pleasure. But in the summer, it's hot and I don't want to be standing over the stove or turning on the oven.  Oh, and I don't have a microwave, so unless I remember the day before to take out the chicken from the freezer, it's going to take some extra cooking time and therefore extra heat.  What to do?

Let the Crock Pot do all the work and take all the heat, that's what!

In the morning I'll put in a couple of frozen chicken breasts and douse them liberally with some kind of tasty salad dressing (I particularly enjoyed Brianna's Chipotle Cheddar and also Brianna's Ginger Mandarin).  If I'm feeling adventurous I might add some vegetable.  I set the Crock Pot on low, put on the lid, and let it just cook away till dinner time.

And if I don't remember to do it in the morning, I can still get away with getting it started in the afternoon and turning it on the high setting.

We've eaten the chicken over rice or noodles, in salads, in wraps or sandwiches.  It is so versatile and SO easy and so only-using-one-pot, which is a plus in our dishwasherless lives.

Who knew that salad dressing in a slow cooker would be a summertime lifesaver?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pluggin' away...

First things first: a huge "THANK YOU!" is in order to all who have contributed either materials or money to our Home Improvement Round 2 project.

Because of the materials donated (flooring for the kitchen), we were able to knock off $150 from our goal price!

Now, thanks to donors both known and anonymous, 72% of that new goal has been provided!!!

I think the part that is the most touching is knowing that some of the people who have donated have "come out of the woodwork."  That is, they are people I have not been in touch with for a long time (very long, in one case...someone who babysat me when I was a kid!) and yet they saw fit to give us some of their hard-earned money.  It really, really means a lot.

It's easy for me to look askance at social media for all of its ill uses and abuses, but it really has made it possible to be in touch with people from all over the world and from all stages of your life...or even from strangers.

So far, we've gotten the legwork done on the boys' bedroom.  That is to say, the wall is patched, the furniture is moved, the guardrails built, and another crib mattress obtained via the free section of CL. What is left to do in that room?

  • Rearranging and finding new homes for all of the stuff which had been lurking on that back wall.  (Storage is the hardest part of living in a small space. )
  • Painting a mural on the back wall: that's my job, hurray! I'm planning to do a backdrop from Maurice Sendak's classic, Where the Wild Things Are. It's my first attempt at doing a wall mural so if you have any tips on technique or products you've used and liked, please tell me!
This week Allen will start tackling the kitchen.  The second week in August is bathroom week.  Stay will follow

And, because I don't have any pix of house stuff as yet, allow me to entertain you with some pictures of my "baby" (who is not such a baby anymore, sniffle sniffle!)

About 18 months ago!

Throwback to baby Max!
Megathrowback to baby Ruby!

Friday, July 17, 2015

7 QT (Plus 1!): Before and After House Pictures (FINALLY)

1. These are long overdue. We bought the palace last March; Allen spent May-July working tirelessly to take it from unlivable to very livable.  Throughout the course of the year there have been improvements made (painting; curtains; rearranging furniture and hanging artwork; and countless little fixes).

So why am I just now getting around to posting some before and afters?  Well, I think it's for a reason pretty common to moms: wanting everything to look *picture perfect*.  Of course, that's delusional.  My house is never going to be showing up on Better Homes and Gardens or Real Simple or anything like that.  I'm just not that homemaker, and this structure was not made for greatness.  As the bard might say, it had greatness thrust upon it.

Still, I kept lingering and putting off the "after" post.  A discussion at my mom's book group not too long ago helped me to realize that it was time to go Nike on this and just do it. The book we read, Momnipotent had a section which talked about how moms often sabotage themselves and their friendships by refusing to have other people over until their house is "good enough" or "clean enough."  All the moms in my group confessed that they had the same thought: that the prospect of having another family over for a playdate or a dinner meant feeling obligated to do hours of cleaning, and it was just easier not to get together.  This leads to isolation and isolation leads to mommy-burnout.  I was shocked to hear some of my mom friends saying that they felt this way.  I'd been to their houses and never saw anything that I'd call a mess.

So here goes: my house, imperfect as it is.  I did vacuum and pick up things, but anyone who feels like squinting will be able to tell that my kitchen floor is NOT washed and my windows are covered in kid fingerprints and there are piles of stuff to be "dealt with later."

2. Here's a link to the blog post I put up last March, complete with video tour.  It's about 5 minutes long and boy oh boy do you get to see the "before" nature of the house.  Wowzers.  The "before" pictures in the rest of this post are screenshots from the video just to highlight the before and after nature even better.  (Note: in the video I say that Allen will extend out the wall of the second bedroom but we didn't end up doing that.)

3. The Main Room (AKA Living Room by day, Mom and Dad's Bedroom by night)



Allen, looking at this picture: "Yikes. Can't believe I freakin' lived in that."

4. The Kitchen



Screenshot of a can see Allen in the bottom left corner here!

5.  The "Small" Bedroom (now Ruby's Room)


It's pretty hard to see anything in here, but trust me, it was ugly.

Reframing two walls of the room

6. The Hallway and "Master" Bedroom (now the Boys' Room)


There's a hump in the floor.  Awesome. 

Walls and ceiling textured by hand
(as opposed to a texture sprayer, which is a lot faster!)

Oh hi, mold.  Didn't expect to see you there (j/k we did expect that.)
So much more well-lit!  So much nicer!!!

Here's a little clip to describe the renovation work in this room that we are undertaking in the next month or so:

7.  The Bathroom (AKA the room most in need of finishing touches!)

Very my soul upon seeing it

Couldn't get a stillshot of the tub but it was gross

That water heater has since been replaced.
It was a 1983 model (like me!)
I don't have a great single after photo of the bathroom. Partly this is because it's hard to get a good picture of the whole thing, or even one whole wall because of the narrow entrance.  And partly because it is the room still needing the most work.  

BONUS TAKE #8: Improvements Still In Progess

We have three main goals for this summer:
1.  Complete the remodel of the bathroom and hallway storage areas.  This includes demo, framing, sheetrock, mud/tape, tile/grout, texture/paint, trim.
2.  Demo our kitchen floor version 1.0 (ceramic tile) and replace with version 2.0 (lineoleum).  
3.  Replace sections of drywall in the boys' room; maximize sleeping space by creating two built-in beds.  

I made a nifty video to show what's in order (best way to see the bathroom situation).  It's worth watching for the ABBA soundtrack if no other reason.  

Home Improvements, Round 2 from Jenny Cook on Vimeo.

We decided to set up a GoFundMe account to function as a wishlist/registry.  There's an icon of our project at the top of the righthand sidebar.  If you have any spare change burning holes in your pockets or were stumped on what to get us for Christmas or birthdays, look no further.  

Thanks as always for reading, following, commenting, and all the general interest, well wishes, and good vibes you guys send our way!  I am thankful for you all!