Archive for the 'What on earth possessed her?' Category

Slight detour…

Well, we had a little adventure yesterday that involved broken glass, a child’s foot, and a seven-hour trip to the ER, getting back home around 10:30 pm in a state of utter exhaustion. Needless to say, I didn’t get around to checking entries for the contest after the deadline last night!

Son #2 is doing fine — four shots and three stitches later! By tomorrow we’ll have our heads on straight again, and I’ll put up the contest results!


The Rat Who Came to Dinner

newfloor2I promised I’d tell the story of how we got beautiful new flooring in the dining room, and it’s a doozy. I didn’t share it back in July, because I couldn’t find the pictures I’d taken of the aftermath. Now I’ve got them, so it’s time to share about our little visitor last summer! 😉

If you’ve read the posts about my adventures in tiling over laminate, then you know it was a start-and-stop process due to my failure to buy enough mastic and then getting the wrong color grout when I ran out. I ended up having to stop in the middle of the grouting process and come back later to finish. The Saturday I quit, I cleaned up and left everything in readiness for the Wednesday following, which was supposed to be three days before our actual move (I know, I know; insanity runs in my family — as Cary Grant once said in a movie, “It practically gallops!”).

When I walked into the trailer Wednesday afternoon, I crossed the kitchen floor to discover this sight in the living room/dining room area:


Yes, that’s a huge empty area in the carpet with little “pills” of carpet pulled out by their roots lying all around. I gasped in horror, realizing that this was the job of a determined nest-maker–probably a rat. I ran through the other rooms and found little bits of carpet chewed up here and there, but nothing compared to the giant patch of “yuck” in the dining room. And now I must back up and give you a little story of the first visit we had from this little creature.

Back when I laid the sticky-tile in the kitchen, I had taken off all the floor vents so I could tile around the holes neatly and accurately. You may recall that I didn’t finish the tiling job on the first go, saving all the precise cutting for the end. But I left the floor vents off (there goes that insanity again), planning to come in a couple of days later, finish, and screw the vents back down. My husband decided we’d all just come out with our air matresses and a change of clothes and spend the night so we could get a lot more done. By the time we reached the trailer, it was already dark and time to put the children to bed. So I walked in with sheets and blankets while my husband pulled out the port-a-cribs and such from the van. I strolled into the kitchen, sizing up what was left to do on the sticky-tile, and saw the vent covers waiting to be screwed back down. At that moment, I remembered that our landlord had said he’d be replacing the ductwork beneath the house, so sections might be off. My eyes widened as I realized I should have put the vent covers back on, and I mentally congratulated myself that the house was not full of cockroaches. I knelt down, vent cover in hand, ready to screw the first one back in place…just in case any nocturnal visitors should get ideas. That’s when I heard the blood-curdling scream from one of the back bedrooms.

rattyMy heart leapt into my throat, and I looked up to see a black furball hurtling toward me across the living room floor, headed straight for the vent I was bending over. I shrieked  and jumped up, dropping the vent cover with a clatter. Seeing me blocking his exit, the rat screeched to a halt, turned tail and ran into the hall bathroom. My second-born son had by then fled to stand tiptoe on the hearth, so the rest  joined him, looking anxiously toward the hall. I stopped to put the cover back on the vent before hopping up on the hearth. At this point, my husband walked through the front door and burst out laughing. All of us started talking at once and gesticulating toward the bathroom. The girls breathlessly got out, “It’s a rat, Daddy! A rat is in our house! In the bathroom!” So our fearless leader grabbed the broom and headed in to do battle with the intruder. “There’s nothing in here,” he announced, at which point my oldest son said, “It went up the shower curtain, Daddy! I was standing in the bedroom and saw it run up!” So with all of us cowering on the hearth, hubby pushed against the shower curtain with the broom.

Mr. Rat decided his hiding place wasn’t all that great and came streaking out of the bathroom, through my husband’s feet, headed straight to the kitchen again. Finding the vent cover back in place, he veered left and scooted behind the stove. Ugh. By the time my husband made it in there, there was no sign of the rat. He called our landlord, who came over, and they both moved the stove. No rat. That fat creature had squeezed into a half-inch gap behind the cabinets and gone out through a tiny hole around the sink pipes! Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night, wondering if our little visitor might come back in the way he left!

I finished up the kitchen floor the next day and made sure all the vents were securely fastened back down. My husband and our landlord didn’t think the rat would be back, since he knew there were people in the house now, and the hole he’d used to leave was so small it must have been a painful exit. So we locked up and left, and on my subsequent visits to tile and grout, I didn’t encounter Mr. Rat. So we were sure he was gone for good. Until the Carpet Incident of 2008, that is.

As I stood over the messy pile of carpet fibers, I knew the rat had, indeed, come back through his exit and made himself at home once again. I looked around more carefully and noticed that my clean-up rags were all missing, too. I stepped back into the kitchen and glanced at the stove. In the space between the stove and the cabinet was a pile of rags and some scattered carpet fibers. I’d found the nest. I called our landlady, who sent over her oldest son with the shop vac. He very sweetly cleaned up all the rat’s “gifts” while I poked around to make sure our visitor was no longer in residence. When the landlord arrived home that afternoon, he came over to inspect the carpet, fuming over the damage the rat had done. “Oh, well,” he said, “this carpet really needed to be replaced eventually anyway.” I nodded, then reminded him that we planned to move in three days. His eyes popped wide, and I knew there was no way he could replace the damaged flooring in that short window of time. Thankfully, we’d given ourselves an extra week for our move in case of an unexpected emergency. Word to the wise: always plan a cushion around any move or big project! This was a life-saver for all of us.

So this brings us to the main point of this post: how ratty events can bring about unexpected bonuses in life. I would never have asked a rat in to share my home and chew up the carpet, but what was done was done. No use crying about it. We’d just clean up (thoroughly!) and move on. And our wonderful landlord put in beautiful hardwood laminate flooring instead of new carpet! So now we had a dining room with a floor we wouldn’t have to worry about at mealtimes. Talk about a wonderful providence! Here’s the beautiful result:


So, while I certainly won’t be inviting any more rats to dinner (and I’ve plugged their entrances!), I am rather thankful for what resulted from Mr. Rat deciding to pull up the carpet and make himself at home! Just goes to show you that there really can be a silver lining in the blackest (furriest) cloud!


Post Script: Our landlord did leave a cage trap in the kitchen after this episode, and Mr. Rat obligingly stepped into it. He was then sent packing and will not be visiting again. 😉

It’s official: We’re rednecks…and we love it!

cimg1805I wish I could paint a word picture to do justice to the goings-on in our trailer tonight. It almost requires a video, but I’ll do my best to give you the sights and sounds from memory. But first, there’s a bit of a back story:

After enjoying two full months of country life in our trailer-cottage, we decided to go back to suburbia to visit old neighbors and help them with some pressing projects. We packed ourselves up, lock, stock, and schoolbooks, then crammed ourselves and our necessaries into our old faithful van and headed down the road, anxiously hoping we’d remembered everything on the to-do-before-we-leave list:

* Turn down the thermostat? Check.
* Leave food for the yard kitties? Check.
* Turn out all but the kitchen night light? Check.
* Lock the doors? Check.
* Leave the note for the mail lady? Check.
* Ask the neighbors to keep an eye on things? Check.

Everything was closed up, and our house looked like it missed us already. But we really looked forward to our visit with friends, so off we drove. The children worried that the kitties would miss us, that our country neighbors would miss us, that we’d miss important things happening while we were gone — the list went on. But the closer we got to our old stomping grounds, the more excited they became. They wanted to see friends in our old neighborhood, and they soon forgot what we’d left behind.

Arrived at our destination, out we tumbled, dragging what looked like half our household belongings with us (our friends are perennially tolerant of our entourage and are so gracious that we always feel like family in their home — that sure is a wonderful thing when you have a large family with all its nicks and nacks!). We settled in for what was only supposed to be a five-day visit…that grew into ten…and then sixteen. I told you they were family to us! We got so much done, and we had a wonderful time, but being back in suburbia reminded us of all the reasons we were so glad to downsize and move out to the country. It turns out we were closet rednecks all along.

chatsAnd this brings me to a big revelation I’ve had since moving back to the country after a six-year hiatus in suburbia: I do better living small than living large. Oh, I’ve always entertained fantasies of living in a big, sprawling English manor — or a columned Southern country house with more doors and windows than a body can count. I’ve done my share of drooling over 3500-square-foot homes in house plan books. Yet, when it comes down to it, for me, a big house is just more house to clean. It’s more to keep up with, more to manage, more to repair, and more to stress over, particularly if you have a neighborhood association breathing down your neck.

In our little piece of suburbia, we found out after the fact that outdoor clotheslines were no-nos, that vehicles should not be parked in the driveway but in the garage only, that bicycles and scooters had to be kept out of sight, that trash cans could sit here but not there, that your mailbox had to be kept painted, and the list goes on. The minutiae were enough to kill the most fastidious homemaker. Yes, people in the neighborhood did cheat on the rules and regs (lots of people had above-ground pools, which were a no-no, and most people parked in their driveways), but that didn’t stop the association from scolding (and even threatening one family with a lawsuit if they didn’t park a travel trailer somewhere else than their own driveway — who knew?). In short, living in suburbia with a large family was a little like trying to keep all the brand new Crayolas in the 64 colors box pristine and newly sharpened — and in rainbow order. That just doesn’t happen in our house.

clotheslineSo by the end of our first two months in the country, we all felt like we were finally breathing again — all the way to the bottom of our lungs. Our children could leave all their trikes and balls and army men out in the back yard, and no neighbors tsk-tsked at the sight. I could leave newly-washed rugs out to dry in the sun on the front deck railing and no one raised an eyebrow. We could park our vehicles anywhere we felt like it. We all felt like we were able to stretch, move, and run again after being leashed for several years. Going back to suburbia was a little like trying to put a leash back on a dog who has tasted freedom for two months and isn’t interested in the kennel life any more. Our children felt the leash more than my husband and I did. We couldn’t just open the door and let the littles run into the back yard (there was a lake nearby and a road very close to the house). We couldn’t just turn the girls loose; someone had to be out side to keep an eye on them–and big brothers don’t always like to babysit sisters who aren’t interested in the charms of army men and the vacant lot next door! The freedom of 13 acres and a quarter-mile-long driveway came to a screeching halt, and it was tough on our little folks. Okay, it was tough on Mama, too. 😉 I will freely admit that it is so much more difficult to manage lots of energetic little people when there isn’t room for them to roam, to climb, to jump, to run, and to yell and whoop.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not condemning everyone who doesn’t live in the country! We should all bloom where we are planted. There are seasons where living in town is the best option for many families, and there are most assuredly drawbacks to living in the sticks. But the revelation that has come to me has been the mental leash that we put ourselves on during our Neighborhood Days. I think there’s got to be a way to make suburbia work (I know families who do), but it would take great mental awareness and vigilance to do it. For us, suburbia became a drug. We slowly oozed into the soporific stupor of convenience and forgot so many of the things we took for granted back when we had to be more self-sufficient in the country. I pride myself on being frugal, but it has been a sobering reality check to realize how wasteful and careless I became while living in suburbia. Downsizing on purpose has forced us to wake up — and that waking up is what has shown me that, deep down, I’m a redneck. 😉

cottagegardenI’m not the English manor type at all–much as I once loved to imagine I was. I’m a cottager. If I lived 200 years ago, I’d be the gal in the apron in the low stone cottage, churning butter and humming in the doorway, watching the lady of the manor ride by in her coach with the footman standing up behind. My children would be the ones tumbling about in the dust of the side yard, climbing the ancient apple trees, and chasing the dog into the cow pasture. And tonight’s escapades convinced me once and for all that this beautiful smallness is exactly where I belong.

That brings us back to the beginning of this post. Picture thin slices of chicken, freshly battered, frying up in a pan of olive oil and butter, while I stand mashing potatoes with garlic at the counter. In the background, my oldest daughter slips a favorite family CD into the player in the living room. All of a sudden, the house is alive with the sounds of banjo and fiddle, and my daughters (one wearing a favorite “princess dress”) are clapping and giggling and whirling to the strains of … “Zip Coon” (What? You expected Mozart or Swan Lake?) 😉 Pretty soon, we’ve got half a dozen children clapping, stomping, and dancing in circles to the music:

Round in a circle!

Round in a circle!

Jump in time!

Jump in time!

Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Old zip coon, he’s a learned scholar,
Sings possum up a gum tree, coony in the holler.”

Take your sister by the hand!

Take your sister by the hand!

Swish your skirt, and...

Swish your skirt, and...

Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
Possum up a gum tree, coony on the stump,
We could overcome our troubles if coon will jump!”

...follow the leader 'round the room!

...follow the leader round the room!

It was a regular hoe-down in our trailer tonight. Daddy came out of his office to join in the fun, twirling little girls and foot-stompin’ with the toddlers. I turned around from all the cookery at the stove and felt a big grin steal over my face. This is it! I thought. Look at this! I stood barefoot in the kitchen, frying up chicken and mashin’ taters while my barefoot offspring had a regular hootenanny in the living room. The giggles and shrieks of laughter were as contagious as the foot-stomping music from the 2nd South Carolina String Band on the player. I called my husband over and said, “See? We were rednecks all along!” He laughed and nodded, his eyes sparkling as he watched the children dancing up a storm.

I think I’ve finally come back around to my roots. I don’t know about you, but I do better with less. I am happier in this little place with our younguns all around us, the music playing, the chicken frying, and the love as warm as the fire crackling in the hearth. I don’t miss the square footage. I feel like I’m finally truly enjoying what I do have and not wishing for what I don’t. I think I’ve learned that, while there are blessings that come with a big house, there are also the worries that crowd in with the responsibilities. It really is possible to pitch the stuff and keep what’s important. How I hope I can remember this lesson. Mr. Darcy can have Pemberley; I’ll keep the cottage. 🙂


Nearly unpacked…and some musings…

We did find the keys. I had a “Eureka” moment when I remembered laying them down on the counter at the neighbors’ before church on Sunday. My husband had started the van with his set of keys that afternoon, so I never felt the need of my set until it came time to unlock the POD! Thankfully, I found them Tuesday morning, so we had all day (and ample help) to get the POD unloaded.

Let me tell you, it is a real adventure to forcibly downsize yourself–going from 2200 square feet to 1700 is truly revealing. I’ve prided myself for years for not being a pack rat, yet I have to ‘fess up to some pretty wacky things that have come out in this move. In our last three houses, we’ve either had a huge attic or a storage building out back, so I think I just lived in denial, believing we really didn’t have that much stuff. ::Cough:: We have enough stuff to choke a small army.

With the contents of the POD emptied all over the front deck and the lawn and stacked inside the house, I felt a slightly grim foreboding coming over me. There was no way all that stuff would fit into our trailer. No way. I got back to feverishly unpacking things that could go where they belonged–like pots, pans, dishes, clothes–daily stuff we use all the time. A sudden thunderstorm forced us to run out and schlep a whole bunch of stuff back into the POD to avoid a drenching, so I just focused on unpacking and settling what was in the house. Felt pretty good, as long as I could forget what lurked in the POD.

But I had to face it eventually, and I started thinking about storage buildings. I decided to look online to see if it was cheaper to just go ahead and buy one rather than renting storage space. If you go on a monthly payment plan, you can get a nice 12x8x8′ building for about $39 a month over a year’s time. Sounds pretty reasonable compared to $69-119 per month for similarly sized storage at a rental place. So I decided to be a smart shopper and actually go check out these handy dandy sheds. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot have over a dozen sitting in the parking lot, so my oldest son and I walked through a few. The pricier ones with real windows and lofts we ignored. We finally ended up at the bottom rung of storage building Hades in an 8x8x6′ metal shed with no windows. Hey! Only $199! We could just buy that outright! So we headed inside to ask about ordering.

No one seemed to know who was in charge of buildings, so I got passed around to three different people before an indifferent cashier finally handed me a phone and asked me to talk to whoever she had called about buildings. The rather testy lady on the other end informed me that the particular model I had looked at did not come with a roof or a floor; I’d have to buy those separately. WHAT? You mean what I see isn’t what I get? Nope. “Oh, and you have to put it together yourself,” Testy Saleslady said. “It doesn’t come built. None of them do.” All righty. So, now we’re looking at having to purchase flooring and roofing materials and build this thing from a kit. Now I understand the Glory of Storage Rental Units. But I’m not willing to pay over $1000 a year to store things. We made this move to get seriously frugal and save money–not blow it out the window by giving the Christmas tree an air conditioned apartment!

So I head back home, my brain on overdrive, thinking, thinking, thinking. There’s no way around it. All that stuff in the POD isn’t going to fit into that trailer. I park the car, walk through the front door, and announce to my husband, “We’re selling it, giving it away, or throwing it away.” He raises his eyebrows, surprised that I’ve come to this conclusion so quickly and decisively. He’d had that idea all along, of course. So we roll up our sleeves and attack the contents of the POD. Here’s where Embarrassing Confessions of a Closet Pack Rat come in to play. Wanna know what I found?

  • Two boxes of letters and notes dating back to high school and college. Drum roll: These boxes had not been opened or looked into since at least 2002. They had come through more moves than I want to admit and were filled with stuff I have no intention of keeping. What on earth did I think I’d need my eleventh-grade biology notes for? This coming from a woman who has laughed at her mother for saving her fourth-grade spelling tests in the attic for 20 years!
  • One box of items complete with price tags from a yard sale we had in 2003. This box of leftovers was supposed to go to Goodwill after the sale and somehow ended up in our moving pile. Go figure….
  • Two boxes labeled “scrapbooks” that contained photos I haven’t organized since I was a newlywed. The boxes had been taped shut in 2001 and never opened since. I managed to consolidate all of the scrapbook stuff into one nice plastic bin for the “someday” when I have enough time to put pictures in cutesy arrangements on pretty acid-free pages complete with captions (that is, if I can remember the captions by then).
  • Two bags of clothing that should have gone to Goodwill two moves ago–including a cap and gown from college graduation.
  • Three boxes of paid bills and bank statements dating back to 1995.

The list goes on, but we haven’t finished yet. We do see the light at the end of the tunnel, though! The POD gets picked up empty Tuesday, after all, so we have good motivation to keep at it. My husband has been happily shredding the old bills and statements, since you don’t have to keep those for thirteen years, and I’ve been ruthlessly putting things in the Giveaway or Sell Pile. Today I managed to clear out a large corner of the utility closet here to fit four boxes of books that we cannot fit on our shelves but don’t want to part with. I also managed to go through three boxes of fabric, dumping all the scraps too small to use and organizing all the ones I want to keep or give away. Oh, and does anyone need five rolls of black and white toile wallpaper?

Though it hasn’t been easy to go through everything (especially in 95-degree heat and dripping humidity), I am very thankful that moving into a smaller place has forced us to actually look at what we’ve been schlepping around all these years. There have been surprises and there have been moments of hilarity, and, at the end of it all, there is deep satisfaction in knowing that what is in our closets now is stuff we really do use. No storage buildings for us. No paying rent so our boxes can sit for another year. Paring down can be painful or it can be an adventure…or it can be a painful adventure. But it is well worth it. We’re excited to see that our family actually can fit into our cozy, double-wide cottage and live on less.

Almost moved in…

I haven’t posted in a while, since we’ve been packing up and moving, but I promise I’ll get to the kitchen counter tile soon! It turned out wonderfully.

I’ll have to post in future about our experience of moving with a “PODS” (portable on-demand storage) container. Word to the wise: make sure you keep the spare set of keys to your padlocks in a safe place. I made the mistake of putting the keys AND the spares on the same key ring–which we now cannot find (went missing yesterday). Since we can keep the POD until August 3, we’re not at the panic stage yet, but I’m not exactly the type to sit around and wait for something to happen, so tomorrow will be “Treasure Hunt Day” for the whole family until those keys turn up!!!

Off to rest before we dig for gold…

Here we go!

So, what would possess a middle-class family to trade comfy suburbia for a double-wide trailer in the sticks? Two words: “Reality Check.” My husband and I finally accepted the fact that our dream of one day building a home on our own land just couldn’t come true if we were holding on to the “American Dream”–i.e. a big mortgage that left little room to save seriously.

When the opportunity came to rent a 4-bedroom house on ten acres for about a third of what we pay each month for our 4-bedroom house near the big city, we jumped. We’d become landlords, turning our suburban home into an asset instead of a liability, and we’d trim down and live in slightly smaller quarters while we saved and worked toward building our own place.

Now, as a little background here, I’ve always looked upon trailer living with a jaundiced eye. Not that I’m a snob, but I just couldn’t picture a mobile home as anything other than tornado bait on wheels–and definitely cramped. So I was very pleasantly surprised when we took our first walk-through of our future abode. Four bedrooms (yes, they’re on the small side, but thank goodness for bunk beds!) give us room for everyone plus a home office. A huge family room/dining room provides plenty of space for comfort and even having people over. A good-sized kitchen leaves room for a work table in the center, and a sunroom off to the side provides extra space for projects. A big bonus is a nice laundry room with space for our second fridge, plus a giant walk-in closet that we plan to use as our “universal closet,” where all the children’s clothes can be organized by size–yippee!

I did know right off the bat that I wanted to paint the rooms and redo several things to make the house more user-friendly–particularly for twenty feet tracking in and out every day. Thankfully, our landlords are also good friends and are open to letting us decorate any way we like. So I’ll be sharing home dec adventures and do-it-yourself projects on this blog–showing you how you can do beautiful things on the cheap, whether you live in a trailer, an apartment, or a conventional home.

So let me give you a first peek into Trailer World. Here is the living room as it appeared before I started painting:The Living Room

Here you see the typical vinyl “wallpaper” with laminate beadboard around the lower third. I saw potential, because I love beadboard, and I knew it had to be possible to paint over the vinyl wallcovering. Sure enough, I found a fantastic resource with a few clicks through Google: HammerZone. Here I learned that I definitely needed primer, but also that I needed to clean the walls prior to any painting. While Hammerzone recommends Zinsser’s B-I-N primer, a short talk with the paint desk man at Lowe’s convinced me that I could go with a less expensive option that would work just as well and would clean up with soap and water. So I purchased a five-gallon bucket of Zinsser’s 1-2-3 primer (and found an added bonus–no awful fumes to leave the house reeking of paint!).

Let me give you a glimpse into the kitchen as well:

The Kitchen

The cabinets are all laminate over particleboard, so I wondered if I’d be able to redo them with paint. First I went back to HammerZone to see what they had to say about refacing laminate cabinets. Looked fairly simple, but I worried about regular paint not being able to stand up to our kind of wear and tear! Once again, Google’s search came through for me, and I found this fantastic resource: Cabinet Rescue! Wait until we get to our do-it-yourself, cheaper-than-dirt kitchen makeover post! You aren’t going to believe how beautifully this stuff works. I’m really excited to share it with you. And you’re going to love how we’re re-doing the white linoleum floor (White floors with eight kids? No way!)….

I’ve been working off and on in the trailer for about three months now, so I have lots to post, including pictures and fantastic links that are going to help you with your own home projects without spending thousands of dollars. If you’re anything like me, you love those before and after pictures in magazines like Country Living and Southern Living, but you’re not prepared to sink tons of money into what should be simple cosmetic fixes. Well, we’re going to walk through real-life, do-able remodels and home dec projects on this blog, and I look forward to seeing your comments. I hope you’ll share your own fantastic links and fun projects as we move along!

About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

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What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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