Thursday, December 22, 2005

Moving Right Along...

Construction is really progressing nicely. The kitchen plans are just a foretaste of the many, many decisions we are going to have to make under the gun. It's funny to have our very own cabinet consultant...The guys from our contractor are great. The foreman called today to thank us profusely for thinking of them with our cookies in a jar for each one. Really, they're so simple to please...We, on the other, require lots of heavy work and the downing of entire walls in order to be pleased...teehee....Here's a sample of their latest work. In this picture, you can see the new roof - the whole house, including the addition has been completely roofed (notice the new color - red has been replaced with Virginia Slate Grey). The siding goes up early next week, so we're told. It's sitting in the garage.

All the windows in the upstairs have been installed except for one. Here you can see Fr. Joel testing out the wonderful tilt and clean feature. He seems to have the tilt part down, now if I can just get him to work on the clean part....

This is my VICTORY! picture. After many expressions of consternation over the state of the water-damaged basement, the whole thing (with the exception of the shop area) has been completely gutted. They are hanging dry wall and re-hanging the drop ceiling! Yes, Virginia, there is a guardian angel of moldy basements!

And now for the really fun part. Here you can see the guys holding up the piece of plastic between the old dining room and the new. There is NO MORE WALL! That opening to the outdoors now holds a double French door w/blinds sandwiched by double paned glass - pictures of that will be forth-coming. Now *that's* a dining room we can fit our family in! (if we only had a table big enough To the left of this picture is also a new window which sits directly over the basement stairwell.

And here is this week's picture of the back of the house. You can clearly see the addition, the new roof and all the siding removed. You can also see all the new windows in place. The piles of dirt behind the addition are an attempt to redirect the water run-off around the side of the house. I think that's still a work in progress.

To Tree or Not to Tree?

That is the question. We have found ourselves this year crammed into a 3 bedroom house currently with 12 bodies occupying the space and very little extra room to move. Where would we put a tree here anyway?! But then, how can Christmas go on without a Christmas tree? It somehow wouldn't quite be...Christmas without one.

So we took a family vote and there was a unanimous decision to make the tree work. We picked out a corner of the kitchen which was occupied by our bread-making flour bins but provided the only spot in the house within eyesight of all and out of mischief- making site for the little ones. So the boys headed off to find the tree while the girls and I moved those flour bins and scrubbed the floor.

The tree stand was lost in the fire - I don't even recall seeing it, it may have been one of those unidentified mangled lumps of plastic - so the first stop was Home Depot for a new one. This was also the last stop as they found the "perfect tree" for just $10 right there in the Home Depot tree yard. It is perfect - just the right height and roundness and length of needles but we all had this uneasy feeling inside at the thought of our Christmas tree being plucked off the lot of a department store. That's not how the tradition goes! We're supposed to all bundle up on a cold Sunday afternoon (the 2nd or 3rd Sunday in Advent to be precise), drive way up to the tree farm in the northern part of the county, hop aboard the wagon out to the tree sites and then wander around for a good hour debating the merits and demerits of each specimen until our fingers turn just frosty enough that everyone suddenly gets quite agreeable on a final selection. Then the boys proudly crawl underneath the spreading canopy of bottom needles with Dad, bearing saws and smiles a mile wide. Many hacking attempts later, Dad makes that final cut and we all put mitten to trunk and haul it back to the wagon stop. On our way out, we have one last show as we watch the men put our tree on the shaker machine (the wonders of modern Christmas tree shopping!) and then run it through the netting. Dad makes that last push to the van where it gets dutifully tied to the top of the car and we drive home, the wind whipping through the cracks in the windows which are opened just enough to anchor the tree to something solid within the van.

And then there is the decorating. Dad, of course, has the job of fighting with the lights - there's always that one stray bulb which defies detection and blows the whole string. Three strings of colored lights and string of white lights at the top - with a few carefully placed to sit beneath the skirt of the angel. The angel is special too - we bought that on our honeymoon at a neat Christmas shop in Mt. Snow Vermont. A visit there isn't complete without going out back to pet the two pony-sized Newfoundlands Luke and Hannah. We thought we were being lavish when we blew $20 on that angel, dreaming of having her top our tree for many years to come.

Then the joy of each child pulling out his or her ornaments, one special one collected for each year of their lives. Then the ones given by friends, Sunday School teachers and grandmas over the years. Of course Mom and Dad have many ornaments of their own - ones labeled, "Tad/CCD, 1975" or "Mary, From Scott, 1974". Dad always had to stick his little red knitted stocking off the end of a branch (after he pulled out and hung the plaster drum Aunt Paulette painted for him eons ago) and there was always the argument about whether or not the Star Trek ornaments would be allowed to grace our hallowed evergreen this year.

That was before the fire.

This year there is no angel, no ornaments, no strings of ancient lights.

This year we forged a new tradition. Muffy, with great foresight, had long ago sent a shopping bag full of wrapped surprises. We opened a snow globe which played a tinny version of Joy to The World when wound up and provided the background music for our tree decorating. There was an angel ornament for each of the children to open and hang, a set of felt nativity figures with strings for hanging and an assortment of cookie cutters with Christmas themes (although I'm not sure how the giraffe snuck in there!). She even thought to put in a small creche for under the tree which was unwrapped and lovingly placed there by Betsy. Dad picked out new high-tech lights - these have LED's and a bit of a sharper glow to them. We had managed to collect a few ornaments each over the past months and so our tree isn't completely bare. The fact that is sits in a corner makes the baldness of 3 of its sides bearable. And, after having watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" no less than 5 times in the past month we sat back and sighed prayers of thanks for our lives, a home to live in and people to share in Christ's love. Dad prayed his blessing prayer over the tree and a pile of jammied children went off to bed. It's not what we *usually* do but it's ours and we're going to make it even when everything seems upside down and backwards. Thank you, Lord for our $10 Home Depot tree and for our Muffy who just understands which gaps need to be filled at exactly the right time.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ava Gabrielle

Well, for those of you wondering what we've up to the past week, I must say it's been rather eventful. Yesterday afternoon 16 year old Tiffany and her newborn daughter Ava came to live with us in this lovely little 3 bedroom bungalow. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday building furniture and moving bedrooms. Poor John and David have been relegated to the basement w/the rest of the boys and walked around like little lost puppies for awhile wondering what happened to their comfortable little world upstairs.

I was driving from one place to another today and meditating on what it has meant for our family to take in a young lady and her baby who had nowhere else to go. I was particularly musing on its effect on the children and thinking that our children truly know what it means to sacrifice for a greater good. I believe giving up some personal space or position in family - or whatever - will help them contemplate Christ's tremendous sacrifice for them as they get older.

The more I thought about this, I began to cry. The tears ran down my face and I was overwhelmed with my sense of unworthiness. How unworthy we are to receive the blessing of taking in these two little sparrows! How God must lavish His love upon us to allow us to play a part in His plan. I don't know why He chose us to bless. It seems there wasn't much more room in this inn and yet He placed this precious baby here. He blessed our humble stable with a mighty gift of Love.

How appropriate that this little one should be named after two such notables from the bible - Eve and St. Gabriel. Eve, mother of all and St. Gabriel the archangel who came to Mary to announce the coming of the Spirit to stir within Mary's womb. Mary, who was young , alone and brave enough to say yes to the life within her - just as little Ava Gabrielle's mother has done.

I am in awe of God's graces poured out upon us. I am in awe and I often think of those things in my life which shaped my character and allowed me as an adult to say a million yes's to things which seem absurd to the world. Eight children and still counting?! I say Yes, Lord! Burn the house and keep persevering? I say Yes Lord! Build the house even bigger to accommodate more of the Lord's orphans? I say Yes, Lord!! From what strength does this still small yes come? From the strength of Christ found in my own mother's million little yes's. I grew up in a home full of Mom's "3 Dollar Bills" - the folks who just didn't "fit". We were the overnight stay for the stray seminarian, our Christmas days always included the most recent widow, the friend whose family had suddenly become inaccessible, the one or two who had nowhere to go and on the way home we were sure to drop off something to the refugee family living down the street or the one-armed man who spent his days leaning against the parking meter and greeting the town. I have untold such memories of kindnesses done out of love for Christ and love for neighbor.

And now, today, I am humbled to realize that my own children are learning this lesson as well. God has seen fit in all of our unworthiness to pass on this rich spiritual heritage to another generation. As I look into it deeper, I pray that not a generation will pass without this caring for the lost, the forsaken, the forlorn, the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, the sick. Thanks, Mom. And, Mom, if you ever think we've gone in way over our heads this time...just remember that you did this to me!!

View from the Dining Room...

Here is the current view from the dining room window. The window framed out is the new kitchen window - the sink goes under it. When this photo was taken on the 7th, the roof rafters were being finished. It is probably all sheathed by now. Pretty cool, huh?!

Here is the same view from the outside. That small opening will actually be the walk-out from the dining room. You can see that all the siding has been removed around the whole house and the roof is tarped over.

On the inside, the kitchen cabinets are being removed and the whole fire-damaged area has been sprayed with Killz - the fumes are awful!!