Category Archives: Random musings and humor

Reality Through the Lens of Christ (Why I Blog)

why i blog 2

Just over four years ago, a friend of mine complained over coffee that the Catholic blogosphere seemed to be filled with perfect women – women who somehow managed to have immaculate homes, awesome Pinterest pages, ideal marriages, and near-perfect lives of faith, all while dressing their ten children in beautiful homemade clothes and homeschooling those same children in a manner worthy of admission to Harvard.

fifties woman

I realized she was right. While I loved the bloggers I followed, they did, indeed, seem pretty close to perfect. Were they really that awesome, or were they only putting their best out there? Where were the “real women”–women I could relate to and learn from through their mistakes and mishaps?

This is more like it
This is more like it

Since neither my friend nor I could find a single “real woman” in the Catholic blogosphere, I decided to step up to the plate. After all, I am one of the most imperfect people I know! So, being “a few beads short of a rosary,”  I created” A Few Beads Short” to give a little dose of reality to the Catholic mommy blogosphere. My goal was to deal with the realities of life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – openly admitting my shortcomings while also looking at those struggles and imperfections through a lens of love, hope, joy, and trust – the lens of Christ.

The beauty is this: God still loves us, even in our imperfections. And we can learn so much in those times when we screw up royally, if only we’re willing to turn a critical eye towards ourselves.

When we look at ourselves and our actions through the lens of Christ’s love, we will inevitably begin to change, become more like Christ and his Mother, turn away from that broad path of destruction, and walk more securely on the narrow path towards life. (cf Matt 7:13-14)

Honestly, these days, there are other reasons why I maintain this small is the gateblog, namely the inevitable need for promotion that comes with authoring a book, and the desire to update those who have helped and prayed for Ray. But my primary motivation is the knowledge that there are other women out there who struggle as I do, and the hope that, through sharing my ups and downs, my lessons learned and the beauty of Christ’s Mercy and love, I will inspire them to look at their lives and actions through the lens of Christ, and that we can walk the narrow path… together.


**In God’s awesome Providence, I’ve discovered that there are many other “real women” blogging out there, and several of them are part of the Sienna Sisters CWBN Blog Hop. Click on over to learn why these women blog!





Surviving and Thriving in 2016

Looking back at 2016, my initial thought was, “Phew. We survived.” However, that by no means does the year justice. Yes, we certainly had our struggles, as Ray continued to recover and we – as a family – attempted to adapt to a “new normal” that is actually ever-changing and anything but “normal.”

Here’s what I can say for 2016:

The kids are still alive

Photo credit: Courtney Geyer, C-Style Photography

Actually, they’re more than alive. In the past year, I’ve seen them mature far more than children their age should have to. They’ve dealt with and adjusted to having a dad who is so very different than he used to be. They’ve courageously accepted the fact that they can’t have some of the luxuries that other children their age enjoy. They’ve taken responsibility for their baby brother, even as they’ve also taken on more chores. The older ones, especially, have recognized that mom is just one person, and developed a desire and willingness to help out of love and generosity.

They know that they are loved, and we have grown closer as a result of our difficulties. Most importantly, I believe that, as a whole, this whole experience has helped them to develop a deeper faith and trust in God.

My home is not a candidate for condemnation by the state board of health

Photo credit: Courtney Geyer, C-Style Photography

I wouldn’t suggest eating off the floors, but, actually, thanks to requiring more from the kids, my house is in many ways cleaner than it would have been two years ago. If you stop by unexpectedly, will you find toys on the floor, laundry on the sofa, and dishes in the sink? Almost certainly. But I’m happy to report that you won’t find mice nestled in that laundry, or roaches under that dish-filled sink. The sheets are (relatively) clean, the kids are generally able to find clean clothes to wear, and any food you find on the counter is free from mold or bugs. 

 I didn’t lose 20 pounds

Moving that one forward to 2017. (Insert laughing till you cry emoji)

I’ve been incredibly challenged

They do say, “Be careful what you pray for.” I prayed for patience, and rather than miraculously granting me patience, God gave me a situation which would try my patience in every way. All I can say in this regard is, I sure am glad that December 31, 2016 marked a symbolic ending, and not a real one. If it had been the end of my opportunity to grow in patience, I would have to mark it down as a failure. Fortunately, there’s a brand new year ahead, and I will continue to meet this challenge head-on, continuing to pray for the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the help of Our Blessed Mother.

Professionally, God hit it out of the park for me

Even as I was confronted with so many struggles on the home front, God was quietly working behind the scenes to bless me with professional success. A Single Bead became a best seller, went to a second printing, and has received excellent reviews. I heard from speakinginaction2numerous people that reading it led them or their loved one to a greater devotion to Our Lady and the Rosary. I was blessed to speak to classrooms filled with young adults who immensely enjoyed my book and had lots of wonderful questions. I officially hit the professional speaker circuit, with several  successful engagements that met with rave reviews and achieved every speaker’s goal -listeners laughed, cried, and were inspired in faith.

I can take little credit for this, other than to say that I followed the call. Three years ago, I felt God ask me to write a novel. So I wrote it. Yes,  there’s been some serious hard work and determination involved, but without the grace of God, and the gifts with which He has blessed me, none of this would have happened. I did the work, not knowing that God would use it months and even years later to bless me (and my family) at a time when we would most need something to celebrate.

My takeaway from 2016

God always keeps his promises.


So Much for Good, Strong Bones

My family has good, strong bones. It’s one of the stupid things that I’ve always been just a wee bit prideful about. We may have our weaknesses, we Engelman’s, but we’ve got good, strong bones.

Through all the football games, rough housing, dirt bike riding, and general stupid stunts, my kids had yet to break a bone.

Until Tuesday.

Mind you, our oldest had just gotten a new scooter, and went to the skate park to try it out. This seems like an inherently dangerous thing, so I gave him a big hug before he left and sent up a few prayers while he was gone.

Our ten year old daughter, “Bonita” on the other hand, had a kickball game. I screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-10-06-04-amwas wracked with guilt over missing it  but I needed to be at Confirmation and had no choice. So, I did give her a big hug before she left, but it was an “I’m terribly sorry I’m not going to be there” hug, not a “please Lord protect her” hug.

During Mass, I thought of my son, maybe breaking his neck “dropping in” to some half pipe, and offered another prayer for him.

After the Confirmation Mass, I checked my phone and saw that I had several texts. Bonita had hurt her pinky finger trying to catch a ball. It was probably just badly jammed, according to a doctor who happened to be on site, but it could be broken.

Mehhh. We’ve got good strong bones. She’ll be fine.

Wednesday, the school nurse looked at it and forewarned me that it may need to be checked out.

Thursday, the nurse called and left a voicemail. Take this child to the doctor.

The irony is that, only a few weeks ago I joked with a friend, “Hey, I just found out that we’ve met our out of pocket max on the insurance! If the kids are going to break some bones, this is the year to do it!”

Whoops. I shouldn’t have said that.


Lesson learned: unless you want to wrap your kids in bubble wrap, count on them being in danger at every turn. Even kickball is a dangerous sport, apparently!

Ultimately, trust them to the Lord, and he will take care of them in his own perfect way!


An Amazing Week

I had an amazing week last week. Filled with networking, inspiration, and a little media attention, it was quite the departure from my normal life of cleaning dishes, shuttling kids, and changing diapers.

Tuesday, I headed to Schaumburg, IL for the Catholic Marketing Network’s annual trade show, and Catholic Writers’ Conference Live. This was the first such conference I’ve attended and, while some of my expectations were not fulfilled (like the ridiculous notion that I would have time in the evenings to write), other expectations were far exceeded.

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From L-R, Me, Jeannie Ewing, and Amy Cattapan

One of the best parts was meeting lots of other authors whom I’ve previously known only through social media, most notably Jeannie Ewing (author of From Grief to Grace) and A.J. Cattapan (author of the YA novel, Angelhood.)

Then there was the fact that I

I gave Fr. Calloway (and many other influential figures) a copy of A Single Bead, and got this picture. He was so nice. Prayers that the many books given away bear fruit!
I gave Fr. Calloway (and many other influential figures) a copy of A Single Bead, and got this picture. He was so nice. Prayers that the many books given away bear fruit!

got several  advance reading copies of upcoming books. How cool is that??!! Not available in stores yet, y’all, but I’ve got it sitting in my pile of “Books to Read ASAP.” The two I’m most excited about are Kelly Wahlquist’s Walk in Her Sandles – Experiencing Christ’s Passion Through the Eyes of Womenand Fr. Don Calloway’s, Champions of the RosaryI’ll do my best to post reviews once I finish each book!

One of the many beautiful mosaics at the Shrine.
One of the many beautiful mosaics at the Shrine.

Daily Mass four days in a row was lovely, and there was an adoration chapel right there at the trade show. We also did a pilgrimage to  Marytown, and the shrine of St. Maximillian Kolbe.

with bonnie rodgers
With Bonnie Rodgers of Catholic TV

As far as that media attention goes, first, I spoke with Bonnie Rodgers of Catholic TV, America’s largest online Catholic television network. Bonnie is one of those people that has the gift of making you feel like you are one of her dearest friends from the moment you meet her. As you would expect under such circumstances, I think the interview went well.

ewtn bookmark
With Doug Keck, on EWTN Bookmark

Next came an interview with Doug Keck of EWTN’s Bookmark. This was an interview that almost didn’t happen, since EWTN rarely covers fiction. Fortunately, the producer gave me a window of opportunity to present A Single Bead to Mr. Keck. I had a long while to wait before I got to speak to him, all the while sitting perched on a chair in the booth and feeling rather awkward. I spent the time praying that if God wanted me to be on, Mr. Keck would be open to it. And, Voila! I got on.

Finally, on Thursday, I was interviewed on a local Chicago Catholic radio station, WFSI fm.  I confess that by the end of three shows, I started to feel a wee bit repetitive, but in this show I had a chance to share the story of God’s providence through our recent family events. I feel so blessed to be able to look back and see His hand so clearly, and love sharing!

All three interviews will air sometime in the next month. I’ll keep you posted!

Posing with my favorite book, wearing a fabulous consignment store find.

Wednesday evening, there was a “Meet the Author” book signing event, during which I signed about 150 copies of A Single Bead. Believe it or not, my hand barely got tired, although my handwriting did get rather sloppy. It was actually a lot of fun – if exhausting – to get to talk to so many people about my book, share my  “elevator pitch,” and hear a little bit about their lives and the people who they thought might enjoy reading about Kate and her grandma’s rosary bead.

daughters of st paul
With Sr. Martha and Sr. Susan, at the Pauline Books and Media booth

I had a wonderful dinner with two sisters from the Daughters of St. Paul, and was blessed to hear the stories of their callings into religious life. I shared several meals with likeminded Catholic authors, from whom I was able to learn and be inspired.

It was an insanely busy week. I didn’t think it was possible, but I came home feeling even more exhausted than before I left. However, I was also rejuvenated and exhilarated, determined to develop a family schedule that will support family peace and my writing, with lots of new ideas for promotion and marketing of A Single Bead and future projects, and ready to face writer’s block (or “writer’s dam,” as author Karina Fabian prefers to call it)!

May it all be done for the Glory of God!


**This post includes affiliate links. If you click on them, I will receive a tiny little “commission” for any items you add to your shopping cart, but you’ll be paying the exact same price! It’s a great way to support your favorite bloggers. Thank you!!!!

Let’s Stop Comparing Ourselves to Others

Girls, we are too hard on ourselves.

I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had recently with other moms, who feel that they are inadequate in one way or another. They don’t cook well enough. Their house is a mess. They didn’t knit their kids new scarves for the winter. They haven’t scrapbooked the children’s photos. The costume they made for their son’s saint presentation consisted of a robe and a paper hat.

Seriously, friends, we can’t do it all.

We live in this crazy Pinterest world where everyone is pinning this and posting that, and they all seem so darn perfect.

Guess what? They’re not.

Their scrapbooks may be beautiful, but their closets are probably a mess. Or, their closets are immaculate but they can’t cook for crap.

And you know what? If they’re excellent cooks, their husbands bellies may be fulfilled, but are their husbandsfulfilled” in other areas? (*smirk*)

Let’s just assume that they are downright awful in the “other areas.”

Bottom line is this: Stop judging yourself so harshly. No one is perfect.

Most of the moms I know aren’t just taking care of kids and homes – a full time job in and of itself. They’re also working full- or part-time, chauffeuring kids allover kingdom come, and volunteering for various and sundry things. With all of that, who on earth has time to cook, clean, and scrapbook?

Something’s gotta give, and it’s up to you to decide what that “something” is.

Maybe it’s the nightly homemade meals, maybe it’s the clean house, maybe it’s the scrapbook. Regardless, it’s high time to cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to be imperfect in an area – or three, four, sixteen… or countless.

Do you think St. Peter is standing at the pearly gates with pictures of your dirty house, saint peter by rubensweedy garden or fallen cake?

I highly doubt it.

No, when that day comes I’m quite certain it’s your heart – and not your home – that will be judged.

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He didn’t say, “Sew costumes for your children as I have sewn costumes for you.”

And, when Martha complained that her sister, Mary, wasn’t helping with the serving, he didn’t order Mary to get up and do her fair share. No, he told Martha, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”

It’s a pit we all fall into sometimes, but let’s stop comparing ourselves to others. We will almost always come up short, given that most people present their most perfect selves to the world.

Instead, root yourself first in the firm knowledge that God loves you. Then, throw away the picture of who the world wants you to be, close your eyes, and paint a detailed mental picture of the person God wants you to be.

Look at that picture every morning, and keep it in mind throughout the day.

At the end of the day, take another look, think about how you did, and how you can do better tomorrow.

If, indeed, St. Peter is standing at the pearly gates with pictures in his hands, that image may well be one of them.

Now, that’s a picture worth scrapbooking.


Why I’m a Terrible Person and Can’t Boycott the Coffee Shop

I’ve tried. I really have.

I tried when I heard that the president of the company said that they supported gay marriage because it was “just part of who we are.”

And I tried again when I learned that they have supported Planned Parenthood in the past.

But I’ve failed.

I’ll admit that part of it is the yumminess of the drinks. But there are other coffee shops that make good fru-fru coffees.

You might be surprised to hear that part of it is actually due to their plastic cups. It’s true. I often buy a coffee just so I can get a venti water and proceed to reuse the cup for the next five days, or at least until the straw breaks (those darn, cheap straws!).

That’s a five dollar water cup. Yowzas.

But, I drink about five times more water if I can drink it from their water cup.

Apart from the yummy fru-fru coffees and the water cups that feel oh-so-good in my hands and encourage my hydration efforts, it’s simply the ability to get away and write. That’s what really gets me.

As a writer, it is very difficult for me to “practice my craft” at home. I no longer have a true “office,” with the blessing of a door. My new “office” consists of a small space in a corner of the family room, which happens also to be at the end of the kitchen counter. It’s rather difficult for the kids to understand that “Mommy’s at work and can’t be disturbed” when they nearly run into me every time they go to the fridge for a drink.

Even Ray, God love him, can’t stop himself from sharing whatever marvelous joke or tidbit of information he’s gleaned from Facebook or Reddit.

I’ve tried other places, but they’re too noisy, or they don’t have enough electrical outlets, or the chairs aren’t comfortable, or the shear number of tattoos and earlobes with giant, gaping holes in them leaves me feeling distinctly out of place.

I do my best, no longer taking the kids through the drive through for their Mass treats, to the tune of over 20 bucks. And I don’t buy anything extra – no pastries, sandwiches, or even almonds to tide me over.

I really wish some person with good, Christian values would open up a coffee shop coffee shopclose to my house. One with a drop-in childcare center attached would be quite ideal. Any takers?

Until then, here I sit, with my family at home on this Monday morning of fall break, reveling in the fact that I’ve finally had a moment to write something, all while feeling guilty because they just got another five dollars of my family’s hard-earned money.

Family Update

I’ve said this repeatedly over the past year, but I really do think that I am finally in a place where I can start blogging regularly again. To kick things off, I thought I’d do a “quick and easy” update on the kids… which ended up taking four days and several hours to write. Here’s hoping that I can shake the writing rust off and pump these things out a little more quickly in the future!

zach June 2015

Dude is loving life on this side of town, since it means frequent access to his beloved cousins and best friends. He had a good year at school, though he’s not a big studier and thus tends to perform worse then I know him to be capable of on his report card. Nothing terrible – I just know that he could be a straight A student if he applied himself and he isn’t because he doesn’t.

He’s playing All Star baseball for the first time and doing very well. His specialty is base stealing. He’s gutsy and fast, and his games are a lot of fun to watch… though the other kids might disagree.

Next week, he’ll attend his first overnight camp. Historically, he’s been our “fearful” kid, who continued to come sleep in our bedroom for way too many years, so his wanting to do this camp is monumental. I’m excited for him but a bit nervous as well. He’ll be with all of his football buddies, though, so I’m confident that he’ll power through and stick it out.


Soon to be a fourth-grader, Bonita is our socialite. She has settled into the new school incredibly well and has made tons of friends. In fact, there have been times when she’s had four playdate invitations in one day!

She is also our star student. Take a kid who’s extremely smart to begin with, and add in a near-hero-worship of her teachers and a strong desire to please, and you’ve got a girl who consistently brings home report cards worth taping on the fridge. Dude likes to make fun of her because she got straight A’s all year, except one B in… gym.

Theater’s more her thing, but she did play kickball in the spring and looks forward to playing again in the fall. Quite frankly, she surprised me with her athleticism. If only there were scholarships available for kickball!


Bear will be entering second grade in the fall and I’d have to say he’s our kid that has yet to find his “niche.” He’s not into sports, or at least not the sports the rest of the family enjoys. He says he wants to do soccer, so we’ll try that out in the fall. And this summer he is going to attend a golf camp… if I ever get him registered. He continues to love trains and marble tracks, so maybe he has a future in engineering.

Bear has always been a great kid. He might occasionally make a mistake, but he’s generally the first to own up to it, earning a great deal of trust from Ray and I. Unfortunately, he has really put this trust to the test in the first half of summer. He must be going through a phase, but he’s made one choice after another that have left him grounded for three of these last six weeks. I’m sure we’ll laugh about it someday, but for the moment, I am finding it nothing but disheartening and exhausting. Underneath the bad choices, though, he’s still sweet, wonderful Bear, and we love him no matter what. (And we’ve had a few good days in a row where I haven’t had to do so much as put him in time out! Maybe we’re on the upswing!!)

Mary June 2015

Having just turned five, Boo’s so tiny, she still looks like she’s three. She can actually be a pretty decent eater, but that really only happens when we’re eating pizza, steak, or McDonald’s. Hence, her diminutive size.

She’s incredibly loving. When she’s tired, she comes to me and says, “Mommy, I want to cuddle witchoo.” She often pipes in randomly with, “Because I love evewybody in da whole world!” sometimes adding, “Even God, and Jesus, and da Bess-ed Muddah!”

She definitely loves to be around children her own age, and constantly begs for playdates. When the answer is “no,” she says, “But I haven’t had a pway date in a year!” even though she just had one that morning.


Little Man turned four months old yesterday. He is all smiles and happiness, and generally the most amazing baby imaginable. Though nothing has broken through yet, he is teething up a storm and putting out enough slobber to water the house plants. We think he’ll be rolling over soon, but his general contentment may slow him down a bit since the only time he starts to roll over is when he’s upset – and he just isn’t upset very often!

The older kids are a tremendous help, making the transition to five remarkably easy – though there still isn’t enough time in the day. With so much love coming from so many people, this little guy’s got a good life.

But, then, don’t we all?


The Year of Change: 2014

Wow. Looking back at 2014 is, quite frankly, mind boggling. It was a year filled with changes and events that I never would have foreseen.

By the end of January, Ray and I could only look forward and pray that the rest of 2014 wouldn’t bring more of the same. I wrecked my car on New Year’s Day, we were snowed in for a third of the month, and we lost Ray’s dearest friend.

first day of school
First day of school

Fortunately, the worst of it was over. We didn’t know it, but we had lots to look forward to. Heading into the new year, Ray and I were considering a move. However, we thought we’d be moving a few miles. No big deal. By February, however, I was beginning to feel that the move needed to be a bigger one, and within a few weeks we had made the decision to move across town, change parishes, and enroll the children in a different school. By November, we were moved into our new home. Talk about change!

In preparation for the move, I purged like crazy. I finally accepted the idea that our IMG_8188.JPGfamily was complete, and I would not be having any more children. I gave away the bassinet, the pack-n-play, the stroller… not knowing that, even as I was giving stuff away, a child was growing within me. God certainly does have a sense of humor, and a way of reminding you just who’s in control!

Learning that our family would soon be expanding led me to one certain knowledge… I could not ask Ray to shoulder the financial burden of a family of seven alone. But what does a pregnant mother of four do to earn money? I was stumped, but my sister had the answer, and I started a freelance writing business. My sister’s husband’s business was my first client, and my client base has grown, thanks largely to their networking and support. I have found myself writing on topics ranging from health and wellness, to insurance, industrial painting, entrepreneurship and the oil business. I feel incredibly blessed to have found a way to make money doing what I love to do.

To top that off, against all odds, my first novel was actually picked up by the very publisher who, in a roundabout way, sparked the idea for the book in the first place. The editing process has been a bit slow – I’m still waiting to receive the editing requests from the publisher – yet, I’m hopeful that we’re still on target for a January, 2016 release date.

My “One Word” for 2014 was Surrender. Looking back, it is easy for me to see how that word served me throughout the year. I stopped trying to have control over everything, OneWord2014SURRENDERand let God take the reigns of my life, instead. It could have been scary at times, (okay, it was scary at times) but as I learned surrender, I also learned trust. As I look back at 2014, I can see how God’s hand guided us through changes and difficult decisions. I can see unanswered prayers that, had they been answered, might have ended disastrously, and I can see how God blessed us in completely unexpected ways.

I’ve tried to analyze the changes, with various degrees of success. The bottom line is this: Even though we miss our friends and neighbors from our old community, our children are, for whatever reason, happier at their new school. Our family is, for whatever reason, more peaceful at our new house. A year that started with tragedy ends with new beginnings.

Looking into 2015, my experiences in 2014 leave me with one certainty: Only God knows what the next year will bring. Two scripture verses have been my mantra throughout this past year, and they have served me well: “Not my will, Lord, but yours,” (Luke 22:42) and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Prov 3:5). Whatever 2015 may bring, I pray that God will provide the grace to continue to live according to these verses, not just in the big decisions and changes, but in the ordinary moments of every day.

I’ll end with a few pictures highlighting other events of 2014:

Bonita celebrated her First Communion…

20140613-083440-30880036.jpgBear busted his head open while riding bikes at Nana’s house, but look at what a trooper that kid is!

busted headDude and his teammates achieved not one, but TWO championships – one in baseball, the other in football. Here he is sporting his baseball trophy.

ChampionBoo started preschool. You can see how sad she was to leave Momma…

Mary Lise first day of preschoolThe dog nearly died. Not once, not twice, but THREE times. First, it was something he ate, the second… well, I’m not really sure. The third appears to have been pneumonia, from which he is still recuperating. Here he is on the day of our move into the new house, hoping to drive me home after a stop at the grocery.

Keyser drivingWe celebrated a wonderful Christmas…

kids Christmas 2014And the very next day, Ray and I celebrated my fortieth birthday with a romantic evening out…

ray and steph on stephs fortieth

How would you summarize your 2014? What are your hopes for 2015? I’d love to hear about it… just leave a note in the comments section, below!

Thanks for being a part of our 2014. I pray that you will have a wonderful 2015! Happy New Year!!!









Moving Part II: Eww

I left my previous post with the final thought that we had one week to pack up our 3700 square foot house and move it into an 1800 square foot house. An interesting enterprise, to be sure, made all the more difficult by the fact that our new home was absolutely disgusting. There were cobwebs hanging from the ceilings, between the blinds, and in between the panes of the windows. There was even an empty bird’s nest inside one of the windows! The blinds had years’ worth of build up on them. Dust bunnies littered the floors. Bathroom drawers sported stray hairs and long-forgotten fingernail clippings. The place literally smelled like something had died and been left to rot.

I stood in the middle of my new home, fighting the urge to flee, or at least to vomit, and thought, What have we done?

You see, when we took our little tour, the electricity was turned off, so we weren’t able to see the dirt and grime that had built up. And the smell wasn’t there. I swear. The smell. was. not. there.

Regardless,we just assumed that any cleaning that needed to be done would be taken care of before we moved in. That’s what landlords do, right?

Apparently, not.

So, here I stood in my new home, afraid to touch anything, not sure where to start, fearing that anything we moved into the house would be contaminated by God-only-knew-what.

Ultimately, I cried, “uncle,” and called the landlord. I explained the level of awfulness and asked that they have someone come clean. Which they did. Which made the house clean enough that I could at least stand to set foot in it.  But it was still really gross.

I thank God frequently for my wonderful mother-in-law, but this was a time in my life when she came through like never before (well, except maybe when she hopped on a plane and moved into my house for a month, so that she could take care of my kids, my husband, and my home while I was in the hospital on bedrest.) She and my father-in-law drove all the way from southern Alabama to help with the move – unasked – and, when she saw the filth in the house, she got to work. While I wiped down shelves and cleaned out drawers, she mopped and re-mopped the floors, drying them by hand to get up still more dirt. As I put down shelf liners and slowly began to unpack boxes, she packed up the old house or watched four-year-old Boo, or both. After working all day on one of my homes or the other, she made dinner for our family and had it ready and waiting at just the right time.

That woman is amazing.

Between removing the bird’s nest and using copious amounts of Pine Sol, plus burning Scentsy warmers for hours on end, the smell finally dissipated. The rest is a work in progress. Last weekend, I cleaned the kitchen window and had to repeat the process three times before the cloth came back clean. Removing the built-up grime on those blinds took a solid hour of scrubbing. Soon, I’ll tackle the windows and blinds in the family room. With any luck, by the time the baby arrives in February, I’ll feel like any dirt that exists in the house is, at least, our family’s dirt.

Regardless, in those first five days, we turned the grossest-house-ever into the-house-whose-floors-I-still-don’t-want-the-kids-rolling-around-on-but-at-least-I-don’t-feel-like-we-have-to-wear-our-shoes-in-the-house.

And that was one hell of an accomplishment.

But did I mention the yard?

The backyard. I'm in love.
The backyard. I’m in love.

Moving Part I: The Housing Saga

We’re finally moved and I have a moment to write about all that’s happened in the last several weeks. So, let’s just start with the Housing Saga.

I mentioned in a previous post that we had found a renter for our home. Well, while we were happy to have someone to take the house, it left us in a situation where we had to turn around and rent a home ourselves. Let me tell you, finding a rental for a family of six – soon to be seven – is not easy. It had to be affordable – I didn’t want to spend more than we were already spending – but we were moving to a more expensive area. We spent countless hours on Zillow Rents, Craig’s List, and various other sites trying to find the right house. I wanted to settle for less – after all, it was only for a year – but Ray was having a hard time dealing with the idea of moving from a lovely 3700 sq. ft. new construction home and into a creaky old 1800 sq. ft. house that didn’t even have a garage. So, we kept looking.

Finally, we found a gorgeous home on Capital. The home was beautifully maintained, with gorgeous hardwood floors, nice built-ins, and even a little office for me, overlooking the backyard. But, the backyard was small, there was no drive for the kids to ride bikes in, and it was in that block between ghetto and great neighborhood that makes a mom a wee bit uncomfortable. I thought we could deal with it for a year, nonetheless, but prayed about it before going to bed on the eve of the paper-signing. Lo and behold, I awoke at 2 AM with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the absolute confidence that our family would not be happy in that house. We held off on the signing, and kept looking. That night, we came across an ad with only four pictures – generally not a good sign – for a home that was a “gardener’s dream” on over an acre of land. It was small, with only three bedrooms and one and a half baths, but the location was perfect and the idea of an acre plus was appealing. So we went to check it out.

The house wasn’t much, but it would suit our needs. The yard, on the other hand… we all positively bubbled over with excitement at the prospect of living in such a beautiful setting, with tons of space for the kids to run, a basketball hoop, a climbing tree… for our family, it seemed to be paradise.

Trouble was, the landlord is very picky about his tenants. He lives next door and doesn’t want any “riff-raff” living next door to him. His employees showed us the house, so we didn’t meet him right away. Then, he was out of town on business, followed immediately by a vacation, after which our contact at his company left on vacation. So, we were stuck twiddling our thumbs, wondering when we were going to meet this guy and whether we – and our soon-to-be-five-kids – would pass the “no riff-raff” test.

Moving day was looming close, as our tenant was supposed to move in in a week, and we still didn’t have a place to live. Once again, I was literally sick to my stomach. Then, a phone call. Our tenant – a pro sports figure – had been cut from the team due to injury. We experienced mixed emotions. Of course, we felt remorse for our tenant’s job loss, and hated to see the end of what had appeared to be a mutually beneficial deal for all involved. But, the stress to find a house was over. However, we still really wanted that little house on the big land!

Our relief quickly turned to frustration, however, as our tenant took us along on his roller coaster ride. We offered to let him out of the lease. He said maybe he wanted to move in for three months. Sorry, dude, not a three month lease. But he wouldn’t commit one way or the other, and we had a signed lease that we couldn’t just back out of. So we sat in his indecision for several weeks before he finally agreed to sign the paperwork to cancel the lease.

Fortunately, within days, we were able to sign another tenant who wants to buy the house in just a couple of months. At the same time, we finally met with the owner of the little house/big property place and passed his test. We got the signed lease for our old house on Sunday, signed a lease on the new place on Monday, and started moving that day, and scheduled moving the “big stuff” for the coming Saturday.

Not much time to pack up one house and get all of our junk moved into another. Especially not when we were cutting the size of the house in half. And so, this story will continue…

In the meantime, here’s the pic Ray snapped of our beautiful new front yard. Excuse the finger in the corner… this was an after thought as we were pulling away from that meeting with our picky landlord. And it’s just too darn cold out for me to go outside and take another.