Friday, June 16, 2017

Kitchen Remodel Update!

We have been working hard around here and are getting to the final stages of our kitchen remodel! Woo-hoo! I thought I would just share a bit about the process. Full Disclosure: We are not professionals, just your average DIYers!
I hope you enjoy watching the transformation. 

BUT FIRST: Back to the very beginning. Looking at these before photos makes me realize just what a huge project this was in hindsight! And also how very 90s. (Not the good 90s.)

The cabinets were actually solid wood and in good condition so we saw this as a good way to save some money and simply paint these white and add new hardware- something we had done before at our previous house. It wasn't a terrible kitchen, but it seemed dated and it just wasn't our style. I really didn't like all the beige and orange-ey vibes going on. 

There was also very minimal counter space and so we knew right off the bat we would add a large island to maximize the space for cooking. Oh, and there was no dishwasher! Who does that?

If you look just behind you in the original kitchen you would find this lovely tile partial wall that divided the kitchen from the living room and dining nook. 

We based our entire decision to buy this house on removing this partial wall that our contractor friend said he was 90% sure was not load bearing and would be "easy-enough" to remove ourselves. Yep, that's how we roll. Risk taking is our thing I guess. 

*Spoiler Alert* He was good on that 90%. Thanks Jeff! Whew.

This is a view from the living room on the back side of the partial tile wall separating the kitchen from the dining nook. It did seem pretty small at first, but we were confident that we could have a more open feel with taking out the wall and that the space might feel bigger that way. 

We had an open concept in our first home and we really liked having it that way so that our little family can feel closer while I am cooking and they are coloring at the table for example. 

We are committed to living simply but not sacrificing on our style. We just want it to feel like us. Hence the remodel project!

Here is the really neat wall oven to the right of the stove top in the first photo. There is also a built in fridge (into the bathroom closet) right next to it, surrounded by the same lovely tile. I really didn't mind this wall oven initially, but the bummer was that the oven door wouldn't open all the way because it would catch on the fridge door handle. Again, who does that?

 So our first order of business was to remove all of the beige 90s tile!

My husband will be so happy I included him in this blog post. ;) P.S. Check out that retro light fixture. Is that cool again yet?

This process was pretty slow as the tiles were stuck on there pretty good. 

The next step was to remove the partial wall. We had some fun and shot entirely too many slow-mo videos of Nick (Dan's brother) kicking out the drywall. I'll spare you those for now.

Once the drywall was out, the sight lines increased dramatically. We were starting to catch the vision that we had imagined! It did seem bigger, even with the studs still up. 

Next week I will update you on the design choices we made and some budget-saving things we did to make the most of the design. Thanks for reading friends! What DIY projects have you done lately?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Over the past five months, my family and I had a wonderful opportunity to live at a friend of the family's guest house while we transitioned into a new position in ministry and a new city. This was so good for our family because we were able to transition more easily without buying a house right away.

We could get to know the area a bit better, have time to sell our old house without jumping right into a new one and live rent free for a few months which was easy on the budget!

We lived care free for a few months and it was wonderful. We were able to eat out more often (yay for not cooking all the time) and went on a few more fun trips with the kids, like the Shedd Aquarium, the Zoo and Thistleberry Farms during the fall.

(Bouncing on a beautiful fall day at Thistleberry Farms)

(The Windy City from Shedd Aquarium)

(Riding the train into Chicago)

(Lake Michigan was beautiful that day!)

(Shedd Aquarium)

This was a HUGE blessing for us. We are so thankful for our time there.

Although it was super convenient for us, there were some down sides.

The guest house was probably a maximum of 800 sq. feet. It might even be smaller. We have three small kids ages 3-7 and my husband and myself. The main living room, was also our bedroom. There was a very small bedroom that was almost exactly the size of a full mattress with no gaps on the sides. That was where all three kids slept on the floor on an air mattress.

At first it was kind of like camping, the thrill of sleeping in strange, temporary places. Then the thrill started to wear off and it became completely normal.

I know that life has a way of teaching us things through every season. We learned some good lessons that I hope will stick with us in the future. It also made us more appreciative of having a home again with bedrooms and space to spread out when we finally bought a new house.

Here are 6 Lessons We Learned From Living in a Tiny House with Kids:

1. You definitely think harder about "things" you buy at the store.  

Do we literally have anywhere to put this thing? For example, take the Target dollar bins which are my weakness. Where will I put all these cute office supply trinkets? Do I really have room for one more package of cute post it notes? I just have a kitchen counter, no "office" to speak of. This was a wonderful lesson to learn. This is probably one of the main reasons people live in tiny houses. It is like automatic forced editing for your life. Minimalism at its best!

2. It takes about 30 mins. to clean up the whole place!

BUT, It takes about 30 mins to trash the whole place. This was probably the most frustrating aspect for me. With the kids, because the main room was where the kitchen, bedroom and living room all existed it was where we LIVED all the time. So getting the kids to clean up their LEGOs, or bowls of goldfish crackers, or tiny bits of cut up paper from making a paper bag puppet all took significant time to follow behind and enforce. On the brightside, this lesson needs to be learned! When you live in a bigger space it is easier to just shut the door to the basement and worry about the toys strewn about another time. Not so in a tiny house. I like that myself and my kids were learning what happens when you don't clean up right away and what kind of space and feeling there is when you do clean up after each activity. (I still struggle with this!) This is something I hope to continue in our new home.

3. A shower can be a magical place of alone time to recharge. 

When you are physically very near each other for 12 hours straight, you start to get annoyed with lots of little things that normally shouldn't bother you. I found the perfect solution to this struggle. Take a nice long, hot shower. Don't forget to lock the bathroom door behind you! I would use lavender essential oil and drop it onto the shower floor before turning on the hot water to add another dimension of calming aromatherapy to my alone time. When the weather was nice, I would take a daily long walk to have some peace and quiet and reflect and pray. This is so needed as a busy Mom living in a tiny house.

4. You find free public spaces in the community to enjoy.

I am a total library geek. I love the big rooms, the colorful displays of books, the quiet energy of minds engaged and the allure of learning something new and interesting. I also, LOVE the kids spaces they almost always have. We are fortunate to have a ton of libraries to explore here in our city. I found the closest one and made it part of our weekly routine. We would go once a week, but if we were feeling cramped in the the tiny house, we would go more often. There are toys to play with, books and magazines to read, ipads to play, and usually do-it-yourself crafts sitting out waiting to be made. All for free! Parks are also a must when the weather is nice. You REALLY appreciate these free community spaces when you are itching to get out of the house, but want to avoid Target and the gimmie-melt-downs thereafter. Plus, it sends a meaningful message to our children that there are experinces that value education over consumerism. 

5. Natural light is good for the soul. Big windows are more important than actual space.

We had these awesome big windows that went all the way up to the ceiling in our tiny house. I learned just how important having that natural light coming in during the day was. It makes the space FEEL so much bigger when you can see the outdoors rather than walls. If you are looking into choosing a smaller space to live with kids, this is a MUST. Have an entire wall of windows on one side. It will make all the difference. You will be a happy camper.

6. You get creative with where to store things.

We did have this one very large shelf that went from floor to ceiling. We stored all of the kids games, art supplies, our office supplies, and any other thing that doesn't have a home. You can also hide candy or things you want to keep away from the kiddos in baskets high up on top. It is essential to have a shelf like this! We also got creative with using walls to store things like papers by simply hanging a piece of string across a stretch of wall. You can use mini binder clips or clothes pins and display kid art work or school work easily. Of course don't forget under the bed and under the couches for more storage!

So we have learned or gotten better with many important life lessons through our tiny house experiment! And, yes, it is possible to live with kids in a smaller space. In fact, it is good for a lot of reasons. I can see how having more room in your budget is a benefit too.

That being said, the tiny house craze, in my opinion after a trial run, is not the best option for raising kids. Ask my husband, he would tell you I was about to lose my marbles by the end of the five months (and some actual tiny houses are wayyyy smaller!). I love the romance of the idea and the counter-culture seduction of minimalism at that level. But at the end of the day, we all seem to be a bit happier and less frustrated with actual bedrooms and personal space now.

I could maybe see Dan and I when we are empty nesters having another trial run in an actual tiny house. (Hmmm another experiment down the road?)

For our family that was a season and we are glad to have a little more room in our new home to stretch out, hopefully taking what we learned through it all to heart.

Monday, January 30, 2017

How I am losing myself (and have seen my true self in the process)

Somewhere along the way as a Mother, we lose a bit of ourselves.

Maybe we lose it the first time we hold that precious, helpless baby.

He looks to me with deep sapphire eyes so unknowing and wild. And yet, somehow he knows to come to me to meet his needs. He nestles in and searches for milk, for the liquid that will sustain his tiny life.

In those first moments, though completely exhausted and healing from my own wounds, I know with unwavering certainty this will be my life story. 

It is to care, to the best of my abilities, for this fragile and weak and wild-eyed little person so small against my chest. The one that was formed inside my own body.

Never have I known a feeling so fierce. It is almost an unrecognizable emotion, hard to name it. Some might call it love.

Its hard to understand the level of giving of ones self until this moment and the many moments thereafter that turn into days, which morph into weeks, years and in most cases, a lifetime.

I recently had a conversation with a young mother who mentioned to me after I inquired about how it was all sorting out, motherhood that is, that she had never known just how selfish she was until she had a baby. I agreed and remembered all too well having that same revelation in the beginning of my journey.

Granted, we are not all the same. Some of us may be more natural servants. Some of us may be more selfish by nature or even by nurture.

I have never read The Message version of this passage in the bible, I find it most interesting:

Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. 

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? -Matthew 16:24

These words from Jesus are so powerful and so against the popular culture its almost offensive to read them. I can remember really wrestling with these verses when I was a new Christ-follower. I had big questions. What kind of life is a life lived in suffering and self-sacrifice?

I wrestled so much with them, that they began to change me, transform me.  

Just as I had wrestled with these words in my mind as a young woman, now I wrestle with these words in my heart and especially in my actions with those closest to me. Every. single. day. 

And I love the last bit of this. "Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self." 

I want to find my true self. There have been times in my life that I thought I found myself. Even years ago. I have always been a very self-reflective-in-tune-with-myself kind of person. 

The beauty is that the hunt for our TRUE SELVES is a sneaky, elusive matter. It's always changing, shifting shape. The one grand mystery of our existence. 

Even so, there have been times in the motherhood chapters of my story that I have seen glimpses of my true self as though I were staring into a great, dark and very old forest. All of a sudden my silhouette slips out from behind the trunk of a twisted and gnarled oak tree and stares right back at me, figure to figure.

The moment is fleeting, but it is real and it grounds me. God speaks to me through these moments and I know that I am getting closer to Him.

I still don't know how the magic happens. I don't understand how sleepless nights and countless loads of laundry folded, and so many batches of chicken pasta salad (the kind with the grapes cut up in it Mom!) transcend into the eternal.

The many mornings I wished that I could just have a few moments to shower and get ready just for myself, but I get out of bed and I pack those peanut butter sandwiches anyway. I look after all the missing gloves and single lost socks. I give of my heart in moments of great emotional turmoil, in delicate matters of friendship and of enemies at school. I try my best to answer all of the big, big questions about life and God and the how the universe works.

And it's hardest to give when I am tired. Or I'm in pain from arthritis in my joints. Or I haven't had an adult conversation in many days. Or my husband seems distant because we have not truly seen and truly heard each other for long stretches.

But we do all these things anyway. We give of ourselves anyway.

Maybe (again I don't know for sure) the magic happens when we surrender to our self again and again. We get a little bit better at the way in which we do it. 

Please don't misunderstand me. It is important to take care of yourself and make time for your husband and all of those other good things, like pursuing our dreams and making a difference in the world. There is definitely a balance to learn there. One I am still working on as well, that may be a separate conversation for another day.

But looking through the lens of self-sacrifice.... I am getting just a little bit better at the "having-a-good-attitude-while-serving" part. I am getting better at the "asking-for-help-from-the-source", God himself. 

It is making all the difference. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

This was my big project for Christmas gifts this year. In fact, I made four sets of these! Three for grandparent gifts and one for myself to keep. I love the way these turned out. I even made my Mom cry when she opened hers! 

These pull on the old heart strings for sure. I'm not sure why they are so much more special than a photograph. They give off a cool vintage vibe for sure, but more than that I think the silhouette leaves room for your own mind to fill in the gaps. When you truly love a child you know their soft innocent features so well. 

You can imagine them this way forever, the way their nose turns up a little. You can almost hear their laugh and imagine the way their lips widen out into a smile, you can even see her sweet little dimple on this cheek, even though its not there in the actual print. It's like a perfect time capsule of the preciousness of childhood. 

PLEASE make these of your children. Your future (and present self) will thank you for this special gift.

I wanted to show you this surprisingly simple process:

Materials you will need: 

exacto knife 
extra blades
cutting mat 
black cardstock 
printed out portrait silhouette 
scrapbook paper 

1. Take a photo 

(I just used my iphone camera) directly from the side of your child's head. It helps to have them stand in front of a sunny window or a white wall, so that the shape of their profile is easy to see and contrasts nicely.

2. Print out the photo 

and tape it to a piece of black cardstock paper that is the same size. (Here you can see I was running out of printer ink, but that really doesn't matter. You only need to see the general shape of their profile.) Tape both pieces of paper together down onto a cutting mat for stability.

3. Trace around the profile

using a pencil or pen. This step is important because you will enhance the outline for a more interesting finished silhouette. I mostly followed the outline there but accentuated the little hairs sticking out and holes where little tufts of hair came up. You will want to draw in some eyelashes. They don't normally show up in the profile, but this added detail really makes the portrait in my opinion. 

Add some visual interest by drawing a few slits around a collar to show the shape of the clothing.

5. Use an exacto knife to cut it out.

Make sure your blade is nice and sharp and take your time! Don't forget to cut out the lashes! You will be cutting through two layers of paper, so make sure the pressure you are using is good enough, otherwise you will have to go back over the whole thing again.

6. Carefully pull away the silhouette from the rest of the paper. 

 Be gentle with this part as some areas may not have cut out all the way. You can use your knife to go back and cut again if this happens. When it is all out, there may still be some fuzzy parts, make sure and go back to trim these off carefully. Again, the sharper your blade the better!

In the final stage I actually trimmed off the boxey bottom of the shape and made a curved collar, just by eyeballing it. You can do that too or just leave as is. 

7. Frame the shape and sign the name at the bottom

In this step, you want to find a nice paper to put behind the silhouette. I found this paper that has a vintage almost lace quality but was not too distracting from the silhouette itself. There are literally hundreds of options at your local craft store to choose from! You could also stick with basic white as well. 

Here I used the insert that came with the frame to cut out an identical size from the paper. Then I simply used a nice glue stick to carefully glue down the silhouette onto the center of this paper.

Look at this beautiful shape. Love it so much.

For each child I used a good quality black pen to sign their name and age under the silhouette. 

Voila! Stick it in a frame and call it childhood magic.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Square Peg in a Round Hole

Are you a "square peg in a round hole world"?

I heard this phrase recently in something I was reading and it really struck a chord with me. Have you ever felt like no matter how hard you strain and strive to fit in, you feel like you are always just missing the mark, trying to squeeze in until it hurts. Feeling defeated. 

Of course it depends on the people in your world. I am fortunate to have some wonderful people in my life, both family and friends. But aside from them, when it comes to systems and school and grown-up deadlines and bills to pay, and a house to maintain and keep organized. I feel like I am constantly missing the mark. At least the mark that others create for me. 

In college, I went on a trip to Costa Rica. It was a wonderful trip. We helped build a church in a town just outside of San Jose. Just like anything where you are working together as a team for a good amount of time in a foreign environment, you tend to get to know the other people pretty well and bonds form quickly. At the end of the trip everyone was given some sort of award for the week. Awards like "hardest worker", "best cement mixer", and some other more comical awards. I got the award:

"Tico Time Queen"

Tico Time is the lifestyle of the locals in Costa Rica. It is much different from "Gringo Time" or white people time. Its a very laid back attitude. No one really cares if you are 5, 10 minutes or even a couple of hours late to a meeting or a party.  If you show up at the time they told you to, you will most likely find the hostess still in curlers or the party not quite ready for you. 

If you know me (or knew me in my younger years especially) you understand why I won this award.

This is MY lifestyle! It just feels so right! I tend to show up almost every time about 5-10 minutes late. It doesn't matter if I wake up earlier, get ready earlier, or plan ahead. It's like a have this internal clock that ticks just a bit slower than the rest of the people on earth. I had finally found my people!

My mom and brother used to joke that telling me to hurry while we were out and about was like asking honey to come out of the jar fast, its just not in my nature. 

The problem is that this Tico Time Queen has grown up into a responsible adult with three children to take care of and get to school on time. Wouldn't you know I have a son who marches to this same internal rhythm? 

I see the stress in his eyes trying to get out the door on time. Trying so so hard to fit into the round hole. To remember every form to return, every assignment to complete. I see so much of myself in my oldest son Calvin. He spends so much of his time reading and creating. His mind is often navigating the bigger questions of life, pondering our existence, reading about space, coming up with inventions and manipulating another lego spacecraft. He is so smart and such a dreamer. He is a creative type, just like me. The blessing and the curse. The square peg in the round hole syndrome. 

Recently, I had a conversation with both of Calvin and Jack's teachers. One of them mentioned to me that Calvin has been consistently late (insert enormous mom-guilt mixed with fear of failure) she continued saying that if he just gets here about 5 minutes sooner, he will be fine. 

Then I headed across the hall and had a similar chat with Jack's teacher, who stopped me from apologizing for sending Jack to school late. She continued to say that it was all good and that some of us just run on a slightly different time-frame. She went on to say that she is also this way, and that it drives some people crazy. But "It's all good! We are all here and we are learning together and that is what matters most! "

I needed that. I needed that permission to be myself. To be seen as a GOOD parent even though we do tend to run on a different schedule. 

Don't misunderstand me if you are the round peg. Please know that I do value being on time. I do see the value of structure and order and all things that revolve around the ticking hands of our societal clock. 

But at the same time, I also need to feel valued for who I am. I need to have the space and freedom to be a creative type. To be VALUED for the contribution I am making in society. 

I wish that also for my son who will likely spend a lot of time thinking and creating and revolving around the rhythm of his own heart beat for his whole life. 

May we all revolve around the rhythm of life itself. Not the rush and drive and anxiety of trying to get there at any cost. 


"We're all here and we are learning together and that is what matters most!"

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Dealing with an "Invisible" Illness.

I have to say that the days have been hard these last few weeks. As much as I'd like to deny it, my body is struggling to keep up with life. Rheumatoid arthritis has a way of ruining my plans (and many times my attitude) for an entire day.

For example, yesterday was a beautiful 80 degree day in the middle of October. I managed to get out early in the morning (wearing my snazzy back brace around my middle of course) and walk around the backyard a dozen or so times. I even got in a jog for a few laps. The reality is though, not many people know it- but my body tells me....the weather is just about to change.

By lunchtime, I was just barely hanging on to stand and fix lunch for the kids and myself. Fast forward an hour or so and I had to sit down then lay down for what turned into the rest of the day/night. My attitude becomes extremely bitter and my patience so short with the kids. It's such a shame because we had such a wonderful productive morning.

Did I mention we are homeschooling? Actually it is virtual public school. So they have a few classes online everyday, but much of the work is still directed by me. There are many benefits to this lifestyle, because it is so flexible. The kids have more freedom to play and get out and do field trips often. The down side is that it puts a lot of extra work on me. I really enjoy most of the work, but I am facing a new reality. Maybe I am not fit to do this work right now.

Maybe I am truly sick. I feel it every day. I am in constant numbing pain in certain areas of my body. Then I will have days like yesterday that just put me out of commission for the whole day.

I am writing down these thoughts so that maybe there is someone else out there that struggles with a similar illness. Most people cannot see it, per say. But it is very much affecting my every hour of every day.

Along with this comes a whole range of emotions. Lately I have just been feeling completely overwhelmed with life. (That's another part of the story, maybe for later...) It is hard to be a good Mom to my three precious children when I am hurting so much. Then I feel guilt for getting short with them. I also feel a sense of denial that this is actually happening. On top of all of it is a blinding subtle rage. Why is this happening God? Why does this have to happen to me? I am only in my thirties...

I never dreamed this would be my life path. And yet, here I am faced with some big decisions. What sort of treatments do I take? I guess we are done having kids because of the dangers of the meds and being pregnant (a 2 year time-frame to get the meds out of your system before you can get pregnant again)

I came across this verse and it really spoke to me:

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
-Psalms 73:26

For now, I need divine strength to get through each day. To control my attitude even when I am not feeling well. I pray for the strength to make some of these big life decisions and make the right decision. And most of all for peace and patience with myself and my own changing body.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Golden Message

   Waiting is hard for me. I'll admit I am the first one to try and change my circumstances if I am given any amount of time to think too much. I make a plan, I take action.

I spent a lovely afternoon recently kids-free (gasp) hand-in-hand with my man, crunching along this beautiful gravel path in a nearby state park.

It was the kind of late summer day that would be considered sinful to stay indoors. The piercing sunlight so crisp and warm filtering down through the chartreuse canopy as we ambled along the winding path.

When out of the blue (or should I say green) canopy of leaves above, a single glittering golden sassafras leaf flutters down just in front of me. Catching and reflecting the warm light as it slowly floats downward, swaying back and forth and back and forth.

I promise you time slowed down for that one beauteous little leaf to make contact with the sacred ground it landed upon. And I was there to witness it.

So much so that I snapped this exact photo of this exact leaf.

Yes. God has a subtle way of speaking to us sometimes. In that moment, He was speaking right to me.

That leaf. It was everything I felt. Have been feeling for so long now. Change is coming.

There will still be several warm and green days, but the change is BEGINNING. 

I stood there for what was probably way too much time trying to get a good pic of this little leaf.

And because I married an infinitely patient and creative type of man. He got it. He knows when something speaks to me and he only smirked in his sarcastic way a little bit when I finally came out of it and looked up unknowingly to catch his eyes that were on me.

We moved on with our walk and our day, but that little leaf stuck with me.

The problem is that when time feels uncomfortable to me, when the days tick on, sun rises, sun sets with nothing changing, this is actually the sacred space when God teaches me.

I can feel him nudging me to lean on him, to seek him out when the quiet of life is too loud to go unnoticed.

The clinking of dishes in the sink, the creak of a porch swing or the coo of a morning dove outside my window on a summer morning. All sounds of a slower pace of life.

All the things I love, EXCEPT NOT when there is change looming in front of me with no real plan in sight. Like the calm before the storm.

"But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
-James 1:4

The Greek word for perfect in that scripture is telios which has a few meanings. In a sacrificial animal, it meant it was fit to be offered to God.

For a scholar to possess it meant they were mature.

For a man, it meant he was of full-age.

The thing is that we don't just become patient by trying to be patient.

I wish it were so, but alas, God has chosen to develop that patience in us through trials.

It's his way. 

Peter referred to the trials as being more precious than gold. Most of the time, I manage to avoid them whenever possible. That, or complain about them.

Lord, use this waiting period to draw me closer to you, make me COMPLETE.

Refine me, make me mature. 

May I change the way I view this waiting period and the inevitable change coming. 

May I see it as more precious than a perfect golden leaf come as a messenger to me. 

I CAN wait.
I CAN move with grace from one season to the next. 

With Your help Lord, I will.