Wednesday, July 6, 2016


"It's the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all." ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

I've said it before and I'll say it again: This place where we live is magical.  It has reached out and taken a hold on our family, and it's not letting go.  Last year, in the middle of selling our last house and purchasing our new one, there was still a lot of other stuff going on, too.  Amidst packing boxes, and choosing paint colors, and home inspections, there were museum visits, and trips up north, and swimming and everyday life.  There was also a little girl navigating her sixth year of life.  

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She was hooked on Elsa.  In fact, she didn't need many clothes, because every day was ELSA DRESS DAY.  She loved that dress, and I didn't mind one bit.  I knew that soon enough she'd be past that phase and on to more "grown up" things.

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And if SHE wasn't Elsa, she knew a little boy who would gladly don the dress.

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Even when she was sleeping (not in her bed, of course), she had Let it Go on the brain.

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On rare occasions, I'd talk her out of the dress and into a bathing suit...

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...Or into running clothes to pound the pavement with me.

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But when those moments had passed, she'd slip right back into that dress.

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At the fall back to school event, imagine her elation when she actually got to meet Ana and Elsa!

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Things were going great until she realized that the new house meant an all new school.  After months of struggling at the beginning of Kindergarten, I felt every bit of her anxiety of facing twenty-six new faces on that first day of school.  At Meet-the-Teacher night, we toured the school and her new classroom and she got quieter and quieter and I could tell she was on the verge of tears.  I mentioned to her teacher that Alayna was very nervous about all of these changes and very self-conscious about wearing glasses and being teased and she assured me that she'd take good care of her. Her classroom was going to have a student teacher for the first semester, and that woman had overheard me telling the teacher my concerns.  She approached Alayna, got down on her level, introduced herself, and told her that she was also new to the school that year, and that she, too, had new glasses, and maybe they could be friends and start the new school year together.  Relief flooded Alayna's face, and I tried unsuccessfully to hold back my tears.

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And then, on the first day of school, we made another discovery.  The house across the street was home to another little blonde girl with glasses, with the exact same birth date as Alayna.  Chloe and Alayna became fast friends, dressing up, doing each other's makeup, and exploring outside.  Those two girls are inseparable and so cute together.  Chloe is the Ana to Alayna's Elsa.  We spend a lot of time these days walking the girls back and forth across our busy road!

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Another highlight of last fall was our girls' trip to Chicago.  I had always wanted to take my girls to the American Girl store, and I finally was able to make it happen.  Alayna carried her new look-alike doll everywhere we went, and did cartwheels while waiting for our Uber drivers.

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The winter didn't slow Alayna down one bit.  She pulled on her Elsa hat with the flip-up braid and played in the snow and hit the jumps on the sledding hill!

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She also was a cheerleader for Greyson's basketball team.  I'd have to say she was the cutest little six year old cheerleader ever.  (Don't try to argue that.)
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With the new year came our first new addition to the family: a bunny named Smokey.  While everyone loved him, Alayna took a special interest in him, and I often find her arms and neck scratched up from "playing" with Smokey, but she has never complained once about those scratches.

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As we settled into our new farm life, slowly our Elsa-loving girl gave up the dress and traded it in for play clothes and mud boots.  Muddy ditches and pets and shiny aqua dresses aren't very compatible, and the animals MUST come first, right?

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In March, we made a trip to Orlando and feasted on ice cream and soaked up the sun.  We had a great time there, but were anxious to get back home because we were planning for our next additions...

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Baby chicks!  Five of them, one for each of our kids.  And then three more chicks.  And then two ducks.  And then two turkeys.

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You already know about our loss of three of those chicks and the two ducks, and Alayna's Miss Lizzie was also injured in the attack, but she did a great job giving her extra love and attention and Lizzie is doing great!

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After that, we added three new baby chicks and two more ducks.  Alayna's love of animals has really started to shine.  She absolutely loves all of them, and does a great job of giving all of the animals equal attention.  She has a special bond with them, and doesn't ever want to be away from home for more than a couple of hours because she wants to make sure the animals are safe and happy.

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In June, I think I gave her the surprise of her life when she woke one morning and I said, "Do you want to go get a new puppy, right now?"  She was dressed and ready in less than five minutes and off we went to pick up our little Winston.

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All of the kids love Winston, but Alayna has really taken him under her wing, and she doesn't want to go anywhere without him.  She even went to his first vet visit and was a great helper!

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When she's not snuggling a bunny or walking Winston or chasing the fowl in our yard, you can find her at the neighbor's pond, sneaking up on unsuspecting bullfrogs.  This girl is not afraid to get her hands dirty and she is always surprising us with the critters she catches.

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At night, amidst watching YouTube videos about "how to play the ultimate prank on your family" and "the baby food challenge" and "how to make your own glitter slime", she sends Jason and me the cutest texts about how much she misses the chickens that died, and how much she misses Winston and, "Can he sleep in my bed with me just one time, pleeeeeeeeease?"  Oh, and her Snapchat filter game?  Totally on point.

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She joins Owen, Emerson and me on our evening runs on occasion, and I'm quite certain she could out-sprint all of us if she tried. Someday she will discover what her body is really capable of.  For now, though, she's happy to jog along beside us, laughing and telling jokes and hanging with the "big kids."

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And those Elsa days?  I don't think they're completely behind us yet.  For her birthday this year, she requested a snowman cake.  In July.  Your wish is my command, dear.  I think, secretly, Alayna really is a princess.  She should totally kiss that frog.

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Happy seventh birthday to my littlest girl, Laynie.  Mommy loves you!

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Year in This Life

It has been a year...

A year since we first set our eyes on this place we call home.

A year since we decided to leave our cozy house in the cul-de-sac and try our hands at something different.

A year since we began to dream a new dream.

A year that began with a small spark of hope that this place could possibly become our place.

Well, that spark turned into something much bigger-a burning flame.

Once that key was in our hands, we were off and running.  The restoration, remodeling and new construction began!

The bedroom floors were stripped of their carpet, exposing old hardwood floors, which we attempted to sand, but the several layers of paint already on them made the task nearly impossible.  We ended up painting them instead.  One of my very favorite parts of the upstairs bedrooms are the small metal plates that have been attached to the floor in random places, covering little holes in the pine.

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The dining room floor was found under carpet and 50's tile and with a good sanding we were able to stain and poly these floors and keep them original.  The holes from the old stove are still in the floor, and add to the character.

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When we first came to the house, the staircase had no handrail and the second floor had nothing to prevent kids from just falling over the edge.  The previous owners called this "Fishing with God."

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We decided to modify an old shelving unit from Grandma Lois and use it not only as a barrier from falling to one's death, but also as a bookshelf for the kids.

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The stairs themselves were steep and dark and covered in old carpet.  I stripped them down, painted and stained them, and added a few sweet words to read as you climb them.

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The butler's pantry was screaming for attention.  Dated, peeling wallpaper covered the walls and I had just the thing to spruce it up-pennies!  For $30 in pennies I converted this room from a boring hallway to a conversation piece.  While the majority of the pennies are heads up, if you look closely you can find a random wheat-back penny thrown in there!

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The kitchen and dining areas also needed some modifying.  Where there was once a small dining room, a bar as a divider and a small kitchen table, we have converted into a much bigger open space with one large dining table and an added kitchen island, which not only gives us much needed counter space, but also houses extra cabinetry and a dishwasher!

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While we were working on all of these changes, there was also an addition to the house being built.  We tore off a small laundry/mud room that was attached to the kitchen and added a laundry room, master bedroom, master bathroom and the third closet of the house.  We opted for large open windows in the bedroom and it's my favorite spot in the house.  In the mornings, I can lie in bed and watch the sunrise and see the deer out in the field, and at night I can see the most beautiful sunsets and listen to the pheasants who live here and the bullfrogs in the neighbor's pond.

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After debating over what to do regarding the old barn, Jason had secured the corners with cables to keep it standing through the winter.  But in March, we realized the cables weren't going to hold it forever and the back corner was gradually falling and starting to break.  Rather than wait for the entire structure to collapse in ruins, we regretfully opted to take down the barn.  Friends and family came out and with the help of a big SkyTrack machine, the men carefully disassembled the barn.  It was a very sad day for me.  The barn was one of the reasons I had wanted to buy this property in the first place, and taking it down meant losing a big part of the history here.  We were able to salvage quite a bit of wood, and also found a few treasures to keep and reuse in the future.

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One of my favorite things in the new addition is our commode room.  Jason found the perfect pieces of wood from the barn, left them in their natural state, and put them up as an accent wall.  There's even a piece from an old Buick crate we found in the barn, and I made sure he didn't remove any of the old rusty nails from any of the wood.

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In April, on a whim, I decided it would be a good idea to give the bathroom a face lift.  The plan was to remove the old linoleum and lay some fresh tile.  Well, under that linoleum was a sub-floor.  And under that was more linoleum.  And under that was another sub-floor.  And under that?  Under that was the original floor, stained red, and GLORIOUS.  We decided to return the tile we had purchased, and restore these original wood floors instead.  The project took a few days longer than we had planned, and quite a bit more labor, but it was totally worth it, in my opinion.

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Over the years, I have randomly been a bit of a trash digger.  Jason always rolls his eyes in disbelief when I ask him to stop and pick up bar stools or random furniture someone has left at the side of the road.  Most recently, I had him pick up an old brown chair, with hideous pleather upholstery and dog-chewed arms and legs. He just shook his head and plopped it on the porch for me.  I think he was pleasantly surprised when he came home to find that I had sanded away the chewed wood, painted the frame, and recovered it in bird-printed fabric that Nash picked out.  Sometimes furniture just needs a little help, you know?

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In between all of the projects, both inside and out, we have also gradually added some animals to our family.  We currently have one bunny, eight chickens, two ducks, two turkeys and a puppy.  I don't think our yard would be quite the same without looking out and seeing ducks in the kiddie pool, and chickens rolling in the flower beds, covering themselves in dirt, or coming home to turkeys on the porch, waiting to be fed.  They all have their own personalities and make us laugh everyday.

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It sounds busy, doesn't it?  Projects, repairs, animals, kids.  Amid all of this, we haven't forgotten to live. We spend a huge amount of time outdoors.  The neighbor kids are always here, riding dirt bikes, catching frogs, chasing chickens, building bike ramps, climbing trees to reach the apples way up high, and hanging out by the campfire.  Friends and family stop over for quick visits and end up staying for hours.  There's something about this place that sucks you in.  It's peaceful and calming, and so full of life.

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There are baby bunnies, and robins' nests, and raccoon families, and deer that run right through the yard, and groundhogs, and tadpoles we watched grow into frogs, and coyotes, and worms, and snakes, and turtles, and hawks that swoop down to fight the blue jays for their eggs.

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We hike around our property, fly kites, run through the sprinkler, climb trees, build snowmen in blizzards, sit by the fire, and swing in monkey suits.

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And when we're not doing all of that?  We just slow down and enjoy each other.

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You've heard your kids say, "This is the best day EVER!",  right?  Well, Greyson has learned to drive Grandpa Ro's old tractor, and every time he helps Jason in the yard, he proclaims that THIS is the best day ever, trumping the last best day ever.  I've lost count of how many times he's had the best day ever since we have lived here, and that's not a bad thing.  For a boy who used to be hard to please, finding something he loves to do has been a great treasure and relief!

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I have learned so much in this year.  I have Googled things I never dreamed I'd have to Google. Things like, "is my duck male or female" and "what to do with chickens when you want to take a vacation" and "how to repair plaster walls" and "how to care for peonies" and "predators of chickens" and "home decor from the early 1900's" and "uses for old barn wood" and "recognizing asbestos tile".   I now know how to blow insulation into an attic and that a chick takes 21 days to go from egg to fluffy little chirping cuteness.  I know that when mice live in your mailbox and you try to evict them, they don't take no for an answer, and that three coats of stain is always better than two.  I've learned that honeybees have no interest in humans unless they're threatened, and that it takes five days from when a soybean is planted to when you can see the first little green sprouts poking through the dirt.  I've watched a fawn stumble behind its mother, hours after birth, and I've learned that the sound peacocks make is very similar to the sound of a cat in distress.

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We have lived in many places, and met so many people.  We have had extremely high points and unbelievable low points.  There have been births and deaths and triumphs and tragedies.  With all that we've learned, there is so much more we don't know.  But there is one thing that will always be true...

It's not where you live, it's how.

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