Category Archives: Our home


A few years ago I used an exercise DVD with several types of exercise. One of my favorites was a beginner’s ballet routine. I followed it so many times–not that it turned me into a ballet dancer, but it did program some of the instructor’s words in my mind. Sometimes I still hear them.

One of the things she said about ballet was, “So the arms make it appear effortless at the top, while the legs are working hard at the bottom.” The beauty of this has intrigued me quite a lot because ballet is, in fact both very hard work and an elegant art of gentle movement.

Last night was one of those times I heard those hard-effortless words in my mind, but this time it had nothing to do with  ballet. Instead it was a picture of the dance of mothering.

We are in the middle of upheaval right now since we discovered mold in our house.  The boys and I left home and lived in SC for nearly a week and Virginia for a little over two weeks while Steve worked on getting rid of the mold in three rooms in the evenings and weekends after work.

We came home two weeks ago to our main living area crammed with the contents of other rooms waiting to be cleaned and sorted. Most of the living room furniture is in temporary storage and Steve and I are sleeping in the guest room while the master area is torn apart.

We definitely were reacting to the mold that is still in the house and tried to keep those parts of the house closed off as much as possible. Still we didn’t feel feel well at all.

This past weekend we all moved into a hotel for a weekend, so Steve could tackle the next three rooms–a closet and our master area.  Our friends Eric and Linda so generously came up to spend the weekend with us. Eric helped Steve work on the house on Saturday and we got to enjoy time together.

Although the men got a lot of work done on the house, it wasn’t ready for us to move home on Monday like  we had been expecting. We hadn’t taken our school books with us, so I planned a field trip to keep us from losing a school day.  I planned to go to a nature reserve a few miles away, and they even happened to be hosting a  homeschool day.  Then it started raining.

I searched a little more and decided to take the boys to a train museum about a half an hour further north. It turned out to be a great, low key place for us and we all enjoyed our time there.

We killed a little time at a library close by, ate a little food then started toward home. I’d heard about a really great Christmas light display, and thought we could drive through on the way home. At that point I was so t.i.r.e.d., but how hard can a drive through be?

It was fantastically fun, only we ended up needing to get out and walk around.  Finally everyone was packed back into the car and we were driving HOME after a long weekend away. I didn’t know what to expect at home, and besides for the mold there are lots of big things on our minds these days.

The boys were happy and there was Christmas music playing.  Zac was sitting beside me, and his eyes were sparkling. He let out a long happy sigh.  “This has been the best day of my LIFE.”

In that moment I recognized the contrast between my experience and his. And those words from long ago came back, “So the arms make it appear effortless on the top while they legs are working hard on the bottom.” They felt very true to my mothering in that moment.

In a sense mothering had been [working hard]

All day I’d been fighting to find joy while hard things pressed against me.  I had also been thinking about how to make the change in plans work for us, how to incorporate school, how to keep this day happy for the boys even when it felt hard to me. I needed to redirect whining, find snacks, and keep boys safe on the street. I’d been looking out for places to eat that would work for our diets and places to go to fill our time without requiring a lot of energy from me because I wasn’t feeling great.

while also [making it look effortless]

All day we had been sleeping in, eating lots of good food, going to new places, stopping to play at a playground we passed, finding a bridge to run through, hanging out as long as we wanted in the museum’s educational play room, never rushing, visiting a great light display, listening to holiday music, and coming home and drinking hot chocolate.

Of course there’s a little bit of heart between the arms and legs for us, too–the times when they hear me recognize a problem and ask God to help us or when we talk about asking Jesus to help us find happiness or when we take our fears to Him.  But mostly I love that the boys don’t really see the ugliness of life, yet.

Maybe because there’s so much hard stuff in our life I know our children will see and feel sacrifices and brokenness a lot. Obviously we want to engage them in processing it well, but I also want the boys’ childhood to be carefree.  While there is all kinds of turmoil in our world and we’re working our way through it, they can lean back in their seats with stars in their eyes and see it as the best time in their lives. Effortless.


I’d love to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment here.


The Boys’ Room: Organized

:: This post on organizing the boys’ room was mostly written months ago.  Though it may be old news and the banner’s grip to the ceiling has been overcome by mysterious gravity pulls that most certainly do not have anything to do with little boys’ pulling, ahem, the good part is that I can tell you how well this method has worked. ::

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A few weeks ago, I found a couple bins for the boys’ room.  I was sooo tickled because they were the colors I’ve been looking for and in the five dollar-ish range.  New storage was inspiration enough for me to go through the boys’ room purging some, but mostly sorting, organizing and labeling.

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Her sentiment: I’m pretty sure that if I find the perfect organizational system, we’ll finally be able to keep the boys’ room neat.

His input: Good luck with that.

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We keep things pretty simple when it comes to toys. Sometimes I see pictures of 20 or more bins of toys in children’s rooms. It looks like a fun place to play for sure, but that is so not going to happen here. There are sooooooo many toys available these days and they all look like soooo much fun.  You would think if children had a lot of variety they would play for hours. Surprisingly, having lots of toys doesn’t necessarily mean that children will be happy with their toys for longer.

I have learned that, as in so many other areas of life, less is more.  My philosophy is that having a simple collection of well loved toys keeps children busy and happy, encourages learning, and develops their imagination. If they get bored with their toys–which happens almost never–they can draw or play outside or take a bath or help me with what I’m doing.

When I tally toys, I realize that we still have a LOT. I’m not even sure I should consider this as keeping it simple.  Our toy list looks something like this:

Our toy collection:

In their room~

1 collection of Legos

1 bin of trains

1 bin of trucks and tractors and machines

a playmat with a road system

In the living room~

1 box of blocks

1 bin of animals

a basket of miscellaneous items


In the hall closet~

Play Dough

board games and puzzles

An art box with a collection of crayons, colored pencils, 1 box of markers, paint, chalk, scissors, glue, stickers, paper

In the attic for occasional rotations out~

Lincoln logs


large trucks they don’t play with when they’re out all the time

We also have~

bath toys

outdoor toys

Probably a few other toys I’m not remembering

So why, why, why if don’t have a myriad of toys do we have a mess all the time? You know that saying,

A place for


and everything

in its place?

Whenever I have a problem area where mess just happens and then has babies and multiplies, it’s because the things do not have a place of belonging!

I’ve noticed this all over the house, and I’m trying to–slowly–designate a home for everything.  If it doesn’t belong anywhere then I need to consider whether or not I should keep it.

Oooookay.  Deep breath.  I got a little side tracked there.  So I was going to tell you how I refreshed the boys’ toy system in their room.  I’m SO excited about this because their room has not been despairingly messy for awhile.


When I was looking over their room, I realized that their magazines and activity books and notebooks were always in a mess.  I decided to use a few magazine organizers to see if that would do the trick. (Spoiler alert: it did!)  

At least a year ago I had gotten a few rolls of wrapping paper for $1 a piece at IKEA. Originally I had been planning to cover cardboard boxes to use in these storage cubbies, but surprise, I’d never managed to find three boxes that fit into this space.  The magazine organizers were an odd collection that were busy and non-cohesive. Covering them made them work for the room and made me just giddy with happiness. I love the owl print! 

Wrapping one of the boxes with Ian who wanted to be with me. Like WITH me.  :)

Is this what they mean by attachment parenting? ;)

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So clean and streamlined and in fun colors.  This makes me wish I’d have a before shot, so you could see the difference.

The box of trucks~

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The box of trains~

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I don’t recommend these bins. One of the handles is already pulled off after a few weeks of gentle use.

A cutie pie enjoying the magazines~

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Magazines, Notebooks, Activity books~

The boys all hate coloring, :'( so I got rid of all coloring books that don’t at least have dot-to-dots or something else they consider fun.

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I’ve also learned that labeling is KEY to keeping a spot organized. Whenever I have labeled bins they stay categorized for months longer than when I’ve assumed people would remember which things go into which bins. These labels were some I had downloaded from Better Homes and Gardens and added my own text–very simple.  I also covered them with contact paper and hot glued them to the boxes, so I have hopes that they will last.

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I love his expression. :) C Smucker Photograpy  l DIY organize kids rooms-17

What’s great about organizing is how it makes the toys seem new again.  The boys have looked and looked through these magazines since the re-do. 

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 We used to store our Legos in a big bin.  Every afternoon there would be this constant digging and digging and digging  for that one certain piece. (The sound is especially delightful when you’ve had a frazzling morning and are excited for quiet hour) I had seen other people organizing Legos by color, so I decided to try that method.

[May I interrupt this organizing conversation to say that Legos are the BEST toys for boys?!  We love them.  Seth, one of the guys who works with Steve, gave the boys a HUGE collection that he had as a boy.  The boys have played with them for countless hours. If you’re ever looking for a gift for a nephew or little friend–let Legos be your go to.  The boys have gotten several sets since then as gifts and they are always the most excited ever.]   2013 July-48

From ^^^ to  this:

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Let me just say, so MUCH better. They can find specific pieces so much more easily now.

Yes, it is still a constant struggle to stay on top of picking up Legos.  In some ways they dread putting them away more because they can’t just dump them all into one big space.  On the other hand I will often designate certain colors to certain boys (Ian, you pick up blue Legos, Paxton pick up red Legos….) which helps keep them focused on a task vs. the job looking overwhelming.

The box slides under the bed when in storage:

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The Legos have been organized like this for months. The whole Lego situation was hugely improved, but I still kept finding strays here and there and in random toy containers.  Finally I realized that because it took so much effort to pull out the box, open the lid, and drop in a Lego when picking up toys they were just getting dropped into any old box.  I can even understand that.

Soooo… we set a cup on Zachary’s desk to catch the strays.  I think this is working, too.  I had told them to be sure to empty it before they start playing with Legos, but I doubt that’s being kept up with.  Still, emptying the cup now and then is no big deal!

[Since writing this I realized that adding the job of organizing the Lego box should be added to the boys’ weekly chore list to stay on top of the stray pieces that get left on the bottom of the box instead of in their cups.  When they do that job, they can first empty the Lego cup that holds stray pieces.  Sa-weet.]

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A bin for stray toys who don’t have their own category~ C Smucker Photograpy  l DIY organize kids rooms-48

Now for the school and closet end of the room.

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Instead of a dresser we keep the boys’ pajamas and undies in the bathroom, and all the rest of their clothes get hung in the closet.  Because we homeschool (no uniforms/school clothes) and don’t need to wear dressy clothes to church, their clothes are categorized very simply–stay-at-home clothes and going-away-clothes. The clothes for staying at home are clothes that can get muddy and the jeans might have holes in the knees. :)

It is Zachary’s job to put away all the hanging clothes.  We’re working on developing neat habits. :) Ian can put away his staying-at-home clothes and shoes and socks.

We also keep a box in the closet for clothes that have been outgrown but are still in good condition to pass down to the next brother.  When it gets too full (as pictured) :) I take the clothing boxes out of storage and divvy them up.

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Zachary’s school area.  At the beginning of the year we worked up here all the time. The last few weeks we’ve been working on school downstairs, but everything still gets stored here in their room.  (See: this was written before the 2013-14 year was over)

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C Smucker Photography l DIY organize kids rooms homeschool

These printable morning and evening routine charts {link} are from I Heart Organizing.  I adjusted them a little in Photoshop to fit our schedule.

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 After a few weeks of the new clean up, their room has stayed nicely organized.  They clean up their room every afternoon as part of their afternoon chores, but it is never a disaster.  I’m quite happy with how it’s been working!

Every day the boys do a light room clean up during afternoon chore time.  On Thursdays their room is a bigger job when clean areas that might get missed such as under the bed.

::Update.  Yes!!!  Small selection of toys + specific toy bins + labels + routine clean up is still working.   They are little boys and their room is not neat all the time, but neither has it hit disaster zone.  I continuously purge toys that don’t get played with and they really do not miss them.  Overall I feel like this organization has been a win.  They do a big clean up once a week, and I lightly re-organize their closet every few weeks. I am super happy with how manageable this has become for them.::


Let’s Talk…Organizing!

Probably every woman feels a connection with this word organization in some way–whether she loves it or feels like it totally evades her life.   We all really want to create homes that are comfortable spaces for our family to live; if clutter is getting in the way of that comfort, organized living can help.  Some degree of lived-in-ness makes a house feel comfortable, so being completely organized isn’t the end goal.  Rather finding bits of organization that work for us to help make our lives flow a little more easily.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who is in love with the concept of organization, is a master list-maker, but can’t quite stay on top of the whole organizing thing. :) I’m not sure it makes sense for me to love talking about organization so much with how I struggle to stay organized–as I’m writing this list there are paper piles around me and there’s a toaster on the floor in the dining room.  But I do love coming up with plans, and I think little-by-little I’m learning some new habits that are helping our family.

Shelley wrote a post on organizing, that really made me want to talk organization.  I knew a comment answering her question about how I try to stay organized would probably turn post length, so here is the reply in a post. :)

Organization Ideas that Work for Me:

Simplify.  Cut back. Get rid of anything that is not  useful or important to you.  The less you own the less there is to keep track of and the slimmer the chances for things that you do need to get lost within piles of things you don’t need. Piles of stuff are an eyesore.  I am keenly aware from experience–an on-going life experience, you know. :)

Plan Menus. It would never work for me to stick to a rigid plan.  However, planning menus and a grocery list around those menus helps me to have a list of available menus to choose from.  If we’re not in the mood for the food on today’s menu or it doesn’t work for the time I have to cook or I didn’t thaw the meat or…well,  you get the picture–I choose a menu from another day or make something that suits the day my mood.  It still helps tremendously to have ideas in front of me. Maybe I look at it more as menu options than a menu plan.

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Organizing containers: Rubbermaid plastic and space rack from Target

Create places of belonging. I’ve heard that women spend HOURS every week looking for things.  That just seems like a waste of time.  Keys are probably the thing we used to look for the most often.  Few things are as frustrating as being late for an appointment, heading for the door, and having no idea where to find the keys! It became important to me that the keys have one place of belonging.  Anytime we see the keys anywhere besides that one place we now know where to put them.  Having a spot for the keys has saved us hours by now, I’m sure.   Other things at the top of the list for needing a home: shoes, library books, cell phone, pacifiers. :)

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The organizing containers are produce boxes cut in half.
Full disclosure: this same drawer is now full to the brim of
little boy treasures. It’s time for a clean up!

Learn from organized people.  I have read several books on organization, I’m a sucker for blog posts and magazine articles on the subject, and I love listening to organized people talk about how they do life.

Sometimes it’s hard to get the helpful tidbits we need, though. Mostly organization is such a part of the organized person’s life that the little routines which would be helpful to non-organized people don’t even register to organized people as something to explain. :) It’s just something they do without even thinking about it.  Sometimes in conversations they’ll drop a jewel of wisdom, though.  Like a blogger once mentioned with shame that she left her house without first having the toys picked up.

I was thinking, “Oooooh, so that’s a thing you do???! Like….you always straighten the house before you leave???” What a revelation.  I asked one of my friends if she always cleaned up before leaving the house–completely expecting her to laugh. She said, “Yes. It really bothers me to come home to a mess.”  (??!!??!!) :) When I remember I now have the boys pick up toys and things before leaving.

It really is nice to come home to a clean house.  It’s easy for me to think that they aren’t finished playing with whatever they have out.  In reality they won’t want to play with the same things by the time we get back, so they would simply add more toys to the play things already out.  It is better to start with a clean room then they’ll have an easier time picking up at the end of play.

A few years ago I started following the blog IHeart Organizing.  Especially back then she would talk through why she organized things in certain places and how the system worked for them.  It helped me get into the head of an organized person and gave me a few ideas to use in our house.  I also liked Large Family Logistics for breaking down daily life into very basic patterns. I could write an entire post on the things I learned from this book.

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Organizing containers: from IKEA. Definitely recommend!

Be okay with Chaos. I feel like mostly this is not even needed on a get organized post for messy people because we are so flexible and creative that we might be too okay with the chaos.  I still find that when I get into Operation Organize mode I begin to struggle with the mess of daily life.  I see it as one of the other–mess or organization.  Being okay with mess within the framework of organization is key for living happily. 

Use a planner. I am in love with my planner. I even wrote, “This book is very important to me. Please return to:” in the front of the book. Does that make me a planner geek, or what?  

A planner is to a brain what an external hard drive is to your computer. I already bought Michelle’s birthday gift and can hardly wait to give it to her.  Unless I write a reminder to ship it to her in March, I will most likely forget to mail it until the day of her birthday–at the earliest. I will score brownie points with Michelle if she gets her gift before or on her birthday, so that’s going in the planner for sure! :)

I could seriously go on and on and on about why I like planners.  The month at a glance is essential for keeping track of guests and travels and appointments.  Later I add in those dates to my week, and plan the rest of the days around them.    If I plan a week’s work out ahead of time I usually manage to accomplish a little more than when I wing it. As much as I love the planner I don’t take it to seriously, either.  It’s super easy to change plans. :)

Label. This is a key concept I learned from I Heart Organizing.  When you go to the work of coming up with a new system, it is much, much more likely to stay organized if you label the bin or shelf than if you leave it to memory.

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Organizing containers: magazine boxes from Target and IKEA covered with IKEA wrapping paper

Use routines. The boys have morning routines and evening routines. Daily chores as well as jobs that happen on certain days of the week. I learned from Large Family Logistics to assign certain types of jobs to certain days of the week.  Routines are more gentle than schedules, so they work much better for wanna-be organizers.  A schedule plans a time for each activity.  A routine suggests what comes next. We often go for days or weeks completely ignoring our routines.  The benefit, though, is that once life feels out of control we have something solid to go back to. There’s a plan in place that we know works well for us.

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Plan ahead. Sometimes it’s just little things like thinking through what everyone will wear next day when we meet up with friends.  This eliminates problems such as the one shirt that fits and I like is in the washer (still wet, I should probably explain for you organizers). Sometimes it saves a trip when you write a reminder to mail a package so that you remember it when you head out for an appointment. It might mean that when you go grocery shopping you remember to get the special groceries for company that is coming for the weekend.

Often it means more calm.  Instead of a last minute scramble of jackets and shoes and water bottles and WHERE IS MY PHONE?!, it can be a reminder to pick up toys, boys getting their coats and shoes at a leisurely, child-friendly pace, gathering library books, water bottles and a snack, the item to return, the grocery list–and even remembering the coupons. On the rare days when we have the latter version of getting out the door I feel like I have this mom-gig down! :)

Use frustrations as motivation. When I find myself getting frustrated at the same problem over and over again, I realize it’s an area that needs some thought.  Just yesterday I realized that I have gotten annoyed over and over because the boys use the basket of clean, white towels that are freshly laundered and ready for guests as a step stool!!!  Not only do the towels get mashed down and un-rolled and un-fresh, they are also un-white from the boys’ dirty feet!   Yesterday I decided that the next time I have the towels ready for guests I’ll move the basket to the guest room.  It’s a ridiculously simple routine I can incorporate that will save a lot of frustration and a lot of re-washing and time.

There are other things–hats and gloves always scattered across the living room inspired me to cover two boxes and label them.  The solutions really aren’t hard. It’s just realizing a problem and coming up with a plan to fix it.

Organizing containers: cardboard boxes covered with contact paper

Do it right away.  My mother-in-law is one of the most organized people I know, and I’ve learned a lot from being with her.  One thing I’ve learned from her is to do things right away.  If I would be all cozy on the couch with a book and a throw and someone would call to tell me the dates they’re coming through Atlanta and want to see us, I would make a mental note to put that in my planner.  Most likely life would happen, and I’d forget to note the date.  I might forget which date they were coming and would need to email a date check.

If the same situation were true for my MIL, she would get up from her cozy spot right away to put the date on her calendar. If we’re washing dishes at her house and she sees something borrowed she needs to return to her friend, she would take it straight to her vehicle instead of letting it become part of a pile in her house.

White Space is your friend.  This is another tip I learned from my MIL.  She’s the kind of person who makes you want to take pictures of her drawers and cupboards because they are so neat. I like all the space in her cupboards.  She has a pile of things in a cupboard, but there is also space around the stacks of things which is so pleasing to the eye.  I would have thought, “What else can I fit in here?”

White space is not only restful for the eye, it helps maintain order.  It’s easier to put things away neatly if there is enough space.  I have always adored displays in stores that incorporate a lot of white space.  If you have a tiny house and a big family it might be impossible to have extra space, that’s true.  A lot of us could have more space. We have to judge whether we like the space or the things more.  :)

Organizing containers: from The Container Store and Goodwill

Make peace with reality.  Organization might be a little like diets.  We always  think we’re overweight and think we have weight to lose no matter what the number on the scales. :)  Maybe that’s a good thing to remember as well–that organized living is relative. We need to be at peace with what is naturally do-able for our own personality and lifestyle and the personality and culture of our own family. Just as every woman has her unique beauty, homes have their unique strengths as well.

Some parts of organizing will work well for one person and not for you.  What looks messy to one person looks charming to another. What is organized to another person might look sparse to someone else. What are the organizing tips that don’t work for you? How do you keep your life more organized?

Christmas Pretties at our House



This year I had the sweetest surprise gift in December.  One of the girls who had come down to help  me a few times last spring messaged me to see if I might want her to come decorate our house for Christmas.  It was the best gift anyone could have given me!

I love making our house feel cozy, but in the last couple years have really not been able to put effort into decor at all.  I’ve done basically no Christmas decorating since moving to Atlanta.  The first year we moved here I couldn’t find my box of holiday decor (I’m beginning to wonder if I sold all of it when we moved!) The next year I was pregnant and sick.  The next year I also wasn’t feeling well enough.

This year was going to be the year!!  But then I had a huge health dip in November, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do much after all.  I was simply overjoyed to think of having a few of those fun touches that just make a house feel like Christmas.

Having Bridgette offer to decorate was especially sweet because it’s something I would really, really want to have done, but it’s not something I would have asked someone to do for me.  There were still so many basics–sweeping the floor, wiping the booster seats of after dinner crud, making healthy food to eat–that were hardly getting done, so I wouldn’t have been likely to make it a priority.

Sadly I didn’t take pictures of all of it or any of it until the greens were browning, but these pictures will still give you a little picture of the prettiness:

13 Dec-9831 fake snow  Bridgette came in the door with Huge boxes of stuff.  She had made a cinnamon dough then she and the boys shaped them into ornaments and I made a little centerpiece for the dining room table.  Baking the ornaments made the whole house smell soooo good!ginger


gingerbread tree

christmas wreath

While Bridgette added pretty touches all over the house and wrapped greens and lights around the porch railings, her husband Jason played with the boys building a fort in a creek across the street, fishing in the same creek with sticks and strings, and playing games. The boys didn’t want them to ever leave!

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Steve said all the little touches was good for us all mentally.  So true!  It’s amazing how adding beauty gives you a feeling of happiness and make you feel like you want to stay and enjoy being there.

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AND over the last month Steve made a little side table for me out of scrap lumber.  Now it doesn’t at all look as though it was made out of scrap lumber, but just as great as the side tables from Target that cost $100+!  Just as it was time to paint the table, I got a coupon for a free sample of a fall line of paints Home Depot carries.  I had a color in mind and thought they might have something similar.  They did have one color very much like the one I had wanted and I didn’t need to deliberate between 10 shades of the same color.  :) I got the one turquoise-ish color in the line, and it is perfect! handmade sidetable

My friend Amber used a hanging branch in her Christmas decor, and I was in love.  Steve hung this one for me one evening.  So fun.

I really loved this Christmas card display Bridgette made!

christams card display

(I’m not sure why Paxton thought we should add a pile of dirty laundry to these pictures.)

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Bridgette brought this wreath ready to hang.  I love it.   13 Dec-9865

And she made a sweet pinwheel garland. 14 Jan-0285

Everything she brought was so tasteful and fit perfectly with our house. We have enjoyed it  all soooo much.

handmade side table

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Bridgette and Jason, thank you so very, very much for blessing us with such a creative gift.  The way you give selflessly and generously reflects Jesus to the world around you.

DIY christmas decor

christmas decor DIY


I Met you, Love you, Miss you.

The minute we got home from our trip in May we knew we had new neighbors.  It wasn’t just the empty boxes next to their driveway that clued us in, they were hanging onto the fence as though they had been waiting all 14 hours for us to get back. As soon as we stepped out of our vehicle we were surrounded by little people.

They started coming to our house to play.  Often.  Every day often.  Thirteen times a day often. Yes, I counted.

Soon I was hardly able to get .anything. done at all.  People are always more important than things, but some things need to get done so that people are taken care of.  I had to learn how to say no.

Our yard became the best hang-out spot on the block.  I had dreamed of that.  Zachary ran off his energy with new friends and came in sweaty, dirty, and with an enormous smile.  I had dreamed of that, too.  The front porch windows had handprints and forehead marks on the outside and on the inside.  It goes with the territory.  The eighth grader asked if I could help him with his (elementry level) reading.  I said yes.

There were parts that weren’t so nice.  Every time we came home from anywhere…every single time, the outdoor toys were scattered all over the yard.  Not a big deal.  If we really cared we would lock them away.  Also every time we came home the water was running…gushing.  It was a big deal.  You’d kind of have to know the way I save water left from supper to water the flowers and the way I always turn off the water while brushing my teeth to understand.  I didn’t get angry, but I was annoyed that someone was opening a closed gate to turn on the water.  And, really, if they had to use the water couldn’t they at least turn it off instead of letting it gush for who-knows-how-long?

Blah.  I knew that it was just another one of those boundaries that hadn’t been taught–just like entering a house without knocking, or taking a tour of the house without being invited or getting mail out of other people’s mailboxes hadn’t been taught.  It still bothered me.  I even asked people to pray about it.

Sometimes when the children came over I let them have a water fight.  They LOVED it.  When we told them to turn it off they always did.  As soon as we went back inside they would turn it on again.   We’d go out and tell them to turn it off.  They did…and turned it back on.  Again. And again.

One of the older boys (13) would play with Zachary mainly when he was bored.  When he’s around I always stay outside the whole time.  Often his games turned kind of mean…like asking Zachary to play basketball with him, but actually playing keep-away–teasing him by keeping the ball just within his reach, but yanking it away whenever Zachary got close.  One night I told him, “Look, you’re a lot bigger than Zachary and you could keep this ball away from him all night. That might be fun for you, but it’s not any fun for him.  You need to play in a way that is fun for you both, or then go home and come back when you’re ready to play nicely.”

He said okay.  A few minutes later things hadn’t changed at all. I reminded him of what I told him and asked if he wanted to play nice or go home.  He said he’d be nice….and he was.  That night I learned something important.  Everyone….Zachary, all the kids who were around, and I were a lot happier when there were rules and the rules were respected.

I started expecting them to respect our rules.  If they started fighting with each other and couldn’t get to a peaceful resolution even with some help, I sent them home.  If someone turned on the water after I told them not to or if they turned it on without permission, I sent them home.  I always said, something like, “We love to have you come play here, but when you are at our house you need to respect our rules.  I asked you not to turn on the water and you turned it on.  I’m sorry, but you’ll need to go home.  You may come back again when you’re ready to listen.”  (Soon when we came home the water wasn’t running anymore!)

One of the little girls would stalk off sulking, but it was Jabari who got angry.  Instead of going home, he wondered around the vacant lot across the street from our house and threw and punched the few things he could find.  He threw a metal band onto the street.  Sometimes he shouted, “I hate you,” when he was corrected.

There is something about little boys like that who find their way deep, deep in my heart.  For one thing, they are just as free with their love and their smiles as they are with their anger.  (Their anger is coming from a place of pain, and I feel sadness instead of feeling threatened.)  They are so honest with their emotions, their actions, and their questions.

And Jabari?  Well, he was so winsome.  It didn’t hurt him any that he was just plain CuTe and his curled eye-lashes were a mile long and his eyes always sparkled. Though I am Zachary’s Mom to the rest, Jabari called me Ms Christy.

Ms. Christy, can I come into your house again?

Ms Christy, I’m hungry.

Ms Christy, can Zachary come out and play?

–his questions always asked with that mile wide smile and his eyes that dance.

Soon he was most often respectful and sweet.  He had boundless energy. I often helped him change course, but now most often he’d grin, say, “Oh,” and change up his play to something better.

Why am I writing in past tense?  Well, because one day several weeks ago we were playing with him like usual; the next day he was gone.  Just like that. There was no warning.  There were no good-byes.  The house next door normally houses around six adults, often a few teenaged boys, and anywhere from two to six children. Jabari’s dad is one of the adults who is in and out.  Miyani says Jabari went to live with he gramma.

I wonder if he had any warning that he was leaving.  I wonder if he wanted to go and if he had a hard time adjusting. Sometimes I wonder if thinks about us, if he remembers little things he learned here, and if he knows how much we love him.  I wonder if he’s being taken care of well and if someone is building his character.

Mostly, though, I just can’t stop missing him.