October 12, 2014

Wasn't it just Summer?

You know how on the first day of school everybody takes a picture of their kids in front of their house before they head off for the monumental day? We did that too. But we didn't post the pictures because I thought it would be much more fun to include it in a post about our crazy summer.

Then we blinked and our kids have been in school for nearly two months.


This is more evidence here of how I'm not nearly as organized as people sometimes think I am. It always floors me when people make comments about how I'm "so organized" or "have it together." 

Nope. Not even a little.

This is why I am doing a summer update post in OCTOBER.

To be fair, we did actually have a really, really crazy last few months. But things are starting to settle down now, so I'm hoping this is the beginning of a new era. (One where I write a post more than once every three months!)


Honestly the whole month of June was pretty non-eventful. For the life of me I can't figure out why we don't go to school through June in South Dakota, and then start again in October. June is almost always rainy and miserable and September is always gorgeous. But I don't make the rules so we began the summer picking out days here and there that were warm and dry enough to do something besides hang out in the house.

We did manage to get a few pool days in (but not many!) and a few strawberries picked.

Meili loves, loves, LOVES strawberries. She has been known to eat over a pound at a time.

Tyler loves pie about as much as Meili loves strawberries, so we managed to get a few of those in too.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I don't think there are too many things that taste much better than a homemade fresh strawberry pie.


Enter the chaos! It was a welcome chaos because we were finally able to escape to some warm weather! We were fortunate to be able to take a trip to see my brother and sister-in-law in the beginning of July. They live on a lovely little island off the Southern coast of Georgia; Saint Simons Island. 

St. Simons has four things I like very, very much: Sun, Ocean, Beach, Family. 

Jenna and I are alike in a lot of ways, so I'm not surprised that she agreed with me that a day at the beach is pretty much about the best way to spend a day. Ever.
She and I did a little research before we left. We decided this midwestern family was going to build a real, legit sandcastle.

I think we pulled it off pretty darn well!

We were so relaxed on this trip, Jon didn't even take his camera most of the time. We don't even have any pics of the other great things we did: fishing with my sister-in-law's father, jumping off the dock with Uncle Cam, eating pork poppers at Sweet Mama's, finding sea stars and sand dollars, having the best.fried.shrimp.ever at B&J's, fun nights out with one of my favorite couples...

As sad as I am that I my brother doesn't live closer to us, I'm so thankful that they are close to his wife's family. They took us in like their own and invited us to their fabulous Southern-style July 4th backyard barbeque. We had an amazing meal, complete with hand-cranked homemade fresh peach ice cream, had a few fireworks there and later watched a display from right on the beach at nearby Sea Island.

I think I left a little piece of my heart on St. Simons. I even made Jon call a realtor about a cute little house a block away from my brother! I mean, he can always work remotely, right?!? Too bad the sale was already pending, because if he had been up for it, I would have been perfectly OK with becoming and islander.

About a week after we returned home from St. Simons we had scheduled a trip to the Black Hills with my parents. Somehow we failed to get any pictures of this! We took an extra day and spent a long weekend in the Hills, which is always fun. We did some serious hiking (how did that 2 mile hike turn into a 7 mile hike?!?), had lots of campfire food and enjoyed the outdoors.

The next weekend, we had scheduled a trip to see Jon's cousins in Northern Minnesota. They had recently added a pool and we thought this would be a great opportunity for us all to spend some time together.

Thankfully it was heated, so the 70 degree weather did not deter us!

Traveling every weekend made July feel like a little bit of a rat race, but we enjoyed all of the trips and spending so much time with our extended family. 

In additional to all of this, we had been trying to make some updates to our home. Things that would need to be done if we sold it, or just things we would enjoy if we stayed in it. Ever since bringing Meili home, our house had felt a bit cramped. As tiny as she is, adding that extra person made it nearly impossible to all eat around our table in our dining room or for me to cook a meal in our small kitchen without bumping into a kid who was running through on their way out the back door.

We had been "keeping our eyes open" for other houses for about 18 months. We loved, I mean really loved our little 50's ranch home. Everything about it worked wonderfully for us, except that kitchen and dining space. A very talented architect friend of ours even put together some plans for how we could improve our space, but the city ordinances prevented us from doing every single thing we wanted to do. Aside from reconfiguring the space to make it more efficient (which carried a hefty price tag and gained us no square footage) there was really nothing we could do.

After looking for 18 months, we knew what we wanted. We didn't want to be in one of the new developments on the edge of town; we liked the middle. We didn't want a house similar to everyone else's (which here is a split foyer with a strikingly similar floor plan to the neighbors). We wanted it to be large enough for us to grow into as the kids get older and have more friends over. We did not want to do lots of updating. And we had a budget. After searching for so long, we determined this house did not exist in our town. We decided to go ahead with the pricey renovation to make our existing home more efficient. 

About a day after we decided this, a friend called. "I'm selling and I hear you're looking," he said. We decided to see the home, assuming it would be yet another house we didn't like. After we finished, we both sat in the car quietly. Jon looked at me and finally said, "That was AWESOME." 

It was large, it was custom built, unlike any we'd seen, it was built WELL, it was in a wonderful part of town and we already knew some of the neighbors. And the price was do-able. 

We spent several weeks praying and talking about it and ended up making an offer and listing our home in the middle of July. We listed it ourselves because we wanted to get a certain dollar amount out of it for the down payment on the new one. We were prepared to walk away if we didn't get what we needed. Thankfully, we had multiple offers and our house sold in the first 24 hours.

So August became "moving month."

We took one last photo with our cute little mid-century home. It was a very bittersweet day. I still avoid driving by it because it makes me tear up. This home was good to us. We were so grateful for this house and so blessed during the time we lived here. We left behind some wonderful, wonderful neighbors and a great location a block from our kids' school. A good friend told me the first home is the hardest to let go of and I think she's right! I'm having a terrible time! To avoid getting all emotional, I try to pray for the young couple that bought it - that they would be as blessed in this home as we were.

We were set to close on the first day of school, but were able to push it forward a few days fearing that that might be a bit "much" for our kiddos (and us!). They'd stayed here two nights before school started. 

Without further ado - the obligatory first day of school/new house picture (roughly 47 days after school started)!

We've decided not to show a lot of pictures because although we love the space, it does not feel like "ours" yet. We don't plan to do many projects, but we do need some paint, and a few other little things here and there. Instead, we'll do before & after shots when we make progress! The part you see in this picture already looks different :)

With traveling, packing and moving, our summer totally disappeared. No more lazy days by the pool or sleeping in. No more beautiful island beaches (sniff sniff). Those have been replaced with lots of scheduling, unpacking, organizing, paint sampling, homework doing and lunch packing.

And so, on to a new chapter! One where we can not only ALL fit around our dining room table, but where there is room for others as well! We've already been able to entertain more people in this home than we had in the last several years combined in our previous home. We are looking forward to making this house into a place where we can raise our family and build many more relationships. And maybe, maybe, if I get my act together, even do a little more blogging ;)

August 18, 2014

Should've been farm kids

It's that time of year again...the time when our quaint little summer city is bombarded with pickup trucks filled with mismatched furniture, when every store is out of fans and mini-fridges, when we avoid Wal-Mart because of the mass chaos and there are suddenly twice as many cars on the road.

The students are back!

For the most part, living in a college town is a great thing. The students bring an energy and vitality to our city that we enjoy during the school year, and in May when they all head home, we return to a little more relaxed pace. We've loved getting to know college students over the years. All three of my brothers went to school here; two of them frequently showed up at my house around mealtimes, often with friends. Being a "home away from home" where they can do a load of laundry or get a home-cooked meal in a real dining room truly brings us joy.

Since our church has a vibrant college ministry, we jumped at the chance sign up for the adopt-a-student program. Our family was assigned two students, Evelyn and Morgan, and instructed to get to know them. I'm not sure how we got lucky enough to get the two BEST ones, but somehow we did ;)

Evelyn grew up not far from town. She was kind enough to invite our kids out to her family farm one Saturday morning.

Our girls LOVED it. We thought we were going out there to see a few baby goats...

Turns out there was a whole herd of baby goats! They were adorable! But that wasn't all.

There was also sheep and baby lambs (which look oddly similar to baby goats), a rabbit and chickens.

Meili was CRAZY about the chickens!

She played in their little chicken coop for about 15 minutes just following them around trying to catch them and saying, "here chicken, here chicken."

I don't think the chickens were too excited about getting caught.

They even found a new friend, Evelyn's little sister.

Did I mention they had kitties?! I guess I'm a farm girl at heart - the one thing I miss most about the country is the baby kittens.

Seriously, how cute is he?!

I think this one wanted to come home with me!

And we can't forget to add guinea pig and hamster to the list.

Our kids had such a great time getting to see and hold so many animals. Being a farm-kid myself, I'm always afraid my kids are going to grow up without any of the experiences I had as a child. Thanks Evelyn, for giving them a little piece of farm life!

We loved every minute of it!

June 16, 2014

You bring the watermelon!

I did not coin the phrase "scruffy hospitality." I'm not sure who did. But I randomly ran across this post last week. I don't know anything about the author of the blog or anything else he writes about.

I just loved that phrase: scruffy hospitality

We live in a culture of surface-level perfection. Where images from Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Pinterest have silently coerced many us into thinking that if our homes don't look like they came straight off the pages of a catalog, we dare not let anyone see or they'll realize we're actually human. That we don't keep our reading material (which happens to all be bound with coordinating-colored covers) neatly stacked in largest-to-smallest order next to a vase of beautifully scented flowers (picked from our perfectly manicured garden) on our newly 'upcycled' end table (freshly painted with Annie Sloan chalk paint).

I grew up in a rural farming community. It was a lifestyle that's foreign to the majority of people my age - everyone learned how to work hard, drive when they turned 12, make calls using a rotary phone and came in for tea break at 3pm. People used to just stop by our house - to deliver a message, a package or just to say hello. Maybe it was because we didn't have the convenience of cell phones and it was just easier to stop if you were out and about. We did the same thing to other people. And there was always a glass of something cold, or some tea, or a snack waiting. Everyone was welcome, and we'd stop what we were doing just to visit. We practiced scruffy hospitality. We built relationships.

When was the last time you invited someone in, spur-of-the-moment, just to chat?

Instead we decide our house is too messy, our space is too small or our food isn't good enough. And we miss the opportunity for good conversation, new friends and deep relationships.

Our house is far from perfect. If you would have stopped by tonight you would have seen this greeting you in our lovely foyer:

And this soaking wet child in our backyard or screaming while running wildly through the house:

You may have also noticed the dead bird on the driveway, the weeds in our landscaping or the two-months-worth of collective dust on our shelves. Would that stop you from sharing a cup of coffee, pizza, or s'mores over a backyard fire with us?

What if we quit making hospitality about us and our house and our food and started making it about others and how we can be a blessing to them? What if instead of reading blogs about how to cook the perfect meal or pinning tablescapes on Pinterest, we just had another family over for brats and asked them to bring the watermelon?

Our crazy, fast-paced culture needs a little more "scruffy hospitality."
More friendships and less perfection.
More conversation and less cleaning.
More relationships and less planning.

Who can you be a blessing to? Ask if they can bring the watermelon ;)

March 3, 2014

Meili's first "China Night"

It often feels like our little spot in South Dakota is just about as rural as you could possibly get. We are 60 miles from the nearest mall and 200+ miles from the nearest Ikea, pro-sports venue and Trader Joe's.  It's safe to say this isn't the most diverse community. But thankfully, we do have the state's largest university and upon closer inspection, we've discovered our tiny town is quite a bit more varied than people realize.

The university attracts people from many different cultures, and occasionally we have opportunities to recognize and celebrate some of the ethnicities that are represented here. We always enjoy the International nights, and of course now, especially China Night. Last year we attended right before we left to get Meili. 

This year, we were thrilled to be able to take her along.

When we were in China, I purchased Chinese dresses in multiple sizes so the girls would all have one to wear during Chinese New Year's events. (Unfortunately I didn't think to buy a set for each girl, because of course, they're getting stained and ripped when the older girls wear them.)

China Night is sponsored by the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, and features authentic Chinese cuisine (15+ different dishes) and a program that highlights different aspects of Chinese culture. 

We were a slightly curious about how Meili would react in this environment; first, because she typically goes crazy in large crowds and second, because about half of those in attendance are native Chinese. Meili doesn't have a lot of experience with other native Chinese children, but when she has it's been interesting. We left her with friends who have two boys from China and she marched right in, got comfortable and waved "bye-bye" to us. We aren't sure if it was a fluke, or if she felt comfortable around them because they were Chinese.

Either way, we were curious about her reaction to China Night.

The verdict?
She LOVED it.

She ate more food than I have ever seen her eat in one sitting before (we thought this was interesting since in large crowds she's usually too distracted to eat anything at all). Seriously, it was almost a full plate of food. And she had even had a large snack before we got there!

She was totally captivated by all the people, especially other Chinese children and even seemed interested in the performances. All four of our kids found a little corner and danced to the music together. A woman sitting next to us commented on our beautiful family and well behaved children. She even jokingly asked if Meili's name was "Sparkle," because she said it just seemed like it would fit her. Of course, she didn't know Meili's Chinese name meant "like crystal, or sparkles."

Although we don't exactly "fit in" with the other Chinese people in our area, we're thankful for the opportunity to expose our biological kids and Meili to little pieces of Chinese heritage without having to go far from home.

We just hope she'll enjoy it this much next year!