The Escape

After a month of dusty house demolition and dreary gray winter month of January in Michigan, it was time for a breather. Thankfully I know I will reach this stage and had scored a good deal on a flight before Christmas. The day finally arrived. My friend drove me to the airport very early and I boarded a plane and dozed on and off for a few long boring hours on said plane. I arrived to visit my cousin and her family in sunny Phoenix. Let me say this, a house with four rambunctious and delightful kids (ages 5.5, 4, 4, and 1) makes for a lively and somehow still relaxing weekend. We didn’t “do” a lot, per se, but there wasn’t a dull moment. There were books on the couch, early morning snuggles, lots of entertaining battles and games in the backyard, lively meals, and wonderful conversations with the adults. We went on some nice bike rides, did a project together (with all four kids helping– which is just as efficient as you might imagine) and played some games. We ate fresh grapefruit and oranges and lemons. We saw the sun. We laughed a lot. This is the good stuff in life, the very good stuff.

Just a few funnies, because there were too many to recount them all:

I was talking to Josiah, who will be 6 in April, about something and brought up Geno, my nephew. Josiah knows Geno because we all vacation together every year but I was trying to give him context.

Me: “You remember Geno, right? From Lorien? The big guy with the red hair? Well, I’m his aunt.”

J, puzzled look on his face, “Well you ARE Aunt Weenie!”

Right. I’m basically everyone’s aunt or practically their aunt. No wonder it is confusing when I use that to clarify how I’m connected to people.

I had a proud moment when I managed to convince the kids I was in their game while not moving off the rocking chair on the patio for a good 40 minutes. The way to do this is with convincing imaginary armies. For instance, J tells me he is a flying mouse and I’m the bad guy trying to get him. While not moving from said rocking chair, I issue an order for my army of flying cats to capture him. Racing through the yard, J turns into a flying dog with an army of flying cheetahs. Moments later, he returns and puts his hands out in front of me, “You captured me! You have to take me to the jungle jail (our favorite thing all weekend apparently).”  “Captain!” I called to my invisible captain. “Take this man to prison and make sure he doesn’t escape.” J goes willingly with said invisible captain, only to go tearing by a few minutes later, announcing that he killed my captain and escaped jail. More escaping of flying cat armies ensued,  all from my comfortable and relaxing spot on the rocking chair. Please don’t tell the kids I wasn’t actually physically chasing them the whole time.

   

The kids love a good story. “Tell us a stowy about me and Abby and you and Suzie and Daisy.” Seeing as they have spent exactly 20 minutes in the company of Suzie and Daisy in their whole life (and it was long ago they don’t even remember it), what they want is an imaginary story of what might be. You can start  with an actual story of some fascinating (or not) thing the dogs do, but then you have to weave the kids into the story. “Tell us a stoooowy!” My favorite was telling them about Stick Day, because now they believe Stick Day at Aunt Weenie’s to be a magical, unforgettable experience, even having never been there. (Muhahahaha)

“Once upon a time, there was an aunt who lived in a little yellow house…”

“AUNT WEENIE,”” they yell in unison. 

“When the snow all melted after a long winter, she went outside and looked around. There were HUNDREDS of sticks on the ground (I’m not making this up). “What am I going to do?” She said. “How will I ever pick up all these sticks by myself?!?!””

The suspense grows. The girls are wide eyed imagining the horror of poor Aunt Weenie faced with such trials. 

“So she invited her favorite kid friends to come over.”

“AND US!!!! WE WERE THERE!” 

“Yes, and Abby and Lydia were visiting.”

“AND ‘SIAH. AND CWARA!” 

“Josiah and Lydia and Abby and Clara were all there.”

WE WERE THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“First Aunt Reenie had all the kids line up and she divided them into teams.”

And I won?!?!?!?

No I won!

Wahhhh but I want to win! 

Thankfully, the wise Aunt Reenie in the story put all three kids on the same imaginary team.

AND WE WON!!!!

The story continued … “Aunt Reenie gave each team a blue tarp and said “On your mark… get set… GO!”  She set her timer and all of the kids picked up sticks as fast as they could, putting them onto a big pile on their tarps.”

L: “I picked up sticks SO FAST so I COULD WIN and get socowate (chocolate)” makes her crazy eyes at me – clearly this is the second time she heard this story. 

J: “And I picked up sticks the FASTEST OF ALL!” 

A: “And I was pwetending I was a baby picking up sticks.”

“All of the children picked up sticks as fast as they could. The piles of sticks on the tarps grew larger and larger…”

L: “Bigger than me???” 

“They were even taller than Lydia!”

THE STICKS WERE BIGGER THAN ME!!!!!!!!!

Aunt Reenie looked very carefully at all the piles of sticks to see which one was the largest.

AND WE WON!!!!!

The children had all picked up a lot of sticks and ALL of the stick piles were very large.

Lydia’s eyes get very wide, nervous for the outcome.

“But in the end, the pile that Geno and Josiah and Ly…”

“WE WON!!!!! AND WE GOT TO PICK DA SOCOLATE OUT OF THE JAR!!” 

“The children played in the yard all day and at the end of the day, they made a bonfire with the sticks they had collected, and everyone roasted marshmallows. And that was the magic of stick day.”

With a long sigh, Abby says “I can’t wait for Stick Day.” 

“Me neither,” said Josiah, “I wish Stick Day was today.”

“I LOVE STICK DAY!” said Lydia.

They asked for the Stick Day story several times over the weekend, and with each telling, the magic of the day grew. I do believe Aunt Weenie may be having an impromptu Stick Day in August that coincides with their visit to Michigan.

The third telling when something like this:

“Once upon a time, in a little yellow house…”

AUNT WEENIE’S HOUSE! 

“After a long snowy winter, she walked outside…”

STICK DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then it went much as the first and second telling. And in case you’re wondering, Stick Day IS magical.

I convinced Jeremy to do something halfway on the play structure kitchen we built, and gave myself some long overdue half ass points. It might be that I can only encourage that kind of thing on other people’s project, but I’m giving myself the points anyway. (Sorry Jer).

I arrived home late Monday night,  a good friend staying up way too late to get me home. I open the door to excited pups who spent the weekend with two of my cousins, who obviously took good care of them. I’m so thankful I got a few days away from the office, a few days away from the home project, and a few wonderful days with people I love. I am so blessed to have family that are such good friends.

And now on with regularly scheduled winter…

Make All the Things Christmas

It was a big Make-All-theThings-Christmas over here. I went overboard which is so unlike me (said no one ever). The last couple years I’ve sewn a lot of things for the growing crowd of nieces and nephews. This year I’ve been doing more woodworking and did more along those lines for the kiddos. Although the last several weeks have been filled with panicked making of all the things – it has been good. Really good even. There’s something special about making things for your best people that you know they will love, not to mention some much needed home time and project therapy time when life is crazy. And it is certainly true that it is better to give than receive.  Here’s a round up of the projects, complete with messy before and after pictures:

Craft Carts

Two of my nieces are very creative and crafty girls. They have a little craft ghetto in their unfinished basement and I asked their dad to send me a picture of their work areas to inspire me. The craft-splosion photos made me all mushy inside, remembering the weeks my sister and I would set up our rickety folding table next to the furnace in the basement, huddled over glue guns in the dimly lit room creating Christmas magic for our friends and family. It also just made me happy they have that spot to be creative. We creative types need that. And it inspired me to make craft carts for them. I took a used kitchen cabinet, added casters, painted it, added a planked top, and a pegboard on the back so they’ve got a spot to hang all their tools. It was a stash busting project in that I could pass on some cabinets that weren’t needed for their original purpose. Ten year old me would have been thrilled and it didn’t disappoint – the girls loved them and I imagine they will be put to good use for years to come.

  

Magnetic Chalkboard

This one might be my favorite. I saw various tutorials and then kind of winged it. 1 x 3’s for the frame, kreg jigged pocket holes and wood glue to connect them, I stained the frame, made chalkboard paint out of clearance black paint and unsanded grout, and D ring hangers on the back. I might have to make one for myself.  (In case you try this at home, I used a sheet of metal found in the plumbing aisle – rather than the triple the price sheet metal found otherwise.)

Desk

This was a fun project. I bought this little desk a dozen years ago at a furniture sale at the school my mom attended as a kid. I went with my aunts and we all found some fun little pieces. I used this desk for several years at my old house but I don’t have a use for it at the new place. I sanded down the old crusty paint job and decided the original desktop wasn’t good enough to keep. So I made a new planked top out of 2×12’s I had in the barn. I used the kreg jig to make pocket holes to connect the two pieces and then stained it. The 2×12’s weren’t perfect but they add to the rustic charm. I painted the bottom (same chalk paint I had made for the chalkboard) and then finished it with poly.

 

Doll high chair

Thrift store find originally. Came looking a little rough and needing some love but I loved the pretty wood scallops and knew I could rescue it (duh). I glued and nailed a few loose joints, added a tray, and painted it. I think it came out adorable. My two year old niece loved it and reported that her baby said “I like it” and “thank you.”

Bench

I used an old twin bed head board and foot board to build a bench for two small nieces. I used deck boards from my stash to build this bench and was really happy with how it turned out. I sprayed it with my Critter sprayer using outdoor paint, home mixed for a custom blue. One of the girlies who received it was thrilled, the other informed me she doesn’t like sharing and would like me to build her a doll high chair instead. Hopefully she will enjoy it in the future. I want to make one for my house now, of course.

Water Towers

My two year old nephew is a super engineer nerd in the making. I’m so proud. On the way to a family wedding this spring I explained to him about water towers and how they create a pressurized system. That was an innocent beginning to a full blown obsession. This kid loves his water towers. He regularly watches youtube videos of water tower demolition and likes to play demolition. He was using a counter height stool the other day to demolish. Naturally, he isn’t terribly careful and he makes me nervous knocking down that big stool in close proximity to his little brother. There must be something we can make!! This was a last minute addition to #makeallthethingsChristmas but turned out so great! My sister traced water towers on some 2×6″ scraps. We cut them on my dad’s bandsaw and then my dad insisted on routing the edges (I get my whole ass tendencies from someone). Far from perfect but just the thing for this small water tower enthusiast. We painted them to match some local water towers that CK loves and had just enough time for the paint to dry before we wrapped them and headed out the door.

Youth Chair

I found this youth chair at a garage sale this summer. The prices was low and some of the joints were wobbly. I pulled the wobbly joints apart, cleaned them out, and reglued and added a few screws. Spray painted it to make it look like a whole new chair. Since his baby brother needs the high chair, this chair will certainly be put to good use immediately.

Blanket

I made my Hobbit baby nephew a blanket. Typically I try to make a blanket when a baby arrives but I was six months late on this one. I used a quilting cotton on one side and a super soft fuzzy fabric on the back. Very cozy.

Jedi Robe

There I was, doing lots of wood working type projects for a bunch of the kids, but I couldn’t figure out what to do for 7 year old Andrew. So I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a Jedi robe. I’ve made a few of these in past years for other people and they are usually a big hit. Not to mention that any kind of snuggly wearable blanket seems like a great idea, right? I was just slightly nervous he’d think he got left out of the big impressive gift bandwagon. No worries! Even too big for him, he loved it! Wore it that day for the remainder of the party and wore it back again the next day for the next party. Glad he’s enjoying it! He also discovered how much faster he can get down the slide at my parent’s house in a jedi robe. You can make it practically to the wall!

There it is! The #makeallthethingsChristmas round up. I’m glad I did it but I make no promises for how next year will look.

Planking the Ceiling – Room 1

Friday night I was having three of my nieces and nephews over to sleep over. It had been far too long and everyone needed haircuts. Their mom brought us dinner, thankfully since I’d been in project mode and haven’t been grocery shopping in far too long. We ate around the stack of luan planks on the dining room table. The weather was nasty – cold, snowy, freezing rainy. Ick. I informed the kids that they’d be put to work on Saturday because at Aunt Reenie’s house, it isn’t all fun and games (I’m not sure they believe me). I considered trying to get a jump on things Friday evening, but it was too complicated considering needing places for people to sleep. So we did haircuts and played Settlers of Catan with much shenanigans. I sure love these goons.

Saturday morning, the kids were down shortly after 7. We ate breakfast and then got down to business. Geno was the official sander, sanding down the edges of the boards just enough to smooth them out and get rid of the splinters. Jane was my official spackler.  Once I removed the trim that was glued to the wall, there was a fair amount of spackling to do. Jane was very proud of her work and being able to help. Love that kid.

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Both Lucy and Geno took turns helping me hold the planking up once it was glued, so I could nail it up there with my awesome Ryobi nail gun. I love that thing. This project would have been miserable without it!

The kids and I got the room emptied (into the other bedroom), 6 of the planks sanded and up, the walls spackled, and lunch eaten (and they did some reading and relaxing) before they had to leave. I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing the job. Planking a ceiling solo is not ideal or quick. And every single muscle in my back and arms hurt by the end of the day.

By the end of Saturday (which came around 11 pm), I had finished the ceiling, caulked the perimenter, primed the whole ceiling and the walls, removed the window and door trim, had completely trashed the whole room and my body. Laying down my back shoulder muscles throbbed and twitched. My wrists throbbed. My arms throbbed. How old am I?? Then I realized I had basically worked non-stop from 9 am until 11 pm. 14 hours. Oh.

Sunday I went to Mass, groaning in pain whenever I moved my arms. Then brunch at my parent’s to celebrate my niece’s birthday. And then home again to try to get this thing closer to livable. It still feels a long way off. Amazingly, once I started painting another coat on the ceiling, the throbbing subsided. Guess the muscles just needed to be worked again.

My dear friend stopped in and we visited while measuring, cutting and installing the new door and window trim. I was able to re-use some of the window trim but replaced a lot of it because it wasn’t a consistent size and was in poor condition. The door trim I replaced entirely to make it farmhouse style trim. It looks awesome, if I do say so myself.

By 10 pm on Sunday, I’d put a third (and final) coat of paint on the ceiling, a coat of paint on the walls, primed and put one coat of trim paint on all the trim. I also started trimming out the weird stairway cut outs with a combination of old and new trim. Gotta make these weird little cubbies look a little less trashy. All at once, both of my batteries died making finishing the cubbies or doing anything else with the power tool set impossible. At 10 pm, that felt like a good thing. And I crashed hard.

A few helpful tips in case you want to try this at home (and to remind me when I do the other bedrooms):

– Dry fit all of your planks — especially if you’re doing it in a wonky old house where nothing is even. It is much easier to make adjustments before you put glue on the plank.

– Everyone on the interwebs says this but seriously, have help to plank the ceiling. Even my inexperienced, rather distracted help was better than the part I finished by myself simply because more hands makes this project infinitely better! No matter how handy you think you are, it is very difficult to hold a board, grab a nail gun, check the spacing, and nail it in place with only two hands.

– I read many different posts online about ceiling planking. Some people insisted the cheap luan I used was miserable and terrible. Some swear by the tongue and groove planking in this brand or that. I will say this: the luan planking was not perfect. But it was incredibly affordable and I really do love it. Totally worth the investment. Even in it’s imperfections, it fits the character of this little shack I call home and is a vast improvement over the ugly ceiling tiles.

Stick Day 2016

Stick day sort of happened naturally last year. My gang of eight nieces and nephews were coming for a sleep over. I had the idea to have a stick picking up contest – we split into two teams of 4 (boys vs girls), I gave each team a tarp and set a timer for 15 minutes and whichever team had the bigger stick pile on the tarp won. As it happens, the piles were too close to call so everyone got a dollar (because I hadn’t planned ahead and do have a big coin jar in the laundry).
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Now, I may have a “usual sleep over gang,” but there are also a lot of other awesome kids in my life who I certainly don’t want to exclude! So this year I planned Stick Day in advance and invited a few other little friends. I told them about the stick contest (which is a mere 15 minutes) and then told them the rest of the day they can just play. Monica (age 7) wanted to make sure if the losers got prizes, they would be smaller than the winner’s prizes. James was suspicious that it sounded like work. Avery nagged her mom about it for weeks and the week of Stick Day, in her list of awesome things in her life, Stick Day was up near the top. AJ practiced picking up sticks in his own yard just to be sure his skills were up to par.
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Stick Day was actually postponed because the original date ended up being 34 degrees and snowing. The rescheduled day was perfect! 72 and sunny. Absolutely amazing. The crowds began arriving… I divided the kids into teams – there were 9 kids in attendance for the stick contest part. Assigned team captains. And started the timer. We went to the back corner of the yard where there were a ton of sticks because I neglected it almost entirely last year. The kids barely had to move the tarps once they started because there were sticks and logs galore. I loved watching them try to move huge logs, and break off branches. And how they pulled together making new friends and picking up sticks furiously!
 And we had another tie! Everyone got to choose three mini chocolate bars.
One of my favorite things about this little corner of the world is how much joy it brings to the little people in my life. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but this place has it’s own kind of magic. As my niece Lucy told me this weekend, “I love this yard so much because there are all kind of ecosystems here! Pine forest, fields, regular woods… EVERYTHING!”  Yes, I imagine that’s what it is: all the ecosystems. Or something. I think about how rarely kids have hours on end to just roam around outside creating forts and games and tribes and messes. It was one of my favorite things about visiting friends in the country and growing up in the country. I love that I get to share that adventure with these darling people.

After everyone had chocolate and snacks, they scattered. Kitty made war paint using ashes from the fire pit and soon had almost everyone painted up. Maria and Avery and Monica had an elaborate mud pie making operation. Norah wanted me to release the “Cannonball” (Daisy) so she could “skitter up a tree”. There’s something about the thrill of an energetic puppy to escape. Michael ground corn into flour by smashing corn kernels between paper plates on a stump (Norah brought the corn and directed the operation). At one point, I was helping the little boys build a hide out and Michael found the perfect stick for a bow and wanted string. (Apparently I need more string). I apologized that I didn’t think I had any. Lucy swoops in “What do you need?” “String for this!” He holds up the perfectly curved stick that just HAD to become a bow. “Oh I always bring my emergency kit when I come here. I have string, yarn, this elastic string, rubber bands…”  The teepee had sticks added and a clothesline set up (the girl with the emergency fun kit may have been behind this). Tribes were formed. Signs were made. Poetry was read.

It was Benjamin’s (almost 4) first time to stay for a play day (without his mom) and he was thrilled. He is usually wary of dogs after having been bitten in the past (by other dogs), but he and Suzie were fast friends and he even made friends with the energetic Daisy. I tell you, there is magic afoot.  Of course Suzie could be a therapy dog for kids afraid of dogs. She LOVES her kids. She always runs to see them and then stands there so they will scratch them. Once the kids discover that it is the secret to calming her down and making her happy, she gets scratched pretty much non stop. What’s not to love about that? AJ said several times “Suzie loves me the most because I give her nice big hugs and I’m a really good scratcher.” True story.

Daisy did mostly fine. One small person got scratched because I was in helping another person pee on the potty and she got too rambunctious. She spent the day in and out of her crate. Mostly out with us, with some occasional breaks when she got too rambunctious. My tribe for the event consisted of the three little boys. We played with the dogs, clipped branches, built a boy’s hideout, climbed a fallen tree. All the good things in life.

At my house we have a few rules:
We are kind.
We are helpful.
We are inclusive.

Next time, I’ll add “We never sit on the couch.”  After the gang left, I found charcoal war paint all over my couch. Thank God it came off easily with a magic eraser.

By the time the parents arrived to pick up the troops, there was a crowd of the dirtiest kids I have seen in a long time. And absolutely happy from their wild day in the ecosystems. On the way out, a few kids asked “Can we come back next weekend?”

And that my dear readers, is the magic of Stick Day.
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My life the circus: just add chickens

It was a nice Friday night and I borrowed my dad’s car with the hitch. I headed down to Saline to pick up a trailer from the C’s to pick up the coop. My community of people are a delightfully interconnected bunch. It happened to be their daughter’s birthday so they were having my brother and his family for dinner. I got to meet their delightfully chubby baby (finally!), visit for a bit, and then drove off with the trailer.

My brother in law and the kids helped me load it and a rototiller to borrow onto the trailer. I drove home and another friend came to help me unload it. He lives close by and is personally invested in this coop being ready since his family would be bringing their chicks to live there the next day. This particular friend happens to be a brilliant woodworker so I showed him my attempt to hack a new light fixture and he gave me some advice on how to solve the final steps. I love my people!!

IMG_0625Saturday was an all out circus at my house. While I had the borrowed trailer, I picked up a bed from my friend’s house for my Grandpa who lives with my parents. So I visit with Bob, we load a bed, and I visit with my mom while we unload a bed. Then I head back home where Donal, Lindsey, and CK  are already at my house and running the hills with the pups. They were over for a work day in the yard. An hour later, our friend Nick swings by. We were signed up to cook this meal for charity on Sunday (Nick and I each cooking part of the meal). He needed to drop off his portion on Saturday and I’d make the delivery the next day with my portion. So Nick stops to visit for a bit and then heads out.

We get back to our stick retrieval program, driving trailer load after trailer load down to the burn pile. Even CK got in on the stick picking up. You’ve got to start them young! Maybe next year he’ll be ready for the Official Stick Day. We ate lunch and then CK went down for his nap, Lindsey went to get a shot, and Donal and I continued on with the yarding.

Somewhere in the middle of this Cora and her kids show up to deliver the chicks to their new home. I knew this was going to be a sad parting (for the kids) so I made sure they did all the chores to get the chicks settled: they put them in the coop, filled the food and water. Thomas did a thorough inspection of their new digs. “This is a pretty nice coop! It’s a lot bigger than I was expecting. But it does need some more paint.” IMG_0605

I told the kids that I will need them to come back and help me build a bigger chicken run and do some chicken chores. Thomas plans to pitch his tent right next to the coop for the next sleepover (okay he actually thought maybe we should put the coop down next to the “tent spot”. Um no. We aren’t moving it every time people come sleep over). The kids picked them some delicious dandelions and we all were delighted at how much they seemed to really like their new home (and the dandelions). Seeing the tractor out, the kids needed a few laps around the yard in the trailer. They promised to visit again soon and Maria’s parting show was to ask me to please try to keep the dogs from eating them (her mom obviously prepared her for the possibility).

IMG_0609Suzie got quite excited and pawed at the coop a few times. I brought Daisy out on her own and did some down stay practice near the coop. Allowing her to see it but not go nuts about it. She was interested but much calmer than Suzie over the whole thing.
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 Donal and Lindsey offered to return the trailer to the C’s house while their kid was napping upstairs at my house and I hauled out the borrowed rototiller to get started on my new vegetable garden area. Naturally as soon as I hauled the tiller up the hill to the garden spot, it started raining so I didn’t even get started on the garden. Moments later CK woke up from his nap so we braved the light rain to see the new chickens and check out the fort in the pine “forest.” As we walked by the fallen tree in the back of the yard, he commented casually “Dat’s a really big stick dere.” Yes. Yes it is. Then he asked where the tractor was, so we had to open the barn and peek at the tractor. Even with the tractor off, CK wanted to stay a safe distance away. He wants to love it and is clearly fascinated, but it is kind of scary when it is running.

His parents arrived to take him home and I figured I would return my dad’s car and run some errands since I couldn’t keep working in the yard right now. 2.5 hours later, as I pulled up (still raining), I was shocked and horrified to see Daisy in the yard. She had been in her crate!!! (Well at least she was until I let her outside to pee and forgot her out there in the rain). She was wet, muddy and frantic from being left alone in the rain. I was frantic because I was sure I was about to find half a dozen dead chicks in my yard. Noooooooooo.

I raced out there to find all the chicks still in tact and in the coop. Daisy had clearly dug one or two paws full of dirt in a couple places in an attempt to get in. But the big hole was 3 feet away from the coop. Because she IS that smart. Or because she dug a paw or two full of dirt next to the coop, which reminded her about how much she likes digging big holes and she gave herself a little more room for that endeavor. Oh Daisy. Thankfully her stupidity or easily distractable nature saved the day and the lives of six chickens. I was very relieved.
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The chicks have all their feathers but I left the heat lamp on in their coop for a couple days while they adjust to the great outdoors (and the cold rainy weather). Daisy runs out to see them when I let her outside, but she’s not lunging or digging or trying to get in. I know it is too early to call this a success, but it has been a successful week and for this I am grateful. And the adventure continues.

And in case you want cuteness overload, here’s some letters from cute kids about their chickens: FullSizeRenderIMG_0642FullSizeRender_1FullSizeRender_2FullSizeRender_3

Homemade Christmas coming my way

Pardon while I brag about some of my favorite people… sometimes I can’t help myself.

1419My nephew Geno made me this awesome frame for Christmas. (Well, he bought the frame and then embellished it). He had the idea and gathered the pieces, but admitted that he had Lucy glue everything together because “she’s better with a glue gun.” Not surprising somehow. The frame came with a note in it saying it was for my best camping pictures (of the kids camping at my house). I sure love my camping gang! So I printed up this awesome picture of the camping gang on Stick Day last spring and it is now hanging in the newly painted sewing room. And yes, this was my favorite gift because it comes straight from the heart and crafty little people that I love. DSC_2321

I also got homemade Christmas fudge (ish). It tasted like chocolate chips melted with candy cane bits on top (from Lucy). And Jane made the pups their own baggies of homemade dog treats. Always a favorite at our house.

My other favorite gift was the wise men for my Willow Tree nativity. I LOVE IT. I mean yes, I put it on my Christmas list, but I’m super excited to have gotten it. Now I want to build a stable to go with the whole set… (#ifyougiveamouseacookie)

Family Vacation (aka It's the most wonderful time of the year)

dont messI think we can probably go back for as long as I’ve had this blog and read the same post about my vacation week with the extended family, so I’m sorry for the monotony, but here it goes: I LOVE VACATION WITH MY EXTENDED FAM.

In the interest of finishing some plumbing and about a dozen other things, I went up Sunday night instead of Saturday afternoon. It was the right decision but of course hard to miss even a day with this crowd.

Vacation was, as always, fabulous. This was our 21st (I think) year of going up there with my dad’s extended family and it is fun to see how the family grows and changes. Yet somehow it is the same. We love each other and people make time to come up on vacation together to spend some good quality time together. The whole week is kind of a game of musical chairs as college and post-college cousins come for a day or two as their schedules allow. You want to squeeze in good quality time and conversation with everyone- which is impossible. So you just resolve to enjoy every minute of it. The early mornings with the nephew who doesn’t sleep in on vacation. The late nights playing games and talking about how we work on balance and care for the world around us. The daytime card games, domino games, watching the kids on the dangerous slide, holding babies, trading babies (SO MANY CUTE BABIES!)… It is all the moments during that week that make it so great. It is about the people. None of us is perfect, some of us say stupid insensitive things sometimes or don’t know how to best respond to a situation, but love covers a multitude of sins and we dearly love one another.
One of the best parts of spending time with this crowd is that I always leave with a sense of being known. These people get me at my core and I don’t have to be anyone else, they love me – broken, chubby, silly, genuine, baby-hog, never stops going me. What a gift! I am so blessed to be part of this clan.

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My grandparents on their wedding day

My uncle reminded me while we were up there that it was the 15th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. It is hard to believe it has been that long. And yet whenever we are together as a family, I can sense her there with us. Sometimes I can hear her laugh. I can see her twinkling blue eyes. I remember her sense of fun and adventure. Her love for family. Her absolute delight in being surrounded by her people. I always remember her laughing in delight at some silly antic or a story or when someone comes to show her something brilliant they did (and let’s face it, she thought we were all brilliant and told us so). I still miss that wonderful lady, but it is an honor to be part of her legacy and to share that with each other.

And now for a barrage of fun people:

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Time with my girl

IMG_7483IMG_7514[1]We were overdue for a Jane and Aunt Reenie adventure. I’d planned to be in town for a baseball game and figured I’d bring the puppy and snag the niece to accompany me. When the door opened, she handed me this little square she had embroidered for me. Obviously this is Daisy. As it happened, torrential downpours cancelled the game (much to Jane’s delight) and the three of us made our way to a cute cafe for ice cream and puppy time, hoping the rain would let up so we could take the pup for a walk afterward.

I love having my nieces and nephews over in a crowd and it happens fairly often. But I do love some one on one time with these awesome little people. You get to really know them one on one in a way it is hard to do as part of a pack. At the coffee shop, over ice cream, Jane and I discussed their recent trip and the museums she saw, I teased her about being able to finish that huge ice cream cone, we played a game of Sorry, and I found out she is a dark chocolate girl like me.

IMG_7485 The rain finally let up so we took Daisy to Millpond Park, a big park along the river (which gets very swampy after a big rain), and there’s a dog park there so you can let the pup run free. Jane was SO excited. I mean, Daisy is her favorite dog (poor Suzie has been bumped I’m afraid). Jane was the first person I told when I got IMG_7484Daisy and she believes she named Daisy so they have a very special bond. As I handed Jane the leash (a bit nervous because Daisy isn’t very good at the leash yet), she looked up at me, eyes sparkling with delight. “Reenie, this is the best day ever. This is my very first time walking a puppy!”  She and Daisy took off across the field, flitting to and fro, splashing through the puddles and delighted with life. So stinking cute.

We practiced some finer points of dog training (practicing Come, Sit, and Down). I explained to Jane some techniques like “If she is hurting you or jumping on you, don’t be afraid to push her off. She needs to learn.”  Jane was in heaven and so was I. Such a nice evening spent with one of my favorite kids and my favorite puppy too.

IMG_7500As we flitted back to the car after a lot of park fun,Jane turns and said to me “Reenie, Daisy would be the PERFECT dog for me!”

Reenie: “What do you mean ‘would be’? Daisy IS the perfect dog for you! All the fun and none of the work!”  

Jane: “YES!!!”

When I got to her house to deliver Jane back to her family, the other kids wanted to play with Daisy. So they took her for a short walk around the block and Jane was clearly the dog expert. “Lucy, if Daisy is hurting you or jumping on you, don’t be afraid to push her off. She needs to learn.” “I know Jane.”  “Geno, here’s how you hold the leash – hand in the loop and then hold the leash like this.”  “I know Jane!”  It was pretty awesome.

I am so thankful for the wonderful little people God has put into my life and for moments like this to just be together. Life is good.

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Fall Crazy

DSC_6522Fall is flying by in a haze of too many activities. A few weeks back one of my good friends was staying with me and telling me that she cannot believe how social I am for being an introvert. Keep in mind this particular friend is the most extroverted person I know– but in marrying an introvert, she has learned that she has to take care of his introvert needs. Seasons like this make me think I need someone to watch out for my introvert needs because I am so incredibly bad at doing it for myself. So… fall is a season of strangling my inner introvert, slowly and surely. I love my people. I love and look for ways to spend time with them- because I’m a quality time kind of gal but I am not good at balancing that with my quiet, alone time needs.

leaf backgroundAnd then there was that once nice evening, where I was going to just go home, mow and mulch some leaves, and be alone (quality time with my inner introvert) on a tractor until dark. So there I was, loving the new tractor, trying to figure out of the leaf sweeper is even worth the effort. And then my tractor catches fire. Yep. You heard right. I didn’t even know this was a thing! So I see smoke from under the hood and RACE to the burn pile where I happen to have a couple 5 gallon buckets of water just chilling out. I RUN back to the tractor to see flames shooting up. Now I’m worried the whole thing is about to explode. I doused it and ran for the second bucket to douse again. And then dug out the leaves that got jammed tightly under the mower, in front of the mower deck. And stamped them out since they were still smoldering. Shaking with adrenaline, I stamped and dug. And called my dad before trying to start the engine- which won’t start. Awesome. I’m blaming the melted wiring. I’m so incredibly thankful that this happened right near those buckets of water, because if I had needed to run to the house, turn on the hose, fill buckets and run back to the far back of the yard… right, the whole tractor would have been toast. Of course now that I’ve done it and mentioned it to a few friends, it seems setting one’s tractor on fire is nearly commonplace. Still, it gets a big fat UGH from me. I’m so incredibly grateful to have an amazingly handy and kind friend who offered to fix it for me. So the tractor spent the weekend there and is working great again. I am SO thankful!

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I spent a wonderful weekend up north with one of my dearest friends and her family. There were 11 adults and 10 kids under the age of eight (all but one under the age of 5 actually) staying in the house for the weekend. The fall colors were at their brightest and best. The little people were insane and highly entertaining. And it was great to just be with my friends. No, not the most relaxing weekend, but really delightful and a good escape from the mundane at home.

DSC_7222October also included two apple saucing sessions at my house which have both been delightful. The first was with two brothers and their wives and a cute nephew. It was peaceful and pleasant, nice to spend time together doing something while putting up yummy applesauce for the coming months. Then the last weekend of October, I sauced with my crowd- the girlfriends who I have been canning with for years. It was a gorgeous, cool fall day and a great day to hang out with my lady friends and scorch apple gook onto my stove again. I will spend the next year trying to remove it. I am all set on applesauce for the year. Mmmmm. Such a delightful, fallish project with long lasting effects and such a blessing to do it with such dear people. DSC_6561

I am back in the swing of being on the core team with the high school youth ministry program at my parish. I truly love it. And I love teenagers. After spending so many years on core team, it is definitely hard going back because I know the commitment I’m in for. Death to self. And it is really odd to go back and realize all the teens you really know have graduated and the current teens are kids you’ve seen growing up and you still thought they were in fourth grade. And most of the team you are working with was in high school during one of your previous stints on the core team. Remember how much I love Sunday nights at home? Yep, those are gone too. Death to self, death to self, death to self. And yet there is a lot of joy in the midst of that. I really do love teens. I feel like this is where God is asking me to serve his church in this season. These are the people he is asking me to love. Last weekend I had my first girls night since being back. Girls nights have been a long standing thing for as long as I have been on the core team and had my own place (starting with that first apartment back in 1999). As weird as it is, I think it is actually an important ministerial spot- being able to give girls a place to let loose and be themselves. And it gets weird– every single time. In a delightful, freeing, God-is-working kind of way. The setting: my humble abode- complete with dog hair and laundry on the couch (which i did move eventually). The offerings: Hot chocolate, tea, cider, cookie dough, bowl of popcorn. The girls: fabulous, sweet, fun and strange high school girls. Talking a mile a minute, rubbing each other’s backs, stroking hair, eating cookie dough, putting way too much hot chocolate mix into a mug of water, snuggling under blankets, petting the dog, and a lot of unfettered joy. Being together as women who simply love each other and have a safe place to unwind. It is weird alright but a really beautiful thing. DSC_7190

Another delightful fall activity has been card club. Which is just four of us sitting down and playing cards in an evening. Lovely, delightful, old fashioned fun. And we’ve been playing New Canasta Hand and Foot- a game my grandma taught me years and years ago. And yes, I realize I am admitting to being old before my time in having a card club. If only I knew how to play Bridge…

Not too long ago, I broke down and bought my first lens for my Nikon, other than the kit lens. It is a 50mm– the lens that made me fall in love with photography back when I was shooting with a manual Pentax. Playing with the new lens and taking more pictures has been a fun creative outlet for me this fall. As well as taking senior pics for a cousin, photos of cute babies everywhere I go, and some nice pictures of fall at the Little House. I am blessed to be surrounded by a lot of very photogenic subjects.

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The days are getting shorter and colder. I turned on my heat a few days ago and pulled out the extra blankets. I’m back in the groove of sleeping like a rock in my frigid upstairs and remembering how incredibly hard it is to pull one’s self out from under the covers in the morning.

Happy fall, my friends, happy fall.