reading round-up (5.15.15)

Both of our Minnesota springs to date have negated the adage “April Showers bring May Flowers” for different reasons. Last year, it was because there was too much snow for too long. This year winter ended at a reasonable time, but we just haven’t had much rain. Now in May, it is finally coming down and our grass is finally coming up. (Aaron far prefers working outside, so he is glad to be done with the new floor and seeing progress in our lawn and garden!) This year we’re just doing tomatoes and green beans.

Both of our Minnesota springs have included excitement about other kinds of growth, too. We’re ecstatic and humbled by another healthy pregnancy! This one means welcoming a baby boy to our family this fall, and by some sweet mercy, the first half of pregnancy has been significantly easier (physically and mentally) than the first half of my pregnancy with Annie. I’m especially grateful for an easier pregnancy while managing an adventurous nine-month-old, and I’m still blown away to think we’ll have two children. I spent a long time wondering if I would ever have any kids, and this
really feels like winning the lottery twice.

Parenting
I thought there were some great thoughts in 8 Items for Christian Parents to Ponder, especially the encouragement to “Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good. ” It’s easy to get bogged down with the idea that we could possibly be really ruining some aspect of our kids’ lives, and I’m grateful for the reminder that we’re also in the position to be the greatest instrument of goodness and blessing for them, too.

I also really appreciated 9 Things Adult Daughters Want Their Mothers to Know. It resonated with me as a daughter and inspired me as a mother.

On the flipside, Raising Gentle Boys was good encouragement for thinking about the new baby. He’ll be himself in so many ways that are more about just being his own person and not necessarily about his gender, but since I don’t know anything about those other things yet… this is what I’ve got to think about: ultrasound technology reassures us that the baby seems to be developing normally and is, in fact, male.

Personality
This post on the benefits of knowing yourself was great. I’ve followed Kristin’s blog for a while and really appreciate so many of her reflections on frugality and family life. I remember the sense of relief that came when I decided I was done with “couponing” and then again in the last few months when I decided borrowing baby clothes was more stressful for me than it was worth, and her advice here resonated deeply for me:

“We don’t all have to be good at the same things, and we don’t all have to love the same things.
(No one can possibly be good at everything and love everything!)
The important thing is to live within your means and manage your money responsibly, and there are a zillion ways to do that well.”

If knowing yourself means identifying with a Myers-Briggs personality type, this Definition of Hell for Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type might extremely accurate. I am an ENFP, but just barely on to the extroverted side; I’m pretty sure Aaron is exactly the opposite, an ISTJ. Hell for an ENFP is essentially the description of the job I held for 3 years when Aaron and I first got married, and it was just nice to (again) be affirmed that I wasn’t being dramatic when I told people it was like a living hell.
For the ENFP:  Every minute of the rest of your life has been scheduled for you – and it’s a long series of arbitrary, solitary tasks.
For the ISTJ: You are expected to complete a highly esteemed project with absolutely no guidance as to what’s expected of you.
In some ways, this describes both of our current occupations as well, which is particularly laughable. (I will say, the monotonous aspects of life as a stay-home mom are much more tolerable after living through some of the truly horrendous -for me- tasks in my old job. and both of these descriptions apply to quite a bit of parenting.)

Productivity 
Aaron has been reviewing different management and productivity materials for companies he is interested in working for… There’s a lot of interesting stuff out there! This Tedx Talk from David Allen (who wrote “Getting Things Done”) is an oldie-but-a-goodie. We were just talking about some of the stuff he says here, and I think it’s very much worth 22 minutes of your time. (Grab a notebook to take some notes and jot down some thoughts afterwards!) We were just saying we might need to review this together every few months… It’s not a bad idea.

Science
Another Ted presentation from Pamela Ronald talks about the intersection of “Organic” farming and GMO crops hits on some good points for lay discussions on agriculture and biotechnology.

Miscarriage 
This blog from Mandi covers a lot of great topics about recurring loss and pregnancy after miscarriages. In some ways she seems like my Catholic twin in reflecting on those topics and I think this blog is a great resource for interested parties.

Reading 
I recently rediscovered LibriVox, full of free audio books in the public domain, and I’m enjoying working through the Anne of Green Gables series again. I find that YA literature is just right for listening while I’m working around the house — it’s engaging but not so dense that I can’t get something else done, too.

Music
Annie recently discovered the joys of hitting things with a plastic spoon, so I gave her some tupperware to beat and turned on Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man. So much fun. So much proletariat ire. (Copeland was a phenomenal American composer with strong ties to progressive/socialist  politics. I’m linking to it’s performance at a 9/11 memorial to compensate on the other side, maybe?)
Musician mama side note: I really like showing her videos of musical performances where she can see the instruments!


We’re looking forward to a low-key weekend with a few little house projects, playing outside with Annie and Max, and lots of much-needed relaxing. Have a happy weekend, friends!

reading round-up (5.01.15)

After spending the first part of this year feeling like everything was askew with the entire upstairs ripped apart for our new floor project, which resulted in an unfortunate injury for Aaron and therefore took three times longer than we expected, it finally feels like we are at least a little bit on top of things at home. Last night I wiped off the counters and ran the dishwasher before bed, and we marveled at how nice it feels to have the illusion of a house that is under control. After four months of having every closet turned inside out and shuffling all the stuff upstairs from one room to the next, with plenty of construction materials, tools, and sawdust in the mix… Man-oh-man. The clear space makes it easier to breathe. A-lle-lu-ia.

And in case you were ooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the pictures I just shared of our house, wondering what there was to be dissatisfied about, I offer you this picture of the lights right above our bed:

photo 1 (3)

***
[Christianity] I was so impressed by a recent message from Jason Meyer discussing oppressive “hyper-headship” as one of the primary pitfalls of false leadership from his text in 2nd Corinthians. I recommend at least skimming the transcript to look at the descriptions and categories of abusive behaviors, but if you don’t want to read the transcript or listen to the whole thing (45 minutes), this summary will give you a picture of what he said with some key quotes. Any discussion that is quicker to define a Christian understand of gender by distancing itself from “feminism” (as if that was a bad word?!) instead of clearly separating from any form of domestic or spiritual abuse seems only misguided at first, but is actually creating a safe environment for abuse:

Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching. Saying nothing is saying something—it’s saying, “Go ahead, we don’t care enough to do anything.”

Aaron and I really enjoyed “Why God’s Will Isn’t Always Clear” from Jon Bloom  because, well, it hasn’t always been clear for us, and a little encouragement in the midst of things is always good to have.

[Clothes] Part of the Early 2015 Life Overhaul included moving Annie’s bed in to our walk-in-closet and moving all our clothes to our spacious laundry room, and I went through every article of my clothing with the inspiration of this article about useful wardrobes. (I’ve been thinking about this for a while!) I now have a lot less clothes than I used to, and getting dressed is a lot easier.

[Science] If you are a fan of eating at Chipotle (those burrito bowls… mmm mmm), you might like this article from Iowa Corn sTalk with 6 Facts refuting Chipotle’s irrational series “Farmed and Dangerous.” Their food is great! But the current business practice of deceiving their customers and attacking family farmers is …not.

[Books] I have three books on my stack of stuff to read… it takes a little more to get there these days! And I think I need to get some fiction other than “The Pout-Pout Fish” going on in my days here, too.
The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel by Wendy Alsup
Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord life when death visits the womb by Jessalyn Hutto 
Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is being kept out of Africa by Robert Paarlberg 

[Music]
Andrew Peterson’s God of My Fathers is so touching for me. I love the lyrics at the end, especially:

Now we’re counting stars and counting sand
Little feet and little hands
We’re counting joys…
…Like their father, they are looking for a home
Looking for a home beyond the sea
So be their God and guide them
Till they lie beneath these hills
And let the great God of my father
Be the great God of their children still.
-God of My Fathers, by Ben Shive. From “Counting Stars.”

We also have been enjoying Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending almost every morning — what a beautiful start to the day.

We’re spending the beautiful weekend with some family members and planning to enjoy some “time off” from work and the house while the weather is so lovely. Happy Weekend!
Iris

Coon Ranch: the house i had not seen

coon ranch

Did you know I signed on the dotted line for this house without having seen it in person? The transition from Iowa to Minnesota was a little bit nuts, and buying a new house I had not seen seemed appropriate, given that all of life felt like such a leap of faith in this move. Would we ever have a baby? Would Aaron like his job? Would we have a doctor we liked? Would we make friends? Would we find a good church? Would we regret not waiting for something else to come together? Would I find any grocery store I liked as much as Fareway? I had no answers about the future, so it felt normal to add, “What kind of house will we have, and will I like it?” to the mix.

(After 17 months I reflect on those questions: Some answers were yes, some were no, and a few things are still up in the air.)

We looked at a bunch of houses together and fought like crazy about them (this is embarrassing but pretty normal when househunting, I think), and our schedules conflicted enough that Aaron had to shop on his own on during the last week of our house-buying window. If he didn’t find one, we would probably be renting (and therefore probably not getting a dog) for the next several years. We looked at pictures of puppies online and prayed that something would work out. He found one and told me it was boring but that boring was the best choice for us right now. I closed my eyes and signed like Ariel giving her soul to Ursula.

Ariel contract

 

And I will say, this house is perfect for what we thought we needed, and yet… we don’t really like it. This is a total first-world problem. It works, it has the details we were looking for (a guest room, a good spot for piano lessons, a fenced in yard for little Max, etc.) and was in the right price range.  I think it’s just that the “cool factor” of our old house is a hard act to follow. We have nothing that compares to the old vaulted wood ceilings, fireplace, crawlspace storage, stone patios, or wooded outdoor stairways. Instead, we are in a neighborhood full of the exact same 3-bedroom 2-bath 1960’s rambler. And not just “similar,” I mean, THE SAME. Our floor plan is identical to every other house on  our street, and the next street, and everything else around here. (A few people in the neighborhood got fancy and put an enclosed walkway between their garage and their house, but that’s about it. Why anyone thought detached garages were a good idea in Minnesota is a mystery I will ponder until the grave. It’s right up there with why there was carpet in the kitchen at the old house before we tiled it. I spilled some leftover chili on that one time and you just can’t get something like that out of carpeting, you know?) Where the old house was in meticulous shape (though out of date) when we moved in, the people who lived here before us were more of the TV-watching and only-mowing-the-lawn-once-a-summer kind of family. It’s a new challenge to take over a home from people who didn’t value their stewardship, so we’ve had to do lots of “maintenance catch up” projects, too.

The past few months have included a lot of work, and we now have a bit more to be proud of here: Lots of grass seeding and careful watering. New windows. A dishwasher – glory be to God. Beautiful floors and sharp white trim in the upstairs. Massive amounts of decluttering (what? how do we have so. much. stuff?) and reorganizing. Getting a tall filing cabinet so we can keep track of our official papery things like adults. Pulling some more of our decorating stuff out of bins and feeling a little more at home.

IMG_0660

 

photo (2) (1)

this is not finished, but it is on the way! painters tape will go, fabric for new curtains are all ready to make, etc.

 

Finishing things up like this gives me the heebie-jeebies — what if it means we do have to move soon?? — but it is nice to have the hopes of enjoying the fruit of our labor here. And while I really like these floors and the new rug and all that, I have to say I’m a bigger fan of the fact that we’re too tired to watch TV in the basement and that we trip over the little toys that get strewn about, because for all the details I’m bored by, I love that this “lame” house is home for more people and more joy than we had before.

living room
Even with plenty of things I don’t love or would have done differently (um, garage-style flourescent lights in the bedroom?), our “Coon Ranch” has been a beautiful picture to me of the mysterious ways God has provided for us during a stage of life that is very sojourn-ish. While it doesn’t take up as much room in this blog (or my heart), it’s been a good place to learn and grow, and I am learning to love that very, very much.

reading round-up 3.20.15

You guys, I think it’s spring in Minnesota. It’s been sunny and warm lately, so sometimes I can open the windows… If it snows again, I will cry. I’m still not entirely recovered from the polar vortex of the last winter. Since it’s been so nice, I took Annie outside to inspect the daffodil bulbs I transplanted to the front of the house in September, and then I found $20. (This actually happened.)

photo 1 (1)

Aaron experienced an unfortunate injury during the installation of our floor which resulted in our second-ever marital ER trip, but he is on the road to recovery and we’re almost done! It’s amazing how much this improvement is boosting my overall mood and outlook on life, and it’s been extremely nice to be excited about how our home looks again. I was not prepared for how discouraging it would be to move from the hard-won glories of our old house to the not-so-glorious interior of this one. I tried a lot of I-have-it-better-than-95%-of-people-everywhere-so-stop-thinking-about-aesthetics mind games during the past year, but when a beautiful home is an option, it’s a good thing and it feels good to be working towards that glory again. Isn’t this a better look than unfinished hardwoods with plywood patches?

photo 3

Confession: We broke down and procured an annoying plastic singing toy for the baby, on loan from some friends. We’re hoping it’s temporary, but man… this thing is extremely useful.

photo 2 (2)


[Finances] I am still mulling over the points from Generosity Begins At Home by David Mathis. Being excessively disciplined about money, mostly out of necessity, for the entire 6.5 years of our marriage has brought some weird baggage to our lives. While frugality is often wise, it can be abused just as much as frivolity. We are the sort of people who err on the side of all things too-responsible, and we’ve had to remind each other that frugality is not the greatest good in life. It’s been nice to have some conversations along these lines:

A simplistic view of money — whether focusing only on its power for good, or merely on its potential for ill — misses the texture of the biblical portrait. How, then, do we move toward getting this balance better in our lives? And in particular, how to we go about using money to magnify our global God while not neglecting or minimizing the temporal needs of those to whom God has entrusted us? ….As tempted as we might be to think that pinching pennies at every point, and then sending our savings to the gospel front lines overseas, is the inescapably Christian practice, there is something to be said for our generosity beginning at home. Which is not to say, indulge your personal comforts, but forgo them for the sake of demonstrating care and concern for your spouse and children.

When it comes to details, I’m the free spirit in our house (Annie may be with me on this, though?) but it works best when I do the taxes, so that’s how we roll. Tim Challies asks Do You Pay Your Taxes Joyfully? And I must say… now that I straightened out Aaron’s work withholdings, we qualify for some fabulous new credits after the birth of a child, and have very little self-employment income, YES, IT MIGHT BOTHER MY CONSTITUTIONAL SENSIBILITIES BUT OVERALL IT IS EXTREMELY JOY-INDUCING TO SEE THOSE GREEN “RETURN” NUMBERS ON MY TURBO TAX STATEMENT. For the first time ever, I think.

[Theology] We have been talking oh-so-much this month about the vital importance of women knowing theology. I have been so pleased to see a few articles on this topic popping up, as I think adequately educating both genders is an area where most churches really fall off the wagon (whether intentionally or not).
Moms Need Theology Too, by Christina Fox. 

While books with practical tips are useful for some things, the hope they provide can be short-lived. In truth, it is in theology, in our study of who God is and what he has done, that gives us the real hope, real wisdom, and real peace that we need in our lives — the kind that lasts. It’s theology — knowing God — that anchors us in the chaos of motherhood.

Three Reasons Women Need Good Theology, by Alyssa Poblete. 

“Just be careful. You don’t want women becoming spiritual leaders in the home or, even worse, wanting to become pastors.” …Why did he wish to dissuade women from pursuing a better understanding of Scripture? Don’t we believe “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16)?

[Infertility] I’m very thankful that in my struggles to have a baby, I was not forced to look down the barrel of Artificial Reproductive Technologies. I’m also very thankful that I knew a lot about the topic before having a baby became a struggle, because I already knew where the boundaries of acceptable intervention would be. Most people don’t think about the ethics of IVF or other procedures until they are sitting in a specialists office, desperate for a child after years of devastating heartbreak. That doctor’s office is not the best place to start making decisions with such significant ethical ramifications. So, I talk about it now because I want other people to look at this topic before they are in a position to maybe utilize it themselves. I think Joy Pullman’s article in The Federalist, Four Questions About the Fertility Industry’s Lack of Oversight, poses some important points for discussion.

[Beauty] I love this computer wallpaper! 

[Reading] 
I’m reading Hannah Anderson‘s book Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image. So far it’s the perfect blend of thoughtful, challenging, enjoyable, and (the best part) written in just the right-size increments that I can pick it up knowing I might get interrupted again soon.

[Listening] 

Anonymous 4: Abide With Me
Folk for Kids playlist on Spotify. 
I’m also on the hunt for some podcasts, so let me know if you have any recommendations!


Happy weekend!

reading round up 2.13.15

[What We’re Up To] 
This has been a fairly out-of-control few weeks. My grandmother recently passed away, so Annie and I spent over a week in Michigan for the funeral, and came  home with wicked colds. I’m still not entirely recovered, probably due to her waking up congested/crabby/hungry 4-6x every night for the past several weeks. We’re surviving, but we’re also wearing our pajamas for several days in a row and the house is a complete disaster. (As in, “it’s a good thing no one is calling CPS on us” dirty.) But! The disarray is also here because we’ve got stuff pulled out all over the place to prepare for installing the new floor in the whole upstairs starting this weekend! Then we’ll use a gift card and go out to eat, because making progress on DIY projects and not having to cook speaks love and romance to me in so many ways. Aaron is a good man and he knows this about me.

Annie is now six months old, so in celebration we presented her with an exciting, but not quite age-appropriate, toy. Max understands it better than she does. (And now that enough time has passed and I’m sure my thoughts on the whole thing are not crazy, or at least they haven’t changed with this much perspective, I may get brave/annoyed enough to share some *non-graphic* thoughts on the “birth culture” in America.)

[Valentine’s Reading]
My all-time favorite treatise on love and finding contentment with the simpler life is The Romance of Domesticity, written by the husband-half of one of my all-time favorite couples.
Despite a few nagging theological differences, I think a series on marriage from a while back at Like Mother, Like Daughter really hit the nail on the head for me. I was very encouraged to know we’re building something of spiritual value in marriage, even before we had kids, and even when building up marriage and each other comes at the expense of other “good” things. Now, this can be taken WAY TOO FAR, and I think the book below provides some balance to that, but there were some encouraging thoughts found here. 

[Books]
I’m reading You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan, which can be purchased on their website or downloaded free in PDF format. (I chose the free PDF.) I really appreciate the focus on the Kingdom of God instead of the glorification of marriage, which is what usually oozes out of stuff I read. If I hear one more thing about how the primary key to Christian life is “Building a Marriage-Centered Family” or something like that without this balance, I might scream. (It’s dangerous and idolatrous.) Instead, I’m finding this very refreshing:

You are more than a spouse. If you have been blessed with kids, you are more than a parent. You have a unique role in the Kingdom of God, and he has great works for you to do… For some of you, it isn’t about the “Christian Bubble,” it’s just the plain old idolatry of the family. I want you to seriously ask yourself: Do I spend more time focusing on being a good spouse and parent, or more time focusing on being a godly person?

[Science] 
This excellent Ted Talk asks, “Can You Feed 9,000,000,000 People?” and goes over much of the truth the “organic” crowd misses when they condemn GMO crops. I’d ask any of my friends to thoroughly examine these claims before condemning genetic engineering in crop science.

[Music] 
Mostly classical and nerdy this week…
The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky
Toccata and Fugue in D-minor, BMV 565 by Johann Sebastian Bach.

[Fun]
One-Star Book Reviews are just plain fun. As I think about children’s literature, I can’t help but appreciate the kindly reviewer for The Flopsy Bunnies: “The focus on killing baby bunnies and fighting over what to do with their bodies once they were dead, wasn’t very child friendly.” Duly noted.
These New Titles For Children’s Books (Based Entirely On Their Covers) is providing much entertainment here. My favorites? “Whoever Is On That Boat Is About To Be Disemboweled,” and “When The Colorblind Decorate.” Maybe “Midget Girl Adopts Satan’s Puppy,” too.
Unrelated to kids’ reading, Elizabethan Superheros is also worthy of a few chortles.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy weekend!

reading round-up returns!

[What We’re Up To]
This week started with Aaron home for the MLK holiday, so we painted the ceilings in the entire upstairs of the house, and then spent a huge (for us) amount of money purchasing new flooring for the main floor. We’re cutting off the bottom of our door casings to prepare for the installation, and Max is extremely helpful in his supervisory role.
photo 1Aaron is working even more than he did during his PhD, which makes for very rough days and sloooow progress on the DIY front, but when we actually can work on a project, it’s a great way to spend time together and (bonus) have a better-looking house.

We also had a noteworthy birthday for Aaron — the big 30! — celebrated with his favorite dessert, Guinness Cake. I had forgotten he didn’t like icing on it, so now I am left with an entire bowl of homemade frosting in the fridge. Forget the “Whole30 Food Challenge” so many people are doing in January… I’m just trying not to gain a Whole 30 Pounds lick-by-lick off the spatula.

[Surfing the Web] 
Mommy-Blogs: There’s a big thing I wondered about how motherhood would change me: would I start enjoying “Mommy Blogs”? After five months, the answer is still NO.  I know now that wasn’t  that I couldn’t read them because I was so sad about not having a baby myself… It was just that, beyond the fact of my own desires to have a baby, I still thought reading regular things about other people’s kids were kind of boring. Every so often I’ll find an article or post that resonates, like They Should’ve Warned Me, which beautifully mirrors my own experiences with a baby, but I still skip posts about “basic updates on pregnancy and child growth/development.”  I do really, really like kids, I just don’t find it particularly noteworthy or entertaining that some stranger’s five month old can roll over. (I, of course, gush over Annie’s milestones to my mother on a near-daily basis.) I also have problems with monetized mommy blogs, which usually make me feel like the child’s privacy has been violated, and I don’t see the point of making money because you took pictures of your kids eating spaghetti or something like that. Hannah Anderson’s article on “Women’s Discipleship and the Mommy Blogosphere” communicates some of my previously unarticulated frustrations about how often legalism flourishes in that setting, with a noted lack of sound theology and critical thinking in most cases.
Life and Death: I thought we would have some family funerals this year, and three weeks in to 2015, I’m on pins and needles expecting to hear of our second family loss. I’m still chewing through some of the thoughts on A Far Green Country: Looking Past Uncertainty Towards Eternity. And This post about how life is like a pregnancy and death is a birth is just… profound.
Christianity and Education: No matter where formal education takes place in our family, the curriculum will include a strong emphasis on formal logic and the creeds and catechism of historical Christianity. Here are 7 Reasons to Teach our Children Church History from an evangelical perspective. And this article about the theological differences in the Christology of orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is, in my opinion, a fabulous illustration about the necessity of critical thinking and a thorough understanding about whether a difference is “denominational” or “ultimate.” How many people would read the statements about Jesus from the Mormon perspective and think they were consistent with evangelical teaching?

[People I Actually Know]
From my friend Hannah — What They Should Tell You When You Are Dating. (my alternative title: The Things People Who Believe In Courtship Forget About What It Takes To Sustain A Relationship For Your Entire Life. Other alternative title, if I had written it: Why I Will Encourage My Daughter To Date At Least A Few People Before She Gets Married.)

[Books] 
A chapter from The Jesus Storybook Bible and a complete read-through of the Pout-Pout Fish are daily occurrences. I love it.
I’m discussing Desiring God’s compilation “Mom Enough” with some friends, and enjoying a more balanced look at motherhood in light of the gospel than is promoted in most Christian arenas. You can download a PDF for free!
I’m working through What’s Best Next by Matt Perman — definitely not aimed at stay-home-moms, which means it doesn’t always feel immediately applicable, but very useful thoughts on the gospel and productivity.

[Music]
We sing lots from Andrew Peterson’s Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies, and we’ve been enjoying the original Fantasia on Netflix during the day. (That might count as watching? Annie definitely watches the screen. But it’s just classical music and fine art rolled in to one, right? So it’s like baby education multi-tasking?)

[Fun]
Here’s a look at ordinary (some gross, like the foot of a fly) things under a microscope.

Happy Weekend, friends!

 

Rich men have chickens

“If I were a rich man…
I’d fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks
For the town to see and hear
Squawking just as noisily as they can
With each loud “cheep” “squawk” “honk” “quack”
Landing like a trumpet on the ear
As if to say, ‘Here lives a wealthy man!'”

“I want to hear about chickens because we’re thinking about doing it, too.” I get that a lot. Now that we’re a year out from the start of our unfortunately short-lived chicken adventure, I’m really wishing we’d been able to keep them!

Although it seems like this started when I went away for a weekend and came home to find Aaron working on a half-built “play house” for our “future kids” in the garage, there is more history than I’ve mentioned before. The story of our chickens really begins two decades ago, when a little boy with long legs and a squeaky voice built an egg incubator and searched all natural habitats he could access in hopes of scoring a duck nest with eggs he could swipe and raise himself. Later he actually had a chicken business in the backyard, with a little flock of laying hens and funny anecdotes about training his dog to stay away from the chicks. (At one point he ran a home-made ice cream sandwich business, which I am hoping will resurrect itself in adulthood as well.) Just like his “mean” parents were hesitant about supplying fowl eggs, he grew up and got a “mean” wife who shot down his suggestions about chickens every spring with objections like, “We don’t have enough time,” “We’re probably going to move,” “They will make the backyard stink,” “It’s not actually going to save money,” and “If we’re committing to animals we should just get a dog, which is what we both really want anyway.”

As it turns out, every one of my objections about chickens actually came true, but it worked out after all. I was pretty ticked about this at first, and I could have put my foot down and stopped the whole thing right then, but I also realized it was providing a strong boost for Aaron when he was feeling very beaten down by a long, lonely stretch at the end of his PhD program. He needed to know his extreme life-long desire to understand everything about nature was a blessing, and that it didn’t only mean being locked in a lab for six years just because he was grown-up and reasonably smart. I tried to bite my tongue for the most part, but I stipulated that he was responsible for ALL chicken work and the coop had to be cleaned as often as I wanted when the weather warmed up. We’ve since agreed that decisions of that financial and personal scope require two “yes” votes no matter what, but I came around when they started laying and now I’m bummed we didn’t get them sooner to enjoy more eggs and hilarity. Our new neighborhood isn’t zoned for chickens, but I’m very interested in getting another coop next time we move!

So, for people thinking about chickens, here are a few things we’ll consider next time..
The Coop: 
Aaron built our coop and we were really happy with the A-frame on stilts that could be moved around the yard.  I would probably think about adding wheels to a future coop for easier moving. This was almost  too heavy to move around. It can be done, but if it couldn’t be made lighter, I think at least one set of wheels would be easier.

DSC05796I don’t think our yard was quite big enough for a coop of this size because the chickens’ scratching and eating in the pen was rough on our grass, even when we moved it every day. We had a particularly dry summer and we were very concerned about keeping the grass up in case we had to sell the house, so it might have been fine in a different year. We will do more research about the best ratios of coop-to-yard size next time. We weren’t fenced in, so full free-ranging wasn’t ever an option, but that would have lessened the “patchy” impact, too.

The Chickens:
This is probably an issue no one else will have, but Aaron is particularly nerdy and an obsessive perfectionist about these things, so we went through several breeds of chicks. In future years, we’d just try one or two new kinds every other year and live with the fact that there might  be a breed out there that would eat a little less and produce a little more. We tried Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and a California Grey hybrid, eventually landing with two Rhodies and two Californias for our flock. I think we’ll start with the California Greys next time (even though I like brown eggs better) and branch out from there.
DSC05559Who Should Get Chickens: 
Everyone. They are amazing. Okay… you should make sure you’re zoned for them, and petition your township/city to rezone or give you permission if you’re not!  Even though it worked out for us, I would NOT recommend spending this much money or getting animals if your roommates or spouse aren’t on board. And while they are lots of fun, I don’t think we saved any money on eggs, because the cost of their food alone was just about what we would have spent on eggs anyway. The extra benefits were huge for us — it made composting easier and more fun, the eggs were delicious and easily shared with friends, everyone’s kids wanted to come over and see the chickies, and it was fun to have a non-house project to work on together. I think chickens would be a great “pet” for kids, because they don’t require as much upkeep as a puppy or kitten, and they lay eggs instead of… something else. And it could be a great first business for your kid, because all your neighbors would pay top dollar if your adorable child went door-to-door selling eggs from “Li’l Johnny’s Chicken Emporium.” (We are already planning as much for our family and I might have already worked on a possible company name and logo.)

What We Learned:
-Don’t invest in livestock without talking to your spouse and having full agreement.
-Know when to let it go (for me, this meant having chickens) and when to stand firm (but still making him do all the work).
-Chickens were much more fun than I expected.
-We absolutely want to have them again.
-For us and where we were at, chickens were a sorry placeholder for the puppy we really wanted. So now we have Max, and I’m really excited that someday we will have dogs and chickens!  (I’m also starting to think about bees, if we have more room someday…)
-Most importantly, we experienced a lot of God’s tender care at the end of our time with these chickens in passing them on to some little girls who were VERY EXCITED to be getting pets, and these memories are filled with with great reminders of God’s love and provision for us in all circumstances.

chicken Collage

 

Lord, who made the lion and the lamb,
You decreed I should be what I am.
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan,
If I were a wealthy man?

–“If I were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof.

Coon Ranch: Kitchen

It’s a little bit crazy to admit this, but one of the big sacrifices in moving to Minnesota was a bit of a vow of poverty. The income scenario is fine, but it’s not what we had been dreaming about for the past five years while Aaron was in grad school. When we were deciding to accept this job, we made peace with continuing a very frugal lifestyle with a few “non-negotiable” life upgrades: smart phones (and thanks to Ting, our bill is smaller than it was before so it’s not even a sacrifice), a guest room, and a doggie. My piano studio growth is going slooooower than we have hoped and I’m essentially a stay-home-dog-owner right now, so we’re on the path to some much-needed home improvements that are entirely free. We’ve always tried to be cautious and wise about spending on our house, but since we have tools and actual DIY stuff leftover from our last house, a $0 budget is a possibility in ways it wasn’t when we started out with the Iowa house.

There is often a lot of freedom in limitations — and our big limitation of using resources already on hand is working well so far. We’re calling this our time of Domestic MacGyvering. Just like that old TV show, we’re in a situation that threatens our sanity and survival, and we can only work with what we’ve got.

First off, we started with the kitchen. I moved here from a kitchen fit for queenly entertaining, remodeled to my exact specifications. While I would change just a few things about the designs if I were doing it over, it worked well and majorly spoiled us. Our house had charm and lots of impressive details. We were a little obsessed with it and called it lots of pretentious names in private. (Usually “Riverwood Heights Estate” or something like that.) In contrast, we now have a boring 1960 Ranch that has the same floor plan as half the neighborhood. It’s exactly what we needed, but it’s nothing special as far as houses go. The kitchen in the Coon Ranch is not as spacious and has ugly cracked tile floors that we are probably not replacing. However, the situation here was perfect for implementing one of the big lessons we learned in the first house: lighting is everything. As you can see, the lighting situation in the new kitchen was an awful mess of not-even-done-right-suspended-flourescent-lights, and those ceiling lights usually aren’t a great choice in the first place anyway. It drove Aaron crazy enough that he broke his no-project vow (made while prepping the old house for sale and shopping for a new one) after 2 months of living here. New lighting made all the difference in the old kitchen, and we had high hopes for a similar effect here.

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We talked about painting the wood frame white and replacing the plastic with new, crisper inserts. But as soon as Aaron pulled out the yellowing panels and saw there was an actual finished ceiling behind the ugly frame, we had reached the point of no return.
Our MacGyvering came to the rescue because we had some leftover track lights in the garage. They are the same finish as the handles on the cabinet pulls and other light fixtures in the house. Several years ago, we overbought off a clearance sale when Lowes discontinued our favorite track lights, with plans to put more up in the living room. Though it drove me nuts, we never got around to installing them, and efforts to recoup any of the original cost by selling them before moving were entirely unfruitful. We brought them up with us “just in case.”

Good thing!

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With a little spackling, texturing, and priming (all leftover materials), and painting touch ups with the buckets labeled in the basement, it feels like a new kitchen! My mom and I made the window valance with a $1 dowel rod, recycled coffee cup hooks, and a pretty cloth napkin I originally bought on a Target clearance and now sacrificed for the cause.

We still need to paint the rest of the ceiling, where a crisp white is going to make a huge difference. We’re also lacking a light fixture for above the sink, and I think MacGyver might have to go to Menards with some pocket change to get out of that particular pickle. Though I already have my permanent dishwasher, countertop, backsplash, and faucet upgrades in mind, I’m entirely over the moon with how much more awesome it feels in here now. And without a working dishwasher? That’s really saying a lot.

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(And I wish everyone a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! Did you know it’s one of my favorite holidays? Read more about Patrick as a true hero of the gospel so you can honor his legacy of faith and obedience today while you enjoy corned beef brisket!)

reading round-up (11/08/13)

Well — life has been exciting around here lately. There is a new home for us with a very exciting story coming. There is also the tiny detail of, oh, having a Doctor around all the time now, which is relieving and exciting  after  five-and-a-half years of slaving.
For some reads to tide you over until I can think coherently enough to finish other posts  soon…

Many of my friends blog and I just can’t get over how awesome it is to read something that makes me think, “I wish I knew them!”  when I actually do know the person. Reading this post on housekeeping from my friend Bethany provided one of those moments this week.

“Whether you are home during the day or not, we are all home-makers. …Adults do chores. End of story.” 

Amen. If you need me, I’ll be Pledge-ing in my kitchen.

I had some Bad Experiences with theological debate in high school and sometimes shy away from talking about theology because I don’t feel like it’s worth stirring controversy, but I was so excited reading this post describing how the Cross is not the whole sum of the Gospel. It was like reading a secret journal entry I haven’t writen yet. (It made me think of this clip from The Office.)  Back on topic – the fact that scripture starts off with “There was evening and then there was morning,” and takes us all the way to “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” leads me to believe that God points us not just to the cross, but to a different (though very closely related) event as the crescendo of salvation and history.  The salvation story doesn’t end at the cross, and we shouldn’t talk about the gospel as though it did.  The crucifixion and Good Friday are only “good” through the lens of Easter Sunday. Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead!

You can count me a huge fan of Wendy Alsup’s blog, and I really appreciated her post about growing hard-hearted in suffering. I have often said (complained) to my husband that this a very poor season to be wrestling with fresh grief again. Not that true grief ever really goes away, but a fresh heap put on top seems excessive, and this encouragement is timely.

On that note, I loved this description of grief as an air horn.

Finishing out as we started, with talk of homemaking, preparing for a new house means digging around for some extra decor/DIY inspiration. I’ve been enjoying a few ideas from Liz Marie, Remodelaholic, and some Apartment Therapy home tours like this one with cool built-in storage (be warned – sketchy items in their “decor”).

The Bathing Suite

I’ve been dreaming about a bathroom remodel for a while. For a little over four years, to be honest. I describe the original bathroom as an example of everything that was wrong with bathrooms in the 1950’s on a jumbo scale. We wanted to get this done last winter, but quickly discovered it was impossible to think about projects while I was teaching six academic classes and thirty-three piano lessons every week.  So it sat all alone and ugly for a while longer than we wanted, and spring break turned into a bathroom disaster when our one working shower’s tile walls started coming off in sheets. This conveniently occurred just before hosting six adults and a toddler for a weekend in our two-bed one-bath home. A sheet of orange plastic protected the bare plaster in the stall from getting entirely soaked when we showered.

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The plastic sheet stayed there for three-and-a-half months. Shameful.

My birthday weekend included some help from my dad with our new tub/shower combo tiling situation.
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Then eventually, piano recitals came, and classes ended, and it was summer. And it was time to buckle down on this debacle. (Yes, this doesn’t look any better, but it’s always darkest just before dawn.) DSC05381

After a difficult season that included blood, sweat, tears, Aaron declaring he doesn’t know if he can remodel anything again ever, and another visit from my parents (we are terrible slave drivers), we no longer have a plain old bathroom. No, we have a Bathing Suite.

Suite 1

The bathtub is now also a shower with tiled walls, with no further awkward questions about the efficacy of bathing in a dark, slimy stall.suite 4

 

The brown fake tile from the walls was ripped off, and because I was not ambitious enough to get the plaster underneath smooth enough to paint, I hung beadboard-imitation-paintable-wallpaper on the bottom half of the wall. In retrospect, I’m not convinced this was the best course of action. I bought it before we made some other final decisions that might have pushed me towards actual bead-board paneling, but it’s done and it’s fine.

Suite 5

We have a spacious and effective linen closet in place of that old shower, a slim vanity, and amazing flooring. I love this floor so much I would sleep on it. (I suppose that’s not something I should actually say, because I usually sleep in the bathroom if I’m really sick and I don’t want that to happen.)
Suite 3

We saved most of the original towel bars, and I’m really happy with how they fit in with everything else.

Suite 2Clearly, we are bathing in absolute luxury now! I still can’t believe it’s done after years of hoping…