There’s not as much goin’ on in my head as I really think there should be, and I’ve been reminded multiple times in the past few days that “pregnancy brain fog is a real thing.” I’m not sure if I can blame my mental fog on the baby as much as the fact that I’m conscious of my caffeine intake, and everything I’d consume gives me heartburn anyway. Additionally, Aaron is working long, long, long hours. Maybe 4 extra per day MORE than we had been hoping for. Thus, speaking mostly to a dog all day is not particularly mentally stimulating for me. We’re desperately hoping this is not permanent, as three straight years of this (with a city commute before reaching the wife, baby, and doggie at home!) is not generally the way to create a satisfactory life for anyone involved. My brain feels a lot more worn out than usual, and I can’t even blame something like a busy college semester for this sad fact. So, Aaron’s frustrated by the excessive demands of his job, I’m frustrated by my lack of a job, and we’re both unreasonably jealous of the other person. Everything’s a little hazy here.

In this foggy state, “The Lesson of the Chickens” still holds true: when you’re pressed on every side, you probably need to do something that restores and enriches you even though you definitely don’t have time for it. (If you did have time, you would already be doing it and then you wouldn’t be under so much pressure in the first place.) This means right now the kitchen looks like a grow house for the vegetable garden we were “certainly not” going to plant this summer, I’m priming the trim even though that time would be “better spent” job hunting or piano recruiting, and I’m doing some cute (but not necessary) baby/house crafting.

image (19) image (15)

That being said, the house and yard still feel foggy in many ways. Nothing is really “done,” so I’m trying to focus on finishing the little projects we’re juggling (mostly painting some furniture and getting pictures up) to power me through for the bigger ones, like painting the trim and ceilings. This also makes me feel funny about showing pictures since everything is absolutely in progress! Also, it’s getting a lot easier to have a young dog, but pulling out some of our old stuff and keeping the stuff we do have looking nice seems a little pointless with Max at the large puppy stage. (Especially if the baby is 2 when we sell this house, I will have a puppy or a toddler the entire time we live here… is it worth unpacking those awesome ceramic blue candle holders I used all my 24th birthday money on? Big questions in life right now, I tell you.)

image (16)

(Here’s hoping some white paint will make drastic improvements for our terrible trim and foggy, frustrated outlook on life!)

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” – Samwise, in Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. 

{contentment} morning has broken

{pretty} Spring Wreath, on my door at last!

I’ve discussed “favorite seasons” with several people lately. I usually say Fall is my favorite, but that I love special things about each one, too. I love the turning leaves, hot tea with sweaters, bonfires; and plaid flannel; then I love the fat, fluffy snowflakes in winter, with peppermint cocoa and warm blankets on the couch; when the crocus begin popping up, I love the warmer breezes, the tree buds, the way the whole earth is a manifold witness to the Easter story; and then summer comes, when I love the strong green stalks for juicy home-grown tomatoes, swimming outside, and glasses of ice water that leave rings of condensation all over the patio table.

We’ve reached that beautiful part of the year where the snow is melting here -not quite to the quintessential spring state- but I do not even care any more. This week, with these 50, 60, 70 degree temperatures, with gray ice stacks leftover in shady neighborhood yards, with brown yards and bare trees, with muddy puppy prints all over my house? This week is easily my favorite season this year!


I walk Max every day after breakfast and while he trots along, I hum my favorite spring hymn:

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning!
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word!

…Praise with elation, praise every morning,
Praise for creation of the new day!”
-Morning Has Broken, text by Eleanor Farjeon.

Spring brings bunnies. Or, in Max’s case: Bunny legs. Ew. He tried to drag a poor rabbit’s hind quarter into the house and I called Aaron in a panic, one of those distressed “YOUR DOG is …!” sort of discussions. When I got Max to come in without his bunny leg, he sat at the door and cried for it. As if I care.


We had the come-to-Jesus moment about furniture in the new house. With current and projected future budgets in our extended vow of intense frugality, a doggie and a little one on the way… Couch discussions had to be, well, couched for a long time. I have really been looking forward to getting a new living room couch sometime. My night time dreams have included shopping at furniture stores. We have looked at shapes and swatches, talking about them and getting excited for how cool it would be to have something we really like. We called these white floral couches “The Grad School Beasts,” and sometimes I tease Aaron by telling him, “today I am pretending this is a nubby gray sectional.”

Last night, my parents arrived for a birthday visit with a few more free hand-me-downs — an unmerited blessing all it’s own. We settled on keeping the grad school beasts, much worse for the wear after surviving the intense puppy stage from which we are now emerging, in the living room without making big plans to get new ones soon, since my meager domestic bliss-and-beauty fund has a LOT to accomplish elsewhere in the house. and I announced: “I am choosing to be really, really, really happy about this furniture!” Maybe it will turn into happiness if I keep saying that? This is real life at the Hummel’s!


Don’t you think capturing the beauty of real life is important? I love seeing “the context of contentment” at Like Mother Like Daughter every week, so I thought I’d share mine today. Happy Spring!

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.


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!


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.


(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!)

restoring souls

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.”

For as difficult as moving and settling in a new place is, I’m starting to feel like we’re getting our systems down  Maybe just because I’ve been so frank with friends and family about some of these challenges, they are starting to seem less daunting. The life we’re building here will be different than the one in Iowa, and that’s okay. I have been seeing a new doctor and I like him. Max’s first vet appointment was yesterday. I can get to the dog park on the edge of town without using a GPS, and I even accurately navigated myself home from downtown St. Paul when my phone battery died last week. (Still no luck finding my favorite Chebe Pizza Crust. It must be out here somewhere.)

We’ve had some positive experiences with church hunting, but we had another crazy week that spurned lots of conversations about a bad sermon. We almost left 10 minutes into the service but decided to stick it out because it was so cold that we didn’t want to have to go right back to the car after we had parked so far away. The main gist of the message was that God wants you to have a full emotional tank, which you can’t have if you are stressed out, and that the 23rd Psalm gives you license to back out of anything you aren’t enjoying. You know, because God wants you to have a restored soul. I sat there thinking about what the last six months had brought us (huge family commitments all summer, losing another babydeciding to moveselling our houseclosing a business, moving to an unfamiliar town in a new state, buying a house, etc.), about some of the big things going on this month (Aaron’s commute and new job, setting up the new house, establishing a business when I don’t know anyone, no disposable income until I’m working, puppy, a little extended sickness, no friends yet, unending polar vortex, insurance/registration/licenses/paperwork, etc.), and all of unknowns in the next six months. You know what? I get a little overwhelmed just thinking about it all to write it down. But I don’t, for a minute, question that we might not be doing the right things.

And maybe the sermon came out wrong or I didn’t grasp what the guy was saying, but I think it totally missed the mark. While “stressful living” is not a competition and you shouldn’t seek it out, it is okay to be under lots of pressure. It is okay to be really stressed out. It does not necessarily mean you’re disobeying God or that you need to change something about your life. Sometimes being “stressed” happens because you are overly anxious or irresponsible… but sometimes it’s just the modern vernacular for acknowledging life is risky, which is always true even though it’s obvious at some times more than others. It hasn’t stopped feeling very risky for us in the past few months, and it will probably continue for a bit. (I took one of those online “stress tests” and determined that Aaron and I are both at a very high risk for developing all sorts of illnesses and maladies within the next year.)

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”

If we’re walking in obedience, and I do think we are, then this life right now and every difficulty or blessing that comes with it is our path of righteousness. Even when so much right now feels rough and pretty scary — though I certainly wouldn’t call it valley-of-the-shadow-of-death — the solution is not using pleasure to cover up difficulty. (What does Ecclesiastes say? “‘I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity.”) Instead we have to take comfort in what God is doing, in his presence, in his rod and staff — you know, the things used to beat dumb sheep into getting where they need to go — and in the promises of our future feasting and home.

So, yes, it’s important to make sure we pursue restoration and enjoy life in the hustle right now. For us, this means we need to find good people to be friends with, we need our funny TV shows, and we need to delight in the ruckus that is Max. He won’t be a puppy forever – which is good and bad news, I tell you. We have both already had weekend trips to visit friends, and we’re looking forward to receiving visitors here soon, too. But those things don’t really solve the problem. Instead, stressful times just reveal how broken we are and how deeply we need restoration all the time. Stress has not created this need. When life is more settled, it’s easier to let everyday routines cover that up. Stress also doesn’t get to become the defining factor in our lives, even in seasons permeated by risk and difficulty.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23.

Would you believe that there may actually be some green pasture-like grasses underneath all these little drops of still, frozen water outside my front door? There is goodness and mercy in all this — even if it is obscured by the fact that the snow is almost as high as the mailbox.


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”).

reading round-up (10.11.13)

It’s been a very busy week for us, with listing our house for sale and taking a weekend trip — more updates on those things will certainly come! For now, a few reads from this week…

My Bible study group is going through Matthew’s Gospel this year, and I was struck by the passage about worry and food in relation to the articles I posted about the GMO crop debate last week. I appreciated a post about people who can’t afford “organic food,” with the caveat that I don’t even think the idea of organic is as admirable as the author. Plenty of things considered “organic” fertilizer/herbicide can be harmful for our bodies, too, and frankly, after living in a 3rd-world country as a child, obsession with this just seems like affluent narcissism. My motto? Eat delicious food that comes out of the ground before you eat food that comes out of a box when possible, and in the words of Jesus…

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food?….Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  – Matthew 6:25-27

In preparation for listing the house, the past few weeks have included significant clutter purges and more deep-cleaning than I have done in the entire first four years we lived in the house. My favorite blog for encouragement on this topic is Small Notebook, and I owe a significant debt to whoever figured out Pledge furniture polish works better on Stainless Steel appliances and sinks than specialty cleaners. It really works, and I’m a fan. Most surfaces in our house are wood or stainless steel, so I’m like the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding who loves Windex, only with a spray bottle of lemon-scented oily wonder.
windex(This is probably the first and only time anyone will get cleaning tips from me.)

Sickie Blogging – Happy Fall!

Nothing inspires a thought such as, “Oh, I guess I could update my blog after a month to reassure people I’m not dead,” like being in bed with a nasty fall bug and a series of exhausting half-finished projects taunting me while I am home ill.

What has life been like in the past weeks? Busy. We remodeled the bathroom entirely. Our family had another wedding in Michigan, making it my fourth trip back-and-forth across the midwest this summer.

Aaron is feverishly working on his dissertation. My piano studio is keeping me so busy that I have a waiting list of students who would want to take lessons if I had a slot available. We have been working very hard for years, and these successes are marvelous gifts. In a way, this feels like we are getting that second burst of energy at the end of a race, as though the light at the end of a tunnel is blindingly bright.  We’re also doing some re-dreaming about the next phase of our life after he graduates, and discerning how to walk best with our desire for a family, our location, and our vocations. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to look like we had planned, but God has been very gracious to close and open doors in a way that takes some of the agony out of making these big decisions. A saving grace in some of these hectic days is that we have sold a significant amount of our stuff online, which streamlines some parts of life while we’re settling into a Fall that’s turning into a whole new kind of adventure.


Autumn is my favorite season, bringing the delights of soups, sweaters, candles, plaid, roasted acorn squash, hot wassail, and bonfires to accompany the witness of nature: God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of ending and loss. I’m really thankful that is true.

at capacity

Several months ago, I realized anyone who compared the things I claim to value to the things my calendar claimed I valued would think I was crazy. I probably was. It definitely felt like it. So I had to do some cutting back, getting rid of good things that I wanted to do, and the only rationalization was that they were (innocently) choking the life out of the things that were necessary. This was the hardest and wisest thing I have done yet this year, and I’ve seen much good come out of it. (I found this post on marriage encouraging during the process of schedule-culling.)

saturday am

One of the things that I was a little embarrassed to protect in the revised Spring schedule was times like this one. I really need some time for hot coffee and morning reading built into my weekend schedule. Nothing else works if I don’t get this in before the weekly grind spills over into the rest of my weekend. Really, there is no good reason for a Christian to feel bad about putting non-negotiable boundaries around their practice of a sabbath rest, but these things always make more sense when you look at it in retrospect.

I started this morning feeling disappointed, used up, exhausted, uncertain, and fully inadequate for the tasks ahead of me, nagged by the thought that this shouldn’t be happening because I have all the skills necessary to tackle my responsibilities. My relationship with Oswald Chambers ebbs and flows, but I find myself invariably turning back to this old copy of My Utmost for His Highest when I am frustrated or wanting something that isn’t happening. I read it every day the year Aaron was in Iraq and it feels comforting to revisit the graces that sustained me then.

saturday am promises

“We must not measure our spiritual capacity by education or by intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured by the promises of God. …When it is a question of God’s Almighty Spirit, never say “I can’t.” …Never forget that our capacity in spiritual matters is measured by the promises of God. Is God able to fulfill His promises?” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 20.

The other thing at capacity in our lives? Our chicken ownership. We had just the right amount for our coop, but Aaron succumbed to the cuteness of baby chicks and brought a few more home. He came up from the garage mid-day last week when I had a break in piano lessons and said something like, “I just want you to think about how much you love me… and how much you love things that are little and soft before you go down to the laundry room.”

sunny chick

Surprise! Though the timing was close, I’m not letting him pass this off as a birthday present. And unfortunately, this isn’t an exotic colored breed; that purple mark is just from a Farmer’s marker.

It’s hard to get or stay mad at someone who brought you home some baby chicks. It seems that Space Dad is becoming a total softie. And if you don’t hear from us for a while, please check in and make sure we’re not accidentally becoming chicken farmers.

“You are a housewife.”

A few years ago, I used a precious vacation day from a job that I hated and braved 9 hours of driving in winter weather to visit my friend E, who was temporarily staying in someone else’s home. Due to some extenuating circumstances and another person’s irresponsibility, she had been abandoned and misplaced, and because that situation was out of our control, we went to work doing what we could: making the best of her makeshift location. Seizing the day (and night, until 3:00 am), we sewed curtains, upholstered the seat of an old dining room chair for her desk, coordinated her files, and sent more than half her clothes to a thrift store so she could survive with minimal closet space. I look back on that weekend as some of the most purpose-filled times of my life. One of my dearest friends experienced unfairness and betrayal on a level I could barely fathom, and I got to coach her into making that little room a bit more of a refuge from the very real hardships I couldn’t take away.

As the weekend came to a close, I dreaded the thought of returning. Starting that Monday, some personnel changes meant my job would go from very difficult to I-don’t-know-how-I’m-going-to-make-it-difficult. So with that impending doom in mind, it was most crazy to me when one of E’s friends asked me how I liked being a housewife. Seriously? I am gone 10 hours a day, plus every other Saturday, to work at mind-numbing tasks in an office devoid of any kindness whatsoever. I mumbled something about how I was far from a homemaker, and this woman exclaimed, “Abby, you live somewhere and are married. That’s all you need. You are a housewife! Everyone is a homemaker; some people just juggle a little more than others. What is domestic is primary and everything else supports that.” It was the encouragement I needed to actually get in the car and come back instead of hiding away with E forever, which I definitely thought about doing on multiple occasions.

Now that I’m basically thrilled to death with my job(s), it’s easy to lose sight of how homemaking fits into life. But those piano lessons and co-op classes exist for a dual purpose: to enrich the lives of students and  support my home. I know that when I focus more on the home-supporting, which does happen with some students, I become a crummy teacher. And sometimes I focus on student-enriching to the detriment of my own home, when I bend rules on lesson times or handle stressful parental interactions during my off-hours. So with that in mind, I am thankful for this “Spring Break” and the chance to devote some extra time to this housewife endeavor, which is going to be an ongoing project for my whole life independent of any income-earning or child rearing that might also be part of my vocation.

Don’t think for a moment that this housewife business is really about decorating or crafts, or home ownership or marriage or even being a woman. Plenty of great people don’t or can’t fit into those roles. And homemaking is not something that happens as a “lesser” career, or in subordination to a job. Instead, I think making a home is about cultivating your surroundings to act as a mini-church. It is in the home that we fellowship and eat, our sins are laid bare, we forgive and reconcile, we live out our daily acts of worship, and in the best cases it is where we are most comfortable being the people God created us to be. For Christians, this is exactly how we can begin with the end in mind. And so gospel-centered homemaking is, as C.S. Lewis says, casting a shadow of the Christian’s future heavenly home:

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)

kitchen reminders

As my “Spring Break” kicks off (no classes! no piano lessons! no Bible study!), I’m faced with a pretty daunting list of things to accomplish around the house. Taxes, business paperwork and billing, dry-cleaning, kitchen trimmings and a full “Spring Cleaning” check list mean that my break is just a change in the type  of work I’m doing, not a break from work. I’m looking forward to accomplishing some projects that have been bugging me for a while, but right now I’m especially grateful for these words of wisdom scattering the kitchen. I think sometimes I leave these things out because I know that my future self will need the reminder.

kitchen reminders

Praise to the Lord! Who doth prosper they work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.
— Praise to The Lord, words by Joachim  Neander, 1863.

We delight in the law of your word
We delight in the Son who was perfect from birth
We delight in the day He’s returning to earth, 
— We Delight, by Joshua Moore.