Friday, December 2, 2016

Slowly, but surely

From my understanding, it can be a lot more complicated to renovate a home than to build an entirely new one.  You never know what to expect in an old home and sometimes it's easier to start from scratch than to modify something that already exists.  Add to that, all the permits and additional structural evaluations and inspections...and well, you get a slow process.  

We feel so fortunate that we are getting a renovated older home, but we are not in charge of navigating the logistics of any of it.  Community Housing Partners takes care of all of that, as a part of the affordable housing program we are participating in.  We still get to have some input and we'll get to help with choosing finishes, but the important work is handled by professionals (you know, the parts that have a lot more to do with making sure the building is safe and all the proper things are supported and/or up-to-date).  Our new home needs such extensive renovations to convert it into a single family home, that I wouldn't have the slightest idea of where to start!

It has been a quiet several weeks over at the new house.  We were caught up in a whirlwind of illnesses and trying to catch up on work that was put of as a result of said illnesses.  It was probably for the best that nothing was happening - we really didn't have the time or energy to put in any work hours at the house.  

However, this week, a major point of progress took place!  The steel beam went up in the main living area!  This beam was needed to replace the load bearing wall that once confined the kitchen.  It is set into the rafters, so once the ceiling drywall is repaired, you will not be able to see it.  It went in on Tuesday/Wednesday and the remaining kitchen walls came out!  Woohoo!  The main living area is entirely opened up now!

In the basement, towards the front of the home, the floor joists had to be removed to properly enclose the crawlspace underneath.  It is possible that this area will end up having a concrete slab beneath it instead of encapsulated crawl space.  We have not heard from our agent/contractor which method they decided to use.  Either way, the moisture issues under this part of the home will be resolved and some of the walls will be re-positioned.  This shows the wall dividing Tochterchen's room and the hallway.  It's not easy at age six to imagine your very own room when it has no walls, floors, or ceilings.  But thankfully, our ever optimistic little lady is excited none-the-less!  

We should learn more next week about where things are with all the work permits, which will allow things to start moving forward for real.  I'm under the impression that all the plans are decided, we are just in the sometimes lengthy and messy process of securing all the needed work permits before work can begin.  

It's a good thing I love a good project!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's That Time Again...

Time is flying past, much faster than I would like most days.  It's strange how slow it passes when we are children and how quick it becomes once we have children of our own.  This past year is no exception - didn't we just finish putting away last year's holiday decorations?  I'm almost certain the summer went by in the blink of an eye!  And here we are again, with the next Christmas season upon us.  

This year marks the fifth year of our Advent bag tradition.  The kids expect it now (in a joyous way) and I enjoy planning activities for us to do together.  I have left a lot of the art projects out now that they are both in school (SO many beautiful pieces of artwork created there!) and create so much art on their own (seriously, our hallways is covered in art projects, all in various stages of completion).  I'm partially doing this because I tend to set myself up for failure in this department.  I never make it through that many pre-planned art projects in one month.  I tried to make this year's activities more about doing things together and being together.  Most of the creating activities are to prepare gifts for friends and family.

And so, without further ado, here is this year's list of Advent activities:

1 - Make cranberry and orange garlands for the tree.

2 - Visit the town Christmas parade.

3 - Make a gingerbread house.  We have tried to make these from scratch and it has never worked for us.  This year my mother-in-law picked one up for us at Micheal's when they were 75% off.  Cheaper, easier, and hopefully less tears for all involved.

4 - Make St. Nicholas cookies.  Planning ahead here and making the gingerbread cookies for St. Nicholas's day on the weekend, when we have more time at home.  We usually make a few large cookies in the shape of St. Nicholas himself and then a variety of other gingerbread cutouts.

5 - Hot chocolate with extra marshmallows and a Christmas movie.

6 - Celebrate St. Nicholas's Day!  We write letters to St. Nic, read all of our St. Nic books, leave out carrots for his horse and cookies for him, and leave out our shoes for him to fill.  During the night, he will come and leave a small gift in each child's shoes and a return letter, reminding them to share their light and love to all throughout the season. 

7 - Make cinnamon applesauce ornaments.  It's a pretty simple recipe - mix loads of cinnamon with a little applesauce until a workable dough forms.  Add a little Elmer's glue to help it hold.  Cut out shapes and bake at a low temperature (maybe 250?) for two hours.  We use some on the tree and the rest to make a mobile for each kid in their room.  The smell of these ornaments while baking is HEAVENLY.

8 - Make grandparent gifts.  Sorry, it's a secret!  

9 - Make a snowman shaped pizza and watch a family movie!  I'm hoping to find the original cartoon version of The Grinch.

10 - Cookie baking day!  We are planning to give teachers and friends cookies as gifts this year, seeing as they are a meaningful, but affordable gift.  I'm keeping this day completely clear on our calendar to allow us the full day for baking.  The plan is to make two or three types of press cookies, sugar cookies, and possibly some fudge.

11 - Visit the live Nativity.

12 - Make Christmas popsicle stick puppets.  My kids love making stick puppets.  For a while we had them all over the apartment.  We have all the needed supplies - large popsicle sticks, paper, markers, sequins, buttons, maybe even googly eyes, etc.  I have a few ideas to show them to get them started, but I think they will take this one and run with it.  We may turn some into gift tags or ornaments.

13 - Tochterchen's choice.  Tochterchen asked for a day where she can come up with her own Christmas craft.  She's quite the creative little one and loves leading artistic endeavors.  I'm excited to see what she come up with.  She will make a great teacher one day if she keeps this passion.

14 - Make gingerbread pancakes for breakfast!

15 - Drive around town to see the lights!  We usually make a mug of mac and cheese for the kids to eat as dinner while we spend the evening driving around viewing lights.  The kids always say this is their favorite activity.

16 - Make Christmas soaps.  We've done this for at least four years now.  I don't actually know how to make soap, but I purchase organic melt and pour soap and essential oils.  The kids help chop the block of soap into smaller pieces, we melt it over medium heat, and add our desired scents.  Sometimes we add dried rosemary or lavender, but sometimes we don't because the herbs tend to settle at the top only.  We pour the melted soap into (Christmas) jello molds I found at the thrift store.  This activity is another of our top favorites.

17 - Family fun day!  The hope is to take the kids ice skating in Roanoke (first time skating for both!) and then go to a hockey game.  We'll have to see if the weather cooperates and I'm still trying to find coupons to help lower the ticket cost.  When I tried to purchase online the added fees were outrageous - over $5 in fees for $11 and $8.50 tickets?  Ugh.

18 - Make Christmas candles.  Last year for Christmas Tochterchen gave me the supplies for making candles together.  We still have a ton of wax and scents, so I think we are going to use these as gifts for others also!

19 - Make salt dough mittens.  This is a day I'm baby-sitting, so this could easily all fall through.  But if I can pull it off, I thought this would be a cute project to do with the other kids also.  Besides, there HAS to be a handprint activity every year.  Moms love to look back on how small their little hands once were.  I almost teared up seeing Tochterchen's itty bitty two year old handprint ornament going up on the tree.  How was she ever that small?  She's now the same height as her brother - a whooping 50" and has bigger feet than him! 

20 - Make pinecone birdfeeders.  Another favorite around here.  Cover pinecones in peanut butter and roll them in birdseed.  Attach a string and hang them from the trees.  The kids love to share the Christmas spirit with our backyard wildlife also.

21 - Family fun day!  No one else in the house knows it (shhh!) but I purchased two hours of bowling and a pizza on Groupon.  I think we'll make it an afternoon activity, rather than evening, but who knows.

22 - Hot chocolate and a Christmas movie.  Looking for a good Christmas movie for the whole family - any suggestions?

23 - Make s'mores in the fireplace with Mimi and Papa!

24 - Open one (pre-selected) early gift.  We bought a new family game for the kids and I thought we could enjoy a little family game time before on this day. 


This is the first year Mannchen can read the tags in each bag, so I guess I have added accountability.  In the past, when the day has gotten away from us, I just make up something easy (hot chocolate!  movie!) and let go of the plan.  I have all the busy crafting days carefully planned around babysitting and other activities.  It's all written in my planner and supplies have been pre-purchased!  It will be interesting to see how it goes this year!  

Blessings to all for a joyous Advent and Christmas season!  Do you have any Advent traditions or plans for this year?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Walk in the Woods

Thankfully, the kids have semi-regular early release days.  All too often I don't take advantage of the extra hours to our afternoon.  However, for the past two early releases, I have been trying to make the most of our time.  This week we spent the afternoon hiking on a familiar trail near my parents' house.  

There is an abandoned coal mine just off the trail.  Along the trail you can see lots coal - small pea size "gravel", small chunks, and in the hill side you can even see large pieces of coal.  I loved how the roots of a tree grew over this large piece.

October is definitely over in this area of Virginia.  Most of the trees have lost all their leaves and I'm hoping that the frosty mornings are here to stay.  

Jumping for joy over long afternoons together.  Can every day be an early release day?  Please?

My kids have never liked to move quickly.  Walking and hiking with them when they were little was painfully slow.  Now that they are older, overall hikes move much quicker, but hiking can still be slow moving.  I try so hard to be mindful of how important it is for them to have the time to take in the details of the world.  Our hike was by no means a long one in mileage, but we were out in the woods for about three hours.  We went way off the beaten path to explore and we took the long way to the abandoned mine.  I think they spent 45 minutes playing on and around this makeshift bridge.  They cleared a lot of leaves that had collected in the area and played with the simple innocence of childhood.  I have to bite my tongue in moments like this - I'm always a bit eager to move on to next thing.  Continually, my children remind me life is not lived in the results.  Life is lived in the process.  Slow down.  Don't rush.  Just be.