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Sunday, February 28, 2016

life giving

The cursor blinks in the top corner of this blank screen taunting me like the dripping of water, like the ticking of a clock that mocks me with each second spent since seconds are hard to come by these days.  And when a second does come, I'm paralyzed by indecision.  Do I clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, swap out kids clothes for new sizes for the millionth time, paint that window trim, organize our bathroom closet, read a book, rest, write?  Whatever I do seems the wrong thing.  If I rest, I'm kicking myself for not being productive.  If I try to be productive, I'm kicking myself for not fueling my soul.

These seconds came because my husband took the kids out of the house for a few hours.  He knew that if he didn't, he would have a mess of a wife for the next week.   I'm an introvert, and I desperately need alone time to recharge, and quite simply to be a functioning human being who isn't a basket case day in and day out.

We have a 6 year old, 3 year old, and 4 month old (at the time of this writing).   I don't sail into motherhood gracefully.  Rather, I crash land with each new birth.  I used to beat myself up about this, but now I just accept it.  I know that I will go to dark places, that I will take more time than most to bond with my kids, that I need time to myself away from my kids, even that brand new baby.

On the whole, our life is beautiful.  Three amazing kids, a home of our very own, great community of friends and family.   But I have often felt like I'm drowning, like someone is standing over me, holding me down with a hand on top of my head as I thrash and flail against them.  I have felt so defeated as the house is messy again, my son screams in my face, my daughter runs to her room and slams the door, the baby has trouble nursing, there's dinner to cook again and clean up again, diapers to change, lunches to make, toilets to scrub, parenting books to read.  What is urgent overshadowing what is important.

Yes, this is holy work, this raising of tiny humans, but I don't know how to balance the monotony with the chaos of this task.  I don't want this mundane hand on the top of my head.  I haven't learned yet to find beauty in the simple rhythms or to understand that sometimes it's these ordinary moments that make life extraordinary.  I'm working on it.

And so, I seek.  I write.  I make a list of what brings me joy...what is life-giving to me:

And I write down what is life-sucking:

And then I stared at them...hard...and what should have been blatantly obvious suddenly became so.  Almost EVERYTHING I'm doing, the things that make up most of my days, are on the life-sucking list. Hardly anything I'm doing is on the life-giving list.  Somewhere along the way, I got lost in my own life.

I normally pride myself in my strength and being able to handle any challenge, but sometimes that self-sufficiency becomes a crutch not that holds me up, but that slows me down and makes me limp.  I'm learning to ask for help and to say specifically what I need.   I'm learning to think about what brings me joy and pursue those things even if in the margins.  Hence, this blog that is stumbling along.

So, I ask you.  What brings you joy?  What makes you come alive?  What is life-giving to you?

Whatever you must that.

If you'll humor me, write what is life-giving to you in the comments here.  I dare you.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

how to paint a hardwood floor

I had a hunch when we bought our house, that there would be hardwoods under the carpet upstairs.  It was a very happy day in our house when we pulled up a corner of the carpet to discover my hunch was correct.  I did a little dance.  Ok, a big dance.  That maybe my husband caught on camera.  That I'm definitely not sharing here.  

Then, I got really excited, and my wheels started turning to ripping up carpet and refinishing floors and adding charm back into our upstairs.  And Ryan did his slow blink, which is basically his equivalent of rolling his eyes without rolling his eyes.  He knows that when I get an idea, there is basically no stopping me.  Come hell or high water, I will make it happen.  

I never had the chance to prepare a nursery for our daughter when she was born. We had a one bedroom apartment, and she lived in our room the first 14 months of her life.  Then, we moved to a two bedroom apartment before our son, Leif, was born, but he also shared our room because his sister was such a poor sleeper that there was no way I'd have them share a room and risk a baby waking her up at night.  

At the time we bought our current house, Leif was 6 months old, and for the first time I had a baby that got his very own room.  Unleash the mama bear.  Postpartum nesting was on!  

I devised a plan to paint the hardwoods upstairs, along with repainting trim, wall, ceiling, and the radiator, stripping and staining the beams, etc, etc, etc. But for the sake of simplicity, we'll just talk about the floor in this post.  Aside from marrying my husband and birthing my children, this might be my proudest accomplishment.  I'm not kidding.  

For the sake of wow factor, here is a before picture of the room...

And here's the after...

It's amazing what a little imagination, paint, and elbow grease will do for you!  So, let's start at the beginning of the floor process, shall we?  It was a huge undertaking, but I just took it one step at a time, and it probably took me a month to complete the whole thing.  

The first thing I up the carpet.  I just took a box cutter to slice a 3 to 4 foot section off and started peeling it off the floor.  Once the carpet was completely removed, I went back with a rubber mallet and a small crow bar to remove the wooden tack strips, following up with removing any leftover staples with needle nose pliers.  Yes, my hands were extremely sore the next day! 

Part of our floor had been previously painted, but the wood itself was in miraculously great shape.  We had two and a half inch fir planks in pristine condition.  Let me just thank the Lord above for that one.  That could have gone terribly in the other direction.

Then, I moved on to prepping the floor.  I swept up an absolutely appalling and disgusting amount of dirt and dust that was under the carpet.  It made me never want to have carpet in my home ever again!  Then I used my hand sander to sand down some parts that had a weird adhesive, big blotches of paint, or anything that wasn't smooth on the floor.  

After that, I mopped it a couple of times with a half vinegar half water solution and allowed it to completely dry for a day.

Time to paint!!  I used the off the shelf white Behr Porch and Patio Floor Paint, in hopes that it would be more durable.  Three coats later I was happy with the coverage.

First coat:

Second coat:

Third coat:

Then, my friends, the hard part.  I like to complicate things in life.  A white floor would have been lovely, but I had visions of something grander and a lot more fun.  So, I did my research, followed a few tutorials, and came up with a plan.

Start with the wall opposite the door because that is what will be seen first and most.  The pattern will look best if it ends in perfect half-square triangles on the most visible wall.   Decide how large you want your diamond.  I decided that I'd like to have 4 across, so we measured the room and divided by four to get our measurement.  Then mark the length of that measurement from corner to corner along  wall opposite the door.

Now, hang with me here, this next part might seem confusing, but if you just do it one step at a time, it'll make sense.

Measure the distance between the first two marks on the floor divide by two to find the center point and mark it with a pencil.  Using that same measurement that you just figured out from the center to the edge, use a framing square to draw a reference line perpendicular to the center point (this will be the tip of your diamond).  Now connect the end of the reference line to the corner using the straight edge of your framing square and draw that line.  This is the first side of your diamond.   Then connect the end of the reference line to the other corner and you have the other side drawn.  Then you can do the same to create the other three diamonds.

Using your straight edge, follow the angle of that first line you drew all the way to the other side of the room.  Do this for all the lines of your original four diamonds. So basically, you end up drawing straight lines across the room, not drawing diamonds, but your straight lines will intersect and create diamonds.  I wish I had taken more photos of this part, but we were too busy trying to get 'er done.  You can see faint lines in the photo below.

Too keep from getting confused in the taping and painting, mark each diamond that will remain white with an X of painters tape.

Now get your tape on.  Tape the outside edges of the diamonds that will be painted.  I used a painters tape made for wood floors (also from Home Depot).  To get perfectly square corners use a putty knife.  Where you want your tape to end, line the edge of your putty knife up with the pencil line on the floor and press firmly on top of the tape.  Then, rip the tape off using the edge of your putty knife as a guide.  This took a bit of practicing, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.  Go back over that whole line of tape pressing down with your putty knife to seal the edges really well to the floor.

Time to paint...again!  

Here a quick tip for you.  I had about half of my gallon of porch and patio floor paint left after I painted the base coat white.  Instead of buying a whole new gallon of floor paint, I took that can back to Home Depot and had them re-tint the paint gray for me, which they did for free.  For this project, I used the wall color and had them darken it by 50%. 

To minimize seepage under the tape, brush the paint from the tape inward and then fill in the middle with paint. 

And yes, it took me three coats of gray as well.  

The moment of truth comes when you peel that tape off the floor.  It really comes to life then.

No matter how careful you are, there will still be some gray that seeped under the tape, especially if your floor has ridges and cracks like mine does.  I just took some white craft paint and a small paint brush to cover any gray seepage that was noticeable.

And last to protect all that hard work, I did two more coats of water-based Bona Floor Poly.  I chose water-based because sometimes oil-based can have a tendency to yellow over time.

Voila!  New floor.  New room.  Gobs of character for the price of one gallon of paint, one gallon of floor poly, painters tape, and a lot of hard work.  I'd do it again in a heart beat though.  It's still my favorite room in the house.

Friday, February 19, 2016

he holds

My grandparents have been married 72 years.  72 YEARS.  They met when she was 12 and he was 14.  They are now 92 and 94, respectively. I am so inspired by them and this lifetime of love and commitment.  I love hearing stories from when they were dating and early married.  My favorite is a story about a time when they had decided to break up and see other people...until my grandmother saw him kissing another girl, and she realized that was her man.  She obviously won him back and the rest they say, is history.  

Two years ago, my grandma was very sick and in the ICU for a couple of weeks.  We didn't know if she was going to make it, and it was a scary time for all of us.  This little 5 foot woman is loved fiercely.  After spending hours and hours at the hospital, I did what I do to process.  I wrote.  Only this time, it came out in the form of a poem of sorts.  A tribute to them in a way.  

Love you, Gram and Pops.  

he holds
Today he held his head with one hand.  In the other, he white knuckled an equally white plastic bag all during the surgery.  As we sat and waited, he held that bag like it was her life.  Inside of it, were bits of her - her hair brush, hearing aids, and a tube of lipstick.  He knows that when she gets better, these are the immediate things she will want.  So, he holds them close because he can't hold her.  
In the room, he holds her hand and strokes her hair.  He pats her arm gently, almost awkwardly because he's not sure what to do.  Seventy years together and in this sterile place, all these tubes and wires get in the way of what has been worn into their skin and selves all these years.  Holding her hand has never been this difficult.  He pats, shakes his head, chin trembles, tears well.  
He has held her through so many seasons.  Through war and peace.  Through sickness and health.  Through babies and grandbabies and great grandbabies.  He has held her across miles and roads and bridges that map their life together in a beautiful web, criss-crossing time and space to the places and people they hold dear.   
He has held the bricks that built their home, the worry for their future, and the cards she loves to play.  He knows her head, her wrist, her back, her waist better than his own because he has held them for decades upon decades.  Their curves carved into his own.   
And he would hold her seventy more.  Or even seven minutes more, because after all this holding, it's impossible to let go.  

Monday, February 8, 2016


I've been thinking a lot about the phrase "Be you, bravely", and why that resonates so deeply with me.  How God created each of us as unique and amazing in our own ways but most of us walk around as lesser versions of ourselves.  I don’t know all of your stories, but I know mine and I would venture a guess that at some point in your life, maybe a distinct event or maybe just family or cultural pressure over time, you have been made to feel that you are not enough.  Not good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, loud enough, quiet enough...whatever it is.  And the fear of not being enough makes us want to hide and blend in.  I want to play it safe and be less bold and take less risk and in all honesty, be less me,  because I don’t want to fail or feel that who I am is not enough or not ok.    

Culture wants to standardize us...make us all the same size and shape and volume, but our Creator is an ARTIST.  If you know any artists, you know that they all strive for originality and creativity and to create a masterpiece each and every time.  You are not created to be like anyone else or even to be a lesser version of yourself, and when you try to be, you are no longer the amazing masterpiece that you are created to be. You can no longer bring into this world and this life what only you were meant to bring.  And so, the rest of us all miss out on the beautiful impact that is you and yours.

If you speak truth into a womans life, encourage her, tell her the good and powerful things you see in her, her eyes will well with tears and spill over.  Why is this?  Because too much of the time as women, our inner voices tell us what we are not, where we fall short and don’t measure up.  When we hear positive things about ourselves, deep down, we know it is true.  We just needed someone else to tell us and give us permission to believe it about ourselves.  

Every night, when my husband says goodnight to our kids, he says two things, “I love you and I believe in you.”  I don’t know how that tradition started, but I do know that it will have a powerful impact on our kids as they grow.  They know unequivocally that they are loved and that we believe in them, and we hope that knowing that will encourage them to live into who they are and not be afraid.  I am so much more brave when I know someone believes in me.  Can we be that positive voice for each other?  Let’s look at each other and say, “I believe in you,” a lot this year.

Have you ever noticed that we compare our insides (the often jumbled mess of our emotions and our weaknesses) to everyone else’s outsides (the parts of them that make them seem confident and put together)?  Why do we compare our behind the scenes (screaming kids, piles of laundry, and an exhausted mom), to everyone else’s highlight reel (Facebook and Instagram and that seemingly perfect mom with seemingly perfect kids).  Let me be the first to tell you that my real life looks nothing like my Instagram feed.  My real life looks nothing like the person you think you know.  

Some days, I want you to believe that I am brave.  That I have it handled.  That inside I’m not a broken mess.  I wear mascara and cute earrings, because, let’s face it, if you’re wearing mascara and earrings, you can fool anyone into thinking you’re ok.  Broken people don’t wear mascara and earrings...but don’t be fooled. I’m here to tell you they do.  

Other days, I want to be vulnerable and show you the insides of my wrists as a white flag surrender of my life and all the million little ways that I fall apart.  I want to show you this because I know that you will say, “Me too,” and we will exhale and look at each other with wide eyes and start making a mosaic of all the shattered pieces.  Because that’s what happens. Vulnerability begets vulnerability, which begets courage and uprisings, even if they are tiny. Women are amazing like that.  

Honesty is the thing that keeps us from being alone.  Where there is honesty, there is authenticity.  Where there is authenticity, there is trust.  Where there is trust, there is deepening.  Where there is deepening, there is real relationship that is beautiful and hard all at the same time.  

So, let me be honest and go first.  My name is Amy.  I have three kids.  I fear what people think of me and that I’m not enough.  I have multiple negative thoughts about my body every day.  I struggle immensely with the transition to being a mom and my identity in that.  I have survived postpartum depression and an eating disorder.  I had a miscarriage that flipped me upside down.  I yell at my kids sometimes.  I can’t keep up with the laundry or cleaning the bathroom.  I have trouble asking for and accepting help.  I don’t cook with all organic foods.  I eat chocolate in secret.  And even harder for me to say out loud:  I am strong.  I love fiercely.  I fight for my marriage.  I show up for my kids.  I have something to give and something to say.  

In the 39 years of my life thus far, what I know to be true is that my greatest satisfaction has come out of overcoming my fear.  My greatest joy has come when I have stepped out of my comfort zone.  My greatest growth has come out of greatest loss.   

Our lives unfold in proportion to our courage, and so I want to encourage you to live into all that you are created to be and be brave in all that you are and all that you do. Close your ears to all the negative voices that ring in your heads and fill your thoughts. Be truth-tellers and fearlessly authentic. Have the courage to dare greatly, knowing that you might fail, but you also might fly.

* This post adapted from a talk I gave at MOPS in October 2014.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

a place to call

Three and a half years ago, after 11 years of marriage, we were finally able to buy our first home - a sweet 1921 craftsman.   It seemed a long time coming, after so many years of living in rentals and never really feeling like we had the freedom to make the place ours and put our stamp on things.  

I am so grateful for this little house.  Before this, my mindset was always, "Well, in the next house..." When we moved in here, I tried to stop that "next house" mentality and focus on this house.  It isn't perfect, but it's ours.  A place to really plant into our neighborhood and community.  A little oasis from the world and a safe haven for our family.  There's much to be done, and we are often overrun by toys and clutter and dishes and piles of mail, but from the moment we moved in, I've had a vision for this home.  I'm excited to see it come to fruition...even if it takes the next two decades!

The previous owners updated most of it in the 90's, but unfortunately in the updating and ninety-fying (yes, I did just make up a word) they also stripped the house of all its original character and charm.  I'm just trying to bring it back.

I'm a lover of all things DIY.  I don't have a lot of knowledge or experience, but making something ugly or useless into something beautiful or purposeful is one of my greatest joys in life.  I also may or may not have a love affair with power tools.

One way I'd love to use this blog is to document some of our home projects.  I certainly don't want to write heavy blog posts all the time.  And you certainly don't want to read them all the time.  You'd get depressed and never come back!

With three kids and a steep learning curve, finishing any project takes an absolute eternity, but maybe I'll be more motivated if I'm posting here!  So, I'll start by giving you the "before" tour.  These are pics of the house from the real estate listing when we bought the house.

home sweet home

front entry (enclosed porch)
and might I add that these photos are a bit "doctored." This space is not as big as it looks here...or as bright.

living and dining room

living and dining

kitchen with breakfast nook

other side of kitchen

formally a media room, now the kids room

main bathroom

upstairs bedroom that we have made the nursery

large landing we use as an office of sorts

teeny tiny master bedroom

master bath

basement (now our playroom)

basement (now our guest room)

sweet little backyard
So there you have it.  We are so thankful for this place to call home.   Get ready to see some changes!

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