Children and Disabilities

Gregory piano playing 11:12

Recently, I’ve doubled my piano student load in order to pay the bills around here. Don’t worry, 15 students= 7.5 hours of work a week, with hardly any drive time since they all live in my town. I’m not going crazy…yet.

One of my new students is on the autism spectrum, recently diagnosed. The mom has talked to me many times about his issues, constantly apologizing for the way he behaves.

But you know what? He is quickly becoming one of my favorite students. Granted, I don’t have to get him to finish his chores or homework. But a 30 minute piano lesson can be a surprising pressure-cooker for behavior.

One of the things I noticed right away is that when he does talk, it’s whatever is on his mind, right there in the moment, hurtful or not. This is one of the things his mom warned me about, saying that he has a very difficult time understanding social situations and having any sort of empathy for others. Most of his therapy has been suppling him with memorized phrases to say in different situations, like, “I’m very sorry I hurt your feelings, I won’t do it again.”

I find his honesty a breath of fresh air, quite honestly. When I asked if I could write finger numbers on his hands, he  looked down at the floor and said, “That is the strangest question anyone has ever asked me.” Haha, right? How many kids have THOUGHT that, but never said it? He’s never pretending to be excited, he’s never pretending to understand. We need people like this in the world, people who cannot pretend, who cannot feign emotion.

But I leave his house every week, thinking about the emotions associated with childhood disabilities. Many times, I’ve tried to put myself in the place of the mother of a child with a severe disability. Would I feel like I had failed him in some way? This thought had never occurred to me until I had kids of my own. When I look at AJ’s little hands and feet, I think, “my body GREW those!” It’s the craziest realization that I think can only belong to a mother. If he had a disability of some sort, would I grieve that somehow, my body had not supplied the needed ingredients to give him a normal life?

My kids have inherited many of my traits, both good and bad. I see this most clearly with Gregory. He has social anxiety issues, and watching him struggle at the library’s story time (he won’t sit within a mile and begs to go home) or shut down on a play date causes my heart to hurt. I was just like him growing up. Even once I learned to conquer my social anxiety, being around people was an absolute chore. In fact, it’s still a lot of work for me to attend social functions, parties and playdates. I am saddened because I know that Gregory will have a lot of the same work ahead of him. I am saddened that he didn’t get Jesse’s outgoing personality instead.

But I also know that this social anxiety as a child is what caused me to read all the time. While other kids were out making friends, I was reading every book I could get my hands on. I spent hours every day, locked in my room writing. It’s made me who I am today. So, perhaps my “disability” as a child one of my greatest assets. We need people in the world who are willing to lock themselves away and write, just as much as we need the ones who are always moving, conversing and getting stuff done.

From now on, I am determined to think of disabilities as opportunities instead.

$100/week Gluten Free Shopping at Trader Joe’s

TJS header 2

As you all know, I found out a few weeks ago that I cannot eat anything with gluten or soybean oil (although cooked tofu doesn’t seem to bother me). To find out you can no longer eat 70% of the supermarket is quite daunting, especially on a budget and feeding a family of 4. The two boys eat almost as much as grown men, most times!

There are many who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, and they are probably quite used to making everything from scratch. I, however, am only 3 weeks into it, and still find that a few conveniences are much appreciated. I especially love that when I buy everything at ONE store, ONCE a week, I have more time to spend with my babies!

Trader Joe’s is my new boyfriend, I must say. He gives me everything I want, and for super cheap, haha! No, seriously, the store has a million and one different gluten-free options, all clearly marked and still cheaper than most normal things at the supermarket. How does he do it? How does he?

Things to Note:

* The total actually came to $101.70…hope you don’t mind!

* You could probably save even MORE $ per week if you found your meat somewhere else at a bulk rate. But this list is all about one-stop convenience for $100/week!

* I am the only member of the family who is gluten and soybean intolerant, but 90% of our meals avoid carbs as the main base anyways

* The hubbie does not eat lunch with us since he is at work. Usually, he takes leftovers from dinner or makes a sandwich.

* Only the boys eat breakfast on Sundays, as the hubbie and I are fasting before church

* We eat vegan on Wednesdays and Fridays, hence the vegan gluten-free dinner option

* There are only 6 dinners/week planned, because we usually eat out one night a week.

* You can get lots of free fresh produce from friends, especially during the Fall! Most people with gardens or fruit trees have it coming out their ears and can’t wait to give it away to someone who will use it. Ask around!

* We make our own gluten-free bread for sandwiches, using Trader Joe’s gluten free flour (truthfully, I make my own flour to save even more money). This way we can spend $4/week for bread instead of $10 on two of Udi’s small loaves. This isn’t convenient, but it saves us $20-30/month.

*This list assumes that one already has things like spices, oil and butter! Mustn’t forget those!

TJS Breakfast


4x/week Gluten-Free Oats w/ blueberries== $2+ $3.99= $5.99

2x/week Protein Pancakes (using 6 eggs, 6 bananas, blueberries and gluten free flour)== $2.25+ $1.20+ $0.99= $4.44

1x/week Gluten-Free Waffles with PB and organic sliced strawberries== $1.99+ $1.75+ $0.59= $4.33

Coffee== $2.50  (we buy the $4.99 can every other week– it’s not amazing, but it’s good and budget friendly!)

Organic Half and Half Creamer== $.90/week (I buy a small carton for $1.79 every other week)

Organic Whole Milk== $5.99


TJS Lunch


4x/week Gluten Free PBJ Sandwiches (for the boys): Home-made bread, using Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour== $4+ $0.59+ $0.56= $5.12

2x/week Rice Mac and Cheese 2x/week== $3.98

4x/week Egg/Nuts/Cranberries with olive oil salad (for me): $1.99+ $2.25+ $1.99+ $2.50= $8.73

Extra lunchmeat and cheese (for the hubbie) : $3.69+ $2.99= $6.68


TJS Snacks


Plain Greek Yogurt with berries or jam– $2.50 (half a container/week)

Bananas Sliced with PB– $1.60 for 8 bananas (we go through a TON of them!)

String Cheese== $3.49

Almonds== $2.50 (we go through a $4.99 bag every other week)

Organic Unsweetened Applesauce== $2.49

Raw Carrots== $1


TJS dinner


1x/week Tilapia with Organic Foursome and White Organic Quinoa== $6.44+ $1.69 + $1.16= $9.29

1x/week All-natural Chicken with sweet potato mash== $1.38+ $6.08= $7.46

1x/week Organic Gluten-Free Rice Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Organic Grass-fed Beef== $2.50 (1/2lb.)+ $1.99+ $1.29= $5.78

1x/week Organic Thai Quinoa Casserole (recipe coming tomorrow!)== $1.16+ $.089+ $0.89+ $1.29+ 2.00 = $6.23

1x/week Organic Veggie Tofu-Stir Fry with Quinoa== $1.16+ $1.49+ $1.99= $4.64

1x/week Sweet Potato Organic Grass-fed Beef Chili== $2.50 (1/2lb.)+ $.89+ $1.38+ $1.29= $6.06



Our family doesn’t eat dessert, 9 times out of 10, but when we do it’s usually a banana/greek yogurt based smoothie, adding whatever else we have on hand (cocoa powder, berries, almond butter). We used to use protein powder as an added ingredient, but this was before I became gluten intolerant. Even if the protein powder uses egg whites or soy as a protein base, I am very sensitive to soybean or any derivative, so we’ve stopped using it.

But…in case you like your gluten-free dessert handy, here are two I love!

Gluten-free Ginger Snaps- $2.29

Gluten-free Brownie Mix- $3.99

Family Command Center

First and foremost, a disclaimer: I am not claiming to run a perfect household. On the contrary, these things are tools so that I can one day HOPE to have clean clothes and dishes on a normal basis 😉

Over the past couple of months, I’ve worked hard to perfect our family command center in the hallway and on the side of the fridge. I had a lot of strict criteria for this space– extremely functional, uncluttered AND pretty.

command center 7

Absolutely essential, first and foremost, is our large wall calendar from Amazon. Our phones are synced with our schedules as well, but a visual calendar makes sure that nothing falls through the cracks. Electronic calendars only work if you use them– visual ones are right there in your face every day.

Next in line in importance is the weekly meal calendar. I used this free printout from Jenny Collier, and had my dad blow it up into a big 11×14 copy at his work. Jesse then laminated it for me so that I could use dry erase markers on it. Having a meal calendar may seem like overkill, but it makes our household run so much more smoothly, since Jesse is often the one who starts dinner on the weekdays since I am teaching piano. Before we started doing this, we were constantly finding ourselves staring at a pantry full of food, wondering what we should eat, deciding to go out to eat instead. “Fail to plan, plan to fail”, I’ve heard it said. It also forces me to make grocery shopping a one time a week deal.

command center 3

Gregory also has his own little chore chart (free from Dandee-Designs). I give him little stars whenever he completes any of these things: making his bed, putting on his clothes by himself, putting away his dishes, brushing his teeth, and putting away his toys.  There aren’t many stars on it right now because he keeps ripping them off later 🙂 Oh well, boys will be boys!

command center 2

Then there’s my dollar store frame trifecta.  I have my weekly workout calendar (free from design finch) to keep me motivated, my daily cleaning schedule and my weekly cleaning schedule (free from Blooming Homestead).

command center 4

The daily/evening chore chart is one that I created myself, just because I couldn’t find anything I liked on Pinterest (gasp!). You can click here for the free printable: Daily Chores.

Daily Chores

Why do I have two different cleaning checklists? Honestly, because the weekly one has extra chores on it that I don’t always know if I can get to during my morning routine. Basically, they’re my “wish” list, but I don’t need to feel devastated if they don’t happen. The daily chores are the ones that NEED to happen if our house is going to run.

Last but not least, I have a Valentine that Jesse gave me last year, hung right at eye level. Every time the going gets rough, or it seems like I can’t get everything done, I’m reminded that I’m enough, either way 🙂

command center 1

Cloth Diapering for 2 Babies under $86

Thanks, everyone, for listening to my rant about my crappy August. I went to bed feeling rather ashamed for complaining, especially considering everything going on internationally, but one can’t always live globally– sometimes it comes down to the smaller troubles in life and learning how to move on. Perspective is good, but not everything.

AJ in cloth

I’ve been wanting to write about our recent experience with cloth diapering for a while, but I wanted to wait a few months to work out the kinks in our system. For reference, we cloth diapered exclusively with G for his first 9 months, using only prefolds and Thirsties covers. It worked great with our top loader washing machine and good ole’ Texas water. When we got to CA, however, for some reason the stink built up beyond repair. I wasn’t able to make them work with our front loaders, and we all got sick of how bad they always smelled. I tried three different stripping methods, but came to the conclusion that I might be beating my head against a brick wall for not much gain.

We were also living with my parents at the time, saving all of our money for our down payment on a house. My mom politely BEGGED me not to keep cloth diapering during this time, so we signed up for Amazon’s automatic diaper shipments. And then I had a newborn to go with my 1 year old, and life got crazy.

Of course, after about a year of using disposables, it was hard to think of giving up that convenience and going back to cloth, but I got tired of spending the $60/month on diapers. So, sometime at the beginning of summer, we embarked upon a new phase.

My first criteria was that we not spend much more than $80 on the whole project, seeing as the boys don’t have much longer in diapers (fingers crossed)– AJ will probably only be in them another year or so, and Gregory, a matter of weeks (although I also said that 2 months ago!). I was able to include them in the monthly budget under our disposable diaper fund, with the hopes of being able to cross that item out in the future.

And….we did it! Cloth diapering for two boys for under $86! We have 9 Bum Genius Diapers that I got through Craigslist for $60. I got them so cheap because I was willing to replace the elastic on 6 of them. It was a daunting thought, but in the end it was so super easy and worth the $1/diaper elastic kit from To replace them, I used this tutorial. It took about 2 hours total.

cloth diapers 2

To round out our stash, since I was doing diapers every 1.5 days, I just purchased a few econobum prefolds and 2 Flip diaper covers (they were “seconds” at cottonbabies, so they were only $7 each!). If I find that I’m still doing too much laundry for my liking, I’d buy a few more econobum prefolds in a heartbeat– they are much cheaper than the Bummis I used to have for G, and they are much nicer! We don’t need any pins or snappies this point– just a trifold stuffed in the cover.

cloth diapers 1

Here’s how we wash the diapers on an every other day basis:

1 rinse, cold water, with 1 cup of white vinegar for stink

1 hot wash, diaper detergent

1 hot wash, 2 scoops of baking soda (sometimes I use Borax instead)

1 cold wash/rinse, 1 cup of vinegar

Air dry covers on the line, 45 minutes of drying for the inserts

cloth diapers 3

When I stripped the used cloth diapers, I used this method (I found it somewhere online, but don’t remember where):

1 wash with detergent (unless they’re already clean)

2 hot washes using 2 tsp. of Dawn liquid soap (the blue, original formula)

1 hot wash with bleach

3 hot washes, no soap

That’s it!

Montessori-Inspired Playroom

Anybody that knows me also knows that I’ve been obsessed with all things Montessori since long before we had kids. Our first year living in Dallas, I worked at over 6 different Montessori schools, teaching over 80 piano students (yes, 80 individual students a week!). I got to see the good, bad and ugly.

As a result, I’m very cautious when I recommend Montessori schools, because while they can be a huge asset to a child’s learning (provided all the teachers are “certified” Montessori), they can also be a huge detriment, especially if they foster an indifference for respect. Most of the times though, sub-par Montessori schools are just a waste of money. They have the name and maybe a few of the “toys” from some catalogue, but few, if any, of the teachers are trained in the actual philosophy, making it just some daycare/preschool with an exorbitant price tag.

But I’m straying from the topic at hand. When I taught at these Montessori schools, I noticed that the Montessori kids universally outperformed their peers at normal preschools, especially when it came to dexterity, self-reliance and math. Ever since, I’ve self-studied the Montessori philosophy to figure out some of their secrets.

To be clear, I’m not officially trained. In fact, I don’t buy the philosophy whole-sale. One of my greatest pet-peeves in parenthood is when some philosophy comes along and preaches 100% adherence (attachment parenting is another one!). Every child is unique, and instead of sticking to one and falling flat on my face (sigh), I’ve tried to integrate them with my own instinct as a mother.

As a result, our homeschooling/playing room is not 100% Montessori. It’s not 100% academic (um, my oldest kid is only 34 months??). It’s DEFINITELY not 100% clean 😉 Let’s be real here.

Without further ado, here it is!

Playroom 8

Playroom 11

Playroom 10

Playroom 12 Playroom 13

Here you can see the changing table (hopefully just for my 16 month old soon!) and Gregory’s handwashing station by the door. He LOVES this thing, and it’s one of my favorite take-homes from the Montessori classroom. It not only teaches kids personal hygiene, but it also teaches them control.

Playroom 4

For the actual handwashing, there is a small portion of water in the pitcher. Gregory is able to pour it into the bowl, rub his hands on the soap, rub the sponge on his hands (his FAVORITE part!), then rinse his hands in the water. After drying his hands on the towel, he gently dumps the water in to the big container below the table.

Playroom 3

I have a lot of faith in Gregory’s abilities to be precise and conscientious of details, and even I was surprised at how quickly he got the hang of doing things gently enough not to make a mess! Whenever we go anywhere now, he is asking to “wash his hands”, because he is suddenly very aware of how they feel after eating.

The chalkboard table in the middle is one of my favorite things. We got it for $5 off of Craigslist, and I painted it using some leftover khaki chalkboard paint and a Serena and Lily paint sample someone gave me a long time ago.

Having a child-sized table and chairs is super important to any homeschooling or Montessori room. Gregory knows where all his little activities in the room are and loves to bring them here.

Playroom 1

Playroom 5

Another thing I love about the Montessori philosophy, especially for preschoolers, is how much they focus on using three fingers to accomplish various tasks. They emphasize these “games” for months/years before ever teaching kids how to hold a pencil. I can personally attest that this aspect of the Montessori philosophy results in a huge disparity between the dexterity of Montessori kids and mainstream preschool kids. My piano students from Montessori schools have a much easier time with everything about the piano. This isn’t to say that mainstream preschool kids don’t catch up– they definitely do, in most cases. But the extra confidence at such an early age seems valuable, especially if it avoids frustration for the child.

We have just started “games” involving transferring objects using tongs and a spoon. Gregory found these acorns by himself in the backyard, giving the game an added dimension!

Playroom 2

Before we added the handwashing station, we had the table against the wall under our vintage alphabet cards. My guess is that most Montessori classrooms would find these too high or too “busy”. However, the Montessori goal is, ultimately, to create a peaceful environment without clutter that overwhelms the child. I am very sensitive to clutter, and I don’t find these to be distracting. We are also dealing with a space issue in our small room, so I had to stack them higher.

Also, I’m selfish, and I REALLY wanted an alphabet wall. Nuff said 🙂

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Last, but not least, here is our children prayer corner. You can definitely see the mix of philosophies here– we don’t have ALL the icons at child height, simply because we want the boys to respect the fact that some things are special and shouldn’t be touched all the time. But Gregory does have two unbreakable icons at his height, given to him by his wonderful godmother 🙂

Also, speaking of mixing philosophies– how many Montessori rooms have YOU seen with an Orthodox icon corner? 😉

Playroom 7

Playroom 6

If you’d like to see any of my other playroom or preschool ideas, you can follow my Preschool Pinterest board!

That’s all for now!

Source List:

Handwashing Station: Soap, tray, bowls and pitcher– our awesome 99 cent store. The table was a find from 5 years ago in TX, probably Homegoods.

Alphabet Wall: A free printable from Handmade Home.

Banners: A free printable from Shanty 2 Chic.

Bookshelves: Walmart, Baskets from Ikea, Wooden Chalkboard labels from Etsy

Teepee: Poles from Home Depot, full sized bedsheet from Walmart

Rug: World Market

Table and Chairs: Craigslist for $5, painted in Serena and Lily’s “Sprout” paint

Easel and paints: Melissa and Doug

Changing Table: Changing Pad cover– Pottery Barn, Diapers– Econobum and BumGenius, I Love You printable– free from I Heart Naptime

my boys

One of my favorite things in the world is to cuddle with my boys first thing in the morning, especially if they wake up at the same time (7:45am today, thank God! Gregory has been getting up in the 6am hour lately which is driving us nuts!!!).

Turns out, it's super hard to get a selfie of all 3 of us, especially when one of them (ahem, Gregory!) is flailing about

Turns out, it’s super hard to get a selfie of all 3 of us, especially when one of them (ahem, Gregory!) is flailing about

I cannot say enough about how much joy these two bring me. Anthony, in particular, is SO cuddly since he stopped nursing a few weeks ago. He makes the sweetest little sighs when you hold him. He gives the biggest kisses, saying, “Tss! tss!”

Gregory, in particular, is turning into SUCH a little boy lately. He’s definitely showing signs of leaving the toddler stage and entering the preschool stage full-on. He talks to his belly when he’s full (“we gobbled up the food!”), gathers tons of acorns like a hoarder, buries things in the yard, dumps sand on his head at any opportunity, and loves to explore. Jesse is really loving this new stage with him, and I do too, most of the time (the independence, at times, makes me sad, but that’s why I have my barnacle Baby Anthony!).

I love my boys and I love spending time with them. I dread the day when they leave to start families of their own 😦

Anthony would NOT smile, so I joined him.

Anthony would NOT smile, so I joined him.

More Laundry Room Progress!

Our new hutch for storage, along with our bench to the right (which will soon have beadboard and a shelf up behind it) and our desk to the left (waiting for the right chairs to come along!).

Our new hutch for storage, along with our bench to the right (which will soon have beadboard and a shelf up behind it) and our desk to the left (waiting for the right chairs to come along!).

The hutch during the day. Gregory has been using the doors to play church all morning!

The hutch in daylight. Gregory has been using the doors to play church all morning! Within the next week, I’ll paint it gray, with glass knobs and distressing on the edges!

My inspiration picture for the hutch

My inspiration picture for the hutch


The desk area. I turned off the farmhouse light so it's clearer

The desk area. I turned off the farmhouse light so it’s clearer


A closeup of the antique cabinet I bought a few days ago. Only $30!

A closeup of the antique cabinet I bought a few days ago. Only $30! And yes, I’ve switched the numbers to their proper places 🙂

Jesse and his dad hung my shelves up! Now, I need to get the right galvanized metal tubs and baskets for storage!

Jesse and his dad hung my shelves up! Now, I need to get the right galvanized metal tubs and baskets for storage!

Our contractor finished the door frame today (despite the fact that his wife had a baby less than 48 hours ago!).

Our contractor finished the door frame today (despite the fact that his wife had a baby less than 48 hours ago!).

Now, we have this super long corridor/wind tunnel from our piano in the living room to the hutch! I am guessing that we are talking around 200 ft long!

Laundry Room:Long Hallway



The Story of Our House

Everything from November-February was kind of a blur in our lives, and I’ve recently realized that I never wrote out the story of how we found our house.

I bring this up now because I find myself so grateful for God’s providence in this area. I told Jesse the other night that if I’ve ever had a “Gideon and the wet fleece” testing moment with God, it was this past year. At one point, I actually told God in no uncertain terms that He had abandoned us, and there was no hope, despite how hard we had worked to follow His direction.

I’ll get to all that in a moment. I documented a few of our housing ventures (here, here and here at the beginning of this year, including our desire to wait until summer 2013 (now) to start house hunting again, after our first escrow in April 2012 fell through, just DAYS before Anthony was born.

All that resolve to “wait” changed when we met Caitlin and we decided to become her parents. Legally, we were not allowed to be her guardians if she had to share a bedroom with the boys in our 2 bedroom townhouse (which we loved so much! Only $1100/month, most utilities included, walking distance to work! Talk about a money saver!).

So we jumped the house hunt into high gear. That’s when all the devastation started. Every offer we made was rejected. And housing prices started to rise– FAST. I felt like we were on the Titanic, watching the water rise around us, unable to do anything about it.

We had our offer finally accepted on the “Bedbug House”, as we affectionally started calling it. As problem after problem started to surface with that house (it was even involved in a lawsuit, which meant that no escrow company would even secure the title! Talk about sketchy/scary!), we made some drastic changes in our approach. We were tired of living in Limbo, tired of trying to parent a very troubled teen from afar, while living mostly at my parents’ house once again (even though we were still paying rent at our place).

That’s when Caitlin’s old foster mom of 7 years, also a realtor, offered to start bidding on homes for us ALL CASH (she’s quite wealthy). The plan was that she would pay all cash for a bank owned property (90% of the market here were short sales or foreclosures), and then we would buy it from her. This plan gave us a few huge benefits:

1., With an all cash transaction, the process is quite fast, usually 7-14 days. Our situation with Caitlin was becoming SO volatile (more on that someday), that this became a priority.

2. Banks love all-cash offers over FHA or even conventional.

So we started bidding. There were 2 houses in particular that we tried really hard to get. Reasonably, we should’ve gotten them. On one, we bid ALL CASH, no contingencies, $30k over the asking price! But there were 14 other bids in just 3 days, and we lost. How’s that for a crazy housing market???

Nothing. Things fell through time and time again. We were now well into November, 3 months into the process. We were starting to get desperate. We even started putting in bids on homes we hadn’t even SEEN.

Then we found what we thought would be the PERFECT situation for us. A short sale in Paso Robles, built in 2006, around 2200 sq. ft. Due to extreme circumstances, the house was only 2 weeks away from foreclosure. If you know anything about how short sales work, this was BAD NEWS for the seller. All conventional loans take at least 30 days to go through, meaning that the only way to save the house from foreclosure was to pay ALL cash.

Enter us, right???

It looked as though the bank was going to accept our offer. There was nothing else on the table, they started asking for extra paperwork that showed they were serious. Our realtor was 99.9% confident that we were going to get the house and be able to move in 2 weeks.

So, we put in our 30 day notice on our apartment. Only 6 months after moving in, we were packing up again, just a week before Christmas and RIGHT during Finals week at school. We were more stressed than we’ve ever been in our lives.

And then.

The bank shut down our offer. Told us they wanted $25k more than we had agreed on or they were going to auction it off.

We were devastated. The house was already at the top of what we were comfortable paying. $25k more was just not doable. We knew it. We had a sleepless night or two, making the final decision, but we knew we had to walk away.

There were so many tears over packing up our apartment, homeless once again, nowhere to move but back once again to living with my parents (who were complete troopers about the whole thing!).

Merry Christmas, right?

That week, we started looking for house rentals. Our hearts were broken over losing yet another house, one that we thought was so perfect. We had even showed it to Caitlin, something that we had refrained from doing since we knew how hard all this was on her. It had always been our dream to own a home, but we were now realizing that we couldn’t ignore the obvious– NOTHING was working.

And then we got rejected for rental after rental. Someone always beat our deposit by a few HOURS.

This was when I had my “Gideon Moment”. I cried out to God, asking Him how on EARTH this could be happening! “We were willing to wait for a house, for the right time”, I would say. “But You told us to adopt! To take this hurting teenage girl! How are we supposed to do that, without a roof to put over her head?”

I’ve never been in so much despair. I mean that, in all seriousness. I will look upon those 2 weeks as the hardest to date (and if you know anything about how hard things got with our foster care situation, you know that this is a serious claim!).


Christmas Eve, I spent most of the day in tears and despair. In an absent minded attempt to distract myself, I start browsing Craigslist (hey, it usually makes me feel better!).

On a whim, I decided to check the real estate page. I hadn’t done this in months, because I figured that anything worth seeing would pop up on the MLS page sent to my inbox.

I’ll never forget this moment. I ran across a hastily written ad for a house that was in the middle of renovation. There were only 4 pictures, mostly of the outside.

And then I saw the price. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Why on Earth is it so low, I thought to myself. It was just a tad more than most of the “fixit uppers” we had bid on, only the ad stated that the kitchen and bathroom would be renovated by the end of the month.

I RAN outside to Jesse and showed him the ad. I could see how excited he was.

“Call the guy right now” he said.

“But it’s Christmas Eve!”

“Call him.”

I called Ken, which was his name. He talked with me for a while, heard our situation, and offered to leave his family gathering and meet us at the house in 30 minutes.

Excitedly, we packed up the family and went to see the house, which, as you may have guessed, is our current house. Jesse and fell in love immediately. The entire walk-through, we kept turning to each other when Ken wasn’t looking and making shocked faces.

We told Ken that he would be seeing an offer from us within days. 2 days after Christmas, we sat down with him and drew up an offer with the escrow office. All parties involved decided that we would do the transaction withOUT a realtor in order to save even more on the price. It was a risky move, but we got advice along the way (for the record, I wouldn’t recommend this route for a first time homebuyer. We had been through so many offers and escrows that we knew the process inside and out).

Ken was so great to us throughout the process. For example, the pantry that he installed didn’t come with doors. I told him that with 2 toddlers, the pantry was virtually useless to me without doors. In exchange for us doing the wood staining, he went back to the cabinet maker and had him custom-make some!

Another deal we made: since moving in was our first priority, he let us move in a full 40 days before the escrow was finalized. In exchange for our “rent”, we bought our stove and fridge (we paid around $500 for each of them, so it was a GREAT deal for us!).

And, despite all the hiccups in the escrow process, Ken stuck with us. A fellow scholar (he studied Latin and Greek at UCSB!), he wanted US to have the house, and stopped answering calls from other people who were offering to buy it.

In the end, we got a house for $30k UNDER the market value from the outset. We locked in a great rate, around 3.7%. We moved in middle of February and didn’t pay anything until May, enabling us to do lots of home renovations and projects.

I especially wanted to document this journey because it is such a testimony to me of God’s faithfulness. We ended up with a home that was a million times better than ANY of the ones we bid on. Right after we bought, the market rose 25%, meaning that if we had waited until this summer (OUR man made plan), we would be looking at small condos due to the price change. Also, in the middle of June the feds raised the mortgage rates up to nearly 5%. While that may not seem like much, it would’ve added $100/month onto our payment!

I hope I always remember that despite how hopeless and abandoned we felt, God was right there creating a better plan than we could ever have hoped for.

Valle 31

Laundry Room Progress


The “wall” is finally finished! We even painted it!

Laundry Room Progress 1

The only downside to this stage of the game is that because we re-used the door, we currently have a gaping hole now instead of a door frame. Hopefully that will get fixed soon because for right now, it’s ugly, and dangerous for crawling baby knees.

Laundry Room Progress 4

See what I mean?

Here’s the view from the kitchen into the laundry room.

Laundry Room Progress 3


To the left as you go out the door, we are going to build a laundry basket/folding/ironing station, right where the small white desk and chalkboard currently reside.

Laundry Room Progress 6

Our construction plans for a countertop above the washer and dryer are quite masterful, really.

Laundry Room Progress 5

And here’s a cleaner shot of the desk and expedit bench. I’m also digging our farmhouse light (matches the one we have in the kitchen).

Laundry Room Progress 2

We still have SO much to do in here, including tile flooring, beadboard wainscoting, hooks, shelves, baskets, filing systems, window trim… much to do. However, the space is functional and air conditioned, so I’m not complaining!
It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, this space looked like this!
Valle 10

New Laundry Room

When we moved in to our new house 4 months ago (4 months, can you believe it?), we knew that we would eventually enclose the carport and either make a giant family room, or a laundry room and a bedroom. We chose the latter, mainly because it worked perfectly for what we need (aka, we need a 4th bedroom so that the boys can have a bigger space eventually, and a mudroom/laundry room for all of our dirty stuff? nice!…).

For frame of reference, the area I am talking about is right beyond this door in the kitchen:

Valle Kitchen After

Before we moved in, here was the view from this door:

Valle 10

Here is the view from the outside looking in:

Valle 8

The door to the left goes to the kitchen, for reference. The door in the middle goes to our backyard.

AFTER we moved in, it became even worse, filled with moving boxes galore. We couldn’t hardly move around in there, much less park a car. A few weeks ago, we officially hired a friend who works as a contractor. He began work on “THE WALL”– aka, our new laundry room!



DAY 2 (or 3?)

DAY 2 (or 3?)

It was somewhere around this time that the Bartels came over, and, in the usual manner of wives who are about to have company over, I convinced Jesse to put in a couple good hours to stack/throw away boxes. And we got this!

It fits!

It fits!

Behind the car, you can just barely see THE WALL. We will soon be moving the door from the kitchen to this spot in front of the car.

The mudding has finally been done over the drywall, and we now have this!!!

Laundry Room During 2 Laundry Room During 1

Do not be fooled by the junky appearance! It will go from caterpillar to butterfly, I promise. Here are some of my favorite inspiration pictures:

Laundry Room Inspiration 5

We have this Expedit unit from Ikea, along with a fitted seat pad, so we will probably use it in this capacity somehow.

Laundry Room Inspiration 4

Above the Expedit, I want to construct something like this. DROOL….

Laundry Room Inspiration 3

This picture is my ultimate color inspiration.

Laundry Room Inspiration 2

We are going to make something like this on the direct opposite wall from the washing machine. Organization Heaven!!

Laundry Room Inspiration 1

Also dreaming about this. We have a cupboard like this one, sitting outside unpainted in the garage, so it would basically cost us nothing!

That’s it for now! More updates when we have something to show!