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Five Years

Five Years

Five years ago we bought our house. We haven’t done a lot cosmetically to the house itself (functionally is a whole different story), but the yard has certainly changed drastically. For the last five years, we’ve been amusing and annoying the neighbors with our landscaping attempts. We’ve slowly been making progress and this year we had another big push as the five year anniversary of our home purchase loomed.

Good Bye Mountain Ash
Noel cutting up the trunk of the Mountain Ash.

As much as I hate to admit it, the tree our neighbor insinuated we’d killed did die. Not from neglect though, but from a disease. (It was growing mushroom like growths from the trunk and the limbs were rotting and falling off.) Last fall we came to terms with the fact that it was beyond saving and cut it down.

Spencer Apple Tree
Our new Spencer Apple Tree.

This spring we dug the stump out and planted an apple tree in its place. (We replaced a bunch of the dirt in case the disease lingered in the soil.)  It will be several years before it produces fruit. Maybe you’ll hear about it in my 10-year update.

Branch Pile
A pile of branches as tall as me.

It was a snowy spring and we lost several branches from other trees in the yard. We’d also hoarded a bunch of other branches from pruning and tree removal.

The chipper in action.

It was enough that we rented a wood chipper and with the help of some neighbors turned the unsightly pile into useful mulch. It may not be the most beautiful mulch, but I love that we took something ugly that most people would send to the landfill and turned it into something useful.

Yard today
View of the yard from the porch.

We also finally built our boxes for growing vegetables in the front yard. The dirt arrived two days before we left on a big trip, so we provided more amusement for the neighborhood as we planted our vegetable seedlings with headlamps until well after dark.

Rock Path
Rock path and plants by the house.

We’d made a huge pile of rocks as we excavated different parts of the yard (some of which seemed like they might have been part of some landscaping plan from a different era), and finally found a purpose for them in a little path. We have more things we want to do to the yard (both long and short-term), but it feels like things are finally starting to look intentional.

Tulips growing through the Buffalo Grass in the Spring.
Tulips growing through the Buffalo Grass in the Spring.

I half jokingly told one of my brothers that yard work is the number one way we do missionary work. Joking aside, it probably is one of the number one ways we’ve gotten to know our neighbors. People will stop and chat or occasionally we’ll even rope people into our crazy projects. (Like when we chippered the mulch we got help from a neighbor and then helped that neighbor and another one mulch some of their own branches.) Being those crazy, but friendly DIYers has definitely helped develop a better sense of community. And that includes the judgmental elderly lady across the street. She recently told us the yard is “starting to look good” which we took as a huge compliment.

Yard Part 2
View of the yard from the driveway.

When we first bought the house I feel like the yard was pretty boring; lately, it’s definitely become an outgrowth of our crazy, but hopefully beautiful personalities. Happy five years house!

2011: The year we bought the house.


2012: The year we went nuclear on the yard.


2013: First Garden in a Box and Buffalo Grass Sod


2014: The year of neglect maintenance as we built the backyard playground.


2015: Dug up all the bushes and planted a second Garden in a Box near the house.


2016: Mulch, boxes, and a new apple tree.


What Do April Snowstorms Bring?

What Do April Snowstorms Bring?

A. Lots of broken branches
B. Everything being cancelled or postponed
C. The cold season being extended
D. Decrease in morale
E. All of the Above

In case you were wondering, the answer is E.

Spring is always sort of an adventure in Colorado and this year was especially exciting. We’d hoped we’d gotten the worst of the snow out of our system in March, but it kept coming with a vengeance  in April causing everything from the Scout fundraiser dinner to a few of our long training runs to be cancelled. In between snowstorms though, we’d pull out our shorts and sandals as we’d get glimpses of beautiful weather. Some of the month’s highlights include:

  • The arrival of our apple tree we ordered a year ago. Cooper was extremely disappointed when I pulled it out of the box and exclaimed, “That’s not an apple tree, that’s a stick!”
  • Earth Day/Week – Noel got to drive a Tesla and Earth Day pulled through with nice weather.
  • Ellen going to work with Noel – She was so excited and made quick friends with one of the other kids.
  • The cat killed 4 baby bunnies and 2 squirrels in one week! He’s now on house arrest an indoor cat because the bunnies here carry a disease that can kill animals and make people really sick. Plus, his murderous frequency was a little concerning . . .
The Saga of the Swing Set

The Saga of the Swing Set

Way back in February we had this genius idea of getting the kids a swing set for a combined birthday present. We even proposed the idea to extended family suggesting they might contribute to the playground fund instead of sending gifts. Even though the idea was not widely adopted (it seems there is some sort of a stigma surrounding cash gifts), we had already found a great deal on a swing set and committed ourselves to building it when we gave Cooper a picture of it for his birthday in May. (Hell seriously knows no fury like an autistic child whose reality does not match up with an idea that’s gotten into their head.)

Thus, we drained the fund we’d saved up to build planter boxes in the front yard (we can garden for the next 50 years, but the kids won’t always be little) and the swing set was ordered. While we waited, we took care of a few landscaping  issues. Nothing big, just chopped down a tree, dug up a few stumps, and removed a significant square footage of grass.

One June afternoon, a giant pallet was finally dropped in our driveway.  The description indicated the whole thing could be assembled in about 10 hours and while we had our doubts we figured we could get the whole thing up and running with a long Saturday and perhaps a few evenings of work.

Defective Part 1

Before advancing past step number two of the assembly manual, we realized there was a problem. Really, a few problems: warped lumber, holes drilled in the wrong places and a beam with a significant amount of dry rot.

We halted our work to do a full inventory of all the parts before contacting the company’s customer service. Fortunately, the company was really good about sending out replacement parts.

In the meantime, we improvised keeping the kids entertained.

After the new parts arrived we set to work again. It took an entire day just to lay landscaping fabric, build the main tower and get the ground underneath it level enough to please our in-house engineer.

Every Saturday we weren’t traveling we’d do a little bit more, sometimes working with headlamps after the kids went to bed. If me posing with nursing covers or taking pictures of food in the backyard hadn’t already convinced the neighbors we were a bit odd, this surely did. The next morning the kids would race outside to see what new gizmos had been added on.

By the time school started back up, we’d finally gotten the whole thing together and we were just waiting for a new budget to roll over so we could give it the finishing touches.

Last weekend, Noel went to two different Home Depots before 7am to rent a truck. At first we weren’t even sure if they would rent it to us because they’d had a  bad experience with someone else trashing a truck when they hauled loose gravel. Luckily, the guy was nice and said, “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear what you said you were doing with it and make sure you bring it back clean.” I’m pretty sure we returned it cleaner than we got it so no harm (or fees) were done.

We carted wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of mulch and hauled railroad ties from the front yard to create a border.  (Best workout ever.) Then we painted the whole thing with a clear sealant and did the hardest thing of the whole journey: kept the kids off it for two days. It only took the entire summer, but the swing set is finally done! I can only imagine what kind of a haphazard deathtrap this swing set would be if we’d put it together in only ten hours.

Noel taking the swing set we’d inherited with the house to be destroyed by a neighbor’s seven children.


It seems my kids now have some competition for favorite grandkid, so I knew a post about my kids was in order to remind everyone who really has the best kids. Alright, so their cousin is pretty dang adorable and I am as smitten as anyone (and dying to meet him)! We’ll let him be the favorite grandkid for now . . .

PorterStill, an update is in order. We’ve had a lot of rain this spring which has been awesome for all our plants, lots of fun for the kids, and a challenge for my stain removal skills.


Our plants are thriving and already so much bigger than last year.

Right SideWe still have a long list of things to do that we are slowly chipping away at as our budget allows, but in the meantime we’ve got a bunch of watermelon plants and tomatoes in pots in the undone areas. Still doesn’t look too bad though.

Left Side

Ellen has discovered the joys of spraying herself with the hose.

Cooper is practicing his tree climbing. Okay, so I helped him get up on the branch, but he’s getting pretty close to doing it himself.

Ellen is throwing out societal expectations and gender stereotypes. She LOVES playing in dirt which is fine with me, but I wish she’d be more agreeable about wearing pants sometimes.

Girls Love Dirt!The kids have been “helping” us with yard work.

Ellen has found one more undesired use for the dinner table. Others include: a giant napkin, canvas, and dance floor.

Table SnoozeMy youngest brother has decided to go to Utah State next year, so these pictures are for him. Go Aggies!

Little Aggies

Go Aggies! Noel used the money he won from our race to buy himself a hammock. He’d had a rough couple of weeks with injuries, illness, and other stressors so he is due for some relaxation. Now, if only the kids would give it to him.

Hammock On Father’s Day Ellen refused to go down for a nap for me and kept yelling, “Go back . . . Dad!” so Noel snuggled her until she fell asleep. I guess that’s one way to tell your dad you love him.

Father's DayAll in all, I think my kids are still contenders 😉

March Madness

March Madness

We haven’t really followed college basketball since we were in college, but nonetheless March is always a month of madness for us. Birthdays, anniversaries, crazy weather, pi(e) day, St. Patrick’s Day, etc. Throw in a cold circulating through the family, a class that steals most of our Saturdays, and a handful of Boy Scout related activities and things get pretty crazy. Since we last posted, we celebrated pi(e) day with an amazing coconut cream pie (find the sneaky whole wheat crust recipe here).

Coconut CreamEllen got a late birthday present in the mail. She calls Sully “Kitty” like the little girl in the movie which makes our hearts melt.

Kitty!Celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a breakfast of green eggs (AKA spinach, sun-dried tomato, and feta eggs, recipe on our food blog).

Then meeting up with some friends at the park.

Double Slide

My little monkey.
My little monkey.

Eating Reubens, a very tasty way to eat corned beef and cabbage.

RuebensRich mint brownies.

Mint Brownies And finished the day scribbling with green bath crayons.

Four Leaf CloverOn the first day of spring we grilled hamburgers and I snapped a photo of the flowers popping up through our buffalo grass.

Signs of SpringFriday I made a cake for a friend’s birthday (recipe coming soon to our food blog). And we video chatted with Vanessa Joy since it was her birthday too.

I think that about catches us up. This week is Spring Break so maybe March will give us a little bit of a rest.



Improving the Property Value of the Neighborhood

Improving the Property Value of the Neighborhood

Despite what has been said about our yard, we are really excited about it. The progress isn’t as fast as if we’d emptied our savings account and hired an expensive landscaping crew, but the hard work is good for us and has given us the opportunity to really appreciate each small improvement. I often find myself gravitating toward the front windows where I’ll just mesmerizingly admire the results of our labor until Noel notices I’ve disappeared and asks me if I’m staring at the yard again. While the yard is not a favorite for some of more traditional opinions, our unconventional ways are rubbing off on others. A family down the street has started to tear out sections of their lawn to replace with rock and other plants. Perhaps we shall all decrease increase the property value of the neighborhood together.

Trunk Full of MulchSaturday was another full day dedicated to the yard. We filled the Honda’s trunk to the brim with mulch, choose brick to line the edges of the yard, and picked up some edging strips to separate the Buffalo Grass and the mulch.

Cleaner YardI think those few touches gave the yard a much cleaner feel.

2-IMG_2425-001If you’re feeling less than impressed, review this post or  this post. Wouldn’t you agree it’s much better?

1-IMG_2412-001Sure it needs a few more trunk-fulls of mulch, some other extra touches, and time for the plants to mature, but it’s looking more like a yard that belongs to people who care and that makes me happy.

Never Forget

Never Forget

The time Ellen found my ink pad while I was putting an Etsy order on the porch to be picked up by the mailman.
The time Ellen found my ink pad when I stepped outside to leave a package to be picked up by the mailman.

Our front yard has been our third child this last year and we’ve dumped a significant amount of money and more importantly time into it. One evening, Noel and I were out watering our yard’s newest acquisition, a nice patch of Buffalo Grass. As we looked at the yard we talked about how great it was looking and how excited we were to see things continue to improve. One of the old ladies in the neighborhood hurried over while we were out and we greeted her with a friendly hello to which she replied, “It looks like you’re finally landscaping!” (Apparently a year’s worth of weeding and planting plants didn’t count.) The conversation only got worse as she insinuated that we were dragging down the property value of the neighborhood and then finished by telling us it was such a shame we’d killed the tree in our front yard. (We’re still a bit confused on that one since it’s growing leaves . . .)  Noel optimistically said he thought the tree could rally with a good pruning and I forced all the politeness I could muster into saying, “We’re getting there, but you know money and time are hard to come by.” She shook her head at us and headed back home. Noel and I fumed in silence for a little bit and then he said, “I should have told her, ‘If that tree is the only causality of our yard makeover it will be a miracle; we’ll be lucky if our children survive it!'” We both doubled over laughing.

The time Ellen dumped 5 lbs of sugar on the floor while I was doing laundry.
The time Ellen dumped 5 lbs of sugar on the floor while I was doing laundry.

Every time I find myself offended or going through a really hard time, I tell myself to remember how hard this is or how much it hurts. Not because I have crazy plots for revenge or because I want to dwell, but quite the opposite. I never want to forget how miserable those last weeks of pregnancy are, how humiliating it is to be asked to leave a church meeting because your baby is babbling, or how difficult it is to work in your yard when your kids are trampling plants and running into the street because I never want to lose my empathy and I especially never want to be the one causing hurt feelings. Instead, I want to be the one offering an encouraging word or a helping hand. Thankfully, I’ve also been blessed to brush shoulders with those that do remember. Fragile, little old ladies have offered to hold my babies if my arms get tired, moms of older kids have stepped in to help when I was about ready to give my kids up for adoption, and complete strangers have helped me on and off planes the few times I’ve flown alone with the kids. These are also moments that I never want to forget because I want to remember how meaningful small gestures can be.

The kids helping themselves to a snack while I pulled dandelions out of the lawn.
The kids helping themselves to a snack while I pulled dandelions out of the lawn.

Don’t think I’m fooled into thinking life will be easy when my kids are out of diapers or even out of the house. I know that there’s always some sort of challenge around the corner, that’s just life, but I also don’t want to be one of those people that says, “Oh well you think this is hard, wait until . . .”  I really think there isn’t a more depressing thing a person could say to someone who is struggling. While facing adversity (both big and small) helps refine us into better people, I think we also go through tough times so we can help other people. And really, isn’t a better person someone who helps others?

Cooper begging to be pushed on the swing while I was digging up a hated weed bush.
Cooper begging to be pushed on the swing while I was digging up a hated weed bush.

Someday I’m going to be the little old lady on the block and a young family will move in and hopefully I’ll still remember the challenges of those days. Instead of criticizing them for not mowing their lawn the second it gets shaggy, I hope I’ll encouragingly call out “Carry on, warrior. Six hours till bedtime.” And maybe, I’ll even offer to let those kids come play on the awesome swing set in my backyard (which we’ll hopefully have by then) so their mom can get something done.

And in case you were wondering, me typing this blog post is a close duplicate of the "What I really do." From
Me typing this blog post is a close duplicate of the “What I really do” photo. From


street_view(1)Remember how we killed our front lawn last summer? Well, we certainly didn’t forget. And Google certainly won’t let us forget either. They really should give you warning before they send out those Google cars that take pictures for street view . . . but I digress. After harnessing the power of the sun to kill everything in the front yard we rented a rototiller. It did it’s best to take Noel for a ride and at the end of our two hours the front yard was a sea of dirt clumps with withered grass remains poking out everywhere. It looked terrible. Later, we talked to Noel’s uncle who used to design gardens in Arizona and he recommended that we just rent a sod cutter next time since it would be quicker and give us a fresher start. Why we didn’t think to call him earlier, I’m not sure, but since we don’t have a time machine we just had to keep moving forward.

Token Plants We picked up a few token plants in the fall hoping it would look like we were trying, but mostly the yard looked sparse and sad. I also planted close to 200 tulip bulbs and crossed my fingers that good things would come in the spring. The beginning of winter was really dry and we were praying for snow not just for the moisture, but so our yard wouldn’t look so hideous.

Dirty BabeAbundant snow this spring made it difficult to do much, but anytime the yard was uncovered I was out pulling weeds and turning under soil in preparation for the Garden in-a-Boxes we had ordered. Last weekend, the plants were finally ready for pick-up.

3-IMG_1026We spent several hours planting the fifty plants and were encouraged when several neighbors stopped to chat about how great our yard is looking. Our major work day coincided with one of our elderly neighbors driving his car onto another neighbor’s lawn in an inebriated state, so I think we have officially lost our title as the embarrassment of the neighborhood.

2-IMG_1040It’s nice to see progress on this project, but we still have a way to go. We’re on a waiting list for Buffalo Grass to plant concurrent with the tulips, are planning on building two big planter boxes, would like to buy some sort of a tree, have plans to plant some wildflowers on the side of the house, and are debating what type of path system we would like in the yard, but in the meantime at least the neighbors are talking to us again.


Sometimes . . .

Sometimes . . .

  • I think I’ve blogged because I composed beautiful posts in my head while running or doing housework, but then I realize I haven’t posted in over a week.
  • I feel sad that the world misses out on these beautiful posts on the minutia of our lives.  Like how now that I have a Brother sewing machine and serger I like to imagine I’m on Project Runway working in the Brother sewing room and Tim Gunn is encouraging me to “make it work.”  You guys are really missing out.Brother Sewing Room
  • Cooper drives me crazy with his scavenging. Nutella Boy
  • Ellen drives me crazy with her fascination with toilets and garbage.

Full Toilet

  • That baby refuses to nap and things like this happen.

Sleepy Baby

  • I do whatever I can to placate the kids so I can make dinner.


  • I have a million things I need to do, but decide to dig around in our yard instead because I’d just rather spend time outdoors getting dirty.

Girls love dirt!



To do some research for what to plant in our yard, we decided to visit the Denver Botanic Garden. We figured whatever was still alive and beautiful at this time of year would definitely be something to consider planting in our own yard. (We also tried to keep in mind that the garden has a full staff of people taking care of it. We can dream that our yard could look that good though, right?)