Saturday, November 9, 2013

Frugal Kitchen Remodel Post #2

Commercial Restaurant Stove Hood above electric and wood cook stoves
I truly never meant it to be this long in between posts.  Besides the remodel, running our store, homeschooling, the farm and Creighton Model FertilityCare appointments, Jason and I have been working on a very special project that hopefully we will be able to announce soon.  In the meantime I couldn't justify anytime writing on my blog that was "free time" that I could be working on the St. Nicholas project (code name for our special project.)  When we (hopefully) can announce in the near future our exciting news this will all make sense.

This blog post is picture heavy, so be forewarned.  I am rewarding your patience:

Commercial Restaurant Stove Hood
So, we finally have a hood!!!!  Sometimes the hardest part about trying to complete any project frugally is the patience to wait.  I have to admit that I was about at my wits end when my husband finally announced in September that he had found a hood that was long and wide enough to fit over the two stoves we now have in our kitchen.  We needed a hood that was at least 6 feet long to cover both the electric and wood cook stoves.  When we priced checked at the local box store the biggest hood we could purchase was only 48" long and priced at $1400.  By the time you add the width we needed for the hood we were looking at thousands of dollars.  Jason's Craigslist searches began.  He finally found this commercial restaurant hood brand new for $250 plus the gas money and time to drive two hours one way to pick it up.  The hood had originally been installed in a restaurant that never opened because the owners ran out of money.  The landlord needed to clear out all their restaurant equipment so that he could prepare the space for new renters-praise God!  It was our lucky day!

Top wooden beam anchored into fireplace wall
We traded services with a contractor friend who helped Jason install this hood two weeks ago.  (Again-patience is a virtue.  We stored the hood in the barn for a month.)  While it is massive it weighs under three hundred pounds.  I will be the first to admit that you couldn't have a hood this size in a standard size kitchen, but we have 12 foot ceilings in this brown box awkward shaped room that was added onto our 1860's built farmhouse back in the 1960's....back when brown panelling was all the rage.  This room doesn't have a single window.  In fact we installed the light kit on the ceiling I guess everyone just plugged in floor lamps for forty years.  Maybe they just liked the darkness...maybe they just liked "mood lighting" is a mystery I shall probably never understand.  I personally like lots of light.  I must say that this room works much better as a kitchen than as our living room.

The room also has these brown beams as "decorative accents," except they are not that pretty-yet.  Thus, Jason and Rich were able to use one of the beams when deciding how to anchor the hood.  They attached two 2" by 6" eight feet long wood braces to the fireplace, that you can see in that previous picture.  The 4" by 4" eight foot long wooden bottom beam is used as a ledge to place the hood on.  These two boards are anchored to the fireplace by fifteen different bolts.  The above brace then has two wooden cross pieces that run above the hood to attach to the wooden beam.  These wooden cross pieces were actually made by screwing together 2" by 6" eight foot long boards.  They were then anchored to the decorative beam with tapcons.  Chains were then used to attach the hood to the cross pieces.  Jason and Rich swung around on the beams to make sure that the beams were strong enough to hold the hood.  (Unfortunately I wasn't around to see that-otherwise I would be posting pictures of the men playing around!)  Rich informed me that these beams are so strong that if I wanted to we could tear out the kitchen and make the room a garage.  He said that these beams can be used to lift engines out of cars.  I think I'll stick with the kitchen!

Cross beams attaching to wooden "decorative beam"

Front side of hood and cross pieces

Back side of cross pieces and hood attaching to fireplace

The fireplace bricks are so hard that Rich actually melted a heavy duty drill bit when trying to drill into a brick.  He said that he has never seen that happen before in all of his years of carpentry.  After that they just drilled into the cement between the bricks.  Eventually all these wooden pieces will be stained to match the rest of the room.  For now-the hood is installed!

We actually found out the hard way four years ago about how hard those bricks were.  That was the year we bought our first wood heat stove (that now resides in our bedroom suite.)  Jason began trying to break through the wall and it literally took him a month of weekends to be able to chisel out the bricks.  He made it through the first level of bricks only to find out that there was a second brick wall before we could reach the actually chimney liner.  The only thing that we could surmise is that we had been told that back in the 1980's or 1990's there had been a chimney fire and therefore they must have bricked up the entire wall to cover up the burnt bricks.  Jason had to chisel through 18 inches of bricks before he could intall the stove pipe.

Bottom Ledge Beam, Stove Pipe going into 18 inch hole to reach chimney
The silver frame of the hood reflects the light and is actually helping to "lighten up" the room.  (I greatly appreciate that since I long for cream walls.  This room can get really depressing in the winter.)  Once we survive the busiest time of year for our business, which starts next week and lasts until around Epiphany in January, Jason and Rich will connect the electrical so we will have lights and our exhaust system.  These lights will also help to heat up this massive room when we use them.  One more motivation to cook besides the stove heat-Or not cook in the summer time!

Hood Lights above the stoves

The exhaust fan is so big and powerful that it will actually be attached outside of our room on our deck.  The motor of the exhaust fan is 1/4 horse power!  Here is a picture of the electrical and (possible) water attachments.  (I could only dream of a pot filler!  I do miss having the stove closer to the sink to drain pasta, fill pans with water, etc.)  Oh, well-I get my exercise!

Back underside of hood, where the exhaust and water system will hook up

Here's another view of the hood and cross beams.  It just needs all the fingerprints cleaned off from our male friends that helped carry it into the house to lift it into place.  Three more friends stopped by after church to help lift it into place and attach the chains.
Beautiful Hood

Ikea storage unit with butcher block counter
The other piece that Jason did complete for the kitchen was this Ikea storage piece.  We bought this piece from a friend who was moving several years ago.  I honestly don't remember how much we paid for it, because we bought a lot of stuff from them at that time.  (Again, patience is a virtue.  This piece was in storage for several years until Jason decided that we finally had enough stuff in place-and the time-to attempt this remodel.)  It came with a gorgeous black laminate top that just didn't fit with our vision for this room.  Jason changed out the counter for the matching butcher block.   I left everything on the counter the way it normally is: Jessie's baking items (mixer, purple cake decorating items), bread/cookies/fruit bowl.  Joey and Jessie normally have their computer plugged in here since its battery doesn't hold its charge.  The gorgeous clear pitcher in front of the purple cake decorating kit was painted by Jason's mom Debbie.  I just haven't gotten it back into storage yet on top of another cabinet. 

Inside the Ikea cabinet-we added the shelf that bent.

Jason added a shelf for storage that bent when I placed the crock pot on it.  Therefore he flipped it over and I just store little pots and the rice/veggie steamer on it.  As you can see we store the cooking items we use the most and our oils/vinegars/rice crispies for making rice crispie treats, etc.

2 stoves plus another storage piece
Please note: we have not started using the wood stove for heat-thus why our oil bottles are sitting on top of it from cooking on the electric stove.  We know not to have oil bottles on a working wood stove.

If you remember from my original post I showed the blue and white hutch that had all my spices/teas, etc.  (The hutch is next to the Ikea cabinet I just talked about in an above picture.)  This is the third piece that we bought with that hutch for a total of $75.  Jason added this backsplash that he bought at a box store and then antiqued with paint so that we don't lose our potholders, oils, etc from falling behind onto the fireplace.  This piece has been used all the time for six years and does need to be repainted.  Whoever originally painted it didn't seal the paint with wax, so it definitely shows all its dirty/worn spots.  Plus we could probably just clean it sometime as well:)

Painted storage piece with backsplash

Close up of backsplash, Panelling is damaged in that spot.
Someday it shall be painted:)

Here is where our wood and newspaper starters for the wood stove will be stored this winter-under the table that Jason got for free from a church.

Baking table with wood/newspaper storage

One of my frugal Goodwill purchases in August was this bench.  I bought it for $20, which is kind of funny since I only paid $10 for the larger bench we have on the side.  This bench fit the side of the table perfectly though.  Anna usually sits here, but the other night I noticed that Joey and Jessie can both sit on the bench side by side-and it doesn't tip easily.  It's balanced much better than the large bench.  If you sit too closely to the end of the bigger bench it can start to flip up like a see saw on a playground.  The top of the bench actually got a small tear on the way home when it caught on something else in the truck.  I started to cry...don't you hate when that kind of thing happens?  My goal is to someday eventually cover both benches with matching red material.

Frugal $20 Goodwill piano bench-used as a table bench now

Last, but not least, my solution for keeping the plastic food storage containers somewhat organized is to use diaper boxes/wet wipe boxes.  First, we cleared out our overflow and put them into storage until we need them.  (I'm talking in a box in the garage since we are forever breaking containers and/or giving them away when we make meals for those in need.)  I will probably add another box or two so that I can organize water bottles and a few of the other pieces as they get washed from being used in the fridge...I may even one day cover the boxes with pretty paper.  Debbie has volunteered to make me a curtain for this space that doesn't have a cabinet door, but I just haven't decided exactly what I want yet.  The reason why it doesn't have a door is because this piece was originally a corner piece, so it had another counter/cabinet in front of that empty space, connecting to it in a "L" shape.  That's also why the handle and hinges face the left instead of the right on that lower cabinet door next to the storage space....maybe someday Jason will switch that more thing for his never ending "Honey To do  List."

Free cabinets Jason painted

Diaper and Wet Wipe boxes as plastic container storage

Remember how I quoted, "Patience is a virtue?"  Well, that is definitely true.  My biggest pet peeve right now is that the Salvador Dali painting is still not centered above the sink.  (Jason just used the nail that was there from a painting that had been centered over our couch, so that the Dali was up on the wall for my arrival back in July.)  But I've decided that I want to be happy rather than sometime in the next year I will probably "block off" a picture hanging day and the Dali will get centered.  I personally don't want to be the person straddling the sink to move the painting so I can wait.  (Ignore all my dirty and clean dishes!)  I decided to write this blog post instead of cleaning-priorities people!:)

Salvadore Dali painting-still not centered over sink:)
For anyone wondering we are still under $1600 for this remodel.

This is what I have figured our approximate expenses to be:

$312.98 Ikea sink
$180 Faucet bought off Amazon for 1/3 of the Ikea price...Plus, it has the sprayer feature!
$60 Sherwin Williams paint for cabinets
$160 Ikea butcher block counters (now discontinued)
$250 for the Commercial Restaurant Stove Hood
$30 Backsplash, caulk and sealant
$80 Wood, Chains, parts for attaching stove hood
$80 tank of gas to pick up stove hood
$150 services traded with our contractor friend for intalling stove hood
$120 Plumbing (with lots of pex pipe leftover for other projects)
$100 for misc Lowe's expenses (cement board behind cabinets, paint drop cloths, etc)
$20 for the blue bench from Goodwill

Note: We reused kitchen counters and received other free kitchen counters from another friend who remodeled their kitchen this summer.

Total so far: $1542.98

I probably won't post any more about the kitchen until we have something new to report.  I'm not expecting Jason to get the exhaust installed until closer to February.  Hopefully at that time he will get the doors attached to cabinets next to the stoves.  He wanted to try out the "open shelving" look that you see in so many blogs/magazines.  I am totally NOT into open shelving.  I don't like having to wash the dust off the pans before I (or Jessie) bakes.

Awesome Frugal Hood

The coziness of aprons, baking items and Thomas Kinkade
Though this wall needs a much larger painting....patiently waiting for that!

Thank you for patience-and for checking back!!!  Please pray for the success of our St. Nicholas project.

You can read Frugal Kitchen Remodel Post #1 here.

Wishing you peace and warmth this chilly November,

From the Sweetness of our Home to yours,


Linking to:

My Romantic Home

Friday, August 2, 2013

Debbie's Crafts and a Craft Show Weekend

Set of 2 Black Wine Glasses painted by Debbie
My mother-in-law Debbie is an amazing artist.

She will be selling her glassware and other crocheted crafts at a craft sale in Weirton, WV this Saturday, August 3rd from 9am-4pm.  The craft show is at the Voice of Pentecost Church, 106 Mendenhall St, Weirton, WV, 26062.

Set of 4 Blue Wine Glasses painted by Debbie
This is another set of wine glasses that she will have for sale.

Crocheted Cast Iron Pot Holders

Debbie came up with crocheted cast iron pot holders since I was always burning myself when cooking.  She's even made some "double potholders" for the cast iron dutch oven pans that have a small handle on each side of the pot.  We usually have these items at our coffee stand at the farmer's market, but Debbie is taking these to sell this weekend.

Ouchie hot/cold bags
One of the first things that Debbie made for the kids and I were "ouchie" bags for all their scrapes and bruises.  She even makes really large ones that are amazing to heat up!  I used them all the time for that certain time of the month.  I still use them when I have extra back pain/bladder issues.  She has ouchie bags made in both fun kid prints and more feminine colors.  You could even order some in manly colors for those men in your life!  (If she doesn't have any large ones with her, you could place an order for those as well!)

A Wine Basket

Debbie has been working on some baskets for those looking ahead to the holidays or fall weddings.  Here are some green wine glasses already wrapped in a basket.  She even found cute cordial wine glasses.  The following set is my favorite:

Cordial Wine Glass Basket Set

Though I might have to fight some of you for the following green tinted glasses with purple flowers! (Afterall purple is my favorite color):

Light Green glasses with Purple Flowers
 Though these pink tinted ones are gorgeous as well!

Pink Tinted Wine Glasses with Pink Rose Buds

Debbie whips up crocheted items whenever she "relaxes" in front of the television.  Each of the little girls have different versions of the following bear:

Crocheted Brown Stuff Bear by Debbie

We sell a lot of Debbie's finger puppets at the farmer's market as well:

Crocheted Finger Puppets by Debbie

One of her other creative items are "Beanless Buddies"-these are former beanie babies stuffed with catnip for your cats' enjoyment.  I could smell the catnip in them when I took them out of the storage bags she has them stored in.  Your cats will LOVE these things!:

Beanless Buddie Cat Toys by Debbie

I will post more of Debbie's crafts in another blog post this fall.  Feel free to contact me if you would like to place an order for presents-either for a loved one or treat yourself!  If you go shopping this weekend, let Debbie know you found her via this blogpost.  As long as you are in Weirton, you should also check out the amazing TCA Consignment Sale that I blogged about earlier this week!

At some point we will probably try to get an etsy shop set up for Debbie.  It's just hard right now because she doesn't have internet in her house and she is working full time at the nursing home that we were blessed to find for her mother, Grandma Mercy.

Wishing you the sweetness of warm August Days and a blessed summer month,


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TCA Consignment Sale

Red Dress Coat from Consignment Sale

So, as our recession digs deeper and taxes grow higher I rarely buy brand new items anymore.
I "accidentally" missed my turn three years ago and while turning around I saw a sign advertising the TCA Consignment Sale.

It has helped make being frugal so much easier!
Twice a year I can shop for name brand clothes, shoes, books, toys, furniture, etc, all in one location!  (For those needing baby items, like strollers, cribs, etc, this is the place for you as well.)

In fact for the previous two years I have actually had all my Christmas shopping for the five kids completed after the Pre-Sale for Consignors.  It has made Christmas time with our busy retail store so much easier!!!  I didn't have that luck this year, but we did manage to find some more Scooby Doo items for Katie's birthday theme and Dora the Explorer/Diego for Anna's September birthday.  (Now we just have to make the cakes-and remember to wrap items earlier than five minutes prior to the time I want them to open them!)

Polka Dot Church dress for Libby

I meant to get pictures of all the things I was consigning plus the actual gymnasium, but forgot to do so.  I also forgot to get pictures before the big kids put all their new clothes away.
Here's a few of the items that I got for the younger kids though.  (Because every girl needs a few dresses that aren't hand me downs from her big sisters, of course.)

3 more dresses for Libby

I am having trouble with my other pictures downloading tonight, but they have more than just clothes.  We bought three video games tonight.  In the past we have bought dvds and a video game system.

We also invested in new backpacks.  Jessie is excited about her latest backpack-both Katie and Anna commented about how pretty it is when they saw it as well!

Jessie's "new" backpack-in excellent condition

Unfortunately, unless we end up finding the box of size 11 and 12 shoes packed away in storage, I may have to end up buying new shoes for Katie.  No one was selling that size of shoes this week at the TCA Consignment Sale, but we did score a pair of black cow girl boots for Jessie for $4.00.  (If I do have to buy new shoes because I can't find used ones at any of our local resale stores, I will shop at the Payless Shoe Store first: best deals in town plus they give a military discount of 10% on top of their sales.)

So, grab your rubbermade containers, laundry baskets, thirty-one totes and reusuable shopping bags and/or empty boxes and head over to the TCA Consignment Sale for some back to school/winter clothing deals.  (They do have some laundry baskets you can shop with, but there is a limited number so the baskets may not be available if there are a lot of people shopping.)

If you go and like what you see, remember that consignors get to shop first so sign up to sell stuff at their April  spring sale!  Remember that all that hard work of tagging stuff goes to help give financial scholarships for students in need to get a Christian education and to support the Tri-State Christian Academy.

The TCA Consignment Sale is located at: Mercy Baptist Church, 3474 Pennsylvania Ave, Weirton, WV 26062.  The 2013 Back to School Sale hours are: 9am-3pm both July 31st and August 1st, 9am-7pm August 2nd, and from 9am-3-pm on August 3rd-when many items will sell for half price.

Nothing to disclaim: This is not a paid endorsement.  Nor do I get an extra percentage of my sales-same 60/40 split on all items I sell.  I am simply a happy consignor and shopper!  I greatly apologize that I didn't have better pictures-hopefully next time!

Wishing you the sweet joy and excitement associated with the beginning of a new school year,



Saturday, July 13, 2013

Frugal Kitchen Remodel-Post #1

Frugal Kitchen Remodel
So, Jason has been a busy, busy man!

I went away with the kids to visit family for the past few weeks.  He decided to "flip our kitchen and living room" while I was away.

I will go into all the details at a later time, but he painted the above cabinets that he got free from a friend who is also remodeling their kitchen.  My dream is to eventually to paint all the wood panelling in the hopes of it one day looking like a Tuscany farm kitchen.  We still have to add back splashes.  (Not to mention me reorganizing items as I cook/use this new space.)

The sink and counter are from Ikea, then he found a similar faucet to what I liked via the web.
  The white dishwasher came with the house when we bought it.

Frugal kitchen-looking towards our fireplace
 The table in the left hand corner (by the door) was free from a local church.  The pine cabinets sitting on it for storage are being reused from our old kitchen.  The bench I got for $10 from The Urban Mission Thrift Store.  The table (which has leaves that extend/tuck underneath it) and chair we bought at a local antiques store a couple of years ago.  The top needs to have new veneer added, but that's a project for another day (or year).

Frugal kitchen remodel-looking towards the "new living room"
The white cupboard is actually a very light blue.  We bought this piece (along with the phone table you can see just past it in the door way to our now living room) at a garage sale six years ago when moved into the house.  We scored them along with a matching third piece for around $75 or so.  Right now he still has the kids small toy cubby in front of some more of our old pine cabinets.  He decided not to paint anymore cabinets until I came home and we decided what to do with them.  I will probably paint the walls before I decide whether I want to leave the cabinets as is or paint them either blue or white to match the sink cabinets.

So, while I haven't been able to post any Hopedale Market updates, it's just because we've been busy....Jason said that the only reason he has survived our extended time away from him (without getting the blues) is because he's had this massive project to focus on.

It will be nice to have a bigger space for entertaining when we have company over.  It will also be nice to have a "cosier" space as our "new" living room.  (Not to mention that in the long run this should help with our heating bills.)  Jason still has to hook the cook stove/heat stoves back up, but technically he has until October barring anymore massive power outtages.

For those heading out to the Hopedale Market, Jason should be there with homemade biscotti and coffee.  (Due to all the rain, we still have nothing coming out of our garden to sell.)

Wishing you the sweetness of home (there's nothing like sleeping in your own bed with you own pillow!), 


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Friday, June 21, 2013

How Does Your Flower Garden Grow?

 2013 Frugal Flower Gardening

My largest flower bed: approximately 3 feet wide by 25 feet long

So, I am having my annual battle with my front garden beds.

When we bought our house six years this past May we left the flower beds as they were.  The previous owners had some invasive green vine ground covering plant that grew in all four beds. (In hindsight they weren't gardeners and the vine thing kept out all other weeds-therefore the flower beds looked "good" from the road.  Plus there was little gardening maintenance that had to be done.) Since we spent the rest of the summer travelling/frantically moving stuff out of our old house we left the beds alone.  The next summer we were busy opening our business and I was 7-9 months pregnant with Katie-thus nothing happened with the flower beds.  Then for the past 3 summers I have been fighting the vine thing, weeds, poison ivy, thick shade from our giant maple trees, dogs and chickens to get some real flowers/plants in our flower beds all while being pregnant/nursing babies and my previous health issues.  Needless to say, the sad state of my flower beds is always a personal thorn in my side since I LOVE  flower gardening.

Of course this year our budget is even more limited than normal since we now have two kids with monthly orthodontist brace appointments/payments to be made.  I lucked out when I saw a friend post on facebook that she had FREE landscaping rock for anyone who was willing to haul it off.  (She had changed the rock over to mulch in her garden.)  Jason, the one man calvary unit, made two trips with his truck to bring it all home.

So, last August before my surgery I had managed to lay down leftover black plastic that was used when Jason's mom's double wide house had been moved in across the road.  While I know that black plastic can trap the water and lead to more mosquitoes the idea is to use what I already have as much as possible.  Thus we are leaving the plastic down to help keep the weeds out.  Then we will cover it with the landscaping rock.  Finally, we will try to poke holes in the plastic to help the water drain through.

I started putting the rocks down where I still had existing plants-in the case of this flower bed-only the center plants have survived.  I managed to buy 2 blue hydrangeas flower bushes at our local Aldi's for just $8.99 a plant to replace the two plants that I had planted last year that didn't survive.  (They were end of the year clearance plants that I planted just before my surgery.  They didn't have any follow-up care by the extended family-understandably....Jason and the kiddos were busy taking care of me and the babies while trying to homeschool.)  The two plants in front are both types of daffodils that voluntarily grew there by themselves.  At this point in the landscaping I had already used two bags of rocks for this 3 feet by 3 feet space.

 So, my goal is to slowly keep plugging away at just this flower bed.  The long green strip you see in front is one of those "roll out the mat and water the wild flower seeds" kits.  My sister had some of these last summer and I saw these two boxes on clearance last August.  Since I am trying to use what I had I thought I would try these out-of course the chickens have already attacked the mat. We'll see if any of these flowers actually germinate.  Unfortunately the seeds have been treated to be just annuals, but hopefully these will work until next year when I can plant some perennials.  The perspective of the above picture isn't the best, but we used two of those boxes so we have 20 feet of flower mat laid down in the front right and center of the flower bed.

In other farm news we are happy to be selling at our first farmer's market tomorrow!  The new market is located in Hopedale, Ohio in the local fire station's parking lot from 9am-12pm.  Unfortunately, we won't have any produce tomorrow since our kiddos are in a home school adaptation play of "The Taming of the Shrew"tonight, but we will have home made biscotti plus some crocheted cast iron handle pot holders by Jason's mom Debbie.

We do have the following growing in our garden for sale later this summer:

Peas growing up through plastic fencing to help hold them off the ground.

Jason's attempt at "survival gardening" using tree branches to tie his tomoto plants to instead of wire cages or sticks.

I know that Jason has way more planted than that, but you'll have to wait for weekly market updates.  My goal is to post every Friday what we will be bringing to Saturday's market.

Here's a picture of the volunteer daffodil growing off our back deck-doesn't that first bloom and the promise of more just bring a smile to your face?

These are my bright spot....I need to put more mulch over the plastic I laid down last summer, but I love my barrels.  Jason got them as an anniversary present three years ago.  This year we have a perennial ground cover plant (name unknown)-it's the bright yellow you see in the right barrel and extending over the side of the left barrel.  I just picked up some geraniums and begonias to add some color.  The two hostas plants in front have managed to survive all the "flower garden death" for the past six years.  I divided these plants from our the hostas plants at our old house and they make me so happy.  They help remind me to keep "plugging along" when I start to get down about the state of my garden.  Slow and steady will eventually win the gardening race:)

Wishing you a blessed summer solstice:)!

From the Sweetness of our flower garden to yours: Happy Gardening!



 Linking to:

My Romantic Home
The Creative HomeAcre Blog Hop

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Memorial Day and Cross Country

Somehow a year has flown by again.  They have a way of doing that the older you get.  So much has happened and yet nothing has changed.  I'm sitting here at the same kitchen table, looking through the same memorial book letters, praying that I am the woman I need to be.....praying that I raise my kids so they hold true to the ideals of the red, white and blue: God, family and country, especially in these times when the whole world seems tolerant of everything except for their Catholic Christian faith.

So, May 8th is my personal Memorial Day.  It didn't "weigh on my mind" as much as last year's 10th Anniversary did-I was dreading that months and months before it ever came.  This year the thought that "it's almost May" began the last week of March-then it came up a few more times in April, before becoming a pressing thought over the weekend....this year it was because I came down with a serious case of food poisoning.....and while moving from bed to bathroom floor to toilet and back again, I began comparing it to all the flu cases/food poisoning illnesses I've had in my entire adult life.  Does anyone else do that?  Well, I do.  This past weekend's case rated as the number two worse case I've had.  I was out of commission for several days and for the first two days I wasn't sure if it was food poisoning or a return of the nasty norovirus that the whole family caught in March for nine days.  So, I know you are all just dying to know: the number one worse case was when Jason, Jessie and I, along with forty some other family members, all caught the flu from some grieving person that attended my paternal grandmother Marie's funeral.  We got sick somewhere in the middle of Illinois or Indiana at a rather dumpy motel, sharing one bathroom for three days.  Poor six year old Joey patiently watched cartoon network and occasionally asked us to get food from the gas station across the street and/or to order pizza.  I still remember the first morning how it literally took me three hours in between getting sick to buy the poor boy breakfast.  This happened about four months or so before Jason and I were married.  As we were finishing the drive home to Ohio, Jason joked, "Since we survived this, our marriage can survive anything."

So, that brings me to the number three and four episodes of the worse flu.  Number four was the last Christmas I got to spend with Chris.  We caught the flu from someone while flying home to Wisconsin, coming down sick in just minutes of each other, and unfortunately spread it to the rest of the extended family.  We had to delay Jessie's baptism from Christmas Eve to New Year's Eve and I had to get an iv for fluids since I was nursing six week old Jessie.  But I remember discovering that Chris' parents had installed the heating of their newly built house in their floors-and every time I am sick now I wish for that type of much nicer to lie on warm tiles than cold.  And the number three time?  Well, that was the following Christmas trip-when once again the flu came to the Starkweathers house over Christmas and we all got it again.  Everyone kept saying that they wished they had the kind Joey and Jessie did-they would feel sick, head to mommy and throw up on my feet/legs and then be off running and playing again.  I missed Chris so much-I felt so overwhelmed at the thought of having to survive every flu/kid illness/holiday without was I ever going to survive?  And yet, somehow I have.  God's He gives it just when you need can't go borrowing it by worrying ahead of time.  I catch myself still doing that at times....wondering how would I ever be able to survive this or that....and then I have to remember I would do it the way I have survived these past thirty-six years....when that moment comes, God will supply the grace and strength I need for that moment...not one moment sooner, not one moment later.

A few months ago I needed to finally box up all of Chris' file folders that had been taking up the entire bottom drawer of my large filing cabinet.  Most of the records are military things and/or the filing system that he had for all our bills over eleven years ago.  Yes, most of them could probably be shredded at this point, but it was all I could do to box these up still eleven years later.  One file caught my eye that I never noticed the past two times I had packed them up to move houses:

Unfortunately, it didn't have his high school keepsakes in it like I was hoping.  Instead it contained:

Bellevue West Track and Cross Country Team info....from when we were stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, NE and Chris volunteered as an assistant coach for their cross country team.

But amazingly, it also contained this:

Chris had kept the calendar that the Belleview Cross Country team had given him....and that we had used for the year 2000.  (This was obviously before I realized the importance of keeping calendars to help with scrapbooks/life history, etc.)  The tears began to fall as I saw his handwriting on every page....because there was a reason he was promoted all the time-he was detailed oriented....but in September I found this:

Can you see what is written in his handwriting?

Here it is up close:

Yep, that's right...."Date night" in his handwriting, not mine, well the words "go out", aka, date night.  I've been racking my brain for months now....trying to remember where we went for that birthday date.  Both of us have September birthdays and I remember that it was our first date night since Joey had been born.  But I can't remember where we ate or what we did.  I can remember other countless dates and facts, but not this date....but here I find it thirteen years later to remind me how loved I was.  How touching that my hubby wrote our date night on the I miss deciphering his quickly written notes to tell me he had gone for a run.  (This was before the age of cell phones people-and don't we all love finding love notes even today?)

The kids are well-Joey will turn 13 next month and will probably be taller than me within the next year or so.  I can already wear his shoes.  Jessie is eleven and a half and becoming more beautiful each day.

Here they are playing with their lovely and lively sisters in the one short lived snow storm we got this year:

That's Jessie with three year old Anna in back and almost two year old Libby on the sled.

Here's Joey with four year old Katie on their boogie boards.
(You can see the grass peaking through-we didn't get much snow, but they made the most of it.)

We are working on a very special project for our family nicknamed: The St Nicholas Project.  So, in case I don't get a chance to blog more this month I just want to encourage you to take time this coming Memorial Day to take your kids to a service, whether it is at a cemetery or a church.  Take time to pray for our military-both active and deceased.  Memorial Day is for the living.  It is for us to pray and resolve to be better people-to be worthy of the sacrifice so many of our military are making on our behalf.

I take part in both our local Memorial Day and Veteran's Day services as a member at large of the Gold Star Wives group.  I usually present a memorial wreath.  This past March I was blessed to be a part of the first annual Vietnam Veteran's Day.  I was asked to sing God Bless America and even though I have to sing with my eyes closed so that I don't cry, I must do okay, because they've asked me to sing again this Memorial Day.  Jessie will be reading a poem and Joey will either be my escort and/or standing with the other boy scouts in uniform.

 Here's Anna in front of military jeep that was there in March.

  We teach our children to honor the military when we personally take the time to honor the military.

Last Father's Day 2012 I was able to visit Chris' memorial stone in Arlington Cemetary.  These words struck me from General Lee's widow:

"God knows the best time for us to leave this world & we must never question either his love or wisdom.  This is my comfort in my great sorrow, to know that had my husband lived a thousand years he could not have died more honoured & lamented even had he accomplished all we desired and hoped."

Chris' memorial stone is on a beautiful hillside since there isn't a body to be buried.  It is near the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Here are Anna and Katie by the tree-you can see our flowers around Chris' stone in the background.

Above is Anna and Libby playing in the rocks outside of Arlington House.  I can't believe how much hair Libby grew in this past year until I saw her bald head in these pictures!!!

Below is my best friend (other than my hubby Jason), Mike Cleary, while Joey plays with the rocks and acorns with the little ones under the shade of the tree-just as he did when we were there and he was three.

And, just so I don't get accused of never posting any pictures of myself.  Here I am at the National Basilica with the kids earlier that morning:

And here we are with Jason this past Easter (yep, still look the same-some things just don't change:)

Jessie and Joey:

Check out my tenth anniversary tribute here and why Memorial Day Matters here

May you feel the sweetness of your loved ones always with you this spring,