Friday Finds: First Edition

I want to start out very bluntly and say that it’s tricky for me to share things I love without it morphing into me telling you all the things you “need” to buy. Because, as I’ve talked about previously, we don’t need to purchase a lot of material posessions to enjoy life. With this in mind, you can be confident that I am sharing something with you because I want you to know about it, not because I want you to buy everything! Maybe next time you are out of an item or researching a big purchase, something here will help direct you.

Ok, with that little confession out of the way, here we go!

I have had a life-changing experience with a soap, I use it as a face soap, and I feel compelled to share it here. Seriously, friends, it has changed my face for the better (x1000) and I loved it enough that I packed a bar and took it around the world with me! It’s super affordable and I now have a few bars in stock so that I never run out. Also, one bar lasts forever. I’m completely loyal to their chapstick now, too! The creators are friends of ours, and I’m so impressed by all of their hard work creating these products, but also STARTING A LAVENDER FARM! Who does that? Well, our friends do and we couldn’t be more proud to say we know them. But for reals, I’m only telling you about this because I am in love with these products.

You know we love to travel, and there are thousands of folks out there that love to travel, too. Before we go on any trip, we like to watch videos and get a feel for where we are going and the things to do there. It helps to get the kids excited and we learn a thing or two. We may not watch a lot of TV (or any), but you may find our family sitting at home on a Saturday night with a bowl of popcorn, watching YouTube travel videos.

Our problem is that many travel vloggers don’t deliver a consistent product and are such a turn-off. I can’t explain why, they just are. I think many folks (including us) love Rick Steves, but he only covers Europe. We really did struggle to find a blogger/vlogger that we enjoyed that went outside of Europe. That is, until we stumbled upon Kara and Nate! Oh my goodness, we love their videos. The kids love to watch their videos. And it’s safe for the family to watch together, so that always helps if you don’t have to worry about what may pop up on the screen unexpectedly. Kara and Nate have a ton of vlogs on YouTube, and if you ever want to educate yourself on other parts of the world and be entertained, I’d highly recommend this sweet duo. Here’s their website, or you can search “Kara and Nate” on YouTube. I’ll link the first video we ever saw of theirs, the Sunday night Change Mai street market (which we totally did while were in Chang Mai, thanks to them)!

This is a waaay out of date recommendation, but if you’ve not read this book, you should! It’s one of my favorites from last year. Even if you have no plan to travel, I think you’ll enjoy her family’s experiences of selling everything they owned and traveling the world.

If you don’t have a good peeler, get one of these. They are amazingly sharp and so super affordable. Maybe buy yourself a 3-pack and share one with a friend!

Ikea cabinet blog posts are all over the internet, but this post recently from Young House Love is very in-depth. If you have never used Ikea cabinets and want more info on how a DIYer could install Ikea cabinets, I think this post is a good start before you buy one cabinet or tool. We’ve had experience with one Ikea kitchen and plan to do it again soon, and I hope to write something about our experiences after round two. But in the meantime, this post is an awesome starting point. I always appreciate that YHL does not mess around with blog posts. They are so super detailed, you can tell how much work goes in to each post!

I cannot get enough of this album. I have checked it out from the library four weeks straight, and I am tempted to buy it, I enjoy it so much! That’s saying a lot for me, as I’m pretty cheap when it comes to buying things like books and music. It’s super duper catchy!

Ok, friends, that’s it. Have a happy weekend!

This post contains affiliate links


Tips, Hacks, and Habits To Get a Family Of 5 Around the World

If there’s one question I’ve heard more than any others over the past year, it’s some variation of, “How is your family able to travel like this?”

Unfortunately there’s no easy answer.

In short, it takes work and help from a mind much smarter than ours.

Nathan’s cousin is a bit of a self-proclaimed travel geek. I say that with the highest level of praise. In college, he figured out a hack to get to and from his university to his hometown on school breaks with only buying the first ticket.

You know the story of button soup? The fairy tale where the girl makes the soup “with only one button”?

That’s sort of how his college travel went. He bought one ticket and figured out a system where the airlines would always bump him and he would use his voucher for the next ticket, so on and so forth.

Over the years, he’s learned so much about the airlines and he has been the key to helping us plan our trips without going broke.

Casablanca, Morocco Airport (CMN)

Nathan and I have been curious, asking as many questions as we can without annoying him (okay, so we’ve annoyed him a time or twenty). He’s super generous with his wisdom and we’ll always be grateful.

For some of you, this will be so fascinating. For others, you’ll fall asleep two paragraphs into this post. I don’t know if this will be helpful or overwhelming, but I hope if nothing else, it’s a peek into the work that goes into traveling.

Things I’ve come to understand, in no particular order:

Don’t Ask To Go To Cancun For Spring Break and Expect Get a Deal.

That’s certainly a generalized statement, but if you have very specific parameters and a very specific time frame, it’s harder (dare I say impossible?) to find a low price on a fare. To state even more specifically, if you have a certain airport you want to fly in to, on inflexible dates, you will most likely pay accordingly. Traveling when everyone else wants to travel, to where everyone wants to go will not be helpful for you getting a bargain. Of course, there are always chances that you’ll find a bargain no matter where you are going, but the more flexible you can be, the better your chances of hitting the jackpot.

When You Find a Deal, Don’t Wait.

Our travel whiz tells us that finding a sale or reduced fare happens regularly. Literal “mistake fares” happen once or twice a month. Some of the destinations may not be desirable or the dates do not work for you. But when you find a deal that does work, don’t tarry. Book right away. If it’s a deal or truly a mistake fare, it’ll be gone in a puff of smoke.

We have benefited from deals our travel guru has found on his own, or sometimes he has found bargains published in blogs (one of his favorite blogs is One Mile At A Time). Nathan follows several blogs (and twitter accounts) that share deals in real time (The Points Guy, God Save The Points). Finding bargains takes a lot of attention and time!

Zanzibar, Africa

Finding flight deals to me is like house hunting. You don’t know what a good deal is until you’ve done a lot of house hunting. The same goes for ticket deals: the more you watch ticket prices and sales, the more you’ll be comfortable snagging a good deal when it pops up on your Twitter feed.

When Searching, Don’t Search Economy Only

When you are a budget-conscious traveler, it’s natural to go through the search engine, choose your dates and destination, and click, “find the cheapest fare”. I have found that the search engine will automatically search economy flights only. Sometimes (certainly not always), it pays to do an advanced search and choose Business Class or First Class as your seat choice. It may happen that one cabin will be overcrowded and another will be empty, and due to supply and demand, the business class will be more affordable than usual. Occasionally you’ll find deals (probably mistakes) where the business class fare will be cheaper than the economy! Grab that ticket immediately!

To quote our cousin, “not considering business class could be a classic case of penny wise/ pound foolish: add up the cost of your base-fare ticket plus any ancillaries you require [checked bags; seat assignments; etc]. If the Business/First Class fare is within striking distance of the sum of all those things, go for the upgrade!”

There are a lot of perks and benefits when flying business or first class internationally:

  • Lounge access
  • Priority check-in
  • Priority Security
  • Priority boarding
  • On-board food and drink (and lots of it) included
  • First off the aircraft
  • First bags off the plane

…not to mention the “extras” of international business class: amenity bags, lie-flat seats, and comfortable bedding. Of course, many of these benefits are strictly creature comforts. Creature comforts aside, I’m convinced that a traveler will miss less close connections when flying priority (first off the plane, first bags, priority security, etc) and can make paying for business class worth the extra money.

First Class Swiss Air

It’s never a guarantee that business class is going to be affordable, but it also never hurts to check. This website is a go-to for booking plane tickets. It requires a bit of self-tutoring… but once you figure out the basic syntax, it is quite easy to use. So for a bit of effort, this will often save a good chunk of change (or at least find the best routing). But with more effort, this site can work miracles! There are a hundred “advance controls” which will can return amazing results. Once you find the tickets you want to purchase, you’ll go to the airline’s ticketing website or online travel agent (like Expedia) to actually purchase the tickets.

Business Class Or First Class Miles Earn More Points

Finding deals on business class creates a positive snowball effect. For example: we flew a leg of of our last trip on business class that was worth 7,346 miles. The same flight credited in coach for 1,200 miles. The higher class you fly, the more miles you earn. The more you earn, the more you have to spend. So, finding even a few “mistake fares” in business or first class can mean a ton of miles earned and a fun time spending those miles in the future. Consider it like a rebate towards future purchases (Menards 11% rebate shoppers will understand this analogy).

Headed Home

It’s Much Cheaper to Fly From Europe To The States Than Vice-Versa

For my American friends, this is a little bit of a switch for our brains. It is much more affordable to fly from Europe to the USA, than USA to Europe. I just did a quick search and it cost over $1500 more to fly round trip from Chicago to Prague in business class, as compared to round trip from Prague to Chicago on the same flights (just in reverse order).

What that means for my family is that we originate our tickets from the other side of the pond. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around this, but right now I’m at home at my kitchen table, and I’m visiting the USA on a round trip ticket. The other half of my ticket will take me back to Europe at a later date, where I will originate a new ticket home, and on goes the cycle.

This means we are always putting out money ahead on the next trip, and we always have another trip planned and booked. But it’s part of the formula that keeps us in the sky, so I’ll take it without complaint.

We Save Our Miles On the Airline Loyalty Program That Makes the Most Sense

Here’s another statement that is a little unusual. We are not loyal to an airline. Whether it’s Qatar, Oman, American, Austrian, Swiss, United, Ethiopian, Lufthansa, British Airways, and on goes the list, we fly the carrier that works the best for the price and ticketing (and we shoot for carriers with a good reputation). The trick is that is we pool our miles on one airline loyalty program per alliance, even if that’s not the airline we flew. This website can help you narrow down your best options. There are a few major alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld Alliance and SkyTeam Alliance) and often times you can put the miles in any airline within that alliance. You want to credit the miles to the airline that will give you the most flexibility to spend those miles and give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Also, you can purchase miles and use them through the alliances. Sometimes an airline will sell miles at a sale price, so you can look at buying miles as an option as well.

Use Credit Card Points to Your Benefit

There are some great credit cards out there that can help you get started on accruing miles with huge sign-on incentives. If you want to start a ticket home from Europe but need to get yourself over to Europe, miles from a credit card may be one way to accomplish that goal! Some cards to look at are American Airlines cards, United Airlines Card, and Chase Sapphire Card, just to list a few. Many have an annual fee (some waived for year #1), so keep that in mind.

Sidenote: within the last year, Chase Bank has become more strict on how many cards they will approve you for before they decline your application. If you have an interest in attaining new cards, I’d always start with the Chase Cards first and move on to other bank’s cards, like Bank of America & Barclay, after you’ve reached what is called Chase’s 5/24 rule (no more than 5 card applications within 24 months).

Super deluxe cards, like American Express, have huge annual fees, but if you are doing regular traveling you’ll earn that back in spades by all of the bonus points and incentives for travelers, not to mention travel concierge services.

Shameless plug: we use a Chase Sapphire Preferred card for our everyday purchases, and if you are considering applying for one, I’d love for you to use my referral link for me to get a little kickback :-). There’s no annual fee the first year and a 50,000 point sign on bonus for you! I’m only limited to a few of these referral bonuses per year, but every little bit helps! I’d be super thankful! Here’s the link for your consideration.

I feel I’d be remiss to not mention that you need to have good self control with credit cards, and if you know you don’t, then don’t get a card. There’s no amount of credit card points that are worth a load of credit card debt.

Our Flight Paths Are Rarely Perfect

Sometimes to get the air deals we fly wonky paths. On the way home from Thailand we didn’t take a nice and neat flight from Bangkok to Chicago. Nope…eight flights and a few days later we got home, and it was a long trip. Our six-year-old fell asleep on the floor of an airport, in the middle of a passport control line, from exhaustion. In exchange for extra time and hassle, we flew business class the whole way and are set up for our trip back to Europe this summer.

Tunis, Tunisa Airport

This Takes Time And Effort

I cannot stress how much time and effort this takes. It may take hours upon hours to find a deal, more hours to perfect the booking, then more time inputting frequent flyer information, seat assignments, and on and on goes the list. We wouldn’t be traveling and able to write this article if it wasn’t for our cousin, Mike. We are grateful for his passionate hobby and his willingness to share his time and knowledge with his loved ones.

I wish I could say that there was one magic website or a genie in a bottle that could create bargain ticket prices to wherever we want to go, whenever we want to go. Instead, it takes a lot of work and attention. But, as they say, “Nothing worth doing is easy”. This certainly isn’t easy, but with practice makes perfect. Traveling internationally with 3 kids in tow can be done if you want to take the time and effort to do it! Happy Trails.

Thank you for reading! I hope this was helpful for you. For more, please follow this blog (look at the link in the top right), or follow me on Instagram or Facebook. It would be so great if you would! For more posts on travel, click here.

Intentional Consumption

This post is part of a series on travel. Read part 1 & 2 for a full scope of my thoughts. Thank you for reading!

When you take a quick scan through social media, it’s a quick way for you to be reminded of what you don’t have.

I first heard the phrase “house porn” in reference to the beautiful homes one sees on social media that are totally perfect, bright, and open. No matter that often times these photographed rooms are totally edited, unrealistic, or completely nonfunctional for the average family.

The same can be said for blogs/vloggers/Instagram that focus on some couple or family traveling the globe to these exotic places, posing unnaturally (really–who poses like that in front of the pyramids?) and looking totally gorgeous and ethereal.

We look at the couple exotically traveling and we feel inadequate with our trip to the nearby lake for spring break.

We look at the perfect house that is a replica of Chip & Joanna’s home, and suddenly our cozy living room feels like a dumpster fire.

We see the amazing bodies, the perfect cars, the curated #clean #vegan #keto meals and suddenly feel less than.

Less than what? I don’t know. But just not good enough. Not working enough. Not enough money. Just not enough. And it paralyzes us.

King Solomon reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). It’s true, there is nothing new under the sun, and that is especially true when it comes to comparing ourselves to others. Don’t assume that the desire to have your house look just like Chip & Joanna’s instead of what you have is a new thing. That’s been happening since the beginning of time.

Our culture tells us that in order to be happy (or feel satisfied) we need something.

Consumerism insists that in order to have fun, we have to buy things. That we have to pay the “entrance fee” enjoy life’s experiences. Culture tell us that we must get more to do more.

We often fall into the trap of thinking “When I have, then I will”.

When I have a nice house, then I’ll entertain.

When get a better job, then I’ll be more generous.

When I have vacation time, then I’ll hang out with my kids.

Being intentional with experiences instead of consuming is a choice. These things don’t happen to us by accident, and we can’t wait for some sort of magic moment for them to happen, or they never will.

If it is something that truly matters to us, we don’t wait to do it.

We entertain in our 500 sq foot studio apartment.

We give generously even when it hurts.

We hang out with our kids at night instead of vegging out in front of our device.

In my prior posts, I laid out here (#1) and here (#2) why we love to travel. What it means for our family. Why it’s a priority for us. The things we give up in order to make it happen. In essence, we value experiences more than material things.

For you, it may not mean travel. For your family, it may not mean homeschooling. It may not mean owning a home. It may not mean working more to have more, to buy more, to go more places.

What it does means is that we make a choice to make memories. To be with our people.

While we are busy chasing after some idolized Instagram ideal of what life should look like, we miss out on the moments that make life.

Let me make my point clear. People are the point. Not stuff. Not trips. Not our culture’s ideals and priorities.

So whether the moments of life are filled with card games at the kitchen table with friends, hikes up Machu Piccu with the love of your life, or taking walks through your neighborhood, do it with intention. Don’t let life pass you by while you chase some imaginary goal or dream that social media tells you is important.

For our family, for this time, we are trying to travel, to help our kids become globally minded. We are making very intentional choices to make that happen. But that will end someday.

Our kids will grow up.

Our health may not allow us to travel.

Our jobs and budget will, at some point (whether we like it or not), change.

We travel while we can, but it isn’t our idol.

If our life is wrapped up in waiting for the next thing, for some sort of perfect moment or experience, we will be left unsatisfied.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I always fall back on what he says. And he tells me that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Jesus is the only one that can fill my longing and emptiness. Not experiences. Not stuff.

I also look at the way Jesus led his life.

He led it with very little. His life was surrounded by people. He was intentional with every moment of every day. People were the priority.

May you spend your years being intentional with your choices of how you consume, how you love, how you live. No matter what that looks like for you, may you do it with contentment and joy, not comparing yourself to others. Rather than being distracted by things, I hope we all make choices that will have a lasting impact.

Rich in Memories

This is part of a series on travel. To read more, click here.

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” -Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad

When we took our first family trip at the beginning of last year, we had a talk with the boys about the prospect of travel and what it meant.

Nathan and I had already been doing some serious soul searching about the amount of stuff we had, and the amount of stuff the boys had accumulated over the years.

We were coming into the holidays and birthdays immediately following the holidays and feeling at a loss at what to give them. We have never been extravagant gift givers to the kids. Even still, it felt like every gift we had given them, even if something they wanted or needed, elicited immediate excitement and smiles, but was quickly forgotten.

In a few weeks I’d be asking them to pick the beloved gift off of the floor.

So we sat the boys down and told them of our opportunity to travel. But what it would mean for them. If they wanted to go places and see things, it would mean sacrifice. It would mean a super minimalist Christmas. And no birthday presents from us.

It would mean replacing gifts under the tree with memories that would last.

It would mean tough decisions. It would mean making the choice of going out to lunch after church, or going home for leftovers (leftovers it is). It would mean declining movies in theaters because we needed to save the money (hello, Redbox). It would mean sacrifice.

A deal was struck: we, the parents would do the heavy lifting, but the kids would have to support and contribute. No big Christmas, no birthday gifts, and they had to pitch in and help pay for the trip. Their profits from their weekly mowing job for a friend wouldn’t be spent on toys, it would be spent to pay for their passports. Perhaps any other money they were gifted from family would need to be saved for their trip spending money instead of Pokemon cards.

Istanbul, Turkey

They agreed, I think, not really because they fully understood, but because a vacation sounded fun.

Christmas was a fun day without gifts (no shocker there, but just in case you were wondering). We had a great day and it’s one of the Christmas days that that stands out to me the most. We played games, ate cinnamon rolls, and just relaxed with Nathan’s brother and sister-in-law.

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays were over, we left for our first international adventure.

We took Berlin by storm and then headed on to Africa. There were great memories, there were meltdowns. There were fun activities and there were moments that they were not loving it.

But we came. We saw. We made it home in one piece.

And we were hooked. More travel ensued.

We may not have a lot of material gifts to speak of in 2018, but boy, oh boy, do we have memories.

Berlin, Germany

Watching my kiddo have his first Nutella Crepe.

Feeling the silent shock as we stood over the spot where Hitler’s underground bunker lays.

Seeing the discomfort as we drove through some of the poverty in Africa.

Letting them help navigate through subway stations.

Bangkok Public Transit

Watching the glee on their face as they jumped into the Indian ocean for the first time.

Biking through olive groves and taking breaks to jump into Adriatic in Croatia.

Seeing history jump off the pages at Corrie Ten Boom’s home where she hid Jews in Haarlem, Amsterdam.

Dealing with jet lag, nausea from driving & flying, meltdowns from no sleep or weird food.

The good and the bad, they are all part of the package. They are shared memories that we’ll never forget.

There is something about traveling as a family unit that is somewhat of what Nathan describes as a “pressure cooker” experience. You are with each other constantly. The intensity is higher because you are all in a new place together. Often the minority. Often you don’t know the language. You get hangry with each other while you are simultaneously lost. You almost miss flights. But with all the stress and adventure, you grow closer. You make rich memories that are worth more than any gift under the tree. Some things, like 2.5 hour traffic jams in Bangkok, become things you can laugh about later over the dinner table back at home.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s time with your kiddos with no distractions. When we take these trips together we work hard in advance to get all of our to-do lists accomplished. I’m not distracted by my bills, my jobs, or by social media. We are together, seeing things together, learning things together, trying new things together. It’s time with my family that I’ll always remember and cherish.

But with these amazing experiences comes sacrifice. I began to be concerned that the kids were going to feel like they were missing out on normal gifts, normal spending that a parent would spend on their child. Year one of no gifts, okay. But year two? I was afraid they’d tire of the new deal and begin to want again. I mean, after all, they are kids.

A few days ago the boys and I were in the car and the subject of how we’d celebrate their birthdays came up (we’re a spring birthday family around here–January, March, March, April, & May). I was waiting for them to tell me the new video game they wanted or whatever was the newest thing/toy that they desired. But instead, my March baby, for his golden birthday said, “Mom, we’ve got another trip coming up. I don’t really need anything for my birthday. A schnitzel in Germany is all I need!” Then the other (April birthday) piped in, “For our birthdays can we go camping? I really want to go camping!”

My heart swelled. They get it. They realize that things don’t last.

To end, I’m quoting my son, who concluded in a presentation to his class about his travels,

“They say traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. It’s not the traveling that makes you rich, it’s the memories.”

Chang Mai, Thailand

Whether your next adventures take you to Azerbaijan or Atlanta, enjoy your people. Make memories that will last beyond the next gifting season.

Oh, Hi! It’s Been Awhile.

This is part of a series on travel. To read more, click here.

When you’ve not typed a word on your blog in ages and are not sure if you even know the login and password of your site, it’s a sign that you are not really being a responsible blog owner. Whoops. What can I say? Life is busy. There are a million blogs out there and I’m never convinced that anyone would want to read mine.

Our family and church life has kept me busy enough that writing on a blog has been the last thing on my mind. But recently I’ve been asked multiple times to write blog posts. What has garnered a lot of attention as of late is the travel we’ve been able take with our boys in tow in 2018-2019.  It’s hard for me to believe that our six-year-old has more stamps in his passport than I had when I was 21, and that the trio of boys has traveled to Europe, Asia, and Africa within the past year.

Pinch me, are we dreaming?

In a lot of ways, we are. It’s a dream come true and we feel very grateful.

After this last trip, especially, we’ve had the same question time and time again: How are you doing this for your family? How do you afford it? Did you receive an inheritance?

I find some of these questions to be a bit too much, if you want me to be totally honest. I don’t ask my neighbor how he affords his new car, and how my friend affords her child’s expensive lessons, etc. But I guess travel is unique enough and it calls people to take note.

Truth is: we all make choices in our life, in the way we give and in the way we spend our money.

I don’t want to go overboard and list out all the ways we save money for travel, because we can always compare ourselves to someone and think they have it better.

But to be simple, we save to travel. Our cars are old. We don’t have cable, Netflix (gasp!), any memberships or monthly subscriptions. We have no debt, outside of a home mortgage. We barely eat out (our average total dining out for the whole family, including Starbucks, annually is 80% less than the average American family).

We try to keep our spending simple. I watch for deals at Goodwill for clothes. If we buy new items, we make intentional purchases that are quality, long-term purchases rather than throw-away impulse items. And I always pray for an extra measure of self-control when I walk in to Target.

Another area that is different for our family is that we don’t have the kids in a ton of lessons or sports. I want to be quick to say that I think that lessons and sports are great. Fantastic. I know sports can be so fun for kids and parents alike. But every soccer league, random class and lesson, etc., is a lot of time in our week and adds up financially.

We save for travel because we value travel. For our family, we want to focus our money towards a different sort of education. We want them to experience different cultures. Understand history beyond a textbook. Get a real grasp on geography.

For me personally, no matter what my kids do with their life, I have these goals for them related to our travel years:

I want them to see that the world is bigger than what’s inside their normal “bubble”.

I want them to know that just because someone does something different than we do it, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It means it’s different (possibly even better).

I want them to always know, deep within their soul, that people of different cultures and origins are valued and important. Each person is a lovely soul, created in the image of the Creator.

I have observed in our country (and elsewhere) that there is a fear of people that are different than us. Whether it’s their language, their culture, or their background, we as humans often focus on the difference and it makes us fearful.

I don’t want my kids to be afraid of different. I want them to embrace different and value different.

What would change for the better in our world if we could be okay with different?

Istanbul, Turkey

Travel as part of our educational philosophy is unusual, but we believe it to be worthwhile. It’s not the only way, rather, it’s our family’s way (yay for the choice to homeschool).

There may be reasons why an individual or family cannot travel, whether it be health, financial, or just simply the choice to not travel. Travel isn’t for everyone and not everyone will enjoy the challenges that travel presents. And that’s okay!

For our family, for this season, we are taking advantage of travel as a way to expand our hearts, minds, and understanding of this world. It’s not always cheap, it’s not always easy, but I pray it’s richly rewarding and worldview-shaping for our boy’s future.

Somewhere over the Swiss Alps

More to come on this subject….

Thanks for reading, Sarah & the boys

Outdoor Shower

I honestly was not even sure I remembered how to sign in to my blog, it’s been that long…whoops.  I feel like I need to introduce myself.

My name is Sarah.

My husband and I like DYI.  We are addicted to projects.  Perhaps a hobby sounds better than an addiction.

We have 3 boys (hence the blog name).

We live on a little piece of land.

Which leads to the project that we finished this spring, and it has been the project that is in the running for rookie of the year around here, and it has also garnered the most questions and comments from friends and family.

Let me introduce you to….

Shower 1 Sarahandtheboys

Henrietta, the outdoor shower.  Yes, I’ve named her, kind of like one would name a boat, as this is the closest I’ll probably get to a boat–ha!

I keep struggling to get a picture of her when she’s dry, because she’s rarely dry!  We use her all of the time (hence the potential rookie of the year award).

It may seem strange to have a shower outside, but around here, it works pretty well. Our kids play (or swim!) outside a lot in the summer.  It has been wonderful to be able to let them be in the great outdoors, making a mess to their heart’s content, and have them clean up and leave their mess outside before they head inside.

Added plus?  Their inside shower isn’t needing to be scrubbed.  #winning

Shower 2 Sarahandtheboysblog

Nathan and I have always had a thing for whales, so it seemed like the right spot to add a nautical touch.  If only there was an ocean down the street.  #notwinning #whydoiliveinthemidwest



The whole thing is pretty spacious.  The hooks on the inside come in super handy for wet swimming gear.


The way it’s situated, you can open the door to the shower, go immediately left into the the garage, and then another immediate left into the mudroom.

Of course, this whole deal wouldn’t be perfect for a typical suburban home (hello creeper!), but pretty perfect for our country paradise.  🙂  There’s something amazing about taking a shower on a summer day and watching the blue skies and clouds float by.


My flowers are pretty happy, too.  I’ll be back Monday with a little breakdown of how we put Henrietta together.

PS Facebook and Instagram want lots of $$$ from me to get my post into your feed (darn algorithms), so please consider just subscribing by email if you want to see more diy/project news.  Or check back in often!  I’m going to try to work harder at posting.  We’ve got so many projects in the pipeline, it’s a good time to follow!





Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers

As I decorate my home, I don’t really like to rush through and buy random pieces at Home Goods/Target/Hobby Lobby, etc. just to fill a space and make it look finished.  I want the things in my home to be things I really really love or something that has personal meaning.

Our bedroom has been quite a project and I hope to share more with you soon.  Today is just a small sneak peek into the changes that have happened in that space.

I really love the quote, “Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers” and wanted it to be a centerpiece in our bedroom.  Somehow.  I didn’t know how.

A quick google search found several beautiful “Adventurers” pieces of art, as there are many talented artists that have taken their own spin with that quote.  I’m not sure where the quote originated, but I’ve always loved the romantic idea of adventure with my darling.

As I searched etsy, I found an artist named Katherine DeBoor that had a style I liked.  She had an Oh Darling Listing that jumped out at me and a description on the listing that her art could be personalized.

I knew immediately that I liked her hand lettering, but I needed the art to be more us.  As in Nathan and Sarah.  You see, we like adventures.  We like the outdoors.  This year has not been our best outdoor year, as we’ve taken on this major project, but I always want to have our sights set on adventures.  I wanted it to be a reminder to us every time we walk into our room.

We love to be in boats.  To canoe.  To be outside.  We like to get our kids in boats and on the water at an early age.  Which also means camping in a tent with an infant/toddler.  Which also means no sleep.



So I knew what I wanted our adventure to look like, but I had to communicate this with Katherine.  It was there in my head, but we were having conversations over Etsy, so that’s tricky.  She’s in Indiana.  I’m in Missouri.

I sent her photos of trees that I wanted.  Boats that I wanted.


And she was amazing!  Katherine sent me probably a dozen different sketches of ideas.  We narrowed down by her sketches.  Then I changed the size.  Ok, let’s be honest, I changed the whole listing!  What a trooper!

The end product was just what I had wanted.

oh darling sideview

oh darling photo  sarahandtheboysblog

oh darling sideview

Oh Darling  Sarahandtheboysblog

She delivered just what I had in my head!  Yay, Katherine!

I’m not being sponsored for this post.  And she does not even know I’m writing about her or her awesome work.

She has lots of other fun (and affordable) pieces of art on her Etsy page.  I especially like this personalized watercolor you can have done of your family.  What a fun Christmas gift this would be for your sweetie, friends, or relatives.

I would encourage you, as you decorate your spaces, to try to be intentional.  Try to not just fill spaces with stuff that’s pretty, but stuff that you love.

Things that bring back memories.

Things that bring you joy.

I have spaces in my home that sit empty as I look out for the right thing.  I know what that thing is, but it won’t come with one trip to the box store.  Homes are meant to be spaces that reflect you, not spaces that are a regurgitation of the latest Pottery Barn catalog.

Be intentional. Let your house be YOU.

Be adventurers, my friends.


How To Refresh Antique wood in 10 Minutes for less than $10

When I recently shared about my new door, I took this interior photo:

Living room after new door//Sarahandtheboysblog

The antique sewing machine serves as our little entryway piece.  It does not really have any purpose other than decoration (and holding a surround sound speaker).

This antique is something my mom passed down to me.  I’m not sure where she picked it up, but she used it as her primary sewing machine when I was little.  Eventually she upgraded, but I have memories of her making Christmas dresses on this machine. I remember one particular Christmas where she made my sister and I matching velvet dresses.  The material was so heavy, she had a heck of a time and had to pull this old Sears & Roebuck into service to help sew through the thick fabric.

It’s been in my house for at least 10 years, and in storage before that.  The finish was looking pretty worn out.  Water rings, and just dry.

I didn’t want to refinish the piece.  I liked the patina of the old finish.  Plus, it’s at least 100 years old, and I see no point taking away the original finish!  But I didn’t want it to look quite so rough and aged.


I used a product called Restor-A-Finish.  Basically I just wiped a thin coat on with a rag (material applied to the rag, not to the furniture) and, wiped off any excess that didn’t absorb.  I repeated once.  It took ten minutes, tops.

I was pretty tickled by the difference it made!  Why had I waited so long?




This is not rocket science or mind blowing, but I thought you may want this little tip for your own antiques.  It’s the easiest DIY ever!

Happy Friday, Friends!


BEFORE: It wasn’t pretty.

Often times when we have guests, they say, “your house is so lovely!”.  Which I’m sure is a standard compliment that new guests give to their hosts.  I always reply with, “Oh thank you, it’s a lot different than when we bought it, but we still have a long way to go.”

Looking back over these photos I’m about to share with you, I had forgotten how far we’ve come.  Some days I get impatient with the waiting.  My kitchen layout drives me batty, I have a very ugly bathroom, and some really nasty floors (carpet isn’t my friend).  But then I look back at these photos and see all the massive change, and it stops me in my tracks.

Gosh, I need to be more grateful about the progress we’ve made, rather than always focusing on what’s left to be done.

We purposely purchased a home that needed some TLC because that’s what we do best: taking ugly spaces and bringing them back to life.

We have bought ugly homes for several reasons:

*we are not afraid of hard work.

*we typically are not happy with someone else’s idea of a “good job” on a remodel project, so it’s preferable to do it ourselves and get just what we envision for the space.

*we wanted to be in a certain area, and it just so happens that acreages in this area are not easy to come by at an affordable price.

*since we are able to fix most things ourselves, we have been able to build “sweat equity” in our properties. Our first home gained a significant amount of equity in 5 years, about 45%, enough to buy the one we are currently residing in without breaking the bank.

*we couldn’t afford anything more, and location has always trumped size or a perfect, turn-key home.

Now, this philosophy does not work for everyone.  In fact, there are some people that should not buy a fixer-upper.  But it works for us.

And without further adieu, here are some photos of our fixer-upper (on the day we went in for home inspections and the day we closed):



It was like a maroon paint can had exploded everywhere.  The prior owners were in love with maroon.  Maroon roof, porch, shutters, and even maroon bushes galore (not pictured).  Also included: lots of weeds (home had been unoccupied for a while).


Moldy siding!  Overgrown bushes!  Swampy backyard from poor drainage!  More weeds!


Living room



Fake floral arrangements at every turn.  Even in the fireplace, as if on top of and next to the fireplace wasn’t enough.




Nasty nasty wallpaper.   Nasty.  Original almond stove.  Mis-matched white dishwasher.


It’s the biggest floral arrangement EVER!  And the largest microwave on the planet (which, if I recall, the prior owner took at closing. Probably to put into the museum of “largest microwaves in the world”).


Please note the smoke colored glass light fixtures.


I shudder inside when I see these photos.  The whole place smelled like a funky plug-in.  The prior owner was attempting to cover up the lie that she didn’t have pets.  If a seller tells you they have never had pets, just assume they’ve had 5 cats, mkay? (disclaimer: I’m allergic to cats and they make me sick.  This is not a personal attack on your cats, which I’m sure are quite nice, always clean and minty fresh, and never shed).


Master Bath


We will call this “tiny master bathroom with giant vanity, peeling popcorn ceiling and falling-down towel bars”

Upstairs Bathroom (for bedrooms upstairs)


Did you know toilet LID covers existed?  This owner loved a good toilet cover.


Guest Bath/Powder Room: we have more toilet seat covers, complete with floral arrangement and circa-1986 wallpaper and mauve mini-blinds.


Do you think we are cray cray?  Oh, friend, I’m not done.

Nothing says sexy like a laundry room that has not been painted in 25 years, yes?


Before I take you to the bedrooms, let me lead you up this beautiful set of stairs, and don’t forget to look up to catch sight of the pretty wallpaper border AND BATHROOM DOOR WREATH.  That baby could take an eye out.







The only part of the home that looks better then, as compared to now, is the upstairs attic storage.  I can only dream of it being this empty today!  I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t put this in the post, as Nathan will freak out and rent a dumpster for us to fill.


Yes, we bought this house on purpose.  With eyes (and nose) wide open.  We saw potential.  We saw a quality, custom-built home that needed some (lots of) love.  We saw a home that gave us room to grow and host guests.  We saw 3 acres within 15 minutes of our jobs.

Even though we saw all of that we were quite skeerd.  We were afraid of what we may find.  Of how long it may take to fix up the home.  When we bought it, we couldn’t even afford to buy a gallon of paint.

I snapped this photo of our boys playing on the front porch of the home we were selling.  This was taken the morning of the closing day.  It’s no wonder I had to go in the bathroom of the bank, sit in a stall and ball my eyes out.


We had to step back to move forward.  And it was hard.  But worth it, even though there are days I still miss our tiny, completely updated, 1920s bungalow.

More coming in future posts on the things we’ve done to our home, and what’s still in the works.  We’ll never be “done”, but seeing these photos will help give you context to appreciate where we started.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Thanks for reading.


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Happy Valentine’s Day, Happy Birthday, Happy Father’s day, Happy Mother’s day, Merry Christmas. A new door!

We bought our home in 2010, and while it had good bones, it needed A LOT of TLC. We were able to see past the rough issues, in exchange for a location we wanted in a price range we could afford.

We are not afraid of hard work. We can be patient. We have lived in this home for 5 years, and there have been so many areas inside and out that needed attention. Even if we had the money, we don’t have the time to attend to all of these areas at once.

Just to backup a bit, this is what our home looked like when we purchased it 5 years ago:

Our Home Then

Not totally ugly, just needed a lot of attention.  Bushes unkept, weeds growing.  Ugly roof.  Front door was rough.  But from a distance, it didn’t look too bad.

We knew we wanted a new roof, but a new roof is an expensive proposition.  So we waited.  Did little things, like trim bushes, add landscaping rocks, paint shutters, clean siding, replace light fixtures.

***this photo was not taken last night.  This photo is one year old, from July 2014, four years after we moved in.***

Now home 1 exterior sarahandtheboysblog

Lots of little things, totaling less than $200, made a difference in making this home look more “loved”.

But when you walked up close, you would have noticed that this home still had some curb appeal issues.  Doors are so important for making a home look up-to-date, well-kept, and appealing.

Our front door wasn’t cutting it for us.

before door 2

Saying it lacked curb appeal is an understatement. I had done my best, adding a vinyl “welcome” cling and painting it (I’m pretty sure the prior owners had painted the front door with interior flat paint, it was beat up and rough). I added a wreath and we put on a new door handle.


But you didn’t have to look far to see it’s flaws.

before door 1

Between an ugly storm door, awful caulking job, and bad painting, it was just rough.  After we re-roofed our home earlier this year, it made us want a new door even more.

front of home jan 15

Unfortunately, new doors are not cheap, so we waited.  The other unfortunate thing about our front door is that it let no light through.  If you are inside our home, you will realize quickly that the living room isn’t super bright, because it’s covered by the porch.  This is great for energy-efficiency, but not great for light.  So the front “entryway” of our home felt dark, cramped, and dank.  Kind of like a cave.  And if you know me, you know I don’t like caves whatsoever.  It may or may not be a phobia.  We won’t go into that today.

before new door 1

We knew we could not change the tight size of our entryway, and that’s fine.  Only guests ever use our front door, so it’s really not a big deal.  But we could change the way the entryway felt to us inside.

Earlier this year we came up with a solution that would work in our already tight home-improvement.  You see, we took on the major task of adding space to our home, which incurred a lot of expenses.  Was it worth it?  Yes, but still expensive!  We decided: no Valentine’s day, birthday, mother’s/father’s day or Christmas gifts for each other.  We were buying each other a new door.  We knew we needed a door with lots of light.  We knew we still couldn’t afford anything out-of-this-world expensive.  We looked at a lot of options.  Mission-style doors are very popular right now, and even though we love them, they don’t match our Cape-Cod style home.  We finally  pulled the trigger and ordered the door.  And waited.  And waited.  It was only 6 weeks, but it felt like an eternity (wait…did I say earlier that I had patience?  Because I don’t).

While I was waiting for the door to arrive, I ordered new door hardware.  We ordered Schlage hardware, which we used on all of our interior doors.  If you special-order door hardware you can choose for the interior to match your interior hardware, while your exterior can be whatever you choose.  We used and it went from order to our front door within 1 day.  Seriourly, I don’t know how they did this (shipping was free!).  I would highly recommend them, based on our experience.

Once the door arrived, it took Nathan about a half of a day to install it,  He’s pretty handy, and while I wouldn’t say it was too difficult, it takes awhile to make sure you get everything level and secure.  And we love it!  Get ready for photo overload.

new door 4

new door 8

new door

new door 2
new door 3

new door 5

new door 7

The interior has improved dramatically, too.  Our once-dark corner lets in a lot of light, and makes our small entry-way feel much larger.  It look a little while for us to adjust, as it always felt like our front door was open :-).

after new door

That light was so very needed.  Photos don’t show the difference in before and after, in terms of how much better our entryway feels–inside and out.


We’ve come a long way.  I am so amazed what a difference the front door has made in making our home feel more fresh and current.

So as a review:

new door comparison

Before after interior

We still have one major front porch project that I’m hoping to work on in 2016.  Here’s where we stand on our front of the exterior renovations:

*Clean up landscaping

*Added landscaping rock border

*Replace front light fixture

*Painted shutters

*replace roof

*replace front door

*Replace porch flooring (prior owner loved maroon everything, painted the concrete, and it’s now peeling.)

*Replace skinny front porch columns with something larger

*Change out character-less, sagging vinyl porch ceiling with wood beadboard

*Add porch ceiling fan

Even though we still have a decent amount of projects left, it’s a huge improvement from where we were.

updated home new door

 Sometimes it’s hard to wait till you can afford to do projects, but when you do them, and you do them the way you want them, the reward is greater.  I really enjoy our front porch these days.