Our House in Charlottesville // The In Between

After my last post about our house before our renovation this summer, I was planning to share photos of our finished house next.

However, as I looked back through old pictures on my phone, I found so many good ones from the transformation stage! Those months we spent slowly turning our old house into a cozy home… they were hard. But they were also full of memories, and a lot of decisions, and many setbacks. Those months deserve a chapter all of their own.

So here are some of my favorite photos from August-December of last year. This first one is from our last day on the road from California, as we drove from Kentucky to Charlottesville. We’d been on the road for 7 weeks and then, at long last…

Virginia! Sweet “home” Virginia, here we come.

We reached our home at 11pm — much later than planned — where we learned two things:

  1. Elliott had professional cleaners deep-clean the house, a huge gift to me!
  2. The cleaners had taken the keys home with them.

So we were locked outside. Elliott tried to contact the cleaner, but there was no response. Finally, Elliott discovered an open window, and he climbed through and let us in. Exhausted, we blew up the air mattress, laid down sleeping bags, and spent our first night in our new home.

Elliott’s sister Eden invited us to walk over to their house in the morning for breakfast, which is just half a mile away. That breakfast was balm to our souls, as we were fresh outta groceries (the fridge wasn’t even on!), and somewhat shell-shocked from our loooong journey, the state of our new house, and the transition to life outside the military and in our old college town of Charlottesville in general. I was on a total emotional rollercoaster for weeks, to be honest.

All too soon, though, breakfast was over, and it was time to go home and decide what to do first.

We had gone back and forth between doing an extensive renovation — which would include things like tearing down walls, putting in a new and much larger kitchen, and installing a central air system — or just doing what we called “the bare minimum.”

Because our home will always be a great rental, and because we weren’t sure we’d want to live in it longterm, we decided finally to just do the bare minimum. If we didn’t tear down interior walls, we’d still be able to move out and easily convert it back to rental apartments. In the meantime, we could live here comfortably for a year or two while we decided where we might like to live more permanently. (Will we stay in this neighborhood? This town? This state? This country? Impossible to know where life and the Lord might lead us!)

We hired a contractor and began to make a plan for renovations, which included:


  • upgrading the electricity
  • removing part of the kitchen in one apartment to turn it into a combination laundry room and nursery
  • hiring a plumber for various plumbing issues, including installing washer and dryer hook-ups for us and for our tenants, and installing a utility sink in our laundry room
  • putting in a new front door and storm door
  • changing light fixtures in almost every room
  • installing ceiling fans in 3 rooms
  • installing about 10 new windows, plus some new windows in our rental apartments
  • painting about 75% of our house and 100% of both of our rental apartments
  • removing one unnecessary door (between our living and dining room)
  • installing 2 necessary doors (between our bedrooms)
  • installing wall-to-wall carpet in the attic, putting a gate at the top of the attic stairs, and finishing the electric in the attic as well


  • renovating the porch: removing the old iron railing and replacing it with a classic white railing, upgrading the old support posts, and painting the floor with a bright gray-blue sanded paint
  • removing the weird porch thing in the backyard (and, later, the asbestos tile and cement we found under it)
  • installing a new French drain on the side of the house
  • replacing the water main to the city (which was only buried a few inches under the ground and got broken inadvertently when the French drain was going in)
  • installing a new picket fence around the front yard
  • removing the holly bushes by the front porch
  • removing all the old grass in the front and back yards, and replacing it with fresh sod and new mulched borders for flowers
  • planting several new fruit trees and berry bushes!

I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

We also had another issue: we didn’t have any furniture. In fact, we had almost nothing with us. We had moved in with just the things we’d packed into our Honda minivan all summer long. We had an air mattress, sheets, a couple of pillows, 3 sleeping bags, Forest’s portable crib, camping cooking pots and utensils, books, clothes, computers… and that’s about it. We rattled around in our new house for a while.

All our belongings were in storage from our old home in California, but that didn’t include much furniture. Most of our furniture in our house in California belonged to our landlords, and we’d sold almost all our furniture in Sicily in anticipation of that. We needed to buy new furniture: beds for all of us, a dining table, chairs, and an entire living room! And we needed to buy it as soon as possible, because sitting on our picnic blanket on the floor for meals was getting old… fast.

We spent an exhausting evening at World Market, where we found a lot of things we liked. The next day we put the older kids in museum camp, and Elliott, Forest, and I drove 2.5 hours (!) to the great land of…

… IKEA. We decided to purchase the bulk of our furniture here, knowing it was temporary-ish furniture for a temporary-ish house and life. It’s also affordable furniture and with clean, fresh designs as well as plenty of hygge.

In retrospect, I think this was the worst day of the entire “in between” season. We had SO many decisions to make, and it was already after lunchtime by the time we got there and really started looking at things. What about our older kids 2.5 hours away?! And our toddler in the shopping cart all afternoon?

I was sweating with stress and on the verge of tears most of the 5 hours we spent tearing through the store, making massive, hundreds-of-dollars decisions about furniture and finishings that would determine the style of our home and what everyone would think of me forever. Just kidding… sorta. These hasty decisions were, in so many ways, quite permanent.

We finally staggered out of there around 6pm, I think, feeling a sense of great thankfulness to Eden, who had picked up our older kids and watched them all afternoon, and also great discouragement because we’d missed our first all-Charlottesville family dinner at Elliott’s other sister’s house.

Our van was filled to the brim with the furniture we could fit in it that day, and the rest would be delivered by IKEA in a couple of weeks.

“A couple of weeks?!” Elliott said. So much for trying to furnish our home in one fell swoop.

“That’s our earliest delivery date for Charlottesville, sir. I’m sorry.”

We left.

That night, after our kids were home with us again, and it was all over, Elliott and the kids assembled our first piece of furniture: the comfortable chair he’d been longing for. He read them stories in it that night, and some things felt more right with the world at last.

In the midst of all of this upheaval and adjustment in our lives, the Charlottesville white nationalist rally and horrible tragedy occurred on the Downtown Mall, just a few blocks from our home. Although we were out of town that weekend, and also new to Charlottesville, it cast a pall over the city and our hearts that, in some ways, will never go away. How long, O Lord, how long?

While we waited for our IKEA furniture to show up, we made some decisions about living room furniture from World Market. Huge improvement to our living room!

As we slowly built our home around ourselves, we also began to form some wonderful relationships with our neighbors. Here is the first picture I took of Lena and Gil with their new friends. The four of them play together now almost every afternoon!

Forest is exploring our new library which — although nothing like our beloved Coronado library — is still extremely well-stocked and friendly. The kids and I are there at least once a week, and I have come to accept the stress, mess, and joy of having an average of 50 books checked out at all times… yikes!

I remember taking this photo of the kids one night after dinner, when we were still eating at Eden’s camping table with folding chairs every night. We were glad to be reunited to our animals — Australia Labradoodle Sadie and Maine Coon cat Siena — who spent the entire summer with Elliott’s gracious and generous parents!

Much needed haircut on the front porch.

Watching our new picket fence be built in our front yard!

I took a few photos of our light fixtures before we all went to Lowe’s one day to look at replacements. While taking photos, I also captured other aspects of life at that time… like how our air mattress (with our new memory foam mattress on top of it!) used to be in what is now the dining room…

… and how our dining room used to be what is now our master bedroom. All our new chairs sat here for a while after Gil and I assembled them one day, and while we waited for our dining room table to arrive.

We ate almost every meal outside on our porch those days, though, so waiting for a dining room table was fine!

I took ALL the kids back to IKEA by myself one day to add more things to our home delivery before it arrived. Went better than expected, amazingly!

Forest helped me assemble our new shoe cabinet. Look at his little tongue!

Ahh, the IKEA delivery arrived, and we assembled everything piece by piece, and — at long last — Elliott and I have a bed frame and bedside tables in our own bedroom!

I took this photo after our new Lowe’s light fixture had been installed, and texted my mom: “This looks AWFUL. Right? Too small, and too high? WHAT AM I GOING TO DO????”

We all agreed it was terrible… terribly installed (way too high) and way too small for the space. We had our contractor take it out, and I returned it to Lowe’s, who — amazingly! — refunded me without even blinking. I then did a lot of research about chandeliers, and ultimately we settled on this light fixture from Pottery Barn. We love it, and so does everyone else… whew!

Late September: the fence is up! The sod is in! We have a front yard! The porch still needs to be totally renovated, but… one thing at a time.

We left for 2 weeks in Germany while Elliott went to his first Army Reserve assignment, and then we traveled to Salzburg and Munich afterwards. This beer was hard-earned!

Back in Charlottesville… to a new porch! We like the lighter blue color, and the white pickets are so pretty and simple.

Elliott went nuts at Costco and bought so many mums and pumpkins and gourds. Welcome to fall in Virginia!

Sadie looks right at home!

Happy to be reunited with his favorite snacking buddy.

Around the end of October, when most of the renovations were complete and all our new IKEA furniture had arrived (and been assembled… another Hurculean task!), we finally got all our stuff out of storage. To help ourselves organize faster, we asked the movers to unpack all the boxes and take the packing materials away with them.

Oh. My. Goodness. Chaos. I had no idea we had so much STUFF. Can you spot Forest in the midst of the mess?

Where am I going to fit all this STUFF in our tiny kitchen?? Stuff stuff stuff. I hate it. Go away.

But no. Someone (aka me) needs to sort through it, piece by piece, and find a place for it. And so that’s how I spent a lot of October and November.

A blessing in the madness: seeing Lena reading her first real chapter book, Pippi Longstocking, a book she and I have read aloud together at least twice, and maybe three times. All those easy readers we checked out from the library were beginning to pay off, and Lena started reading independently in the fall, and then… whoosh, she jumped from easy readers to chapter books, and then couldn’t stop reading. It thrilled me (and still thrills me!) every time I witnessed it finally happening, after reading aloud to her for so many years.

We waited until the last day possible, but we finally traded in our California registration and registered our car in Virginia. I miss those old red, white, and blue plates, and all that came with them.

One advantage of having a super-low ceiling in your tiny kitchen… you can walk on the ceiling!

Enjoying Carters Mountain (just 10 min from our house) and apple picking with Grammie and Poppy in the fall.

The living room is looking more and more settled!

One afternoon I went to UVA, my alma mater, to have lunch with an old college friend. I wandered around Grounds for the first time since we’d moved back. There is something about the Lawn in the fall that made me feel so thankful — perhaps for the first time — to call this lovely town our home.

Pushing all the kids home from the farmers market on a Saturday morning!

Elliott went back to Germany for work, and I finally cleaned up the main bathroom. Consolidating huge cabinets and drawers’ worth of STUFF from our massive bathroom in California was not easy, but in the end, it all fit on these three shelves. So much better!

Typical weekend morning with my cinnamon roll-making crew!

And, last but not least, a photo of the day I finally ironed and hung our new curtains on our new curtain rods, which took us months to finally put up. Remember when our air mattress was in this room…?

It’s beginning to look a lot like HOME!

Next up, the last installment in this little series: the “after” photos of how our home looks now. Thanks for sticking with me, all of you who are still reading!

12 :: in Charlottesville, home renovation

Our House in Charlottesville // The “Before” Photos

Photo from December, taken on the front steps of our “new” old house! (Photo credit — Kate Greer Photography)

Ah, this house! It’s been more work than we anticipated, but it’s also given me more pride and joy than I expected. I feel an affection for it that comes from exercising serious elbow grease, blood, sweat, tears, determination, and imagination to create the home we live in now.

Our “renovation,” though, has actually been pretty minor, so I cannot imagine how I might feel if we’d done this on a grander scale. This is how so many of you all feel every day! I have so much more respect for DIYers, designers, and home renovators now.

OK, our story of this house, in brief. (Or just skip past all the writing to get to the photos!)

Elliott and I saw it for the first time last December, when we were still living in California for another six months. We knew we probably wanted to move to Charlottesville, and probably wanted to live in the Belmont neighborhood. Elliott, baby Forest, and I made a last-minute appointment to see the house right before leaving town, and it wasn’t much to see. The home looked like a typical little 1930s Craftsman (not the super cute kind), and it had been subdivided into FOUR apartments: two 1-bedrooms upstairs, a 2-bedroom in the basement, and a 2-bedroom over the separate garage building. The landlords/owners had maintained these apartments with a bare minimum of upkeep for a very long time, and it was cramped, dingy, very lived-in… but had so much potential.

Honestly, the main potential came from all the apartments. We could fairly easily live in the two upstairs 1-bedrooms with basic renovations — new light fixtures, paint, finishing the attic, replacing old windows — and maybe even more drastic measures, like tearing down dividing walls and putting in a new kitchen. The basement and garage apartments could stay as rentals or Airbnb apartments, and the income generated from those rentals would help to cover our mortgage. Since Elliott’s career would be changing drastically (he would be moving from active duty to the reserves in the Army, and also working from home on several entrepreneurial businesses) this seemed like a wise financial choice to make.

Also, we really liked the neighborhood. First of all, we would be living just down the alley from a wonderful family. Elliott knows the parents from high school and college, their kids are close to our kids’ ages, and they go to our church. We’d also be in the same neighborhood as Elliott’s two sisters and their families. And the house is a 5-minute walk to the pedestrian-only Downtown Mall which — as anyone who’s ever been to Charlottesville knows — is a bustling, beautiful stretch of local shops, restaurants, boutiques, bookstores, and even a little children’s museum.

Even if we only live in the house for a few years, it will always been a profitable rental due its location. For now, we could do some minimal renovation to make it comfortable and livable, and down the road we could do a much larger renovation or even put on an addition, if we liked.

Sooooo we decided to buy it. We closed in February 2017, and we didn’t see the house again until June, when we met with a contractor to discuss renovations. That was when we took all these photos, too, which I’ll share with you now. I edited them to brighten them and make them more palatable to the blog-reading eye, so they look a lot better than reality did, let me tell you. ;)

Here is a photo of the exterior (not actually a video, sorry!):

Look at that overgrown yard! One of the first things we did was hire someone to remove of those holly bushes and totally re-sod the yard. The bushes are hiding an ugly, rusted iron railing surrounding the porch as well as a chipped, slippery gray concrete floor. All of that had to change, too.

This is the entrance to the part of the house we now live in. The stairs lead up to an unfinished attic, which was just storage space for the previous owners. The door to Apartment A is on the right.

This is the unfinished upstairs attic, which was just storage space for the previous owners. We weren’t sure what to do with it, but it is a beautiful space. Photo coming in my next post of how we transformed this space!

Close-up of the chipped windowsill paint in the attic, which is an accurate description of how a lot of the house looked. We had to replace a lot of broken, uninsulated windows after we moved in, too.

Elliott walking down the narrow, tilting attic stairs.

OK, now we’re downstairs, and we’re in “Apartment A” on the right side of the house, which consists of 2 large rooms, a small kitchen, and a full bathroom. We decided to use this side of the house as our living room, dining room (shown here), main/guest bathroom, and kitchen. The floors are thankfully in great shape, aren’t they?

Bathroom in Apartment A. Not too bad!

Yuck. :( This tub looks a lot better now after a lot of cleaning and some plumbing work. The little shelves were carelessly installed upside down, so shampoo bottles slide right off their slanted surface. How dumb is that??

This is part of our current kitchen. Also not bad, and plenty of potential to make it cute and functional.

The other side of our current kitchen. Basic old rental-grade appliances, but they work fine. We weren’t sure if we’d keep this basic kitchen or do a major renovation with a kitchen addition. More about that decision in my next post!

View out our kitchen window to the overgrown backyard and alley, both of which we have cleared now. We’ve also replaced these windows.

Elliott is walking out of our kitchen into our dining room. Those shelves are a major perk, for sure!

Another view of the dining room and our future pantry. The doorway leads into our current living room and the front of the apartment.

Now we’re looking at photos of the other apartment, Apartment B, which is the left side of the house. We’ve turned this side into our three bedrooms. At the time when these photos were taken, a tenant was still living in the apartment. Even though those bookshelves are untidy, they are cool, don’t you think?

I turned 180 degrees to take this photo. I’m currently standing with my back to the bookshelves, in the room that is now our kids’ bedroom. I’m looking into what is now our master bedroom.

This was our tenant’s kitchen, but we turned it into a combination laundry room/nursery.

I’m standing on one side of the kitchen in Apartment B, which we turned into Forest’s bedroom. We removed the fridge and oven, and now Forest’s crib, dresser, and rug are there.

On this side of the kitchen, we had the bottom cabinets removed, and we put in a washer, dryer, and utility sink. I kept the upper cabinets for our linens.

Now we’re in the backyard, looking at a rotting tree that we had to have removed. Across the yard, you can see our garage, which has our 2-bedroom rental above it.

Another view of our backyard, taken while Elliott was talking to a contractor. We decided to remove that weird, rotting porch thing that she’s standing on, and we discovered a pile of old asbestos tile hidden under a concrete slab! What a nice surprise from a lazy former owner, who didn’t want to pay for it to be removed. We had to instead.

View of the side of the house, which was a total mess without proper drainage. We put in a new French drain and a new main water line — two invisible, expensive, but necessary upgrades. There were so many of these with electricity, plumbing, and heat!


And that’s it for “before” pictures! Does it look totally livable to you? Or like too much work? I wonder what I would have thought at this time last year if I’d read this blog post!

Soon I’ll share “after” photos — although our house is still a work in progress… always! We’ve had 6 months now to transform it from the photos you’ve just seen to a cozy, functional home for a homeschooling family of five (soon to be six ;).

Next up: the “in between” photos about life and decisions during our renovation!

11 :: in Charlottesville, home renovation

Hello Again! // Fresh Starts & Honest Reflections

A photo from this very morning, since this post is all about getting current!

Dear blog readers, it’s been so long! I last wrote in April (!) with updates from our trip to England and France (except I never got around to France…). I love having this record of our lives, and staying in touch with so many of you through these almost-letter-like blog posts.

And yet somehow writing here has become more intimidating in recent years. I used to blog every day when Lena was a baby! We had such a unique story then with our life in Sicily, and I was learning and discovering new things about marriage and parenting and stay-at-home motherhood and travel, and also blogging in general was uber-popular.

After we moved to California in 2014, though, I felt like I lost the unique story we had to tell. I felt like I was “just another American mom,” and I also felt more vulnerable to criticism and judgment. What would make me an expert now on anything? Who would agree that my way of doing things would be “right” or admirable or unique, or even relatable? It was easier and more comfortable to withdraw from blogging.

Also, I was busier! Two — and eventually three — kids will do that to you, I’ve realized, as will homeschooling. I was also working as a writer for a local newspaper while continuing my copyediting work. And Instagram really took off, and that was kind of like mini-blogging.

But over the years I’ve realized how much I miss connecting with so many old friends and dear family. When I write here, it is like writing many of you a letter or long-overdue email. It’s also so fun to share photos, including many that don’t make it onto Instagram, and capture our everyday lives. I know I’ll treasure this imperfect record, and so will my family, in the many years to come.

All this to say — I’d like to give writing and sharing in this space a fresh start. Let’s see how it goes. :)

So anyway, my last blog post was from April… 10 months ago. Since then, so many things have happened!

  • In June, we moved from Coronado, California, to Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • We spent an epic 7 weeks on the road, driving with our three children all the way up the West Coast to Vancouver, and then across the entire continent to Virginia.
  • After 8 years of service, Elliott got off active duty in the military and is now in the Army Reserve. He’s attached to an Army Reserve unit in southern Germany, which he visits every 3 months for about a week. He’s also working from home on various entrepreneurial projects. It’s been a big adjustment to have him home every day, all day… I’m sure that would be interesting fodder for a blog post! I had some trepidation about how this new lifestyle would pan out, but I realize more and more what an enormous gift it is. We share time with the children, interact with our neighbors, improve our home together, and get to be fully present while our children are young. We also have great flexibility with his work, my work, and homeschooling — I am writing this from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, which we decided to visit just two weeks ago.
  • We bought an old house that had been a duplex, and we are now living in both sides of the duplex. It’s complicated and quirky, but we’ve worked really hard to make it cute. My next posts will be Before and After photos of our house!
  • We have continued homeschooling Lena (First Grade) and Gil (Pre-K)… and Forest (Preschool, because let’s call it what it is–entertaining him is a handful!). Our children are now ages six-and-a-half (Lena), five (Gil), and Forest will be two in May. And…
  • We are going to have another baby! Our third boy will be born in mid-June 2018. Believe it or not, our only girl, Lena, wanted a boy more than anything, so with that great relief, we’re all very thankful and eagerly looking forward to becoming a family of six! More blog posts about this transition to come, I hope.

Here are some photos to round out the “picture”!

May 2017 – Enjoying the last of California and Army life!

June 2017 – Saying goodbye to our beloved house in Coronado.

And then we began our 7-week road trip! This one is from an outdoor festival in Redding, CA.

Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon!

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Astoria, Oregon, and a rare picture of Gil Garber looking and smiling at the camera.

Happy 4th of July… from Vancouver, Canada!

Biking around Stanley Park in Vancouver.

Two nights of camping in Yosemite, a first for us with kids.

Grand Teton National Park was a glorious highlight of our trip.

August 2017 – At my cousin Allie’s wedding in Newport, RI.

September 2017 – We went with Elliott on his first Army Reserve trip to Bavaria, Germany.

Happy Halloween from Charlottesville, and a very joyful St. George the Knight, brave maiden, and truly fearsome dragon.

January 2017 – My favorite little shadow. Not posed at all!

Announcing our 4th pregnancy at 19 weeks!

Gil’s 5th birthday party with grandparents and sweet neighbor friends.

All right, it’s been so long since I’ve used my blog that I’m not sure this will even publish. Yikes! In the words of John Avery Wittaker, let’s go ahead and see if this thing works…

23 :: in life lately, military life, thoughts

Our Last Days in England // Europe with Kids // Part 7

For the start of this blog series, begin here!

Hello again! Back with more photos… you knew they were coming eventually. :) Elliott took the older kids to gymnastics this morning and told me to stay home and write a blog post. So I did!

When I left off, we’d just visited London, which was great, but we were ready to slow down again and enjoy our time in southeastern England.

Ironically, if you look at guidebooks like Rick Steve’s England, they don’t have much to say about this little corner of the country. We, however, found so much to love and enjoy. Not touristy stuff, necessarily, but beautiful, rural England was enough without any major landmarks. Here are photos from our last few days there:

Eggs for breakfast, as usual, but this time they’re from a roadside stand and an “honesty” cash box. I loved that pale blue one especially!

The day after we visited London, we stayed home most of the day and then visited Sheffield Park and Garden for an afternoon picnic. It was quiet and cool and so so beautiful!

So hard to get pictures of this guy, but I got one!

We love him so.

Back at home that evening, I took this picture of the spring blossoms outside the upstairs window, and this blurry photo of my three babies in the bathtub:

The next day we decided to visit Brighton, mostly because of the place it plays in Pride & Prejudice, and because it was within a 30-minute drive. Our first stop was a children’s museum, but the place was pretty funky (with a weird movie playing in this little theater — Lena and Elliott’s faces are indicative of the 60 seconds we spent in there). The cafe and play space downstairs were lovely, though:

Gil is an amazing reader, and he can read at what we estimate is a First or possibly Second Grade level. He picked it up pretty much on his own after his 4th birthday, after asking us lots of questions as we read to him. “Where does it say, ‘God,’ Mama?” “Where does it say, ‘school,’ Daddy?”

Lena, meanwhile, is learning at a more traditional pace. In this photo, she was working very hard to sound out a book while Gil quickly and easily read this book to Forest. I love this photo because it captures so much of life right now, and its challenges and frustrations, in this very brief and sweet stage of life.

On to a seaside playground in Brighton!

This beautiful carousel and these carnival rides along the boardwalk were a highlight of our time in Brighton. The town itself, we discovered, is pretty seedy and not at all a tourist destination. I later learned an American friend of mine lived about 30 minutes from Brighton for two years and never visited it because of its less-than-stellar reputation. So… whoops.

Another photo that captures a brief slice of life. Each morning in the place we were pet/housesitting, I served breakfast, put Forest down for a nap, and then sat down with the older children to do some schoolwork while Elliott got in a couple of hours of work upstairs. During that time I often worked on laundry, cleaning, or some editing for my copyediting job. Once Forest woke up, we’d pack a picnic and head off on an adventure for the day, usually exploring another National Trust site nearby.

Forest is up and playing with one of the two cats we were petsitting through TrustedHousesitters.com. And now it’s time to head off to… Scotney Castle!

We signed up to do an Easter egg scavenger hunt, and a little children’s nature observatory room was the first stop. When it was time to move on, Forest was so crushed when I took these cool binoculars away!

But I gave him a plum — first one he’d ever seen — in the kids’ playground on the property, and he was happy again. Love his little pose!

Like most of the National Trust historical sites, this one had a well-preserved old home to tour. I love the kids and Elliott here, with Elliott playing with Lena’s hair as he explains something about the room to them.

Afternoon tea break in the cafe! The marshmallow negotiations are going down…

My baby loves scones with jam and clotted cream too! He made this smiling face all the time at this age (11 months).

By the ruins of Scotney Castle. The owner of the property and the big house we toured apparently deliberately ruined this castle to make his garden more whimsical! Only in Europe would you have such a luxury.

We have so many beautiful photos from this day, especially of Elliott and his children — and I am sorry for the photo dump! I love all of these pictures so much, with the flowers and joy that fill them, and the memories that come along, too.

Off to church the next morning in our matching “jumpers”!

We went to a local evangelical church in Haywards Heath, the town we were staying in. We met a couple of people there who were friends of friends, and one girl who is from the States but married an Englishman. I had forgotten the joy that comes from connecting with Christians from another culture. The connection between us — random visitors from California and these Christians from Sussex, England — was amazing and beautiful because of the fellowship we share in Christ. We have such a gift on this earth to enjoy community with other Christians and to worship together around the world, and what a greater gift to know that we will spend all of eternity with these very same believers, too!

And that’s it for England. Next up… France! Coming soon. ;)

4 :: in family, homeschool, travel

Europe with Kids // What We Packed in Carry-On Bags for 3 Weeks

A few of you have asked me what we packed for our trip to Europe. Three kids for three weeks and only carry-on bags–I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but we did it! I spent a lot of time thinking about our planned activities, weather conditions, and complimentary clothing. Overall, we packed well, but I made a couple of errors, as you’ll soon see.

Note: I’m only discussing the kids’ and my own suitcases. Elliott packed for himself about 15 minutes before we left for the airport. To each their own, right?!


I researched the carry-on requirements for the airlines we’d be flying: Norwegian Airlines to and from Europe, and SAS and British Airways within Europe. They all had slightly different carry-on baggage size requirements, but the smallest requirements were 20 inches tall and 9 inches deep. We didn’t own good carry-on bags that were that size (U.S. airlines generally allow carry-ons that are 22 inches tall), so we made the pricey-but-right decision to invest in 4 carry-on suitcases that should last us quite some time.

We purchases these Rockland suitcases from Amazon. They are not super amazing, but after our trip they still look almost new, so I am happy with our purchase. The kids loved them, too!

They were also larger than I expected. I could fit all my clothing items plus a couple of books and my toiletry bag in mine. For the kids, Gil and Forest could share the red suitcase with room to spare, and Lena shared her purple case with some schoolbooks, paperback books for me and Elliott, and two white noise machines.


In the photo above, you can see the total amount of bags and items we brought on those two carts. We had:

Most airlines now charge for any checked bags, but they will not charge for “baby items.” We could check the car seats, stroller, and travel bed for free. We then carried all the rest of our bags into the cabin with us for free.

On the cart on the right are our additional carry-on bags:

Quick note about the last two items: We didn’t purchase food on our flights (and the European airlines we flew did give out any food or drink unless we purchased it — even water!), so we brought a lot of food with us.

While in Europe, we also used this reusable shopping bag and the water bottle daily for our excursions and picnics. These things were some of our most essential gear!


After studying the weather, talking with Elliott, and emailing my friend in London, I finally decided not to buy waterproof shoes for our time in England. I knew I might regret it, but it seemed unlikely that we would be outside for a long time in a lot of rain. Besides, rain boots are hard to walk in for long periods, and we don’t even own them anyway. We live in San Diego!

So, in the end, I packed two pairs of shoes for each of us: one pair of comfortable but stylish walking shoes and one pair of sandals. For the kids, I packed their Saucony Jazz velcro sneakers, Gil’s Natives, and Lena’s Saltwater Sandals. For myself, I packed my New Balance sneakers and Saltwater Sandals.

These were perfect choices, thankfully. All our shoes were already broken in and already our favorites. Also, we had glorious weather in England and France, and it never rained.


Ok, now I’ll explain what we had in each of our suitcases. Just so you know, I love to shop secondhand, and I love getting good deals on high-quality clothing. I also like recycling; most of our furniture was purchased secondhand, and even the diamonds in my engagement and wedding rings were “recycled” from older rings to avoid blood diamond conflicts. Purchasing secondhand clothing is more eco-friendly, too, especially if you are concerned about sweatshop labor. It’s not a live-or-die rule for me, but in general Elliott and I are huge proponents of recycling, including our clothes.

So, even though you are about to see a lot of nice clothing brands listed here, please know that almost all of these clothes were purchased in excellent used condition on eBay, Poshmark, or on my neighborhood yardsale site, or (in a couple of instances) were generous Christmas gifts from my parents.

From L to R, top to bottom: Old Navy long-sleeved white shirt, Anthroplogie pink t-shirt, Bravado nursing tank, Gap striped t-shirt, Lululemon t-shirt, and two Anthropologie shirts.

For myself, I packed one long-sleeved t-shirt, five short-sleeved shirts, and one nursing tank. I wish I had packed more long-sleeve t-shirts, but I don’t own many in San Diego. I layered shirts with sweaters–sometimes two sweaters–and it was fine.

From L to R: J. Crew wool sweater (super warm!), Anthroplogie sweater, Patagonia R2 fleece that I have had for about 10 years and still wear about once a week.

Lululemon  jacket (that I also wear at least once a week) and J Crew cashmere sweater (the softest and warmest thing I own… and purchased for $5 on my neighborhood yardsale site).

Anthropologie linen roll-up pants, J. Crew sweats, Urban Outfitters high rise black jeans, AG teal ankle jeans, Anthropologie jean shorts, Lululemon shorts and capris.

I packed a pair of blue jeans and then pulled them out at the last minute, thinking I had too many pairs of pants. I was wrong. I only wore shorts one day in France, never in England, and so I wore those black and teal pants over… and over… and over. When in doubt, pack jeans!

Patagonia down vest, J. Crew Downtown Field Jacket, Patagonia waterproof shell

Mostly my outerwear was warm enough, but I run cold, so even with these layers I sometimes wanted more warmth. I wish I owned a down jacket that I could roll up into a tiny ball and stuff into my suitcase. I’m waiting to purchase one of those when we live in a colder climate.

I also wish I’d packed a scarf. I did pack one and then pulled it out at the last minute, too. (Can you see why Elliott is always sighing over my under packing tendencies?) Lesson learned!


Shirts in the first column are from Mini Boden, second column are from Tea Collection, and third column are from Crewcuts. 

For all of Lena’s shirts and pants, I tried to choose items that would mix and match with each other in multiple combinations. I also chose things that would hide dirt; no white or solid-colored shirts here!

Top row: two pairs of thick and stretchy jersey cargo pants from Tea Collection, black jeans from Joes, blue sweats from H&M, and blue leggings from I-have-no-idea-where! Bottom row: skirt by REI, jean shorts from Old Navy, and exercise shorts with built-in stretchy shorts by Champion.

As with all the kids’ clothes, I also chose things that fit them perfectly and that they already wore every week and loved. In this case, Lena already always picks these clothes out for herself. They were safe bets because I knew she’d be comfortable in them.

Raincoat borrowed from a friend that she never wore! Down jacket from Patagonia, two sweaters from Crewcuts.

I bought my J. Crew wool sweater secondhand so Lena and I could match, as I knew we’d be wearing both of them a lot in England. We had fun twinning, as you can see here!


L to R, top to bottom: Gymboree appliqué shirt, Genuine Kids shirt, suuuuuper soft knit t-shirt made locally that he wears every day (“This is my Coronado shirt, Mama”), Gap appliqué LS shirt, super soft knit Corduroy shirt by Out of Print, striped knit polo by Johnnie-O, and LS shirt by Tea Collection. The last shirt is filthy… I took all these photos while unpacking!

L to R, top to bottom: Ralph Lauren polo shorts, Gymboree shorts, Carters blue cargo shorts, two pairs of jeans by Joes.

Gil’s two pairs of jeans are both size 2T. My skinny little dude!

Sweaters are from Winter Water Factory and Crewcuts. They are strategically positioned so you can’t see the huge stain on the blue and gray sweatshirt; everything was headed for the wash.

We packed Gil a lined rain jacket that I loved, but he lost in somewhere in France. Such a bummer. I was looking forward to seeing Forest in that one!


Two sleep sacks (one summer weight by Aden + Anais and one fleece by Halo), multiple pacifiers by Natursutten (I think I packed eight of them!!!), Homemedics white noise machine that we used with batteries the whole time, and a Leveret sleeper.

Shirts are from Carters and Genuine Kids.

Pants: Carters lined cargo pants, Genuine Kids black jeans, Genuine Kids gray sweats, and Milkbarn fox leggings. 

Top row: two fleece footed sleepers by Carters, one (and two more not pictured) cotton stretchy footed sleepers by Carters, and “Ruff Night” romper by Hatley.

Bottom row: short-sleeved summer romper by Winter Water Factory that he never wore (too cold!), Kickee Pants romper, Mini Boden fleece-lined romper, and Hanna Andersson romper, arranged so you can’t see the full extent of how filthy it is…

Even with all these long-sleeved rompers and sleepers–I count nine, in addition to all his pants and shirts!–I still had to do laundry every few days* to keep Forest in clean clothes. With a busy, crawling baby who is learning to eat solids, I changed his clothes at least once a day. I’m so glad I didn’t under pack for him.

*Thankfully, doing laundry often was not an issue. We house-sat in England, stayed at a research/study center in France, and otherwise were in Airbnbs — and all of these places had free laundry. I did laundry and then, European-style, I hung it out to dry!

Top row: Ralph Lauren knit sweater, Carters cotton pullover. Bottom row: Patagonia nano down jacket and Patagonia fleece vest.

Buying that coat was a last-minute decision for me. I looked at many different options, and in the end I am so happy with this choice. It was the perfect light layer that kept our baby toasty warm.

We also packed a JJ Cole Bundle Me that kept his lower half warm when he was in the stroller. You can see a picture of it here.

Hanna Andersson pilot cap, Zutano sun hat, dirty (!) bandana bibs by Copper Pearl (I think I packed six total), well-loved shoes by Shoe Too and Freshly Picked.

Other items for Forest that are not pictured:


  • Multiple adapters for European outlets, all borrowed from friends
  • Schoolwork
  • Activities for the kids
    • Lena’s sewing project from American Girl
    • Magnetic checkers game
    • Coloring books and pencils/markers
    • Discman, about 5 CDs (music and Adventures in Odyssey), both kids’ headphones
    • 10 thin paperback books for reading aloud
  • Two white noise machines with lots of extra batteries (we only ever used one, just for Forest)
  • Medications
    • Kids’ Tylenol
    • Kids’ Melatonin for the plane and jet lag once we arrived
    • Thermometers (infant and adult)
    • Ibuprofen
    • Benadryl tablets and lotion
    • Bandaids
    • My favorite super-safe sunscreen (which was 13 milliliters too large for European carry-on requirements and got confiscated… boo)
  • Nail clippers (infant and adult)
  • Multiple small bottles of shampoo and conditioner from various hotels over the years

And I think that’s about it! Epic post! But hopefully this will be a good reference for some of you who might be preparing for upcoming travel — or for me in years to come! (Gotta get wear out of those new suitcases we bought, right?)

Do you have any advice for us for next time?

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