Welcome, Amos Elliott // Our NICU Story

First photo as a family of SIX!

All right, the story continues! When I left off, Elliott, our new baby, and I had just moved to the postpartum unit around 7pm, and our baby was doing pretty well. Elliott had gotten my dinner order and left to pick up a celebratory meal of sushi and sparkling wine.

The night nurse took over, and around 8:30 while Elliott was gone she came in to check on our baby. She spent a while watching his oxygen saturation and his respirations, which unfortunately had picked back up to 90 breaths/minute. To my dismay, she then called the NICU team to come observe him again.

The NICU team came in, and the NICU fellow saw our baby for the first time then. Crushingly, she made the call that he should be transferred to the NICU. She felt like he needed extra breathing treatment and antibiotics, as well as closer observation by the medical team. The tentative diagnosis at this point was TTN — transient tachypnea of the newborn — and she wanted to address his slightly labored, rapid breathing and find its underlying cause.

I texted Elliott to give him the update, knowing there was nothing I could really do (with a clean conscience, anyway), but panicking slightly because I knew things were slipping out of the range of “normal” and we were headed for a whole new world with our baby.

I took this photo as I followed our baby to the NICU with the two NICU nurses. He was calm on the way over and as they hooked him up. Elliott found me there, both of us feeling bewildered and like we had lost a lot of control as parents. The nurses said they would be putting in an IV now and starting CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure, a form of breathing treatment to open up his lungs), and did we want to take a little break to eat our dinner? I couldn’t nurse him or do anything to help, and our baby seemed calm and at peace. We left, feeling helpless.

Amos in the NICU

When we returned after our “celebratory” meal, we found our baby screaming in his NICU bed with 4 holes in his arms and feet from failed IV sticks and also two little plastic tubes stuck into his nostrils blasting air into his lungs. I started crying just looking at him–I’m about to cry again just thinking about it. I cannot imagine how parents go through agressive medical treatment with their children on a regular basis!

Elliott was upset because he wasn’t convinced that any of the treatment was necessary, and, even days later, I am still not sure if it was. The medical team decided to stop the CPAP early because our baby was just not tolerating it, and holding him in my arms and nursing him and seeing his peace and comfort after that was one of the sweetest reliefs I’ve ever known. The medical team also started antibiotics at that point, which they hoped would clear out any infection in his lungs due to the fluid they had seen on a chest x-ray.

Father’s Day in the NICU… not anyone’s first choice!

Elliott and I stayed for another couple of hours, with me nursing as much as I could. Our fear was that being away from our baby (me on the postpartum unit on the 8th floor, him in the NICU on the 7th floor) would mean my milk would not come in like it should. The nurses talked about pumping to increase production, but I wanted to just try to nurse as much as I could and go from there. I had no idea what I would do if our baby had to stay longer in the hospital than I did… but I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

Eventually, around midnight, our nurse encouraged/sent Elliott and me up to our postpartum room to sleep for a few hours. Our baby was calm and fed. The nurse agreed to text me from her hospital phone as soon as our baby woke up hungry.

Sure enough, at 4am she texted, and I slipped on shoes and hurried through the hospital in the middle of the night in my gown and robe to nurse my little one. I was able to lay him down after that, slipped upstairs to sleep again, and then returned again at 6am.

And thus began our hazy, harried two days of postpartum and NICU life. I spent almost all my time at our baby’s bedside, and Elliott was with me almost every minute, too. We took turns holding him, and I nursed him whenever he seemed hungry. Every few hours I would slip back upstairs to clean up — since I was still bleeding a great deal after having delivered a baby only hours before — and shovel food into my mouth from whatever meal tray was waiting for me in my big, sunny, gorgeous, very empty postpartum hospital room. Elliott would hold our baby while I was gone, and almost always I was away only for 15-20 minutes before he was texting me to come back and nurse.

Whenever I was on the postpartum unit to eat, the nurses and techs would hurry after me into my room to offer me pain medication (thankfully I really wasn’t in any pain), take my blood pressure and temperature, and make sure I was feeling ok. Then I would be gone again for hours.

Elliott in our postpartum room, where we slept for two nights.

Our hours at our baby’s bedside were slow and uncertain. I never knew you could spend so much time staring at a tiny baby, gazing deeply into his face, both of you locked in on him, praying endlessly for and about so many things, wondering what was going on inside him, what tomorrow would hold, how we had gotten here… and what we would name him! We felt unmoored, being away from our other children and so tied to this brand new, unknown, completely beloved little newborn son.

Lena, Gil, Forest, and my parents-in-law came to meet our baby after church on Sunday. He was almost 24 hours old then, and thankfully doing pretty well. The children were all able to hold him, and we were so grateful to see them all together, but also emotional with the unknowns and lack of sleep.

Lena and “Marmee,” Elliott’s mom, meeting Amos for the first time.

We also finally decided on a name that afternoon. We had gone around and around with a few final options. Naming children is so hard! At long last, we chose Amos Elliott for our little boy. “Amos” is for the Old Testament prophet who followed God’s call to prophesy in Israel despite his everyday vocation of shepherd and gardener, and who spoke a message of covenant faithfulness and justice. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) I have loved that name for a long time, and it grew on Elliott over the hospital stay as we discussed it, until we both sincerely loved it more than any other choice. We chose “Elliott” for his daddy and also for the heritage of the Elliott family (Amos’s grandmother’s family) and their faithfulness to God as pastors, fathers, and people of God throughout their whole lives.

And so: welcome to the world, Amos Elliott Garber!

How we spent the hours!

That second night of NICU life was similar to the night before, but then around midnight the medical team ordered another chest x-ray and blood draws. I was alone with Amos and growing increasingly exhausted, and Amos’s nurse could see it. She finally suggested I go sleep and she would text me as soon as he woke to feed.

When I came back around 3am, Amos had been moved to the “step down” side of the NICU for healthier babies who were getting ready to go home. Such good news! I fed him twice that night, and then Elliott and I stayed with him that whole day, waiting for an update from the medical team.

We were thrilled to hear that the plan was to send Amos home that evening if all went well — which would also the same time that I would be discharged. Amos had finished his course of antibiotics, and his breathing rate and oxygenation continued to stay within normal range now. Whenever anyone asked me how I thought he was doing, I could say with a clear conscience that he was behaving just like my other newborns. He was nursing well, I could feel my milk coming in, and he didn’t seem distressed at all with breathing, eating, or sleeping. I couldn’t wait to get him home!

One last burp before getting in his car seat. Amos’ monitor is empty behind him for the first time because he has been discharged!

Finally, around 6pm, we were ready to go! His nurse took his IV out of his tiny little hand, checked my ID and his arm bands before cutting them off, and gave us a folder of paperwork. Then we buckled our little Amos into his brand new car seat — and left for home!

As soon as we pulled up, all three of our older kids raced off the porch where they’d been waiting. My heart swelled with joy to see them all dashing down the steps — Forest pausing to turn around and carefully go down backwards — and standing by the gate until the car door opened and they could hop into the van beside him. Those first few minutes of bringing a new baby home are always so surreal and precious, especially after a more eventful hospital stay.

That night Elliott and I slept beside Amos somewhat nervously, unsure how his first night at home would go, but he did so well and slept just like a newborn — even deciding he was ready to get up for the day around 4am! Welcome to real life at home, right? Since then Amos has continued to behave like a normal newborn, complete with plenty of blown-out diapers, 5am wake-ups, and sour milk running down our arms and over our shoulders — and lots of darling newborn grunts, squeaks, and snuggles, too. His breathing also seems normal, both to his pediatrician and a home health nurse that came to visit us, and to all of us watching him at home, too.

While we’ll never know completely what was affecting Amos’ breathing — an infection in his lungs? his lungs taking a longer time to transition out of the womb than normal? extra fluid? all three? — we’re grateful now that he seems unaffected by his rougher start to life. Thanks be to God for health!

Amos after his first night in the NICU. So thankful he is home safe and sound!

7 :: in Amos, family, motherhood, Virginia

Welcome, Amos Elliott! // His Birth Story

I am sitting here in bed beside my sleeping newborn, sipping my second cup of coffee, listening to my mom play with Forest upstairs, unable to believe this is my life! I have absolutely nothing to do, nowhere to be, not a thing more important in this world than to sit right here and soak this in. What a glorious, unsurpassable, and fleeting privilege. The labor is finished. The joy is so sweet.

Before these days fly by too quickly, I wanted to capture them in the way I have before — with the story of our new baby’s birth and first days at home.

(Gil’s birth story is here. Forest’s birth story is here. And Lena was born before this blog began!)

39 weeks!

Those who follow me on Instagram will know that our fourth baby’s due date came and went without event. My mom went home that morning after waiting with us for two days, I took the kids to their last day of VBS at Portico Church, and then Forest and I walked for the 3 hours of VBS… trying to get things started!

I felt frequent, painless contractions, but I’d been feeling them for weeks. My membranes had been stripped for the second time the day before and my midwife had exclaimed that I was “four centimeters but I can stretch you to six!” so it seemed like something could happen any minute.

But it didn’t.

The afternoon passed. I cooked what I referred to as “my last supper” (aka the last meal I wanted to cook for a long time, if I had a choice) and invited my in-laws and brother-in-law over for BBQ chicken and cornbread. We ate out on the porch, me feeling hot and exhausted, uncertain how much longer I would be in this limbo.

Later that evening, around 9pm, I felt like maybe my water had broken, but it was such a small amount of clear fluid that it seemed unlikely. I’ve always had my water broken at the hospital right before each delivery, so I didn’t really know what the experience would be like. Birth is such a unique experience each time, even your fourth time around.

Eventually I called the midwife on call and told her I thought my water had broken, and after talking to me for a while, she surmised I probably had a “high leak,” meaning the bag had broken but would just trickle for hours, and also she wasn’t entirely sure it had broken at all. Elliott and I watched the last episode of C.B. Strike while we waited, and when the leaking didn’t seem to continue, we called the midwife and decided to come in the next morning after a night of rest. More than anything I hoped that labor would start naturally in the night and I wouldn’t need to be induced.

I didn’t rest well that night, of course, and the leaking continued. Also… no contractions. At all.

The next morning I checked in with the midwife on call and made a plan to come in around 9am. We ate a huge, delicious breakfast of blueberry pancakes with my in-laws and then left our three children in their capable hands. Around 9am, Elliott and I finished packing our bags (just in case) and drove to the hospital holding hands… probably to have a baby.

Driving to the hospital to have a baby!

All was quiet on the L&D unit; we seemed to be almost the only patients there. We settled into a triage room, and our midwife did a couple of tests to see if my water really had broken. Yes, it had! So now I needed to get some antibiotics (due to being GBS positive), and after 4 hours she planned to start some pitocin to help the baby move down, then break my water, and then have the baby.

Settling into the labor and delivery room… always a surreal experience.

It was now around 10:30am. I got an IV, moved into a regular L&D room (the nicest on the unit, and with a tub–that I would never use!), and met my nurse, a peaceful, kind woman. She started my antibiotics, and my midwife started some aromatherapy as well, which was a relaxing touch.  

A little light reading while in labor. This book is HILARIOUS, highly recommend!

Meanwhile, two things started happening. The first was that I was having contractions now that were 3-5 minutes apart, and were growing slightly painful. Around 12pm, the contractions picked up, and I was now having to breathe through them. My nurse changed the position of the bed so that it was like a giant chair, and we talked between the contractions, which were about 3 minutes apart now.

The second issue was that the baby’s heart rate had gone up, and was now consistently 190 beats/minute (when it should be 140s-150s). My midwife was getting concerned, so she gave me a bolus of fluid and also brought the attending MD on call in to meet me just in case things got more serious. She also finished breaking my water (there was a pocket of water around the baby’s head), which would certainly speed up labor.

I got up to use the bathroom and saw what I thought was meconium (baby poop) in the toilet. This shows the baby is probably in distress and needs to be born quickly to prevent infection and aspiration of the meconium. I reported this to my midwife, who thought it was unlikely, but checked.

I was right, unfortunately.

(I learned later that this was a pretty tenuous time, and I was beginning to be in danger of a c-section because of the baby’s distress.)

Meanwhile, after using the bathroom and having my water broken, the contractions had really picked up. I have never had an epidural, but after my midwife checked me right then and said I was still only 8cm, I started to think about asking for one. I thought I still had a ways to go, and it also always takes me a while to push because I don’t have that classic “urge to push” that so many women do. I thought I had at least an hour of misery still ahead of me. I’ve done this same thing three times already, and I knew so well that harrowing tunnel of pain that I had to get through in order to have a baby. For a few moments, it seemed more than I could bear again. I said the words in my head, trying them out, imagining me saying them out loud. “Can I have an epidural?”

However, when the next contraction hit, I decided to push just to do something through the pain, and I could feel the baby begin to move. I tried again as my midwife hastily pulled on her sterile gloves and gown. Then I pushed again, and my midwife told me firmly that I needed to do that once more right now. Elliott told me later this was because the baby’s head had already been born, and I had no idea. I buckled down and did what she said, pushing with all my might, and our baby was born in a glorious, familiar rush into the world.

Elliott soothing our baby while the NICU team worked on him. He was so responsive to Elliott’s voice–became so calm when Elliott talked and said “shh”!

They immediately put him up on my chest and everyone started rubbing and patting him because, terrifyingly, he looked pretty gray. He also wasn’t crying out or opening his eyes like all my babies have done right away. I could hear the charge nurse saying, “Come on, baby. Hmm, I don’t like this.”

Knowing he needed to be skin to skin, I opened my floral robe, only to remember I’d kept on a cute nursing nightgown… everything had happened too quickly to change into a hospital gown! Word to the wise: forgo cute and be prepared.

Elliott and I were thankful, in awe, and slightly worried all at once. He was here! He was definitely a boy! He had all 10 fingers and all 10 toes, and a mop of dark brown hair, and he looked so much like his siblings right away. Our baby, on my chest, in our arms! It is miraculous and insane and glorious that we have been given this unbelievable gift–a child, a baby, our own flesh and blood–not once, not twice, but four times now. Thanks be to God!

But even as we gasped and marveled and touched him for the first time, the medical team was getting increasingly concerned. After a few minutes of rubbing him on my chest, they whisked him away onto the baby warmer right as the Pediatric team from the NICU finally strolled in, shocked to find the baby had already been born. They went to work suctioning his throat and nose and watching him, and eventually he pinked up, but he was still breathing very very quickly (about 90-110 breaths/minute when the acceptable average is 40-60). His oxygen saturation was now consistently in the low 90s, but would often drop to 85-89%. (Although the acceptable average for babies is 85-95%, the ideal in all humans is 98-100%.) When they did give him back to me, I tried to get him to nurse, but unlike all my other babies, he didn’t seem to have any interest. He was just too exhausted from breathing.

After nursing him for the first time — so thankful he’s doing better!

An hour went by of observation, snuggling skin to skin, and monitoring. Finally, after about two hours, his breathing rate had slowed down a little, and he seemed more relaxed, less strained. Our baby was able to nurse, and I was so relieved and thankful to see him respond and latch on. I’ve always nursed my babies within minutes of birth and been so thankful to see their reflexes kick in to nurture themselves. The relief was all the sweeter this time after waiting a couple of hours.

Around 4:30 the nurses felt comfortable enough with his breathing to put him through the distress of his first shots and weighing and measuring him. We were all astonished to learn that he was a hefty 8lbs 13.6oz! Almost 9lbs! Lena was 8lbs 4oz (two days late), Gil was 8lbs 3oz (5 days early), and Forest was a little peanut at 7lbs 7oz on his due date. Where did this huge baby come from?! Everyone was assuming he’d be smaller since he was so active in utero and even turned sideways two weeks before his due date. Athletic little guy, beefing up in there!

Elliott’s Father’s Day gift… a day early

Elliott went out to get me a snack and came back with a huge mocha from the coffee stand where I used to get mochas between nursing school classes in college. I hadn’t had one in years but so many memories came rushing back! He was also bearing two slices of pizza and a giant M&M brownie. Food never tasted so good. Our nurse nodded in pleased approval as Elliott fed me the pizza and I nursed our precious newborn. All as it should be!

Around 6pm the medical team gave the OK for us to move from the L&D unit to the postpartum unit, which also meant that our little boy didn’t have to go to the NICU. Sweet relief! I was feeling great at this point, so I walked over to the unit instead of riding in a wheelchair. Little did I know I had a lot of walking and time on my feet ahead of me.

We basked in the spacious beauty of the postpartum room, something we’d been looking forward to for months. The huge windows looked out over UVA, and we had a stunning view of the Rotunda, St. Paul’s steeple, and even glimpses of the Corner. Elliott left for about an hour to pick up a huge celebratory sushi dinner and a bottle of Flying Fox sparkling wine that we’d been chilling in the fridge since our babymoon.

Beautiful postpartum room at UVA.

And now, dear readers, I’m going to take a break here. I’ll be back soon with the rest of our hospital story, as things took a turn for the worse right after this and there is much more to tell! To be continued later this week…

5 :: in Uncategorized

Our House in Charlottesville // The Finished Product… Or Not!

I showed you the “before” photos of our house here, the “in between” photos during our renovation here, and then… I never came back with the final product! Because, to be honest, there is no “final” version of our house, especially when:

  • You have lived in it for less than a year, so it’s still very much a work in progress.
  • Your beautiful dog has 8 puppies in March (?!) and so the configuration of your home and yard changes for 8 weeks as you raise them.
  • You have a baby on the way (ONE MONTH TO GO), and so you’re going to be doing some necessary room changing and redecorating before he arrives (or at least you hope it will be done before he arrives).

All of this has prevented me from saying, “Yes, here is the perfect chance to take photos of our finished, completed house!” But I know a few of my friends have been waiting eagerly for these photos, and our house as it is right now captures a stage of life that will be here and gone.

So… here goes nothing!

ENTRANCE

Here is the entrance to our house today:

You can see what it looked like when we moved in right here. We worked hard to make this a useful, brighter space by adding the mirror and all the matching gray furniture. The padded bench includes storage for gloves, hats, mittens, sunscreen, sunhats, the Ergo, our picnic blanket… the list goes on and on!

I’m planning to move that plant (should I?), and I’m also planning to spray paint the white mirror a deep gold. Buuuut that’s a project I’ve been talking about for months. (I don’t really paint furniture. Never have. Maybe one day will. So intimidated by it!)

Shoe cabinet (this thing is amazing) and the entrance to the master bedroom (and Apartment B, as explained in this post). The open front door and the entrance to the living room/Apartment A.

ATTIC PLAYROOM

Now let’s walk up the stairs to the attic playroom… Before I finished decorating this corner of the playroom…
… and after! That lamp needed a shade. But, to be honest, I move things around all the time up here. The only thing I can’t move is the bookshelves, which Elliott strapped to the wall. Great peace of mind!

I’ve read a lot of books over the years about Montessori-style learning, and many of those principles are incorporated into the playroom: toys easily accessible at the kids’ height, objects and games made from natural materials and most without batteries, and a place for everything (and everything in its place… most of the time!). This book is a great place to start if you want to learn more about the Montessori method. My all-time favorite book about simple play spaces (and much more) is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (<– and that’s a blog post I wrote about it in 2011!).

Looooooots of dress ups in that chest! The kids and their neighbor friends spend hours putting on plays for the parents with those clothes.

Remember when this space was completely unfinished, with no electricity or light fixtures, old broken windows, and the floor was damaged wood? It’s one of the most rewarding transformations of all!

The playroom is so much fun right now, but it’s about to get even better, I think. The big kids will be moving up here in a couple of weeks before the baby arrives. Elliott and I just need to hang blackout curtains first… and get the AC fixed so it’s cool enough to sleep at night! Their little white beds will go under each eave. I am excited to show you photos after the move! I think it’ll be so cute and even more functional than it is right now.

LIVING ROOM

Those first two photos were of our living room at Christmastime. After the holidays, Elliott and I moved some furniture around and finished hanging artwork, and now it looks like this:
And here is a panoramic photo of the whole room:

Our goal in this room was to provide plenty of seating for guests so that we could host friends and family, and we certainly did that at Christmas when Elliott’s entire family (11 adults and 4 kids) spent most of three days in this room! The white couch also folds down to be a single bed, and we’ve used that a lot lately. We also can blow up an air mattress in the attic playroom if we host a couple. Neither option is ideal, but both work for now until we have a designated guest room in the future.

For the curious, almost all the furniture in our living room is from World Market. I did find the rustic industrial coffee table on Amazon, and the bookshelf is an antique find from our newlywed days on Capitol Hill. The blue chair is from IKEA, and it’s so comfortable and has held up very well!

DINING ROOM & BATHROOM


We love this room! We spend a LOT of time in here with meals and snacks and schoolwork and craft projects, and it is a pretty, cheerful space. The dining table expands to fit up to 6 adults comfortably, but we’ve packed a dozen people around it at Christmas and done ok. ;)

For the curious, the light fixture is from Pottery Barn, the dining table and kids table are from IKEA, the midcentury modern dining chairs are from Amazon, the kids’ chairs are from Stokke, and most of the shelf organizational pieces are also from IKEA. The rug is from Rugs USA, and I love it — highly recommend!

The bathroom right off the dining room doesn’t look like much, but I try to keep it neat and tidy all the time. Everything has a very strict place (extra bath mat hung as soon as baths are over, white shower curtain always closed, two towels folded in thirds so they fit on the towel rack, etc.), and these standards keep this heavily-used bathroom pretty tolerable!

KITCHEN

Oh, this kitchen! It’s is tiny, and there is no dishwasher, and all the appliances came with the apartment when we bought the whole house, but… I love it despite all its flaws.

I’ve trimmed down every excess kitchen item I can think of so that I keep the essentials at my fingertips, and everything in this kitchen works hard (especially me, haha). I spend a lot of time washing dishes at this sink!

Those photos were all from around Christmas. I recently added a walnut magnetic knife strip to get rid of my knife block and save counterspace. I also bought a white magnetic paper towel holder, and now my paper towels are on the side of my fridge instead of my counter, which really helps, too.

Even though it’s small, we make many wonderful things in this little kitchen! Lena is posing with a chicken pot pie about to go into the oven, and below the kids are helping me make naan to go with our dinner of chicken tikka masala.

If/when we renovate this house, the kitchen will probably be the biggest and most wonderful change. In every single house we’ve lived in since we got married, I have been blessed by getting a brand new or top-of-the-line kitchen (Capitol Hill, Sicily, San Diego), so this little kitchen is a good place for me to get creative and keep things simple.

Elliott has offered multiple times to get me a portable dishwasher or even get one installed, but honestly I just can’t justify it. A portable dishwasher would be huge in this space, and an installation would involve demolition and the purchase of a machine in a kitchen that will probably only be like this for another year or so. I might change my mind when I’m exhausted with a new baby, but for now I don’t mind the calm of washing dishes in a quiet kitchen. Dish washing is “boring” so I generally get left alone while I’m cleaning up! ;)

Whenever I get frustrated (or the egg carton slips off the crowded countertop and I break six eggs again), I remember that this kitchen was intended for ONE person living in a small one-bedroom apartment, and yet we are a family of almost six living in two combined apartments… but still with just one tiny kitchen. I’m looking forward to larger appliances and more counterspace one day, but in the meantime, I’ll keep it simple and make it work!

MASTER BEDROOM 

As a child, I remember thinking that my parents’ bedroom was the one room that always got forgotten. We moved every few years for my dad’s job, and my mom transformed every dusty shell of a house into a gorgeous, comfortable home. My parents’ bedroom, though, had the most basic furniture and the same bedspread throughout my childhood, and there were generally books and papers and odds and ends piled everywhere. I thought, “I’ll try not to do that as an adult…”

… but the truth is, that is often how our bedroom is! Elliott works from home, and our bedroom is right next to the entrance to our house, so a lot of our mail, packages, and “to do” items end up in this room. We also keep our printer, shredder, filing cabinet, and family’s laundry basket in here; there just isn’t a better place for any of these things. If we ever renovate, Elliott will have an office!

My way of keeping the mess under control is to (a) make the bed neatly every single day and (b) keep our clothes out of sight in drawers or the laundry basket. With a baby joining us soon, Elliott and I are going to have to get rid of some of the things that have piled up in there, but in the meantime… you get one picture of the neatest part of this room, and that’s the only photo I have!

As for furniture sources, you’re probably sensing a theme here. ;-) Our bed, bedside tables, and bookshelf are all from IKEA, and you can’t see our Hemnes dresser and Brimnes wardrobe on the other side of the room, too. The jute rug is from Rugs USA.

BIG KIDS’ BEDROOM AND BATHROOM

After months of procrastinating, I finally organized the huge and beautiful bookshelf in the kids’ bedroom. There is still a lot going on in this space, but it feels much better organized now. Here are some photos taken at Christmastime (with glimpses of the bookshelf before I tidied it up):

If you’re curious, the kids’ beds are from IKEA and will expand to full-length twin beds as they grow. Their dresser is also from IKEA, and the glider and ottoman are by Dutailier. The rug is also from Rugs USA.

It’s hard to tell here, but the smaller tiles on the floor are actually a deep Mediterranean blue. I tried to make the bathroom feel clean and crisp with bright blue towels and rugs and a simple white shower curtain. Keeping it clean and clutter-free helps too!

FOREST’S ROOM & LAUNDRY ROOM

Remember when this room was the kitchen for Apartment B (more photos in this post)? Our contractor ripped out the sink and cabinets, and a plumber installed a washer/dryer hookup and a utility sink to turn this into a laundry room. On the other half of the room, our contractor removed the stove and oven, and we put Forest’s crib and shelf there.

I planned to have artwork hung over his bed before I shared this post, but… clearly didn’t happen! My plan is to get a few prints of baby woodland creatures from Etsy to hang on the bare walls. We’ll see if I actually ever get it done! His crib is the Bloom Alma Max, and his shelf is from IKEA.

I thought we’d be able to do laundry while Forest was sleeping (white noise!), but it’s just too disruptive.  Oh well! I have gotten very good at starting a load of laundry first thing and getting it washed and dried before he goes down for his nap around 12pm. Not so great at folding it before 9pm, though…

THE GARDEN

Elliott gets all the credit for our garden, both in the front yard and the back. He spent hours and hours in the winter planting hundreds of flower bulbs, but unfortunately they all came up around the time our puppies were playing in the front yard each day, and they totally destroyed each flower just as it was blooming. So sad!

I took these photos earlier today!

Now the puppies have been in their new homes for one week, and Elliott didn’t waste any time. He’s been working so hard this week planting vegetables and sunflowers, repotting rosemary and foxgloves, hanging flowering planters, and even installing new mailboxes for us and our tenants. He also built a structure with trellises and chicken wire in the backyard for passion fruit vines to grow over so that the kids will have a cool green cave to play in later this summer!

Elliott and I also spent a while last night choosing patio furniture now that the weather is nicer (cough… already hot… cough) and the puppies won’t be chewing on our new lounge chair legs. I’m excited to sit on the porch on pretty days with our new baby so soon!

Anyway, as can be seen by the big bags of potting soil and the random pots in the garden, there is still a lot of work to be done. As always! The joys and trials of home ownership — the projects are never finished. The rewards are so great, though.

And there you have it. Our home in Charlottesville, a work in progress, but a very dear place to all of us already in the nine short months we’ve lived here. I hope it looks like a welcoming, loving space with lots of room to learn, grow, and rest, both for our family and for visitors. That is what we aspire to, after all, according to the name of this blog! “Making room for a simple, hospitable life.” May it always be so.

20 :: in home renovation, home sweet home, Virginia

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:

Inside:

  • 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

Outside:

  • 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!

13 :: 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!

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12 :: in Charlottesville, home renovation

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