Putting aside all other thoughts and focuses for the moment, I get butterflies in my stomach when I realize that a year ago right now, we were packing up our townhome in Cary, counting down the days to our planned-for closing date of March 29th. It was one of the most stressful few weeks of my life. I kept waiting for something to go wrong and us to find out we'd packed up our home in North Carolina for nothing, that something had fallen through with the house in Dayton, and all the upheaval and turmoil was for nothing.
Right when we put the formal offer in on the house in Dayton, we found out from Andrew's work that things had changed and the permission he had to move to TN anytime after Nov 2020 was revoked, and if he moved he'd have to resign. Talk about incredibly stressful news when we're working to move states and buy our first home!
We didn't know where he'd be working once we moved. I was stressed out of my mind that we'd spend all the money moving and renting a uhaul truck and driving to Tennessee only for the house to fall through and then what would we do? We didn't tell most friends because we weren't moving to Dayton on its own-- it was the house that was making it possible to move, and if the house fell through, presumably we wouldn't be moving after all. Covid numbers were also up, North Carolina regulations were strict again, and it was just a challenging time and situation to be trying to move in.
On top of that, I was pregnant and my fatigue and chronic anemia were worse, meaning some days I got out of bed and walked to the kids room and had to sit down because I was just so tired. Packing up a home for the eight of us while Andrew worked full time? Packing up a home for the eight of us while pregnant and throwing up? Packing up a home for the eight of us while continuing to homeschool and work my business? Packing up a home without much outside help and wondering if it was all going to fall apart because of some unforeseen circumstances or something we did wrong or who even knows what?? I was a ball of stress and chaos and more anxiety than I think I've ever felt in my life.
I remember packing one night in the kids room while Marius (then 11 months) played nearby, and I turned around and realized his quiet play had moved from stacking blocks to pulling things out of the boxes I'd just packed up. Insert facepalm here.
It was hard figuring out steps of things to do, hard not processing things on Facebook since we weren't announcing until things were settled (because... if you haven't figured it out yet... I like to write and process and put my thoughts on paper).
It was hard getting rid of things and saying goodbye to a whole era of our life and getting ready to make a drastic move not as an individual, but as a family with kids old enough to feel it.
It was hard packing.
It was hard loading!
It was hard giving grace to the kids' big emotions.
It was hard finding room for OUR big emotions.
It was hard not saying goodbye to everyone we wanted to say goodbye to-- because of all the sickness going around and us not able to afford getting sick ourselves, because of not wanting to say anything until things were *for sure*, because I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, because I had zero margin and we were so.dang.tired.
Looking back, I think there are things we would have done differently if we'd known how they would play out, but we didn't, and it's possible I might be thinking more rosey now that I'm no longer in the thick of the sheer energy drain I was living in. Looking back, I can also see how things in isolation wouldn't have been that big of a deal (the electrical surge that hit our row of townhouses and sparked an electrical fire behind our house, shooting sparks and catching our bushes and fence on fire before the fire department was able to contain it) hit much, much harder: without electricity in the hours following the fire, in addition to the stress of the fire and helping our kids through it, I remember feeling beyond frazzled and stressed trying to pack in the dark. In hindsight, I wish I'd called in friends and just said HELP!!! Because we needed it.
It was exciting. It was terrifying. It was bittersweet. It was hard.
When I think back to a year ago today, I remember a lot of stress, very little sleep, so much uncertainty, and a disorienting mix of excitement and grief. It was strange to be choosing something, to be looking forward to possibilities, to be the agent deciding on a ginormous change in my life, and then to spend days comforting sad kids...and evenings crying myself to sleep. Leaving friends behind in North Carolina was HARD and the loss of easily being able to go out for drinks or over to a friend's house to hang out still catches me off guard some days. We were blessed with a solid community and good friends over the course of our almost-decade in NC.
It's crazy to believe all that's happened in the year since March 23, 2021. I'll share more on the anniversary of us closing on our house, but for now, suffice to say it has been a year of dreaming and choosing contentment and growing and gratitude. It's been a year of giving ourselves grace in settling in and making a new home for ourselves. We had no idea what life could or would look like with moving back to Tennessee, and it's been different in some ways, but it's been exactly what I hoped for in so many ways.
North Carolina was good to us and for us and will always hold a part of all of our hearts.
Tennessee has been good in a whole new season, adjustments included.
Here's to change and to dreams, to figuring things out as we go, and to choosing joy and growth through it all.
It's been a difficult 24 hours, following news from afar, picking and choosing trustworthy sources, verifying information, and feeling so, so helpless in the face of the chaos and trauma being visited on millions of people half a world away from me. I won't give any Ukraine updates because you can find those elsewhere (including in my stories), but I do have thoughts, and I'm processing some of my feelings at the same time.
I've seen footage today of dads saying goodbye to their families because their families are leaving but they're staying behind to fight. I've seen stories about young teens choosing to take to the streets or snipe from a balcony to take down invading soldiers and maybe give their village, their city, their country, their family a little more hope and one fewer person to worry about. I've seen kids bundled down into subway systems for protection from the bombs and missiles, and I read and listened to the audio taking over Snake Island. There's been story after story of Ukrainian citizens stepping into the fray rather than away, giving their life to help others live, and stepping in to take care of children, elderly, or otherwise fragile fellow humans. There have been stories of courage the likes of which I hope I would evidence if I were in the same situation.
Two thoughts keep circling in my head: 1) how much humans can take before we finally decide something is TOO much and worth fighting against, and 2) how simultaneously resilient and yet fragile we are, especially children.
As a child, I moved from the Caribbean and South America to Slovakia immediately after my ninth birthday. We lived in a village outside of the capital city of Bratislava, right on the border of Austria, Hungary, and the Slovak Republic, with the Czech Republic not far off. Some of my earliest memories in Slovakia involve watching enormous tanks roll down the street, shaking our house as they went by. My memory now is fuzzy, fragmented by a child's reality and uncertain understanding, but my impression is they were on their way to aid in the Baltics during the Kosovo conflict. I remember biking home many times from the grocery store and waiting and watching as soldier convoys drove by in a long line of lorries, or waking up to fighter jets overhead. I remember sirens, although I don't remember what they were for or how often they went off; just that they were there in the background in those early months. I remember having a bag packed because the American embassy had an evacuation plan in place for Americans in case we needed to leave the country due to current political happenings in the baltics or in Slovakia itself, including a politician who wanted Slovakia to join back with Russia at the time. It was a scary and uncertain time, and for a couple years, my siblings' and my most common imaginary game we played together was a war game where we'd try to slip out of wherever we were and escape through obstacles, hide from soldiers, and make our way to a designated safe point. We had hiding places for each of us kids around our yard and then neighborhood and village, places we knew we'd head to if something went bad and we had to go. We named our hideaways so if we were in a pinch, we could easily whisper which hideaway we were heading for so we could find each other again. We made plans for going with our parents and plans for if we had to go on our own.
In hindsight I don't know how much of that was warranted and how much of it was the imagination of kids who felt insecure in a new language, culture, and political vista and who knew things weren't settled, but however it started, it became a big part of our early time in Europe: not knowing when we might be evacuated, when feelings might turn against Americans (even though all of us laughed a little at the thought of us being Americans since we'd never lived in America and didn't feel like that's what we were), or what direction the country would go in with a new election. We picked up on the spoken and unspoken tension of the adults around us, and we knew things weren't good for a while.
I look back and see how resilient we were in what I see now was a scary situation but didn't realize the extent of at the time...and I see the little traumas of that time, too. The genuine, real fear of being evacuated in the night. The awareness that we had to be prepared for that. The stories we heard from elderly friends and acquaintances who remembered running from tanks decades before.
In high school I did several research papers on different aspects of Slovakia under Communism, from being a Christian to smuggling materials across the borders to the cultural effects of being under Soviet rule. The interviews I got to conduct with friends and neighbors and strangers who lived through those times when they never knew when the secret police would knock on their door and drag a family member away, or being scared to ask friends how they were doing in case they were arrested and their knowledge was used against their friends, or so many similar situations will stay with me forever.
I'll never forget sitting at a table with a man who choked up as he remembered watching members of his family run over by a tank as they were fleeing-- Nazi Germany? Soviet soldiers? The details are fuzzy for me now, but the horror in that memory as I sat frozen listening to him is clear.
Seeing the tanks roll into the cities in Ukraine today brought back a measure of fears I thought long buried and moved past. Hearing kids crying in different clips as they both understood and didn't understand was heartbreaking. Seeing the bravery and courage of people who should never have had to be in those positions was inspiring and crushing all at once.
Tonight was surreal. Three of my kids had their Slovak class, talking about Slovak culture and language and grammar and food. The meal I planned last week for tonight's dinner was porkchops and red cabbage--a frequent meal around here, and one that takes me back to Europe every time. I ate my dinner painfully conscious of how easily we were able to use our electricity to cook and eat tonight when over 100,000 Ukrainians have been displaced in the last 24 hours and the worst is likely yet to come. When I was putting the boys to bed tonight, Vanya was talking about how he wants to be an ice hockey player for Slovakia when he's a grown up and be known as Ivanko Goggans, the Slovak ice hockey player. And I wondered, will Slovakia as I know and love it be around when he's an adult? What are we looking at for Ukraine in the near future, or for central and eastern Europe in the years to come thanks to these events? And then I tucked my kids safely into their beds, and I went to my room and sobbed for the parents who couldn't do that for their kids tonight, and for the kids trying to make sense of the world with their limited framework for understanding what's happening and why.
Here's remembering the brave Ukrainian individuals who have given their life for their fellow human beings. Here's thinking of the Russian men and women who are just following orders, and/or don't realize what's going on and are operating under false information. Here's to the many Central/Eastern Europeans living elsewhere in the world, anxiously waiting for news and watching their home countries and wondering what's next. Here's to the surrounding countries who are opening their borders and welcoming Ukrainian refugees in, knowing they're next on Putin's list to take over. Here's to the children who will carry the memories of this horror with them for the rest of their lives-- the things they've seen, the things they've heard, the things they've felt and lost. Here's to the men and women who are working hard to share and verify information, pass updates, and to chronicle individual people's stories, because these stories need to be told. Here's thinking of the many, many people who are voluntarily stepping up to defend not just their country, but their fellow countrymen, way of life, and freedom.
The summer I was fifteen, we were visiting the States and it was my turn to have a night alone at my grandparents' house. Being the middle of five kids + only seeing American grandparents every few years, it was especially special to know that each time we came to the US, we would each get a night at their house by ourselves, able to choose a movie and treat and have time with them.
This particular time, I brought a crochet project I'd been working on and I pulled it out during my movie of choice, setting it aside only to enjoy some of Mom-mom's homemade chocolate icecream with pretzels. At some point through the evening, Mom-mom and I got to talking about my crocheting, and she brought out a project of her own to work on next to me: a crocheted blanket of her own. I admired her pattern and asked her about it, and in turn, she showed me how she made hers.
I remember feeling awed at her work and connected by the fact that I was sitting on a couch, crocheting next to my grandmother, having come to a shared hobby through different roads and only discovering we shared an interest by happenstance. It felt special and poignant to be sitting side by side with her, separated by decades and a generation between us, but enjoying the same creative outlet with our hands.
The next morning, I requested my customary crepes for breakfast and then Mom-mom told me we were going on a special outing that morning: it was time to get me the yarn I would need to make my first crocheted blanket.
I still remember meandering through a yarn store with my grandmother, amazed at the colors and patterns and feels and looks of it all. So many options! So many choices. She walked me through what kind of yarn I would need and what my best options were, and then when I settled on the color I wanted, she proceeded to buy me 20 bundles of them of them to make sure I had enough to finish the project when we returned to Europe.
That summer I crocheted fiercely at every chance I had. I had taken copious notes when she told me what her pattern was, and I was determined to finish this project if nothing else ever. My lap grew heavier and heavier as the blanket grew. It was the biggest project I'd ever taken on, and for me, it was directly tied to my relationship with my grandmother-- something I couldn't let down or not do well.
It's been some 17+ years since that summer and I've put hundreds of hours into these blankets, making a number of them since. I still have that first one, missed stitches and all, but the others have found homes with friends and family. Like Mom-mom did, I've made and gifted mine since that first one; on the surface, yes, a gift of time, money, and effort, but on a deeper level a continuation of my grandmother's knowledge and patience, sitting side by side and making me take stitches out and recount what I'd already put in, and her love in getting me started on a project I wouldn't have been able to do without her.
And today? Today it's special to look around the living room as we listen to a book and see my kids at various stages in their hand projects, knowing that as they practice stitches and skills, it won't be long before I'll be pulling out Mom-Mom Craver's afghan pattern and teaching a new generation how to make it and pass the gift on to others.
Do you ever think about what your Facebook wall or Instagram feed say about you? What the things you choose to include or consciously/unconsciously omit shout to the world? As a perhaps over-thinker, it's something I think about often. There are many things that factor into what I choose to share or not share: privacy of my kids, protection of my family, online security, not wanting to complain, not wanting to overshare, not wanting to give an inaccurately rosy picture, my personal margin in being able to engage with comments on a particular topic, etc.
I work hard to find a balance of representing our family accurately, while not compromising my kids' privacy or making them vulnerable online, while sharing funny moments...and not dwelling on the hard parts of our days or weeks...while somehow also not unintentionally making it look like life is only ever sunshine and roses.
And that's HARD.
It's hard to balance well and fairly and not write posts that are unhelpful or come across full of wallowing, but also to be honest and genuine in that life itself is hard and there's a lot that's not simple or easy that goes on in our home. It's hard to give space to the challenging aspects of life without letting them take over on a post for people who don't know the bigger context, and it's hard to not gloss over the hard things and only showcase the good, which does no one any good.
Today was Father's Day, and in true Father's Day fashion, the kids and I made a beautiful breakfast for Andrew in bed, served it to him with no squabbles or complaints, magically cleaned the kitchen in minutes, and then we spent the rest of the day in the pool, enjoying the sunshine and celebrating Andrew's fatherhood.
Okay, not really. The reality is, I've had a migraine for the last 2.5 weeks and it just.won't.go.away. It ebbs and flows and there are times of the day where I'm functional and you probably wouldn't notice if you didn't know me really well, but then there are hours of every day where I'm in bed, ready to lose my head, unable to focus on anything beyond how my head feels. There have been nights and nights where I can't sleep because I can't move past it, or where it wakes me up out of sleep and I'm up for the next few hours, breathing through it and trying to find or do anything to ease it back down to more tolerable levels.
After a few days of it staying pretty consistently up in pain levels, with sleepless nights to go with it, I got up with the kids this morning while Andrew slept...and then I sat in my chair for an hour, keeping an eye on the kids but mostly just sitting there while they got themselves breakfast. And then I sent kids in to wake him up because I couldn't handle being out in the living room anymore or deal with the noise of making myself breakfast. So he made us breakfast on Father's Day.
There was some good in today-- my light sensitivity was down, so I was able to go out to the pool in the sunshine today and I took all the kids with me to give Andrew some quiet time in the house...as he cooked breakfast for himself and me. (Yes, you can see me facepalming myself here.) I stayed out for two-ish hours with the kids (and he joined us for some sunshine and water) before we came in and he got the kids fed and ready to go to VBS at our church and took them there and stayed with them there-- all while I took meds and slept on and off at home.
If today wasn't an example of what being a father--and a husband-- is, I don't know what would be. Was it ideal? No. Was it planned? No. Did it give him a break? No again. Was it a restful? Nope. It was us, adapting and adjusting and doing life together, giving up expectations and rolling with reality. Today it was him picking up the slack and making life happen. Another day it will be me. It's the life we've chosen and it's choosing to make the best of the things we haven't chosen but that are part of our life anyway.
If your Father's Day wasn't ideal, you're not alone. If you felt guilt because you didn't live up to your own hopes and expectations, I was right there with you. In my case it wasn't ideal because of health issues, but I know for many people, today is a hard day due to missing a father they loved, or grieving a father never known, or processing a father who never chose them, or any number of other situations that can make a day like today painful, especially when it can easily look like a picture perfect day for others. Just remember that what we can show on social media isn't always the whole picture for whatever reason, and that sometimes the whole picture isn't appropriate to be shared with the world and that's okay. Times that it looks like someone else has the perfect life? They don't. Trust me. None of us do. Times that you may be irritated that someone is talking about the unhappy things in life and want them to move along and stop complaining? Maybe they're being intentional to show a fuller picture of the season they're in, and that's okay. We can't sum up people's life into a Facebook or IG post-- those are snapshots of real life, at best. Social media has its place and can be a beautiful connector, but keep in mind it is almost impossible to showcase life at its fullest that way, and that maybe it needs to keep being a balance of private and public, shared and not shared, for reasons we don't all always need to know or understand.
The pictures and posts from the last few weeks? Every single one of them has been me with a migraine. Every single one has been snapshots of our day, but there's so much more to each. I don't want to look back and see only pictures of myself not feeling well, or complaints on Facebook, but I also want to fairly represent the good snapshots of the day and the memories we've made as a family regardless. I don't want to focus on the negative and allow that to rule our day, but the reality is... some days ARE hard.
I don't know how well I succeed at any of my hopes when I share and post, but it's something I'm cognizant of and work for intentionally.
When you share, what are some of the personal parameters that help you decide on sharing something or not?
It may sound bizarre to say we’ve started scheduling free time into our kids’ schedules, but that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for a little while now. We started talking about it sometime last year—that as much as we want to encourage pulling together as a family and learning lifelong skills in the form of habits, chores, and well, other knowledge-based things, we wanted to make sure we were protecting time for our kids to just *be*. To do what they want. To read, to sew, to crochet, to run around outside, to journal, to lay down and think, write stories, bake something, free play, or otherwise do anything, everything, and nothing. During the school year for the big kids, we balance free afternoons with semi-free afternoons: afternoons where the kids and I come together to listen to stories read aloud, while each kid is able to do their pick of a quiet activity. Sometimes they choose coloring (usually the boys’ go-to choice), sometimes they choose to sew or crochet, sometimes they whittle, and sometimes they opt to just sit and listen.
With summer 2021 underway, we’re balancing protecting the kids’ time to explore their own interests with working as a family to unpack, settle in, and do some family home projects we’ve had our eye on for a while. What we didn’t want is for our kids to feel like they have to steal away to get time to read or play—we want to encourage reading and playing! But we also know our family needs routine and we can’t drop the ball on the basic household chores to play and have fun all day. This summer, we’re trying a mix of things: each of the big kids will have a consistent morning chore, a variable main chore, and then an evening chore that’s done right before bedtime. In between their main daily chore and the evening chore, they have an afternoon that’s protected for them: time they know we won’t ask them to do something unless it’s really really important or imperative, and time they can use however they want.
So far it’s been exciting to see the ways they choose to do what they want—and I love that they sprawl out throughout the house, not hiding away trying to read a book in between their parents fussing at them for not doing something, but time they know is dedicated to their choice. Instead of kids holing up in their room to stay out of sight in case they get asked to do something, they’re enjoying the space of our house and yard, knowing this is their time. Rather than feeling like they have to “steal time” to do what they want, they can relax knowing they’ve put their time in working to help our family and that this is their time for themselves—time their parents will honor for them, too. Instead of feeling like they’re at our whim 24/7, they have a structure and guide to follow and they know what to expect out of their day—from themselves and from us.
Our hopes as we do this are several:
I think one of the big downsides to US mainstream culture is the pressure to go go go go go—without permission to rest or enjoy. Obviously, many of us feel that pressure and tend to not give ourselves permission to rest, so we end up consuming too much TV in the evenings while feeling guilty for it, or binge-reading books to procrastinate on something stressful, or we spend all our minutes on social media without realizing that could have been given to something we might have enjoyed more. We feel the pressure to be on the go constantly, and the end result is we end up giving our time over to piddly things that expand to take ALL the time rather than intentional things we’d really enjoy doing in chunks of time, and the worst part of it? We feel stressed and guilty the whole time for putting off what we “should” have done and “should” be doing instead.
We want to raise our kids counter to this idea: to work hard but also to know it’s okay to play hard or rest. To work when it’s time to work, and to allow themselves to have fun and enjoy and rest when it’s time. To take it a step farther and actually *make* time to enjoy life, by being intentional and productive in the work time.
As always, our ideas and systems and roll-out aren’t going to be perfect. We’ll tweak as we go along and as our seasons and family’s needs change. For now, we love the results we’re seeing and the intentional way the kids are pitching in in the mornings, knowing their afternoon is coming.
What kind of work/enjoyment/play/relaxation balance do you strive for?
Do you think you had a good balance of those growing up? What could have made a difference for you?
If you’re a parent with kids at home, how do you manage this for your kids now? How do you manage this for yourself?
The world is a lot bigger with a lot more views and perspectives and stories than you probably realize or know yet. At 32, with kids of my own, I'm still learning and growing myself and the older I get, the more I realize how much there is still to learn. Be open to those stories and to learning from others. Be open to changing your mind about some key things you've held dear. At the same time, hold onto those core beliefs you have and know that God is big enough for your questions, your doubts, your considerations, your mistakes, your hurts, your healing, and your heart, mind, and soul. As you venture out into the world and continue deciding who you are and what you want out of life and what you'll do with the challenges you'll face, remember that you are loved, and not just because of falling in line with the right things, but because of who you are, regardless of anything else. You are loved.
Growing up in Slovakia from age 9-18, I can remember looking for Christmas presents for my siblings each year and my dad encouraging us younger siblings to get or go in together to get Slovak pottery for our older sisters as they would have less time in Slovakia before leaving for college one day. For a number of years, that was my focus—finding traditional and beautiful Slovak gifts they’d be able to take with them one day, wherever in the world they ended up.
Fast forward to when I moved to the US for college and I realized just how few things from Slovakia I had to bring with me for my home one day. When Andrew and I got married, our budget was incredibly tight and nice things for our home were dependent on gifts from friends and things we found from our local thrift store. One day, we said—one day we’d put some money aside to support a pottery shop in Slovakia that I grew up visiting, and we’d get a few pieces of that part of my home and life to bring into our joint home with our family here in the US. One day.
Years passed and a friend from Austria passed on some of her Slovak pieces to me and I split those between myself and my younger sister. My pieces were immediately split into decorative ones and daily use ones, and every time I saw one of my kids carefully using a Modra pottery piece or asking about my memories in Slovakia while we’d sit together enjoying the pottery pieces, it warmed my heart.
And then we were moving states and buying our first house and with knowing a trip back to Slovakia isn’t going to be able to happen again for a few years, I asked Andrew what would he think if maybe, possibly, we pulled some of the money we’d set aside for the practical parts of setting up the house and got a few things from that pottery shop as a housewarming gift to our family to christen our new house? My heart’s country brought to our new home in his home state.
And today, weeks after ordering, everything arrived in perfect condition. The kids can’t wait to use their new tea cups, and I’ve been beaming all day, so thrilled to unpack a bit of my heart and tuck it into our new Tennessee home.
A big thanks to Slovenská ľudová majolika MODRA for working with me to figure out the logistics of getting pottery shipped to the US as safely and inexpensively as possible, and to each of the talented artists who created, painted, and fired the pottery. These are pieces we’ll cherish—for the beauty of the pieces, for the function they serve, for the country they represent, for the talent they showcase, for the home they help build.
Hey friends! It’s Melanie. One of the things I’ve been really thankful for in our move has been our former NC “Buy Nothing Project” community. You may be part of some Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook groups, and maybe even a “Free” FB group or two. If it’s not an official Buy Nothing group, then you need to ditch it and head over to the Buy Nothing Project to find a group in your community. Over the last three years we’ve been members of our neighborhood one in in North Carolina, we’ve gifted bags upon bags of baby clothes, baby gear, adult clothing, garden supplies, furniture, and more. To see some of what we’ve been gifted over the years, check out the gallery of photos below! These are just a few of the wants and needs we’ve had met by our neighbors completely for free, from bikes, scooters, and roller skates to a new futon bunk bed, solid wood dresser, outdoor furniture, cheese dish, and more!
So what makes Buy Nothing different? It’s a global movement—in dozens of countries around the world—working to create a gifting society. There’s no entitlement or grabbiness like in so many “free” groups. No rushing to be the first to claim something. Gifters are able to choose whoever they want to give something to, for any reason they decide to. Some gifters will post and say that if there’s a lot of interest, they’ll draw a name randomly. Others will say that they’ll look for a story they connect with. Some choose the first person, some wait a few days and decide for a reason known only to themselves. It’s their gift, their choice.
On the receiving end, you can ask for things you’re looking for, and they can be small (“I just ran out of sugar and the store is closed for the holiday! Does anyone have a cup of sugar I could come get?”) or big “We’re in need of some master bedroom furniture! Does anyone have a set or any bedroom furniture you’re ready to pass along?”) and anything in between. Sometimes no one has what you’re looking for, but there’s no harm in asking, and other times someone has exactly what you need and they’re ready for it to bless a new home.
At its core, the Buy Nothing Project works to connect communities. You’re encouraged to get to know your neighbors. Reach out for help as needed and offer help as you’re able. You can go to the group for local advice or recommendations, or to request a service, or to offer something up. You’re encouraged to post gratitude for things you’ve received and to be intentional to build into your neighborhood and community, connecting with others in a unique way.
If you aren’t part of your local BN community, you can search for yours here or create one once you go through their training if there isn’t one already for your location: https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/
If you happen to live in our new county—Rhea County, TN—then hop on over to our newly-begun Facebook group! (link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1604617403081549) It’s going to take a bit of time and effort to get it up and running consistently on its own, but we’re excited to get one started for our new neighborhood and we can’t wait to offer up some of our things for neighbors who may be on the lookout for exactly that thing, whether it’s a toy or furniture or decoration or service.
If you’re part of your local group, I'd love to hear some of what you’ve gifted or received there. If you’re not, find one and let us know down the road how it’s been! We’ve been really blessed by our old one and being able to furnish much of our house for free thanks to giving neighbors, and we’re excited to get to know new neighbors through our new community group. Not only is it amazing to reuse and regift items and know things are being used by others, it's also been surprisingly beautiful to get to know neighbors we wouldn't have met otherwise.
Settle in, friends, because Melanie is at the writing helm and I've never been accused of being brief. Want the full story of how we bought our first home and moved states in a move we never saw coming a year ago? This is it.
Once upon a time, Andrew and I met in Dayton, TN and had our first two kids here. Before I could graduate, I had to do a semester of student teaching. At the last minute, our childcare plans fell through and we made a much-agonized-over decision to uproot from Tennessee to move to Cary, NC to have the support of my parents and sister who had recently moved there. Within a few weeks of us moving, one of my best friends started sending me house listings or photos on a regular basis, tempting us back to TN. Each time, I'd look at the photos (because who doesn't like to look at houses?), laugh a little, and text her back: not this time, not this house. At one point, I remember telling Andrew that if we ever moved back to TN, there were a few things I wanted:
1) I wanted to be at a place where I was okay with and we were able to buy, not rent.
2) I wanted to buy a house within walking distance to my friend's house.
3) I wanted a few acres to raise our family and garden in
4) I wanted a sunshiney house and yard
5) and oh yes, I wanted a pool. Because doesn't everyone in East TN have pools and isn't that completely attainable?
Andrew about laughed himself to the floor as he told me that all sounded amazing—and completely impossible. But it was a nice dream!
Originally we only planned to stay in Cary for a semester. We didn't expect to find a church we loved and to fall in love with our community there, or jobs that made a difference for us, or any of the other gifts and blessings that came our way over that semester...that year...the next year...the year after that…but somehow, nine years passed.
It wasn't all beautiful or easy. There was a lot of hard in there. A lot of sacrifice, a lot of grief, a lot of struggle. There were years where it was harder to be content than others. Seasons where I wondered if this was really my life, and the life I had to look forward to for the next fifty years. Months where we wondered if there would ever be light at the end of the tunnel, or when would we stop surviving and start thriving. There were big griefs: we lost six of our babies in North Carolina, and I will never forget preparing for one hurricane that was expected to be terrible in our area and wondering how to pack our son David's ashes to protect them in case we had to evacuate. It was eviscerating to even have to wonder about the logistics of protecting my son's remains.
There were seasons in NC where life flowed easily and we relaxed into friendships and enjoyed the blessings big and small that came from living near close family in the suburbia of a capital city near a beach and mountains, and there were seasons when I wondered if my time of dreaming was over and the best I could hope for was building a better life for my kids to dream in. There were seasons where we maxed out on field trips and greenways and parks and playdates and the amazing things North Carolina has to offer, and there were seasons that can only be described as struggle-bus Mondays the entire way through. We put aside some things that were important to us as a couple because they weren’t practical for us as a family. We said “no” a whole lot to things outside our family so we could say yes to intentional time as a family. We worked hard to make our little townhouse and patio area be a beautiful thing for our family rather than something we were in a hurry to get out of. So many intentional choices in the small things, but they rarely felt easy or went smoothly in the process.
And then... the sun started to peek through a little more.
As I've put time into my business over the last few years, it's grown to a point where that's a big part of our family budget and life, freeing us up in a lot of ways which a few short years ago we thought would be many years away. At one point early last year, I told Andrew that I thought maybe…maybe I was getting to the point (and our life was getting to the point) where I felt like maybe, possibly, maaaaaaaybe I could start dreaming again. That maybe things would start getting easier and better and maybe there could be some fun and good things to look forward to instead of just making the hard choices and having to say no to so many things we might really really like. That maybe some of the things we’d talked about once upon a time, and wished for, and thought about when we were young, and that we’d put aside for so many years as impossible, that maybe some of those things maybe could be possible after all.
While there were some hard things that came in 2020, Andrew was able to begin working remotely right around the time Marius was born, and having him home was amazing and wonderful and absolutely crucial for our family as my recovery afterward was long and difficult.
Some time last summer (2020), my friend sent me two photos of a house: the outside of the house, and the yard. I don’t remember her exact text, but it was something along the lines of “Guess what happened today?”
Turns out she’d had a dog show up on her lawn and in the process of returning him to his owner, she discovered he belonged to a neighbor down the street and over a little bit. In talking with the owner, she discovered he was hoping to put his house up for sale sometime in the near-ish future (maybe a few months? Maybe a year?). The house’s attributes? Over 2500 sq ft, four bedrooms, two car garage, several acres, walking distance from her home, and… A POOL!!! Estimates showed it was probably going to be within our price range, but we wouldn’t know for sure, and we didn’t know when it would be available, and it seemed too good to be true.
But those pictures grabbed me in a way other house photos hadn’t, and I kept thinking about them. One of my firm points to Andrew was needing to know that if we moved, we would still be secure in his job. Maybe a week or two later, Andrew got permission to work remotely for good, with an eye towards moving to TN down the road. Combined with my ability with Norwex parties to pick up and move, we went from looking at houses to buy in the greater Raleigh area (where competition was fierce and our budget didn’t stretch as far and we were looking at being likely 45+ minutes away from all of our friends) to… actually considering maybe, possibly, MAYBE moving and buying a house in Tennessee. Whaaaaaaaaaat!
So many things were still up in the air, though, starting with the house. We didn’t even know what the inside was like, and maybe it completely wouldn’t work for our family if we did know. We didn’t want to get our hopes up one direction or another, and if there was a possibility we’d be moving to TN in a year, we didn’t want to buy in NC before then, and we wanted to see how things played out with covid and the election and general craziness of the world. Plus—the house wasn’t available then, and we didn’t know when it would be or what a final cost would be or if there was anything in the house that would be a major “No” for us. So we waited, working to dig in and continue to live where we were at, while holding onto the possibility that maybe sometime in the next year, we’d have a house of our own, with sunshine and room to host and garden and run and SWIM.
Sometime in the fall, the opportunity came up for us to see the inside of the house. We hadn’t mentioned the possibility of the house to the kids before this because really, how likely was it to even happen?! But we decided to make the trip out to Dayton (eight hours one way) to see the house and get an idea of what it was like so we could rule it out or…continue to live in the limbo of wondering what our future might hold. Just before we came out, my friend had the opportunity to walk through the house herself and video it for us, and we watched that video probably twenty times. It was blurry and and dark and fast and hard to see at points, but it was exciting and full of possibilities. When we got to Dayton, Andrew and I got to do a brief walk through of the house in person. I’ve never been much of a lawn person—give me all the flowers and plants and herbs and cottage gardens—but I fell in love with the yard right away. It was grassy with flowers in and around it and edged completely by woods for privacy. And that pool. THAT POOL. Did I mention it had a sunshiney pool?! If you know me, you know sunshine and water are crucial, and aside from being sad to move away from friends in NC, the idea of moving farther away from the ocean shrivels my soul if I think about it too much. But a pool we can use anytime we want? That…that’s life-giving right there.
The inside of the house was perfect, too. Older, and we knew we’d want to repaint and update some of the aesthetics, but the homeowner was wonderful and meticulous and gracious, and the house? It may not have been what I would have thought I’d choose for myself if I was working from a blank canvas, but it called to us, and it was the perfect blend of well-taken-care-of home mixed with the opportunity to make it ours. Did I mention that I’ve never lived in an owned-home? I grew up in rentals around the world and Andrew and I have never taken that step to buy—somehow it’s seemed so much more scary and full of responsibility than having kids or being able to up and move states. I’ve always loved the freedom of renting and not feeling tied down to a building or location. It’s taken me years to get to the point of being okay with settling down enough to buy, and one of my fears has been buying a home that ends up being a money pit. This home was clearly loved and kept up well in a way that reminded me of my grandfather’s care for his home and property and hearing the updates and talking with the homeowner eased a lot of my fears.
We went back to Cary knowing that if the final numbers were within our budget, we wanted the home. That was scary to realize for me, but Andrew was excited and the house checked off all the things I’d told him years ago were important to me. We spent the next few months living in Cary, knowing that it was still very possible that the house wouldn’t come to fruition, but… there was the possibility it might.
Fast forward to this spring and the homeowner reached out to us because he was ready to sell—and it was within our budget! Even knowing it was a possibility, it still felt like a shock to me to realize this could actually happen. Apparently I have more fears than I realized because I worried from the time we put our offer in all the way up until we actually closed on the house that SOMETHING would happen to keep us from getting it. It wasn’t that we were moving states to move states—it was that this house was making it possible for us to buy, and if the house fell through, then we wouldn’t leave North Carolina, and I didn’t want to start saying goodbye to people in Cary only for the house to fall through and us to end up saying, “Just kidding, we’re staying!” It was hard for me to find a balance between mentally and physically preparing for a move, while also holding it lightly in my hands in case it fell through. Because really. How could a house so perfect for us actually happen for us?
A few things complicated the process for us. At Thanksgiving, we found out we were expecting again and would be welcoming baby #7 this summer. My health was still not in a good space with migraines and chronic anemia, and this was the first time I’ve ever been 100% shocked to find out we were pregnant. In all honesty, it took me a little bit to wrap my head around and be excited because I knew it was going to be hard—the timing, the toll on my health, my health’s toll on our family, and figuring out how to move when my pregnancies are hard in regular life as it is. Carpal tunnel and blood pressure issues were quick to set in, as were constant nausea and vomiting throughout the day. Needless to say, once we started packing to move, my inability to do much at one time or sometimes to do any packing at all for a few days at a time made the entire process much, much more difficult to manage, and pretty disheartening to boot.
We also discovered right as we were putting the offer in on the home that there’d been a change with Andrew’s work, and if we moved now, it would probably mean Andrew would need to give up his job and look for something else. For him, the idea of moving on from a job and coworkers he has loved was sad, and for me, it was a big deal as I wanted the security of the job, but over the course of the previous nine months, I’d moved from where him having a solid remote job was crucial for me to consider this move, to me trusting that God had made every step of this crazy journey possible and he wouldn’t leave us out on our own now. If I’d known last summer that moving may mean leaving a job he’s loved and coworkers and bosses who have been amazing, I would never, ever, EVER have said yes to looking into this house or even considering a move. It wouldn’t have even been a mental exercise to think about—just a solid “no.” But with each obstacle that came up or each point where we were in a “wait and see” pattern, it was so incredible to see how God took care of each thing to open the door at the right time to make this happen. I don’t say this lightly, but this house and this move and the way things unfolded and the improbability of this price on this house plus it having every single thing I wanted? I have no doubt that God worked the details out for us to make this move in this timing. Now I wonder if we didn't get that "yes" last summer--that I needed so badly then!--because it was the first step for me to be open to this move and all that is coming from it.
And so we’re here. In Tennessee. As of March 29th, we're homeowners, though it took us a little bit into April to finish up in North Carolina. March and April were incredibly hard months. So much more than I want to put online, but we had many challenges, from my health issues to an electrical surge and fire outside in our last full week in Cary before our initial move (try running an online business without internet and only intermittent electricity, or packing boxes in the dark with a baby crawling over everything and throwing things out) to all of us coming down sick with fevers and congestion when we came back to Cary to finish our final pack-up (having multiple people down sick with fevers anytime is miserable; doing it in the final week of packing and loading a truck is so much worse), to logistics packing up and getting back to TN, a stomach bug two weeks later, migraines and low energy throughout, fitting in final doctors appointments in Cary, finding new doctors in TN, and so much more. That’s not even touching on painting or caulking or unloading trucks (especially when the hired movers don’t show up; thankful for an eighty year old neighbor in Cary who came and helped us pack, and a new 80 year old neighbor here in Dayton who faithfully helped unloaded the entire first truck) or unpacking boxes into our new place. I am beyond thankful for friends who showed up to help unpack or paint or strip wallpaper or bring meals by or field kids, and for friends who prayed us through the chaos from afar or have answered question after question after question of mine as we go through a new-to-us process.
In all honesty, I don’t think we could have chosen a better time to move. It’s been chaotic, yes, and so much work and stress that despite all of my previous moves in life that I’ve always loved, I finally understand why someone could move and say they never want to move again (that’s me this time!), but 2020 showed our kids they can still keep up with friends and maintain friendships even when they aren’t seeing friends regularly in person. It gave us time as a family to slow down and prepare in our own time, and the big girls got to continue on with a passion of theirs from a distance: being part of Peace Church’s spring choir production, before it moves back to being in person this coming Fall.
We’re settling into life in Tennessee slowly. We've got more than one trip back to NC planned over the next few months and it honestly feels more like a "soft goodbye" than anything permanent since we'll still be visiting to see my family and come back for some medical trips and to see friends. We’re between jobs for Andrew at the moment, but my business will hold us through for now and we’re excited to see what the future holds. Going from 1200 sq ft to 2600 sq ft is pretty huge (literally), and I feel incredibly spoiled to be able to do laundry inside our home and not dread starting a load because I don’t want to go outside in freezing weather or rain or bugs. We’re a good ways from fully unpacked and not done painting a couple rooms, but I’m working to give all of us grace in doing this slowly, because life and kids and health and did I mention LIFE?! I look forward to the day we’re unpacked (or even halfway unpacked), but it’s going to be a while, and I’m working to enjoy the fact that this home belongs to us rather than focusing on how much more I wish I could get done right away. It’s overwhelming in the best possible way and every day Andrew and I wake up and sit in awe all over again that this is ours.
Back in 2020, my word of the year was “faith.” At the end of the year, I remember thinking that I really failed on that front—there’s so much I could have done better. And then I stopped and realized, 2020 really was a constant exercise in faith—in holding onto what I knew to get through all the uncertainties of what I didn’t know (and there was a LOT I didn’t know). From having a baby in the early stages of covid when things were SO unknown, to Andrew’s job changing, to opening up to the possibility of moving states, and buying a house, to living in the limbo of not knowing anything but trusting that God knows, 2020 was all about faith. 2021? When I sat down with friends in January to choose my word for this year, I kept coming back to one idea: dream. Dream. The last twelve years have been so much work and so much trucking along, trying to be faithful in the small things even when things have been hard, working to figure out how our childhood and teenage and individual dreams might need to change in light of the life we have together. This year, I’ve been reminded that dreams can come true and I’m not too old or too much a mom to have dreams of my own still. This year, with a baby we may have been surprised with but one we’re so excited for, and a house of our own, and several acres to run free on, and a freaking POOL and SUNSHINE and space to open our home up to others, this year? This year is for celebrating years of waiting and hoping and longing and struggling and working and finally, finally, finally, seeing some dreams come true.
That keychain with my word for the year on it? It now holds our new house keys. Hang on for the ride with us, because I have a feeling we’re just getting started!
Melanie here. With more and more friends leaving Facebook for a reasons ranging from personal to political and every nuance in between, we wanted to get a jump on staying connected outside of social media. As a teenager, I was a voracious writer on my 89 Xanga sites (slight exaggeration, but I did have a few different ones) and it feels a little like old times to be back to blogging. Facebook Notes saw me write occasionally, and a few friends have been privy to regular lengthy emails and messages over the years, but I'm thinking it's time to revisit the blogging world and build a way to stay connected with friends around the world, whether they're on Facebook or not.
So here we are.
It's 2021 and the time when I sit down and reflect and plan and goal set.
Who am I kidding? I do this regularly, as I'm a big picture person and struggle badly when I feel like I'm in limbo. Having something bigger than myself that I'm working towards or keeping my mind on is life-giving to me, and regular check-ins to make sure I'm on track and not getting distracted and continuing to prioritize the things that are important to myself and to my family is crucial for my sanity and mental/emotional well-being.
That said, I feel like I need to give a nod to 2020. At the end of 2019, a friend made me sit down and pick a word to stamp onto a necklace. I've loosely thought of keywords before for a year, but being succinct isn't really my style, so I've never kept to it or given it any weight. This time, I had the pressure from a few friends who were there with me and continued to check in with me about my word throughout the year.
The year? 2020.
The word? "Faith."
Sometime this fall, I was feeling down on myself for not doing what I wanted to with "faith" as a focus for 2020. I mentioned I'm a goals and vision girl, right? Well, 2020 didn't have the intensity of focus on faith that I wanted, and I was mentally tearing myself down for all the ways I felt like I failed myself in not doing better.
And then I stopped.
Because 2020. And life. And faith. And WHOA 2020.
For those who don't know, we had a baby in April of 2020. The pregnancy leading up to it was my smoothest in most ways, and I remember looking at Andrew one day and commenting, "I wonder if what I'm feeling are all the 'regular' pregnancy aches and discomforts compared to my previous ones." However, this pregnancy ended in pre-eclampsia (fourth time's the charm?), placental abruption, hemorrhaging, a migraine with high pain levels and vision auras that lasted over two and a half months with no relief, multiple neurological appointments trying to pinpoint medications and causes and management, anemia, and more, all while caring for a newborn.
I've never been so thankful in my life for a pandemic that moved Andrew from working away from home to working in our home day after day. I truly don't know how we would have made it through this year without a second adult in the home 24/7 to help shore up the gaps I was leaving, especially without the same kind of outside support we would have had without pandemic concerns and regulations.
We planned to buy a house in 2020-- one that I have loved for years-- but the timing and answer ended up being a no-go. After dreaming and planning, I was pretty disappointed, but trusted that God had something better for our family elsewhere. As I write this, we're still looking, but we're in a better position than ever to buy, and I'm excited for the possibilities. Did I mention we're a family of eight in 1100 sq feet and with a yard the size of a thimble? (Okay, slightly bigger, but not by much.) It's been a growing process for me as I've learned and chosen contentment in a home that was not my ideal, and as our season is wrapping up here I find that there will be things I genuinely will miss from our cozy home, but I'm also over the moon excited at the possibility of having a home that is big enough to open up to others and offer better hospitality to, and a yard that maybe, maybe, just maybe, has the climbing tree my kids have been begging for daily for more than five years.
So this fall, when I was down on myself and stopped my inward tirade and really *thought* about this year, it struck me how fitting the word "faith" as a focus actually was. From uncertainties about Covid to travel plans called off to Andrew's job changing and me needing to adjust my goals with my job due to health issues and changes within our family, to putting on hold our dreams of buying a house to the daily need to decide to thrive where we're at, in all the uncertainty of those days, "faith" was the overwhelming focus of 2020 for me. Choosing to wait and look forward to what we don't have but hope for. Choosing to dwell in the uncertainty of "now" without wishing it away or whiling away time until we are where we want to be. 2020 wasn't an easy year, but it was definitely a year of faith.
As we go into 2021, faith is still a part, but this time my word of the year is "dream." Because it's time to dream, and my dreams are big, and I'm excited to be able to dream even in the hardships and rough times. What I'm dreaming about is for another post, but for now-- "the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." And as C.S. Lewis encouraged, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream another dream."
Dream with me.
Andrew and Melanie fell in love over late night snacks, dozing off in the middle of studying for exams, words, and a shared love for stories. We see stories everywhere: in the little day to day incidents and in the bigger sagas over days, months, and years of our time. We cherish the stories that root us and we rest in the Story that gives our lives meaning. We love seeing the threads of stories come together in gut-busting, belly-laugh-inducing, choke-on-your spit ways, and we love the gentle, quiet, easily missed stories that ultimately can play a bigger part in our lives than many other more obvious stories. We're young, we're old, we're growing, we're learning. We make a lot of mistakes, fall down a lot, struggle with life, sometimes sit in our sadness, but ultimately we pick ourselves back up again and keep on trekking. We're on a journey of parenthood now and have been for over ten years, learning and growing into it right along with our six children.