Tinkergarten & Free Forest School


Last week marked the end of our first seasons with Tinkergarten and Free Forest School! Honestly I’m surprised to find myself here; when I first applied to lead/facilitate with these organizations I was certain that I could not do both. But here we are.

I decided to look for options like these for my family after beginning a homeschool preschool program for Big S last fall. We were a few weeks in and already the frustration was setting in. He didn’t like to color or sing along or recite anything or cut along the dotted line. He begged to do “school” (still does) but wasn’t interested in instructions (still isn’t). This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, y’all. He’s only 3.5!
The thing about Big S is that he loves learning–all kids do, really–and he doesn’t need me to sit him down for lessons. He is constantly observing and trying to figure things out and consistently wowing me with his little brain.  But ever since Little S came along he has had a few struggles socially and emotionally; at some point it hit me really hard that I’d much rather have a kind child than a smart one. I began reading more about whole-child development, the perils of early academic focus, the importance of unstructured play–one thing after another before eventually I was ready to let my kids spend their childhood in a tent with no toys, haha.

Being a part of Tinkergarten & Free Forest School this year has been incredibly beneficial to me and my family and (I hope!) to our community. It’s been incredible not only to get to participate in both but also to be able to offer these experiences to other families. So, let me share a little about what they are and why we love them so much!


photo by Olivia Millwood

Tinkergarten is a weekly outdoor class inspired by aspects of Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies. While it is a child-led, play-based program, classes have structure and guided play, and strive to involve caregivers. I love that the lessons are developed with the latest in child development and brain science in mind; it is a learning program designed to build foundational skills, not to raise test scores. No walls, no desks, just kids having fun–which research tells us is how kids learn and retain information best!


Dissecting sunflowers at Tinkergarten

Free Forest School, on the other hand, is a completely child-led, unstructured outdoor group run by volunteers. We meet weekly in local parks for a shared snack, a short nature walk, and circle (a time of stories and songs).  It is completely free to everyone, which was a huge reason I wanted to be able to host a Free Forest School meetup in my community.


photo by Olivia Millwood

My Tinkergarten classes are competitively priced (and they are so great about working with those who need financial assistance) but at the end of the day the cost might be prohibitive for some–it certainly would be for us. What I’ve also found is that a lot of Tinkergarten families are looking for more outdoor time with their kids & their friends so Free Forest School meets that need as well.


Social-emotional development at this age is a greater predictor of adult outcomes than early academic performance. Meaning how your kid plays at 4 is more important than how high he can count or how many shapes he can name.

So that’s how we got here. I hope to continue writing here to chronicle more of our adventures in the woods and why we are out there a few times a week. We will have one or two TG & FFS meetings through December and start the new seasons in January. Feel free to email or comment below if you have any questions, or are interested in getting involved with either organization in your area.

I’m also sharing a recommended reading list below for the interested: these are books that have helped me immensely in the past 1-3 years to reshape my parenting philosophy/outlook. [All are affiliate links, meaning I may make a small percentage of any sales made via these links.]

Recommended reading:


photo by Tanesha Brun @mommie2mommie

Posted in Forest School, Homeschool, Tinkergarten, United States | Leave a comment

New Adventures

It’s been quite some time since I’ve shared anything on this platform. A lot has changed. We returned to the United States in 2014 when I was about 7 weeks pregnant with our son. We renovated our home. Wes began grad school. We had a “failed” (hey, careful with that word) homebirth. I dove in to the gig economy & tried my hand at editing, hack web-copy, VA work. We joined a church. Wes finished grad school. We had another baby, a girl (at home).

We left American Samoa four years ago. Slowly, we have adjusted to “home”, to parenthood, to these affluent suburbs, to living on a single income, to constant internet access, to almost-daily hot showers, to fresh food, to the reasonable expectation of a spider-free home, to a profound lack of beachfront property–to this typical American life.

Here we are, “settled” in. And yet we are still traveling to some degree, as stationary as we may be. There are the yearly road trips, the occasional weekends away, and the weekly hikes or local adventures. But mostly there are the deeper journeys we are taking–in relationships, in faith, in community. This website began because we knew it was time to go forth and we wanted to share that particular journey with you.  It should not have ended when we returned, when This Amazing Simple Life began. We are still educators, still missionaries, still sojourners, still those strange neighbors, still play-with-the-kids-in-a-grassy-field-ers, still travelers with matches. And so: Hello, again.

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This is not political.

Like most of you, I met a lot of people in college and made a handful of friends. Some of them have become almost like family, like the cousins you grew up with and don’t see nearly enough these days but who you are certain will be a part of your life for the rest of it. Some I’m sure I’ve already forgotten. And some I’ve stayed in touch with via social media for one reason or another.

In the latter category is a guy that I didn’t actually know well in school. In fact, I’m not quite sure how we met each other at all. I remember only that he sat dead center in the middle of class (Shakespeare? AmLit survey?), smiled at everyone, and was quick with the smart, relevant comments (sigh, I miss college). Somehow, at some point, we became friends on Facebook.

In the years since, I have learned a lot about him. He grew up in a small town in north Georgia. I know he made an impression on his classmates and teachers because I have read their sweet recollections and glowing comments on my newsfeed. After graduating from college he went on to get a law degree, get married, have a baby. The regular American small-town life stuff. He’s very active in his local and religious communities, passionate about the law, and clearly smitten with his daughter. We share a lot of similar views on social and political issues, but we also disagree on plenty. No matter.

After having my son I deleted several people from my FB page; a whole lot of those loose acquaintances from college were the first to go. But I kept my friend because I enjoy his perspective. I like his passion. I like how he’s respectful and open-minded and not afraid to really examine and grapple with big issues in a public sphere. Our real-lives may never cross again, but I’m thankful for our online connection.

The other day, following the California terrorist attack, he reposted a status that his wife had reposted earlier. It didn’t have anything to do with me or my life, but I read it and it weighed heavily on me.

This is what he posted:

I don’t think I need to post the rest of the original note for you to get the gist. It goes on and on. Be on guard. Protect yourselves.

His small comment stayed with me. All I could think about was my own husband and how he would feel if he suddenly found himself in my friend’s position. What if Wes left for work each day knowing that I feared for my own safety, and the safety of our infant, just going to Kroger?  That I was scared of drawing any attention to myself, or being noticed at all, for fear of retaliation for a crime I had absolutely nothing to do with? What would that do to him? What would it do to me? I can not even imagine. It stops my breath.

No, Islam is not a part of my life. The first time I ever even heard of it was in a 7th grade world civiliations course in NY. The religious ambivalence of my own parents meant that I rarely paid much attention to the faiths of my friends growing up. I don’t remember who was Catholic or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist. I didn’t care. The next time I remember hearing the word “muslim” was in the days following 9/11; I was 17 and glued to the TV in my first apartment, listening to shocked American voices trying to make sense of something that doesn’t make any. I spent about six months a decade ago studying Islam, but I do not have any close friends who are Muslim. A co-worker here, a classmate there, a few students come and gone, yes,  but no one in my family, no close friends. So hey, maybe I shouldn’t be concerned.

But I am. I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, and that is the most important thing anyone needs to know about me. Any bit of patriotism I have will always come after that. Christ is my first allegience.

I can write and say statements like the one above without apology, unlike my friend, who is now expected to shout from the rooftops “I AM AN AMERICAN! A GEORGIAN! A PROFESSIONAL! A FAMILY MAN! ISLAM DOES NOT DEFINE ME!”

How sad. Truthfully, I hope my faith defines me. I hope you look at my life and know without question that I love the Lord above all else. All else. That is probably really weird to some of you. It may even make you uncomfortable or you may like me less knowing that I say things like that aloud. It’s okay.

I felt compelled this morning to write this, to be public with these thoughts, as visible as a ḥijāb, because my heart is heavy for everyone who is afraid. I am concerned for my friend, for his wife, for their child, anxious about the burden of proof they are now expected to provide:”Here, look at our lives. I promise we aren’t like that.”

On another level, I see our lives reflected in theirs: a devout young family, wrestling to reconcile what they believe with a culture that at best begrudgingly tolerates and at worst actively despises those beliefs and those who subscribe to them.  And where do we think the demonization of “different” will end?  Once we round up the wrongthinkers, can we be sure we’re safe? Can we be certain we won’t be next? I read one sentence on the Facebook page of a guy I barely know and I cried, because this is not the America I wanted to come home to.

Look, I’m not naive. I get that there are radical Muslims plotting this very second to cause as much carnage and bloodshed as possible. There is evil in this world. I get it. I’m just saying that I don’t want my politics to prevent me from empathizing with people. I don’t want to contribute to the rhetoric of fear, of alienating people, of passively condoning violence. No person in the United States of America should be scared to practice her religion publicly. It’s not policy nor culture that I am in fear of losing, but heart, humanity, compassion, basic human decency.


My friend read this post and has allowed me to quote him here:
“Just a minor point- I wouldn’t ever scream Islam doesn’t define me, I would scream the terrorist don’t define me. My Islam shared with over a billion others is a peaceful, beautiful, deeply compassionate religion that should and does permeate every facet of my life.”

To be clear, I didn’t think he would deny his religion or its importance in his life, but I wanted to point out that America expects him too. Perhaps we are so comfortable with nominal Christianity that we wish those of other faiths would share our religious disingenuity.


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And now for something entirely different: Apple Loaf, island style.

I posted a picture on Instagram yesterday of this apple loaf I used to make in AmSam and have since gotten so many requests for the recipe (or just a slice) that I thought I’d share it here.

Apple Loaf

Full disclosure: I have no idea where the original recipe came from. It could be from one of the hundreds of Kindle cookbooks I downloaded while we were overseas, or from somewhere on the internet. I don’t know if what I do even resembles the original, but it works pretty well.

When I say “island style” what I mean is “using the limited resources available,” and not, say, “with pineapples and frangipani.” Just to be clear. See, the school cafeteria in Manu’a occassionally served tiny little apples, which the students mostly used as projectiles while we American teachers looked on sadly. These little apple seasons only lasted as long as the school had the supplies (remember the cafeteria workers were notorious for stealing food, so it wasn’t unusual to run out of things from time to time), but whenever they were available I hoarded them. My goal was always to make an apple pie, but sometimes I wasn’t able to collect enough before the ones I had started to go bad and then I had to scramble to find another recipe. This is one of my favorite not apple pie treats.

In order for me to make anything in Manu’a it had to meet two simple requirements:
use only basic, readily available ingredients (or readily available substitutions);
no extra equipment necessary.

To make this apple loaf you will need:

10 tiny apples (or 3-4 average sized Red Delicious apples)
1 cup + 3 tbs white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 c softened butter*
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c. all purpose flour**
1/8 tsp salt.

3 mixing bowls
1 fork***
1 spatula***
1 loaf pan
1 device for sifting flour****
1 oven

*I used salted and/or unsalted — whatever Leafa had at her store
**every Manu’a recipe got all purpose flour
***If you have an electric mixer you may wish to use that instead, but then you’d be missing out on the real island experience.
***Here in Georgia I have an actual hand sifter; in Manu’a I just used a metal strainer. Sifting flour was, obviously, an extremely important step there to ensure no bugs made their way into your cakes or breads.


  1. Peel and slice apples. Try to keep them fairly thin, but it’s okay if a big ol’ boy makes his way in there every now and again. Step one: Slice the apples
  2. Toss apples, 3tbs sugar, and cinnamon in your bigger mixing bowl. (Sometimes I sprinkle with lemon juice but it’s not neccesary.) Step 2: Spice them apples.
  3. In your second bowl, cream together the butter with the rest of the sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time with your spatula. Toss in the vanilla.
  4. Sift together the flour and salt  in your third bowl until they are well mixed.Step 4: De-bug your flour
  5. Using your fork, gradually mix the flour+salt combo into the butter+sugar mixture until you feel like your hand is going to fall off. Step 5: Mix it all up.
  6. Pour all of that into a small loaf pan (9x5ish).
  7. Push the apples into the gooey-cakeyness vertically. Keep them close together–really cram them down in there. Try to keep the dough even through the pan–it’s okay to use a fork to redistribute it (even on top of the apples). Looks aren’t that important with this loaf.Step 7: Stick them apples! You’ll end up with something that looks like this:
    Step 7.5: Admire the ugly
  8. Bake in the oven at about 300 or 325 for about 1.5 hours. Maybe longer. I don’t know your oven situation. Just don’t let it burn, girl.
    Step 8: Done! Uma!

Uma! That’s it! Eat this fresh and hot, or let it cool and have it with your coffee in the morning. If you want to really replicate the Manukan experience, slice about half of the loaf, wrap it up, and find a wandering teenager to deliver it to someone else in your neighborhood.


Posted in American Samoa, United States | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Motherhood: the first 6 months

About 6 months ago I changed my name to Mama. Just like that. Snap.  New life. New me.

Except not really.

Our transition from a two-income-no-kids household to broke-and-happy-with-a-baby has been much smoother than I ever anticipated. Part of me wants to think it’s because we were starting on a pretty solid foundation, having been through  IT ALL in the last 12 years together. I mean, we have had a long time to learn each other; we were ready to learn this new little Stranger. But really I know it’s because the Lord hooked us up with a cool baby.

And he is a super cool baby. I hear it from just about everyone who sees the quiet, attentive way he studies his surroundings while I shop or how content he is to sit in his carseat on the floor while I grab coffee with a friend. He has never been much of a crier. He doesn’t fuss too often.  Most of the time he is nothing like what I was told to expect.  (I know now that he’s a trick baby, and am trying to act accordingly.) And so motherhood is not what I had prepared for.

Surely you have heard of that recent report that becoming a parent is worse than divorce or the loss of a spouse? I was expecting something like that.

June 14 2014

In AmSam the day we found out I was pregnant.

As much as I had hoped and prayed and wanted to be a mother, nobody was more surprised than I was that our lives didn’t end when we added a dependent. I went right back to walking aimlessly around Target with my BFF (thank you, Boba wrap!) and continued showering as usual. Wes & I still sing and dance like idiots in our living room. Now we just have a tiny audience. 

That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been hard at times. We’re only six months in and I’ve already dealt with the second-guessing and the guilt and the ridiculous worries and the being spit-up/peed/pooped on. I have had to compromise on things I never even considered being asked to compromise on.  I’m sure we’ll deal with a whole lot more of it as the years go on. I know it’s easy now; I know it may not always be this way. There is still so much figuring out to be done.

But truly, I have no complaints. Being this boy’s mother is lovely. Like morning sunlight through the window as your nurse your baby kind of lovely. Soft and warm and sweet. When he was three days old I was nursing him in our big king-sized bed, studying his tiny face by the light of a lamp, when he reached one of his hands down toward my ribs and laid his palm flat against my side. I could not possibly describe to you what that felt like, what happened to me at that touch. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. A hand on my side. That’s all. He still cannot help but search my skin with those tiny fingers when he’s sleepy. What a thing to be of such comfort to another human being. Sometimes the Stranger will make eye contact with me and my eyes just well up with tears because have you seen that baby? He is beautiful. That’s motherhood. Or, a part of it.

The Stranger. Three weeks old.

So far I’ve learned that motherhood is not something that can be summarized or easily defined. So much of it is unexpected and strange. It’s mostly winging it and a lot of laughing at yourself. It’s hundreds of forgotten cups of coffee. It’s inexplicable joy at the most miniscule things–look! the baby is touching his foot! Get the camera!!!  It’s more hearing about other people’s grandkids in the grocery store than you ever imagined. It’s accidentally flashing everyone in your small group because your kid wants to nurse but he also wants to look at all the faces all the time. It’s constantly swaying when you stand, even if you aren’t holding the baby. It’s being comfortable with having someone else’s vomit/pee/poop all over your clothes. (I mean comfortable, like “Yea, I probably have time to change but nah this is fine” kind of comfortable.) It’s a messy, messy business. Have you ever used your favorite burp cloth to wipe baby puke off of a filthy brewery floor? Because I have. Do you have a favorite burp cloth?  That’s what it is to be a mom.

More than that though, what I’ve learned is that motherhood is a series of tiny deaths. It’s me, dying. The selfish me. The me that just needs one more minute in bed, just wants to veg out on Facebook, just wants to be able to run into the store real quick. There’s no room for her in this endeavor, and despite what the world tells me about that, I am glad to see her go. I am having to learn to put myself last after a lifetime of putting myself first. (And in that lesson, realizing that all of those years I thought I was putting God, my husband, my friends, etc, first? Yea, wasn’t doing that.) That’s where it really gets messy.

Truly sometimes I’d rather not be rocking the Stranger to sleep for the third time this nap because the laundry is piling up and the floors need to be swept and oh man have I eaten yet today? I want to write or knit or finish that sewing project that’s been sitting in the dining room for a month. I want to be selfish. I want to shout that I don’t have time for the tears today! That I “deserve” alone time!  (Um, okay. Try explaining that to a baby.) Listen, I know what I deserve, and it isn’t this wonderful life.

Instead I try to remember that there is nothing that I could be doing in that moment that is more important than comforting my son. It won’t always be this way, but right now he needs me more than the laundry does.

What I know, what I feel is a gift to even be cognizant of, is that we are likely living the best years of our lives. We will look back on this time and marvel: there we were, still so young and in love, somehow able to spend our days with our tiny son in the home we created together. What an incredible blessing. I don’t want to squander this time being obsessed with a schedule or a clean house. Motherhood is the joy of the moment.

For the last six months I have watched this tiny person grow. I’ve watched him discover his hands, watched his eyes get big and round when he held his balled up fist in front of them, witnessed the delight on his face when he finally grasped the toy he’d been batting at in his swing. I’ve heard him say some variation of “hi” a hundred times, heard him chirping from the back seat, heard him giggling at Wes from the other room. It’s incredible. When I met him he was darked headed and wide eyed, 7 1/2 lbs of helplessness. Now he’s a full grown baby! Already he has shown us all this personality, but there is still so much about him we don’t know. Motherhood is a constant ice-breaker–meeting and learning and building a different kind of relationship. It has unveiled  aspects of my God, of my husband, and of myself that were previously unknown to me–parts of us that I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

We are only six months in to this parenting thing and still trying to wrap our heads around what it means, what it’s supposed to look like. Nearly every day I add another sentence to my growing definition. (It is clipping your kid’s fingernails more times in a week than you clip your own in a month. It is walking into the kitchen to make dinner and discovering the lunch you didn’t have time to eat earlier. It is picking someone else’s nose in public.) Genuinely, truly, with all my heart, I am excited about finding out what else it is. The last six months have been some of the best of my life (and I lived in straight-up paradise for three years, so….); I am so looking forward to seeing what the next six months hold.

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One year home

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been back in the States for a year now. The one-year mark came and went and I probably wouldn’t even have thought of it had it not been for Facebook’s weird memories thing. (I guess Facebook wants to remind us that it hasn’t forgotten anything.)

One year post-American Samoa. Strange. I haven’t been to a beach since July 2014. The closest I’ve come to swimming was when I labored in the birth pool, and that wasn’t anywhere near as relaxing as floating in the channel in Faleasao.

Sometimes I speak to our son in a language he’s unlikely to hear anywhere else. I’ve heard Wes do it, too. But already I’ve forgotten so much. I often check our Samoan-English dictionary in search of a word I thought I’d never lose. And there’s no one nearby who can help me–no neighbor I can shout to out the window who will laugh at my pronunciation, no students to be proud of my attempts. Oy.

The other day I swatted wildly at an ant on my leg. An ant. Just one tiny, harmless ant. And that’s when I knew I’d fully adjusted back to our American life. I miss the way I could turn a corner in our Faleasao home, discover an entire ant colony making its way across our walls, and walk past it without even thinking of getting rid of them. It’s not that I had gained some profound respect for the tireless, hardworking ant. It’s that I knew how futile it was to try to rid the house of bugs. It was just easier to let them do their thing. (But those giant spiders. No. They had to go.)

Just a normal, everyday ant pile in the hallway.

Just a normal, everyday ant pile in the hallway.

What a strange thing to miss.

Of course more than anything I miss the people. I miss Leafa and the way her laugh carried through our windows. I miss neighbors and students shouting their hellos as they passed by our house. I miss all the kids–even the two little girls who loved to yell derogatory terms and give us the finger. I miss our students. And the dogs. And the beach. And the hot sun on my face. And the sound of waves crashing just beyond the palm trees. And the days when the sun beat down relentlessly until I’d drop the broom right where I stood and walk directly into the ocean with all my clothes on. And I miss the incredibly vast expanse of stars overhead and gazing up at it while lying flat on our backs on the sandy concrete of the wharf and the feeling of smallness that overwhelmed me every time we sat there silently in the dark with the trade winds blowing our hair around. All of that stuff.

A lot has changed in a year. In many ways I think that we couldn’t have timed it better–getting pregnant just before we came back. It gave us something else to focus on instead of lamenting the loss of Samoa and the awkward adjustment home. Life today is incredibly different than life was a year or two or three ago, but shouldn’t that always be the case? I’m a mother–that’s a big one. And in many ways Samoa prepared me for this gig. Because I spent three years on a tiny, isolated island wearing holey tshirts and basketball shorts, twisting my dirty hair into messy buns and complaining that my one pair of jeans didn’t fit, the transition to stay-at-home-motherhood hasn’t been too shocking. So what if I put on eyeliner to go to Costco the other day. I probably would’ve done the same thing in Manu’a had there been makeup or warehouse stores.

Supposedly the reverse culture-shock doesn’t really hit you until 6-9 months after you repatriate. But I was in my third trimester during those months. We were in the throws of renovation, ripping floors out and painting every surface. I was working when needed, subbing for a few schools here and there. In the classroom, I paid attention to the more obvious distinctions between teaching in a public school in the South Pacific and teaching at private schools in affluent American suburbs. Of course I did. But mostly I didn’t have the time or the mental energy to focus on what I did and didn’t like about being back in America. There was only the thought of my impending labor and readying ourselves for the baby. See? Perfect timing. A beautiful distraction. But now the Stranger is a few months old and I find myself noticing things I hadn’t paid attention to before.

There’s the stuff all the books warn you about — the way the vapid, consumeristic, celebrity-worshipping, pop-culture crazed blah that is so pervasive in American culture just wears you down — and then the stuff the books mention but you are certain won’t affect you — the close friend who is completely unrecognizable (surely they’ve changed? or have you?), the constant feeling of being misunderstood by nearly everyone you speak to about your experiences. It’s a mixed bag.

I’m glad to be home. I’m grateful that we were able to return to the friends we love so dearly, to a community that has been nothing but graceful and supportive, to a familiar, comfortable life. But every once in a while I’m disappointed by this culture. I’m saddened by its inability to entertain new ideas and perspectives. I’ve grown weary of the 24 hour news cycle and the constant stream of manufactured problems. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk in our neighborhood and feel overcome with sadness that I don’t know 90% of our neighbors, that I haven’t even seen some of their faces before. Who are all these people? It’s lonely in America. We’re all strangers and so we don’t trust each other and we live our lives separated and in fear and it’s a lonely, sad existence. I miss knowing everyone in my village and being able to disagree with them in person instead of through a computer screen, with its artificial blue glow that somehow makes us all feel like we’re always right. I miss the way face-to-face conversation with people who aren’t like me and maybe don’t share my beliefs makes me more careful and purposeful with my words– I miss the necessary humility and simplicity of daily life.

Of course there are a million other things I don’t miss. Those giant spiders. The nightly fear of waking up with a cockroach in my bed. Dogs getting shot for no reason. The open disdain expressed by so many toward palagi and Asians.  Knowing your students are being abused and feeling powerless to stop it. Other teachers who don’t care about teaching and simply don’t do it. All that kind of stuff wasn’t fun. Sometimes I have to remind myself that there were reasons we decided to leave, and that there was a time when we were more than ready to get on that plane to Hawaii. I don’t want to see Samoa through rose colored glasses. But I can accept that it’s not perfect and still love it. Just like I have to do here in this country.

I realized just yesterday that the new WorldTeach volunteers are probably on island. I have no idea who any of them are, haven’t connected with them on Facebook or read any of their blogs. (For the record, if you are a WT volunteer or applicant, you are always welcome to email me with whatever questions you have about Manu’a.) We no longer know any Americans on Ta’u! I won’t be receiving updates about my students or the goings-on in the village from the palagi perspective (oh but I’m sure I’ll hear about all of them from the village perspective, mwahaha). Every day the distance between us and Manu’a grows.

A year ago we hugged our friends and said goodbye. And then. My belly grew. We renovated a house. I delivered our son (pretty much) on a stretcher. We brought him home and started a new life, from two to three in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Somehow, somewhere in there I became a stay at home mom and began freelancing (a dream come true) and Wes became a math tutor. And none of these things came about from our careful planning. God has a sense of humor.

A new topic/thought about American Samoa pops in my head every now and then and I try to remember to blog about it, but of course that never happens because I have a baby. When am I supposed to write-for-free? (For the record it’s 12:45am. I am trading my precious sleeps for this quiet time.)

I’m sure there’s more I could say, or a better way of saying what I’ve committed to words so far, but it’s late and I believe I’m rambling. I’ve written so many posts since the Stranger arrived that I just haven’t managed to publish. Suddenly everything seems so personal that it’s hard to open up to the internet. If you’re wondering, parenthood is everything I hoped it would be and none of the bad stuff everyone swears it is. The baby is cool as all get out. I think we’ve adjusted just fine. We miss Manu’a every single day. But, yes, we’re glad to be back.

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The Roommate’s Room

So, our roommate finally arrived in March, a little later than we thought but we’re happy he’s here. I can finally show you guys his space!

He’s a baby, in case you didn’t know. (More on that later.)

The plan for this room was pretty loose and all-over-the-place for a whole lotta months, and for a while there it was looking like it was definitely not going to come together…but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

The only thing I knew for sure about planning a nursery was that I wanted to sand and paint the crib myself.  All I needed was a crib, and, ya know, to figure out how to sand and paint furniture.

I found the crib and changing table at a church yard sale for $60. Here’s what they looked like before:

IMGP3381 IMGP3383


Then in October I took the crib apart and got to work. Everything was sanded by hand using a little plastic sandpaper block. It was a lot more work than I anticipated, but all that sweat and elbow grease and time spent thinking about who this little person was and all my hopes for him or her… it was time well spent. But still, I was pretty pregnant and it was getting cold out, so I had to work little by little for a million years.

Eventually I ended up with this:

Painted crib


After finishing the crib, I was supposed to start on the changing table… but then I found a nursery glider on Craigstlist for $20. It was black, which I didn’t love, and the ottoman cushion was kind of stained. But otherwise it was in great condition. And it was $20. Soooo….

Glider Before

This time I decided not to sand it first because I was about 8 months pregnant and not feeling it. I just painted right over it. It only took about half a sample of Behr’s Voyage to cover both the chair and the ottoman. I used a fine grit sand paper to rough it up a bit and bring the original black out through the blue. Then Wes painted over the whole thing with a clear polyurethane. To clean the cushions, I sprayed the heck out of them with regular rubbing alcohol, then used a white sponge and a rough scrub brush to get the stains out. And now it looks like this.

Chair 2

Photo by Anna Barbier

Sometime when the paint was drying on the glider, I decided to go back to the changing table. Again, no sanding. But just in case the lazy paint + polyurethane thing I did on the glider didn’t work out, I thought I’d try a different method. Because, why not? Right? So I had Wes put a primer on it and then painted it with the same color I used in the closet. I’m sure I was a lovely sight in the driveway, kneeling over some slats of orange wood with my giant belly covered in paint.

Changing Table


The little bin on the top shelf of the changing table has three small sections that hold all of my cloth wipes, snappis, spray bottles with wipe solution, and CJ’s BUTTer. The gray bins are full of pocket/all-in-one diapers, diaper covers, inserts, and prefolds. It’s very hard to see but there is also a little bouquet of paper airplanes (made by my friend Jessica for my baby shower) attached to the top right of the table.

Of the three refinishing methods I used, the primer + paint for the changing table was the least successful. It looks nice enough but there are already scuffs in the paint on the top bar of the changing table where my jeans rub against it when I change him. It’s not so bad that I’m going to do anything about it though.

The last little project I had for the nursery was to redo the closet. The room is really too small to have a dresser and a changing table; I decided to rework the closet and use a bookcase in there as the dresser instead. I bought this bookshelf several years ago for $10 at a thrift store. It was painted green so it went really well in this room when it was my craft room. Wes repainted it white so it’d work better in here now.

I also changed the direction of the closet rods to hide his clothes a little and make the closet more of a focal point in the room. There are rods on either side of the closet; I may add another bar later beneath the ones that are already up but right now I have plenty of room for his tiny clothes.

Nursery Closet

Each bin has a labeled clothes pin clipped to the handle to help me remember what goes where. The top bins have his onesies and pants in them; the bottom contain blankets, swaddles, and extra crib sheets and changing pads. There are more blankets and some knitted hats in the blue basket on top. My mom gave me those little orange pails and I use them for his newborn mittens and tiny little socks. The photo albums pictured hold his postcard collection.

Here are some of the little details in the room.


Top: two small paintings by Wes; boomerang was a gift from Wes’ old boss from a trip to Australia; hanging elephants from Courtney in Thailand; Oh the Places You’ll Go from Wes’ cousin; stuffed elephant from Courtney; What a Wonderful World from Jessica (super special as that is the song my father and I danced to at my wedding). Bottom: crochet banner by Jessica; little wooden ‘ava bowl was a gift from the our coworkers in Manu’a.

So here it is, all together:





So that’s it. It’s kind of hard to plan a room for a person you know absolutely nothing about, but the little dude seems to like it well enough. And because I got the furniture 2nd hand and used other pieces I already had, the whole room (except the carpet) was less than $150. The only things I really felt like I “splurged” on were the canvas above his crib ($15 at Hobby Lobby) and an $8 picture frame from Kohl’s. (ha!) Saving money AND babies! Does it get any better than that?

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A Quick Update on the Most Beautiful Floors that Ever Were

Remember a while ago, when we did the last walk-through of the house before the renters left, and I mentioned how one of my favorite things about our house has always been the warmth? The light pouring into the living room? And when I stood in the house as the renters moved their last belongings out, I was so very disappointed in how little our house felt anything like our home?


Light | Hardwoods

The Beard has worked tirelessly to restore that feeling of “ohhhhh yea” to the house. Those are our new hardwoods!  (Pay no attention to the tools on the fireplace.) I’m in love. And we got a great discount on them since it took so very long for them to arrive.

Here are the kitchen floors, which I also like to stare at for minutes on end.


Oh the light! I love the light!

Now that our floors are in, the major work is pretty much done. Right now our guest bedroom is full of boxes and the basement hasn’t been touched at all, but we’re in the house! So happy to be back. :)

We also have new roommate who is arriving any day now. That room is looking pretty fantastic if I do say so myself. I’ll try to post photos soonish. We’re still staying strong on the no-internet front; I’m at the library now (where nobody uses their library voice. What’s up with that?).

Once things slow down a little with the moving-in/unpacking/prepping-for-new-roomie stuff, I’ll have a post for you about some furniture renovation I’ve been working on the last few months. I’m pretty excited about sharing the pieces I’ve done. Until then, enjoy the light on those gorgeous floors.

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More delays and (finally) a few totally finished rooms

Our main living areas are still not finished because Home Depot has still not received our flooring order (argh). But that’s okay. It’s cool. We’re not worried about it. I’m not gonna worry. No sir. Totally chill over here.

It’s just that…

We have a pretty big family event coming up next month that we absolutely can not reschedule and I’d really love it if our house was not a construction zone. We’re going to try to get it to a place where it’s presentable this weekend–throw some rugs on the sub floors, bring in some chairs–so hopefully that will make it all more liveable until the hardwoods arrive.

In other news, the master bath is 100% finished! All that it lacked really since my last post was a mirror. I had this great one I got years ago at Old Time Pottery for less than $10 and it turns out that it looks awesome in there. Here’s our new vanity area:

Master Bath Vanity

Er mer gersh I love it.

And here’s our totally d-o-n-e master bedroom! Complete with the gigantic, ridiculously ornate furniture we purchased as newly weds. (I still love it though.)

Master BR Finished! Master BR finished!

Yesterday while the Beard worked, I tested out the nap-ability of this room and it is pretty extraordinary.

The guest bedroom and the new roomie’s bedroom are both pretty much finished as far as work goes. They just need to be organized and what not. We are using the guest room as storage right now while the living room is subfloor-y so I can’t do anything in there other than unpack a million boxes and marvel at all the junk we have. (We have so much stuff.)

The kitchen and guest bathrooms are also done! But I don’t have any photos for you right now. I am so into the new kitchen floor that sometimes I just stand there staring at it with lovey-dove eyes. So much better than what it used to be. (Before and after photos definitely to follow.)

In other news, we have set a move-in date (despite the lack of living room liveability). It’s been absolutely wonderful living with my in-laws; you really don’t hear that every day, I know, but it’s true. I love them and have enjoyed being able to spend so much time with them since we’ve been back. But we’ve been in this strange post-Samoa transition period for a really long time now and I’m ready to get the next phase of our lives started.

I just want to warn everyone-in-the-world that we have decided against having the internet at our house. Yup. I’m for real. We lived without it for three years in American Samoa and really view it as a “want” and not a “need” now. Maybe that will change when we get in the house. Who knows? Also, I know that having constant internet access greatly reduces my productivity and I hate that. Get ready to marvel at the only two thirty-somethings you know who don’t have smartphones OR internet at home! I guess we’ll have to do friendships the old-fashioned way and see each other in person.

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Renovation update (all the other weeks)

Soon after we started our Major Big Time Renovation project, we had to go out of state to visit family for the holidays. And then things were just slow going for a while–some trim painted here, a closet painted there; it was a ton of work but we weren’t seeing many dramatic changes. Now that it’s been about a month since the last update, we are really starting to see things come together.

Our master bedroom is pretty much done! Here’s what it looked like before:

Mbr - Before

And this is what it looks like now:

Master Bedroom

The updates: New paint on the walls, new ceiling fan, new carpet. Also primered and painted all the trim (moulding, windows, even the closet shelves) white.

And here’s a glance at (part of) our new bathroom!

Master Bath - Vanity

You may remember the ugly brown 70’s vanity and forest green tile.  In here, we painted (walls & trim), re-tiled the floors, and replaced the vanity, counter-top, faucets, and light fixture. All that I have to do now is hang the mirror (which is in storage so we’ll have to do that once we move in and unpack).

Lemme just be thrilled about the savings for a minute: We had a tough time finding a vanity/counter-top we both liked. This wasn’t my first choice (my first choice was probably about 2x as much as the whole bathroom budget; who knew these little cabinets were so expensive?). But we got really lucky at Home Depot! This vanity was recently marked for clearance at our local store. Then, because we purchased the last one (floor model), we asked if they could discount it a little more (and they did). We got such a great deal on the vanity that I didn’t faint when I saw the price of faucets.

Okay, let’s get back to the rest of the house. The two other bedrooms are also finished!

Our new roommate’s space. The walls are Behr’s Gentle Rain (same as in living room); the closet is Behr’s Adventure Orange. This shot is way too low because the current ceiling fan in this room is so bad, and I didn’t want to distract you from how great that closet looks.

The Stranger's room

This is our old guest bedroom (new office space? craft room?) Walls are Behr’s Mountain Sage; closet is Gentle Rain (what? we had a lot of it left over).

Guest Bedroom

The Beard put the vent/switch plate covers/ doors/ blinds back up in all the bedrooms so they are good to go!

All of our new carpet was purchased at and installed by Acworth Floor Center. My in-laws used them years ago and recommended them to us. We hardly ever hire anyone to do work for us, but didn’t think carpet was a very DIY kind of thing. I know we can be difficult customers–we want high quality at low prices and we have a hard time making decisions. The guys over at Acworth Floor Center let us take our time, go back and forth on the carpet/color, take some samples home for the weekend, and then (after all our stalling) were totally on board when we finally made our choice and asked them if they could install a.s.a.p. Shopping there was just easy and I definitely recommend them.

This weekend we went to Floor and Decor to buy the tile for the guest bathroom and kitchen. Originally I really wanted to put down laminate in the kitchen (so many benefits of laminate over tile! so many!), but y’all know I love saving money and tile is just way more cost-efficient. The Beard has prepped the guest bath and will hopefully have the tile done in there by the end of next week; he’ll also be ripping up the kitchen floors before Christmas.

We have encountered a pretty big set-back with our hardwoods, which we purchased from Home Depot mid-November. We thought for sure we’d have them installed by now, but the floors have been out-of-stock and are not estimated to arrive until early January. It took us so long to find floors we both loved that we decided to wait it out rather than getting a refund and starting over. So, we still plan to move in to the house (even with the exposed sub-floors) on schedule and will just have to install the floors when they get here.

A lot of not-related-to-the-house things have been going on, and I really do plan on updating y’all on that soon. In the meantime, I hope you all have a great Christmas (we are so incredibly thrilled to be able to spend the holidays with family & friends for the first time in years!) and a safe New Year’s Eve! <3

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