Small Joys: Scenes of Home

Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.
— Brene Brown

Spring is creeping into Michigan. Slowly. 2 steps forward, 1 step backward. Yesterday it was in the 50, today in the 20s. But the birds are singing their hearts out every time I go outside and the sun shows up more and longer. Little green mystery shoots are poking their heads out of our flower beds. It's a time of new energy and life. 

Similarly, indoors things are finally taking shape. Last weekend we spent alot of time working on house projects. And while we've been working away at these things for 3 months, it's just now that things are coming together. After we cleaned up and put away our tools, I couldn't stop exclaiming as I walked around the house as little scenes emerged that felt so homey. Nothing is complete or perfect, but things are starting to feel like we live in a home and not a construction zone. And it feels so good.

Gathering up things that brought joy this week and taking a moment to be grateful.

Dump Zone: We have a tiny closet by our back door that couldn't even serve as coat storage. So I added shelves and an electrical outlet. Now we have a place to dump phones, keys, purses, hats, pens, and all the other random things that were on our kitchen counters before.

Succulent buds: I'm really, really hoping those little buds are baby succulent blooms. I'm waiting in anticipation. The lower one is turning more and more yellow from the inside, so maybe?

Peg Rail: We had no towel rack in our bathroom for too long. I never knew how much I loved having a place to hang my towel until I didn't have one. Also, I want a peg rail in every room of our house now.

The entry: We have the tiniest front entry. It's barely a corner, and definitely not a room. But Dave painted it charcoal this weekend and I cleaned up that glorious wood door. Every time I see it, I get a little thrill of joy. I just love that color with the wood tones.

This stinker: She's been finding the funniest and most random hiding spots. I barely opened this drawer and turned around and she was already staking a claim to it. Always giving me a reason to smile.

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Of Waterfalls and Rainbows: Iceland Part 2

This is the 2nd part of my Iceland trip summary. If you've missed the first part of our Iceland trip you might want to read that first. It's taken quite a bit more time and effort to do these than I expected, but I'm going to try and get them done. It's been almost 6 months since our trip after all! 

Days on our trip around the Ring Road began with the alarm going off in the camper van at 7 am. While we were there the sun rose and set about 12 hours apart, so we used up every last minute of daylight, even if that meant getting up earlier than we usually would on vacation.

On our fourth day, we woke up to sunshine for the first time. It was amazingly invigorating and our plan was to head out to Skógafoss first thing in order to avoid the hoards of tourists.

We arrived early, but not early enough. Despite the fact that we ourselves were tourists, we had a hard time with how overrun certain locations were with bus groups.

Luckily Skógafoss wasn't the only thing we had set out to see. Because of the lovely weather, we wanted to get some fresh air and hike. We knew there was a path above the waterfall and climbed the hill/cliff on the right to get to the top. The path was easy to find and once we had walked a mere 100 yards, we had it all to ourselves.

For the rest of the trip, this became our favorite way to avoid crowds. We loved finding the long way around and getting off the beaten path so that we could enjoy the sights without too much company.

As we hiked into the Fimmvörðuháls Pass, the Skógá river flowed by on the left. It felt like every bend hid another, more beautiful waterfall than the last. Our plan was to hike for an hour or two and then head back. However, once we got started there was no way to turn back. We'd say "after the next waterfall we'll turn back." At the next waterfall, we'd see the mist from another and we just had to keep going.

Before we knew it we'd gone 8km and decided we had to go all the way since we'd gotten so close already. Now this wasn't a hiking loop, it was a there and back again hike. So once we hit the 10km turn around point, we still had 10km to hike back to our car. We hadn't been prepared for a 12 mile hike, but it was worth every bit of soreness we paid for it.

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We got back to our car hours later than we meant to and dug straight into our cooler. Dave finally remembered to get the AUX cord out of the suitcase. We cranked our Fire + Ice playlist as we pulled out of the parking lot. We drove down the road high on fresh air and sunshine, belting out "Into the Wild" and scarfing down out well-deserved salmi sandwich lunch.

I felt the ball of anxiety I'd been fighting since we'd left home loosen and I finally felt like myself again. This was the trip I'd imagined and hoped for. Everything was Beautiful. Awesome. Wild. Amazing. And I was going to be ok. 

We stopped in Vik for a bathroom break and some Icelandic ice cream. My new found confidence and light-heartedness led to some really fun and cheery interactions with the Icelander who served the ice cream.

We took a windy walk on the black sand beaches below the Reynisfjara sea stacks. We stayed away from the waves since they're unpredictable and dangerous, but there was no need to get close, the beauty was all around us.

I also performed the most epic save when my ice cream fell off the cone and I caught it before it hit the beach. I'm still proud.

At this point we thought we could zip up the southern coast and quickly hit up a few sights on the way. However, our hike had eaten up a big part of the day and while we did make it to (2 million year old) Fjaðrárgljúfur Masjid Canyon, we realized we had totally forgotten about Skaftafell National Park and knew we couldn't just skip it. We pulled into the park's visitor center as the sun began to set and quickly found the campsite. 

Skaftafell is best known for it's huge glaciers and for it's famous black waterfall, Svartifoss. We took a sunset hike up to the falls and a sunrise one to check out the glaciers. We really wanted to hike more, but with a heavy rain and sore muscles from the previous day it really wasn't possible.

Instead we headed east on the Ring Road. It was drizzling and wet, but as we drove rainbows started popping up everywhere. We pulled up to Fjallsárlón, the first and smaller glacial lagoon, as a huge rainbow appeared overhead. I had never seen such vibrant or close rainbows. We could see both ends and felt like we could run up and touch them. (In fact I may have tried chasing the end of the rainbow.)

I had worn rubber boots which made wading to a floating mini iceberg easier. I can't begin to explain the beauty of the glacier flowing down from the mountains into the lagoon, the rainbows, blue water and green hills. In a land that felt other-wordly every day, this day especially felt surreal. The changes between sunny and stormy created an atmosphere of drama. It felt cinematic. This was one of the best days of our trip.

We continued down the road surrounded by rainbows toward Jökulsárlón. This is the more famous of the ice lagoons. The intermittent sunshine revealed the most beautiful shades of blue in the ice and water. I've never thought much about icebergs (except perhaps negatively in regards to the Titanic), but I was blown away by how stunning they were in real life. The easiest way to describe them might be as giant wild diamonds. 

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Across the road from the lagoon was a black sand beach scattered with ice chunks. A storm was coming in over the ocean and huge black clouds and waves came crashing in. If it hadn't been freezing cold, with a biting wind, I could have stayed on that beach for hours. Walking up to a huge chunk of ice and looking into it's depths didn't get old. It felt impossible to capture the shades of blue with my camera, yet looking at the pictures now, I can't believe the colors were even richer than that. This stop on our trip is one I'd love to do again. 

Sadly we had to leave the lagoons behind, but luckily the drive for the rest of the day were equally stunning. We were followed by the storm as we drove east. This meant that we constantly alternated between rain and sun, with a smattering of rainbows in between.

As we drove down the south coast, we saw many little farms nestled at the bottom of steep hills. Many had small waterfalls in their backyards. I can't even estimate how many different waterfalls we saw. I'd even go so far as to say we were never out of sight of one of some sort or another.

We made it to Höfn for a late lunch and found Hafnarbúðin, a little diner on the harbor. This small fishing town on the southeastern end of Iceland has a large export of fish and langoustine. We had read that it was one of the best places to get seafood. Iceland in general has a love of fast food and seafood, which can be a really great combo. We couldn't believe that langoustine were available alongside hotdogs and hamburgers. I probably could have eaten three times as much as we did. If only eating out hadn't been so expensive there!

We spent the rest of the day driving through the eastern fjords, surrounded by rainbows. It will take a pretty spectacular rainbow to impress me after the ones we saw there. After hours of striking colors and double arches, we almost got desensitized to them.

"Oh look, another double rainbow with full arches!"

"Yeah, but this one doesn't have all the colors like the last one did"

"Maybe we can drive through this one" 

We could have easily spend a couple days in the quiet towns and peaceful shores if we'd had more time. Instead we took a shortcut through the mountains and headed back over the mainland north to Egilsstaðir and the campsite there.

That night we had one of our fanciest dinners: noodles and red sauce. I don't want to call it Spaghetti, because that implies meat sauce and peppers and such. This was truly noodles, sautéed onions and red sauce. The food we made in the camper was so basic, that this seemed complex. Usually we ate ramen, perhaps with an egg cooked in the broth with the noodles to create a sort of egg drop soup. Once we even had sausages, but things had to stay simple at camp. The wind was too cold to stand outside while we cooked and ate, so things had to be fast, hot and cheap (groceries were expensive). If we ever go again, I'd pack a few things like spices and hot sauce to liven up simple ingredients. 

While I'm talking about the camper van, I might as well mention a few other things: 

  • We used Snail Motorhome Rental and got their Snail Micro with 4WD. This was their smallest (cheapest) model. We would definitely recommend Snail. They're a family run business and even though we returned with multiple things broken (spare tire, cooler extension cord) they didn't nickel and dime us.
  • Everything we needed (from cooler to clothesline and cooking supplies) was included. The only problem was they didn't communicate that before we arrived, so we ended up bringing an extra suitcase of camping stuff we really didn't need.
  • We choose to do the camper van instead of a regular rental car so that we didn't have to commit to spending the night at specific places since we had no idea where or what we'd actually end up doing. This worked out really well for us. We were able to follow the weather and take advantage of the sun. 
  • The bed/living platform was elevated behind the two front seats. Our storage was underneath. So the living space was only 2.5ft, maybe 3ft tall. I enjoyed having our own space every night and not having to spend the night in a new hotel, b&b or hostel every night. However, I'm almost a full foot shorter than Dave. When we got home Dave admitted that he wouldn't do the camper van again. I think other companies have better lay outs and set ups in their small vans, and I might look into those if we were ever to do a trip around the entire island again. By the fourth day we had a system down which included a clothesline in the back to dry our towels and swimsuits, teamwork in setting up and stowing away our bed, and putting up the privacy curtains.
  • The biggest annoyance about the camper other than the lack of space was the fact that we were constantly searching for things. Because we shifted from driving to sleeping in the same small space we'd lose track of simple things all the time. 
  • It was a bit chilly at times, but we only woke up with ice on the windows once. 
  • It was worth have 4WD if you're remotely adventurous, which if you're in Iceland, I'd hope you would be.
  • We had been told you could camp anywhere, but found that most places had newly erected "no camping" signs, which we assumed were due to the tourist boom over the past 5 years. Campsites were absurdly easy to find. I was worried and had marked them on our map which was totally unnecessary as campsites are as common there as McDonalds are in the US. 
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I was hoping to only write 3 posts about this trip, but I'm only halfway through, and this post is a monster already. Here's to hoping the next one won't take me 3 months to write. 

If you have any specific questions, I'd love to hear them and do my best to answer them! Let me know in the comments.

Sunshine Getaway: Florida

We got out of town this past weekend. Back around Christmas time we decided this was the year we'd head down to visit Dave's grandparents at their condo in Florida and pulled the trigger on some plane tickets. 

What we didn't know was that by the second week of February we'd be desperate for some sunshine and rest. In Michigan we only saw the sun twice in January and not much more this month. So jumping on that plane on Friday and walking out of the airport in Fort Meyers into 75 degree weather felt like the best sort of dream.

I haven't spent much time in tropical places. I counted it up and this was probably only my 5th time seeing palm trees in real life. I couldn't get over how unfamiliar the plants and animals were. It felt like a totally different planet from home. The only plants I recognized were ones I know as house plants. In Florida, they're hedges and in flowerbeds. The world is a seriously cool place. I love getting reminders of that.

We didn't do much while we were there. Which was perfect. Mostly we took time to rest, soak up as much sunshine as possible and visit with our grandparents. It felt amazing to leave all the stress of work and house renovation at home and sit by a pool.

My favorite part of vacations is taking time to watch the sunset. Someday I dream of living a life that allows me to enjoy the sunset every day. It happens every day and yet we soak it in so rarely. We got to see three perfectly clear sunsets while down there and I resisted the temptation to collect buckets of seashells to take home. They were so pretty, but I never know what to do with them once I've taken them away from the beach.

Dave and I both read The Magnolia Story on this trip. It was such an easy and fun read, with some gems of wisdom and good life perspective. The book was a great conversation starter and helped inspire us. Highly recommend.

I always thought that the “thriving” would come when everything was perfect, and what I learned is that it’s actually down in the mess that things get good
— Joanna Gaines, The Magnolia Story

Getting away for a long weekend does such wonders for our relationship and mental health. It helps us take a step back and ask hard questions about the way we're living, our values and goals.

We came home with sun-kissed cheeks and a firm resolution to do more little trips like this. 

House + Home: Inspiration and Vision

Before I jump into post about the individual rooms of our house and the changes we're doing to them, I thought it might be helpful to share an overview of the vision we have for the home as a whole. We've learned so much about what works for Dave and I in regards to houses and homes. Clutter and darkness are both things that most definitely to not fall into that category.

With half the year in Michigan spent primarily indoors, having a bright, warm and clutter-free space makes an undeniable difference in how we feel about life and each other. In our old house we had a crawlspace instead of a basement which kept the floor chilly. Also the main living space faced north, so we never got sunlight in our dining/living room. 

It was a wonderful first house and we learned so much during our time in it. We tried beadboard wallpaper in the bathroom and lots of things spray painted gold in the office/studio. Dave installed such a lovely backsplash in the kitchen. We painted The bedroom white on a whim while we were doing the floors and it was one of the best decisions. I discovered so much from those rooms.

This new house has many improvement on the old one already: the floor-plan is more efficient, the windows are south-facing, there is a basement, as well as beautiful views and hardwood floors. The other thing I'm really excited about this house is our decision to do most of the updates right away. Instead of tackling them one by one, we wanted to do the big things at the beginning so we can enjoy them for our whole time here. 

I think Dave expected to duplicate the changes we'd done to the old house, but he didn't realize that even in a little over a year his wife's style can change. Not only has it changed, but in many ways I feel like I've been discovering what my style is, instead of being influenced by other people or Pinterest trends. My true tastes are a combination of so many things and experiences. The time I've spent in Austria has instilled in me a love of linen and clean lines. Growing up on a farm gave me a passion for nature and and natural materials. My hobbies of knitting and painting mean that textiles and art in our house are especially meaningful and I am pretty picky about them. I've even noticed a strong tendency toward Scandinavian design that I might credit to my paternal Swedish roots. There are many other influences woven into my identity, tastes and style. But these specifically have shown up in our plans for this new home.

Before we even closed on the house, I spent most of November dreaming and thinking about what sort of atmosphere this home should have. There is a German word Gemütlich that is insanely hard to explain, because no one English word can encompass its meaning. Simply translated, it means "cozy." But it really has many connotations including those of feeling comfortable, content, cozy, and at peace. (The Danish word Hygge is related.) I knew I wanted our house to embody Gemütlich. I hope it is a cozy, functional and inviting space where we live our life and welcome guests.

Things that would make the home gemütlich for us means lots of light/white to make our 800 sq ft home feel open and bright instead of confining. We want to incorporate natural materials — wood, plants, wool, cotton, linen — wherever we can and intentional decor that gives us joy. We also have to eliminate clutter to feel peaceful and comfortable.

I spent a great deal of time first identifying my favorite Instagram homes and then dissecting what about them made me like them so much. Then I started a Pinterest board and filled it with images that were examples of the feeling and atmosphere we want to create. I have countless pages in my journal filled with collages, room measurements, paint samples, lists of supplies and idea sketches. Dave and I spent time discussing ideas and options. Most of the time thought, if it truly fits within our bigger vision, then we agree on decisions. 

If you've made it this far, wow, thanks for reading all my crazy overanalyzing. I made this mood board to sum up our inspiration and the style we're hoping for. Good things are ahead!

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Life Lately (+ Small Joys)

With everything that's been going on with the holidays and moving, I figured it was time to do a little update on what life over here looks like these days.

To be honest, I barely recognize it right now. The main players are all the same — job, kitties, husband, family — but the place, the routine, the rhythm are all different.

Our first week here was filled with the excitement and joy of Christmas, family time and newness. As all that wore off and we were left with a ginormous mess, renovations in every room, and no space that felt clean or cozy, things got a bit ugly. I don't want to be a downer, but have to admit that change is hard, we've had alot of it around here lately, and it hasn't all been sunbursts and butterflies.

There have been bright moments that confirm this decision and there have been times we look at each other and think "what have we gotten ourselves into?" And it's ok. These are the days we'll look back at with a chuckle. Because we're building a home here and it's going to feel so amazing when it's done.

With no further ado or whining, I gathered up a few things that brought joy this week and am taking a moment to be thankful.

-- Coffee. I go to bed looking forward to it.

-- Kitten cuddles for days. Literal days. Ellie has decided I am her favorite cat bed and spends hours upon hours sleeping on me while I work from home.

-- Our bathroom is mostly done. The floor is down. The vanity is in and the water is hooked up. The walls are no longer green. Little things like a TP holder and towel racks aren't in yet, but it's the one room of the house that feel nice to be in. And that's not to be underestimated.

-- Dave younger brother has been a lifesaver. After so many projects, Dave and I were a bit burned out, when his brother showed up and pretty much single handedly assembled the kitchen cupboards. He also had graciously been around at least 3 nights to help install the same cabinets and the countertop. I don't say this lightly, but he's the best.

-- An old friend we've reconnected with bundled up her two kids and brought me a loaf of fresh bread and a jar of homemade jam last week during my lunch. My house was a mess, she'd had a rough morning, but in that moment it was everything I needed.

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House Before Pictures

New year, new house, new everything. Isn't that front door amazing? I love it so much. 

(fridge is in the middle of our living room, btw)

Anyway, I finally got my act together and have some pictures of our new house. The whole place is barely 800 sq feet, so we are spending some time and effort getting everything efficient and updated. It was built in the 50s and we are only the 3rd owners. So while we love it, the bathroom and kitchen were a bit worn out and the paint throughout needed an update. So nothing drastic is going to change, but at least you'll know what we started with.

Keeping it super simple I threw together quick bullet points of what we want to do in each room followed by the pictures. I also whipped up a quick floor-plan to help make sense of the pictures:

Living Room

  • Paint
  • Window Treatments
  • Refinish floor

Bedroom

  • Paint
  • Remove Closet Doors?
  • Closet Organization
  • Window Treatments
  • Big mirror

Office

  • Refinish Floors
  • Paint
  • Window Treatment

Bathroom

  • Redo Floor
  • Paint
  • Re-caulk Tub
  • New Vanity
  • New Light Fixture
  • Mirror

Kitchen

  • Refinish Floors
  • New Lower Cabinets
  • New Sink & Faucet
  • Dishwasher
  • New Stove
  • Light Fixture
  • Repaint Upper Cabinets

Hall

  • Refinish Floor
  • Paint
  • New hardware on Linen Closet

I was going to ask for you to excuse the weird fridge placement and casual pictures, but these are before pictures after all!  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Hope you enjoyed them.