July 26, 2016

Dining Room

We have a "formal" dining room off of our kitchen, although we eat all our meals at the kitchen table. The owners before us used the dining room only. The walls were painted the dark greige that was throughout much of the living areas, and the accent wall was eggplant colored. The "light" above the table gave off no light, and the overall effect was very dark.
The purple wall is one of the walls primed the very night we took possession of the house. There were a LOT of colors in this house, and before we could think too much we had to get rid of a lot of the visual noise. 
Although this room is sadly not used very often, it's probably my favorite in the house. I love the deep blue, and that chandelier is my favorite possession.

The art on the wall was a birthday gift from my mom last year. I think it was slightly damaged and on sale. I think it's so fun. 

The cabinet was a hand-me-down from my parents. Mom had painted it like six times, but I love it all white. 

The chalkboard is one I'm kind of proud of. My mom ordered a mirror, and it came to her broken. She was given a replacement and gave me the broken one. 

Instead of finding a new mirror for it, I painted the existing board with chalkboard paint and the frame white. Much more "me."

I think I love this room because it gives our otherwise kid-friendly home a touch of glamour. It boosts my spirits to walk through the fancy room on my trips to and from the washing machine. 

To be fair, though, the dining room table often doubles as the Lego table, and we kept the play kitchen in here for a long time to keep the toddler busy while I cook. 


July 25, 2016

Half Bath, Before and During

We have a half bathroom off the mudroom, near the kitchen and the back door. It's in a great location, for messy kids to come in from the backyard without going all through the house. 

It was also, arguably, the ugliest room in our home, with green striped wallpaper, green toilet, floors of torn and dirty linoleum. 

We used it as a closet for paint and the vacuum for about 18 months, because it was too ugly to go in there. haha

We did get rid of the lovely green toilet about a year ago, but then still did nothing else.

Finally, about six months ago, we ripped out the wallpaper and the vanity. Ryan replaced the vanity, faucet, and light fixture. 

The walls were so ripped up after yanking out the vanity and scraping off the wallpaper, Ryan decided to refinish them with drywall mud and sand them all down to new perfection.  I finished painting this weekend.

It's still a work in progress. We did purchase new floor tile for this bathroom and the adjacent mudroom. It's in our garage, waiting for installation. When we put it in, we will finish the baseboards. 

I would really love to do a stencil pattern on the walls, similar to this:

That's why I painted the walls a neutral off-white. I'll probably put that project off another six months. I am trying to use the summer to do my outside painting, which is keeping my nap time/free time plenty busy.

It's not fancy yet, but fresh paint on the walls, trim, and doors, and some new fixtures make it feel clean, and we use it now!


September 11, 2015

It Took Us A Year

In honor of owning our home for one year, I decided to share the updates of what we have done to our kitchen. We have not, in fact, been working on our kitchen for a year. However, when we were looking for a house, the kitchen was my most important aspect, and we chose to purchase a home with a very dark and dated kitchen. So it HAS taken a year for my dreams of a lovely kitchen to be realized.

Let us start with the Befores, because I want to really wow you at the end.

 The kitchen was a very small square with almost-black cabinets, cheap laminate counter-tops and backsplash, and a useless light fixture. 
 This cabinet jutted out between the kitchen and eating area, so that when I cooked I couldn't actually see anyone at the table and had to lean over to do so. It's not so charming to be hunched over at a dinner party. (Not an actual dinner party, like my parents over for pizza).
 Oops. This is not technically how it looked when we moved in, I forgot to take pictures until after Ryan removed this first cabinet... because I was in shock when he one day, out of the blue, strong-armed it off the wall.
This is the adjacent eating area. The previous owner had painted the trees and chalkboard calendar and had used the green to match the floor.  The light in here was even less helpful than the one in the kitchen. 

Ryan and I picked out and purchased all the necessary cabinetry in early October. Ryan spent much of the winter priming and painting them, and I spent most of the winter pregnant and nagging him to make our kitchen beautiful.

My birthday present at the beginning of April was to rip out half of a wall, and that began a long period of time called It-Has-To-Get-Worse-Before-It-Gets-Better.

It did get better, and now we love it!

Oh wait, not yet. I have to tell you that while Ryan was working on the kitchen, my parents re-made me a kitchen table. 
This is before we finished the table, also before I folded my laundry.

This is a table my parents bought second-hand when I was young, and when my dad started making their tables himself, this one was on the way out. So they gave it to us, when we moved to Michigan. The wood on the top was extremely soft and had been autographed by a MEGAN years ago. 

The chairs were a yellowy cream with this navy blue fabric (plus like four or so other fabrics underneath that, from being re-done over time).

So out with the old and in with the new!

My husband did all of this. He had little background in contracting work, and I laughed at him a lot for all the YouTube videos he watched to teach himself how to do everything. The most impressive was when he installed counter-tops.

We chose some gorgeous tile back-splash but were not ready to afford them, so we put up white bead board to complete the all-white look and keep everything looking clean.

This is where they took out half a wall. As you can see, it's not quite finished yet. Ryan plans to stain the board dark and add some thick molding and corbels underneath the small bar. 

Ryan also installed this light fixture. I didn't really know why we needed a fixture here, and I didn't really care when he put it in, but it's really bright in both the kitchen and family room, and I use it all the time. 

After we sanded off the tree and calendar and primed over the bright green, I painted these walls a barely-noticeable "teal" that was actually green... and completely lifeless. Then I picked out an extremely bright and bold teal and painted these walls again. It was completely overpowering, although I love the color in our playroom. So after that, Ryan had to prime again. He was not happy about all the priming, and so I finally took my time to pick a paint color. 

But I couldn't find it. Luckily, I finally knew what I wanted it to look like, and, fortunately, I had a gallon of every shade of blue and teal you can imagine, so I started mixing. Funny story: We were having company for dinner one Saturday, and I could NOT let them see what this room looked like. I got up that morning and started mixing paint colors, then I painted the whole room and put it all back together before making dinner just in time for guests to arrive. 

My mom found these curtains at Big Lots for $10 a panel, and let me tell you that is nowhere near the amount we would have had to spend on the fabric I wanted, which looked basically just like these curtains. Thanks, God.

My dad built me a brand-new table top. 

My mom and I painted the chairs and table, and Mom recovered all the seat cushions and covered them in Scotch-Guard because the eaters in my house are a mess.

It may have taken us a little time to get it done, but with having such little experience and a more-than-full-time job, Ryan got all of this done. And we did it without going into any debt for it, and that was important to us. 

I am in love with this space. My kids and I spend approximately every waking hour in this space, eating six meals a day, preparing and cleaning up said meals, and doing our homeschool. So I am extremely grateful that it is now such a bright and pleasant place to be. 


"The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day." 
-Proverbs 4:18

March 2, 2015

Painting our Floor & The Transformation of Our Family Room

We bought a house in September and have spent the last 5 1/2 months trying to change every surface in it. We have painted ten rooms of walls and trim, changed light fixtures, and built shelves. We have some big projects coming up, though, and I just decided I had to start documenting our progress.

Home Sweet Home
 We have made a ton of changes throughout, but the biggest transformation so far has definitely been our family room, the room where we spend all our time, the room that was the very worst of all, when we purchased the home.

Here is the before:

Dark paneled walls and The Floor. 18 inch square tiles in green, red, yellow, and blue, in a random pattern. Just... no.

Knowing this was going to be our main living area, we had to have real vision to be able to see that, yes, we could make this beautiful.

Before moving in, my husband, my mom and dad, my father-in-law, and I stormed in and tried to paint as many rooms as we could. First up was this. My mom and I tried to whitewash the walls and quickly figured out that was not going to work. So we primed and painted the whole room Country White, a pre-mixed can of paint from Walmart. I love white, and I couldn't see myself living in such a dark, dark, room. Even having white walls and baseboards and mantle made such a difference.

Before Christmas, we found a sale and purchased all new cabinets for our kitchen, and while we were at it, we got cabinets to fill in on both sides of the dark-brick fireplace. My wonderful husband has been very excited for our home renovation, but, in reality, most of our experience with home improvement is from Pinterest and YouTube. His entire Christmas wishlist consisted of tools, and as soon as he opened his huge set of drill and about 100 other pieces, he told me, "Now, I have tools. Now, I can do anything." At the very least, we have a lot of enthusiasm.

He did an amazing job creating built-in shelves on either side of the fireplace, which we also painted white and plan to stain the wooden top of the cabinet a dark brown to match the ceiling beams, etc..

We have had plans from the beginning to put down new engineered hardwood floors, but we decided to do our kitchen remodel first. As the costs for that project added up, I realized that hardwood floors were getting further and further down the schedule, and I asked Ryan if I could paint them. So we scoured Pinterest for tips and went for it. 

Taping off the walls and brick, with the help of short people.
My mom brush-painting the edges Chocolate Kiss
Magic Mopping
 I am so excited. This is such an incredible improvement. Sure, this isn't our dream flooring, and yet I can now see the room and relax without having my brain frazzled by random primary colors. I cannot express how much more calming it is to be in this room now.


We are loving it. 


March 30, 2014

Gracious words are healing to the bones

On Day Four of not leaving the house because of a stomach bug that has threatened to end us, I have decided to simply be grateful for the following:

1. I personally had only one terrible day, where the children fended for themselves, sad, sick orphans. 

2. Due to necessity, I have laundered pretty much every blanket and clothing item in the house. That's Spring Cleaning!

3. With never leaving the house and kids who only want to sleep or lie down, I have had to opportunity to compulsively clean every surface.

4. Rhynn won't eat, but she will nurse, and that's probably the best thing for her.

5. On Day Four, the sun came out, and it was warm enough to play and clean up the yard. Fresh air heals!

6. I grocery shopped the day before this hit, and our kitchen has been full of healthy foods, even terrific soup ingredients.

7. On Day One, my mom came and made us soup. On Day Three, my dad came to play Legos. 

8. Levi ate lunch today.

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. 
My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him." 
Psalm 28:7

March 26, 2014

Let's Build Each Other Up

Welcome to Foundations of Sapphires. My mom, Lynda Brandly, and I decided to expand our blogging to 3 separate sites. Gates of Crystal will continue to give tips on beautiful decorating on a budget. My mom will be providing amazing Bible studies at Summits of Rubies, and I will be writing here about raising a young family to serve the Lord. My family moved a few months ago, and it has been a little bit of a crazy time for us, but it is settling down, and I am looking forward to writing a lot more.

My son is 3, and my daughter is almost 2. They are a lot of fun, and most the time I enjoy the challenge of keeping up with them, but leaving the house is not always easy, and I especially hate grocery shopping. I find meal planning and frugal shopping to be mentally taxing enough without the help of my talkative, busy, always-hungry children. I also understand that they are people, and they want to be involved and learn about their world. 

I keep thinking about this moment at the grocery store a few weeks ago. We had barely gotten started, and Levi was walking beside the cart, discussing the produce. He grabbed a container of tomatoes, and I told him that I wanted a different type. We chose the best-looking pack, and in a second, he had tried to slam dunk them into the cart.

He missed. The package hit the side of the card, exploded, and cherry tomatoes were spreading in every direction on the floor. I took a deep breath and knelt down to tell Levi that it was okay and let's pick them up. As we started re-filling the container, three other shoppers stopped to help us and laugh with us. One lady loudly joked that I can embarrass my children when they get older, as payback. But one older lady just smiled and said, "At least you know most of us have had children." 

It was a small gesture of kindness. We hadn't blocked her way to the avocados for more than a few seconds. But it meant a lot to me. I was tired and trying oh-so-hard to be patient, and I was a little embarrassed over the one small fruit that my son had squashed under his boot on the floor. And she wasn't annoyed, she helped, and she made a point to say, "We've been there." 

I think the reason I read so many blogs is to find encouragement. I have found it to be a terrific community and a resource for great ideas and support. But I have also been thinking a lot about ways to encourage people we actually see. I know I get so focused on my tasks during the day, I forget to really see the people I meet. And it's unfortunate, because sometimes the smallest kindness can mean the world to someone who needs it.

"...encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." 
1 Thessalonians 5:11

March 25, 2014

Why Being Home-Schooled Makes Me Want to Home-School My Children

My mom wrote here the other day about homeschooling me and my two younger brothers. She explained how she feels about homeschooling us, but as the child, my experience with it all is a little different.

I will repeat what she said: If God has led you in another direction, then follow Him. This is just my personal experience.

I was home-schooled most of my school years and went to Christian schools for kindergarten and my last two years of high school. There were definitely times as a kid that I longed to be “normal” and thought what a luxury it would be to not have your mom be your teacher. I remember kids in public school expressing jealousy that I was home-schooled, and I remember feeling they were so fortunate that they got to go to “real school.” (You may have guessed, I was a slightly dramatic child).

Other kids thought I was lucky because I could do my school in my pajamas and sleep in as late as I wanted. They assumed wrong: My mom had us on a schedule, and I also helped around the house a lot more than probably most “schooled” kids do... but I did love pajama pants.  I was asked on more than one occasion if I would home-school for college, and I would then be overwhelmed with a terrible fear that my parents would find a way to do just that.

Now, I see it differently. As a parent I see even more clearly the reasons my parents didn't want me in public school and how hard they worked to give me their best. I also see how homeschooling has benefited me.

I will never forget my mom repeating Deuteronomy 6:6,7 to me. This constancy of studying the Word of God was truly my parents’ lifestyle. The first thing we did every day was to read the Word together and to memorize Scripture. As I grew up and interacted with other people, it became clear to me that my knowledge of the Bible was greater than that of probably most people I met. I credit that time with my family, giving Scripture a place of first priority in our day, with the Word being so implanted on my heart.

I do think that having the chance to be at home with my family, being taught the Word, prepared me well to go to a secular college when it was time. By that time, I knew the truth and was able to easily see through the junk of the world. I knew better than to believe everything I was taught. I was given a firm foundation during my childhood. I spent my days as a child with my mom, seeing her love the Lord and others, and I knew what kind of adult I wanted to be.
My mom, my brothers, and me, on a family trip in Chicago
After college, I taught preschool for a few years. While I did my job, I was secretly horrified that these tiny children were spending their whole lives standing in line and being told to be quiet. Because they were in a room with 23 other 2-year-olds, it was necessary that they do these things. I remember noticing that kids didn't make car noises when they played. It might be silly, but I felt that not making sound effects was such a terrible waste of a child's abilities. Imagination and play were not what was being encouraged. I used to think that I didn't want my kids to learn to stand in a straight line but never learn to make sound effects. Yes, there are statistics about boys in particular not learning as well in a classroom setting, but what I know personally is that boys need to move.  I look at my 3-year-old son, and I know that even though he is very smart, he could never sit at a desk for hours of the day. It would break his little heart.
My Levi, with a Duplo Lego creation
We lived in Alabama when I was growing up, and it was never cold. I always finished my work as quickly as I could, and then I was free! I spent hours outside. I got exercise and built things and used my imagination. In the mornings I learned math, reading, and history, and in the afternoons I learned to think. I truly think that children naturally want to learn and figure things out. Homeschooling provides the lack of structure that allows that freedom of thought.

Our family always spent a lot of time with other people. Although I imagined that kids in school were having more fun than I was, I always had friends. I spent a lot of time in ballet class, in dance ministry, at church, with kids in my neighborhood, and at friends' houses. In fact, being home-schooled allowed us to be "social" any day of the week. What I also learned being "socialized" this way is to appreciate people of all ages, not just my peers. I never had trouble speaking well and politely to adults, because I went everywhere with my parents and was called upon to speak to adults and be polite. I also loved younger children because I had always helped with my little brothers. If I am ever socially awkward, I am pretty sure it's just my personality, not a result of homeschooling.

My husband, Ryan, with our children at bedtime

My husband went to Christian schools his whole life, but before we were married he knew that it was my heart to at least try to home-school. Now, our children are 3 and 1, and I really look forward to teaching them. Right now, we read a lot, and I make a point to encourage their natural curiosity. The time for difficult subjects are still very far away, and I know that the kids and I can learn together as they grow and there are challenges.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 
Impress them on your children. 
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, 
when you lie down and when you get up.
Deuteronomy 6:6,7

Encouragement for Homeschooling

This post was written by my mom, Lynda Brandly. She home-schooled my brothers and me for many years and is an amazing mom and woman. You can read her Bible teachings here.

Note:  if you're NOT home schooling, this article is not to make anyone feel guilty.  We all need to obey God in whatever He's leading us to do.  If God is not leading you to home school, then be at peace and do what He tells you. 

 But if you are feeling led to home school and are feeling overwhelmed by the idea...this article is for you!

I think the greatest thing that I did for my children was home school.  I was not raised a Christian and committed my life to Christ while I was pregnant with our first child, Laura.  God did a wonderful work in me during the first year of my walk with Him, and I was so in love with Jesus, so committed to God's Word and so determined to raise my sweet baby to know Him.

I got good grades in high school but never went to college.  My parents had divorced twice by my sophomore year in high school, and I didn't have big expectations for life.  I also didn't feel my mom could handle the expense.  So I am not a college graduate.

When my husband, who now has a Ph.D. agreed that we (~I~) would home school, I was a little overwhelmed.  We had just had our second child when it was time to start Laura in first grade.

I had imagined a class room setting: Her sitting in a desk, me spending the day standing in front of a chalk board in a room dedicated to learning with the alphabet on the wall, etc.

This was not how it was.  I ended up home schooling for 17 years. I home schooled each of them at least through 6th grade.  Each one started public or Christian school between 7th and 9th grade. Our daughter, Laura, graduated from a Christian high school a year early.  She was second in her class.  Our son, Matthew, also graduated a year early, fourth in his class.  Our son, Mark, will graduate this year, on his 17th birthday.

We always laughed when we took their 'first day of school' picture!  They were tweens!

The biggest challenge for me with home schooling was to discipline myself.  I like to think of myself as 'creative' and when the mood hits, I've got to create (said mockingly!). The hardest thing for me about home schooling was staying home! But over the years I  found what worked for my family.

We would start every morning with breakfast and learning the Bible.  We would pick a chapter and learn a new verse every morning at our kitchen table.  When Laura and Matt learned the 91st Psalm, Matt was 4 years old!!  And he could say the whole thing!  Did you know that studies have proven that learning the Word improves your learning abilities?
My husband and youngest - breakfast and the Bible
We kept our school books in a book shelf close to the kitchen table.  (We made a few moves over the years and so our situation varied.)  The kids sat at the table together doing school and art.  Matthew decided he wanted to start school when he was four.  I ordered the kindergarten books figuring if he changed his mind I would just keep them for next year.  He didn't.  That's how he ended up a year ahead.
Matthew reading to Mark
I would get them started and answer their questions.  I would then do laundry and house work all within a close vicinity.  If there were more questions, I would sit down with them and work on things.  We usually had all our work done by lunch time.  This varied occasionally.  After our youngest was born, we would sit down a lot after lunch and read together.

There was no such thing as 'grades.'  Grades are to report to the parents how the child is doing in school.  If one of my children missed a question on a test I would go back over the information with them and make sure they knew the material.  On the next test I would verbally test them on the missed information.

Laura skipped 5th grade.  I realized as we went that the work was not a challenge for her.  So we went quickly through the Math and English, being sure she knew everything and skipped from fourth to sixth.

There are great curriculums out there.  We always used A Beka.  It's Christian based and the math is very advanced.  Everything is set up with lessons already laid out with questions in work books for your child to answer.  We just did our best to finish the books every year.

Now, in the state of Michigan, you can do 1st grade through 12th grade online!  We were always concerned with the threat that we couldn't home school if you didn't have a teaching certificate.  Instead, it's gone the other direction!  What a blessing!

Here are some things to keep mind:

1.  Take one year at a time.  You're not necessarily making a commitment to get them through the next 12 years but you can do 1st grade.  Do one year and then make a decision for the next year.
2.  If you have two children who are close to the same age, keep them in the same grade.  You'll find things don't progress so quickly from year to year that this will be a problem.
3.  Make learning a way of life.  Take opportunities to learn everywhere you go.  Visit museums when you need a break and make it a learning experience. 
4.  Don't worry about people's opinions.  Home schooling is really growing now.  When we started it was really unpopular and I received a lot of criticism.  I credit home schooling with my children turning out so well.
5.  Every child is different.  My first two children would work independently.     Our understanding was that if your school work was done, you could play. They would finish their work, get it checked and get on with their day. 

Our youngest would sit forever and had a harder time focusing.  I think he's actually the smartest of the three but was not as motivated.  He had to do math one year all summer long. lol
Me,  Laura, Matt and Mark at the zoo
When each of my children started public school I realized they were afraid they couldn't 'do real school.' They were pleasantly surprised that they were ahead of the other students.  It's amazing how much a mom can teach her child when it's one-on-one at the kitchen table!

We have seen tremendous benefits from home schooling our children.  The first is their knowledge of the Word of God.  It's obviously an advantage to have them home all day.  If they're gone all day everyone's too tired to care by dinner time.

They became 'self-learners.'  As my kids got older, they did their school work independently.  But more than that, they began to explore their own interests. They became their own people not influenced by others' opinions.

When our son, Matt, was in high school we attended a parent-teacher conference one night.  His teacher told me that Matt was "amazing!"  He was so impressed that Matt could debate issues with him - political, Christian, economic - and knew his facts.  The thing that I loved is that our son wasn't afraid to disagree with his teachers' opinions.  He did it respectfully and he had knowledge to back his ideas.

I believe that education needs to be more than regurgitating what someone else has told you.  We need to equip our children with enough knowledge to make wise decisions on what they believe.  I've seen this come to fruition in our children.

I really enjoy having conversations with my kids now.  They have studied things that I don't know much about.  

Our daughter, Laura, graduated from college and got married very shortly afterwards to her high school sweetheart.  They now have two children, 3 and 21 mos.  Our little three year old grandson will be reading soon.  I'm sure he has the vocabulary of a six year old.  Because she was raised this way, it's natural to her.
Laura, holding Levi - Ryan, holding Rhynn
Our son, Matt, 22 years old, is a co-owner of his own software company. He did two years of college here in town where his dad teaches and then went to University of Michigan for a year.  He talked to us a lot about his decision not to get a degree and to take the risk of owning his own company. He's now living in Boston, working and loving what he's doing.
Matt at Fetchnotes
Because they were not separated from me at the age of 4 or 5, our bond is very strong.  We're a very close family and love being together.  On the other hand, because they have such a strong foundation, I have been impressed with each one of them at how brave they've been when it was time to 'fly.'

My encouragement to you is that if God is putting this on your heart, He will equip you to do it.  It's not always easy.  It's a commitment and takes self-discipline.  But the children that I've known who are home schooled by Christian, loving parents are some of the nicest, brightest people I know.

I read a secular magazine article many years ago that I've always wished I kept.  It said what I've always known.  Children emulate who they're around. If they spend their time with loving parents with solid values they grow up to be loving adults with solid values.

I hope this article has been an encouragement to you!  My daughter, Laura, is going to post tomorrow sharing her experience as a child that was home schooled.  

Love and blessings!

"Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."  Proverbs 22:6

Photography with Levi

Our silly Levi is almost 3. He has always been, as I say, spirited. We have been living in our new house for two weeks now, and it has been a struggle every afternoon and night to get him to sleep. He just wants to explore and play longer than I think is best for his health. Last night, his Gigi and Captain (my parents) came over for dinner, and I guess he was especially riled up when I finally got him to bed. Immediately after I left his room, we could hear his fast, little footsteps allover upstairs. When my dad spoke up the stairs to him, I saw a bright flash go off.

He had gone to my room, taken my camera, and had his own little photo shoot. After putting him back to bed and confiscating my camera, we found this evidence of his practice:

This 3" Mike the Knight was his Christmas gift and hasn't left his side since.

I thought this one was pretty well-framed.

Interesting perspective.

I guess he has been inspired by his Gigi's decor blogs and wanted to get in on that action.

Not his best work, but I think he was just trying to play with light.

This is an in-progress shot. His name has more than one letter.

Wow, there's Mom's room.

I guess he really wanted a good picture of Mike.

This is Captain scolding him for his escapade. If you don't know Captain well, that's his trying-not-to-laugh face.

Nice legs.
My mom was humored by the fact that I was actually impressed with his skill on some of the shots. I don't know much about photography, but I think he shows potential and real tenacity of vision.

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  - John 8:12