We're still here!

Well the Chrismtas letter made it as far as the desktop this year...We are alive and well!
We have now been in Iowa a whole year and have adjusted back to our roots (and the weather)!
The seasons are beautiful and we are looking forward to this Christmas Season and snow.

We are still working on the house (slowly).  We now have all functioning bathrooms,  90% of the interior painted and the retaining wall rebuilt.  In August we went on a week “camping” trip (we stayed at a KOA with a water park and pizza place) at Mt Rushmore.  On our way home we camped in Badlands National Park and were lucky to catch the annual astronomy symposium and toured the missile silo bunker.  The stars were beautiful, as was the weather and no cell phone service.

Over the summer had a community garden plot at the local park.  We met lots of people and carried hundreds of gallons of water by bucket because of the drought.  In the end had a productive garden (and good looking arms).  We did several one-night camping trips in and around Cedar Rapids. Emmaly & Jared did their annual canoe trip on Turkey River in NE Iowa... at the end of of drought...we ended up walking next to our canoe for three hours, but enjoyed some kid-free time.  

Jared continues to work at Rockwell-Collins under the government division.  Last spring he spent a several weeks (months?) in Virginia for work.  We are happy to have him back in Iowa again.  In March Jared was called as a Bishop at church, it flipped our lives upside down for the first few months, but we have learned to prioritize and enjoy serving the people in Cedar Rapids.  In what little free time he has Jared enjoys spending time with the youth at church and at home with the kids.

Emmaly is finding a bit of new freedom with only one at home.  She started working at the local YMCA this fall teaching a youth fit class.  They gave her a room full of preteens and a whistle, what more could a woman ask for?  She also became a trainer for the LIVESTRONG cancer rehabilitation program through the Y and is excited to see it launch this winter.   Em ran her first sprint triathlon this summer and lived to see the finish line.

Erin (8):
Erin was baptized on her eighth birthday in November and we enjoyed the day with lots of family and friends.  She is active in Girl Scouts, is on the Junior Skippers jump rope team and loves the second grade! Last spring she ran track through the “Y” and long jumped 9’4” leading the women's division.  She loves to dance and sing and enjoys reading.

Eliza (5):
Eliza started all day kindergarten this fall and also loves it!  I hear that she is perfectly behaved at school.  Eliza was in gymnastic last spring and played t-ball over the summer.  She kept with the boys pretty well.  Eliza enjoys harassing her little brother and drawing.

Isaac (3):
Ike is into trucks and planes. He joined Mighty Mites at the “Y” and has enjoyed getting to know other kids his age.  His favorite thing to do is go to Aldi’s grocery store.  He is VERY talkative and is an entertaining little guy.

We wish you all the best during this Christmas Season.  May your find great blessings in your life as you celebrate and reflect on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ!



Where does time go?  I was looking forward to a nice relaxing summer....and well I am still waiting for it.  Life has been moving at full-pace and I am starting to realize its not going to slow down anytime soon.   Here are some late spring/early summer happenings at the Renshaw household.  

Jared received his last documents from United Space Alliance and almost a year later his dealings with the Space Program are officially closed.  He enjoyed a couple of days at Scout Camp and Girls Camp. We went to see Jared's baby brother off to the MTC.  He leaves for Chile for a two-year mission. Life keeps J moving at race pace, but he's managing well.

I'm still plugging away at training.  I am regularly biking 20 miles, running 3 miles and swimming longer that I ever thought possible.  I still look beached whale in lane 2 when I swim, but at least my arms look good :)  I turned 31 and found out I have serious arthritis in one knee, this 30-something sucks, can I have my twenties back :).  I attended YW camp for a few days with Jared.  It was a wonderful experience to get to know the girls and the leaders.  I started working for the family business again, picking up their computer layout side of the business.  I am also getting ready to pick up a couple of certifications to work at the Y this fall.  So needless to say laundry has been piling up :).

We've spent some much needed time with family.  Jared's sister came to visit in June and the kids met their cousin Macy for the first time and had a great time.  Grandparents have been bouncing back and forth to see the kids, celebrate birthdays and watch games. 

As for the kids....

Erin completed the first grade, her report card was stellar. She finished the year with a "woodland creature fashion show".  Luckily it was PETA approved and no animals were harmed in the process.  Each kid researched a native animal and shared a fact they learned and made a costume to model down the red carpet, too cute!  We then had lunch on the green.

 Erin also bridged from Daisy Scouts and is now a proud Brownie.  She also attended jump rope camp and now has some killer jump moves.
 Despite the heat we have managed to hit the bike trail a couple of times.  Cedar Rapids has a nice network of paved trails, its a great way to see the city.  Erin can now ride up to six miles on her own....Eliza sits on her tag along bike and lets Jared pull her :).  Ike loves the central trail since it goes by the train yards.

Our Tuesday and Thursday nights have been consumed with ball.  Erin is playing Softball and Eliza is playing t-ball through the Y this summer.  They both love it. 

 We spent a day in Nauvoo for the ward temple trip.  Eliza and her friends played at Pioneer pastimes for HOURS.
 Ike decided that to was too hot for clothes, but not for his sister slippers  (he is now into hats of all kinds).
 We spent some time feeding the geese at Ellis park after working in the garden.  Its been an incredibly dry year and we spend a lot of time watering with 5-gallon buckets, but the garden is doing well.  We've had a good crop of peas, green beans, zucchini out the wazoo, and picked our first tomats this week!
 Erin and Eliza read a book about a boy who made play clay cookies and gave them to people to eat.  Erin and Eliza made play clay cookies and proceeded to give them to Ike to eat.....they then documented his reaction.....love what I find on my camera and the stories that go with it :).
And that's life!


Birds of All Kinds

We've had a theme this week and it been all about birds.

Bird 1:  This pigeon showed up early last week and hung around for five days.  At first I thought he was sick, then when I drove over him (straddled him) I thought he was just a little slow upstairs.  Then we took a closer look and he was banded and we realized he was tame??? I could pick him up (which of course is when the neighbors comes over and I am walking around with a pigeon, chalk one up for the new weirdos in the hood).   The kids named him Lulu and started feeding him cupcakes.  I have a friend from college who is a bird guru and he said that he was probably a "racing pigeon".  What the heck???  So thanks to a Google search of "Lost Pigeon" we found the American Pigeon Racing Association where we could key in his band numbers and let the owner know his where abouts.  He was gone the next day so I am hoping he found his way home and not to the neighbors free-range hunting dogs.   Either way I feel a bit more normal now that I know people race pigeons for a hobby.

2.  Eliza ran in all excited on Thursday talking about a giant black and gray bird that was "as big as she was:".  Eliza is in that lovey story telling age where things tend to get stretched a bit.   We walked around the house and didn't see anything so I told her it was probably a crow.  Ten minutes later we walked outside and she yells "Mom there's my crow!!!!"  Standing 10 feet away was a giant tom.

3.  And lastly.  Erin ran track this spring through the YMCA.  I was one of the coaches and it was a blast!   We had K-5th grade.  It took two weeks to get the little ones running in the right direction and finally by the last meet they learned to stay in their own lanes for the 4x1.

We are finding out that Erin is a distance runner.  She did very well in the 600M and unexpectedly this kid can fly.  Her first meet she long jumped 7'6".  Second meet 8'0" and this Saturday she jumped 9'4"!  The last race of the season the 600M, Eliza decided she wanted to get in on the action and ran the last 300 with Erin, while she didn't keep up she had plenty of cheers from the stand as she crossed the finish line.


Learning to Swim

I keep thinking that I am finding which way is up and then waves chaos flattens that thought.  We are learning quickly to prioritize, simplify, pray more specifically and I am learning for the first time in my life to say "good enough".  Jared comes and goes at random intervals.  Many nights we only see him for dinner and then its off to church.    He left for Washington DC again this morning, he is starting one week rotations between CR and DC.  They said it's short term, but last time short term turned into three months.  Don't get me wrong, its been a good experience, just a change of pace.  The marathon has started, there are days I feel the cadence and others I feel like I tripped in the first 20 feet and am being trampled :) 

And I am learning to swim, literally.  Somehow this months visiting teaching spiritual moment included signing up for a sprint triathlon August 11.  Its a 300 yard swim (in a pool, because we all know I don't put my face, or really any part of my body for that matter, in open water), 15 mile bike and 5K run.  It's one of those things that sounded like a really good idea at the time and then you wake up the next morning and think, crap. But I've paid my $50, therefore I may die, but at least I'll get my t-shirt. 

J left for DC today and we had a great day!  I taught my last after school gardening class at Erin's school which was a blast.  Erin and I swam laps at the Y, I officially made it 300 yards, in 15 minutes mind you.  I am now confident that they won't require me to wear a life preserver at the triathlon.  We played at the park and after a day of the kids getting along Eliza walked into her bedroom missing her bangs....yes that crucial part of your hair that screams when missing "nerd"!  Its so bad, I about died laughing.  Its off to my hair gal tomorrow to see if she can work miracles.

I found some photos from the spring on my phone....

  Last month we went to the Children's Museum in Iowa City.  Rockwell Collins sponsored an  avionics day and it was a blast.  They had several of these pedal plans and Ike fell madly in love.  I was impressed with the museum, chalk up another mark for Iowa.
 One of the coolest parts of living here is we are in the Nauvoo Temple district. Its a two-hour drive...traffic free, which does not require a quick road-rage repentance session as you run in the doors :) I love it, we walk in and I am home.  Jared and I took a trip to Nauvoo a few days before he was called as bishop and it was a wonderful weekend back where it all started eight years ago. 

 We've climbed trees....
 And did monster Easter Egg hunts...
 Our hideous looking dandelion-filled yard welcomed hundreds of butterflies this spring, the kids spent hours each day catching them.  Ike just liked whacking Eliza with his net, he got really good looking innocent and saying "I missed" :)

And Good Friday our community garden opened.  We are plot C-9 (so if your going to scavenge, scavenge elsewhere)  So far we have onions, lettuce, carrots, potatoes and peas planted.  Ike really had to go to the bathroom one day when working out there.  He figured out how to stand up.  Now every time we go out to work he feels it's his duty to mark his territory, boys....


Spring is Here

Spring has been here for almost a month now!  It's been in the 70's and 80's which is crazy, but no one is complaining.  Garden and yard prep is now in full swing, although I have to hold back knowing it could still freeze.  The kids are loving it, we have 1/2 wooded lot and they play outside for hours.  So here is our spring going-ons....

This little man is officially potty trained!  Actually has been since late January.  All it took was a $30 Thomas-the-Train pillow pet and a few packs of Cars undies.  And he is doing awesome!  This is our first time in seven years not having anyone in diapers and its NICE! Right now he is all about trains, cars and of course the Space Shuttle.  He can now recite Eric Carle's "Panda Bear Panda Bear" book and chatters incessantly. 

Eliza is as crazy as ever.  She loves gymnastics and is really good, she is completely focused in the midst of a crew of four year olds.  Her speech is coming along and we got her registered for Kindergarten.   She has made lots of new friends and loves to collect worms from the yard and sometimes put them on Erin's side of the bed :/

Erin grew up over night, she is almost as tall as me now.  She is completely obsessed with chess, drawing, art and reading, she is my brain child.  She is excited to start track through the Y in April.

As for Jared and myself we have been busy painting the basement, still need to do touch ups, but its looks really good. Jared spent the majority of the spring in Washington DC for work.  It sounds like his travel will now be limited which is an answer to prayers. He was called as a Bishop this month which has flipped our lives upside down but we are slowly finding which way is up.  Things are falling into place and he'll do a wonderful job.  And our front yard looks like a swath of yellow from the dandelions, such is life :).


The $60 update

  Most of the house we are keeping with a natural/nature color palette (frankly I don't want to have to repaint if we ever put the house on the market).  But you have to have a little fun with the kids areas right (according to J, no.  But when J is on travel, E get to do whatever she wants to :D
Jared is a drywall master, he did a great job!

Original - baby blue toilet seat included

I was at Menards in January and found a gray and orange/red  I really liked on the mismatch shelf for $5.00/gallon.  The orange matched the shower curtain perfectly.  When I got it up on the wall, it was almost HD orange!  The brass towel bars were shot, luckily Menards also had nice chrome towel bars clearance for $4.00 and the mirror was on sale for $15.00. 

Which left the light.  I'm not a fan of the "row" light, plus I wanted that "row" light to put in our Master Bath to replace the hideous monster of a fixture (12 bulbs)  we now have.  The bathroom was a small budget project and new fixtures start at about $60.00.  Which bring me to my new hangout and love - The Restore.  If you haven't been there its a goodwill for home improvement projects.    This fixture was $5.00 (hideous and brass) and then all their glass shades are $1.00 each.  Its kind of a mix and match.  Anyway $5.00  in spray paint and my new $15.00 light was on the wall, I was happy with the final product.  It had a fun modern shop feel to it and was looking kind of girly for Ike.  My bro collect hub caps so he gave me a few old ones to hang on the wall.

One man's junk

A little paint and its wall ready
Anyway minus the cost of caulk and drywall supplies, this is our $60 bathroom update.  I love it, J hates it, the kids are thrilled and its one more project we can cross off the list.  Now we have three out of four bathrooms in working order (which is more than any family needs).


Entry, Office, Dining & Living Room

Before & After
Living Room
The office didn't have many holes, yay!
Formal Dining Room
Yes, the fixture is hideous, it our own personal Liahona. When we figure out how to change out the entry way one (26' up) this one will also go :)

1/2 bath

Spray paint is a beautiful thing.
And that is the main floor :).

The Kitchen

Before - Realtors Photo

A little drywall and paint, $10 light from Lowes and it looks like a Midwest kitchen!

I ran into an old friend on Saturday and she asked if she would EVER see the house....I said of course, if she came over :). Maybe because its still a work in progress, the rate its going it will be a work in progress until the day we move out :). While it now looks like a liveable house, most of the work was the stuff that does not show, hundreds of holes patched in the wall, plumbing project and just cleaning. I am thinking about starting a new blog just about the DIY project we have been working on (and gardening season is around the corner). So here are a few pics to satisfy those of you who keep bugging me :).

The kitchen, while intact, was a complete mess. The faucet had a leak that would spray the ceiling when turned on, the sink was cracked, the oven was broken, drawers were broken and the previous owner failed to invest in shower curtains so there were water marks on the ceiling where water had leaked through, and they cut a hole in the ceiling to fix the upstairs toilet plumbing (luckily from the toilet hole the inspector was able to see the there was no mold and the drywall ceiling was dry so we could prime and paint and didn't need a new ceiling). On top of that I don't think the house had been cleaned in years. Over time we'll update the appliances, but our goal right now was to make it livable.
Hole in Ceiling

Final Product


The Trunk

Jared has been out of town on business for a few weeks, so last week I took the kids back to my homestead in NE Iowa. My parents have 10 acres on the outskirts of town (a town of 1100 and dwindling). Seven miles NE of town lies the rolling hills of our family farm. Its no longer farmed by our family, many fields have sat dormant for the past two decades as family farms could no longer stay afloat. The fields were sold or went into the CRP program, where their labors would rest and the native grasslands it sustained generations before would slowly return.

I have watched many sunsets from these hills, its hard to describe the feeling of home, those who grew up on the ridge understand the link between family, blood and the land.

My father called me a few weeks ago and said he was cleaning out the barn (which is like an antique shop in itself). I always like poking around in the hay mow, its like a scene out of a movie, trunks, old furniture, books from the turn of the century, old art work sheeted in cloth with a layer of dust that makes everything look gray and mysterious. He said there was something of mine up there. Um ya, like a dozen landscape architectural models from my college years, to big to put in your house, too many hours invested to trash. I have cattle fair boxes and cc skis, old sleds and kayak parts. I hoisted myself up the boards nailed to the barn wall and into the musty old loft. Growing up we spent hours playing in this loft, this was my first visit back in years. And what I found surprised me, it was an old trunk, coated with dust and a simple yellowed sheet of paper that said Em. We dragged it down from the loft and threw it in the van.

The trunk, origin not completely verified, is thought to be my Gt. Gt. Grandparent(s) immigration trunk from England. Inside held few articles, a cookbook of my grandmothers, some of her text books when she was a teacher in the 1930's, a 1940's Webster Dictionary and a tarnished silver spoon. If it really is that trunk they immigrated to Iowa late, circa 1850-1860. The Alderson's would have broken true prairie sod to start their farms in NE Iowa. They would have built the massive Gothic barns at the height of their farming success that now crumble under years rural economic depression. They raised their families in these hills, worshiped in the rural congregations, endured the brutal winters, waiting patiently for technology to reach the area easing their daily burdens. This would become their land, their home. As generations passed their horses and mules would be replaced with machines, the worn harnesses stowed in hip roofs to collect dust, becoming artifacts of a forgotten lifestyle. And after a lifetime in the fields, they would return their worn bodies to the land that prospered them, buried in a peaceful rural cemetery at the base of the ridge, waiting for the following generations to join them for eternity.

As I brought the trunk in this week, it made me think about the sacrifice of previous generations. It took a night to carefully clean, but in the end the trunk itself was intact, the hinges functional, and the wood strong. For such a functional crate, to be boarded on a boat to the Americas and pulled across the plains, there is beauty in the design and the structure. It now has become part out our home, a daily reminder to me of who I am and and a feeling of overwhelming gratitude of the great sacrifices of my preceding generations. And maybe a better understanding of the yearnings to be connected with the land.