Monday, December 6, 2010

Saying Goodbye

The final wedding preparation lists have just been completed and posted on the fridge. Everything from putting toothpicks in the appetizers to manning the bonfire has been put on lists and assigned to a variety of friends and family in hopes that the wedding day will be fun and without stress.

Yet one detail remains undone: the finishing of the book.

Before Meredith was born, I began writing to her in a journal. The book actually began before I was married or even engaged. The entries were written in hopes that one day I would be a wife and eventually a mother. As I decided to read the book one last time before giving it to Meredith in just a few days, the first line reminded me of how long I had been writing to my hoped-for first child:

"Dear Baby: Yesterday I received this book from Timmy for my eighteenth birthday."

The entry was dated December 13, 1983. I laughed and cried as I read the entries that spanned almost three decades. Almost forgotten memories came into clear focus as I read about our wedding in 1984 and Meredith's birth in 1987. The pages reminded me of how much joy Meredith brought to us each day as well as how concerned we were, as first time parents, about every aspect of parenting.

One entry in particular revealed how completely distraught we were the first time we faced a big parenting dilemma. It tells how Timmy and I spent two hours late one night discussing what to do with what appeared to be a streak of dishonesty that had surfaced in our sweet little toddler. The morning following the worrisome conversation, Meredith, barely three, proceeded to confirm our fear in what we still refer to today as the "vitamin episode."

She was given her daily Flintstone (deliciously sweet) vitamin but it fell on the floor so I told her to throw it away and I gave her a clean one instead. When she returned from what I assumed was a trip to the trash can and I asked her if she threw the dirty vitamin away, she responded yes. However, as she spoke I could see her tongue was colored from both grape and orange vitamins! Timmy and I were stunned, speechless, and paralyzed by her obvious lie. And so very heart-broken! Why would this sweet little girl ever lie to us, her adoring parents?! The story concludes with Meredith being disciplined by her very sorrowful daddy.

Contrasting our concern over the development of Meredith's character was an entry and picture of a special memory of Meredith's compassion when she was a big, four year old sister. We had taken Meredith and her one year old brother, Elliott, to the city fair called the "Chesapeake Jubilee." They were eager to ride the kids' dinosaur roller coaster and were seated beside each other in the picture.

As the ride started, all the children began laughing and screaming in delight. All the children - except Elliott - whose face quickly turned red as he began to cry. At first Meredith didn't notice he was crying but as the ride circled around, Timmy and I motioned for her to look at Elliott. Once she realized Elliott was crying, we could almost hear her as she said to him, "It's fun! We're having fun!" Her words weren't convincing though and he cried all the harder.

Meredith must have thought the loud sounds of children screaming were frightening him so her next attempt to comfort Elliott was to cover his ears with her four year old, big sister hands. Still, he cried.

Not knowing what else to do, Meredith pulled Elliott's head to her chest, covered his ears, and joined him in crying too!

The roller coaster worker finally realized Elliott was sad and he stopped the ride and took him off. Meredith quickly cheered up as the ride began again and she screamed and laughed with the other children. Timmy and I were so touched by her protective love of her little brother.

The origin of the all important "half birthday" was discovered in my reading as well. For as long as I can remember, Meredith has always announced her "half birthdays" as if they were the real thing! Well, it appears the tradition began when she was five and a half. The entry suggests that she told so many people that her half birthday was coming soon, that even my dear friend Lisa (who had a daughter Meredith's age) called first thing in the morning of Meredith's half birthday to send her well-wishes.

The stories go on and on. From sad times to happy. Through years where we worried about her and the influence of peers on her life to the years when she settled into the joyful young woman she is today.

As the Lord sent more children into our family, I began only writing to each of them in their books about once a year. I didn't write in Meredith's book early this year when I wrote in the other childrens' books. I think I knew in my heart that it would be the last time I would write to her. The last entry in Meredith's book was written February 1, 2009 and begins, "I wonder which entry will be my last. Oh how I'm treasuring these precious days with you. Surely the Lord has been preparing my heart for what will become the end of our sweet girl spreading joy, creativity, and enthusiasm in our family each day."

As we prepare for the wedding, I recently told someone that I'm not worried that Timmy and I will wipe a tear from the corner of our eye during the ceremony. I'm worried that we'll break down and sob uncontrollably!! Meredith has become such a good friend to us during these last few years. She spreads energy and enthusiasm into our lives every day. She's always working on a new business idea and loves the lines from newly-vacuumed carpet just as much as I do.

From a practical standpoint, she has been a remarkable sounding board for just about every financial decision we make and she has brought balance to us in so many other areas. She has enough of the Alexanders in her to speak the truth even if it hurts for us to hear it. But she has a good amount of my side of the family so she can say it kindly. Besides the fact that she is our daughter, we will miss her as a good friend who is moving far, far away.

Because we've been preoccupied with wedding planning for so long, it wasn't until a few months ago that I realized for the first time that Christmas is just a couple of weeks after the wedding. I imagined for the first time what Christmas would be like without Meredith being there. As the realization hit me, I said to Timmy, "Did you realize that Meredith isn't going to be with us this Christmas?! Do you remember our first Christmas with her when she was just a couple of weeks old? Do you remember the next Christmas when she learned to walk on Christmas Eve? Do you remember all those presents we bought her and how excited she was? Remember when she was a toddler and I'd put those pink, spongy curlers in her hair at night on Christmas Eve so it would be pretty the next day?" My emotions were escalating and I went on to say, "Meredith is what made Christmas so fun. She's the reason we really started celebrating Christmas! She was what Christmas was all about!" Bringing me out of my teary-eyed, memory-filled state was Timmy's reply, "And imagine, all these years I thought we were celebrating Christmas because of Jesus!"

A voice of reason speaks out in the midst of the emotionally charged ramblings of a mother.

What an incredible blessing it has been to enjoy almost twenty-three years with the sweet girl that I began writing to when I was but a teenager. What a treasure the baby, now young woman, named Meredith Ivy has been to me all these years.

Every day I tell myself to write the closing entry in Meredith's book but then I decide that it's not a good day to say good-bye. "Tomorrow I'll be ready," I conclude. "Maybe tomorrow."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sheridan's Flower Girl Dress

Ever since Meredith first learned, almost 4 years ago, that she would finally have the sister she had prayed for, she has said that she wanted Sheridan to be her flower girl, should Meredith marry one day.

What a special blessing that Meredith's wedding is occurring when Sheridan is at the perfect age to be absolutely thrilled to be a flower girl. Although normally quiet in public, Sheridan will tell complete strangers that she's going to be a flower girl. When she discusses the upcoming wedding, she usually says, "At Meredith and my wedding...." We have to remind her that really just Meredith is marrying Stephen and that she will continue to live with us for a long time!

As I began to search for a flower girl dress for Sheridan, I found that the ones I most liked were way out of our wedding budget so I began to study them closely and wonder if I might be able to make one myself. While pricing fabric, lace, sequins, pearls, and ribbon, I quickly understood why the dresses I liked were so expensive.

Inspired by Meredith's wedding dress story, I wondered if I might find a wedding dress at a thrift store and be able to use the fabric and laces to make an inexpensive replica of the flower girl dresses that looked so special online.

If anyone ever followed me around a thrift store, they would surely assume I was not completely sane as I often, when finding just the exact thing I was hoping for, thank the Lord out loud as if He were standing right next to me. Such was the case when I found the most beautifully embellished, satin wedding dress that could be used for creating a flower girl dress for Sheridan. It was $34.99 - not too big of an expense should the project be a flop.
Since the dress was a women's size 12, there was plenty of fabric to work with. I figured it would be easier to keep the hem line and other tailored angles in tact, so I cut the various pieces of the gown down to the size of one of Sheridan's sundresses that I used as a guideline. The wedding dress had such beautiful details in the covered buttons and exquisite sequins, lace, and beads so I tried to preserve them when reconstructing the dress.
The final stitches were made today as I tried to figure out how to "bustle" the train so Sheridan can run around at the reception.
I'm not known for quality sewing skills so I'm sure Sheridan will be leaving a trail of pearls behind which were not securely reattached during the reconstruction. I just hope she'll fair better than Oliver, Sullivan, and Harrison who went with Meredith to our area's annual Civil War Ball a couple of years ago. They left in Civil War Soldier costumes made lovingly (not skillfully) by their mother and returned as those wounded in battle with rips in shoulder seams and, worst of all, splits clear through in rear pants seams!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Latest Farm Venture

It seems the next logical step in farming is to learn how to grow and cut our own hay to feed the livestock over the winter months when the grass isn't growing. Tim has spent countless hours studying books and attending seminars and he finally planted his first pasture on Memorial Day.

During this very dry summer, God's blessing on Tim's effort has been obvious as the 30 acre pasture grew lush and green in the fierce heat and drought-like conditions.

A visitor recently was asking how we've managed to survive the summer with the lack of rain but then she suddenly interrupted herself and said, "What's with THAT pasture over there?!" Tim's pasture was so green, it almost looked artificial. I told her there was no explanation except to say that pasture had been blessed by the Lord.The first pasture was finally ready for cutting last week but we still didn't have the equipment needed for cutting hay. Because haying equipment is very expensive and we're committed to only moving forward in a "no new debt" manner, Tim has been praying and searching for used farm implements.

God was gracious and provided the pieces we needed just in time. A hay bind was located in a county a couple of hours away. Tim was nervous about hauling a piece of equipment home that measured 12 feet 4 inches wide on roads that are only 12 feet 6 inches wide! He asked that I accompany him to provide support (encouragement - not navigational skill support!).

At many points along the journey, I closed my eyes and held my breath when the road looked too narrow to accommodate the large piece of equipment and the oncoming traffic. It seemed things were going really well until a state trooper came swirling over a hill toward us obviously in a big hurry, and Tim adjusted a bit too far to the right to make room for the speeding car. BANG! We both gasped. We hit something. Probably a mailbox. Oh no!

Because of the difficulty maneuvering the equipment on the winding country roads, we decided we'd have to come back to make amends after dropping off the implement at home.

On the ride back to the scene of the crime, we discussed what we considered fair compensation for the mailbox. Tim said we would need to compensate them well for our mistake and suggested we give them $100. One hundred dollars?!!! For a mailbox?!!! For some junky rural mailbox?!!! I cringed.

Once we arrived though, we searched the area where we knew the incident took place and couldn't find any missing mailboxes. Tim walked alongside ditches looking for what he knew was a downed mailbox. Suddenly we saw it. It wasn't a mailbox. It was a PVC curve marker - one of many that the state put in a curve. It looked like other farmers had similar incidents with the markers as most of the plastic posts were banged up and leaning in one direction or another. Relieved, we headed to find a restaurant to celebrate our newly found/kept $100!

Within a few days, Tim and the older boys finally had the implements hooked up to tractors and were only waiting for a friend to come over and give them some advice before starting up the equipment. Everyone was tense as we knew rain was coming soon and would close the window on cutting the pasture at its peak. On the day they were to begin, there was a 100% chance of rain at 5pm.
Timmy rearranged the evening milking of the cows to a much earlier time so all hands would be available to bale hay after our friend came by, but before the rain started.
I watched the weather website often as the afternoon approached. It didn't look good.

I had Sullivan take all my porch plants to the yard to prepare for the certain watering they'd be receiving when the rain arrived on the very hot, above 100 degree day.

It never occurred to me to pray because the outcome seemed inevitable - 100% chance of rain.

But as the time drew nearer, the forecast slowly changed and the percentage of rain dropped slightly which finally made me realize I should be praying.

In a scene that nearly equaled that of a baby's birth, I later stood in amazement as I watched the boys and Tim operating equipment for the first time in their lives that cut, then picked up the rows of grass, packed it into uniform squares, tied a rope and knotted it within 1/50th of a second and spit out the perfect bales in neat rows that dotted the landscape.

All with recently purchased, used haying equipment and tractors that had been abandoned at this farm and brought back to life by Timmy's mechanical skills and hard work.

The evening closed with 75 bales of hay being added to our winter inventory - and no rain.

The next day, the boys and Tim spent the morning working on the baler so that it would work properly and automatically throw the hay bales right onto the trailer instead of leaving them in a straight line like the day before.

The machines had to be worked on throughout the day to keep them going.

That evening, the rain finally came. What a storm it was! I looked out toward the pasture and worried as the guys were the only things in the middle of the open field while the thunder clapped and lightening flashed. They were driving out of the field as fast the the old equipment would allow, trying to get the trailer that was loaded with hay bales to shelter before the hay was soaked and ruined.

I knew they'd come in disappointed about the hay on the ground that had to be left behind so I warned everyone in the house to be mindful and caring when the drenched men arrived.

Surprisingly, Oliver came running in the door smiling. As he stood in the kitchen out of breath, with water dripping and quickly making a puddle on the floor, I asked if everyone was discouraged. He said confidently, "No. I'm sure we got ALL the hay the Lord wanted us to have."

Wow - what perspective.

While Tim and I enjoyed 3 wonderful days celebrating our 26th anniversary on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina over the weekend, Elliott and Oliver surprised us by baling the rest of the hay that had dried out after the big storm. Although not the same quality as freshly cut hay, it will still be useful to us.

Meredith told us, with great pride in her brothers' hard work, that they put in a 19 hour day on Saturday to bale the rest of the hay. The total count was around 350 bales when they finished and came in that night.

We continue to be amazed at the many ways God provides for us in this new life of farming. From phantom mailboxes, to 60 pound hay bales being shot onto the back of a trailer automatically, to hard-working boys, we are very blessed!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Farmhouse Before & After: Sullivan & Harrison's Bedroom

Although the work was completed quite some time ago, we're just now getting around to posting the last of the before/after farmhouse fix-up pictures.

This is the room that we fixed up for Sullivan and Harrison. During renovation of the house, this is where Sheridan took her pack-and-play naps.

We had the room painted and Elliott and Oliver removed the carpet and sanded the floors.

I found the old bedside table in one of the barns. Meredith embroidered the boys' names on the pillows.

Baskets and bins that store almost all the clothing are tucked under every bed in the house. It allows for more space, a less cluttered look, better organization for little people whose clothes are gobbled up by deep, dark drawers, and super easy packing. When we move or go on a vacation, we just put lids on our bins and load them in the van!

Farmhouse Before & After: Master Bedroom

This would become the master bedroom. I suppose it was the original living room as the home's front entrance is nearby.

Rather than take a couple of feet off the width of the room for a closet, Tim built our clothes closet in the dining room. We're careful to never go searching for clothes when we have dinner guests over and we're hoping most people think we store the fine china and collectibles behind the louvered doors.

I've had to be creative to cover those strange pipe holes in the walls. The metal pie plate thing is just not working for me. In the master bedroom, I hung a battenburg lace spread over the frame of the bed to cover the pipe hole.

Once when browsing in a thrift store, a shopper commented on an item I had in my cart. I told her we were decorating an old farmhouse. Later, she came to me with the framed, handmade lace needlepoint (in the right corner of the room) and said, "I thought this would be perfect in your home!"

My days with the beautiful handmade piece are numbered. Meredith has requested it for her new home.

The room had a vacant space that I thought could use a dressing table. I decided to open up my old flip-top sewing machine cabinet, put a board over the hole for the machine, and make a covering for the piece of furniture. It's a great place to put pictures and a lit candle.

Oliver asked why we have a boat in almost every room of the house when we live on a farm far from the water. I told him, "Never forget the ocean, Oliver. Never forget!" We miss our days on the coast (but I dream big dreams about our pond that is currently covered with algae).

Farmhouse Before & After: Elliott & Oliver's Bedroom

This would become Elliott and Oliver's room. Since several of the bedrooms didn't have any type of storage, Tim and the bigger guys built a closet that extends the length of the bedroom.

The older boys' hardwood floors were in great shape except for one terrible-looking place where the roof had leaked and left huge stains. No worry - we found a great throw rug to cover the spot.

The old flag was found in a thrift store and complements the quilts that were made more than a decade ago by Tim's grandmother - Nannie E.

Farmhouse Before & After: Foyer

This is the foyer and main entrance of the house although we seldom use it. Instead we, along with guests, all come and go through the kitchen entrance.

We had it painted, and then we pulled up the carpet, and sanded the floors. We turned this area into the family photo gallery.

The antique light fixture was in the dining room but we needed ceiling fans in all the rooms we live in (since the house doesn't have any A/C) so we relocated the old fixture to the foyer.

Tim knows that the best gift he can give me when we move to a new home is full view glass storm doors. Since they have been installed, the first thing I do every morning is open the heavy wooden doors to reveal the view of the outside through the full glass panels.

The photos are dear as they remind me of the good memories I've been privileged to make with these people God has allowed me to call my family. Pictures of vacations, newly birthed calves surrounded by children, anniversaries, and even one little fellow with his new eye glasses all bring back such precious memories to me.

All the pictures are of family members except for one. Who could possibly break through the "members only" status on the family photo gallery? Joel Salatin, the famous all-natural farmer, sticks out like a Thanksgiving turkey in the picture that the older boys treasure of a time when they were visiting with him. We are thankful for his influence both spiritually and educationally in Elliott and Oliver's lives. So for now, Joel is considered kin folk and hangs with the blood relatives.

The bouquet of dried hydrangeas are from a friend who God spared from stage four cancer. Her testimony and appreciation for life had a profound effect on me last summer when I struggled with discouragement as we adjusted to farm life in the abandoned house. I never look at the bouquet that I don't remember her kindness to minister to me when truly she was the one deserving of encouragement.

The jars of sand, with dates and locations, remind us of the beaches we've been blessed to visit in other countries while vacationing.

The black benches and matching shelves have survived several moves. I remember seeing them in a Walmart on vacation in Florida several years ago reduced to $30 for each shelf/bench set. It is nothing short of a miracle that Timmy let me further crowd our cram-packed vehicle to bring them home. In one house, where our seating was very limited, we'd all hold our breath as visitors would plop down on the benches assuming they were sturdy - they aren't!

This wall just outside the master bedroom in the foyer displays the gifts of unspeakable joy that God has given us during our marriage. I had pictures of each of the children developed in sepia tones and framed. Even though there is almost twenty years between them, time disappears in the neutral colors of the prints.

The picture on the left, a gold-branched tree dotted with jewels and framed in a glass-covered shadow box is probably the most thoughtful gift I've ever received. A dear friend, along with her artistic children and another mutual friend, created this most incredible memento after a loss we experienced through miscarriage.

The tree has a jewel signifying the birth month of each of our living children, while jewels representing our miscarried babies and the month of their home-going are interspersed and dot the branches in perfect order.

I received the gift in the mail the very day I returned from the hospital after having just added our ninth baby to our heavenly home last October. I was so overwhelmed by their most thoughtful gift and beautiful display of sisterly kindness and compassion. What dear friends God has given me.

Sullivan's Birthday

Sullivan had a great day celebrating his 11th birthday with friends at the pool. What fun!

After swimming for hours in the pool, the moms and kids all went to a nearby park. Sullivan had so much fun with all his friends.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Projects

It has been fun turning our attention to some outdoor projects this summer that make our old farmhouse appear to be "loved" by its inhabitants.

I (Joy) found these weather-worn wicker chairs at a thrift store and thought we'd make an attempt at restoring them to their former beauty.

The fabric-covered cushions were faded and torn so it wasn't surprising that Oliver asked if I had paid good money for something headed to the burn pile.

I assured him he'd be pleased with the make-over.

Harrison and Sheridan were eager to help with the project.

We bought a couple cans of white spray paint for $1 each and sprayed until the ugly disappeared.

We found blue gingham fabric for $1 a yard and made new covers for the cushions.

I've had some wrought iron deco pieces that have made the many moves over the last few years and decided to hang one in the newly created seating area under the crepe myrtles.

When we moved in a year ago, there were rusty metal awnings on some of the windows.

The bigger guys were so nice to get rid of them for me.

Once gone, the neglected kitchen side of the house looked even worse though.

So the kids helped me make a small sitting area outlined by rocks we collected.

Oliver, also know as the "Hour of Power Man" because of his willingness to cheerfully give me one hour of manpower each day to complete a variety of tasks, was so helpful in this project.

He brought in the heavy, concrete bench, hung window planters, and even found an old tree limb for displaying the birdhouse just like I requested.

Then we turned our attention to the eye-sore, gray, cinder block pump house in the back yard.

The younger guys were eager to give it a paint job.

We found the coffee table, now serving as a bench, in one of the old barns and painted it black.

The fabric cushion and pillows were all made inexpensively from thrift store sheets and pillow cases.

This was my second attempt at fencing that would keep the chickens out of the herb garden.

We even ran an electric shocking wire temporarily but the only ones trained by it were the humans.


Don't let your ankle touch the fence when entering the back porch or you'll regret it for sure!

When the chickens learned to fly over the wire, I unplugged the shocker and gave up.

My mom, who knows how to bring beauty to any yard, has kept me well stocked with foliage in planters and pots as she thinks this might actually be a way to outsmart the chickens.

So far, so good!

Having never been characterized as a "collector" during our marriage, Timmy has shown noticeable concern as I've suddenly turned into a real observer of others' trash.

Such was the case when we were on a date at Outback Steakhouse one evening and I saw they were throwing away all of their tables while remodeling.

After getting permission from the proprietor, I made arrangements to gather up all those tables and give them a new home on the farm.

Now we have an outdoor eating area when people come for a tour and picnic.

Since I use regular fabric in outdoor settings, it only lasts for a couple of seasons before it needs replacing.

This summer's porch re-do was inspired by some grandmama's afghan that I saw at a thrift store for 99 cents.

Originally I had planned on patriotic-themed colors for the porch but when I saw the afghan in perfect condition with so much time obviously invested in the intricate flowers, my heart was warmed and I just couldn't leave the granny's treasure there unappreciated in the thrift store.

In an instant I decided the afghan would be the centerpiece in this season's porch re-do.

I found blue sheets, yellow gingham pillow cases, and an organza curtain with daisies that were all recreated to make pillows, cushions, and table cloths.

I even found a couple of rugs that I thought would encourage Sammie, our farm dog, to leave my things alone by sleeping on them instead.

It didn't work - each night she pulls the cushion off the old trunk and onto the floor and sleeps on it.

"At least," I holler to Sammie each morning, "you could put the cushion back during the day so the porch will look nice!"

She thinks the porch does look nice with my trunk cushion on the floor.

The wind inspired the tea cups and saucers on this table.

I couldn't find a way to keep the tablecloth from blowing away but figured it wouldn't hurt for some of my thrift store plates and cups to live outside on the table.

The pink-edged overlay cloth was made by sewing together 4 cloth napkins.

I was so glad that I ended up driving a pick up truck instead of the little Dodge to the thrift store the day I spied this wonderful pale yellow coffee table with all the quaint drawers for less than $15.

You can see on the left corner of the table's edge evidence that Sammie's puppy, Dakota, also loved the new porch deco item.

I curbed his appetite with some unsavory spices on the now exposed wood.

Regarding the missing drawer knob, until Dakota's older, I've hidden it to discourage its use as a teething toy.

I remind myself that this is why I get things from thrift stores - it's okay if it gets broken (or bitten!).

We enjoy eating lunch on the porch most every day.

It sure makes for easy clean-up after meals.

Off to another project.....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Family Vacation

For the first time since the beginning of the farm three years ago, we took a real, extended vacation! Our summer intern and several willing neighbors took great care of the farm while we were away for a week. We loaded up and left VA early one morning and arrived the following morning/early afternoon in San Antonio, TX, stopping only for dinner at our aunt's (Mama's sister's) house in Pensacola, FL. Aunt Sissy and Mama...
Cousins visiting together...
We had a very nice visit and a delicious dinner.
Aunt Sissy and me...
We slept in the van as Daddy drove through the night. We arrived at our destination in San Antonio around noon the following day. We stayed in a hotel on the River Walk.
I loved having Stephen with us!
The conference was primarily about promoting life and families. It gave Stephen and me many opportunities to discuss our opinions regarding the subjects expounded upon in the sessions. Sullivan, Harrison, and Sheridan did a great job sitting quietly during the many sessions throughout the weekend.
The highlight for most of our family was getting to hear Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar (parents of nineteen children with the TV show, "19 Kids and Counting") speak in a few of the sessions. Mama loves the Duggar family's show and rarely misses an episode! Walking back to the hotel one evening...
Stephen and me leaving the Alamo...
Sheridan and her baby, Josie, in their matching dresses...
After a church service on Sunday morning, we began the long drive home, stopping only for dinner at Stephen's parents' home. Stephen's mother prepared a wonderful meal and Stephen showed us pictures, awards, and school projects from his childhood and played his saxophone for us. It was a very nice visit, but it was also sad because it marked the end of Stephen's nearly two week stay!
We drove through the night and all of the following day and arrived back at the farm that night. It was such a delightful trip and we are so thankful for the hard work of our intern and neighbors while we were away!