Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Toast

If it’s been awhile that I wrote a general life post than it’s been FOREVER since I shared a recipe. We’ve definitely been eating well though, so hopefully I can get busy in the kitchen and snap some photos to share.

This year we planted five tomato plants and OH MAN did they ever produce. I’ve made about 20 pint jars of salsa, given away bags and bags full to friends, family, neighbors and coworkers, and made fresh caprese salad dozens of times. It’s now mid-September and I’m still collecting 4 or 5 tomatoes every couple days (last night I got 9– true story). I certainly don’t mean to complain about having so much produce, but I tell ya, it’s tough to come up with new ways to use it all.

I actually found this recipe looking for new ways to use the 1+ lb block of goat cheese that I recently bought. Goat cheese + roasted tomatoes + basil + balsamic reduction…. That’s a combination that will get me into the kitchen RIGHT THAT SECOND to make (which is definitely what happened!).

There’s a few steps to this open faced sandwich, but most of them you can do while the tomatoes are busy, busy roasting. It probably took me about a half hour to prepare, but was well worth the wait and the effort!

It also looks pretty fancy (if I say so myself!) so it would be a perfect recipe to make for a small dinner party or if you were trying to impress someone.

(little note before we get started: I’m going to leave off the quantity for each ingredient. I had plenty of tomatoes and balsamic reduction (enough for 4-5 people), but since it’s just me — I obviously didn’t need a ton of toast, goat cheese, parmesan, basil, etc..)

Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Toast

Ingredients:

  • Good Sandwich Bread (I used a marble rye + pumpernickel, but you can use whatever)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt + Pepper
  • Garlic, minced
  • Goat Cheese
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Fresh Basil, chopped
  • Balsamic Reduction (recipe to follow)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice tomatoes 1/4 inch thick and lay on a foil lined baking sheet.

DSC_09232.  Mix together olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic and pour some over each tomato.

DSC_0924 DSC_09273. Roast tomatoes in oven for 20-25 minutes. (when they’re done, they’ll be shriveled and almost brown around the edges)

DSC_09464. While those are cooking, make the balsamic reduction (look below for directions) and toast the bread. Brush olive oil on each side of bread and place on a hot skillet (medium heat). Flip until each side is browned (like you’re cooking a grilled cheese).

DSC_0937 DSC_09385. Once bread is browned, spread goat cheese over each piece.

DSC_09576. Still on the hot skillet — fry parmesan cheese and cook until brown on each side. Once browned, let cool on plate and break into pieces.

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7. Use a spatula and place roasted tomatoes on each slice (I had mid-sized tomatoes so I could fit three per piece of toast). Top with chopped basil, parmesan crisps, and balsamic reduction.

DSC_09648. Devour!

Balsamic Reduction:

This can be used in SO many recipes to really take them to the next level. All you need is 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar. Heat in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring very, very frequently (but I wouldn’t say constantly). It should take about 10 minutes to completely reduce. You want to take it off the heat when there is about 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar left and it’s the consistency of maple syrup.

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There you have it!!!

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Summer Wrap Up

Howdy! I know it’s been two months since I’ve stopped by to chat so get ready for a serious brain dump.

(warning: this may be the longest post ever. After my ramblings — there are FIFTY pictures of our summer!! WOW)

First — there’s a few reasons why I’ve been so absent. One being that Alex was getting ready to deploy and we spent the summer trying to soak in every moment we could together. I don’t want to say that I was just too busy to write, because that’s not entirely true. Mainly, I think that since it had been so long I felt like whatever I came back to say needed to meaningful. I kept sitting down to write, jotted a paragraph or two and felt that it just didn’t do such a long break justice. Delete, delete, delete. The words just weren’t there. I have some half finished posts that I’m hoping to salvage and get them up.. we’ll see!

Alex left this past week and now that I don’t have as many distractions, I spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts. It’s time to get them out! Writing is therapeutic for me and more importantly, if Alex is able to catch some internet access here and there, I know he really appreciates getting caught up with what’s going on at home and seeing pictures of our boys (aka dogs, whatever — they’re children to us).

We had a great summer full of weekend trips, parties, weddings, grilling, kayaking, visitors, gardening, golf (him), canning (me) and truck projects (him). One thing that really stood apart from previous summers is that we didn’t overload it with house projects. Of course we still have things we want to do with the ol’ house, but we’re definitely slowing down. We’re getting to the point that we mostly have bigger projects left (new wood floors, remodeled kitchen, basement+hall bathroom remodels) and we 1. ran out of steam for such big (months long) projects and 2. didn’t really have the time since we knew some deployments were on the horizon. We actually spent money on ourselves this summer (yay! kayaks!) rather than dumping it into the house. It felt good.

A lot of people ask me about this when I see them and I know it’s uncomfortable for people to bring up, so I’ll just keep you all in the loop. Another thing that changed this summer is that we pretty much hit our breaking point and finally decided to stop trying for a baby right now. Well… considering that Alex isn’t even in the country that’s not hard to believe, right? ;) Anyway… I didn’t like who I had become. It consumed me. I spent hours and hours every single day researching things; furiously googling supplements, symptoms per day past ovulation, the average amount of months it took for someone to get pregnant after an ectopic. It was bad. I compared myself to everyone around me and constantly felt like a failure. I tried some fertility medicine for a couple months and I was super unpleasant to be around – happy, crying, angry, moody… you never knew what you were going to get. I gained weight, my skin my broke up, I had headaches and was hot all the time. Yeah.. it wasn’t pretty. My breaking point came when a very good friend of mine told me she was pregnant (for various reasons they weren’t sure they could ever have a baby on their own). Of course I was happy for them both, but I was just sad for me. I locked myself into the bathroom at work and did the always attraction silent sob (you all know what I’m talking about). That night as I cried myself to sleep, I had a conversation with the man upstairs and basically told God that I had nothing left to give and that if I was supposed to keep trying right now, I needed some kind of sign. The next morning, Alex had a very open, honest (and brave!) conversation with me and told me that he thought it was a good time to take a break from trying.

So, I took that as my sign and just STOPPED. I stopped going to all my websites, I stopped obsessing and worrying and envying and crying and JUST STOPPED. Can you even imagine the pressure that has been lifted? Probably not. All of the sudden, I’m just not worried anymore. Sure, the want is still there – I’m not sure that will ever go away. But you know what… one day we’ll be parents. It might not be right now, it might not be in the next year… but we will. And now we can focus on us and it feels fantastic. Props to the husband for being willing to have a conversation that he knew would hurt, but would be for the better.

Whew! That felt good to get that out! Let’s see… what else has been going on? Well, the garden was phenomenal this summer. Even in September, it’s still trudging along. To this day, I’m still getting buckets of tomatoes, peppers (jalapeños and bell), carrots, a few cucumbers and even some yellow squash. We built the beds up a bit and added probably 25 bags of new soil. We also tilled the soil and mixed in lots of plant food.

I could go on all day chit chatting, but I think for now — I’ll finish up with some pictures from the last few months.

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Wow! Did you make it through those?? I hope to be posting way more regularly! If not, I’ll have a very disappointed husband when he gets back!

PS — WHO IS EXCITED FOR FOOTBALL TODAY??

Have a great Sunday!!

Living Room Makeover: After

Okay, yesterday we left off when I had some weekend helpers and a real fire under our butts.

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We painted, painted, painted all weekend long (I’ll get to that all in a minute). When Alex got home he was really excited about all of the progress we made. He was also incredibly surprised to see his best buddy in our driveway! The boys took a break from the paint rollers for some birthday golf.

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Then it was time to get back to work… here’s a couple progress pictures:

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Once the paint was done, it was time to install all the molding. We finally decided to add board and batten to the bottom half of our walls. During this point in the project, Alex’s parents stayed with us for a week and helped so, sooo much! There was a ton of work involved — painting all the molding, cutting it to length, nailing it in place, covering and painting the holes…. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of pictures during all these tedious steps since I was at work for much of the day. I’m sure you aren’t really interested in seeing pictures of measuring tapes and miter saws anyway.

We had some hard to reach painting to do…

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And apparently pick some strawberries…

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Whaaaaat?

Already enough messing around — let’s get to the final product!

First…. a before shot to jog your memory:

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(sorry, I had to include that one!)

Okay… and now, on to the after shots:

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I can’t even begin to describe how good it feels to get this room knocked off our to-do list. And you know what? Not a single cell in my body wishes we had done it sooner. It definitely would have ended up a different color with different fixtures.. and to be honest, I’m loving how it turned out!

We’re currently on the hunt to get rid of our little green accents. As much as we love our green pillows and placemats, they don’t really go with our new slate grey-blue room. As always, we’re waiting until we find “the ones” — no sense hurrying to buy a bunch of pillows we only kind of like and then replace them again in six months.

So, there you go. A big project that we somehow managed to squeeze together in about three weeks. Can’t believe it took us over two years to get to this point! But, I tell ya… it feels good to be on this side of things :)

What’s been going on with you lately? Any big projects? Anyone recently get engaged (cough, cough — SUZZETTE)?

Living Room Makeover: Before

I am fully aware that I owe a big, bigbigbig, biiiiig update on what’s been going on with us in the last month. Not necessarily just so you can follow along, but for my own little record keeping as well. This afternoon I won’t get into everything we’ve managed to squeeze in the last few months, but I really want to share our living room makeover with you guys! And maybe a couple pictures of the dogs.

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Phew! Now we have that over with, we can finally get down to business.

If you guys have been following along for awhile then you are probably aware that we like to really live in a room before we jump to big decorating decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I still spend too much money at HomeGoods in the meantime, I’m just not tearing out tile (okay, okay – let’s be honest, I’m not tasking Alex out to tear out tile) until we are both 100% sure what we want the end result to be.

We’ve lived in our house for two and a half years (holy smokes, by the way!) and we finally, fiiiiinally re-did our living room. High fives all around!

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

When we first moved in, we had these absolutely stunning window treatments. And laugh all you might, they must have been fashionable at one point since the previous owners also had matching slipcovers for their dining room table.

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I know, right?

We also had some really lovely light fixtures hangin’ around.

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Oh! And we also had this dated mirror-closet in our hallway… That had to go pretty immediately.

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Basically, this room needed some love… and fast!

We replaced the light fixtures and pulled down all of the curtains…

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But, as you can see in the top picture, we still had gaps in the crown molding where the window treatments once were and a lovely full length mirror tucked in the corner.

Later on, we finally found the right size table to fit  in an otherwise awkward place. As you can tell from my fall decorations… this, well, wasn’t yesterday. We also bought some rugs for around the couches and two runners for down the hallway.

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Yet, the room was still very unfinished! We started thinking about wall colors, but it seemed like an endless charade of moving colors around to find the perfect match. I took these pictures back in January and obviously our vision of the room wasn’t yet solidified.

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Months later we decided to host a big party at our house to honor my dad, who passed away five years ago. It was going to be the first time that most of our extended family would be at our house and we really wanted our living room to feel a little more complete. Plus, it didn’t hurt that people who had been coming to our house over the past two years kept pointing out our remaining spackle spots and missing crown molding. Maybe it was that we were embarrassed that the room we sat and watched TV in all that time was such an eye sore, maybe we were just tired of hearing other people talk about it being unfinished, but…

The fire was lit and we knew it was time to getting the living room crossed off our list!

Alex pulled off the floor to ceiling mirror on a whim -

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Here’s what that side of the room looked like after the first coat of spackle -

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And then something funny happened… Alex had to leave! So here we were less than three weeks before our party and I had to bust my butt to tackle two people’s worth of work.

I pulled off the chair rail, spackled, sanded, spackled, sanded… over and over again.

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Get this: that weekend a miracle happened! Alex was getting ready to come home (just in time for his birthday!) and our friend, Joe decided to come down from NY to surprise Alex for his big day. He also agreed to help me prep and paint the room for the weekend. Not only that, but my brother, Justin and his friend, Russ came over to help paint all weekend long!

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Alright — this is getting super long already and I haven’t even started getting to the real meat of it yet! Check back in tomorrow to see how it turned out!

 

On Faith

Lately I’ve been feeling pulled in a new direction. A direction that if asked me about five years ago, I probably would have laughed at. I’ve been hesitant to write about this for some time as it’s a personal journey that tends to be very, very intimate. So, uh… here goes. In the last year, I’ve had a new, unfamiliar desire to become more spiritual. It’s always weird to just come out and say, “hey – we’re going to talk about God today” but.. well, why the heck not? When did believing in any religion become uncool? We’ve talked about love, loss, depression, good days and bad. Heck, we’ve even talked about dog poop. So.. I guess nothing is off limits.

Let me get into a little background first. What better place to start than my parents?

My mom grew up in a very Catholic family, went to Catholic school up until high school and spent the first decade of her children’s lives getting us to go to church as well. However, my mom has always been a questioner. Apparently a rule-breaker in her youth, she often challenged the old schools of thought. My dad had a very rough childhood without much religious experience and converted to Catholicism to get married and raise my brothers and me in a religious home.

When we moved out to the country (yes, western Howard County at the time only had farms and giant fields – no McMansions like there are today), the only decent church around had strict rules on what women can and cannot do within the church(surprise!) and tried to hold my brothers back from Sunday school for missing one or two classes because of sports. Apparently there was a big falling out and eventually we stopped going. My parents still raised us knowing what was right and wrong, how to treat others fairly and all that jazz – we just didn’t go to church every week.

From then on, religion was very foreign to me (I was probably 5 when this all happened). I didn’t understand so many of the rules or get how the Earth could have been literally made in 7 days when all of my classes said otherwise. I just didn’t get it; I’d like to think mainly because I just didn’t know. How could I know? I didn’t have much experience in that department.

Fast forward to college, I took a philosophy class and anyone who has ever taken a philosophy class knows that they tend to try to prove that God doesn’t exist way more than they support that claim. For about a year after that class, I, in all honesty, didn’t think there was a greater spiritual being out there – because again, that’s what I had been taught. However, I did feel envious of people that had such strong convictions. I wanted to know what happens after you die, I wanted to feel like I could wake up and thank God for a beautiful day or pray for a sick family member without feeling like a fraud.

Alex’s upbringing was very different than my own. Some of his favorite childhood memories are associated with his church… camping, the friends that have become family, the lessons and values he learned, the list goes on and on. I wanted that. I wanted to believe. I wanted to know that one day I would see my dad again. I wanted family friends that we met through church for our *eventual* kids. I wanted them to have those experiences. I longed for that community. When Alex and I started dating and he asked me to go to church with him one Sunday morning – I’m not going to lie, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to say when everyone else was just spouting stuff out. I didn’t know when to stand or sit or anything. But I went… maybe because I just really liked this new guy or maybe because that desire already took root somewhere inside of me and it was struggling to break free.

Before moving into our house, we found a church we really liked and I found myself looking forward to hearing the next week’s message. I felt uplifted and… well, just different. I still didn’t know all of the stories of the Bible or who did what, but I was learning and I was getting the exposure that I lacked. Unfortunately, since moving we haven’t found a church that even comes close to comparing — one day we will though.

Anyway, for the last year or so I’ve been feeling like I’m meant to learn more. I have a desire to figure it all out, to get a deeper understanding, to let go of all my worries and fears and shortcomings and trust that there is a plan… and that it all will work out.

After my surgery in November – I was so lost. I kept asking why I was meant to have such a hard journey, why are there so many bad things in the world, why me… why me, why me, why me. There were so, so many questions that I just didn’t have answers to. But maybe the difference was – that I wanted answers. I wanted to know what it all meant and what I was supposed to learn. I wanted to give up control and just let things happen when they’re supposed to, and – here’s the kicker, trust and have faith that they would happen.

In the last few months, I’ve been basically telling God that if I was meant to find my way to church, to Him, to… wherever – I needed a sign. I needed to feel like that was where I was meant to be, that someone was watching over me… I needed to know that if I let go, I would be in good hands. I wanted a big smack in the face, a violent shake, or, you know, a gentle hand leading me in the right direction.

About a month ago now (geez, it’s crazy how time flies), when everything was going right and neither Alex nor I had any problems in the world – I got into a very serious car accident. A freshly turned 16 year old boy ran through a stop sign and smashed right into my driver’s side. I was on a fairly major road and was going about 55 mph when it happened. Thankfully, I had time to slam on my brakes causing the other car to smash more towards my front tire. If that didn’t happen and he slammed right into my door, there is no way that I would have walked away from that accident untouched. Best case scenario is that I would have been rushed to the hospital.

Only days later, when we were still dealing with insurance claims and appraisers, when I was still full of bruises and sore - Alex got into an accident as well. I count my lucky stars that he was okay (and that I was… and all of the other drivers involved). It kinda got me thinking again though. Maybe this was my sign? Maybe it was how I was being told that really, honestly, and truly – someone was looking out for me, for us, for everyone. In the last six months I’ve battled infertility, being cut open, losing a baby, depression, deployments, and was in an almost-fatal car accident… and you know what – here I am to tell you about it. And not just that, I can smile about it all and tell you what I’ve learned, how I got through it and how you could too (if it ever came to that).

Maybe all that bad stuff wasn’t bad stuff at all. Maybe it was just leading me to where I was supposed to go.

I’m not here today to tell you that I have it all figured out; I don’t. I’m not trying to convince you to find Jesus; I’m not sure that I’ve found the way either. I’m just trying to bare my soul, show you my insecurities, tell you my worries and doubts and fears. This is just a diary for me, albeit a very public one, and I hope to one day look back on this entry and feel proud, even only for sharing something that made me vulnerable. Maybe this is a turning point? Maybe this is the crescendo at the end of a long string of painful events? There has to be more. And it’s my turn to find it.

Good Mothers

I saw this on a support forum this morning for women that have endured losses while trying to have a baby. We’re still working on that (so no need to assume this has any deeper meaning than me simply sharing – it doesn’t). Many of you have found your way to my page by googling pregnancy loss, ectopics and struggling and if that happens to be you, first of all, I’m so very sorry and secondly, I hope this helps. For some reason fertility issues are not something widely discussed, meaning that when you are in the middle of your struggle, you feel even more isolated and alone. I’ve tried very hard to discuss what I went through, how it made me feel, and how I got through it both on this blog and in my real life. I hope to shed some light on the suffering so many women (and their significant others) go through.

And it’s not just to provide support of those suffering, but to those of you who never had to give a second thought to having a family. I hope that you become more sensitive and aware of the possible suffering and longing of those around you and alter your actions and words to be more thoughtful and compassionate.

One day it will happen. We will become mommas. We’ll have to get up at all hours of the night for feedings, we’ll be the ones cleaning up messy explosions, we’ll be disciplining our children and dealing with toddler tantrums in the middle of the grocery store. We’ll comfort our teenagers after their first break-up and cry when our babies graduate. One day… it will happen. And while the waiting is the hardest part, the disappointment, fear and frustration stinks pretty freakin’ bad too. So, until our day comes — I hope this eases the pain.. even just a little bit.

There are women that become mothers without effort, without thought, without patience or loss and though they are good mothers and love their children, I know that I will be better.

I will be better not because of genetics, or money, or that I have read more books but because I have struggled and toiled for this child.

I have longed and waited. I have cried and prayed. I have endured and planned over and over again. Like most things in life, the people who truly have appreciation are those who have struggled to attain their dreams.

I will notice everything about my child. I will take time to watch my child sleep, explore and discover. I will marvel at this miracle every day for the rest of my life.

I will be happy when I wake in the middle of the night to the sound of my child, knowing that I can comfort, hold, and feed him, and that I am not waking to take another temperature, pop another pill, take another shot, or cry tears of a broken dream. My dream will be crying for me.

I count myself lucky in this sense: that God has given me this insight, this special vision with which I will look upon my child that my friends will not see. Whether I parent a child I actually give birth to or a child that God leads me to, I will not be careless with my love.

I will be a better mother for all that I have endured.

I am a better wife, a better aunt, a better daughter, neighbor, friend, and sister because I have known pain.

I know disillusionment, as I have been betrayed by my own body.

I have been tried by fire and hell many never face, yet given time, I stood tall.

I have prevailed.

I have succeeded.

I have won.

So now, when others hurt around me, I do not run from their pain in order to save myself discomfort. I see it, mourn it, and join them in theirs.

I listen.

And even though I cannot make it better, I can make it less lonely.

I have learned the immense power of another hand holding tight to mine, of other eyes that moisten as they learn to accept the harsh truth and that life is beyond hard. I have learned a compassion that only comes with walking in those shoes.

I have learned to appreciate life.

Yes, I will be a wonderful mother.

And so will you.

A La Shed (of the wood variety)

For the last few months, Alex has been really looking for a hands-on project that would be for him. You know, not one of those “honey-do” projects that I seem to be really good at coming up with. Most of our projects start with me saying something along the lines of, “Man, I hate this laundry room. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had new tile and a fresh coat of paint in here?” Alex agrees and encourages me to go to Home Depot with him and we wander around until we have a good idea of what specific tile we want. It also seems like every time we’ve had a big project going on, he’s had some time off work and spends hours and hours every day (while I’m not home) working on some project that was my idea to begin with.

So again, he’s been reeeeally craving something that he could work on that was more…uhh.. manly.

He ended up deciding to build a woodshed that would keep all our firewood dry. He said he wanted to build it because he wanted the wood away from the house since wood attracts bugs, termites, etc. (which makes complete sense to me!) I’m pretty sure he also just wanted an excuse to lug those power tools outside and build something with his own hands.

Months ago, Alex found the plans he wanted to use and we hunted Home Depot/Lowe’s/other various lumber stores to get an estimate on how much the supplies would cost. The total was a little more than we wanted to spend on something that… you know… holds wood, but after much research we (and by we, you know, I don’t mean me) knew it would be less than a third of the price of pre-fabbed sheds and higher quality. So, all we needed was a nice weekend to get the motivation to crank this bad boy out.

I would also like to add that I thought this project would be a “work on it when you could” kind of thing. Not.so.much. It ended up getting built over one weekend and stained the following. However, I will say that Alex had some help from a good friend, Dan, and really wanted to take advantage of the extra set of hands (and we couldn’t be more thankful for all the help)!

I wasn’t even home during the first day of construction so I don’t have a lot of the very early pictures… but here ya go!

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This was what it looked like the morning of day two.

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(of course, you know that we didn’t leave all those supplies out over night….)

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More Alex and Dan…

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By the end of the first weekend, we had a shed that looked like this…

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All we had left was to stain it and add the roof. So, the following weekend (yay for nice spring days!) we got to work… And yes, this time I do mean WE. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures that were taken in the middle of staining. We were messy and dirty and bleeeeh, and I wasn’t planning to subject my camera to that :)

Here you can see how big the shed is compared to our ladders…

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Alex putting on the roof –

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And…. DRUMROLL….

Final product:

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Aren’t those dogs amazing for posing for me *all on their own*? Haha… I wish!

Now we just need to fill up that shed with a bunch of firewood!

funny story: the couple that lives behind us had their granddaughter over during this building process. I guess they were nosey and wanted to know what in the heck we were building, so they sent her over to ask Alex. When Alex responded saying a woodshed… she said, “oh! I thought you were building a STAGE!”

Now I can’t get this stage idea out of my head! Could you imagine having a party and a band setting up there… UHHH. Perfect.

I should also mention that these two boys were the perfect helpers. Hunter even brought over Dan’s bottle of water to him. In his mouth. Sounds appetizing, right?

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(I have to say one more time.. a biiiiig thank you to Dan for helping so much!)