Yard Work, Yard Work, Yard Work

That has been our theme lately.

Ever since our addition, we’ve been doing a lot to recover our yard. The machines that were driven back and forth tore up the yard horribly. We did a lot of grunt work filling in low spots, spreading grass seed and clover, and even resorted to putting down sod.

Our next step was to put in flower beds. I had a nice bed right in front of the porch, but we needed something on the right, in front of the right “wing” of the house, and in front of the left “wing” of the house. I put a row of hostas on the right because it’s shaded by a massive oak tree. The left side was harder because it’s a bigger bed and partially shaded. I planted a few things last Spring, then a few more last Fall. I even resorted to transplanting some pretty-ish plants from our field, just to fill in some space.

After getting home from vacation we were gung-ho to get started on the yard, but we had a solid week and a half of rain. Once that dried up we could get started. We decided to tackle The Beast.

The Beast is the side yard between the addition and the driveway. It’s been a pain in our backsides for 2 years now. At first, it was just dirt and rock. Nothing would grow here. That’s how poor the soil was.

We were able to bring in some good dirt and spread that around, but we had so much rain that we struggled to keep the dirt from washing away. Finally, we had some dry weather so we put more dirt down, dragged a huge log over, and even put down some sod up at the top just to keep it from all washing away. That Fall I’d picked up a few end-of-season plants and just planted them randomly at the top. Weeds and grass, but mainly weeds, began to grow and we were so grateful to have something to stop the soil erosion that we just let it go.

The sod we’d placed was in random spots and therefor difficult to mow. Ben doesn’t do much weed-eating so it grew up straggly and ugly. It was such an eyesore!

Finally, after vacation, we decided to tackle this area. I decided to do plants and mulch at the top and garden beds at the bottom. Home Depot had a great deal on garden beds so I got 2 4×4 beds for $40 shipped, right before we left for vacation. Once home, Ben put the beds together, leveled them out, and then put weed barrier down.

We had a food-grade barrel floating around that we decided to cut in half, spray paint, and then fill with dirt to act as planters. The boys helped us fill/top off all of the planters with the trailer of dirt we picked up and pretty soon we had this:

It’s still ugly, but it’s progress! More planters will go behind the beds in the bottom picture – Ben has one build already. Smaller beds will go in front. We’ll spread pea gravel between the beds on the lower half and much on the upper half. One day, we’ll put in a nice fence to keep the deer at bay. This year we’ll just see hope for the best.

So, we’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s coming along! With a yard as large as ours there’s always something to be done, but it will be so nice to have this ugly area cleaned up and looking pretty and producing veggies and herbs.

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Mother’s Day 2017

We decided to go to the Botanical Gardens – along with the majority of people in the St. Louis area, apparently! It was busy!

The boys and I were here about 6 weeks ago, but so much has changed since then!

Iris garden

Dr. Suess Plants


We stayed for about 2 hours. It ended up being hotter than we thought it would be so we all wore out quickly.

My boys!

Yard work has consumed much of our time lately (more on that in a following post) so we didn’t do anything fancy. I bought myself 2 daylillies and a new doormat and we ate dinner at Chipotle’s. Karen surprised me with an adorable owl basket she’d crocheted.

With church, MOBOT, and dinner, the day went fast! I’m grateful for Mother’s Day to celebrate mothers and to celebrate being a mother. I’m thankful for these boys and all they bring to my life. They’ve enriched my life in ways I never dreamed possible and I cannot imagine life without them!


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Rock Out

Luke performed in his end-of-season-show this past Saturday. I’m really proud of all the hard work he put in!

He played electric guitar on several songs and bass on several songs. I was really impressed with his bass-playing because he doesn’t own a bass! Which means he learned and practiced at rehearsals only! This kid blows me away.

I think he really enjoyed his stage time and we enjoyed watching him and the other kids play. Lots of good music and lots of talent!

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Nolen Family Vacation 2017: Day 13

Thursday, April 27th


Today we got an even later start. We lounged around the house, played in the pool, did some laundry, and then visited a couple of the large gift shops in the area.

It’s right about this point in vacation that I’m really starting to miss home. I miss my bed. I miss my cats. I’m ready to be home!

I don’t think we made it to the park until about 3 or 4pm. We revisited some of our favorite rides and places.

We finally got to see the dragon blow fire!

By the time the night show started we were dead tired and so hungry. I’m not sure if it was because of those things or what, but the show wasn’t really very good. It was a tribute to movies through the years. At first it was neat because they project onto a sheet of water in the middle of a large pond. After about 15 minutes we were over it and decided to make our way toward food.

Random: Momma duck and her babies at Universal!

I’m sad that we left the Hardrock Cafe for last. Luke LOVES all things rock and this is the largest Hardrock in the country. We were just too tired to appreciate it. We did look around a little after we ate, but everyone was tired and it’s a long walk back to the car and about a 25 minute drive back to our rental.

I’ve had people ask how many days needed for Universal and I think 3 is the minimum if you’re a Harry Potter fan. You’ll want to look into every store. You’ll want to ride, or at least walk through the lines, at every ride. The line for the Hogwarts ride, for example, was an experience in itself.

All our time there and I didn’t feel like we spent much time in the NYC portion of the park, at all, which is a shame because it looked neat. We did the Jimmy Fallon ride, but that was it for that entire section!

Also, a good many of their rides are not true coasters, but are the motion-simulated, 3-D rides which means that there’s more to do than traditional theme parks. I know a lot of people who hate coasters so that time-suck is eliminated for them, but if they like other sorts of rides then they’ll have plenty to choose from.

We loved Universal and look forward to returning some day!

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Nolen Family Vacation 2017: Day 12

Wednesday, April 26th

Universal Day 2

Today we slept in a bit. Chelsea and Nate had to head back home so we spent the morning with them before they left.

We arrived at Universal around noon. First thing we did was to ride the Hogwarts train the other way. I rode the Rocket with Luke and Ben. Unfortunately, it whips your head around and I was woozy afterward. We went on to ride Shrek and Dueling Dragons. The crowds were really light so we got right on.

King’s Cross Station

Hogwart’s Express

Luggage trolley at King’s Cross

The rice trick worked great for my phone. I was so relieved! Too bad it slipped out of my back pocket and into a toilet. Now it’s dead-dead. Shoot!

Lunch was eaten at the other HP restaurant, The Leaky Cauldron.

Stan the night bus driver.

Gabe has a think for carousels so we road the Suess Carousel. I still hadn’t recovered for the coasters and needed to just sit for a bit. Tim and I rested while the rest of the crew did the Poisiden ride.

Dinner was at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. It had a really neat steampunk vibe and the desserts were amazing!! Such a yummy splurge.

We knew we wanted to stay and watch the night time show, but decided to leave that for our last day. We were exhausted!


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Nolen Family Vacation 2017: Day 11

Tuesday, April 25th

Universal Studios

We’re big Harry Potter nerds here so Universal was so exciting for us. Years ago, when we went to Disney, we all had a good time, but we’ve never been super huge Disney fans so the boys enjoyed themselves, but they were beside themselves. It was neat to see them so looking forward to something.

Ben’s feet were really hurting and he was limping from the get-go. I really felt for him, but he insisted we press on. He was as excited as we were! 

We booked it to the Hulk ride first thing. Gabe adamantly refused to ride it so he and I sat out. After that we walked back toward the Harry Potter portion of the park. This is easily where we spent most of our time. We went into every.single.shop and just oohed and ahhed. We ate dinner at the Three Broomsticks and had a tasty butterbeer.

Diagon Alley

Both boys bought interactive wands. The park has several places where you can use your wand to perform “magic”.

We rode the Hogwarts Express, the Escape from Gringotts, Spiderman, Kong, and the Simpsons ride.

After tearing ourselves away from HP, we moved over to the Simpsons section of the park. Ben was excited!

No, he didn’t eat this donut alone!

We ate dinner at Red Oven and then headed back to the Airbnb. Once again we managed to stay up late chatting and hanging out. Chelsea wasn’t about to pay for Universal tickets when she couldn’t ride most of the rides, so she and Nate spent the day deep sea fishing. It was fun to catch each other up on how we’d spent our days.

We were all tired and Ben’s feet were really bothering him, but we’d had a great day and were excited to get up and do it all again!

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Nolen Family Vacation 2017: Day 10

Monday, April 24th

Honeymoon Island

We ate a quick breakfast at the golf course and then made our way to Honeymoon Island. Despite a good start, we still didn’t arrive until quarter to 4. We drove to the North lot at the furthest point of the island. It wasn’t crowded at all.

We’d already arranged to meet Chelsea and Nate. They beat us there and were ready to hit the beach when we arrived.

The wind was pretty strong here, too. We had to shout to be heard. The guys swam and we girls walked the beach looking for shells. Honeymoon Island is a great place to find shells. They were everywhere!

While walking, I bent over to grab a shell and my phone slipped right out of my pocket and into the ocean. It floated and I grabbed it right away, but I was still really bummed.

We headed back toward the guys but couldn’t find them. Tim was wandering around taking pictures. Nate was finally located on one of the benches. He said something about Ben and Luke up at the showers. We hadn’t been there very long at all so I was surprised Ben was getting ready to go already.

When Ben and Luke came back Ben told me that Luke had been swept into the rocks. Ben had freaked out and went after him. Nate went in, too. The rocks are covered with barnacles which cut them all up. Funnily enough, Luke was able to get right onto the rocks and only had minor scratches, but Nate had a large gash on his hand and Ben was cut badly all over both feet and hands. He was just done after that and I couldn’t blame him.

We managed to get our yearly “feet on the beach” photo, but Ben wasn’t about to take his socks and shoes off and expose his poor feet to the sand again.

One of these things is not like the other…

The wind had worn us all out so we decided to head back to the mainland and grab dinner. We ate a filling dinner at Frenchy’s Outpost and then headed to the Airbnb.

We’d planned ahead and rented a 4-bedroom house. Even though we weren’t in FL for Disney, the boys still got a kick out of the Disney-themed bedroom they shared.

Although, Karen’s bed was badly broken so that first night she had to sleep in Gabe’s bed and he slept on the couch. He wasn’t happy to say the least.

We hit a Trader Joe’s on the way out so that we could stock up on snacks and breakfast items. It was the largest, fanciest Trader Joe’s I’ve ever seen! I geeked out a little.

Once at the house, we stayed up a bit late just visiting and catching up. I knew Chels and Nate wouldn’t be up to MO again until Labor Day weekend so I wanted to get in as much time as possible.

We’d had a nice day and I was really impressed with Honeymoon Island. I had a hard time deciding between that and Caladesi State Park, a neighboring island. I usually plan everything out way ahead of time,but this decision I didn’t make until the day of.

Ben and Nate bandaged themselves up and I put my phone into a bed of rice and then we all called it a night. Universal Studios was our next adventure and we were so excited!

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Nolen Family Vacation 2017: Day 9

Sunday, April 23rd

Savannah and Jekyll Island

Despite poor sleep from the night before, we were glad to get up and get on our way. The manager was very accommodating and gave us a full refund.

Before leaving town, we drove to Chippewa Square to see the bench that Tom Hanks had filmed on in Forest Gump, only to find that it had been removed and placed in a museum. Forsyth Park was another recommended spot to visit so we checked it out. It was a large park in the city. Not a whole lot going on, but it was peaceful and had a beautiful fountain.

We then moved on to Jekyll Island, just a couple hours away.

Since we arrived at such a good time, we headed straight for the beach. Driftwood Beach, to be exact. This beach was gorgeous and absolutely packed with neat critters. We saw more here in half an hour than I’ve seen on all the other beaches I’ve visited combined!

Finding treasures

Blue jelly

Beach combing with Karen


One of half a dozen live sand dollars Luke found.


We didn’t keep anything we came across. Just snapped pictures and let it be.

After a while we were all starving so we found a little restaurant with outdoor seating.  The main beach was right there so after eating we decided to check that beach out, too. Great Dunes Beach had soft, fine, white sand and large dunes with grass. There wasn’t much going on here and the wind really started to pick up so we didn’t stay long.

St. Andrew’s Beach was at the Southern end of the island so we decided to check it out to see if we were missing out on anything. This beach was the worst. Just yucky with lots of little trash and seaweed.

Everyone was worn out so we headed back to the hotel for showers and naps. The boys just wanted to relax and watch T.V. for a bit so we adults let them stay behind while we walked along the path near our hotel.

Our hotel

We’d seen a lighthouse earlier in the day, while at Driftwood Beach, so we decided to go in search of it. We found it on the nearby island of St. Simon.

St. Simon Lighthouse

The pier

The sun was setting and the wind was really strong, but we walked out on the pier anyway and were rewarded with a dolphin sighting.

We finished the evening with a a walk along the strip and  some gelato. It was dark and starting to get a bit chilly so we called it a night and decided to try and catch up on some sleep before our upcoming drive to Florida.

In retrospect, I wish we’d spent more time at Driftwood Beach and not have bothered about the other beaches. Of course, there’s only one way to find out and that’s part of the adventure. During every vacation there’s a place or two that I wish we’d had more time for and Driftwood Beach in one of those places, for me. I hope I can visit again some day!

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Nolen Family Vacation 2017: Day 8

Saturday, April 22nd

Savannah, GA

After a homemade breakfast with Nate and Chels, we hit the road and headed for Savannah. By the time we arrived and unloaded at the hotel it was late afternoon. We headed straight to the riverfront and strolled along the Factor’s Walk.

Here’s an explanation of what it is, exactly.

Factors Row and Factors Walk are located on a bluff just above the River Walk. Factors Row is a unique collection of red brick buildings, formerly a center of commerce for Savannah’s cotton factors, or brokers. Factors Row was also home to the original Cotton Exchange, where cotton factors, or brokers, set prices worldwide.


Running from east to west above the river, these vast brick buildings rise two or three stores above the bluff and descend for three or more stories to the river front. The topside contained the offices of the cotton brokers and the building on the lower River Street side were used as warehouses. A series of iron and concrete walkways, known as Factors Walk, connected the buildings to the bluff. Ramps leading from Bay Street down the bluff to River Street are paved with cobblestones, brought as ballast and abandoned on the riverbanks by departing sailing ships.

After walking the length of Factor’s Walk, we took a right and walked along the riverfront.

Georgia Queen


The Waving Girl statue

We ducked into a few shops including the Savannah Bee Company which gives free tastings of all their unique honey flavors.

We tried to find dinner, but everything was booked, being a Saturday night and all. Instead we found a Whole Foods near our hotel and grabbed food there.

Oh, the hotel. It was miserable. There was a huge group of young adults who were up alllll night long. They were making noise in the parking lot, they were making noise in the hallways, they were up and down the stairwell all night. Every time the door to the stairs was closed it slammed shut. At 3am I called down the the front desk and the receptionist said she’d tell the manager. After another hour of this I went down in person. It turns out the only employee was a pregnant receptionist. She informed me that they’d had this issue with the same group the night before and there was nothing she could do. It was a reallllly long, sleepless night.



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Nolen Family Vacation 2017: Day 7

Friday, April 21st


Sometimes on our vacation we find oddball things to do. Like the time we visited an alpaca farm in New Mexico. This time it was a tour of Sloss Furnace in Birmingham.

But, first, I need to back up.

Remember, in the South nothing starts early. Sloss Furnace is no different. Thankfully, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens do open early. And they’re free.

This was a lovely place and I would have been happy to spend more time here.

The bamboo garden was amazing. It was a whole forest of towering bamboo with trails winding through it.

Bamboo shoot

We came upon this heron in the woods. We were surprised at how oblivious he was to our presence. He just completely ignored us. After about 5 minutes we found out why. He was stalking a chipmunk! While we were watching he pounced and we saw a struggling chipmunk in his beak! He squeezed the life out of it and then proceeded to swallow it whole! Woah.

Blue heron

Koi pond

Japanese Garden gate

Love in bloom (rose garden)

Peaceful stream

I took a million pictures here and will have to process the rest little by little. There was so much to see.

We went from the beauty of nature to the magnificence of industry.

Visitors are allowed to roam the grounds of Sloss. There are some places where you can’t climb or wander, but a lot of it is open and available. I’m amazed actually that it’s legal! All of that metal and rust!


Underground tunnel.

Nothing creepy about this…

I thought this was a really unique experience. And it was free, which is always a bonus. I love that we had the freedom to roam and explore. Very cool!

It was a good thing we got some walking in because we had a long day in the car. It wasn’t supposed to be so long, but the traffic around Atlanta was horrible. It’s always bad, but they’ve had some major highway issues lately so there was a lot of rerouting going on. Ooooh, it was agony.

To top it off, Tim wasn’t feeling well. The last hour of the journey just seemed to drag on.

But, as always happens, we did make it. Tim and Karen decided to go straight to the hotel and rest while we spent the evening with Nate and Chels.

We ate a yummy dinner with them at a little hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint and then went to the lake to skip rocks. After dark we took their dogs to a nearby park for a walk. It was laid back and low-key, but everyone was tire. Nate had worked all day, Chels is expecting, and we’d put in a long day on the road. We crashed at their place and they spoiled us with breakfast in the morning before we hit the road again.

It wasn’t a long visit, but we knew it would only be a few days before they’d be joining us in FL!


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