Hey everyone! I hope everyone has recovered from their Christmas craziness hangovers and have now moved on to your New Years festivities. While I absolutely love this time of year, I certainly do love the calm that January seems to bring after the hectic holidays.
I wanted to jump on and share probably one of the coolest gifts my kids have received in a couple years. I’m sure most people can relate to the whole buying extra presents to fill in the gaps idea when it comes to being Santa for your kids. I swear every year I say we aren’t going crazy this year and ALWAYS, at the last minute, end up buying a bunch of gifts to fill in the gaps and even out the quantity of gifts each of them receives. We always do this, and when I say we it is actually me. My husband is perfectly fine with them not having the same exact amount of gifts to open as long as the money spent is about equal. A quality Vs. quantity mindset and it makes more sense than mine.
I will be honest with you and tell you that in this situation Amazon is my best friend! Sorry Jenn, I do love you, but Amazon is always there in that mad dash pinch of the moment when only Prime can solve your issues situation! In my desperate attempt this year to “fill in the gaps” I stumbled upon this great hands on activity set for kids that are interested in architecture or design. It is call Young Architect by Scientific Explorer.
Being that for the past 12 years Kevin and I have actively been involved in some type of renovation, flip house or design work our kids have really developed a true interest in both design, decor and architecture. I took one look at this and just knew It was the perfect gift for my daughter Reese. She loves doing anything hands on and really has taken an interest in design and decor. So, on a whim and a need to buy more gifts, I ordered the set.
At $75 it is definitely not an inexpensive gift to buy but the fact that we opened it for the first time today and my daughter’s and their friend have been non-stop designing and redesigning floor plan layouts for their dream houses for 3 hours speaks volumes. I am all for any activity that will get them away from their IPhones and using their brains. In a world where electronics rule their lives I try to find activities that do the opposite.
The basis of this set is to literally set up a room by room version of a house or building. It can be what ever they want. The set comes with clear plastic tracers that allow them to draw room shapes in different sizes and piece them together to form the traditional flow of a house. There are hallways, closets, bathrooms, and multiple shaped rooms. After they have completed the room layout they then furnish the rooms with the proper fixtures and furniture. My girls cut the shapes out of the paper that was provided but I think you are supposed to draw the furniture directly onto the plan. After the furniture and fixtures are laid out you build the walls. This part is really cool. With these cubes that are placed in the corners of each room you place clear plastic room dividers onto the cubes to define each space. Once all the cubes are connected and the dividers are in place you have what looks like a 3-D layout of a house. You can also take the stickers provided and place windows and doors in each room but my girls skipped that part because they immediately wanted to dismantle the first house and recreate a new one.
I was so excited to see their true love and interest in this gift set that I felt it warranted a share to anyone who would also have kids that would enjoy this for hours.
The affiliate links are below for this. If you click the link you can order directly through Amazon! Thanks for reading and I hope you have a child who will also love this set like my girls do!
Merry Christmas everyone! We are literally 1 day out from the big guy arriving and I am happy to say I have finally finished shopping. Now Kevin and I just have to spend the entire night wrapping every single present because they are all boxed up in the back of our Suburban in the driveway.
This year we are doing Christmas a little different than normal because we are living in our 400 Sq ft tiny home on our farm until the house renovation in complete. Because our tiny house is so small, and all of our Christmas decorations are in storage I didn’t really do too much decorating back home. Aside from buying a tree with a bulb and planting it in the ground and decorating that.. there wasn’t much flair around the house. You can’t imagine how painful it was to sit back and watch everyone decorate for the holidays and post their pics on social media while all I could do was admire and reminisce about my decor from Christmas pasts.
On Friday we packed up the Suburban and Mercedes and headed for the Jersey shore to have Christmas at our shore house. We are so lucky to have this house as an escape when the kids are off from school. Before we sold our big house in Landenberg and moved into the tiny home on the property our kids did not have an appreciation for this little gem of a house in Wildwood Crest NJ. Now they are full of praise and appreciation for the time we get to spend here spreading out, having their own rooms to sleep in, being able to close the door and have a minute to themselves and being able to use the bathroom at the same time because we have 2.. it truly is the little things in life.. lol.
One tradition I wanted to keep for the kids was to make sure we had a tree to put their gifts under. When we arrived on Friday we unpacked the cars, arranged the cats and dogs and headed out to buy our Christmas tree. Knowing that we were late to the game we didn’t have high expectations for what we would find in terms of quality trees. Our first stop was our local Lowe’s in Rio Grande, NJ. Our original plan was to get a fake tree (because it is just more practical and saves us money, according to Reese our youngest child). Well, if you have ever started your Christmas decorating 4 days before Christmas you certainly know that there is not much left to purchase in terms of decorations and there certainly wasn’t a fake tree of any shape or size to be purchased. We were lucky that they had about 10 real trees under 6 ft left to pick through. After a great debate between a few trees that looked like they would catch fire as soon as we put lights on them we decided on the last healthy Frasier Fir in the store.
Now on the flip side, if you are one of the few who start decorating for Christmas after everyone else you know what a great deal you can get on all the Christmas decorations that are leftover at Lowe’s. All of the Christmas decorations were 50% off, which was a blessing in disguise because I certainly don’t need any more christmas decorations. I think I have enough decorations, including about 4 trees, in storage to decorate 3 houses completely. Our little Lowes Christmas tree, originally $34.99 was less that $17! We bought all of the decorations, including the the tree for around $150! You guys, my tree is super cute too!
Now that we have our tree up and are getting settled at our shore house it finally feels like Christmas. We have really just relaxed and taken the chance to spend time together here at the house. We have spent hours playing board games, baking cookies and watching movies. I hope you and your family are spending some quality time together and getting to enjoy the magic of the holiday.
Thanks so much for reading my blog and following our journey through life in the tiny house and our farmhouse renovation. Stay tuned for many more updates, including what we are doing with our fireplaces, rebuilding stone walls and the “approved” kitchen design and layout.
I am sure that everyone has a location that is on their bucket list for places they want to visit at some point in their lifetime. I think of myself as kind of a wanderlust and while my bucket list of vacation destinations is pretty long Italy was definitely at the top. Luckily for Kevin and I we have best friends, who happen to be our business partners, who also share that same love of travel. One tipsy night in 2017, as we are discussing our impending 40th birthdays the idea of an Italy trip was discussed. Almost a year later our plans were brought to life when we landed in Rome for the first leg of our Italian Vacation.
The best thing about traveling with our friends is that we are on the same page when it comes to planning our trips. Our philosophy is not to plan. When we landed in Rome we had only booked our hotel stays in Rome, the 7 night stay at our Agriturismo, the Vatican Tour and the Colosseum Tour…that was it..for a 10 day stay in Italy. And even those previously booked events changed because we hate having our schedules planned for us and prefer to wing it!
If you have never been to Italy, particularly Rome, you are in for the shock of your life. I have never been in a city where the people, every single person, drives so erratically. There will be a 3 lane street where the cars are driving 5 wide and there are still Vespas weaving in and out of cars up onto the sidewalks and back into the street. We landed in Rome on Friday morning so our timing wasn’t perfect but it was still pure insanity that not one Italian was even phased by.
The city itself is absolutely breathtaking. The ruins are amazing to see, the buildings are thousands of years old and look like they are right out of a magazine, there is SO MUCH HISTORY in this city, I could have stayed for many more days! Our first night was my favorite night in Rome. Our hotel was amazing. When we arrived at around 9am we were greated by friendly staff, shown to the ruins that the hotel is built into and offered our first glass of wine and complimentary tiramisu…which was AMAZING! One of the reasons we don’t plan much in advance is because we don’t like to be held to having to be somewhere at an exact time incase we would rather do something else, which is what happened day 1. Not even realizing how tired we would be we scheduled our tour of the Vatican that day at 3pm in the afternoon. After a 10 hour flight, very little sleep, a headache from bad airplane wine and no shower or nap because our rooms were not ready we were exhausted. However, not to be slowed down by lack of sleep and determined to make the best of day 1 we pushed through and decided to make the 45 minute walk over to the Vatican from the Roman Forum. The good thing for us was that we had 4.5 hours to make the 45 minute walk so that is what we did. We stopped for food at this cute tiny cafe around the corner from our hotel, had our first cappuccinos to help wake us up and set off for Vatican City. The walk was great, we wandered in and out of the tiny streets, took in the architecture and stopped in some great little shops for browsing whatever they were selling. In Vatican City we happened to find this great little wine bar called Wine Bar de Penitenzieri that had a good amount of people coming and going so we decided to stop there for our first of many glasses of Vermentino and some delicious pasta dishes. Two things you hear about Italy that are 100% true is that the food and wine are amazing! We found that to be true within our first few hours of being in Italy.
After our lunch and wine break it was time for our Vatican tour. The Vatican as a building is beautiful and to hear about the power past Popes had is just eye opening. They were treated like Kings, hence the reason the Vatican looks like a castle. Growing up in the Catholic church and going through 12 years of catholic school you tend to understand how important the Pope is. But I didn’t fully realize until I walked through the Vatican. I am going to be honest here and I may be struck down for this but I didn’t love that tour. It could have been my sheer exhaustion coupled with a tour guide who spoke so softly his voice was putting me to sleep as I was walking through the rooms, but we couldn’t wait to get out of there and even cut our tour short. We of course went to see Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, and they were beautiful but we didn’t feel the need to take the 3 hour guided tour.
After arriving back at our hotel and deciding to not take a nap and just push on through the day so we got showered up, went to the Italian Happy Hour our hotel offered us and then hit the streets to try to find an amazing Italian Pizza. We started our night down the block from our hotel at this cute little piazza that had a great fountain, open bars and great shops. We had a couple drinks, did some window shopping around the piazza, found some great flooring inspiration for my farmhouse renovation and then decided to find dinner. You would think that being in Italy you would be able to find great pizza at every turn, but surprisingly that is not the case. Our pizza that night was actually terrible and we didn’t even finish them. My advice when in Italy is to just eat Pasta! You can not go wrong with Pasta or the wine!
On Saturday we woke up and went to get our rental car to make our trip up to Volterra in Tuscany where our Agriturismo was. I am not lying when I say Kate and I were scared to death getting in the car with our husbands behind the wheel and having to navigate through Rome to get to the highway. However, Saturday morning turns out to be the perfect time to drive in that city if you have to. The traffic was much lighter than normal and therefore I didn’t feel like I was going to lose my life at every turn.
Once again we decided to wing it on our trip up to Volterra. Being that we just got to Italy and wanted to see as much as possible we decided to take the coastal route and drive up the coast and see some of the vacation towns. For lunch we stopped in Santa Marinella at the suggestion of an employee at our hotel. We are told it is a popular Italian summer vacation destination so we decided to stop there for lunch. By the time we arrived it was around 2pm so our options for lunch were limited since most places close down around 2 until dinner time. Even though our options were limited for restaurant choices our lunch was great. We sat on the beach, enjoyed great food and wine with great friends. The setting was perfect.
Our next stop on our treck to Volterra was Orbetello. Orbetello is more of a higher end area, and it is obvious. You drive through the arches to the town and it is basically set on the water. There is a main street that you walk down for shopping and eating and there are a few blocks on each side that eventually lead you to water. One great thing about Italy is that from the hours of about 2pm-5:30ishpm the streets are basically empty. We arrived in Orbetello around 5pm so the main street was empty. With in a half hour it came alive and there were people everywhere walking their dogs, meeting up for drinks and appetizers and shopping. That seemed to be the theme for the rest of our trip.
Because it was getting dark and we still had a good 2 hours until we would be in Volterra we set out around 6pm. The drive to Volterra was great except for the roads through Tuscany are VERY windy….There are pin turns often and the region is pretty mountainous. It was great that the boys were happy driving because Kate and I were not about to get behind the wheel. After a 2 hour drive we finally arrived to our Agriturismo in Volterra where we would stay as our home base for the next 6 nights.
When we arrived in Volterra we were starving. The family who owns our Agriturismo also owns a well know and highly rated restaurant in town called Del Duca. So as we were checking in to our rooms Genuino, the owner of the farm, called their restaurant and told them we are coming over. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting Tuscany you must go to Volterra and have dinner at Del Duca. When you go make sure you order the Truffle Carbonara…It was AMAZING!!!! It was so good that we as a table ordered 2 more portions and split it between the 4 of us. It was probably one of the best dishes that we ate our entire time in Italy and it was only our 2nd night there.
Funny Story and fun fact…Let me preface this and say that Italians are not taught English in school so not everyone knows how to speak English. Most of the older generation does not speak English. The next morning at breakfast we were talking to Claudia, who is the daughter of Genuino, and had been our main contact for booking our trip. In Italy there is this thing called the ZTL, Zone Traffic Limited. Most of the cities in Italy are built with stone walls surrounding them. These walls served as their means of protection back when the towns were built in the 1300s. As a means to keep traffic and tourists out of the ZTL there are cameras set up that will ticket anyone who doesn’t have a certain pass on their car to designate them as a resident. Well, when Genuino who is Claudia’s father, told us the previous night to go over to the restaurant, we had no knowledge of the ZTL nor had we known that you definitely should not drive right through the city arches if you did not live there. Since he does not speak English and we do not understand Italian he was not able to communicate this at the time. So us naive Americans piled into our rental car, typed the restaurant address into Google Maps and followed the road into Volterra…which took us right through the city arches and right through the ZTL. Thankfully the cameras in the cities are shut off at 7pm (which Genuino knew) and we were well past that time when we drove through the city. It wasn’t until the next day when we actually toured Volterra in the daylight that we realized that we drove basically down the main street in town where there is almost NO traffic because it is a ZTL..we got quite a laugh from our realization of what we had done.
It’s hard to believe that up until this point we have only been in Italy 2 full days and have visited 4 cities and have experienced so many laughs… Stay tuned for details on our week in Tuscany and our return trip to Rome.
Hello Hello, I hope everyone is holding up ok from the holiday rush that is in front of them. I don’t know about you but I feel like 2018 was a blur. It went by so fast! I am happy to say that I have finally gotten around to writing about the last 8 days of our 10 day 40th birthday celebration trip to Italy. It took a full day of relaxing at our shore house to get me here but I am ready to share the rest of our trip with you. Let me start by saying that if you are thinking about planning a trip to Italy, do it! It is the trip of a lifetime. In the meantime, have fun reading about our vacation and have fun experiencing Italy through my eyes.
For the first few days of our trip check my previous blog post here. That will get you caught up until we arrived in Tuscany.
On Day 2 when we finally arrived in Volterra after day-tripping through the western coastline of Italy it was dark out. We really had no idea what the landscape looked like, we just knew that it was a very windy drive to get there. When we woke up the next morning we were pleasantly surprised by what we walked outside to. Let me start by saying the Italian landscape is just beautiful. The hillsides are littered with fields of sheep, olive groves, beautiful villas and vineyards. The landscape is truly what you seeing in paintings and magazines. It is beautiful and peaceful. The weather while we were there was unseasonably warm for late October so our 70 degree sunny days just added to the beauty.
Since we arrived in Volterra the night before we decided to start our day 3 with a wine tasting at the Agriturismo where we were staying. Claudia, who is the owner’s daughter and who had been out main contact for booking our trip informed us of a 10am wine tasting so we decided to take advantage since we were there. Marcampo makes great wine. In the wine tasting Claudia went through the process of making the wine and explained the different blends that make up the different wines. It is truly a labor of love. They are very passionate about it and it shows. Their wine is excellent and they will ship it to America. I had 4 cases shipped home with the intent to gift the bottles for Christmas. Guess what, I kept every single bottle for us because the wine is that good!
After our wine tasting we headed over to the city of Volterra to shop and see the sites. We wandered through the streets and took in the architecture and history. There is some great shopping in Volterra too. One of my favorite purchases in Italy was there. The Unusual Shoe by SP. They are all 100% handmade leather shoes and they are probably the most comfortable pair of shoes I own. I was photographed in them with Kevin and when I posted the picture to Facebook I swear the shoes were all anyone commented on. Click here to check out my shoes
Fun Fact about Volterra: Volterra is an important location in Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight series. In the books, Volterra is home to the Volturi, a coven of rich, regal, powerful ancient vampires, who essentially act as the rulers of the world’s vampire population. (However, the relevant scenes from the movie were shot in Montepulciano.). While we were in Volterra there was a famous television series called Medici being filmed in the city center. The local people were not enthused about it because it was the Medici Family who conquered Florence in 1530 and gained rule of Tuscany and essentially Volterra.
Our 4th day in Italy was a Monday and had us in Pisa and Lucca. Our stop in Pisa was quick. We grabbed some great biscotti at a little shop on the way to the tower and a cappuccino, took some pictures with the Tower and headed off to tour Lucca.
If you are a planner you would have already known that historically the shops in Lucca were not opened on Mondays…. well, us not being planners found that fun fact out as we were reading our guidebook on our car ride there … Ooops. Thankfully things have changed a bit and most shops now open in the late afternoon. So our trip to Lucca started with a light lunch and a couple bottles of our favorite Vermentino, a tour of the Torture Museum (which was beyond disturbing) and gelato! At that point the city started coming to life and we got to start shopping! Some of our best shopping in Italy was in Lucca. We found one shop that I loved that carried these great handbags that were made out of washable paper. The brand is called UASHMAMA.
Here is a little bit about them: UASHMAMA washable paper looks and feels like leather but washes with ease. Our bags are soft yet resilient, where the manufacturing process is similar to leather the paper is stretched and tanned making it durable to withstand washing and daily use.
Our 5th day was a visit to Siena. When I think of Siena I think of Truffle overload, if that is even possible. We found a great lunch spot when we arrived and I ordered a Truffle ravioli that was AMAZING! It was so good that the owners even sold me a jar of the Truffle creme they used to make the sauce.
Siena is like a college town but is beautiful too! The University of Siena is within the city walls so there were tons of college students walking around with their backpacks having lunch and hanging out. We were there on what seemed like a graduation day so there were a lot of people walking around in caps and gowns celebrating with family and friends.
We toured the sites and took in the architecture. If you are a design, decor or architecture lover you could just spend hours sitting in different places just staring at everything. It is truly special. After walking around for hours and taking pictures of everything we loved we then had dinner at a place called Tartufo… which means Truffle in English. Every dish had fresh shaved truffles on it. The food was amazing and a bit of an art but oh man…the result was truffle overload for all of us! I just don’t think I will seek out a Truffle for a long time after that meal even though it was delicious.
Day 6 we booked a cooking class in Florence. Again.. we tried to plan and just weren’t thinking right. Florence was not the best place for us to schedule that cooking class since it was about 1.5 hours away and is a pretty big city. Again, if you were a planner you probably would have known that Florence is the capital of Tuscany. Well, us non-planners had no idea and envisioned another small walled city like the previous 3 we had visited. Imagine our shock when we arrived and it looked like mini-Rome.. lol. Not to mention that we didn’t leave Volterra until around 10am, arrived close to noon and booked a 3 hour cooking class at 2. Next time we are in Italy we will revisit Florence.
We booked our cooking class with Giglio Cooking School. We give this cooking experience 5 stars. Martella was so sweet and she took her time to explain the process of making pasta and how the different flours work together to create different pastas. We made artichoke ravioli, cacio peppe and tiramisu. Making the pasta and sauces from scratch was so fun and our meal turned out fantastic! It is truly amazing how having a few quality ingredients can make the best meal! After our cooking class we returned to Volterra because we had an early morning the next day with our trip to Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre… I would say was my favorite stop on the trip! The landscape is truly spectacular. Cinque Terre is 5 small fishing towns built into the coastal mountainside, literally. The vineyards and olive groves are built on cliffs that have been carved out to create the landscape. The buildings are all different pastel colors built on top of each other. The pesto, brushetta and focaccia are the best we ate EVER! I would definitely go back there and stay for a night or two.
We had two tour guides the entire trip, Google Maps and Rick Steves. Kate’s mom had given her two Rick Steves books and up until that day they had been pretty reliable on telling us what to expect in each city. We planned to hike from town to town in attempt to work off the tons of cheese, pasta and wine we consumed over the prior 6 days. Before we started our hike we ate the BEST lunch ever in Manarola at Nessun Dorma.
First this restaurant is perched up on the clidside over looking the Manarola Fishing town and your view is the ocean and the pastel houses. It is breathtaking. The Pesto at this restaurant is maybe the best in the world. I still have dreams about sitting cliff side, drinking our glasses of wine and eating our Brushetta. It was THAT good and if we ever go back to Cinque Terre that restaurant will be my first stop! If we hadn’t planned to hike all the way through Cinque Terre I am confident we would have stayed there for a few more drinks.
On to our Hike: Unfortunately the Rick Steve’s book we were referencing about Cinque Terre was written about 10 years ago so it didn’t take into account that there was a landslide at some point between then and now and the hiking trail between Manarola and Corniglia had been closed. If we wanted to hike our only option was to take the vineyard trails which weave up the coast line through the vineyards/cliffs in Manarola. Literally the hike is the equivalent of climbing close to 200 flights of stairs! It was HARD you guys!!! The hike up, although it was really hard, the sites were great and we got to see a family picking their olive trees, which is a really cool process when your house and property is built into a cliff. I think the hike was a total of 2 hours, so by the time we got to Corniglia we were ready for some drinks and food. We stopped at this cute little patio restaurant and then decided that even after our crazy hard hike from Manarola we were going to set out on the next trail and hike to Vernazza. Now keep in mind that, according to our “tour guide” and almost everything we read, the trail hike between Manarola and Corniglia was rated like 2 out of 5 on the hard scale. This next hike was rated a 3.5-4…and after we arrived in Vernazza we agreed that it was way easier than hiking from Manarola to Corniglia.
In Vernazza it was getting late, so we decided to do some shopping and relax for the rest of the day. Cinque Terre is a 2 hour drive from Volterra so we ate dinner back in Riomaggiore and headed home.
Day 8 brought us to Assisi at the recommendation of a friend who is from Italy. Originally we were going to stay 7 nights in Volterra but with the trip back to Rome being about 3 hours we decided to break the ride up a bit and stay in a city closer to Rome. Since Assisi is a 2 hour drive from Rome and a friend told us it is his favorite spot in Italy we decided to book a room and stay a night in Assisi! And what a great recommendation it was. From a historical staypoint being named after St Francis of Assisi and the current Pope being named after him also I was intrigued to learn more. Assisi is beautiful. The shopping there isn’t the best and is a bit touristy but the history is great, the food was good and the sights were even better. We all said we would go back and stay again. Assisi was actually the city where we had the best Pizza on our entire trip!
Day 9 and 10 brought us back to Rome. Our hotel on the second leg in Rome was more boutiquey and was located right next to the Spanish Steps. If you are in Rome to shop at all the High End designer shops than I highly recommend staying at Hotel Manfredi. The staff there were so nice and helpful and the hotel has a beautiful antique elevator that is really pretty. Even though someone got stuck in it while we were there. He was not happy about it either..lol. The rooms are nice and they make a great cappuccino in the morning. You can’t pick a better spot if you want to be on that side of the city. However since we had the luxury of staying on both sides of the city we preferred being closer to the Roman Forum. We thought the shopping was less commercialized and everything was less expensive. And we prefer that just generally so that is why if we go back we would stay over there.
We definitely took in all the sites while back in Rome and even got to watch an Eagles game at a great Irish Pub! Our last day in Rome was rainy and of course the day we planned to head over to the Colosseum. It down poured while we were there but luckily we were inside under cover so stayed pretty dry. After walking about to the Spanish steps area we went to see the Trevi Fountain and did some more shopping. Our last day we made it an early day because of the travel ahead so we had a great meal, stopped for some gelato and turned in early to try to squeeze all of our purchases into our suitcases for the flight home. When they tell you to bring an extra suitcase.. take their advice and do it! I ended up buying so much while I was there that I had to buy a suitcase in Rome. Lesson learned.
Well, I hope you loved traveling Italy through my eyes! We definitely plan to go back and travel the southern part of the country! Hopefully sooner than later.
I often drive past the house and stare into the master bedroom windows and wonder if we are going to have ” guests” lurking around the house. There is so much history associated with our property I can’t help but think a few people have left their souls behind in the house. While I prefer to only cohabitate with my family and really have no idea what I will do should I wake up and see a figure in my bedroom doorway, I know it is totally not out of the question.
We have had a lot of fun researching the property to find out what, if anything, could be lurking behind the walls. One of the “fun facts” about the property is that it served as the first stop for slaves seeking freedom on the underground railroad. Below is some information from a write up on the farm.
“The Mendenhall farm, Springdale, is part of a thousand acre grant purchased in 1703 by Benjamin and Anna Pennell Mendenhall and is the only property in the state of PA owned and lived on by descendants of the original owners. The original portion of the house is believed to date back to 1718 with a new wing added in 1836.
The farm lies within the area of the Battle of the Brandywine and family history tells of Private Joseph Mendenhall who was drafted into the Chester County Militia and fought in that battle. Later, the farm was the “coat holder” for the neighboring farm which was an important station on the underground railroad. Fugitives had to cross Springdale Farm to get from Delaware to the first station in PA and pursuers either needed permission to chase the slaves or had to take the long way round, either way the farm was a way to buy time for fugitives.”
The “new wing” of the house, or what I refer to as the main house has a date stone that validates the 1836 time frame, we haven’t found anything that validates the 1718 date for the original portion.
When we purchased the house it was so covered in vines that I didn’t even know there was a date stone on the side of the house. After the guys cleaned off the side stone and pulled out all the old grout the stone was finally visible. They cleaned it off and power washed all the stacked field stone so that they could repoint the whole side. The third picture is the refinished west side. Every stone was repointed and cleaned up and as you can see the result is pretty amazing.
West Side Exterior…Notice the date stone is completely covered
By the time we purchased the house it had sat vacant for 8 years. There was a rumor that a homeless person took up residence in the house, and there was definitely evidence to corroborate that rumor. In the attic there was make shift bedroom and bathroom built between the rafters. When the prior owners were in the midst of trying to save the farm they built make-shift apartments in the the house to generate some income. I can only guess that the attic room was built with that intention. However, I’m not completely sure because of what my husband and his partner found when they were doing the demo work in the attic.
We were previously told that the house had been cleaned out by vandals over the years and that there wouldn’t be much if anything historical left on the property. However, there was 1 thing that was left behind for us to find. Imagine my husband’s surprise when as he was pulling drywall down from the rafters in the attic a book literally fell out of the ceiling onto his head. The book has a copy write of 1836 and is titled France. It is so cool! The pages are very brittle and every turn of a page results in it coming undone from the binding. So right now we have it tucked away where it won’t get touched or exposed to sun. Below are a few pictures.
One of the accessory barns on the property was a weigh station. When the property was in it’s prime and operating as a proper farm one of the sources of income was to sell cattle and hay. The original scale from the weight station is still there. I will attach picture shortly.
Kevin and I looked passively for a property to purchase for over 2 years. We even put offers in on 2 properties (1 was accepted and we ended up backing out due to legal issues with the HOA, the other was rejected). There were only 2 requirements when it came to what was a “must have” for us to purchase our future home. The property had to be 10+ acres and there had to be potential to make the house our own. We were open to either building a brand new house or renovating an existing one. Being that renovating and flipping houses is one of our businesses we weren’t too worried about the condition of any home we were looking at. However, NEVER in my mind did I envision that the project we were about to take on would be a combination of the two. Literally building a new house within an almost 200 year old shell.
We first visited the farm in Spring 2017 after a conversation with our Realtor, Stephen Gross. While talking to him and expressing my doubt that we would ever find a property to buy I mentioned that I just wanted something that I can make my own. Stephen, knowing me and that I am pretty particular despite having a list of only 2 must haves, replied I think I have a property for you and sent me the listing. When you pulled up the listing on Zillow it wasn’t completely terrible. Knowing that we can renovate any property and make it amazing we weren’t completely deterred from the dilapidated exterior. On the flip side when you pull up to house and are surrounded by the barns that are falling down and house looks like it is right out of a horror film you want to get right back in your car and keep driving. My first impression of the property was “NO WAY”. I might have told Stephen he was crazy for thinking we could handle this. BUT and this is a big but…when you decoded the pad lock and pulled open the make shift plywood door what was behind it was amazing. The original Oak floors are still in place throughout the main house. The stone foundation is completely sound. The floor joists are straight and there is no sagging. The ceilings on the first floor in the main house are 9ft high, there are 3 fireplaces between the living room and dining room and the character is incredible. They simply don’t build houses like this anymore. Although most of the house had been looted and there were holes everywhere from vandals trying to steal the copper pipes the bones were good. We knew that as long as the bones were good we could work with everything else.
Below are some pics of the original condition when we purchased the house
Living room to the right of the Foyer
Dining room to the left of the foyer
If you are not familiar with the property than you will be surprised to know that our property Springdale has an older twin called Oakdale. Our Realtor is friendly with the owners of Oakdale and they graciously agreed to allow us to tour their home and property to get an idea of what the house and accessory buildings could look like fixed up. After walking Oakdale and seeing what Springdale once was and what we could do to bring it back to life we were definitely more intrigued about how we could make Springdale ours. It took 3 months and many days sitting on the beach discussing the what-ifs..but we finally made our decision and eventually settled on the farm in December 2017.
Clearly the decision to buy Springdale Farm was not an easy one. As you can see from the photos, the main house and all of the accessory buildings were in very poor condition. Demolition by neglect is the term the township used when we applied for our permits to remove the bank barn, the wagon barn and accessory sheds. Below are some pictures of the farm house and barns when we purchased the property. The barns and sheds are officially demolished as of today and the front porch has been removed so the front of the house is more visible.
It is always comical to talk to friends and family about some of my ideas. If you know me you know I am always busy and always doing something so when I made the announcement that we were going to sell our gorgeous home in Landenberg to renovate a rundown farmhouse they thought I had lost my mind. Some people were supportive and told us we were the right people for the renovation. But most people told us we should do everything we could to get out of owning this property. We were called crazy and even told that there is no way they would move into the farmhouse even if someone else paid for the renovation..LOL. Although we were laughing on the outside deep down we definitely knew this wasn’t an ordinary project. Kevin and I actually have had moments (well, me more than Kevin) when walking on the property before the work started that we thought what in the world did we get ourselves into. This fall as we moved into our tiny home on the property and still hadn’t had the approvals for the project I thought I might lose my mind. Yes, you read that right, we moved our family of 5, 4 dogs and cat into a tiny home of 400 sq ft right on the property so we can be on site for the renovation. The milk house has been turned into my laundry room. We are truly homesteading it! If you thought I was crazy for buying the property you must really think I have lost it…no worries, somedays I think I have too!
I think I could write a blog on the Chronicles of Living in a tiny home..like about the time when our pipes froze because despite my numerous reminders to Kevin that the temp was going to dip below 32 degrees in the night he did not believe me that the pipes would freeze that easily. Nothing like having your son wake up to take a shower in the morning and having no water…luckily Kevin had an extra hose near by and just swapped it out but really the stories go on and on and are quite comical. Despite moving from almost 8,000 Sq Ft to 400 Sq Ft we have been making the best of it and are enjoying the time being on top of each other. I actually enjoy the kids having to figure out what it is like having only 1 bathroom to share and not each having their own. I wouldn’t mind having my own bathroom but this is a temporary solution to a more permanent and amazing home to live in.
OK back to the farm project… After months of waiting for architectural plans and then going through historical approvals we finally received the OK to move forward with construction in October. OCTOBER…10 months after we purchased the property, about 5 months after I was hoping we would have started working on the property and the 1st month of cold season here in the North East. Talk about timing! As you read in my previous post work has started on the exterior and interior stone, stucco and fireplaces. This old farmhouse is starting to slowly come back to life. Stay tuned for future blogs where I will talk about the construction plans, the demolition work, the fireplaces and what we found when pulling down walls in the attic.
I have sat down to write this blog post about 100 times and always get distracted with about 100 other things that come up and take my attention away. So tonight I am sitting down and starting the documentation of my historic farmhouse renovation.
A little information regarding our farm and the house that we are renovating. It is OLD. Like 1700s old. And we are only the 2nd family to actually live in the house. The house was formerly owned by the Mendenhall Family who was given the property in the early 1700 by William Penn himself. The property remained in the Mendenhall Family until about 9 years ago when unfortunately it was turned over to an investor who divided the remaining parcels of land and sold it off. We purchased the last 11.7 acre parcel in December 2017.
Here is the original deed and some historical information on the house
The original deed
With that 11.7 parcel we also inherited the farmhouse, a tenant house, a butcher shed, a weigh station, a wagon barn, quite a few stables, a milk house and an enormous bank barn. All of which were in horrible shape. Like uninhabitable for even the animals to live in. Have you seen The Haunting of Hill House…for a while, I felt like I was moving in to Hill House…
We actually have done quite a lot to the house since we purchased it 1 year ago. I CAN NOT believe that it has been 1 year and we are just getting this project started! If anyone would have told me that it would have taken almost a year before we would finally have approval to start working on this historic house I would have probably never done this. Patience is not in my vocabulary and there have been many times that I thought I might lose my mind over the detail we had to go into to get this approved. But we are finally here and I am LOVING this project.
Kevin and I have flipped and renovated quite a few properties but this by far is the most extensive and by far will be the biggest transformation. There isn’t 1 inch of this house that won’t be touched throughout this renovation. Literally every single inch needs work. We started and completed the basement work about 6 months ago. The original basement was a dirt floor with an oil tank, knob and tube wiring…the list goes on and on. Basically whatever was in there had to go and since the floor, while the height at about 7ft wasn’t terrible for a house that old we wanted a more walkable usable basement even though we have no plans to finish it as of right now. So we dug down 22 inches and backfilled with rock and concrete and created a proper basement floor with a drain and french drain to help with any potential water issues. Here are some before pics.
We finally received approval in October to begin work on the house. The first item that had to be addressed was the roof chimneys and the exterior repointing. Being that most of the mortar joints were original to the house and most of the house was covered in vines there has been a ton of water intrusion and damage to the interior plaster. So the first and most important item on the list to address being that we are going into winter on the East Coast was securing the exterior. Here is a little tidbit of information on what goes in to repointing the stone and brick. They dig out the mortar around each and every stone. Then they power wash to clean the stone. After the stone is dry they take bags of mixed mortar and fill and press around every stone 3 times! Talk about some tedious work. Every stone is like a work of art!
We went to Italy in October, a trip I will be sure to blog about soon, and when we came back work was already started on the house. While we were away I received this picture from my dad.
They took the chimneys down below the roof line and rebuilt them. They also started the exterior repointing and power washing on the front, back and west side of the house. The East side of the house is being completely rebuilt so there wasn’t much repoint to do there, just more demolition work. I will blog about that project and the exposure of the stone and brick fireplaces in various rooms.
Below are some before and after pics of the house from a couple months ago to today. The transformation in only the exterior work has been dramatic.
Rear exterior when our contractors started doing the basement work
West Side Exterior…Notice the date stone is completely covered
Rear and Side Exterior Today
Front and side exterior today
Well, I hope you enjoy this little update on our project. Be sure to stay tuned because there is still a lot more to write about!