Hope and Heaviness: Living With Autism

My son has autism.

No matter how many times I say it, whether aloud or inside of my head, it never really settles or makes any sense.

I know this is a blog about old house living, but bear with me. I’ll get there.

I won’t get into our story much, because I’d be typing for days, but I will tell you that it is something that changes you in a way I think nothing else, good or bad, really could. Imagine a time something awful happened in your life, the saddest you’ve ever been, the heaviness in your heart that sat there for a while. Eventually, though you are changed, things get somewhat better, there is a healing in your heart, to some extent.

Now imagine that the heaviness stays, a kind of numbness that can’t be described. You learn to mask it, to put on a brave face, despite it, but always it remains. The one person you love more than anything has to struggle every day to make sense of the world around him and make a path for himself somehow. Some days aren’t so bad. Some days the heaviness is unbearable and impossible to mask. Lately, the latter kind of days have been much more frequent for us than the former.

When I write or speak about my sweet William, it is always mostly positive. Despite the heaviness, there is still much light. He has taught me love, the REAL kind. He shows me every day what strength and courage are. He is my hero. He is my salvation. He has forced me to find the strength within myself that I never knew was there. He makes me a better person. Most importantly, I think, he has taught me gratitude. Because of him, I take no blessing for granted and I am able to see each day for what it really is–a beautiful, wonderful gift. He has taught me that sometimes tough times make for a happier life, because once we have conquered one obstacle, the next one doesn’t seem so impossible, and then the next and the next. He has taught me about grace and he has taught me to ask questions and to keep trying and that it is okay to cry.

All of those lessons I am thankful for, but I have also learned, rather recently, that I don’t always have to be brave or pretend to be Little Miss Sunshine. These hard, heavy days we’ve struggled through lately make me feel more like Little Miss Defeated and Little Miss Storm Cloud. I know “this, too, shall pass,” but still I cry for a season, watching my love struggle to make sense of a new school routine and a newfound emotion–anger. I used to pray for him to feel emotions. Now that he does, they seem to be caricatured, overdone, unbearable at times. I know it will take time for him to sort through it all, to put the pieces together in his brilliant mind and eventually make sense of it all. And then, perhaps, a season of peace. However short-lived, peace is always so very wonderful, despite the impending, inevitable next storm I know is to follow. I understand his anger. I am angry, too.

It is not easy to live this way. It is a struggle to go out and be around people. I know better than to shelter him too much. I understand the necessity of his being in normal social situations. However, I have never really felt comfortable in public with him, even when autism is not evident whatsoever. I simply want to keep him away from any possible confusion or frustration or judgment.

And that is the most important reason why our home, where we prefer to spend our time, must be a haven.

There is nothing particularly bright in our home, nothing that would stimulate him too much. Every chair and couch is cushy and cozy, perfect for the hours he some times sits, playing his games or reading about his latest obsession. The furniture is all positioned in a way that he can walk from one piece to the next with ease. Yes, I said walk. This calms him, for whatever reason. So I allow it. Not any where else. Just here.


This is Will’s room. The ship paintings above his iron bed (a steal at thirty dollars from a local flea market, only needed a quick coat of grey paint) are found pieces that took me three years to put together. They remind me of a puzzle, much like my William’s mind. They don’t fit together perfectly and they took a while to come by, but they still make sense to me. This is how I imagine he must see our world. They also remind me of the ships in Peter Pan, one of his favorite films. He often asks me to please find a way for us to go to Neverland. I figure our home is the closest he will ever get to that. That’s not something I take lightly. Neverland is an old house, I’m certain. They share the same charm and wonder.

See how nice and neat every thing is? That’s not staging. That’s just how it stays. Will has never played the way most children do. He simply has an obsession (never messy) and devotes all of his time to that. For a few years, he could sleep alone in his bed at night, but not these days. That’s why his bed stays made. He says sleeping alone gives him nightmares, and since reality is often a nightmare for him, I allow him to sleep with his sister or on a sleeping bag next to my bed, or even IN my bed from time to time. Sometimes when I pass by his room, it makes me sad. I think of his sister’s room, with stuff everywhere, full of life and personality and childhood normalcy. I imagine what his room would be like if he were not autistic. I imagine him getting home from school and sitting on the bed and maintaining a normal conversation with me about his day and maybe even soccer or karate and homework and having to fuss at him for leaving his things on his floor. I wonder if he will live in this room forever, if he will ever be able to leave this haven. I don’t know that I like either of the answers to that question.

In the meantime, I work to keep our home neutral and comfortable and safe for him. The claw foot tub gives him a spot to hide away when his sister is annoying him and the floors creaking beneath his feet let me know he is coming in my direction, making me smile, anticipating the hug I know comes with almost every encounter.

I apologize for rambling. I hate to ramble when I write. With these things, however, there is no way to really organize my thoughts or emotions, no way to make sense of any of it. My home is my therapy and writing is my therapy and this has, really, been a combination of those two, as I struggle through one of the toughest times autism has ever offered us. Sometimes I need to type out the words WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS before I can believe them.

See the shine in his eyes? It’s not always there. But, my God, when it is, it makes all the heaviness completely worth it. It makes me feel a much stronger and important emotion, the one that gets me through: HOPE.



Master Bath Remodel…At Long Last

Since I was a very small child, I have had an obsession with claw foot tubs. They are so extraordinarily romantic. Synonymous with roses, candles, bubbles, and soft music, they seem to whisper, seductively, “Come on in, sweetheart. I’ll take excellent care of you.” They are therapeutic; step inside of one and all your troubles (pardon the pun) are washed away. While the other little girls dreamed of Barbie houses, I dreamed of having my own house one day. The most important detail within that house? My very own claw foot tub. It was so much more a need than a want–numero uno on the old bucket list.

It is with great pleasure and big smiles and a swelling, swooning heart that I announce that my dream has finally come true. A few months ago, demolition began on what was my final room in my home to renovate: the master bath.



What began as a hideously green, small closet-sized room that was no longer functional, soon became double the size with the breaking down of an exterior wall, expanding (and almost doubling) the square footage.



Then came the fun part! WALLS!! Sheetrock day is always my favorite of any remodel. The space finally is defined and bound, like a present that is wonderfully and beautifully wrapped. The jutting small portion of wall was a surprise. A giant plumbing pipe appeared with demo and threw me for a bit of a loop. Walling it up was the only option, which worried me at first, but it turned out to be a nice little feature, separating the tub from the rest of the space. I chose hexagonal tile for the floor because of its vintage look and cost efficiency.

The finished product is something that still wows me.

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That tub. MY (it is the most important adjective) glorious, romantic, seductive, beautiful tub. Purchased at a flea market at less-than-perfect condition, it was refinished and restored back to its former glory. Sometimes when I am soaking it all up (again, the puns…you must forgive), I wonder if there was another woman who once loved it as much as I, perhaps with the same struggles and worries needing to be forgotten, letting them all go as only such a tub allows. At first, I wanted to fashion my vanity from an old dresser, but could find nothing to fit the bill. I opted, instead, for a double-the-normal-size pedestal sink. I adore it. With a large Hobby Lobby basket with towels below and a framless, vintage mirror (thrown in FREE with my purchase of my tub at the flea market–yes, please!), it perfectly pairs with the tub. A simple stool, rug, and a few other small trinkets and do-dads here and there create a tranquil, relaxing sanctuary.

We all need a sanctuary. I feel like the luckiest lady in the world to finally have mine.


New Year, New Possibilities


Brandie and I are excited about the possibilities and opportunities that 2014 holds for Hunt & Gather Home.  We’ve got big plans for this little endeavor and want to thank  you for following  us as we get started on this  journey.  Your comments and encouraging words really do inspire us to keep reaching for our dreams!   In the coming months, we’ll have some exciting news to share.  We’re just getting started and hope you’ll stick around for the ride!  Cheers to 2014!


Something To Remember My Life By

As a photographer, I often accept money to capture others, but I could never place any value on a great photo. They are what we have to remember our lives by. When memory fails, they tell the stories that make up who we are. For years, I was unhappy with my Christmas tree decor, never feeling I could get it “right.” Then, last year, it hit me. PHOTOS! So I rummaged through the photos on my phone from that year, uploaded my favorites to the PostalPix app, and attached them to their respective branches on that happy day they came in the mail. It was therapeutic to hold those moments in my hand and display them for our family and guests to discuss. When the season ended, I put them together with a little twine, labeled 2012. I know we will look through them often and I hope someday my grandchildren will look at them and ask me about every captured moment, every smile, and see what a wonderful life our family has been blessed with.





Putting the photos up this year was just as joyous an occasion. Our tree tells the story of our year, filled with lost teeth, dance recitals, birthday parties, trips to Disney World and the lake, fun with friends, and lots of big smiles. This prepares me for the new year and gets me in the spirit of resolution, wondering how I can make the next even better for myself and my children. And wondering what will grace our tree next year…and the next…and the next…someday giving me a pile of photos, categorized by year, giving me something to remember my life by, chronicling the two most beautiful babies, my greatest gifts–the only ones I ever really need.

Merry, bright, and happy holidays to you and yours.


Maggie’s Room

My daughter’s room existed before she did.

Whenever I treasure hunt at various thrift stores, garage sales, and antique stores, the things that I most adore are those that are pink and feminine: old perfume bottles with the pump, sequined clutches, once-white lace doilies, rose-tinted linens. The list goes on and on. For a while before my Maggie was here, I would pick those things up and think, “someday.” Soon, however, my patience wore thin, and I started buying those things I found simply irresistible. Before I knew it, the room next to my son’s was all ready for a little sister. My favorite piece was a fabulous old dresser, which I pulled from a pile of forgotten relics from my grandparent’s dairy, scraped ten layers of paint (ranging from green to gold) from, sanded, and re-painted the most wonderful shade of pink, adding glass knobs and some of the trinkets I purchased from a few of my favorite places. I would sometimes sit upon her iron bed, head resting on the lace-trimmed, pink satin pillowcases I got for a steal from eBay, and wonder if she would be like me and enjoy the space I created for her, using things that were around long before her grand- or even great-grandmother. The possibility of never having a little girl was not a thought I ever entertained. It was too important a dream to ever doubt.

She made her arrival in March of 2005 and, by that time, we had moved from the house with her original room. Our new apartment in our new city only had two bedrooms, so I simply packed all of her treasures away, in anticipation of another dream to be realized–buying my first home, which I knew would be an older home, because I had planned it that way since I remember remembering.

Since moving to my old house five years ago, Maggie’s room has undergone many transformations. She has been through three beds, three dressers, three chairs, four rugs, and several other small pieces and wall decor. Her wall color went from its original cream color to a country blue. I am, true to my indecisive nature, constantly finding new, more wonderful things to fill it with and it is more than I can stand to pout and admit there is no room. Instead, I find something to place in the attic and bring in the new, can’t-live-without treasure. Finally, I decided a twin bed fit the space better than a full and I purchased her head- and footboards from a local vendor for twenty-five dollars, since they lacked the rails to fit them together, which I (despite the vendors warning that I never would) found at a nearby flea market for ten bucks. A new paint job made it the perfect space for my little one to lay her head and dream. I decided on an old bench below the window, in place of a traditional side table, to house her many friends and books and whatnots. This particular arrangement lent itself quite well to tea parties.


In the next phase, I decided to put the bed in the center of the room, creating a different kind of cozy. The cushy, pink, fifty dollar chair is perfect for one of our favorite pasttimes.



The blue vanity beside her bed was one I eyed for quite some time. Some of the pieces I find are love at first sight. Others I need to think about for awhile, breeding either a “I can do live without you” or a “I can’t stop thinking about you and I must make you mine” relationship. Obviously, the blue vanity was the latter. For now, she uses it to create artwork as unique as herself and apply layer upon layer of glitter nail polish. In a few years, she will use it to apply makeup and figure algebra problems, though I am certain it will move to many other spots in the meantime.

One of the many wonderful things about decorating a home with things hunted and gathered is that it lends itself well to change. There aren’t many expensive things between my walls. Much of it is interchangeable, even between rooms. I recently brought a bookshelf that dwelt in Maggie’s room for four years into my living room and put a new, more functioning chiffarobe in its place. The old bench that was once below her window now rests in front of my bed, after two weeks of dwelling in the long hallway which connects our bedrooms. It is all so temporary, but it somehow also embodies the feeling of being perfectly grounded. Much like my darling, dramatic daughter, who wonderfully surpasses all of my long-ago dreams, the parts may be ever-changing, but the whole remains the same, wrapping me in that feeling that can only come from being HOME.