From Gravel Road to Home Again

From Gravel Road to Home Again

From Gravel Road to Home Again

Jolene Philo and Anne Fleck

September 22, 2017

Good news, readers–The Gravel Road is back!

Well, sort of anyway.

Here’s what happened. In January of 2017, we moved from our big, roomy farmhouse along a quaint, gravel road on the edge of town. The house we moved to came with 4.5 acres of land smack dab in the middle of a different town. Once the moving dust settled and the urge to blog again returned, the old blog title didn’t feel right. Because we now live on a paved road, though as the picture shows, our driveway is gravel.

Our new intergenerational home, which still has a gravel driveway

The old farmhouse down the gravel road

More than that, the old title doesn’t reflect the intentional, inter-generational living adventure happening where we now live. In 1 house, we have 2 boomers, 2 millennial, 2 kids, 1 dog, and as our tagline says, nobody’s dead yet.

In case you’re wondering if you read that right, you did. Our daughter Anne, her husband Kailen, their toddler Tad, a new baby scheduled to arrive in February of 2018, and their dog moved home again in May of 2016. On purpose. And we’ll be living this way, God willing, until the Man of Steel and I are carried out of here after we die.

Which won’t be any time soon.

We hope.

People who hear about this living arrangement are polite at first. But they can’t wipe the skeptical look off their faces, and we can almost hear them thinking, They must be crazy. Pretty soon, their skepticism is replaced by curiosity and the questions begin:

How does it work?
How do you handle expenses?
How do you keep from killing each other?
How do you…?
How do you…?
How do you…?

In June, after fielding 2 days’ worth of questions at a writers’ conference, I said to Anne, “Maybe we should start a blog about your family coming home again.”

“Not a blog,” the hipper, more tech-savvy member of our duo said, “a podcast.”

“I don’t know anything about podcasts,” I responded.

“Well, I do,” she said. “And we can record in Kailen’s audio studio. Plus, he can edit them for us.”

“We could rename the Down the Gravel Road website.” I was warming up to the idea. “But what should we call it?”

Anne shrugged. “Home Again.”

Bingo! I thought.

“And you can still have a blog page,” she added magnanimously. “Just don’t ask me to blog. Please?”

And that, dear Gravel Road readers, is how Home Again came to be.

Of course it took a couple months to get things rolling. My wonderful virtual assistant and tech wizard, Sarah Broady, revamped the website to house the podcast, show notes, and blog. (She also created an archive to house all the Gravel Road blog posts so you can still find them.) She also created our new Home Again Facebook group and set up our Twitter account. Graphic designer Amanda Grout created the Home Again logo. Anne created Home Again accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, and Patreon, and at Apple podcasts, while I set up our Google + page.

Anne and I also spent hours meeting about topics and recording the first four, so they would be ready when the podcast goes live. We were extremely proud of ourselves afterwards. Until our editor discovered we hadn’t turned on the second microphone (that would be mine) so we had to record them all again. As soon as they’re edited, they’ll be loaded onto the podcast page and the show notes will go live, too.

Until then, thanks for stopping to visit Gravel Road.


What I meant to say was, welcome to Home Again!

P.S. From Anne:  The above dialogue has been shortened by about two weeks of name-batting-around for dramatic effect.  I am not some naming wizard.  And I might blog, if I feel like it, but not on any sort of schedule.  I had a blog.  I did not enjoy it.  But I’m really happy to talk about our unique living situation, at length, once a week, and I hope you all tune in.

Owly Neighbor

Owly Neighbor

For years, he’s kept us awake at night with his hooting and hollering.
Twice, shrouded in the grey light of early morning, I’ve spied him flying across the road.
Yesterday morning, he was on a fencepost beside the gate, in the mood for a photo shoot.
Today, let’s give a hearty, hi-howdy to to my owly, reclusive, magnificent neighbor.
May your days be many and your mouse harvest mighty, sly friend!

Hungry for Iowa

Hungry for Iowa

Spring Along Our Gravel Road

Spring is lovely along our Iowa gravel road.The rain washes away the dust kicked up by cars passing by, so the foliage is a deep and vibrant, soothing green. Every day is a feast for the senses.

The lingering scent of rain from a night time thunderstorm.
Toads betrayed by small movement in the grass.
Does hiding the shadow.
Cardinals singing in the treetops.
The stream rushing and gurgling under the bridge.
Goldfinches fighting for their turf in low bushes.

Each spring morning, I rush outside to greet new blossoms.
First the magnolias, the rhododendron, the red buds, and the daffodils.
Then the bleeding heart, the tulips and the lilacs.
Now the iris, the clematis, and the columbine.
Soon the peonies and the daisies.

I can’t bear the thought of missing the arrival of these friends. So most years, I stay home in May, determined to fully savor its beauty. But not this year. Not this week. Tomorrow, we pack the car and leave the beauty behind for a few days. I hate to miss the arrival of the peonies and daisies. But I know how much my daughter misses our gravel road after a year in Ohio while her husband finished grad school.

She misses the ancient silver maples in our yard,
The sight of leaves and grass,
The smell of trees and space and flowers,
The fairy ring where she played as a child,
The regularity of a gravel road each mile,
The greenness found only in Iowa,
Beloved by Iowa girls like my daughter and me.

She’s hungry for her home state, as I was during the seven years Hiram and I lived in South Dakota. So hungry, I could hardly bear it. So eager for a taste of home, I lived for my mother’s visits and feasted on the time she spent with us.

My mother left her roses,
And her yard work,
And her rhubarb,
And her invalid husband
To feed her daughter a taste of home.

So the peonies and daisies will have to bloom without us. Hiram and I are off to see our daughter and new son. Packing our car with Iowa air and comfort. Eager to share our feast with our hungry, Iowa-starved children. Bringing them the taste of our gravel road as my mother once brought a taste of home to me.

Greetings from Wapello’s Corner Market

Greetings from Wapello’s Corner Market

Saturday I made a roomful of new friends, thanks to Kevin and Patty Hardin. They’re the owners of the Corner Market in Wapello who invited me to speak at this year’s customer appreciation luncheon. They held the luncheon in the meeting room next to their deli/meat market/catering headquarters.

If Kevin and Patty had been the only friends made on Saturday, my cup would have been full and then some. They’re good friends to have – the kind of who plan a luncheon for their customers, round up enough door prizes for every women attending, and decorate the room so everyone feels not only appreciated, but pampered.

Before the afternoon was over, I felt like every woman in the room was my friend. Maybe because of the atmosphere Kevin and Nancy created. Maybe because so many of the attenders were retired school teachers, so we had plenty in common. Maybe because small towns in Iowa always feel like a favorite, comfortable coats that fits perfectly. Whatever the reason, I would like the world to meet my new friends from Wapello, Iowa.

Next time you get to Wapello, stop in at the Corner Market and have a look around. It’s really easy to find and full of friendly people. Here’s a map link in case you need it. Just remember, if you end up in the Iowa River, you’ve gone a block too far east!

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp


These are lessons God has taught me over and over in the past decade. Through times of joy and sorrow, in everyday events and extraordinary ones, he had showed me the importance of gratitude, thanksgiving, and mindfulness in all things.

So in one sense, I was prepared to read and appreciate the life lessons author Ann Voskamp shares in One Thousand Gifts. In another sense, the book was a delightful surprise. Page by page, Voskamp unwrapped God’s lessons using word pictures and poetic prose that took my breath away time and time again.

She can transform a walk through a field of wheat stubble and everyday life  into an altar of worship:

The wheat stubble scratches my legs as I walk in the fields. One hand fingers the hem of my splotchy apron. I am going back. I look up…reluctant to untether from the moon. The world I live in is loud and blurring and toilets plug and I get speeding tickets and the dog gets sick all over the back step and I forget everything and these six kids lean hard into me all day to teach and raise and lead and I fail hard and there are real souls that are at stake and how long do I really have to figure out how to live full of grace, full of joy-before these six beautiful children fly the coop and my mothering days fold up quiet? How do you open the eyes to see how to take the daily, domestic, workday vortex and invert it into the dome of an everyday cathedral?

Every page is like that. Every paragraph is a feast of the everyday turned exceptional. Every chapter is so rich it’s best eaten in moderation, one or two pages at a time. Slowly, with plenty of chewing in between bites. Plenty of time to sit at the table with Voskamp and taste God and find him good in a way you’ve never tasted him before. Though her word pictures are rich, Voskamp is also aware of and transparent about her personal frailty and failures. She doesn’t put herself above readers, but invites them to walk with her, equal in hunger and need for God.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp is more than a good read. It’s a must read for Christ followers serious about their faith.