The short of it:
What I am reading: The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith.
What I am listening to: typically classic rock, but I like most music
Favorite thing about Effingham: It is a beautiful town with a sense of community. The small town atmosphere still has urban qualities.
What do you want people to know about you? My family is everything to me. I love to make a difference and when I became a widow at the age of 59, I saw things with a new perspective. I want women to know that it is important to tell their husbands how much they love them, how smart they are because they don’t hear it enough and how good looking they are. It is very important because all can change in an instant as it did in my case.
If you could change one thing about your home, what would it be? I would share it with my late husband, John. He worked hard to prepare this lot and make plans with me. I am sorry he didn’t live to enjoy the fruits of his labor, but happy to make our dream a reality.
Favorite room/space in your home? The front porch. It is peaceful and surrounded by nature. I can sit and read, have coffee, listen to the birds and watch deer drink from the pond.
What was the one thing that made you say “this is the lot/home for our family”?
When our neighbors were moving, they approached us and asked if we would be interested in buying their house and surrounding land that was across the road from us. My husband had hunted on their land for years and we thought the house would be a good investment. We bought it, fixed up the house and used it for short term rentals when bird watchers or hunters would come to the area. Our daughter’s family now live there. John and I discussed how we wanted to spend our retirement and use our new land. We felt the pond and wooded area would be a great place for our family to gather. He cleared trees, drained the pond, moved dirt and then the planning for the cabin began.
What was your biggest obstacle in renovating/styling your home?
The biggest obstacle for me, was that I had recently lost my husband, whom I had planned this project with. We had done many renovations and projects over the years, so I had experience to draw from, but I had never done anything like this on my own. It was very daunting, but I had my family and a great construction crew to work with. In the end, I feel this taught me some things about myself and about life in general.
The long of it:
I typically come away from a What’s Inside visit with a new home design idea or tip or maybe even a new parenting hack, but this time was different. I came away from this one with a new appreciation for the brevity of life.
John, a brick mason and carpenter, came in from mowing one day three years ago, said he didn't feel well and then passed away in their living room. Just that morning they had been discussing windows for the cabin retreat that they’d been building on their land near Newton, IL. So one minute Anthea had a partner in all of this and the next minute she was on her own. Just like that.
As you can imagine that rocked her world. She now faced life without her husband and a big project to complete in front of her. Being the type who likes to do things on her own, she now had to rely on others to help carry out her and his wishes. She found local carpenters, Mike Smith and Mark Marshall, who set to work crafting the family retreat she and her husband had dreamed of.
Only now she made it a bit bigger.
The now-completed cabin sits near her home just outside of Newton near the Prairie Ridge State Natural Area (follow the link, only 100 prairie chickens are left in this state). Upon hearing a bit of Anthea’s story from her daughter, Sarah Weiler, I was so excited to see the area and to take a field trip to shoot and interview in such a setting. Apparently people come from all over the world to this rural place just south of Newton to wake up well before dawn to get a glimpse of the prairie chickens.
Heck, the place sounded so cool that it being a school holiday, both Tytia and I took our kids with us for the visit.
Turns out that taking kids to do an interview, while fun for them, was a bit chaotic for us. Since they live nearby, daughter Sarah and her three kids also came over. It was kind of kid chaos.
Hearing how Anthea took over the home building reigns, made some “big girl” decisions and carried on living after the death of her husband, required another much more peaceful interview session, which I'm happy I eventually got. I got to experience this place as the sanctuary it was created to be. And I spent time with someone who’s experienced first-hand how life can forever change in an instant and hear about the lessons learned from that.
Plus I got to properly hear about all of the goodies she’d found and the projects she took on to reuse things she and her family had saved.
Five years ago John and Anthea’s neighbor offered to sell them some land near their home. That land included a home (where her daughter, Sarah, and family now live), hunting ground that John hunted on as a child, as well as a pond. They snatched it up and began planning to build a small cabin near the pond - a place to be with their family.
Anthea describes John as the type of person you’d want to have around during the zombie apocalypse. He could do anything with his hands and if he didn’t already know how to do it, he’d figure it out. For example, once they decided on the spot for the cabin he bought a bulldozer and got to work clearing the land.
His idea for their cabin was for it to be a small space. However, when Anthea was left to make the decision about its finished size on her own, she decided to add on an extra 12’ to the main living space. She’s glad she did as that gives the cabin a much larger space for her and her family to gather. On the day I was there I could see the remnants of their family Christmas spent together around the tall Christmas tree.
She does know a thing or two about gathering. While still working as a teacher Anthea had the dream of offering quilting classes. An unruly storm and the destruction of a shed on their property lead to the creation of just the space to do this. While creating the lean-to portion of the building she asked John to include many outlets. Just in case. “Quilting was my passion and I wanted to share it with people”, she says of how her business, “Quilting with Grace”, came to be. She was tentative about starting the business of teaching quilting classes, but she asked God to show her the way as she put an ad in the paper. Women started calling and for the next nine years her rebuilt space became a place for women to get together and talk…and quilt.
If you ever get to meet her be sure to ask her about how she orchestrated the creation of 350 lap quilts for Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, MO. Anthea is a doer.
Adding on extra square footage wasn't the biggest "big girl” decision, as Anthea puts it, she had to make. The first and largest decision she made on her own was to re-situate the home. The builder came to her and said the spot where she and John dreamed their cabin would sit was on unstable ground, so she had to choose another spot.
In the end Anthea, with the help of various tradesmen, made this gathering place come together beautifully.
The two main take-aways from this issue for me were: Life is short, enjoy it and we're capable of more than we know.
A close third is: Hoard away! You never know when you're going to build a retreat and need a sink or some paneling or cupboards or lighting or ...
//Next issue: The David Gould home - A study in minimalism
About the Photographer
About the Writer
Joanna Davies is owner of Fresh Digs in Effingham, IL. Fresh Digs sources locally, globally and uniquely made home goods and gifts and displays them in a shopping experience some have said is their happy place. We also like to get people together. Join us.