Living With Kids: Sarah Sandidge

February 28, 2012

One of my favorite qualities in a friend is the ability to find happiness. No matter how much rain falls, she waits happily for the rainbow. No matter how much trash piles up around her, she spots the treasure. No matter how much chaos fills her life, she always seems to keep calm. I imagine Sarah would make the perfect friend.

When she asked if my readers might like to see what it’s honestly like living with kids during a major home renovation, I immediately said yes. And when she sent a photograph of her husband working on her home’s electrical while holding their daughter, I gulped. Twice! But she has reminded me of a few important parenting ideals, as well as a few unforgettable redecorating with kids warnings, all while making me smile throughout her entire interview. I’d like you to meet my new friend, Sarah. Enjoy the tour!

Q: Your sweet family, as seen on your blog header, is adorable!

A: Our family consists of 4.5 members; we only count the dog, Mollie, as a half-member since we’ve had kids! My husband Jay works for a specialized cable manufacturing company. Not TV cable, but cables that go on military aircraft. He is a regional sales manager, which means he travels a lot…making our renovations even more exciting!

I’m Sarah, a stay-at-home mom, the owner of an online children’s clothing store called Lula in London, blogger, and wife extraordinaire! I am not a photographer, but I sure wish I was!

The little people in our lives are Lula and Diesel. Lula is almost three and full of personality. Diesel is almost one and just about the sweetest, happiest little guy you’ll ever meet. They’re both the most flexible, adaptable kids, which makes our constant changes so much easier.

Q: Tell us the story of your house.

A: We live in the Midwest in ranch house alley. I love old homes. I don’t feel at home unless I’m in an old house. Our first two homes were old, but the third one we bought was brand new construction; Jay needed a break from fixing things, so I gave in. I was literally depressed for five years. I used to sit around and look at the thin new trim and fake wood doors and sulk. Seems petty, I know, but I was born to live in old houses.

So I finally talked Jay into finding another fixer upper. We decided on a budget and started looking. The house we’re in now was ugly and the layout was really bizarre! There was wallpaper everywhere, paneling, dark wood in too many places, and had an addition on the back that was anything but nice. But when we first saw it, we thought, “Potential!”

Jay and I are both visionaries. We can easily see what something can become and instantly get a vision for a place. Our house is still in progress, but it’s going to be amazing when it’s finished. I never want to leave, and even in the chaos, I’m always so happy to come home. It’s perfect for our family with lots of little spaces and little nooks for everything we need.

Q: There are some extensive renovations happening in your home! How does this disrupt your daily life?

A: Oddly, we’ve just learned to adapt and live with the chaos. One day there will be an entire set of kitchen cabinets sitting in the middle of the floor, and the next day they’re tucked away in a corner. We know there’s an end in sight, and that’s what we focus on. The kids are so used to the mess, that it’s just normal to them! And they always find fun things to do with our renovations, like put all of their toys in the new cabinets.

When it comes to things that must be done, like eating or doing the laundry, we just go with the flow! Sometimes I take our laundry to my mother-in-law’s house. We eat out a lot, and we just survive!

Q: How do you keep sane in such a mess and without a completed kitchen? Has it affected the family in terms of moods or stress levels?

A: This is a really good and important question, especially if someone is considering whether to renovate or not. We learned early on that there had to be at least one space in the house that was clean and free of clutter. A place where we could escape from whatever renovation was going on at the time. That place has changed occasionally and sometimes it doesn’t even exist, but we try really hard to make this happen. I also try to keep the kids’ rooms free from construction if possible for the same reason. I want them to have a haven from the mess.

It has been difficult at times, I’m not gonna lie! My husband is affected more than anyone else because he is doing most of the projects himself and has little time to work on the house. We also decided a while ago that if he is unmotivated to work, then he doesn’t work. If he wants to spend time with the kids instead of putting in a door, he spends time with the kids. That has kept everyone sane.

We also have someone cook for us three times a week. It is barely more expensive than if I was cooking, and it is definitely worth it considering the stress it reduces. Since my kitchen is usually the workshop and in disarray half the time, I can’t imagine trying to cook right now. We won’t do that forever, but it’s definitely worth it right now.

Q: What’s the one project that has taken longer than you thought it would, and has been the biggest disruption in your family’s life?

A: I honestly have given up on timelines! Things get done when they get done. I haven’t had hot water in my kitchen sink for months, but I gave up hoping it would get fixed long ago.

As far as biggest disruption, there were two times when I thought I might lose it. The first was when we discovered a major leak in our upstairs room. We were planning to turn it into the kids’ room before Diesel was born, which was quickly approaching. It’s a large space and would’ve been easy for them to share. Anyway, Lula was sleeping up there already and we’d started to renovate it. During a really heavy rain, we discovered several major leaks. I was very pregnant and very emotional. It was like mama bear came out all of a sudden. I was furious that my child was living in such conditions, and I wanted the problem fixed immediately! And it was. But it set back the other renovations significantly and was a major stress.

The other major disruption just happened recently. The entire back of the house, walls and ceilings, had new drywall installed and there were patches all throughout the house, including in Diesel’s room, that needed repair or to be finished. I had to keep the kids corralled for two weeks while all of that was going on. There was literally dust on every surface of my house. My kitchen was completely unusable. Diesel was really sick the entire time, and Jay was traveling one of those stressful two weeks. It was the worst time I’ve had since we moved here, but I knew it would come to an end. That was and will be the messiest part of the renovations. So we’re past that now!

Q: What advice would you give other home-owners attempting such renovations with small children? Especially in terms of safety and daily disruptions to nap-time, meals, or just simple routines that make a day easier. I have to tell you, I gasped when I saw your husband working on electrical while holding your daughter! Eek! What’s your trick to not freaking out all the time?

A: I laughed out loud when I read this question! I’m planning to create a checklist to determine if you are emotionally and mentality capable of handling renovations with small children! I imagine most people are not. Here’s my advice!

Be flexible and adaptable. If you are not that type of person, just don’t even think about it! We have a pack ‘n play and Diesel takes naps all over the house when necessary. The kids are so flexible and adaptable, which is a huge help and blessing. If your small kids are easily thrown off from small changes, do not renovate your house!

We do try to keep them on a schedule as far as sleeping and eating. We always eat at the table regardless of where the table is at, what’s on it, or what’s piled up around it! So we try to maintain some semblance of normalcy. I think that helps everyone.

As far as safety, we are careful and conscientious, but we don’t freak about anything. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve taken screws out of the kids’ hands or dug drywall or wood chips out of Diesel’s mouth! Lula was never a problem. She was so easy and still is, but Diesel is a different story. He literally puts everything in his mouth. We definitely have to watch him more. Thankfully he doesn’t swallow anything; he just rolls it around in his mouth! I know, I know, the mothers are gasping and shaking their heads.

But that’s exactly why I don’t help much with the renovations; I’m usually chasing my little monkeys around keeping them safe! Taking care of the kids and allowing Jay to work when he needs to, even if it’s an entire Saturday, is my contribution to the renovations. Even though the safety of our children is a high priority, our philosophy is to let the kids experience life…not protect them from it.

In general I think we worry about safety a little too much. Kids used to start apprenticeships with their fathers when they were five years old. We think they’re not capable of big things when they totally are. We would never put our children in serious danger, but the phrase live and learn definitely takes precedent in our house. Lula loves to help her dad and follows him around like a puppy unless he’s doing something loud. He takes her with him wherever he goes as much as possible: to the hardware store, out in the garage, to church to play drums or run sound. Think of all the lessons she’s learning and knowledge she’s gaining from all those experiences!

The kids are a part of almost every aspect of our lives. We don’t try to shuffle them away while construction is going on. They’re there and they’re a part of it. That just means we have to pay attention a little more. But honestly, they like to be a part of it all. I think all of this makes them more independent and responsible. I have great hopes for the way they’re going to turn out as adults because of all they’ve gotten to experience in our family.

Q: What spot in your home is currently your sanctuary?

A: As I mentioned earlier, this has been a really key element in surviving the renovations. Currently, our master suite is our sanctuary. We have a little still-unfinished office area where Jay and I both have our desks and computers. And our bedroom is big enough to have a sitting area with our TV. This is where we retreat to at the end of the day.

My favorite element is probably our gold vintage Chesterfield-style sofa. A friend of mine found it at The Salvation Army for $75. She cleaned it up and cherished it for a while. I frequently told her that if she ever wanted to get rid of it, I would happily take it off her hands. One day it became mine! It’s probably my favorite thing in the house. I’m also in love with my new tufted headboard. To paint or not to paint the trim? That’s the question!

Q:  Tell us about your art studio. What do you make?

A: My studio is now located in the basement. It’s the perfect spot for it. I can make a mess without being in anyone’s way. Eventually the other side of this room will be another play area for the kids, so I’ll be able to work while they play.

I used to sew a lot and make baby and children’s clothing, tea cozies that you can still find in my Etsy shop, and other little things, but now it stores tons of unused fabric. This is also where I store my inventory for my online shop, Lula in London.

I still love to sew. I just don’t have much time for it anymore. Instead I buy and sell pretty things that other people sew! I’m very happy with what I’m doing right now, probably happier than I’ve ever been as far as a career goes. Now if I could just make money at it!

Q: Where do you find the most inspiration for your home and all the changes you’re making to it?

A: Pinterest! I think Pinterest is the best invention the Internet has ever seen. I also love Dwell magazine, and of course surfing blogs brings a lot of inspiration. I don’t like the norm, and it’s difficult when I find something really cool that an architect or designer created; we don’t always have the resources or know-how to recreate certain things. This is always frustrating to me. My mind is a huge playground, and it doesn’t always translate to the finished product. But I’ve been happy with the results of our home so far. It is definitely unique and definitely ours!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…

A: I wish I had known how much I would love renovating homes when Jay and I first got married. We could have made a career out of it if we had started earlier, and we work so well together in this environment. It’s actually one of the few things we do together as a couple…besides eat sushi! It’s sort of our collective hobby.

Through it, I’ve learned not to hold too tightly to anything except your family and your beliefs. Nothing is permanent and that’s just fine. This house may always be a work in progress, it may never be completely finished, it may never be exactly how I want it to be, but that’s not the most important thing in life. It’s just a hobby. It’s so freeing to live with that in mind.

I wouldn’t really change anything. We’ve learned so much in the process, and I am content. Even in the chaos.

—-

Thank you, Sarah! I want you to promise to send us photos of your finished kitchen as soon as it’s completed; your sink is amazing, even when filled with an unhappy little boy!

Friends, some of these Living With Kids posts are about so much more than a couch to covet or pretty pillows or how to hide toys from view, aren’t they? If you have a minute, I’d love to hear your absolute favorite take-away so far from the tours. What has affected your own style – design-wise or parenting-related – more than anything else? I can’t wait to hear!

P.S. — You can find all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. If you’d like to share your home with us, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christa the BabbyMama February 28, 2012 at 7:10 am

I love this one! Because it’s not perfect! And that’s been my favorite element of the tours – some of them are so styled and perfect it’s like, um, not looking for a magazine spread here. I like the homes that look like people live there, not catalog displays!

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2 Connie February 28, 2012 at 7:27 am

I have to say: this has been my very favorite interview so far. It could be because she’s a midwesterner- (Holla!), but I think it is because anyone who bought a bit of a fixer has their lives in slightly perpetual reno mode. It’s nice to have someone featured who is living that way too.

What I have most enjoyed are seeing the homes and lifestyles of people whose homes match their attitudes: they see home as functional and fun, and their home actually LOOKS like that! Just great. Love it!

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3 sarah February 28, 2012 at 7:38 am

great post, great family. my sister and i grew up helping our dad with renovations, and he always prides himself on the fact that we’re two girls who know our way around a hardware store and have never been intimidated by things like that. now my husband and i have renovated a couple of houses, one with a toddler around, and i agree with so much of what sarah says. our little dude has learned to nap during hammering and sawing, i’ve learned to cope with drywall dust EVERYWHERE, and we try to keep our son safe while still encouraging him to explore and learn during the work. it’s not for everyone, but if you’re up for it, it can be so much fun.

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4 Nicole K February 28, 2012 at 7:55 am

I love this series, but I’m always left wanting to know more about everything in the photos. Any chance of adding some captions? I would love to know the stories behind several of the pictures!

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5 sarah jane February 28, 2012 at 8:44 am

Hi, Nicole! I’d be happy to answer any questions about anything. Let me know what you’re curious about!

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6 Lori February 28, 2012 at 8:01 am

This has been the perfect tour to read while nursing my son in between sanding the trim in my house. My kitchen is covered in dust and my four older boys are helping me surprise their daddy with finished trim. I am so glad to know that we aren’t the only family crazy enough to do construction with children around. BTW, my husband had my 4, 5 and 7 yr olds running wires for our electrical too, They loved it!

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7 Sharon @ Discovering Blog February 28, 2012 at 8:15 am

“If he wants to spend time with the kids instead of putting in a door, he spends time with the kids. That has kept everyone sane.”
Love it.
My husband does the renovations in our house, and we have 2 young ones. There have been months when the kitchen was torn apart, but he built me make-shift countertops out of plywood. We’ve managed, and since he works a good 50-60 hours a week, I’ve never pushed a project if he wanted to take a weekend to play and not work on the house.
There’s such pride that we take when our friends and family see the final results. Plus, there’s the added benefit of knowing it was done right!

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8 julia @ life on churchill February 28, 2012 at 8:27 am

oh I can so relate! Our kids rooms are the only rooms unaffected by renovation right now. it really can make a person crazy. I love that she has someone cook 3x a week, I’d love to know more about that. Does she pay a friend, or hire a service?

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9 sarah jane February 28, 2012 at 8:46 am

Hi, Julia! We actually have a friend cook for us, but she is wanting to get into that line of work. So we’re her first customer! She’s very economical and cooks the same meals for her family. So it’s pretty inexpensive. Like I said, we won’t do that forever. But for now, it’s a necessity!

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10 Summer February 28, 2012 at 8:39 am

First of all, I love the bird with the French fry print. Bahahaha, that’s fantastic!

Secondly, how impressive! I’ve done some maaaajor remodels and hated every second of it (well, until it’s done, of course). I admire anyone who enjoys that stage, especially while also being a parent.

I’m such a clinger to “stuff” that I feel like I could learn a lot from Sarah about what really matters. I couldn’t agree more with, ” let the kids experience life…not protect them from it.” They’ll appreciate that when they’re grown.

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11 Molly Winn February 28, 2012 at 8:47 am

Such eye candy! I LOVE that bathroom and all the unique aspects of it! So fun!! Thanks for sharing!

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12 Jay Sandidge February 28, 2012 at 8:53 am

I’m Sarah’s husband featured in this tour. During a renovation you become acutely aware of the phenomenon whereby a 9-month old crawls away from a mound of toys with whirlygigs, bells, flashing lights and directly towards an obscure, dark corner of the house where a single, solitary outlet has been removed from its protective housing awaiting the investigative touch of a curious infant. Really? “Sure, this $100 ‘Fisher Price Vegas’ is neat, but I’m REALLY interested in finding out what drywall tastes like.”

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13 Sally February 28, 2012 at 9:26 am

What a fun article.
I had to laugh when I saw your question about keeping the kids safe – when I saw that picture the first thought in my mind was “Aw, he’s so sweet to let her sit in his lap even though it made the job harder” rather than anything about safety. I guess that’s because I grew up sitting on my Papa’s arm while he worked, pretty much no matter what he was doing, and never once even came close to being hurt. In fact, the only dangerous situation I can ever remember being in was the one time I got bored watching him and wandered off to play without him :)
I love how this family includes the kids in everything and has fun with life!

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14 Amy3 February 28, 2012 at 9:30 am

My favorite take-away has been the idea of buying only those things you love. It’s so easy, at least for me, to get caught up in the idea of finishing projects and moving on. There’s real wisdom in believing that the right things will come to you, if you give them time, rather than trying to rush to completion. Good advice for me in many areas of my life!

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15 leslie w. February 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm

i second that. i think it’s my favorite take-away, too. patience! :)

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16 Melissa February 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

This has been such a fun series. My best take-away has been the running theme of compromise. I wonder if it would be possible for each feature to have just one photo of the house in “real life” – not cleaned or styled for photos. It might be inspiring or uplifting for people to see things not so perfect :).

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17 Liv February 28, 2012 at 10:41 am

When I was 9, my parents started building our own home. There were three other kids younger than me, all the way down to age one. We always found fun things to do and it was really cool to see the progress of the home. I’m sure it was crazy for my parents with five kids and all, but it all worked out just fine.

Also, I want to live in her house.

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18 Cecilia Madden February 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm

this is my favorite feature so far. so much wisdom in how they raise their family.

with all of these posts, i love that at a deep level it’s all about what these families place as priorities in their life and somewhat about their parenting styles too. i’ve found them all SO insightful. i think one big factor is the amazing people you choose (duh), but also the way you’ve crafted the interview questions. so well done!

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19 Emily February 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I am fascinated by this series! Not just by the beautiful and colorful homes, but by what I learn about myself as I read the posts and look at the photos. So many of the homes are so bright and colorful. I would probably use the words beautifully eclectic. My home is not!

That doesn’t mean I don’t love my home. I love clean lines and simple designs. Clutter makes me a little crazy. I once hung a large collection of carefully coordinated (but non-matching) frames of varying sizes and shapes. I worked very hard on the layout, and it turned out beautifully. Three months later I took it down, patched and repainted all of the nail holes and replaced it with three large frames and a couple of floating shelves. I love it.

It is so interesting to see what I would pull from these homes and what I would love when I visited, but not take home.

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20 ModFruGal February 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm

I have loved this series simply because I love seeing how other families live! How do others manage clutter/renovations/quality time that is the great juggling act of parenting and home ownership? Looks like Sarah is doing a great job and having fun in the process.

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21 Jessica Poelma February 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I love all the living with kids and this one too! Please keep us updated on this house…I can’t wait to see the done kitchen!

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22 dana February 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Love this family, love this house…and don’t worry, mommies, I’m certain the electricity was shut off before hubby started working on the wires! I grew up in a home built in the 1860′s, and my father rewired and re-plumbed all 18 rooms, at times stripping the walls to beyond bare bones. I grew up with the perfume of sawdust, and saw-horses for play equipment, and it taught me to tackle home projects with aplomb. Home renos make or break relationships, and it’s lovely to see the marriage bond growing stronger in this loving home.

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23 sarah jane February 29, 2012 at 7:56 am

Yes, Dana! The electricity was definitely turned off! And I agree on the rest as well.

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24 Julia February 28, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Thanks for sharing Sarah’s home with us! I am always excited to read your Living with Kids series, because the posts truly are about more than just the physical aspects of each home, as you said.

I was so inspired by the way Meredith Alexander, in one of your interviews, described her home as “my love letter to my family,” that I wrote a blog post about it for Valentines Day:

http://www.calmcradle.com/1/post/2012/02/a-different-kind-of-love-letter.html

Thank you for the inspiration!

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25 susan February 28, 2012 at 7:59 pm

I think there are legitimate worries about lead paint in an older home being remodelled, especially with a toddler who puts chips in his mouth.
It is very true that 5 year olds used to apprentice but lots of of them were injured and disabled. That’s why we have child welfare laws.

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26 sarah jane February 29, 2012 at 8:00 am

You are right, Susan. We’ve definitely been very cautious with the lead paint issue. I follow Diesel around with a hand-held vacuum!

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27 Evie Stark February 28, 2012 at 8:05 pm

I love this house and this family! Fantastic interview. Sarah and Jay really have personified patience throughout this reno. It’s been one thing after another with the house, but they are pealing away the layers and the beauty is finally revealing itself!

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28 Anne February 29, 2012 at 11:30 am

I love these pictures, esp. the one of the baby crying in the sink. Aw! I also loved the story of how the girl was easy but the boy puts everything in his mouth–boy, have I lived that!
This series is so fun, and for me the take-away is to appreciate my surroundings. I never thought of my house as design-y, but I look around it now and realize that we have so many things that are special and beautiful to our family.

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29 Katie February 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Love this series!! One of your previous post about living with kids featured a woman who said she’d grown used to the idea that finishing the house was now part of a 20-year plan. That has stuck with me, and encouraged me over and over as I live in this home that is half-finished. Learning to enjoy the process and not just obsess about getting it done has been huge for me. Thank you for featuring the creativity and love that “real” people put into their homes!

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30 Emma August 28, 2013 at 5:56 am

THANK YOU SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much for this one. This is exactly our house building ( owner building to a tee!) I was getting really jack of it too and feeling sorry for myself. This has made me feel a million times better because now I KNOW there is at least one other person who is ‘dealing’ with it too. :)

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