When I browsed through Andrea‘s home tour for the first time, I was in a bit of a rush. Deadlines were clamoring for my attention, and I was just about to listen. Until time seemed to stop, and I found myself in a little spot where books were as big as afternoon ideas. The view outside the windows seemed to go on forever, which is probably the best thing for daydreams. And whatever this family who lived here wanted to make? I bet they had everything they needed to make it. It was just one of those spaces that spoke to me. And I think it asked me to stay awhile. So let’s do that right now. Please enjoy Andrea’s home, Friends!
Q: Tell us all about the cute Canadian family who lives here!
A: We are five. Glenn, my wonderful husband, is a natural gas inspector. I’m Andrea. I was in watershed management but became a stay-at-home mom who raises some livestock and dabbles in art. Our first child is Katie, a five year old, old soul who giggles, loves reading Charlotte’s Web, and is best mates with her brother Jack. He’s four years old and loves grand storytelling with elaborate details, twisting plots, and implausible scenarios. Madeleine is an eight month old babbling, standing, into-it-all firecracker who has the loveliest smile. Eyes on that one at all times! Molly, scruffy dog one, and Clyde, scruffy dog two, come in to lie by the fire.
In our electric blue chicken coop (by the by, never pick paint colors while pregnant!), we’ve some dear old laying hens. And past the garden is our grass-fed herd of Dexter cows who help to keep Trixie, old pony extraordinaire, company.
Q: How did this house become your home?
A: Oh gracious! We look back now and wonder what were we thinking? We already had this life full of change. In two years, we got married, had two children, purchased a house, renovated it for the next year, Glenn finished his last year of trade school and started a business, and helped care for his Mom through her last years.
And this house was not an easy house! Think major mice issues, plastic bags stuffed as insulation under windows…so much work! But on one side, there was a creek running through the property with enough land for livestock. A pond with a grand old beaver lodge was on the other side of the land. This was a major coup as we hoped it would stop our bird dog, Molly, from wandering from neighbor to neighbor in search of fish ponds to swim in and by default make us more popular! The yard was lovely, if not feeling a bit neglected, with a small, varied orchard and the biggest asparagus patch I had ever seen.
The house itself was a grain agent’s house for one of the five wooden grain elevators that still stand in our community. And it’s set a bicycle ride’s distance from the tiny village of Inglis, which consists of about two hundred people. We have the Boreal Forest literally in our backyard, and are minutes from Riding Mountain National Park and two provincial parks. Our creek connects via hiking trails to swooping river valleys. It is beautiful and isolated. We wanted our children’s first moments to be ingrained with something much larger than themselves…and this house and its setting seemed a great fit!
Q: Was there a moment either pre-house or after you were settled when you first felt like you were home?
A: I think the moment for me was three weeks after we had moved in, just before Christmas. Katie, who was four months old and seemed already so grown up, woke early. It was one of those still winter mornings when snow fog closed the house in snug. You could only see the bare branches sticking up, dark against this blanket whiteness. We built a fire in the wood stove, turned on the Christmas tree lights, and then whirled away to the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
Katie still loves the Nutcracker.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Did it change with kids?
A: I think I am all over the place as far as aesthetic. I used to worry that I was too undefined, but decided I really needed to get over myself and instead just enjoy what I enjoy. So old, new, off-beat, traditional, rustic, shiny…I love it all! Overall, clean is probably the best descriptor for my aesthetic. I love those days where curtains, linens, and rugs are marched out to the laundry line, corners are scrubbed, and the house smells like outside breeze. But, on the other hand, I have also learned there can be tremendous appeal to windows and mirrors marked with little hands. Maybe that is just a mother’s perspective, eh?
And maybe useful is another characteristic of my preferred style? We have a small house that cannot tolerate clutter, so multifunction items are fabulous for me. Especially when their intended use can be sidetracked for other uses as well, like stools, bowls, and baskets.
I’ve also learned that children are naturally the messiest creatures I know. I am always fighting this compunction to wipe, tidy, and put away! But play is inherently messy and a little chaotic. If it was all orderly and in place, it wouldn’t be play, would it? Best to just let them have at it, with some mini-tidies in between meals and naps. I cannot resist.
Q: What decor decision have you made specifically for your kids? How does your design affect their moods and organization?
A: We’ve made conscious decisions to make room for our kids. Less stuff and less furniture allows us to maximize our spaces so our kids can really play without much worry for me. I may be way out on this, but I really think blank slates with a few key pieces provide the best opportunities for spontaneous creativity. And that’s one of my favorite parts of raising children: being privy to the fabulous stories that accompany their play.
We’ve also tried to create an interesting space that presents different ideas and histories. Katie and Jack love to create museums in their play, from puzzle museums to animal museums, which I suppose subconsciously echoes what Glenn and I try to do with our house. We have pieces passed down from great grandparents, grandparents who we use and talk about and often reference to what generations past experienced. And we also incorporate found items from outside like (this has huge potential for sounding unhygienic and unsavory!) stones, bones, broken glass, nests, feathers, and whatever else catches our eyes! Katie and Jack are great scouts.
We try to avoid buying new for environmental and budgetary reasons, but also to avoid the cookie cutter look. Used usually beats new in my opinion. Usually. And nothing gets the endorphins up like a garage sale in the summer or heading to local thrift stores and then displaying your conquests.
Q: Describe your favorite moment of your everyday; where are you and who are you with and what are you doing?
A: Favorite everyday moments are in the screened porch. It is a vignette that shifts through the seasons. Summer, it’s early morning coffees with Glenn before the children wake up. Then late summer, it is relaxing just before supper with Katie and Jack running in the yard, grabbing the last of the raspberries or apples, chickens scratching in the garden, and Canada geese gliding low over our heads, heading back to the pond from feeding in the fields. And then in winter it’s back to early morning coffees with Glenn, this time by the fire where we take time to connect before the kids launch themselves from their beds!
Q: What are the top three elements that make your home distinctly yours?
A: When I think of our home, I think of three things: our house, our land, and then our community.
Our house, by most modern North American standards, is small enough to be in those small spaces editions that magazines so love to print! I laugh at that as we still lose each other in our house of 1300 square feet. But I believe a small home fosters intimacy and grows a kindness toward each other because you have to give some slack to people you are constantly and literally bumping into. I think of our house as a respite and hub from where our lives branch out. So that means we have tons of books, puzzles, cozy blankets, music, and very little television.
Our land allows our children independence. They have glorious opportunities to climb dirt piles, play in puddles, build tree forts, have picnics in the yard with the chickens, and run through a one-acre vegetable and herb garden, picking things at random to eat. But the land also requires that the children help by feeding the dogs and pastured chickens, bringing firewood to the house, and weeding the garden. The adults can’t do it all!
We also love our community. We are tiny but mighty. There are so many vibrant cultures represented here: Metis, Mennonite, Romanian, First Nations, Ukrainian, Filipino, Austrian, and English. So for a community situated just under two hours from any centre bigger than 1200 people, our children have a lot exposure to different languages, accents, food, and cultures. And comparatively speaking, it’s a laid back lifestyle. At community gatherings, conversations that include traplines, cattle brandings, clucks, or bread recipes are pretty common. We like that it feels honest and humble.
Q: What’s been your greatest challenge in terms of living with kids?
A: Children, of course, have their own individual rhythm. Completely different from us adults, who have become focused on things like to-do lists, making sure enough has been accomplished today, or just heading out the door without a single extra bag carrying diapers or soothers or snacks. When I first became a mother, there were so many activities Glenn and I would regularly do that were not inherently child friendly. Hunting was a big one! Or going for walks in the bush. It was a struggle at first; luckily, Katie was an autumn baby so we had a long winter to adjust…letting go of some, reinventing some, and delaying some.
Glenn and I have had to become a team. When I think of him, steady in the traces always comes to mind. We adjust as a challenge presents itself. We’ve bathed babies all sorts of places, like in Rubbermaid tubs by campfires. And it can be difficult, keeping cool and maintaining the proper perspective.
I find it best helps to remember this life is just moment by moment. We have no guarantees for anything but the exact moment we are in, so I’m constantly reminding myself to stay there in that wee tiny space. Rather than just looking ahead to the horizon, every day I need to look down, see my children for who they are, and know everything is in a constant state of change. Children can bring into stark focus the temporal nature of life!
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your children so far?
A: We are at that magical golden age. Katie and Jack are inseparable. There is never one without the other. I so wish that it would continue, but I already see signs of new eras arriving with Katie starting to attend school part time this fall. And with Madeleine, I am savoring this opportunity to watch her talk, move, and all those bits in between. This will likely be the last time for me, so there is a tremendous amount of nostalgia attached to her achievements.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: This will sound completely silly, but I wish I had known newborns aren’t newborns for a year. I wish someone had told me that period only lasts six weeks max. I wish I had gotten that through my head the first time round and just sat down, cuddled, and pressed my cheek to the top of their fuzzy heads more. And I also wish that I had known it would be hard to stop having babies. They are intoxicating and addictive little things! I would have started so much sooner…
Oh, Andrea. Where do I start? Honest and humble living. Adjusting your activities post-baby by letting go of some, reinventing some, and delaying some. (It was the delaying that made my heart swell, for some reason!) Remembering life is just moment by moment and staying in that wee tiny space of now. Precious and worthwhile, all of it. And so, so memorable.
Friends, I’d love to hear your own stories of how you adjusted to living with your children. What have you let go, reinvented, or delayed?