A home that holds seven is always something to see. Add in Juli’s love for orderly decor and art-filled spaces, her husband’s penchant for emergency preparedness, and a Southwestern town I actually Googled to learn more about its mysterious history, and this tour becomes something to see and read! Which I happen to love, by the way. Originally, I envisioned these home tours as a bunch of pretty pictures to brighten up our weekly views. Now, it’s the stories that change my view. I hope you find something in each tour that changes yours for the better, too. This week, it’s Juli (no last name or blog this time; her town is that small!), her gorgeous gang, and their lovely story. Welcome, Juli!
Q: Please tell us about the family who lives here.
A: I am privileged to live with six other wonderful, independent spirits. My husband and best friend is Josh. He works as an Emergency Manager. His skills have been handy too many times already as emergencies are always bound to happen. For example, he had us practice a pretend house evacuation in a 15-minute time frame only to find that we would do it for real just a few weeks later when the largest fire in New Mexico broke out close to our home in Los Alamos.
Josh and I met in college in Idaho, we dated in Utah where I finished my schooling, and enjoyed newlywed life in Massachusetts where Josh attended graduate school. We both claim Nevada as our home state and love to sing “Home means Nevada” every Halloween which happens to be Nevada Day.
We started our family with two girls in Massachusetts: Sophi, nine, and Anna, who is seven. Sophi is the social butterfly with tons of friends and is often too smart for her own good. Anna has the kindest heart and is artistic and creative. Then there is Stewart, aged five and our witty Texas cowboy, who is so curious; he must ask thousands of questions in a day! The two tail end children are New Mexican: Naomi, who is two, and James, who happened to be the New Year’s Baby of our town for 2013. Naomi is our peacemaker and has a huge personality full of laughter and fun, though she is barely legal to face forward in her car seat. Baby James seems to be everyone’s favorite these days with his sweet nature.
And I’m Juli, the stay-at-home mother who oversees this entire operation we call our family. I was a secondary education teacher of history before my career ended with a broken ankle at the eighth month of my first pregnancy.
Q: How did this home find you?
A: As you can see from all the states we have lived in thus far, my husband and I have a problem with itchy feet. We love to live new places and experience new things. After Josh finished his schooling, we took a job in Texas; we had heard they had cheap housing, and I fell in love with Austin. It was new, it was warm, it was green, and it was closer to our family! But within a short time my husband knew there were better opportunities and began the hunt for a different path.
Los Alamos, New Mexico became that path. We sold our beautiful home in Texas and began the search for a new one with a very short list of about 15 houses. I nearly died when we saw my favorite house first, and the most expensive I might add, only to find it was a dump!
We realized that Los Alamos was a quirky place. House hunting was like shopping for a cabin. Situated at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, Los Alamos sits atop four mesas with deep canyons in between. Los Alamos is famous for being the place of the Manhattan Project or the building of the atomic bomb that ended World War II. This spot was chosen in 1942 due to its remote location. Nicknamed the town that never was, its location was known only by its mailing address of PO Box 1663, Santa Fe, NM. It was meant to be a temporary town, and as such, most of the housing went up rather quickly by the government.
Los Alamos is also limited in new housing growth because of the mesas, so most of the land has been utilized. Thus, housing prices are pushed to their max with a high demand and a low inventory. Jumping ahead over fifty years later, even though Los Alamos is no longer a secret town, we still remain rather isolated with a population of around 12,000 and with one big chain store called Smith’s Grocery. Needless to say, resources are rather limited. Residents joke that we live in a gated community at the end of a cul-de-sac.
So, back to our house hunt. As we reviewed our choices, we knew we had to look at them with different eyes. What were the bones of the house? Was there a nice layout that we could work with? Did we like that particular area? Can we clean the slate and start anew?
We ended up with the very first house we looked at because of its location, its unfinished basement, and its yard. It seemed to have the most potential. It was also important to us that our house reflected the place where we live. If we were in Massachusetts, I would have a salt box house. In Texas, the traditional limestone house. And now in New Mexico, I had to have a pueblo style home. My husband does hate our flat roof every winter, but I love the luminaries at Christmas!
Q: What makes this house your home?
A: We are very fortunate that my father is a contractor, and we think of ourselves as great grunt labor. What made this house our home was when we got our hands dirty and literally made it our own. To date, with my father’s help, we have finished our basement adding a laundry room, storage room, bedroom, and bathroom, remodeled and expanded our kitchen, replaced windows and the roof, tore out flooring, and painted literally every surface within the house from ceilings to walls to windows to baseboards. We still have little projects here and there, but fortunately, the bulk of the work is done.
I was leery of living in such a small town and not having the conveniences I was accustomed to. I love our home now because of our town. I love that living here is like being thrown back to the 1950s and Leave it to Beaver. The community values education; over 60% of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The community believes in God. There is a traffic jam each Sunday as we attend our church with all the other various religions in town. The community is safe. My children can run free in the neighborhood with the biggest threat to them being wild animals. The community is small. I love running into friends as I go to the one grocery store, or visit my pediatrician, or attend a school event. The community is diverse. The National Laboratory draws some of the best minds from all around the world. My children have friends who are Finnish, German, Swiss, and Japanese, just to name a few, and are learning about these different cultures and appreciating that this is a big world and we all have a place in it. And, it is beautiful living up in the mountains. It has truly been a slower pace of life.
Q: How would you describe your style right now? Has it changed as a result of adding kids to the mix?
A: My husband and I knew when we married that we would have a family, and so as we bought furniture and decorated, we thought of those children that would be coming. Our first big purchase was the dining room table we still use today. Josh and I decided that we wanted our home to of course be kid friendly, but at the same time to still have beautiful (and breakable) things.
Before we all go to bed everyone pitches in to put everything back in its proper place, from toys to dishes to school supplies. We then always wake up to a fresh start. We teach our children to respect our things and our home and, in turn, we respect their things and their spaces. However, no toys are allowed in our bedroom and the living room, except for the Little People Holiday display that rotates throughout the year.
Respecting their space has been more of a challenge for me than my husband as children just naturally seem to acquire clutter. I sometimes would prefer that their bedrooms look more like they came straight out of a magazine! But it is important for them to have a chance exercising their decorating genius and designing things the way that works best for them. Furniture in their rooms is constantly being switched around, bed assignments change frequently, and dressers are often a reflection of all the things they love at that moment. And it’s okay! They are slowly learning that they enjoy playing and sleeping in a room that is organized and clean.
Since they do have a lot of control over their rooms, I love having the white comforters. The color helps soothe over all the business, giving sort of a clean palette. Plus, their little hands are better able to make their beds.
I tend to think of my style as modern eclectic. I am very much drawn to clean lines and unique textures, but I love adding a touch of us to the picture. My mother advised me when we first were married to collect things for our future home even though we were living in a small apartment. Because I did that, my home reflects all of the places we have lived with things like a Paul Revere Lamp, tons of pineapples representing the New England way to show hospitality, a willow tree tomb stone, metal Texas stars, and olive wood carvings. I also inherited some beautiful pieces of my grandmother’s that today fit the trend of modern. Those pieces seem to breathe life into our home with the memories that they already contain. And I love to bring the outdoors in through big open windows, houseplants, and a lot of leaf and flower motifs.
Q: When does this home work best for you and yours?
A: This home is perfect for my family. I love that my children have full reign of the basement. That is where the toys are found, the entrance to the backyard, and the big bedroom that the three girls share. I feel much more in control when my house is under control, so it helps that my whole upstairs tends to stay clean and toy-free.
We live in a cul-de-sac, and I love that the house is situated right in the corner, drawing in the neighborhood children. It is a great house for entertaining children. Many a day passes where I realize I have just had fifteen children through my door! My kitchen window gives me the opportunity to keep an eye on them as they play in the front yard.
It is not a great house for entertaining adults, and if we are still here fifteen years from now, I plan on knocking out a few walls and expanding our living room and dining room. We probably will never have a different house in Los Alamos because any other home would require the exact same overhaul.
Q: As a mom to many, ranging from nine to new, how do you carve out separate time with each child? Why is that important to you, and what is their response when they’re one-on-one?
A: Having come from a small family with just me and my sister, I had a very close relationship with my parents. I always knew I wanted a bigger family, yet at the same time, I want to make sure that each of my children has a relationship with Josh and I like I had with my own parents. My husband and I take turns taking children out on dates. Sometimes they are planned in advance, but more often, it is simply taking one of the children along while we do our chores like grocery shopping, working in the yard, helping a neighbor move, or even attending a baby shower. Time in the car has provided a great opportunity to hear what is really going on.
I also know in a big family, it is important for them to feel like they have their own identity. Of course, the whole family goes to support the big things that each child participates in like piano and dance recitals and soccer games. But additionally, each week we host a family talent show where each child has the opportunity to share something that they have been working especially hard on. Talents have come in many forms such as lego builds, piano songs, dance moves, good grades on a test, to even balancing on one leg. This has become a true treat for everyone and has encouraged my children to try new things and work hard on their goals.
Q: What’s your favorite area in the house in which to spend time, both by yourself or with your family?
A: We designed the kitchen with a nook for our computer as well as a big long bar where all the children can sit and gather when they come home from school. Here they eat their snack, do their homework, and talk about their day, while I am busy working on dinner in the kitchen. Even the little ones share this same space as they pull out paints, crayons, and play dough from their art cabinet below the bar.
My favorite retreat is our bedroom which we just recently decorated. For the last twelve years, we had never gotten around to doing our own room. Our mattress was just thrown on the floor, we had makeshift night stands we bought for $10 when we first were married, and cheap desk lamps were our source of light. The room in and of itself is wonderful with all its natural light, but now that it has some furniture and an updated look, I love to go in there and curl up with a good book in a true adult room.
Q: What do you hope your decor choices are teaching your kids? What message are you sending with all that surrounds you?
A: My husband and I have spent a lot of time talking about what we want to teach our children. I believe it has to be a conscientious choice if we are to succeed. One of those things at the top of our list is to teach our children to find the beauty that is all around them.
How I wish I could just package each one of them up and save them from the evils that are in this world. But I can’t. What I can do is teach them that even in their darkest hours, there is beauty. Whether it is in a smile, a warm handshake, a kiss, a kind word, or most importantly, the peace of God, there is always beauty because there is always hope.
I want our home to reflect that beauty. I want it to be a refuge for my husband and my children, a place of safety, peace, and hope. A place where they want to be and can be themselves. Living in these mountains has afforded us the opportunity to show them, almost on a daily basis, the beautiful world that we believe God created just for their enjoyment, and to teach them our duty to take care of it and love it. We naturally spend a lot of our free time camping, hiking, exploring, digging, biking, and even gardening. The outdoors has been my children’s greatest classroom.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What didn’t you expect to feel, and what are the joys you already miss?
I must admit. When I first became a mom, I felt like the whole world had lied to me. It was as if I had just discovered the world’s deepest, darkest secret: motherhood was hard! All I had ever heard before from women was how wonderful it was, how naturally it came.
I have since learned that motherhood is not a destination but a journey. Motherhood has components to it that you can check off and say, “Yes, I did that!” But the majority of the time, there is no right or wrong answer, just a better choice, and the job is never really complete.
It seems that in today’s world, mothers have really taken a beating, and the sad part is it seems to stem from other women! There are such controversial topics out there like to work or not to work, to breastfeed or to give a bottle, to birth in a hospital or in your home, to put your child in every activity possible or to keep schedules less busy. I think it is great to have these discussions, but at the end of the day, the beauty of motherhood lies in the absolute fact that we have the ability to choose what is best for our children and for our family. We just have to trust the instincts and impressions we individually receive.
I love being a mom because I get to see things through little eyes yet again. Children naturally see the good in anything which is why they get so excited by the little things. I am a much more joyful person since becoming a mom — they have taught me to see the beauty in our everyday, ordinary lives. I think that is why we are pushing so hard to teach the same thing back to them so they don’t lose that ability as they become adults.
Having children in the home is a great exercise for our senses. I will miss that. The taste of macaroni and cheese, hotdogs, and Fun Dip. The smell of a newborn, lavender lotion, and Pampers diapers. The sound of them laughing, learning to speak, and working together. The sight of them trying and succeeding at something new and watching them grow bigger. And the touch of their tender hands and their sticky kisses. I tell them all the time, “Do you really have to grow up? You can stay this age forever if you want!”
Sort of the reverse of Peter Pan around here.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: …to take a marketing class. It seems that with getting our children to do something, it all comes down to how you pitch the deal!
Ahh, yes! Persuasion is a fine art worthy of its own degree! Thank you so much, Juli, for showing us around your home, and for your candid observations about motherhood. It is difficult, and the rewards come in fleeting moments so fast they’re hard to catch sometimes. I often wonder what expectations we all carried into motherhood…and which ones never had a chance! (I’ll miss those sticky kisses, too.)
On another note, there’s a part of me that envies Juli’s anonymity. Are any of you in the same boat with small towns and privacy issues? How do you keep a balance between social media and confidentiality? Feel free to chime in, Friends. Your own stories make these tours even more meaningful!