Living With Kids: Ginger Johnson

June 25, 2013

By Gabrielle.

When Ginger first contacted me about participating in a Living With Kids tour, she mentioned her love of books. Little did I know, her interview would read like an old favorite. I found myself getting lost in her description of her boys, carried away by her comments about her home and how she ultimately fell in love with it, and the way she writes about being a mother…Oh, it’s all pretty wonderful! She told me to feel free to edit her thoughts, but I just couldn’t do it. So please, grab something to drink, find a cozy spot, and curl up with this tour! This is Ginger Johnson.

Q: Please tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: I’m Ginger. I spend my days writing books for children and young adults, and my nights masquerading as Omnimom the Enforcer, ensuring that homework and chores are done, piano and cello are practiced, lunches for the next day are prepared, showers are taken, projects are worked on (A whale on stilts costume with laser eyes? Really? A dodo bird carved out of Styrofoam? Sigh), and most importantly, ensuring that everyone knows that I love them. I occasionally check in as Pantry Girl, particularly during canning season.

I’m joined by the Gingerbread Man, my adored and incomparable husband of 18 years, and our two children who are as opposite to each other as two children who came from the same womb can be. The oldest gingerbread boy is 12, and is a human GPS system. He is a dedicated pianist, bridge player, reader, and tree climber. He loves eggs, but hates chicken. The youngest gingerbread boy is eight and likes to create things whether it be fairy houses, duct-tape mugs, origami cups, waffles, or chicken coops. He loves chicken, but hates eggs. Together, we live at the Gingerbread House. Sadly, the Gingerbread House lacks architectural gingerbread, but we make up for that in spice.

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: My husband was finishing up his Ph.D in Michigan, and had accepted a job in New Hampshire. We had one weekend without our boys in which to find a house. After dropping them off with my in-laws in New York state, we zoomed out here and spent two days looking at 18 houses. This was the last house we saw. It was in biking distance to my husband’s work, a half-mile to the elementary school, and it met all our needs.

This house, while not my dream home (as it lacks turrets and hidden staircases) was real and possible, and it seemed like a solid place for us to build our life here in New Hampshire.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I didn’t love it when we moved here. Sure, I was carried away by the fireplace and the screened-in porch, but I grew up in a city – busy, diesel-filled, populated – and we are not in a city. We are in a forest. Within 48 hours of being here, we were at the emergency room because an enormous tick had implanted itself on my baby’s head and we couldn’t get it out. Then, while talking to a neighbor, I learned that a black bear had loped across her front lawn. When the moving truck came, we discovered the upstairs toilet had been leaking for months, and there was mold growing in one of the kitchen cupboards.

I thought, What is this place? I felt very isolated here, a stranger in a strange wooded land, half an hour’s drive from anywhere. I remember going for a walk by myself one evening (clinking my keys loudly so as to scare off any bears who might be lingering around), having a bit of a pity party when I had a sudden thought. If God were to descend from His heaven at that very minute, He would say to me, “Dear girl, this is the best I have to offer. You would trade this for closer proximity to Home Depot?”

That put it in perspective for me. I began to look around me and appreciate where I am, and the delicate intricacies of nature. I live in the forest, not in a suburban sprawl. I’m woken by the sound of chickadees, woodpeckers, and wood thrush instead of a neighbor’s car alarm. The hooting of a barred owl sings me to sleep. There are rafters of wild turkeys and patches of wild blueberries. There are stone walls galore. You can’t hike through the town forest without coming upon at least one. And yeah, we have a town forest.

In spring, the greenness takes my breath away. The trillium and lady’s slippers growing in the forest are a surprising gift each year. And the moss! I could wax poetic about moss, but I’ll refrain. There are even choruses of peeper frogs hanging out at the vernal pools.

In summer, the trees are cool and shady. There’s nothing like a summer thunderstorm in the forest to make you feel alive and to ponder existence as you watch 100-foot tall trees swaying like blades of grass.

In winter, it’s Narnia here. The snow is divine. The hush after a nor’easter is practically holy. And autumn? I don’t need to say anything about the changing leaves. I live in a glorious place. I live in a fairy tale.

As for our house and property, we have over an acre of land, most of it wooded. There are trails, a stream, a spring-fed pond with an ancient goldfish, a tree house, a soon-to-be-chicken coop, and a plethora of flowers and flowering bushes and trees.

And did I mention there are no sales or income tax here? Live free or die, baby.

Q: Is decorating your home to look beautiful important to you? Or is it more about decorating to live well, no matter how it may look?

A: You would think after all that rhapsodizing about nature that I would simply be content to put a mat on the floor and call it a day.

The fact is I seek inspiration from my surroundings, whether nature-made or man-made. I like beautiful things. Even more than that, I like useful things. Beauty and living well are not mutually exclusive. If something is both beautiful and useful, hip hip hooray! Sign me up!

Q: How have your boys affected your aesthetic? How have you changed in terms of style and expectations since adding kids to your home?

A: Most of my aesthetic pre-dated the arrival of my boys. I came to my adult life with a few really great possessions that have shaped my style: the turtleback trunk, the child’s roll-top desk (it has a secret compartment!), and a hand-stitched velvet crazy quilt. In addition to that, I had a love of color, and a big imagination. So I wouldn’t say that my style has changed as much as it has evolved, layer upon layer, with layers representing who I was before and who we, as a family, are now, with space left for who we will become.

Just as I found my own aesthetic, my gingerbread boys will need to find theirs. Currently, their aesthetic mostly involves Legos. However, I have recently recognized their need for softness and comfort. While shopping for rugs, both of the boys made a beeline for the one that was incredibly soft. Life can be hard, even for a third- or a sixth-grader, and there’s nothing quite like a soft rug under your feet, a comfortable chair, or a flannel blanket to wrap up in.

Q: What is your favorite room in which to spend time in your home? What makes it special?

A: It’s hard to choose a favorite. Currently when I’m not in my office or in the kitchen, I’m usually found in the living room. The sofa is incredibly comfortable, and the pillows are soft. The boys are usually at the piano or cello, and the room is infused with light. It’s a happy place.

In fall or winter, I’m more likely to be found in the kitchen and family room with the fire roaring.

Q: Do you consciously decorate or arrange a room with your kids in mind?

A: Aside from an incident involving an air-born trombone mute and the living room wall, my boys have not been a destructive duo, and I have not needed to decorate or arrange a room to childproof it, other than for safety reasons. When they were little, we had baskets of toys in the living room, their bedrooms, and the play area. Somehow, they either learned on their own what was and what was not a toy, or else I hovered over them until they were old enough to know better. Mostly though, I think I provided them with things that were far more interesting to play with than, say, Mommy’s books.

Now that they are getting older, I want our home to be inviting to both them and their friends. So we have a tree house. We have places to make blanket forts. We have a stocked pantry, and a mom who’s willing to make chocolate-chip banana muffins as needed. We have a floor plan that allows them to run in a circle, as well as space for quality time, which in our family is another name for wrestle-mania.

Their bedrooms are all theirs. Other than providing them with the basics of furniture and linens, and the occasional license plate, I have kept my decorating whims to myself. Their rooms are off-limits, and I respect that.

Q: Do you consciously decorate or arrange a room with your boys in mind?

A: Aside from an incident involving an air-born trombone mute and the living room wall, my boys have not been a destructive duo, and I have not needed to undecorate or arrange a room to childproof it, other than for safety reasons. I don’t think I consciously decorate with them in mind, but they have a way of infusing all that I do.

Now that they are getting older, I want our home to be inviting to both them and their friends. So we have a tree house. We have places to make blanket forts. We have a stocked pantry, and a mom who’s willing to make chocolate-chip banana muffins as needed. We have a floor plan that allows them to run in a circle. We have space for quality time, which in our family is another name for wrestle-mania.

Q: What do you hope the things you keep in your home are teaching your kids about your family? What do you hope they’ll remember most from this home?

A: Tim O’Brien wrote a short story called “The Things They Carried” in which he lists the possessions carried by a group of soldiers in the Vietnam War. You can really tell a person’s priorities when you look objectively at what they’re willing to pack through the Vietnam jungle.

When I look at the things we “carry” in our home, it’s mostly books. My mother was a children’s librarian, so I grew up in libraries; my favorite gifts as a child were autographed copies of books. I can’t help but pass that on to my children. We value stories, both true and fictional, and consequently, we have books all over our home.

We also “carry” photos of family members from many different generations. I want my boys to know that they are not alone in this world, but that they come from a great line of hardworking, intelligent, strong people, and that those attributes are bound up in their very DNA. I want them to strive to be great, like their forebears were.

We “carry” antique maps of places we have lived and places that are important to us. These maps tie us to locations, and center us in our world. You can never be lost if you know where you’re from.

When our boys grow up and create homes of their own, I hope they’ll carry with them these connections to past and present. In addition, I hope they’ll carry memories of playing chess together in front of the fire. I hope they’ll remember climbing trees in summer. I hope they’ll remember dancing in the kitchen with their goofy parents. I hope they’ll remember the smell of biscuits baking, the sounds of the birds at the feeder, or the wonder of watching their seeds grow into a garden.

More than likely, they’ll remember the gigantic tree frog we found inside the fireplace doors, and watching the Muppets Bohemian Rhapsody on YouTube. Kids are like that.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What surprised you the most about being a mother? What do you already miss?

A: My boys surprise me on a daily basis with what they do and who they are becoming. For example, I love watching the joy on my oldest son’s face when he has conquered a difficult piano piece. I love hearing his plans to befriend a new student in his class. I love hearing his excitement about an upcoming event.

Just a few weeks ago, the youngest gingerbread boy got up early on a Saturday, made waffles and herbal tea, and brought me breakfast in bed. Just because. Then he made breakfast in bed for everyone else. The affection and selflessness he has is inspiring. These things are hallmarks of who these boys will become, and it’s gratifying on a daily basis to see them grow into themselves.

My children have forced me to dig deep into who I am and what I value and to draw upon patience that I do not naturally have, and become creative in ways I had not contemplated before (who knew a brand new box of tissues makes for the best entertainment on a 5-hour road trip for an 18-month old?), and be selfless in a way I could not have fathomed before having kids. Just as I would be a different person if I had not married my husband, I would be a vastly different person if I were not mother to these two boys.

I know that I have a limited number of years with my boys before they fly the coop, so I try not to dwell on the ticking clock. But I do miss the way their bodies curled up when they were infants. I miss their graham cracker dusted hands and their chubby milk cheeks when they were toddlers. I miss their kindergarten confidence.

Some day I know I’ll miss hearing the piano as they practice – something else will have to determine the soundtrack of my life. I know I’ll miss making them breakfast in the morning. Right now, one leaves before the other, so I get time alone with each of them every morning to talk about what’s happening that day. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss their enthusiasm. I’ll miss their fist-bumps. But right now, I still have these things, so I enjoy what I’ve got.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me to leave my expectations at the door, to shed them once those pregnancy test results came back positive, because expectations have a way of ambushing you when you least expect it. Children come with their own personalities and gifts and challenges; you don’t get to choose characteristics from the grab-bag of life, and it’s better that way, isn’t it?

I wish someone had told me to be gentle with myself, every day. Motherhood is hard, and if your children have any sort of challenges, it’s even harder. I wish someone had reminded me that I am the best mother for these particular boys, hand-picked to be their nurturer, advocate, and teacher, and that as much as they need me, I need them. Those words would have been more welcome advice than the oft-quoted and guilt-producing “time-passeth-quickly-savor-the-moment” speech.

Yes, it’s important to savor the moment; it’s true that the years pass quickly, but savoring the moment only gives you snippets of life. It’s even more important to have a wide-angle perspective, and savor the sum total of these moments. We all have good moments and bad moments, good days and bad days. When we look at the grand mosaic of these moments taken together, we can see the artistry and the beauty of the life that we have.

–-

The way their bodies curl up when they’re infants. Graham cracker dusted hands and chubby milk cheeks. Kindergarten confidence. All those words just melt me, and I have a feeling I’ll be reading them a few more times. Thank you so much for them, Ginger!

Friends, have you ever found yourself in a home that wasn’t exactly the stuff of your dreams? How did you fall in love with it? I’d love to hear your stories!

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

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Thoughts For A Weekend
October 16, 2013 at 5:16 pm

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amy3 June 25, 2013 at 10:54 am

Those last three paragraphs! I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

And I love that fun pantry full of jars and baskets.

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2 Ginger J. June 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm

I have to admit, I have a thing for pantries! You never know when you will need to spontaneously come up with say, Mauritian cookies for a sixth-grade world fair project….not that I (ahem) have any experience with that!

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3 Ginger J. June 25, 2013 at 8:41 pm

I do have a thing for pantries! You never know when you will need to spontaneously come up with say, Mauritian cookies for a sixth-grade world fair project….not that I (ahem) have any experience with that!

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4 Alex June 26, 2013 at 2:42 am

Same response to those last few paragraphs. Thank you for your beautiful words of wisdom, Ginger.

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5 Ginger J. June 27, 2013 at 8:02 am

I know! Unfortunately, I’m traveling and only have a iPad and spotty wifi to work from and keep getting duplicates! Frustrating!

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6 Ginger J. June 27, 2013 at 8:23 am

*an iPad. Ugh. See what I mean? :)

7 Jenny also June 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

So well written! This is my favorite part “So we have a tree house. We have places to make blanket forts. We have a stocked pantry, and a mom who’s willing to make chocolate-chip banana muffins as needed. We have a floor plan that allows them to run in a circle, as well as space for quality time, which in our family is another name for wrestle-mania.”

I’m gonna buy some chocolate chips today!

We have a lot of wrestle-mania as quality time in our house too. Maybe it’s a families with 2 boys thing? Whatever the case, I love it and is sure to join in the rough and tumble fun although my first choice for quality time is cuddling up with a book. (we’re sure to do that too, of course!)

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8 Ginger J. June 25, 2013 at 8:36 pm

You can never have too many chocolate chips! And I have to admit, my first choice for quality time is cuddling up with a book, too.

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9 Kristin June 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I really like this house. It is warm and comfortable and lived-in. Also–paint color on the walls! It’s nice to see a house that isn’t all white.

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10 Nicole Devereux June 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Beautifully written, and with such great perspective on parenting, yes — but also on life in general. An interview to be read and re-read.

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11 Ginger J. June 25, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Thanks, Nicole!

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12 Louise June 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Ah, those last three paragraphs, too! I didn’t expect to be shedding tears, but I am. Beautiful perspective that apparently I didn’t know I needed!

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13 joanie June 26, 2013 at 4:06 am

Ditto from me.

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14 Ginger J. June 26, 2013 at 6:24 am

So glad that something I said resonated!

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15 Carter Higgins June 25, 2013 at 1:13 pm

So much to soak in here. I loved every word of this! Do you have a guest room? Do you need a new best friend?

So lovely!

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16 Ginger J. June 25, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Ha ha! You’re welcome any time, Carter!

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17 Carolina June 25, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Love the poetry of her words.

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18 Elise June 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm

What a beautiful home – the well-stocked and organized pantry is so inviting.

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19 PARIS BEE kids blog June 25, 2013 at 3:23 pm

What a warm and beautiful home! Living in a small apartment in Paris I am definitely envious of the large open spaces. Such a great home to raise a family in!

xoxo PARIS BEE kids blog

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20 kerry June 25, 2013 at 4:16 pm

It’s refreshing to see a REAL lived in house with kids! Ginger’s way with words is amazing. This also reminds me of a friend that is currently living in the woods and hour from anything! I’m forwarding it to her.

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21 Ginger J. June 25, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Thanks, Kerry! We’re definitely Real around here!

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22 Shannon { A Mom's Year } June 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Oh my goodness, I love this interview. I can totally relate to the city-girl-moves-to-the-country thing. Every year my kids ask to go camping and I tell them we already ARE camping and we should go stay in a hotel in the city for a change. :)

I love how Ginger captures the blessings of life in the country…the birds, the greenness, the incredible stillness in winter. And her thoughts on motherhood are inspired.

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23 Ginger J. June 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

I’m laughing at this…that’s totally my idea of a vacation too!

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24 Clara June 25, 2013 at 5:36 pm

As a mom of all boys, I loved this! I think this has been my favorite Living With Kids so far. Thank you Ginger.

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25 Ginger J. June 25, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Thanks, Kerry! We’re definitely Real around here!thanks, Clara!

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26 Ginger J. June 25, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Ok, so I don’t know why my previous comment was duplicated here. But my intended comment was thanks, Clara!

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27 Heather June 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm

“…as much as they need me, I need them.” Sigh! I loved your thoughts, Ginger.

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28 Serenia June 25, 2013 at 8:27 pm

I love this interview. I generally look at the house photos and skim the text. However this time I’m drawn to read and re-read and re-read. I feel as though I’m reading her soul (and it is a beautiful honest soul). Very lovely.

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29 Lauren June 25, 2013 at 9:15 pm

This is exactly the type of home I could see myself living in, and I also want to move to New Hampshire! How beautiful. I have never enjoyed snow, or lived where it was very cold, but when you compared it to Narnia, I was immediately more amenable to living in a snowy climate. I’ve only met one person from New Hampshire, and she had three boys and they loved being in the snow all winter long.

“Somehow, they either learned on their own what was and what was not a toy, or else I hovered over them until they were old enough to know better.” I have heard this frequently in the Living with Kids series. When does this learning kick in, because my 4- and 2-year-old boys are a pair of Tasmanian devils, and I am not sure how to reign them in!

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30 Ginger J. June 26, 2013 at 6:29 am

Heh. I’m no voice of authority, but give it time… And good luck!

As for Narnia, I’ve always lived in snowy places, but I have to say that New Hampshire trumps anywhere else for winter. It really does look like Narnia!

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31 becky June 25, 2013 at 9:43 pm

i just want to curl up and read a book in your home! i hope you wouldn’t find me too intrusive. :)

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32 Ginger J. June 26, 2013 at 6:18 am

Becky, there’s a reading nook for everyone!

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33 Mandy June 26, 2013 at 1:15 am

Lovely. Just loved your perfectly written words. I have to go back now and actually look at your beautiful home since I was so distracted by your wonderful words.

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34 Amy @ LittleONE June 26, 2013 at 2:48 am

Gosh, I loved reading this! What beautiful words and such wisdom about your growing boys. Thank you – that was just lovely and resonated with me so much.

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35 Barbara June 26, 2013 at 6:40 am

Oh Ginger! I have always thought you were amazing. Now, hearing you describe the Gingerbread Family’s life in your words — I am (we are) so blessed to know you. I can’t wait to hear about some of the summer adventures you’ll have. You rock! ;-)

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36 Ginger J. June 27, 2013 at 7:57 am

Barb, I think you are amazing as well!

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37 kelly June 26, 2013 at 8:16 am

i love the yarn storage.

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38 suzanne June 26, 2013 at 8:17 am

That is the most beautiful house post you’ve featured on your blog. Thanks for sharing!

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39 Jenna Hale June 26, 2013 at 9:26 am

My favorite Living with Kids post thus far. She is stunning with words.

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40 Katrin June 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I am a friend of Gingers, and I also cried as I read the last three paragraphs. She has a way of finding the beauty in just about everything. I love her house, and as beautiful as it is here, in person it is even more amazing! What you can’t get from the pictures is the warmth, the love, and the welcoming the house gives. They are an incredible family and to be in that house is to be part of the family. Ginger always have something wonderful and freshly made to share, and a wonderful pot of tea when I see her. Her smile makes all your cares fade. And that pantry actually always looks like that. All that food, so organized, it is my favorite place in the house. I find myself finding a way to walk by it, just to take it in. I am so glad she shared her home here as she does with her friends. I am also glad that this world gets to enjoy the amazing boys she is raising. They are cherished and loved and I am glad my kids can call them friends. But most of all, I am so happy to call Ginger my friend!

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41 Ginger J. June 27, 2013 at 7:55 am

Aw, Katrin!

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42 Ginger J. June 27, 2013 at 7:56 am

Aw, Katrin!

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43 Sandie June 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

This is one of the best interviews I’ve read in a while! I was drawn in by the pretty plants on the windowsill, but left with a lasting impression on Ginger’s inspiring philosophy on life. You don’t need to have kids to be able to relate to her lovely perspective on life; it makes you wish every childhood is as idyllic and dreamy as the one she is giving her children. What a gift they will always be able to carry throughout their lives regardless of what memories they remember.

Her play on words is poetic in it’s nature. My favorite section is the last one regarding the sum total of life with it’s good and bad. I also share the same aesthetic values too! It may seem like a shallow pursuit, at times, to want to see and be surrounded by beauty in all things but it makes life that much more inspiring for me too. :)

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44 Peggy S. June 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

Am hastily wiping away my tears. Thank you, Ginger, for sharing your beautiful home and your beautiful words. I love that phrase “kindergarten confidence!” P.S. I love the array of jars in your pantry – am feeling inspired!

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