I don’t think this was even supposed to be a holiday home tour, but when I saw Amy’s cheery bursts of Christmas on some older photos, I knew I wanted to share her with you this time of year. It worked out so well, since her message is one I’d like to take along in the New Year. She’s honest about her home, honest about her illness, honest about her worries of not doing it all, and honest in her ultimate reaction to take life as it comes. Even when it doesn’t look like the pictures you’ve pinned in your inspiration files. Especially then.

I’m so excited to end December with this one.

Hey, there! I am so honored to share my home with you on one of my favorite websites. Our family lives near South Bend, Indiana and we are just about ten minutes away from the beautiful Notre Dame University campus. My husband works in computer programming and I have been running my little corner of the internet now for almost thirteen years while raising our two kiddos, ages ten and fourteen.

Life has a funny way of being everything you never expected. For example, the guy I saw auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof in our high school play ended up being the guy that I now get to call my life partner. In hindsight, that should have never worked. We were just kids and I often reflect that I don’t even recognize myself from back then.

Can I just say, I’m not even sure if I would like her?

We had this lottery life moment where we both changed so very much as we grew up, but we both grew into people we greatly admire. To love your best friend and raise kids with them is a great gift that I try not to take for granted.

We also did many things I would never advise my own children to do. We got engaged when we were just babies ourselves, we dropped out of college to work, and we weren’t necessarily sure that marriage was a great next step in our relationship, but maybe just an expectation we had set for ourselves. Shortly after saying our vows, we packed all of our belongings in a car and headed to a state where we knew no one, lost the job that we moved for, found ourselves in the worst kind of financial situation imaginable, and had a baby that we didn’t really know how to care for.

I mean, the kid was great, but what do we do with him?

All of those weirdly wrong moments ended up being moments that make you empathetic and better people. Without these moments of emotional stretching, I fear the type of person I would have shaped into.

I remember our first married days, sitting on a sprawled out futon on the floor playing board games because we didn’t owe a couch. I remember humbly dining at the folding table and chairs, and feeling so grown-up as a new bride whipping up some Hamburger Helper for my man. I remember that crazy belief that you can get by on love forever and who cares what other people think because you believe you are living the dream.

Meanwhile, our friends were still doing keg stands and killing it at SPRING BREAK while we contemplated having kids. We basically took the Disney FastPass in life and ran with it. We certainly missed out on those youthful carefree days, but I’m excited to be young enough to enjoy all these retirement perks as I near my fortieth birthday and am signing my son up for his freshman year of high school.

This home we live in was not my dream home at all. After my husband had been job searching for almost a year, he finally got a positive response from a company almost originally where we had started our life. Coming home felt humbling since we had been so proud of the new life we had carved and we were sad to abandon so much we had worked for.

The truth is, you can only consider the ATM a slot machine so many times before you have to swallow your pride and return.

Our son was just one and, frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing – did I mention this? – so this was exactly where we needed to be with our family.

My husband bought the house while I finalized our move and when I saw our new home, I may have cried.

This is incredibly embarrassing now because I had A HOME, something so many people wish they had, but a truthful and selfish fact that this was not the house that I wanted.

This was long before we were being inspired by Trading Spaces or Fixer Upper.

There was no Pinterest reference for paint colors and easy DIY’s.

The tiny house movement was not even a blip on the radar and this house was just too small compared to everyone else’s home.

I had no personal style, simply a style mimicked by my parents.

I saw no vision for my home and, frankly, we had no money to make it happen.

Here is the thing: this house has been the biggest blessing for us because we have had years to make it our very own, to find our own style, and to transform spaces into cozy corners that I never thought I had. At a modest 1,500 square feet, it is also a bit more manageable to transform those spaces.

The cost of housing is very low here so people are able to afford big houses for a lot less money than they would in other areas. Our split level home is situated in a 60s subdivision and was one of the first homes built here. The owner, who built our home, loved the house so much that she lived here twice!

When we moved in, many of the original owners still lived here and it was mostly older families. We are recently seeing a turnover with younger families moving in which is so nice since it is challenging to live in an area where your kids don’t have other kids to play with.

We find connecting with other families is doubly challenged by our school system since our children attend magnet schools and many kids go out of district or to private schools instead of where we are supposed to go. We often miss that feeling of community where your kids ride a bus together or see families outside of your neighborhood at school events. It is difficult when everyone scatters and can be a bigger challenge as a mom to make friends with other moms when you feel so disconnected in this way.

I can’t tell you that we have done everything the right way, but somehow God had a hand in how this all played out and so many wrong decisions turned out to be the perfect ones, including the home we live in.

That Disney FastPass plan seems still in place for our life and we are seeing Facebook announcements of babies while our kids are at this super fun age where family nights really are fun and not work.

The keg stands we missed seem worth it now that our kids are old enough to be left with their grandparents so we could take our dream trip to see Italy together.

As so many move into bigger houses and take on bigger mortgages, we have been rapidly paying our house off with just six years left until we can truly say that we own this place.

Was the temptation there to live bigger? OF COURSE! Many of my friends live in homes that are in the 4,000 to 7,000 square foot range because the cost of living here is so affordable. It is tempting when you see these gorgeous homes filled with brand new everything. Could we have done that? You bet!

What I didn’t expect by selecting this home were the bigger blessings our home would bring to us when my health took a turn. Last winter I was in debilitating joint pain that seemed to come from nowhere. My elbows began to throb and my fingers became burning hot and stiff. The pain later began to travel down through my knees and was so painful that I nearly had to scoot down our stairs. I had many weird health issues that never had made sense and my doctor ran me through a battery of tests to figure out what was happening from vitamin deficiencies to Lupus to Lyme. Everything kept coming back normal and the only remedy seemed to be steroids and pain killers.

I decided to join a Bible study at my church, something I had not done since my kids were small, and a conversation with our group leader took a weird turn as I kept coming to the study bracing various parts of my body. She began asking me questions about my flexibility, certainly a weird conversation to have in the midst of a Jen Hatmaker study. I had always been known for my flexibility abilities, in fact, it’s what helped me when I danced, so I was proud to show off my bendy fingers and impressive yoga stretches.

After running me through a little checklist, she looked me in the eye and said, “I think you have a connective tissue disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. You need to talk to your doctor.”

I did, in fact, have my answer. They say that this disease is rare, but I just believe it is rarely diagnosed and many people like me have a lifetime of symptoms with just no answers.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a group of inherited connective tissue disorders, caused by various defects in the synthesis of collagen. EDS is known to affect men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

There are six distinct types of EDS currently identified. All share joint laxity, soft skin, easy bruising, and some systemic manifestations. Different subtypes of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are associated with a variety of genetic causes, some of which are inherited and passed on from parent to child.

If you have the most common varieties of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the one that I was diagnosed with, there’s a 50 percent chance that you’ll pass on the gene to each of your children.

Discovering I had it meant that we had to have our children evaluated which nearly broke my heart. Who would want to hand that down to their children? It was confirmed less than six months ago that both of my kids have this too. Of course, we were very sad and wanted a different answer for them.

The good news though is that they will never feel like a hypochondriac and they will always have answers on why these weird things happen.

They will also always have a mom who gets it.

There is no cure for this, just a lot of supplements, diet modifications, and pain management options. I have learned that gentle yoga, Epsom salt soaks, and giving myself permission to rest are the best things I can do for myself. Resting is the hardest part as I’m a very driven, OCD, say-yes-to-everything kind of person. The holidays, in particular, nearly kill me every year because I want it to be perfect for my family.

Don’t we all want that?

Around Thanksgiving I felt awful and we had our family gatherings, the Nutcracker for my daughter, and we had to get a tree that weekend because it was the only day we had free. After doing all of the things for all the people, I told my husband that no magical tree experience was happening this year.

He headed on down to the hardware store and got our tree instead of the magical tree cutting ceremony we usually did, I made a cookie sheet of loaded nachos that we ate on the couch, and we watched National Lampoon’s Christmas and belly-laughed in our messy house.

It was not traditional and it was not the way I wanted to do it, but together we had it all.

I often get asked about my job as a blogger and I want you to know that it is wildly wonderful, exhausting, and weird. It is also one of the only occupations that you share what you do and the immediate response is asking how and if I earn money doing it.

My journey to blogging was paved with debt and wanting to help others who may have found they are in the same financial struggles. This was long before there were platforms to share a message or where saving money was trendy. Back then, it was contributing to online forums filled with people that liked washing sandwich bags multiple times or found a new way to use their bread tabs.

When the recession hit, that was a huge turning point for my work because everyone wanted to save and learn to make things themselves. It was also a turning point where I looked at this little hobby as a career. It still boggles my mind that the poorly drawn sketches I drew for my husband over a decade ago actually turned into a real site that is my full-time job. Blogging is not only a job, but it is where I have found my people. The blog community is filled with incredible people, many that I count among some of my dearest friends.

Circling back to our home, the reason why this house is such a blessing is the beauty in its size. If we would have made the evolution of upgrades like so many we know, the feeling of being overwhelmed would have caused me even more issues with my health.

Lucky for me, embracing minimalism and small spaces has been a true gift because I have less to maintain.

Instead of focusing on the smallness of our spaces, I look at our home as one of my biggest challenges to utilize small space to the best of its ability.

A shed attached to our home became an unexpected bonus room. A corner in a bathroom made the perfect space for a second shower. A wall was notched out to create a computer nook for our kids. Walls were knocked down to create the feeling of bigger space and an empty corner ended up being the perfect place to tuck a faux fireplace.

As a crafter, I am particularly proud that so much in our home was handmade by me. It is something that brings uniqueness to our home that can’t be replicated and often overshadows the spaces that still need some work. As I am learning, there are always projects to do.

All of this is to say that even if our lives don’t work out quite the way we expect it, even if we don’t get the dream house, even if our holiday is spent eating messy nachos and a heck of a lot less magic this coming year, let your heart be filled with gratitude.

If I have a family that loves me, if I have a warm place to rest my head, if I have food on my table…I, certainly have it all.

I used to be ashamed of that girl crying over not having her dream home. I wish someone would have told me to just embrace the progress and, through my interactions, I have the ability to continue growing and stretching into a better person with a bigger heart.

I hope that when my children reflect back on their childhood in this home that they will remember that it was a home where every room is used and was a safe place where they were always welcome.

I want them to have memories of big stacks of books in every corner, belly laughter over board games that we taught them, and that our kitchen table was always warm and welcoming to all people.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my family’s story and I hope you will come visit me on the site and say hello. It has given me immeasurable joy to share our home with you today!

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Thank you, Amy! I mean it: My favorite part of these tours is always the honesty shared. You never know who needs to hear just one of your sentences. Often, it’s me. I hope your words have affected someone else out there, too.

(And if you think I’m done with the holiday tours, I’m not! One more next week that is straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. I think it’s the happiest, brightest way to start January. You’re going to love her thoughts, too!)

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.