You’ve probably read Ashley’s blog. It’s been around a while, and it’s always been a lovely place to spend some time. If you check out her FAQ, in fact, you’ll easily lose an afternoon. (See: Can you help me plan a trip to New York and Can you tell me more about shipping furniture from Bali?)

I’m thrilled she offered to show us around her home today. There’s a lot of inspiration here, friends! Welcome, Ashley!

Hi, I’m Ashley. This is the home I share with my husband, Aron, our five-year-old son Hudson, two-year-old daughter Skyler, and our cocker spaniel named Sawyer – who stays so close to my feet that I’m constantly tripping over him.

I first met Aron when we were undergraduates at the University here in Davis, almost 18 years ago. I knew almost immediately that life would be better with him in it, and I was so right. We got married after years of dating, and will be celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary this year. 

Our kids are of course the cutest, smartest, most charming kids in the world! (Doesn’t everyone say that?) Hudson is a bright, creative, sensitive boy, who can’t stop moving and who loves to climb. His descriptions of the world around him are filled with superlatives and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Skyler delights us every day as well. She’s bursting with personality and it’s all very uniquely hers. She has so many expressions, from her brilliantly bright smiles to her dejected sighs and her silly slumped walk – no words can do justice to this charming, dynamic little person. And watching them together is often the greatest joy of all. 

But, like any children, they also can drive us crazy! Half of time it’s the silliest stuff. Like the way Hudson won’t let go of a hug and stop kissing goodnight at bedtime. (I’m not making that up. I think it’s a five-year-old thing.) Or the way Skyler wants to do everything by herself even though it takes about ten times as long. (Definitely a two-year-old thing.) 

Which is all to say that they don’t do anything terribly bad. Yet. So anything I could say about their faults at this age would sound completely ridiculous. But if you’re hungry, tired, losing patience, multitasking, tired of answering the same question over and over…well, okay, it’s still ridiculous but hopefully understandable?

We live in Davis, a charming little University town just outside of Sacramento, that is surrounded by farmland.

I’ve actually likened it to Stars Hollow a few times – more relevant now that we’re all talking about Gilmore Girls again. If you go to the farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings, you’ll see the whole town out, from Aron’s high school friends to our college friends to, now, our kids’ school friends.

And when the sun hits it just right, it can all feel a bit made-for-tv: the small group who gather at the corner with a flag for peace every Saturday morning; the local farmers who drive in from Capay Valley every week with fresh flowers and vegetables, offering enough samples for a second breakfast; the girl scouts operating the pedal-powered carousel; and the regular troubadours, like one who plays his accordion across from the fair trade coffee stand. Some might recall it as the town once lampooned by Stephen Colbert and countless others for the toad tunnel it built to help amphibians safely cross a newly constructed road.

Its main selling points? There are hundreds of miles of bike lanes (we have the highest number of bikes per capita in the U.S.), weekly picnics in the park with pony rides when the days are long (March through October), an amazing farmer’s market, a world class University – and all that it brings, like an art museum and a performing arts center, as well as a more diverse population – and a handful of cafes and restaurants clustered in a very walkable little downtown core.

On a date night, Aron and I are likely to ride bikes downtown for dinner and a movie. 

It has its problems, too: it’s growing fast, and one worries that the small-town charm won’t last forever. While we once took too hard a line approach to banning chain stores, they may be coming in a bit too quickly now. Plus, the University is growing faster than housing can keep up. And it lacks the excitement and restaurant options of a big city.

But there’s a lot to love about Davis. 

And it can’t be overstated how awesome it is to have our families here. Both Aron’s and my parents live in town. Mine moved after us, a few years ago, from Southern California where I grew up. 

We moved here from New York when Hudson was one. Aron finished his residency at NYU and we knew we had to decide: return now or maybe never. We were really sad to leave the city we’d come to love (I likened it to breaking up with a boyfriend whom you still care about but who you know isn’t the one).

A job was opening at Kaiser in Northern California, close enough for us to live in Davis, and I thought: if our kids grow up to be like Aron, that would be a pretty wonderful thing. 

We found our house – a 1964-Streng (check out this old ad!) – online one night, just after we’d decided we were definitely going to rent, and called immediately. We made an offer without seeing it! 

It was nerve-wracking, but I think anyone who buys a home will tell you that, soon, the terrifying part becomes the possibility of losing it! You start picturing yourself there. In fact, we exchanged letters with the previous owners during the negotiation and she talked about how they’d spend Fourth of July holidays in the pool, looking up through the palm trees to spot the sky divers who start off the celebration at Community Park, before walking over to see the fireworks. Having just spent the holiday in Manhattan, where there’s always a mad scramble to find a roof-deck or spot on the highway to see the fireworks…I think that cinched it.

And now, all the time, I think how happy I am that we went with our gut!

Moving to someplace that made us really happy, and that we could decorate with the expectation of staying, really helped with leaving New York. It helped us look forward instead of back. 

I wish I were better about daily cleaning habits. I am so much happier in an uncluttered house. Our home is relatively small – four bedrooms, about 1700 square feet, and a lack of storage – so it can get messy easily. 

Clearing the kitchen counter on the regular is key: when that is all covered with stuff, I definitely feel more stressed out. It’s so visually impactful for the room, it’s where we prep and eat and gather, but it’s also the natural collecting spot for keys, mail, jackets, lunchboxes, and just about everything else that comes into the house. 

We try to avoid being too precious about things and while we of course have some commonsense rules, we try to provide lots of places to be more free, like a chalkboard in the kitchen where it’s okay to color on the walls.

I think, ultimately, one has to have the perspective that scuffs and stains will occur, and if you’re not okay with that, then it’s probably not worth having. Seeking out forgiving furniture (those Eames plastic chairs are fantastic – they look great, but you can clean crayon marks right off them) and buying some extra wall-paint makes it easier to relax.

I suppose the thing that I tend to do most consistently to make it feel livable, however, is to keep the kids’ toys in the kids’ rooms, particularly when they’re asleep. We make a quick sweep around bedtime and will either deposit things outside the doors in the hall or put them inside their rooms. It’s a small thing, but I really like a toy-free living room when it’s just Aron and I finishing up the day together.

I spent five years in graduate school, finishing two master’s degrees and the coursework for a PhD, and then decided academia wasn’t for me. More years put toward a thesis didn’t seem like a good investment if you don’t want the end-goal.

We moved to New York and I found myself starting completely over – interning first at a city magazine and later at a book publishing house. It was completely humbling. But it taught me that you can always make a change if you don’t like where you’re going. 

I was a book editor by the time we left New York, five years later. 

Since then, blogging has become a full-time job, and yet I still sometimes feel like an intern. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Blogging allows me to wear quite a few creative hats: writer, photographer, publisher, advertiser…that it’s so dynamic is one of my favorite things about it.

But it also has that same feeling of unwieldiness that an internship might have. There are no guaranteed paths. 

I confess that, lately, I’ve been wondering how to go forward. I think the landscape has changed dramatically since I began. It’s incredible to see all of these women (so many bloggers are women) creating their own careers and profit models, but I also worry that the advertising is taking over to an unsustainable degree for the small blogger. Native advertising is everywhere, so how does one balance that with integrity? And then, for me, there’s the issue of keeping the space feeling personal without putting too much focus on my family. 

My favorite posts are the ones, generally prefixed Thinking About, where I build on something I’ve read or on an issue someone else raised, but using a first-person perspective, to get at a broader or a different question. The conversations can get so interesting! For example, this one about choosing (or not choosing) to have more than one child; or this one about joining finances in a marriage

A lot of readers say they most appreciate the travelogues – long travel diaries that many use as guides – and I really enjoy looking back and reading the monthly (eventually bi-annual) updates I write about the kids, and have written since Hudson was little. 

The kids wake up around 6:42am…okay, maybe not exactly, but it feels that precise! Children have amazingly accurate little body clocks, don’t they? If Aron is home, he’ll start breakfast and then leave with Skyler for school first, with Hudson and I staying put for 20 more minutes. If it’s just me, I might keep her with me another hour.

Hudson’s day is very short – just three hours – but a few afternoons each week he will either go to an afternoon play program or get picked up by a sitter to give me a few more hours of work-time. I’m on the computer trying to do whatever I can for the blog when they’re gone. On Wednesdays, I volunteer in his classroom. We just wrapped up a bunch of after school activities (swim, soccer, music), so the pace is a bit slower lately, but it still feels like there aren’t enough hours in each day. 

Aron gets home around 6:00 most days and we all eat together soon after. Bedtime for the kids is around 7:30 and then Aron and I read the New York Times, compete on the mini crossword, finish up work, and try to watch a show. I usually go to sleep around midnight, which is WAY too late. 

Do you see what’s missing there? Working out, prepping bountiful meals (including my lunch), vacuuming, and – most days – washing my hair. I tell myself that those things will come. This is just one stage of life. The stage of dwindling cardio capacity and dry shampoo.

 

I hope our kids always know, and always remember, how much we love them. I hope they never doubt that for a second. And that it has all of the protective, enriching, confidence-building properties science suggests it does, and not the ill effect of making them overly dependent on external affirmation. Such a balance!

I hope they remember spending mornings in pajamas, looking for pill bugs in our yard, jumping into the pool, riding their bikes out front, reading books in bed, and – beyond these walls – exploring the world on family vacations. I guess I want them to remember it all. Is that why I take so many pictures? 

If they forget something, I hope it’s that time I raised my voice. Let’s say ‘that time’ and pretend it’s only been the once. Sigh.

We are so in the thick of it right now. I have a hard time choosing a favorite thing about living with my kids because being with them isn’t much of a thing distinct from myself right now. They are present in everything!

Like so many parents, we are exhausted when they finally go to sleep, so ready for the quiet house, and then we start to scroll through our phones looking at pictures of them!

Such a cliché: the parents who can’t wait for their little ones to go to sleep and who then go back in to look at them. 

But really, they’re just growing up so fast. Sometimes I find myself growing nostalgic for a moment even as it’s happening! 

I look back at photos and videos of the kids in their first year of life and it already feels too distant. Things I thought I’d never forget, the silly name they gave some commonplace item, only conjured because I happened to take a video! It makes me greedy for more. Of course one can never really capture it all and so one has to try and appreciate the sounds, the smells, the sensations day-in and day-out, which isn’t always easy. 

There are probably a million little things I could say I wish someone had told me – or, rather to which I wish I had listened! Like “Wear sunscreen and don’t try to get a tan!” But I really don’t like to dwell on what ifs, and there’s nothing in my life that truly warrants regret.

I wish I’d traveled even more when funds were low but time was free; I wish I’d studied abroad for more than a summer in college; I wish I’d focused more on staying close to girlfriends from high school. 

But probably the thing that comes closest to a true “I wish someone had told me” would be something along the lines that, as a freelancer, you should still figure out a way to give yourself a real maternity leave. 

First of all, I really admire the societies that have safeguarded parental leave policies for their citizens so that this time is more protected and one doesn’t have to shoulder the burden of planning and budgeting and weighing all of the consequences on one’s own. And I hesitate to make any generalizations on this topic: without national standards in place, everyone is grappling with different employer parental leave standards, different means of compensation, different health care. If one does have to go back to work right away after having a baby, I don’t want to imply that she will have any less bond with her baby. Certainly not! 

But I do wish I’d really made more of an effort to step completely away from work for at least four months when I had my daughter, just as I got to do with my son when I worked in an office.

There’s a degree of multi-tasking that was necessary regardless with the second child, but in hindsight I did more than was absolutely necessary and that precious time just goes far too fast. I can’t tell you that any of the work I did was as vital as it should have been for me to be away some of those hours, and I’d gladly trade it for more time with my infant asleep against me. 

That said, I also believe that my children will be better for my seeking out a balance that feels appropriate to me. I hope I’m doing that well. 

–-

Thank you, Ashley! This was quite thought-provoking: “I wish I’d traveled even more when funds were low but time was free; I wish I’d studied abroad for more than a summer in college; I wish I’d focused more on staying close to girlfriends from high school.”

When funds were low but time was free. Isn’t that beautiful?

And who else wishes they’d stayed closer to friends from high school? Are you one of the lucky ones who remain tight with those who’ve known you the longest? Do you still make an effort to see each other? I was thinking, there are so many different times in our lives when we forge solid friendships – high school, sleep-away camp, college, our first home-away-from-home, new parents, and on and on. What have been your favorite bonds you’ve kept? I’d sure love to hear about them.

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.