Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 27 Sep 2016 17:39:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Shauna’s Beach Cottage Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:00:07 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There’s just something so happy about homes-away-from-home. Maybe it’s that they’re used primarily for getaways, so families arrive already excited and optimistic. Or maybe it’s because vacation homes usually aren’t overflowing with the day-to-day equipment and accessories that get us through an average week; instead, there might be a shed full of surfboards, a trunk full of floaties, and a fridge just waiting to be filled with barbecue fixings! Oh, that does sound enticing.

So when Shauna asked whether I’d like to see her family’s home or their getaway, I chose getaway! And I sure liked what she had to say about her Naples cottage.

Welcome, Shauna!

Hello! Welcome to our family of five! I’m a girl in the midst of all boys. I think that God was preparing me for boys as I was growing up, spending my summer days hanging out with my older brother and his friends. We were quite adventurous scaling the sides of cliffs, hiking, swimming in canals, and shooting BB guns. I guess that makes me equipped for boys of my own now!

My husband and I met in college and have been married almost 19 years. Turns out he’s quite the handy guy and can build or help out with any and most of my ongoing, never ending design projects. I got so lucky with him! Our three boys complete our world and we feel so incredibly blessed to be their parents.

Austin is our oldest and is a senior in high school. How is it that I have a man-child that old already? He is so wise and has made parenting a teenager actually quite easy.

Ethan is our middle child and is a freshman in high school. He takes after his dad in that he can build anything and he has already helped out in some of my big design projects, including helping build our bar in our Colorado home. I keep telling him that I need to hire him to be my personal assistant. Of course he asks, “How much will you pay me, Mom?” Is there no such thing as free help these days?

Dylan is our baby and just started middle school. Okay, now I officially feel old since I no longer have any kids in elementary school. Those were such fun days for us! He has a heart of gold and greets us every morning with big hugs. I look forward to those.

Before I started in my design world, I was a neonatal ICU nurse. But once our second child was born, I realized that I just wanted to be home with my boys full time. Those were some of the most rewarding years of my life when they were babies and toddlers.

It was during those days, that I really tapped into my design creativity. I painted every wall in our home, wallpapered ceilings, and learned how to sew custom drapery. Over time, my passion and love for design turned into a side job of interior styling for clients.

Last year, I launched The House of Silver Lining blog with the intention of it being a portfolio of my design work in my home and in clients. The idea of starting a blog really burned in my heart going back to the year we bought our beach cottage in Naples, Florida. This home inspired me in so many ways and I wanted to share our journey over there with everyone. It’s quite the story.

We live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but have been blessed to have this vacation home in Naples. I lived in Naples in my early twenties while attending college for a few years, so this little beachside community has always been near and dear to my heart. Eight years ago, after taking my husband and the boys on our first vacation to Naples, my husband and I decided that this would be the place we would want to have our boys build childhood memories. A place to build family vacation memories. A home where they would spend holidays and long, hot summers. So very different from Colorado. I guess you could say we really live in the best of both worlds.

After that first family vacation to Naples, we returned once again for a fast weekend of touring over 20 homes that were on the market. I had seen our little cottage online before going, but unfortunately it wasn’t anywhere near our price range so I told myself to move on. However, our realtor still encouraged us to go see this little gem because sellers in the area we’re willing to drop their prices. So we set up the showing and when I woke up that morning I was feeling giddy just knowing I could actually go see this adorable little house, even though I knew it was only a dream to own.

We loaded the boys in the car who were three, five, and eight years old at the time, and we drove to the house. When we pulled up to the brick paver wraparound driveway, my heart literally skipped a beat when I saw the white picket fence. At that moment, I knew I had to have this home. We didn’t want to buy just any home. There were plenty of homes on the market at the time in much better condition and that needed hardly to no updating all, completely move-in ready. To me, that felt boring and my husband and I both wanted a project home. One that we could put our personal touch on over the years.

That day, as I walked through this sweet 2600 square foot home built in 1964, which I refer to as our beach cottage, I fell completely in love with its charm. The yard was so big and green and nothing like we have in Colorado. Our boys were out in the yard picking the grapefruit and avocados off of the fruit trees, and it was at this moment that I could see them growing up here.

Yes, we knew that this home would need work…a lot of work.  The roof was old, the pool was crumbling, it even had mold and termites. Yet, I could see the diamond in the rough and I knew it was worth restoring.

The past eight years have been filled with frequent trips to our little cottage with family and friends. The memories we have there are priceless. We’ve been through some really tough times as well during the renovations. My husband, bless his heart, spends a lot of our vacation time there just repairing things that are falling apart and even huge jobs like trenching our front yard and replacing all the old plumbing that the tree roots were growing into. This past year, we did a complete house renovation from the inside/out and now we can breath a sigh of relief that all the big projects are behind us. Now we can truly enjoy our little gem and relax like we should be on vacation…until the next project cultivates in my mind.

Naples is situated right along the gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida. What I love most about this area is that it truly is so beautiful. The beaches are clean with light color sand. We have a private beach area less than a mile from our home. We love to hop on our bikes and ride to the beach along beautiful tree lined streets with gorgeous homes in all styles and sizes. The landscaping is truly a work of art! The restaurants are such a treat and our favorite little spot is walking along 5th Ave in Old Naples. Our boys love to fish and they love to fish off of the pier, beach, or an occasional deep sea excursion.

Every time we arrive at the cottage after being gone a couple of months or sometimes even longer, we love walking into a home and seeing memories of the past. Right after we purchased the home, Dylan, who was three at the time yelled, “Honey, we’re home!” when we walked through the front door. I have no idea why he said that at the time, but it has stuck and now every time we arrive, someone yells, “Honey, we’re home!”

Photos of the first year we bought the home, filled with memories  of our boys on the beach adorn our walls and remind us of how many years we’ve been coming back to this special place. Collections of the hundreds of seashells gathered off our beach from our walks are collected in jars and trays throughout the home. Old furniture we bought our first summer there when we moved in with nothing but a blow-up air mattress in our suitcase still stand in every room of the home.

Although we renovated it last year, I still held on to those sentimental pieces like our blue antique dresser in our living room and my youngest son’s tiny antique rocking chair that he claimed at a local thrift store. The books the boys have read over the years still remain in baskets beside the sofa in the family room. I hold onto sentimental things quite dearly and I think this has been passed down to our boys as well. They love to return to the cottage and explore their storage bins in their bedrooms that hold trinkets they’ve collected over the years.

Our beach life is quite different than our Colorado life. When we are at the cottage, we are taking a break from our normal busy lives. This is where we can take pause in life and enjoy stepping back from the normal hustle and bustle. Granted, as the boys are older, it is more difficult to get away here as often as we used to. With their busy school and sports schedules our time here definitely is not as frequent as it was when they were much younger. But we know that this is always a place we can escape to and relax when we can break away.

Since Naples is a prime spot for seasonal rental, we now rent our home during high season which is January through March or April. That has been nice since it offsets the costs of maintaining the home and keeps the home alive while we’re not there. We have a property management company that handles all the renters, which is nice since I couldn’t ever be a landlord.

Owning a vacation home, especially one that is 3,000 miles away like ours is, can have it’s challenges and expenses. Even though we are not in the home all the time, our air conditioner has to run year round. It’s hot and humid year round in Naples, so keeping the home cool enough and the inside humidity level low is absolutely necessary to prevent mold. We also have a lawn maintenance company that manicures our yard every week. Everything grows like weeds in Florida so lawn maintenance is an absolute must.

Fortunately, we formed a relationship very early on with our lawn guy who does more than take care of our yard. He really looks out for the home and we can count on him if anything urgent arises. Actually, one year we had winds so high that it snapped one of our large trees in half. Our awesome neighbors called us right away (they keep watch on our home, too) and then the next day our lawn guy had it all cleaned up and repaired my beloved white picket fence that had been damaged by the tree. We’ve been really lucky to have him.

There is expense in watering the yard daily, too. Even though Southwest Florida gets a lot of rain, especially in the summer, the grass, trees, and shrubs still need routine watering. Likewise with the pool, we have weekly maintenance on that. It’s kind of funny that our cottage is actually more maintenance than our Colorado home. Some may even think we are crazy to own a home so far away.

I definitely love a well styled home that looks pretty but I also believe in comfort and functionality, especially with three boys. We have a white sofa, but it is slip-covered so throwing it in the wash for a quick clean is easy! I like to add a sense of nostalgia to every room like I mentioned before. Collected seashells, art made by the boys, family photos are scattered in each room.

This home is much more easy living than our Colorado home. My dining room chairs are old and thrifted. So many times we come in from the pool with towels wrapped around us to eat a quick lunch. I don’t worry about ruining the chairs with damp towels. I know that I can easily recover the seat cushion down the road if need be. I want our home to be livable and comfortable both for our family and for when extended family and friends come to visit.

The boys have always been raised in homes that I have decorated and they have been taught good manners in respecting the home. Many ask how I keep my home so clean with boys. Well, I don’t think that boys are the only messy ones — girls can be just as messy, if not more. I believe in teaching your children when they are young the rules of the home.

Our rules are no shoes in the house, no jumping on the furniture, and no eating on the furniture other than foods that won’t stain like popcorn for those fun movie nights. Our home definitely does not always look like it does on the blog in the photos. We live in our home. That means the pillows on the sofa are most often thrown on the floor and the ottoman may be scooted out of the way for games to spread out on the rug.

Although having a well designed home is so very important to me, I don’t want it to be stuffy where my boys would only have memories of a home they couldn’t live freely in.

The beach cottage furniture is cozy which is important for all the movie nights. The rugs are inexpensive because I realize that spills can happen. I don’t believe that a home has to be filled with expensive items to look good. Our beach cottage is the perfect example of that with the eclectic look of thrift store furniture combined with new pieces.

My best secret for styling my home memorably, especially for my boys, is to keep sentimental items they’ve made on display. Not every art class vase from school is on display but maybe one item from each child. I love to watch my boys randomly walk by that piece and pick it up and say, “I remember when I made this for you, Mom.” I think it’s important for kids to know that they can contribute to the story of the home design.

I love to pull out old framed photos of them for the holidays, too. The first Christmas at our beach cottage we didn’t have anything to decorate our tree with. So one day we walked to the beach and gathered a ton of sand dollars that happened to be all over the shore that day. We strung some twine through each sand dollar and have had those be the only ornaments on our tree every year since. The boys love pulling them out of the storage box and reminiscing about that day we discovered them all on the beach. I believe it’s so important to fill your home with pieces of sentimental value because those are what hold the stories.

When our boys grow up and start families of their own, I hope they can fondly look back at the many years spent at the beach cottage. Our hope is that they will want to bring their own families here one day. A lot of firsts happened in this home…

Our youngest learned how to ride his bike along our brick driveway and our oldest took his first roller blading venture down our tree-lined street. They learned how to fish and identify the different species. This home has been a place of discovery and exploring. Picking the fruit off of the trees and making fresh squeezed orange juice from our baby oranges is one of my fondest memories. Swimming in the pool on Christmas day, while there was a blizzard back home in Colorado, is up there, too.

Not all memories are the best, however. At one point, I remember and I know the boys will never forget, I wanted to burn the house down. This was before we renovated it. All in one night, the plumbing backed up making the toilets overflow, flooding the bathrooms all while the termites came back in full force swarming the house. That was a breaking moment for me when I didn’t want the house anymore (after owning it for five years). But I’ll never forget the tears and pleas of my young boys begging me not to sell the house because they had too many good memories here. At that point, I knew that this home was special to them, as well. The next year we started planning the renovations AND got rid of the termites. Thank goodness!

I think our boys have learned some really good life lessons through this journey of owning a second home. Yes, it is a wonderful blessing to have this home and one that not many people can say they have. We don’t undermine that privilege by any means. My husband owns a business and is the hardest working man I’ve ever known. He has taught our boys that hard work can be exhausting but also rewarding. Our boys have watched him tackle everything that went wrong with the cottage head-on and with integrity.

I wish I was as patient as he was with all the mishaps we’ve had with this home. The day the toilets overflowed and the termites arrived, I admit, I kind of lost it! He did the opposite. He grabbed towels, cleaned up the mess, rented a plumbing snake, and fixed the plumbing clog which was tree roots, and then proceeded to shower and clean up to take us all out to a nice dinner. How does one do that? But that is my husband.

He’s a hard worker and believes in fixing and tackling projects himself if he has the time to do so. I hope our boys grow to be like him someday. I hope they forget how I cried and said I wanted to burn the house down and remember how their dad tackled the problem with his own skill and saved us a ton of money by not hiring a plumber.His resourcefulness has served us well and a trait that I can see appearing in our boys. For that, I’m very grateful.

Being a mom is the most undeniable affection of my heart. I think as parents we feel it is our job to teach our children and that they should learn from us. I have learned the opposite of that. They have taught me in so many ways! To love in a way I’d never known. They have opened my mind to think in ways its never thought before. I see life differently now, through the eyes of a mother.

Most importantly, I hope our boys always remember how much we value family and spending time with each other. Life is busy but it is so important to break away and spend time with your kids. Even if it’s going for a walk, hike, bike ride, or playing a game.

That is why our cottage place is so special to us: we have uninterrupted time with one another. I cherish walking on the beach with just one of our boys and getting into their heart. I’ve found that they open up more when we are actively moving. If I corner them in their room and say let’s chat, they cringe. I don’t like to fish, but I love sitting on the beach by my son’s side watching him fish. Those quiet moments are absolutely priceless.

I realize now, having a son who is almost 18, that time does go by so fast and that our children grow up before we know it. Looking back, I wish I would have paused even more for those moments with my boys. Getting through those young baby and toddler years was exhausting but I’d do it all over again if I could. My husband would tell you the same.

Being a mom of all boys is heart-melting and it also keeps me adventurous. They challenge me to go beyond my comfort level with outdoor excursions. I love it though because it keeps me feeling young. They are the greatest joy to me.


Shauna, I loved hearing about your beach cottage and the memories you’ve made there. Even when things go awry, and your vacation time turns into “THIS HOUSE WAS THE WORST DECISION WE’VE EVER MADE!” It’s all part of the memories, isn’t it?

Has anyone else dipped their toes into vacation property? How did you fit it into your budget? Is it as dreamy as you thought, or have there been some nightmares? I’d sure love to hear your experiences and feelings about your home-away-from-home. (You already know our story!)

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Natalie Olsen Tue, 20 Sep 2016 16:00:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Ashleigh of Red Aspen Photography.

Natalie lives in Portland, Oregon — she happily admits she moved there after it was cool, which reminds me of a friend who lives in Texas who always says, “I wasn’t born a Texan, but I got here as soon as I could!” — with her husband and their four children. Debt-free. No mortgage, even. I had to hear more!

She is an absolute delight to read, and I truly found myself nodding vigorously as she extolled the virtues of a debt-free life. It sounds so appealing!  Come see.

Welcome, Natalie!

Hi, everyone! We are a family of six. Comprised of a ballerina-rope-climber, robot-building-racecar-driver, gymnast-collector-of-interesting-things, a magician-filmmaker, HGTV Property Baron Personality, and a one-year old baby. Yes, I’m embellishing, but hyperbole aside, we are a family with diverse interests that celebrates individuality.

Zach’s 9-to-5 is at Portland’s own Columbia Sportswear. He is the best magician inexpensive gimmicks from Amazon can buy. His magician alter-ego, The Great Shahrivar, shows up for all our kids’ birthdays. His interests are as long as his attention span is short, including: podcasting, novel writing, songwriting, blogging, filmmaking, and a solid foray into a t-shirt business — that is to say he adheres to the long lost art of working to live rather than living to work!

I’m Natalie, a realtor licensed in both Oregon and Washington State. I daydream more than anyone I know – too bad I can’t get paid to dream! I am always coming up with new plans, ideas, and house renovations. My latest dreams have led Zach and I to start a new project making our own show on YouTube. We’re hoping to show what it’s really like to buy properties while at the same time dispelling myths and giving advice on how to make a good investment. I love real estate and personal finance, and Zach loves making stuff, so with our powers combined we hope to make some entertaining stuff and have fun in the process.

Our offspring, in order of appearance, starts with Jane, at seven years old. As the oldest child she has the most pictures of herself and the most saved pieces of art. We’re not sure if this has anything to do with her hoarding tendencies, but we sneak into her room when she’s not looking to throw away her ever-expanding collection of anything she gets her hands on. When she’s not collecting things she’s dancing, doing cartwheels in the kitchen, pirouetting in the hall, or balancing on top of the couch.

Up next is Michael at five years old. Give him a cardboard box, a bucket of crayons, scissors and tape, and you’ll have a race car/robot in no time. This one has no volume control and after listening to a song one time can sing all the words — on repeat, mind you. We’re excited to get him into choir — or anywhere out of earshot. We’re also thankful for the prestigious title Michael carries with him in our home of being The Good Eater.

Olive is four and doesn’t see the nuanced difference between monkey bars and our stair banisters. Some parents are proud of their kids’ artwork or their prowess on the soccer field — our Olive is really good at hanging off of stuff! In an age of parenting one-up-ism, we’ll take it. Seriously though, my mom is constantly timing her and she will hang for, like, five minutes! It’s really bizarre and also entertaining.

Nolan is almost one! As the youngest of four we plan on letting him get away with everything. Once he was born we knew our family was complete. And if we didn’t know it then, we definitely knew it when we tried to get four kids in and out of a van for the first time.

We moved to Portland, Oregon after it was cool to live here. (Sorry Portlanders for adding to the housing market and traffic!) They say the most important thing in real estate is location. That’s true, but it’s important to realize that location means different things to different people. Location for us means the ability to spend the most time together as a family. We are squarely in suburban Portland, but despite its suburbia feel we have everything close by.

The elementary school is in our neighborhood, a totally decent athletic club is behind our house (Literally…we have a gate out our back fence, which unfortunately limits our excuses for not getting to the gym!), Olive’s preschool is right behind the athletic club, Zach’s office is only two miles away so he bikes to work rain or shine. (Note: He is also fond of saying that misery in life is directly proportional to the amount of time spent in traffic commuting to work.)

So our unsolicited advice to you? Instead of the biggest house or the most valuable house, pick the house that is in the location that lets you walk your kids to school, ride a bike to work, and spend less time getting to where you’re going. Home is where you live and you don’t want to spend too much time getting there.

We were a two-income household when I became pregnant with Nolan. We were already pulling our hair out attempting to meet the demands of three kids ages six and under while working so I knew that the time had come for us to move closer to family and a full-time grandma — my mom. Zach considers himself a Coloradan, plus deciding to move meant deciding what to do with our current home and three rental properties. We went on a trip to Mexico with just the two of us to be alone with the topic and came back in agreement. We’re moving!

Fate was on our side and a job opened up at Columbia Sportswear for Zach that was a perfect fit. All of a sudden our timeline for moving had sped up exponentially. I was determined to rent a place first, get the lay of the land, find the perfect neighborhood, and then purchase. Then one night, I got a call from my mom, then a text because she just couldn’t wait — she was more excited than anyone of our decision to move closer — saying she found the perfect house for us online. It was a fixer upper and it needed a lot of work, but it was four bedrooms and really close to Zach’s work.

I didn’t think much of it. But when I got home, Zach, who doesn’t get excited about houses easily, came out and said, “Natalie I found the perfect house for us.” It was the same one my mom had just called me about!

We had my parents do a FaceTime call with us as they walked through the home. Based on our past experience of fix-up’s, I didn’t feel threatened by the idea of buying a fixer-upper without walking through it first; I know how to make a house my own, I just really hoped the neighborhood would be a good fit.

It was listed at $315k and we found out there were two other offers already on the table. Without seeing it firsthand we crossed our fingers for good luck, made an offer with an escalation clause, and got it for $325k. On top of that we’ve put approximately $50 to $60k into renovations.

Living debt-free is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a consequence of financial choices. There is such a thing as feeling satisfied from buying nothing. This approach is obviously not represented very often in advertisements and the media. But arriving at the other end of a gift shop with both hands still empty can be exhilarating. Analyzing extra payments on an amortization schedule to see the years evaporate from a 30-year mortgage is thrilling. It’s one thing to show up to the ski resort feeling cool in the latest, most expensive gear — a similar if not equally satisfying feeling is to show up wearing the stuff from many seasons past and having just as much fun.

Our interest in getting out of debt came to a head when we decided to move to Portland. We had, for the previous seven years, bought three rental properties and were living in our fourth purchased home. Each property was bought as a primary residence to avoid big down payments. (If you’re buying as an investor, you need to put down 20% to 25%. If it’s your primary residence, you can get standard 30-year loans for as little as 3% down.) Which means we had been moving every two years.

With the market soaring high, we decided that rather than being distant landlords from another state we would sell all four. So the decision needed to be made: what to do with the profits from the sales of our four properties? Ask any financial advisor and the rational decision would have been to roll the profits from the sales into more rental properties to avoid tax and take out another mortgage for the primary residence in Portland. With interest rates still at record lows in the 4% to 5% range, money doesn’t get any cheaper and the tax savings would have been considerable.

But for us, the value of being debt-free was worth more than the extra money. Instead of getting another mortgage we took our profits and bought our 1,800 square foot, four bedrooms and three bath house with cash…and swallowed the bitter tax pill. You may be shaking your head at me right now but for us, it’s a lifestyle — not a race to accumulating more. And quite frankly, it’s the nicest, largest house we’ve ever owned! We also have money left over for some down payments on rental properties, which we are excited to get back into.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If you can internalize that quote you’ll get out of debt and stay that way. Being smart with your money isn’t just about gritting teeth and self-deprivation, but leads to a higher self esteem. It’s also fun. If using a library card was an Olympic sport, my husband would be a contender for the gold.

We’ve learned there are two ways to be rich: earn more or want less.

Since Zach and I have never paid for TV, I often go to the gym solely to watch HGTV. I LOVE HGTV. One Saturday I was walking on the treadmill watching Flip or Flop for the first time. I was blown away by the risk they were taking — buying homes at auction without seeing them beforehand! It was on a Saturday and Zach and I were on a date when I got a notification for a house that had just come on the market listed for $300k only a couple blocks from our current house at the time. I knew it right when I saw it that the price was at least $50k lower than it should have been, even as a fixer-upper.

I immediately requested a showing and became the worst date-night participant ever, checking my phone every minute to see if we got in. Then I couldn’t handle waiting anymore and ended up calling. I learned that they weren’t allowing showings until Monday. Since I was still on a Flip or Flop high, I had it my head that I didn’t need to see the property before I could make an offer. So I called the listing agent, asked if their client would entertain a full price offer without us seeing the house…and we got it!

We spent the next six (sweaty) weeks fixing it up before moving in. This was by far the best real estate transaction I’ve ever had. It felt like we were stealing! I can’t remember how much we put into fixing it up — I want to say between $30 to $40k – but we sold it a year later for $416k.

The best lesson learned (the hard way) is that before buying a house, you should ALWAYS talk to the neighbors. They know a lot about the house you are about to buy and have a lot of valuable information! We bought our current Portland house in June, completely remodeled it, then on Halloween night it down-poured and our house flooded! Turns out this house had known flooding issues that no one had ever fixed. Our neighbors knew all too well about these issues but we never bothered to meet them before buying. So, it cost us a new driveway with a french drain leading to the sewer line. We’re nervously waiting rainy season again to see how the new setup fares. That was a hard one to swallow.

No matter how much we try to make the basement the designated play-room, they have a tendency to migrate to the space within a three foot radius of wherever I’m standing. The kitchen counter, the coffee table, and the living room couch are all play areas from their perspective, and the furniture is constantly covered with their notebooks, crayons, coloring books, and handmade crowns and masks.

As much as the mess in the main living areas can drive me crazy, I try to remind myself on a regular basis that these are the good ol’ days. I love seeing out of the corner of my eye the kids playing house, re-enacting their parents’ conversations, and (occasionally) sharing. I know that the days they spend at the counter while I’m trying to make dinner and the hours spent huddled around my feet while I’m sitting on the couch are someday going to be some of my fondest memories.

Whenever we go on vacation we rent out our entire home on Airbnb. It helps subsidize, or in some cases, completely pays for our vacations/weekend getaways. The first reaction we get from people who learn we do this is, “Aren’t you worried about all your stuff?” We respond with the following:

1. We keep a closet locked where we stash anything really valuable (there isn’t much) or dangerous (old tax forms, prescription drugs).

2. Airbnb allows you to vet anyone who requests to stay in your place. You can see reviews from other places they’ve stayed at and ask them questions before you agree.

3. Did we mention it helps subsidize, or in some cases, completely pays for our vacations/weekend getaways?

Recently, we found out our friends are renting out a bedroom and bathroom in their basement and making over $1,200 a month. That’s crazy! Anyone can do that! So, we decided to give it a shot. We got the room all ready to go, posted on Instagram that we were going to list our bedroom on Airbnb, and then shortly after we got a call from my sister-in-law. Her nephew had lived in Portland with his family and then just a couple weeks ago relocated to Arizona. He was just about to start his senior year and wanted to be able to attend college in Oregon with instate tuition…so she asked us if we’d consider renting the room to him. We talked about it and a few days later he moved in!

So, we now have a 17-year old roommate. He is actually really great. Our kids love him, and he is a hardworking kid. We are renting it to him for $400… which is less than we could have gotten for a full time Airbnb, but that’s ok. When he moves out we’ll give renting out a room in our house on Airbnb another shot.

By the way, a lot of people think that only places downtown or in really neat and unique locations are worthy to be Airbnb rentals. Not so. People are looking for places to stay all over. So, if you are thinking about renting out a space, just do it! If you don’t like it, stop. It’s as easy as that. (Oh, and tell us about it!)

I am about as frugal as you can get. Only in the last year or two have I bought things that are a little nicer and pricier, but to this day I don’t think I have a single item in our house that cost more than $500.

Our leather couch in our living room is a $3500 couch that I got used on Craigslist for $500. Our dining room table was $300 from World Market and was an item they were closing out so it was super discounted. Our nightstands were hand-me-downs that my brother and his wife never liked. Our coffee table is a $60 Target table that was the right size for the space. I mean, everything we have was either used or we got it for a steal. But they are all items I really like and fit my aesthetic.

Everyone always says, why have nice things when you have kids? They’re bound to ruin everything. Which, let’s be honest, is totally true. I used to think that one day, when my kids are grown and out of the house, I would finally get nice furniture. Then it hit me, oh wait, by then I will start having grandkids. And I want them to feel comfortable at my house and be able to play and not be worried about breaking something. So, I’ve decided that I want to live in a place NOW that feels the way I want.

I’m not going to go out and spend $10k on a sofa, but I’m also not going to just have furniture that I hate for fear of it getting ruined. Clearly we don’t spend a lot of money on our furniture, but I do want each thing that’s brought into my home to bring me joy.

And if it gets ruined, I say, it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.

When we moved into this house in July of 2015, our tradition of Fancy Brunch was born. Every Sunday for the last year I’ve made fancy brunch. It’s always delicious but sometimes it’s something new and other times it’s a family favorite.

We get out goblet glasses for the kids to drink out of and we all eat on glass plates and have silverware and fabric napkins and play fancy music. It’s such a fun tradition that we’ve created and it’s something that our kids absolutely adore.

When the weather is nice it’s the rule that we have to eat out on the back deck. When we sit out on the back deck as a family during these times, Zach and I just look at each other and say “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” And we really believe that. This tradition, the time we spend with our kids and being out in the beautiful weather is truly what our dreams are made of.

I wish I had known that motherhood wasn’t always smiles and sunshine, that it’s one of the hardest jobs that you can ever have, that sometimes you want to crawl into your bed and hide the second your husband comes home from work. That each kid is an individual and as much as you you’ve figured it out, you haven’t. Because their needs are constantly changing.

Luckily there are enough wonderful moments to make it all worth it. No matter how hard it is, I would never undo any of the choices I’ve made that has landed me exactly where I am right now.


Loving the idea of Fancy Brunch, and totally on board with the concept of enjoying your decor now: “And if it gets ruined, I say, it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.” You’ve got the cutest way of thinking about living with kids, Natalie; you’re really speaking my language! Thank you so much for being here today.

So, debt-free? How many of you enjoy the same sort of lifestyle? How does it make you feel to not owe any money? How did you train your mind to stop consuming more than you actually needed? How do you leave Home Goods with not even one. little. pillow. You know I love your stories!

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: The Hardest Working Room in Trina’s La La Lovely Home Tue, 13 Sep 2016 16:00:00 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos via Trina herself and Yazy Jo Photography.

Whenever I catch up with Trina of the beautiful blog La La Lovely on Instagram, I’ve noticed one room in her home is featured a lot. And in very different ways.

Seriously, Trina’s master bedroom is the hardest working room in her home. It’s equal parts a sleeping, working, relaxing, and exercising space, which sounds like a whole lot when I write it out. I had to see it more closely, and hear all about it from the one who spends the most time in there. Of course, Trina agreed to show us around. She’s so good like that!

Welcome back, Trina! (Yep, she’s been here before, and is also featured on some of the cutest pages in my book!)

Hi everyone! We’re the McNeilly family. We are a wild bunch, mostly because the boys tip the scales. There’s Stephen: Everyone tells him he looks and sounds like Matthew McConaughey. Except for the one time someone said, “Does anyone ever tell you that you look like….Owen Wilson?”

I’m Trina. I’m known to break into a British accent at any given time. My children are no longer amused by this.

Our oldest and singiest is Ella. If she isn’t singing, something must be wrong.

Then comes Luke: He is our resident sports fanatic from black flips to football, and he has a few scars to prove it.

Liam Brave is an old soul who has been giving me lessons about life since he was two.

And Rocco Royal is our social bug. Last year, I found out that he had smuggled one of my necklaces to school and gave it to a girl named Scarlett.

Theodore is our kitty cat who likes to bring me presents, and not the kind I like to get. Because of him I’m now a part-time animal rescuer.

I live in my childhood home. I never would have imagined that I’d be living in the house I grew up in. Some days it’s weird, but most days endearing. We’ve spent the last eleven years slowly making minor updates and decorating room by room. The house has seen many changes over the years, and I have really enjoyed making it my own.

Now, it’s not just the house I grew up in, it’s also the home my four children grew up in. As you can imagine, each room tells many stories, from then and now. I love how my stories are mingling with theirs.

My master bedroom is the hardest working room in my house. I’ve been asked if it felt weird to change up the room from when it belonged to my parents, but it really wasn’t. I think because my parents had been out of the house for about a year before we moved in and I had gotten somewhat used to it being empty. But also because this room wasn’t my parents’ room for most of my childhood.

When I was a senior in high school my parents had an addition built, which included this master bedroom, a bathroom, and an office. My earliest memories go back to their original bedroom, which eventually became my brother’s room, then a guest room, a nursery, and now Ella’s room.

When I think of this bedroom being my parents’ I always picture my parent’s nightstands. Particularly my dad’s side, stacked with books. Some things never change, I suppose, because my nightstand is stacked with books, too.

I think it all started with a desk. My dad’s old desk, actually. I painted it and brought it into the room as decor and before I knew it became functional. I like to keep the bedroom as a place of rest and relaxation so it’s not my ideal to work out of my bedroom, but I really don’t have another space of my own in the house.

The room is used for sleep and relaxing (I’m a fan of watching movies in bed on cold winter days), working, writing, reading, and exercise.

I love to walk (and surprisingly run, but after a half-marathon I learned my feet aren’t cut out for running). It’s exercise, but it’s also therapeutic for me. I walk outside in the warmer months, and in the winter I walk on a treadmill.

I started exercising in my bedroom last winter when I was having some health issues. I have a good amount of space on the side of my bed, with a beautiful rug, and it just so happened to be the perfect place to do yoga.

While I adore yoga, I was advised to start Pilates and have really fallen in love with it. I joined Robin Long’s The Balanced Life Sisterhood which is a monthly subscription that offers workout calendars, exclusive Pilates routines, recipes and community. I’m a fan of Robin’s 10-minute workouts and have learned to be really consistent with this program. So in my room, I do yoga, Pilates, stretching, and sometimes light weights. If the my younger boys catch me doing yoga, they always join in — for about five minutes, that is.

There are no unspoken rules for who’s in my room and when. I’ve tried the spoken kind and they don’t seem to work too well for our room, at least not in this season of life. Since this room was an addition it is right off of the kitchen, the main hub of the house, where there is always a lot of commotion. Besides that, my husband’s office is on the other side of our bedroom which makes it feels like a hallway, at times.

I’m a bit of an introvert so it’s really important to me to have my own space to escape to. I like to be able to shut the door and retreat. My husband is not an introvert; I think he thinks I’m high maintenance. I think keeping this space “sometimes sacred” is something we will be working on this winter; just as I’ll be working on remembering that it is a season of life and one day I will miss the interruptions.

My desk used to be right next to my bed, where my dresser currently is, and that did not work for me. I’d be laying in bed looking at it and thinking way too much. Last year, I was quite ill and I just couldn’t work. Getting my groceries was a big task during that time. The whole ordeal put everything in perspective for me.

During that time, I just wanted to spend time with my family and get well. While things tug at me, I’m truly learning that things can wait. If I don’t get to blog today or even at all this week, then life will go on. Summer is always a great practice for this new rhythm. I have to prioritize what is most important, get a few things done when I have a sitter, and let the rest go.

On a practical note, It’s also helped to take down my inspiration board (which could get a cluttered and messy) and replace it with a beautiful picture – I chose this beautiful cactus art because it reminds me of Tucson, where my family vacationed for over twenty years. It’s home away from home and it reminds me of relaxing and happy times — as well as making sure my desk is cleaned off most nights. Now it kind of feels more like a hotel desk, in a nice hotel room, which feels kind of luxurious.

I don’t know if I can name a specific project on the horizon that’s inspiring me at the moment, but I’m really just excited to work on my writing. It’s always been about words for me. I’m looking to write more on my blog and let words drive the imagery rather than the other way around. While I’m pursuing other writing opportunities, I want my blog to be a place where authentic and inspiring words are written and beautiful images help to tell the story.

I also have a reading corner in this room. It consists of a small blue chair that was my husband’s grandmother’s, a side table, and many books piled on the floor. As I mentioned, I love words. I not only like to write them…I love to read them. I wake up early, before the kids, get a cup of coffee — decaf for me these days — and start my day reading my Bible, a little bit from a personal growth book (I’m getting ready to start this one), and journaling. I’m a much better mom and person if I have this quiet time to reflect.

I hope my kids remember this room as a beautiful lived-in room. I think they will remember our big bed that they love to jump off of and snuggle in. Mostly I hope they can almost feel rest when they think back on this space. That it will be the very type of space they want to recreate in their own way in their own homes. A big squidgy bed for cuddling, books to get lost in, serene decor, and more books to get lost in!

If I’ve learned one lesson about making a space for myself among all the chaos of the kids’ spaces, it’s accepting that it’s not entirely my space — as much as I wish it could be!

It’s our space, because it is our home.

Children get into everything and bring everything with them. I’ve learned to go ahead and decorate as I like, with lots of calming white and even a few touches of pink among lots of boys. I think it’s like a living juxtaposition. A really beautiful one. Create the calming space you dream of and let the chaos live within it…at least for an hour or so a day. Then when the kids go to bed, light a candle, make a cup of tea, and take the calm in.

But truly? Let’s just say I’m really savoring this space now that school has started again.

Life could’ve been a lot easier had I learned to let go a little sooner. I tried to hold onto perfection for too long. I’m learning to let the mess go, the stress go, the unrealistic expectations that I place on myself go. I can’t do it all, and honestly, I don’t want to.


Trina! This: “I can’t do it all, and honestly, I don’t want to.” Most of us, if we’re lucky, manage the first five words. But if we’re really, really fortunate, we can easily admit the whole sentence. Thank you for showing us the hardest working room in your home. It was a tremendous treat all around!

What do you think, everyone? Do you have a room with multiple personalities? I’d love to hear about it, and possibly share it! Let’s keep in touch, okay?

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Liz Braithwaite Tue, 06 Sep 2016 16:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I love the way Liz describes her smallish town — “Turning left easily on the busiest street at rush hour is something I will never get tired of.” — and her simplified approach to decorating with kids: “I didn’t design anything too spectacular. But I did create a home where my kids could grow and be themselves, which is far more important.” A space where kids can grow and become who they’re meant to be is the best decorated space we could imagine, right?

And, between us, I think she’s wrong. Her up and down staircases are pretty spectacular! Come see. Welcome, Liz!

I’m Liz, living with my family full of boys. I’m a full-time mom, and I’ve grown to love being a homemaker. I also volunteer as a horticulturist and do occasional garden design and other projects. My husband, Joe, works as a physical therapist a few blocks from our home at a skilled nursing facility. He’s subtly goofy and has always made me laugh.

We have three boys. Our oldest, Peter tends to be heavily involved in his own interests and not always agreeable. He’s a brilliant kid, and will spend hours reading, often very difficult books. He also is constantly bringing me little notes that say, “I love you Mom,” and it makes up for everything else he does. Our second son, Curtis, has a smile that melts my heart. He enjoys playing alone and has always been an amazing builder. He tends not talk a lot and keeps to himself, so I have to watch him and make sure he’s being included or he can get wild.

Henry is the youngest. He loves hugs and kisses and books. He really finds joy over the simplest things, like jumping on a tramp or seeing a bird, and it’s easy to let that rub off on me.

All of us enjoy being active. We love to go places like parks, museums, geocaching, or disc golf. If we’re at home, we are probably working on a project.

We live in a smallish town in northern Utah. The community still has an old-fashioned feel: kids wandering around unsupervised, busy public schools, and tons of mom and pop burger or ice cream joints. The streets are lined with trees, and the traffic is amazing. Turning left easily on the busiest street at rush hour is something I will never get tired of. We live within walking distance of plenty of stores, the library, and multiple parks. Many of the neighborhoods are filled with fun old houses that are all architecturally different.

There’s quite a bit to do even though it is a small town: several museums and plenty of activities at the library and fine arts center for the kids. We live near a bird refuge, hot spring, a couple of lakes, mountains, and within an hour’s drive of Salt Lake. It is a family oriented community, with plenty to keep my kids and I busy. It’s small enough that I can meet many people by frequenting the same establishment, but big enough that I can get lost a bit if I want to.

Our home was basically an impulse purchase. We bought it about three years ago. We weren’t house hunting at the time, but rather had a vague idea that it might be something we would like to do in the future.

The house was several blocks from the apartment we lived in. The owners were acquaintances of ours, and we decided to casually look at the home. The first time I saw it, I did not like it. It had these absolutely awful overgrown shrubs in front. When we walked through it, it was a complete mess inside as the owner was trying to upgrade a lot of the house and still had a lot of work to do.

The floor plan was okay except for the bedrooms; they were all separate from each other, which didn’t work well with young children.

But I couldn’t get it out of my head. The size was right, the price was right and the more I thought about it, the more I started to see the potential in the home and garden. We went ahead and bought it without even looking at another house.

The next year we tried to figure out how to make the floor plan work for our family, but it didn’t ever work well so we started to think about remodeling. My husband, Joe, hated the low ceiling on the staircase the most. I came home one day to him knocking down a wall in preparation to reconfigure the staircase — without consulting me first!

The initial staircase re-design turned into a complete remodel of the lower level. We added bedrooms to better fit our family. We did almost all of the work ourselves.

After over a year of work, the inside is finally getting to the point where I’m happy with it. I wasn’t sure if I would like house projects, but I’ve grown from hating even the thought of painting a room, to finding the whole process rather addicting. Everything takes longer than I expect, but it also goes quick as long as we keep working at it. Getting it done is wonderful. It is fun living in an older home that will never run out of projects to do. It isn’t for everyone but suits my husband and me just fine.

We now all like our home. Our impulse purchase has turned into somewhere we don’t want to leave. But one worry is that we will literally outgrow the house. We have seven foot or lower ceilings in the basement and extremely tall young boys who could be hitting their heads down there before too long.

While remodeling, I was very critical of the quality of work. My husband did most of it, and I needed to trust him more instead of critiquing him. We learned that it is important to learn how to do it well. Just getting it done works, but we live in it and see our mistakes every day. It’s important to make sure the mistakes are as minimal as possible.

I’m also okay with many of the less than perfect things we did. We aren’t skilled laborers, but I enjoy looking at our work and know that we did it ourselves. It’s really a balance of trying our best, but accepting that it isn’t going to be perfect and that’s okay.

While working on the house, it was important to me to always put our children first. It was tempting to want to spend almost every weekend working on the home, but we would consciously choose to still go on vacations and day trips with the kids and take breaks to play a game with the kids. They were more willing to let us work if they knew we still had time for them, and occasionally they would love to pitch in and help with age appropriate tasks.

My kids and husband don’t care about how our house looks, as long as they have the space they need to play and relax. I’ve done more in the areas that I frequent, like the main living space and our bedroom. Other areas of the house I don’t worry about that much. I’ve always enjoyed doing things as inexpensively as I can, so I’m not too concerned when the kids end up draw all over the couch or knock over decorations.

By creating a home that I have areas where I like the style of and the way it feels, I can enjoy it even though it’s not that clean. I have to let go and be okay with the mix of hot wheels, Lego, and crumbs that are everywhere in my home no matter how much time I could spend cleaning. The good design also makes clean-up easier, and even when it’s a mess, the larger structure of the room still works.

I love home design. But at a certain point of my life, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, and how my house wasn’t even close to approaching what I saw. I took a break from shows, blogs, and other inspiration out there. I started to do what worked for me and my family in my home. I created someplace that probably would never be featured in a magazine. But it worked for my children and family.

I filled it with things my family and I enjoyed and didn’t worry too much if it met any standard of design.

Working within my limitations of budget, time, creativity, and values was hard at first. I couldn’t do anything that spectacular. When I let go of comparison and desire and did what fit within my limitations, it was freeing. I made a home that my kids could litter with toys, could house lots of friends, and be the place for wrestling matches, yoga practice, and the energetic energy of three young boys.

I didn’t design anything too spectacular. But I did create a home where my kids could grow and be themselves, which is far more important.

The kids really don’t care what pictures are on the wall, or what trinkets I put on the shelves – as long as it was something they couldn’t break! The first thing my home needed was to just be functional, a place where kids could be kids, and we all had space to be ourselves.

Design for me is function first, and then beauty. It was important to create a place I like to be, and that included making it look good. After a while, I made a system for myself. I would change things as they bugged me, but stayed away from purposely looking for problems or changing things just because.

In my studies of horticulture, I learned how to observe what you have and then go off that to get what you want. It’s important to start with what you have and work from there, instead of starting from what someone else did. This is extremely true in gardening, and it transferred over to my home. I might want something really modern but I live in the home we bought, so I start there and build my vision and design off of what already exists.

Whenever I look at ideas and inspiration, I really have to abstract them instead of copy them. What I find sits in the back of my head and help me come up with my own creative ideas. I don’t try to copy one certain way of design or even a single project. I do what works for me. It’s creativity for me — not copying but kind of combining what I have with multiple ideas I see to create something new.

In order to get this state of mind, I try not to overwhelm myself with ideas. When I’m being creative, I’m not looking much at ideas online. I generally like to look for ideas either to clarify a project that is already in my head and needs a bit of refining or after I complete something and will file them away for future use.

My kids are energetic and independent. We can all be quite stubborn, so we’re butting head all the time. I really felt like I lost myself for a while. My life was no longer under my control and I felt stuck, unable to do the things I wanted to do.

What I didn’t realize is I would find myself again, and this time I would be a much deeper, better person. My interests have expanded as I’ve learned about dinosaurs, cars, disc golf, etc. I’ve gained qualities like patience and listening that eluded me when I was younger. We are all still a work in progress, but I’m learning more and more that it’s okay to be far from perfect, and I just need to keep showing up and trying again.

I’m a very task-oriented person, and the children have taught me the value of cutting back and being able to do less and enjoy it more. I might want to do another task from my list, but the kids need their mom to play with, too. My favorite game to play with my kids started when my oldest was about two. We played hug monster. I talk all in Roars and chase the kids around trying to trap them in a hug. After four years it’s still their most requested game.

My older children can work on the same project for hours at a time, like building with blocks, reading, or playing out in the sandbox. Sometimes we all get caught up in our own projects throughout the day, but we all love to read, and at the end of the day we will read books together for about a half hour before bedtime. It’s a good time to reconnect and spend time together.

The kids are brilliant, but it’s hard being a mom to strong willed children and I find I lose my temper far too often. I hope they don’t remember that as much as all the times we play together and tell each other, “I love you.” When they grow up, I want to remember this house as a place to play and create, and as a place they were loved and listened to. I want this home to be a haven for them, somewhere they can always come to relax and also learn responsibility in a non-stressful way.

My first response to thinking about doing it all over again is to let go — not care about the messes and my to-do list, but to be able to enjoy my children more. But on a deeper level, a lot of the reason I didn’t let go as much is because I wasn’t able to enjoy where I was. I was looking to find a life I enjoyed, instead of enjoying the life I’d been given.

I’m slowly learning more acceptance with my life, and learning that I can be grateful for where I am in life and enjoy it, even if it isn’t ideal. Accepting that I am not going to keep my house clean today…but I am going to spend time making bird feeders with the kids. I’m not going to stick to that routine I made…but I am going to spend time watching a praying mantis with the kids.

Enjoying something is not necessarily something that just happens. It can be learned by being present, grateful and working hard. I’m finding it is much easier to enjoy the life I have instead of trying to make a life I enjoy.


Love this, Liz: “I’m finding it is much easier to enjoy the life I have instead of trying to make a life I enjoy.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But somehow it’s super complicated — or perhaps we just make it complicated, yes?

And then there’s this for discussion: “Working within my limitations of budget, time, creativity, and values was hard at first. I couldn’t do anything that spectacular. When I let go of comparison and desire and did what fit within my limitations, it was freeing.” I wonder how much of our home decor is a stretch toward a life a little beyond our reach? Like, “Darn it, I’m having a white couch and white pillows and a white throw and a white rug and I don’t care if I have three babies under five…we’ll just have to eat only white food from now on! And maybe keep our black Lab puppy outside!” Hah! At a certain point, living with kids probably isn’t as much emulating a perfectly photographed life seen on the internet, and a whole lot of loving how you’re living with your kids. And as we’ve learned over the years, there are many, many, many ways to love living with your kids!

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Rochelle Greayer Tue, 30 Aug 2016 15:00:51 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Four years ago — have we seriously been touring your wonderful homes since then?! — Rochelle showed us around her Harvard home, and it was dreamy. Think books and twinkly lights and more books and a burgeoning garden. Much has changed over the years, and Rochelle reached out to see if I’d be interested in seeing her family home’s evolution of sorts. My answer was yes, accompanied by many exclamation points.

Of course, there are less toys, different seating configurations, one less dining room, a flourishing garden and probably way more books. I for sure wanted an update on their lives today. If you’d like, you can peek in on her previous tour. Just be sure to come back quickly. It’s worth it!

Welcome back, Rochelle!

We are four plus one. Our plus one is an English Bull Terror (think Spuds McKenzie or the the Target dog) with excellent comedic timing who either thinks he is human or that we are all dogs. I can’t tell. Either way, the playing field is level according to him and he has gone from being a newbie puppy the last time I was a guest here to full fledged member of the family. Then from littlest to biggest, there is Isaac (ten), Meredith (13), me, and my husband Rob. We live in Harvard, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

Since we last appeared on Design Mom, everyone has grown so much! We have a teenager now and the toys and the trappings of little kids have all but disappeared from our daily lives. I feel like everything has sped up and I want nothing more than the pace to slow down. But I don’t see that happening — I think it goes with the territory.

I’ve gone from one publishing project to the next to the next. In the fall of 2014 my first solo book was published. It’s called Cultivating Garden Style and I poured my years of experience as a garden designer into it. My goal was to help readers identify and translate their own personal style into a beautiful garden without having to hire a designer and the result is a pretty epic book. Over 1000 images and 23 chapters!

I also launched a print publication at the same time with a super successful indiegogo campaign that is called PITH + VIGOR. Its tagline is Inspiration for people with dirt under their nails. But I think it is really a lot more than that; it is a constantly evolving publishing platform that appeals to anyone who is thoughtful and curious about gardening and the environment, but who also love art and illustration and design.

I love that I have the freedom to experiment and explore and I enjoy trying out new things and collaborating on interesting stories and ideas. We are currently working on the sixth issue which will be out later this year.

We’ve simplified in some ways. We no longer keep chickens, and our beloved cat passed earlier this year, and new kittens seem like too much at the moment…but soon, I think. The streamlining of pets has helped as we travel more, and are generally out and about more. On the flip side, though, I love that the kids are able to do some of the things that I once felt so overwhelmed by, like school supply shopping (THE. WORST. MOTHERHOOD. TASK. EVER. IMO.).

My daughter takes great joy in online shopping for school supplies, organizing it all, making sure her color scheme is intact – she will surely be a designer of some sort, someday — so all I have to do is enter the credit card number. She loves it and she is so much more organized than I am about it. Whew…that is really something to be so grateful for.

Our home has changed along with us. There is the simplifying, of course. I love having less, needing less, and the breathing room that comes with paring down to things that are real necessities. It is a constant practice to reduce, clear out, and minimize. But the busier we are the more I feel like our home needs to be simple so that we can maintain some balance.

We’ve also upgraded here and there. Stuff just wears out, and with older kids and fewer pets, and I felt more confident to invest in some new things. Like a nice sofa, and a new kitchen table and chairs, among others.

We did away with having a formal dining room and converted it to an office/study sort of room that my husband also uses for a music room. I honestly don’t know why we waited for so long to do that. We NEVER used the dining room. Somehow the large table and chairs were really hard to get past, but once we got rid of them and had a blank slate it was obvious what we needed.

It is honestly like we added on an addition — but without all the construction. It is so cozy in there and the house has a nice flow, too.

I really love the dining room that became the study. It just solved so many problems and it is now is so useful. But also the living room bookshelves make me so happy. I am a true book lover and while I feel like minimalism is my mantra everywhere else, I can never have enough books.

The other thing we really love, though, is the patio. We can’t use it for at least half the year, but it is just so nice when we can, and we are so proud of the fact that we laid the cobbles and built the pergola all by ourselves — a huge project that took years! I wish that could be a place that I could spend time all year.

Every time we’ve made a change, everyone has unanimously embraced the change and generally agreed it was way past due. I’m a rearrange the furniture just for the sake of something new and interesting sort of person, and lately moving has been on our minds. We are thinking to relocate back to Europe again, so change is something we talk about a lot and they are used to it. I feel like travel and a healthy sense of adventure has helped our kids to feel less attached to things and able to let them go when the time comes.  As we think about moving, we are all pretty good with the question “Would it be worth it to move this object to Europe?” and if that answer is no, then why keep it now?

I feel so unqualified to give parenting advice. Who am I to give parenting advice? What to say? I have no idea what I am doing most of the time.

But here is one story that comes to mind…Two summers ago we spent a month in Belgium and rented an apartment in Brugge for the whole time. We frequented a great bakery every morning for breakfast and at some point during the trip my then 11 year old daughter wanted to go get the pastries by herself. It was a couple blocks away, and she wanted to take her bike.

I let her go, worrying the whole 15 minutes she was gone, and I have this picture I took from the second story window as she rode away on the bike. She was so confident and proud. I was terrified.

I don’t think I will ever look at that photo without getting a little teary.

We’ve had some pretty spectacular weather events over the last 12 years. Like an ice storm that caused us to be without power for nine days, snow that all but buried the whole house two winters ago, with the plow pile at the end of the driveway towering over 20 feet tall. When you are a kid, these things are pure magic and seem to already be favorite memories. For me, they are more like PTSD causing incidents! But I love seeing it through their eyes.

I love that between my father, my husband, and my son there is an ongoing treehouse project that will like never be fully completed.

I love that we have two oak trees in the back yard that have supported a series of hammocks over the years. I swear we could have Disneyland in the back yard and they’d all end up in the hammock. Hammocks are also pure kid magic that I know they will remember fondly.

I love that both of my kids are a little bit introverted. I love that they want to spend time with us or quietly at home as much as they do with friends — if not more, sometimes. But I haven’t always felt that way. I’ve sometimes worried that they weren’t having enough playdates or that they didn’t have enough friends. The older they get the more I realize how silly these feelings were and how completely fine they are.

I wish someone had told me — and I had listened sooner! — that I should take more videos of our lives and that I should write down more things that happen on a daily basis. Even now, I don’t do it enough but I am always so appreciative of those times in the past when I have.

It all seems so fleeting and I forget so many things I wish I could remember. Facebook’s memories is one of my favorite things because they make this sort of thing easy, but I often struggle with the side effects of sharing little things and things about my kids on social media. I kind of don’t always want to. Playing with privacy settings and sometimes keeping something totally to myself has helped.


It was so nice to have you back, Rochelle! I feel like that one sentence of yours could probably help a lot of us with editing our belongings: “Would it be worth it to move this object to Europe?” Even if we’re not planning on heading to Europe any time soon, or moving at all, a variation of this thought — Would I save it in a fire? Would I be relieved if it suddenly disappeared? — could help us look at our stuff with a more exacting eye, don’t you think?

And that goes, too, for the dining room. Do you have one? Do you use it? Have you ever thought that space would be even more life-changing if it was a totally different room? What would you do if you could transform your dining room? What would it become?

(Also, Rochelle, I’ve got to see that photo of your daughter pedaling away!)

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Sara Laurel Tue, 23 Aug 2016 16:00:44 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

While I devoured Sara’s words, I underlined a few poignant lines to remember forever. She’s a psychologist! Of course! Of course she would possess all the answers to life’s — and parenting’s — burning questions.

But here’s what I enjoyed so much about Sara: She’s not afraid to admit she doesn’t have all the answers. She watches people she thinks are wise. She asks questions. And she says things like “I don’t know the answer to that; I’ve never been the parent of a six year old before.” I love it all.

So please come share in this goodness, will you? It’s so lovely to have Sara — and her fabulous hot pink dining room chairs! — here with us today. Welcome, Sara.

We live in a historic neighborhood in Wooster Ohio, two blocks over from the College of Wooster. Our street is lined with hundred year-old trees and joined by a red brick road. Growing up, I lived on a brick road in another town and have fond memories of hot sticky summers that began with bare feet on warm pavement and ended enjoying fireflies and crickets through the screens. I wanted the same for my future kids.

When we moved here for my job as a psychologist, I spent my lunch break canvasing this neighborhood for a For Sale sign. I loved that all of the houses were unique and when I spotted a sign in the yard, I made an appointment for a viewing that day.

At the time, my husband Jason was finishing up his duty as a Captain in the Air Force. He was still in North Dakota and I moved here six months ahead of his out-processing to start my job. My dad went with me to the showing and afterwards asked, “You’re buying it, right?” He said the house was just so very me. His assurance gave me the confidence to draw up the initial paperwork without Jason seeing the property. Truly, they had me at the pink bathroom. I asked if the owners would consent to rent the house to me until my husband would be home to see it and they agreed.

I’m always amazed at what historic homes cost in contrast with new construction. Most of the houses in our neighborhood cost in the mid to upper $100,000 range, ours included. In the next county over or with newer homes, the price doubles or triples. But properties in our area have always been a steal.

This is surprising to me because of the diversity and offerings of the town. We have three colleges locally and the loveliest town square. Smucker’s Headquarters is just a drive from us and in the summer, we host the Ohio Light Opera. There are a handful of really cool Bed and Breakfasts to support all of the parents who come for college visitation and we have some really quirky stores and restaurants. Our Downtown is booming with new businesses lately including a favorite new dress shop that is Anthropologie meets Magnolia Market and a CSA-supported Green Market.

When Jason and I would take long late night walks in North Dakota we would make lists of what kind of place we wanted to live next. He wanted rural, I wanted urban, and somehow Wooster ticks off amenities for both. My dream was to live somewhere that I could paint outdoors, get to a big city in an hour, and walk from my house to buy bread, all of which we now do weekly.

What is funny is that, as a high schooler, I dreamed of attending the College of Wooster. I loved the architecture of the school and was so excited when I was accepted. My heart broke when I couldn’t afford the tuition. I went to another college instead, where I met Jason. I didn’t give Wooster much thought after that. All of these years later, when we were moving back to Ohio, I was about to accept a position in Southern Ohio, further from our families, when I got a call out of the blue from an agency in Wooster. It’s funny how things work out sometimes!

We lived in this house for four years prior to having our babies. When our son was born, we quarantined ourselves for several months while we found our sea legs. It was during that period of pacing the walls, clad in my husband’s bathrobe, with squeezy peanut butter as my sustenance, that I hit my decorating stride.

Our decorating formula includes a lot of graphic black and white as well as punches of color. Our mainstays are hidden nooks like personal mailboxes outside the kids’ bedrooms, a dog kennel out of kitchen cabinets, and a secret super hero lair. We recently renovated the pink bathroom, which gives me the happy screams.

Being closer to our families made raising kids so much easier. Jason and I are fortunate to have my mom (a retired teacher) and his mom (a retired nanny) split childcare for us during the week. We are really utilizing that “It takes a village” mentality. I am so grateful that each grandparent brings their own lovely way with our children.

My mom is constantly taking them on nature walks and creating recycled art. My mother-in-law plays with the kids at their pace with consummate patience. All of us together give them so much more than I could alone. Without support, I don’t know how people survive.

It was unexpected to me to I feel that I need my mom more now than I did at any other time. Her opinion and advice on what our kids are up to is a lifeline to me. Realistically, I’ve needed her all along, but I appreciate it more now that I can empathize with her sacrifice. One night when I was complaining about the drudgery of my life and the strangling affect that motherhood was having on me, she reminded me of our bond and about how I was laying the foundation for that same intimacy with my own children.

“Would you want it to be anyone else?” she asked. “To put them to sleep each night, and to assuage their fears, and to listen to their chatter?”

Although the weight of parenthood is sometimes stifling, I try to remember that this is the season for my children. That I will someday have time to read, and paint, and travel, and be silent, but that this is the season for them.

In the early days, I wish someone would have told me, “Calm down, sister.” As a new mom, I tried really hard to nail parenting. I may or may not have created a Power Point of masterpiece art with developmentally appropriate talking points for my infant. At the time I thought, “I’m not good at small talk. And you are supposed to constantly talk to infants to stimulate their vocabulary, right?” I didn’t want to miss opportunities for enrichment or growth.

If I were parenting anew, I would know to lean in. Be brave in the silence, love is enough. Just light up when they enter the room. That is all.

I tell new mom friends that having kids feels like Groundhog’s Day. You do the same chores, tell the same stories, and make never ending meals repetitively, but each day something changes in a granular way. And then, one day you look up to find the scenery completely changed. You have drifted out to sea to a view beyond potty-training or 3:00 am feedings.

And the journey in the new place you are is equally rigorous, but you notice progress. Then sometimes, you see a sunset or a cluster of clouds that stop your breath. And at that moment you are grateful for the voyage, and for the difficulty, and for all of the things that raising another human entails.

When my best friend had her daughter, we were on sabbatical from conversing on the phone since all calls resulted in a cacophony of screams from our littles. Instead, I started a blog to her intending to map out life formulas for busy bags to save her time and five ingredient dinners to ease her burden. What I found instead was a way to organize my own thoughts about how I wanted to parent and the means to be intentional with the process.

I find motherhood to be especially difficult for achievement-oriented women. There is no trophy for the most crisply folded laundry or for the longest marathon without sleep. People parent so differently that there isn’t even a mutually agreed upon pinnacle of best practice.

Perhaps here is how being a psychologist and a mother is challenging as well. You know the research related to developmental psychology and you know the pitfalls for poor attachment, but there is no perfect formula for child rearing that considers the variables of each child. How can I possibly weave all of this social science into a tapestry of confident parenting practice?

Of course, it’s impossible.

And so I watch and model after people I think are wise. I ask a lot of questions of my kids. I say things like, “I’ll have to think about that, I’ve never been the parent of a six year-old before.”

One of the things that we try to do in our family now that the kids are older is to create a sense of team mindedness. We have work chores (for pay) and family chores (without pay), family meetings, and group reinforcers that we all work towards.

Recently, to reduce sibling rivalry, I instituted a game called Best Friend Challenge. This is a task or problem that I give to them both to work out. If they can solve it together diplomatically, they both earn a privilege or treat. The other day Gabriel made a Best Friend Challenge for my husband and I. I love that he saw the challenges as communal and worthy of grown-ups, too.

Gabriel is my kind-hearted and creative six year old. He loves people with every atom he possesses. Once in preschool, he accidentally popped a button off of the teacher’s puppet during class. After school, I found him in my sewing basket looking for thread and he sobbed out the story to me. He was so grieved that he had damaged the property of someone he loved so dearly. He wanted to go back to the school immediately to mend it. I hope that he never loses his sweetness or desire to help others.

Ella is four years old and a total spitfire. Sometimes when she thinks Gabriel is being too shy at the playground, she marches up to a group of older kids and points Gabriel out to them, regaling them with why he would be a good friend to them and why they should initiate play with him. Ella knows exactly what she wants and is tough as nails. She runs faster than all of the boys in her class and has the best sense of humor ever. Parenting her makes me want to figure this whole girl boss thing out. I’ve got to make sure that she has a compass to channel her strength.

I hope that my kids remember that we had fun here. That we worked together on the garden, that we ate summer breakfasts in the playhouse, and had Monster Hat parties on a Tuesday night.

We have been trying lately not to just live for the weekend. To participate in experiences throughout the week that make life feel rich and anticipated. I try really hard to be a good steward of our memories. We have a family time capsule made out of a library card catalog that we open each New Year’s Eve to recall the year. Traditions and celebrations are pretty much where it is at for us.

Through it all, my favorite thing so far about living with kids is the community that we have created with each other, our extended family, and with others. I relish having another family over to watch an outdoor movie with us or to walk down to the farmer’s market together on Saturdays. I also appreciate the reminder to enjoy things: a bug, dandelions, a puddle. The impetus to be slow and to notice my surroundings is not innate in me, but rather is something that my children inspire.

What is more, I appreciate that parenting makes you a part of kind of a club. Albeit one that ends up being more of a dark humor cult. I, myself, never before enjoyed club membership.

But I find that I now appreciate the shared experience of another inmate: the nod that I get from another knowing parental veteran when my child is melting down in the check out line. That nod tells me that I am not crazy and that someone else recognizes that this small person I have raised is being both unreasonable and unproductive. That nod tells me that were my child and I in a platonic relationship rather than one of genetics, I would be justified in terminating this hellish grocery experience. And just knowing that, from a nod, I feel better.


Oh, Sara. I melted at this: “If I were parenting anew, I would know to lean in. Be brave in the silence, love is enough. Just light up when they enter the room. That is all.” Thank you.

Also, this is a genius reminder: “We have been trying lately not to just live for the weekend. To participate in experiences throughout the week that make life feel rich and anticipated.” I know this is the trap, isn’t it? The whole Thank God It’s Friday thing makes it hard to recognize the great potential of a Tuesday! Do you think we are all still affected by the “It’s a school night” curfew way of thinking? Who’s in for making Wednesday and Thursday just as awesome as Friday and Saturday? Tell me your plans and let’s do this, shall we?

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Jen CK Jacobs Tue, 16 Aug 2016 14:00:40 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I love it when favorite guests from my Living With Kids tours come back for a revisit. Even better? When their stories take on a happily-ever-after element and we can all cheer them on while we peek in on their new home and their new life that’s changed for the beautiful in so many different ways. Even better than that? When they’re excited to share it all with the rest of us. It’s nice when that happens.

This is one of those stories. I’m so happy to welcome back Jen and the newest additions to her life. You’re going to enjoy this one. Promise.

I’m Jen CK Jacobs (perhaps better known by my old name, Jen Altman). I’m a mother to six beautiful children — my own three daughters, Adie (12), Aela (10) and Ari (9) — and my three step-children, Charlotte (11), Barrett (8) and Genevieve (5). My husband and I are truly outnumbered! We are a house divided by fire and water — three fire signs, three water signs — all female; and our boys make up the air that fuels us…

I started blogging about eight years ago. Both Nectar & Light (a predominately Polaroid blog) and Nectar (a lifestyle and cooking blog) earned a fair readership in their day…but life turned upside down and maintaining a blog became a bit cumbersome. My ex-husband and I separated in the summer of 2014, and my father died unexpectedly shortly there after.

Still reeling from an impending divorce — I truly — for the first time in my life, allowed myself to fall apart when my dad died. He was the greatest man I knew. His shared love story with my mother is what everyone wishes upon the stars at night to experience; his quiet strength, unconditional love and the core of his character helped shape the woman I’m still in process of becoming. The loss was so great that the gaping wound in my chest will likely never heal. It becomes a little easier to live with as the days pass, but a photograph, a scent, a song can send a gust of cold air through that space and it feels as if we lost him yesterday.

My focus became my mother and my family. My ex-husband and I made the life-altering decision to continue to work on our relationship outside of our marriage and we now have more love, patience, more gratitude and understanding for each other than we ever did when we were married. Healing was complex as it was intertwined with multiple layers of grieving and watching my mother try to function without the other half of her soul.

And then I met a man who changed everything.

A mutual friend introduced us and within weeks our children were meeting, within months we were looking at houses together. Koli and I kept taking careful steps back questioning the authenticity of what was happening to us and wanting to ensure that our strong feelings for not only each other — but our children — were not filling voids or in attempt to replace losses.

But they were not.

We found in each other something that we never thought possible…the ability to communicate so openly and safely, the absolute absence of ego, and unconditional love for each other and our children.

So we blended. We purchased a house together and that beautiful friend who introduced us, officiated our intimate wedding on the one year anniversary of my father’s passing.

We were renting a home in a lovely area of Asheville (that was featured on the last tour) and simply could not afford to stay. Asheville is growing quickly and the housing market has begun to reflect this growth. We needed something that could accommodate all of us, was a bit outside the city and had a lot of area for the kids to run around.

We purchased this home last summer and it will be a work in progress for some time. For the first time in my life, I’m sort of enjoying that.

My husband has been in construction for many years and has his own business, Odyssey Construction. We make a great team. He has an incredible eye so we really conceptualize together and he can execute. When we purchased our home, it had not been updated since the 80s.

Our first project was to rip out all the flooring. He laid a driftwood plank down that still makes my heart skip, I seriously love it. We removed wallpaper and did a lot of painting and changing of fixtures and hardware. We were not in a situation where we could just throw a ton of money into a full renovation before we moved in. But I appreciate the time in the space to decide what’s important.

We have plans to knock out both walls in our small dining room, one to open to the stairs and the other will open up to the kitchen. We want to build a proper entry on the front of the house and of course, like most renovators, finishing the kitchen is at the top of our list! We painted the walls and cabinets and replaced the floors and all the appliances, but we still have tiling and countertops to go!

Absolutely there are challenges to merging. I think that one thing that has helped our situation is the age of our children. They met when they were 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, and 3.

Raising children is hard. Raising step-children is harder. We make mistakes, we over-react, we panic, we push too hard, we probably say no too much. Every day is a lesson to be better and Koli and I speak often and openly about how we continue to evolve with our children. We continue to be awed about how quickly the kids took to each other — how their dynamic seems effortless and as if they’ve been together their whole lives. They fight and love like siblings.

When we lived in the other house, at first we had my youngest and my husband’s youngest sharing a room. We realized that was a mistake. Ari is a creature of habit and when we asked her to share a room with a four-year-old who likes to sing herself to sleep — problems ensued.

We moved shortly there after and asked our oldest, Adie, who is now 12, if she would like to share the room with Genevieve. She wasn’t sure she wanted to start her pre-teen years that way. But we pointed out that the nights Genevieve spent with her mother, Adie would have her own room. That changed everything. And it’s such a great situation; Adie has always been a camp director — she’s a mini-adult in so many ways and she helps a great deal with her younger siblings. Bear has his own room, which is a blessing; sometimes he needs space from all the girls. Our other three girls share a room and it truly feels like a slumber party down there every night.

The challenge in parenting (and blessing in disguise, really) is that they all possess incredibly strong personalities. I was raised by a Navy Commander and served seven years in the USN myself. Needless to say, we run a tight ship! Everyone has chores, everyone is expected to help and support one another — whether that means helping the youngest pour her cereal milk — or gently checking each other’s behavior so it doesn’t elevate to our attention.

We really discourage tattling and encourage sibling affection. We remind them that they are a team and everything they do affects every one of them.

I have so many lovely, personal odds and ends in my office — it feels like a sacred space. And the light in there is amazing. But I truly love our time together in our dining room. It’s not a large space, especially for a family our size. But our dining room table was built by hand by my husband and our dishes were handcrafted by one of our closest friends, Melissa Weiss. That feels incredibly sacred.

It took me some time to adjust to doubling the children in the house. Not the chaos of it — it’s strange how seamlessly that seemed to slip into our lives; but time management. My girls and I spent a lot of time on our own because of the work out of state that their father does, and I used the casualness of our unusual situation as an excuse not to make a sit down meal every night.

But when merging two families with this many children, excuses don’t fly. We absolutely still have nights that we are unable to eat together — whether it be my husband working late or the kids’ sports schedules — but we make every effort to take advantage of the times we can come together at the table. Like so many aspects of my life, time management is a work in progress. What works right now, may not work in a few months. And I’ve learned to be flexible and accommodating to that; it’s been one of the most difficult lessons of my life.

And carving out time for myself is so important. If I don’t get my lap swim in several times a week, I sort of start losing my mind. I’ve always said the water helps balance my triple-fire sign! But creating a work schedule is the hardest challenge I face in terms of time management.

A few years ago, I launched what ended up to be a very successful online jewelry store called CISTHENE. At the time, there was really nothing else like it in terms of the artisans and apothecary brands that I brought together. The store had a wonderful following and was featured on Refinery29, Vogue online, and Lucky Magazine, among others. But that aforementioned “life turned upside down thing” happened and something had to give.

I was inspired by my parent’s love story to re-conceptualize the store into Roberts + Gene. We’ve started very small and will grow slowly, but it’s a passion project of mine. Ramble + Wolf soon became the sort of lifestyle companion to Roberts + Gene. After so many years of not blogging, actually creating a schedule for writing and cooking again has been incredibly therapeutic. I also have a few clients that I work with in a Creative Direction capacity and I’m writing a book about road trips that my publisher has allowed me to put on the back burner more than once. The manuscript is due in December so I’m tolling away at that as well.

But I set limits now. I subscribe to a quitting time. Family is my priority.

I wish someone had told me that the lack of ego changes everything. I don’t mean the sense of self. I mean ego as in the inability to see through the eyes of others, the inability to have patience with others during times of duress and the inability to show gratitude. I have grown more as a woman, mother, wife and daughter in the last two years than I had in the previous ten. I think my Papa would be proud.


I think about that all the time, Jen. Would my dad be proud of my life? I sure hope so. Thank you for adding such wisdom and sheer honesty to our day. It was so good to have you back.

Here’s what I loved: “Raising children is hard. Raising step-children is harder. We make mistakes, we over-react, we panic, we push too hard, we probably say no too much.” For those of you with step-children, I’d sure love to hear about your parenting survival guide!

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Tara Harvey Tue, 09 Aug 2016 15:00:10 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Family photos by Tiffany Kokal and house photos by Lisa Kellenberger.

We first met Tara two years ago when she talked about balancing her travel company, Knowmad Adventures, with her new baby, and mostly the idea that travel — and babies — can make us better people. Back then, little Trey helped Tara and her husband with their work-life balance: “We had a real problem letting Knowmad seep into every aspect of our lives. I actually had to make a rule once — no business in bed — so we wouldn’t talk about it until the wee hours of the night. I really wanted to be present for Trey when I was with him, every moment of every day.”

Trey is still a fabulous influence on the family’s company and daily life, I’m pleased to report! Come see. Welcome back, Tara.

Our family started one snowy night in 2004 when Jordan kissed me after my parents’ annual Christmas party. Jordan and I, now coming up on seven years of marriage, actually knew each other from growing up. Orono, Minnesota is a small, lakeside town — one of the last stops from Minneapolis before you’re in farmland. Everyone knows everyone there and Jordan and I actually went to the same preschool, then flirted with each other through high school, and then went separate ways for college.

He was drawn to the mountains in Colorado and I went East for the big cities. It wasn’t until my last year of university that we reconnected at home and began our adventure together as a family.

Fast forward and the Harvey family has added some members: two-and-half-year old Trey, rescue-dog Luna, and our kitty Izzy who we lost last year and miss dearly — she’ll always be a part of our clan. I write about when Trey first became a part of our family, my pregnancy and babyhood, in the post Growing A Family: Trading Adventures.

This toddler stage is such a delight. That’s not to say that we don’t deal with all the challenges this stage brings like any other parent though, but watching his little personality emerge is amazing. Trey’s a warm, kind-hearted, and very verbose little guy!

Some days the chaos is uncontainable and one of our favorite things to do when nothing seems to be coming together is to huddle together for a group hug and shout, “Wolfpack!” while howling “Ow, ow, ooooow!” It always makes us laugh and slow down for a second. Sometimes we just do it for no reason at all!

After crisscrossing the globe for about ten years — traveling extensively through four continents and teaching English in Thailand, ski-bumming in Vail, and starting our adventure travel company,  Knowmad Adventures, in Chile — we hunkered down back in what some call fly-over country, our home state of Minnesota.

It was a hard decision, actually. We’d been so focused on being elsewhere for so long that what seems like a natural decision for most — both our families are here, friends, and the quality of life is great — was agonizing for us. We were also really drawn to ski towns, but knew we had to be in a decent size city to get our company launched. In the end, we came to the realization that we needed a lot of help to realize our dream and Minnesota was where the grandmas were!

After renting for a while we bought our 1908 home in South Minneapolis. Minnesota’s winters are cold and long, true, but us locals don’t mind that outsiders have the impression that it’s a frozen tundra here. We consider this northern land the United States best kept secret. Personally I love the four seasons; it helps keep me grounded.

We’ve got four lakes within a 30-minute walk of our house and of course they’re amazing in the summer for swimming, paddle-boarding and splashing in, but they’re most magical in the winter. Frozen over, we cross country ski across them and it’s truly special to be in the middle of the city and experience such vastness.

We love the walkability, bikability, farmer’s markets, cafes, independently-owned shops, diversity, and the energy of our community. Of course, our travel legs are always itching and we can’t help but talk about the next big move, but Minneapolis will always be our base and we feel lucky to call it home.

I love old things and adamantly refused to even look at a house newer than 1940. At our price point, though, we walked away from a lot of showings cringing at the ruined woodwork, popcorn ceilings, and general decay. That was until we saw what we coined The Beautiful House. The woman selling it had grown up there and a total of only three families had lived there ever. It was well loved and well cared for, but still way over our price point. We wrote the owner a letter, telling her our story. She really wanted to see her home house another growing family and we got it!

When we come home after traveling I love to see our house nestled under the two huge elms in our back yard. It helps me realize how comforting cozy and familiar can be.

I keep trying to get my role in Knowmad to decrease now that I’m a mama but it doesn’t seem to quite work that way! As our family has grown a lot in the past couple of years, so has our company. Our US-based team has grown from just Jordan and I to a total of seven Knowmaders. We’re moving into a new office this fall and I’m really looking forward to that project. My role has changed a lot from being focused mainly on marketing, to setting up systems to handle the details of about 200 trips that go annually, to creating a work culture that keeps everyone happy, healthy, and friends.

I’m never bored and generally relish in the challenge, although some weeks I feel like the juggle is too much for my capabilities. Those weeks I try to take a step back and focus purely on my essentials: enough restful sleep, healthy, whole foods, being outside, and the bigger picture. Trey always puts a smile on my face and I’m lucky to always have my husband on my team both at work and at home.

Travel isn’t just my job, or even my career — it’s my calling. As Elle Luna says when “standing at the crossroads of Should and Must, choose Must.” My must is to explore. I feel beyond blessed to have discovered this earlier than later and to have been born in a first world country where traveling to faraway destinations was an opportunity I could pursue.

When traveling I love the sense of freedom and wonderment I have at the most ordinary daily tasks. I love how willing we are to share our innermost struggles or joys with perfect strangers and how, every time, I come to the same conclusion — no matter our background, beliefs, or culture we’re all essentially the same. Beautifully human.

At home, I try to find that same essence of travel in my everyday and appreciate the differences in people. Treat a bike around the lake or even a run to the farmer’s market like a mini-adventure instead of routine. I think that widened perspective attained through travel helps me see the world through my toddler’s eyes and connect with him even on days that I’m too tired to find it amazing that there are ants in our kitchen!

At work, I love the energy of our travelers departing and returning with their stories. There’s also always one of our team that’s off on an adventure and we really back each other up with the office duties to ensure that each other can really revel in those experiences. I’m doing a lot less traveling than I used to now that our company and family have expanded and it’s definitely something I struggle with. When Trey was first born, I had been accustomed to so much freedom that catering to the every need of a helpless being was a big adjustment. I’ve grown so much in the process though — growth I could have never realized traveling.

Our routine always seems to be changing as nap schedules and nanny schedules (thus work schedules) evolve. Right now I’m working three full days (Monday through Wednesday) and Trey is home with a nanny. I’m the early riser in our household and wake up at around 6:30 to start my day off with a half hour to myself with just my own thoughts. I usually walk the pup Luna with a tea or stretch or sometimes just stare into space. Jordan and I try to fit our showers in and get something together to bring to the office for lunch before Trey wakes up at 7:30 — my favorite time of day.

We make it a point to start his day in a really happy and calm place and before rushing downstairs for breakfast or even changing his diaper, we all sit around and read books and drink lattes. Trey even gets his own latte (just foamed milk).

I ride my bike (or walk in the winter) to the office at 8:30 and then back home at 5:00. When you work in travel and aren’t actually traveling, it’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. It’s a lot of computer time, but our office is light-filled and our team is close. We all eat lunch together every day and get out for a team paddle-board or cross country ski at least monthly.

On my days off I fall into Trey’s routine and take things a little slower. We spend almost an hour eating breakfast and chatting nonsense and planning our morning excursion. Always season dependent in Minnesota, in the summer we love to bike to the beach and get an ice cream cone. In the winter, we frequent the library and museums where there are indoor play areas. We often drive west to my parent’s where there’s a barn with horses, kittens and, most enthralling for a little boy, a tractor!

Naptime is from around 2:00 to 4:00 and I make it a rule to do something for myself the second Trey falls asleep. Sometimes it’s just a shower, but even that can give you the moments you deserve (I made the mistake of working through every naptime for too long!)

After naps we’re generally in a pretty good mood and I can half focus on getting a healthy meal together for dinner. Papa gets home at around six and we trade off who cooks while the other plays, eats, and then we trade off again with who does bedtime while the other cleans up.

In Minnesota summers are insane. All social events are scheduled in a three-month period when the weather’s nice. It’s all fun, but also overwhelming. Our solution is frequent escapes into nature; weekend getaways on the lake up North at the cabin, a couple week trip to the mountains in Colorado, or the longer jaunt down to South America to really escape the routine.

I always knew I wanted a house that felt lived-in. I grew up with a mom that saw no point in putting a half done project away just because we were having company and I appreciate that even more now.

I wanted our house to tell a story: the story of us. Every mirror, dish, and painting has been collected over time and reminds me of that trip we took or that rummage sale we found. Inspired by the bold, beautiful colors from our journeys abroad, I painted the living room a deep teal and the kitchen’s filled with green ceramics and plants.

In an old house without much storage, I try to be practical with my décor choices. The open shelves in the kitchen contain things that we actually use and woven tapestries from abroad double as blankets, pillow shams, table runners (and sometimes scarves).

Mixing family with business and business with pleasure proves to be a genuinely intrepid concoction, but also a bit hectic. So I wanted the rooms of rest to be, well, restful. Our bedroom is a serene gray and the king size bed (hastily bought during the sleepless nights of Trey’s infancy) takes up most the room. I wanted the bathroom to remind me of the sea.

Overall, I’d define my style as worldly and eclectic. And, yes! It’s always, always changing the more I travel, but I’m also so inspired by design trends here in Minneapolis and the fresh, beautiful online content that’s so easily shared now.

I get all stressed out about the same things that every other mom does. I think having traveled so much helps me personally laugh something off as a first world issue a little sooner than otherwise but everyone has their own experiences that help them take life a little more lightly. For us, travel has a way of pressing reset in our lives and every time we come home from a trip we try to live more simply: buy less, make do with more, schedule less, be present more. It’s a wonderful influence on our family’s life and I’d say I’m in awe most days of this journey we’ve found ourselves on.

I hope Trey remembers a feeling of love, warmth, and safety. A sense of adventure. Happiness. I will have done my job and done it well if this is what he remembers of toddlerdom!

I wish someone had told me of how isolating and lonely motherhood, entrepreneurship, and I guess life can be at times. Maybe you have a few close friends but they’re spread out all over the world. Or maybe you have a lot and you just don’t feel that connected to them. Or maybe your friends are great, but what you really need is a sister.

I’ve often felt that I was doing something so different from everyone else that it was hard for me to find that closeness I was searching for. But remember — everyone is doing something different and everyone has love to give to a friend. Just do your own giving and it will, trust me, come back around.


That is the sweetest, Tara: “Everyone has love to give to a friend.” Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

As for your point about brushing off “first world issues,” I can tell you I have a friend who has lived in many third-world countries. It’s funny to hear her family respond to situations with “At least we didn’t get Malaria” and “Oh! You can drink the water from the tap here? How lovely!” Too funny. Tell me: What is it that helps you take life a little more lightly? We’d all love to hear your coping mechanisms!

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Brianna Van Dyke Tue, 02 Aug 2016 16:00:57 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. House photos by Katie Jenkins, and barn shot by Libby Newell.

Brianna has a barn and a to-die-over pantry and land and extra rooms and lots of old stuff and a magazine she writes from said barn, but what’s most interesting to me about her is how she is using all her space.

Hospitality. Welcoming guests into her life and almost forcing herself to do so, sometimes, because it involves so much more than simply inviting people over, right? No, hospitality is not easy. But, oh! The reward. I read once (probably on Pinterest!) that the word hospitality comes from two Greek words; one means love and the second means strangers. So sweet when it’s put like that.

Brianna, I’m happy to offer you some hospitality here today! Welcome to Design Mom. I can’t wait to share you with my readers.

Hello! I’m Brianna Van Dyke, and I live with my husband Jonathan in Fort Collins, Colorado, with our two kids Finnley (ten) and IlaJane (seven) and our three dogs. I’m a writer and editor and an introvert. I love words and seeking beauty and good conversation, and I’m passionate and driven and I have a perfectionist streak that sometimes gets the best of me. My kids and my husband teach me so much about extending grace to myself and to the people I love.

We live in Fort Collins, which is about an hour north of Denver. It’s known for all its breweries and is often called the Napa Valley of beer. There are also lots of great outdoor spaces to enjoy. One of our favorite family activities is rafting on the Cache La Poudre river and barbecuing along the river.

I grew up in Colorado, and I love all the sunshine and natural beauty, but I can definitely take it more for granted because I’m used to it. My husband is from Chicago, and for him, Colorado is the stuff dreams are made of — he LOVES to be on the river and running on the trails in the foothills.

Fort Collins also has great schools. Our kids go to a dual language school and learn throughout the year in both Spanish and English. It’s been really inspiring to see them learning another language; their accents are impressive! And the school is intentionally trying to help break down the barriers between the English-learning students and the Spanish-learning students and help the kids learn how to talk and play and learn from one another rather than just staying in their own comfortable language groups. I also find that really inspiring.

We moved into our current house about three years ago. We’d been living in the Old Town part of Fort Collins, and we had a patio instead of a back yard. With our two kids and our dogs, we decided we wanted to find out what it would mean for us to have some more room and some land for gardening and chickens and bees, a place for the kids to roam and catch grasshoppers and dig holes to China. So, we moved to our new house, which is on 3 1/2 acres. It’s an old farmhouse built in 1909 with two outbuildings, one of which we call the barn. We remodeled and turned it into my work/studio space. It was quite an adjustment.

Our old house was pretty dialed in. We’d remodeled the kitchen and done work on the landscaping, and there really weren’t really any other projects to do. Our house now has projects everywhere you look. So, it took some adjusting — kind of just embracing the cracks and letting go of the to-do list. We’ve tackled a few projects over the past few years, but we’ve also had to learn to live with imperfection, a slower pace, and acceptance about not being able to fix everything all at once. For example, there are weeds everywhere, our front porch is rotting and needs replacing, and we still have aluminum blinds up. Eek!

I love old stuff. Actually, I have to be careful and limit my estate sale trips or our house would start to overflow. Luckily, my old stuff fits with the style of our house, and my husband and kids don’t mind it.

It’s also really important to me for our house to feel like our family’s little sacred space. We have a prayer/meditation table where we will sometimes light candles in the evening as a way of remembering our friends or family who are struggling or as a way of showing gratitude for something or someone. If the kids find a special rock at the river, they can bring it home and put it on the prayer table. It’s a way of honoring the sacred in the mundane, the holy in the everyday. Our kids are older now, and they love to help light the candles and blow them out. I think they recognize the beauty in this small ritual, too.

I work as a writer and editor of the magazine I started called Ruminate. Ruminate is a nonprofit arts and literary magazine to help people slow down, encounter honest storytelling, and awaken their hearts. I really am doing my dream job, and it’s such an honor and privilege. But it has been a long, hard journey.

I started the magazine ten years ago, and I’ve always worked from home. When the kids were little, this meant working around their kids naps and at night, and that was so hard. I remember just feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted. I had read something a Benedictine nun, Macrina Wiederkehr, said about how ongoing “multi-tasking is a kind of violence against the soul.” That really resonated with me. It took me having a physical and emotional crash to finally start to intentionally seek out more of a work/life balance.

One day, I found I couldn’t get out of bed anymore. I didn’t have a choice — it was like a protest — my mind and body refused to go on unless I made significant changes. It has been a long journey of healing, and one I’ll always be on. But slowly, I’ve been relearning what it means to care for myself, to speak about my wounds, to ask for help, to nourish my body and mind with good food and deep sleep, to say no when I need to say no, to go for walks, to be okay with imperfection…and to slow down and notice beauty. And for me, I think we can seek beauty in our day-to-day lives: in our homes, in our words, and in our relationships. I now feel really grateful for my job and how fulfilling it is, but I also know that my happiness and my identity aren’t tied up in my work. This has been a huge shift!

One of my favorite parts about having more space – we now have a guest room, and we have the barn, and some land — is that I’ve been learning more about practicing hospitality. We have a dear friend from California who now comes to live with us twice a year for a month at a time. Depending on the weather and her needs, she’s lived in the barn and she’s lived in our house with us. We have enough space to do this, and I’ve loved having another woman in the house and a friend to share meals with and another person to love on our kids.

I think multi-generational homes are great. As mothers, I don’t think we’re meant to be so alone.

Another thing we’ve been able to do is open the barn up to other arts groups to use. And, our neighbors run a working farm, and they’ve been growing veggies and keeping their turkeys on our land. I know we can practice hospitality whether we’re in a small space or a large space, but for my introverted soul, it’s nice to have enough room to still be able to have my own space and room to share.

A few years ago, when my son was in first grade, his Spanish-speaking friend Omar was just learning English, and my son knew little Spanish. I remember asking him what they talked about, how they would decide which games to play during recess, or who was it.

“Well, he knows some English words,” my son told me.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like hello,” he said. And then he paused, smiled, and said, “But mostly when he laughs it’s in English, and I know just what he means . . . And Omar laughs a lot, Mom.”

For my son, laughter was a word that transcended barriers. I’ve held on to this story from my son, and I have really have seen the healing power of laughter…of not taking myself, especially, so seriously.

More recently, my daughter and I walked a prayer labyrinth together. I was thinking about our divided country and asking for my eyes and heart to be open to the pain and injustice. I led the way into the center of the labyrinth. I felt like I could have sat there in the center for hours. But we met eyes, and I could tell she was ready to walk. She could tell I was feeling sad and overwhelmed. She said, just do one step at a time, mom. And then she stood up and led the way out. That seemed so right.

My kids teach me so much if I’m willing and able to be present with them and learn.

My deepest hope for my children is for them to be brave and compassionate toward themselves, toward others, and toward our world.

One of the most important things I’m working on as a parent is learning to be a lot kinder to myself. Instead of beating myself up for not being a better mom — especially in those early years — I wish I could have known that my sweet self was doing the very best she could.

Now, when I can catch myself doing this, I try and repeat this mantra: My sweet self is doing the best she can.

I suggest trying it! It helps me extend grace to myself. I’ve learned that when I’m hard on myself or critical of myself, the shame and criticism usually spills out onto the people I love, and I end up being critical of them, too! So, if I want to be kind to my children or my husband, or even strangers, I have to first start with being gracious and kind to myself.


Thank you, Brianna! What you said about laughter being able to transcend language barriers rang really true for me while I’m in France; I may struggle to conjugate a verb or come up with the correct noun, but sharing a smile or a giggle is super easy.

Also intriguing to me: “As mothers, I don’t think we’re meant to be so alone.” There’s a lot of truth and comfort in that one little sentence, isn’t there?

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Janet Weston Tue, 26 Jul 2016 16:00:38 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This is the tour that almost never happened because TWINS! Janet’s boys have hit the terrible twos, and so her Living With Kids tour nearly turned into a Barely Surviving These Busy Busy Little Boys situation! You’ll giggle at the characters to whom she likens them, and I hope you’ll also love how she describes mommy-dating. Hilarious and true.

Oh! And did I mention she’s an expat in Tokyo? There’s a lot of interesting information in this one, and I really think you’re going to love Janet. And so, here she is!

Konnichiwa! Hajimemashite, yoroshiku onegaishimasu! I’m Janet, a mother of two beautiful twin boys. Together with my husband, we’ve been living in Tokyo for the past two years.

I am a former architect turned full-time stay-at-home mom. Last summer, I turned 40 but was too busy chasing after my kids to give it much thought or emotion. I am Korean by ethnicity, but born and raised in New York. My husband is British and grew up in London. He moved with his company to NYC, where we met, and now we are based in Tokyo.

My sons, C and M, are two-and-a-half years old and are bundles of energy. I speak American English to them while my husband speaks The Queen’s English to them; and although they spend much more time with me than my husband, they speak American English with a British accent.

My two boys are like the Three Stooges: just the two of them creating a huge mess of three. The boys are always running, never walking, and frequently full-on body slamming into each other unintentionally. Blood is usually involved, and a big bump on each head and/or bruises somewhere is a constant.

Vehicles of any shape or form are their main obsession. I never thought two year olds could learn complex vehicle names and I never thought I would ever have to learn so much about cars, tow trucks, buses, trains, excavators, bulldozers, motorcycles, boats, planes, etc. either. They also love books, and have amassed quite a large collection, mainly because I get tired of re-reading the same ones over and over again.

Amazingly, they have memorized a lot of them verbatim, so one would think they know how to read. And their most favorite toy in the world is the one the other brother is playing with.

We live in central Tokyo in a neighborhood called Nakameguro. Prior to our move, my husband’s boss was Japanese and recommended this area to us because he thought it would suit my husband. He was spot-on. This is not a typical expat requested location, but it is on the tourist map for various reasons including the restaurants, bars, unique boutique shops, and most of all the Cherry Blossoms!

A narrow river runs through Nakameguro and it is lined with Sakura trees. Each spring, from late March to early April, the ephemeral pink blooms from the cherry trees bring out large crowds throughout Japan. Droves of locals and tourists come out to Nakameguro and take a stroll along the river to enjoy this amazing and beautiful spectacle. Pink sparkling wine and beer are the beverages of choice and sausages, kebabs, roasted sweet potatoes, and yakisoba are just a few of the many different foods sold during this time in temporary stalls.

We like that this area is more of a mix of Japanese locals and international residents. It is very family-friendly in the day, and at night, shuttered restaurants and bars open for dinner and late night drinks for workers coming home from their jobs. It is not uncommon to see young children out and about with one or both parents enjoying dinner out until about 9:00 or 10:00 pm.

Tokyo, in general, seems fit for night owls versus early risers, as businesses typically do not open until 10:00 am, and restaurants and cafes do not open until 11:30 am or later. If the grocery store, pool, or gym opened before 10:00 am, my mornings would be far more productive.

That being said, I am not a morning person by choice, but my kids wake me up by 6:00 am, if not earlier.

The apartments and houses we were shown when we moved to Tokyo were always void of any previous life. Because we rent, we cannot alter our apartment in any way. Wallpaper is the typical wall finish in most apartments, so one cannot just paint a wall a different color for the duration of the lease and repaint upon leaving. We are not allowed to drill holes into the walls either.

Our current apartment building rents to expats and was the only one with available units in the desired neighborhood at the time. The southern exposure into our main living area, space for our dining table, and the neighborhood vibe sealed the deal for us.

We have five local parks within five to ten minutes walking distance to us with playgrounds and sand pits as well as a football (soccer) field. There are more parks within a ten-minute bike ride. There are many cafes, restaurants, shops, and other amenities just steps away from our door.

We love our neighborhood. It really started to feel like home about a year after we arrived.

We do not have a car in Tokyo. Fortunately, Tokyo’s subway system trumps both London and NYC’s for being super clean and very reliable. Most train stations have elevators and they are always fully functioning, unlike NYC subways where an elevator may be out of commission indefinitely. So navigating the streets of Tokyo with my boys in the double stroller is quite easy.

The other popular mode of transportation for a lot of parents in Tokyo is the Mamachari electric bicycle. Tokyo is quite hilly and you need the electrical assistance to transport yourself and one, two, or maybe even three children on a bicycle. I use mine for school pick-up and drop-offs, trips to the park, or to run errands. It has changed my life!

Being first-time parents to twins has been quite an adjustment. While in NYC and pregnant, we assumed I would return to work after the minimum maternity leave and send our child to daycare. When we found out we were expecting two, sending two kids to daycare was not an affordable option. My boss at the time assured me that being a full-time working mom with twins was completely doable. She would know as she had twin teenage sons and a successful architecture practice as proof.

On a side note, my main client through this firm also had twin teenage sons. All these families with twins were successfully working and balancing their personal lives. My future as a working parent of twins seemed quite promising.

A lot of my friends in NYC had done quite well in their careers and would buy property and subsequently would need an architect to help make their property their own. Luckily, during my pregnancy, a friend had purchased a new apartment that needed to be renovated. He also happened to have one-year old twins. So I partnered up with another architect friend and we started to design this twin family’s apartment on the side. Other projects started to pop-up, too.

The timing was great to start a side gig from my full-time job. My plan was to quit the full-time job after giving birth and grow the side projects into a full-time gig.  I would finally be able to start my own architecture practice.  Plus, this would have given me a more flexible lifestyle, since I would be my own boss. Everything was falling into place.

However, my pregnancy was not going as hoped. At 22 weeks, I was unexpectedly hospitalized, then put on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. I had to stop both my full-time work and side projects abruptly. I was hospitalized an additional three times and pumped with all sorts of medication to prevent preterm labor and accelerate fetal development. It was the most stressful and most boring 12 weeks of my life.

Having had a previous miscarriage, expecting twins, and being over 35 years old put me in the high-risk category of geriatric pregnancies. I was so paralyzed from the stress that I could not do anything productive, yet I craved distraction to help pass the time more quickly.

I was prescribed anti-contraction medication for five weeks and less than 24 hours after my last dose, my water broke. A few hours later, my babies were born and immediately whisked away to the NICU. They spent a week there causing additional stress for us. And finally we brought them home and found a new level of stress we didn’t think possible. Not only were we first time parents with twins, our twins were delicate preemies. How could the doctors and nurses trust us newbie parents with caring for one, let alone two? The 12 weeks of worry about possibly losing my boys had to be quickly forgotten as caring for these tiny beings became our main focus.

Fast forward through four months of juggling two newborns, during which time my husband’s company asked if he would consider relocating to Tokyo. When we got married, we presumed NYC would be home for some time to come, so the opportunity was rather unexpected. And less than three months later, we landed in Tokyo.

Being a new parent is already overwhelming, so we thought we would throw in an international move and add cultural and language barriers to make our day-to-day living a little more difficult! But in addition to new parent difficulties and the relocation, all the things that previously defined me have now been tossed aside as caring for my two boys and husband have usurped everything else. We are very fortunate to have this unique chance to live abroad. This is an amazing opportunity for my husband’s professional growth and a great experience for our family. I wholeheartedly chose and agreed to this new path for my family, but I still often wonder and romanticize how my career might have developed these three years later.

Also, becoming financially dependent on my husband has been an added adjustment; I often feel like I am not pulling in my weight in this partnership. Additionally, I think my husband feels the pressure of becoming the sole provider for three dependents.

In an ideal world, I would love to find something design-related on a part-time or freelance and flexible basis. If there was a sure thing that I could do here in Japan, I know I could make it work. However, I have no desire to pursue just any random job for the sake of having a job. My boys require so much attention as they are in the midst of the terrible twos. When they are on, they are ON.

Friends and family back home had suggested I start a blog on our expat adventures, but I could barely manage posting one Instagram photo a week!

The expat community is rather transient. My initial experience into this world began with a lot of mommy-dating. I met up with different moms and their children by chance meetings in the park or through organized events and activities. We try to see if we have any connections besides the fact that we have kids. Luckily, out of necessity and perseverance, I have made some great friends. Unfortunately, I have already had to say goodbye to several families as they moved onto other new expat adventures of their own. So I often feel like I have to continue mommy-dating and it can get quite exhausting.

There are a lot of accomplished, well-educated, and interesting women out there taking extended maternity leave during their expat days and some who seem to feel this strain or limbo period of not doing enough. As if taking care of our kids is not enough of something to do, when I think it is actually the hardest job I have ever had. Knowing I was not alone in my feelings has helped me deal with this struggle. I have also been able to befriend working moms who are either Japanese or non-Japanese with a Japanese spouse, and it is interesting to see that despite different parenting styles and culture and maybe even a full-on work schedule, they all have similar feelings and struggles on the matter of raising kids.

Overcoming these parental struggles include doing non-kid-related things such as date nights with my husband, group dates, and separate boys’ and girls’ nights out. We hire a sitter as needed, but amongst a few other neighborhood moms, we take turns babysitting for each family so that one couple can go out and not also have to spend a lot of money on a sitter. Obviously, the mom who is babysitting has her husband at home to watch their own children.

In an attempt to create our own village, several moms and I take turns hosting kid dinners. The host family provides dinner for kids so that the moms do not need to worry about cooking dinner for their own kids that evening. Kids get to play with each other and get to know all the moms of the group, too. The hostess is left with the post-dinner and play mess and we rotate homes each time. We have simplified the menu options so that it is a healthy, but easy mass dinner to prepare.

Prior to having our own children, my husband and I naively judged our parent friends with their parenting style, time management, and home décor. We vowed we would never be like some parents. Hah. Seriously, all parents are doing the best they can.

With the upcoming move to Tokyo, we Konmari-ed our things before we ever learned about the tidying guru. We did not want to store anything in New York and only wanted to take things that we knew we would need and use. This included getting rid of over 500 art, architecture, fiction, and non-fiction books. In its place, we acquired a lot of infant and toddler toys and equipment as gifts or hand-me-downs.

I wanted the boys to have free reign in our new home. When the boys started walking at 10.5 months, they started to climb everything. We had to childproof our living room by removing every non-toy except for the larger pieces of furniture. Every week we would rearrange our spaces to make it harder for them to climb and access things they should not touch. All of our art kept being rearranged and moved higher and higher up.

I never really minded clutter before kids, but probably because my husband and I didn’t leave so many little cars or blocks scattered throughout our home! Our home ended up looking like an indoor playland — exactly what my husband and I vowed we would never allow.

Recently, we brought my husband’s and my toys back out. Our computer is on an elevated window ledge in the living room instead of on a desk. Our stereo has been placed on a higher cabinet to avoid little hands from destroying it. Although our boys now know they should not touch these things, they love to test us all the time to ensure we are constantly vigilant.

C and M have been attending an English language preschool on a part-time basis since they were 18 months old, as I needed some breaks from caring for them all the time. The few nannies we tried out had a difficult time handling both boys on their own without me there to help. But mainly, we wanted the boys to be in a somewhat structured environment and to socialize with other peers and adults. We have also been adding the number of days they attend as I find it harder and harder to entertain them on days that they do not have school. There are only so many playdates, trips to the aquarium or large play spaces I can take them to multiple times a week without burning myself out.

After school, we head to one of the local parks with or without friends to run around and burn off about two hours of energy left in them. Then we head home and have a long bath splash or quick shower depending on how dirty they got and how much more energy needs to be burned. This is usually the bewitching hour of h-anger (hungry-anger) tantrums and me trying to prevent a burnt dinner.

After the food fight — I mean dinner — the boys ride their indoor bikes and climb their jungle gym to allow time for digestion. Finally we wrestle PJs on and read books in bed and do a lot of chasing back into the bedroom. If my husband gets home in time, he helps with this part of the bedtime routine. After books, it is lights out and I sing for 15 minutes or until I fall asleep, whichever happens first.  Then, eventually I sneak out or my husband wakes me. By the time I leave their room, I am utterly spent. I do not have the energy to form coherent sentences or even read.

I am eternally grateful we can afford to send my boys to school to give me a few hours without them a few times a week. During the time they are in school, I am cleaning up our home, running errands, buying groceries, and prepping dinner, so that I can spend more focused time with the boys when I am with them. More recently, I am trying to do more self-care and outsourcing. I spend at least one day per week on something design-related whether it is attending an exhibition or touring a building or reading up on design-related topics. I have lunch with various friends without our kids at least once a week. I recently quit the gym that I barely stepped foot into and started personal training sessions.

On weekends, my husband might take the boys out for a few hours, but we often all hang out together as a family so that I can see my husband, too. We explored a lot of Tokyo during our first year, but not sure if it is due to getting too comfortable or the difficulty of managing twins in public that we prefer to stick to local parks more recently.

Lately, my boys have started to interact more with each other whereas before was a lot of parallel play and vying for Mommy’s undivided attention. I love seeing them scheme together, play jokes on each other, and sing together. Their imaginative play has become quite creative and complicated. Now I see how the twin bond is forming. I miss their immobile infant stage and when I see or hold a friend’s infant, I contemplate a third child. However, the possibility of having another set of twins, or having a crazy day with my current boys usually squashes that desire.

Life in Tokyo is good. It is very baby and kid-friendly. I know my boys love our home right now and I hope they remember it as a place of love, safety, and comfort. I hope they remember me as someone who gave them love, safety, and comfort.

However, I hope my boys forget all the screaming I do! I hope they do not remember me as the one homeless-looking mom at school drop-off! I am still hiding bedhead under my bicycle helmet and the clothes I slept in under my jacket. Japanese moms always look immaculate in their full make-up and cute outfits at school drop-offs and playgrounds where their kids are getting dirty. I need to become proficient in Japanese to learn their secrets.

I wish someone had told me how having twins would completely change my life and that I will not find joy and happiness in every minute I raise my kids and would sometimes feel resentment, too. I feel like since I gave birth, my mind is constantly filled with very mundane details and tasks that are essential to surviving the day (Did I pack at least six diapers and enough wipes? Where is that school form? Where is my wallet? Where is my bike key?). There is no space available for creativity or inspiration to take shape in there. In retrospect, I find that the first year of raising twins was a breeze as they were less mobile and had only the most basic needs that needed to be met. I’m sure in a few years I can look back on this time and think it was a breeze, too.


Janet, you totally made me laugh out loud with your desperate hope that your boys won’t remember you as the bedheaded mom at school drop-off! Thank you so much for your honesty and humor today. It was fun to peek in on your life in Tokyo.

Friends, would you — or have you — done it? Moved to another country with two little, little ones, without friends or family…or a job? I’d love to hear your stories, so please do tell!

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Jan Verhoff Tue, 19 Jul 2016 14:00:09 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lori Baskin Photography.

I always love to hear stories of how families chose their homes. Sometimes it’s walk-through-the-front-door-perfect, and sometimes it requires a little imagination. Plus also a general contractor with access to heavy machinery!

Jan and her family needed a little help, but they also put in a lot of their own sweat equity — I love her advice about that! — and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Come meet her. Happy to have you here, Jan!

Hello! I’m Jan and I share my home with my husband Bill, oldest son Mason, and two younger daughters Sloan and Reese. Billy and I met in college when we were neighbors and the convenience made it easy for our relationship to last. We both graduated from The Ohio State University and have chosen to raise our family in central Ohio. Billy is a dedicated provider but also enjoys his down time on the weekends. Our family keeps busy with friends in the area that also have children our age. We also spend a lot of time with both sides of our family and appreciate that we live close to them. Our home has an open door policy and you will often find someone stopping by unannounced or a get together taking place. The more the merrier!

We are a family with the females dominating! Our son is old enough to remember what it was like being the only child in the family. He dominated our time and was lucky enough to have both parents present at sporting events, school performances, and parties. He went through a bit of shock when his first little sister came; the realization that parents shared time among children was a new concept and one that took time for our son to adjust to.

But quickly, we all adjusted and enjoyed our family of four. We adjusted so well that in two-and-a-half years we had baby number three. We face the normal sibling arguments but know deep down they would not have it any other way. The second baby girl meant we females outnumbered the males and the little girls have personalities to show.

Our middle daughter is four going on fifteen. She is athletic, intelligent, and confident. She keeps us all on our toes. Our youngest is already showing signs of following in her big sister’s footsteps which will be needed to keep up with her big brother and sister.

Our family is feeling complete but a setback occurred when becoming a family of five: our first home was feeling pretty tight. So, the house search quickly began.

We purchased our first home in Upper Arlington, Ohio (a suburb of Columbus) and knew that we wanted to stay in the area. The appealing features of a suburban area — exceptional school district, safe neighborhoods, community events, parks — we found and appreciate about the community. But, just as importantly, we love the close proximity to downtown, other neighborhoods, sporting arenas, and restaurants that Upper Arlington has to offer. We get the feeling of being connected to the city of Columbus as a whole without the separation that some suburbs have.

The house search began with excitement and quickly started to feel like a chore. We had an open mind but to no avail. We were willing to buy a home that was not exactly what we wanted, do the work and make it ours, but we kept striking out. After looking at twenty homes in the area, we knew our search had to continue but we began to lose hope of finding the just right house for us.

Then, a relative called us and stated that an acquaintance of theirs would be selling their home in the near future and that we could take a peek at it. Honestly, we were not overly pumped but thought what do we have to lose? We went to the home and immediately noted how close it was to our favorite park in the area; check one. We walked through the home with an open mind because the house was in need of some tender loving care, but items on our list were getting checked off as we did our walk through.

Our list consisted of items that were not cosmetic but more of how the bare bones would work for our family. Items such as a large family room, a separate living room, five bedrooms, room for a dining table for our whole family, a spacious backyard, a kitchen that had potential, and an overall layout of living space that felt right. As I said, the home was crying for updates but we were able to see past this and envision our family living there.


Floors needed to be refinished and replaced, walls needed painted, light fixtures needed changed out, etc. The kitchen required more than the renovations the other part of the home needed — it was in need of a remodel. We would be taking down walls, adding plumbing and electricity — all that fun stuff — to make the kitchen what we wanted. We left the home that day, looked at each other, and both said that it could be the one. We had not said that to many houses in our long search. Everything fell into place seamlessly and before we knew it we were buying the house and making decisions about renovations.

Our new home went through an overall renovation with the kitchen being remodeled. The process lasted about three months. One of the most important things I would share to anyone that is thinking about doing a remodel of a kitchen is considering the time of year to do the work. I found that the best time to schedule a kitchen remodel is during the summer or warm weather months. We ate and played outside every day for those months to get away from the madness going on inside. I could not imagine going through the remodel of our kitchen during cold or snowy months. It would have been very difficult!

Another tidbit I would suggest is to work outside of your comfort zone. We had never tiled, hung light fixtures, or laid as much flooring as we did in our new home which definitely pushed us out of our comfort zone. All these new projects were a bit nerve wracking and took us way more time than a professional would have, but it was the right choice. We learned new skills and stayed within our budget because we pushed ourselves during our renovations.

I try to style my home to be kid-friendly, comfortable but well thought out, modern, colorful, and crisp with a touch of boho in there. My style is based around a feeling. I have always loved walking into a well styled home, restaurant, or business and feeling relaxed and comfortable. I appreciate an space that is well thought out, well styled, and has a good vibe to it. A well styled space where pieces and items have a place and purpose brings a sense of comfort and warmth.

I want my family and guest to feel this in my home. To create these feelings, I have made my home kid-friendly with plenty of areas for the kids to live and play. Also, I incorporate pieces that have meaning, are useful, add color or texture, add life, and show our personality. Again, I try to add colorful, modern, and bohemian pieces into our home in order to create a feeling of warmth and texture.

My strategy for styling our home is looking at tons and tons of pictures of homes and decor for inspiration and combining ideas to make my own room. I have been inspired by many creative individuals on Instagram and appreciate the large community that is willing to share their home with the world.

Before I had our third child I was working full-time as a teacher. I loved my job! I loved teaching students, seeing them grow, and becoming part of their family. But when I was working, I always had the feeling of being rushed. I rushed to get to work in the morning, I rushed to get work done, I rushed to get home to my family, I rushed to get work done in the evening, and then repeated the next day. We were lucky to have family helping us with our two kids while I worked which gave me a peace of mind and helped me balance work and home.

At first, I did envision myself going back to work after baby number three but situations changed and it did not feel like the right time. We felt that the best job I could do would be to stay at home with the kids. I feel very lucky to be at home and know that I will return to teaching when the time is right.

At this time, my typical day is spent enjoying my home and offering my kids life experiences. We are busy-bees always going somewhere, doing something, or having friends and family over. I have enjoyed pouring my creativity into my family and home that I used to pour into my teaching. The Instagram world offers me a platform to see and meet other individuals that are enjoying their homes and pouring style and creativity into them. I am a new Instagrammer and almost daily I fall upon a new person that inspires me through their photos. I hope that I can inspire others through my photos.

I am a twin, and my identical twin and I are best friends. Luckily, she lives five minutes away from me so we are inseparable. We definitely talk everyday and see each other about five times a week. We are very much alike and different at the same time. She is a family of five and our children are the closest cousins can be. We have had a few twin moments since not living together (we lived together for 25 years until we both got married). Without discussing or shopping together, on two separate grocery trips we both bought the exact same toothpaste brand and type and the exact same ice cream brand and flavor on the same day. These truly were twin moments because both of us do not buy the same toothpaste or ice cream each time we go to the store. We both pick what looks best or sounds good at that moment. There are many brands and types of toothpaste and many brands and flavors of ice cream but somehow on those days we picked the exact same ones. Crazy how that happened!

My favorite part about my three children is that they offer so much life, laughter, and happiness to our days. That is a typical mom response but it is the truth. For selfish reasons, I adore them being around as I would be bored and not very entertained without them. My kids have taught me to enjoy the small things. They laugh and are content doing art projects, running races outside, walking to the park, playing with friends, and having lazy days at home. I try to follow their outlook and enjoy the simplicity of things.

I hope my kids remember the fun times and memories we had in our home. Memories of us sitting down at dinner and sharing highs and lows of the day, friends and family coming over to eat and play, doing art together, and taking care of our home. I hope as grown ups they find what makes them comfortable and happy and stick with it. I hope they are comfortable with their jobs, themselves, their homes, and their families. And, hopefully all this will make them happy.

Maybe that is why I want our home to be comfortable, colorful, warm, and welcoming because I want my children to have these feelings now and as they grow up.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have read more to my son. Being a younger parent and him being my first child, I did not yet realize the importance of reading to my child every day starting when he was a baby. Once he entered Elementary School I could tell that I had not introduced him to books or read to him as much as I should have. He did receive additional reading support in school and now is an excellent reader, but I wish I could have done that over again.

In a sense, I was able to do it over again with my middle and youngest children. With both girls we started reading books starting at infancy and have books all around the house that we ready and enjoy every day. Already I notice a difference in their concepts about print and ability to read. Books are incorporated into how I style my home because they are useful and pleasing to look at.


Thank you, Jan! Your honesty about what you would’ve done differently with your son was heartfelt and I appreciate you sharing your regret with us. (And honestly, I have a friend who read to her kids all the time, and they are not great readers as teens. In fact, I remember her husband saying something like, “It’s because we read to them too much as babies! Now they don’t want to read themselves!” Hah!)

I just read of an acquaintance ridding her home of over 500 books in an attempt to KonMari her life. (Spoiler: She kind of regrets it!) What do you think? Are you slowly going digital with your books? Selling or giving away the ones on your shelves? I’d love to hear your book philosophies!

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Stasia Savasuk Tue, 12 Jul 2016 14:00:34 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos a sweet combination by Stasia and Melissa Reid Photography.

Stasia is a bright ball of enthusiasm and infectious energy. She tells a story with all-caps words highlighted to make sure you’re getting it, to make sure you’re feeling it. I did and do. You will, too.

Come meet her, please. Welcome, Stasia!

Hello there! I’m Stasia (41) and I live in Brattleboro, Vermont with my husband, Knowles (46) and our two little biscuits, Raisa (nine) and Zealand (three). I am wildly extroverted, with extreme doses of sass, hyperbole, drama and wit. I’m brave. I like to do hard things, but I’ll likely belly-ache through the whole darn thing (see hyperbole and drama). Knowles, on the other hand, is more like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He goes with the flow, doesn’t get rattled, and thrives on deep meaningful conversation. He does hard things too…just with no belly aching. Knowles and I met while rock climbing in Alaska 20 years ago, which is pretty cool since we were both Mainers living the mountain-life in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Our daughter, Raisa, is nothing short of a wonder. When I was pregnant with her, the docs were not sure she would survive childbirth. She was born with multiple physical anomalies, not all of which were discovered when she was born. Over the past nine years, Raisa has seen at least a dozen specialists at Children’s Hospital Boston, has been under anesthesia over 15 times, and has had literally hundreds of doctor’s appointments. She is wildly curious, asks way too many questions, and has the gumption to show up and speak up no matter what. She’s smart, sassy, opinionated, and filled with a love so deep, she can hardly find ways to express it all.

Zealand (aka ZZ) is quick witted, LOUD, and incredibly mischievous. He has the most dramatic and varied facial expressions I’ve ever seen on one tiny human. His personality is larger than life, which makes complete sense, since he was born a ten pound 11 ounce whopper!

I’m pretty sure both my kids would trade me in for a steady supply of gatorade and candy bars — neither of which I allow in my house.

Raisa was born a Mainer in March 2007, and six months later, we moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, so that Knowles could earn his Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation from SIT Graduate Institute (The School for International Training). We were two years post Peace Corps (Moldova 03-05), still holding on to a dream of living/working abroad once Knowles graduated. But by the time we arrived here in Bratt, Raisa’s medical needs were so complex, we realized we needed a new dream.

Fortunately for us, Brattleboro was that dream. Within days of arriving, an incredible support system was created for us, BY THE COMMUNITY, that was unwavering in its willingness to support us through some really hard years. Brattleboro is synonymous with community, and that’s exactly what we love most about living here.

Here are just a few of my favorite things I just LOVE about Brattleboro:

We have belonged to the same CSA for six years, which means I know my farmer by name.

Our trash collector is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.

We have a curbside composting program that has reduced our community’s trash production by over 50%.


We live on a dead-end street, and almost every single day during the summer months, we sit in the street and on our neighborhood benches for cocktails and conversation. Ages range from 3 to 85.

We have at least a half dozen good sized hiking mountains within a 15 mile radius.

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After living in a series of apartments (with noise-sensitive neighbors) in and around Brattleboro, we decided it was time to buy a house. We were tired of shushing Raisa from making kid-noises, and wanted her to be able to bang, jump, sing, and dance with wild abandon until her little body collapsed into her bed each night, filled to the brim with elated joy and expressive freedom.

Diving into the housing market was a shock to the system. Brattleboro is a small town in a rural state, with incredibly high taxes and a housing market that never really crashed. We were thankful that we were a family of three that could fit nicely into a small home.

In the fall of 2010, we started looking at small homes within our price range (under $160K), but most all of them needed to be gutted. In fact, I walked out of the showing of THIS house because the pet smell almost knocked my socks off, and it needed a fair amount of cosmetic work. But after seeing what else was out there, we RAN back to this house, made an offer, and in January of 2011, we bought this home for $153K, and moved on in!

I’d love to say that this home was a dream come true, but to be honest, we’ve had a fair amount of trouble with this house. After our son ZZ was born, we decided to add a dormer to the upstairs, bringing this from a two-bedroom/one-bath home to a three-bedroom/two-bath home. Except, the contractor we hired was not as competent as he led on, and caused a significant amount of damage to our sweet little home. Long story short, when we presented him with a report from a structural engineer stating that the structural integrity of our home had been severely compromised (our house was no longer safe), the contractor threw his hands up and said ‘Sue me’ and walked off with $20K in his pocket. We had to immediately hire a new contractor to make our home safe again, and bit by bit over the past three years, we’ve pulled together most of the finishing touches.


We still need new ceilings, a new front door, and some new windows, but compared to where we were just a couple of years ago, we’re living the high life!

What I love most about our home is that it reflects my family’s collective soul. We are a wild, quirky, spontaneous, vibrant, scrappy little bunch, and our home is a reflection of just that. Our style is both soul driven and values driven. I’m of the belief that there is enough stuff in circulation on the planet already, so we might as well share. Most of the things in our home were found either on the side of the road, at a thrift store, or at the swap shop at our local dump. In fact, the dump is undoubtedly my favorite place to go shopping for home decor. It’s amazing what a little bit of elbow grease and a can of paint can do to a mid-century credenza!

To be honest, until VERY recently, I had no idea how to decorate a home. For years I studied old Pottery Barn catalogs and tried recreating the rooms with found and salvaged goods, but my design always fell flat, and I never understood why. I didn’t think I was creative enough to do home decor, which was of course, bananas.

Turns out I was approaching home decor all wrong. I was trying to copy somebody else’s vision, without considering who we were as a family, or how we wanted to feel in our home. When I started asking the questions, WHO ARE WE, and HOW DO WE WANT TO FEEL IN OUR HOME, everything changed.

The other thing I’ve learned is that as we grow, mature, expand, and open, our style changes! How could it not? We are dynamic human beings, and operating under a static-world-assumption of decorate-and-done doesn’t make any sense! So I’ve made it a household habit/practice to continuously check in on our things, to see if we still love them. We are constantly upgrading from love to LOVE LOVE, so things tend to cycle in/cycle out pretty regularly. It’s not wasteful or globally negligent, because we bring in something used, and then donate our used thing back into circulation. I love to shop and explore and find new treasures, so “letting go” of what no longer suits us has been something I’ve taught my kids from a very young age. Things are, after all, only things.

Though I work as a Personal Stylist today, I would have burst out laughing at such a preposterous proposition just three years ago! I had broken up with style years ago because something was obviously wrong with my body (small boobies/big bum), and let’s face, style was for ‘them’ — not me. I held tight to the belief that it was what’s on the inside that matters, and that what I wore didn’t matter.

Except it did. I fought with my closet, and it sometimes made me cry.

When Raisa was just a babe, I started thrifting, and it opened up a whole new world to me. When I thrifted, money wasn’t really an issue (I’m talking $4 for jeans!), so I bought all the things. And I experimented. I learned that my body was really quite perfect, if I put the right things on my body. I learned that size doesn’t matter — shape does. I learned that I don’t like beige, or brown. And I learned that some pieces, the right pieces, made me feel really happy. And when I was REALLY happy, I was kinder, more vibrant, more ALIVE. But I didn’t really understand the connection. Why this and not that?

Until Raisa taught me.

Beginning at around age two, she started trending toward ‘boy clothes.’ In the beginning, I made nothing of it, and figured it was just a phase. By three she stopped wearing the dozens of pretty dresses she had hanging in her closet, and by five, even bootcut jeans and capped sleeves were out of the question.

I begged her to wear cute things. She refused. We battled.

At age six, when we were shopping at our local thrift shop, she asked me to help her look for a shirt and necktie. I refused, naturally, so she walked away from me, and asked the lady at the counter if SHE would help her find a shirt and necktie. (The audacity!) Moments later, she presented to me the ugliest shirt and tie my eyes had ever seen. I begrudgingly said yes, not because my heart was aflutter with admiration at her fierce independence and sense of self…but because I was too embarrassed to say no.

When we got home, she put on her shirt and tie, looked in the mirror, and took her own breath away. She ran across the living room, into the dining room and said, ‘Mama Mama, look how fast I can run!’ and then she jumped high into the air and said, ‘Mama Mama, look how much higher I can jump when I’m wearing a shirt and tie!’

That was it. She could run faster and jump higher when she was wearing clothes on the outside that matched who she was on the inside. In that moment, belief systems crumbled, and I began to truly SEE Raisa in a way I had never seen her before. All my years of protecting her, making sure she looked cute despite her physical differences, was stripping her of her power.

Let me translate that for you into grown-up terms: When we HIDE (protect ourselves from shame, vulnerability, and oh-my-goodness-what-will-they-say), we make ourselves LESS POWERFUL. Knowing WHO YOU ARE, and presenting that knowing on the outside is LIFE CHANGING. I call it Inside-Out Congruency. My clients call it TRANSFORMATIONAL.

Raisa’s story is WHY I do what I do. And it is why Stasia’s Style School sells out so quickly each time I offer it.

I’m not sure what’s more difficult: parenting as an entrepreneur, entrepreneuring as a parent, or entrepreneuring and parenting as a housewife! There are days when I let my kids watch too much television so I can post one more picture to Instagram. There are days when I completely ignore my inbox, so I can clean the toilet and wash the bathroom sink. And there are days when I let the dishes pile up in the sink ten miles high so I can take the kids to the farm to collect our veggies, pick flowers, play in the dirt, and visit the pigs.

In my experience, there is no such thing as balance. Just choices. And I need to get better at accepting those choices, rather than getting flustered because I can’t do all the things perfectly, all the time.

My favorite part about living with kids is the unlimited supply of kisses and hugs that come my way every single day. Before I had my own kids, I don’t think I ever understood what it would feel like to be loved this big. It’s awesome. And I get to love them back!

Undoubtedly, Raisa has taught me to not grip too tightly to narrowly defined belief systems. To think outside the box. To open up to the unexpected. To love fiercely.

Zealand taught me to trust my intuition. When I was 38 weeks pregnant with him, I measured in at around 49 weeks pregnant, which would make sense if I were an elephant, but that’s crazy talk for a human. An ultrasound revealed that my baby was more the size of a three-month old than a typical infant, and I panicked. How in the world could I grow such a huge baby? Even though I read everything I could about birthing big babies, I absolutely could not get past the fear.

One evening, days before ZZ was born, I went out for a late night walk and had an out-loud, raging conversation, angry at him for being so big. Well heck if he didn’t speak to me in a voice as clear as day. ‘Mama, we’re gonna be fine. We can do this. Don’t be afraid.’ I KNOW how woo-woo this sounds, but I’m telling you, my fears melted, my anxieties disappeared, and when I went into labor just a couple of days later, I birthed my ten pound 11 ounce baby naturally, and it was by far the most amazing thing my body has ever done.

I hope they remember the dance parties. The arm wrestling matches. The neighborhood parties. The goodnight stories. And the love bench. I also hope they remember the leaky roof, the flooded basement, and the creaky windows we have to plastic every winter. Because adversity breeds flexibility. And it seems to me, adversity, when paired with fierce love, creates whole humans.

And my wish for my kids is that they both grow into whole humans. Flexible. Honest. Confident. Creative. And above all else… LOVING.

My kids are three and nine, and already there are a million mama-things I would do differently. If I was given just one  do-over card, the thing I would change was the transition from being a perfect family of three, to a perfect family of four.

When Raisa was born, we didn’t know if she was going to live or die. For the first three years of her life, I did NOTHING but care for her. I was a medical mother. When the doctors said ‘She can’t’ or ‘She won’t,’ I said ‘WATCH HER!’ When she was born, her fingers did not move, and her arms and legs did not extend fully. I massaged her little body for HOURS each day for YEARS, until her fingers moved, and her muscles stretched. Until she could walk on her legs, and pick up itty bitty pebbles with her fingers. Every play activity we did was therapy based. It had a purpose.

I held her tightly each time she went under anesthesia, and supported her anxiety and fear with a love so deep, the docs in the OR would be reduced to tears every single time. She was my entire life. I went from being shy and underspoken, to being a TIGER — fierce, confident, outspoken. I don’t regret that for a second, because it quite honestly saved her life.

But what I do regret is that I got tired.

When I became pregnant with ZZ, I all but checked out. I was so sick and so emotionally exhausted from five years of life-or-death parenting, I collapsed. And in many ways, so did our relationship.

As I sit here writing this, tears are streaming down my cheeks. Yes, it is my greatest regret. I wish I had taken better care of myself during those long hard years of surgeries, appointments, therapies, and code blues. I wish I had anticipated the exhaustion. The withdrawal. The collapse. I knew it was happening, yet I couldn’t stop it. She was screaming for that same level of fierce, unconditional love and connection, and I couldn’t provide. It wasn’t insidious. It was abrupt, and it broke her little heart. Mine too.

But as hearts break, hearts mend; and today, Raisa and I continue to rediscover our mama/daughter relationship through the context of what’s truly possible in our busy and beautiful family of four!


Oh, thank you, Stasia. Putting this tour together didn’t feel like work at all; it felt like sitting with a screenful of joy and contentedness, and it was contagious for sure. I hope everyone else felt it, too.

I don’t know if I’m just overly emotional from all the heartbreak in the world, but this line just about cracked me in two: “When we got home, she put on her shirt and tie, looked in the mirror, and took her own breath away.” Do you remember the last time you took your own breath away? It’s worth remembering, isn’t it? Share your moment if you can; it would be good for us all, I know.

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Nathan of Wand’rly Tue, 05 Jul 2016 11:00:36 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I found Nathan in his own corner of Instagram, and was instantly intrigued. His bio reads “A family of five galavanting about Mexico in a 1978 VW Bus. Full-time travelin’ types since 2008.” His squares are dusty captures of a life lived on the run — not away from anything, to be sure, but more toward everything. Toward crisp blue bodies of water and hammocks for everyone and space to run and time to explore. Does that make sense? It will after you read Nathan’s compelling interview.

He founded an online magazine dedicated to advising others who want to travel full-time — A Complete Guide to Perpetual Travel, as he calls it — and it’s wonderfully empowering and community-building. Go see. (But first, this tour around his family’s life!)

I’m so excited to share him with you. Welcome, Nathan!

Hi there. My name’s Nathan, and I was the kind of kid who did the math and realized that 18 years of being young and free, then 45 years of working every day all day long, only to get a few more free years at the end when you’re all old and shriveled up — remember, this is ten-year old me talking — didn’t seem like a great plan. I asked around and it turned out that most people agreed that it wasn’t exactly an ideal setup, but that’s just the way it was…

So, I gave in, got a job, quit, got another job, quit, and so on. Then one day while I was eating ramen noodles for the umpteenth time, probably on my sixth job that I hated before I was even 19 years old, I saw an ad for an art school in Pittsburgh. I figured if I had to trade my time for money to make it in this world, I might as well be drawing pictures.

It was while I was sitting around on the campus of this art school that I noticed a young lady looking at me through a window. I was shy, she was even more so. But I wrote a lot of poetry back then and she liked to read, so we sort of hit it off through all of that. It was a lovely autumn spent together as friends.

We went separate ways. Somehow I ended up with a house and a 40-hour a week job at a PBS station and a beautiful young son named Tristan who has gone through a ton of heartache in his life, and despite having a dreamer/hot-tempered dad, remains to this day the most grounded, even-tempered, likable person I’ve ever met.

Meanwhile, Renée, the girl I met in college, went off to backpack around Europe.

A few years went by and one day my phone started buzzing in my pocket. It was her voice on the other end. I dropped everything in my life immediately and we spent a lovely weekend together.

I had just returned from my first cross-country road trip. I was desperate to travel more, but the house, my son, my job…it was a big pile of responsibility that I knew I was tied to, but at the same time I was hearing these stories Renée was telling…hitchhiking from Spain to Amsterdam, visiting ancient churches in Prague…and I was still dreaming about the Rocky Mountains, the red hues of Utah, the pristine clear blues of Lake Tahoe.

I knew I had to make a plan. Renée again went on to live her life, moving out to Colorado, and I quit my job and moved to England. I started freelancing. I moved back to the US, and Tristan and I hopped into a big ol’ RV and started traveling the world.

Everything I wanted for my life had come true; every day was a new adventure, Tristan and I were seeing the world, I was his teacher, he was meeting new people, new types of people, climbing trees, writing stories. It was a magical life but I was still missing one thing.

A year into it all, I got an email. Renée found a blog I was writing back then and saw that I had recently been in Colorado, and wanted to know why I hadn’t come to see her.

So once again, I dropped everything. This time it was easier; I had practice. I sold that big RV ,and Tristan and I headed up to Colorado where we bought our 1978 Volkswagen Bus.

It took all of three months for me to convince Renée to jump in with us and do this whole traveling-around-the-world thing again. I remember thinking it took a really long time. Three months in the late autumn/early winter of the Rocky Mountains, living in a  Bus, well, it’s cold!

But looking back, I can’t believe she did it at all.

Life then, and this was the autumn of 2009, was perfection. I had somehow created for myself, my son, and now Renée everything I’d ever wanted.

We hiked mountains and crossed state lines and explored small towns. We dreamed up where we might live one day, if we got bored of traveling. We slept in and got lost and broke down and fixed things and made things and then only six months into it all we made something pretty amazing together: a baby!

Well, we started the process anyway. A few months into the pregnancy we settled down in a beach house for the last trimester and Winter Erik was born. He was named for the first snow of the season, which fell on the day we brought him home from the hospital, and has grown up to be a sharp, imaginative, stubborn, hot-tempered little guy. I can’t imagine where that all came from.

We tossed Winter back into our VW Bus when he was four months old and went exploring for a place where we could feel comfortable enough slowing down again to make Tristan and Winter another little brother.

And so Wylder Reisen Swartz was born in the Smokey Mountains about a year and a half after his next oldest brother. His full name more or less means “to travel the black forest” and the corner of the Smokeys he was born in was called Black Mountain. Wylder is a sweetheart, he likes to rub his mama’s stomach and give out smooches (but he only has so many every day so get them in early!) and is the only one of the boys who doesn’t look like me. Which makes him the cutest.

Together, we’re a family of travelers, adventurers, and makers. We’re at our best when things are at their most difficult. Our days are spent together, always together, and though every day is not a happy-go-lucky romp in the wild, we practice patience and love as much as we can.

Our current home is a 1978 Champagne Edition Volkswagen Bus. That means it was made at the end of an era, one of the last runs of the classic hippie van/Scooby Doo van that Volkswagen produced. It’s an air-cooled, vintage piece of history, and though it requires a ton of maintenance and is always breaking down, we absolutely love her.

We don’t actually live in our Bus though. We live outside. The Bus is really small. It’s more like a tent with wheels, a place we can sleep and get from here to there. Most of our days are spent outside, whether it’s me working or the kids playing at a beach or us exploring the wherever we are.

We didn’t fall into it — I worked quite hard at making this all possible for us. I wouldn’t have been able to do it, though, if Tristan wasn’t on board, and later and especially now, if Renée wasn’t. I’m lucky to have such an adventurous woman in my life. We’ve broken down on dirt roads in the middle of Belize where it seemed like no one would ever come by, and we’d never be able to find help. She doesn’t panic. She gets nervous and more than a little worried, but she and I have learned to overcome whatever comes our way.

That approach to life has given us the ability to do things I don’t think everyone would look at as responsible, necessarily, but I want to teach my kids that responsibility is secondary to life.

That’s why we choose to live this way, because Renée and I both firmly believe that there is no guarantee as to what happens after this life, and that this life is an amazing gift. For all we know, we’re the only creatures in the entire universe who can do and think and be and achieve what humans can. So we want to live our lives as fully as possible and hopefully inspire our children to do so as well.

The only real downside to living like this is we don’t get to be around our friends and family as often as we’d like. But then again, our friends and family are spread all around the United States, so if we didn’t live like this, we would see some of them far less anyway.

The young boys wake up in the Bus rather early, usually before 6:00 am. They watch something like Curious George on our iPad while Renée and I convince ourselves it’s possible to get out of bed, yet again, before the sun is even up. I boil water, make some coffee, and head out to a camping chair to work.

Tristan is still asleep in his tent, or sometimes just his cot if it’s warm out. Renée gets the young boys dressed and fed and they’re sent off to wake up their older brother who spends the morning doing school stuff, like learning to code HTML and taking Spanish lessons.

Wylder still takes a nap around 1:00 pm every day, and Tristan and Winter get some alone time together. Winter absolutely loves his older brother, so this is like a slice of Disneyland for him on an every day basis. I finish up work and we’re off to explore wherever we are.

In the US, that’s typically a national park. We go hiking nearly every day and sometimes kayaking. The boys participate in the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger programs, which send them off on missions to learn more about nature. I’m a birder and love dendrology, so it all meshes perfectly into an afternoon of good times…until someone gets tired and so we all break down. At that point, we turn around, head home, and I’ll often make a campfire and Renée gets dinner ready and soon enough it’s time to head to bed to get refreshed to do it all again in the morning.

Here in Mexico, where we’ve been since January of this year, we don’t get out into nature as much. Most of our time is spent living and playing at the beach and walking into town for cheap Mexican food.

We have a general plan where we stay at places with WiFi/cell service from Monday through Thursday and try and get out into nature for long weekends…but there are no set rules or regulations, so if we like a place we might hang around for a month, or if we find ourselves somewhere rather boring we might drive a few hours every day until we find a new spot that scratches our itch.

As to how we choose where to stay, in the US I have a pretty solid method for this: pick a national park or national forest we haven’t been to yet, get onto Google Maps and search for Walmart and McDonalds. Now look for towns as far away from those search results as possible.

We love small towns that still have their own particular flavor and if a town doesn’t have the golden arches, you can typically bet it’s not going to have many chains at all.

In Mexico, we just keep going down the road. It’s so different here, we’re still learning how to find the best places. But we’ve got a map of spots people have recommended to us or we’ve read about, and that’s our general guide.

Tristan went to a Waldorf school for kindergarten, and that has informed much of our approach to teaching the kids. Waldorf is a type of schooling that focuses on letting kids grow at their own pace, eliminating television and video games, and giving kids incredibly simple toys — think sticks and pinecones and unshaped blocks of wood — to inspire them to learn on their own, to create and solve problems for themselves.

When we hit the road, T should have been in first grade. I spent my mornings teaching him to read, write, math…the basics. National Parks and old guys at RV parks and lessons learned on playgrounds filled in the rest.

The second year on the road, the first in our Bus, I didn’t teach him at all. It’s called unschooling and I wanted to give it a try. The idea there is that you just let the world be a natural teacher for your child. Some people love it. For Tristan though, he wants more scheduled curriculum. He’s gone to public school twice, too, once per each young brother as we’d spend around nine months in a spot while they were being cooked.

He loved it. I regret it. He really likes going to school like that, but I think it’s less than ideal. I admire all teachers and have nothing ill to say about the reality that is our school system in the US and in the world in general…but I know that when you’ve got 25 kids and one teacher, that means you have to cater to the middle-of-the-road. Kids who want to learn at a slower pace get left behind, and those who can grasp things more quickly are just wasting time waiting for someone else.

I know that Tristan is a bright kid who can really shine when he’s put to the test, and public school doesn’t test him. Still, he likes it. The social aspect, mostly, and he wants to go to high school, so we’re currently figuring out what that will look like.

The rest of us don’t want to settle down, but T has been at this longer than everyone and his time as a child is coming to a close so I really want him to have the experiences he wants, too. In places like Washington state, kids who are homeschooled can also go to public school part time, so that may strike the right balance.

As for the littles, they’re not really even supposed to be in school yet. Renée makes fun games when Winter expresses interest in learning how to write, do a little math, and read. Wylder adores his bigger brother and so tries to follow along. It’s the most beautiful thing to watch a child want to learn, and makes it more of just family time than school.

Renée and I agree that we will never put the little ones into any type of formal schooling. It’s just not what we want for them, and hopefully if they never experience it, they’ll never have that desire.

Raising kids is an experiment no matter how closely you follow the guide book or not, so we hope we’re doing a good job and don’t judge others as we don’t want to be judged ourselves.

Yep, the world is our backyard. But we do little projects every now and then to spruce the Bus up a bit. Tristan, Renée, and I painted the ceiling like that for something to do several years back. I’m currently tearing out the nasty old carpeting to put in wood floors and refacing our cabinetry. We add little things here and there, pinecones or prayer flags. They all come and go. Three boys and two adults are very hard on a vehicle, especially living in it, so nothing lasts long in our world.

We don’t focus as much on stuff as we do experiences, so it all works out.

I get itchy and bored and am unable to feel content if we stay anywhere for much longer than a few months. We lived in a vintage Airstream for three years of our travels, Renée’s mom lived with us then, too, traveling around all of us as a big ol’ multi-generational family.

That was about three times as much space and, frankly, I didn’t enjoy it as much. More space always equates to more stuff. And more stuff means more maintenance, more time working, and more time thinking about it all.

So, I wouldn’t add any more space, and I don’t want to live in a house. When we do settle down for Tristan to go to school or whatever becomes of that, we’ll live in as small a structure as I can find or build. I want my children to know the cold of winter and the heat of summer, the grass between their toes and sticks in their hair. I don’t want them to want to be comfortable. I don’t want them to think “Let’s go inside!”

Still, I wish we had room for my guitar. We also gave up our bicycles (the older three of us anyway) and we really enjoyed bike rides when we lived in the Airstream. I could figure out how to integrate all of that into the Bus, too, but for now we’re practicing living with as little as possible.

I hope I don’t sound snotty. I’m not ‘above’ anything, I don’t want to preach to anyone. This is just what we’ve found is best for us.

It’s funny how we look at things. We catch ourselves taking this life for granted all too often. The reason we came to Mexico was because we’d felt that we’d done just about everything we wanted to do in the US. Living in the Airstream was becoming a little too easy, too comfortable. So we went to the closest place with a foreign language, got back in the Bus, and the day we crossed the border into Baja California it was the first time I’d felt so alive, like when we first started traveling, or when Renée first hopped aboard.

We grew tired of Baja and though we’d originally planned to go back to the US, found ourselves on a ferry to MX’s mainland instead. The feeling came back. We recently went to Belize and got it all over again.

The desire for something new, a new place, new faces, new experiences…it’s like a drug and we are very much addicted to that feeling. I know not everyone feels that way, and there is something we’re missing out on with not having a fixed address and that type of community.

But on the other hand, everyone loves a waterfall, right? It’s moving, changing, powerful. Compare it to a stagnant pond and I think you can see what drives us.

Aside from this desire to just see change, new places, the other benefit of the way we live is that we are always together.

I don’t have to catch up on what the kids did with their day around the dinner table at night. I was there. First steps, first words, I taught Winter and Wylder to ride a bike, helped them learn how to swim. It’s a massive perk not necessarily related to traveling, but to being a freelancer, or working from home in general.

Whether travel is your cup of tea or not, I would urge everyone and every company to rethink the need for people to be at a certain place for a set number of hours. Work should be based on what gets done, on the productivity of it all, not simply on the idea that you need to go into an office all day to prove to your boss you’re worth the paycheck. That doesn’t apply, of course, to retail sales and food service or things that require you to be somewhere for the duration, but there are plenty of jobs that can translate. Being able to take an hour out of your morning to play with your kids or take them to the dentist or even just to unwind for a minute and watch a YouTube video or something, it makes for a happier workplace.

The idea of us all going off to jobs, too, that’s kind of new. Not all that many decades ago, everyone worked for themselves. Ten guys didn’t go into the blacksmith shop and report to Big Henry. If a town could support ten blacksmiths, then ten guys worked out of their home. It’s still like that here in Mexico. Families will run a little taco stand or corner store out of the front of their houses. Families also live together down here, an entire family of grandma and five brothers, their wives, too many nińos to keep track of, they’ll all live on the same block. There’s less of a need for daycare, because of the way people work, and the way they look at what it means to be a part of a family.

We’re doing our own small scale brand of that, I guess.

Like I said, my favorite part of this lifestyle is seeing all of their firsts. That I taught Tristan to read, Winter to ride a bike. That I’m not away from them all day. That someone else isn’t 50% of their day’s influence. Being together all the time can get annoying, too, of course, but it’s part of what I signed up for when I ordered them.

I don’t know that toddlers remember anything specific, per se, but I do believe that all of this is just sinking into their DNA. It will be in their bones and blood and the back of their minds forever. More than anything, I want them to know that it’s possible.

They can want to go to high school or become bankers or whatever, they can be as different to me as they’d like, and that’s fine. But whatever they grow up to be, whoever they become, I want them to know that whatever it is they’re scheming, “It’s possible!”

You’ve got to work hard at something in this life. It might as well be at the life itself.

I wish someone had told me that I could be a hobo. That it was a viable career choice.

Adults always told me, “Nathan, you could be the President, that’s what’s so great about this country! You can be anything you want.”

But that’s just something teachers and parents tell you until you’re about old enough to get a job, maybe middle school or high school. Then they tell you things like, “Skateboarding is not a job” and “Only 1% of players ever make it to the big leagues” and “Being an artist is fine when you’re young but…”

But you know what? People are professional skateboarders. And someone becomes that 1% and yes, artist can be a lifetime career. Someone, somewhere, is going to get to be these things. And some people want to be accountants and lawyers and doctors and they live fulfilling, happy lives doing it. But I also know that there are a lot of other people out there working jobs that they absolutely despise. I know it because I was one of them, my friends are or were.

I don’t regret anything, because everything that’s happened up to now has shaped me into what I am, where and who. I like all three of those things. But I remember these sorts of thoughts, dreading the morning alarm clock, being desperate for another week’s worth of time to fly by, sitting around Sunday evening in utter despair…

I don’t wish that for anyone and quite the opposite, I hope that everyone and anyone can figure out that no matter what, you’ve got to work for something. It might as well be for yourself. For your own happiness and your own life.


I always ask for different points of view, and I’m always extra grateful to those who bravely provide it. So thank you, Nathan! You gave me much to ponder, and I know you’ve inspired many readers out there.

I’m also super intrigued by his thoughts about traditional office life: “Work should be based on what gets done, on the productivity of it all, not simply on the idea that you need to go into an office all day to prove to your boss you’re worth the paycheck. That doesn’t apply, of course, to retail sales and food service or things that require you to be somewhere for the duration, but there are plenty of jobs that can translate. Being able to take an hour out of your morning to play with your kids or take them to the dentist or even just to unwind for a minute and watch a YouTube video or something, it makes for a happier workplace.” Cosign! Who’s with me?

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Lisa McDaniel Tue, 28 Jun 2016 13:00:48 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I love Lisa’s honesty and charm. She admits she’s committed to a tidy house — she says it’s a Southern hospitality thing, “A home should be picked up so it will feel warm and welcoming to guests.” But she also admits to hiding all the typical family mess behind closet and cabinet doors when she’s getting ready for a photoshoot. I can relate!

This is a lady who really loves her life and has a sense of humor about it all. I’m so happy to share her vivaciousness with you today. Welcome, Lisa!

We are the McDaniel family. If the walls of our Creole cottage could talk, they’d speak of dreams and challenges and hard work. They’d speak of life. And that life would be ours.

Beau is my best friend, business partner, and hubby of nineteen years. (Ya’ll, he’s still the man of my dreams!) Reece, 16, and Aidan Gray, 13, are our sweet, sweet sons, and Lorén is our dreamy-eyed seven-year old daughter. Although our home isn’t a palace or a castle, a princess definitely lives here. We call her Lorénderella!

I almost forgot to mention the newest addition to our family. Dexter is our moose-sized Maltese — 16 pounds! — who trots around our home with the patience of a saint. We often find him being strolled around the park in doll prams, dressed up in dresses, and carried around like a baby. The dear puppy takes it all in stride, as he and Lorén are best buds. I swear he hides angel wings beneath his white fur.

Fifteen years ago Beau, Reece, and I landed in the small town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Our stay here was intended to be temporary, a mere stepping stone on our way to a larger city with more to offer. Or so we mistakenly thought. We’d actually found our place in this great big world, only we didn’t know it at the time.

The Cajun culture, family values, slower pace of life, and small town hospitality of Breaux Bridge seeped into our souls and never left. It’s part of us now.

Our neighborhood is nestled along the banks of the Bayou Teche. There are majestic live oak trees (the kind you see in plantation photos), confetti-flowering crepe myrtles, and eight of the best neighbors we could ask for. Our neighborhood is very small, with only one way in and the same way out. Several nights a week there’s an impromptu baseball or football game played in the center park around which all nine homes are situated. The vibe is very much like Mayfield in Leave It To Beaver, and I love that!

The concept of our home isn’t just about a house, though. It’s the wider view that completes the picture — the community that nurtured us as newcomers and now embraces us as family.

Tourists come from all around the world to visit Breaux Bridge. We have a vibrant French culture, a thriving community of artists, gourmet Cajun cuisine, and the ever famous Crawfish Festival. Our way of life has attracted The Travel Channel, Food Network, and Discovery Channel because we take great pains to preserve the culture of our past, our heritage.

This home was a collaborative effort. I handled dreaming it up, and Beau handled building it. I won’t deny that being married to a builder does have a few perks.

This house was imagined in my mind a million times over, in a million different ways. We spent countless hours walking the streets of New Orleans, looking for ideas and inspiration. It was a schooling of sorts. Those weekends spent admiring old homes taught me more about architecture and design than I ever imagined possible.

I tinkered with my own elementary sketches and layouts for years, trying to make my hands create what my mind could see. It wasn’t working. And then one day, I enlisted the help of a dear friend/architect who helped me transform my ideas to actual house plans. Once those ideas landed on paper, I knew we’d gotten it right. It was the right house for our family.

But we still had a bit farther to go; Beau and I lived on a really tight budget. Money was a struggle to come by, and earning it the hard way taught us plenty of valuable lessons. One of the most important ones being, “Don’t skimp on your dreams. Live for them!”

And that’s what we did. We fantasized about growing our family, working together, and living in our forever home.

While our dreams were taking shape, we occupied a 1000-square foot, two bedroom, one bath cottage that was well over a century old. The house was full of charm, but drafty and required constant maintenance. It can’t be overlooked that we were bursting at the seams with two young boys and a new construction company run from home.

With its creaky floorboards and ornery demeanor, that little old house was priceless because it taught us to appreciate what we had at the time. It also taught us to nurture the integrity of historic architecture. It didn’t matter that the house we were working so hard to save often acted up like a cranky old goat. We’d correct one problem, only to have it replaced by five more. C’est la vie! Some things are simply worth fighting to save.

Lisa to Stephen the photographer: “Will your camera lens show the dust on that hutch?”

Stephen: “No, I’ll make sure it doesn’t.”

Lisa: “Okay. How about the fingerprints all over the coffee table?”

Stephen: “Nope. I’ll Photoshop the fingerprints if they show.”

Lisa: “Okay, good. How about the lines under my eyes? Can you get rid of those?”

Stephen: (Eye roll.)

Enter Lorén: “Mom, I can’t get to the cereal box because you’ve shoved everything that was dragging into the pantry again.”

Lisa: “You won’t technically starve to death for at least another couple of days, and that should to give me time to finish this photo shoot. Now, skeedaddle!”

Yep, that’s pretty much how the story went! If the photos look neat, all that’s outside the camera range would tell a different story!

No doubt about it, navigating the intersection of Style Street and Motherhood Boulevard is quite tricky. It often feels like riding down a dead end dirt road. On a unicycle. With a flat tire. Such is life with a house full of kids! But it’s a season, and I already find myself dreading the day it passes.

When I was a little girl, my mom and I would flip through the pages of the JC Penny catalog, looking at bedding sets and commenting on each and every picture. It was our thing. My sweet Southern mom taught me that a home should reflect the family blessed enough to live there, and yes, this reflection most certainly includes the kids. Bear in mind, this is the same woman who also told me that monkeys ought never be allowed to run the show or jump on beds, but those are other stories entirely.

Honestly, without the chaos of our little ones most of us would find our homes lacking something vital. But kids or no kids, I don’t believe in clutter. A neat house is a calm house. It welcomes us, as well as our guests, to come inside and find a bit peace.

Part of cherishing our children means teaching them that our home is hallowed ground for the family. It’s the place where our most meaningful memories are made. All that being said, this mama still wants a pretty house. Everyone I live for sleeps under this roof, so I’m not skimping on the chance to make our nest something beautiful. A home needs to make us feel, well… at home. At ease. It needs to balance utility and beauty seamlessly.

Since our home doubles as the hub for our business, it has to be comfortable, super-functional, and still look great enough to receive guests at a moment’s notice. Our kids have been taught that everything has a place, and as much as possible needs to be in its place before company arrives. That philosophy is one-half Southern hospitality, one-half good business practice.

If they’re not at school, the kids help us clean up before customers, subcontractors, or guests arrive. Everyone has a role, whether it’s washing dirty dishes, picking up whatever is dragging (Louisiana slang for anything left out of place), or taking out the trash; we all have jobs to do. Ingraining virtues like respect, hard work, and responsibility in our children is important.

We’re doing our best to teach our three kids the same values our parents taught us. And let me state for the record that if my kids think of us the way Beau and I think of our parents, our lives will have been worth every struggle, strife, and sacrifice we’ve ever made.

That it took us so many years to pull the trigger on building this house was actually a blessing in disguise. Waiting gave me plenty of time to weigh the balance between designing a home for our family and an office for our construction/design company. This house had to seriously function. I drew from my love affair with New Orleans architecture and integrated NOLA style at each turn where it was practical to do so.

Every single room and every single detail exists for a reason. It’s either there because we need it to function a certain way, or it’s there because we want it to make us feel a certain way. Take the home office, for instance. The table is used for nearly everything under the sun. It’s a workspace for everyday use, a conference table during meetings, a homework spot after school, an art table for my daughter, a designing table for me, and a luggage rack for overnight guests.

It should be noted that the armoire behind the table is actually a Murphy bed.  And the chairs around the table get used as nightstands when the bed is down. They also double as extra seating when we scatter them around the house during parties and family get-togethers.

Absolutely nothing is in our home is there just because. Function is high on my list of priorities. A home should help us stay organized and cancel the hectic pace of the outside world. And from a design perspective, a home should surround us with beautiful pieces that make our everyday lives feel full and comforting. For me, it’s all about weighing the scales. Too much function dulls the artistic senses (think of an office cubicle). Too much form is uncomfortable and stuffy (think of an art museum). But balance the two, and you’ll create a peaceful place that sings to your spirit.

It’s pretty safe to say that when Mama feels peaceful, inspired, and organized…well, everyone else in the house tends to follow suit.

I’d love to tell you about the shop! This past February we stumbled across an old dame of a building in the little downtown district of Breaux Bridge. She was in desperate need of a good renovation, but Beau and I immediately fell in love with her charm. We could see that the ole gal had a lot of life left in her, and we wanted to be the ones to restore her former glory. So we took a leap of faith and bought our first commercial property. It suddenly felt like the time to grow our business. Our old dame has a new name: Antiquity. Hmm, that might be an oxymoron.

Needless to say, renovations are presently underway. We’ve all been working hard. Beau and the boys especially like demo days, where Lorén and I prefer saving antique boards and stacking salvage bricks. We’re on schedule to open Antiquity in August 2016. It will be a design center and retail storefront for Louisiana-styled home decor. I’m really excited about this new adventure!

Sweet story: We were window shopping on Magazine Street one Saturday afternoon a few months back, and Beau commented on how happy I seem every time I’m in New Orleans. He was right. I do love day tripping in New Orleans. So many unexpected color combinations, such fearless artistic license, so much culture and heritage interjected at every possible turn.

Beau squeezed my hand and said, “Babe, our new shop is going to bring the Big Easy to the Bayou!” My man is the most clever guy I know. With that offhand comment, my mission became crystal clear. I had to follow my passions. I had to blend my love of classical architecture with the vibrant flair of New Orleans, and bring this stylistic cocktail to our new shop in Breaux Bridge. It’s a tall order, but in my heart I know our little family is creating something special.

There are two elements I deem necessary to enjoyable living with kids. The first is storage, storage, and more storage. In my experience, every house needs storage specifically designed to suit the way a particular family lives. (This is such a snore of an answer, and I hate even saying it. But it’s so important!) Customizing storage to reduce clutter is one of the things I insist upon when designing closets and cabinetry. It’s crucially important to consider organization if you want your home to function efficiently.

The second element, mmmm…I’m not completely sure my honest answer is interview worthy, but I’m going for it anyway. Mama’s secret to enjoyable living with kids is a wine fridge! And if it rhymes, then it must be the right answer.

I love working with my husband. Oh my goodness, Beau is my favorite person in the world, and the notion that I get to be married to him still blows me away. He’s the kindest, most gentle and generous man I’ve ever known. And he’s a darn good builder! (Did I mention his beautiful blue eyes? They’re show-stoppers!)

I think the best part about working with him is that our personalities compliment one another. For example: I have this tendency to dream up design ideas that require a feat of engineering to accomplish. Beau isn’t intimidated by that at all. I dream it, and he makes it happen.

I mean seriously, how cool is that? The man can do anything he puts his mind to, and I admire that more than I can aptly express. He’s brilliant and quick-witted and always smiling. But he’s also really tender and loving and the absolute best father our kids could ask for. I’m so blessed to get to work with him every day. He certainly makes me better.

I wish I had listened when people told me to find my talents. I was that little girl who went through school admiring the talents of other children, but believing she had none of her own. It breaks my heart to think of that child, so secretly ashamed of herself. And for no good reason.

I pray our children will never know that feeling. In our family, we encourage the kids to be fearless with taking chances on themselves. We explain that there will be times in life when failure isn’t an option, it’s a guarantee.  And that’s perfectly okay. Learning to fail (several times) is desirable. It’s how we discover what we’re truly meant to do with our lives. Getting back up builds character and teaches us to trust our own strength.

Beau and I nurture the creative spirits of our kids and encourage them to push the envelope a little. Our oldest son Reece is an actor and musician. Our middle son Aidan Gray is an athlete; he owns an entrepreneurial nature and a meticulously brilliant mind (like his Daddy’s). And our daughter Lorén is all things creative. She reads, writes, draws, dances, and sings. Give our oldest and youngest a stage and a spotlight and watch them shine!  Give our middle one a chance to earn money, and watch him double the investment!

I’m grateful to my husband and children for growing me into the wife and mother I get to be. My little family has filled my life, my heart, and my home with more love and happiness than I ever imagined my soul capable of holding. They are my dreams come true.


Thank you, Lisa! You broke my heart when you talked about finding your own talents. However long it took, I’m glad you finally learned how amazing you are.

Friends, I have to share a bit of Lisa’s correspondence with me, just to give you more of an idea of her personality! “Our storefront is going to be classy and gaudy all at once! We’re Louisianans, after all. We’re spicy and colorful; we’re playful and polite; we’re a highly polished silver bowl sitting on top of a tattered old cypress table; we’re a decadent contradiction of terms. And we’re perfectly content with that.” Love the idea of being a decadent contradiction of terms, don’t you?

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Diane Hughes Tue, 21 Jun 2016 14:30:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Karen E. Photography.

Diane is a person who doesn’t like to waste time. I quite enjoy that quality in people, don’t you? And, in fact, Diane possesses a truckful of enviable qualities I could either list from one to one hundred — or you could just read the words she’s left here with us today.

If you’re feeling not-so-strong, I encourage you to stick around for Diane. If you’re feeling scared or alone or overwhelmed, please stay. This is one to read now and come back to later. I promise. Welcome, Diane. I am so glad you’re here.

My name is Diane and I don’t like to beat around the bush. Ha! How’s that for an introduction? Chit-chat makes me uncomfortable, I don’t have a poker face, and I am compelled to acknowledge the elephant in the room. He’s too distracting! I’m a 41-year-old stay-at-home mom who is a tomboy at heart yet loves a maxi dress on occasion. I can’t live without my running shoes and feel freest on the trails at sunrise.

I created this unbelievable family with my soft-spoken, brilliant husband, Will, who is wise beyond his years (which are three less than mine) and utterly unflappable. He can grow a five o’clock shadow well before noon, and I am lucky to have him as the captain of my pompom squad. Like any smart girl who was raised by a wonderfully supportive father, I looked for the boy who was most like him and then I married him.

When Will and I were engaged, I said, “I want to have two girls so we can give them each one of our sisters’ names.” It’s like I proclaimed it from that moment! Dylan Christine was the first and nothing makes me happier than the special bond she shares with my confidante and sister, Chrissy. Dylan has always been acutely observant and very emotionally intelligent. She thrives on social interaction and asked at two years old to go to school so she could “play with little boys and little girls.” Story time at the library simply wasn’t enough! Dylan truly smiles from her heart and I could stare into her blue-gray eyes for the rest of my life and be happy.

Taylor Camille is our little goof who giggles when she toots and then turns around and proclaims that she is never ever eating dinner again. I don’t know if my sister-in-law, Cami, wants to lay claim to either of these traits! But Taylor will hug and kiss you until you feel that everything is right with the world. She is immensely creative, innately funny, and she is going to blaze her own trails for sure. Taylor was simply born with a confidence that is written all over her face, and when she catches my eye and flashes a knowing wink, my heart melts every time.

Lastly, our house never feels quite right without a Great Dane. Will and I adopted our first Dane, Cash, before we were even married. My dad had just died and I was in desperate need of some emotional relief. Cash saw me through a lot of grief, two big moves across the country, a wedding, and two babies before his big body simply gave out. The emptiness Cash left was finally filled two years later when we found our current Dane, Bogus. He is a 120-pound pillow for the girls and the best guard dog almost to a fault. I joke that I always like to have two men in my life and Bogus loves nothing more than warming the other side of the bed when Will is out of town.

We are lucky enough to live in the best-kept secret in the US: Boise, Idaho. I can’t imagine loving a place more! It is just so easy to live here; crime is low, schools are good, and the cost of living is moderate. Will says that in Boise there isn’t a work-life balance, there is simply life. People are super friendly and the pace of everything is enjoyable. We can’t go anywhere without running into someone we know, and that to me makes Boise home.

We live in the historic North End of Boise, which is perfectly located for walking to dinner, biking downtown, and scootering to school. Our neighborhood is picturesque with its tree-lined streets and hosts the best Halloween celebration you will ever witness each and every year. The North End butts up against the Boise foothills, so skiing, kayaking, trail running and mountain biking are staples. We could have a lot more space and a brand new house if we moved to another neighborhood, but we wouldn’t trade our active lifestyle for all the closet space in the world!

Boise is the most isolated metropolitan city in the lower 48 so you don’t just happen upon it. You have to come here with purpose. “What brought you to Boise?” is probably the most frequently asked question when you meet someone for the first time. In our case, we came for Will’s faculty position at Boise State but we are staying because of the vibrant, supportive community we have become a part of.

We knew when we moved to Boise that the North End was the only place we really wanted to live. We had visited twice before for Will’s interviews so we started house hunting immediately. The North End is a smorgasbord of architectural styles, but the craftsman bungalow is one of the most highly sought after. Because a lot of the houses are much older than the suburban cookie cutter I grew up in, most have been through numerous renovations. We all know that renovations can be hit or miss as far as taste and craftsmanship so the North End can be really tricky!

When we walked into our house for the first time I knew it was special. The layout made sense, most major systems had been updated, and it was a craftsman bungalow built in 1910. For eight years now, it has been the perfect blend of old and new. Don’t get me wrong — we only have one proper closet in the whole house and the pipes to the washing machine freeze at least once a winter, but I love sitting on the front porch and thinking of all the residents who came before us over 100 years. The doorknobs are original, as are the bookcases in the living room, but we are spoiled by central air and a new master bathroom.

We thought we would live in these 1400 square feet for five years or so and then trade up, but the bottom fell out just months after we bought. As first-time homeowners, this was terrifying! We were stretched on a mortgage for a house that wasn’t worth what we paid for it, but we had faith that our neighborhood was special and the market has finally come back stronger than ever. Now we’re so attached to our neighbors that we are looking at creative ways of finding more space without moving — closing up the hallway to build a closet for the girls’ room, opening up the garage to the backyard to create a play space, or possibly even jacking up the house to dig out a basement. Yikes! Will’s not exactly on board with that one yet…

I have tried in my own way to create a home that feels as warm as a hug. I am a homebody at heart and want nothing more than to be comfortable at home. Our small place in this big world is filled with things that spark wonderful memories and feelings of gratitude.

Will surprised me with the leather chair from a local shop for my fortieth birthday and I love to sit in it every day. The kitchen shelves are filled with beautiful cards from friends and family that got us through a very trying time. The flag in the dining room was presented to the family at Will’s grandfather’s funeral for which he was a pallbearer back in high school. The bluebird and the lion above the couch were both gifts from local artists who we also consider to be good friends. The drawing of the girls gives me goose bumps just thinking about it being hand-delivered on the night before my surgery. And Dylan is so proud of the Auction for the Arts banner featuring her blue ribbon-winning George Washington is a Wild Cat art piece.

I have a graduate degree in architecture and have been known to curate my Pinterest boards into the wee hours, but in the end practicality wins out. The couch isn’t much to look at, but it makes one helluva fort and it can fit all of the kids on our block for a movie. The Christmas lights dangle in the living room all year because their soft glow soothes me and I love to hear Taylor say, “Mommy, I plugged in your favorite twinkle lights for you!”

Last August, at the ripe old age of 40, I was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma. My left breast, which had faithfully nursed two babies without incident, was harboring a tumor that could kill me. I was trail running and mountain biking five to six times a week. I was drinking kale smoothies and eating whole grains. My sister is a dietitian, for crying out loud! I had no risk factors and no family history. I was floored.

What immediately followed was a whirlwind of research, advice, doctor appointments, and medical terminology that was foreign to me. I ever-so-sarcastically used to give Will a hard time for not having any practical skills that served me directly. He doesn’t cut hair, fix cars, or renovate houses. Well, after my diagnosis, my methodical scientist of a husband went into world-class researcher mode to learn everything he could about breast cancer. While I was trying to wrap my head around what was going to happen to me, he was contacting his medical colleagues and putting them through the ringer about the latest studies and treatment options. I have never been more appreciative of Will’s professional skills!

A month later, I went in for a lumpectomy and partial lymph node dissection to see if the cancer had spread. Waiting for the surgeon’s call was pure torture. Holding out hope but not knowing is the worst. It turned out that the lymph nodes looked pretty clean but the lumpectomy didn’t get it all. So a month later, I went back in for a single mastectomy.

In the meantime, the tumor was sent away for thorough analysis and it was determined that chemotherapy would greatly reduce my chances of recurrence.

I learned the hard way that young, vibrant women often get the more aggressive of the cancers. I like to think the cancer knows it has to be more aggressive to take us down! So after a lot of tears, I scheduled six rounds of chemo (one every three weeks) from November through March and tried to avoid all of the major holidays.

My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was right out of college. I had lived a charmed life up until that point and the diagnosis devastated me. It was an eight-year roller coaster ride from that point forward. He would reach a stable point where we could live our lives normally and then he would suddenly need emergency surgery. It caused me to have anxiety attacks for the first time in my life.

So when my own diagnosis was delivered to me, I sobbed to my husband, “I don’t want to get back on that roller coaster!” I was immediately transported back and my heart remembered the fear so clearly.

And of course I was petrified of leaving my girls without a mother. They were just newly six and almost four when I was diagnosed. Losing a parent so young inevitably shapes children’s lives. I was 31 when my dad died and for nine years I had been trying to come to terms with it. I desperately didn’t want that for them.

Remembering back to this time is unsettling. I can now see myself from the outside. I wish I could say, “Oh, Diane. Be kind to yourself and be patient. Everything will be ok. It will be what you feared most and it will still be ok. More than ok. In the end, you will feel stronger and more confident than ever. Diane, you will feel like you are conquering the world and in many ways you are! Your fears aren’t founded in reality.”

Ten months later and I have so much more experience and wisdom. I have so much calm and fight. And I have so much PRIDE.

After my diagnosis, I spent a couple of weeks calling family and friends to let them know. It is the worst feeling to have bad news yet hear the happiness in someone’s voice when they answer your call. Your voice quivers as you blindside them with your words. Then you both cry and it is a relief because now you can face it together.

When I reached the point of emotional exhaustion, I told Will I needed to put it on social media. This terrified my poor introverted husband, but I needed people to know without having to say the words anymore.

I learned an important lesson with that first post: If I asked for what I needed, my friends would deliver. There was an immediate outpouring of love and encouragement that blew me away. I instantly felt less alone.

I posted regularly from that point forward and things just snowballed. I took selfies each day as I updated everyone on what I was doing and how I was feeling. Somewhere along the way I found my sense of humor and the selfies got more creative — especially once I was bald!

I was laughing and everyone was laughing with me. Don’t get me wrong, there were bad days and lots of tears and I shared those, too. But I shared them with the confidence that my friends would cry with me and then lift me up. I told Will one day that I kept waiting to feel the gravity of the situation and get scared or even depressed. My thoughtful husband simply replied, “Babe, this is your true spirit coming out.”

Early on I realized that everyone was looking to me to dictate how this journey was going to go — how they were supposed to act and what they were supposed to say. At first this seemed like a daunting responsibility, but then I found real power in it.

I realized that I had looked to my dad in the same way. My amazingly sweet daddy was very quiet and stoic about what he was going through. I’m sure he was trying to protect us, but it left me always wondering how he was really doing and scared of what was to come. My honesty put everyone at ease because there was no guessing. I had destroyed the emotional roller coaster!

Little did I know at the time that all of my selfies would be used in a local tv interview in the spring right before Boise’s Race for the Cure. If I thought I had a supportive community before, after the interview aired it felt like the entire city was cheering me on! What a gift! Perfect strangers high-fived me on the street and little old ladies hugged me and welcomed me into their survivor’s club. It’s amazing how easily a bald lady can be spotted in a crowd. Ha!

I have had numerous people confide in me that their friend, aunt, or coworker was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and ask what they should do in support of these women. I try to tread lightly with advice because I only know my own experiences, but I usually say not to wait for permission. When I was in the midst of doctor appointments and treatments, I didn’t always have it in me to make a decision like yes or no, chicken or beef, but everything that was ever delivered to my house was met with a lot of gratitude.

The thought really is what counts and when you feel like your world has stopped and everyone else’s is still spinning, it is nice to be reminded that someone is thinking of you. So send a card or drop off cookies or even text a little encouragement. Whatever comes from the heart with good intentions will be received with appreciation.

It makes me very proud to think that I faced cancer with my kids by my side. Through many ups and downs, I am happy to say that my husband and I figured out how to turn our tears into laughter and our fear into joy. We turned our bed into a sanctuary for cuddles and story times when I was too tired to get up. We turned our dining room table into a puzzle table when I was too sick to eat. We turned our kitchen into a dance club when I was itching to move my sore body. And we turned our living room into a neighborhood movie theater when I wanted to be surrounded by friends but couldn’t be exposed to the germs of the general public.

Through it all we were super honest with our girls about what was happening. We found that they were like two little nurses who loved taking care of their mommy. It’s amazing what our children can do when we let them! They removed bandages, cleaned incisions, and hugged and kissed me when I cried. We cut our hair short as a family and our girls strutted around like proud peacocks telling people that their mommy was going to lose her hair. A few weeks later they told me they loved me even though I was bald but they preferred me with hair. Ha! I always appreciate their honesty.

I used to want nothing more for my girls than a protected, carefree life like the one I had before cancer entered it. I have learned firsthand that they can handle a lot more than that and so can I.

I now want them to have authentic experiences as life is, as it should be. These experiences that we wouldn’t have wished for but show us what we’re really made of are some of the most precious.

I’ve had numerous well-intentioned people say that they are sorry this happened to me. I tell them not to be. I wouldn’t give back this experience and all of its gifts for anything.

I hope my girls think back to this time and remember that we faced a difficult time together. I hope they are proud of the role they played. I will remind them that I couldn’t have done it with as much strength and humility without them because through it all they saw me as the same mommy before, during, and after. There would have been a lot more tears and self-doubt without their innocence and genuine devotion to ground me.

I hope they remember this house being filled with more silliness than sadness. I hope they remember dancing to Shake It Off turned up loud because I stopped caring what I looked like. I hope they remember getting Bogus in bed with us because I stopped worrying about the comforter getting dirty. And I hope they remember that I did everything I could to be here for them as long as possible.

My therapist encouraged me to write throughout my treatments. She said it would help me process my thoughts and emotions. At first it seemed too fresh and overwhelming to touch, but then I realized I wanted to have my story all in one place for Dylan and Taylor; and I suppose for myself, too. So when they say, “Mommy, weren’t you bald once?” we can look at and read about how we survived breast cancer as a family and came out stronger for it.

Until then, I am sharing my story with other women who find themselves in similar predicaments. I have met enough women now to know that I am just one of many young, otherwise healthy mothers struck by this disease.

I am told that there is still an 8% chance that my cancer will return in my bones or my brain to kill me. I will be closely monitored, as most cancer patients are. I hope my girls see one day that instead of living in fear, I am letting that 8% fuel me to pursue my wildest dreams. To speak up. To go for it. To live bigger. To help all those I can.

I wish someone had told me how strong I was and I had listened. It might not have taken 40 years and a cancer diagnosis for me to figure it out on my own.

I have lived too much of my life in fear. Fear of not being good enough. Not being graceful enough or feminine enough. No more. I have faced my nightmare and turned it into a dream. Now I know without a doubt that I am enough. I have no control over how much time I have left in this life, but I am in control of who I will be while I’m here.

I hope my dad is out there somewhere saying, “I knew it all along.”


Well, I can’t seem to get this one out of my heart: “I hope they remember this house being filled with more silliness than sadness. I hope they remember dancing to Shake It Off turned up loud because I stopped caring what I looked like. I hope they remember getting Bogus in bed with us because I stopped worrying about the comforter getting dirty. And I hope they remember that I did everything I could to be here for them as long as possible.” Gulp. May we all stop worrying about cleaning up messes for today, at least, and focus our hearts instead on making them. And then there’s this: “Perfect strangers high-fived me on the street and little old ladies hugged me and welcomed me into their survivor’s club.” The very thought of a lovely, lovely, unofficial yet very true survivor’s club just stole my breath for a minute. Thank you isn’t enough, Diane.

I am so moved by how Diane and her husband involved their girls in her treatment. “I used to want nothing more for my girls than a protected, carefree life like the one I had before cancer entered it. I have learned firsthand that they can handle a lot more than that and so can I.”

She’s right: Kids are powerful little heroes, too. We might just have to help them tie their capes, that’s all.

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Melinda McCoy Tue, 14 Jun 2016 16:00:01 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

No matter which corner of Melinda’s home I gaze upon, I can’t help but feel a weighty sense of tranquility. A hush, a calmness, much like the early pages in The Napping House! Isn’t that funny? Do you ever look at a home and become overwhelmed by a first impression? Like, Maureen’s house prompted thoughts of adding way more color, ModFruGal’s tour had me turning chairs to face our gorgeous view outside, and Lynne Knowlton’s treehouse…well…I love a treehouse!

But what’s most interesting to me is how Melinda’s home truly matches her. Read her words. Soak up her thoughts. You’ll feel a hush, a calmness come over you. I honestly love when that happens. When a home so twins with its owners that it all feels right and meant to be.

Welcome, Melinda! I can’t wait to share you with everyone.

When I was ten, my parents moved my siblings and I to Northeast Ohio for my father’s job. My parents bought a house built in 1931 that comfortably had the living space for a family of six, but needed quite a bit of work to say the least. Throughout the years, there were kitchen renovations, bathroom remodels, landscaping projects, just to name a few, that were all done in such a way as to honor both our family and the home.

My mom and dad never stopped working on that house the 26 years they lived there. It didn’t matter, though. It was beautiful, warm, and home which is how my husband and I felt when we first stepped into our own home almost 16 years ago.

We were young, newly married, and looking for a starter home. We both had gotten jobs in central Ohio, my husband in sports management and myself a position as a first grade teacher. Neither one of us were that familiar with the area which explains why when our realtor asked about neighborhoods we would be interested in we mentioned one well out of our price range.

After a few discussions about what we were looking for and our budget, our realtor mentioned a neighborhood that had tree lined streets, old homes, and character. Those words were music to my ears. We spent a number of days looking at these old homes, but were disappointed by the updates many of them had seen over the years. Homes built in 1922 had additions added on over time that did not suit the time period or home itself.

After seeing quite a few houses, our realtor drove into what was to become our driveway. I can remember falling in love with the charm of the front of the house, the original oak floors, and the large backyard. There were definitely many projects to be done, like ripping out wall to wall — it literally went up a wall — brown shag carpet from the sunroom, but it felt like home. It felt like a place we could start a family.

Our daughter was our first child to call this house a home. The 1,500 square foot floor plan worked well for our family of three. The sunroom became the playroom and the third bedroom that functioned as an office became the nursery. Once our second child, a son, was born we knew it was time to move or come up with a plan for this home if we wanted to stay.

I am so glad we decided to come up with a plan. The must-haves for staying in the home involved a kitchen/dining addition, a master bedroom with bathroom addition, first floor laundry addition, and renovation of the old kitchen into a mudroom.

It took nine long months, but was well worth it in the end. We added about 1,000 square feet and use every inch of it. The added space really helped once we added our third child, another boy, into the mix.

Once our daughter was born, we decided it would make the most sense for me to stay home. My daughter and my days were filled with adventures at times, but they mostly involved simple things like playing in the playroom together. Having the playroom on the first floor and near the kitchen is one of the best decisions we made as new parents. It allows the children to be near us and feel safe, while they are playing independently or alongside one another.

After the renovation, the playroom actually became attached to the kitchen and I truly enjoy listening to them play — if they aren’t arguing! — while I cook and clean in the kitchen. It is funny to look back on when I only had one child and remember the type of parent I was at the time. I used to go in the playroom at the end of the evening and clean up the toys and set the dollhouse up room by room.

Today, after three children, the mess sits until I announce that it is time to clean, and donate old toys. It is funny how much you can change throughout the years in the same role, but in different phases.

When we were renovating the house in 2009 I can honestly say one of the projects I was most excited about was the mudroom. Having a designated place for shoes, book bags, and sporting equipment was exciting to me. It wasn’t in the budget to have built-ins made at the time, so my husband made a coat rack using instructions I found in an issue of This Old House magazine.

As far as a place to sit was concerned, I wanted to use a bench that my father and his siblings sat on for all their meals on the family farm in Holland. He had had it shipped to the States years ago and I absolutely loved its story. We decided to do the built-in project recently, so now the bench sits on one side of the kitchen table where our three children sit and eat their meals.

Almost a year after I had my third child, I felt this strong need to create and teach, largely due to my degree in education and because of my passion for the home. I wanted to find a way to combine the two together.

My answer was to bravely post my first picture on Instagram. I didn’t tell anyone, it was out of the blue, but I felt that I had something to say. I had been encouraged by family, friends, and even mothers in the parking lot after school who had design questions to start a blog. Seven months after that first Instagram post I launched House 214 Design, my home design website. It is my platform where I teach the everyday home designer the feeling of home and that the feeling we create in our home is our story.

What I understand now that I didn’t before, regarding my work, is that when you love what you do the drive you have is unstoppable and you will find a way to keep moving forward. I wake up before the rest of the house wakes up to learn, I listen to podcasts in the car and when I cook and clean to learn, and I read any spare moment I have to learn.

Do I get tired? Yes, but I am loving every moment of it. I think that after staying home almost 13 years now, it is good for the children to see me have a strong drive and work ethic for something. It is good for them to see me work hard, solve problems, and want to learn.

Everything I learn I put back into our home. I want our children to remember a feeling, the feeling that I am so passionate about, when they think of their childhood and this home.

Whether they are leaving the house and confronted with a difficult test that day, having a hard time with friends in high school, or leaving to be on their own for the first time, I want them to close their eyes and think of this home. I want the hurt, uncertainty, and worry to be replaced with love, joy, and a sense of calm.

That is the feeling I work so hard to create for our family in our home every day.


While I was scrolling through Melinda’s Instagram flow, I had to stop at one quote she posted a while back: “Home is not a place…it’s a feeling.” Melinda seems to believe this with her whole heart. Not to mention her whole house.

Thank you, Melinda! It was lovely to have you with us today.

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Ana Bianchi Tue, 07 Jun 2016 15:00:23 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Ana first sent me a video tour of her home, with her guiding the way through it. Her voice could melt butter, her eyes are so kind, and I seriously wrote back, “WE WOULD BE GREAT FRIENDS.” The other day, she sent me updated shots of her kitchen, smack in the middle of cooking a Mexican feast as a thank you to her circle of moms. Again, I thought, “Wow. We would be really great friends.”

I love virtually meeting people whose first impressions hit you like that, don’t you? I really hope you enjoy this interview and tour. Who knows? Maybe Ana will invite us over for a Mexican feast someday!

Welcome, Ana!

We are the Bianchi family: Alberto, Ana, our six-year-old daughter Florencia, and our dog, Pepa Pug, named in honor of Peppa Pig since they both snore just the same. I am originally from Mexico and my family was from Spain. I always say I have 100% Spanish blood but a Mexican heart pumping it.

My husband is a more of a mutt, born in Argentina of a Californian-Scottish mom and Italian paternal grandparents. Needless to say, food in our home is a combo of Italian, Spanish, Mexican deliciousness mixed with healthy American farm-to-table.

Alberto and I met on a blind date on his birthday 12 years ago — nice gift! Since day one we knew this was it. We got married three times: downtown in City Hall (white dress), then in a church (I wore yellow), and a month later we had our “pagan” wedding at a beach in Mexico (blue dress that time!).

Two years later, we went together to Florence and came back pregnant with little Florencia. I first felt dizzy at the Ufizzi gallery while sketching Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. Good omen for my little girl, who is quite a Renaissance girl!

She was born in New York. “I am a New Yorker!” she always says. Proud artist mom loves her marvelous drawings — how many can I hang near my desk? — and creations with paper, Legos, boxes, wood, and all kind of junk that tends to migrate to her room for projects. Playtime with Dad, the scientist, includes science gadgets, the electrical train, and the power tools.

Faster than thunder when she runs, she loves her soccer practice and her gymnastics class. She plays with boys, she plays with girls. She does not care for princesses and ballerinas, and loves each and all the colors of the rainbow.

We live in New York City, in Manhattan, far away from the touristy areas in an area called Morningside Heights. The protagonist in the neighborhood is Columbia University, on 116th street, so there are tons of bookshops and coffee shops around here. This neighborhood is a great place for families because there are tons of parks and gardens all around us: Riverside Park, Morningside Park, Central Park and my favorite, the gardens at St. John the Divine where three naughty peacocks roam.

One of my favorite things of this neighborhood is that since there are multiple good schools, we always bump into friends at the playgrounds. Either my friends, or Florencia’s friends, or even Pepa’s friends in the dog-walking circuit!

Prices are ridiculous in New York, everyone knows that. Since we are above 110th street, prices are much better than in the Upper West Side or in the cool neighborhoods downtown. Apartments are beautiful pre-war buildings with high ceilings and views of the Hudson River. Turn-of-the-century elegance, then run-down neighborhood, then dangerous, now a really nice place to be.

Let’s put it this way: if we sell this apartment, we can buy a very nice house in most places — not San Francisco! — and a huge house in some other places. But all those nice houses are not in NYC.

I definitely had pretty intense nesting instinct while pregnant. We were in a lovely-but-tight one bedroom overlooking Central Park where we wouldn’t be able to fit once the baby arrived. We started looking for a new nest when I was eight months pregnant. I promised my realtor that if my water broke in an apartment, I would buy that one. This did not happen, but my husband came to see our apartment a few days after Florencia was born. It was bigger than all the others we had seen, sunny two-bedroom, recently renovated with original pre-war details like the gorgeous herringbone oak floors and french doors galore. He called me “Bring the baby! You need to see this place!” We put an offer that day. Moved in four months later.

The one thing we thought was very ugly was the totally beige master bathroom. So we took it to our hands to renew it. It was a totally DIY project, from getting the toilet on Amazon, watching a YouTube video about how to change it to — my favorite part — designing and making our penny-round floor mosaic.

We love how bright and sunny this apartment is in the morning, we love sunsets on the Hudson River, and the magical afternoon light in my daughter’s room. The cherry on the cake is the rooftop garden where we dine often, entertain, or just hang out. It is hard to beat with the river views to the west and the cityscape to the south, including the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. We used to watch 4th of July fireworks here before the mayor moved them to the East River.

However, we do want to move out from this great apartment and this great city in a few years. All our things will come with us and we will make magic amongst another set of walls. The reason why we want to move is to have a garden; we are all garden people! A gentler weather with more sunny days would also be great! The other day Florencia said, “If I won $10,000 I would buy a garden!” I really want her to enjoy her own garden one day.

Our decoration is a reflection of us. A mix of all our interests: art, books, design, nature, textiles. There are modern pieces mixed with antiques. There is a lot of art on the walls, and we actually ran out of space! There are paintings from my childhood home, there is my own art, there’s art from friends and, of course, art made by Florencia.

There are books everywhere and in every room. And little collections of interesting or beautiful things. I am very much a white wall kind of person because I like colors in textiles, objects, and art to pop-out. I love to make accents with natural curiosities and crafts from around the world.

My favorite pieces of furniture are a red modernist Saarinen chair and ottoman, and two 17th century desks with gorgeous inlay: a little portable one I bought in Cuzco, Peru that holds my necklaces, and a full-size marvel from Spain that my grandmother bought and shipped from Spain when she was 40. She gave it to my mom when she turned 40, I got it when I was almost 40, the year my mom passed away. It has always held Christmas ornaments in its multiple drawers.

Out of the whole apartment, my girl’s room is the one that is constantly changing to fit her age and accommodate her interests. Also it is a space where I experiment with new design and heirlooms. I’ve designed and made several bedding and textile pieces from her basinet bumper to reading oversize pillows to fabric toys to a teepee for two with fabric and broom sticks. I’ve done murals in her room and with branches we picked after Sandy — we made a big tree with fabric leaves that act as canopy for her bed.

One very special piece in her room is the doll house.  It was my own Victorian dollhouse that I built as a little girl and spent hours and most of my allowances decorating or making little miniatures for. I saved it for years and two years ago Santa Claus found it and restored it and brought it on Christmas for Florencia.

Last year we started a big transformation. One day she just said, “MOM, I WANT A JUNGLE ROOM.” Together we worked on a scale model and discussed what goes where. We agreed on a tree house above a tikki room for her Legos. It is still a work in progress. I designed some jungly textiles for cushions where our dog Pepa appears as queen of the jungle, and we are starting to work on the walls. The intention is to have jungle plants murals that don’t become too oppressive or darken the room too much.

Florencia is pretty style aware. For the most part I let her have a say and thankfully she has not come up with any major eyesore that makes me cringe. Same as me, she is very much into nature, imagination, and loves teddy bears. She is a great constructor so Legos and blocks are always part of the scene along with cardboard, paper, wood, and drawing materials.

PaperGirl Collection is my line of illustrated dresses for little girls (nine months to around seven years) that tell stories around themes all kids love: the sea, the forest, the garden, the circus. Each high-quality dress tells a story by featuring original artwork I make in my studio and play out on the mini story-book that is included in each dress, which I also write and illustrate. Girls can read the story, imagine, discover, and enjoy their dress as part of it. For some dresses, I also created matching toys. All dresses are 100% high-quality cotton and are made in the USA, including the printing of my fabrics.

It all started around the time Florencia was born when I had a big shift in life. My mother and sister, sadly, had passed away in the previous months. At five months pregnant I sorted through my childhood home in Mexico and discovered two trunks of beautiful little girl clothes, my artwork and books from my childhood, and my sister’s amazing art. She had developmental and intellectual disabilities that kept her as an eternal girl.

This period of change and those first couple years of my daughter’s life made me think a lot about childhood and what really matters. How discovery, curiosity, and imagination are so important. I reconsidered what I wanted to with my work life. I had been working as a brand designer creating brands big and small for others, and I decided to repurpose my talents into something more meaningful and personal.

With PaperGirl Collection I have created my ideal job and a platform to do something I really care about:  sparking kids’ imaginations and curiosity. PaperGirl is also a way for me to give back. Increasingly I am devoting either time or a percentage of sales to non-profits that support children literacy and art programs, like which helps girls reach their potential.

My studio is a large sunny room with a huge bookcase with all my books for inspiration and my desk area. My desk is actually two antique desks put together to have a good work surface, specially for art making. I love to collect miniature chests of drawers. My work hours are while my daughter is in school, from 8 until 3:30.

I usually start with a quick Instagram share (@byPaperGirl) and then head into the to-do list for the day and the month. These hours are jam-packed with a combination of creative (designing dresses, making illustrations, writing the stories that go with each dress) and non-creative work (emails, logistics, outreach of all sorts, PR, marketing, purchasing, excel spreads). Needless to say, the design, art making, story-telling hours are my favorite thing to do!

Sometimes I am home working and some mornings I have meetings or have to go to the factory to supervise production. After a late, healthy-as possible lunch, I go to pick up my daughter at 3:30 and follow up with mom-daughter activities: playdates, soccer practice, gymnastics, baking, playing together, or watching a movie before dad arrives at seven for family dinner.

Alberto and I religiously take turns reading in bed to her. One day she won’t want the cuddles and the reading in bed so we really love doing it now.

What do I hope my daughter remembers from this time in our lives? The easy answer is that I hope she recalls all the happy, loving moments. Parenting for me is a big exercise of awareness of here and now, of how this moment, this day is fleeting. I often get entangled in the rush of life and work but I love to think that I strive to enjoy and create memorable moments with my family every day. I love the moments we observe the beauty of nature — in New York City — when we stop to smell the flowers or look at the light or listen to the birds. I love the moments we share a silly laugh or share a complicity. I certainly love the hugs and kisses.

I hope she remembers all this when she recounts as I do, “When I was a little girl, I loved…”

As for what I hope she forgets, the days when I am too busy, too rushed, too stressed to be able to notice the flowers and the birds. When I say “Today I can’t play with you because I have work to do.”

Florencia has always been a lovely girl — yes, all moms say this! Since she was born, I felt she was an old soul I wanted to get to know. Getting to know her every day as she grows is my favorite way of spending time with her.

What I sorely miss is how adorable she was when she was two and three years old. Her personality starting to come out, our first conversations, her discoveries, her silliness and sense of humor, her budding creativity, her dancing and talking.

I would always dress her with cute clothes — some were my own from the 70’s — and we would do our little plans together. We still do but it is different now that she is older.

I wish someone had told me in my teens and twenties to stop trying to please others or get approval at the same time I was asserting and growing my true self.


Thank you, Ana! I was touched by the way you described your sister as an eternal girl, and her impact on your chosen path. You were a bright spot for me today.

I also loved your three weddings and three different colored dresses you wore! Anyone else been married more than once to the same person? I think it’s sweet.

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Stephanie Bryan Tue, 31 May 2016 16:00:39 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I knew Stephanie was a champion memory keeper, and that she’d have a lot to share with us to inspire even the most “Darn it! I forgot my camera again!” of us. (Not to mention the “Oh. Another year of art projects to organize. Hooray.” crowd, right?) And of course, inspire she will. But when I read about the reason behind her love of memories, I just about melted.

Please enjoy Stephanie’s words and gorgeous home. I’m honored to have her here with us today. Welcome, Stephanie!

Hi there! I’m Stephanie and I’m beyond excited to be here sharing my home with you! When Gabrielle approached me about being a part of this series, I had to email her back to make sure she had the right person. While I would love to think of my life as daring and thrilling, it’s basically just the opposite! I’m a homebody who spends most of my days toting my two children, ages five and seven, to and from school and activities, cooking dinner, cleaning up piles and piles of legos, and doing laundry. Sound familiar?

I’m a stay at home mama with many side jobs, including, but not limited to — milk cleaner-upper, lego organizer, stuffed animal rescuer, and lullaby singer. I’ve worked in several different professional roles over the past seven years, but decided to stay at home (mostly) full time after my son was born.

Being a stay at home mom has its ups and downs, as many of you probably know. Some days I feel like I’ve got it all together and other days I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Luckily, I have a handsome and hilarious husband as my sidekick to help me make my way through this crazy life. Our home can be a little crazy with lots of laughter and maybe just a touch of chaos sprinkled in as well!

Our oldest, Anna, is the heart and soul of our family. She has the kindest heart and the most amazing passion for life. She’s slightly obsessed with mermaids and has been since about age two. At her preschool graduation, she announced that she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up and that idea hasn’t changed yet. From mermaid drawings to mermaid stories, our house is covered from top to bottom. We totally thought her mermaid obsession was a passing phase, but it hasn’t seemed to fade yet.  She’s also an avid reader and goes through book after book every day. My husband and I both are avid readers, but we surely can’t keep up with her!

The baby of the family is our son, Drew. Clearly he’s five, so he’s not still a baby, but one can dream they will stay little forever, right? Drew is a character and has been making us hysterically laugh out loud since he could talk. I’m always amused that my five year old son can make me belly laugh almost every single day. He’s quick witted and a math whiz who loves dinosaurs and Star Wars. Oh, and money. He’s obsessed with dollars and quarters for some reason. He’s my little helper and is always right there if I need a hand. He pulls out the chairs when I vacuum, makes his bed every morning, and helps with the laundry. I will most definitely have a mental breakdown when he starts kindergarten in the fall.

To finish our family out, we have a hairy and playful Goldendoodle named Chase. For the most part, he’s a great dog if you ignore the pillow chewing, shedding, and dirty paws. He’s basically like a great big teddy bear to us and our kids could not love him more.

Our family lives in the capital of North Carolina. We’ve been here about four years, although I was born and raised here in the south. We moved here from the metropolis of Baltimore, Maryland, so the southern life was definitely a change of pace for us. It took about five minutes to get used to the way of life here in the south. We love the slower pace, amazing neighbors, and the overall feel of our city.

Raleigh, while it’s not hustling and bustling all the time, still can have that city feel if you want it to! The great thing is that you can easily escape that craziness and head out to the surrounding suburbs. Our quaint little neighborhood is tucked in-between North Raleigh and Wake Forest, and offers everything that our family needs.

Our streets have tree lined sidewalks for walking and bike riding, playgrounds on almost every corner, access to hiking trails, as well as a community pool. I fell in love with our neighborhood almost as soon as I pulled into the development and I’m pretty sure that the white picket fences lining the houses and porch swings were what won me over.

While we would love to live on the beach and watch the sun rise over the ocean every morning, our neighborhood is perfect for us right now. My husband and I both grew up in neighborhoods and have very fond memories of roaming through the woods, chasing fireflies, and having cookouts. We both wanted those same things for our children. We wanted them to be able to ride their bikes down the street, play basketball with the neighbors outside, and enjoy evening block parties. We wanted them to be able to be kids and have the luxury of friends close by. We have neighbors who have become like family and take care of my children like their own. I couldn’t be more grateful for our wonderful neighborhood.

My husband works in sales and travels quite a bit, so he actually wasn’t even able to come down south with me to find us a home. We had many phone calls, FaceTime conversations, and texts sent back and forth over the week I was in Raleigh looking for a house. We differ a little on what our ideal home is, so being responsible for finding a place that we BOTH would love was a little stressful to say the least.

I think the hardest part of house hunting was the disappointment of realtor images not matching the actual look and feel of a house. There were so many houses we loved online, but just didn’t fit the bill in person.

One thing we knew with our house hunting is that we didn’t want to build a house from the ground up. We had just put the finishing touches on our house in Maryland and we just didn’t have it in us to pick out tile, argue over cabinet pulls, and discuss paint colors again! We wanted a newer home with a nice aesthetic, but we decided to not get too nit-picky with the particulars.

The home we ended up purchasing was actually the very first house I saw when I was out house hunting — you gotta love that gut feeling! I knew it was the house and neighborhood for us, but my husband still insisted that the realtor and myself see all 30 other homes on our list! So, after days and days of looking and lots of pictures sent back and forth, my husband made the trip down to Raleigh and we put our offer in on our home.

The house was a new construction home and was still in the building phase, but all of the details of the house had been decided and were pretty much set in stone. We made a few changes when we signed our contract, but other than that, the house was built according to the developer’s plans. Luckily, the colors, design, and overall aesthetic of the house was right on the mark for our tastes and preferences.

After a short five months, we packed up all of our belongings and moved our family to North Carolina. More so than with any other house that we’ve owned — this is house number four for us — this house has truly become our home. Even though it was a new construction, we’ve done lots of improvements, revisions, and updates to our house to make it our own. I think there was always a fear of messing something up with our other homes, and although we talked about the things we would love to do to improve the house, we never did them. Making this house fit our family has been so amazing!

I definitely don’t consider myself stylish or a designer. Most of the time I’m second-guessing all of the details of our house, usually to the point of paralysis. I’ve spent countless hours poring over Pinterest or flipping through books searching for inspiration and ideas. And after all of that time, I usually still came up empty handed.

I think I had a lightbulb moment about two years when we decided to go with our gut and do some renovations to our home. Our master bedroom was huge — like seriously way too huge — so we added a wall and created an extra bedroom, which we use as my creative space. We added french doors and hardwood floors to our second floor hallway, painted our entire house, changed out some of the lighting, and all of a sudden it felt like OUR home. Not some builder’s house who followed a set plan. This was our house. With our ideas and design.

From there, I’ve tried throw all of the amazing inspiration on Pinterest out the window and focus on what works for our home and our family.

My personal taste is white, bright, and clean. I love clean lines and grids. I love organization and order — oh, and baskets. I’m obsessed with made beds and straightened towels. Most of my family is not, so we’ve had to compromise quite a bit in these areas.

While my house is usually pretty tidy and organized, I’ve tried to allow my kids the freedom to play and explore our house and their toys. Their favorite place to play is in my closet or the laundry room. They love to drag almost every toy or stuffed animal they have into these small spaces and let their imaginations run free. But, they also help to clean up their messes.

It feels like our house sometimes grows from the inside with all of the trinkets, toys, and stuff kids accumulate. Boxes, baskets, and bins are a saving grace for us and my sanity. They can just shove everything into a bin and call it clean. Almost everything in our house has a place and while everything may not always be where it’s supposed to be, it’s nice to know that we can pick up, organize, and get our house back in order.

Prior to this house, we had moved almost every two years so there was always some sort of sorting, purging, and organizing going on around here! Over the last four years, I’ve tried to make it a habit to clean out and purge at least once a year. Having less stuff and living a simpler life is definitely a priority for us.

I’ve tried to let each of my children’s personalities shine through in their rooms and our playroom. Art and creativity is a big must for our family and you can find drawings, paintings, and artwork in almost every room of our house. I’ve always thought it was important to give my kids time for creativity, but to also cherish the work they make. Every few months, I change out the drawings and pictures, store our favorite pieces, and then snap photos of the rest before tossing them out. Artwork can get bulky and saving every single piece isn’t really possible. Taking and printing a photo of the work is a great way to save the pieces without all of the papers!

My mom passed away when I was 19 and I’ve always felt like a part of my childhood went with her. There are many details of my life I can definitely remember, but the small stuff, like what my favorite food was as a baby, or how long it took for me to sleep through the night, is gone.

After I had my children, I knew I wanted to find a way to record and document all of the little things of our life. I needed to write this stuff down and record these moments. I picked up my camera and soon fell in love with photography, Instagram, and the like. I love being able to pause a specific moment in time. Soon after, I stumbled across a few memory keeping blogs and decided to combine our words and photos in my own blog, photo albums, scrapbook layouts, mini books, and more. I love the creativity that comes with memory keeping, but what I love most is that I’m recording all of those details of our life that will soon fade with time.

Memory keeping doesn’t have to be tedious or complicated! You don’t need fancy supplies or products at all! My very favorite way to record our memories is through letters to my children. I keep a blank journal on my nightstand and add in stories, notes, quotes, and more when I have time. Sometimes I pair my notes with photos, but other times, it’s just words.

I’ve had so many incredible doors and opportunities opened up to me through the memory keeping community. I’ve been published in magazines, worked as a designer for several paper crafting companies, taught classes on how simple and easy memory keeping can be, attended professional conferences, and even worked part-time as a marketing coordinator. Teaching classes and sharing my passion for memory keeping is by far my favorite. I love showing people just how easy it is to get your story down on paper and there’s nothing better than being able to share your printed photos — whether you hang them on the wall, or print them in a book — with your family and friends.

I’ve made it a point to hang photos and memories throughout our home. Only a hand few of the photos in our house were taken by a professional. The rest are real-life everyday moments of our day snapped either with my iPhone or Canon camera. I began a photo collage wall when my son was turned one and have added to the collage every year since. I absolutely love having our memories visible.

The majority of my week days are spent shuffling kids around to and from school and volunteering in each of their classrooms. Add in after school activities, dinner prep, and homework and my day is pretty full.  My husband and I border on the “we want to expose our children to as many things as possible” and “let them just be kids” mentality. I whole-heartedly believe that children learn, grow, and become creative when they have time to tinker, play, and explore their environment, so we really do try to make sure they have a good mix of down time and activities.

All four of us are homebodies to the core, so if there’s an opportunity for us to just stay at home and drink coffee, we totally take it! We all love being at home, grilling out, playing in the backyard, and just hanging out together.

The past seven years my every waking thought has been about my children and their needs, but as I see them become more independent, I can tell that the days where they need me 24/7 are slowly dwindling. I feel like my role as a mother is constantly changing and what might work for me/us one year won’t cut it the next. As my children grow and mature, I’m trying to make more time for myself, both personally and creatively. I love thinking outside of the box and trying new things — whether it’s photography, sewing, memory keeping, gardening, or home projects. Being busy is a must for me, so I’m always on the lookout for something fun and exciting to occupy my time!

Above all, I want my kids to remember our home as their happy place. I want them to remember jumping on the couch, running through the backyard, and having fancy dinner night, aka tacos, at the dining room table. I want them to remember the silly stories from daddy and the bedtime tickles. I want our home to be somewhere that takes all the worries away and can heal broken hearts. I hope our home is the place where all of their friends gather for slumber parties, picnics, and after school snacks. I want our home to be the place they come back to year after year and we all reminisce about the good old days. Mostly, I want our home to be remembered as a house full of love and laughter.

Living with kids is pretty amazing. My two add so much life and spark to our house, and in the rare times that they are both gone at the same time, it’s eerily quiet. There’s lots of jumping around, laughing, fussing, and running in our home. I love to overhear them playing their crazy games together. Usually it sounds more like my daughter is directing and orchestrating the game while my son just follows her lead, but oh well… Both of my children have wild imaginations and if they aren’t outside running around they are shoved in my closet playing mermaids or dinosaurs.

I’ve said this with every age so far, but five and seven are my favorites. I love that they are old enough to have their own responsibilities and can help take care of our home. I also love that we rarely have meltdowns, but oh man do I miss nap time! Gone are the days of productive hours during those golden naps.

Before I had children, I always assumed I would be the one teaching them, but every day I’m amazed at the things they teach me. They’ve taught me the joy of studying rocks and sticks and they’ve taught me how important it is to literally stop and just be. For the most part, I try to live my life with a glass-half full mentality. I’m a pretty positive and upbeat person by nature and look to fill the majority of our days with happiness and joy. Sure, I have those days where I feel like my head might explode, but for the most part, I think choosing to live a life of joy helps the flow and attitude of our home! I’m so grateful for my family who remind me everyday that happiness doesn’t come for things or stuff; it comes from being together.

I wish that someone would have told me to just throw all of the rules and expectations out the window a long time ago! There were years where I thought I needed to be doing things a certain way or tried to keep up with others. Over time, I’ve learned that there is just nothing better than being myself; and while the way I like to do things and raise my children may not work for everyone, it works for me and that’s good enough.

This life is crazy enough as it is that we don’t need to add any extra stress or expectations on ourselves! Taking more of a no expectation approach to life has shown me that’s it’s ok to be different and have crazy passions. It’s taught me to think outside of the box and push myself both personally and creatively and I truly believe that it’s helped me to grow as a mother!

Motherhood may not be the most exciting job in the world, but I sure wouldn’t trade this gig for anything! When I don’t feel in over my head with this whole motherhood role, I could swear that being a mama is my destiny.


Thank you, Stephanie! I agree with you that there is nothing lovelier than the things our kids teach us: “They’ve taught me the joy of studying rocks and sticks and they’ve taught me how important it is to literally stop and just be.” There is great joy to be found in rocks and sticks!

And your reasons for focusing so much on memory-keeping just about did me in: “My mom passed away when I was 19 and I’ve always felt like a part of my childhood went with her. There are many details of my life I can definitely remember, but the small stuff, like what my favorite food was as a baby, or how long it took for me to sleep through the night, is gone.” I can’t seem to shake this feeling of pure regret for you; like, I wish I could somehow find the answers for you, and tell you how you loved carrots and were a champion sleeper. In any case, I’m so proud of you for being proactive about keeping your kids’ memories for 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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Alicia Brothers Tue, 24 May 2016 12:00:22 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When I asked Alicia for brighter photos of her dining room, she wrote back two paragraphs! Turns out, it is the darkest room in her home because of its complete lack of windows. Which makes it difficult, many days, since it’s the absolute heart of her home and where they seem to spend the most time. (And before anyone suggests a simple remodel, I should add that this is a 250-year old home with loads of history; knocking down a wall or two might not be in the plans!)

I’m sure we’ve all had a room like that in one home or another, right? One you want to hate for its lackluster features, but can’t help but adore it when you think about all the good times you’ve experienced in it? It’s nice to hear how Alicia has grown to love the space. This is a fabulous read, especially the ending, and I hope it makes your day a little brighter.

Welcome, Alicia!

Hi everyone! I’m Alicia, and I’m so blessed to be able to share my story with you! Thanks for having me.

When I think back to how my husband and I met, I would never have believed where we would be today and how we got here. I met Ryan in college through my roommate and best friend. I was 18 years old and in my first year of college. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, or where I was going in life. Our relationship was short lived. We met a few months before summer, and that summer I decided I wasn’t quite ready for the depth of the relationship that Ryan and I had. To what I can only credit God for, we stayed in touch, became the closest of friends, and I slowly fell more and more in love with who Ryan was as a person and how our relationship was unlike any I had ever had.

I had a friend who once told me, “He treats you like a husband treats a wife.” That right there is what changed my life forever.

We have known each other for 14 years and have been married for nine. In that nine years we had three amazing children. Nick, seven, was our first and he blows my mind every day with his compassion, love, and sincere nature. He is my clone in every sense of the word. Luke, five, is spunky, loud, stubborn, funny, and will have you rolling on the floor with his sense of humor and joy for life. Kate, two, is my girl; the one that I dreamed about for so long. She has an attitude that will stop you in your tracks. She is sassy and sweet, girly with a tomboy edge.

A New Jersey native, I never thought I would leave my town, let alone my state. I grew up with a very tight knit group of friends. One of the hardest things I ever had to do was leave my family and friends. From college I went to Rhode Island to law school. Ryan commuted from his engineering job in Connecticut. We got married the first summer of law school and I was pregnant before I received my diploma, to much dismay from my family.

Before I had Nick I swore left and right that once the baby came I would go right back to work. I would find a job as a child advocate or family law attorney, leave Nick with family, and I would work tirelessly as an attorney. That is, after all, what I spent three years and a whole lot of money and effort doing.

When Nick came, I went back to work. It was so much harder than I ever thought it would be. I was working in a domestic violence clinic and I loved my job, but all I could think of was being home with my baby. It didn’t take long before Ryan and I decided that I was leaving my job. I didn’t know where my career would go, when I would go back to law, or how we would make ends meet; I just knew that being home with my son is what I needed.

Life has taken us so many wonderful places. I have been a stay-at-home mom for seven years. I have dabbled in everything from tutoring, to contract work as an attorney, to owning my own handmade children’s clothing business. Being a stay-at-home mom when your family could very well use a second income is difficult, but something that I would not change for the world. It has taken me seven years to find a pace of life that I love.

About six years ago we moved to Niantic, Connecticut. Ryan grew up here and it is almost too good to be true that this is the same town that he works in. I could never have imagined being able to live in a beach town and now I can never imagine leaving. Niantic is home. We are surrounded by the Niantic Bay. There are no waves like there were in New Jersey, but the water is peaceful and the view is amazing.

Up until about four years ago we lived two blocks from the water in a little beach cottage. I would have stayed there forever, but it was tiny. We were actively looking for homes, but couldn’t find anything that was within our price range and the size we needed. My mother-in-law sent me an email telling me that there was a 250 year old home for sale that had just been renovated, and I instantly got the chills. When we drove up to the home I knew that I had to have it.

Our home was deeded over to a non profit company from the town on condition that a family get it. It has quite a long and interesting history. Niantic has a women’s prison, the York Correctional Facility. Our home was once home to many a superintendent of the prison — specifically, York herself. We had the honor of meeting Mrs. York and her sons when we visited the home for the first time.

Our home had been unoccupied for quite some time before the town decided to do something with it. Now that we are here I don’t think we will ever leave. We are surrounded by acres and acres of woods and fields. We like to take hikes behind our house where there are ponds and lakes. The sunsets are like no other. Through the years we have found out more history about our home. Dr. Vine Utley was said to have lived here. Dr. Utley introduced vaccines in the early 1800s that helped the smallpox epidemic in Connecticut. He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on his case logs dating from 1798 to 1834. We found a photo that shows a horse and carriage in our driveway. It is truly breathtaking.

I have always loved historic homes over newly built homes. I grew up in a new build and although it was seamless in every way, there is something to say about living in a home with character. There will always be things in our home that I want to change, like the sagging ceilings, the creaking floorboards, and the way the house isn’t — and will never be — an open concept. But the parts that we don’t like are also the parts that I would never want to leave behind.

I love living in a home where many a family has come before us, each making their mark in some way. One of our favorite things to show people when they visit is the old fashioned pencil sharpener in our basement on the stairwell. Surely used hundreds and hundreds of times, it was left and it will stay for decades to come.

Our dining room has been an endless struggle as far as decorating goes. It was once known as the sitting room. It is the center of our home. It is a room that has no windows, so it is very dark. But, in it is a large fireplace that now houses a wood stove that keeps our family warm through the winter.

Because of the way the house was built it isn’t very well insulated, so heating can be quite pricey. Thinking of our dining room as a practical room that was used to heat our home has helped me to appreciate it rather than be ungrateful because of the lack of light. It is the room in our home where our family eats, where we do arts and crafts, where we cozy up next to the fire, and where we celebrate all of our holidays.

Decorating has always been a passion of mine. I can’t really pinpoint the exact style that I have in my home. We very much enjoy decorating around certain historic aspects of our home but very much feel that in order to enjoy it unconditionally, we must also bring our own style. Being a lover of the coast you will see many coastal accents. We have quite a few nautical paintings, seashells, and coastal touches.

I love white. Give me white walls, white linens, and white washed furniture any day. I do feel that I have to balance my love of white with the more historic aspects of the house, and it is a definite juggling act. For instance, I have tried to convince my husband to paint our floors white and I am actually glad he convinced me otherwise. My style may change over the years, but these floors have been here for hundreds of years and who am I to go and change that!

My children would love to paint their bedroom walls red, put Star Wars stickers on their bed and walls, and pick out Transformer sheets. Part of me struggles with allowing them to express themselves while also keeping my sense of style in mind. We have found ways to allow them to make their spaces their own while also keeping me sane.

They have a wall in their bedroom slathered in Star Wars stickers, they got bunk beds against my wishes, and they can choose accents of their choice in the playroom and bedrooms. I want our home to be their home. I want them to feel they have a say — but they have come to learn that design is a compromise and that we can all be happy in the end.

I am glad to have toys in every room as long as the toys have a place and they can be neatly tucked away when not in use. I have quite an obsession with wicker baskets. I love how the texture adds so much to a room and they are so convenient when you have children and hundreds of toys.

For me to function as a mom and a wife, I need to have a clean space free of clutter. It is always a work in progress and something that we are constantly tweaking. We have purged a lot of toys and items that were not essential to our lives. I find that the children are more creative and happy with less items. I try to keep only toys that spark imagination and creativity. All three of my children would much rather build a castle with blocks, draw a picture, or use their imagination than play with some of the toys we used to have floating around the home.

I want the children to grow up knowing that they can play, make a mess, paint, play with play-doh, and even do water play in the house as long as it has its time and then everything goes back the way it was. I hope that my children will remember all of the art projects we did, the way our home had endless hiding spots, climbing trees on our property, picking raspberries from our bushes during the summer, and me telling them never to grow up. I want our home to reflect our love for our children. They are my life’s greatest gift.

My husband and I often talk about how we don’t know what we did with our time before them. There are definitely days where I miss being able to drink a cup of coffee without reheating it ten times, but I would not go back to my life before them in one hundred years. They are my life’s purpose and I hope that I can show them that every day that they live in my home. I already miss them and they are barely in grade school!

Through my years as a stay-at-home mom I have struggled to find a hobby. I was never really good at not having something to work on endlessly. When Nick was only three months old I studied for and passed the Connecticut bar exam. I started a blog. Before I knew it I was embracing staying at home. It was a different way of life than I was used to, but it was in itself challenging.

To try to offset some of the money that was needed raising our family I began a handmade children’s clothing boutique. Kate Maeve Co. was named after my daughter. I soon learned that sewing, marketing, blogging, and running a business while raising three children was more than I signed up for! Although I no longer design and sell children’s clothing, the people and the community I met through this business is like no other.

I did the majority of my sales through the Instagram community. I met quite a few Instagrammers who also owned their own businesses, and friendships formed. I ran a fundraiser on Instagram for a beautiful and amazing girl in our town who was battling cancer and was so touched by the number of businesses that reached out to donate products for someone they had never even meant. Sites like Instagram are not just a place where people share photos on interior design and children, it is a place where businesses go to flourish, where friendships are made, and relationships blossom into opportunities you may not have otherwise had. That is why it was so hard for me to just walk away once I shut down my clothing business.

My blog, Kate Maeve Co., became a place where I could share the work of other small businesses and a place where I could continue to stay involved in this community that had become so much to me. I met so many amazing people on Instagram and it is where I gained information on something that eventually helped me in one of the toughest periods of my life.

I wish someone had told me when I was a teenager that life is full of pain. It is full of gut wrenching physical and emotional pain that you will have to fight through harder than you ever thought possible, but that life it is also beautiful. Every fight you have to go through will bring you somewhere even more wonderful.

Ever since I can remember I have dealt with some form of anxiety. As a child I would have night terrors, battles with insomnia, and crippling fears. I enjoyed dancing, spending time with my friends, and my wonderful family, but there was something that caused an anxiety so deep. I never knew this was a normal part of so many other people’s lives. It wasn’t until college that I started working on the issues that had affected me in so many ways. On the outside I was happy, friendly, outgoing, and loving, and for the most part I loved my life. But, there was always a part of me that struggled to manage my emotions.

It is hard to admit the struggles we have inside to those on the outside. We worry how we will be judged. Especially as parents we want to be seen as having it all together, in control of our life and emotions, and unwavering in our courage.

The reality is, though, the more I share my story I find there are others just like me. Moms who are afraid to share their story for the same reason. I have friends that lost their battle to depression and over the years I have learned how to be okay with sharing my story. My story isn’t unique. It is what so many people go through every day, but it is silenced. People that don’t have a husband like I do, or a family like I do, battle it alone. You can get through it and you will get through it and the result will be better than your most beautiful dreams.

I am raising little people who will become big people and I need to be their rock. I need to show them that they can overcome obstacles and come out better. I had so many amazing people guide me and help me along the way. I suffered with postpartum depression with each of my three children. To say that there were days where I thought I could not go on would be an understatement. When my mom or husband would tell me that it would pass and I would get better, it was the last thing I wanted to hear or could believe. It took years and years of work to become the person I am today. It will always be something I have to look out for, but it is something that made me who I am and the mother I have become. Mindfulness, self care, and community have become vitally life changing.

Life is painful, thoughts can be painful, and it can be raw and brutal, but it can be wonderful.

Which leads me to where I am now. I am a mom, a wife, a blogger, and an entrepreneur. Along with my blog I also run an essential oils business that has been more empowering and invigorating than anything I have done since law school. It has helped me build back the confidence that I lost, helped me develop friendships I know will last a lifetime, and in the process has helped me with the struggles I have had with anxiety for so long. It has become part of my lifestyle and my life.

Through the years I have changed everything that we bring into our home and have made an effort to create a healthier and more natural lifestyle. Along with minimalism, we switched out any and all chemicals in our home and have replaced them with our own recipes using essential oils.You can find many of these recipes on my blog. I love educating others on living a more natural life. I am so grateful for where this journey has taken me and the ways my business has helped me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I love sharing my journey with others on my blog and helping others to grow in their own life.

When I look back as a grandmother one day I will remember the struggle of motherhood, the tantrums, the sleepless nights, the teething. More so, I will remember the hugs, the kisses, the bedtime snuggles, the back rubbing, the hand holding, the giggles, the squeaky voices, the love, and the day-to-day rituals that will leave me with the most wistful memories as I grow old. I never want to leave this stage of my life. It is the most blissful experience and I couldn’t be more grateful.


Thank you, Alicia! I loved reading about your career path, and hearing about how you continue to grow and improve. I especially enjoyed this: “It is hard to admit the struggles we have inside to those on the outside.” I’m a big fan of those who bring the inside out — in decorating and in life!

I’m wondering if anyone wants to share their own difficult space stories? Which one is your room you want to hate but can’t help but love? How did you turn it around? How did you make it a little more livable and lovable? I always enjoy when you share your experiences!

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 knowWe 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.

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Living With Kids: Maia McDonald Tue, 17 May 2016 16:00:01 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Maia started a business with her mom, and once I heard that I couldn’t stop smiling and wondering if maybe one of my kiddos would someday start a company with me. Maia is a Midwestern transplant to my neck of the woods, a minimalist with secret hoarding tendencies — which she is fighting! — and a mom intent on sharing her own unique parenting gifts and methods with her daughter.

I love her perspective and path. I hope you will, too. Welcome, Maia!

Hi, I’m Maia! Our little family is made up of my husband, Travis, and our daughter, Ingrid, who’s two.

Both my husband and I grew up in Wisconsin but we now call Sacramento, California home. I was raised in an idyllic, small, rural farming town that not only has a thriving alternative arts community but also has the most per capita organic farms in the state — and I believe the country at one time, but that might be one of the those local bragging rights that have no basis in fact! Either way, it was great place to grow up.

I went to school for graphic design and worked for years as a designer and art director for brands like, Williams-Sonoma, Cuyana, and Rue Magazine. Last year, I branched out and launched a sustainable and design-minded online children’s boutique with my mom, called Bitte.

Since I work from home and my husband is a stay-at-home dad, we spend a lot of time together as a family. Probably what would seem a crazy amount for most people! Ever since I met Travis, though, we’ve rarely spent more than three or four hours apart at a time. We just really like each other’s company.

When we met it was such an intense, instant connection. I pretty much knew we were going to be together forever after ten days of dating him, and we moved in together after four months. That was eight years ago. It took us a little longer to get married because we were young and broke and that was less of a priority for us.

Two years ago we welcomed our daughter, and now we’re a kooky little trio. Ingrid is a total riot; she’s funny and smart and so curious. Her favorite things to do are dancing, jumping in puddles, playing in the yard, and singing.

We live in a neighborhood called South Land Park. It’s a quiet residential neighborhood not too far from downtown and midtown, where there are a lot more restaurants and shopping. Right in our neighborhood, there is a great Japanese bakery that my daughter loves to visit. We also like to bike to the park or to the river to play.

Our neighborhood is fairly diverse economically. You can find a few homes from the low to mid $300s but there are also homes that are $700 to $800k. Then there are lots of families in our neighborhood who have been here for decades. It seems to be a pretty sought after area because there are a bunch of great schools nearby, but it’s not as popular as some of the older and more established neighborhoods, which keeps it accessible.

Our house is a 1962 California ranch style house. We bought it from the original owners so not much had been done to it over the years, which I loved. We eventually want to do a bigger renovation to the bathrooms and kitchens since those haven’t been touched in over 50 years, but they are in surprisingly great shape and totally livable.

The funny thing is we weren’t really looking that seriously to buy when we started down the path to purchase this place. We had been in Sacramento about six months, and we started going to open houses mostly for fun and also to get to know neighborhoods and the different areas in Sacramento. We went to an open house for a home just a few blocks from our current house, and completely fell in love with it. That place sold right away but it got us thinking more seriously about the whole process. We found a realtor through a friend the next week, and I think wrote an offer on this house just two weeks later! All the stars just aligned and I’m happy they did because we couldn’t be happier in this home.

The downside was having to move with a baby/toddler twice in one year! I don’t plan on moving again for a LONG time!

We moved first from Wisconsin to Oakland about five years ago, so that was probably a bigger transition than the one from Oakland to Sacramento. I still miss certain things about Wisconsin, mostly the people; friends, but also just the way people are there. There is an attitude and approach to life in the Midwest that I don’t even know how to describe. People always say Midwesterners are nice, which is true, but it’s more than that. Most people are just very genuine and humble.

But on the flip side, I really like that in California everyone is very open and warm and there is a different kind of can-do attitude. Not to mention you are exposed to so many more experiences and cultures. I’ve been really inspired by the energy and enthusiasm I have found living here.

Also, it might seem like a little thing but I love the produce in California! I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the fact that I now have multiple fruit trees in my yard bearing apples, mandarins, peaches, lemons…you name it!

The transition from Oakland to Sacramento has been more subtle since I’m still so close and able to visit often. Sacramento is sleepier and great for raising my daughter. But I definitely miss Oakland. I probably would have stayed if it wasn’t for cost-of-living constraints.

That’s the hardest part about living in California and previously the Bay Area: it’s just so expensive. We discussed moving back to the Midwest when we had our daughter, but ultimately decided that California is where we want to be. Sacramento allowed us to do that and live a little more affordably. Now I’m really glad we gave Sacramento a chance! There’s a lot of great stuff going on here. It’s got a burgeoning food and art scene, great schools, tons of outdoors stuff with the parks and rivers. And it’s a day trip to San Francisco, Tahoe, and the coast. I’ve grown to really love it.

Design wise, I like things simple, bright and airy. I think my style’s a little bit of a mixture of mid-century modern, Scandinavian modern, and just a splash of boho. I really like keeping my home as de-cluttered as possible, but I’m kind of a hoarder so it’s a constant battle.

I find that I can be much calmer and more creative when my house is clean, though. When people come to visit, I want them to feel comfortable. I love to cook for guests so I love that this house has a wonderful dining area. Our next project is to create an outdoor dining area since in California you can really take advantage of outdoor living most of the year.

Since having our daughter I try to make a home that is hers as well. I try not to have areas that are off limits or items that I wouldn’t want her playing with — except maybe all the cacti and a few items in my office.

I also have lots of art around, especially in Ingrid’s room. I really want art to be something she loves and appreciates, and you can never start too early. I still remember the artwork that was in my bedroom as a toddler, so obviously it left an indelible mark on me.

Bitte is an online children’s boutique selling sustainable classics for modern kids. We carry clothes and toys that have a focus on responsible and sustainable creation and manufacturing with an eye for modern design. I started it with my mom after my daughter was born.

We had always talked about starting something together. She had started her own all-natural toy business, Magic Cabin, when I was a toddler, which she built up over the years and eventually sold. So we really had a good marriage of skills and backgrounds. But it wasn’t until after my daughter was born that the idea really started coming together. I found as a new parent I wanted to shop more responsibly, especially when purchasing items for her. And while there were tons of great makers and artisans creating adorably designed eco-friendly goods, there wasn’t one place I could go to find these items in a beautifully curated selection. And as any new parent knows, time is a precious commodity so I wasn’t able to browse the Internet endlessly to find those gems I knew were out there. That’s when I decided I really wanted to create that trusted one-stop-shop for design and eco-conscious parents.

Right now my days are pretty crazy running the business. It’s just my mom and me doing everything! My husband also helps with shipping out orders. So it’s really a family effort. We’re currently working on designing some new products for our in-house Bitte brand, and picking all the merchandise for the holiday season which is always fun. For the summer we have some great new travel-related board books and really cute summer apparel that I can’t get enough of.

The best part is seeing customers post their little one’s enjoying their Bitte items on Facebook and Instagram!

The most important thing that has allowed me to start this business with my mom is that my husband stays home and takes care of my daughter. I grew up watching my parents do it the same way, though, so we have good role models. My dad was a stay-at-home dad and took care of my sisters and me while my mom built her own business.

I remember being so proud of her and thinking it was so special that she was doing something so different than a lot of my friends’ moms. I loved that both of them bucked tradition and struck out to do what was best for them and us as a family.

I learned from my mom specifically that I, too, could be an awesome business owner and mom. It might mean I’m not on every field trip or pack every lunch in the morning but that’s fine. I’m passing down different skills. I hope my daughter will one day feel the same about watching us build this business.

I really hope my daughter remembers our dance parties! And when she was a little baby I loved laying in bed with her and singing to her and telling her stories about how her dad and I met and who her aunts and uncles are. I’m sure I’ll keep doing that, but I remember thinking at the time she won’t even remember this but it still felt important. Now when we lie in bed together she’s the one telling stories, which I mostly can’t understand but I still love them.

I hope she doesn’t remember all the time I spend on my phone and computer. It’s the double edge sword of working from home. It allows me to spend so much time with her but I also have to get work done and it’s hard to explain to a two year old why I can’t play outside with her right this minute.

I love everything about living with my daughter. I sometimes describe it as gaining an awesome, tiny new roommate who’s adorable and hilarious. We have dance parties almost every night and sing endlessly in the car. She’s at this age now where she’s talking more and her personality is really emerging and it’s just the best! The other night she was supposed to go to bed but instead treated us to several rounds of No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. It’s one of those things where you’re kind of like, Okay…go to bed already! But on the other hand it was so sweet and funny, my husband and I had a hard time not just busting out laughing.

It’s hard to lay down the law when she’s being adorable and I just want to laugh. That’s one thing that has surprised me about parenting. I was a nanny for years and I was always a pretty strict nanny, but as a parent I have such a hard time disciplining, I’m a total softie. Luckily my husband has taken on that role.

I know I’m going to miss everything about this age, because that’s how I feel about every stage leading up to now. It’s the little mundane things that I hope I remember. Her tight snuggles and kisses. Her sticky hands grabbing at my face. How she loves to play with my shoes, the fancier the better.

And made-up songs – my current favorite Daddy, Daddy, I love you!

If I could hand out some advice, I’d tell you a few things. Most are pieces of advice from others or stuff I tell myself all the time, but I either don’t listen or have no willpower.

Use your phone less. It’s become such an addiction. And it’s hard because most of the time I’m using it for work but I need to get better at separating work from personal life.

Being humble is great but it’s also good to recognize your own accomplishments and celebrate them! It might be my Midwestern roots but it’s sometimes hard for me to take a compliment or talk about myself positively without adding a self-deprecating spin on it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is super hard for me! When I do ask for help I always think, “Why didn’t I just do that sooner?”


Thank you, Maia! I’m not sure if it’s a Midwestern thing, but maybe we all have to get better at accepting a compliment gracefully. Today, I’ll start! I’ll fight to just reply “Thank you,” and not feel compelled to wave it away like it’s not true. (I’ll pretend it IS true! Ha.)

And yes to asking for help! It’s one of the best feelings in the world, like a gorilla has been lifted off your back. When’s the last time you asked for help? I always love your stories.

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 knowWe 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.

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