Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 24 Nov 2015 23:36:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Rebecca Green Tue, 24 Nov 2015 17:00:40 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Rebecca describes herself as the stay-at-home mom of a family who really doesn’t like to stay at home! Once a big-firm attorney, she now spends her time planning family field trips, blogging, and authoring a book due in 2016. I admire her sense of adventure, her enthusiasm, her Fall Bucket List, her advice about living a brave, can-do life — and, yes, I also adore her navy couches. Sigh.

So come meet Rebecca! You’re going to like her so much, I just know it.

The Green Machine, as we affectionately named ourselves — we even have a family rallying cheer! — is made up of myself, my husband Joel, and our two children Kane (seven) and Cameron (five-and-a-half…that half is very important!). When I think of the thing that most defines our family, it is heart. Hearts full of love for each other, keeping our hearts and minds open to people and ideas, and putting our hearts into whatever it is we’re doing.

I’m Rebecca and I consider myself to be a bit of a jack of all trades, a master of none. I’m a lawyer, but have been taking a break from the practice of law for the past almost five years to run The Green Machine. I’m not super into astrology, but I think I definitely fit my Gemini sign’s combination of both an introvert and extrovert. I am interested in an endless variety of subjects and I would stay in school forever if I could, so having this time at home with our children has been a wonderful opportunity to explore new things with them. I love modern design, trail running, and the color grey. I also love to entertain, but am equally excited to host a kitchen dance party as I am a fancy shindig. I like to say that glitter and sarcasm keep me balanced.

My husband is both the funniest and most hardworking person I know. He practices law at a big firm in D.C. and is away from home a lot, which is probably the hardest on him out of all of us. He is also the loudest human being EVER. He does nothing quietly, which I like to think is really just part of him putting his heart into everything. He is also an incredibly good sport about all of the family adventures I scheme up, and keeps us all on an even keel.

Our son Kane has a combination of our adult personalities, but starting from day one. So that means he is incredibly precocious (and I mean that in the most loving of ways), an ardent negotiator, and the most curious kid I know. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve invited him to try something new and he’s not been interested. He also has a somewhat dichotomous personality — he loves sports, but is just as happy building Legos or quietly playing pretend games with his friends. No matter what he’s doing, though, he is sensitive, sweet, and loving. He works hard at school, but I’m always most proud when his teachers tell us a story where he helped out a friend who was having a difficult time. He really seems to have an emotional maturity beyond his years.

Our daughter Cameron prefers to be called Cami. This girl is a spitfire. She hates being called little and will show you why she’s not. She is very independent, but at the same time, has emotional difficulty being away from me. I was exactly like this when I was very young and recall many instances of missing my mother so much that it physically hurt. So you can imagine that it’s very hard for me to watch her work through it. But she is now able to rationalize that spending time missing me means she misses out on so many other things, and she’ll “pull it together” as she says. She is hysterically funny and loves to laugh at her brother’s jokes, which as far as we can tell consist of not much more than him making random noises repeatedly. But she loves him fiercely. Like Kane, Cami is interested in a wide variety of subjects and is just as happy exploring a new historical site as she is back-to-school shopping.

Like many of the big decisions in our life, Joel and I sort of impulse-purchased our home. We’d spent the past seven years — all of our children’s lives — living in a great condo smack in the middle of the city. Our children were outgrowing it; we needed more space and outside room to play.

I was also spending three hours plus per day driving our kids to school, which was physically and mentally doing a number on me. We’d just sort of started looking in December of last year, but didn’t plan on moving until the following spring. Our children go to an independent school and the admission process for such schools in D.C. is a bit insane. We’d just applied to schools for Cami and wouldn’t know whether she’d be admitted until March, which was a big factor in where we’d move.

But Joel found our home one random evening, I texted my real estate friend who quickly made an appointment for us to just go take a look, and a few days later we’d bought it. We have a very modern aesthetic and it’s difficult to find modern homes in D.C., much less a modern home that is relatively new and doesn’t need a lot of work. Or so we thought!

The city is full of Colonial-style homes with small rooms and our modern condo had a really open floor plan, which we loved. I just couldn’t see us living in a different space. So we knew we had to act fast when we found our current house.

Having done some work on our condo in the past, we’d always intended to bring a contractor to inspect our next home purchase in addition to the actual home inspector. I’m not sure how, but it just sort of completely slipped our minds when we bought this house. Had we done so, we would’ve found several issues that wouldn’t have been deal-breakers, but that certainly would have factored in to the purchase. So, do that!

We made several aesthetic renovations to the home to make it more our style before we moved in. And the frustration of dealing with even those minor things made it very clear to me that we will never be complete home renovators! I had a really hard time getting comfortable with imperfections at the house. It was only three years old when we bought it, and we did a bunch of work before we moved in, yet there were things that weren’t perfect to me. And I had to let that go.

I wanted a comfortable home for our family, not a museum. Plus, I’m certain few other people besides me even notice them.

Our kitchen is the heart of our home. It’s in the center of the open first floor and where everybody tends to hang. We have epic kitchen dance parties, cook family meals there, and art together at our kitchen table. We very purposefully did not put a TV on our first floor, so we tend to spend more time deliberately together here.

Having a strong family is very important to us. Besides each other, both Joel and I have best friends in our siblings, and I’d like our kids to be close to each other. I know we can’t force that relationship, but we try to model the importance of family and making time to spend with each other.

We also love to entertain, so having the kitchen be part of an open floor plan next to our living room was also a necessity. I like to cook while we sip drinks with friends and stay part of the party. And during the quiet of the daytime, I love to sit on the couch near our living room window, have a fire going, and work on my laptop. I love to look out over the park and think.

People constantly ask us whether kids actually live in our new home. I always find that funny, because I see them everywhere I look:  cuddled up with us in our bed, playing games in front of the fireplace, snuggling together for family movie night. What’s important to me is the memories that we make in this home together. That’s what I hope they hold on to as they grow.

We purposefully put effort into de-cluttering and downplaying the importance of things when we moved. Our condo was bursting with stuff. It drove my husband crazy and was wasteful; we could never use everything we’d amassed, and there are plenty of people with less that could.

I’ve always put an emphasis on quality of things over quantity, but we made sure to amp that up even more during the move. Our kids each went through every single thing in their room with me, picking out things they’d outgrown and that we could donate to someone who could actually use it.

Don’t get me wrong: we still have plenty of stuff — just better storage! In fact, I actually tend towards collecting clutter. But I find our home to be so much calmer without it.

We all make plenty of mess — just check out our art projects on our blog — but keeping things organized and involving our kids in that process makes for a much happier home for all of us. You won’t find me sweeping up after the kids as they leave a room, but you will find me making sure that our kids take care of their things and value memories over stuff.

We live in a FANTASTIC residential neighborhood of D.C. called Sixteenth Street Heights. It is a wonderful stretch that you are unlikely to know about unless you live here; I really didn’t until we found our house. It is an historic area full of stately 1920s homes bordering Rock Creek Park. Unlike so many of the city’s other neighborhoods, the homes here are fully detached and have real yards. In fact, our house was built four years ago in the side lot of another home.

Our neighborhood is demographically diverse — one of our prime reasons for wanting to remain in the city — and is experiencing an influx of young families recently. The area is also adjacent to Rock Creek Park.

The Park is over 1,750 acres big and is incredibly beautiful. It offers a huge range of activities for families from hiking/running trails, equestrian activities, a nature center and a planetarium, a tennis center, an amphitheater, sports centers, playgrounds, and just vast swaths of green space. It runs the length of the city and is the absolute best part about living in our new home.

In addition to the actual green space, Rock Creek also contains a parkway that runs all through the city and provides a very quick way to get around town. Just moving a little over two miles from our city condo has cut my carpooling time in half.

All of that is incredibly amazing, but glosses over the insanity that is the D.C.-area real estate market. By virtue of the fact that it’s the capital and the government is here, D.C. is a largely transient city. Couple that with the recent return of families to the city, and you’ve got a situation where there is a constant need for housing.

The city is also a very economically divided place; there are a lot of people with a lot of money, and a lot of people with very little money. Not a whole lot in between, except for students. So homes, especially good homes in good neighborhoods, sell within days of hitting the market, above asking price, with cash offers, and waivers of all kinds of contingencies.

It’s great when you’re selling, not great when you’re buying. Fortunately for us, there was a big demand for a condo in our old neighborhood of Columbia Heights, and apparently not a big demand for a modern home in our current neighborhood. We lucked out and couldn’t be happier.

Sixteenth Street Heights is not a suburb, but given how residential it is, it can certainly feel like it sometimes. We are a city family through and through and wanted to stay in D.C., but it was still a difficult move. The first night we spent in our new home, the kids couldn’t sleep because it was too quiet. Then it took some time for them to understand that the strangers trying to welcome them were actually our neighbors.

The kids still miss our old neighborhood. It was within easy walking distance of great coffee shops, restaurants, and stores. It was a quick walk to the metro. It was bustling and lively, and I never felt alone there. Part of the reason I’m really glad we lived there when I was by myself with two young kids a lot.

But since we live on the parkway now, we get downtown just as much as we used to. Not having any mixed-use development nearby is probably what I miss most, but a Farmer’s Market just started up last summer and there are some restaurants in the works a few blocks from our house.

I’m most surprised to find that I don’t miss the busyness. Our home is so quiet and peaceful — I’m looking out our front window at a family of deer lounging in the sunshine across the street as I type! — that we all feel ourselves letting down a little bit each time we return home. I never felt like that at our old house.

I started blogging almost immediately upon leaving my law firm. I’m a person who was used to accounting for her entire day in six-minute increments. And suddenly I was faced with occupying two young children for what seemed to be a never-ending amount of time.

I panicked that first week I started staying home and there was a lot of frantic Googling of “What do I do with my kids?!” I happened upon parent blogs filled with wonderful activities and field trips. And I knew immediately that I could do that, too. It helped me plan our days, keep everyone interested, and connect me to other parents in the same situation.

I’ve always tried to just be myself. I think trying to blog in a way that makes everyone like you, gets you to a bad place. Everyone will not like you, and that’s fine.

I also try to strike a good balance between positivity and negativity; a few sarcastic mentions about kids being nightmares is funny. But I find that too much of it just sounds like endless complaining. And, conversely, too much positivity about how fantastic my kids are comes off as fake. We are not perfect!

I am a seasonal bucket list maker. I was a bit worried that we would end up running around like maniacs just trying to cross things off our list, but instead it’s been a fun collaborative thing in our family that ensures our kids have no reason to claim they can’t find something to do.

They help come up with the list and then pick things off of it to do! And I’m all for adding obscure activities — the more random things we come up with are usually the activities our kids end up loving. I think for our Fall Bucket List, two of the more obscure activities are probably “Read a Banned Book” and “New Stamp in National Parks Passport.” I think they illustrate the range of activities we enjoy as well.

We picked out Coraline by Neil Gaiman to read for Banned Book Week, but we quickly learned why it had been banned in some communities: it was SO scary we couldn’t get through it. So instead we read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. The kids really had an interesting time discussing why the book was challenged by parents and teachers, and I think ended up learning a few good lessons.

One of the most wonderful things about living in D.C. is the access to so many free museums and historical sites. A few years ago we visited Antietam Battlefield and signed the kids up for the National Parks’ Junior Ranger Program and purchased National Parks’ passports for them; you can collect stamps from almost all of the 397 National Parks. The Greens like a good family mission, so we’re always looking to get another stamp. And I think it will be an awesome thing for the kids to maintain as they grow up and remember all the things we did together.

The whole book thing still seems a little surreal to me, perhaps because it apparently takes forever to publish a book. A few years ago I was approached by a publisher with an opportunity to write a book based on my blog. I was hesitant at first, but the more I thought about it, it seemed like a really good way to push myself. It took a while to get through the book deal process, but then I wrote the book last school year in fits and spurts, working in between school drop-offs, soccer practices, etc. I did all the photography for the book as well. I finished the manuscript and it’s now in the editing and designing phases!

It’s an activity-based book for parents that shares my approach to entertaining and educating our children while keeping myself engaged and interested. And I hope that it helps other parents find ways to do the same. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to put myself out there, but even if no one buys it besides my husband, I am proud to have written it!

It’s currently slated to come out in the fall of 2016, so stay tuned!

Leaving my law firm to stay home with our kids was actually not a very difficult decision. A little anxiety-provoking to execute once we’d decided, but not hard to decide. Having both my husband and I practice law at big firms was not a sustainable situation given that we actually wanted to see each other and our children.

I’d gone back to practicing law after each maternity leave and was in as family-friendly law firm as you can find. I even went (theoretically) part-time. My kids attended our on-site day care. But being a big firm lawyer just really isn’t a part-time job — not in a way that was satisfying to me. Instead, as I hear so many other parents lament, I just felt like I was doing two things badly. I liked being a lawyer, but I love my kids. So we made the decision that I would stay home while they were young.

My life now can be a lot more isolating than it was, especially since the kids are both in school full day now. I used to spend most of my day talking to people, collaborating, and working together. And now it’s a lot of alone time.

Moreover, when my husband and I had similar jobs, we also used to split a lot of the other household and parenting duties more evenly. Now that I am at home, I’m mostly in charge of those. So decisions that we used to make together, I end up handling on my own. I enjoy doing that, but it can be hard as well. And I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve gotten with my children for anything.

But I like to be busy, which is why I’ve loved blogging and writing so much. And I’ve developed new interests in photography and graphic design as well. Cameron started kindergarten this year though, so I’m starting to think about working back outside the home — you know, trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up! The practice of law was a pretty linear path from school, and now I’m facing the total opposite. It’s exciting, but also daunting.

I wish someone had told me that 99% of the time you will have no idea what you are doing, but that is not a reason not to do it. Seriously. I spent so much of my adolescence and young adulthood being anxious because I didn’t know how to do x and z, but was expected to do it nonetheless. It was only until I was a few years out of law school, which really prepares you for dealing with new situations, did I realize that no one really knows what they are doing most of the time. And if you let that hold you back and knock down your confidence, it’s stifling.

This is absolutely true with parenting. Every parent is a first-time parent at some point. None of us, despite significant preparation attempts, knows what we’re doing. So you just have to get over it.

And this holds true with almost everything our kids encounter on a daily basis, as well. It’s new, it’s scary, and they have to figure out how to handle and work with it.

While I still struggle with this, especially because I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, accepting it helps a lot. It’s freeing. And instead of teaching our kids a formula to deal with every situation — academic, social, or otherwise — we try to help them be comfortable with uncertainty and give them the tools to assess, analyze, and work through it. With the knowledge that we are doing the very same thing.

And if that doesn’t work, fake it ‘till you make it!


Rebecca, I love your point about giving your kids the tools to deal with all the crazy, unexpected things life throws at us, and I love even more that you emphasize you and your husband are experiencing the same exact difficult moments. We’re all in this together. (High School Musical had it right!) It’s why I love this reminder hanging in our home so much.

Thank you for spending the day with us! By the way, my favorites from your Fall Bucket List are as follows: visit the beach, jump in leaves, make soap and cider donuts, and organize a nature scavenger hunt. All wonderful ideas! If anyone has another interesting idea to celebrate Fall, please share it; sometimes our inspiration levels drop with the temperatures, so we can use all the encouragement we can get!

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Amy Van Zee Tue, 17 Nov 2015 13:00:36 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Oftentimes, the first batch of photographs I receive for a home tour are what I call realtor photos: pristine glimpses of a perfectly kept home in shades of spotless and sunlight, and I usually want to buy it right then and there! But then the homeowner and I chat a little more, and gradually a stream of shots showing exactly how the family is living with their children starts to make its way into the tour.

With Amy, there was no such hesitation or getting-to-know-you period! Nope! She lives and decorates happily among the Cozy Coupe and toys and hustle and bustle of two little girls, and her photos show it. Happily.

You’ll love the story of when exactly she discovered her design preferences, and maybe you’ll even gain some encouragement from the DIY projects featured on her blog! Either way, I know you’re going to smile through this one. Welcome, Amy!

Hi everyone! My name is Amy, and I live in this house with my husband, Ben, and our two young girls. Ben is as wonderful and hardworking as they come. He runs his own business and is one of the most responsible and levelheaded people you could ever imagine. He is a very faithful and loyal man. He also loves technology and serves as unofficial tech support for our family and friends.

My work background is in publishing, and my favorite fiction writer is F. Scott Fitzgerald. I could (and do) read his stories over and over. Now, I get to stay home with my girls and do the occasional bit of freelance publishing work from home.

Our older daughter, Jane, is three. When she was younger, people used to comment on her dark, expressive eyebrows and her many words. Oh, her words! It seems like she was talking from the day she was born. Jane has an incredible memory and a very creative mind for make-believe. She will stop in her tracks to listen if a book is being read in her vicinity.

Kate is 18 months and learning new words every day! In some curious ways, she shows her independence. When we read, she squirms out of my lap because she prefers to sit next to me. Kate’s hair has a beautiful tinge of red to it, which people comment on but I’m not so sure from where it comes. It seems to match her personality, though — she’s got some big feelings, and I do know where those come from. (Hint: It’s not Ben!)

Ben and I were married in 2007, and we started house hunting in 2008. We looked for many months, but nothing was quite right. It was hard to wait, but I’m so glad we didn’t settle. We expanded our search and finally found this house, a foreclosure in very rough condition. We first saw it on a cold January day in 2009, and the house was winterized, so it wasn’t exactly a warm welcome. But it is a good-sized house, and a quirky house. In a good way. I really liked it. Yet, it was at the top of our price range and needed a lot of work.

A few days later, I checked the listing again and saw that the price had dropped about $55,000. Ben and I quickly put in our offer.

We started renovations right away and have been working on projects ever since. The house needed a new roof, siding, and windows. We did a thorough teardown and remodel of the kitchen and living room. We turned the formal dining room into a mudroom and half bath, and cut a door to the adjoining garage so we could have access to the house without having to go outside in the cold Minnesota winters. We transformed two main-level bedrooms and a bathroom into a true master suite.

All of that took us about a year and a half. Ben and I lived mostly upstairs while we worked on the main level rooms.

Then Ben and I moved down to the main level and worked on the upstairs bedrooms and guest bath all through my first pregnancy! I remember installing the bathtub at about seven months pregnant with Jane. These are the rooms where our girls now sleep.

Moving into a house that was being renovated meant that at first, none of our things went where they were supposed to go, so our house was a mess for a long time. It took us years to get everything untangled. In reality, we are not done, because our basement and attic are still a bit of a disaster!

We live in a suburb outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. What I love about the neighborhood we live in is that it isn’t a particularly fancy neighborhood. As I get older, I find myself increasingly into practical and beautiful — and reasonably priced!

And the unfancy-ness of our neighborhood helps us live simply. Keeping up with the Joneses is a real thing! We live simple lives and therefore live in a simple neighborhood, and that helps us keep living simple lives.

It’s a circle. I’m glad for it.

We live in a neighborhood that was built up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. On the streets around us, there are spots with literally three or four of the same house right in a row. When we house hunted, we saw a lot of the same layouts. But I was very drawn to the quirkiness of this house.

It is a one-and-a-half story home, but not in a typical way. From the front, it looks like a rambler. From the back, it looks like a two story. People are surprised to find that not only is there an upstairs, but that it has two very large bedrooms with walk-in closets and a full bath!

One day a few years ago, a man stopped by our house. He saw that we were doing renovations and asked if he could come see what we were doing. He had grown up in the house; his dad had designed and built it! And that was really telling as to why our house is so different.

And I love that our house is a little weird. I love that it has unexpected spaces and little nooks and crannies that make it different from every other house on the block.

My favorite, I think, is the little nook under the window in Kate’s room where an extra bed fits perfectly. I think these unique spaces present the most satisfying design opportunities because you have the chance to make a little quirk really shine instead of seeing it as a limitation. If we ever build a house, which I dream of doing, I would love to design in some of those little quirks.

Our house has one living room, so it is our everything space: puzzles, TV, computer, books, toys, and a Cozy Coupe all live happily together. And so do we.

When we first renovated, I didn’t have a strong sense of direction in terms of style. I saw things I liked online or in magazines and followed suit, but they weren’t really my design perspective. The resulting outcome is that most of the rooms we renovated have been painted again or thoroughly rearranged because they weren’t right the first time.

I made a lot of mistakes.

Now that I think about it, I fell into my design style while decorating Jane’s nursery in 2012. How amazing! That was the first room in our house that I really decorated from my gut. It is now Kate’s room. And I haven’t changed much in it because it really feels right to me! That clear design sense carried me through as I reworked the rest of the rooms that weren’t feeling quite right to me.

Decorating that nursery helped me realize that my style is not formal or elegant. In fact, it is kind of the opposite: youthful and perhaps even playful. I certainly don’t take it too seriously.

Therefore, I am super happy with the merge of my girls’ things with our adult things. I can see myself using the colorful baskets and bins that hold their toys long after the toys are gone. And party decorations have become permanent design features in our home. They make me happy so I keep them up!

There isn’t really an off-limits space in our house. Almost every room, including our bedroom, has a basket of toys for the girls, because the reality is that they just want to be where we are at this stage in their lives. And so I embrace that as they follow me around in the morning as I get ready for the day. There are always toys and books within easy reach.

Renovating was hard but incredibly rewarding. I spent a lot of time researching style and finishes, but not as much time thinking about the layout. I wish I had. When we bought the house, we didn’t yet have children. So I didn’t think about how useful an open layout might be.

If I could add one room to our house, I would add a big family room open to the dining area and kitchen.

Last winter, I wanted that open layout so badly that it was just poisoning me. It’s all I could think about. God did a radical work in my heart to take away my discontent and help me be thankful for where He has us for this season of our lives. In many ways, that is my heart for my blog: to encourage people toward contentment where they are currently living, even while working to make it beautiful. Because a content heart is a wonderful thing!

My blog has had two different lives. I first started in 2009 when we bought our house to document the renovations, but I also used it as a creative outlet to share sewing projects, photography, and a few DIYs. It was fun, but rather unfocused. Life got busy, and in 2013 the blog fell by the wayside.

But my husband always loved me blogging and really encouraged me to pick it back up. He saw that my interest in interior design was not waning, so he told me to go for it! This past summer, he put his tech savvy to work and helped me set up my own domain.

My blog’s sweet spot is the intersection between home design and encouragement. I have an increasing interest in interior design, but I am certainly not the world’s best decorator. Yet, I do feel that I was made to encourage.

I absolutely delight in helping other people decorate their homes with beauty and creativity. And I am honored to be part of that process with them.

Some of my readers might have a strong sense of their own style, so for them, I will be an encourager to push them toward making their own ideas reality in their homes. They might just need someone to say, “Great idea! Go for it!”

But perhaps other readers don’t know their own style so well – I’ve been there! – so for them, I might be giving them ideas as well as encouraging. But either way, I am here to encourage!

This time around with my blog, I did more research on how to blog. I knew I wanted to focus on home design, but I also learned to focus on truly solving a problem for my readers. So I wrote a guide to help my readers work specifically on the tricky spots in their homes. I have been so encouraged as people reach out to me for help with their homes, because that is what I really want to be doing!

And that is the loveliest thing to come out of my blog, I think: the personal connections. I was so shy to put myself out there as someone who can help decorate a home, even though it was what I wanted to be doing. But once I did, people started coming to me for help, just like I hoped they would.

I just had to take that first step!

A couple from church recently invited me into their home to talk through the work they’d like to do and get my opinions. I was floored and humbled. An Instagram connection — whose blog is way bigger than mine — asked me to coffee when we realized we live close to each other. These sweet personal connections encourage me and remind me that although I love helping people furnish their homes with beautiful things that inspire them, ultimately, the people matter way more than the things.

Part of my blog reboot came about as I realized that most likely, someday, my children will be in school. I wondered if I would go back to work then? If I do, will I go back to a job in publishing? What I am really passionate about is interior design. I thought I would just figure it out when my kids are in school and go from there. And this is where my husband came swooping in with his practical wisdom and encouragement.

He told me to go for it. Now. Why wait until our kids are in school to start moving toward my dream? If I start now, by the time our kids are in school, perhaps I will have some momentum in interior design or even a more clear vision of what I’d like to do in that field.

And that is where I am today. I want my blog to turn into a job for me, whether it is the blog itself or a business I would launch from the blog. Maybe I’ll go back to school for a degree. But I do see my future work as being home-based. In publishing, I have worked freelance from home since before our first daughter was born, so I have been rather spoiled!

Being at home with the girls is wonderful and challenging just like you’d expect it to be. Ben and I are both homebodies, but we are on the verge of a new stage of life with our girls: activities. I heard someone say that my life will never be less complicated than it is right now. I am feeling the truth of that.

Something I read a long time ago in a Living With Kids interview — with Leah Stapleton — has really stuck with me. She talked about how she wants her girls to have time to just be. Nowhere to go right this moment, no pressing appointments. Just time to be kids.

I have thought about that often as I stay home with my girls. There are a million wonderful things to do, places to go, people to see, but I don’t want to rush through this unique season of life where we are able to be home a lot.

School, sports, lessons, clubs…all these good things are on the horizon and will really change our lives. They are coming but are not here just yet. So I want to savor where we are as much as I can.

And that desire to be at home meshes well with where we live, because Minnesota winters are brutal and we end up spending a lot of time indoors! But honestly, to be at home in the morning after a heavy snowfall, cup after cup of coffee, music on, toys and books everywhere, cozy jammies and slippers – it can be bliss.

I love the kitchen and dining nook. Some nights, we let Jane stay up coloring at the kitchen table while Ben sits next to her doing work for his business and I clean up the kitchen. Every once in a while, Jane asks to help me with the dishes and pulls over a stool. These quiet, working-together moments pull on my heartstrings.

A lot of life is work, and I want the girls to learn the value of hard work, but also the joy of doing that work together!

I also value creativity. I want our home to be a place that inspires creativity, a place where the girls can make things with their hands and then see those creations proudly and prominently displayed. And since my decorating style isn’t too serious, there are plenty of places to put up the girls’ paintings and colorings. I embrace them joyfully.

And can I be honest here? I do value hospitality, but I am not naturally good at it. I long to be good at it!

I have to remind myself that we get better at things by practicing, so I try to push myself to be intentional to invite people into our home for meals and such. I hope that my girls see that – both that hospitality is a joyful privilege and that if we aren’t naturally good at something, we don’t throw up our hands and give up, but we keep trying.

At this moment in their lives, it is really sweet to witness the girls growing in their relationship with each other day by day. These days, Kate runs to Jane’s door in the mornings to see her big sister. I hear them giggling together as one pushes the other down the hall on a riding toy. These moments make my heart melt.

As the girls grow up in their relationships with each other, me, and Ben, and even extended family and friends, they learn that they are not the center of the universe but fit into a bigger whole. Every day is full of precious teaching moments. And that is a particularly sweet thing about living together right now.

When they are launched out into the world as adults, I won’t be able to see that everyday growth like I do today.

I hope my girls remember the together memories from this house: hiding and then surprising Daddy when he comes home from work, swinging in the backyard and chalk on the patio, indoor picnics in the living room. I hope they remember me praying for them, praying for Daddy, praying for myself, praying for our friends.

I wish someone had told me that parenting brings some seriously high highs and seriously low lows — and that these highs and lows are often within two minutes of each other!

I have been horrified at my own pride to think that I ever had it together. Because I definitely don’t. Just this morning at the grocery store, I was so humbled as strangers literally swarmed to help me pick up the strewn berries my girls had dropped everywhere. A store employee fetched me new ones. A woman in the parking lot returned my cart for me and told me with so much kindness that she had been where I am.

I know people told me how hard parenting would be. I think I listened, but I don’t think I understood.

I am understanding more each day that it is the hardest thing I have ever done and ever will do, I think. Caring for children is plenty challenging, but on top of that, I am completely incapable of changing my children’s hearts. And that makes me all the more thankful to belong to Jesus, who does change hearts, and to earnestly pray that he would do that for my children.


Contentment is a wonderful thing, Amy! With the holidays heading our way, we’re probably all wishing for an open floor plan or even a few extra feet in the dining room — to accommodate the few extra feet invited to dinner! You’ve gently reminded us for which feet we are most grateful. I know I’d take a one-size-too-small but overflowing-with-love table any day of the week!

I also think it’s interesting that Amy found her design groove when faced with her daughter’s nursery. Funny, right? Did the same thing happen to any of you? Which room helped you break a décor block and run free with your inspiration? I always love to hear 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Lara Hyde Tue, 10 Nov 2015 17:00:09 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

It doesn’t surprise me Lara is an editor and writer; her interview reads like a story told by a lovely friend. The kind of friend who is honest about her “Is my home good enough?” concerns, as well as her wonderfully unique daughter’s journey through a world that is sometimes not so easy to navigate. (I almost choked on my laughter when I read Lara’s humorous description of her girl’s wardrobe style: Eminem meets Jersey Shore!)

In both cases, Lara seems like the type of person who shrugs off the worry, remembers what’s truly important in life, and moves on happily. She’s working hard on not caring so much what the rest of the world thinks.

Like I said: lovely. Welcome, Lara!

Hi, everyone. My name is Lara. I live here in beautiful Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, with my husband Rob. We have two daughters – Dace is eight and Violet is five – and a hyperactive Bernese Mountain Dog named Blue and our cat-with-a-mustache, Kasper.

I am a book editor and freelance writer. I primarily edit romance novels, which is lots of fun. They all have happily-ever-afters, so it is a very uplifting job. Rob works for Environment Canada in the Great Lakes division. He is the go-to guy for all matters related to Lake Superior, which means he travels up north from time to time and brings me back one-of-a-kind gifts like handmade moccasins, deer antlers and, once, a bookmark made out of a raccoon’s penis. That one was just disgusting, but it is part of why I love him so much. We both share the exact same sense of humor, which is a little quirky and weird. I laugh a lot, and I couldn’t imagine being married to someone who couldn’t bring that out in me.

Rob and I met in residence in first-year university. He had a chin-strap beard back then, and longish hair. We liked all the same British bands and I had never met anyone with whom I felt so comfortable. We both liked playing pranks. I got the chicken pox just before Christmas exams and he didn’t care; he still made out with me. It was meant to be.

We are so blessed to have two happy, sweet, healthy daughters. Dace is super smart, diligent, and sensitive. When she was a baby, she was colicky for the first four months. It was not an easy time. But ever since, she has been the easiest child. Dace loves babies and wishes we would have another one so she could take care of it — which is not happening, by the way. She also loves riddles and puzzles and books of interesting facts. Last year she blew the socks off all the teachers at her school talent show when she played a Johnny Cash song on the guitar and sang along. She wants to be singer/songwriter one day. Or a teacher. She is ethereal and, in some ways, an old soul.

Violet has always marched to her own drum. When she was in junior kindergarten, her teachers pulled me aside one day after school and told me that Violet had been changing her clothes when she got to school. I would send her off in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, and once she got there she would change into a sleeveless, white ribbed undershirt and cut-off jogging pants that she had hidden underneath. Mind you, this was in the middle of winter. That was the beginning of Violet starting to assert her own style, which I like to call “Eminem meets Jersey Shore.” Neither my husband nor I listen to much hip hop and we certainly don’t dress the part, so we have no idea how Violet came to identify with this style. It isn’t popular at her school. But she owns her look, and everyone knows Violet because of it. She’s always had great rhythm and taught herself to break dance. Sometimes she will bust out her moves at a festival and draw a small crowd, but she is shy and prefers to dance in private. She has been begging us for drums for a while, and we are going to get her a set.

When we went to Disney World last year, a lot of people assumed she was a boy, and that was back when she had long hair. She loves being mistaken for a boy. This past summer, she got her hair cut short and it looks great on her. Violet has an incredibly strong sense of self and I am so proud of her for being who she is.

Some people have asked me how I respond when she refuses to wear anything but boy clothes. I say I just let her be who she is. Last year, her teacher used her as an example in front of the class of someone who’s always nice to others. That brought tears to my eyes.

There was a great article in the New York Times recently about what it means to be a tomboy in today’s day and age. It talks about how the word tomboy has gone out of style. To be honest, I’ve never really thought of Violet as a tomboy; the term seems too restrictive and I don’t believe it defines who Violet really is. She might wear her pants low, but she also loves clothes shopping and playing with baby dolls. She is just Violet. She is my heart.

We made the move to Ancaster from Toronto five years ago. My husband and I are both from relatively small towns, and Toronto was just too big and busy for us. There were no nature trails we could walk to, and the nearest farm was a 45-minute drive out. When Rob was able to get a job transfer out here, it was a no-brainer. My family all lives in Hamilton, which Ancaster is technically a part of. It is wonderful having them so close.

Ancaster is a picturesque former village on the outskirts of Hamilton. It was settled in the late 1700s and is one of the oldest communities in Ontario. Although it’s grown into a sprawling suburb, it has retained much of its historic charm and that small-town feel. We love that we bump into people we know every time we go out. There is a real sense of community here, although it can be a little like living in a bubble.

Hamilton was the biggest steel producer in Canada back in the day, but with the closing of just about all the mills has come a lot of poverty. Downtown Hamilton, in particular, feels a world apart from where we live in Ancaster. Still, there is an exciting, burgeoning arts scene, with art crawls every second Friday and an ever-increasing number of cool indie shops and restaurants.

Every September, downtown Hamilton hosts an amazing weekend-long free festival called Supercrawl, with tons of local and international bands, a pyrotechnic circus, and artisans and art installations everywhere you look. Hamilton also has some incredible architecture. There is a gaggle of gorgeous old houses that are completely affordable by Toronto standards. It surprises me how many people who live in Ancaster never go downtown, though – not even for the festivals. If you ask me, they’re missing out.

Apart from the fact that Ancaster is a really safe, great place to raise a family, we wanted to live here because it is a two-minute drive to the countryside and we have a whole system of hiking trails that we can access in less time than it would take to get to the next big intersection in Toronto. Although most people know Hamilton as Steeltown, it is also known as the City of Waterfalls, with more than 100 waterfalls in the area, several of which are in Ancaster. Most people who don’t live here have no idea how beautiful Hamilton really is; they just see the bleak, apocalyptic steel mills as they cross the bridge to go to Niagara Falls and they turn up their noses!

The house we owned in Toronto was really cute, but small compared to our current house. We were able to move into a much bigger house here because the housing market in Toronto is one of the most expensive in North America. Looking back, though, we didn’t make nearly as much on the sale of our house as we could’ve had we chosen location over square footage and curb appeal. Our old neighborhood in Toronto wasn’t considered all that desirable at the time, though three years after we moved it was named one of the ten best! Go figure.

This time, we definitely went for location. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight with our new house, but now I am so glad we chose it. We can walk or bike to so many places in both Old and New Ancaster, including trails, a movie theater, a library, and a farmers’ market. And we have a big back yard with a fire pit! That was what clinched the deal for me.

Our house (we call it The Hydeout, which is also the name of a little blog I keep) was built in 1960 and is located in one of the more modest surveys in Ancaster. The last major updates were done in the early 90s. When we first saw our house on the day we put the offer in, the walls were painted in awful, primary colors like purple, and blue with red trim. After the deal went through, I actually insisted that my husband repaint all the walls before I saw it again; I was so afraid I would have buyer’s remorse if I saw it again in that state!

Being wonderful, Rob agreed, and when I saw it for the next time I knew we had made the right decision. We painted the living/dining room and all the hallways white, so the house has a lovely, airy and I think very modern feel. The white really pops against the original wood floors and the beautiful, wood trimmed French doors. And it makes a great backdrop for art.

Aside from repainting and replacing most of the windows in the house, we haven’t really done any other renovations. Oh, there is so much we could do and that I’d LOVE to do if we had the means, but I can’t bring myself to sacrifice a family vacation to pay for a new bathroom. I grew up in a middle-class home, but my parents were always very practical when it came to finances and the house I was raised in. While all our neighbors were spending money and renovating their homes, our house never changed from when my parents bought it in 1977 to when they sold it in 2001.

But I adored that house. It was was so warm and full of love. My parents always prized experiences over possessions, and our family did a lot of traveling while our wall-to-wall brown shag carpeting grew more and more out of style with every year that went by. I’ve inherited my parents’ values, and Rob and I share the same priorities when it comes to spending.

The problem is that I need to live in a home that I feel is beautiful. It’s important to me, though I think it would be a lot easier if I didn’t care so much. So, with this house, I have learned how to live with the things I don’t like by surrounding them — and, in some cases, disguising them — with things that I love.

The fireplace, for example, was the bane of my existence for the first two or three years we lived here. I hated the way it looked and wished we could cover or replace that hideous stonework. But after toying with painting it white, I realized that just by spraying the formerly brass-colored screen black and covering the mantle and hearth with greenery, I could make it look so much better! Softer and not as offensive.

The reclaimed wood mirror was the key find that brought the whole look together, and honestly, it is now one of the most photographed parts of our house! We always pose in front of it for birthdays and holidays. We would love to replace it with a modern vintage cone fireplace one day, but for now, my mind can rest easy.

I have to say, it’s not easy on one’s pride living in an affluent neighborhood and being surrounded by so many beautiful homes. I love my house, but I am a little self-conscious about the fact that it’s not at all updated.

Because I had so many people complimenting me on how warm and welcoming our house felt, I mustered the confidence to reach out to the woman who writes about design in our local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, and I was so excited when she wrote back and told me she wanted to feature it. Then, I couldn’t believe when her editor chose my house to be the cover feature for a magazine the Spectator publishes a few times a year called At Home.

Still, I know my style isn’t for everyone. I’ve had a few people comment that they saw the magazine and that I looked great on the cover, but not say anything about the house. And now I almost feel even more self-conscious when people come over, like here my house has been featured in all these places, but I’m afraid people will see the outdated kitchen and bathrooms, the scuffed floors and the scratch marks on the leather couch, and think, “Really?”

But I just have to let that go, I guess…

As for my style, I would call it modern vintage with a heavy touch of whimsy. I love the store, Anthropologie, and the way rooms are styled in their catalog. That is the romantic, bohemian side of me. But I also appreciate clean lines and the modern minimalism depicted in Dwell magazine. I think my house is kind of a blend of those two styles.

I really, really try to only surround myself with things that I love, and I believe that that is what elevates a house from just being a box filled with furnishings, to a home. I love homes that reflect the personalities of the people who live in them. Houses that have that showroom feel do nothing for me.

I’ve always found my style to align more closely with the styles of homes in European design books and Web sites like Design Mom and Apartment Therapy, than North American decor mags, which lean toward the traditional. I love kid art on the walls, overflowing bookcases, and anything handmade or natural.

And I am obsessed with houseplants. I have well over fifty. Plants are just such an easy, inexpensive, and beautiful way to add life to a home, and they purify the air to boot. What’s not to love? People always say they are afraid of killing them, but they are really not so difficult to care for, succulents especially.

I suppose I am lucky that Rob isn’t interested in decorating and trusts me to take care of that aspect of our home all by myself. So we never fight over what rug to get, or whatever. He really loves what I do, which is so awesome. But he also has a whimsical, creative side to him that shows in the croquet mallet boot rack that he built for our back patio. That was one of the most popular posts on my blog ever!

And he has been the executor of many of my larger-scale design ideas. He is the one who put up all the gorgeous wallpaper in the bedrooms. We always involve the girls, too, and I love how they leave their mark on things.

One of my favorite pieces in the house is the salvaged chalkboard in our living room. We wrote out our Family Rules on it, and one day Dace added “Go to the disco gym” at the bottom. It doesn’t make sense, but I love it, and it is still there, if a little faded, two years later. I can see that Dace has taken an early interest in design, drawing house plans and taping episodes of Ellen’s Design Challenge and House Hunters. It makes me ridiculously happy.

We have so much fun in this house. The girls use the couch cushions for building forts, we all go hog wild decorating for the holidays, and we love gathering around that fire pit in the back yard for s’mores nights.

Sometimes we go look at open houses on the weekend for kicks, but it makes the girls a little anxious. They don’t ever want to move — not even when they get married! They love this house, and it makes me remember how much I loved the totally unstyled home I grew up in. And I think that is what really matters when it comes down to it: that the kids grow up having great memories of this house.

Decorating is a creative release for me. I do wish there wasn’t as much pressure in our society to have new everything. I don’t want to come off sounding like a hypocrite because there are so many renovations I would like to do if the money was there. But there is beauty in character.

And if you can’t find that beauty, but the character is there in spades, leering at you, there are creative, inexpensive ways to divert attention from it. Artwork is my favorite foil. And pillows — beautiful, colorful ones. And plants, of course.

Many of the homes I’ve loved most have been very modest, but bursting forth with their inhabitants’ personalities. A vintage dollhouse or vintage camera on display. Lots of framed family photos on the walls. It is great to have a beautiful home, but it is much greater to have a beautiful life.

I really wish someone had told me — and I had listened sooner! — that you don’t have to please everyone.

This is something that I struggle with on pretty much a daily basis. I have always had a strong desire to be liked and, more than that, to be perfect, which is weird because I don’t even like perfection! Quirky and off-beat is way more my style!

But I have a frustrating perfectionist side to me, which sometimes displays itself in the form of obsessive-compulsiveness. For example, I will bring a new accessory into the house and then I can’t find the right spot for it, and it throws everything off kilter. I literally can’t eat or sleep until I find the perfect placement. I don’t want to waste my time on things like that or — worst case scenario — for it to rub off on my kids.

You’re never going to please everyone, and the only people whose opinions you should really need to care about are those that matter to you most: your kids, your husband, the people who love you unconditionally, anyway. That is who I’m trying really hard to focus on, and not worry so much that my house looks perfect or what the rest of the world thinks.


Lara, your fond memories of the home in which you were raised serve as a sweet nudge to spend a little more time on experiences, especially as we fast approach the holiday season. Good on your parents! Thank you for being here.

Friends, there’s a lot on which to chime in! Self-doubt about the state of your home, especially when you see how the neighbors have remodeled, plus all the worries we all have when one of ours dances to a different drum. (Go, Violet!) Also, what are your thoughts on the term tomboy as too restrictive? Some say the term is retro and condescending, not to mention problematic. I would love to hear your bright thoughts on this one — any advice or experience to share, or maybe just an “I’m with you!” cheer for Lara’s own wish to stop worrying so much about what the rest of the world thinks?

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Celia Munoz Tue, 03 Nov 2015 13:00:25 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photography by the very talented Lesley Colvin.

I always tell my homeowners who sweetly participate in a tour that I only need around 25 to 30 photos of their spaces. But this is one of those tours when I simply had to double that number. Plus ten. First, because Lesley Colvin shot this house. She is a brilliant photographer – here’s another gorgeous home she captured! — and has a knack for catching the spirit of the family among all the tables and couches and collections. And also because Celia Munoz has a home that will make you sigh and say things like “We need wallpaper, I think.” and “While you’re out, grab me a few gallons of white paint, will you?” and “A greenhouse will change our lives. Pick one of those up, too!” Hah!

However it happened, Celia and her husband ended up in the perfect-for-them home. Renovations will be underway in a few years, but everything is working well for now. It’s lovely when that happens, isn’t it?

So please help me welcome Celia warmly. She has loads to tell us about her home and company, and mostly about taking chances and becoming the person you really want to be. Even if that person is completely different than the one you thought you’d become! It’s inspiring stuff! Please enjoy it. Welcome, Celia!

Hello, everyone! I’m Celia. It’s so nice to be with you. A little about my life…

My husband and I met in London ten years ago at a dinner party, and ever since then we have not looked back. It was love at first sight, and despite coming from very different cultures — he is Dutch and I am Spanish — we quickly found we had so much in common and saw life in a very similar way.

For example, on our third date we asked each other how many children we wanted to have. We decided to write it on a piece of paper and exchange papers. When we opened the piece of paper, to our surprise, we had both written the number six! We stuck to the plan and we nearly got to six children!

We are now parents to five beautiful children: Flavia is seven, Lucas is six, Siena is five, Bosco is four, and Hugo is three. All of the children were born and raised in London, but they speak Spanish and Dutch fluently as these are the languages we speak at home.

We live in an incredibly pretty North London neighbourhood called Hampstead. There is so much history here; it is very British and very beautiful. Just before getting married, my husband and I decided to move from our flat in West London to an area that was a lot more family oriented. We wanted to be closer to a green space but also remain close to the centre of town. All of our friends lived in West London so it was a tough decision to make at the time — having no family then, our friends were everything — but we loved Hampstead so much that we were determined to find something, even if it meant buying something we could use as a base before finding something we really liked for the long term.

We both love old properties, the shabbier looking the better, and we love the idea of restoring a house, reclaiming its former glory, and making it our own. We first bought a little cottage which we completely renovated. But once the building works finished, we moved in with nearly four children; the house started looking a bit like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!

And so, we decided to look around for somewhere with more space. The search was hard and it took us a long time. We were looking for a Georgian property in an eminently Victorian neighbourhood and something very run down that we could redo — not easy to find! We wanted to buy the biggest property we could afford, so we searched for places that were as run down as possible in order to get as much space as we could for our budget.

We found our current house through very good friends who happen to be our neighbours now, too. We immediately fell in love with it. We are planning to redo the inside of the house in a few years but until we do we have done a lot of revamping to make it feel ours until the building works start.

To me, Hampstead is possibly the most beautiful neighbourhood in London. I love the North London feel which is quite relaxed and unpretentious. Hampstead is located at the highest point in London, which allows you to see the rest of the city from your roof top. I find there is a real quality of life as we walk everywhere, even in to Central London. And there is Hampstead Heath, which is the biggest park in the capital. It is here where we spend most of our weekends.

We take long walks and the children climb trees and run to the other side of the park, all the way until they reach another beautiful area called Highgate. We then have a delicious meal in our favourite English gastropub — The Bull & Last. One of the best things about Hampstead is its history and its links to many great writers, poets, and artists who have lived here over the years.

It has maintained that bohemian feel but is also very sophisticated — it is the perfect balance. We get the best of both worlds: the busy buzz of a very vibrant city and the peace and quiet and fresh air of the countryside. I also love the fact that in spite of being in one of the world’s busiest cities, there is such a strong sense of community here. It feels like living in a quaint village.

The glass greenhouse was already here when we moved in. I don’t have particularly green hands — although we just started our vegetable garden so I’m learning fast! — but I thought it would be wonderful for our children to have a space just for them, where we don’t need to worry about them getting dirty. They drop paint, create, and just have fun. In my opinion, that little art house looks better when it is a mess. That is what it is there for and the children love it!

I find it to be a highly inspiring environment and our children spend hours in there during the weekend. We have so many children that we very rarely have time to do play-dates, so my husband and I have focused on creating spaces inside the house that allow our children to have full scope for their own creativity and entertainment. All of our recreational time is dedicated to our family and is centred around being together, so whatever we don’t do outside — we do lots of activities outdoors or in the centre of town as London offers great cultural diversity — we do in our house, and the art room is just one of our great creations, which came totally by accident.

Our art room has become the best babysitter ever! Generally on Saturday afternoons, our children paint or they work with clay while we are sat outside having a glass of wine, with their little screams of joy (and fighting) as background noise. To us, this is all we need!

I feel my style is evolving all the time. I guess my style is in general very classic, just like my clothes. I have a secret passion for XVIII Century French antiques and anything that emulates a Vert-Galant feel. I got this passion from my French grandparents and my parents, and I guess I add to this anything and everything that I find beautiful and that inspires me along the way.

When I say anything it is literally like that — from an old toy, to a piece of contemporary Scandinavian furniture! I like aesthetics that are not overly formal but very elegant, and I love to see spaces with a real sense of history. I like spaces that are built in a lifetime, where you can spend hours looking at objects because they are either interesting, beautiful, or they just mean so much.

In our home, every corner, every object has a story and it is a reflection of our lives, our travels, and what all of us as a family are building together.

Things have definitely changed since we’ve added children, and my home décor is no exception. I have become a lot more practical. I still like beautiful open spaces that are not overly invaded by my children’s toys. (They actually have very few!) Beautiful vintage velvets and silks have had to go, and have been replaced by more child-friendly and resilient linens that can hide children’s’ jam fingerprints!

I am a very visual person and I have always loved editing my interiors, even from a very young age when I lived at my parents’ home. I can spend a whole evening looking at a wall and ask my husband thousands of times…what do you think if…this or that…? Having a nice home that reinforces that sense of belonging is very important to us.

La Coqueta was born when I opened my shop in 2013. I have a background in Psychology but I always loved children’s clothes. Eventually I craved a change in my professional life, so I went back to university to continue my studies, taking an MSc in Mental Health Studies. But all the while, a passion for children’s fashion was growing. It was not until I had my first child that I felt it was the right time for me to start my own business. I saw a gap in the market for traditional children’s wear with a luxury feel and an affordable price tag, and I wanted to bring beautiful, well-made clothes from my country of origin into this market.

When I had my first child, Flavia, people would stop me in the street to ask me where they could get hold of the clothes my daughter was wearing. Unfortunately for them I couldn’t help! These were the clothes I had bought from my hometown in the South of Spain, and all were very similar to the styles I wore as a girl. This reinforced the gut feeling that I had about selling Spanish children’s clothes in London.

All the clothes that I design and sell are initially tried on by my own children prior to production so that we can advise customers on sizing and also ensure that it is a product that my customers are going to love, and most importantly, that is practical and easy to care for.

Through my new job I have found a new way of life, which coincidently started while I was having my children. So in a way, we have all grown up together and we make it work. I don’t have any particular secret, I just do my best to be happy, make my family happy, and be the best I can be at my job. It helps to be extremely organised, be very proactive, not being shy to ask for help when you need it, and not overly think about things or worry too much. It’s just too busy!

I find growing older — and hopefully wiser! — helps me greatly to achieve this, as I definitely wasn’t a natural at it before having children. I have also become a lot more accepting and less hard on myself. I do not always get it right when it comes to parenting and that’s okay. It’s all part of the joy of becoming a good parent! At least that is what my mum tells me to make me feel better when I’m about to pull my hair out!

Even though this career wasn’t what I had planned or studied for, it always felt natural. If I would have been in Spain and decided to change my career so completely and become a children’s wear designer, it may have been a more difficult road; what you study in my country generally determines what you do for the rest of your life. However, things are different in the UK. You can become anything you want to here! If you work hard and have great ideas and drive, you have the opportunity to make it work and achieve your goals.

In London, I have discovered that you are the driver of your own professional destiny, more than anywhere else in the world. I am also very lucky because my husband has always been incredibly supportive of everything I do, so that helps.

Was it scary? YES! Very! At the beginning I felt embarrassed to tell people what my new job was going to be. Opening a shop? Making clothes and selling them? That was way off what I had done until then.

I upset quite a few people in my family and made some of the people laugh around me, which wasn’t always easy to handle! But the truth is, I made it work and I don’t regret it one bit! I remember the day I opened my shop, all the mums in my children’s school turned up for support and I did not know how to use the till! I was extremely nervous and embarrassed.

But I am now in a job where I learn new things every day, I meet new people with new ideas on a regular basis, and I work with the people I want to work with. It’s fabulous, it’s hard work, and it’s often stressful…but it’s all self-inflicted and the rewards greatly outweigh the stress.

My favourite part about living with my own children is to be able to guide them through their childhood in to adulthood, teaching them all I know so that they can take what they think is most useful in order to become the best adults they can be.

What has surprised me the most is that I have taken on the same traits and parenting style as my own mother! All the things I used to criticise her about when I was a teenager, I now do the same…and believe me, my mother reminds me of this every time we speak!

The other day I saw a friend who just had a baby, and I missed being pregnant again. However that feeling lasted only a few minutes until the baby had to have a new nappy. I guess now that I am out of nappies I don’t think I would go back by choice!

My children are so close in age and still so young that there is little I miss about the past. I’m enjoying the present but I’m sure I will miss lots of the things I’m going through now.

I would love them to remember our 7:00 am breakfasts, all together as a family sitting around the dining table, chatting, screaming, crying — them, not mummy and daddy! — and laughing like there’s no tomorrow. Our breakfast times are just the best, despite the fact that we wake up early every day; we do it just so we have these special moments.

As a mum I would love them to remember me as the person who comes to their bed every evening and spends 20 minutes having a chat with each one individually. I know it could make some people laugh, but when you have five children under seven and a busy job, this is an absolute privilege as otherwise everything we do is as a group. I just want them to know daily that each of them, no matter how busy I am or how many children I have, is special to me.

There is so much advise around parenting, that sometimes it can just seem overwhelming. It took me a couple of years after I had my first child to realise that advise can be useful, but in the end these are only tips that work for some people and not for others. As a mum I think it best to decide for yourself and find out what works for you without having to explain or justify why you do what you do.

Whatever makes your family and you happy is obviously the right formula regardless of what other people may say.


In case you were about to Google Vert-Galant, it’s a literary expression that essentially means a man — or decor style, in this instance — that is still working hard despite its age. (See, old charmer!) I’m adding this one to my vocabulary. May we live among (and become!) all things Vert-Galant. Thank you, Celia, for all this beauty you’ve added to our days.

Not to mention inspiration! How many of you are doing just fine in a career that fills your days, but are also dreaming of something that fuels your passion? Would you ever change? It’s so hard to reinvent yourself, isn’t it? Are you living in an area where it seems totally possible to jump onto a new path and become someone completely different? I’d love to hear about it. (Or maybe we should all meet in London and just go for it!)

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Palma Voutiritsas Tue, 27 Oct 2015 16:00:24 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Whenever someone new visits Palma Voutiritsas’ home for the first time, they ask the very same question: “Do kids even live here?” She used to wonder if that was a compliment or an insult, but more and more she’s determined to accept their sweet appreciation and ignore the negativity. (More on that later!)

“Yes, kids live here.” she answers with a smile. “Two of them, in fact. They are incredibly happy and active and very, very messy!”

I thought you might like to see how a designer approaches Halloween and other holiday decor in a really heartfelt way. I just know you’re going to love Palma’s spirit and contagious attitude about how much your furnishings and decor matter…but not for the reasons you might be thinking. (And just wait until you hear the story of her home remodel! Hilarious.) Welcome, Palma!

Hi everyone! I’m Palma. My husband, George, and I are raising our two daughters, Milana and Isella, in a suburb of Chicago that doesn’t feel anything like a suburb. The schools are fabulous, the seasons are gorgeous — although last winter was a little long! — and our proximity to Chicago, one of my favorite cities in the world, is the greatest. Being 15 minutes away from the beach and museums and fabulous restaurants no matter what you’re craving is a true luxury. You should totally come visit.

I love our home. Sure, people ask if it always looks this way and question our lack of clutter and usually don’t believe I’m not running around screaming at this mess or that one with stain remover in one hand and a sponge in the other! But that’s not how we live. I promise.

I’ve seen a quote around Pinterest that really annoys me: Sorry my house is a mess — we’re busy making memories. Here’s another favorite: Sorry about the mess, but we LIVE here.

I always wonder what those quotes and the people who love them are implying. If you’re an organized person, are you somehow excluded from making sweet family memories? Do you have to be living amid clutter to be truly living the best, most intentional life?

I know messy people get judged for being messy, but people who live in an organized and edited way are judged harshly, too. Sometimes even more harshly! We don’t have clutter because I’ve designed and consistently maintained our home to be the kind of haven we don’t ever want to leave. But it wasn’t always this way!

My husband called me one day to tell me he bought a house. And I didn’t like the house he’d chosen. At all.

“But it has new kitchen cabinets,” my husband said.

I didn’t want to hear it. The house felt like it was full of bad energy, and I tell you this as someone who doesn’t believe in things like that! It didn’t feel right.

“Well, it’s ours,” my husband said.

While that was happening, I’d found this home online. My husband said, “Why don’t you go see it? I’ll make the appointment.”

I went to see it, called my husband about five minutes later, and told him, “I love this house. This is our home. I can feel it.”

Long story a little shorter, he told me to put an offer on it.

“But don’t you want to see it first?” I asked.

“No, I trust you.”

One week later, I brought him to the house for the first time. His exact words were, “You have got to be kidding me.” Minus a few swears.

“This is our home,” I assured him. “I can see it.”

I’m a fixer. Growing up, my father flipped houses on the side, and I was his partner from the time I was four years old. He taught me that walls were usually just suggestions, to never underestimate well-placed windows and natural sunlight, and to stay honest with materials. Fake is never the best way to go, so make sure your budget can accommodate the real stuff.

We bought this house from the original owners, and even with all the cobwebs, wood paneling, wall-to-wall orange shag carpet, and endless mess, I could feel the good energy that lived here.

I had never ever remodeled or designed an entire house. At the time, my girls were then three years old and brand new. I wonder if our family and friends thought we were certifiable for not only taking on this project, but also for setting a time frame for completion — are you ready for this? — 40 days later.

But 40 days later, we were moved in. Sleeping in our own beds and making dinner in our own kitchen. It was an incredible feeling.

My friends and clients ask, “How did you do it?” Well, part of the urgency was that at the time, we were living in a 600 square foot condo with my wonderful mother-in-law. It was a third floor walkup without a washer or a dryer. I had two little ones. Do I need to go on?

The first time I ever used a laundromat was during this time period, but that didn’t last long because I discovered there are laundry services who come to your home and pick up, wash, fold, and deliver your clothes back! Same day service, even! It was brilliant to me. It was also during this period when I found a bunch of other luxuries I never knew existed. Like grocery delivery, which saved our lives many, many nights when I was practically living at our gut.

At times, there were 14 people in the house at once. One worker testily informed me one day, “I’m not going to work here with another crew.”

“Oh, yes you are,” I told him in no uncertain terms. I had all the work planned out down to the minute, and one grumpy worker who was there to install drywall wasn’t going to tell me he wouldn’t work with the guys who had outbid him on electrical or plumbing! I had a plan, you see. And did I mention my sweet mother-in-law’s third floor, 600 square foot condo that lacked a washer and a dryer?

My husband actually found the plumber. One day, he told me I’d be meeting the guy at the house that afternoon. He also informed me in the next sentence that the plumber he had chosen had once been imprisoned for shooting someone.

Oh, how wonderful. All this with a three year old and a baby on my hip. But I was determined to turn it into our home. In 40 days.

I can tell you now that I learned a lot from this project. Mostly, that everything costs twice as much as you expect it to cost. I had a budget of $50,000, but I ended up around $120,000.

When people ask me to define my style, I can’t answer simply. You shouldn’t be able to, either. A house should be a reflection of your personality — not a category of design.

When I design for my clients, I never ask them to define their style. Instead, I ask them to show me an object that’s important to them. I ask about color. I ask them to show me objects they like and, sometimes more importantly, things they dislike. And I ask them how they dream of living.

Sometimes, people can simply give me one random object that means the world to them. One showed me a bowling pin. I didn’t even see that it was a bowling pin! I saw the variations in caramelized brown shades, the slivered texture, its gentle curves…I saw in an instant how I would design their entire home! (Someday, I always dream, I’m going to turn this unique quirk of mine into an HGTV show!)

I was raised by Italian parents. I’m first generation. Their home is a study in accumulation; they didn’t or couldn’t have anything when they were young, so they’ve compensated for that in the years ever since they arrived in America.

I went in the opposite direction.

My basic philosophy is that every purchase needs a place. If it doesn’t have a place, you should create one for it. If you can’t, it doesn’t belong in your home. Simple as that.

Whether it’s a holiday item or household furnishing or even a toy, I ask one question before I buy: “Do I have a place for this in my home?”

This philosophy saves me more money than you can imagine. Seriously, add up your Target impulse buys and “Oh! That pillow will really make the room pop! If I buy that chair. And a new end table.” People see something that makes them truly happy in aisle nine, believing that it will do the same once it’s in their possession…only to get it home and realize there’s no place for it.

That’s how clutter begins. Instant gratification. And before you know it, your home is filled with meaningless objects.

I never want to spend my money on thoughtless purchases. This means I rarely buy an object the minute I see it, and I think long and hard about something as basic as coffee cups. Will I want to drink my coffee out of these cups every day for the next few years? Will I want to serve my guests coffee from them? Will they have a place in my cupboards?

If the answer is an emphatic yes to all, only then do I buy those coffee cups. (Maybe. Let me think on it just one more day.) Try it. It totally works.

When it comes to holiday decorating, I start with a theme and color story. For Halloween and the approaching holidays, I begin outside in September. I start with one hay bale and a few pumpkins, and when October first hits, I add the spiders and Boo wreath.

I’m drawn to holiday decor that works overtime. The hay on my front porch will stay through Thanksgiving. The pumpkins will stay, too — if the squirrels haven’t destroyed them by then! — but the wreath will change on November first and the spiders will move on. (You should see what I do on December first!)

I have this brown tablecloth. That gorgeous piece of fabric has celebrated pretty much every holiday with us, and it’s only getting more beautiful with age. For my wedding registry, I asked for 50 white Crate and Barrel plates. People thought I was crazy. “Why would anyone need so many plates? In white?” Twelve years on, I’m probably down to 35, but oh! The parties and family get-togethers they’ve seen! Basics are the absolute best.

Every year, I treat myself to one new item that fits into my holiday theme and color scheme. It really feels like a treat to me, too.

Halloween is something that my kids really enjoy celebrating. I decorate to not only get them excited, but also to prepare for my favorite part of Halloween or any other holiday you can imagine: inviting others into my home to celebrate an occasion and each other.

I love inviting people into my home. And I’ve found that once you decorate for the holidays, you suddenly want to open up your home even more. It’s exciting. It becomes an event. What you surround yourself with sets up a tone and a mood for what’s to come.

And, for me, that’s the true joy of decorating for the holidays or any random Wednesday. I get to share my space with people I adore.

I truly believe your home is a reflection of what is going on in your mind. I also believe when you clean out and donate on a regular basis, you clear your mind of all the negativity and clutter. You’d be amazed how good it feels to donate something. Even just a tee.

I do it constantly. Just a constant refresh for my house and also my soul. It’s addictive and it keeps me sane. I feel like a million bucks after an hour or two of tennis or yoga, and I feel the same way when I donate!


If an object is dated or no longer meaningful, get rid of it. If the very thought of doing that feels too painful, keep it. If not, take a photo with it and donate it to someone who will love it as if it was fresh from Horchow!

Remember: You don’t have to physically keep everything. Some of the best memories are the ones in our heads.

When I’m designing for my clients, I start and end with the meaningful pieces in their lives. Usually it’s the husband’s favorite chair, if I’m being honest! But I’m going to work meaning into the design even if it kills me.

People always look forward to staying in a hotel. Have you ever wondered why this is? I have, too. And I think we love hotels because of the luxuries we’re offered — room service, a spa three floors down, and someone coming to make your bed every morning! — but also because hotel rooms are usually cleared out, well edited spaces.

When I design a home for a client, I want the finished product to be as desirable as the loveliest resort they’ve ever visited. It should become their own personal oasis. Truly, they should never want to be anywhere else. And even if no one magically shows up every morning to clean up, it should be almost effortless to keep it looking wonderful.

So no matter if it’s Halloween or you’re just trying to get your house looking good, remember to buy less and choose well. You should have less that are of the highest quality. And when in doubt, I always choose real over fake. That goes for decor, wardrobe…and friends!

I hope my girls remember all the memories we’ve made in this home. Honestly, I hope my girls don’t remember the design of the home. Whether the couch was alabaster or steely gray. Whether the kitchen cupboards were light or dark. Were the handles crystal? Or were they brushed metal? Did we have carpet or wood floors in the playroom?

Doesn’t matter. Not to me, at least. And I sincerely hope not to them.

I hope their visions of this home’s decor are so blurry that they can’t see anything in their memories but a crystal clear parade of all the times we spent here together.

The reason I live the way I do and decorate my home the way I have is to take the focus off the decor and shine a spotlight on what’s really important.

I wish someone had told me how fast it goes. Everyone says that, and I know it’s true. Every morning when they wake up, I know they’re a bit bigger than they were the day before. I can see it. I can feel it.

So every day, I try my hardest to take in every moment and be present. I want to hear every silly little thing that comes out of their mouths. I want to notice the minute their moods shift. I want to treasure every single thing they’re going to do for the very last time. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Every year, the girls take Halloween photos in front of that black kitty at the bottom of our staircase. We started the tradition back when the kitty was bigger than they were!

I almost moved it this year. I thought it was maybe time for something else. Something different. Something new. I mean, it’s ten years old!

Well, my nine year old nearly lost it.

“No!” she wailed. “That’s where we take our picture!”

Oh, good. She gets it.


Palma, Thank you! From your response to people who believe a well-edited home is incapable of housing incredible memories, to your comparison of your home to your favorite hotel, to your sweet story about your daughter’s love for the kitten at the bottom of the stairs, so much to think about. And, Friends, whether you own one of those messy house signs, or whether you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, I hope however you’re living is working well for you and yours!

I believe this is so right on: “You don’t have to physically keep everything. Some of the best memories are the ones in our heads.” I wonder how many people you’ve inspired today to rethink the way our homes are operating, holiday or not? Anyone off to the donation center?

Also! Just in case you wanted to see some of the before shots of Palma’s home (but after the orange shag carpeting removal!), here they are:

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Lindsey McLean Tue, 20 Oct 2015 16:00:59 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Have you ever dreamed about the life you’re not living? Believing that your days would be better if you moved into a bigger house and earned more money and had a huge basement and a yard big enough for a brand new dog?

Lindsey and her husband dreamed that dream, too. And the dream seemed so real and true that they relocated from a pretty perfect little life in Switzerland to a bigger everything life in Minnesota. Of course, you’re probably guessing how that turned out; bigger, really and truly, is not always better.

But their story doesn’t end in Minnesota! That’s the fabulous news! And this tour takes place far from it, in gorgeous Spokane. (Between us, I’m thinking their story somehow circles back to Switzerland. But we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?) Welcome, Lindsey!

Hi everyone! I’m Lindsey.

I met my husband, Joel, in Eugene when we were each on the heels of our study abroad experiences in college. I had studied abroad in Angers, France and had the most magical time. Joel had studied in Tübingen, Germany and fallen in love with it. When we met, it was at a party at his apartment. I wound up there because Joel’s roommate had invited some of my friends and I tagged along. Joel and his roommates had an amazing apartment and I gave myself a tour.

When I saw Joel’s room, it stopped me in my tracks. It had great lighting and decor and was full of good photography and art. I went up to his roommate and asked, “Whose room is that?! I’ve got to meet this guy!”

He pointed out Joel at the end of the hallway and I went straight over, pushed the gaggle of girls surrounding him aside and said, “Hi! I’m Lindsey. I saw your room and we have got to talk!” That is how we met.

We started dating a few months later and we both wanted to move back to Europe so badly. It became our joke that we’d move to Switzerland because both French and German are spoken there. It took a while — and a few moves — but our first child, our daughter Coco, was born in Zurich seven years later!

Coco is now four, and best described as a sparkler and firecracker rolled into one. Most recently, she started ballet class. Monday was the first day parents were allowed to watch and I got a few happy, prickly tears when she pranced past me in her little tutu and waved.

Our son, Theo, is one. Unfortunately, he will not have the bragging rights for having been born in Switzerland for his whole life. Far from it! He was born in Minnesota. But he had the most beautiful birth as the sun rose over Lake Superior. When he came out, I could not get over his massive hands. He looked like a little bruiser. In actuality, he is gentle and thoughtful. He reminds Joel and me of Ferdinand, the bull from the book by Munro Leaf, who likes to just sit and smell the flowers.

Coco and Theo are opposites in so many ways. She is tiny and skinny and barely on the growth chart. Theo was nine pounds, almost ten ounces at birth, and continues to break my back every day! Coco is a little energy ball. Theo is calm. Coco is fearless and outgoing. Theo is cautious and likes to wait and see. Coco never stops talking. Theo can’t talk yet, so we’ll see.

We lived in Zurich from 2010 to 2014 and became parents there. The entire time we were there, we operated on the idea that it wasn’t forever. I think we felt that we were supposed to pursue the American Dream of a big house and a big yard and a basement and two kids and a dog, and it just didn’t seem like something we could do there. We were also concerned about our children having a different cultural identity from our own if we raised them in Switzerland.

Both Joel and I have read everything Jumpha Lahiri has ever written, and a theme that comes back again and again in her writing is that painful reality when parents and children practically feel like strangers because they’re not from the same culture. But we loved Zurich and our life there so much. We had a tight-knit group of friends that felt like a family. I had a mama group of ten women that got together every week throughout our pregnancies and through our babies’ lives. We all went on a yoga retreat together and new babies were born over the years and we shared all of it with one another.

Joel and I lived right in the city and didn’t need a car. We loved the urban lifestyle; the lakeside was just a few minutes’ walk away. But it always sort of felt like the clock was ticking, so when an opportunity came up in Minnesota, we decided to go.

Once we got to Minnesota, we had a lot of the stuff we thought we were supposed to have. Our house was huge and had a huge yard and a basement. We had two kids, so all that was left to get was the dog. But we hated it! We weren’t happy driving everywhere instead of walking or taking the tram. There was so much more space in our house, but it just amounted to more cleaning. The basement somehow filled with stuff we later had to purge and it all seemed so excessive and ridiculous.

I wanted our simple yet rich life in Zurich back and it was a crushingly painful realization to make.

Now we are in Spokane, where I was born and my mom and my sisters and lots of extended family live. The job opportunity in Minnesota wasn’t what we had been led to expect. Honestly, the experience of moving while pregnant and all of the stress that went along with it just left me shattered. I was consumed with regret, but my sister put it all in perspective one day. She said, “There is nothing left to do now but envision the life you want.”

Theo wasn’t even a year old yet and we certainly didn’t have another international move in us, so we decided to come to Spokane to regroup and to see if maybe this is the place for us. I don’t really feel like I’m from Spokane because I went to high school and college in Oregon, but it feels like home at the same time. Joel and I got married here and with all of the family around it would be a logical place for us to settle. Plus, it’s beautiful with lots of hiking and nature all around, and the cost of living here is very affordable.

Our little rental house is only $765 per month! Okay, there is an apartment in the basement with another tenant, and we share the laundry, so it’s not a proper house in that regard, but it’s still amazing if you ask me. We are within walking distance of the gorgeous Bluff Trail for hiking and walking, two lovely parks, grocery stores, hardware store, coffee shops, and my mom’s house. It’s the perfect little nest for us as we figure out what we really want.

This house was built in 1947 and hasn’t really been altered since. Not only that, it has been impeccably cared for and loved. The hardwood floors gleam like mirrors. The kitchen has the original cupboards, which are adorable and plentiful. All of the windows are beautiful and original with functional screens and storms. The layout is so natural and human-sized. All of the spaces connect and flow easily.

Probably the most incredible thing is that we moved in with all of the furniture we had had at the huge Minnesota house and somehow it all fit! Our king size bed, our giant double desk, Joel’s massive wardrobe. It’s like it was meant to be.

Being short on funds, we had a fun time repurposing and shuffling furniture around. My former nightstand is now Theo’s dresser. His dresser is now ours. The lamps that always went on our nightstands are now on the sideboard. The huge Minnesota house had had built-in bookshelves and a built-in sideboard, so once we’d shuffled all that we could, we had to buy three things: bookshelves, sideboard, and kitchen island.

I am an unabashed IKEA lover, so we went there, of course, and I’m so pleased with the results. Another amazing thing is that for such a tiny house, it has a ridiculous amount of wall space. We have many large art pieces and we’ve been able to hang them all.

In Zurich, we discovered mounting art posters on aluminum. It’s a great way to have good art on a budget. If you put those little rubber non-slip pads for furniture at the bottom on the back, it pops it out and creates a shadow frame. We had our Rothko and Hockney in our living room in Zurich and now have them here.

The huge Seurat poster above our bed was on bus stops around Zurich to promote the exhibit. We bought one of the prints at the Kunsthaus gift shop for only 25 francs! I love it so much it’s the one thing that really made us go ahead and fork over the cash to send some things with movers when we left Zurich. The art museum sold out of the prints, so it’s irreplaceable and I completely treasure it.

Our other art was in storage in Portland the whole time we were in Zurich. The pink, silver, and black painting in the dining room, as well as the orange and pink one in the entryway were done by our neighbor in Portland. The large wood burning, Joel did. Joel bought the painting of the man falling at a garage sale in Eugene. And the painting on an old window pane above the fireplace was painted by the roommate who invited my friends to the party which led to Joel and I meeting!

Joel and I have very similar taste in putting a house together. We agree on hiding the TV — it’s in the green cabinet — and sticking to clean lines and simple furniture. At the huge Minnesota house, we had a full on play area, which was nice, although messy. I’m not wild about the toy bin being tucked under our occasional table, but it works. We have about 80% of the toys in storage and so far they don’t seem to have noticed! I’ve been meaning to rotate them, but a few weeks ago, I came home from a Costco run with my mom and the two boxes from Costco have proven to be the greatest toys of all time.

Decorating the kids’ room has been such a pleasure for me. I have wanted to be a mom since I was about five. So it’s beyond fun to shop for beautiful children’s furniture, clothing, decor, and so on. I really do love it. This is a magical season of our lives. Our children are little, they take baths together, and share a room. I think this is the part of motherhood I always dreamed of, and it’s as dreamy as I had imagined. I love those two with such ferocity. It’s so good.

On that note, I love that we are near family right now. My mom got to see Theo’s first steps out on our patio a couple of weeks ago, and my siblings and my mom all came over for brunch the morning after my mom’s birthday party last weekend. I love being able to just grab a coffee with one of my sisters or go to happy hour with them, or even just go to Target or Trader Joe’s with my mom. It all seems like a treat after years of only texts and phone calls.

As weird as it sounds, we just never got that into Skype or FaceTime while we were abroad. If we go back, we’ll have to make more of an effort to take advantage of that technology. Still, nothing replaces actual face-to-face time!

I am all about simplicity. When things are simple, they’re manageable. Our kitchen in Zurich was the model of tiny, simple efficiency. Because it was so small we had to be cognizant of everything we brought into it. We didn’t have anything beyond what was needed. The cupboards were a little puzzle that had to be put together every time.

For the dishes we had one big pull-out drawer and a second for the pie plates, casseroles, mixing bowls, etc. The stuff would only fit if it were stacked and nested in a specific way. I totally loved that. We have the same thing now. Once all of our stuff converged from storage and the shipment, we had to do a lot of editing. But now we’ve got everything we need, and nothing more. It’s the best.

When you live in a big house, that just doesn’t happen. There is room to put things aside — monstrous basement, I’m looking at you! — and no real urgency to edit. I much prefer the small house.

Probably the living room is our favorite room because we love making it cozy with a fire in the fireplace and enjoying that space. We purposely don’t have a coffee table so that we can spend lots of time on the floor with the kids.

I also really, really love having outdoor space for the first time. Our little patio is so cozy the way it’s nestled under the cedar tree and it’s right off of the kitchen so it’s connected to the heart of the home. Of course, the office in the kitchen is a calm, relaxing space that gets beautiful morning light and is so inspiring for writing. Plus, it’s situated close to the coffee!

My career was in Montessori until I became a mom. When it was time to return to work after Coco was born, we managed to organize things so that I could stay home and it was the best decision ever. I really loved being home with Coco and there was just no way that I could have left her at daycare, even in the same building where I was teaching! It was also impossible for me to wrap my head around the idea of leaving my child to be taken care of by someone else so I could basically go take care of other people’s children!

I decided to put my energy into blogging and writing as that had always been my dream. But, honestly, without any urgency to do so, those years at home with Coco were just years as a mama and they were wonderful. Last year, in Minnesota, I was working on the administration side of Montessori and took Theo to work with me. I had the office all set up with low lighting, a crib, and various baby things. It was the best all-around scenario for a working mom, but that position ended and we moved to Spokane.

Now there is urgency, and I am actually freelancing and putting more time and energy into my blog. It’s awesome to feel motivated to put lots of energy and enthusiasm into writing. I love it so much and I’m grateful for this push. I’m also looking for “just a job” to pay a few bills. I’ve heard Trader Joe’s is a great place to work, and stocking shelves might be a nice companion to chewing on story ideas. Who knows?

One thing is for sure, now that I have little children at home, I’m not interested in teaching anymore. Funny how that works! Maybe when they’re grown, or even in a few years, I’ll go back to it, but for now I get my fill of the little ones.

My kids are my everything. I’ve always wanted to be a mom and being with them and hearing the crazy things Coco says or feeling Theo’s super soft baby skin while I hold him are the moments that make my day. In fact, I have discovered the meaning of life.

Oftentimes, Theo will bat softly at me in the mornings and wake me gently from my sleep. When I open my eyes, I see his delighted, joyful smile and I can’t help but smile, too. Then he nuzzles into me and laughs and chortles and rolls around a bit. Sometimes he’ll sit up and then throw his head back and drop backward onto the soft duvet and smile and roll and revel. This all happens in relative silence in the early morning light. I’m only half awake when he does this. And yet, it is arresting. It stops me in my tracks and I know that this is it. This is what life is all about.

Last week, after I picked her up from school, Coco and I made a little trip to Trader Joe’s, just the two of us. She sat in the cart and chatted with me the whole time. She quipped about chips and dip and fizzy water and how to carry an egg. Her keen powers of observation never cease to amaze me. We bought a Haunted Gingerbread House Kit and she was over the moon, showing it to anyone who would stop to look. Her zest for life inspires me. She is going to be an awesome adult.

I wish that someone had told me not to go to Minnesota! I was pregnant, and I didn’t really want to go, but it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were foolish to place so much priority on career over everything else. I regret it now. But, as my sister said, there is nothing left to do but envision the life we want.

In a weird way, I’m grateful for all of it. I feel like I’m focusing on what really matters and daring to dream my own dreams – a lot because of all the difficulty we went through last year.

When everything is comfortable, it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone. We were definitely pushed out of ours. Here, in this sweet little nest of a home, it’s a magical time with Coco and Theo being so little. I cherish this time when they bathe together every night and play and laugh together. It truly is music to my ears! I know that I will always look back fondly on this sweet time in this happy house.

These are some of our wonder years. What really matters, matters. And everything else, is just everything else. I know that now.


A big thank you to Lindsey for sharing her life with us. I know there are readers out there who believe a bigger house equals a bigger life, right? Were you relieved to read about Lindsey’s experiences? For those of you who achieved bigger, is it better? I always love your stories.

And, wow, I couldn’t love this line more: “There is nothing left to do now but envision the life you want.” How comforting those lucky thirteen words could be for any of us who find ourselves in the lonely aftermath of a shaky decision! Okay. It’s bad. There’s nothing more we can do but begin again. I love it, I love it, I love it. And I hope it changed even one low mood! Please tell me it did.

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Kelly Benoit-Bird Tue, 13 Oct 2015 16:00:59 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I have two favorite things to tell you about Kelly. One is that she’s an oceanography professor, which sounds all sorts of cool and exciting and rather frightening, if you ask me! And the other is that she lives next door to a Christmas tree farm.

Actually, there are three. Because I am really excited to share someone with you who possesses a parenting style I just want to hug. In her words, she measures her success as a parent by this simple idea: if her son skins a knee, he is just as likely to call for his dad as his mom. Brilliant.

Please read on to hear how she balances her careers inside and outside the home, and also manages the daily obstacle course through train sets and Lego creations! Parents of little builders, unite! Welcome, Kelly!

Hi everyone! I’m Kelly, an oceanography professor and a wife and mom. Being a professor at a major research university is an intense career, combining research driven by competitive external grants with teaching and mentoring of graduate students.

In my work, I study how animals in the ocean find food. At home, I am constantly reminded that I do not belong in the kitchen, for everyone’s health and safety!

My husband, Chad, is my research assistant, which means that he takes the crazy ideas I come up with and makes them happen: everything from building equipment, ordering supplies, and processing data, to going to sea and maintaining systems. We met when we started working together and I fell in love with his desire to work towards making everyone around him happy and successful, something that makes him excel at his job and as a dad. Chad is thoughtful, funny, and sensitive, traits I am grateful our four and a half year old (make sure you don’t forget the half!) son, Kaelan has inherited. He has also inherited the passion we both share for making things and loves to spend time in our garage/machine shop working alongside us, playing with Legos, building machines by combining every building material in the house, and designing complex train tracks.

Kaelan is a fiercely loyal friend and a wonderful sidekick whose careful approach to people masks a wicked sense of humor. Our family motto – All together, one, two, three! – exemplifies our approach to life as a family.

I bought this house when I first moved to Corvallis for my career before I met my husband. As a graduate student in Hawaii, I was forced to move yearly and I didn’t want to move again. Ever. So, while I didn’t have any idea where my life would take me or with who, I had visions of raising a family here. I looked at more than 20 homes in the five days I had to find a house, and was beginning to think I was going to have to settle for a home that clearly would be shorter term than I wanted.

Then, the ad for this house was posted online in advance of an open house for agents and I begged to see it. It wasn’t quite finished being built yet but the moment I walked in the front door, I knew it was perfect! The open spaces, the beautiful oak woodwork that reflected the farm oaks in the Christmas tree farm next door, and the sun filled rooms.

It was a bit above my budget so I had to scramble to figure out how to make it work and lived with almost no furniture for a few years.

When I met my husband, he also loved the house. Together, we slowly converted the very blank – and very white! – canvas into our home. We started our life together with two couches and a mattress on the floor, which was really a blessing since we got to make all the other design choices together. I was fortunate that I could prepare for a long-term dream so early and that I met the right person to share it with.

I didn’t really choose to live in Corvallis, a town of about 55,000 residents surrounding a university with an enrollment of 30,000; I chose my department and colleagues. The affordable, funky, and friendly town that receives awards for being brainy, healthy, and bike friendly came as part of the package.

I quickly came to love living here and it felt like home in short order. Most people in town are somehow connected to the university which makes the city have a strong sense of community. I appreciate that people here take both their work and their lives very seriously, supporting a culture of family that permeates everything from the urban growth plan to restaurants that are closed on Sundays. House prices are slightly over the national average, but much less expensive than most other college towns and are remarkably lower than other cities that host major oceanographic institutions. Of course, part of the reason for that is that we are an hour away from the ocean, something that I find challenging both personally and professionally.

However, we are surrounded by farmland that provides spectacular produce, wine, and pasture raised meat, all of which can be purchased directly from the farmer at the week’s most important social event, the Saturday market, which is hosted by the river in our lively downtown. Food prices there are typically lower than the grocery store! I love that we have seasons including spectacular autumns, but I also love that we have to drive 30 minutes to see snow and rarely see excessive heat. Being outdoors is comfortable here year round if you can handle light rain in the winter, which means it’s easy to find ways to appreciate the spectacular natural beauty around us. For our family, that means lots of biking, time in the parks that are built in each neighborhood, hikes in the mountains that overlook our home, and trips to the coast where we can breathe in the sea air.

Our design style reflects our home’s architecture and location. I would describe it as comfortable, practical, colorful, and simple. Adding a child to the mix both pushed us to simplify further and challenged that simplicity. Everything must really work for our needs and we’ve been challenged to find organizational solutions that our son can maintain himself while preserving the clean lines we like in this home.

Our son is reflected in our décor but family life been folded in rather than redefining things wholesale, reflecting our general view on parenthood. I think the only thing from our pre-kid days that I miss is not having to tiptoe around extravagant creations – train tracks, Legos, machines – on the living room floor.

Despite our generally clean style, I love seeing photographs of our life’s moments so our walls are peppered with them. I take a lot of pictures so we’ve added a large digital picture frame in the kitchen/family room. The pictures revolve so I constantly find myself being surprised by a happy memory. Unexpected glimpses of those photos often end in family story time as our son asks about what was happening or recalls an event. Somehow, the active nature of these pictures makes them more of a feature in our life than regular prints.

The architecture of this house really worked for us from the start but many of the finishes did not. It’s taken us most of the last ten years to make the house ours. We changed out the tile kitchen counters to a much easier to clean, solid stone, removed the carpet in the master bathroom, replacing it with cork, and changed out the laundry room sink to a more durable one after a baby bathing mishap.

We’ve made a lot of aesthetic changes that have completely changed the way it feels to live in the house, for example, adding color with paint, changing out the kitchen backsplash from the boring cream to a custom DIY glass and slate creation, and adding homemade book rails and train racks in the family room. The biggest challenge was figuring out where to start and stop paint colors with such an open floor plan and rounded corners on the walls. Ultimately, we embraced it, choosing different paint colors for walls in the same space, masking off a rectangle in the middle of a wall for color in the kitchen, and adding stripes, horizontal in our son’s room, vertical in the guest space.

One of the spaces that works best for us is our open kitchen/family room. We love to be together even when we’re all doing different things so this large space in which we’ve defined different zones is perfect. When one of us needs a bit more space, our dining/living room is just on the other side of the kitchen, still accessible but a little more tucked away. Unless we’re sleeping, you’ll find all of us downstairs in some configuration.

We’ve chosen not to have a play room which facilitates all of us working and playing in the same space but requires thoughtful use of the always visible common space and creative storage. While there is typically at least one project taking up a table or floor somewhere, to keep the crazy under control, something we’ve discovered that we all need, we have dedicated the large closet under our stairwell to kid stuff and part of our coat closet to art supplies.

The toy closet works a bit like a library with only a few things checked out at a time, requiring returns before new things are taken out. We try to keep everything accessible, attractive, and easy to put away. Though I’ve never seen something like this, I wish that the downstairs had a large walk in closet that we could use to store all of the games, toys, and supplies for projects in one place – and wouldn’t require my 6’4” husband to crawl on his knees to get to the train track!

I do my best to be fully present in whatever I’m doing. Working fulfills me, making me more patient and engaged with the often repetitive duties of motherhood…while being a mom makes me more efficient, empathetic, and observant in my work. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work at home or deal with home things during the work day, but whatever I’m doing, I try to focus fully and realize that some things just won’t get done.

I just try to be the one to decide what those are instead of having them fall off the edge of the desk.

To do that, I think carefully about every request, assessing if it the task is something I’d enjoy doing, if I’m the best person to do it, and if the return is worth the investment. I don’t always succeed, of course, but having a strategy in advance is really helpful.

I have repeatedly heard the advice that a woman’s success in her career is most affected by her choice of a spouse. I absolutely agree and I know I hit the jackpot. When I was pregnant with my son, a collaborator of mine said that one of her greatest successes as a parent was that when one of her boys skinned a knee, he was just as likely to call for dad as mom. I now know exactly what she meant – she was trying to tell me that you have to be willing to let go. Your partner may not do things the same way you do but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong and if you want him to be able to do the job of parenting fully, you have to let him do it the way that works for him, no matter how hard it is to keep your mouth shut.

I was forced by a challenging first week of parenthood to learn this, as I simply couldn’t do many of the things that needed to be done. I couldn’t even pick up my babe by myself which set us up in a good pattern for co-parenting. As one example, we alternate who gets to do bedtime as part of sharing all the duties and joys of life equally. That isn’t to say that we split things 50/50 on a given day. One of us might have a stress at work that requires extra effort by the other at home, but over the long term, we carry the weight and experience the laughter together. I think it helps that we both work and live life side by side, working for the same goals with the same pot of resources as it minimizes potential conflicts. It also means that many days we’re together for more than 23 hours!

We live far away from family and have intense jobs so we are not afraid to outsource. Though, as a perfectionist, getting there wasn’t easy! Every few weeks, we come home to a totally clean house thanks to a dependable and efficient housecleaner, and each week our lawn is mowed and leaves cleaned up by a family yard care service.

When our son was very small – and occasionally now during pre-school breaks – he spent the day with another little boy and his mom, a professional caregiver we consider family. Now, he spends the day at an excellent pre-school in which we very much feel part of a community. He is thriving there are we are grateful that we could build our village around him with intention. We eat a lot of mostly healthy convenience foods, but we do so as a family each night. We are fortunate that with two careers, we can afford to use money to fix time problems and afford great, consistent care for our son. We are also lucky that both of us have very flexible hours so we can stay home with a sick kid, attend school concerts, and visit our son’s classroom.

My husband and I regularly discuss our priorities for life, both daily and long-term, to make sure that the systems we’ve set up are still working and are never afraid to renegotiate or try something new.

My husband and I are both oceanographers which requires spending time at sea. This year, we had a research expedition – which we call a cruise, but is nothing like a vacation! – that was very much a repeat of a prior project in a different location. So, for the sake of our son, we made the difficult decision that I wouldn’t go to sea this time and my husband would lead our team instead of both of us going, in part because I’ve had a lot of other travel this year.

However, in my role as the lead scientist on the project, it was important for me to meet with the research team when everyone is focused on the work, right before the ship sails. So, our whole family flew to the east coast so Chad and I could prepare our equipment aboard the ship while our son played at the beach and the park with a sitter. Then the three of us flew to the Bahamas to wait for the now loaded ship and our collaborators to arrive. I led the pre-cruise meeting before flying back. Kaelan and I extended a necessary layover on the east coast to spend a long weekend visiting family before heading home.

Kaelan is an excellent traveler but I prepared a lot for all of that time in airports, airplanes, and cars with special projects, stories, new toys, and snacks. In turn, Kaelan was great company, singing me songs, telling me stories, and pointing out interesting sights along the way. We had a wonderful time together. The two weeks home with just the two of us passed pretty quickly, except for the weekends which always seem longer when someone is missing. At the end, I have a renewed appreciation for the partnership my husband and I share – and a pretty big sleep deficit!

I hope my son remembers that he matters. Unless he’s a parent himself someday, he may not appreciate how we agonized over the big decisions like what school to send him to or how to instill values, but I hope he remembers that we listened (repeatedly) to his stories in the car on the way home, laughed at his silly jokes while working on a project, stopped every day on the way home to check out which trains were parked near our house, asked for his opinions and ideas as we traipsed through the neighbor’s tree farm, respected his boundaries while snuggling on the couch on family movie nights, listened curiously to his explanations of the machines he built throughout the house, answered all of his questions honestly, even at bedtime, and looked him in the eyes as he told us about his day while sharing a snack at the kitchen counter.

I hope he forgets the times he had to remind me that I could work on my patience, though I do hope he remembers that he always had something to teach me and that each day, I strove to be better than the day better.

You asked what has been my very, very, very favorite part about living with your son, and when I first read this question, a million wonderful moments flashed in front of me and memories of laughter filled my ears. However, after some thought, I realize that my favorite parts are quiet moments that cause me to think deeply: when my son asked me why his divorced grandparents aren’t friends anymore, when he wanted to know what things I love about his dad, or asked “If you can’t eat or move after death…can you feel?”

Seeing the world through Kaelan’s eyes and trying to answer the questions that will become his foundation for life challenge me to be a better person every day. I never imagined that someone so small could teach me more about life in a few years than I managed to acquire in all the 34 years before he made his slow and careful arrival.

I already miss the adorable, verbal kid-isms that are almost completely a thing of the past. But, what comes along with these incredible developments in speech and awareness is the ability to intentionally express love and gratitude. It fills me with such joy when my son whispers in my ear that he loves me because it means that he has internalized what love is how it feels to share it. My throat catches every time he shows love by standing up for a friend at school when someone says that they can’t play. or offering to close the blinds when his dad is not feeling well. An understanding of love in action is the most important thing I hoped we would to teach him.

I wish someone had told me that there are as many right ways to parent as there are parent-child relationships. I have been inspired and reassured by many models of motherhood, taking lessons from my aunts, friends, and colleagues as well as my mother. For me, being a good mom to the child I have been gifted doesn’t come from intuition or from modeling my perception of my childhood. It comes from hard work and careful listening, and is greatly influenced by my own happiness.


So good, Kelly! I’m especially in love with this thought: “Whatever I’m doing, I try to focus fully and realize that some things just won’t get done. I just try to be the one to decide what those are instead of having them fall off the edge of the desk.”

I also like her toy closet philosophy, don’t you? How it works a bit like a library, where Kaelan can check out a limited number of toys or crafts at a time, is a solid solution to the kid-preferred drag everything out of the toy closet at once method! Oh, if we could all design our houses over again, we’d probably turn half our homes into closet space!

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Ann Farnsworth Tue, 06 Oct 2015 16:00:56 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Ann is so great. I read her words, and they fill me with such warmth. I love when people have dreams and add them to their daily to-do lists.

If you’re a young parent or just dreaming about kids, I hope you find Ann’s words to be a sort of manual. (I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s all going to work out as it should. And you’re going to be great at this.) If you’ve been parenting a while or even grand-parenting, you’re going to love this, too. Ann’s words are like a giant hug and a pinch of inspiration.

Please jump right in to hear about this big family and how their well-worn house helped grow them all. Welcome, Ann!

Hello, everyone! My name is Ann, and I am probably older than most of you! We have a large family, and our youngest just turned 11 this year. We have ten children, and yes, we wanted every one of them! I was 23 when I had the first and 44 when our last baby was born. I love my own siblings and wanted my children to experience the magic that happens in a noisy, messy, creative, huge family. My husband could be considered a saint for agreeing to marry me; he is such a great father, which made this whole thing possible. I don’t know if the children love what we have as much as I do, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our oldest son, Dale, died when he was two. He was beautiful. He taught me to be a mother and we miss him every day.

Jody, our oldest daughter, was only eight months old when he died, and she learned to walk that week looking for him. Jody became the perfect oldest child (which worried me) although she probably would have been happier in the second child role. She is talented, a prolific reader, and a magnificent friend.

Our daughter Michelle was born at the hospital only a few blocks from our home, She was a twin and her brother didn’t live; his name is Tommy and she feels him close to her at times. She is artistic and empathetic and all girl. She is married and has a daughter of her own; Eleanor is doing a great job of teaching her parents what family is all about.

Tracy was born two years later. She is spunky and is effortlessly cool and we all notice a distinctive energy around us when she is near. She is married and lives far away. Our world just expands with each child that leaves to chase their dreams.

Stan was next and we were all excited to have another boy. He was quickly commandeered to be the prince in the girl’s imaginary play. As a child, we noticed that he loved to work and, although he has some learning disabilities, he has only grown more diligent and capable since then. In our family lore, he is the one that decided to run around upstairs with a bucket on his head and took a tumble all the way down a long flight of stairs. The bucket actually protected him from harm.

Scott followed 17 months later. He never went through the terrible two stage, was always agreeable and easy going. I used to worry that he would rebel in some crazy way but he never has. He has a special light in his eyes and understands how to get along with everyone.

John was born three years later. He was 10.5 pounds and never has figured out how to go slowly or how to be careful. He does everything full out and we love what he brings to our family. I wish you could read his letters to us: he is an expressive and a talented writer. We are all anxious to see what he does with his gifts.

Peter is next. He was due just before Christmas and born just after. He is responsible, somber, and very smart. He told us when he was four that he wanted to be the president of the United States, and I don’t doubt that he will do something big with his life. He is still in high school and would love to be considered a nerd.

Samuel is the last boy. He is tender and bright, he loves music, and used to hum while still a small baby. He taught himself to play a few hymns on the piano and when our church needed a pianist one day he volunteered to play. In the meeting we couldn’t find him and finally realized that he was at the piano. None of us knew that he could even play.

Karen is our caboose. What would we do without her? She taught our boys what girls are made of and she keeps up with them and their shenanigans. She can re-load a Nerf gun faster than any of them. She will wear a dress but only with leggings so she can still run and play.

These children taught me how to love and that love has grown and flourished until it has increased my capacity in enormous ways. I feel privileged to be connected to them in such an intimate way.

We moved to St. Charles, outside of St. Louis, from Washington DC and initially rented our home. We moved here just months after our son died and so leaving was bittersweet. We were anxious to find a place to raise a family and we fell in love with the neighborhood’s beautiful architecture, sidewalks, and huge old trees. The Missouri river runs alongside Main Street just a few blocks away.

I remember the moment we first saw our house. We parked under the beautiful maple tree at the curb and as we walked on to the front porch a feeling came over me that we were home. The neighborhood is charming, alleys run through the middle of every block, and our elementary school is only a block down the street. Our home was built in 1905, as a duplex. Once we bought it, we were able to offset our payment by renting out half of the home. It has gone through several renovations over the years, each side in different styles.

After living in the home for a while we started making it our own and turning it from a duplex into a single family home. I love the tall windows, the solid doors, the old wood floors and the brick interior walls. I love that there are huge Victorian mansions on the same block as the smallest cottages. On Sunday mornings we wake up to the ringing bells of three churches.

My husband is very handy and I don’t know of another place where we could have gone from one child to nine with plenty of room to work, play and live.

St. Charles was still a small town when we moved here in 1986. It has since grown, but much of the growth is in the far flung areas of the county. The old part of St. Charles, where we live, has stayed much the same. We are only six blocks from the river, and Main Street is a regional attraction for shopping and dining. We have festivals year-round on the riverfront and the fourth of July celebration rivals any big town show. Parades come down our street, and when our children hear the ‘whoop’ of a police siren they immediately run to grab a bag and head for the front porch to collect their share of the goodies.

Our schools are all within walking distance, which makes it possible for the kids to participate in extra activities. The elementary school is a block away, we homeschool them during middle school, but the high school is about eight blocks from our front door to theirs.

If you visit St. Louis be sure to spend an afternoon at the Magic House — a hands on discovery museum for younger children, the Butterfly House — all things butterflies, the City Museum — built from reclaimed architectural and industrial objects it is a playground for young and old, and the zoo — which is world class and free. St. Charles has a first class library system and way cool city pools.

And if you like Italian food you need to visit the Hill, an old Italian neighborhood that has some of the best Italian restaurants you will ever visit. And don’t get me started on the ribs or the jazz or the baseball. It is a major city with a small town feel.

One of the perks of older homes is definitely having a generous front porch. It spans the front of our house and is an extension of our living space. We have a couple of springy chairs and an old wooden trunk to hide all kinds of play paraphernalia, skates, mitts, and balls. We watch the world go by from our front porch.

Our kitchen is the most used room in the house. My husband loves breakfast, and it is the meal that our whole family eats together most. Our kitchen table is an ancient pine trestle table with benches on either side so it is easy to squeeze in to fit anyone who is visiting at meal time. We bought it battered and I love not having to worry about keeping it pristine. We cover the dents, glitter, glue, and general signs of use with a tablecloth when company comes. We found a very old mirror at an estate sale and it leans against our kitchen wall. Our little children have figured out so much watching themselves in that mirror. Only I was sad when the lower reaches of it stayed clean because it meant that our babies were growing up.

Our family room we call our ‘window room’ and it is the gathering place for our family. We have a wood burning stove in one corner, and during the fall and winter months it is a project to find, load, stack, split, and burn firewood. Although it is messy, I am in love with the heat that wood puts out and a fire always draws us together.

I found some old wooden spools that we use for stools in front of the fireplace. They were over 100 years old when I bought them and I figured that if they had survived that long there wasn’t much we could do to hurt them. In our window room is a spot universally known as ‘the corner.’ It is the spot where the kids build forts and since they spend hours putting them together they are allowed to keep them up for several days. Forts seem to bring out the best in all children: it fires their imagination, encourages cooperation, and they go to sleep at night dreaming of their adventures. One of the best spots in our house is on the mantle in the window room. We have a row of little clocks, one for each of the children, set to their time zone. They are a reminder that my kids are somewhere out in the world even though some of them are too far away to hold.

The last best thing about our home is the secret stairway/clubhouse. When we began combining the duplex into one home we closed off one of the stairways and it has become the stuff of heady dreams. Every time we have visitors they beg to play on the secret stairs.

Our style is very simple, I love a clean home but I also love the imaginative play of happy children. Those two objectives tend to clash, so I live trying to achieve a proper balance.

Our house works because of a couple of things. We have three full bathrooms and plenty of living space so we can all escape to a quiet room when needed. We have room for two fridges in the kitchen: one we call Dad’s fridge and one we call Mom’s fridge. Mine is close to the sink and stove and houses the basics. Dad’s fridge usually holds the fun food: fruits, cheese, and the ice cream. We also have two washers and two dryers, which I would recommend for anyone with a bigger sized family. It is nice to be able to soak a load while still keeping up with the regular routine. And if one of them breaks, it isn’t such an urgent repair.

As my children have gotten older I no longer do six loads of laundry a day or need to sweep the floor quite as often. There isn’t as much grocery shopping and meals can be a bit more simple. I have always been a reader, but writing my own book was a very challenging task.

My book is a historical mystery like DaVinci Code or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and based on a true mystery. It is titled The Throne of David. It took me nine months to write and I submitted it to one publisher and one agent. Both of them wanted the book, which was a little surreal. I knew I loved the story, but to have someone with taste and clout agree with me was exciting. It was released on August 11 and it has been a whirlwind since then. It would make a great movie because of all the history and action, but the love story was the most fun to write. It is a PG-rated book! I wrote exactly what I like to read.

For those of you who have dreams and feel torn by all that is expected of you, try to remember that the merry-go-round of motherhood does slow down. Enjoy the ride if you can. Be the mother that they need and you will look back and enjoy remembering the days of mothering young children. And you will be able to help them leave your home with enough love tucked in their pocket to last until they figure things out for themselves.

Someday you will find that things have settled down and all the stored creativity within you will find a way to express itself in unexpected ways. Writing this book has been a great adventure and my abilities haven’t been damaged at all by the wait. I sometimes feel like ‘The Throne of David’ is another child, conceived in love and nurtured by my hands. It comes to life whenever a new reader opens it and begins reading.

The day our son died I remember noticing his two year old smudges on our full length windows, his little sister’s sticky prints right below his. The next day our good friends, not know just how precious those smudges were, came over and cleaned the windows for me. It was so sad that he wasn’t here to press his face against the window ever again. That whole experience changed how I felt about my children and as a consequence, everything seems precious and fleeting. I think I needed the attitude adjustment.

When I see a toddler, I see someone working towards independence and being vigorous about expressing themselves. Teens don’t seem much different. Their world is bigger and more dangerous but it is all part of the continuing process of creation they are involved in. We decided to homeschool our children during middle school. So much of their self esteem is developed in the difficult atmosphere of middle school, and we wanted to give them a bit of time and space to grow into themselves without all that drama. By the time they get to high school, they are ready to jump into the best of what is offered.

I love toddlers and teens – they are both a blast to get to know. My husband calls it ‘getting to know if they like chocolate or vanilla,’ and everything else that makes them unique. As a family we have standards of behavior but generally allow them a lot of space to find what they love and how it is going to work in their life. We are the backup, and they are the principal player in the creation of their life.

I always wanted a large family and the best part of adding a new baby to the mix was discovering, over time, just who they really are. I love that they seem like strangers to me for a while. Each of them is a unique and endlessly fascinating person, and it still amazes me that I get to be an important part of their life. Collectively, they have taught me to be a mother.

And then, it is heartbreaking to watch them suffer in any way. We know that it is part of all of our lives, but it is hard when we can’t protect them from important lessons. My brother’s daughter had cancer when she was just two years old. She is fine now but my parents suffered as they watched my brother deal with all the decisions to be made and consequences of making them.

I think the most important lesson I have learned is to realize that I don’t have the answers, I am not even sure I know the questions. We jokingly throw up our hands and say that they don’t come with a manual, but they do. We don’t have to figure it out all on our own.

When Michelle was about three she turned into a world class whiner and it just about drove me crazy. I spent a lot of time lamenting her new way of dealing with life and then realized that she was the child and I was the mother. She was reacting to me and if I wanted her to change I would have to be the catalyst instead of expecting the three year old to change on her own. I knelt by the side of my bed that day and told God all about my problem, I opened my heart to him and then asked for advice. The thought came to me almost immediately: Hold her.

So, I held her in the morning until she crawled off my lap to go and play, and I held her in the evening before I put her to bed. It wasn’t hard. I could hold her and read a book or watch the news, but it was fun to talk to her and listen to her little stories, too. Almost immediately the whining stopped; she just needed my touch, and that contact filled up an empty space within her. We both benefited from my prayer that day.

Don’t be afraid to have high expectations of your children. We do not have any room for fighting or quarreling in our home. There is no big punishment if they slip into that behavior and we do not play judge and jury. Whoever is involved in the contention just gets to spend time away from each other, alone, until they adjust and decide to get along. It isn’t that they aren’t allowed to feel angry or grumpy, but it isn’t acceptable to inflict it on the rest of the family. The kids have learned to get along, to work at getting along.

I wish someone had told me about the joys of growing older. As I entered my 40s everyone my age was busy fighting gravity while I was still having kids. I was too busy to even notice the inevitable aging, and I am glad now that I didn’t get distracted by the search for eternal youth. No one told me that reaching 40 is liberating, but it is. And your 50s are when you finally figure out how cool you really are!

When I start to worry about my hair or my skin I think about my Grandmother Merrell. We fought over who got to sit in her lap because she was so soft. We loved looking at her false teeth soaking in a glass by her bed at night. She wouldn’t let anyone take pictures of her because she had a facial tick. We didn’t care about any of that. She loved us and she always had ice cream in the freezer, and any of her grandchildren would describe her in the most glowing terms. I look in the mirror now and see my mother and I know that someday soon I will be looking at myself and seeing my grandmother. I hope I can do this with class!


Thank you so much, Ann, for your wisdom and honesty. This sure was a treat. I’m sure many of our viewpoints have been readjusted by your thoughts. Also, “hold her” is probably one of the best parenting golden nuggets I’ve heard in a while. (Remember Lynne Knowlton’s advice? Just love them. Genius.)

Any older parents out there? I’d love to hear your experiences! Do you find it easy to make friends with the younger ones, or are they in complete shock when they hear you’ve got older kids? Tell us how you’re different and better in your 40s; we all want to hear those 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Lindsey Roberts Tue, 29 Sep 2015 16:00:08 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

You’re about to meet Lindsey’s house, and I know you’re going to be better for it. This is a structure that helped Lindsey and her family through some out-of-the-ordinary life events, provided hope when things seemed a little hopeless, and even taught her to rely on her neighbors when she found herself alone and in need of help.

It’s a very good house. You’ll see. Oh! And if you’re curious about how much it costs to buy a house like this one in Virginia, Lindsey discusses pricing. (I love when people share numbers, don’t you?!) Welcome, Lindsey!

When you meet someone in the D.C. area, you will be asked what you do for a living. When you meet someone in Malawi, Africa, where there’s a non-profit that my husband helped found, you will be asked how your family is. I think both are important to understanding who people are.

I had a vision in college of being a freelance magazine writer while I raised my kids. I hadn’t yet met my husband, but when we did meet, it all crystallized. I was working at my first job as an editor of a design magazine, and he was finishing seminary. He had a dream of finding a strong wife to raise his kids alongside, while he would be a missionary, pastor, and military chaplain — in no particular order! He loved that I had a career I was passionate about. Within three months, we were ring shopping. Two months later, we were engaged. It was a whirlwind romance and I guess it was only a foretaste of all the whirlwinds to come!

I moved to Washington, D.C., to live with a friend from college while we were engaged. I was looking for a job in journalism about the home industry, but since it was the very beginning of the recession, there was nothing out there. After we got married, all we had was an apartment, a job at a bookstore, and a job at Starbucks. We would sit on our floor (no furniture!) and watch TV while we ate fruit snacks from Costco. It was such a sweet time.

We had planned to go house shopping with a realtor on what ended up being the day that I needed surgery. I was 16 weeks pregnant and during a standard ultrasound, a tumor had been discovered — a tumor that an oncologist wanted to remove for testing as soon as possible. I potentially had cancer and the baby was potentially at risk of miscarriage during the surgery.

Needless to say, my husband and I were apprehensive of the surgery scheduled that night, but decided to go house shopping anyway to take our minds off of things. We looked at four houses in various states of disrepair – nope, nope, nope, nope – and this was the fifth one. I knew it was the house meant for us right away.

It had everything on our want list: three bedrooms, room for my husband’s office, potential for improvement but didn’t need a total gut renovation. It also had more that we didn’t even allow ourselves to want. It is an end unit, so it gets a lot of light. It is across the street from a state park, so it will never be developed to the hilt like a lot of locations in Northern Virginia. And it has a pool and a playground in walking distance.

When I was being wheeled into the operating room later that night, I was comforted by this house. I knew it was God telling me that He had a hope and a future planned out for me, even if we lost the baby, even if I had cancer. Thankfully, the surgery determined that I did not have cancer and our son is now two and a half. We sit in this house and feel blessed beyond measure.

It took me two months recover from my surgery — probably because the baby was growing fast while I was also trying to heal. During that time, we closed on the house, around Christmastime. But it was only two months later that we faced our next hurdle: my husband, a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves, got the call that he would be deploying to Afghanistan three weeks after our son’s due date in April. Now, instead of feeling excited about all the house projects in front of us, I felt scared. I would be a new mom in a house that needed some work. How would I install curtain rods by myself? What if my husband never came home? I sat in my living room with the cracked windows and no window coverings and felt despair. We still had boxes in piles around the house.

When a soldier deploys, his or her spouse deploys, too, emotionally and psychologically. The difference is, that while a soldier feels some control over his situation, the spouse feels helpless. I channeled all of my worrying and anxiety into house projects and working out, two things I did have control over.

The first thing we did was replace the roof and windows; it gave Stephen great peace of mind to leave his wife and new baby in a house secure from the elements. Then, after he deployed, my parents visited from Seattle and it was like an HGTV show for two weeks. My dad lined the laundry room with pegboard and bought and organized tools. He even built and installed a wooden shelf to give me somewhere to fold clothes. My mom and I painted the kitchen and the basement bathroom. We hung all of my art. At one point, my mom was leaning out of the top of the living room window to prune the tree in front. We put night lights in every room and hallway of the house so that I would feel safe when I was up at night alone with the baby. It was a marathon, but it made all of us feel better about the whole situation. The house felt like it was holding my son and I together.

We even used the house to celebrate my husband’s return from Afghanistan. The summer after he came home, we installed our deck and put up bike hooks in the laundry room for our new bikes. Our sitter came over to watch our son every week so we could go biking and spend some missed time together. And the day my husband came home, our neighbors decorated not just our house but the street with bunting, banners, and flags. It was overwhelming.

My husband reminds me that I didn’t love the house at first, though. It had been hastily flipped and needed a lot of love. The tan paint they had sprayed on all the walls was matte and absorbed all dirt. The seals on a lot of the windows were broken, so they were letting moisture in. The kitchen cabinets had 18 years of grime and crayon to scrub off.

I call this house my learning house, where I taught myself how to do renovation projects. I learned how to clean wood with TSP and paint cabinets, to use a drill to install cabinet knobs, to paint walls like a professional. There were a lot of nights — a few were when we were trying and failing to install roman shades because the house had no window coverings — that I absolutely hated this house. I hope that when I’m house shopping for our next home, I can remember how a few years of love can really turn a house around. I also learned which projects I’m willing to do myself and which ones I’m willing to pay other people to do.

I love how many stories in our family’s book have been written in this house. My husband will always remember coming home from meetings to find me, pregnant, on a ladder, urgently nesting and painting. I will always remember laboring in the living room the morning my daughter was born, in the middle of a snow storm. These are the rooms I brought my babies home to, where we got to know each other.

The house cost $294,000. We put in about $14,000 for a roof and windows, and $5,000 for a deck. We could have potentially taken out a bigger loan and have bought a nicer first home, but we chose instead to go lower in our price range so that we could afford to do those house projects. We also wanted to be financially nimble for when I quit my full-time office job to stay at home with the kids, and financially prepared for my husband’s job situation to change at any time. The house is now worth more than we paid. Of course we’re glad that our deck addition and landscaping of the front yard will add value and curb appeal as we leave, but I’m most proud of how faithful we’ve been in loving the house.

I’m proud of how each room came together from family hand-me-downs, Craigslist finds, sales, and saving. In our bedroom, for example, I saved up for about a year for our gray upholstered headboard. The dresser is a friend’s grandmother’s. The secretary was bought from a man who refinishes furniture on the side of the road on a road trip to see my husband’s grandmother. The hexagon book shelf was in a shopping story on the color gray and bought for me as a birthday present from my mother-in-law.

There are so many moments in the house that make me happy. In my daughter’s room, there’s a ceramic teddy bear lamp that was mine as a child. My mom’s best friend made it for me, and I just updated it with a shade. Another good friend made the paper decoration over my daughter’s crib. And someone in the church made the origami mobile over my son’s bed.

Don’t be afraid to ask for the moon when buying something. I found the credenza in the kitchen on Craigslist as we were closing on the house. The only problem was that it was really heavy, we didn’t have a truck, and it was three hours away. I emailed the seller and told her my dilemma — and oh, by the way, could I have it for $100 less? — and it turned out she was an antique dealer trying to off-load the piece and she had a mover that came up to D.C. regularly. You never know! This piece was originally a file cabinet, so the right third drawers house all our family and work papers. The left two house our fancy china and serving ware.

Anything can be elevated to the level of treasure. The framed Starbucks menus in the kitchen were from when I was a barista in Seattle. The framer encouraged me to use museum glass since he rightly pointed out that they would be vintage someday, eventually! Already the menu prices are out of date.

The Army Reserves is only one weekend a month; during the rest of the time, my husband is an associate pastor at a local church. We’ve only been in this house for three years, but an exciting church opportunity arose in Wisconsin and when exciting opportunities arise, we go! We put as much love into this Virginia church as we put into this house during the last three years and we will miss them both the same. We are thrilled for our next adventure.

I’m excited to discover a new corner of the world. I never thought I’d live in the Midwest, but I know that there’s so much to find everywhere. I’ll need to find the good food, the hidden design gems, the local hot spots, and even the things the locals don’t know about. We spent two months in Vancouver, B.C. this summer for a temporary job and it was great practice in finding what’s great about a place.

I am excited about reinventing myself. I grew up in an Arts and Crafts home that my parents meticulously brought back to life over the course of 30 years, but I was also surrounded by Seattle’s contemporary architecture and interiors. Decorating a house in the Mid-Atlantic was a challenge for me at first; it’s much, much more traditional than I was used to, but I grew to love it. The light here allows for all of those colors you image the Founding Fathers using in their homes. I’m excited to maybe find a ranch home and channel a midcentury modern vibe, to reinvent my style.

I’m excited about how our new locale will affect my career, too. An editor once counseled me not to go into writing unless it was the only thing I wanted to do. That’s wise advice for any career in the arts, I think. I work really, really hard. I’ve done a number of unpaid internships. I often write in the late hours of the night.

I absolutely couldn’t do what I do without all the editors who have taken me on, given me assignments, been patient with my failings. I couldn’t do what I do without my husband who’s patient with deadlines that fall during vacations, projects that don’t generate enough income, and a wife who’s tired from staying up late. I love what I do and it’s a lot of fun, but it has also taken a lot of serious, heads-down work.

I love learning, period. I want to learn everything there is to learn! Which makes journalism the perfect career for me. I get to be nosy and ask people all these questions I might not be able to otherwise. And in the meantime, I’m gaining a lay understanding of interior design, architecture, and more. The research I do for my stories often introduces me to helpful ideas for the home and parenting.

It’s hard to not envy another writer’s career path. My kids help me with this, too. What will be most important to them when they are older. That I got a byline in a prestigious magazine? Or the memories we shared together? It’s hard to not seek after glory, but they remind me every day that the more important things are the small moments that are shaping their character and mine.

The first six months of my son’s life were such a struggle for me professionally. I wanted to write, but didn’t have much time to be fingers on a keyboard. I wrote during naps and stayed up late. I was sometimes unhappy about it. But I’ve realized that being a mom is actually making me a better writer. I solve problems in articles I’m working on or come up with ledes while I’m nursing. The kids force me to slow down so that when the time to write comes, I’ve done my thinking and can start writing. The kids have also given me new avenues; I’ve written a few stories for the Post’s parenting section.

Deadlines can be scary because a sudden sickness in the house could take up that last night of finishing a story. I now work much farther ahead of time and take the time I do get to write very seriously. I’m much more focused. That said, there is some crazy juggling that happens. During my daughter’s early months, I would take my son to the gym, where there’s great childcare, and use the time just to write. I typically have our favorite sitter come on Friday afternoons to play with the kids and that’s when I’ll schedule interviews. My patient husband has pulled over on the road before so I could get better reception for an important interview. One of my clients often needs me to conduct interviews really early or really late because the subjects are in different time zones and that works out perfectly because that’s when the kids are asleep. My flexible schedule and odd hours also tend to work well with my husband’s, since he works from home.

I’m honest when I’m doing interviews that I only have, say, 20 minutes before the baby wakes up, or that there might be toddler noise in the background. The majority of the time, the interview starts with us swapping stories about our kids and that helps make that important personal connection between myself and the subject that was harder to make before I had kids. I’m surprised at how flexible people are with kids. I even bring my littlest to design events.

We are going to rent out this townhouse and I’m scared that we won’t get renters who will take care of it. But I know that I need to get closure on this house before we move and realize that it’s not mine anymore; it’s just an investment. I won’t want to move back into this particular house after dismantling it and that’s okay. There are new adventures before us.

I didn’t start processing my sadness about leaving this house until I was editing the photos of my son’s room. His room was the first fully finished room in the house, and when my husband was deployed, it was the room where I nursed my son and prayed for my husband. I had used washi tape to put up photos from a newborn photography session over the changing table; it always gave me comfort to see Stephen holding our new baby in this pictures. I could close the door to that tiny room and feel safe. As I was remembering those moments, the tears finally came.

This house really taught me how to ask for help. We moved into our neighborhood dreaming about how we would get to know everyone and have backyard cook-outs. We envisioned helping our neighbors through the trials in their lives, and then, wham! We were the neediest ones on the block. I had to swallow my pride and ask people in our church to install the mobile in my son’s room, to help paint my husband’s office before his arrival back home. It was humbling. I see now how much I needed, and still need, to learn to be helpless. We had a house full of people from the church helping to paint the main living areas before Stephen deployed.

I wouldn’t have finished the stripes in my powder room without my saint of a neighbor. She loves design, too. She even gave us our first Christmas tree last years. We came home one day and found a fully decorated Christmas tree on our deck, a present from our neighbor who knew we had never felt we had the time or money to spend on a tree.

A wise friend of mine has counseled me to be all where you are. I take this to heart when we live somewhere.

I’m not going to wait to be quote-unquote settled before I decorate or wait until the kids grow up before I buy a nice piece of furniture. We could keep moving every two or three years for all I know, and it’s important to me that our house is a hospitable place to invite people in the meantime.

A big part of that for me is keeping the house clean and stocked and ready to be of service. It has to feel like a home in order for it to be a tool that we use to love other people. There must always be a place for a stranger to sleep for a night. We believe that our chief purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I think that our house helps us to do that.


I’m kind of misty you’re leaving this house, Lindsey! But I’m also excited by your dreams and excitement about your new home, too. I’m sure it’ll take care of you well!

I love what Lindsey writes about quote-unquote settling, don’t you? I really believe in living as well as you can at exactly this very moment. Someday is not my favorite word when it comes to decorating…or living, for that matter!

And I was also so moved by what she shared about “This house really taught me to ask for help.” I am sure we’ve all got a house like that in our histories, or maybe it was a particular moment when you needed something you couldn’t give yourself. If you think about it and want to share with us that one thing that taught you to ask for what you need, I’d sure 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Miranda Anderson Tue, 22 Sep 2015 14:00:22 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Austin! I think of Austin the same way I think of all those other cities where the locals love life in it so much that they hate the thought of ever leaving. Right, Portland-New York-San Francisco-Asheville-wherever you live, too? Miranda loves it there, and from the way she describes it, I think we all might!

Have you met Miranda? If you’re a crafty one who likes to sew, throw parties, eat yummy treats, or get your DIY on, you may have already met her. If not, please allow me to introduce our sweet tour guide today. She is lovely, as are her home and thoughts she’s sharing with us. Welcome, Miranda!

Our family’s beginning was love at first sight! Or as close as I ever imagined. I met Dave at church ten years ago in Utah where we both grew up. Immediately wanted to know him well, and within the first two dates was ready to say “Yes!”

At the time I was finishing my degree and nursing school, and Dave was playing Rugby for the USA Eagles. Soon after we were married, he decided to retire his cleats to focus on preparing for Law School. His degree is in Chemistry, and he went in to Law to practice IP law as a chemical patent attorney, which is a pretty unique and specialized field.

He is as much of an introvert as I am an extrovert, and we complement each other in all the best ways. He is calm, grounded, and diligent where I am excitable, ambitious, and somewhat reckless. I love him in the kind of way I always hoped to love my husband, and am a better person for all the time we spend together.

We had planned to start having children once he finished law school, so I could work full-time in my job as a RN Diabetes Educator to help support our way through. Instead, while on my graduation trip to Thailand we were inspired — after visiting a Buddhist tiger temple, though I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it! — to prepare to have a baby before law school had even begun.

Our first son Milo, now six, was born the day between Dave’s last two finals of his first year of school! Nothing like showing us how little we can plan when it comes to parenthood! He is outgoing and socially aware, really funny, and a sweet pleaser. It’s hard not to love Milo.

Our second son Eliot, now four, came after a move from New Hampshire to DC as Dave transferred schools, and not to be outdone by his brother decided to come two weeks before the BAR. Eliot is our sensitive child, has an imagination that inspires me, and is a total bookworm even though he’s just learning to read.

Finally, our almost two-year-old daughter Plum was born after we moved from DC to Texas. While I was pregnant with Plum I felt like she would complete our family perfectly, and so looked forward to meeting her. She is redhead and rosy-cheeked, and gets more attention than the rest of us combined. She is good natured, usually smiling, and recently became a bit of a tornado climbing all over the house, taking things out of cupboards, drawers, and generally leaving a happy mess wherever she goes.

As a family we love to be outdoors together, and go on hikes and camping trips, often with a pack-and-play set up in the tent. We all love food, and make a point to try new restaurants and food trucks when we go out. The boys would be happy playing Legos all day every day, and Plum is already getting right in there with them.

We loved living in the DC area where Dave finished school and took his first job at a busy law firm. The reality was that the high cost of living combined with the high workload requirement of Dave’s job meant we weren’t able to afford to buy a house at all, let alone one with a yard and a reasonable commute to the office. Somewhere during his second year I was ready to have another baby, and ready to see him more than late nights and Sundays. We made a pros and cons list of cities that we were interested in possibly living and Austin, Texas came out ahead. I had never been here, but everything we had heard and read sounded amazing, so I booked a last-minute flight to spend a weekend scoping it out.

For three days I went to open houses, ate five meals a day checking out the food scene, chatted with locals about the city, and basically fell completely and totally in love with it. I called Dave on day three and told him Austin was the right place for our family, and he should start looking for a job. Dave applied to a firm where an old colleague had once worked, got the job, and within two months we were packed up and driving across the country to start our life in Texas! I was 13 weeks pregnant with Plum.

Now, what was the question? How did this house become our home? Where the houses I had whimsically called about in the DC were 1500 sq ft un-renovated shacks, built in the 1950s, for no less than $750,000 (and usually more) in downtown Austin that same tiny, un-renovated shack was going for $300,000 cash, and going fast. I initially wanted to buy a charming older home on a tree-lined street somewhere in the hills, but keeping within our budget constrained us to either a smaller, totally un-renovated home in an older neighborhood (as mentioned before) or a slightly bigger and newer home in a newer, more suburban neighborhood.

Our realtor started showing me some of the latter. I was immediately turned off by the cookie cutter style pop-up developments where the homes were huge and nice, but the yards were small and the charm was absent. A friend sent me a listing for a home in our current neighborhood, and I went up late at night to do a drive-by. I really liked the neighborhood, which was older, but was being built in phases, so not everything looked exactly the same, there were lots of mature trees, and a new neighborhood elementary had just been built.

While the specific house that I had come up to see wasn’t what I was looking for, we went to church in the neighborhood the next day and a sweet woman, now a good friend, told me that the neighborhood had one final phase of development left and they had just taken the street barricades down for the new section. I never had imagined that we would build a new house, especially not as our very first house. But when we went into the development office the next day and looked at the site map, we saw a corner, cul-de-sac lot that backed to a nature preserve, and had twice the yard of most of these neighborhood homes. It looked like it was made for us.

There were about ten available floor plans to choose from, and we quickly spotted a 2400 sq. ft., four bedroom, three bathroom single-level layout that fit all our needs. After quickly crunching numbers and realizing we could put that house on that lot and have a little left over to upgrade to wood flooring, we signed our name. We had been in Austin for ten days! The builder gave us two weeks to choose all of the finishes and make any red-lines to the plans – we added a couple windows, turned all of the arched doorways to square, and totally customized the kitchen cabinets – then six months later we turned key on our first home!

In a lot of ways it feels like such a dream to have built just the home we wanted. In others, it sometimes feels like a lot of pressure. I vowed to myself when we moved in, after eight years of living in small apartments, that I would never complain about our house because I was so grateful to have one! What I didn’t prepare for was the overwhelming sentiment that I feel here now that we started from the ground up. I don’t know if we’ll move again. It seems reasonable that at some point we may, but we went in telling ourselves this could be our forever home, and try to love it like it is.

I love so much about where we live. The weather is beautiful all year. Which means we can walk to school, ride bikes before dinner, and play at the park on Saturdays. In the summer heat we visit some of the Texas swimming holes and cool down with splash pads. The winter gets just cozy enough for occasional sweaters and boots, and all of the sentimental pieces of fall and winter, but almost never cold enough for a heavy coat or to stay inside all day.

I love the landscape of Austin’s beautiful hill country. The plants here don’t get much water, and they still grow…except for the grass in my yard that finally gave up and went dormant until next year when we might have finally installed sprinklers! My favorite cactus and succulents grow naturally here, and wildflowers paint the sides of every highway in the spring.

I never realized how affected I am by the scenery of a place, and Austin’s scenery feels unhurried, unaffected, and resilient. I’d like that to rub off on me.

There is an amazing mix of old and new, vintage and modern, local and imported styles here. The whole city feels laid back, while still having a fresh, exciting undercurrent of creative entrepreneurship and tech startups. I really have a thing for food trucks, and Austin is basically paradise as far as that goes. My favorites include Las Trancas for al pastor street tacos, Bananarchy for frozen chocolate covered bananas, Torchy’s for queso (which has now franchised and is all over, lucky for me!), Holy Cacao for life-changing frozen hot chocolate, and Patrizi’s for the best homemade Italian you’ve ever had.

I grew up with a very artistic mother who decorates with emotion more than intention. I remember my mom talking about how a room felt more than how it looked, and I think I inherited that notion. My goal in decorating is to tell stories and create space for experiences and memories. I have never been very concerned with what went with what, or how things might all look together, but moreso how it would feel when I was there.

Something else I inherited from my mom was a love for original art. Following her example, I began buying art when I was in college, mostly as souvenirs from vacations. I was adding affordable, original paintings from street artists to my collection with every trip abroad I took. When Dave and I got married, I commissioned a watercolor from one of our favorite Utah artists as a wedding gift, and we’ve continued to buy affordable paintings, mostly from young, emerging artists all throughout our marriage.

Recently I’ve added some fun paintings from estate sales and decoration swaps to the collection, creating a really cool and meaningful collection.

One of my recently adopted decorating philosophies is to be at peace with empty space. When we moved from our 900 sq. ft. apartment to this much bigger house, we ended up with so much space it was a little overwhelming at first! I’m naturally somewhat of a minimalist, but not to the point of having totally empty rooms!

Rather than buying things just to fill the space — not to mention not being able to afford that — we have been patient and waited not only to find the right pieces, but to feel what the spaces in the house needed to become. One main room in our house sat completely empty as we tried to imagine it as a dining room (didn’t fit), then a study (didn’t fit), then a second living room (not quite right) then finally as sort of an indoor patio room, which feels like just what our home needed. A place with the primary purpose of relaxing, which is something we are all challenged to make time for.

Another firm belief I hold is that great design doesn’t have to be expensive. I was just taking stock, and I don’t think I’ve paid full price for more than one or two items in our whole house! While I’m not a regular thrifter, I’ve been able to find favorites at the occasional flea market, on Craigslist, at outlet shops, and even on the side of the road!

My inspiration for decorating comes a lot from books that show pages and pages of real homes. I love seeing how differently everyone lives, which reminds me that even though Pinterest is trending with all white kitchens or Lucite chairs, that isn’t the only right way. I should also mention that I use Pinterest often for browsing, but also find inspiration by following people on Instagram (I’m @livefreemiranda) whose style feels relatable to me. I have hundreds of screen shots of corners, vignettes, and ideas saved from scrolling through.

My most unusual source of inspiration may be simply from trips to Home Depot, whose aisles feel like billions of untapped potential DIY ideas. I always come home bursting with energy and ready to tackle a new project to make our home feel a little cozier, a little easier to live in, or a little more beautiful.

My favorite place in our home changes by the day. When it’s bedtime and we beam the lamps full strength to the boys’ ceiling to charge the stars, then shut off all the lights and find the constellations while I sing our favorite James Taylor songs as lullabies, it’s that spot. When I’ve had a long motherhood morning and the kids are all off at preschool and I settle into my studio with a bolt of new fabric, a dress design in my head, and four hours of uninterrupted silence, it’s that spot. On Friday nights it’s the floor of the living room where we’re all eating pizza and watching a movie together. In the winter it’s sitting on the hearth with a fire going, a cup of cocoa in my hand, and Plum on my lap.

I guess I can’t choose a favorite. It all feels like home to me.

For Dave, it’s the kitchen counter where the kids all sit together doing homework, chatting, and playing while I make dinner and he unloads the dishwasher or chases Plum out of the pantry. The kids would  probably say our bed, where they pile in on lazy for some snuggle time where we ask them all about their current favorites, and we decide together when to get up and head out for donuts.

My blog has been such an interesting adventure. It started in 2007 as a space to share with our family as we lived away from them, then naturally I started sharing projects and recipes and tutorials of things I was making, because I’m almost always making something!

I took a couple years off when I moved to Texas, and that break allowed me time to think about where blogging fit into my life. When I started blogging regularly again I decided to keep my content broad with lots of sewing and crafts along with tips for life and motherhood, but always ask myself what the takeaway will be for my readers, whether a tutorial, or a tip, or a bit of inspiration for their day. I know that it takes time and energy to read blogs, and hope my blog always leaves people feeling energized and inspired.

A few months ago, I wrote a series about managing energy that resonated with a lot of readers. I’d love to write more about this, and other ideas for making good choices, living with intention, and forgiving ourselves. It turns out it’s much more time consuming for me to sit and write an essay-type post than it is for me to crank out a great DIY project post, so that’s one reason I haven’t gotten as many written lately as I’d like. I have a couple great drafts sitting ready for editing, so hopefully soon there will be more food for thought along with the fun projects in months to come.

Blogging has been a part of my life for so long I can’t really imagine life without it. It has been a huge blessing to be blogging as a career in the last year, rather than as a hobby alone. Some of my very dearest friendships have come through blogging and attending blog conferences. While I was on sabbatical, it was the community feeling of blogging that I missed the most.

I’ve had a lot of fun opportunities come through blogging. I’ve taught a bunch of local craft and sewing classes, which I really love and can’t wait to do more of. I have formed some fun partnerships with brands I love and admire, like Babylock. Attending and teaching at Sewing Summit (which ended a couple years ago) and Alt Summit have been some of my most fun creative opportunities, and my life has hugely been impacted by the relationships I’ve formed and the lessons I’ve learned.

I studied nursing and worked as an RN for a few years, and thought that at some point if I ever needed a job, I’d go back to nursing. I don’t think that’s true anymore.

I feel so much more fulfilled creatively and satisfied with my outcomes with blogging, I think my fall-back would now be more like a fall-forward into some undefined creative pursuit. Maybe taking the leap into designing and developing a clothing line, maybe opening a workshop studio space to teach more regular classes, maybe taking my blog full-time instead of part-time. I think the idea that I can create the job I love has been validated by blogging, and I am so happy with the confidence that allows. And the possibilities.

I think my two most important principles to balance work and home life are to not multitask, and to take time off.

A couple years ago I heard an interview when you gave, Gabrielle, shared about trying not to mix work and motherhood too much because you ended up not doing either very well. That was an ah-hah moment for me, and when I really started to be honest with myself about the time I needed to work. I started dedicating specific hours without my kids to working, and hiring a babysitter so they would be having fun and well cared for while I had the space and time I needed to complete projects. Then, when I picked them up, I had all of my attention to dedicate to them, which made all of us super happy and much more relaxed. I don’t get it right all the time, but separating work and home life also helps me be more organized and efficient, because I have very specific timeframes for working, and can plan the hours well.

In addition to separating work and kids, I also have learned how important it is to take regular time off of both! People talk all the time about motherhood being a full-time job, but in a corporate full-time job the vacation days and time off are built in! Mothers do ourselves a disservice when we pretend that we can be ON 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, rather than recognizing the relief, inspiration, and happiness that comes when we allow ourselves time off from work AND motherhood.

For years I had never considered hiring a babysitter if I wasn’t working or going on a date with my husband. These days I schedule a babysitter every so often so I can read a book on the couch, take myself out to lunch and a movie, or browse local stores for inspiration. I come back from that time with a full battery and able to care for my family so much better.

I think that time away also creates a sense of abundance in motherhood, rather than the feeling of lack that I sometimes fall into. For as truly amazing as motherhood is, it can also feel a little like quicksand. When I allow myself time to get out, I don’t as often feel like I’m stuck in a situation I can’t control. I am able to recognize my resources of time, energy, and happiness, and build them up.

I’m curious how long we’ll live here, and how much of a memory my young kids will have of this time of our lives.

I hope their memories tell stories of warmth and sweetness, along with work and lots of development: Milo learning to pedal his bike on the street out front, Eliot practicing his pumping on the swings in the back, and Plum taking first steps down the long hallway in the middle.

They may not remember, but will have lot of pictures of their endless costume parades throughout the house, and of tying on their great-great-grandmother’s aprons to stand on chairs at the counter to help me make cookies or cake. They’ll probably remember setting the table for family dinner, or inviting friends over to jump on the trampoline then eat popsicles on the porch. I hope their memories are filled with family and friends, who support, help, and love them.

As far as Dave and me? Well, I’d love for my kids to remember us loving each other and working hard together. I hope they’ll remember us holding them tightly, singing to them softly, dancing with them wildly, and taking time to know them well so we can love them better all along their own journeys.

I wish someone had told me that life is made up of mostly ordinary days, and that the real significance comes through the patterns we find layering days upon days upon days and discovering what really means the most.

I have spent so much time trying fill my life up with spectacular and outstanding experiences, that I often have felt like the normal days were a failure in exceptionality. The truth I am finding is that normal days are the ones I’ll remember the most.

The motions turning to muscle memory as I go through again and again; bear hugs at the front door, giggling walks home from school, sharing pizza on Friday nights, helping little hands learn to wash the dishes and put away laundry, snuggling up to ready stories on the couch, and kneeling together to pray at night are the motions of my real, simple, beautiful life.

I am doing it well even when I don’t do anything exceptional. Not every day has to be perfect or different or special, because the layers they make together will be enough.


Thank you, Miranda! You make such a fantastic point about our most ordinary days: they are, in fact, our best. And over time, they even overshadow the extraordinary ones, don’t they?

I read a blog post ages ago about parents surprising their children with a trip to Disney. They were all on the plane, on their way, and they thought it would be the grandest bombshell ever to deliver the fabulous destination. I mean: Disney! However, their kids thought they were on their way to visit their grandmother, and instead of shrieking with joy at the Disney news…they cried for the rest of the flight that they wouldn’t be seeing her! What a compliment to that grandmother, right? And what a genius reminder that grand gestures and big moments aren’t always the best ones.

Have you ever experienced such a backfire? 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Wendy Hyde, 2.0 Tue, 15 Sep 2015 16:25:37 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Every once in a while, a former home tour guide checks in with a note that they’ve moved or redecorated or added a baby and finally there’s a girl in the house! And sometimes, there’s a note from one whose life turned a little sideways for a while but she’s happy to report she’s right side up again. That’s when I clap silently at my desk and offer up a “Yay, you!”

It is always good to check in on each other. I was especially pleased when Wendy did, and I know you will be, too. Hers was a popular, much Pinterested home tour! Yet somehow, this one seems even more fabulous. There are built-in bunks and a turquoise shade that makes me crave a turquoise wall. Come see, and please help me welcome back Wendy!

I am so glad to be back here on Design Mom sharing my new house with all of you! A lot has changed since the last time I visited, so let me re-introduce myself and my family. I am Wendy Hyde, an interior designer, blogger, and single mom of four amazing kids. Yes, single mom. More on that in a minute.

My oldest son is a sophomore in high school, an amazing film maker, and a talented violinist. My daughter is in junior high. She is good and kind. She loves to dance and can often be found tumbling in the living room. And I have two little boys only 18 months apart. The older of the two is in fourth grade. He is sensitive, but quick-witted and hilarious. He wants to be an author and illustrator when he grows up, and I have no doubt that he will be! And then there’s my youngest who is in third grade and loves sports of all kinds. He is full of energy and humor, and he keeps us all on our toes.

All three of my boys have been diagnosed with a genetic liver disease called Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency which currently has no cure. Although this disease can be devastating, we have been extremely lucky in that all three boys are basically healthy. Aside from our annual trips to the local children’s hospital for blood work and ultrasounds to check on the status of their livers, the disease doesn’t greatly affect our day to day lives. The realization that we are indeed very lucky that they are healthy gives me an increased gratitude for each and every day with my kiddos, and keeps me from ever taking this time for granted.

One of the biggest changes that has occurred since the last time I visited here is that I am now a single mom. I do not believe divorce is always the best option. And I avoided it for many years because I honestly wanted to make my marriage work. But there came a point when I realized  that divorce was quite truthfully the best option for my family. Thankfully, our divorce has been a friendly one.

And although I won’t say that it has been easy, things are better. Life is full of hope and we are happy.

When my children were little, we lived in Massachusetts. We owned a home there that we purchased right before the big real estate crash of 2007. Luckily, the real estate value where we lived stayed reasonably stable and we were able to sell that home after a couple of years before moving back to Utah in 2010. Since then, our family has lived in a rental home, and more recently in a rented townhouse.

After my recent divorce, the one thing I longed for more than anything was a place for my children to feel secure and settled. I wanted them to be able to have a house that they could look back on fondly as their childhood home: a place that would always be the house they grew up in.

I lived in the same house my entire childhood. My parents live there still. I wanted that same sense of stability for my own children.

When I purchased this house, just over a year ago, I wanted to give it a name. I’ve always wanted to live in a house with a name! I guess it stems from my love of all things English, and the fact that I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. So after much deliberation the kids and I decided to call it Hydeaway Cottage. Hydeaway is, of course, a play on our last name. But it is also a reflection of the fact that this home is a haven for us, a place where we can enjoy our time as a family and hide away from the stresses of life.

Our house is in a sweet little neighborhood that the locals refer to as The Cottages. It is a cluster of quaint, small homes which, rather than facing the street, face into a large, green common area. On one of the first nights after we moved in last year, all of the neighborhood kids, regardless of age, were playing a huge game of freeze tag on the grassy common between the houses. I watched them laughing, screaming, and running as the sun started setting, and I literally shed tears of joy because this was exactly what I had wanted for my children: a place where they could experience the joys of childhood as I remembered them.

And if I had any doubts before, they disappeared at that moment because I knew we were home.

On a more practical note, I decided to purchase our house in the same town where we had previously been renting. We only moved about a mile from the townhouse where we were living, so my kids were able to stay in the same schools and keep the same friendships and activities that they had become accustomed to. My office is only about a mile away from our house as well which makes my commute enviable!

Our town is approximately mid-way between the two major cities on the Wasatch Front (the main corridor in Utah) which makes it just about perfect as far as locations go. In the four years we have lived in our little town, it has grown quickly with tons of commerce and businesses moving in, but it has — so far, at least — managed to maintain its small town feel which was the reason I fell in love with it in the first place.

The growth of this area has been such that the town is building a second high school slated to open in the fall of next year. After buying our home and setting down roots here, I have a lovely sense of ownership in this community and I am probably as excited as the kids to watch this new high school open and to have my own children be a part of its inaugural class. It’s an amazing sense of community!

I work as an interior designer for the home builder who built my house. Rather than going through the building process myself, however, I purchased what is referred to as a quick-move-in or an available home. It was built before I started working for this particular home builder, and hadn’t been purchased in over a year. I think that’s because it was waiting for my family!

The footprint of the house is small, but it is charming and I knew it would be the perfect place for us. Because my specialty is new construction design, but I wasn’t the one who chose the finishes in this house, there are certain things I’d like to change to fit with my own personal aesthetic. So I am slowly, but surely, making changes as my budget allows. So far, I have switched out all of the standard lighting for new custom fixtures, I have added a wall of wainscoting to give personality to the main living space, and added a built-in bunk bed/desk combo in my little boys’ bedroom.

My future plans include painting out the dark cabinetry in the kitchen so that it matches the white kitchen island (I’ve always been a fan of a classic white kitchen) and adding a marble subway tile backsplash. I’d also love to replace the main floor carpet with hardwood, to add a fireplace, and to add a few built-ins scattered here and there throughout the house.

As for décor, I wanted this house to be a fresh start. But my budget prevented me from starting completely over with furnishings. This house is larger than our previous townhouse but the layout is so different, and I actually had to sell off some of my larger pieces because they simply would not fit in the new space.

My idea was to reinvent the remaining pieces that I brought with me, and to add a few new pieces to freshen it up. Luckily, my sofas are slipcovered, so I was easily able to change them from a linen color to a charcoal gray which made a huge difference in the feel of the space. My father built a rustic dining table for me not long before we moved to the new house. I was really afraid it might not fit in the new dining area and was relieved when it did! I paired it with a pretty settee for a bit of a high-meets-low look.

I find it so interesting, as a designer, how different the same furniture can look in two different spaces with just a few small tweaks. And although I know it will change as time goes on because I am fickle when it comes to décor, it’s been fun to pull this space together.

My professional life is busy! Not only have I been writing my blog, The Shabby Nest , for the past seven years, but as I mentioned, I work as an interior designer for a large home builder here in Utah. I have also recently completed my first interior design book, Decorating For Real Life, which was released in October of last year.

And about the blog! I have recently added a new weekly feature on The Shabby Nest called Thin For You Thursday. During the past two-and-a-half years while I was going through the stress and difficulty of divorce, I gained weight. And I have had a difficult time taking it off. While my younger sister was visiting me from out of state this summer, we were discussing how hard weight loss can be — especially once you’ve hit that magical age of 40 and your metabolism all but stops! We thought it would be fun to start a weekly column on my blog for other women who might be struggling with the same issue.

One of the biggest indicators of success in weight loss is having a support system and that’s what we’re hoping Thin For You Thursday will become. We want it to be a place where weight loss can be realistic and healthy and where we celebrate even the tiniest victories. Weight loss is hard. But we hope that this column can help to make it a bit more bearable.

Phew! That’s a lot! But I love having a lot on my plate. And I am grateful that I can be an example to my children of what determination and hard work can accomplish.

My favorite part of living in Hydeaway Cottage with my children is the fact that we all feel completely at home here. Our house has a personality that echoes who we are and it makes me truly happy. I love the fact that we are creating magical memories that will define my children’s youth.

For instance, every night after I tuck my little boys into bed, I sit on the floor near their beds and read to them. Right now we are in the middle of the Harry Potter series. It has taken us the better part of a year, and we are on book six. I love sitting with them, watching them listen and then slowly drift off to sleep. It will be a memory I will always cherish.

But even as we are creating these memories, I already miss having all of my children under one roof since I know that the years we have left together — as we are now — are growing short. My oldest son is in high school, and will be heading off to college before I know it. I look forward to creating many more memories in this house and soaking in each and every day that we have here together here as our little family.

If my kids can have one memory of me during this time in our lives, I hope they remember that I don’t take myself too seriously. I love to laugh. And I love to make them laugh. And the laughter that we share within the walls of our home — and there is a lot of it — is something I cherish.

I work hard and I am happy to do it. I want them to know that I am grateful to have the opportunity to create a wonderful life for them. But I also want them to know that happiness (and laughter) is important!

I wish someone had told me that although being a single parent is scary…and hard…I could and would be happy doing it. I have learned through this experience that I believe in myself in a way I never thought possible. And although it is not the path I had envisioned, or one I would have necessarily chosen, I wouldn’t change the lessons I am learning from it for the world.


Thank you, Wendy! I know there are probably a few readers doing the happy clap at their desks, too! Your home — and your new life — are quite lovely. Oh, that turquoise.

It’s hard to divulge the not-so-pretty aspects of our homes, isn’t it? But I think when we’re straight with each other, life is better.

“Hey. I went through this,” one of us says. “Me, too,” chimes in another. And another and another and another. And all of a sudden, it’s not so lonely or hard anymore. I do love it when it all works like this, 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Petra Eyre Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:00:47 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Adorable family shots by Adam Graham.

Have you ever heard the saying “Love doesn’t have any borders?” It’s a common thought in Germany, brought to us by Petra, a Munich native who fell in love with a Canadian, and eventually decided to move from a city of almost two million people to a small town called Yarmouth in Southwestern Nova Scotia where the highways end. Literally.

She’s also the beaming owner of 123 Lausbua, a kids’ clothing company whose wares are mostly designed by Lili. I should mention that Lili is almost six and, as it happens, very good at her job. (And as long as we’re learning a spot of German today, lausbua means rascal!)

There’s more to this story, including a lot of happy corners and a lake for a front yard. You’re going to enjoy this one, I just know it. Welcome, Petra!

If you would have asked me 20 years ago where I would see myself living in the future, my answer sure wouldn’t have been Nova Scotia! Coming from a small town in Southern Germany, I didn’t even know where Canada’s third smallest province is. Traveling has always been a passion of mine but I had never made it this far East in Canada. Plus, I love the sunshine and my dreams always included living in the South. Now I’ve been living here for almost ten years and I love it. We might not have sunshine every day, but we have the beaches which were also a big part of my dreams!

We are a family of four. There’s Jamie, my husband, who is a software developer by trade and the handiest man — besides my grandfather — I have ever known. He can build or do anything. He’s also my best friend and the person I love to spend my time with.

Then there’s Lili, our almost six year old daughter, whose personality is, as I’m told, a lot like mine as a kid. She loves an audience, and she would be involved in every sport or social event if possible. She’s definitely our daredevil. She is strong and very strong-willed. She’s also a wonderful big sister, always taking her little brother by the hand, showing him the world and letting him be part of her imaginative play.

Luis, or Lulu as he calls himself, is our baby. He just turned three. He always tries to make the people around him laugh. If others are happy, he’s happy. He’s also a very sensitive soul and a lot more careful than his sister. He’s generous, cuddly and a perfectionist. So am I.

l’m Petra. When we moved to Canada, I went back to university and switched careers — from a PR manager to an elementary teacher. My days as an educator are never the same, which I love, and working with ‘my other kids’ is very rewarding. My job also lets me show what I am best at: being creative and organized.

Jamie, who is Canadian, and I met while he was traveling in Europe. After spending a year as an au pair in the United States while my parents feared I’d meet someone from so far away, I happened to run into him at a friend’s house in our town. It was love at first sight. To me, it’s still incredible how we made our relationship work with such a distance between us. “Love doesn’t know any borders” is a German saying, and this was very true for us. We traveled back and forth during our university years but also spent six months in Australia before settling in Munich, Germany. After five years there, Jamie longed not only to be near the water again but also for the vastness and spaciousness that his home, Nova Scotia, has to offer.

This move was huge. From Munich, where almost two million people live, to a small town called Yarmouth in Southwestern Nova Scotia, where the highways end. Literally. I’m glad I’ve visited there before. Visiting, however, is very different than living somewhere permanently. There are still days, lots of them actually, where I miss home — my family, my closest friends, my culture, and my food!

When moving here, I had one condition that needed to be fulfilled: I wanted to live right by the ocean. I always associate the ocean with vacation. As kids, my parents took us to the Mediterranean in Italy, Spain, and Croatia, as a teenager I traveled through Scandinavia, England, Greece — all countries on the water. I knew that if I was moving to a province almost completely surrounded by the ocean, that’s where I wanted to live.

Jamie, being a local, knew better. He convinced me that it is much more versatile to live on a lake. It took me a while to admit, but he is right. The ocean here is not like the ocean I experienced growing up. The Atlantic is cold and so is the wind off of the water. A lakefront home it was, and I never had any regrets!

I was still in Germany when Jamie sent me pictures of what became our home, the place we would eventually raise our kids. It was a basic cottage, and very small. But, it was right on the water and a minute’s drive from town. Wow! We would never have been able to afford anything like this in Munich, where an apartment would have cost more than our little house on the lake did.

When I finally saw the house in person, there really wasn’t much to think about. After a short drive to the lighthouse, we made an offer and the house was ours the same day. We renovated to make the place livable for just the two of us. We had 572 square feet with an amazing view which belonged to us. It also included a home office for Jamie which he accessed by a ladder. He wasn’t able to stand up in it!

We had big plans, though. A few years later the extensive renovations started which included adding a downstairs (the existing house was lifted and moved just slightly to the left) and a second story to one part of the building. We added 1100 square feet of living space over time. It’s not huge but is very comfortable. Lots of floor-to-ceiling windows facing the lake make it appear very spacious and add a sense of living outside all year long.

Our home is not the traditional Nova Scotian home you might find; the European influence I grew up with and influences from our travels are definitely visible throughout our house. Both my husband and I like contemporary furniture and art, very minimalistic and clean.

Despite being so little, our kids have seen quite a bit of the world already. They have no choice as we take them to Europe every year. It is very important to me that they know where I come from, that they feel at home there and know the culture as much as the language. They are both growing up bilingual. When we are in Canada, we call it our secret language which makes it super exciting for them. As comfortable as our kids are traveling, home to them is here and they get excited when we turn onto our dirt road and they see their lake.

People often comment on our property and how it is not very kid-friendly. Fortunately, we were able to teach our kids both love and respect for the water. It certainly helped to have them enrolled in the local swim program since they were a few months old. We also have rules instilled in them when it comes to the water. They both know, for example, not to go in without an adult nearby. We have had a very hot summer and I think it’s just amazing when their first question in the morning is, “Can I go for a swim?” and I can happily say, “Of course you can!” Any time.

During the summer months, we take advantage of the water daily. Fishing, boating, tubing, kayaking, and swimming. Lili’s newest passion is wake-boarding. She’s getting so good at it! We also use the lake in the winter. How many people can say they have their private skating rink in front of their house?

That’s when Luis, our little hockey lover, is in heaven. A bonfire right by the shore keeps us warm on cooler summer nights as well as on cold winter days. There is definitely plenty of the stereotypical Canadian lifestyle happening in and around our European looking house!

To Jamie’s dismay, a few months ago I started invading his office with my newest adventure. I created a small kids clothing line, called 123 Lausbua. I’m in love with modern and simple clothing for kids and have been looking for birthday shirts for a long time. I had no luck and decided to make them myself, with Lili as the designer. All the writing on our shirts is done by her!

She and Luis also model for me. They have discovered that they can make money by charging 25 cents for a photo with a huge smile! The name suits us; Lausbua is German and means rascal. Besides number shirts, we have added other designs. Every one of them has a connection to our children. It makes my day seeing all these kids in our label.

I hope Lili will always remember how much fun it was but also how much dedication it took to put this small business together. I also hope that she learned how much I value her opinion and listen to her thoughts — no matter her age.

We are living a happy life here in Yarmouth. Even though sometimes I just long for a few hours to sit in a cafe and people-watch, or to grab some ethnic food, I know that living here allows our kids to have opportunities that we wouldn’t be able to offer them in other places. However, by exposing them to different people and countries, different food and customs, I hope they will grow up continuing to explore while having our Nova Scotian home as a base. I hope they will remember the fun we have around the water and traveling the world together.

I wish someone would have told me that saying good-bye never gets easier. Every time I leave Europe to come to my new heimat, it gets more difficult. I’m always torn between staying there and coming back here. In my heart I know though that I belong wherever we are happy as a family. For now it’s here, but sometime it might be there — or somewhere in the South!


Thank you, Petra! I could look out your windows all day, no matter the season, but the view inside is awfully breathtaking, too. Thanks for sending scenes from the winter, too! You’re a gem for sharing it all with us today.

I wonder how many of you have made a home far, far from your home? Far away from your language and customs and, in a way, your people. How are you doing with the adjustment? What helps? What doesn’t remotely help? And how do you carry it all — the language, customs, and as many people as you can — with you? 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Michelle Waters Tue, 01 Sep 2015 12:00:09 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Michelle is a total joy. I know you’re going to be moved by her words, her enthusiasm for her city, and even her love for a feature in her basement renovation. You’ve just got to adore someone who describes her basement-turned-kids-bedroom like this: “I figured that exposed brick is a thing nowadays, so now I’m trying to make exposed concrete a thing, too.” I enjoy people who make things a thing, don’t you?

And her memories of a bittersweet home project…oh, it made me swallow a gulp.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this one, Friends. Enjoy it, please. Welcome, Michelle!

Hello from Portland! I’m Michelle and I like to think of myself as a bit of a dabbler; there are so many things that interest me that it is hard to pick just one! My husband is Steve, and he’s the more dedicated one in our duo. He’s a thinker and a doer. He sees possibility everywhere and I love him for it.

We met in college our freshmen year at the University of Portland. We fell in love with each other and this city and have never left. We got married while still in college and had our first daughter at the beginning of our senior year – which wasn’t the way we planned for things to go, but we figured that since we’re in this kid thing, we might as well run with it! So now we have three: Ellie is five, Olivia is four, and Henry is two.

Ellie is definitely the big sister. She likes keeping the younger ones in order, sneaking chocolate chip cookies, practicing her math, and singing karaoke at the top of her lungs. Just 17 months younger is our whirlwind, Olivia. Her feet hardly ever touch the ground because she is so light-hearted and carefree. She’s the perfect middle child as she is interested in dolls and dress-ups as much as mud and cars. Henry is our boy and he adds a good balance with all his trucks and airplanes and dragons and monsters. His big sisters are always telling him what character he is playing in their games, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s a little love bug who is talking up a storm recently, and even though I love hearing all the thoughts in his head, I am sad that his babyhood is slipping away.

Just like all families with young kids, there are times when everyone is crying, but in the end we all really enjoy each other.

When my husband and I were ready to buy a house, we knew we wanted to be in North Portland because we love the feel of the community. It is almost like a small town: very laid back and safe, with lots of parks and easy access to good schools, grocery stores, and kid-friendly restaurants. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of other people must be wanting these perks, because the neighborhood was getting more and more expensive. So as we were looking, we couldn’t find anything in our price range that was a good fit.

Eventually we realized we would need to get a project house in order to live in this neighborhood, and we decided that was worth it. The house we have now was actually listed for several months, but we never even considered it because it only had two bedrooms. When we took a look at it, we saw there was plenty of potential to add bedrooms and make adjustments to make the house work, so we bought it.

I’m so glad that we chose this house based on location. I think if we had chosen another house somewhere we didn’t feel as comfortable, it never would have felt like home. This house is a 40s ranch style on a corner lot, right next to a park, on a quiet street with blue hydrangea and pink dogwood trees everywhere. And there are plenty of projects to be done to make it ours.

As we settle in and make our changes, I can’t help but love it here more and more. We have everything we need, and there’s still room for us to grow or to make changes or to fix things up just the way we want them to be.

We live in a beautiful part of Portland that overlooks downtown from across the Willamette River. On early morning bike rides I can watch the sun rise over the city and I feel so lucky to live where we do. Portland itself is wonderful because it has such a relaxed and casual feel. It’s easy to take our kids anywhere here, and people are very friendly. Our particular neighborhood is the best of the best, in my opinion, because we have that easy feeling of a small town, but with all the perks of a big city right outside our door – delicious food, good music, and fun community events like movies in the park or neighborhood-wide bike riding days.

We are extra fortunate to live equidistant between downtown Portland and neighboring Sauvie Island, which is beautiful farmland where we spend a good chunk of our summers and falls picking berries, peaches and apples. Since I feel like I oscillate dramatically between being a city girl and a country girl, this place is just right for me. I could choose either on any given day!

Besides the relaxed community feeling, the weather might be my favorite part of this city. I just adore the seasons here. The winter is perfect for wearing socks and snuggling up with hot chocolate and a movie. And then the spring comes and the pink trees look gorgeous paired with grey skies and everything feels so alive and fresh. And then I’m ready to go out exploring the city and the nearby Columbia River Gorge when it dries out in the summer, which is perfectly warm and rarely gets too hot. (Although I’m kind of a wimp now who thinks the rare days that it reaches 97 degrees are pretty close to unbearable. Ha!) And just when I can’t stand the heat any longer, the leaves change and lovely cool weather seeps in and it’s time for hot tea and boots and apple picking once again.

Another thing I love about this city is that we’re big on the sharing economy here. Just a few months ago I discovered that each neighborhood has a free tool library. So we can borrow tools for our house and yard projects instead of having to fork over the cash to purchase or rent them. I’m telling you, this is a great feature. It makes house projects just that much more affordable – and therefore, doable.

We have done quite a bit of renovating! There’s a long list still to do, but when I think back at all that has happened, I realize we’ve accomplished a lot. Our house started out as a two-bedroom, single-level home with an unfinished basement. We have added two more bedrooms by digging out egress windows and finishing half of the basement.

And by we, I mean my husband and his father and brother, who cut the concrete of our foundation and then poured the concrete retaining walls around the egress windows – which are big enough to make the bedrooms legal and let in a lot of light.  Cutting the windows out of the concrete was no joke; it left a thick layer of dust over the entire house and yard. So if anyone ever asks me if I’ve ever cleaned my house from top to bottom, I can attest that at one point I actually did clean every square inch of this place. But it was worth it to have so much light down there and to create so much extra living space right where we are.

The concrete wall you see there is in the girls’ room and is one half of the basement renovation. The second room is not pictured as it is still a work in progress. I figured that exposed brick is a thing nowadays, so now I’m trying to make exposed concrete a thing, too.

It sounds like it would feel cold, but basement living is actually extremely practical! The rooms stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer because they are below ground. To cozy up the room a bit, we painted the cement floor white and laid down rugs.  We also hung long, sheer curtains from Ikea on one of the walls to add some softness and warmth without diminishing the precious light from the window. It’s definitely a little quirky, but I love that we could eventually almost double the living space of our home just by making the basement usable. I have big plans for the other half of the basement as time and finances allow.

Another kind of funny renovation we did was to finish our attached garage to make it a playroom and family room. We laid laminate flooring over the cement, covered up an outside entrance, and sheet-rocked the walls to make it a cozier space.

Perhaps one of my favorite features of this house is that the original door to the playroom from the kitchen is an external door, so it makes the room essentially sound proof from the rest of the house. I can have coffee with a friend in the living room while our kids blast karaoke in the playroom and everyone is having a nice time! As the kids grow, I envision the room growing with them and someday holding a ping-pong table and a movie projector screen for sleep-overs.

This renovation project in particular has a bittersweet connotation to it. When my sister passed away at only 21 two and a half years ago, we were in the middle of the garage redo. I was sanding down mud and tape on the sheet rock when I got the call that I needed to come home right away. A few weeks later, when we returned to the project amidst grief and blinding pain, it was good to have something to do to keep moving forward. A hands-on project that didn’t require much thought, but symbolized that life could move on, that it could get better, that her death wasn’t the end of the story.

I’ve done several mudding and taping projects since then, and oddly, they make me feel close to her. It’s like her touch in this house, even though she actually never came here; we had just moved in when she passed away. It’s a way she has left a permanent mark that is always there, even if it isn’t always visible. And now those sanding lines have been covered over by texture and paint and furnishings. The kids play in there with all their friends. We do art projects there. But time and change will never fully erase that mark that her life made, Even though it lies below the surface, it is a permanent fixture of my life, just as the sanding lines are a permanent fixture of this house. This physical project, this labor of love for my children, helped me put my own grief and confusion into a perspective that allows me to move on and still experience life fully, even with a scarred heart.

I think my decorating philosophy comes from three main ideas: First of all, I want everyone – both children and adults – who come into our home to feel comfortable. For me to be comfortable, it means I sometimes choose the practical over the beautiful and fragile for my own peace of mind. I want my kids and their friends to be just as happy here as I am, and I don’t want them to feel like they can’t be kids here because I have to keep everything just so.

We used earthquake safety kits to strap the shelves in the living room to the walls, so I don’t have to worry about anyone pulling them over. We chose couches that maybe aren’t my favorite aesthetically, but for this stage in our life, they’re perfect; they are comfortable and easy to clean and I don’t mind having my whole family of ten over to stay the night!

But I also want to be able to show our personality. I have several friends who have decorated their homes so well that when you walk in it is like entering a three-dimensional expression of their heart. And I love that. I feel so comfortable in their homes; it is so inviting when someone puts their heart into their home. I hope people feel the same way when they come to mine.

We also make do with what we have. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money for extra things like decorating, but my mother always kept a beautiful home. Even though she might not have had her dream furnishings, she put her personal touch into everything and she was resourceful with her space. So I keep extra prints in the back of each of the frames so that when I’m craving something new or seasonal, I can simply rotate back to another print and everything feels exciting again.

Most of the gallery walls around here are made up of postcards from our travels – seriously the least expensive and most compact souvenirs ever! – and I decorate a lot with art made and gifted to us by talented friends. My brother is especially artistic and sometimes if I ask really nicely, he will make me custom art for my home. I think it’s extra special to have something made by someone you love.

I also think it’s fun to mix unexpected details, like sparkling chandeliers in a garage-turned-playroom, or tea towels as curtains in the kitchen. I take each piece on it’s own merit and wind up with a bit of an eclectic mix of ideas and colors and themes. And maps. Always maps.

For a long time I thought that this was our starter home. That someday we’d move on to something bigger and better. Isn’t that the American Dream? But recently I’ve let go of that. Maybe we will move someday, maybe we won’t. The point is that what is here now is good and there’s no reason to be pining away for something better.

One of the main things I’ve learned throughout this house renovation is that it doesn’t have be be perfect to be beautiful. There are lots of unusual things about this house, and it’s nothing extraordinary – in fact, it’s rather plain – and I could have let that keep me from making it feel like home. I could have been so frustrated with the to-dos that I never really let myself just enjoy the space for what it is, imperfections and all. But I’ve realized that if you have a cool piece of artwork or an unusual paint color or you tape Instagram pictures to your wall, nobody notices the imperfections. Nobody is looking at your DIY, somewhat imperfect flooring if you have a beautiful painting to look at instead.

I started blogging when my first daughter was a newborn as a way to stay creative and keep doing things. It has morphed in different ways over the years. I love that I have catalogued my kids’ childhoods there and that all our favorite recipes get posted. I have even tracked down family recipes and I add them there so we’ll always have them. Someday I envision having it bound in some form for my children as a graduation or wedding gift: the ultimate scrapbook that includes a family cookbook! And I like to practice photography and talk about my favorite things to do in Portland with kids. I think this is great city to explore with kids, and I love to show our favorite places. I hope it encourages other Portlanders to explore our beautiful city.

And I hope to tell a real story about living with kids. I want to tell the happy stories because those are the ones I want to remember. But I also want to be honest about what it’s like to be a mother. It can be hard to do that, to be vulnerable, but I love the connections I have made through that vulnerability.

There are so many blogs that inspire me to be a better mother, a better friend, a better person, to think differently about the world. I can’t even count the number of times a blog by a complete stranger has changed my perspective on something, or has lifted my spirits on a hard day, or has made me really grateful for an experience I was taking for granted.

As someone who has always been a big fan of the sisterhood of womankind, I love that the world of blogging can be a place where we all share our stories. We all learn a little, we all teach a little. We give a piece of our hearts and we get a piece of someone else’s. I think that is just splendid. I love blogging. Although it sometimes slips low on my priority list, I always come back.

I hope they remember playing with each other and staying up until way-too-late talking and laughing. I hope they remember that we were only pretend mad at them for not going to sleep, and secretly we loved it that they couldn’t get enough of each other, even after bedtime. I hope the girls remember pushing their beds together in what they call their “two bed stick” because being even a few feet apart was much too far.

I hope they remember staging Frozen re-enactments complete with all the songs and almost all the lines and how Henry liked to say, “I’m Olaf. I’m melting.” I hope they remember dance parties and inflatable pool parties and eating cherry tomatoes out of the garden. I hope they remember always getting to lick the beaters and hiding in the closet to tell ghost stories.

And I also hope they remember that I taught them to be givers and teachers by my example. Maya Angelou said, “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” I hope that this is our time of both learning and teaching, getting and giving.

I hope that my kids remember that I lost my temper sometimes, but I said I was sorry. That I taught them to make the world a better place in whatever way they can. I can teach them to be content with fewer toys and gadgets by being content myself. I can be conscientious about my consumption and make do with the things I already have instead of getting new ones. I can reuse and repurpose as much as possible. I can make good food for people and talk about important things and how we can make the world better with our actions, however small they may seem. I can make my children feel safe and loved here, so they always know that this place is a refuge from whatever storms may come.

I’ve always thought of our home as a trampoline – it’s where you always land. And if it’s a good trampoline, it propels you into wherever you want to go.

I hope my kids remember that this was a good place to be. We loved each other. We made mistakes and we forgave each other. We laughed a lot. We were very grateful just to have one another.

It might sound weird, but my other favorite part of this house right now is the noise. The playing and singing and laughing and dancing and pretending. I already know I couldn’t bear to live here when my little ones are all grown up and off to college; it would feel too lonely and too quiet. Not that I don’t relish a little alone time here every once in a while, but after a few hours I want everyone to come back home so we can be together.

I love the feeling of home here. It’s nice to be a grownup and get to decide things about your house, don’t you think? I didn’t know it would be something I would enjoy so much. And I love how cozy and intimate it is here. I have always loved to travel and to escape, and it’s only now that I love coming back just as much. I love bringing home reminders of our adventures, but I am also just as content to make memories in our home. Some of my most magical memories and most treasured traditions have taken place right here.

I wish someone had told me earlier to fill in the gaps with good. My husband says this to me, and it’s such a good reminder to give myself, my children, my friends, even perfect strangers the benefit of the doubt. I wish I had learned earlier to give myself grace…to think that if the house is a mess it’s not because I’m a failure at housekeeping, it is because we’re having too much fun cooking together or playing games. I wish I had learned earlier that every parent has doubts about what they’re doing and if it’s working and that if they say something that hurts me, they probably didn’t mean to; we all love our children and we are all trying our best.

It’s so easy to be critical, or to feel criticized. It’s so easy to feel lacking. But it’s so much better to be grateful. I am realizing that I have the choice of what kind of person I am going to be. Because encouraging or discouraging, I am changing the world around me. My outlook, whether positive or negative, and the actions that stem from it, affect my home, my children, and my community. It changes everything when I choose to find the beauty and the joy in the mundane, to find the good in the imperfect.


Fill in the gaps with good. Yes, Michelle, I think you just did. Thank you so much for sharing your joy for your life as it is.

And I think we all probably took something away from this thought: “For a long time I thought that this was our starter home. That someday we’d move on to something bigger and better. Isn’t that the American Dream? But recently I’ve let go of that. Maybe we will move someday, maybe we won’t. The point is that what is here now is good and there’s no reason to be pining away for something better.”

Who’s looking at their starter home with a little more love right now?

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Etienne Fang Tue, 25 Aug 2015 12:00:22 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lisa Leckie.

I love the design of Etienne’s home. To me, it seems like a complicated, layered, and yet still somewhat of a blank canvas that’s able to hold bold and colorful and fresh family memories, day after day. I tour through her home and I spy spots to cozy up whenever the urge to cozy up strikes, books well within reach, and toys that add to the decor, and I find myself breathing a contented sigh. But then I see her views, and sigh again. I highly doubt I’d ever need a piece of art or a television with those stunning scenes peeking in every window.

And speaking of sighing, there’s also this inspired, break-your-heart-a-little advice from Etienne’s dad to his young artist: “Even if something has been made before, it hasn’t been made by you.” I’m borrowing that one, won’t you?

Welcome, Etienne!

I am the daughter of a poet and an accountant. This means that I am a dreamer and overly practical all the the same time. I am deeply passionate just about everything I do, and live for inspiration. If I am not thinking about the next big thing, I get bored.

I am a design strategist, and formerly an interior designer and educator. My husband is a design manager of the growth team at Uber, was recently at Apple, and has a background in branding and advertising. We have two hilarious sons, Lucian is six and Julian is three. We all love kung fu, ice cream cones (cones more than the ice cream part), and family dance-offs to 80’s hip-hop.

My husband and I met two months after I finished undergrad at an outdoor dance performance with Merce Cunningham at Lincoln Center. He approached me that night because he’d seen me at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Museum (now part of MOMA). That summer, I was an art teacher, archivist, and door girl at the first season of P.S. 1’s outdoor “Warm Up” DJ parties, which spawned museum DJ parties everywhere. As the door girl at the coolest event of the summer, I got to meet the coolest people in NYC. Jason and I fell in love immediately and have been together now for 18 years.

Jason is also the one who introduced me to the world of design. Though I’d studied fine art in college – photography, to be specific – I had no idea what design was. I thought design was something that failed artists did to make money. But when I met Jason and his friends, who were all designers, I realized that design thinking – with its balance of creative and pragmatic – was what I’d been seeking all along.

I was born in Taiwan and moved to Piedmont, California, a city right next to Oakland, when I was in kindergarten. When I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to wait to go as far away as I could to college. So I went off to New York, where I ended up staying for 13 years. Despite falling in love with NYC, I never considered myself a New Yorker. Once my husband and I got married and started thinking about our next chapter, we began plotting our way back to the Bay Area. When we both got job offers in San Francisco, we immediately started looking for a home in the same area where I grew up.

When we were planning our next destination after NYC, my husband created a spreadsheet with various factors to compare several potential cities that we could move to. We quickly realized that the San Francisco Bay Area would be the most expensive, with a higher cost of living than even NYC. It would’ve made more sense to move to Portland or Boston! But that didn’t stop us, as my family is out here, as well as the unparalleled world of design innovation, and of course, the sunshine.

Moving back to the Oakland, the place where I grew up, has been a wonderfully rewarding experience. Oakland has improved tremendously in the past decade and continues to get better. It’s developed a personality akin to our beloved Brooklyn that is experimental and innovative, while staying authentic. I cannot imagine a better place to be living with our kids at this point in our lives. My husband and I would love to move back to NYC once the kids are out of the house, but before we’re too old to walk up subway station stairs or dodge yellow cabs.

We ended up buying the house in the Oakland hills that once belonged to my grandparents who had passed away a few years prior. I had spent a lot of time at this house growing up, so it has a ton of sentimental value for me, and for my large extended family.

When we bought the house, it was a mess. It had three rooms with orange wallpaper, one working stove burner, an amber glass wet bar, and dingy white carpet throughout. We’ve been lovingly restoring our house over the past seven years and have made it unique for our family.

Though we did the lion’s share of the work within the first nine months of buying the house, we continue to evolve and personalize it. There are always more improvements we want to make to our house. Next up might be a hot tub deck, or rebuilding our garage to become a studio and guest cottage.

Though I’m a trained interior designer, I had a hard time at first establishing our style at home. Previously, I designed commercial spaces for Rockwell Group Architecture & Design: restaurants, retail, libraries and hospitals, to name a few. However, designing one’s home takes into a completely different set of programmatic and aesthetic considerations. I tend to favor the bold over the subtle and have to work hard at making things homey.

The hanging swing on our front porch is my happy place. And it doubles as a climbing structure for my three year-old whose motto is “nothing is not climbable.” The chair is hung low so that little people can hop right in. We’ve had mamas rock their babies to sleep in this swing at our parties while all the action was in the backyard.

My favorite part of our home are the breathtaking views. The view from our back deck never gets old. We have had countless parties back here, of upward of 80 guests – kid birthday parties, school parties and family parties. You can see San Francisco and the bay from our dining room. This is where the boys learned the words “ascend” and “descend” while they watched airplanes with my mother, who’s formerly an air traffic controller, and keep track of the blue birds and cats that call our backyard their home.

Once you walk into our house, you are welcomed by a large open space. I designed the long benches with storage baskets originally for our Brooklyn apartment, and my talented father-in-law built them. The baskets in the benches are for organizing shoes and jackets. We don’t have a mudroom, so this is it.

Books are our decor. I am a third generation bibliophile, and my husband is a book collector as well.  Art is very personal to us, as we are both designers. Our framed art will be hung one day. But for now, we love them clustered on the mantel.

My husband designed the Pina Bausch poster back when he was design director at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), the tower sculpture is by our older son, and the ceramic vase I made in high school.

Our “atelier” is the center of our home. I fell in love with the Reggio Emilia education system when I was studying education (teaching in an alternative public school in East Harlem was my first career). In the center of every Reggio school is the atelier and classrooms revolve around it, and children are encouraged to create as the main path to learning. Our atelier is the center of our home, and was once the dining room. But who needs a dining room this large?

The magnetic chalkboard wall is our art gallery, writing/math practice, and signage space when we have something to celebrate. Guests love seeing a special welcome message to them when they visit. The book rails display our favorite books and make them easy to see and grab (and climb).

Some of my favorite textiles are by Josef Frank that I picked up at the legendary Svensk Tenn in Stockholm where we spent some time. It was possibly my favorite retail experience in the world. They were made into cushions by my friend and are throughout the house. The boys like to make pillow forts with them.

Despite having primary colors throughout the house, I keep our bedroom white. When my grandparents lived in this house, this room seemed so big, peaceful, and airy. I extended that vibe by keeping a neutral palette that’s rich with textures.

I am a design strategist at Clorox, which means that I help guide front-end product innovation for brands like Brita, Hidden Valley Ranch, and Clorox.  Previously I was director of consumer strategy at Method (the eco-chic cleaning company) where I got to help the company understand people to better design products for them.

I’ve been lucky to be able to follow my passion throughout my career. With every position I’ve had, I have learned tremendously about myself: my strengths, my weaknesses, and how to apply them toward my next steps. I remember being a middle schooler planning out my four years of high school classes in front of me. So I naturally tend to look ahead, while being nostalgic about the present moment because it’s so fleeting.

Balancing work with motherhood is a constant challenge. Curbing my workaholic tendencies has been the toughest necessary change as a working mom. My career has always been about following my passion.  So I tend to throw myself fully into everything I do.

My mother worked full-time though my entire childhood. Therefore, it never occurred to me to stay at home with my kids – I had only envisioned working full-time the way I was used to. Since having children, I have experienced working 60-hour weeks, to being a consultant, to working on my own start-up, to being a stay-at-home mom, to working at a big corporation now. Every variation has been good, though challenging in its own way.

I have learned that I hold the same high standards in my professional work, care for my family, or volunteer work. I simply do not have the same kind of time and space I used to devote to work as I did pre-children. However, I do feel that I am so much more efficient at work than I used to be – there just isn’t the time to waste on anything. The balance between my own high standards and realistic expectations is something I am constantly keeping in check as a working mom.

The greatest career advice I ever received was from my best friend’s dad when I was finishing graduate school. He said, “Every job you have in life is a revelation of you.” And he gave the analogy of peeling back the layers of an onion to reveal its core. That image has alway stuck with me.

Rather than building a career, you are revealing your truest self.

The massive toy shelf is our toy editor. If there’s no more room on it, it’s time to give away some old toys, to make room for the new ones. The block set is the best money I’ve spent on toys. Well worth it.

I avoid big bins for toys as they can easily become abysses for junk and difficult for kids to navigate. We only have one big basket in the corner for indoor balls and costumes. The rest of the organizers for the kids are sorted by category and tuck away on the shelf.

We got the biggest table we could fit in our dining area. We do everything on here: eat, do homework, fold laundry, make art, and have big dinner parties. It’s huge and it’s indestructible. Writing and drawing materials nearby invite the kids to create. Often I find them just sitting on the floor in next to the markers and crayons, creating some crazy thing with washi tape and the hole punch.

The boys’ room has evolved from having one bed, to bed and crib, now to two twin beds. I turned a neglected dollhouse into a bookcase. Low drawers make it easy for them to get dressed by themselves. We have an understood rule in the kids’ bedroom: no hard toys, only books and stuffed animals. This way, the bedroom is for sleep and quiet play only.

I think the boys will remember the garden as a world of endless exploration. When we envisioned our large front and backyard, we imagined the space as being highly structured and geometric in the front, that becomes gradually more organic and wild toward the back.

In the front, our landscape architect friend designed an incredible recessed seating area with a weeping rock fountain that serves as the an imaginary swimming pool, meteor crater or hot lava bed for the boys. We wanted the backyard to be about discovery. Wander around the bushes, pluck a fig, orange, apple or pear from a tree, or snack on the tastiest tomatoes you’ll ever encounter. Play soccer on our new drought-tolerate turf. Climb on the Bucky dome. No one gets bored back here — not even the teenagers who’ve come over.

I hope that the boys remember me as a mom who created time and space for them to be curious — and that I gave them to tools to create whatever they can imagine. My father used to say to me when I was a young budding artist, “Even if something has been made before, it hasn’t been made by you.” That creative spirit has always stayed with me, and is one I want to pass on to my boys.

The mom moment I would live every day if I could is a weekend morning snuggle in bed with the entire family. I love how giddy the kids get when we are all laying in bed together: my husband asleep, me half-awake, and the two boys giggling. I’ll miss the day when we don’t all fit in one bed. And when they won’t want to snuggle (which I hope will be never).

The other moment that I’d love over and over again, is when I visit my sons at school. I try to make as many classroom volunteer opportunities I can at my sons’ schools. I love being able to see them in action with their teachers and classmates. It gives me such a different perspective of them as people. My most favorite — though admittedly, most difficult part — is when they get sad and don’t want me to leave. Usually, I’m in a rush to get back to work after volunteering in the classroom. I try not to get annoyed by their clinginess, as I realize that the days of wanting Mommy to around at school will not last forever. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to want me to chaperone for middle school dances! So I make the most of the school moments now while I am fortunate enough to have them.

I wish someone had told me that having two kids is exponentially harder than having one. It’s not 1+1=2. It’s 1+1 to the nth degree. I am an only child so two seem like a lot. I have no idea how people have three, four……or six kids!


Ha! You bring up a very interesting topic, Etienne! I wonder how many parents, who were once an only child, are shocked by the chaos of more than one kid? On a related note, what about parents who hail from huge families who are completely happy with one child? I am looking forward to your thoughts!

Thank you, Etienne, for showing us around your place. And thank you, too, for sharing your friend’s dad’s genius advice: “Every job you have in life is a revelation of you.” I’ve just spent an enjoyable few — more than I care to count! — minutes thinking about what my jobs reveal about 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Lisa Scott Tue, 18 Aug 2015 12:00:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Luke and Alexa.

Lisa Scott and I weren’t sure if she was the best fit for a Living With Kids tour, a Call It A Day recap, or a Growing A Family essay. She lives in a gorgeous home in Nova Scotia, leads an incredibly interesting life and built a shop as an Ethiopian advocate, and added kids to her life in an inspiring manner. Or two. So I thought about it and then suggested — which really means I asked with my fingers crossed — if she could show us around her home, tell us about her children and how they came to be hers, and also introduce us to her life’s work if she had a spare minute. Basically, I begged for a three-in-one feature! And, lucky for us, she agreed.

Her words are wonderful. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that her career has always landed in the helping professions, and this interview of hers is no exception. I’ve read it many times, and each time I think to myself, “This woman is a brave one.” And then I reach her ending and find myself in a tiny puddle. I sure hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

Welcome, Lisa!

I met my husband Toby the first month at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was not looking for love and either was he, but on such a small campus we kept bumping into each other, and he finally asked for my number. I was a bit standoffish in the beginning. The first time he called me, I told him I could not talk long as I was watching Oprah. He still asked me out, and the movie we went to see was The Commitments; fitting, as we have now been together 24 years. He really is my rock. From the outside I’m sure we could be seen as an opposites attract situation, but his loyalty and stability has been our life-line during challenging times we have faced as a family.

My husband and I remained students for a very long time as I completed my B.A. and he competed his PhD in Marine Ecology with a few intermittent surf trips to some great locations. This delayed our starting a family, but in 2002 the world changed with the arrival of my chubby baby Oskar with an enviable head of hair. What fun we have had with this guy. It’s such a cliché, but time does fly by. This July he turned thirteen, which was emotional for us as parents, but just another cake for him!

He is the type of kid who people in the community say, “I ran into Oskar and we had a great conversation.” That conversation could be about world travels, family, politics, or the rising price of groceries. He has the most wonderful mind. Always has. From the age of three to around six he would tell us “Don’t forget your imagination!” every time we left the house. At 13, that same creative mind uses my coffee grinder to grate kitty litter to form clay for his latest project. His abilities in the kitchen are a marvel and he is thrilled with a new subscription to Fine Cooking. All this creativity comes with a price: a big mess that is often left for me. We are working on it!

There are five years between my son and my eight-year-old daughter, Juniper. I had planned that my kids would be much closer, but I soon learned family planning does not quite work that way. In 2008, we travelled to Ethiopia to meet the person that would complete our family. Our daughter. This little lady is larger than life. She has affirmed for me that we all come into life with a temperament. Hers is very strong-willed, but with pure joy and love in her heart. This is a girl that knows what she likes, and when she likes it, she loves it. The most important part of her life right now is her friends. She is a loyal friend and is always thinking about the next play date. She came into our lives at one year old and it was immediately apparent that the two things that comforted her most were music and animals, and that remains. Although as a family we don’t have musical talent, she comes by it naturally. This past winter I took her back to Ethiopia to do some volunteer work. Not many seven year olds would have jumped into such extreme conditions without a flinch. Proud doesn’t come close to what I feel.

Lastly, I’m Lisa. I can ramble on about my family but come short on what to share about myself. I guess I would be best defined by my love of people! Nothing makes me happier than a gathering, and I believe whole-heartedly in the power of community and being an active member of it. Most of my career has been in the helping profession. Last year I left my job at the children’s hospital and I now run a business called Second Life Ethiopian Artisans that shares the work of Artisans in Ethiopia.

When we were looking for a home in 1999, we looked in the neighborhood of Halifax where my husband grew up and in which we had rented for eight years. It was depressing. The sky-high prices and the small homes motivated us to broaden our search.

My husband is an avid surfer, but I know that I am a city girl and could not live at the beach. Toby suggested we look at homes in Dartmouth. Dartmouth is across the bridge from Halifax and 20 minutes closer to most of Toby’s favorite breaks.

When we went to look at our house, we fought all the way across the bridge to Dartmouth. I made it clear I did not want to live in downtown Dartmouth; it was too far from Halifax! In fact, the house is a five-minute walk to the harbor ferry, which is only an eight-minute ride across. When we viewed our house, it was occupied by tenants and did not have a lot of furniture. We walked in and our jaws dropped. Needless to say I ate my words. The high ceiling, huge rooms, and most of all original detailing of this historic home were indeed a diamond in the rough! Our offer went in immediately!

We were aware we were buying a great house in a not-so-great neighborhood, but we were young and wanted to take the chance. A biker gang mostly occupied the house beside us. There was a house of ill repute across the street, and a drug house on the adjacent corner. Boy, were we naïve. The house is located right downtown, and at the time very few businesses were thriving and most of the homes were rented to people with lower incomes. The other residents, regardless of their walk of life, welcomed us in the neighborhood. The regulars would come by and see what new flowers were planted and to tell us stories of the previous owner who had lived in the house for several decades.

We are only the fifth owners of our house, built in 1888, and the first family to raise our children here. The original owner was a mercantile from New York City, followed by a doctor who lived and practiced in the home for 40 years, the Dean family, and in the end the Dean’s elderly son Garrett.

Some wonderful friendships were formed. In fact, one of the ladies who lived near by was an artist with very limited income. In 2002 when I had my son, she heard we had a rough time and left a card saying she had donated blood to the blood bank on our behalf. Every year forward, until she had to move, we would awake on Oskar’s birthday to our front sidewalk filled with the most amazing sidewalk chalk art. Although she had to move back across the bridge, we still keep in touch – the old fashioned way, by mail!

Buying in a not-so-thriving downtown allowed us to make other real estate investments in the community. We were taking a gamble that the future would be bright in this community. Fast forward to 2015 and we are still living in our diamond in the rough, and the along with the house, the community has blossomed. It is still a very affordable community, but values have really increased from when we bought. We have had several condos built near by, lots of businesses coming in and offering awesome eats and cool stores. We walk up the hill and through a large park called “The Commons” to get to school.

Both my kids are in the same school: a small elementary downstairs and the middle school upstairs. We are a ten-minute walk from Lake Banook – Dartmouth is also called the City of Lakes – where the kids have spent almost every day of every summer vacation paddling at our club. Five minutes down the street in the other direction is Halifax Harbor, the second largest natural harbor in the world. We feel pretty lucky that we live here. Our community and the people in it are special, but really I’m quite fond of the whole province.

We are the little provinces on the Atlantic Coast, one of four provinces called the Maritimes. Nova Scotia is just under a million people and the greater city of Halifax is at about 300,000. Most of the province is very rural. Fishing and farming communities, rich in culture and in history. Living in Atlantic Canada can mean some harsh weather conditions. This year we had our last major snow storm mid-April! Our summer is only about eight weeks of warm weather for swimming. The weather is a big topic of conversation here, but the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes!”

I look forward to seeing how much more our community grows. I can’t do much about the weather, but I would love to see my immediate neighborhood keep its socio-economic diversity and to see our province retain the young people that go to the many universities in this city. We are getting there but we have room to grow!

When we first bought our home I was completely overwhelmed. It seems so mature and had so much history and I had never decorated a home. Our limited financial resources and the immediate need for them to be put into the mechanics of the home limited what we could do. I now see that we were given the gift of time. We got to know the house, and we got to know our tastes. It soon became apparent that we might not ever move from this house, so our renovation and decorating choices were made with the philosophy of do it once, and do it well.

My philosophy is to decorate with purpose. Either it needs to be functional, meaningful, or so beautiful I can’t live without it. We moved into a house with a lot of history, and we have been fortunate to have inherited a lot of artwork and some furniture that has family history. I want our house to reflect us and I feel the one thing that does that most is our family wall.

Our stairway has a huge wall and we have filled it with family snap shots, and we are really lucky to have two sets of portraits of family members four and five times removed. We tell the children they are being watched by all types of family!

Ethiopia is part of our soul and part of our home. As we travel back and forth, I have taken to trying to get to know and purchase from new artists. I love that part of Addis Ababa is hanging on our walls. There are so many meaningful treasures I have from our travels that I incorporate them into our daily living: kechene pottery, beautiful textiles, and woven household items.

When you are young, you think of all the things you want to do in life,. I have been lucky to do so many of the things I dreamed. I dreamed of motherhood, but I could have never imagined the path we took to it, or that it would be the single greatest challenge of my life and the truest joy in my soul.

After we were married we decided what would be would be, and that was Oskar. Never was there a pregnant woman so joyful, so excited, and so large. Lots of aspects of pregnancy are not fun or easy, but I marveled in them all.

My own mother died when I was 12 and so I did not have the stories of her pregnancies or the motherly support. I read every book I could and I was pretty sure I had it all in good hand. When the time came to deliver I was so excited. I felt prepared and I was going to be a mom. The lesson I learned was that despite carrying the baby and being the mother to this infant, I was at the mercy of so many people to help me. My nurse was my angel and as it turned out, my son had a very complicated delivery. His APGAR was 1 when he was finally born and stayed there for five minutes before shooting to eight. I met him when he was six hours old, in a recovery room where my husband had pushed his way into after my extensive surgery. It was a very complicated birth, one we are both lucky to have survived. However, we did survive and we thrived with the help of so many people.

The consultation after birth was that I could conceive, but I had to understand the risks of carrying another baby. We felt so blessed to have a healthy son and we had always wanted to adopt, so we opted to not take the chance with another pregnancy but to proceed with an adoption. Like pregnancy, I invested in learning everything I could about the process of adoption and the potential needs of our child. Heart and soul, we headed into a local adoption process that is administered by our government. The process was so frustrating. We had everything to offer, and were open to many situations, but it became clear that the politics of this process was flawed.

Three years into waiting for a child, our son was starting school and we were no further ahead. Around this time, my cousin, who lived in another province, was going through the process to adopt internationally. When I saw the referral picture of her daughter waiting for her in Ethiopia, I felt that perhaps we should pursue this. If it did not work, we would move forward as a family of three.

So many people have opinions on adoption, if it’s domestic or international, questions are routinely asked about motives for adoption and why we made choices we made. I could not have planned any of this. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but every aspect of our adoption story is one of love for this baby girl, our daughter. Her story is private, but she knows her story and with every year she matures she will understand it in different ways.

The day we met our daughter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we were not much different than any other parent in the world. A small precious life was placed in our arms, and it was trusted that this child would thrive in love and support. Our daughter and her needs were very different than a child being placed at birth into their parents’ arms. I could write a book about the literal and figurative journey of bringing home a one year old from another culture, who had no reason to trust and had lost everything she knew. This time, all my reading did come in handy and we were completely committed to attachment adoption. We worked so very hard to earn the trust and love of this child.

To see her today, I can proudly boast we have done a darn good job. Like all parents, our journey continues.

When we adopted our daughter, I fell so deeply in love with her, but was overwhelmed and intrigued by her culture and the people of this country. We knew it was a huge responsibility to adopt a child from another culture – particularly a child whose color tells the world she is adopted. Because of these factors, the story of her adoption and her cultural roots are topics that flow in and out of our daily communication. It is just part of who we are, it is what is natural to us. There is no subtext; we are quite literal about all of it. When you share facts with a child in an age-appropriate context, they can usually digest it.

Ensuring my daughter knows her culture is vital to raising a strong independent woman. From the beginning, we made the commitment to return to her country every few years. The first trip I did alone. I felt as a mother I needed to work through my relationship with this culture, to understand it better in order to integrate it into my parenting.

I went with an amazing group called Canadian Humanitarian. They run centers that support orphans living with guardians. My role on the team was to do Grief Workshops for the guardians in the communities we visited. I used the resources of the hospital I worked at and provided the best information I could on helping kids cope with grief.

I am the mother of a child who was orphaned, and I am an orphaned child. When I stood in front of these women, it was intimidating, but when they found out that I too had lost a mother as a child, they embraced me and trusted me. My workshops grew into many one-on-one meetings. The stories from this work can be told, but they can never be felt like when you hear them face-to-face.

When I returned home, I processed the trip and I grieved hard, but this trip and the people I met cemented Ethiopia to me. My daughter was a little ticked that I had left her for three weeks, but I could tell she was proud. I would find this five year old with my phone watching videos. When she saw a video of me dancing, she told me, “Mom, these are my people – not your people!” One evening at supper she told me, “Ethiopians don’t eat beets.” And she asked that we just call her Ethiopian. I believe my experiencing her country without her made it a fact that we are all connected to Ethiopia.

This past March, just before her eighth birthday, I tool my daughter back to Ethiopia for three weeks. The first part of our trip was spent with the same humanitarian group, Canadian Humanitarian. This time we went into city slums to repair mud homes – Juniper and I entertained the kids while the men worked. We also brought portable puppet theaters made of PVC piping, and therapeutic puppets for each of the five Canadian Humanitarian Centers. We both helped the kids make sock puppets. At first they thought we were crazy, but once they saw the socks come to life they really got into it! We travelled to a rural community and no matter how long we went without water or electricity, Juniper never complained. She ran with the kids, taught them happy birthday songs and their ABCs and collected grasshoppers.

The last five days of our trip we spent meeting local weavers and artists for my business, Second Life Ethiopian Artisans. In 2013, I started this business as a way to integrate the Ethiopian culture into our daily life and home, and to do what I could to support the beauty of this country. Through visiting and developing relationships with artists and suppliers in Ethiopia, I have been able to bring affordable, high quality, and unique products to my customers. The company is called Second Life, as it is my daughter’s Amharic name translated to English. In addition, by supporting ethical craftsmanship in Ethiopia, we are giving the artist a chance at a better life. That translates to healthier families and more vibrant communities.

I truly believe in the power of one consumer providing opportunity for one artisan. Once that is multiplied, you have many consumers connected to not just the products, but also the well-being of an artisan on the other side of the world, an understanding of their culture, and a pride in what is created. The truth is, the business would not have started if I had not been so crazy about the weaving, jewelry, and art I came across while in Ethiopia. When I travel, I typically like to get to know local artists and their crafts. Weaving is a patriarchal trade in Ethiopia, with spinning being matriarchal. These skills have been passed for thousands of years and with some of the organizations I’m working with, these skills are being taught to individuals who otherwise would have been unemployable.

I found the quality of the products, combined with a fresh use of color and pattern, irresistible. The empty hockey bags that had been brought to the country filled with donations, were going home with items for my friends and family. It seemed only natural to take it one step further and create a more formal relationship with the artisans and allow the product to reach more people. We have grown steadily since our first shipment, and I look forward to developing a really solid business that reflects the brand of Ethiopia: a showcase for all that is authentic, vibrant, creative and strong in this country.

I feel like my kids might remember that I was cranking and constantly hounding them to do what’s right when they think back on this time in their lives, but I hope that they remember how present their parents were in their daily lives. One thing about a difficult journey to parenthood is you don’t take a thing for granted. We try really hard to have every aspect of our life be family-centered. We walk the kids to school each day, encourage their interests, we travel together and spend lots of time alone as a family at our cottage. We have really open communication and the kids know that any topic is open for discussion. I hope they look back and remember a really tight family unit.

You asked me what part of their childhood I already miss. Does anyone else mention this question makes them teary? Gosh, I think about the cribs and the toy boxes and the high chairs and sand boxes. The bathtub is a big one for me. You bring home this tiny little being that looks ridiculous in the tub and in a blink of an eye their chin is on their knees.

Seriously though, my favorite part of living in this house as a family is the sense of roots. I moved a lot as a kid, especially after my mom died, and I never felt I had roots. We moved into this home that has a history of people staying for decades. It’s the only home my kids have known and they have really deep roots here. I love that with these roots we have created our own traditions and identity.

I already miss the little people tucked into their beds at night. I will miss the silent kisses I sneak when they are asleep. I miss the dirty kitchen from my son’s awesome cooking experiments.

Now I’m actually crying, but I will miss this being our safe haven. It’s hard to think about letting them go into the world and find their own homes.

I wish someone had told me not to be so scared. Slow down, relax, enjoy the ride. I regret living with so much fear. I know it has stolen joy from experiences and it has also rubbed off on my husband and children. I’m anxious. I’m always worried someone will get hurt or die. I have had things happen in my life that let me know that yes it can happen to you, but I need to remind myself it likely won’t. I have let these worries grow into really big anxieties to the point in which I have needed help.

I wish I had been more reasonable, not caused so much stress for those around me. Instead of being anxious, I wish I had learned from my life that I can survive and I’m pretty darn strong.

Most people in my life likely don’t know I hold so much fear. In the last year I’ve made some good headway. I will never get through a day not worrying about my husband and kids, but instead of those being big worries, I’m working on them being fleeting moments. I want my kids to grow up without anxiety.

I need to set a good example.


Did your heart just break a little? I don’t know what it is about people sharing their struggles with the rest of us, but I find it so reassuring and healing and life-affirming all at once, don’t you? We are not in this alone. Lisa, your honesty helped a bunch of us today. I know this for sure. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

This line is unforgettable to me: “I am the mother of a child who was orphaned, and I am an orphaned child.” So powerful. Lisa, I know you’re a trusted resource to the women and children you help.

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Kimberly Senn Tue, 11 Aug 2015 14:00:06 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Maribeth Romslo and Nicole Feest.

I get so many notes from readers wishing they could find the courage to send photos of their homes, but then months pass without even a peek! When I check back in with them, they sometimes tell me it’s not yet camera ready or they just need one more perfect piece to make their living room livable or “WE ALL HAD THE FLU AND NOW I WANT TO MOVE!” The goal of perfection really does get in the way of life, don’t you think?

I get it. And so does Kimberly Senn. But somewhere along the way, after missing out on opening up her home to old and new friends because of a fear that it wasn’t stylish enough or clean enough, she consciously stopped pausing her life and holding her breath and waiting for everything to be perfect. Instead of sitting alone pondering the layer of grimy fingerprints on the lower three feet of her walls, she and her family now open up their home as often as possible — today, to us! (As she put it so eloquently, “Our friends don’t like us because we have a perfect house. They like us because we keep our fridge stocked with good beer.” Ha!)

And guess what? No one notices the grit. All I can see is the joy. Come see it, too! Welcome, Kimberly!

We’re a family of four, the adults born in the Midwest and the kids in California. My handsome husband Marty is a writer and nonstop creative force. We met working together at an ad agency in NYC and became instant friends. He’d tell you he knew from the moment I started working there we would be together. We couldn’t get enough time with each other and eventually admitted we were both smitten. He’s now a creative director at an agency here in Minneapolis and works so hard to spend all of his free time with me and the boys.

We have two boys: Hugo is five, and Freddie is two, almost three. Hugo is a strong-willed, fiercely intelligent, and creative little guy. He was born on New Year’s Eve, so every year we now feel like there is just so much to celebrate around that time. He loves being a big brother and he’s truly the best at it. He runs like Tom Cruise in action movies. Hugo starts Kindergarten in the fall and he couldn’t be more excited.

Freddie is so naughty and so cute. Somehow those two things balance out quite perfectly. He’s a kid who wakes up happy, ready to hand out hugs. He hugs like he means it, every single time. Freddie is madly in love with his big brother. He is so attached to him and will do anything to keep up with Hugo. His speech is getting more clear now that he’s nearing three years old, but he only has one volume, and it’s very loud.

We knew we would be leaving San Francisco to move to Minneapolis right after Freddie was born. Marty had accepted a job just a couple of months earlier, and they really let us take our time for the relocation. We are forever grateful for this small detail!

Just a few weeks after Freddie was born, Marty traveled to Minneapolis with Hugo for his mom’s 70th birthday party. The little guy and I stayed back in SF this time, knowing that we’d be in Minnesota permanently in a couple of months. He checked out a couple of houses while he was there, and our current home was one of them. It had been on the market for a while and it just wasn’t moving. But for whatever reason, Marty loved it and couldn’t stop thinking about it, so when all four of us landed permanently on Minnesotan soil, we called our real estate agent and told her about it. She showed us a handful of other properties, but we knew this was the one. Apparently it was totally weird to other people. The layout was kind of odd and it was on a busy street, relatively speaking.

It was decorated in a very fancy way – not at all our taste and not at all right for the actual house, but we knew we could un-fancy it. I think other people didn’t understand the house, and somehow we did. We liked that there was something off about it. It wasn’t at all what we imagined we would buy, but it is seriously perfect for our family.

We’re in a suburb just southwest of Minneapolis, and we live right on the border of the two cities. Our neighborhood is filled with families and little kids, and bigger, babysitter-aged kids, too. It’s a block-party kind of place. We are also just a ten minute drive from Marty’s parents and not quite three hours from mine, which was a big factor in moving here.​

From a practical standpoint, we love that it’s close to amazing public schools, walking distance to a great shops and restaurants, a short bike ride to the Minneapolis city lakes, and close to highways for a commute to downtown Minneapolis. It ticked all of our boxes, even the ones we didn’t know we had. Our list was so simple since we were living in a small Victorian apartment in Presidio Heights. Things like “a bathroom that has the toilet in the same room as the bathtub” was enough to blow our minds!

Biking from our house, we can hit creeks, playgrounds, great shops, and the city lakes that have beautiful walking trails, beaches, paddle boarding, sailing and even restaurants that will serve you really good fish tacos while you are wearing your swimsuit and flip flops.

There’s also just so much to do here. The Walker Art Center is amazing, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is incredible and free to visit. We have so much theater in this town and so much opportunity for creativity. I’ve also found that there’s a really supportive and active creative community here. It seems like what’s good for one Minneapolis maker is good for all Minneapolis makers.

You might not know it, but we also have some incredible food here. The restaurants popping up all over town can definitely go head-to-head with those in New York and San Francisco. We had a pretty high bar coming from the Bay Area, but we’ve been so happy with the food scene here. I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise — Minnesota has been doing the eat local movement pretty much forever. It’s almost not so much a trend, but a way of living here.

And let’s be honest, the cost of living in Minneapolis is just so much more manageable than some of the other cities we’ve lived in. I don’t know that we spend that much less — you kind of afford what you can afford — but it just gets you so much more here. We have space in our home for a studio, so I can work from home, and a big yard for the boys to play in. It’s also got that extra bit of inside play room for the boys which comes in really handy, especially during the wintertime. There are amazing public schools a short walk away, which you almost can’t put a price on — unless you’re paying for private schools, in which case you could probably put a very accurate price on it!

I will say that we were a little surprised that things like dining-out and groceries weren’t all that much cheaper than in San Francisco. But parking for those things definitely is.

I think generally, life can be pretty easy here. I say can be, because we probably always make things harder than they have to be, but generally the daily tasks that seemed like giant chores in San Francisco just happen without too much hassle here.

Here’s the big asterisk: I’m answering these questions in the summer. The winters are LONG and COLD and quite brutal, even for those who have lived here their whole lives. I guess that’s the tax we pay for all that other amazing stuff I just mentioned.

Sharing these photos of my home was a bit of a personal stretch for me. Up until recently — I’d say well after having Freddie — I was always really self conscious about not having a perfectly clean and decorated house. I worried that as a creative person who had a passion for interior design, the expectations of my home were that it would be immaculate, perfectly styled, and basically magazine shoot ready at all times. Marty and I would move into an apartment and then tell ourselves we’d have friends over as soon as the house was ready or finished.

I had some picture in my head about how our home would look, and when it wasn’t exactly that, I’d just avoid inviting people over.

Now with two little boys, there are definitely realities about how things can be decorated and how clean things can be. There’s a perpetual layer of grime on the walls about three feet off the ground. The floors? Covered in crumbs and legos and paper clippings and cardboard swords and little socks…and that’s all just what I’m seeing when I look up from my computer while perched on the living room couch.

Here’s the truth: When I go so someone else’s house and see some clutter — mail on the counters, kid stuff everywhere, dirty dishes by the sink, a basket of laundry waiting to be folded, etc. — I feel a MASSIVE sense of relief. It reminds me that we live in homes that are filled with people, life, activities, and constant action. That I’m not the only one just trying to keep up.

Beyond the physical space, I also came to realize our friends don’t like us because we have a perfect house. They like us because we keep our fridge stocked with good beer. (And other things too, I suppose, but mostly the good beer!)

I’d say our aesthetic is sort of Cabin Up North Meets Mid-Century California Quirk. We have a mix of new pieces and vintage, and are slowly but surely creating a home filled with only things we love. We had a bad habit of moving every two years until buying this house, which we’ve now been in for almost three years. We know now that we should have things we really love, and it’s worth saving to get the right piece rather than settling from something just to fill up a room.

One of my favorite art pieces in the house is a giant print that hangs over our kitchen table. Pre-kids, Marty and I were living in London and decided to take the train south for a little beach day in Brighton. It was, of course, a horrible rainy day, so we spent the entire time hopping from pub to pub and shop to shop. One of the stops we made was a poster gallery of sorts where we found a huge artist’s proof silkscreen of Godzilla crushing Tower Bridge by Trafford Parsons. It perfectly captured how we were feeling that day. So we bought it and had it framed and shipped up to our apartment in London. We ended up missing the last train back to London that night and rather than finding a hotel, frolicked through town until we could catch the 4:00 am train home, making the whole trip even more memorable.

I own Senn & Sons, which is basically just a dream job I created for myself after leaving my advertising career and taking a year as a full-time stay at home mom. Funny enough, Senn & Sons was named when we had only one son! It just sounded better, so I went with it and thought we’d just explain it later if we ever had a daughter.

I painted a series of three canvases for Hugo’s room right before he was born. After failing to find artwork I really loved for the nursery, I just created it myself. I posted a few photos of the decorated room on Facebook and people really liked the art and wanted to know where they could find it! After a year or so of casually accepting commissions for nursery paintings from friends and their families, I made the decision to turn my hobby into a second career. I asked a very talented designer friend if he’d be interested in creating a logo for my new business, and opened up an Etsy shop. Pinterest was just getting started, so I posted my artwork there and on my blog and it started to get some traction.

After a couple of designs became really popular, I knew I needed to find a printing partner to help with production. I opened up the print shop with a handful of my most popular designs right before Freddie was born. Because we moved when he was just ten weeks old — an endeavor I don’t recommend to anyone — I had to take on so much more in LIFE for the following year or so. Finding a home, buying a car, getting settled, finding schools, dealing with hugely emotional transitions, etc. was really quite a lot to manage with a three year old and newborn baby, so the business coasted along for about a year until I was ready to really get back into it.

Once I was ready to return some of my energy to Senn & Sons, I’ve been able to expand the business quite a lot. I introduced other products like personalized growth charts, and partnered with a local blogger to create a “Live & Love MN” line of products that are sold in boutiques throughout the state.

My latest excitement is a collaboration with an amazing family company called Blue Sky that’s based in California. We’ve worked together for about a year and now have a beautiful line of calendars and planners that are sold nationwide at Target for back to school this year. I have really loved translating my design aesthetic beyond artwork for the nursery and plan to do a whole lot more of this in the coming months. And, being in Minnesota, Target is obviously a dream come true.

I’m now in a phase with my business that I’m trying to say yes to almost everything. I’m open to any opportunity that comes my way and I’m working to create partnerships with other family brands all while developing new products for babies and kids. I look to my own crazy boys for inspiration, which is why I’m working on a really fun illustrated matching game that I know they’re going to love. And selfishly, I think it might keep them busy for a few minutes! I’m also partnering with my incredibly talented friend and filmmaker Maribeth Romslo on a series of stop motion animated films based on my illustrations. They make us and our kids happy, so we keep making more.

My goal for the business is simply to create super fun stuff for super fun families. It’s purposely uncomplicated, and I find that when I’m working on products I am constantly thinking about who is going to be able to get a little joy from what I’m creating.

I try to find balance when I can, but I’m not sure it totally exists as a constant. I work to prioritize my family above all else, but there are times when my business becomes more time consuming and we shift the balance a bit so I’m able to deliver on work expectations.

My schedule is really flexible, which is by design and also a major luxury. It changes quite a lot since my working hours are based on the kids’ schedules and what they need. My most productive times are when they are at school during the day, so I try to fit in most work during normal business hours when they’re out of the house. I often pick it up a bit after they go to bed just to plan for my next day and fill in the missing pieces; but I also value my time with my husband after the kids go to bed, so we try to limit our after hours working as often as possible.

It sounds pretty ideal and manageable now, but it took me a while to figure out my work schedule. I have learned slowly and somewhat painfully that work and kid time has to be kept separate. I’m a better mom AND a better business owner when I know that the kids are having fun at preschool or spending a few hours with a creative nanny while I work — and, conversely, that I’ll have dedicated time to work so I can devote full attention to the boys when I’m with them. It is such an incredible luxury to be able to set my own schedule to be what works for our family.

I like that there are so many parts of my brain that get used running a small business. I do everything for Senn & Sons right now including packing and shipping orders, sales and wholesale management, accounting, production, product development, making art, designing everything from the actual products to catalogs and packaging, photo shoots, blogging, managing the website, marketing, PR, and more. I don’t really have a consistent task list or schedule that I follow on work days, but I do wish there were more free moments to spend actually creating. This part of my process is just so different from running the business, which is a lot of tasks and checkboxes, whereas my creative process includes a lot of open space and time.

My latest scheduling experiment is with early morning workouts. For the past few weeks I’ve been dragging myself out of bed at 5:00 to get to the gym near home for a class, which has been going surprisingly well. We struggled with sleep challenges with both boys, so now that they’re getting better about staying quiet throughout the night I’m able to make this work!

There’s never a dull moment around here, which I actually really appreciate. There’s life in the house and energy that often can’t be contained. We recently entered a phase that includes the boys being able to play with each other, even for just a short time, so Marty and I can enjoy reading a bit of the Sunday paper and drinking coffee. Some days we feel like total geniuses — like “WOW, it’s really working! They’re playing together and look at us! Reading the newspaper!” Other days they aren’t so cooperative and we need to shuttle them out of the house for some activity immediately, no newspaper reading allowed. Thankfully, now that the boys have discovered Legos, we’re having more lazy Sundays than ever!

My favorite time of day has always been bedtime. We cuddle in a chair and read books until the boys are melty little puddles of cuddle on our laps. I nursed both of them as babies and it was always so sweet to just have them and hold them until they were so restful and peaceful — especially after a long, hard day. There are a lot of long, hard days, this has always helped put things into perspective. At some point, the gas runs out and the kids succumb to their exhaustion. It’s a beautiful thing.

The older the boys get, the more I enjoy being a mom. I love how smart they’re getting and how much fun we can have as a family now. I love watching them play together and have their own real, beautiful, complicated relationship. We’re a team now, and not just a couple of parents trying to keep a couple tiny little humans alive.

I wasn’t a mom who bounced back quickly from pregnancy and birth, either emotionally or physically, so it took me a while — like over a year — after each boy to feel like myself again. I think sometimes we don’t hear that from moms enough; it seems like everyone is cool and back to normal at that six week postpartum appointment. That just wasn’t the case for me.

You asked if they could remember just one memory from this childhood home — and me as their mom — what I hoped it would be. And this question sort of made me cry. I had to both picture the boys, my little babies, as grown men and also remember that all of things we are doing on a day to day basis are forming memories for them…and that feels sort of overwhelming.

I don’t know that it’s a specific memory that I want them to have, but more an overall feeling. A feeling of warmth and comfort and consistency and support. Of opportunity and honesty and unconditional love. Of growth and of all the feelings. Even the hard ones. Of silliness and laughter. I want them to remember driving south along the Mississippi to visit my parents in Wisconsin and fishing off of their houseboat and pontooning to a sandbar to play in the water. I want them to remember the annual Minnesota Wildlife Art Show that Marty’s dad does with our boys and their cousins during their summer visit to the Midwest.

Mainly, I just want them to remember there was a lot of love here, no matter what.

I wish someone had told me that being a mom is actually really complicated. That maybe you won’t fall into it naturally right after the baby is born, but that’s okay…everyone is different. You also probably won’t understand anything people tell you about having kids until after you’ve had them and experienced it firsthand. There are A LOT of decisions to be made, every single day, and for a while each one feels so very important which is kind of stressful.

In the end, I believe as long as you really, truly care for your kids and do your absolute best even on days when that doesn’t seem very good, that they and you will thrive.


Thank you for all the sweet reminders and real reassurances, Kimberly! “We’re a team now, and not just a couple of parents trying to keep a couple tiny little humans alive.” It is a moment to remember when that happens in our families, isn’t it?

And I had to giggle when Kimberly was extolling the virtues of Minnesota and then stopped to mention one caveat: that she was writing this love letter during the summer months! Check back in with us in January, will you? Anyone else have this love/”Oh goodness, I am freezing!” relationship with their cities based on the weather? Tell us about it, will you please?

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Callie Moon Tue, 04 Aug 2015 14:00:17 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Have you ever thought about what your decor style says about you and your family? When guests walk through your front door, what do you think they can instantly sense about you? Is the first impression you make modern and clean, with any trace of a childhood hidden in a sleek cabinet system… or the basement? Perhaps guests sigh when they walk in, instantly craving whatever peaceful design you’ve got going. Or maybe you’re sporty and just can’t escape a home decor accessorized by the sticks and balls and cleats and — oh my, watch your step — more balls! Maybe you like blue. Every shade.

In Callie’s case, her family’s style is true throughout. I think we can get to know her by one or two or 20 glimpses of her home. She keeps her memories and crafts in the open, she loves a good collection, and she’s not afraid of putting reminders on the wall in case anyone loses the plot! She’s consistent in her message, which is the big sign that she’s clearly found her most-loved style and is sticking with it.

That’s a nice thing when it happens, don’t you think? Come see her house! Welcome, Callie!

We are a family of six. My husband, Steve, and I have four children.

Jakob is our responsible 12 year old, Isabelle is our passionate nine year old, Karter is our entertaining and humorous seven year old, and Beckett is adventurous two year old. As a family, we enjoy reading together, outdoor adventures, arts and crafts, sports, and music. There is a lot of hustle and bustle within the walls of our home. A lot of play, a lot of noise, a lot of messes to clean up, and a lot of love.

We live in the Pacific Northwest in a city just outside of Portland. Both my husband and I grew up in the area, and we love Oregon. My husband grew up on five acres out in the woods and has always wanted property for our children to enjoy. With his business, we have needed to live closer to the city and our home was a unique find — a home with property close to the city. We have loved the space, the view, all the trees, and surrounding green space.

We love living in the Pacific Northwest. We love that the city is only 15 minutes away. There are always fun places to eat, museums to visit, and concerts and events to attend. The Oregon Coast and the Columbia Gorge are both only a little over an hour away. We love the trees, the summers, the waterfalls, and the wildlife. We have enjoyed living in walking distance to our favorite shops and restaurants. We are surrounded by biking and hiking trails.

When we first found our home it was listed as a short sale, and after we made the offer it took eight months for the bank to approve it. We did a major remodel the first year that we lived there, focusing on the main living area and the kitchen. I watched a lot of HGTV and read a lot of design blogs as we were working on the kitchen! Five years later, I still absolutely love how it turned out.

We continued through the next few years updating the home room by room. It has been a labor of love but I have loved the story our home tells as it evolved to fit our family through each change and update.

I love neutrals with touches of soft blues and yellows. I completely adore handmade, quirky,  and unique items. And organization thrills me! Things that are collected, stored, and displayed in a pretty and functional way makes my heart beat a little faster. For my family and home decor, I can’t go wrong with items that tell a story, family photos, favorite books, and memorabilia.

I love setting up cozy little corners of the house that fit a specific purpose. One of my favorite decor tricks is constantly carving out new places to read, places to make crafts, and places to relax. It keeps our home fresh!

I love Pinterest as inspiration. I guess that I have always seen it as a place to collect all the inspiration that is out there so I can use it to inspire me when I need it. I have never felt like I have had to do everything that I have pinned.

That said, I have been trying to simplify my life in the last few years and have noticed that when I take in too much inspiration… I inevitably try to do too much! Not that I consciously think I have to do every project on Pinterest, but that I subconsciously feel like there are so many awesome things out there and I want to try all of them.

As I have been trying to simplify, I have been making a conscious effort to plan and prepare a few things to do as a family, knowing that I only have room for a finite amount of activities, crafts, and fun. This is a work in progress and I’m still figuring it out, but I think it is moving towards a solution that will work for us.

If I know we can do one family adventure each month or one kid craft project a week, it helps keep things simple and doable. Then I can pin away, knowing there’s a ton of ideas on my boards to choose from!

I don’t take decorating too seriously. I say have fun with it! Let your style evolve through the years and let your home tell a story. Put holes in your walls, hang that silly craft project, let the inspiration strike and move forward with it, live with it for awhile and see how you like it.

Really, if you’ve been dying to change up something in your home, go for it! The change might not be what you were imagining, but it will definitely open the door for more change.

I think that guests love the setting of our home, and they love the view and the wooded yard. I hope they have a sense of children and family as they enter. Our home is far from perfect, with a bit of dust and dirt and fingerprints around every corner, but it is lived in and loved.

I love that my husband has given me the creative freedom to pretty much do whatever I would like with our home. It’s pretty wonderful to be able to creatively have an idea and see it to fruition.

That said, my husband and children love the comfort and creative corners of our home. They love the open great room to wrestle in or the large space to create blanket forts. They love the craft cupboards and tables that are easily accessible to little hands and shorter legs. They appreciate the throw blankets to cuddle on the couch as we read a good book. They love the bookcases stocked with our favorite children’s books, mostly collected from garage sales and thrift stores. They enjoy the photos and artwork that celebrate our family and our creativity.

I think guests can get a good idea of our style from the minute they walk in the front door! For me, having a personally defined style has been so fun. Years ago I used to be a lot more eclectic in my style, before I really defined what I liked. I used to choose everything and anything that I liked and I would buy it and bring it home. What I found, though, is that after a while I wouldn’t like those items that didn’t really fit my style. It was harder to move them from room to room, and I would eventually get rid of the objects that just weren’t me.

Now, I know what I like and I will buy what works with that.

I started my blog, Lemon Verbena, just to share our everyday stories with friends and family. In the last few years, it has been fun to see it evolve into a place where I share my passion for books, crafts, scrapbooking, homemaking, and anything else that is inspiring me at the moment. I’m thrilled to continue to share and find myself thinking of posts to write throughout the day. It has definitely been a wonderful way to creatively share and document our lives and interests.

The connection I’m able to make with readers is my absolute favorite. It has been so fun to hear from people that were reading and enjoying the things that were shared. I love that it highlights our family events, our home, and the many projects we have worked on.

I have also enjoyed the motivation it has given me to push forward through some goals and fun projects. It has been a great accountability tool and a great way to celebrate accomplishments as I update different projects throughout the year.

Speaking of new projects! As I type this we have just moved out of this lovely home I am sharing with you today. We are in transition. I’m currently sitting in a rented townhouse surrounded by boxes. We are off on a new adventure.

When I first submitted these photos I didn’t realize the move would come as soon as it did, but it has been quite wonderful to share these thoughts with you, especially so soon after closing the doors on this part of our life. It is surreal to think we will never live in this home again, but we are so grateful for our years in this home, and so excited for the future and all that it holds.

Our new home has so many features that I just love. It has a wrap-around porch, a barn, seven acres of pastured land, and three acres of forested land with a creek running through. From the back porch it has amazing views of Mount Hood and the Cascade Mountain Range. It has wood paneled ceilings in many of the rooms, an open floor-plan with vaulted ceilings, an open staircase and landing looking down into the main floor, and a sitting room off the entryway. There are built-ins throughout.

We will also have more room to spread out! With five bedrooms and four bathrooms we will have room for our family plus a designated guest room, so we will always have room for that out of town visitor. SO excited for this!

The home had some renters who didn’t take great care of it and it also has some water damage. It hasn’t been taken care of or lived in for a few years now. It’s sad to see such a lovely home in such bad shape. But the home itself has such potential. It needs some work, lots of cleaning up, a fresh coat of paint, and new floors.

Honestly, the thought of purchasing a home that needs another remodel is daunting and wouldn’t be my first choice, but we really fell in love with the place and are willing to do the work. I do love the idea of choosing all the finishes for the house. Definitely a perk of remodeling or building is being able to choose exactly what you like! I’m hoping for light and bright, a modern country eclectic look throughout, with white walls and trim and light pine floors on each level. I will have to show you when it’s ready!

We have been dreaming and scheming of what it will be like to live on a farm. We know we will be getting some chickens, a couple kittens, and some goats when we get settled. We hope to someday have a cow or two in the pasture and maybe a sheep or a pig. I love the idea of having animals for the kids to take care of and grow up with.

This move was such a difficult decision for us to make, and has literally taken years of discussion and debate. We loved where we were at, but we also dreamed of something else. We always have had the hope of a bit more land, a bit more country, and bit more space to spread out. Though we absolutely adored so many aspects of our home, there were a few things that we wished were a bit different, especially in the layout of the property and the floor plan of the home.

Up until this last few weeks we were still swaying back and forth in our decision. We knew we would not only miss the house, but our friends and community would change. We will still be close and be able to stay in touch, but it will be just a bit harder to stay connected.

But change is good, and what finally convinced me to move forward was a feeling of adventure and progress. I wanted to look back at our life knowing that we were willing to try new things, to get out of our comfort zone, to do the work that it takes to try something new, to dream and to move forward.

This will definitely be an adventure. One I believe that we will look back on and be so glad that we took this leap of faith.

It’s bittersweet. My kids have grown up in this home. When we moved in, my oldest was six and now he is twelve. We were a family of five and now we are a family of six. Moving into our home six years ago, we were a young family, and now we are an established family with four kids and a soon to be teenager!

We have so many stories to tell and traditions established from our time in this home. The fireworks on the 4th of July that we could see from our porch, our annual family New Years Eve Party was celebrated here each year, the dirt bikes that were ridden around in the yard, and the church and family dinners that we hosted. We love these memories shared with so many.

This home of ours will always hold a special place in our hearts.

I hope my kids remember all the little things. Sitting out on the porch swing together, playing on the rope swings, and cuddling around the fire reading a good book together. I hope they remember the tall trees that shaded our home, and our weekly walks down to our favorite shops for a frozen yogurt. So many memories to remember…I hope they remember them all, all glowing bright and warm and happy.

I wish someone had told me to not worry so much. To live through the things that sometimes happen in life and to embrace all that is good and noble. I am a planner, a list maker, someone who gets things done. I like to control things and make things happen. I’m learning I can’t control so much of what comes our way in life, but I can choose how I respond and to do good daily. I can get so stressed with the what ifs and shoulds and the worries of life, especially when it comes to parenting and my children. I want to enjoy them more and let go of the worries. Trust that they are good, that they are smart, that they will mature and grow, because they are and they will.

I want to have fun and enjoy my time as their mother, enjoy their funny, silly, loud selves every day. I know that parenting is a lot of work and I’m not suggesting that we don’t put our heart and soul into it every single day, but I do want to enjoy it more and worry less.


Thank you, Callie! I’m thrilled we got a chance to peek at the home into which you put so much love and thought. It shows. And yes, wouldn’t it be lovely if our kids remembered only the wonderful memories? “All glowing bright and warm and happy.”

I also admire the way you’ve really defined and honed your style. Instead of constricting your creativity, I think it probably frees it! There’s always that moment while we’re browsing the latest and greatest room designs when we think, “That’s the best idea! I’m painting all my white walls a deep navy and, honey, we are changing out our dark hardwoods for a light oak!” Do you do the same thing?

In the end, if our basic design loves are true, they’ll stick around. Even when a cute new trend flirts with us!

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Shelly Bergman Tue, 28 Jul 2015 14:00:27 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

At some point during the process of preparing these tours for publication, I usually ask our tour guides for just one more photo or just one more story or just a few more sentences about that sweet thing they mentioned in passing. Or “Where did you get those vases, because they’re super chic?” In Shelly’s case, I simply asked for a few more close-ups of her stunning gallery wall plus maybe a bookshelf.

And this is when she told me she was in the process of moving out of this home, away from her stunning gallery wall plus definitely her bookshelf! I still wanted to show you her home and share her words, because she has a lot to say about following our gut instincts and being brave and tackling DIY even if it scares the heck out of us. Also, there’s that gallery wall.

Please welcome Shelley as she takes us on one final tour of her home! She’s been in her new state for a day as of this writing, and so far, so good.

Hello! I’m Shelly and I’m living in Illinois with my best friend, lil bean, and pup. I could gush about my family all day.

My husband, Jeffrey, and I met at Purdue where I fell head over heels for him and his pet bunny. My mood is VERY much affected by his, which is good because he is the yin (calm/quiet/thoughtful/patient) to my yang (anxious/loud/quick to speak/impatient). He is a curious learner who can figure out how to do/build/navigate just about anything, but most of all, he makes me laugh.

My daughter makes us both laugh. Constantly. She is almost two years old, and such an empathetic, kind-hearted child. She’s great for a pat on the back, share of her cookie, or silly face to make you laugh. My husband has instilled his love of books while I have instilled my love of dancing in her.

Our rescue, Lexi, can’t stand to be more than three feet away from any one of us, but knows when she’s being annoying.

Our favorite family activities are playing at the park, visiting the book store, and wrestling.

We live at the very edge of a college town in Illinois. If you walk a block from our house it’s cornfields as far as you can possibly see, which makes for amazing sunsets. We were lucky enough to build our home in 2010. We’d looked at a ton of homes and realized it would be compatible in price to build. I was able to choose everything! Flooring, paint, cabinetry, tile, carpets, roof color, siding – everything was my decision and I loved it and I’m still happy with everything five years later.

Even though we chose everything about our home, we’ve still done a lot of DIY projects: built a deck and pergola, added a backsplash in the kitchen, and built-in shelving and automatic lights in every closet. I never feel like it’s finished; there are at least ten things on my DIY list, but that’s just because I’m crazy.

Our neighborhood also makes me very happy about where we live. We have at least eight families on our street that we trust and love hanging out with. There is a huge park in our neighborhood with tennis courts, a soccer field, baseball diamond, skateboard area, sledding hill, playgrounds, and a walking path that goes through wildflowers. It’s heavenly. I love the fact that we’re out by cornfields, but at the same time I’m only ten minutes away from the grocery, restaurants, theater, and Starbucks.

With the University being in our town, there are a ton of restaurant selections, different boutiques, and live music all the time. The library and YMCA are both brand new and are where Soph and I spend most days of the week. We’re only two hours away from Chicago and Indianapolis, where both of our parents live, so we have fun weekends visiting them and enjoying all that those big cities offer.

If I had to define my style, I would call my taste Modern DIY. I like the structure and foundation to be modern, but have personal touches to make my home feel special. I have art and photography from several family members as well as a ton of art that I’ve made. Clean lines in furniture (IKEA and Crate & Barrel mostly!) but with a few thrift finds thrown in the mix. I’m learning that everything in my home must have a place. It must be functional or beautiful. Otherwise there’s no use for it in our home.

We’re completely adjusted to life with a curious toddler. We put locks on the kitchen cabinets and stove. We also got glass and a screen for the fireplace. We keep the toilet seats down and if we really don’t want to worry, we’ll close the doors. For the most part, she likes to hang with us. We have all of her toys at her level so she has access all of the time.

She’s in a Montessori inspired room which has worked out better than we could dream. She goes to sleep easily, and when she wakes up she reads books or plays with her toys while singing the whole time. It is the sweetest thing in the world.

The only thing she can’t seem to keep her hands off is Lexi’s food and water dish. She eats Lexi’s food. It makes us crazy.

I have a blog called DIY Mama, which has been my savior while being a SAHM. I needed to have more than just baby routine in my life, so I started the blog when Soph was born to update friends and family. I have a passion for crafts and wanted to show that you don’t have to be afraid of arts and crafts.

No one is naturally good at ANYTHING. You have to try and fail and as you try more, you get better. I know so many people who would tell me “Oh I couldn’t ever do that!” or “You’re so talented! How did you even think of that?” when I believe anyone can do anything after enough tries!

My tagline is “Let’s try this again, shall we?” which I have transferred to all of my DIY/Craft/Parenting projects on the blog. I show all. I also throw in Disney posts because Disney is a huge part of my life as a Mickey lover, past Cast Member, and now new mom with a kid to spoil at Disney! Two weeks ago I took the giant leap and decided to monetize my blog, so I joined a few affiliates and am learning the ins and outs of the money side of the blogging world. I would like to be able to pay for Sophie’s food and diapers with the blog. I would LOVE to be able to pay for a blogging conference with my blog income…but it will take time.

Two things draw me to DIY. Not looking like everyone else, and knowing that we can make things less expensive and often with more quality than we can buy. I grew up with my parents being extremely hands-on with house repairs and DIY projects. Both of my parents were very crafty as well. We would make stained glass as a family, my sister and Dad would pause the TV to sketch the Disney movies I was watching, and my mom was always sewing for us or friends.

Since I’ve always grown up in an artsy environment, it’s strange to me when people don’t do crafts with their family, but I have learned why everyone doesn’t: there’s only so much time in a day! Still, my life has been enriched by arts and crafts, for sure. I can’t imagine a life without it.

My favorite part about having a daughter is watching her learn and experience new things. She is such a joy to have in our lives. Her interactions with her dad are my favorite time of every day. She has different things that she likes to do with each of us. I wake her up every day and Jeffrey lays her down every night. We all share dinner together and talk about our days. We talk to her like she’s an adult and she responds (in her own language) with such emotion and thought. She is already a performer and knows how to get a laugh out of us.

Two things have been a huge surprise to me as a new mom. First, breastfeeding is impossible and terrible for more than half of all mothers (me included) which makes you feel like a failure from the start. Also, being a stay at home mom is harder than working a 9-to-5 job for me. Never getting off work ever is hard. Thankfully, Jeffrey is very sweet to me and Sophie and lets me go off on my own sometimes. Usually I want to stay home to be with them, but when I’m particularly frustrated it’s nice to be alone to grocery shop, have dinner with a friend, or even take a normal length shower.

There’s actually been a majorly huge, bigger than big change in our lives: We’ve moved from this home! My husband, daughter, dog, and I are in the process of moving to Indy to be closer to family. We’re so fortunate to be welcomed by my sister to live with their family for three weeks while we wait to close on our new home. It’s quite perfect, actually, because she has two little ones, and having all three girls spending more time with each other is amazing!

Finding our home was super easy, as was selling our home! I’m beginning to think something terrible may happen soon since we’ve been so lucky with everything in our lives. I went to Indy to check out 17 homes in one day, and realized our price range was not reasonable. My husband and I both went back a week later and saw ten more houses, fell in love with one, and put an offer in that day. This home had two showings on the first evening, and we got an offer for full price that night.

The transition as been incredibly fast. I’m just starting to have time to realize the impact of moving from a place I called home. Coming from such a strong-knit neighborhood has me worried for what’s to come in our new neighborhood. I’m also struggling with having to go back to work rather than spending my days with Sophie. I’m worried I won’t know her as well if I’m away from her. My husband has been so strong, patient, and gracious during this whole process, which has made a huge impact on my feelings towards the move. The hardest part so far has been watching Sophie say goodbye to her friends. I’m thankful we’re moving to Indiana now while Sophie’s too young to have too many close friends in Illinois.

We’ve only been away from our home for one day, so it feels like I’m just here for a weekend trip. Our friends will be the number one thing I miss about living there. I’ll miss the deck and Sophie’s room a lot, as well. I didn’t tear up when we left until I stopped in Sophie’s room, realizing she’ll never sleep there again. We wouldn’t be making such a huge change in our happy situation if we didn’t know it will be even happier closer to our family. I’m really excited to know all of my family better, without having to rely so much on FaceTime.

I wish someone had told me if there’s something you’re nervous about, just press on because what’s on the other side will be amazing.

Thankfully, I have a lot of wise people in my life so I’ve been told a lot of good advice like communicate with your husband, sleep while your baby sleeps, don’t be afraid to ask, and be kind. The thing that I’m learning now, from past experiences, is to be brave. I’m not especially brave but when I have been brave in the past it’s always brought me great happiness. For me, the bravest thing I’ve ever done is to leave my friends and family to take a semester off school and work in Disney. It doesn’t sound like a hard decision to most people, but I was terrified.

Thankfully, I took the leap and it was one of the happiest times of my life. Be brave.


Be brave, indeed! I think you’re right: So many of us would say “Disney?! That sounds like so much fun!” But change is change, no matter how fun it might be in the end. Thank you for showing us around Sophie’s first home. I hope Indiana will be good to you all!

When Shelly said, “I’m beginning to think something terrible may happen soon since we’ve been so lucky with everything in our lives.” it made me pause and think for a bit. I sometimes worry the same way. Do you, as well? Why do we do that? Why can’t we just enjoy the fabulous while it’s happening? And then I consider the opposite concern: if everything is going poorly, when will some luck finally hit? We’ve all probably experienced both sides of that coin. If you’ve got any solutions to avoiding that sort of thinking, please share! We will all benefit.

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Meghann Halfmoon, Part Two Tue, 21 Jul 2015 16:00:14 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When we last visited Meghann in Amsterdam, I made her promise to show us around her new home once she moved to Saba. (Quick geography primer: Saba is a Caribbean island and the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. It consists largely of the potentially active volcano, Mount Scenery, which at 2,910 feet, is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. There is no crime, little traffic, and a close-knit local community. It sounds like Heaven, doesn’t it?)

I couldn’t wait to hear all about how they adjusted, get a first-hand peek into what homes look like on the island, and how it feels to live on a volcano! With 2,000 other people! (Are the city dwellers out there choking right now?! Hah!)

I’m so excited to share Meghann with you all again. Welcome, Meghann!

Except for my family — my husband, Koen, and our kids Tipp and Loula — just about everything has changed from my last appearance on Design Mom!

We went from city living in a densely populated, super flat country where there were more bikes than people and where sweaters are worn for more than half the year, to a sparsely populated volcano in the Caribbean particularly known for diving in its underwater world. Everything in life feels pretty new right now.

Even before we got married, we’d always thought we’d move abroad for our jobs for some time. We had travelled a lot, both before we met, together as a couple and also with our kids. In 2012, we even had the opportunity to live abroad for my job for six months. While I was starting to think that maybe I was fine just staying in Amsterdam for the rest of our lives, Koen was starting to get the itch to go. He was also ready for a new professional challenge.

At the time we were seriously starting to outgrow our little apartment, public health positions opened up in the Dutch Caribbean. I specifically mentioned to him at some point about a year ago, “We’ll never go to Saba, not even on holiday, so don’t bother applying there,” due to my fear of flying. But Koen got a call requesting that he apply to the Saba position. After a few days of discussing if I’d dare fly onto the island and what it might be like to live on a five square mile volcano with around 2,000 other people for three years, we decided he should go for it.

Why? Because we figured you don’t get these opportunities all the time. You don’t say no to this kind of thing. You try it, and go home early if it doesn’t work out. At least, that’s how we looked at it.

So, Saba now has a Public Health Department: Koen! Of course public health activities had been taking place on the island already, but there was not yet an actual department to coordinate those activities, to prioritize prevention, and to monitor and evaluate outbreaks, etc.

Koen no longer commutes 90 minutes each way to work. Instead, he has a scenic five-minute drive to drop the kids at school, and then another five minutes to work in The Bottom (which, you guessed it, is at the bottom of the island). It turned out to be kind of a dream job for my husband!

You’d be hard pressed to find something more opposite to Amsterdam than this place! Actually, Saba is different to any place I’ve ever been. It’s not at all what I think most people imagine when they think about Caribbean islands: white sand beaches, palm trees swaying, cocktails at beach shacks…

Saba is literally a volcano shooting out of the Caribbean sea. There is hardly a flat space to be found, save for the airport, which has the shortest commercial landing strip in the world! While we do have a lovely little beach with a nice playground and public restrooms, it is man-made. The only natural beach on the island only shows itself a few months out of the year, and this has not yet happened since I’ve been here.

The island, with its many eco-zones, is very green and speckled with white houses with green shutters and red roofs. I hear that Saba is even more beautiful underwater, but I’ve not yet had the chance – or dared! – to go diving to explore yet. As small as it is, I can be down at the beach on a hot day, watching a grey cloud come and engulf the upper part of the island, where it may be windy and raining. While the island has been inhabited off and on since around 1175 BC, and the first European settlers have been here since around 1640, the landscape is so mountainous and steep that engineers said it was not possible to build a road to connect the four villages. So up until the late 1950s, there was no road to connect the villages and everything had to be transported by foot and donkey. The first airplane arrived soon after.

Life is generally more relaxed here, mainly because of how small it is. Things move slowly, for better or for worse. Sabans are known for their friendliness. With only around 2,000 inhabitants, people’s faces quickly become familiar and crime is nearly nonexistent. You wave at everybody you pass in the car. We seem to have gotten used to this really quickly: when we were in St. Maarten for a bit of off-island time, we instinctively waved at everyone we passed! I won’t get into how completely different these islands are from each other, but it’s safe to say it’s not habit to wave there.

Up until now, there has apparently not been a need for addresses. I recently received a letter saying that everybody will receive an official address this year and street names will start going up. But, for the locals, I live in “Melanie’s house (or sometimes it’s called Benny’s house) up above Swinging Doors.”

Although the houses do have indoor plumbing, we do not have a public water system. All houses therefore have a cistern to collect rainwater, and our sewage goes into a sceptic tank. This means that water shortages are part of life, and it’s important to quickly get used to short showers where you only turn on the water to get wet and to rinse off. We’re in a drought this year, so we’ve had to purchase desalinated water a couple of times, which is brought on a truck with a huge tank in the bed and is pumped into the cistern. We now get excited to drink water from the faucet and take full five-minute showers when we’re off island. Party!

Being an island, everything has to be imported, making groceries super expensive. Wednesday – the day the main cargo ship arrives – is the busiest day of the week in the commercial center of Windwardside, and an important day for stocking up at the supermarket. If you can’t find something on Wednesday afternoon, it probably won’t be there for at least another week.

All in all, I think we’ve done a pretty good job acclimating. But, I must admit that it’s been quite a bit harder on me than I ever imagined. The nearly constant sea view and permanent warm weather are huge perks! But I also very dearly miss the life of the city, the multitude options of where to go (or to go nowhere at all), things to do and see, anonymity and, of course, my bike.

My husband has had an incredibly easy time! We moved here for his career. He works full time and he’s got a fabulous opportunity and challenge, so it makes sense that he’s not had any trouble adjusting. My daughter, Loula, is now five and has also had a pretty easy time adjusting. She seems to have perspective beyond her years. She also had only been in school for half a year before we moved and so had not yet built a real group of friends.

My son, Tipp, and I, on the other hand, have had a much more difficult time adjusting. I think that we’re both more sentimental in general. But we also both had stronger attachments to Amsterdam before we left. Although he’s only six years old, he already had a real steady group of friends in our neighborhood. And their moms had become my friends. You get the point.

The method of teaching is far more traditional here, and school finishes a couple hours earlier than in the Netherlands. My role has therefore become far more that of a stay-at-home mom who happens to have a small business rather than the other way around. I feel like I’m constantly being pulled different ways. While this often feels busy and unpleasant, I am thankful that I’ve been able to be there for my kids when they get home from school, particularly on the days that they’ve been homesick and need some extra hugs and a shoulder to cry on.

Luckily, we have met some really good people here and made some friends. We’ve created a set beach-day with a friend and her kids who are the same age as mine, which is something I look forward to every week. If I’m ever feeling down, those afternoons at the beach – snorkeling, watching the kids play in the water or dig in the sand – always perk me up.

My first friend followed my son’s school bus home one afternoon. No joke! Her son and my son are in the same class and wanted to play. She didn’t have my phone number, so she just followed the school bus home and knocked on the door. Ha!

I think it’s also been important for us to simply allow ourselves to miss our old home in Amsterdam. Yes, Saba is full of amazing beauty! But so is Amsterdam. I’ve kind of decided that it’s okay to grieve the loss of my beloved city, and that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the opportunity to live here.

What I absolutely love about this home is that we have a yard! And fruit! Our yard fully encircles our house. The kids have so much fun playing outside with their friends. We often have six to eight children running around, inside and outside of the house, over the cistern, along the cement wall. The best pineapple I’ve ever had came from my front yard, we’ve got a million bananas, and tons of mangos just waiting to be ripe enough for us to devour them. We’ve also got a few different herbs growing along one side of our house, as well as some beautiful flowers.

I love the vaulted ceilings throughout the majority of our home. My very favourite room in our house is our bedroom, with my workspace coming in at a close second. Our room is such a sanctuary of light and rest. There is nothing fancy to it. Just simple peace.

We will be able to stay in this home for the full three years of my husbands’ contract. It’s refreshing to know that you can stay put or change homes based on what suits us. I do sometimes catch myself thinking, “Do I really live here?” It’s light years away from anywhere I ever thought I’d live. But daily life definitely keeps me in check.

The most important things we brought with us are probably the items that hang on our walls, like paintings and special photos. I spent a good three or four days cleaning, unpacking, and arranging when we moved into this house. The kids were so excited when they saw all our photos and art hanging on our wall again! Funnily enough, they were also thrilled to see some super simple things, like mundane water glasses. “Look, mom! Our glasses are here! And our bowls! Wow!” Having their toys again, after about two months of only a backpack full of toys, was also quite a thrill.

These same things really helped me to feel at home as well. In addition to, of course, all of the furniture in my workspace. That’s the only room that we furnished completely ourselves. We knew that homes are rented furnished in Saba, so we didn’t bring everything. But we did still bring enough to make sure that the essence of our home in Amsterdam would shine through here. So if you’re thinking you’ve seen this home before, great! That’s exactly what we’re going for!

We made sure to move here on a weekend so that the kids would go to school soon after we arrived. We didn’t want to be here too long and have the excitement build up so much before starting school. So we arrived on a Saturday, Monday happened to be a day off, and they started school, uniforms and all, on Tuesday. Luckily school went well from day one! The homesickness only started after a week or two.

On such a small island, word gets around quickly that there are new people in town. And at the same time, because we have four villages, it feels bigger than it is and there are plenty of people I’ve not yet seen or met.

Living on Saba has hugely improved my children’s English. While I have always spoken English to my children, they have always responded in Dutch. Oddly, they continue to speak to me in Dutch, but the local language is English. From listening to the kids speak with Shirley, our kitten, it seems she speaks English, too.

The population is also really diverse and mixed here. My children are no longer part of the majority race in their classroom. We have talked about and exposed our children to different cultures, races, and religious beliefs, and their school in Amsterdam was pretty mixed, so it’s not actually something they notice themselves, and I don’t have a specific lesson I hope they learn from that. But I do think it’s a good thing to not always be in the majority.

Resource-wise, the importance and scarcity of water is something they feel and live with every day. We have talked about this a lot in the past, mainly because of the area of work I was in (international development), but they’ve never had to worry about whether the water might literally dry up. Here, we do. Which is crazy for a child, particularly when they see that they are surrounded by water! But they’re doing a really good job of conserving.

While we miss our bikes, the parks and museums, and everything Amsterdam had to offer, there is also a plus-side to having very little external entertainment possibilities. There is more time for general discovery, gardening, hiking, fishing, trying out new recipes together, or hanging out at the beach, without feeling like you’re missing out on anything.

All in all, I hope this change helps my children to understand that discomfort can be a good thing, that we learn when we remove ourselves from our comfort zone. That’s not to say that we should never become comfortable, or that we should seek out discomfort, but that it’s not inherently bad and it can help us to become more confident in ourselves

Creating a new work structure has been a real challenge. Accepting that has also been a challenge! It strikes me as so odd that a new balance is so hard to find when the daily motions really are quite the same: get up, eat breakfast, shower, do the morning routine, kids to school, husband gone, sit down and work. Should be simple. But it just isn’t for me.

It’s taken some work for me to allow that of myself. I think I finally have. So while my business is doing really well on the one hand, I’ve definitely not been able to grow it in the way I think I could have had we not moved. And now we’re into summer holiday, which means that time to work is at an all time low.

However, there are new possibilities that are starting to show up that would probably not have been available to me in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I was a small fish in a big pond. Here on Saba, it’s less likely to be lost in the masses. I’m starting to toy with the idea of working in a space outside of my home, perhaps one that could act as a bit of a shop. I feel like this would be a good place to test those waters.

I do think that a whole year to fully transition is probably what it will take. Now that I write that, I realize that we actually discussed that before we came. My lack of patience crept up on me and made me believe that I had to have everything completely under control. Happily, I’ve started to remember again that everything will never be completely under control; the chaos must simply be well managed.

The one thing that has surprised me most about myself and my family during this massive change is that we actually live here! That this is our life. In good moments and bad, I find it absolutely wild that I live here.

Also…what a team we are! I know it sounds super corny, but together we are strong and can support each other through difficult moments. This was not a surprise to me, but confirmation of what I already believed. There have been many moments filled with tears and missing friends and family, but we do all realize, particularly in our moments of doubt, that wherever we are together is home.


It was so lovely to hear from you, Meghann! I know you’re right: moves help us realize that wherever we are together is home sweet home. Also, the way you’ve described the island makes me and probably a few other readers want to visit, so maybe you’ll have more friends to someday add to that 2,000 population!

For those of you who’ve made a drastic move to a location completely opposite to your usual living setting, did this interview bring back some memories? Whether you went city to country, heavily-populated to just a few, I’d sure love to hear 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Mat Parke Tue, 14 Jul 2015 16:00:38 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Mat told me he’d read all of my Living With Kids tours from the column’s inception, it made me smile. He said loved seeing the homes and being inspired by all the ways different families accommodated their kids. It made me so happy, I read his note twice.

Truly, that is all I’ve ever wanted these tours to accomplish! I am overjoyed at the idea that each peek might impart a dose or two of “Let’s try it this way!” or “Whoa, I never thought of that.” or even “Honey, we’re painting a wall of flowers and it’s going to be amazing!”

Also, he and his wife own a soda and cookie shop (in Meridian, Idaho if you’re close by!),  and he discusses finding balance and making time and going to bed a little later than they should and waking up a little earlier than they’d like…but his parenting philosophy is based on a story that might make you misty. I want you to read it, and I hope you’re inspired by it like I was.

Welcome, Mat!

We are Gigi, Mat, Chloe, Cameron, and Maisie.

Chloe is going into fifth grade and is our oldest. She is thoughtful and, when you first meet her, a little quiet. You might never guess the girl who is always reading heads directly to the steepest slopes when she skis and wants to lead out on any hike no matter how long. She has a tendency towards perfectionism, which we discourage at home because living with a perfectionist makes you want to tear your hair out.

Cameron is going into third grade and is the happiest kid I have ever seen. It takes him 30 seconds to bounce back from any trouble. I don’t know if that stems from inborn resilience or if he intuitively understands that a seven-year-old’s problems aren’t too serious, but in either case it simplifies things. When school is in session he strength trains every day with friends so they can one day defeat The Pokemon. He is generous in the way that children can be, happy to share or give away whatever he has.

Maisie is 16 months but already has very firm opinions about what she does and does not like. She is by far our most stubborn child, and we are on the edge of our seats wondering what life is going to be like when she is a teenager. Happily she is also very affectionate, toddling over to give hugs and kisses to whomever is closest.

Gigi and I met in law school 15 years ago and have been together ever since. She is smart and beautiful and hard working. She was, is, and always will be my ideal girl. I knew I wanted to marry her when she loved our first backpacking trip despite having never been camping. We both continue to work as attorneys – Gigi is in-house at a university and I have my own practice – and take turns running kids around. Planning and organization are Gigi’s strong suit,  and I’m constantly amazed how much she can get done in a day. I’m more of the wild man in our relationship, always thinking up something, which can both excite and stress Gigi out.

By the time we bought this house I had two rules: Keep a short commute, and get to know the neighborhoods before you buy.

We lived in New York right out of law school, and I struggled with the transition to a dense, vertical environment. After a year in Manhattan, we moved to New Jersey which meant that we had a long commute to our law firms. Big mistake. There are few things worse at the end of a long day than having to take a long car ride home.

After a few years I took a job in London. When we were deciding where to live my one criteria was that the commute had to be short. We found an apartment in Notting Hill 15 minutes from work, and it was a huge difference maker. It was so easy to fall in love with London because living close to work made it completely manageable. Plus – in our minds at least – it is the greatest city in the world.

When we came back to the United States we knew we wanted to put down roots but wanted to really get to know the area before we committed. The university Gigi was at let us rent a place near campus so we could take our time finding a place. After much looking we toured the house we now live in. Of course it was priced higher than we wanted to pay. We walked through twice more trying to decide if we should buy it when it sold to someone else.

We continued our house search but kept thinking about the house that got away. Six months after it sold, it came back on the market. And it was a lot cheaper. We put a full price offer on it the same day. It was a short sale and it took what seemed like forever to finalize the sale, but after six months we finally closed.

The house was built in 1953, and the person who designed it had a great sense of space and flow. Some of the things we love were obvious from the first walk through: the walk-out basement, the transitions between indoor and outdoor space, the wall of windows, of course. We had to be here a while to appreciate other things: the way the kitchen is open but the prep area is not visible from the living room, or the way the house is situated so as to let in lots of light while minimizing heat from the sun.

One thing I don’t care for are the dark wood floors on the upper level because they show every speck of dust. I would have put down something much lighter – perhaps a blonde bamboo. The kitchen and the floors were new when we bought the house and even though we would have made different choices, they are serviceable and it didn’t make sense to change them out.

I like a space where form follows function. It’s easy to become enamored with a design aesthetic and sacrifice comfort or functionality. One of the goals of mid-century architecture was to accommodate the family, but they didn’t always carry it off.

When we bought this house we loved the balcony that ran along the back side, but instead of a railing there was a pony wall that was about two feet high. Any parent looking at that wall would fear that sooner or later a kid would go over the side. So one of the first things we did was lay down a new balcony and install the tension cable railing.

The railing on the interior staircase has large gaps. We left it in place but when our baby started crawling I put up the plastic guard, which we’ll leave in place until she is older.

Gigi gets credit for the design and decorating of the house. She knew she wanted places where the kids can comfortably spend a lot of time and do their kid work. Our upstairs dining table is a natural place to spread out and do homework. The downstairs living room lends itself to projects and play. We keep most of the toys and craft supplies there and haven’t put anything in that space that would bother us if we found a blob of sparkly glue on it. Between the two levels, there are five sliding glass doors that lead into the backyard which makes it easy for everyone to run in and out.

I work as an attorney in my day job. I used to work for Wall Street banks and large corporations, but I always wanted to have actual people for clients and to feel like I was fighting for the little guy. We came back to the United States for Gigi’s career, so I needed to find a new job and that gave me a chance to pursue something different. One of my oldest friends and I started a personal injury law firm in Boise which has been the most fulfilling work of my career.

I have an entrepreneurial streak, and recently started a soda and cookie shop as a kind of hobby. I had met a few people who had soda shops and had talked about investing with them, but it didn’t work out so I decided to do it myself. We named the shop Entreat and it has been a total blast. We like to say that we sell soda and cookies, but are really in the business of happy.

The thing I like is seeing the shop become a gathering place – friends meeting there and families coming in for a little break. The simplicity of a fancy soda and a cookie is a nice contrast to the difficult, sometimes heart-rending things I see in my law practice.

It has become more important to me over time is to be supportive of Gigi’s career. She is good at her job and gets a lot of satisfaction from it. But I have to also admit to some self-interest because her work has also allowed me to do things that are important to me. By now we’ve worked out a pretty good balancing act. Gigi can use personal days when something special is going on, and since I’m self-employed I have all kinds of flexibility.

Maisie attends daycare a few steps from Gigi’s office, and we take turns co-op’ing in the older kids’ classes when school is in session. Making time to be in class two hours a week can be a pain, but you never regret it afterward. You see your children in a completely different setting and get to know their classmates and teachers. We get up earlier and go to bed later than we might otherwise, but as the kids have grown older and we see they are thriving it’s been easier for both of us to let go of any worry.

We put a lot of thought into structuring several spaces in the house as gathering and activity areas for various ages: the open living room and dining room with adjoining balcony; the fire pit and swing set; the open basement play area and kitchenette; the large reading nook under the stairs. I want them to remember it as an enjoyable and comfortable place where they spent time with family and friends.

I hope my kids will appreciate that we encouraged them to take risks. There is a growing body of literature discussing the adverse affects of helicopter parenting on children’s ability to properly assess risk and deal with failure. We don’t exactly subscribe to free-range parenting philosophy, but we try to let the kids do things for themselves. We want our children to know they are capable, to know that failure is a normal part of life and that they can improve.

At the same time I want my kids to remember feeling loved and secure. Right now we can be in a public place and Chloe will still climb into my lap. I know that probably won’t last much longer, and those moments have become incredibly precious to me. Cameron still trusts me with his secrets and wants to tell me which Pokemon characters are the best. Maisie is just a toddler but I already know it won’t be long and her peers will be her primary influence. So I hope my kids remember our house primarily as a place where they were unconditionally loved.

What has been my favorite part about living with my kids? That’s actually a poignant question for me. The short answer is getting to live with my kids. Shortly after we returned to the States, my sister died in her sleep from a heart condition none of us knew she had.

That was a dark time and that story is her husband and children’s to tell, but I later learned I had the same condition. I had an internal defibrillator placed in my body as a preventive measure, but the procedure didn’t go as planned and I was crash carted to the OR. I knew at that moment I might die and all I wanted to do was speak to my wife and tell her how much I loved her and the children and how sorry I was that I was not going to be there for them. It was strange to be simultaneously filled with love and sorrow.

I had a long recovery, but since that time when things are going right I’ve tried to take a moment and consciously recognize the goodness of the moment. Of course, when I try to explain this to my kids they laugh at me and think I’m crazy…but I hope at some point they’ll understand that their dad was trying to tell them they brought him joy.


“She was, is, and always will be my ideal girl.” I hope each of us has another who would say these words even when no one is listening! So nice. And as for Mat’s favorite part about living with his kids being the living part? Well, that puts everything neatly back into perspective, doesn’t it? “…when things are going right I’ve tried to take a moment and consciously recognize the goodness of the moment.” Indeed.

Thank you for adding your fine thoughts to our days, Mat. You are officially part of the tours you’ve read from the beginning, and I know you’ve changed someone’s day.

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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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