Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Thu, 26 May 2016 16:00:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Alicia Brothers Tue, 24 May 2016 12:00:22 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Welcome, Alicia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is hard to admit the struggles we have inside to those on the outside. We worry how we will be judged. Especially as parents we want to be seen as having it all together, in control of our life and emotions, and unwavering in our courage.

The reality is, though, the more I share my story I find there are others just like me. Moms who are afraid to share their story for the same reason. I have friends that lost their battle to depression and over the years I have learned how to be okay with sharing my story. My story isn’t unique. It is what so many people go through every day, but it is silenced. People that don’t have a husband like I do, or a family like I do, battle it alone. You can get through it and you will get through it and the result will be better than your most beautiful dreams.

I am raising little people who will become big people and I need to be their rock. I need to show them that they can overcome obstacles and come out better. I had so many amazing people guide me and help me along the way. I suffered with postpartum depression with each of my three children. To say that there were days where I thought I could not go on would be an understatement. When my mom or husband would tell me that it would pass and I would get better, it was the last thing I wanted to hear or could believe. It took years and years of work to become the person I am today. It will always be something I have to look out for, but it is something that made me who I am and the mother I have become. Mindfulness, self care, and community have become vitally life changing.

Life is painful, thoughts can be painful, and it can be raw and brutal, but it can be wonderful.

Which leads me to where I am now. I am a mom, a wife, a blogger, and an entrepreneur. Along with my blog I also run an essential oils business that has been more empowering and invigorating than anything I have done since law school. It has helped me build back the confidence that I lost, helped me develop friendships I know will last a lifetime, and in the process has helped me with the struggles I have had with anxiety for so long. It has become part of my lifestyle and my life.

Through the years I have changed everything that we bring into our home and have made an effort to create a healthier and more natural lifestyle. Along with minimalism, we switched out any and all chemicals in our home and have replaced them with our own recipes using essential oils.You can find many of these recipes on my blog. I love educating others on living a more natural life. I am so grateful for where this journey has taken me and the ways my business has helped me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I love sharing my journey with others on my blog and helping others to grow in their own life.

When I look back as a grandmother one day I will remember the struggle of motherhood, the tantrums, the sleepless nights, the teething. More so, I will remember the hugs, the kisses, the bedtime snuggles, the back rubbing, the hand holding, the giggles, the squeaky voices, the love, and the day-to-day rituals that will leave me with the most wistful memories as I grow old. I never want to leave this stage of my life. It is the most blissful experience and I couldn’t be more grateful.


Thank you, Alicia! I loved reading about your career path, and hearing about how you continue to grow and improve. I especially enjoyed this: “It is hard to admit the struggles we have inside to those on the outside.” I’m a big fan of those who bring the inside out — in decorating and in life!

I’m wondering if anyone wants to share their own difficult space stories? Which one is your room you want to hate but can’t help but love? How did you turn it around? How did you make it a little more livable and lovable? I always enjoy when you share your experiences!

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

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Living With Kids: Maia McDonald Tue, 17 May 2016 16:00:01 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Maia started a business with her mom, and once I heard that I couldn’t stop smiling and wondering if maybe one of my kiddos would someday start a company with me. Maia is a Midwestern transplant to my neck of the woods, a minimalist with secret hoarding tendencies — which she is fighting! — and a mom intent on sharing her own unique parenting gifts and methods with her daughter.

I love her perspective and path. I hope you will, too. Welcome, Maia!

Hi, I’m Maia! Our little family is made up of my husband, Travis, and our daughter, Ingrid, who’s two.

Both my husband and I grew up in Wisconsin but we now call Sacramento, California home. I was raised in an idyllic, small, rural farming town that not only has a thriving alternative arts community but also has the most per capita organic farms in the state — and I believe the country at one time, but that might be one of the those local bragging rights that have no basis in fact! Either way, it was great place to grow up.

I went to school for graphic design and worked for years as a designer and art director for brands like, Williams-Sonoma, Cuyana, and Rue Magazine. Last year, I branched out and launched a sustainable and design-minded online children’s boutique with my mom, called Bitte.

Since I work from home and my husband is a stay-at-home dad, we spend a lot of time together as a family. Probably what would seem a crazy amount for most people! Ever since I met Travis, though, we’ve rarely spent more than three or four hours apart at a time. We just really like each other’s company.

When we met it was such an intense, instant connection. I pretty much knew we were going to be together forever after ten days of dating him, and we moved in together after four months. That was eight years ago. It took us a little longer to get married because we were young and broke and that was less of a priority for us.

Two years ago we welcomed our daughter, and now we’re a kooky little trio. Ingrid is a total riot; she’s funny and smart and so curious. Her favorite things to do are dancing, jumping in puddles, playing in the yard, and singing.

We live in a neighborhood called South Land Park. It’s a quiet residential neighborhood not too far from downtown and midtown, where there are a lot more restaurants and shopping. Right in our neighborhood, there is a great Japanese bakery that my daughter loves to visit. We also like to bike to the park or to the river to play.

Our neighborhood is fairly diverse economically. You can find a few homes from the low to mid $300s but there are also homes that are $700 to $800k. Then there are lots of families in our neighborhood who have been here for decades. It seems to be a pretty sought after area because there are a bunch of great schools nearby, but it’s not as popular as some of the older and more established neighborhoods, which keeps it accessible.

Our house is a 1962 California ranch style house. We bought it from the original owners so not much had been done to it over the years, which I loved. We eventually want to do a bigger renovation to the bathrooms and kitchens since those haven’t been touched in over 50 years, but they are in surprisingly great shape and totally livable.

The funny thing is we weren’t really looking that seriously to buy when we started down the path to purchase this place. We had been in Sacramento about six months, and we started going to open houses mostly for fun and also to get to know neighborhoods and the different areas in Sacramento. We went to an open house for a home just a few blocks from our current house, and completely fell in love with it. That place sold right away but it got us thinking more seriously about the whole process. We found a realtor through a friend the next week, and I think wrote an offer on this house just two weeks later! All the stars just aligned and I’m happy they did because we couldn’t be happier in this home.

The downside was having to move with a baby/toddler twice in one year! I don’t plan on moving again for a LONG time!

We moved first from Wisconsin to Oakland about five years ago, so that was probably a bigger transition than the one from Oakland to Sacramento. I still miss certain things about Wisconsin, mostly the people; friends, but also just the way people are there. There is an attitude and approach to life in the Midwest that I don’t even know how to describe. People always say Midwesterners are nice, which is true, but it’s more than that. Most people are just very genuine and humble.

But on the flip side, I really like that in California everyone is very open and warm and there is a different kind of can-do attitude. Not to mention you are exposed to so many more experiences and cultures. I’ve been really inspired by the energy and enthusiasm I have found living here.

Also, it might seem like a little thing but I love the produce in California! I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the fact that I now have multiple fruit trees in my yard bearing apples, mandarins, peaches, lemons…you name it!

The transition from Oakland to Sacramento has been more subtle since I’m still so close and able to visit often. Sacramento is sleepier and great for raising my daughter. But I definitely miss Oakland. I probably would have stayed if it wasn’t for cost-of-living constraints.

That’s the hardest part about living in California and previously the Bay Area: it’s just so expensive. We discussed moving back to the Midwest when we had our daughter, but ultimately decided that California is where we want to be. Sacramento allowed us to do that and live a little more affordably. Now I’m really glad we gave Sacramento a chance! There’s a lot of great stuff going on here. It’s got a burgeoning food and art scene, great schools, tons of outdoors stuff with the parks and rivers. And it’s a day trip to San Francisco, Tahoe, and the coast. I’ve grown to really love it.

Design wise, I like things simple, bright and airy. I think my style’s a little bit of a mixture of mid-century modern, Scandinavian modern, and just a splash of boho. I really like keeping my home as de-cluttered as possible, but I’m kind of a hoarder so it’s a constant battle.

I find that I can be much calmer and more creative when my house is clean, though. When people come to visit, I want them to feel comfortable. I love to cook for guests so I love that this house has a wonderful dining area. Our next project is to create an outdoor dining area since in California you can really take advantage of outdoor living most of the year.

Since having our daughter I try to make a home that is hers as well. I try not to have areas that are off limits or items that I wouldn’t want her playing with — except maybe all the cacti and a few items in my office.

I also have lots of art around, especially in Ingrid’s room. I really want art to be something she loves and appreciates, and you can never start too early. I still remember the artwork that was in my bedroom as a toddler, so obviously it left an indelible mark on me.

Bitte is an online children’s boutique selling sustainable classics for modern kids. We carry clothes and toys that have a focus on responsible and sustainable creation and manufacturing with an eye for modern design. I started it with my mom after my daughter was born.

We had always talked about starting something together. She had started her own all-natural toy business, Magic Cabin, when I was a toddler, which she built up over the years and eventually sold. So we really had a good marriage of skills and backgrounds. But it wasn’t until after my daughter was born that the idea really started coming together. I found as a new parent I wanted to shop more responsibly, especially when purchasing items for her. And while there were tons of great makers and artisans creating adorably designed eco-friendly goods, there wasn’t one place I could go to find these items in a beautifully curated selection. And as any new parent knows, time is a precious commodity so I wasn’t able to browse the Internet endlessly to find those gems I knew were out there. That’s when I decided I really wanted to create that trusted one-stop-shop for design and eco-conscious parents.

Right now my days are pretty crazy running the business. It’s just my mom and me doing everything! My husband also helps with shipping out orders. So it’s really a family effort. We’re currently working on designing some new products for our in-house Bitte brand, and picking all the merchandise for the holiday season which is always fun. For the summer we have some great new travel-related board books and really cute summer apparel that I can’t get enough of.

The best part is seeing customers post their little one’s enjoying their Bitte items on Facebook and Instagram!

The most important thing that has allowed me to start this business with my mom is that my husband stays home and takes care of my daughter. I grew up watching my parents do it the same way, though, so we have good role models. My dad was a stay-at-home dad and took care of my sisters and me while my mom built her own business.

I remember being so proud of her and thinking it was so special that she was doing something so different than a lot of my friends’ moms. I loved that both of them bucked tradition and struck out to do what was best for them and us as a family.

I learned from my mom specifically that I, too, could be an awesome business owner and mom. It might mean I’m not on every field trip or pack every lunch in the morning but that’s fine. I’m passing down different skills. I hope my daughter will one day feel the same about watching us build this business.

I really hope my daughter remembers our dance parties! And when she was a little baby I loved laying in bed with her and singing to her and telling her stories about how her dad and I met and who her aunts and uncles are. I’m sure I’ll keep doing that, but I remember thinking at the time she won’t even remember this but it still felt important. Now when we lie in bed together she’s the one telling stories, which I mostly can’t understand but I still love them.

I hope she doesn’t remember all the time I spend on my phone and computer. It’s the double edge sword of working from home. It allows me to spend so much time with her but I also have to get work done and it’s hard to explain to a two year old why I can’t play outside with her right this minute.

I love everything about living with my daughter. I sometimes describe it as gaining an awesome, tiny new roommate who’s adorable and hilarious. We have dance parties almost every night and sing endlessly in the car. She’s at this age now where she’s talking more and her personality is really emerging and it’s just the best! The other night she was supposed to go to bed but instead treated us to several rounds of No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. It’s one of those things where you’re kind of like, Okay…go to bed already! But on the other hand it was so sweet and funny, my husband and I had a hard time not just busting out laughing.

It’s hard to lay down the law when she’s being adorable and I just want to laugh. That’s one thing that has surprised me about parenting. I was a nanny for years and I was always a pretty strict nanny, but as a parent I have such a hard time disciplining, I’m a total softie. Luckily my husband has taken on that role.

I know I’m going to miss everything about this age, because that’s how I feel about every stage leading up to now. It’s the little mundane things that I hope I remember. Her tight snuggles and kisses. Her sticky hands grabbing at my face. How she loves to play with my shoes, the fancier the better.

And made-up songs – my current favorite Daddy, Daddy, I love you!

If I could hand out some advice, I’d tell you a few things. Most are pieces of advice from others or stuff I tell myself all the time, but I either don’t listen or have no willpower.

Use your phone less. It’s become such an addiction. And it’s hard because most of the time I’m using it for work but I need to get better at separating work from personal life.

Being humble is great but it’s also good to recognize your own accomplishments and celebrate them! It might be my Midwestern roots but it’s sometimes hard for me to take a compliment or talk about myself positively without adding a self-deprecating spin on it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is super hard for me! When I do ask for help I always think, “Why didn’t I just do that sooner?”


Thank you, Maia! I’m not sure if it’s a Midwestern thing, but maybe we all have to get better at accepting a compliment gracefully. Today, I’ll start! I’ll fight to just reply “Thank you,” and not feel compelled to wave it away like it’s not true. (I’ll pretend it IS true! Ha.)

And yes to asking for help! It’s one of the best feelings in the world, like a gorilla has been lifted off your back. When’s the last time you asked for help? I always love your stories.

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

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Living With Kids: Lisa Fontaine Tue, 10 May 2016 14:00:39 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Michelle Drewes.

Lisa and her friend Nan started Ginger, a line of handmade caftans, because they wanted “a kickass dress that was flattering and simple.” So cool. Every time I see a woman strolling confidently in a caftan, I smile. I imagine she has a lot of events to attend, deadlines and dates she never breaks, a well-edited closet and pantry, probably, and a ticket to Corsica for the end of May. Maybe even a thriving garden and a lovely copper watering can. Right?!

I hope you enjoy Lisa’s words and beautiful space she’s sharing with us today. Welcome, Lisa!

Hi everyone! I’m so excited to show you around my life!

My husband and I met in San Francisco in 2001 and were married by the end of the following year. It was a bit of an opposites attract situation! As an economic consultant, he was very organized and methodical and craved routine. Myself, a designer, am more emotional, free spirited, outgoing, and artistic. I’m not so great at paying taxes, saving money, or keeping a clean car, but I love adventure, wild parties, and naughty little children.

However, our 12-year age gap makes us both land in the same Chinese astrological year, the year of the horse. Since horses are meant to race and travel, it wasn’t surprising that we shared the same vision for raising a global-minded family.

We both grew up in the Bay Area — San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Our households were quite different! Doug’s was strict and orderly which resulted in him skipping the third grade, learning to play the piano beautifully and to speak French. I grew up in a free-range creative household that involved lots of motorcycle riding in the Santa Cruz mountains, skateboarding, boogie boarding, and building stuff in my parent’s workshop.

We have decided to blend our upbringings with our own children. Bijou is ten, and enjoys swimming in lakes, horseback riding, traveling, and Taylor Swift. Eero is five, and our emotional wild child who loves music and basketball and building stuff out of things from our recycling bin. Wilder, also five, is mellow and kind and probably smarter than all of us. He likes chess and math and recently told me he likes the color mulberry. My husband Doug is an economic consultant in downtown Oakland, and enjoys cross fit in his free time. I teach art camps to kids in the summer, and design a caftan clothing line called Ginger with my friend Nan. In my free time, I love photography, taking craft classes, the farmer’s market, and treasure hunting at thrift stores.

We live in the Berkeley Hills just a ten-minute walk from Alice Water’s Chez Panisse and the original Peet’s coffee. Our mid-century home was built in 1955 as a two-bedroom bungalow and had three more rooms added in the 1970s. Our lot is shaded by two hundred-year-old oak trees and is on a quiet street where all the neighbors know each other.

Our street is particularly unique because several homes have been in the same family since they were built at the turn of the century. One neighbor even wrote a book called Tamalpais Tales, interviewing those who had stories to share dating all the way back to when the street was first developed. In recent years, some neighbors have passed away and young families have moved in. Others, who have become empty nesters, will rent out spare rooms to visiting international students and PhD students at Cal, also walkable from our house.

Our children love the neighborhood because we can walk to Codornices Park on a hidden stairwell that leads from our street directly into the park. They love the cement slide and creek. They also enjoy our community garden with chickens that a neighbor built a few years ago on a dilapidated tennis court. The high fences and sunny spot were perfect for building a garden and keeping the local deer out.

The homes in our neighborhood usually sell for over a million dollars. We were able to afford it from a smart real estate investment we had made a few years earlier in San Francisco. We bought a loft near AT&T Park at the end of 2002 when we got married and sold it a couple years later for 30% more than our purchase price. The San Francisco real estate market does have its perks!

We have lived in our home for ten years now and recently refinanced when rates were at an all time low, resulting in a monthly mortgage payment below what one needs to cough up today for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

The only downside to our neighborhood is that it is on a hill so it isn’t great for bike riding. I have a confession: my 10-year-old still can’t ride a bike.

We decided to sell our house in the city before shopping for our next house. It sold in just one week, so then we had to scramble to find something. We were able to negotiate a 30-day rent back from the new owner to give us a bit more time, but I was seven months pregnant with Bijou so time was of the essence!

We decided on Berkeley for the great public schools, unique architecture, great restaurants, and tree-lined streets. We found our home rather quickly and although it wasn’t perfect, it had good bones and we had a vision for what it could be. I personally love a home project but after three years of remodeling, I hope I never have to do that again. We lived in the house during remodeling and worked in stages, which was made extra stressful by having a new baby. Luckily, we had a great crew who felt like family by the end.

Buying in our neighborhood can be very competitive so you need to be aggressive. Inventory is low, so most homes go for significantly over asking. It’s also common practice to write an emotional letter to the seller telling them how much you love their house and what it would mean to you to raise your own family there.

My favorite part of my home is the floor to ceiling glass in our living room that looks out onto our garden. Our yard is small but I cherish it greatly after living in San Francisco with only a deck for so many years.

I like to buy high quality furniture that works with the mid-century architecture of our home. I prefer to buy pieces that can last for decades. I’m pretty minimalist with my decorating, but the things I do choose to display are meaningful. An inherited piece from Doug’s grandmother, vacation photos, a weaving made from my daughter, something collected at a flea market from when we lived in France, etc.

Admittedly, I’m a bit controlling when it comes to the décor in my children’s rooms. My twin boys don’t have much of their own opinion when it comes to décor so they let me do my own thing. They don’t even know race car beds exist so don’t tell them!

My daughter, on the other hand, does have an opinion. Fortunately, her style is quite similar to mine as she’s gotten older. We recently bought a desk and new throw pillows and a plant for her room. I made a Pinterest board for her with options I liked and then let her choose from that.

If I’m paying for it, I need to like it, too.

My daughter started at a French immersion school when she was four. Now at ten she is fully fluent and even has a very authentic accent despite us not speaking any French at home. My husband speaks enough French to help with her homework but is not as fluent as her.

I studied French for a year using Rosetta Stone before we moved to France in 2013-14. I know some vocabulary and can read it okay but I am very far from speaking it with any fluency. It has been a real challenge for me to learn a second language as an adult which is why I wanted my children to learn when they are young. My twins got their first exposure to French when we moved to France and they attended the local Maternelle (preschool) when they were three. By the end of the year they could comprehend but were not speaking French. They now attend a public English speaking school and have a French-speaking babysitter one evening a week to help them retain some of their French.

Moving abroad is deeply rewarding but also a ton of work. Luckily, my husband was willing to research and take care of all the nitty gritty. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have trusted me to dot the i’s and cross the t’s!

It was amazing to see how flexible and adaptable our children were to living in a foreign country. Kids are kids no matter where you are in the world and they will learn how to interact and play despite language barriers.

My daughter attended the third grade in our small village, population 800. The school did not have any play equipment for recess but she did enjoy the hour long three course lunch every day that the school provides for a small fee. It always started with a vegetable, next a protein, and finished with dessert. After lunch, the girls would play marbles on the drain covers in the play yard.

My husband and I did not work while we were there. We saved up enough to take a sabbatical. One way we were able to afford it was by sending our three children to the public schools in France vs. three private school tuitions at home. We also rented our home in Berkeley for the market rate which covered our mortgage plus some of the rental expense of the home we rented in France.

We bought a used inexpensive car in France and sold it at the end of our year. For insurance, we only purchased catastrophic insurance and paid out of pocket for any small visit. A typical doctor’s visit is only 25 euros. Imagine that!

Due to the amount of work that is involved in enrolling in school, buying and selling a car and securing Visas, I would probably just do a summer abroad next time. You can stay for three months on your passport and still really get the experience of living in another place without all the work.  And you will avoid the rainy season.

My favorite part about our year abroad was developing a real understanding of French culture and having the experience of living in a rural place. It was amazing to raise our children in that setting for a year. It sometimes felt like a movie.

My children were excited to move and adjusted easily to living in France.  Bijou quickly made friends at school and really enjoyed the experience.  The fact that she already spoke French I’m sure contributed greatly. My twins were quite young so they were happy to go wherever their family was. We wanted to do this while they were young and flexible rather than when they were teenagers and maybe more reluctant to leaving their friends. The fact that our farmhouse had a pool didn’t hurt, either.

Within 12 hours of landing back in California, we had eaten at our favorite Mexican restaurant and were making plans for play dates. We missed our friends and family tremendously so it was a sweet reunion.

My caftan company, Ginger, was started in May 2015. We were playing dress up with my friend Nan’s amazing vintage collection and musing over “Why don’t they make clothes like this anymore?!” The next day, Nan called me and said, “We should start a fashion line together.”

It wasn’t completely out of left field since we have both owned small businesses and sew, and Nan has attended fashion school. A year later, business is good and growing. We still work out of our respective home studios, but it’s easy to collaborate since her vintage cabin home is just a short distance up the hill from me in Berkeley.

Our two-piece collection may seem a bit unconventional, but deciding to make a perfectly constructed dress that flattered a range of body types was far more important than variety. Our caftan is currently offered as a knee length dress and as an ankle length caftan. The fabrics we use are sourced in America and sewn locally and ethically in Oakland which is very important to both of us.

The best part about Ginger is hearing the feedback from our customers. It is so rewarding to pour your heart and soul into a creative project and have it be received well. We completely sold out at our very first trunk show which encouraged us to keep moving forward. For our one year anniversary recently, we participated in Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco and picked up some new wholesale accounts in addition to spreading the caftan love to our new retail customers.

My favorite thing about living with my kids has to be the morning snuggles. My husband wakes up at 4:00 am and heads to the gym, so when I get up around seven he is not likely in the mood to be crawling back in bed to snuggle! Lucky for me, my kids now fill the void. Some kids like it more than others but I can always count on a good ten-minute snuggle session with Wilder before starting my day.

My youngest are now five, and I can honestly say I don’t miss the baby years. I’m much more of an older kid kind of person and even now when I have a rough day with them I fantasize about our relationships and friendships we will have when they are adults.

I hope my kids remember this home as a safe creative haven. We try to keep the rules to a minimum and let them be free to make muddy “soup” concoctions in the yard, have friends over, run around, and get messy. I hope they remember Doug as the dad always willing to play ball, and me as the cuddly creative mama who will make owies better, dry tears, bake cookies, and do an art project with them.

I hope someday they see their bedrooms as a fun play space and not as the place they had to take a timeout when they hit their brother.

I truly don’t mind making mistakes and learning the hard way. I try to see the silver lining of even the most difficult situations. With that said, having twins has been my life’s biggest challenge.

I wish someone had taught me to be better at accepting and asking for help. Those first two years I cried almost daily out of pure exhaustion.

One trick that would help me a lot during that first year after my twins were born was to wear ear plugs.  Now hear me out, I realize this might come off as sounding very neglectful! The truth is that I like to be a very attentive and nurturing parent, but I just never had enough hands to keep both babies satisfied at all times. This resulted in a lot more crying — mostly from Eero, my twin who had reflux — than I was comfortable with. Wearing ear plugs would take the edge off so I could calm my body down a bit more and feel like the relaxed parent I wanted to be.

Having survived the most difficult period of having twins, I now feel super comfortable and confident around larger groups of children. It has made teaching the art camp an easy and natural transition.


Thank you, Lisa! I loved hearing about how you and your family managed your year abroad, and figure you’ve just persuaded a family or two to head off on a summer adventure. I also appreciated your honesty about ear plugs. Twins are hard, I’m sure, and you’re right about never having enough hands to do it all. If canceling out the crying took your edge off, bravo! Whatever works, right?

Also, this: “If I’m paying for it, I need to like it, too.” Anyone else subscribe to this decorating school of thought?

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

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Living With Kids: Katie Stratton Tue, 03 May 2016 15:00:35 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I’m just going to say it: I wish Katie would be more active on social media. Her Instagram stream is gorgeous, her paintings are ethereal, and, judging from this interview, I could use a dose of her on the daily. But when she explains her absence so sweetly and eloquently, I have to understand.

Still, I’m pleased as punch she’s here with us today! I hope you are, too. Welcome, Katie!

Hi everyone! My name is Katie Stratton. I’m a native Ohioan and painter living in Dayton with my partner Matt and our two kids. Max is 11, and Phoebe, who we call Bee, is three. We’ve also got a pit bull puppy named Wilbur.

Matt and I have been together almost seven years now. We originally met through business. At the time I was painting murals and he was a muralist turned tattoo artist who had old clients he was looking to pass on to another painter. We met for coffee, I was so nervous that forgot to bring my portfolio, and we ended up closing down the coffee shop talking about art and business and life. Instant friends!

I was going through a divorce from Max’s dad at the time and was bobbing in and out of sadness and hope. Matt gave himself up to be this constant well of support and inspiration and friendship to me that I wholeheartedly needed and was definitely too stubborn to admit! But maybe most importantly, he taught me how to love and support and encourage myself.

Months and months later I finally told him I loved him over a gas station hot dog, and we haven’t gone a day since without each other! We got engaged three years ago and started to plan a wedding, but it looks like we’re going for the wildly more romantic common law marriage option. Ha!

A blended family and a baby girl later, I work from home doing commissioned paintings and running my online print shop. Matt is an entrepreneur and also helps oversee a tattoo shop in Dayton. He specializes in portrait and realism tattoos, and recently started working with plastic surgeons helping to add realistic details to reconstructive breast surgery after cancer.

We live about five minutes north of downtown Dayton in a community called Northridge. It’s a commercial area, really close to the interstate, so lots of gas stations and fast food restaurants and factories on the main roads. But tucked behind all of that are some small, quiet neighborhoods. Our street has a lot of elderly people that have lived here most of their lives. One of our next door neighbors used to own our house and raised her family here! She has lots of sweet and funny stories about it…always telling me about how proud she was of the cabinets in the kitchen and how her husband installed the furnace himself — which is still alive and kicking and heating the house today!

We definitely don’t live in a sought-after area. We’ve got lots of run-down or abandoned homes, and the average house goes for around $30,000-$50,000. But at its heart are good and decent people and some really beautiful homes ready to be fixed up!

We’ve tried to make the most of the area as a family: bike rides to the Korean grocery store or trips to the old-school Dixie drive-in theater down the street. I grew up in a pretty idyllic small town and there are times when I feel bad for the kids that our neighborhood is less so. But the payoff to living where we do is seeing them grow up in a diverse place, both socially and economically. It feels important!

Dayton as a whole is an amazing city! So much history and culture and things to do and see. Come for the Wright Brothers Aviation Museum and stay for a vintage baseball game in the park, bike rides by the river, and shopping at the 2nd St. Market.

Matt bought this house while he was still a single guy. It was a run-down foreclosure close to the studio where he was working at the time, and his hope was to fix it up with the right person one day. He’s told me stories of bringing other gals over to see the house and how much they hated it. But the first time I came over I was able to see it for what it could be.

It has so many of the great details of an older home. It definitely comes with the challenges of a house almost 100 years old, with its small rooms and sloping floors, but we’ve slowly made it our own and have turned it into something comfortable and functional for all four of us.

My mom is a really talented artist. My sisters and I grew up with her doing pencil sketches of us at the kitchen table. I remember telling my first grade teacher that I was going to be an artist when I grew up and was never able to shake it. The year I started college I had a friend, who was an interior designer, ask if I could paint a mural in her home. And after that, in a few more homes. I ended up starting to mural and paint decorative finishes full time, quit school, got married, and had Max!

My work has evolved quite a bit but I’ve always been really shy about it, mostly because of being self-taught. I thought for a long time that having no formal training or degree meant that I didn’t have much of a claim to the title of artist or painter. It’s taken me a while to be able to stand confident in what I do, although admittedly I’m still pretty reserved about it! I have a studio in the loft at home and fit in work when I can, but my main focus these days in being present with the kids.

My paintings have been published in Kinfolk Magazine — I did the painting spreads in Issues two-13 — and I’ve been really lucky to get to work on branding and packaging with different companies. Opening the print shop and doing custom pieces for people have been the most rewarding, though. For a girl who hasn’t traveled much in her life, getting to send my work out to Europe or Australia or even Wisconsin is a real treat!

Matt and I have totally different styles, both in our work and what we like in design. But there is a common thread in there; we both love old and vintage things, art, textures, books, and trying really hard not to kill our plants. We also are both more relaxed with the things we have. Nothing is too precious. We have bouncy balls in the house and allow a little jumping on the couches. We’re all a little too comfortable with a mess. It’s a balance of taking care of what we have, but really trying to create a sense of ease for everybody living here and for the people we have over.

Making decisions together as we’ve remodeled the house has been easier than you would think with two strong opinions. I think the key has been keeping each other and the kids in mind for all of it. Being intentional and thoughtful to everyone.

When we raised the ceiling into the attic of our downstairs room, our plan was to vault the entire room. Matt surprised me by keeping half of the attic and turning it into a loft because he knew I liked to climb up into trees when I was little and hide away. We gave up our dining room for a play space for Phoebe and an attic space upstairs in Max’s room turned into an art room/hideout for him. It’s a small house, but it’s been important to carve out space for each of us.

Growing up, my sister Amy and I shared a room. And a bed! I remember coming home from school one day and our mom had rearranged our room and bought new bedding for our bed with matching curtains. The comforter was cream with pastel flowers all over it. Our whole room looked and smelled new. We probably wouldn’t have picked out any of that stuff given the chance, but our mom never discouraged us from making the room our own. She knew enough to not let us make decisions on the more long-term, expensive stuff.

I think about that when I’m doing my kids’ rooms. We help them with the bones of the room and then let them make it theirs. All ugly toys are welcomed, but we made sure to give them plenty of storage space to hide it all away.

When Max’s dad and I first separated, I was determined to stay a family. To co-parent and remain friends, and to really just choose the good that remained over everything else. I had no idea how that was going to work, but I knew that whoever we both ended up with would be integral to it. When Matt and I started dating, I was really up front about my hopes for Max and our family. My resolve became his. And he and Max’s stepmom Sara, have really been the key to the loving family we’ve been able to patch together.

It hasn’t been perfect or easy at all, but we’ve been able to give Max a big and wild family unit: four parents at teacher’s conferences, a gaggle of family sitting together at his baseball games, joint birthday parties and summer vacations, and the whole thing is a gift that I don’t take for granted.

Max’s dad and I both come from homes with parents still married after 30+ years. Neither of us could relate to the things that Max was going through. Matt comes from a split home and he was able to take our guy under his wing and connect with him on a level that the rest of us couldn’t. Max now has two dads who have a lot of respect for each other and realize that each of them has a powerful role to play in his life that doesn’t take away from the other. Max’s stepmom and I share the same!

There isn’t much room for ego or pride or jealousy when you’re filling a space with love. Or anyways, it’s just a conscious choice you have to make every day.

I’m not as active on social media these days. Oh dear, I could get stuck on my soap-box with this one! Haha!

I have a lot of thoughts on what aspirational blogging and Instagramming has done to the authenticity of sharing our lives with each other. The long and short of it is that I started feeling conflicted about the content being put out and the lives we’re selling to those following along. Creating and designing content about my family and our life started to feel like a weird priority and brought less and less joy.

I remember one day I started feeling anxious when Max wanted to wear hole-y sweatpants out to the farmer’s market where I was planning on taking my camera along. Anxiety over sweatpants! I decided to take a step back, and once you take a step back it’s really hard to want to step back in.

Someday, though! I still love good design and taking pictures and having a place to share them. Only this time it will be of Taco Bell tacos next to my Kinfolk magazines next to a pile of bills. Real life!

I hope my kids remember that we had fun here! That as much as we bicker with them about picking up after themselves or leaving the back door open, that this was their happy and safe place to be.

I’ll tell them stories about the rose bushes Matt planted in the backyard the year I was pregnant with Bee, and how I caught him ordering them over the phone from QVC in the middle of the night.

I hope they remember that the best hiding spot in the house was in Dada’s closet…and the horrors and comedy that come along with having one bathroom!

But if they could forget that I never get around to washing the silverware or the fact that the air outside smells like Waffle House most days, I would be okay with that!

My kids bring a certain zest and life to the house that I hope never ever leaves! Everything is made shinier by them. There is a lot of singing and dancing and scaring the dog with both. For all the drama and fighting and clutter, I know for a fact that I miss it all when they’re away. Kids know how to live…really live. It’s nice to be reminded of that on a daily. And live it along with them.

I wish someone had told me how much of yourself gets lost when you become a parent…but how much you get to rediscover along the way.


Katie, this was such a lovely read. I’m so glad I found you and was able to share you. It was such a mood-changer when you told us “There isn’t much room for ego or pride or jealousy when you’re filling a space with love. Or anyways, it’s just a conscious choice you have to make every day.” Thank you for it all.

Also interesting is Katie’s thought about home decor and design choices, including being comfortable with the all-too-occasional mess: “It’s a balance of taking care of what we have, but really trying to create a sense of ease for everybody living here and for the people we have over.” Yes, yes, yes.

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

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Living With Kids: Jan Scarpino Tue, 26 Apr 2016 15:00:48 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Jan Scarpino has the most pinnable kitchen! I’d catch sight of it here and there on Instagram, always stop and sigh, and so I reached out to see if she’d show us the rest of her home. It’s all completely pristine and very pretty, which is something rather important to Jan — but maybe not in the way you may think!

Come see what she has to say, won’t you?

My name is Jan, I am 33, gluten-free and mother of three. I was working full time as a hairstylist in a local Aveda salon when I met my husband Danny. I fell for him hard. He is a man of many talents. He has worked in architecture, film and animation, health and wellness, product development, and marketing. He is currently the CMO for Rain International. I have always been smitten with his creative mind and his strong work ethic, but the thing that drew me in to him the most was his generous heart and seeing how involved and present he was as a father to his little girl Gabrielle.

I learned quickly that whether it was my best day or my worst, he was the man that I wanted next to me. He has given me the blessing of experiencing motherhood in two beautiful ways, both as a stepmother and birth mother. Both wonderful and challenging in different ways! I can’t imagine a better fit for myself than having our family exactly the way it is.

It was meant to be. Our oldest Gabby is 12, Rohme is six, and Nixon is three.

I will say that the hardest part about having a blended family is sharing time. It’s difficult to see my boys sad on those days we don’t have Gabby in our home. We aren’t complete.

The best part is seeing the bond that our children share. When I was pregnant with my oldest son, we had discussed naming him Rome as a sort of homage to our family’s Italian heritage. But when Gabby was five, she wrote ROHME on a white board in our office in the first home we shared together, and it stuck with me. I feel like she was waiting for her brothers’ arrival and the beginning of the growth of our family.

The best part about being a mom is the tight neck squeezes, and the nose licks, the morning snuggles, and the instant forgiveness when I make a mistake, the tiny hands that reach for mine when needing help, the smell of freshly bathed babes, and the wildness that fills our home.

The things that drive me crazy are constantly stepping on trucks and small Lego pieces, fishy crackers in every nook and cranny and — my favorite— scrubbing little boy pee pee off the floor in every single bathroom because…for the love…they just can’t aim!

We live in Vineyard, an area close to Utah Lake. It was a farming community where my husband spent a lot of time in his youth. Playing in the lake, helping the local farmers to earn extra money, he always liked that it had a small town feel while close to everything.

Although it hasn’t completely lost that feeling, it has been growing rapidly and will soon have a pond behind our home next to the running trail that frames our yard. The area is currently under construction building a neighborhood pool and splash pad to spend summer days. Parks and pathways are being added along with protected and undeveloped areas to keep the open and natural feeling about the whole community.

I love the simplicity here. I love our neighbors, we all are in the same stage in life, children playing out in our cul-de-sac while us parents bbq and sip on Diet Coke — although I finally quit my Diet Coke addiction!

We first fell in love with the area of Vineyard. Before we lived here, we would visit often and spend time by the lake and enjoyed the quiet.

When we decided to build it was because we couldn’t find what we were looking for in an existing home. We would spend Sunday afternoons driving around looking; the kids hated sitting in the car for what seems like hours, but we kept coming back to one new development that had lots of open area and was a bit secluded.

Once we found a lot and builder, the process began and we were excited! We began with making changes to the house plans that allowed us to make it our own and give it a signature of our taste and sensibilities. This quickly went away with all of the delays and time extensions.

Once construction finally began it seemed to have a set of problems all of its own — framing repair, wrong finishes, exterior touches that just never fit what we wanted. I was pulling my hair out and losing sleep. I quickly added our builder to my speed dial to constantly work through issues on a daily basis.

The kids always loved coming to see the progress of our home, and it was fun to help them visualize each new stage. They would run through the house and pick their rooms, while dreaming of what they wanted for their new space. Tree houses and forts were always in the mix, along with a list of animals including Nixon’s monkey that needed a room.

I remember in the very beginning, our daughter seemed disappointed when we finally broke ground and we showed her the hole. She was like, “That’s it?” As if we were going to live underground!

My son Rohme would comment on how he was so excited to be in a house that wasn’t stuck to other houses, speaking of our town house we lived in while under construction.

My style is a mixture of contemporary meets classic. I have always loved the antebellum styles from the South. Large open spaces, wrap-around porches, places for people to gather. I love indoor-outdoor living spaces, and I can’t get enough windows spilling natural light into a room.

My husband and I tease back and forth because he says he needs to have his own separate rooms in the house to prove that a man does in fact live here — I think my style can be very feminine. I love fresh flowers in the house as much as possible; it just gives it a calming and happy feeling.

Any time I leave the house, my husband asks if I’m buying more ‘pots and pillows,’ his go-to phrase meaning literally anything house-related. My boys are getting really good at chopping throw pillows to keep them shaped and styled after sitting on the couch. Ha! I guess from watching me follow behind them and restyle the room.

My feeling on keeping a tidy home is this: there is so much clutter and chaos outside in this world, I really make it a priority to keep our home put-together for my children. It is so important to me that they can always count on a safe haven within our doors. It is hard work to keep up on the house, while being a mama to three messy kids with different needs and schedules, but I do it every single day in hope that they will learn by watching my example and take care of the things that we have.

My husband says I need to mess up the house a little to make it look like someone lives here. Everything has to be in its place and I love to keep it in order. Although I do have my junk closets for things without a proper place.

The kids love to mess up their rooms, and we built this floor plan with the idea that the upstairs would be their own space; they each have their own bedroom and a playroom. It was intended to get messy and be functional while keeping the other two floors clean as much as possible, but they mostly want to hang out in Mom and Dad’s room and snuggle up in our bed and watch movies. I guess we didn’t need the extra space after all!

My boys must have their favorite cars lined up in their rooms along with the latest Lego projects that must be displayed and not played with. My daughter though, she just HAD to have her vanity to flat iron her hair and get dolled up for school. She is turning 13 soon and has all the new tendencies of a tween. She loves her cozies (soft blankets), collecting dance trophies, and having a place to listen to music loud, dancing and tumbling on all of the furniture.

When I hear someone say that my Instagram feed is beautiful — I mean — it is filled with my story, my life, and each square means something to me, so that is truly a compliment that I take to heart. All of my followers know that my kids are my inspiration. I love sharing snippets of their personalities and having an outlet to connect with mothers going through similar stages and challenges. It is a way for me to share everyday experiences and keep connected with family and friends that live far away.

I love interior design, and I’m inspired to share my own personal style. I open up my home to my followers, so they can really get a sense of who I am. I feel like that is so personal.

I love Instagram, although it can also be a BIG distraction. I don’t want my children to remember me as always having my phone in my hand, I want them to feel as though I’m always right there present in the moment. I may be known to bribe my kids with Mambas to snap a pic from time to time, but for the most part I try to keep it real and candid to share those moments in my life where I see beauty.

I hope my feed promotes positivity and inspires my friends to want to be collectors of happy! We all worry too much about being pretty and perfect. So many lose touch with reality and ‘gram as a way to say “Look at me!” This ideal is the antithesis of sharing with others.

Instead, let us be pretty kind, pretty smart, pretty strong, and pretty selfless. If we put as much time and effort into kindness and generosity as we do worrying about if our photos are edited and filtered just right, it would take the pressure away and make room for more positive energy in all of our little squares.

My kids ages are spread apart. Having a soon-to-be teenager this summer changes everything! Although, we do finally have a babysitter so Danny and I can enjoy an occasional date night! (Happy dance!) Gabby likes to babysit. She is a great little money saver, and she recently bought herself an iPad! She was thrilled and worked hard to earn it. I think having your kids earn money for the things they want most is such a great learning experience for them and teaches them to respect the things they are blessed with.

Let me paint you a quick picture: dinner at our favorite place Oteo, that serves contemporary Mexican food that will change your life. A trip to Alice Lane, my favorite home furnishings boutique, Yogurt Land for chocolate with strawberries and a whole lotta chocolate sprinkles, and then a late night movie.

My routine is pretty normal. We wake up, I blend up a healthy smoothie before I send my man off to work with a kiss. Breakfast for the kids, which at our house is usually pancakes and waffles with peanut butter, Nutella, and strawberries.

I prefer a hot bath over a shower any day, but I don’t even remember what privacy is like! Who gets to bathe alone? Is that even a thing for moms? The second my hot water is running, I have two little boys all up in my grill. Nixon would be perfectly happy living as a nudist. He’s a full-blown streaker and he loves every bit of it. It takes a team effort to dress him, then you can bet I find his undies lying on the floor somewhere and there is a naked bum to be found!

I do homework with Rohme before school starts. I found that he does so much better completing his assignments earlier in the day; for some reason, his excuse is always “My legs are tired” by the time 5:00 pm rolls around!

I also volunteer in Rohme’s classroom each week, which sadly got Nixon out of his routine of napping, but I love being involved and connected to his classroom. It is fun to watch Rohme socialize with others and hear him be polite and stay on task.

Before I know it, I’m cooking dinner, bathing children again, jams, stories, tickles, singing Hush Little Baby, and family prayer. Sometimes, I’m trying to remember what I accomplished that day other than managing my time to play with my babies, while completing what seems to be an endless list of chores as a homemaker.

We love to plan Mommy/Daddy date nights with each of the kids to have one on one time with them. I believe in the benefits of spending alone time, staying connected, but honestly we just like being all together as a gang the most!

If there is anything I hope for my kids to remember about our home, it’s that it is safe, cozy, and always filled with love. I also want them to understand the sacrifices made to get this home; it was important to my husband and me to buy a home so that our kids have the sense of putting our roots down. We aren’t going to be moving anytime soon — we’ve done our share of moving — but we made a goal together to create a home.

This may not be our forever home, but it is a place for our little ones to call home for many years to come. A place where they are free to be themselves, to know that everything is ok here. I want them to understand how much thought I put into creating their spaces; we still have bare walls, but that’s the fun part! Hunting for treasures that have meaning and speak about each individual.

I want my kids to remember the messy side of me, too, the side that can be silly and playful. The side that turns music up way too loud in the kitchen to have dance parties while cooking. Playing make-believe with my little boys, talking in my MineCraft creeper voice with the best of them. I want them to remember Pancake Sundays. I want them to remember the smiley faces I draw with ketchup and the way I spell out the shape of their initials on their plates with fruit.

I want them to always remember Peak and the Pit — going around telling the best and worst part of our days.

I want them to remember the words to the lullabies that I sing to them at night.

I want them to remember my touch, so they can feel it even when I’m not around.

I want them to know they are my greatest adventures.

I wish someone would have told me not to dwell on the things that I cannot control. I used to really feel the pressure of other peoples’ opinions and impressions of me. As I have grown older and become a little wiser, I learned a little secret: those thoughts belong to the other person and not to me.

I can control how I choose to treat others and the type of person that I really am inside. At the end of the day, I am happy with that. I like who I am, but I am always hopeful for improvement. This is some advice that could have saved me from a few migraines!


Thank you, Jan! I love the game Peak and the Pit! Adorable. Also, that point in your life when you hopefully learn that other peoples’ opinions belong to them and not to anyone else is one of the greatest moments, isn’t it? “I like who I am, but I am always hopeful for improvement.” So good.

I had to laugh at your MineCraft creeper impression! Anyone else have a voice only their kids hear? I’d love to hear about your secret alter ego!

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

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Living With Kids: Sarah Waldman Tue, 19 Apr 2016 16:00:05 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Sarah asked if I’d be interested in sharing her island life with my readers, I jumped at the chance. I thought it would be great fun to learn how a family is living with kids in a 1924 cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, and after interviewing Sarah, my thought was correct! It’s really lovely and interesting. You’ll see.

Hi, Sarah!

Hi, and welcome! I’m Sarah and I live year-round on Martha’s Vineyard with my husband Nick and our two young boys: Dylan is five, and Gray is two. Nick and I met in college but we were just friends then. A year after graduation, he moved back East after surfing in Hawaii for the winter, and came with me to a concert in Boston. He never left after that concert.

As a couple, we first lived in Boston in the dark basement of a beautiful Beacon Hill brick building, then moved to Providence, Rhode Island for Nick to attend RISD, where we lived on the first floor of a classic three-family home. We moved to the Island four years ago.

Our first son, Dylan, was born in Providence. He is obsessed with chocolate, wild animals, and building things. Our second son, Gray, was born on Martha’s Vineyard and is obsessed with farm animals, pears, and swings.

Nick is an architectural designer who works with a local architectural group and makes a lot of stuff on the side — furniture, objects, surfboards, art — and surfs a lot. Even when the water is only 34 degrees! I am a stay at home mom who blogs healthy family recipes and writes cookbooks while my kids are at pre-K or asleep upstairs. My first book Little Bites:100 Healthy, Kid-Friendly Snacks came out last year and my second book Feeding a Family: A Year of Simple and Healthy Family Dinners comes out next year.

Our house is in Vineyard Haven, on a dead-end street a short walk from the center of town and the main ferry dock. We can hear the ferry horn from inside! Our neighborhood has many year-round families which is really nice. Often, island houses are deserted after Labor Day and you find yourself surrounded by empty buildings without any life to them, which is kinda depressing.

There are many cottages in our neighborhood that originally looked exactly like ours but have slowly been neglected or renovated in different ways. I heard a rumor these cottages were built in 1924 to house Wampanoag families who were being moved from their land. I don’t know if this is true but I would love to find out. Our neighbors are all down-to-earth, hard-working people. Our street has a police officer, many carpenters, a grocery store employee, a barber, and a gardener.

As you can imagine, home prices on Martha’s Vineyard are SHOCKING! The average home is $1.1 million!

Full disclosure: we bought our cottage for $375,000. It kinda looked like a dump and many people didn’t see the potential in it. We have a small guest house in our backyard that we rent out year-round to a lovely young woman who wakes up early to bake bread at a local farm. This rental income going directly to our mortgage is the only way we can afford living here.

Despite the insane home costs, people love living here and get very creative in finding realistic ways to make it happen. Obviously, there is a huge summer market for rental housing so many of our friends move out of their homes in the summer and rent them out to vacationers. With their homes rented, our friends camp, live on boats, stay out of state with family, or live in shacks.

In relation, in the summer you will find seasonal employees, from all over the world, living in tents, campers, or in dilapidated homes with dozens to a room. Of course, this isn’t always the case but I think it is important to realize the reality of island life. There is  — and has been for a long time — a big push to build more affordable housing on the island, which is something we desperately need.

We feel very lucky to have been able to buy this house considering all of  the housing challenges. We love living here and don’t take our luck for granted. Here are some of our favorite things about living on Martha’s Vineyard…

Children lead very innocent childhoods immersed in nature. The kids in Dylan’s school grab big sticks and head out into the woods after school, or comb the beach for sharks’ teeth, or go to the docks to catch crabs if the weather is warm.

The Island is removed from many aspects of modern America — there are no chain stores, for example — and you can see how the simple, relaxed way of life is embraced by the kids. I feel like the childhood years here are longer and less complicated.

The public schools are great. Next year, Dylan will be entering Kindergarten with a whopping total of five kids in his GRADE. There are five elementary schools on the island, but he happens to be attending the smallest. The schools offer plenty of time to play, be outside, and take field trips. As a food lover, I am especially impressed by the relationship between the schools and local farms who work together to teach and feed island children a variety of local produce, seafood, and meat.

The Island community is extremely tight-knit and supportive. At first, it was hard to break into the community as almost everyone here has grown up with each other or is related somehow! That said, I now feel completely a part of it. If a family has a new baby, needs help with medical expenses, or suffers a house fire, there will literally be hundreds of people helping in a variety of ways. It’s truly unique and comforting. Everywhere we go whether it’s the library or grocery store, the employees know the boys and welcome them with open arms.

The Island’s natural beauty is so impressive. We drive 20 minutes to pre-K each afternoon and pass farms, stone walls, the ocean, animals grazing — it never gets old. When I see the boys in the pond chasing frogs, climbing rocks in the woods, or building forts in the beach dunes, I have to pinch myself. We get to live here and the land is their playground.

But, the Island isn’t perfect. Here are some of the biggest challenges we’ve found…

Housing prices are crazy. For families, buying is often out of the question and finding an affordable year-round rental is really tough.

As Martha’s Vineyard is an island, and in many ways disconnected, career choices are slim. Many of our friends have traditional blue-collar jobs, work multiple seasonal jobs, work for themselves, or travel a lot to make a career work.

Things are expensive! Groceries, gas, regular goods, everything is expensive! It makes sense when you remember everything has to take a plane or boat to get here but still! When I see strawberries for $11, I want to cry.

And sometimes, things just are not available. Recently, I went to the grocery store for dill to test a cookbook recipe and they didn’t have any. I would have to wait until the following Friday for the next delivery.

Also, you need to take a ferry to get here. Sometimes relying on a ferry is really annoying. You have to pay to take your car on, and in the summer car reservations are hard to make on short notice. This makes it difficult to be spontaneous and escape when we feel like it. If you are coming home and miss the last boat of the day, you are out of luck. And when it costs $100 round-trip to leave, which is the summer cost for a car, you think twice about it. During a hurricane or snow storm, the ferry stops running and the airport closes. Then we are literally stranded on an island which is very strange to really sit and think about.

Finally, there is little diversity here, in terms of people, places, food, culture, everything. I worry about this.

My mom started coming to the Vineyard as a teenager in the 1970s. Soon after, my grandparents bought a house here, then my parents. The Vineyard always felt like home to me and I knew I wanted to end up here.

When Nick and I first moved to MV, we lived in my parent’s house to try it out for a year. After a year, we knew we wanted to stay and have our kids grow up here. I think we got totally lucky on our house as sometimes there are no real estate listings under $500,000. I saw it for sale in the paper, called, we looked at it, and put in an offer right away. We knew we wanted — and could only afford! — a house that needed a lot of work and had a rental unit.

We bought it in March and immediately Nick and my dad got to work tearing down walls and building the kitchen addition. I was due with our second baby on September 14th so I insisted we move in before that. We finally moved in on September 9th and luckily he was eight days late so we had some time to unpack.

My sister, mom, and brother-in-law helped us paint and clean up the yard. I have to say, looking back at the pictures of the house when we bought it I can’t believe we did it! The walls were bright purple, yellow, and teal green. The windows were chippy and drafty, the kitchen was an old sink built halfway up a window.

I don’t know what made us think we could do it but I am so glad we did.

Nick did all the design work himself and the building too, with the help of my dad and a few friends. He really made this house ours. Everything from the complete kitchen addition, living room side tables, our headboard, our computer desk — he made it all himself in our basement or yard. He is really good at using leftover or inexpensive materials like plywood to make the projects affordable.

Those are the pretty projects, but there is so much he did that we don’t notice as much from putting in new windows to replacing our bedroom ceiling with white-washed wood. There were months that Nick worked on our house every night after work, weekend, and vacation day he had. We didn’t get any family time and sometimes it was really rough. Over the years, we have saved our extra money for house projects by forgoing cable TV, gym memberships, vacations, and kids extracurricular activities.

I think the hardest part of owning an old house is that it is a never-ending project, although in New England, 1924 is honestly not that old. We started our first winter with plastic over our old drafty windows but still, four year later, don’t use the upstairs bathroom in the winter because it is too poorly insulated and freezing! It is the only window we haven’t replaced yet. The new one is sitting in the basement waiting for a free weekend. That is the bathroom where our only bathtub is, so the boys have gotten used to the shower!

As much as we have done, there are still so many parts of our house that look awful, from missing shingles to a torn-up bathroom wall, broken base heaters, ugly tile, and a weedy yard. Besides those practical projects, Nick always has a creative idea for something else to do. Last year it was an outdoor shower, and this spring we hope to put in a patio.

In terms of decorating the space, we painted, replaced the light fixtures, and filled it up with our stuff. Almost all the furniture was either homemade or purchased at yard sales then repainted. Most of the art is by Nick and friends. Dylan’s dresser is from my childhood friend’s bedroom, my mom sewed Gray’s crib bumper, and my Dad made our dining room table. Dylan’s bed was mine was a kid — my Dad made that, too — and the Surfer Magazine poster on his wall has been Nick’s since childhood. My mom found Gray’s crib on the side of the road. Score!

In 2009, while pregnant with Dylan, I went back to school at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition because I knew I wanted food to be my work and I wanted a career that would allow me to be home with my kids. At that same time, I started writing my blog.

In 2012 when we moved to MV, a friend from Providence asked if I wanted to propose a cookbook together, which became Little Bites. We both had young kids at home and wanted an exciting project to balance out our work as parents. In 2015, I proposed a second book on my own, Feeding a Family: A Year of Simple and Healthy Family Dinners, which hits shelves in 2017, published by Roost Books.

The focus of my work is to help busy families find ways to cook more at home and to get a variety of whole foods into their diets. I love the freedom to make my own schedule and work when I can. I often work and cook when Dylan is at pre-K and Gray is napping upstairs. Elizabeth Cecil photographed all the recipes for Feeding a Family at my house. That’s her stunning ocean print in our living room!

Sometimes, as writing and recipe development is such individual, personal work, I get lonely and wish for a bustling office. I guess the grass is always greener. In general, I love what I do and feel really lucky to combine what I am passionate about with a schedule that works for my family and allows me to live where I want. It is an added bonus that I write about family food because I learn and practice so much on my own family. They also don’t mind the copious amount of recipe testing!

When our first son was little, our apartment was filled with toys. It drove me crazy but I didn’t know what to do about it and was too tired to care. This house was a clean slate for us. Our home is small and we don’t have a playroom, so all the boys’ toys are in our living space. This makes us get creative about toy storage. I use a lot of baskets, space under beds and the sofa, and Ikea storage units. Of course, we have a few scary closets, mainly this one. Now, I am really picky about what we bring into our house and always donate old toys when new toys come in. The open shelving in our kitchen has also made me pare down because you SEE everything we own. I donated many a college pint glass when we moved in!

From his work as an architectural designer, Nick has a great knowledge of products so he always knows where to look for affordable, nice looking things. He is really picky and exacting about stuff, so when he makes a design decision I know it is the right one. He would like more color in our house but I just can’t do it, not yet. I am a sucker for white walls. If we had more open space I would love to try some fun wallpaper but I am too nervous that it will look busy. In general, I try to really stick with the popular mantra “if it doesn’t give you joy, get rid of it.”

Island life can be quirky. Even though I thought I knew the island well before moving here year-round, many things have surprised me about living here. Like when I had my last midwife appointment while pregnant with Gray, she mentioned calling the hospital before coming in. I thought she just wanted us to tell the staff we were on our way, but really, families have to call so the maternity ward can be OPENED and the nurses called into work! It is often empty and closed until a laboring woman calls in. When we arrived, one other mom was there resting, having given birth the day before, but we were the only ones there for the next two days.

Last summer, Nick and I were drinking wine outside with the boys asleep upstairs. I had the baby monitor next to me and it kept getting fuzzy and making strange noises. We quickly realized it was because the Obamas were driving nearby so secret service radios interfered with our system. After that, we always knew when the President was on his way to dinner.

When we are off-island, I see the boys’ island upbringing come out — something I am not used to as I was raised on the mainland. Gray screams “GOOOOO!!!!” when we stop at red lights because there are no stop lights on the Island so he’s not used to stopping for long in the car. Similarly, I took Dylan off-island to a show in a city theater. I held his hand and started up the escalator and he started to panic! Even at five years old, he had no idea what an escalator was.

We do see celebrities a lot in the summer. They are just walking around town or at the beach like normal people. We have seen a wide range of people from Meg Ryan, Bill Clinton, Bruce Willis, the Gyllenhaals, Spike Lee, Bill Murray, and Larry David.

I hope our boys remember everyday details of their childhood here, from measuring and marking their heights in the upstairs hallway, to sitting on the big kitchen window bench watching the crazy wild turkeys in the yard. I hope they remember the birthday parties we hosted, with painted dragon murals and ice cream cakes. I hope they remember calling for me every morning from their beds and seeing my face open their doors. I hope they remember planting the daffodil bulbs randomly around the yard and the sunflower seeds in the back garden. I hope they remember making fresh pasta, pressing tortillas, and peeling carrots while sitting on the kitchen counters. I hope they remember stepping inside and feeling completely safe to be themselves.

I hope I remember the long, dark, lonely winter days we spent in this house together, trying to make the most of it but sometimes thinking we would explode. I hope I remember watching the boys naked and sandy in the outdoor shower together. I hope I remember the mixed feelings of pride and dread seeing Nick pull out his ladder and tools to work on the house…again!

I am a very emotional mother so just the idea that our kids will leave our home someday is too hard to think about. I can’t imagine life without them here.

I wish someone had told me — and I had listened! — that the old saying “The days are long but the years are short” is so true. I already forget those long newborn nights spent upstairs in the rocking chair and the winter weekend we stayed with friends because our house had no windows. Just holes. Those moments felt so huge and permanent at the time, but are now just happy memories.

P.S. — If you want to visit Martha’s Vineyard you can read all about my favorite places here!


Thank you so much, Sarah! I absolutely enjoyed learning the insider’s scoop on living on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a whole different lifestyle, especially the renting out of properties in the summer months and the creative ways of living elsewhere for a bit. Fascinating.

Island life! Are you in or does it give you heart palpitations? To consider: a hundred dollars to get your car off-island, and no chain stores…and the off-chance of spotting Bill Murray out on a stroll. (I’m in.)

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

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Living With Kids: Emily Rosenfeld Tue, 12 Apr 2016 16:00:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Shannon Quinn.

Emily wrote to me after a friend introduced her to Design Mom. In her words, “I loved seeing real people living their creative lives with their kids. Seeing the lives people have put together throughout your Home Tours section — one beautiful map, accessible shelf, and cool color at a time, but all clearly real, worked for, and functional — has kept me up into the wee hours. And your invitation to participate has inspired me to write. I feel like your blog is filled with friends I haven’t met. I’d love to share my own home and story and join the party.”

There was a big yes from me, and crossed fingers that she’d send beautiful photos and more gorgeous words — and she sure didn’t let me down on either front! You’re going to find such love in this one.

Emily, welcome to the party!

Hello, everyone! I’m Emily. I live with my 11 year old son Jasper, and he lives with me, his 52 year old mama. He is passionate about soccer, has just listened to the Harry Potter series without pause, draws animals, is learning to put the salsa away after using it, and to take a shower more than once a week. He is also deeply perceptive, smart, and has won almost every hand of Rummy 500 he has ever played. We are both good listeners and are always in the mood for a good story.

Every night we read together at bedtime. It always feels like just the moment we have waited for, snuggling under the heavy covers talking about the day, asking questions. Was China an ally during WW2? If you have written a book about yourself is it a biography? We just finished Birds, Beasts and Relatives, the second in the series by Gerald Durrell about his family’s time on Corfu, just before the war. I loved loving this funny, articulate portrait with Jasper, laughing at the same passages, absorbing the same beautiful descriptions of the sea breaking into a galaxy of stars as the moon’s light shone onto its surface.

On my last birthday, a friend welcomed me to my full deck year, and that has felt both auspicious and right; Life feels very comfortable and sweet these days. I am passionate about my kid, my deep and many friendships, and my work. I have been supporting myself as a designer and maker of jewelry and of Judaica for 25 years. I am also a reckless but avid gardener who believes in moving things around, a lot.

Cooking for me is both reflexive and joyful. Standing at the stove feels like my rightful place, and when friends come over for dinner, it’s the spot from which I visit. At an early age, I was trained by my mom and my grandma to thrift shop and antique. So my house is filled with finds that tell not only a story of my aesthetic, but also of the day I found them, usually with my mom in some little shop or from the acres of Brimfield booths we visit twice a year. I find objects intriguing as well as pleasing. How they reflect their time or how their maker turns them into storytellers. Who made that sampler? Who originally — and perhaps without irony — owned that Native American couple statuette?

Though my mom, Joyce, does not live in my house, she lives near it and we drift in and out of each other’s homes on an almost daily basis. I could not have gotten luckier in the mom department. She is the most truly accepting person I know and throws the best dinner parties, with votives glowing in old crystal glasses and great conversation sparkling around the table. She has been a dancer, a teacher, a therapist, an artist, a saleswoman, and most recently an Airbnb host. And, of course, a fabulous grandmother with treasure troves of art supplies, a great sense of humor, and powerful love to give and give.

We live in Florence, Massachusetts, a village within the very cool town of Northampton, home to Smith College. It is a deeply progressive community — filled with artists, creative thinkers, farmers — and is the only city to have its trash hauled away by a bicycle collective! It was a Utopian community in the 1840s, home to abolitionists and pioneering activists like Sojourner Truth; I think those deep roots continue to shape the area today. Within a ten minute walk we have, among other things, the very swimmable Mill River, an independently owned hardware store cum general store, the library, playing fields, community gardens, Miss Flo’s diner, a Pie Bar, and a brewery. Our street is a block long with clapboard houses dating back to the 1880s. During our own renovation, we found newspaper that had been used for insulation, dated 1887.

Our block is close-knit and very friendly. Our kids play together and some of my closest friendships have developed here. My dear friend Mary lives across the street and is the person who originally anchored me here. Magically, my neighbor Lise opened a Reggio Emilia inspired in-home preschool, right when I needed one. Jasper went there, and Lise and her daughter have become like family.

Even with the neighbors who are private, there is a connection. Last night, I came home dreading the six inches of heavy snow I needed to shovel, to find that my shy neighbor Joe, the grandpa of Jasper’s good friends, a man who barely nods hello, had cleared the whole thing and the sidewalk, as well! In every way it is a sweet little street to have landed on.

I bought my house in 2000, right before prices exploded and after three especially good years of catalogues featuring my work. I feel very lucky to have gotten my place for just a little over $125,000, although much and very unsexy foundation work had to be done at great expense and huge effort — almost all of it by Jasper’s dad! But now there is almost nothing in my neighborhood for twice that amount, but lots for much more.

I chose my house the weekend after my 37th birthday. The night of my birthday, at 11 o’clock, the woman I was renting from came out to break up the quiet dinner party I had set up in the yard under lanterns and candle light. I was suddenly and completely finished being a tenant. My mom was visiting and encouraged me to call a realtor. We saw houses that needed a lot of work. Then my friend Mary called to say her neighbors were putting their house on the market the following week. The house was not only across the street from my dear but around the corner from my studio building. They were away but she had the key if I wanted to take a look. My mom and I spent an hour alone in the house!

Despite wall to wall carpeting, valances on every window, and my own anxiety at taking such a big step, it felt right. I saw as many more houses as I could in that week and decided this was the one. The owner sold it to me, probably for a little more than I should have paid, but it felt direct and easy. After my building inspection, scared about making a huge mistake, I asked the building inspector if I should buy it. Carefully and kindly he said, “It was a house built over 100 years ago for mill workers to afford. Now it is something an artist can afford.” I am so glad I did it!

I love the scale of my house. It is about 1100 square feet and the rooms are just big enough, though I wish the ceilings were about a foot higher. Half the house has beautiful light. My bedroom windows frame the sunrise. My kitchen is flooded with light all afternoon and its windows frame the sun as it sets behind the hills. The other half of the house is pretty dark and right next to a neighboring house; those curtains I just never open.

I’ve had some good surprises. When I took out the carpets, there was wide pine flooring in the front, oldest section. I had the battleship grey paint stripped and the honey colored planks that remained immediately made the house warm and filled it with character. Jasper’s dad, Keith, added on to what was a tiny kitchen to make the heart of our house. It is where you enter and it is where you stay. There is a couch, and a kitchen table, games, artwork, Jasper’s snow globes, and my stovetop altar made from a carved antique Indian lintel. Keith made the cabinet faces to look like they were from the 1930s and happened to have the perfect deco handles, and enough of them to finish the look perfectly. I based the cabinet color on Fiesta Ware orange, the one made with uranium.

I’ve also had some bad surprises! The foundation did not need re-pointing but essentially replacing. If I could wave a magic wand, I would add a working fireplace to the living room and a bathroom upstairs.  Also maybe a stone patio for the backyard if the magician is feeling generous. Maybe someday.

I am a designer who makes jewelry and also Judaica. I sell to stores, at craft shows, and through my website. I have been self-employed since I was 27 and feel incredibly grateful to be part of the American craft world. I started my business from a murphy bed closet in Oakland, California after graduating with an English degree and no desire to teach. It was so hard to claim that space when I had no craft to speak of! It has been a pretty cool  journey to my fourth floor studio overlooking the Mill River.

I make work that I want to wear, and that reflects what’s going on in my life. When Jasper turned two and I started traveling to shows without him, I needed to make myself something that was about him, that was a reminder and a connector. So, I designed a delicate ID style bracelet on which I stamped his name and birthday, combined with a bar that said Love. When he was four and learning his letters, he got that my bracelet was about him. For the next year or so he would play with it while we read, fingering the letters, saying them out loud. I have had that bracelet on for nine years and never take it off.

I have expanded to include multi charm necklaces, and these personalized pieces have become a primary focus of my line. I am in love with being able to tell personal stories with charms, gems, names, words, and initials. When customers share with me why they have chosen a certain collection of charms  it can be incredibly moving; crying is not unheard of in my booth at craft shows.

I can see my studio building from my kitchen window. It’s a former mill that made toothbrushes, and now houses about 80 artists, craftspeople, and small businesses. Every day, I walk into my big corner studio, with huge windows on two walls, and feel thankful. It is my second home. For me designing is energizing and deeply satisfying, and the bursts that happen to create a new collection for wholesale markets is inspiring and sustaining. But I also love the daily work of making, of sitting at my bench cleaning up castings, setting stones, and stamping names into personalized pieces.

My assistant, Anya and I are fantastic team and she is a huge part of why I enjoy my day and how I sustain my business. There would be no designing and making without showing and selling. I really enjoy this part of the process. My retail shows let me connect directly to customers, which nourishes me in an incredibly important way, not just financially. Seeing people respond to and ultimately buy what I make is not only gratifying, it animates the work and brings it fully into being. Doing shows mean I travel at least one long weekend a month, but it is a routine that I am used to and that has been part of Jasper’s life from the beginning. I like that he sees me committed to what I do and that he knows that it is what supports us.

My style is eclectic for sure. It is anchored in vintage finds and colors that pop. I’m definitely drawn by the story an object tells as well as by how it looks. My assumption is, if I love it, it can be friends with the other things I’ve chosen. So in my room, a water color of camellias from the 20s hangs near a framed handwritten list I found in Italy, hearts by ceramicist Sara Bressem, a huge self portrait in ink, acrylic, and glitter by Jasper, an old five-cent grocery store price sign and painted banner by Amy Johnquest, the Banner Queen.

Even though I have lots of things to look at, I want the overall feeling of my house to be soothing, so that it feels inviting and intriguing at the same time. There is something in every room that Jasper has made. As an enthusiastic and devoted mom, integrating his creativity and expression into the mix of my collections has been satisfying and necessary. Kids are prolific! But also I think it’s great for Jasper to see some of his own work chosen and used in the house; that I appreciate it for real.

It is just in the past year that Jasper has started to curate the look of his room. When a huge dragon that he made from a slice of bark needed a home, he decided where it would go and what needed to come down to make it fit. I loved taking down the prints I picked when he was a baby to make way for this new creation and this new stage. We are both people who like stuff; he gets it from both his dad and I. He makes careful arrangements of his menageries of lego constructions, geodes, and felt animals, and the countless and shifting stray bits. Arrangements have also become his signature cleaning style. On appointed clean up mornings he will order the coffee table jumble into a kind of store display of books, magazines, and a choice game or two. I love how conscious it is and how inviting he makes the objects!

I had Jasper at 41, just in the nick of time. And though we ended up doing in vitro after two ectopic pregnancies, the process seemed strangely easy for being so hard.

After my first doctor, with all the sensitivity of a stone, drew me two pictures, one of the plump ovaries and eggs of a twenty year old, and one of the shriveled ovaries and dried eggs of a 40 year old, I lost my sadness and fear and got determined. We got lucky with the first attempt and then the pregnancy became mine. I could move away from the intensely medical world into the hands of a midwife group I trusted and an acupuncturist I loved. Oddly, I felt more comfortable in my body than I ever had. I worked and did yoga right till the end. Although one show, during my tired first trimester, I had to sleep in the grass behind my booth while my mom took care of customers.

The day I went into labor I had plans to meet with my friend, Sara, who was going to my most important wholesale show for me because it fell on my due date. We were going to go over all the important stuff. My water broke at five in the morning and slight contractions started an hour later. Keith and I were giddy. Just as I was trying to go back to sleep, I remembered Sara. At 7:00 am I got up and started writing down every detail for her, then called her and went over it all. I realized that the minute I started working, all the contractions stopped. After we finished, within the hour they started again and at four in the afternoon, Jasper was born in the birthing tub, just as I had hoped.

Although I had always pictured having a baby earlier — 36 was my ideal age — as always, things worked out just as they needed to. That my professional life was firmly established has allowed me to parent and maintain my creative life. It also meant I could take care of us in that real world kind of way.

I’ve been single parenting for the last two years. Even though I only have one, very easy, reasonable, organized kid, there are still a lot of balls to keep in the air. My biggest challenge is to run my full time business often on part time hours. I have an amazing community of friends: at work, through Jasper’s school, old friends, dear friends who are there for me and for us in little and big ways! And, I have my secret weapon: my mom. She helps catch the loose ends, like when he’s sick and can’t come to the grocery store or the studio. When I’m at shows, Jasper is always with his dad, which maintains our family’s pattern and gives great continuity and support. Then there is the pretty simple, easy rhythm that Jasper and I have. I feel like it carries us.

I also leave dishes in the sink and leave the laundry unfolded — this is the key to my success! My priority is to get done what I need to, then have time with Jasper. I am really ok with what I can’t get done.

Picking a favorite thing about living with my son is too hard. I am in awe of the closeness that keeps growing between us. Every stage feels like the one that I will miss, but as he develops and matures, the richness of my experience of and with him deepens. It also becomes more broad.

The thing I’m afraid of missing is the intimacy of how connected we are. My goal is that his world keeps getting bigger, wider, more full. Right now it breaks my heart to think of not being central to him. But we aren’t there yet. When Jasper was about to start kindergarten, he asked me about college: what it was, how it worked.

“But I wouldn’t live with you?” he asked haltingly from his carseat. “Then I don’t think I want to go to college,” he decided after I explained the concept.

“Luckily,” I said, “you don’t go to college when you are five. You go when you are 18 and are ready to move!” Who knows how I will feel when he is 18.  Right now I am happy to have my 11 year old want me to run my fingers through his hair as he falls asleep and teach him how to make a quesadilla. I’m glad that bridge is years from having to be crossed.

I hope that Jasper remembers this time in our lives together, in our home, as happy. That completely trite and simple wish actually feels like the ultimate goal. I hope he remembers me being game: to play hacky sack soccer, a game he invented and I have never won, to listen to his playlist, to watch his newest soccer move. I hope my tired edginess is less front and center when he looks back on now — that, and the how smelly the refrigerator sometimes gets.

I wish someone had told me that when our family reconfigured, that I would not be alone. Well, actually I knew that first hand; I was raised by a single mom whose remarkable group of friends were our family and I never wanted it to be any other way. But, in the face of my own separation, the sadness and loss were edged with a growing panic that I would have to do everything by myself.

Not only would I have to care for Jasper’s heart but I’d also have to clean the gutters! I would fixate on the most mundane tasks, like mowing the lawn, and think, “I won’t be able to do this…” It was paralyzing and absolutely terrifying.

The good news is I am not living on a desert island, alone with my boy. As my life with Jasper unfolds, my community of friends has only gotten more involved, more precious. They help with the logistics of school and work, we spend holidays together and vacations, too. And what I experienced in my own childhood, Jasper is experiencing now. He has adults, in addition to his parents who love him, from whom he can learn and with whom he can explore ideas and interests. He has a circle of amazing role models to help him grow into his best self.

Jasper’s world has gotten bigger and mine has, too. I could not have guessed how good it would feel to see him fall in love with other grown ups. I also could not have guessed how how ok Jasper and I are, just us. We are fine, we are together, and we have many arms waiting to catch us or shovel our driveway if the need be.


Thank you so much, Emily! Northampton sounds lovely, as does the life you’ve created for you and yours. The scenes captured in these photographs would make for a really fantastic treasure hunt book! I spy with my little eye a kewpie doll, three pirate ships, and a snowy arch. Your turn!

I read the way you described getting pregnant at over 40 at least two times: “…the process seemed strangely easy for being so hard.” That seemed so poetic and just right to me, so thank you. Your home and mindset were exactly what I needed today.

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

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Living With Kids: Melisa Russo Tue, 05 Apr 2016 15:00:35 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Bentley Waters.

Some of you might remember Melisa from her days writing on The Lil Bee, a blog that was equal parts Sex and The City/New York style, as well as the diary of your best friend you’ve known for, like, ever. It was lovely, and so is she.

I asked if she would share her journey of living with her two daughters after a divorce, and she said yes. Please help me welcome Melisa, won’t you?

I’m Melisa and this is the home I share with my two daughters, Devon and Blake. Back in the day I wrote a blog called The Lil Bee, which was mostly about my two babies and other various interests. Those babies are now five and six (how?!) and are the girliest girls you’ve ever seen; everything is rainbows and pink all day and night and nobody leaves the house without at least six pieces of jewelry on at all times. I marvel at their big personalities and huge hearts, and feel lucky that I get to come along for the ride.

Sometimes I miss blogging, so I was excited when Gabby asked me to share a peek inside our world and, in particular, what life looks like post-divorce.

It’s been four years since we moved here and I can honestly say that it now feels like home. That took a while.

When we first moved in, all I was hoping for was a sense of calm and continuity. That this space has evolved into a place we look forward to spending time in is something I’m really proud of. Here’s a glimpse of what life looks like around here.

We live in a townhouse in the suburbs of New York City. I grew up in this area and moved to Manhattan after college. It never occurred to me that I would move back to the ‘burbs as an adult. Never! So when living in the city became unrealistic for several reasons — cost, outgrowing our space, planning a family — my ex and I moved with our dogs to a house up north.

The truth? I wasn’t thrilled about it. I like living in close proximity to my neighbors and had always felt more at home in a city environment. But gradually I began to see the benefit of having a support system close by, and now I’m so grateful to be here.

My mom, who the girls call Mema, comes over all the time and even cooks dinner for us twice a week. She is a godsend. The girls and I have play dates with my high school friends and their kids, and we’ve found a great network of families through both our schools and our neighborhood.

Summers here are our favorite, when everyone on the block congregates outside our house, which is at the end of a cul-de-sac. The kids ride bikes and the parents sit around on lawn chairs and chat. We spend hours and hours at the pool, just down the block, ordering pizzas and eating popsicles until everyone is shivering and our toes are like prunes.

Our family looks different than it did a few years ago, but we’re happy and healthy. Life here is good.

The town we live in is very diverse, which has been a blessing in more ways than I could have imagined. My kids are surrounded by all different types of families, which helps reinforce my teaching that every family is different. Some children have two mommies or two daddies, some live with a grandma or an aunt, and some have two homes, just like us. I’m not sure if this is the community we’ll live in long-term, but the fact that our town is a reflection of us in many ways is a definite plus.

I think there are lessons to be learned in any environment or family dynamic, so no matter where we end up, I won’t sweat it. As long as I’m making decisions for us from a place of love and good intention, I trust that it will all work out.

When we split up, my ex-husband kept both of our dogs, with the understanding that the dogs would come visit us as often as we’d like. This arrangement made the most sense for a lot of reasons. Still, saying goodbye was heartbreaking.

Aside from that (huge) loss, divvying up our belongings wasn’t as tough as you might imagine. My ex generously gave almost all of the furniture to us so that the girls’ lives and surroundings would be as cohesive as possible. The day we moved, he and my mom worked tirelessly, putting together the girls’ bedroom so that it was fully furnished by the time the girls walked in.

A couple weeks later, I drove the girls to their dad’s house and they got to see their second brand new room, which he’d decorated beautifully. That day was pretty brutal, because I saw firsthand that my children would be spending a good portion of their lives in a home that was theirs, but not mine. They’ll have traditions and private jokes and all sorts of routines with their dad that I won’t be privy to. But I’m at peace with that now.

Nothing about divorce is ideal, and nobody enters into a relationship dreaming about the breakup of their lives and belongings. But for many, divorce is a reality. So, you can wallow in it, or you can focus on the amazing life you do have and build upon that.

I work in the city in publishing and commute four days a week. Truthfully, I love my commute. My train runs along the Hudson so I can look out the window at the river and watch the sun set on my way home from work. On the ride in, I try to write for a solid thirty minutes, though some days are more productive than others. I’m currently writing a memoir, and this time on the train has been invaluable to me.

What happens before and after my train ride is the messy logistical stuff that all parents juggle. For years, I woke up before dawn, got myself and the girls fed and dressed, drove across town to a nursery school, then back across town to catch my train. I had a half-hour commute before I’d even left my own town! Hiring a sitter this year was the best decision I could’ve made. We’re all calmer and happier as a result.

The after-school routine is more of a crapshoot, with Dad and both grandmothers taking turns meeting the kids at the bus. At times, I’ve even relied on my neighbors. Truly, it takes a village, and the sooner I accepted that, the better off we all were.

Over the years I’ve learned to ask for help when I need a break and am certain I’ll lose my mind. My mother has swooped in on many a Sunday afternoon and told me to get lost, at which point I’ve escaped to the grocery store and walked around, zombie-like, loading my cart with bags of potato chips and feeling absolutely blissful.

I’ve also learned to call on dear friends when I’m in a pinch, for example, when one daughter is invited to a birthday party and the other isn’t and I need someone to watch her. Or when I’ve had a particularly grueling day of work, followed by two poorly timed tantrums — are they ever well-timed? — and need a friend to come sit on my couch and drink wine and laugh about the absurdity of it all.

You’ve gotta surround yourself with people who have your back without judgement. I’m lucky to have a bunch of them.

I used to be a clean freak, and I used to balance my checkbook down to the penny. Having kids forced me to lighten up in a lot of ways. My house is clean, but it does get messy, so I’ve developed a system. When the basement — which doubles as our playroom and TV room — gets crazy and I don’t feel like cleaning it, I simply shut the door and come upstairs. That’s it, that’s my whole m.o.

Deal with it later.

Recently, like everyone else I know, I read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, and did a complete overhaul of our two bedrooms. You would never have looked at our rooms before and thought there was an abundance of stuff, because I had it all organized or stuffed deep inside our closets. But I wholeheartedly believe that too much stuff of any kind — toys, books, clothes — is overwhelming to children, and I know for certain it is for me.

So I gave the book a try and in one day I carted out 25 large garbage bags worth of donations and trash/recycles. I can’t wait to continue with the rest of the house. Feels so liberating!

I’m not sure I have any decor rules. I like what I like, which is typically either all white or really colorful. Whatever feels natural, I go with it.

As for parenting rules, I feel like children come into this world knowing what’s best for them, and it’s our job as parents to guide and protect them. That may sound crazy, but I believe we’re all born with instinct, and if we cultivate that in our children, I think they’re more likely to be happy, well-adjusted people.

I tell my kids all the time, “You already know the answer.” If something you’re doing makes your stomach feel uneasy, don’t do it. Listen to your gut and follow your heart.

I want my daughters to be empowered to do what feels right for them and to look out for others.

Two of the phrases I’m sure they’ll remember as Mommy’s favorites are: “Worrying helps no one” and “Choose to be happy.” I’ve caught my kids saying these words to one another and have grinned quietly from the other room.

Sometimes their words come out as a shout: “CHOOSE to be HAPPY, Devonnn!” But the message is getting across, nonetheless. Can’t ask for much more than that.

I hope my girls remember riding bikes and having scavenger hunts, eating dinner outside with the neighbors while their hair is still wet from the pool, throwing impromptu dance parties in the kitchen, laughing, playing restaurant while Mommy cooks dinner, cuddling on the couch with a snack and our favorite TV shows, coloring, building castles in the bathtub and driving me crazy with the splashing all over the floor, and love. SO much love.

This might sound strange but I don’t really remember how to be a parent with someone else. I co-parent with my ex-husband, and I think we’re doing a pretty great job together, but I don’t know what it is to parent with someone where we meet at the table for dinner, talk with the kids about their day, put them to bed, and then sit on the couch and talk.

I don’t know what it is to spend weekends together with my kids and their dad. The girls and I moved here when they were one and two, so I’ve been doing this on my own for longer than I ever did while married. The family dynamic as I know it is the three of us, with an occasional four-legged friend by our side.

When we first moved here, I felt gutted any time my ex came by to pick up the girls for a night at his house. My children’s father is a huge part of their lives and an amazing dad in every way. But saying goodbye to my kids and watching them drive off with my ex felt totally unnatural.

With time and lots of love from friends and family, I learned to cherish my time away from the kids. I now use this time to write, spend time with people I care about, go to the gym, or take walks around the river and empty out my brain. Time alone has been unbelievably important to me. And I know that it makes me a better parent.

When my kids come back from their dad’s house, I’m ecstatic to see them. I’ve had a chance to recharge and reconnect with myself, and I’ve had a moment to miss my kids. My ex has said he feels the same way when he hasn’t seen the girls in a few days. What this means for the kids is that they get two excited, happy parents who can’t wait to spend time with them. In short, because of my time alone, I’m more present.

Every parent I know feels like s/he’s stretched too thin. For me, the solution is simple: find a time and space of your own to decompress regularly, whether it’s a 30-minute commute where you listen to music and drown out the inner monologue, or a regularly scheduled hour away from the kids to go grocery shopping or take a walk outside. (Seriously. Grocery shopping can feel utterly spa-like when you don’t have children hanging off of your cart or tossing Cheez-Its in your face when you just need a loaf of bread.)

To be clear, time with friends and loved ones is important, too, but I’m talking about time alone, ALL alone, by yourself. Everyone needs this.

I wish someone had told me that raising children after divorce can be not just doable, but wonderful. I love that my time with my kids is just for us, and that I don’t have to check in with anyone; I can just pick up, pack up, and go. Our weekends are carefree and spontaneous.

We’re not just getting by, as I imagined we might be. We’re thriving. I have the family I always wanted, it just looks a little different than I’d imagined.

I’ll never forget calling my aunt four years ago and crying in a parking lot as I told her we were getting a divorce. She was one of the first people I told, and each time I said the words out loud the story became more real. Not knowing what a divorce would look and feel like scared me senseless.

“I just want to be OK,” I sobbed into the phone.

“You will,” she said. “You’ll be better than OK.”

Those words became like a mantra for me over the next several months and really saved me when I felt like I might collapse under the weight of it all. Sometimes all you need is for someone to convince you that you’re going to be OK, and that somehow it all works out. That’s the advice I’d want to pass on to anyone who’s going through a tough breakup or navigating parenthood.

Parenting is scary and intimidating no matter how many people are in your village, and I’m told it’s no easier when your kids reach adulthood. In a nutshell, I’m winging it. Little by little, day by day.

But I love the life we’ve created here and I’m excited about what’s to come. Together with my girls, I know it’ll always be an adventure worth taking.


Better than OK is a pretty good goal, isn’t it? Melisa, I really love reading about how well you and your ex are navigating your parenting and Living With Kids realities, and I want to thank you a thousand times over for providing some welcome reassurance for any fellow readers who are facing such a change themselves. Go, village!

I love the “Choose to be happy” mantra, too. What are the sayings in your own homes that your children have appropriated? I so enjoy those stories — do tell!

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

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Living With Kids: Marjolaine Solaro Tue, 29 Mar 2016 11:00:47 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Moving into a 200-plus year old home didn’t prompt Marjolaine to scour the shops for period-specific pieces and study traditional paint colors for months on end. Nope. She painted the whole thing white, added bright furniture and rainbow tiles as often as she could, and enlisted the help of her little ones in choosing bedroom wallpapers. I like her style.

Come see! Welcome, Marjolaine.

My name is Marjolaine Solaro, and I’m 37. I’m a French mum blogger and I write books about pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childhood. I’m also a freelancer who works with brands to help them in their relationships with bloggers.

I’m married to a wonderful man I met 15 years ago. At the time, we were both working at a local TV channel. He now runs his own business as a TV producer. Together, we have three joyful kids!

My eldest is a romantic blond boy who is eight. He loves gymnastics and he’s a quick learner, skipping a grade and curious about everything. My second one is a six year old sweet girl. She was born two months in advance so she is a fighter. She loves to wear what she wants and she’s the queen of the mix and match outfit! My last one is three and a half. She’s the funny one and she speaks a lot! She’s also passionate with gymnastics, like her big brother.

We love to spend time together doing nothing except reading at home or fixing the house and the garden. We enjoy long walks by the sea close to our house. We discovered camping as a family last year and we love that. In the future, we hope to buy a trailer to discover our country together.

We also have a big project for 2018. We are planing to spend three months in Japan in a camper van, which should be a nice way to celebrate our fortieth birthdays and my son’s tenth!

We live in Bretagne, in the west of France, in a small village close to a city called Lorient. My husband grew up there. The Parisian girl I was fell in love with the area when he made me visit. I love this place so much that I created a lifestyle blog where I document my discovery of Bretagne with the eyes of an outlander. I’m working on this one with my friend Céline and we are having a lot of fun together.

I love the breathtaking landscapes with wild coasts by the sea, I love the food — crêpes, cider! — I love the light, I love to be in the country far from the city worries…I love everything here! It’s been raining a lot but we have a saying, “The sun shines at least once a day,” and that’s true. The weather here changes very fast in the same day. I miss the fact that we cannot have delivery food at home, and it’s hard to watch foreign movies in their language, but this is nothing compared to the wonderful way of life we are enjoying.

In 2011, we decided to quit Paris for good to raise our children in the country. We sold our apartment and we visited some houses close to Lorient, close to my in-laws, just to see the market. We were planning on renting first and buying after a few months but we fell in love with our house. It was an old farmhouse, half renovated. We could live there and work at the same time. The old stones, the soul of this house, and its location made it just the perfect fit for us. It must have been destiny because everything progressed just perfectly, and three months later, we started our new life here.

We knew we didn’t want to stay in Paris after the birth of our first child, so we decided to organize our jobs in a new way to be able to leave the capital. My husband started his own business and I stopped my career as a journalist to become a blogger. My husband still works in Paris three days a week.

The hardest thing for me was to make new friends. I thought it would be easier, but it was a while before I was able to meet some great, friendly people. The kids were crazy about the house and the garden, running everywhere all the time. They both grew like crazy the first months! Looking back, I have absolutely no bad memories around that change because the year before was so hard with many months at the hospital for my premature daughter. Everything seemed easy after that!

Oh!  I did experience a lot of fear during a huge storm three months after we arrived, but we all lived!

This house is the strongest I know; even during storms, it keeps out all the noise! The walls are 80 cm thick made with granite stones. It looks unbreakable! When you are inside, you feel protected. I feel a great soul in here. My husband laughs when I say I want to live here ’til I die.

It used to be a pig farm and it survived the bombing in World War II. I think the house will still be here long after us! If I could make one big improvement, it would be the garden. We had one year of works inside and the garden suffered a lot. Our garden will be our work in progress for many years.

We’ve loved decorating this place, and we don’t really feel a need to stay true to its original design. We were afraid we’d get tired of colored walls, so we chose to paint the house white and add color with decorations and objects.

We made some bold choices with the graphic floor in the kitchen, for example. I also had this crazy idea of a rainbow bathroom for the kids and we went for it, not knowing how it would look like. We are not afraid of trying things and we simply don’t want a boring house, so we tend to just try everything we have in mind.

For the kids’ bedrooms, we let them choose their wallpapers. Even though we would’ve chosen something else, we are all happy with how it turned out.

We also wanted a house where the kids could live happily with nothing dangerous or fragile so that they can really own the place. We manage to organize things in order so they can do as many things as possible on their own. We still have a lot more to do but it will be done eventually!

The kids just love the house. It’s their kingdom! They love that we can host a bunch of kids for their birthday parties and that we have a lot of friends who visit during the summer for big barbecues. We have the chance to live near the school so we walk to school every morning. It’s a small school and everybody knows each other, making it a very nice setting for a childhood.

The place where we spend the most time is the kitchen. They work on their homework and they help us cook meals and we eat together, making it truly the heart of the house. That’s why we needed such a big table!

As a family, we laugh a lot, and I hope they remember the good times we share. The snuggles and the fights in our bedroom on Sunday mornings, the baths together in the rainbow bathroom, the movies watched under a cosy blanket, the hours jumping like kangaroos on the trampoline, the pancakes I made on slow mornings, the eggs we collected from our garden hens, the birds we heard, the sunsets we chased…

I  hope they will forget how tired and crazy I was when the last one was a baby and the other ones were both under five! I was so tired I forgot a lot of things that happened this year.

I hope they will forget that my husband and I are always arguing while we are working together but well, I guess they’ll know it’s just our way!

I will remember that it’s the house that welcomed us as a family of five when I came back from the hospital with my last baby. For me, it’s the house where everything is possible. It’s the living dream — even if the dream is bumpy and imperfect!

I love most that my kids are independent and that they play so well together. They are a great team who care a lot for each other. Of course they fight and scream, but they usually handle crises pretty well. I have to say that I miss having a baby at home after all those years with one and sometimes two, but I don’t miss it enough to have another one! We feel so blessed with the three of them and we don’t have too much nostalgia about that time with three kids under five at home. I think we enjoyed the best of that period in our lives, and we are enjoying the best of the time we’re having with them now. Next step is teenager life, so we’ll see how that goes!

I wish someone told me that you can lose yourself because of the lack of sleep. We had three bad sleepers and we had five years in the unsleeping business. Have I invented a saying? We managed, we did the best we could, but when my last baby was two or three months old, I just didn’t know if I could go further.

Every night was a nightmare with a screaming baby (she had stomach issues), and I kept dreaming of running away from the house just to get some sleep. I woke up every morning more tired than the day before with two toddlers, a baby, my work as freelancer, and a house to run with a husband away for many days during the week.

I had no patience for anything, and the only thing that saved me and my husband was our humor. We tried to make jokes about the situation as often as we could because we didn’t want to cry about it. It was a daily struggle for me and I had no idea when it would stop. That was the real torture: not knowing. Everything got much better when my baby was five months old. She started to sleep and I started to really be myself again.

Now, everybody sleeps perfectly! It’s a sentence I wouldn’t have imagined saying three years ago. So hooray!


I have a soft spot for anyone who uses the word hooray to describe their life, don’t you? Also, Marjolaine’s kids are pretty darn talented wallpaper choosers! (If that was a career, I’d go for it!) Thank you, Marjolaine, for sharing yourself and your rainbow tiles with us!

One of the prettiest descriptions of childhood memories I’ve ever read is this: “I hope they remember the snuggles and the fights in our bedroom on Sunday mornings, the baths together in the rainbow bathroom, the movies watched under a cosy blanket, the hours jumping like kangaroos on the trampoline, the pancakes I made on slow mornings, the eggs we collected from our garden hens, the birds we heard, the sunsets we chased…” That’s what it’s all about, isn’t 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! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Robin Dowdle Tue, 22 Mar 2016 16:00:55 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kharisma Studios.

When Robin bravely wrote to me and suggested a different sort of home tour, I immediately wrote back to send her a tight squeeze. I am so proud of this woman for sharing her story with us, and inviting us all into her life for the day.

This one made me cry several times, but more than that, I admire her beyond the moon. Please welcome her with your kindness, won’t you?

Hi everyone! I’m Robin. Welcome to our home.

Currently it’s just me and my husband, Mark, living in our home. I work for a large charter school network in Phoenix overseeing operations, enrollment, and reporting and compliance for the 22 schools in our network. Mark works at the Mayo Clinic as an Instrument Technician. He does all the things you don’t think about but are essential to a hospital functioning: ordering supplies, sterilizing surgical equipment, etc.

Mark is an old man living in a 30-year old’s body. On most Saturday mornings, you can find him sitting in his favorite chair, drinking his coffee and staring into space. He’s not watching TV or checking his phone; he’s just sitting and being. I, on the other hand, can’t sit still to save my life. So while he sits, I dart around attempting to cross things off my to-do list. He’s good for me; he has taught me how to enjoy life and rest. I am happiest and most at ease when I am with him.

And we should be living with our son, William Earle, who would be three months old at this point. But sadly, due to complications during his delivery (meconium aspiration) he was without oxygen for several minutes leaving him brain dead. He died peacefully in our arms at four days old. So ours is a story of when you thought you would be living with kids and suddenly you aren’t.

In the years after college, I lived in Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. And then I moved back to Phoenix. When I met and married my husband, I knew I would live in Phoenix for the rest of my life since he is a fourth generation Arizonan. And I absolutely love living in Central Phoenix so I am completely on board with this plan.

The thing about Phoenix is that it has all of the commodities of a big city — zoo, sports teams, airport — with the small town feeling. Just this past Saturday, I ran into a friend while I was out hiking and then ran into two different sets of friends while out to lunch with my sister. I love that! And I love so many other things as well: all of the locally owned restaurants, the numerous hiking trails ten minutes from our house, the fact that the sun shines almost everyday, and so much more.

But most importantly, both of our families are here. I can’t even begin to imagine walking through the last few months without our families. We both come from close tight-knit families, but walking through Will’s death has brought us all even closer together.

Sometimes you just need your mom, no matter how old you are.

I bought this house when I was in my late twenties and beginning to think that I might never find a guy that I wanted to marry. I struggled to find a house that I wanted to buy because they all felt so cookie-cutter, full of beige tile and paint. I also wanted a house with some personality, which is often hard to come by in Phoenix!

When I bought this house, it needed so much love and attention. Picture in your mind: 33-year old beige carpet, a wall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the master bedroom, a swimming pool filled with green algae, and more! I brought one of my best girlfriends over and she took one look and said, “Robin, I think this is a mistake.”

But I could see through all of the grime, and I saw big windows and ceiling beams and a floor plan perfect for entertaining. So I got it for a steal and renovated the whole thing before moving in. About a year later, I met my husband. Turns out he also has an eye for home improvements; he owned a condo which he had completely renovated himself. I was so impressed the first time I saw his condo that while he was in the bathroom, I took a couple photos and texted them to my best friend. Ha!

I loved this house before I married my husband but it has really felt like a home, our safe haven since he moved in. We’ve hung things on the walls (I had a phobia of this previously!) and bought furniture to fill empty rooms…but most of all we filled it with memories and love.

When we came home from the hospital without Will, our home that we had adored days previously suddenly felt too quiet and empty. The silence was deafening since we had been anticipating it being filled with the cries of a newborn baby.

We went away for a week to California the day after Will’s memorial service. When it was time to go home, we were both nervous and dreading it given all the reminders of what was to be but was not. We stopped at Pei Wei on the way home from the airport and the fortune I got said, “Your home is a pleasant place from which you will draw happiness.” I took that as a sign from God. And it has been a place of refuge during this time: a place to be safe, to hide from the world, to cry and laugh and feel however we want to. But it also still quiet. So sometimes on a normal Tuesday night you’ll find us roaming Costco just so we aren’t sitting at home in our quiet house.

The day I found out I was pregnant with Will was one of the best days of my life. I have dreamed about being a mother since I was a little girl. I was on cloud nine. My brother texted me when I was six weeks pregnant and we hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant, “I have never seen you this happy.” It’s true. I felt such joy and gratitude and thankfulness and exuberance throughout my pregnancy. My dreams of being a mother were finally coming true.

My pregnancy was pretty non-eventful. Every test and ultrasound came back totally normal and perfect. Our baby (we didn’t find out the sex) was growing perfectly in my womb. Every indication we had was that we would be delivering a healthy baby just in time for Christmas.

I am a planner through and through, so the moment I found out I was pregnant, I started making lists of house projects I wanted to complete and things we needed to do to prepare for baby. One of the biggest projects to tackle was painting over the blue/black paint in our extra bedroom. It took my dear, sweet husband four coats of paint to cover it up. We chose a pale mint green that transformed the room into a peaceful sanctuary.

He humored my need to get the nursery set up far in advance of our baby arriving. I believe I had the crib assembled and set up when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I was just so excited that I couldn’t help myself!

I spent many hours searching online for things for our baby’s nursery and coming up with projects for my husband to complete, like turning wire baskets into book baskets and hanging Christmas ornaments to create a mobile. One of the most special parts of the nursery that I loved putting together, are all of the photos of Mark and I as babies. I couldn’t wait to see who our baby would look like – mostly me, for the record.

I also felt the need to redecorate many parts of our house while pregnant, buying new bedding, putting together a gallery wall, etc. Again, my wonderful husband humored me. And I went through almost every cupboard and drawer in our house to make room for our baby and all the stuff that I knew came along with them. I cleared a cabinet in the kitchen for all of the bottles and cleared out two drawers in our living room for toys and I could go on and on and on. I was going to be as prepared as I could be.

Like I mentioned, I was just so excited that I started dreaming almost immediately about plans for our home with children. I spent many days washing dishes at the kitchen sink, dreaming of turning the wasted space off of our kitchen into a play area. I also had dreams of turning our atrium into a space with a water table and easel for our kids to play in. I could already picture the joy and laughter filling up our home. I dreamed of the photos our photographer would take of us with our newborn baby in many of the different spots in our house.

And we collected many special items for our beloved baby. Thankfully both of our parents had saved so many things from our childhoods: the blanket Mark’s grandmother made him, the stocking I came home from the hospital in, the mint blanket and hat that my Nana knit for me when I was born, and a family heirloom christening gown. There were so many other people excited for Will’s arrival — we had four showers thrown for us. We received so many thoughtful gifts including many homemade blankets.

The best analogy I have for his delivery and the aftermath is that we were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible with the top down. The sun was shining, and we were giddy and carefree. And then out of nowhere a huge semi t-boned us completely totaling the car. None of us saw it coming.

Maybe you have had a baby like Will; he just didn’t want to be born. His due date of December 14 passed right on by with zero signs of labor, then my birthday passed on December 20 with still almost zero signs of labor, and then Christmas arrived with some very mild and completely inconsistent contractions. On the day after Christmas, we attempted some natural labor induction methods and, boy oh boy, did they work! I had just always expected to be in labor for hours, maybe even close to days since both my mother and sister were and this was my first baby. But when my labor started, it came fast and furious. Two hours after feeling my first contraction, they were already coming one on top of each other about one minute apart. And three hours after my first contraction, I was fully dilated and starting to feel the urge to push. At this point we were at the birth center where we had planned to deliver, and I was in the tub working through contractions. Even though my labor came on fast and furious, I felt strong and peaceful and in control. Mark and I have always worked as a team really well, and I felt our connection and strength as a couple as we worked through the contractions together.

And then Will’s heart rate dropped but came back up. And then it dropped again. So they immediately called an ambulance to transport us the quarter of a mile to the hospital. Suddenly there were six paramedics there loading me onto a stretcher and transferring me to the hospital. Somehow in the midst of all of this, I was calm and focused on the task at hand. We arrived at the hospital and within five minutes I delivered him.

My first thought after pushing him out was how proud I was of myself — I did it! And I did it under pretty intense circumstances!  And then they didn’t let me see him and no one was telling me what was happening and they whisked him away to the NICU and my feeling of pride quickly turned to shock and fear and sadness.

To be honest, what I remember most about his delivery is bright lights and lots of people crowded in a small room and everyone screaming at me to push him out. It was so sudden and so far from what I had pictured in my mind for the ten months prior. I still replay it over and over and over again in my head trying to figure out what I could have done differently to lead to a different outcome. But it’s done. He’s really gone. So I am praying for acceptance…and I’m working on not replaying it over and over again.

Oh goodness…we are still trying to cope each and every day. Some days are numb and normal and you catch glimpses of yourself before your whole life shattered before your eyes. On other days, I wake up and the tears are flowing almost immediately.

One of the best things I’ve done to cope is to accept help. Somehow it became shameful to need or accept help in our society. But you know what, sometimes we all need a little help. Sometimes you are 33 years old and need your sister to accompany you to get your haircut or sometimes you need to line up “babysitters” for you when your husband goes back to work because you are panicked about being alone or sometimes you need to stop at your aunt’s house on the drive home for a hug because the tears won’t stop flowing. We thankfully have the most incredible friends and family who have taken such good care of us.

We’ve always loved to travel and have found that is helping us to cope in different ways. Like I mentioned, right after Will died my sister booked for us to stay at a little cottage in Stinson Beach for a week. We needed that week. It gave us a chance to regroup, rest, process, and grieve as a couple without the distractions of anyone else. Since then, we’ve also taken a stay-cation to a hotel five miles from our house. We’ve found that sometimes you need a break from reality and all the reminders of Will. Of course, we are still thinking of him but the weight feels lifted a little bit and we can breathe.

And I think pretty much everyone can benefit from counseling. I, for one, will most likely be going for a very long time.

And you do other crazy things to cope like taking photos of cute whale swim trunks you want to buy at Target and texting them to your mom and sister. Someone told me you should do whatever you need to in order to cope and I believe that is so true. No one grieves in the same way.

One of the best pieces of advice that I was given was that Mark and I were going to grieve in different ways and that was okay. I’m much more verbal and want to talk and talk and talk. He’s much more of a thinker, not saying much. But I always know when he is thinking about Will, because he’s got his Will beer mug out (he’s an avid beer collector and I would say snob!). So far, through lots of work and counseling and grace for each other, this is making our relationship stronger. We love each other dearly. I am determined to not let this destroy us.

Personally, the worst for me is when people know what happened and say nothing. They don’t even acknowledge that I just lost my long-awaited, beautiful baby boy. I think sometimes people don’t say anything because it is uncomfortable for them or they don’t know what to say, and I just want to scream at them, “How do you think I feel? All of life has been uncomfortable for me since this happened!” (And I am not a screamer.)

In case you’re wondering what to say to someone in a situation like this, I think all you need to say is, “I was so sad to hear about William.” If I want to talk about it, I will direct the conversation from there or I will simply say thank you and move on if I don’t feel like talking that day.

We’ve left his room up and, strangely, it has become my favorite place to be. If I am home by myself, you can almost always find me in Will’s nursery. When it all first happened, it helped me to cope with the shock. I just sat there and wrote in my journal and stared into space and talked to God and tried to wrap my mind around the fact that my baby is dead. I still can’t believe it sometimes.

It’s such a beautiful, peaceful room. The very first thing that we bought for his nursery was the print above his crib which says, “Mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for you.” I have to believe that God knew that I would need to see and read that reminder after Will passed away. That He sees my pain, He understands what I am experiencing, and He loves me. I believe God can handle me coming to him with my questions and anger and pain.

As the weeks go on and I’m being expected more and more to be a functioning member of society, I am drawn to Will’s nursery because I feel most connected to him there. I have one of the huge photos we had on display at his memorial propped up in his crib. I sit there and stare at my beautiful boy. He was so perfect. That is what makes this so hard to bear.

The part that feels hard to me are all of the other reminders found throughout our house: opening the cupboard for the first time to do laundry and seeing the baby laundry detergent, or opening the cupboard below the sink in the bathroom and seeing all of the cute baby towels washed and folded and ready to go. So I have taken most of the things that I don’t want to see and crammed them all in the closet. I’ll deal with them another day.

It took me almost six weeks to take the car seat base out of the car. It just felt so final that we really were not bringing him home.

Yes, we will try again. To me the risk is worth it. I have just always wanted to be a mother, that’s how I have always pictured myself…surrounded by a bunch of kids and babies. The thought of trying again brings up feelings of fear and hope and panic and joy. But most of all it brings us hope.

We talk about our future kids quite a bit. But no future child can ever replace our beloved Will. We will always miss him and wonder so many things. Would his hair have stayed that beautiful shade of strawberry blonde? What would his personality been like? Would he have been tall and skinny like his dad? Would he had played sports? So many questions…

I think it’s so important to get outside the bubble you live in. Thankfully during my teens and twenties, I had the chance to do service trips to high-need areas in Mexico, Africa, and India, and I taught middle school through Teach for America in inner-city Philadelphia. I have spent time with some of the neediest and hungriest people in the world. I have thought of them often since losing Will. Because even though they had so little, they were filled with such incredible joy.

I will never forget when I was 21 years old, I was supposed to speak to a group of probably 200 young girls in a refugee camp. Somehow my speech went out the window and they began asking me the most tragic questions, like what do I recommend they do to avoid being raped? Minutes before, these same girls had been dancing and singing and praising God.

So in the midst of the greatest heartbreak of my life, I try to think about the many blessings I have in my life and all that I have to be thankful for. Even without Will, I have an incredibly blessed life. I have a husband who I love dearly, a beautiful, safe, warm home to live in, and more friends and family than I could even count. I am blessed.

So I guess the advice I would give to others is to try to find opportunities that give you perspective. If you are knee-deep right now in the challenges of parenting (my best friend’s little boy is on a sleep boycott!), find someone like me to talk to, to remind you to be thankful even when the parenting days are long and challenging. We would give anything to be cleaning up spit up and losing sleep.

And if you are currently longing and hoping and dreaming of living with kids yourself, I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. When this happened to me, I only knew one person who had lost their newborn baby. All around me are friends with happy, healthy babies and kids. It often feels like everyone gets to have a baby except me. So I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. I am sending you a virtual hug.


It’s hard to know what to say in situations like this, so thank you, Robin, for sharing what meant the most to you. I love how you’re finding comfort in Will’s nursery, and I hope that feeling of peace keeps growing in your heart. We are with you and Mark.

One more thing. The nighttime photo of Robin and Mark’s dining room? She snapped that photo herself the night before Will’s delivery. She wanted to remember their last dinner as just the two of them.

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

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Living With Kids: Laura House Tue, 15 Mar 2016 14:00:01 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I can tell you right now, I LOVED what I learned from this home tour. It’s like nothing I’ve really seen — although it did remind me a tiny bit of my adventurous friends at Blue Lily! — and it will most likely open your eyes to a way of living with kids you may never have considered. At least, it did for me.

Laura has a thoughtfulness and humility that just drew me right in, and I hope you feel the same way. She makes such a positive, community-strong case for her unique way of living as it applies to her and her family, so-much-so that it prompted me to stop and consider the housing trends and plans we’ve all been following as a society. Could I ever live in a Vandura with six kids? Probably not. But there’s so much more to this tour than that fact. So much more. You’ll see.

Welcome, Laura!

Hi everyone! I’m Laura. Our family is comprised of me, my partner Jeff, and our 21-month old son Henry. We are full-time musicians who play in the indie pop band Ok Vancouver Ok. We spend up to half of each year on tour driving, flying, and taking trains around the world to play concerts.

When we are not on the road we call Vancouver, Canada home. I was born and raised in this beautiful city and feel excited to watch Henry grow up here. In addition to being in a band, I work as an assistant and contributor for the award-winning Eco-parenting website The Green Mama. In between drumming and breastfeeding, I am toiling away on my laptop trying to research environmentally conscious alternatives to the often toxic trappings of parenthood.

An unconventional fact about our life is that we live in a roomy 1982 GMC Vandura that we have converted into a tiny home on wheels. We bought it on Valentine’s day last year and gut renovated it right away. The van had already been stripped of its original interior and had an after-market raised roof and cool vertical windows. The previous owners were unable to finish the renovation they had planned, and sold it to us in pretty rough shape. It was a rusty, moldy, blank slate. For 1200 Canadian dollars we figured we could gamble on it, and with some time and TLC our investment paid off.

Vans aren’t built to live in; they have little to no insulation and are filled with synthetic materials like plastic and foam. This is an indoor air quality nightmare! Our first order of business was to detoxify, insulate, and build out the interior with wood. We also laid down a new floor and built a raised platform in the back.

For me, the height of the bed platform is crucial to van-dwelling success. It needs to be high enough from the floor to provide ample storage beneath — this is where our clothes, kitchen supplies, spare tire, camping equipment, and musical instruments live — but enough headroom above so that you can sit comfortably on the bed. We were able to get the van organized for living in only a few weeks thanks to the help of my father, who happens to be a carpenter with lots of expertise and tools.

Our van doesn’t have many things that traditional homes do. We don’t have a kitchen, electricity, a shower, a toilet, running water, storage, or heat. This means that we need to take more effort to accomplish daily tasks. Some issues, like washing clothes have a simple solution like a laundromat. Other problems, like going pee at 4:00 am, need to have more creative solutions. People are often astonished that we exist without WiFi or a place to recharge our electronics more than the fact that we live in Canada with no heat! (Don’t worry, Vancouver has a mild climate like Seattle and rarely experiences freezing weather!)

Our family eats a plant-based diet with lots of raw elements, so refrigeration and cooking isn’t as much of a concern as it would be with a more animal intensive eating plan. In the winter we can keep fresh food on hand in our cool Canadian climate for a few days, and in the summer we tend to only buy what we will eat for the day. We get to try lots of great restaurants around the world when we are traveling, and have become pros at eating out with a toddler. (Go at non-peak times, order as soon as you sit down, pay before your food comes, and get the heck out of there as soon as you are done!)

Sometimes we need to get very innovative with our home-cooked meals. I have found myself making organic nut butter with my Vitamix in a gas station restroom, or pre-soaking grains on a long haul drive so we can have sprouted quinoa for dinner in the green room. My Julienne peeler is my most coveted tool; zucchini noodles in a flash!

Living in the van and traveling a lot has the unexpected advantage of helping me be really diligent with toilet learning and elimination communication. Not dealing with diapers and accidents is really incentivized when you don’t have access to laundry! I am proud to say that at 21 months, Henry is nearly out of his cloth diapers and has no problems asking to go poo in a punk bar in Berlin or on the side of the Interstate in California.

We began living in our first van long before Henry was on the scene. It was 2010. We camperized our Ford Windstar Minivan to go on a seven-month music tour around North America. We removed the bench seats to make space for our instruments and amplifiers, and built a platform we could use as a makeshift bed.

When we returned to Vancouver after our trip, the housing market had shifted because of the 2010 Winter Olympics, development, and demand. We had the hardest time finding a new rental — let alone an affordable rental — so we just kept on living in the van. Since then we have renovated three vans and never looked back!

It is hard for me to discern if we fell into our lifestyle, chose to live this way, or were forced due to the extreme housing crisis our region is facing. I think many will agree our lives are a complicated mixture of circumstance and choice. When faced with limited affordable housing stock, I chose to embrace living in a less conventional way. The tradeoff of living in our van has allowed us to stay close to family and friends, have less hours spent at work and more time available to be with our son, keep pursuing our careers and passions, travel the world, and save money for Henry’s future.

Living in a van has also instilled more empathy in us for those who are currently marginalized with regards to housing. Vancouver has a large visibly homeless population concentrated in a single neighborhood. There is constant dialogue about this issue and its resolution.

Outwardly I appear to be traditionally housed and am therefore privy to conversations about ‘homeless people’ that make me feel ill. When people say that they hate rainy days because ‘the homeless loiter in cafe’s and make it smell bad’ my response is often sobering.

I think that we need to rethink The North American Dream we have been fed. It is not sustainable emotionally or environmentally to all strive for single family homes in the suburbs. The notion that success is reached when every family member has their own bedroom, in suite laundry, many bathrooms, and a big yard with an emerald green lawn is simply outdated. My take is that we are on the verge of a new reality and there are many examples of alternate norms around the world that we can look to. Extended families living in one home, dwelling in one-room buildings, having public baths, and not using electricity are all totally acceptable in other cultures. Why is it so hard to adopt some of these ideas in our own?

It’s also worth stating that this is not my dream home. Ideally I would be living in a cabin-like home I built out of trees I felled myself on a gorgeous island in the Pacific Northwest. I would be growing all sorts of heirloom vegetables and homeschooling my pack of smart and spunky offspring. We’d have a big happy dog and an orchard. Living in our Vandura is a stepping stone on the long path of our life, and for right now it has been a magical moment.

Last year we were away for seven months on tour. We got to drive from coast to coast across Canada. All the way down to Los Angeles and over to Europe. When we travel, we are accompanied by our amazing bassist. She is an important part of Henry’s life and an indispensable asset to our modern family. Sometimes I wonder how I would be able to survive each day without having a ‘second mama’ on hand?!

When we are on tour, every day looks different. We usually wake up and hit the road right away to make our way to the next city. We plan our path so we don’t have to drive more than five hours a day so that Henry doesn’t have to endure long durations strapped into a car seat. We stop often to let him go to the bathroom and stretch his legs. We eat lots of snacks and listen to music and talk and do crafts.

When we arrive in the new city for the show it’s usually lots of looking at maps — we don’t have GPS or smart phones — and trying to sort out parking. We load in and sound check around dinner time each day. This can be stressful. Everyone is weary from the drive and then there’s the task of getting to the gig, then we have to meet new people and old friends, carry heavy equipment, liaise with the sound person and other performers, and set up everything to make a great concert later that evening. Then we eat dinner and get psyched for the night.

Henry usually goes to bed between 8:00 and 10:00 pm. In North America, we bring a nanny with us. Lots of the venues are 21+ or unsuitable for children so we need to have someone there who can take care of him and put him to sleep while we work. But in Europe there are different laws and we are actually able to bring Henry into all of the shows.

On this past tour I would strap him onto my back in an Ergo carrier with his sound silencing headphones and he would sleep through our concerts! I found it is actually easier for me to have him right there with me. I can hear his heartbeat and he can hear mine. We both feel calm and contented knowing each other is happy. It has also made me an excellent and adaptable drummer!

After the show is over we go to bed! This is usually arranged by the person who booked us. Our accommodation is anything from living room floors to apartments atop the venue to bed and breakfasts to swanky hotels. After living in a van with no amenities, a couch with a toilet down the hall feels pretty deluxe! On our days off I would always elect to go camping versus staying in a hotel. We don’t sleep in the van very often when we are on tour. On long tours we try to play shows every day for a few weeks and then take some time off in a favorite city or in a place where we have friends or relatives to visit.

Touring is actually a tricky way to get to know a place! We are usually driving during business hours and miss out on daylight, museums, and attractions. We only see the night life and get glimpses into certain enclaves. Taking days off lets us experience the other side of the cities we play.

When we are back in Vancouver, our days have a much more predictable rhythm. Each day ends up revolving around the seasons. In the summer our baths usually happen in bodies of water. In the winter we tend to go to bed earlier, just like the sun. We take advantage of public amenities like swimming pools, the library, community centre craft drop-ins, and free events. I do my freelance writing from cafes. We enjoy a slow pace, and have more money and time to give to local businesses and events.

I make our van feel like home with beautiful bedding, strategic minimalism, and lots of plants!

Since over 50% of our living space is a bed, I make sure that it is cozy and beautiful. I have hand quilted many blankets since becoming a van dweller. I love the methodical and tedious nature of collecting little scraps of fabric from thrift stores and giving them new life by stitching them together. A queen sized blanket can take me months to complete. It is the perfect electricity-free hobby.

Minimalism is also key for living in a very small space. I have found out that I actually don’t like objects as much as I thought I did! I feel most at home when everything is streamlined and in its place. This can be tricky with a toddler. I am ruthless about passing on items we no longer need. Sometimes it feels like we are giving Henry’s toys, books, and too-small shoes away the second he outgrows them.

Let’s just say The Marie Kondo movement was not an a-ha moment for us! We’ve been living that truth for years. My whole wardrobe fits into a suitcase and nothing needs ironing or special washing.

Having plants inside the space helps purify the indoor air and makes it feel like a real home! It’s also fun to drive around with a potted plant on the dash. Makes me smile every time.

The only thing I truly miss from a life indoors is the ease of entertaining. I love to cook and bake and feed everyone I love. Having long meals with great wine and tasty snacks is something that we can achieve in the summer at beaches and parks, but in the winter it is hard to invite people over.

I also miss having my own garden. The wait lists for community plots in Vancouver are insane! And our touring schedule usually means that we are out of town for either planting, tending, or harvest. One day when I ‘retire’ I will have the garden of my dreams.

Our house doesn’t feel too small for us. The van is like our bedroom and the rest of the world is just a very long hallway away. We get to spend so much more time experiencing people, places, and things!

We feel really blessed to spend our days in Vancouver parked in a diverse and open-minded neighborhood close to the city centre. Our neighbors (both those that live in traditional houses and those that live in vans) are so welcoming and accommodating of our somewhat unique housing strategy. We also have a great extended network of bands, promoters, artists, and fans all around the world.

We currently live within driving distance of Henry’s four grandparents and three great-grandparents. We couldn’t ask for more intergenerational support. It is so wonderful to give him the gift of their involvement in his life.

It can be alienating and isolating to be a new mom. Everything is unfamiliar and it seems that the world wasn’t designed for crying newborns, leaky breasts, and diaper blowouts. A simple trip to the market becomes the event of the day and many mothers end up inside their homes, alone. Being a mom who is traveling with her baby and living in very small space means that I am always out and about, confronting society with my breast milk covered reality. I have found some amazing solidarity and community in this circumstance.

I see living in a van at this stage in Henry’s life as a decision that comes with both positives and negatives. That being said, I can’t think of a version of my life that wouldn’t come without some concessions. Right now I am taking each day as it comes. Our debt-free, freelance situation has left us able to evolve. I don’t worry too much about how living in a van will impact Henry as he grows because I am confident that we will reshape our lifestyle to meet his needs.

Just as parents switch schools when they find out about their child’s new learning challenges, I am ready to make necessary adjustments to give Henry the best life. My maternal Grandmother lost her husband when her kids were very young. I always keep her advice to live in the moment and not take things for granted with me. I feel grateful to have a partner with me that feels the same way and I am excited that we are building this life together.

When I found out I was pregnant I was…you guessed it…on tour! We were in Switzerland when I finally took a pregnancy test, but I had known in my heart for a few weeks that I was most likely expecting. I even bought folic acid at a chemist in Serbia and began taking them just in case. I knew that I would have to seriously reorganize my priorities and rearrange my plans to accommodate this new being. And I began to realize that it wouldn’t be as simple as setting up a crib in the guest bedroom. I became acutely aware of the fact that I had no idea who this person would end up being and therefore couldn’t really plan for what was to come.

I often joke it’s like choosing a roommate for the next 18 years (at least) without even bothering to interview them. Would the baby be fussy? Shy? Outgoing? Big? Small? Would he or she have a physical challenge? Would my labour be complicated?! What about breastfeeding?! I surrendered all my expectations and opened up to the possibility that this could be the end of my life on the road. I was totally ready to become this baby’s mom through all the ups, downs, and transformations.

Lucky for us, Henry has been a happy healthy baby from day one. I was playing concerts right up until my due date and began again a few months after he was born. He is very outgoing, social, and adaptable. He LOVES the drums and singing into the microphone. At 21 months, he is now able to tell the difference between certain cables and instruments. He is a treat to watch at shows. He is so authentic in his joy! I hope he maintains his enthusiasm forever. So far he seems to have no issues with our lifestyle, and on the contrary manages to thrive in our somewhat unconventional tour schedule.

I know that I can’t expect him to vividly remember all of the amazing moments and places he has seen in his first 21 months of life. But everything I have read on the topic of parenting has stressed that although kids don’t remember exact details from the first three years of life, the experiences in this window shape who they are forever. I want Henry to remember that I loved never having to spend a day apart from one another. I want him to know that home isn’t a building, but rather the feeling of being safe and supported by people that love you. I want him to keep his open heart, mind, and free spirit.

I am not sure what I hope he remembers about me as a mother. In a way, I hope he sees a side of me that I don’t even know about! I have an image of myself as a strong and confident artist who is trying to fill the mom-shaped hole in my music community. I would love to have him shatter my notion of myself with a surprising answer. I believe that children are here to teach us just as much as we are meant to teach them.

I wish that someone had told me that these is no right way to mother. I am just 21 months into my lifelong adventure as a parent and I have already received my fair share of condemnation and criticism. I have also found myself turning the tables to judge other parents.

By standing on a stage night after night, I am putting myself in a position to be photographed, videotaped, and critiqued. There is rampant sexism in the entertainment industry and I had been desensitized to people forgetting to focus on my musical abilities in favor of commenting on my weight, outfit, hairstyle, and personality. However, I was unprepared for how bringing Henry into my life and my work would open the door for criticism on my ability to parent and raise a healthy child.

In a digital age where it is so easy to comment on others’ lives, I am trying to reflect on the power of words and the homogenized face of normalcy perpetuated by the media. There are so many diverse and wonderful ways to be an excellent parent. I want to hear a chorus of strong radical mamas speaking openly about success and failures. We need to end the erasure of the ‘unconventional’ narrative. I wish that someone had told me sooner that the only way to achieve this is to be authentic and share with one another.


Where do I start? First, I’d like to thank Laura for her fresh perspective. It was glorious. Second, this: “On this past tour I would strap him onto my back in an Ergo carrier with his sound silencing headphones and he would sleep through our concerts! I found it is actually easier for me to have him right there with me. I can hear his heartbeat and he can hear mine. We both feel calm and contented knowing each other is happy.” Talk about bringing your baby to work! Again, pretty glorious, right?

There’s almost too much to love in this one. But I can’t forget to mention her hopes that her Henry will shatter her notion of herself with a surprising answer. I had never really considered this concept, have you? It’s kind of life-changing.

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

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Living With Kids: Rachael Alsbury Tue, 08 Mar 2016 16:00:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

All you really need to know about Rachael is that she’s one of those wildly entertaining writers who might make you laugh out loud a few times throughout her interview. She’s real and aims to live a debt-free life in her detoxed home. You’re going to enjoy this one, I just know it.

Welcome, Rachael!

Hi everyone! I’m Rachael, also known as Faye, which is my middle name and the name I use for my blog, From Faye). I live in Northern California with my husband David and three little girls. On a normal day, you can find me around the house sweeping up sparkles from princess dresses and bribing my girls with gummy bears to pose for Instagram. I’m a fangirl of Peet’s coffee, high-waisted leggings, and clogs with socks. I grew up in small-town Kansas and migrated to Atlanta when I was eighteen, so I’m an all-American hybrid of West Coast, Midwestern, and deep South.

David is a web developer who works from our home office. He taught himself to program in the 90s and started his web business in a simpler time when all anyone ever wanted was a flaming logo on their home page. Before we dated, he rented a room in my parents’ basement and probably removed about 357 viruses from our family PC while he was there.

One day he started writing me funny emails, which made me fall love with him rather unexpectedly. I did the natural thing and freaked out, avoided him for seven months, and made plans to move to another state. He persisted rather unfruitfully until a mutual friend kindly sat me down and told me I WAS ACTING A FOOL. I realized she was right and told her she could be in our wedding. And she was, nine months later.

Our oldest daughter K.K. is four. She’s our social butterfly who loves to draw detailed pictures and puts together 100-piece jigsaws like a preschool puzzle genius. I frequently find her engineering things like skates from string and toy trains, or making space ships from my Amazon boxes.

Our middle daughter Liberty is three. She is sensitive and nurturing. Her favorite thing to do is pick me bouquets of clover and eat Chipotle Tabasco sauce on everything. Her throwing-up-at-two-am cry sounds exactly like her I-can’t-find-my-pink-tutu cry, so that keeps our adrenaline levels nice and elevated on a regular basis. Bless her.

Evelyn is our baby. She’s nine months old and is pretty easy-going as long as she is sitting in the very center of whatever her sisters are doing at all times. She enjoys eating bits of carpet and being our tiny human vacuum. She’s at the most squeezable, sniffable stage of babyhood. I spend half my day nuzzling her soft head and whispering fervent prayers that her wrist chub takes extra long to turn into a regular wrist.

When we moved to California during a crashed housing market, we bought a renovated 960 square-foot starter home in Vacaville, ten miles from where David grew up. We bought it in pristine condition for $175,000, which was a STELLAR deal. As family and career grew, it came to our attention that he needed a more private work space away from preschoolers shrieking for help on the toilet during international conference calls. So we started looking for a bigger house with a better office situation.

One afternoon on our way to see another property, our realtor suggested we swing by an open house. It was not in my ideal neighborhood and the listing photos mainly showcased dirt yard. It also had a pool, which caused me to indulge myself in visualizing every possible safety risk associated with aquatic recreation.

But once I looked past the bedroom dedicated to first-person shooter video gaming and the wild stallion painting over the master bed, I saw that it had every one of the must-haves on our list. It was our perfect home, disguised as an 80s two-story with stallion art…plus that swimming pool with 674 safety hazards.

Since we bought our old house at the bottom of a crashed market, we had some equity to spend on improvements in the new house. After doing some responsible adult things like HVAC and mold remediation, we decided on new flooring and an interior paint job. My zeal to demolish bathrooms and install subway tile has simmered down after sort of an unplanned pool renovation. Do not be deceived by the rippling waters of blue; our pool owns us. We are now traumatized and can converse for far too long about subjects like cantilever coping and types of plaster. (It started with a naively undertaken patio demolition and that’s all I can say at this time without breaking down.)

This is a ten-to-15 year home for us, so there is no rush! We have time to live with things and overanalyze everything to the nth degree. Which we are so good at. Sometimes that means realizing you don’t need to renovate at all.

The name of the game lately has been making it LIGHT in here. Basic things like trimming trees, removing window tinting and UV blocking screens has been miraculous! And I recently came to love my kitchen by removing cabinet doors and styling my shelves with paint and thrift store utensils!

Vacaville is a town of about 100,000, located on interstate 80 between Sacramento and San Francisco. It’s in a valley, backed up to a beautiful range of hills. We’ve been in a drought since I moved here five years ago, but the climate is pretty mild all year with hot, dry summers and rainy winters. We have almost no inclement weather so we get very excited about thunder or any form of tempestuous precipitation. It’s a really affordable place to live compared to other areas of California. Right now you can probably buy a starter home in an older neighborhood for around $250,000.

Our location on the interstate makes it livable for families, but with all the culture and scenery I can handle within a short drive! Drive west about an hour and you’ve got San Francisco, the bay area, and infinity Pacific vistas. Going east you’ll hit Sacramento before coming up on Reno and the Sierra Nevadas. Napa is a basic date night. (Is this my life!?)

In town we have all the basic necessities for mom life: parks, libraries, Target, In-n-Out, and a conveniently disproportionate number of Starbucks on every corner. I can zip from one end of town to the other in ten minutes and will definitely see at least three people I know at our local coffee shop. The only real traffic here is freeway passengers coming home from Tahoe and the beach on holiday weekends.

A huge benefit of where we live is the natural living community. Rainbow chard and raw dairy in all the places. This community has been a huge support to me in my journey through early motherhood. Hippies are the best of people. I was able to give birth to all three of my girls at home under the care of licensed midwives, and wrote many things on the Internet about it.

When we were first married, we went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. We paid off all of our debt while living in our friend’s one-window basement apartment, surviving off bean burritos. Subscribing to a debt-free lifestyle has been really foundational to our marriage. We shifted from making instant gratification decisions to thinking long-term.

Paying people off was the hardest part! We skipped things our friends were doing like taking vacations, buying furniture, and going out on the weekends. David worked a lot of evenings and Saturdays. We crammed the entirety of his office into one corner of our basement living space. For about a year the poor man worked huddled in subterranean dimness while I commuted to work with our car.

In some ways I think we missed out on enjoying all the freedom we had before kids. But we were also able to start a family from a place of financial stability. Pros and cons! For the most part, we stay out of debt by living below our means. Right now we are able to reap some of the benefits of having not owed anyone money for a long time, minus the mortgage company. Our income fluctuates all the time, but when it goes down, it’s not a tragedy.

I would describe my style as Collected Minimalist. I don’t like clutter in my space, but I do love tidy collections of books, plants, and art. The thrift store is my all-time favorite place to shop for collection pieces.

I use the term minimalist loosely because even after going Marie Kondo on this house like a wrecking ball, the inside of Evelyn’s closet still looks like I’m about to open a baby consignment store. I simply refuse to go on living without two pack-n-plays and a Mega Splash Exersaucer Activity Center!

I want our home to encourage independence and inventiveness. Minimalism creates room for this. I keep floors and surfaces clear for creative play. Overall, we keep it basic. Crayons and paper. Puzzles and blocks. I’m less about supervising sensory rice activities that make me cry inside, and more about letting my kids get bored enough to start plays entitled “Mom And Little Girl” that are mostly about parading around in Disney wigs.

In my master plan for a minimal, aesthetic home, we would have only wooden and cloth playthings with a tastefully limited dress-up collection of felt and organic cotton. Instead, everyone is a little kid and seems not to care at all about my plan for a curated toy box of painted wood in muted tones. Why would you when there are battery-powered light-up Rapunzel skirts to be worn? So I have relinquished some of my aesthetic preferences because sometimes plastic tea sets and Elsa wigs bring us joy and hours of creative play.

What about the Barbie Rainbow Lights Mermaids and Fairy Princess Snowflake Wands? These are the toys that slowly erode my will to live, but they do happen. Here is what we do: pink and purple items like dress-up, tea party, and princess blocks stay up in the girls’ bedroom. Puzzles, Duplos, and art supplies go in the coat closet which we turned into toy storage. Any toys I don’t need in my life disappear to magical places called consignment and Savers Thrift. The situation is ongoing. All proceeds to go coffee. Thank you for understanding.

Life with kids is so much better with less stuff. Less to fight about. Less to clean up. Less to straighten.

FACT: I have been removing SO MANY RUGS from this place. I finally gave up the rug under our dining room table last week. I tell you, I cried hot tears of relief as I freely swept crayons and dried Play Doh from underneath chairs. It’s our favorite place to do everything in life now.

Independent learning and letting the girls explore their interest and are big values to us. Right now, we see a world of learning and artistic creativity taking place at our dining room table with drawing, puzzles, and Play Doh.

I also keep some toys in bedrooms because I believe in sending my kids to their room to be SO BORED. Our mom used to give us the choice of doing jobs or going away to play in our room for infinity hours. So my sister and I recorded ourselves with tape players and practically set the house on fire with curling irons. Best memories. The tomfoolery. I thank the Lawd above YouTube did not exist at this time in history.

David started suggesting years ago that I blog (and also get Gmail). I declined because the idea of keeping an Internet diary was making me have images of teen angst and vintage MySpace. After six years of convincing, during which blogging turned mainstream, I decided to try posting something once a week every Friday.

Then a miracle happened inside The Computers. Sixteen people from Facebook and two people on the World Wide Web in Australia started reading my words! If you Google “how to get motivated to clean house” or “how to clean a messy house” you will find me. YES PEOPLE DO GOOGLE THIS ALL THE TIME. Desperate moments call for desperate Google searches. I love people so much.

Lately my blogging interests have shifted towards journaling and photography. There’s nothing in the world like the storytelling process combined with the instant gratification of pushing a post button! The greatest thing by far to come out of this space is the connection I have with friends and family. People read my blog and feel like they know me. Social inhibitions gone.

FACT: Introverts love to socialize online. Blogging has played a huge role in helping me make new friends in California and re-connected me to past friendships too.

A few years ago I did a big project to remove chemicals from our house, and replace toiletries and cleaners with either homemade or non-toxic products. I decided to write about it on the Internet as though I were talking to my sister. It launched a series I called my Whole Home Detox. The most helpful thing I discovered in my project was the Environmental Working Guide database. You can look up safety ratings for any product or ingredient in your house. It is a data miracle.

One of the most unique ways I detoxed my home was to replace my facial cleanser and moisturizer with a 50/50 mix of almond oil and castor oil. I literally rub oil on my dirty face every night and it makes my skin luminous! Plant-based oils…who knew?

For me, the most challenging part of living with kids is when they get sick. I get very sad and pace around aimlessly doing Google searches on the hour. I feel obliged to warn my friends on group text and cancel all human contact for 40 days and nights. Humidifiers everywhere. Apple cider vinegar shots. Coconut oil on everything. At the same time, saying this makes me deeply grateful that my children are well and that we’ve never had to deal with any serious health problems. Those families who do, you are my champions.

My favorite part about living with my kids has got to be the entertainment factor. Little kids are basically a 24/7 entertainment channel. David’s Instagram feed has turned 100% into videos of the girls doing astonishing things like riding in circles on their bikes.

Some evenings after they’ve gone to bed, we sit there like lovestruck fools, watching 12-second videos of them mispronouncing words and walking around with their shoes on backwards. We once filmed K.K. doing a magic show, which was actually 15 consecutive minutes of her saying “Wait, wait” and bringing us toys from upstairs.

At this age, my kids may not remember a lot of specifics about our home. But I hope they remember it was fun and that it was a safe place for them to learn and explore their interests. And land’s sake, I sincerely hope they remember the POOL!  MANDATORY FUN IN THE SUN FROM NOW UNTIL FOREVERMORE.

I have memories of coming downstairs in the morning to see my mom sitting in her pink chair with an afghan, an open Bible, and a cup of coffee. Having that as a constant in my life was incredibly grounding. I hope these are the kinds of memories my children have of me as their mom. And let us join in prayer that the healing passage of time will erase the ones of me in Leggings as Pants, utilizing children’s educational programming as I pass out apple sauce packets for breakfast. Amen.

I wish a wise grandma somewhere on Facebook or at a baby shower would have told me that I should SLEEP WHEN THE BABY SLEEPS. Oh, wait…five did! This is probably a rock solid, 3000-year-old piece of advice that no one follows because of laundry and Netflix and relishing the sounds of silence. It took me until my third kid to realize this was the only way to live.

Here’s some sleep statistics of my own research. Number of times I have regretted going to bed at 8:00 pm: ZERO. Number of times I have regretted staying up till 1:00 am watching YouTube brow tutorials and eating a brownie in a mug: 157. (The only outlier is the number of times I have regretted staying up until 2:00 am to view the Awkward Family Photos website. That number remains zero.)

At our house, we do not mess with bed time or nap time.  We shut this party down at 1:00 and 7:00 pm respectively. I may have to use wizardry and a five-pound bag of gummy bears to do this. It may also mean a preschooler is in her bedroom putting beads into her ear canal while I am asleep. These are trade-offs I’m willing to make for some REM. We apologize for not listening to you, Grandmas of Facebook and baby showers.  You were totally RIGHT!


Thank you, Rachael! I could read ten more pages of your thoughts!

I have to tell you, this one choked me up: “I have memories of coming downstairs in the morning to see my mom sitting in her pink chair with an afghan, an open Bible, and a cup of coffee. Having that as a constant in my life was incredibly grounding. I hope these are the kinds of memories my children have of me as their mom.”

Do you ever wonder the image you’ll hold in your children’s’ memories? Also of note: the sleep issue! We’ve all heard the advice to sleep when they’re sleeping. Did you listen?

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

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Living With Kids: Amy Webb Tue, 01 Mar 2016 17:00:36 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. A few of the gorgeous family photos were shot by Momoko Fritz.

When Miggy sent me her interview answers, she apologized for the length and mentioned she could probably write forever about her special life and family. I wished she would. You will, too.

Welcome, Miggy!

I’ve been married to a tall, dark handsome fellow for over ten years. My husband is a dentist and is very science minded, but also loves working with his hands, specifically woodworking. (Fact: he made our bed from scratch! So keep an eye out for it in the pictures below.) My husband and I compliment each other well (read: total opposites) and we enjoy working on projects together. (He made the bed, I made the quilt.) We actually met online in 2004, but since that was still VERY new we didn’t cop to it until a few years after we were married!

From first date to married was eight months and then two weeks after our wedding we moved from Provo, Utah to New York City. Let me tell you, that was a lot of change at once! But ten years in and I think we’re doing pretty well.

Our first daughter was born in New York City and I think that was the best place in the world to become a mom. I absolutely loved it and think back on those days with so much fondness. NYC definitely has a piece of my heart. Our oldest daughter, who goes by the moniker PSP on our blog, is the ideal older sister: responsible, smart, kind, adventurous, and she’s developing quite the sharp wit!

We then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where we had our second daughter, which was probably the best place for her to be born as she was born with physical disabilities. Cincinnati Children’s hospital is one of the best hospitals in the country. Our middle daughter, whom we call Lamp on the blog, has what is known as limb differences, and is affected on all four limbs. This, of course, means that her limbs are different. Accessibility and doing things a little differently are the norm for our family. Personality wise, she is a spitfire and keeps us all on her toes! I always say that what she lacks in limbs, she makes up for in personality.

A couple years later we moved to San Antonio, Texas where our third (and God-willing) last daughter, blog named Zuzu, was born. She’s the perfect little caboose to our clan and is the perfect mixture of adorably sweet and infuriatingly mischievous. While I never saw myself as an all-girl mom, it’s an identity I love and claim.

Now that my husband is done with schooling (New York), residency (Cincinnati), and the Air Force (San Antonio), we have finally settled down and to our surprise we returned to the Queen city of Cincinnati, Ohio last year where my husband purchased a practice and we finally put down some roots.

There’s a lot to love about this place. I’m not gonna lie, that came as a complete shock to me the first time we moved here! I always hoped that we would eventually settle on a coast, but I’ve come to think of Cincinnati as a hidden gem. If I had to summarize it in one word, I’d say charm.

Cincinnati is an old city with so much character and charm. Some of it can be a little rough, but I mostly find it very comforting and beautiful. And while affordability isn’t the sexiest word to describe a city, it’s one of my favorite things about living here. I feel like we can really afford to save, travel, and live the way we really want to live all at the same time! It’s refreshing.

As I said, one of the things I love the most about living here are the really great, yet really affordable older homes. When we lived here the first time we bought this gorgeous three story-victorian. It had all the original flooring (and no subfloors! At night, if the light was on in the basement, you could see light coming through the cracks of the floors!), beautifully carved details on the staircase, and pocket doors leading to the dining room. It was just a gorgeous home. And people wondered how we were able to afford it on a resident’s salary. Well, it was less than $135K! The house was on a busy street which was also why it was so cheap, but still! Coming from New York City we were like kids in a candy store with all this gorgeous, affordable housing!

Also I was delighted to find that Cincinnati is divided up into neighborhoods much like NYC with each neighborhood having its own distinct style and vibe. And many neighborhoods have their own little downtown areas with shops and restaurants, and when you have that type of walkability in a neighborhood, I find that people actually know their neighbors and there is a stronger sense of community.

I also like that Cincinnati is a smaller, big city. You can get anywhere you want in about 20 minutes. I love that we have all four seasons, but winter is comparatively mild. We’re also pretty east for being in the midwest, so it’s very green in the summer with a lot of beautiful rolling hills.

Truthfully I’m still coming to terms with living here, especially since buying a practice means we have put down some serious roots! Cincinnati is one of those cities where you’re born and raised and then you stay here. When people ask where you went to school, they mean high school! And since we’re not from here and we don’t have family nearby, we can sometimes feel like outsiders. Right now that has felt like the main drawback.

As I mentioned earlier, our daughter Lamp (that’s her fake blog name) has physical disabilities and can’t (yet) walk. She uses a power chair to get around almost everywhere, so accessibility is really important thing for our family. Therefore, a ranch style house is really the only logical choice for us right now, which significantly narrowed our home search by about two thirds.

The actual process of buying our house was a little unorthodox and our realtor said they had never done it that way before. When it came time to look for our home we were still in San Antonio, and the houses in Cincinnati were flying off the market and we knew we would have to act fast. Again having such a narrow type of house that we needed, the idea of flying in for a few days to go house hunting didn’t seem like the best way to go. We were familiar with the area and we could see online exactly what ranches were available at any given time — which was not a lot. We watched the listings daily and if we saw something we liked we had our realtor do a hometown with us via FaceTime. The blessings of technology!

Eventually I saw our house online and was immediately drawn to it, except that it wasn’t exactly in the part of town we wanted to live. But the house was so great. It was all on one level with easy access inside (even if a home is one level, if there are stairs on the outside, you still have an accessibility issue), with an unfinished basement and a large lot with many beautiful, mature trees.

We did a walkthrough via FaceTime and put an offer on the house a day or two later while we were still in San Antonio! Our realtor was a little nervous, but we didn’t have a choice. Once our offer was accepted, we used the 14-day inspection period to actually fly out to Cincinnati and see it in real life. Two years later we’re still here and we really like our home.

As far as it being our forever home…it really depends on the day. I really hope I don’t sound like a negative Nelly here, because our house is great and we really do like it. But one of the things I love about Cincinnati in general is that this place is jam-packed with beautiful, old homes — victorian, mid-century, craftsman, bungalow, tudor, townhomes — you name it, they have it.

While our house was built in the early 60s, there have been renovations over the years and I think some of the charm was renovated out. So while I like it, there is a part of me still clamoring for something with a more historic feel. BUT, sometimes I think this house has a lot of potential to be everything we want it to be; we’re actually starting bathroom renovations in the coming weeks! Also, having a large outdoor space at the end of a cul-de-sac was a game-changer in a way I didn’t expect. In that respect, I think it will take a lot to get me off our property. Confused? Don’t worry, so is my husband.

I have recently realized that I am much more picky about clutter than about actual cleanliness. I’m not sure what that says about me! I can go a couple weeks with the kitchen floor being unmopped and dirty, but still swept, much easier than I can go with a house where there is stuff everywhere and nothing is put away!

I am definitely one of those moms who can’t ignore the mess around her and be present with my kids as if nothing else matters. My sanity and the house being in semi-tidy state go hand in hand.

This also goes well with my belief that kids need chores to establish a good work ethic, responsibility, and a much cleaner home. So every morning, the girls (not the toddler yet) know they have to make their beds, pick up their room, and change their clothes before they can leave their room. And, yes, my daughter with limb differences makes her own bed, gets dressed (mostly) by herself, and helps out with chores as well. Their room isn’t picked up every day, but I’m pretty strict about it not getting too crazy and messy.

But don’t get me wrong, I believe in letting kids be kids. I believe in low-tech, hands on, imaginative play. I love our yard simply for the amount of tree climbing my older daughter does. She often gets uncomfortably high and I am both beaming with pride and wringing my hands. Our unfinished basement has a play area for the girls where hours of dress ups, fort building, Harry Potter imagining, and other creative play takes place.

I would describe my style as modern vintage, with a slight boho touch. For as long as I can remember I have loved old stuff. Perhaps spending a good deal of my childhood in my grandparents’ home where most of the toys I played with were my mother’s and my uncle’s, and the decor was very 1960s is what shaped my aesthetic. Even as a young girl I liked to listen to oldies, watch black and white movies, and I had a preference for all things vintage. The main way this affects my decor philosophy is trying to fill my home with unique vintage pieces that I really love and connect with.

I’ve always known that even if money weren’t an issue I would never be someone who could just furnish a home overnight; I want to find the right pieces that I love. That being said, we’ve had our share of Ikea furniture. Also, it’s taken me a while to learn the art of decorating. I feel like I’m just getting the hang of it and it’s still a process.

The other component to finding things I love is how to balance that with money. I worked at the Gap in high school and quickly caught the “It’s on sale and I have a huge discount” bug and would buy all this stuff simply because I could get it so cheap. I started to realize that when I bought five shirts that I didn’t like and never wore, it was a much more wasteful than spending more money on one shirt that I would wear all the time. I try to keep this in mind when making home purchases.

And I think this is one of the biggest ways my decor philosophy influences my kids as well. There is so much junk out there targeted at kids and I’m always trying to help them understand and use this principle when they want something new. Do you love it? Are you drawn to this because it’s cheap? If price wasn’t a factor would you still love it? Wait a week and if you still want it we can talk about it again.

While I don’t have any spaces that are off-limits to the kids, I do have furniture that is nice and that I want to keep nice and I expect my kids and their friends to be respectful of those things. Our house isn’t a museum and they can touch and play with things, but I believe in taking good care of what we have; whether I got something for a steal or paid a little more, I believe in taking good care of our things to make them last and I teach my kids to do the same.

I have a blog; it’s called This Little Miggy Stayed Home. Probably the loveliest thing to come out of that space is my sanity. I really think my blog — as a creative outlet, as a space for writing and sharing in our family’s journey — has not only saved me from loneliness at times, but also from thousands of dollars of therapy bills. I have untangled so many balls of mental yarn through the process of writing and blogging, that I really owe a debt of gratitude to that space.

For me, it’s even even more beneficial than journaling because it’s in the editing process, the back and forth, the refining and rewriting until I get it right that has been so beneficial. And often, I write away until I find the root cause of a bothersome question or figure out how these random and seemingly unrelated thoughts mesh together.

When our second daughter was born I was suddenly plunged into this great unknown, not only of embracing the new identity of a special needs family, but at the time no one knew what her differences meant. Would she live? Was she ill? Would she need constant support? How would her limbs affect her and our family on the whole? Everything was a wait and see. And at the time we didn’t know anyone else who had a child with our particular challenges. And so I wrote. Writing throughout the remainder of my pregnancy and in those early months after she was born was both informative for our friends and family, but also extremely cathartic. That took a rather deep turn! Ha! I do regular crafts and DIY posts as well.

What keeps me coming back day after day is the love I have for writing, storytelling, and the connection with my readers. I love being a stay at home mom and so much of my life is driven by what I do for my kids and my family on the whole, but THIS IS MINE. This is my little nook of the internet that I’ve curated and created. Not all of my blog is super-cool-party-people-awesomeness, but some of it is, and I’m really proud of that.

Blogging has turned me into a writer, a crafter, a photographer, an advocate…it’s really quite amazing.

And so, the Special Needs Spotlight. When I said that my sanity was the loveliest thing to come out of my blogging, it was partly true, partly tongue in cheek. The work I do with my Special Needs Spotlight is by far the most rewarding part of my blog. Each Friday I interview a special needs family or sometimes an individual and just ask them about their journey, what their day-to-day is like. Really, it’s just an education for everyone to see what life is like through the lens of disability.

When I first had the idea of the spotlight I really thought about it from my perspective. Blogging and sharing our story had been so beneficial to me and really eye-opening for friends and family, so the initial idea was to give other parents a platform to share their journey. But I also went into it with the idea that I was now “in the know” and that these were my people and our stories and we were going to educate everyone else. But now I realize that I don’t know anything!

I have learned and gained as much as anyone else from doing this series. Four years and 130-plus interviews later, I can tell you I am a changed person. In the context of disability I see the world very, very differently than I used to, and I think most people assume that’s because of our daughter. But really she is only half of that equation. The other half I attribute to the Special Needs Spotlight, to the families and individuals who have let me and my readers into their lives and who have let me ask them questions and share their stories.

And I’ve had some pretty incredible things come from it. Perhaps the two that stand out the most are the two separate people who wrote to me saying that their child (or in one case a nephew) who was previously undiagnosed, was able to get a diagnosis and likewise the help they needed for their children, directly because of my Special Needs Spotlight. To know that my little blog played a part in helping those families has meant the world to me and frankly, it still blows my mind a little.

I’ve written extensively about our daughter and her journey on our blog. In fact, last summer I did a Special Needs Spotlight about her for her fifth birthday. This is probably the best and most comprehensive place to read about our journey. You can read it here.

I can’t talk about my hopes for my daughter’s future without taking about the broader scope of disability and really, disability rights. I know I’m supposed to say ‘The sky’s the limit!’ and while I feel that’s true, I also feel like her future is as bright as society will let it be. I have said that disability rights are the final frontier of civil rights and most people find this to be a shocking statement. What I mean by that isn’t that we’ve solved all the problems surrounding race, gender inequality, or sexual orientation, and therefore we can now move on. No, what I mean is that these conversations in terms of disability haven’t even started. Not in a meaningful way at least. Of course this is not something I ever saw before I became a mother and disability advocate, but now I see it everywhere.

The disabled community is the largest minority in the world, yet they are the most underrepresented in the media. It can be a jarring juxtaposition to live in a world where your body type is rarely acknowledged in the world around you, in everything from architecture to advertising, and yet when you step out into this same world there is a heightened awareness of your being as you are on the receiving end of stares, whispers, and pointing everywhere you go.

One of the best quotes I’ve ever read on this comes from a recent Special Needs Spotlight actually (which was also one of my all-time most read spotlights and I really think everyone should read it). Rebekah, who is a paraplegic and wheelchair user, said this: “When I think about genuinely accessible spaces — the kind of space where I feel safe, included, connected — where I can take a deep breath and know my needs will be met — part of what I see is ramps and handicapped spaces, but mostly I imagine more and more people who are open, present, and flexible about what it looks like to be human in this world.”

We really need more awareness and representation for people with disabilities and to see them in a much broader scope than the hero/victim stereotypes that so often characterize what it means to be disabled.

My Instagram feed is where I share a lot about our family, little epiphanies I have about motherhood or disability, and just the day in and day out of what normal looks like in our household. Of course, a lot of people come to see Lamp as I’ve shared many exciting milestones on IG like the first time she stood up independently, her first steps, and more. One of my favorite features is Miggy’s Music Monday. I have a passion for music and I realized that I don’t just love music, I love sharing music with other people. So on Mondays I share a band, singer, song, album, etc. and tell a little something about it or a connection I have to it.

My favorite part of living with my own kids is watching this little sister trio in action and how well they interact together. I had mostly brothers growing up and only one sister who is ten years younger than me and grew up in a separate household due to divorce, so I didn’t have this sister dynamic that my girls have. If I didn’t love it so much, I would be envious. I am always telling them how lucky they are to have each other. Sure, they fight and have disagreements, but I’m really grateful that they are already friends and close playmates at such a young age.

I also love seeing the little things around our home that remind me of our special needs family status: the board in front of the back door so that Lamp’s power chair can clear the threshold, the small power chair parked in the corner while she’s away at school, the special utensils her dad made for her.

Maybe it sounds strange – even to me as I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to articulate this before — but going from a horrible ultrasound appointment that leaves you in paralyzing fear, to the embracing of a life you love so much…well, there’s a beauty in that journey. We’re a very typical family and I try not to let our daughter’s special needs take over the family identity or even her identity, but at the same time it’s certainly a part of our everyday lives and I think you see it reflected in our home accurately.

I hope my kids feel like they were always free to be themselves in our home. As a kid, I had a sort of split personality and acted one way at home and one way at school; I didn’t always feel like I could be myself at home. So I really want my kids to feel that they can be who they are. Additionally, while I will never try to sell our family as one that is perfect and I don’t want my kids to be under any false pretenses about those things, I do hope they always feel loved, wanted, and that their opinions and ideas matter.

One of the reasons I love sitting down to family dinner is to hear my children’s thoughts and ideas about life. It took me so long to realize the importance of thoughts and ideas! Simple ideas have changed the world, or even just a life. I want my kids to know that and feel validated in their contribution to our family. I also hope they remember spontaneous dance parties, reading together often, going on family adventures, and overall a loving, if not flawed, home.

I wish someone had told me that the older you get, the less you will know! How this is possible I’m not sure, but the older I get I realize I don’t know anything!

I also wish someone would have told me that you don’t have to lose yourself or give up the things you once enjoyed to adulthood. For example, I love music — specifically rock music — and sometimes I just have to crank up the tunes and rock out. I love going to see live music, but hadn’t done it in almost eight years until the past summer! Logically, I knew that it was okay to still be me, but I thought I was supposed to be this more refined version of me or something. I really, really admire people who follow passions and dreams for no other reason than it gives them pleasure and joy. I am trying to get back to being okay with pursuing dreams without feeling the need to justify it with logic and responsibility. (Although, c’mon…don’t be dumb.)

Which brings me to my last thing…I wish someone had told me it’s okay to be where you are. Whatever struggles, flaws, mistakes you embody right now, it’s okay. I am someone who pushes herself to be better a lot, and as you may have guessed this means I also push others to be better as well. Improvement is good. Constantly disapproving of yourself and others is not.


Thank you, Miggy. Chills covered me a few times while reading your brilliant thoughts, but this one about disability rights is stuck on my heart: “I know I’m supposed to say ‘The sky’s the limit!’ and while I feel that’s true, I also feel like her future is as bright as society will let it be.”

As is: “When I think about genuinely accessible spaces — the kind of space where I feel safe, included, connected — where I can take a deep breath and know my needs will be met — part of what I see is ramps and handicapped spaces, but mostly I imagine more and more people who are open, present, and flexible about what it looks like to be human in this world.” An incredible reminder for us all, don’t you think?

Oh, I could write forever about your words, Miggy! Tell me, Friends: What thoughts stuck to you? From her split personality as a child to not giving up your joys once you hit adulthood…it’s all so, so good.

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

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Living With Kids: Ania Krasniewska Tue, 16 Feb 2016 18:00:52 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Ania is a diplomat’s wife, among many other things, but that’s the part of her that brought them to this home in Denmark. It’s also the part that seems to be breaking her heart a little these days, as you’ll read near the end of her interview. She’s got some truly lovely, stick-to-your-soul thoughts about raising kids in a somewhat transient lifestyle, knowing full well your home won’t be your home in a few short years.

I really enjoyed this peek into her diplo-lifestyle, and I hope you feel the same way! Welcome, Ania!

Hej! That’s what they say here in Denmark, although they pronounce it “Hi!” I’m Ania, a thirty something who seems to be a little bit of everything. By profession, I’m an HR Consultant. By hobby, I’m a blogger and an enthusiastic, but still very amateur, photographer. By marital status, I’m a diplomat’s wife. And as a mom, I’ve got two little diplo-tots: Clara, age five and Stanley, age one.

We don’t have any pets in our family due to allergies, and this is much to our daughter’s terrible dismay. So we make up for it with a menagerie of animal toys and figurines that we seem to have acquired from all over the globe that stand in for the puppy she really hopes will join us some day.

My youngest is pretty easy going. He loves avocados and removing his socks and is always game for a laugh. He’s been a real joy for all of us, and I’m excited to watch his personality grow. He probably won’t remember much from Denmark, but life has been good for him here.

My daughter, on the other hand, has definitely two sides to her personality that come out in different ways depending on which language she’s speaking. She’s quite well integrated here and speaks the language fluently. We put her in a particularly Danish school — in a forest school — so she spends all day every day having adventures outdoors in the woods or on the beach, regardless of the weather. I found this all so fascinating that I started a second blog on it. When she’s in her Danish mode, she is more group oriented, more collaborative, more horizontal. When she’s in a more American mode, you can really see the more unique quirks of her personality shine, and her competitive streak really comes through. It’s funny how quickly kids can respond to the world around them.

We live just north of Copenhagen, Denmark in one of the seaside suburbs. We’ve been here for about two and a half years and have about six more months to go…and I have to say, we are going to be extremely sad to leave. Which is something I thought I would never say! We were so excited to come here to Copenhagen; there was so much said about the city, about the restaurants…about the design…about all the happiness. We got here and once the initial euphoria wore off, I had this realization that I didn’t love it all that much. I actually had a hard time adjusting. That was confusing for me since of all the places we have lived, this was the first time that’s really ever happened to me.

Part of that was the fact that we were giving suburban living a try for the very first time and I wasn’t used to all the quiet — all the hiding behind walls, which is compounded by the fact that Danes are naturally more reserved. Part of it was due to the fact that as I kept my own career going, I was traveling constantly — often times, three, or four days a week — so I never even really felt like I lived here the first year. I just had a closet here, and a family I didn’t see nearly enough, and I took that out on everyone else.

And part of it was due, I think, to having so many expectations. There are so many more articles and blogs and books and opinions about places now that you can read ahead of time. It’s good to know about where you’re going and to some degree, you’re expected to hit the ground running. But I was so busy thinking of how life would be in Copenhagen, that I didn’t make enough room to accommodate the way that life actually is.

The thing that really turned things around for me was perhaps the most Danish thing of them all. I received 14 months of maternity leave once my second child was born; I only recently went back to work this month. Ironically, I was having such a hard time in Denmark before he was born that I decided to deliver outside of Copenhagen, in Vienna, where we had our first. There was just something about having the same doctor and same midwife and same hospital that was very comforting at the time. So I took a bit of a hiatus. Everyone thought I might not come back at all, but the opposite happened. It was almost as if taking a break — a real break — gave me the opportunity to start over, and make peace with the city, and really take in all the good things that make this such a fantastic place to raise a young family.

Copenhagen has changed a lot over the nearly three years we have been here, mostly for the better. It’s a little more vibrant, it’s a little more diverse. There is more to choose from, which is a big deal in a place that values not rocking it outside the norm too much.

The restaurant scene has really blossomed beyond just the New Nordic, as alums of those kitchens break out and start their own places that are exiting and more attainable. Things are open later, service is a lot more friendly, and especially with the big exchange rate swing (things have gotten about 25% cheaper since we’ve moved here), it’s not as taxing — literally — to try the myriad of new places.

We love going into the city for the many museums, but what we really love and recommend to anyone visiting is to set aside time to see the area north of Copenhagen. It’s often called the Danish Riviera, and there are so many lovely little towns and seaside gems to discover. They’re small towns, often simple and humble former fishing towns, but they have their own history and feel to them. The coast really comes alive in the summer time when things open up, and everyone flocks away from the city to take in time to relax and recuperate. If your ideal vacation is equal parts do nothing and do it yourself, this place is perfect for you.

The slower pace of life takes a little getting used to, especially when you first move here, because that’s the time when you are actually trying to do the most to set up your home and your work quickly. The sometimes measured responses here, not to mention the cost of everything, can drive you crazy. But once you settle into your own groove, the time to be with family, the ability to leave work without guilt, the freedom to accept or decline invitations based on what’s best for your family, and the nearly carte blanche you can give your kids to explore outside in nearly total safety, is absolutely priceless as you find your feet as parents.

In the foreign service, we get a bit of a double whammy. Someone picks where you live (although you have input through questionnaire), and your furnishings are picked for you, too. In some ways, for some it’s comforting to see the same couch you had in one country pop up in another, even though the climate and the visual surroundings are totally different. But for us, we try to go a little further to make it feel like home.

We travel with some of our own furniture; not a lot, but a few pieces that tend to be lighter in weight, that are important to us, but not too precious. Most of those pieces are in our living room since that’s where we are most often as a family. Our couch is our own since that’s where we sit every day. Someone at the start of this journey had told us if you bring one thing, make it your couch. And I still consider that one of the best pieces of advice to this day, ten years in.

We try to mix things up, too. For example, everyone has nearly the same standard issue large brown wooden dining table. Some people hate it, but I love it. It can expand to seat 16 in a snap, it has real dovetail joinery, and it makes a great work space too if you like to spread your stuff out to think, like I do. But we make it ours by changing out the chairs; right now we have molded plastic chairs with wooden bases. Again, not too precious, but it feels more modern, they are definitely more comfortable, and it’s something you won’t see at every single diplomat’s home. It’s a great way to personalize your space without too much headache.

Finally, we try to add visual things that can change things up, but again, we keep it lightweight. Artwork and photographs make a big difference, and it’s always fun to see what others have collected in their own spaces. We also travel with a few rugs that are cotton dhurries; they can change the whole feel of a room, but are easy to clean, easy to fold up, and don’t weigh a lot. And I think anyone in this type of lifestyle will tell you that ultimately it’s the people and the personal things that make a random home, your home.

So our third year of our time here in Copenhagen is what’s called an unaccompanied tour. Basically, it means that your spouse goes on to somewhere where families and/or spouses aren’t allowed because of safety or other concerns. Sometimes they give the family the opportunity to stay at post while the spouse is away to minimize the disruption to the family, and in our case, it worked out. I often think of how much of Copenhagen I would have missed if we weren’t here for this third year.

It’s hard having my husband gone, no question. Especially since I just returned to work after leave. But full disclosure, we do have help; we have a wonderful nanny who lives with us and has been with us for the past five years. She started working for us when my daughter was two months old, so my kids really have not known life without her. She’s also raised five children of her own, who are now all adults, so she’s as much a nanny to me sometimes as to my kids. I grew up with my grandmother often being around, and I like the grounding presence of an older person in the home. I still feel like I’m playing house sometimes, and I like that we have a real grown up around! She’s a very calming influence and very much respected by all of us.

Sometimes the work and travel schedules are such that my husband and I were on back to back trips, or even gone at the same time, so our nanny is pretty key to making our household run and is always a constant presence. We don’t live close to family, and we’re always making friends from scratch, so we don’t have some of the traditional support networks that are present if you live in the same place for longer stretches of time. Some people were surprised that we kept a nanny while I was on leave for so long, but as I mentioned, she is very much part of our family.

My husband is gone for a year, but we’ll have a couple of breaks during which he can come home for a couple of weeks and we can regroup as a family. As you can imagine, we’re very much looking forward to those. But at the same time, we’re very mindful of the fact that we are extremely lucky to receive them. Many who serve in Iraq and similar places, most notably our armed forces, do not often get that same reprieve.

The unaccompanied tour is becoming more and more of a reality in this line of work, but the truth is that my husband chose it. He loves what he does and I stand by him in his career choices, much as he stands by mine.

We are in a house here, our very first time. Although our house isn’t huge, we weren’t used to the space. We didn’t know how to use a lawn mower, and we weren’t used to not seeing a regular cast of characters in hallways and doorways. The house also needed a fair amount of work when we first moved in and it took us awhile to clear out the cobwebs, so to speak.

But now that it looks like us, we’re very much at home here. We have a small outside yard that’s perfect for the children and their friends, and I never appreciated that as much before. We have extremely large windows in the back of the house which means that we can always see the kids in the yard, but also it means we get a lot of natural light. This is a big factor in Denmark since so much of the year can be rainy and gray, so if you’re prone to seasonal moods, this place can be tough. Even on the gray days, the back of the house is filled with light, right where our living room is, which is why you can find us here most of the time.

There are a lot of great things about living here, but there are also a few darker things, most notably a fear of the outside and outsiders, that sometimes the utopia style articles about Denmark don’t pick up. The Danish life is so delicately balanced on everyone having mostly the same expectations, that they worry that those with different expectations will upset the system.

I get it; they want to protect what they have. But I also wanted to be mindful of my daughter having perspectives on the outside world. So while we have traveled a fair amount in and around Denmark, we also try to include a trip or two per year to some place really different like the Middle East or North Africa. At the end of our trips we always talk about what was different about we saw — that, in some ways, is the easy question. But we also ask my daughter what was the same, so that she also gets in the habit of looking for the things that bind people together no matter where they are from.

In terms of what’s next, we will leave this summer for Washington, DC, for a year and are waiting to hear what’s next. It could be more time in DC, it could be a departure for a mystery destination. We’re anxious to know and it’s quite possible the Middle East will be our next stop. But if I had my own pick, with no constraints, I’d love to live in Mexico City or Buenos Aires…Rome…South Africa….Warsaw. I’m originally from Poland and I would love for my children to know the country. But we’re always up for an adventure wherever it might be.

One thing I’ve learned from this lifestyle is that there is no such thing as setting up home truly fast — and over time you are at peace with that. I think the first few moves I was frustrated that I couldn’t immediately make a decision on some things. The truth is, sometimes you have to live in a space for a bit to figure things out.

But that being said, we are on a short timeframe. Our posts are often two years, you pack out a few months before departure and often times get your things a few months after arrival, so there’s a lot of limbo time. To make the most of the time, we’ve learned over the years to keep our living room as it is. We literally had the almost exact same set up in our Vienna apartment. We keep it in a box formation so that you can pretty much drop it into any living room around the world.

Pack only the things you love; the other stuff takes up not only space, but valuable sanity. Pretty soon, you find yourself wishing most of your things would just fall off the back of a shipping container into the depths of the Atlantic anyway. And speaking of which, that happens. It really does. So at the same time, if you’re not comfortable watching your grandmother’s china fall to the bottom of the ocean, don’t bring it.

For more immediate gratification, pack a set of sheets and towels with you in your suitcase for each family member. That way, at least the stuff that goes on your body is yours and feels like you the minute you arrive. Washi tape and poster prints and family photographs can do wonders while you’re waiting for your things to arrive, especially in the spaces for little ones. And when all else fails, just buy some fresh flowers or greenery. That always makes a home feel better.

I hope my kids remember how much freedom they had here to just be. The safety for kids here is almost unparalleled, and I hope that they not only remember that, but that they realize that is something everyone should have a right to. I hope they remember to love the outdoors no matter the weather. I hope they remember our many holidays here in this house, and that holidays are for families and friends, and not for running around at all hours trying to buy more, do more, and get more.

As for me as their mom, I hope they remember the good things, and not the moments when I’m on my last nerve trying to get everyone out the door! I hope they remember the times I was around, instead of the times that I wasn’t because of work.

I’m not too worried about my husband being gone. We’re lucky in that we get to chat, sometimes just quickly, every couple of days; and sometimes if the signals are good we can sneak in a little face time here and there. The breaks help, too. Instead of thinking about it as a year, we tend to think about it a series of long trips. We keep a lot of photos around — on paper and digitally — so that he feels very much present in the home.

Our kids are always cracking us up — probably sometimes unintentionally! — but if you have a healthy sense of humor as a parent, you’ll have a grand time. I love how quickly kids adapt to their environment; it makes me wonder what takes me so long. And specifically for now, I love how they interact with each other. While there might be the slight twitch of jealousy here and there over a toy or bedtime attention, they love each other tremendously and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. They look out for each other, scheme with each other, and have a very unique relationship that I think only siblings can have. We knew that we would always be moving in this life, and it makes me happy and relieved to see that they have a friend in each other. I hope that stays true always.

The thing about living with kids is that it makes you acutely aware of the passage of time; you’re always questioning where the time went. I always tell people that when your kids are born, it’s like they hand you a remote control to the movie of your life stuck on fast forward, and from that moment on you keep frantically searching for the pause button.

I love my daughter in the age she is now but I also miss when she was the age of my son, with the chubby thighs and one word demands. And I miss the days when my son was at his smallest, sleeping for hours on end on my chest. I think two is it for us, so I will miss the new hope of a newborn. One day after my son arrived, my husband found me in tears in the hospital simply because I was afraid that this might be the last time we leave the hospital for a happy occasion.

I wish someone had told me that this life, exiting as it is, gets harder as you have children, your family grows, and your parents age.

I wish that someone had told me how much it would break my heart to make my daughter leave here. As I mentioned, she is incredibly well integrated, so everything from her functional memory is really from Denmark. She speaks Danish, her friends are Danish, and while she still is aware of her American side, she feels that her home is here. She knows we are moving but she doesn’t really know yet what that means.And it crushes me to think that we will shatter her world for her.

This is really the only time in her life where she will look at a place we are living, and believe that it is forever. After this, she’ll know that all of our arrangements will always be temporary. My biggest fear is that she might become jaded, never wanting to integrate again in the same way. She’ll know how all of these stories end now.

I wish someone had told me what a big burden it is to take away someone’s belief in forever. It’s not one I realized I would have to shoulder when we started this life.

I wish someone had told me how much we would miss our families once we had children of our own. I grew up very close to my grandparents and I hope we can create the same experience for our own children. They are lucky enough to have all four grandparents in their lives, and we shouldn’t take that for granted. We’ve always been on the hunt for adventure, never really thinking how it affected others.

I appreciate much more now having had kids, how hard it must be for parents to say “Go, and do whatever it is that makes you happy, no matter how far away from home it is.” Being a parent now, I hope I have the courage to say the same to my own children, since you know part of you will always wish that they choose you instead.


Ania, when you shared your thought “I wish someone had told me what a big burden it is to take away someone’s belief in forever. It’s not one I realized I would have to shoulder when we started this life,” it really shifted my thoughts. I’m sure you get a lot of reactions to your chosen career — from “How romantic and adventurous!” and “Why are you moving again?” to “Why would you move there?” — but it’s refreshing to hear your own doubts and concerns added to the mix. How reassuring that we all share similar wonderings about whether our family’s chosen lifestyle is the best for our families. Thank you for being here with us!

Also, food for thought: “There are so many more articles and blogs and books and opinions about places now that you can read ahead of time. It’s good to know about where you’re going and to some degree, you’re expected to hit the ground running. But I was so busy thinking of how life would be in Copenhagen, that I didn’t make enough room to accommodate the way that life actually is.” Have you ever experienced this? Traveled or moved to a city or neighborhood that was supposed to be perfect, and you knew everything you possibly could about it from your extensive research…only to find that it wasn’t anything like you anticipated? How did you deal?

(One last thing! I just stumbled on this quote: “Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go.’” Isn’t that so true? Where have you been flirting with lately? I’d love to hear!)

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

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Living With Kids: Justina Tey Tue, 09 Feb 2016 17:00:08 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live and raise kids on the world’s only island city-state? Me, too. And so…welcome to Singapore! Today, we’re visiting the home of Justina and her family who reside in a high-rise apartment — think 40 to 50 stories high! — and homeschool from way up there, too.

Her life, to me, is pretty normal and yet so fascinating at the same time. I want to visit! I want to smell the aromas of Singapore, walk through the streets around her house, look out from her balcony, ride public transportation… Oh, today is one of those days I wish my home tours could be videotaped and watched over and over, like an episode on HGTV!

Please help me welcome Justina and her boys, plus one little girl who is set to make her arrival very, very soon. (UPDATE! She was born yesterday, on Chinese New Year! Congratulations, Teys!)

Hello, I’m Justina, hailing from sunny Singapore! I’m married to John, and we have three little boys: Jude, Jamie, and Josh, who are seven, four, and two. We’re also expecting a little girl, who will be joining the family really soon, probably by the time this tour goes live!

I’m currently a stay home mum. I used to teach Biology and Science in an all-boys secondary school, which I believe is what you would refer to as high school in your part of the world. I’ve always wanted to be an interior designer, ever since I set my eyes on an IKEA catalogue when I was 13, but my parents hoped that I would be able to get a stable job. And so I ended up becoming a teacher instead.

I did love teaching, and I enjoyed my time teaching those classes of rowdy boys! However, the kids came along, and we decided I would stop work to care for them full-time. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

The hubby is an anesthetist. He’s from Penang, Malaysia, which is arguably the street food capital of the world — this means he’s quite particular about food! We make regular drives all the way back to his hometown, and each trip usually results in me gaining some weight from all the non-stop eating we do when we are there.

Since he’s quite the foodie, he’s a good cook, too. He used to do most of the cooking before the kids came along, since I was hopeless in the kitchen, but I’ve since learnt to cook from the sheer necessity of having to feed the kids!

Jude is our little bookworm, and spends most of his time with his nose buried in a book. He loves to draw and paint, and is just crazy about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.

Jamie is our spirited kid who can be such a sweetheart. He is fascinated with vehicles and numbers.

Josh is quite the cheeky toddler, who never fails to makes us laugh. He loves to eat, and is always opening the fridge or kitchen cupboards demanding “I hungry, I want bi-kit!”

All in all, our three little boys are so very different, but they complete our family.

We are based in Singapore, where it’s hot, humid, and raining one third of the time! We aren’t too fond of the weather, because everyone’s sticky and sweaty all the time when we are outdoors. However, we spent a year in Germany a few years back, and I’ve learnt that winter with kids isn’t that fun, either. So I’m just glad that we don’t have to pile many layers on squirmy toddlers here, and that we can escape into an air-conditioned mall or eatery when it gets too hot.

Since Singapore is really small, land is scarce and property prices are really high! Most of us stay in HDB (Housing Development Board) flats, which can go up to 40 or 50 stories high.

This kind of high-rise living means everyone is community whether you like it or not: your neighbour might hang her dripping wet laundry over your almost-dry clothes, and we know what our Indian neighbour is having for lunch, because we can get whiffs of the curry cooking in her kitchen.

Thankfully, we’ve been blessed with good neighbours. Sometimes the aunty next door — we call the older ladies Aunties as a sign of respect, and the older men Uncles — brings over green bean soup and other yummies when she cooks them for her family.

Most people love living in Singapore for its cosmopolitan vibe, and its varied and colourful culture. You can get all sorts of yummy food at any time of the day! For us, we are more country folk, so we do find life here a little too hectic and crowded. But the nice thing about Singapore is that there are many green spaces that we can retreat to when the concrete jungle gets to us.

Many find that bringing up children in Singapore is expensive, since the cost of living here is pretty high. The pace of life is pretty fast, as well, and many kids have a packed schedule with school, tuition, enrichment classes, and other activities. I guess we wanted a slower pace of life for our kids, which was why we made the decision to homeschool.

Owning a car here is rather expensive too, so most of us rely on public transport, which runs pretty efficiently. It helps that Singapore is small, so getting anywhere usually does not take more than an hour. We have a car, but my husband primarily uses it.

The kids love taking the bus. While going out with three littles can be challenging, we more or less have gotten the hang of it. I’m not sure how it will be with four, though!

The hubby and I started house-hunting when we were going to get married, and we limited our search to the area near my parents and our workplaces. We looked at a couple of places, had a few debates, and finally settled on our current home. We didn’t choose the place with kids in mind, since we were not thinking that far ahead then.

One of our main criteria was that it needed to be a place we could move in with minimal renovation, since we both had just started working some time back, and didn’t have much money to do much. In Singapore, most people hire contractors or interior designers to do their renovations, since DIY isn’t popular and materials can be hard to find.

We did end up doing some renovations, though, as the kitchen was falling apart. But we decided we could live with the old bathrooms. We hired one of the cheapest contractors we could find, and it was one of my greatest regrets since everything started falling apart with the passing of years!

We ended up renovating the kitchen and the bathrooms after we came back from our one year stint in Germany. I especially love our kitchen now, since it looks so much brighter and cheerier than our earlier kitchen.

We love the area we stay in, because everything is near by: there is a wet market across the road for us to buy fresh produce, the supermarket is a 15-minute walk away, and we have a relatively large green space with playgrounds just downstairs. We would be really sad to bid goodbye to this place because the location is so convenient, but we decided to look for a larger place, since the kids are home more often because of homeschool, and we really needed more space to spread out.

We initially started out filling our home with lots of dark wood furniture before the kids came along. We had a black kitchen countertop and dark cabinets. Looking back, I think it was a little dreary.

Our style slowly evolved with the arrival of the kids, and now I’d say it’s more Scandinavian mixed with touches of vintage. I think having kids makes you want to make your home lighter, brighter, and more colourful?

Because we have to squeeze all five of us in a relatively small space, we try our best to maximize every little bit of space we have. Our entryway houses the kids’ nature corner, with a blackboard wall to doodle on, and we have another blackboard wall that we use for learning and for writing greetings for parties.

The boys all share a bedroom. We did some hacking to some walls in the home to allow for us to have more light, as well as a larger dining area. This way, we could fit a long extendable table in the dining room, so that we can host gatherings or craft sessions.

We find that we have to keep adding storage, so that we can house the crazy amount of children’s books that we have. Kid lit is one of my weaknesses!

Since we have such limited space, we do our learning anywhere. I find that children learn all the time, and we don’t need to sit down with textbooks to make learning happen.

The kids head out some days for co-ops where they get to play with their friends, but on days that we stay home, most of our crafting and seat-work happens at the dining table, as we don’t have the luxury of a school room. As our kids are young, only Jude has an hour or so of lessons, while the younger two sometimes join in and want to do school. Learning these days is still pretty organic, and there’s lots of reading, and exploring at their own pace!

I love crafting, and used to do a fair bit of scrapbooking. These days, I don’t really have the time to scrap, but I enjoy making stuff with the boys. Again, all these things happen at the dining table. I discovered that when you make materials accessible to the kids, creativity naturally happens,. We always have someone doodling or cutting or pasting in some corner of the house. It helps that we ensure all mediums are washable…after one accident of oil pastels on the sofa!

Over the past ten years, we’ve slowly added all sorts of memories to our home: posters picked up from our travels, the kids’ artwork, photos of our family, all sorts of vintage findings, and my enamel plate collection. I love digging around in flea markets, and especially love these enamel plates, since they bring back memories of the time my mum used to serve food in some of these dishes. I love decorating with items that hold a history, where you can tell a story about where you got the item from, or who used to own it, or how so and so painted this when he was five years old.

Sometime ago, I read Marie Kondo’s book about tidying, and her advice to keep only things that spark joy really resonated with me. So I think that’s my philosophy for decorating now, to keep and use only things that I love, not stuff that is trendy or stuff we feel obligated to keep because someone gave it to us. It’s been helping me in my decluttering process, since we are now slowly packing for our move in a few months time!

I started a blog after the oldest came along, in the hope of journalling his growing up years. I’ve always enjoyed writing, so blogging is a way I unwind and unravel all the thoughts swirling around in my brain. Over time, it grew into something bigger since I realized how powerful words posted in cyberspace can be.

I started writing more posts about our own struggles as parents, as well as the crafts and activities we tried as a family. I had readers writing in to share their own problems, sharing how they were encouraged by my blog. From the blog came the FB page, and with it, my Instagram account. I found that Facebook was a great way to quickly share with others links that inspire or encourage us, and Instagram was alternative way of recording memories.

I could never figure out Twitter, though! These days, I’ve been quieter on the blog since life has been so full, but social media has been a way of remaining connected with others.

Blog aside, a friend and I started a little business selling vintage-style home decor items. Both of us love sourcing for such things, so it’s been a fun venture, as we get to buy things we like and see them brighten up the homes of others. I admit, sometimes I feel rather overwhelmed by the needs of the home and family, so having the blog and biz helps to give me a sense that I am not just a diaper-changing, cleaning, and cooking machine.

For me, the evenings just before dinner are the hardest. Everyone is tired, and I am trying to rush to put dinner on the table. Fights seem to be the most frequent then! I am quite the introvert, so after a whole day of breaking up fights, and carrying a sticky toddler, I am usually quite spent.

The hubby usually isn’t home until dinner time or after, but these days my dad comes by in the evenings to bring the kids to the playground, to let me cook dinner in peace. My dad has been such a Godsend! He decided to stop work to help me when he learned of our decision to homeschool.

I used to struggle a lot with having a messy, chaotic home, but I am learning how to look beyond the messes. I love how children fill a home with such joy. The laughter, the bright scribbles of crayons, the pattering of feet. I realize that home would not be the same without them.

I hope that our children will remember our moments spent as a family, of reading together, of crafting, of preparing for birthday parties together, of loving each other even though we sometimes got on each other’s nerves!

I wish someone had told me that I need to take care of myself before I can take care of my family.

It took four pregnancies for me to learn this, that I had to fill my own cup before I could fill the cups of others.

I am quite the Type A person, and I tend to just chug along and focus on getting things done, and suddenly I realize I am neglecting my own needs in the whole busyness of being a mum.

During my third pregnancy, I struggled with a period of antenatal depression. Added to that, I was suffering from really bad backaches from having to carry a toddler while heavily pregnant. I learnt that I cannot neglect self-care, and I’m thankful that I had my faith and a supportive hubby to tide me over that period.

Now, I am a lot more careful to look out for my own needs. I took up prenatal Pilates during my fourth pregnancy, which really helped me to keep most of the aches and pains at bay. I also try to take time to write or read in the early mornings, so that the introvert bit in me has some respite from the daily noise of little people. I’ve been much happier since!


Thank you, Justina, for the tour and your reminder about self-care! No matter how hard we try, it’s sometimes difficult to remember how thirsty we are when we’re so preoccupied filling up everyone else’s cups. It’s true.

I had to laugh and shake my head in wonder when Justina described her neighbors’ laundry dripping down on her own dry clothes, or the odors of a particularly spicy dinner wafting over from the apartment next door. I know a few people who live in neighborhoods and wait to mow their grass on Saturday mornings until they’re sure everyone within a two-street radius is awake! I’m curious how I’d handle such close-quarter intrusions. I hope they’d make me smile and be grateful I lived in such a unique circumstance, you know? I would hope that I would be a wonderful neighbor like Justina’s and bring over food!

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

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Living With Kids: Alison Little Tue, 02 Feb 2016 17:00:26 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Revival Photography.

I love how Alison describes her small town: “My family moved here when I was ten years old, and I remember pulling into town and noticing that there was a McDonalds…and not much else. The town has grown only a bit in the 26 years I have lived here, and I both love and hate that about it.”

I’m sure a lot of us share this dichotomy between a deep appreciation for comfort and an equally deep craving for change. It’s always a toss-up on which will win the contest, right? Either way, one look at her home and reading of her thoughts and I get the impression she’s living an inspired life in her one McDonald’s town. I hope you enjoy this peek into how she’s living with kids. (And who just searched for a wall-sized, roll-up map for their living area? Me, too.)

Hi, everyone! I’m Alison. I am a wife and stay-at-home mother of four young children, including a two year old set of twins. My husband, Scott, is a hard-working, incredibly talented designer. A couple years after graduating high school, I saw Scott (who was two years younger than me in school) out with some mutual friends. We talked for a few minutes and then parted ways. I remember saying to the friend I was with, “That Scott Little is hot. I would marry him.” A few months later we ran into each other again, and the rest, as they say, is history. I knew right away he was the one, as cliché as that sounds!

Our boys are eight and six. Jackson, our oldest, is smart and tender hearted. He has a quirky little personality and has always kept us on our toes. I always said there was no one in the whole world who loved me the way Jackson did, until our daughter Charlotte came along. She is so much like he was at her age, and shows love and affection much the same as he did. It’s fun to see the similarities between them.

Grayson, our six year old, is his own little person. He is independent, and has a unique style that I love so much. He gives absolutely no thought or worry to what others might think of him. It is my very favorite trait of his, and I hope he carries it with him always.

In the Fall of 2012 we found our we were expecting our third baby, and at our six week ultrasound found out we were actually expecting our third and fourth babies! Having twins was the most shocking and most wonderful surprise. Juliet and Charlotte were born in the summer of 2013. I barely remember those first four months. I never knew I could be so tired, or love coffee so much.

They are now two-and-a-half, and I’m convinced this is the very best age. They are sweet and funny and the cutest (of course!), and I just feel so lucky to be their mama.

We live in a small town in the foothills of North Carolina. My family moved here when I was ten years old, and I remember pulling into town and noticing that there was a McDonalds…and not much else. The town has grown only a bit in the 26 years I have lived here, and I both love and hate that about it.

While there are many benefits to raising your family in a small town, there are also frustrations. We live a good 30 minutes in any direction from good restaurants, shops, and coffee houses. I’m not a city girl by any stretch of the imagination, but I would love to have more options and a little more culture. I basically want to live way out in the country, right outside of a city!

We moved into our current home a little over five years ago. We were renting a small house one town over, and knew we wanted to grow our family and would need to expand.

My parents, who we currently rent from, mentioned that their renters were moving out. It is a larger house, outside of town, and sits on two acres of land. Moving in was kind of a no-brainer.

This is the fifth house we have lived in since we got married 11 years ago, and it is by far the one I have felt the most at home in. I love the style and the character, and I love that we have a big yard where my children can safely run and play.

As much as we have loved this home, we have recently felt a pull toward something different. I dream of an old white farmhouse in the country, something needing just enough work that we can make it our own. A couple months ago, my husband and I sat down and went over our finances and put a plan together that will make this dream happen sooner rather than later. It’s been exciting to dream and plan and work towards this goal together.

I’m not one to over-plan or fill our schedule to the brim. I prefer to be home together as a family, or out adventuring together. I don’t want to be so busy with various activities that we are all going in different directions. As my kids get older and their interests change they may want to be involved in sports or dance or music, but for now it just doesn’t fit well into our lifestyle.

We love being outdoors, and enjoy being able to pack up on a Saturday and head to the mountains for the day…or the weekend.

I think of my style as traditional and simplistic, with an emphasis on our home being comfortable and inviting. It has always been important to me that my children are free to be children in our home. After all, this is their space just as much as it is my husband’s and mine.

We don’t have any spaces that are off limits. This doesn’t mean we don’t have rules, or that they have the run of the house. It simply means we are all free to live and gather and play in each and every room in our home.

I remember as a little girl going to my great aunt’s house, and she had a sitting room with fancy furniture and expensive looking trinkets. I always felt grown up and special when we sat in that room, but I also felt like I shouldn’t touch anything. I don’t want any of our spaces to feel cold, or too grown up. I think every room should be loved and lived in.

I have always enjoyed decorating and bringing order to our homes. A friend once laughed at me when I told her I enjoyed rearranging the shelving in our dining room. There’s just something about bringing beauty and order into a home that is so soothing to me. Clutter and excess make me feel anxious, so I work hard to keep our home tidy. It may sound a bit dramatic, but it just makes me a nicer person and a better mother.

I started The Common Table two years ago with two very close friends. Every Sunday evening, we gathered in each other’s homes for dinner. We started having people ask about our gatherings, and express a desire for the same. The purpose of The Common Table is to encourage others to cultivate community in their lives. Our hope is that through our stories, and the stories of others, people will be encouraged to reach out and invite people in.

If you visit the site, or our Instagram, you will notice we haven’t posted in a while! Joni went back to school last year to pursue a degree in Interior Design, and needed to be able to focus her attention on that. We all decided to take a step back from the blog. Community is something that will always be very important to us, and even though we have stepped away from the blog for the time being, we still have Sunday dinners and gather together often. We hope that our blog and Instagram still offer hope and encouragement for anyone with a heart for community and building relationships.

Green Cove Collective is an online shop that my husband and I (but mostly my husband!) run together. For years we have thrown around the idea of collaborating on a shop. A few months ago, we sat down at our dining room table with a pen and a large roll of paper and wrote down all of our ideas and goals for this little endeavor. We made a list of possible names, logo ideas, and products that we each would like to contribute. It is still in the early stages, but we are very excited for the support we have already received, and for all that we have in store for the future.

One of the things I love about Instagram is the way it allows us to make connections and build relationships with people we never would have crossed paths with otherwise. I love that an app can bring people together and make us feel less alone in whatever stage of life we’re in.

I try to keep my little space positive and uplifting. I work hard to be honest without being negative. I have found that people seem to connect more when you are willing to share the good and the not so good. Everyone loves a pretty picture, but it helps if we are willing to be honest from time to time about how everything behind the scenes isn’t always so pretty. I believe this can, and should, be done in a positive way. We don’t have to complain or tear others down to be honest and truthful. I think it’s a fine balance, and one I work hard to achieve.

Instagram is full of talented, creative people. At any given point, a scroll through can provide me with a delicious new recipe, inspiration for my home, or encouragement in my parenting journey. It’s an amazing thing, really, that people from all over the world can reach out and encourage you and lift you up when you need it.

I love that I get to stay home with my children, although it’s a role that was difficult for me at first. It has taken me a few years to settle into it and become happy and content being at home. I find that the older I get, the more I truly enjoy being a wife and mother. As my children grow, I want them to see a mom who enjoys spending time with them, and who finds great joy in her role as a mother.

Of course there are times I feel weary, and days that seem mundane and repetitive, but my hope is that when we all look back on our life, and their childhood, those things fade into the background.

I wish someone had taken my tired, overwhelmed, doing the best I could, 29 year old face in their hands and said, “You don’t have to be the kind of mother everyone else is. You are allowed to follow your instincts and do what you think is best, even if it looks nothing like what all your friends are doing.”

My boys were born 18 months apart to the day. We moved into a new home a few months before our second son was born, and I had recently become a full-time stay at home Mom.

I suffered with PPD after his birth, and was struggling with my role as a stay-at-home mother. I felt lonely and isolated, and overwhelmed by life with two babies. I remember looking at my friends and thinking everyone had it together except me. They all had a certain and very similar way of doing things, and I thought that must be how I was supposed to do things.

I realize now that none of us had any clue what we were doing, and were all just doing the best we could. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished that I could go back and do those first few years of motherhood all over. I would have worried less about how everyone else had their baby on a schedule, made all their baby food from scratch, and potty-trained their one year old. I would have trusted my instincts more, and been at peace if they were wrong and we had to try something different.


Well, that kind of melted me. Especially this: I wish someone had taken my tired, overwhelmed, doing the best I could, 29 year old face in their hands and said, “You don’t have to be the kind of mother everyone else is. You are allowed to follow your instincts and do what you think is best, even if it looks nothing like what all your friends are doing.” Thank you, Alison.

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling, you know how powerful a moment this would be. I hope I remember to do this for someone who needs it without being embarrassed about overstepping! Have any of you experienced someone swooping in and pressing pause on your battle, offering encouragement or just a hug when you needed it most? What do you remember touching you the most? I’m sure we’d all like to hear your story. Please share, will you?

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

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Living With Kids: Jenni Fuchs Tue, 26 Jan 2016 17:00:56 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Here’s what I know after spending some time with Jenni’s tour: I enjoy people who meet their spouse at a Japanese night class in Scotland, people who wholeheartedly love the setting in which they are raising their children, and cactus caretakers. (I think it takes a perfectly balanced mix of concentration and forgetfulness to raise a cactus, don’t you?) Turns out, I also enjoy people who take their kitchen shelves seriously! Jenni’s sure are cute!

And I can’t forget to add people who smile when it’s raining to my list!

If you’d like to see how she and her husband are living with kids in a Berlin rental, please stay awhile. There’s a ton of fabulous ideas that can be achieved with very little investment, whether you’re currently in a restricted rental or simply on a decorating or time budget. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do. Welcome, Jenni!

Hello, my name is Jenni. I live in Berlin with my husband and two sons: Oskar is five and Alfred is one. We moved here from Scotland almost four-and-a-half years ago due to my husband’s work. I am originally from Germany but I grew up in Scotland, so we speak English with each other at home and I speak German with the kids when we’re out and about.

My husband and I met in Edinburgh at Japanese night class — as you do — over ten years ago, and we have been married for just over six years. I have to admit, I have forgotten most of my Japanese, but I always say I gained a husband so the classes were a worthwhile investment!

He is a software architect and I am a museologist, though currently still on maternity leave with the little one. The safety net for families — parental leave, maternity pay, child benefits, subsidized child care — is very generous here in Germany, and we count ourselves lucky to benefit from it.

Oskar will start primary school this year, after the summer, and he is already super excited. He’s a very free spirited boy with a compassionate heart, who knows what he likes and will put people in their place if they tell him he looks like a girl because he has shoulder-length hair or likes wearing pink. His favorite things include cars, dinosaurs, and flowers, and you’re as likely to find him wearing a Spider-man costume as you are butterfly wings.

Alfred is just finding his feet, literally, and will start at kindergarden after Easter. He is a jolly little fellow, who loves to laugh at everything — he even laughs in his sleep — and tries to copy everything his big brother does, whom he absolutely adores. He’s also really into music; if you put any on, he’ll immediately start clapping his hands and jumping around on his knees.

We live to the north of a district called Schöneberg, which is in central Berlin, in a third floor rental apartment. We only moved here six months ago. Initially, we were actually going to leave Berlin altogether, but then things worked out differently.

Our old apartment was nice too, but the area didn’t have much for families. It was near quite a few of the city’s key sightseeing points, so geared more towards tourists. When it became clear we would be staying in Berlin, we wanted to move somewhere more family friendly, and with a good school for Oskar in its catchment area.

If you look up our neighborhood in a guide book, it wouldn’t strike you as being popular with families. It has been one of the centers of Berlin’s gay scene since the 1920s, and is known for its countless gay clubs and venues. It’s also famous for being host to both Europe’s largest LGBT street festival, and Europe’s largest fetish street fair. But when I asked for feedback on the different areas we were looking at, in an expat parents’ forum I’m a member of, the almost unanimous recommendation was to move here!

It’s fantastic for families. There are several amazing play parks within walking distance of our house (Oskar particularly loves the Wild West themed one), lots of little cafes, restaurants and shops — including two award winning ice cream parlors! — a farmer’s market, a park for Oskar to ride his bike.

And I love that the boys get to grow up in such a colorful neighborhood, which is also known as the Rainbow Quarter. It’s completely normal for them to see two men holding hands, taking their dog for a walk, and I like that. They’re more interested in whether they can pat the dog!

When we were searching for our new place, we identified several districts we could imagine living in, based on proximity to the city centre and work, public transport connections, school reviews, and whether there were the kinds of things we had been missing in our old place, such as playgrounds, parks, cafes, library and swimming pool nearby, etc.

When we first moved to Berlin, we had the disadvantage of not knowing the city at all. None of us had ever been here before, except for my husband to attend his job interviews, so at the time, we relied heavily on our relocation agent’s advice. Four years later, we had a much better idea of where in the city we would like to live.

Then we searched on a popular German rentals website, where you can put in your preferences such as location, minimum size, maximum rent, number of rooms, all kinds of things, and made some calls. We ended up viewing five apartments, applying to four, and getting an offer for three of them.

The one we wanted the most really took their time getting back to us. We had actually already verbally accepted one of the other apartments, and were just waiting on the papers to sign. But there was a several week long postal strike in Germany last summer, and the papers were delayed. It was a really nerve-wracking two weeks, waiting to see if the offer for our preferred apartment would come through before we had to sign the papers for the other one. We had already handed in our notice on our old apartment, so didn’t want to risk turning down a definite offer for one that may or may not happen. In the end, it all worked out the way we wanted. But I have never been so glad about a postal strike, I can tell you that!

The architecture of our building is quite typical of the old houses in Berlin. It’s divided into a front house and a back house, with the apartments in the back house wrapping around either side of a courtyard. We live in the back, so we need to go through the front and across the courtyard to enter our stairwell.

Our apartment is an elongated L shape. It has a long, thin hallway — over 20 meters long in total — with all the rooms coming off it to one side. They all face the courtyard, so we don’t have any windows facing the street. The downside of that, is that we get very little direct sunlight, as the sun has to be at a certain angle to reach the windows in the courtyard.

But on the upside, it’s very quiet. You’d never guess that we are just a stone’s throw away from a major public transport hub and lots of bustling shops and restaurants.

Another typical feature is the high ceilings, at almost four meters! We’ve had to hang all the lamp fittings low enough that we can change a lightbulb without having to borrow the oversized ladder from our superintendent every time. And it means we’ve only bothered with curtains in the bedrooms, as finding anything suitable for windows that size is a bit of a nightmare.

Many things we thought were non-negotiable when it comes to living with kids fell by the wayside in the end. I really, really wanted another apartment with a balcony. We were so excited to have one in our first Berlin apartment, since hardly anyone has them in Scotland.

And did I mention the crazy thing about kitchens? As a rule, German rental apartments don’t come with a kitchen. You either bring your own, which you are then obliged to uninstall when you move out, or quite often you buy the existing kitchen off the previous tenant. I wanted to find an apartment with a kitchen we could take over, to save us the hassle of having to fit one with two small children in the house.

In the end, out of all the apartments we viewed, this was the only one that had neither a balcony nor a kitchen. The only deal breaker was that I refused to move anywhere higher than the third floor unless there was an elevator, because I didn’t want to be carrying children, strollers, shopping bags, etc. up and down endless flights of stairs. And there had to be an adequate supermarket within walking distance, because we don’t have a car and home delivery isn’t as well established here, though there has been a lot of progress in the last few years.

Living in a rental brings its challenges. I would really love to have a couple of feature walls, maybe some fun wallpaper in the playroom, or a wall with blackboard paint somewhere. But our contract stipulates that if and when we move out, we need to hand over everything exactly as it was when we moved in. That would be a lot of hassle, and — at almost four meter high ceilings — also a lot of work and expenses, both putting everything up and taking it down again.

So instead I take it as an opportunity to hunt down artwork, prints, maps, and other fun things to put on the walls, alongside my husband’s paintings and pencil portraits of us and the kids.

The other big problem is wall fittings. Our walls seem to be invariably made of diamonds or eggshells, as my husband puts it, which means it’s either too hard to drill into or too soft or hollow to attach anything of significance. It’s really frustrating to have these high ceilings and not be able to use the height for efficient storage, because you just can’t fix the right kind of shelves to the walls without more permanent solutions, which would be possible if we owned the place but not in a rental.

It has meant that in some rooms the structure of the walls has dictated where the furniture goes, rather than what I perhaps had in mind, so that we could secure shelves and wardrobes to the walls to keep the children safe. It was a matter of practicality over interior design.

I guess practical is also how I would describe our style in general. Most of our furniture is from Ikea. It’s convenient and easy to replace. This was our second move in four years, and both times it was cheaper to sell and buy new Ikea furniture at the other end, than to pay for the cost of moving. Our brown cord sofa was chosen for practical reasons because it can hide a multitude of sins, from felt tip pens to chocolate stains.

But we like to mix up our off-the-shelf furniture with some family heirlooms — such as my grandmother’s rocking chair, my dad’s old children’s desk which is now being used by a third generation, or my old dollhouse which my dad made for me over thirty years ago — and by adding little features here and there from some of my favorite design companies, including cushions and rugs, toy baskets, or kitchenware.

I swear, Muuto does the best darn pepper grinder I have ever owned! Other brands I like that you will find scattered around the house include Hay, Ferm Living and Oyoy from Denmark, but also small independent brands, such as Petit Pippin from California, or Gretas Schwester from right here in Berlin.

Despite having a playroom, we’ve created other spaces throughout the apartment for the kids, too. We try to keep the bedroom toy-free — except for some favorite bedtime snuggle friends — to keep the room as calming and distraction-free as possible. But they have a reading nook there and a CD player for listing to audio books. One of their favorite things recently, is to hang out there together during the day, listing to stories and looking at books.

In the living room, we’ve created a corner for drawing and crafts, with a small extra table and an art cart. It’s also where I like to sit and sew. Then there are a couple of toys for when we’re spending family time there, such as the rocking zebra — my old rocking horse which we repainted for Alfred last Christmas — a cardboard play house which can be easily slotted together to accommodate cars or dinosaurs, and a box with a Playmobil circus set, and we have a big tub of percussion instruments readily available for them to play with.

We’ve made use of our long hall by adding some indoor games such as a crawl tunnel, velcro darts, and an extra play mat for cars. With two car-obsessed boys in the house, you can never have enough of those! On weekends where it’s just been too wet or too cold to go outside, that hall has been a life saver. We just let them run or crawl up and down it until they run out of energy.

There’s a language school on the floor below us which is empty at the weekends, so there is no one to be bothered by all the thumping. Of course, we do have some house rules, and we try to raise our boys to behave like civilized human beings, but at the same time, I don’t want them – or me – to have to worry about breaking any expensive design furniture. Maybe when they are older I will finally treat myself to that chair I’ve always wanted, but for now, practicality and comfort are the order of the day. It is their apartment, too, and I want them to feel comfortable here.

Museums play a big part in our lives. Obviously, because I work in museums, but they are also quite dominant in our leisure time, too. I’ve visited over 200 different museums in the last couple of years! And our apartment is littered with museum souvenirs, from the tote bags we use to go shopping, to a display case full of little trinkets in our bedroom.

When my husband was courting me, he used to come to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where I was supervising the Sunday family events. I thought he was interested in the performances, but it turns out he was just there to see me. Talk about being slow on the uptake!

Both our boys visited their first museum when they were just a couple of weeks old, and five years later, Oskar has turned into quite a pro. If you ask him what he wants to do at the weekend, a museum will quite often be his answer. I’m hoping Alfred will follow in his footsteps.

I’ve been writing a lifestyle and travel blog all about museums since 2009. I sometimes get asked if I ever get bored blogging about museums, which I think is an odd question. Would you ask a food blogger if they ever get bored of food? I’ve blogged about everything from parasites and perfume, phalluses and fire engines, to mummies of Egyptian pharaohs and the world’s tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton…so the answer is No! I’m not bored yet!

The blog has changed course quite a bit since its beginnings. It started out aimed mostly at peers, but quickly swung round to target the general travel and culture loving public. My mission in life is to show that museums are interesting and fun. That museums are for everyone! And since becoming a mum, an added focus of visiting museums with kids has crept in: from general articles encouraging parents to take their kids to museums early and often — one of my most read posts to date — to reviews of museums we’ve visited and tested as a family. One of my favorite features is a series where I interview other museum loving families, asking them to share their experiences and tips. It’s great to feel all that enthusiasm.

I have always been a keen photographer. I think I received my first camera when I was about six or eight, and I’ve been trying to encourage the same love of photography in Oskar. He received his first camera when he was only three, and he’s taken to it like a duck to water. You should have seen him when he came to visit Alfred and me in hospital! He practically stormed in to the room camera in hand, and proceeded to take several dozen photographs of his new little brother “to show my teacher and friends at kindergarden.”

As good as I am though at taking lots of photographs, I’m really bad at doing anything with them. I used to regularly have them printed in albums, but then life caught up with me and now I literally have hundreds of pictures that I’ve taken with my DSLR, languishing on my computer, waiting to be processed. But I’m also an avid Instagrammer, which makes it much easier to share the moment. I’ve been using Instagram almost since its beginning. It was launched a month before Oskar was born, and I started posting shortly after, so in a way it has documented our entire life as a family together so far. I only post pictures of the kids in moderation, more of the places we go, the things we do.

Street art is always popular with my followers, and there’s plenty of that around in Berlin. But also shots from around the city in general seem to attract a lot of likes. And food, especially anything with the hashtag #glutenfree. We have celiac disease on both sides of the family, so I was already familiar with gluten free baking, and even though I myself don’t have the disease I developed a gluten sensitivity when I was pregnant with Oskar. With a family history like ours, it’s apparently not uncommon for a hormonal change such as puberty or pregnancy to trigger it. I love cooking and baking, and my husband is a dab hand in the kitchen too! I make most meals from scratch because I need to be careful about ingredients . And since I love cake — who doesn’t? — I have developed quite a repertoire of gluten free cakes.

The most challenging part of our days are definitely mornings! Not the getting out of bed part of it, but getting everyone out of the house on time. When you first have kids, you feel like leaving the house suddenly takes forever. Double checking you haven’t forgotten anything essential for the baby. Last minute diaper change just when you thought you had it sorted. But when they get bigger, you realize that it was relatively easy until then. At least when they are little, you can stuff them in their clothes, grab them under one arm, and out the door you go. But trying to get a five year old to cooperate, who would much rather play with his cars or read another comic than get ready for kindergarden, is a whole different story. He’s too big to just grab and go.

Are you ready? Yes. You haven’t got a sweater on! I forgot. Where’s your bag? Don’t know. You get the drift. How can it possibly take someone ten minutes to put on a single shoe?! And the exasperating thing is, I know he can be quick when he wants to be. Give me a day when they are going on an outing, and he’ll be standing by the front door, jacket, shoes, and bag on, before I’ve even had a chance to get out of bed.

To be honest, I don’t always deal with those mornings very well. We’ve tried everything: being strict, reasoning, getting everything ready the night before, rewards charts…you name it! But nothing seems to work. Sometimes our mornings involve quite a lot of shouting. I try to stay calm, take a deep breath, count to ten — after all, the world isn’t going to end if he arrives at kindergarden a bit late! All they do is play anyway! But once I have several drop offs, when Alfred starts kindergarden too and I go back to work, the clock will be ticking in the mornings. And then, of course, Oskar will be in school after the summer, which to my shock I discovered starts at 7:30 am here! At the moment, I see ourselves getting up at 5:00 am to be ready on time. Please tell me it all falls in to place once they start school!

My favorite part about living with our kids is having a house full of life. Full of laughter. Full of love. Children have the capacity to see the world wide eyed and full of wonderment. Through them, I feel I can recapture some of that myself.

I want them to remember a happy home. One we created together.

One of the reasons I love making things for my kids, is that they are so attentive and appreciative of even the smallest things. Oskar will come home and notice something new I’ve made for the playroom, and that second when his eyes light up just makes it worthwhile. Even little Alfred will clap his hands in excitement. And I mean, who doesn’t like being called the best mummy in the world! I want them to remember all those little moments: snuggles at bedtime, reading our favorite books together, teaching them how to bake a chocolate cake and getting to lick the bowl, lazy Sundays on the sofa, eating popcorn and watching Cars for the 438th time. I want them to remember feeling loved, unconditionally.

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) not to read so many parenting books before I had my kids! Okay, so I didn’t actually read that many. But in all seriousness, whether it’s books, magazines, or other media, there seem to be a lot of unrealistic expectations placed on new parents these days. You will hold your much longed for baby in your arms at last, and everything will be perfect. And, of course, quite often it’s not. I’m not talking about things like sleep deprivation, which no amount of warning can prepare you for!

Both our children were planned and very much wanted. Oh how they were wanted. Both pregnancies were uncomplicated and easy going, both births straight forward and fast. So you can imagine my confusion when that rush of love at first sight that I had been expecting — that I had been built up to expect — didn’t wash over me, as I held Oskar for the first time. My husband’s heart was visibly brimming over, but I felt a kind of numbness. And disappointment in myself, after looking forward to this moment so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved him. Always! But there was this feeling of apathy, that hung around for a while like an unwanted guest. Feelings of despair, which I couldn’t explain. I cried myself to sleep every night for the first eight weeks. It’s hard not to feel like a bad mother in moments like that. I’m not ashamed for it, but I didn’t talk about it much. The only acceptable answers to being asked how it feels being a new mother, seemed to be happy or tired. But we need to stop treating this as a taboo subject, because it helps no one.

And yet, I feel I got off lightly. A friend of mine was hospitalized with post natal depression after giving birth to her first baby. She later told me, that knowing what Oskar and I had gone through, and that we came out okay at the other end, really helped her. That it gave her hope things would work out okay for her too. Since then, I try to share my story more often.

Of course, for many years now, my heart has been brimming over for Oskar. I wouldn’t miss a day without him. My warm hearted, independent, special boy. But the experience stayed with me for a while. I’d always wanted several children, but suddenly I was scared to have another. Not because of the pain of childbirth, but because I was scared the same thing would happen again. I wasn’t sure I could go through all that again.

In the end, my longing for another baby was stronger than my fears, and luckily, the second time was smooth sailing. No numbness, no tears. The only one crying was the baby. I just felt tired. And that was okay.


Jenni, I never get tired of people acknowledging and sharing their low points! It helps others on levels we might not even realize, and it always gives me chills when someone is brave enough to be brave enough. Thank you so much for being with us today.

I must admit I’m yet again smitten with cacti after seeing Jenni’s collection! Who wants to start a cactus club? Anyone?

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

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Living With Kids: Elizabeth Morrow Tue, 19 Jan 2016 14:00:34 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Libby reached out to me about participating in a home tour more than eight months ago, and then — poof! — she disappeared. And then one day, she sent me this note: “Hi Gabrielle! I can’t believe it’s been six months since I reached out to you. Sorry for the delay! We have had lots of things going on! We thought we sold our house without even listing it, and so we had to deal with all the things that go with that, like house inspection, appraisal, and showings. I started packing up the house…and then we decided not to sell. Did I mention that all of this was going on when I was nine months pregnant and then home with a newborn? Throw my toddler into the mix and things were very hectic!”

Phrew! Welcome to the Living With Kids Tour That Almost Never Happened! (A lot of times, the living part of it all gets in the way of the tour, right?)

I think you’re going to melt when Libby describes her mom and the role she’s inadvertently played in shaping her own expectations about motherhood. It’s really sweet. I hope you’ll think so, too. So please, everyone, help me welcome Libby!

Hi! I’m Libby. I am the mother of two children, Hazel and Everett. I have been married to my husband Greg for seven years.

Greg and I both grew up in Franklin, Indiana. We attended the same high school, although not at the same time — he’s five years older than I am. We met one weekend when I was home from college.

I am half Indian, so I have dark hair and dark brown eyes. My husband is a red head. So, I wasn’t sure what our kids would look like! However, they are both little clones of my husband.

I do all of the hard work and they pop out looking like Greg. It’s not fair!

Our daughter Hazel is three years old. Hazel makes me laugh all the time. She is a performer and loves to be the center of attention. She sings and dances around the house all the time.

Baby Everett is just over three months old now. He was born one day after Hazel’s third birthday. I was so worried that they’d have the same birthday and they almost did. We invited the grandparents over for cake and ice cream for Hazel’s birthday and I went into labor with Everett later that night!

Everett is my sweet baby boy. My dear friend told me that boys love their mamas with all their might, and I can already feel it is true. He rarely cries and has the sweetest disposition. He often snuggles into my neck after he eats and falls asleep. I don’t want that to ever end. I feel like my little family is complete now that he is here.

We live in Carmel, Indiana, which is just 15 miles north of downtown Indianapolis. We absolutely love Carmel. It was actually chosen by CNN as the best place to live in the U.S. in 2012. The public schools are fantastic.

My favorite thing about living in Carmel is that it’s so walkable. We didn’t know a thing about Carmel before we moved here and boy did we luck out with the location of our house. Carmel has a fabulous walking trail that we can access through our neighborhood. I’m one mile, by foot, to downtown Carmel where there are many restaurants, shops, and the public library. I often walk to the library and then stop at the butcher shop to pick something up for dinner.

We live a mile-and-a-half from an outdoor mall with great shopping and restaurants and a Whole Foods. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pushed Hazel in the stroller over to Whole Foods or through the mall to window shop.

We’ve been in our home in Carmel for ten years now. Looking back, the whole buying process was pretty crazy. We went to the open house and made an offer a few hours later. Greg had his second interview for a new job in the area, but hadn’t actually been offered the position yet. Thankfully, things worked out in the end.

We didn’t know much about Carmel at the time and only looked at three houses. I’ve always loved older homes, and my dream is to live in a 100-plus year old house.

Our house was built in 1989 and, although it’s not 100 years old, it did have some of the qualities I like about older established neighborhoods. The lot has tons of mature trees and though we do have houses nearby we do have a sense of privacy. We have slowly updated just about everything in this house and we’ve enjoyed making it our home.

My design style has changed so much in the last few years. When we moved into this house I was 27 years old and oddly enough, my style was more serious. My decor was very traditional with Persian rugs, brown leather furniture, silk drapes, antiques. You get the picture!

I really wanted to lighten things up after I had Hazel. I wanted the house to be more fun, so I started incorporating more modern pieces.

I love the look of modern mixed with old, I like an eclectic feel. We said goodbye to the leather and opted for a less expensive sofa with machine washable cushion covers. I got rid of the red walls and painted most of the house cream.

I love the look of white kitchens and baths. We updated our kitchen a few years ago and I am very happy with the way it turned out.

I love my living room. Greg thinks the room is a waste of space because we don’t use it very much. I think that will change once the kids get older. The room really represents my style with a white sofa, bookcases, antique desk and coffee table, and my beloved fiddle fig tree that I am constantly battling to keep alive.

I want our home to be a comfortable space where our kids always feel loved and safe. I want them to be able to play and to just be kids.

As I mentioned earlier, I am half Indian. My mother, a blue-eyed, blond haired girl from Kentucky, married a man from India, but they divorced not long after my little brother was born. My father and his family have never really been in the picture.

It makes me sad that I don’t know much about my Indian heritage. I am very interested in the culture and feel strongly that one day I will travel to India to learn more. I’m fortunate to have a few Indian women in my life who lovingly help me to bridge the gap.

When we were younger my brother and I were very dark and looked very Indian. My mom said that people used to come up to her all the time asking her if we were adopted. As I’ve gotten older, my skin tone and hair has lightened and I look more and more like my mother every day.

Thinking back, those early years were so hard for my mother. She worked two jobs to support us. We were often the first kids dropped off at day care and the last kids picked up. I have vivid memories of crying at day care and my mom having to pry me off of her so she could go to work.

Now that I am a mother of two, I often wonder how she did it. I struggle all the time and feel like I’m hanging on by a thread most days and I have all sorts of help. How did she do it? I will forever be in awe of her.

My mother absolutely shaped the kind of mother I have become. Nothing makes me happier than taking care of my family. I love making lunches and baking bread. I always wanted to be like June Cleaver. Sometimes I feel like I try too hard and constantly have to remind myself that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. My family will still love me if I heat up a can of tomato soup as opposed to making it from scratch from the tomatoes from my garden!

I think maybe I try to overachieve in the parenting department because my mom had to work so hard. Maybe I’m trying to do it all because she couldn’t?

As you can imagine, having just had a baby, my emotions have been running rampant. I am filled with love for my little family. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about motherhood.

I’m not going to lie; the adjustment from one to two kids hasn’t been easy. My heart is filled with love and I am so happy…but it’s hard work and I have struggled. I forgot about the sleepless nights in the beginning! I feel like I’m just now getting into a groove. Everett is sleeping through the night now and I am starting to feel like myself again.

It is hard to be a mom, it is hard to be a parent. It’s the most rewarding thing ever, but it’s also hard. I feel a strong connection to other mothers. I think one of your other readers said something recently about her tribe. I sort of feel like I am in a tribe with all moms. Like, I want to high-five other moms I see at Target.

“Look at us! We are doing it!”

I want to hug other moms I see who look stressed out or tired and say “I’m tired, too! I’m hanging on by a thread, too! We are all in this together. We are all trying to do the best we can for our kids. We all know how incredibly hard it is. We all know how pretty great it is, too. High-five!”

There are so many great things about living with my kids that I enjoy. The pitter patter of little feet. The noise, the bedtime snuggles.

I started a blog this year because I thought it would be a great way to capture the little moments throughout my days with the kids. I’ve always been really bad about remembering to take pictures. I thought the blog would help with that, and I use it as an online journal of sorts.

I have a few blogs that I routinely follow, and one thing I’ve noticed is that everything always seems perfect in those bloggers’ lives. They appear to always have clean houses and perfect outfits and dinner on the table.

I find inspiration through these bloggers, but at the same time I often wondered if I am the only mother who has a perpetual pile to put away or if I’m the only mother who has to stop and get carry-out because I don’t have something prepared for dinner. I told myself when I started blogging that I’d keep it real. Turns out, that is easier said than done. The urge to make things appear perfect is definitely ever present in today’s society.

I wish someone would have told me to hug a mom, high-five a mom, or buy a mom a drink. I hate to admit this, but before I had kids of my own, I was a little too judgmental of other moms. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to raise my kids and would stupidly judge other mothers I saw out and about. Why would that lady walk around Target with her kids acting like that?  I would never do that. Why is that mother letting her kids play with electronics at the restaurant table? When I have kids I won’t ever do that.

I’m ashamed of myself. l know how hard it is and I do just about every single thing I said I would never do. I now know all too well why that mom is still in Target even though her kid is wailing.

I wish someone would have told me to have compassion. Having kids was the best thing I ever did, but it is hard work. I don’t judge anymore.

We all love our kids and we are doing our very best.


Isn’t that the truth? Sad to say, I’m sure we’ve all rolled our eyes a little at the parents we think are doing it all wrong…despite the fact we were probably judging before we even had kids of our own! Libby, thanks for the reminder that compassion is the rule among us all. High-five!

Is anyone out there moved by Libby’s lack of knowledge about a big part of her cultural heritage? Maybe some of you share the same experience with experiencing more of one parent’s culture over the other’s? If you’ve got any advice to spare, please share. You know I always love hearing your perspectives.

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

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Living With Kids: Nina Hoderewski Tue, 12 Jan 2016 18:00:34 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I’m very excited to introduce you to Nina and Moses. I think they are going to change your Tuesday.

This is not a tour that focuses on product sources or fabric recommendations. Instead, it’s the sort of home tour where you might find yourself envying the sunlight that sneaks across Moses’ room. You might feel a pang of gratitude you’ve got a partner in parenting. You might even want to tell a well-intentioned stranger to keep his opinions to himself and stop bothering Nina, for goodness sake. Loudly, even. You may leave this tour feeling a little lost and yet a lot found, if that’s even possible. I did.

All this to tell you I hope you’re as moved by Nina as I am. Happy Tour Tuesday, Friends.

My name is Nina. I’m a single mother of a little boy named Moses.

It’s funny how that is always how I describe myself now, as a mother first and foremost. Growing up, people always asked what I wanted to be and I never knew the answer because, well, I wanted to be everything.

Now I work full time at a desk. and I still don’t consider it my career though the people I work for are good to me and I don’t see myself going anywhere for a while. I work for a towing company, of all places. I was basically a professional bartender and I wanted to branch out, and one of my regulars told me he could hire me at his office and I could learn how to dispatch. I did that part-time for a short time but ended up moving up to administrative assistant and now I do some HR work.

It’s a lot of paperwork in an industry I never really pictured myself being in, but it’s a great learning experience and, sometimes, a great practice in patience. I suppose though, first and foremost, I am a mother. Of a little boy. And we like to adventure.

I live in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s called the Lehigh Valley, made up of a bunch of little towns.

I always thought I hated it here when I was younger, but as I age I really love it. We are an hour from Philadelphia, two from New York City.

It can be urban in some areas and suburban in others, but there are these little pockets of wonderful restaurants and theater experiences you can find, and then these little neighborhoods full of people who are insanely close and have known each other forever, and then you drive north and all of a sudden you are in the mountains, or farm land, and even right outside of my neighborhood.

You can go one direction and find yourself in a little city or go the other and be in rolling hills.

I rent my home. I lucked out and found it when I was eight months pregnant. It’s three stories and part of a double, and the basement isn’t really a story at all — rather a laundry room — and the upstairs is mainly storage space and a little room I like to call my yoga studio.

There have been no real troubles with the place, and my landlady is a dream as landlords go.

The first winter I was here, though, the heat went out and the pipes froze and here I was with this tiny newborn feeling like I was failing just by choosing an older place for us to live in. Luckily, aforementioned landlady saved the day and reminded me that I wasn’t in a condo anymore and these things happen in homes with character.

I think my style is a few simple pieces that will last. When everyone began capsule wardrobes it kind of cracked me up because, well, my closet always consists of just a few pieces I interchange daily. I think the same of furniture.

My nightstand belonged to my mother; it’s practically an antique. Moses’ crib is one of those conversion ones that will turn into a bed one day, and his toy box was built by his godmother’s father. Simple, classic, clean pieces.

Sure we need to have some plastic toys that sing and dance — he’s a little boy — but the main pieces that will grow with him are classics.

Decor-wise right now, I’m sad to say, I’ve kept a lot of old pieces and refuse to buy new ones until Moses is out of his loving-to-make-a-mess-out-of-everything phase. At this rate, I may have the same couch until he’s in college (Please, no!) but it is also an item that I’m not worried about him making a mess on. I like letting the kid be a kid.

This may be a cringe-worthy statement, but I have to say it. I always thought a perfect home would have loving parents. Plural.

No, we don’t have that, but I have myself, and so I suppose working on myself and building a stronger me every day for my son’s benefit is my main non-negotiable on establishing a happy home with my child.

I think since I am a single mother I feel the stress of needing to be perfect all of the time with him. It feels that some people are quicker to judge your actions or methods, and you always need to be on. I’m trying to work on myself to just be the best mother I can be to Moses without worrying what others think because I think he, even at a young age, can sense insecurity and I don’t want him to be able to read into that, feed off of that, or take on any neuroses of his own because his mother is too busy worrying about the little things.

I have a blog called Mos and Me. I also post on Instagram.

I like having a place to share my thoughts, a place where I feel safe writing out some of the silly things that go on in my mind. I also like thinking of it as a little space for Moses to look back on and read about his childhood.

I might stop blogging so much about my son as he ages; having all that out there gets a bit frightening. But for now I like these memories. The first few months are like his baby book. Also, a little place to read about his mother. I was always so curious about my mother’s life before kids, so I’m happy Mos can read about my travels, etc.

I also love featuring people whose interests mirror some of my own, who have found a way to make a career of them or are fighting to do so. Mothers who climb mountains with their babies. Men who live in Alaska writing novel after novel. Vintage shop owners who dig through piles of clothing to find the perfect piece. Jewelers, doll makers, photographers, dress crafters. It’s my place but also theirs.

I love that anyone can stumble upon it and think Oh, how I relate to this, and maybe are even inspired by it.

I’ve interviewed some amazing people. I’m so lucky that they say yes!

Louisa from Big Picture Farm stands out, and Morgan Brechler — she’s such a badass.

But most memorable has to be Mitka of Moon in Leo, this little vintage shop in Squamish British Columbia. The way she answered every question had so much life behind it and such an obvious passion for what she was speaking about.

No, I love them all, I do, they all exude passion. But hers was just such a peek into her world. She travels to Mexico to buy vintage from British Columbia, and barely knows any Spanish, and has formed this great friendship with these shop owners who don’t know English and…that’s drive, that’s pluck and ambition, and something you don’t find a lot of in this world today.

I grew up with a single mother. We were poor, we lived from paycheck to paycheck.

Sometimes we were very poor. I knew we were poor, she told me we were, that we didn’t have any financial support from a father and so on once I got older. When I was a kid, she sort of kept it to herself.

Christmas was always elaborate, birthdays happened. What I remember, though, from my childhood isn’t toys or material objects. My mother loved to drive, and we were always taking drives out to the country. We even drove back and forth to Florida A LOT and that was fun. Junk food and her old Police tape and singing along to the Talking Heads.

I take Moses for drives. We go to an alpaca farm and watch them, or just drive out to the country. He falls asleep, I listen to old songs. I think if I just tell him how important it is to appreciate what you have, he will retain that. Kids are sponges. They want love. That doesn’t always mean a fancy new electronic; it means a snuggle and a memory of your mom wanting to be with you.

I think sure we won’t be rich, but I want to show him that it’s certainly not the things you can buy in life that make you happy.

Moses is exactly how I imagined him being when I was pregnant. He’s amazingly sweet and cuddly, but then has these hysterical moments where he is just pure boy. He makes these faces and has these little moments of absolute attitude that can only be my son.

He also has a great love of the outdoors which makes me so happy. His smile grows by about 25 percent and his giggles are amazing.

Choosing a daycare for him was hard. My mom watched him when I went back to work initially, and it was such a load off of my chest having my mother watch him. They’re best buds, and when it got to be a little too much for her to watch him full-time, the daycare search began.

It can be scary. Some places are real creepy. “How are you open?” I wanted to ask them.

I found a sweet little place, though. It’s a bit of a drive out of our way in the morning, but he loves his teachers and the infant room teacher there made me feel like I was leaving him with a friend. He loved her,  and the move to the toddler room was hard on both of them. I heard she snuck him back for an hour or two!

I love that one glance at him can remind me there is something so much bigger than myself. The universe is in his smile. From this home and our life together I hope he remembers warmth and comfort and love and knows he always has a place to return to, but also a huge support for anything he wants to do in life.

Being a single mom is crazy. I don’t like phrasing it that way but it was the first thought that came to my mind, so there it is.

It’s nuts.

Not only are you taking on this monumental, life-changing task that most people are nervous about with a teammate — you’re doing it all alone. Then you know it’s 2016 but you still have people and their opinions, which they feel so comfortable announcing.

I had a man the other day tell me I should be married to Moses’ father. I just stared at him incredulous. Even if those are your thoughts, I mean, maybe keep them to yourself. I was sitting at my desk at the time, working, away from a son I wish I could be home with at all times, trying to pay for someone else to watch him, and being told, you know, marry his dad? It’s not that easy.

But my friends — Oh my friends and family! — when I told them I was pregnant it was like this warm little circle all came in for a hug and didn’t let go. I’m lucky enough to have amazing people in my life who just love us so much.

Instagram is a funny little app, too. I like reading about mamas on there. Talking to them, meeting women I would not have met otherwise. One just made me a cross stitch. It’s so beautiful and she flew it across the country to me. That’s amazing.


Nina, as perturbed as I was at the unsolicited advice your personal circumstances seem to invite, I’m so grateful you ended by telling us about your lovely friends and family members. “…this warm little circle all came in for a hug and didn’t let go.” Well, that’s about the most wonderful description of support I’ve ever heard. I’m thrilled you have it.

I loved Nina’s perspective, didn’t you? Her positivity and ability to see the beauty in every situation and smile is inspiring, to say the least. I’m just so proud of her. (Also, this post on her blog is the sweetest, and I wanted to be sure you saw 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! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Brittany Hayes Tue, 05 Jan 2016 16:00:37 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

It may be said without hesitation that Brittany Hayes has never met a pattern or a color that she didn’t completely and utterly adore. And whether it’s a burst of golden Dahlias plastering a bedroom wall, a shot of turquoise up high on a top shelf, or Ikats mingling with Suzanis, every one of them gets along picture-perfectly. You’ll see!

You might remember Brittany from her episode of Shark Tank. She has a few interesting bits to tell us about that whole process, plus what’s next up for her and her sweet family. I really hope they bring these bluesy stairs with them! (And please ignore the watermarks on the photos! Brittany began adding them to every photo when someone she didn’t know started Facebook and Instagram accounts claiming her home as their own. Oh my!)

Please join me in welcoming Brittany! Our very first tour guide of 2016!

Hello there! My name is Brittany Hayes, and I am a 34-year-old wife, mommy, blogger, and daughter of God. I am the proud mommy of two beautiful girlies: Addison is eight and Winter is three.

My husband and I are middle school sweethearts and have been together for 20 years in February! We started our business at age 20 and worked off our booties off every day since!

After my daughter Addison was born I became a stay at home mom, and then quickly learned that my huge passion for design and my love for entrepreneurship wouldn’t let me do so for too long. On Addison’s second birthday I started sketching and dreaming up her big girl room after my endless search for unique and fun bedding. Once it was complete, friends were begging me to get back to my sewing machine for their kids’ rooms…and from that vision, my bedding company Addison’s Wonderland was born!

In 2013 we decided to say goodbye to ten years of neighborhood living and pursue our dream of living on acreage. My husband has always wanted eight to ten acres, and we decided it was finally time to take the plunge!

After searching endlessly for land to build on, we settled on gorgeous property with an existing home that just needed a little loving. We fell in love with the beautiful land, but the home was not exactly what we had envisioned. Seeing as though we have always tackled and loved house projects, we decided to take it on.

We purchased our current home and started the renovation in December 2013. Although we did most of the major renovation early on, we have just completed most all of our vision. We had always thought this would be our forever home but we also love change, love renovations, and love a challenge.

Last month we came upon an AMAZING, 5,800 square foot home built in 1908 that is completely gutted. It is literally a needle in a haystack and we jumped on the chance to pursue another dream of renovating a historic home.

Although we absolutely love our home and are sad to move, we have learned that land is maybe not for us. We love the privacy and the space, but we also miss having neighbors and close friends for our girls.

We have also learned so much from our renovation that we are excited to carry on into our next project. For example, dark hardwood flooring is not for us! Although it is stunning, it is so difficult to keep clean and it shows absolutely everything!

Another thing we learned is that we do love an open floorplan, which has inspired us to make some changes to the floorplan of our next renovation. Finally, we learned to really take our time and not rush the project. Rather than hurry and await the completion, I am looking forward to taking my time and enjoying the process more. I am also SO excited to take my readers along the entire, detailed journey from start to finish!

Our current home and our historic home project are both in Monroe, Georgia. We absolutely love the small town living that Monroe has to offer, but with the proximity to both Atlanta and Athens. Monroe has such a rich history and so many wonderful traditions that it’s such a special city to be a part of. Now with our new home being walking distance to the quaint and adorable downtown, we are so excited to make small town memories with our girls that they will never forget.

Addison’s Wonderland began in July 2011 as my dream children’s bedding company. After almost three years of business and pretty rapid growth, I made the crazy yet wonderful decision to take a step back and focus on my family.

The fact that my husband and I both owned very busy, manufacturing type companies was taking a toll on our marriage and our family, and I thought it was best to take a little break. Although I originally intended on walking away completely, my husband and my social media followers encouraged me to start blogging.

I was getting bombarded with questions and advice from my random home remodeling posts and updates that it seemed like a great transition. I just had no idea how quickly it would take off!

I absolutely love getting the chance to live our lives and then share it with the world. Renovating, house flipping, and home projects are our daily life so although it may seem crazy to my readers, it’s just what we do and what we love. My readers’ encouragement and stories of how I’ve inspired them to bring color and a bit of whimsy into their own homes keeps me writing and keeps me posting more and more.

I would absolutely say the highlight of my blogging career so far would be being named a Better Homes and Gardens Stylemaker for 2015, which has also led to blogging for BHG as well. Such an amazing honor and honestly a dream come true! I do have some crazy exciting things coming for 2016!

My style is 110% me. I design in a way that speaks to me and really allows me to release my creativity. I would say that my style is very colorful, whimsical, and unique. I don’t care to follow trends or popular styles; I just draw inspiration from what I love.

That said, I design every room, every corner, every bookshelf with my girls in mind. Is there something of their own for them to find on a shelf or in a basket or on a table near a soft and cozy chair? Yes. Is there something to make them smile and think and gasp a little wherever they look? Yes. And when in doubt if a room is perfect for living with my own kids and the absolute most welcoming for them, I might just add a swing!

I would say that my overall design theme is a daring combination of color and pattern. My goal, especially in my personal home, is to always push the limits of color and pattern play. To really ride the line of what matches and what clashes. Of what is too busy and what is just enough. I love to make a statement and I love to just be me.

Our home is literally our wonderland and I love that my girls will grow up in such a fun space. I want to always encourage them to be themselves and to be proud of who they are. And I hope that our home proves to them that what is normal and in style isn’t the only way to be!

My best tip for combining and layering textures is to think about the print type and the repeat. Three small repeat, geometric prints are not going to work all in one space. You need to categorize it all — solid, striped, floral — and then change it all up.

Make sure you aren’t using all small repeats or all large. Variety is key.

A lot of readers are really interested in our moment on Shark Tank! Gosh, Shark Tank was the most amazing, unforgettable, stressful, and life-changing thing I’ve ever done.

Overall I would say that it’s so much more work than you could even imagine. It took us six months to prepare for the show with weekly calls in to producers. Once in LA, we had to pitch again to producers and honestly didn’t even have a guarantee that it would air until seven months after we taped!

The most surprising part to me was that it was one take. If you mess up, it gets aired. We were in there for an hour and then they edit it down to eight minutes. It’s all just way more than I would’ve imagined.

Our biggest project for 2016 is what we have named Our Historic Wonderland. It will be my full-time job for at least six months to design and share this space on my blog. We are going to make it fun and interactive and really share all of the nitty gritty details.

My ultimate ultimate career dream would be to land a renovation show. It’s a dream I’ve always had and I feel that once you go in from of the Sharks, you can pretty much tackle anything.

My favorite part of living with my kids is seeing how their little minds work. They are so honest, so funny, and just so much fun. There isn’t a day that goes by that we are not crying with laughter over our three year old, and our eight year old just amazes us with her artistic abilities.

I hope that my girls learn to go for their dreams. Mark and I continue to do so every day, and I hope they see that in us.

I wish someone had told me that they really actually do grow up so fast.

When Addison was a baby, she cried for fourteen straight months — not even kidding — and I honestly thought my life was over. Mark and I were so used to traveling and working and that all seemed to be over for me.

I wished and then worked those years away…and I wish so bad I could have them back. I wish I knew then that they will be eight years old before you know it, and there will always be time for a career.

Although I love what I do and wouldn’t trade my journey for anything…I do wish I had been able to embrace stay at home mommyhood a little more.


Everyone always says it goes so fast, so I don’t know why we’re always so surprised when we realize that they were telling the truth! Thank you for spending the time here with us, Brittany; this was a fun one.

There is so much to devour in each room! It’s a sensory overload in the best way possible, and such a palate cleanse for those readers who might be a little tired of the black, white, and lots of grey scenes popping up on their social media feeds! Even if it’s not your personal taste, isn’t it refreshing to see such a collected and highly personal style in action?

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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