Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Mon, 08 Feb 2016 18:02:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Living With Kids: A Look Back At 2015 Wed, 30 Dec 2015 16:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Sweet Juniper from Lisa Scott’s tour.

This was a beautiful year of tours, I think. There were many cozy corners and inspired thoughts that stuck to me, and I hope you feel the same way. (If you’re interested, you can see our 2013 retrospective here, a poignant review of my favorite part of the tours, and 2014′s recap right here!)

My intent with these Living With Kids posts is to show you a pretty and thoughtful peek into someone else’s life. It might look completely different than your own, it might look almost exactly the same, it might make you gasp with joy or scrunch up your nose. But what I’m really hoping is that these strolls around a complete stranger’s home somehow shift your opinions and modus operandi.

Just for a minute or ten or for the foreseeable future! Just one thought that midnight blue might be your next couch color, or the addition of bright decals to your almond-esque dishwasher would really change your mood every time you walked into the kitchen, or “Honey, I’m turning the dining room into a mini gymnasium-slash-playroom-slash-art studio-slash-dance party central — and it’s gonna have a swing!” Change is my favorite.

And, listen. I mean it when I tell you every week at the end of these tours: 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 really, truly mean it. So if you ever find yourself wishing for something different or something closer to your own Living With Kids lifestyle, send me a note and a photo or two. Or copy me on an email to a friend who inspires the whole neighborhood, encouraging him or her to participate. Participation is my favorite!

Now. Let’s remind ourselves of some of the brightest tours of 2015!

We started in Amsterdam with a glimpse of Meghann‘s home just a few months before she moved to Saba. Some parts of the tours look so much alike, which I’m sure is a relief to her children after such a giant transition.

And then there was Barbara, who made us all smile when she admitted to secretly envying other peoples’ uncluttered, pristine homes. Us, too! (Exclaimed as we survey our equally inspiration-overloaded craft tables!) She also had a lot to say about the challenges of raising children in an affluent community. Her thoughts are worth a revisit, for sure.

Remember Caryn’s small space and big ideas? There’s something refreshing about what makes the cut in a NYC apartment. With books, art, a Murphy bed, and Central Park just a block away, it’s a brilliant study of a creatively edited space.

Oh! I can’t forget Maureen’s house! It’s stunning and stylish and I’d steal it tomorrow if she wouldn’t notice! But what I love the most about this space is how her children’s presence is visible pretty much everywhere you look.

Nothing’s too terribly precious or off-limits. It’s a given that a playdate hosted by Maureen is probably the one every parent wants to attend!

I love how she displays art and turns pretty much any surface into a drawing space, don’t you?

Wait! Do you want to know another favorite of mine? When dads chime in with their own thoughts about how their families are living with kids.

We had Derek talk about what home means to him: “It’s not the physical structure that makes up a house or the property value or even just the extrinsic things with which you fill the space, but what home really means to us: love.” So nice.

And then there was Mat, who talked about mid-century design and some of its inherent design flaws when living with little ones.

In his words, “One of the goals of mid-century architecture was to accommodate the family, but they didn’t always carry it off. When we bought this house we loved the balcony that ran along the back side, but instead of a railing there was a pony wall that was about two feet high. Any parent looking at that wall would fear that sooner or later a kid would go over the side. So one of the first things we did was lay down a new balcony and install the tension cable railing.”

There is also plastic guard on the staircase railing, just until the baby gets a bit older. But someday soon, you can bet that well-designed staircase will be looking stunning again! Sometimes, living with kids means living with kids safely!

We heard from a gorgeous grandmother and artist named Sheila, whose home made room for grand little guests.

There’s a never-ending roll of paper on the coffee table and next to her own easel, and a crib in the guest bedroom.

It’s nice when we feel like there’s room for us, isn’t it?

We traveled virtually to many enviable locales! We visited Susan in the south of France…

And gasped at Raffaella’s home in southern Tuscany…

And on to Elizabeth’s temporary home in Japan.

Remember Petra’s home in Nova Scotia, where the highway ends?


Talk about unique!

Speaking of unique, we can’t forget Emily’s home in Los Angeles, where she lives with her children, husband, dogs, horses, chickens, canaries, budgies, and an occasional peacock that wanders into her always open door.

There have been heartfelt reminders in every post, from Marichelle’s artwork scattered about…

To the goodness that pops up in Heather’s kitchen window…

Near the open shelving…

And above her desk. A favorite, for certain.

My favorite part of Senna’s interview is when she said this: “Sometimes I feel like I’m short-changing my patients or my kids, but over the years I’ve been learning that it’s important to live my dreams. This world needs people who are living their dreams. My dreams were to be a doctor and a mother. It truly is an amazing thing that I can show my kids what it looks like to pursue your dreams, especially as a woman.”

And my favorite part from Mia’s interview is when she said this: “I never worried about what the business looked like to other people, and I created my own paradigm for a modern mother in business. I never tried to conceal that we had kids and dogs running and barking in the background, nor tried to stop my mother walking into the office during a meeting. I embraced this early as my brand, and I was proud of it. I refused to embrace the compromise of work versus family — I was determined to have it all in one place, one self-perpetuating organism.”

Also, this: “I hope they remember all the talking we did and the time we spent together reading, traveling, making dinners and eating together with so many friends and relations around the table. I hope they take away from their childhood home the desire to be generous and how to be a good host, and that they have learned the value of not just opening up your home but doing it with an abundance and graciousness that shows your guests that you care about them. Most importantly, I want them to know how to make their own home not just a place others want to be, but a place that they love to return to.”

Her tour was a mix of past and present photos because I just couldn’t edit out the memories! Try not to get misty when you read that one again!

If you’re looking for a good read, don’t forget to revisit Rebecca. Her home situation is super unique — 150 years old, shared, with a tin roof, of course! — and there seems to be an adventure on every shelf!

We’ve seen fabulous front doors and covetable artwork, like at Etienne’s house…

And we’ve seen fabulous kitchen backsplashes, like the aqua dream in Miranda’s home.

And a really lovely kitchen curtain from Michelle.

But if you asked me what I remember most, it’s this from the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Ann:

“Our oldest son, Dale, died when he was two. He was beautiful. He taught me to be a mother and we miss him every day. Jody, our oldest daughter, was only eight months old when he died, and she learned to walk that week looking for him.”

I don’t think I’ll ever lose the catch in my throat from that one.

This Living With Kids project I started back in September of 2011 (Hi, Jane!) has always been just that: All the many ways to live with kids and enjoy it to the moon and back.

Because it’s a magical moment in time, you know. A blink of an overtired eye. There is a beginning and an ending that always seems to come too soon, and a lot of play-doh and chalk dust and joy and worry in between.

May you enjoy it daily and realize how much you’ll miss it long before it’s over.

I end these posts every week with the same post script, and this one will be no different! But this time, how about you go for it? Send me a note, 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Amelia Hahnke Tue, 22 Dec 2015 17:00:43 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I don’t know how to best describe Amelia. She is someone utterly smitten with her life — contagiously so! — and seems completely uninterested in trading her everyday for anything else out there. Some might call her authentic, but I honestly find that term a bit redundant.

I think I prefer content.

I hope you enjoy this breath of fresh, happy air as we all wind down a bit before the holidays. Welcome, Amelia! I’m so glad you’re here.

Well, I’m Amelia, a wife and mom and occasional blogger. My husband Ryan is a structural engineer with a 9-to-5 job, but I’m fairly certain that deep down he wants to be a carpenter. He’s a man of many talents, one of them being that I can show him a picture of something and ask “Build that for me?” and most of the time he can. He’s quiet and kind and patient and hilarious, and very, very good to me.

Our son, Ralph, is a grown man stuck in a three-year-old’s body. Ralph wants so much to be big. On the morning of the first snow this winter, after I’d bundled him and let him out the door, he grabbed his shovel and immediately started clearing the driveway like his dad. All work and no play for Ralph, and that’s the way he likes it. He loves to help with whatever tasks we’re doing, which is sweet and sometimes maddening, because he truly believes he can do it. He once pried a doorframe almost completely off the wall with his little toy tools after spending some time with Ryan in the workshop. There are dents from his hammer all over the house.

Ada, our girl, is five months old. She’s officially grown out of the hazy, sleepy baby stage, and we’re finally starting to see glimpses of her personality. She’s bright-eyed and curious, and quick to smile at anyone who looks her way, a trait I really love about her. I wonder a lot if she’ll always be so cheerful and friendly. I kind of hope so.

We bought our home three years ago from a sweet elderly woman who raised a family in it. When we originally started looking at houses my husband wanted to find something far out in the country, but I was pregnant with Ralph and afraid I’d get lonely out there — just me, a newborn, and some cows and cornfields.

We found a cute house in the suburbs, just a few blocks from my sister, and I was sold. I love living so close to her and her family, and knowing that if I accidentally lock myself out or need a quick babysitter, she’s right there.

Ralph adores his cousins and loves being able to drive past their house regularly or walk over on a nice day.

Our house isn’t perfect, and we won’t live here forever, but it’s been a good starter home with just enough projects to keep us busy. Our budget is tight (our budget will always be tight, thanks a lot student loans!) so we’ve had to take our time with fixing it up — a good thing, I think.

So far we’ve managed to repaint most of the rooms, update the kitchen, and put in a garden. We’ve just started talking of the future and maybe moving again — this time to the country, we hope! — but we’ll be sad to go. This house has taught us patience, how to make do with what we have instead of what we want, and how to keep a home, and for that I’ll always love it.

We live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, land of beer and cheese and long, cold winters. Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, but I happen to think those stereotypical Wisconsin things are pretty spot on. Growing up I think I always assumed I’d move somewhere else, but now I can’t imagine living anywhere but the Midwest.

The people of Wisconsin are kind and friendly, and the state is beautiful in all seasons. Milwaukee is a bigger city with all sorts of places to explore if you like city life. Museums, great restaurants, shows.

Ryan and I tend to spend our time doing things outside of the city, and seek out the quieter parts surrounding Milwaukee. On the weekends we love to hike and camp and drive out to one of the many little lakes around here. The summer months in Wisconsin are my favorite — hot, sunny days, beautiful farmland, awesome thunderstorms, time spent at the lake or in the backyard from morning till night.

Folks here are used to extreme weather, which means there’s plenty to do all year long. And if there’s not, there’s always beer. You may think that’s a joke, but honestly…it’s not. Ha!

I won’t deny it, I love to clean. I breathe easier when things are tidy and everything has a place. But I don’t think I’ve always been this way, at least not quite so intensely.

I grew up with three sisters and, out of all of them, I think I was the one who had to be reminded most to take care of my stuff. My mom keeps a clean and tidy home, and I’ve always been used to living in a space that is well taken care of. When I moved out, I had to step it up!

We’re a one car household and my husband takes it to work most days, so I’m home with the kids a lot. To be honest, I think that’s why I’ve become such a devotee to a simple, clean, tidy house. If I’m going to be here all day long, I need to make it a pretty and clean place to be or I’ll go bonkers. If the house is messy, my brain is messy, you know?

That said, there are days, especially now that Ada is here, where things just don’t get done. And on babysitting days I completely give up on tidying until the day is over, because there’s just no point! I keep a little mental list of things to do every day — sweep the floors, make the beds, do the dishes and wipe up the kitchen, and put away any clutter that has gathered — because those are the things that grind my gears if left too long. Almost everything else I’m okay with waiting until I can get to them.

I’d describe my style as a little bit of storybook cottage, a smidge of minimalism, and a whole lot of Martha Stewart.

I love a cozy home, and I like things to look a bit on the old-fashioned and homemade side, but I don’t want anything too cluttered or stuffy.

The majority of our furniture is second-hand or handmade. The desk and cupboard in the dining room were from a thrift store, my husband made our dining room table and bedroom dresser, our bed and Ralph’s bed were found on Craigslist, the living room chair was from my Grandma’s house.

Ryan built a bookshelf in our living room out of wood he found in the dumpster behind our first apartment. Ha! Aside from my sentimental attachments to some things, nothing in our house is too precious. I’m happy to let Ralph tumble and jump and bounce around.

I also take great delight in making things look just so. From my cleaning supplies to my medicine cabinet, I get a thrill when even the basic stuff looks pretty. But I’m finding that I have to be careful about this.

I owe so much of my creativity to my mom because she let me and my sisters have a lot of control over that kind of stuff growing up. She allowed me to paint my bedroom hideous colors more than once, and never discouraged my enthusiasm for bedecking the house with paper chains and ugly crafts.

I hope my love for a perfectly spruced house doesn’t ever get in the way of my kids’ creativity.

My blog is called The Homebook, and I write about all sorts of stuff relating to home: motherhood, recipes, cleaning, odds and ends. My favorite blogs are ones that read like a magazine, and that’s what I strive for with my own blog.

I majored in Art in college, yet I never really found my niche while I was there. Once I started my blog, I found it. Or at least something close to it. I love the entire creative process of blogging, from the brainstorming of ideas, to the photos, to the writing.

I think I might be the most erratic blogger ever, even though I love to do it. I dream of having regular time to work on it so there’d be more consistent posting, but here and there will have to do for now.

Instagram is very much a creative outlet for me. It’s like a modern-day scrapbook of my life, but with a pretty little filter over it. I try not to take it too seriously, and I hope my followers don’t either.

When something strikes me as especially beautiful or funny or happy, it’s fun for me to snap a picture and post it. It’s real life, and it’s not, if that makes sense. I mean, yes, I bake a lot and my house is clean and I have a beautiful, happy family. We also eat a lot of frozen pizza, and there are almost always dishes in the sink, and my kids whine and get colds and have fits. But when those things are happening, whipping out my phone to post a photo on Instagram isn’t usually on my mind.

I think sometimes there’s a push to make social media more real and less glossed over, but eh. I’m happy with keeping Instagram a pleasant and inspiring little place to check into, and I’m just as happy to check out and get back to real life.

Amid the happy postings, there was one event at the beginning of our family-growing that was and most assuredly still is heartbreaking. My husband and lost our first baby at twenty-one weeks, four years ago this past October.

Things weren’t quite right at my 20-week ultrasound, so we were sent to a specialist a few days later, and that’s when we found out. The days surrounding that time kind of seem like a dream now. They were very sad and scary.

I delivered her in the hospital, and we were able to hold her and touch her, and then they just took her away. It was beautiful and terrible. We were suddenly parents to a little baby, and yet we weren’t.

The doctor who delivered her told us she was a boy, so they dressed her in blue and we named her Daniel, my husband’s middle name. Later on, test results told us she wasn’t a boy after all. When we found that out, I’m fairly certain I laughed out loud. I think the doctor expected me to be upset and apologized over and over for the blunder, but I don’t know…human error and all that.

After all we had been through, I think I realized that a name and some tiny blue clothes didn’t matter. The bigger picture was clear: she was our baby and we knew she was with her Savior.

I struggled for a long time after that, even when I became pregnant with Ralph just a few months later. I was kind of a mess, and was terrified of losing him, too. People were so kind and understanding, but often their words felt empty because I was so angry. It took time to get over that.

What helped me most was when people reached out with their own stories of loss. I’ll never forget the day we had the inspection for our house. The man that came was quiet and had a really dry sense of humor. We were in the basement, and he was checking nooks and crannies with a flashlight, and out of the blue he mentioned something about losing a son many years ago.

He didn’t offer much more than that. He didn’t even know about our loss. But oh, I could have hugged him. It was so encouraging to hear a middle-aged man, practically a stranger, bring up his child like that.

There aren’t pictures or stories about Daniel for me to share, but she’s still my baby. Getting a chance to talk about her every now and then is therapeutic for me.

I’m happy to just care for my kids, and I hope they grow up feeling that. I’ve always wanted to be a mother, more than anything else. Making lunches, wiping noses, picking up toys — all those things are tiring and hard. But those things are my duties!

I don’t ever want my children to feel like taking care of them is a chore for me. I hope I’m always joyful about it.

My mom is nothing but love and comfort and happiness to me, and she found even the smallest ways to make us girls feel loved: turning down our covers at night, always playing music, or popping our towels in the dryer to warm them up minutes before our baths were over. Those are the kind of simple, happy memories I want my own kids to have of home.

I wish someone had told me to fill out the baby book!

Take more pictures and videos, write down funny things my babies say and do, make a clay foot print ornament, for heaven’s sake!

The other day my husband found a random, forgotten file of videos of Ralph when he was just learning to toddle and babble. We sat there for over an hour, laughing at his sweet baby face and gasping over how much he’d changed. It’s only been a few years, but I’d already forgotten what he was like.

I need to get better at keeping a record of their little-ness. They grow so heartbreakingly fast!


Thank you, Amelia, for your words and soothing images. I swear, it’s the perfect exhale to a lovely year of tours!

I begged Amelia to tell us the story of Daniel; I’m so moved by it. This time of year is often about the missing, isn’t it? I really, really hope whoever it is you’re missing is surrounded in a cloud of lovely memories and heartfelt thoughts.

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Mary Boyden Tue, 15 Dec 2015 15:30:56 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

All you really need to know about Mary is that there is a doodle wall in her daughters’ bedroom, a room also known as a kid’s version of Heaven. In fact, the entire house is an explosion of color and happy self-expression and a whole lot of whimsy. And that’s in addition to her daughter named Whimsy!

I am so pleased to show you this one-of-a-kind, out of the ordinary, shared with two friends, no wall left un-art-bombed home. It really is a feast for your senses, and will leave you craving a date with a paint brush and your littlest pal.

Welcome, Mary! I’m so glad you’re here!

Hi, everyone! I’m Mary and this is my home. My husband, our two daughters — Whimsy, who is two, and Glory, who is three months old – and our two childhood best friends, Austin and Michelle, all live in this home together.

We live in Portland, Oregon. When my husband and I got married in Texas, I asked him to take me somewhere cold and rainy, so we adventured to Portland!

I love it here. The rain really calms me and I don’t think I will ever tire of it. I wish it snowed more, but other than that, it’s really perfect. Portland reminds me a lot of NYC in some ways like how the buildings are so old and historic and downtown is really alive. It’s not as busy as NYC, obviously, but it is inspiring and energetic in a similar way.

Since we are two hours from the mountains and two hours from the ocean, I feel like I have the best of everything.

Portland’s food scene is incredible, and it’s also extremely family friendly. I love all the playcafes, where it’s half coffee shop for the parents and half indoor playground for the kids. As a working mom, it’s really nice to have a place outside the house where the kids can play and I can work. Roseway Cafe in NE is my favorite!

We have quite a crazy story about this house. When our two best friends moved to Portland, we invited them to stay with us in our teeny apartment in downtown until they found their own places. Well, after a few weeks of us all living together, we figured out: we really loved living together! So we started looking for a place to all live together.

The first night we started looking for rentals online, we made a list of our dream house. When we saw our house in the listings, it hit every one of our wishes. Brick wall feature? Check. Wood floors? Check. Lofted studio with natural light for working? Check! Check! Four bedrooms, so we all have our own space? Yep.

BONUS! It had a dishwasher and washer and dryer, which is kind of rare in Portland, I guess, so that was a hard combo to find. We still had six months or so on our current lease, but we didn’t care. We all split the cost to leave that lease and get into the new house. Houses like this one are too perfect and don’t come by often – especially for the killer low price we got.

We put our applications in before we even stepped foot inside. I’m still shocked we got it. It’s awesome. It’s taken about a year to make our house a home, but I feel like we are there now and I’m happy about it.

If you’re wondering how we make house-sharing work, we’ve learned how to respect each other’s privacy. We have an unspoken rule that if the bedroom door is closed, it means we want some privacy. Austin shares groceries and we eat dinners together with him, Michelle is usually out about town and eats on her own.

I am an introvert in a house full of extroverts! I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to ask to be alone in the living room, or in the studio, or even to ask that someone stays home at night while the kids sleep so I can go have some me time. But for the most part, everyone is so busy that we only really see each other for one to three hours a day, if that. It’s a lot of quantity time versus quality, and since we are all so close, it’s important we still make time to get out of the house and just be friends — not just roommates. It’s a unique juggle but we are really loving it.

I am the Founder & Editor of Momma Bear Magazine, but I was previously a wedding photographer and designer. When Momma Bear got funded by Kickstarter this summer to go to print, I quit my other pursuits and went full-hearted into MB.

My job now ranges from shooting and writing colorful inspiring stories, digital and print design to the hard stuff like accounting and marketing.

My typical work day goes a little like this:

I spend the day with my daughters. When they go to sleep, I start working on Momma Bear from about 9:00 pm until 2:00 am. In the morning, my daughters and I grocery shop, clean up the house, and play. They take really long naps and sometimes I work, but mostly I nap, too.

Then, my husband gets home and we have dinner and hang out for a bit, and when they go to sleep I work again!

My husband also gives me a full work day once a week, where from the moment I wake up until I hit the pillow for the night, I can do whatever I need to. This is HUGE and allows me to relax and just really have a good time with the girls the rest of the week.

Our typical reader is perhaps a young or new mom, probably very creative and perhaps even an introvert, looking to find practical solutions to her deeper problems — like conquering mom guilt and achieving her dreams — and getting inspiration to keep her perspective bright and happy. She probably has big dreams outside of motherhood she’s not quite sure how to balance while being the awesome mom she wants to be. She wants to see proof that her ideal lifestyle of happiness in motherhood IS possible, and we deliver that for her.

We assure her that her dreams aren’t delusional, and we encourage her to believe our core message of grace over perfection, and community over competition. We are a safe place to get away from mom-wars and focus on the good in life.

I meet so many lovely friends through Instagram. It’s a great way to get to know people! I find that when you kind of know someone through Instagram first, when you finally meet in real life, you already know that you could be great friends! You can skip past that awkward phase of ‘Are we compatible?’ because you can learn so much about someone through what they choose to post.

One of my favorite examples of this is Lauren Hartmann. I found her on Instagram and requested that I use one of her blog posts in the first issue of Momma Bear. The next thing you know, we are meeting up for a play date with the kids, and then she’s bringing me a yummy meal after Glory was born! Thanks, Internet!

The biggest struggle I have in terms of staying relevant is that I’m usually just not interested in following trends. But for business, it’s necessary.

I get really fed up with everyone wearing the same clothes, doing the same poses, and posting such similar photos all the time. These days it seems everyone is muted/natural tones, smiling while not looking at the camera just because that’s what everyone else is doing, and wearing the exact same outfit of ankle boots, skinny jeans, big rimmed hat, etc.

I try really hard to be graceful and not just roll my eyes, but I crave authenticity. But to a certain extent, if you want to have a large following in order to create a large social change, you have to play the trendy game. You have to show that you are aware and interested in whats relevant to ensure the reader that you ‘get them’ and have things in common, ya know?

We are all just looking for visual symbols that signal that what we are in a safe place where we will be welcomed for who we really are, and part of that is what we like visually. So in that way, I get that it’s important to stay relevant. But I do have a filter of authenticity. Am I doing this because I really want to, or because I feel like I SHOULD? Is this original, inspired, or a straight up copy? It’s exhausting, but worth it.

The best living with kids design idea that has totally changed my life is FREE CRAIGSLIST! I get so many things for our home off Free Craigslist, which is great because so much of our income is going to paying for diapers and starting businesses.

My super pretty curvy vintage couch, our hot pink couch, the rug in Whimsy’s room, and so much more was absolutely free. You’d be surprised what people will give away.

I have a tab open on my laptop at all times, and I check the free section every single day. Don’t worry! I don’t get stuff every day — Ha! — but I keep my eyes peeled and it pays off because the good stuff goes fast.

If the kids destroy it, or I want to try a new DIY on it? That’s fine! It was free anyway. Also great for when you just neeeeed to declutter your house from all the stuff your kids grow out of, like toys and clothes. Just set your stuff on the curb and post it to Free Craigslist.

My favorite part about living with my own girls? Oh, goodness. Whimsy and Glory are magical. I feel the full spectrum of emotions with them. My favorite are the times they snuggle me, intentionally.

Last night Whimsy, who is not naturally snuggly, came to our bed late in the night and just got into my arms, buried her face into my arm, and asked me to sing to her. HUH?! It was magic. She also loves glitter, painting, and baking…she really is very, very whimsical. I love that about her.

What breaks my heart? When other kids don’t play with her. She’s so social, but still at that age where kids just don’t always understand how to play. Whimsy is around adults a lot and is used to people interacting with her. I hate seeing her get sad when other kids just won’t play.

My youngest, Glory, is such a babe. She has a sweet little coo, such a soft voice, and the greatest chubby baby legs. She’s only three months old, so I’m still getting to know her, but obviously — she’s still so special to me.

I hope my girls remember how I shared my passions with them. I hope they remember that we got to stay home and play all day. No school, no obligations, just bonding time where we could do whatever we felt.

I hope they remember that I hated cleaning but did it anyway and taught them to help me.

I hope they remember the sounds of this house — like what it sounds like when dad comes home…the spin of his bike wheels coming inside, the clunk of his shoes coming off, the happy voice that greets them.

I hope they remember their first doodle wall, where I let them both let loose and paint like crazy on their bedroom wall.

I hope they remember crawling into Aunt Michelle’s bed in the morning to watch cartoons, or having Uncle Austin watch them for the evening so mom and dad could go on a date. So many good things to remember about this home.

I wish someone had told me how wonderful motherhood is. I wish they would have described in more detail WHY your kids are worth it. I would have loved to heard about how it’s worth it to work really hard to have both your career and your children, how it’s possible and a good thing to try.

I wish someone would have assured me that though it’s tough, your marriage can get better and stronger, not just worse, when you have kids.

I wish someone would have been an advocate for the lifestyle I was about to live.

But I suppose, that is why I have created Momma Bear. To be that voice, the one I felt I didn’t have. Motherhood is hard but it’s also so joyous in ways only a positive perspective can show you.

I am becoming my truest self, my husband and I are growing at an accelerated rate to love each other more, I work harder at my career now than I ever have, and a fog has lifted from my heart that enables me to see the world more clearly, which allows me to live my best life and be my best self – not out of fear, but out of a new love I’d never known before being a mom.

All of this happened because of my girls, because of the calling they’ve brought me into.

Motherhood has not made my life worse, it’s made it better.


This entire thought — “I am becoming my truest self, my husband and I are growing at an accelerated rate to love each other more, I work harder at my career now than I ever have, and a fog has lifted from my heart that enables me to see the world more clearly, which allows me to live my best life and be my best self — not out of fear, but out of a new love I’d never known before being a mom.” — just makes me so thrilled for you. It’s impossible to peek in on how you’re living with your kids and not fully comprehend that you are doing it with bright eyes and an overflowing heart. Well done, Mary!

Anyone else out there have a doodle wall? Or friends sharing their home? Or artwork plastering every seeable inch of their home? Or something else entirely unique and crazy-interesting? I want to hear from you and share your lovely ways of living! Please say 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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Alix Adams Tue, 08 Dec 2015 17:00:07 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There’s a lot to like about Alix. She’s honest and direct, and seems to live life head-on and happily. Also, she shares my personal views on baby-proofing, not to mention blogging. (I, too, have met some of my best friends through this space. Very cool!)

Also? She shares sweet photos like the one above from a Fall photo shoot with Sam from Pierson Photo Company.

See what I mean? Likable. Welcome, Alix!

Hello there. I am Alix Adams and I like lots of things. The things I like most are my husband Clint, my son Liam, and my daughter Charlotte. We also have a dog, Jada, who cleans up all food spills, and with a one-year-old and three-year-old that is a lot of spills on the daily.

Together, we all like to watch movies. Liam prefers that the movies come with a side of ‘snuggling, please.’ Charlotte like marching around the house reprimanding everyone, shaking her finger, and declaring us all ‘naughty, naughty, naughty!’ She probably likes breastfeeding the most, though.

By myself, I like to read books; my favorites are Harry Potter, The Giver, and anything David Sedaris. I also like really beautiful cinema — Joe Wright and Wes Anderson make me all mushy — but would settle for a laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy any day. I’m talking to you, Will Ferrell.

We live in Utah, just south of Salt Lake City and near the mountains. As a child, I grew up in Seattle and knew that I wanted to go to college in Utah, but my child self would be shocked to find out that the adult me now calls Utah home.

All the stereotypes about conservative-happy-valley-shallow Utah were enough to convince adolescent Alix that Utah was not the place for me. But, like most stereotypes, reality is a different story.

I have grown to really really love living in Utah. Even in a predominately Latter-Day Saint (or Mormon) neighborhood, my neighbors are very diverse. Some of my closest and most sincere friendships with remarkable people have come about because we live in Utah.

In practical terms, the price of real estate and living are so affordable here, which is why Utah is expanding like crazy! And if you love the outdoors, I have yet to witness nature more beautiful than American Fork canyon in the fall.

Our home was not my first choice, but it turned out to be the best choice for us. In retrospect, I think we hit the jackpot.

We wanted to build right at that moment in 2012 when building and buying homes in Utah was very affordable. Originally we picked out the perfect lot with a jaw-dropping view, but then our builders were dishonest about some things and the lot was snagged up by another buyer. I was heartbroken.

However, without that lot as an option, I was finally open to buying a spec home.

(Readers: Just in case you aren’t familiar with the term, spec stands for speculative. A spec home is a home that a builder constructs with the belief that someone will eventually come along and want to purchase the home. This means someone else is choosing all the finishes, which can be a total life-saver for those who have a difficult time making those kinds of decisions…or a real downer for those who hold very specific design and decor dreams! xx Gabby)

After we moved in, although it was a new house, it didn’t feel like my house. My dream home would be a renovated farm house, so the generic finishes felt too sterile.

And so, being a bit of a handywoman, I have tackled some challenging renovations to make it feel like our real home. We added hardwood — actually composite — floors, painted every room, and added woodwork details in the kid’s bedrooms and main floor. With all the customization I’m beginning to become really attached to my home. Our next project is the kitchen makeover. Eek!

As far as aesthetic and decorations, I love my office the most. It is my creative and personal space.

I have worked hard to create personal spaces for both of my children and husband, that they may have an area to create in, as well.

But my favorite spot in my home is my living room couch. It is big. Big enough for us all to lay on and cuddle during movie nights, to have family discussions, and to load up with friends. Our living room is where the fun happens.

We also only have one television in our home, in the living room, and I love that as parents we always know who is watching what!

My kids are the coolest thing about my home. They make every inch more interesting and thought-out.

Baby-proofing a stylish home is definitely a creative challenge, but every item three feet down is an opportunity to teach my children what I care about.

We have LOTS of books and most are at my kid’s fingertips so naturally we read books a few times a day. Art supplies are also at the ready and boots for playing in the snow are stored in a basket for little fingers to slip on.

In this home, I want my kids to remember quality time with me. I just want them to feel heard and like they are worth my time.

I have a blog called A Ruffled Life, and it is a lifestyle blog. A Ruffled Life started out as a crafty space where my photography and DIY skills were challenged and improved.

As babies entered the picture and my interests have changed and grown, so has my content. Now Liam and Charlotte are the subjects of posts often, but I do try really hard to respect their privacy and childhood. It’s a delicate balance!

The absolute loveliest things to come from A Ruffled Life are the relationships I have formed with other bloggers and creators. A Ruffled Life has lead to relationships with brands I love — like Home Depot and Tiny Prints — and also people I really love.

Without A Ruffled Life I wouldn’t have found my book club or a dozen of my closest friends.

My biggest secret about blogging is that it is the wild wild west of jobs! What I mean is, blogging is still such a relatively new career path that there is so much space to define what a blog is and who a blogger is. That ambiguity drives me to be more creative every day.

It took me two years to realize it, but blogging has lead me to become a stylist, and styling is what I am now paid to do.

I began to post about outfits, craft products, and house products that I loved. And now, companies hire me to style their products for photo shoots and events!

But that is by no means how all bloggers make a career of blogging. My advice is to work really hard and while working hard, figure out what you are really good at. Find a way to make money doing that.

I love Pinterest. Such a revolutionary take on magazine clipping hoarding! Ten years ago, I had folders full of inspirational images. Now, all that inspiration collects on Pinterest.

But the thing about Pinterest is that it really is a game-changer for visual online business. Pinterest drives at least 30% of my traffic most months. In fact, every time I publish a post I do think to myself, ‘Is this pin-worthy?’

Pinterest, just as Instagram, acts as a filter for the images I share. But it has also made me a better photographer and a better stylist. Pinterest pushes me to be a better creator!

Everyone likes to talk about balance, but balance is such a dangerous word for me.

As a mother, whether you run a business or not, feeling balanced seems like a fictional concept. Children are completely consuming and wonderful, which is why my children have become a big part of my blog, but I never really feel like my time is perfectly divided.

At the end of most days, I have only accomplished half of my to-do list, but how I emotionally respond to that list is what really matters.

When I was a brand-new mom, I was always stressed and angry because of all I didn’t accomplish. Now, I make a conscious effort to focus on everything I did accomplish, from folding a load of laundry to wrapping up a major business project. Most days my house goes from clean to disaster zone to clean again, and that feels like a major accomplishment now!

I wish I had listened when people told me to be true to yourself when running a business.

In the creative field of blogging, there is SO MUCH talent to observe. For far too long, I tried to fit myself and my business into the boxes of other peoples’ businesses.

Figuring out what I do and who I am as a creative and founder has taken so long because of my pin-balling around the blog world.

Finally, after four years, I feel confident enough in my personal style and talents to venture into projects that feel very true to me.


Thank you, Alix! I absolutely adore that you consider your kids to be the coolest things in your home, and I’m going to remember this line: “They make every inch more interesting and thought-out.”

As well as this one: “Baby-proofing a stylish home is definitely a creative challenge, but every item three feet down is an opportunity to teach my children what I care about.” Teaching your children to take gentle care with the items in your home is a steep learning curve, sometimes littered with glass shards and priceless detritus, isn’t it? But well worth it in the end. Oh, let’s all take a moment to remember all the memories broken along the toddler way, shall we?

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Bethany Dufilho Tue, 01 Dec 2015 17:00:43 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Do you have a friend who encourages you to be the happiest possible version of yourself? One who sees the wonderful in everyone, and then goes one step beyond to gratefully acknowledge all the wonderful? Maybe she’s an interior decorator, too, who doesn’t believe that a dream home has anything to do with the number of rooms or the number of zeros in the price tag, or even the delicious color scheme that’s the current rage on Pinterest. Perhaps, instead, she thinks the life you and yours live inside the home is the dreamiest part of all.

If you’ve got a friend like this, you are a lucky one! But no worries if you don’t, because I’ve found one for us all. Her name is Bethany. You’re going to want to keep her.

Hey! I’m Bethany. My husband, Paul, and I have been married for 11 years, and we have three kids.

I’m a stay at home mom and part time interior decorator. Paul is a cinematographer and photographer for an oilfield equipment company. He’s the one who actually took all these photos of our home that you’re seeing. I do the decorating and styling, and then he makes it look great in photos. Truthfully, he’s the one who has really encouraged me to pursue my art and to follow this path I’m on! More on that later…

Our oldest son, Charlie, in the second grade, is a Minecraft and Lego wiz.  He’s a quiet but funny guy that loves reading and writing and as the oldest, he is constantly challenging our parenting. Paul and I often look at each other in a panic because who really knows what they’re doing here? By the grace of God, Charlie manages to still be a great kid despite our many parenting fumbles.

Our middle daughter, Norah, is a firecracker who loves dancing, coloring, and fashion. When I found out I was having a girl, I think I was so excited to have this little doll to dress up and give her the girly room that I wanted to decorate. She quickly showed me that she’s her own person with her own opinions about things, which I think was a lesson I needed to learn early on. Around age two she fought me on every single outfit I picked out, and now at age five she dresses herself completely. It’s a battle I had to give up early on and I’m so thankful I did. She’s got a creative spark and I would never want to quench that.

Will is our affectionate, rough-and-tumble, little number three. We still sometimes accidentally refer to him as a baby, and I’m okay with that right now. I stay home with him and he plays hard, loves hard, and sleeps hard.

We live in Katy, Texas, a large suburb just west of Houston. This is the nearest we can live without being in the city. We moved here from the country, where Paul’s previous job was, so it still feels pretty big to me. There’s lots of traffic, it’s noisy and crowded, though I must admit I love having every convenience close by.

Honestly, it took me a while to get used to the busy-ness and the noise. But I have to say that I do love it. I’m so thankful that Paul can be home from work in 20 minutes and we can maximize our time together. He doesn’t have this huge commute everyday.

And, because we are so close to Houston and so many people like us move here for jobs in the city, Katy is incredibly diverse. We have at least six different countries represented on our little street! I grew up an Army brat. I moved all over the country, even overseas for a time, so I love that my kids get to experience, even in a small way, some of that diversity and a bit of the larger world around them.

We moved here about three years ago when Paul got the job he has now.  When I first walked in to this house, I loved the high ceilings and how open it was. I also loved the little bonus room upstairs with the nook that we’ve now turned into a library for our kids.

It never held dream home status for us, but honestly, I don’t think that’s what we were looking for. It is your basic suburban floor plan from about 15 years ago and it needed — and still needs — some updates.

Dream home for us, though, is really more about the life we’re living inside the home.

We were thinking about how could we make this house, even with its quirks and imperfections, really reflect our family and our life? How can we live close enough to Paul’s work so he can be home and we can be together more? How can we live in a house we can afford and send our kids to great schools? Those were the things we were looking for beyond the actual house itself. We knew if the price was right, we could change some things inside the house.

So, at first? Yeah, it wasn’t love at first sight. But we painted the cabinets. We painted every wall, ceiling, and almost every inch of woodwork. We changed out the light fixtures and many of the floors.

What is supposed to be the formal dining room when you first walk in pulls double-duty for us as a homework and craft room that’s also available as a dining room when we entertain.

Our master bedroom is also a home office. The house has become a place that feels like home, that feels like us and works for us. And now we love it.

I was inspired to start decorating after Charlie was born and I first became a stay-at-home mom. While decorating his nursery I just had so much fun getting creative with paint and color and pattern. I thought, “Why can’t I be this creative in the rest of my house?”

I started reading design blogs and realized I didn’t have to have specialized training or a degree in design to make my home how I wanted it — I just needed to take some risks, paint some walls, and experiment a little! So that’s what I started doing.

Our first home became like design school for me. I can’t tell you how many times I painted and repainted, how many times I rearranged furniture, and how many nail holes I put in those poor walls. It really was the training ground for me to discover my style and learn things like scale, contrast, and how to plan a room from start to finish.

During that time I had some friends and family members reach out to me and ask for help with projects in their own homes. My business grew from there, and so I started my blog as a way to share what I was working on. I do mostly consultations but also some more involved full service work. It’s slow and steady work, and I really only work outside of my house one day a week so that I can be home with my little guy the rest of the time…but I’m so thankful for the creative outlet it has provided.

Growing up and moving around a lot as an Army brat, I think I spent a lot of time just trying to fit in and make friends as quickly as possible. I never thought of myself as a really creative person. I liked to sing, but I was never great at drawing or painting or anything like that, and my goal was to definitely never ever stand out.

I met Paul in college, and even though he was an engineering major, he had all these crazy (to me) hobbies. He loved music and cooking, art, and videography. After we got married and he was working as an engineer, he kept up all of these hobbies and added a few more like drawing. I still didn’t really get it. His creative pursuits felt like a waste of time to me. Okay, except for the cooking hobby! I admit that I enjoyed and benefitted from that one!

Looking back, I didn’t always support him the way I wish I would have, but I’m so thankful his creative spark didn’t burn out. After working in a job for eight years that he didn’t love, he was offered the chance to pursue videography professionally. It was completely a dream come true, and now I’m so thankful for those years he spent mastering his craft even though it wasn’t his day job.

Even if it had come to nothing professionally though, it’s so much of who he is and how he expresses himself. I’m so grateful to have learned that now, as it’s something that has enriched my parenting and my own life, as well. Making time for pursuing your creative life opens up so much of yourself, and it’s given me this fulfillment that I never could have dreamed of.

I see a blank wall or an empty shelf as my canvas. I see a grouping of artwork or a client’s personal accessories and books as my paintbrushes. The thrill in seeing it all come together is really what keeps me going, and I’m so grateful to my husband for teaching me that. He’s so great at what he does, and he’s encouraged me to have confidence in what I do.

Because I’m not professionally trained, I can tend toward fear and comparison, but I just keep on going and working and creating, knowing that in that process, I am practicing my craft, my own art.

Since most of my work comes through referrals or through the blog, many of my clients have young children and are in the same season of life as I am. Often, they’re not interested in purchasing new furniture, but that’s totally okay because I love working with what someone already has. Maybe they just need some pattern and texture added in or to rearrange the furniture in a new way. It’s fun for me to think through all of those things with a client and consider how a space can best work for their family.

My biggest project so far was for a dear friend and client; I call it the Montgomery House on my blog. It was a custom home that I helped design from start to finish that had a farmhouse aesthetic with lots of craftsman detailing — a new home but with lots of old home charm.

She loves all things old and shabby chic, but she allowed me to inject some modern lines into the decor for just enough contrast that made it really something special. I had so much fun on that project, and of course working with a friend helped, too!

The most fun part of my job though, is when a room or home is completely finished and Paul and I go back together and take photos. It’s like a date for us because he loves making my work shine and I love getting to see him in his element. Sounds romantic, right? The idea of romance really changes once you have three kids, doesn’t it? Ha!

I started blogging as a way to show my work as a decorator. It was really going to just be before and after pictures, but I found myself wanting to share the real life moments, like the messes behind the pretty photos and the mechanics that go in to taking a photo like the ones you see here.

So I started writing some more personal posts that touched on those ideas, and quickly realized those were getting the most reaction. It dawned on me that you could find pretty house pictures really anywhere. I mean, Pinterest is a gold mine for beautiful homes that outshine my photos any day.

But the comments I was getting from my more raw and real posts were so kind and encouraging that I felt drawn more and more to share the real and purposeful side of my work beyond the pretty pictures. That’s been the best part of blogging for me: connecting with my readers in a real and meaningful way. My hope is that readers can come to my site and know my heart, not just see a bunch of pretty images.

I do struggle with balance sometimes since I work from home and a lot of what I do is online, like blogging and I also love Instagram. My little one naps in the afternoons so I get a lot done during that time, but it can be hard for me to shut it down when my oldest two come home from school.

I don’t really feel pressure to be relevant because I know the design world can be really subjective. Yes, there are certain things that work or don’t work aesthetically, but also everyone just has their own opinions about things. So my goal is to just stay true to myself on my blog, to post what I’m working on or what I’m currently inspired by, and not get pulled in different directions by trends.

I just always want to be myself. I try to just be honest and real, because that’s what I’m most drawn to when I read other blogs, design and otherwise!

My philosophy on design and living with kids is to let life dictate my style and my home. We let our books, the kids’ toys, their art, and the things we’re interested in decorate our home and make it unique. Otherwise I’m constantly telling everyone to “Put that stuff away” because it’s interfering with the aesthetic.

For me, especially in kid’s spaces but also in my living room since I stay home with Will, the toys, books, and art are the color. If I had a carefully well thought out color scheme, it would be ruined by mid morning when the toys are all over the living room floor. Of course, we have storage and there’s a time for keeping things neat, but I love living in a way that even the toys and books don’t interfere with the color and beauty of the home.

Books are really my favorite things to decorate with. I love to read and I love having books all over the house. For one, this encourages reading among our kids, but for another thing, books are full of real and natural color that don’t adhere to a color scheme or palette. They are like little purposeful works of art that you can pick up and read whenever you want.

This whole idea and philosophy has totally changed my life because I can look around even when things are not where they belong, and I still see beauty in the chaos!

My favorite part about living with my kids is those moments when they really pour their hearts out to you. For our kids, it’s usually before bedtime when we’re so dead tired and, honestly, it can be hard to be really ready for those moments, but we try to be intentional about them. Like I said earlier, Charlie is pretty quiet, but sometimes at bedtime he’ll just open up and want me to lay in his bed and talk with him. I love moments like that and cherish them so much.

This parenting thing is not easy at all, and I think the expectation, at least for me, was that when my kids were born they were going to be these little tiny fulfillments of my dreams. Or that they were somehow going to reflect to the world something I may be lacking.

I’ve put way too much pressure on my kids in the past to uphold my own image or my own reputation. I forget they are their own person, created with their own quirks and personalities, likes, and dislikes! I heap expectations on them they were never meant to fulfill.

I forget that when my kids make a mistake or pee their pants or cry all the way through Target, that this is just what kids do sometimes. This is not a reflection on me as a mother or on me as a person. I’m not saying I don’t discipline when needed, but it has been a freeing thing to learn this and calm down a little.

I wish I could have learned that sooner. It breaks my heart to think of the times I have freaked out over little things and overreacted because I felt like my image was at stake.

I hope my kids remember this home as a place we were together a lot. While their bedrooms and a playroom are upstairs, we keep a lot of storage for their toys and books downstairs. We only have one TV and just love time spent together in our living room, around the table eating dinner together, or in the backyard playing a made up game called football tag.

I don’t know this for sure, but I envision it will be the home they do a good portion of their growing up in so I want them to know and remember it as a safe place for their creative pursuits, their dreams, their anxieties, and their ups and downs in this stage of their lives.

I hope they remember that I was there for them through it all. But I hope they also remember that I was an example for them, exploring my own creativity, not looking to them to fulfill my dreams, but giving them the freedom to live the lives they were created for.

I really wish someone had told me — and I had listened sooner! — that creativity is a worthy pursuit. It’s never a waste of time.

I spent a lot of years just trying to blend in. Creativity gives me so much freedom, and where better to start than in my home? Especially as someone who feels a bit introverted, my home is my safe place, so it should be the place I feel like I can take some risks — like painting my hallway black! — and not feel the need to live up to anyone else’s expectations or rules.

Once I really heard that and started to believe it, I was opened up to a whole world of creativity I never knew I had in me.


Thank you, Bethany! The story of how your husband’s never-ending pursuit for creative outlets inspired you — eventually! — to embrace your own, is my favorite.

It’s always inspiring to hear how our partners make us better, just by their quiet example. If anyone has their own partner-muse to share, I know we’d all love to hear about them! What makes them so uplifting?

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Rebecca Green Tue, 24 Nov 2015 17:00:40 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a circle. I’m glad for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I made a lot of mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just had to take that first step!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I also think it’s interesting that Amy found her design groove when faced with her daughter’s nursery. Funny, right? Did the same thing happen to any of you? Which room helped you break a décor block and run free with your inspiration? I always love to hear your stories!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Like I said: lovely. Welcome, Lara!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle. Photography by the very talented Lesley Colvin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, it’s ours,” my husband said.

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

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

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

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

“No, I trust you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went in the opposite direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, my nine year old nearly lost it.

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

Oh, good. She gets it.


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

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

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

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

Hi everyone! I’m Lindsey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Any older parents out there? I’d love to hear your experiences! Do you find it easy to make friends with the younger ones, or are they in complete shock when they hear you’ve got older kids? Tell us how you’re different and better in your 40s; we all want to hear those stories!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Have you ever experienced such a backfire? I love your stories!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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