Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 22 May 2015 17:51:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Jessica Rushing Tue, 19 May 2015 11:00:21 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kelsey Gerhard.

At some point during my correspondence with Jessica, she mentioned that her primary goal wasn’t to have her home tour published on Design Mom. Well, it was probably one of the reasons why she asked her friend, Kelsey, to take the photos in the first place, but eventually she realized she simply wanted to record this time in her family’s life. Her house is just growing out of the babyhood stage, most of their furnishing are inherited or found, and the family is set to embark on a one or two year adventure in England.

Everything is about to change in the matter of a few weeks, but Jessica learned – somewhere between the photo shoot and her interview – that this moment should be remembered. The house, the decor, the little puppy scratches by the back door…it’s not all perfect, but it’s perfect to them. Such a wonderful reminder, isn’t it?

Please help me welcome Jessica!

Hello, everyone! I’m so happy to share my home with you today! My husband Matt and I live here with our four children, our fat, snuggly old cat, and our two year old puppy.

Matt and I both enlisted in the Army after graduating from college and were stationed at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. We met in January 2003, started dating in June, got engaged in July, and got married in December. After we got married, we had four kids in about five and a half years, so our life together has been jam-packed from the very beginning.

I am the Communications Manager for a non-profit called the Officer Down Memorial Page, which is basically my dream job. I also started my blog about a year and a half ago, and I love it – writing is my favorite thing, so blogging really makes me happy. In my free time, I love to read, work out, play with my kids, and hang out with my husband. Not necessarily in that order! And I love to travel.

Now that our kids are old enough that travel is suddenly far less complicated and way more fun, we’re hoping to really embrace that and travel a lot more in the near future.

Matt is a consultant for a government contracting firm. He’s funny and smart and a super-involved dad, which makes my job as a mom so much easier and more rewarding. He makes me the best version of myself, and hopefully I do the same for him. I like him a lot.

Bridget, our ten year old daughter, is intelligent, dramatic, witty, impatient, thoughtful, and funny. She loves sports of all kinds and she is also very, very into theater and photography. She has a creative soul. Her little brothers might refer to her as bossy, but I prefer to say she knows how to take charge of a situation and has great leadership skills. I pretty much think she’s awesome.

Gabriel is eight, and is my most physical and snuggly child. He wears all his emotions on his sleeve and just completely interprets the world around him through touch. He is friendly and outgoing and loves hanging out with his friends. Gabe is an excellent athlete and would gladly stay outside playing baseball, football, hockey, swimming, riding bikes, skateboarding, and generally being active all day, every day. Sitting still is not really his thing.

Owen, my six year old, is a thinker and an observer. He is my most determined child; he just does not give up at something he wants to do until he is successful. It’s a beautiful characteristic when he’s trying to learn to ride a bike or throw a fastball, but it’s slightly less admirable when he turns his determination against me, like when it’s time for bed. He is also very athletic and we haven’t yet found a sport he can’t master. He’s fun to watch.

Quinn turned five this week, but he is and always will be my baby. He is the happiest and friendliest kid I know. He has never met a person or an animal he didn’t like. Like his siblings, he also loves sports. He is my partner for grocery shopping, running errands, gym visits, and all the other day-to-day things I have to get done, and he’s a rock star for all of it. I’m lucky I get to hang out with him all day, and I will be really lonely when he heads to kindergarten in the Fall.

We moved to the D.C. area almost ten years ago when Matt got out of the Army; he got a great job offer here and that was basically the deciding factor. When we first arrived, we just wanted to settle down after having moved around A LOT in the Army, but there just weren’t a ton of single family homes in our price range that didn’t need major updating. We looked at so many houses, but felt like they all needed too much work to really be what we wanted.

Then our realtor brought us to this house. When we pulled into the driveway, we made him double check that it was actually in our price range – that it wasn’t a typo or a mistake – because it was much nicer than anything else we’d seen. The previous owners were both retired and wanted to downsize, so they had cut the price so this house was just barely in our price range. As soon as we walked in and I saw the huge eat-in kitchen – which was easily twice as big as any other we’d seen – I turned to Matt and told him this was the house. We hadn’t even seen the upstairs yet! He did make me at least look at the bedrooms before making the final decision, but, like the rest of the house, they were lovely, and we literally sat down at the kitchen table with our realtor and wrote up an offer right then and there. Our offer was accepted, and one month later we closed on the house and moved in.

Finding this neighborhood was a happy accident. After we moved in, we actually learned that people stalk this area waiting for houses to go on the market because it’s such a great neighborhood for families! There are tons of kids and the neighbors are all very friendly. We have an awesome mix of older and younger families, so there’s no shortage of friends to play with or teenagers to baby-sit my kids when Matt and I want to go out.


The schools in this area are really, really great and both our elementary and middle schools are within walking distance from our house, so in the mornings and afternoons my kids walk to and from school along with all their friends. Parents are out walking their younger kids to school, and everyone waves and chats. I just love it.

I can’t lie, though: it is not inexpensive. The D.C. Metro area is definitely pricey, but it really is worth it. We are less than 45 minutes from downtown D.C., so we can easily get in to town and go to the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, or tour the monuments for an afternoon anytime. And less than 45 minutes in the other direction we are in farm country in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with tons of amazing places to go hiking, kayaking, and camping, so we really do have the best of both worlds right at our fingertips.

We’ve been here eight years this month, and I still love my kitchen. I love my whole house, actually. Since moving in, we’ve taken on a few house projects, the biggest of which was finishing the basement. It was just concrete walls and floor, and now it’s a giant recreation room and play space that the kids practically live in when the weather is bad. We also have a guest room down there, and an office for Matt that is still sort of under construction. With the help of our families, we finished the whole basement ourselves – from framing and electric to drywall and painting. It was a huge labor of love and it took a long time, but it’s been so worth it! We love that space and we use it all the time.

While I definitely think my aesthetic is still evolving, I’d say my style tends to be a little eclectic and a little traditional. I love rooms that mix old and new and that look like they’ve evolved over time. I love antiques and items with a back story. I prefer classics over trends because I want things that will always look good. When we moved in here, we were deep in the babyhood stage. We didn’t buy tons of new furniture because we didn’t want anything too precious, so we have lots of hand-me-downs and many, many Craigslist finds. But I love the balance of older items with newer pieces. I think we make it work. I try really hard to make the rooms look cozy, livable, and still stylish.

Now that the kids are older, though, and far less likely to write on walls or spill juice all over the sofa, I feel like it’s time to update and reexamine what works for our family. We are definitely beginning the transition out of the baby phase, which is sort of exciting. I think it will be a fun process, but I need to take my time and be thoughtful about what items I want to invest in and how I want the rooms to function. Pinterest is my best friend right now and I’ve got tons of great ideas – I just need to decide which ones to put into action.

Currently, things are still a little up in the air, but a few months ago, we learned that Matt may have a position with his company for a few years in England! We are so excited and our fingers and toes are all crossed that it works out because it would be such an amazing adventure! It’s almost certain that it’s happening, but the timing is really up in the air. When we first heard about it, we thought we’d be leaving in January, but we’re still waiting on final dates. At this point, it would be summer at the earliest before we’d be going. But we are definitely going to jump on this opportunity whenever it happens. It’s something Matt and I always dreamed of doing, and our kids are just at great ages for this kind of experience. (UPDATE! We just received word! Let our adventure begin!)

Because this would just be a temporary position, and because we love our neighborhood and this area so much, we won’t be selling our house. We definitely plan on coming back here, so we’ll rent it while we’re overseas. That makes things a little more complicated in terms of planning, but I think that also makes it easier for the kids to be excited. Since they know we’re not leaving their friends and their home permanently, they are just thrilled about the adventure of it all instead of sad to be leaving this place they call home.

We have been renters in a lot of places before, but we’ve never been landlords, so this is all new to us. When you realize that someone else may be living in your home for a fairly long-term, you really look at everything differently. Suddenly you see all the little imperfections that you overlook on a daily basis, like the baseboard by the back door that the dog scratched all up when he was a puppy and you just never quite fixed. Or the dent in the playroom dry wall from an unsanctioned game of indoor soccer that no one will admit to playing. Ahem.

So the first thing we did was walk room-by-room through the house and make a list of every little thing that needed to be fixed up. Even the smallest details are important because we want the house to present well and rent at a good price. We tackled those items right away because it really felt good to be able to check a bunch of stuff off the to-do list without expending a ton of time or money.

In landlord mode, I think we’re trying to balance making updates to make the house more rentable with not spending money on major renovations since we’re not going to be here to enjoy them for a while! Hopefully though, the things that make us love our home will translate to renters, and it will all work out.

You know, it’s easy to overlook how much you love your home on a day-to-day basis and to focus only on the things you want to change or update. It’s easy to get caught up in the thought that “If I just had that new couch, I would love this room” or to look at homes on Pinterest and feel like what you have doesn’t measure up. Right now, though, because of the potential move, I find myself appreciating our home so much more. It’s been eye-opening because I feel like it shouldn’t take such a huge upheaval to make me love my home every day.

When I think about leaving this house and this neighborhood – even temporarily, and even for an amazing adventure – it makes me a little sad. But instead of focusing on that, I try to focus on appreciating what we have while we are still here to enjoy it. We are really lucky to have this great home in this amazing neighborhood and I do not want to take that for granted.

When I first saw the photos that Kelsey took for this interview, I realized that our home is really lovely just the way it is and I’m proud of the way it looks and the way we’ve designed it using what we have. It’s comfortable and cozy and pretty and it’s reflective of my life right now: a little bit of a mish-mash but fun and full of love, even if it’s not all brand new and none of it matches.

I’m really grateful to have these photos of this house at this time in our lives, because when we get back from our move, everything will be different. And I love our lives right now so much. I know that as we go through this major transition, and then come out the other side hopefully with new experiences and a new perspective, I will treasure this little snapshot of our home and my kids forever.

I think my favorite part of living with my kids is creating family traditions. We’ve been fairly deliberate about creating and maintaining traditions, so we have lots of them. I love family game nights. We play a lot of Pictionary and Poker. I love movie nights when all six of us pile on the big sectional couch with bowls of popcorn and watch a movie together. I love birthday mornings when the birthday kid wakes up to a decorated kitchen and gifts at their seat at the  breakfast table and we sing happy birthday with candles in a pancake. And I really love holidays with kids – all of them!  There just seems to be so much more to celebrate when there are children involved.

The thing that surprised me the most about becoming a mother is how long the days can be, but how quickly the time flies by. Every mother has had days where you just can’t wait for the kids to be in bed. You cannot imagine playing one more game of Candy Land or reading one more children’s book or having to mediate one more disagreement or cleaning up from one more meal. Those days that just drag by and you look at the clock to see if it’s nap time yet and it’s only 9:00 am. But then I look back across the last ten years and I feel like I have to slow time down because it’s all going by too fast.

My daughter is closer to college than to birth. It’s hard to believe. People always tell you it flies by, but until you’re in it, you can’t even imagine how true that is.

I hope our kids remember the friends we’ve made here and the amazing community and neighborhood that we’re so lucky to be a part of. Matt and I didn’t grow up here and didn’t know anyone when we moved here, so we had to start from scratch and create our own village. I hope the kids always remember this great community of friends. I hope they remember walking to their friends’ houses up the street to play and having impromptu cookouts with neighbors on the weekends and spending most of our waking hours in the summer at the local pool surrounded by all these people we love to spend time with. I hope they make lifelong friendships here that they can take with them no matter where they live when they grow up.

As for me, I hope they remember our adventures, both big and little. Bike rides through the park near our house. Day trips into D.C. to go to the museums. Skiing in the winter. Going to the pool and our favorite ice cream shop in the summer. Annual road trips to New York and Boston. And maybe even a year or two in Europe! I hope they remember that Matt and I always wanted to DO STUFF WITH THEM and that we tried to make even the little things special.

I wish someone had told me that you can have it all…you just can’t have it all at once.

Don’t worry about having a perfectly designed and immaculately clean house AND a fulfilling and well-paying job AND trying to cook organic, gourmet meals AND have stylish clothes and hair AND be in top physical shape while simultaneously raising children. There is eventually time to do it all, but you’ve got to work up to it.

Hearing that advice – or just realizing it was true – would have taken a lot of stress and self-imposed pressure off me when my babies were really young. I’ve finally realized that it’s a gradual process to get to where all those things are possible.


Thank you, Jessica! Yes, that realization when your kids are closer to leaving home than the day they arrived is a little gut-wrenching! But your all-caps emphasis on your hope that they remember how you always wanted to DO STUFF WITH THEM is a great indicator that you’re using your time with them wisely and happily. Well done.

Friends, have you ever left your home in the hands of renters while you went on a temporary adventure? I am sure Jessica would love to hear any hard-earned advice you learned along your way, so please share it if you’ve got it! You know I love the conversations that happen in the comments.

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: Mia Galison Tue, 12 May 2015 12:00:59 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Andrea Reisfeld and Saxton Freymann.

Mia owns a super cute boutique toy company on the Upper West Side of New York. It began in the basement of the building where she still lives, but now is found just down the street. Once a renovated ballroom that at one point was a Japanese tea room full of flea market finds, Chinese art deco, rugs, sky lights, and school house lighting, it’s pretty magnificent. (Especially the bathroom converted to become her son’s room! See if you can spot the tiling and leftover soap bed!)

The photographs she submitted were a jumble of old memories and current – how her home looked in the thick of of having three kids under four years old, and how lovely and quiet and clean it looks today, and every stage in between – and I wasn’t sure which ones to share. You see, her kids are older, off to college and other adventures, so sharing the older images might not make contextual sense. But then I thought, “Hey. This is what it’s all about! Learning from each other how to live as well as we possibly can with our children!” Mia has a goldmine of experience on this topic, and most of the important stuff happened years ago.

I went with the shots that inspired me: crafts at the kitchen table, stuffed sleepovers, working in the basement from 9:00 pm until 2:00 am, and room for one more. So if you see a shot of a young one climbing on a chair in front of a grand window, know that he is at University now, and know that probably every single detail in that photo is missed terribly today.

Yes, it took a lot of hard work and sleepless nights and sacrifice – you will smile when you hear how they communicated before mobile phones and FaceTime! – but she has zero regrets about how she lived with her kids. That is a result I wish for us all! Welcome, Mia!

Hello! I’m Mia Galison. I’ve been married to artist Saxton Freymann for 25 years. Sax wrote and illustrated the Play with Your Food book series, and he currently works on his artwork when he isn’t developing games or illustrating for eeBoo.

We had Eyck, (named for the Flemish artist) in 1994, and less than two years later we had twins, Elodie and Finn.

Sax and I share an enormous and glorious studio space that used to be a Japanese Tea House on Manhattan’s Upper West side. I work upstairs with the eeBoo staff and he works downstairs, in what used to be a beautifully tiled kitchen. He is a great husband who is always happy to spend the day at a flea market with me and talk over projects even in the middle of the night.

Our son Eyck loves history and politics and is an intrepid adventurer. Last year, he took a year off from college to work and then traveled alone across Europe and China. He is currently studying East Asian History and is about to spend his summer at the Carnegie Institute for World Peace in Beijing.

Finn loves reading and performing Shakespeare and circus and card tricks. His specialty is word-smithing and he likes to write songs and play music. He’s also very funny and is usually surrounded by lots of friends.

Elodie is an artist and scientist. She cuts elaborate silhouettes, draws, paints, makes crazy things out of felt, and generally engages everyone around her in a project of one kind or another. She also has had a long-standing love of medicinal plants. As a child, she made balms and teas and pressed or dried everything she got her hands on. She’s thinking of majoring in Environmental science or traditional medicine, and she throws Javelin for her University’s Track and Field team.

We began looking for an apartment in New York City in 1990 soon after a significant real estate crash. When we saw our apartment, it had been on the market for a long time and it was a stinky mess. The herringbone wood floors had been covered by linoleum or wall-to-wall carpeting, there was five times more furniture squished in to every room then there should have been, and a gigantic sectional sofa filled the entire living room. The apartment seemed very dark because of the heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes that were hung over the French-door windows, but when we pulled the curtains aside, we saw the view of a small park, beyond which you could see the faintest bit of the Hudson River.

Sax and I loved the space immediately. When I looked around the rooms I could imagine it spare, with the opulent curves and glorious proportions. We felt that it had to be ours, and miraculously no one else wanted it.

Over the years we have done a lot to the apartment. When we had three kids in less than two years, we needed to be very creative. Sax boxed in the bathtub in the extra bathroom and that became Eyck’s bedroom. He had a soap dish over his head and a medicine cabinet in his room. The walls are covered with crackily 100 year old tiles – which are perfect for taping up posters.

Right after Eyck was born we started eeBoo in the basement apartment directly under ours, but they were not connected. Ten years later we were able to buy that space, and we joined the apartments with a staircase and replaced our puny little kitchen with a huge warm gathering space. Finn also moved downstairs since his former bedroom was so small that his bed couldn’t be any bigger than 6 feet – and he got to be 6’3”. Best of all we finally had a place to put all our books on shelves and get a huge long table for the dinners with family and friends that has been among the greatest joys of my life – and the center of our life as a family.

At night I often walk in to the living room to look at the windows and I cannot believe how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful peaceful place.

I live in the neighborhood where I grew up in – New York City’s Upper West Side. We live a short walk to where my mother lived as a child and where my grandmother and grandfather lived as children; it’s where my great grandparents settled when they arrived from Romania in 1904, so I have an obvious bias for the neighborhood!

It’s quiet and leafy and it’s still the ethnically diverse area it was when I was growing up in the 1960s. There are restaurants of every imaginable kind and great New York pizza. Riverside Park hugs the Hudson River, and is cool in the summer even when the rest of the city is not. You can walk along the banks on a small path that runs along with the water with the river sweeping by only feet away. Most of the buildings that line the winding and irregular Riverside Drive were built around the turn of the century, and are no taller than 12 stories with large elegant apartments with high ceilings and walls loaded with chunky mouldings. The tree lined side streets are filled with formal stone townhouses, and almost everyone has abundantly filled window boxes. Our apartment is on a tiny spur of the drive that makes a small loop around a little park and shelters us from almost all traffic. In the evenings, it is easy to imagine the sounds of horse hooves – if it wasn’t illuminated by electric lights, everything you see is as it was 100 years ago.

I was working as a creative director and product development person when I got pregnant with my first child. I wanted to find a way to be able to spend time with him, and thought I could contribute something unique to the children’s specialty market. My first products were Garden Bug cookie cutters (packaged in a jar with decorating instructions) that I had manufactured in a tiny factory in Pennsylvania, and a crazy hand-made alpaca cap with points that I called a satellite hat. They had nothing to do with one another but I only had the money to make one thing in a factory at a time and I figured I could fill my line up with things I could make myself as I sold them.

Right around the time that the Bug Cookie Cutters were ready to ship, I found out I was pregnant with twins. Going back to work for other people was now a logistical impossibility. I couldn’t afford a babysitter for that many infants, and my husband who was painting at the time could not care for three children under the age of three on his own – no way. I knew I had to work like a maniac and be really smart and frugal, so we worked out a complex revolving system of child care that included parents, friends, and babysitters, and which allowed me to be integral to the rotation and spend lots of times with my kids.

A revolving rotation of husband, friends, babysitters, relatives, and me – that’s how we spent the first few years. I was able to rent a crude apartment in the basement of our building, and Sax and I would take turns working there for a few hours at a time – weekends as well – running up and down the stairs.

Brenda, the designer I’ve worked with for 30 years, would drive in and we’d work from 9:00 pm after putting the kids to bed until 2:00 am. Then I’d wake Sax up and he’d walk her to her car. Efficiency, organization, and totally forgoing any trace of a social life other than time spent with family or close friends optimized the time I was able to work. Being careful about money was also key because really being able to spend time with my family meant that eeBoo had to grow enough to the point that it paid our bills.

Sax and I did as many things ourselves as we possibly could. Having eeBoo in the basement allowed me to conserve time not having to commute. We only had one phone line for the apartment and the office so when the kids were upstairs (supervised of course) and they needed me for something, they would go to a specific part of the ceiling and stomp – then I could pick up the phone and talk to them over the dial-tone.

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.

We encouraged our children to participate in activities together so that we could spend weekends as a family, not breaking up with one parent taking one kid somewhere and the others somewhere else. I felt this allowed for the more important development of us as a family unit. All for one, and one for all.

As a special time for each child, we had a babysitter come once a week in the evening and we took one child out alone for dinner. It was a great strategy because we got so much more meaningful communication with them when there was no competition for our attention. This tradition began when they were tiny and continued until they went to college. I never had as much time as I really wanted with my kids when they were growing up, so I made it my priority to make sure that it was as plentiful as I could humanly manage, and tried my hardest to be really present for it…and never take it for granted.

My toy philosophy is fairly simple. I love useful things made of paper, cloth, wood, or other natural material and old things that were designed beautifully for children. I like games that kids play around the house or outside just using their imagination and props – like taping leaves to themselves or sitting in an empty box in the middle of the living room floor. My kids played with wooden blocks, hats and scarves from flea markets, vintage costumes, loads of art supplies and books – and empty boxes. For over a year, we had an empty refrigerator box in the middle of our living room with control panels drawn on the inside walls.

Sax and I supplied the miscellany and technical support, but the play was all theirs. As far as games I’ve purchased for my home, I like toys that can be played across generations, that encourage individual and cooperative creative thinking, and that are beautiful enough to stay in a child’s mind for their lifetime. In that spirit, we have tried to create simple, wholesome games and activities that will be meaningful for children and their families.

I’ve always loved being a mom. I loved simple things like lying next to them when they’d fall asleep after a story and the way they smelled and how warm they were in their pajamas. But, the part I love the most about my life with children is also the part that made me go crazy sometimes: the constant hum of emotion, action, and affection. Family dinners with my kids, my parents, and their friends. Loud, messy dinners with arguing or singing and a house filled with people. Running the business out of our home while having plenty of family nearby, brought in lots of people…including Mr. Ross the piano teacher, a constant flow of visiting friends and relations from all over the world, all happy to have a place to stay in New York City.

I always strove to make our home inviting, comfortable and beautiful and always tried to have delicious things to eat. Seeing the kitchen filled with loud conversation, a floor filled with sleeping bodies, a group of kids playing a game around the table – made me so happy and gave me endless energy. Now that the kids are away, we still have plenty of house-guests (and our two dogs) but I really miss the clamor at the dinner table. Occasionally we are lucky enough to have one of their friends come over for dinner, and we don’t miss an opportunity to gather everyone together when they come home from school.

What surprised me was that our children still listened to what I said even after they got so much taller than me – which happened when they were still in elementary school!

Someone once told me that it all goes by so fast, and I understood it straight away. I knew that the time when my kids were young was very likely to be the best years of our life, and Sax and I really dug into making the most of it. Not having time for ourselves without the kids was not a sacrifice. Now that my kids are recently off to college, I don’t feel bad about how I spent the brief time I had with them home. Of course, I wish I had had more.

People tell you, but I didn’t know how true it was, that children internalize who you are as a parent: the good things and the bad. And it’s easy to forget when they are little, but then you see yourself in them so clearly when they get to be teenagers and by the time you see it – it’s kind of too late to change it! It can be positive things like a strong work ethic, or bad things like getting too stressed out.

It’s hard to believe how tired you’ll be. How much you’ll worry about them. That it takes planning and a lot of thought to help your kids build a good relationship with one another. It doesn’t always just happen. We gave a ton of thought toward trying to reduce competition, encourage each of them to try the things that their siblings were better at than they were, and helped them to appreciate one another’s accomplishments.

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.

I hope they remember me as a mother as one who encouraged them to pursue their interests and did my best to provide the best opportunities for them to explore and engage themselves.


Mia, thank you so much! I’m so glad I decided to use your memoried photos. Yes, they made my eyes water, but I couldn’t imagine your story without them. Also, I absolutely love the back story of eeBoo. Especially: “I refused to embrace the compromise of work versus family – I was determined to have it all in one place, one self-perpetuating organism.” It’s beyond inspiring, and I know there are some entrepreneurs out there right now who just got that extra burst of “I can do it!” (Tell us if you’re one of them, will you?)

Do you make one-on-one time for your kids? I think it’s an awesome tradition. I respect how important it was to Mia and Sax, so much so that they made time for it at the expense of their own one-on-one time. Family traditions sometimes involve a little sacrifice and sometimes a lot of “Are we really doing this again?” and “Yes, it will live in their memories – and ours – forever.” Family life…I never get tired of these 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: Sophie McCurley Tue, 05 May 2015 15:00:12 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I am a big fan of families who not only make a smaller space work, but actually thrive in it. (I think I’ve told you this before!) There’s often so much more to living with kids than the house itself, right? Spacious, cozy, or somewhere in between, much of the goodness comes from what’s outside the front door.

And the way Sophie describes it, Phoenix has a lot to offer (I spent half of last week in Phoenix, and I agree!). Like the weather. For those who live in a cold climate, Phoenicians’ winters are definitely enviable. It’s the summers that keep families inside and hiding from the 110 degree heat! And it’s then that the smallness gets to Sophie. How does she deal? I’ll let her tell you! Welcome, Sophie!

Hi, everyone! My name is Sophie. I’m married to a totally awesome guy named Mike, and together we have three daughters: Ava, Perla, and Zosia.

Mike and I are both native Phoenicians, which seems to be mind-boggling to many people here. Lots of natives leave, while many non-natives relocate here. I used to be one of the people who couldn’t wait to leave, but over the years I’ve come to develop a true love for our city and state. Anyway, we were both born in the same hospital, which we now live a block away from. Sometimes I feel silly admitting that, but the hospital itself is somewhat of a landmark with some unique architecture, so it’s fun looking out our dining room window and seeing the place where we both started. We also live half a mile from the high school I attended. Another one of those things I’m not sure I should admit or not! Ha!

Phoenix often gets a really bad rap for being nothing more than a suburban wasteland, and that can’t be farther from the truth. While, yes, a large majority of the city is indeed suburban, the area in which we live is rich with cultural diversity. We live in a historic neighborhood in the downtown central area, where local businesses reign and true community exists. Our neighbors are some of the friendliest, kindest, most generous people you will ever meet. The market up the street knows us by name and treats my girls to lollipops every time we’re in.

We’re a three block walk from award-winning dining, a ten minute walk to our famous local library, the Phoenix Art Museum, several wonderful playgrounds, and our favorite neighborhood cafe. Just a few blocks from us is a glass studio that hosts live glass blowing performances during downtown’s First Friday Art Walk. Ten minutes on a bike will land you at the Children’s Museum, Symphony Hall, the Science Center, Chase Field Ballpark, or Saturday’s open air Farmer’s Market. We can see Piestewa Peak from our living room, watch airplanes flying into the airport, and can walk across the street to the public pool. It is truly a dream.

There’s just so much this city has to offer. And beyond the city are all of the other wonderful things Arizona has to offer. Surrounding us is the breathtakingly beautiful desert, with its blooming cactus, stunning sunsets, and late-summer monsoons. Mountains that offer the perfect day hike. Two hours north you’re in the forest, with much cooler temperatures and snow in the winter. And just beyond that is the Grand Canyon! There’s just so much beauty in our state it’s hard not to fall in love with it.

Although Mike and I were born in the same hospital, our paths didn’t cross until many years later when we worked together as baristas in the same cafe. It was an almost instantaneous connection; we were married less than 18 months later! We’ve been married seven years, over the course of which I’ve realized we make a pretty perfect match. Mike is level-headed and slow to speak, whereas I’m more hot tempered and I definitely speak too quickly. He loves coming home from work and taking over so that I can have a break. I fold the laundry, he puts it away. We make each other laugh every day. The mutual balance we’ve achieved is something I’ve really become so thankful for in our marriage.

Mike works his dream job for a small, super cool company that hosts luxury automobile launch events, where his workdays are filled with researching and writing about new cars, the occasional traveling, and of course lots of fun test driving. I stay home with our girls, and when I have an extra minute during nap time or after bedtime I’m working on my bonnet business, Booboos’ Bonnets, which I started last summer.

Our oldest daughter, Ava, is six years old and my mini-me. She is adventurous, strong willed, incredibly kind and compassionate, and the best big sister. She can also be a bit timid, and she prefers to observe before jumping into any new situation. She has wild blond hair that’s always in her face, and she insists on wearing only dresses and skirts. She is at that age where she craves independence, so little by little I’ve been letting her branch out; she’ll ride ahead a bit on our bike ride through the park, she’ll go get her own water at our favorite cafe, or she’ll make her own breakfast of peanut butter toast in the morning. Ava attends kindergarten at a Waldorf school, which has been incredibly rewarding for her and for our family.

It is unlike any other schooling we’ve experienced. Academics are introduced slowly starting in the first grade, so the main focus of kindergarten lies heavily in teaching life skills and nurturing the creative side of the brain. The school is essentially on a farm, where there are animals, a pond, and a huge, beautiful garden. The children take comfort in structure and routine, so their day to day activities differ ever so slightly while largely remaining the same. They’ll play outside, help make bread, set their table with real dishes and glass where they share a healthy snack together (like millet and quinoa, oatmeal, and Stone Stoup), wash their own dishes after snack, engage in inside play with open-ended, imaginative toys, sing songs, help in the garden or chicken coop, finger knit, watercolor, or go for nature walks. The children can climb trees outside, dig in the mud with real shovels, and use real knives to chop their own vegetables for Stone Soup. There are no desks in the kindergarten rooms, but just one large table where they all sit together. There are no grades or point systems. It is a truly freeing, safe space for Ava to just be a child.

Our second daughter, Perla, will be four next month. Her birthday falls the day after my younger brother’s and it’s been so fun finding how similar their goofy personalities are. Perla is our little firecracker. She’s sensitive, incredibly sweet, endlessly hilarious, and surprisingly witty for an almost-four-year-old. She’s always preferred wearing the same two or three favorite pieces of clothing until they’re completely worn out, or wearing nothing at all, which means I’ve basically stopped buying her clothes. She and Ava get along fantastically, which makes me so happy. I always wanted a sister, so I’m ecstatic my girls have each other.

And lastly, our third daughter, Zosia (pronounced zoh-shah), is ten months old. Sweet Zosia made her timely appearance on her due date, which was shocking because our first two were both one to two weeks late. I remember getting coffee that morning and the barista exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! You look ready to pop!” to which I replied, “Oh no, I still have at least a week!” Little did I know I’d have a baby in my arms eight hours later. Zosia is likely our last baby, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to slow down and treasure every moment of her baby-ness. She’s on the move now though, so literally slowing down has been difficult!

Mike and I moved seven times in the first five years of our marriage. A completely irrational number if you ask me! I’m somewhat of a real estate and interior design nut though, so I had fun with it when we were younger. While it ultimately taught us more about who we are as a family and what we want in a house, at this point you couldn’t pay me to move into another rental. Partly because we just love ours so much and because yes, moving is the worst!

We’ve lived in our current home for just over two years now (the longest anywhere) and happily call it home. We are incredibly lucky to be here, a feeling that I think has fostered an attachment to this home unlike any of our previous houses. The neighborhood we live in is wonderfully unique. I’ve lived here on and off since I was a child, spending summers here with my father to ultimately moving my own family here. Our last house was a block from our current one, and after ten months of being there we received news our landlord was putting it up for sale. We were devastated, and frantically began searching for a new house in our neighborhood. The market was just coming back up then and rentals were incredibly sparse, many of them leasing within hours. I searched for weeks and weeks with no luck and I started feeling hopeless we’d get to stay in the neighborhood we loved so much.

Then one day we noticed a private rental sign had gone up at a house down the street from us. The house was unassuming, its exterior had been redone, and from the outside it didn’t have the historic feel most homes in our neighborhood possess. But I called the number anyway because we were desperate. We toured the house a couple of days later and instantly fell in love with it. The owner claims it to be her retirement home so she’s kept it in immaculate condition, updating it with modern amenities while keeping the home’s historic integrity in place.

It’s a small 1929 built historic 2/1 bungalow that’s just under 1000 square feet, but its coved ceilings and floor plan makes it feel much bigger than it is. Bad kitchen tile aside, we immediately filled out an application. Upon turning it in, the owner thanked us and said she had other applicants and would let us know who she chose in a few days. The anticipation nearly killed me. Never had we been in a situation where we weren’t approved for a rental on the spot. Add that to the fact I hadn’t found literally anything else in weeks and we were running dangerously low on time in our current house…I was a complete mess.

It took every ounce of self control not to beg the owner for her approval. Instead, I called her every other day for the week she was deciding. I left messages stating just how perfect the house would be for our young family, that we would love it as our own home, cherish its historic features, and be careful with its original hardwood floors. That we understood the neighborhood and we belonged here. After not hearing anything for several days, I was feeling defeated and gaining the courage to begin my search again.

Then, one afternoon while driving on the freeway, I get the call. She explains she had one other strong application from a young professional couple that looked excellent on paper. In my head I’m thinking, “They probably make more money, doesn’t have children that will no doubt put wear and tear on the place, etc.” She’s walking me through her reasoning, my stomach is in knots, and all I want to do is scream, “So who is it already?!” Finally, she delivers the good news. She’s chosen us! I started crying. I was so relieved and so excited at the same time.

She said that while the other applicants looked better on paper, she ultimately chose us because her mother, who happened to live on our old block, would watch me and the girls take our daily walks and thought we were “just the sweetest family.” I had no idea! She then went on to say she wanted someone in the house who would no doubt love it and make it their own, but can we please be careful when bathing the children not to get water on the bathroom floors, because they’re original? Of course I happily agreed!

It turns out, I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to decorating our home. I’ve never been big into hanging onto things, and I’m constantly purging – a skill that’s slowly rubbing off on my husband, to my delight! I’m drawn to bright, natural light, wood tones, clean lines, quirky art, and, lately, cobalt blue. I always have fresh flowers in the house and I’m obsessed with a good basket. Mike jokes I’m not allowed any more baskets, but seriously, there’s nothing a good basket can’t handle. I have them for my knitting and sewing projects, children’s toys, house plants, shoes, our keys, toilet paper in the bathroom…they’re everywhere!

And I know they’re trendy, but my home wouldn’t be the same without my fiddle-leaf fig tree. I randomly found it at a resale shop for $19 a few years ago and it’s been my baby ever since. After having it maybe a year or so its growth nearly stopped so I asked a horticulturist friend of mine what to do and she recommended repotting it. So I put it into a new, larger pot, and it went into shock! All but one leaf fell over the course of just a few days. It was the first houseplant I’d ever owned that didn’t die immediately so I was frantic thinking I killed it. Thankfully that last leaf held on and slowly the tree has started growing again.

I also love a freshly stocked fridge. Nothing makes me happier than unloading a haul of groceries and neatly organizing it in the fridge. It’s the little things.

I think our home works because no area is off limits to my children, and because we keep it tidy and organized. People like to assume that because I have white furniture my children aren’t allowed to touch anything. Um, everything is washable! This is their home as much as it is ours. That’s not to say they don’t have rules, because they do – food at the table only, no shoes on inside, don’t be destructive, etc. – just that they also understand respecting our belongings.

We don’t have a coffee table because we’d rather have more room for the children to play. Our dining table is probably too big for the space, but that’s okay because at any given time it’s covered in someone’s project, whether it be my sewing or the girls’ coloring or Legos. Our entry cabinet houses all of my sewing materials, and you better believe each bed and closet space is fully utilized.

“Everything has a home” is something I’m constantly repeating during clean up time. I’ll admit, comfortably squeezing five people into a 2/1 home has not been easy. On one hand, I absolutely love being close to each other and I love that the small space keeps our belongings to a minimum. On the other hand, it’s difficult being close to each other all of the time. It’s hard for me to let the children go wild inside when our hollow floors amplify every movement and the farthest I can be from any yelling or screaming at any point is maybe twenty feet. Sometimes it’s frustrating to have to wait until the children are asleep at night to watch our shows because they’re too loud or scary – Game of Thrones, anyone?

The true test comes in the summer, though, when temperatures reach upwards of 110 degrees daily and we’re all stuck inside with cabin fever. This is when living feet from the public pool comes in handy! And sometimes when the smallness really gets to me and I find myself wishing for a giant suburban home and my own sewing studio, an indoor swing, and a sectional sofa, I have to remind myself of the reasons we choose to live here. And they far outweigh any small living temporary moments of madness.

Although we rent, I think our home feels permanent because we’ve found exactly how it works for us. My daughter’s beds fit perfectly in their tiny bedroom. We’ve started a backyard garden. We’ve hung art and family photos. Over the two years we’ve been here we’ve had to make adjustments with furniture and flow but I think we’ve finally achieved what works best for us.

I think what really helps is that no space is off limits. (Maybe I should change this because I can’t get a minute alone to use the bathroom!) We don’t have too much stuff and we try to keep the clutter to a minimum. The children are allowed to bring toys, puzzles, and books into the living areas so long as they’re put back in their homes at night. We keep their art supplies in the dining room, where they also have a designated wall to tape their artwork. During the cooler months we spend as much time as we possibly can outside, tending to the garden, jumping on the trampoline, taking walks around the city, dining on the patio. Mike and I try to take each of the girls out on little dates when time allows. It’s amazing how their personalities change during one on one time. It truly benefits all of us when we can get away separately.

One of the things I do to help preserve my sanity is regularly attend 6:00 a.m. barre classes. I get my exercise in first thing in the morning and I come home feeling energized and refreshed and ready to tackle the day.

I really hope my children remember the love in our home. I hope they remember the sounds of the creaking floors, the helicopters flying overhead, and the city buses rattling down the street. I hope they remember walking to the pool for swim lessons all summer long. I hope they remember helping set the table for dinner and singing the blessing. I hope they remember riding their scooters while watching the sunset on our nightly walks. I hope my older children forget the sleepless nights they’ve had sharing a room with each other and their baby sister. I hope they forget my sleep-deprived mean mommy state that happens more often than I care to admit.

I wasn’t aware just how much I would love watching their young personalities blossom and bloom. They are each so incredibly different, that every time I think I have them figured out they surprise me with something new. I’ve learned just how intelligent, understanding, and insightful children are. Much more than most give credit.

My own children have taught me more about life than I ever thought possible: it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to ask for help, always forgive, be silly! Don’t let any one thing ruin your day. Simple ideas that adults tend to overcomplicate. Children just want to laugh and have fun. And who doesn’t love having fun?

Looking back, I wish someone had told me not to stress over dinner. Growing up, my mother had a hot, home cooked meal for us every single night. This is something I seriously took for granted as a child. Dinner is hard! I don’t know how my mom did it. No matter how much meal planning and grocery shopping I did, I always dreaded dinner prep. I love cooking, and I believe myself to be pretty good at it, but cooking for five with very different tastes in food is a challenge in itself. Mike is a vegetarian and my girls eat opposites. It’s difficult not feeling defeated when you’ve spent time and energy preparing something you think will appease everyone only to find out your three-year-old suddenly hates every single thing on the plate.

Up until just a few months ago, this is a concept I constantly battled. I felt guilty for not having a nutritious, colorful, delicious meal ready for my family at 5:30 every evening. I would cry when one of my children refused to eat what I put in front of them. My grocery lists were long, with endless ingredients for a single recipe that required an hour’s worth of chopping, blending, sautéing, and roasting. I started to loathe cooking. I don’t know exactly when it hit me, but one day I realized the world won’t end if I feed my children peanut butter and jelly for dinner every once in a while. Or if we have bean burritos twice in one week! (To my credit, the beans are homemade!) Or if I serve steamed broccoli and rice.

But once that hit me, it was like a ton of bricks had been lifted off of me and I could breathe easy again. Dinner was stressing me out way more than I imagined and I just let it all go. I still cook more complex meals, just not as often. And I don’t take it personally when my children don’t eat what I’ve served them. There is a season for everything in life. Right now, fancy dinners just aren’t in season for me, and that’s okay.


Thank you, Sophie! I smiled when you admitted to feeling silly about living in the same town your entire life, with a clear view of precisely where you began. That doesn’t sound silly at all. In fact, it sounds quite lovely, especially when it’s apparent that you adore your city so, so much. (It would be an entirely different thing if you abhorred Phoenix, wouldn’t it? Phrew for loving the place you live!)

Funny, too, is how refreshing life gets when you remove that which causes you unnecessary stress. I love that you’ve learned to not be hard on yourself about what’s being served! At our house, my default is breakfast-for-dinner when I’m out of menu ideas. What about you? What do you serve when you’re not up for preparing a big meal and don’t want to eat out?

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: Marichelle Hills Tue, 28 Apr 2015 18:30:42 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Ez Pudewa.

It’s been years since Marichelle and I first spoke about a home tour. Years! And by the time she contacted me again, there were two more daughters and a new, very cool shop added to her story. Isn’t it funny how time and babies fly?

For those of you who struggle with redefining your identity after adding children and all the responsibilities that arrive along with them to your life, Marichelle has a bit to say about her own experience. For her, it was integral to develop her professional life in order to enhance her personal life. She’s become a much happier mother by simultaneously becoming a very happy entrepreneur. You’ll adore her shop, adore her home, adore her wraparound porch, and I think you’ll fall a little in love with her story, too. Please enjoy it! Welcome – FINALLY! – Marichelle.

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hello! Thank you for having us! We are a family of five. My husband, Jonathan, and I have three daughters: Emma is four and a half, Lucy is two and a half, and Alice is nine months.

I was born in the Philippines and we came to the US when I was seven years old. I pretty much learned English by watching Romper Room and Sesame Street. I grew up in Queens, New York, and if you listen very closely and catch me off guard, you can still hear the Queens in me! Jonathan grew up in Stilton, a tiny village in England. Yes, it’s where Stilton cheese gets its name! The village even has a yearly cheese rolling event! We met at work, started dating, and shortly thereafter moved in together. He’s the smartest, funniest, charmiest of charmers, and tallest (6’4”) man I know!

Emma has a crazy sense of smell; she can always tell when I’ve been for coffee at our favorite bakery, Able Baker. Lucy is our spitfire. We knew we were going to have our hands full the moment she came into the world. I’ll never forget the moment when she was crowning and my OB started laughing because Lucy wasn’t fully out yet and she was already crying! Alice is the baby. She’s been a gem and is a perfect mix of her two older sisters, both physically and personality wise. She’s currently our human Swiffer since she hasn’t quite learned how to crawl yet and instead drags herself from place to place. I try to keep her in a onesie – more coverage that way!

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We currently live in a 100+ year old Victorian in Maplewood, a small town in New Jersey within commuting distance to Manhattan, NY. We realized we were outgrowing our previous house, and decided to put it on the market and try to find a home in the same neighborhood that would fit our needs better.

I remember feeling discouraged while we were house hunting. I was starting to get nervous and so many doubts began to set in: maybe we were never going to find the one, maybe we were being too picky, perhaps it was a bad decision to try and sell/buy house during this market? As a second-time home buyer, we knew exactly what we didn’t want, and we definitely didn’t want to settle.

Our realtor decided to show us this house on a whim. It was bigger than what we were looking for and above our price range. My husband knew that he was in trouble as soon as we parked in front of the house. The neighbors across the road gave us a welcoming wave as they sat outside on their porch swing. The house is perched on a slight hill, flocked by a huge pine tree on one side. Curb appeal, check! One look at the wrap-around porch and I knew that this was going to be our home. Lucky for us it was a buyer’s market, and with some good ol’ luck, we closed a few months later!

Q: You moved from the East Village to Jersey. How would you compare and contrast the two in terms of livability and raising a family?

A: We moved to Maplewood back in 2008, a couple of years before we had Emma. We knew we wanted to start a family, and our 500 sq. ft. fifth floor walk-up studio with no sink in the bathroom wasn’t going to cut it. We looked at a couple of spaces in the city, but quickly realized that our budget wasn’t going to get us much. Mentally, I think we had also had our fill of the fast-paced city life, and started to daydream of all the things we could do with a garden and backyard and more space to move around.

Moving to Jersey was never part of the plan. Our search began along the Hudson (Coldspring, Beacon etc.), but we kept running into the same issue; the commuting time to and from the city was proving to be longer than what we had in mind. My husband works long hours and adding another three or four hours door to door was definitely less than ideal. It wasn’t until my friend Melissa invited us over for dinner one night that I fell in love with the picturesque line of Victorian, Tudor, and Colonial homes, the quaint downtown, AND a Target, (whaaat!?!) in Maplewood. We closed on our first house less than a year later.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: The transition from living in the city and moving to Maplewood was actually pretty easy. Almost everyone we met in our new town was originally from the city, either Manhattan or Brooklyn. It was pretty funny because it seemed like everyone had the same exact story! “We used to live in the city, then we moved to Brooklyn when we had our first baby and moved here when we were pregnant with our second.” Getting priced out of the city seems to be a common theme among Maplewood residents, and I guess the word is getting out.

One of my requirements when we were looking for a town to move to, was that it had to be walkable and have a strong sense of community. We are in walking distance to the train station and The Village, a small downtown area where there are a handful of independently run shops, restaurants, and even a small movie theater that often plays independent films. There are a ton of community events that take place in the main park (Green Day, Maplewoodstock, Easter Egg hunts, just to name a few).

We also have a community pool that’s a lifesaver during the hot summer months. The kids love going there, they get to see their friends from school, and there’s a baby pool perfect for the wee ones. The snack bar is even catered by one of my favorite local businesses, Freeman’s Fish Shop, whose lobster rolls are amazing. Another great thing during the summer are the weekly Farmer’s Markets which start popping up around June and run through early Fall. There’s an endless list of activities and places to go with the  kids, like parks, playgrounds, art and dance classes, libraries, the zoo…it is definitely a town that caters to families with kids.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Has it changed since you moved into a much larger home?

A: Comfort is key when it comes to decorating my home, sorta like a favorite pair of jeans. I want people to feel welcomed and at ease the moment they walk through our front door. I’m a shoes-off, feet up type of gal, so nothing we own is too precious. My kids know that they can romp around on our furniture.

With that said, we also teach them that those are our rules and when they’re in other people’s homes, they can’t just sit on coffee tables and put their feet up on couches, etc. I’ve also just recently discovered that I’m very partial to calming neutrals. It’s not something that I consciously set out to do, but looking through the photos I took for this feature as well as my Instagram feed for the shop, it’s safe to say that I’m definitely into neutrals!

I can’t say that my overall style has shifted very much, but there have definitely been some changes. For instance, prior to having our second, we only had a white sofa. Not really sure what I was thinking! This wasn’t an issue with Emma, since she never had the desire to use it as her blank canvas, unlike Lucy, who will use crayons and markers on just about everything except paper. So buying a sofa with washable slipcovers for the family room was a necessity. I’ve washed those things so many times that the piping seams are starting to rip. Oh, and Resolve stain remover is my new best friend.

Q: There’s enough space in your home for the girls to each have their own bedroom. Tell us why it’s important for you that they share.

A: We try to instill parts of our own childhoods into how we raise the girls. I shared a room with three other sisters when I was younger, and I remember the experience like it was yesterday. My husband also shared a room with his older brother.

We believe that it teaches our girls to share, and nothing beats the sound of giggles and laughter coming from their room minutes after I put them down for the night. I’m sure one day they’ll ask to be in separate rooms, but for now they’re enjoying it!

Q: Tell us about MEUS, and the story behind it! How do you carve out enough time to devote to your career?

A: MEUS, pronounced like muse, is an online lifestyle shop with a simple philosophy: Celebrate the small moments and surround yourself with things that make everyday living feel more special. We offer a full range of products: Home, Kitchen, Jewelry, Clothing (we recently started carrying Ace & Jig, my personal favorite!) and an ever-growing Kids section.

Running a shop has always been a dream of mine. I had plans to open up a shop back when we were still living in the city, but we made the decision to start a family first. Realistically, I knew that I couldn’t do and afford to do both at the same time. I never really looked at it as choosing one over the other; it was more like putting the shop idea on hold.

I was a blogger in a previous life, so discovering new and exciting designers and curation are things that I’ve always enjoyed doing. My blog focused on independent artists and designers and that passion for supporting small businesses really stuck with me, so a lot of the products we source for MEUS are independently made and produced in small batches.

I started working on the shop while I was still pregnant. The big aha moment was when I was talking to someone about my plans and they more or less told me that it wasn’t a good idea and that I shouldn’t do it. Just ask my husband what the fastest way to get me to do something is! Tell me that it’s impossible or that I can’t do it!

I launched the shop last November and we had a really good holiday season – better than what I was hoping for – and we continue to grow. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I took the plunge and I’m actually doing something that I really love.

Oh, time! There aren’t enough hours or days. I wish I had a solution, but unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to balance everything. I just take it day by day. If I don’t, I get overwhelmed with the gravity of everything that has to be done and I end up staring at my computer and accomplishing very little.

Logistically, I have a full-time nanny to help out with the girls during the week. Luckily my studio is located in our loft, so I get to work from home, which can also be a challenge at times. It was definitely difficult adjusting in the beginning, especially for Emma; it was hard for her to understand why she couldn’t come up and hang out with me. But now we’ve worked it out so that whenever possible, she gets to be my big helper. She loves attaching the Priority Mail stickers to the boxes, and it’s been a great bonding experience for us both. I try to finish up at 6:00 pm so that I can spend some time with the girls before tucking them in for the night.

Two things I’m desperately trying to figure out are my work days and hours. I feel like I’m constantly working. If I’m not in the studio, I’m on my phone answering emails or posting on Instagram. I’m trying to get better about minimizing my weekend work hours so that I can have a more balanced life. At the end of the day, I’m in a customer service focused business, and emails and social media play a huge part in the day to day, so it’s not something that I can completely cut off. So, the short answer is – I’m still working out how to balance working on the shop, being a mom and being the default parent. (You guys have to read this article!)

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: Having three little ones has definitely taught me how to be more flexible when it comes to home decorating. Most importantly, my definition of clean and tidy has certainly changed throughout the years. I can’t help but laugh when I catch myself doing the sniff test.

I also struggle with defining space in our home. While I do set some boundaries (ie. no eating chocolate on the white sofa!) and try to maintain just a tiny bit of space where I’m not in fear of spraining my ankle on an Elsa clip-on doll, sometimes it’s just not realistic and I remind myself that they’re only little once. Someone once told me that one day I’ll look at the marks on the furniture and walls and wonder how it went by so quickly.

As far as missing a developmental stage…I think I will miss their innocence the most. One day Emma asked me if girls can marry other girls. I said, “Sure! Some girls marry other girls.” And she replied, “Oh good, mommy. Because I want to marry Lucy so we can make a brother!” Priceless.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home, what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope they remember Friday nights. Jonathan works long hours and by the time he gets home, the girls are usually asleep. Friday nights are special because they get to stay up and wait for daddy AND they always get a Friday night treat. The girls usually let him know what they would like before he leaves for work that morning. Lately it’s been Donuts for Ems (Emma) and M&Ms for Lolly (Lucy).

We also have a Dance Party before bed. I’m usually the DJ and in charge of turning the music on and off for the Freeze Dance game!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me that motherhood doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and that there isn’t anything inherently bad about wanting more for yourself in addition to being a mother.

After giving birth to Lucy, I really struggled. She was an incredibly colicky baby, and so much more challenging than Emma ever was. The difference really caught me by surprise after having such an easygoing first child. There were many moments in those early months when I didn’t think that I would make it through to the other side. It’s hard to describe, but in a way it began to feel like I was losing myself.

As a mom, it seems that you always think of yourself last; you eat last, get dressed last, brush your teeth last (if you actually remember to do it), and you put off personal priorities and self-interests without hesitation, because there are three little people who you love depending upon you, and just far too many things that need to be accomplished in a day. Maybe that’s why, when I was pregnant with Alice, I realized that I not only wanted but needed to go back to work for my own mental health and well-being.

As much as I love my girls and being their mom, it became clear to me that in order to be the best version of myself (and mom to my girls) that I can be, that I needed to actively invest in doing something for myself as well.

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t feel a small pang of guilt when one of my girls asks why I have to work. But at the end of the day, I know that in my case, I’m a better mom because of my decision to do so. Launching a business has been very fulfilling, and has not only given me a wonderful sense of accomplishment but also a greater confidence in myself. I am a happier and more focused person, and this has enriched every area of my life. I am working to set a positive example for my three girls and hope that through my actions I will foster a sense of entrepreneurship within them, and that they will grow up with the belief that if they work hard and have a little luck, that they can achieve anything.

Thank you so much for having me Gabrielle, it’s an honor to be on your lovely blog. This has been quite a therapeutic exercise! I’d also like to thank my dear friend Ez (who by the way, makes my kids’ favorite stuffed animals) for helping out with these photos. You’re a lifesaver!


Thank you, Marichelle! This was worth the wait. Congratulations on your shop and your sweet little life in Maplewood. And, Friends! She’s offering 15% off MEUS goodies, from today through Sunday, May 3, until midnight EST. Just use the promotional code designmom15 at checkout. (Must enter in promo code at checkout. 15% off entire purchase – offer cannot be applied to previous purchases or the purchase of gift cards and cannot be redeemed for cash or combined with any other offer.) Another thanks, Marichelle!

The satirical article about Default Parents was hilarious. Laughing at this: “Being the default parent, at least in my case, is not about the husband being an asshole – it’s that kids don’t contemplate proximity or sensibility in looking for help. They look for the default parent. Me. I’ve been in the shower and put my daughter’s necklace on. She walked right through my room, past her dad and went to me. True story. Even my husband was like, ‘Hello. I’m right here.’ I’ve taken exactly five showers in my house without being bothered by a child and his or her immediate need. I’ve blown up balloons in the shower, unknotted shoes, put on band-aids, signed report cards, and braided hair. I know…lock the door. I’m a dumbass. But they’d tunnel in. I’m sure of it.” Ha! Default Parent or not, I think the interrupted shower experience is something to which we can all relate, right?

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

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Living With Kids: Blythe Grossmann Tue, 21 Apr 2015 14:00:36 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Bela Lumo Photography.

If you’ve ever been tempted to move to Florida but were waiting for just one more sign that it’s a brilliant idea, here’s your sign. To convey to you as accurately as possible that Blythe loves Florida, I would have to write it like this: BLYTHE LOVES FLORIDA! Although I’d need a few hundred additional exclamation points and maybe a few billboards to really get her point across!


To me, it’s pure delight when someone loves the place they live; I always seem to gravitate toward those people, don’t you? Blythe is no exception. She loves her plot, is over the moon about her family and career, and has such a fresh approach to the how and why she decorates her family’s home with meaningful-to-them objects. Oh, and the way she describes teaching To Kill a Mockingbird to her students gave me goosebumps.

This is a good way to spend some time today, Friends. I really hope you enjoy Blythe’s tour.

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hi, readers! We are the Grossmanns: Nathan, Blythe, Cora, and Cassandra.

Nathan is my husband, our provider in the most literal sense: he spends any free time he can out in the woods or on the water, trying to lure in whatever animal he can! He justifies this hobby by saying he’s harvesting and contributing to our dinner table, and using the animal products in the most extensive way he can – more on that later – but essentially, he is just a free spirit who needs to connect with the wilderness on a regular basis. Nathan is thoughtful in a quiet way, spending lots of time teaching Cora how to work on a boat, or to crack open a coconut, or painting her nails. He and I started dating back in high school. Even then I was drawn to his quiet strength, his appreciation for our home state, and his odd sense of humor. Those things haven’t changed, nor has my affection for them.

If I’m going in chronological order, I’m next. My name is Blythe and I teach English at our local high school. It is a calling as much as a career. I absolutely love books, love sarcastic, boisterous, bighearted teenagers, and I absolutely love my job. I am also a mama, obviously, and this certainly doesn’t come secondary, although that comes as a bit of a surprise to me. I never thought I would need to have kids – Nathan and I both were doing just fine without them – and yet, coming to feel so passionately about parenthood has been the sweetest surprise of my life.

On to the kids! Cora is four years old, and never fails to astonish me with just how thoughtful she can be. Case in point: my grandmother succumbed to a long illness last night and when I told Cora today that she had passed away, her first response was, “Mama, we need to keep visiting her house. All of her friends [she lived in a small assisted living facility] will be sad and we need to take them cupcakes and maybe sing to them.” Of course, she’s right…but the fact that her heart always goes towards others is something that I find both inspirational and comforting. In addition to being tender-hearted and generous, Cora is many other things, including dramatic! Nary a day goes by without her losing her mind over something: the house burning down, getting stung by a bee, misplacing a marker, or me looking at her the wrong way are equally tragic and ALL garner the same reaction. Loud crying. Yeah, it’s…awesome. Not at all exhausting. Perhaps one of the things I love most about Cora is her lack of squeamishness. This is maybe a classic case of nurture beating out nature, but Cora is very casual about catching lizards, playing with earth worms, and eating dirty carrots straight from the garden. Cora is so in tune to nature and has such a great appreciation for every living, growing thing; she knows where her food comes from, delights in helping us grow it in our backyard garden, and I think that’s just cool.

Last but certainly not least, there’s Cassandra, more often referred to as Tickle Baby or, and I’m sure we’ll regret this, just Tickle. For whatever reason, Cora started calling her that when I was pregnant and it just stuck! It’s hard to describe an eight-month old’s personality, but so far Tickle seems to be the calm in our storm. She has just started crawling, so she’s into EVERYTHING, but she almost never cries so long as we’re around and is just a cheerful, complacent baby in general. She’s a bit of a Mama’s girl as of now – I think nursing encourages that – but she is so interested in Cora and our dogs and the world around her. We don’t plan on having more kids, and something about this baby…maybe knowing she’s our last has made her first months some of the sweetest ones I’ve known.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in Merritt Island, a smallish community on the east coast of Florida. It’s one town over from Cocoa Beach, which is more widely known. Nathan and I are both native Floridians and we grew up on opposite ends of this same county. We knew we wanted to stay local. I had grown up having Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house, complete with the whole extended family, and I knew I wanted that for our someday family. So, straight out of college, we split the difference and bought a home smack dab between our sets of parents and called it home.

It was the stereotypical starter home: 1700 square feet, 1970s construction, and in need of lots of TLC and lacking things we’ve now come to crave (like a garage!), but it has worked for us. The selling points for me were the ginormous walk-in closet and the fact that the kitchen was relatively open. Every other house we’d seen that fit in our newlywed budget had a tiny galley kitchen and I just couldn’t picture people congregating in there. For me, the kitchen is the heart of the home and I wanted our heart to be open, busy, and full of loved ones!

So we took the leap, bought the house, ripped out all the flooring, put on a new metal roof, rewired, painted, knocked out some walls, and the house slowly but surely evolved. When we first moved in, we figured we’d be in that house for three or four years, then sell it to move on to something bigger. HA! Here we are, 11 years later, and we are still in the same home. However, we are soon closing on a new house: a change that makes me excited and scared at the same time. Leaving the home where we started our family and in which we’ve invested so much of our time, sweat, and dreams will certainly be bittersweet.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Oh my gosh, prepare yourselves, because this is a topic I could go on about for LIFETIMES.

I am passionate about Florida in general: where else do you have swamps, pine forests, fresh water, salt water, brackish water, hills, coral reefs, hammocks, scrub habitat, cowboys and space shuttles all co-mingling? (If there is such a place, don’t tell me; I’m perfectly content where I am!)

I once read a poem with the lines, “Florida, Florida, land of euphoria” and I couldn’t agree more. Thinking about the beauty of this state makes me euphoric. I grew up eating oysters straight from the river, spending weekends at mullet frys and crab boils, and Nathan and I both have a deep regard for Florida’s waterways and wildlife, so much so that we both got tattoos a few years back paying homage to this odd state: his is an outline of the state, and mine is a mullet jumping across the top of my foot. People look at our tattoos and either a) can’t fathom WHY we chose them, or b) get it immediately. I think that’s very representative of people’s reaction to Florida in general: either you love her, complete with the drenching humidity, tempestuous weather, and persistent mosquitoes, or you just can’t wrap your head around why people don’t immediately jump on 95 and head back north!

I love being able to put our boat in the water and within 20 minutes we’re either gazing at gators, relaxing on a sandbar with drinks in hand, or heading out deep to sea: we are within 15 minutes of three different waterways, and each has a very different ecosystem. I love that at random times I’ll hear my windows start to rattle and I know it’s because a rocket or (formerly) a space shuttle has just taken off from Kennedy Space Center. I love that I know every one of my neighbors, and that I can’t go to the grocery store without running into someone. For some people, this would be their worst nightmare, but I find it comforting. I love feeling like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.

We also have an awesome zoo – one of the top ten in the nation! – that was built by volunteers. Yes, volunteers! And beautiful beaches, and an extensive library system, and great schools. You may suspect bias there, but truly, our schools are amazing: they always rank at the top in the state in terms of test scores, but they also have so many programs that go beyond what can be tested. The cost of living is reasonable, the pace is slow, and the people are kind. What’s not to like?

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Has it changed since you found yourself in the throes of babyhood?

A: I would describe our aesthetic in several ways. First, I would say it’s very earthy for lack of a better word. As I started packing our belongings, I noticed that where other people would maybe be packing china, I was contemplating how to bubble wrap hornets’ nests and horseshoe crabs! In every aspect of our indoor life, the outdoor comes creeping in. There are mason jars full of shells collected on trips to the beach, alligator hides laying across the living room floor, urchin skeletons stacked in the bathroom window. Even the colors in our house seem to be earthy.

I would also describe our aesthetic as being very tradition-bound. That’s an odd word for an aesthetic, I know, but so much of what we own has a story behind it. My dad and uncle made our coffee table as a wedding present. As if that wasn’t meaningful enough, they used wood from our old sailboat’s hatch, our first motorboat’s bench, and my grandparent’s wine rack – could it possibly be more imbued with meaning? The Indian screen that we use as a headboard was my mom’s, a keepsake from when her parents took her to India as a teenager.

The farm table in our dining room is another family heirloom and its history has been detailed on its underside, courtesy of my grandfather and a pen! Every time I get under the table to add or remove a leaf, seeing his handwriting warms my heart. I could go on and on. In our adult lives, Nathan and I have only bought three pieces of furniture: our couch, our mattress, and a bench. Everything else has been given to us by family or pilfered from the trash, and while at times this has felt constricting and challenging in terms of fitting others’ undesirables into our aesthetic, I think in the long run it has made our home a more meaningful place.

Having kids hasn’t changed our aesthetic too much. At one point we attached plexiglass to the front of our bookshelves, but we abandoned that practice pretty early on. Baby-proofing gave way to being more watchful and less attached to our stuff.

Children have certainly added stuff to our house, though. Everything Cora sees is potential for an art project, so she hoards it away. She also has an elephant’s memory, so it’s difficult to discard anything without getting busted! Weeks after I’ve streamlined her art bin I’ll find her furiously digging, looking for a specific pipe cleaner or popsicle stick. My bad. Now she tries to check the trash before I take it out, so I’ve taken to sneaking out loads after her bedtime!

I’ve done my damnedest to make homes for all of her stuff – tupperware for dolls and ponies, bins for crayons and clay, shopping baskets for play food, etc. I want the kids to have easy access to everything they love, but there is just nothing more painful than stepping on one of Barbie’s stilettos barefooted and nothing more aggravating, to me, than picking up the same notebook for the fiftieth time that day!

I am excited about the day we can get rid of some of the baby things – Cassandra’s exer-saucer’s days are numbered and I will run that thing down to the consignment shop before you can blink! Other child-centric things will always have a place in our home, though. I love displaying homemade art work and holiday crafts brought home from preschool and finding homes for Cora’s collections – we can always find a place for more shells or flowers!

Q: What are some of your favorite pieces in your home?

I absolutely love the girls’ room. That was the first room where we started fresh. Oddly, no one in the family had an old crib or changing table, so it was a blank slate when we first turned it into Cora’s room.

Nathan drug in that giant cedar post and I was like, “Ummm…no. What are you doing?” Next thing you know, there’s a tree in Cora’s room! And, as he eagerly demonstrated, it was even strong enough to climb!

The sign that holds her name is actually a mangrove root system. Mangroves are amazing trees with these intricate roots that provide protection to juvenile critters in the river, and Nathan had found that dead bundle floating along years ago and had been saving it for the right project. Our baby was the right project, for sure! Over the years, little odds and ends have found their way into the sign, mostly things that hold significant memories of little outings. I wanted Cassandra’s sign to echo Cora’s, but not too closely. I couldn’t find any decent driftwood, nor did Nathan have any lying about, so I set my mom and aunt on the task. After a few days of beach-combing, they found the perfect piece.

Q: Tell us about your work!

A: Nathan and I both work outside the home. He is a fire inspector which means investigating fires, checking buildings for safety compliance, reviewing blue prints. It’s quite glamorous! Not. As I said before, I am a teacher. I teach ninth and tenth grade English as well as AP Literature in a public high school. I also occasionally teach a night class at the local community college, although I’ve put that on the back burner since having Cassandra. I’ll probably start back up in the fall, though.

Teaching is such a fulfilling practice. Every day I get to ham it up in front of teenagers, to hear about what makes their worlds go ‘round, to talk nerdy to them about stories that have changed my life. I am an extremely social person, and teaching has also given me an outlet to talk and engage and let my sarcastic self have full reign without having to worry about wearing Nathan’s ears out.

We are finishing To Kill a Mockingbird in my freshman classes today – this is my 11th year teaching the novel and I STILL get excited about reading it with them. That’s the beauty of teaching; every year is a new year, where I can reinvent myself and improve on who I was the year before. Every group of kids is a new audience, a new sponge that you get to help fill and wring out and fill again. And that collective gasp when they finally meet Boo Radley…it just never gets old.

Our home’s location, in a way, has impacted my professional life. Our backyard backs up to the practice soccer field, so there are always soccer and lacrosse players yelling ‘hey’ when we’re out back. Our old basset hound, Bob, even famously lapped the cross country team one time as they cut through our yard! More than anything, our home is a refuge from our professional lives. Teaching is an easy career to bring home with you, but I try to separate the two to some extent.

I try to leave grading at work and to find things to talk about other than my students, but there is definitely evidence of my job at home: we have an ungodly amount of books threatening each surface and I’m pretty proud of that! We seem to read every day, which I’m sure is the case in many homes, but I think Cora will be quite a reader if her current interest in books is any indication. I truly hope both kids turn out to be readers because I think reading is not only a joy, an escape, a solace – it’s also a way to build empathy, which is so important. Stepping off my soap box now!

Q: Okay. Taxidermy! It’s all over your home!

A: I totally get the resistance to taxidermy. I don’t know that I love it – just that it has become a part of our story.

My parents are collectors of sorts. Growing up, we were constantly picking up bird bones, fish vertebrates…they seemed as much like treasure as flowers and cool rocks did, so I guess in that way I was prepared to not be grossed out by dead animals. When I met Nathan, he was into surfing. I got that; my dad is an avid surfer, so much so that he won’t make plans with you for the day ‘til he’s checked the surf. Nathan also fished. Well, fishing on the river turned into duck hunting. That segued into deer hunting out on the river banks. And hog hunting. And then, all of a sudden, there was gator hunting and I was like, how on Earth did we arrive here?!

If you had told me 15 years ago that we would have skulls in our home and gator meat in our freezer, I would have given you a weird look, for sure. When Nathan started hunting, first it was all about the meat. I learned how to cook wild game and, honestly, I enjoyed the challenge. I love cooking and this appealed to my need for creativity. I take a lot of pride and satisfaction in knowing that the meat we eat comes from an animal that was allowed a good, full life – a free life. I know what I’m feeding my kids is as natural as it can be, as fresh as can be, and that it was killed in as humane a fashion as is possible. I’m not trying to romanticize what is indeed a violent act…just explaining that, for me, this is the best possible scenario for an omnivore.

However, Nate was dismayed by the waste. The hides, the bones…they were just being disposed of. And Nate is a creative soul fueled by a deep curiosity. He is constantly making things for around the home, sometimes ornamental but usually functional. I think for him, taxidermy was a natural extension of hunting and a way to master something new. First he learned an old Native American method of tanning alligator hides. He started using the leather for all kinds of things, from making bracelets to coolie cups. Then he started preserving the skulls.

Now, things often show up on our doorstep – people drop off snakes they’ve run over, coyotes they’ve shot, birds they’ve found on the side of the road. Nathan tries to make something beautiful or useful from all of it. He has given so many things to local educational groups, from Outward Bound, which my sister works with, to friends who work for Parks and Rec. He has a real passion for education and uses his alligator claws and teeth to teach both children and adults about the amazing biology, adaptability, and endurance of these reptiles. Did you know alligators grow teeth within their teeth? So that when they lose one, there’s another right there ready to use? How cool is that?! (Humor me: it’s cool, right?)

I guess some people could come in our house and think it’s a little morbid that there’s a gator sporting deer antlers hanging out on the counter, or that Cora’s comfortable inviting a stuffed raccoon to her tea parties, but no one has voiced that opinion. From a stewardship standpoint, I think it’s kind of cool that we’re trying to use as much of the animal as is possible, and that our kids will be very aware of what it means to be a meat eater. We’re trying to be good stewards and to face our actions, in a way, and somehow that has snuck into our aesthetic. I do hope that our skulls and hides demonstrate a reverence for God’s creation – in all stages – and that people don’t perceive it as an insensitivity to death.

I do have to say, though, I told Nathan that this new house will have a few less hides! The garage will be housing some of his larger projects.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: As I said before, I never felt that I needed to have kids. We were married seven years before we even discussed the idea at length. I felt like life was full enough without kids. And yet…oh my gosh, I can’t imagine going back. I guess my favorite part has been the constant, consistent love. Cora told me once, “love never leaves” and isn’t that true?

My heart is full to overflowing with love for our little family. I’ve loved getting to eavesdrop on Cora’s imaginative play, hearing the words she makes up to explain or describe things, and feeling needed on a daily basis – which is a double-edged sword, but it makes me feel alive. I’ve loved re-learning the importance of everything, from making cookies and waiting for a carrot to get big enough to pick, to counting down to a grandparent’s birthday. For Cora, it is all equally amazing and worthy of notice.

I’ve also loved getting to see Nathan as a father. Even when he and I are at odds, he is always tender with our daughters. We’ve been together our entire adult lives and there have been trying moments where insecurity has overwhelmed me, but seeing him with our kids serves as a constant reminder of how big his heart is, how constant his commitment.\

Maybe the most surprising thing about being a mom is seeing how intentionally I channel my mom. I spend a lot of moments not just hearing my mom come out of my mouth, but TRYING to hear her! My mom is an endless fount of patience and good humor, and so I am constantly trying to summon her words, her reaction. Whenever I can add in a dose of my mom, it certainly only makes life better!

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope they remember being given free reign. I don’t want to be a micromanager or to place too many restrictions on the kids’ play. I love doing things with my kids, but I want them to have plenty of time and space to let their own imaginations roam. I don’t want my personal narrative to get in the way of theirs.

I hope, more than anything, that both girls remember my love as being endless, limitless, unwavering. Cora made me a Valentine’s card that said “I love you because you are happy and smart.” While both compliments touched my heart, the former was so much more flattering. Before I had kids, I always hoped my future children would be smart, but now I think it’s more important to be kind. I hope the girls see that in me: joy and kindness and compassion.

I hope Cora remembers planting her garden each season, and being allowed to pick to her heart’s content. I hope she remembers lying on the boat out in the driveway at night, watching the satellites zoom by. I hope she remembers how much she has been loved by the people on our street. I hope she remembers caring for her chickens, camping in the backyard, playing soccer out on the field, and the family members who have graced our home.

I cheated: you said one memory, but that’s impossible!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I can’t think of anything I wish someone had told me. I have an amazing community of family and friends that prepared me pretty well for parenting, I think.

Instead, all that comes to mind are all the oh-so-true things people DID tell me: that it all goes by so quickly; that you will be able to love the second just as much as the first; that you will be terrified by feeling responsible for two little lives; that you will wish you owned stock in Band-Aid; that if you wait ‘til you can afford it, you’ll never be ready. I think I heard all of this along the way, but of course hearing these truths and living them are two very different things, aren’t they?

Aha! Maybe this: I wish someone had told me that being a mother would make me want to be a better person. If they had, I might have jumped into it sooner. Nothing has made me more desirous of acting with integrity, selflessness, and compassion than knowing my daughters are watching me. Their watchful eyes inspire me to do better, be kinder, laugh more, and forgive quicker. I don’t always succeed, but I try to get it right.


Oh, Blythe! There is so much loveliness in your thoughts. They made my day better. I found your explanation of why taxidermy is such a big part of your aesthetic so fascinating and thoughtful; it’s completely reflective of how you’re living life, so of course it’s part of your decor! Authenticity is always on-trend. And I’ve thought about this line a lot: “I do hope that our skulls and hides demonstrate a reverence for God’s creation – in all stages – and that people don’t perceive it as an insensitivity to death.”

Friends, I have to ask: How many of you nodded your heads when you read that Blythe never felt like she needed to have kids and that her life was full enough without them? Whether you’ve ended up with kids or not, isn’t it funny when we think we know exactly how life should play itself out? There are surprises around every corner, don’t you think? Like Blythe’s thought “Cora made me a Valentine’s card that said ‘I love you because you are happy and smart.’ While both compliments touched my heart, the former was so much more flattering. Before I had kids, I always hoped my future children would be smart, but now I think it’s more important to be kind.” Lovely, lovely, lovely.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Heather Freeman Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:00:08 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Heather first wrote to me, she mentioned an affliction she and many of her design clients suffer from called Pinterest Paralysis. Of course, I had to get to know her a little better!

She works as an interior designer from home – which offers its own set of challenges, as those of you with a home office probably understand – and is also smack in the middle of the toddler stage when a home’s entire aesthetic seems to change. Things that would break your heart if they broke head to the top shelves, glass-top tables are replaced, and suddenly you find yourself researching how to remove jelly stains from my gorgeous white couch! I absolutely love what she has to share, both professionally and personally, and I truly hope you do, too.

Welcome, Heather!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Stu and I were set up by a friend, and after a disastrous first date swore we’d never see each other again. Funny how first impressions are sometimes wrong! We’ve been married almost seven years and have a bubbly baby girl.

Like most two year olds, Gemma is a huge fan of jumping, swinging, any fuzzy thing with a tail…and yoga. Yep, she does yoga. We don’t even really know where she picked it up, but one day when she was around 18 months she started doing downward facing dog and child’s pose like a natural yogi. We just went with it, and now baby yoga is a big hit with the grandparents on FaceTime.

Both of our extended families live out of state, so we do a lot of road tripping to visit. One day we’ll have an actual vacation where we go to a new city, stay somewhere cool, and eat at fancy restaurants. But for this season of life, precious vacation days are spent at grandparents’ houses with home cooked meals. And they’re my favorite days of the year by far.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home? How did it look when you first saw it? Was there that gasp and a “this has to be ours” moment?

A: We live in a 1940s Tudor style cottage that stole my heart the moment we drove up to the curb for the first time. It’s nestled in the middle of what has been my dream neighborhood ever since I came to college here as a teenager. It’s right in the center of town near the university with old trees, huge lawns, and eclectic houses that are anywhere from 50 to 100 years old. Every street has a personality.

It’s a funny thing, these old homes. They lure you in with their charm and character, and then teach you hard lessons about homeownership and life in the most brutal kind of way! I say that lovingly but I am completely serious. Anyone else who has an old home knows exactly what I mean!

I have been obsessed with historic houses for as long as I can remember. Maybe it was all that Anne of Green Gables I watched as a kid. When my husband and I started looking to buy our first home about six years ago, everything on the market in our price range were these pre-fab homes that felt so lifeless and just made me really sad.

After one very long and frustrating day of touring what seemed like dozens of cookie cutters, I had a full blown grown-up melt down. Once our realtor left, the ugly crying started and I threw myself on the floor blurting out, “I’d rather just live in the apartment if we can’t get an old home!” To which my sweet husband of less than a year said, “We’ll just keep looking. Would you like me to go buy you some ice cream?”

He knew me so well, even then.

After a couple offers on other historic houses fell through for one reason or another, our home came on the market. I knew instantly it was the one. I’ve never felt as connected to a house as I did this one. It seemed brand new and completely familiar in the strangest way.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I grew up in Houston, but moved to Springfield, Missouri when i came to college. Having been raised in a one of the largest and most culturally diverse cities in the world, coming to a mid sized town in the Ozarks was a huge culture shock! After graduation, I landed my first job and several of my college friends stayed in town. My husband grew up couple hours south in Arkansas, so southern Missouri is the perfect place for him to hike, rock climb, and camp like he’d done growing up.

I’d be lying if I said that I loved to camp, however I told Stu I did when we were dating. Don’t feel too bad for him; he told me that he read books.

Honestly, if I can’t be in Texas, the only place I’d want to live is in the Midwest. That’s saying a lot for a Texas girl! The people in Missouri are so down to earth, and it is extremely affordable to live here. We have a 2,200 square foot historic house in a nice neighborhood for less than one third of what we’d pay anywhere else in the country. The public schools here are excellent, with the elementary schools intentionally kept smaller and neighborhood focused.

We don’t have all the amenities of huge city, but Springfield is a great community to raise kids. There is a thriving creative scene, stellar art museum, locally owned restaurants and coffee shops, and gorgeous lakes and areas to hike just outside the city. We definitely get our fair share of snow and ice, but not nearly severe as the states up north. Having four seasons is something I didn’t grow up with and have come to really appreciate. I had my first white Christmas our first year in the house!

Q: You’re transitioning from a new baby in your home to a toddler; how is your decor adjusting to your daughter’s curious hands and fresh mobility? What are the biggest adjustments you’re making during this phase?

A: As Gemma has branched up and out, I’ve become more strategic with decorating. For example, we swapped out glass square end tables with sharp corners for a wooden round top and a set of acrylic nesting tables. The acrylic tables are basically Gemma’s favorite things ever. She totally takes ownership of them and moves them from room to room depending on where she wants to have a tea party or stuffed animal fort at the moment. And it works brilliantly. I know that acrylic isn’t everyone’s look, but man is it practical for kids!

Also, I’m very much into zoning these days. Just because toddlers are active and exploring doesn’t mean all the pretties have to be locked away. I simply moved them up! I use the top shelves on my bookcase for breakables and heirlooms and the bottom shelves are filled with boxes and books that she is free to pull out and play with.

Artwork is one of the best ways to add color and pattern to a room that is 100% kid proof. Obviously table top decor is a calculated risk when you have small kids, but I don’t keep anything overly precious within her grasp. Filling a simple tray with books, wooden candlesticks and metal items are a nice way to incorporate different finished without using breakables.

I always encourage my clients to think about what I call their home’s big impact spots; places where they can focus their decor efforts and get a big return. For example, my mantel is one. It’s visible almost immediately when you walk in the door as a focal point in the living room, but you also see it while sitting at the dining table. This is a spot that I always make sure looks fresh and curated with fun objects or simple picks depending on my mood. And it’s totally toddler proof. Bonus!

Lately I feel like I’m moving toward a more stripped down approach to decorating…being very intentional about the choices I’m making. This has carried over into my design work as well. Personally I’m in a season of really appreciating and striving for simplicity in so many areas, from our family schedule to what we wear to what I put in our home. If I don’t love it, I’m much more willing to part with it.

Less but better is a quote that’s really resonating with me this season of life.

Q: You work as a designer from your home. What challenges does this present and how do you deal with them?

A: Working from home is both a blessing and a HUGE challenge at times. When Gemma was a baby, I could easily care for her and work without feeling like I was missing too much of either world. As she’s gotten older, this gets trickier to explain that when mommy is in the office, I’m working. We have a great sitter who helps us most days of the week, but my overall goal was to be creative about how and when I worked, so she could still be home with Stu or me as often as possible.

Because Stu also works from home, we have to be really strategic about leaving work in the office and deciding when to shut it off. If my fabric samples and project plans start to spill into the kitchen or the living room, it’s almost a physical reminder that I’m not respecting our family space.

Even though we have an office, when I first started often times I’d end up working in the living room or the bedroom. Now I try to avoid that if I can. It just blurs the lines for me and makes it easier to work just another hour or two instead of unplugging, shutting the laptop down, and turning off my phone to connect with Stu.

We’re pretty good about keeping family time protected, but once Gemma is in bed, many nights we have to work. If we aren’t intentional about just hanging out together, our home can feel like an office 24/7. Sometimes a night of Netflix and popcorn is both healthy and necessary.

Q: You’ve got a blog! Tell us all about it! And what are your goals for your online spot?

A: Decor Fix is an extension of the work I do as a designer and Decor Coach. On the site, I share stylish ways to simply help you love your home! I work with clients both locally and virtually to help them weed through confusion, see their home’s potential, and make decisions with intention. I find that most people know what they like, but the struggle is translating a picture in their head into reality in their home.

When we have confidence and clarity about our home and style, making decisions becomes much easier and about 100 times more enjoyable. It’s so much more than just having pretty stuff. I truly believe that when our homes reflect and inspire us, we are more free to experience life with the people we love.

Creating an environment that supports and nurtures us is a process worth pursuing. And yes, I truly believe it’s a process. Unlike a lot of home makeover shows that would swoop in and deliver a whole new room in 48 hours, I believe curating your space is a deeply personal process that won’t happen overnight. But it can teach us so much about ourselves and keep us grounded in our values. (Okay, I know I’m preaching to the choir here!)

Q: You mention Pinterest paralysis, which makes me laugh! Can you talk a little about this illness and how to get over it?

A: Yes, the struggle is real! I have been a victim to this, and I realized that most of my clients were suffering from this at one point or another. I use Pinterest every day as a tool for work and love how handy it is to organize and keep tabs on things that are currently inspiring me personally.

BUT! It can be unhealthy at certain points for any of us. Sometimes inspiration overload robs us of our ability to clearly see how we should be spending our creative efforts. Inspiration is only helpful if it leads us to better thinking or better doing. And sometimes Pinterest is detrimental to both of these processes.

We see, we pin.

We pin, we compare.

We pin and we pin and we pin and then we start to resent our current situation, whether in our homes, what we’re wearing, or even what we’re making for dinner.

Realizing when this is happening is key. Stopping is easier said than done, but just getting off the computer and getting your hands into a new project, be that tackling a new recipe or simply cleaning out your junk drawer, will leave you feeling better than a 30 minute pinfest on a down day.

I’ve even told a couple clients to take a Pinterest fast as part of the design process. I’ve had them go to the fabric store instead. Something about physically interacting with fabrics or finishes shakes us out of receptive only mode. We’re no longer just clicking, we’re engaging. It sets you up to actually make some progress in your home.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own daughter? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Oh my goodness, how do you pick? I mean, the giggles! The giggles and the kisses have to be every mama’s favorite thing. And those pudgy little feet…even when they’re stinky.

I’ve been surprised how healing motherhood has been for me and my own mom. Even though it is filled with love, we have not always had the easiest relationship. Since having Gemma, it’s led me to a whole new level of gratefulness for all she invested in me. Seeing how much she loves her grandbaby makes it much easier to forgive anything in our past.

Q: If she could remember just one memory or tradition from this childhood home – and you as her mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: Dance parties. The wildly silly impromptu dance parties that we have multiple times a day in our living room. Stu dances like a crazy person. I dance like a mom trying to keep all the wobbles contained within the confines of her clothing. Gemma dances with stuffed animals like they’re her best friends in the world. The windows are open, and we often get stares from people passing by. I want Gemma to know that silliness is a virtue.

And that sometimes you have the biggest dance parties when you’ve had the hardest days.

If we can put on a little Bruno Mars and shake off a bad day and love on each other, then that’s the safest place I can give her.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me that simply showing up and doing your best is good enough. You aren’t going to be the best, and sometimes you might feel like you’re failing. A crying toddler, a disastrously messy house, unanswered emails, take-out for dinner, and yesterday’s makeup are not a sign of failure…they’re a sign that you’re doing your best. And that’s good enough.

And tomorrow your baby will smile again, you’ll cook a decent dinner, attack your to-do list, and maybe even wash your hair…or maybe not. But it’s okay either way.


Thank you, Heather! It’s true: some days are hard, and all you can do is turn up the music and dance it all away. The way you described your dance styles is so perfect; I can totally visualize what your passers-by are witnessing, and I can’t stop smiling! Again, thanks for being here.

Friends, what about this: “We see, we pin. We pin, we compare. We pin and we pin and we pin and then we start to resent our current situation, whether in our homes, what we’re wearing, or even what we’re making for dinner.” Do you ever feel like that, or does the massive burst of inspiration Pinterest provides override those frustrations? And do you ever impose a Pinterest fast?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Camille Turpin Tue, 07 Apr 2015 13:00:12 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Camille Turpin and her husband designed their house for their children. With two of their children on the autism spectrum, they built as many stress-free learning and growing and social opportunities into their house as possible. When they had the chance to move to a place with more affordable housing, they doubled their floor space and designed a home where there’s a space for everything and everybody, and the daily occupational therapy that is so important to their kids, can happen without leaving the house.

I admire that they put resale value on the back burner in lieu of a house that works for them right now. Perhaps it’s a little different than how you may be living with your own…but again, it works. And that’s the important take-away from each of these tours, isn’t it? Figure out what works for your family, and run toward that.

I honestly think you’re going to leave this tour with at least four thoughts that make your day better. I know I did. Welcome, Cami!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Oh, how do I introduce our family? I am Cami. I grew up in Pleasant Grove, Utah in a family with seven children. My family goes in the same gender order as the VonTrapps of Sound of Music fame. My mom tried to get us to be a singing group, but we refused. That did not stop us from making our home basically the scene of a musical at any given time.

My husband Jake grew up in Oregon City, Oregon in a family with five kids. His mother grew up in my home town and his entire extended family still lives there, so it was his lifelong dream to find a girl from Pleasant Grove to marry. Good thing he thought I was cute! Incidentally, it was MY lifelong dream to marry someone from the Pacific Northwest, though I thought that meant I would get to LIVE in Oregon. No dice.

We met at Brigham Young University and were married just after I graduated in 2000. I worked as an editor while he finished his degree in Computer Science, and we had the first of our four children while he was still in school. After he graduated, we moved to Columbia, Maryland, where we lived for seven years and had two more children. We moved back to Utah in 2009, had one more child, and we’ll probably be here for the long haul. I work from home as an editor, family photographer, music teacher, and gymnastics coach. Jake’s programming job is only five minutes away!

My husband and I love cycling, watching movies, reading, playing board games, and doing anything that sounds fun. Our first two children were diagnosed with autism as toddlers, and that kind of took over our lives for a while…and is sort of still taking it over. We became completely engrossed in helping our boys learn everything they could. We had wonderful early intervention help in Maryland, and we learned early on that our house, our daily schedules, and our activities would all kind of be ruled by the almighty autism schedule. Though this is basically true for all children, right? It is apparent that the family we have become has been greatly influenced by our experiences in our early married years.

Our 13 year old Jefferson is a totally typical teenager. Considering his early years as our more severe child on the autism spectrum, to us this is a miracle. He mostly wants to play video games all day, but he’ll take time out to hang out with friends, bike around the neighborhood, read the millions of books he reads, and play the cello and piano. He gets his sarcastic humor from me, but everything else about him is a carbon copy of my husband.

Ethan, 11, is our quirky, funny, challenging, and creative child, who goes to a charter school for, in his words, “kids on the autism spectrum – like me!” In so many ways he is a typical 11 year old, but he has many challenges that make life hard for him (and us) sometimes. But he is very well-adjusted and has lots of friends, loves video games, plays the piano, and goes back and forth on the whole reading thing. He will probably be a party planner in his later life because he loves to plan parties and activities, which are often elaborate and very well thought out. I think I’ll hire him for every future birthday party.

Jane, six, is a complete ball of energy. We often joke that our first neuro-typical child was more hyperactive than the other two put together! She has a constant smile and infectious laugh, loves dancing and running around, reading, writing stories, playing the piano, and playing with friends. She’ll often disappear into the park across the street for hours at a time, come home sweaty and covered in dirt, and that is fine with us.

Our little Eleanor (we call her Nora, or No-No) is almost two and the light of all our lives. It is no wonder that everyone adores her, because she is the nicest, sweetest, funniest baby around. She can be feisty for sure, but mostly she just wants to kiss us and get carted around by all her siblings, and laugh at everything they do or make them play with her. She already loves books more than anything (a girl after my own heart), but Taylor Swift music gives her books a run for their money.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in Highland, Utah in a house we built with our own hands. (Ok, it was my brother-in-law’s hands, but we did a lot of helping.) After we moved back from Maryland, we bought a house in Lehi, which we thought we’d live in forever. Little did we know, the house was great, but the location was not. We had come from Maryland where we had basically a forest in our backyard, to a funny little part of Utah County that was near the not-as-pretty mountains, a freeway, had no nearby parks, and best of all, our most prominent neighbor was a working mink farm.

Since our kids have a super-human sense of smell, the smell of mink kept us indoors on the most beautiful of days. More than that, nine months out of the year there were flies in the house – anywhere from ten to over 100. Again, not great for people with high anxiety! We decided between that and our desire for a little more privacy, we would leave our wonderful neighbors and build a house that was perfect for us, just a few minutes away.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I had a LONG list of must-haves if we were going to move! I wanted to build a house, but I wanted an established neighborhood. It had to be by our favorite biking trails, be West-facing, be by a park, have a great view, be somewhere near enough my parents and siblings to be convenient, have a big yard but not too big to take care of, etc. I didn’t think I’d ever find it.

But just a few days after we started casually looking we found the perfect spot! Living here has made me love Utah again. We have the most amazing view of Mount Timpanogos out our living room windows, and we are five minutes away from American Fork canyon where we often camp or just roast marshmallows and hike around. The park across the street has been amazing, especially while we wait to finish our landscaping, and horses live behind our lot! Our kids just LOVE watching them. Just a quick quarter mile gets us to a biking trail that takes us 15 miles to Provo Canyon without having to worry about traffic. Our neighborhood is beautiful and quiet and surrounds a city park that feels private and safe. There are kids of every age here, and everyone is friendly. We really just love it. Utah itself has so much to offer. It is only a few hours to several National Parks, and we enjoy going to Moab and hiking through red rocks. Salt Lake City and Park City are less than an hour away, and it’s great to feel like we’re in the country, but not far from a city.

It doesn’t hurt that we can afford a new house twice the size of the 30 year old townhouse we had in Maryland either!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are your favorite things about your home? And what’s still on your wish list?

A: Although our family loves the mountains, my motto is, “Everyone is happy at the beach.” I would love to live by the beach. If I can’t, then I’ll make my home feel beachy, at least!

That’s what I tried to do, and for the most part, I feel I succeeded. I wanted my house to feel light and airy, but still feel like a cottage. I grew up with my mom saying “bare is beautiful” and every time I start to clutter things too much, I remember that and pull back. More than anything, I want my house to be comfortable – like you can live there without worrying that you’ll break anything.

With the exception of my library, which can be bursting at the seams! I absolutely love my library. There is something about a window seat and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. Good thing I love the room, because I spend a lot of my time there as it is also my office.

But my very favorite thing has to be the mud room. Why doesn’t every house have a mud room? It gets messy and cluttered and I don’t care because I rarely see it. It makes me so happy to basically have an entire room just for the shoes that get kicked off when people come in the house. And I can’t tell you how the drinking fountain has changed my life. I used to think cups were actually breeding on my kitchen counter.

We have grand plans for our back yard! After our 100 square feet in Maryland, we never thought we’d want a big back yard, but we were cured of that in our last house. We might have more than we can handle now – we live on 1/2 acre, but most of it is in the back yard! – but now we can do so many fun things! I’ve scaled back from putting hobbit holes and bridges everywhere, but we still have plans for a great deck, a small orchard, garden, trampoline, fire pit, swing set, hammocks, and of course a zip line. Who doesn’t want a zip line in their backyard?

Q: You mentioned that your home pretty much always looks like this – tell us why!

A: Many of the pictures of my house make it look very neat and tidy. It made me wonder, is it true to life? I decided it was. I keep my house tidy most of the time. And I’m not really the tidiest person in the world. So why do I make it such a priority to make sure things are picked up and put away and organized and clear and clean? Isn’t that hard to do with 4 kids running around? Especially a toddler?

I realized over time that my house HAS to be tidy. There are several people here who have serious anxiety issues. Some of these issues are exacerbated by clutter. (I’m not saying that I’m not one of these people!)

So. I keep baskets around the house for all the stray toys and books. I have empty cabinets to hold the busy bags and games and whatnot. I have entire giant closets dedicated to housing toys and video games. I clean the kitchen to perfection at least once a day, I make my bed, I pick up all the clutter on the top floor before I do anything else, and yes, I even vacuum the living room rug pretty often and sweep the kitchen several times per day. I make the kids completely clear the playroom each night and put everything into their labeled positions.

This makes me sound SO completely uptight. But I’ll tell you what. After I finish picking up the top floor and cleaning the kitchen, getting laundry started and have everything in order, a task that takes between 15 minutes to one hour with Nora undoing it the whole time, I feel like I can let things go for a while as I work at the computer or exercise or do whatever else I need to do.

By the end of the day, things are a complete disaster again, but I feel in control because at one point, I had clear spaces – a clean slate. Then I don’t get to the end of the week and have a complete nervous breakdown because the house has been a disaster every day. It makes a difference, even if it only lasts for a few minutes per day.

The playroom is a little bit of separate issue. I actually planned my house so that I don’t have to ever walk through it if I don’t need to. I can ignore the toys everywhere if I want. But what happens when the kids have played their crazy play and it’s a total disaster? They start fighting, they start saying they are bored. They start complaining that they don’t have space to do what they want and blame each other for taking over the whole house.

If I make them clean it up each night? Suddenly they have a blank slate, too. Ethan abandons his video games in favor of elaborate block courses and structures with his “guys” (any kind of small figure) running all over the place. Jane sets up a puppet show, or plays house with her friends. Jeffy and his friends play laser tag because they aren’t tripping over everything. And the toys all get played with eventually, because they are easy to find and no pieces are missing.

It is important to me to keep things this way. There is so much unpredictability in my life, I have to have something I can control. Is my house perfect? No, absolutely not! There’s clutter around all the time. I have a bag of pancake mix constantly on my kitchen table that Ethan uses to prop up the iPad. And it already looks like we’ve lived here for five years – although it’s been nine months – what with all the scuff marks on the walls and doors and whatnot. I have actually had to develop the skill to not care when things get ruined or cluttered or messy because it helps me relax when kids are all over the place making messes and holes in the walls and whatever else! And I know things are not that far from being organized again, and anything can be fixed.

My house is kid-friendly. I don’t think kid-friendly and tidy are opposites. For us, they must go hand-in-hand.

Q: You designed the home for your children. How so? And why?

A: I like to say that I put everything into my house that I would have wanted to have when I was a kid. But that’s not really true. The house I grew up in was absolutely great. But I did take everything I loved about that house, my grandma’s house, and things I would have adored and threw them all in.

My parents’ house had a big playroom, and I felt like I could do anything there. In our townhouse in Maryland, I always wished I had a giant playroom with no furniture in it that I could use for therapy for my boys. There is just something about a giant blank space with no furniture or televisions or distractions that fosters creativity. So a playroom is always top of my list. My grandma’s house had secret tunnels and an amazing loft, so I put them on in, too.

I went a little overboard with bridges and towers and whatnot, but man it’s fun! The tunnels have entrances to other rooms and are just one more thing to add into an obstacle course. This is my real requirement for playrooms: can you build a giant obstacle course?

Because our family doesn’t do well in theaters, but we love movies, we really appreciate having our home theater room. This room has a projector and screen that comes down over the TV and surround sound, so we really get the theater experience. We can sit in our comfy couches and people can leave if they get bored, and no one else is bothered by noisy tics or jumping around in chairs. And we have to have enough places to sit, right? What’s better than a triple-decker couch? “So everyone can sit together and be buddies!” I also use this room for my semi-monthly book group movie night, which is super fun.

Since we don’t want kids always cramping our TV/movie watching style, we also banished all video games to the guest/exercise room. I made sure this room was big enough to house several large boys at a time, and that it had a window and enclosed ceiling fan. Have you ever been in a room with six boys between the ages of 11 and 14? It’s not a pleasant smell. And since I don’t want to leave out my extra kid/husband, there is also a small room we call the retro room that has all his old game systems, a tube TV, and a VHS player. It can be his office later on, but for now, it’s his awesome.

Since we don’t have a lot of outdoor toys (or drivers), we converted our third car garage into a little gym where, officially, I can teach preschool gymnastics. Unofficially, we can throw our kids in there for a little occupational therapy/getting their wiggles out. It’s so great to have a place where kids can actually climb and jump and swing around without killing each other. In our last house we had the swing in the playroom, and it got a little dangerous. I can’t tell you what I would have given to have a room like this in my house growing up as a gymnast. I pretended to put it together for teaching, but really, it’s a dream come true for me. It doesn’t hurt that I do love to teach little ones gymnastics. It’s so fun!

But more than the fun spaces, my kids each have their own room. We discovered long ago that everyone just does better when they have their own sleeping space. So I made that a priority. Each of the kids had a hand in the design of their room, either in the paint color, or built-in shelves, or whatever. Ethan’s room was a special project because he has been hard on his furniture and walls in the past during tantrums. The majority of his walls are painted with chalkboard paint, not only so it doesn’t look so bad when he scuffs them up, but it’s also great for writing lists and reminders for him. We also built in all of his furniture, including his bed. He feels safe and secure, and there’s no way he can throw bookshelves or break the bed. It also gives him more floor space for Pokemon cards and the like.

This may be super weird to admit, but I wanted our house to be super fun so that kids in the neighborhood would want to come here. Not only do I get to keep an eye on what’s going on with friends (more important than ever as kids get older, but also because some kids aren’t so great at knowing exactly what to do when friends come over), but also it’s an incentive for kids to come to hang out with some of my more introverted children. Ethan doesn’t like to go invite kids over for fear of dogs coming to the door, so it’s awesome when they come to us. We are not above bribery.

I don’t worry about resale value all that much, mostly because I think we will live here forever. But we do think about it. We thought about it a lot when we tore out the fireplace we had framed into our living room in favor of a giant window. Best decision ever for us, not great for resale or equity. But seriously, if you don’t want a house that has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves or built-in tunnels or playhouses, then you need not put in an offer! If you don’t want awesome, you totally don’t deserve my house. Ha! But really, we’re never moving again. Like, ever.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own children? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: What I like most about living with my kids is that they are totally becoming my friends. Because our boys were diagnosed so early, I really did not expect to have a relationship with them in a truly meaningful way. But now I watch shows with my Jeff and we play games, and talk about books we both read, and play duets together, and that really means a lot to me. With Ethan, I know I am very lucky. A lot of kids on the autism spectrum have very little empathy or can’t stand personal contact, and Ethan is very emotional and craves contact. It makes it hard when things go wrong, but it’s really great that he tells me he loves me and will snuggle with me (as long as I don’t sneak a kiss on the top of the head, which he hates).

Watching Jane grow up is like watching myself grow up. She has a lot of my sass and energy, and it always amazes me how I can truly connect with a six year old. She is fun to be with, and we are already planning a solo trip to Hawaii when she is 12, which I fully expect to enjoy. And my little Nora. I never expected to love the baby stage as much as I do. When I was young I’d play with my dolls for a good five minutes before I put them to bed and ran outside to have some real fun. But now that I know my Nora is most likely my last baby, I cannot get enough. Is there anything better than a one year old making kissing noises at you or wrapping her fat little arms around your neck? I don’t think so. I’d love to freeze her at this age.

I think that the more challenging a child is in some ways, the more rewarding they are in others. Toddlers are super hard to control, but are they funny and cute! Teenagers can be total brats, but they can actually enjoy the same things as you. This does not make me hope they are difficult kids as they get older, but I will try to look for the good when they are challenging.

Q: If they could remember just one memory or tradition from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope they forget all the bad times and just remember the fun and the love and the happiness. Our family has had our share of tantrums – and not all of them are by the kids – but I hope they forget that, and remember how much we laughed.

I hope they forget all the times I said no to something because I was tired or grumpy or busy, and remember the times I ran around the grass, or helped them make puppets and put on a show, or took them to the park, or played a game with them.

I hope they forget about how I pestered them to practice and are glad that they know how to play instruments. I hope they forget all the times that family prayer or eating together just didn’t work out and I stomped out of the room, and just remember that we loved being together. I hope they remember our home as a safe, fun, happy place to be.

For some of my kids, there really aren’t a lot of places like that. It is important to me that our home is one of them.

Actually, never mind, I just hope they remember that I made them cookies every Sunday!

Q: Please finish this sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me to let go of all expectations. Actually, I am lucky, because we had some wonderful teachers and mentors when our boys were first diagnosed that did tell us that. But I wish I could remember and really understand it.

There is really no use in comparison, even if it’s just comparing where you wanted to be with where you are now. There are so many times when I see other kids and families doing normal things – trick-or-treating, riding bikes, eating regular foods, playing with dogs, sitting still in a public place – when I wish so hard that things could be different for my Ethan, and I mourn for the child I thought I would have all over again. I have to find a balance between not expecting too much so I’m not disappointed or frustrated, but also having enough hope to help my kids reach their best potential.

It’s the same kind of balance I need to find for myself. I can’t expect myself to be a perfect mother or have a perfect house or make all the right choices, but I have to have hope that I’m doing what is best for my family, even if it doesn’t look like what other people are doing. I know my family is really lucky in some ways, and in others we have a lot of challenges that other people don’t understand. I have to remember when I feel let down, that is a problem with my expectations and not my family.

Oh, and also, I wish someone had told me that I don’t have to fold clothes! Now that I know this, my life is awesome.


Oh, Cami. There were so many moments throughout your interview when I paused and wanted to rewrite your thoughts with three extra exclamation points. Like “I don’t think kid-friendly and tidy are opposites. For us, they must go hand-in-hand.” Or “For some of my kids, there really aren’t a lot of places like that. It is important to me that our home is one of them.” Oh! And this: “I have to remember when I feel let down, that is a problem with my expectations and not my family.” And the award for the funniest is this gem: “I wish someone had told me that I don’t have to fold clothes! Now that I know this, my life is awesome.” You are awesome. I really admire the way you’re living your life with your kids. Thank you for adding your goodness to my day.

Camille’s explanation for why she keeps her home tidy is great, right? In the same way that some families thrive on a free-wheeling anything goes routine with a “We’ll clean up later!” philosophy, some require the complete opposite approach. Where does your family land?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Sheila Atchley Tue, 31 Mar 2015 14:00:27 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Maybe this tour should be titled Living With Grandkids, as it’s the story of Sheila Atchley, a doting and devoted artistic grandma who couldn’t have painted a better, more dream-come-true life for her family if she tried! Her thoughts are so full of love, happy faith, and optimism, and her ideas about raising children are generous and open-minded. Truthfully, she almost makes it sound easy. Or maybe she just inspires. Same thing, right?

All I know is that she makes me look forward to a stage I hadn’t really considered before, and that’s pretty sweet. Friends, please welcome Sheila!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: My husband Tim and myself are empty nesters. We have been so, off and on for two years, but this year made it official as our youngest son Isaac became a United States Marine. (Oh, my momma’s heart! God bless our troops!)

We have four grown children: two very beautiful, very married identical twin daughters named Hannah and Sarah, and two very single, very handsome sons named Josiah and Isaac. We added two sons-in-law in one year, and the first of four grandchildren began arriving in December of 2010. The grands’ names are Timothy (four), Aidyn (two), Avery (ten months), and Susanna Joy (three months).

Our family is quite close, and passionately artsy. I’m a late-blooming artist. I affectionately call Tim my Renaissance Man. He can preach a pretty awesome sermon, play drums and guitar, he has a beautiful singing voice, can build almost anything, and is a budding photographer. We home-schooled each of our children from kindergarten through graduation, and each one of our kids learned to play a musical instrument growing up.

Our oldest son Josiah is a full-time musician. He is also the father of a beautiful little girl, and he stays busy paying his dues and playing his guitar and singing his originals (and a few covers) almost every night. One son-in-law, Jonathan Howe, is a full time, career fine-art artist. It blesses me every day to watch him support his little family with his beautiful oil paintings. Our other son-in-law is Justin. He’s awesome because he’s our token left-brained guy – the only one in the family! He’s the one with the master’s degree in math education.

Each of the grandchildren have master’s degrees in cuteness. Honestly, it gets to be too much, sometimes. They make everyone’s cute-o-meters peg in the red zone! I’m so blessed to get to see almost all of them pretty much daily!

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: Ah, this is a story! My husband and I had honeymoon identical twin daughters, and then a son within four years of marriage. By this time, we were the five of us in a tiny two bedroom duplex. I prayed and asked the Lord for something with three bedrooms, in a cul de sac, for a rent that we could afford. That amount was ridiculously low, of course. No one we knew thought it would be possible.

One day, I saw a three bedroom house on a cul de sac advertised in the paper. Since we were a one-car family at the time and my husband was at work, I had to borrow a friend’s car, load up all three carseats and children, and go by myself on a look-see. I know now that God laughed in sheer delight when we pulled up in the driveway…He knew what He was doing! What I didn’t know is that I would still be hearing the echoes of His laughter 23+ years later! Had I known then what I know now, my mind would have been completely blown.

In short, this house was what we needed at the time, for what we could afford. However, it was in terrible shape. Everything was wrong cosmetically, and some things were even wrong structurally. But it was safe, and it met our needs for size, and there was that big yard and that cul de sac I had prayed for, where I dreamt of our children being able to ride bikes and roller skate and play, safe from traffic. We moved in, our fourth child was born a year later, and we rented this home for ten years. Ten years! We had ten busy years of renting and raising children and church planting. Then, the owner of this house died very unexpectedly, and his young widow did not want to manage his properties. She sold it to us for an unheard of price. We were able to, even on a minister’s salary – we do not pastor a mega-church! – get a construction loan. I will never, ever forget walking out of signing all those papers only having paid about $20 out of pocket, with the bereaved widow crying tears of joy with us.

Not many girls can say their husband built them a house with his own two hands. But my husband did. We gutted floors and walls, and added massive square footage to the end of our ranch-style house. I ended up with a huge master bedroom, and a completely updated house. It wasn’t a moment too soon, because my kids hit the teenage years full force – and we adopted an open door policy. Our teens could invite anyone over, any time, and they didn’t even have to ask permission, they just had to perform host duties, and they had to let us know they had friends coming over.

We wanted our home to be a safe place. We wanted it to be the place where kids hung out, and it was that! For many years, I retreated to that huge master bedroom sanctuary, while rowdy teens watched movies and played music and had fires in the outdoor fire pit. Then boyfriends came calling, and the rest is history.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Knoxville, Tennessee is the most amazing city! It rests in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, and was built along the Tennessee river. It was once called a scruffy little city by a New York Times writer, long ago. Today, Knoxville is ranked in the top five most affordable cities by Forbes magazine!

Housing is ridiculously affordable here. We have no income tax, and a mid range sales tax. We are also in the top ten places to retire, and the overall top 100 places to live in the US. Knoxville is also becoming a very green city, with growing greenways for biking. Lots of urban wilderness can be found in our local Ijam’s Nature Center. And around here, UT football and country music and boating reign supreme as pastimes. If you have not experienced Knoxville on a Saturday in the fall – absolutely covered in orange and white, ready for a football game – you have missed out.

Honestly, what makes me love Knoxville the most is her people and her churches. Good people live here. We know so many of the area pastors personally, and each one, without fail, is into sacrificial love for the people of their church. Knoxville is a place where love and good deeds thrive.

Q: Tell us the story of your daughter living in your home for a while. Was it difficult? What did you do to make it easier and more enjoyable? Any advice you’d give to other parents in the same boat?

A: When Hannah and Justin married, they moved into an apartment. I grieved in that special way mothers do when their children begin to leave the nest. But her room was only empty for about 30 minutes – there was another sibling ready to take over! I thought that was that. Hannah was working full time, while Justin was working on his Master’s, working a part-time job, and doing his internship. He was basically working three jobs, and his work ethic is impeccable to this day.

One little glitch: after they had been married a year or so, Hannah got pregnant. She knew she wanted to stay home with their baby, at least at first, and Justin was still going to school and interning and working. They also wanted to save for a house. Their only viable alternative was to move back in with us. Thankfully, my other daughter Sarah had married her artist-husband by then, and our oldest son was on his own, too. So we had barely two bedrooms to spare.

We gave them the biggest of the two available (with a half bath), and the other tiny bedroom became a nursery. There were difficult moments; balancing the needs of a newborn grandson with the needs of a senior in high school (which my youngest son was at the time) had its moments. But overall, everyone would tell you it was some of the happiest days in our family history. We laugh now, as we remember Justin storming out of their car one day, flinging his textbooks straight up in the air, right in the middle of our yard, as he argued with his very pregnant and hormonal wife. We giggle at the hours and hours of colic our grandson had. Two years ago, lo’ and behold, our neighbor one door down decided to move. He offered Hannah and Justin a very fair price, and they closed on that home! They got their furniture out of storage, and we literally carried the rest of their belongings across the street.

As you can imagine, PopPop and I had become very, very attached to our grandson by this time. Neither of us will soon forget that night, after carrying the very last box across the street. The sun had set, and it was a breezy autumn night. He took my hand, and we walked home. We paused on our front porch, turned around and looked through the then-curtainless windows at the house next door. We saw the little family inside, and we held each other and just bawled our eyes out. God had been beyond good and beyond merciful to us. It would have broken our hearts if it had happened any other way. The Lord knew, at that point in our lives, and because of some other heartaches we had been going through in our family, we needed to see the goodness of the Lord “in the land of the living.” We sure did.

And would you believe? (I say this very tentatively!) Guess which house came up for sale a few weeks ago? The house next door to Hannah’s house. Guess who is in negotiations for it? Hannah’s identical twin sister Sarah, and her artist husband. If all goes as hoped, Sarah, Jonathan, and their two daughters will also live in this cul de sac! I could, by the end of this year, have three of my four grandchildren across the street! See why God laughed, 23 years ago? (This is the first time I have really told anyone, and I’m telling the world. No pressure, right?)

My advice is simple: live in grace. This is a day and time when our nation’s economy is on a wild ride, up and down. This generation of 20-somethings is the first generation to not expect to be able to do as well as their parents. Grown children needing to move back home temporarily is a huge, huge reality. No parent should allow a grown child to depend on them while they lose job after job – there has to be a solid exit strategy. But boomerang children – very responsible boomerang children – happen all the time in America. It may very well happen to some of you! Release your expectations, and live in grace. And expect God to bless you.

Q: So kids don’t live in your home anymore, but they visit all the time! Tell us your decorating philosophy and concessions or decisions you make just for them.

A: In a nutshell, we don’t own precious furniture. We buy everything from antique shops and flea markets, second-hand. We have been given many gorgeous pieces, too. We don’t have anything that can’t be pretty easily replaced, if necessary. I do the best I can with what I have.

Because I am a die-hard aesthete, it has to be pretty to me. There has to be original art – I’m very lucky in that department – and music – live, if possible – and fresh flowers. Though I am not at all a minimalist, I try very hard to get rid of what doesn’t work for me, and keep only what adds to our joy.

Q: What do your grandkids seem to love most about your home? Do you have any rules they must follow?

A: They adore the fish pond by the covered front porch. They can’t feed the fish without an adult standing right beside them. They love our many raised beds, and their very own little gardens in galvanized tubs where they grow carrots.

Inside the house, my studio is a favorite spot, but I don’t allow them to even look at my expensive art supplies! They have their own little easel in my studio, stocked with paper and colored pencils and crayons. I think their two most favorite spots are the cookie jar and the doodle table. I mounted a roll of inexpensive painter’s paper onto a curtain rod, and attached it to the end of our coffee table. We unroll paper, as needed, down the length of it, and they doodle to their heart’s content.

The guest room is off-limits for now, because it hasn’t been toddler-proofed. But I did find a Peep bunny with its ears bitten off in there awhile back. Somebody broke that rule, but we don’t know which one of the two possible did it.

Q: Besides being a grandmother, how else do you spend your days?

A: When our youngest graduated from our home school, he ended up attending two different colleges, and was accepted and actually enrolled in a total of four, at last count. Then, he became a Marine. He is doing very well as a Marine, and we are so proud of him. But all that led up to his decision to join the military? That’s hard on a mother. That’s hard on a father, too, but I had made my children my career.

While I do not regret that, it also meant that I had a real crisis of identity, both when they left the nest and when in the face of any perceived failure. As badly as I hate to admit to it, I took it all too personally, and was pretty lost for a period of time. My heart was so bruised, and I turned to art as a means of processing transition. People loved my art and bought it, which both shocked me and helped to heal me. Now I also design and create jewelry pieces. I offer all of it – art and jewelry designs – in my online shop. It is harder than I thought, this being a creative entrepreneur! I work many 12 hour days.

I am also creating my very first online class, offering it for free. It is a mini-class built around the premise of getting ourselves and our children away from screens, and outside into nature. I’m passionate about that.

We also stay very busy in ministry, of course. My husband is in the process of putting together a team that will build one of the first (if not the first) sandbag houses in Haiti! So exciting, the fact that you can build extremely affordable housing with all local materials, and it does not look like a sandbag house when you are done! I also speak to churches, and I coach and mentor other young women, and blog about all of it – grand babies, church life, grace, home decor, whatever – on my website.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living near your grandchildren? What has surprised you the most about being a grandmother?

A: My favorite thing is still being able, after all these years, to have littles in my life. To open the cupboard and see sippy cups again. To put my husband’s underwear away, and see a little pair of size three Cars undies in that drawer, too, just in case. To have a few diapers in the linen closet, and toys in the living room. To find a Peep bunny with his ears bitten off. Chalk drawings on the wall where chalk drawings should not be. I find all of it unbearably sweet.

Honestly, I began dreaming of grandchildren almost as soon as I had children. My whole parenting years were geared towards the next generation. I longed to raise children who would love their children, someday. I prayed for these grandchildren, and waited for them to come, and wondered who they would be and what they would look like, back when my own children were still learning their alphabet! Please tell me I am not the only one…is that weird?

The thing that has surprised me the most, is the ease of this role in my life. It fits me like my favorite jeans. Grandmothering is far easier than mothering ever was, and it isn’t just because you get to love them and send them home. For over two years, I could not do that. Home WAS my house. There is simply a sweetness to sequel-mothering that ambushes my heart, almost every day.

I write about it far more effusively than I talk about it. On any given day, I don’t say a lot, but not a day goes by that I am not smitten by one or all of these children. When one of them looks up at me and says, “Mimi, you bootiful.” I mean, stop it. Right?

Q: If they could remember just one memory or tradition from their grandma’s home – and you as their grandma – what do you hope it would be?

A: I want them to remember their grandparents as being devoted to Christ and His church. I want them to remember us as being funny. Hilariously funny. I want them to remember driving through the Smoky Mountains and wading in the streams. And I want them to grow up thinking that making things and building things with their own two hands, and being outside is the norm. I want them to remember me as being in their corner, always. I want them to grow up not living even one day not knowing they are completely loved.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: That everything would be okay. That all is well, and all will be well and all manner of things shall be well. I wish I had known just how fast time really would go by. I wish I had not been so hard on myself. I wish someone had told me that my family was perfect, just like it was, right in the middle of our broken places, and during some of our worst struggles. I wish someone had told me that we were doing just fine, even on the so-called bad days.

I wish I knew that I really was enough, as their mother, and that we all have Divine permission to prosper, in spite of imperfection. God is always better than we know, though, isn’t He?


See what I mean about Sheila’s sweet optimism? It’s catchy, isn’t it? I love her love for her family, and I love this so much: “I wish someone had told me that my family was perfect, just like it was, right in the middle of our broken places, and during some of our worst struggles. I wish someone had told me that we were doing just fine, even on the so-called bad days.”

We all need that reassurance at some point, don’t we? We should remember to tell each other, just in case we forget. Deal?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Susan Hays Tue, 24 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This is a happy interview; I can tell Susan smiled and laughed the entire time she answered my questions, and I know you’re going to enjoy her earnest candor. This is an around-the-world family that has most recently moved from Florida to South West France, so you know they’ve experienced their share of cultural changes and shocks. But France is where they hope to call home for a very long time, and I’m so pleased Susan invited us in to show us around!

Welcome, Susan!

Q: Please introduce us to your family.

A: Hi! We are a slightly unconventional British family of seven. My husband, Roddy, grew up in several different countries, his one constant being boarding school in England. I, on the other hand, had a terribly normal childhood, growing up on the Isle of Wight, a small island six miles off the south coast of England. I lived in the same house all my life and I went to the same school all my life, I rode ponies, and was the original tomboy!

My husband and I met on the Island of Madeira in the middle of the Atlantic where he ran two charter fishing boats. I was there on a fishing holiday, a break from London life with some friends. To cut a long story short, we met, some years later we married, and then we had five children over the course of ten years.

Our eldest Izzi is now 18, and has just started at University in the UK. She is incredibly academic – where she gets her study ethic from, I have no idea! Our next daughter, Millie, has just had her 15th birthday. She is very artistic and has an insatiable appetite for life, is passionate about her chickens, and a really good tennis player.

Jack is our 12 year old son, the only boy in a house of girls. Roddy always jokes that he may not like it at the moment, but when he is older and they all start bringing friends home he will be delighted! He should also make extremely good boyfriend material, understanding the way girls think! He is already taller than me, loves cycling, and is intent on winning the Tour de France at some stage in the future.

Hetty is ten. She is all or nothing – either extremely loud or very quiet minding her own business – and there is no halfway house with Hetty! She is a thinker, and she would rather be on her own than be friends with someone just for the sake of being friends. However, once she is your friend you will be her friend for life. Georgina is eight; we call her our little Kiwi as she was born in New Zealand. She is the only one in a blue-eyed family to have green eyes and olive skin. Roddy always jokes that he is sure the French pool man was involved somewhere along the way! She is also the only one that is fearless, so thank goodness she is number five! If the first four had had her fearless attitude, we would be a very small family, I am sure!

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in South West France in the middle of a small village of 600 inhabitants; our nearest reasonably sized town of 25,000 people is about a ten minute drive away. We have lived here since last summer when we returned to France after living in Florida for four years.

Actually, Roddy bought the house without me! We have been married for 19 years and we know each other pretty well, so we decided last spring that it was impossible for both of us to leave Florida together and come to France on a house hunting trip. Izzi was taking her final exams for the International Baccalaureate and the others were all in school, too, and so armed with laptop, iPad, and cellphone, Roddy set off to buy us a house! After many Skype calls and many emails, I remember he called one morning and said, “You know how you wanted a house in the middle of a village, with a fig tree and grape vines and at least an acre of garden, and room for friends to stay and yet within striking distance of the coast? Well, I’ve found it.”

Three months later and we were all in France entering the village where the house was waiting. Roddy was unusually quiet – in short, he was terrified! What if I didn’t like it? We already owned it, we knew it needed a lot of renovation, but what if I took one look and hated it? He need not have worried! The minute I walked through the gates, I fell in love.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: It was not in the plans to move. Florida was meant to be our forever home. We arrived on a business visa and, despite what we had initially been told and subsequently spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours with immigration lawyers, we were advised that immigration policy had changed and we would never get the green card which we had understood was a formality when we arrived, and we would never be able to become permanent residents. We knew we had to return to Europe.

When I was a teenager I always remember thinking I had two choices. I had to go to school because it was the law – although I would far rather have been at home riding my ponies! – so I could either go and be miserable for several years of my life or I could make the most of it and enjoy it. Of course I chose the latter. I still use this thought process today.

So here we are, living in France, and it’s already 2015. Where did the time go? And I have to say we are all extremely happy. There is always a positive side and it is lovely to be close to family and in Europe again. Hetty and Georgina go to the local village school, attended by just 67 children, aged from five to 11. They love that they walk to school, and on Fridays we stop at the little village bakery on the way home and buy an end of week treat; they will each choose one thing and something for Millie and Jack, too, for when they return from school a little later.

The village is small and safe and at the weekends the children are able to walk to the bakery or take our dog for a walk on their own, and yet just ten minutes drive away is the much larger town of Rochefort. The centre of Rochefort has a large square bordered by cafes and restaurants and a beautiful fountain. During the winter holidays this square is turned into a giant open air ice skating rink, and becomes one of the highlights of our Christmas holidays. Small boutique shops in buildings several centuries old line the surrounding streets. Even in the cold winter months, the town is vibrant and buzzing and there is no better place to sit and take a coffee and watch the world go by than in one of the street-side cafes. And, as we are in France, I have to talk about the local markets! They’re an integral part of French life, the freshest of local fruits and vegetables. We really do live life according to the seasons, and it is a wonderful education for the children.

Q: You’ve lived a lot of places before this. What’s been the best part about moving that you carry in your memories?

A: Roddy’s business is fishing and the manufacturing of fishing tackle, and that has taken us to some far flung corners of the world for which I feel extremely fortunate. For someone who lived such a sheltered childhood, it has been a completely opposite adulthood! Although, I have to say that this is it: I am NOT moving again! I absolutely hate flying, I don’t mind the small planes that hop from here to England and take an hour, but I hate long transatlantic flights; I watch the screen count down the minutes and hours until we are safely on the ground, and I would gladly never get on a plane again.

The best part is always, undoubtedly, the people who have always been so open and friendly. We are the expat family with SO many children we have half a soccer team, and yet we have been welcomed into their homes and lives. We have been lucky to experience so many different cultures, but I do miss the amazing friends we have made around the world.

Q: You’ve got kids from 8 to 18; tell us about your wide range of house rules! How do you keep your little ones little while giving your older ones more freedom?

A: Now this is something I ponder often. We don’t seem to have hard and fast set rules, and if we did I am sure someone would tell me rules are meant to be broken…or maybe that is just my motto! I am not a strict rules sort of person. However, we all seem to muddle along rather well.

We always eat together, and everyone knows that they absolutely do not bring a mobile device or electronic to the table, so maybe that is the first rule. Whoever is around in the morning will empty the dishwasher. It’s not a set job – sometimes I do it, sometimes Roddy does, sometimes I’ll ask whichever child is in the kitchen at the time to do it – it is just a part of family life and amazingly no one complains and it all works out to be fair in the end. I think the fact that we are such an outdoor sporty family makes the age range so much easier. Whether boating, fishing, cycling, walking, there really is no age barrier and everyone has fun together.

However I do think one of the hardest parts of parenting is getting the balance right. How much leeway to give a teenager? How do you give them their own sense of responsibility whilst also letting go? We try and spend time with each of them individually, and I am extremely lucky to have such an amazingly supportive husband who works from home. He is such a hands-on father and that makes life very much easier. At other times we will all be together, which often means very noisy conversations! We are all strong willed and even the youngest girls have their own firm opinions, but I encourage debate and it is never dull. It is all about somehow getting the balance right. I am sure we could have done many things differently, but it all seems to be working out ok and, most importantly, everyone is happy.

Q: Tell us about your blog! Why did you start it and what are your hopes for it?

A: My blog, Our French Oasis, has quite taken me by surprise. I started it at the end of last year at the request of some of our friends in Florida; they wanted to hear all about our new life in France, and so I said I would write a blog. I still remember the very first post I wrote, my finger hovering over the publish button. It was a scary moment, I felt very vulnerable, and what if my friends thought it was awful and didn’t want to read what I had written?! So at first I kept it very simple and just tentatively felt my way with a few stories and photos of life here. This past January, I started receiving some incredibly positive feedback from total strangers who enjoyed escaping a little to France with me.

I have been amazed at how incredibly friendly the blogging world is. Other bloggers have given me so much advice and I have made some great new friends through the blog. However, the basis of the blog is still, and will remain, my love of sharing. If I can just make someone smile, then it is all worthwhile. Maybe, just maybe a few people will follow in my belief that a family bike ride and a picnic is just as much fun as a theme park and a Big Mac…and a great deal healthier!

Q: What’s your best advice for others moving around a lot?

Q: I do yearn to stay put, which is why I said I am NOT moving again! Yes, of course, my kids miss their friends, and it has been much harder on the older three than the two youngest who really have only known school in Florida and now here in France. But life is not perfect or easy all the time. I am not saying it is ideal moving a lot and there are one or two people who have criticized and been extremely hurtful about our big moves. Those are people who do not know our children, though, and I am sure if they met them they would see that – despite moving so much – they are extremely well adjusted balanced kids.

It has made us all extremely close as a family, and I hope that close bond will never be broken. The best advice I can give anyone moving is to stick together as a family. The kids may find it tough to be the outsider in a new school especially if they can’t even speak the language, but knowing that at home they have your complete support and understanding and pride is so valuable. Just encourage them, be there for them, and listen. That’s probably great to do whether you move or not!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Undoubtedly my favourite thing about being a Mom is being surrounded by five amazing children. They make me laugh, they make me cry, and at times I want to scream in frustration, but I love them with all my heart. I cannot stand mess and chaos, I like everything to be in its place, and so I have no idea why I ever had five children – because, trust me, with five children there is always mess!

I could live extremely happily with a fair degree of minimalism, but Roddy loves his books and hates to throw anything away, and I think all of the children have inherited his “hold onto everything just in case” gene. As someone who reads a novel and then gives it to the Goodwill store, this has taken quite some getting used to. One of my kids – and I am not going to tell you which one for fear they may just never forgive me – actually insists on keeping candy wrappers as a souvenir! A memory, as they put it. Now we do have candy, not daily, but it is not forbidden and not unusual so why keep an old wrapper? I have argued this until I am blue in the face, and I have even secretly taken a few out of the drawer where they are kept thinking I would throw them away and clear some of the clutter, only to put them back a minute later because I felt too guilty!

I will never win my war on clutter and I will never live in a perfect tidy mess free home, but I also wouldn’t change it for the world!We muddle along for the most part very happily. My kids keep me young, they keep me laughing, they keep me fit, and I love them to bits.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home more than any other – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: Well, having lived here for less than a year, that’s quite a difficult one to answer. But this takes me back to moving around and changing homes a fair amount. So when they are grown up and with their own families, I hope they look back and think of this as home. This is where I really want to settle and for them to feel they belong. Everywhere we have lived has had its special moments and plenty of fun and laughter, but I really want this to be their home.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: …that it can be tough being an older parent.

I waited and did not have children until my thirties, and I wouldn’t change the fun I had in my twenties for anything. In fact, I wouldn’t have wanted children in my twenties because I was having far too much fun living on my own. I had an amazing job, an amazing lifestyle, and when Roddy and I met we had so much fun together living on the island of Madeira.

However, having a child once you reach 40 puts you in a completely different bracket. I always joke that at parent meetings at school for Izzi I am one of the younger ones, but for Georgina I am positively ancient! I mean, there are plenty of parents there who could easily be my daughter! Although this is far more the case in Florida than in Europe; European women tend to have their careers first and then their children. Having a first child at 40 is not even considered unusual, so maybe that’s another positive side to living back here!

But truthfully, I do think of how old I will be when Georgina is starting college, and how will it affect the younger ones having an older mother? Maybe I should have stopped living a little and started our family a few years earlier…who knows? However, there is always a positive side to everything and maybe that positive side is my children make me want to stay young. They keep me fit and active, I strive to lead a healthy lifestyle for them, to look the best I can. So I can truthfully say, although I wish someone had told me, I still wouldn’t have listened!


Susan, I love your honesty about being the youngest and oldest mom, depending on which child’s perspective! Your attitude is great – a no regrets philosophy is pretty liberating – and I’m sure everything and everyone came at the perfectly right moment. (Your time on Madeira sounds like it was a hoot! No wonder you wouldn’t want to give that up!)

I’m curious if anyone else has unique experiences being either the youngest parent or the oldest. I know someone who always gets asked if she’s her daughter’s sister, an occurrence that delights her and brings about a frown from her daughter! Ha!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Emily Power Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:00:53 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

The more of Emily’s words I read, the more I’m reminded that the best lives are a little messy. And this is certainly true for childhoods, as well! As parents, we make the most of what we have and where we are at the moment to give our children the best we can give them. Yes, family life gets messy. But I think we would all trade pristine floors for ones with busy footprints in the shape of a racetrack from fridge to front door, and swap leisurely alone time with the clamor of a crowded playdate.

Life happens so fast, and it would be a shame to miss much of it worrying about dust and dirt. I can thank Emily for this reminder today, and I hope you will, too!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hello, I am Emily. I really try to embrace life and all the crazy things life may throw my way. I love getting involved and trying to make a difference. I am a sucker for a good TV show…and realize that everyone does not share my definition of good! For a real rush, I love treasure hunting from the back woods of Arkansas to the Paris flea market; I just love finding things that tell a story and complement our home. I also believe that a cup of tea or a great glass of wine among friends can fix almost anything.

I have four little wonders. Piper is a horse-loving ten year old. I envy her determination and her connection with animals. She is just so in tune with nature and her surroundings. She is quietly confident in all she does. Polly is nine and has been my right hand helper since she could walk and talk. I don’t know what I would do with out her keeping me on top of everything we have going on. She always looks at the bright side and is full of smiles.

Harrison is seven and pure sweetness, and has always had a love of beautiful things. He is passionate about fashion and creating beautiful things. He has a fantastic eye and I often ask him for advice.

Hudson keeps us all on our toes. Literally! He is not content unless he is outside playing some form of sport. Because he is still home with me, we spend lots of quality time hiking together and searching for lost Indian artifacts. I love a good chat and he shares my passion!

Andrew, my husband, is extremely patient with all of us. He works very hard in commercial real estate, but when he is here there is nothing he loves more than spending time with us – thank the dear Lord – because when he is around things are always much smoother, I always relax when he walks through the door. One of the things I love most about him is his laid back Aussie personality; there is really not much that can stress him out, and he always helps me keep things in perspective.

We also have a host of creatures: our dogs, horse, chickens, canaries, budgies, and an occasional peacock that wanders into our always open door.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in Rolling Hills Estates in Los Angeles County, but it seriously feels like we live in the country. We were just randomly out driving one day and stumbled upon this house. We made an offer that day. The land is what totally sold us. At that point, we were living at the beach which we loved, but having land in LA seemed like a dream come true. We knew that being surrounded by such beautiful vistas, we could live in a hut on this land and be content.

We spent the next six months getting all the proper permits and then moved out for a year to build this home. Pulling onto our street is always a giant happy exhale for me.

Q: What makes you love the place you live? Persuade us to move!

A: Life on the Lanes, as far as my kids go, is everything I have ever dreamed for them and more. Complete with a general store, horse crossings, and peacocks galore. I realize with each passing day how fleeting childhood is and love that this is where they get to grow up. I feel a true sense of belonging and love this community. Our front door is always open and I love that kids come and go as they please; the more little voices that fill our home, the happier I am.


We spend most of our days outside. We are considered an equestrian community because almost every house can have a horse on their property. Because of all the horses there is a fantastic trail system, and walking on the trails provides hours of entertainment. We have a community riding ring and, while only my two oldest ride, there is something for everyone at the ring. They play in the mounds of dirt for hours and swing on the tree swings. The kids have lemonade/fresh egg stands on a regular basis. My oldest daughter often rides her horse to the general store with her friends and gets a sandwich for lunch from the sweet family that owns it and knows all the kids’ names by heart.

We have a few community events that I get really excited about, like an amazing 4th of July parade and celebration with a pie bake-off, and Christmas caroling on horseback followed by a special visit by Santa to each home. In the summer we do lots of outdoor movies under the stars and a chili cook-off. We do pumpkin carving in the Fall, and have the most magical Easter at the ring where everyone dresses up their animals for the occasion – think donkeys in Easter bonnets! One of my favorite neighbors has open door Fridays, and we head there almost every Friday night to let the kids frolic while we catch up on the weeks events. I know that everyone has a different idea of their ideal place to live, but living here is such a gift…although I do daydream at times about living in the French country side!

Q: LA County! Tell us about raising kids there; what are the perks and challenges?

A: I am from a small town in Pennsylvania. If you ever told me I would be living in LA, I could have never imagined it. I had so many preconceived notions, but LA has been so great for us.

My parents actually followed us out here after we started our family. Having them here and realizing they left their entire lives behind to come be with us is just incredible and makes LA feel like home. I always worried that one day they were going to wake up and hate it, but so far we have all embraced this crazy city. I have always been of the philosophy that it takes a village, and I love having them as part of my village.

The biggest perk living here is the weather. I have been hearing about what a harsh winter it has been back east, and try and never take for granted how consistently lovely it is here. I have to say, though, I miss Fall so much! I love the crisp cool air of Fall, but it is a small price to pay for the beautiful weather we have here.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are your favorite things about your home?

A: I’d describe my aesthetic as cheerfully chic. Truly, there is nothing precious in this house that is not meant to be used. I love things distressed because then I never have to worry about them! Baby Hudson took a hammer – his favorite toy – to many things around our home, and it always somehow blended in.

I have a super amazing friend who I constantly run ideas by about this space. If I cannot figure out what is bothering me or if I feel a space is not useful, she is always the first person I turn to for a second opinion. We are always on the same page and have a similar aesthetic so it works out perfectly. She totally gets me and we both have fun making suggestions and improving each other’s spaces. We also love finding old abandoned (think side-of-the-road!) treasures and re-imagining them.

I want family and friends and even strangers to walk in and feel welcome and comfortable, like if they wanted they could sit on the couch and throw their feet on the coffee table. Nothing stresses me out more then entering a space where I feel like my kids can’t touch things or explore.

I adore our red Dutch door; it makes me happy to walk through the front door. I adore the serenity of our master bathroom; while I had always dreamed of a claw foot tub, I have maybe used it twice and always joke that the one day when I actually get to sit in it and relax will be a bittersweet moment.

As far as objects in my home, I have this lamp that is the perfect blue. When the kids play ball in the house, they know that they cannot throw near that lamp – it just really speaks to me. I also love this guitar that I got at a studio lot sale where they sell off all the props from a movie; it cost $20 and has a beautiful painting on the back. I don’t play, but I beg anyone who can to please pick it up and play with it. I have this Collie TV Lamp from the 1950s that looks more like a big Collie sculpture than a light. It came from Max Factor’s personal collection; he had around 300 and I just love the look of it.

I also have this amazing horse painting that I dug out of the bottom of what looked like a pile of trash at the Paris flea market. I love everything about it including the old rusty nails you can see on the outside of the canvas. I also have a set of Fiesta Ware that I inherited from my aunt. And when I say nothing is precious, I really had to come to terms with that the hard way.  Accidentally, one of the girls broke a bowl in the collection. I was so upset and screamed so harshly – way too harshly, to be honest – and I felt so awful when I saw her little face and realized how angry I was. Once I calmed down and thought about it, I realized my aunt would have been so happy they were being used and not just being displayed. This helped me change my entire idea on the stuff I keep. I want everything to be used and enjoyed. If it is not, I give it away. Things are no fun unless you enjoy them.

Q: Is it important for you to give your kids spaces that are all their own?

A: I have been thinking a ton about our space vs. our kids’ space. I am very dyslexic, and keeping things in somewhat of an order is essential for my brain. When I feel overrun with toys or objects, I get very overwhelmed. I have been working with a friend who is a professional organizer and she has helped me understand the importance of keeping a little space for just my husband and myself, something I never had before. So, the space is just our closet, but baby steps!

Now when I feel like I am getting overrun by the rest of the house, I can just pop in our closet and it instantly calms me down. This really was a revelation, you know. It is okay for us to have a space that is kid-free.

My son has this amazing doll room. Before that room, though, we had dolls in every crevice of our home; now they have a special place. In that room they are all allowed to express themselves however they like, including drawing on the walls. This has been a great outlet for them and they all have so much fun in that room. This room changes frequently depending on what they are playing or what they are into that day, but it has been such a great little nook for them to express themselves.

Q: With the California climate, you must live outdoors most of the year or at least have your doors and windows open. How does the weather affect your home’s style?

A: I think having such wonderful weather and living outside so much of the time actually makes our home a little grittier! We are always tracking things on our shoes through the house. Thank goodness we decided on wide plank pine floors! They are really worn, but that only gives them more character.  I run the vacuum at least twice a day because anything that blows comes right into our home. Really, such a small price to pay for beautiful weather and the doors always being open!

Q: You mentioned in your email to me that no one uses their bedrooms! Talk about what you love about all sleeping in the same room.

A: We never intended to have a family bedroom, but it just evolved that way. Polly is the only one who often ventures out into her own room and spends the night there. Huddy sleeps in bed with us, and Piper and Harrison and sometimes Polly sleep on the floor in a fortress of blankets.

They are the world’s best sleepers. I swear, once they are asleep a ten-piece band could not stir them! Andrew and I always joke that we have had to become very creative, but for our family at this time, it works for us. We all get a good night’s sleep, and my mom constantly reminds me that they won’t be 16 and sleeping in our room! For now, we have lots of extra bedrooms for visitors!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Living with my kids is always an adventure. Truly, there are not many dull moments around here, and then you add our animals to the mix and it can get a little crazy. My favorite part of living with my kids is the energy they give me. Seeing all that goes on around here, I sometimes feel worn down, but truly embracing the things they love and trying to be present and see the world through their eyes is just really inspiring. I love all the happenings around our home and seeing them so happy in their surroundings feeds my soul…even if it is a tired soul!

Q: If they could remember just one memory or tradition from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: When I close my eyes and think about favorite moments, they involve loud music and our kids dancing on tables.

I also love family walks. There is always someone who is not in the mood or does not want to go, but once we all get out and start talking and walking it is always so fun.

The other memory that I will always hold dear is how every night just before bed I read a book to them all. My mom was a child’s librarian, so she read to me way into my teens and I always loved it. The book we are currently reading is a historical account of Anastasia; this one was Harrison’s pick, and although it is a much more advanced book, because I read it to them they all get something different out of it. We all have been learning so much from this book, so it is really a win win and such a special time together.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone told me to be flexible in my expectations. We all have a vision of what a perfect child is and how we want to share them with the world. I always think of the Lion King when they hold the baby lion up for all the land to see!

I thought I was a failure if I was not the mom doing it all with a smile on my face. I quickly realized that if I tried to do it all, something somewhere in the chain suffered. Now, I live for the days when we can all be together. Sure, maybe only one of them is not wearing shoes, they all may look like little ragamuffins covered in dirt, someone may have been really cranky to me or I may have raised my voice, I maybe forgot to have someone brush their teeth or their dinner may have consisted of a bowl of ice cream…these are all things that, for the most part, I have learned to let go. Because at the end of the day, I know in my heart I am doing the very best I can and love them with all my heart, even on the nights I may have sent them to bed without brushing their teeth after eating a bowl of ice cream for dinner. Changing my expectations has allowed me to be more present and enjoy those precious moments that are going by way too quickly.


Emily, I love that you acknowledged the fact that you need your own space. And that we all do, in fact! It’s liberating not to feel selfish for stealing a nook and 15 minutes, and it’s even more freeing to have a space or two where your kids have creative control. Although I know some readers are going to see the graffiti in your kids’ space and die a thousand little deaths – I’m sure we all recognize the reward in offering that freedom to them, as well as the ability to close the door on the mess! Out of sight, out of mind! Whatever it takes, right?

I’m interested if anyone else has given their kids carte blanche in a room or two. How has it worked out for you? And if you wouldn’t dare to let them loose with markers and empty wall space, why not?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Raffaella Cova Tue, 10 Mar 2015 14:00:49 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I’m not sure if it’s the sunlight sliding through this tour or the overwhelming vibe that this house wasn’t built yesterday or the sheer uniqueness of this home, but I am hooked on it. I’ve lost many minutes zooming in on Raffaella’s kitchen shelves and dreaming of a nap in one of those beds. It looks like such a good life. You’ll see. Welcome, Raffaella!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Marco and I met during a night out with friends in Milan, and neither of us had the least idea that we’d be starting a family shortly after. We were both very busy with our jobs; he was working as an architect in Milan, and I was in TV and film production.

On a whim, he invited me to spend a weekend with him in Tuscany. Marco studied architecture in Florence and moved to Rome and Milan afterwards, but his family originates from Montalcino in the south of Siena. In fact, his mom says that their family’s presence in the Val d’Orcia can be traced back all the way into the early 15th century. We must be on the way to continue the family tradition since the prominent wine town in southern Tuscany is where we live now together with our two sons!

Dante is nine years old and thrives in the wilderness that surrounds our house. He is great at mushroom hunting in autumn, fishing at the Tuscan coast in summer, and manages to find huge bunches of wild asparagus in spring. He also loves looking after the chicken. Quite to the contrary of his brother. Indro just turned six and could easily live in a city. He doesn’t care too much about his surroundings as long as he has time to draw and paint, but most of all he loves lying on the sofa to meditate about who knows what.

Q: How did your house become your home?

A: I fell pregnant early on in our relationship, and knowing that our life was due to change we weighed up the options we ha: keeping our jobs in Milan or starting afresh in Tuscany? Unable to decide. we literally flipped a coin and have been living on this Tuscan hill ever since. To start with, we stayed in Marco’s grandmother’s apartment in Montalcino’s historic town center. One Sunday we went for a walk and came across our house tucked away in the forest. It felt like a page out of a fairy tale: overgrown and uninhabited for decades, it looked like hunters might have used it as a base from time to time. Asking around, we discovered that it was owned by family friends. Quite a bit younger back then and with little money but much more energy and enthusiasm, we decided to restore all of it by ourselves! I’ve learnt how to mix cement and what it means to put stone on stone, and above all how long everything takes with do-it-yourself! But in return, I think we managed to renovate it without overdoing it or scraping out its soul.

As usual with Tuscan farm houses, the lower floor had been used as a stable for centuries. These stables are beautiful open spaces, which are hard to come by in the living quarters of historic Tuscan countryside houses. The living spaces were traditionally situated on the first floor above the stables; shared by large or several families they had to be divided into smaller rooms with each new generation.

Once renovated, Marco used the ex-stable as his studio. However, with the family growing we decided to turn it into our living room, whilst Marco returned to Nonna’s flat in town to install his Tuscan architect studio there. This also meant I finally got a bigger kitchen, which was truly needed for my new activity.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Val d’Orcia is known for its cypress lined hills and natural beauty. It is, in fact, a Unesco World Heritage site. But what I love so much about living here is simply what most people might treasure about living in the countryside, no matter where you are: having my own vegetable garden, being able to have breakfast with fresh eggs, or to fire up the old pizza oven to throw a party at our home without ever having to worry that we may disturb the neighbours – a fact our kids obviously take advantage of when they’re having friends over!

Q: You lived in the city before this. Compare and contrast the best and least-best parts of living in each.

A: A guest at our wedding said it looked like we were getting the best of both worlds. I didn’t hire a caterer, but cooked with the old ladies from Sant’Angelo in Colle, a gorgeous hill town close to Montalcino, for days before our wedding. There was every thinkable Tuscan starter, handmade pasta, and wild boar stew for a regiment on the buffet in the olive grove, but also a DJ from Milan and American friends who had put up the most amazing cocktail bar.

Of course, one good party won’t get you through the rest of the year. And whilst I’m very happy to raise my kids in the countryside, there were also things that became more complicated when moving to the Italian outback. Marco had quite a smooth transition as an architect; he nowadays restores Tuscan villas and farmhouses, and is happy to design wineries or swimming pools instead of office buildings. But I had to find a new career for myself and felt rather disoriented with having lost my professional identity. I’m happy we did it and love what I created during the last years, but it hasn’t always been easy.

Q: Are there new traditions for your family now that you’ve moved to the countryside?

A: The biggest change is, no doubt, Sunday lunch. Whilst our single lives in the city just included a strong coffee in the late morning or maybe a very late brunch, family life means we’re at last back to the traditional Italian Sunday lunch.

It doesn’t just have to be the four of us. Often, friends or family will be joining the table, which was another reason why we moved the living room downstairs. I wanted to have enough space for people to pop in and stay on, be it friends visiting from Milan and abroad, new acquaintances from the village, or our children’s buddies.

When I don’t have much time a plate of spaghetti, some fresh greens, and a glass of wine will do. But whenever I can, I love to prepare a proper four course meal as any Italian Nonna would: antipasti, primo, secondo, and obviously a dolce to finish off. Although we’re all in need of a digestive walk through the woods afterwards!

Q: You love to cook and have made a gorgeous business from this love! Tell us all about it!

A: I’ve always loved to cook. In fact, at some point my mom had to ask me to give it a break, since all the elaborate recipes I was trying out were overtaxing the family budget! Later on, I spent my free days cooking in Milan and loved hosting diners for friends and friends of friends, but I would never have dreamed of turning my passion for Italian food into a proper job.

It really only was when sitting in Montalcino with two small kids and realizing that TV production wasn’t an option in Val d’Orcia that I started to consider it. The rest kind of just happened; friends started to ask me to cater for birthdays or celebrations, then came the harvest lunches in wineries, and one day a small group of American tourists was referred to me for a Tuscan cooking class.

Once I got my head around it and got over the first panic attacks, I realized that I’d be able to bring together all the things I love most. Italy’s regional cooking is endlessly varied, and much of it depends on the raw ingredients, which – be it cheese, meat or vegetables – have to be fresh and of prime quality. Finding and visiting the producers in Val d’Orcia and Tuscany is one of the most exciting parts. Last but not least, there is the Tuscan wine. Marco’s grandfather was one of the first in Montalcino to produce the town’s famous Brunello wine, and so there will be no cooking class without a glass of it!

Q: How do you balance your cooking classes and catering with feeding your own family?

A: I really don’t want to impose my passions on my kids, but no doubt what I do influences them. Both our sons love to lend a hand in the kitchen, and sometimes even prepare a meal on their own. Obviously, making pizza and preparing fresh pasta are favourites, which are always fun for kids and adults alike.

One of the biggest surprises I had was how much fun cooking lessons can be for teenagers. When whole families book the classes, the iPhone addicted 15- and 16-year olds turn out to be less afraid to get their hands into the pasta dough than their much more kitchen smart parents. I hope this will hold true once my kids are of that age!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Maybe the incredible love for them…unconditional even when they drive you crazy? And realizing that there is part of me in them still manages to surprise me.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home more than any other – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: The freedom to move, to explore, to be out in nature without having an adult supervisor around all the time, which is what I cherish most from my childhood even though I grew up in a much more suburban area in northern Italy.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: That there is light after the tunnel. Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but you know what I mean.

Life gets more complicated and intense and, at times, rather challenging with kids. But it’s not like I would have quite gotten it if somebody had told me in advance. Some things have to be experienced to be understood. At least in my case.

It’s a bit like trying out a new recipe. Cookbooks are great guides, but you have to get your hands dirty to properly figure it out.


Thank you, Raffaella! Your words and sun-streaked photos brought on such a calm in my office, and there are parts of your home that remind me of our life in France. All that to say, this tour put me in a happy place!

I really love how Raffaella described the early days of her business: “Once I got my head around it and got over the first panic attacks…” It’s reassuring that we all feel like that before jumping into a new endeavor. Anyone having one right now? If so, here are some words for you: You can do it! Go get your hands dirty!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Derek Garcia Tue, 03 Mar 2015 14:00:49 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I love when dads write to me and ask about the possibility of a home tour. There have only been two thus far, but I’m always hoping to hear from different voices; it keeps things fresh! So a special thank you to Derek for adding his outlook today.

There’s so much in this tour that interests me, from the attempt to acclimate to a completely new culture and its design as newlyweds in Tokyo, to the exclusion they felt as a mixed-race couple, and their basic yet beautiful way they now view parenting and home. (Not to be a spoiler, but they both boil down to love.) I really hope you enjoy this fresh perspective and home tour! Welcome, Derek!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Hello! I’m Derek. Our home consists of me and my wife, Erika, and our son Frederick. And our goldfish, Fillet!

Erika is an academically trained photojournalist with an eye for beauty. She is the emotional and spiritual leader of the family, and her smile can brighten up even the darkest room. She is also known to hold concerts in the shower.

I’m Derek, an Aerospace Engineer by day and a homegrown bicycle builder and recycler by night. I try to breathe new life into bicycles that have once been forgotten. I’m the one who got Erika back on a bike, and that is one of my greatest accomplishments!

Frederick is our gift. An energetic, lovable, and creative playtime instigator, whose love and intelligence brings us joy and amazement on a daily basis…he is perfect.

We lovingly consider ourselves sort of like the Three Musketeers.  As a family, we love the outdoors – so much so that we took Frederick camping as soon as he turned three months old. We love music, delicious food, travel, and exploring. We do our very best to fill our house with love. We believe in tickle torture, sprinkled with lots and lots of hugs and kisses. We have been described as artsy, but we would probably just say that we love colorful and beautiful creativity.

As parents, we see ourselves as the legs of a ladder built just for our son. We’re hoping that our love as parents helps develop an endless number of steps that will provide Frederick the chance to reach beyond the stars.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: One of our church group members told us that their neighbors were moving, and the house next to them would be available if we were interested. Oh, it was such a relief to find this house! Before moving here, we had been in and out of multiple places, from a duplex by the beach that we never completely moved into, to Erika’s parents’ house, to a brief stint in our cousin’s house, then to an apartment. For a year and a half, we had been living in and out of suitcases, with our stuff in and out of storage, all whilst managing a pregnancy, an international relocation, a new baby, and a job change.

We had been desperately looking for a home to buy in North San Diego County, and during spring of 2013, it was virtually impossible. We were outbid, out-priced, or sellers decided to no longer sell. So when we learned about this home rental – near the beach, three bedrooms, less than 1,000 square feet, with a beautiful and peaceful yard, next door to a family that we already knew and who were also parents to young children, which was in the neighborhood where we had been looking to buy – we jumped at the opportunity.

Although a rental, the timing for us was perfect. It was our chance to settle down for the time being and reconnect with life outside of boxes and suitcases, and to build a foundation and start our home.

The process of our house becoming a home has taken some time, but our vision took shape almost as soon as we moved in. We were immediately inspired and saw that the outdoor space was perfect for entertaining, and were lucky enough to host Frederick’s first birthday party after that first weekend we moved in. It was a whirlwind.

From there, we’ve been gradually personalizing the space. To us, that’s what really makes a space a home. Reminders of loved ones or past travels, happy memories, and creative works are ways we make a house our home. Sounds also help shape our home. From sweet name callings heard throughout the house, to Frederick playing his wooden drum, to a FaceTime with Grandma and Grandpa or the steady stream of vinyl, homemade CD mixes and Pandora, even peaceful quiet time, sounds are an integral part of our home.

I mean, how the space warms all your senses is what makes it a home. Sight, sound, smell, touch – each an important component. The beauty of it is that, no matter your space, you can always take the best parts with you, wherever you go.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: First of all, the size of the home is perfect for us. It’s right around 1,000 square feet, so it’s small enough to hear each other’s sounds, which we like. It has excellent natural light, beautiful hardwood floors, and a covered back patio that we’ve converted into our dining room/outdoor play space/art room. We are conveniently located near several bike shops all within a two mile radius, which is perfect for our bicycle loving family. Our son loves playing in the park across the street.

The backyard space is just perfect. With a mature avocado tree, along with lemon and guava trees, it’s a haven for fresh fruit.  Being right at sea level, the streets are relatively flat, which makes for an easy bike ride around the neighborhood or to Buccaneer Beach, a small, but hidden and family friendly stretch of sand. Our one-car garage serves as the perfect studio workshop for Glowing Garage, our bicycle workshop and sewing studio. And the coastal North San Diego weather makes outdoor living possible virtually year round – though we do get the occasional cold spells – and the up and coming neighborhood is abundant with diversity and young families, which we love.

Q: You were in Tokyo before this; describe your life there, especially as it differs from the one you’re living now!

A: Our life in Tokyo was a cross-cultural, international, bi-continental, living whirlwind life we survived as newlyweds. Moving abroad was a result of a promotion opportunity with my previous employer. On paper, it presented a perfect next step for us after getting married; we could live abroad, save money, and pay off student loans while still living a very comfortable expatriate life in a metropolitan city where we didn’t have to drive, could bike or take public transportation everywhere, with an abundance of great food, beautiful landscapes, steeped in culture where everything was clean, safe, and accessible. Plus, we were time zones away from family and friends, so it gave us the ability to connect or disconnect anytime we wanted to so we could focus on us and build the strength of our marriage.

Before moving abroad, we decided to sell all of our furniture and buy all new things once in Tokyo. At the time, we really liked vintage, mixed with shabby chic, sprinkled with mid-century modern and a touch of color, but the prices for that style of furniture was either impossible to find or ridiculously overpriced. So, we did our best to connect with a European modern style as our Tokyo aesthetic.

Our life in Tokyo presented challenges that made simple everyday things hard and daunting, stressful, and tiring. Not being able to speak or read the language was one thing. But more than that, it was our unawareness of the social norms and cultural nuances that had us constantly feeling out of place, uninvited, shunned, and excluded.

Not knowing when to bow, or what to say in what situation, when to remove our shoes, how to hold our utensils – trying to maintain an awareness for all such things made daily life exhausting. On top of that, being an ethnically diverse married couple – my wife is African American and I’m Filipino American (but constantly mistaken for Japanese) – in a homogenous environment where the majority of the community is Japanese, was received as unusual and out of the ordinary. This made people feel uncomfortable because it was too different, which oftentimes resulted in poor service, exclusion, and even racism.  That’s not to say that there weren’t some truly awesome people in Japan, nor are we intending to cast a label on the country as a whole – all we are sharing is that this is our story and this was our firsthand experience.

Our home in Tokyo was extravagant but it felt empty and lonely. However, what we walked away with was a greater appreciation for what the word “home” means. 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.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic now? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them?

A: We would probably describe our aesthetic as kid-friendly vintage fun. No piece of furniture, room, or wall is off limits. Frederick’s artwork, our chalked painted bookshelf, Frederick’s car lineups, and photos my wife has taken are some of our home’s must haves.

Q: You started a blog together! What inspires you, and what are your goals for it?

A: We love collaborating. We were looking for something that we can do together, outside of parenting, that can join our passions for bikes and photography and build on our shared interest for design. Our main goal is to develop something that will allow us to grow closer together creatively, and to be the number one supporters of each other’s passions and interests.

Our secondary goal (which is important, too) is to share our love for bicycles, photography, and design. We hope to connect with a community that we know is out there and that has been searching for a site like ours.

Q: As a multiracial family, how do you ensure that your son learns about his ethnically diverse background?

A: We are both fortunate to have a very diverse family that live all across the country and around the world. We are blessed that Frederick has both sets of grandparents to learn from, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins to turn to when looking for other multiracial human beings to identify with. Through our family community, we hope Frederick will grow up knowing and understanding his African American and Filipino heritage.

Q: What do you hope your son remembers from this very moment in his childhood in this very house? And what do you hope he conveniently forgets!

A: We hope that our son remembers the foundation of love, trust, hard work and patience that we are instilling in him. As new parents, it’s not always easy to keep track of all the milestones, what to do at what age, let alone maintain our own personal routines, but what we’ve worked really hard at maintaining is the presence of love, trust, hard work, and patience.

Conversely, on those long days and nights when we’re both tired and incapable of being the bigger person, we hope he conveniently forgets the arguments, heartache, and hurt feelings that arise from time to time.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your son? What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about being parents?

A: Our favorite part about living with our son is really being fortunate to witness his development. It’s so beautiful and awe inspiring.

As first time parents, it’s really beyond us the things that we see Frederick do and learn and copy and make his own. Something as simple as being able to feed himself with his own spoon to brushing his own teeth to seeing him peacefully share with other kids really moves us.

The one thing that has surprised us about being parents is how your own child’s joy can be an instant, immediate cure-all for so many things.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told us…

A: I wish someone had told us that there are truly no breaks to be being a parent. Physically, mentally, emotionally – there is a constant demand.

It is a beautiful thing, the way our child looks to us for everything – love, support, care, joy – but it’s on those days where we’re seeking it for ourselves that can make it really challenging to meet our son’s demands. Even when Frederick is at school or at visiting with his grandparents, there is no break. It’s then we’re able to take care of house chores, run additional errands, prepare meals, etc. There’s always something that needs to be done.

But, it’s all worth it! It’s an extremely small price to pay for the immeasurable love that our son gives us.


I love this the most: “…your own child’s joy can be an instant, immediate cure-all for so many things.” Thank you so much, Derek! I truly enjoyed reading what you had to say.

Friends, have you ever been in a position to sell off your belongings and start fresh somewhere else? I can’t really imagine that happening for most of us who consider ourselves  pretty established where we are; I think it would be much easier upon a big move or life change. But I’m curious if anyone has tried it? Just woke up one morning and thought, “I would very much like to start over. And this time, I’m going modern.” If you’re one of those wild and crazy and bold ones, please tell us all about it!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Caryn Schafer Tue, 24 Feb 2015 18:30:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Choosing to downsize from a large home in the suburbs to a much tinier space is probably not as difficult to handle when the much tinier space is in huge by anyone’s standards New York City! I think it would be the best kind of challenge, right? Keeping only what you love, organizing vertically by use, and ruthlessly overthinking every purchase. And the minute you feel a bit claustrophobic, Central Park is one block away. Marvelous.

I love this peek into Caryn’s small space and big thoughts. I’ve read it three times, and I find something new with each read. I hope you do, too. Welcome, Caryn!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hello! We are a family of four. Mark is the solitary male of our home, who is actually quite fond of hot pink. He is a designer for a tech company, and has a passion for beautifully designed things ranging from type and furniture to letter openers, and salt and pepper shakers.

Our older daughter is almost three. She has a zest for life and would dance through it if opportunity allowed. Her height and vocabulary often fool people into thinking she is older, and she lives for social activities, working her charms on every person she can get near.

Our younger daughter is nearly one and is still quite a mystery to us. She has the biggest blue eyes anyone has ever seen and is already incredibly active, risky, and vocal. She is a snuggler and has a smile always at the ready. She is just beginning to walk, determined to figure everything out and taste it along the way too.

Finally there is me, Caryn. I am the wife, the mom, the cook, the book addict, the blogger, and the illustrator. I firmly believe bookstores are my Kryptonite, and I have an unhealthy obsession with stripes, polka dots, picture books, and French food philosophy.

Q: How did your house become your home?

A: We live in New York City on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The short version of this story is that we rented our apartment sight unseen. After about a year of feeling the desire to downsize from our house in the suburbs and convert to city life, Mark chased down a fantastic job change, pushing us to sell, pack, and move within two months. The short timeline, a month of training for Mark across the country, and me being in the third trimester with our second, resulted in us relying heavily on a broker to hunt down the perfect place for our family in a completely new city. We only saw a handful of pictures, but it had the most potential in its location and layout and we were running out of time for our move and my pregnancy, so we grabbed it.

It was a weird feeling walking into it for the first time knowing we had to make it work. It was better than I was expecting, and it has turned out to be exactly what we had hoped for. It is a one-bedroom, about 450 sq. ft. apartment on the fifth floor of a lovely brownstone. We are at the top of the building which means it is quiet, we get tons of light, and no one passes our door unless they are looking for us.

There are four flights of stairs, 77 steps to be exact, to get to us. That could be considered a downside, but every flight saves us money and serves the dual purpose of exercise. We have been here almost exactly a year and I do actually feel a marvelous sense of relief and joy when I enter our home. Perhaps it is only the effect of being winded from the stairs. Really though, I am overwhelmingly satisfied with how our hopes and vision have panned out.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: You know the gorgeous scenes and streets from You’ve Got Mail where brownstones abound, streets converge in cool places, hot dogs are singing, and Starbucks are on every corner? That’s where we live.

I probably should have mentioned my deep love for You’ve Got Mail in the intro. My joy, memorization, and watch-count verge on lunacy. Which makes our great move to the Upper West Side even more fitting. By some bizarre stroke of luck, we landed smack dab inside that picturesque world of Nora Ephron. Even 17 years after filming, this neighborhood is charming. Every day I walk down the streets to run some errand, quite possibly in Zabar’s, I hear The Cranberries singing in my head and ponder picking up some more daisies at the corner bodega. I desperately love this city and am always looking for the beauty.

I am realistic, though. We are a family of four living in a small, one-bedroom apartment in an ever-changing city. Thankfully we had been hoping to downsize because it is quite the necessity in Manhattan. Rent is pretty astronomical. But we were thrilled to sell our car and offload the carseats. Our transportation costs plummeted now that we get to walk and bike most everywhere. We hop the subway, bus, or taxi if time won’t allow walking, and we have the most lovely stroll across Central Park to get to church every week.

It takes Mark the same amount of time to either take the subway or bike to work each day. We live around the corner from a subway stop, half a street away from Central Park, and four avenues from Riverside Park. Central Park is a great escape from crowded city life and the best backyard we could have ever dreamed of. Mark celebrates every time he doesn’t have to mow. My oldest and I have made it our goal to visit every playground in NYC, starting with the 21 located in Central Park. There are hundreds of incredible restaurants to be experienced, shows to see, classes to take, free activities everywhere, and a museum for every possible interest.

As far as everything else goes, yes it does seem to cost more, but not in the way I thought. Groceries are basically the same as what I was paying back in the South, unless you make the mistake of forgetting something and have to pick it up at a corner store. You can get just about everything delivered, and I happily tip anyone who will carry things up to me.

I think the real change I’ve noticed is the pressure to spend to fit culturally. You don’t need as much or have room for as much, but you need and want nicer things in NYC. And you are expected to go out to expensive places, and see costly shows, wear the right kind of clothing, and have a nanny.

But, I’m so thankful for the downsizing as it has made us more mindful consumers and made us invest in more quality pieces rather than quantity. Instead of cleaning and caring for a big house, we spend our time exploring the city, visiting museums and parks, and just having fun together.

Oh, I love Manhattan! I feel like to some extent we are still in the honeymoon phase with NYC; but I don’t think there is anything better than being somewhere you know you are supposed to be. I once heard a quote somewhere that NYC has a tendency to embrace you at one moment and then slap you in the face the next. We have definitely felt those moments, but our years of desiring to be here seem to have given us a better chance of laughing at the hard blows.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Has it changed since you moved to a smaller home?

A: I do feel like my aesthetic has changed, but I think the move is a reflection of that rather than a cause. If I met my newlywed self now, I don’t think we would recognize each other. I have gone very modern, thanks to my husband’s design influence for sure; but also due to culling what I really want around me.

When we were feeling our desire to move, we started purging as some sort of preparation. Mark wrote the words, “Edit ruthlessly” on the chalkboard wall of our house inspired by a TED talk from Graham Hill. Living daily with those words had great affect.

It took us a year to actually have a reason to move, but in that time we focused heavily on getting rid of things that we didn’t need. We searched for better solutions to our essentials. We re-evaluated every item we owned, harshly critiquing whether we really wanted to give it real estate wherever we ended up. We sold our television and suddenly realized we never had time for it anyway. I said goodbye to things I thought had sentimental value, figuring out ways to remember them outside of the space they took up. It was an immensely helpful time, not only paring down our possessions, but preparing us emotionally for big changes.

Now, I would describe my current aesthetic as mid-century modern, a little obsessed with gray, and with an emphasis on displaying our favorite things – mainly books and art. We long for things that are both beautiful and functional. And there isn’t room for singular-purposed items here anyway!

Q: You mention the chaos in making sure everyone fits, but you seem to solve any space issues vertically! Tell us your best tips for turning a smaller space into a big enough home.

A: It has been an odd experience designing the space Mark and I want, while keeping in mind that the girls have to live here, too. Bins for toys sound like a great idea, but finding ones that fit perfectly, are easy to play with, and meet our design taste is not an easy task. We created a no-electronic toys policy before our oldest was born and I am so grateful in our tiny space. We focus on toys that are beautifully made so that we don’t mind having them visible.

Both Mark and I have a deep love for books, and we had to be incredibly creative to make it all fit. It took us a couple of weeks to design the solution we wanted and make it work within our budget. We walked through stores, scoured catalogs, and brainstormed exactly what we wanted while we slept on an air mattress in the middle of piles upon piles of books. And yes, I was very pregnant during this time. We wisely got rid of most of our furniture before moving, giving us a mostly blank slate to work with and a bit more cash to start fresh.

Thankfully, we do have tall ceilings which aids in space and in light. We also have NYC’s fantastic Craigslist which helped us sell a few pieces we shouldn’t have brought and get pieces that work so much better. There are only a couple of antique pieces we feel strongly attached to, and that gave us freedom to rethink it all.

Our wall bed was probably one of the biggest puzzle pieces to help everything else fall into place. Have you ever thought about how much space a bed takes? Once I gave up my need for a picturesque duvet cover and took delight in a beautiful, functional rug; life became much more spacious. I sincerely love our carpet tile rug. It functions as a room divider, the area where toys must remain, a soft ground for somersaults and learning to walk, and a cushion for my feet when getting out of bed. And I don’t have to feel precious about it since a tile can be picked up, cleaned, and put right back down.

Going vertical was a necessity, but also helps section things off. The girls’ books are easily accessible in their room or in toy bins in our main room; while our books are high up, but request-able. I organize items vertically by frequency of use in every room, and we bought a beautiful wooden ladder that we delight in having out in the open all the time.

We only have two closets total, so there isn’t that space to just hide things as easily. I ended up hanging the girls’ lovely dresses out in the open in their room and I’m so thrilled with that decision! It works as an excellent divider between their beds while it saves us closet space for the storage we do need.

Little things like that seem to be the key. We have closed shelf space behind the sofa, a toy box that functions as extra seating when we have company, and a rolling unit with drawers and bins to move away from our bed at night. Some of these solutions came quickly and others we agonized over, starring Pinterest photos and dog-earring catalogs until we found the right thing. In the end, we have an apartment that is fully customized to our family with a unique juxtaposition of brands and price tags. The key now seems to be blocking any more catalogs from coming in as we just don’t need anything else!

Q: Tell us about your work.

A: I am still on the steep learning curve of carving out work time for myself. I was a graphic designer for a couple of years before our oldest was born, but my passion has always been for picture book illustration. Shortly after my oldest was born, I began my picture book blog as an outlet for me to talk about books as much as I wanted. It has been a great source of inspiration and forced me to find space to think about books and my own illustration dreams.

As I hinted earlier, it seems to be the expected norm on the Upper West Side to have a nanny or at the very least have your kids in classes and preschool. But we just aren’t there yet, and I’m not sure we ever will be. The nanny culture is fascinating, but also expensive and not what we envision for our family. I honestly don’t know what we’ll do in the future, but if I’ve learned anything from motherhood so far, it is essential to stay overly flexible.

As our baby edges closer to her first birthday, I feel more time being given back to me. I am trying to have a goal of at least sketching something every day, even if my sketches aren’t worth anyone seeing. It is beneficial for me to do even a tiny bit of work each day rather than try to find large chunks of free time, which are pretty elusive when you have toddlers. I review picture books whenever inspiration and time allow. I’m constantly making lists and notes about books, and also jotting down ideas for illustrations and plots.

I have also realized that I require deadlines in my life. I can go months without really creating any paintings or even drawings, and then something comes up that I want work for and suddenly I am pounding out the pieces. I hope to find a more fluid way to make myself work amidst the daily tasks, but for now I am learning to create deadlines even when it is simply for the pleasure of creating something.

Q: Do you ever imagine you’ll outgrow this home? Or is New York City more than big enough?

A: We have already been told many times that we’ll outgrow this apartment, but our minds are open to whatever needs to happen. We truly love it here and already envision several room solutions we could make as the girls grow. A lot of this will depend on our rent, but this location is perfect for us. I like that the small square footage makes me overthink every purchase (except books, unfortunately) and I feel the need to purge every corner almost weekly.

I’ll gladly take the flights of stairs when I can walk around the corner to Central Park, down a couple of streets to the Ballet, Opera, and Theater, up a couple blocks to museums, and I am surrounded by gobs of fabulous restaurants and grocery stores. We tend to take life one year at a time and are focusing our energy on just loving all NYC has to offer. We would love to live overseas if opportunity ever allows as we strongly desire to share other cultures and world views with our girls, as well as continue to expand our own. New York is definitely big enough, but we’ll always be open to what’s next and strive to be content wherever we land.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: My favorite part about living with my kids is finally having a visible excuse to read as many picture books as I want. There is a children’s book or poem for just about everything and every stage, and we are always on the hunt to find them. I love when my oldest quotes a book as a way to express something. Stories can give words to emotions when you don’t quite know how to process them yet.

I also love sharing new experiences with them. The joy of doing things for the first time is something I had forgotten. Experiencing those moments with my kids is like doing them for the first time again myself, but this time having the insight to realize how special it truly is.

One of the most surprising things to me about being a mom is realizing that I have to choose to love my kids every day. That feels so wrong to say, but I think it is true, at least for me.

When we married seven years ago, our minister counseled about love being something you don’t always feel, but promise to choose. I guess I always assumed that when it is your child, it comes naturally. There is something to that, of course, but they are still separate people from me. They are unique personalities that I have to learn and respect and choose to love as well. I will always feel love for them simply because they are my babies and I am their mama. But they grow up, and in those moments of attitudes or annoyance, I have to choose to love all of them even when it is different from me.

In all honesty, I’m still in a bit of mourning for the relationship I lost with our oldest daughter when we moved and the youngest came. It was such a crazy intense time of change and I tried very hard to make it as smooth as possible for her; but I didn’t really realize how different she and I would be after it was all over.

It is quite different the second time around. I don’t feel as panicky about rough nights or weird stages. I actually kind of miss the sweet, squishy newborn phase, but I’m thankful to be beyond the insane hormones and constant nursing. I think having our second daughter helped me slow down and enjoy it as it comes, knowing that everything passes.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: Oh, I hope they remember how much we danced! Both Mark and I love music and we are all taking turns getting obsessed over one song or another. One of our oldest’s first phrases was, “I need music.” We try to dance for everything: a new day, cleaning up, making food, painting, venting frustration, and especially celebrating things like Daddy coming home.

I know it is supposed to be one thing to remember, but that second part about what they remember about me as their mom longs to be separate. While I sincerely hope they forget my impatience, angry moments, and occasional meal disappointments; I am desperately praying that I can pass on to my children a healthy body image. I despise all the back-handed comments we make about our bodies, the airbrushed women the media surrounds us with, and the guilt and binges of food. I hope to teach my girls that they have value because of who they are and that their minds are just as important as their bodies. And I want to teach them a healthy view of food, that isn’t related to rewards or punishments. I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me that motherhood would be very, very hard, but that hard can be really, really good.

I had no idea how lonely it is to be a mom. No one really understands all the hormones, emotions, fears, worries, and intense hours you expend on your child. And yet, every other mom is experiencing her own version of that. Motherhood has revealed so many selfish and ugly parts of me that I find myself having to take my own parenting words to heart every time I say them. I, too, need to be kind, have patience, and express myself appropriately.

I just pray that somehow, through all my faults and inadequacies and especially how I deal with them, my daughters will see that we are all broken people who need love and grace.


Oh, Caryn! There is so much goodness in your interview that I resisted the urge to bold all your wisdom. But this is wonderful, and deserves to be repeated as many times as needed: “I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.” Yes.

From the nanny culture around you to not recognizing your newlywed-self’s style (so true!) to choosing to love your kids every day, it’s all incredibly thought-provoking. I really hope Caryn’s words added to your day! And, tell me: Did you find their bed?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Sara Davis Tue, 17 Feb 2015 17:00:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Melody Carpenter.

Meet Sara. If you’ve got a chalkboard in your house and you’ve scoured Pinterest for cute ideas on how to get it looking like…well…the cute ones on Pinterest, chances are you’ve already met her! I asked her a few questions and she answered them all perfectly, but I sensed that there was more content in her than charming chalkboards and fabulous DIYs. The only problem was that Sara didn’t really know it! It took some convincing and more begging for a few more words and honesty, which resulted in a lot of hard work on Sara’s part to open up. I am thrilled to say that one of my last emails to her read, “THERE YOU ARE!”

And so, here she is: the brave Sara who took a leap outside her comfort zone to share herself with us. I really hope you enjoy her.

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hi there! I’m Sara, and I live in “the middle” with my amazing husband Steve and our three children: Bryant is nine, Benson is seven, and Lena is three. I’m originally from Illinois, but I came to Indiana for college where I studied marketing and art & design. It was in college that I met and fell in love with Steve, and I have been here ever since!

Steve and I have completely different interests, but we work well together. Well, most of the time! He is an attorney and thinks carefully and thoughtfully through everything that comes out of his mouth. I, on the other hand, just tend to blurt things out. Steve is extremely social, loves spreadsheets and sports, and hates being hot. I prefer small groups of people, I love creating anything and shopping, and could sit in the sun all day.

Bryant is inquisitive and prefers book club over sports. He avoids confrontation and will walk away when the youngest two begin to fight. He’s incredibly sensitive and is basically an old soul. Benson, my middle, is incredibly obsessed with fairness. He’s loud, energetic, and extremely loving. He’s artistic, and my biggest creative cheerleader. Lena is the youngest and is obsessed with the color pink. She loves to wear my heels and play with my makeup. She also loves to dance and thoroughly enjoys life. She does not want to wear pants. Ever.

Q: How did your house become your home, and what makes it perfect for you?

A: We live just outside of Indianapolis, and we moved into our current home about a year ago. My husband switched jobs and that required us to move to a different town. I was in love with our home the minute I found it online. Then, when we actually walked though the door, Steve knew he had lost all bargaining power…

It is a two-story cream painted brick home on a hill. And it is symmetrical. Although I consider myself a creative person, I also need order. I describe myself as middle-brained because I’m not sure where I belong. If you look, you’ll notice my decor is always balanced – almost to a fault.

Our home’s layout is very traditional, and I’m one of the few holdouts that still has a formal dining room. I think this is hilarious since I am horrible in the kitchen. Our home also has lots of light and the first floor has transoms above many of the windows and doorways. I need light.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I complain about the Midwest all winter long. I love sunshine and warmth and hate our gray and cold winters. However, when it comes down to it, I love the Midwest in spite of its weather flaws. I love the people, the community, and values we have here. I love raising my children here. The town we moved to is small and quaint.

We’re also within four hours of our entire immediate family, which is wonderful. My kids are growing up really knowing their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Plus, a lot of us have the luxury of large yards in the Midwest, and the cost of living is also amazing here!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? You mention on your blog that this home was a blank slate; has it been more difficult or easier to find your style when there are no cues or restrictions leading you in another direction?

A: I have a hard time describing my aesthetic. I like sophisticated traditional with a twist of fun. I try not to be too serious, and most of my pieces have a story. I love frequenting antique shops, flea markets, and yard sales. I also love giving outdated or worn furniture a new chance at life! My house is filled with a variety of items that fit this decor.

Q: You’re truly a DIY huge talent, and you share your skills with your readers. Tell us why you started your blog and your someday hopes for it.

A: After college, I worked as an art director at a greeting card company and absolutely loved my job. Once Bryant came along, we decided it was best if I stayed home. Steve was working crazy long hours, and I had a ridiculous commute. I’m thankful I was able to stay at home, but I also went a little crazy with three little ones. My walls became my creative outlet (and sanity) from the kids. I would paint and repaint and stencil and freehand – my art was in every room.

Looking back, I did some crazy things to those walls. But, it was paint and could be repainted, which I’m sure has been done now that that house has new owners. And I have an amazing husband who let me do what I needed to do. His only complaint was that we were losing square footage because of how often I painted the walls! I really do feel I was created to create, and how I create has evolved over time. However, the need has always been there.

My parents are big DIYers, and as a result, my two sisters and I do the same. It’s just what we know. We hang our own light fixtures, install our own faucets, and do all kinds of other things that many people hire out.

I grew up with the assumption that you attempt whatever project you have on your list before you call someone. I have had many successes with this philosophy as well as many (big time) fails.

Once we moved into our new home, I decided to start a blog as a creative outlet and as a way to help others. I realize that not everyone has my mind set, and I want to give my readers the confidence to just go for it. I want to equip them with the knowledge they need to create a pretty space where they can feel satisfaction that they accomplished it themselves AND without a lot of money.

Over the course of the past year, I have loved getting to know my readers. If you had told me one year ago that my blog would be where it is today, I would be overjoyed. I love blogging, and I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I have some of the most supportive and encouraging readers and have received lots of sweet emails and compliments.

And I do have a super fan. I send out a weekly email recapping my blog posts from the week. My father-in-law always replies to that email with an encouraging note. It’s not just a generic note of encouragement. It’s obvious that he has read each and every one of my posts.

Q: What project started it all? And what has been your most popular, home-changing project so far?

A: Moving to our new home is what really drove me to blog. Also, my two oldest are in school, and I’ve been given the gift of time with just my three year old home.

I wanted to document my DIY home decor endeavors. I have a love affair with chalkboards, and I am sure I overuse them throughout my home! However, they’re versatile, useful, and just fun. My most popular tutorial on my blog is my perfect chalkboard lettering. For a while, almost 75% of my traffic was coming from this post. I was excited to see so much interest over one tutorial, but it also worried me once everyone on Pinterest learned my secrets!

But I honestly don’t stress about giving away too many secrets. I stress more about if I can discover enough secrets and come up with enough projects to sustain my blog. Pinterest drives the majority of my traffic to my blog, so I need to create content and images that bring people to me. I go through cycles of high creativity and tons of ideas. And then, I’ll go through a dry spell. The creative process is exhilarating and exhausting.

Q: How do you involve your family in deciding on the decor of your home? Are they just happy to be on the receiving end, or do they really want to help with the decisions and execution of it all?

A: My husband is amazing. I will ask for his advice, but he usually tells me to go for it. After being married for almost 14 years, he says he trusts me.

For example, I went to a local antique store and found the mail sorter that I have since then turned into a shoe cubby. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it at the time, but I knew I had to have it. And the price was amazing. I couldn’t fit it in my car, so the seller offered to deliver it to my house.

Steve was home with the kids and here I come driving home with a strange van in tow painted with the words Mystery Machine. Steve helped unload the piece, and it was in terrible shape with a thick layer of dirt and tons of wasp nests. I’m sure he doubted me at the time, but was incredibly supportive even if didn’t see my vision.

The kids have some opinions, but they’re still young and don’t weigh in a lot. Lena’s only request for her room was that it was pink, and the boys wanted to share a room while having their own spaces. They get excited when they see a new project, and Benson says he loves that our home is “constantly changing.”

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? 

A: Like all moms, I think my kids are awesome. Steve and I have parented the same way with three COMPLETELY different outcomes. They are all special in their own way.

As amazing as being a mom is, it’s also the hardest and most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. When the kids were younger and I was home with all three, I would run away evenings to have me time. Maybe that meant going to the grocery store, but I just need to be alone to recharge.

I have really enjoyed the kids getting older. I miss not having a baby on my hip, but there are so many new adventures we can have with the kids now that they’re getting older. Life is getting easier in many ways – and I need fewer and fewer run away evenings – but at the same time, new challenges arise as the kids get older.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope my kids remember me being there. I’m a list checker, and I always have a million things I need to do. Whether that’s laundry, cleaning, cooking, working on my blog, DIY projects – I have trouble slowing down and just being with them. I’m here physically, but I struggle to pull myself away from my tasks and just be.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me to not worry about what others think or say about my parenting. My first year of being a mom was extra tough because I was insecure in my new role. It’s amazing how many people (and strangers) voice their opinions on what’s best for my children.

I try to be the best mom I can be in spite of all my flaws, and I often wish the mom community would be more supportive of each other. We’re all trying our best. I succeed at many things as a mother and fail miserably at others. However, through the years, I’ve gained confidence as a parent in spite of being fully aware that I’m not perfect.

I am incredibly impatient and have an overwhelming need to do everything NOW. Whether that’s preparing for a blog post or folding the laundry, I have trouble stepping away from my to-do list. Unfortunately I’m not good at just being with my kids – playing, coloring, or reading with them.

My mind is always thinking about something else I need to do. I have a quote hanging in my kitchen: “Enjoy the little things in life, for someday you will realize they were the big things.” It is SO hard for me to do this. Unfortunately, blogging has fed my need to do things – especially now that I have blog post deadlines. However, my kids have so much grace. They think I’m awesome (and famous!) because I have a blog.  They are so forgiving of me, even when I fail with them.

My husband and I are trying to do the best we can to raise three joyful and loving adults. In our mind, you don’t raise kids; you raise adults. We also find it important to step back from the kids once in a while and focus on each other. Date nights are so important for us! They give us renewed love bursts for each other and provide the sanity we need to come back to the kids and happily step back into our role as parents.


Sara, I smile so hard when I compare your first responses to the ones above. Your candor is a jolt a lot of us may need today. It is hard to tear ourselves away from our lists – they carry such urgency with them, don’t they? I can’t help but think that chalkboards are the perfect decor item to describe our less than perfect moments as parents and people: easily erased and waiting for new artwork tomorrow. Thank you for taking this project so seriously for me.

One thing I wanted to discuss was Sara’s point about was the stress of sharing our ideas with each other; do you ever feel like you shouldn’t give it all away for fear that you won’t have any content tomorrow? Are you scared of dry spells? How do you step away from the Pinterest and recharge? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I always do!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Christy Casimiro Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:00:21 +0000 Design Mom

Photo Oct 11, 3 34 59 PM

By Gabrielle.

If you needed a dose of unbridled happiness today, here it is. Between her rainbow decor and kids really do live here style and her vigor for life, Christy’s joy is easy to spot from a mile away. There’s so much in her interview, too, that will inspire all of us to stop overthinking it all and not be so hard on ourselves and get off the couch. She is so persuasive about loving life right this very minute and doing things that you can’t imagine you could ever accomplish that I found myself considering joining a triathlon club.


Friends, please welcome Christy. You’re going to adore her.

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Hi! I’m Christy Casimiro. I’m a wife, mother, and triathlete. I also have recently launched my own side business selling Younique cosmetics and have been hired by some friends to assist them in their interior design dilemmas. After six and a half years of not making any money, it’s an absolute thrill to contribute to the household a tiny bit doing two things I love!

My husband, Matt, is a fabulous Welshman and my best friend. He’s a breast cancer researcher at a university in Philadelphia, and a completely devoted and active father. We met on an online dating service 12 years ago. He contacted me on a Friday, our first date was a Monday, and within a week we’d taken down our profiles and were a couple. One year later we got married in a castle near his hometown in Wales, and the rest, as they say, is history!

We have three wonderfully wild little kids: Fiona is almost seven and the best big sister you could dream of, Callum is almost five and has a wonderful imagination whilst being a silent mischief maker, and then there’s Beckett, a real love bug whirling dervish.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We live in what was the first post office in our region. The house was built in 1883. Can you believe that? I can’t. Anyway, we moved to this very small town of Mickleton after living in Cherry Hill, a crazy-busy suburb of Philadelphia, for almost eight years. I grew up in a busy suburb of Washington DC, and Matt grew up in small town Wales. Last year we decided it was time for a change; our yard was minuscule, we could smell cigarette smoke from our neighbors’ houses when we opened our windows, and we wanted a different life for our kids. So, we searched and we searched and we literally stumbled upon this old farmhouse situated on 1.25 acres right on the main street of a quaint little town. It wasn’t in our price-range – it was well below it, because it required SO MUCH WORK – but we took a gamble and immediately put in an offer.

And then, the next morning, we panicked and took it back! I mean, the house needed EVERY room updated. The kitchen was teeny tiny and we LOVE to cook and eat. It didn’t have a dishwasher! AND there was no AC and our summers are HOT here in South Jersey. The previous owners had moved into the farmhouse in the 1940s and hadn’t done that much to it since then. The wallpaper! The fixtures! The wall-to-wall carpeting covering GORGEOUS hardwood floors though out! Oh, and I did I mention it was COVERED in wallpaper?

So, we slept on the idea of renovating this great old home another night, then resubmitted our offer the next day. Lo and behold we got the house. The sellers had rejected something like 12 other offers, but we wrote a letter and might have even sent a picture of our darling kids. The end result? The house was ours.


We have three very active little kids and NOT a lot of time, so we decided to hire a general contractor to oversee the renovation. Best decision ever. There’s no way I could have done all of this on my own. I know some stuff about renovating – I mean, I AM HGTV-obsessed – but the day-to-day stuff was best handled by the pros.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: We live in a wonderful little town called Mickleton, and can walk to our kids schools, the bank, the salon, and even our local pork shop. We’re in the heart of rural Gloucester County, and Mullica Hill, the town where my triathlon club (Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club) is based, is right down the road. We have horses and sheep and goats for neighbors, and a small private airfield right past our backyard. I grew up the daughter of a private pilot, so we get a real kick out of seeing the small planes take off and land literally right over our heads!

Oh, and have I mentioned the local farmers markets and shops and wineries and restaurants? Out of this world delicious, and run by our friends, or people who WILL become our friends, because that’s what people do in this small town atmosphere. I LOVE it here!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them?

A: I would say my style is bright and eclectic. HAPPY! I love to mix colors and patterns, and surround myself with things that make me smile.

I absolutely adore our farmhouse table in our kitchen. I discovered the craftsman on Facebook, and reached out to him. He made the table to our specifications and was just awesome to work with.

Our fireplace is surrounded by these gorgeous bookshelves that took me literally weeks to get exactly right. I have all of our favorite books arranged in them, (by color of course!), and have my most favorite possessions there, too. Matt and I were fortunate enough to take a long European honeymoon, and some of our treasures from there grace our mantel. I also cherish a gift made just for us: a super-delicate painting of a momma and papa bird, snuggling their three little chicks. It was given to me after the birth of our last child by one of my dearest friends who I don’t get to see nearly enough, as she lives in Utah and has three children of her own. But every time I see the painting I think of Chrisy and smile.

I also have a collection of five brightly colored vases scattered amongst the shelves that make me ridiculously happy. I purchased them on my 40th birthday girls shopping spree in the quaint town of Charlottesville, Virginia last year with one of my best friends in the world. And one shelf of my books contains books written by my friends. I love that my friends have published books! Gives me hope that one day I may do the same!

And then there’s our bedroom. It’s like my dream-come-true-room. The wall color, the brightly colored duvets, the art of our favorite cities – London, Stockholm and Amsterdam – over my dresser, the inspiring wall quotes, and my triathlon medals. It’s ME.

Q: You are done renovating! Tell us what you’ve learned about reinventing a house. The good, bad, and the just plain awful!

A: OH MY GOODNESS. We are done! FINALLY! When we bought the house, the kitchen was teeny-tiny, there were only two bathrooms, and the third floor attic, while HUGE, was totally unusable. But the house had oodles and oodles of charm and a massive yard. There are beautiful archways between rooms, old leaded windows (with killer storm windows so there’s no draft! Yay!)  and these beautifully crafted huge moldings even inside the closets.

We sat down with our contractor and established a budget. We decided to do a rather large numbers projects, in a relatively short amount of time. We bought in July and hoped to move in in August. Oh, we were naive. The contractor warned us that might not be realistic, but ever-the-optimist, I believed we could do it! Or THEY could do it if I was persistent enough. Whoops.

In the end we installed central heat and air, switched from oil to gas heat, totally gutted our kitchen, designed and built a new kitchen (with the help of a wonderful interior designer, Ken Endt of Chroma Design, who also helped with paint colors and window treatments throughout our home, changed a tiny existing bedroom to a second floor laundry room/powder room/HVAC closet, and finished off the attic to make it not only usable space, but a kid paradise! We ripped up all the carpets and had runners installed on the stairs. We painted every. single. wall. in. our. house.

Would I do it over it again? In a heartbeat. But I’d be MUCH more conscious of the budget and how things just add up and add up! We started out expecting to spend X dollars, and ended up almost spending X times 2! Majorly over budget! And I’d be much more realistic about how long renovations actually take. I had to give up my entire triathlon season while we were homeless. Oh, I hadn’t mentioned that yet had I? We bought this house on July 27, but didn’t move in until early September. In between we went on vacation, then stayed in friends’ houses, then stayed in hotels, then we freaking CAMPED. The camping was brutal, and I even love to camp! I was the president of the outdoors club in college. But camping out of necessity with three little kids? Not so fun.

Q: You’re a triathlete! Can you share with us what inspires you, how you train, and what this activity adds to your life?

A: Oh my gosh, I love being a triathlete! Triathlon is my passion! Joining Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club is the best thing I’ve done for myself as an adult…aside from marrying my husband and having my children, but you know what I mean! Our club is full of the most wonderfully supportive, loving, caring, inspiring women you could find anywhere. We’re just getting ready to start training again full time in March. During the season, I train 4-6 times a week, or more, depending on what race I’m training for. This year I’m going to do three sprint triathlons on the Jersey Shore.

Sometimes I swim, bike, and run alone, but I much prefer to do so with three girls who have dubbed ourselves Team NOLA after competing in a Half Ironman in New Orleans last year. Those woman inspire me and push me to keep going, as I am naturally a couch potato. With them, I get off the couch and to the gym and to the lake and to running path. We chit and we chat and we make the hours fly by. It’s my ME time. My girlfriend time. My I’m-not-just-a-wife-and-a-mother time. Really, it changed my life. I’m a better wife and mother when I walk in the door from a training session. Ask my husband! Even though it means leaving him home alone with the kids for sometimes hours or days on end, he encourages me to do so. It’s the best thing ever.

Q: What do you hope your children remember from this very moment in their childhoods in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I hope they remember how very much they are loved and cherished by us and by their grandparents who try to visit from Virginia at least once a month. These children are the center of our world, and we do everything for them. I hope they remember playing out in the yard for hours and hours, catching lighting bugs in the summer, and jumping on the trampoline in the winter all bundled up like snowmen. I hope they remember me yelling DINNER for them while ringing my dinner bell. Oh, yes I do. I hope they think of hopscotch and coloring and me encouraging them to play tag indoors. I hope when they think of home, they think love, safety, family, and great big hugs.

I hope they forget that I sometimes have a tendency to yell, and that we’re not always on the schedule that I set and intend to keep for us every day. I hope they don’t remember the mornings when Matt has already left for work before they wake up or is still at work when they go to bed. And I certainly hope they don’t remember my un-parenting days when I just have had it and plop them in front of the TV all day while saying yes to all their requests for fruit snacks and pretzels!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Honestly, the biggest surprise was that I love being a mom. And a stay-at-home-mom, at that! Before having kids I’d never babysat or changed a diaper or really wanted my own children. Marrying Matt brought out my maternal nature, and I just couldn’t wait to have children with him.

Before Fiona was born I honestly expected to hire a nanny and return to the office when my maternity leave was over. I was a corporate communications writer for a Big Four accounting firm. Instead, I immediately fell madly in love with Fiona and we cut corners and changed our budget and did everything in our power to ensure I could stay home and care for her. It was a huge surprise to us when we got pregnant again before she was even a year old! I had gone through years of fertility treatments to get pregnant the first time, and had been warned that I might not be able to. So, surprise! Baby #2 just 20 months after baby #1. Then, guess what? Same thing with Baby #3! All three were born within 39 months of each other! What a blessing!

Each time, I fretted that I might not love the next baby as much as I loved the prior. I needn’t have worried. The love in my heart just multiplied. I had also worried I wouldn’t be able to love our first baby as much as I loved Matt! In retrospect, I find this rather hysterical. I love them all mightily and fiercely!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: Well, they DID tell me, but I didn’t believe them. It gets easier. They don’t all stay in diapers forever. They don’t need you for their every movement and requirement forever. Fiona is already tying her own shoes. Callum pours his orange juice. Beck picks out his own books and sits around reading by himself. They’re all so young but they’re already becoming their own independent little beings and thinkers and they’re just growing up SO FAST.

I look back at baby pictures of all of them and simply cannot fathom that they are no longer in that stage. I will never again nurse a baby. I will never again have to do midnight feedings. In many ways, it’s wonderful, but it also gives me a real pang in the middle of my stomach.

So fellow moms, and women who want to become moms, when they tell you the days are long but the years are short: BELIEVE them. They know what they’re talking about!


See? Don’t you want to get out and run and bike and swim a hundred miles? Or at least paint a wall in your house a candy coated color? Me, too. Thank you, Christy, for adding your joy to this space today. I know we all appreciate it!

Triathlons seem hard. (Is that the biggest understatement of the day?!) Have you ever trained or worked toward a difficult goal like this while trying to juggle everything else in your life? Where did you find your support and how did you fill in the gaps? I’m always curious how everyone else manages, aren’t you?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Maureen Vazquez Tue, 03 Feb 2015 14:00:27 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lesley Colvin.

Maureen seems like she would be a great instant friend. You know the one: she invites your kids over for a crafter-noon just when you’re on the verge of a “I can’t glue one more thing to one more thing” moment, delivers a meatloaf just because she made two, and shares all her secrets for making her life easier just in case you need one. She is someone I love sharing with you today, and you’ll soon understand why.

Oh, and her London space isn’t too shabby either! Welcome, Maureen!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: We are a family of five, and are expecting to round our numbers out to six any day now with the arrival of another little girl. Nathan works in finance and has the most impressive design eye of any banker you’ll ever meet. I am a graphic designer and recently launched my own business.

Nathan and I met 12 years ago at my brother’s wedding. My brother was his boss and I was the younger sister, just graduated from college and in town for the wedding. I hate to sound cheesy, but we had a magical connection. We spent the whole reception dancing, and then we talked on the hotel lobby sofa until morning. Though he claims that was it for him, I felt like the world was my oyster and wanted to experience some adulthood before settling down. Four years (and quite a long story) later, we got back in touch just before he was transferred to London. I was in San Francisco, he was in Minneapolis. After spending two months on the phone every night and meeting each other in Chicago for a weekend, he asked me to move to London. And I did! My parents always said “When you know, you KNOW” and I realized – when I was finally ready – I had ALWAYS known. Four years later, and five years ago, Atticus was born.

Atticus is Nathan’s clone: they look alike, they act alike, they sit the same way. He is fearlessly social and happily unaffected when people don’t respond. He is matter of fact and likes rules and directions. He loves legos and craft projects – provided there are instructions to be followed. He loves listening to stories on his radio and quizzing us with facts that he’s learned. He is very curious; when I was pregnant with his little brother two years ago, he asked me whether the baby had used a key to get into my belly.

Eleanor is 16 months younger than Atticus, and reminds us on a regular basis these days that she’ll be four soon. She is funny and dramatic, with a will of steel and the ability to melt your heart. She is an ace negotiator, and moved from the role of little sister to big sister with amazing ease and grace. When she’s in motion, she’s more like me than Nathan. She needs to be doing something most of the time – outside for a walk, baking, drawing, creating. Unlike me, she may be president one day.

And then there’s Ike. At 20 months, he’s right in the middle of things, instigating the dog pile, joining the conversation (pronunciation be damned), and loving everyone with abandon. He’s beloved by all of us, and has absolutely no idea what’s about to come.

Q: How did your house become your home?

A: We live in what used to be an old furniture factory in North London. The owner is an art history professor and created this amazing space after gutting it 15 years ago.

We were transferred to London with Nathan’s company over the summer, and came on a house hunt for four days the month before the move. After seeing lots of other places, ranging from two bedroom flats in central London to houses with grass out back and long commutes, we saw this one. From the outside, it’s just a innocuous garage door on the street. Once inside, however, it leads to a courtyard that feels transplanted from Italy. It is a secret sanctuary. We were gobsmacked the moment we saw it.

It is far bigger than any place we’ve ever lived – so much so that I initially didn’t think we could make it our home. The space has enormous windows, wide open spaces, and details that sing. I thought it was too much – too nice, too big, too MUCH. Everyone told me I was insane; of course it was the perfect place. This was the chance of a lifetime. We are zealous about great design and we would have been crazy not to take advantage of the opportunity.

We signed the lease. Even now, every time we walk through that garage door we do a little dance.

Q: You moved from NYC to London. How would you compare and contrast the two cities in terms of livability and raising a family?

A: We moved to London for Nathan’s job last June. He and I had already lived in London for five years and moved to NYC when Atticus was a baby. Knowing the area made an international move with three kids (while pregnant) less intimidating, but we adored living in New York and missed it fiercely for a few months once we got here.

We lived in SoHo, where people literally stopped to take a picture of me walking down the street with three kids. Virtually nobody has more than two children in Manhattan, and there’s a reason for it. With kids, everything is difficult – a real schlep – hauling groceries and Christmas trees on top of the double stroller. So, in order to live there happily with a family, you have to LOVE it, which we did. Things that seem a challenge to others are just things you deal with in order to reap the family benefits of New York City living: exposure to different kinds of people; the best food in the world (delivered to your door); fantastic play grounds (and a community of people without backyards who forge friendships at their local swing set); and nonstop energy.

Much of that great city life is here in London, too. And, after being here for a while, there’s something to be said for its slower pace. It’s nice not to have to hold the kids’ hands everywhere for fear they’ll be hit by a car or run over by a quick paced pedestrian, and for them to be able to play more freely outside. London is much more spread out, but the tube system is child friendly, and double decker buses are pretty much THE BEST THING EVER to three and five year olds.

New York may be anything you want RIGHT NOW, but London is everything you want in due course.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I often joke that I could never move to a place where I’m not within a half mile of an authentically French croissant. I’m about 50 yards from them now. New York and London spoil you with these amazing little things that are so accessible. And now, if that pastry isn’t quite up to par, we are only two hours away from Paris on the Eurostar. Everyone travels, with or without kids. You can rent a villa on the Amalfi Coast, a family apartment in Copenhagen, or, ahem, a REAL CASTLE in the English countryside.

The weight of history in London is nowhere to be found in the states. Two blocks away from us, there is a church built a few hundred years ago. Back home, this would be a national treasure. Here in London, someone bought it and turned it into a paint shop.

The attitude toward lifestyle and family here is also completely different. People create separation between their jobs and family life. Families spend Saturdays in the parks when it’s not too rainy, and have leisurely roast lunches at the pub on Sunday. Sometimes the pace – especially in terms of efficiency and customer service – drives us Americans crazy, but there are benefits if you choose to embrace them.

Q: What’s your best advice for making friends – for both you and your kids – straight away in a new environment. Any tricks you’ve learned along the move?

A: Living in large cities means you meet a lot of people who often end up moving far away. Over the years, you develop a network of friends around the world. That’s great, but as a mom at home it’s essential to find support close by – even just one real friend – who will laugh, cry, and pour you a cup of tea or glass of wine when you need it.

My advice? Be fearless. It’s kind of like dating – you have to put yourself out there. Smiling and online mother forums went a long way in NYC. London is a bit tricky in that the English tend to avoid eye contact or smiling at strangers, which makes for very dull bus rides! It’s even hard to engage fellow moms in small talk.

People here usually wait for a mutual acquaintance to introduce them, and it’s not a given that you will strike up a conversation with someone just because you’re both waiting to pick your kids up from the same class. However, as an American in London, I take license and reject these social norms. I find that once I’ve broken the ice, women are eager to connect.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a phone number after a good five minute conversation with someone at the park, on the bus, or in the grocery store line. It’s just a phone number. Kids are a great excuse in the whole making new friends game, so use them.

Our kids seem to follow my lead and then some; they make new friends everywhere we go. Luckily, because of their American accent, their outgoing nature is not frowned upon by the average Brit, however they definitely catch people off guard with their liberal salutations, direct questions, and overuse of the phrase “I love you” to people they’ve just met.

Q: Your New York space was much smaller. Tell us your best tips for turning a smaller space into a big enough home.

A: Every place we’ve lived before has been much smaller, and as our family has grown, we’ve had to make the spaces work in order to stay in the cities we love. First, we cull our belongings regularly. This has been natural with so many moves. We buy what we love, and what we can hand down to the next child.

Smaller spaces can be more efficient. Even in our larger kitchen here, we still hang everything within an arm’s reach of the stove. I’ll never go back to knives in a drawer or pots in a cupboard.

Kids are adaptable and can sleep anywhere. People have the idea that babies need total darkness and quiet to sleep. While these things help, no doubt, they can be achieved with a bassinet or travel crib in a bathroom or a walk in closet.

All three of our kids share a bedroom. In NYC it was a necessity, and though we have the space now to separate them, we wouldn’t think of it. They quickly learn to sleep through the others’ coughing, night terrors, and early waking. It teaches them to be considerate of one another and cements their relationships.

It’s also sweet to overhear their bedtime conversations, efforts to console each other when one of them is upset, and excitement in the morning when their clock turns green and they are allowed to get out of bed!

Small spaces aren’t a problem to be overcome; they are an invitation to create intimate spaces and close relationships. Trying to make a small space big makes it cramped. Don’t try to change the nature of the space; embrace it and make it do what you need it do.

Q: Tell us about Pipsticks, and the story behind it! How do you carve out time to devote to your career?

A: About a year and a half ago, we were invited to join one of those sticker club chain letters. Like all chain letters, it was a bust: loads of time and energy spent to find friends, write letters, enclose stickers, address envelopes, and find stamps. My kids received one measly response. Though maddening for me, they went absolutely bananas crazy over that one sheet of stickers waiting in our mailbox.

As a formerly sticker-obsessed girl of the 80s, I saw an opportunity to combine the simple joy of stickers, my background in design, and the lost art of receiving mail to start a company that could inspire not only sticker lovers and crafters but parents, too.

Motherhood and design inspire this business. Though every sticker pack appeals to all ages, each is designed to be child-friendly. Kids can open it up by themselves and get started on their own without parent involvement. They’re great when you just need to keep the kids happy, occupied, and quiet.

That said, the stickers are fun and cool, which means many of our subscribers are adults who use them for crafting, snail mail, and scrapbooking. I love connecting with other makers, artists, and crafters, finding new and exciting suppliers, and designing each month’s sticker pack.

Part-time childcare and school schedules allow me to work three partial days a week and still spend lots of time with my kids. Being totally pumped about my work (I mean who wouldn’t be ecstatic over a huge box of puffy robot stickers!) is consolation for the challenge of balancing work and family. Both require immense mental energy.

I let my mind wander to new designs and business issues when I’m folding laundry and picking up legos, but when I’m with my kids I’m WITH MY KIDS. I do work most nights after the kids go to bed. Luckily, my awesome and insightful husband is happy to help me washi tape my keyboard for a photo shoot or discuss the merits of Korean sticker design over dinner. I am lucky.

I take a nap every day, which is my secret to success. I’ve been doing it since Atticus was born. Though it’s really difficult to choose sleep over the other thousand things on your to-do list (especially as that time is usually when the kids at home are also asleep), I find that napping lets me roll with the inevitable punches at the end of the day. If I’m happy, everyone else is happier.

Nathan and I love spending time together and we never get enough. We work hard to get one on one time with each child, but I don’t beat myself up when I don’t get everything done. My mother always said “You can do anything you want in your life, but you may not be able to do it all at once.” She’s the best, and she was right.

Q: Speaking of Nathan, any lessons you’ve learned in keeping your relationship a priority through pregnancies, huge move, and career?

A: Though this is quite personal (sorry if you’re reading this, Dad!), it’s particularly relevant as we are expecting another newborn any day now. I wish someone had told me that after you have a baby, your hormones shift, and sometimes your libido disappears. As a society, we grow up with the age-old understanding and assumption that marriage and kids take a progressive toll on a romantic relationship. It’s the subject of sitcom after sitcom. And it can be true – family responsibilities, combined with lack of sleep, definitely change a relationship.

What I didn’t expect was that after I’d had my second baby, and was breastfeeding, I would have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever. It had nothing to do with being exhausted and emotionally drained (though obviously those things would have taken their toll too). I didn’t care if I ever had sex again. And that was scary. Sleep deprivation, busy schedules, and the other obstacles to intimacy can be overcome. But the disappearance of your libido entirely? Frightening.

The good news is that Nathan was amazingly matter-of-fact, understanding, and supportive about it. I think I actually had a harder time with it – consumed by the “what if” scenarios, and imagining myself a frigid, uninterested partner forevermore. The better news was that about two weeks after weaning Ella, I was back to my old self! The hormones behind it are a mystery, as I’m one for three on this post delivery experience. We’ll see how the coin lands this time around.

The lesson: immediate and open communication – with your partner – is key to getting through a dry spell.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: The degree to which you love your own children so much more than any other child you’ve ever known is unreal. The way they fascinate and entertain you (when they’re doing pretty much the same thing all kids do) is astounding.

Watching our kids interact as siblings is a joy. The things that I remember as a kid growing up with brothers and sisters are so different when I see them from a parent’s perspective. The way they cheer each other on, knock each other down, and just get goofy together is priceless.

We’ve also found that our perspective changed with subsequent children. At first, we took everything about our child personally – the good and the bad. Life experience helped us get a grip. Each child goes through the inevitable ups and downs of development. We aren’t there to fix them all or take them personally. Our job is to stay consistent and help them not get arrested.

As for missed stages, I can’t answer – as soon as I start to notice something is over, I find out I’m pregnant. Get back to me in a few years.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: The arrival of their new sister!

Nathan and I work hard to foster the relationships between our kids. We try to strike a balance between letting them work things out on their own and having zero tolerance for nastiness toward each other. Our household mantra is: “Your brother/sister is your best friend.”

Because this attitude takes the decision out of their hands, they quickly fall back into being thick as thieves after confrontations and disagreements. I hope that they will remember all the adventures they create together in this house: jumping from “ice berg to ice berg” on our mountain of couch cushions, doing collaborative arts and crafts, and making waffles together every weekend.

As a mom, I think I’m strict but fun. I am no nonsense when it comes to manners, schedules, and sleep. But I do my best to balance that with spontaneous donut runs (selfishly, who am I kidding!) and glow stick baths. I hope they’ll remember me as a consistent and loving mom who always had a goofy side to her.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: In exercising a bit of poetic license, I’ll rephrase the sentence: I wish I could go back and tell my younger self…that as a mom, sometimes all you really want is a nap and a good cup of coffee in peace and quiet. I am ten years younger than my sister, who also happens to be my best friend. She had her first baby when I was 16 and while I did my best to be a great aunt, I was clueless. After college, I lived with her and her husband for the summer to help her with their two young children and baby girl, and make a bit of money as their nanny. I thought I was supportive and sympathetic, but in retrospect, I wish I had understood what only someone who has been through it themselves can.

Had I been able to better relate to her during those first years of motherhood, I would have watched the kids while she took naps, forced her to enjoy long showers, and made her and her husband go out at night. A lot. She does all of those things for me whenever we’re in town – I definitely drew the long straw.


Okay. Who laughed at this one? “Each child goes through the inevitable ups and downs of development. We aren’t there to fix them all or take them personally. Our job is to stay consistent and help them not get arrested.” Yes, a million times over! Thank you for that and all your other gems, Maureen!

On a personal note, I LOVE that your went there about your sex life after kids. I have so much respect and love for women who share their struggles with the rest of us in the hopes that we all do better. Who’s with me?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Meghann Halfmoon Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

We caught Meghann just before her family moves from Amsterdam to the island of Saba. (So that you don’t have to disappear to look up Saba, it is a Caribbean island and the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. It consists largely of the potentially active volcano, Mount Scenery, which at 2,910 feet, is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Thank you, Wikipedia!) I was instantly intrigued when she described her life in her 700 sq. ft. home, using terms like “micro dwelling” and “huge bathroom to fit even tall Dutch men” and “big love” during our correspondence.

Her enthusiasm is infectious. And I hope it’s the best thing you catch all day. Welcome, Meghann!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: I live in this cosy home with my husband Koen, my six year old son Tipp, and my four year old daughter Loula.

Tipp and Loula are only 20 months apart. For the most part, they are super sweet and loving with each other. They are both quite sensitive little creatures, but at the same time very tough. Tipp says he wants to marry Loula when they grow up. That always melts my heart. They often walk to school hand-in-hand, and are a force to be reckoned with at the playground – which does not always bode well for the other kids, much to my embarrassment!

Tipp is a sweet little boy who is super excited about learning to read and write. He calls me mooie mama, which means beautiful mama, and asks me for one extra big kiss as I walk out of his bedroom at night. Tipp’s favourite band is Kiss, he break-dances, plays a mean air guitar, and loves running and playing soccer. He is nearly certain that he is the real Spiderman, which is something he can discuss at some length. Tipp wants to be a flying doctor who knits when he gets older. He says this does not conflict at all with being the real Spiderman.

Loula is my big-eyed, independent little lady. She wants to try and do everything herself! Loula is analytical and asks amazing questions. She dances ballet, and prefers dresses “because you can’t skip as well in pants.” She makes up her own songs and sometimes sings them with a sort of soprano opera voice, which is hilarious! She calls children “kids” and adults “people” and often asks, “When will I become a person?” I love this question because, when trying to reason with momentarily unreasonable children, I sometimes wonder when these little monsters will become people!

My husband, Koen, is a public health doctor specialized in infectious disease control. Think CDC…but in the Netherlands. He works four days a week with the public health department in Utrecht province and has a side job working as a primary care doctor with street prostitutes. I think I might be the only woman who gives her husband a kiss and says “Have a nice evening, babe” as he walks out the door to go to the prostitutes!

And then there’s me. I’m Meghann. I am a maker. I design, create, photograph, and package my leather and textile products from my in-home atelier. This is a huge change from my past life in which I wrote project proposals to fund projects in developing countries, mainly from EU funding, and where the logical framework was one of my best friends.

I think I’m quite pure, in the sense that what you see is what you get. I think I am also quite honest about who I am, including my shortfalls. My husband calls me one of the most open and honest people he knows. He says I’m an adventurer. I love to laugh out loud, and when I’m sad I cry big tears. I love to cook and try new-to-me recipes with forgotten vegetables. I don’t wear make-up, and never really have. And I believe that bike-riding together with your partner is possibly the key to a good relationship.

Q: You’re an American (now Dutch!) living in Amsterdam! Please tell us how you got here, and how you found your home.

A: Well, the road to Amsterdam was a long one! I met my husband, who is from the Netherlands, while studying abroad in Nantes, France, in Fall 2000, but we only started dating in early 2003. A couple of countries and a couple of years later, we married after both graduating from the University of Maastricht in July 2005. And after a couple years in Antwerp, Belgium, we moved to Amsterdam in January 2008.

Moving to the Netherlands, in the legal sense, was really quite easy for me as my husband is Dutch. We have this amazing housing site here where you can see nearly any home available for sale in the country. We bought our home at the very peak of the market in 2008, when I was about five months pregnant. Which, in hindsight, was not an optimal moment to be home shopping. While I would probably do things a bit differently if I could go back in time, I LOVE our neighbourhood and am so happy we ended up here.

That my husband is Dutch was definitely a help when searching out mortgages, energy suppliers, internet, etc. Even though it was a first home-buying experience for both of us, reading the details of the fine print and working with the banks for a mortgage is always easiest in your own native language. Although, thanks to the high level of English most people speak here, most things can almost always be discussed in English.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: I can hardly think of a better location to live! I am absolutely head over heels for Amsterdam! This must be one of the best cities in the world in which to raise children. But I may be super biased!

Amsterdam is very easy to get around by bike, public transport, or even on foot. The canals in the center are gorgeous, particularly when lit up at night. And the different neighbourhoods all have their special feel. Amsterdam is also very green for such a dense and compact city, particularly in the area where we live.

My neighbourhood is in the southwest of the city, within the city ring. We are sandwiched between the two biggest parks – the Vondelpark and the Rembrandpark – and spend a huge amount of time in these parks, at any time of year. We go everywhere in town by bike…even in the snow!

Amsterdam has tons to offer for children. On cold or rainy days we spend time at the museums or the children’s cooking cafe where they get to choose what they’d like to cook that day; everything is at their level. It’s run by volunteers and so is very affordable. Nearly all the museums have activities for children, like an orphanage at the Amsterdam City Museum, a Sesame Street tour at the Rijksmuseum, dress up and theatre at the Shipping Museum, and Lego art at the Stedelijk Contemporary Art museum. On warmer days we head out on our bikes to the zoo or to some of the nature parks around town, where the kids get to build huts, bake bread on a fire, pull themselves across the water by rope, or just run around all day.

Prices for many activities can be very high in Amsterdam. For our family, as we live on quite a tight budget, it makes sense to have annual passes. We all have a “museumjaarkaart” which costs about €50 per adult and €25 per child and allows us to enter nearly all the museums in the country for free. We also have annual passes to Artis, the zoo, which is about €140 all together. These are big upfront investments, but we spend very little money the rest of the year apart from this. We pack our lunches everywhere we go, and even bring a thermos of coffee or beer and wine, depending on the season and time of day. We tend not to go to theatre productions, as these can be very costly, but we spend nearly every weekend in the summer at the Vondelpark Open Air Theatre, which is free and offers fabulous theatre, music, dance, and comedy.

While our home is tiny (only 700 sq. ft!) and on the second floor (considered the third floor by US standards), we have a great square out front with a playground for the neighbourhood kids. Kids of all ages play out here and, on warmer days, we often bring out juice and wine and snacks and all hang out with each other. The location on a square and the fact that we have no yard has been a huge plus factor in our social life! It means that my young kids can play outside without me being there because we know a great deal of our neighbours very well. I would say there’s just enough of the “social control” to create a warm, safe, cosy feeling here, without people being nosy.

In a couple of months we’ll be leaving our wonderful life here in Amsterdam for a new adventure on the island of Saba, where we’re pretty sure that, if fairies do exist – and we think they do! – they are likely to live on Saba. While we’re all very excited about our move, I know we’ll miss our home and life here as well. That’s why we’ve decided to rent out our home instead of selling it. I just can’t bear to completely let go of this slice of our life. I like knowing that it’ll be here waiting for us if and when we’re ready to come back.

Q: You describe your space as small but big enough. What are the must haves that make your home fit your family perfectly?

A: This is a small home with big love! Rather than must haves, I think I’d say it’s most important to realize how little you really need. Not to say that I wouldn’t love more space! But I can’t honestly think of any item I’m missing. Sure, a KitchenAid mixer is beautiful and I think it would be really fun to have one someday. But do I miss it? No. In fact, when I bake cookies and cakes with my kids, I use a fork and my arm. It builds great muscles.

I think the most important aspect to living in a small space is layout. Our home is laid out so that we have a living room and dining room in the front of the apartment, and two bedrooms and kitchen in the back of the apartment, and which all lead out to the balcony. I’ve usurped one wall of our dining room to create my atelier. It works amazingly well! While not conducive to work-life balance, I can finish up some work while my kids are snacking after school or playing on the floor in the living room.

We also recently renovated our bathroom, separate toilet, and hallway. Hooray! What was once a hallway closet that offered little space, a toilet that didn’t fit tall Dutch men, and an awful bathroom that housed a tiny shower and our washer and dryer stacked upon each other, is now a spacious hallway closet with space for the washer and dryer next to each other, a toilet fit for tall people, and roomy bathroom with a huge bathtub! Not to mention the penny tiles covering the floor!

And the big love really is important! My parents visit us from the US about twice per year, two weeks each time. The only way they can do this is if they don’t have hotel costs. So, they stay with us! We put them up in our bedroom (it’s nice to be able to shut the door on suitcases), and Koen and I sleep in the living room. When they left us this past November, my husband actually said, “I wish they could stay another week.” Not many husbands out there who would say that about their mother- and father-in-law!

Q: How do you handle clutter? Are you a natural editor, or does it take pure chaos to get you to purge items that are taking up space?

A: Ha! Clutter! The nice thing about “la vie en petit” means that there’s no space for junk or filler furniture. So in that sense, I’m a natural editor. We only buy what we really like. I’d much rather spend more money on a nice piece or item than less money on something that’s just good enough. And, as we have such little space, that’s okay to do!

We also try to have multi-purpose furniture. Our larger couch, for example, is a hide-a-bed. Our smaller couch fits so perfectly in the bay window that it actually makes the room look and feel bigger. The blue bench in our dining room stores my rolled up leather. And we use boxes under our bed to store things that we do need and use, but are more seasonal, like picnic blankets, or an extra comforter for when my parents come visit.

Our home certainly gets cluttered at times! But all houses do. The nice thing about a small home is that, even though it gets cluttered much more quickly and you can’t simply shut the door on it, it also is much quicker to pick up. We just have less stuff.

Q: You’re a talented leather and textile artist. How did you begin this business? What are your goals and biggest accomplishments so far?

A: Thank you so much! As a child, I was very creative. I took nearly every art class possible in school, from painting to pottery to jewellery to photography. At home, my mom and I would bring out our beads after dinner and make bracelets in the evenings. She also taught me how to sew, even from my own designs. I used to dream of living in Paris and being a fashion designer. That all seemed so far away at that age. We didn’t travel as a family, nobody spoke a foreign language, and pretty much every adult in my family was a teacher.

While my parents have always been very supportive of me, they also found practicality to be the most important when going to college. Studying fashion wasn’t really a possibility. So I went to the University of Washington and graduated in 2001 with a BA in Business. And a few years later, I did my Masters in European Public Affairs in Maastricht. Painting was the creative outlet that was most present in my life. But once I had kids, the time for that dwindled.

In 2012, I became emotionally and psychologically ill. I had built up this amazing career in international development, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so depressed. At some point I realized that I needed to create again. And also that this amazing job I had simply didn’t fit me anymore. So, I started to create again. And with warm support of my colleagues, I left my job.

While ill, I had posted some photos of things I’d made on Facebook and a friend of mine kept chanting, “ETSY!” So I looked into it and, after a few months, opened my shop. My first sale was a blouse. It was exhilarating and terrifying! But my customer loved it! (I hope she still does!) Anyway, I thought, “If all these other people on Etsy can do it, why not me?”

I’ve been a true business for just over a year now! I would say my biggest accomplishment is simply that I have sales and that, up until now, all of my reviews are glowing! My customers are looking for simple, minimalist essentials, made from high quality and responsible materials, that are versatile in where and when they can be used. They want that understated beauty that comes with age and usage and that stands out because of its simple beauty rather than from flashiness. I would say my leather Tote No.1 epitomizes that.

Another accomplishment, even though I’ve not launched the textile side of my label yet, is a collaboration with Leah Duncan! While I design and will be making the clothing for my label, I don’t design the fabric. I love Leah’s work, so I contacted her some months back and she said she’d love to work with me! We both have Native American background, so we used that a bit as inspiration for the fabric design for the shirt and scarf I’ll be making. (I’ll give you a hint: Tumbleweeds!)

At this point, particularly because we’ll be moving abroad right at the moment that I am meant to launch my Spring/Summer 2015 clothing collection, my goal is to keep myself as structured as possible so that I can keep my business running through the move. And, of course, a huge goal is to sell products from my collection:) Really, more than the money, each and every sale feels like such amazing recognition for the time and love I put into my business.

To be honest, writing about this brings tears to my eyes. I’m still in a very early stage in this new career of mine and it’s been a long and winding road to get here. It might sound silly, but I’m so thankful to my husband for his support, and also very proud of myself for daring to dive off the deep end and just go for it.

Q: Describe a typical day in your world.

A: I’m slowly getting better at balance. Both of my kids are in school now, which gives me from 8:35 to 2:55 to work. I start my day with a nice warm cup of coffee, and sit behind the computer for about a half hour to answer e-mails, check Facebook, Pinterest, and a few blogs. Then I get to work. This can be designing and putting together prototypes of new products, to making a bag that has just been ordered, and getting these out the door. I feel like the orders come and go in waves, which is nice because I have moments where I’m working hard on products that I’m already familiar with, and sometimes a full week to design and try out new products! And the beauty of selling on Etsy is that I don’t have to list anything that I don’t feel I can reasonably make within the shipping time that I’ve defined.

At five minutes to 3:00, I whip on my shoes and jacket and rush out the door to pick up my kids. From then until evening I’m just mommy. Lately I’ve been trying to not work in the evenings anymore. But, when I do, I usually use that time to search for suppliers or other types of info online. I don’t like to sew in the evenings because the lighting is not optimal, and being tired leads to mistakes.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget!

A: I hope they remember the warmth and love in this house. I honestly can’t think of anything I hope they forget. Well…maybe the fact that they’re not allowed to jump loudly and bang on the floor. We’re not against this in principle, but living on the second floor of a 1930s house means that floor insulation is not at its best.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own children? What has surprised you the most about motherhood?

A: One of my very favourite things is being woken up in the morning (just preferably not before 6:45!) by a warm little body coming to snuggle with me. I love this feeling! Sometimes we just lay there and fall in and out of sleep. Other times we talk and giggle about different things. Those moments are so precious.

What has surprised me most about motherhood is the intense feelings you can have: of success and blissful happiness during the good moments, but also of guilt and failure at difficult moments. It’s that deep awareness of being responsible for somebody else’s life. Luckily, the good outweigh the bad so far!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I feel like my mom warned me for everything! But I don’t know if any of it really hit home until I became a mom myself. There is just no way to explain exactly how that will feel: from the sheer joy to the utter pain.

I never understood why my parents worried so much. And they would say, “You’ll understand when you have your own kids.” I didn’t know it then, but they were right!

I’m trying hard not to parent through fear. I really don’t want my kids to fall or hurt, but it is all part of growing up. So I’m working on letting go.

Also with marriage. I used to ask my mom how you can love somebody for so long, through thick and thin. And she would say, “It’s a choice. There are times where you’re in love, and times where you stick by because you have deep respect and you love the person, even if you’re not in love at the moment.” I really took that to heart.


Thank you, Meghann! I can’t wait to hear about your new life in Saba, so please let us know if you spot a faerie or two!

I’m so inspired by your small space and how well the entire family – and houseguests – live in it. From experience, it is all about the big love! And I had to laugh about you finding your destined creative career even though your parents prodded you in a more practical direction. I hope in some way you’ve inspired other parents to be open to the paths their children are forging. Love always finds a way, right?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Barbara Rucci Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:00:43 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Barbara Rucci’s house is full of lovely clutter. I look over the scenes she’s shared with us, and I can’t help but think that all her keepsakes on display are nowhere near a haphazard situation, and way more of an ever-changing collection of memories made…as well as those still in the making. Yes, Barbara does clutter right!

Also, if any of you are in the throes of comparing your parenting styles or values or incomes to those families around you, please read on. It seems that living in an affluent community brings with it a wonderful yet problematic set of challenges – maybe you’ve experienced the same dilemmas that Barbara worries over while printing out gratitude quotes from Pinterest! (Barbara, I giggled at the realization of how Pinterest can save us at our most frantic parenting moments!)

All this to tell you that you’re going to love more than the gorgeous photos this week; there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge well-earned over time in this one. Please enjoy it.

Q: Tell us about the family who lives here!

A: We are a family of five. My husband and I have two daughters who are 15 and 12, and an eight-year old son. My kids are very fun, but really loud. My son plays hockey in a room that was originally the formal dining room. Now we call it the hockey room. It has hardwood floors and is in the center of the house. He commentates every move and shot on goal. His imaginary hockey games are literally the soundtrack to our lives.

The girls love to sing and act, so they usually have something loud going on upstairs. When they were little, they would put on nightly shows. I have hours of video footage that we actually dig up and watch from time to time. It is amazing to see that their passions when they were really young are the same as they are now.

My kids are in three different schools with three different start times this year. It’s quite a long morning. My oldest is in high school, which is hard to believe. I feel like she was just standing on a stool in the kitchen singing Annie in her footie pajamas. It’s actually pretty cool because my husband and I both went to the same public high school she’s in now. No, we weren’t high school sweethearts. Now that would be a great story!

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We sold our beloved first home a year ago. Picture a renovated cape, sort of beachy-modern, on a cul-de-sac teeming with little kids. We lived there for 13 years and had all three kids there. When we sold it, my kids were pretty devastated. Our reasons for selling were varied, but part of it was looking ahead to the future and saving for college. It was also just time for a change.

Since we sold our house quickly, we didn’t have time to find a new purchase. We decided to rent. We heard about this one house that our friends had rented before. It was an old colonial owned by the Historical Society. In fact, it was on the Historical Society property.

We loved the location, about 200 yards from the center of town, but the house was very run down. It was falling apart, mostly because it hadn’t been taken care of from years of turnover. There were broken floorboards, cracked fixtures and plumbing, crumbling plaster walls, and worst of all almost no light switches or lights. We kept walking through the house, over and over again. I could picture us there, but nobody else could. My oldest said “No way.” We had some work to do, but it wasn’t our house so it was hard to justify spending the money.

Then my husband, who is a real estate attorney in town and my hero, talked to the owners and worked out a deal. Whatever money we put into the house, they would take off of our rent over the first year. Can you believe how nice this was? I went to work finding the cheapest ways to fix my problems. We painted floors instead of sanding, we painted walls but not molding, we bought bath fixtures from Home Depot and an electric oven on sale from Best Buy. I was in problem-solving mode, which is one of my best modes.

The challenge was rewiring for the light fixtures and switches. My electrician was not too happy to have to deal with plaster walls. But he did it, and we moved in and I set out to make it as homey and cozy as possible so my kids would be happy. I believe the key ingredient into making a house a home is creating a space that feels loved. I put up all of their artwork, made sure their beds were made with their soft, old sheets, and cooked the food they loved most so the house would smell like theirs again.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: Our town is beautiful. I would say that it is the ultimate dreamy New England suburb with all the charm of a picture postcard. We are in the heart of Fairfield County, in a community that is about 40 miles north of New York City. It’s a commuter town that started out in the 1800s as a village of shoemakers. In the 1940s, the “Harvard Five” began creating homes here in a style nobody had ever seen before. So nestled amongst the old colonials and new McMansions are a group of historic modern houses. The most famous being Philip Johnson’s glass house. I love this about our town – that it has such a deep history of makers.

We live here because our parents raised us here and we wanted our kids to grow us with their grandparents close by. They come to all of the recitals, plays, games, and birthdays, giving the gift of extra unconditional love and attention. We also love being close to New York City where we can go to the MoMa or see the penguins at the Central Park Zoo on a whim. Our public school system is exceptional, so it’s nice to take advantage of a top-notch free education. It’s a real community with struggles and triumphs like any other. Our roots here run deep, just like the trees.

But it can be challenging at times, raising our children in such a wealthy town. There is an intensity and competitiveness that permeates the schools and social scenes. The drive for over-achievement sometimes makes me feel like my good-enough parenting style is way out of place. My kids have asked me more times than I can admit if we are poor. We are not, I tell them, and then I go on Pinterest and print out lots of quotes about being grateful and tape them to the walls. Some parents in affluent communities value success more than kindness and decency.

So the task lies in raising our kids to be okay with failure and imperfection, and to encourage them to explore who they are and to nurture their talents rather than be fixated on money and popularity. I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far because our kids are kind of great

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: I would describe my aesthetic as artsy. I have something homemade in every room. Whether it’s garland or paintings or notes that my kids have written, I hang up anything that I love. People who come over to my house always comment on all of the interesting stuff to look at. Sometimes I think maybe that is a nice way of saying that my house resembles a tag sale, and I do get into modes where I need to just throw out because it’s too much even for me. I consider myself a collector, but it can border on cluttered. The key to keeping my home looking fun and artistic is cleaning and organizing.

I have boxes for each of my kids. Big boxes for their artwork, and smaller boxes for their schoolwork. I have a cleaning lady who comes every two weeks which forces me to spend three hours before she comes throwing out and organizing. I moan about it every time, but then at the end of that day of cleansing I have rotated art, found lost items, filed away all of the papers on the floor of my office, and I’m ready to start collecting again for two more weeks! It feels good.

I teach my kids to do the same. They purge often, and are in charge of their own rooms. They decorate them, clean them, and make their beds. I’m starting to teach them to do their own laundry, which will be a game changer for me!

I sometimes envy other homes that are so pristine and uncluttered. Such discipline! I do dream about a fresh, modern space from time to time. But then how could I live in it for very long without draping a pom-pom garland over the doorway, or hanging up that drawing my son made with the penguins that says how much he loves me?

I could not live a happy life without being surrounded by all of the things that my kids have made.

Q: Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things? Or are you somewhere in the middle?

A: When I move into a new space, I always draw a floor plan to scale before moving in. I measure every room, I measure all of the furniture that I have, and then I see how I can make it work so that it best suits the needs of my family. Utilizing the space efficiently is very important to me.

There is nothing that bothers me more than non-functional rooms or spaces. That’s why I don’t have a formal living room. I don’t understand the concept of having a room just for occasional fancy guests. First of all, I don’t have fancy guests. And second of all, rooms that aren’t used feel sad and lonely to me.

Nothing in my home is too precious. My hockey player son has shot many pucks into lamps and vases. I try not to be too uptight about my stuff. With that said, I do love beautiful things. I have a few pieces that I cherish and they just make me happy every time I look at them. My dad is an artist and I’m lucky to have a few of his paintings. They are just so stunning and colorful, they make me happy.

And I love my quilts. I have made one for each of my kids from their old clothes. We use them every day. They are perfect for snuggling by the fire.

Q: Tell us about your work, and how it has informed your parenting style.

A: Before I got married, I had my own line of children’s clothes called Saskia that I made by hand and sold in New York boutiques. After I found out I was going to have my first baby, I decided that I wanted to work from home but with an easier job. Working in the garment industry was too stressful. I took some classes in Illustrator and Photoshop and I became a graphic designer. I was a textile design major in college, so being a graphic designer was just another path along the same road.

I did this for 15 years, during all of those long baby and toddler days. I worked during naps, at night, and on weekends. I feel so lucky that I could be there when they were growing up and still build a life for myself.

One day I read an article about blogging. My oldest was around 11 at the time, so this was about four years ago. I was intrigued. I started looking at blogs, Design Mom being one of the first. True story! I decided to try writing so I started a Tumblr blog. After about a year, I took it up a notch and started Art Bar, my current blog and now my life’s work.

When the kids were little, before blogging, I always had an art area or an art room. I would leave out “invitations,” like some play dough and rollers, or watercolors and different shaped paper. They always had an option to be creative. I would hang everything on clotheslines draped around the kitchen and in their rooms.

Now that they are older, they don’t choose to do art that much anymore. My girls love performance art and spend most of their free time playing the guitar, trying to harmonize, and just generally being dramatic. My son plays hockey night and day, but he will draw me a picture if I ask him to. Usually hockey logos or penguins, so not the best blogging material, but I still love them. About a year ago I began to realize that if my kids weren’t doing art, what was I going to blog about? That’s when I decided it was time to teach.

I started teaching four-year olds in my living room. Remember that I said nothing is too precious in my house? Turns out, I’m even okay with paint on my living room sofas. And thankfully, I have a very patient husband who understands me completely and almost never complains. I teach two times a week and it’s something that I find both incredibly challenging and rewarding at the same time.

My teaching philosophy stems from my years of leaving out creative invitations for my own three kids: Expose my students to new materials, teach them new skills, but let them explore their own creativity as much as possible by setting up open-ended art experiences.

Q: Describe a typical work/blog day as it transitions into your home life. How does your space make your life and your family’s life easier within that day?

A: I get up at 6:30 so that I can wake up the first one and get her off to school. I have about 20 minutes in between the first and second to quickly check and reply to emails. Or, more likely, get sucked into the social media vortex. Pinterest is my weakness. By the time they are all off to school, it is 9:15.

My office is my sanctuary. I just love that place. On days when I don’t have art class, I usually make lots of tea and work at the computer until lunchtime. My husband works a block away and often comes home for lunch. We check in about the afternoon of driving ahead and what to do for dinner. It’s really nice to have a partner in crime.

After lunch I try and get away from the computer. I’ll either make something, photograph stuff, exercise, or get new ideas going for art class. This house has such great light, so capturing part of each day on film is very rewarding for me.

Art class days are very different because they basically take up the whole day. The morning is prep, class is at 1:00 for an hour, and then it’s clean up.

By 3:00 I am done working for a few hours. It’s time to pick up kids, drive them places, host play dates, grocery shop, and cook dinner. But I’m so close to my office, it’s hard to stay away! Usually I’m back and forth to the computer throughout the night. I have an extra desk in the office so my kids will come and do homework with me. And honestly, most of the time everyone is huddled around me and my desk anyway. It’s just the way it is!

When you work at home, it’s hard to ever really put work aside. As a blogger, my life and my work are sometimes one and the same. My kids and my husband love my blog, and they are very proud of me. They know I am in work mode all of the time, but they also know that I love it and it makes me happy.

I involve them as much as I can so they don’t feel separated from me ever. It’s why I think blogging is the coolest job because what I’m ultimately doing is documenting my life with my kids, so there is a very deep connection between work and family.

At the actual end of my day, I turn everything off and read books. I love to read. I have to read. Reading is my favorite.

Q: What do you hope your children will remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house? 

A: I really hope they look back at their time in this house and feel like it was a happy, cozy, fun place to live. It may not be everything that they want but at the same time, they are learning such a valuable life lesson. When you make a big change, try not to look back at what you’ve lost, but rather live in the present and be open to creating new experiences. Something beautiful is on the horizon!

My daughter started high school in this house. School is tough; there is a ton of homework and she misses her childhood. But in another year, she’ll get into her groove and I hope someday she thinks of this house in a nostalgic way. As the place where she got her license, went to her first dance, grew from a girl to a young woman. (Sniff sniff.)

My other daughter will live here most of her middle school years. Actually, she hates school right now. I am working really hard to cultivate her talents and gifts so that maybe, just maybe, her memories will not be of those horrible middle school years, but instead will be of the time she got her first video camera and started her own YouTube channel and made her first movies. I will let you know how that goes in about ten or 20 years.

My youngest, the eight-year old, misses his friends from the old neighborhood. But in this house he gets to have a hockey room! And a huge yard. He gets to walk to town with his sister and buy gum at CVS. I drive him to school every day instead of taking the bus, so I hope that he will remember our funny questions game and the ridiculous car clock that never says the correct time.

This home is the place where I started teaching. My family is so much a part of this new adventure. They always ask me about art class, they know all the names of my students, and we laugh together about funny four-year old questions and sayings. My kids have a cool art space in their living room that they can use whenever they want. Usually it’s to write thank-you notes or work on school projects, but making stuff is part of their lives and I believe it will help them become creative thinkers and problem-solvers. I hope they remember this quirky, original, artsy house as a place where their minds grew and their hearts opened.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your children? What is the one thing that has surprised you most about being a mom?

A: My children have allowed me to live my childhood over again. It sounds cliché but it’s how I really feel about being a mom. I’m creating memories of a home filled with music, books, games, baking, singing, dancing, movie night, cartwheels, fireflies, smoothies, tooth fairies, and lots and lots of arts and crafts. It’s magical for me so I will assume that it is for them, too!

What has surprised me most about being a mom is how culture and where you live play such a huge role in how you parent. My family immigrated to the US when I was five. My parents are Dutch and I was raised in a very simple way. Nothing fancy. Just plain and good and safe and honest.

Now that I’m a mom, I really look to my own mom sometimes and value that simple way of parenting. But it’s almost impossible to pull off when you live in a place where everything is over-the-top and huge. I’ve learned to find a happy medium and I try and practice what I preach to my kids: Comparison is the thief of joy. (Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.)

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me that my children would be nothing like me. I think I would have adjusted to parenting that much sooner.

For years, with my first, I kept trying to raise a mini-me and it was kind of frustrating because she wasn’t cooperating. It wasn’t until she was about five and my second one was becoming a toddler that I finally got it.

We were actually all growing up together.

I was growing as much as they were, and we were all becoming our own unique selves.


Thank you, Barbara. This was pure sunshine. I especially loved your description of your own childhood: “Nothing fancy. Just plain and good and safe and honest.” May all of our children enjoy the same.

I wonder how many of you are living in a situation where those around you are unknowingly competing with your style of parenting? Does that make sense? I guess I’m asking if your community adds to the ease with which you live, or somehow makes it all the more difficult? I always love your stories.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Shira Gill Tue, 13 Jan 2015 15:00:28 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Vivian Johnson.

I promise I’ve got some wonderful homes sitting in chillier locales in the queue, but I’m giving you another California home and sunny interview to warm us all up today. Meet Shira Gill, a sweet mom and wife who turned her 25 house moves into a thriving and much-needed business that edits pretty much an entire life.

Are you hanging on tightly to too much? Do you dread opening your closet in the mornings, not to mention – shudder – your child’s over-crammed wardrobe? Do your afternoons careen into crazy town no matter how well you think you’ve prepared for the chaos? Call Shira. I bet she’s either experienced or seen and solved much worse!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Hi there! My husband, Jordan, and I both grew up in the SF Bay area a mere ten minutes from each other. Although we had several friends in common, we never met. We met working at Camp Tawonga, a children’s environmental education summer camp near Yosemite, when we were 20 years old. It took several years for him to convince me to date him, probably because I was balancing a busy schedule of dating the wrong people and traveling as much as possible. He works as the director of development for a non-profit in San Francisco, and I run my own business helping busy families streamline their homes and simplify their lives.

I’m so relieved I came to my senses and married him because it was the best decision I ever made. Jordan and I are opposites in many ways, but truly compatible and complimentary. I am creative, energetic, and impatient, while Jordan is grounded, practical, and calm. I help to motivate him when he is feeling a little bit lazy, and he is one of the only people that can calm me down when my mind gets racing. I often get restless and crave adventure and, luckily for me, he is always happy to be along for the ride…

We have two beautiful, funny, strong-willed, rambunctious girls: Chloe is five and Emilie is three. Chloe started talking at nine months and has never stopped. Like, literally. Never. Stopped. She has a mind that runs a mile a minute and a strong sense of herself and how she wants things, so she keeps us on our toes. Emilie is an incredible artist, adventurer, and climber. She is heartbreakingly earnest, so sweet and affectionate, and never stops moving. They are a lively crew that loves singing and dancing around the dining room table, doing art, cooking, and building forts. A typical portrait of our family would include Jordan relaxing on the couch while the girls run in circles playing instruments and I rearrange the furniture.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: It’s a crazy story, actually. We had been living in a rental in Oakland, which we loved but had outgrown. Emilie had a makeshift nursery in a large utility closet, and we had been pounding the pavement for almost two years trying to purchase our first home. The Bay Area is where we both grew up, and we wanted to stay close to our families, but it became increasingly frustrating to see how impossible it is to buy a home here!

We would drive around with the girls every Sunday, taking turns hopping out of the car to view houses and keeping the girls out of trouble. Every spot we considered received at least ten offers, all well over the asking price. Just when we were starting to give up hope, we got a call from my good friend, Mahnee. It went a little something like this:

Mahnee: “Hey, want to buy my house?”

Me: “Um, yes.”

It turned out that Mahnee and her family were being relocated abroad for a work opportunity and needed to sell their home right away. She didn’t want to work with agents or deal with the drama of stagers, painters, and people traipsing through her house, so they offered to sell the home as a private sale at a price we could afford. We signed papers a few weeks later over wine and cheese and salami.

Life can be full of surprises and unexpected good fortune. We bought the home shortly after my father died, and at the time I wasn’t feeling very hopeful about anything, much less ever finding a house to call our own after our fruitless searching. We closed escrow on my birthday and had a big party to celebrate a few months later. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend for changing the course of my life with her incredible act of generosity.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: We live right in the heart of sunny Berkeley, California not far from where we both grew up. We are in a very central area, surrounded by amazing galleries, restaurants, farmers markets, yoga studios, and parks. We can walk a few blocks and be at a library, an ice cream parlor, a cafe, or even a climbing gym!

While it is sometimes challenging to confront living in a dense urban setting, I also feel proud that my children are growing up surrounded by so much grit, culture, and diversity. The Bay Area also offers the best weather year round and proximity to the ocean, the mountains, the forest, and the city…really there is something for everyone!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? 

A: I would say streamlined, airy, and relaxed. I aspire towards the beauty and simplicity of Scandinavian style, and a real less is more approach. I love to create spaces that feel really comfortable and inviting, but also stylish.

My philosophy is to buy less, and to invest in high quality, thoughtful pieces that we will enjoy for years to come. Although we keep our home fairly minimal, I do love to shop at our amazing local boutiques and indulge in accessories for our space. We recently splurged on a set of Heath Ceramics, which look great in our open cabinets and make me happy every time I eat. (Little tip: we bought “seconds” from the factory in Sausalito and saved a boatload of money).

We also splurged on lighting, which I think is very important, dreamy bedding from Erica Tanov in Berkeley, and Turkish towels and cute dish clothes from Atomic Garden in Oakland. I like to invest in items like beautiful dinnerware, bedding, and towels because you’ll use and enjoy them every single day!

I also think constraints like time and money can be helpful when it comes to creative design. The house we bought was a challenge for me initially because it is a 1916 Craftsman with a ton of dark wood throughout; while certainly beautiful, it just didn’t feel like my style. Also, since we bought our home from a friend we needed to reinvent it to make it feel like our own.

We moved in ten days after we closed escrow and, in that time, we changed all of the lighting, painted the entire interior, and did a fast and furious kitchen remodel. We saved money by buying our own fixtures and hardware, and by removing all of the cabinet doors and spray-painting everything white instead of buying new cabinetry. We also replaced the black and green granite with inexpensive white subway tile, which brightened the room right up!

Q: You’ve moved over 25 times! Tell us what you’ve learned about making a new house a home.

A: Yes! Between being a child of multiple moves and divorces, and a former life working as an actress, I have become an expert mover. Whenever I move, I bring a moving kit stocked with the essentials: bottled water, energy bars and snacks, paper towels, a sponge, and cleaning supplies. The first thing I do when I arrive in a new space is make the bed and set up fresh towels and toiletries so I can collapse at the end of the day. Then, I unpack completely, breakdown boxes, and even hang art if I have energy. I also love to add a few personal touches like fresh flowers, framed pictures, favorite music, and a candle to feel instantly at home and cozy.

The real key to being able to relocate with ease is being fairly well edited to begin with. Of course it’s more challenging to be a minimalist with kids, but I do my best and make it a habit to edit and donate whenever new things come in.

A little trick is that I hang a tote in my closet and do little sweeps of the house that take no more than five minutes. I toss things in the bag like clothing my kids have outgrown and toys that are seldom touched. When the tote is full of donations, I drop off the goods at a local charity. Having less stuff has actually added a sense of great abundance, flexibility, and freedom to our lives. When we want to take a trip, we can just hop in the car and drive to LA with nothing more than a few bags of clothes and essentials!

Q: What inspires you in your career?

A: My difficult childhood probably fueled my desire to create calm, organized spaces. When I was eight, my parents had a bitter divorce and custody battle which triggered my Dad to become severely depressed, an illness he would struggle with on and off until his untimely death a few years ago. There has always been a great deal of heartache in my family, and I think having control over my environment has been a saving grace for me.

As a mother, I also feel there is a tremendous amount of consumer pressure to keep up with trends and buy all of the latest gear and gadgets. I like to provide an alternative, and firmly believe that what helps children thrive has everything to do with feeling loved and nurtured…and nothing to do with physical things. In my own life, I have seen my children play for hours with a cardboard box or a fort made out of pillows from the living room. I think having less inspires great creativity and imaginative play!

Additionally, I find inspiration from the wisdom, insights, and companionship from my close circle of friends, each of whom is figuring it out as they go in their own brilliant and colorful way, and from the stories and images of other mothers who share their lives and style on their blogs and websites. It can be far too easy to get competitive or judgmental, so I have recently launched a new series on my blog where women can share tips from their tool kits with other moms.  We’re all trying to accomplish a bit of sanity and calm amid the chaos of kids and work and life, so why not support each other on the way?

Q: Tell us about Shira Gill Home.

A: I started my company to help women who were feeling overwhelmed in their homes and stressed in their lives. What sets me apart from traditional home organizers is that I really coach my clients to create a space that represents who they are and what they care about. We examine what they use and love, and clear out all of the excess clutter before organizing and styling. I’ve turned offices into nurseries and closets into offices and everything in between! Over the years, my business has grown to include spatial planning and design, project management, and style makeovers.

I love having an opportunity to help my clients transform their spaces, sometimes in as little as a single morning. It’s a terrific fit for me because it’s fast-paced, creative, and always full of interesting new people and locations. Clutter holds people back in all aspects of their lives, from finding a new job to finding love and interpersonal connection. In the past year, I have helped several people purge the remnants of past marriages and remake their spaces to meet their needs as single parents and as single people. I have helped people go from being ashamed of their spaces to hosting holiday meals for their extended families. I have worked with teenagers and their parents to create more functional rooms and study spaces. It has been hugely gratifying to witness personal transformations in my clients once the clutter is gone.

On a typical day, I drop my kids at school and work for three or four hours on site editing, organizing, and styling. I usually bring lunch back to my home office where I do my accounting, blogging, design research, and client calls. My office used to be a porch, and it’s the sunniest room in our house. I always keep it furnished with my favorite design books, fresh flowers, and a glass jug of water. It’s the only room in our house that feels like it’s just mine, so even though it’s where I work, it feels like a relaxing retreat.

I pick my kids up in the afternoon and we usually play for a bit or grab a treat, and then get right to cooking dinner since they go to bed super early. Sometimes the girls tag along with me when I go on donation runs or pick up supplies, and I’ll often head back to the office while my husband reads the girls their books before bed, but mainly I keep a nice separation between work and family time. I prefer it that way!

Q: What do you hope your daughters remember from this very moment in their childhoods in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget?

A: I hope they remember feeling super safe and loved and free to be exactly who they are. I hope they remember being surrounded by an extended family of so many people who love and support them. I hope they remember holidays celebrations, family dinners, birthday parties, doing art on the patio, and running around singing and dancing their little heads off.

I hope they’ll remember their father’s raspberry pancake breakfasts on weekends and my homemade macaroni and cheese, and forget how exhausted we are right now and how often we give up and order Chinese take-out.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own girls?

A: How fun it is! My girls make me laugh harder than anyone, and they are truly my favorite companions. Someone told me when I was pregnant that motherhood would be harder than I ever could have imagined but also more rewarding, and I have found this to be true. Being a mother to girls also feels like a huge responsibility, and motivates me to be as brave, strong, and confident as possible so I can teach them by example. I also love the opportunity to eat ice cream cones and chicken tenders on a regular basis!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: That I would be able to create this little family of my dreams! Growing up as a child surrounded with a lot of struggle and brokenness, I sometimes wondered if that was destined to be my legacy, as well. I have to pinch myself now when I look around at my life, our sunny home, and our beautiful, happy children.

Being an adult has given me the freedom and opportunity to create the kind of home for my children that I always wanted for myself; one filled with love, beauty, warmth, joy, and humor.


Thank you, Shira! I happen to really love being around people who are great life editors – I always learn something just by being next to them! – so feel free to pop by and sit in my living room. I also adore how you overcame a tough childhood and turned it into the basis for a solution for yourself and for others. Well done. I mean that.

Friends, it’s a great point to splurge on the things we use every single day. Do you remember to do that, too? Sometimes I find myself hesitating because of a price tag or a pang about whether we really, really need such a lovely item…but usually I remember that life is too short to be surrounded by things that make you frown!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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: Janette Crawford Tue, 06 Jan 2015 15:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There’s so much more to Janette than just a pretty home. Sure, she’s Head of Expansion for Homepolish in San Francisco and so we expect her to have a lovely aesthetic. But there’s a reason I’ve saved her to share with you until the first week in January and the month of fresh starts, especially for those of you in the midst of a change that threatens to shake up your life as you know it. Her advice from the other side of her own struggle is pretty wonderful.

So let’s get it started once again, shall we? Welcome, Janette!

Q: Tell us all about the ones who make this house a home.

A: Viv loves singing, coloring with Crayola Pip-Squeaks, dancing, pink, Frozen, leotards, kitties, and definitely not pants or egg salad. She was born in San Francisco (her middle name is Sunshine!), goes to HolaKids Spanish immersion preschool, and wants to be a sister.

I love textiles, fog on the San Francisco landscape, Big Sur, asymmetry, playing guitar, good friends, and heartfelt conversation. I grew up on a wheat farm in the middle of Kansas, studied at the University of Kansas, and now work with the interior design startup Homepolish as Head of SF Expansion. In any extra time I can find, I keep up Lovemade, an events series for families, and Sun + Dotter, a styling service.

Until last year, Viv’s dad lived with us as well, but he chose to leave our marriage. To say the least, it’s been a year of adjustments. But in a true act of redemption, I’ve learned and grown so much from the experience and am now a better role model for Viv than I ever was before. I thank God for the community and support I’ve been surrounded by…including two amazing girls who have moved into our home as roommates since these photos were taken!

(That, and joining my parents’ cell phone plan at age 32 wasn’t what I’d ever expected. But when life hands you lemons…you might as well get two live-in best friends slash babysitters.)

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: In SF, finding a good rental can be a full-time job! I’d had a flexible move-out date from my last place before this, so apartment-hunting was a bit flexible. After six weeks of looking, I knew this place was special as soon as I saw the Craigslist post for it: garage, backyard, fireplace, view of the Full House houses on Alamo Square Park. So I told the owners that I had plans during the open house, and could I possibly come earlier? They said yes, and I was the first to see it, and that’s why they offered it to me first!

I’ve now been here for four years and have become super close to my landlords, a couple who lives above us and really cares for me and Viv.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: San Francisco is a beautiful, magical place. Amidst all my favorite city exploits of great food, coffee and shopping, there are stunning surprise views at the top of every hill. And when I need to get away, a short drive north, east, or south is full of endlessly soul-quenching outdoor spaces.

Especially with Viv, I love taking advantage of all the beaches, hiking, backpacking, and camping that I didn’t grow up with in the Midwest.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your daughter, of course!)

A: I have such a hard time putting my own style into words. But my priority is for the space to be inviting, cozy, meaningful, and not too precious. I love my collection of plants, my varied assortment of textiles from around the world, and how I’ve balanced the Craftsman/Victorian interior with both a freshness and a timelessness.

One of my favorite spots in the house is the rug in front of the fireplace. My front room has enough space for two living areas. On one side is my sofa and sectional with lots of seating, for talking with friends or gathering around a movie.

On the fireplace side I’ve left the area open, which is a perfect play spot for Viv, for dancing or building towers or a tickle fight. The openness has proven great for hosting parties too, with or without kids.

Q: Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things? Or are you somewhere in the middle?

A: I land precisely in the middle! Versatility and durability are so important for livability – even if you don’t have kids, in my opinion –but not at the cost of good style.

I get really excited about products that accomplish both, like beautiful flat-weave rugs that never stain, sofas with washable cushion covers, and toys that double as decor. Things that both kids and adults can love. This is the premise of my styling work with Sun + Dotter, and the events we host with Lovemade!

Q: Homepolish sounds like an amazing company! If you could tell us only one favorite thing about the company, what would it be? What is your role in the company? Tell us what your professional life adds to your personal life.

A: Homepolish is democratizing interior design, making it attainable not just for wealthy home-owners, but for anyone who values living or working in a beautiful space, on any budget. That’s my favorite thing about it!

But a close second is how we’re able to catapult the careers of some incredible up-and-coming designers, who would otherwise not be able to work full-time on their own.

My role is Head of San Francisco Expansion, building brand awareness throughout the Bay Area. I get to work on everything from publicity to startup partnerships to interior design. It entertains every part of my brain, which suits me well!

Q: Describe a typical work day as it transitions into your home life. How does your space make your life and your daughter’s life easier within that day?

A: I am fortunate to be able to work from home, because my team is based in New York. I used to have a desk in my bedroom but never used it, always opting to sit in the front of the house instead. So I work from either my dining room table or a vintage school desk-chair that I can place anywhere if I need a change of scenery. Without a set workspace, it keeps me tidier, because I don’t let piles add up!

When Viv comes home from full-time preschool, I do my best to be all about her and stay off my computer until her bedtime. We cook dinner and hang out, with roommates and often other friends around.

After she goes to sleep is when either the wine or the laptop come out – depends on the day!

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers from this very moment in her childhood in this very house? And what do you hope she conveniently forgets! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I hope she remembers how much she loves to make art, to decorate, to sing, and to dance. And the love, care, and intention I have for her, which is my number one priority these days.

I read once, “Your words become your child’s inner voice,” which I take to heart every day.

I hope she forgets how little I cook!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your daughter? What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: With a three-year-old, every day is a new laugh and a new surprise. That’s the best part. Lately Viv has been singing Elsa’s “Let It Go” and Edward Sharp’s “Home” with ridiculous accuracy, and then launching into Charlie Chaplain-like dance moves. That, and how she loves me so much and never lets me forget it. Her cuddles are irresistible.

Every bit of being a mom has been a beautiful surprise, because I actually dreaded it, fearful of losing myself. It’s hard now to believe how wrong I was. Being a mom has been the most natural and empowering thing I’ve ever done.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: What comes to mind isn’t so much about what I wish I’d heard, as what I’m so glad I did hear. In facing my divorce, some friends told me early on to use the experience to become the kind of woman I want to be, and – maybe even more powerful – the kind of role model I want to be for Viv.

That framed my entire past year, being able to face grief with my chin up, learning to constantly process and grow. To lean into my true identity, not the ones I’d manufactured for myself.

So if there were one thing I wish someone had told me, it would be to be a student, and to be patient with myself. And that in a year…it will all pay off.


Be a student, and be patient. Priceless wisdom, Janette, and much appreciated. I know your words have impact. I sincerely wish we had met you sooner so we could’ve cheered for you through the past year, but we’re here now to root you on!

How is everyone doing on your 2015 goals? Or maybe I should ask how everyone is doing with your lives? Are you using your experiences to become the kind of person you want to be? I hope so. It’s been said that a lot can happen in a year, and it’s my wish that your lot in 2015 is nothing short of remarkable.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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