Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 30 Jun 2015 02:07:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Rebecca Barry Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:00:51 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photographs by Robyn Wishna and also Emily Rothenbucher.

Rebecca Barry is the sweetheart storyteller behind the can’t-put-it-down book Recipes for a Beautiful Life. It’s a memoir that almost didn’t happen — more on that, just ahead! — overflowing with a hilarious, often touching, and always authentic recounting of living a creative life while raising a family and translating the pressure-filled reality that most of us face on the daily. An even shorter review? It’s a joy.

Her home and interview are unsurprisingly inviting — unsurprising to me because I was hooked from our very first correspondence, when she sent me this: “We live in a  brick Italianate house built in 1865 that we bought and have been working on since our first child was born. The house is beautiful and unruly, with original hardwood floors and pocket doors, old sun porches, and hand hewn moldings. We live in half of it, and the rest is filled with wonderful tenants: artists, musicians, beekeepers and barristas. It is on Main Street in a tiny rural town. I’ve attached some pictures of little moments in our house.” Yes, I was hooked. It sounded to me like a haven of sorts. A messy and creative refuge where creativity holidays and beautiful moments simply exist.

I’m inspired every time I re-read Rebecca’s words. And I really hope you are, as well! Welcome, Rebecca!

I live with my husband Tommy and our two sons, Liam and Dawson, who are 11 and nine. Tommy and I met in 1999 when we were both working in NYC for CosmoGirl! Magazine. On our first date in October, Tommy asked me if I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve in Bermuda with him and his friend – a trip he’d been saving up for for five years. I said yes, and by New Year’s Eve I knew I would marry him. Neither of us proposed until months later – eventually we both did – but that night we were all asked to write down New Year’s resolutions that we would all read at the next reunion. The resolutions were written in private and sealed, and five years later when we opened them, Tommy had written, “I will marry Rebecca Barry” and I had written, “I will marry Tommy Dunne.” So the feeling was mutual.

Both Tommy and I work at home. I’m a writer — I write for magazines and I write books; my most recent one, Recipes for a Beautiful Life, just came out from Simon and Schuster in April. Tommy does copyediting for Glamour magazine, and a few years ago we started our own magazine, a local publication called Fresh Dirt Ithaca. It’s a profile-driven magazine about green living. This is a perfect place to write about that lifestyle, as we’re surrounded by organic farms and farm-to-table restaurants and people who keep coming up with innovative and delicious ways to live in harmony with the planet.

Tommy and the boys love hockey, soccer, skiing, Magic the Gathering, and music. They’re all in the community theater’s production of The Music Man this year, and last year Dawson was Oliver. When I’m not writing, I love making ornaments and cake toppers out of clay (Fimo is my medium of choice), something I started with the kids when I was stuck on a novel. It turned into an Etsy shop called Mermaid to Order. Those are cats from my shop on the bookcase in the pictures, as are the mermaids hanging on the wall.

“This is what my writer’s block looks like,” I say to people when they ask me about them. I don’t know why all my creatures look so happy, because writer’s block is horrible. But they all seem very cheerful about it.

We are a very emotional family (especially me and the boys; Tommy is a little more even-keeled), which makes for more quarreling than I think any of us would like, but there’s a lot of humor and love in the mix too, so that kind of balances it out. We are also surrounded by family; my sister and her husband live down the street, and my parents live 30 minutes from us in the house we grew up in, which really helps. I’ve often felt that the nuclear family, while wonderful, can be a lonely unit all by itself. I really love having extended family and good friends nearby. It’s deepened my life immensely and made me a much better mother.

We live in a small town outside of Ithaca, New York, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. I love it for so many reasons. First of all, the landscape is just — I don’t know, it’s more than beautiful, it’s moving. There’s water everywhere — deep, old lakes and waterfalls — and miles of farmland and wooded hills. There’s something about the lakes that makes the hills in the distance look blue, so we’re surrounded by all these gradations of bright greens and blues and flowering trees in the spring. And songbirds! Bluebirds and chickadees and red-winged blackbirds. Once I was riding my bike past a forest of pine with a swath of deep yellow goldenrod in front of it, and perched on top of the goldenrod was a bright red cardinal. It was such a colorful sight I had to stop and just stare for a minute. I have experiences like that all the time here and it makes me so grateful and awed by the natural world. I guess that’s what I mean about the landscape being moving.

I also love the town because I can walk everywhere. Every morning I go to the coffee shop on the corner, where I sit with the same group and swap gossip, and we have great restaurants on our street and a new bowling alley that looks like it dropped out of Brooklyn into our village, and there’s a farmer’s market on Wednesday we go to where our kids can run around with all of their friends for hours. I guess the main thing I love about it here is that it’s a place where people come to live out their dreams. My friend Kate has her own custom clothing company that she runs out of a studio in her house, my friend Sarah makes a living selling handmade jewelry on Etsy. My friend Evangeline runs her own farm and feeds half the community with the fruits and vegetables she grows, as do my friends Nathaniel and Emily. People are building houses that run entirely on geothermal and solar energy, insulating with straw or wool, farming with horses, and my friend Maria just started a carpentry school for women. It’s just a really cool, imaginative place to live.

And maybe because so many people are starting their own businesses, money sometimes feels a bit tight. You can get by on about $30,000-$50,000 a year here. (The median income in Ithaca is about $30,000.) You can live well on $80,000-$100,000. You can buy a decent three- to four-bedroom house here for between $200,000 and $300,000, which might seem reasonable except that property taxes are pretty high. But overall the quality of life is really wonderful.

I kind of feel like our home found us. At first we intended to move to a bigger city nearby, and as we were driving through town on our way home from looking at houses, this one just jumped out at us. We fell for it for completely romantic reasons. The roof needed work and the floors slanted, but it had beautiful bones and original pocket doors and the people who had lived there before us had taken good care of it, and so we just bought it.

It was definitely a wake-up call when we realized how much work an old building is, especially one with four other apartments in it, all with bathrooms and kitchens that need maintenance. I guess the first lesson we learned was to live in a space before you start renovating. That way you can get a feel for what it wants and you want. I really see houses as living, organic spaces. I can’t help it. I’ve always been that way. Our house is 150 years old. It has been through a lot, seen a lot, and definitely has its own ideas about the way things should be.

I’m not sure if I have a lot of other tips for others renovating their own homes because we are still learning, but one thing that has helped us immensely is finding a contractor we trust to work with us. It just helps to have a third person who knows a lot about old buildings to help us make decisions. Tommy and I can come up with a lot of ideas, and then a millions reasons that they might or might not work, but a contractor can make a big difference in terms of talking out the true cost and whether or not an idea makes sense. Case in point, Tommy wanted to put a new bathroom in the front of the house to increase the value of one of the apartments. I thought that was going to be too much work. We went back and forth and back and forth until finally, Julie, our contractor, mapped out for us exactly what the cost would be and how long it would take and we decided against it. Without her, we’d probably still be arguing.

The biggest and most successful improvement was definitely the roof. It cost close to $40,000, and meant tearing off the original tin roof, then putting on a new metal one. The nightmarish part, besides the huge expense, was trying to come up with the money for it, which took a long time, and dealing with the repercussions of not replacing it. I spent too many nights lying in bed dreading rain, or upstairs with Tommy bailing out the attic during a storm. I remember once, when things were really kind of down, we were low on money, I was stuck on my novel, the kids were sick, and I went into my study and listened to an anti-stress CD full of guided meditations to alleviate negative thinking. I was doing pretty well, and then one of them went something like, “Repeat after me: I have my health. I am warm. I have love in my life. I have a good roof over my head,” and I just started laughing, because even at that moment Tommy was trekking up and down the attic stairs emptying rain buckets.

But I love the tin ceilings we’ve restored, and the kitchen we put together in one of the apartments, as well as the soft blue walls and white floor that we painted in the apartment that used to be an old apothecary, which make the upstairs bedroom look like a clear sky in winter. And I love living in a building where so much of it – the plaster walls, the moldings, woodwork around the windows, and the brick walls themselves – were crafted by human hands. Every day, looking at the windows or the sun porches on the back of the house, or even the details on the old coal fireplaces makes me happy.

We live in a portion of our home…and share the rest! I LOVE sharing the house. I love going to sleep at night and hearing other people moving around, dishes clattering in the sink, the rise and fall of their conversations. We have several musicians living in the building, so sometimes I can hear someone playing their guitar or banjo, or singing. Being a landlady is a really great job for someone like me who loves other people’s business!

Our tenants have really enriched our lives, and I often stay in touch with them after they go. Pam, our tenant who lived next door for years, has become an important and dear family friend. And I like to keep up with Bri, who lived in the apartment attached to ours and gave my children art lessons. I just pulled out the paintings they did with her the other day and they are magical. I hear people complain about being landlords, but for me it has been a lovely experience. In nearly 11 years of having tenants, we’ve only had one unpleasant situation, and that one I chalk up to miscommunication and inexperience on our parts as much as anything else.

My book, Recipes for a Beautiful Life, was recently published. You would think that as the person who wrote the book I would be excellent at describing it, but I always have a hard time saying what it’s about! I think because I’m so close to it. Basically, it’s the nonfiction book I wrote while I was supposed to be writing fiction. I was under contract for a novel I’d proposed, and it just wouldn’t come. In the meantime every day, I would write in my journal or put a post up on a blog I had about the kids and making a life here, and finally, when it was clear that I had to put the novel aside (and by that I mean both my editor and I agreed it was unpublishable and I got depressed for three months), I started looking for something new to write and I could see that all of the energy and light and love I’d been trying to get into the novel was in these little vignettes I’d been writing about our day-to-day life. So I put them all together and made this book, which is really about trying to build a life that is connected to things you love, following your dreams and surviving when they get unruly, and how tricky and wonderful and soul-enriching that is. But it’s also about living near your family and trying to get along with them, and small, very funny children, who are also a handful, and not getting what you thought you wanted but finding something else. Or, as Redbook said when they included it in their “5 fabulous, even life-changing, new reads” in their April 2015 issue, “finding the magic in the mess.”

To be perfectly honest, one way I managed to write the book was that I have a really messy house. You can’t tell from the pictures because I cleaned up a bit, but if you moved the camera to the right in that picture of our magazine pages up on our magazine wall you would see stacks of papers and general detritus. So having clean space was one thing I really let go of. I was also lucky in that I had very close, good friends living nearby, as well as my sister.

But it was hard to be doing so many things, and when I look back, all I can say is that I wish I had spent a lot less time working on something I didn’t like. It was draining, and I missed my children when I was working on my novel and they missed me. It’s not that I think you shouldn’t work when you have small children, because that wouldn’t have been possible for me, but if it’s at all possible, enjoy the work you’re doing. Once I got to the book I wanted to be writing, things got much easier.

I just think the more you can take care of yourself and keep yourself in a place where you’re doing things you like, the more you’ll enjoy your children. Which is kind of the opposite of the way we’re trained to work: to make everyone else happy, and then take care of yourself.

Now whenever I look at a project, the first thing I ask myself is “How do I feel about it?” not “How much money will it bring in?” Because if I feel drained or unsupported at the thought of it, it might end up costing more than it’s worth. If that’s the case, I either say no, or try to find a role in the project for me that might be more fun. I’m a big fan of, “No to that, but what about yes to this?” I just think in general, that makes for a happier family.

I hope my children remember how much fun it was to be living in a house full of creative people – the musicians, artists, midwives, and teachers who came and went while they’ve lived here. I hope they remember the spontaneous meals we had with friends and neighbors, playing in the back yard and the creek. I hope they remember walking home from school and going to their aunt’s house for dinner every week, and climbing trees at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays. And I hope they remember laughing. I am sure they will also remember me getting mad at them for being on the computer when it’s a beautiful day outside, or standing over them saying, “Listen! I picked those sugar snap peas with my own hands, so eat them!”  But hopefully those memories won’t eclipse the other ones.

The thing that has surprised me most about being a mom is how amazing it is. And I use that in the fullest sense of the word. I am amazed at the love I feel for my children. How deep it is and how much it has split open my heart. I am amazed at how angry I can get at someone who is so much smaller than me. I am amazed at how much noise four people in one house can make. I am amazed at how much my anxiety level has increased now that I am responsible for them.

And I am amazed how grateful I am sometimes when we’re all in the same room and getting along and everyone is healthy and safe and the trees in the backyard are swaying gently as if to say, “See? We told you. Everything is fine.”

I was also surprised at what this has done to my writing/art. When I got pregnant with Liam I worried that as soon as I had children I’d become boring and never have anything to write again. But what really happened was they brought me closer to my own voice. People always told me how cute children are, but as soon as they started to talk I was surprised at how brilliant they are. All of them, not just mine. They’re just that much closer to spirit, I think, so they come up with funny, true things all the time, but they don’t have the harsh judgment adults often do. I just loved listening to them and talking to them and that started to inform my work.

I’ve written about this before, but I remember once I was working on a book review and was reading Charles Bukowski, and Dawson who was then three, came in and picked up “The Women,” and said, “Can you read this to me?” I said, “I don’t think you’d like it, it doesn’t have any pictures.” And he said, “Okay, I’ll read it to you, then.” And he opened the book and said, “Banana face, banana face, I got naughty songs in my head.” I don’t know if you’ve ever read Bukowski, but that summarizes most of his work. I didn’t even know what to say. I nearly called my editor to say, “Listen, you might want to hire my kid to write these, not me.”

So instead of limiting my art, I feel like they’ve expanded it. They’ve inspired a book and an Etsy shop full of playful creatures I don’t think I would have made if I wasn’t living with children, and I’m now working on a YA novel. In many ways I feel like being with them lifted a veil for me between my work and my heart.

Now that they’re nine and 11, I miss that connection to magical thinking I feel like they had when they were four and five. It was such an incredible thing to be around. I wish I hadn’t been so sleep-deprived. But I love the sweetness and humor and perspective they still bring to our family.

I wish someone had told me how to keep things simple. I recently saw a friend of mine who has a seven week old baby who hardly sleeps and she said, “You know, as long as I take care of the most important things: we’re all getting food, we’re all getting rest, we’re all drinking water, I’m okay.” And I thought, That is so reasonable. I’m sure people told me that, but I didn’t listen, I was too busy trying to work and make my own baby food and I don’t even know what else.

I also wish someone had told me that so many of the things I worry about  – Will we be all right? Do my children get enough nutrients? Did I scar them for life by screaming at them? – are just noise. Actually, people did tell me that, but I wish I’d been able to believe them.

But maybe that’s the point: we don’t listen to what people tell us when we’re in that stage because it’s so new and intense, and everyone is trying be good at it when it’s so hard to know what you’re doing. So I guess I wish I’d also known it was okay to feel all of it when it comes to having children – the joy and the love and the rage and heartache, the loneliness and the bliss. That you are going to love them and you are going to hurt them even when it’s the last thing you want to do, and you are going to wish you’d done better, and you are going to be so, so tired. But you can always, always come back to love and saying “I’m sorry.” Even after the worst fights. And you are going to find romance and beauty in your life in new ways you never imagined. And that most other mothers are feeling that way, and it isn’t easy, so just let’s just all give ourselves a break and stop trying to do everything alone.

And I also wish someone had said that it’s okay to feel sad, even if it’s sometimes for no apparent reason. We have all of this shame in our culture around sadness and struggle, and I keep thinking why? No life is untouched by grief or rage, and it’s our struggle, our darker feelings that help deepen our lighter feelings and make our lives more fully rich. I also think trying to avoid them just makes them darker and bigger, so you might as well just meet them and say, Okay. Here we are again. I’m so angry, or I’m just depressed, I don’t know why, I just am. That’s what kids are so great at doing. They feel everything, and then they have a good cry and get over it, and they wake up the next morning and say things like, “It’s a beautiful day outside! It’s just raining.”  I love that.


Thank you, Rebecca! This is pretty priceless advice: “When I look back, all I can say is that I wish I had spent a lot less time working on something I didn’t like. The more you can take care of yourself and keep yourself in a place where you’re doing things you like, the more you’ll enjoy your children. Which is kind of the opposite of the way we’re trained to work: to make everyone else happy, and then take care of yourself.” Game-changing, right?

And this on dark feelings that pop up in the night: “Trying to avoid them just makes them darker and bigger, so you might as well just meet them and say, Okay. Here we are again. I’m so angry, or I’m just depressed, I don’t know why, I just am.”

Oh, man! I could just continue to copy and paste all the goodness of Rebecca’s interview! I guess I’ll do what I’ve been doing since she sent it to me, though: read it one more time. If you’ve got a favorite part, tell me which one it is so I’m not alone at my Rebecca Barry Appreciation Society meeting!

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: Rachael Bailey Tue, 16 Jun 2015 16:00:18 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Rachael Bailey has the cutest kitchen table that would match my piano perfectly, and her canning jars remind me of my childhood, canning fruit in the kitchen with mom. Also, we all need a striped wall or two. And maybe a closet bed for a tiny one.

The mental list I made as I slotted photos in this tour and read Rachael’s words made me hopeful and more than a little grateful about these tours. I wonder if they’ve pushed you to make changes, big and little, in your own homes? I sure hope you can think of at least two things our homeowners have shared that are now on your own lists!

As for my ever-growing list, it may now include a cute chicken coop, too. And maybe five Gertrudes. Or at the very least, one small dragon reading on my couch! Welcome, Rachael!

There are a lot of us! My husband Neil is a talented whizzbang of a mechanical engineer finishing up the last year of his doctoral degree. I describe myself as a career mother, but I teach tech and business writing classes part-time at the university and run my own editorial consulting business on the side. I work when the children are asleep and spend my days building Lego rocket ships, snuggling up to read picture books, running through the woods, and experimenting in the kitchen.

We have two sweet girls: Abigail is nine and Juliet is seven. Then we have three adorable boys right in a row: Isaac is five, Luke is three, and Nathan is a keeps-us-all-on-our-toes two. Last but not least, we share our space with Hermes, our orange tabby cat, and ten friendly backyard hens (Yoda, Speckle, Apple, Gloria, Bok-Bok, and five Gertrudes!) As you may or may not have guessed, my children have named all of our animal friends.

We moved here just when the housing market was bottoming out and our area was absolutely flooded with foreclosures. We were lucky enough to both have parents and grandparents who had turned over to us sizable funds for our college educations that we’d never ended up using, thanks to scholarships, so we decided to put that money towards a down payment.

The home that we live in now is actually the very first one we looked at. Our realtor told us that it was way out of our price range, but was certainly the nicest one on the market, and she wanted to give us an idea of what a really lovely foreclosure could look like before she took us to look at all of the ones we could actually afford – and oh, they were awful! I remember crying as we left one listing that smelled like animal urine and had a random wall built through the living room so that if you turned on the ceiling fan it would collide with the wall, and I couldn’t help comparing it with the first dreamy listing we’d seen! Of course, that home had sold within days, but then our realtor called a week later to let us know that it was back on the market with a substantially lower asking price; apparently the bank was desperate to unload it. We finally made an offer that was far below the already-lowered asking price, and we got it! The whole process was so fast, and we moved in just three weeks after we’d begun looking at homes.

We live in north-central Indiana. Our proximity to Chicago allows us to spend weekends in amazing museums, but our community is the perfect mix of hip college town and down-to-earth farming community. I can hit an organic farmers’ market nearly any day of the week on my way home from taking my kids to the free ceramics classes funded by our local arts federation, and my kids are always going on field trips to the age-appropriate plays at the university. Our landscape was molded by glaciers, so there are beautiful wooded ravines in between the miles of rustling cornfields.

Every season here is more beautiful than the last, and the people here are amazing! It’s a wonderful mix of famously friendly Midwesterners who are incredibly committed to higher education. I really see this in our schools; my older children are in dedicated high-ability classes, which begin in second grade, and their teachers are really big into parental involvement, so it’s not uncommon for my kids to come home and talk about so-and-so’s mom who talked to the class today about what it’s like to be a structural engineer…which just happens to mesh perfectly with the giant igloo they’ve been building out of milk jugs in the corner of their classroom!

My husband jokes that he was sold on our home the moment he saw the giant garden tub in the master bathroom; he is 6’5″ and has lived with years of folding himself up to fit in bathtubs or crouching under shower heads! There were some pretty terrible decorating decisions in our home, but they were all superficial: outdated wallpaper borders, bizarrely bright wall colors, and hideous tile surrounding the kitchen sink, which I happily took a sledgehammer to ASAP, but the house had great bones for a builder-basic starter home!

I only had eyes for the brick fireplace, the soaring vaulted ceiling in the living room, the open floor plan, and all of the natural light. I loved the fact that we were able to look at our home when it was vacant so that I could actually see the shape of the rooms without someone else’s furniture and knickknacks overlaying my vision.

We’ve lived here for eight years now, and we’ve added four more children to our family – certainly not what we were expecting when we first bought it! But one thing that I have loved about this is that our changing family dynamic has helped me to be creative in how we use our home; I think about what we need rather than what the house is designed to do.

For instance, when we moved in the home had a formal carpeted dining room, quite a walk from the kitchen, which we never seemed to use with food-flinging toddlers. So I moved our dining table back to the eat-in kitchen and transformed the dining room into a library where we keep most of our children’s books, games, our computer, and a giant cosy couch. As a dining room, it sat neglected. As a library, we spend 99% of our time in this one room!

Similarly, what was once a spacious walk-in closet in my sons’ room now houses a baby crib and a happy little baby! In previous incarnations it held a built-to-fit toddler bed and was such a popular sleep spot that we had to rotate kids through on a weekly basis.

We have done so much work on our home that it’s hard for me to pinpoint my favorite spots, but my current favorite is probably the striped wall in my sons’ room. We affixed our DIY papier-mâché rhino to the wall and then I painted their bookcase and dresser my favorite shade of red to complement the navy stripes, then painted a piece of leftover lumber to mimic a cute sign I’d seen in Hobby Lobby for some artwork to hang above the bookcase!

I also smile whenever I pass the map of imaginary lands that hangs in our library and combines all of our favorite fantasy lands into one plausible whole. My children will probably grow up thinking that if you cross the mountains in Narnia you’ll wind up in Middle Earth, but that if you head south by way of Hogwarts you’ll strike the Hundred Acre Wood – and if you want to visit Treasure Island, just go left when you reach Neverland!

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression after my fifth baby was born, but it had been ongoing for several years. I’d been living in this limbo world where my husband had been in grad school for eight years and I felt so helpless to do anything to move us forward and on to real life. It was a very dark time for me; I cried myself to sleep most nights while my husband was at the lab working until 2:00 or 3:00 am. Having a new baby after a nightmarish delivery and being in a state where my medical team was specifically asking me about emotions and recommending that I see a therapist specializing in birth trauma made me feel safe enough to finally acknowledge that no, things were absolutely not okay with my mental state. For some reason, I felt like I finally had a socially acceptable reason to be depressed because postpartum depression is more normal than “I’m wearing myself out raising my kids and working part-time while my husband is in a seemingly unendingly graduate program!” Looking back on it, it makes me so sad that I felt this way.

What was most helpful for me was a low-level dose of Zoloft, for two main reasons. First, Zoloft gave me the mental clarity to distance myself from my emotions and got me to the point where I could look at a situation rationally and come up with a logical response rather than one driven by emotions and anxiety. I saw a therapist a few times, but I was not fortunate in finding a good fit. While I was on Zoloft, I was able to train myself to different response patterns that were much more healthy, and practice those when I felt like it was safe to wean myself off the antidepressants.

Secondly, anti-depressants helped me to retain the energy and enthusiasm that I’d had previously – it literally felt like going back in time. I woke up one morning after about a week on the medication and felt like I’d traveled back in time, and I thought, “This is ridiculous. There is always going to be something else that you could be looking forward to. Get over it and live the life now that you want to be living, and quit waiting for graduation!”

And so I spent the next year doing everything I’d been putting off until that nebulous graduation day: I repainted every wall in our house, all of the baseboards and trim, and all of the cabinetry! My long-suffering husband built me a beautiful chicken coop and I finally had the hens I’d been dreaming about for ages, and the kids and I spent one summer bringing Pinterest boards to life as we redid everyone’s rooms on a shoestring budget. And I ran a marathon two weeks before my fifth baby’s first birthday! I’d been running half-marathons for years but never thought I’d have time for a full until my kids were older. Thanks to lots of treadmill time after the kids were in bed and my husband was at his lab, I made it work!

I’ve been off medication for about six months now. The challenges and the stresses are still there, but I feel better equipped to deal with them after a year where I was able to look at things and say, okay, let’s take a step back and look at this logically, and figure out how we are going to get through it.

In a weird way, I’ve really come to appreciate the decorating favors that student life has brought me! If I see something for sale that I love, I immediately try to figure out how I can make it myself. I’ve realized that I enjoy the process of creation so much. It’s very therapeutic for me to create these types of things. For instance, I fell in love with those trendy papier-mâché animal heads, but knew the price point was out of the question. So my little son and I decided to try our hands at making one ourselves, and it was absolutely my favorite DIY ever!

I love looking around a room where all of the little touches that make it homey are principally the work of my hands: the quilts, the curtains, the pillows, the artwork. And I love the opportunity to experiment with different trends and techniques. If I try something and it doesn’t work with my aesthetic, I don’t feel bad about moving on because it wasn’t a significant investment. Case in point: One day I decided to paint our ancient red papasan chairs to see if I would hate them any less if they were gray…then blue! (I didn’t.) I’m also more gutsy because I feel safer in a more temporary stage of our lives, so I know that I’m not committing to the apple-green kitchen table for the next few decades!  Nothing we own is very expensive – lots of thrift stores or hand-me-downs from friends – so I don’t feel awful about reconfiguring, repainting, or reupholstering. I’ve been able to experiment so much and learn a lot along the way not just about different techniques, but also about what aesthetic I really love and find most soothing and functional in my home.

My husband has done quite a few larger and more permanent projects: fencing our backyard, building a swing set and pergola, digging a vegetable garden, and building that chicken coop! He has wired all of the bedrooms for ceiling lights, built custom shelves in all our closets and the garage, built our beautiful king-sized bed frame after I emailed him a photo of the Pottery Barn bed I loved, and tiled and dry walled until our grubby dark little kitchen became the airy and light space of my dreams. I suppose you could say that I get to do all of the fun and easy DIY projects like painting or sewing while he does all of the heavy lifting. Good thing he finds that sort of thing restorative!

I hope our kids remember the long lazy mornings that we’ve spent snuggled up in a giant pile of pillows on the library floor with the most enormous pile of books next to us when read to them until I’m hoarse, and then they run and get me some water and beg for more stories, and who could say no to that? Before we had children, we decided not to have a TV in our home. While it’s not for everyone, my husband and I feel that this is the single best parenting decision we’ve made, as it has shaped so much of our family culture.

Many of our best family moments are spent reading together; I am particularly fond of our wintertime fireplace nights, where we all gather around the fire in our pajamas and take turns reading aloud from classic novels. For a few blissful minutes it’s very Norman Rockwell-esque…at least until the baby takes off with someone’s lovey!

I hope they remember that as much as I’ve tried to make our home a peaceful refuge, sometimes I suddenly realize that we’ve been inside too much and I pack everyone up and drag them, moaning and complaining the whole way, to the woods, and within 30 seconds they’re running down the trails screaming with joy. Nature works magic that I can never replicate indoors.

I hope they remember that we are constantly creating and changing our home just as we should do with our very selves – that nothing is ever absolutely perfect forever, and that it’s always an upward climb. I want them to feel that change is not something to dread, but it’s something to embrace, because that’s when you really get to learn and experiment and grow, and it’s so much fun, even if there are moments where the sewing machine jams up! I hope that this attitude is something they can extrapolate to the entirety of their lives: change is good. Onwards and upwards!

And I certainly hope they don’t remember the way Nice Mommy turns into Monster Mommy when they are finally all tucked away for  the night and then the bedroom doors start opening up again! Yikes!

I love the slow pace of life with young children and how easy it is to meet their needs. It is an absolute delight to watch my children getting older and to see their personalities blossom and develop, but this also means that they are getting to the point where I can’t protect them from all of the hurtful and hard things out there in the world. I’m clinging to those slow-paced days much more fiercely than I used to; I know that all too soon there will be a time where I am not my daughters’ favorite confidante and friend, and where my sons will not kiss me twice on each cheek before they fall asleep at night.

I wish someone had told me that I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, but that I was a career mother, and that being a good mother takes a lot of planning, preparation, and hard work. When I had my first baby, I was 21 and had just finished my first year of graduate school. I didn’t have the remotest idea about what I was getting into; I just sort of thought I would instinctively know what to do! Ha! It took me a few years to realize that the same type of planning, research, and perseverance that were so necessary to me in academia were even more vital as a mother. I learned that if I wanted magical moments with my family, then I had to plan and create an opportunity for those moments to occur! (Making “bucket lists” as a family for each season is my favorite way to do this.)

I had a very difficult time adjusting to motherhood because I was so used to external validation – and you don’t get that from children! One day I just decided that if I was going to be a mother then I was going to be the best darn mother I could be, and that I was going to quit worrying about what people thought about my choices. For some reason, this was a huge paradigm shift for me and helped to resolve a lot of the worries I had about how I was choosing to spend my time, talents, and intellect.

This is a career. It’s the career I’ve chosen, and I am doing everything I can to excel in my career as a mother. (And I can take a nap if I want to, because I’m the boss!)


Oh, there’s a lot of good stuff in this one, isn’t there? From turning her dining room into a library (Page 134 in my book!) to approaching decor changes as a metaphor for life (Brilliant!), and the moment she stopped looking for external validation as a mother. Also, this: “Nature works magic that I can never replicate indoors.” So true. I see it whenever my kids are swinging from the trees!

Thank you for it all, Rachael!

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: Rachel Manley Tue, 09 Jun 2015 11:00:04 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There might already be a major change in the home we’re about to peek into today, if Rachel and Pete’s new baby has arrived! Newborn or not, there are still a lot of lovely additions to this home to inspire us, especially if we imagine this London space with its original brown carpet, magnolia walls, and dingy baseboards. (You’ll see the before of the kitchen, and I bet you’ll utter something along the lines of “Eek!”) Rachel and Pete have done so much to brighten it all up, and she has much to warn us about when tackling DIY while pregnant…and not particularly skilled in the first place!

She’s got a lot to share, and I hope you enjoy it all just as much as I did. Welcome, Rachel!

Hi! I’m Rachel, currently pregnant with my second child. I live with my partner, Pete, and two-and-a-half year old son, George, in the middle of the glorious melting pot that is Brixton, home to one of the best markets in London.

Pete teaches physics at a nearby secondary school, and I work with his sister on their Thai street food business, Bangwok. It means that I get to work from home doing all the paperwork, strategizing and organizing required to run a street food business. So much paperwork!

We really appreciate the impact that not having to commute or work long hours has had on our quality of life. It makes a huge difference! I’m also hoping it will help make the transition to two children easier, as those wonderful school holidays mean that Pete will be around lots.

George is our bright, inquisitive, loud toddler. His auntie recently pointed out that he does not stop talking, and now we really notice it! I don’t mind really, though. It’s kind of incredible to be able to have proper conversations with your child, isn’t it?

Since moving to London – we both went to Oxford University – Pete and I have always lived in Brixton. At first it was because it was affordable and had great transport links, which is very important in London. But over the past seven years, it’s really become home. It’s funny what you get used to; it’s so full of people, colour, and noise, but we don’t even notice it now.

Brixton has always been an edgy, culturally diverse place to live. But in the past three or four years, it’s undergone a real transformation. In an effort to regenerate an old part of the famous market, loads of new eateries have opened and it has quickly become one of the trendier places in London.

Thankfully, we started looking to buy just before everyone else had the same idea and prices shot up. The whole process was such an eye opener. I started off keen to live in one of the lovely Victorian houses in the centre of Brixton and I was all about period features, but we quickly realized just how much you pay for those extra touches. As Pete pointed out, we could put in our own fireplace or wooden floors and not pay the £50,000 extra it seemed to add to a house price!

Pete and I are real homebodies, so more than anything, it was important to find somewhere that we wanted to spend a lot of time and for that we were willing to compromise on location. In the end, we ended up buying just outside Brixton. The location and the fact that the flat was tired and needed a reasonable amount of work meant that we got it for a good price. Actually, being a little bit out of Brixton works perfectly for us as it’s quieter and we’re near a couple of great parks (which is so important with a little one), but we can still walk to Brixton in about ten minutes. I love that everything we need is only a walk away: parks, cafes, shops.

Another huge plus of our flat is space, which is something at a real premium in London. Again, because we’re on the edge of a desirable area, rather than in it, our money went further and we could afford somewhere bigger. I love that we have enough space to settle down. For a lot of our friends, they’ve chosen to buy slightly smaller places in nicer areas, but it means they’re already thinking about moving. As my parents live in Manchester, I wanted space for them to be able to visit, too, which has become even more important since George arrived.

We moved into our flat when I was six weeks pregnant and planned to redecorate the house before the baby was born. I was totally clueless about DIY and completely underestimated just how much work we needed to do and how long it would take. I’d gone into it thinking that it just needed some cosmetic work, maybe a bit of paint, but we ended up basically gutting the whole place and starting again. Every single room needed totally redecorating – it was all covered in disgusting brown carpet, the walls were magnolia, and the skirting boards were cream.

I think we could have gotten away with repainting everything and sorting out the floors and it would have looked nice, but actually, all the crazy things Pete did have made a major difference. I remember the morning after we moved in, Pete jumped out of bed at 7:00 am and starting knocking out where the fireplace had been covered up; this now houses our wood-burning stove.

He discovered a couple of other fireplaces that had been covered up, too, and a whole cupboard in George’s room that now houses a ton of baby stuff. Although George’s room is huge, as it’s in the basement it felt a bit dark and dingy when we moved in; there was a big beam and pillar in the middle of the room holding it up. Pete was determined to get rid of it to make the room brighter, and that entailed removing the floor of the room above to screw all the joists together, but now his room is so much brighter! The white floor helps, too.

For the first eight or so months before George was born, we essentially lived in a building site as we slowly redecorated each room. At any one time, there was usually at least one room absolutely full of tools and rubble. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived. Once he was born, things slowed down a bit and we slowly completed smaller jobs such as the hallway.

Then last summer we tackled the big job: the kitchen. We left it until last, as truthfully, I just couldn’t face it! I knew it would be amazing afterwards, but I also knew the process would be incredibly painful. It was a reasonable sized kitchen with a small dining room at the back that was cold and damp. We planned to knock it though into one big room and have big patio doors at the end. Of course, nothing is that simple, Pete essentially took the roof off the dining room and rebuilt it by himself. As I suspected, it was a LONG summer trying to entertain a toddler while Pete worked on the kitchen, but it really has made the biggest difference. We love it!

We absolutely love our flat now and there’s a barely a day that does by that we don’t talk about how great it is. But the process itself was AWFUL! Being pregnant and a total DIY novice, there was very little I could do and I found this really frustrating. For me, the biggest lesson I learned was that DIY always takes AT LEAST twice as long as you think it will, and and dust will get absolutely everywhere.

Something that helped us was to have deadlines, so I would say the spare room needs to be finished by the end of July because my parents are visiting, and that helped us actually finish rooms off. That and learning to manage my expectations! I soon realized that the flat wouldn’t be finished by the time George was born, so we prioritized and finished what we could. It was depressing, because now we had a baby; DIY was the last thing on our mind, but we slowly got there!

I’m pretty fanatical about keeping things tidy. (Not clean, mind you! That’s why we have a cleaner!) I hate clutter, so we don’t really have any trinkets or knick knacks on display. But I do like to add personality by hanging things on the wall. In our living room growing up, all the walls were completely covered in photos and although I haven’t gone that mad, yet, I do like to hang photos.

I try to keep things as minimal as possible, but that’s not so easy with a kid and a partner who has a lot of hobbies and tools. We’re lucky to have a decent amount of storage so that the things we don’t use that often, like old baby clothes and camping gear, can be hidden away. You can’t beat Ikea for storage ideas and solutions; I basically know their catalogue inside-out!

In terms of style, decorating this flat had probably been the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to even explore what that means and I found Pinterest so helpful for collecting ideas. Before that, we always rented and didn’t have much choice over furniture or decorations.  As we pretty much gutted the whole house, we tried to get each room finished to a basic standard before moving onto the next one. We’ve kept it all very neutral and have slowly added personality over the past few years as we’ve lived here, which has actually worked really well.

For example, George’s room is huge and one of the last rooms we finished before he was born. In fact, we added the skirting boards when I was overdue! It always felt a bit bare and cold to me and we never spent that much time in there. But as he’s gotten older, we’ve slowly added more furniture as he’s needed it – to house all his toys! – and it now feels really cosy and is somewhere he loves to play.

We bought most of our furniture either second-hand or from Ikea, so as a result, we’re not too precious about any of it, which is kind of necessary with children! While we teach George to respect his home and the things in it, it wasn’t the end of the world when he drew all over the table when he was littler.

We’re also fairly relaxed in terms of baby-proofing, which I think is much more of an American thing anyway, and our home is somewhere he can roam with freedom. When he was smaller, we had baby gates to stop him climbing the stairs, but at two-and-a-half, there’s nowhere that’s really off limits to him.

In terms of toys and kids stuff, I try to keep most of them in his room. We have some boxes under the sofa in the living room with some games and puzzles, and his bath toys are all in a box that fits under the sink unit. I like that that he can access his toys when he needs them, but I can tidy them away when they’re not in use!

Even though I studied chemistry at university, I’ve always known I wanted to work in the food business. I started the food blog What Rachel Ate about six years ago and when I got a job on the BBC Food website, I discovered I also loved SEO, analytics, and creating great digital content.

When I left the BBC to work at BangWok, I knew I wanted to keep a foot in the digital world and I’d been thinking about creating a lifestyle blog for a while. I’d always been a voracious reader of blogs and I felt like I had something unique to add. There was a real gap, especially in the UK, for a lifestyle blog for women in their 30s that covered the things they were actually interested in – parenting, TV, make up, work – all in an accessible way.

I knew I wanted the blog to be professional. Even though it wasn’t going to make money straight away, I wanted to treat it in the same way. I also knew the effort involved, so I asked a couple of friends to write the blog with me. Working together has been a really positive experience as we all bring different skills to the table.

We’ve only been writing it for about six months and while it’s still really hard – even with three people – it’s been so rewarding to see which posts people really engage with. Switching from writing about food to more personal posts hasn’t been easy, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge.

When I wonder what my children will remember about me and this home, I think of my own mum. My memories flood with the fact that she is a fantastic cook and one of the warmest people I know – she’s always trying to feed people! I hope that my children remember some of that about our home. I want it be full of warmth, love, and lots of good food! As we don’t have to commute, we always have a proper sit down breakfast together in the morning and it’s one of my favourite times of the day – so relaxed and everyone’s usually in a good mood.

This year we also hosted Christmas for the first time. The flat was absolutely full of family and little kids and it was crazy, but so fun. It was so cool to think that we were starting to create our own family traditions.

My family live in Manchester and we’ve always said that we’d move north eventually to buy a mansion as houses are so much cheaper! But for the moment, we’re really happy where we are. We always joke that we could fit about four kids into George’s room, so space isn’t an issue!

As for becoming a mum myself, I got pregnant easily and had a very straightforward pregnancy, so I think I expected to find being a mother easy, too. I dutifully read various parenting books and thought I was well prepared. Ha! What a shock those first few months were. They were probably the most difficult of my life, and something you could never prepare yourself for. I felt like I was totally floundering.

Once I started getting some sleep and went back to work, things really changed and I enjoyed him so much more. I think getting back some of my sense of self really helped. What really surprises me now is how much I love him and how powerful that feeling is. Sure he can still drive me mad, but I always look forward to picking him up after a day at work. It’s such a cliche, but I think he’s so bright, funny, and beautiful. I really wanted a baby, but I didn’t expect to enjoy having a toddler so much. This is definitely my favorite stage so far and I can’t wait to have two of them; I know it’s it’s going to be crazy, but in a few years time they’re going to have so much fun together.

I wish someone had told me to relax! I caused myself so much unnecessary stress and anxiety in the beginning worrying about why George was feeding so often or not sleeping more and trying desperately to find patterns in his behavior.

I wish I’d seen this piece of advice on A Cup of Jo:  A very useful phrase to repeat whenever you start to ask why your baby is doing something confusing and unpredictable: Babies be babies.

Now that a few more of my friends have had babies, it’s so obvious how different all babies are! Some will follow a routine and sleep well straight away, and others, like George, won’t. I’m hoping I’ll be a bit more relaxed this time and enjoy those newborn snuggles a bit more instead of worrying about forming bad habits.


Babies be babies! It’s true! That hilarious quote goes on a bit more: “Your spouse is not the enemy. The baby is the enemy.” I’m still giggling at that. Thank you, Rachel, for all this goodness. And, truthfully I’m finally recognizing you as the Rachel from What Rachel Ate; I’ve loved more than a few of your recipes over the years! I’m excited to check out your newest endeavor, Everyday 30.

One thing Rachel mentioned – and truly, it was a tiny, tiny sentence! – is how she’s fanatical about keeping things tidy, but not so much into cleaning and has someone in to tackle that job for her. I’m wondering about your thoughts on hiring outside help for the inside; does it make you feel guilty or relieved? I’m hoping your answer is relieved! If you’re doing it yourself (and maybe complaining about it!) what’s holding you back?

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: Elizabeth Overcash Tue, 02 Jun 2015 15:00:05 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

What if you and your family were asked to move every two years? Just pack up your life and head to another home that was chosen for you without even a consideration that the tiny master bedroom might not fit your king bedroom set or that perhaps you wanted a bigger kitchen with an island? Some people would wholeheartedly love the adventure of it all, while others might politely respond, “No, thank you. I’m just fine right here.”

It’s a crazy thought, isn’t it? Because what if you fall madly in love with your faraway location and home and all the friends you’ve turned into family, only to face the fact that you’ll be leaving everything you adore in two short years? It’s not an option to stay, certainly not for Liz’s family who is following the career path of a Naval Flight Officer. So what do you do? How do you turn a temporary situation into a pretend permanent one, and then hope your kids are able to do the same? Luckily, Liz is here to share her experience and her family’s temporary home in Japan with us. It sure looks permanent! Welcome, Liz!

Hello, everyone! I’m Liz. We are a family of five but only four of us live here;  our oldest, Adan, flew from our nest almost two years ago. Dave, my husband, is a Naval Officer, and I am a stay at home mother. Dave was a Naval Flight Officer when we met and I was a single mother of a sweet little boy working as a Chiropractic assistant. He lived on the East Coast and I lived on the West. God decided we needed a major change in our lives, so he brought us together at a Naval Aviation convention in Reno and two years later Dave asked both my son and me if we would marry him. I said yes with tears streaming down and legs of jello, and my little boy said yes with a huge smile and a couple of missing teeth.

Our new family began when my father and Adan, who was seven at the time, both walked me down the aisle.  In the twelve years that we’ve been married, we have had two more children, added a pup to our lives, moved every two years serving our country, lived overseas twice (three, if you count Hawaii. Because Hawaii felt like we were living overseas), and have lived in seven different homes. In a few months, we will be moving to our next location and our next home once again. We are going back to the United States.

Adan is our first and oldest at nineteen. He moved to Pittsburgh after high school to go to college and to work. He is not the little boy I speak about above as he is a young man now, but in my heart he remains that little boy. He is a natural musician and writer and loves reading. He self taught himself guitar as a young boy and can write a song beautifully in no time, strum his fingers and sing to you, and I promise you will have tears in your eyes. He has melted my heart that way many times and he probably used it to his advantage when he was a teen and wanted something from me! He knows his mother quite well. Dave and I are looking forward to seeing what he will do one day as the world is wide and open to him right now with so many possibilities.

Everett is our six year old. He started kindergarten last year and I tell everyone who asks how he is doing that he is still in the honeymoon phase of school. He wakes up excited for school and has the biggest smile when I pick him up every s-i-n-g-l-e day. He is oh so very sensitive and caring. He dislikes seeing others hurt in any way and picks up on peoples feelings very easily. He claims to be part Japanese as he has come to love this country of Japan, and says he never wants to leave. He loves books, books, books, and anything to do with dinosaurs, maps, space, how the world works, nature, and trains.

After living with three males and pregnant, I was content knowing I could have another boy. I LOVE boys and always felt like I was a Boy-Mom. All my children’s’ sexes were surprises to the very end, so when my midwife told me “take your baby” and I saw that I had a baby girl, I melted and cried, melted and cried. Alexandra is four years old and her nickname is “Cookie.” I named her after a movie I saw when I was ten years old that impacted me deeply, about a little girl who was strong, courageous, bold, loved deeply, wore dresses and jeans, got muddy and dirty, loved her father and mother, and had an understanding of life beyond her tender years.

I told myself at ten years old that if I ever had a daughter, I wanted a daughter like that and I would name her Alex. And I now have my Alex with those same character traits. She is the baby of the family and her father and two older brothers love and protect her deeply. She loves baby dolls, the color pink, her dollhouse, and baking with mom but also loves splashing in puddles with her rain boots on, matchbox cars, trains, running with the boys and books, books, books.

When Dave arrived in Japan a few months before us, he was assigned a townhouse on a base 30 minutes from where he would be stationed. We have no choice but to take what is offered and so we make the best of what we get. It can be different every time we move and it is always different overseas. In Hawaii, we were assigned our first ever huge single family home overlooking Pearl Harbor with a wonderful Lanai and plenty of room. But then in Rhode Island, we were assigned a teeny tiny home where we were bumping elbows and couldn’t fit any furniture in right. You just never know what you’re going to get. For our next move to the US, we will be moving into a townhouse we bought ten years ago. We only lived in it for a year before we were stationed in South Korea. We’ve been renting it ever since, so it will be nice to see it again and work on it a bit for the couple of years we are there.

We are on a Navy base that houses about 3,400 Americans ,and our base is located in the small Japanese city of Zushi. Zushi is a city with a population of about 59,000 residents, and the name Zushi actually means street, alley, or intersection. Zushi is known for its beaches, marina, and for the summer events that take place here. It is about an hour train ride south of Tokyo.

It may sound very touristy but it is not – except for the summer time, and even then it doesn’t compare to other places – and we find the city calming as we are surrounded by both beaches and forest. We love the area we are in because everything is convenient when it comes to our children. Our son’s school is right behind our home so it takes us no time to get there, and our kids have so many little friends to play with at the tiny park right next door to our house.

The beach is a five minute train ride from our home and then a 15 minute walk. We have local markets if you choose to do your shopping that way instead of at the commissary on main base.  A five minute train ride takes you into the downtown area with restaurants and small town shopping. We have neighbors who are all in the same boat we are in. We understand each other, we get what this kind of life means. It can feel like a small town America but if that becomes too close for comfort, you can get away for a while. We always prefer to be immersed in the culture. You just learn more that way and you realize quickly that the world is ever so huge and that not everything is about you. We are just one sliver among so many people.

We always try to make our temporary housing feel permanent. You quickly learn to be very creative and to not be so picky about things! This isn’t always the case, of course, because when you realize you have limited storage space and have to figure out how to make 35 things fit into an area that only holds 20, or you realize that your laundry will be staring at you often while you eat your meals because it will be sharing the same space as your kitchen, then you can become a bit out of sorts – initially, anyway, and with occasional frustrating moments that make you ask “Really?”

As soon as we know where we will be stationed, we try to get as much information about the possible housing situation and then Dave and I decide what to take or not take with us. We always take our basics like beds, a dresser, some living room furniture, small end tables because those always come in handy, very few kitchen items, and if we think we can fit a bookcase we bring it. We love books and we like a piece to hold the things that are special to us. Everything we do not bring with us, the Navy stores for us.

Items that we never leave behind are our family photo bins from before we went digital. And we always bring our framed photos to hang on our walls, even if they’re small walls. We also bring our books because I love collecting books and I’m a voracious reader. Dave loves reading, too, but two moves ago we realized we couldn’t bring them all with us anymore so we bring only what we want to read again, think we will reference again, or the ones that are special to us. I always claim I’d rather have more books than shoes. And I mean it.

I make our assigned house a home quite quickly. I love being organized but not obsessive about it and getting it done quickly. I love knowing that I can start living and getting our kids settled and with clutter around and boxes staring at you, it just doesn’t make you feel very settled. That is so important to both of us.

So while he is at work, I am busily cleaning, sorting, figuring it all out, and he’s used to coming home and seeing that a lot has been accomplished. I always begin with the kids’ bedrooms and making sure they have a cozy place to sleep. The kitchen is also a priority.

The kids, of course, want to peek into boxes and ask to open certain ones, so that can become more work – but that’s okay. Some of these things they may not have seen in a very long time as we receive new things we have had in storage. It can be like Christmas! There are still some things in storage that we have yet to use from when we got married. I know it sounds crazy, but hey, we have a crazy life sometimes. It really is a team effort with Dave helping when he gets home from work and on the weekends when we are both together. I can say that we have most everything done in about a month, give or take. Most people are surprised by how fast we set things up, but we feel much better about getting it done and getting the real living started.

We also buy lots of plants, and plant a little garden. Here, we made our own little Japanese garden in the area that is part of our porch. It is not a large space, but it suits us just fine. It’s lovely to look at and peaceful.

I grew up in a military community and surrounded by aviation, so no one was too surprised when I married a Naval Flight Officer. When I became a spouse, I already had a love and pride for what my husband was doing, and so becoming his wife meant that I could now take care of someone who deeply loves and takes care of our country…and that meant the world to me. As his wife, I feel like I am also serving along with him.

The best part for us about living overseas has been watching our children live in these wonderful countries we have been exposed to and fortunate enough to be part of. Something that touched Dave and I deeply was when our oldest son told us he was writing his University entrance exam on how living in Korea as a young teen helped form him and truly impacted him as a person. Watching our two youngest understand more and more about Japan and immersing themselves through learned words, phrases, and songs, and seeing them bow and greet Japanese citizens on the streets on their own is special. Their experiences have been our joy.  And for us as a whole family, it is exploring, trying new things, new foods, new places, and doing our best to learn about the culture.

We love the safety of living here. We feel comfortable walking late at night, never having to look behind us, never worried about having anything stolen, and our children are safe to run and play without fear of anyone having ill intentions. Japan is a very safe and respectful country, and the feeling is throughout all of Japan. We love the cleanliness, the order, and how everything runs on time here.  And we love the trains, watching our kids ride them, and how convenient they are.

The worst part is being away from family and our oldest son. Adan started his first year of college the same year we moved overseas. That certainly was not what we had ever imagined or expected. We wish we could take a drive and visit with him for a weekend and hug him to pieces, but we cannot. We wish we could comfort those who need us in person and not by phone. FaceTime is nice, but hugging grandparents face to face is better. We feel sad about the family time the kids miss out on with extended family members. And sometimes, we just miss what we consider normal like taking an easy exit, not getting so darn lost at times, reading signs you can understand, driving on the side of the road that my brain is used to, and satisfying a craving that you can easily get in the States. What we have found most rewarding about living overseas is that it has taught us to become more focused on what is important like our marriage, our children, serving others, and leading a more simple life. We already learned years ago to limit ourselves on material things because of our frequent moves and so we have learned to simplify life more. This just opens up more time for other things. It is also rewarding to reconfirm over time that this is one of our callings in life.

I’m the queen for having to be pushed out the door by my sweet husband to go do something for myself that actually involves leaving the house where my children cannot see me or hear me! If I could pick a few things I enjoy for myself, one would be going out to have coffee with a friend. There’s something about coffee and conversation that just go so well together, and I love it.

I’m a runner, so if I can get a run in by myself, that is great, but usually I am a morning runner with my daughter as I push her in the jogger and I love this, too. Alex can thumb through her books during a long run and be content, so she makes running easy for me. Running is an escape and a fresh beginning to my day.  I feel strong and invigorated for whatever I have to tackle and even though I have Alex with me, it is me time because I’m doing something I love and bettering myself. After the kids and my husband are in bed during the weekdays, I am always reading a novel, writing, working on my photography, researching, working on children’s literature, and even though it sounds like work and it is, it is enjoyable for me because I am passionate about what I do. This may not sound like a lot of me time, but I’m easily satisfied with small and simple things.

I hope our kids remember that we made this home as cozy and warm as we could for them, and that we all really loved this little townhouse. We all seem to fit so well in it. I want them to remember how much they were loved, hugged, and kissed to pieces all the time. I want them to remember how much we talked to them about their feelings and that we always stopped to listen. I hope they remember that even though Dad had a busy job, that he called every day to check in with us. I want them to remember the fun we had talking, reading books together on the bed or the living room, and setting up trains or playing with the dollhouse in the living room. I want them to remember how much they enjoyed turning our dining room table into their art, writing, craft, and painting table, and how Dad and I never cared but encouraged it. I want them to remember the knocks or door bell rings at our front door and seeing their little neighborhood friends peeking through the side window to see if they could play. I want them to remember our occasional Saturday pajama morning till early afternoon days hanging out in the living room because it was just nice to wake up to Dad being home and not going to work. I want them to remember all the times we spent with books scattered and piled around us for the last couple of years and reading them together. I want them to remember all the times we danced in the living room with them to fun music and acted silly. I want them to remember that we taught them less is more and that living a more simple life here in our home has always proven to be better. And the last thing I want is for them to remember that the reason they lived in Japan was because their Dad was serving his country.

I wish they could conveniently forget how it hurts to leave a place that they have come to love so much and say goodbye to their little friends. The feelings that come along with transition and starting over again and getting into a new routine can be hard on little ones. It really depends on each child. So if this is the case for one of my little ones, I hope they conveniently forget this part, too.

My favorite part about being a mom is watching them grow and learn. Seeing them smile or laugh about something, watching them learn something for the first time, and seeing them experience different things from good and not so good is inspiring in many ways because it teaches me to stop and pay attention to what really matters. And of course hugging, kissing, and loving on them even when they are 19 years old!

And the one thing that has surprised me most about being a mother is how scary it can be even after 19 years of being one, to love these children to no end and know that life can deliver hardship to them without any warning and that all you can do is pray for unwavering Faith that all will work out well for them, and hang on tight.

I wish someone had told me to be okay with the mother that I am. To understand that there are different seasons to mothering and that we all choose different paths and different ways to parent. And that your season will change with time and that it may not be exactly as you imagined, but that it does change. Being okay to say no when everyone else is saying yes and to understand that your children may not be ready for what other children the same age are doing is a weight off a parent’s shoulders. Accepting that my family is fine just the way it is becomes a peaceful thought.

Also, I wish someone had somehow prepared me for them growing older and leaving home. It hurts like crazy and turns you upside down. Because as much as you want them to begin their new life, you also wish you could have them little all over again. To pray with persistent faith and patience. And learning to let go little by little, with an understanding that their purpose has already been written, releases many fears and anxieties and let’s you breathe a little easier. And that their failures and setbacks are needed because they are also what can turn into their eventual successes.

What is this life really like for me? This is what it is like: It is pride and humility. It is happiness and hardship. It is receiving what others sometimes wish for and sometimes wishing you had what others have. It is an adventure and it can feel lonely. It is making new friendships and then leaving them behind. It is making a home happily and then taking it down often. It is your children smiling and saying that they love it one day, and then crying and claiming that they don’t the next. It is eating dinners with your husband home and eating many dinners without him. It is being far away from family and then buying a ticket to go back home. It is hard and it is easy. It is laughter and it is tears. It is loving your temporary home or not, and wondering when you will live in your very own.

It is jumping in with all abandon but then having to hold on tight at times. It is setting your goals aside for a while during the time that you follow his, and then trying to start them again when you get to your new place or not. It is feeling normal and then something occurs that you cannot explain to others who aren’t in your shoes, and you realize that this Navy life is its own world within a world. It is figuring out many things with your husband and having to figure out a lot on your own. It is always trying to figure out how to make life seem as normal as you possibly can for your children. It is a lot of trial and error, wins and losses.

Perhaps this sounds like your life? I wonder. A lot of people ask if I’d change anything about my life, or even wish for a different one. No, not ever. Being a Navy wife has made me love my husband more and vice versa, and it’s made me resilient and toughened me in ways that only this life could have done for me. It has given me a wide-open view of the world and people unlike myself. It has taught me to face fears and take risks that can only make you grow in life and not stay stagnant. And I wish to continue growing and learning.

John Paul Jones, a Naval hero during the Revolutionary War, is famous for many quotes, but this is one that has been spoken in our home on many occasions, “He who does not risk, cannot win.” Even when it is hard, I really choose to win at this.


I know that moves are really difficult, especially for kids, so please know we’re all sending our positive thoughts to you in Japan, Liz, as you embark on your next adventure! Thank you so much for sharing your patriotism and unique way of living with your own kids with all of us. It was a true learning experience with lots of good reminders.

I loved how Liz described her life. Equal parts wonderful and difficult. A constant push pull. And just when you get the hang of life in one spot, you’re off to another. Does this sound like your life? Or does it sound like something that would give you a heart attack? Ha! I would love to hear which camp you’re in!

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

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Living With Kids: Senna North Wed, 27 May 2015 15:30:57 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This is such a fabulous story. Even if you only look at the pictures, Senna’s home is a true and beautiful reflection of what it’s like to live with kids. I couldn’t stop smiling at all the little details in the North home that scream happiness and togetherness. (Of special note is her son’s bedroom at the moment, devoid of furniture except for his bed because the kid is a climber! Anyone empathize?!)

But if you live for these interviews, this one is overflowing with hows and whys and different ways of looking at this parenting/working balance we all crave. Plus, there are lovely adoption experiences, a dad who works it into his schedule to spend one weekday with the kids, and oh, did Senna’s beginning tug at my heart! I said it once, but it deserves another mention: This is such a fabulous story. I really hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Welcome, Senna!

Hello, everyone! We are Senna, Eric, Iliana (Illy), and Evan. Eric and I are family physicians and own our own clinic. Illy is six and just finishing kindergarten, and Evan is three and will be starting preschool next year.

I’ll start with Evan because even though he is the littlest, I’d say he has the most exuberant and loudest personality of all of us! He is definitely three. “I want to do it myself!” is a common phrase around here. When we go to a coffee shop, he always ends up charming someone with his smiles and laugh. He really works a room! Ever since we can remember, he has loved music. He plays the drums with anything and everything – anything that remotely resembles a drum and drumsticks turns any moment into a mini concert. And he’s pretty good. Just very loud. He has a little guitar that he plays every day and sings at the top of his lungs. He makes up funny songs about being put in time out and wearing his underwear on his head.

Illy is such a girly girl. She loves anything that is sparkly, pink, kittens, or stickers. She also isn’t afraid to get dirty or play with the boys. At the end of the day, she usually has dirt or glitter all over her sparkly dress and her hair is a mess, with a big grin on her face. She is truly kindhearted. I used to think she was going to be really shy, but she is just cautious and careful. She didn’t walk on her own without holding onto our hands until she was 17 months, but one day Grandma caught her practicing walking in her pack and play when she thought no one was watching. She had been holding out on us! Once she feels confident at something, nothing can stop her. She is always doing a craft. I check on her sometimes at night and she is out of bed, cutting up paper and taping it together into a treasure box or some other creation. She has her artwork taped all over her walls.

Eric is one of the most genuine men that I know. He truly cares about other people and works hard to have deep, meaningful relationships. He takes on a lot of the household work and tries to balance work and family and relationships. He is selfless in so many ways. I fell in love with him because he is such a good listener. When you’re talking to him, you feel like you are the most important person in the world at that moment.

I am very introverted, but also value relationships. I was raised by a single mother. She worked hard, but we really didn’t have a lot. We lived in pretty rundown rental houses. Even as a child, I tried to decorate, paint, and make things pretty. I dreamed of living in my own home someday with the freedom to make the space the way I wanted it. I even remember designing rooms and houses when I was very young. Of course, my designs included indoor slides and swing sets, too! I also dreamed of being a doctor. Even at the age of 11, I knew that was how I wanted to help people. It’s amazing to me now that I never doubted that I could achieve this dream, even with no way to afford college, let alone medical school.

Eric and I met in college at a ballroom dance. We were both such nerds! I was taking a swing dance class. He taught me to waltz and we ended up talking more than dancing. We both wanted to be doctors, and saw this as a calling and not just a career. I left the dance early and he didn’t know who I was – just my first name! He spent several weeks trying to track me down. Long story short, he eventually did find me, and we slowly became best friends. Then one day I realized that he was the one person that I wanted to do life with. I think he always had a crush on me, but I was a little slower to fall in love.

I always knew I wanted children and was told by so many how hard it is to be a doctor and a mother. It seems to me that the balance between work and home is somehow harder on women. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard myself saying to Eric, “I wish I could just quit medicine and be a stay-at-home mom.” But then I think about my patients and my relationships with them that are so valuable. I make a difference in their lives.

Sometimes I feel like I’m short-changing my patients or my kids, but over the years I’ve been learning that it’s important to live my dreams. This world needs people who are living their dreams. My dreams were to be a doctor and a mother. It truly is an amazing thing that I can show my kids what it looks like to pursue your dreams, especially as a woman. For me, the right balance is working two days a week. I will always feel the pull to be home more, but I think it’s worth it in the end. My daughter and son know that they can be or do anything they want in this life. There are no limits on them.

Eric and I did medical school and residency together. He was accepted to medical school a year ahead of me. It was a miracle that I was accepted to the same school the following year. Then we got married after my first year. I can’t believe that I planned a wedding during my first year of med school! We were on a very tight budget and paid for the wedding ourselves. Eric took a year off of medical school our first year of marriage so we could do the rest of our training together. He worked at a boring office job and cooked and cleaned and was such a support to me. We joke that that year as a house husband got him trained good.

We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. Medical school and residency was hard, and I’m so grateful that we got to do it together. Often spouses have a hard time understanding just how difficult medical training can be. There is a high divorce rate during medical training. Since we were both in it together, we were able to have a lot of grace for each other and learned how to encourage each other.

We waited until we finished our family medicine residency before starting a family. We had done natural family planning and it seemed like it would be so easy to get pregnant once we started trying. Well, it didn’t happen. We did testing and everything was normal. We considered IVF, but for us it seemed like there were so many children in this world already here who needed a home, so we decided to look into adoption.

Now, I have always admired people who adopted, but never thought that I would do that. It seemed like such a huge responsibility to be entrusted with someone else’s child. Like there would be no room for making a mistake! But over the years, God changed my heart. Until one day I thought, if I had the choice to either become pregnant or adopt, I truly wouldn’t be able to make the choice.

I realized that my dream was to have children – not be pregnant. Shortly after that aha moment, we got a phone call from the adoption agency that a birth mom was interested in meeting us. She was 36 weeks along. Eric and I were so excited that we actually jumped up and down on our couch and…um…broke it!

We met Iliana’s birth mom only one time before Iliana was born. It was a magical and humbling moment when our little girl was placed in my arms by her birth mom, who loved her so much. We brought her home from the hospital the day after she was born. Our adoption with Iliana is an open adoption, but Iliana’s birth mom has decided to not meet her again at this point. We send letters and pictures through the adoption agency.

Evan’s adoption was different. We found out about him through friends of ours in Oklahoma. Our friend, an OB/GYN, had a patient who wanted to place her baby for adoption. She was due in about a month. We talked with her several times on the phone and emailed back and forth. Eric, Illy, and I flew out to Oklahoma just in time for her induction. We met her in the hospital for the first time and fell in love with her. Her love for her baby was so evident and we knew this was the hardest thing she would ever have to do.

The agency that we had used for Iliana’s adoption didn’t do adoptions across state lines, so we had to go through lawyers. The difference was night and day for us. We had such trouble getting the lawyers to communicate with us and felt that there was very little support for the birth mom through the process. We brought Evan home from the hospital after two days and were able to stay with friends in Oklahoma. We didn’t know when we would be allowed to fly home with him to Oregon. It was a waiting game until all the paperwork was finalized and because two states had to sign off on everything. After a week, Eric and Iliana had to fly home while Evan and I stayed in Oklahoma indefinitely. That was probably one of the hardest times for me. I missed Iliana a lot, I was exhausted and frustrated. I’m just so grateful that I had friends to stay with; some families live in hotel rooms during this process. Amazingly, we finally heard that the adoption was approved and I was able to take him home after ten more days. I actually made it back just in time for a baby shower that was planned for that day! Evan’s adoption is also an open adoption. I post pictures of Evan on Facebook and give his birth mom updates. She would like to see him again someday when he is older. She is an amazing and strong woman.

Both kids love to hear their birth stories and all about their adoptions. They take it all in stride at this point. I think it’s so interesting that Illy will have memories of Evan’s adoption story. She has the experience of both being adopted and being part of the process of adopting Evan.

We live in our dream town. It has a population of about 9,000. It has a little movie theater with cheap popcorn, old buildings, a creek, a park, a summer farmer’s market, a few grocery stores and cute little shops. But it’s also close to a city of 250,000, which is about a 20 to 30 minute drive through gorgeous farmland. It’s about an hour from Portland and the international airport. We get to have all the fun of a quaint small town with the convenience of bigger cities close by.

We still can’t get over what a close community it is. They have a pet parade where everyone can bring their pets! We parade through the streets with our cats, dogs, horses, mice – you name it! There are probably about five different festivals or parades throughout the year, and they are a big deal! People know each other. I can’t go to the grocery store without running into a friend or patient. I know that not everyone would appreciate that, but we love it. The people are a great mix of hard-working farmers and artists, young families, and retired people.

Eric and I were finishing our family medicine residency program in Oklahoma and flew back to Oregon one weekend for a wedding. In one day, we looked at 17 homes. None were quite right. I wanted an older home to fix up, and Eric (who is practical and knew that we would never have time for that) wanted a newer home. The next day, our realtor showed us a home that wasn’t on the market yet. It was perfect! It was newer, but had tons of character. I really fell in love with the house, though, because the owners at the time had kids and there were signs of life everywhere! Toys, bright colors, lots of bedrooms, little nooks and crannies. It was the perfect family home and I could almost hear the little feet running around!

We made a few cosmetic changes. I painted almost every room upstairs. In the last couple of years, we had the kitchen cabinets painted and subway tile backsplash put up and quartz countertops. I had been drooling over white kitchens on Pinterest for years! We decided to keep the white appliances because they work and we’ll replace them as needed.

We’ve talked about moving when things feel cramped and there doesn’t seem to be enough storage, but I really love this house! I also think that it’s human nature to always want bigger and more, and I try to resist that impulse. So for right now, we just try to not hold on to too much. I’m very good at purging.

One thing that wasn’t even on our radar when we bought the house is that it’s in such a safe neighborhood. It’s away from any major roads and we are surrounded by a great mix of young families and retired grandmas and grandpas.

My mom lived about an hour away at that time and would drive down to watch the kids on Fridays while I worked and she would stay with us for the weekend. When we finally persuaded her to move into town, we were able to rearrange our schedules so that she watched the kids one day a week on Tuesdays (the one day that Eric and are both in the office) and Eric stays home one day a week on Thursdays. I’m with them the other three. I am so grateful that they get to spend their days with different people who love them and have unique things to offer and teach them. We all have our different strengths and the kids benefit from that. My mom does a lot of crafts with them and cooking. Eric takes them out a lot to the park and to the zoo.

As the kids have grown and their needs change, I have continued to adjust my work so that things feel balanced. I used to take care of my patients in the hospital and assist on surgeries. After Iliana was a little over a year old, I saw that this was taking too much time away from her and it was stressful to juggle childcare on the days I was supposed to be home, but instead got called to the hospital. So I stepped down from those duties. I continued to deliver babies and do newborn care in the hospital until Evan was born. Then I phased out that as well when he was about six months. It was too exhausting to be up all night with a delivery and then not be alert the next day while caring for the kids. It was difficult to admit that I couldn’t do it all, but it was the right thing to do.

Right now, Eric and I wake up around 6 or 6:30. We like to have some alone time before starting our day, since we’re both introverts. Then we get ready and get the kids up at 7:15 or so. Breakfast is usually cereal or oatmeal, and Eric always makes a Vitamix smoothie. At least the kids get veggies once a day! Whoever is working that day drives Illy to school. We drop her off and then head to the office. We start seeing patients at 8:30. Our workdays are sometimes long. If it’s a slow day, I get home around 6 or 6:30. If it’s a busy day, it could be 7:30 or later. On the days I work, either my mom or Eric makes dinner. It’s so nice to come home and not have to cook!

On the days I’m home, Evan and I will play in the morning until 9 and then I do an exercise class at our YMCA. They have childcare there and he usually gets to play with other kids in the gym where I work out or go to the park. I have tried so many different variations of exercising and having childcare has been the key for me maintaining this schedule. The rest of the day isn’t very structured. It’s usually spent catching up from the day before when I was working. There is always lots of laundry and dishes. My mom often picks Illy up from school at 11:30. Then we do lunch and then Evan goes down for a nap at 1:30. Illy and I do a craft or homework. Or we take a nap too Then it’s time to make dinner. I work really hard to make a menu each week. It’s usually flexible, but I found that I really needed to have some ideas written down so that I had the ingredients I needed. I just hate trying to think of what to cook at 5:00 pm! I hate making a menu also, but at least it’s just once a week of pulling teeth. The kids go to bed around 7:30. Eric and I watch TV and then I’m in bed around 9, reading a book or conking out!

I’m sure my kids think that Daddy is way more fun than mom. On his day off with the kids, Eric goes stir crazy just staying home so he usually thinks up something fun to do outside. They go swimming, to the park, hiking, or the zoo. They play outside in the sprinklers and make big messes! It means so much to me that they get at least one day of his undivided attention. Also, every week, he is reminded that being a stay-at-home parent is not an easy job!

I don’t have any space in our home that is too formal or off limits, but I also want the kids to learn how to pick up their things and be respectful of their space. I spend a lot of time coming up with storage and organizing solutions that work for us. I’ve found that while I love baskets for hiding things, clear storage seems to work better for us because we can see what is in each container. It’s been an evolving process.

One of my favorite storage solutions is the Ikea Algot that we have in our mudroom. It’s not a gorgeous built-in, but the kids can easily access their drawers and put things away. We keep sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, hats, socks, shoes, towels, swimsuits, and odds and ends toys in the drawers.

I love spaces that incorporate kid things into the decor. So many toys are cute and colorful and can make a house feel lived-in and warm. I have my old dollhouse that my mom and I made in our dining area and the kid’s Ikea kitchen there too, along with an old school desk I had as a child and their chalkboard. I also like furniture that has dual purposes. I painted an ugly brown 90s hutch white and distressed it. The top glass-fronted cabinets hold display dishes and the lower closed cabinets hold all our board games.

I used to really be drawn to neutral, white, calm spaces. But with kids, I find that my decorating style has leaned more toward neutral backdrops with bright punctuations of color. I didn’t enjoy having to childproof when the kids were really little because most childproofing just isn’t aesthetically pleasing. For a long time, we had a gate at the top of the stairs for safety. It was absolutely necessary, but I did a happy dance the day we were able to take that ugly thing down!

We were eager to buy all new furniture when we moved into our new home. But we realized that once we started having kids, a lot of things would probably become worn pretty quickly. So we bought sturdy, less expensive furniture that wouldn’t break our hearts if they became stained or broken. I have added slowly to the house, mostly shopping thrift stores or garage sales. I have repainted quite a lot of my furniture. A little chalk paint goes a long way!

I’ve learned a lot over the years about our style. Our living room used to have a dark brown coffee table, dark bookshelf, and dark end tables. All because I thought I had to match the wood tones to the legs of our couch. Soon, the dark became oppressive. I have always been drawn to white distressed furniture. So, with my husband asking “Are you sure about this?” I painted some of the furniture white to lighten things up. I even painted and distressed the coffee table, which turned out awesome.

But things keep changing. We took the coffee table out of the living room because we found that the kids just want to have room to play and the table was in the way – and the cause of several head bumps!

I have enjoyed getting to know my kids. They each have their own personalities and I love learning about who they are. For me, I really enjoyed the age where we would start to have little conversations because I started to really feel like I was getting to know who they were. I am surprised at how much I enjoy doing little trips with the kids. I love including them when I go shopping or run an errand because everything is new and interesting to them. They get a kick out of going through the carwash or riding in the shopping cart at the grocery store. I love to look at things through their eyes. Going on a walk with my daughter becomes a treasure hunt. She comes home with twigs and leaves and rocks and they are precious to her. Everyday objects become musical instruments for my son. It is a magical world that they live in! I remember having imagination like that when I was a child. Somehow, I became very serious and my kids remind me how to laugh and play again. I try to teach them about things, but find that I’m the one learning from them.

I’ve found that I have no preconceived notions about who my kids will someday be simply because they are adopted. They might take after Eric and I in some mannerisms, but they are truly their own people. I try to not put labels on them and I’m not tempted to say, “Oh, Illy is shy because I was shy.” Or “Evan is going to be musical because his dad is.” Instead, we get to see how life unfolds for them. It’s very exciting!

I hope they remember feeling peace in our house. I also hope they have memories of lots of music and laughter, good food and friends. I hope they remember that Eric and I loved them and showed them everyday what our love looks like with words and actions.

I do wish someone had told me that things are never going to be perfect. I got lots of good advice and read parenting books as well as books on adoption, so I felt like I had done my research. But nothing really prepares you until you’re in it, experiencing it. The biggest struggle that I have is that I really want things to be clean and tidy. With kids, things are just never going to look like a magazine picture. I knew this about myself when I became a parent, but it’s something that I have to continually remind myself about. I love the quote “Cleaning the house with kids in it is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos.” So true!

Some really good advice that another mom gave me early on is that there are just different phases of life with kids. Some phases are harder than others. Sometimes you don’t get to do everything you want to do. I remember when Illy was two weeks old and I became overwhelmed one day. I thought the rest of my life would be two hour feedings, interrupted sleep, endless diaper changes, no more date nights with Eric, etc. I had to remind myself that this period of time would pass before I knew it. Sure enough, life flies by and you’re on to the next phase. Before I know it, the kids will be heading off to college and I will wish that I had enjoyed each and every moment. So I remind myself of that.


So good, right? Thank you, Senna, for sharing all your hard-earned wisdom with us! I’m touched by the sweet observation that you get to relive your childhood and play again with your own kids. And Evan’s room makes me laugh. You probably elicited a relieved sigh or two out there from readers who are in the same situation and considering removing all the dressers and bookshelves in their child’s room – or at least bolting them down!

For those of you craving answers on how others manage their schedules with two working parents, did this tour hit the spot? It’s reassuring how the family continues to adapt to new stages and adjust their schedules accordingly, isn’t it? Our answers today on how to make it work might not be the answers we need tomorrow, and that is a worthwhile reminder as the summer season and a whole new schedule hits us. Good luck adjusting, everyone!

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: 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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