Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Wed, 29 Jun 2016 14:00:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Lisa McDaniel Tue, 28 Jun 2016 13:00:48 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I love Lisa’s honesty and charm. She admits she’s committed to a tidy house — she says it’s a Southern hospitality thing, “A home should be picked up so it will feel warm and welcoming to guests.” But she also admits to hiding all the typical family mess behind closet and cabinet doors when she’s getting ready for a photoshoot. I can relate!

This is a lady who really loves her life and has a sense of humor about it all. I’m so happy to share her vivaciousness with you today. Welcome, Lisa!

We are the McDaniel family. If the walls of our Creole cottage could talk, they’d speak of dreams and challenges and hard work. They’d speak of life. And that life would be ours.

Beau is my best friend, business partner, and hubby of nineteen years. (Ya’ll, he’s still the man of my dreams!) Reece, 16, and Aidan Gray, 13, are our sweet, sweet sons, and Lorén is our dreamy-eyed seven-year old daughter. Although our home isn’t a palace or a castle, a princess definitely lives here. We call her Lorénderella!

I almost forgot to mention the newest addition to our family. Dexter is our moose-sized Maltese — 16 pounds! — who trots around our home with the patience of a saint. We often find him being strolled around the park in doll prams, dressed up in dresses, and carried around like a baby. The dear puppy takes it all in stride, as he and Lorén are best buds. I swear he hides angel wings beneath his white fur.

Fifteen years ago Beau, Reece, and I landed in the small town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Our stay here was intended to be temporary, a mere stepping stone on our way to a larger city with more to offer. Or so we mistakenly thought. We’d actually found our place in this great big world, only we didn’t know it at the time.

The Cajun culture, family values, slower pace of life, and small town hospitality of Breaux Bridge seeped into our souls and never left. It’s part of us now.

Our neighborhood is nestled along the banks of the Bayou Teche. There are majestic live oak trees (the kind you see in plantation photos), confetti-flowering crepe myrtles, and eight of the best neighbors we could ask for. Our neighborhood is very small, with only one way in and the same way out. Several nights a week there’s an impromptu baseball or football game played in the center park around which all nine homes are situated. The vibe is very much like Mayfield in Leave It To Beaver, and I love that!

The concept of our home isn’t just about a house, though. It’s the wider view that completes the picture — the community that nurtured us as newcomers and now embraces us as family.

Tourists come from all around the world to visit Breaux Bridge. We have a vibrant French culture, a thriving community of artists, gourmet Cajun cuisine, and the ever famous Crawfish Festival. Our way of life has attracted The Travel Channel, Food Network, and Discovery Channel because we take great pains to preserve the culture of our past, our heritage.

This home was a collaborative effort. I handled dreaming it up, and Beau handled building it. I won’t deny that being married to a builder does have a few perks.

This house was imagined in my mind a million times over, in a million different ways. We spent countless hours walking the streets of New Orleans, looking for ideas and inspiration. It was a schooling of sorts. Those weekends spent admiring old homes taught me more about architecture and design than I ever imagined possible.

I tinkered with my own elementary sketches and layouts for years, trying to make my hands create what my mind could see. It wasn’t working. And then one day, I enlisted the help of a dear friend/architect who helped me transform my ideas to actual house plans. Once those ideas landed on paper, I knew we’d gotten it right. It was the right house for our family.

But we still had a bit farther to go; Beau and I lived on a really tight budget. Money was a struggle to come by, and earning it the hard way taught us plenty of valuable lessons. One of the most important ones being, “Don’t skimp on your dreams. Live for them!”

And that’s what we did. We fantasized about growing our family, working together, and living in our forever home.

While our dreams were taking shape, we occupied a 1000-square foot, two bedroom, one bath cottage that was well over a century old. The house was full of charm, but drafty and required constant maintenance. It can’t be overlooked that we were bursting at the seams with two young boys and a new construction company run from home.

With its creaky floorboards and ornery demeanor, that little old house was priceless because it taught us to appreciate what we had at the time. It also taught us to nurture the integrity of historic architecture. It didn’t matter that the house we were working so hard to save often acted up like a cranky old goat. We’d correct one problem, only to have it replaced by five more. C’est la vie! Some things are simply worth fighting to save.

Lisa to Stephen the photographer: “Will your camera lens show the dust on that hutch?”

Stephen: “No, I’ll make sure it doesn’t.”

Lisa: “Okay. How about the fingerprints all over the coffee table?”

Stephen: “Nope. I’ll Photoshop the fingerprints if they show.”

Lisa: “Okay, good. How about the lines under my eyes? Can you get rid of those?”

Stephen: (Eye roll.)

Enter Lorén: “Mom, I can’t get to the cereal box because you’ve shoved everything that was dragging into the pantry again.”

Lisa: “You won’t technically starve to death for at least another couple of days, and that should to give me time to finish this photo shoot. Now, skeedaddle!”

Yep, that’s pretty much how the story went! If the photos look neat, all that’s outside the camera range would tell a different story!

No doubt about it, navigating the intersection of Style Street and Motherhood Boulevard is quite tricky. It often feels like riding down a dead end dirt road. On a unicycle. With a flat tire. Such is life with a house full of kids! But it’s a season, and I already find myself dreading the day it passes.

When I was a little girl, my mom and I would flip through the pages of the JC Penny catalog, looking at bedding sets and commenting on each and every picture. It was our thing. My sweet Southern mom taught me that a home should reflect the family blessed enough to live there, and yes, this reflection most certainly includes the kids. Bear in mind, this is the same woman who also told me that monkeys ought never be allowed to run the show or jump on beds, but those are other stories entirely.

Honestly, without the chaos of our little ones most of us would find our homes lacking something vital. But kids or no kids, I don’t believe in clutter. A neat house is a calm house. It welcomes us, as well as our guests, to come inside and find a bit peace.

Part of cherishing our children means teaching them that our home is hallowed ground for the family. It’s the place where our most meaningful memories are made. All that being said, this mama still wants a pretty house. Everyone I live for sleeps under this roof, so I’m not skimping on the chance to make our nest something beautiful. A home needs to make us feel, well… at home. At ease. It needs to balance utility and beauty seamlessly.

Since our home doubles as the hub for our business, it has to be comfortable, super-functional, and still look great enough to receive guests at a moment’s notice. Our kids have been taught that everything has a place, and as much as possible needs to be in its place before company arrives. That philosophy is one-half Southern hospitality, one-half good business practice.

If they’re not at school, the kids help us clean up before customers, subcontractors, or guests arrive. Everyone has a role, whether it’s washing dirty dishes, picking up whatever is dragging (Louisiana slang for anything left out of place), or taking out the trash; we all have jobs to do. Ingraining virtues like respect, hard work, and responsibility in our children is important.

We’re doing our best to teach our three kids the same values our parents taught us. And let me state for the record that if my kids think of us the way Beau and I think of our parents, our lives will have been worth every struggle, strife, and sacrifice we’ve ever made.

That it took us so many years to pull the trigger on building this house was actually a blessing in disguise. Waiting gave me plenty of time to weigh the balance between designing a home for our family and an office for our construction/design company. This house had to seriously function. I drew from my love affair with New Orleans architecture and integrated NOLA style at each turn where it was practical to do so.

Every single room and every single detail exists for a reason. It’s either there because we need it to function a certain way, or it’s there because we want it to make us feel a certain way. Take the home office, for instance. The table is used for nearly everything under the sun. It’s a workspace for everyday use, a conference table during meetings, a homework spot after school, an art table for my daughter, a designing table for me, and a luggage rack for overnight guests.

It should be noted that the armoire behind the table is actually a Murphy bed.  And the chairs around the table get used as nightstands when the bed is down. They also double as extra seating when we scatter them around the house during parties and family get-togethers.

Absolutely nothing is in our home is there just because. Function is high on my list of priorities. A home should help us stay organized and cancel the hectic pace of the outside world. And from a design perspective, a home should surround us with beautiful pieces that make our everyday lives feel full and comforting. For me, it’s all about weighing the scales. Too much function dulls the artistic senses (think of an office cubicle). Too much form is uncomfortable and stuffy (think of an art museum). But balance the two, and you’ll create a peaceful place that sings to your spirit.

It’s pretty safe to say that when Mama feels peaceful, inspired, and organized…well, everyone else in the house tends to follow suit.

I’d love to tell you about the shop! This past February we stumbled across an old dame of a building in the little downtown district of Breaux Bridge. She was in desperate need of a good renovation, but Beau and I immediately fell in love with her charm. We could see that the ole gal had a lot of life left in her, and we wanted to be the ones to restore her former glory. So we took a leap of faith and bought our first commercial property. It suddenly felt like the time to grow our business. Our old dame has a new name: Antiquity. Hmm, that might be an oxymoron.

Needless to say, renovations are presently underway. We’ve all been working hard. Beau and the boys especially like demo days, where Lorén and I prefer saving antique boards and stacking salvage bricks. We’re on schedule to open Antiquity in August 2016. It will be a design center and retail storefront for Louisiana-styled home decor. I’m really excited about this new adventure!

Sweet story: We were window shopping on Magazine Street one Saturday afternoon a few months back, and Beau commented on how happy I seem every time I’m in New Orleans. He was right. I do love day tripping in New Orleans. So many unexpected color combinations, such fearless artistic license, so much culture and heritage interjected at every possible turn.

Beau squeezed my hand and said, “Babe, our new shop is going to bring the Big Easy to the Bayou!” My man is the most clever guy I know. With that offhand comment, my mission became crystal clear. I had to follow my passions. I had to blend my love of classical architecture with the vibrant flair of New Orleans, and bring this stylistic cocktail to our new shop in Breaux Bridge. It’s a tall order, but in my heart I know our little family is creating something special.

There are two elements I deem necessary to enjoyable living with kids. The first is storage, storage, and more storage. In my experience, every house needs storage specifically designed to suit the way a particular family lives. (This is such a snore of an answer, and I hate even saying it. But it’s so important!) Customizing storage to reduce clutter is one of the things I insist upon when designing closets and cabinetry. It’s crucially important to consider organization if you want your home to function efficiently.

The second element, mmmm…I’m not completely sure my honest answer is interview worthy, but I’m going for it anyway. Mama’s secret to enjoyable living with kids is a wine fridge! And if it rhymes, then it must be the right answer.

I love working with my husband. Oh my goodness, Beau is my favorite person in the world, and the notion that I get to be married to him still blows me away. He’s the kindest, most gentle and generous man I’ve ever known. And he’s a darn good builder! (Did I mention his beautiful blue eyes? They’re show-stoppers!)

I think the best part about working with him is that our personalities compliment one another. For example: I have this tendency to dream up design ideas that require a feat of engineering to accomplish. Beau isn’t intimidated by that at all. I dream it, and he makes it happen.

I mean seriously, how cool is that? The man can do anything he puts his mind to, and I admire that more than I can aptly express. He’s brilliant and quick-witted and always smiling. But he’s also really tender and loving and the absolute best father our kids could ask for. I’m so blessed to get to work with him every day. He certainly makes me better.

I wish I had listened when people told me to find my talents. I was that little girl who went through school admiring the talents of other children, but believing she had none of her own. It breaks my heart to think of that child, so secretly ashamed of herself. And for no good reason.

I pray our children will never know that feeling. In our family, we encourage the kids to be fearless with taking chances on themselves. We explain that there will be times in life when failure isn’t an option, it’s a guarantee.  And that’s perfectly okay. Learning to fail (several times) is desirable. It’s how we discover what we’re truly meant to do with our lives. Getting back up builds character and teaches us to trust our own strength.

Beau and I nurture the creative spirits of our kids and encourage them to push the envelope a little. Our oldest son Reece is an actor and musician. Our middle son Aidan Gray is an athlete; he owns an entrepreneurial nature and a meticulously brilliant mind (like his Daddy’s). And our daughter Lorén is all things creative. She reads, writes, draws, dances, and sings. Give our oldest and youngest a stage and a spotlight and watch them shine!  Give our middle one a chance to earn money, and watch him double the investment!

I’m grateful to my husband and children for growing me into the wife and mother I get to be. My little family has filled my life, my heart, and my home with more love and happiness than I ever imagined my soul capable of holding. They are my dreams come true.


Thank you, Lisa! You broke my heart when you talked about finding your own talents. However long it took, I’m glad you finally learned how amazing you are.

Friends, I have to share a bit of Lisa’s correspondence with me, just to give you more of an idea of her personality! “Our storefront is going to be classy and gaudy all at once! We’re Louisianans, after all. We’re spicy and colorful; we’re playful and polite; we’re a highly polished silver bowl sitting on top of a tattered old cypress table; we’re a decadent contradiction of terms. And we’re perfectly content with that.” Love the idea of being a decadent contradiction of terms, don’t you?

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

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Living With Kids: Diane Hughes Tue, 21 Jun 2016 14:30:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Karen E. Photography.

Diane is a person who doesn’t like to waste time. I quite enjoy that quality in people, don’t you? And, in fact, Diane possesses a truckful of enviable qualities I could either list from one to one hundred — or you could just read the words she’s left here with us today.

If you’re feeling not-so-strong, I encourage you to stick around for Diane. If you’re feeling scared or alone or overwhelmed, please stay. This is one to read now and come back to later. I promise. Welcome, Diane. I am so glad you’re here.

My name is Diane and I don’t like to beat around the bush. Ha! How’s that for an introduction? Chit-chat makes me uncomfortable, I don’t have a poker face, and I am compelled to acknowledge the elephant in the room. He’s too distracting! I’m a 41-year-old stay-at-home mom who is a tomboy at heart yet loves a maxi dress on occasion. I can’t live without my running shoes and feel freest on the trails at sunrise.

I created this unbelievable family with my soft-spoken, brilliant husband, Will, who is wise beyond his years (which are three less than mine) and utterly unflappable. He can grow a five o’clock shadow well before noon, and I am lucky to have him as the captain of my pompom squad. Like any smart girl who was raised by a wonderfully supportive father, I looked for the boy who was most like him and then I married him.

When Will and I were engaged, I said, “I want to have two girls so we can give them each one of our sisters’ names.” It’s like I proclaimed it from that moment! Dylan Christine was the first and nothing makes me happier than the special bond she shares with my confidante and sister, Chrissy. Dylan has always been acutely observant and very emotionally intelligent. She thrives on social interaction and asked at two years old to go to school so she could “play with little boys and little girls.” Story time at the library simply wasn’t enough! Dylan truly smiles from her heart and I could stare into her blue-gray eyes for the rest of my life and be happy.

Taylor Camille is our little goof who giggles when she toots and then turns around and proclaims that she is never ever eating dinner again. I don’t know if my sister-in-law, Cami, wants to lay claim to either of these traits! But Taylor will hug and kiss you until you feel that everything is right with the world. She is immensely creative, innately funny, and she is going to blaze her own trails for sure. Taylor was simply born with a confidence that is written all over her face, and when she catches my eye and flashes a knowing wink, my heart melts every time.

Lastly, our house never feels quite right without a Great Dane. Will and I adopted our first Dane, Cash, before we were even married. My dad had just died and I was in desperate need of some emotional relief. Cash saw me through a lot of grief, two big moves across the country, a wedding, and two babies before his big body simply gave out. The emptiness Cash left was finally filled two years later when we found our current Dane, Bogus. He is a 120-pound pillow for the girls and the best guard dog almost to a fault. I joke that I always like to have two men in my life and Bogus loves nothing more than warming the other side of the bed when Will is out of town.

We are lucky enough to live in the best-kept secret in the US: Boise, Idaho. I can’t imagine loving a place more! It is just so easy to live here; crime is low, schools are good, and the cost of living is moderate. Will says that in Boise there isn’t a work-life balance, there is simply life. People are super friendly and the pace of everything is enjoyable. We can’t go anywhere without running into someone we know, and that to me makes Boise home.

We live in the historic North End of Boise, which is perfectly located for walking to dinner, biking downtown, and scootering to school. Our neighborhood is picturesque with its tree-lined streets and hosts the best Halloween celebration you will ever witness each and every year. The North End butts up against the Boise foothills, so skiing, kayaking, trail running and mountain biking are staples. We could have a lot more space and a brand new house if we moved to another neighborhood, but we wouldn’t trade our active lifestyle for all the closet space in the world!

Boise is the most isolated metropolitan city in the lower 48 so you don’t just happen upon it. You have to come here with purpose. “What brought you to Boise?” is probably the most frequently asked question when you meet someone for the first time. In our case, we came for Will’s faculty position at Boise State but we are staying because of the vibrant, supportive community we have become a part of.

We knew when we moved to Boise that the North End was the only place we really wanted to live. We had visited twice before for Will’s interviews so we started house hunting immediately. The North End is a smorgasbord of architectural styles, but the craftsman bungalow is one of the most highly sought after. Because a lot of the houses are much older than the suburban cookie cutter I grew up in, most have been through numerous renovations. We all know that renovations can be hit or miss as far as taste and craftsmanship so the North End can be really tricky!

When we walked into our house for the first time I knew it was special. The layout made sense, most major systems had been updated, and it was a craftsman bungalow built in 1910. For eight years now, it has been the perfect blend of old and new. Don’t get me wrong — we only have one proper closet in the whole house and the pipes to the washing machine freeze at least once a winter, but I love sitting on the front porch and thinking of all the residents who came before us over 100 years. The doorknobs are original, as are the bookcases in the living room, but we are spoiled by central air and a new master bathroom.

We thought we would live in these 1400 square feet for five years or so and then trade up, but the bottom fell out just months after we bought. As first-time homeowners, this was terrifying! We were stretched on a mortgage for a house that wasn’t worth what we paid for it, but we had faith that our neighborhood was special and the market has finally come back stronger than ever. Now we’re so attached to our neighbors that we are looking at creative ways of finding more space without moving — closing up the hallway to build a closet for the girls’ room, opening up the garage to the backyard to create a play space, or possibly even jacking up the house to dig out a basement. Yikes! Will’s not exactly on board with that one yet…

I have tried in my own way to create a home that feels as warm as a hug. I am a homebody at heart and want nothing more than to be comfortable at home. Our small place in this big world is filled with things that spark wonderful memories and feelings of gratitude.

Will surprised me with the leather chair from a local shop for my fortieth birthday and I love to sit in it every day. The kitchen shelves are filled with beautiful cards from friends and family that got us through a very trying time. The flag in the dining room was presented to the family at Will’s grandfather’s funeral for which he was a pallbearer back in high school. The bluebird and the lion above the couch were both gifts from local artists who we also consider to be good friends. The drawing of the girls gives me goose bumps just thinking about it being hand-delivered on the night before my surgery. And Dylan is so proud of the Auction for the Arts banner featuring her blue ribbon-winning George Washington is a Wild Cat art piece.

I have a graduate degree in architecture and have been known to curate my Pinterest boards into the wee hours, but in the end practicality wins out. The couch isn’t much to look at, but it makes one helluva fort and it can fit all of the kids on our block for a movie. The Christmas lights dangle in the living room all year because their soft glow soothes me and I love to hear Taylor say, “Mommy, I plugged in your favorite twinkle lights for you!”

Last August, at the ripe old age of 40, I was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma. My left breast, which had faithfully nursed two babies without incident, was harboring a tumor that could kill me. I was trail running and mountain biking five to six times a week. I was drinking kale smoothies and eating whole grains. My sister is a dietitian, for crying out loud! I had no risk factors and no family history. I was floored.

What immediately followed was a whirlwind of research, advice, doctor appointments, and medical terminology that was foreign to me. I ever-so-sarcastically used to give Will a hard time for not having any practical skills that served me directly. He doesn’t cut hair, fix cars, or renovate houses. Well, after my diagnosis, my methodical scientist of a husband went into world-class researcher mode to learn everything he could about breast cancer. While I was trying to wrap my head around what was going to happen to me, he was contacting his medical colleagues and putting them through the ringer about the latest studies and treatment options. I have never been more appreciative of Will’s professional skills!

A month later, I went in for a lumpectomy and partial lymph node dissection to see if the cancer had spread. Waiting for the surgeon’s call was pure torture. Holding out hope but not knowing is the worst. It turned out that the lymph nodes looked pretty clean but the lumpectomy didn’t get it all. So a month later, I went back in for a single mastectomy.

In the meantime, the tumor was sent away for thorough analysis and it was determined that chemotherapy would greatly reduce my chances of recurrence.

I learned the hard way that young, vibrant women often get the more aggressive of the cancers. I like to think the cancer knows it has to be more aggressive to take us down! So after a lot of tears, I scheduled six rounds of chemo (one every three weeks) from November through March and tried to avoid all of the major holidays.

My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was right out of college. I had lived a charmed life up until that point and the diagnosis devastated me. It was an eight-year roller coaster ride from that point forward. He would reach a stable point where we could live our lives normally and then he would suddenly need emergency surgery. It caused me to have anxiety attacks for the first time in my life.

So when my own diagnosis was delivered to me, I sobbed to my husband, “I don’t want to get back on that roller coaster!” I was immediately transported back and my heart remembered the fear so clearly.

And of course I was petrified of leaving my girls without a mother. They were just newly six and almost four when I was diagnosed. Losing a parent so young inevitably shapes children’s lives. I was 31 when my dad died and for nine years I had been trying to come to terms with it. I desperately didn’t want that for them.

Remembering back to this time is unsettling. I can now see myself from the outside. I wish I could say, “Oh, Diane. Be kind to yourself and be patient. Everything will be ok. It will be what you feared most and it will still be ok. More than ok. In the end, you will feel stronger and more confident than ever. Diane, you will feel like you are conquering the world and in many ways you are! Your fears aren’t founded in reality.”

Ten months later and I have so much more experience and wisdom. I have so much calm and fight. And I have so much PRIDE.

After my diagnosis, I spent a couple of weeks calling family and friends to let them know. It is the worst feeling to have bad news yet hear the happiness in someone’s voice when they answer your call. Your voice quivers as you blindside them with your words. Then you both cry and it is a relief because now you can face it together.

When I reached the point of emotional exhaustion, I told Will I needed to put it on social media. This terrified my poor introverted husband, but I needed people to know without having to say the words anymore.

I learned an important lesson with that first post: If I asked for what I needed, my friends would deliver. There was an immediate outpouring of love and encouragement that blew me away. I instantly felt less alone.

I posted regularly from that point forward and things just snowballed. I took selfies each day as I updated everyone on what I was doing and how I was feeling. Somewhere along the way I found my sense of humor and the selfies got more creative — especially once I was bald!

I was laughing and everyone was laughing with me. Don’t get me wrong, there were bad days and lots of tears and I shared those, too. But I shared them with the confidence that my friends would cry with me and then lift me up. I told Will one day that I kept waiting to feel the gravity of the situation and get scared or even depressed. My thoughtful husband simply replied, “Babe, this is your true spirit coming out.”

Early on I realized that everyone was looking to me to dictate how this journey was going to go — how they were supposed to act and what they were supposed to say. At first this seemed like a daunting responsibility, but then I found real power in it.

I realized that I had looked to my dad in the same way. My amazingly sweet daddy was very quiet and stoic about what he was going through. I’m sure he was trying to protect us, but it left me always wondering how he was really doing and scared of what was to come. My honesty put everyone at ease because there was no guessing. I had destroyed the emotional roller coaster!

Little did I know at the time that all of my selfies would be used in a local tv interview in the spring right before Boise’s Race for the Cure. If I thought I had a supportive community before, after the interview aired it felt like the entire city was cheering me on! What a gift! Perfect strangers high-fived me on the street and little old ladies hugged me and welcomed me into their survivor’s club. It’s amazing how easily a bald lady can be spotted in a crowd. Ha!

I have had numerous people confide in me that their friend, aunt, or coworker was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and ask what they should do in support of these women. I try to tread lightly with advice because I only know my own experiences, but I usually say not to wait for permission. When I was in the midst of doctor appointments and treatments, I didn’t always have it in me to make a decision like yes or no, chicken or beef, but everything that was ever delivered to my house was met with a lot of gratitude.

The thought really is what counts and when you feel like your world has stopped and everyone else’s is still spinning, it is nice to be reminded that someone is thinking of you. So send a card or drop off cookies or even text a little encouragement. Whatever comes from the heart with good intentions will be received with appreciation.

It makes me very proud to think that I faced cancer with my kids by my side. Through many ups and downs, I am happy to say that my husband and I figured out how to turn our tears into laughter and our fear into joy. We turned our bed into a sanctuary for cuddles and story times when I was too tired to get up. We turned our dining room table into a puzzle table when I was too sick to eat. We turned our kitchen into a dance club when I was itching to move my sore body. And we turned our living room into a neighborhood movie theater when I wanted to be surrounded by friends but couldn’t be exposed to the germs of the general public.

Through it all we were super honest with our girls about what was happening. We found that they were like two little nurses who loved taking care of their mommy. It’s amazing what our children can do when we let them! They removed bandages, cleaned incisions, and hugged and kissed me when I cried. We cut our hair short as a family and our girls strutted around like proud peacocks telling people that their mommy was going to lose her hair. A few weeks later they told me they loved me even though I was bald but they preferred me with hair. Ha! I always appreciate their honesty.

I used to want nothing more for my girls than a protected, carefree life like the one I had before cancer entered it. I have learned firsthand that they can handle a lot more than that and so can I.

I now want them to have authentic experiences as life is, as it should be. These experiences that we wouldn’t have wished for but show us what we’re really made of are some of the most precious.

I’ve had numerous well-intentioned people say that they are sorry this happened to me. I tell them not to be. I wouldn’t give back this experience and all of its gifts for anything.

I hope my girls think back to this time and remember that we faced a difficult time together. I hope they are proud of the role they played. I will remind them that I couldn’t have done it with as much strength and humility without them because through it all they saw me as the same mommy before, during, and after. There would have been a lot more tears and self-doubt without their innocence and genuine devotion to ground me.

I hope they remember this house being filled with more silliness than sadness. I hope they remember dancing to Shake It Off turned up loud because I stopped caring what I looked like. I hope they remember getting Bogus in bed with us because I stopped worrying about the comforter getting dirty. And I hope they remember that I did everything I could to be here for them as long as possible.

My therapist encouraged me to write throughout my treatments. She said it would help me process my thoughts and emotions. At first it seemed too fresh and overwhelming to touch, but then I realized I wanted to have my story all in one place for Dylan and Taylor; and I suppose for myself, too. So when they say, “Mommy, weren’t you bald once?” we can look at and read about how we survived breast cancer as a family and came out stronger for it.

Until then, I am sharing my story with other women who find themselves in similar predicaments. I have met enough women now to know that I am just one of many young, otherwise healthy mothers struck by this disease.

I am told that there is still an 8% chance that my cancer will return in my bones or my brain to kill me. I will be closely monitored, as most cancer patients are. I hope my girls see one day that instead of living in fear, I am letting that 8% fuel me to pursue my wildest dreams. To speak up. To go for it. To live bigger. To help all those I can.

I wish someone had told me how strong I was and I had listened. It might not have taken 40 years and a cancer diagnosis for me to figure it out on my own.

I have lived too much of my life in fear. Fear of not being good enough. Not being graceful enough or feminine enough. No more. I have faced my nightmare and turned it into a dream. Now I know without a doubt that I am enough. I have no control over how much time I have left in this life, but I am in control of who I will be while I’m here.

I hope my dad is out there somewhere saying, “I knew it all along.”


Well, I can’t seem to get this one out of my heart: “I hope they remember this house being filled with more silliness than sadness. I hope they remember dancing to Shake It Off turned up loud because I stopped caring what I looked like. I hope they remember getting Bogus in bed with us because I stopped worrying about the comforter getting dirty. And I hope they remember that I did everything I could to be here for them as long as possible.” Gulp. May we all stop worrying about cleaning up messes for today, at least, and focus our hearts instead on making them. And then there’s this: “Perfect strangers high-fived me on the street and little old ladies hugged me and welcomed me into their survivor’s club.” The very thought of a lovely, lovely, unofficial yet very true survivor’s club just stole my breath for a minute. Thank you isn’t enough, Diane.

I am so moved by how Diane and her husband involved their girls in her treatment. “I used to want nothing more for my girls than a protected, carefree life like the one I had before cancer entered it. I have learned firsthand that they can handle a lot more than that and so can I.”

She’s right: Kids are powerful little heroes, too. We might just have to help them tie their capes, that’s all.

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

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Living With Kids: Melinda McCoy Tue, 14 Jun 2016 16:00:01 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

No matter which corner of Melinda’s home I gaze upon, I can’t help but feel a weighty sense of tranquility. A hush, a calmness, much like the early pages in The Napping House! Isn’t that funny? Do you ever look at a home and become overwhelmed by a first impression? Like, Maureen’s house prompted thoughts of adding way more color, ModFruGal’s tour had me turning chairs to face our gorgeous view outside, and Lynne Knowlton’s treehouse…well…I love a treehouse!

But what’s most interesting to me is how Melinda’s home truly matches her. Read her words. Soak up her thoughts. You’ll feel a hush, a calmness come over you. I honestly love when that happens. When a home so twins with its owners that it all feels right and meant to be.

Welcome, Melinda! I can’t wait to share you with everyone.

When I was ten, my parents moved my siblings and I to Northeast Ohio for my father’s job. My parents bought a house built in 1931 that comfortably had the living space for a family of six, but needed quite a bit of work to say the least. Throughout the years, there were kitchen renovations, bathroom remodels, landscaping projects, just to name a few, that were all done in such a way as to honor both our family and the home.

My mom and dad never stopped working on that house the 26 years they lived there. It didn’t matter, though. It was beautiful, warm, and home which is how my husband and I felt when we first stepped into our own home almost 16 years ago.

We were young, newly married, and looking for a starter home. We both had gotten jobs in central Ohio, my husband in sports management and myself a position as a first grade teacher. Neither one of us were that familiar with the area which explains why when our realtor asked about neighborhoods we would be interested in we mentioned one well out of our price range.

After a few discussions about what we were looking for and our budget, our realtor mentioned a neighborhood that had tree lined streets, old homes, and character. Those words were music to my ears. We spent a number of days looking at these old homes, but were disappointed by the updates many of them had seen over the years. Homes built in 1922 had additions added on over time that did not suit the time period or home itself.

After seeing quite a few houses, our realtor drove into what was to become our driveway. I can remember falling in love with the charm of the front of the house, the original oak floors, and the large backyard. There were definitely many projects to be done, like ripping out wall to wall — it literally went up a wall — brown shag carpet from the sunroom, but it felt like home. It felt like a place we could start a family.

Our daughter was our first child to call this house a home. The 1,500 square foot floor plan worked well for our family of three. The sunroom became the playroom and the third bedroom that functioned as an office became the nursery. Once our second child, a son, was born we knew it was time to move or come up with a plan for this home if we wanted to stay.

I am so glad we decided to come up with a plan. The must-haves for staying in the home involved a kitchen/dining addition, a master bedroom with bathroom addition, first floor laundry addition, and renovation of the old kitchen into a mudroom.

It took nine long months, but was well worth it in the end. We added about 1,000 square feet and use every inch of it. The added space really helped once we added our third child, another boy, into the mix.

Once our daughter was born, we decided it would make the most sense for me to stay home. My daughter and my days were filled with adventures at times, but they mostly involved simple things like playing in the playroom together. Having the playroom on the first floor and near the kitchen is one of the best decisions we made as new parents. It allows the children to be near us and feel safe, while they are playing independently or alongside one another.

After the renovation, the playroom actually became attached to the kitchen and I truly enjoy listening to them play — if they aren’t arguing! — while I cook and clean in the kitchen. It is funny to look back on when I only had one child and remember the type of parent I was at the time. I used to go in the playroom at the end of the evening and clean up the toys and set the dollhouse up room by room.

Today, after three children, the mess sits until I announce that it is time to clean, and donate old toys. It is funny how much you can change throughout the years in the same role, but in different phases.

When we were renovating the house in 2009 I can honestly say one of the projects I was most excited about was the mudroom. Having a designated place for shoes, book bags, and sporting equipment was exciting to me. It wasn’t in the budget to have built-ins made at the time, so my husband made a coat rack using instructions I found in an issue of This Old House magazine.

As far as a place to sit was concerned, I wanted to use a bench that my father and his siblings sat on for all their meals on the family farm in Holland. He had had it shipped to the States years ago and I absolutely loved its story. We decided to do the built-in project recently, so now the bench sits on one side of the kitchen table where our three children sit and eat their meals.

Almost a year after I had my third child, I felt this strong need to create and teach, largely due to my degree in education and because of my passion for the home. I wanted to find a way to combine the two together.

My answer was to bravely post my first picture on Instagram. I didn’t tell anyone, it was out of the blue, but I felt that I had something to say. I had been encouraged by family, friends, and even mothers in the parking lot after school who had design questions to start a blog. Seven months after that first Instagram post I launched House 214 Design, my home design website. It is my platform where I teach the everyday home designer the feeling of home and that the feeling we create in our home is our story.

What I understand now that I didn’t before, regarding my work, is that when you love what you do the drive you have is unstoppable and you will find a way to keep moving forward. I wake up before the rest of the house wakes up to learn, I listen to podcasts in the car and when I cook and clean to learn, and I read any spare moment I have to learn.

Do I get tired? Yes, but I am loving every moment of it. I think that after staying home almost 13 years now, it is good for the children to see me have a strong drive and work ethic for something. It is good for them to see me work hard, solve problems, and want to learn.

Everything I learn I put back into our home. I want our children to remember a feeling, the feeling that I am so passionate about, when they think of their childhood and this home.

Whether they are leaving the house and confronted with a difficult test that day, having a hard time with friends in high school, or leaving to be on their own for the first time, I want them to close their eyes and think of this home. I want the hurt, uncertainty, and worry to be replaced with love, joy, and a sense of calm.

That is the feeling I work so hard to create for our family in our home every day.


While I was scrolling through Melinda’s Instagram flow, I had to stop at one quote she posted a while back: “Home is not a place…it’s a feeling.” Melinda seems to believe this with her whole heart. Not to mention her whole house.

Thank you, Melinda! It was lovely to have you with us today.

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

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Living With Kids: Ana Bianchi Tue, 07 Jun 2016 15:00:23 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Ana first sent me a video tour of her home, with her guiding the way through it. Her voice could melt butter, her eyes are so kind, and I seriously wrote back, “WE WOULD BE GREAT FRIENDS.” The other day, she sent me updated shots of her kitchen, smack in the middle of cooking a Mexican feast as a thank you to her circle of moms. Again, I thought, “Wow. We would be really great friends.”

I love virtually meeting people whose first impressions hit you like that, don’t you? I really hope you enjoy this interview and tour. Who knows? Maybe Ana will invite us over for a Mexican feast someday!

Welcome, Ana!

We are the Bianchi family: Alberto, Ana, our six-year-old daughter Florencia, and our dog, Pepa Pug, named in honor of Peppa Pig since they both snore just the same. I am originally from Mexico and my family was from Spain. I always say I have 100% Spanish blood but a Mexican heart pumping it.

My husband is a more of a mutt, born in Argentina of a Californian-Scottish mom and Italian paternal grandparents. Needless to say, food in our home is a combo of Italian, Spanish, Mexican deliciousness mixed with healthy American farm-to-table.

Alberto and I met on a blind date on his birthday 12 years ago — nice gift! Since day one we knew this was it. We got married three times: downtown in City Hall (white dress), then in a church (I wore yellow), and a month later we had our “pagan” wedding at a beach in Mexico (blue dress that time!).

Two years later, we went together to Florence and came back pregnant with little Florencia. I first felt dizzy at the Ufizzi gallery while sketching Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. Good omen for my little girl, who is quite a Renaissance girl!

She was born in New York. “I am a New Yorker!” she always says. Proud artist mom loves her marvelous drawings — how many can I hang near my desk? — and creations with paper, Legos, boxes, wood, and all kind of junk that tends to migrate to her room for projects. Playtime with Dad, the scientist, includes science gadgets, the electrical train, and the power tools.

Faster than thunder when she runs, she loves her soccer practice and her gymnastics class. She plays with boys, she plays with girls. She does not care for princesses and ballerinas, and loves each and all the colors of the rainbow.

We live in New York City, in Manhattan, far away from the touristy areas in an area called Morningside Heights. The protagonist in the neighborhood is Columbia University, on 116th street, so there are tons of bookshops and coffee shops around here. This neighborhood is a great place for families because there are tons of parks and gardens all around us: Riverside Park, Morningside Park, Central Park and my favorite, the gardens at St. John the Divine where three naughty peacocks roam.

One of my favorite things of this neighborhood is that since there are multiple good schools, we always bump into friends at the playgrounds. Either my friends, or Florencia’s friends, or even Pepa’s friends in the dog-walking circuit!

Prices are ridiculous in New York, everyone knows that. Since we are above 110th street, prices are much better than in the Upper West Side or in the cool neighborhoods downtown. Apartments are beautiful pre-war buildings with high ceilings and views of the Hudson River. Turn-of-the-century elegance, then run-down neighborhood, then dangerous, now a really nice place to be.

Let’s put it this way: if we sell this apartment, we can buy a very nice house in most places — not San Francisco! — and a huge house in some other places. But all those nice houses are not in NYC.

I definitely had pretty intense nesting instinct while pregnant. We were in a lovely-but-tight one bedroom overlooking Central Park where we wouldn’t be able to fit once the baby arrived. We started looking for a new nest when I was eight months pregnant. I promised my realtor that if my water broke in an apartment, I would buy that one. This did not happen, but my husband came to see our apartment a few days after Florencia was born. It was bigger than all the others we had seen, sunny two-bedroom, recently renovated with original pre-war details like the gorgeous herringbone oak floors and french doors galore. He called me “Bring the baby! You need to see this place!” We put an offer that day. Moved in four months later.

The one thing we thought was very ugly was the totally beige master bathroom. So we took it to our hands to renew it. It was a totally DIY project, from getting the toilet on Amazon, watching a YouTube video about how to change it to — my favorite part — designing and making our penny-round floor mosaic.

We love how bright and sunny this apartment is in the morning, we love sunsets on the Hudson River, and the magical afternoon light in my daughter’s room. The cherry on the cake is the rooftop garden where we dine often, entertain, or just hang out. It is hard to beat with the river views to the west and the cityscape to the south, including the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. We used to watch 4th of July fireworks here before the mayor moved them to the East River.

However, we do want to move out from this great apartment and this great city in a few years. All our things will come with us and we will make magic amongst another set of walls. The reason why we want to move is to have a garden; we are all garden people! A gentler weather with more sunny days would also be great! The other day Florencia said, “If I won $10,000 I would buy a garden!” I really want her to enjoy her own garden one day.

Our decoration is a reflection of us. A mix of all our interests: art, books, design, nature, textiles. There are modern pieces mixed with antiques. There is a lot of art on the walls, and we actually ran out of space! There are paintings from my childhood home, there is my own art, there’s art from friends and, of course, art made by Florencia.

There are books everywhere and in every room. And little collections of interesting or beautiful things. I am very much a white wall kind of person because I like colors in textiles, objects, and art to pop-out. I love to make accents with natural curiosities and crafts from around the world.

My favorite pieces of furniture are a red modernist Saarinen chair and ottoman, and two 17th century desks with gorgeous inlay: a little portable one I bought in Cuzco, Peru that holds my necklaces, and a full-size marvel from Spain that my grandmother bought and shipped from Spain when she was 40. She gave it to my mom when she turned 40, I got it when I was almost 40, the year my mom passed away. It has always held Christmas ornaments in its multiple drawers.

Out of the whole apartment, my girl’s room is the one that is constantly changing to fit her age and accommodate her interests. Also it is a space where I experiment with new design and heirlooms. I’ve designed and made several bedding and textile pieces from her basinet bumper to reading oversize pillows to fabric toys to a teepee for two with fabric and broom sticks. I’ve done murals in her room and with branches we picked after Sandy — we made a big tree with fabric leaves that act as canopy for her bed.

One very special piece in her room is the doll house.  It was my own Victorian dollhouse that I built as a little girl and spent hours and most of my allowances decorating or making little miniatures for. I saved it for years and two years ago Santa Claus found it and restored it and brought it on Christmas for Florencia.

Last year we started a big transformation. One day she just said, “MOM, I WANT A JUNGLE ROOM.” Together we worked on a scale model and discussed what goes where. We agreed on a tree house above a tikki room for her Legos. It is still a work in progress. I designed some jungly textiles for cushions where our dog Pepa appears as queen of the jungle, and we are starting to work on the walls. The intention is to have jungle plants murals that don’t become too oppressive or darken the room too much.

Florencia is pretty style aware. For the most part I let her have a say and thankfully she has not come up with any major eyesore that makes me cringe. Same as me, she is very much into nature, imagination, and loves teddy bears. She is a great constructor so Legos and blocks are always part of the scene along with cardboard, paper, wood, and drawing materials.

PaperGirl Collection is my line of illustrated dresses for little girls (nine months to around seven years) that tell stories around themes all kids love: the sea, the forest, the garden, the circus. Each high-quality dress tells a story by featuring original artwork I make in my studio and play out on the mini story-book that is included in each dress, which I also write and illustrate. Girls can read the story, imagine, discover, and enjoy their dress as part of it. For some dresses, I also created matching toys. All dresses are 100% high-quality cotton and are made in the USA, including the printing of my fabrics.

It all started around the time Florencia was born when I had a big shift in life. My mother and sister, sadly, had passed away in the previous months. At five months pregnant I sorted through my childhood home in Mexico and discovered two trunks of beautiful little girl clothes, my artwork and books from my childhood, and my sister’s amazing art. She had developmental and intellectual disabilities that kept her as an eternal girl.

This period of change and those first couple years of my daughter’s life made me think a lot about childhood and what really matters. How discovery, curiosity, and imagination are so important. I reconsidered what I wanted to with my work life. I had been working as a brand designer creating brands big and small for others, and I decided to repurpose my talents into something more meaningful and personal.

With PaperGirl Collection I have created my ideal job and a platform to do something I really care about:  sparking kids’ imaginations and curiosity. PaperGirl is also a way for me to give back. Increasingly I am devoting either time or a percentage of sales to non-profits that support children literacy and art programs, like which helps girls reach their potential.

My studio is a large sunny room with a huge bookcase with all my books for inspiration and my desk area. My desk is actually two antique desks put together to have a good work surface, specially for art making. I love to collect miniature chests of drawers. My work hours are while my daughter is in school, from 8 until 3:30.

I usually start with a quick Instagram share (@byPaperGirl) and then head into the to-do list for the day and the month. These hours are jam-packed with a combination of creative (designing dresses, making illustrations, writing the stories that go with each dress) and non-creative work (emails, logistics, outreach of all sorts, PR, marketing, purchasing, excel spreads). Needless to say, the design, art making, story-telling hours are my favorite thing to do!

Sometimes I am home working and some mornings I have meetings or have to go to the factory to supervise production. After a late, healthy-as possible lunch, I go to pick up my daughter at 3:30 and follow up with mom-daughter activities: playdates, soccer practice, gymnastics, baking, playing together, or watching a movie before dad arrives at seven for family dinner.

Alberto and I religiously take turns reading in bed to her. One day she won’t want the cuddles and the reading in bed so we really love doing it now.

What do I hope my daughter remembers from this time in our lives? The easy answer is that I hope she recalls all the happy, loving moments. Parenting for me is a big exercise of awareness of here and now, of how this moment, this day is fleeting. I often get entangled in the rush of life and work but I love to think that I strive to enjoy and create memorable moments with my family every day. I love the moments we observe the beauty of nature — in New York City — when we stop to smell the flowers or look at the light or listen to the birds. I love the moments we share a silly laugh or share a complicity. I certainly love the hugs and kisses.

I hope she remembers all this when she recounts as I do, “When I was a little girl, I loved…”

As for what I hope she forgets, the days when I am too busy, too rushed, too stressed to be able to notice the flowers and the birds. When I say “Today I can’t play with you because I have work to do.”

Florencia has always been a lovely girl — yes, all moms say this! Since she was born, I felt she was an old soul I wanted to get to know. Getting to know her every day as she grows is my favorite way of spending time with her.

What I sorely miss is how adorable she was when she was two and three years old. Her personality starting to come out, our first conversations, her discoveries, her silliness and sense of humor, her budding creativity, her dancing and talking.

I would always dress her with cute clothes — some were my own from the 70’s — and we would do our little plans together. We still do but it is different now that she is older.

I wish someone had told me in my teens and twenties to stop trying to please others or get approval at the same time I was asserting and growing my true self.


Thank you, Ana! I was touched by the way you described your sister as an eternal girl, and her impact on your chosen path. You were a bright spot for me today.

I also loved your three weddings and three different colored dresses you wore! Anyone else been married more than once to the same person? I think it’s sweet.

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

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Living With Kids: Stephanie Bryan Tue, 31 May 2016 16:00:39 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I knew Stephanie was a champion memory keeper, and that she’d have a lot to share with us to inspire even the most “Darn it! I forgot my camera again!” of us. (Not to mention the “Oh. Another year of art projects to organize. Hooray.” crowd, right?) And of course, inspire she will. But when I read about the reason behind her love of memories, I just about melted.

Please enjoy Stephanie’s words and gorgeous home. I’m honored to have her here with us today. Welcome, Stephanie!

Hi there! I’m Stephanie and I’m beyond excited to be here sharing my home with you! When Gabrielle approached me about being a part of this series, I had to email her back to make sure she had the right person. While I would love to think of my life as daring and thrilling, it’s basically just the opposite! I’m a homebody who spends most of my days toting my two children, ages five and seven, to and from school and activities, cooking dinner, cleaning up piles and piles of legos, and doing laundry. Sound familiar?

I’m a stay at home mama with many side jobs, including, but not limited to — milk cleaner-upper, lego organizer, stuffed animal rescuer, and lullaby singer. I’ve worked in several different professional roles over the past seven years, but decided to stay at home (mostly) full time after my son was born.

Being a stay at home mom has its ups and downs, as many of you probably know. Some days I feel like I’ve got it all together and other days I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Luckily, I have a handsome and hilarious husband as my sidekick to help me make my way through this crazy life. Our home can be a little crazy with lots of laughter and maybe just a touch of chaos sprinkled in as well!

Our oldest, Anna, is the heart and soul of our family. She has the kindest heart and the most amazing passion for life. She’s slightly obsessed with mermaids and has been since about age two. At her preschool graduation, she announced that she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up and that idea hasn’t changed yet. From mermaid drawings to mermaid stories, our house is covered from top to bottom. We totally thought her mermaid obsession was a passing phase, but it hasn’t seemed to fade yet.  She’s also an avid reader and goes through book after book every day. My husband and I both are avid readers, but we surely can’t keep up with her!

The baby of the family is our son, Drew. Clearly he’s five, so he’s not still a baby, but one can dream they will stay little forever, right? Drew is a character and has been making us hysterically laugh out loud since he could talk. I’m always amused that my five year old son can make me belly laugh almost every single day. He’s quick witted and a math whiz who loves dinosaurs and Star Wars. Oh, and money. He’s obsessed with dollars and quarters for some reason. He’s my little helper and is always right there if I need a hand. He pulls out the chairs when I vacuum, makes his bed every morning, and helps with the laundry. I will most definitely have a mental breakdown when he starts kindergarten in the fall.

To finish our family out, we have a hairy and playful Goldendoodle named Chase. For the most part, he’s a great dog if you ignore the pillow chewing, shedding, and dirty paws. He’s basically like a great big teddy bear to us and our kids could not love him more.

Our family lives in the capital of North Carolina. We’ve been here about four years, although I was born and raised here in the south. We moved here from the metropolis of Baltimore, Maryland, so the southern life was definitely a change of pace for us. It took about five minutes to get used to the way of life here in the south. We love the slower pace, amazing neighbors, and the overall feel of our city.

Raleigh, while it’s not hustling and bustling all the time, still can have that city feel if you want it to! The great thing is that you can easily escape that craziness and head out to the surrounding suburbs. Our quaint little neighborhood is tucked in-between North Raleigh and Wake Forest, and offers everything that our family needs.

Our streets have tree lined sidewalks for walking and bike riding, playgrounds on almost every corner, access to hiking trails, as well as a community pool. I fell in love with our neighborhood almost as soon as I pulled into the development and I’m pretty sure that the white picket fences lining the houses and porch swings were what won me over.

While we would love to live on the beach and watch the sun rise over the ocean every morning, our neighborhood is perfect for us right now. My husband and I both grew up in neighborhoods and have very fond memories of roaming through the woods, chasing fireflies, and having cookouts. We both wanted those same things for our children. We wanted them to be able to ride their bikes down the street, play basketball with the neighbors outside, and enjoy evening block parties. We wanted them to be able to be kids and have the luxury of friends close by. We have neighbors who have become like family and take care of my children like their own. I couldn’t be more grateful for our wonderful neighborhood.

My husband works in sales and travels quite a bit, so he actually wasn’t even able to come down south with me to find us a home. We had many phone calls, FaceTime conversations, and texts sent back and forth over the week I was in Raleigh looking for a house. We differ a little on what our ideal home is, so being responsible for finding a place that we BOTH would love was a little stressful to say the least.

I think the hardest part of house hunting was the disappointment of realtor images not matching the actual look and feel of a house. There were so many houses we loved online, but just didn’t fit the bill in person.

One thing we knew with our house hunting is that we didn’t want to build a house from the ground up. We had just put the finishing touches on our house in Maryland and we just didn’t have it in us to pick out tile, argue over cabinet pulls, and discuss paint colors again! We wanted a newer home with a nice aesthetic, but we decided to not get too nit-picky with the particulars.

The home we ended up purchasing was actually the very first house I saw when I was out house hunting — you gotta love that gut feeling! I knew it was the house and neighborhood for us, but my husband still insisted that the realtor and myself see all 30 other homes on our list! So, after days and days of looking and lots of pictures sent back and forth, my husband made the trip down to Raleigh and we put our offer in on our home.

The house was a new construction home and was still in the building phase, but all of the details of the house had been decided and were pretty much set in stone. We made a few changes when we signed our contract, but other than that, the house was built according to the developer’s plans. Luckily, the colors, design, and overall aesthetic of the house was right on the mark for our tastes and preferences.

After a short five months, we packed up all of our belongings and moved our family to North Carolina. More so than with any other house that we’ve owned — this is house number four for us — this house has truly become our home. Even though it was a new construction, we’ve done lots of improvements, revisions, and updates to our house to make it our own. I think there was always a fear of messing something up with our other homes, and although we talked about the things we would love to do to improve the house, we never did them. Making this house fit our family has been so amazing!

I definitely don’t consider myself stylish or a designer. Most of the time I’m second-guessing all of the details of our house, usually to the point of paralysis. I’ve spent countless hours poring over Pinterest or flipping through books searching for inspiration and ideas. And after all of that time, I usually still came up empty handed.

I think I had a lightbulb moment about two years when we decided to go with our gut and do some renovations to our home. Our master bedroom was huge — like seriously way too huge — so we added a wall and created an extra bedroom, which we use as my creative space. We added french doors and hardwood floors to our second floor hallway, painted our entire house, changed out some of the lighting, and all of a sudden it felt like OUR home. Not some builder’s house who followed a set plan. This was our house. With our ideas and design.

From there, I’ve tried throw all of the amazing inspiration on Pinterest out the window and focus on what works for our home and our family.

My personal taste is white, bright, and clean. I love clean lines and grids. I love organization and order — oh, and baskets. I’m obsessed with made beds and straightened towels. Most of my family is not, so we’ve had to compromise quite a bit in these areas.

While my house is usually pretty tidy and organized, I’ve tried to allow my kids the freedom to play and explore our house and their toys. Their favorite place to play is in my closet or the laundry room. They love to drag almost every toy or stuffed animal they have into these small spaces and let their imaginations run free. But, they also help to clean up their messes.

It feels like our house sometimes grows from the inside with all of the trinkets, toys, and stuff kids accumulate. Boxes, baskets, and bins are a saving grace for us and my sanity. They can just shove everything into a bin and call it clean. Almost everything in our house has a place and while everything may not always be where it’s supposed to be, it’s nice to know that we can pick up, organize, and get our house back in order.

Prior to this house, we had moved almost every two years so there was always some sort of sorting, purging, and organizing going on around here! Over the last four years, I’ve tried to make it a habit to clean out and purge at least once a year. Having less stuff and living a simpler life is definitely a priority for us.

I’ve tried to let each of my children’s personalities shine through in their rooms and our playroom. Art and creativity is a big must for our family and you can find drawings, paintings, and artwork in almost every room of our house. I’ve always thought it was important to give my kids time for creativity, but to also cherish the work they make. Every few months, I change out the drawings and pictures, store our favorite pieces, and then snap photos of the rest before tossing them out. Artwork can get bulky and saving every single piece isn’t really possible. Taking and printing a photo of the work is a great way to save the pieces without all of the papers!

My mom passed away when I was 19 and I’ve always felt like a part of my childhood went with her. There are many details of my life I can definitely remember, but the small stuff, like what my favorite food was as a baby, or how long it took for me to sleep through the night, is gone.

After I had my children, I knew I wanted to find a way to record and document all of the little things of our life. I needed to write this stuff down and record these moments. I picked up my camera and soon fell in love with photography, Instagram, and the like. I love being able to pause a specific moment in time. Soon after, I stumbled across a few memory keeping blogs and decided to combine our words and photos in my own blog, photo albums, scrapbook layouts, mini books, and more. I love the creativity that comes with memory keeping, but what I love most is that I’m recording all of those details of our life that will soon fade with time.

Memory keeping doesn’t have to be tedious or complicated! You don’t need fancy supplies or products at all! My very favorite way to record our memories is through letters to my children. I keep a blank journal on my nightstand and add in stories, notes, quotes, and more when I have time. Sometimes I pair my notes with photos, but other times, it’s just words.

I’ve had so many incredible doors and opportunities opened up to me through the memory keeping community. I’ve been published in magazines, worked as a designer for several paper crafting companies, taught classes on how simple and easy memory keeping can be, attended professional conferences, and even worked part-time as a marketing coordinator. Teaching classes and sharing my passion for memory keeping is by far my favorite. I love showing people just how easy it is to get your story down on paper and there’s nothing better than being able to share your printed photos — whether you hang them on the wall, or print them in a book — with your family and friends.

I’ve made it a point to hang photos and memories throughout our home. Only a hand few of the photos in our house were taken by a professional. The rest are real-life everyday moments of our day snapped either with my iPhone or Canon camera. I began a photo collage wall when my son was turned one and have added to the collage every year since. I absolutely love having our memories visible.

The majority of my week days are spent shuffling kids around to and from school and volunteering in each of their classrooms. Add in after school activities, dinner prep, and homework and my day is pretty full.  My husband and I border on the “we want to expose our children to as many things as possible” and “let them just be kids” mentality. I whole-heartedly believe that children learn, grow, and become creative when they have time to tinker, play, and explore their environment, so we really do try to make sure they have a good mix of down time and activities.

All four of us are homebodies to the core, so if there’s an opportunity for us to just stay at home and drink coffee, we totally take it! We all love being at home, grilling out, playing in the backyard, and just hanging out together.

The past seven years my every waking thought has been about my children and their needs, but as I see them become more independent, I can tell that the days where they need me 24/7 are slowly dwindling. I feel like my role as a mother is constantly changing and what might work for me/us one year won’t cut it the next. As my children grow and mature, I’m trying to make more time for myself, both personally and creatively. I love thinking outside of the box and trying new things — whether it’s photography, sewing, memory keeping, gardening, or home projects. Being busy is a must for me, so I’m always on the lookout for something fun and exciting to occupy my time!

Above all, I want my kids to remember our home as their happy place. I want them to remember jumping on the couch, running through the backyard, and having fancy dinner night, aka tacos, at the dining room table. I want them to remember the silly stories from daddy and the bedtime tickles. I want our home to be somewhere that takes all the worries away and can heal broken hearts. I hope our home is the place where all of their friends gather for slumber parties, picnics, and after school snacks. I want our home to be the place they come back to year after year and we all reminisce about the good old days. Mostly, I want our home to be remembered as a house full of love and laughter.

Living with kids is pretty amazing. My two add so much life and spark to our house, and in the rare times that they are both gone at the same time, it’s eerily quiet. There’s lots of jumping around, laughing, fussing, and running in our home. I love to overhear them playing their crazy games together. Usually it sounds more like my daughter is directing and orchestrating the game while my son just follows her lead, but oh well… Both of my children have wild imaginations and if they aren’t outside running around they are shoved in my closet playing mermaids or dinosaurs.

I’ve said this with every age so far, but five and seven are my favorites. I love that they are old enough to have their own responsibilities and can help take care of our home. I also love that we rarely have meltdowns, but oh man do I miss nap time! Gone are the days of productive hours during those golden naps.

Before I had children, I always assumed I would be the one teaching them, but every day I’m amazed at the things they teach me. They’ve taught me the joy of studying rocks and sticks and they’ve taught me how important it is to literally stop and just be. For the most part, I try to live my life with a glass-half full mentality. I’m a pretty positive and upbeat person by nature and look to fill the majority of our days with happiness and joy. Sure, I have those days where I feel like my head might explode, but for the most part, I think choosing to live a life of joy helps the flow and attitude of our home! I’m so grateful for my family who remind me everyday that happiness doesn’t come for things or stuff; it comes from being together.

I wish that someone would have told me to just throw all of the rules and expectations out the window a long time ago! There were years where I thought I needed to be doing things a certain way or tried to keep up with others. Over time, I’ve learned that there is just nothing better than being myself; and while the way I like to do things and raise my children may not work for everyone, it works for me and that’s good enough.

This life is crazy enough as it is that we don’t need to add any extra stress or expectations on ourselves! Taking more of a no expectation approach to life has shown me that’s it’s ok to be different and have crazy passions. It’s taught me to think outside of the box and push myself both personally and creatively and I truly believe that it’s helped me to grow as a mother!

Motherhood may not be the most exciting job in the world, but I sure wouldn’t trade this gig for anything! When I don’t feel in over my head with this whole motherhood role, I could swear that being a mama is my destiny.


Thank you, Stephanie! I agree with you that there is nothing lovelier than the things our kids teach us: “They’ve taught me the joy of studying rocks and sticks and they’ve taught me how important it is to literally stop and just be.” There is great joy to be found in rocks and sticks!

And your reasons for focusing so much on memory-keeping just about did me in: “My mom passed away when I was 19 and I’ve always felt like a part of my childhood went with her. There are many details of my life I can definitely remember, but the small stuff, like what my favorite food was as a baby, or how long it took for me to sleep through the night, is gone.” I can’t seem to shake this feeling of pure regret for you; like, I wish I could somehow find the answers for you, and tell you how you loved carrots and were a champion sleeper. In any case, I’m so proud of you for being proactive about keeping your kids’ memories for them.

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

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Living With Kids: Alicia Brothers Tue, 24 May 2016 12:00:22 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Welcome, Alicia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle. Photos by Michelle Drewes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want them to know they are my greatest adventures.

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

Hi, Sarah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle. Photos by Shannon Quinn.

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

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

Emily, welcome to the party!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle. Photos by Bentley Waters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deal with it later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

Come see! Welcome, Marjolaine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

One of the prettiest descriptions of childhood memories I’ve ever read is this: “I hope they remember the snuggles and the fights in our bedroom on Sunday mornings, the baths together in the rainbow bathroom, the movies watched under a cosy blanket, the hours jumping like kangaroos on the trampoline, the pancakes I made on slow mornings, the eggs we collected from our garden hens, the birds we heard, the sunsets we chased…” That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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

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

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kharisma Studios.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Welcome, Laura!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

Welcome, Rachael!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome, Miggy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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