Design Mom » Search Results » children’s room http://www.designmom.com The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 27 May 2016 18:15:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.1 Living With Kids: Melisa Russo http://www.designmom.com/2016/04/living-with-kids-melisa-russo/ http://www.designmom.com/2016/04/living-with-kids-melisa-russo/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2016 15:00:35 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=63760

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: Justina Tey http://www.designmom.com/2016/02/living-with-kids-justina-tey/ http://www.designmom.com/2016/02/living-with-kids-justina-tey/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 17:00:08 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=62315

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–-

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

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

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

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Living With Kids: Jenni Fuchs http://www.designmom.com/2016/01/living-with-kids-jenni-fuchs/ http://www.designmom.com/2016/01/living-with-kids-jenni-fuchs/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 17:00:56 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=61985

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both our children were planned and very much wanted. Oh how they were wanted. Both pregnancies were uncomplicated and easy going, both births straight forward and fast. So you can imagine my confusion when that rush of love at first sight that I had been expecting — that I had been built up to expect — didn’t wash over me, as I held Oskar for the first time. My husband’s heart was visibly brimming over, but I felt a kind of numbness. And disappointment in myself, after looking forward to this moment so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved him. Always! But there was this feeling of apathy, that hung around for a while like an unwanted guest. Feelings of despair, which I couldn’t explain. I cried myself to sleep every night for the first eight weeks. It’s hard not to feel like a bad mother in moments like that. I’m not ashamed for it, but I didn’t talk about it much. The only acceptable answers to being asked how it feels being a new mother, seemed to be happy or tired. But we need to stop treating this as a taboo subject, because it helps no one.

And yet, I feel I got off lightly. A friend of mine was hospitalized with post natal depression after giving birth to her first baby. She later told me, that knowing what Oskar and I had gone through, and that we came out okay at the other end, really helped her. That it gave her hope things would work out okay for her too. Since then, I try to share my story more often.

Of course, for many years now, my heart has been brimming over for Oskar. I wouldn’t miss a day without him. My warm hearted, independent, special boy. But the experience stayed with me for a while. I’d always wanted several children, but suddenly I was scared to have another. Not because of the pain of childbirth, but because I was scared the same thing would happen again. I wasn’t sure I could go through all that again.

In the end, my longing for another baby was stronger than my fears, and luckily, the second time was smooth sailing. No numbness, no tears. The only one crying was the baby. I just felt tired. And that was okay.

–-

Jenni, I never get tired of people acknowledging and sharing their low points! It helps others on levels we might not even realize, and it always gives me chills when someone is brave enough to be brave enough. Thank you so much for being with us today.

I must admit I’m yet again smitten with cacti after seeing Jenni’s collection! Who wants to start a cactus club? Anyone?

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

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Living With Kids: Brittany Hayes http://www.designmom.com/2016/01/living-with-kids-brittany-hayes/ http://www.designmom.com/2016/01/living-with-kids-brittany-hayes/#comments Tue, 05 Jan 2016 16:00:37 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=61127

By Gabrielle.

It may be said without hesitation that Brittany Hayes has never met a pattern or a color that she didn’t completely and utterly adore. And whether it’s a burst of golden Dahlias plastering a bedroom wall, a shot of turquoise up high on a top shelf, or Ikats mingling with Suzanis, every one of them gets along picture-perfectly. You’ll see!

You might remember Brittany from her episode of Shark Tank. She has a few interesting bits to tell us about that whole process, plus what’s next up for her and her sweet family. I really hope they bring these bluesy stairs with them! (And please ignore the watermarks on the photos! Brittany began adding them to every photo when someone she didn’t know started Facebook and Instagram accounts claiming her home as their own. Oh my!)

Please join me in welcoming Brittany! Our very first tour guide of 2016!

Hello there! My name is Brittany Hayes, and I am a 34-year-old wife, mommy, blogger, and daughter of God. I am the proud mommy of two beautiful girlies: Addison is eight and Winter is three.

My husband and I are middle school sweethearts and have been together for 20 years in February! We started our business at age 20 and worked off our booties off every day since!

After my daughter Addison was born I became a stay at home mom, and then quickly learned that my huge passion for design and my love for entrepreneurship wouldn’t let me do so for too long. On Addison’s second birthday I started sketching and dreaming up her big girl room after my endless search for unique and fun bedding. Once it was complete, friends were begging me to get back to my sewing machine for their kids’ rooms…and from that vision, my bedding company Addison’s Wonderland was born!

In 2013 we decided to say goodbye to ten years of neighborhood living and pursue our dream of living on acreage. My husband has always wanted eight to ten acres, and we decided it was finally time to take the plunge!

After searching endlessly for land to build on, we settled on gorgeous property with an existing home that just needed a little loving. We fell in love with the beautiful land, but the home was not exactly what we had envisioned. Seeing as though we have always tackled and loved house projects, we decided to take it on.

We purchased our current home and started the renovation in December 2013. Although we did most of the major renovation early on, we have just completed most all of our vision. We had always thought this would be our forever home but we also love change, love renovations, and love a challenge.

Last month we came upon an AMAZING, 5,800 square foot home built in 1908 that is completely gutted. It is literally a needle in a haystack and we jumped on the chance to pursue another dream of renovating a historic home.

Although we absolutely love our home and are sad to move, we have learned that land is maybe not for us. We love the privacy and the space, but we also miss having neighbors and close friends for our girls.

We have also learned so much from our renovation that we are excited to carry on into our next project. For example, dark hardwood flooring is not for us! Although it is stunning, it is so difficult to keep clean and it shows absolutely everything!

Another thing we learned is that we do love an open floorplan, which has inspired us to make some changes to the floorplan of our next renovation. Finally, we learned to really take our time and not rush the project. Rather than hurry and await the completion, I am looking forward to taking my time and enjoying the process more. I am also SO excited to take my readers along the entire, detailed journey from start to finish!

Our current home and our historic home project are both in Monroe, Georgia. We absolutely love the small town living that Monroe has to offer, but with the proximity to both Atlanta and Athens. Monroe has such a rich history and so many wonderful traditions that it’s such a special city to be a part of. Now with our new home being walking distance to the quaint and adorable downtown, we are so excited to make small town memories with our girls that they will never forget.

Addison’s Wonderland began in July 2011 as my dream children’s bedding company. After almost three years of business and pretty rapid growth, I made the crazy yet wonderful decision to take a step back and focus on my family.

The fact that my husband and I both owned very busy, manufacturing type companies was taking a toll on our marriage and our family, and I thought it was best to take a little break. Although I originally intended on walking away completely, my husband and my social media followers encouraged me to start blogging.

I was getting bombarded with questions and advice from my random home remodeling posts and updates that it seemed like a great transition. I just had no idea how quickly it would take off!

I absolutely love getting the chance to live our lives and then share it with the world. Renovating, house flipping, and home projects are our daily life so although it may seem crazy to my readers, it’s just what we do and what we love. My readers’ encouragement and stories of how I’ve inspired them to bring color and a bit of whimsy into their own homes keeps me writing and keeps me posting more and more.

I would absolutely say the highlight of my blogging career so far would be being named a Better Homes and Gardens Stylemaker for 2015, which has also led to blogging for BHG as well. Such an amazing honor and honestly a dream come true! I do have some crazy exciting things coming for 2016!

My style is 110% me. I design in a way that speaks to me and really allows me to release my creativity. I would say that my style is very colorful, whimsical, and unique. I don’t care to follow trends or popular styles; I just draw inspiration from what I love.

That said, I design every room, every corner, every bookshelf with my girls in mind. Is there something of their own for them to find on a shelf or in a basket or on a table near a soft and cozy chair? Yes. Is there something to make them smile and think and gasp a little wherever they look? Yes. And when in doubt if a room is perfect for living with my own kids and the absolute most welcoming for them, I might just add a swing!

I would say that my overall design theme is a daring combination of color and pattern. My goal, especially in my personal home, is to always push the limits of color and pattern play. To really ride the line of what matches and what clashes. Of what is too busy and what is just enough. I love to make a statement and I love to just be me.

Our home is literally our wonderland and I love that my girls will grow up in such a fun space. I want to always encourage them to be themselves and to be proud of who they are. And I hope that our home proves to them that what is normal and in style isn’t the only way to be!

My best tip for combining and layering textures is to think about the print type and the repeat. Three small repeat, geometric prints are not going to work all in one space. You need to categorize it all — solid, striped, floral — and then change it all up.

Make sure you aren’t using all small repeats or all large. Variety is key.

A lot of readers are really interested in our moment on Shark Tank! Gosh, Shark Tank was the most amazing, unforgettable, stressful, and life-changing thing I’ve ever done.

Overall I would say that it’s so much more work than you could even imagine. It took us six months to prepare for the show with weekly calls in to producers. Once in LA, we had to pitch again to producers and honestly didn’t even have a guarantee that it would air until seven months after we taped!

The most surprising part to me was that it was one take. If you mess up, it gets aired. We were in there for an hour and then they edit it down to eight minutes. It’s all just way more than I would’ve imagined.

Our biggest project for 2016 is what we have named Our Historic Wonderland. It will be my full-time job for at least six months to design and share this space on my blog. We are going to make it fun and interactive and really share all of the nitty gritty details.

My ultimate ultimate career dream would be to land a renovation show. It’s a dream I’ve always had and I feel that once you go in from of the Sharks, you can pretty much tackle anything.

My favorite part of living with my kids is seeing how their little minds work. They are so honest, so funny, and just so much fun. There isn’t a day that goes by that we are not crying with laughter over our three year old, and our eight year old just amazes us with her artistic abilities.

I hope that my girls learn to go for their dreams. Mark and I continue to do so every day, and I hope they see that in us.

I wish someone had told me that they really actually do grow up so fast.

When Addison was a baby, she cried for fourteen straight months — not even kidding — and I honestly thought my life was over. Mark and I were so used to traveling and working and that all seemed to be over for me.

I wished and then worked those years away…and I wish so bad I could have them back. I wish I knew then that they will be eight years old before you know it, and there will always be time for a career.

Although I love what I do and wouldn’t trade my journey for anything…I do wish I had been able to embrace stay at home mommyhood a little more.

–-

Everyone always says it goes so fast, so I don’t know why we’re always so surprised when we realize that they were telling the truth! Thank you for spending the time here with us, Brittany; this was a fun one.

There is so much to devour in each room! It’s a sensory overload in the best way possible, and such a palate cleanse for those readers who might be a little tired of the black, white, and lots of grey scenes popping up on their social media feeds! Even if it’s not your personal taste, isn’t it refreshing to see such a collected and highly personal style in action?

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

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Living With Kids: A Look Back At 2015 http://www.designmom.com/2015/12/living-with-kids-a-look-back-at-2015/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/12/living-with-kids-a-look-back-at-2015/#comments Wed, 30 Dec 2015 16:00:13 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=61313

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

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

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

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

And, listen. I mean it when I tell you every week at the end of these tours: Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I really, truly mean it. So if you ever find yourself wishing for something different or something closer to your own Living With Kids lifestyle, send me a note and a photo or two. Or copy me on an email to a friend who inspires the whole neighborhood, encouraging him or her to participate. Participation is my favorite!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And gasped at Raffaella’s home in southern Tuscany…

And on to Elizabeth’s temporary home in Japan.

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

Literally!

Talk about unique!

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

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

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

Near the open shelving…

And above her desk. A favorite, for certain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a really lovely kitchen curtain from Michelle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I end these posts every week with the same post script, and this one will be no different! But this time, how about you go for it? Send me a note, will you?

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

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Books for Gifting http://www.designmom.com/2015/12/books-for-gifting/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/12/books-for-gifting/#comments Mon, 14 Dec 2015 20:00:07 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=60955

books for gifting

By Gabrielle.

It’s December 14th, and some of you have your gift shopping done, while others are just beginning. If you’re feeling panic-ed about finding gifts for everyone on your list, I highly recommend focusing on books. Why? Because there’s a book that makes sense for everyone out there. Every age, every interest, every reading level. From heavy novels, to how-to guides, to books that are almost like toys. Plus, many (or most?) are available under $20, and they ship really quickly. Hooray!

Here are a few that made my gifting list this year:

1) For the animal lover (or the soon to be animal lover). Do unto Animals. The more we know about the animals in our world, the better we care for them. This is a sweetly illustrated, friendly guide. It’s written by Tracey Stewart (wife of Jon Stewart). I invited Tracey to speak about her work with Moomah at Alt Summit a couple of years ago. I’m a big fan of hers!

2) For the non-traditional new mom. Mama Tried. This is for the pregnant woman who isn’t feeling all rainbows and unicorns about the situation. From New Yorker cartoonist, Emily Flake.

3) For the designer. Tile Makes the Room. Are you familiar with Heath Ceramics based here in the Bay Area? This book is by Heath’s owners Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey, and it’s gorgeous. A coffee table book for the design lovers in your life.

4) For the doodler. The Secret Garden. Probably the most popular of all the grown-up coloring books. It’s printed on thicker and heavier paper stock, to prevent bleed-through from ink pens. The Secret Garden theme also comes in postcards, journals, and calendars. All made for coloring in.

5) For the stylish maker. Everyday Style. This is the latest how-to book from Lotta Jansdotter, the Brooklyn-based, Swedish designer. This book features 25 really cool, modern sewing projects. Each pattern includes lots of options, and she includes fabric sources too.

6) For the young man who is just learning, or the older man who needs a refresher course. The Art of Manliness. I wasn’t sure what to think of this book, but with over 300 positive reviews, I went for it. And it’s good.

7) For the traveler. See San Francisco. Victoria Smith of sfgirlbybay.com wrote a love letter to the city. It will make you want to book a flight asap.

books for gifting kids2

And here are a few for the kids:

8) For pre-schoolers. Caps for Sale. Written and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina. It’s the 75th anniversary of this book. Do you remember it from Reading Rainbow? You could also get this newly published sequel, More Caps for Sale, and give them as a set.

9) For 7 to 11 year olds. Superhero Comic Kit. Big oversize book, with lessons on how to draw your own superheros. Girls and boys. Villains and heroes.

10) For 8 to 13 year olds. The Astronaut Instruction Manual. By Mike Mongo. He writes: “The Astronaut Instruction Manual is written for young students who can imagine they may want to live, work, and play in space. By following the clear instructions I have outlined here in The Astronaut Instruction Manual, you will have a head start on doing whatever you most love doing…in space!”

11) For ages 5 up — or pretty much anyone who dreams of writing children’s books. Author Kits from Write Brain Books. The illustrations are already done. It’s up to you to write the story. And you can publish it too!

Okay. Now it’s your turn. What books are you gifting this year? Any that you’re particularly excited about? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — For toddlers, see my list of best-designed board books.

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Call It A Day: Kim Burns http://www.designmom.com/2015/10/call-it-a-day-kim-burns/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/10/call-it-a-day-kim-burns/#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2015 17:00:54 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=59351

By Gabrielle.

Kim Burns’ day sounds like the perfect mix of whirlwind and ease. I’m sure you’ll relate! Some aspects are pure and simple, while other moments seem straight out of the Jetsons. As the founder of Fresh Baby Bites, she makes fresh baby food for the masses. Simple and sweet, right? She also orders her dinner groceries and laundry and other delivery needs right from her phone. Ahh, modern convenience!

You’re going to love her charming attitude, too. Especially when it comes to her explanation of how they chose their children’s school, and the plus side of her husband’s crazy work hours. (It is a pretty good plus!)

So please help me welcome the very lovely Kim. I hope her day brightens yours!

Morning duty is all me! My husband, Brendan, works New York hours so he is long gone by the time the kiddies and I are waking up. He heads the equity sales trading desk for a major bank here in San Francisco, so he is out the door by 4:00 am each morning. The beauty is he is finished at 1:00 pm, which is perfect for family life! It affords him the time to go to the gym, take client meetings, take a well deserved nap, but also pick the kiddies up from school.

I selfishly love his hours, and I think he would agree it is pretty nice to have the afternoons free.

My husband and I moved to San Francisco ten years ago from NYC when he was transferred for work, and we have never looked back! We have two children — Anna is seven and Gus is three — and live in a one bedroom apartment in Pacific Heights. By the way, my name is Kim and it’s very nice to meet you!

Yes, our family lives in what is technically a one bedroom apartment. When we rented the apartment, we were newly engaged and had just moved from NYC, so the apartment seemed huge compared to our tiny one-bedroom New York apartment. Also, it had outdoor space! What more could we possibly need?

We unfortunately did not have the foresight that we would eventually add two kiddies to the mix, and that San Francisco real estate would sky-rocket beyond our means. We are fortunate to be in a rent-controlled situation and we have gotten creative with our space; we are making it work.

We hired an interior designer to reconfigure our space cosmetically and make it functional and comfortable for our family. Anna and Gus share what used to be the dining room, and have a double over double bunk bed. They actually sleep in the bottom bunk together — their choice — which I find adorable!

Our neighborhood has beautiful-sweeping views of the bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz, fabulous playgrounds – Lafayette Park and Alta Plaza are two of our favorites. We are also surrounded by great cafes and shops on Fillmore Street, Polk Street, and Chestnut Street. You can usually find me at Saint Frank coffee shop on Polk Street in Russian Hill on any given morning!

Neither Anna nor Gus are early risers, which is lucky for us come the weekends.

This morning, I rouse them by 7:00 am. I sing them a good morning song that I made up, open the blinds, and kiss their little faces and tummies until they jump out of bed. We have to be out the door by 7:40 so our morning routine is quick and precise. Oatmeal with fresh spiced fruit puree from Fresh Baby Bites — this month it is roasted apples and golden beets with cinnamon, and it’s so delicious I mix it my own oatmeal, as well — is served as I get myself dressed and ready for the day. Showering at night is my new normal!

Anna is able to dress herself these days. I have learned to give up control of the perfect outfits; she is a leggings and tee kind of girl lately. I dress Gus at the dining table in between his bites of oatmeal. Teeth and hair are brushed and out to door we race to get Anna to school by 8:00.

Gus needs to be at school by 8:45, so this morning he and I stop at the local coffee shop for an almond milk latte for me, a milk for him. and we share a croissant. A lovely little Mommy and Gus time. I cherish these moments we have together. Once at Pre-K, we get a few minutes on the playground and then he always has me carry him into his classroom. It’s a very sweet tradition, and I know I won’t be carrying him much longer. My baby is growing up!

The kids’ school, Chinese American International School, is pretty intense and it’s a long day. Since we aren’t Chinese and don’t speak it at home, they stay for the extended day program to do homework and after school activities, usually taught in Chinese. They are picked up around 5:00 pm.

I like to think we chose their school because we realized how influential China is and will be down the road, and how insightful it was of us to think to send our kids to a Chinese Immersion school. However, that really isn’t the truth at all!

When we started looking for care for my daughter when I was heading back to work, we were torn between hiring a nanny and finding a daycare situation. Literally the minute after I posted an ad for a nanny, my neighbor knocked on my door and asked me what my childcare plans were. She was in the process of opening a new daycare with a friend and wanted to know if I would be interested!

Interested?! Heck yes, and sign us up!

She also mentioned that they were going to speak Mandarin to the little ones, and wondered if we would be okay with that? “Sounds like a fabulous idea!” I said. And so it began.

Once it was time to think about preschool, we knew we had to keep the language up — what a waste it would be not to! — so The Chinese American International School was a logical choice for us. Little did I know the process was going to be harder than any of my college application experiences, but we were very fortunate and were admitted after our first year of applying. The truth is, my daughter really thinks she is Chinese! It’s amazing to hear her speak, write, and read Mandarin, and have a true affinity for the culture. Not only will our kids be bilingual, but they will also be bicultural — such a gift! I am jealous!

As an owner of two local businesses, Fresh Baby Bites and Beauty Brigade, my days are pretty busy. Production days for Fresh Baby Bites are Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I help with operations in the kitchen on these days, as well manage the day to day business aspects. I am fortunate to have strong kitchen and marketing teams working with me.

After a career in medical sales that culminated in selling a cosmetic filler and a Botox competitor to plastic surgeons and cosmetic dermatologists, I realized after making my daughter’s baby food and considering the limited store-bought options that there was a void in the baby food market. I figured if I would pay for this type of service, maybe others would as well. And thus, Fresh Baby Bites was born. Now five years in the making, the business has grown to include food for babies, toddlers, and bigger kids.

As if this wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I have teamed up with another mompreneur and launched a new business which also arose from another self need: Beauty Brigade. Beauty Brigade brings hair and makeup services to your home, office, or hotel.

I started Beauty Brigade for my own selfish time saving reasons. I could never find time to book an appointment at the local blow dry bar; why wasn’t someone coming to my house for a reasonable price? After experiencing Glam Squad on a trip to NYC, I knew this business  idea had to come to San Francisco.

I partnered with Lori Costabile, the owner of Tease Salon, and we launched Beauty Brigade to bring hair and makeup services to homes, offices, and hotels. It is such a great time saver for busy moms. I primarily run the business side of things, but since we are a two woman show, we both wear many hats!

After volunteering at my children’s school this morning, I checked in with my kitchen team. Things were well under way, but we needed some kitchen and packaging supplies. So off I went to pick up the items, stopped at the bank to get payroll, then off to Good Eggs to pick up our returned jars before hitting the kitchen.

My role is all operations at this point; I get the packaging all labeled, pack up the toddler bites, lid the jars, and pack up the items to be sent to Good Eggs and Grub Market where they will be sorted and delivered right to the customers’ doorsteps.

The team and I have lunch together and discuss the new menu we will be whipping up for next month. Our menu is based on what is available locally and so this changes every month. Honestly, this is one of my favorite days in the kitchen. I love planning the menu; we get to think about what would we like to eat and what would we like to feed our kids, write it up, and then I will review again later and make any necessary tweaks — but it truly is a team effort.

After a few hours in the kitchen, I switch gears and spend  some time on my new business project, Beauty Brigade. I love this new concept of bringing super talented hair and makeup artists right to your home, office, or hotel for blowouts, UpDos and on-trend makeup looks. I know there are many women, super busy like me, that just don’t have time to get a blowout done. With Beauty Brigade we make it super easy — no need to look for parking, no need for a babysitter, no need to leave your office, no need to go out in the weather.

My business partner, Lori Costabile, is a mom of a newborn and a three year old, and is also the owner of a salon here in San Francisco. I had mentioned the idea of Beauty Brigade to her, and serendipitously she had the same idea and already had a business plan in the works! She was just in the need of a partner!

With Lori’s expertise in the beauty world and owning her own salon, and my experience running a business, we have been able to divide and conquer the many roles involved in operating the business. We hope to have an app built as well as expand to additional cities, but for now we are servicing San Francisco and have a mobile-friendly website that customers can book their appointments through. Today I was working on a project to feature our highly talented team. I hope it will be a fun interview format with great pictures of them and their work.

I sneak in a late afternoon lunch date with my husband. He finishes work at 1:00 pm so when we can, we love to sneak off and have an afternoon date. Our favorite late lunch spots are Spruce, Zuni, Mission Oyster Bar, or Palm House. We get a date in and don’t need to hire a babysitter, which is a major bonus as all you parents out there know!

I make a few calls to my family after lunch. They’re all on the East Coast so I always try to call one of my family members each day as I am driving all over town! It’s nice to just take a break and reconnect.

I outsource as many errands as I can! We truly are fortunate to live in such an innovative city!

Instacart is a life-saver and my go-to favorite service today. I can’t tell you the last time I stepped foot in the grocery store because I utilize their service several times a week for both personal and business shopping. I am able to have dinner ingredients waiting for me when I get home, which is amazing!

My daughter has her Chinese tutor at 6:00 pm, so it’s a tough night for us to get dinner together. I decided a sautéed shrimp over brown rice pasta would be quick and easy. Even better, Instacart did the shopping for me and picked up the rest of my grocery needs AND delivered them within two hours. Life-changing!

Good Eggs is another favorite, and I’m not just saying that because it’s where you can order Fresh Baby Bites! They have the best produce, specialty food items, and yummy handcrafted baked goods and prepared foods. The chocolate chip with sea salt mini cookies are a family favorite.

I also utilize Washio & Rinse for laundry and dry cleaning service. There’s Shyp for package shipping, which is so awesome for returns as I do most of my shopping online, and another huge time saver.

Soul Cycle is where I steal my me time several times a week. You can’t beat the workout! It’s a 45-minute class, I sweat like crazy, and it is a full body workout! I have been doing it for over a year now and love it. It’s a must for the body and mind. Right now, I am doing the Soul Cycle 20/30 challenge, which is riding 20 times in 30 days. I did this in the spring and the timing right now is so perfect as on day 30 I will be boarding a plane to Jamaica!

But I have to admit it is not easy to fit into my crazy schedule…but it is something I do just for me! I know you are supposed to clear your mind during the ride, and I am successful for part of the class, but I do find myself thinking about work.

I am at a point with Fresh Baby Bites where I need to figure out the next step. Am I going to keep this going as it is, which is honestly an expensive hobby at this point? Am I going to go down a new path with some new concepts? Or am I going to throw in the towel and walk away? All big thoughts that I found myself thinking about in Soul Cycle today.

I pick the kiddies up from school around 5:00 pm and have a list of 25 questions I pick from to get my daughter to talk about her day. The standard “How was your day” never gave me any real answers. Now I ask things like “What was the best thing that happened at school today?” and “What was the worst thing that happened at school today?” I ask her to “Tell me something that made you laugh today.” and “If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class and who would you not want to sit by in class? Why”

It really gets her to open up and gives me some real insight as to what is happening at school.

Homework with my second grader is always interesting. I have her go over her Chinese homework with me, and I have no idea if it’s right but it always sounds and looks good to me! It is amazing to see her Chinese writing; her characters are amazingly neat and detailed — a big contrast to her English writing. If I didn’t know better, I would think she was Chinese.

My son loves for us to play trains and puzzles with him, then we settle in for story time, now lead by Anna. We try to get the kiddies to bed by 8:30. My husband is in bed this time himself as he needs to wake up at 3:30 am. I am not too far behind myself.

At the end of mostly every day, I think “Phew! What a day!” I ask myself why I do it, whether I want to give up the businesses, and wonder if I’m doing right by my family. Do I need to be a better mom? A better wife?

I look over at my peacefully sleeping husband, hear my children sleeping soundly down the hall, and realize…all is exactly as it should be.

–-

Thank you so much, Kim! You seem like such a problem-solver to me, always thinking about ways to make life a little easier…and then opening up a business to make it accessible to all of us! Friends, tell us your favorite Jetson-esque businesses that save your time on the daily, will you please?

Those end-of-the-day wonderings are sometimes the worst, aren’t they? Some nights, it’s easy to stop the wheels from turning the wrong direction, but others — if we’re lucky — end just like Kim’s. All is exactly as it should be. I love that, don’t you?

P.S. – You can see all my Call It A Day posts right hereAre you interested in sharing your unique day with us? Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! 

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Call It A Day: Misty Brough http://www.designmom.com/2015/08/call-it-a-day-misty-brough/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/08/call-it-a-day-misty-brough/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 14:04:11 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=57156

By Gabrielle.

I started my Call It A Day column for one reason and one reason only: I am fascinated by how each of us travels through an average ordinary day. We all seem to carry along a little something heavy, don’t we? I’ve found that when we share our load, well, it feels lighter, somehow.

At first glance, Misty’s account looks like an average ordinary day. But if you read between the lines, you’ll notice how much she’s doing behind-the-scenes to prevent any drama or unnecessary commotion for her family. It reminds me of watching ducks float on top of the water, gracefully and seemingly without a care in the world. A peek below the surface, though, tells a totally different story!

Please help me welcome Misty! It’s so good to have her here.

My day starts very similarly to how it did 11 years ago. My husband gives me a kiss and says, “Wake up babe.” Might sound cheesy but it’s the best. He knows I’m not a morning person and I get up by 6:00 am.

My husband has been up since 5:30 and is leaving by 6:20. His commute is much easier in the early hours. We live in the outskirts of DC and the traffic is fierce! This also means he can come home to us earlier. (By 4:20, but who’s counting!)

I sleepily go in to wake up my son Adam, who is seven.

I have been very lucky to be given kids who like the morning. He’s a very pleasant waker. Slightly groggy, he says he doesn’t want to get up, but he’s smiling. I help him step into his clothes and then head off to start getting breakfast.

I write a note to his teacher about the previous night, about our family time and video chatting, or anything out of the ordinary, just to keep them in the loop. Adam is in a self-contained Autism unit for half of his school day. We are working towards more inclusion, and are going slow and steady with the help of some awesome teachers and aides.

Breakfast is always the same for my son. He wants cereal. He would love to subsist on carbs and dairy only. But, at breakfast, I don’t push. I want him to have a positive start to his day. He wants the cereal exactly to the line on the white bowl. The milk has to make the cereal float almost to the absolute limit.

It’s always the same. If there are changes, it can cause an immediate melt-down.

His bus comes at 6:30 to our door, and he has a long trip to the school. I’m very grateful they don’t pick him up far from our house as I would have to wait with him. He tends to wander. This frightening characteristic is an autistic tendency and the reason he wears a watch that can track his movement if he ever gets lost. When we first moved into this house, he let himself out at 5:00 in the morning to wander our neighborhood. He deftly undid locks and other obstacles.

After he leaves, I have a few minutes’ break. With my time, I read a part of a book and meditate or pray for a few minutes. Soon after, baby Marie wakes up and I get her a bottle.

Both my girls, Kayla (age four) and Marie (six months), are up at 7:00, bright-eyed and ready for the day!

Kayla sometimes asks for dinner leftovers or a PB&J for breakfast. She has an odd palate but is pretty good about eating most things. At times, we have even found her eating non-food items like chalk or paper. We figured out she’s anemic (like me) so we give her daily doses of iron mixed with honey which keeps her off the chalk! She wants her dad’s homemade pizza this morning.

Allie is still on formula. My husband wants to introduce more solids for her. I think I resist because I want her to stay a baby. We contemplated my breastfeeding our adopted kids. But, because adoptions are so unpredictable, I don’t want the physical wreck on top of the emotional, should the adoption fall through.

I have an apple with peanut butter and I love it. I’d eat cereal with milk but the calcium interferes with my iron pill. Fifteen years ago, I had a stroke in my dorm room. Long story short, after lots of tests, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease similar to Lupus, which did a lot of damage to my insides. Fast forward through chemo, strokes, seizures, and surgeries, and I’m in complete remission!

But my past dictates my future. Doctors cautioned that if I were to conceive, there would be extreme complications and/or fatalities. I had always wanted to adopt and so I count myself lucky! I didn’t have to endure the uncertainty of infertility but, definitely had my moments of feeling loss. I have anemia from the chemo, which explains the iron pill.

On two days a week, I watch a friend’s little girl. But not today. I do some laundry and started on dinner – at the least planning part.

I also package up orders from our family’s online store where we sell letterpress artwork. It’s called Adoption Arts. It started when we were looking for some adoption-themed art to hang in our home and couldn’t find any that was our style, so we made our own. Currently, we only have a few letterpress posters but we are trying to find new artists. This morning, I searched for artists who might be a good fit for our site, and looked at Pinterest and Etsy. Even though I’m doing work, I’m also looking for fun.

Then, I email our lawyer about what needs to be done to finalize our daughter’s adoption. We just finished our last home visit and need to submit the report to the court. Our first two adoptions were completed through our church services. They had a lawyer and social worker on staff who handled most of what needed done.

We did a direct parental placement for Marie’s adoption. This means we have done most of the leg work ourselves including the advertising to find a birthmother who wanted to place with us. It’s been hard. We were lucky to find a friend of ours who would do some of the legal work, pro bono. If he hadn’t helped, I don’t think we could have afforded the $20,000 average price tag of most adoptions.

Around noon, my husband calls and we talk about boundaries between our family and the newest birth mom. She’s having some struggles, and we need to decide how much to intervene. My husband and I think very much alike and I’m super glad. We don’t really have to compromise much with each other.

Having three open adoptions has been hectic, encouraging, profound, hilarious, and love-filled. These birth families are people I never would have met in normal circumstances. But they are now tied to me in a visceral way. I would love to tell you all about them, but I want to respect their privacy. I truly feel like they are part of our family.

And with that comes all those mixed feelings. Pride, hurt, frustration, and deep, deep love.

I try to get as much of my “have tos” done early on. When my son comes home, the opportunity for completing chores is over. My focus completely changes to keep him on task and diverted from tantrums.

My deaf friend comes over for lunch. We are able to discuss her aging mother and the state of our families. Sometimes we go out to eat and she runs errands with me. I learned how to sign when I was eight after meeting a deaf girl at church. She taught me when I was young, and when I got older I took community classes. I love sign language.

Phone conversations are hard with active kids around. So, I am constantly texting with various people, including my mom and my husband.

For lunch, Kayla wants to eat everything that is on my plate rather than hers. I’m eating Korean fried rice my husband made a couple nights before. It’s a little spicy.

I take my daughter and her friend to preschool. Marie naps in the van as I drive.

I update the private Facebook page we have for our children’s birth families. It’s a page where I can upload photos, funny quotes, and videos of the kids often. This way, my other friends don’t get inundated with seeing me post how great my kids are! Their birth families totally get it, and they agree! These kids ARE the best! I often get comments back pretty quickly about something I posted. My husband is a part of this page, too, so he can see updates while he’s at work. This has been a great tool for us. My kids do things like sing happy birthday to their birth-mom, show off their school work, or do dance moves.

I keep LOTS of phone reminders: garbage day, appointments, and finger nail clipping day are all listed. I was a late adopter of Google calendars but now I can’t do without it!

I try to incorporate my four year old daughter in what I do. She helps me sweep and do some laundry. (I do cloth diapers). Right now, Kayla is so in love with Marie but doesn’t always display that love softly. I am constantly trying to teach without being bossy or short. My husband reminds me that being a big sister is a first for her. She’s new at this.

I finish planning our dinner and make sure we have the needed ingredients. My husband loves to cook. We try to focus on anything that isn’t typically American fare. I have this romantic idea that by eating international foods, my kids will be better world citizens! We love home-made hummus, curries, kimchi, and more.

At 3:00 pm, my son comes home on the bus.

Adam has to decompress a bit after school. I’ve found that he holds everything together quite well at school. But, once home, all his frustrations or perceived injustices come spilling out. He sometimes gets violent.

He plays on the Wii for a bit but then suddenly gets angry because his sister got some earrings at a rummage sale and he felt that it was unfair. The resulting outburst and throwing the controller loses him his Wii privileges for tomorrow. I let him cool down in his room after he is throwing anything he could find in the living room.

After a few minutes, I go in to talk with him and see if we can figure it all out. He starts hitting me and calling me names. I used to think I would be a strict parent who would quickly reprimand my kids for things like this. With him, though, I have found if I swiftly and angrily correct these behaviors, he fixates on them and repeats the behavior. If I let it go in the moment and talk to him when things are calm, he reacts and learns better.

Reading notes from his teacher, I find that some of his work today was hard. He didn’t understand and he’s frustrated and sad. During this time, I worry about his sisters. I make sure they are busy elsewhere. Kayla is having some screen time and Marie is in her ExerSaucer. I check back in on Adam. He’s calmed down a bit so we talk while he swings from his therapy swing in his room.

We then work on homework. We just started ABA therapy, and they are still devising a plan for him. The therapist arrives and observes how we go about getting homework done. Being under the microscope is awkward. But I know they have to get a baseline of his behavior. She takes notes and then excuses herself.

Marie sits and makes faces and we all laughed. I’m a little worried about the crawling stage. Right now, she’s content to sit and watch us.

We try to not watch TV more than 30 minutes a day. This has been hard but I want my children to understand how to interact with each other. This leads to lots of learning interactions, otherwise know as fights. I’m hoping that as they learn now, they will improve more without the distractions of constant gaming or TV.

Sometimes, my husband asks the kids to do tasks in the evening. This is his way of transitioning them from doing whatever they want to having fun and listening. Some tasks are “Give your mom a hug” or “Pick up your shoes” or “Go outside and yell ‘I am king of this neighborhood!’”

Then, laughing, we start brushing teeth. My son is entrenched in routine. So he is very set on doing the bedtime routine the same way, every night.

As difficult as the constant fighting is between the two older kids, sometimes things end up just perfect. Tonight, without instruction, my son sequestered himself over at the table with craft supplies and made a card for his sister that simply said he loved her.

Even though my husband and I detest dishes, every night we find ourselves loading the dishwasher and cleaning up from meals. We laugh and talk and watch a show on the iPad while cleaning.

My mind races before I fall asleep. Most recently, I’ve been thinking of racism. In a world where black men are often immediately thought of as guilty, I fear for my son. He is a biracial, autistic boy who can be impulsive and obstinate. I think about my daughters and worry whether I am giving them enough of my time and energy. Having a brother with special needs is tough for them sometimes.

I think about how grateful I am that three women have made me a mother.

I try to cheer myself by thinking of a funny voice my husband used with the kids tonight. Instead of breathing out while talking, he was sucking in. We were all hysterical.

It’s been a busy day but, I feel satisfied with it.

–-

Oh, Misty! Your final thought of your day truly hit my heart: “In a world where black men are often immediately thought of as guilty, I fear for my son. He is a biracial, autistic boy who can be impulsive and obstinate. I think about my daughters and worry whether I am giving them enough of my time and energy. Having a brother with special needs is tough for them sometimes.” My heart is with you. And you are doing a great job! We all are! Let’s remember that, okay?

I can just imagine the hysterics after being ordered to run outside and yell “I am king of this neighborhood!” That is a fantastic day-ender. I also loved the way yourapproach your son’s mornings. Same routine, day after day, to avoid throwing him off before the rest of his day might. It’s smart and kind. Thank you for your day and your wisdom.

Anyone else relate to this “same old, same old” process at the beginning of your kids’ days? A few months back, a friend told me about a mom at school pickup who seemed super impatient and excited to pick up her son. “I yelled at him this morning because he was taking so long tying his shoes, and there wasn’t any milk for his cereal,” she explained while wringing her hands, “and I’ve been thinking about him all day because who wants to start their day like that? It’s awful!” Poor thing! Of course, her son came bounding out like he didn’t have a care in the world! Ha!

P.S. – You can see all my Call It A Day posts right hereAre you interested in sharing your unique day with us? Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! 

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Living With Kids: Callie Moon http://www.designmom.com/2015/08/living-with-kids-callie-moon/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/08/living-with-kids-callie-moon/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 14:00:17 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=57177

By Gabrielle.

Have you ever thought about what your decor style says about you and your family? When guests walk through your front door, what do you think they can instantly sense about you? Is the first impression you make modern and clean, with any trace of a childhood hidden in a sleek cabinet system… or the basement? Perhaps guests sigh when they walk in, instantly craving whatever peaceful design you’ve got going. Or maybe you’re sporty and just can’t escape a home decor accessorized by the sticks and balls and cleats and — oh my, watch your step — more balls! Maybe you like blue. Every shade.

In Callie’s case, her family’s style is true throughout. I think we can get to know her by one or two or 20 glimpses of her home. She keeps her memories and crafts in the open, she loves a good collection, and she’s not afraid of putting reminders on the wall in case anyone loses the plot! She’s consistent in her message, which is the big sign that she’s clearly found her most-loved style and is sticking with it.

That’s a nice thing when it happens, don’t you think? Come see her house! Welcome, Callie!

We are a family of six. My husband, Steve, and I have four children.

Jakob is our responsible 12 year old, Isabelle is our passionate nine year old, Karter is our entertaining and humorous seven year old, and Beckett is adventurous two year old. As a family, we enjoy reading together, outdoor adventures, arts and crafts, sports, and music. There is a lot of hustle and bustle within the walls of our home. A lot of play, a lot of noise, a lot of messes to clean up, and a lot of love.

We live in the Pacific Northwest in a city just outside of Portland. Both my husband and I grew up in the area, and we love Oregon. My husband grew up on five acres out in the woods and has always wanted property for our children to enjoy. With his business, we have needed to live closer to the city and our home was a unique find — a home with property close to the city. We have loved the space, the view, all the trees, and surrounding green space.

We love living in the Pacific Northwest. We love that the city is only 15 minutes away. There are always fun places to eat, museums to visit, and concerts and events to attend. The Oregon Coast and the Columbia Gorge are both only a little over an hour away. We love the trees, the summers, the waterfalls, and the wildlife. We have enjoyed living in walking distance to our favorite shops and restaurants. We are surrounded by biking and hiking trails.

When we first found our home it was listed as a short sale, and after we made the offer it took eight months for the bank to approve it. We did a major remodel the first year that we lived there, focusing on the main living area and the kitchen. I watched a lot of HGTV and read a lot of design blogs as we were working on the kitchen! Five years later, I still absolutely love how it turned out.

We continued through the next few years updating the home room by room. It has been a labor of love but I have loved the story our home tells as it evolved to fit our family through each change and update.

I love neutrals with touches of soft blues and yellows. I completely adore handmade, quirky,  and unique items. And organization thrills me! Things that are collected, stored, and displayed in a pretty and functional way makes my heart beat a little faster. For my family and home decor, I can’t go wrong with items that tell a story, family photos, favorite books, and memorabilia.

I love setting up cozy little corners of the house that fit a specific purpose. One of my favorite decor tricks is constantly carving out new places to read, places to make crafts, and places to relax. It keeps our home fresh!

I love Pinterest as inspiration. I guess that I have always seen it as a place to collect all the inspiration that is out there so I can use it to inspire me when I need it. I have never felt like I have had to do everything that I have pinned.

That said, I have been trying to simplify my life in the last few years and have noticed that when I take in too much inspiration… I inevitably try to do too much! Not that I consciously think I have to do every project on Pinterest, but that I subconsciously feel like there are so many awesome things out there and I want to try all of them.

As I have been trying to simplify, I have been making a conscious effort to plan and prepare a few things to do as a family, knowing that I only have room for a finite amount of activities, crafts, and fun. This is a work in progress and I’m still figuring it out, but I think it is moving towards a solution that will work for us.

If I know we can do one family adventure each month or one kid craft project a week, it helps keep things simple and doable. Then I can pin away, knowing there’s a ton of ideas on my boards to choose from!

I don’t take decorating too seriously. I say have fun with it! Let your style evolve through the years and let your home tell a story. Put holes in your walls, hang that silly craft project, let the inspiration strike and move forward with it, live with it for awhile and see how you like it.

Really, if you’ve been dying to change up something in your home, go for it! The change might not be what you were imagining, but it will definitely open the door for more change.

I think that guests love the setting of our home, and they love the view and the wooded yard. I hope they have a sense of children and family as they enter. Our home is far from perfect, with a bit of dust and dirt and fingerprints around every corner, but it is lived in and loved.

I love that my husband has given me the creative freedom to pretty much do whatever I would like with our home. It’s pretty wonderful to be able to creatively have an idea and see it to fruition.

That said, my husband and children love the comfort and creative corners of our home. They love the open great room to wrestle in or the large space to create blanket forts. They love the craft cupboards and tables that are easily accessible to little hands and shorter legs. They appreciate the throw blankets to cuddle on the couch as we read a good book. They love the bookcases stocked with our favorite children’s books, mostly collected from garage sales and thrift stores. They enjoy the photos and artwork that celebrate our family and our creativity.

I think guests can get a good idea of our style from the minute they walk in the front door! For me, having a personally defined style has been so fun. Years ago I used to be a lot more eclectic in my style, before I really defined what I liked. I used to choose everything and anything that I liked and I would buy it and bring it home. What I found, though, is that after a while I wouldn’t like those items that didn’t really fit my style. It was harder to move them from room to room, and I would eventually get rid of the objects that just weren’t me.

Now, I know what I like and I will buy what works with that.

I started my blog, Lemon Verbena, just to share our everyday stories with friends and family. In the last few years, it has been fun to see it evolve into a place where I share my passion for books, crafts, scrapbooking, homemaking, and anything else that is inspiring me at the moment. I’m thrilled to continue to share and find myself thinking of posts to write throughout the day. It has definitely been a wonderful way to creatively share and document our lives and interests.

The connection I’m able to make with readers is my absolute favorite. It has been so fun to hear from people that were reading and enjoying the things that were shared. I love that it highlights our family events, our home, and the many projects we have worked on.

I have also enjoyed the motivation it has given me to push forward through some goals and fun projects. It has been a great accountability tool and a great way to celebrate accomplishments as I update different projects throughout the year.

Speaking of new projects! As I type this we have just moved out of this lovely home I am sharing with you today. We are in transition. I’m currently sitting in a rented townhouse surrounded by boxes. We are off on a new adventure.

When I first submitted these photos I didn’t realize the move would come as soon as it did, but it has been quite wonderful to share these thoughts with you, especially so soon after closing the doors on this part of our life. It is surreal to think we will never live in this home again, but we are so grateful for our years in this home, and so excited for the future and all that it holds.

Our new home has so many features that I just love. It has a wrap-around porch, a barn, seven acres of pastured land, and three acres of forested land with a creek running through. From the back porch it has amazing views of Mount Hood and the Cascade Mountain Range. It has wood paneled ceilings in many of the rooms, an open floor-plan with vaulted ceilings, an open staircase and landing looking down into the main floor, and a sitting room off the entryway. There are built-ins throughout.

We will also have more room to spread out! With five bedrooms and four bathrooms we will have room for our family plus a designated guest room, so we will always have room for that out of town visitor. SO excited for this!

The home had some renters who didn’t take great care of it and it also has some water damage. It hasn’t been taken care of or lived in for a few years now. It’s sad to see such a lovely home in such bad shape. But the home itself has such potential. It needs some work, lots of cleaning up, a fresh coat of paint, and new floors.

Honestly, the thought of purchasing a home that needs another remodel is daunting and wouldn’t be my first choice, but we really fell in love with the place and are willing to do the work. I do love the idea of choosing all the finishes for the house. Definitely a perk of remodeling or building is being able to choose exactly what you like! I’m hoping for light and bright, a modern country eclectic look throughout, with white walls and trim and light pine floors on each level. I will have to show you when it’s ready!

We have been dreaming and scheming of what it will be like to live on a farm. We know we will be getting some chickens, a couple kittens, and some goats when we get settled. We hope to someday have a cow or two in the pasture and maybe a sheep or a pig. I love the idea of having animals for the kids to take care of and grow up with.

This move was such a difficult decision for us to make, and has literally taken years of discussion and debate. We loved where we were at, but we also dreamed of something else. We always have had the hope of a bit more land, a bit more country, and bit more space to spread out. Though we absolutely adored so many aspects of our home, there were a few things that we wished were a bit different, especially in the layout of the property and the floor plan of the home.

Up until this last few weeks we were still swaying back and forth in our decision. We knew we would not only miss the house, but our friends and community would change. We will still be close and be able to stay in touch, but it will be just a bit harder to stay connected.

But change is good, and what finally convinced me to move forward was a feeling of adventure and progress. I wanted to look back at our life knowing that we were willing to try new things, to get out of our comfort zone, to do the work that it takes to try something new, to dream and to move forward.

This will definitely be an adventure. One I believe that we will look back on and be so glad that we took this leap of faith.

It’s bittersweet. My kids have grown up in this home. When we moved in, my oldest was six and now he is twelve. We were a family of five and now we are a family of six. Moving into our home six years ago, we were a young family, and now we are an established family with four kids and a soon to be teenager!

We have so many stories to tell and traditions established from our time in this home. The fireworks on the 4th of July that we could see from our porch, our annual family New Years Eve Party was celebrated here each year, the dirt bikes that were ridden around in the yard, and the church and family dinners that we hosted. We love these memories shared with so many.

This home of ours will always hold a special place in our hearts.

I hope my kids remember all the little things. Sitting out on the porch swing together, playing on the rope swings, and cuddling around the fire reading a good book together. I hope they remember the tall trees that shaded our home, and our weekly walks down to our favorite shops for a frozen yogurt. So many memories to remember…I hope they remember them all, all glowing bright and warm and happy.

I wish someone had told me to not worry so much. To live through the things that sometimes happen in life and to embrace all that is good and noble. I am a planner, a list maker, someone who gets things done. I like to control things and make things happen. I’m learning I can’t control so much of what comes our way in life, but I can choose how I respond and to do good daily. I can get so stressed with the what ifs and shoulds and the worries of life, especially when it comes to parenting and my children. I want to enjoy them more and let go of the worries. Trust that they are good, that they are smart, that they will mature and grow, because they are and they will.

I want to have fun and enjoy my time as their mother, enjoy their funny, silly, loud selves every day. I know that parenting is a lot of work and I’m not suggesting that we don’t put our heart and soul into it every single day, but I do want to enjoy it more and worry less.

–-

Thank you, Callie! I’m thrilled we got a chance to peek at the home into which you put so much love and thought. It shows. And yes, wouldn’t it be lovely if our kids remembered only the wonderful memories? “All glowing bright and warm and happy.”

I also admire the way you’ve really defined and honed your style. Instead of constricting your creativity, I think it probably frees it! There’s always that moment while we’re browsing the latest and greatest room designs when we think, “That’s the best idea! I’m painting all my white walls a deep navy and, honey, we are changing out our dark hardwoods for a light oak!” Do you do the same thing?

In the end, if our basic design loves are true, they’ll stick around. Even when a cute new trend flirts with us!

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

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Living With Kids: Meghann Halfmoon, Part Two http://www.designmom.com/2015/07/living-with-kids-meghann-halfmoon-part-two/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/07/living-with-kids-meghann-halfmoon-part-two/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 16:00:14 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=56962

By Gabrielle.

When we last visited Meghann in Amsterdam, I made her promise to show us around her new home once she moved to Saba. (Quick geography primer: Saba is a Caribbean island and the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. It consists largely of the potentially active volcano, Mount Scenery, which at 2,910 feet, is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. There is no crime, little traffic, and a close-knit local community. It sounds like Heaven, doesn’t it?)

I couldn’t wait to hear all about how they adjusted, get a first-hand peek into what homes look like on the island, and how it feels to live on a volcano! With 2,000 other people! (Are the city dwellers out there choking right now?! Hah!)

I’m so excited to share Meghann with you all again. Welcome, Meghann!

Except for my family — my husband, Koen, and our kids Tipp and Loula — just about everything has changed from my last appearance on Design Mom!

We went from city living in a densely populated, super flat country where there were more bikes than people and where sweaters are worn for more than half the year, to a sparsely populated volcano in the Caribbean particularly known for diving in its underwater world. Everything in life feels pretty new right now.

Even before we got married, we’d always thought we’d move abroad for our jobs for some time. We had travelled a lot, both before we met, together as a couple and also with our kids. In 2012, we even had the opportunity to live abroad for my job for six months. While I was starting to think that maybe I was fine just staying in Amsterdam for the rest of our lives, Koen was starting to get the itch to go. He was also ready for a new professional challenge.

At the time we were seriously starting to outgrow our little apartment, public health positions opened up in the Dutch Caribbean. I specifically mentioned to him at some point about a year ago, “We’ll never go to Saba, not even on holiday, so don’t bother applying there,” due to my fear of flying. But Koen got a call requesting that he apply to the Saba position. After a few days of discussing if I’d dare fly onto the island and what it might be like to live on a five square mile volcano with around 2,000 other people for three years, we decided he should go for it.

Why? Because we figured you don’t get these opportunities all the time. You don’t say no to this kind of thing. You try it, and go home early if it doesn’t work out. At least, that’s how we looked at it.

So, Saba now has a Public Health Department: Koen! Of course public health activities had been taking place on the island already, but there was not yet an actual department to coordinate those activities, to prioritize prevention, and to monitor and evaluate outbreaks, etc.

Koen no longer commutes 90 minutes each way to work. Instead, he has a scenic five-minute drive to drop the kids at school, and then another five minutes to work in The Bottom (which, you guessed it, is at the bottom of the island). It turned out to be kind of a dream job for my husband!

You’d be hard pressed to find something more opposite to Amsterdam than this place! Actually, Saba is different to any place I’ve ever been. It’s not at all what I think most people imagine when they think about Caribbean islands: white sand beaches, palm trees swaying, cocktails at beach shacks…

Saba is literally a volcano shooting out of the Caribbean sea. There is hardly a flat space to be found, save for the airport, which has the shortest commercial landing strip in the world! While we do have a lovely little beach with a nice playground and public restrooms, it is man-made. The only natural beach on the island only shows itself a few months out of the year, and this has not yet happened since I’ve been here.

The island, with its many eco-zones, is very green and speckled with white houses with green shutters and red roofs. I hear that Saba is even more beautiful underwater, but I’ve not yet had the chance – or dared! – to go diving to explore yet. As small as it is, I can be down at the beach on a hot day, watching a grey cloud come and engulf the upper part of the island, where it may be windy and raining. While the island has been inhabited off and on since around 1175 BC, and the first European settlers have been here since around 1640, the landscape is so mountainous and steep that engineers said it was not possible to build a road to connect the four villages. So up until the late 1950s, there was no road to connect the villages and everything had to be transported by foot and donkey. The first airplane arrived soon after.

Life is generally more relaxed here, mainly because of how small it is. Things move slowly, for better or for worse. Sabans are known for their friendliness. With only around 2,000 inhabitants, people’s faces quickly become familiar and crime is nearly nonexistent. You wave at everybody you pass in the car. We seem to have gotten used to this really quickly: when we were in St. Maarten for a bit of off-island time, we instinctively waved at everyone we passed! I won’t get into how completely different these islands are from each other, but it’s safe to say it’s not habit to wave there.

Up until now, there has apparently not been a need for addresses. I recently received a letter saying that everybody will receive an official address this year and street names will start going up. But, for the locals, I live in “Melanie’s house (or sometimes it’s called Benny’s house) up above Swinging Doors.”

Although the houses do have indoor plumbing, we do not have a public water system. All houses therefore have a cistern to collect rainwater, and our sewage goes into a sceptic tank. This means that water shortages are part of life, and it’s important to quickly get used to short showers where you only turn on the water to get wet and to rinse off. We’re in a drought this year, so we’ve had to purchase desalinated water a couple of times, which is brought on a truck with a huge tank in the bed and is pumped into the cistern. We now get excited to drink water from the faucet and take full five-minute showers when we’re off island. Party!

Being an island, everything has to be imported, making groceries super expensive. Wednesday – the day the main cargo ship arrives – is the busiest day of the week in the commercial center of Windwardside, and an important day for stocking up at the supermarket. If you can’t find something on Wednesday afternoon, it probably won’t be there for at least another week.

All in all, I think we’ve done a pretty good job acclimating. But, I must admit that it’s been quite a bit harder on me than I ever imagined. The nearly constant sea view and permanent warm weather are huge perks! But I also very dearly miss the life of the city, the multitude options of where to go (or to go nowhere at all), things to do and see, anonymity and, of course, my bike.

My husband has had an incredibly easy time! We moved here for his career. He works full time and he’s got a fabulous opportunity and challenge, so it makes sense that he’s not had any trouble adjusting. My daughter, Loula, is now five and has also had a pretty easy time adjusting. She seems to have perspective beyond her years. She also had only been in school for half a year before we moved and so had not yet built a real group of friends.

My son, Tipp, and I, on the other hand, have had a much more difficult time adjusting. I think that we’re both more sentimental in general. But we also both had stronger attachments to Amsterdam before we left. Although he’s only six years old, he already had a real steady group of friends in our neighborhood. And their moms had become my friends. You get the point.

The method of teaching is far more traditional here, and school finishes a couple hours earlier than in the Netherlands. My role has therefore become far more that of a stay-at-home mom who happens to have a small business rather than the other way around. I feel like I’m constantly being pulled different ways. While this often feels busy and unpleasant, I am thankful that I’ve been able to be there for my kids when they get home from school, particularly on the days that they’ve been homesick and need some extra hugs and a shoulder to cry on.

Luckily, we have met some really good people here and made some friends. We’ve created a set beach-day with a friend and her kids who are the same age as mine, which is something I look forward to every week. If I’m ever feeling down, those afternoons at the beach – snorkeling, watching the kids play in the water or dig in the sand – always perk me up.

My first friend followed my son’s school bus home one afternoon. No joke! Her son and my son are in the same class and wanted to play. She didn’t have my phone number, so she just followed the school bus home and knocked on the door. Ha!

I think it’s also been important for us to simply allow ourselves to miss our old home in Amsterdam. Yes, Saba is full of amazing beauty! But so is Amsterdam. I’ve kind of decided that it’s okay to grieve the loss of my beloved city, and that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the opportunity to live here.

What I absolutely love about this home is that we have a yard! And fruit! Our yard fully encircles our house. The kids have so much fun playing outside with their friends. We often have six to eight children running around, inside and outside of the house, over the cistern, along the cement wall. The best pineapple I’ve ever had came from my front yard, we’ve got a million bananas, and tons of mangos just waiting to be ripe enough for us to devour them. We’ve also got a few different herbs growing along one side of our house, as well as some beautiful flowers.

I love the vaulted ceilings throughout the majority of our home. My very favourite room in our house is our bedroom, with my workspace coming in at a close second. Our room is such a sanctuary of light and rest. There is nothing fancy to it. Just simple peace.

We will be able to stay in this home for the full three years of my husbands’ contract. It’s refreshing to know that you can stay put or change homes based on what suits us. I do sometimes catch myself thinking, “Do I really live here?” It’s light years away from anywhere I ever thought I’d live. But daily life definitely keeps me in check.

The most important things we brought with us are probably the items that hang on our walls, like paintings and special photos. I spent a good three or four days cleaning, unpacking, and arranging when we moved into this house. The kids were so excited when they saw all our photos and art hanging on our wall again! Funnily enough, they were also thrilled to see some super simple things, like mundane water glasses. “Look, mom! Our glasses are here! And our bowls! Wow!” Having their toys again, after about two months of only a backpack full of toys, was also quite a thrill.

These same things really helped me to feel at home as well. In addition to, of course, all of the furniture in my workspace. That’s the only room that we furnished completely ourselves. We knew that homes are rented furnished in Saba, so we didn’t bring everything. But we did still bring enough to make sure that the essence of our home in Amsterdam would shine through here. So if you’re thinking you’ve seen this home before, great! That’s exactly what we’re going for!

We made sure to move here on a weekend so that the kids would go to school soon after we arrived. We didn’t want to be here too long and have the excitement build up so much before starting school. So we arrived on a Saturday, Monday happened to be a day off, and they started school, uniforms and all, on Tuesday. Luckily school went well from day one! The homesickness only started after a week or two.

On such a small island, word gets around quickly that there are new people in town. And at the same time, because we have four villages, it feels bigger than it is and there are plenty of people I’ve not yet seen or met.

Living on Saba has hugely improved my children’s English. While I have always spoken English to my children, they have always responded in Dutch. Oddly, they continue to speak to me in Dutch, but the local language is English. From listening to the kids speak with Shirley, our kitten, it seems she speaks English, too.

The population is also really diverse and mixed here. My children are no longer part of the majority race in their classroom. We have talked about and exposed our children to different cultures, races, and religious beliefs, and their school in Amsterdam was pretty mixed, so it’s not actually something they notice themselves, and I don’t have a specific lesson I hope they learn from that. But I do think it’s a good thing to not always be in the majority.

Resource-wise, the importance and scarcity of water is something they feel and live with every day. We have talked about this a lot in the past, mainly because of the area of work I was in (international development), but they’ve never had to worry about whether the water might literally dry up. Here, we do. Which is crazy for a child, particularly when they see that they are surrounded by water! But they’re doing a really good job of conserving.

While we miss our bikes, the parks and museums, and everything Amsterdam had to offer, there is also a plus-side to having very little external entertainment possibilities. There is more time for general discovery, gardening, hiking, fishing, trying out new recipes together, or hanging out at the beach, without feeling like you’re missing out on anything.

All in all, I hope this change helps my children to understand that discomfort can be a good thing, that we learn when we remove ourselves from our comfort zone. That’s not to say that we should never become comfortable, or that we should seek out discomfort, but that it’s not inherently bad and it can help us to become more confident in ourselves

Creating a new work structure has been a real challenge. Accepting that has also been a challenge! It strikes me as so odd that a new balance is so hard to find when the daily motions really are quite the same: get up, eat breakfast, shower, do the morning routine, kids to school, husband gone, sit down and work. Should be simple. But it just isn’t for me.

It’s taken some work for me to allow that of myself. I think I finally have. So while my business is doing really well on the one hand, I’ve definitely not been able to grow it in the way I think I could have had we not moved. And now we’re into summer holiday, which means that time to work is at an all time low.

However, there are new possibilities that are starting to show up that would probably not have been available to me in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I was a small fish in a big pond. Here on Saba, it’s less likely to be lost in the masses. I’m starting to toy with the idea of working in a space outside of my home, perhaps one that could act as a bit of a shop. I feel like this would be a good place to test those waters.

I do think that a whole year to fully transition is probably what it will take. Now that I write that, I realize that we actually discussed that before we came. My lack of patience crept up on me and made me believe that I had to have everything completely under control. Happily, I’ve started to remember again that everything will never be completely under control; the chaos must simply be well managed.

The one thing that has surprised me most about myself and my family during this massive change is that we actually live here! That this is our life. In good moments and bad, I find it absolutely wild that I live here.

Also…what a team we are! I know it sounds super corny, but together we are strong and can support each other through difficult moments. This was not a surprise to me, but confirmation of what I already believed. There have been many moments filled with tears and missing friends and family, but we do all realize, particularly in our moments of doubt, that wherever we are together is home.

–-

It was so lovely to hear from you, Meghann! I know you’re right: moves help us realize that wherever we are together is home sweet home. Also, the way you’ve described the island makes me and probably a few other readers want to visit, so maybe you’ll have more friends to someday add to that 2,000 population!

For those of you who’ve made a drastic move to a location completely opposite to your usual living setting, did this interview bring back some memories? Whether you went city to country, heavily-populated to just a few, I’d sure love to hear your stories!

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

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Living With Kids: Rachael Bailey http://www.designmom.com/2015/06/living-with-kids-rachael-bailey/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/06/living-with-kids-rachael-bailey/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 16:00:18 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=56165

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–-

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

Thank you for it all, Rachael!

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

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Reading Weekend http://www.designmom.com/2015/06/reading-weekend/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/06/reading-weekend/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 15:38:35 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=55172

Image and text by Gabrielle. Remember Baby June?

Last month, I mentioned that we scheduled a “reading weekend” for our family, and I receive several inquiries wanting more info, so I thought it would be fun to give you a little rundown of what we did.

The idea came about because we’ve missed reading books as a family. We read to the younger kids at bedtime. And all of the kids read on their own (except little June who is just starting to learn). But we used to read more books as a family, and we feel like we used to read more books overall (Ben Blair and I included). I think that everyone has been so busy lately, that our reading habits have changed for the worse. Anyway, Ben got the idea of dedicating a weekend just to reading, and I thought that was genius.

Of course, we considered hosting this at home, but we knew we would be too distracted with errands and household tasks and regular schedules. The kids too! So we decided to go to a hotel. We picked a non-touristy spot that was only about 45 minutes away, so that we could get hotel rooms at a decent price. Then, we put together on a schedule, and considered what might work for June, who as I mentioned, is not an independent reader yet.

Obviously, depending on ages and stages, this wouldn’t work for every family, but here’s what we came up with:

Inaugural Reading Weekend Schedule

Friday Evening

6:00 – 7:00  Dinner — discuss schedule and expectations with the whole family

7:00 – 8:00  Listen to Wonder in car as we drove to the hotel (we had started this audiobook on an earlier roadtrip and had about 4.5 hours left)

8:00 – 9:00  Listen to Wonder at the hotel

9:00 – 9:30  Swim at the hotel

9:30 – 11:00  Watch Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Saturday

9:00 – 10:00  Breakfast at the hotel

10:00 – 12:30  Finish listening to Wonder

12:30 – 2:00  Personal Reading (for personal reading times, we occupied June with Dr. Suess early readers and with reading apps on the iPad)

2:00 – 3:30  Lunch at local diner, picked up a few things (like swim goggles, and dinner stuff we could eat at the hotel) at Target

3:30 – 5:30  Personal Reading

5:30 – 6:30  Read Plato’s Apology as a family — we took turns reading this aloud, June did not take part : )

6:30 – 7:30  Swim at the hotel

7:30 – 8:30  Read Munschworks Grand Treasury as a family — each person picked one story from the collection

8:30 – 10:30 Watch Penguins of Madagascar while eating a late dinner of munchies

Sunday

9:00 – 10:00  Breakfast at the hotel

10:00 – 11:00  Personal Reading

11:00 – 12:00  Listen to The Pearl of Great Price on the drive home

A few notes:

Initially, we created a more ambitious reading schedule, but since we’d never tried something like this before, we concluded that the primary aim was to make sure everyone enjoyed the weekend, so if/when we do it next time, everyone would be excited.

Even so, it was fairly ambitious. As a family, we worked in a book of scripture (well, for Mormons anyway), a core philosophy text by Plato, a contemporary novel, and some really fun children’s literature. Beyond these, in the personal reading, Maude began and finished Paper Towns by John Green, I began and finished Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson (she’s the sister of one of my best friends!), Ralph finished or nearly finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Ben Blair made a lot of progress in a John Muir biography, plus re-read some of Emile. Betty nearly finished a book in the Series of Unfortunate Events, June read Hop on Pop, Oscar read a lot of Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome, plus his shark book, and Olive re-read Princess Academy. Just thinking, it would be fun to count the number of pages we read altogether!

Overall, we felt it was a success and have already put another one on the calendar. If we can pull this off twice a year we think that would be amazing. One of my favorite parts is that it was really stress-free. Packing took just 15 minutes, the hotel was decent and simple — exactly what we needed, and there was no pressure to be tourists.

Ben Blair is particularly good at figuring out what our family needs to connect with each other, and this was perfect!

What do you guys think? Have you ever tried something like this? Do you think it would appeal to your kids? Would it appeal to you? I loved it so much that I’ve been wondering if I can somehow give away a reading weekend as a prize!

P.S. — The reading loft.

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Living With Kids: Jessica Rushing http://www.designmom.com/2015/05/living-with-kids-jessica-rushing/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/05/living-with-kids-jessica-rushing/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 11:00:21 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=55636

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kelsey Gerhard.

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

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

Please help me welcome Jessica!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–-

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

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

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

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Living With Kids: Meghann Halfmoon http://www.designmom.com/2015/01/living-with-kids-meghann-halfmoon/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/01/living-with-kids-meghann-halfmoon/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:00:50 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=53000

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Describe a typical day in your world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also with marriage. I used to ask my mom how you can love somebody for so long, through thick and thin. And she would say, “It’s a choice. There are times where you’re in love, and times where you stick by because you have deep respect and you love the person, even if you’re not in love at the moment.” I really took that to heart.

–-

Thank you, Meghann! I can’t wait to hear about your new life in Saba, so please let us know if you spot a faerie or two!

I’m so inspired by your small space and how well the entire family – and houseguests – live in it. From experience, it is all about the big love! And I had to laugh about you finding your destined creative career even though your parents prodded you in a more practical direction. I hope in some way you’ve inspired other parents to be open to the paths their children are forging. Love always finds a way, right?

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

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Living With Kids: Shira Gill http://www.designmom.com/2015/01/living-with-kids-shira-gill/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/01/living-with-kids-shira-gill/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 15:00:28 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=52726

By Gabrielle. Photos by Vivian Johnson.

I promise I’ve got some wonderful homes sitting in chillier locales in the queue, but I’m giving you another California home and sunny interview to warm us all up today. Meet Shira Gill, a sweet mom and wife who turned her 25 house moves into a thriving and much-needed business that edits pretty much an entire life.

Are you hanging on tightly to too much? Do you dread opening your closet in the mornings, not to mention – shudder – your child’s over-crammed wardrobe? Do your afternoons careen into crazy town no matter how well you think you’ve prepared for the chaos? Call Shira. I bet she’s either experienced or seen and solved much worse!

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

A: Hi there! My husband, Jordan, and I both grew up in the SF Bay area a mere ten minutes from each other. Although we had several friends in common, we never met. We met working at Camp Tawonga, a children’s environmental education summer camp near Yosemite, when we were 20 years old. It took several years for him to convince me to date him, probably because I was balancing a busy schedule of dating the wrong people and traveling as much as possible. He works as the director of development for a non-profit in San Francisco, and I run my own business helping busy families streamline their homes and simplify their lives.

I’m so relieved I came to my senses and married him because it was the best decision I ever made. Jordan and I are opposites in many ways, but truly compatible and complimentary. I am creative, energetic, and impatient, while Jordan is grounded, practical, and calm. I help to motivate him when he is feeling a little bit lazy, and he is one of the only people that can calm me down when my mind gets racing. I often get restless and crave adventure and, luckily for me, he is always happy to be along for the ride…

We have two beautiful, funny, strong-willed, rambunctious girls: Chloe is five and Emilie is three. Chloe started talking at nine months and has never stopped. Like, literally. Never. Stopped. She has a mind that runs a mile a minute and a strong sense of herself and how she wants things, so she keeps us on our toes. Emilie is an incredible artist, adventurer, and climber. She is heartbreakingly earnest, so sweet and affectionate, and never stops moving. They are a lively crew that loves singing and dancing around the dining room table, doing art, cooking, and building forts. A typical portrait of our family would include Jordan relaxing on the couch while the girls run in circles playing instruments and I rearrange the furniture.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: It’s a crazy story, actually. We had been living in a rental in Oakland, which we loved but had outgrown. Emilie had a makeshift nursery in a large utility closet, and we had been pounding the pavement for almost two years trying to purchase our first home. The Bay Area is where we both grew up, and we wanted to stay close to our families, but it became increasingly frustrating to see how impossible it is to buy a home here!

We would drive around with the girls every Sunday, taking turns hopping out of the car to view houses and keeping the girls out of trouble. Every spot we considered received at least ten offers, all well over the asking price. Just when we were starting to give up hope, we got a call from my good friend, Mahnee. It went a little something like this:

Mahnee: “Hey, want to buy my house?”

Me: “Um, yes.”

It turned out that Mahnee and her family were being relocated abroad for a work opportunity and needed to sell their home right away. She didn’t want to work with agents or deal with the drama of stagers, painters, and people traipsing through her house, so they offered to sell the home as a private sale at a price we could afford. We signed papers a few weeks later over wine and cheese and salami.

Life can be full of surprises and unexpected good fortune. We bought the home shortly after my father died, and at the time I wasn’t feeling very hopeful about anything, much less ever finding a house to call our own after our fruitless searching. We closed escrow on my birthday and had a big party to celebrate a few months later. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend for changing the course of my life with her incredible act of generosity.

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

A: We live right in the heart of sunny Berkeley, California not far from where we both grew up. We are in a very central area, surrounded by amazing galleries, restaurants, farmers markets, yoga studios, and parks. We can walk a few blocks and be at a library, an ice cream parlor, a cafe, or even a climbing gym!

While it is sometimes challenging to confront living in a dense urban setting, I also feel proud that my children are growing up surrounded by so much grit, culture, and diversity. The Bay Area also offers the best weather year round and proximity to the ocean, the mountains, the forest, and the city…really there is something for everyone!

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

A: I would say streamlined, airy, and relaxed. I aspire towards the beauty and simplicity of Scandinavian style, and a real less is more approach. I love to create spaces that feel really comfortable and inviting, but also stylish.

My philosophy is to buy less, and to invest in high quality, thoughtful pieces that we will enjoy for years to come. Although we keep our home fairly minimal, I do love to shop at our amazing local boutiques and indulge in accessories for our space. We recently splurged on a set of Heath Ceramics, which look great in our open cabinets and make me happy every time I eat. (Little tip: we bought “seconds” from the factory in Sausalito and saved a boatload of money).

We also splurged on lighting, which I think is very important, dreamy bedding from Erica Tanov in Berkeley, and Turkish towels and cute dish clothes from Atomic Garden in Oakland. I like to invest in items like beautiful dinnerware, bedding, and towels because you’ll use and enjoy them every single day!

I also think constraints like time and money can be helpful when it comes to creative design. The house we bought was a challenge for me initially because it is a 1916 Craftsman with a ton of dark wood throughout; while certainly beautiful, it just didn’t feel like my style. Also, since we bought our home from a friend we needed to reinvent it to make it feel like our own.

We moved in ten days after we closed escrow and, in that time, we changed all of the lighting, painted the entire interior, and did a fast and furious kitchen remodel. We saved money by buying our own fixtures and hardware, and by removing all of the cabinet doors and spray-painting everything white instead of buying new cabinetry. We also replaced the black and green granite with inexpensive white subway tile, which brightened the room right up!

Q: You’ve moved over 25 times! Tell us what you’ve learned about making a new house a home.

A: Yes! Between being a child of multiple moves and divorces, and a former life working as an actress, I have become an expert mover. Whenever I move, I bring a moving kit stocked with the essentials: bottled water, energy bars and snacks, paper towels, a sponge, and cleaning supplies. The first thing I do when I arrive in a new space is make the bed and set up fresh towels and toiletries so I can collapse at the end of the day. Then, I unpack completely, breakdown boxes, and even hang art if I have energy. I also love to add a few personal touches like fresh flowers, framed pictures, favorite music, and a candle to feel instantly at home and cozy.

The real key to being able to relocate with ease is being fairly well edited to begin with. Of course it’s more challenging to be a minimalist with kids, but I do my best and make it a habit to edit and donate whenever new things come in.

A little trick is that I hang a tote in my closet and do little sweeps of the house that take no more than five minutes. I toss things in the bag like clothing my kids have outgrown and toys that are seldom touched. When the tote is full of donations, I drop off the goods at a local charity. Having less stuff has actually added a sense of great abundance, flexibility, and freedom to our lives. When we want to take a trip, we can just hop in the car and drive to LA with nothing more than a few bags of clothes and essentials!

Q: What inspires you in your career?

A: My difficult childhood probably fueled my desire to create calm, organized spaces. When I was eight, my parents had a bitter divorce and custody battle which triggered my Dad to become severely depressed, an illness he would struggle with on and off until his untimely death a few years ago. There has always been a great deal of heartache in my family, and I think having control over my environment has been a saving grace for me.

As a mother, I also feel there is a tremendous amount of consumer pressure to keep up with trends and buy all of the latest gear and gadgets. I like to provide an alternative, and firmly believe that what helps children thrive has everything to do with feeling loved and nurtured…and nothing to do with physical things. In my own life, I have seen my children play for hours with a cardboard box or a fort made out of pillows from the living room. I think having less inspires great creativity and imaginative play!

Additionally, I find inspiration from the wisdom, insights, and companionship from my close circle of friends, each of whom is figuring it out as they go in their own brilliant and colorful way, and from the stories and images of other mothers who share their lives and style on their blogs and websites. It can be far too easy to get competitive or judgmental, so I have recently launched a new series on my blog where women can share tips from their tool kits with other moms.  We’re all trying to accomplish a bit of sanity and calm amid the chaos of kids and work and life, so why not support each other on the way?

Q: Tell us about Shira Gill Home.

A: I started my company to help women who were feeling overwhelmed in their homes and stressed in their lives. What sets me apart from traditional home organizers is that I really coach my clients to create a space that represents who they are and what they care about. We examine what they use and love, and clear out all of the excess clutter before organizing and styling. I’ve turned offices into nurseries and closets into offices and everything in between! Over the years, my business has grown to include spatial planning and design, project management, and style makeovers.

I love having an opportunity to help my clients transform their spaces, sometimes in as little as a single morning. It’s a terrific fit for me because it’s fast-paced, creative, and always full of interesting new people and locations. Clutter holds people back in all aspects of their lives, from finding a new job to finding love and interpersonal connection. In the past year, I have helped several people purge the remnants of past marriages and remake their spaces to meet their needs as single parents and as single people. I have helped people go from being ashamed of their spaces to hosting holiday meals for their extended families. I have worked with teenagers and their parents to create more functional rooms and study spaces. It has been hugely gratifying to witness personal transformations in my clients once the clutter is gone.

On a typical day, I drop my kids at school and work for three or four hours on site editing, organizing, and styling. I usually bring lunch back to my home office where I do my accounting, blogging, design research, and client calls. My office used to be a porch, and it’s the sunniest room in our house. I always keep it furnished with my favorite design books, fresh flowers, and a glass jug of water. It’s the only room in our house that feels like it’s just mine, so even though it’s where I work, it feels like a relaxing retreat.

I pick my kids up in the afternoon and we usually play for a bit or grab a treat, and then get right to cooking dinner since they go to bed super early. Sometimes the girls tag along with me when I go on donation runs or pick up supplies, and I’ll often head back to the office while my husband reads the girls their books before bed, but mainly I keep a nice separation between work and family time. I prefer it that way!

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

A: I hope they remember feeling super safe and loved and free to be exactly who they are. I hope they remember being surrounded by an extended family of so many people who love and support them. I hope they remember holidays celebrations, family dinners, birthday parties, doing art on the patio, and running around singing and dancing their little heads off.

I hope they’ll remember their father’s raspberry pancake breakfasts on weekends and my homemade macaroni and cheese, and forget how exhausted we are right now and how often we give up and order Chinese take-out.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own girls?

A: How fun it is! My girls make me laugh harder than anyone, and they are truly my favorite companions. Someone told me when I was pregnant that motherhood would be harder than I ever could have imagined but also more rewarding, and I have found this to be true. Being a mother to girls also feels like a huge responsibility, and motivates me to be as brave, strong, and confident as possible so I can teach them by example. I also love the opportunity to eat ice cream cones and chicken tenders on a regular basis!

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

A: That I would be able to create this little family of my dreams! Growing up as a child surrounded with a lot of struggle and brokenness, I sometimes wondered if that was destined to be my legacy, as well. I have to pinch myself now when I look around at my life, our sunny home, and our beautiful, happy children.

Being an adult has given me the freedom and opportunity to create the kind of home for my children that I always wanted for myself; one filled with love, beauty, warmth, joy, and humor.

–-

Thank you, Shira! I happen to really love being around people who are great life editors – I always learn something just by being next to them! – so feel free to pop by and sit in my living room. I also adore how you overcame a tough childhood and turned it into the basis for a solution for yourself and for others. Well done. I mean that.

Friends, it’s a great point to splurge on the things we use every single day. Do you remember to do that, too? Sometimes I find myself hesitating because of a price tag or a pang about whether we really, really need such a lovely item…but usually I remember that life is too short to be surrounded by things that make you frown!

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

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Living With Kids: Noa Weintraub http://www.designmom.com/2014/11/living-with-kids-noa-weintraub/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/11/living-with-kids-noa-weintraub/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:00:03 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=52013

By Gabrielle.

I hereby declare Noa Weintraub Queen of the Stunning Staircase! She is ruler over two of the most startlingly stylish sets of steps I’ve seen, so I really think she deserves the crown. (There should really be a crown.)

Her home is a fun house, for sure. You would never in a million years think that the force who designed these spaces thought she didn’t want a child! This honesty, this unabashed creativity, and Noa’s great advice — one of her gems is “Life’s too short to wait for a special occasion! — all make this tour a favorite of mine. I hope it’s one of yours, too!

Welcome, Noa!

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

A: Hi! I’m Noa, an artist, illustrator and ceramicist. My partner, Mark, is a photographer, and we live with our six year old daughter, Matisse. Until recently, we also lived with Mark’s son Wyatt who is 20, but we are still lucky to see him frequently — especially when good food is involved.

Sharing our house are Wyatt’s two snakes: Psycho Sy is a King Snake, and Fluffy is a Royal Python. I know, I know! It took me a while to get used to them, but they really are nicer than they sound and conveniently very low maintenance.

Mark and I met while on an advertising job, back in my more glamorous days when I used to be a fashion stylist. These days, I’m more inclined to be wearing flats and wellington boots than high heels and sequins. That’s not to say I don’t try and dress up as much as I can. I’ve always believed life’s too short to wait for a special occasion. Wear the clothes you love as often as possible, even if it means dressing up for the school run! Working as an illustrator and being a mum work well together, I’ve discovered. I have the flexibility of choosing my own hours and I make sure that I work around Matisse’s schedule. (It’s also a really good excuse to buy loads of vintage children’s books, one of my favourite things!)

Mark started out as a graphic designer, became an Art Director, then photographer, regularly featuring in British Vogue and iD magazine and working for clients such as Armani and Clarins. But he is a real nature boy at heart and a lot of his photography now reflects that, which means he’s always out and about in the great British countryside. He’s recently published his third photography book, The Angler Who Fell to Earth, which you could say is about his main passions: landscape and culture, experienced by, say, fishing or through music. His love of the outdoors has definitely rubbed off on me, in spite of being a city girl through and through. Now that I am a mum, I am aware of how important being out in nature is, and how crucial to our children’s development and understanding of the world.

As a family, we drive out of town for walks and woodland adventures as much as we can. Looking for fairies always helps get our six year old in the mood if she’s feeling a little uninspired. Mushroom hunting is definitely one of our favourite things to do in late summer and autumn. We come home and Mark dries them in the oven or makes a proper wild mushroom risotto for us. What’s not to love?

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: Well, here’s the thing…We live in the 1930s house that I grew up in!

I moved in as a student at college while my parents live abroad, and then things just evolved from there. Before I knew it, I was raising my own family here. We never planned it this way, but like someone once said, life never turns out how you think it will.

It’s hard to transform a house where you have so many memories of childhood, but I think I’ve managed it. It’s very rare now that I see it in the same light as before.

When I first lived here, it had the 1970s kitchen with the crazy orange yellow and brown patterned linoleum. The bedrooms upstairs had the most dated built-in wardrobes and the bathroom had a beige wall-to-wall carpet! Ahh, the seventies! Slowly but very surely, I ripped things out and put my own mark on each room. And when I was pregnant, we added the loft extension to gain the extra room and bathroom.

It has always been tricky to decide how much to invest in the decor of the house. With a limited budget and the idea that we’re not going to live here forever, it’s been hard to determine what is worth doing and changing and what we can live with. But sometimes there are itches that need to be scratched, and every now and again I just have to do something about something! We’ve slowly made it our own, and hopefully one day we can start with a blank canvas somewhere else.

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

A: I’ve lived in London pretty much most of my life, and I still love it. I love living in a big energetic vibrant city. I love the fact that I have so much culture around me. It’s an endless stream of stimulation with the volume turned up!

We have a membership to the Tate gallery, so the three of us often go and check out the latest art exhibitions there. The best was taking Matisse to see the Matisse exhibition recently. She loved it, and nd of course loved seeing her name in big letters everywhere.

Having said that, the area we live in is the suburbs of North West London, which means we get the best of both worlds. We can tap into the hullabaloo of the city, and then retreat to the green streets of our corner of it all. The fact that we have a garden makes all the difference to us. Mark has slowly turned it back into a wildlife rich habitat, and part vegetable plot. Fourteen species of butterflies are regularly seen, as well as a huge list of birds from sparrow hawks to green parakeets, frogs, foxes, and ample wild flowers in preparation for future bee keeping. If we do want to venture out but not far, the heath is just five minutes away where we can enjoy a quick fix of the trees and ponds there.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: Ooh! Well..I love the chandelier in Matisse’s room, the tambourine lady lamp that I found in a house clearance shop, and I love the Grayson Perry framed silk scarf hanging in the living room, which was a birthday present from Mark.

But my favourite thing by far about my house are the blue gradient stairs. Every time I go up the stairs it fills my heart with joy and makes me smile inside. I LOVE colour. I think it can make such a difference when things around you are bright and happy.

I’ve always worked in vintage clothes shops since being at art college. Chelsea College of Art used to be across the street from the fabulously famous vintage shop Steinberg and Tolkien, and it was not unusual for me to swap study days with being amongst the most glamorous clothes you could imagine. Later on, I worked closely with the stylist Marianne Cotterill, the most creatively inspiring woman I know. I owe a lot of my aesthetic to her, I think, as far as feeling utterly free to mix and match according to my inner style instinct. Placing modern with antique and everything in between, and adding the most unexpected things just because it makes me smile. Humour is always present, and I try not to take things too seriously when it comes to arranging and rearranging the house. Not being precious about getting things right, and definitely not trying to match things.

When I go shopping at antique fairs or flea markets, if I see something I like I very rarely think if it will go with everything else. If it makes my heart skip a beat, chances are it needs to come home with me. I’ll make sure I find a place for it.

Q: You mentioned in your first letter to me that your home is like an ever-changing mood board for you. I love that. But do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things?

A: Yes, I often change things around. If I buy something that excites me, it will make me want to readdress the room to accommodate it. I do love being surrounded by objects that inspire me, and often some detail will find a way into what I’m working on at the time. I love looking at the things I’ve collected over the years, or things that have passed down from both my grandmothers. Every object tells a story and provokes memories remembered or fantasized.

Utility is important. I try and take it into consideration, but sometimes passion gets the better of me and it’ll go out the window! The best moments in the house are definitely when practical solutions are made possible by using beautiful objects. It’s almost like a challenge. A puzzle.

And I love it when serendipity steps in to give a helping hand. Quite a few pieces of furniture in the house were items found chucked out in the street! The mirrored cabinet in the living room was found round the corner. The cabinet in Matisse’s room, found on my street. I wanted it for my shoes collection, but she quickly claimed it for herself! She’s already showing signs of interest in home decor. It makes me happy that I’ll have a partner in crime in my future antique hunting travels.

Q: You and your partner both work from home, which is often a difficult thing to manage – especially in terms of knowing when to start and stop your work and family time. How have you sorted it all out? What works and what doesn’t?

A: It took me a while to figure out that you need to treat working from home like you would working from a studio or office away. You need to get dressed for a start!

A good tip is to figure out what times in the day you tend to be most productive in different things. For example, I try and do all my admin like emails first thing in the morning, and then the more creative stuff after that. The fact that both Mark and I work from home…like everything, it has its pros and cons. The downsides are that we can easily get into long conversations about what we’re working on. Before you know it, it’s time to pick Matisse up from school! The upside is that because we’re both here, it’s not as solitary as it could be.

Our studios are next to each other so there’s a work vibe going on. It’s inspiring and can be a positive influence at times when one of us feels lazy. If there’s no deadline to meet, we’re quite good at switching off, and once Matisse is home from school it’s hard to do anything else. I can imagine that will change the older she gets.

Q: You’re a talented artist. Your ceramics take my breath away. What has been your greatest professional accomplishment? How do you hope your career changes down the road? What does your daughter think of what you do?

A: I’ve been illustrating for about eight years now, and my ceramic work is a more recent thing. Once I had Matisse, I took a step back from work, but now that she’s at school I feel I can step things up again. I’d like to take on more illustration work and explore different possibilities within that.

My work is mostly advertising and editorial, and flicking through a magazine and seeing my illustrations printed inside is a great buzz, for sure. Knowing that my work has such a large audience is brilliant.

Once when I was working on an illustration project for a client, Matisse came up to me and said “Mummy, when I grow up I want to do what you do. I want my job to be drawing.” That was definitely one of the nicest things to hear. My heart melted.

I’ve recently joined Instagram, and I love it. It’s great to see people’s instant responses to my thoughts, collection of images, and my work.

At the moment, I sell my ceramic bowls through word of mouth, but I’m ready to take them further. Each bowl is hand painted and treated as an individual piece of work, like a canvas. My background is in fine art, and I guess that’s how I approach my work. After I left college, I used to make handbags and started out in the same way. Each handbag a hand painted one-off piece of work, sold in galleries and boutiques. I like to keep things more personal; the owner of one of my bowls knows there are no two exactly alike.

I’d like to find the time to produce more ceramic work, different functional objects, and also more sculptural and conceptual pieces. My work has strong influences of lace, crochet, and craft. I’m interested in exploring the meeting point of stereotypical female activities such as these and sculptural objects. Questioning ideas of femininity and our role as women in society. As a mother to a daughter, I now think it more relevant than ever.

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers from this very moment in her childhood in this very house? And what do you hope she conveniently forgets! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I want Matisse to have a childhood memory of a happy, laughter-filled house. I want her to feel a sense of fun associated with this house, a feeling that anything’s possible. A space of nurture. From dressing up, making art, writing stories to planting wild flower seeds, breeding butterflies and sitting round a backyard bonfire eating marshmallows.

I don’t think it necessary to fill her life with loads of after-school activities. She herself is not that keen on them either, which I guess is a good indication of her enjoying just hanging out with us.

I hope she forgets that the house was not always tidy, and that sometimes I was too tired to make an effort to do things perfectly. When I go visit my parents, my mum always makes everything look so pretty. Her dinner table is always so beautifully laid out, and everything is so thought about. I can’t remember if she was always like this, or if it’s only since she has more time to focus on these things. But in my mind, she was always this way, and I love this memory when I think of her.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own child? What do you already miss?

A: I already see how I’ll miss the fun and craziness that comes with living with a child. The reason to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like make pancakes every Saturday morning, or snuggling up on the sofa with hot chocolate and the blanket my mum knitted for her, reading a book. It’s nice to make even the most mundane everyday things seem extra-ordinary.

Every morning for breakfast I make Matisse a glass of pink milk. It’s just strawberries, banana, and milk, but somehow calling it pink milk makes it seem special!

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

A: How much fun and how much love there is involved in parenting. Even though my mum did always tell me, I never really believed her. As far back as I can remember, I knew I didn’t want to have children. I don’t really know why, it was just something that I always felt wasn’t for me. How many successful female artists with kids do we have as role models?

Then one day, something changed in me and I got curious. Before I had time to think too hard about it, I got pregnant! All the cliches of parenting suddenly became a reality, and it really is as hard as they don’t say. The positive side was that I had no expectations to crush.

Weirdly enough, since the age of four, Matisse has said she doesn’t want to have children. That really makes me laugh, but I do hope that I can somehow convince her that it’s not as scary as it may seem.

The other night as I put her to bed, she tucked in to bed her cuddly toy, too. She did it so sweetly and full of maternal care. I said to her, “You know, I know you always say you don’t want to have children, but if one day you change your mind, I know you’ll make the best mummy in the world!” and a sweet little excited smile couldn’t help itself, and appeared as clear as day on her face.

Maybe she won’t be so slow in realizing that it truly is the best thing in the world.

–-

And…tears! It is one of the very best things in the world, isn’t it? Thank you for your wonderful words, Noa. I love your art, but I equally adore your heart.

Also touching was Noa’s memory of her mother always making life look so pretty. I hope that’s one of my kids’ memories, too. What do you remember fondly about your mother? I just smiled, thinking of all the times my mom added loveliness in the littlest ways. I hope you’re smiling, too.

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

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Children’s App Review: Toca Nature http://www.designmom.com/2014/11/childrens-app-review-toca-nature/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/11/childrens-app-review-toca-nature/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 17:52:44 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=51948

Toca Boca Nature2

Images and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Toca Boca.

Oh my goodness. It’s been over a year since there was a children’s app review on design mom, but I’ve got a really good one for you today. It’s  new. It came out last week and it’s called Toca Nature. It was developed by the team at Toca Boca, a Swedish-based development company that makes fantastic apps for kids.

Toca Nature Screenshot

There are no points to earn in Toca Nature. No high score to beat. There are no berries to buy, or any in-app purchases at all. The app is about building and exploring. You can go macro and see the whole “world”, turning it around and around to see different habitats and perspectives. Run your finger through that forest and you can create a river. Or a mountain! Or a forest!!

Toca Nature Closeup

Or, you can zoom in to the details at dirt level. You can make a place for plants and mushrooms. See the animals grazing. Create a place for fish to swim. The app is designed to encourage kids to think about how different aspects of the environment connect and interact.

Instead of a competitive framework, think of this game like playing with Legos. You’re not using bricks, but you’re “building” a little world. You can work slowly and carefully if you’d like. You can change things if your first plan doesn’t work out the way you expected.

Toca Boca Nature6

Probably my favorite part is the colors. The little world in Toca Nature is beautiful! Muted, comforting, calming colors instead of the usual intense options offered on kids apps. It’s really lovely to look at.

Both Oscar and Betty love the app, and enjoy adding to and rearranging the little world they’ve created. (June too! It’s designed for ages 4 and up.) When Oscar heard I was writing an app review for Toca Nature, he asked if he could tell readers about it. Here’s what he had to say:

Toca Boca Nature3

“Well, there’s no end of the game. It keeps going and you don’t have to win. When you zoom in, you can see more stuff, sometimes you can find rocks with like a fossil on it or something.

Certain trees make certain animals appear. Like there’s a tree that can make a deer appear, a tree that can make a bird appear, and a tree that can make a bear appear. There are also mountains that summon wolves, and rivers that summon beavers. Once the trees are there, you can find a bunch of berries, acorns, and mushrooms. If you have water, you can find fish. 

I like that once you make the mountains high enough, snow appears. The wolf is my favorite animal in Toca Nature, that’s the only thing mountains give.”

There you have it. A peer-review for your kids. : )

Toca Boca Nature1

Toca Nature is a paid app. It’s $2.99 in the App Store, but like I mentioned above, there are no in-store purchases and no other ways to spend money on the app. It’s a flat fee and that’s it.

Have you heard about Toca Nature already? Do you think your kids would respond well to this sort of app — an app with no speed or points? And are there any other wholesome apps your kids loving these days? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — You can see all the children’s app review posts here.

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A Few Things http://www.designmom.com/2014/09/a-few-things-229/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/09/a-few-things-229/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 16:00:34 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=50969

Design Mom Living Room

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How’s it going? Any weekend plans you’re looking forward to? We’re thinking of our European kids this weekend, because Ralph is headed from England to France tomorrow. He’ll be in the same town, and attend the same school as Olive, but they’ll be living with different families. Oh man, the thought of them getting to see each other on most days makes me super happy, and is somehow hugely comforting. Which reminds me, I should totally share an update about how both Olive and Ralph are doing — hopefully next week!

Beyond thinking of my kids-across-the-ocean, my weekend will be mostly taken up with responding to copy edits on four of my book chapters. Anytime there’s a circumstance that requires me to make a ton of purposeful decisions all at once (like when we cleared out our storage unit in Colorado), I have to really psyche up for it and getting in a particular frame of mind. A thousand decisions that need to be made during a short time period is so overwhelming to me! It’s the exact opposite of busy work, and I find it completely exhausting. I’m sure I’m not the only one!

Before I dig in to my book work, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- I totally need this — Pep talk of the week!

- I had no idea Bridge to Terebithia was a frequently banned book.

- To mark National Public Lands Day, all National Parks are free on Saturday. Woot!

This restaurant wants to be the worst-reviewed on Yelp.

- Did you get a chance to see Emma Watson’s UN speech? Any thoughts?

- The best built-in beds for kids.

- DIY jump rope. (I love jumping rope.)

- Murder in a time before Google.

- Meta Coleman’s class on Creative Children’s Spaces looks so good.

- The A-Z of dance.

- Dying to try a pair of these drapey pants from Banana Republic — they look comfy as sweats, but elegant too! There’s a code to get a discount — use BEHERENOW to get $25 off of every $100 you spend.

- It’s Like They Know Us. So many good ones, but this might be my favorite: ”Oh, really? My little guy never fusses at mealtime. Have you tried feeding him on a white couch?”

I hope you have a fantastic weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Living With Kids: LaTonya Staubs http://www.designmom.com/2014/09/living-with-kids-latonya-staubs/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/09/living-with-kids-latonya-staubs/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 16:00:42 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=50722

By Gabrielle.

Is it just me, or are we all a bit fascinated with New York? I know so many people who either reminisce fondly about their time in The Big Apple, or else dream about someday living there. And tell the truth: When you hear the first few chords of New York, New York, you can’t help but belt out all the lyrics, right?

LaTonya Staubs lives a colorful life in Brooklyn. From the red and white polka dotted rug to turquoise chairs and on to orange spotted walls, this is an explosion of creativity. And yet, it’s still a calm from the storm that is the city, just outside their front door. That’s a trick that requires constant attention to balance and intention. But I wouldn’t expect anything less from this designer, mama, and lovely blogger. Friends, please welcome LaTonya!

Q: Tell us all about your family. (Also, your babes have such unique names, so please share how you chose them!)

A: My family and I live in Brooklyn, NY in a small and loving space. We started our family at a pretty young age, by total surprise. I was 21 and Peter was 24. River was and is still the most amazing surprise!

Before I got pregnant with her, Peter and I were young people just having fun in the city. There was always a party or show to attend, and my life was pretty much the typical life for a girl just barely out of her teens working and living in the city. I wanted a peaceful pregnancy and baby, after all the hoopla. I also wanted a baby girl with a unisex name, so she wouldn’t be judged about a job etc. before others ever met her. It goes so well with her personality.

We came up with Oak after I had already lost a baby well into my second trimester. I went into my pregnancy with him incredibly nervous and private, with a lot of feelings, and not knowing exactly how to sort through them. I soon realized that the insecurity after getting pregnant after a loss like that doesn’t just go away. All I could do was share my feelings with friends, and later with blog readers. I wanted to be strong and I wanted my baby to be strong. I knew if he made it through all the endless high risk appointments and past that 24 week mark he would be strong. Oak is a representation of that strength, like an Oak tree.

Q: How did this place become your home?

A: I don’t think we ever felt like this house was The One. I still don’t feel it. In New York, it’s always that “but” factor. To put it simply, you never get the whole enchilada in one property. Our apartment is home because we’ve made it home by adding little bits of us. It’s located in our dream neighborhood, we’re on the first floor, and have yard access – all pretty golden in NYC! – but we would of course love more space, a dishwasher, and a  washer and dryer unit. Which will probably never happen! Or, at least, not all of it at once.

It’s close to impossible to buy in our neighborhood, but we have been really lucky with our landlords. All the pre-war apartments people bought for pennies in comparison to now are being held onto super tight. At this point, we’re pretty content with renting.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I always end up bragging about our area! Really, it’s pretty amazing. We love that there is so much diversity in our neighborhood! When we considered moving a while ago, my friend said to me, “Well, maybe you’ll find cheaper rent but you will be spending more for sure. There are so many places to spend your money.” And it’s true, in the best way.

We have so many cute cafés, all of which are ridiculously kid friendly. We are surrounded by four amazing parks within just a few blocks from our home. We also have the huge Fort Greene park, which hosts the Saturday morning farmers market – it’s the best. Lastly, people from around the world come to visit the Brooklyn Flea every Saturday, which is located just a few short blocks from our house. It’s all pretty insane.

Q: You recently redecorated your daughter’s room because it wasn’t working for her. Tell us about the process and the improvements that were important to you both.

A: We did some small retouches that made a huge difference in River’s room. The major change was the addition of baskets. We wanted her to be able to access her toys and stuffed animals and craft things quite easily. But I also needed it to be an easy clean-up for me and for her, since she’s also responsible for cleaning up after herself. I love that the room is bright and fun; it’s a reflection of River for sure!

Q: Describe her reaction to making her own design decisions and with the final outcome. 

A: River loves it! We continue to add her artwork and artwork of friends to her wall. It’s always changing, and she loves that she has a say. I value her eye; even at three and a half, I think she visualizes and expresses things well. Her room is hers, and she is thrilled.

Q: How do you define – or resist definition! – your design style? How does your home’s decor and arrangement contribute to your family’s harmony?

A: This is a hard one, because I feel like I always try and stay in one design style and never ever follow through. I initially wanted this house to be a minimalistic, clean space with tiny pops of color. It definitely has evolved into a more eclectic, bohemian, plantastic space!

It’s bright, it’s happy, and some parts of it are calming. All in all, I just want someone – anyone – to feel at home when they enter that old steel door. Whether it’s the plants, the colors, or the layers of carpets that make  you feel comfortable, I’m happy with that.

Q: You’re a thoughtful blogger who has discussed openly your struggle with what to share and what to keep private. Will you talk to us about the gains you’ve felt from your site, and how it has changed your life?

A: Goodness! Like motherhood, the blog guilt definitely comes in waves. Recently after opening up more about that struggle, I’m more settled in my position of what I will and will not share, and being okay with that.

The great thing about blogging is people connecting with you deeply, especially when you hit tough spots. The sometimes bad thing about blogging is people connecting to you deeply.

So far, my readers have been so understanding and loving, and I’m happy I opened up about that struggle. I learned that the amount of people unhappy with what I was no longer willing to share was really just a sliver of my readers. I value everyone’s opinion and criticism, and I just wanted them to know that.

Blogging has definitely been the groundwork for so many long-lasting relationships, personally and professionally. I’ve also grown so much as a person through opening up in the past, and I’m so thankful to my readers for allowing me to do so.

Q: Tell us about Welkin‘s philosophy. We’d love to hear about why you started the company, your partner, and your role.

A: Welkin NYC is a children’s line inspired by, and made in, New York City. We provide a sort of uniform for the urban lifestyle: clothing that is functional, durable, comfortable, stylish, and a little bit edgy. We love to create everyday basics that defy the typical seasonal rules of fashion. Our clothes are not disposable but rather season-less, meant to be worn and layered throughout the year, year after year. We offer a collection of unisex pieces as well as a rotation of dresses, jackets, and special collaborations.

Belle Savransky and I founded Welkin NYC to translate our love for the city into something tangible. I think like Welkin’s philosophy, our roles have evolved. As we put out each collection, we learn more and the line itself takes on another shape.

I am more of an extrovert and Belle is more of an introvert, but we both are creatives and bring different talents to the line. Our personalities even each other so well, and it makes everything so smooth. Without a doubt, Welkin will always be a sustainable line, and we absolutely love that everything is made right here in New York City.

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

A: I love that my children’s toy pieces are like furniture staples in our apartment. I’m proud of that. This place is very much mine and theirs.

Without a doubt, I am surprised by how profoundly I can love these little humans. I’m loving every little moment right now.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that there will be moments when you feel like you’re totally failing at almost everything…and that is okay! Chances are, you’re doing amazing!

–-

I love peeking in on New Yorkers, don’t you? LaTonya, thank you for inspiring us today with your style and substance! I giggled when you described the best and worst parts of blogging both pertaining to the deep connections formed with readers, and I wonder how many other bloggers out there feel the exact same way? (Gosh, I wonder how many people feel that way about life? Ha!)

Was I right about New York? Maybe since September 11th, I imagine we all hold a piece of New York in our hearts. Do you daydream about living in a big city, or are you just fine simply visiting?

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

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Living With Kids: Agnes Hsu http://www.designmom.com/2014/09/living-with-kids-agnes-hsu/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/09/living-with-kids-agnes-hsu/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:00:03 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=50554

By Gabrielle.

Agnes would be a lovely friend to have, I think. She owns a cupcake shop, is a family photographer, and also runs a kids’ creative site. Life with her must be sweet, DIY divine, and photogenic. (As an extra bonus, she lives in my neck of the woods, so I call dibs!)

But with all those professional endeavors, something’s gotta give, right? If you’re struggling with your own overwhelming schedules, you might like to hear how Agnes deals with it all. From the division of duties, scheduled personal times that refuel the family’s energy levels, and effective out-sourcing, it’s good stuff. Friends, please meet Agnes! Hello, Wonderful!

Q: We can’t wait to meet you all!

A: Hi! I’m Agnes Hsu, mom to two feisty kids who keep me on my toes: Alia, five and a half, and Kian, who is three and a half. I’m married to my college sweetheart, Tim. We’ve been married for 12 years and together for 18, which seems like a lifetime but it’s all flown by so quickly!

I’m the entrepreneurial/creative spirit in the household. I run on energy and am a non-stop person. I’m an introvert by nature and don’t enjoy small talk, but can talk for hours one-on-one with someone because I love getting to know people from the inside. I’m inspired by those who take chances and have gone through trials in their lives. I am an avid reader, particularly biographies and memoirs. I’m typical type A, compulsive and frenetic. But thankfully, my husband Tim balances that out.

He’s an extrovert, super friendly, and people generally love him upon first meeting. He’s solid, laid-back, and is the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. Our interests couldn’t be more different, too. He’s very much into technology and works in marketing at Twitter, and just prior to that he was at a gaming company. He’s extremely witty, funny, and a hoarder, whereas I’m serious and a neat freak who is scared of clutter. It’s a miracle we are married!

Our kids are the center of our amusement and love. Interestingly, they are also polar opposites like my husband and I. My little girl is like a mini-me. She loves arts and crafts, creative projects, and is also super neat (actually loves to clean her room!) and enjoys baking/cooking in the kitchen as much as I do. She’s also on the shy side and it takes her a while to warm up to people, but once she does she can’t keep quiet around them.

My little boy is the complete opposite. He’s a wild monster! He wreaks havoc around the home, and leaves a trail of trains and cars wherever he goes. He’s also super friendly and will say hi to most people he meets, even on the street. Although he and his sister couldn’t be more different, they are attached at the hip. Kian won’t sleep in his own bunk, and instead climbs down every night to sleep right next her. Don’t get me wrong, we have to break up fights several times a day as they argue like most siblings, but they have a strong connection, which makes me so happy to see.

Oh, and we also have our beloved first baby, a Yorkie name Wicket we’ve had for nine years. He’s spunky even as he’s getting older, but also loves to cuddle and would sleep all day if he could.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We’ve lived in our Craftsman type home in Oakland, built in 1918, for eight years now. Unfortunately, we bought in the summer of 2006 at the height of the market, but since then it’s come back up and we feel lucky we live in a desirable yet still affordable part of the Bay Area. Given the high cost of living in the Bay, especially San Francisco, Oakland is a wonderful option, especially for families.

It used to be an apartment (triplex) back in the early 1900s, so the bedrooms have rooms within rooms which makes it nice to organize spaces around. Our dining room/kitchen has French doors that open right into the backyard. I remember our realtor saying that was an ideal flow for entertaining, and she was right. We have enjoyed hosting so many fun parties and dinners here in our home.

When we moved in, it was pretty much move-in ready. We did some minor cosmetic things like paint and add new carpet, but that was it. A year ago, we repainted the living room and kitchen and refaced the cabinets to white from maple, which gave the space a brighter feel.

Honestly, this wasn’t the home I think I would have chosen today. Since we bought at the height of the market, there was so much competition and we ended up settling a bit. And although we wanted a house to raise kids, we didn’t have kids at the time so we didn’t know what would truly be important. For example, our backyard is a deck that’s not leveled in some places and not very kid-friendly. As any parent knows, having a flat, grassed, and open area for kids to roam is key when you have children!

Over the years, though, we’ve grown to love our home. It’s the only one our kids have known, and so there are priceless memories here.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I absolutely love the Bay area! I know I am biased, but I really do think it’s the best place to live and raise kids. My husband and I are both from Southern Cal, but we met up here in Berkeley and have both lived here ever since.

The Bay area has so much to offer for families. You can be in popular destinations like the mountains (Tahoe), valley (Napa’s wine country), or oceans (Stinson Beach) all within an hour or two drive. We are fortunate to be at the center of the organic and farm fresh food movement; there is an abundance of farmer’s markets and a variety of CSA/farms offer delivery to your home, and almost every restaurant it seems here prides themselves on sustainable, fresh, and seasonal foods. We visit farms every year to go fruit and berry picking. There are museums like the SF MOMA, popular Bay Area attractions like Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz, and Ghirardelli. In nearby San Francisco, you can hop over to Marin/Sausalito via ferry or take an excursion to Angel Island to go biking or hiking. There are also great kid-friendly exploratory museums like Bay Area Discovery.

In Oakland where we live, it’s thriving with culture and diversity, which is what I love most about it. There is a sense of pride from the people who live in Oakland. For kids, here in Oakland and around the East Bay, there are museums like MOCHA (Museum of Children’s Art) with drop-in art classes, local beaches, Jack London Square which holds its popular Eat Real festival, Chinatown right in downtown Oakland, and amazing parks like Roberts or Joaquin Miller which offer hiking trails with beautiful redwood trees surrounding you.

Q: Oh, your aesthetic! It’s so calming with jolts of excitement! And there are so many touches that scream KIDS LIVE HERE. How do you balance it all and merge the sophisticated with the sweet?

A: Thank you! It is a work in progress. Interior design is not my strength, but I love to look at how other people decorate their spaces. Since I do lots of creative projects with my kids, you’ll find remnants of them scattered around the house. It can tend to look like a mishmash of things, but I (and the kids) can’t bear to part with anything we make so we find space for them. I think it keeps things looking lively and colorful.

My aesthetic if I lived alone would probably be minimalistic and clutter-free, so I love to inject my kids’ personality in our home. My daughter is really into art, painting, and drawing so I have several areas where I showcase her art – in frames that open so you can easily switch them out, as canvases, or displayed on a clothespin line. Every year, I take a picture of the kids’ favorite art and make a book so they can always look back year by year.

I like to place photos everywhere I can. One of my favorite ways is to get them printed as wall decals so they are easy and affordable to switch out. I also have a few framed galleries of our favorites and like the art books, make a yearly book of our family photos each year. The kids love going over the photo books. They get a big kick of seeing themselves as babies to where they are now.

My big priority for the home is to have the kids be able to display what they want, but I have learned to balance that with my desire to also have a home that is neat and displays “grown-up” things. So I use baskets and an “everything in its place” kind of philosophy. And have certain rules. Like the kids know they can’t play with my antique cameras or my husband’s vintage record player as “toys” but of course can touch as long as they are not being rough with them. I really believe you can have kid stuff among adult things, but the key is communicating (perhaps several times!) and giving kids boundaries. They eventually really do get it, and I believe it gives them an appreciation for things.

Q: What is your favorite space in your home? What makes it special to you?

A: Definitely, my favorite place is the kitchen. I like to cook so that’s a natural answer, but I’ve also run a commercial kitchen at the bake shop for almost ten years. So when you do that, the kitchen kind of becomes your domain and there is a feeling of ownership. My husband is a gamer – he can’t live without his computer – hence the office is probably his favorite room. The kids’ favorite is definitely their shared playroom/bedroom. They can spend hours there playing.

Q: You’re busy! Tell us about all that you do professionally.

A: My first business was (and still is) a cupcake and cookie shop, the first in the Bay area opened in 2005 before the whole craze hit. I actually grew it to five locations but sold four recently. I’m also a family photographer and run a kids’ creative site called hello, Wonderful which is where I spend most of my time currently.

My career path seems so disjointed, but I look back now and believe everything I’ve done up to this point has led me to this exact moment. The bake shop helped hone my photography skills; it was astounding how much food photography cost, so I taught myself how to shoot. Then when I became a mom, it was a natural playing ground to get even better, which eventually led to a career in family photography. After I became a mom, I realized how important it was to have flexibility in your schedule. The bake shop was my first love and passion, but it was grueling and labor intensive. So after I decided to scale back, I launched hello, Wonderful because I was constantly looking for creative things to do with my young children.

Life is busy but fulfilling and even as I am approaching turning 40 next year, I continue to be amazed that I am still learning and growing each year!

Q: Do you have help in balancing it all? Please share your scheduling tips!

A: My biggest help is my husband. Although we both work maddening hours, we are really good about splitting the work it takes to raise two kids. They are our first priority. The only way we’ve been able to do this successfully is to each be responsible for a main part of the day. He does the mornings and I do the nights. What this means is that he gets the kids up early, dresses, packs lunches, and does the drop-offs at school. I do the evening: pick up, bath, dinner, and bedtime. This allows me to work late into the night after the kids go to sleep, and not have to get up at the crack of dawn. And by me doing the evenings, he can skip rush hour traffic (staying at work later or using that time to work out) and then come home around 8:30pm. We both connect with our day then and eat dinner together.

Yes, that means we don’t eat as a family with the kids on weekdays, but I am always at the dinner table with them. On weekends, we eat all our family meals together. With two parents who work 10-12 hour days, that is the only way we’ve been able to work things out where each of us also have our “down-time.” I believe every parent should have that.

I’m also a big believer in out-sourcing if you can find it. Living in the Bay area, there’s no shortage of apps or services that can help you out. For example, there’s Instacart which is a grocery delivery service that delivers within two hour time frames. We use Amazon for almost everything and love their Prime free shipping. They just opened Amazon Prime Pantry for bigger household items like paper towels, and we also use that. There are meal delivery and planning services like Cook Smarts, Blue Apron, Munchery, or Plated. All of these services surprisingly don’t cost that much if you factor in your time spent driving and gas compared to the time you gain. There are also errand running services like Task Rabbit that can help you out in a pinch. (Note: I am not affiliated with any of these services, but I am an early adopter of new technology and services that maximize your time and make things more efficient for you. I do the cost benefit analysis and if it’s worth it, will try it out. I’m always on the hunt for new apps that make things easier for parents! If you do the research, there are a surprising amount of them that are popping up.)

Each day, I give myself three things to accomplish, and that makes it easy to break down the work. And they are often prioritized based on deadlines. My to-do list is always going to be long. So as long as I give myself a minimum of three things a day I must accomplish, then it makes things more manageable.

What doesn’t work for me is saying yes to too many things. For example, I limit the number of photography jobs I do so they don’t interfere with quality time with our kids. I’ve learned to let go over controlling every aspect of my business. I have a great staff for the bake shop and amazing manager, so I’m lucky to be hands-off there. I’ve learned over the years to delegate, and it hasn’t been easy, but I realize I can’t do it all.

Q: What do you hope your children remember from this home and this time in their lives? How intentional are you at making memories on a daily basis?

A: I want my kids to remember a lively, fun, adventurous, and creative childhood. I want them to know that everyday moments can be made special. I want them to celebrate not only big things, but little things as well. And instill the belief that you can have fun at work and play.

I try to do that through my site, hello, Wonderful. It’s become a cornerstone of so many things I love. Cooking, photography, and most importantly being a mom. It has inspired me to be even more creative with the kids which also means bonding, learning, and experiencing things through their eyes. One series I started there is Cooking With Kids. My daughter loves to brainstorm what recipes we should make. As a result, she’s also opened up her tastebuds; there was a time when she wouldn’t touch anything green or eat meat! Since starting the site, both my children and I have done so many fun projects and the time spent together has been priceless. They are proud of the things they’ve made and I make it a point to showcase them around the home.

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

A: My favorite part about living with my kids is how distinct each of their personalities are, despite the fact they have the same parents! I truly believe each child is ingrained with a certain personality even at birth. Sure, you can influence them through experiences and teaching them certain values, but the core of who they are doesn’t change. I feel truly blessed that I have two kids who are both their own little people, and I enjoy seeing how they develop and showcase their uniqueness. I love the fact that they are so different from one another.

I admit I am not a big fan of the newborn stage; it often felt like you were just a caretaker. The stage I enjoy most is the ages they are now – five and three – where they are seeing and learning so many things for the first time. Everything is HUGE for them, down to noticing an insect they’ve never seen or trying a new food. They are also talking non-stop so the questions are hilarious. Every night our bedtime ritual is “Ask mommy any three questions” and the range of silly to serious questions only one would expect from young ones would fill a comedic novel.

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

A: For me personally, I wish someone had told me to trust the journey you are on. My career path has often seemed all over the place and, at each stage, I questioned the risks and challenges I was taking. But every time, it’s proven itself to be a lesson or window to a new path or opportunity. I’m constantly learning. I’ve realized I will never be professionally just “one thing” because life and career is an evolution of your passions and interests. Although it sounds trite, I do believe that if you follow your passion, you will be right where you were meant to be.

Related to parenting, I wish someone had told me that it’s okay to let go and make mistakes because there will be plenty of them. With my first child, I was so focused on the right schedules, the right foods, etc. I became more lax with the second, and every day I realize more and more it’s okay to let chaos take over sometimes. It’s okay not have the answers.

Having kids has taught me that certain things are out of my control, and that there is beauty in madness. I mentally have to stop myself to take in moments and find magic in them…even when there are crumbs all over the place, poo in the crib, or crayon drawings on the wall.

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Agnes, thank you so much for your advice. I know you’ve inspired me on a day when my schedule and list of goals seem so scattered that I don’t know where to begin! Today, my mantra is “There is beauty in madness.”

Friends, do you make an effort to split your parenting duties and carve out worthwhile time for yourselves during the hectic week? I’m curious how you try to do it all. Do you have one trick that works like magic?

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

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