For all those out there wondering if it’s still acceptable to keep up the holiday decorations through the first full weekend of January, Elizabeth is here for you. You’re not late, you’re not procrastinating – you’re just observing Twelfth Night, maybe! Now, don’t you feel better?

I’m excited to share her with you, and then we’re moving on to how you’re all living with kids post holiday. No more trees. No more ornaments. No more twinkly lights. I promise. (There will probably be twinkly lights. Who am I kidding?)

Welcome, Elizabeth!

Hi everyone! The very colorfully modern Brantley family of four live here. That includes my husband Steve, our daughter Trixie who’s ten, and our son Harper who’s six. And me, Elizabeth.

Trixie busies herself drawing and reading all day long, and Harper hums and sings while he creates things and jumps around. They look alike but have very different personalities which is super interesting to experience.

I have wanted to be a mom since I was a girl so I am thrilled to have a family. My kids are sweet and entertaining and sometimes difficult, but I love it all once I have enough sleep to appreciate everything.

We moved to Charleston, Illinois three years ago when my husband made an upward career move as Head of the Reference at the Eastern Illinois University Library.

Charleston is a rural town with a good mixture of farmers and professors. Locally, people call where we live in Charleston living in town, as opposed to living in the country. Many professors and their families live in this neighborhood in old homes close to the university, but we are also close to the town square and some of the excitement.

There are not many places where you get to have the Homecoming parade and the Fourth of July parade go right by your front door!

Since we come from Chicago, this sleepy Hamlet doesn’t seem busy in the least, but just outside town there are many even quieter neighborhoods without college students wandering around. There are newer homes there and many folks live in the country on lots of land or farms.

Our house is in the small Historic District and sits on top of a hill across the street from an old church that has been rehabbed into a gorgeous Bed and Breakfast where we stayed a couple of times before moving.

We miss our old Chicago neighbors terribly so I am thrilled that we love our new neighbors! Trixie’s violin teacher is a wonderful woman who lives across the street in a beautiful Victorian house where she raised her five kids. We have a neighbor who is an English Literature Professor – she and her husband live in a cool 1950s ranch across the street and adopted one of the kittens we saved this summer. Three doors down from us is a large Victorian that is home to a Communications Professor and his husband. Our two neighbors next to us are both retired couples who dote on my kids, give them thoughtful gifts just because, and listen to all of their crazy tales.

There are no fences between our large yards so things can get busy in warm weather, neighbor-hopping. Everyone gardens and works hard to keep their homes looking well kept.

Our most important neighbor is my mom who lives directly across the street in an early 1900s four-square. She moved down here with us and there is nothing like having mom/grandma so close by. I love that my kids have so many wonderful adult role models right here on our block, and that they feel comfortable coming and going to grandma’s house.

A couple more random things about having kids in Charleston…

Charleston has a nice public library down the street from us, and since Steve works at the university library, my kids love to visit daddy at work! The public schools here are great; we have only had positive experiences with administrators and wonderful teachers for my kids.

Lake Charleston is lovely and Lincoln’s Log Cabin is a really cool place to visit. There is a state park in town called Fox Ridge and there are others close by, too.

Champaign/Urbana is 50 minutes away, Indianapolis is two hours away, and St. Louis is two-and-a-half hours away, all with lots for kids to do. We love the Childrens’ Museum and the Zoo in Decatur, Illinois and that’s about an hour away from Charleston.

There are lots of Amish close by in a town called Arthur, and we always enjoy hanging out there and seeing the horses pulled up at the grocery store and Dollar General parking lots.

Trixie has taken horseback riding lessons nearby which is a huge plus to country-living, and is now taking ballet with a woman who has had her dance studio for over 50 years!

My husband Steve had been looking for a different job for a while. Whenever he would see a university with a post he was interested in, I would get on the computer and look at real estate so that I could cast my vote on moving there based on the schools, real estate costs, and other specifics. He applied for his current job in April of 2013 and we moved in September of 2013.

I first saw our house online in April and immediately fell in love with it. Months later, when he interviewed, the whole family piled in the car for the three-and-a-half hour drive from Chicago to check out the town. We drove by our future house (this one I’m showing you around today!) and many other homes that I had seen online in the surrounding neighborhoods, and we just wondered what it would be like to live here.

Charleston is small college town surrounded by farms in every direction. My husband and I both grew up and met in Chicago, so it was hard to leave for something so different, but different is good sometimes. I did want my kids to experience living in different settings and know that – wherever you are – if you are with family, you are home.

We are still in Illinois, but a rural Illinois I had never experienced. One of the things that helped make the decision to move was a desire to expose my kids to the rural setting, while still keeping their inner city-child and feeling totally comfortable in Chicago. I think we have succeeded in that regard. Our kids love living here and love going to Chicago.

My in-laws own a studio apartment on the Gold Coast in Chicago, and that is our summer vacation destination. Early mornings at Oak Street Beach and afternoons at the rooftop pool equal total bliss. Having that opportunity to live in the city for a week each summer refreshes our love for the city and keeps it in my kids’ hearts always.

The experience of buying our house here was the polar opposite of buying our house in the Chicagoland area. In Charleston there were no lawyers, no mortgage brokers, no title company, no city codes, a very light inspection, and zero negotiating.

We were in the process of selling our Chicago house while buying a house in Charleston and it was otherworldly. All we had to do here was go to the local bank and deal with a lovely lady named Faith, who also runs a booth at the local antique mall. She made it happen quickly and painlessly. The way they do it here makes the closing costs minimal and the dealings convenient.

As a city kid, I thrive on making a good deal and noticing every detail of a home that could give us a better price. Had I known that they don’t negotiate after the inspection report, I probably would have been a little more strategic with my first offer. Mind you, real estate here is unbelievably affordable compared to where we came from.

In Chicagoland we lived in a 1000 square foot, two+ bedroom/one bath historic Chicago bungalow in Berwyn, ten miles west of downtown Chicago. It was our first home and we purchased at the height of the real estate bubble in 2006 for $224,000. Over the first couple of years before the country’s 2008 financial crisis we put $60,000 into the house (refinishing floors, new roof, window restoration, insulation, bathroom update, and exterior painting) and countless hours of effort doing what we could to improve the house and the yard. At that time we thought the house value would keep going up.

After seven years in the house and waiting for house prices to recover we were still completely underwater and were only able to sell it for $188,500 – and that was great for the market value. Moving when we did ended up being a blow to our investment in our future, but the area still isn’t back to where it was in 2006. In retrospect, many people had far more difficult situations caused by the real estate bubble bursting, so I am grateful we have landed in a good situation and we had the support we needed to get through.

Our house in Charleston is 2400 square feet with five bedrooms, two baths, and we paid $112,000. It needs a new roof and many other things, but those repairs can wait while we pay for our Chicago real estate adventure. It is difficult to live in such a wonderfully priced gorgeous home and still feel like we don’t have any cash to play with, but elbow grease and creativity have taken us on a very productive, surprising, and interesting journey.

I love our home and living in such an old house satisfies me every day.

All but one of the houses/buildings I have lived in in my lifetime were built in the early 1900s so to me, old is normal. Homes built in the 1800s and earlier have fascinated and enticed me since I was a child, so I am thrilled to finally be living in a house built in 1864. It is one of the oldest houses in town.

The house has a very interesting history. After 150 years, we are only the fourth family to live here! The family that built the house lived in it for 56 years, and the second family bought it in 1920 and spent two generations here spanning 76 years! Their claim to fame was that Burl Ives (the guy who starred in the 1964 TV special of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and sings lots of holiday songs we are all listening to right now) was a party guest in the house. He attended college here studying to be a Physical Education teacher, but he left to follow his calling as a musician. Later he became known for his music and now has a building named after him on campus.

The best thing about raising my kids here is that they have more freedom than they did in Chicago. We are still pretty protective as parents, but they have a huge yard to play in and trees to climb. As long as I can see them from the window they can be in the backyard by themselves, which is different for us. I still get nervous, but I love seeing them flit around and go from activity to activity, not always having to ask for Mom’s permission.

Our house is big enough that everyone can have their own space, but there are also lots of places to play together and hang out. It is important to me that the kids have many areas they can escape to throughout the day. Being in our 1000 square foot house in Chicago was great and we had plenty of room, but I notice that my kids are much happier having the extra room.

I grew up in an early 20th Century four-square in the Chicago suburbs along Lake Michigan. My mom embraced the older home and spent a lot of time stripping multiple layers of paint off the doors and windows and a huge built-in China cabinet. Something I learned from her about decorating is that modern decorating in an old house is really cool. We had a crazy living room and dining room that she decorated in 1972. The room’s main color scheme was purple and hot pink with lots of chrome!

The living room rug we have now is the one I grew up with. It is an original design by a Scandinavian artist. That’s where I get my design aesthetic.

I really enjoyed growing up around so much color. As a younger adult I embraced neutrals, deep burgundies, and blues, but bright colors crept back in after a while. You can’t fight color if it’s in your heart.

I studied Art and Art History in college and after getting my BFA I struggled for a couple of years trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was working at a high-end specialty bed and bath shop outside of Chicago, before Bed, Bath and Beyond and online shopping! After seeing the 1993 Martin Scorsese film The Age of Innocence I had an “Aha!” moment. The sets in that film were incredibly gorgeous and I assumed it was someone’s job to make them look so good.

I decided I wanted to work in film in the Art Department. I researched job titles at the library – there was no internet yet, folks! – and I tried to find people in the industry. I ran into lots of dead ends. Then finally, a loyal customer at the shop asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I took a risk and told her my dream. She was the first person that I ever told apart from people I was very close to, and she told me her husband just happened to be a director who made commercials and that I should call him.

I did.

I worked for him for free doing Craft Service (snack catering on set) and I made lots of mistakes, put my foot in my mouth countless times, but was wildly enthusiastic about the magic that happens on set. I loved it. That was the humble beginning of a ten year career of freelance film work in Chicago, LA, SF, NYC, and travel to small towns all over the country.

I worked my way up quickly and thrived on the stress. I lived in the city and it was wonderful. I paid off my student loans and saved money. Sadly, it all came to an abrupt end. In 2003 I was in a car accident that prevented me from working in the film industry any longer.

During my recovery my grandmother passed away. While putting her house in order, my mom and I found my grandmother’s baby book, Mother Stork’s Baby Book. It was tucked away in a box full of old papers. And that’s how I started my current career.

I was so inspired by the book I felt I had to recreate it, and I did so on my laptop from bed. The original Mother Stork’s Baby Book was published in 1904 and there is nothing else like it on the market. I created a company called Kistner Supply, named after my great-grandparents’ supply shop in rural Florida, and decided to print 500 copies of the book and see how it was received. People loved the book and we have continued to print the book for 12 years.

If you’d like, you can read the whole story about the creation of the company on my blog.

Mother Stork’s Baby Book is extremely special to me and is a precious gift for any discerning parent. The majority of my customers are in California, New England, New York, and Texas but the book sells all over the country and in Europe, Asia, and Australia. Celebrities have purchased it – my first experience with a celebrity mom was a thank you card from Courteney Cox!

I love looking at my old baby book from the 1970s that my mother filled out, and I want every child to have that incredible gift from their parents.  It’s an irreplaceable keepsake. My company’s book is printed in the United States, which is rare. The design of the book and how it is presented is very important to me, and I think the whole package is a perfect gift for all babies.

After my daughter was born ten years ago I started experimenting with my love of cashmere, and I made her first patchwork blankets and toys. They were so soft and fabulous, people commented on them wherever we went. That became a new product line in my company in 2008. I design the oversized cashmere baby blankets and chime balls made from recycled cashmere in five different color combinations, and my mom sews them. We are truly a family business!

I am in the baby business, but my babies are six and ten now so my favorite products are boringly practical. I have a BOBi robot vacuum that is like a second daughter to me! Ha! In this cold weather I am also currently enamored with the heated seats in our car and the remote start. So I am into the things that make life easier and more pleasant. I know that must make me sound so old!

I appreciate having a family friendly house where I love all of the furniture, but none of it is precious. I feel like I don’t need much for our home because I have an entire basement full of treasures I have collected from family and antique shopping over the years.

I go shopping in my basement when I get bored with something and find wonderful pieces that just need to be fixed or maybe need a coat of paint. I find artwork that needs framing and fabrics for new throw pillows, and of course many holiday decorations.

Before I shopped in my own basement I shopped in my grandparents’ and my moms’ basements for years and years. I am famous for finding things at the curb that need to be saved and I love shopping at thrift stores and junk shops. I haven’t been able to do that in a long time because I only have so much time with kids and so much space in the basement. Other places I used to love to shop are Crate & Barrel and Land of Nod outlets in Naperville, Illinois, and IKEA’s imperfect area. I have found wonderful bargains there over the years.

I am always very proud when I can clear out a space down in the overstuffed basement. It is like I am proving to myself that it is ok to save so much, including all of my grandparents old holiday decorations.

Since we moved to Charleston, the first thing we do each year to deck our halls is decorate outside on Thanksgiving weekend. I love to hang garland and lights along the steps to the sidewalk and around our entry. I fill our pots in front with an assortment of greens that come from our yard as well as from the hardware store that sells Christmas trees. They are happy when I show up to haul away their scrap cuttings. I make wreaths as well, and use extra cuttings for the mantle and anywhere and needs a little greenery.

When we moved here and had more room, I decided I wanted to get a second tree just for the kids. My daughter was coming home from school with so many cute ornaments and projects. I wanted them to have a special place to put them along with the more juvenile ornaments I have collected over the years. We bought an artificial white pre-lit tree and they love having one they can share and decorate themselves without worrying about breaking anything.

Every year more and more ornaments are made and their tree is now full. We made a paper chain garland from pieces of magazine and catalog covers as well as old holiday cards which is really fun and so easy to do.

We have a family tree in the living room where I carefully place my vintage glass ornaments, cranberries, and popcorn trimmings before the family adds many lovely ornaments that each have a story.

Trixie has a mini pink tree in her room and Harper has a silver tree in his room. They love the festive feeling that comes with having those trees come out of their boxes each year. Harper loves having red jalapeño lights around his windows.

A few years ago we bought a wonderful count-down calendar and that is a huge hit with the kids. They take turns opening each day and they have an advent calendar at Grandma’s house they also share.

For me the holidays are all about the kids having fun. I love to have everything colorful and bright because it is such a love-filled, happy season. I also like to remember where the modern traditions of Christmas came from so that my kids will understand the origins of Santa, trees, and copious gift giving.

We are a modern family living in a very old home and I like to mix up very old traditions with modern ones.

I find it fascinating that when our house was built in 1864 people in the United States were just starting to celebrate the way we do today with St. Nicolas being the face of Christmas. Things were simple, and people were learning the German tradition of displaying trees in homes and sending printed Christmas cards as gifts.

When I was growing up, the holidays seemed more somber to me. We didn’t decorate until the week of Christmas and then kept the holiday going until the Twelfth Night when the three kings were to have arrived in Bethlehem. There was always a cake with a toy baked inside, and whoever was lucky enough to get the piece with the toy was the king or queen of the Twelfth Night celebration.

I also grew up around a huge community of Jewish friends, so I was able to experience many of the wonderful and tasty Hanukah traditions as well. I like to wrap all of these traditions up together and keep the holiday going as long as possible.

We decorate inside throughout the month of December, and take everything down on after the Twelfth Night celebration with the traditional cake on January 5th. I think that my kids will remember this time of year with joy and anticipation and I hope they will learn that there isn’t one correct way to celebrate the holidays.

Our house is a very happy place. I hope my kids remember that the most. Also, that they have so many creative places to be in the house and the yard. Steve made a great tree swing for them and we also made a large teepee out of branches we had cut down in the yard. There is a bushy evergreen in the back that has become their hiding place, and we have a zip-line for cruising across the yard.

I hope they remember what it is like to take care of each other and take care of our pets.  Our family dog died last month. We had only had her for 18 months after adopting her from a rescue shelter. She was old and sick when we adopted her but we didn’t know it. When we had her for three months we found out she had heart failure, lung cancer, and massive growths in her abdomen and thought she wouldn’t live long. But with great vets and lots of love, we stretched that time and had a beautiful relationship with Coco. Lots of lessons learned!

This Christmas we adopted a seven-month-old puppy-mill rescue as a surprise gift for the kids. Arranging the adoption and keeping the secret was very hard but we did it and there were screams and squeals of shock and delight on Christmas morning! We all love her so much already! I hope they remember this time and are able to appreciate it later in their lives.

I am inspired by my kids to teach them that gifts don’t need to be extravagant to be thoughtful. When we needed to buy gifts for teachers this holiday season we strolled to the center of Charleston to our favorite antique shop called Persimmon Lane for cool vintage glass ornaments. We also love to shop at The Copper Eagle, the antique mall in town. For other gifts there is the Lincoln Book Shop where the owner Wendy is one of the first people we met when we moved to town. It is a classic used book store with walls lined with stacks and stacks of books. Recently, an EIU alum opened another used book store down the block called Bob’s Books. The owner, Joe, owned a store in Chicago for many years called Myopic Books before heading down to Charleston with his family to open a shop. All of these stores that we frequent are kid friendly and the owners are great and know and appreciate my kids.

My daughter Trixie made all of her presents this year. She knit, crocheted, made bracelets, or embroidered for everyone on her list. My son Harper was able to do his shopping at school! We made a list of people to buy for and gave him a budget and he was helped by some high school student volunteers who guided through the process of choosing gifts and wrapping them. They were both so proud when we all opened our gifts.

I hope they forget the days when they have no clean underwear. It doesn’t happen that often but when it does, oh boy, no one is happy.

I will always hold out hope that someday we will have laundry on the first or second floor instead of the basement where it is so easy to ignore for days at a time. Then there are the times when I forget it’s a special day at school where everyone wears blue or something. The kids say they don’t care, but I feel so terrible when that happens!

The best times are when I drop everything – work, chores, meals, etc. – and just hang out and do nothing. It doesn’t happen very often so it feels like playing hooky and it is all about fun. Instead of having any plans we can just wander slowly around the grocery store discussing what looks good and what we should make for dinner or watching a movie, listening to music, going for a walk, playing with dolls, or a trip to the park or lake.

I adore hanging out with them most when I don’t have to keep checking the clock. They are simple everyday things, but with no agenda or schedule. My daughter has many interests that lead to extra-curricular activities, but I make sure they are things that she loves to do so we aren’t spending out time driving around from thing to thing with her being irritable. It’s just not worth it. She works hard to master the piano, the violin, and she has just started ballet. All things that I would have loved to do when I was her age. But honestly, I would rather be chilling out with her at home more than anything else. My son is six so he wants to do everything possible, but doesn’t listen very well, so we are still hanging out most of the time and postponing going from activity to activity. That time will come soon enough. 

I really miss being able to carry my daughter around. She is almost five feet tall now so it’s just not possible. My son is still small enough for me to carry for fun and that’s great, but there is nothing like having a babe in a Moby Wrap and being so close, being able to sweep up your kids in your arms for hugs and snuggles!

Regarding parenting, I wish I would have known how difficult it was going to be to keep my small family fed. We each have our own dietary restrictions because of allergies and sensitivities – gluten, corn, sugar, dairy are all off the list for us – and I have very high standards for what we should eat. We try to be 100% organic but because we are in a small town with limited choices, that leads to very expensive food costs.

Sometimes I fantasize about how easy it would be to pull into a drive-thru for a quick meal, but that’s not going to happen. I enjoy cooking and baking for fun but I find that making healthy homemade breakfasts, lunches, and dinners is more exhausting than I thought possible. I often wonder how other people do it every day, then I remember that lots of other people are able to buy convenience foods and eat at restaurants, which, because of our dietary needs, is out for us. Because it is an everyday thing it is always there, nagging me.

When my mom takes on that burden and makes the kids dinner or lunch, it’s like a mini vacation for me. Steve and I share the cooking prep and duties, but I work from home so more responsibility falls on my shoulders. Trixie is interested in cooking and she’s at the age where she will make lunch occasionally, which is wonderful. I didn’t know how to do anything but boil water to make cup-o-soup when I was a kid so we will continue to teach her how to cook.

On the plus-side of the food issue is that we have a dishwasher in this house! I have never had one before. However, I did find a live field mouse in the bottom of it a couple of weeks ago, and that’s when my city girl comes out. A tiny field mouse just wanting to enjoy our healthful crumbs and it sends me screaming. It is just part of living in the country. I guess sometimes I forget.

Life in the country is different, but we have settled into it nicely. I hope this spring we will finally get around to building a chicken coop and buying chicks at Rural King for fresh eggs in our backyard!


I loved this one, didn’t you? Colorful images, colorful ideas, and maybe even the push one reader out there needs to jump out of their comfort zone and try out a new life. With chicks from Rural King, no less. Thank you, Elizabeth! What a treat it was to work with you on this!

And for those of you still stressing about when to take down the festivities, here’s a quote from Brian Andreas that might make you feel a little better: “She asked me when the season of joy was supposed to end and I said I didn’t really think there was an exact date, so we left the tree up till June that year.”

How long will you leave up your decorations? When will your season of joy end? (Oy, when you put it like that…I’m sticking it out until June, too! Ha!)

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! 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.