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.
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?