Amanda and her family live in Roswell, Georgia — a wildlife refuge in a suburb outside of Atlanta. She and her husband bought their home there a few years ago, after marrying and blending their families together. Amanda is a landscape artist, and when you see the gorgeous woods that surround her house you’ll understand how she finds inspiration for her work. Their house has a sense of old charm that you’ll just love, and art covers every wall. It must be a magical place to raise kids. Welcome, Amanda!

Hello! We are a blended bunch, living in the Metro Atlanta area. I’m Amanda and I’m an artist, and my husband Drew is a producer at a major sports website, where he writes and edits. We have five kids: Ezra (14), Naomi (13), Elijah (12), Sam (8), and now little Felix (4 months.) Alpine the cat lives with us also.

Drew and I met on a dating website. I saw his profile while browsing through, and didn’t reach out right away, but something kept nagging at me and I knew I had to say it: “I totally agree. Deserts are the worst. Also, you have great taste in music!” This is how our relationship began, though I’ve since realized that I really love the desert and it’s a wonderful inspiration for my paintings.

His taste in music is pretty spectacular though! Drew introduced me to the world of music festivals and concerts, and we have a blast attending both. We dated for a few years, and we were married last November, right here by the lake in our neighborhood.

Our oldest two kids (from Drew’s first marriage) live out of state with their mom most of the time. They’re athletic and love being outdoors, and they’ve very much turned into teenagers in the last few months. It’s interesting and fun (and bittersweet, of course) to see them growing. Ezra plays competitive soccer and Naomi loves dance and horseback riding. My boys prefer to be inside, reading and drawing or painting. Last year, Elijah started to learn coding and basic game design, and it’s now his favorite hobby. Sam loves making art. He also reads a LOT. Ezra, Naomi, and Elijah are into music, and have recently taken up instruments (guitar, ukulele, and piano, respectively). As for the baby, he is changing so quickly, and we’re savoring every moment. 

Our neighborhood itself is a city, and a wildlife refuge, nestled in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, Georgia. The Cherokee Indians believed that the water in the natural spring here is magical and healing, and it’s said that the same magic is what draws people here. In the very early 1900’s, it was a sort of mountain resort community for busy Atlantans to escape for the weekend and relax by the lake. There’s a rumor that Al Capone hid out here… but I’m not sure if that’s true! 

The neighborhood is a mix of old and new. A lot of very old cottages — some updated, some completely torn down and rebuilt — and recently, we’ve seen the addition of several larger, modern style homes. Many of the older homes were meant to be vacation cottages, so the majority of them are small; some with only one or two bedrooms. I’d say most of them are probably considered outdated, too.

Because of this, the home prices aren’t generally as high as surrounding areas. That said, there’s quite a range. A smaller home might go for $150k, while a modern new build with lake access might be $700k. Our home has 4 bedrooms as well as a finished basement, and while it needs some updating, we feel like it was such a great steal at $250k! Atlanta is growing like crazy, but the cost of living here is still relatively low.

Our neighborhood has a city hall and a tiny fire station. We even have a mayor and city council. On the Fourth of July, we have a parade which all the kids participate in, and fireworks over the lake. There are holiday traditions and community gatherings. There are long summer days by the pool. The vibe is very laid-back, and everyone is genuinely friendly and helpful. Our neighbors are like family.

One of my favorite things about the neighborhood is that a handful of the older neighbors actually grew up here; it’s so cool to hear their stories!

We aren’t far from Historic Downtown Roswell, which is the best place to find unique restaurants and art galleries locally. Downtown Atlanta is pretty close as well. The kids’ recommendations for visiting Atlanta are: watching Atlanta United play, visiting the High Museum of Art, or a trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. birthplace and museum at the The King Center.

I joke that I married into the neighborhood. It can be really hard to buy (or rent) a home here because they’re often snatched up before hitting the market. It’s a lot of word-of-mouth! My husband had moved from rental to rental within the neighborhood, over the course of several years, and we started looking to buy once we were engaged.

Initially, this house was under contract before we could get to it, but the original buyers backed out. We bought our house in July of 2018. I’d say being friends with our realtor was key. We let her know as soon as we even started thinking about house hunting, and she kept us in the loop and helped us find what we needed.

Our home was a one-room cottage when it was built in the late 20’s. That original room is now the living room. I believe it was in the 40’s that the master suite and kitchen were added (along with electricity and plumbing!). The other three bedrooms, the guest bathroom, and the basement date back to the 70’s.

The day we moved in, a neighbor told us that our house is known as “The Witches’ House.” Apparently, the witches who lived here kept a cauldron in the stone fireplace. Other people excitedly told us about the ghost in the basement. Err, thanks!

We absolutely love old things, and we appreciate the history of our home. It’s quirky and it has a lot of character. Still, there’s so much we are eager to renovate and put our stamp on. So far, we’ve only replaced the carpet and taken care of the necessary repairs. I’m not sure which area we’ll choose to update first, but it’s fun and exciting to talk about it and to hear what the kids’ wild ideas are! 

Before I met Drew, I had no idea this place existed. It’s hidden in plain sight. Once, several years ago, I took a wrong turn and ended up here at the “Wildlife Refuge” sign. I thought “What IS this??” and turned my car around. I had no clue people actually live here! It is beautiful and unique, and a bit of a secret.

We see families of deer regularly, blue herons, hawks, and the usual woodland critters like possums, owls, raccoons, and snakes. It’s so great that the animals can live peacefully here. Even though the snakes scare the life out of me. Once in a while, we’ll get a bear and that adds a bit of excitement! There are definite perks to living in a wildlife refuge. Being surrounded by nature is powerful, and it’s peaceful and quiet in general.

The lots here are very wooded. The building codes are strict, and some of the lots are too small to build on, so no one buys them. Our city is a “Tree City”, which means there are regulations regarding the removal, planting, and maintenance of trees. There are trees EVERYWHERE. Unfortunately, the leaves do block a lot of the sun, so we don’t get much natural light in our house. And when it snows or rains, or when the sun shines, branches or entire trees fall and our power goes out. That happens a little too frequently!

In my own home, we’re kind of messy! I totally understand why, when I’m in cleaning mode, my kids ask who’s coming over. I mean, we live here and we have a lot of stuff! It’s never perfectly tidy. But coming home feels good and comfortable.

I do have bad anxiety sometimes and then all our stuff bothers me. At that point I just want to get rid of everything.

I hope that our home feels inviting! We have a lot of antique furniture and unique decorations. I think that somehow adds to the energy of the house itself. Our styles blend together very nicely. Quirky, retro, nostalgic, eclectic…we aren’t the greatest decorators, but we sure love our antique finds. Drew sometimes comes home with cool area rugs or pieces of mid-century modern furniture, but we run out of room for them! Old books, art prints, globes, maps, clocks, and cameras are some of our favorite little things to collect and display. 

As an artist, I mostly work in watercolor, acrylics, and oils. I’m also a photographer and I love toying with analog cameras and trying different types of film. Typically, my paintings are landscapes, and traveling to new places really fuels my creativity. We visit Drew’s family in Utah when we can, and I love it so much. I always come home with hundreds of inspiration photos.

During our most recent trip, we spent a few days in Idaho and also decided to take a day trip to the Tetons, which was breathtaking. That trip is the basis of my newest painting series.

My home art studio is a place I’m very grateful for. It has almost everything I need, and it’s a luxury to walk downstairs to get to work! Right now, I sell my work online and in art shows. A goal of ours for the next year is for me to have a studio and small gallery space outside the home, but nearby. It would be great to meet people while I work! I would love to have open studio times for curious visitors to come and go, and to host events and workshops once in a while. 

While we don’t create much together anymore, I raised my boys on watercolors and graphite. They do a lot of art on their own, and sometimes they draw together. The oldest kids are creative as well, but I can’t say I had much of a hand in that!

I hope that seeing me follow my passion and watching as I build it into career has a positive effect on all of them.

I really want other women to know that creating doesn’t need to stop if they have children. There’s room for it in all stages of motherhood. I’m currently exploring ways to spread that message and encourage moms to keep using their creativity, whether I have a chance to inspire them through conducting workshops, an online course, or writing a book. I feel like it’s such an important message!

Blending two families into one is very tricky and can be difficult. And we’re so new at it, and always learning! Honestly, it’s hard to think of step-kids as your own. I’m still getting used to that. I think the most challenging thing is setting rules for everyone. The kids come from different pasts and experiences. Elijah is almost old enough to have some of the same privileges the older kids have, and Sam is desperately trying to catch up. Bedtimes are never fair… but that’s probably true for many of us, blended family or not. 

The structure is a bit different for Drew’s kids when they’re at their mom’s house, and the structure is a bit different for my boys when they’re with their dad. There’s a lot of “That’s not how we do things at Mom’s/Dad’s” and that kind of thing.

It’s also not easy trying to cook for kids who have very different likes and dislikes and with varying degrees of pickiness! Elijah is also a vegetarian. Sometimes I have no clue what to plan for dinners. Again, blended or not, maybe most moms can relate!

Then there’s the fact that our family includes different religious beliefs. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable for me. It’s not been as challenging as I thought it would be though; instead, it’s been a lesson in respect and understanding. I think that the blending will always have challenges — at least until the kids are adults.

It’s also fun, though. We have a unique experience, and it feels like we all chose each other. When Drew and I notice the kids playing together or bonding, it feels great. We can tell they’re comfortable with each other and becoming closer all the time, and that’s the best part.

I hope our kids look back and feel encouraged and heard. I think it takes a lot of effort to really listen to them sometimes and to focus on what they’re saying. It’s hard to pay attention when an 8 year old is telling a very long story about sword he found in a video game, but I try my best! And I hope that’s enough.

We want the kids to remember these early days of becoming a family: Playing games together, family movie nights, getting to know each other as siblings, going for spooky “night drives.” We’ve done a handful of small family trips which hopefully they remember with fondness. 

It’s sweet that this house is our first home together. The home we all prepared for the wedding in, brought Felix home to, and where we all really became a family. I think the kids will always love this place. I do hope they forget the travelling back and forth that comes with having divorced parents, and how it makes them feel. They are sad when they have to leave, and annoyed at not having all of their things in one place. I really feel for them. I know it can’t be easy. 

I love the kids’ humor, silly stories, and the way that they view the world. Especially Sam’s view at this moment. There’s something about his age that I just love. He’s full of wonder and he’s learning so much all the time, but he’s still very naive and cute. But they’re all fun, and we all laugh together quite a bit! I miss my older kids’ neediness in a way. They don’t need me in the same way as they once did. With Felix though, I’m getting one last journey through all the stages. 

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) to trust myself and rebel a little. I really think we know, from a young age, what we’re meant to be and the role we’re meant to grow into. Adults’ negative responses to a child’s passion can be absolutely crushing and debilitating.

I missed out on things, but I also learned a lot, and I got there in the end. I’m thankful for that. Of course, I don’t want my kids to rebel (or to wish they had.) I want to I wholly support their passions and help them reach their potential.

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Thank you, Amanda! What an absolutely charming home. I love that it was built in the 20s and has slowly been built up and added onto over the years. It gives the home a real sense of place. I agree with Amanda though, I don’t know if I would love the neighbors telling me there is a ghost in the basement. Hah! And the trees outside and the view are really spectacular. It must be amazing to live in the midst of such beautiful scenery.

I also really appreciated what Amanda had to say about blending her family. Different rules and meals and schedules and even different religious beliefs must be so complicated to navigate. But is sounds like she and her husband are really making things work.

It’s interesting that right after she talked about her blended family she talked about how much she works on making sure that her kids feel listened to and heard. I am sure that the two go hand in hand. When the kids feel like they have a voice, I’m certain that makes the mixing of the two families easier.

What do you do to make sure that your kids feel heard? Do they have a voice in decisions and family plans? How do you work to make your kids feel respected?

SOURCES

Baby Name Blanket from SewSara

Art print above entryway table is by Matte Stephens


Check out Amanda’s art here or follow her on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com