Today you get to meet Annie, an artist and a painter who lives with her children and her husband in a beautiful home outside Salt Lake City. When the bought the property it was an older, smaller place in need of repair. So they did some basic fix-ups to make it livable.

Then as their family grew, they needed more space but didn’t want to leave their neighborhood, so they tore down the old house and built a custom home on the lot. Their goal was to build a home they can stay in forever, and I think they succeeded. It’s livable and lovely — and it even has a climbing wall. Welcome, Annie!

We call our home the Mini Dew Ranch, a reference to some ancestral homes. I live here with my husband, Dan, and our four children, Autumn (13), Wilder (10), Archer (7), and Sawyer (4). We also have a nephew staying with us for the year while he does a service mission for our church nearby, and he’s been the older brother my kids didn’t know they needed. We love having him live with us.

My husband and I were friends in high school and have been married since 2002. We went through most of undergrad together at Utah State University, then moved to Oakland, California for a few years while my husband went to podiatry school. Our oldest was born there in Berkeley.

We came back to Utah to be closer to family while my husband finished school. I needed the support while I had two more babies with a husband in residency. When he finished, we were lucky enough to find a job here in Salt Lake City, buying a private podiatry practice. It’s been a huge blessing.

As my husband began working and I was pregnant with our fourth child, he urged me to spend some time getting some training of my own, so in my early 30s I began oil painting. I had wanted to paint with oils since I was 5 or 6 and it has been everything I dreamed it would be and feeds my soul.

Our little piece of heaven is at the end of a private lane on the border of Cottonwood Heights and Sandy, suburbs of Salt Lake City. It’s technically part of the county, which makes things tricky sometimes when dealing with regulations for building, but it can also be nice because we get to do things like set off 4th of July fireworks when surrounding areas don’t allow it.

Our neighbors are seriously amazing. We’re sort of hermits and like our private lifestyle, but we’ve gotten to know our neighbors well and they are the kindest, most thoughtful people. One of our neighbors sold us a little bit more land on one side to make building our house easier, and when they built a playground for their kids they placed it right on our border (we don’t have a fence between us) so our kids could use it whenever they wanted.

Another neighbor installed a door in their back fence, which borders our front, so my kids could cut through their yard to get to a friend’s house a street over.

Another neighbor has become a surrogate mother to me and grandma to my kids, especially since my mom passed from cancer 5 years ago, and is so generous with her love, time, and knowledge.

Those are really just the immediate surrounding neighbors but our whole neighborhood is full of wonderful people.

Since getting married I’ve wanted to find a neighborhood that felt like the one I grew up in, with teachers and farmers living alongside attorneys and business owners. I really feel we have found that here. There are older homes from the 1960s and 70s next to houses from the 90s and early 00s as well as some new builds from the last few years.

It’s such a great neighborhood that many of our neighbors have lived in several houses within only a few streets over the years. It’s also a neighborhood that’s turning over again, with older generations passing or moving to care facilities and selling their homes to younger families with kids.

We have plenty of kids in the area from babies to college students living at home with their parents, as well as empty nesters and sweet older grandparent-types. I love that my kids are being mentored by so many people in various stages of life and in different careers. It lets them see there are many ways to live and be happy, productive people.

We bought our little farmhouse on 1.1 acres in the fall of 2012 for $339,000. It turned out to be literally the lowest month of the lowest year in the market here over the last 20 years, so housing costs have gone up considerably since then with newer houses on smaller lots going quickly for $700,000+.

It’s a really great area near several ski resorts so houses tend to move quickly. There is a lot of parent involvement and volunteering at the schools and great parks & rec sports leagues for the kids. We really love our house in particular, though, because it feels like it’s in its own little valley, hidden from the world — but I can still get to Trader Joe’s and Target in five minutes. It’s really the best of both worlds.

We came across our house almost by accident. We had tried to buy three or four times prior and nothing ever felt quite right or never worked out so we had continued renting and moving around the Salt Lake Valley as my husband finished his residency.

Dan had grown up on 26 beautiful acres of land, in a farm town a couple of hours north of here, and he wanted some land with character and privacy. When he found the job in Salt Lake he worried a lot about where we could find beautiful land that wasn’t a terrible commute. He set up some search parameters on some real estate websites and this little house kept showing up.

Most of what he’d found was horse pasture, flat and treeless. He occasionally found land up one of the nearby canyons but while the view was cool, the idea of living on a steep hill and driving up and down a canyon to get anywhere was not appealing — plus I really wanted trees.

This listing that kept popping up was for 1.1 acres and an 1100 square foot house in Sandy, a suburb of Salt Lake, but the pictures were only of the very old house so he kept dismissing it until it would pop up again after another price drop.

Eventually, one Sunday afternoon, he dragged me over to check it out just for fun. I was very reluctant about it all until we pulled up. The little stone house was charming and the yard was beyond what we could have hoped for. Something about it felt like it was waiting for us. It took what felt like ages to get everything worked out with the bank’s endless paperwork and underwriting but about 7 wild weeks later we finally signed papers with a mobile notary (who knew there was such a thing!) in our hotel room at Disneyland while on our first family vacation since having kids.

The timing was less than ideal but we made it work and the house became ours. It turns out, the sellers lived nearby and the wife had a feeling they needed to be patient as we waited for the bank to approve us. I’ll be forever grateful she held out for us, even when they had other offers waiting in the wings. We truly believe we were led here and it’s where our family is meant to be.

The little farmhouse needed a fair bit of work before we could move in. We had to install carpet, repair some of the original stone walls, refinish wood floors, install a new furnace, and redo the kitchen on a shoestring budget.

At one point we were felt like we were living as squatters and hoarders simultaneously. For about a month we slept on mattresses on the floor with clothes in boxes and suitcases, while waiting for carpet, yet had walls of boxes in other areas with narrow pathways leading to the sink, refrigerator, and bathroom.

It was chaos, plus I had a 6 month old nursing baby, a preschooler and a kindergartner to drive to and from their new schools, and my husband was just beginning his practice so he had very limited time.

When an ancient cast-iron pipe broke at the end of our first week, spilling raw sewage into our newly organized storage cellar, I was pushed past my breaking point and had to take some time for my mental health before diving back in.

Somehow we made it through and once we got most of our belongings put away, it felt like home very quickly. Ultimately it was worth the work and we really enjoyed living in that little house. It was cozy and charming and, really, a special place.

When it came time to build, we leaned on what we learned from our mini-remodeling experience. We moved most everything out into our shed for storage, rented a house nearby, and only moved back once the new house was finished. It was still stressful at times (I had a brand new baby and a preschooler with me for every meeting with our builder, and my mom passed halfway through the build) but not living in the middle of the chaos was the best choice and, honestly, I loved almost every minute of it.

We aren’t part of an HOA and have no style or size requirements or restrictions so we built a custom home. We gave our floor plan sketches to an architect who turned them into usable blueprints. Our builder was incredible and helped us make wise choices based on how we live so everything is very intentional. The designer he works with understood my style preferences very quickly and after our first couple of meetings could anticipate my choices in no time at all.

We moved slowly and methodically so I didn’t get the decision fatigue that’s common with building. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted going in. Interestingly, a fair bit of it was trending at the time. On one hand it made what I wanted very accessible, which was nice, but on the other hand, I worried a bit that it would date the house and make it look too trendy. I don’t generally like following trends so I had to take a hard look at my preferences to make sure what I wanted felt timeless to me.

I decided, it’s just as dumb to not choose something I love simply because it’s trendy, as it is to choose something I don’t love simply because it’s trendy. Many of the things I chose were things I’ve liked since I was a teenager so I figured, if I’ve liked it for the last 20 years, I’ll probably like it for the next 20.

Aside from one light switch that I wish I’d put somewhere else (but couldn’t really know until we were living here), and going with a front loading washer rather than a top loader, there truly isn’t anything I would change about our house. It suits our family perfectly and still allows us to grow and change.

We designed it with the idea that we don’t want to own a cabin or vacation home somewhere else (which is common here). When we have time off, we like to stay home. It’s where our family likes to be.

We also planned areas for the future. I have a brother with special needs and someday when my dad passes, he’ll come to live with us, so we included a room for him. Right now it’s a guest room that gets a lot of use from visiting family but he has a place he knows will be for him someday.

We also planned an extra wide staircase to our guest rooms. Initially it was so we could install a chair lift so my mom could visit when she was so sick. She ended up passing before the house was finished but the wide stairs have come in handy for other reasons and, as my dad and Dan’s mom age, the chair lift is still a possibility and we still have space for it.

When we moved in, all our kids were still quite young but we wanted the house to grow with them so we made spaces with that in mind. Dan and I decided we wanted our house to be the place our kids and their friends gathered after school or on the weekends so we’ve added things that draw them in, like a ping pong table, a fire pit, and an indoor climbing wall. Already, the neighborhood kids like to congregate here.

I’m an alla prima painter, meaning I finish a painting, beginning to end, in one session rather than painting many thin layers over months and letting them dry in between. I found being able to start and finish a painting in one sitting met a need inside of me. There is a distinct beginning and ending.

So much of what I do as a wife and mother is cyclical, needing to be done again almost as soon as the job is finished, like laundry, dishes, and cooking. For years I found the never ending spiral maddening and infuriating. I never got that feeling of accomplishment and in a way, it made me feel trapped in drudgery because there was always another dish to wash or another meal to prepare. Painting alla prima allows me to feel accomplishment and progress.

Interestingly, the things I’m most drawn to paint are everyday things from my life as a mom. I paint the spring blossoms on our fruit trees or the fruits and vegetables we’re having for dinner that week. Painting them helps me better appreciate them.

Even before I became a painter, to enjoy my life more, I began looking for the small, beautiful moments and taking the time to appreciate them. It was an intentional change in perspective and it has completely changed the way I view my work as a mother. Instead of being annoyed at my toddler’s sticky hands, I chose to notice the sweet roundness of them. Instead of dreading all the vegetable chopping to get dinner ready I chose to pay attention to how each vegetable looked, smelled, and felt. Instead of sending my kids outside alone, I chose to go out with them and walk around the yard looking for the small changes, like new mushrooms or buds starting on trees.

That perspective, looking for the beauty in the everyday, feeds my painting practice, and my painting practice, in turn, feeds my desire to find the beauty in the everyday.

Painting helps me be a better mom, and putting the thought and effort into being a better mom helps me be a better artist. They support each other. In this cycle, I can see I have the power to create a beautiful life, not just for me but also for my family. It has helped me see that the small, simple things I do every day build up into great things.

I no longer discount or dismiss the neverending “mom” work because all those sticky toddler hands, all those chopped onions and tomatoes, all those walks on our hillside are the things that make up our lives, and as small as they seem, they matter. They are sacred.

Having a home studio is a blessing. It’s also a curse sometimes, as anyone who works from home can attest, but mostly it’s a blessing. It is a privilege to have a space all my own where I can spread out my work and it won’t be disturbed by little hands. That hasn’t always been the case so I don’t take it for granted.

It’s also a privilege to be able to work and care for my children at the same time because they’re just outside the door or window and I know what they’re doing while I work so things don’t get too out of hand.

Currently, my three oldest kids are in school all day and my youngest is in preschool for a few hours every morning. With this school schedule, I usually spend my mornings painting and I guard this time fiercely. Then I pick up my preschooler and we come home and have lunch. After lunch I’m a bit more flexible. If I have some deadlines to meet, sometimes I’ll paint, but usually I reserve this time for scripture study, working on the business side of my art, reading, and playing one-on-one with my little guy.

When my kids start coming home from school I move into homework/practicing/dinner-prep mode. We eat dinner as a family most nights, which gets more and more tricky as the kids get older and have musical rehearsals, soccer practices, church activities, etc., but even then, it matters a lot to us so we make it a priority, even if it means eating at a later-than-usual time for us, like 7:30 or 8:00.

Once the kids are in bed I like to spend time reconnecting with my husband, talking, reading, or watching a movie together. Once in a while I’ll do some more admin work but it’s usually light stuff so I can still carry on a conversation with him.

Structure and routine really make a difference for me so I do my best to stick to a schedule and keep mom-brain and artist-brain somewhat separate. I find I have to reevaluate it anytime things change, though, like when summer begins or school starts and it can take a while to get my bearings, but it’s worth taking the time to figure out what will work in that season of life.

When my youngest was one I took a break from oils for a bit because my physical presence was needed by my kids more. Shutting myself in my studio all the time wasn’t an option. In that season of life I picked up watercolor because it was very transportable, clean up was quick, and it still allowed me to paint and be creative.

I painted next to the pool while my kids were in swimming lessons. I painted in the car while my kids were at piano lessons. I painted at the park while my kids played. I painted at the kitchen table while my kids ate lunch. Once my baby had a bit more autonomy and my oldest kids became more responsible and could help the younger kids more, I transitioned back to oils and studio work.

I know what is working now may not work for us three years from now but that’s okay. I’m willing to adjust and find new ways that work in the seasons ahead.

I think my mom superpower is probably my ability to find humor in things. It’s something I probably learned from my mom. Things just go wrong sometimes. The car runs out of gas on the freeway, we lock ourselves out of the house during a snowstorm, we get distracted by homework drama and the dinner burns. I could let those things ruin my day and put me in a foul mood but somehow I’m able to see the funny side and laugh about them instead.

It makes for a happier family life and helps us not take life so seriously, especially for a couple of my kids who get really anxious about stuff. These mishaps become the stories we tell over and over again, turning into family legend and getting funnier with every retelling.

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that antepartum depression was a thing. I’d heard endlessly about postpartum depression as a newlywed. So many friends and neighbors had experienced it and our church leaders talked about it constantly. I was well aware of it and what to watch for.

Then, during my second pregnancy, I thought I was losing my mind. I had never experienced anything like that before and I couldn’t turn my brain off. It’s like my neural pathways became deep slot canyons I couldn’t climb out of. I could only walk the well-worn path at the bottom, back and forth. I never became truly suicidal but for the first time in my life I understood how someone could get there. I was anxious and paranoid all the time, constantly worried about the most terrible things imaginable happening to my kids.

I had to stop watching the news, even comedic news shows like The Daily Show or the Colbert Report. I had to be more cautious about what I read. My doctor didn’t know me very well and had no reference for my normal personality and behavior, and I’m sure I didn’t do a very good job expressing how distressed I was, so the only recommendations I received were to eat better, sleep better, and get more exercise. Not. Helpful. Especially for a girl who was constantly nauseated and exhausted by pregnancy.

My husband was doing externships out of state for the first half of my pregnancy so he wasn’t around to see how poorly I was fairing. I thought I was legitimately going crazy and was terrified I’d never feel like myself again. To my immense relief, once I delivered, my mind calmed to about 90% of normal and nearly 100% after I finished nursing. Looking back, it was absolutely a hormonal issue.

I’m still very cautious about where I let my mind wander but I feel like I have control over it now whereas while pregnant, there was zero control, only a horrible downward spiral. After my son was born, I talked to my mom about the darkness I’d experienced and she mentioned it to the MA at her long-time OBGYN office. The MA told her it was called antepartum depression and it isn’t uncommon at all. They even have medication to help those who need it!

I wish I had known and could have gotten help when I was in the middle of it all. It could have made a world of difference.

I hope our kids remember the love they feel in our home. I hope they see the time we spent working together here, taking care of the garden, making waffles for breakfast on Saturdays, cleaning up after dinner, was to help them grow together and teach them how to support one another. I hope they remember how much we value them as individuals and as part of our family. I hope they forget the frustrated yelling. When I feel ignored or misunderstood I get frustrated and just want to be heard so I often end up yelling.

My absolute favorite thing about living with my kids is getting to see, first hand, their personality development. I love seeing how much of who they are came with them when they were born and how much of it is shaped by their environment.

My oldest doesn’t enjoy being snuggled or touched much but has learned to tolerate a hug before bed. I can see that has been the case since she was a tiny baby. She hated nursing because it required me to hold her close and she didn’t like being worn in a sling unless she could face outward. My next oldest has always been the opposite. He loved nursing and being worn in a sling, cuddling as close as possible. At almost 11 he still gives me the best hugs, holds my hand, and will snuggle up next to me anywhere.

My third has the best sense of humor and seems to have come by it naturally. He says the funniest things and gets the biggest kick out of making people laugh. He’s also my chattiest kid, a trait he seems to have inherited from my husband. Even as a baby he was always super happy, flirty, and babbly. My youngest is still so little, we’re still figuring him out. At the very least, he’s our loudest kid and has been since he was a baby, not letting any of the older kids speak for him. He’s quite feisty and opinionated.

What I already miss is the little-kid-ish-ness of my kids as they grow. My daughter is almost taller than me now and already wears bigger shoes. When we got our family pictures back a couple of years ago it came into clear focus that my oldest son is not a little boy anymore. I was looking at a portrait of a big boy, almost a young man, and already my next son is right behind him, looking more and more like my husband as the days go by.

Even my baby isn’t a baby anymore. He isn’t even a toddler. He’s a little boy. I catch him napping once in a while and can still see some baby roundness in his face and hands but it’s disappearing quickly and I miss it already.

At the same time, I’m enjoying the more engaging conversations I can have with my older kids so there’s always something new to enjoy even as old joys slip away.

——

Thank you, Annie! I’m kind of obsessed with this home. The big trees and huge windows. The open floor plan and the giant chess set and climbing wall! Who wouldn’t love that? And I also really love that when Annie and her husband were building they thought about the whole extended family, including a place for her special needs brother and the stair lift for her mother. What thoughtful gestures.

I also really loved what Annie said about having a home studio and working from home, something I think more and more of us are getting used to right now. Having a set schedule and dedicated times to get certain things done and holding to those times is so smart. But I also really appreciated what Annie said about knowing that the schedule needs to be flexible when situations change.

Sometimes we just don’t know what things will be like a week from now or a month from now and giving ourselves the permission to change our minds about what the plan is is so freeing. The situation we are in — being homebound as we try to limit the damage of covid-19, is new for all of us, so even though Annie wrote this before we all got stuck at home, it felt particularly wise.

SOURCES

Leather Dining Chairs

Giant Chess Pieces

Custom Dining Table

Studio and Bonus Room Tile

Olive Green Sofa (similar)

You can follow Annie on Instagram or check out her website. 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