Gina and her family made a big change a few years ago. They moved from the Bay Area, where they lived in a 990 square foot cottage and walked everywhere, to a 5-acre piece of land in rural San Diego County. The way she describes their home and their adventures building a “homestead” sound equal parts exhausting (raising crops and animals is so much hard work!) and exhilarating. It must be exciting to sit down to a meal where you have grown most of the food yourself. Gina dug into her photo archives and has year-round photos of the property to share. You’re definitely going to want to stick around. Welcome, Gina!
In this home lives the Cater family of 5 and a menagerie of animals. I’m Gina, the mama bird. David is my partner in crime and we are the proud parents of Isaiah, Jack and Lucia.
Isaiah is 12 years old, a passionate, athletic, sweet boy who works extremely hard to accomplish goals he sets for himself. He loves all things basketball and baseball, herpetology and is a foodie.
Jack is our 11 year old resident chess player, master lego builder, project master and nature boy. He is usually the first in the ocean or snow and the last one to come in. An awesome day for Jack is playing baseball and surfing.
Lucia is our sweet and salty sugar and spice 9 year old child. Our wild flower, lover of life, determined and confident get her done kind of gal. When she sets her mind to something she will do it, like riding a bike on her own at age 3, or most recently she started a swim class to learn her strokes and entered a swim meet after 5 classes and placed 3rd in both her races.
I have enjoyed the gift of being home with my babies for the past 12 years, but have recently returned to my profession as a Middle School History Teacher part time and started a new career as a Yoga Instructor. David is a business owner and artist. He took a leap of faith and left his corporate job to start his own Marketing and Design Business called BoxiDesign 8 years ago.
We live in Julian, California. A rural little mountain town in San Diego County. It’s a tourist town an hour and change to the ocean and just shy of an hour to the desert. We live on 5 acres and rarely see any of our neighbors unless we run into them in town. It’s a special place, one of the few places in California where you can live and experience all four seasons. The night sky is stunning and the wild life and natural landscape continue to surprise us with its beauty all year around.
Purchasing this home and property was another leap of faith. David and I had no connection to Julian or San Diego. In fact, David found Julian on the good old internet. Julian pops up on lists of the Top 20 Small Towns in California.
We loved living in the Bay Area. David grew up in Marin County and I moved to San Francisco for college. I met David, we fell in love, got married, and we had our babies. We purchased our first home — a 990 square foot cottage in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley. It was a two bedroom and one bath home on a small lot.
We loved that home and living in that neighborhood. I could walk or ride bikes anywhere with my crew. All three kids shared a small room and Lucia’s toddler bed was in the closet — not kidding. David converted the garage into his office to start his business. We started looking for a bigger home, and even put in offers but to no avail.
We always talked about purchasing property some day and after many late night discussions and dreaming big we decided why not go for it. David’s business was growing and as long as we had internet he could work from anywhere.
In November of 2013 we made our first visit to Julian. Five months later we went back to actually look at property and homes. We didn’t get the “this is the one” feeling for a house, but we did decide that Julian is where we wanted to move. We decided that we would list our house in June and plan to move over the summer. Isaiah was just finishing first grade and Jack would start kindergarten in the fall.
To our surprise our agent called and sent a link to a property that was just coming onto the market. We said great we will plan to visit again in 3 months. She said this property was special and she didn’t think it would stay on the market till then. That was not the norm for Julian — most properties were on MLS for months, years even. We decided that David would fly down just to check it out.
As soon as he stepped foot on the property he “knew it was the one” and put an offer in the next day. I never stepped foot on the property until we already owned it. Told you: leap of faith. It was meant to be.
Our home in El Cerrito sold as a pocket listing the following week. For those who know Bay Area real estate, you will not be surprised to know that our 990 square foot cottage sold for more than our 5 acre, 2400 square food home in Julian.
In June 2014 we were home owners in Julian, California, and we started the process of renovating our home. We did not change the foot print of the home, but did replace all the flooring, siding and roof. We framed the windows in the house, painted all the walls, built two decks, created paths, tore down old sheds and replaced them with a gardening room and chicken coop.
With each new project we declared it to be our favorite one. The Star Gazing deck, garden and vintage door wall are still my favorite projects, but I love my chicken coop too. Oh and outdoor shower and tub.
We moved from the Bay Area seeking adventure and a change of life. When we lived there, we spent our weekends hiking Mount Tamalpais and the Berkeley Hills, venturing to the Sonoma, Napa, Calistoga and Lake Tahoe — always seeking out nature. We thought: let’s try reversing that. Let’s live in nature and venture to the city on weekends. So that is what we did.
San Diego is fun city to explore and the warm water beaches are some of my favorite. In the twenty years I lived in the Bay Area I never once got all the way into the ocean, it was too damn cold.
What we miss the most is walking and riding our bikes to all our activities. We were and still are a one car family, but in El Cerrito our car might sit in the drive way for a few days in a row. We could get where we needed to going by foot or public transportation. Not so much in Julian. We also miss the beautiful cultural diversity the Bay Area has to offer.
Moving to a more rural area certainly brought changes, and I am most surprised how quickly we became comfortable living on 5 acres. All three kids play outside freely in the woods or walk down away from the house to feed and care for our animals. We feel safe in our home even though we are somewhat isolated — the house next door is a vacation home so there is rarely anyone there, and our nearest neighbor is up the road.
Part of our plan in purchasing land and moving was to create a little homestead. It is something I have always been interested in. We recently watched the documentary Biggest Little Farm, and I was reminded that: Hey! I did that — kind of sort of — on our little piece of land.
We wanted to plant an Orchard so we did. It was small 30 fruit trees. Year three was when we expected to harvest fruit for the first time. But that winter was wet, very wet, and our orchard flooded and I lost half my trees to root rot. Every season in our garden I lost crops to some sort of pest. Our first flock of chickens was lost to coyotes right when they started to lay — we enjoyed one egg! I learned that they could not free range all day long safely, because coyotes eat lunch too.
Each season I tried again. I learned so much and the process and journey will never be forgotten. We also had many successes. Meals prepared with food that we grew and raised. Pies made from fruit from our trees and wild berries on our property. I learned to care for an animal and raise and process it humanely. I started small with chickens, then turkeys and pigs.
The community of Julian is for the most part kind and willing to share their farming and hunting knowledge. It’s fun to trade and share your harvest with your community and friends. Initially we had plans to host families on our land and offer a homestead glamping experience, but as my kids are getting older and more involved in activities on the weekends our plans have changed. Though I will always garden and grow things, and I think my kids will too.
I think that hugging and snuggling my babies is the part of parenting that comes naturally to me. I’m not great at keeping a tight daily schedule or a super tidy house. I can easily loose track of time being outside in the garden or going for a walk or adventure with my crew. We can easily get lost in the moment while reading or making something together.
I’m sure many wouldn’t consider this a superpower, it’s not really, but it’s what makes me different than their dad, who keeps a very tight calendar and starts most every task with a spread sheet. So together, we make a super team. The fact that we can acknowledge and laugh at our polar opposite ways of doing life might be our superpower.
I hope that my kids remember living in Julian as a happy time and a great adventure. I hope they remember sitting on our Star Gazing deck watching “their big screen tv,” which is what they call the night sky. I hope they remember seeing shooting stars and hearing coyotes howl in the distance. I hope they remember that we dreamed big, took a leap of faith and tried something new.
My absolute favorite thing about living with my kids is watching them play together, learn new things together and work together. Watching them grow into their selves and become friends with each other, offering advice and support. Often they play rough, bicker with each other, or antagonize one another just for fun. That drives me crazy. But the sweet moments of harmony are so good.
Having three kids in 3.5 years made for some crazy times, but I would not have it any other way. I miss them being babies. I miss Lucia on me in the Ergo and boys on my lap reading together.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that the real struggle of parenting is relearning and growing into who you truly want to be as a parent. I am a yeller — I react quickly and my reaction is almost always to yell at my kids. It’s a behavior that I am not proud of and I always feel bad about it. It’s what I do and it’s what I know, so I have to put in the work to change that behavior. It’s not easy. I’m a work in progress.
My yoga journey has opened my heart and mind to truly be mindful and intentional about who I am and who and what I want to grow into.
I also wish someone would have told me not to worry so much about what other people think. That’s living in fear of people’s judgement. When Jack was around 4 years old he wanted to paint his finger nails. He painted his toe nails, but he really wanted his fingers done too. I first said no and he asked why. I didn’t have an answer, but later I realized it was because I was worried what others might think. Really Gina, who the F cares? I painted his finger nails and he was so happy.
When Lucia was 7 she wanted to cut her hair short on one side and long on the other — an asymmetrical cut. She had gorgeous long locks that I loved. She has a a very sensitive scalp so washing and combing her hair was always a challenge and often caused tears. She talked about cutting her hair for months, showed me pictures and started to ask me why not? Again my hesitation and resistance was about my own fears and judgment from others. She didn’t care what other people thought so why should I? The fact is, Lucia was confident and did not tie her confidence or beauty to her hair. I did.
I got over it and we went to the salon and cut her hair just the way she wanted it. She rocked that hair style for a year and was ready to grow it out.
Isaiah now as a preteen is finding his own style and it’s still hard for me to always accept the things he wants us to buy him or what he choses to wear, but again it’s not about me, it’s about him. And I see it as my job to build him up, fill his cup with love and support, so that he leaves our house each morning feeling so good that he can tackle anything that middle school might throw at him.
Thank you, Gina! What a truly special home. I love hearing about the work they put in as they figured out how to raise animals and grow food. It’s such a part of our lives that so many of us are really disconnected from. The food we eat comes primarily from the grocery store and we don’t always have perspective on the work that went into producing it. What a cool thing to be able to teach your kids, too.
And speaking of teaching your kids, I really loved what Gina said about making parenting decisions out of fear of what other parents will think. I think the times that I have gotten the most upset when my kids were acting out was when we were in public and I was concerned about what other parents would think about my kids, and what they would think about me as a parent. Doesn’t it make so much more sense to let go of that stuff and just focus on what you and your kid need in that moment? Why do we worry so much about what someone who we will likely never see again will think? I have so much respect for Gina’s attitude of letting go and really asking herself why she cared. So smart!
Is it easy for you to let things go and not worry about what other people think? What kind of ways have you found to let your kids express themselves? Have you ever regretted a parenting decision because you made it more out of fear of how it would look?
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org