By Gabrielle. Photos by Cassie Jones.

When I put together a Living With Kids tour, I try to mix in at least one photo of the family – or just one small member of it who happens to be running through a gorgeous glimpse of a room! But never have I posted a home tour where every photo includes a family living in it. This week is different, then. And instead of distracting from the interiors and bright ideas, the Carpenters added something decidedly sweet to our peek. The home came alive. You’ll see. (And you’ll also probably laugh out loud when you read Hannah’s response to when her home works best!)

Welcome, Carpenter family!

Q: Please tell us all about this adorable family.

A: We are the Carpenters. My husband, Heath, is a writer, college English professor, and is currently getting his doctorate in Heritage Studies. His most loved authors range from the greats like NT Wright and William Faulkner to the equally great Andre 3000 and Johnny Cash. Needless to say, Heath has diverse interests…which keeps things fresh around here.

I am a freelance illustrator and, like many moms, I enjoy blogging. Between my illustration work, blogging, and homeschooling our kids, I have a full plate and a full life. Heath and I spend our lives learning the balance; the balance of home and work, of family and friends, necessity and want, of us and others, and the ultimate balance of the secular and the spiritual. We’re a good team, Heath and I.

We have four kids: Tristin (11), Silas (seven), Enid (five), and Tom (almost two). Tristin is your classic first child, responsible to a fault. She is a second mother to my other children. She loves Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter, and manatees.

Silas is my creative child. While he can’t focus on a task like cleaning his room for longer than, oh, 30 seconds, he can sit and draw for hours. His little brain is always creating, and he can make up a killer joke:  “Why wouldn’t the wheel turn at night? It was notturnal.”

Enid is emotional and excitable and skips everywhere she goes, even from one room to the next in our little home. She loves koalas and sucking her thumb and has the power to simultaneously make you feel like the best person ever and the worst.

Tom. Oh, Tom. Tom has rocked our world. He is unlike any of the others: busy, destructive, fearless, needy, and just sweet enough that we love him anyway. We all live together in a little home in a little city just north of Little Rock.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: When we bought this house, we had just had our third child and were moving from a 1000 square foot condo. So moving into 1900 square feet seemed quite luxurious. Another child later, and the other kids getting bigger, these 1900 square feet are feeling smaller and smaller. Having said that, I LOVE my house. I really do.

It’s an older home, which offers character and charm, and is located among other homes that were lived in from the 1920s through the 50s by some of the leaders of our little town of Searcy, Arkansas. Before we bought our house, it suffered a fire. A local builder bought it and, while preserving the character of the home, updated and revamped it.

Because Heath and I are NOT fixer-uppers, happening upon an older home that had been updated was the perfect match for us. I only wish we could have gotten involved before certain aesthetic choices were made. There are little cosmetic things that I despise, like wall colors, tiles, and light fixtures, and if I had the time, energy, and/or money, I could change them. But for now, I am making the best of the dreadful khaki walls and am trying to focus on what goes on within these walls rather than the aesthetic perfection of each space.

Having said that, I certainly care about how my house looks and feels. We are here a LOT of the time, after all. And we aren’t wealthy, so it’s kind of a game, creating a cozy home with nickels and dimes. Most of the furniture in our house is hand-me-down or thrifted. And I like that. At least this way, when Tom takes a Sharpie to the couch, I don’t feel too sad about it.

Do I dream of painting our walls and buying new furniture or redoing our bathrooms? Of course. And do I dream of a larger space with bigger closets? Uh, yeah. Our house was built in the 1950s. It has two living areas, one of which we are using as a master bedroom, and while it’s cool to have a fireplace in our bedroom (albeit not functioning), there is no closet. But again, it’s kind of a game, moving things around, trying to decide where you’ll put your clothes or one of your kids, even.

Q: What do you love about where you live? Conversely, what do you wish could be a little different?

A: I have lived in Arkansas all my life, and every hot and humid July I declare I won’t spend another summer here. But, alas, here I am, once again looking at summer quickly approaching. While the summers are miserable, the springs and falls make up for it. I swear I could accomplish anything during an Arkansas spring.

We live in Searcy which is 45 minutes from Little Rock. Searcy is an interesting place. There is a church on every corner, literally, and the county is dry. Think Mayberry with a Chick-Fil-A. Our house is located in the oldest portion of Searcy, just down the road from the pre-Civil War era courthouse and a century old drug store, in which you can buy a bottled coke and get a prescription filled, billing both to your account because they know you. There’s a local dinner theater downtown where you will see friends and coworkers, doctors and judges, children and people of all ages, all acting together, putting on shows, applauding one another.  Also downtown is The Rialto Theater, built in 1923, where you can see a movie for $2. It functions daily, and while it is in dire need of repair, it’s pretty cool that it’s still kicking.

My family and I can walk to the county fair parade which happens once a year around the court square. And what a parade it is! I can’t help but find it endearing: school bands, peewee football teams, monster trucks, beauty queens, and candy thrown at over-eager kids. It’s kind of the quintessential southern small-town American experience.

Now, there’s not much to do in Searcy. There’s nowhere to take your kids for an outing (except Chick-Fil-A) which makes homeschooling frustrating. And for people like Heath and myself, people who love to be pushed and inspired, Searcy can be a tough place to exist. But, like the summers, the bad is overshadowed by the good. Heath and I grew up in Searcy. We’ve known each other since we were kids. It’s pretty cool to share so much history with your spouse, and we take that for granted sometimes – the fact we have each known the same people through the years. Our parents are in Searcy. My sister and her family are in Searcy. Heath’s job is in Searcy, and because it is a college town, there are some perks here that other small towns might not have: renowned speakers, musicians, orchestras, and the like.

And even though we homeschool now, the public schools here are great. Tristin attended the public schools and had a very positive experience. Not to mention, our house is less than a mile from an elementary school, the middle school, the junior high, and the high school. If we decided to put the kids back in school, it would be an understatement to say we would have a short commute.

Another perk of living in small town Arkansas is I can stay home with my kids. If we lived in a bigger, more expensive city, I couldn’t illustrate part time. I would have to work a full-time job for sure. It’s cheap here. It’s safe. It’s Mayberryish.

If we had the opportunity to live somewhere more exciting, would we? Eh, maybe (probably), if I could take our parents and other family along. But I am a firm believer that happiness and contentment come from within. We can be and will be happy with or without a Target. The good, the love, and the support that gleam from Searcy’s citizens certainly help make up for Searcy’s deficits. And, we’re close to Little Rock. I truly love Little Rock. There are some cool people there doing some cool things; diverse food, eclectic art, talented local music – a vibrant culture and community.  Arkansas, as a whole, is worth knowing.

Q: You’re a blogger and part-time illustrator! Tell us about your work, and what it adds to your daily life and schedule.

A: I have been a freelance illustrator for the last decade and some. I’ve worked with ad agencies and magazines and businesses – locally, regionally, and nationally – but am most excited about my most recent illustrating venture. It’s called Little-Biscuits Printable Portraits. I create illustrated portraits of kids and pets that can be printed from home (or professionally). The portraits come with several fun printable templates like bookplates, party invitations, gift tags, and even paper dolls, each template incorporating the portrait. It’s exciting! And fun! And busy.

I love to blog, like a lot of moms, but finding the time to blog, illustrate, and homeschool is difficult and sometimes impossible. There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day for me to do all the things I want to do. I’m also working of a blogging project focused on Arkansas which I’m excited about. That is in the works and will hopefully happen soon, but, in the mean time, something has to be neglected, and let’s be honest, it’s usually the laundry.  Oh the laundry!

Q: How has the internet friendships and connections you’ve made changed your lifestyle? For example, are you inspired by other bloggers or sites in your day to day life with your kids? Tell us about your screen time rules for your family.

A: I am so thankful for the internet! In fact, it irritates me when people dog the internet and blogging. While there are obvious down sides to the internet, you can’t disregard the positive outlet the internet can provide, especially for those of us living in a small town and working from home. Being a creative person, I crave inspiration. Always have. The internet and blogging and Instagramming allow me to connect with people all over the world: to share, to inspire, to be creative and, as contrary to perception as this may be, to connect with people. People like me. I have online friends! Good friends I’ve never met face to face. And, yes, that is possible.

My kids are just starting to get to the age when the internet and an online presence is appealing to them. While I want my kids to enjoy the internet and all it has to offer, I obviously can’t set them loose to peruse the web for endless hours throughout the day. What has worked for us, as far as limiting their screen time, is an app called Chore Monster. I love Chore Monster. It’s an app that let’s you create a chore list for your kids. They earn points for each chore, and you have to earn a certain number of points to obtain a reward. Oh, and they can spin to win monsters. It’s really cool.

So for us, if Silas gets enough points and does his chores, he can have 30 minutes on the iPad. Now, we’ve sort of fallen off the Chore Monster wagon as of late, but we’re working to get back on. I should probably work on limiting my own screen time, but that’s tough when your online presence is so closely linked to your work.

Q: How intentional are you in making sure each space in your home works for your entire family? Any house rules or areas specifically set up for a certain activity?

A: I’m often thinking about what will and won’t work for our family in our house. What will survive Tom?  Can Tom pull the bookshelf off the wall? Should I put a rug under the dining room table? (Of course, the answer to that is no because it would be disgusting.) Will that antique mirror fall off the wall onto my kid’s head if I hang it over their bed? Where can I store Tom’s toys that will be out of the way and still look attractive?  Can I have white walls or will they be covered in little hand prints? Where can I store all the homeschool stuff without my home looking like a classroom?

I don’t even know how to make design choices in this house without considering if it will work for the entire family. We’re a family. We have a smallish house. We’re together a lot. I want my kids to feel comfortable, while at the same time, respecting what we have. Most things we have are old, so they have learned not to jump on the furniture or it will break. They know that certain drawers require a special gentle touch to open or WD40.

And as for house rules or areas specifically set up for a certain activity, our dining room, my room, and our itty bitty kitchen are where the kids think all the “good” stuff happens. It seems my kids want to be with me at all times of the day, and while it’s really sweet, and I cherish all the jumping on my bed and dancing on my bed and snuggling on my bed, I have been known to say the words, “No one is allowed in my room unless you’re invited!” (Typically in an elevated tone.) Or, “Go play on the other end of the house!”

I like my personal space. I don’t like people in my business, which, as you can imagine, is hilarious considering I don’t go to the bathroom alone. Having said that, some of my happiest mothering memories will include uncontrollable laughter, pillow fights, and dance parties, all held in my room, on my bed, in my personal space.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: My home works best when Tom is asleep.


Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your kids take from this home and from their childhoods? What do you hope they remember specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for them?

A: When I talked with my friend Cassie about coming to our home and taking pictures, I really wanted to portray our life as it is at its best. I wanted to show the happiness that exists within these walls. It’s not always happy. And it’s not always (ever) clean, but I want to remember the happiness. I hope my kids will remember our family, our home, and their childhoods exactly how these photos portray them. These photos will forever be how I remember this time of our lives. The good will overshadow the bad.

Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: I enjoy seeing my kids’ relationships with one another form and grow. I love when Enid tells on Silas for something and then begs for me to show him mercy. I love when Tom reaches for Tristin when he gets hurt. I love that nine out of 10 nights, the older three sleep in the same room.

What has surprised me the most about being a mom is how hard it is! It is CRAZY HARD! I had no idea. There is no room for selfishness, that is for sure.

You know, kids are exhausting. They require a lot of work, but they are so cool. I wish I could be as cool as most kids I meet. Kids have this quality that only exists in childhood – a joy, an optimism, a confidence, a genius that we lose as we age. I love their carefree disposition. I love the crazy outfits Enid wants to wear and with such confidence! It makes me sad when I see that start to fade as they get older. I’m gonna miss that for sure.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me not to be afraid. I feel like I come at parenting from a very fearful place, and I hate that. I want my kids to be brave and strong and daring and always on the lookout for a challenge. I want them to travel and learn, to push themselves and live without fear. Fear is such a crippling thing, and when it starts to creep in, I start to become a bad parent, a bad friend, a bad person.

It’s a spiritual strength to be brave…one I crave and am continually working toward.

–-

You laughed, didn’t you? Oh, Tom! Hannah, thank you so much for the tour and introduction to Searcy. It sounds like a pretty nice place to raise a family.

Friends, what is your approach to parenting? Is it fear-based, too? How do you overcome your natural worry and panic? I know there’s so many of us in the same mindset, so words of wisdom are really welcome!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.