By Gabrielle.

I think it would be so therapeutic to live near a lake, don’t you? There’s something calming about that indescribable shade of blues and greys and the dance of the tiny ripples. Having a rotten day? Just grab a fishing rod and cast away mindlessly. Need a break from homeschooling or that looming deadline? Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Plus, a lake makes for a killer kitchen sink view.

Yes, Lesli and her family are lucky ones, living the good life on a lake just outside of Chicago and enjoying it to the fullest. Yes, she is ever on the lookout for lake dangers — especially since her kids are five and two — but I’d say she’s ready for pretty much anything. You’ll see. Friends, please welcome the Gresholdt family!

Q: Tell us about this lakeside family.

A: Our family includes my husband, Mark, and our five-year-old daughter Adelaide and two-year-old son Oliver. My husband is an operations coordinator for a communications company, and I am currently a regional manager for Bella Baby Photography, a nationwide company providing in-hospital newborn photography.

Adelaide is affectionate, stylish, and stubborn – and takes after her social butterfly father. Oliver is easy-going and much more independent, with a great sense of humor and the ability to quote movies just like his mom.

Years ago in college, I had a strong urge to learn sign language. I took a few elective classes, learned a little bit, and kept up practicing through the years. Little did I know that five years later, I would say yes to a date with a deaf guy I knew in college and we would end up where we are now! Life as a bilingual family is sometimes challenging, especially since the kids are still learning how to sign. Of course, we don’t know it any other way.

We also have a very old farm cat, Sasha, and our new love, Mae, a Norwegian Forest Cat rescue. I don’t really think of our beta fish, Eric, as a pet, but he lives here, too, and requires daily feeding so I guess he’s part of the family.

Q: You’ve recently purchased a lake home. Tell us all about it choosing it!

A: We were finally in the market to buy a home but at the time, Mark was commuting by train to Chicago, so we had to be within 15 minutes of a train stop. This house was in a neighboring town, close enough to the train station, and we had seen it online many times. We both liked the layout, the hardwood floors, and the price, but I would write it off immediately due to the lake. After all, families with young kids don’t live on the water, right? But one night, in an attempt to be open-minded (and maybe out of desperation to find a house!) I emailed a list of houses to our realtor to see the next day and included this one. Not ten minutes later, my fear got the best of me, and I wrote him again and asked him to take that lake house off the list.

The next day, he either forgot or never got my message, because this house was the third one we saw. It felt like home immediately. Our former home had been so dark, and this one was filled with light with such a peaceful backyard and an open floor plan that is a must-have for families with a deaf family member. Being able to see each other (when you can’t hear!) is crucial.

The ironic thing is that the year before, I had been traveling home from a baby shower with my mother-in-law and then six-month-old son in the car. It was late and a long drive and he was having the mother of all meltdowns. We pulled into what is now our neighborhood so that he could nurse and calm down. I had never been there before, but I distinctly remember looking around and thinking, “If we lived here, we would be home by now.”

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Oswego is a smaller suburb about an hour outside of Chicago. It has a quaint downtown, lots of local businesses, and many bike paths and parks. We love the summer movies at the park, the free splash pad and the libraries, but my favorite is the Friday night Antique Market downtown. They close the streets, have live music, and people shop local vendors all night. The Fox River runs through town, so we have access to great fishing, bird watching, and hiking paths. The population here has more than doubled in the past ten years as more and more people move westward, away from the chaos and cost of the city. It’s still expensive, especially those darn Illinois property taxes, but the value for the money is definitely better. We still have all the modern conveniences and major stores, but with a bit more of a small-town feel.

Q: Living by a lake must be beautiful, but also a challenge with two little ones. Talk about what the lake offers – or any home near water – both beautiful and not-so-safe!

A: I will be honest…this is still a daily struggle for me, and I imagine it will be until my kids are older and can fully understand the dangers of water. My whole life I have had recurring drowning dreams, and I don’t know if it means anything or not, but I don’t want to find out! Luckily, we have a pretty large yard and it’s partially fenced, so we typically stay in that area when we go outside. They also know that mom is pretty crazy about them not getting near the water or going on the dock without a life jacket!

But aside from the potential danger, being here adds such fun to our life – my husband has taken up fishing, we have a paddleboat and kayaks, and the wildlife is abundant. The lake just lends itself to a more relaxed lifestyle and mood. It’s very peaceful. I wouldn’t have thought we could have a place like this in the suburbs.

Q: After you purchased it, you made your home your own, inside and out. What were the hardest parts, as well as the most fun?

A; I have always been drawn to older farmhouses, craftsmans, and colonials. I love their character and history. What I got was a traditional Midwestern two-story! I still love it, but I needed it to feel less cookie-cutter. We started by painting the front door chartreuse, and taking off the traditional black shutters and replacing with DIY board and batten navy ones. Just that alone helped it to feel more youthful and stand out from all the tan, gray and white in the neighborhood.

We changed out all the light fixtures for schoolhouse style, painted the wood stairs for a farmhouse feel, and took the door fronts off the builder’s grade cabinets. For me, the hardest part about home design is not always having the money to do what you want to do when you want to do it. We follow a popular cash-budget financial program and it tests our patience often, but the rewards are great. I’ve learned to do what I can with inexpensive things – paint, décor, art – and the rest will happen someday. When that happens, a new deck and renovated bathrooms are first on my list!

Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included, as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: The most important thing for me was to have no wasted space in this house. I wanted each and every space to have a unique purpose and also be kid-friendly with fabrics and furniture. We lived in a small townhome for many years, and I couldn’t stand the thought of not maximizing what we now had.

We are not formal dining room kind of people, so it became a playroom. The kids use it every day and it keeps most of the toys out of the smaller bedrooms. They feel more comfortable playing when they are still close to all the action of everyday life. We also have the traditional front room, which for most families is filled with fancy furniture that is used only for guests or holidays. Again, being a very informal family, we relocated our cable connection, moved in a flat screen TV and a big comfy sectional, and it’s now the most popular room in the house.

My next kid-centered project is to make the fenced part of our backyard much more interactive and fun with a natural play area and DIY playhouse.

Q: You mentioned that most of the furnishings in your home were free and ultimately repurposed by you. What’s your greatest refurbishing triumph?

A: I knew it was going to be a huge challenge to furnish the space on a budget. I started picking – driving around on garbage day to see what was set out that was salvageable and responding to free offers on Freecycle. It was eye-opening to see what people throw out just for the sheer convenience of getting rid of it quickly. Thrift stores also became my best friend for smaller items and accessories.

I am pretty sure people were questioning my sanity, but I was a woman on a mission. I learned the art of chalk painting and transformed so many pieces that would have just seen the landfill. Some of my favorite free finds are a mid-century sewing table, mismatched kitchen chairs, a coffee table we topped with barn wood, a mid-century glass front cabinet, a vintage school desk and antique bed frame for my son, and a drop leaf nightstand and dollhouse shaped bookshelf for my daughter. Some of my larger pieces I did pay for, but only if extremely reasonable…a vintage hutch for $60, a roll top desk for $20, an early 1900s Empire dresser for $40, and recently a huge antique buffet on original casters for just $40!

I love the feel of an eclectic home, with items collected over time from all different styles and eras. Just a warning, however: After you start picking, you can’t stop. But now I just make a little extra money on the side by selling the things I find!

Q: You’re a photographer who works from home while homeschooling. Any unique tips your family uses to make the most of your time together (and working)?

A: Each day, I am doing something well and failing at something else. I am trying to be okay with that. (Most days I fail at that, too!) If we have a homeschool activity, then the house is most likely a wreck and dinner won’t be made. If I was on a work conference call or responding to photographer emails, then my kids are probably still in their pajamas while watching “Frozen” for the millionth time. If we spend the morning at the park or cleaning the house, then you can bet we will still be doing math lessons at 8 p.m.

I would like to have a more set routine, but any attempt to create structure has failed. It just doesn’t jive with our personalities. We do try to keep life simple, have an uncluttered home, and limit social activities and weekly commitments to free up time.

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: I love seeing my children change and grow. Babies are adorable, but I much prefer having a full-on conversation with my kids over baby talk and poopy diapers. I’m a much different mom than I expected…never in a million years did I think I’d breastfeed both past the age of two, and co-sleep until they were ready to sleep alone. I gave them everything I had during their first years, so I welcome the ages and stages that they are in now and look back with no sadness (yet).

It’s exhausting and demanding and never-ending – the messes, the crying, the fighting – but they are also filled with so much good and so much love. They have given me a confidence to not care what anyone else thinks, but just to do what works best for us. I don’t think I had that before I had kids.

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

A: How challenging parenthood is for introverts. I miss my alone time so much. I grew up on a farm, the nearest neighbor a mile away and friends nowhere to be found. I loved the seclusion and privacy and independence of life there. I still wish for those things, but now they are nowhere to be found!


Thank you, Lesli! We share the same experience on balance! If one thing is rocking my world, you can bet there are one or two things rolling away. And your chalkboard wall in your bathroom is one of the best spots, I bet, to jot down reminders while you’re brushing your teeth!

I also loved how you described motherhood, especially when you wrote “I’m a much different mom than I expected…” I wonder if that’s true for all of us? Tell me, Friends, are you different moms than you expected?

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.