Have you ever dreamed about the life you’re not living? Believing that your days would be better if you moved into a bigger house and earned more money and had a huge basement and a yard big enough for a brand new dog?
Lindsey and her husband dreamed that dream, too. And the dream seemed so real and true that they relocated from a pretty perfect little life in Switzerland to a bigger everything life in Minnesota. Of course, you’re probably guessing how that turned out; bigger, really and truly, is not always better.
But their story doesn’t end in Minnesota! That’s the fabulous news! And this tour takes place far from it, in gorgeous Spokane. (Between us, I’m thinking their story somehow circles back to Switzerland. But we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?) Welcome, Lindsey!
Hi everyone! I’m Lindsey.
I met my husband, Joel, in Eugene when we were each on the heels of our study abroad experiences in college. I had studied abroad in Angers, France and had the most magical time. Joel had studied in Tübingen, Germany and fallen in love with it. When we met, it was at a party at his apartment. I wound up there because Joel’s roommate had invited some of my friends and I tagged along. Joel and his roommates had an amazing apartment and I gave myself a tour.
When I saw Joel’s room, it stopped me in my tracks. It had great lighting and decor and was full of good photography and art. I went up to his roommate and asked, “Whose room is that?! I’ve got to meet this guy!”
He pointed out Joel at the end of the hallway and I went straight over, pushed the gaggle of girls surrounding him aside and said, “Hi! I’m Lindsey. I saw your room and we have got to talk!” That is how we met.
We started dating a few months later and we both wanted to move back to Europe so badly. It became our joke that we’d move to Switzerland because both French and German are spoken there. It took a while — and a few moves — but our first child, our daughter Coco, was born in Zurich seven years later!
Coco is now four, and best described as a sparkler and firecracker rolled into one. Most recently, she started ballet class. Monday was the first day parents were allowed to watch and I got a few happy, prickly tears when she pranced past me in her little tutu and waved.
Our son, Theo, is one. Unfortunately, he will not have the bragging rights for having been born in Switzerland for his whole life. Far from it! He was born in Minnesota. But he had the most beautiful birth as the sun rose over Lake Superior. When he came out, I could not get over his massive hands. He looked like a little bruiser. In actuality, he is gentle and thoughtful. He reminds Joel and me of Ferdinand, the bull from the book by Munro Leaf, who likes to just sit and smell the flowers.
Coco and Theo are opposites in so many ways. She is tiny and skinny and barely on the growth chart. Theo was nine pounds, almost ten ounces at birth, and continues to break my back every day! Coco is a little energy ball. Theo is calm. Coco is fearless and outgoing. Theo is cautious and likes to wait and see. Coco never stops talking. Theo can’t talk yet, so we’ll see.
We lived in Zurich from 2010 to 2014 and became parents there. The entire time we were there, we operated on the idea that it wasn’t forever. I think we felt that we were supposed to pursue the American Dream of a big house and a big yard and a basement and two kids and a dog, and it just didn’t seem like something we could do there. We were also concerned about our children having a different cultural identity from our own if we raised them in Switzerland.
Both Joel and I have read everything Jumpha Lahiri has ever written, and a theme that comes back again and again in her writing is that painful reality when parents and children practically feel like strangers because they’re not from the same culture. But we loved Zurich and our life there so much. We had a tight-knit group of friends that felt like a family. I had a mama group of ten women that got together every week throughout our pregnancies and through our babies’ lives. We all went on a yoga retreat together and new babies were born over the years and we shared all of it with one another.
Joel and I lived right in the city and didn’t need a car. We loved the urban lifestyle; the lakeside was just a few minutes’ walk away. But it always sort of felt like the clock was ticking, so when an opportunity came up in Minnesota, we decided to go.
Once we got to Minnesota, we had a lot of the stuff we thought we were supposed to have. Our house was huge and had a huge yard and a basement. We had two kids, so all that was left to get was the dog. But we hated it! We weren’t happy driving everywhere instead of walking or taking the tram. There was so much more space in our house, but it just amounted to more cleaning. The basement somehow filled with stuff we later had to purge and it all seemed so excessive and ridiculous.
I wanted our simple yet rich life in Zurich back and it was a crushingly painful realization to make.
Now we are in Spokane, where I was born and my mom and my sisters and lots of extended family live. The job opportunity in Minnesota wasn’t what we had been led to expect. Honestly, the experience of moving while pregnant and all of the stress that went along with it just left me shattered. I was consumed with regret, but my sister put it all in perspective one day. She said, “There is nothing left to do now but envision the life you want.”
Theo wasn’t even a year old yet and we certainly didn’t have another international move in us, so we decided to come to Spokane to regroup and to see if maybe this is the place for us. I don’t really feel like I’m from Spokane because I went to high school and college in Oregon, but it feels like home at the same time. Joel and I got married here and with all of the family around it would be a logical place for us to settle. Plus, it’s beautiful with lots of hiking and nature all around, and the cost of living here is very affordable.
Our little rental house is only $765 per month! Okay, there is an apartment in the basement with another tenant, and we share the laundry, so it’s not a proper house in that regard, but it’s still amazing if you ask me. We are within walking distance of the gorgeous Bluff Trail for hiking and walking, two lovely parks, grocery stores, hardware store, coffee shops, and my mom’s house. It’s the perfect little nest for us as we figure out what we really want.
This house was built in 1947 and hasn’t really been altered since. Not only that, it has been impeccably cared for and loved. The hardwood floors gleam like mirrors. The kitchen has the original cupboards, which are adorable and plentiful. All of the windows are beautiful and original with functional screens and storms. The layout is so natural and human-sized. All of the spaces connect and flow easily.
Probably the most incredible thing is that we moved in with all of the furniture we had had at the huge Minnesota house and somehow it all fit! Our king size bed, our giant double desk, Joel’s massive wardrobe. It’s like it was meant to be.
Being short on funds, we had a fun time repurposing and shuffling furniture around. My former nightstand is now Theo’s dresser. His dresser is now ours. The lamps that always went on our nightstands are now on the sideboard. The huge Minnesota house had had built-in bookshelves and a built-in sideboard, so once we’d shuffled all that we could, we had to buy three things: bookshelves, sideboard, and kitchen island.
I am an unabashed IKEA lover, so we went there, of course, and I’m so pleased with the results. Another amazing thing is that for such a tiny house, it has a ridiculous amount of wall space. We have many large art pieces and we’ve been able to hang them all.
In Zurich, we discovered mounting art posters on aluminum. It’s a great way to have good art on a budget. If you put those little rubber non-slip pads for furniture at the bottom on the back, it pops it out and creates a shadow frame. We had our Rothko and Hockney in our living room in Zurich and now have them here.
The huge Seurat poster above our bed was on bus stops around Zurich to promote the exhibit. We bought one of the prints at the Kunsthaus gift shop for only 25 francs! I love it so much it’s the one thing that really made us go ahead and fork over the cash to send some things with movers when we left Zurich. The art museum sold out of the prints, so it’s irreplaceable and I completely treasure it.
Our other art was in storage in Portland the whole time we were in Zurich. The pink, silver, and black painting in the dining room, as well as the orange and pink one in the entryway were done by our neighbor in Portland. The large wood burning, Joel did. Joel bought the painting of the man falling at a garage sale in Eugene. And the painting on an old window pane above the fireplace was painted by the roommate who invited my friends to the party which led to Joel and I meeting!
Joel and I have very similar taste in putting a house together. We agree on hiding the TV — it’s in the green cabinet — and sticking to clean lines and simple furniture. At the huge Minnesota house, we had a full on play area, which was nice, although messy. I’m not wild about the toy bin being tucked under our occasional table, but it works. We have about 80% of the toys in storage and so far they don’t seem to have noticed! I’ve been meaning to rotate them, but a few weeks ago, I came home from a Costco run with my mom and the two boxes from Costco have proven to be the greatest toys of all time.
Decorating the kids’ room has been such a pleasure for me. I have wanted to be a mom since I was about five. So it’s beyond fun to shop for beautiful children’s furniture, clothing, decor, and so on. I really do love it. This is a magical season of our lives. Our children are little, they take baths together, and share a room. I think this is the part of motherhood I always dreamed of, and it’s as dreamy as I had imagined. I love those two with such ferocity. It’s so good.
On that note, I love that we are near family right now. My mom got to see Theo’s first steps out on our patio a couple of weeks ago, and my siblings and my mom all came over for brunch the morning after my mom’s birthday party last weekend. I love being able to just grab a coffee with one of my sisters or go to happy hour with them, or even just go to Target or Trader Joe’s with my mom. It all seems like a treat after years of only texts and phone calls.
As weird as it sounds, we just never got that into Skype or FaceTime while we were abroad. If we go back, we’ll have to make more of an effort to take advantage of that technology. Still, nothing replaces actual face-to-face time!
I am all about simplicity. When things are simple, they’re manageable. Our kitchen in Zurich was the model of tiny, simple efficiency. Because it was so small we had to be cognizant of everything we brought into it. We didn’t have anything beyond what was needed. The cupboards were a little puzzle that had to be put together every time.
For the dishes we had one big pull-out drawer and a second for the pie plates, casseroles, mixing bowls, etc. The stuff would only fit if it were stacked and nested in a specific way. I totally loved that. We have the same thing now. Once all of our stuff converged from storage and the shipment, we had to do a lot of editing. But now we’ve got everything we need, and nothing more. It’s the best.
When you live in a big house, that just doesn’t happen. There is room to put things aside — monstrous basement, I’m looking at you! — and no real urgency to edit. I much prefer the small house.
Probably the living room is our favorite room because we love making it cozy with a fire in the fireplace and enjoying that space. We purposely don’t have a coffee table so that we can spend lots of time on the floor with the kids.
I also really, really love having outdoor space for the first time. Our little patio is so cozy the way it’s nestled under the cedar tree and it’s right off of the kitchen so it’s connected to the heart of the home. Of course, the office in the kitchen is a calm, relaxing space that gets beautiful morning light and is so inspiring for writing. Plus, it’s situated close to the coffee!
My career was in Montessori until I became a mom. When it was time to return to work after Coco was born, we managed to organize things so that I could stay home and it was the best decision ever. I really loved being home with Coco and there was just no way that I could have left her at daycare, even in the same building where I was teaching! It was also impossible for me to wrap my head around the idea of leaving my child to be taken care of by someone else so I could basically go take care of other people’s children!
I decided to put my energy into blogging and writing as that had always been my dream. But, honestly, without any urgency to do so, those years at home with Coco were just years as a mama and they were wonderful. Last year, in Minnesota, I was working on the administration side of Montessori and took Theo to work with me. I had the office all set up with low lighting, a crib, and various baby things. It was the best all-around scenario for a working mom, but that position ended and we moved to Spokane.
Now there is urgency, and I am actually freelancing and putting more time and energy into my blog. It’s awesome to feel motivated to put lots of energy and enthusiasm into writing. I love it so much and I’m grateful for this push. I’m also looking for “just a job” to pay a few bills. I’ve heard Trader Joe’s is a great place to work, and stocking shelves might be a nice companion to chewing on story ideas. Who knows?
One thing is for sure, now that I have little children at home, I’m not interested in teaching anymore. Funny how that works! Maybe when they’re grown, or even in a few years, I’ll go back to it, but for now I get my fill of the little ones.
My kids are my everything. I’ve always wanted to be a mom and being with them and hearing the crazy things Coco says or feeling Theo’s super soft baby skin while I hold him are the moments that make my day. In fact, I have discovered the meaning of life.
Oftentimes, Theo will bat softly at me in the mornings and wake me gently from my sleep. When I open my eyes, I see his delighted, joyful smile and I can’t help but smile, too. Then he nuzzles into me and laughs and chortles and rolls around a bit. Sometimes he’ll sit up and then throw his head back and drop backward onto the soft duvet and smile and roll and revel. This all happens in relative silence in the early morning light. I’m only half awake when he does this. And yet, it is arresting. It stops me in my tracks and I know that this is it. This is what life is all about.
Last week, after I picked her up from school, Coco and I made a little trip to Trader Joe’s, just the two of us. She sat in the cart and chatted with me the whole time. She quipped about chips and dip and fizzy water and how to carry an egg. Her keen powers of observation never cease to amaze me. We bought a Haunted Gingerbread House Kit and she was over the moon, showing it to anyone who would stop to look. Her zest for life inspires me. She is going to be an awesome adult.
I wish that someone had told me not to go to Minnesota! I was pregnant, and I didn’t really want to go, but it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were foolish to place so much priority on career over everything else. I regret it now. But, as my sister said, there is nothing left to do but envision the life we want.
In a weird way, I’m grateful for all of it. I feel like I’m focusing on what really matters and daring to dream my own dreams – a lot because of all the difficulty we went through last year.
When everything is comfortable, it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone. We were definitely pushed out of ours. Here, in this sweet little nest of a home, it’s a magical time with Coco and Theo being so little. I cherish this time when they bathe together every night and play and laugh together. It truly is music to my ears! I know that I will always look back fondly on this sweet time in this happy house.
These are some of our wonder years. What really matters, matters. And everything else, is just everything else. I know that now.
A big thank you to Lindsey for sharing her life with us. I know there are readers out there who believe a bigger house equals a bigger life, right? Were you relieved to read about Lindsey’s experiences? For those of you who achieved bigger, is it better? I always love your stories.
And, wow, I couldn’t love this line more: “There is nothing left to do now but envision the life you want.” How comforting those lucky thirteen words could be for any of us who find ourselves in the lonely aftermath of a shaky decision! Okay. It’s bad. There’s nothing more we can do but begin again. I love it, I love it, I love it. And I hope it changed even one low mood! Please tell me it did.
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.