You’re about to meet Lindsey’s house, and I know you’re going to be better for it. This is a structure that helped Lindsey and her family through some out-of-the-ordinary life events, provided hope when things seemed a little hopeless, and even taught her to rely on her neighbors when she found herself alone and in need of help.
It’s a very good house. You’ll see. Oh! And if you’re curious about how much it costs to buy a house like this one in Virginia, Lindsey discusses pricing. (I love when people share numbers, don’t you?!) Welcome, Lindsey!
When you meet someone in the D.C. area, you will be asked what you do for a living. When you meet someone in Malawi, Africa, where there’s a non-profit that my husband helped found, you will be asked how your family is. I think both are important to understanding who people are.
I had a vision in college of being a freelance magazine writer while I raised my kids. I hadn’t yet met my husband, but when we did meet, it all crystallized. I was working at my first job as an editor of a design magazine, and he was finishing seminary. He had a dream of finding a strong wife to raise his kids alongside, while he would be a missionary, pastor, and military chaplain — in no particular order! He loved that I had a career I was passionate about. Within three months, we were ring shopping. Two months later, we were engaged. It was a whirlwind romance and I guess it was only a foretaste of all the whirlwinds to come!
I moved to Washington, D.C., to live with a friend from college while we were engaged. I was looking for a job in journalism about the home industry, but since it was the very beginning of the recession, there was nothing out there. After we got married, all we had was an apartment, a job at a bookstore, and a job at Starbucks. We would sit on our floor (no furniture!) and watch TV while we ate fruit snacks from Costco. It was such a sweet time.
We had planned to go house shopping with a realtor on what ended up being the day that I needed surgery. I was 16 weeks pregnant and during a standard ultrasound, a tumor had been discovered — a tumor that an oncologist wanted to remove for testing as soon as possible. I potentially had cancer and the baby was potentially at risk of miscarriage during the surgery.
Needless to say, my husband and I were apprehensive of the surgery scheduled that night, but decided to go house shopping anyway to take our minds off of things. We looked at four houses in various states of disrepair – nope, nope, nope, nope – and this was the fifth one. I knew it was the house meant for us right away.
It had everything on our want list: three bedrooms, room for my husband’s office, potential for improvement but didn’t need a total gut renovation. It also had more that we didn’t even allow ourselves to want. It is an end unit, so it gets a lot of light. It is across the street from a state park, so it will never be developed to the hilt like a lot of locations in Northern Virginia. And it has a pool and a playground in walking distance.
When I was being wheeled into the operating room later that night, I was comforted by this house. I knew it was God telling me that He had a hope and a future planned out for me, even if we lost the baby, even if I had cancer. Thankfully, the surgery determined that I did not have cancer and our son is now two and a half. We sit in this house and feel blessed beyond measure.
It took me two months recover from my surgery — probably because the baby was growing fast while I was also trying to heal. During that time, we closed on the house, around Christmastime. But it was only two months later that we faced our next hurdle: my husband, a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves, got the call that he would be deploying to Afghanistan three weeks after our son’s due date in April. Now, instead of feeling excited about all the house projects in front of us, I felt scared. I would be a new mom in a house that needed some work. How would I install curtain rods by myself? What if my husband never came home? I sat in my living room with the cracked windows and no window coverings and felt despair. We still had boxes in piles around the house.
When a soldier deploys, his or her spouse deploys, too, emotionally and psychologically. The difference is, that while a soldier feels some control over his situation, the spouse feels helpless. I channeled all of my worrying and anxiety into house projects and working out, two things I did have control over.
The first thing we did was replace the roof and windows; it gave Stephen great peace of mind to leave his wife and new baby in a house secure from the elements. Then, after he deployed, my parents visited from Seattle and it was like an HGTV show for two weeks. My dad lined the laundry room with pegboard and bought and organized tools. He even built and installed a wooden shelf to give me somewhere to fold clothes. My mom and I painted the kitchen and the basement bathroom. We hung all of my art. At one point, my mom was leaning out of the top of the living room window to prune the tree in front. We put night lights in every room and hallway of the house so that I would feel safe when I was up at night alone with the baby. It was a marathon, but it made all of us feel better about the whole situation. The house felt like it was holding my son and I together.
We even used the house to celebrate my husband’s return from Afghanistan. The summer after he came home, we installed our deck and put up bike hooks in the laundry room for our new bikes. Our sitter came over to watch our son every week so we could go biking and spend some missed time together. And the day my husband came home, our neighbors decorated not just our house but the street with bunting, banners, and flags. It was overwhelming.
My husband reminds me that I didn’t love the house at first, though. It had been hastily flipped and needed a lot of love. The tan paint they had sprayed on all the walls was matte and absorbed all dirt. The seals on a lot of the windows were broken, so they were letting moisture in. The kitchen cabinets had 18 years of grime and crayon to scrub off.
I call this house my learning house, where I taught myself how to do renovation projects. I learned how to clean wood with TSP and paint cabinets, to use a drill to install cabinet knobs, to paint walls like a professional. There were a lot of nights — a few were when we were trying and failing to install roman shades because the house had no window coverings — that I absolutely hated this house. I hope that when I’m house shopping for our next home, I can remember how a few years of love can really turn a house around. I also learned which projects I’m willing to do myself and which ones I’m willing to pay other people to do.
I love how many stories in our family’s book have been written in this house. My husband will always remember coming home from meetings to find me, pregnant, on a ladder, urgently nesting and painting. I will always remember laboring in the living room the morning my daughter was born, in the middle of a snow storm. These are the rooms I brought my babies home to, where we got to know each other.
The house cost $294,000. We put in about $14,000 for a roof and windows, and $5,000 for a deck. We could have potentially taken out a bigger loan and have bought a nicer first home, but we chose instead to go lower in our price range so that we could afford to do those house projects. We also wanted to be financially nimble for when I quit my full-time office job to stay at home with the kids, and financially prepared for my husband’s job situation to change at any time. The house is now worth more than we paid. Of course we’re glad that our deck addition and landscaping of the front yard will add value and curb appeal as we leave, but I’m most proud of how faithful we’ve been in loving the house.
I’m proud of how each room came together from family hand-me-downs, Craigslist finds, sales, and saving. In our bedroom, for example, I saved up for about a year for our gray upholstered headboard. The dresser is a friend’s grandmother’s. The secretary was bought from a man who refinishes furniture on the side of the road on a road trip to see my husband’s grandmother. The hexagon book shelf was in a shopping story on the color gray and bought for me as a birthday present from my mother-in-law.
There are so many moments in the house that make me happy. In my daughter’s room, there’s a ceramic teddy bear lamp that was mine as a child. My mom’s best friend made it for me, and I just updated it with a shade. Another good friend made the paper decoration over my daughter’s crib. And someone in the church made the origami mobile over my son’s bed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the moon when buying something. I found the credenza in the kitchen on Craigslist as we were closing on the house. The only problem was that it was really heavy, we didn’t have a truck, and it was three hours away. I emailed the seller and told her my dilemma — and oh, by the way, could I have it for $100 less? — and it turned out she was an antique dealer trying to off-load the piece and she had a mover that came up to D.C. regularly. You never know! This piece was originally a file cabinet, so the right third drawers house all our family and work papers. The left two house our fancy china and serving ware.
Anything can be elevated to the level of treasure. The framed Starbucks menus in the kitchen were from when I was a barista in Seattle. The framer encouraged me to use museum glass since he rightly pointed out that they would be vintage someday, eventually! Already the menu prices are out of date.
The Army Reserves is only one weekend a month; during the rest of the time, my husband is an associate pastor at a local church. We’ve only been in this house for three years, but an exciting church opportunity arose in Wisconsin and when exciting opportunities arise, we go! We put as much love into this Virginia church as we put into this house during the last three years and we will miss them both the same. We are thrilled for our next adventure.
I’m excited to discover a new corner of the world. I never thought I’d live in the Midwest, but I know that there’s so much to find everywhere. I’ll need to find the good food, the hidden design gems, the local hot spots, and even the things the locals don’t know about. We spent two months in Vancouver, B.C. this summer for a temporary job and it was great practice in finding what’s great about a place.
I am excited about reinventing myself. I grew up in an Arts and Crafts home that my parents meticulously brought back to life over the course of 30 years, but I was also surrounded by Seattle’s contemporary architecture and interiors. Decorating a house in the Mid-Atlantic was a challenge for me at first; it’s much, much more traditional than I was used to, but I grew to love it. The light here allows for all of those colors you image the Founding Fathers using in their homes. I’m excited to maybe find a ranch home and channel a midcentury modern vibe, to reinvent my style.
I’m excited about how our new locale will affect my career, too. An editor once counseled me not to go into writing unless it was the only thing I wanted to do. That’s wise advice for any career in the arts, I think. I work really, really hard. I’ve done a number of unpaid internships. I often write in the late hours of the night.
I absolutely couldn’t do what I do without all the editors who have taken me on, given me assignments, been patient with my failings. I couldn’t do what I do without my husband who’s patient with deadlines that fall during vacations, projects that don’t generate enough income, and a wife who’s tired from staying up late. I love what I do and it’s a lot of fun, but it has also taken a lot of serious, heads-down work.
I love learning, period. I want to learn everything there is to learn! Which makes journalism the perfect career for me. I get to be nosy and ask people all these questions I might not be able to otherwise. And in the meantime, I’m gaining a lay understanding of interior design, architecture, and more. The research I do for my stories often introduces me to helpful ideas for the home and parenting.
It’s hard to not envy another writer’s career path. My kids help me with this, too. What will be most important to them when they are older. That I got a byline in a prestigious magazine? Or the memories we shared together? It’s hard to not seek after glory, but they remind me every day that the more important things are the small moments that are shaping their character and mine.
The first six months of my son’s life were such a struggle for me professionally. I wanted to write, but didn’t have much time to be fingers on a keyboard. I wrote during naps and stayed up late. I was sometimes unhappy about it. But I’ve realized that being a mom is actually making me a better writer. I solve problems in articles I’m working on or come up with ledes while I’m nursing. The kids force me to slow down so that when the time to write comes, I’ve done my thinking and can start writing. The kids have also given me new avenues; I’ve written a few stories for the Post’s parenting section.
Deadlines can be scary because a sudden sickness in the house could take up that last night of finishing a story. I now work much farther ahead of time and take the time I do get to write very seriously. I’m much more focused. That said, there is some crazy juggling that happens. During my daughter’s early months, I would take my son to the gym, where there’s great childcare, and use the time just to write. I typically have our favorite sitter come on Friday afternoons to play with the kids and that’s when I’ll schedule interviews. My patient husband has pulled over on the road before so I could get better reception for an important interview. One of my clients often needs me to conduct interviews really early or really late because the subjects are in different time zones and that works out perfectly because that’s when the kids are asleep. My flexible schedule and odd hours also tend to work well with my husband’s, since he works from home.
I’m honest when I’m doing interviews that I only have, say, 20 minutes before the baby wakes up, or that there might be toddler noise in the background. The majority of the time, the interview starts with us swapping stories about our kids and that helps make that important personal connection between myself and the subject that was harder to make before I had kids. I’m surprised at how flexible people are with kids. I even bring my littlest to design events.
We are going to rent out this townhouse and I’m scared that we won’t get renters who will take care of it. But I know that I need to get closure on this house before we move and realize that it’s not mine anymore; it’s just an investment. I won’t want to move back into this particular house after dismantling it and that’s okay. There are new adventures before us.
I didn’t start processing my sadness about leaving this house until I was editing the photos of my son’s room. His room was the first fully finished room in the house, and when my husband was deployed, it was the room where I nursed my son and prayed for my husband. I had used washi tape to put up photos from a newborn photography session over the changing table; it always gave me comfort to see Stephen holding our new baby in this pictures. I could close the door to that tiny room and feel safe. As I was remembering those moments, the tears finally came.
This house really taught me how to ask for help. We moved into our neighborhood dreaming about how we would get to know everyone and have backyard cook-outs. We envisioned helping our neighbors through the trials in their lives, and then, wham! We were the neediest ones on the block. I had to swallow my pride and ask people in our church to install the mobile in my son’s room, to help paint my husband’s office before his arrival back home. It was humbling. I see now how much I needed, and still need, to learn to be helpless. We had a house full of people from the church helping to paint the main living areas before Stephen deployed.
I wouldn’t have finished the stripes in my powder room without my saint of a neighbor. She loves design, too. She even gave us our first Christmas tree last years. We came home one day and found a fully decorated Christmas tree on our deck, a present from our neighbor who knew we had never felt we had the time or money to spend on a tree.
A wise friend of mine has counseled me to be all where you are. I take this to heart when we live somewhere.
I’m not going to wait to be quote-unquote settled before I decorate or wait until the kids grow up before I buy a nice piece of furniture. We could keep moving every two or three years for all I know, and it’s important to me that our house is a hospitable place to invite people in the meantime.
A big part of that for me is keeping the house clean and stocked and ready to be of service. It has to feel like a home in order for it to be a tool that we use to love other people. There must always be a place for a stranger to sleep for a night. We believe that our chief purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I think that our house helps us to do that.
I’m kind of misty you’re leaving this house, Lindsey! But I’m also excited by your dreams and excitement about your new home, too. I’m sure it’ll take care of you well!
I love what Lindsey writes about quote-unquote settling, don’t you? I really believe in living as well as you can at exactly this very moment. Someday is not my favorite word when it comes to decorating…or living, for that matter!
And I was also so moved by what she shared about “This house really taught me to ask for help.” I am sure we’ve all got a house like that in our histories, or maybe it was a particular moment when you needed something you couldn’t give yourself. If you think about it and want to share with us that one thing that taught you to ask for what you need, I’d sure love your stories.
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.