By Gabrielle.

Rachael Bailey has the cutest kitchen table that would match my piano perfectly, and her canning jars remind me of my childhood, canning fruit in the kitchen with mom. Also, we all need a striped wall or two. And maybe a closet bed for a tiny one.

The mental list I made as I slotted photos in this tour and read Rachael’s words made me hopeful and more than a little grateful about these tours. I wonder if they’ve pushed you to make changes, big and little, in your own homes? I sure hope you can think of at least two things our homeowners have shared that are now on your own lists!

As for my ever-growing list, it may now include a cute chicken coop, too. And maybe five Gertrudes. Or at the very least, one small dragon reading on my couch! Welcome, Rachael!

There are a lot of us! My husband Neil is a talented whizzbang of a mechanical engineer finishing up the last year of his doctoral degree. I describe myself as a career mother, but I teach tech and business writing classes part-time at the university and run my own editorial consulting business on the side. I work when the children are asleep and spend my days building Lego rocket ships, snuggling up to read picture books, running through the woods, and experimenting in the kitchen.

We have two sweet girls: Abigail is nine and Juliet is seven. Then we have three adorable boys right in a row: Isaac is five, Luke is three, and Nathan is a keeps-us-all-on-our-toes two. Last but not least, we share our space with Hermes, our orange tabby cat, and ten friendly backyard hens (Yoda, Speckle, Apple, Gloria, Bok-Bok, and five Gertrudes!) As you may or may not have guessed, my children have named all of our animal friends.

We moved here just when the housing market was bottoming out and our area was absolutely flooded with foreclosures. We were lucky enough to both have parents and grandparents who had turned over to us sizable funds for our college educations that we’d never ended up using, thanks to scholarships, so we decided to put that money towards a down payment.

The home that we live in now is actually the very first one we looked at. Our realtor told us that it was way out of our price range, but was certainly the nicest one on the market, and she wanted to give us an idea of what a really lovely foreclosure could look like before she took us to look at all of the ones we could actually afford – and oh, they were awful! I remember crying as we left one listing that smelled like animal urine and had a random wall built through the living room so that if you turned on the ceiling fan it would collide with the wall, and I couldn’t help comparing it with the first dreamy listing we’d seen! Of course, that home had sold within days, but then our realtor called a week later to let us know that it was back on the market with a substantially lower asking price; apparently the bank was desperate to unload it. We finally made an offer that was far below the already-lowered asking price, and we got it! The whole process was so fast, and we moved in just three weeks after we’d begun looking at homes.

We live in north-central Indiana. Our proximity to Chicago allows us to spend weekends in amazing museums, but our community is the perfect mix of hip college town and down-to-earth farming community. I can hit an organic farmers’ market nearly any day of the week on my way home from taking my kids to the free ceramics classes funded by our local arts federation, and my kids are always going on field trips to the age-appropriate plays at the university. Our landscape was molded by glaciers, so there are beautiful wooded ravines in between the miles of rustling cornfields.

Every season here is more beautiful than the last, and the people here are amazing! It’s a wonderful mix of famously friendly Midwesterners who are incredibly committed to higher education. I really see this in our schools; my older children are in dedicated high-ability classes, which begin in second grade, and their teachers are really big into parental involvement, so it’s not uncommon for my kids to come home and talk about so-and-so’s mom who talked to the class today about what it’s like to be a structural engineer…which just happens to mesh perfectly with the giant igloo they’ve been building out of milk jugs in the corner of their classroom!

My husband jokes that he was sold on our home the moment he saw the giant garden tub in the master bathroom; he is 6’5″ and has lived with years of folding himself up to fit in bathtubs or crouching under shower heads! There were some pretty terrible decorating decisions in our home, but they were all superficial: outdated wallpaper borders, bizarrely bright wall colors, and hideous tile surrounding the kitchen sink, which I happily took a sledgehammer to ASAP, but the house had great bones for a builder-basic starter home!

I only had eyes for the brick fireplace, the soaring vaulted ceiling in the living room, the open floor plan, and all of the natural light. I loved the fact that we were able to look at our home when it was vacant so that I could actually see the shape of the rooms without someone else’s furniture and knickknacks overlaying my vision.

We’ve lived here for eight years now, and we’ve added four more children to our family – certainly not what we were expecting when we first bought it! But one thing that I have loved about this is that our changing family dynamic has helped me to be creative in how we use our home; I think about what we need rather than what the house is designed to do.

For instance, when we moved in the home had a formal carpeted dining room, quite a walk from the kitchen, which we never seemed to use with food-flinging toddlers. So I moved our dining table back to the eat-in kitchen and transformed the dining room into a library where we keep most of our children’s books, games, our computer, and a giant cosy couch. As a dining room, it sat neglected. As a library, we spend 99% of our time in this one room!

Similarly, what was once a spacious walk-in closet in my sons’ room now houses a baby crib and a happy little baby! In previous incarnations it held a built-to-fit toddler bed and was such a popular sleep spot that we had to rotate kids through on a weekly basis.

We have done so much work on our home that it’s hard for me to pinpoint my favorite spots, but my current favorite is probably the striped wall in my sons’ room. We affixed our DIY papier-mâché rhino to the wall and then I painted their bookcase and dresser my favorite shade of red to complement the navy stripes, then painted a piece of leftover lumber to mimic a cute sign I’d seen in Hobby Lobby for some artwork to hang above the bookcase!

I also smile whenever I pass the map of imaginary lands that hangs in our library and combines all of our favorite fantasy lands into one plausible whole. My children will probably grow up thinking that if you cross the mountains in Narnia you’ll wind up in Middle Earth, but that if you head south by way of Hogwarts you’ll strike the Hundred Acre Wood – and if you want to visit Treasure Island, just go left when you reach Neverland!

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression after my fifth baby was born, but it had been ongoing for several years. I’d been living in this limbo world where my husband had been in grad school for eight years and I felt so helpless to do anything to move us forward and on to real life. It was a very dark time for me; I cried myself to sleep most nights while my husband was at the lab working until 2:00 or 3:00 am. Having a new baby after a nightmarish delivery and being in a state where my medical team was specifically asking me about emotions and recommending that I see a therapist specializing in birth trauma made me feel safe enough to finally acknowledge that no, things were absolutely not okay with my mental state. For some reason, I felt like I finally had a socially acceptable reason to be depressed because postpartum depression is more normal than “I’m wearing myself out raising my kids and working part-time while my husband is in a seemingly unendingly graduate program!” Looking back on it, it makes me so sad that I felt this way.

What was most helpful for me was a low-level dose of Zoloft, for two main reasons. First, Zoloft gave me the mental clarity to distance myself from my emotions and got me to the point where I could look at a situation rationally and come up with a logical response rather than one driven by emotions and anxiety. I saw a therapist a few times, but I was not fortunate in finding a good fit. While I was on Zoloft, I was able to train myself to different response patterns that were much more healthy, and practice those when I felt like it was safe to wean myself off the antidepressants.

Secondly, anti-depressants helped me to retain the energy and enthusiasm that I’d had previously – it literally felt like going back in time. I woke up one morning after about a week on the medication and felt like I’d traveled back in time, and I thought, “This is ridiculous. There is always going to be something else that you could be looking forward to. Get over it and live the life now that you want to be living, and quit waiting for graduation!”

And so I spent the next year doing everything I’d been putting off until that nebulous graduation day: I repainted every wall in our house, all of the baseboards and trim, and all of the cabinetry! My long-suffering husband built me a beautiful chicken coop and I finally had the hens I’d been dreaming about for ages, and the kids and I spent one summer bringing Pinterest boards to life as we redid everyone’s rooms on a shoestring budget. And I ran a marathon two weeks before my fifth baby’s first birthday! I’d been running half-marathons for years but never thought I’d have time for a full until my kids were older. Thanks to lots of treadmill time after the kids were in bed and my husband was at his lab, I made it work!

I’ve been off medication for about six months now. The challenges and the stresses are still there, but I feel better equipped to deal with them after a year where I was able to look at things and say, okay, let’s take a step back and look at this logically, and figure out how we are going to get through it.

In a weird way, I’ve really come to appreciate the decorating favors that student life has brought me! If I see something for sale that I love, I immediately try to figure out how I can make it myself. I’ve realized that I enjoy the process of creation so much. It’s very therapeutic for me to create these types of things. For instance, I fell in love with those trendy papier-mâché animal heads, but knew the price point was out of the question. So my little son and I decided to try our hands at making one ourselves, and it was absolutely my favorite DIY ever!

I love looking around a room where all of the little touches that make it homey are principally the work of my hands: the quilts, the curtains, the pillows, the artwork. And I love the opportunity to experiment with different trends and techniques. If I try something and it doesn’t work with my aesthetic, I don’t feel bad about moving on because it wasn’t a significant investment. Case in point: One day I decided to paint our ancient red papasan chairs to see if I would hate them any less if they were gray…then blue! (I didn’t.) I’m also more gutsy because I feel safer in a more temporary stage of our lives, so I know that I’m not committing to the apple-green kitchen table for the next few decades!  Nothing we own is very expensive – lots of thrift stores or hand-me-downs from friends – so I don’t feel awful about reconfiguring, repainting, or reupholstering. I’ve been able to experiment so much and learn a lot along the way not just about different techniques, but also about what aesthetic I really love and find most soothing and functional in my home.

My husband has done quite a few larger and more permanent projects: fencing our backyard, building a swing set and pergola, digging a vegetable garden, and building that chicken coop! He has wired all of the bedrooms for ceiling lights, built custom shelves in all our closets and the garage, built our beautiful king-sized bed frame after I emailed him a photo of the Pottery Barn bed I loved, and tiled and dry walled until our grubby dark little kitchen became the airy and light space of my dreams. I suppose you could say that I get to do all of the fun and easy DIY projects like painting or sewing while he does all of the heavy lifting. Good thing he finds that sort of thing restorative!

I hope our kids remember the long lazy mornings that we’ve spent snuggled up in a giant pile of pillows on the library floor with the most enormous pile of books next to us when read to them until I’m hoarse, and then they run and get me some water and beg for more stories, and who could say no to that? Before we had children, we decided not to have a TV in our home. While it’s not for everyone, my husband and I feel that this is the single best parenting decision we’ve made, as it has shaped so much of our family culture.

Many of our best family moments are spent reading together; I am particularly fond of our wintertime fireplace nights, where we all gather around the fire in our pajamas and take turns reading aloud from classic novels. For a few blissful minutes it’s very Norman Rockwell-esque…at least until the baby takes off with someone’s lovey!

I hope they remember that as much as I’ve tried to make our home a peaceful refuge, sometimes I suddenly realize that we’ve been inside too much and I pack everyone up and drag them, moaning and complaining the whole way, to the woods, and within 30 seconds they’re running down the trails screaming with joy. Nature works magic that I can never replicate indoors.

I hope they remember that we are constantly creating and changing our home just as we should do with our very selves – that nothing is ever absolutely perfect forever, and that it’s always an upward climb. I want them to feel that change is not something to dread, but it’s something to embrace, because that’s when you really get to learn and experiment and grow, and it’s so much fun, even if there are moments where the sewing machine jams up! I hope that this attitude is something they can extrapolate to the entirety of their lives: change is good. Onwards and upwards!

And I certainly hope they don’t remember the way Nice Mommy turns into Monster Mommy when they are finally all tucked away for  the night and then the bedroom doors start opening up again! Yikes!

I love the slow pace of life with young children and how easy it is to meet their needs. It is an absolute delight to watch my children getting older and to see their personalities blossom and develop, but this also means that they are getting to the point where I can’t protect them from all of the hurtful and hard things out there in the world. I’m clinging to those slow-paced days much more fiercely than I used to; I know that all too soon there will be a time where I am not my daughters’ favorite confidante and friend, and where my sons will not kiss me twice on each cheek before they fall asleep at night.

I wish someone had told me that I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, but that I was a career mother, and that being a good mother takes a lot of planning, preparation, and hard work. When I had my first baby, I was 21 and had just finished my first year of graduate school. I didn’t have the remotest idea about what I was getting into; I just sort of thought I would instinctively know what to do! Ha! It took me a few years to realize that the same type of planning, research, and perseverance that were so necessary to me in academia were even more vital as a mother. I learned that if I wanted magical moments with my family, then I had to plan and create an opportunity for those moments to occur! (Making “bucket lists” as a family for each season is my favorite way to do this.)

I had a very difficult time adjusting to motherhood because I was so used to external validation – and you don’t get that from children! One day I just decided that if I was going to be a mother then I was going to be the best darn mother I could be, and that I was going to quit worrying about what people thought about my choices. For some reason, this was a huge paradigm shift for me and helped to resolve a lot of the worries I had about how I was choosing to spend my time, talents, and intellect.

This is a career. It’s the career I’ve chosen, and I am doing everything I can to excel in my career as a mother. (And I can take a nap if I want to, because I’m the boss!)

–-

Oh, there’s a lot of good stuff in this one, isn’t there? From turning her dining room into a library (Page 134 in my book!) to approaching decor changes as a metaphor for life (Brilliant!), and the moment she stopped looking for external validation as a mother. Also, this: “Nature works magic that I can never replicate indoors.” So true. I see it whenever my kids are swinging from the trees!

Thank you for it all, Rachael!

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 knowWe 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.