Living With Kids: Amy Clark

I don’t think this was even supposed to be a holiday home tour, but when I saw Amy’s cheery bursts of Christmas on some older photos, I knew I wanted to share her with you this time of year. It worked out so well, since her message is one I’d like to take along in the New Year. She’s honest about her home, honest about her illness, honest about her worries of not doing it all, and honest in her ultimate reaction to take life as it comes. Even when it doesn’t look like the pictures you’ve pinned in your inspiration files. Especially then.

I’m so excited to end December with this one.

Hey, there! I am so honored to share my home with you on one of my favorite websites. Our family lives near South Bend, Indiana and we are just about ten minutes away from the beautiful Notre Dame University campus. My husband works in computer programming and I have been running my little corner of the internet now for almost thirteen years while raising our two kiddos, ages ten and fourteen.

Life has a funny way of being everything you never expected. For example, the guy I saw auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof in our high school play ended up being the guy that I now get to call my life partner. In hindsight, that should have never worked. We were just kids and I often reflect that I don’t even recognize myself from back then.

Can I just say, I’m not even sure if I would like her?

We had this lottery life moment where we both changed so very much as we grew up, but we both grew into people we greatly admire. To love your best friend and raise kids with them is a great gift that I try not to take for granted.

We also did many things I would never advise my own children to do. We got engaged when we were just babies ourselves, we dropped out of college to work, and we weren’t necessarily sure that marriage was a great next step in our relationship, but maybe just an expectation we had set for ourselves. Shortly after saying our vows, we packed all of our belongings in a car and headed to a state where we knew no one, lost the job that we moved for, found ourselves in the worst kind of financial situation imaginable, and had a baby that we didn’t really know how to care for.

I mean, the kid was great, but what do we do with him?

All of those weirdly wrong moments ended up being moments that make you empathetic and better people. Without these moments of emotional stretching, I fear the type of person I would have shaped into.

I remember our first married days, sitting on a sprawled out futon on the floor playing board games because we didn’t owe a couch. I remember humbly dining at the folding table and chairs, and feeling so grown-up as a new bride whipping up some Hamburger Helper for my man. I remember that crazy belief that you can get by on love forever and who cares what other people think because you believe you are living the dream.

Meanwhile, our friends were still doing keg stands and killing it at SPRING BREAK while we contemplated having kids. We basically took the Disney FastPass in life and ran with it. We certainly missed out on those youthful carefree days, but I’m excited to be young enough to enjoy all these retirement perks as I near my fortieth birthday and am signing my son up for his freshman year of high school.

This home we live in was not my dream home at all. After my husband had been job searching for almost a year, he finally got a positive response from a company almost originally where we had started our life. Coming home felt humbling since we had been so proud of the new life we had carved and we were sad to abandon so much we had worked for.

The truth is, you can only consider the ATM a slot machine so many times before you have to swallow your pride and return.

Our son was just one and, frankly, I didn’t know what I was doing – did I mention this? – so this was exactly where we needed to be with our family.

My husband bought the house while I finalized our move and when I saw our new home, I may have cried.

This is incredibly embarrassing now because I had A HOME, something so many people wish they had, but a truthful and selfish fact that this was not the house that I wanted.

This was long before we were being inspired by Trading Spaces or Fixer Upper.

There was no Pinterest reference for paint colors and easy DIY’s.

The tiny house movement was not even a blip on the radar and this house was just too small compared to everyone else’s home.

I had no personal style, simply a style mimicked by my parents.

I saw no vision for my home and, frankly, we had no money to make it happen.

Here is the thing: this house has been the biggest blessing for us because we have had years to make it our very own, to find our own style, and to transform spaces into cozy corners that I never thought I had. At a modest 1,500 square feet, it is also a bit more manageable to transform those spaces.

The cost of housing is very low here so people are able to afford big houses for a lot less money than they would in other areas. Our split level home is situated in a 60s subdivision and was one of the first homes built here. The owner, who built our home, loved the house so much that she lived here twice!

When we moved in, many of the original owners still lived here and it was mostly older families. We are recently seeing a turnover with younger families moving in which is so nice since it is challenging to live in an area where your kids don’t have other kids to play with.

We find connecting with other families is doubly challenged by our school system since our children attend magnet schools and many kids go out of district or to private schools instead of where we are supposed to go. We often miss that feeling of community where your kids ride a bus together or see families outside of your neighborhood at school events. It is difficult when everyone scatters and can be a bigger challenge as a mom to make friends with other moms when you feel so disconnected in this way.

I can’t tell you that we have done everything the right way, but somehow God had a hand in how this all played out and so many wrong decisions turned out to be the perfect ones, including the home we live in.

That Disney FastPass plan seems still in place for our life and we are seeing Facebook announcements of babies while our kids are at this super fun age where family nights really are fun and not work.

The keg stands we missed seem worth it now that our kids are old enough to be left with their grandparents so we could take our dream trip to see Italy together.

As so many move into bigger houses and take on bigger mortgages, we have been rapidly paying our house off with just six years left until we can truly say that we own this place.

Was the temptation there to live bigger? OF COURSE! Many of my friends live in homes that are in the 4,000 to 7,000 square foot range because the cost of living here is so affordable. It is tempting when you see these gorgeous homes filled with brand new everything. Could we have done that? You bet!

What I didn’t expect by selecting this home were the bigger blessings our home would bring to us when my health took a turn. Last winter I was in debilitating joint pain that seemed to come from nowhere. My elbows began to throb and my fingers became burning hot and stiff. The pain later began to travel down through my knees and was so painful that I nearly had to scoot down our stairs. I had many weird health issues that never had made sense and my doctor ran me through a battery of tests to figure out what was happening from vitamin deficiencies to Lupus to Lyme. Everything kept coming back normal and the only remedy seemed to be steroids and pain killers.

I decided to join a Bible study at my church, something I had not done since my kids were small, and a conversation with our group leader took a weird turn as I kept coming to the study bracing various parts of my body. She began asking me questions about my flexibility, certainly a weird conversation to have in the midst of a Jen Hatmaker study. I had always been known for my flexibility abilities, in fact, it’s what helped me when I danced, so I was proud to show off my bendy fingers and impressive yoga stretches.

After running me through a little checklist, she looked me in the eye and said, “I think you have a connective tissue disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. You need to talk to your doctor.”

I did, in fact, have my answer. They say that this disease is rare, but I just believe it is rarely diagnosed and many people like me have a lifetime of symptoms with just no answers.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a group of inherited connective tissue disorders, caused by various defects in the synthesis of collagen. EDS is known to affect men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

There are six distinct types of EDS currently identified. All share joint laxity, soft skin, easy bruising, and some systemic manifestations. Different subtypes of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are associated with a variety of genetic causes, some of which are inherited and passed on from parent to child.

If you have the most common varieties of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the one that I was diagnosed with, there’s a 50 percent chance that you’ll pass on the gene to each of your children.

Discovering I had it meant that we had to have our children evaluated which nearly broke my heart. Who would want to hand that down to their children? It was confirmed less than six months ago that both of my kids have this too. Of course, we were very sad and wanted a different answer for them.

The good news though is that they will never feel like a hypochondriac and they will always have answers on why these weird things happen.

They will also always have a mom who gets it.

There is no cure for this, just a lot of supplements, diet modifications, and pain management options. I have learned that gentle yoga, Epsom salt soaks, and giving myself permission to rest are the best things I can do for myself. Resting is the hardest part as I’m a very driven, OCD, say-yes-to-everything kind of person. The holidays, in particular, nearly kill me every year because I want it to be perfect for my family.

Don’t we all want that?

Around Thanksgiving I felt awful and we had our family gatherings, the Nutcracker for my daughter, and we had to get a tree that weekend because it was the only day we had free. After doing all of the things for all the people, I told my husband that no magical tree experience was happening this year.

He headed on down to the hardware store and got our tree instead of the magical tree cutting ceremony we usually did, I made a cookie sheet of loaded nachos that we ate on the couch, and we watched National Lampoon’s Christmas and belly-laughed in our messy house.

It was not traditional and it was not the way I wanted to do it, but together we had it all.

I often get asked about my job as a blogger and I want you to know that it is wildly wonderful, exhausting, and weird. It is also one of the only occupations that you share what you do and the immediate response is asking how and if I earn money doing it.

My journey to blogging was paved with debt and wanting to help others who may have found they are in the same financial struggles. This was long before there were platforms to share a message or where saving money was trendy. Back then, it was contributing to online forums filled with people that liked washing sandwich bags multiple times or found a new way to use their bread tabs.

When the recession hit, that was a huge turning point for my work because everyone wanted to save and learn to make things themselves. It was also a turning point where I looked at this little hobby as a career. It still boggles my mind that the poorly drawn sketches I drew for my husband over a decade ago actually turned into a real site that is my full-time job. Blogging is not only a job, but it is where I have found my people. The blog community is filled with incredible people, many that I count among some of my dearest friends.

Circling back to our home, the reason why this house is such a blessing is the beauty in its size. If we would have made the evolution of upgrades like so many we know, the feeling of being overwhelmed would have caused me even more issues with my health.

Lucky for me, embracing minimalism and small spaces has been a true gift because I have less to maintain.

Instead of focusing on the smallness of our spaces, I look at our home as one of my biggest challenges to utilize small space to the best of its ability.

A shed attached to our home became an unexpected bonus room. A corner in a bathroom made the perfect space for a second shower. A wall was notched out to create a computer nook for our kids. Walls were knocked down to create the feeling of bigger space and an empty corner ended up being the perfect place to tuck a faux fireplace.

As a crafter, I am particularly proud that so much in our home was handmade by me. It is something that brings uniqueness to our home that can’t be replicated and often overshadows the spaces that still need some work. As I am learning, there are always projects to do.

All of this is to say that even if our lives don’t work out quite the way we expect it, even if we don’t get the dream house, even if our holiday is spent eating messy nachos and a heck of a lot less magic this coming year, let your heart be filled with gratitude.

If I have a family that loves me, if I have a warm place to rest my head, if I have food on my table…I, certainly have it all.

I used to be ashamed of that girl crying over not having her dream home. I wish someone would have told me to just embrace the progress and, through my interactions, I have the ability to continue growing and stretching into a better person with a bigger heart.

I hope that when my children reflect back on their childhood in this home that they will remember that it was a home where every room is used and was a safe place where they were always welcome.

I want them to have memories of big stacks of books in every corner, belly laughter over board games that we taught them, and that our kitchen table was always warm and welcoming to all people.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my family’s story and I hope you will come visit me on the site and say hello. It has given me immeasurable joy to share our home with you today!

–-

Thank you, Amy! I mean it: My favorite part of these tours is always the honesty shared. You never know who needs to hear just one of your sentences. Often, it’s me. I hope your words have affected someone else out there, too.

(And if you think I’m done with the holiday tours, I’m not! One more next week that is straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. I think it’s the happiest, brightest way to start January. You’re going to love her thoughts, too!)

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! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

43 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Amy Clark”

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful home and your life story. A family in my congregation has a mother and five children with Elhers-Danlos. I’ve seen firsthand how debilitating this illness can be, as well as how much they can still do and be.

    Rare illnesses don’t receive the same attention and sympathy as more common diagnoses. I’m grateful I’ve been able to learn more about this illness so I can provide specific help and make necessary modifications so their kids can participate fully in activities.

    Thank you for spreading awareness! May God bless you in your journey.

    1. Thank you so much, Laura! It is rare that I run across anyone who even knows about this illness and rare to also find people who really understand some of the challenges that come with it. I was hoping that by sharing this today, we could help another family struggling just like us!

      I so appreciate you taking the time to comment on this- xo!

  2. I really enjoyed this tour, Amy, you have a beautiful home. It also took years for me to realize that my home is a wonderful size for our family. I used to dream of adding on, but I am so thankful we didn’t. Our modest home is much more manageable for us financially and for daily maintenance. I am also grateful for this tour because I believe it will be a life changer for someone that has been dealing with similar health issues and may finally be able to get a diagnosis for their symptoms.

    1. Thank you so much, Amy!! Yes, isn’t it amazing when you grow into your home instead of deciding to outgrow it? I am so happy you found that your home is just right too. Thank you also for the kind words. Although I had never considered myself an advocate of anything, I couldn’t think of a better platform to share with a brand new group then this warm crowd :) xo

  3. I love your home so much, Amy! The special book crate for library books, the Too Legit to Quit pillow, the Tiny Dancer printable, and the Elf quote make me so happy. I would have loved to invite myself over for your loaded nachos and Christmas Vacation “party.” We had a Christmas season much like the one you described, and I’m so happy for that.

    We also live in a smaller mid-century ranch and I will admit to envying my friends’ homes that are so much bigger. I try to tell myself that our financial security is more important. It’s a hard lesson though.

    I pray for your family with the diagnosis. Thanks for sharing your beautiful home.

    1. That means so much, Sarah! I am the kind of person that would have had room on my couch for you to partake in sheet nachos and belly laughs! We love sharing our home with others.

      I do understand so well that feeling! I know that we both, in the long run, will be really glad that we lived below our means even if it means not keeping up with everyone else. I struggle with that jealousy too- sometimes it feels like it would be so much easier to start fresh. That said, can you just imagine owning our homes? That’s the reason I keep on keeping on over here!! xoxo

  4. Elizabeth Bullard

    Gabby,
    I’m proud to call Amy and her husband Ryan, friends. Ryan’s mom and I go way back to when he was very small. They are great people through and through! Wonderful article!

  5. “but together we had it all”

    “If I have a family that loves me, if I have a warm place to rest my head, if I have food on my table…I certainly have it all”

    Feeling this so much! Thank you. Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!

  6. Amy, I love this post so much! I’ve told you this before but it’s still true–you have one of the clearest and consistent voices on the internet. Thank you for being genuine and open about your home, life and career!

    Love you, friend!

    Gabrielle, thanks for featuring Amy’s super cute home! :)

    a

    1. This is the sweetest comment ever, Amanda. Thank you for saying that! It sometimes feels hard to speak authentically in this space, for some weird reason. I am so happy that has pulled through over the years! xo

  7. I loved this post. Your house is beautiful. Thank you for sharing such positive ideas through your writing. Our family has also been affected by illness and I can agree 100% that if we are together, we are ok.

  8. Trisha Neidig Crawford

    Thank you for sharing, Amy! I feel that we may have mutual acquaintances? I’m from Plymouth. Your house is beautiful!

  9. juliagblair@comcast.net

    What a wonderful tour—not only into the heart of a delightful home but into the heart of an amazing and intelligent lady! Thanks!

  10. Amy, wow! Thank You for sharing. Your home tour has been one of my favorites and now I hope to keep following your voice through your blog. Your perspective is refreshing and I appreciate the humility and gentleness through which you share. You’ve won many new friends through this post I’m sure.

    Hope you have a very Happy 2017. God bless you sister :)

  11. Your home is gorgeous and full of personality. Home sizes are weird, aren’t they? What is “small” for your area was 1500 square feet but honestly, this is not small at all. My last house was 900 square feet and I didn’t feel that remotely qualified as a small home, I had three bedrooms and everyone fit just fine! My newer home is 2200 square feet and we’ll be happy to downsize once we don’t have five children here and it’s just the two of us. I mean, this house has an extra sitting room! That’s not even slightly small. 4000 square feet here is a mansion very few can afford and with it comes so much unused space the family never even bothers with. And worldwide? My 2000 square feet is pure luxury. It’s so relative.

    1. Such a great point, Liss! I probably should have spoke more to the footprint of the house and less the square footage. 1,500 would be perfect when shared among one or two levels for us. We have this square footage broken between four floors. So, each one has a little pocket of space so that has been our biggest challenge and not the footage. Each room was really tiny so that is why we have been knocking down walls or notching into walls to try to make the most of it! That said, the square footage is on the small size in the town we live in, but I think it is more my home’s blueprint that seems to make it challenging :)

  12. This was very encouraging to read, Amy. I live in a 1500 sf 1959 ranch home (and 300 feet of that is a finished part of our basement!) and have several friends who are upgrading to larger homes. I go back and forth – with 4 kids that I homeschool, it would be nicer to have more space, but it’s also nice to have a smaller mortgage, and there’s something in me that wants to make this home we have the best home it can be before (or if) we move on. We also live in a low cost-of-living area where we could pay off our mortgage easily in 7 years once our student loans are paid off. Thank you for sharing your story!

    1. Yes, I completely understanding going back and forth on that, Jenni! I think our big thing has been when we go to look at houses on the market, we know there are elements we would really miss that we would struggle to replicate somewhere else. Not to mention, many of the homes in our budget are gorgeous on the outside, but would require a complete interior update on the inside. I try to keep focused on how much work a move and starting over would be and being within the finishing line of that mortgage!! Woohoo!

  13. I loved reading this! Your home is beautiful, and I especially love the books everywhere : ) We move so much because of the Air Force that we really work hard to make our home feel like our home quickly—but we all want our kids to feel those things you mention when they look back.

    1. I can’t imagine the challenges in that, Elizabeth, and moving so frequently. You are an amazing mama to make each destination feel like a true home for your kids- thank you for sharing that!

  14. In case you’re interested, some of our hypermobility patients are recommend this garment, and it seems to help create more stability for the joints. It’s called intelliskin. Good luck!

  15. Wonderful tour Amy. I really related with getting married and having kids young, as my husband and I did the same thing. I sometimes can’t believe our parents let us do that;) I also LOVED seeing all your stacks of books, and have enjoyed many of titles pictured.

  16. Like others, I loved seeing all the books you have around. I especially loved how many of them are library books! Yay libraries!

    1. We would be NOTHING without our amazing library system. It has been one of the biggest perks living here to have such a great selection of books available for free. Yay for libraries!!!

  17. I looooove the vinyl collection and the nods to Sir Elton John! I loved that album as a tween and I had a goodbye yellow brick road iron on t-shirt! I wish I still had that shirt to hand down to my boys. Happy New Year!

    1. Awwww!! Super fans unite! We adore Elton and actually pre ordered that album at our local record store when it came out. It’s beautifully sunshine yellow, just like the brick road. It makes me happy to see it spinning. :) You must find a shirt like that for your boys :)

  18. I can relate to her story so well. I was married at 19 with my first baby at 20. She has such a beautiful home, and I think it should be mandatory for all home tours to be photographed during the holidays because I think all the holiday decor is so lovely!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  19. Loved reading this. It’s just turned into Jan 1st here in Scotland & it was a lovely way to end the day and start off 2017!
    I’m a big Tiny Dancer fan & would love a poster like yours. Did you get it online?
    Happy Hogmanay! Emma x

  20. Pingback: Have a lovely weekend. - The Art of Simple -

  21. Fabulous! This home is so lovely. I love everything about it. The design, furniture and the decors for Christmas is great. I enjoyed the tour! Happy new year.

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