Living With Kids: Sharon Ellis McCuistian

Sharon not only lives in a unique town, but the story behind her move to it is life-affirming. Life goes on, she tells us. It’s scary and difficult and it often looks nothing like it did the day before, but aren’t we lucky to be living it? Yes.

But this isn’t your average-ordinary Living With Kids tour. It’s more of a Living After the Kids Grew Up and a Lot of Other Things Happened but Here I Am Now tour. Whatever you call it, this is a home tour to warm your heart. Welcome, Sharon.

Hello all! I’m Sharon. I am a former middle school librarian, former English teacher, lover of words, and over-user of exclamation marks…as you will soon find out!

I live in northern New Mexico with my husband of almost two years. It may seem strange for someone who is 52 to have only been married for such a short time, but like everyone, I have a story.

My husband and I were both widowed at the age of 48. We had been good friends in high school, so I reached out to him after my husband passed away because I knew he would understand what I was going through. He had always been a great friend when we were young, and I knew that bond had not changed. Having lost his wife a few years before I lost my husband, he had been able to process more of his grief and therefore walk beside me through some of my darkest days. He helped me so much, and after many emails, late night phone calls and visits, we realized much to our shock that we had fallen in love.

I quit my job, packed up my life, and moved from Texas to the beautiful mountains of New Mexico to marry one of my best friends.

I live in a very unusual town. The only reason my new hometown exists is because of the atomic bomb. I live in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the birthplace of the Manhattan Project. It is an  extremely historic place, and continues to play a huge role in the security of our nation.

My husband is a physicist at the National Laboratory. The town was originally a boys’ ranch school, but when our nation found itself in the midst of World War II, they closed the school, took over the few buildings, and built a town that no one knew about until after the war ended. Only the people who were developing the atomic bomb and their families could enter the town.

All people in town had the same address: Box 1663 Santa Fe, NM. All mail coming in and going out was read by a third party to make sure that no one told what was going on here. Today, besides national security measures, medical research is also conducted at the lab among other things. The town isn’t a secret anymore, and thousands of tourists come to visit the museum and buildings where history was made.

I’ve always heard that today Los Alamos has the highest concentration of PhD scientists living in a community than anywhere else in the country. Extremely intelligent people from all over the world live in this one small town. It is quirky, to say the least.

Housing is expensive, and houses usually only stay on the market a day or two before someone snaps them up. I’ve heard of couples spending several hundred thousand on a house only to spend more on renovations to make it something in which they would want to live.

I’m very fortunate that my husband already had a great home when we married. Many houses are from the period after the war when the US government decided to keep the lab open and continue its work. I live in a new (by Los Alamos standards) subdivision in town; it is about 15 years old.

My neighborhood sits on the edge of a mesa and the views are spectacular. I can step out my front door and instantly be at many trailheads that expose some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen.

Many women move here and do not like it because it is extremely isolated. There are very few chain stores here as most stores are locally owned, which adds a quaint feeling to the town. Although we are a small town, we have an ice skating rink and a ski hill. If a person likes the outdoors, she will enjoy it here.

I like living here. I have very few local friends which is very different for me – I have great friends in Texas. Most of the women I’ve met here I’ve met through exercise. I go to exercise classes at the local YMCA and belong to a running group who meets to hike the trails. I am branching out more and hope to meet  more friends, but it is hard because I don’t have children here so I’m not out and about very much.

My life has changed so much. In years past my alarm went off at 4:36 am. and I awoke to work out clothes that had been laid out the night before. I was out the door and either running with friends on the dark streets or at the gym at a Bodypump class by 5:00 am. I then went to work at our local junior high as an English teacher, and in later years a librarian. I had a fulfilling life.

Now my life is much slower and more reflective. I no longer have children living at home, I don’t have a regular job, I live in a new town with few friends. I am in the Walden time of my life, and I like it. I’m rereading Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and seeing how I can apply it to my life the way it is now.

A typical day for me is waking when my husband does between 5 and 6 – not that I get out of bed right away! I love coffee and have a simple breakfast of yogurt and granola each morning. I watch national morning news shows and get caught up on social media and blogs to start my day. I try to get some sort of exercise in each day with a great class the the local Y or my run/ walk. I’m trying desperately to get back into running, but it has been difficult here with the mountains and huge change in elevation. I know it is a goal that I can achieve, so I am trying to be patient with myself. I also love hiking the many trails around here and have met some great women in my running/hiking group.

My afternoons are filled with reading, working on my blog, occasional volunteering, homemaking, cooking, and – I’ll admit it – watching recorded episodes of The Real Housewives of…Wherever. I won’t watch them when my husband’s home; they just seem stupid in his presence, but I love them and can’t seem to look away!

I have two grown children from my first marriage. My son Connor lives in and takes care of my home in Texas. My daughter Molly recently left NYC for Chicago. My children are supportive of my new life, and I don’t know how I would have managed the past few years without them. It is so fun when you realize that your children are wonderful adults who are contributing so much to our world. My new baby is a blog I’ve written for years without telling a soul. I’m now concentrating to make it more public to start a conversation with people from all walks of life about what it means to live an abundant life.

Living life to the fullest is a goal of mine as I know all too well that the simple act of being is a blessing that many lose way too early. Not long after my husband’s passing, I read an email from an organization that helps people cope with grief, Grief Share. The particular email spoke to my soul that morning. It was centered around the scripture Deuteronomy 30:19 which says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” From that day forward, I made a conscious effort to choose life for myself and my children. I knew that they would follow my lead on how to grieve the most devastating loss that we could have ever imagined.

When my children were growing up I always asked them the question, “Did we make a memory?” I always wanted them to have great memories of their childhood.

Looking back now, I’m so glad they have those great memories of their dad and our family to sustain them now that he is no longer physically with us. I absolutely loved every stage of raising my kids. I miss those long lazy days when they were toddlers – some days seemed like they would never end!

I was fortunate to be able to stay home all day with them until they were both in school. It really is hard to believe how quickly the school years went by. It is always said, but to you younger moms out there, it really does go by in the blink of an eye.

I think if I could go back and relive one day it would be a day from the toddler years. I would love a day of snuggling, eating lunch together, playing outside all afternoon waiting for Dad to get home. Those seem like magical days to me now!

I believe that those years and the many that followed laid a firm foundation upon which my children have built their lives. Church, family, neighbors all play such an important role in raising children, and we were blessed with the best of all of those. I feel it is the foundation of faith and a belief system of perseverance that have helped my children cope with loss and disappointment. I hope that when they are my age, they will look back at the decisions that I’ve made and be proud and know how each decision was made thoughtfully and prayerfully with them at the center of each one.

I honestly have no idea what my home design style is. Someone please tell me! I just like what I like. I don’t care from where a particular item comes. If I like it or especially if it makes me smile, I want it.

I guess my decorating approach follows my life’s philosophy: always make a memory. So in that vein, my home will never be complete as it will always be a work in progress of adding items that have memories attached. I’d rather have empty wall space ready to fill with mementos than have a wall immediately filled with art. I love a touch of whimsy, and that is the next step in my new home in New Mexico: to add a bit of whimsy to areas. My first plan is to redo the staircase to look like book spines. It will be a mixture of science and literature book titles, as I’m a lover of words who happens to be married to a physicist!

I moved into a definite bachelor pad: no window treatments, nothing on the walls, basic furniture in most rooms. We are still in the process of blending our lives and decorating this home to be ours. We have our to-do list and are whittling away at each item which is proving to be a lot of fun, and much more time consuming than I imagined that it would be.

Since there was really just furniture in the house, I’ve gotten to make decisions on the added touches that make a house a home…our new home. The hardest thing has been convincing my husband that things don’t have to be matchy matchy. When discussing adding a certain piece like a side table or pillows, he wanted all wood grains to match or all pillows to be the same. After redoing the bedding and adding curtains and a few other pieces in our bedroom, he loved the look of mixing and matching and changing the look with the seasons. He loves what I’ve done and has pretty much given me his blessing to do what I want. I would never make a big change without consulting him, but it is nice to know that he trusts my choices!

We need built-in shelving to house our extensive book collections. He enjoys woodworking and has designed great built-ins around the fireplace. The only problems is that he works very long hours so I have to be patient on him building them! I love that he wants to do it, and I feel it will add to the beauty just knowing that he built them.

Besides blending our home to be ours, we are also blending our lives. I have told him that this first year, he has learned all of my cute idiosyncrasies, and I have learned just how weird he can be! But seriously, this first year has been so fun, and not always easy.

We both had marriages that we were not ready to end. Grief changes each person, and we have both told each other so many times that we both had these relationships before, but this relationship is OURS. It will be whatever we make, and I feel like we both make it a priority to make this marriage as close and special a relationship as we can. Our loss helps make us appreciate what we have. We do not take each other for granted; we both know how quickly it can end.

I love Nate Berkus’ design book, The Things That Matter. In it he says, “ For me, the most successful interiors in the world are put together by people who surround themselves with objects that bring them joy.” That thought is mine as well. I have several things in both houses that belonged to grandmothers. Those are the items that bring me the most joy to own today.

I love the server that belonged to my husband’s grandmother. I have it in my dining room with a reminder to count your blessings. I also have a collage of small paintings that my Texas friends painted for me when I moved. So many items bring me joy. A joyful state is a good place to be.

Keeping up with two households can be a challenge, but my son does a great job, and I go back to Texas when I can. We are planning a great family weekend this spring when we will all descend on the Texas house and help Connor with chores at the change of seasons from winter to spring/summer. The house sits on several acres so there is always plenty to do. I love yard work especially when doing it with the whole family. It makes me so happy to see everyone working towards a common goal.

I love decorating with books. I think I brought as many boxes of books as I did boxes of clothes when I moved here. Books tend to be a common denominator for people. If you can discuss a book, you have an instant friend! I once met a woman on a NYC subway, and we bonded over her copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, which just happens to be my favorite book.

I’ve always kept a large number of books stacked beside my bed. I never know what mood I’ll be in at bedtime when I tend to read the most. I usually have several inspirational books so I’ll have something positive to read before I fall asleep. Now that I read ebooks and use the Texture app for magazines, my iPad is also a staple at my bedside. One of my favorite things is JFK Jr’s comment when his mother passed away. He said that she died “surrounded by her friends, her family, her books and the things she loved. She did it her own way on her own terms.” I hope my children can say that about me someday.

I wish someone would have sat me down as a young woman and somehow gotten me to truly believe that everything was going to be okay. That seems like such a simple statement, but looking back on my years of motherhood, I so wish that I hadn’t worried so much. I wish that I truly would have lived in the all encompassing knowledge that things were going to turn out okay!

I worried about and overreacted to so many things. I’ve since apologized to my kids for being so extreme at times. My children are so different. Molly is my perfectionist, and I never wanted to push things with her too much because she was always so hard on herself.

Connor is my laid back, don’t worry, be happy kid. My relationship with him suffered the most from my being so uptight about things. I know it is normal to have strained relationships with teenage children, but I think it could have been better if I hadn’t worried so much. I remember being terrified one day during the elementary school years when it washed over me that I really no longer had control over his actions! What a revelation!

I wish I had let both my kids know more often that I knew they were going to make mistakes, and that it would be alright if they did – we would work through them.

Unfortunately, it took the death of a man that I loved very much to allow me to truly understand that things will be okay. They may not always be what we want, but they will be okay. I’m so happy that Connor and I are so close today. I always joke with friends that he likes me again! And, Molly…well, we still talk every day! Things really have turned out okay!

If you were to visit me in my home in New Mexico, you would first find a personalized welcome on my kitchen chalkboard. You would be invited to go on an exhilarating hike on one of our great hiking trails. We would eat green chilis, sit on our deck, and talk about life. We love visitors!

Thanks for visiting me today!


See? She’s a joy. She made your day so much better, didn’t she? And how cute is her welcome to her home? A personalized chalkboard sign, a hike, and green chilis! Thank you, Sharon.

What’s your typical welcome for your own guests? Is there a special routine your family offers those who visit? A game you play, something special you bake, or a room where you always gather? I’d love to hear your stories…I always do!

Oh. And then there was this: “I think if I could go back and relive one day it would be a day from the toddler years. I would love a day of snuggling, eating lunch together, playing outside all afternoon waiting for Dad to get home. Those seem like magical days to me now!” I just…can’t right now. Right?!

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.

Photo credits: Paulina Gwaltney.

24 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Sharon Ellis McCuistian”

  1. When I saw the picture of your house, Sharon, I thought “that looks like it could be in Los Alamos” and I was right! We moved away from “LA” two years ago and I miss it so much: the quirkiness, the people, the canyons and mesas, the green chile, etc. Thanks for sharing your family!

  2. Elizabeth Paccione

    Thanks for all your wonderful advice..I am not going to worry so much. Your story is such an inspiration…thanks for sharing..

  3. Beautiful story of 2 people who hit major speed bumps in life!! It’s not if you hit those speed bumps but how you respond when you do!! You guys have excelled in handling those speed bumps!!

  4. As a new mum just getting used to being at home with my 4 week old daughter, thank you Sharon for reminding me to make the most of every day with her, even the difficult ones!

  5. Sharon, since our two children come from the same town, with the same upbringing, and with Josh and Connor being so much alike in their laid back personalities, I can so relate to the fear of “what if”. It is exciting to sit back and watch them make their lives, their dreams and passions become a reality. To see them embrace the spiritual foundation they were given throughout their childhood. And to know, even though we would love to go back and change some of our decisions; they are amazing young adults. I laugh at your decorating style as mine is pretty much the same. I love whimsy, I love those special pieces that speak to me and the importance of making my home feel warm and welcoming.

    It is exciting to read your blog and I look forward to more in the future…


  6. My husband and I “discovered” New Mexico last summer, and since then, we have been dreaming about our return. We are planning to spend at least 2 weeks in New Mexico this summer. It’s such a beautiful place! Thank you for opening your home to us.

  7. Sharon, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. It meant so much more by knowing the person who wrote it. Thank you for a peek into your new life and new home. Both are truly amazing!
    I appreciate you sharing your home, your heart and yourself with us.

  8. Yay for this house tour! Lately, I’ve felt that the featured tours were all done by interior designers with young children (not trying to criticize because I still enjoy them and I was almost convinced to send in photos of my not so perfect house for balance -lol), so this tour felt like a breath of fresh air to read. It is inspiring to read about someone’s life at another phase of child rearing and as a newly wed, myself, trying to blend my bachelor husband’s “style” with mine, I can totally relate to Sharon’s joys and challenges. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Christina Schmiesing

    That was so real, honest and beautiful. What wisdom. Thanks for sharing the insights on your children, their differences and your reactions…and the lessons. I am right there right now and your words are helpful, kind reminders!

  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about worrying. It is so nice to hear from someone who has raised a few kids and gone through some tough stuff that things will turn out ok. I loved how you choose to live life, despite the challenges you have had to face. Your home looks inviting and peaceful and the perfect place to feel comfortable in.

  11. What an amazing story and a beautiful home. I have tears in my eyes after reading about how you choose life and make memories with your family. I’m a SAHM to two little ones, and I know these are times I’ll cherish. Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. I love this post. I stay home and work a little from home and my oldest just turned 15 and my youngest is 12. I feel like the years are speeding by and I wonder what I will do when they leave home! I miss them now when they are at school!

  13. Hi Sharon,

    I love-love-loved this post! Not only is your house simply beautiful, but two of your bits of wisdom resonated with me so strongly:

    As a lifelong worrier who is currently 36 weeks pregnant with my first child, hearing you say that you wish you had worried less, that things would turn out okay, feels like a mantra I need to frame and put on my wall! I really want to enjoy every moment of motherhood so am going to do my best to not let my anxious tendencies stand in my way.

    And on your home design, witnessing your enjoyment of the process (‘We have our to-do list and are whittling away at each item which is proving to be a lot of fun…’) is an attitude I would really love to embrace. I’m such a perfectionist, I struggle to really enjoy my home without everything being just perfect. I love the idea of enjoying the process of making it a home, even if there are still items on the to-do list.

    Thanks for giving me such a wonderful attitude to aspire to!

  14. This is one of my favorite “Living With Kids”. Maybe because I’m an older mom (50) too-I like seeing how people are doing “the next stage.” I completely got the feeling of wanting to relive a day when your kids were little. I guess that’s why people love being grandparents! It’s sweet to see how young moms are living-but I personally get much more out of stories like this. I hope you can find more moms like this to feature!

  15. Loved this Sharon and Gabby. Sharon I too am an NM transplant. We moved from California to Albuquerque in the past couple of years and it has been amazing and challenging too.

    So many of the things you said sounded familiar to my transition here. Especially the working out at altitude after we had lived at sea level for most of our adult lives. The air is at lot thinner where we live at 6200 feet! It’s higher than the base of the ski resort I grew up skiing at in Utah. You are not so far away from me. Maybe we can meet for coffee/tea sometime.

    I always love hearing about the lives of the young moms with kids here in this series but it sure was fun to read about someone who is ahead of me in the game of life, painting a beautiful map for how to do the things that will come gracefully! Thanks!

  16. My husband worked at the National Lab while we were dating. It is an enchanting place. The food in NM is amazing, and I loved all the scenery. It was a beautiful place to be in love. Gave lots of room to think and share. I hope to visit again. It is clear you live a life with tons of thoughtfulness! I also love all the reminders to count blessings in your home.

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