Living With Kids: Ashley Reese

By Gabrielle.

The major element in Ashley and David’s story that intrigued me right away was the path to finding their home. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it was less of a path and much more of a hike. A hike up Mt. Everest! With very little equipment or even a guide, at times! And they traveled the same grueling, often heartbreaking trek to find their daughters. In so many ways, the Reese family has worked hard for the life they’re living, but I know they wouldn’t have had it any other way. This is one of those stories where the end justifies the means. I’m so touched and inspired by this remarkable family in so many tangible ways, and I hope you will be, too. Friends, I’m pleased to introduce the Reese family!

Q: Please introduce us to the family who makes this house a home!

A: Our family of four lives in this little house: my husband, David, and our two busy girls, Amelia (Mia) and Julianne (June), ages four and 18 months. The locals call it “the white chapel on the hill” because it is so tall, white, and just plain conspicuous set against our rolling plains of farmland.

David and I are both students for a second time after deciding to make career changes. I taught high school English and History, and am now studying Speech and Language Pathology. He owned a landscape design and construction business, but is now is studying to teach high school Science and does personal fitness training on the side. We thought it’d be fun to cover the entire career spectrum before we hit 30!

Like most parents, our girls are the joy of our lives. We realized early in our marriage that our children would need to arrive unconventionally after several rounds of IVF, and now couldn’t be more grateful. They don’t look a thing like us, but I tend to forget that. Some biological mechanism kicks in when you adopt – particularly when adopting from birth, I think – and although my girls both have beautiful brown-skin-chocolate, as Mia describes the look, and David and I are pretty run-of-the-mill for our corner of the globe, I can’t fathom pinching a white bum or kissing a head without curls.

We are a high-energy family and tend to be either doing, creating, or dreaming something up to do or create. We spend a lot of time outside hiking, running, and biking. My husband runs ultra-marathons competitively, while I run just enough to claim sanity, and our four-year-old runs laps on a dirt track around our house as her specially tailored time-out. We thoroughly enjoy growing, assembling, and consuming good food, appreciate interesting architecture, and although we don’t have traditional television, as a self-diagnosed Anglophile, I can never pass up a good period drama or British detective series!

Q: Tell us the story of how your house came to be.

A: We had designed and built a first home shortly after our marriage. We invested a lot into it and planned to be there indefinitely, but when Amelia arrived and our job scenarios changed, we realized we were financially bound to a lot of things. We had car payments and a relatively giant mortgage that had felt comfortable enough when things were going our way, but the economic crisis in 2009 hit us hard and we hadn’t prepared for it. We sold just about every big-ticket item we owned: our house and property, our cars, David’s Harley Davidson – all the way down to my wool JCrew coat! – and streamlined down to items which were either highly functional or significantly sentimental.

We considered renting an apartment while we finished school, but that idea was nixed within days because we couldn’t bring ourselves to sacrifice our privacy and proximity to the outdoors we’d been used to; our house had been surrounded by 40+ forest acres. So, we got creative.

Over the course of a year living in our parents’ basements, we found an ideal ten-acre plot of farmland that had been recently divided, then designed and built another much cozier and much more efficient home. We still have a mortgage, but it is a significantly smaller monthly payment than most other student families are paying for rent. I have to admit that it was a lot of work, and our families were really skeptical about us tying ourselves to another mortgage while our future careers were so uncertain. We searched hard for months to find a bank that would offer financing, as well as contractors who would meet our numbers, and getting our house plan approved was a nightmare. But I’ve forgotten all that, and when I wake up to the sun streaming in my window, all I feel is awe that I get to live here at this time in our lives!

Q: Did you panic a little when you were selling everything? 

A: Letting go was easier than we’d expected it would be. It actually felt empowering! The fact that we are not so defined by things as we think we are is reassuring. I have become very selective about things that come into our possession now, and certainly have a newfound phobia of debt besides our mortgage and some necessary student loans. This isn’t terribly challenging because we are limited by our tiny student budget anyway, but I think it’s a trend that will stick regardless of income status.

Q: Did your style change during that process? Did it give you the chance to start fresh and really define your aesthetic? And how has your style transformed even more with kids?

A: Yes. Streamlining lends itself to minimalism, and I am more drawn to a modern, industrial style than I was before. I still love antiques and timeless pieces, but pairing them with something clean and modern is exciting to me. That said, we are making do with what we already had because of our limited budget right now.

All of my antiques are actually family heirlooms, and everything else was either made by my husband or repurposed from a Craigslist purchase. I guess Ikea has helped fill in the gaps nicely! Despite my disenchantment with consumerism, if I had the means, a high-quality piece once in a while would be tempting. It helps to note that my daughter is currently on an autographing spree – permanent marker on walls, carved into the table, scratched into the window sill – so it’s just as well.

Okay, I also have a weakness for beautiful books. I like to touch and smell and read good books in their fully physical state. Not on a Kindle. We have lots of books for sake of looking pretty, but that’s it for frivolity around here! I swear!

I dislike cheap children’s toys, and have subscribed to the idea that less is more in that arena. Our toy supply is limited to a couple buckets of specific activities like Legos, wooden train tracks, puzzles, and art supplies, and some equipment for energy release like trampolines, swings, and bikes. Not only has this worked for keeping down clutter in our home, but it also prevents a child’s love affair with getting stuff. I can’t recall a time that my four-year-old has ever whined about wanting something from the store or expected new stuff for her birthday or Christmas. We like to celebrate by doing things instead. It makes life feel more rich.

Q: How intentional are you about decorating with your kids and their needs in mind?

A: I didn’t think we were intentionally devoted to their needs while building, but when I considered this question, I realized that they have a 24 foot long play fort and in-ground trampoline, along with a specially designed track that circles the perimeter of our maintained yard. We also have a swing bolted into the ceiling of our living room, and the mini indoor trampoline is basically a piece of furniture. So maybe their needs have more influence than I’d given them credit.

But no playroom or anything like that. Their books and toys are all contained by the devoted spaces in their shared bedroom. For the most part, they play, read, and draw wherever we happen to be, then put the stuff away. Usually with prompting!

Q: When does your home work best? (And what do you miss the most about your previous house?!)

A: Our primary goal while designing our house was efficiency in regard to cost and energy. All of our plumbing is in one corner on the main floor. It is heated by wood stove. We rely on strategic window placement for cross-ventilation in the warmer months, and sunlight in the winter. The windows and doors also make us feel close to nature, with every seasonal change, and the shifting light during the day. It sounds cheesy, but looking out at our view is a huge source of joy for me and my family. There is so much to see and appreciate.

Because our house is small and devoid of excess things, it cleans up in a cinch. Unless I have let the dishes pile up; on those days I long for a dishwasher! It is also relatively indestructible, particularly our concrete floors. Several people have worried about our children sustaining head injuries and having to crawl around on ice-cold concrete. But the floors are surprisingly warm during the winter months and keep us cool in the summer. As for injuries, we haven’t had any concussions as of yet, but both of our girls are pretty hearty. It may have something to do with their nice padding of curls!

Our former property was heavily treed, and our new property can only claim one native tree…and it’s really more of a bush! I grew up on the east coast and really appreciate the intimacy of trees and birds that come with them. I miss that, but I don’t know that I would trade the view we have. Plus David often reminds me that trees can be planted and grown, so we’ve started an small orchard. The only thing I miss about our previous house itself is a little gothic window that I would peer through every morning. Trivial, really.

Q: Will you tell us the story of how your girls came to you?

A: Both of our girls are adopted. They each arrived during the 11th hour, so to speak, of our heartache. Mia came just a few months after we had finished our fifth failed round of ICSI (kind of like in-vitro) and an ectopic pregnancy. Finding her birth family was nothing short of a miracle. It’s funny how the word miracle is thrown around a lot in the adoption community, but it’s because the process is truly full of them. They actually came to us through an unexpected knock at the door from an inspired neighbor.

June arrived after a year of nightmarish failed adoption experiences. We had been matched with 12 birth-mothers but each fell through, and some in a big way: baby in our custody, named and loved, then back to birth mom on a whim. Adoption, for the most part, is highly emotive and often difficult, not to mention the great financial expense, but it is obviously worth the risks. Perseverance results in a human life that gets to be yours! Anyway, June’s birth-family contacted us just as we were about to throw in the towel. If anyone is interested in the nitty-gritty, it can be read here.

We have open adoptions with each of our daughters’ birth families. The way we feel for their birth-families is hard to describe. Love? Gratitude? Eternal connection? Whatever the word is, it’s intense and the sort of thing you need to experience first-hand to understand.

The most difficult part about infertility is shifting the expectations one has about the course of one’s life. Once I came to terms with the idea that this is how it is and how it’s meant to be and is unique to our family, my heart was able to heal. I’m referencing only my own feelings because David was a step ahead of me the entire time! Like I mentioned earlier, I forget that I didn’t give birth to my girls, and it takes someone else to point out that we don’t look alike. When I look at them, I see my children. Mine. That’s it.

Q: What do you hope your girls remember about this home?

A: That it is happy and peaceful. I hope they remember being outside and having rich experiences, and I certainly hope they always want to come back.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mother? What do you already miss about this moment in time?

A: Since my girls are relatively young, I still get to decide what we do and when, and they still think it’s great! No hidden agendas. They just like to be with us. At least that’s how it works on good days. For the most part, we have a wonderful time. They are fun!

Surprises? It’s a lot harder than it looks. I thought I had parenting well-figured out before they arrived. I was also surprised by the mother bear instinct that kicks in. I’m not a very aggressive person. At least not publicly! Ha! But now, if anyone or anything were to hurt my child, I have a series of torture scenarios prepped! The depth and complexity of love, so unlike any other relationship, goes along with that. Whew!

Of course we panic about missing moments and quickly-growing children. Most young mothers are warned by veterans on a daily basis. It sure is a balancing act, cherishing moments and living in reality. It helps me to build in quality memory-making time into our schedule. I hope that doesn’t sound pathetic.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: There are lots of things that just don’t matter. I’ve invested way too much anxiety into issues across the spectrum that tend to work themselves out naturally. My mom bought me the little self help book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff when I was a young teenager, which is a telltale sign that it has always been a problem for me! The good, better, best mantra is often on my mind and I’m learning to choose my battles – not just with parenting, but with whatever comes my way. It just feels so much nicer to not worry about stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run, and invest all my efforts into the stuff that does. I guess the trick is figuring out what qualifies!


Ashley, I laughed out loud at this: If anyone or anything were to hurt my child, I have a series of torture scenarios prepped! I think mothers could write the best horror movies, don’t you? All giggles aside, my heart aches for the process that led up to you and your girls finding each other. I’m so happy you found your own miracles; life is always better when that word makes an appearance.

Friends, there is so much to discuss here! Streamlining our lives, selling off all of our stuff, making huge career changes midstream, adoption…David and Ashley are quite inspirational! What was your favorite take-away from this interview?

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

58 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Ashley Reese”

  1. This family and their story and inspirational! Those girls, oh how beautiful they are! I love the spaces for the children. LOVE LOVE LOVE

  2. I adore the living with Kids serious and it always amazes me what Americans class as small (I live in the UK, the land of little boxes)!

    I have to say the “If anyone or anything were to hurt my child, I have a series of torture scenarios prepped!” sentence resonated with me too. I am such a lioness when it comes to my children too.

    1. Jen – I remind myself that all the time when I start to think I need more storage! My husband and I lived in London for 2 years and it is amazing how we just adapted to the space and didn’t think anything of it. I think we should go back to that!

    2. My kids laugh at me because I seem to be the only person that wishes she had a smaller house. I have found that I am much more organized and particular about what I buy when I have a smaller space. The irony is my house is much smaller than the majority of homes in my area, Americans do like things big.

    3. I laugh inside at the thought of “little” American homes, too! I grew up in the States, in either small or average sized homes. Now we live in Japan, which is known for small spaces. So small! We live in slightly larger sized home for our area, it’s 1100 square feet and has 4 bedrooms.

  3. The best takeaway for me really is that “there are lots of things that just don’t matter..” Sometimes I just tend to be consumed by my worries about so many things when in fact, I actually need not worry about them. Family is the most important thing.

    Thanks for sharing this. Truly inspirational for a young mom like me. I’m always looking forward to this section of your blog. It always inspires me. ♥

  4. There are so many things to love in Ashley and David’s home and story. One thing I particularly appreciate is the way they have managed to combine a minimalist approach with meaningful, lovely objects. Their space is clean, warm, and alive.

  5. what a beautiful story and a beautiful home! I love the cleverness-the inground trampoline and the swing inside. My husband and I would like to build a home someday and this is inspiring!

  6. Ashley and David’s home is very inspiring and encouraging. My husband and I are hoping to begin our own process of building a house and to hopefully decrease our mortgage debt. I’m so curious about your design and home plans. I’d love to know where you got your plan/what it is? THANK YOU for sharing your inspiring journey to home and family.

  7. This post was so touching. Ashley and David have a home filled with soul and intention. Their story is difficult but rewarding, and I am SO happy for them, for where they are at now! What a beautiful little house in such gorgeous country– and it makes my heart glad to see those two little girls’ smiles.

  8. To Catherine and Jen: I admit that our house isn’t small by global standards, but relative to a standard American single-family home and to what we were used to, it is on the petite side (1450 square feet, 2 bed, 1 bath).

    To Vanessa: we designed our own house plan which wasn’t terribly difficult, since it is essentially a cube with a lean-to. We worked with our county’s building/planning department to make sure we could meet the minimum plan requirements in order to obtain a permit. Lots of trial and error here- our plans had to be turned-down and re-vamped several times to satisfy code and building logistics- but we basically used a ruler, a pencil, printer paper, and our own ideas of what makes sense. The simple shape cut back on building cost and makes it easy to “add-on” if we ever needed to.

  9. What a wonderful home, family and story! I love seeing a family embrace “less is more”, and often wish we would do more of that in our household!

    We also adopted after long infertility issues and failed IVFs. We had one surprise pregnancy after the final failed IVF (our 6 year old son) and adopted our little Ms. A this last year at birth (she was born the day before my birthday and adopted the day after Christmas). Our son says Ms. A picked us because she wanted a big brother, and he simply adores her! :) She’s now 10 1/2 months old and we can’t imagine our life without her. We feel the same as you for her birth parents – love and boundless gratitude – bound up with a bit of sadness. I also feel a strong mothering feeling toward her birth mom. She had such a tough, tough childhood and had she received love and nurturing as every child deserves her life would have turned out differently.

    Oh, and the expression on June’s face in the last picture – that toothy little grin – is the same I get from Ms. A when she smiles! :)

  10. Just curious about your outside trampoline… did you just dig a pit and stick it in the ground?? love it and love the climbing wall! must copy!

  11. Thank you for this lovely article. I see a very happy family living a dream, after a difficult journey. Cheers to you.
    As for the house- fabulous. As an architect, it is accurately labeled as ‘petite’. It appears visually much larger, due to the simplicity of the design. I love it!

  12. I love your story. I went to elementary school with your husband, David. What a wonderful life y’all have created for your beautiful girls.

  13. Your girls are adorable, Ashley! I love the warm minimalism in your home, the shelves of books, and the indoor trampoline. I too am a teacher who is going back to school for Speech-Language Pathology and have to remember not to ‘sweat the small stuff’ and take this transition one step at a time. Your story has inspired me today :)

  14. Great home! Just had to say yippee for Speech pathology! I’m a Canadian who trained to be an SLP in the US and work in a big hospital in Canada! Good luck with your studies!

  15. Beautiful home, beautiful children. What a sweet face that little one has. I’ve been toying with the idea of downsizing to focus on more important things in life as well. How liberating it seems…

  16. I’m inspired by Ashley’s commitment to live with less. It reminds me how important that concept is and valuing the things you do have. Also, a beautiful adoption story! The girls are absolutely gorgeous!

  17. i love that story, and those two little girls are gorgeous!
    I totally agree with the less is more philosophy, but I found it only works when kids are little and don’t have a lot of other friends-once they go to their friends ‘ homes, and see all the toys (often hideous, like MOnster Highs) and then it’s a constant war, here girls are rejected early if they don’t have the right toys and clothes, so sad! i hope you can make the minimalism last!

  18. Ashley! I loved seeing all the wonderful photos of your home. More especially I loved reading your responses to the questions because I feel that we share a common love to live simply. I do have a fetish with tossing out things we don’t need, but girly you take it to the next level! And it is worth it. Your home feels fresh, lively, and full of space to create memories together.

    You have inspired me to keep life more in focus of what matters most. Thank you for sharing your story and feelings of your adoptions. I love the part when you said you couldn’t imagine swatting a white bum or kissing a white cheek. So precious.

    One little thing I’m curious about… YOUR PANTRY!!! What would it take to get a look at how you store food? I’m struggling in this area…

    Love you girl! Thanks for the great post!

    1. I don’t have an official pantry, I guess. All of our dishes can fit on our open shelves, so that frees-up the cupboards in our kitchen for foods that we use and eat frequently. We don’t have a dishwasher, so it forces us to stay on top of dishes and we don’t have a lot of kitchen gadgets to store. I store the long-term shelf items (like cans + beans + grains) in the little closet under our stairs. This system works fine for my little family of four, but who knows how it would go with a bigger family : )

    1. We actually made the book rack in the bedroom- it was really easy and inexpensive! A couple 2×4’s screwed into the wall and 1×3’s nailed across with some dowels to hold the books up (I would use thicker dowels if I were to do it again. These ones have already warped from the weight of the books). We just spray-painted the lumber before installing it.

  19. Beautiful story, home… yes, much to think about.

    I adore the photo of the girls at the half door and this thought resonates with me as I am in that healing process:
    “The most difficult part about infertility is shifting the expectations one has about the course of one’s life. Once I came to terms with the idea that this is how it is and how it’s meant to be and is unique to our family, my heart was able to heal.”

  20. I love this! Over the past few years, I have found myself slowly moving towards a simpler lifestyle. I have found that I function much better when my life is fuller, not my stuff! I have to often remind myself of what I really want out of life so that I don’t get sucked into keeping up. (The temptation doesn’t die with adulthood!!!)

    You all have a beautiful life, family and home – that view! Holy cow! I could stand to look at that everyday! Enjoy it and thanks for sharing! You all are an example of going for the good stuff.

  21. Gorgeous house – gorgeous family (I, too, am adopted and think it is the coolest :). Dig that swing in the main room there :). Very calm, zen house (for having busy little ones). Thanks for sharing!

  22. Ashley,

    Of course those are your babies. I think motherhood is a feeling not genetics. You guys have provided a lovely home for your kids and are teaching them that “stuff” does not define you. What a wonderful lesson to learn early in life. Your story is my favorite of the “Living with kids” series. Take care.

  23. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My husband and I are in the middle of an adoption and it is so encouraging to hear from people who have made it out on the other side. You have a beautiful family.

  24. Ashley! You are so beautiful! Thank you for sharing pictures of your beautiful home and children. What a crazy road you guys have had. Isn’t it so crazy how life pans out so different than we ever could have imagined for ourselves? With children, moving and living in apartments we have also adopted more of a minimalist life style. I feel like it’s a constant journey to keep out the clutter so thanks for the extra motivation. I don’t think I have seen you or David since high school and you both look fantastic! Thanks for sharing your journey and your beautiful family! I wish only the best for you!

  25. This house is really comfortable and meant for children. The rooms are so big and they are not stuffed with a large number of different things and furniture which makes it safer for children. And the swings are really great.

  26. This is my favorite “Living With Kids” segment! It comes at a time where I have been mentally going through our possessions with the intent to purge and simplify. This has really inspired me to actually put it into action now! I also love reading about adoption as we have one such Miracle in our family as well :)

  27. What a lovely family and home. Also, I am a Speech-language pathologist and I can tell you it is the best job in the whole world. Thanks for sharing your story!

  28. Not that I’m friends only with people who are the same as me, but…I kept seeing things in your house that I also have and reading statements that I’ve also made! I think we would be friends. :) Yours has been one of my favorite houses in this series; both the photos and the essay were absolutely wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing.

  29. Your family is really lovely. Congratulations on finding your sweet daughters. I wish you all the best of luck. As a little Black girl in America, looking and being treated differently from my classmates (even in well-meaning ways) was sometimes trying, but growing up was made so wonderful by my affectionate and supportive parents. Sure, I saw the same complexions and features reflected back in my parents’ faces, but it was the love I saw there that really made the difference for me. At the end of the day, if you have the fortitude to survive the years of detangling in your future, everything else will be a breeze.

    1. Thank you for that encouragement, Samantha. We are learning to navigate and conquer racial stigmas as we go along. I sure wish we had a handbook for the upcoming school years! We do spend a lot of time detangling, but it seems like a piece of cake compared to the more complex stuff ; )

  30. This is my favorite Living with Kids ever! It takes guts to downsize and focus on the important things in live – bravo to the Reese family for living out their intentions.

  31. Great story, beautiful family, and love the simplicity of the living space. I love reading about other adoptive families… I feel the same about my daughters — and they were adopted at the age of four.

  32. Lovely family, lovely home. You and your husband must be great to have at get-togethers–you can probably talk about so many interesting things with your job and life experiences!

    I forget that my youngest was adopted, too, of course, so it can surprise me when someone brings it up. The other day a girl in Lily’s third-grade class asked us why Lily has dark hair and I have light hair. The noble thing would have been to use this as an educational opportunity, but I said, “Oh, her dad and brother have dark hair, too.” (Don’t judge me: these kids know perfectly well that Lily’s from China–we’ve done a Chinese New Year party every year for them since preschool!)

  33. I am in the deep end of infertility treatment this year, with two losses including an ectopic. I so appreciate when women talk about it openly. And I love all types of stories of how children come to families. Thank you! And your house is lovely. Love the minimalism, concrete floors, and play areas!

  34. Pingback: monday: best of last week | The Misadventures of Kelly and Kelly

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