Living With Kids: Brianna Van Dyke

By Gabrielle. House photos by Katie Jenkins, and barn shot by Libby Newell.

Brianna has a barn and a to-die-over pantry and land and extra rooms and lots of old stuff and a magazine she writes from said barn, but what’s most interesting to me about her is how she is using all her space.

Hospitality. Welcoming guests into her life and almost forcing herself to do so, sometimes, because it involves so much more than simply inviting people over, right? No, hospitality is not easy. But, oh! The reward. I read once (probably on Pinterest!) that the word hospitality comes from two Greek words; one means love and the second means strangers. So sweet when it’s put like that.

Brianna, I’m happy to offer you some hospitality here today! Welcome to Design Mom. I can’t wait to share you with my readers.

Hello! I’m Brianna Van Dyke, and I live with my husband Jonathan in Fort Collins, Colorado, with our two kids Finnley (ten) and IlaJane (seven) and our three dogs. I’m a writer and editor and an introvert. I love words and seeking beauty and good conversation, and I’m passionate and driven and I have a perfectionist streak that sometimes gets the best of me. My kids and my husband teach me so much about extending grace to myself and to the people I love.

We live in Fort Collins, which is about an hour north of Denver. It’s known for all its breweries and is often called the Napa Valley of beer. There are also lots of great outdoor spaces to enjoy. One of our favorite family activities is rafting on the Cache La Poudre river and barbecuing along the river.

I grew up in Colorado, and I love all the sunshine and natural beauty, but I can definitely take it more for granted because I’m used to it. My husband is from Chicago, and for him, Colorado is the stuff dreams are made of — he LOVES to be on the river and running on the trails in the foothills.

Fort Collins also has great schools. Our kids go to a dual language school and learn throughout the year in both Spanish and English. It’s been really inspiring to see them learning another language; their accents are impressive! And the school is intentionally trying to help break down the barriers between the English-learning students and the Spanish-learning students and help the kids learn how to talk and play and learn from one another rather than just staying in their own comfortable language groups. I also find that really inspiring.

We moved into our current house about three years ago. We’d been living in the Old Town part of Fort Collins, and we had a patio instead of a back yard. With our two kids and our dogs, we decided we wanted to find out what it would mean for us to have some more room and some land for gardening and chickens and bees, a place for the kids to roam and catch grasshoppers and dig holes to China. So, we moved to our new house, which is on 3 1/2 acres. It’s an old farmhouse built in 1909 with two outbuildings, one of which we call the barn. We remodeled and turned it into my work/studio space. It was quite an adjustment.

Our old house was pretty dialed in. We’d remodeled the kitchen and done work on the landscaping, and there really weren’t really any other projects to do. Our house now has projects everywhere you look. So, it took some adjusting — kind of just embracing the cracks and letting go of the to-do list. We’ve tackled a few projects over the past few years, but we’ve also had to learn to live with imperfection, a slower pace, and acceptance about not being able to fix everything all at once. For example, there are weeds everywhere, our front porch is rotting and needs replacing, and we still have aluminum blinds up. Eek!

I love old stuff. Actually, I have to be careful and limit my estate sale trips or our house would start to overflow. Luckily, my old stuff fits with the style of our house, and my husband and kids don’t mind it.

It’s also really important to me for our house to feel like our family’s little sacred space. We have a prayer/meditation table where we will sometimes light candles in the evening as a way of remembering our friends or family who are struggling or as a way of showing gratitude for something or someone. If the kids find a special rock at the river, they can bring it home and put it on the prayer table. It’s a way of honoring the sacred in the mundane, the holy in the everyday. Our kids are older now, and they love to help light the candles and blow them out. I think they recognize the beauty in this small ritual, too.

I work as a writer and editor of the magazine I started called Ruminate. Ruminate is a nonprofit arts and literary magazine to help people slow down, encounter honest storytelling, and awaken their hearts. I really am doing my dream job, and it’s such an honor and privilege. But it has been a long, hard journey.

I started the magazine ten years ago, and I’ve always worked from home. When the kids were little, this meant working around their kids naps and at night, and that was so hard. I remember just feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted. I had read something a Benedictine nun, Macrina Wiederkehr, said about how ongoing “multi-tasking is a kind of violence against the soul.” That really resonated with me. It took me having a physical and emotional crash to finally start to intentionally seek out more of a work/life balance.

One day, I found I couldn’t get out of bed anymore. I didn’t have a choice — it was like a protest — my mind and body refused to go on unless I made significant changes. It has been a long journey of healing, and one I’ll always be on. But slowly, I’ve been relearning what it means to care for myself, to speak about my wounds, to ask for help, to nourish my body and mind with good food and deep sleep, to say no when I need to say no, to go for walks, to be okay with imperfection…and to slow down and notice beauty. And for me, I think we can seek beauty in our day-to-day lives: in our homes, in our words, and in our relationships. I now feel really grateful for my job and how fulfilling it is, but I also know that my happiness and my identity aren’t tied up in my work. This has been a huge shift!

One of my favorite parts about having more space – we now have a guest room, and we have the barn, and some land — is that I’ve been learning more about practicing hospitality. We have a dear friend from California who now comes to live with us twice a year for a month at a time. Depending on the weather and her needs, she’s lived in the barn and she’s lived in our house with us. We have enough space to do this, and I’ve loved having another woman in the house and a friend to share meals with and another person to love on our kids.

I think multi-generational homes are great. As mothers, I don’t think we’re meant to be so alone.

Another thing we’ve been able to do is open the barn up to other arts groups to use. And, our neighbors run a working farm, and they’ve been growing veggies and keeping their turkeys on our land. I know we can practice hospitality whether we’re in a small space or a large space, but for my introverted soul, it’s nice to have enough room to still be able to have my own space and room to share.

A few years ago, when my son was in first grade, his Spanish-speaking friend Omar was just learning English, and my son knew little Spanish. I remember asking him what they talked about, how they would decide which games to play during recess, or who was it.

“Well, he knows some English words,” my son told me.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like hello,” he said. And then he paused, smiled, and said, “But mostly when he laughs it’s in English, and I know just what he means . . . And Omar laughs a lot, Mom.”

For my son, laughter was a word that transcended barriers. I’ve held on to this story from my son, and I have really have seen the healing power of laughter…of not taking myself, especially, so seriously.

More recently, my daughter and I walked a prayer labyrinth together. I was thinking about our divided country and asking for my eyes and heart to be open to the pain and injustice. I led the way into the center of the labyrinth. I felt like I could have sat there in the center for hours. But we met eyes, and I could tell she was ready to walk. She could tell I was feeling sad and overwhelmed. She said, just do one step at a time, mom. And then she stood up and led the way out. That seemed so right.

My kids teach me so much if I’m willing and able to be present with them and learn.

My deepest hope for my children is for them to be brave and compassionate toward themselves, toward others, and toward our world.

One of the most important things I’m working on as a parent is learning to be a lot kinder to myself. Instead of beating myself up for not being a better mom — especially in those early years — I wish I could have known that my sweet self was doing the very best she could.

Now, when I can catch myself doing this, I try and repeat this mantra: My sweet self is doing the best she can.

I suggest trying it! It helps me extend grace to myself. I’ve learned that when I’m hard on myself or critical of myself, the shame and criticism usually spills out onto the people I love, and I end up being critical of them, too! So, if I want to be kind to my children or my husband, or even strangers, I have to first start with being gracious and kind to myself.

–-

Thank you, Brianna! What you said about laughter being able to transcend language barriers rang really true for me while I’m in France; I may struggle to conjugate a verb or come up with the correct noun, but sharing a smile or a giggle is super easy.

Also intriguing to me: “As mothers, I don’t think we’re meant to be so alone.” There’s a lot of truth and comfort in that one little sentence, isn’t there?

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! 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.

39 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Brianna Van Dyke”

  1. “CA friend” reporting in! I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in creation for those 8 weeks a year! Call it a bustling nirvana, call it God’s little eden, this is where real life is lived fully. Tenderly, powerfully, even “sparely,” in a way we moderns have almost lost. Bri is setting a pace, re-drawing a pattern for life that feeds on hope…and feeds it. Come on over!

  2. What I think is truly remarkable (as someone who knows Brianna well), is that although so much of what she says is about letting go of perfection and granting grace, I also see her digging in, caring deeply, and living fully. Too often in my own mind, I think of “letting go” as “giving up”. It seems it doesn’t have to be so black and white at all – what a gift to be reminded of this. Thank you sweet Brianna, this was so fun to read and see. Love you!

  3. How fun to see someone that lives almost close to me (30 miles) and then to see her kids names – my teenagers are Finn and Jane!

  4. A prayer table!!!!! What a genius idea. Brianna, I’m so grateful for your deliberate and intentional approach to things. Thank you so much for sharing. Now to practice a little more gentleness on myself…and I’m totally creating a prayer/sacred space for my family. Love and thanks to you.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Nora. So glad you enjoyed, and yes to gentleness and making your own sacred space!

  5. I have loved not only the peaceful beauty of this home, but the wisdom and spiritual feelings I got after reading her thoughts and outlook on life. I need to implement some of these things in my life and learn to know that doing my best is enough even if it’s not what I was hoping. I need to stop feeling guilty when I feel I came short of my own expectations. Thank you so much for sharing your home and your wisdom. I also love being a mom and there is nothing more precious to me than my family.

  6. This is so beautiful! You all did the most wonderful job at capturing some of my most favorite things about Brianna & her home. Brianna opened her barn to me a year ago by offering me the space to host a class. Since she has opened her heart and home to me and my children in the most generous way. Her hospitality and her story has comforted me and offered me hope and encouragement throughout some of my lowest moments this past year. Her farm has given my kids an opportunity to build sweet little friendships and let their imaginations come to life through fort building and bug catching. If only there were a picture of the impressive underground fort Finnley and IllaJane have built. I love her story of grace and loving oneself, but most of all I give praise that she shares her story. Your story is like those candles you light in your home, but it is my heart giving me light/hope in my darkness and comfort in my loneliness. Love you friend!

  7. This is such a beautiful, warm, friendly home! Thank you so much for sharing it. Tons of Brianna’s words resonated with me, and I got lots of wonderful reminders. We, too, just left a “pretty much done” home for a hundred year old place with plenty of projects and imperfections. I’m getting used to the neighbors and kids using all the yards as communal space (hospitality! community!), and trying to find balance between work and life. So glad I took the time to read this today, since I think things might feel a little easier if I come back to Brianna’s encouraging thoughts and mantras :)

  8. Oh, gosh, being in the early years of motherhood myself, I needed to hear this advice. I will surely come back to this many times to be reminded of your mantra.

  9. Lovely home! We are currently looking at a house to buy that has an old Butler’s Pantry.
    I also have a Finnley, he’s 2! I don’t hear that name and spelling often for boys. So cool!

  10. “My sweet self is doing the best I can.” Words to live by! I am working on finding my way through parenthood and adulthood with depression, and I hope to keep that mantra close to my heart when I feel discouraged.

  11. This was great, I’m still in the phase of small children and working and feeling overwhelmed. Your story, home and mantra are just what I needed.

  12. Hannah Beth Reid

    The story about laughter reminded me of my uncle who after having a stroke struggled to speak…he had the thoughts, but just couldn’t get them out of his mouth. But, his laugh was still exactly the same, so when he was frustrated with speaking, he’d just laugh.

  13. I feel like I’ve had a little visit to your lovely home Brianna. Thanks for the hospitality. What you said about mothers not being meant to be so alone resonates with me. And your son’s view on laughter – so incredible and kind-hearted. :)

  14. Brianna, I am very moved by the quote you shared about multi-tasking. Where does it come from? Or is there another resource you recommend that expands on this idea?

    1. Hi, I came across this idea in Ms. Wiederkehr’s book, “Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day.”

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