I love it when favorite guests from my Living With Kids tours come back for a revisit. Even better? When their stories take on a happily-ever-after element and we can all cheer them on while we peek in on their new home and their new life that’s changed for the beautiful in so many different ways. Even better than that? When they’re excited to share it all with the rest of us. It’s nice when that happens.
This is one of those stories. I’m so happy to welcome back Jen and the newest additions to her life. You’re going to enjoy this one. Promise.
I’m Jen CK Jacobs (perhaps better known by my old name, Jen Altman). I’m a mother to six beautiful children — my own three daughters, Adie (12), Aela (10) and Ari (9) — and my three step-children, Charlotte (11), Barrett (8) and Genevieve (5). My husband and I are truly outnumbered! We are a house divided by fire and water — three fire signs, three water signs — all female; and our boys make up the air that fuels us…
I started blogging about eight years ago. Both Nectar & Light (a predominately Polaroid blog) and Nectar (a lifestyle and cooking blog) earned a fair readership in their day…but life turned upside down and maintaining a blog became a bit cumbersome. My ex-husband and I separated in the summer of 2014, and my father died unexpectedly shortly there after.
Still reeling from an impending divorce — I truly — for the first time in my life, allowed myself to fall apart when my dad died. He was the greatest man I knew. His shared love story with my mother is what everyone wishes upon the stars at night to experience; his quiet strength, unconditional love and the core of his character helped shape the woman I’m still in process of becoming. The loss was so great that the gaping wound in my chest will likely never heal. It becomes a little easier to live with as the days pass, but a photograph, a scent, a song can send a gust of cold air through that space and it feels as if we lost him yesterday.
My focus became my mother and my family. My ex-husband and I made the life-altering decision to continue to work on our relationship outside of our marriage and we now have more love, patience, more gratitude and understanding for each other than we ever did when we were married. Healing was complex as it was intertwined with multiple layers of grieving and watching my mother try to function without the other half of her soul.
And then I met a man who changed everything.
A mutual friend introduced us and within weeks our children were meeting, within months we were looking at houses together. Koli and I kept taking careful steps back questioning the authenticity of what was happening to us and wanting to ensure that our strong feelings for not only each other — but our children — were not filling voids or in attempt to replace losses.
But they were not.
We found in each other something that we never thought possible…the ability to communicate so openly and safely, the absolute absence of ego, and unconditional love for each other and our children.
So we blended. We purchased a house together and that beautiful friend who introduced us, officiated our intimate wedding on the one year anniversary of my father’s passing.
We were renting a home in a lovely area of Asheville (that was featured on the last tour) and simply could not afford to stay. Asheville is growing quickly and the housing market has begun to reflect this growth. We needed something that could accommodate all of us, was a bit outside the city and had a lot of area for the kids to run around.
We purchased this home last summer and it will be a work in progress for some time. For the first time in my life, I’m sort of enjoying that.
My husband has been in construction for many years and has his own business, Odyssey Construction. We make a great team. He has an incredible eye so we really conceptualize together and he can execute. When we purchased our home, it had not been updated since the 80s.
Our first project was to rip out all the flooring. He laid a driftwood plank down that still makes my heart skip, I seriously love it. We removed wallpaper and did a lot of painting and changing of fixtures and hardware. We were not in a situation where we could just throw a ton of money into a full renovation before we moved in. But I appreciate the time in the space to decide what’s important.
We have plans to knock out both walls in our small dining room, one to open to the stairs and the other will open up to the kitchen. We want to build a proper entry on the front of the house and of course, like most renovators, finishing the kitchen is at the top of our list! We painted the walls and cabinets and replaced the floors and all the appliances, but we still have tiling and countertops to go!
Absolutely there are challenges to merging. I think that one thing that has helped our situation is the age of our children. They met when they were 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, and 3.
Raising children is hard. Raising step-children is harder. We make mistakes, we over-react, we panic, we push too hard, we probably say no too much. Every day is a lesson to be better and Koli and I speak often and openly about how we continue to evolve with our children. We continue to be awed about how quickly the kids took to each other — how their dynamic seems effortless and as if they’ve been together their whole lives. They fight and love like siblings.
When we lived in the other house, at first we had my youngest and my husband’s youngest sharing a room. We realized that was a mistake. Ari is a creature of habit and when we asked her to share a room with a four-year-old who likes to sing herself to sleep — problems ensued.
We moved shortly there after and asked our oldest, Adie, who is now 12, if she would like to share the room with Genevieve. She wasn’t sure she wanted to start her pre-teen years that way. But we pointed out that the nights Genevieve spent with her mother, Adie would have her own room. That changed everything. And it’s such a great situation; Adie has always been a camp director — she’s a mini-adult in so many ways and she helps a great deal with her younger siblings. Bear has his own room, which is a blessing; sometimes he needs space from all the girls. Our other three girls share a room and it truly feels like a slumber party down there every night.
The challenge in parenting (and blessing in disguise, really) is that they all possess incredibly strong personalities. I was raised by a Navy Commander and served seven years in the USN myself. Needless to say, we run a tight ship! Everyone has chores, everyone is expected to help and support one another — whether that means helping the youngest pour her cereal milk — or gently checking each other’s behavior so it doesn’t elevate to our attention.
We really discourage tattling and encourage sibling affection. We remind them that they are a team and everything they do affects every one of them.
I have so many lovely, personal odds and ends in my office — it feels like a sacred space. And the light in there is amazing. But I truly love our time together in our dining room. It’s not a large space, especially for a family our size. But our dining room table was built by hand by my husband and our dishes were handcrafted by one of our closest friends, Melissa Weiss. That feels incredibly sacred.
It took me some time to adjust to doubling the children in the house. Not the chaos of it — it’s strange how seamlessly that seemed to slip into our lives; but time management. My girls and I spent a lot of time on our own because of the work out of state that their father does, and I used the casualness of our unusual situation as an excuse not to make a sit down meal every night.
But when merging two families with this many children, excuses don’t fly. We absolutely still have nights that we are unable to eat together — whether it be my husband working late or the kids’ sports schedules — but we make every effort to take advantage of the times we can come together at the table. Like so many aspects of my life, time management is a work in progress. What works right now, may not work in a few months. And I’ve learned to be flexible and accommodating to that; it’s been one of the most difficult lessons of my life.
And carving out time for myself is so important. If I don’t get my lap swim in several times a week, I sort of start losing my mind. I’ve always said the water helps balance my triple-fire sign! But creating a work schedule is the hardest challenge I face in terms of time management.
A few years ago, I launched what ended up to be a very successful online jewelry store called CISTHENE. At the time, there was really nothing else like it in terms of the artisans and apothecary brands that I brought together. The store had a wonderful following and was featured on Refinery29, Vogue online, and Lucky Magazine, among others. But that aforementioned “life turned upside down thing” happened and something had to give.
I was inspired by my parent’s love story to re-conceptualize the store into Roberts + Gene. We’ve started very small and will grow slowly, but it’s a passion project of mine. Ramble + Wolf soon became the sort of lifestyle companion to Roberts + Gene. After so many years of not blogging, actually creating a schedule for writing and cooking again has been incredibly therapeutic. I also have a few clients that I work with in a Creative Direction capacity and I’m writing a book about road trips that my publisher has allowed me to put on the back burner more than once. The manuscript is due in December so I’m tolling away at that as well.
But I set limits now. I subscribe to a quitting time. Family is my priority.
I wish someone had told me that the lack of ego changes everything. I don’t mean the sense of self. I mean ego as in the inability to see through the eyes of others, the inability to have patience with others during times of duress and the inability to show gratitude. I have grown more as a woman, mother, wife and daughter in the last two years than I had in the previous ten. I think my Papa would be proud.
I think about that all the time, Jen. Would my dad be proud of my life? I sure hope so. Thank you for adding such wisdom and sheer honesty to our day. It was so good to have you back.
Here’s what I loved: “Raising children is hard. Raising step-children is harder. We make mistakes, we over-react, we panic, we push too hard, we probably say no too much.” For those of you with step-children, I’d sure love to hear about your parenting survival guide!
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.