Living With Kids: Lesli Gresholdt

I think it would be so therapeutic to live near a lake, don’t you? There’s something calming about that indescribable shade of blues and greys and the dance of the tiny ripples. Having a rotten day? Just grab a fishing rod and cast away mindlessly. Need a break from homeschooling or that looming deadline? Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Plus, a lake makes for a killer kitchen sink view.

Yes, Lesli and her family are lucky ones, living the good life on a lake just outside of Chicago and enjoying it to the fullest. Yes, she is ever on the lookout for lake dangers — especially since her kids are five and two — but I’d say she’s ready for pretty much anything. You’ll see. Friends, please welcome the Gresholdt family!

Our family includes my husband, Mark, and our five-year-old daughter Adelaide and two-year-old son Oliver. My husband is an operations coordinator for a communications company, and I am currently a regional manager for Bella Baby Photography, a nationwide company providing in-hospital newborn photography.

Adelaide is affectionate, stylish, and stubborn – and takes after her social butterfly father. Oliver is easy-going and much more independent, with a great sense of humor and the ability to quote movies just like his mom.

Years ago in college, I had a strong urge to learn sign language. I took a few elective classes, learned a little bit, and kept up practicing through the years. Little did I know that five years later, I would say yes to a date with a deaf guy I knew in college and we would end up where we are now! Life as a bilingual family is sometimes challenging, especially since the kids are still learning how to sign. Of course, we don’t know it any other way.

We also have a very old farm cat, Sasha, and our new love, Mae, a Norwegian Forest Cat rescue. I don’t really think of our beta fish, Eric, as a pet, but he lives here, too, and requires daily feeding so I guess he’s part of the family.

We were finally in the market to buy a home but at the time, Mark was commuting by train to Chicago, so we had to be within 15 minutes of a train stop. This house was in a neighboring town, close enough to the train station, and we had seen it online many times. We both liked the layout, the hardwood floors, and the price, but I would write it off immediately due to the lake. After all, families with young kids don’t live on the water, right? But one night, in an attempt to be open-minded (and maybe out of desperation to find a house!) I emailed a list of houses to our realtor to see the next day and included this one. Not ten minutes later, my fear got the best of me, and I wrote him again and asked him to take that lake house off the list.

The next day, he either forgot or never got my message, because this house was the third one we saw. It felt like home immediately. Our former home had been so dark, and this one was filled with light with such a peaceful backyard and an open floor plan that is a must-have for families with a deaf family member. Being able to see each other (when you can’t hear!) is crucial.

The ironic thing is that the year before, I had been traveling home from a baby shower with my mother-in-law and then six-month-old son in the car. It was late and a long drive and he was having the mother of all meltdowns. We pulled into what is now our neighborhood so that he could nurse and calm down. I had never been there before, but I distinctly remember looking around and thinking, “If we lived here, we would be home by now.”

Oswego is a smaller suburb about an hour outside of Chicago. It has a quaint downtown, lots of local businesses, and many bike paths and parks. We love the summer movies at the park, the free splash pad and the libraries, but my favorite is the Friday night Antique Market downtown. They close the streets, have live music, and people shop local vendors all night. The Fox River runs through town, so we have access to great fishing, bird watching, and hiking paths. The population here has more than doubled in the past ten years as more and more people move westward, away from the chaos and cost of the city. It’s still expensive, especially those darn Illinois property taxes, but the value for the money is definitely better. We still have all the modern conveniences and major stores, but with a bit more of a small-town feel.

I will be honest…living by a lake is still a daily struggle for me, and I imagine it will be until my kids are older and can fully understand the dangers of water. My whole life I have had recurring drowning dreams, and I don’t know if it means anything or not, but I don’t want to find out! Luckily, we have a pretty large yard and it’s partially fenced, so we typically stay in that area when we go outside. They also know that mom is pretty crazy about them not getting near the water or going on the dock without a life jacket!

But aside from the potential danger, being here adds such fun to our life – my husband has taken up fishing, we have a paddleboat and kayaks, and the wildlife is abundant. The lake just lends itself to a more relaxed lifestyle and mood. It’s very peaceful. I wouldn’t have thought we could have a place like this in the suburbs.

I have always been drawn to older farmhouses, craftsmans, and colonials. I love their character and history. What I got was a traditional Midwestern two-story! I still love it, but I needed it to feel less cookie-cutter. We started by painting the front door chartreuse, and taking off the traditional black shutters and replacing with DIY board and batten navy ones. Just that alone helped it to feel more youthful and stand out from all the tan, gray and white in the neighborhood.

We changed out all the light fixtures for schoolhouse style, painted the wood stairs for a farmhouse feel, and took the door fronts off the builder’s grade cabinets. For me, the hardest part about home design is not always having the money to do what you want to do when you want to do it. We follow a popular cash-budget financial program and it tests our patience often, but the rewards are great. I’ve learned to do what I can with inexpensive things – paint, décor, art – and the rest will happen someday. When that happens, a new deck and renovated bathrooms are first on my list!

The most important thing for me was to have no wasted space in this house. I wanted each and every space to have a unique purpose and also be kid-friendly with fabrics and furniture. We lived in a small townhome for many years, and I couldn’t stand the thought of not maximizing what we now had.

We are not formal dining room kind of people, so it became a playroom. The kids use it every day and it keeps most of the toys out of the smaller bedrooms. They feel more comfortable playing when they are still close to all the action of everyday life. We also have the traditional front room, which for most families is filled with fancy furniture that is used only for guests or holidays. Again, being a very informal family, we relocated our cable connection, moved in a flat screen TV and a big comfy sectional, and it’s now the most popular room in the house.

My next kid-centered project is to make the fenced part of our backyard much more interactive and fun with a natural play area and DIY playhouse.

I knew it was going to be a huge challenge to furnish the space on a budget. I started picking – driving around on garbage day to see what was set out that was salvageable and responding to free offers on Freecycle. It was eye-opening to see what people throw out just for the sheer convenience of getting rid of it quickly. Thrift stores also became my best friend for smaller items and accessories.

I am pretty sure people were questioning my sanity, but I was a woman on a mission. I learned the art of chalk painting and transformed so many pieces that would have just seen the landfill. Some of my favorite free finds are a mid-century sewing table, mismatched kitchen chairs, a coffee table we topped with barn wood, a mid-century glass front cabinet, a vintage school desk and antique bed frame for my son, and a drop leaf nightstand and dollhouse shaped bookshelf for my daughter. Some of my larger pieces I did pay for, but only if extremely reasonable…a vintage hutch for $60, a roll top desk for $20, an early 1900s Empire dresser for $40, and recently a huge antique buffet on original casters for just $40!

I love the feel of an eclectic home, with items collected over time from all different styles and eras. Just a warning, however: After you start picking, you can’t stop. But now I just make a little extra money on the side by selling the things I find!

Each day, I am doing something well and failing at something else. I am trying to be okay with that. (Most days I fail at that, too!) If we have a homeschool activity, then the house is most likely a wreck and dinner won’t be made. If I was on a work conference call or responding to photographer emails, then my kids are probably still in their pajamas while watching “Frozen” for the millionth time. If we spend the morning at the park or cleaning the house, then you can bet we will still be doing math lessons at 8 p.m.

I would like to have a more set routine, but any attempt to create structure has failed. It just doesn’t jive with our personalities. We do try to keep life simple, have an uncluttered home, and limit social activities and weekly commitments to free up time.

I love seeing my children change and grow. Babies are adorable, but I much prefer having a full-on conversation with my kids over baby talk and poopy diapers. I’m a much different mom than I expected…never in a million years did I think I’d breastfeed both past the age of two, and co-sleep until they were ready to sleep alone. I gave them everything I had during their first years, so I welcome the ages and stages that they are in now and look back with no sadness (yet).

It’s exhausting and demanding and never-ending – the messes, the crying, the fighting – but they are also filled with so much good and so much love. They have given me a confidence to not care what anyone else thinks, but just to do what works best for us. I don’t think I had that before I had kids.

I wish someone had told me how challenging parenthood is for introverts. I miss my alone time so much. I grew up on a farm, the nearest neighbor a mile away and friends nowhere to be found. I loved the seclusion and privacy and independence of life there. I still wish for those things, but now they are nowhere to be found!


Thank you, Lesli! We share the same experience on balance! If one thing is rocking my world, you can bet there are one or two things rolling away. And your chalkboard wall in your bathroom is one of the best spots, I bet, to jot down reminders while you’re brushing your teeth!

I also loved how you described motherhood, especially when you wrote “I’m a much different mom than I expected…” I wonder if that’s true for all of us? Tell me, Friends, are you different moms than you expected?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in the Living With Kids series here.

74 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Lesli Gresholdt”

  1. I love this tour and this insight. I immediately want to go and “warm up” my house and embrace our similar inability to live by a schedule. :) Thanks so much for opening your home to all of us!

    1. Becky, It’s still tough to embrace it because it does make life harder in some ways, but kinda hard to change my whole personality at this age. :) Might as well roll with it. Good luck!

  2. You have a beautiful home and I relate to your comment on introverts and parenting. I love being by myself in my house and that is a very rare thing when you have children.

  3. That paper starburst is literally my favorite light fixture in the whole world and has been since I first encountered once at my aunt’s in northern Germany. I wish my ceilings were higher up – it’s just not doable in my house.

    1. Christa, did you know there are two sizes? This is the smaller one. Perfect for bedrooms or living areas. It only can handle a 40 wat bulb though!

    1. Trying to post a link for you but the comment section is acting up. Trying again:

      1. I copied the link and pasted it in my address bar – worked, and thank you! The shutters look great. I also dig your son’s play table, haven’t really seen one like this before.

  4. Great tour! I’m a fan of the colors and the eclectic style. I’d really like to see the front of the house described as “We started by painting the front door chartreuse, and taking off the traditional black shutters and replacing with DIY board and batten navy ones. Just that alone helped it to feel more youthful and stand out from all the tan, gray and white in the neighborhood.” Sounds wonderful!

  5. What a sweet story of meeting her husband. I love reading these stories and peeking into people’s unique homes. I’d like to see what the outside of the house looks like as well!

  6. Ann, we were actually on vacation in Michigan all last week! The waves on Lake Michigan were crazy! And yes, swim lessons are in order soon, though my husband says he can teach them as he was a competitive swimmer. Thanks for the referral!

  7. Thanks Gabrielle for the post. I know this is one of my favorites of your series…we all love getting a glimpse into other family homes!

    1. Kelly billington

      (That’s the business name her kids made up for their imaginary daycare that they run). The Gresholdts have the best imaginations ever!!

  8. Beautiful home! A bit off topic, but would you be willing to share the financial program you use?

    Also, I love what you said about parenting being difficult on introverts. I grew up on a farm, too, and have never been able to put a finger on how out-of-whack I feel when constantly surrounded by kids, without escaping for a moment here and there. Just thinking about my childhood was practically meditative for a moment! Thank you!

    1. Kim – the program is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I swear by it and it has been life changing for us. Spend using cash only, no credit cards, no debt outside of our mortgage.

    1. Thank you Lindsay! There is no way we would ever use it, even when they outgrow the need for a playroom I will probably make it a library or something. :)

  9. I never thought about the need for an open floor plan or their children having to learn to sign. So fascinating. Thanks for the tour!

  10. ” Each day, I am doing something well and failing at something else”

    THANK YOU for saying this! It helps to feel we are all having similar struggles and to remember the hey, I’m still doing something well too.

  11. Erin schniers

    Beautiful home that causes a spontaneous “happy feeling” upon arrival! How could anyone be depressed with so much visual therapy? Love your home, sis!

  12. I look forward to this series every Tuesday and never look at it until I know I have the time and quiet to savor the article. There are so many details to love in your home … the one yellow cup, the mix of styles (much like my own home) and the pops of color everywhere. But the final photo sealed the deal – Nurse Nancy and Doctor Dan were two of my favorite books as a young child. I still have them!

    1. LOL Those are the best! I love the illustrations! And how the moms were always in high heels and basically non-existent! :)

      1. Ha! Even as a kid I wondered where the mom was while her kids were being stung by bees and scraping their knees! I still use Nancy’s first aid techniques- just wish I cold find some of those sweet band-aids.

    1. Hi Katie – you can see one here:
      We did them a navy-ish blue, same color as our outside shutters.

  13. Wow, this post really resonated with me! The sentence “I’m a much different mother than I ever thought I would be” is something I think about daily. Your confidence in doing what feels right for your family and enjoying your unique life together is very inspiring. (For example, we cosleep with our toddler – originally out of sleep-deprived desperation -and I’ve only recently embraced it as the right choice vs a temporary solution.) Also, you have a beautiful house. Thanks for sharing a peek into your life, Lesli! Great post in a great series, Gabrielle!!

    1. Amy – I know exactly how you feel. I used to think it was something to be embarrassed about, or something to keep secret because it was against the norm. Now I could care less. Glad you are feeling that way too!

  14. In our teeny tiny town picking looks a little different – we go to the town transfer station (what we lovingly call “the dump”) to find treasures. My husband works nearby and is always coming home with something new!

    Also, I noticed a Half Acre print in the living room – I love them!

    1. That sounds awesome!! And better than driving around using up gas searching for things! :) Yes – Half Acre, my husband is a beer snob!

  15. So pumped to see a tour in Oswego, IL!!! We just moved to Oswego this fall from Aurora. I wasn’t even aware of the Friday night event in town. Can’t wait to check it out. I am jealous of your lake property and at the same time I completely understand the anxiety of having little ones there, I would feel the same with my littles. Thank you for sharing your lovely home and motherhood truths that hit home for me too.

    1. So funny, Becky! We just moved to Oswego last June from Aurora, as well! :) Small world. The Market on Main Street is one Friday a month! You should go!

      1. Whoa! small world. Next time you are looking for something to do, come check out my husband’s gallery space in downtown Aurora, The Yetee. He often has really fun shows that coincide with First Friday’s in Aurora, but does other shows as well. Most are free and usually fairly kid friendly. Soon to have a store front shop as well. A bit of shameless self-promotion for my hubby, sorry :/ . But if you ever come, ask for me, would love to meet! …hope that wasn’t weird. and Yetee Gallery on fb.

  16. I LOVE this tour! The home looks so inviting and kid friendly.
    I love that the family is a Chicagoland area, homeschooling, extending bf, cosleeping family. And the reference to cash envelopes make me think of the Total Money Makeover plan, which my family follows. This particular post really made it feel like you were getting to know the family and their home and it was very easy to relate to them!

    1. That’s the one, Katie! :) Almost 2 years in and we are finally almost out of the snowball phase! I’m sure you know what I’m talking about! Hard work but worth it.

  17. Dollylonglegs

    What a sweet and lovely home …. makes me want to move to a lake! Read your comments about homeschooling with interest, it’s not so common here in the UK with most people still opting for mainstream state schooling. It’s always interesting to hear about someone else’s experience, thanks for sharing!

    1. Most people here still opt for public schools too, but the number of homeschoolers is definitely growing!!! Lots of good reasons to do it. :)

  18. Great house tour, I love the place! I am curious where you got the couch in your living room and how it holds up with two kids. It looks really nice! Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi Carol! Did you mean the yellow one or the gray sectional? The yellow one is from Macys (not suggested and has bad reviews but I loved the design and color). The gray one is from Ashley Furniture, and that one is great.

  19. I think there is something about being a mom of young kids that turns every woman into an “introvert” to some extent. Lots of needs…to be describing things so kids get language, to haul them into bed when they have a bad dream, to make sure they stay safe, etc.

    Your kids will be learning to swim in no time, and they are very lucky to have that built-in entertainment/contemplation space there. They will probably have a hard time living away from the water for the rest of their lives. I would be worrying more about potential flooding than water hazards.

    Do you guys ever get on the train and head to the DuPage Children’s Museum?

    1. We do go occasionally! You must be local?? We also have two sump pumps but the water is fairly well regulated by drains, thank goodness!

  20. I loved the comment about having an open floorplan when there’s a deaf person in the family. So true! My dad is deaf and my mom is hard-of-hearing. Trying to get their attention in a large space that’s compartmentalized is SO frustrating!!! The light flickering, foot pounding, and hand-waving that went on in my home when we were growing up! Oh, and having a space that’s well-lit is also a must since you have to be able to see each other well in order to communicate….stuff you don’t think about if you’re not around deaf people all the time. It’s funny–even now if my husband isn’t looking at me when I’m talking to him I get frustrated. To me, if a person isn’t making eye-contact when you’re talking to them, they’re not understanding what you’re saying….wonder where I got that concept from…:)

    Oh, having your children become fluent in sign language will be one of the greatest gifts of their lives. I helped support my husband and family through 10 years of college, graduate school, and medical school by being an ASL interpreter. Even with four kids I was able to do it because it can work around your schedule and availability.

    Okay, enough rambling. LOVED your house!!!

    1. Yep you truly get it, Rena! Your description made me laugh. No house is perfect but this one is pretty deaf-friendly! I always wished I could have been an interpreter and I try to tell my daughter this is a built in career path for you if you want it to be!! :) Children of deaf adults make the best interpreters!

  21. Jo Schmidgall

    Your Mom alerted us on FB about your house on this site. Great pics. I love your story. I am a thrifter and have been for many years whether it be garage sales, thrift shops, curbs or…….. I have found so many good things thru the years. Thanks for sharing your home/story w/all of us.

  22. Okay, I’m a little late, but this is my FAVORITE home of the series! I want to be friends with Lesli – WONDERFUL style (I need some serious DIY help) and I could not agree more about the front room. I despise formal living rooms – well done! What a great idea about the formal dining room/play room too – I’d never have thought of doing that, but I remember as a kid, I always wanted to be around where all the action was. Thanks for sharing your home, and I love the additional shutterfly pictures!

  23. What a warm, thoughtful, sweet home. I really love how you turned cookie cutter into cozy and personal. Great job on the exterior too! I live in Chicago and I’m desperate to get my kids out the city (the crime is AWFUL) but the idea of most suburbs is not very appealing. This looks like an awesome place though, I’m really intrigued. What was the commute like for your husband? I work at a downtown ad agency so I would be looking at coming into the city 4-5 days a week. Thanks!

    1. Kari, he took the train so it was a bit of a hike even doing that. It was about 90 min one way but he was close to Union Station, just a few blocks. There are a lot of very quaint, cute towns but I can imagine leaving the city would be tough too!

  24. What a beautiful place! I really relate to what you said about being an introvert mom, and I love how honest you are about missing your alone time. I do too! It took my a while to figure out what my needs are after I decided to stay home with the kids. Everyone told me to join mom groups and get involved in something outside of family life, fight the isolation, but sometimes I need the alone time. I’ve taken up meditation, jog alone to workout instead of joining a gym or a running group, and after a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party today I’m going to sit alone in a closet for a half hour, minimum. :)

    1. I love you already, Meredith!!! I vow to always be “busy” on the date of any future Chuck E Cheese party! I’m with you – the mom groups and the gym do not appeal to me. Just more noise, more talking, I need everyone to clear out and give me some space! Isolation recharges me, not socializing. Hence the reason I am up at all hours of the night, just because the house is quiet. :)

  25. lori bogar schmidgall

    hello daughter. i am not surprised that your house was selected! great job on this article and your very honest answers. it’s obvious you are an encouragement to many moms out there in more areas than decorating. proud of you lesli. your house is a wonderful place to come visit — always full of you and your child’s fingerprints on everything….. and i don’t mean the windows…..but just touching on all that you enjoy, feel and hold precious displayed uniquely and imaginatively in each room.

  26. Odessa Aronson

    Hi Lesli! I just loved reading about your family and “touring” your beautiful lake home! Very inspiring! Such a warm and friendly home. I may have to take up picking as my new hobby after seeing how you repurposed so many interesting pieces! We are also on the DR plan AND I completely relate to being an introverted mom. :-). Take care!

    Odessa (your mom’s cousin’s daughter..what does that make us..2nd cousins?:-)

  27. Hi I was wondering if you knew the pattern of the top white and blue plate on your plate wall? I had one but broke it and don’t know what the name is to replace it

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