Living With Kids: Lilly Neubauer

When Lilly reached out to me about sharing her home, I was so excited. Not only is her current home in Dallas, Texas so charming and full of personality, but Lilly and her husband recently decided to move their family to Germany, where he was born. It is so interesting to see how the last few years has really forced a lot of us to rethink our priorities and what we want out of life, and I think it is so inspiring to see when people decide to make a big decision and do something new. And Lilly’s house is so charming I hope she reaches out when she’s settled in Germany and we can feature her again. Welcome, Lilly!

I am Lilly, I was born here, in Dallas, before moving to Western Kentucky for early childhood, where my Dad’s side of my family lives. At eight years old our family had a brief stint living in Quito, Ecuador, before moving back to Dallas from my fourth grade on. 

During college, I went out to visit friends in Lubbock, Texas, and fell in love with how simple the town was and how it was covered in sky. I transferred there immediately. I went to a pretty esteemed college prep school in Dallas, so most of my friends at the time were traveling Europe for study abroad or in big American cities for college. Lubbock was so different from Dallas, I felt like I was having my own study abroad experience — drinking handmade schnapps on farm porches and driving through caprocks. It reminded me of the pace of life in Kentucky which I had really enjoyed.

My husband of 12 years, Markus, and I met in Lubbock working at a pizza shop together. It was more like annoyance at first sight — he is an avid rule follower who thrived as a corporate franchise employee while all I wanted to do at the time was see who I needed to speak to about the rules. Over the course of a year, we started to see each other for more than what meets the eye. Everyone from work went out together one night, and the rest was history. 

We made it back to Dallas after Lubbock for Markus’ education and ended up settling down here after he graduated. It wasn’t my dream post-college plan, but it was a great honor to be able to live so close to my maternal grandmother for the final 10 years of her life. 

Two years ago, I was working from home over the summer while my daughter was entering Kindergarten. We had never really spent day-in and day-out together since she was a baby. Not sure how to fill the days, we went to the craft store and started making summer camp style crafts. Not only did it give the both of us something to do, the crafts became helpful for me planning play dates. I also noticed that the other Moms at our playdates were enjoying making bead bracelets or tie dye as much as the kids. From there, I started Camp Crafty, an arts and crafts experience company for private events fostering “connecting through creating.” The company I founded is now a joint partnership, as I’ve met two great women who started as employees and now run the company with me, which is allowing us to move abroad to Freiburg, Germany.

Markus just retired from 13 years of highway design. He is a freelance technical writer, as well as working on a new field of study regarding the biofield of energy around the human body and its relationship to emotional processing and physical healing. 

Together, we write an online magazine Open Hearted Home. When I thought about all of the magazines I poured over growing up, I thought of Traditional Home (I loved their online magazine Trad Home when we had our first house), Country Home, and how the idea of home was mostly represented in media through design. I wondered what the pages of a magazine that focused on design, well being and relationships would look like. I always hope Open Hearted Home is approachable like our real home — a little messy but brave in design and topics of conversation. 

Our seven year old daughter, Heidi, lives here as well and is the love of our lives. Her best friend is her dog, Sarah Jane. Her prized possession is her Fender Stratacaster. 

Together, we’ve driven 700 miles of Route 66 and are now selling this home to head off on a big adventure moving somewhere Heidi and I have never even visited — Freiburg, Germany!

We love in a central part of Dallas that was one of the city’s original suburbs. Developers Fox and Jacobs took over this area of town, selling homes with the lifestyle built-in to midcentury families. Fox and Jacobs used market research and national opinion surveys to design and build their homes to the values of American families. Our 1959 model feels like a time capsule of what a young family in that era identified as the perfect new start — a sunken living room, entertaining space, spacious backyard and three oak trees freshly planted on every lot (now perfect for climbing and reading a book in, according to our daughter). 

Each development has a community pool in the center, with ours still operating each summer. Our neighborhood has bunco, book club, parks, a hike and bike trail and a small shopping center where I can ride or walk to get a few groceries or the best family-owned Tex-Mex dinner. 

My maternal grandparents were prom dates and, after getting through nursing school and World War II, had their big shot as a young family of five to move here from Olean, New York. This was the Wild West, where a family could settle down, spread out and find opportunity. My grandmother passed away in the Fox and Jacobs home down the street from mine that she purchased with my grandfather upon arrival in Dallas in 1962. My own family bought a home in this spot in 1994 when we moved back from Ecuador, which is where my parents still live. 

The neighborhood became quite a place to live through a pandemic and civil rights movement. As idealistic as life can feel here, I had to consider how many other types of people feel welcome when visiting. While there can be some voices here advocating for the status quo, I’m inspired to see many of my closest friends in the neighborhood advocating for inclusion and progress. After feeling like an outlier a lot of my life here, dropping in from a foreign country and always feeling behind or out of place in a very traditional, conservative community, it was ultimately healing to live here as an adult and feel seen as included as the Mom on the block that may be different but, ultimately, is still a good friend and neighbor. It was a blessing to be near family and familiarity during such uncertain times, but it also showed me how ready I am for something new. 

Due to its central location in Dallas, as we add more suburban sprawl, the prices in the neighborhood continue to climb, despite it still being a hub for young families. My hope is that people continue to find value in the neighborhood while welcoming new types of families that want to live and add value to this part of our city, and that we continue to maintain these older homes instead of rebuilding larger models on the lots and driving prices up. 

Before moving into this house, we were in a 1100 sq ft, 1952 rambler style home about a mile away. It was the perfect first house and, with home values going up and our mortgage staying the same, it felt too good to leave (even though we had outgrown it). 

My Dallas grandmother had passed away earlier in the year when we found and bought this house. I always see her as a butterfly when I feel like she’s communicating with me. One night I had the spark to look at home listings, as futile as it had felt with the market as it was in Dallas. The very top listing was our dream home — traditional in all the ways I love, modern in all the ways Markus loves. We went to look at it and as I got out of the car a swarm of butterflies flew in my path. We kept finding them as we came back. It was emotional leaving our first home, but as I closed the door for the final time a massive butterfly, wings outstretched, was resting on the front. I have a strong feeling she could see the historic times coming ahead and wanted to put us in a home with a little more space and proximity to my family and community. I’m very thankful for that. A psychic even told Markus, “Lilly’s grandmother sits at the kitchen table while she makes dinner and talks to her.” And once I started listening for it, I’ve felt very strongly that I could hear her. 

Since then, the work has really been making our dream house feel like a family home. A lot of the updates were done shortly before the last owners listed it and, while there were beautiful elements, it felt a little cold. For example, all of the walls were painted a very flat grey and most of the cabinets are modern IKEA styles, which we love, but needed to be styled with some more personal accents like light fixtures and mirrors to blend into the history of the home. 

For the most part, we are in a unique neighborhood of historic homes bought and owned by mostly first time buyers in young families. You have to be ready to love these homes. While we’ve been here we’ve had our share of surprises — discovering old electrical work and repiping the home from cast iron to PVC pipes. Thanks to the pipes, we also suddenly had to reconstruct the owner’s bathroom last December. It was a bit intense since my job was on hold with the pandemic, but ultimately the renovation became a creative distraction. We love how the simple, sixty cent hexagon tile arranged in this pattern looks like my favorite Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt.

Owning an old house is a lot like gardening, where regular maintenance is the key to getting ahead of a lot of problems. It’s certainly not risk averse and I would be lying to say that I’m not looking forward to at least a year of renting as we relocate after 12 years of homeownership, but it’s taught us so much. We’re lucky that the return on the investment is funding a large part of our life transition. 

Like everyone, our lives and priorities have shifted so much over the last two years thanks to the collective experience of the pandemic as well as personal life. Markus and I have traversed the transformative season of our mid-thirties in this home, while our daughter has grown from early childhood into her prime of girlhood. While we’ve only been here three years, it’s been its own era in time for sure. 

This home has held us through a beautiful chapter of our lives defined by loss. Less than a year after moving in, Markus suddenly lost his father. I went through the process of sending our daughter to Kindergarten and using that loss as motivation to start my own business, only to have her home and the business suddenly closed due to the pandemic months later. Then, in August of 2020, Markus’ mother unexpectedly passed away. 

Grief is such a personal experience, and it was a very transformative time for all three of us to be in seasons of grief — Markus with his parents, me with my job and Heidi with her school, as well as just the sense of normalcy for each of us with the lifestyle changes from the pandemic. With the isolation we all felt in this time, we had to face a lot of feelings that a busier pace of life may have helped us avoid. Home life here became about the little things to find joy in a broken time, like family walks, Uno tournaments and, like most of us, a ton of freshly baked banana bread.

By the fall of 2020, my concerns about the outside world became just as much about our political landscape and relating to each other as it was about the COVID-19 virus. Since we had been looking for a new elementary school before the pandemic, we decided to hold on making a decision and school at home with family friends. Our home became an almost bunker-like space where the outside world was heavily filtered. I didn’t allow TV news inside the home. We gardened and took care of our animals and Heidi learned how to read and play guitar. Homeschooling became a nice distraction to news of the day, where we danced with play silks to The Byrds, baked scones to learn fractions or read The Burgess Animal Book for Children in front of the fire.

Before the pandemic, our front room had been used for entertaining. We hosted Saturday Supper Clubs almost weekly where we invited friends over for a casual dinner that we thought might want to know each other. The space quickly became dark and stale from not being used while we were sheltering in place. Inspired by the colors of Waldorf classrooms, I decided to make this space our homeschool classroom and music room, painting it a warm, feminine peach. I took over the former dining room as an atelier space, hoping dedicated studio time would reconnect me with my artist identity and help me ideate what was next for Camp Crafty. This space refresh really helped us turn a corner from waiting for the pandemic to end to living life on life’s terms. 

We’ve evolved as people so many times in this home in just three years, and I often moved furniture around to signify the change we would feel when we hit a new place on our family journey. We’ve had nine lives here in the last three years and I am so proud of the transformation of our family and all three of us as individuals. 

I feel like one thing I’ve really noticed from this time is the idea that how capable we feel in navigating extreme change and hardship seems to depend a lot on how we talk to ourselves. From following this idea, I’ve noticed a lot of how we talk to ourselves has a lot to do with how adults talked to us growing up. Personally, I feel how adults talked to us growing up has a lot to do with how we talk to God. 

One of the biggest opportunities I’ve had this year was to rewrite who God is to me. Without knowing it, I think I formerly thought of God as either a benevolent parent who gave me everything I prayed for or a stern parent who punished me through fate and hardship. A darker, “winter” chapter of life really helped me to re-examine this and redefine our relationship for the better.

One of the best exercises I did while re-finding my faith through the pandemic was to write out a list of everything I ever wished I had from adults while I was growing up, and let those qualities become the persona of my higher power. These days, I try to look at what I’m receiving from life over what I lack. Instead of trying to fix everything myself, I try more to bring my problems to rest in the hands of God knowing if I’ve spoken the need, help us ultimately on the way. Sitting in one place this long has really shown me how many problems do get worked out with nothing but prayer and time.

This has also been a time in my life where I’ve had to turn a lot of people over to God. I am a very progressive minded person. My maternal ancestors are child coal miners in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My paternal ancestors are from the Tennessee Valley of Appalachia, where the farm we settled to in the 1850s got electricity for the first time when my grandfather installed it himself through his job in the TVA in 1957. I have felt the weight of mortality while also feeling strong division in ideologies with the ones I love, which has been a lot to reconcile. 

There are a lot of ways to live in America that I know nothing about, and I’ve learned to calm myself by trusting that everyone is on their own path with God and understanding the world. I am trying to listen more. Ultimately, I’ve realized that while we can have some major differences in how we are handling this time, the commonality is how so many Americans feel unsafe and forgotten. There is so much heartbreak in our society I can’t even attempt to take on myself and still be able to give my best to my family. Holding space for people and connecting on a personal level about art or hobbies seems to help my own feelings while honoring another’s.

Without a designated space of worship open at this time and my group therapy meetings paused with the pandemic, it was hard to find a space for all my feelings and thoughts. I started the habit of sitting on the front steps of our home at night after putting our daughter to bed. We had an influx of cicadas this season, and the humming sound from their wings became a white noise that blanketed my fears and kept me company while I thought of what to be grateful for from the day and what I wanted to hand over to God.

I hope, as the world becomes a different but more certain place, I don’t forget how to find solace in a higher power as I understand it, how good it feels to let go and let God, how much more connection I feel to others when I let people be people and how nature almost instantly makes me feel like the world is so much bigger than me. 

Originally, I knew I needed a new environment to push me a little more. At the same time, Markus was interested in pursuing a new career path. I saw our home as our biggest expense, and quickly felt like it was no contest to downsize in order to be able to help him with his dream. 

We scanned a lot of America and were originally interested in tiny home living. However, this exhaustive, multi-year search left me at a lot of dead ends. Personally, we did not have much luck working on a plan where we could live on land in a tiny home and be close enough to education and community for child rearing. Most of what we found, even in rural America, was developed and zoned for home building only. None of the paths we found really afforded us much out of the sale of our home to fund our next path, and moving to private insurance to work for ourselves was another issue. 

Markus was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and felt increasing homesickness with the passing of his parents. Emailing the consulate on a whim, he was able to go through the process of having his Germany citizenship restored. Meanwhile, a few of Markus’ family members had all decided to relocate to Freiburg for its maritime climate and proximity to the Black Forest. To me, it felt like a dream to live so close to mountains and woods like my childhood in Kentucky but just a quick drive to the culture and excitement of Basel that reminds me of Dallas. 

I am mostly excited to see Markus have the opportunity to walk to get Heidi from school and hear those first excited sentences about her day. I’m excited to hike together and to host friends. One of the things that grounded me the most during the start of the pandemic was, when our markets were empty, getting a box of produce off the back of a truck from a local farmer and figuring out the week’s meals from it. Our new town, like many German cities, has a fresh market every Monday – Saturday. I’m really excited to show up and let what’s there tell me what’s for dinner. 

The biggest puzzle we’re in now is the actual getting there, from shipping boxes to dog visas and COVID tests. I’m trying to keep things one step at a time, reminding myself doing one thing right and then looking for what’s next keeps us moving. When Heidi was learning ukulele, she played Row, Row, Row Your Boat constantly. Markus can now see my mind cycling, trying to find answers to all of our current unknowns, and will simply remind me, “Gently down the stream.”

Even before the pandemic, I wanted our home to be a port in the storm of life. While the outside world can be intense, uncertain and confusing, I hope our home is a space where there’s always some sense of normalcy based on the rhythms we share, the connection we feel to our responsibilities here and the comforts it holds for each of us. 

The first few months of shelter-in-place, I was battling a lot of resentment of being the grown up of the home facing sudden unemployment, full time child care and the lion’s share of domestic labor. As painful as this experience was for me as a progressive woman, the last thing a home needs in a crisis is a resentful mother. I started tapping into the ranch style of the home and the spirit of a working ranch. I was no longer shouldered with a new load of responsibilities as a mother but instead taking on the role of Ranch Manager. 

At a working ranch, there’s a lot to get done and new solutions to be found for new problems each day. Everyone pitches in. Work is part of daily life and simple pleasure are rewards for a good day’s work. I named the home Townsend Ranch, inspired by our street name. My love for a good Larry McMurtry novel came into play as we took on the yoke of the times and regained confidence in working through it as a team. 

This was an intense time in all of our mental health journeys, and I feel like you just never know how some stages of growth will be remembered through your child’s eyes. No one would wish this time in history on childhood, but as our daughter grows and understands the context and magnitude of what we are all living through, I hope she is generally proud and has stories to tell. 

I know there are times where my daughter looked to me for complete assurance and confidence that we would be fine when I couldn’t fully provide it, but as time went on I became better at giving her what I could – company on hard nights and a knowing that, despite the reality of the day, there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. 

I hope we remember all of the joy here. I taught our daughter to read here and Markus taught her how to play guitar. We saw a lot of live after-dinner performances in the living room. We honored Pizza Fridays. Markus and I had countless special nights in front of the fire. When we couldn’t entertain friends inside, we put a table on the front lawn and used the good china. 

I will miss the sound of the pack of her and her neighborhood friends tearing through the front door to go straight to the back yard.

I never co-slept with Heidi as an infant much, but I started regularly co-sleeping with her in this home, which I hope we do on special occasions and traveling together for the rest of our lives. 

I already miss my neighbors, many of whom have inspired me through their own uprisings in this era. We’ve been each other’s child care and shoulders to lean on as we’ve navigated job loss and recovery, divorce and elections together. I’ve come to understand through them that every woman seems to be one favor away from getting back on her feet, if we can be bold enough to ask for it and gracious enough to make the time to help someone else. We’ve normalized asking for and giving help on this block, our children have become family to each other, and it’s changed me a lot for the better. 

I wish someone had told me that helping someone find themselves feels a lot like letting go.  

I would have done anything to take the hardship Markus and Heidi faced these last years from them, but ultimately I had to trust that these chapters are part of their stories as humans. I could not change how they felt or approached their situations, but could find ways to love and comfort them through my gift of nurturing through a home-cooked meal or glass of water. I could take a lot of burden off of Markus in his grief by coming into my self-sufficiency more. I could not give Heidi much advice as I had never lived through a pandemic before myself, but I tried to find ways to spend time together that made our situation feel like an opportunity. I started meditating each morning, visualizing walking Markus and Heidi to the edge of a dock together and then placing them in the palms of God’s hands. I felt that surrender to reality over trying to distract or keep us from hard feelings is what ultimately helped us all face our individual hardships. We found beauty in every day, and we laughed a lot. We all grew up side by side, which brought us closer in the end. 

——

Thank you, Lilly! I love the sense of excitement Lilly has as she approaches this new adventure. Moving out of the country must be so complicated in the best of circumstance, and I am sure with COVID concerns right now it makes it even more tricky. But I love the idea of her husband feeling a call home after tragically losing his parents. I think it is so important that we all have those moments when we can connect.

I also really appreciated what Lilly said about reconciling her own beliefs with the beliefs of various people in her life and reconciling the gaps she saw there. I think that has been one of the hardest things of the last several years. As our nation has become more and more politically polarized, it is always tricky when you see people you love on the other side of that line. Especially when you feel so passionate and so moral about your own beliefs. I love that Lilly said she’s had to “turn these people over to God.” Even if you are not religious I think we can all relate to the idea of letting go and not worrying about every difference you have with the people in your life.

Have you had trouble reconciling who you are with who you’ve discovered your loved ones to be? How do you still respect and love someone when you disagree fundamentally on certain social or political issues?

SOURCES

Bedroom and Bathroom Rugs

Do Right and Fear No Man banner and Everyone’s Invited banner

Bath towels

Music Room rug

Bluetooth Record Player


Photo credit to Kelly Christine Sutton. You can check out Lilly’s blog here, or follow her on Instagram here. Living with Kids is Edited by Joshua Bingham. You can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com.

17 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Lilly Neubauer”

  1. I’m so proud of you Lilly, this is my favorite thing you’ve written so far. Thank you for sharing this with us. ❤️

  2. This was really beautiful. I love all the pandemic reflection. We all have so much to process from these past few years. Loved her gentle, wise thoughts. Best of luck to this lovely family.

  3. I absolutely love this piece. There is so much to think about and reflect upon after reading this piece. I can’t wait to see more from Lilly and to hear about the amazing journey her family is about to embark upon.

  4. Freiburg is the most amazing small city- I spent 6 months there and am dying to go back. You will love it!! The location and access to mountains and lakes absolutely cannot be beat!

  5. What a courageous and totally transparent piece. Best of luck, although I suspect you all don’t need it. Your grounded wisdom will carry you forward.

  6. Hi Lilly, thanks for your inspiring home tour. Did screen shots of your hanging plates.. how did you geht them on the wall? I have some really nice old plates and would love to do the same.. hug, Kathrin (from Göttingen Germany 😉)

    1. Hi Katrhin!! Thank you so much. Markus’ Oma actually has a plate collection on her wall in Heidelberg which inspired me. I used plate hangers I could find at the hardware store here. Please let me know if you need any more photos! :)

  7. What a beautiful post! I identified with so many of the feelings and experiences. Best of luck on your next adventure 😊

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