Austin! I think of Austin the same way I think of all those other cities where the locals love life in it so much that they hate the thought of ever leaving. Right, Portland-New York-San Francisco-Asheville-wherever you live, too? Miranda loves it there, and from the way she describes it, I think we all might!
Have you met Miranda? If you’re a crafty one who likes to sew, throw parties, eat yummy treats, or get your DIY on, you may have already met her. If not, please allow me to introduce our sweet tour guide today. She is lovely, as are her home and thoughts she’s sharing with us. Welcome, Miranda!
Our family’s beginning was love at first sight! Or as close as I ever imagined. I met Dave at church ten years ago in Utah where we both grew up. Immediately wanted to know him well, and within the first two dates was ready to say “Yes!”
At the time I was finishing my degree and nursing school, and Dave was playing Rugby for the USA Eagles. Soon after we were married, he decided to retire his cleats to focus on preparing for Law School. His degree is in Chemistry, and he went in to Law to practice IP law as a chemical patent attorney, which is a pretty unique and specialized field.
He is as much of an introvert as I am an extrovert, and we complement each other in all the best ways. He is calm, grounded, and diligent where I am excitable, ambitious, and somewhat reckless. I love him in the kind of way I always hoped to love my husband, and am a better person for all the time we spend together.
We had planned to start having children once he finished law school, so I could work full-time in my job as a RN Diabetes Educator to help support our way through. Instead, while on my graduation trip to Thailand we were inspired — after visiting a Buddhist tiger temple, though I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it! — to prepare to have a baby before law school had even begun.
Our first son Milo, now six, was born the day between Dave’s last two finals of his first year of school! Nothing like showing us how little we can plan when it comes to parenthood! He is outgoing and socially aware, really funny, and a sweet pleaser. It’s hard not to love Milo.
Our second son Eliot, now four, came after a move from New Hampshire to DC as Dave transferred schools, and not to be outdone by his brother decided to come two weeks before the BAR. Eliot is our sensitive child, has an imagination that inspires me, and is a total bookworm even though he’s just learning to read.
Finally, our almost two-year-old daughter Plum was born after we moved from DC to Texas. While I was pregnant with Plum I felt like she would complete our family perfectly, and so looked forward to meeting her. She is redhead and rosy-cheeked, and gets more attention than the rest of us combined. She is good natured, usually smiling, and recently became a bit of a tornado climbing all over the house, taking things out of cupboards, drawers, and generally leaving a happy mess wherever she goes.
As a family we love to be outdoors together, and go on hikes and camping trips, often with a pack-and-play set up in the tent. We all love food, and make a point to try new restaurants and food trucks when we go out. The boys would be happy playing Legos all day every day, and Plum is already getting right in there with them.
We loved living in the DC area where Dave finished school and took his first job at a busy law firm. The reality was that the high cost of living combined with the high workload requirement of Dave’s job meant we weren’t able to afford to buy a house at all, let alone one with a yard and a reasonable commute to the office. Somewhere during his second year I was ready to have another baby, and ready to see him more than late nights and Sundays. We made a pros and cons list of cities that we were interested in possibly living and Austin, Texas came out ahead. I had never been here, but everything we had heard and read sounded amazing, so I booked a last-minute flight to spend a weekend scoping it out.
For three days I went to open houses, ate five meals a day checking out the food scene, chatted with locals about the city, and basically fell completely and totally in love with it. I called Dave on day three and told him Austin was the right place for our family, and he should start looking for a job. Dave applied to a firm where an old colleague had once worked, got the job, and within two months we were packed up and driving across the country to start our life in Texas! I was 13 weeks pregnant with Plum.
Now, what was the question? How did this house become our home? Where the houses I had whimsically called about in the DC were 1500 sq ft un-renovated shacks, built in the 1950s, for no less than $750,000 (and usually more) in downtown Austin that same tiny, un-renovated shack was going for $300,000 cash, and going fast. I initially wanted to buy a charming older home on a tree-lined street somewhere in the hills, but keeping within our budget constrained us to either a smaller, totally un-renovated home in an older neighborhood (as mentioned before) or a slightly bigger and newer home in a newer, more suburban neighborhood.
Our realtor started showing me some of the latter. I was immediately turned off by the cookie cutter style pop-up developments where the homes were huge and nice, but the yards were small and the charm was absent. A friend sent me a listing for a home in our current neighborhood, and I went up late at night to do a drive-by. I really liked the neighborhood, which was older, but was being built in phases, so not everything looked exactly the same, there were lots of mature trees, and a new neighborhood elementary had just been built.
While the specific house that I had come up to see wasn’t what I was looking for, we went to church in the neighborhood the next day and a sweet woman, now a good friend, told me that the neighborhood had one final phase of development left and they had just taken the street barricades down for the new section. I never had imagined that we would build a new house, especially not as our very first house. But when we went into the development office the next day and looked at the site map, we saw a corner, cul-de-sac lot that backed to a nature preserve, and had twice the yard of most of these neighborhood homes. It looked like it was made for us.
There were about ten available floor plans to choose from, and we quickly spotted a 2400 sq. ft., four bedroom, three bathroom single-level layout that fit all our needs. After quickly crunching numbers and realizing we could put that house on that lot and have a little left over to upgrade to wood flooring, we signed our name. We had been in Austin for ten days! The builder gave us two weeks to choose all of the finishes and make any red-lines to the plans – we added a couple windows, turned all of the arched doorways to square, and totally customized the kitchen cabinets – then six months later we turned key on our first home!
In a lot of ways it feels like such a dream to have built just the home we wanted. In others, it sometimes feels like a lot of pressure. I vowed to myself when we moved in, after eight years of living in small apartments, that I would never complain about our house because I was so grateful to have one! What I didn’t prepare for was the overwhelming sentiment that I feel here now that we started from the ground up. I don’t know if we’ll move again. It seems reasonable that at some point we may, but we went in telling ourselves this could be our forever home, and try to love it like it is.
I love so much about where we live. The weather is beautiful all year. Which means we can walk to school, ride bikes before dinner, and play at the park on Saturdays. In the summer heat we visit some of the Texas swimming holes and cool down with splash pads. The winter gets just cozy enough for occasional sweaters and boots, and all of the sentimental pieces of fall and winter, but almost never cold enough for a heavy coat or to stay inside all day.
I love the landscape of Austin’s beautiful hill country. The plants here don’t get much water, and they still grow…except for the grass in my yard that finally gave up and went dormant until next year when we might have finally installed sprinklers! My favorite cactus and succulents grow naturally here, and wildflowers paint the sides of every highway in the spring.
I never realized how affected I am by the scenery of a place, and Austin’s scenery feels unhurried, unaffected, and resilient. I’d like that to rub off on me.
There is an amazing mix of old and new, vintage and modern, local and imported styles here. The whole city feels laid back, while still having a fresh, exciting undercurrent of creative entrepreneurship and tech startups. I really have a thing for food trucks, and Austin is basically paradise as far as that goes. My favorites include Las Trancas for al pastor street tacos, Bananarchy for frozen chocolate covered bananas, Torchy’s for queso (which has now franchised and is all over, lucky for me!), Holy Cacao for life-changing frozen hot chocolate, and Patrizi’s for the best homemade Italian you’ve ever had.
I grew up with a very artistic mother who decorates with emotion more than intention. I remember my mom talking about how a room felt more than how it looked, and I think I inherited that notion. My goal in decorating is to tell stories and create space for experiences and memories. I have never been very concerned with what went with what, or how things might all look together, but moreso how it would feel when I was there.
Something else I inherited from my mom was a love for original art. Following her example, I began buying art when I was in college, mostly as souvenirs from vacations. I was adding affordable, original paintings from street artists to my collection with every trip abroad I took. When Dave and I got married, I commissioned a watercolor from one of our favorite Utah artists as a wedding gift, and we’ve continued to buy affordable paintings, mostly from young, emerging artists all throughout our marriage.
Recently I’ve added some fun paintings from estate sales and decoration swaps to the collection, creating a really cool and meaningful collection.
One of my recently adopted decorating philosophies is to be at peace with empty space. When we moved from our 900 sq. ft. apartment to this much bigger house, we ended up with so much space it was a little overwhelming at first! I’m naturally somewhat of a minimalist, but not to the point of having totally empty rooms!
Rather than buying things just to fill the space — not to mention not being able to afford that — we have been patient and waited not only to find the right pieces, but to feel what the spaces in the house needed to become. One main room in our house sat completely empty as we tried to imagine it as a dining room (didn’t fit), then a study (didn’t fit), then a second living room (not quite right) then finally as sort of an indoor patio room, which feels like just what our home needed. A place with the primary purpose of relaxing, which is something we are all challenged to make time for.
Another firm belief I hold is that great design doesn’t have to be expensive. I was just taking stock, and I don’t think I’ve paid full price for more than one or two items in our whole house! While I’m not a regular thrifter, I’ve been able to find favorites at the occasional flea market, on Craigslist, at outlet shops, and even on the side of the road!
My inspiration for decorating comes a lot from books that show pages and pages of real homes. I love seeing how differently everyone lives, which reminds me that even though Pinterest is trending with all white kitchens or Lucite chairs, that isn’t the only right way. I should also mention that I use Pinterest often for browsing, but also find inspiration by following people on Instagram (I’m @livefreemiranda) whose style feels relatable to me. I have hundreds of screen shots of corners, vignettes, and ideas saved from scrolling through.
My most unusual source of inspiration may be simply from trips to Home Depot, whose aisles feel like billions of untapped potential DIY ideas. I always come home bursting with energy and ready to tackle a new project to make our home feel a little cozier, a little easier to live in, or a little more beautiful.
My favorite place in our home changes by the day. When it’s bedtime and we beam the lamps full strength to the boys’ ceiling to charge the stars, then shut off all the lights and find the constellations while I sing our favorite James Taylor songs as lullabies, it’s that spot. When I’ve had a long motherhood morning and the kids are all off at preschool and I settle into my studio with a bolt of new fabric, a dress design in my head, and four hours of uninterrupted silence, it’s that spot. On Friday nights it’s the floor of the living room where we’re all eating pizza and watching a movie together. In the winter it’s sitting on the hearth with a fire going, a cup of cocoa in my hand, and Plum on my lap.
I guess I can’t choose a favorite. It all feels like home to me.
For Dave, it’s the kitchen counter where the kids all sit together doing homework, chatting, and playing while I make dinner and he unloads the dishwasher or chases Plum out of the pantry. The kids would probably say our bed, where they pile in on lazy for some snuggle time where we ask them all about their current favorites, and we decide together when to get up and head out for donuts.
My blog has been such an interesting adventure. It started in 2007 as a space to share with our family as we lived away from them, then naturally I started sharing projects and recipes and tutorials of things I was making, because I’m almost always making something!
I took a couple years off when I moved to Texas, and that break allowed me time to think about where blogging fit into my life. When I started blogging regularly again I decided to keep my content broad with lots of sewing and crafts along with tips for life and motherhood, but always ask myself what the takeaway will be for my readers, whether a tutorial, or a tip, or a bit of inspiration for their day. I know that it takes time and energy to read blogs, and hope my blog always leaves people feeling energized and inspired.
A few months ago, I wrote a series about managing energy that resonated with a lot of readers. I’d love to write more about this, and other ideas for making good choices, living with intention, and forgiving ourselves. It turns out it’s much more time consuming for me to sit and write an essay-type post than it is for me to crank out a great DIY project post, so that’s one reason I haven’t gotten as many written lately as I’d like. I have a couple great drafts sitting ready for editing, so hopefully soon there will be more food for thought along with the fun projects in months to come.
Blogging has been a part of my life for so long I can’t really imagine life without it. It has been a huge blessing to be blogging as a career in the last year, rather than as a hobby alone. Some of my very dearest friendships have come through blogging and attending blog conferences. While I was on sabbatical, it was the community feeling of blogging that I missed the most.
I’ve had a lot of fun opportunities come through blogging. I’ve taught a bunch of local craft and sewing classes, which I really love and can’t wait to do more of. I have formed some fun partnerships with brands I love and admire, like Babylock. Attending and teaching at Sewing Summit (which ended a couple years ago) and Alt Summit have been some of my most fun creative opportunities, and my life has hugely been impacted by the relationships I’ve formed and the lessons I’ve learned.
I studied nursing and worked as an RN for a few years, and thought that at some point if I ever needed a job, I’d go back to nursing. I don’t think that’s true anymore.
I feel so much more fulfilled creatively and satisfied with my outcomes with blogging, I think my fall-back would now be more like a fall-forward into some undefined creative pursuit. Maybe taking the leap into designing and developing a clothing line, maybe opening a workshop studio space to teach more regular classes, maybe taking my blog full-time instead of part-time. I think the idea that I can create the job I love has been validated by blogging, and I am so happy with the confidence that allows. And the possibilities.
I think my two most important principles to balance work and home life are to not multitask, and to take time off.
A couple years ago I heard an interview when you gave, Gabrielle, shared about trying not to mix work and motherhood too much because you ended up not doing either very well. That was an ah-hah moment for me, and when I really started to be honest with myself about the time I needed to work. I started dedicating specific hours without my kids to working, and hiring a babysitter so they would be having fun and well cared for while I had the space and time I needed to complete projects. Then, when I picked them up, I had all of my attention to dedicate to them, which made all of us super happy and much more relaxed. I don’t get it right all the time, but separating work and home life also helps me be more organized and efficient, because I have very specific timeframes for working, and can plan the hours well.
In addition to separating work and kids, I also have learned how important it is to take regular time off of both! People talk all the time about motherhood being a full-time job, but in a corporate full-time job the vacation days and time off are built in! Mothers do ourselves a disservice when we pretend that we can be ON 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, rather than recognizing the relief, inspiration, and happiness that comes when we allow ourselves time off from work AND motherhood.
For years I had never considered hiring a babysitter if I wasn’t working or going on a date with my husband. These days I schedule a babysitter every so often so I can read a book on the couch, take myself out to lunch and a movie, or browse local stores for inspiration. I come back from that time with a full battery and able to care for my family so much better.
I think that time away also creates a sense of abundance in motherhood, rather than the feeling of lack that I sometimes fall into. For as truly amazing as motherhood is, it can also feel a little like quicksand. When I allow myself time to get out, I don’t as often feel like I’m stuck in a situation I can’t control. I am able to recognize my resources of time, energy, and happiness, and build them up.
I’m curious how long we’ll live here, and how much of a memory my young kids will have of this time of our lives.
I hope their memories tell stories of warmth and sweetness, along with work and lots of development: Milo learning to pedal his bike on the street out front, Eliot practicing his pumping on the swings in the back, and Plum taking first steps down the long hallway in the middle.
They may not remember, but will have lot of pictures of their endless costume parades throughout the house, and of tying on their great-great-grandmother’s aprons to stand on chairs at the counter to help me make cookies or cake. They’ll probably remember setting the table for family dinner, or inviting friends over to jump on the trampoline then eat popsicles on the porch. I hope their memories are filled with family and friends, who support, help, and love them.
As far as Dave and me? Well, I’d love for my kids to remember us loving each other and working hard together. I hope they’ll remember us holding them tightly, singing to them softly, dancing with them wildly, and taking time to know them well so we can love them better all along their own journeys.
I wish someone had told me that life is made up of mostly ordinary days, and that the real significance comes through the patterns we find layering days upon days upon days and discovering what really means the most.
I have spent so much time trying fill my life up with spectacular and outstanding experiences, that I often have felt like the normal days were a failure in exceptionality. The truth I am finding is that normal days are the ones I’ll remember the most.
The motions turning to muscle memory as I go through again and again; bear hugs at the front door, giggling walks home from school, sharing pizza on Friday nights, helping little hands learn to wash the dishes and put away laundry, snuggling up to ready stories on the couch, and kneeling together to pray at night are the motions of my real, simple, beautiful life.
I am doing it well even when I don’t do anything exceptional. Not every day has to be perfect or different or special, because the layers they make together will be enough.
Thank you, Miranda! You make such a fantastic point about our most ordinary days: they are, in fact, our best. And over time, they even overshadow the extraordinary ones, don’t they?
I read a blog post ages ago about parents surprising their children with a trip to Disney. They were all on the plane, on their way, and they thought it would be the grandest bombshell ever to deliver the fabulous destination. I mean: Disney! However, their kids thought they were on their way to visit their grandmother, and instead of shrieking with joy at the Disney news…they cried for the rest of the flight that they wouldn’t be seeing her! What a compliment to that grandmother, right? And what a genius reminder that grand gestures and big moments aren’t always the best ones.
Have you ever experienced such a backfire? I love your stories!
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! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.