Did you bake any cookies over the weekend? I hope you did! & I hope you loved them! & if you didn’t get a chance, the recipe is ready & waiting! They fit so well within my life goal of creating something Pretty & Practical–as they are as cute as they are delicious, and not too terrible for you! ;)
When I think of creating a home, the feeling is not that far off the feeling that you get when you bite into a fresh baked cookie–it’s enticing, warm and leaves you feeling satisfied. But maybe some you prefer an edgier cookie, with dark, decadent insides. Or maybe you like a perfectly formed macaron. Any way you look at it–you likely have a favorite & understanding WHY you love what you love is worth investigating–especially when you apply your preferences to a home.
Pinterest has quickly become one of the best ways to visually catalog home style, but beyond just looking at what you like, I encourage you to really think about how you FEEL about being home. What does HOME mean to you? What do you plan to DO there? A sexy, clean lined modern space is going to feel very different than a tailored, traditional space. Just like an eclectic cottage is going to feel very different from a minimalist midcentury modern home. There is no right way to design a space, but there is a way to do it wrong–and if you create (or have created) a space that you don’t love–then it’s time to make a change! Maybe it is pretty, but totally unpractical. No bueno. Pretty is overrated if it doesn’t work well!! & Pretty is also totally subjective. You can create your own brand of pretty. & it’s best if you do just that!
As I sat down to start drawing up plans for the overall feel of our new house, I was admittedly overwhelmed. I never thought this would be a reality for our family. After such a disheartening house hunting experience, I never dreamed I would actually get to start from scratch on an old house & make it mine. & then it all happened so quickly that I had no choice but to dive right in & start making decisions. I had been collecting ideas here on pinterest for a very long time, but now that I actually had to decide and start prioritizing, I was looking through a whole new lens. An “um, I think I do but I am not sure and really? I can do THAT?! But wait, how much for those?” kind of lens. Reality. ;)
Each of the four homes we’ve owned/rented has taught me a valuable lesson in wants, dislikes and needs. From how I’d like the counter to meet the sink, to light floors being a non-negotiable, to how an open kitchen changes our family dynamic & each house played a significant contributing role in my decision making process for this home. I made a list of things I dreamed for it to be & have made every decision with them in mind–and I encourage you to do the same! Here is mine:
& with all of this in mind, I started creating. I always aim to make the complicated simple & I applied that same principle to this project. One style of door. Same flooring (mostly) throughout. Each bathroom has a specific feel, that is unique, but SIMPLE. I plan to pare down our belongings even further and not move anything into this house that we don’t need, that includes all the furniture I have been saving for “just the right house!” (SO easy to accumulate when you are a military family & you have no clue where you’ll end up next!) I have designed some built-ins that will allow further furniture purging, and I am striving really hard to achieve my goal of negative space in all rooms. Well. Except Caroline’s Room. There is nothing about her that says Negative Space. & I respect that. :)
My main goal for each room is to leave no corner unused, and no corner cluttered. Our new house, despite its dated and petite feel, checked so many of our functional boxes. It is a modest Ranch style house, with no more space than we need, and no less. Each room will have a specific functional purpose and everything has been designed to work with each room’s purpose in mind.
& whether you are moving into a new space, or simply dreaming up ways to better use yours–there are a few important question we can ask to make any space more functional. I ask all of my clients to give me thorough answers to these questions:
- What do we NEED to do in this space?
- What do we WANT to do in this space?
& if a space is not working, then we are probably not able to do what we NEED to do in it & it’s time to clear out, reorganize, and only bring back what will make it a useful space. Or maybe you even have spaces that are going completely unused–how can you reimagine them?
I walked through this house and identified each room’s purpose–and I cannot WAIT to walk you through it after we get the keys next week!! The Bedroom & Bath purposes are obvious. & we now have a little dedicated Office, which will serve as an adults only lounge space (or call room…ha!), craft room and dock for our laptops. We’ll have a Family Room that will be open to the kitchen, where we plan to read on the couch, hang as a family or watch TV. We’ll open the former Formal Living Room into this space and make it a playroom area for the kids, where they can build and draw and be kids. & off the new playroom, we have one more room, which will undergo the biggest change in function.
Originally a Formal Dining Room connected to the kitchen with an open doorway, this room is begging to be overhauled. We aren’t formal dining people. We don’t host dinner parties. A casual BBQ is more our style and I couldn’t see having a whole, beautiful room dedicated to an activity that is just not part of our routine. We’ll have a casual eat in kitchen & I am creating a bar top and that gives us all we need for dining function. & by losing a doorway to this space, this means I am gaining a whole wall of cabinets in the kitchen and getting a “flex” room, which I’ll turn into a guest room/reading nook. Way more function. & more on that later.
Sources clockwise: 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8
Once the floorpan was laid out & made sense, then I started looking at specifics. The footprint of the house screams cohesive & casual, yet private back in the bedroom wing. Unified (light in color!) flooring selections will help marry the living spaces & bedrooms. Elements of white and natural materials (stone/brick) will cozy up the living space. & the baths will have natural stone with elements of grey & white, and pops of color accessoried in, but not permanent parts of the design. I want a mix of metals, textures and layers. & of course, a beloved gallery wall or two will help add to the personalization of the space. The kitchen will be white, with a slightly contrasting backsplash. & with as much color as I love having in my life, the house bones & finishes will remain very neutral. I always recommend this–because our own personal, colorful touches can go a long way when added after the finishes are chosen! That whole house feel will be accomplished by the constant presence of white and interwoven materials. More on that as we break down the rooms. :) But I will save that, as we can go into more detail later in the process.
For now, I am out working hard to source all of the materials, inspired by my design boards, in real life & within budget. NO small task!! I can’t wait to share specifics with you! I’ve spent hours scrolling through materials online, which my husband does not understand. I find it enjoyable, and he loathes the process. But I believe you have to look at a LOT of rooms before you can decide what you really love. & that is what I will leave you with: be inspired by beautiful homes. Then take that inspiration, and create something beautiful of your own. The most important part of it all, is that it screams “YOU.” :)
Halloween is over and the candy is quickly leaving the house. Yup. GONE. You read that right. We subscribe to the “Switch Witch” method of candy purging. I let the kids pick a few pieces and then they give the rest to the Switch Witch & she swoops in and takes it off to candyland and leaves something educational behind. It’s the best way I have found to combat the candy crazies!
But I do love a good sweet indulgence now & then. (You didn’t think this blog was going to turn into JUST renovation stuff, now did you?!!! No way!) With my own Gluten Free restrictions, I have struggled to find edible cookies that don’t break the bank–so I resorted to experimenting in my own kitchen. After several years of tinkering, removing as much sugar as possible & tweaking ingredients, I finally came up with my go-to recipe. It is Gluten Free and Dairy Free. & everywhere I take them, I am begged for more. My friends who don’t eat GF/DF are always shocked to learn how clean they are, as far as ingredients go! They do not even require a mixer so that means the only dishes you have to clean are a mixing bowl and spoon! BIG WIN in my book. Here’s the infamous recipe!
Styleberry’s Gluten Free/Dairy Free Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen small cookies (but I recommend doubling the recipe–I promise you’ll want more!!)
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter (I like Costco’s Organic in the double pack)
- 1/3 to 1/2 c sugar (again, Costco’s organic cane sugar is my preferred brand–You you can play with how sweet you like them here by adding more or less sugar)
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup chocolate chips (I prefer Guittard Dark Chocolate chips)
- Sea Salt for dusting (I prefer the Eden Brand with the yellow top–it really makes a difference!)
- Parchment Paper
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Stir together the first five ingredients: Peanut Butter, Sugar, Egg, Baking Soda, Salt in a medium mixing bowl. A regular spoon will do! Make sure it is well blended. Then stir in chocolate chips.
- Roll into 1 inch balls (my kids’ favorite part!!) and place on parchment paper an inch or two apart. You can smoosh them down a bit with your thumb if you’d like.
- Bake at 350° for 12-14 minutes until they look a little puffy and are browning around the edges.
- Sprinkle with sea salt & let cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool or if, like me, you aren’t a lover of more dishes, you can slide the whole sheet of parchment off the hot baking sheet and onto the cool counter. :) They will break apart if you don’t let them cool, so be gentle & leave them be. If you can.
- I love to stack them in little mason jars & give them away as gifts with cute, seasonal cupcake holders under the mason jar ring.
- I almost always make 4 batches at once. These FLY out of my house & off my counters, if any are left behind. :)
- Are you a Paleo fanatic? Sub the PB for Almond butter and the sugar for your favorite sweetener.
- Make them little! They are super dense because of the egg + PB, so they tend to be enjoyed in small bites! Mine are usually no bigger than 2in in diameter.
I promise, these will not disappoint! Happy Holiday baking!!
I hope you all had a fun & festive Halloween last night! We spent ours in our new neighborhood and it did not disappoint! My kids were loaded with candy in under an hour and now…well…now we get to sort & purge the sugar! WOAH November. It’s hard to believe it’s here already. Closing day is around the corner!!
Every day I drive by the house that will soon be ours to tear apart. With each passing day, we get closer and closer to the big start. & while that sounds so exciting (and it is!) it is also terrifying. HGTV does an incredible job of taking you through a massive remodel in 30-60 minutes. & when we think of “fixer upper” we think of Joanna saying so nonchalantly “this wall goes, and this wall goes, and we’ll move the kitchen around like this…” but what does that really mean? How does she know that can be done? & on THAT budget? HOW? & those are some things I have been encouraged by my curious friends to share here. Because as fun & exciting as this process is, there is a LOT of grit and thought that goes into it. & decisions. SO many decisions.
One huge lesson I have learned so far is just how much time it takes to start this process. So let me walk you through it. & be mindful–we haven’t even closed on the property yet. Our offer was accepted just TWO weeks ago. We plan to start renovations the day after closing, so as to max our budget and only pay for two houses for as few days/weeks as possible. So here’s how it’s gone so far–and worth noting is the amount of time that I, along with my awesome realtor, have spent during each of these things.
- Make an offer on the property + negotiations
- Sign contract
- Inspection (property + insect, separate charges). This happens during the option period of the deal, so we know as much as possible about the property & know what we are dealing with. Time cost: 4 hours (of both me & my realtor’s time) with our very thorough inspection team. We received a full report on the property from them & another from the insect company and were able to further negotiations based on findings.
- We hired a Structural Engineer + Plumber, based on the recommendation of the inspector, to get an even fuller picture of the property. Based on several things he flagged while on the premises, this recommendation was a very wise idea. So I booked both to come at the same time one morning. Time cost: 3 hours. Also note: this is all out of MY pocket $$ wise! However, by hiring all of these professionals, we were able to negotiate the price down well beyond what they cost us, and we have the benefit of knowing there isn’t anything hidden in this old house that we have to be fearful of down the road.
- Structural Engineer: she (Yes, she! Love that!) came in & surveyed the sloping in our foundation. She also went in the attic and noted which walls we could actually remove. One in the kitchen was a must for me & it got the green light. But a second I wanted to remove got a thumbs down. So we’ll work with a cased opening, you know, so the roof doesn’t collapse. One thing that I was naive about, thanks to Joanna Gaines, is the reality of “just moving the header up higher.” She talks a lot about this on the show–but in reality, it is not always possible. I would love for this wall to completely go away, but per the structural engineer, there is no safe way to push this beam up into the attic and keep the house standing. So I will listen to that & have my dreams of this huge open space crushed (kidding). Ha! But the big lesson: you cannot remove every wall. Duh. In all, the engineer cleared the foundation, advised on the removal of walls and noted some settling issues that cause trouble with drainage/flooding.
- Plumber: I had no idea plumbers could be so helpful! What a good idea it was to feed cameras through our pipes. We noted some major issues in the backyard heading to the sewer line and were able to take his report to further negotiate on the property & the extensive repairs that would eventually need to be done.
- Contractors. I am going to glaze over this for now, and will share more once I learn more –as we are not yet under contract–but so far, I have learned that communication is everything. I used word of mouth to find four people to bid on our property. Two of them went MIA and either are too busy or just don’t care about our job. The way I see it is, if we have trouble communicating during the bidding process, I get very worried about engaging in a contract on the job. Each contractor took at least 1.5 hours at the house, with me AND my realtor (remember–I still do not have keys!) to measure and walk through my design plan with me. So 1.5 hrs x 4–let’s round up and say it took nearly 8 hours of contractor walk throughs. I scheduled them too close together the first day, so I wasn’t able to devote full attention to one at a time. So planning on each visit to take two hours is a fair estimate on a project of our scope.
- Design Plan. This is probably the biggest lesson that I have learned so far: YOU HAVE TO HAVE A PLAN. Contractors are not designers. They will look to you for all the decisions and bids will only be close to correct if you are explicit about what you want. Lucky for me, this is what I LOVE to do. But as I spend more & more of my time thinking about all the details, I can see how completely overwhelming it would be for someone who doesn’t love this kind of work. I am designing eleven rooms at once–three bedrooms, one office, one flex/guest room, one family room (with a fireplace/mantle demo), one playroom, one kitchen, one mud/laundry room and two bathrooms to the studs. & it is no small task. At all. I cannot even begin to estimate how much time it has taken for me to take current measurements, design accordingly and think realistically about how we can use the home to its fullest. I have spent HOURS on pinterest & houzz & google gathering ideas and putting them in a document to give to my contractors as they bid, so we can be as close to the same vision as possible. The footprint of the space came first. Now I am pouring over finishes and begin sourcing the materials (flooring, tile, counters, cabinets, appliances, fixtures) this week. Worth noting: we have a little over two weeks until close.
- Phasing. This is important to think about. It is often unrealistic that you can do all renovations at once. Well, maybe if you have gobs of money, but we are a normal family, with a modest budget. We bought really low for our neighborhood, leaving us a decent amount of our total housing budget to pour into renovations. But we are not going to be living outside of our means to make this renovation happen. That sounds terrifying. So part of what I have done is develop phasing. For example, what I cannot live without right now is flooring, windows, electrical, a new kitchen & baths. Phase II–we’re looking at the beautiful built-ins that I am dreaming of that surround the bright & sunny window in the front. & the mudroom. I want to get the floor footprint of each room right so we can get the floors correct now, but the future built-ins will likely have to wait because let’s be honest: if we are responsible, eventually we will run out of money. & we will have to stop. & we are conservative–so we will spend what we have allotted, and not a penny more and wait on the rest. & that will be ok.
[the pristine 1961 white kitchen!]
Don’t get me wrong, this is a super duper fun & exciting process but I hope to bring to you a realistic, not thirty minute version of the job. I am not working with clients right now so I can manage this project–and that is also a hidden cost. But for me–this process is invaluable. I am learning so very much & feel like the on-the-job training that I am grinding through right now will be such a great benefit to my business. I love solving puzzles and creating high functioning spaces. Pretty & Practical. Of course. & what a dream this into do!!
I am currently beginning to partner with companies and vendors as we move through this process. If you have a company or brand that you just LOVED for anything from flooring to tile to appliances to farm sinks, I would love to hear from you. I really enjoy learning about new vendors and look forward to sharing those that I have chosen to trust and recommend to you. If you are one of those vendors–please shoot me an email! I can always be reached at shawna at styleberry creative dot com. I want to hear from you!
[I will take you on a full tour when we close, but here are some peeks! We are knocking down all the walls that would hold a TV, so the current puzzle is how to make this wall function as an entertainment wall, with an off center fireplace, deep cabinets on the left, and a zero depth wall on the right–as we can’t push back due to the HVAC. Puzzles galore!!]
If you have any questions along the way, please ask! I promise to do a better job of answering than I have in my prior blogging days. I would also like to learn from you. Got any renovation tips you have learned or wish you knew before starting? It’s a wild ride & I am so happy to have you along here with me!!
It’s been a whirlwind. The last few months have been nuts. & I sound like a broken record nearly every time I write here, but I am convinced that nothing in life happens by accident. I view our current unsettled living situation quite the same way–and the last month has brought me the strangest mix of coincidence/fate/opportunities.
When we first moved back to San Antonio we were pretty adamant about living on post for a while. There are really beautiful homes on Ft. Sam Houston and the proximity to what matters to us here in the city could not be beat. Living in St. Louis city taught me that I prefer to be as close to the museums/restaraunts/activities as possible. Right now, suburbia is not where I want to be. As I mentioned before, we sat & sat on the waitlist and were told it would be a 6-12 month wait. So when we arrived, we found a rental property in a neighborhood that came highly recommended to us, not too far away. & as we [sort of] settled into this neighborhood, we started to really define what we valued. Atop this list was (1) a non-freeway commute to school/work (2) a nice larger, private lot + mature trees & (3) an open floorplan. An on post house only met one of those criteria. & ultimately, not to be ignored, was the significant change in my family dynamic while I cooked (which I do a LOT!) and my children played elsewhere. I had no clue what the value of being in sight while they played was–and how often they would come help me cook when they saw me working in the kitchen. This also translated into eating more of what I made, because they had a hand in preparing it. Very valuable lesson: floorpans matter. Big time.
We are not thrilled with our rental. & we want to settle. So now what. What do we do?!
We opt to send our kids to private school here, which means that our budget for a home is much less than it could be. This choice substantially limits our options, particularly with the rising home prices in this area. Since we left two years ago, housing has gone up 20-30% and San Antonio is growing by the day. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was even a smart idea to buy at this time. I knew that we would have to get creative, be open minded and just explore any options that came on our radar.
So we started looking at properties close to our budget and walked away nearly every time, really disappointed. The neighborhood we are drawn to is an older neighborhood, and the property values are much higher than those “outside the loops” we we say down here. Basically, if you are willing to drive far, in any direction, you can have (or sometimes build) a brand new home for as much as you can rent an apartment. BUT, if you want to live “in the loop,” then you get an old, ugly house that needs WORK. & not just a little work. When you live in Texas it is really easy to forget that old is beautiful. & this neighborhood is most definitely an acquired taste. With a side of maintenance.
One Thursday morning I saw a sign for an estate sale down the street. It was at a property that my realtor had suggested I look at, but I told her no. It was so so ugly from the street that I wouldn’t even consider it. But an estate sale? Sure! I went treasure hunting. But as I walked around the house, I started getting distracted from the tables of crystal and milk glass. Aside from the different flooring in every room–from rust carpet to laminate to…the list goes on–this property had really good bones. Based on the white grout lines in the mauve second bathroom, and the pristine mint tiles in the master, I could tell it was a very well cared for home. The layout was good, the kitchen could easily be opened up. The backyard was a wall of green. & that is not something you see very much here in San Antonio.
I left empty handed, and really, really excited.
I dragged my family through the next day while the sale was still going on. & then I went back again the last day. & then, the same day my realtor set sail out of the country, we decided to put in an offer. I could not stop thinking about what I could make the house become. It was not big, but it didn’t feel too small. The budget would work. It was private and the yard was shaded, but the house was still bright. There was room for a garden. & after negotiating, at noon on Friday we signed the papers. We were under contract. & then, at 4:47 pm that same day, the phone rang.
It was the housing office on post. & they offered me a home on Ft. Sam.
I mean. (!!!!!!!!!!)
My stomach turned. I asked if we could think about it and get back to her. My husband was in the OR and I couldn’t reach him. I mulled over it. I took some deep breaths. & really thought hard. When I finally heard from him, his response to my “omg, you are not going to believe this…” was “Yeah, so. Call her back and decline it.” No brainer for him. & it should have been for me. Our reasons for this project were clear in so many ways. Maybe we didn’t get a house on post right away for just this reason–because of this property. Maybe we had to live in this neighborhood to know what we would be missing if we moved on post. Maybe I needed to live here so I could take off my “only new and really old is beautiful” goggles and see these mid century homes as something that could work for our family. They are not unlike many that I’ve seen on Fixer Upper. & those can become amazing. But could we do it? Is this a good time in our life, and marriage, to do this?
Many of those questions I will not know the answer to for many years. But the ball is rolling. I am diving in. Contractor bids. Floorplan restructuring. Cabinet and flooring and tiles and…and…and…!!
Aside from the major stress that this will put on us, it is a really fun process. Nothing is as important to me than nurturing my family, in my home. MY home. & as I always say–I feel the feels, dream the dreams and he, my partner, does the math. & that is what it comes down to. Our project will have phases. But if the deal goes through, and all wheels are on track, my white kitchen is several months away.
& I really, really hope to take you with me on this renovation adventure. I am learning so much already. Want to come along for the ride? :)
If you wish, you can always follow along on my reno pinterest board–which I am relying on daily for direction & inspiration! Pinch me!!!
& for those of you who have been through this process before, I would love, love love to learn from you. If you have any advice for me, or words of wisdom or even just a story about your new old home–I’d love to hear it. :)
I am not a “move in a little” kind of person. When we land, we LAND. & that house becomes home. I am trying very hard to do the same here in my current short term rental (one more room to paint!) but our home in St. Louis was a really joyful place for me. So much there was hard, but we hit the jackpot with our rental. Our landlord let me have free reign with the house and after painting every inch, it definitely felt like home. It is by far my favorite house we’ve ever lived in, despite the really hard chapter we lived in it. The home’s abundance of natural light was always a bright spot amongst a lot of gloomy days. & Everett’s room may have been my favorite. You already saw Caroline’s Rainbow Room, but this–this was ALL boy. The yin to her girly yang. & it was SO fun to create!
After creating Everett’s gender neutral nursery, I was so excited to create a true BOY room. I went all in. Inspired by his love of all things construction, and his obsession with blue, this room was a joy to curate. I collected most of it before we moved to St. Louis and he spent nearly a year in his crib (which was where the tee pee is in these images) before it transformed into his big boy room. I’ll link sources at the end. :)
I fell in love with the idea of a deep almost teal Blue after reading one of our favorite books, Sidney Stella and the Moon by Emma Yarlett. I always find one item that is the inspiration for my whole color palette–and this beautiful book was it!
Despite the color chip above, the wall color is Jazz Club by Allen + Roth (ar2105), which I found to be the perfect deep moody blue with a hint of teal. It’s not a true navy–there is definitely some green in there, which is part of why I love it.
It wouldn’t be a space of mine without just the right eclectic gallery wall. :) We love filling our home with things that make us happy–and pictures are the first things that make it feel like home. & mismatched pillows. My love of mismatched pillows runs deep.
This teepee is just the bold pop I had dreamed when I first laid eyes on it. It belonged in a room like this and it it my fave! There is nothing better than decorating with beautiful books–so I built another set of these bookshelves to help foster his love of reading that we all value so much. Who can resist those bright books? :)
I also ran into a tricky challenge, as the window frame here was smack up against the corner of this wall. I actually ran the galvanized pipe straight into the wall instead of using an elbow joint like you see on the right. Problem solved! Whew.
I am always on a mission to make themes look modern & fun–not so theme-y. E still calls this his “digger room” and there are just a few hints of his beloved construction equipment. A little goes a long way!
- Bed: Pottery Barn Belden Bed + Dresser (scored 80% off at the PB outlet in San Marcos!) It doesn’t look like this color is available anymore.
- Duvet: West Elm Ticking Stripe in Horseradish
- Sheets: Circo by Target
- Euro Shams: Ralph Lauren from HomeGoods
- Geometric Pillow: Paisley Sprouts
- Patchwork Rag Quilt: Etsy seller, no longer in business
- Watercolor Construction Art: Flights by Number
- Curtains: West Elm
- Galvanized Rod: Lowe’s
- Lamp: HomeGoods
- Tee Pee: Land of Nod
- Pillows in TeePee: West Elm
- Name Pillow: Anna Joy French
- Wire basket: HomeGoods
- Mobile: Gifts Define (remember it here?!! Oh, he was so little!)
- Arrow Marquis Light: PB Kids
- Wire Wall Buckets: HomeGoods
- Wall Color: Jazz Club by Allen + Roth (ar2105)
*please know, many of these items were purchased 3+ years ago–but may still be available if you try hard enough.
I think that’s everything. Who ever said girls were more fun than boys surely never decorated a construction loving little boy’s room–and watched him gasp at the big machines on beloved BLUE walls! SO so FUN!! :)
It was Wednesday night & it was gymnastics night. After two hours sitting in a small enclosed space, giving smiles and thumbs ups through the window, I was done. & every single week, the same scenario happened and I braced myself for my rage.
You see, Wednesday often felt like the rest of the world’s Friday. Fellowship life means there is no typical work week, because there are no days off. & as many of you moms know–every day is a work day. It was a solo-parent marathon. Year seven. Eight if you count that year I was pregnant. Everett’s part time Preschool was W-F, which meant I was solo, 24/7 parent from Saturday-Wednesday with no backup. By Wednesday when I dropped them both off at school, it was all I could do to just sit and keep it together. To take a breath with someone not needing me for like, a second, was divine. It was my recovery. I made a point to go recharge every Wednesday morning at my favorite coffee shop and spend an hour or two writing in my journal, reading my latest book or catching up on texts/emails with friends. It was MY time & nothing got in the way. It was blocked off on my calendar. BUSY. No exceptions. By noon on Wednesdays, my cortisol level had dropped to a reasonable level and I was ready to weather the inevitable frustrations of another long week, knowing I had two more days to work or get uninterrupted housework/grocery shopping/errands done.
But then there was Wednesday night.
It was enough for me to have to sit for two hours straight (dreadful!!) but at the end of our two hour gymnastics classes there was this family. & every week, this family did me in. & let me make it clear–my rage had nothing, not a single thing to do with this sweet family. It was me. MY current state of angry, that was probably written all over my face, that was the problem.
When you have a husband who regularly works 14-21 days straight, then gets maybe one day off (to sleep), who has a regular 3:30am-10pm workday with a pager ringing all night on the days he actually gets to sleep in his own bed– your worldview gets pretty jacked up. This results in having a little two-year-old boy excitedly pointing to the hospital as we drive by, declaring “that’s where daddy lives!” Yeah. Awesome. To which I try to explain that where daddy sleeps is his home, and he sleeps at our house. “Not aw-ways,” says that little blue eyed boy. & I realize that I have to find a better answer, that most nights his dad did come home, he has come and gone while his children were asleep. Home is where Daddy’s family is, I explain. But I am not sure he ever believed me.
(image by Kate L Photography)
I digress. Back to Furious Wednesdays.
So as I am sitting there in this stuffy gymnastics viewing area, waiting for a text from my husband (one of two each day I’d usually receive on time–signaling the end of his second 6-8 hours long case–heart surgery is no joke) I watched this family. & the fire would start to burn. This sweet dad always arrived about 30 minutes before their classes started. (hot button one: DAD WAS AT GYMNASTICS–BEFORE KIDS ARRIVE!! I mean…!) He was clearly coming straight from work and brought Chick Fil A dinner for the whole family. (hot button two: THE DAD SUPPLIED DINNER!I can’t even…) Then all on his own, he set out the sticky mat, and arranged his wife and daughters’ food and cut the berries into little pieces and had it all arranged in a neat little foursome before she even arrived. (by this time I probably had my jaw on the ground or pursed lips, depending on the week…) & then, he went and stood by the door. He waited for his wife’s minivan to arrive and he went out and GOT THE KIDS. (can you imagine?!!!) I mean, like, she didn’t carry a single child into gymnastics. & dinner was all ready to go when she got there. (and that is when my eyes probably turned red.) One week I overheard her complain that he got her the wrong thing and it took everything in my power not to turn and smile (probably with tears welling in my eyes) and scold her for her lack of gratitude. She had a husband, there at gymnastics, who brought DINNER and SET IT UP FOR HER. I cannot count on one hand the times my husband was home for dinner over the course of that last YEAR of fellowship. He never made it to see my kids gymnastics. He was never there. At all. It was me. Always, just me. & my kids. And watching this perfectly sweet, loving family just…hurt. & that hurt, felt like anger.
The part of the story that, in retrospect, still tugs at me is that I couldn’t be happy for them. All I could do was be angry. I was just…Angry. With a capital A. Or maybe all caps. Probably for the better part of two years (seven if I am being honest) because there was a massive, gaping hole in my life.
(image by Kate L Photography)
I think all too often we overlook the very real challenge that medical training is for a family. We cling to the “it gets better” fallacy and hold on to our family, our marriages–for dear life. & pray to God we make it through. Many don’t. It’s painfully obvious that medicine and marriage are two things that don’t go together very well. We had more than our fair share of “D word” arguments over the last several years and now that I have had a couple of months of family time, for the first time ever, I can see exactly why. Our life was not sustainable the way it was. It just wasn’t. & if I had reached a point where I was absolutely, 100% ok with only seeing my husband from 4:15-4:30 am and for ten minutes at night (maybe) before he
fell asleep passed out, my marriage would have been over.
We fought about dumb shit. We fought about big shit. We were both in such a place of stress and anger, carrying workloads well beyond our capacity, that it could not have gone any other way–except divorce, had we not cared enough to fight at all. & I really believe that to be true. There was a brief point of apathy that crept in and I tried so hard to shut it down. I kept telling myself that the moment I stopped caring, it was over. & I really freaking cared. Things just never seemed to go our way. Days off ripped away, stuck doing busy work at the hospital, pulled to rounds by another attending all the while missing another event/holiday/birthday/celebration/day together.
Residency/Fellowship sucked. It almost broke us. & I want to share this because I really, really want those of you walking this path behind us to know that you are not alone. Because it can feel lonely–doing life without a partner. No one can fill that void.
I tried so very hard to be optimistic (it’s my nature) but I am also not a sugar coater. Managing expectations of the resident/fellow spouse is a very practical way to handle this lifestyle, but how do you thrive when you get to a point where you must have ZERO expectations of your partner? My answer: you can’t. You either decide to get through the suck together, or you give up. Both are ok. It’s a choice. We watched it go both ways for colleagues, yearly.
Back in premarital counseling some 13 years ago, our pastor counseled us on two things that still stick with me. How lucky we were to have him. But I think of them often. They are:
#1: Marriage is not 50/50. It never will be, so you must accept the fact that it will always be off balance, one way or the other. You have to find a balance, or rhythm of imbalance that works for you.
#2: MD: Marriage Daily. One of us may have a real MD after our name, but let it be a reminder that there is another one that deserves an equal amount of respect: Marriage Daily.
There was no Marriage Daily in residency or fellowship. We were depleted and alone and found it very, very difficult to tap into any balance whatsoever. But here we are, eight years of training later and we’re exploring a new groove. A new version of Marriage Daily.
I can now look at intact families without rage, because I am healing my gaping hole. The anger is fading. The burying of so many emotions over such a long time period is stopping. & I am starting to share the load for the first time ever as a mother. I have never had anyone else in the house to do the dishes or put kids in the bath. To hug a little person in tears or read that story just one more time. Or even to snuggle at the end of another exhausting day without feeling like I needed to be somewhere else, doing something “more productive.” I even just ordered two more car seats (can you imagine?!!) We’ve never needed them. Ever. My husband never drove the kids anywhere by himself. He was never with them by himself. That one day off he had every couple of weeks included a lot of that passing out I mentioned earlier. I couldnt leave. He’d fall asleep–and how couldn’t he? Home was the only place he could be where no one was going to die on his watch. It was insane. & I can’t imagine functioning on his (lack of) sleep schedule. But life is changing. I even left on a Saturday to a brunch for our new school and went without hiring a babysitter. He was home on a WEEKEND. & I could leave, alone. First time EVER.
Sound familiar? It takes this life to know this life. Some people never understand. Why you have to get off the phone the second your husband rings through or walks in the door. Why you don’t share vacation time with anyone. The time is so precious. SO precious. There is never enough.
So this story, my story, is shared for all of you still trying to survive, alone. Time & time again you’ll hear me talk of “seasons.” That residency/fellowship season was the worst. There was so much good, but there was a whole lotta ugly. But it’s over. This season comes with new challenges, new separations, new expectations, new responsibilities. But it’s different. It’s not smooth sailing, but nothing compares to training.
They say you learn a lot about yourself in the darkness of life. That the tough stuff defines you. & I know this to be true. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I did not live the last few years how I did. None of this is an accident. I am convinced that Everett didn’t sleep as a baby so I would have infinite compassion for my husband, who regularly stayed awake for 36 hours straight. I am convinced that I landed in St. Louis to learn several big lessons. Because as shitty as life was there, I met some truly beautiful people who enriched my life, and my children’s lives, in ways I never expected. My restlessness there took me out into the forest where my kids and I explored and we got the itch to adventure and make that a regular part of our lives forever. It led me to tell color stories in living rooms that weren’t mine where I explored my creativity in a new professional way. The loneliness in such an insular culture made me so grateful for my inclusive community of givers in Texas, a community that I have jumped right back into. Like I had never left. I didnt realize what I had until I was gone. Funny how that happens. It also made me grateful for all the encouragers I have had along the way. Those who have supported me and cheered me on and continued to reassure me in my darkest hour. I am on the other side now. It’s my time to give.
I am not sure what life will continue to hold for me here in San Antonio. Now that the days of being a resident wife and fellowship wife are over, I am now married to the attending. Weird. Military medicine is full of different challenges than civilian physicians face, so we are navigating this new life and figuring out how it is all going to work. I am giving myself a couple of months to settle into our new routine. We opted to rent for the first year here while we decide where to put down our roots, exactly. So this, dated, dark rental poses new creative challenges. & our new school community is an active one. So there is no shortage of ways to fill my time. I am pretty sure I will not be taking any new clients until after the new year. We’ll see. My kids are both in school full time now, & my house isn’t that big. So I may get the itch after I finish painting the whole thing. Which will probably happen next week. A restless creative I am. Always. :)
Here are a few resources for those of you in the thick of residency or fellowship training. Hang in there. Being married to medicine is hard. But as one of my medical friends always said, “you can’t stop time!” It will end. Promise. Sending you a big hug & wishing you a post call day soon!
& I know I have shared this before–but it is so great and spot on & I want to share it as much as I can because it is an excellent, excellent resource.
Thanks for sticking around & visiting this dusty ‘ol blog. She’s due for an upgrade. Eventually. You know, in all my spare time. Until then, you can always catch me on Instagram. :)
Where did these two years go?! We’re almost packing boxes again. This is crazy!!
Several months ago I shared with you my big decision to say YES to a large Interior Styling project and since then, life has looked a bit different. This blog has stayed stagnant (despite the promise of a revival). My floors are a little messier. I am cooking bigger meals, less often. & there has been a shift. A shift of my focus, my heart and my hands. & it hasn’t included much of the internet. I have taken to my new Instagram to share tidbits of my life, but in an ever decreasing “face time” world, I have found myself seeking these real life interactions more than ever. Face to face work, not behind the computer work. & My work is steady, and it has nothing to do with the computer. To say this website is a few steps behind my real life work is an understatement, but one I am strangely proud of. Face to face work is what is filling my soul right now.
As we are ending the hardest chapter of our medical training life in a mere 84 days, life is going to change yet again. We still have no official orders back to Texas, but that is where we’ve been verbally confirmed for my husband’s next assignment. Despite all logical thought, I keep taking on projects that I know will make me smile–and they do. They are squeezed, squished and snuck in my three days a week without kiddos running around and I truly feel like I have found my life’s work, beyond mothering. I have so many color stories to tell. So much inspiration that needs to come out of my head and into a home. I love making homes beautiful. I love the challenge and the puzzle that each space is–and I love helping families create functional, beautiful spaces. Pretty & Practical is always my motto. & making spaces pretty & practical is what I LOVE to do. So that is what I am doing. & even though it is quiet around this internet space of mine, there is nothing quiet about my life. (Except my daily 5am yoga practice. THAT is quiet that is non-negotiable!)
So thank you for popping back in! Thank you for still cheering me on. Thank you for continuing to share my ever evolving message that finds its way from me to you on this blog, or most likely, Instagram. May you be ever-evolving & sharing your talents, too!
Much of my blogging & internet time has been replaced with books. Real books from the library. & a few inspirational magazines that I love. I have read a few books that I HIGHLY recommend–& you might enjoy them, too!
- The Fringe Hours (an excellent nudge toward making time for you, despite busy mama life.)
- The Four Agreements (a good reminder of how to “be a better person.”)
- Flow Magazine (an inspiring, creative haven)
- How to Raise an Adult (the BEST, BEST book I have read in a long time. This qualifies as one of the very few books that I want to own. It has changed me, how I parent, and how I look toward the future education of my children. If you read one book this year, let this be it! The second half is the best.)
How can you argue with THAT?!
As we wrap up our time here in St. Louis, I am a very mixed bag of emotions. This season has given us some pretty spectacular relationship lows (as most resident/fellow wives can relate, especially as you weather the eighth year of solo life + parenting). But our stay here has also been rich with programs and museums and nature to enjoy with young children. Have I mentioned how GREEN it is here?! It is really a very beautiful city, with a lot of complicated social issues that permeate the culture. I will look back on this time grateful to be in a place where we had so much to do, but very excited for what comes next for our family. I’m not sad to leave. I am elated/relieved/nervous about the end of 6 yrs of a surgical residency and two years of fellowship. It is time to be done. We must move on. I will most certainly be doing a Mom’s Guide to STL, much like I did for San Antonio before we left. We have done SO much here! & I can’t wait to update the SA one, now that we are in big kid land & all we need to be happy is grass and maybe some sticks, wildflowers to pick and trees to climb. Big kid life is pretty freaking awesome.
- The stylebabyLOG is still available! You can purchase here. I will be disabling purchasing as it gets close to our move & during our transition, likely through summer 2016. So if you need it before next Fall, now’s the time!
- My passion for child literacy is keeping my Usborne Book Group hopping! I feature a book a week & share what we love about it. You can join the group here–it is zero pressure. My only goal is to help you get awesome books into the hands of curious kids. If you’d rather skip the group and go straight to shopping, you can shop here.
- I am not booking any more Interior Styling projects in STL, but plan to open my calendar in San Antonio starting Fall of 2016. I have several projects lined up already, but you can email me if you’d like more information (or to get on my client list) anytime at shawna at styleberrycreative dot com.
Back in the day I used to do a lot of DIY tutorials around here. It’s been awhile since I walked you though one and after sharing it on IG & getting some “yes, please teach me!” feedback–I thought I would do a super simple one. I love easy projects. & this is such a great one for this time of year!
It’s cold out & the kids want to play outside. Their little faces get cold despite all the bundling & I don’t know about you–but I am not a big fan of scarves for kids. All that extra fabric and years of preaching “don’t tie ANYTHING around your neck” led me to a better option. Could I buy one? Sure. Maybe that’s what works for you. Go for it! But just as all my sewing projects come to be, I arrived here out of necessity. Do I love sewing? NO. But… (a) I couldn’t find the color I (they) wanted & (b) I could make it waaaaay cheaper than I could buy it. & I need a few. Quickly. So here’s how we did it!*
*I am a self taught sew-er and I am sure there is a better way to do this/explain this, but this is my version!
DIY KIDS GAITER
- fleece: I found ours on sale super cheap at Hobby Lobby (check the remnants bin!) & I bought 1/2 yard for each child. I let them choose their own patterns so they’d be able to pick them out of the pile of snow gear at school
- sewing machine
- measuring tape
- Cut fabric into a rectangle.
- For my 3yo, I cut a 17″ x 21″ rectangle
- For my 6yo, I cut a 19″x 22″ rectangle
- Fold fabric in half, so the short (17/19″) sides are touching, right sides together. This will be the seam up the back of the neck, as the longer length will make the circle around your child’s neck.
- Sew down the short side. Double check that the right sides are together before you sew.
- Now fold your “donut” so the seam you just sewed is half on the inside, half on the outside of your folded donut. (It kind of looks like a tortellini) The ends of the seam you just sewed will touch, causing the fabric to be open on one side and seamless on the top, where it will touch your child’s face.
- Check to make sure you can get the “donut” over your child’s head.
- Now it’s time to sew it shut.
- Fold the unfinished fabric under, top and bottom. Pin both folded sides together, as pictured.
- Sew up this seam. I used a zig zag stitch on my machine for this part & pulled the stretchy fleece fabric a bit as I went, so it was a little wider at the bottom than the top, for ease of getting over heads.
There you have it! Now my kiddos are ready for their winter adventures! I spent $1.85 on each half yard of fabric–from which I can get 2-3 gaiters– making these workhorses well under a dollar each. Since noses get extra snotty when it’s cold, it’s awesome to always have a clean one on hand.
Oh, & we made the headband she is wearing too! Click here for the DIY Non Slip Headband. :)
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