Living With Kids: Jill Pauli
I’m so excited to introduce you guys to Jill. She’s a mom, an artist, a scientist, an entrepreneur, and so much more. You’re going to love her intentionally-small home in the San Francisco Bay area. It’s full of light and art, two of the most important ingredients in making a home beautiful. What makes it even more special is that a lot of Jill’s art is either made by her, or by people she loves. How great is that?
Hello! We’re the Pauli family. I’m Jill: a mom, scientist, designer, blogger, maker of things, stay-at-home mom, and work-from-home mom. Confused? Yeah, me too! It seems sometimes like how I define myself changes by the day. In what seems like a past life, I was a scientist working in a laboratory. Yet, I’ve always loved to create things, to draw, to sew, and make things with my hands. For a long time I shoved that part of me aside. That’s changed now. I’ve been exploring creative pursuits more often lately, but I also take on market research consulting work, often for life science companies. I’m still working on trying to find the right level of balance… if such a thing even exists!
My husband, Esteban, is a computer scientist. He’s the music enthusiast of the family, the one most likely to be found taking a nap in the afternoon, and the one who brings home pie for pi day (March 14th). Esteban was born in Argentina and moved to California when he was 9. After he came to the US, Esteban and I lived 5 minutes apart from each other—but we never met until we were 17 and were seniors in high school! We ended up at the same college (UC Davis), and started dating more officially then. We went separate ways for graduate school (he went to Illinois and I went to Maryland), but eventually we ended up married in Maryland while I finished up my degree. We’ve been married for 10 years now and are back in California raising two wonderful daughters, Lu and Ellie.
Lu, age 7, is a thinker. She’s also artistic, emotional, and dramatic…. when she’s not reading, that is! Her favorite thing in the world is to sit quietly and curl up with a good book. I am so incredibly grateful for libraries, because keeping this child stocked up with books is an almost impossible task. The last time I tried to leave the library with a bag full of books she begged me to get more, telling me, “But mom! I need more! There is just so much I don’t know!” I hope she keeps that attitude into her teens!
Ellie, age 5, is full of energy and is the clown of the family. She’s constantly running around the house (and usually begging her sister to put down her book and come play with her). She has so much love in her that she hugs you with every part of her body… even her toes!
Esteban and I both agree our family feels complete now — even if that means there likely won’t be an Esteban VI. (Can you believe my husband is the fifth Esteban in his family?!) Yikes. It just makes me glad that it’s not the female that’s responsible for sex determination! We may add a dog at some point though. Ellie wakes us up every morning asking us, “Is today the day I’m going to get a puppy?” We’ve held our ground so far, but I fear our resistance may be failing!
We live in Livermore, which is a little town a little over an hour east of San Francisco in the East Bay. I can’t say how much I LOVE this little town. We’re close enough to San Francisco to have many big city amenities available to us, but Livermore itself has a small town feel. Our town is surrounded by several cool wineries and hills full of grapevines (which are especially beautiful in the fall when the grape leaves change color!) My husband works nearby, and I work from home, so most days we are completely oblivious to big city problems like horrible traffic!
One thing we aren’t immune to though is the high cost of living here. We bought our house in 2011 at one of the “low” points in the housing market. We paid $450,000 which, at the time, seemed so outrageous for a tiny ranch house built in the early 1970’s. Now our house would sell probably for upwards of $750K though! It’s insane! We wouldn’t be able to afford to buy our house today.
We moved to Livermore in 2010. It was huge (and rather nauseating) jump for us. At the time my oldest daughter was about a year old and we were living in Maryland. We loved where lived, but one night Esteban and I started talking about how living closer to family was a priority for us. Literally the next morning I called a realtor to begin the process to sell our townhouse in Maryland. My husband started sending out job applications by handfuls. We sold our house before we even had a job offer in CA.
Eventually everything fell in to place and we were able to move back to California, but it was a very nerve-racking time for us! We knew that we might never be able to make the move if the right job offer didn’t come in, but we positioned ourselves in the best possible way to make it happen. We’re so glad that we made the move when we did, and the whole experience taught us how important it is sometimes to take the step out of our comfort zone to make really big changes in our everyday lives.
I’m pretty sure that our realtor thought we had lost our minds when we were looking for houses. I mean, really, who in their right minds decides to look for the SMALLEST house that meets their needs rather than the biggest house that they can afford? We had good reasons though. We wanted to have money to fix up any house we bought, and still be able to have money available for other experiences such as travel.
We went looking for the smallest house we could live in comfortably. We ended up with something a bit smaller, but that was ok because we had plans to expand it! When we bought our house it was 1150 square feet and had a pool. We’ve since added on about 350 square feet and filled in that really, really cold pool that we never used. Now at about 1500 square feet our house feels perfect for us.
While I sometimes grumble about having to clean out our closets multiple times a year, I’m also glad that the size of our house prevents me from accumulating too much stuff!
Almost all of the art in my house is made by someone in my family! That’s partially because it’s a thrifty way to decorate our walls, but it’s also because homemade art makes our house feel more like our home. Somehow along the way making art became something that I really liked to do. We’re also lucky to have a few art pieces from my husband’s grandfather and my mother hanging on our walls! My mom painted these lovely little kids around the world canvases for my kids playroom. They are colorful and happy and totally make me smile.
I grew up watching my mother watercolor (and she’s way better than I’ll ever be!). My mom also made big colorful billboards for my elementary school with pastels. I think my love of art came largely from her, and I really wanted to pass that love on to my own kids. Experimenting with art with my kids is one of my absolute favorite things to do. This summer we’ve been doing a summer art series with my kids and it’s been so fun!
I started blogging about 4 years ago to share some of our creative pursuits. At the time I really felt like I needed to force myself to explore that creative side of myself. I realize now that when I’m stressed or overwhelmed, my therapy is creating things with my hands. I wish I could say that I was the type of person who needed to go to the gym, or run a marathon (you know, something healthy for me) but I’m just not. Crafting and creating is my outlet. I still drag myself to the gym though. It’s just the worst 45 minutes of my day. Hah!
I recently opened an etsy shop and society6 shop. I equate opening these shops a bit with our decision to pick up our lives in Maryland and move back to California. It feels a bit frightening to me, but it’s a way for me to say to myself that “I’m committing myself to this path”. I think it’s hard to put yourself “out there” when you don’t have a ton of training in what you do; when it comes to art and photography I’m mostly self-taught and that feels scary sometimes. I have so much to learn, so I spend my spare time trying to learn as much as I can. Steps forward, no matter how tiny, are still steps forward, right? At home though, filling our walls with art just makes me smile and happy. There’s no pressure.
I guess, technically speaking I am a geneticist/molecular biologist. My dissertation involved studying how the structure of chromosomes is important for DNA repair. I stopped working in a laboratory about 6 months after Lu was born and now I just do some consulting market research work primarily for life sciences companies, but I’m beginning to branch out a bit into other markets as well. I still love science though. I love research. I love taking my kids to science museums and doing science experiments with them. It’s a huge part of who I am, and I love sharing those interests with my kids and their peers.
Leaving laboratory research was not a simple decision for me. It’s a decision that I still struggle with today. It’s difficult because I think the science community needs more women. Especially women who do research and have families too. For my daughters I want to be that woman role model. Yet at the same time, I feel like there is beauty in teaching my kids to follow their dreams, even if takes them off the “path.” I’m a strong believer in taking the time to really reassess current circumstances, figure out how to make oneself happy, and then take a huge jump, no matter how scary it might be.
I’m thankful for my career experiences, and I feel very grateful my husband (and his job) have given me (and us) the ability to really figure out what works best for our family. Even if that means that my current profession involves a very strange combination of technical and artistic work!
When my husband and I were graduate students we didn’t have a lot of money. We were very lucky to have living stipends, but they were small so we really had to watch our spending. I think that those experiences really shaped how we spend money now. We rarely ever eat out now, for example.
We try to do our housing projects as affordably as possible. When you look around our house and wonder where something came from, there’s a pretty good chance that we made it or hacked it. The desk in my office? Ikea hack. The couch in our family room or the buffet in our kitchen? Other ikea hacks. The big scale art in my kitchen and the kitchen pillows? Made them. Our huge outdoor table? Made it. Same goes for the succulent wreath on our front door. I think our desire to make stuff for our home comes partially out of being thrifty, and partially out of really loving to make stuff.
When we added onto our house we really worked within our budget, weighing the costs of things. Skylights in my kitchen, for example, were a luxury but at the same time totally worth it for me because I love natural lighting so much! So I chose skylights instead of French doors, and I haven’t looked back since.
I’d honestly love to someday update my kitchen and bathroom. The truth is though, that my kitchen functions ok. So instead I make do with smaller projects that make me like the spaces a little bit better. For example, I added designs to the tiles in my kitchen and bathroom backsplash with vinyl (you can see how here).
I try to remind myself that holding off on larger remodels like these have allowed us to have other experiences — such as last year when we took the whole family to Argentina, where we explored Buenos Aires, saw my husband’s family, and even went to Patagonia to see glaciers! We’ve filled the hallway in our house with our “wall of adventures” — pictures of fabulous moments we’ve shared as a family. I hope that putting an emphasis on experiences we’ve had will help my kids put more of a value on these things rather than “stuff.”
Financial literacy is one of the most important things we can give our kids. When my kids want a new toy, we talk not only about where it’s going to be kept, but also if the price is worth it to them.
My 7 year old is currently planning her birthday party. We gave her a “budget” for her party. She made a huge list of things that she might like for her party, including decorations, supplies for activities, and party favors. We looked up prices for them all, and I set her up with an excel document where she could pick and choose what she wanted most. She loved that she was in charge of deciding what she wanted most, and I think it gave her a much better understanding of what things cost.
Recently when I was at the grocery store she commented that our groceries for the week cost as much as the doll she wanted. For a moment I think she contemplated us going without food for a week so that we could buy her a doll, but she quickly realized that that wasn’t going to work! I think it’s slowly sinking in! I just really hope my kids grow with an appreciation that they may not have everything that they want, but they do have everything that they need.
I hope that they remember this house as a place where they felt secure. A place where they they could express themselves creatively. A place where they had a lot of fun and felt really, really loved.
I hope that they remember the times that I dropped everything to do an art project with them. The times when we did really crazy stuff like let them decorate our pool with paint before we demo’d it and filled it in. I hope they remember the times I read to them and the times we sat and played with them, rather than the times when I lost my temper.
I spend a lot of time taking pictures of my kids on a day to day basis. The main reason is that I photograph the moments that I want them to remember most. Then I fill my walls and photo albums with pictures of them doing those things, in hopes that these are the things that they take with them as they grow up. I’ve framed pictures of wildflowers we took while on a hike right next to pictures of them running in fields of flowers. I want them to remember these experiences, so I try to have memories of those times readily available to them.
My 5 year old told me the other day, “Mommy, I saw a picture of daddy holding me when I was a baby. You know what? I think he was really, really happy and that he really, really loved me.” My heart melted… until she said, “But where were you mommy? Were you working? There weren’t very many pictures of you with me.” Of course that would be because I’m usually the one behind the camera, not because I wasn’t there. So my heart broke a little bit, and made a mental note to get in the picture more.
I feel so incredibly grateful to have spent so much time watching my kids grow up. Doing projects with them is one of my absolute favorite ways to spend time with them, and I think it’s also one of their absolute favorite ways for them to spend time with me. The ages my kids are currently at seem like complete golden years to me. They are old enough to do a lot of stuff with, are eager to learn, and just generally fun to be around. I love to travel with them — whether it’s to a local museum or across the globe. I feel so incredibly grateful to have them in my lives.
It just blows my mind how quickly it all goes. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that they were babies! Ellie still runs into my bed every morning and snuggles with me, and I’m going to be a weeping mess when she stops. I already miss the baby snuggles from my oldest, but at the same time I also love watching them turn into the great people that they are today.
Parenting is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. There’s no measurable output day to day as to how you are really doing. When you think you have a “plan” for how to make things work with your kids, their needs change and you’re back to square one.
I wish that someone had told me to just me to focus on my strengths, and that that is enough.
We moms always seem to focus so much on what we’re not. Feeling guilty about pinterest projects that they didn’t do with them or the things we didn’t buy them. I think we just have to do the best that we can at the things we can do well, and realize that we’ll probably fail miserably at other things. For me, that means that yes, I can teach my 5 year old to sew clothes with her dolls or maybe help her with her science fair project. It also means that I’ll never be able to show my kids how to ski down a mountain, or help them apply makeup in some sort of fashionable way.
I believe it’s so important for each of us to just celebrate what we’re good at, and it’s good for our kids to see that we have strengths and weaknesses too. Most of all though, we just have to do our best and be kind to ourselves. There’s no one right way to be a parent.
There are so many great thoughts and nuggets of wisdom here! Thank you, Jill! I love the idea of focusing on your strengths as a parent and recognizing that that is enough. I appreciate Jill’s great advice about living thrifty and teaching your kids to have a smart relationship with money. It’s so important and so smart and seems so simple the way she explains it. And, of course, the art is so great. It feels personal and real and, just like Jill says, it makes your house feel more like a home.
What about you? Are you a great maker of things? Or is making things not your strength, and instead, your super power is being able to find the best deal on something at TJ Maxx? Where do you find your art from? Is it homemade or carefully curated from your favorite artists?
Art above the fireplace are available for free download here.
Bird canopy above Ellie’s bed.
Sofa in the family room.
Credits: Jill sells her art online, so if painting isn’t your forte, you can still get some of these looks in your own place. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at email@example.com.