Living With Kids: Cara Jones
Today’s Living With Kids family, the Joneses, live in Park City, Utah. It’s a town in the mountains just outside of Salt Lake, where recreation and outdoor adventure is king. They even have a daughter who is a competitive Ski Jumper! What an amazing hobby to have as a kid. Living in a small mountain town isn’t without challenges and finding the right home was a bit of a struggle, but I think you’ll be charmed by their wide open living spaces.
Let’s go say hello.
Hello! We are the Jones Family — my husband Gordon and myself (Cara), our three kids, Miss P (15), Boo (13), and Bubba (10), and our beloved cat, El Chubasco, aka “Chubs” who is named after our favorite Mexican restaurant.
My husband and I have known each other since middle school, started dating at the end of high school, got married in college and had our first child when we were both graduate students. Becoming parents at such a young age we’ve learned a lot about parenthood along the way and aptly refer to our firstborn as The Great Experiment.
Thankfully Miss P has the patience for us. She’s our independent soul, fearless ski jumper and forever bookworm. Boo, the classic middle child, is our Latina (loves all things Hispanic…language, food, music, dance), driven by an innate sense of justice, and loves chocolate and cheese equally! And Bubba, the baby and only boy, is just a bit spoiled (his sisters would agree), and loves the Golden State Warriors, video games and playing Cops & Robbers in the neighborhood with his gaggle of friends.
My husband, whom I call the Diplomat for his amazing listening skills and uncanny ability to defuse stressful situations is the kindest person I know. He works as a Civil Engineer by day and carpool driver by night. And as for me, I’m a minimalist at heart, have an incurable case of wanderlust and would eat See’s Candy over just about anything else.
Recently I started a new business — a blog that covers different financial aspects of family life, Finances For Families. I’ve put together a team of writers that represent all types of families (large families, blended families, fur-baby families, military families, seasoned parents, etc.) and each week we share our pearls of wisdom in a humorous way. I’m learning so much along the way and am slowly building a supportive community of online friends.
Our family has resided in Park City for the last 14 years. We love all the recreational amenities our mountain town has to offer — skiing, mountain biking, cycling, hiking… And our town is small enough that you’ll see at least one person you know when you are out running errands, but not so small that everyone knows your business. Our public schools are fantastic, our city buses are free (and safe!), we have oodles of parks and trails, and almost everyone here is from somewhere else.
However, because Park City is a vacation destination, housing prices are ridiculously expensive. The median price of a home in Park City is currently $1.3 million. This means that many employed in the public sector, service workers and young families can’t afford to live here. That is terribly disappointing and makes our town a bit lopsided (and getting worse). Sometimes I find so much socio-economic homogeneity a bit stifling.
We bought our home about three and a half years ago. Prior to that we lived not quite two miles away in a house we’d grown to love for over a decade. However, with our growing family we had been wanting to move to a larger home for some time. Because real estate is so expensive in Park City we had been following the market for over two years, just waiting for a house to pop up on the MLS that was in our price range and met our criteria — which was pretty much to just stay within the radius of our same general area.
Funny thing…when our current house came on the market the kids and I weren’t interested. It was beyond what I felt I could handle as a “fixer-upper” and the kids were completely turned-off… the house was so dark and dirty, there was lots of deferred maintenance — like the kitchen sink leaked into a bucket under the counter and there were dead rabbits in the basement window wells.
But my husband’s vision of what it could be kept the ball rolling and when the kids and I traveled overseas that summer he sold our existing house, bought our current house and moved everything all by himself. He was just a bit motivated to make the deal!
Thankfully, his vision was accurate and after a massive remodel we’ve made the house our home and are fortunate to have built considerable equity. The remodel did cost more than we anticipated (when doesn’t it??) and our funds ran dry before we could tackle the outside. So for the foreseeable future we have no yard and a steep 200 foot driveway that needs to be replaced.
During the course of the remodel, we included the kids in picking out materials for their bathrooms and gave them sole reign on decorating their bedrooms. But even so, they struggled. They were convinced Dad had gone off the deep end.
Initially we tried to live in the house (to save money) while we remodeled, but I reached a breaking point with all the dirt, dust and noise, so we moved out. And even after we moved back in it still took a long time for us to feel like it was our home. Celebrating special occasions, baking goodies in the kitchen, inviting friends over and thoughtfully decorating with things of sentimental value have slowly helped our family feel like this house is our nest.
I recently reupholstered a rocking chair that my great-grandparents brought with them when they immigrated from Germany around the turn of the century and seeing it in my home warms my heart. We also had a lot of white walls to fill (still do!), but thankfully the artistic gene runs strong in our family. My mother-in-law was an artist, my brother-in-law loves to paint landscape scenes, and our oldest daughter enjoys charcoal sketches, so between the three of them we’ve been able to fill our house with lots of beautiful artwork that has meaning.
One of my favorites is the commissioned oil painting of aspen trees my brother-in-law painted, all for the price of promising to babysit his young children when needed. My mother-in-law also passed away years ago and seeing her art in our home brings a lot of comfort to my husband.
Our party of five loves to explore new places. Years ago I started the hobby of collecting airline miles and it has made all the difference in our family’s ability to travel the world. When we travel we skip the typical souvenirs (well, except Bubba) and instead search out a beautiful piece of art to bring home as a way of remembering our trip.
And we’ve mastered how to do this on the cheap — we’ve never paid more than $250 for an original piece of art! We often find our artwork at local street fairs and then have the paintings framed at home when the craft store runs a sale. I love that over time we are slowly filling our home with beautiful pieces of art that speak to us and have such meaning, tying in to the memories we’ve made as a family.
All of our children are very involved in athletics and my husband and I are firm believers that participating in youth sports teaches kids life skills that go far beyond the playing field — learning how to lose with grace, getting along with teammates you don’t actually like, or being scolded by a coach for your poor performance are experiences that shape your character. They’ve all enjoyed a variety of sports, but it is our oldest, Miss P, that has forged a path we never anticipated.
Here in Park City the elementary schools are released around noon on Fridays and in the winter there are programs that bus the children up to the mountain to experience a host of winter sports — skiing, snowboarding, moguls, aerials, Nordic jumping, etc.. When Miss P was in fourth grade she tried one of these programs for Nordic ski jumping and as they say, the rest is history!
Seven years later our girl hasn’t stopped. She trains year-round, five days a week, and just recently earned herself a spot on the junior national team! She is certainly self-driven and as parents we try keep the right perspective. At the end of the day we want to raise a well-rounded happy girl, not just a professional athlete. For example, last year she skipped U.S. Nationals and instead traveled to Sydney, Australia, as a foreign exchange student. And her team’s big summer training camp in Canada? Well, we sent her to church camp instead.
She’s now reaching a level where she can’t and shouldn’t miss on these big opportunities, but I’m beyond proud of how she balances it all. She attends a traditional high school (unlike many of her teammates) and knows that she still has to do her piano and change the litter box before she leaves for practice.
As a family we have made sacrifices (from postponing family vacations to taking on additional clients at work) to support her dream, but what parent doesn’t do that for their child? It may be in a different way, and for a different reason, but as parents we all make sacrifices to help our children achieve their dreams. And at the end of the day, whether she makes it to the level of Olympian or not, it doesn’t really matter, because I know her experiences as a ski jumper will have helped contributed to the person that she is.
One of my most favorite things about living with kids is how much fun they make holidays and celebrations. Bubba has always loved a good dress-up and somehow manages to turn just about every holiday into a fashion statement of sorts — crazy Halloween costumes, Christmas socks, Easter outfit (complete with tie, hat and pastel scarf), 4th of July beaded necklaces and flashing headband… It’s hard not to get into the spirit of the season with this guy around!
All the kids love digging into our storage bins filled with holiday décor and are strangely sentimental about some of the tackiest Christmas ornaments. And every fall we celebrate the start of school with a fancy dinner served on our wedding china, followed by a fashion show of their new school clothes. My goodness, they even love to acknowledge Chub’s (the cat) birthday!
Having teenagers has been the most pleasant surprise! There are so many people that cautioned me with the classic negative connotation of oh wait until they are teenagers, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. Shopping, getting a pedicure, borrowing clothes and going to lunch are all fun things that used to be something I did with my girlfriends, but to be completely honest, doing them with my daughters is even better!
Miss P, the oldest, is witty and gets me to laugh at my own quirks constantly. When she cooks in the kitchen she actually cleans up after herself. She’ll be driving soon and I’m beyond excited to step away from my role as professional chauffer. Boo is the family’s style guru who’s input on home design and fashion is something I truly need. Her touch on our home décor has been invaluable. My girls are much more daring than me and are constantly getting me to step outside my comfort zone. Pretty much riding on their coattails is the best thing about this stage in life.
If you asked me what I think my kids will remember most about growing up here I would say I am sure they won’t forget what a project this house was! But I think that’s a good thing because we’ve all learned a lot from this remodel. This house has taught us that in life there are always diamonds in the rough and it takes vision, hard work and patience to see them truly sparkle.
And as much as I wish the kids had a beautiful yard to play in (or a driveway that wasn’t so scary most people won’t even drive up it) it’s probably a good thing that they’ll remember Mom & Dad just couldn’t swing it financially. Financial tradeoffs are a reality for everyone, in some way or another, and an important lesson for kids to learn.
I hope they will remember how our home was filled with music. With a piano and organ and music lessons for all, there is almost always a tune being played (just ask the neighbors). Now that the girls are older they are able to share their talents with others, and that makes all the hounding to practice, practice, practice worth it (still working on Bubba though). As someone once said, “music speaks to the heart in ways that words cannot” and I hope that my children will always find comfort in that.
I hope more than anything else from their childhood they remember that Mom and Dad love them, so very very much! We genuinely have fun together and I wouldn’t want to share this journey with anyone else.
What do I miss already? I so miss Boo’s sticky fingers, chubby cheeks and potbelly from toddlerhood. The way Miss P proudly vocalized her independence by grunting “do it myself” when I’d try to help her get dressed in the morning, yet squeezed me so tightly when I dropped her off at preschool. And when Bubba proudly declared that he was going to be a super-hero when he grew up. My days spent at home with young children doing crafts, dress-ups and library story-time are far behind me now, but at times I long for them so much my heart could burst.
I wish someone had told me to go a little easier on my oldest child. Both my husband and I grew up as the youngest in our families, so when we had our first baby we really didn’t know what we were doing! It pains me to think that we had her “cry it out” to sleep through the night when she was just a few months old…we were both in grad school and just a bit oblivious.
When she was a toddler I wouldn’t let her wear her princess dress-up to the grocery store…now I could just scold myself. Why did it matter? In elementary school I pushed back with the staff when she didn’t finish an admittance test and consequently wasn’t accepted into an enrichment program. Again, a bright child could learn in a closet, right?
It’s only with time and experience that I have come to realize what really matters and what doesn’t. My second and especially my third child are certainly the beneficiaries of this changed perspective… when my son was admitted into that same enrichment program I actually pulled him out because it was held during recess, which is his favorite part of the school day. Thankfully my oldest seems to be finding her way just fine despite her mother’s shortcomings.
Thank you, Cara! Your remodel is truly a stunner! So many bright windows and beautiful modern, clean lines. Perfect for a mountain home. And I love how frankly Cara talks about the choices we all make about money and finances. Even when you are living in a more expensive area, sometimes you have to put certain projects on hold (like a yard!) so that you can do it when it makes sense for you and your family.
Cara’s advice to herself is so great too. As a parent, I know sometimes I really get hung up in the small details — did the kids have cute clothes on (or combed hair) on picture day? Are they eating all their veggies? Are we controlling the screen time enough? And while all those things can be important, if your kids grow up in a home where they are loved and supported and encouraged to live their dreams, that will make the biggest difference.
What are the “small things” that you have trouble letting go of as a parent? Do you find yourself wrapped up in the details or worried about what other parents are seeing or thinking about you? What strategies do you have to keep focused on the big picture?
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! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, gay parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Reach out at email@example.com.