Living With Kids: Elizabeth Ayoub
I remember when I started getting interested in design, it was the Arts and Crafts movement that first caught my attention. I loved all the interesting shapes and patterns and different tones of wood layered on top of each other. That’s why I was so excited today to introduce you to our lovely Living With Kids family, the Ayoubs. Elizabeth and her husband live in a gorgeous arts and crafts home in Michigan with their adorable daughter. The home is full of classic charm, and Elizabeth is as warm and interesting as you would expect her to be. Welcome, Elizabeth!
Hi! I’m Elizabeth. I live in our home with my husband, Nick, and our daughter, Josephine. My husband and I met while I was chaperoning teens at a church conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the time, I was living in Wisconsin and looking for a job in my field. I was so amazed by this man that once I returned home from the conference I applied for a job in Grand Rapids (which is in a state I had previously sworn I would never live in)! Lo and behold, he sent me the very same job opening and suggested I apply.
A month or so later, I got the job and moved to Grand Rapids! Two years later we were married! To this day, that weekend was the most serendipitous encounter I’ve ever experienced. So grateful for how things worked out for us (minus the excessive snow and cold that Grand Rapids boasts).
Married life was and is wonderful, but becoming parents was a struggle for us. We spent the better part of four years working through infertility. I had two miscarriages along the way and despaired that we would ever have a child. Thanks to our wonderful doctor and lots of answered prayers, our daughter was born in early 2016! Somedays I look at her and still can’t believe she’s ours. We’re now struggling with secondary infertility and it’s still hard, but having a sweet and engaging toddler helps soften the pain.
We live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We are about a seven minute drive from downtown in a very urban area. Our home is in a unique spot — if you walk several blocks in one direction you’ll run into a rather sketchy liquor store and if you walk several blocks in the other direction you’ve entered a pretty posh neighborhood with the slogan “a better place to live.” Personally, I think we have the best of both worlds. I absolutely love that we can walk or bike to coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, the post office, four different parks, oh, and my favorite yarn shop.
I feel safe in our home and neighborhood, but at the same time I probably wouldn’t walk through the park across the street from our house alone at night. Though I think our neighbors are working hard to transform our neighborhood and keep it safe for all kinds of families.
The other thing that is hard about where we live is the busy street we’re on. The speed limit is only 35 mph, but with a little one I get nervous — and we won’t be able to let her ride her bike up and down the street the way I did as a little girl. However, the walkability of our location makes it worth it at this stage in her life, and we have a great backyard!
Grand Rapids itself it an amazing city! It’s small enough that we don’t have lots of traffic, crime, etc.. But it’s big enough that we still have lots of cool venues and experiences available. Our city hosts ArtPrize each fall, which is a huge art competition throughout downtown. It’s so fun! We also have lots of restaurants, museums, and shops. My husband and I love seeing Broadway shows downtown and can’t wait till daughter is old enough to come along.
We’re also about a 45 minute drive from Lake Michigan. The beach is only really lovely from about June through August, but we try to make it count. There are lots of great spots to enjoy the water, and we especially love the little town of Saugatuck on the waterfront — my husband plays at a piano bar there during the summer!
My husband bought our home in 2004 before we were married for about $130,000. We actually just refinanced our mortgage and it’s now worth about $250,000! This seems amazing to me! But, the market is crazy in Grand Rapids right now, so even if we wanted to sell, we probably wouldn’t be able to afford the home we’d want, so we’d have to rent until the market changed more in favor of the buyer. However, we’re still trying to convince ourselves that this is our forever home, so we’re good for now!
Nick actually contacted the previous owners of our home out of the blue to see if they would sell because he loved it so much. Our home was built in December of 1916 (We just celebrated with a 100 year party last year! So fun!) by the vice president of a Grand Rapids dry cleaning company. I found this information at the library and we have copies of the 1917 newspaper clippings about our home. So funny how they used to do write-ups about houses in the newspaper — about all the furnishings, light fixtures, room sizes, etc..
Nick loves the Arts and Crafts style and all things of this era. Before I met him he spent two years repairing our home. He sanded paint off of trim, fixed the wood floors, rebuilt the fireplace, and many other intensive projects. I never saw the house before, but even through pictures it’s amazing to see the work he did. He’s a very talented man.
He also furnished our entire home! This was not your typical “bachelor pad” when I met him. In fact, the kitchen, dining, and living room all still look pretty much the way they did when he first brought me to his house in 2008. That’s the beauty of having a classic style — you don’t have to constantly update to stay on trend.
However, we’d love to slowly replace some of our cheaper Arts and Crafts style furniture with more antiques in the future. Some of our pieces are antiques or thrift store finds, but some are inexpensive copies. This actually works well with a small child popping about — nothing is too precious at this point.
One thing that was hard about moving into an already beautifully furnished home was finding my space. When I moved in, Nick was using all four bedrooms for the following: bedroom, office, conference room, and music room. I immediately convinced him that a conference room was not necessary, and this room became my office (and then later our daughter’s nursery).
Slowly I convinced him that a music room could coexist as a guest room, but unfortunately most of his musical equipment is now in the basement or garage. We need to find a way to build a musical space in the basement, but if anyone has seen a true Michigan basement you will know this is no easy task. We often refer to the basement as “a river runs through it” because, well, when it’s wet outdoors it does.
This is probably the hardest thing about owning an older home. There are just your normal home maintenance tasks to keep up with, but then there are bigger issues that relate to the age of the home or the way the home was built. There are always lots and lots and lots of things we could be spending money to repair in our home. Sometimes this feels daunting, especially when everything seems to fall apart at once. But, we love the character of our home enough to make us stay and keep fixing things as they break.
We had our deck built in 2015 as our anniversary gift (at 5 years the traditional gift is wood). It has been one of the best investments! I designed the deck and intentionally made it large. I wanted it to have lots of room for friends and family to join us. As soon as the weather starts warming up in the spring we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the deck. We also love hosting parties and cookouts all summer long — particularly on 4th of July. We also have a projector so we can watch movies and tv shows outdoors all summer, too. The deck is like another extra large room of our home that we get to use from May through October.
We really didn’t change our home decorating too much once our daughter was born. There are the obvious necessary safety items to install for baby-proofing, and we blocked off one room of our house for the early crawling/walking phase. We didn’t want to have our daughter gated off and unable to be a part of lives and home, so we’ve allowed her access all over our house. We’ve also created spaces for her in the kitchen, dining room, living room, family room, and bathrooms. Pretty much everywhere has at least a little space for her!
In the kitchen she has a cupboard with her kitchen supplies. And in the dining room we have these great built-ins by the windows and over the radiators. They’re supposed to function as a window seat I think, but we use them for her seasonal shelves — displaying items for her to look at and play with relevant to each season.
The biggest change was in our family room: we removed the coffee table and replaced our small couch with a much larger (and cozier) sofa. This has been a favorite change of mine! I like that there is a lot more open space for play. Our couch is super comfy for playing on (and great for cuddling up for Netflix post baby bedtime). Our sofa was inexpensive and it gave me greater comfort making the household rule that sofa jumping is fine without shoes on (sometimes it’s great being the parent and realizing you get to make the fun rules, too).
My husband really adores our formal living room, but it was hard to see such a beautiful space going unused so often. We really only use the room when we have company or at Christmas time. I was longing for a dedicated spot for Josephine to do art projects, rather than hauling out all the supplies for each project. I slowly (and hopefully, seamlessly) have worked to organize her art supplies in our living room in such a way that they are inconspicuous and easily moved when we do host gatherings. Nick was reluctant at first, but now I find him playing play-doh with her at the coffee table. I affectionately tell him that it is now truly an arts and crafts room!
My husband is 100% Lebanese: his father was born in Lebanon and his mom’s parents are also from Lebanon. The biggest cultural aspect of his family’s life that I’ve noticed is their faith. His family are Orthodox Christians and this faith is a huge part of our life. My family actually became Orthodox when I was six years old and we were part of a very Middle Eastern parish, so I was actually pretty familiar with Middle Eastern culture and the Orthodox faith when I met Nick. I think this really helped us adapt to any differences between our cultures.
I’ve also learned to cook quite a bit of Arabic food! Nick is still much better at making kousa, but I’m not too shabby with the kefta. We don’t eat Arabic food as often as I’d like, as most of it is quite time-consuming. His mom cooks us special things at the holidays, and we live close enough to Detroit (where there is a large Arab population) that Nick is able to bring home Arabic pastries and treats regularly. I love that my daughter is growing up accustomed to this food.
We’ve been able to travel back to Lebanon twice: once, shortly after we were married, and last year when Josephine was about a year old. It was incredible to bring her to meet her Lebanese family (she’s named after her great-aunt) and to show her the home of her jiddi (grandfather in Arabic).
One thing that’s sad to me is that my husband doesn’t know how to speak Arabic, although he understands a lot. This means we won’t be able to pass this language to our daughter — although maybe one day she will study it in school? Right now, she knows about four words in Arabic. The other day she cracked me up when she yelled to me over the baby monitor after her nap: “Yallah, Mama!”, which means “Hurry up, Mama!”
I love being a mother. I worked full time as a child life specialist at our local children’s hospital until she was born. After she was born I worked part-time until she was about a year and then I made the switch to staying with her full-time. I’m really grateful for this opportunity and this decision we made.
While we’re home together I try to keep a daily rhythm — this is something my structured self really loves. I’ve also found that toddlers thrive on routine. We tend to do the same things daily and weekly, although it varies by season. I also strive to keep lots of downtime for free play, which I find so important! Basically, I love learning everything I can about parenting, and then putting the things that work for us into practice!
I don’t really love cleaning, so I’ve embraced minimalism. I realized quickly that the less we own, the less we have to clean and care for. I try to keep our home as organized and without unnecessary items as much as possible. This includes keeping our daughter’s toys and books limited, and rotating toys, so that they are easy to pick-up and aren’t overwhelming.
I hope Josephine remembers that we had lots of love in our home. I hope she remembers that her parents loved to get down and play with her and read with her. I hope she remembers her bedtime routine (we’ve had the same one since she was three days old!) I hope she remembers that we were very hospitable to our friends, family, and anyone in need. I hope she remembers how important our faith is in our lives.
I hope she doesn’t remember the times I lost my patience. Or the excessive amount of dust bunnies since cleaning isn’t my strong suit (seriously, I think old homes are more dusty than new ones).
I hope she forgets all our flaws and imperfections, and instead embraces our strengths and skills. Then, I hope she takes the good foundation, along with her own strengths and skills, and goes out into the world to be kind and work hard at whatever she’s called to do.
I love waking up every morning to her little voice: “Mama, mama!” I love when she wants to play hide and seek and asks me to hide three feet away. I love how she crosses herself when we sit down to pray together. I miss all of it already. Sometimes this is the best remedy on a hard day: to remember all the things I cherish and will long for when she has moved out.
I wish someone had told me that parenting and marriage are so terribly exhausting sometimes, and that every time you think you’ve figured the relationship out, something else changes and you have to learn and adapt more. But also that at the end of the day there’s nothing I would rather give my time, my love, my energy for than my husband and my children.
Thank you, Elizabeth! So many wise words about faith and family. I love all the little cozy detail shots of the home. You can tell it is a place filled with love and light. And I have to admit, I am pretty jealous of that beautiful deck! I love the big shade trees and the family all gathered around. It makes me long for some long summer evenings spent outside.
There is lots of great parenting advice in here too! I love what she said about not being a great cleaner so really embracing minimalism. That is such a smart and simple solution. If you want to have to pick up less stuff, then have less stuff! And I loved this: “I also strive to keep lots of downtime for free play.” That’s so important. Life gets so busy its hard to remember to slow down and just let things be.
How do you embrace down time in your home, or is it something you are working on? Are your kids (and you) always staring at your phones to stay entertained? Do your kids ever get to be bored? Or are you busy and scheduled out to the minute on most days?
Learning tower in the kitchen is an IKEA hack
Family Room sofa
The tulip quilt on the rocking chair
You can read Elizabeth’s website here or follow her on Instagram. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.