Living With Kids: Adrienne Menniti
Portland, Oregon is one of my favorite cities in America — that’s why it was so exciting for me to connect with Adrienne, the mother featured in today’s Living With Kids home tour. Adrienne recently moved to a suburb, but she’s still feeling homesick for her previous place which was in North East Portland. Homes there are small and older but have beautiful craftsman details and buckets of charm. Adrienne and her husband put in a whole lot of hours restoring and renovating theirs. It’s no surprise they miss it so much. Welcome, Adrienne!
Hi, I’m Adrienne. Me, my husband Jeff, and our two kids, Collin and Felicity, currently live in West Linn, Oregon — a suburb of Portland. These pictures are of our beloved previous house in the Sabin neighborhood of North East Portland. Thanks for including our house and our story!
I’m a wastewater process engineer with a PhD in environmental engineering. I have always been very career driven and am passionate about what I do. I help optimize the treatment processes at a wastewater utility. My happy place at work comes when, after analyzing lots of data, I make a graph or two that helps us make a better decision. (Yes, I am a nerd). I’m also a lifelong martial artist and do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as often as I can.
Jeff works at a different wastewater utility managing capital projects. He supported me and built our retirement savings while I spent many years in school. He is nurturing and compassionate and superbly organized. He loves to take on projects around the house — as evidenced by all the sweat he poured into our craftsman fixer upper — and enjoys building his photography skills. Jeff and I met in college. We were both in school for civil engineering at the University of Cincinnati and had almost every class together. We started as good friends and study buddies until the chemistry and attraction just couldn’t be ignored. We have been together for 20 years and will have our 15th wedding anniversary in June.
Collin is 5 years old. He’s thoughtful and empathetic and has been a snuggle bunny since birth. Every once in awhile when I’m having a rough day, he’ll grab my face and tell me he loves me. It’s amazing how aware he is that I need some extra love in those moments.
Felicity will be 3 soon. She’s fiercely determined and independent. She can entertain herself for a surprising length of time. I love watching her ride her tricycle around the house singing songs and going on imaginary adventures. She also loves to be outside. She’ll push me out the door for a walk, rain or shine.
This house is in the Sabin neighborhood of inner NE Portland. The area is quintessentially Portland — full of old craftsman bungalows and walking distance to a hip shopping district. It’s 1 block from Sabin elementary school, 1 block from a Whole Foods, and Alberta Street is a short walk up the hill. Our favorite thing about the house was the location.
A normal Saturday morning consisted of walking up the hill to Petite Provence for amazing French pastries, then to Barista for coffee. The kids would play in the courtyard of the coffee shop while Jeff and I enjoyed the quiet — a benefit of having kids that get up before most people in Portland. Our walk home often included a stop at the Sabin elementary school playground. We were also a short bike ride to downtown. In the summer, we would load the kids onto our bikes and head to Jamison square to play in the fountain followed by a trip to Pine Street Market for some soft serve Salt and Straw ice cream.
We rented in the Alberta area for 3 years. After Collin turned 1, Jeff and I decided it was time buy. As good engineers, lists and spreadsheets were involved to help make the decision. Unfortunately, what we wanted to pay versus our “must haves” were out of balance at first. We refined our lists and decided location was our top priority. We put offers on two houses, both over asking price, and were outbid. It’s easy to get discouraged in a housing market like Portland, where there is so much competition. You have to get emotionally invested in a house to make an offer and getting outbid feels like someone stole “your” house.
Then one day Jeff took a different route home from work and stumbled upon a for sale by owner sign being placed in front of this house. We called the number within an hour, toured the house that night and made an offer the next day. We ended up paying $504,000 for a 1,600 square foot 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house that needed more work than we wanted but was in our preferred location and in our budget.
One fun fact about our home purchase – the previous owners had 4-chickens named after the Golden Girls. They were moving out of state and we eat a lot of eggs, so we agreed to take the chickens with the house. Sadly, we soon decided the chickens added too much extra poop to our lives so we sold them to a farmer in Oregon City. I’m sure they are living a happy life on that farm.
Our initial walkthrough of the house was exciting. It checked off most of our “must haves” but we knew immediately the house needed work. Since Jeff enjoys home projects and I enjoy the design process, we saw an opportunity to make the house our own. We had the house for 60 days prior to moving in, which was fortunate since the bathroom needed to be completely redone and the whole house needed fresh paint.
We planned the kitchen renovation for a few months later when my family could help. The kitchen reno took 8-weeks total and was a to-the-studs overhaul. About a year later, we started work in the unfinished basement. We didn’t quite get it complete before we moved out.
In the three years that we lived there, we did several remodeling projects: In the bathroom, Jeff took the shower walls down to studs and rebuilt with subway tile, replaced the flooring, added an in-wall medicine cabinet, and refinished the built-ins; in the basement, Jeff built storage cabinets into the crawl space, framed in a storage area with a pocket door (that area was earmarked for a future bathroom), painted all the walls and joists, redid the stairs, custom fabricated the metal stair railings and replaced the door to the back yard; and we redid everything in the kitchen including creating the pass through to the dining area.
It was a crazy time with a young toddler and a baby on the way but we got exactly the house we wanted in the end. Jeff would work late into the night while I took care of Collin, who has a hard time sleeping. Looking back, I see how hard it was on our relationship at times but I would do it again.
One question we know people will be curious about: if we love this house so much, why did we move? The answer: traffic and space! Jeff and I bought this house when we both worked downtown at a private consulting firm. We switched to public agency jobs to gain better work-life balance but, our new jobs are in the south suburbs. As Portland gets more popular, traffic gets progressively worse.
One day last May, I was stuck in traffic for well over an hour getting home. My parents were visiting and staying in the semi-finished basement and I saw my future – hours spent in traffic, our retired parents visiting often in a house with only 1 bathroom. I got home and told Jeff we were shopping for a house in West Linn. By August, we sold our house for $600,000 (also for sale by owner to a friend of a friend).
While it was sad to leave our perfect Portland home, we got hours each day back in time. Plus, our new house has 3 bathrooms and an extra bedroom for visiting parents. We’ve spent this winter exploring our new area but still occasionally go back to Alberta for coffee and pastry on the weekends.
I tend toward anxiety and rumination. I’ve learned over time that hard exercise — the kind that doesn’t let me think about anything else — is important to keep those tendencies from interfering with my happiness and at times, my ability to function normally. I found Jeet Kune Do (JKD, the martial art Bruce Lee developed) my freshman year of college. With elements of boxing, kickboxing and weapons training, it’s immersive and intense. I loved it.
I had to find a new gym when I moved for grad school. In addition to JKD, they offered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu — which is a ground fighting martial art. It took me a couple years to truly fall in love with jiu jitsu. It happened when I decided I needed a goal to train for and entered a tournament. The intensity of my training increased and all the disparate pieces of jiu jitsu knowledge in my head started to click into place. Jiu jitsu is a physical chess match — move/counter-move until someone finds a submission or progresses to a better position. Because technique can often overcome strength, it’s a good choice for females — once you get past the idea of trading sweat and wrestling.
Leaving grad school and moving into my career, I lost my way and forgot how important exercise is for my mental health. I let the demands of corporate America overtake my life and found myself working nights and weekends to get ahead. It did move my career forward quickly but it also lead to an ugly scene one night at a nice restaurant having dinner with a mentor. I had a snotty crying, hyperventilating, melt down as she gently encouraged me to relax about work.
Jeff and I started to make a concerted effort to hike on the weekends after that but it took until I had Felicity that I started to see exercise as something I have to do to be the mom and wife I want to be. Luckily, I also found my current jiu jitsu gym around that time. I’m hooked again. Prioritizing exercise means I have to let other things fall apart sometimes. I’ve decided I’ll let the house be messy and the laundry pile up to make sure Jeff and I both get exercise and get some quality together through the week. I also chose a true partner and Jeff does more than his share of house work — which helps it all fit together.
When Collin was a baby, we put him in a carrier and kept hiking. When he was just 6 months old, we summited Silver Star Mountain which is a 6-mile climb up nearly 2,000 ft. As Collin got older and wanted to walk himself, we spent a lot of time working through hiking frustration.
Pre-kids, hikes were about finding long, steep trails that lead to breath taking views. We want to share our love of the outdoors with Collin and Felicity so we’ve had to reframe our intentions with hiking. Over time we’ve learned a few good tips. Hiking with toddlers is about the journey, not the destination. Choose short hikes that give kids lots of opportunities to find bugs, explore hobbit holes and dig in the dirt.
We hiked 25 miles as a family last year in mostly 1-mile increments. It could easily take over an hour. Right now, hiking is about time spent outside as a family, not exercise. Bringing friends along if you can makes a difference. Felicity would gladly hike all day but Collin can be reluctant. He gets so much motivation out of running along the trails with his friends. Plus, then Jeff and I get to spend time with other parents, which is nice.
We try and find trails that offer natural rewards like a stream to throw rocks in or a big field with a nice view to play in. And sometimes we have to use other kinds of reward. If we drive away from Portland to enjoy the world class hiking in the Columbia River Gorge or the Mt. Hood wilderness, we bring a special treat like a chocolate bar or cookies to eat when we’re done. If we chose a local hike, we find places with a playground or a nature center as the reward. Just remember that it will be frustrating and hard at times. Though I suppose that’s true of life with toddlers in general. When I find those times, I remind myself that this is a long-term investment in my family and just keep going.
We bought a used tent trailer last summer so we could enjoy more time outside with the kids. Our first summer, we spent 22 nights in the trailer exploring the rich camping opportunities within about 2 hours of Portland. That old tent trailer has been a great thing for our family. It’s so easy to park the kids in front of the TV on the weekends to get all the chores done. Camping has allowed us to unplug, ignore the chores and be together. Plus, the kids love it. Collin asked if we could live in the camper this winter because he missed camping.
Jeff and my parenting styles (and our personalities in general) balance each other. We are much more successful as a team. Jeff’s Dad Super Power is making everyday tasks fun for Collin and Felicity. He gets the kids ready and out the door with ease most mornings, he takes both kids grocery shopping every weekend, he gets them to help fold the laundry. I often just stand back and watch his interactions and let them fill my heart with love.
My Mom Super Power is reacting to my kids with empathy. I’m pretty good at recognizing when a whine or a misbehavior is a bid for emotional support and not just a reaction to being hungry and tired. This doesn’t exactly come easily to me, in fact I can’t say there’s any part of motherhood that comes easy to me, but it’s something I put effort into because it think it’s important.
I have two things I try to do every time I put Collin and Felicity to bed: (1) Tell them I love them and that they make me happy and (2) Ask them what they are grateful for. I hope that will help them remember how much they are loved and to appreciate the good life we are fortunate to live. I also hope they remember that their parents are people who pursue their passions in life, who love each other immensely and strive to be good, caring people who they can always count on.
I hope they forget the times I yelled at them when I was really frustrated at some unrelated thing. I hope they forget all the times I zoned out on my phone and ignored everyone because I was tired. I hope they forget the stress the renovation put on our family and remember how much we loved the house when we were done.
I love seeing Collin and Felicity grow and change and I love that seeing those changes reminds me to appreciate everyday moments. The snuggles on the couch watching a movie or reading a book, the conversations before bedtime, the genuine belly laughs they get from potty humor.
So far, parenting gets more fun each year as the kids get older. I love that Collin is old enough to let me read longer books like Harry Potter aloud to him now and I’m surprised by how self-sufficient he’s becoming. Felicity’s second year has given me a lot of joy. Those things she says that are adorably not quite right just make me smile. I miss Collin being 2 because it passed by in the blur of Felicity’s colicky babyhood and I can’t remember a lot of it.
I wish someone had told me that adding children to your life has a major impact on your relationship with your spouse. It takes effort to maintain that connection. We knew having kids would be a big change, but after being married for so many years, we thought we were in a good, stable place. Wow, babies are hard. Nobody could have prepared me for just how much impact a newborn baby can have. The last 5-years of being parents, Jeff and I have tried to make sure we focus not only on the kids, but on each other. This takes a lot of effort. By the time the kids are in bed, we are emotionally and physically drained most nights. Open communication and making time to spend together as a couple keeps us happy and makes us better parents.
Thank you, Adrienne! What a perfectly charming home. I think you can see when someone has taken care to do a lot of remodeling projects themselves. It’s like the love and care they put into the work is visible. And I’m pretty jealous of that padded room in the basement! I think every parent could use a place to stash the kids (or to go hide yourself?) every once in a while.
I also really appreciate all the great practical advice about hiking and getting outside with the kids more. This is definitely something on my mind a lot: how do I give my kids (and myself) a break from screens, even when I know that it will be tough and there might be some whining, and it might not go perfectly.
Do you have good strategies for getting your kids outside? What rewards or strategies have you found that work? Or are your kids naturally adventurous and don’t need as much prompting? Do you personally find it hard to unplug and get outside?
Kitchen floor tiles from Marmoleum
Kitchen Light from Pottery Barn
Living room rug a custom designed Flor tile pattern
You can follow Adrienne on Instagram here. 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, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.