The soul of the home: interview with Soulemama

The Creative Family, by Amanda Blake Soule

Anyone who’s been around the blogosphere long will know why I was completely and utterly thrilled when Amanda Blake Soule, aka Soulemama, graciously agreed to give The Happiest Mom an interview. The topic? Home, of course.

Amanda and her husband Steve live in rural Maine, where they recently bought a farmhouse and are renovating it alongside their four children, Calvin, Ezra, Adelaide and Harper (plus a growing list of pets and farm animals.) . In addition to crafting and blogging, Soulemama’s written three books: The Creative Family, Handmade Home, and a forthcoming book co-written with her husband Steve, The Rhythm of Family.

For years loyal readers have been inspired by Amanda’s adventures in motherhood and homeschooling, her gorgeous photos, her pleasure in crafting and creating a home, and the way she savors quiet, everyday moments with her family  Read on for Amanda’s thoughts about renovating alongside kids, motherhood, family and home.

Meagan: You’ve recently purchased an old farmhouse. Can you tell us a little about what drew you to that type of house, and why you chose your specific home?

Amanda: It was just one of those things I’ve always wanted – the old house, at least. (The farming piece has grown over time.) I grew up in an old Victorian that I watched my parents renovate, and have lived in older homes ever since – so I’m used to (and fond of) the quirky, funky ways of old houses. I love the history that the walls carry, and the feeling that they’ve been around much longer than I have, and likely will be here standing long after I am. It’s another reminder to me of the fleetingness of it all, and the important to keep our moments precious. I particularly love sturdy, not-fancy old New England farmhouses. I’m inspired by the simplicity in design, and the focus on function.

This particular house – an 1820’s Cape was a bit of a journey to get to. We’ve looked inside the barns of so very many farmhouses in the past few years! But we had a fairly specific list of things we were looking for that made the search challenging – the biggest being that we wanted an old farmhouse with acreage that wasn’t on a main road. Considering that most of the main roads were built to navigate between the old farmhouses, this proved to be the biggest challenge! But eventually…we found one that had everything we were looking for. It has space for all of us and all that we do now and hope to in the future, it’s full of history and character, and also full of opportunity to renovate and make it ‘our own’. It wasn’t a ‘love at first sight,’ more like a lovely and slow “I think this is our house” feeling that crept over all of us. And we keep falling more in love with it each day we’re here.

Meagan: A lot of people would be intimidated by the idea of renovating and fixing up an old house with four small kids in tow (and often underfoot) but it seems you’re actually embracing it. Can you tell us a little about how and why you include the kids in home projects? Does it make the experience seem richer to you?

Amanda: It does feel richer! Being a homeschooling, work-at-home family, absolutely everything we do is ‘as a family’. So there was no doubt that this project would be too. Certainly, it means that projects are done on a whole other time schedule (a much, much slower one!), and there are often times when that can be frustrating (I really would like that drywall covered soon!). But overwhelming those feelings is the blessing of our time together. Working together on a project, or alongside each other on different projects in the same space, we have so many wonderful conversations, and fun, and learning. We’re learning so many things together, and in the process, learning so much about each other and ourselves.

The kids certainly opt out of lots of the house projects to do their own thing, but the ones that they do dive into, I watch as they conquer new skills, and find pride in their work. Trying new things, the appreciation of using ones hands, family togetherness, and pride and satisfaction in a job done – these are things I value and want for my children. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share it with them in this new space of ours.

Meagan: Of course, I also know from experience that it can start to be tiresome living in a house that constantly feels like it’s “under construction.” How do you stay positive and upbeat about your home despite sawdust, dropcloths, and other less than pleasant realities of home renovation?

Amanda: Construction zones just come with the territory, and at this point (we’re only one month in!), it all feels good and part of the process. We’ve really tried to take on this house project knowing that it’s a forever-project – that I likely will be staring at exposed lath (or whatever the case may be) in one year’s time…or more. Perhaps we’ll come to think of it as an exercise in mindfulness, in learning to find the joy in the moment and the process, rather than being so focused on an end product. That’s my hope, anyway!

One thing I’ve found really helpful already is to have spaces – as tiny as they may be – that are completely ‘finished’. For example, I unpacked, set up and decorated our library while every other room was still in boxes and under construction. It was so helpful to have a space that felt calm and peaceful and DONE in the midst of all the chaos of the early moving-in days. The kids found great refuge in that space, as did Steve and I, who kept sneaking in there for a bit of fresh air and a reminder that we were, actually, making progress.

So, even though half of our living room has exposed lath, and is waiting for trim to be installed, I still hung artwork on the other walls. It felt important to make it home…and I think we’ve got an equal chance of noticing the pretty art as we do the exposed lath.

Meagan: What room or area of your house brings you the most happiness? Why?

Amanda: Right now, my ‘favorite’ part of the house is whatever space we’re currently working on and giving our energy to! So for this very moment, that’s actually out of doors. As autumn comes to a close in Maine, we’re preparing this new space as best we can for the (long and cold!) winter to come. That means cutting and hauling lots of firewood, cleaning up the pasture, and getting animals space ready for the coming season. We’re spending lots of time exploring the acres of woods around us, and falling in love with the trees and the rock walls and the trails that we now call home. The children are exploring and discovering new things here everyday, and it’s such a joy to watch. All the while, we’re anticipating ‘coming in’ for a season of warmth and togetherness.

Meagan: I’d love to hear your own personal idea of what makes a house a home–and how it contributes to your satisfaction as a mom.

Amanda: It’s something that has always been so important to me. However ‘temporary’ a space may be – a college dorm room, a rented apartment, or a camping site! – I’ve always had an urge to make it “home’ for the time we are there. For me, that means cozy, and warm. A place where people can comfortably gather. A place that invites both celebratory joy and excitement and peaceful calm when that’s needed.

My ideas of home became even more strong after becoming a mother. I do believe that the things we surround ourselves with have a great impact on our sense of selves, and our inner peace, especially in those early developmental years. I try to keep this in mind in creating spaces for children – keeping things simple, but open for play. And making spaces for all the different kinds of activity that a family needs – from active loud play to quiet refuge and comfort. Our home is the center of our family life and our days, and truly a reflection of who we are, which also means that it’s constantly evolving and changing as the people within it are.  Making it fit ‘us’ and nurture us and what we need is one of my favorite parts of my job as Mama.

Thank you so much, Amanda! And a big WELCOME to Amanda’s very loyal readers who’ve been flooding me with visits the last few days. I would love it if you came back again! Please take a moment to check out my About page and some of my readers’ favorite posts to get a feel for what I’m all about. Thank you!

It’s been a fantastic month. I have so enjoyed exploring the idea of “home” with all of you and appreciate every email, comment and shared experience. I’m going to leave you with Soulemama’s words to sort of wrap up the month…so read at your leisure, because she’ll be at the top of the page all weekend. But of course, I’ll have to post about home one last time on Monday to let you all know how the party goes!

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