Tell us about yourself? What do you do, where are you from? All that good stuff.
I was born into an already big family of five, living in a one-bedroom house, on a Gravenstein apple orchard in Sebastopol, California. Some say the best view is from the back. I tend to agree. As the youngest, I’d sit back to see all the loving, the growing up, the tickling, the lessons, the loyalty, the hard work, that every member of my family dedicated to themselves and each other.
Not far from but very foreign to the country-feel of Sebastopol is, Berkeley, California where I headed next. I made midnight trips to Dollar Noodle (if you don’t know, sorry), lifelong friends, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English.
My passion for creativity and expression eventually called me to get a Masters in Transformative Arts from John F. Kennedy University (Berkeley Annex). I learned to appreciate how dark and messy creative can be.
Today, I manage an IT team that develops and supports electronic signature and scanning software at Kaiser Permanente. I love, love, love that one of our essential purposes is to reduce Kaiser’s carbon footprint by saving paper. I also love Kaiser’s mission to provide high quality and affordable health care to members of our community. I also love that 11 years ago, I met my husband there.
Yes, tell us about your husband and family!
We are six.
My husband David is our Spirit Rock. He keeps us grounded on earth with eyes turned up to the Great Spirits. He leads family bedtime prayer and drives us to church on Sundays. He sun danced with the Blackfoot Tribe, trains with Chi Kung masters, and his faith in Jesus is as strong as any prophet or monk or medicine man.
Together we have three daughters:
Huckleberry is our protector. We rescued him from a ditch when he was a puppy but now he’s the one keeping us safe.
As for me, I am the Maker. Will tell you more about that later.
Let’s talk more about how you met David.
It was absolutely love at first sight. Maybe it was his brown tweed newsboy hat or his black frame glasses. Or his tall walk. He gave me butterflies every time I pretended not to look. Weeks passed.
The day before Thanksgiving, he brought his six-year-old daughter into the office. When I felt someone watching me, I turned to see the most present blinking eyes and crazy beautiful curls. I said “hi” and fell in love with her, too. Her interruption was an excuse to talk and told him, “She’s a cuter version of you.”
It was months before we admitted love or lust or any romance at all. We went on walks and talked about passions, disappointments, philosophical beliefs. Debated spirituality and politics. And plotted how to change the world.
Our pasts told different stories and we usually had different ideas about how to approach most things, yet we shared the same values and goals, and that was everything.
Friendship grew to partnership. We carpooled, co-parented, and created a support system for Arianna. We practiced math facts, played Mancala, had backyard campouts, overcame a fear of spiders by adopting a tarantula, coached soccer, learned to ski. We showed up always.
Then he asked me, “Will you marry us?”
What’s your idea of the perfect day with this sweet crew of yours?
Last Saturday was perfect. A slow morning at home, with tea, cat naps, and beading bracelets followed up with a picnic under an oak tree. We chased daisies and each other. Peed behind trees, sorted pine cones, and got lost in the present. Came home to cook dinner together. Mizu sat on the counter washing sweet potatoes and snapping the ends off green beans. Insert more family members and friends in this scenario and we’re in heaven.
How do you manage to make creativity a part of your life and the Ortiz family?
Just as I described my family above, I’m our Maker. I create our family rhythm, maintain the balance, and make the home. I’m the reason we have homemade Halloween costumes, get lost in weekend sewing projects, and have only original art on our walls.
Yes - let’s talk more about the story of your home.
We call it the Tamarack Tree House. When it was just the three of us we moved from Berkeley to San Geronimo, California. Population 460 (cows included). We found a 1950s Eichler inspired one-bedroom, 609 square foot home. By golly, we were living tiny.
The plan (ha! The plan) was to first remodel the kitchen while living in the “garage” then get to work on the two-bedroom addition. County permitting was hell, lasted over a year, and cost 1,000s of dollars we didn’t have. Meanwhile, Mizu was born. Building was estimated to take two months yet took over a year. After the dust settled, we decided to go at it again, adding a communal living space and office. Noah was born and the office remains unfinished.
This began six years ago. Oh, the stories we have of flaky contractors, busted septic lines, linear feet of reclaimed wood sanded while pregnant, dump runs, waking up on mattresses soaked in puddles, and centipedes in our pants. We joke that living tiny for three years is a testament to how much our family likes each other. It worked because we learned to find peace in the chaos and joy in the in-between.
David and I love collaborating on design and problem solving. We’re selective about design elements. We care about aesthetics and depend on a bargain. We’re addicted to airy space, texture, and clean lines. Small rocks from places we explore are my favorite way to complete any vignette of objects on a window sill or shelf. We’re both nostalgic and love hand-me-downs and heirloom pieces. The mix of old and new just feels right.
And above all, we seek to build a humble home that cultivates love and light for our children and all who enter.
It sounds like your home renovation was quite the undertaking! What was the most difficult part of managing that project?
Some challenges that come to mind, in terms of the renovation are: functioning as a family in a construction zone, and managing work and family responsibilities while making trips all over the Bay Area to research and shop for product, like flooring or tile. I'm super picky and contemplative about design decisions so it took a lot of time. The financial part was definitely the hardest. It was difficult making decisions that fit within our budget and were good for the long term - looking for quality and something that would last over time. We often had to delay finishing something because we simply couldn't afford to finish. We learned patience.
Another challenge, not specific to the renovation, is the challenge of less. Having less. Wanting less. In this day and age, so many things are in front of us on social, in stores, and with shopping at the click of a button. I have become more conscious to resist the urge to compare myself to others and more intentional about purchases. My new year's resolution is, "Have Less. See More.” One way I practice this is before buying anything, I ask myself: Is it necessary? Can I afford it? Does it spark joy? It's gotta be "yes" to all three before I buy. It's getting so easy to put things back or not even pick them up. It's simply remembering we don’t need it all, appreciating what we have, and realizing that in fact, it feels better with less.
How do you find balance between work and family, self care and home renovations and everything else you have going on!?
We are definitely in a more balanced state now that the renovation is mostly complete, but I would say I probably neglect my self care the most. I don’t get to yoga or go on my runs - I haven’t done that since I have been off of maternity leave but I find reward in other things now - like spending time with my family. We are together a lot. We may be running errands but we are smiling and having fun, and making it positive.
Let’s talk about concerns over parenting girls...
As a mother to three girls, I want to help them cultivate a strong connection with their inner voices. I want to raise them to be self aware and to trust themselves so they don’t have to rely on me or a teacher or a peer to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. Instead, I want them to listen inward and behave in accordance to their own values and desires. It is so important for young women to feel comfortable setting boundaries and to be able to confidently and unapologetically say “no.” The pleaser in me is still learning this. The inner voice is like a helpful companion they can have with them always - It will enable them to be independent and resilient children and adults.
What challenges do you face personally or as a family? How do you handle it or work through them?
Since we moved to Marin six years ago, finding our people. Finding the friends that are so close they are like family has been hard. Part of that is because a lot of adults and parents create those relationships when their kids are in school, befriending other parents and families. But since Ari was in 5th grade [when we moved], so many of these friendship groups had already been established and we felt like outsiders. So, that is a place that I feel kind of a void in my life. It can be really hard to make friends as an adult.
What’s your “uniform” these days?
Bring me all the high-waisted pants – wide-leg, skinny jean, mom jeans, leggings – a comfy tee (and dry shampoo).
I am so with you on that. I feel so fortunate that our worlds have collided. What drew you to us?
Neve & Hawk is my jam. Your curious off-black color storefront sucked me in. While perusing the most lovely garments displayed in the raddest way, I heard a cheerful voice coming from the back. Then from around the corner came a rather tiny and very blue-eyed lady with blond hair and red lips. Your vibe was fresh and you welcomed me as if we were dear friends.
I was 100% impressed when I learned you not only owned the shop, but also designed the clothes, while wearing your baby, with your husband’s supportive arm around your shoulder, and that your school-age children perform song and dance for customers.
Obviously, I kept coming back for screen printing workshops with my kids, to bathe in the beauty of the shop, and to grab new heirloom pieces for me or the kids.
THANK YOU KYLEE AND FAMILY FOR BEING OUR FIRST FAMILY IN THIS SERIES!!
All photos by Melissa McArdle