December 25, 2013

It's our third Christmas without Margot.Thirty-one Christmas eves before and three after.

My life, before her. And after.

Time shifted in March 2011. A new beginning by which all events and experiences are measured as they are remembered in my mind.

The 85' Bears. Before.
Middle School. Before.
Indianapolis. After.
The apartment on Euclid. Before.
Christmas Eve, 2013. After.

The Christmas Eve after she died was spent in our car, in the In N Out parking lot, eating hamburgers and listening to Judy Garland, Stella jumping from front to back, hopped up on the lethal combination of Christmas and a chocolate milkshake. There was no tree that year.

Their are four of us now, living, huddled around mattresses in the living room, listening to Judy Garland, dancing and laughing by the light of the tree. There is happiness here in the after, a trace of innocence, a steadfastness in the present.

We have muddled through, somehow. 

November 7, 2013

We sold our house to the first people that looked at it.

Eleven months of grunting and sweating and arguing and guessing our way through the restoration of an old beauty. Forty-one thousand, seven hundred and sixty three dollars and thirteen cents of our savings poured into every inch of our tiny plot of land in the city. Living an Indiana life that was the upside down version of our California life, trading time together for time on the house, trading leisure for stress, trading family evenings and dinners for Kari working five nights a week. 

And then, suddenly, the house was finished and two days later the house was listed and one day later the house was sold. And that was that.


I sit here now in my living room, days away from closing. It really is a beautiful room. The poplar floors are something out of the old world, full of colors so rich and original that it's nearly unmatched. The ten foot ceilings have never become commonplace. The eight inch baseboard and window trim are made from solid oak and the curves and lines that make up the molding are incredibly precise and complex. The two pocket doors creak and hiss as they open and close but these gigantic five panel doors were one of the reasons we bought the house and they have captured my historical imagination ever since.

I see this one room and remember scraping the floors till my back gave out and caulking the cracks and meticulously sanding and refinishing all of the trim and I am not sad to say goodbye.


The sand mandala is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition that involves several monks all working tirelessly and meticulously on a concentric structure, with no beginning and no end, made from crushed stones that are carefully dyed with colored ink. They work from the center and move outward, using funnels and scrapers and other small apparatuses to place each tiny stone in the proper place. Some of these larger mandalas can take a team of monks several weeks to finish.

When these beautiful pieces are complete, they dismantle them, shape by shape, symbol by symbol, color by color, until there is nothing left but a jar full of sand. And then, ceremoniously, this sand is released into a river or a body of water as a symbol of impermanence, a non-attachment to the material world.

We have often thought of this house as our mandala over the past year, knowing this would probably be a temporary home for our family. And as the months trudged on and the to-do lists grew and the physical and emotional demands of a broken house intensified, the more appropriate the metaphor seemed.


I do not feel sad about leaving this house. I do not feel happy to leave it. My relationship with these walls is complicated and I'm not quite sure how to process everything this house has meant to me, both in the anger and joy and exhaustion it has brought. But as we pack our bags for California, I do feel grateful. I am grateful for what it taught me both practically and mentally, grateful for what it revealed to me about perseverance and grief, grateful that it has helped heal my broken heart.

And yet, it is time to move on. This place is temporary, impermanent. I'm ready to walk away, releasing it to the river.

November 3, 2013

Finally getting down to the end of the before and after pictures! Only one more post left. :)

The first task upstairs, which used to be the upper floor of a duplex, was taking out all of the garbage that was left up there for decades and hauling it to this huge steel bin. I'd guess 75% of what's in this bin came from the upstairs. 

From there, we scraped and sanded the original pine floors, which laid beautifully under several layers of paint, tile and in a couple of rooms, plywood. Then we ran new plumbing to the bathroom, updated all of the electrical and began taking steps to restoring each room, slowly and painfully.


The old kitchen was arguably the worst. The ceiling was caved in, the wood floors were a uneven and couldn't be salvaged and there were gas and water lines running everywhere. After ripping out most of the ceiling, we added insulation and then drywalled the ceiling and one wall. We removed existing water and gas lines and, laid down a new pine floor, updated electrical, added baseboard and quarter round and finally, painted. 

While this room is one of the smallest in the house, the transformation and ample light makes it one of my favorites.

The origina bathroom was full of pink appliances and a green and white checkered floor. One of the windows was broken and falling out and laying inside the window was a dead bird. Suffice to say, it was a mess. Some friends replumbed the entire bathroom, installed new shower, toilet and sink and then laid tile. We took it from there with electical work, caulking, new windows, fixed doors and new lights and mirror.

The last remaining work upstairs were in the two bedrooms. After restoring the original pine floors and installing new windows, we went to work on refinishing all of the beautiful oak woodwork around the windows and floors. All of it needed sanded and re stained and some of it needed replaced. Lots of drywall patches, updated electrical, paint and new ceilings fans rounded out these huge rooms.

This room has now become Leo's room, who has the entire upstairs all to himself. :)

The front bedroom needed the least cosmetic attention.

October 25, 2013

I should start by saying that it took two full days of plowing and digging and raking and shoveling in the back yard to even realize we had a beautiful brick patio. TWO DAYS. In the end, the outside took three weeks of work (spread out over the year) to get it to where it is now. We removed several trees, built a new deck and fence and tirelessly dug down 6" in nearly every nook and cranny of yard space in order to rid ourselves of fifteen years of mad ivy takeover and gobs of poison sumac. The final piece to the yard puzzle was seeding in September and building a fire pit.

As for the exterior of our house, the work was extensive and thankfully, most of the big ticket items were contracted out. :) We had a new roof put on, asbestos siding removed, insulation blown in, our maple was trimmed away from the house and new siding installed. I installed new windows in much of the house and we painstakingly updated the porch by removing lead paint, replacing rotten posts and painting the door, posts and porch ceiling. There was also a mess of an awning that adorned our sidewalk entrance, which was a delight to smash down and then reuse to build Stella a small tree house. A little landscaping went along way.

This is what our house looked like when we first laid eyes on it (siding caked with asbestos, half of the window trim was rotted out, layers of lead paint caked on everything and missing gutters). It's hard to believe we could fall in love with such a mess.

Some progress shots: 

And the finished version...

October 21, 2013

He poured the foundation slab on Halloween night, 1979, three months after I was born. Two years later, my grandparents were able to call their cottage in the woods complete, though when I asked my Grandpa how long it took to finish the house he laughed and said thirty years.

I have spent my entire life heading up to Grandpa's house, back when they had horses in the barn and scooters in the garage. The inside is just about the coziest place you can imagine, with a huge fireplace, beautiful windows, thoughtful carpentry and a loft full of books and treasures my Grandma has collected over the years.

Their home sits on 10 acres of pure Northern Michigan goodness, and the woods and isolation and hills have always been a playground for my sisters and I. And when you add my loving, generous and happy grandparents to this place, well, it feels like such fortune.

Sadly, they are selling their cottage in the woods, thirty-four years after construction began. My sister and I took the older kids up this past weekend for one final visit, to experience with our own kiddos what we have been doing for all of these years.

Au revoir, happy cottage. I'll miss the popcorn and card games and fires and getting freaked out by the basement.