That sounds kind of creepy but if any of the owners of these homes had looked out of their windows while I was parked in front of their homes with my iPhone aimed out of the window, I think they may be have concerned.
But there is no better way to see what other people are building and wanting and liking than to drive around and see what kind of new construction is appearing. And all around is construction. On every street, in every neighborhood. And it seems to be either shingles, a modern version of Craftsman, renovated Victorian, ultra modern or just plain ultra huge. And amidst the redwoods of our Northern California town, all of these styles somehow coexist together.
And then there is this...
White house, white trim, wide siding, clean lines, simple trim, black garage doors, monochromatic landscaping.
A little bit Shaker, a little bit farmhouse, a little classic cottage.
I am trying to remember what we talked about before we had kids and before we bought a house that needs updating.
Because right now, almost every conversation is about this house.
A few days ago somebody asked me how long we have been designing this house and I had to admit it that it has been over 2 years. You see the ideas started on that very first visit on a Sunday afternoon, before any inspections or contracts or down payments, and basically, they haven't stopped. Then we had a baby and then we did some work in the back yard and then there was a wedding in Kentucky. Then there was one architect and a contractor and another contractor and a proposal and code analysis.
Basically, we have been putzing around with ideas and architects and contractors for 2 years - trying to figure out how to solve the problems and issues of this house with the smallish amount of money that we have. In terms of money, its sizable. In terms of money for remodeling a house in Marin County, its chump change. What we are trying to figure out is how to make a castle out of our chump change. And by god, we will figure it out.
So now that there are no more babies and weddings and other distractions, we (but mostly I) have the bandwidth to get this show on the road.
For us, this past weekend, that meant devoting 6+ hours to deciphering and prioritizing the 5+ scenarios our new favorite architect gave us. With ruler in hand, some tracing paper and several sharpened pencils, we started to draw...
And draw. And draw.
And by Sunday night, we had it. A completed master plan.
Let me say that again, A COMPLETED MASTER PLAN! This is huge.
What is a master plan you ask? For some it may seem a frivolous extra expense but what I have learned is that it is an essential planning tool for any remodel. Building and supplies and labor are expensive - paper and pencils and ideas are not.
Taking the extra time in the beginning to figure out how each design component affects the next can help to clarify what to do when and hopefully prevent you from doing work twice or even three times because you didn't realize that you actually wanted access to the backyard (once your deck is built) where instead you just put in a new countertop and pantry because you didn't think beyond the kitchen. In our case, making a master plan was a crucial first step because it has taken us through countless iterations of ideas and options, some of which worked, others that didn't but all the while helping us to prioritize.
And when you have an old house and a small budget and you don't want to tear the whole thing down and start over, it is important to prioritize and gain complete transparency into the domino affect of making changes, hopefully preparing us for everything and leaving the unexpected (which is inevitable and unavailable) to a much smaller percentage.
As for our priorities, we narrowed then down to:
1. Fix the flow
2. Keep as many walls standing as possible
3. Create a central hallway/stair that leads from new entry stair to back of house
4. Create 2 functioning bedrooms upstairs
5. Create a defined sense of private space for downstairs bedrooms and bath
With these 5 priorities, we were able to look at each scenario and quantify how it stacked up to each component. Our favorite scenario that gutted the downstairs bathroom and made this really sexy and spacious corridor from the new entry to the back of the house did not address #2 and #5. And at 3am after our last meeting with Zac (the new favorite architect), I realized that #5 was actually way more important than an exact central hallway. So we went back to his sketches and started over.
Now we need to verify and verify some more and then it might just be time to bring in a structural engineer and maybe even head to the planning department for a preliminary overview.
"Making the bed is a gift from your present self to your future self."
I read that once, don't ask me where but it sort of stuck. I suppose I have always made my bed out of compulsive neatness but never really thought about how it did actually make me feel. I like looking at a made bed and I really love getting into a made bed.
So every morning I make the bed and then it looks like this...
Because last night, my dear husband asked "Why are there so many pillows on the bed? All I do is this motion?" (And he motioned the taking pillow off bed and throwing it on floor thing, several times.)
And I answered, "Because it looks better and I like it."
"But it doesn't." he replied.
Now, usually when it comes to the topic of pillows and upholstery and stemware and table settings and floral arranging, I trust my instinct, not his. But for some reason, I woke up this morning and thought again about the pillows on the floor and figured I would just give his suggestion a try.
So then it looks like this...
No pillows on floor to fall over on the way to bathroom at 3am, yes.
We're in a holding pattern. And at this moment I am irritated by it. Yesterday and last week, I was fine with it. Guess that is how it goes.
We are waiting on our new architect to come up with a few schematic suggestions for our internal staircase. He has a 2 week window of needing to attend to another project and suddenly 2 weeks is feeling really long.
So I came up with some filler due diligence work for myself. When you buy a house that you know is built in 1894, it is worth checking into its documented history. And what I found is that a well funded library + volunteers with passion for things past + a small town = a crazy organized history room. I gave our address and less than a minute later, I had a manila folder in my hand.
And sure enough, there she was...
Image from 1974
She even has a common name: Gravem Place.
On the Historic Resources Inventory that accompanied this photo, were some hand written notes. I smiled mostly at:
12. Description - Altered
Yup, she is altered alright. Our real estate agent even dared to say "bastardized" at one point. I didn't hold it against it - if you could see our house you wouldn't hold it against him either.
There is very little left of what once was, which on one hand is good for us because it means our house is not listed on a historical register that would dictate what we can and can not do. But it also means that we have ourselves a hodgepodge of design styles and additions, that make our renovation like a twisted ball of necklace chain - you know you can get the knot undone but it takes pulling here and tugging here and letting go here. A load of patience and a pair of very pointed tweezers is helpful too.
16. Statement of Significance - One of the oldest houses. Was visual landmark from center of town.
Yup, she is old.
And yup, you can see our house from downtown. Less now with the addition of new houses and growing trees, but she is there. Which just reminds me that the location of this here house, is ideal. And you know what they say: location, location, location.
But what does old and altered and landmark mean really?
It means that we can't (and won't) just tear down this house and build something new. It means that we care about what was here before us and have every intention of keeping what we can and fixing and updating what we can't. It means that we need that load of patience and that pair of tweezers.
Getting happy. I mentioned this in January, I think. And now it's October and I am mentioning it again.
It struck a cord with some of you - my getting happy. A fellow mom and friend said to me after I posted it, "Looking forward to seeing where this goes." Guess that's what happens when you actually share your thoughts with others in an authentic way. Since January, there have been a few disjointed conversations over the sound of playing children that have kept narrowing in on this getting happy thing, at least momentarily.
One of those conversations was with one of my favorite women who is also a mom and a wife and a yogi. She gave me the analogy that we as mothers are often flinging our prana (life energy or breath) - at others, at our children, at endless to do lists and domestic responsibilities, leaving very little for our own sustenance or passion. It's a lovely analogy because it is so tangible to me - I can actually feel this happening in my body. And to be able to name it, means I can be aware of it. And do be aware of it means I have the ability to change it.
So, in getting to happy, I am reeling in my prana first - looking at all the places I toss my life energy.
And let me tell you, there are many.
Some are conscious and others lie deep in my overcrowded mind and habitual ways of doing things - keeping me distracted and discontented. Too many things to do. Too many half started projects. Too many responsibilities. Too many people with too many needs. Not enough time. When in actuality, there is time and there is energy. It is just choosing how to use both, wisely.
But its not easy. Because it means being able to prioritize and be clear about what you want. And for that you actually do need time and I some days I don't brush my hair or shower. Time with 2 children under 5 is basically no time. Here enters Megan Flatt and her Mamagroove.
Basically, through coaching and online classes, Megan provides tools, tips/tricks and infectious enthusiasm about finding your passion: that thing that makes your eyes twinkle and crinkle at the edges when you think about.
In June, in a coaching session with Megan that I thought was going to be about getting back in shape after baby number two, amongst my shoulds and wouldn't it be nice to wants, lay a treasure of a sentence, just waiting to be plucked from the masses.
I want to write every week.
I wrote this for the first time in 2008 in a journal which materialized into a blog about being a first time mom. It was a cathartic and an empowering and 100% satisfying experience. But babies who take 2 naps a day turn into toddlers who turn into big brothers and you know the rest.
I want to write.
Typing it again now gives me that little flutter and grasping around the heart, like when you are standing at the edge of just about anything and your equilibrium is off and your whole body quickly reorganizes itself in order to regain balance. You know.
But in order to write again, Megan explained that I needed to prioritize doing so. That means I have to dedicate time to untangle the ball of duties and tasks and to-dos in front of me and then prioritize, eradicate, automate, delegate, streamline and simplify.
I thought it would be as easy as simply scheduling an hour a week on my calendar to write. I set up a desk space, I made a pretty 90-min box on my Google calendar every Wednesday from 1-2:30. But in half-assing the automating, delegating and streamlining step for all of my other more important tasks, I hadn't really made the time in my mind, so it was easy to brush off the allocated calendar time.
Five months later, I have no blog posts to show. But I have something else: an unexpected sense of balance and spaciousness in my home and in me because without knowing it, I actually choose a different want/goal to prioritize in the last 5 months. In choosing the get our finances up to date and organized, I surreptiously...
- Said good-bye to Repurposed Playground: Now I have one succinct place to write and gather my thoughts
- Took apart the play area under the stairs and reclaimed a working desk just for me
- Set up Amazon SubscribeNSave for almost everything
- Set up Safeway grocery delivery for the rest
- Set up Grocery IQ (shopping list iPhone app) for Trader Joes's and Whole Foods
- The daily 6-7pm hour to my husband
- Week is structured according to kid-free time, nap times and activity times
- Laundry, dry-cleaning, car wash, gardener, house cleaner etc are scheduled either weekly or monthly
- Weekly snacks are pre-packed
- Checklist for updating finances monthly is typed and printed
- Mail is opened once a week (this is my all time favorite) Simplify
- The train table is taken apart and now the coffee table is multi-functional again
- Closets are cleaned out
- Bags of things donated
Some might call this procrastination. I call it freeing up brain space and reeling back my prana.
And reclaimed prana means more passion and freed up brain space means more creative thinking and I don't have to be a math genius to tell you, that for me
passion + thinking =writing
Please forgive an typos, grammatical mistakes and mis-used words. I didn't say I wanted to write well. At least not yet.
I should eat better, exercise more and get more sleep. That about sums it up on the whole self-care topic. Now I can move on.
Well actually, I can't move on because the whole reason I am actually sitting here at my computer and typing on a Wednesday afternoon at 1:29pm is because last week someone helped me make a fundamental and very important shift in the way I think. And it has everything to do with this blog and this house and how I take care of myself.
I met with Megan Flatt last week and though I am certain I haven't actually changed any habits (this morning's mental break down over getting to kids out the door proves I have adapted nothing), I am acutely aware of the time I spent with Megan and what small insights she opened my eyes.
It starts here. Her definition of self-care - "Anything that is easy to do that instantly make you feel better." Well, that about changes everything, because it transforms the shoulds into get to's and makes the possibility of taking care of one's self so much expansive. And more obtainable. If eating well (which means cooking) and exercising (which means effort) are things that I am not passionate about, that is ok. In choosing what I am passionate about and allowing myself the time to do those things (in as little as 5 minute increments), then those things that are less exciting but still useful in maintaining wellness and good health will perhaps happen as well.
So what am I passionate about?
At Megan's request, I brainstormed for a few minutes to I want...
And this is my exact list
- to fit into my pre-baby clothes
- the garden water/irrigation/maintenance system solved
- to write every week
- a childcare plan that works
- a small Fiat convertible
- a body that feels more youthful
- a desk and work space at home
- my music on my iphone
Well, there you have it. Seems obtainable. Okay, maybe not the Fiat but a girl can dream.
Though I had started my meeting with Megan thinking we would focus on nutrition and exercise and and that whole fit into my pre-baby clothes want, she instead zeroed in on two items on my list. 1. To write every week and 2. A desk work space at home. Surprised and intrigued, I paid attention as to why.
And of course, it all makes sense. Give time to your passion and there will be more energy, more joy, less pain and strangely more time. For me this means getting organized, choosing priorities and actually setting aside 1 hour a week that is not scheduled after 7pm or on the weekend and to sitting down to write. Which is why, now in the middle of the day, I get to write, at my desk, that I set up under the stairs.
But why am I writing about writing and my new approach to self-care on a blog that is supposed to be about renovating an old house? It's quite simple actually. I want to write. And I want to create a home in which we each value ourselves, our dreams and our bodies. And I want to renovate our house. And well, I know the three are all connected.
I will get to paint colors and how we chose our architect and why we have to save one wall over another, but I can't do any of those things if I am not organized, thinking clearly or feeling overwhelmed. And to be honest, that is where I have been for almost 2 years.
I will be back next week with something to say about how getting organized is going.