One month of work

One month ago we got the keys to a 1942 house. It was previously inhabited by a 94 year old woman who passed away this summer. She lived in it beginning in 1961! Like many estate sale homes, it was obviously treasured and cared for, but modernized? No. This, and a few amazing incidents, kept it in our price range even though it was in a neighborhood we hadn’t imagined would be affordable to us. It doesn’t take us far from our current place, the boys’ school, and our friends (some of whom are now much closer!). We are thrilled.

I envisioned I’d be writing frequent posts about what this process has been like for us. Instead, the end of most days I’m absolutely beat. My body is tired, my muscles ache and I don’t have energy to write. I haven’t been cooking regularly. Amy and Annie are feeding us quite often, very much to the boys’ delight. Tonight I was motivated, probably because Harry & I unintentionally napped after collapsing on our bed following the day’s hard work. The boys entertained themselves (oh, how I love that they are older for this phase of life!) until a massive meltdown over a house of cards crashing (literally) provided our alarm clock. Harry’s back working tonight so I’m holding down the fort.

A month ago we started here:

and all month we’ve been doing this:

Not to be considered slouchers, we donated an organ. (Harde har har.)


We had asbestos popcorn ceilings removed. Sloppy work meant they had to return and take out our carpet and big wall mirrors. Win! Less work for us!

Over fifty hours were spent removing wallpaper layers (by me, my mom and a friend). Three layers on the dining room wall, four ridiculously awful layers on every wall in the boys’ room, one in the foyer and one super easy layer in the kitchen. If you ask me to help you remove wallpaper and I don’t run away screaming but actually say yes, I seriously ADORE you.

More hours than he’s cared to count have been spent by Harry preparing the walls and ceilings for paint. The plaster is worn in many spots, completely falling away from the lathe in places, so it needed to be cleared out and patched with drywall and/or joint compound. The man is officially my Master of Plaster.

Several days were spent removing carpet pads (easy!), carpet tack strips (horrible!) and staples (even worse, until I found the right tool) from the hardwood floors.

Still up before move-in: finish patching walls and ceilings, finish sanding all trim and kitchen cabinets to prep for primer & paint, fill holes in wood, and finally, prime and paint! Also, we need to pack more boxes, feed our children, get groceries, do laundry, clean dishes, work at school and prepare for Christmas.

It’s a season. We entered this somewhat naively (I thought the wallpaper would come down with ease, we had no idea how much work the walls would be, etc…) but many things have worked in our favor and we’ve had lots of support. Our chins are up. It’s just like a marathon. We signed ourselves up. We’re eager. It’s hard and we hit lows, but we have a goal in mind.

So, despite this slightly insane workload, we are thankful. With frequent reminders of how lucky we are, from the boys making care kits for the homeless at school to the horrifying stories of Syrian refugees, we are maintaining good attitudes (mostly), taking dance breaks, singing with our tools and asking for help. We couldn’t be more grateful that we have found a home to make our own.




I keep finding myself stopped in my tracks. It’s usually a combination of my boys playing outside, doing everyday things like climbing, kicking balls or chasing each other, and stunning golden fall light shining on the vivid leaves. Sometimes it’s just the light. Or just the boys. I have to catch my breath as I wonder, will this be their last time swinging from that tree? Is this is the final time I’ll watch Harry a pitch a ball to Miles while I bake? I have loved our life here. It has been rich with simple moments of beauty.

I cry, I sigh, I swoon, I savor.

Reminders of all we treasured here will continue to fall in front of me until we leave. Autumn seems to be the perfect reminder of beauty in loss. My heart aches and rejoices. Home moves with us. New gifts await. But for now, we are here. In the middle, watching the leaves fall.


Do not mistake your

swells of joy,

waves of tears

to loss of home.

They are celebrations

of life well-lived.

In one place.

For one season.


DIMV3686 Hello? Anyone there? 

Since my last post was in early July I feel a bit sheepish crawling out from under my rock. Apparently it takes a cold to get me writing here again. I’m happy to have returned, even if just briefly between naps and tissues. I hope fall finds you well, possibly wrapped in a blanket with a warm cup of tea and a good book while rain falls softly. Hopefully there aren’t tissues scattered around you.

Last spring, the week after I began the colossal project of shoveling a mountain of wood chips from driveway to yard, our landlord changed our lease so that we could receive 90-days notice at any time. He informed us he was likely going to remodel and rent for more. Over the course of the next few weeks we saw him outside showing people the property. They scoped it out and took notes. I didn’t like it.

In many parts of this country finding suitable, affordable housing in 90-days isn’t a big deal. Fun? No. But, manageable? Yes. In many areas of Seattle, it’s harder to find a decent, affordable rental than a corner without a coffee shop. People are moving into the city faster than ever. Prices are skyrocketing. Many have already been displaced, many more will be. Renters who can afford it are competing by offering more than asking price and writing gushing letters to their potential landlords. Houses, already priced steeply, sometimes sell for 10-20% over asking price in bidding wars.

Our landlord changed our lease and I became obsessed. I worried we were going to be priced out of the city or have to make enormous sacrifices that may better warrant moving away instead. I read a million articles about the Seattle housing market. I combed over craigslist ads for rentals ad nauseum, getting a feel for rental prices so we’d be ready if we needed to jump. I set up Redfin searches to familiarize myself with housing prices, doubtful we could afford to buy but wanting to understand it nonetheless.

From May until September I often felt disoriented. Saddened by what was happening to our housing situation, while realizing that we were among the very lucky, my eyes opened a little wider to reality. I no longer recognized the Seattle I had fallen in love with. It wasn’t just renters who were tense. It seemed most people were either increasingly stressed by ridiculous work hours, anxious about being able to afford the city any longer, or feeling stuck (both literally, in traffic, and figuratively.)

Even the damn weather didn’t cooperate. June’s dry, scorching heat made me ache for the chill, wet and gloom that usually presides until July. I wanted normal and routine. I wanted comfort and stability. I counted on those June rains to get my garden established. Instead, I had scorched seedlings.

We spent hours contemplating how we could stay in the city or if we even should. (A very privileged choice, for which I am deeply grateful and sometimes a little embarrassed about. I am fuming about our unjust housing opportunities.) We knew we were straddling a growing divide, needing to choose which side to land on. Should we choose a different job for my husband if it means we get to remain in the heart of all we love? Even if we don’t see him during the week? What if he’s miserable and then we’re stuck? Should I work for someone else and give up my business idea? Heck, should I work full-time and just have our family deal with the consequences of such a busy life when we all thrive on on a slow pace? Should we move to suburbia, essentially starting over with community or commuting hours each day? If we do that, why not a bigger move to somewhere far more affordable? Our wheels, they were a spinnin’!

There were weeks I’d declare I didn’t want to stay here any longer, shaking my finger at the crazy rat race. Yet, typically within minutes of truly contemplating all that a move would entail, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving. In the same day I’d research living in Amsterdam, I’d gush with excitement over the boys’ new school or be warmed by gratitude for friends. Countless moments like this happened before I finally realized what I was doing. I was grieving the pending loss of our current residence while feeling terrified that we couldn’t remain nearby. Our housing uncertainty made me feel like I was backed into a corner, so I was looking for where to run.

This realization led me on a journey of recommitting to my home and community. I became willing to ask for help and open to putting a lot more on the line to stay here. For the friends we treasure, to those we’re getting to know. For the school I anticipate my boys thriving in, to the pub where everybody knows our name. For the opportunity my husband has, to the excitement of my new business. For the sparkling mossy forests and dark gray waters, to the blossoming cherry trees and hidden mushrooms. For the orcas, my goodness!

Next month we are leaving our home of nearly five years to begin a new chapter a few miles away. I am hit by waves of grief over leaving this property (yes, pretty much the yard) and all the neighbors who have become friends. Often, on the same day, the next waves bring tear-swelling gratitude that we get to stay so close to the center of our community. I am eager to plant more roots, ones that hopefully will get to dig deeper for decades. The dropping of autumn’s leaves and the planting of spring’s seeds. Four seasons of emotions tumble within me.

(Stay tuned, there will be plenty of projects at our next place and we’re planning on taking you along for the ride.)


One little conversation

When my twitter and facebook feeds erupted rainbows last Friday morning, I sobbed. Then for a solid hour I was glued to the screen, scrolling, “liking” and commenting endlessly to celebrate. I’m a relative newbie to the fight for civil rights, fleeing chains of conservative Christianity in the past two decades, but damn, it still felt amazing to win. How deeply it must have resonated for people who have been denied the right to sit by their loved one’s side in the hospital, listened to decades of hateful slurs, told they were less than, and had their worth questioned. Snot and tear city.

My boys built forts and played with Legos that morning, unaware that lives just changed. I’m trying to capitalize on natural opportunities for conversations about hot-button topics, such as sexuality, race, discrimination and violence, so we chatted over snack. I told the boys about the SCOTUS decision, homophobia, and discrimination. I didn’t use those words. I simplified it. They’re five and eight.

“Some people don’t believe that people who are the same sex should be able to marry. Some people also treat these people really horribly and tell them that they’re not ok as who they are. This has meant all sorts of awful things have happened, including people being bullied, people not being able to support each other in the hospital nor make important decisions together. Now, the government has said that this can’t happen anymore. Anyone who loves each other can get married.”

They’re not surprised by a same sex family. Their community includes a few gay family members and many friends who have parents in same sex marriages. (It’s been legal in Washington State since 2012.) We also have a history of discussions about various family structures. As far as I can tell, my boys think nothing of it. But I wanted them to know that this law was hard won, a HUGE deal, and critically important for many people in our nation.

Because we used to attend church and occasionally still encounter conservative Christian beliefs, I also made sure to specify with them that some Christians will say God doesn’t believe gay people should marry, nor be gay at all. But, Harry and I don’t believe this. We think God cares about loving people and fighting for those who aren’t being loved.

We finished by specifying many of their friends who have same sex parents, our family members who are gay, and I reiterated the fact that now anyone can marry whoever they want in every single state of our nation. That was it. A ten minute discussion over lunch. How much did they process? Who knows. They seemed more interested in their peaches than our talk. It doesn’t matter, though. This isn’t a one time deal. Short, simple discussions will be peppered throughout our life, evolving in complexity as the boys grow.

Later that afternoon, while Charlie and a friend played in the Seattle Center’s International Fountain, I scanned the crowd struck by how many different races were represented around the circle. It hit me that just like I grew up with it legal to play at a park with kids of different colors and found the alternative terrible, my children will look back at the USA prior to this law and rightfully acknowledge how horrible and ridiculous it was that it took us so long.


I love the rainbow. It is stunning after so much black and white.

Will this decision be among the first dominos that topple the devastating effects of hatred against the LBGTQ community? Will teenagers stop needing to flee home because they know their parents would hate their truth, possibly even beat them for it? Will stories like Matthew Shepherd’s horrid murder become less and less frequent? I believe yes. There will be pockets of hate. The road is long and bumpy, but I believe yes.

My hope and prayer is that if my boys ever hear anything hateful spoken, they will speak up for love. This is an important piece of why we are not silent. We fight discrimination, bias and stigma one little conversation at a time.

If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend watching this beautifully produced short on Jim and John. Thank you, John, for your deep commitment to this fight. You are astoundingly courageous. And SCOTUS, it’s friggin’ overdue, but you deserve a thank you, too. America is truly a little closer to being the Land of the Free this Independence Day.


Passing on my phobias

I’m extremely emotional today and over-caffeinated, both of which may be important details in this story. Also, Seattle is about to fry. No one has air conditioning and we’re preparing for a string in the 90s. Most of us start to complain when it tops 70. Since we can’t leave our windows open at night and still feel safe, we open everything up in the early morning to cool the house down. This morning, I headed to close our back door right as A RAT was trying to ENTER my HOUSE!

A RAT! My house! It may be a little my fault, time to vacuum and mop, but oh my god! A rat!


The part of the rat that grosses me out most. If it had been facing us, the story might end differently.

I screamed. It ran and hid behind a box filled with broken outdoor toys we haven’t discarded. I slammed the door like a grizzly bear was about to eat me. Charlie and Miles learned about “eebie-jeebies” and watched me shriek and shake my jitters out all around the house. They didn’t seem to care much. They didn’t even ask to see the rat.

Gathering my composure, I continued to close up the house. After I shut the boys’ bedroom windows, which requires me climbing on top of Miles’ bed, I stepped down only to encounter this scene in Charlie’s loft bed:


I screamed again. Then I laughed.

I knew the day would come when Samuel Bearded would scare the shit out of me. Today was the day. (Yes, we discovered his real name! It’s written on the tranverse plane between his neck and his former body!)

Interrupting the boys, this time to tell them of my adventure with Samuel, Miles giggled with pride, “I did that!” It worked, kiddo. It worked.

“So boys, want to see the rat?” I regretted asking immediately, but knew I had to face this fear. I needed to water my garden. There were raspberries to harvest. I might as well have moral support.

I opened the door. It was still there.


As they watched, I pushed the box with a broom, anticipating the rat would run under the garden shed. Nope. Too easy. Instead it jumped onto our grill and hid under the cover.

“Aw, it’s cute!” Charlie gushed.

Shit. They make nests in grills. I didn’t think that was going to happen, but I didn’t want it getting cozy there, either.

I tapped at the cover with the broom. Nothing. I wiggled the grill with the broom. Aware that the boys are watching me, I was saying things like, “Just a little earthquake, rat! Come on out.” Nothing. It wasn’t budging.

The friggin’ rat was going to make me take the cover off.

I made a lot of nervous noises and grossed out faces while the boys observed from inside. I walked towards the cover and backed away. A few times. I asked Charlie if he wanted to do it. Nope.

Mustering up my courage and wanting to show the boys a good example (ha!), I approached, trying to pull it off like a magician pulling a tablecloth out from under dishes. The surprised rat tumbled off the handle, onto the cement and hid between a few of my potted plants.

“Oh, it’s SO cute!” Charlie exclaimed. Again.

I heard a quick whooshing noise and slammed the door again. “What was that?” “Did it come in?” Charlie looked around. “No, I don’t think so.” Clearly, I’m nuts. As if the rat would come back towards us. What, while wearing a cape to make a noise like that? Sheesh.

I went to open the door again but Charlie pleaded, “No, don’t open it!”

Rats. (Bwa-ha-ha. It had to be used.) I passed my fear to him. Just like that.

“Oh, honey. It’s fine. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m afraid of rats but they’re really more scared of us and won’t hurt us if we give them space.”

I opened the door, peeked at the pots and saw the rat tail. In my panic, I had thrown the cover back on top of the grill as the rat dropped. The cover must’ve fallen to the ground and made that noise. I shooed the rat away from the plants and checked in with the boys, who were still watching me with growing curiosity. “Yay! It’s gone!” I faked a little cheer.

“Are you alright?” Charlie asked me with genuine concern, but also a little smirk. I don’t think he’s ever asked me this question with that look on his face. He saw a little of the crazy in his mama. At least he found it funny.

I watered my plants and picked my berries with a hyper vigilant eye, all while thinking, “I bet that rat comes back. It probably likes berries.” Then I went inside and told the boys yet again, this time calmly and collected, that rats aren’t to be feared. (Hahahahaha.) We shouldn’t pet city rats, but they can certainly touch pet rats.

“Yes, people have rats as pets…”

“Oh, I’m glad you think they’re cute, Charlie, but no.”

Never. Ever.

Some days, when emotions are high, you just may pass on your phobias to your kids. Or, if you’re really lucky, they’ll want one as a pet.

Transforming our neglected property

Contemplating Mrs. Brown made me want to share about our landscape’s ongoing makeover! Most of our efforts the past four years have required a hefty amount of observation, research, planning, muscle and dedication, but little money. It’s been a patience and grit game. Now that I can look in the rear view mirror I know that this was about trusting in the process, even when I was unsure how everything would unfold. By going slow, the land had a chance to let us know what needed to happen and we could jump on opportunities as they arose.

Doing our work by hand and without chemicals felt frustratingly slow at times, but that grew easier to accept each year, too. We have completely avoided pesticides, despite how tempting Round-Up may be for the weeds among our brick patio bricks that WILL NEVER DIE. We’ve even torched them without success. But, I’m not giving in. No bees or salmon will be killed in the name of obtaining a “perfect” lawn or garden. We prefer to accept the dandelions among us.

I often felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the job our first year. This lot is exceptionally large for Seattle standards (a fifth of an acre), and the weeds had raging parties for a decade. (For some “Before” pictures, please visit this post.) We hadn’t received our landlord’s blessing to change anything yet, so we cleaned up bits and pieces, pruned overgrown trees and bushes, and learned the perennial vegetation as it poked through the ground. In the meantime, probably due to our hard work, we convinced our landlord to let us build vegetable beds and take complete control of caring for the backyard. We evicted the hack-and-whack landscaping team, giving plants a chance to thrive.

The second year Harry built some raised beds for edibles. (Not those kinds of edibles, silly.) I started dividing the overwhelmed, introverted irises and lilies so they’d have space to bloom. (I know how they feel.) Splitting plants is one of my favorite ways to fill in beds and experiment with new planting locations. Free and easy! I also jumped on all opportunities for free or cheap plants to transplant. We received daisies, wild geraniums, and strawberries from friends. A few neighbors passed along divisions, and I frequented bare root and other affordable sales.

Our latest, and most ambitious short-term project, was hauling an enormous amount of mulch onto the property. Mulch makes gardens happy not only because they’re more attractive, but also because the soil retains moisture better, the wood breaks down to feed the soil, and weeds are suppressed. In late March we signed up with Chip Drop, an organization that alerts arborists that they may drop as many wood chips at your site as they’d like on any day they choose. It’s free! We signed up imagining we’d have a week or two to prepare for about five to ten cubic yards. Two days later they dumped EIGHTTEEN cubic yards (!!!!) on our driveway. I guess they liked my tip.

Clearly, it was time to act or else we’d never park our car in the garage again. (As it was, it took four weeks of serious work to clear that pile!) First I prepped our most wide open, heavily weeded and/or overgrown areas for the cardboard weed barrier. Both non-glossy cardboard and newspaper decompose and are safe in the garden. They beat the heck out of plastic weed barriers because they’re free and sustainable, plus you can actually plant in them later or move them around with ease. Plus, worm food!

Prepping for the cardboard involved weed-whacking big patches of weeds to the ground and hand-pulling those in smaller areas. We could’ve hand-pulled them all and spent five months doing this, but why? The cardboard we used is thick enough to smother most weeds. As long as it’s properly layered, it works. (There are places I short changed by not overlapping cardboard enough or using too little newspaper, so I’m already going over those again as weeds poke through. Learn from me. Even though it feels like it’s taking forever, I highly recommend you layer well or you’ll probably end up doing it again sooner than later anyways.)

I saved all of our Sunday New York Times papers for six months and used every single, non-glossy page. Surely Bill Cunningham’s fashion pages will yield showstopping flowers! Harry made frequent stops at a nearby bike shop to collect empty bike boxes. We removed all the staples using pliers, pulled any bits of tape off, and tore the boxes apart. I used an exacto knife to cut them to smaller pieces and feel totally badass. Cheap gardening thrills! Another perk!


Some bike boxes were whiney.


Parts of this process are really fricking ugly. Just keep working. It’ll look good eventually.

Once an area was ready, we piled mulch on top. We made sure to give trees plenty of space around their trunks and bushes adequate respect, too.





We are reaping our biggest rewards this year. We delighted in a steady stream of blooming irises from March through May. The lilies are starting to strut their stuff. Weeds are minimal and the mulch looks great. The beds are bursting with color or filled with green. Even the alley looks good.

The edibles are pretty happy, too, minus some unwanted berry leaf-munching bugs. Snap peas are taller than Miles, raspberries and blueberries are starting to ripen, and I ate my first boysenberries yesterday. YUM. One round of artichokes were consumed and more will be this week, making it our best artichoke year. Tulip’s gravesite is growing beans, squash, corn and a few flowers. It’s not doing as well as I’d hoped, so I’m guessing I rushed the process too much. The other hugelkultuur bed has tomatoes and a few other things. It’s doing ok. Next season should be better for both of them. I really hope we get to experience it.

I feel so fortunate to be gardening among Mrs. Brown’s flowers right now. I know how it felt to leave my first garden in Colorado, and I know how much I’ll grieve leaving this one, but now I’m savoring the transformation. One of my current favorite activities is to sit under the grapevines in the backyard and watch the boys play soccer with Harry or run through a sprinkler. Saturated with beauty, if not water.





“Kathleen! Do you have a moment?” my neighbor asked after spotting Miles and I pull up by bike one afternoon last week.

“I’ve been wanting to tell you this for weeks. Has anyone told you about Mrs. Brown, who lived here until she died?”

She went on to explain that Mrs. Brown, a widow and a mom, tended the garden day and night, rain or shine. Mrs. Brown baked my neighbor a homegrown rhubarb cake after she gave birth and doted on her sons as they grew up. Mrs. Brown grew food and flowers, nurturing this land and her neighbors. I bet I would’ve loved Mrs. Brown.

“And you know what? You brought back Mrs. Brown to me. You have brought her back to life by restoring the beauty here. I’m reminded of her every time I walk by now and I am so thankful.”

I was so touched. I got teary eyed, and probably would’ve gone into an all-out shriveled up cry if Miles weren’t refusing to get off the bike, angry at me for not taking him That Very Moment to buy spy glasses at Archie McPhees.

I knew this place was treasured once upon a time because there were signs everywhere. The old plum and pear trees. The rhododendrons and azaleas, the hydrangea greeting visitors at the front door. I made a new discoveries almost every time I gardened during our first year. Bulbs would peek out and if I spotted them before the weed-whacking “landscaping” team arrived, I would try to prevent their demise. Sometimes I was too late to save a plant because it was too diseased or crowded. Other times I spotted them just in time.

One fortunate day a few years ago, while clearing a patch of weeds, I found five dying peony roots in a dry, barren spot that no longer received sunlight. (Three others were completely shriveled up.) I transplanted them with my fingers crossed. One flowered this spring. The others line our front window, growing stronger each season, and will likely bloom next year.

The neighbor who told me about Mrs. Brown used to run a rehab facility. Who better to understand and value the beauty of life restored? There is great joy in watching lives receive long-awaited nourishment after years of starvation. We rehabilitated this garden! When I think about it like that, I feel incredibly honored to have played a role.