Journal entry, early September: I sit at my favorite wraparound desk (the one my own hands created 15 years ago), looking out the large screen-less windows at my beloved garden. Birds chirp carelessly from the apple tree in the back corner and an occasional hummingbird swoops down from above, still stunning me with its death-defying acrobatics—even though I’ve witnessed them most of the days I’ve occupied this yard. California towhees scratch and hop, bobbing their rust-colored butts as they redistribute the mulch I swept off my stone pathways yesterday—the stones I carefully laid in place to define the edges of food-growing parts from walking-on parts of my little garden. A gentle breeze creeps in through a window I still leave open for my cat, KC, inviting her to nestle behind my laptop in the afternoon sun. She no longer comes to visit me, as she prefers the studio where my tenant, Maura, takes care of her, away from over-eager dogs. The sun just begins to peek through the thick late summer fog that keeps Santa Cruz cool when you’d expect it to be warm. It feels like a normal day, one that I’ve experienced many times over these past 19+ years living in the same house. But my thoughts are far away, into the future and at a distant latitude, and deep inside myself, as well….
Before and after: living room walls
Erasing myself from the walls of my house
I spend most of September intensely focused on one thing—getting my home ready to sell. The biggest job is painting. My realtor, David, tells me it needs to be more neutral. My wildly colorful home is probably too much for most people, and the psychology of selling a home dictates that you want to erase yourself as much as possible so someone else can see themselves there. I had already boxed up most of my personal belongings and stored them in my old stained glass shop when my former tenants moved in a year ago, so the biggest job now was to reduce the number of different colors, according to David. At first it was painful—I put off the actual painting each day for a week while I walked around the house, trying to visualize what would work, which colors to leave and which to paint over with a shade of white. When I finally dipped a brush into a fresh can of thick, creamy Benjamin Moore simply white eggshell finish paint, I cried as the colors slowly disappeared, waking up memories of the love and excitement and playfulness that created my environment these past years. Soon I began to paint with more intention and vigor. The memories would visit for awhile, encourage some tears to flow—and sometimes a bit of wailing—and then I felt cleansed of a heavy weight as expanding joy spread throughout my being. This was a necessary process to help me let go, at the same time as I lovingly prepared my home to be a container for an unknown stranger’s creative vision.
Before and after kitchen
A history of homes I’ve known…
There is more to this story of my house. I’m sure most people have some level of attachment to a home, but mine seems to be unusually intense. I think it began long ago, when I first came into this world…. I’ve had many homes in my life, but lived in none of them for more than a few years at most, some of them for just a year. As a kid, I lived in ten houses—sometimes with grandparents, sometimes just on weekends and summer vacations, a year in a trailer park, a few years in a few different apartments, and for a bit of time my sister and I slept on the hide-a-bed couch at my step-mom’s flat. The most stable home, the only one that I would still call “home”, was the one my dad built when I was twelve. I remember how I enthusiastically helped paint the walls and my fascination with the entire process of home construction. I also helped build the barn for our horses—little did he know that he was mentoring a life-long love of learning how to use tools to create whatever I envisioned.
At age 14 I left that stability to run away from home toward something more exciting, I thought—living in California with my mom. California was the ultimate cool place to be in the early 70s. I loved the open-minded, care-free ideology of the hippie movement: the colorful, sexy clothing, and the heart-felt music that spoke of love and freedom and a more equitable Utopian society. Living in a small, rural midwestern community at my dad’s stunted my wanderlust, so I moved in to the office of my mom and new step dad’s small apartment in Palo Alto during my freshman year of high school. I’ve been a California girl ever since. The ocean air, walking barefoot on wild beaches, the rich diversity of sea life, and outstanding redwood forests sealed the deal for me. We moved to a more affluent part of town the next year, and after a year in that apartment, at age 16, I ran away with my boyfriend, never again to live under a parent’s control (and support!). I was ready to make my own decisions.
One of the hardest days was when the local utility company insisted they cut down my fruit trees along the south side of my property. They killed a 40+ year old apple tree, changing my lush, shady corner into a sunny, exposed area with a view into my neighbors’ lot.
Since then I’ve lived in 17 different houses. Two of them I helped build from the ground up—both multi-level 3000 square feet gorgeous homes for which I lovingly chose appliances, flooring, bathroom fixtures, window sizes and placement. I tiled, sheetrocked, trimmed, painted, sanded woodwork, landscaped, and built stained glass windows for each. I also planted fruit trees and started gardens, with visions of eating mostly what I grew and sharing my bounty with others. That was always my idea of Utopia. I spent 2 or 3 years working on each house and lived in each one for about one year, but when the relationships ended I found myself looking again for housing on my own—I had only put in time and energy, not capital. I owned another beautiful house with my ex-husband for 3 years—one I was sure I’d live in the rest of my life. Again I planted fruit trees and a vegetable garden and felt a joyful sense of security, but we divorced within two years of getting married, and since I didn’t have enough money to buy him out, once again I was on my own with children looking for a new home.
Had to have it!
Fortunately, I had just enough money to put a downpayment on a house of my own and seriously began looking after discovering that no one wanted to rent to a single mom with two kids, a dog, and a cat, and who was self-employed as a stained glass artist. It took a few months, but I finally found a house that had everything I was looking for: a fenced yard, a garage I could convert into a glass shop, 3 bedrooms, large windows, a hardwood floor (my son, Shawn, had allergies so I wanted a place I could thoroughly clean), a gas stove for cooking, and a wood-burning stove for heat rather than forced air (which disperses dust and allergens and dries out my nose)—and it was the lowest price on the market. I had to have it. After all the moving and building and gardening and letting go, I craved a home where no one could make me move out. Where I could create my visions and where my children could feel a sense of stability with me.
It was a challenge for me to keep my home and many times I thought I might lose it because I really couldn’t afford it. A crooked broker found an investor to help me qualify for the loan, but during the last week of escrow he informed me my mortgage payments would be $500 higher than his original estimate. I was so emotionally attached to this house, that I went for it anyway. A year later I discovered the contract I signed was not the same one the investor signed, so when I tried to buy him out I had to come up with an extra $5000, which set me back again. It’s been 20 years of barely getting by each month, renting out rooms, building a rental unit in the back yard, refinancing a few times, and finally doing air bnb which helped immensely. I am so grateful for the ability to create income through my sweet little house.
Canvas for creativity
It also became a welcoming canvas upon which I allowed my creativity to flow. I transformed the funky garage into a well-organized glass shop, built an outdoor workbench and shelter for finishing and drying windows, put in a covered area for storage and my glass kiln, built a sweet little office off of the kitchen by enclosing an outdoor porch, remodeled both bathrooms with tiled showers and stone floors, had new kitchen cabinets built, and refinished flooring. I pulled off dark, depressive paneling from the dining room walls, installed new thermal windows for the whole house, pulled out a huge, ugly naugahyde bar that separated the dining area from the living room, and tore down a wall to create a more open and light feeling between the living room and hall.
The most drastic transformation was when Ross, my partner at the time, moved in and we decided to paint wild colors all over the house to make it “ours” instead of “mine.” The kitchen walls became a nurturing shade of peach with purple doors trimmed in fuscia and cobalt blue, and cabinets of a lively coral, turquoise, and bright yellow—every surface was a different color. The dingy red brick wall around the fireplace was painted white to brighten the only part of the house with no windows, then we painted many bricks a different shade of earthy colors which blended into the rest of the walls in the dining and living rooms. I was thrilled to have a partner willing to get wild and crazy with color.
We also built a lovely ipe hardwood deck that wrapped around the new hot tub I was able to purchase with some of my grandma’s inheritance. I planted over 20 fruit trees and built garden beds which eventually became a thriving food forest in the whole yard. I cut a section out of the asphalt driveway that went all the way to the front door and allowed headlights from the mobile home park across the street to shine into my bedroom window, and replaced it with a fence lined with bamboo, ferns, a magnolia tree
and a flagstone path to create privacy and a lush entryway. I notice a deep love and sadness washing through me as I write this story of pouring myself into this house. Any extra money I had went back into the house, and sometimes money I didn’t have went into it with the trust that I would some day figure out how to get out of debt. I always did. Somehow.
Headed to market!
After painting walls, doors, trim, and baseboard for a couple of weeks I started to see progress. By the time I finished I noticed that the less colors there were, the more the colors that were there popped out. It was as if they no longer had to compete for attention, so now they glowed in their selfness. My home no longer feels like my home, but I’m deeply satisfied with the results. I especially love the spaciousness and open feeling of a less-cluttered house. I vow to never again stuff my closets and shelves with so many things! I feel so much freedom in the letting go.
My house went on the market October 8 and I had an offer on October 14. It was less than what I hoped for, but I accepted it because it seemed that the market was softening and there was a lot less interest than my realtor and I anticipated. I figured we’re all swimming in the same ocean, and if it’s softening here–in this paradise next to Silicon Valley–it will probably be softening wherever else I choose to settle. Now I’m in the process of deciding what’s next, but that will be another blog post…