I’m learning that home construction involves a lot of hurry up and wait. (Duh!!)

Up until a few weeks ago, we were all systems go with our home remodel. We had been offered two apartments to live in, one of which was in downtown Mill Valley and cheap as could be. Granted, one of the bedrooms would only be able to fit a bed and nothing more, BUT … it was downtown! Plenty of restaurants, playgrounds, a bar to which Kevin could escape when the din of living on top of each other got to be too much.

I was busily filling up our PODS, whistling while I worked and dreaming of my master bedroom, and was ready to pull the trigger on a nearby storage unit for everything else. I had even found a place to store Kevin’s wine!

And then … our permit was hung up due to a moratorium on winter grading. The earliest we could start work would be April. April? A full six months away? To say Kevin was upset was an understatement.

It was frustrating, and so I lost my momentum in writing. I focused, instead, on resigning myself to starting in April. And living in our uninspiring home with everything half packed until then. It didn’t help that whenever someone wanted something they hadn’t wanted for years I’d have to say, “You can’t have it. It’s in the POD.” A mere 10 feet away, but so tightly packed that it would be unfathomable to reach whatever it was.

Kevin, however, refused to take no for an answer. “They’ll just come up with some other reason why we can’t start in April,” he reasoned. Which is why he excels in the real estate business. Sometimes you have to force things through.

After a quick call in which he ripped a new one for everyone in the building department, he got someone to come out two weeks ago and say, “Well, sure, I don’t see why you shouldn’t get a grading permit!” So now, they’re shuffling more paperwork around … and letting the Thanksgiving holiday get in the way. Natch.

So now we’re waiting, waiting, waiting. Kevin is flexing his vocal chords for a follow up phone call tomorrow. I can only hope it results in an all-systems-go verdict.

Fingers crossed.


How to Live Through a Remodel: Part I

The other night, Kevin was busy tapping away on his computer while I watched TV. Suddenly, he looked up.

“So … I’ve done some calculations and we’re going to have to live outside the house while it’s being remodeled for about five months,” he said.

“Which probably means more like seven months, right?”



“So,” he continued, “I think I have a solution.”

I braced myself.

“I’m thinking there’s plenty of space in the backyard for us to put some sort of structure, maybe a tent, that we can live in. And then we could still use our living room and sometimes the kitchen!”

A tent.

“You mean like Out of Africa?” I offered lamely. I couldn’t help it. Whenever I hear the word “tent” I immediately think of this scene from one of my all-time favorite movies.

Out of Africa

Ah … Robert Redford.

Ever the devil’s advocate, I poked holes in Kevin’s suggestion: lack of insulation, the rain, no floor, the complete lack of privacy.

He turned back to tapping on his computer. A few minutes later he came up his next brilliant solution.

“Ok, how about this?”

“Um, is that a carport?” I asked politely.

“I would put up some walls!”

“And some insulation … maybe a floor … a window …”

I couldn’t help but feel a little bad. Obviously, my husband was worried about the budget of our remodel. And he was trying to come up with some clever “out of the box” solutions. So I told him I would keep an open mind.

“I like the direction you’re heading, but let’s keep going,” I said encouragingly.

Both of us started typing on our respective computers. Soon, we were looking at pre-fab studios.

And then I got excited!

How cool are those things? And lots of them have insulation (in addition to windows, doors and floors). We would even use it as a cool kids hangout after the remodel was done. Everyone would think, “Wow! I can’t believe they lived through a remodel! And in such style!”

We lived off of that high for about two days before reality — sweet reality — set in.

First of all, in order to avoid permitting, our studio could only be 120 square feet. We would be so on top of each other it would be ridiculous. As it is, two of our three kids wake up bright and early at 6 am, and while Big Sister currently does a fabulous job entertaining Little Bro before the rest of us rise for the day, we would be forced to wake at dawn every. single. day.

Second of all, there’s a good chance we’d be without a working toilet, shower — or both — for some long stretches. At first, my husband, offered to solve this problem with installing an outdoor shower.

“I’ve always wanted one! This will be the perfect opportunity!”

But then I imagined what it would be like living without a toilet. Or even having to walk through the backyard and our house in the dark looking for a working bathroom in the idle of the night. Perhaps we could stash one of those emergency toilets in our shed for such an occasion.

In the end, it really only took a couple of hours of all five of us trying to watch the World Series (Yeah, Giants!!) in the same room to convince my husband (because I already knew this) that we would literally kill each other if we only had one room to run around in in addition to our little shed in the backyard.

As usual, my husband was bewildered by how loud three kids under 9 could be. And I just sat back and let that feeling soak in.

Whew! Close call.

Garage Dreaming

I am in the midst of packing up our garage and shoving it into our PODS unit. While I’m trying to upbeat and optimistic, packing is never really all that fun.

The garage is filthy and I keep freaking out at spiders — dead and alive — along with their webs, ancient lint and mysterious muck. My body is sore and I moan and groan every time I pick up the slightest thing.


I’ve made great progress, to be sure, but I’m still several days out from being done. And then I have to turn my attention to the rest of the house! At least I won’t find any rat poop surprises there! (Please, please, please!)

Still, I’m surprised by how patient I’ve been. Definitely not like the last time I moved, which was incredibly stressful and rushed … and without any home to move to.

I’m grateful we get to do this remodel. I’m grateful that I have a chance to create an efficient home and that the kids will benefit from the extra space. I’m keeping my eyes on the prize and just getting ‘er done.

One of the ways I entertain myself as I do battle with the bugs, dirt and heavy boxes is to fantasize about how fabulous my garage will look when all is said and done.

As I’ve mentioned before, our garage simply does not work.


It so easily gets cluttered, and while I do reorganize and give it a good cleaning every three to four months, it doesn’t take long for it to fall into complete and utter chaos.

Part of this is due to the fact that I probably don’t have the best organizing system out there. But the other reason is that the garage just serves waaaay too many functions — except for housing an actual car. These include:

– Holiday storage

– Sports & camping gear

– Workout room

– Laundry room

– Workshop (complete with two drill benches and copious amounts of tools and gear)

– Wine cellar (and home to all of the paraphernalia that goes along with my husband’s wine making hobby)

– Overflow storage for entertaining ware & kitchen pantry

– Everything that we can’t find a home for in the house.

I’m sure it’s the same for many families out there. Everyone (I hope) has a junk drawer in the kitchen. It’s just that sometimes that drawer can easily turn into a two-car garage.

That’s probably the biggest reason I was so drawn to Cyndy’s pegboard garage wall featured on her most awesome website The Creativity Exchange.

The Creativity Exchange

The Creativity Exchange

Most impressive about this wall is that it is only 5.5 inches deep. Get … OUT!! Look at all of the things on it?

I know this is completely redundant given how popular it has become, but how awesome is pegboard? Sure, it’s one thing to create storage for all of the things you have, but what if you inherit 30 more cans of must-have spray paint? Or you get yet another drill? Where to put it when the entire wall space has already been carefully curated and spoken for?

Pegboard. That’s where. All it takes is a little switch-a-roo and you can quickly and easily reinvent your storage solution.

The really beauty, of course, is that you can easily see, grab and replace things on a pegboard wall. My current system involves a lot of plastic bins which you have to haul down, open and rummage around in. Then, hopefully, remember to put back in a timely fashion.

So in addition to tons of pegboard, here’s what I want in my new garage:

– Relocate the laundry room, workout stuff, drum set and winemaking production. Our home design will do just that. Thanks hubby!

– Have everything within reach. Ie. no loft storage that requires a ladder like we have now or bicycles hanging from the ceiling.

– Get at least one car in the garage, which should fit two.

– Store things — and this will be a challenge — behind closed doors when possible.

– Do it cheaply, which is why storing things behind closed doors will be difficult. So, maybe the goal should be to make it as attractive as possible. (attractive?)

One thing we have going for us in the cost-cutting department is that we can reuse our current Ikea kitchen cabinets, complete with countertops, in the garage. Sweet! So, if I can get at least one wall of closed-door storage I’ll be a happy girl.

In order to bring some pretty to other parts of the garage, I think I’m going to touch the rainbow. I’m going for color coordination, baby!


Target, God bless that store, has these durable and nicely sized storage bins available in myriad colors. At least they did in March, when half the country was supposedly doing their spring cleaning. I wasn’t getting bitten by that bug … at least not until I saw these bins.

Oh my gosh! I thought. I could color-coordinate all of my storage needs! Grass Green for landscaping, ice blue for ski gear, purple for …. well, I don’t know, Gay Pride Festival gear?

The Before Before the Before

Before I post an official “before” tour of our current house, I thought it would be helpful to show what it looked like when we first fell in love.

Front Yard 4

Beautiful, right? My brother said it looked like a space station on Tatooine, but what-ev.

I knew from the moment I saw it listed on the MLS that this was going to be our dream home. It was the crappiest house in the best location. What’s not to love? And it was selling in 2009, a rare time when the real estate market had crashed in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the first time in a long time it was a buyer’s paradise. No one seemed to want it! And so it sat.

Unfortunately, the bad market did not bode well in our efforts to sell our current home in San Francisco. It sat on the market for three months. Three months! Almost unheard of in an area where bidding wars are the norm. We had to drop our price … twice.

With two kids under the age of 3, I was getting really tired of keeping our perfectly staged house spotless for the twice-a-week open houses, plus additional private showings.

I especially recall this bowl sitting on our coffee table filled with rattan balls that the kids were constantly throwing around and picking apart. Every time we had to be out of the house, not only would I have to wipe down all the glass, mirrors and floors, but I had to collect those stupid things from the furthest reaches of everywhere and place them … just so.

Catalog Living

I think that’s what led to my abhorrence of little cute knick-knacks and decorations.

As we waited for someone — anyone — to nibble at our San Francisco house, all I could do was stare dreamily at the listing for the home in Mill Valley. My husband and I even snuck into it once or twice. The security on the place was nonexistent. All it took was a gentle, yet firm, shove in the right place and we walked through and marveled at what a glorious dump it was!

While most of the house was fairly meh, it was the living room that did it for us.

Living Room 3

This picture does not accurately represent how big the room is; it’s 24×19 feet. Who knew where the floor had gone, but that ceiling! I loved walking in and feeling the grandness of that room.

I knew that the spot just under the window on the left would be perfect for the baby grand piano that I’d had since I was six years old. In both of the places I’d lived with my husband, we managed to stuff it in somewhere, even though it looked horribly out of place.

Here’s a view from the living room looking out onto the front yard and rickety, old deck. The side door leads to the kitchen.

Living Room 1

It was very disheartening when my husband and I watched the house go into contract and escape our grasp. Our San Francisco home was going nowhere and I worried about our future.

We were heading into summer and our eldest daughter was due to enter preschool in the fall. We were getting rejection letter after rejection letter from all of the schools to which we had applied. I thought those only came at college! Where was she going to go?

Then the Mill Valley house fell out of contract! Then our San Francisco house sold! Were the stars aligning? We quickly got an offer drafted and sent it off.

And waited.

But the Mill Valley house slipped through our fingers … again! They had rejected our offer in favor for a developer.

Our San Francisco house FINALLY closed in June, and we had nowhere to live. So I took our two kids … and the dog … down to San Diego where my in-laws have a beach house.

My poor husband had to fly down to San Diego on the weekends and then couch surf during the week so he could work flipping houses to support us. He rarely complained, which was awfully nice of him. While it was sure nice to be at the beach every day, it certainly didn’t help in our efforts to find housing 400 miles away.


Plus, it was confusing in a way because I was SO sure the Mill Valley house was meant to be ours. This was all wrong! No other house held any appeal for me. It was really hard to let it go because … I just couldn’t.

And then … the Mill Valley house went BACK on the market! What was wrong with this place? my husband and I wondered. But no matter. We wrote up another offer, all-cash, and sent it in.

By now, we were the only interested party, so it happened really quickly after that. We tussled over a minor $5,000 price difference and almost lost it before thinking, “Swallow your pride, already” and closed in about 10 days. Bam!

Front Yard 2

Just look at this place! While most of the homes in our new neighborhood were tucked romantically away amongst trees, ours stuck out like a sore thumb. It really slapped you across the face as the road turned and you came upon it.

Before we bought the house from a group of developers who decided against flipping it, it had belonged to a woman who had to foreclose on the property after she was institutionalized. Yes, she was ca-razy.

So crazy that she had PG&E come and disconnect power to the house because she was convinced they were spying on her through the electrical system.

Our neighbors told of how she would threaten to shot anyone who tried to use her driveway for turn-around purposes. At one point, she even had a horse tied up in the front yard. It was eventually became so sick and malnourished that the neighbors had to call the Humane Society to come and take it away in the dead of night.

Naturally, she was a hoarder. Google Earth pictures at the time showed the house surrounded by heaps and mounds of garbage. In fact, she had so much crap in her house that “legend” has it she had this outdoor staircase built just so she could gain separate access to her bedroom.

Backyard 1

When she was trucked off to the mental hospital, the fire department had to come by and pry open the doors to her house, but it smelled so bad that they had to air it out three days before coming back.

Once they started pulling stuff out of the house, it was no wonder that they found a few dead animals inside. And God knows what else.

I’m not sure what caused the developers to sell this house so soon after scoring it as a foreclosure. Clearly, they had gone so far to consider paint colors! To this day, I still don’t understand why it fell out of contract twice. Five years later, this house hasn’t crumbled to the ground. In fact, it’s been quite good to us.

Backyard 2

For some explicable reason, the front door is actually at the back of the house, just beyond the outdoor staircase and tucked away so you can’t even see it. Which is not at all reassuring after hiking up our eerily cracked driveway.

Front Yard 1

This, naturally, has stymied many a pizza delivery man, as well as visiting friends, and I have endured their many tales of frustration and being lost. As if we arranged all of this on purpose!

Below, we are in the entry way, gorgeously lite by this circa-1972 stained glass window, which we still enjoy to this day.


Opposite the entry is a staircase. I can’t find a picture of it, but one of the stair treads was marked with the word “hate,” which was incredibly spooky at the time.


I kept on having visions of this crazy lady escaping the institution and hitching a ride to Mill Valley, a la Robert De Niro in Cape Fearand busting down the door screaming, “What are you doing in my house!!!!”

Here’s the original kitchen. Not at all sure what happened to the sink and lower cabinets on the lefthand side.

Kitchen 1


And here is her lovely stove, which I can only presume was used to cook meth! Naw, I’m sure it looks like that due to all of the delicious feasts she put together.

Kitchen 2

This way to the dining room, friends!

Kitchen 3

Here we have the downstairs bathroom. We still have those gorgeous green tiles on the wall because we love them so much!!

Downstairs Bathroom 1

I don’t have a picture of the girls’ room, which is downstairs, but here’s Jack little narrow room … with our work permit on the window! Yay!

Jack's Room 1

And finally, here is the master bedroom looking out onto our own private deck/escape route in case we, too, become professional hoarders.

Master Bedroom 2

The master bathroom looks almost the same as it does today … but much cleaner, of course (well, usually.) While the tub was in good condition, I still take what’s supposed to be a relaxing bath and stare at that pukey green-and-yellow-swirl tile, wondering what psycho thought that was a good idea.

Master Bathroom 1

The throne.

Master Bathroom 2

And there you have it! The before before the before.

My husband spent weeks trying to whip this place into shape with the help of the cheapest contractor he could find. He stayed in this little motel and I almost cried when I came to visit.

Daddy motel

His room was painted what I referred to as “suicide-prevention yellow.” It was just so bright, you could tell the owners were trying to compensate for the overall sadness of the place.

The kids and I were still in San Diego, so I had little input on the colors and carpet he chose. So, it was no surprise (but still a bit of a shock) when I discovered the entire interior was “builder beige.”


BUT … it really didn’t matter. He had done such a good job in such a short amount of time. He was exhausted juggling this with his day job. And he was more than a little burnt out on eating take out food and basically living like a lonely bachelor in a cheap motel.

And, more importantly, we finally had a home that we loved. Before I let anyone actually live in it, I smudged the house. Yes, I felt like an idiot. No, I’m not sure it actually did anything. But the house was just sooooo creepy, that I felt like I had to do something to clear out the bad vibes!

Lisa Charleyboy/Spirituality & Health

Lisa Charleyboy/Spirituality & Health

In the end, what was probably more effective was the sounds of our girls laughing, cackling and pitter-pattering through each room. In my heart I felt that the house heaved a grateful sigh at finally having a happy — and mentally stable — family living within it.

Formerly Off-Limits

I was wandering around West Elm the other day when I came upon this fine little fellow peering at me.

West Elm, Franklin the Fox Doorstop, $49

West Elm, Franklin the Fox Doorstop, $49


Well hello there, little friend!

Normally, I would just move on to the next piece of eye candy. But I had to stop and savor the moment.

I’m almost to the point where I could get that little fox. And actually set him down somewhere in my house!

Um, yeah, sure. Anyone can.

But you don’t understand. I’ve been in baby-proof mode for the last seven years. That’s seven years of having to push aside a plastic latch every time I need to open a drawer or door. Seven years of having solid, concussion-proof furniture that certainly doesn’t involve glass, mirror or any kind of hard edge.

West Elm

West Elm

And that’s seven years of clear surfaces. No cute porcelain statues coming to pay me a visit while I watch TV.

Yesterday, Jack turned 3. On the way to school we listed all the ways in which he is a Big Boy. He’s in a Big Boy bed, he uses a Big Boy potty, he wears Big Boy underwear, he sits in a Big Boy chair for dinner.

And, I silently added, you don’t have to mess with everything within hand’s reach.

It means I can almost have this cute little tray waiting for a guest.

West Elm

West Elm

Or have this dainty little star, just casually hanging out somewhere, and rest assured that it will be there when I return hours later, not smashed to smithereens in the bathroom.

West Elm

West Elm

I might even have this cute little trio of birds and not have them be rocked to death and rammed into each other.

West Elm

West Elm

Ok, well that may be asking too much. I mean, even I couldn’t resist wobbling these things back and forth.

One of the things I love about home decorating blogs is the whole notion of “shopping your home.” How fabulous to just look around at what you have and just recombine it in some chic season-friendly way.

The trouble is, I don’t have any of that stuff to begin with. (Or worse, I do but I just can’t see the potential.)

By the time this remodel is finished and we can move back into our house, Jack will almost be four — or he will definitely be four. In the meantime, I plan to collect some of these fun little knick knacks I’ve always had my eye on but never dreamed I was ready to possess.

Happy Birthday, Jack!