Friday, August 8, 2014

The End of a Very Short Era

staged living room

I cleaned my house for the last time Saturday, after the stager removed the lovely chairs I never sat in, the bed I never slept in. Empty it looked more like my house—or the vision that wasn’t quite completed to finish the floors and other final work without us underfoot.

It’s been three months since I last slept in my house, and our house became our jobsite, as we finished the greenhouse and other final items. It was fitting that I cleaned the studio last: the first room we renovated to create a writer’s retreat, a vision for my new life formed in California that influenced our home buying decision in Washington. We only looked at houses with the possibility of separate space for writers and guests.

I have cleaned that studio a hundred or more times in the year I hosted guests; I’m as familiar with the caulk along the sink as I am with the intention my husband and I carried into that room as we tore it down to the studs. In that space I learned to pull wires, strip the ends, and twist them onto plugs. I measured, cut, and learned to install fat pink bats of cotton candy puffed insulation. I spent hours at IKEA and Home Depot with Kevin choosing cabinets, appliances, paneling for the walls, and cedar fencing for the ceiling that I learned to rip it down with a table saw.  

The studio, note the cedar ceiling

And when I say I learned these skills, what I mean is that my husband taught me how to do what he has loved for years: how to work with wood and wire, metal and pipe, to create something tangible. I fully entered his world, when in the past it had mainly been him who entered mine. Kevin is a patient, kind, generous teacher, and apprenticing to him (even if I was just operating the shop vac) added a welcome new dimension to our marriage.

My husband working in the studio

In that first year everything was new. The view of the Sound from our house once we limbed up the trees. The vast array of perennials, shrubs, and trees that burst into life in our yard come spring. The lay of the island, the towns stretched beyond accessible by bridge, Seattle accessible by ferry. I carried a map, ferry schedule, and camera in my purse, ready to document and locate the next surprise.

Cleaning the studio Saturday, I was aware that I’d reached the end of a very short era. Never again will Washington and the 900-mile separation from my long-time home and family in California be new to me. Never again will my husband be freed from the 25 years of corporate work in the Silicon Valley, with a year’s severance pay just as his children were launched into the world.
The studio deck

I don’t know how many times we will reinvent ourselves in the future. I only know that we have done it now—and done it successfully:

My husband is fulfilling a long-time dream of “flipping” a house (although the term is usually applied to quick minimal work for maximum profit, not to tearing down and starting over as he’s doing with our waterfront project house—which is going to be amazing).
Waterside walls going up at the project house

I have my own tools, a recent birthday gift from my husband. A sign, that I don’t need to rely on him to plan every project, line up the tools, and supervise me along the way. I can rip out carpet and tack bars by myself, spackle, paint, and prime (which I’ve been doing in our rental).
My very own tools: lightweight & easy to spot
Cleaning the studio I became nostalgic for this very short era. At the project house there are loans and timelines, heavy equipment and contractors. Gone is the luxury (and necessity) of doing it all ourselves, of spending all day every day together in a common purpose.

Hugging my husband our last moments in the house, I couldn’t help crying. “I could’ve stayed here longer,” I said. “I liked being here with you every day.” “Me too,” he answered.

As much as this house was torn up, with building supplies stacked next to the dining room table, it was a haven that welcomed and gentled us, in a geography that felt familiar (cedar instead of redwood) with the wonderful addition of water, on an island where, although we didn’t join in much, we saw much good work being done in the community.

Last night we signed the sale papers, went to dinner with our nephew—a recent college graduate who moved to Washington to become our business’s first full-time employee—came home to the house we're renting and toasted with champagne on the deck. As we sipped our bubbly the International Space Station whizzed by overhead circling the earth at almost 18,000 miles per hour.

My husband has been tracking its orbits for a year, waiting for the time when it would be visible in the Seattle region. I used to find great comfort in having a plotted predictable life, thinking I knew what was going to happen next and when. The past three years, have been my own living lab, learning to accept not knowing what the future holds—do any of us really?—and embrace the now.

And so I wipe my eyes and take a deep breath, not wanting to live in the past, even one so recently behind me. But I wonder if it’s nostalgia I feel, or if it isn’t simply gratitude, a pervasive seeping thankfulness that will wash over me as it will.

Sunrise from where we live now


  1. Your way with words girlfriend amazes me:)

  2. Sorry I never got to see the house. The pictures looked wonderful. Look forward to getting up there and seeing your current Project.......Jeff