From That to This

Some people may have seen a giant oak staircase coming down out of the ceiling and thought “That is a really big staircase in the middle of the room.” In fact, Shea was some people. He said “That is a really big staircase in the middle of the room. What do you do with that?”

Same with the wood walls and all the millwork around the doors and windows. The 5 foot wide gold trimmed mirrored closet doors. And the beast of a red brick fireplace.

What do you do with that? You call some people.

I found Bethany and her husband David. They are the owner-operators of Reclaimed Cottage, a business they grew up in Beaumont, Ca—which is close to where we used to live—before it moved up here to the Rogue Valley last Fall. Bethany refinished the kitchen of my friend Michelle and came with glowing recommendations so before we even offered on this home I sent her a Facebook message with pictures of the house that said “Do you see all this wood? I know we can do big things with all this wood. Are you in?”

And she said “YES!”.

And then I said “My name is Jen and I am a friend of Michelle’s”. She just rolled with it, which is how I knew for sure that she and I were going to do big things with all this wood.

I said “I want to white wash the brick fireplace.” She said “Yes.”

I said “I want to paint and distress the wood behind the fireplace so that it looks beachy-cottage-y.” And she said “Yes.”

I said “I want to paint these stairs white, except for the steps, which I want to stain the color of the new laminate.” And she said “Stain is a thing. Takes days and smells up the house. What if we brown wash the stairs with paint?” And I said “Yes!”

We chose wall paint colors—Refuge, Meditative and Sleepy Blue from Sherwin Williams. They’re all shades of blue. It’s now my signature color.Call me Shelby.

We decided on matte white for the bedroom wood wall. When you paint stained wood white, you discover all kinds of holes and imperfections that blended in before. David offered to fill them, but I liked the character so we left it.

I think the stairs turned out amazing and I can’t wait to decorate for the holidays.




We have miles—of doors—to go before we sleep in a finished home. New interior doors. A new garage door, which was unanticipated. And I think new front doors. The old ones are in fine and refinishable shape, but there’s these eagles on them.


If I paint them red or black, is that too “Make America Great Again”? Or do they just have to go?


Stay tuned for the next installment of Reclaimed 1980s Modern Ranch House: “Mom, where’s the milk?!” and other challenges of small kitchen storage.


Introducing Our Before

I bought a 60 pack of moving boxes on Amazon and told my family to pack carefully because if it doesn’t fit in 60 boxes, it’s not coming. Kate wailed that it took 1,000 boxes to move here from California and I said “Exactly” and let her chew on it.

I called all the people to stop and start service. I called all the other people about floors and walls and  dragging gas lines from the street to the stove. I sweet-talked the nice sales lady into keeping the hutch I just bought in her store until I actually move because Shea said I could only get it if we didn’t have to move it.

I chose paint colors. I culled wine glasses.

I lay in bed at night and try to fit this house into that one. It’s 700 square feet smaller, but I have lots of empty cupboards in this one so I know it’s possible. I’m doing well except for the books. I can’t figure out where to put the books. This is a big problem, since 8 of the 60 boxes are full of books.

(Kate says they shouldn’t count in the final tally if we aren’t going to unpack them until the next house.)


Here we go with some Before pictures of our 1983 charmer, as well as some thoughts about what will happen next.

The outside:


Here is the color scheme for the outside. Shea—who repainted his Maui Sugar Shack twice growing up, assures me he and the kids can do this themselves. However, I can’t think about that today. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

The living room:

Why yes, that is cedar paneling. And yes, the brick fireplace was installed over the paneling. So we’re hoping to do something along these lines, with a whitewash on the fireplace and a chunkier beam mantle.

I love those windows though and the fact that the room is sunken. Call me a child of the 80s but I have always wanted a sunken living room.


Look at that staircase. That thing is why I wanted the house. It’s magnificent. It’s not original to the house—it leads to an attic loft space that will be Gabe’s bedroom. But those stairs—I have plans for them. Big, lighted, joyful Christmas-y plans.


I’m good with the kitchen. The former homeowner refinished the cabinets herself and did a wonderful job. She and I would like to chat with the fool who built the brick island though. We had a good laugh over that thing. We’re going to pop some white quartz counters on top, create a taller breakfast bar, paint those bricks black and call it a day.

And then there’s the master. It is by far the biggest master we’ve ever had, which is cool. But the wood. I don’t even know. I honestly want to go to bed and hope for drywall.  Does that work? If you leave some money by the bed, will the drywall fairies come in the night?


I’m keeping the bathrooms to myself for now. The good news is that the cabinets are real wood and the counters are tiled. The bad news is that both those things are original to 1983.

Right now the plan is tile paint and Grandma on a plane to help me refinish the cabinets. It’s a solid plan. There will be wine. I feel good about Grandma and wine.

I’m super excited about all of it. I can see what the house can be and I love the challenge of doing it as economically as possible. I am also open to suggestions. Apple Hill Cottage, I’m looking at you.

Stay tuned!








Hold on to your hats and glasses:


We’re selling our house. And buying another!

We lived in our home in CA for the 10 worst years of the housing market since the Depression. We knew that everything we did to make that house nicer was throwing money to the wind, since at one point our home was worth half what we paid for it.

Then we moved to Oregon, where our CA dollars walked bigly. We bought the house we thought we always wanted, 3000 square feet, terrific view, enormous master bath, wood floors, and molding on every door, floorboard and window casing. It has all the trendy tics: main floor master, great room configuration, walk-out basement, on almost 1/3 of an acre in the best school district in town.

Whoop, whoop!

Don’t you believe it. The great room is the worst design idea since wood paneling; when the master bath is that big, people hang out there all the time; wood molding gets awfully dusty and wood floors show every single dog hair; and it may be 3000 square feet but the usable space is half that thanks to Harry Potter-sized closets.

About six months after we moved in, I looked at Shea and said “You know this is not my house.” He collapsed on the floor. I stood over him and said “When this thing hits a certain dollar amount, we have to sell it.”

This Fall, it hit that dollar amount. We buried a St. Joe in the front yard, hung a sign and sold it in the two weeks including Christmas and New Year’s and during the 100 year snow storm. Boom. Shea looked at the sale price and said “Hey, it’s like you’ve had a job the last two years!”

God knows, I don’t want to get a job, but with Annie heading off to kinder next year I was feeling guilty about all that stay at home (by myself) mom time. But if I can turn this house thing into the equivalent of a first year teacher’s salary? Brilliant!

I called my financial advisor (aka my brother) and asked him his thoughts on a repeat of 2008. He assures me it was a once in a lifetime event. I trust him.

Then I went looking for a fixer upper.  I LOVE looking at houses! Love it! So much that our realtor says I should become a realtor myself and make money from my obsession. I tell her to shush, so that she can make money from my obsession. We all have kids to feed!

I don’t believe in the jinx but I’m still not going to count my chickens before they hatch. Just know that oh my gosh there could be fixer upper posts in our future!!!






When you move, there’s this: making friends.

Before we moved, I thought about it, but more like “Oh, we’ll make friends!” or “The kids will make friends!”

Not once did I remember that making friends is like dating.

I HATED dating.

We are a very social family. We say the garage door is always open because the front door is just too stuffy. Come over, come in and bring your kids, dogs, food and drink.

In California, after ten years, we had gotten to that super comfortable place where the house didn’t have to be flawlessly clean to have guests. Everyone knew their way around the bathrooms and the kitchen. The kids didn’t ask for something to drink, they just rolled into the house and got it.

Every time we have someone over now, it’s still the early stages. I feel like the house has to be spotlessly clean and the kids have to be well-behaved and I spend a lot of time pointing out the bathroom and the getting kids a cup of water.

Because we want people to come back, you know. And first impressions are important.

Usually I’m holding my breath and hoping that someone doesn’t say or do something that’s a deal breaker. Those little conversations between moms that have the potential to cause problems—“No, we don’t drink soda”. Or “Yes, I can my own jam”. Or “That’s right, the kids have their own TV downstairs”.

Tip-toeing through a minefield.


So far, lots of lovely folks have come through our garage and with some of them, I’ve even started closing bedrooms doors instead of insisting every room be spic and span.

I just wish I could fast forward a year and all the awkward getting-to-know-you stuff would be over.

In other news, we have snakes.

It's true that this little guy is less than a foot long. But does that really matter?
It’s true that this little guy is less than a foot long. But does that really matter?

Something to do with living on a previously uninhibited hill with two seasonal creeks and major construction above us.

Those of you who live where snakes also live, can you shoot me some advice on how to live with the stress? Especially the kind that rattle. We have a very fearless cadre of husbands around us who dispense of snakes at the merest shriek, but still. I heard a story at bunco the other night about a snake curled up under a car in a garage.

A garage that is right down the street from me.

Saints preserve us. Why does it always have to be snakes????


Buying and Selling

When Shea and I bought our current house, it was at the height of the real estate market in So Cal. We did what so many other folks did—we toured the Inland Empire on Saturdays, looking at models of homes still to be built. We entered our names into lotteries and huddled with hundreds of other people at 7 am, waiting to hear our number called. When it was, we had ten minutes to pick a lot with a model on it.

The price was predetermined, as was the layout. No negotiating. We didn’t need a realtor. Once we got the house, the rest was easy.

I’m telling you all this so you understand that I. Didn’t. Know.

I have not just one, but TWO realtors in my life.  A local realtor who is going to do her best to make our short-but-almost-standard-sale in So Cal a success. And a realtor in Oregon who is stalking houses for us to buy. This poor woman. The home market in our price range is hopping, and here we are, 700 miles away and trying to play. Already, three homes have sold out from under us in less than a day.

What can you do when you’re this far away?

I didn’t know sellers would be so infuriatingly patient that even when it is clear to the whole wide world that their house ain’t gonna sell for that amount, they will not entertain a lower offer.

I didn’t know that we would find the perfect five bedroom home and enter into escrow.  Only to have my neighbor, her hand clearly guided by the Blessed Mother, discover on page 3 of Google that the home had previously belonged to a sexual psychopath, with family still living in the area and a clear history of breaking his parole.

We walked, not just for the bad mojo, but for the fear that one day that guy would knock on the door for kicks and giggles, and there would be one of my daughters.

Oh. Hell. No.

(Buyer beware: The listing agent knew. It is not legally required for anyone to disclose that a sex offender used to live in a home. The Megan’s Law websites can only tell where offenders currently live.)

And then this house popped up:


I know. I wanted this house, so badly that I flew to Oregon on a whim to see it. And it was everything it promised to be except for one small problem: sloped ceilings. I guess folks were shorter in the 1940s.

Still, I found a lovely architect who could fix it for us if we were willing to live with it for a few years first. He was on vacation, then we were and when we came back, the house had sold.

That was when we started praying every night for “God to send us our house”.

Just pick a house, you say? It’s not that easy. One morning, over coffee and the morning Zillow report, I found a lovely contender. Great neighborhood, good lot size, enough bedrooms. Then I scrolled through the pictures and saw this:

Amblegreen 1

Do you see that thing on the stairs? It’s not a shadow. It’s an absence of light, like the light has been sucked in or forced away. Now look carefully at the TV in this picture:

amblegreen 2

You see that???

I sent these pictures to Dana and Lesley, who called me a chicken for not wanting to live with a spirit. She’s right. I‘ve done ghost in the house and don’t need to do it again.

I’m sure the owners are wondering why their beautiful home—now priced below market value—is not selling.

I kind of want to tell them.

Today, we fly to Oregon to make a decision. We have a Top 12 list of homes we like. We are going to spend a fast 96 hours dragging the kids from house to house until we find it.

Please pray for us. Because the fatigue is setting in, and the worry about how I will fill my days after we find the right place, and if there is such a thing as Anonymous, because I may need it.

House-hunting: it’s not for the faint of heart.