January marked the one year anniversary of renovation. Twelve trying months without the daily comforts a home in tact offers. Where we had to bid farewell to basic functions like a working kitchen, or properly draining tub. Bouncing six people between various forms of disorder and disarray. Sleeping in different spots week to week, night to night, surrounded by dust, swallowed by destruction. Without a single finished corner to hide, drink, or cry in.
It was an endeavor that was quick to show me how much a chaotic living space will threaten the mind frame. I couldn’t focus or write or relax during the worst of it. I didn’t want to get dressed or exercise. I couldn’t entertain like I was use to. I mean I did, occasionally, but it wasn’t a part of my life the same way it always had been because the whole scope of disorder came to own me. At a certain point I had to simply surrender mentally and emotionally to the madness. And just ‘get through it.’
I’d remind myself daily that it was all temporary. But it was the kind of feat that grew more involved the deeper we got. Until it was too late to turn back. The whole experience I shared in great detail via Instagram as the weeks rolled on. Partly as a coping mechanism to keep a creative angle to work inside of so I that didn’t loose touch with a fraying sanity altogether. Documentation for myself too as way of framing the process for good measure. To step back and say, wow! look how far we’ve come! It that it gained a loyal viewership. A sweetly supportive audience who grew more engaged and invested the more engulfed by demo we were.
In the midst of it my viewing numbers sky rocketed. Suddenly the phenomenon that is Mike Kraus was met with astounding intrigue by folks who just couldn’t fathom how or why one guy could manage to exist the way he does. Manning an entire renovation on his own, during “off” hours while working a labor intense job six days a week on almost no sleep. Those who know him tend to take it this fact granted. This is how Mike has always been. Insanely determined to do it all, solo, for a fraction of the cost (or complaint) anyone else on this planet might possibly mange. With nothing but Springsteen (and a series of tired Country singers on heavy repeat) & endless iced coffees to keep him going. The renovation, in a way, became it’s own humbly themed reality show built on the notion of ‘working class hero.’ Highlighting the underside of contracted work and fast flashy fix-it goals. Staring Mike as a modern day renaissance man scoring high dollar appliances for slashed prices on Craigslist on his way home from work, then unloading said scores with nothing but a skateboard and some questionable willpower guiding him, replacing load bearing beams without anyone there to help, ripping out ceilings, plastering fireplaces, patching walls, building beds, moving door frames, sawing through stucco, rerouting electrical. You name it, *he conquered it. In fact the demolition of those frightfully ugly volcanic wave structures in our front yard remains my highest viewed story to date. The fact of which makes me laugh. Remembering the scene that afternoon, glancing across the way at neighbors snooping from patios trying to get a better look at the guy with a chainsaw surrounded by a barefooted board short clad cheering squad causing all the smoke and noise. Because of everything in this damn house, naturally those God awful waves were built the sturdiest. And day by day, immersed in mounting construction plights, Mike proved himself “The Man.” Guys, girls, old guys old girls, all crushing the same hard way. All rooting his every move. There were eve a couple instances where ladies accidentally messaged me – instead of their intended girlfriend – on IG saying things like “I’d let him plaster more than walls!” And other fun colorful comments meant for private DMs that I would read aloud to him just to keep things interesting. It worked.
What I didn’t highlight much of though during the whole year’s process, was myself. What I was doing. How I was surviving. Which was basically trying to keep a household flowing as best I could in spite of conditions that felt more and more like an extended camping trip. Hunting for shoes in piles of drywall closing in all around us. Getting homework done on tables I had to sweep off. Losing toys amidst trash and rumble, making meals without a stove, misplacing homework, finding new ways – outside of red wine and long cries – to keep myself together when nothing around us felt or looked anything like a home should.
For weeks I even had to manually drained every bath they took with plastic buckets tossed out the window until an electric pump Mike snagged from a job site replaced the task. I took hot baths in the dark to shield my brain from the sheer destruction surrounding me. Went to bed obscenely early on lots of nights just to escape the current scene.
A year later, looking at these photos still pains me. While I’m rightfully proud of what’s been accomplished, I know how much stress and unease came attached to it. Like I might never forget trying to soothe Leon daily, complaining about not having designated spots for his clothes books or schoolwork like ***he craves. Or Rex crying because his trash sculptures (made of discarded lumber scraps) were accidentally tossed out with gutted debris. Hayes constantly chasing the dangerous thrill of power tools tempting his curiosity around the house. And Arlo in over hyped tween hysterics because a new friend was on their way over and the bathtub (which served briefly as our only means of rinsing dirty dishes) was still full of red tinged water thanks to a spaghetti lunch earlier in the day, which made it look like we may have murdered someone in the bathroom, and were really lazy about hiding it. The kind of things that can be hard to explain. Especially to kids from Orange County.
So, many, of these “humbling” experiences we met along the way.
Take for instance just a few random scenarios over the course of a year that will burn bright in my back pages for years to come.
- Waking up to a dining room fully exposed to it’s foundational dirt, in which two dogs run out alongside you, look down, look back up confused, then proceed to pee on dirt (your future kitchen) because they (like you) can no longer tell what is outdoor and what is in.
- Enduring three bone chilling winter weeks with the backside of the house fully exposed to December’s wrath while waiting for those steel doors to arrive from overseas.
- Greeting the parents of newly befriended 7th graders who peer past your solid attempt at shielding what looks to be the after effects of a tornado survived.
- Trying to share Pintrest mood boards with little boys who come for playdates and aren’t the least bit bothered by the fact of surrounding destruction but that you still feel inclined to convince things are eventually headed in an orderly outcome.
- Realizing that your one shared bathroom is looking and smelling less ideal than all the public restrooms at local beaches downtown.
- Buying things like over priced sun hats and weird oils to make up for a series of regular conveniences you’re currently living without.
- Crying during sporadic breaking points because you are so cold, and overwhelmed, and under motivated, but know others have it so much worse, then feeling guilty, but still really needing to cry.
- Sharing one closet with six people and openly resenting all of them because of it.
- Doing a terrible job at hiding other mounting resentment towards friends who have hired contractors that come in teams to tackle shit and leave.
- Enduring the parent conferences that reveals your child is kind and helpful and needs some work on fractions but also has 18 noted tardies in one semester that you can’t possibly explain is due to having one closet with consistently missing shoes.
- Peeing in a dirt corner outback because of an ever pressing attempt to keep hydrated, while sharing a bathroom with five others.
- Exploding once a month in dramatic scenarios screaming that you can’t “live like this anymore!” then gaining control of yourself, and falling back to those familiar piles of Architectural Digest you love and cherish, wondering “What would Diane Keaton do…?”
And while It’s quite romantic. Watching your partner build the things you want and the house you long for one must not assume it was all the roses and poetry along the way. Believe me when I say there were a number of outbursts and arguments over design fails and decor picks when things got to be too much. When the house was torn apart and ugly and uncomfortable. Where maybe on one hot and humid July night at the boiling point of frustration we were standing red faced in a busted up living room accusing each other of following the lead of “hipster thrift store trends” (him) that were at least better than “outdated Pottery Barn goals!”(me)
All in all, the quarrels luckily were few and far between. But I think we owe that partly to Mike’s slow to fire temper, and my resolution to suck it up and **drink more wine. Regardless, we made it through the worst of it. And still married! Which beats some odds based on dismal tales I’ve heard about couples going through similar circumstances. The price paid for a home we love is respectable. The sacrifices – real. But in that a lesson I hope these boys carry with them for a lifetime. Remembering the year their dad poured his entire being into creating a home we could all settle in and be proud of for years to come. Each kid lending their hands and help along the way. Learning to trust what they could accomplish if they set their mind to it. Mindful of the efforts their mother made too, in trying to ensure playdates and birthdays and breakfasts happened as they always had, in the midst of wreck and havoc. .
2018 might be remembered fondly as the best and worst of times. An adventure we forged together. For better or for worse. In the very least, a good story to tell their own kids.
*”low key badass” – nickname coined by my dear friend, Lauren
** Because Leon is CEO in the making and these conditions weren’t supporting that.
***drink more wine mantra sadly ended with the result of “have more headaches”