Creating an Urban Homestead

Posts tagged “Mike

Life is But a Dream—or Maybe Just a Big Bowl of Soup

Nothing like the holidays to bring back memories of holidays past. Former lives within this life haunt me—so many moments and people that are now gone forever. They are real in my mind but elusive as a dream.

Life is so much more fluid than I ever knew. My mind keeps bumping into the people of the past as I cherish time spent with people of the present.

“Their souls are in the halls of my mind,” says Flash of his dearly departed. I know what he means. (more…)

A Flash of Anger

So Flash and I got in our first fight.

Well, kind of. Sometime back in the spring he told me he couldn’t picture us ever arguing. “Quaint and sweet and totally unrealistic,” I thought while smiling coyly at him.

But he’s probably right. Even if I tried my best to raise his dander, I don’t think Flash would ever get in a yelling match with me.

He’s more of an “internalize it” kind of guy. Maybe that’s why I picked him.

In our 17-year relationship, Mike and I had a rich history of verbal battles that were mostly unproductive and emotionally draining. That man LOVED verbal duals, and they could become less than diplomatic in short order. Even though we agreed on almost every subject, we managed to fight often and loudly. One of Mike’s favorite things was to call talk radio hosts and argue with them on the air.

Fast-forward about seven months from Flash’s sweet comment. It’s holiday time. Add to that baseline stress, so far this December: (more…)

Slow Food and Fast Food, Love and Pain

Avery eats his first turkey leg. Photo by Flash

Avery eats his first turkey leg. Photo by Flash

Flash, CC, Marley, Avery and I celebrated Thanksgiving early this year—a potluck with friends. Somehow, I ended up cooking my very first turkey for the shindig. After two short years of cooking regular meals and 10 years of vegetarianism only recently ended, it seemed a daunting task. (Mike was such a fantastic cook, I was truly handicapped in the kitchen by the time he died in 2007. I rarely cooked a meal in the 17 years we were together.)

Since returning to my omnivorous roots back in February, I’ve been purchasing local, free range, antibiotic-free meat from a farmer that I met while on a photo assignment years ago. Vegetarian at the time, I made a mental note that if I ever were to purchase meat again, it would be from Charles Ritch of Goose Pond Farm.

And I’ve made good on that promise. (more…)

Things I Never Thought I’d Hear My Five Year Old Say

Hearing his dad’s music on the ipod seemed to open up the topic of death for Avery. Here a few of Avery’s thoughts on the subject:

• “I have a hard time when you aren’t with me. When I stayed at Jaren’s house, I was so scared that you would die and I would come home and we would have to bury you.” (more…)


So much has happened at The Okey Dokey Ranch in the past month, it is hard to know where to begin.

Suffice it to say, the long-awaited arrival of Flash has more or less taken place. He keeps saying things like “when I get here,” as if he hasn’t moved in yet.  (I don’t think he considers himself “here” until the house is arranged to his liking; we’re not there quite yet, I am told.) Yet it seems like he’s here to me.  Much of his stuff is here.  And he’s rearranged so much of our living space, I feel disoriented in my own home.  Yet grateful.  Things had gotten pretty chaotic around here.  And this guy has the perfect combination of obsession and organizational skills to tackle things like building shelving and rearranging furniture and CDs until things make more sense.  (more…)

Spirit phones and homegrown tomatoes

Sometimes malaise sneaks up on me, and other times it follows a more predictable path. As cliché as it might sound, today’s bout of blues definitely seems related to the fast-approaching 2nd anniversary of Mike’s death (Sept 13).

I’ve found no good way defend myself against the pain. It comes uninvited.

I am haunted by a past that is gone and a future that no longer exists. It began in the relative quiet of Labor Day after Flash, CC, and her kitten Casey departed from The Okey Dokey Ranch after spending a raucous and rainy but fun Saturday and Sunday here.

This afternoon, Marley went to Tannehill State Park with her friend Bella, which left me alone with Avery. The boy has been quite wild all weekend—a draining surprise after he acted disarmingly docile and charming Friday afternoon after school. By Monday afternoon I was, shall we say, finding it difficult to appreciate Avery being anywhere near me. I really just wanted to be alone with my thoughts. (more…)

Wishes upon a star

As we sat on Mike’s dad’s balcony overlooking the St. Croix River in Wisconsin, we saw several  shooting stars blazing across the night sky.  Both kids made wishes. (more…)

The Missing Goodbye

I have a recurring dream, although I am not sure if it really is a dream. It happens in that space just between consciousness and deep sleep and happens most frequently during afternoon naps, but sometimes as I fall asleep at night.

I’ve come to think of this space as my time with Mike, or perhaps something else altogether. It feels as though some energy, some force is working on my heart. As I try to describe this “heart work,” it seems less and less real. A mirage.

All I know is that it has felt healing at times. But this time, the message was different. Loud and clear. “But you didn’t even get to say goodbye.” Again and again. (more…)

New Digs


Have I talked about how much I love my new office?

I always knew the house at The Okey Dokey Ranch was too small for us from the day we made an offer on it back in 2004. Mike and I always had plans to finish the basement, and later, just before he died, we were about to put an offer on a commercial building to house our businesses in, which would have helped the not-quite-enough-space-in-our-house issue.

So for almost two years after his death, I continued to work in cramped quarters. Marley and Avery shared a bedroom, and things were crowded, but that was the least of my problems.

Enter Flash. He came, assessed, and decided that what I really needed was a new home office. And a slip and slide. (Flash built one at The Asylum last year.) It’s all on video, check it out at:

The Red Mountain Express

Then he announced The Plan: enclose and finish off my screened in back porch and it would become my office. Then Avery could move into my old office and Marley would have her own room.

Instant Nirvana.

“Wow,” I thought, “all this meditating and yoga that I’ve done, and the true secret to happiness is building a new office and giving the kids their own bedrooms. Why have I been wasting my time?”

As soon as the kids and I left for NM, Flash was on it, tearing down the back porch. He spent much of the month of July working long hot days to finish off the space before the kids got home. It took until the final weekend of kid-free living, but he finished construction and I finished painting and we moved everyone’s things to their respective spaces. Between his work ethic and building skills and my color schemes (which I honed trial-and-error from the dozen houses I’ve renovated in the past few years), the room looks downright smashing.

For those who are wondering, my new favorite green paint graces the walls: Independent Gold from Sherwin Williams. I used flat no VOC Harmony Paint. Good stuff. No harmful fumes.

Now the office is a draw for young and old alike. The chaise in the corner next to the three giant picture windows is a magnet for young nappers, wine sippers, and midnight bloggers. I am going to make it my mission to figure out how to make a living sitting in this chair with my laptop.

I told Flash that everyone who comes to visit is drawn to my room. An absolute people magnet. “Just wait until I get my hands on the rest of your house,” he said. But the slip and slide? Alas, I think we’re going to have to wait until next summer to enjoy that. He’s got the basement to tackle now.

Need a project done around your house? Call now and book a few months in advance. This man is in demand.


Five years ago, a young couple—friends of friends–died in a freak car accident while traveling to their 4th of July vacation spot in Asheville, NC.

Their three-year-old son lived. I remember being blood-curdlingly horrified by the story.

The woman had once been a teacher at The Redmont School, where Marley was attending preschool. That was the extent of our connection–two degrees of separation.

I worried for their son, bargained with fate to undo what had been done, obsessed about the unfairness of it all.

And finally, I spent several hours in bed, paralyzed with fear about what could befall my own children, seriously considering never taking my family out into the world in order to protect them. Then I realized that even at home, an airplane could fall from the sky and hit our house, or a meteorite could pulverize us anywhere on earth. The realization that I am not in control hit me hard that weekend. (more…)

Marley lost her first tooth tonight

Another first–a non-holiday milestone that Mike has missed. One of those things that I know he would have loved to celebrate with her. And maybe he is. It’s just not that apparent to me.

Marley is soooo excited. When this happened, I of course was happy for Marley, but my mind also immediately went to “well, here’s another thing that Mike will never get to enjoy.”


Thanksgiving weekend

On this weekend, I want to again thank everyone for their love and support. We could not do this alone. We ate Thanksgiving dinner at my mom and stepdad’s house along with my aunt. It was nice and quiet.


Happy Anniversary

Ten years ago, we walked the French Quarter

Hunting for rings on our wedding day

Thinking we would spend full lives

Traveling, carefree, growing old gracefully.

Instead we worked, had babies; hitting our stride only recently (more…)

Chris' photo website and condemned house update

It only occurred to me yesterday that I forgot a very important link (to me, anyway), which is my photo website, which for now displays mostly editorial photos. I don’t update it very often, but if you want to check it out, go to It should be back online later today (my domain name registration had expired).


Rebuilding the building business easier said than done

Maybe I’m overconfident in my ability to continue the rehab business on my own. I have no doubt that I can get my homebuilders license and learn the on-site details of the work, dealing with subs and all of the other things that Mike did (although I’m sure I’ll not be doing much, if any, of the hands on work that he did other than to pick up/purchase supplies). (more…)

Space Cleansing

It’s been an intense weekend. Many social events, and also a more private happening. A cleansing of the “trauma energy” in the space in my basement where Mike died. (more…)

Jones Valley Urban Farm orchard planting details

Ok, on Saturday, November 17, 2007, Marley, Avery and I will be helping plant a blueberry and fig tree orchard in Mike’s memory from 10 am until noon. All are welcome (kids too) to come and help plant. Bring gloves, but all other tools and refreshments are provided. At the end of the session, all who partipated will make a handprint for a metal casting that will be poured @ Sloss and made into a memorial plaque for the garden. (more…)

Slideshow of Mike's altar @ Bare Hands Gallery's Dia de los Muertos 2007

Check out "Farewells" in today's Birmingham News

There is an extended obituary written in today’s Birmingham News about Mike. It’s on page 12A. Or follow the “Farewells” link to see the online version.

In the article, Erin, the reporter, refers to the Bare Hands Gallery exhibit, so I though it might be good to add a slideshow of part of Mike’s alter for those who haven’t had the chance to go see it. BTW, the exhibit will be up through November 17. The gallery is open Wed-Sat 11-6 pm.

Spirit in the Sky


Have I talked about Marley and how she communicates with Mike on a daily basis? She says he’s with her most of the time and is proud of the fact that she’s playing piano (he likes to dance to her playing), is watching when she helps the younger kids at school, and how he helps her when she falls.

Here is a picture she drew the other day of what “daddy’s spirit looks like in the sky.”

Life as a ghost

It is so strange going through the day as if nothing has changed.

Bring the kids to school; work on the books; close on a house; bullshit with the real estate agent; answer the phone; meet the HVAC guy; talk to the guys doing demolition work on my houses; listen to the radio; read a snippet of a novel. (more…)

A letter from Mike’s mom Dinny

My dear Michael,

You are a man of so many talents, there was little you couldn’t do–if you didn’t know how you just did it anyway.


Sunday blues

I can already see that Sundays are going to be the worst day of the week; it was most often the day that all of us would be home together, working in the garden, cooking, listening to NPR. Yesterday was just like one of those days, except it was Mike’s mom with us from New Mexico instead of Mike. And that was great–she’s had a great time with the kids and vice versa. Mike and the kids and I have always appreciated and enjoyed her visits. (more…)

Can't stop crying

Why this morning?

Is it because I’m going to close on a house by myself today (we bought nine houses together)?

Because it is All Souls Day and the wall between the worlds is at its thinnest (and why can’t I feel you, Mike?) (more…)