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Being the Funk in Tupperware Heights

2010 May 27

Twelve years ago today, May 28th, Dan and I bought this house:

Are you super-underwhelmed? And the smudges (coffee?) on the scanned-in photo don’t help? I know. But stay tuned.

I wanted something with charm, but we couldn’t afford the Victorian charm of the historic district and its attendant early-1900‘s sloping floors, rag-tag foundations and two-bit plumbing.

I had imagined us in a funkier neighborhood, with ancient apple trees, stalled out VW buses doubling as alleyway housing, old-growth lilacs swallowing brick walls. My mailman scoffingly called this neighborhood–our new neighborhood–Tupperware Heights because of its 1950’s ranch-style, vinyl-sided homes and lawns forged right out of the mold marked “rectangle.” I lamented to Dan that our neighbors appeared to be old-school, straight-laced, herbicide-users.

Dan, in his wise and practical manner, saw the potential of the property. This house had the south-facing orientation we were seeking for our future sunroom/greenhouse. The backyard was enormously large, and though I was disappointed there was not a single tree on the property, Dan saw it as a blank canvas for us to paint the landscape of our dreams. He advised “befriend the neighbors, let it fuel your writing.”

This is the blank canvas backyard May 28th, 1998:

And August, 2009:

Remember the original front of the house?

Twelve years later:

These are all scruffy, drought-tolerant plants AKA we’re too busy in our backyard to fuss with the front, so if it needs more than what the rain provides, it doesn’t live here. Dan built that lovely porch.

In addition to our vegetable garden, we’ve planted 3 apple trees, 2 peach trees, 3 crabapples, 1 cottonwood, 2 lilacs, 1 apricot, 2 chokecherries, 1 serviceberry, 1 gooseberry, 2 plums, a clump of aspens, 2 hops vines, rhubarb, a strawberry patch, comfrey, a perennial herb garden, and a smattering of wild roses.

Dan built that dreamed-of sunroom with ponderosa pine logs we cut on National Forest, six miles from our house, and hauled home in our Toyota truck (still running, twelve years later).  The sunroom frame is post and beam–hand-cut joinery–not a nail in the joint.

We always had roommates, that’s how we floated our mortgage without working full time. We had a fun, colorful community circulating through the house (we’ve housed an ad-hoc bluegrass band, “Gary” who we later learned–after he was picked up by the cops–was on the lam, a 50-year old children’s book author, a young man who performed barefoot, spiritual tai-chi routines in our yard every morning in an orange suit, a woman with a serving platter-sized tortoise, a young man who brought his bong to breakfast, another who passed out drunk in my herb garden, an anorexic girl who baked us muffins in exchange for rent and countless more whom are our dear friends today).

It was all good, but after a few years we could see there might be a time when Dan and I would want to live alone. So we got full time, high paying jobs. Just kidding! Over the course of three years we built an 800 square foot apartment on top of our house, which is where we live now, while we rent out the downstairs house.

Twelve years ago our real estate agent mused cheerfully “it’s a great starter home.” And I nodded and smiled, but knew she had misjudged us. We wanted to sink down roots, to mold and be molded by this property, to truly inhabit this place. We’ve put compost and manure and fruit trees into it. We’ve put chickens and children into it. We’ve put our time and labor and vision into it.

Our home is our base, our literal foundation. This rectangular plot of earth is as familiar as my children’s small, soft hands. Somedays the history tugs at me – how we buried our cat Jasper under that comfrey; fierce, late night ping pong with assorted characters in the sunroom; the peach tree that we planted with Dan’s father, who has since died. Other times–like now, in spring–it seems we’re all just on the brink of becoming something new, adjusting to whatever parenting and life is serving up, creating a fresh moment in this place we call home.

The Urban Homestead Turns 13

The Urban Homestead Turns 14

69 Responses leave one →
  1. May 28, 2010

    LOVED this rachel. every last drop of it.

    we too live in a “starter home” — one that we have no intention of moving on from!!!



  2. May 28, 2010

    ps…the photos of what you’ve done with your home and yard are absolutely AMAZING!!!! you guys totally rock!!!!!

  3. May 28, 2010

    Great post, Rachel. You guys have done an amazing job. This was exacrly what I needed to see/read right now. Just yesterday I was trying to get my *whole* vision for our yard: edible gardens, cutting gardens, hardscape, etc. and I had to stop and remind myself that we have years to bring it all together.
    Have a great weekend!

  4. May 28, 2010

    I am homesick. :)
    We moved out of our first home two weeks ago and are just waiting to find our new direction.
    Dreaming of all it will be–including probably a home half the size, but the land much more. Priorities have changed.
    Headed your way tomorrow!!!! No, not stalking. :)

  5. May 28, 2010

    wow…what an inspiration, Rachel. I enjoyed reading about your past tenants that must have kept life very interesting until your kiddos came along.

  6. May 28, 2010

    “Befriend the neighbors, let it fuel your writing.”

    I bet Dan is a hoot!

  7. May 28, 2010

    What amazing before and after pics. I feel the same way about places I live. I set my roots down deep. And yes, I love that picture of your mountain man husband!

  8. May 28, 2010

    OMG. I love reading your blog, but this one sealed the deal. Your spirit rings loudly of the things I hold dear, close to home…and you’re welcome at our campfire, romps through the forest, dinner table…anytime. :)

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      May 29, 2010

      Melissa, Thanks for reading, commenting and the campfire invite!

  9. May 28, 2010

    Especially if Dan’s willing to help my husband, Carl, side our house. We have wine. :P

  10. May 28, 2010

    That’s some transformation! The roots you’ve planted, figurative and literal, run deep and I can tell just how much love has gone into your home.

    We are still a year shy from taking that leap of owning our first home, but I’m so ready to plant these roots. Your post gave me chills. Inspiration.

    Thank you. It must be such a wonderful feeling, and I can’t wait for it myself.

  11. May 28, 2010

    What an incredible transformation. Thanks so much for the inspiration. You guys are really, really cool.

  12. May 28, 2010

    love it. does jeff berman still live nearby?

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      May 28, 2010

      He does! I just watered his garden last week while he was out of town. :)

  13. David permalink
    May 28, 2010

    Hey, there was nothing “Ad-hoc” about the Stoney Creek Ramblers! We were pros!

    These are the best before and after pictures ever. Nice work on the house. Way to build up San Juan Drive.

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      May 28, 2010

      Damn. I knew that was the wrong word choice. Fully professional, David. XO

  14. Rachel Kohnen permalink
    May 28, 2010

    Do you homebrew? Do you know the hops varieties you planted? And if you don’t homebrew, what do you use hops for?? Can I get in just one more question???

    Ben just dry-hopped a bock with Hallertauer from our first harvest. Delish…

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      May 29, 2010

      Rachel, I’m not sure what variety those hops vines are. They’re finally taking off after a rather slow start. (The woman at the nursery told me they were dragging because I was giving them too much attention. “Don’t even look at them” she told me). I haven’t yet home-brewed, just a few batches of Mead. I would LOVE to start, when I can find an extra three minutes. I planted the hops for their medicinal qualities and also to cover my ugly chainlink fence. So cool that Ben is brewing!

  15. May 28, 2010

    it looks like paradise! what a fantastic space you’ve created!!! the gardens are phenomenal. actually, all of it is phenomenal. i am especially impressed by your hardcore diy greenhouse. my husband has the big hair for it…hmmm….

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      May 29, 2010

      Kendra, Big hair definitely helps.

  16. nataliechristensen permalink
    May 28, 2010

    Word is right! Holy shit. Thank you so much for that visual/verbal/historical treat. I’d kill to have neighbors like you guys.

  17. May 28, 2010

    Your twelve years is magical and inspiring.

  18. Steph permalink
    May 28, 2010

    What an inspiring post! I love seeing the before and after photos. I hope to be able to create that for myself and my family someday.

  19. May 29, 2010

    Wow- the time, the history, the connection, the roots. What a beautiful circular life and work carved out of a blank square. It’s a lovely, fruitful garden, too!

    Thanks for your sweet words on my blog recently…I’ve loved yours since I spied it back in April.


  20. May 29, 2010

    *GASP!!* Tupperware no more! Those before and afters are fantastic! And man, Dan rocks the mallet.

  21. May 29, 2010

    so beautiful, and inspiring
    thanks for the post

  22. May 29, 2010

    What transformation! The vision you brought to reality is amazing. “Somedays the history tugs me…” Speechless. That’s what it’s all about – putting down roots.

  23. May 29, 2010

    Wow indeed. I LOVE the sun porch building pictures. It truely shows what we can do with what we have. I just am too sad we can’t have our chickens where we are. We tried, we failed, and I want to be somewhere where we can have them again. Thanks for sharing your house!


  24. May 29, 2010

    gorgeous! all of it! thank you for sharing this journey!

  25. May 30, 2010

    how wonderful:: i think anything can have charm, only takes a good idea!

  26. May 30, 2010

    What a transformation of Tupperware Heights! And what a gorgeous harvest you have this year!

  27. May 30, 2010

    oh, i so long to lay down roots and quit bouncing around town every year when the lease is up.
    it’s inspiring to see the potential of tupperware digs, inspiring to see the before and durings of making that potential a reality.
    one day…

  28. May 30, 2010

    Beautiful home! I love your gardens … really so gorgeous. What a sense of accomplishment it must give you and your family … to know how far you’ve come :).

  29. May 30, 2010

    As someone who stares out the kitchen window daily at our “blank slate,” aka weed-infested dirt patch, I’m inspired and intimidated. I’m thinking with two kids and two full-time jobs, it’s going to take us until probably retirement to fulfill our aspirations for it. But I guess that’s just part of the fun of putting down roots (motherhood and homeownership are teaching me volumes about patience). And Josh, whose skill sets heretofore centered mostly around cameras and computers, is becoming pretty proficient with powertools, having put up a super boss chicken coop using mostly scrap wood and a little imagination.

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      May 30, 2010

      Katie, Taking the “long view” is always helpful. One project at a time, right? Dan and I were childless with one part-time job each for the first seven years on this property. We’ve actually had to backtrack and let several garden beds go back to grass/weeds due to the marvelous constraints of motherhood. I’m sure someday, we’ll open those beds back up for business. And, Go Josh! on the chicken coop – I’d love to see it sometime!

  30. Emily permalink
    May 30, 2010

    There is lots of hope!! better keep the move on over here while Jojo and I are still part-time workers. Soon-to-be radicaler homemakers ^-^ I was glad Dan got to see some of my plaster work when he came over the other day. Ever since doing it things around here feel just a little more…homey : ) and his reaction was validating. Which is even more meaningful now that I’ve gotten a glimpse of the “inside” on his skills. Word, indeed, to you too Mama

  31. May 30, 2010

    wow beyond belief. so totally inspiring. i love your writing, love your deep connection to place and your sweet perspective on motherhood. we moved into our little spot in the world two days before my first born came along so the progress has been a wee bit slower. just looking at what’s possible from the pictures you’ve shared is a big boost to me, so thanks for that. to make a place a home and to have a vision of what’s possible. then to plant trees (and tomatoes, and children and and and…).
    thanks new friend. i like you.

  32. Ellen permalink
    May 31, 2010

    Its wonderful that your house is overflowing with flowers, fruits, trees, vegetables, kids, and other people. And that you had this vision at such a young age!

  33. June 1, 2010

    I am SO impressed!

  34. June 1, 2010

    I loved this post….. and strangely enough we have a big tuxedo lover of a cat named….. Jasper….. good name. Seeing what you have done with this backyard is nothing short of amazing and inspiring….. totally awesome!!

  35. June 3, 2010

    You are proof that blooming where you’re planted is possible. Thanks for the tour.

  36. June 4, 2010

    Damn girl, you really turned that house into a home! What a beautiful tribute to where you’ve been and how it’s brought you to this moment. Congrats on an amazing 12 years, I hope for decades more pleasure for you!

  37. Audrey Crane permalink
    June 8, 2010

    Holy crap. Even looking at them side by side, Ryan couldn’t believe they were the same house. You’re amazing!!!

  38. June 10, 2010

    Wow! I wish we had the skills to mastermind such a transformation. Maybe if I brought my bong to breakfast I’d find some inspiration … =>

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      June 10, 2010

      Stacia, you must start with a really uninspired house/yard. You’re probably beyond that phase.

  39. June 11, 2010

    I have to tell you that I keep coming back to this post! It’s just so inspiring. I really can’t believe what you did with that place–you’ve raised the bar for my hopes for greenery!

  40. June 18, 2010

    love the house and the colorful yard!

  41. June 19, 2010

    I picked the best post to read first in my opinion! I knew I would be interested in your blog after reading about you and because of your location. This post just confirmed it.

    This was fabulous….love the before and after photos. There is something about planting roots…it makes me happy.

  42. June 2, 2011

    wow rachel, this is awesome. such an amazing transformation! post and beam joinery gets me into trouble, i find carpentry super irresistible. go dan!

  43. June 27, 2011

    Love that you linked to this old post! What a wonderful transformation, a beautiful home(stead). x

  44. June 15, 2012

    I love everything about this! Such an inspiration to me. We are a young family in our first chapter of living life on a small plot in the city, just making due with what we have. Thank you so much for linking back to this post!

  45. Chris permalink
    January 29, 2013

    Great post. You two are an inspiration to all with regards to what is possible with hard work, creativity, friends, and most of all love. I have so many memories at your homestead that my head is swimming. I am proud to be your ‘hood neighbor.


  46. January 30, 2013

    How utterly inspiring!

  47. Stacy permalink
    February 26, 2013

    I love that I have found someone that feels their “starter home” is where they want to stay. We put a modular on some property we fell in love with 14 years ago with the intention of it being the first step….well two kids later, a tree house we could live in, etc. our simple modular has become our permanent home. Roots have taken over and I can’t imagine leaving this simple place we once thought was our beginning…now we know it’s so much more. We have also been asked…when will you be moving up the property ladder…hard to explain to those asking, but… we already feel like we are at the top.

  48. May 28, 2013

    Roots are good to have.
    We’re still in our ‘starter home’ 14 years, a peach, a cherry, a red buckeye horse chestnut, bald cypress, some blueberries, a fig and as of today, a golden raspberry bush later.

  49. Maggie permalink
    May 29, 2013

    I remember the “box” and remember I couldn’t imagine how you would make it charming… but you did… not only with plants and porches and additions, but with curious, loveable rugrats, imaginative potlucks, bear and elk in the back yard, and sweet acceptance for each and every person who crossed your threshold. Can’t wait for you to see my “starter home!” Love to you all…

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  51. May 28, 2014

    We have an identical 1500 sq ft ranch in a “starter” neighborhood that we’ve been in for 12 years now. We tried to sell once with no luck so we’ve had two kids and settled in for the long haul. We enjoy our dirt cheap mortgage and hope to be able to afford an addition like yours some day. We even have a dead cat named Jasper too :)

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