Restoring Wright

small DeckFor years I’ve admired Michigan Blue, a gorgeous regional magazine celebrating our third coast. So I’m very excited to have an essay of mine included in the Fall 2014 issue. “Restoring Wright” chronicles our decision to purchase and renovate a Frank Lloyd Wright home in St. Joseph, a beach town on Lake Michigan. The magazine is available in many bookstores, including Barnes & Noble, in the upper Midwest.

To read more about our Frank Lloyd Wright home, please visit the Schultz House Web site. If you “like” its public Facebook page, you’ll get regular updates and photos of our ongoing renovation projects.

The not-so-empty nest

Come fall, I cant resist the maternal impulse to shop for back-to-school supplies, even though its been a while since Ive had a student at home.

My only child did exactly what most parents hope their kids will do: He grew up, earned a degree from the university of his choice, found a place of his own, and started a grown-up job soon after.

Ill never forget the day his dad and I helped load his possessions into the back of his SUV, then followed him west across I-94. After unpacking his clothes and computer equipment, we waved a tearful good-bye in front of his new flat in Chicago and drove back to Detroit as official empty nesters.

Today, five years later, we still reminisce about our early years of parenthood and marvel at how quickly they flew.


Even so, our empty nest transition wasnt nearly as wrenching as so many magazine articles had led us to believe.

Just as menopause isnt a disease to cure, the empty nest isnt a syndrome to overcome. Sending children to college, helping them move to their first apartments, and watching them exchange wedding vows are natural rites of midlife passage.

Better yet, many of my Boomer friends are happily redesigning their lives after raising families. One is booking exotic cruise trips with her husband; another started violin lessons. Others are busy refueling stalled careers and sluggish relationships.

 Rolling with the changes

So maybe we need a better term to describe our empty nest years?

“A word signifying a void or a vacuum is an unfair way to describe a time when life can be full of growth possibilities,” note Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt in The Launching Years (Three Rivers Press). The authors also remind us that young adults fare better on their own when they know their folks are adjusting to the changes, too.

In other words, helicopter parenting doesnt benefit anyone. Letting go means allowing our kids to score their own victories and learn from their own mistakes — without our hovering.

Still, its normal to grieve the loss of your old parenting role. And theres no shame in admitting youve got an achy little tug on your heart when you first unload your grocery cart and notice youre buying half as much ice cream as you did when the kids were home. When that happens, indulge yourself (like I did) in a private meltdown in the car. Or adopt another pet (like I did) from the local shelter.

But dont make your child feel guilty for leaving you with an empty bedroom to redecorate. Let her know youre proud of her independence – and celebrate the life you are crafting outside the boundaries of parenthood.

“Theres a trick to the Graceful Exit,” wrote syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman in her farewell piece. “It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on rather than moving out.”

Even if your kids have flown the nest – and even if you dont have grandkids — treat yourself to some new school supplies this fall. Grab a fresh notebook and a set of pens in every color. Start taking notes on everything you want to do with the rest of your life.

This column originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Michigan Prime. 

Zen and construction dust

Like many flood victims in Oakland County, we’ll soon have a dumpster in our driveway and a construction crew in the basement. Watching our contractor haul rolls of soggy carpeting to the curb this morning, I recalled the following column, which I wrote in 2003. The full version is reprinted in Writing Home.

Zen and Remodeling

We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, youll have no problem. – Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun

The construction crew hasnt even started yet, but Im already bracing myself for several weeks of chaos and plaster dust. Half of our clothes and most of our toiletries have been temporarily stashed in other regions of the house. With the exception of our master bedroom, in fact, everything upstairs is in a state of minor upheaval. I hate living like this.

Its all in preparation for our next remodeling project, which includes new plumbing, tile, and fixtures for our circa 1926 bathroom, plus expanded closet space and a paint job for the spare bedroom. The crew is scheduled to begin this week, but thats just what they tell me. Until I see trucks in the driveway, I know better than to count on anything. Being married to an architect and having survived several remodeling projects, I now have a grasp of what I call “building trade ethics.”

Even in the most professional situations, building trade ethics bear little resemblance to the Protestant work ethic. For starters, people in the building trades do not follow a nine-to-five schedule. These guys have their own system, and its up to you to figure out what that is.

They also speak a different language. For example, if the plumber whos installing your new toilet says hell be back to finish at noon on Friday, its possible that he really means maybe sometime on a Friday next month.

With few exceptions, though, the results are worth it. If you love your old house as much as we love ours, you realize that a disrupted schedule is a small price to pay for the lifestyle improvements youll get eventually.

And if you really want to feel smug, you can tell yourself that your renovation project is also for posterity. Fixing up an old house is a gift to the community – which is why I cringe every time someone tears down a perfectly decent old home, only to replace it with a brand-new Big Foot palace. But thats a topic for another time.

Right now, Im trying to focus on the positive. Compared to one of our last projects – a kitchen makeover and a sun room that took nine months to complete — this next effort should be … less of an effort.

Still, every time our walls give way to a sledge hammer, Im reminded that change is messy. More often than not, you must tear something apart and disrupt your routine to make things better. You cant install a new shower, for instance, without uprooting the old one. You cant hang new wallpaper over old wallpaper and expect to end up with a smooth, bubble-free finish. And you must never varnish a hardwood floor before sanding away its stained or splintered imperfections.

Likewise, you cant sugarcoat the rigors of self-improvement.

Come January, everyone wants to be thinner, healthier, wiser, smoke-free, and less wrinkly. And wed like to achieve these goals as quickly as possible, preferably with a single-dose pill that works while were asleep.

But self-improvement takes time and willpower, which is why some of us give up before weve hit the target. As every dieter knows, the “in between sizes” stage – the first plateau — is the trickiest. The process is ongoing, arduous, and more than an act of faith.

My dear old house is also a work in progress. It has taught me how to be patient and how to make sense of the chaos that precedes any kind of transformation. With a little luck, I think we can survive another month of plaster dust together.

So, bring on the building crew. Whenever.

Loving the skin we’re in

heartAmericans are hard on aging women. If fashion and beauty editors aren’t ignoring us, they’re constantly reminding us that we need lifting or correcting. In my August column for Michigan Prime, I share some thoughts on how I’ve learned to embrace my changing body image and to seek out role models who demonstrate healthy aging. The print edition was delivered August 10 with the Sunday Detroit News and Free Press, or you can click here to read the column online.

Artwork by Cindy La Ferle