Had it not been for the internet and HGTV, I would have never even known that shipping containers were an option for homebuilding.  My husband, wrist deep in chopped tomatoes, laughed and then quickly took cover in the kitchen when I announced my discovery. “No, seriously, we could build a house out of shipping containers! It’s not like you don’t have the contacts…”

My continued pleas to ‘just take a look’ fell upon deaf ears until months later when we found ourselves at a birthday party in the sierra. The party was held at an outdoor adventure park.  As the kids ran through the obstacle courses and clipped in and out of the maze of ziplines, the adults sipped coffee inside the park’s cafe/restaurant.   It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for an outdoor party and staying true to form throughout the course of Spanish group banter, I did what I always do: I zoned out. Too many voices arguing to make the same point, clanging cutlery as competing background noise and the always present football/soccer game blaring from the back corner of every bar leads to a headache for me so I almost always tune out for a while, this time appreciating the amazing views (see actual photo below) of the Cordoban sierra from within the bar area.

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I remember thinking how cool it would be to live in a house with such big windows (minus the fingerprints) and amazing views. You don’t get this kind of build from tract housing in suburban Des Moines, I thought. I leaned back deeper into my chair and waited for a break in the conversation. Nice floor, hardwood.  Generous French doors, especially for a Spanish construction. Wonder how they decided on the L shape?  Seems tight for restaurant seating. And then, out of nowhere, it hit me.

“Dude, we’re in a container!” I slapped my husband on the forearm.


“A container.  This is a SHIPPING CONTAINER.”

“No we’re not. No it’s not. You’re losing it.”

“Yes we are. Look, there’s the seam where the two containers meet.”

Annoyed (it was Real Madrid playing afterall), my husband rose from his chair, walked over to the seam, then over to the far wall where he stopped dead in his tracks and just stared at the wall.  Eventually, he wandered out the door and I neither saw nor heard from him throughout the rest of the birthday party. We were indeed inside of a shipping container that had been finished into a restaurant. And unbeknownst to me, he was in awe.

It should have come to no surprise then when weeks later he announced the building plans for our adjoining lots in Granada. “Guys, I’m done with the plans for the house! It’s gonna be eight 40’s double stacked. Come check it out, you’re gonna love it!”

Huh? Eight what? What’s a 40? Someone, Google translate!

He announced it as if he himself were Edison, lightbulb in hand, “We’re going to use shipping containers, like the ones I showed you up at that restaurant in the sierra! Remember? Alejandro’s birthday party?”

Whatchu tawkin’ ’bout Willis?!Sales-Cargo-Worthy-Container-Ship

So much for me being crazy. He was onboard alright, though come to think of it perhaps a little too much because now I was on the edge of scared and terrified.  Shipping containers? Seriously? What have I gotten us into?  I’m way past forty yet the scrolling banner of, my parents are going to kill me just wouldn’t slow. Before I could offer up any type of rebuttal to his newly found stroke of genius, he was firing off his list of pros, available on any website near you. And that readers is my free advice for the century: no need to argue with your spouse, just get them to think that they thought of it first. But be careful what you’re going for because this strategy works every time.

That was roughly a year ago.  I’m over the shock and awe of the husband’s construction epiphany and ready to get my hands dirty. The kids are still young enough that there probably won’t be too much lingering emotional damage once all is said and done.  Then again, this being Spain, we very well may still be building the danged thing ten years from now.


07/03/2017 = Meet with the architect & view first draft of plans

07/05/2017 = Move the kids & dog to Granada

Wish me luck!




What Every Bathroom Needs (apart from the obvious)

Bored? Current state of global affairs got you down?  Tired of not making it out of Target for under fifty bucks?  Allow me to distract you with an invitation to witness my creative bipolarism with a revisit to the kids’ bathroom design. Oh, you missed my streak of genius and cunning economic wizardry? No problem, you can help yourself out by clicking here.

Okay, so what’s my current dilemma with said bathroom design?  Well, it appears that I overlooked a key element: THE LAUNDRY CHUTE.  How this happened I have no idea but thank you, 3AM Insomnia and white washed childhood memories for the not-so-gentle reminder. It was the early 80’s; I wanted to be Olivia Newton John in both Grease and Xanadu, leg warmers were what all the it girls had (except me) and we had just moved into our cool new yellow Colonial on Piping Rock Road.  In one change of address life had gone from pretty good to great. As proof of this, the house’s main selling feature: a laundry chute. To this day I’m convinced it was what pushed my mother over rom the edge of indecision.  It had to be. That, or the street name. Piping Rock. What is Piping Rock? And just what was the city planner who decided to throw that name into the pot smoking before the big street name meeting?  Alas, I digress… Anyway, it (the laundry chute) was a small, square, oak door built into the wall of my brother’s room, just above the baseboard trim.  That one little door was all the affirmation I needed to know that we had indeed ‘arrived’.  By my eight year old standards, we were rich.  Nobody I knew had such a thing.  My God, what a glorious invention.  Dirty clothes?  Goodbye!  Don’t feel like that PB&J that Mom packed for lunch? Sayonara Sucka’! And let me just go out on a limb and say that you may never comprehend the simultaneous shiver of uncertain fear peppered with absolute satisfaction that comes from hearing the muffled cries of your youngest brother who has become wedged somewhere between the first and second stories of the house.  For that alone, I pity you.

So the Pinterest diving began anew.  Proper planning (this is where form/function keeps me up for the next 3 months) pretty much assures the righting of my current'Aww how sweet, you've arranged your dirty underwear on the floor to spell out 'I love you'.' laundry ‘situation’.  However, knowing the forces (ages 12, 10, 8, 6 and 49) working against me towards this endeavor a likely scenario it is not but hey, can’t blame a girl for trying, right?

Almost straight out of the gate I found the coolest of the cool. Thank you, Pinterest! I’m not very discerning those first few thousand hours on the site. It’s akin to going grocery shopping while hungry.

Without kids.

On a payday.

After a really good run.

I’ll take that!  And that! And that! Oh yes, please, don’t mind if I do!

And hell yes, some of THAT too!

It isn’t pretty, people, is it?  But I own it.

My first score was this little gem. How hard can it be to find a spare porthole lying around?  This is Spain for crying out loud, port of departure for Christopher Columbus himself.  laundry chuteAnd what kid would not fight to the death to be the first one to open that hatch for bombs away? Ne’er a dirty sock nor inside-out pair of pants to be ‘forgotten’ again! I was sold for oh, about 35 seconds, time enough to save it to my board and then instantly bemoan the fact that my stroke of genius does not come without some obvious and potentially serious pitfalls including but not limited to:

  • pinched &/or broken appendages
  • finger/toe prints everywhere
  • the occasional dare for the boys to drop drawers, open hatch and well, you know…

So, yeah. While pretty cool this clearly was not going to work towards making my life easier. And before you comment, I do not consider children down the chute a pitfall necessarily, more maybe a rite of passage (see above circa 1982).  Besides, I know my monsters well.  A week tops before the novelty wears off and my porthole to cleaner living gets buried under three feet of dirty soccer uniforms. Never to be seen again.

I moved my sights up the wall.  Considerably further up. Thinking back to the family mansion on Piping Rock Road, I was left scratching my head as to why the previous owner had placed the chute in a bedroom as opposed to the bathroom until I realized that my brother’s bedroom was directly above the laundry room and placing the chute in the upstairs bathroom would have meant laundry deposit directly onto the kitchen laundry chute winnerisland (note to self: alignment). Additionally, I realized that I  would have to hunt for a design big enough to fit a wad of towels but small enough to NOT fit/force a human.  Oh, and placement would have to be ABOVE waist level because, well, boys.

This is the design that I’ve settled on.  I love it because it met the newly invented prerequisites and I can marry it to the coolest kids’ shower in the universe. There’s obvious tweaking to be done (slightly smaller door and at least 6-12 inches higher up) but for now, I think this is it.  And as a bonus, I get towel and toiletries storage though probably the inverse of this photo in hopes of the impossible: kidproofing.

Apologies for the trip down Memory Lane.  I’d like to hear your thoughts on this amendment to the plan.  And since dimentia appears near, what else have I forgotten?










Form or Function? A Tale of Bathroom Design.

cartoon messy houseI don’t know about you, but I have not yet realized the dream of living amongst people who bring their sweaty sports clothes down to the laundry room instead of shoving them behind the bedroom door or under their dressers, who know that making a bed involves fluffy pillows and nurse’s corners and not a pile of bed sheets twisted up into a ball at the foot of their mattress and who, when called out on the half eaten whatever wherever are man enough to own it as opposed to calling out the invisible fifth offspring known affectionately as “Not Me.”

And so as we prepare to meet up with the architect to go over the initial rendering, I have but one request, build the house around them: The Children.  I have adjusted my wants vs. needs list and concluded that not only do the needs far outweigh the wants but even better, they should come in at about half the estimated construction cost.


  • KITCHEN: open plan with walk-in pantry and XL island
  • MUDROOM: laundry area with locker storage & bench seating for 6
  • KIDS’ LOFT: open plan with mountain views


  • KITCHEN: open plan with serving window to outdoor bar/seating area for anyone under 21 years of age or with more than two legs. Walk in pantry will be fitted with wi-fi, a wine fridge and locking system from the inside as it will double as my personal safe room.
  • MUDROOM: interior garden hose hookup and floor drainage for optimal washing of the dog & the kids
  • KIDS’ LOFT: padded & sound proofed, windows optional

I’m big into function over form.  Is that wrong? I’m totally outnumbered here so I’ll admit that self-preservation is high up on my list – obviously. Take for example the bathroom that I’ve been obsessing about for the past three years.  It is the ONLY possible answer for a familia numerosa as they refer to us here.dream bath kids

What is not to love about this Machiavellian work of art? Do you not see that there is no shower door to clean? Look again! Behold, the doorway to Narnia.  The wall is recessed far enough back that you don’t need the fancy door begging soap scum removal every thirty-five seconds.  And what about that raised lip on the entry? Slow down, young buck.  Did you think you were going to RUN into or out of this one of a kind showering alcove?  Think again, and let the water drops fall where they may.  Floor drainage of course will be paramount and may God strike me dead if they ever think to plug the drain with a washcloth for that small lake effect.  This is my plan for the kids’ jack-n-jill bathroom.  And it all revolves around this shower to which we will add a second shower head at the opposite end.  Why shower 4 kids kids bathone at a time when you can throw the girls in together (phase 1) then the boys in together (phase 2) and be done in half the time? It’s the junior high PE concept of hygiene: group showers.  I reminded the husband of the timed shower spigot, which let’s face it, the savings that thing would net us from 4 kids pooping out on pumping that thing for hot water would mean that the bathroom would pay for itself within the first six months. Genius, I’m telling you, GENIUS! Why is this not standard in all houses with kids whose idea of bathing is standing under the shower head and draining the entire household of its hot water supply while never once thinking to grab the soap and lather up? To my surprise the husband thought my idea cruel and unusual (as in punishment) but given the fact that we haven’t yet broken ground, there’s still plenty of time for me to make my case.

So before I forget, does anyone have a source for timed shower spigots in southern Spain?








Resurrection. (3/3)

The last time I wrote anything construcion related was, well, never.  Why? Because we still haven’t broken ground.  A year of adjusting to our new digs in Granada and plans haven’t budged.  Not even an inch.  As proof of this, my family no longer asks how the build is coming along.  It’s now, “Any new developments with locking in an architect?”  To which I throw my head back, open my mouth wide and let out a maniacal cackle and a snarky, “Yeah, right!” to chase it.

Things in Spain, as if I haven’t reminded the world 10,000 times over, move slowly. And let me tell you what I mean by slowly; Have you ever stopped to watch a flower bloom?siesta

In the winter?

Under a foot of snow?

At night?

While you’re recovering from cataract surgery?

On both eyes?

Yeah, it’s THAT kind of slow.  Last month we committed to a local architect. We were to go in and sign off on the contract in blood, husband’s, not mine when the car decided we weren’t paying enough attention to it and broke down. So we rescheduled.

Then husband left the country to go sell 57 billion square meters of tile. So we rescheduled.

Then kid #1 fell of a mountain and landed in the hospital. So we rescheduled.

Then I left the country to go run a marathon through a Nor’easter. So we rescheduled.

Then our architect left town to go celebrate a Saturday that lasted until Tuesday because everybody knows that Saturdays are sneaky like that. So we rescheduled.

Then the husband left the country again to go sell another 57 billion square meters of tile. So we rescheduled.

And finally, FINALLY I drew my line in the sand: either get the project started or I sell the kids on eBay, give the dog to the gypsies down the road and run away with the panadero. Alas, sweet victory.  Contract signed.

Which leads me to the theme of this post – resurrection.  Not only has the building project begun anew, but so too has this blog. No sooner did I realize, hey, you can start writing again! than I began getting notifications that people were actually reading and (gasp!) following this train wreck in the making.  That sparked a quick panic attack, I mean this is serious business.  I have 7 fans who are waiting with bated breath for my next word as to which sized containers we’re going with, which ventilated facade we’re going to use and how many, if any container doors we’re going to leave exposed. And let’s not forget about my future guest spots on HGTV and guest columns in Dwell magazine.  Oy vey.

If the past year is any indication, let me assure you, that you and I are in for quite a ride.













Resurrection. (2/3)

“I’m so impressed that you can run that far. Daily.”  It was the first time I remember my mom complimenting me on my running.  Sure, she had made many congratulatory remarks over the years but for whatever reason those words during what would be her last visit to Granada last September stood out, even before her passing.  She had mentioned possibly coming to cheer me on at my first crack at the Boston Marathon in April. Alas, fate had other plans.

I felt fortunate to have my dad, his wife and my uncle along for this momentous race. Honestly, had they not joined me in Boston, I wonder if I would have run it at all. Losing my mom just months prior really derailed my focus.  That huge loss coupled with a serious bout with the flu and a nagging foot injury had me on the ropes. I’m by no means an elite athlete but really, what was the point?  I knew that no one would fault me for pulling out but I just could not disappoint my dad. You see, my dad has been a runner longer than I’ve been alive20180415_101927_resized.  And in 1964 he too ran the Boston Marathon.  And placed.  He was the last runner to medal and he ran one hell of a race, outrunning my qualifying time by well over an hour.  One must keep in mind that in 1964 neither Nike nor Addidas had yet discovered the profit margins that lie in the sport of running. In short, my dad along with the rest of the field in ’64 were competing with horribly subpar gear. There was a short documentary film made from actual footage of the ’64 race that is really worth viewing if you’re into running.  I watched countless times, pausing the grainy footage at 10:45 to see my dad as a younger version of himself some 50+ years ago standing in dark blue gym shorts, his hands on his hips and his bib, #321, tacked onto his back in the gymnasium at Hopkinton High School before departing Granada and setting out to finish what I had committed to do:  run the Boston Marathon.

Race conditions this past April 16, 2018 were the worst reported in over thirty years, or so they said and though miserable they were not at all dissimilar to those my dad and his contemporaries faced back in 1964.  Gusting headwinds, a cold font and a relentless freezing rain made for the most difficult race I have ever run.  It was, in a word, awful.  But it was also the Boston Marathon, a race afforded only to those who have earned it and there was no stopping until crossing the blue and gold finish line on Boylston Street.  No matter what.

I won’t bore you with a race report other than to underscore how unbelievably difficult it was.  Within the first 10k I knew I was in trouble.  I, like many before me, had underestimated the course and gone out too fast so by the time I reached Wellesley’s famed scream tunnel I was seriously wondering if my legs would obey my brain and carry me the remaining 13+ miles. And therein began my own Battle of Marathon. I fought to convert the miles into kilometers and managed only to lose myself in my own

elite runners boston

Elite pack battling 2018’s weather conditions as captured by The Boston Herald

confusion and what was likely the onset of hypothermia.  Honestly, I don’t remember much else apart from being miserably cold.  Still, I kept pressing on until somewhere just before Heartbreak Hill, I looked down to see that my shoelace had come untied.  Seriously? By this point my body felt useless.  It was as if it had disconnected from my head and no matter how much my brain willed it to move, it was on its own schedule.  I knew that bending over to tie the laces was not something I was physically capable of doing.  Run the marathon, yes.  Bend over, no.  So I began scanning the crowd.  I needed to find someone who was willing and able to do what I could not, tie my shoe.  About 50 yards ahead, standing in the pouring down rain was a tall man in a baseball cap.  In his left hand, a cup of piping hot coffee in a white styrofoam cup.  I can still see the steam rising from that cup as I think back to the image of him; a faceless, nameless man in a crowd of many.  I made a beeline for him, stopped dead in front of him and willed my leg up onto the curb.  “Can you help me, please?”  It was all I could manage to say between a jaw clenched shut from cold and the next thing I knew he threw the coffee into the grass, bent down on one knee in a soggy yard and began tying my shoe for me.  “Now GO!” were his parting words.  And off I went.  I would like to think I ran the rest of the way, those two words as my wings but I really cannot say because his image is the last vivid memory I have of the race.

20180416_180600_resized - Copy - Copy

Post race photo. I think my dad & my unlce are holding me upright.

I crossed the finish line on Boylston Street and collected my medal.  My time, the slowest I have ever run, was a major disappointment.  However, in talking to my dad and my brother, both incredible runners in their day, I was reminded that the marathon is far greater a journey than a race. I think that my Boston Marathon began shortly after my mom’s passing as I previously wrote about; my decision to press forward, accept grief as my companion, prepare for and run the 2018 Boston Marathon rewarded me not just with a medal but another life lesson gained.


Resurrection. (1/3)

A lot can happen in a year.  Big things. Little things.  Life.  For me, death and triumph in the face of adversity have been major markers in the last twelve months of my life.  I lost my mom in November and as a result, temporarily lost my way.  I think that being geographically so far away, living in a country where I’ll forever be seen through a foreign lens, played into my feelings of being untethered.  I saw myself as a balloon held tightly in my mother’s grip, my cries for indepenence bating her to acquiesce, to loosen the slack which she did, though she never let go.  And in an instant, a last breath, release.  Death untied us and I was afloat; alone and drifting, it was a terrifying feeling.

letting goThe day after her death, I laced up and headed out for a run.  I don’t think I managed even 200m. I had lost my mom but gained a new and unwelcome companion: grief.  I hadn’t experienced emotional distress like this since my brother’s car accident some twenty years ago and had forgotten how such trauma can bring you to your knees. Nevertheless, I persited.  Every day following that first run I forced myself to go back and try again, to run a little further than I had the day before. But this new training partner was exasperating. Grief ran beside me for months, in fact it’s still here. At first I wore it like a heavy, wet winter cloak. I loathed it.  Unable to take it off, I had no choice but to run with it.  My long runs, once a welcome escape, were now a source of dread. How far out would I be when that cloak became too heavy a load to carry?  15, 16, 18 miles is a long way to run while trying to control the uncontrollable. Fortunately (or not), it wasn’t long before I realized that this was one cloak I would not be taking off and that in time it would become less than yet another emotional burden to bare but a coat of armor, both shielding and comforting me as my mom had done throughout a lifetime of holding on to the string.

And that, at least for me, has been enough.


Summer in Spain is serious business. And when I say business, I’m not talking about productivity or profits. I’m talking about vacation.  By the time August rolls around you had better have all of your projects done or at the very least your orders placed because once August shows up, everybody leaves to take their two weeks, sometimes three and hightails it outta Dodge.  It’s pretty much an exodus to the beach.

While this is great for an economy based on tourism, it is not great for someone eager to build a house. I remind myself daily that even if the plans were done and ready to submit, it would do us no good because those working in the local town hall have sealed up their rubber stamps of approval until the month of vacations is put to bed. The same will ring true for our pending internet connection and licensing of the car. I’d just about bet a kid on this.

So to kill some time, I decided to run a test patch of succulent plants before roofing half of the new house with them. If I can keep them alive through the month, better yet through groundbreaking, we may just have a shot at a green rooftop.  I’m not sure yet what I like in terms of design: random layout or planned pattern of some sort?  What are your thoughts?  Here are a few pictures I’ve saved:

It seems to me that both color and texture play a defining role when it comes to this type of garden. I find myself drawn to soft mossy textures and the rounded shapes of the Hens & Chicks, the Perle Von Nurburg, and the Echeveria Desert Rose. I think the Donkey’s Tail is just the sassiest little plant but am not sure how to incorporate it into a roofline without having it look like a teenager with bangs that are too long and in need of a cut. Oh and while not on this particular chart, a couple aloe plants are going to have to happen as I’ve been told that their insides make for a wonderful anti-wrinkle paste, although I might be too late for this miracle. I wonder what Becki Owens would say…

succulent chartWe loaded up the kids and headed over to a nearby Vívero to check out their stock of garden delights.  The first miracle was that they were open! Remember, this is August and most of Spain is either at the beach or well on their way to the beach. I had pretty much resigned myself to playing referee so husband could pick out the plants we were going to start with but to my surprise the kids were excited at the garden center adventure, eager to pick the plants they thought strong enough to withstand mom’s wrath.

We ended up buying about a dozen or so small succulents along with some cherry tomato seeds and two basil plants for husband’s culinary needs.  The boys helped me unload the car then took off to go make smoothies while the girls helped me get everything planted. When we hit the Granada beaches this weekend the mission is to collect some colorful pebbles to outline these little gems.  What do you think? How long til I kill them?


Plan A

Anyone who has ever moved will agree: moving sucks.  At 44 I kept thinking, I’m too old for this shit. And then I remembered my favorite aunt. She has moved something like seventeen times, probably more but who’s counting? – upgrading, downgrading, building up, tearing down, gutting, bingeing, purging…you name it; the woman has done it all and always on her own save for borrowed braun of friends.  She bid adieu to each house leaving it better than it had been handed to her and us scratching our heads as to why she would wittingly give up the sweat equity for the next diamond in the rough.  So with her on the forefront of my mind, I am slowly unpacking us into the current and hopefully last rental knowing that I still have one final move to make once the new build is finished.

After getting through our first bout of arguments related to design, husband and I reached what felt like a good compromise on the house plans.   We prioritized our ‘must IMG_20170704_201955540_HDRhaves’, drew out an initial set of plans on scratch paper, transferred them to Autodesk and then converted them into a CAD drawing to show our architect.

Our rendering is a 4br/3ba contemporary open-plan concept; its footprint resembling a U shape that opens to the backyard. We plan on using two 45’ high cube containers and five-40’ high cube containers which, combined with the open space afforded by the center portion of the U, will give us a little less than 3500ft of interior living space.

Here’s a peek at our initial sketch and its corresponding breakdown:


GROUND FLOOR (Left side of U)

Small office at front of house

Mudroom/Laundry w/entrance to side yard

Half bathroom -maybe 3/4 (still debating)


Open plan kitchen w/serving window to outdoor patio & grilling area

GROUND FLOOR (Center of U)

Great room

GROUND FLOOR (Right side of U)

Guest room w/bathroom at front of house

Master suite w/entrance to backyard

house plan labeled


SECOND FLOOR (Left side of U)

Girls’ bedroom

Jack-n-Jill bathroom

Boys’ bedroom

SECOND FLOOR (Bottom piece of U)

Breezeway with sitting/reading area

SECOND FLOOR (Right side of U)

Kids hang-out/game room loft area

house plan 2 labeled


The only two deal breakers for me involve the bedrooms.  First off, the master has got to be on the ground floor.  The kids are now old enough that I don’t feel the need to have them next door and with the current state of my knees due to all the marathon training, stairs will not be an option for me in the not so distant future.  Second, closets.  Did you know that Spanish homes don’t typically have closets? Who was the genius that thought up this obvious design flaw? Brilliant.  Just brilliant.  I’d like to have some serious words with this individual.

One of the more unique aspects of the design is our plan to use the longer 45’ containers up on the second story. We have done this purposefully in order to create a roof over the outdoor patio/grilling area.  Doing so gives us just shy of 200ft worth of coverage, not huge but enough to get the job done.

There is no second set of containers above the right side ground floor of the U.  So how can we get the kids loft space without any containers on that second story? The plan here is to use I-beams and pitch the roof.  By pitching the roof to span the great room and loft spaces we can maximize the benefit of solar panels.   As for the roofing over the left side of the U (kids bedrooms), we are tentatively planning on a green roof, using succulents native to Granada.

I was initially worried about the architect’s interpretation of the above information but he actually seemed to have a pretty good handle on it. He’s currently drafting a plan to show the interior dimensions of the project.  Upon finishing and getting our approval, he will then present the plan to the local government to get permitting in order.  I have no idea how long this process will take but just knowing that it took us almost a full year to purchase and close on our land, licensing on our car is still ‘in process’ eight months after the fact and we’re going on a month with still no internet hook-up, I sigh and mumble, ‘Typically Spanish’ which I’m thinking may have been a better name for this blog.