08. July 2021 · 3 comments · Categories: Petaluma

You know those stories you read — the tales of fixer-upper glory, of DIY prowess where an old, decrepit thing seamlessly transforms into an object of beauty? This is not one of those stories.

We had an old out-building we saved in nostalgia for the property’s farming history. We called it “The Sheep Shack.” The previous owner had called it “The Pink Palace.” Historically, this had been a pig farm, so we suspect it was originally a farrowing shack. I also unearthed plenty of evidence that it was where the farmer or one of the farmhands went to drink. Pigs don’t judge, I guess.

I’d talked off & on for years about getting chickens, and this spring my neighbors and husband finally convinced me. They were fluffy and adorable, but I don’t have many pictures of their cuteness because we were too busy transforming the shack into a coop. I didn’t even have time or energy to post-in-progress, like the cool IG kids do.

Nothing was easy. I dug up animal carcasses, beer bottles, more bones, plastic shards, and I uncovered rodents’ nests when I pulled off the rotting old siding. (Yes, I wore a mask, and not a worthless disposable mask, a full-on anti-hanta-virus mask.)

I learned many things:

  • how to wield a jackhammer to remove the filthy and uneven floor
  • how to fix holes in cinder block walls
  • that old buildings pieced together through the years are never level or square
  • that T1-11 siding is SUPER hard to paint (trust me, buy a sprayer)
  • that jackhammering, digging, painting, etc., is hell on carpal tunnel syndrome
  • that every, single thing takes longer than you think it will

I toggled between “this is cool” and “I hate this project” like whiplash. I felt ALL the emotions, especially as the chickens got bigger by the day and the temperatures climbed. More than once, I’d wished we’d mowed the shack down before we moved in. We had joked about this being our learning project, and Coop 2.0 would be so much easier and better. There probably won’t be a Coop 2.0, and the chickens will have to do with a home kludged together with hardware cloth, washers, and many, many weird cuts of siding. Lucky for us, like pigs, chickens don’t seem to judge.

In the end, we have created a home for our brood that they like and keeps them safe. As we told our neighbor when he said it looks good, “don’t look too closely!” The Pink Palace is now El Palacio de Pollo, and I’m enjoying being “done” with this project. (Really only “done for now,” because the storage section of the building still needs siding and a door. Whatever, the chickens have a house and a yard. That’s success.)

First demolition — get rid of “dead critter platform.” I found two skeletons and a fresh, stinky possum corpse.

Side view. We had to move all that metal. Who needs CrossFit?

I loved prying off the old siding, very satisying.

Nothing says badass like camo and a pink air filters.

Chicks coming home! Now we really need to hurry.

So fun!

So teeny! But not for long.

This home lasted 2 weeks.

The chicks did NOT like their photo shoots.

We had to jack up the roof to replace studs.

New siding and an egg door.

Whole new front. Didn’t mean for it to look like a face, but there she is.

Where’s my house at, lady?

As good a pic as I could get with cleanup pending.

Done for now!

As I said, don’t look too closely, and “done for now.”


The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go…to the mosquitos?

No, no. “Oft go awry.” But if a pond full of mosquito larvae isn’t “awry,” I don’t know what is.

We were so excited by our DIY conversion of trash-to-treasure – that is, rusty bathtub to teal water garden – that we failed to think through all the potential ramifications. Isn’t that how every horror movie starts? This one is titled Maureen vs. The Mosquitos.

That would be the shortest movie ever. Mosquitoes hatch, find Maureen, eat her alive. The end. Seriously, if I’m in a room of 100 people and one mosquito, it will bite me 99 times. My brother-in-law tells people, “If Maureen’s around, you don’t need mosquito repellent. You’re safe.” I’m delicious.

The process went like this:

Rusty inside.

Rusty outside. Step one: move out of way of mowing equipment.

Step Two: notice holes look like Mr. Bill’s face, then cover them with metal.

Step Three: Bondo. For filling all kinds of bodies. This is not a sponsored post. Obviously.

Step Four: Move again, this time away from house. Prime and prime again.

Step Five: Paint! The best part. Still not a sponsored post.

Step Six: Leave it in the yard for weeks, but admire the color when you walk by. Send pics to friends and ask them to guess its destiny.

Step Seven: Move to its final location. Curse how heavy the tub is and how many times you’ve moved it. Level the ground and move it around some more. Fill with water.

Step Eight: Add plants. Admire handiwork. Gloat a little. A month later, run to the pond store for tiny little mosquitofish.

We thought a water garden would be a fun way to convert a rusty eyesore to a – dare I say whimsical? – conversation-starter. We scraped, applied Bondo, spray-painted, painted again, leveled the ground and filled it up. We added water plants and felt satisfied. We hoped the oxygenator we installed would keep down the algae and larvae. Our hopes were dashed: in little over a month, we had an algae-filled mosquito swamp.

We hadn’t gotten fish because we have raccoons and other critters and didn’t want to set up an all-you-can-eat sushi bar for wildlife. But we needed fish. Badly. Five days after fish entered tub (tiny little fish, not koi), it’s already clearer and the larvae population is down.

I won’t have to flee in terror, after all.

A few weeks ago, I saw a woman walking out of a store carrying a skull about three feet high with a spider coming out of its eye socket. “That’s spectacular,” I said, to which she replied with a laugh, “I KNOW! I’m totally going to show up the two gay guys who live across the street!” With an attitude like that, I assumed she lived in Petaluma, but no, she lives up north. Happy Halloween to her and to all!

Not as many people decorated this year. The decorating pirates of Cavity Cove are out of town, and that leaves a sad, sad hole in its place.

But my other crazy buddies are at it, as good as ever. This year, a camping theme:

This is what happens to Christmas reindeer who come out too early. Don’t try to usurp Halloween!

w00t! White water rafting from the roof!

Led by Mr. Bean

But the water’s not always safe.

The homeowner was busy decorating, so I asked permission to take photos. “Sure. Are you going to be around on Halloween night?” When I said probably not, she said, “Well, go in the garage. There’s more. It’s going to be GHOUL SCOUT CAMP!”

These people are my heroes.

Welcome to Troop 666

I wanted to take more pictures of the garage, because it was a treasure trove. But that made me feel creepier than all the insects and taxidermy on the other wall. (Maybe next year.)

Camp Kill-O-A

Kill-O-A at Lake Lucifer is protected! If the animatronic guard dog doesn’t get you…

This killer raccoon will.


Halloween in Petaluma, it sucks you in!

Many people cry when they leave home, but I’ve cried when I have to return. When my year as an exchange student ended, I sobbed. While I looked forward to seeing family and friends, I was leaving both a life-changing adventure and my first real love behind. I didn’t know when I’d be able to return.

A few years later, between my first and second semester in graduate school, I traveled sola through Costa Rica for almost a month. I seriously contemplated sending a postcard home telling my parents to sell my car and send the proceeds. Responsibility won in the end, and I traveled home and finished school. But I cried the night before I left. I’ve never been back.

My recent travels, in contrast, have been as tear-free as baby shampoo. I’ve finally reached a wonderful stage of life – one in which I love traveling, but I also love coming home. And for the record, I felt this way before we moved into our own house. I do love our house, but I also love our local friends, our community, and the rural-suburban blend of Petaluma.

That made leaving on our latest trip strange. We left for a (long-planned) vacation only two days into the Sonoma County wildfires. When we left – the fires uncontained, the air thick with smoke – we were unsure if we’d have house to return to. It was unnerving to leave, even though I knew I’d be useless to save our place if fire came.

The clean, beautiful Hawaiian air was better for my asthma. Still, everywhere we went, people asked about the fires. We checked the news more regularly than we otherwise would on vacation. My phone pinged with texts from worried friends and family. The constant stories of loss, the statistics on containment, the maps of destruction, they were everywhere. My heart broke, and it continues to ache, for those who lost their homes.

We’re so lucky. Not only to be able to travel, but to have a place to come home to – a place filled with stories of generosity and bravery. Firefighters who risked their lives, restaurateurs who fed evacuees and refused payment, churches and gyms that served as shelters. I loved Kauai, but I love Sonoma County more. And I love her and her people more now than ever!

Absolutely! (Warning: this leads to ear worm song.)

Just like home! Petaluma used to be the Chicken Capital of the World. Kauai is vying for the title.

This hike skirted the edge of cliffs, but didn’t try to kill me.

The only good flames. Hot rod — er, rusty truck — flames.

He may be selfie-averse, but he keeps me laughing! (Happy anniversary!)

Hey, Kauai, please send more of your rain our way!

Advice for next year’s Halloween costume. If you are going to a party, wear a comfortable costume. If you’re going to a concert/costume contest, which is sure to be crowded, don’t wear costumes that protrude out beyond you, for example, bat wings. Even more important, if you should choose to ignore my advice and wear bat wings, don’t hammer so many beers that you don’t realize that your “dancing” (drunken gesticulation) is causing your wings to molest everyone around you. Just don’t do it.

With that PSA done, here are this year’s Halloween photos. First, Cavity Cove. Because it’s always fun. Today as I was taking pictures, the owner of the house was still putting up finishing touches. I asked him how many trick-or-treaters they get, and he said depends on the weather and on the day of the week, but last year they got about three thousand (yes, 3000!). He said they’ve lived there 14 years, but that the tradition of insane in a good way decorations on D Street goes back 50 years. Thanks, Mr. Cavity Cove, for carrying on the tradition, and for raising money for the local homeless shelter, COTS.

On site dentristy = take a picture with Cavity Cove's resident "Demented Dentist."

On site dentistry = take a picture with Cavity Cove’s resident “Demented Dentist.”


The dentist couldn’t help the mermaid victim of sharknado.


Don’t like smoke? Suck it up anyway, because “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”


I usually hate these decals, but I’ll forgive you, Mr. Cavity Cove, because you and they are awesome.

Down the street a bit, this giant snake lurks in waiting.


He’s so colorful, he’s a party.

The collaboration-competition houses have grown from two to four houses. They have a lot of stuff. Some of it’s themed, some just creepy.

Is that the Colonel?


I’m not hungry any more.


“Maybe if we look cute, they won’t want to eat us? How are we doing?”


It’s like Farm to Table cuisine, only ickier.


They’re hungry and waiting in line for the chicken diner.


The Zombie Drum Band


Moonshine, a hillbilly treat


Scary swamp people


More scary swamp critters


Ack! Even scarier critters


The scariest critters of all



Here’s the rest of the best of last year’s Halloween. Two or three houses collaborate — or is it compete? — on themed displays. As you scroll through the photos, admire how many mannequins they assembled, how many signs and t-shirts they created, and how much time (not to mention storage) they must spend. I kind of want to interview the homeowners to ask them how this all started, but with Halloween less than two weeks away, they’re probably frantically busy.

Last year’s theme was “Satan High.” One house had the quotidian activities of high school, including the science lab and the resultant visits to the nurse’s office.


Is Biology a required course? Can I skip it?


The lunch ladies.


No, thanks. I think I’ll just get a candy bar from the vending machine.


Detention and shop do not mix well.

And, of course, football.


Don’t mess with any of them. And that goes double-time for the band.

My money’s on the Devils.

Burning hot!


I can even forgive the misspelling, because “Clip Their Wings” is genius.

The house across the street focused on end of year activities such as the prom, complete with King and Queen and live music.


Those kids are square pegs.


Nobody else stood a chance.

I love live music, but this band scares me, especially the drummer.

And graduation.


Voted least photogenic.


Go Team! No, really, go. Get the hell out.


You could say I’m woefully late with last year’s photos, or I’m early for this year’s Halloween. Doesn’t matter. I’m celebrating the crazy spirit my town has for this holiday. Go Petaluma!

Kids trick or treat in the downtown area, and several of the shops hand out candy.

I learned that a pirate fairy is a thing.

Some of the shopkeepers get into the fun and dress up.

Bunny was excited to see all the little ones.

On my way to the mansions on D Street, I saw this kid. He saw me taking his picture and posed for me. Love him.

Reminds me of when my nephew went as a cheerleader.

This is just a warm-up for the Halloween decorations. Ha ha. Should I say cool down?

I sometimes feel like a dead dog after yoga.

Camp Scare was open again last year, with some new activities.

Fishing. And look, there’s water — proof that it did rain some last year.

He doesn’t seem to enjoy the zipline.

And once again, Cavity Cove did not disappoint.

As panoramic as I could get. That tree on the left moved. Creepy.


Beware the kraken.

It was an election year. When I first drove by the Cove, I was disappointed to see politics in their display. Until I got closer. I fully endorse this measure!

I vote YES!

There’s still more. Stay tuned for another post. But beware if you have coulrophobia; there may be some clowns (and not the cute kind).

Two years ago, I said it would likely be 18 months before we’d have a party in our new house. We’re still not in. But we’re close. So very close.

I’d said, “It’s a little hard to wrap my brain around the whole thing, even now that there’s no backing out.” That was back when we only had this:


My brain’s been taxed even more since then.

Imagining that this house would ever leave to make way for our house. (We recycled a house!)


That this machine would clear enough space to make way for a foundation:


That this mess would ever be a foundation:


That this foundation would ever become an actual house:


That these pods were house modules:


That the modules would survive their flight through the air:


And that this house — as housey as it looks here — is not done. That from here, it would still take another three months. There’s interior patching, drywalling, plumbing, exterior decking, septic system, etc. I’m about ready to take my air mattress out there and camp out. (I was especially ready to do that last week, when we had 100-degree heat for several days in a row. Our current house does not have air conditioning.)


All that’s left is garage siding, garage doors, a gas line, and cleanup. That’s “all.” I’d hoped we’d have our annual summer solstice party in new house. Clearly, I was overly optimistic. Now I’ll be happy if it’s before winter solstice. And I’ll be ecstatic if the packing genies actually show up this time.

Two weekends ago, I saw my cousins for the first time in ages. They were visiting Dad in Daly City on a rare hot weekend, so drinking and conversation turned to beer. I told them Petaluma’s vying to become the epicenter of Northern California microbrewing and every little restaurant in town has several local beers on tap. Mostly, I was trying to ensure that their next trip is longer and includes a stay up here.

The day after they left, I texted this picture to Tony.


He texted back, “You’re making me jealous!”

I’d told him Porterluma is my favorite local beer and how we’d been eagerly awaiting the opening of the Petaluma Hills Tap Room ever since we’d first tasted Porterluma in a beer-tasting class. Now that we’ve finally made it to the tap room, I can also recommend the red tag ale and the ESB (we did tastes instead of pints to maximize variety). The shiny new bar overlooks the brewing area, so we watched the beer making instead of the TV. The owner is friendly and answered my geeky questions about harvesting yeast.

I can remember when my only question about beer was “Why do you drink that?” I also remember the first time I thought beer was good. I was about 18 and on a whitewater-rafting trip with my friend’s dad, acting as his adopted daughter for the weekend. It was sweltering hot, and I was parched.  The sodas were in a cooler on another boat. I asked for a diet coke, and someone sent one flying through the air. I caught it, but it slipped through my wet hands and sunk to the bottom of the American River. Of course, that was the last soda available.

It was 100+ degrees, and the beer was cold, wet and therefore delicious. My friend’s dad floated by in the other boat and gave me a sideways glance as I drank my beer, and I shrugged and told him there was nothing else to drink. (Bottled water hadn’t been invented yet.) For a long time after that, I thought beer was only good if it’s really hot outside. What I didn’t realize is I wasn’t drinking good beer. As I got older, I discovered beers I like even when I’m not dying of thirst. I’ve enjoyed beer while traveling and found “What’s a good local beer?” a fun question to ask.

That was only the beginning of my questions. I wanted to learn more: the difference between ales and lagers; how various styles are made; etc. Basically, I wanted to go into a pub with multiple taps and be able to choose confidently. I’d wanted to take Beer 101 for years, but didn’t find an extended ed class until we moved to Petaluma. Once a week for several weeks, we sat in a community college chem lab drinking beers of different styles, learning about brewing processes, taking notes, and enjoying beer. Best chem lab experience ever! It taught me that I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I don’t have to travel far from home to continue my education.