The walls went up around us.

I just got home from the home build site and am buzzing inside. I can picture myself in this house now; the walls are up! We had a week of nothing happening… an in-between time when the concrete was poured and ready, but the framer was taking a well-deserved Alaskan vacation. Sergio doesn’t do well with waiting, so he spent his days watering the concrete and spent his nights on Solid Works producing detailed drawings of the interior framing. And of course he worked at his day job somewhere in there. 

Then the framers came and started marking off the concrete to divide it into rooms – and within a few days we had walls. By the end of today, I was able to walk through the rooms and get a good sense of the spaces in each area.  It’s so true that the house feels small when there are no walls, and then multiplies in size once the walls are up.  

It’s nuts to me to think that this real life house started on an app, and that I’m actually walking through the same rooms that I used to simulate walking through while grinding through medical school and residency. I have a clear memory of lying awake in a call room bunk bed, playing with the app on my phone and wondering if this tinkering was all a dumb game to pass the time, or would we actually build this house someday. Today I stood and looked at the front face of the “real” house (pictured above), and pulled out the image of the “app” version of our house (below), and THAT moment is when the excitement all hit me. 

Before leaving the house build site today, I remembered I had a giant sharpie in my car. A friend from work gave me a great idea to write bible verses on the concrete of each room in the house. It will eventually be covered by brick flooring, but this way we will always be reminded that we stayed connected to gratitude and asked for His blessing, even when we were swept up in the excitement of building our own house. 



Citlalli’s Bedroom

Master Bedroom

Master Bedroom

Paquito’s bedroom

Front door/ living room


Concrete poured, credit cards maxed

“Bad news, the first draw on the construction loan is $10,000 less than expected. Our credit cards are maxing out fast. We need to go into super budget mode”. 

“Oh. I’ll take these Churritos back to Walgreens”. 

 Owner-builder-contractor? I forget what the term is when you don’t have a line of credit at each building supply place because you’re not a licensed builder/contractor, so you spend your own money – UNTIL – the bank does their sequential inspections and randomly cuts you checks from your construction loan to save you. Bah!

And now I feel really bad that I went on an Amazon binge last week and bought a cookbook, some compression socks, and colorful replacement bands for my running watch. And energy gels for my long runs. And a fidget spinner. Ugh, I’m a jerk!

On the other hand, I console myself knowing I’m also saving us money by painting all of the decorative tiles myself. Sergio gets to dig trenches, so I thought I could contribute in this way.  I’m thinking we’ll use them in the kitchen backsplash, in the bathrooms and maybe a few other places. These are my “test batch”:

As far as the construction goes, we’ve had some really neat progress this week.  I kept getting excited about them pouring concrete, until I realized that it was a three part pour and it just dragged on for at least the last two weeks. First they poured the footings, then the stem walls, then a bunch of other stuff happened ( I should really have Sergio write this blog – he’s much more knowledgeable about what the hell is happening with the home build, haha)….

and finally today they poured the SLAB! Yay! On to the framing…

Chinches and such. 

I kept thinking about writing the next house-building blog, but it felt like nothing was happening with the project. So I waited. As I drove by day after day, it didn’t look any different on the lot.  The piles of dirt were moved and flattened, and then there were stakes in the ground with flags, but I thought, “this isn’t worth chronicling’. Besides, life got super busy and while Sergio was moving our house project forward, we were also dealing with bigger, more apocalyptic things. 

Believe me, I know deep down we’re blessed that the worst thing happening in our life last month were the fucking chinches. (Whoa, hold on. I thought hard about using the f-word there. And those chinches deserve it). I feel all the guilt in the world for making this into such a huge problem in our household, when many, many people go through much worse on a daily basis. Still, I’d like to acknowledge on behalf of my patients (for whom I’ve written letters to their landlords about this issue) and my family, this shit sucks. 

Just when we thought the chinches were eradicated, both kids got lice. We spent hours the first night at the laundromat, washing and drying every piece of cloth within the walls of our house.  We combed hair every night for two weeks using the tiny metal lice comb, pacifying our kids with more screen time than any kid should ever have.  Then, one night we all slept in the living room to allow the bedrooms to air out from the toxic, anti-green, poison bombs we had dropped in there, and the next morning I woke up with bedbug bites from sleeping on the sofa.  *ohmmmmmm* (that’s me dissociating from the memory of crying when that meant the chinches were BACK).  So that was that. Oh and Sergio and the kids got Strep throat. That was really ok because, Penicillin. And thankfully, my bad attitude makes me resistant to these infestations so except for getting bit up that night on the couch, I was spared. Still, it was a hellish month which we steam cleaned and poisoned our way out of.  

Now we see why I didn’t write about the house. But there has actually been progress, it turns out.  When we came out of our Plague Era a few days ago, the lot suddenly looked like the beginnings of a house! While I thought nothing was happening, Sergio was digging a 200 foot trench for the sewer, water and electric lines. The concrete guys poured the first two parts of their three-part pour, and the plumbers put in the rough-in plumbing. (I had to ask Sergio how to spell that – all these years I thought they were “ruffian” plumbers). The gas line is in. There’s a concrete outline of a house and pipes sticking up where the showers, toilets and sinks are going to go. 

 Now I can walk around the external borders and pretend I’m walking through the future rooms.  The kids love it when I give tours of the dirt, pointing out where we’ll sit and let the courtyard breeze enter while we eat, all the places Lalli will curl up to read, and where we’ll hang out to watch Papi in his outdoor kitchen.  It’s true what everyone says about how the house feels so small when it’s at ground level, without walls or ceilings. After walking around the future living room, I ran home and took a tape measure to our current living room to make sure we’re really going to fit in the new house. We will – whew! 

This coming week the insulation will be laid down, then the tubing for radiant heat. Finally, the foundation will be poured over those layers and the house will really get moving.  The adventure continues. 

Moving Dirt

After feeling like everything just stalled, finally a big milestone – we’ve started moving dirt at the home site!  Apparently you call it “moving dirt” now.  “Breaking ground” is the ollllld lingo. We sure are learning a lot in these first two weeks since closing on the construction loan. 

Learning, for example, that every question about building permits has 15 possible answers, even if the two people you asked on separate occasions happen to share a lunch room in the same government building. Person #1 sent Sergio to a desk across from her window for over 6 hours to pour through microfiche, looking for each and every time the land was transferred from one owner to the next – in the last 70 years.  A few days later, person #2 did a 30 second search on her computer and found the answer Sergio was looking for. Sergio’s muttering that day: “I hate my life”. 

That was one bad day, though. Most days, we are super thrilled to be on this adventure together.  I’ve asked Sergio a couple of times if he wants to go into the business of flipping or building houses, and he says he likes it more than his “real” job right now.  My barometer for how much he likes the process of building our home is whether he’s willing to humor me with my frequent design flip-flops. Some days I want a painted backsplash in the niche above the stove, the next day I want it to be a niche-less subway-tiled wall (FEEL FREE TO WEIGH IN FOR PETE’S SAKE! NICHE OR NO NICHE?!?).  And I KNOW he doesn’t mind my crazy ideas, because he takes hours modeling my wild ideas in SolidWorks (as any good engineer would). Even though I made fun of him for doing his own heat loss equations when he wanted to know how many furnaces our house needed, I learned that day that I LOVE a man who can work computer aided design software! OWW!

So there we were, finally visualizing this thing starting to come to life! At least in a 3D model on Sergio’s computer.  Sergio’s birthday was this past week, and we decided to both take the day off and spend it fishing together. Only, that was the day the excavation crew was going to start moving dirt. We opted to stay in town just in case and spent the day going on nearby dates – breakfast at Barela’s Coffee Shop, lunch at Model’s Pharmacy, coffee at Michael Thomas, and after picking up the kids they made him a special dinner. As much as we tried to avoid running errands on his birthday, working on “home building” chores was what he and I bonded over that day. We found a custom door, ordered our window package from Pella, and checked out talavera tile shops. I zoned out during the meeting with the trusses guy – I think that’s what that was, something about trusses. At the end of the day, the dirt crew didn’t come.  That day we learned patience. 

Tuesday was the day. The crews came, the tractors thoroughly impressed Paquito, and the outline of our house was dug out of the ground. With our decision to build this home ourselves using a contractor as a consultant, there’s still so much to learn. What I learned this week while watching Sergio in action on his birthday, talking about trusses, and lumber packages –  and whatever else I zoned out for: he’s got this. 

Sara, Designated Driver for Costco Trips

We’re creatures of habit it turns out. I didn’t know I would need that in my life, in fact, I thought the thing to be was spontaneous and unprogrammed. This worked well for my constant mental flurry of ideas and emotions. And then it didn’t work well. I’m wondering if it’s that I hear all day about unplanned challenges that some of my patients and their families are faced with, many they can’t control, and then all I want for their lives and my own is some routine and predictability. 

So in our household, we wake up, do the same dang thing every day, go about our day, come home, do the same dang thing every night, and take surprises as they come. Groundhog Day is the goal.

On Saturdays we’re out the door as soon as we can after a quick breakfast of pancakes or some variation of that. Saturdays are probably our least predictable day, except for the Costco trip. Here we have a shared list on our phones so we can be efficient in the store. I’m married to an engineer, so if we weren’t efficient I’m sure he would do a process flow map of some sort and identify the waste and redundancy in our routines – eek! This is a man who has gotten the same haircut since he was 14 years old, worn the same adidas for years, and until we started making smoothies three years ago, would eat the same bowl of cereal every morning since childhood. We’re definitely making gains on balancing our strict routines (Sergio’s influence) with my tangential oooo-something-shiny style. I run things by him now before I buy three boxes of chalk paint for my latest creative epiphanies. But just so you really know what he’s like, he also used to send me monthly household expense reports with pie charts and bar graphs – that had to end because I didn’t think an analysis of my Starbucks spending was good for our marriage. 

In Costco Sergio always takes the kids straight to the books so they can pick out a few to peruse in the cart while I go out in front and start grabbing items on the list. We are a methodical, tactical, SHOPPING DREAM TEAM. Absolutely no wandering aimlessly through the aisles (ugh!) and NO wavering from the list. 

But yesterday in Costco, we had a breakthrough. Sergio had to perform a pre-programmed routine DRUNK! It was so great. Just before our trip to the store, we went out for beers to celebrate his best friend James’ birthday. Four porters in, Sergio was drunk. Not that I can tell from the outside – he may have five more words spoken per minute if I focus hard on little signs of inebriation, but really I can only tell because he gives me the car keys. We arrived at Costco and split up as we always do. After we reunited and I had a basket full of produce to join with his items, I noticed he was empty-handed. No list, he said. But it’s in your phone Sergio, the phone in your hand! No list, he cooly shrugged. BAH! Do I laugh or scold?!

Our weekly haul. I’m proud of our little family – we kill this cart full of healthy goodness every single week.

We left to our next stop: I dropped him off in Home Depot and circled the parking lot with a now crying, tantruming kid. Well Mr. Que-Sera-Sera,-I’m-Happily-Buzzed spent over 30 minutes inside!! When he came out he was still carrying the same broken well pump part and a new bagged item. He climbed into the car and said “I bought the wrong part for sure. Oh well, let’s go”. Who is this man?! 

I was no longer amused when we got home after an entire ride home spent with a wild three-year-old who had thrown everything in his reach at the backs of our heads.  Citlalli, meanwhile, can read her books through all the chaos. Thankfully, Sergio sobered up enough by then to recognize that although entertaining, our usual Saturday family routine had dissolved. I loved that he let go of the Rules and Regulations to have a chill trip to Costco, and yet, now I was shaking in a corner trying not to lock our kids out of the house. Parting from Saturday evening protocol, my awesome husband took one look at me and sent me out on a run. 

The Dream Team lives. 

We’re really doing this?! Closing Day!

Sergio kept walking by me, muttering something hardly intelligible as he paced the lot – something that sounded like “we’re really doing this…we’re building a house…”. Make no mistake. He’s excited.
This idea of building our dream home has been in my phone for at least 8 years, taking shape in a silly app that eventually was converted into real house plans. Every time I needed to cope with an 80 hour work week, a heartbreaking ICU shift, or missing yet another bedtime family prayer while on the road to becoming a pediatrician, I moved a wall, added a window, or stretched out an archway in the app.

Our house really isn’t 6000+ sq ft, holy moly! It’s closer to 2k

I don’t want to over-dramatize it, but that’s generally how I roll.  Walking through the land where we will soon break ground, I was thinking only about how we’re finally here, about to start the process. When I was a kid (oh hell, we’re going way back now), my parents let us know we’d be building our dream house some day. I wanted to help, so I recall drawing a “blue print” on a half sheet of yellow poster board. I’ve held the belief since then that the big you-made-it moment as a family is building your own home.   

My other pressure to build this house is self-imposed, as I feel like I owe it to this amazing little family of mine for dragging them through medical school and pediatric residency.  I can’t tell you how amazing my husband is, so I’ll illustrate it with an example: just today we hosted a Grand Rounds speaker at our clinic and in one of my too-frequent last-second requests, I asked Sergio to bring a coffee traveler and sweets to clinic for the event. He dutifully showed up with pan dulce and cafecito right on time. See? Empanadas! He needs a house!

The last thing this house represents is permanency. I moved here in December 2004, hesitantly following a guy who needed to be near his family and this Land of Enchantment. He was not my husband at the time, not even my fiance. But I’m the girl who prays for signs, and the signs said to come here and give it a chance. Excessively long story short, giving it up to God has paid off and I’m forever grateful for ending up here. And yet I’ve never felt settled; I have no family near me except those I delivered or married, and we’ve been serial renters since moving out of our crackhouse (another excessively long story). It’s time our little family had our own, permanent place. 

Today at three o’clock we signed the closing paperwork on the construction loan. I left work to meet Sergio at the title company and without knowing, we both showed up a full half hour early. We sat in my car together, excited and giddy, talking about the latest decisions on brick floors, subway tile and ponderosa pine corbels. 

Time to stop changing my mind about effin’ floors and countertops! We’re really doing this!