The Privy on Permits

The world, as I see it, is a little over-saturated with pretty before & after pictures; TV shows that make us think that remodels are quick & painless, and that anyone can transform their space with a good DIY project. On TV, homes are beautifully transformed in six weeks, with the whole wish list, on budget.

Don’t believe their lies.

I joke, only to shed some light on the reality of remodeling, which requires more than a good design eye & a free weekend. As a professional, I spend a huge chunk of time navigating budgets, trimming wish lists (substantially – like squashing peoples dreams), persuading (arguing with) city officials, going through rounds of revisions and code note additions until a government jurisdiction deems them acceptable…

Our personal remodel journey started just like that – sifting through our wish list, trimming the wishes, drawing concepts, revising them, budgeting with our contractor, and then, permitting. Permitting is frequently overlooked, but it’s a huge timeline hurdle. Our entire permitting process (once design was complete) took 7 months, which was fairly short for our area given the scope of work.

The town we live in is charming & historic, with many beautiful old homes. But, I’ve never worked with a planning department that’s more particular about it’s residential aesthetic. New homes must fall within a narrow range of traditional styles – historic homes are hardly allowed to be touched (other than to be restored).

My feelings about this are mixed.

Because I personally enjoy the victorian era aesthetic, I appreciate its preservation, but as a homeowner, it is exceedingly frustrating to be told what you can’t do to your property. So, the lesson here is try before you buy – or at least, know what you’re getting yourself into.

Luckily, I did know, and I was up for the challenge. First on my agenda was to convince the historic preservation committee that our house was worthy of alteration, so, I put my pen to paper – my letter to them, below, is a tiny window into our family, our dreams, and our ongoing journey.


Town of Los Gatos
Planning Department
Attn: HPC
June 08, 2020

To whom it concerns,

Four years ago, my husband Joey and I enthusiastically purchased a historic Los Gatos home.  

As a young & growing family, buying a home in Los Gatos was a dream realized; we scraped together every penny we had, stretching far beyond what was comfortable, to build community in a town that we’d already grown to love.  And while the layout of a historic home doesn’t always lend itself to seamless, modern-family living, we felt (and still feel) privileged to call this sliver of California history - ‘ours’.

Joey and I met as college Students at the University of Colorado, Boulder; I - an architecture major from the Chicago suburbs, and Joey - a history major from Los Altos, CA.
While in college, I studied historic preservation, and had a vision of moving to the East Coast to pursue historic restoration & rehabs.  But alas, life had different plans; when Joey got a job in his hometown of Mountain View, CA, I followed him to the land of mid-century ranches.  My dream of living in a charming old home, walkable to a historic downtown was sidelined, until I set my sights on Los Gatos.  

As a young couple, we spent many date nights on Santa Cruz Avenue, and cruised the nearby residential streets with big hopes for our future.  And as fate would have it, a few years later while pregnant with our second child - only months after fully renovating our downtown Los Altos condo - we stumbled upon a Redfin listing for [insert address]. The next day, we drove down to see the house, and that night, we made an offer.  Joey and I weren’t in the market for a house, but this one felt like home. 

Since that day four years ago, our family has grown again - bringing us to a grand total of 5 people, and 1 bathroom (It gets ugly sometimes)!  And although we must add square footage [and a toilet] in order to stay on our beloved corner of LG, our love for history and design have us striving to maintain all of the home’s story, while adding to it - just a little bit.  

                                   —

We will not demolish any part of the historic house, nor will we alter the existing facade, except to put in a new front door package, and install a fixed, decorative window in lieu of an operable one that currently exposes bedroom #2 to The Blvd. This is simply for privacy and safety, as it concerns our daughters who will share bedroom #2.

As you will notice on the site plan, the only side of the house that does not already sit on a setback is the North side, which faces [insert road name] and the Valero station across the street.  It is our intention to shield our view of the gas station (and others’ view of us!) with a tasteful, single-story master suite addition.  

When the home was built in 1884, they didn’t have the fore-site to orient the home’s views away from Valero. So now that the site on which the house was built has changed, a little strategic reorienting will greatly improve this home’s livability. 

The design strategy for the add-on is for it to appear as a separate building that has been connected to the original house.  Rather than risk confusing what may have been original with what is new, our goal is to make it clear that an addition occurred, but in a manner that pays homage to the original design.  Some key design decisions are outlined below:

+We have dropped the plate of the addition so that the new portion of the house will not be as prominent as the original house.  
+We chose not to add the skirt that is on the original house, to maintain a sense of hierarchy - that the historic structure is more significant than the addition.  
+We intend to use the same horizontal siding on the new portion of the house, with the exception of the connection. The connection will likely be vertical board & batten in order to achieve the illusion that the new structure is separate from the original one. 
+We are maintaining a single story home, with rooflines that match those on the original house.
+A new porch on the North side of the home will have a trellis to help screen some of the gas-station commotion, and will boast some of the same detailing visible on the front porch - maintaining the same high-level of design integrity.  

We appreciate the time you’re taking to review this project. We love this town’s rich history, and look forward to being part of it for many years to come. 


Respectfully,
Lauren Fulcher 

*photo copyright: losgatosca.gov

Onward and Upward

Life has changed quite a bit since I last posted to this site. First & foremost, we’re no longer just about “Blueprints & ‘Bows'” over here – last year, we added a baby brother to the mix; a delivery room surprise that shocked & delighted us all!

Jack turned one in quarantine, and doesn’t know much of the world beyond these walls (feeling more sorry for myself than for him), but alas, his little world is about to expand as we begin a home addition & remodel that will give us all the space we need for distance learning, work from home, and [indelicately put] – escaping from each other!

Some of you know that I have a degree in architecture, and that I spend my professional life designing for a custom residential firm here in California – Shoutout to Studio3 Design! http://studio-three.com/ – (thus inspiring my blog “Blueprints & Bows”). But early on, this page became a sort of therapeutic space for sharing parenting woes.

Many of my woes were made worse by the fact that, as our family grew, and shelter-in-place orders became the norm, our charming 1884 Victorian home was no longer working for us, but against us.

Over the next several months, I’m going to be documenting our remodel experience; from my early schematic design to design development, construction & installation. I’ll be sharing what I learn; the dos & don’ts of designing for a family with young children, and how to create a grown-up, well curated home that is beautiful, but more importantly, functional – so that being stuck in the same house with your family doesn’t make you lose your mind 🙂

You can follow along on Instagram @blueprints_and_bows

Here we go!

hugs , MamaFulch

A Mother’s Limitless Love

It was 9:00 pm, and there I stood – in the doorway to my 16 month old’s bedroom, staring at her innocent, unknowing face.  Her tiny butt stuck straight in the air, knees tucked up under her chest, her pacifier (named “Gus”) hung from perfectly rosy, parted lips. Her chubby hands hugged tight to her favorite pink blanket, and mine longed to hold tight to her.  

With tears in my eyes, I scooped her into my arms and carried her to our rocking chair. Our chair; the one that we’d spent more than 500 nights in – rocking, singing, crying & hushing.  The chair that had seen us through 2am, 4am and 6am feedings while the rest of the world was sleeping.  The chair that had cradled a new mother’s aching back, and bore tears – so may tears – both hers and mine.  The chair that wouldn’t be just ours for much longer. 

While I’d never before (nor since) had a sane thought that involved waking my sleeping child, that night was different.

Less than an hour earlier, I’d sat in the bathroom with the shower running, shaky hands holding loosely to a white stick: “Pregnant”.  I remembered the feeling; that tiny screen revealing such huge, life altering news.  Just like the first time, there was elation, fear, disbelief & love, all wrapped up in adrenaline.  But this time, there was a new and unexpected feeling mixed into my emotional cocktail: guilt. 

I’d thought I was ready. After all, I’d been a mother for nearly a year and and half (which, with your first child, feels like an eternity).  I was practically an expert (you should see my eyes rolling now).  But my joy was stolen by the realization that in eight short months, the most love filled, challenging, anxiety inducing, rewarding chapter of my life thus far would end, and a new one would begin.  It would no longer be just us – figuring out how to do this new life together.  No, the new chapter would be so much more complex, with new challenges and personalities to navigate. Why was I doing this?  

Was I not fulfilled enough by my beautiful little girl?  Would she resent me for wanting more than just her?  Would she even remember the sacred time we spent as a family of 3 – letting her crash “date nights” and Saturday morning coffee runs?  Would she know how we whisked her away on vacation after vacation, and spent so much time focused on just her – her development, her joy, her perfect existence?

Everything would be different now.  This new baby would never know my husband and me the way our first one had – wide-eyed and attentive.  Soon, our only goal when taking our tiny family to a restaurant or on a plane would be to escape with our lives, and maybe a sliver of dignity still in tact. (In hindsight, the latter was overly ambitious). 

And at the risk of sounding like a cliche: I had no idea if I could love another child the way I loved my first born.

So we sat, just the two of us, rocking while tears poured down my face.  I choked out the words to “You are my Sunshine” between deep sobs.  Was she my sunshine?  Yes.  But would she even believe those words come October?  I wasn’t so sure.  


Our daughter was well prepped by the time her little sister debuted in October.  She knew what her name was going to be, but still lovingly referred to her as “Princess”.  The transition from one to two kids was – ehem, challenging – but simultaneously seamless. I could not have predicted the way that this new little girl would steal my heart all over again, or the beautiful layers of love and compassion that she would add to our firstborn’s personality. 


Now, I sit here writing, feeling our highly anticipated third baby rolling around in my belly.  The nostalgia builds as I realize that the couple of years I’ve spent with just my two girls will feel fleeting when, someday,  I look back at my life. Whatever “normalcy” we’ve established in the past two years is about to be yet another closed chapter in my book.  But, I know this time around that God is blessing us all with the greatest of gifts – more people to love.

For the first time in my life, I understand the vastness of God’s love for us – the human race – one race – we’re all his children.  I understand now that no matter how many of us there are, what we look like, what we believe – his heart is capable of growing infinitely to hold each one of us close.  I rejoice in the knowledge that no matter what we do, he’ll never give up on loving us; frustration, disappointment, anger even – I’m sure he feels it all as we do, but just as a mother and father are filled with unwavering hope and love for their children, God loves the world.  It all makes perfect sense to me now. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. – Zephaniah 3:17

(chosen as our daughter’s life verse for her baptism) 

Photo credit: Wild Bloom Studio

A Mother of a Mental Load

This inner-monologue is every mom, ever.

Inspired by true events…

6:00 am: Ahh, what a good night’s sleep! I was only woken up once! What’s today?… Tuesday. Preschool for the big one, Little Gym for the baby & ballet class. I need to squeeze in some work while they nap. Today is definitely manageable. (smiles to herself)

Time to get everyone fed, changed, dressed, brushed & out the door.

Shoot, her leotard is dirty. (Throws in first load of laundry & continues on with the morning routine, reaching into the fridge…)

Aw man, we’re low on milk. I think this will last us until about…(analyzes milk carton) lunchtime. Can I get to the grocery store before 2:00? Not a chance. I’d better just place a Safeway order for delivery – it will be here tomorrow…

TOMORROW. What is tomorrow’s schedule? What time can I be here to receive groceries?

What will I put in the baby’s bottle tonight? Half & half? The milk will definitely be gone before bedtime. Maybe I can water it down. I bet she won’t even notice.

HALF & HALF… COFFEE! I need some, now. (puts on pot of coffee)

Gah, we’re out of sugar… and toilet paper… and toothpaste – better add them to my grocery order.

TOOTHPASTE. The girls have a dentist appointment tomorrow! Shoot – I’ll have to move that grocery delivery.

APPOINTMENT. I need to make an appointment with our pediatrician to update our vaccination card before preschool registration.

PRESCHOOL! I still need to sign that permission slip and send in my order for spring pictures. I’ll take them with us this morning… now where in the world did I put them…?? Spring picture order….

SPRING! Oh my gosh it’s already spring. What day exactly? How many days do I have until we’re delinquent on our taxes?  The IRS probably already has a warrant for my arrest. I don’t even know what day it is. (looks at calendar) March, oh okay, whew, we’re only in….

MARCH! Oh my gosh we have three birthday parties this month and I have to get gifts, RSVP, update our family calendar… March…

Has the Easter Bunny done all of his preparation yet? What are we doing for Easter this year?

I need to make a reservation to see the Easter Bunny at the mall. That’s what all the other moms do. All of the OTHER moms have already registered their kids for summer camps, too… I bet all the good ones are already full. Ugh, I can’t keep up with these Moms!

SUMMER. I really need to figure out those vacation dates, book our flights, rent the car… hotel room… 

Okay, everyone looks halfway decent (except mom) Out the door; off to school & gym.  Oh no, I never drank the coffee… guess I’ll have it over ice – with lunch.

Dropping first child off at school: Oh My gosh that mom had her baby! That’s so exciting. I need to take them a meal. I’ll add the ingredients to my grocery order.

MEAL. what on Earth am I going to feed my family tonight? I guess they’ll have to settle for scrambled eggs & toast. Oh, but we hard-boiled all the eggs and colored them pink for Easter… Egg Salad it is.

At Little Gym with the baby: Gosh, I swear everyone I know is pregnant. Should I get pregnant again? Stop it. No. Regardless, I need to make a GYN appointment – awesome, my favorite. 

How in the world will I find a sitter at 2:30 on a Thursday so that I can go to the doctor?  Maybe if I do find one, she can stay long enough for me to go get my hair cut.  I haven’t had a haircut in at least a year.

Ugh, my husband probably thinks I’ve given up…. have I given up? 

I can’t give up. I should really try to get a workout in this week. Maybe some chin ups on that little gymnastics bar in the corner? Okay, be serious. I wonder if my husband can come home early tomorrow night so I can go to Soul Cycle.

Oh wait, is tomorrow the night he has that work dinner? Yep, then he’s out of town for three nights. Guess I’m on my own.  I should probably throw away all of my skinny jeans. (Fights back tears since she’s in public).

Driving home from Little Gym: (she lets herself cry just a little)  Whew, now I’ll have a full hour at home before preschool pickup. I’ll clean the house and feed the baby. A clean house will feel good.

CLEANING. It. Never. Ends. I should go through the toy bins and purge. I should go through my closet and purge. We have so much crap. How do people live in those tiny houses? We should become minimalists.

But seriously. I should have the rugs deep cleaned and vacuum behind the couch today. I really need to call the electrician to fix the light in the hallway and get a quote to restore the stone on the bathroom floor. I wonder how much that will cost. Maybe I should work a few extra hours this week.

Sigh… I need an adult vacation. (Cries again when she realizes that means leaving her kids for a few days)

School pickup. Fix lunch. Clean up lunch. Get kids down for naps. Work for 20 minutes. Kids wake up.

I will muster the energy to get everybody ready for ballet- and out of the door again – somehow. Why is changing a toddler’s cloths so difficult. Can’t she stand up straight for 30 seconds. My back is going to break. I need a massage.  I shouldn’t spend the money.

Speaking of spending money: should I spend the kids’ education fund on organic produce, or save for college & risk that we all get cancer? It’s a gamble.  Maybe I’ll just order organic produce.

PRODUCE! Strawberries! Add those to my order. Thank goodness for Safeway delivery. What did Moms do before Amazon and Blue Apron? Oh yeah, they left us in the car when they went into the grocery store for milk & strawberries. If I did that now, I’d get arrested. That is, if the IRS doesn’t get me first. I hate people.

We’re late. We’re chronically late.

At ballet: I can’t forget to register for the spring recital. I wonder what size costume to order…she’s sort of between sizes right now. In fact, she’s outgrown all of her cloths. I need to take her shopping. When we get home I should go through her closet. 

When we get home I also need to send a family email, letting them know about the recital and the baby’s baptism.  Where is that baptismal gown? Did I ever have it dry cleaned after our last baby was baptized?

I need to pick up the dry cleaning.

Did I send the pastor everything he asked me for?  Oh, no, I still have to come up with a life verse.  Add it to my list… also brunch reservations…a photographer…

Loads everyone BACK into the car and drives home in a daze while kids talk/yell in the backseat.

At home: Is it bedtime yet? Nope, only 4:30. Good Heaven WHEN is my husband coming home?

I should be reading them books. I don’t have the energy. Maybe just one hour of Mickey Mouse is okay.  Mickey is educational.

Two hours of Mickey Mouse later:  (feeling guilty for not reading to the kids, but at least the house is somewhat clean). I need to feed the kids. Again. Why do they  need to eat so much?! What kind of “healthy” stuff can I scrape together tonight?

Please don’t throw that broccoli on the floor! I JUST cleaned that floor… It’s no use. Why do I bother?  Oh sure just smear it down your shirt, now I’ll have to wash… 

The laundry! (runs to the laundry room & smells 10 hour-old damp load. Throws it in the dryer) I hope I remember to grab that stuff before bed – I probably won’t.

Baths. Diapers. Pajamas. Bedtime stories. Songs. Lights Out. Rebelling Kids. Finally, peace & quiet.

Damn – tomorrow is garbage day. (collects the trash & hauls the bins to the curb) Eew, these diapers smell disgusting… DIAPERS… add those to the delivery.

Ugh, I can’t get the bins out of the garage. Why did I park the car so close to the wall?

CAR. The car needs to go in for service.  I hope they have a loaner car for me that’s big enough for 2 car seats.  Never mind. I’ll deal with it tomorrow.

Man, I’m exausted.  What did I even accomplish today?  Nothing. Litterally, nothing that doesn’t have to be done again in twelve hours, or two days from now, or again next week.

Thank goodness I get to go to the office tomorrow. Sweet Dreams. See y’all at 6.

xxx,

MamaFulch

Proverbs 31: 25-30     Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” …

 

 

Our RSV Story

I knew it was going to be bad when our feisty two-year-old spent her 4th consecutive day glued to the couch; a 103 degree fever consumed her tiny body. She refused to eat or drink anything for almost a week.  Preschool. We knew the source, but the aftermath of her illness was what concerned us the most.  With a four week old at home, we knew it could be bad, we just couldn’t have imagined how bad it would get. 

Months earlier, as we anticipated the arrival of our second baby in mid-October (hello flu season!), I started preparing for the inevitable.  Flu shots for everyone.  Probiotics, vitamins and homeopathic remedies stocked. Baby-wearing gear on deck. And of course, breastfeeding – to provide the necessary antibodies. I knew the second time around, motherhood would be different. With a brand new two-year-old and her vulnerable immune system heading off to preschool, I was sure a large army of germs would soon be marching toward our doorstep.  I was actually happy to stay pregnant for forty-one weeks; a big baby would only help us in the impending war.  

I was told, “This will get worse before it gets better, but she will most likely be able to fight it at home.”… and  I hung on those words like her life depended on them.

We made it nineteen days before baby registered her first “fever”; 100.4 – barely there, but beyond the safe threshold for fever in newborns. If anything I was – annoyed.  The whole family had been battling a minor cold, so, it was the baby’s turn (I assumed).  That, or I’d wrapped her in too many blankets. 

After a quick conversation with an advice nurse, we were on our way to the hospital.  Pediatrics admitted us for overnight observation, where routine blood & urine samples were taken.  And although she was asymptomatic within an hour of our arrival (Indeed, I’d wrapped her in too many blankets), her blood culture came back positive for a common strain of staph – most likely a lab error – we were told.  Still, a spinal tap, countless blood draws, 3 nights of intravenous antibiotics & 4 more days of shots, is how our baby girl spent her third week of life. “Precautionary”, we were told.  Invasive, is how it felt. And after subjecting my little girl to so much (could it have been unnecessary?) medical intervention, I questioned whether I’d made the right choice in taking her to the doctor in the first place.

Then it was Thanksgiving (we hadn’t seen the inside of a doctor’s office in ten whole days) when our oldest started showing signs of another cold. So, I quarantined the baby to a different room & once again, braced for impact. As the illness progressed, it became clear to me that, should the baby be exposed to this bug, we’d likely be in deep trouble.

For a toddler, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is often pretty miserable.  High fever, relentless deep cough, severe nasal congestions, no appetite… Nobody in the house sleeps for a week, but it’s survivable.  However, in a newborn, RSV it can be life threatening.  

At four weeks old, our poor baby girl was defenseless. When her symptoms started appearing – the severe congestion and labored breathing – I took her to the pediatrician right away.  They ran a nasal swab which confirmed RSV was the culprit. Thankfully, her oxygen levels looked good. I was told, “This will get worse before it gets better, but she will most likely be able to fight it at home.”… and  I hung on those words like her life depended on them.

She can fight this at home. Don’t worry when things get worse.

I so badly wanted to avoid another visit to the ER, where I felt so foolish weeks before when my infant daughter’s spinal canal was being punctured in the name of precaution.

So, when things did get worse, my husband rigged a home steam room out of plastic tarps and humidifiers to help loosen the mucous. Her nose was so congested (Did you know newborns don’t know how to breath out of their mouths? Neither did I.) and her airways were becoming increasingly inflamed & blocked.  The skin on her chest pulled in between her tiny ribs with every labored breath.  Eighty respirations per minute is what I counted… At what point was I to let go of those words…. “she will probably be able to fight this at home”.

By the third night, her nasal passages were so congested that she couldn’t nurse. I tried a bottle – it was no better.  I was sure she would become dehydrated, so I tried syringe feeding, but she choked on the milk & the mucous in her stomach and, to my horror, projectile vomited what little milk she had been able to take in.  I didn’t sleep that night. I never left her side. I never stopped watching her tiny chest rise and fall, wondering just how many more times her lungs would fight to catch a breath. 

I packed a hospital bag for the car. Just in case. Then I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed before.

The next morning I started monitoring wet diapers & trying relentlessly to get fluids in her. We sat down to nurse every 15 minutes (not easy with a two-year-old on my arm), and at 5 pm, the tiniest of blue lines appeared on her Pampers Swaddler – I was ecstatic! But my happy dance was followed almost immediately by a violent episode of choking and vomit – a mix of milk and thick, green mucous.

She was not going to fight this at home.

At 6 pm on a dark, chilly, November night, I thew that hospital bag in the car, strapped both kids in, and headed to the ER once again.  My husband and in-laws would meet me there.  At check in, our baby’s vitals were taken – including her O2 saturation. A concerned nurse swept us right through triage, and in to a private room where she told us that a room was being prepped in the pediatric wing – we would be staying.  We held an oxygen tube near our daughter’s nose, and watched as her oxygen levels rose and fell with the tube’s proximity.

When we finally got to our room, I watched as a swarm of doctors and nurses surrounded our tiny daughter – IV line, oxygen, monitors of all sorts…. I overheard one nurse say that her oxygen level was 66% – low enough to cause brain damage. 

My reason for the ER visit was dehydration. I really hadn’t considered lack of oxygen to her brain or other organs. What if I’d waited one more day?  I almost waited – because I didn’t want to seem like an over-nervous parent.  My pride nearly broke her.

I burst into unrelenting sobs.  Tears of guilt. Tears of joy that there was finally oxygen in her lungs and fluid in her veins. Tears of relief that I could once again sleep & let the machines monitor her breathing. There were lots of tears. Ugly, hormonal, pent-up postpartum tears.

The next 5 days were full of alarms going off and breathing treatments and deep suction and more blood work and torture.  I left that tiny room only twice in 120 hours.  But while baby girl was fighting in the hospital, Daddy & Big Sister got busy on the Christmas decorations so that we’d return to a warm, festive home. And we did.

So this week, as I unbox our Christmas decorations, and work endlessly to keep four little hands off the tree, I’m ever-so-grateful for my family, our health and our resilience.

I’ve learned to worry (just a little bit) less about what’s going to happen. That although I can’t always protect my family as fiercely as I want to, I should listen to my instincts. I’ll never again feel foolish or over-concerned when it comes to my child’s health.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Psalm 34:17-20    When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

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