3. Closed windows of opportunity

Boots on the ground. Ready for battle. Benjamin and I are a couple of action, and had to save our tears for days when they were warranted. In the grand scheme of Brick n Barn’s history, this was nothing. 

First things first, we needed a plan. Benjamin has always been a man with a plan. He’s creatively calculated which is a beautiful thing when it comes to home renovations. I on the other hand am a woman with an overloaded, optimistic “to do” list, which Benjamin cuts in half on my feasible timeline, not as a pessimist, but rather as the realist that I’ve grown to love dearly more by the day. 

As a contract designer at Intuit (TurboTax), Benjamin has a three-month break every year, which we generally earmark for travel. Between the two of us, we’ve covered over 80 countries, and partnered up for Fodor’s Travel Guides to Cancun, Panama, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, Los Cabos, Corsica, Sardinia, San Diego, Bolivia, Costa Rica, and beyond. Just months before our move, we hit assignments in Whistler, Colorado, Alaska, and Japan, but now, travel was sidelined for Betty’s estate. 

The house was officially ours in April. Benjamin’s work break was scheduled for our move-in day; but he pushed it back until June after the motorbike accident. His ribs still ached and his shoulder had a permanent lump that he officially named his “unborn twin.” 

After that first day in the house, we felt defeated. But, we knew Benjamin needed to put his head down, and click away at work to help subsidize the initial repair costs, which were increasing by the day. Our plan was to have Benjamin work an extra two months — and bring in a steady income — and heal through physical therapy along the way. Then, he would go full steam ahead come June. However, less of “us” meant more need for outside support. 

It was time to call in the troops. “Mom, dad . . . We need your help!” 

At 79 years of age, my dad is showing no signs of slowing down. He owns Swiss Gardens Landscaping where he works six days a week on major landscaping projects with help from two employees. From our Carlsbad coastal property, to our Vista Farmhouse, my dad has transformed weeds into gardens and wasteland into waterfalls. 

Together, he and Benjamin are quite the botanical visionaries. At the Betty Crocker Estate, we needed my dad to do one major task . . .haul away garbage. One load after another, he took broken limbs, dead shrubs, and heaps of trash to the local landfill. In that first month alone, he took 23 tons to the dump.

Benjamin was torn between two worlds of hospitality and desperateness, whispering to me that we shouldn’t put my family through this mess, yet internally longing for an army of disinfectant fighters.

On our first day in the home, my entire family rolled onto the property ready to tackle the “gnarly.” My older sister Heidi, her husband Matthew, and their three kids, Ethan, Eli, and Anna hopped out of the car wearing their “grubbies.” 

My mom and dad were right behind them, dressed in t-shirts and old sweatpants as if headed into battle against grime, filth, and muck. Benjamin was torn between two worlds of hospitality and desperateness, whispering to me that we shouldn’t put my family through this mess, yet internally longing for an army of disinfectant fighters. 

I ignored his inner struggle.

“Places everyone!” I yelled, pointing toward various posts. The kids joined me in the greenhouse, vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing down every surface. My mom (bless her heart) tackled the bathroom, while Benjamin and the others hit the kitchen. We went through a mountain of rags and two bottles of Simple Green, taking occasional breaks to step away from our own dirty despair. 

About four hours into the job, we took a lunch break in the cleanest spot on the property . . .the lawn. My sister spread out blankets and towels, while my mother handed out baggies of chips, sandwiches, and cookies to make sure everyone was “nourished and replenished for the physical work before us.” In the mix were Lola and Chucho, glad to have a “table” on their level that they could easily access for crumbs.

My father said grace, thanking God for the property, asking for strength for what was to come, and praying blessings over all those who entered. If only we knew those blessings of provisions would apply to the rat militia we would battle on a daily basis. Those little bastards thought they owned our home. It was time to teach them a lesson.

Benjamin set up traps and poison in every crack, hole, and crevice, spending a small fortune on rat bait and peanut butter to lure them from their cozy dens. Every morning he would awake and make the rounds, checking the traps for mice and rat cadavers. His successful efforts resulted in a couple’s high five and my heartfelt praise of, “good job honey.”

Between my dad’s team handling green waste and garbage, we put Belinda on the clock five days a week. Benjamin created a project list of tasks that she would tackle while he was at the office. With so much money going out, we decided that I too should crank out freelance jobs that came my way. When time allowed, I would deal with repairs, cleaning, and getting us as “settled” as possible. On my plate was obtaining a business license, reseller’s permit, company registration, and establishing accounts for utilities ranging from water and trash to Internet and porta-potty rental. 

We would fade the line between work and play, need and want, obligation and desire.

Standing in line at the county recorder’s office, I looked down at our paperwork and sighed, knowing that filing these documents would make it official. Up to that point, it was just an idea with names thrown on a table. We considered calling our company Olive Branch Estates, Crocker Farms, The Mercantile, Crocker Oaks, Betty’s Barn, and even Gipsy Boots. 

But something clicked with Brick n Barn, a beautiful blending of our new home and antique business. We would fade the line between work and play, need and want, obligation and desire. My entire life I had worked from home, and now, we would be taking that tradition to a whole new level. 

I tried to juggle everything — the move, the barn shows, the travel writing, my full-time job at Saddleback, and all the logistics of setting up a new business. On top of it all, we were hit with a house that went from hiccups to life support. We knew it would be challenging, but we didn’t know it would literally keep us up at night. 

The only normalcy I found was my weekly visits to Saddleback’s head office in Lake Forest. My previous one-hour commute was pushing nearly two hours on the road due to construction near our new home. Each Thursday, I would head out at 7 am, and return some 12+ hours later, texting Belinda on house progress and Benjamin on pure sanity levels. 


They were long days, but somehow a welcoming retreat from the chaos back in Valley Center. On that first week, I pulled into the driveway to find Benjamin standing on the roof of the house. With a crowbar in one hand, and a hammer in the other, he cursed the window at the top of his lungs. Without knowing the story, I knew he had encountered yet another hurdle. 

Stepping out of the car, I hollered up to my beyond-frustrated husband. “You okay up there?”

Shaking the crowbar in the air, he yelled back, “No. I’m not okay. I’ve spent nearly two hours trying to open our bedroom windows. It turns out every single window in our home has been nailed and caulked shut.”

I shook my head, as if hearing a math problem I had no idea how to solve. “Come on down,” I told him. “I’ll pour you a glass of wine.”

Next story on "Channeling Betty" coming soon.

Marlise Myers