It didn’t take much convincing on Benjamin’s part before I caved and agreed to add a third day to our monthly antique shows. Our plan was to test out Sundays and see if profits outweighed the investment.
To get Brick n Barn off the ground, we had made a substantial personal loan to cover maintenance, repairs, clean up, equipment, software, and inventory. We agreed to try to avoid outsourcing tasks like marketing, decorating, and house restorations.
Unfortunately outside our scope of expertise was construction of a toilet for Brick n Barn. For years, customers had been using a porta-potty, so when we purchased the property, we adopted that model of renting a “blue box” and draining it monthly.
In my quest for improvement, I told Benjamin that the toilet would be the first thing to go. Our back-up plan was to build full-size operational toilets, but the more we priced out the vision, the more it fizzled.
Between our hunt for a truck and a tractor (which we never bought), we found the Taj Mahal of outhouses. Posted on craigslist, the tinyhouse-turned-toilet was built by a local couple who had constructed it for their wedding. They had intended to rent it out for events thereafter, but instead decided to put the toilets up for sale.
Other than our property itself, the toilets would be by far our largest purchase. There was a great deal of hesitation on our part, and even more so when it came to withdrawing the cash.
In the back of our minds were so many questions: “What if the business fails and we’re stuck with these toilets?” . . . “Should we pause on investments until the barn is more profitable?” . . . “What if the toilets don’t even flush?”
The moment Benjamin saw the setup, he was sold. And the moment I met the couple, I was right there with him. Like us, they were dreamers and doers who just invested in a “what are we doing?” project house, with plans to turn it into a yoga center.
The wife worked as a personal trainer, and he as a contractor, and together they made quite the power couple. And just like that, we shook hands on it.
Within a week, the darling duo delivered the toilets, which we intended to properly unveil for our guests. Proposed titles ranged from the “comfort station” and “chamber pot” to “powder room” and “johnny house.” In the running were also “commodious,” “latrine,” “honey bucket,” “glory hole,” and “litter box.”
With pressing priorities way in front of the “Toilet’s Grand Opening,” we simply threw up a sign that read “Outhouse” and called it a day. The toilet purchase was big news to our team when they showed up to decorate the barn and discovered a majestic men’s and women’s restroom in place of the stinky box.
They were even more thrilled that they didn’t have to schedule beverage consumption around their decorating hours. As a former customer myself, it had always been a toss up between caving in and convincing your bladder that you could persevere.
The downside to these shiny toilets however, was that they needed to be cleaned . . . by me. Yet another task for the To Do list, right up there with marketing.
Between the new toilets and property clean up, the barn was showing clear signs of visual improvement; best of all, it was feeling different. New to the world of social media, we started using hash tags, which remarkably appealed to millennials who were drawn to our #vintage posts. We didn’t quite get how it all worked but we just kept at it, photographing, posting, sharing, tagging, and promoting.
Poor Lola ended up in most of our posts, propped somewhere on a velvet chair or tucked inside a ceramic planter. You would have thought we were marketing Chihuahuas instead of antiques, but promotion wasn’t at the forefront of our minds. At that point, it was still just survival — not just for us, but for our pups as well . . . literally.
For the most part, Lola stayed nearby, acting as my shadow day and night. When I worked at the computer, she laid in my lap. When I jogged, she ran beside me. When I worked in the barn, she slept in a pile of show décor. When I ran errands (including the grocery store), she clung to me in her carrier pouch.
Lola was like a limb — an extension of myself that had this remarkable ability to love so deeply in a way I didn’t know was possible for a dog. Countless times, I would look down to find her staring at me with such a precious admiration, as if still thanking me three years later for rescuing her. Slowly, the corners of her mouth would turn upward with a legitimate smile. She didn’t smile for just anyone, so when she did, it had the power to melt your heart.
Benjamin called Lola his “baby girl,” and I swear she flirted with him, with her bashful head turn and a quick kiss on his cheek. She treated each of us so differently, with a deep affection that made our relationship with Lola truly unique.
Meanwhile, Chucho had to save mushy emotions for morning-and-evening cuddle sessions. Any other time of day, he had a job to do . . . protect and serve the civilians of Brick n Barn. For his sacrifice, he would get dog treats.
From the day we adopted Chucho back in 2008, he took his job very seriously. From lizards and rabbits to mailmen and strangers, step foot on his land and it’s no-holds-barred.
Moving with us from a Carlsbad coastal property to a small farmhouse on half an acre in Vista, Chucho was now in over his head with nearly nine acres to patrol. We did our best to keep him close to the house, but when those rabbits ran loose at sunset, so did Chucho.
He would snap his teeth within inches of their feet, just before they would dart into a rabbit hole. Our frustrated pup would yelp and dig effortlessly in an agony of defeat, eventually abandoning his post with muddy paws and a caked nose.
Now, after just two months at our new home, Chucho was still getting the lay of the land. There were times we’d find him exploring the creek, climbing boulders, and on occasion, barking at our neighbors through their sliding glass door.
During our first introduction to this sweet couple, they informed us that our snaggled-tooth hunter routinely marched up to their porch to bark incessantly as they watched TV in the comfort of their living room. They got into the habit of saying: “Chucho, this is our home. Honestly buddy, this area is outside your jurisdiction.”
As second in command, Chucho took Benjamin’s orders to heart, patrolling the area for possible invasions. And as his pack leader, Benjamin trained Chucho on the importance of coming when called. One whistle and that dog stood at attention. It was quite impressive really.
But on this particular night in May, that whistle didn’t get the results we expected. Dusk had turned to night and Lola and I were headed from the barn, back into the house to start dinner. I called Chucho’s name but heard nothing, except the piercing sound of coyotes.
Despite being in the house, I grabbed Lola off the couch, squeezed her tightly, and screamed at the top of my lungs “Chucho, come! . . . .Ben, get Chucho. He’s out there.”
Benjamin flung open the door, whistled and called Chucho’s name. That’s when we heard Chucho yelping in the field. In complete hysterics, I kept screaming his name. “Come Chucho, now! Come please!”
Benjamin ran up the hill toward the vintage truck where a pack of coyotes were within 50 feet of our home. At that point, I couldn’t see Chucho, but I could hear his repeated cries getting louder.
“Stay inside,” Benjamin screamed toward me, “I’m going to get Chucho.”
Within minutes, Benjamin stormed through the door holding our dog.
“Is he okay?” I looked at him up and down, expecting to see a horrible sight. Instead, there was a small amount of blood dripping from his paw.
“He’ll be fine,” Benjamin said, laying Chucho on the floor. Apparently our little guy had stepped on a 4-inch spike that went through the bottom of his paw all the way to the top. In one swift move, Benjamin grabbed hold of the spike and pulled it straight upward. Chucho screamed like a bitch.
As the “vet” of our tribe, I grabbed a headlamp, hydrogen peroxide, and bandages to nurse Chucho back to health. Benjamin didn’t think twice, and ran back outside to show the coyotes what it means to be a pack leader.
That night over dinner, we tried to put the pieces together of what had happened. More than likely, the coyotes heard the cry of Chucho — who was wounded on his own accord — and knew it would be an easy kill. Regardless of the how and why, it was a wake up call for our entire family of four.
We were country folks now and had to protect our own.
By morning, Chucho was already back hunting lizards and rabbits, and within a week, his wound was healed. We kept him on a “tighter leash,” and thought there wouldn’t be too much to worry about if we kept him within eyesight. Again, we were wrong.
With days of the coyote incident, we encountered three snakes on our driveway, one of which was a rattler. The sightings were enough to start searching for the nearest snake avoidance-training course for dogs. One way or another, we were going to keep our family safe.
Again, easier said than done.
On that last week of May, just when we thought the month couldn’t get any worse, I got a call from a friend who we had hired to help with house renovations. There were too many odd jobs to handle on our own — such as peeling wallpaper and plastering cracks — so we paid her to help out by the hour.
At the time, I was in the barn decorating for the next show, while Benjamin was at Intuit, pushing steadily on his work contract. When I picked up the phone, all I heard was, “Where’s your fire extinguisher?”
Grabbing two extinguishers from the barn, I sprinted toward the house with Lola hot on my heels. Throwing open the door, I skipped stairs all the way up to our master bedroom where I found sparks and smoke coming from the electrical socket.
In our request to have the wallpaper removed, our friend had sprayed water along the surface to soften the peel. That seemed to work, until of course, the water dripped directly into the electrical socket and nearly caught the house on fire.
With the Fire Department’s number now on speed dial, they came back to our property, just two weeks after their first surprise visit. By this point, we were on a first name basis. Regardless of the embarrassing encounter, they were glad I had called, taking all safety precautions by running “heat” tests and turning off fuses. And yes, back to the kitchen I went to bake another “thank you” dessert for the fire department.
By this point, I could barely wait for the month of May to end. On that 31st day, I awoke early to get a head start on writing for Saddleback. That’s when I heard a hard smack on the office window. I ran outside to find a bird dazed and confused, laying in the bushes. Poor thing had hit the glass head-on and didn’t know which way was up.
I didn’t want to scare him, or injure him further, so I did what my mother does when I’m in pain. I brought food, lots of it. Who knows if it helped or not, but I showered the entire vicinity with birdseed and Benjamin’s homemade sourdough bread. I kept checking on the little guy until the moment he flew away into the abyss. I texted Benjamin at work to tell him about my rescue efforts, to which he replied, “Careful. You’ll attract rats.”
Outside I went to collect my breadcrumbs, exhaling a sigh of defeat like a beaten-down Gretel. From there, I walked toward the carriage house to check on the progress of my dad’s team. They were pouring concrete for a workshop where we planned to eventually store farm equipment.
And right then, right there, I watched as hundreds of dollars worth of armoires started to fall like dominos. My dad’s worker had accidently leaned on a French armoire that was stashed in our “antique graveyard” for repair.
The ornate piece was placed back-to-back with five other armoires, each covered with a tarp until the day we could restore them. But just like that, one little bump had the entire collection crashing down, glass doors and all.
I couldn’t find the right words to say. So instead, I walked away, reached into my back pocket, and texted Benjamin something that was becoming rather commonplace.
“Guess what happened today?”
Next story on "Channeling Betty" coming soon.