My Husband and I Thrive on Fixer-Upper Projects

My husband and I moved across the country to Boston in 2006, days after I finished graduate school, with no jobs lined up — just fueled with young ambition. This wasn’t the first crazy thing we’d done together, but it was definitely the largest risk — the first of many in our years together.

Shortly after our move there, we decided to begin a new adventure: living on a boat. We bought a fixer-upper, lived on it for about a year, then sold that boat to buy another fixer-upper. Our second boat, Madrigal, was a labor of love, and my husband and I worked hard at making it our home.

Image Source: Jenny Halteman
Image Source: Jenny Halteman

When we found out that I was pregnant with our first daughter, there was no question as to whether we’d move back on land. We wanted to give our daughter an alternate way of looking at the world — less is more, life is a great adventure, yadda yadda.

For two years we raised her aboard Madrigal. Marina friends were like family. She was standing unassisted (on the table! in the boat!) at 6 months old. The rocking of the waves and the closeness of the cabin allowed her to strengthen her legs, always have a handhold, and learn to walk at 9 months.

Image Source: Jenny Halteman
Image Source: Jenny Halteman

But two years in and another baby on the way, we realized that we were missing something fundamental: family. Real family.

And so, the week after the launch of our third fixer-upper, we dropped everything in Boston and ran home to Michigan, without so much as a plan.

This all probably sounds very irresponsible. A lot of it was, probably, but we have always made it work. We always had a little bit of money saved, alternative plans, and the drive to work hard to make our plans work.

We rented for a year but wanted a place to call our own. We were giving up hope (and running out of time) when we saw the listing for a dumpy little place. The price was low, it had a seemingly nice backyard, and backed up to a nature preserve. We decided to take a peek.

Image Source: Jenny Halteman
Image Source: Jenny Halteman

The place was a heap. Bug carcasses littered the old, stained carpeting. The walls were a disgusting, dated, orangey plywood. It technically had three rooms, but one was smaller than a closet and the other was the entire upstairs — a space large enough for three bedrooms. It had a door so small that I could barely lug our infant’s car seat through it (which we immediately named the hobbit door), and the “nice” backyard had sheds, metal, and glass littered through it.

But we looked past that and saw potential. We saw a project. We saw a house that needed proper care and attention. We saw a house that needed a family to call it home.

We’ve owned our house for two-and-a-half years now, and it is unrecognizable. We’ve spent countless hours renovating, mostly with recycled materials. We’ve gone through the yard, moved the sheds, and painstakingly picked away the glass and metal to make it a safe haven.

Image Source: Jenny Halteman
Image Source: Jenny Halteman

Once we realized our house was nearly complete, we both got “the itch.” What would we do with our time if we didn’t have something to fix?

One night last month, as I helped our 2-year-old drift off to sleep, I was browsing Craigslist on my phone and found an Airstream for sale. Cheap. For a reason. The interior is battered. The floor is buckled. The exterior looks like utter hell broke loose. But, it’s the exact model that we’ve been scouting out for awhile, so this was *the one* because it’s what we can afford. Obviously, we could just not buy a camper at all, but the Airstream is more than just a plaything to us: it will be a place for guests to sleep, an office for me, and most importantly, a memory in our children’s lives.

I frantically texted my husband, “I FOUND AN ARGOSY” and he raced in to see the photos. The next day, he handed over the money, received the keys, and it was ours.

All ours.

Our girls are ecstatic for our next adventure and labor of love. And so are we.

I realize that many of the lessons my own parents taught me have carried over to today. Persistence, hard work, patience, love. Their lifelong support has given me the confidence to take the next step, no matter how terrifying.

I hope that my girls will learn these lessons from me and my husband, just as I did from my parents. I hope that they will seize opportunities, big and small, and not be too timid to work hard to get what they want. I hope they will see that the race to acquire more or bigger or better is not always what’s most important and that sometimes taking a chance is well worth the risks involved. Above all, I hope that they know that, no matter what, my husband and I will be there to support them on their adventures in life.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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