Category Archives: New Beginnings

Brake Manor, The Next Chapter


I have been doing so many exciting things around Brake Manor since last autumn that I’ve decided to revisit the blogging idea and maybe pick up where we left off here – but with a little twist. Instead of just a home diary I’d like to add sustainable stuff, healthy living stuff, and anything else that pertains to thriving while consuming little. So! Here’s a quick summary of what’s happened since I last left off:

For the last two years I’ve had a blast shooting for and working with local artists, brewers, movers-and-shakers, and many other wonderful business owners and innovative folks here in town. My photography business took off straight out of the gate and had been going gangbusters. In early 2014, after several months of happily and busily working as an assignment photographer, I began to get restless again. I began feeling as though I needed yet another new adventure. I’ve always wanted to try travel photography and writing so I wound up taking a solo walkabout and lived out of a car in Iceland for 7 weeks. This beautiful adventure completely turned my life upside down in an amazing and terrifying way. I was blindsided by how I simply thrived on living alone in the small cargo space of a car, and being forced to find daily nourishment and facilities, all while spending copious amounts of time alone in the wilderness, taking photos and writing. By the end of this walkabout I was calmer, happier and gentler than ever before (this says a lot from a fiery-tempered Irish lass), I was physically strong and healthy, I laughed often and felt emotions more deeply than I knew was possible; I was thriving in all facets of my existence. Shortly after returning  home I began having crippling panic attacks and depression, I raged and sobbed daily over the many world injustices I had no control of, and thus began to hide away in the house for weeks on end because my brain was brimming with negative worries and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I nearly ran away to live life as a car-living vagabond. After a few months of constant introspection (because ain’t no body got time for this garbage! I’m a fixer. I wanted to feel better again.) I learned that the only thing that calmed me and made me sane again was the act of bumbling around in my big yard and focusing on, and caring for, the small things for which I could make a difference. I quickly realized I had to be the change I wished to see in the world and needed to stop worrying about what everyone else was doing (a novel thought, eh? Worry ’bout yo’self!).

Once that idea clicked in my head  I decided, again, that it was time for another lifestyle change just like the one Jason and I had made when we got out of debt and moved into our little brick bungalow, Brake Manor, in 2012. I decided I would find my peace by focusing on making the day-to-day tasks of life more joyful and by learning to live sustainably. The Icelandic sustainable way of life really had a hold on me and wasn’t about to let go.

A few months before this new revelation Jason had changed companies and quickly received a raise for being so awesome. Between his raise and my side-gig as landlady we were making ends meet enough to allow me the privilege of slowing down the photography flow and taking on yet another new adventure (thank you, sweet husband, for always being so generous and supportive of my wacky new ideas!).

So for the last few months I have pulled myself back together by way of learning. I’ve been learning how to ferment foods, live off the land, be handier around the house and yard, and how to simply be happier with less.  I’m at the point again where I’m happy, healthy and passionate about waking up each morning. That’s huge. That’s so very awesome. That’s … Oh hell, I’m back, baby!

I have recently begun working with the amazing folks of the NoCo Maker Faire and we’re adding a sustainable living portion to the upcoming fair in October, so stay tuned for that!

So, welcome to my next chapter of Brake Manor living. Join me, won’t you?  Let’s start doing awesome things that make us happy and just happen to leave the world a better place than when we inherited it. <3


Enter Title Here…

See? This is why we can’t have nice things.  *wagging a scolding finger at myself*

I started a nice blog to document our renovation progress and then I just let it get all covered in sawdust and out of date.

It became quite a struggle for me to balance renovation labors and my new business during these last four months, and I am embarrassed to admit that nowhere in between those two was I capable of fitting in a little bit of blogging. This weekend was our move-in date and I’m now typing this from our deliciously cozy nest in the loft of Brake Manor on our third night of residence. Our new home is still not what I would have called “move-in ready” but it’s livable and all  major projects have been completed. Though, while it’s not completely comfortable yet (only one of three sinks is installed so far and of the one functioning sink the hot water is leaking like a sieve) it’s beginning to feel a lot more like home.

The journey was long and exciting, and at times frustrating and felt like it would never end; but it was chocka-bloc full of stories I’d like to remember for the rest of my days. Even though it’s extremely belated and may not interest anyone else, I’m still going to document each step of the way for our future selves to look back on. So my apologies for the next few posts, but just indulge me. :)

Tonight our fur-child is getting acclimated to our new home and has finally come out from under the stairs after 12 hours of heartily auditioning for the part of howling troll #3 and is looking for someone to snuggle with. Glad you made it through your momentary insanity, kiddo.

Goodnight, moon.

The Bittersweet Truth

During all of these immense changes we’re making to our awesome little cottage we’ve kept Eileen and George in the front of our minds and it’s been an incredibly bittersweet journey.

It’s so exciting to be renovating a home with my husband and learning new things, making new memories and putting our heart and soul into every decision we make; but I am often reminded that the reason we are able to have this adventure in the first place is because someone else’s adventure, someone very near to our hearts, is winding down to it’s end. After writing about all the drastic changes we’ve made in our zeal to get as much done as possible before we move in I realize it may seem to our friends and family that we aren’t fully aware of or effected by the reality of our circumstance.

Every time I see Eileen she never fails to tell me how much she loves that house, and how she wishes so badly she could still be living her life there. Her words break my heart all over again every time I hear them (and with her poor memory I hear them more than once during each visit). I feel this heavy guilt over being young whipper-snappers basically gutting the home she put her heart into for 20+ years. I understand there is no rational reason to feel guilt since it would either be us or some other family moving in and making changes since Eileen simply cannot live alone any longer… but it doesn’t make it any easier on that soft spot in my heart.

Though we have to move quickly and make many changes immediately, we haven’t forgotten about the thousands of memories made in this house – not just by George and Eileen but by all the families that have owned this property. We’ve saved swatches of every single textile we’ve changed so we can make some sort of memory mosaic of what used to occupy the space before we put the Brake fingerprint on it.

No matter how sad it is that all of our life stories must someday come to an end, I have to choose to live in the now and embrace the memories we’re making together in this home. At first I felt like we were erasing this house’s past by altering it, but now I realize we’re adding to the rich history of it – and we’re giving it more time to exist and be loved and lived in before some contractor comes along to tear it down and build condos in it’s place. Now that would be erasing it’s history. We’ll do everything we can to never let that happen in our lifetime.

Our brick cladded memory box.
Our brick cladded memory box.

…and Let the Renovations Begin!

OMG it's ours!
OMG it’s ours!

Closing went smoothly -Jason’s mom and brother acted as POA’s for Grandma and came to the signing- and for some bizarre reason I was completely zen all morning beforehand. We all smiled and laughed and said our goodbyes after we were finished at closing but the the moment Jason and I got in the car I broke down in a hot mess of tears. The relief and finality of the closing allowed me to let go and start to feel that little-kid excitement about our new place again.

Once my tears were mostly dried we picked up a bottle of Prosecco and stopped at Chipotle for a to-go lunch and had ourselves a picnic in the loft of the new house. The champagne bottle exploded as we opened it -flying cork slamming into the ceiling and all- and we got champagne all over the carpet. At first we both looked at each other with an “oh shit, Grandma’s going to be so mad!”, and then we both smiled and shrugged because we realized it was now our carpet we were ruining. It’s a good thing we are planning to replace it anyhow.

Our Prosecco and Chipotle carpet picnic in the loft
Our Prosecco and Chipotle carpet picnic in the loft

The last week has been overly busy and we’ve only had a few hours at the new house but so far we’ve moved all of grandma’s remaining belongings into the garage so Jason’s mom can take them to storage, torn into the wall behind the dryer to get at that pesky gas leak (or we found a leak, anyway. It may not be the only one up there), now I just need to find a few pipe wrenches to see if we can just tighten the leak away.  We also bought a little steamer and started removing the wallpaper in Jason’s office and the West kitchen wall. It’s such a tedious task but it’ll be so great to have it gone! The back-splash tiles in the kitchen will also be going away so I started slowly chipping at them too. Demolition… feels good, man.

This weekend was a fairly stressful one between shooting a 12 hour frigid December wedding and getting my 4Runner stuck in a snowy mountain ditch (another story for another time…), so it felt really good for both Jason and I to put on our work clothes, turn up the tunes and start working on our house together.  The stress melted away as we worked and all that’s left of the weekend now is our sore muscles and big smiles.

A few backsplash tiles removed.
A few backsplash tiles removed.
Steaming wallpaper on the kitchen wall. It was adhered to raw drywall so it's coming off a little rougher than we'd hoped.
Steaming the kitchen wallpaper off. It was adhered to raw drywall so it’s coming off a little rougher than we’d hoped. I have a feeling we’ll be getting really good at mudding in the near future. ;)


I’m heading back over to the house this morning to continue steaming the wallpaper but I think I might stop by our discount grocery first and pick up a few food items so it feels a bit more like home while I work. I keep brewing coffee every time I go over there in hopes that it will start smelling a little more like home too.

Our cozy cottage blanketed in snow. *swoon*
Our cozy cottage blanketed in snow. *swoon*

Bright, Bright Sunshinin’ Day

As an update to “The Trouble With Underwriters“: it turns out we were met with chilled Champagne, not the guillotine :)

The last few weeks have been chockablock full of ToDo’s with not enough time to keep up with my blog, darn it. Now that I have a little time this morning, here’s where my head is at:

This week (and the last month or so) has been one of the best of my life, and I’m reeling from the amount of gratitude I feel for knowing I’ve gotten to experience full, true happiness before I die. My photography career is taking off faster than I could have ever dreamed of, I am surrounded by such amazing friends and family (for this I am MOST grateful for), my darling hubby and I are about to sign on our dream home tomorrow, and a new fresh year full of even more possibilities is about to begin.

I have had this nagging twinge of guilt for how wonderfully things have been going for us while the world at large has been going through a terrible rough spell, but after thinking long and hard about it I realized that all good times are fleeting. Just as I could hit the jackpot on the Powerball tomorrow, I could also lose the love of my life in an auto accident. I’ve come to the conclusion that being over-the-moon-happy when things are going well is not something anyone should ever feel guilt about.

We made our own anniversary holiday ornament this year. A compass, because I found my way this year, and a key for the new house.
We made our own anniversary holiday ornament this year. A compass, because I found my way this year, and a key for the new house.

We all experience good times and bad, and I just so happen to be in an upswing after spending most of my twenties struggling to find a path. The last 6 years were difficult for many reasons – though mostly because I felt so lost and without a compass –  but now, to quote good ol’ Johnny Nash (though, as a child of the Cool Runnings generation I prefer the Jimmy Cliff version. Ha ha!):

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin’ day

Tomorrow we close on Brake Manor at noon. There are no words for how excited I am to take on this new adventure with my hunny.  It’s been months of paperwork and roadblocks but we’ve made it through and everything has worked out for us.

Though it may seem silly, I want to thank all the folks who have helped us get to closing day: Jason’s wonderful family for being so supportive and helpful as we try to make this transition. They knew how much it meant for us to keep grandma’s house in the family and they helped us make it happen.  Thank you to John Polansky of CitiGroup – this man is a rockstar in the world of lenders. Never have I dealt with anyone  as prompt, thorough, diligent and kind as John. For anyone in Northern Colorado needing a home loan, we HIGHLY recommend John ….we’ve used him three times in the last 6 years and he has never disappointed. Tonya Brigham, of CitiGroup Title; this woman tells it like it is and was completely supportive of my mission to buy a house without using a real estate agent. She was so helpful as I learned about the process. Jason, my rock and knight in shining armor who has  been so supportive as I giggled and cried tears of joy one minute but then turned around and worried we were crazy for trying to do this the next. He’s listened to me gush about all the plans I have for the new house, and then hugs me tight when I worry we might fail…. he is, by far, the best husband a girl with big dreams could ever ask for. And a final thank you to all our friends and family who were so encouraging and offered additional shoulders to cry on and ears to bend about this adventure. Rest easy all, there’ll be no more house buying for a long time ;)

That’s all for now, I suppose. Jason and I are going to take tomorrow off so we can go do a little something to celebrate (and to relearn how to breathe easy) after the closing. Champagne and a carpet picnic in the new house? Quite possibly.



The ball is rolling…

Tonight we met with the family and went over the contract for Grandma’s house. No one had any major concerns so we drove over to Grandma’s with her son, the executor of her estate, and his wife for a visit and so we could all sign the contract together. We sat in the nursing home’s little coffee house (it’s such a lovely place, if I had to live in a nursing home I’d hope to land in that one) and we shared yummy snacks and chatted for an hour. She told us how Jason’s scruffy bearded face made her laugh, and she repeatedly noted how we all were wearing glasses. She looked well, much more robust than the last time I had seen her, and she was her usual spunky self throughout the visit.

Since grandma’s memory has gotten pretty spotty we had to keep reminding her what the papers on the table were for. Each time she’d question her son he would patiently explain it all over again, “Alanna and Jason would like to buy and take care of your house for you”. Repeatedly he’d explain it, and each time she’d exclaim how happy it made her that we wanted it and that we were keeping it in the family… just before gasping about how much work those big trees are and asking if we really wanted to do all that work. :) I just adore that woman – her moxie makes me so happy.

All day before the signing Jason and I jokingly asked each other if we were truly ready to do this… and lots of “yes!”‘s and reassuring hugs were exchanged. I was fairly nervous about signing the papers because it brought my longstanding daydream into reality, but knowing my sweet husband is as excited as I am about this big change makes me feel like we can conquer any challenge that comes our way.

After visiting with Eileen and seeing how excited she was each time we reminded her that we were going to buy her house it sealed the deal for us. There is no doubt in my mind that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be at this very moment.

I can’t believe it. The contract is signed and the ball is rolling. Today is the beginning of a very interesting adventure. <3

But for now, I’m off to bed. My excitement is giving way to emotional and physical exhaustion.

Goodnight, Moon.


Becoming Reality

Jason and I just met with the family to decide on a final price for gma’s house. They ended up agreeing with our original asking price if we’ll pay for all closing costs, title and contract fees. All this stress, frustration and hard work is about to pay off!

This is really happening!!!

By this time next week we should be able to have the contract written up and submitted to the lender… I can’t even tell you how floored I am right now (and, if we’re being honest, a little drunk from celebrating). The house that I’ve loved since I was 15 is about 45 days away from being mine!! Around the start of the year I will move into this beautiful cottage with my bodacious husband, my snarky little G-bird, and my goofball cat. I have my health, my dream job, a great family, the love of my life and a bright future ahead waiting for us in a tiny brick cottage on a beautiful chunk of land. It seriously can’t get any better than this! I am floating on Cloud Nine right now…

Good night world! Sleep sweet and get ready – because tomorrow is most certainly going to be a beautiful day.


The Waiting Game

I am a researcher. A Googler. I’m not afraid of the unknown as long as I have a working internet connection. Conversely, waiting for answers to important questions and not being able to Google them right away makes me absolutely bananas.

One of the prettiest places in town – especially in the autumn.

My husband, Jason, and I are currently waiting to hear back on the plethora of tests and checks we’re having done on the beautiful 1890 brick carriage house Jason’s grandma -and grandpa before he passed 10 years ago- lived in for over 20 years. Jason’s grandma, Eileen, had some scary health issues at the beginning of 2012 and she had to be admitted into the hospital/rehab for months. While she was recovering I volunteered to care for her yard so no one had to think about it while the 4 siblings all worked on getting their mother healthy. Unfortunately, as Eileen’s health recovered through the summer, her memory has declined substantially due to the many seizures she experienced during her illness. Unable to remember if she has taken her pills 3 minutes after she takes them has forced the family to admit her to into a senior care facility. …and now her beautiful home, which her love and tasty cooking made so inviting and warm, sits empty and the elements are starting to take over – and I, after caring for it all summer, am so smitten with the place that I can’t see my life being lived anywhere but there. I want to keep her home alive and happy and lived in. I can see our Christmases, our summer BBQ’s, our niece playing in the massive leaf piles in the autumn… I can see our history unfolding there and my heart aches at the notion that another family might take over, or worse, a contractor will buy the land and tear down the house to make room for condos like they did on the other end of the city block.

When Jason and I started dating I was only 15 years old. Even at 15 I fell madly in love with the house the moment I laid eyes on it. The lot is a sprawling 1/2 acre on the edge of historical downtown Loveland, Colorado. The lot is populated with huge trees and bushes of beautiful roses. The house itself used to be the carriage house where the horses and blacksmith resided, and the original home sat on the South end of the lot; a veritable mansion built during one of Loveland’s first big waves of incoming settlers. If the stories I’ve been told are correct, that main house burned down in the 1960’s and no one ever repaired it. It sat unloved and hauntingly filled with nocturnal creatures for almost 20 years. The family that owned the lot decided to scrap the mansion in the early 80’s and convert the carriage house into a livable space. George and Eileen bought the home soon after.

There are so many things to think about with such a vintage home! Asbestos, Radon, roof replacement, electrical updating, the constant smell of natural gas; all items that could be deal breakers if they come back with nasty results.  So far, the electrical has come back as updated but not great (needing a $700-1.3k upgrade); the Asbestos came back negative on all samples except a ‘presumed’ positive on the plaster behind the drywall since we couldn’t get to enough sample spots to rule it out (which is absolutely incredible in such an old home!). We’ll hear back about the gas, roof and Radon early next week and I’m about ready to explode with anticipation.

tick. tock. tick. tock. 

For now I’m trying to keep myself preoccupied with this new blog and with preparing all the paperwork to allow us to rent out our house if we end up buying gma’s place. That’ll be another huge project in and of itself.

Hello world!

Here I sit, starting yet another project and yet another blog…. won’t I ever learn that I am a terrible blogger and I don’t stick with it?

Heh, nope! ;)

This time around I’m going into my shiny new project full well knowing it’s just a sort of diary for my stories. I’m not going to try to peg this blog for anything specific, though it was originally going to be the documentation of our adventures as we try to purchase Jason’s grandmother’s 1890 brick cottage in downtown Loveland, Colorado (and then fix it up from grandma-chic to modern-artistic). The documentation of our home will be a portion of the content, but not the entirety of it. …that is… if we even are able to purchase the house at all. ::fingers crossed::

I just feel there’s so much good and happiness in my lucky little life right now that I have to document it somehow. If not just for me, maybe for someone needing a chuckle at my naiveté, or someone looking for a little hope and unabashed optimism.

For whomever you are, I hope this blog makes you smile and sparks something new in your soul.



The first signs of autumn.