Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mary Lorraine Brennan Couch

Since part of the "Restoring Home" project has to do with my mother, I thought I'd announce here that she departed this earth on November 22, 2010. (She shares that date with President John F. Kennedy.) At her funeral in Kansas City I read the following little piece. Here it is:

“Serene.” That was mother’s answer when I asked her what her favorite word was. I was nine or ten years old, a budding wordsmith, a collector of various sorts of “favorites” – words, especially.
I’d never heard the word “serene” before – but it sounded familiar because Samantha’s cousin on Bewitched was named Serena. But mother explained that she loved the word for how it sounded and even more, for what it meant. To her, serenity was a snapshot from childhood: a grassy lawn, a bubbling brook, a shady tree, and a good book.
That was the sort of thing she loved, and the minute she said it, it became the sort of thing I loved, too.
I spent many years in search of the perfect setting, the perfect book, the perfect calm state of being.
That search eventually took me to Wyoming, 700 miles west. Mother never once complained that I lived too far away, or that I’d made it difficult for her to see me, or that I should learn to find home closer to home. Instead, she encouraged me to follow my heart, saying that my choice of Wyoming gave her someplace interesting to visit.
Each time I’ve returned to Kansas City to see family and friends in the 18 years I’ve been away, she and I have known it could be our last time together. We never said it, never fretted over it, but it was there. But mother was a composed and dignified person, not one to let emotion run unchecked or to put her wishes above those of her children. What was good for us was good for her.
Mother gave me many gifts. Being allowed to live a life of my own making, knowing my mother approved and supported my freedom, was probably the best one. That was the gift of serenity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Restoring Home: A Reverse Migration

Here is a link to a piece I just had published at It is about the pending move to Bellevue. After some more time passes I can post the full thing on my blog but I think it needs to be exclusive content for awhile.
Hope you enjoy!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boy have I been negligent

What sort of blogger only posts once every two or three months? Whatever type it is, that is the type I apparently am, sad to say. Soon I will be much more regular about it all.
Just a few points to update, I've learned from the former Kathleen Eggers that the family's name was actually spelled Setzepfandt. Minor problem, misspelling a name. I'm not the only one doing it that way, it seems, so I don't feel too badly. I plan to use the traditional German the spelling from now on.
Point two, I was able to publish a story about the Bellevue trains in a recent issue of Here is the link, if you'd like to see it.
Finally, Ron and I have been playing on a the remodeling website at The site has a great feature that allows you to place objects like doors, windows, cabinets and appliances in a room and view the design in 3D. Very helpful for letting us see how we plan to remodel our downstairs kitchen. For some reason, it doesn't have a bathroom remodel template. I plan to investigate another source that will let us do that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hello Bellevue

Ron and I just got back from spending several days camping on the floor of our home in Bellevue. Yes, the Setzephandt House will remain a rental until next year, as reported by Sara Millhouse in the Bellevue Herald-Leader (I love that we are the subject of an editorial!)But in between tenants in the downstairs apartments, we floor camped and met a succession of people we can't wait to call neighbors, this time next year. Steve Rollins from across the street who helped Ron repair a downspout; Deb and John Moellers from down the street who took us out on the river and then cooked us dinner; Butch & Carolyn Eggers who gave us a long history of the house where he was born; Dennis Kieffer who brought as a loaner window AC so we wouldn't completely melt in the 90 degree plus days of last week, Dan and Glen Sieverding; Michael Jackson; Travis and Trent Kemp; Randy Rodgers; Mike Marshall; Steve Nemmers ... I know I'm leaving people out. Then of course there is Sheila who found me later on Facebook, and the wonderful folks who are renting our apartments and taking great care of the house in our stead.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Restoring Home, introduction

July 27, 2010
My husband I bought a house in Bellevue, Iowa, 900 miles away from where we live. The house was 130 years old at the time of purchase. It stands two stories high with an attic tower and two gables. The paint is peeling on the outside, and the two detached garages, while ample, have sagging ceilings. A bare wooden stairway switchbacks up the back of the house to a small upper porch and the door to the upstairs apartment. The house was decommissioned as a single-family residence many years ago. First when the family that built it began taking in boarders. Then later, when the house was sold and it was converted into two apartments, with two layers like a cake. In order to do that conversion, the center stairway walled up, its condition reminding me of the Nancy Drew story The Mystery of the Hidden Staircase. The wiring of the house is ancient and unable to accommodate the running of more than a few modern appliances at a time. The original ceilings have been obscured by drop ceilings of the acoustical tile variety. The woodwork in the upstairs is still original except for the paint. The front porch sags. A giant long disused oil tank lurks in the stone-walled basement. The washing machine vents its sudsy water directly into the front lawn.
But I love it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

July 4 parade

Some of you reading this blog might wonder why I've not posted about the terrible accident involving the horses and carriage at the July 4 parade. One person was killed and dozens injured.
I wasn't there so I can't write about it first hand. However, we'll be headed to Bellevue for a week in August. I think I'll be able to write about the event much better with perspective and context. I'll be able to report a bit on how people are faring a month later, and how the fundraising efforts to help the victims are progressing. I'll write about those things a bit on this blog, and also on the Daily Yonder. Bellevue, I'll see you around August 10-15. As soon as I know the dates for sure I'll get ahold of some of my wonderful Bellevue friends and neighbors and hope to meet you in person this time!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bellevue Herald-Leader

I had the brainstorm that we should probably subscribe to the Bellevue newspaper, the Herald-Leader. So that's what I did. Should be getting our first copy in the mail any day now. When I called the nice woman on the phone took my information and remarked that she didn't get many subscription requests from people in Wyoming. She asked if I knew their editor, Sara Millhouse, which I said yes (at least, virtually). Then I said we were planning to move to Bellevue next year, to which she replied - "oh, we know about you. We've been talking about you! It's a small town."
It is nice to feel so welcome. God, I hope we don't let people down...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Start of Wyoming farewell

We're about one year away from leaving Wyoming and moving to Bellevue. Never fully leaving Wyoming of course, but for the most part, moving toward being full residents of Iowa. It seems important to do some intentional leave taking of this state and record those events here in this blog. Today I leave for the first of two planned solo trips to far reaches of Wyoming. I'm leaving in a few hours to drive to Cody for a conference of Wyoming Writers. I'll stop tonight in Thermpolis and stay at the Days Inn, where they have good access to hot springs. This is a place I've stayed several times over the years. I'll be going this summer with Ron to several places in Wyoming, too, so I'll be able to write about those trips. But first, on to Thermop, dropping off Jukeboxes & Jackalopes photo companions to featured bars along the way.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Being a landlord is "fun"

Borrowing from the spirit of the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation marks, I use the word "fun" in an ironic sense. Actually, it hasn't been bad at all. We have two renters who seem just great. (No quotation marks there.) The downstairs renter takes care of tasks like shoveling in winter and mowing in summer. He let us know a few weeks ago that the house mower had died. So we thought about a variety of ideas, such as borrowing one or buying a used mower. Finally we just decided to buy a new mower for the house. Andy (the renter) went up to Dubuque and bought one, put it together, and proceeded to mow. Staying on top of grass in the Midwest is a different prospect than it is here in Wyoming. Thanks to Andy, to neighbor Deb, and to all the others who we dragged into our little problem. Here's hoping the nothing else breaks, for awhile.
The photo is of a solar powered lawnmower, not what Andy bought. Cool though. Here's the link.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Two things: being out of the closet (see previous post) means I just went public about all things Bellevue by linking this blog to my website ( While I was working on that, our renter Andy called. Andy's the one who mows, shovels the walk and so on. Guess what. Mower died. Anybody in Bellevue want to deliver him a new one? Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Out of the Closet

Yesterday I was able to talk to Peter Parolin, the chair of the UW English department where I teach. I told him the secret I've been keeping for a little while: that Ron and I plan to move to Bellevue next summer. After the shock wore off, Peter seemed very happy for me. He seemed even happier when he was able to realize that I didn't mean this summer, that in fact I was giving him a one year notice. And we both seemed happy at the prospect that perhaps I could continue to teach at UW through the Outreach School, even from Iowa. I'm not counting on that happening but I would be very happy if I could keep my job part time but do it from where I want to be next year. The best of all worlds. Anyway, I feel great relief to be out of the closet at work. I didn't feel comfortable revealing plans to friends, either, until I had talked to Peter.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pretty Bellevue Sunrise

I saw this picture of today's sunrise over the Mississippi River in Bellevue, Iowa on their Facebook page. Can't wait to see it in person.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Photo in summer

Here's a familiar Bellevue scene, a photo from the area above town in Bellevue State Park. This one shows the beauty of summer.
Here's the link where I found it:
Photo-sharing community. Discover the world through photos.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The waiting is the hardest part

So, it will be more than a year before we move to Bellevue, Iowa. How do I pass the time until then? Lately I've passed time on Youtube, watching Chamber of Commerce awards banquets and videos posted by random people driving through town chasing trains. Here are a few of them, in case you need to soothe your Bellevue jones.
And also, there's a band in Bellevue that apparently is recording all this cool music. Hope to meet them someday. Meantime, here's a sample.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New House Colors

Ron has been photoshopping his fingers off creating a new color scheme for the Setzphandt House. We think this is pretty close. What do you think?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cat climbing out of bag

As proof that secrets don't stay that way for long, word of our planned Iowa move got out in two unexpected ways recently. Maybe secret is too strong a word. What is the word for news that you haven't told many people that is suddenly known by many? "Gossip" sounds negative. "Viral" too internety. Anyway, here are the two examples. Maybe the word to describe them will reveal themselves later.
First, I heard from a woman in Wyoming I've corresponded with once or twice because she is the editor of the newspaper in Kemmerer, and we've both written a piece about the same subject matter. Her name is Sara Millhouse. Because her piece referenced mine, her name came up in my Google news alert. Now she writes to say she's going to Bellevue to run the newspaper there. I knew about that job because of my Google alert set to Bellevue. I contacted the folks who run the paper not to apply for the job, of course, but just to introduce myself to members of the local journalism community. Now I'll have another Wyomingite in Bellevue ahead of me: Sara Millhouse. I'm very happy about this news.
Second, my 91 year old mother lives in a nursing home in Kansas City. She is mentally alert but I didn't want to tell her about the planned move until it was a little closer to reality. The move is more than a year away. Plus, I wanted to tell her in person. Instead, my sister Leslie asked my mother about it, and so of course that made my mother worry and fret about it to my other sister, wondering if I'd already moved, and so forth. I had sent my sister Leslie a photo of the house and invited her to call me on the phone so I could tell her my plans. She did not. Instead she asked my mother. This is what happens when families unravel.
A word for all of this? Not sure. But I guess there's not much reason to put off linking this blog to, now is there!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Our Home Away From Home

We're the proud owners of the Setzephandt House now. But we are jealous of our tenants. They are the ones who actually get to live there. We sit in Laramie, thinking about stairways and kitchens and back decks. And boats and racoons and grocery stores. And internet connections and photographs and public libraries and writing and jobs and range hoods. All of it is on hold while the clock ticks and the calendar pages fall. Trying to rush life ahead isn't good practice. It rushes too fast as it is. The whole experience of owning a home in Bellevue right now is reduced to figuring out how to set up an automatic mortgage payment. Good thing we have healthy imaginations: we'll get through it. I suppose it is the strength of our imaginations that got us here to begin with!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Closing in Fits and Starts

By golly, I think we own a house in Bellevue, Iowa. At least, that's what Steve Nemmers at Ruhl & Ruhl, and Ashlie Schrempf at 1862 Morgtage are telling us. And it's great news. We did the long distance closing thing, what with overnighting packages and wiring money and signing in front of notaries. Steve called yesterday to say he'd compelted the closing with the sellers, Loras and Karen Watters. We'll have to take his word for it. We don't even have keys! But we have a dream, and that'll have to do for now. What ever will we obsess and worry over, now that this house deal is done? Time will tell.
Take a look at the railroad track in this photo. Follow it toward the top of the picture. You can't really see the house, but it is just to the right (east) of the track. Stuck between a railroad track and a river: my dream!
(Photo from

Friday, January 29, 2010

Soooo close to the close

The last of the torturous steps involving money and paperwork are almost behind us. We are to close on the Setzephandt House this Tuesday, Ground Hog day. Appropriate, since it seems like we are doing the same thing over and over again, in matters related to this purchase. But that's how home buying is and I know not to get worked up over anything. This too shall pass.
Meantime I'm finding interesting folks through my Google News Alerts set to Bellevue, Iowa. Today I found the artist Sandy Dyas, who lives in Iowa City. She was writing about the people who live right across the railroad tracks from our future new house. They sound fascintating. Can't wait to meet Steve and Peggy one day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Carting before Horsing

Part of our brains and time are focused on finding home owners insurance for the house. Closing is looming but I'm sure we'll get it worked out in time. Meantime, Ron has found some great looking tin ceiling material that we can use in the kitchen, both for the ceiling and the back splash. Heck, we could use it in other rooms, too. This is the sort of thing we are thinking of even though the move date is off in the hazy future. But this is the fun part - we can't help it. Ron also has his eyes on a 48 inch gas range with both a standard and convection oven and an infrared gas grill. Do it up right, at least in the fantasy stage!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Walking the Paperwork Road

I've been away from the blog for a few weeks. Instead I've had my nose pressed to a variety of Good Faith Estimates of Closing, Something Something Disclosures, insurance costs, appraisals, and probably several other boring and tedious things I'm forgetting about. But it is all necessary, I know. We've set up a closing date of February 2. We're closing from Laramie through the mail and the ether - bring lawyers, guns and money, as they say. I'd love to get back to Bellevue for this and see if the bald eagles are still there. But, now that I'm back to the full press of spring semester I really can't go anywhere.
It is a little weird to close this way. There won't be the immediate post-closing gratification moment of getting the keys and walking through the new house. Of course, there are renters happily established in both apartments so even if we were in Bellevue to close it would be a different sort of walk-through. Yay, thank you renters, we hope you are very happy in the house. Don't go away!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Setzephandt House

We've learned that our house has a name. It is called Setzephandt house after the man who built it back in 1880. I know this because Tim Daugherty at Bellevue State Bank told me so. He put me in touch with his cousin, Butch Eggers. He and his wife Carolyn live just across the alley. Butch says their great-grandfather Gustav Setzephandt built the house for himself and his wife Marie. Various members of the family lived there for many generations, including him. He says that after Gustav and Marie died, the house was sold to someone locally. That person divided the house into a duplex. But in doing so, he left many features intact, such as the central stairway and the high ceilings. Sure, we'll have to plow through walls and acoustical tile ceilings to get to them, but it will be worth it. Butch says his mother, and his cousin Tim's mother, have stories and possibly photos from the earlier days of the house. He even said, intiguingly, that he could tell us a story about how the house figured into a love story. I cannot wait!
Come on interest rates, down already!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Once in a blue moon

I finally learned what that expression means, a blue moon. That's when there is more than one full moon per month. So there it was this month when Ron and I went to see our Bellevue house on the second to the last day of December. The thirtieth was the eve of the blue moon. It was also our eleventh wedding anniversary. I joked that the traditional ten year anniversary gift is tin or aluminum. The traditional eleven year gift is a 130-year old house.
We walked through the house on a snowy Wednesday morning in the company of Steve Nemmers the realtor, Brent Grover the home inspector, and Dan Sieverding, a local contractor. All these people are our new best friends, especially Dan the contractor. As Brent pointed out, the house has problems with the wiring, with the windows, with the plumbing, with the insulation, with the slope of the lawn, and with the cut of the support beams. There was even a gas leak but that wasn't our problem because it is outside, and the power company will be summoned. Lest we become too discouraged, he assured us the house's problems were to be expected in a home of its age, especially one that hadn't been updated in some time.
The biggest mystery still remains the stairway, which isn't just discretely tucked behind a partition but basically hidden away like a tightly wrapped mummy. It is there somewhere, so we aren't too discouraged. The next few days will find us phone to ear, contacting Steve and Dan in particular, to see what we can get done and whether we can get some help. I'm a little concerned we won't be able to get insured because of the electrical problems, or at least not in time for our planned closing of Feb. 1. Yikes! Meantime, we're hoping interest rates drop over the next few weeks so we can get a reasonable 15-year mortgage. For that news we're relying on our other new best friend, Ashlie Schrempf of 1862 Mortgage.
One pleasant but strange coincidence took place, of the sort I predict will become more common the more we meeet folks in Bellevue. We stopped by the Bellevue State Bank to set up an account. We mentioned the home we were buying and lo and behold, were escorted into the bank president's office. Tim Daughtery's family once owned that home and he thinks various relatives might have photos of the place. Wouldn't it be fantastic to get to see some of those, to try to anchor our imaginations as we fight past the bad wiring and into the beauty and functionality we hope to restore!