With the gut job of the interior mostly complete, we were happy to trade the dust and dim of demolition for the fresh air and sunshine of some outside work. The weathered wood siding was in dire need of attention after what appeared to be a half century of neglect, and though we knew a full paint job was a tall order,  the prospect seemed downright pleasant compared to the purgatorial tearing of endless wood and plaster.

In Northern Michigan’s snow-belt, October often brings the year’s first snowfall. Knowing this, we set to work with purpose. How far we’d get before the weather turned was anyone’s guess, so we made hay while the sun shined.

The timing was also right for a bit of fall planting, (onions, garlic,  flower bulbs),  which gave us a much needed opportunity to disconnect from the physical demands of our work and reflect on our failures and successes thus far.  

Setting goals and meeting them – that is indeed difficult work. But forgiving ourselves for failing, and failing again (and we did) – that is no small job either.

It’s been especially tough these past 6 months to have one foot always some 230 miles from the other: one in Excelsior Township, chipping away at every available opportunity, the other downstate in Highland Park putting in 40 hour work weeks. Returning home after work trips, we often felt like we needed a full day of rest to recover and acclimate back to the daily grind. It was as much a matter of endurance as of mental grace and agility, as though we were dancing endlessly between two separate lives.

When we began the process of purchasing the Lewis School in February 2020, we had dreams of incorporating the community in its restoration, through something akin to  a traditional barn raising.  That’s how the school was reconstructed after burning at the turn of the century. As with most 2020 plans, however, these dreams were dashed when the pandemic struck. While we didn’t get quite the schoolhouse raising we intended, we were lucky to have family close enough in the area to help out frequently at a safe distance.  

Pictured Above: A traditional barn raising, a collective action of neighbors coming together to literally raise a barn.

Thankfully, our family with both feet in Northern Michigan have been pulling through in our absence. Connor’s folks did the lion’s share of chipping, patching, priming, caulking, and painting in our absence. His father, much closer to the schoolhouse geographically, but himself tied to an office most days, was back and forth enough to suggest that he perhaps actually enjoyed the work of painting when the weather was right. Or maybe he just loves his children dearly. Either way, he’s probably on to something. 

It also bears mentioning that none of this work would have been possible were it not for the scaffolding lent to us by Connor’s childhood soccer coach. He also happens to be one of the best builders in the area, and whether lending equipment or renovation wisdom, he has been both generous and indispensable from the outset. We’re lucky to have him and the other best builder in the area, my brother Kevin, on our crew.  

 It may not have been a community barn-raising exactly, but in a time of unprecedented isolation, the outpouring of support we received was heartening. 

With the extra hands and heads, we made swifter progress than we had dreamed of. We certainly did not think we’d have plants in the ground before spring, for example, but wonders never cease. Come spring, we will have garlic, crocuses, daffodils, marigolds, trout lilies, trilliums, and irises. And the Lewis School, enjoying its own springtime, ought to have a fresh set of wires, pipes, and insulation. New life, little by little.


14 feet high and 116 years old, the tin ceiling of the schoolhouse was a point of pride for its students, and one of its most distinctive architectural features. Time and the elements had been hard on it though, and we knew it had to come down. We also knew it was an increasingly time-sensitive project:

leaking roof + rain on the horizon = potential further damage to the ceiling’s structural integrity

We began as we always do by consulting my brother, Kevin (a builder and endless source of practical knowledge), and researching everything we could on the installation and removal of tin ceilings. And then we got going.

Our research mostly suggested that the project would be a nightmare. And all the more so for our determination to preserve the tiles carefully for later use. Among the horror stories, however, were some helpful tips. 

The most useful advice can be summed up as follows:

  1. Start with the cornice. We began by removing the cornice, which is the intricate molding that crowns the wall’s perimeter. Though it sounds obvious, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that removing  a tin ceiling is essentially installing a tin ceiling in reverse. That is, you take it apart in the opposite order it was put together. Since the cornice was the last of the ceiling to be installed, this means it is the first piece of the ceiling to be removed. 
  2. Observe. Once we removed the cornice, it was time to observe the seams and patterns of the tiles to determine the last tile laid. If laid correctly, it will typically be located in one of the four ceiling corners, so it wasn’t too tricky to find. Once identified, we went to work on it with hammers and pry bars, and proceeded from there accordingly. 
  3. Gear up. We had already determined that the schoolhouse ceiling was free of asbestos, but still found the proper protective gear to be crucial. Due to the haphazard addition of various layers of schoolhouse over the years, plaster, insulation, straw, and other debris seemed to burst from every cavity we opened. Hooded coveralls, a good respirator, and both head and eye protection were essential. The edges of the tin tiles can be incredibly sharp, so a good pair of work gloves was also a must. Even all geared up, we were still filthy by lunchtime. 

Though we were able to get a head start on cornice-removal after returning from a lake outing on the 4th of July, we unfortunately had to drive back downstate to Detroit on the 5th for a busy couple of work weeks. We returned to the scene of the mess two weeks later ready to finally finish what we had started. 

Liza, Phill, + Connor, 7/17/2020

Our crew of two had expanded to three with the recent addition of Connor’s youngest brother, Phill, and later to five when their dad, Bill, and oldest brother, Pete, stopped by to volunteer their services. 

As a proud unionized workforce, we at the Lewis School are entitled to a minimum of three breaks per day. These provided a good opportunity to wander the surrounding tree farm catching up with loved ones, savoring some fresh air together, and remembering the natural wonders that drew us there in the first place. 

I know thank you doesn’t cut it, and I know we ostensibly “enjoyed” our time together, but nonetheless, thank you.

Connor, Bill, Pete, and Phill following a long shift, 7/18/2020
Phill, Connor, and Trotsky during a breaktime walk around the Brown family tree farm.
Like the Lewis School workforce, Trotsky knows that all value is created by labor, and accordingly, that leisure is the worker's birthright. Per this shared understanding, our collective bargaining agreement mandates a minimum of three walks per day.

The additional help allowed us to tackle several projects simultaneously: while Bill put his masonry skills to work outside on the crumbling porch and stairway, the rest of us worked inside carefully removing ceiling tiles atop 12′ ladders, prying off wall panels with tree dibbles, sweeping ceiling debris into trash bags, and loading them into the truck out front via a makeshift wheelbarrow ramp. Once the truck was full, we took turns pairing off for trips to the nearby dump to unload. While this job was my least favorite, the drive to the dump at least offered a brief respite and a bit of nice scenery.

While I lost track of how many truckloads to the dump it took to clear the schoolhouse of debris, I do know it took us a total of 12 hours to fully remove the tin ceiling.  I glanced out the windows and up at the clock frequently to mark the passing of the hours, often finding myself bewildered by how slowly they drifted by. While donning a Tyvek suit and hoisting my sixth load of heavy tin tiles to haul down the basement stairs , I wondered if perhaps time had stopped entirely. The stillness of the clouds visible through the window, scattered in a windless sky, seemed only to confirm this. 

I imagine it wasn’t so different for the Lewis School Students and Teachers of Years Past. I like to think they too sometimes took comfort in glances at the sky’s weary movements through the classroom windows, or at the lazy hands of the ticking clock. 

The deeper I immerse myself in my research, and the more the ancient dust of the schoolhouse gets on me, the more I am struck by these feelings of connection across the decades. It is as though that dust is imbued with a spirit altogether apart from time – one manifest in a classroom’s afternoon daydreams, or the chinks of light in the untouched corner of an attic.

Pictured Above: Lewis School circa 1914. Teacher George Elwin Tripp is on the left.
Pictured Above: Golden hour at the schoolhouse.
Each week in the local newspaper, the Lewis School kids took turns writing updates. Pictured above is a newspaper clipping from 1948.

After many years of good and faithful service (and great effort on our part), the ceiling tiles are now enjoying a well-deserved rest in the basement. We look forward to restoring them to their original glory, someday. 

“Someday” projects continue to pile up, of course, as we attend to the immediate. We will see what Northern Michigan Time permits.  

Liza + Connor

First and foremost, thank you so much for your outpouring of support since my website’s launch!  I haven’t had time to do much else beyond odd schoolhouse projects, package up orders, make local deliveries, and work on a slew of holiday commissions for many of you these past few weeks. With that in mind, I hope you’ll forgive the lack of blog updates ’til now. If we’ve learned anything while restoring the schoolhouse this year, it’s that things take the time they take. And with most of our schoolhouse-related projects, the time they take is typically three times what we expect them to take. We’ve come to refer to this as NMT, or “Northern Michigan Time.” 

Found stapled to the walls as we disassembled them: A train ticket good for one round trip between North Cadillac + Lake City, dated and signed on the other side by Mr. + Mrs. Myrl Yeomans, 1967

It was clear to us during our first walk-through of the schoolhouse in February that project one would be to knock down the walls that divided the space into three rooms. From firsthand accounts and research, it seems the walls were constructed to partition off sleeping quarters shortly after the schoolhouse was purchased by the Yeomans in a 1967 public auction. While we aren’t yet sure of the exact years, sometime between 1968 and 1990, it was rented out as a 2 bedroom home. According to the second owners, from whom we purchased the property, the residents before them had left the school full to the brim with a small landfill’s worth of garbage. I suspect old Lewis would have been grateful to see his school rescued from the undignified fate it seemed to have been headed for.

Though there was no garbage in the schoolhouse when we purchased it, it did come with plenty of stuff: sofas and chairs, doors and windows, an extra toilet, an old television, some bed frames, and an assortment of other more interesting odds and ends (cat house on wheels, cross country skis, old bell, etc.). While we’re looking forward to sorting through it all someday, the added clutter made things a little more challenging as we began our first demolition project on July 3rd.

We decided to take advantage of the long holiday weekend off from work by heading north, hoping to spend an afternoon knocking down walls, and the rest of our holiday exploring the nearby waterways and trails with our dog. One fact unknown to us at the time of this estimation, is that an afternoon in Northern Michigan time actually totals one and a half days. Working on the ever-dwindling shoestring budget of a former art teacher and a current legal aid attorney, we’ve been trying to remove all materials with care so as to reuse them later when putting the house back together. Needless to say, it’s been a delicate, sometimes discouraging, and always time-consuming process. But we stay determined, and, somehow, in great spirits still.

In case it isn’t clear from the photo to the right, one of the founding Lewis School principles is “Use what you have.” Connor claims that this was one of the original Lewisisms, but his only source is apparently the idle gossip of the spirits haunting the schoolhouse, so who really knows.

We don't have a garage at the schoolhouse and it very soon reached indoor storage capacity. While Connor continued to disassemble inside, I cobbled together this rudimentary structure for outdoor wood storage. We've continued to reinforce it as materials have become available, and it's really transformed into a strange, yet sturdy, piece. Can't wait to reveal the finished structure someday. As for now, our wood is dry despite recent snowfalls, so let's hear it for cobbling.

After knocking the final wall down, and on the heels of a 9 hour shift the prior day, we treated ourselves to an afternoon outing at a public lake about 20 minutes northeast of the schoolhouse.  We feel so grateful that the schoolhouse is surrounded on all sides by water, and we’ve been trying to balance our labor with leisure by exploring the local lakes and rivers whenever we’re able to spare the time between projects. We take our leisure very seriously at the schoolhouse, and we hope you do too. 

Moonrise at the tree farm, July 4th, 2020

Feeling revived from an afternoon of swimming, walking, and reading, we returned to the schoolhouse ready to put in a second shift removing the tin ceiling ‘til sundown. Had we known at the time just how painstaking the process of removing the tin ceiling would be, we may not have been quite so eager to knock it off our list. The moon looked lovely at least as we retired to the farmhouse next door for a night of rest + well-earned leisure, before returning for another long day of schoolhouse laboring the next morning. Being on Northern Michigan Time, morning begins promptly somewhere around 10 AM, give or take a couple hours.

Stay tuned for the removal of the century-old tin ceiling – and more – coming to the blog next Sunday!


‘Til then, wishing you moonlight skies to weep over + patience in all things worth anything.

xo Liza + Connor

What a whirlwind of changes these past few months! In June, my fiancé Connor and I closed on a 115 year-old one-room schoolhouse located 230 miles north of our current home in Highland Park, MI.

The schoolhouse is made all the more special by its adjacent proximity to the Brown family farm. The farmhouse was once home to my fiancé’s aunts, uncle, and dad, and continued to provide serenity and shelter to his grandparents through their final days. While I never had the pleasure of meeting either of them, it’s been such a joy to get to know them through the land they tended, the trees they planted, and the home – and people – they created.

While Connor and I are both heartbroken to leave behind our beloved community in Detroit, we can’t imagine a better cure for our heartbreak than to wake each day surrounded by acres of trees, some nearing a hundred years-old, planted with such care by family.

We dream of the day when there’s a couch in the schoolhouse for our loved ones to sit on. It’s been our greatest joy in life to date to have spent these past 8 years teaching and learning beside so many of you in Detroit’s classrooms, museums, libraries, diners, and law firms. On its floors and couches and streets. You’ve taught us loving is giving, and living is learning.
How lovely to think that the learning’s only just begun.

Connor and Trotsky at the farm next door, October 2018

Pictured Above: (1) The 1909 Sears Roebuck Kit House we currently reside in; (2) The Lewis School, built in 1905.

The original Lewis School was built in 1880 as a local hub of learning for the school-aged village children.  It burnt down sometime thereafter, was rebuilt in 1905, and remained operational until low-enrollment led to its eventual closure in 1960.

According to old newspaper records, it was purchased in a public auction in 1967, and was purchased for the third and final time in the 90’s by an older couple living downstate. They had purchased it with the intention of converting it into a cottage, but other hobbies led them elsewhere. Though the property wasn’t listed for sale, they were “eager to sell” when we first contacted them about potentially purchasing the property in February. Connor and I scheduled a time to head north in the week that followed, and celebrated our 8 year anniversary with our first trip to the schoolhouse
































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Located in Lake Michigan’s snow-belt, the weather seemed typical for a late-winter morning. The conditions had been slick enough to spin our truck off-road about a mile from the schoolhouse, which seemed like an appropriate welcome to the north. As if the drive didn’t sell us, the schoolhouse’s charm did. 

Though the temps outside were in the low 40’s, the wood-burning stove had heated the indoors to a temperate 60. Having spent the past 3 winters freezing alive inside a drafty 5 bedroom home of the same age, there was something especially appealing about the cozy size of the space. Made all the more smaller at the time by layers of mismatched paneling and two separate ceilings, we were sold and eager to begin the process of dismantling it. Four months later, title in hand, we began the long demo process.

While we look forward to re-opening a portion of the Lewis School for local learning someday, our primary focus at the moment is to get it re-roofed, insulated, and connected to the grid (for now at least!) by winter. With its arrival increasingly looming, we’ve got our work cut out for us. If you’d like to follow along in our renovation journey, we hope you will. We’ll be posting weekly blog updates beginning next week with Project #1: Knock Down Them Walls.

Building a future on the foundation of you,

Liza + Connor (and Trotsky)