It’s been two years since we moved into this big old fixer-upper on the hill. In that time there are some things that haven’t changed at all, like the cracked plaster walls in the unused living room or the pink wool carpet in the attic.
And then there are the things that have changed:
The crusher dust on the patio has settled so the smooth quartzite pavers can show their faces.
We’ve won the war against the overgrowth in the backyard. From here on out, we’ll just have to maintain a strong military presence, squelch insurrection, and so forth.
With the help of a handy-dandy clawfoot shower kit, we don’t have to go to the basement to shower anymore.
Many branches of the extended family have moved or had other big changes in their lives.
I’ve cut way back on smaller projects and I’m working full time for MarketBeat as a virtual assistant/developer in training.
Alethia is no longer a toddler. She is a young girl with a big imagination, a huge vocabulary, a happy disposition (if she has gotten enough sleep), and opinions about everything.
If you ask me how the house is coming along, I’ll tell you, “Really good considering we have about three hours a week to work on it!”
Quite frankly, it’s not our top priority. Growing in our careers has been a bigger priority for us, now that we’ve both finally found the right fit. Having a good routine as a family is also a high priority, since that’s what makes every other undertaking sustainable. So plugging away on house projects is part of our routine, but it is not itself the routine, as it was for the months surrounding our move here. Our routine also involves time with family and friends, since we value that.
A week or so ago we attended the historic homes tour in our neighborhood for the third year in a row. The difference this year was that, instead of touring the homes of strangers, we were touring the homes of friends and acquaintances. As we walked from home to home, we ran into neighbor friends on the sidewalk and took time to catch each other up on our lives. We talked about what we were doing that weekend (there is always something every weekend), about our own house projects (there is always something more to do), and about the weather (it was very hot).
Everything has become routine– and that is a beautiful thing.
It’s so humid today that when I open the closet door, it smells the same peculiar way it did a year ago when I was soaking those same closet walls in water to get the loose, cracked, 112-year-old wallpaper off. Alethia’s closet has since been mudded and painted– mine remains gritty and gray. We’ll get to it someday.
Yes, it’s been a whole year since we bought this old house. Next month we’ll celebrate the anniversary of bringing all our stuff here. Really, we’ll be celebrating the fact that, as far as we know, we won’t be moving all our stuff again for quite some time: we have everything we need here (space, friends, potential… lots of potential) and we’re both self-employed, so we don’t foresee any job transfers.
We love this place, even on the days when we don’t feel like we love this house (like the day I went to the pest control aisle at Menards and bought one of everything). We love our community, our neighborhood, and our home. When Alethia see’s her neighbor-friends out on their yard, she’s jumping up and down to join them. When we see neighbors painting their houses in pretty colors, we get giddy, because we want everyone to see how beautiful this place up on the hill is.
Last summer I spent every day prying and scraping and carrying and sweating. It was a good, hard time. At the end of one of those days, I washed up, strapped Alethia into the homemade camouflage mei tai on my back, and took to the streets because it was Historical Homes Tour night. The houses were beautiful. The owners were happy to meet a new neighbor and they told me how bad their houses were when they started. I could have hugged them right there, but I was too stinky.
Last night was that same night again. This year’s houses were also beautiful. I was encouraged again to hear that it had taken time to get to that point. Even more encouraging was the homeowner who cheerfully, shamelessly said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen my own house this clean!” For a second I thought that it would be a shame to have such a beautiful house and never have it clean, but then I remembered what I’ve been learning:
You don’t have to wait to be happy until your house is clean. Or until your remodeling is finished. You don’t have to wait for your work to be done, for your student loans to be paid off, for your projects to be complete, for your career to take off. You can enjoy your life while you do your work. You can have people over to your torn-up house. You can give of yourself while you’re still gaining ground.
Good thing, because it’s going to be a long time before we’re done with anything, much less everything. We put in a six-ton patio and planted grass in the back yard, but I need to add more seed and finish planting the patch by the driveway. Ryan’s been re-wiring lots of outlets and lights, but there’s a long way to go on that. About the only thing we’ve finished is the Subaru– we sold it to a scrap yard.
We have a lot to do, but we’ve come a long way and we’re enjoying the ride. It feels like we’ve squished many years into this past year. The peculiar smell of those damp closet walls seems like a smell from a long time ago.
Let’s see, where did we leave off? Oh yes, after spending an intense month-and a half doing more demolition work than reconstruction work, we had just woken up in our 112-year-old house for the first time (Read that blog post if you dare.). The morning light was streaming through what I thought where called “muttons.” They were muntins.
At that moment, we had no working stove, no working water heater, no washer, no dryer, no way to get from the bedroom to the kitchen without walking outside the house, and no coffee. The apartment still needed to be cleaned out and something was terribly wrong with our Subaru. Ryan was still working one and half jobs, and one of his jobs was like a job and a half, so if you are doing the math, he had two jobs. And Alethia, well, she was just trying to be helpful.
Here’s a bit of the roller coaster that we put ourselves on this fall:
Hooray, we’re in our new house!
What is that terrible clanking and rattling? Lovely. They are using a power shovel to break up the intersection right out there. Just wait– a big chunk of plaster is going to fall off the ceiling during one of these miniature earthquakes. Oh, and now the toddler is awake– and afraid.
Well, it sure will be nice living on a cul-de-sac while they work on the road! All the neighbor kids are out playing in their yards and biking on the street! We didn’t know we were moving into such an awesome neighborhood!
It doesn’t feel like our house yet. It feels like we are camping here. For instance, where’s the coffee?
Gas station coffee!
I’m going to totally plastic off these two rooms that we have torn up so that Alethia doesn’t get into the tools or eat any paint chips. But now we can’t walk between the kitchen and the rest of the house.
But we’ll get those rooms done soon! Or we’ll re-open the passageway from the landing to the kitchen! We don’t need that extra pantry!
Back to the apartment to box up the rest of our junk. So much junk. Let’s just eat everything in the fridge so we don’t have to move it.
Beef tongue and corn on the cob make a delicious supper!
I guess all this food we have left is stuff Ryan can’t eat. Oh well, he got called in to work anyway.
Hey, you’re off work for a few hours! Let’s get our stove up and running!
Of course. Flexible gas pipe kits come with all these adapters, and none fit this sixty-year-old stove.
Ace really is the helpful place!
This old brass flexible gas pipe has probably been here for sixty years, which is probably why it leaked gas. And also why it absolutely will not budge. And we can’t find the breaker bar. When we stuck all this stuff in the garage, we didn’t think we would need the breaker bar right away.
I found the breaker bar in the basement! And my husband is so strong and handsome! Look at him install that flexible gas pipe. And look, no bubbles! Let’s make bacon! And then turn off the gas to this line again, just to be safe!
Back at the apartment. So tired of cleaning.
This apartment is so clean now! Management will be in awe of how clean this apartment is!
What do you mean, you can feel dust on the baseboards? Do you want to come to my 112-year-old house and feel 112-year-old dust on baseboards? Do you want to tell me what you think of the cleanliness of the kitchen at my house? Huh? Do you?
I’m done! I re-cleaned everything! I don’t care if it’s clean enough, I’m going home and tomorrow I’m going to turn in the keys and we will only have one place to worry about!
Hey, Ryan? I’m in the Hy-Vee parking lot. The car is overheating again. It’s eating all the coolant. Will you come after you’re done with work and make sure we make it home?
We made it home! And Ryan is sure he knows what the problem is!
The problem is the head gasket. This car is not going to move again until Ryan replaces that gasket.
It’s a good thing that Ryan is so handy! And that I didn’t make him get rid of his engine hoist! And it’s a good thing we are done with our month of having two places! And that we just moved to a more walkable neighborhood!
How are we going to get checked out of the apartment tomorrow and get Ryan to work(s)?
With deft logistical coordination, we have gotten checked out of the apartment! I’m going to go home and relax!
I can’t relax. There is too much to do.
Let’s do it!
Well maybe I could get something done if I didn’t have to spend all my time going outside to go back and forth between the front of the house and the back of the house.
But it sure is nice to go outside in a neighborhood where all your neighbors are outside hanging out on their porches and working on their houses!
We should probably call the utility company and tell them we think we might still smell gas around the stove so that they come check it.
The gas smellerometer says you installed the pipe perfectly! Go Ryan!
Oh, but there’s still gas leaking out of these “Warm-R-Burner”s.
Ah, those are supposed to be pilot lights! Let’s get those lit!
Hmm, they don’t seem to want to light. Careful there, don’t unscrew that knob too much. Poof, flames all in the stove, where utility guy just had his hand. Sprinting to the basement to turn off that gas line now.
Everything’s fine! The utility guy is unharmed! I saved the day with a pipe wrench!
Let’s just not use the pilot lights. Let’s just screw them shut and light our beautimous vintage stove with a lighter. And add a gas shut-off valve somewhere closer to the stove.
Not using the pilot lights will save us $15 in gas every month!
Now that we know the stove works, let me expend energy cleaning it. Oh look, mouse turds.
Power washers are fun!
Power washers make mud splash up all over the stove pieces I am trying to clean.
Okay, finally got everything back in the house, triple wiped down, and reassembled. Hooray, stove! Time for a bath!
Yeah, this water heater is more like a water warmer.
It’s the dip tube! After hours of careful internet research, I am sure it is the dip tube!
No, guy at the plumbing store, not a drip tube. A dip tube.
We got it installed! $6 in parts and our 25-year-old water heater now makes hot water! My husband is so handy! I’m sure that this old water heater is not very energy-efficient, but think of the embodied energy in a new one! Let’s go show this old disintegrated dip tube to the guys at the plumbing store! It’ll be educational! Let’s tell our friendly neighbors about our water heater victory!
This tub does not hold water. There it goes, down the closed drain.
O-ring for the win!
This laundry is really starting to pile up. When are you going to pick up that used set from your friend?
Yay! We’re getting the washer and dryer this weekend!
Just kidding– next weekend.
Yay! We’re getting the washer and dryer this weekend!
Just kidding– next weekend.
[Somewhere in there Ryan switched to just working one job, presumably because he ran out of clean polos.]
Yay! We’re getting the washer and dryer this weekend!
Just kidding– next weekend. The laundry pile is now occupying an entire bedroom.
Here comes Ryan with the washer and dryer! Good thing because I am completely out of underwear! And shirts! And pants!
The dryer needs a new glow plug? It’s a special order part?
It’s a good thing this set was so cheap! And that there’s a laundromat nearby that only costs an arm and a leg– I’ve got a couple of each to spare!
Once we get the laundry going, it’s going to be a pain in the butt to get laundry to the basement with these two rooms in between torn up.
Let’s open up that place where the staircase used to be!
What do you mean, you don’t think we should start any new projects? Well, of course we shouldn’t start any new projects, but this isn’t really a project, it’s a quick surgical operation that will soon pay for itself in saved time.
Yay, we’re going to saw through this paneling! I can see the parlor from the kitchen! I can move freely about my own home!
We should probably stick some stairs in that hole before our toddler tries to jump from the landing to the kitchen.
I built some janky steps out of pantry shelves and 2x4s! And the glow plug finally came!
Who knew that a glow plug is one of the most innermost parts of a dryer?
All systems go– let’s do some laundry!
The washer gets stuck halfway through the cycle and churns for hours. It’s set up to drain into the floor drain, which appears to have a slow clog. There’s water all over the floor. The dryer still won’t dry.
I’ve got one batch of jeans to dry on our backyard fence, which I am so thankful for! I’m going to wash another batch!
The washer just electrocuted me. Mildly, but still. I’m going to buy a new washer right now. If I had known I would need to buy a new washer, I would have done it a month ago. I just want to do some freaking laundry.
The washer doesn’t have a short, it just had a huge amount of static built up! Ryan grounded the washer to the water line, so it won’t shock anyone anymore! He also did some work on the drain tube so that the water won’t siphon out before the washer is full! We figured out that the vent pipe of the dryer was not lined up with the hole to the outside of the house (and apparently hasn’t been for a decade), so now that we lined it up, it should work fine!
Yeah, it still doesn’t work.
Oh look! I found a gallon of dog hair in the dryer after disassembling it for the second time this week!
You know, if we had been smart, we would have found that the first time we took it apart.
The dryer works! The washer works except for the permanent press cycle! I’m getting the laundry done! Even our friendly neighbors, who are working on their house right out there, are commenting on the lovely smell of fresh laundry! Don’t worry, neighbors, I’ve got fifteen more batches to do! I love you, neighborhood! I’m sending all my fresh laundry scent out to you!
(Well, that brings us to the end of September. October, November and December will have to wait, but compared to August and September, they’ve been a walk in the park.)
It seems we have this habit of gathering projects.
At some point this fall I was at a thrift store, and this chair ended up in the bed of our truck. Now that I’ve taken off the raggy little skirt it was wearing, I’m not sure if it needs to be reupholstered or just reattached at the upper corners. No worry– I’m sure by the time I get to this project the best plan will make itself clear.
Then there’s this pile of rocks that showed up in our back yard. And by showed up, I mean we rescued them from under pieces of asphalt and out of the cold, wet sand at the dump and we hauled them home (in five truck loads) and then wheelbarrowed them seven by seven to the back yard. If you ever want a delicious burrito, I highly recommend throwing and lifting and hauling a couple literal tons of pavers and then going out for burritos. They will be the best burritos you have ever tasted.
Besides the delicious burritos, all this work will also earn us a pretty spectacular patio– after we do a lot more work on it, of course.
And then there’s these walls in the basement.
This is already a huge aesthetic improvement compared to the paneling that once coated these basement walls. Now we just have to decide how much of the resourceful pallet framing to remove, how much of the poorly-formulated plaster to crumble off the bare walls, and what sort of crafts to do with all those pallets! Oh, the projects!
Last but not least (and not last either), we have the Hoosier cabinet. About a week after getting ourselves situated with all our coats and boots by the ever-practical side entry, we decided to buy a Hoosier cabinet. Then we decided to bring it into the house through said side entrance, because it would be a “straight shot into the dining room,” only to realize that the swinging door to the dining room would not let the Hoosier cabinet through. So this has been our entryway for the past few days:
I think we’ll get it into the dining room tonight if we can figure out how to get the swinging door off its hinges temporarily. Or maybe we’ll haul it back outside and try another way. Then the real project of fixing some drawers and reattaching some knobs and replacing a shelf will begin.
Actually, it will probably begin after we get some other more pressing projects done. It’s a good thing we like projects!
(In which I summarize two months of crazy into a long list of emotional thoughts.)
There are actually a lot of houses in our price range!
There are a lot of houses in our price range that should be torn down. Or used to house cats (again, but this time just cats).
Hey, Ryan, look at this one! Look at that attic! It could be my office!
I bet there’s something terribly wrong with it. I bet it reeks of stale smoke like that one house we looked at and has a mold infestation in the basement like that other house that we actually put a low-ball offer on.
Wow, this one has character! This is the best one we’ve looked at! This is our dream house! And it doesn’t stink! It just has a bit of old church aroma! Let’s make an offer!
We just made an offer on a house. That’s kinda scary.
Let me start researching plaster repair and deciding how I want to do the kitchen!
They rejected our offer. Our realtor is out of town. Their realtor is out of town. The world is coming to an end, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Everyone’s back in town! They accepted our second offer and they’re going to pay for closing costs! This is actually happening!
Wow. Look at this list of extra little problems that the inspector pointed out. Those kind of add up to a lot of work.
It’s a good thing we’re handy! And that we love to do projects together!
What? The guy who did our mortgage pre-approval was an idiot and we can’t actually get a mortgage?
Oh, but this other bank can help us!
No it can’t.
Oh, but this other bank can help us!
No it can’t. We can’t get the house. We can’t get any house. The end.
Hey, we finally got the correct papers to correctly verify the correct information and we can get a mortgage! This is really happening!
This is really happening. Like, no backing out now.
You know, apartment life is really easy. I’m going to miss this.
But you know, apartment life is really boring! And confining! Let’s get packing! I love packing! It’s always part of a big adventure! Time for change and growth!
We have so much crap. So much crap. How did we get all this crap? We’re always so busy packing and moving that we don’t even have time to use half this crap. I hate packing.
Look at me go! I got all the books packed! This might be the last time they are packed for a really long time! And then they are going to be on some beautiful shelves that Ryan is going to build special for our beautiful house!
I probably should have sorted out some books to get rid of while I packed them.
Closing day is coming soon!
Closing day is coming way too soon.
It’s closing day!
Hmm. That seemed anti-climactic. I don’t even feel like a homeowner. I feel like we just bought a really expensive project. Maybe because that’s what we did.
Let’s rip off some paneling!
Oh my goodness. What is wrong with this wall? This is even worse than we expected.
Oh, ha! We just happened to rip off the piece of paneling that just happened to cover the absolute worst section of the wall! It’s all patchy because they re-ran the plumbing back in ’97, which is a good thing! It’s not all going to be that bad!
But it’s not like the rest of it is very good or anything.
I love these high ceilings! Now that we’ve got that false ceiling out, this room feels so much bigger!
Is that wallpaper on the ceiling?
I found a video on youtube that shows how to get wallpaper off easily!
That video wasn’t talking about 112-year-old wallpaper.
It’s off! We’re done!
With that step.
Mudding the closets– this should be fun! I’ve always liked to play with mud!
Skim coating a wall is kind of like frosting a cake. Except that you don’t get to give up and eat it.
I wonder why they put a false ceiling in this room– the ceiling is basically perfect!
Oh just kidding.
We’re getting a lot done! We have two rooms de-paneled, four false ceilings off, the tile out of the basement and the wallpaper out of three closets and off of one ceiling! Look at us go! We’re going to have two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs done by the time we need to move in! And it’s just going to go faster once we move in because then we won’t be spending an hour every day getting ready and going back and forth! And we’re going to get so much done this coming week when Ryan takes his paid vacation!
It is absolutely impossible for Ryan to take his paid vacation when other employees keep just not showing up.
We’re going to get stuff done anyway because we are the champions my friend!
We really need to make sure the stove is working before we move in. And the water heater doesn’t really seem to be getting the water hot. Also, let’s get all the mudding tools out of the bathtub before we need to use it. And when is your friend going to have time for you to pick up that washer and dryer he’s going to sell you?
Moving day soon! I am so ready to be done with this going back and forth crap!
We’re not going to get two rooms on the main floor and two rooms upstairs done.
But we’re going to get two bedrooms done!
We’re just going to get one bedroom done.
One bedroom done will be great! It’s going to look so good!
The hard part about painting is all the prep work. I forgot about the prep work. Didn’t we already clean around these windows? Why are they so dirty? And it looks like the last paint job was done by a drunken monkey.
It’s so cool that these windows have muttons! I think that’s what they’re called. Why would they be called that? I don’t know! But they are pretty!
It is hard to paint muttons.So. Many. Lines. I still don’t know why they are called muttons.
Ooh, pretty blue!
What? It’s midnight? I thought it was like, eight thirty or something. What movie should the toddler watch next? Cars again? Yeah, that’s fine.
Almost done! Teamwork!
Ugh. It dripped again. Someday someone’s going to say, “This looks like it was painted by a drunken monkey.” So tired. Don’t care.
It’s move day! Exciting things are happening! I’m making extra coffee!
That extra coffee is not cutting it. And the trailer that a friend was going to lend you is nowhere to be seen.
Donuts! You picked up donuts and a u-haul trailer! I’m going to make more coffee!
It’s noon already.
I’m so glad people can help!
Where does that go? Um, just stick it somewhere. Just stick it in the attic. Just stick everything in the attic and we’ll deal with it later.
More people to help!
So much stuff. All these people are going to think we are hoarders.
We’re not hoarders, we are people who are active in many creative pursuits! We are abundantly blessed! We have books to share! We have stuff for our kid to play with! We have a deep freezer full of food!
Seriously, more empty bottles? When are you even going to have time to homebrew?
I told you that both beds would fit in this one room! Ta-da! We’re going to sleep tonight!
But I’m not sure how we are going to cook breakfast.
There is a lot of light coming in that curtainless window– I must be waking up in… OUR house!
There are, of course, things to despise about an old house, as I may detail in some later post. Hey, a bunch of these “things to love” are just cleverly-disguised banes of my existence. But some of these little details are truly charming. I would say that old houses tend to be detail-oriented… unlike myself. It’s amazing we seem to be getting along so well. I’ll chock it up to our little family’s unsuppressed optimism and the house’s “character.”
I’m sitting on the steps in what used to be the pantry that used to be steps. I convinced myself, and then Ryan, that we could use the steps more than we could use the storage. So two days ago we ripped through the hollow wall that had been added about forty years ago. Sure enough, the plaster came to a troweled corner just above our heads as we stood on the landing looking down into the kitchen.
Then yesterday I sawed and screwed the shelves and some other scraps into these three steps. When Alethia got home from her Saturday with Grandma, she crawled up and down and up and down the steps saying “¡Papá hizo!” I finally convinced her that her mama had made them. Ryan says “She thought I made them? See, that means you did a really good job.” He admits it is a boomerang compliment.
The truth is, the steps are crappy. For stringers, I used a network of 2x4s, a mixture of wood from the garage and from Menards. The treads are three of the pantry shelves. One is just wood, another is yellow paint that tested lead-free, and the third is wood with the same yellow paint just on its front edge and underbelly. I had to turn it over like that if I didn’t want splinters in my feet. There are three steps where there really should be five, which means the rise on each is 12″. I find that these oversized steps are perfect for sitting with a laptop and a cup of coffee. And besides, they are temporary.
But then, most everything in life is temporary. When we lived in an apartment, we were more keenly aware of this. We never really settled in. There was no point in hanging pictures on the walls when there was a wheelbarrow, a string trimmer, an engine hoist, a chest freezer, a work bench, a charcoal grill, a bag of drop cloths, a shovel, a spade, a rake, three hoses and a thousand tools just sitting in our allotted garage. Just sitting there, reminding us that there were parts of our lives that didn’t fit with an apartment.
Well, we’ve used about nine hundred of those thousand tools already on this house. And the drop cloths. And the yard tools. And Ryan’s got the engine hoist poised for use since the Subaru decided to blow a head gasket as we were taking the last few trips across town to empty out the apartment. Life is chaotic right now, but it’s temporary, right?
We are making steps. We are taking things out of storage. We are saying “I knew I had this somewhere” and “I didn’t know I had this in me.”