That Peculiar Smell

posted in: prose, time, work | 3

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.

Gathering Projects

posted in: abundance, hobbies, home, prose | 0

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.

rocking chair to be reupholstered
This chair rocks.





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.

pink quartzite for patio
Sioux quartzite. Don’t worry, there wasn’t any grass in that part of the lawn anyway.


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.

pallets and stone walls in basement
I see more quartzite in there.




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:

hoosier cabinet won't fit through swinging door
Welcome Home!



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!

Fixer-Upper-Roller-Coaster (Part 1)

posted in: home, prose | 1

(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!

our new old dutch colonial

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!

ripping off 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!

taking off false ceiling

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!

blue painted paneling, white trim, and muntins

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!


33 Things to Love About an Old House

posted in: home, love, prose | 0

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.”


hardwood floor
neighbors through window


mailbox with a door on each end


backyard cistern cover


wooden stairs with footsteps worn


beautiful original staircase


side door entry hooks


spiders to control pests
Pest control.


established trees


screened porch close up


rhubarb and weeds


dragon painted on garage door


collection of interesting rocks


yellow and blue door frames and window frames


stove vent cover that looks like a paper plate




severely curled shingles on trash hut


colorful plastic tiles in attic stairwell


cupboard doors with all different hardware


pencil sharpener in hallway


cross-stitched doorbell label


open and lock directions on door


I rule the world written on door frame


quartzite foundation


fusebox without cover
A sense of adventure.


newspaper in broiler drawer


storage in half-finished half-story


homemade baby gate


Form. Function.


wooden diamond muntins


foot of clawfoot tub that needs paint



room full of tools for projects



interesting studs
Interesting studs.

Storage to Steps

posted in: home, prose | 0

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. 

pantry that used to be maid's stairs
No more pantry.

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.

steps made from shelves and 2x4s
happy crappy steps

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?

subaru engine blown head gasket
Getting ready to hoist the engine.

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.”

First week.

posted in: home, prose | 0

I guess it’s only been a week since we bought the house, but it seems like ripping paneling off of walls and cleaning grease off of kitchen shelves have been a part of my life for a long time.


Taking down this OSB false ceiling went rather quickly.


Cleaning the kitchen took two of A’s nap times, but I haven’t even done anything with the floor or the pantry yet. Maybe the contact paper I bought yesterday will help me feel better about putting my stuff on the shelves.

We are making good progress, especially considering that Ryan hasn’t had too much time to be at the house this past week. But we still have more removal to do before we can think about adding anything back.


Here’s a view from the living room to the dining room. Both rooms have now been completely depaneled. The process involves prying off all the trim, much of which must be labeled and set aside so that we can put it back in place once the walls are ready. If the previous owners hadn’t done such a good job of doing the same thing when they put up the paneling, but instead had just butted the paneling up to the edge of the trim, our job would be much easier. The most time-consuming part is pulling all the big, thick trim nails out the backside of the trim with a vise grip. Often some small chips of wood flake off as the nail comes through, which is why we don’t pull the nails out the front side of the trim. Thankfully the nail heads aren’t too big.


On Monday, my cousin Derek came and helped with the prying and pulling. It happened to be the muggiest day of the summer so far, which might be why the nails just didn’t want to let go, but we kept at it and finished this room before suppertime. Thanks for the help, Derek!

Since then, I’ve been doing more prying, pulling, labeling, stacking, and cleaning. A has been spending some time with her grandmas, some time watching Peppa Pig, and some time helping me hose down the front porch. Some day we’re just going to sit on that porch!

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