Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Grays are difficult. Or at least that is what people who like talking about paint colors (all three of us! and the other two are not Kyle!) like to say.
And of course I wanted a gray house. I wanted it so badly that my poor house spent an embarrassing amount of time looking like this:
I was on a five-paint-samples-a-day kind of habit, mired in indecision. I asked every neighbor their favorite color and every neighbor gave me a different answer. One afternoon, as I stood staring at our patchy house, Joe came and stood beside me. “Which one are you liking?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “This one?” I tapped a finger on a stretch of pale gray paint.
“Yeah,” said Joe. “That’s the one. Know why?” And he lowered his voice, so it came out in a confidential hush. “What everyone keeps forgetting about is the roof. That one’s the best with the roof.”
Guess what I had been obsessing over that no one else cared about even a little bit, until that very moment? “Joe, you are so right,” I said.
We tinted the primer to match the paint and slathered it on. It did not go well with the roof. Actually, “Amazing Greige” looked pink.
So we started all over again. Samples and splotches. Once again Joe came out and stood beside me. “Which one do you like?” he said.
“Um. This one?”
“Yeah. That one’s best with the roof.”
And that’s when I realized Joe had a masterful command of psychology. “Are you just saying that?”
Back to the paint store, where Darrell was at the counter. My last visit he’d been hesitant to pass over the book of paint colors. These might be too much for you, he said. And now here I was. He looked slightly pained to see me.
This time, after ordering a few more samples, I asked him which color he would recommend.
“Well,” he said, “if you’re wanting a true gray, I guess I’d go with this.” He pointed at a new color.
“Um, that’s blue,” I said.
“Oh, no,” he said. “It’s gray. True gray.”
I took a sample home anyway, mostly because Darrell is really nice, and he tells good stories about unearthing Civil War belt buckles with his metal detector. And the sample?
It was, more or less, blue.
I loved it. And that’s when I realized Darrell isn’t colorblind, but like Joe, has a masterful command of psychology. I am pretty sure he realized something I should have realized myself, once I had gone past Paint Sample #373. The problem wasn’t the shade of gray, or even gray itself.*  The problem was that I kept insisting I wanted gray, even though I didn’t actually like how it looked, because I had said that was what I wanted a long time ago. I think we all have those moments–in careers or in love or in geography–where we fix on the past and forget to actually look at what is in front of us.
In less romantic terms, it turns out I really wanted a blue(ish) house. Who knew.
The other day Godiva and I were taking a walk when we passed our neighbor Marilyn. She was on her way to a birthday, bouquet of roses in hand, but she paused for a moment when she saw us. “Oh my gosh,” she said. “I love your house. What a lovely shade of blue.”
It is. It really is.

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I don’t normally eat gasoline. Mostly just on days where I’ve managed to slather my hands in oil-based paint and can only (sort of) get it off by pouring gas intended for the lawnmower over my gummy hands. Then the pizza shows up, and I have a second where I think hmmm, and then I say, Well, I just won’t eat the crust. And then we stand on the porch in a circle, me and Kyle and Joe, eating the pizza like it would go running off on its little bread legs if we let it.

And then I eat the crust.

I don’t know what it is about renovating, but the longer you do it, the more convinced you become that you are impervious to environmental hazards. My sister the lawyer texted me and said, “I hope you are being careful about asbestos and lead.” I texted back to say, “Asbestos for breakfast! Lead for lunch!”

It’s clear that something has already gotten to my brain.

In all seriousness, we do try to be careful. We stocked up on masks and goggles and all sorts of things. Here is how Kyle made me dress for my first trip into the attic, back in the Early Days:


Knee pads, check. Goggles, check. Face mask, check. We’re on it.

But this painting thing is getting the best of all of us, even Kyle the Cautious. We pretend not to notice that we should be wearing masks to work with the paint. Or at the very least, not eating it. After weeks spent on basement work, it feels so delicious to stand in the air, to see the house shift into something that looks like a house, to drink some beer.

Which masks would get in the way of.

I think we are all a little giddy. Including our girl, who looks like this when primed:


In the past few weeks a couple of neighbors have mentioned meeting my father-in-law while he was in town. “Such a nice guy!” they say. Then they add, almost an afterthought: “He was lying down on the sidewalk when I met him.”

My father-in-law met his Waterloo pounding up the old concrete foundation of a room that had been torn down (see: The Hardest Day Ever). Me? It was two weeks sitting on my haunches outside of our house, staring at a small hole in our foundation wall, waiting to haul a bucket of dirt up from the basement so that I could add it to our pile in the back. Occasionally Kyle or Joe would toss a bone they had unearthed from the basement floor up at me. You know, because it’s fun and not at all creepy and/or disgusting to throw bones at people. Here is just a sampling of the collection:


And I had it easy. Here is how Kyle and Joe were spending their time in the basement:

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Lying on their bellies in a four foot crawl space digging holes. Sometimes we didn’t call it a day till close to midnight, and they worked with headlamps and lanterns, and watching them work through the gap in the foundation all I could think was: worst. job. ever. I felt really bad about it.

I mean, not bad enough that I was actually going to go down there myself to do it. But still, pretty bad.

The work was necessary, though, because guess what we discovered after our house was awarded a “structurally sound” label by both a general inspector and a structural engineer? The house was falling apart. The first tip-off that something wasn’t quite right came when Kyle saw our house first time (again, Rules of Real Estate). “Hmm,” he said. “It probably shouldn’t be leaning to the right.”

Correct. It probably should have had a masonry wall with the limestone still in place and beams that weren’t rotted through. And a sill beam (aka the beams that the whole house rests on, right between the structure and the foundation) shouldn’t have been whittled down to a measly twig by a bunch of termites. And probably plumbers and HVAC men of old should have gone around major structural support beams, rather than through.

Godiva is concerned about the state of our sill beam. And/or wondering where the termites went.

Godiva is concerned about the state of our sill beam. And/or afraid the termites are gonna get her.

Should of could of would of. So that’s what led to the Basement Weeks. The project felt interminable. There were 20 holes to dig, one for each new foundation footing, and it seemed like no matter how long we’d been down there there were still 20 left to be dug. “We’ll never be done,” I said. More than once. There may be a correlation between the number of times I said this and the number of bones thrown at me. And those guys just kept on digging. And I kept hauling buckets. And we ended up with this:

Lots of Dirt

And something else you can’t see, which is a floor that doesn’t actually quake beneath your feet. This is pretty delightful in and of itself, given that floors are made to be walked on. But it’s the pile of dirt that amazes me. Sometimes I stand in the yard and stare at it. It’s a good reminder that you don’t need to want to do a project, or even believe you can do a project, even though both are good things. You just need to keep doing it. One bucketful at a time.*

*And have a Kyle and a Joe. They are kind of my heroes.