Monthly Archives: September 2014

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I have finally reached the point where, after living like a crazy person (as in, renovator) for so long, I am hungry for things right and things in the right place. I am ready for something that feels like home. So in the last week I’ve been running through my checklist, determined to take care of all low-hanging fruit. I have called plumbers about potential leaks and appliance repair men about potentially-wonky fridges. What do the repairmen tell me? Things look fine. Just keep an eye out. Wait and see.

This is, undeniably, sage advice. But I don’t want to wait and see. What I want is movement. Instead there are delays, and structural engineers have jury duty, and so things go. Onwards. Slowly.

I imagine that, much like self-discipline, a person only has so much patience. I think I’ve been even less patient than usual because I’ve been waiting for Kyle to come home. He was in Italy the last month, doing work and maybe—perhaps mostly—eating gelato.

His absence wasn’t as hard as last time, because our lives are a little less hectic, but I missed that guy. Also, I really wished I had someone to help with the recovering cat-in-a-cone. Mango’s determination to get outdoors makes me look like a paragon of patience. And Godiva, the notorious man-hater, kept running to strange men in uniforms with her tail wagging, only to sadly turn away, and haunted the door in the hopes that the right man in a uniform would show up. This is what our house looked like the last few weeks:

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If impatience isn’t the most desirable quality, at least there is this: it is often, if not always, rooted in the inexplicable optimism that something better lies ahead.

And sometimes that is exactly right.

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Mango is free to come and go. The dog’s man is home. And all of  us have a new old home to look forward to, perhaps as soon as Friday. Update soon.

There is a reason our renovations are taking so long. Meet our architect:

Cat Architects

I don’t want to call Mango out or anything, but he doesn’t have hands.

Okay, actually, Kyle and I do have hands, and we are the real architects at Old House, and we are still terrible architects. We started drawing plans for that house last summer. We drew them online, we drew them on graph paper, we cut out to-scale paper stairs and bathtubs and moved them around ad nauseum.

But these homeowners drawing house plans have had difficulties. For obvious reasons, like: we’re not trained architects. But there’s also the vision thing. I am probably a little too close to Old House, and trying to sketch up new plans can feel like running into someone I went to high school with. It doesn’t matter what has changed or what could change; I see them as I knew them. And, also: there’s a little bit of a who-am-I-to-take-down-Milt-Finch’s-wall sort  of feeling.

What helped free me from that feeling was reminding myself how renovated Old House already is. The home started as the 1850s four-room rectangular box of a working man.  The big renovation came in the 1870s, when the new owners bumped the house out two feet to the left and added the back rooms on (this is also the likely root of our leaning house, but that’s a story for another day). At some point a bathroom was added, and then there was the kitchen thrown on sometime in the early 1900s, and the last real renovation was sometime in the 1940s, when the stairs were moved to facilitate the renting of sleeping rooms to soldiers. The only consistent history of this house is restless people, trying to make it their home. Which has relieved me, at least a little, of the instinct to preserve. Preserve what? When does history start?

But what really helped is this: that one contractor recommended tearing off half our house and then we had to hire a structural engineer and then he—surprise—needed a final floorplan before he mapped everything out. It was actually time to make a decision. So we made it. I sketched out the plan roughly and Kyle did the final drawing and I brought it to our engineer.

The engineer looked at it carefully. “I can hardly see the lines,” he said. And I explained how it was funny he said that, since Kyle had left a note on this very copy teasing me about the rough, heavy lines of my original sketch. Light, firm lines only the note said.

Well, said the engineer, kindly. That’s not bad advice. Except how about, when you are finally sure, you make the lines really solid and really clear?

But the problem with our architects, really, is that they are us. We’re rarely sure of anything. So I’m grateful for the crises that push us into imperfect plans, because at least we are moving forward. And I am also grateful for this little guy, who went through unexpected surgery this week–and who is going to be just fine–and who has woken me up just about every hour on the hour for the last week in the hopes that I might change my mind and finally let him out:

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What a cat sulking looks like. Call it an “Elizabethan Collar” all you want, but Mango isn’t fooled. And he doesn’t like wearing a cone.

And then there is this girl, who knows how to stop curtain-sewing in its tracks:

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In other words, as happy as I am to literally have a plan, I am just as grateful for the things that keep us from our plans. They’re pretty important.

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Sometimes a contractor will recommend you remove the entire right side of your leaning Old House and the whole second story. And then the structural engineer will say, no, don’t necessarily do that, but you do need to remove what’s left of the plaster you fought for and the siding you lovingly restored. It’s not totally clear that this will, actually, fix the problem with your leaning Old House. You’ll just have to wait and see.

If you are me, this is when you start to cry. You think about how awful it was lugging buckets of plaster and being coated with coal dust and how having to start again—after you thought you stopped—is so much worse than starting the first time. You think of the joy when you uncovered that lovely old siding and the methodical tenderness with which you patched all those holes left by insulbrick and the 17 shades of paint you went through to find just the right one. You think about how all of that time, your time, could have been a novel, Sunday brunches, trips to the mountains. And that now you will spend more time destroying what you worked so hard on. You think of Milt Finch.

So Kyle talked to the structural engineer. Because Kyle is brilliant and has somehow, while working a fulltime job and remaining fluent in Italian, become fluent in construction. Meanwhile, I tapped into my own finely developed skills. I went to a different room and snuffled.

It’s not like we aren’t experts in small disasters and mistakes and just general bad decisions. There are some that I haven’t discussed. For example, here were the faux butcher block countertops of our rental before I got started:

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The scratched faux-butcher block beforehand.

And then here they are after painting. At this point I was still thinking, Pinterest, you have lots of good ideas!

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Up close, right after painting. At this point I was still thinking: Pinterest, you have lots of good ideas!

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The painting was fine. But the Envirotex topcoat I put on was a beast to apply, bubbled up like mad, and likes to scratch. Not trying that again.

Now, these are our DIY light fixtures for the New House. We used sheets of perforated metal that you can buy at Lowes. Said our tenants: “Awesome! Probably saved a bunch doing it yourself.” Uh, no. Actually, we didn’t. And they ate up our time and still aren’t perfect. Not really a win.

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I don’t have a picture of the before, but let me paint a picture for you: a bare fluorescent light. This is way better than that, but arguably, replacing with a light we loved would’ve been cheaper and taken less time.

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Again, not bad. But was this cheaper or quicker? Nope.

Old House, though, is the epic fail, a catalogue of things gone wrong. Foundation fixes and break-ins and—time after time—trying to save something we have no chance of saving. Objectively, this all kind of sucks. But here’s the great news: our rebound rate is getting to be nothing short of spectacular.

After the structural engineer left, I pulled myself together. Well, actually, I let myself go for a little bit of melodrama first, because I am Italian, and Kyle said nice, reassuring things, and then I pulled it together. Same deal. Within an hour we were sharing a bottle of wine with friends and figuring out how we’d continue. We put together a plan. Big things lie ahead. And, of course: so do more mistakes and disasters, big and small. That’s the price of moving forward.

If we have to keep making mistakes, I am glad they are in the direction of too much hope and too much love. On the other hand: it would be really nice to stop making mistakes.