Monthly Archives: January 2015

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I don’t want to make everyone jealous of my amazing life, but I recently spent a night crouched on a bathroom floor painting grout lines. Which gave me a lot of time to think. Mostly, what I thought was: Huh. This isn’t the worst house project I’ve ever taken on.

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Basically because it was not the time Kyle lay on his belly digging yards of dirt out of our basement, the mossy smell hitting my nose each time I pulled a bucket from his hands. Nor was it the November night when we spent hours in the cold attempting to install windows, my arms shaking from their weight, only to realize sometime around midnight that we had done it wrong and we needed to tear them all out.

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So I happily worked away on the floor, following all the steps listed on the grout colorant bottle, because it was tedious, but–but!–not filthy or soul-crushing. As someone at work said to me jokingly (and, strangely, not in relation to renovating): you know, sometimes the absence of pain is almost as good as pleasure.

So here’s the progress:

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I’ll admit that my dream bathroom involves trough sinks and capacious showers and marble floor tile. But the first house Kyle and I moved into in Dayton looked like this:
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We lived in that house exactly three nights, but I think of them as the Nights that Echo On. Which is why I’m not even a little bothered by my current chaotic home, because it is warm and not gross. In the absence of pain–at least, while we still remember the pain–there is a gratefulness so profound it is joy.

Anyway, I wish I had a picture of the Old House bathroom to post. The room has since been demolished, but paint hung off the ceiling in curls, stains the shade of tobacco ringed the clawfoot tub, and during our three days in residence the shower earned the special distinction of being the only shower I’ve ever come out of feeling dirtier. So, no, this new bathroom doesn’t have everything I want. But it’s almost as good. And almost as good is good enough.

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I am a maximizer, which means I am the type of person who wants the best, sometimes gets the best, and then becomes immediately suspicious that something better than the best is still lurking out there. Which means: I can be kind of annoying.

So even though I’ve happily painted the entire exterior of one house and most of the interior of another in Sherwin Williams SuperPaint, I decided Oldest House was my opportunity to try every type of paint Sherwin William offers.

The guys at the paint store, a sales associate and a fellow customer, were giddy when I added a few cans of Cashmere to my order. No, I said. I hadn’t used it before.

Oh man, said the customer. Oh man, said the sales associate. Said the customer, turning to the sales associate: we’re about to see someone fall in love.

So I went home with Cashmere and Duration and Harmony and Emerald and–just for the memories–a few cans of SuperPaint.

All of that paint has managed to get me exactly what I wanted: a very boring house. I appreciate the last owners and their tendency to go for drama. But my life is just too chaotic to have bold, splashy colors around me. I want to be soothed. So the back room and the hallway and the dining room and the upstairs bedroom went greige:

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And the front room went—after a stab at gray and many failed attempts at finding the perfect chocolate and a semi-successful attempt at patching plaster cracks—creamy white:

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I know, wow. Like: isn’t it amazing how life clearly got so unchaotic and calm now that there is new, neutral paint?

As my mother would say, live in hope, die in despair.

Anyway, the hallway went the same direction:
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And by the time I made it to the upstairs bathroom, I just didn’t care anymore. This devoted Sherwin Williams’ girl with fifteen samples of gray in my garage (easily) stopped at the Home Depot while on a grout run, picked a random gray off a card, and asked the man at the counter to pick a brand of paint.

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As I went back to touch up the bathroom, begrudgingly wielding my brush (and breaking about 17 OSHA laws in the process, given the size of the bathroom and difficulty of squeezing in a ladder) all I could think was that I probably can’t stop being a maximizer. But maybe I can try to be a maximizer about the things that matter, at least to me.

Because here is the thing I learned from my grand experiment in paints: I can’t really tell the difference between paints. And, more importantly, I don’t want to paint again. Ever.

Or at least for another week.

On Friday I visited Old House with a contractor and he spied this little arrangement. “That tells the whole story,” he said.  He’s right, so I took a photo and here it is. I call it, Renovating Still Life.

Or: How Dreams Die.

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There is the Renovating Old Houses book that happy and naïve and gung-ho renovators picked up. It is an awesome book. It is just not enough, because nothing is. Then there is the yellow hardhat covered with soot, worn to pull plaster ceilings down. This is where dreams met reality. We pressed on. And then there is the bottle of painkillers. Also awesome. And also not enough, because nothing is. And they are probably from right around the time when we stopped.

Brace yourself. I’m going to show you what we stopped with.

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A disaster.

The problem with this particular disaster is that it isn’t a once-and-over nightmare, but ongoing. For me it’s been Zeigarnik Effect in full-force, that “psychological discomfort from half-done work.” So walking by Old House is painful, let alone going in. It doesn’t help that the last time I met a professional there, I cried (if you were looking for ideas to add to your list of Things that Make Construction Professionals Uncomfortable, you’re welcome!).

But that very same professional has now given us three months and 40-something pages of detailed structural engineering notes, and so: back to the old house. To find a contractor to implement said plan. To see things forward, in this new year.

“Here’s the thing,” the new contractor said. “We’ve got to empty the whole house out—everything but the floors and the frame needs to go.”

“Okay,” I said. And just like that, the Plaster Wars were over.

“And,” he said, “I think you’ll have to get rid of the siding, too. Pretty sure.”

“Sure thing!” I said. Goodbye, months of my life and thousands of dollars and glimmer of an actual Old House success.

These were the exact same suggestions that had me crying a few months ago. But before I was thinking about how much we were losing and how much it would hurt, and now all I can think is: I don’t have time for anything that doesn’t move us forward. Desperation is at the root of most change, I think.

So forward it is. It feels like a fresh beginning for me. And, I think: even old houses deserve to begin anew. I like to think that shaking off all that old weight actually won’t feel so bad. For either of us.

I try telling Godiva the same thing when I drop her at the grooming parlor. It’s a kind, good place where the thoughtful women who own it make customized photo montages for each dog. New starts! Wheeee! The joy!

But there is no philosophizing with a dog. Other dogs, their photos have lolling tongues and bright eyes and perky tails. Godiva’s photo montage looks like this:
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I miss a thousand Sundays.

I miss the Sundays Kyle and I spent in the coffee shop last summer, sketching out floor plans, drinking lattes and eating coffeecake that left our fingers sticky. Kyle is gone for work now and it is winter. But those Sundays fell away, anyway, long before the cold came and Kyle left again. Because there were (house) things to do.

I miss the Sundays that came before that, in Texas, during our last year there. When we would sometimes go to the gym together, but almost always go to the coffee shop together, taking over a pleather couch that stuck to the skin. Kyle would spread his Italian or Farsi language books before him, and I would work on my novel. The luxury: getting lost in pleasure.

I miss the Sundays when I lived in Brownsville. I spent mornings at the small Catholic church where the congregation parked in the grass and gravel, where the Canadian priest told good stories and spoke jovial, terrible Spanish, and which every August blessed the students–some of the high school ones mine, fidgeting at the front in tucked-in plaid shirts and carefully gelled curls. Afterwards the flea market, for a watermelon agua fresca and to look at puppies. And, in the evening, barbecue and writing workshop with friends, bags of water hanging on the patio to defend us from the flies. I was so full: of sun and things I cared for, and also, banana pudding.

I miss Sundays, period. Last semester I was, of my own volition, on campus seven days a week. Working my full-time job and teaching Saturdays and taking real estate classes on Sunday. Not a single day untouched by fixed obligations.

But last semester is over. It is a new year. And I ended the year right: with a two-week trip that included the whirling dervishes of Turkey and the glamorous malls of Dubai and time with a best friend and a trip to the desert and–and–the opportunity to see Kyle.

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Unlike *some* houses I know, Dubai buildings don’t lean.

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Sun.

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Hot air ballooning in Turkey.

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Cappadocia.

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Handsome cats of Ephesus.

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Followed by two weeks where I returned to my job, but also, had a brief return to weekends.”Kyle,” I said,  “do you know how much time is in a weekend?” (Spoiler alert: he does.)

And somewhere in the last month, I drank down books, close to twenty of them, and let the words work set me right, building up all of the things that 2014–with starting two new jobs and finishing renovations on New House and buying Oldest House and completing half of my real estate certification and Kyle gone for five months, with more months in sight–had worn away.

Books about houses advise ceilings of varying height. They note that high ceilings are nice, but that their true impact comes from contrast. So, too, I think it is with time. My free evenings and weekends have already ended, but I still have Sunday. It seems more vast than it ever has before. How much it can be filled with. And though the line is fine, what I want to fill Sundays with is not obligations, but rituals that pin the things that matter in place.

Of course, I know that what will actually happen is that Kyle and I will fill it with house tasks. That’s just the nature of the beast, until we make it through the two renovations at hand. But I’ve also decided to start Sunday with coffee by my husband’s side (unless he wants to go work on the house while I quaff coffee, in which case, love you guy and see you later!). And drafting blog posts that I’ll upload on Monday, regularly, starting tomorrow.

I don’t want to miss any more Sundays.