Monthly Archives: March 2015

You are browsing the site archives by month.
wpid-imag3805.jpg

What we were talking about is how quickly houses fall apart when no one is in them. See: Oldest House, which was bank-owned before we got it.

And I said that, as much people need houses, houses need people. If houses were living, we would see it as a symbiotic relationship.

And he was like, uh huh. And then he went back to what we were really talking about, which was: floors. And he (as in, the floor refinisher) told me what I now know to be true, because I have done my research on wear layers and sanding depths, which is, of course you can save these floors. It’s just a question of how much work you want to put into it and how much money you want to spend.

In case you are wondering, my answer to both is always “as little as possible.” But the houses are always like, “tons of it!” and “all of it!” Which is why, sometimes, this relationship is less symbiotic and more parasitic.

These time-eaten, painted boards of Oldest House are a quandary. Oh, the rabbit hole of research I’ve gone down. In case you were wondering: if you want to get the paint off, sanding probably isn’t wise, in case the paint has lead, which means chemical strippers or heat methods, and all of the variations of each. Then there is the question of how to prep the floors after stripping for finish and what finish to use. If you want to paint, you better think through which color you want (and do not—do not—start researching how the north/south/east/west sun exposure impacts particular shades of white, because you might not be seen for days) and how to best prep the floors and what type of paint will work best on this particular substrate, because pine moves and many durable floor finishes don’t (did you know you can still get linseed oil paint, which is both amazing and expensive?). And if you are going to put new wood floors down over old wood floors, well, what direction? Perpendicular to old boards means parallel to joists, which is usually a no-no, and then there’s the possibility of laying down another plywood subfloor first, which raises all sorts of door/height issues, and then there is the question of whether you’ve chosen the best profile for your wood (shiplap, tongue and groove, square cut) and given that profile and the floor you are going over, whether you should screw down or face nail and if so, how often?

So I talked to another guy who knows floors, and explained my conundrum—the three options of stripping paint and refinishing, or just painting, or putting new floors down. And he said, well, I guess if I was you I’d start with the least permanent thing and give it a go till I gave up and went on to the next thing.

I’ve learned this lesson before. After my undergraduate degree I spent six years wondering whether I should go to graduate school in psychology, finally decided to do it, and then on day one of statistics class realized that what I’d really done was spend six years forgetting how much I hate statistics and how much that is part of psychology. So I quit. And finally shaken free of psychology, a few weeks later I applied to a creative writing program on a whim, which was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I may or may not be saying that because creative writing doesn’t involve statistics at all.

I’m glad Oldest House is reminding me: that messy action can trump introspection. That there are times when failing is necessary, a way of earning the right to move forward. I guess if I was you I’d start with the least permanent thing and give it a go till I gave up and went on to the next thing. So here we are at the start of it. Let’s see what happens.

image

 

image

 

 

And they still look old, because they are. Good enough for now (eventually the stairs are coming out).

We were probably less than a year in and in that gooey phase of love and so when we sat at the dining room table with his grandparents (met for the first time, for me), Kyle’s grandmother scolded him: no kissing at the table, she said.

So his grandfather gently nudged our chairs away from the table.

It wasn’t long before we lost Kyle’s grandfather, and this weekend, we lost Kyle’s nanny, too. She was a woman who liked things just-so, a quilter, a woman who adored sweet potatoes and disliked cheese. She was meticulous and strong-minded and unfailing genteel. Which is why, when speaking of cheese, she would say, I just don’t care for it, and if she didn’t quite agree with something you said might say, Really? and then if she really didn’t like something might say, Oh, please. Ladylike, but: she said what she meant.

Nanny visited Dayton during the madness of getting the big apartment in New House ready for tenants. A team of us, including Kyle’s parents and an aunt and uncle, scurried around painting and laying flooring and landscaping. Nanny pitched in, too, coaching us on how to trim the hedges: just-so. It was a frenzied, frantic, disorganized weekend. It was exhausting.

And as she was leaving, she said it: Oh, I just had so much fun.

Okay. So maybe nanny, a woman of voluminous social graces, could sometimes exaggerate. But I think she saw this thing we call renovating, this messy and uncomfortable and failing-filled rush to and through something bigger than us, together, and she called it for what it was: life. The best of it. And so a paint and grout-splattered weekend is a joy, for the same reason my great-grandmother adored playing rounds of less-than-thrilling Pokeno games and my grandmother Tess willingly(!) took afternoon calls about just about anything, from dog cataracts to making soup. Because we will never get enough time with the people that we love. And so we take the messy and we take the mundane and and we take the hard and we take the beautiful, too.

Nanny, we just had so much fun, too. The whole thing.

And in honor of that fine lady, who will be missed, some photos from the projects of last week:

These were the counters right after the faux concrete, and I was like: I like this. Then I laid a coat of tung oil because I figured expert renovators have to experiment, and remembered I was actually an amateur renovator. I don't have pictures of the blotchy mess that followed, but it was bad, and that's how they've been for months.

These were the counters right after the faux concrete, and I was like: I like this. Then I laid a coat of tung oil because I figured expert renovators have to experiment, and remembered I was actually an AMATEUR renovator. I don’t have pictures of the blotchy mess that followed, but it was bad, and that’s how they were for months.

And the servants stairs, were looking like this...

And the servants stairs, were looking like this…

And they still look old, because they are. Good enough for now (eventually the stairs are coming out).

And they still look old, because they are. Good enough for now (eventually the stairs are coming out).

And we redrew plans for Old House. Again (x100).

And we redrew plans for Old House. Again (x100). Good things are happening there. Can’t wait to show everyone.

And this is happening, too, and who knows what will happen--our plans are officially permitted. Construction on the Old House begins tomorrow.

On Saturday night Kyle and I ate our last meal at New House. We stood over the kitchen counter and devoured a pizza rich with blue cheese and grapes, sometime close to ten, with our voices shaking the silence in the emptied-out upstairs apartment and the fake lemon smell of Lysol thick in the air. We lived in this apartment when we became refugees from Old House, after two months with neighbors, settling in with a bed and a table and two chairs. For months. Then we got some furniture, which felt pretty fancy, and Kyle even surprised me by hanging pictures. And then we moved out. And then I moved back in. And then we moved out, but our furniture stayed in. And now we are all out. And our new tenants are in, which means New House is full and we can’t live there anymore, even if we wanted to.

And I am just so happy about it.

Which is different. I used to cry leaving any place I had lived, even if those places or my times in those places weren’t always beautiful. I cried in the parking lot of my apartment on the Texas-Mexico border, the air shimmering with the heat, because I already missed my students and breakfast tacos for less than a dollar, and I had already forgotten that Brownsville liked to alternate between beating me down and pulling me in for bear hugs. I cried leaving my apartment in San Antonio. My upstairs neighbor, whose wrenching coughs echoed into my apartment every night and who described Mango as the color of sunset on a summer’s night, wasn’t home when I went by with his goodbye gift. I knew I’d never see him again, or my other neighbors—the ex-marine, the vegan Whole Foods clerk—who smooshed around my tiny table for a farewell dinner that ended in ice cream sandwiches and champagne.

And I could go on and on, but the bottom line is, the girl who always cries didn’t shed a tear. Goodbye, New House! We’ll visit! Our final fixes in New House were easy ones—resetting tiles and touching up spots on the wall and painting ceilings and moving the rest of our stuff out—so it’s not like New House crushed us at the end. Maybe I’m just older now. Or maybe all of these recent moves have worn even my sentimentality out. Or maybe it’s just that saying goodbye isn’t always hard. Sometimes, and it’s a sometimes rare enough to be honored, our entire body hums with the feeling that it is time for whatever is next. Even if we don’t understand what next is.

One thing we know is next: tackling the servants' stairs in Oldest House.

One thing we know is next: tackling the servants’ stairs in Oldest House.

Another thing we know is coming: painting the outside of Oldest House, which has the same half gray/half blue façade it's had since we bought it. A friend: "You live in the half gray house, right?"

Another thing we know is coming: painting the outside of Oldest House, which has the same half-painted façade it’s had since we bought it. A neighbor: “You live in the half gray house, right?” Yes.

So on Sunday, while our new tenants moved in, Kyle and I walked (callused) hand-in-hand to get brunch with neighbors, which meant grapefruit mimosas and discussing dogs. And later in the day, after some spring cleaning and a consultation with some floor refinishers, we combined our visit to Sherwin Williams with a trip to an ice cream parlor. That is what we call a “good time” in the land of renovations. We sat at the window, sunshine on our faces, and we ate our ice cream (mine malted) and we talked about what was coming next. As much as we can see of it, anyway.

And this is happening, too, and who knows what will happen--our plans are officially permitted. Construction on the Old House begins tomorrow.

And this is happening, too, and who knows what will happen–our building plans are officially permitted. Construction on the Old House begins tomorrow. Hold me.

 

This weekend we drove down to Georgia, Kyle white-knuckling his way down Kentucky’s highways. The roads were snowed and rutted by trucks and (according to Kyle) slick. The state was in a State of Emergency.

“Pssh,” I said, munching on chips. “A New Yorker wouldn’t be bothered by this.”

Kyle reminded me that a certain New Yorker wasn’t actually driving and had instead been napping and might actually be overestimating the condition of the roads and underestimating the emergency-level of things.

Well played. Either way, we made it. In Georgia we visited with family and ate biscuits and saw friends and soaked in southern sunshine. It was everything good.

Traveling and renovations aren’t totally unalike. They are, actually, cousin-kin to states of emergency, these places where the normal rules of life no longer apply. So in Georgia we got to not-house, even if I couldn’t quite forget the houses were waiting, because eight hours of driving = eight hours for googling flooring options on the phone, and visiting a friend’s cute old craftsman means analyzing their plaster and pondering their vintage chandelier.

Actually, I was pretty sure we had exactly the same lighting fixture, though it turns out ours is a little bigger. It used to hang in our foyer, but it didn’t have enough impact, so I had Kyle take it down. Now we don’t have a lighting fixture in the foyer, just a big hole in the ceiling, so impact: check!

I thought about getting rid of it entirely, but in the end we rehomed it in the hallway upstairs.

image

Similarly, in the apartment we are updating in the New House for our renters-to-be, I caved into the existing (ubiquitous) Hollywood light fixture and we threw a shade on it:

image

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the wages of almost two years spent renovating, these compromises. I just, kinda, can’t get as fired up about finding the perfect light fixture.

But I am still excited to make our home a home. And as hard as it was to leave our people in Georgia and head back to the work waiting, it helped a little that the journey was without a State of Emergency and the sun was strong and that there was homemade pecan bourbon fudge to be found along the way. It felt like, for the first time in a long time, that spring might be here soon.

IMAG3684

This winter, after a heroic attempt at decorating (or, putting battery-operated candles in the windows), someone came along and strung fresh evergreen and bows from the wrought iron fence in front of Oldest House. Another morning, as I headed out for work, I found my steps salted generously to protect against ice. Another morning, at work, an anonymous coworker swept the lingering snow off my car.

There are three possible things you can take away from this: (1) It is too cold here, and (2) I am inept in the face of the cold, and (3) It’s like I live surrounded by miracle-magical elves.

Our holiday-ed house.

Living surrounded by miracle-magical elves is always nice, but it’s especially nice when it’s cold and the days are short and the houses don’t want to take it easy on you and your partner is gone far away. In other words, this winter.

But Kyle is back now. He had last week off, which is just like having an elf in the house! While I was at work, the molding upstairs was finished and the painting began:

The walk-in closet, which I envision being a crafting or study-nook one day, was painted a deep chocolate brown, and Kyle hung the chandelier we bought way-back-when without having any idea what we’d do with it:

The closet before. We are *pretty* sure it was originally the stair landing. In part because most closets don’t come with windows.

Chocolate room. Or, you know, closet. New chandelier.

Then came the weekend. And, together, we went to our former home in New House and did some work. I don’t know if I’ve shown some of the small updates we’ve made over the last few years, so for fun, some pictures below.

My mother is still under-impressed by our updates to this particular unit, but for the record: this was it before.

 

The day we moved in.

Unit now.

 

This weekend Kyle put up a banister in the apartment while I painted the risers a creamy white, because Kyle has been worried someone might hurt themselves (guess who wasn’t worried) while I’ve been bummed about those treads etched with shoe-marks (guess who didn’t care). We are both happy with the stairs now. Just in time for us to move the rest of our stuff out so the lovely new tenants we found this weekend can move in.

And this weekend we went shopping for utilitarian things, which we got (see: dishwasher for the apartment, a dresser that will become a new bathroom vanity, a vintage tea cart to hold our pets’ food) and then, luckily, we also bought the slightly less necessary (see: vintage match safe and a gooey peanut butter bar).

But the real success of the weekend—because we are true home-making heroes!—was that after minutes of struggle and sturm and drang, punctuated with unkind statements about tension rods, the two of us managed to get our shower curtain hung at an appropriate height.

So that was this weekend. Unlike most of this winter, it wasn’t about unexpected kindnesses or gently lifted burdens. It was about working side-by-side. Which brings its own grace, even when you are a little tired and wearing dirt-creased work pants a second day in a row and sort of insistent about needing another cup of coffee. Because, when you are—just for example—struggling to heft a heavy new dresser out of a truck and across an alley, you can’t be sure how much of the weight you are really carrying, and maybe one person is carrying more, or maybe it’s really the other, but all you know for sure is that it’s the two of you. And, together, you get it home.