Monthly Archives: May 2015

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Kyle and I just spent a long, busy weekend making our house look worse. I kept saying, brokenly, “this is what progress looks like.”

I am too embarrassed to show you what progress looks like. Progress is fixing garbage disposals and unpacking half of a garage and laundry/laundry/laundry and washing and hanging curtains. And planting sage and ivy because, clearly, that’s a priority. Oh, and here is something I can show you: progress is putting molding/shoerail up over the newly painted floors.

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Progress is also a loopback, because probably one of the most delightful moments of this weekend was reuniting with my final box of packed up stuff. Stuff I haven’t seen in two years. I know what you are thinking—that if you can put something away for two years and not miss it, you probably don’t need it—but this is a box full of things that I have been lamenting the loss of for two years. I have, above all, been longing for my Prodigal Bookends. For months I’d turn to Kyle out of the blue and ask him where he thought the bookends could be. Shockingly his answer was, always, a disinterested, “hm, I don’t know.”

I’ll tell you where they could be: sitting in a corner of Old House, in a box labeled “Jana’s stuff,” covered in coal dust. It was like a reunion on top of a reunion. First the coal dust, sticking to shirt and hands and hair, calling me back to two summers ago. But beneath that! My antique mirrored bookends (which I was sure I’d never see again) and the vintage books (which sat on the tables at our wedding more than five years ago) and the flying pig statue (which I am always going to love, even if Kyle has been eyeing it askance for about five years as well) and the other pieces that sat on our mantle in the clean, pretty, normal house we once had in Texas.

Progress isn’t always the new. Sometimes it’s a return. So I cleaned it all up—and put it all back in place, in our new house, as best as I could. Some of us are a little worse for wear. My pretty bookends now have a good side and a bad side. But: we’re here.

The rule of renovating (which is very different from the rules of real estate) is that things will take three times as long and cost twice as much. Or maybe it’s the other way: things will take twice as long and cost three times as much. But Kyle and I are rule-breakers, which is why I am pretty sure that our renovations will never end and that we will have plunked everything (of ourselves and of our wallets) into these places.

And, actually, I don’t have a problem with that. If there is one thing these houses have taught us, insistently and vigorously, it’s that we can’t really control the process. Just about the only thing we can control is who we are and what we’re committed to.

This is a good thing to tell yourself when, on a rainy day, your neighbors call to tell you that your fence is lying in the street and you have to meet up with your husband after work, in your heels, to pick up the crumbly fence and push it back into place. What we can’t control: gravity, the physics of old wood. What we can control: whether we get bummed about yet another thing, or whether we brush the mud off of our hands and go home and make dinner and say, “How was your day?” and don’t talk about the fence. At all.

The houses are teaching us to be the second sort of person.
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Fence aside, Old House is still making an ungainly waddle forward, thanks to the carpenters at work.

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Things keep changing—floor plans, structural plans, schedules—and so the only thing to hold onto is our goal: the house done. And somehow, some way, we will get there. Unless someone wants to buy Old House, in which case message me, because: SOLD!

We will get there is a good thing to keep saying to yourself. Especially when, walking the dog on a sunny day, your neighbor stops to say hello. And to mention that your fence is lying in the street. Again.

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On Saturday I came home to find Kyle had bought flowers, puffs of yellow and spiky strands of snapdragons and naïve little carnations, and I tried to figure out how to squeeze them into the vintage blue mason jar unearthed from the basement of Old House. Thank you, Old House, I thought. Because life is like that: unequal in its pleasures. And somehow this new-old vase, which I adore, can blanket the pain of everything Old House has asked.

In addition to (badly) arranging flowers, this weekend we painted our floors in Oldest House. Or we started, anyway. Because those that said the floors were pretty beat up, they weren’t wrong. And also, we would like to have a usable upstairs sometime in our lifetime—a big goal, I know, but just can’t stop the ambition—and our refinishing attempt was going to take us the rest of our lives.

So we prepped—sanding and washing down with TSP and letting it dry—and then we layered on a coat of a floor paint. One thing I’ve learned from this process is that British people are way ahead of us on the painted-floor curve (perhaps because they are used to dealing with wonky old floors) and so it’s not a surprise that what seems to be the best floor paint comes from a British company. Which, for bonus points, is no VOC and doesn’t give you a headache as you lay it on.

And, one coat in, we have this:

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I know, I know. Painted floors are a love ‘em or hate ‘em thing. Eventually, if resale comes, we will lay something new down. But we like then and we are the ones living here right now. Which is exactly what I can picture the homeowners back in the 1800s saying, as they swabbed emerald green on the boards, and then the folks who painted the floors scarlet a decade or so later. I mean, we have to live in these houses, but mostly we have to live
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We left the floors to dry and went downstairs, and because I no longer had floors floors floors on the mind, I could take a fresh look at our life. On the dining room table sat the new flowers. Next to last week’s flowers, edging into decline. Sitting beside two other vases of fake flowers that haven’t yet found their forever homes. Four flower arrangements on one table and we hadn’t even noticed, because Oldest House is still barely-tamed chaos.

Hm, I said. Maybe it’s a little much.

It’s a little excessive, Kyle agreed.

Too many flowers. Too many things to do. But it’s a hard thing to be upset by. I can picture the upstairs: a blank, calm place. Waiting.

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What I’ve been doing these last few Mondays, like a strange blogger-squirrel, is writing posts and hoarding them. Instead of homing them at Dayton Grit, I let them sit, so that I could test how it felt to say goodbye to this space. And what I found was: it feels pretty good.

Writing is so useful for patting and patching and molding an experience until it’s something you feel okay with. It’s also useful good for faking completion when there’s no end in sight. But I don’t think it’s any accident that, as we’ve crept up to the two year mark of moving to Dayton, I’ve found myself not needing to write about the houses in the same way. Two years is a magical mark. It’s when people fall out of love and the euphoria of lottery-winning fades and the pain of losing a limb diminishes. It’s, also, apparently, when the shock of renovating wears off. If the walls of Old House and New House and Oldest House could talk, they’d say something like, in a lazy, off-hand way: I’m alright. You alright?

Yep, I’m alright.

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So here I am, un-squirreling. I’m posting these old, hoarded posts, throughout the rest of the week, with the final post next Monday. Because May 25 is, give or take a day, our two year Dayton-versary. Which will be a celebration, because I mean, guys? We even have a real closet now and it has almost all of our clothes.

It’s pretty big-time. And it’s time.