Monthly Archives: June 2015

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There is this feeling, like a stone dropped into the heart, that makes you say: sometimes you just know. I cherish that feeling, because in case posts on floors and paint haven’t made it clear, it’s not usually where I live. But weeks ago, while we drove the long road back from Georgia, I sat (cross-legged, who doesn’t) and read my book (about taxes, why not) and knew that soon I’d say goodbye to Dayton Grit. And this is that time.

Not because we are done. Ohmygoshwearenotdone.

In Oldest House we still have a staircase we want to take out and a laundry room we need to build and a bathroom and a kitchen to revamp. In two weeks the painters come to finish the outside (the shrubs from the Christmas photo have been cleared out to make way):

Christmas photo, but you can see: the front was very shrubb-y.

Christmas photo, but you can see: the front was very shrubb-y.







And at Old House we still need to take care of a few little details. Like HVAC and electric and plumbing and putting up walls. Ohmygoshwearenotdone.

But what I also know is that we’ll never be done. Which is fine, because real life doesn’t do happy endings. Happiness means life is still unfolding. So we will finish these renovations—in time for the second round to begin. And in the middle of all of that, we will be happy and we will be sad and we will love and we will fight and we will be living.

The other day Kyle and I talked about these last two years, and in case you were wondering: yes, we’d do it again. And we mean the whole thing, with the stolen truck and the dying birds and the bellies in the dirt. With the kitchen that looked like this:


I’ve talked about staying in the proximal zone, and it makes so much sense, but what I’ve come to believe in even more is taking on something that is far bigger. Trusting you will grow to meet it. The downside, of course, is that accelerated growth is painful. And if you don’t have support, it’s more than painful. But we did have support—our people. Whether they were in Ohio or Georgia or New York or Texas or somewhere else. Not to mention this guy:

Cat Architects

And this girl:


And each other. And so what I keep thinking of is one of the contractors who came to visit Old House, who stood awed in the open chasm of the living room. He turned and he turned, taking in everything. He listened to me tell the story: of how we bought it without seeing it, not imagining how big a project could be. How we threw ourselves into another home, and then into another, because this home was nowhere near ready. How we’ve struggled and how we’ve kept moving on and how we are nowhere near done yet but how we are not giving up.

And he stopped turning and taking it in. He put a hand on his chin and looked at me. And he said, I don’t mean to pry or anything, but how is your marriage? Because this stuff… this stuff is hard.

Which I’ve heard before, from our veteran renovators, about all the marriages that crumbled along with the plaster and old brick during the big transformation that swept the neighborhood.

And I said, and I meant it, we’re doing great. I mean, it’s been hard, sometimes. But we’re doing great.

Which is true. Sometimes you set out to build one thing and you build something else instead.

It’s been a beautiful two years.


Memorial Day. We are sitting in the park, in a big, rough circle, in lawn chairs and on blankets and straight on the damp grass. We are balancing plates of pulled pork and fresh beet salad and fresh fruit. We are talking and one person is juggling and other people are complaining (about the line for the food) and there is some gossiping and there is lots of eating. That is neighbors.

Around which time, a neighbor asks: are you still doing that blog thing?

Not really, I say.

Too busy doing the thing you are blogging about, he says. Smiling.

No, not really, I say. It’s just—you know, you write to learn from something. But now that I’ve written about the houses for so long, I keep turning up the same lessons. Like: stay committed. But be flexible. Like: be nice to each other. Same thing, again and again.  It’s hard to say it new.

And that’s true. Renovating seems to teach so many of the same things, whether we’re working with wallpaper or siding or plaster or foundations. Or one of us is spending [fill insane number of hours here] shopping for a stair runner while the other person is upstairs in the land of dusty drywall for [fill in insane number of hours here].

I’ll let you guess who was the one drywalling. Handiwork here:


Anyway, at that neighborhood Memorial Day picnic, the one with the juggling and the pulled pork and the conversation about Dayton Grit, someone brought a book about veterans and wedged it at the start of the buffet. Trying to remind us all, in the midst of food and gossip, what the day was about. Because we forget the things we never could have imagined we’d forget.

And so I know, too, that one day we will forget most of what we learned with these houses. What I hope is that it is mostly drywall installation and sanding techniques and those types of things that we lose. Not the really important stuff.