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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

It wasn’t long ago that I promised myself to post regularly on Mondays, but, you know: the new Monday is Tuesday lunch break. And, also, we moved on Thursday (the coldest night of the year) and a friend came to town on Friday and then this weekend we painted pictures of our pets (or, you know, made art) and ate omelettes at the Farmer’s Market and quaffed 1800s-style beer and listened to the fantastic jazz music from the local magnet arts school and tried to persuade another friend to adopt a worried-looking pitbull named Arielle.

So, basically: chaos and fun and fun in chaos and chaos in fun. And that is how Monday became Tuesday.

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Now, about the Big Move. We’ve moved a lot in less than two years in Dayton. All the way from Texas to Old House, Old House to a neighbor’s apartment, neighbor’s apartment to upstairs at New House, upstairs at New House to downstairs at New House, downstairs at New House to upstairs at New House, and—finally, this last week—from New House into Oldest House. I don’t know if you caught that, but in one year we moved three times within one building. It’s been a period of unmerited-optimism-meets-gloriously-poor-timing. It’s been exhausting. It’s been liberating. It’s been a little excessive (and this is coming from someone who move twelve times over a ten year period in her pre-Dayton life). It’s why, when the woman at the credit card company needs my address so that she can verify my identity, I answer like this:

“Hmm,” I say. “Ummm,” I say. She waits. “Hmm.”

But now I know where I live. We are in our home, as long as we are in Dayton. We still don’t have all our belongings with us (that will be Move 2.0, once we get the floors in upstairs) and it is still an unsettled living-space that wouldn’t fit most people’s definitions of home. But it is home. I feel it.

And in the midst of this weekend’s busyness, Kyle made progress on bringing it one step closer to being a finished house. One of the upstairs rooms was left forever-marked by a border hung halfway (like a room with a belt!) and so we decided to add some chair rail molding to cover the lines. The other option would’ve been to skim-coat the plaster, but the room is kind of formal (or will be, once a saw isn’t in the middle of it and it has a real floor) and we thought the wide baseboard and the fireplace would take to the molding:

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So far, so good. I have a dream of picture-frame detailing, but since that dream is more specifically Kyle hanging said picture-frame detailing and since he isn’t that into it: it’s a project for another day. Which is fine. I’ve got other dreams. (Run, Kyle, run.)

So it’s been a good first few days in our new place. And I’m glad that those first few days coincided with an old friend’s visit. Unlike the credit card company, I don’t need an address to verify my identity. I love houses, but it’s the people around me that help me remember who I am. So even if our home is hectic, that’s okay. Maybe Oldest House can’t fit all of our furniture yet, but it can accommodate friends as we chat on the couch and flowers from the husband and a few magnificent animal portraits, too. It’s not at all perfect. And it’s exactly what it needs to be.

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A sweet friend of mine, who also lives a military lifestyle, said: whoever said absence makes the heart grow fonder, they just didn’t know what they were talking about. Absence makes the heart exhausted and absence makes the heart forgetful and absence makes the heart worried and if absence still does make the heart fonder, it doesn’t always rise to the top of that grand mish-mash of emotions. Which makes sense, because your heart is your heart. It might like your person, but what it needs is your survival. It’s in your heart’s greater interest that you learn to appreciate distance, instead of yearning for a person gone.

So I’ve learned to love my space while Kyle has been away the last few months. In that quietness I’ve painted (just walls—not fun things) and I’ve written. I’ve drank cocktails with friends and made myself gourmet pizzas and taken dance classes. I have, perhaps most importantly, left delicious leftovers in the fridge and have found them when I’ve reopened said fridge! I’ve also had a lot of time to think about how the pieces of my life fit together and what pieces need to look different or be different. That’s been good, too. (Unless you ask people around me, who may/may not be tired of my pronouncements that I must do ___ or cannot do ___ because I have laser-like clarity about ___. Laser-like! Extra annoying.)

But as of this Friday, Kyle is back. He’s unpacking boxes in the kitchen at Oldest House and putting new light bulbs in the light fixtures I insisted were broken (and they were, if burnt out light bulbs count as broken) and waking up before me to take the dog out and to make oatmeal and coffee. And, okay, maybe I mentioned the night before that I thought it would be great to make banana pancakes together in the morning and then walk to the local coffee shop, but: close enough! Oatmeal makes the heart grow fonder. Freckled faces make the heart grow fonder. Red roses shoved in a thermos bottle make the heart grow fonder. Watching the man you love pet the dog you love makes the heart grow fonder. Absence: it has nothing on presence. I love that he is home.

Not that there isn’t friction in re-learning living together. Needless to say, the dog that has tried to follow every man in military uniform home the last few months is exuberantly pleased the man is back. Needless to say, the cat that has enjoyed luxuriating on a half (okay, maybe more like 2/3rds) of the bed is moderately pleased the man is back.

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And, also, we have big decisions to make. We’ve hired someone to take on the structural work at hollowed-out Old House, forty something pages of detailed notes that look like this:

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And in light of the imminent structural work, we have more decisions to make. One decision that’s been taken off the table: straightening the house. We are packed too closely between neighbors to bring in the equipment we need, and also, we don’t really feel like taking off the roof. So all of this work and money to straighten the house is now just work and money to lock the house into (slanty, safe) place.

I’ve run the numbers, and our crooked Old House just doesn’t make sense to live in, or to immediately sell as a single-family. It only makes financial sense as a rental. Ideally as a double, which is why we’ll be speaking to zoning next week.But that is so different from what we were working for, that it’s hard for us, or at least me, to divorce ourselves from that vision of Old House. It’s harder, I think, because there is too much proximity. We’ve lived around the corner from it, and that vision has lived inside of us, for well over a year now.

But numbers. Numbers are good for distance.

And distance is good for some things.

Last week Mango disappeared. He is an indoor-outdoor cat, but that little Texan doesn’t do cold, and I knew when I couldn’t find him that something was wrong. I searched for days and then took a morning off of work, printed off $50 worth of posters, and plastered the neighborhood with photos of his face. There is nothing like running into a coworker when you are wandering your neighborhood in penguin-print pajama pants and paint-splattered boots and plaintively calling Mango!

The same weekend Mango disappeared, Godiva decided she could no longer do stairs. I spent a day carrying my 50 pound dog up and down the stairs, until my back told me to quit it. Then I discovered whipped cream, with all of its stair-conquering deliciousness. Then, because in our current chaotic living we have one dog bowl and a stack of vintage plates, I discovered whipped cream served on china.

My husband said: this seems to be escalating rather quickly.

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The whole week was a mess. But the good news is that the vet put Godiva on painkillers and steroids that seem to be helping. And also, after hours in the cold hanging posters, I changed into my work clothes and forlornly stood by my car and called for Mango one final time. And just stood there, because that’s what being forlorn is. Which meant I was still standing there when Mango called back.

I figured out he was in my neighbor’s garage. Because rumor has it that women can lift cars off of children in times of duress, I thought, no worries! I’ll just tear this garage door open.

Or not.

So instead I called my neighbor. Who, it turns out, had left town a few days ago, and who had unwittingly locked Mango in his impenetrable two story brick-fortress of a garage. And who was still out of town, but who advised me on how I could get in, which involved a ladder, and kicking off my boots so that I could better climb said ladder, and a crowbar that, okay, I didn’t need at all but had picked up just in case, because I was gonna get Mango out.

And I did. Then I happily spent an hour tearing down all of the posters, while Mango devoured several cans of cat food and lolled in the sudden sunshine.

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So this is all to say: I haven’t done a thing on the houses this week. Sometimes you have to show up for the things you love. Sometimes that is easy, and sometimes it is hard. While I’ve been wrapped up in the animal-saga, I have friends and family raising young children and caring for sick family members. And, usually, the world doesn’t shove other demands aside to give us time for those that need us. And, unfortunately, it isn’t like the moment we are needed we suddenly become better or stronger or more graceful than we’ve been. But if we can be there—clumsy and confused and maybe even wearing penguin-print pajamas—it’s enough, I think.

So, in order to celebrate the fact that this week was a fiasco and that I was mostly running around like a crazy person, but that this was also the week I was able to be what I needed to be for those critters that I love, I share this photo montage of countertops gone wrong. Which I was going to fix and finish this week, and which I didn’t.

Meet the original counters:

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Meet my counters after a coat of Ardex feather finish:
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It was fun slathering the Ardex on. Then came the sanding. I had read other bloggers’ accounts of hours spent sanding and mountains of dust, so I decided to go my own way. I hooked up my electric sander to the vaccuum and had the work done in an hour–with hardly any mess.

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And then. Buoyed by my unexpected sanding success, I decided I could probably do better with the topcoat. Most bloggers said they were annoyed by the oil blotches and acid stains that seem to mark even the toughest sealers, and so I thought: I’m just going to oil the counters from the get-go!

Friends, do not try this.

It’s hard to capture the blotchy disaster of the counters in photos. But it’s okay. I’ll fix them. It’s not the biggest challenge. And it’s definitely not the most important.

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The woman who meets me in front of Old House seems disappointed. “I was supposed to meet Kyle,” she says.

“Yes,” I explain. “That’s my husband.” I look at her, a pretty moon face with wrinkles around pale blue eyes, blondish hair pulled back in a ponytail. “You don’t look like Robert,” I say.

It turns out Robert has retired. His hauling business is now hers, though it still bears his name. She is the boss now, she says. So we go into Old House and talk about tearing out the rest of the plaster and cleaning out the accumulated mess.

“Don’t you worry,” she says. “This is a good house in a good place. I’m seeing the potential.”

“Uh-huh,” I say. I appreciate stretching things in the direction of positivity, what those in real estate call puffing. I mean, sometimes I demand it: I am the woman who let go of the dog trainer because he described our girl in unflattering terms, when what I really wanted to hear was absolutely beautiful and perhaps a little badly behaved. There are times, when someone comes to you in need (see: renovating, see: dogs who bark too much) that puffing is necessary and kind. But even I think she is pushing it a bit far.

Still, her boys get to work. The plaster starts coming down, coal dust blooming in the air and settling over everything. Meanwhile, we begin emptying out Old House. Paint cans and millions of paint samples go, followed by piles of warped wood. Not-Robert lifts up a soot-covered hat, touches it. She decides we can keep it, because she doesn’t want to get me in trouble with the pale-skinned husband. She looks at the mini-fridge that was supposed to be part of our mini-kitchen during renovations, says she can find it a home. I offer up that maybe she can find the old creaky dresser and corner cabinet homes, too.

“Mm,” she says. “Yeah. That’s junk. That’s what we get rid of.”

Not-Robert knows when it’s not time to puff.

I trust your judgment, I tell her. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful or valuable. And so the place gets cleared out, piece by piece, and it is lovely having someone else decide what goes and what stays. I picture a world where we rest our problems at each other’s feet. The United States tackles Greece’s bailout woes, while Greece gets our cantankerous government on track again, or something like that. All of it so much easier when we tackle problems that aren’t ours, without the history and emotion that makes decision-making messy.

The problem that I solve for Not-Robert’s team is simple. “This is dirty work,” I say to her boys, remembering the weeks Kyle and I spent scrubbing charcoal off our skin.

“We need it,” they say.

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An excellent card from an excellent aunt.

Towards the end of the week the project is nearly done, but they still haven’t tackled the room where I found Milt Finch’s signature. I almost don’t say it, because I have given myself, fully, to Not-Robert’s cool, methodical weeding through the mess that is Old House.  But I can’t help myself.

“Look,” I say, “don’t, like, worry about it. But see that, that’s the spot where the guy who put the plaster up back in the day signed his name. So if it happens to come down in one piece, it would be awesome if you could set it aside.”

Not-Robert looks at me. I know exactly what she is thinking. But she doesn’t tell me it’s junk. She also doesn’t puff and tell me it’s a treasure.

“Uh-huh,” she says. Nudging me out the door.

And when I come back there is nothing left: all of the plaster, including the piece that Milt signed, dust on the floor. This isn’t Milt’s house anymore. It is Not-Milt.

Because life is full of excellent metaphors: it can be hard to see progress through the dust.

Because life is full of excellent metaphors: it can be hard to see progress through the dust.

When there is less dust, the rooms more or less look like this.

When there is less dust, the rooms more or less look like this.

If you can't see through the window of the upstairs bedroom at the front of your house while standing in your downstairs kitchen in the back of the house, you just aren't doing it right.

If you can’t see through the window of the upstairs bedroom at the front of your house while standing in your downstairs kitchen in the back of the house, you just aren’t doing it right.

New start.

New start.

But in some ways we always live in our history. I think that is something Not-Robert, she of the business that bears someone else’s name, probably knows. Because when I look at the possessions her boys loaded into the garage–the small pile of belongings that survived her ruthless, magnificant cull–I find this scrap of wood that Kyle uncovered months ago, and which I had forgotten about, nested carefully on top:

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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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