Blood, Sweat, and the Tears of Eternal Home Improvements

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Isn’t a closed entry an oxymoron?

To start our new year, hubby and I spent the day in our fixer upper. We will be spending most of the weekend there to get things ready for the wood floor guy who is starting on Monday and will be adding in new boards in the entry way to replace the outdated tile, as well as sanding off the old, oil-based stain and putting down a colorless, waterborne finish for us. To save money on the floor work, we agreed to pull out the worn carpet, remove the tack strips and staples, and take off the baseboards. There is no love lost in these changes. The two-inch baseboards are unimpressive at best and the carpet is the physical equivalent of a perpetual yawn. It has been fun slicing it up and yanking it out. There is something oddly cathartic about ripping up the old on the first day of a new year. As I slashed that beige carpet and its companion pad and tossed it unceremoniously into the garage, I thought about the things that didn’t go the way I had hoped in 2015. I imagined ridding myself of last year’s mental baggage as easily as I jettisoned that floor covering. A fresh start is therapeutic and invigorating. And, in my case, about six months overdue.

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The tile job from hell

The first task of the day was finishing grouting the wall and the tub surround in the hall bath. We squeaked by on the bag of grout we had, just barely completing the job by literally scraping the bottom of the grout barrel. Although the end result didn’t pan out exactly as I imagined it in my mind, it feels good to be moving on. As a learning experience, tiling this bathroom has been exceptional. I can now say that I have the know-how to remove tiles, pull out a toilet, operate a wet saw, lay tile, use a grout float properly, and tell you the difference between porcelain and ceramic tiles. I also know what rectified tile is and why you might want it. I will never look at another tiled surface in the same light again. Everywhere I go lately, I am finding it far more interesting. It’s amazing what a little education can do to your world view.

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Living Room 1964

As much as we’d love to take all the credit in this latest installment of Little House in the Mid-Size City, the biggest improvement this week came courtesy of our contractor, Simon. He transformed the tired, dated fireplace in the living room into the modern focal point we envisioned. One of the things that stood out to us when we first found this house was the two fireplaces, one upstairs and one down. Both are wood burning and use their own flue. We decided early on to add a gas insert to the fire box upstairs and leave the basement fireplace as is so we can enjoy the occasional crackle of an old-school, indoor fire. Before we could schedule the install of the gas insert we selected for upstairs, though, we had some remodeling to do to create the sleek, streamlined look that will match. The brick facing needed to go, and the faster the better. Early on we settled upon a look we had in mind and set out to recreate it as closely as possible. We found some tile that fit the bill perfectly and were smart enough to leave its install to a professional.

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Living Room 2016

I have to say, I think Simon rocked it. He found the best configuration for the tile and created a custom, walnut mantle that is taller and deeper than the previous one. Our taste in living room furniture leans toward modern contemporary, so we will at last have a room that suits us completely. We’ll be mounting our television over the mantle. We debated this for quite a while after reading myriad articles about this placement on the Internet. There are a lot of opinions about this practice, but ultimately we decided that for the furniture configuration we wanted this was the best option. Setting the television to the right of the fireplace would put it too close to the eight-foot wide window and create too much glare. Besides, we’ve always wanted a spot for cozy reading chairs, and they belong in front of that expansive window. We bought an angled mounting bracket for the tv so we can reduce the potential for neck strain looking up at the screen. With the can lights we added back in October and the flawless hardwoods that had been hidden for decades finally exposed, this room is coming together better than we imagined. I’m beginning to see the potential hubby saw in this house while I was still dragging my heels and clinging to my doubts.

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Banged and bandaged

Looking back to when we first took possession of this home on October 5th, I wish I had kept track of how many hours we have logged working on it. We knew when we bought the house that this would be a growing experience for us both. We’ve stepped way outside our wheel house here. I’ve never had an eye for design because, frankly, it’s never mattered. We don’t spend much time in our home. Our house is a big container that holds all the crap necessary for our exploits. We like travel and the great outdoors, and we don’t spend a lot of time hanging out at home. We come in, drop our stuff, grab new gear, and head back out. Our home is a place to do our laundry, eat, sleep, and wait for our next adventure. With this new home, we’re becoming invested in a way previously unprecedented for us and not just through the ever-increasing budget necessary to turn a 1964 house into a 2016 home. We are committing blood, sweat, and tears here every day. I am sore, bruised, and banged up. Today I cut myself three times in an hour, each time running a mental check on the date of my last tetanus shot. 2010, I think. At least I hope that’s right.

Who knows? Maybe when we’re done grouting tile we really love and hanging doors we’ve chosen, when the wounds from nails we’ve impaled ourselves on have healed, we will decide to stay put more often in a new, old house that fits our family, dreams, good intentions, quirks, missteps, and all.

It’ll Be Grrrreat!

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Looks good on the outside

So, a couple months ago we did this crazy thing. We bought a fixer upper that we plan to move into next spring, after we fix it up. At the time, I promised that I would blog about our experiences renovating a 1960s ranch house. Honestly, it seemed like an easy enough thing to promise at the time. I was looking for things to write about and this redo seemed like easy fodder. Along the way, however, I learned a few things about renovations. One: They suck up a lot of waking hours. Trying to balance every day life in one house with two children and a dog while trying to tile a bathroom in a house across town is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Two: Projects are messy. I am solid Type A-. I would like to blog about something in a linear fashion, from start to finish, and tie it all up with a neat little bow. This would be a lot easier to do if anything we started months ago was actually finished by now. Three: Physical labor is exhausting. I am a writer. I sit on my butt in bed with a laptop and only my fingers get a workout. Ripping up linoleum, lugging out toilets, and tiling bathrooms is tiring. By the end of the day, I fall into bed and pray morning will miraculously arrive two hours later than usual the next day. And, for  all these reasons, it has been problematic for me to blog consistently (or, let’s face it, at all) about this (or any other) experience. That changes now, ladies and gentlemen. Today I make good on my promise and present our mess in progress.

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Family room paint update

The first thing we tackled was painting. Most of the home’s interior had been painted what I can only describe as a pale blush, not quite beige, not quite pink, but definitely not a basic, warm white. Pink was not flying for the boys or for me, so it was the first to go. I started in the basement with the boys’ rooms and the family room. Along the way, though, I sadly discovered that three different variations of white had been used on various ceilings throughout the house, which led to my painting every ceiling to achieve consistency.

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Luke’s space

What a pain in the neck, literally and figuratively. It looks great now, but painting ceilings is a chore best left for your worst enemy or your grumpy teenage son. You’re welcome for the torture tip.

Luke and Joe both chose Benjamin Moore Gray Huskie for their rooms, which I love. Luke added a bit of his characteristic ‘tude by requesting some bright orange paint accents (which I did on a section of ceiling) and a funky IKEA pendant light fixture. I really love how that turned out. It’s so Luke!

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Lipstick on a pig

We desperately wanted to replace all the interior doors, but after doing the math we decided to replace only the doors on the main floor for now and to paint the ugly doors in the basement. It sounded like an easy enough plan. Two coats of primer and two coats of fresh white paint were added to twelve doors. Easy peasy. When we went to rehang the three doors in Joe’s room, though, we ran into a snag. Apparently doors like to live where they were originally hung. We had to use trial and error to figure out which door went where and of course we only figured that out after we had installed the hardware. I’m not going to tell you the number of expletives offered during that process, but it was a hefty amount. But, we are learning robots, so we labeled all the other doors to avoid that shell game again. In the end, the result is adequate. New doors would look infinitely better, but they will have to wait until other, more pressing updates are made. Or until we draw the winning lottery numbers.

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Goodbye pointless wall

Meanwhile, upstairs we began destroying things. We tore out a couple old walls with spindle openings. Good riddance. We removed the ugly tile at the entry way to replace it with oak hardwoods to match the rest of the main floor. We had a contractor tear out every door and its frame on the main floor. At one point, I stood in what was once a move-in ready (albeit outdated) home, and shook my head in disbelief wondering what we had done. Tearing down walls is fun. Realizing that you have to fix your mess is something else entirely.

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Hideous 60s bathroom

The biggest project we’ve undertaken thus far is the full bathroom on the main floor. We demolished it with plans to add new tile floors, subway tiles on the walls and in the tub surround, a new cabinet and toilet, updated lighting, and a huge mirror. We have the incredible fortune to have talented friends in the plumbing industry. They have sacrificed full days teaching us how to mix mortar, cut tiles, properly install tile on walls, lay out floors, and even weld plumbing. They have taken what would have been a $5k bathroom project and turned it into a project half that cost.

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New tile for everyone! 

We’ve spent four full days with four full grown adults trapped in this small bathroom. The end is in sight. We hope to grout the tile this weekend. If we can get the plumbing hooked back up by the first weekend in January, I will be thrilled. I will definitely share before and after photos once it is completed. Once that bathroom is operational, we move on and tackle a light update in the closet that constitutes our new master bath all by ourselves. At least, that is the plan…until we really mess something up and have to call Ron and Carol to save us.

January is going to be a big month for our new home. We’re having the original wood floors sanded and sealed. The outdated brick fireplace is getting a facelift with new tile and mantle. We’re ordering new carpet to be installed in the basement. And I will continue to paint living areas and bedrooms upstairs while we update our tiny master bathroom. Somehow we are going to manage all this while fitting in the boys’ weekend ski lessons. We will. Trust me. I am determined now. We’ve been staying at the house one night a week on ridiculous air mattresses, and it already feels like home. It’s hard for me to visualize how it will all come together, but I know it will. Time is flying by during this process and sometimes it is hard to keep my eyes on each ball as it is suspended mid air, but I’m doing it. It can be daunting, but I am leaning into it and learning more than I thought possible. I just keep on keeping on with Tony the Tiger roaring in my head. It’ll be grrrrreat! 

 

Seven Years To A Dog

Goodbye, suburbia. Hello, brick ranch in the city!
Goodbye, suburbia. Hello, brick ranch in the city!

You know the time discrepancy they say exists between human years and dog years? I feel that same time disparity in my life right now. I am the dog in this scenario, and I have lived a year in the past month. In four short weeks, we looked at homes, found one, and closed on it. On Monday, we took possession of a 1960s-era, boxy, brick ranch in the city. We will spend the next six months renovating it, transforming it into our personal space in preparation for our final severance from suburbia next spring. This morning I find myself sitting in our future dining room writing at a plastic table while awaiting the internet installer. After only a few days, the house feels like home. I already know how the sun moves through the rooms and the ambient light changes throughout the day. I recognize the quiet rumble of the heater when it springs to life with its echoes of distant thunder. The backyard is my oasis, a private park with mature trees gently shading the ideal spot for an adirondack chair and a good book. Denver is my old friend. Everything is close here, intimate and accessible. And, in an introvert’s dream, I can live anonymously in its confines, obscured by the constant buzz of a world hurriedly carrying on without any notice of me.

Still, with all the familiarity around me in my new space, there is upheaval. I find myself in a netherworld, half out of my old life and half into my new existence. The boys are growing up faster than I imagined they could. Joe starts high school next year and he is now tall enough that I can watch his green eyes up close as he processes that he will soon be taller than me. He shows no signs of regret in leaving our current home and growing up; he relishes the dream of a basement space where he can revel unabated in teenage solitude. The new house gives him room to slide out of my hands and into his independent life as he was always meant to do, but the implications of this transition are simultaneously amazing and horrifying. There are days when all I want to do is sit on the couch swilling midday wine and wallowing in episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine on PBS Kids to mourn his growth. Alas, no amount of wishing to go back has materialized a time machine in which I could take that trip.

So I have found other coping mechanisms. I admit I’ve sought refuge in a binge-watching grave of The Office. You know, television is great for creating vacuous space in your head. And it’s a good place to idle while you’re waiting for motivation, but it’s no place to reside permanently. It’s time to bid adieu to things past. I’m working to separate from parts of my existence that were so integral to my being that I feel physically crushed by their emotional loss. I’ve been hobbling along in a Dunder-Mifflin haze for too long trying to avoid noticing those phantom limbs. Now that we’re committed to this new house, though, that time must end. Shit is getting real. It’s time to harness my rapidly spinning mind and use that energy to move, both literally and figuratively.

One way I hope to manage this shift over the next year is by returning to writing. As we inch along making improvements to our new home, I am going to document the physical transformation of our new space here. Along the way, I will work with added ferocity to live in the present (even though the present becomes the past with increasing speed as the boys get older). I’m positive I will discover a thing or two about myself and about my future trajectory as we set ourselves up for this next phase in our lives. Learning new skills, like tiling floors and installing custom closets, could help improve my self-esteem and garner additional confidence. The more I allow myself think about it, the more excited I become to shake off the weight of Michael Scott and see what I will uncover and where I will land. Goodbye, Scranton.