home renovation projects

Wall between office/living room

Image by adamrice via Flickr

Apparently, houses stay up better with load bearing walls. Who knew?

No, the house hasn’t collapsed and the beam didn’t drop on my head as I helped steady it though I had visions of an ER visit, split skull and concussion whenever it wobbled.

Unsurprisingly, my husband did not ask for help even though I was sitting not ten feet away in the office and he could have called Silver earlier in the evening as Edie offered his assistance not once but twice in the same number of days this week.

I had to insist a bit. Not because I enjoy helping. All things hoisting provoke visions of muscle tearing and ligament wrenching when it doesn’t simply make me fear for my safety in general. I offered because the grunting is scary and the thumps – alarming.

By quarter to eleven – yes, that’s P.M. – one of new beams was in place and Dee, at least, was not likely to wake up in the former dining room.

The dust had settled enough to vacuum, which was good because my skin itched even where there were no hives and my eyes, one of which had nearly swelled shut, felt as raw as my sinuses. This was not, perhaps, the best week to be scheduled for allergy testing as I am not allowed any antihistamines or cold medication.

Fortunately, a yoga buddy clued me to the awesome power of gogi berry capsules. Two and my eyes were merely itchy as opposed to clamping shut.

The beams replace the load bearing wall and should be up and secured by end of week – all six of them. After that the front room opens up to us again and we can begin making hurried preparations for Christmas.

Rob’s family – blood and in-law – are converging from all directions, and I have a feeling that things will be Chinese curse equivalent at the very least.

But one interesting moment at a time.

The morning begins with this:

Only in English.

Followed by a little of this:

Although because Rob is a Virgo, there will be proper work attire, precautions to prevent unnecessary inhalation of dust and debris and probably I won’t be allowed to handle the crowbar.

An afternoon practice:

And then endless hours of destruction to be followed by Rob and I questioning our priorities and sanity.

How’s your day going?

The roasting spit in this European medieval ki...

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My husband is a project engineer and is in charge of – among other things – scope management.  Project costs depend largely on scope and if the budgeted project funding falls short, it’s usually because of “additional scope” or “scope creep”.

Now that the weather has begun the bouncy slide toward winter, we’ve abandoned any pretense that the outdoor renovation will proceed any further than it has already. Rob went at the stone work like a 15th century mason, but even his Herculean efforts couldn’t compete with the rainy damp September and he fell behind his own draconian schedule.

What he accomplished astounded nearly everyone who’s seen it. The neighbors literally stood in their yards and watched in awe. Of course, some of this admiration likely stemmed from the fact that until this summer, we were the white trash neighbors with tar paper standing in for siding and rusting cars parked in our front yard (though it was NOT up on blocks – I cling to that with all my middle-classness).

Reno called by weather means that we move indoors. This house has been in a perpetual state of renovation since the mid-1990’s when Rob, Shelley and the older girls moved here from The Fort. Rob told me a story once about Mick asking her mother how she could stand all the hammering and drilling that is really the sound of summer around here.

“It’s the sound of progress,” Shelley told her.

When he thinks about it, my husband is amazed to have had two wives who – for the most part – are extremely patient women where the state of our homes are concerned.

So now, we are indoors and we’d thought to update our tiny shoebox of a 1950’s kitchen. It is so narrow that only one person can stand at the sink at a time, and in terms of storage or counter space – well – meal preparation is a series of contortions that generally restricts the enthusiasm of the cook.*

The seed planted, took root and then began to grow like creeping charlie.

We thought we’d open up our downstairs space by knocking the wall out between the dining and living rooms. Which naturally led to the idea of extending a breakfast bar off the end of our narrow kitchen for more counter and storage space.

Once the wall was out we thought – why not put in a fireplace to heat the downstairs which led naturally to a flat screen tv above the mantel and that of course means we will have to get a couch again.

The kitchen planner listened patiently and thought maybe she could design something and sent us home with instructions to measure, sketch and photograph to give her a base from which to work. And after Rob had done all these things he said to me,

“I think we need to flip the kitchen and the dining room.”

“We’ll have to build the kitchen from scratch,” I said.


Which is how our little kitchen reno gained the urgent need for additional scope.

It’s not as if we hadn’t toyed with a brand new kitchen before. The vastness of such a project convinced us we should simply finish this house and look for newer housing in town. But then there was that little heart attack and the fact that getting mortgage insurance will be next to impossible for several years and … well, neither of us are foolish enough to venture down that road.

The demolition begins this weekend. All the floor has to come up and all the drywall has to come off. My lungs ache at the thought of all that dust. Some of it is probably older than I am. The older kids – Edie, Silver and Mick – offered to help but Rob hates to ask them. So, of course, I did. We don’t need any more heart “incidents” around here.

But it won’t be done for Christmas. And Rob’s mother is coming – possibly with her fiance in tow.**

We will have a living room with a fireplace, sofas, and a flat screen. So, good enough.

*Though to be perfectly honest – this cook really has but the barest interest in it. If it were not for the fact that Rob and Dee would starve, I wouldn’t cook at all.

**A very recent occurrence which caught him off guard but not me. The last time she’d mentioned her gentlemen friend, she used phrases like “handy man” and “good with cars”. She sounded like Edie describing Silver.  I wondered aloud how long it would be before Mick found another doppelganger and earned myself “the look” for it.

I’ve mentioned before that there was a possibility we’d be heading overseas to live for a while. Rob was pursuing a position on a project that would have taken us to the UK and then Saudi Arabia. It would have been a 4 or 5 year gig that would have allowed us to move on to the retirement/second career thing in the mountains a bit sooner than later.

But the job is off. I am not at liberty to go into details, but it had nothing to do with Rob’s suitability. He is, despite his ambivalence, a sought after commodity in his line of work. This was an employment case of “it’s not you, it’s us”. Literally.

So now that we know for sure we are staying put, things that have been on hold or plans that we discussed in only the vaguest of terms are suddenly wide open dreamscapes.

One of the most pressing issues is our home. Rob has been steadily renovating the house we live in for … ever. Or least as long as he’s lived here and that’s a decade plus of years.

And the house is not done. Not even close.

One might wonder that this has been a non-issue for me since moving here going on three years ago now. And it’s not that I am oblivious to my surroundings, though I come quite close to that sort of space blindness, it’s just that I am not a Better Homes and Gardens type. I have a serviceable kitchen, a comfy bed and a place to write. What else does a person need?

Rob thinks we need an addition. One that will attach a garage to the house, add a new master bedroom with en suite and provide us with a large kitchen area. This is not a small project that upends the house a room or so at a time. This is gutting the back yard, tearing out half of the back-end of the house and ripping up a deck that consumed the summer of 2008 and the cement sidewalks that consumed last summer.

On the plus side, an attached garage. I never had one until the last house I bought with Will. I’d lived in Des Moines for 15 years, parking vehicles on the street or driveway and dealing with the weather. The whole first year of Dee’s life was coping with baby carriers and rain or snow or bitter cold or blistering heat or whatever other plagues of Egypt came our way in terms of weather. I loved the attached garage. Somedays, especially after Will was nearly blind and precariously balanced, not having to load the two of them up after somehow getting them outside was the only thing I had to be thankful for all day.

A new master bedroom would give us three bedrooms upstairs and mean that Dee could have our old room, which is twice the size of her current room. We could ditch the playroom downstairs and contain all things child in her larger bedroom space. And she would have a walk-in closet. She would be in heaven although she would have serious en suite envy. She totally believes that she should have a bathroom of her own – attached to her room. Where does she get such ideas?

Aside from hearth and home, there is also employment to consider. Staying means looking for part-time work. I put working on hold for a variety of reasons, but one of them was not being sure we’d be around long enough for me to find and settle into a place before we’d pack up and be gone. Since I didn’t need a paycheck for our survival, it seemed unfair for me to take a job knowing I wasn’t going to be in it long.

My mother’s first words upon hearing we were staying was “Well, now you’ll be able to get a job.”

I start my yoga teacher training this weekend. My current instructor indicated that she would be agreeable to my teaching at her studio, once I am trained and that would be this summer, so yoga is a real possibility as part-time work. It is not a living by any means, but it’s somewhere to start. I want to someday have a studio, somewhere. Be a business owner. I think that is my upbringing. I love to write and blog, but they don’t feed my need for tangible employment. Probably seems silly to some, but I like the idea of going into work. Actually leaving the house kind of work.

We’ve talked about trading in the tent trailer for a holiday trailer, and using it for vacations. Rob wanted to travel the SouthWest U.S., but with the border as it is, I am less keen. And though Americans don’t seem to have any sense of impending doom, the news we get looks more and more dicey. In fact, this coming summer it seems it has never been a better time to stay out of the States.

I am only a tiny bit disappointed about not moving overseas. It could have been fun and interesting in a way that most people’s lives never get to be. But it would have been work and Dee would not have been as happy about it as we would have been. Our mothers were distraught, and the older girls, though they’ve put on brave faces, would have felt abandoned to varying degrees. It is not great for Rob. He gets to continue on as a workhorse and he deserves more. Everyone takes for granted that he will be there to fix things, give advice, loan money and generally make sure the trains run. I doubt that anyone but me really worries about his needs, or wants for him, when it comes to that. Having been in that thankless position, I know how long it can make a day seem.

Although Rob doesn’t think much of the place, there are far worse little towns than The Fort to call home. It will not be home forever, I don’t think, but it is good enough for now.

Funny, I just read a blog piece about “good enough” and how that kind of settling is a bad thing. I didn’t really agree.

The last few days have found me in funky sort of mood. Not wanting to delve, I ignored it but yesterday at lunch Rob noticed it in my eyes and tone. I absolutely can’t hide from him.

Found out, I was forced to examine and came to the following conclusions:

  • I miss working, but I miss the idea of it and not the reality*.
  • All the reno work and child rearing of the past weeks has kept me from my manuscript and I can feel the loss of muse time in my marrow.
  • I am like a canine when it comes to sorrow. I pick up on the vibrations of others like dogs hear those seemingly noiseless whistles, and it exhausts me.
  • I really am happier when BabyD is in school all day long.
  • While I love having a grown kid around, I will be glad when MidKid moves out again.
  • Rob and I need a date night. Two at least.**
  • I want to go shopping. For myself. By myself.***

That is such a whiny list. I hate being whiny. It adds to the funked – up’d- ness.

Today was an errand day after morning swim lessons and in addition to food – which we always seem to be out of – I needed a new desk calendar. So into Staples I happily skipped with BabyD in tow, but every meditative Nirvana like moment of its wonders was interrupted with a question or a request. Normally a restorative, it became a place to get in and get out of as quickly as possible.

Same with the grocery.

And the library later that afternoon.

Home is no better and even less so when MidKid has the day off. Not that she is underfoot with questions and requests as she keeps to her room in a way that reminds me of the kid in the Steve Martin movie, Parenthood, but just knowing that I am not alone is enough to knock the Zen out of me.

Today it is back to staining wood after a morning of more swim lessons and a tiny bit of gym, but I will sneak away in the evening for a bit to meet with one of my writing groups. Despite having nothing ready to read because I have gotten badly off track with my manuscript between deck and washing dishes and cooking and a child who needs to be back in school (oh, I mentioned that already, didn’t I?).

Rob reminds me that in two weeks, normalcy will return.

But between now and then:

  • a deck needs finishing
  • decorative rock applied to the house
  • sidewalks to pour
  • swim lessons
  • school shopping
  • alien zucchini to transform into loaves of bread
  • two children and all their stuff to move
  • and a possible gallbladder extraction to attend to

Sigh, I just want a little me time.

* Teaching used to be an art. It was creative. I had autonomy. Those days are gone. And so am I.

** When showering is the only alone time a couple is getting, aside from going to bed at night, steps need to be taken.

*** FYI. Shopping is seldom about me. This is the time of year that I used to begin my Christmas shopping in the days of yore. I am thinking I need to return to that. There is nothing like finding the perfect gift for someone. Truly.