Tag Archives: Home improvement

In Case You Were Wondering

Melencolia I. Print of Albrecht Dürer
Melencolia I. Print of Albrecht Dürer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These past few weeks have been challenging. Sometimes I feel like Mighty Mouse trying to save the day against crazy odds.

Most of the time I think I’m more like Wile E. Coyote and life is a rent house full of those tricky anvils ready to fall on my head when I least expect it.

A few weeks ago one of our erstwhile renters decided to duck out in the middle of the night, leaving quite a bit of damage behind. It’s all good. We had her deposit. Okay well, her deposit covered the cost of the paint and sheet-rock mud.

So this is the thing. My husband wants to sell and I agree. But the place was a mess. So we gutted the kitchen, somehow scumming past the giant, dead or dying Palmetto bugs (they resemble giant cockroaches) and bundles of human hair stuck between the stove and the refrigerator to decide what we were demolishing. All the lower cabinets, and the breakfast bar-top in the kitchen had to go, maybe the bathrooms needed a serious makeover.

When the lower kitchen cabinets were removed we thought now would be a good time to install a water line to the refrigerator’s ice-maker. While unscrewing the fitting, the pipe broke. Water spewed. Rush outside to cut off water. Water had already been cut off. Quick! Find buckets. Found. Whew! I guess all the water in all the house drained down to that one pipe. We took in what other damage was evident then. The black mold on the sheet-rock from behind the cabinets was overpowering. We tore the offending pieces out. The insulation behind it was made up of tiny Styrofoam balls. They poured from the walls and floated across the floor. After sweeping them up a hundred times – most of them ended up in a garbage bin. Water line is now repaired, replaced pipe, refitted new insulation and sheet-rock.

We decided to gut the bathrooms. Taking out the sinks we discovered a giant depression in the cement foundation under the two of them. What was the purpose of this? It’s the oddest thing I’ve ever seen. We had to buy cement and fill in the depressions so a new vanity would fit in the place of the old ones (one of them we are making a pedestal sink to give an impression of more room.)

At this point we decided to tackle taking out the breakfast bar.

The breakfast bar is a layer of formica coated wood about 58″ long and about 15″ wide. Mark, the handyman, took a crowbar and hammer to it. It didn’t budge. I had a sledgehammer and I suggested that Mark use it. He was willing. I figured he would be. What man doesn’t want to use a sledgehammer? No, the bar still didn’t budge. Mark noticed the tiny dimples along the top and began slamming his claw hammer into them because he said, they were the nails holding the thing down.

There were twenty nails along the 58″ breakfast bar. It took about an hour, with much sweat, and a few choice words to get the wood to budge. By then the brick along the front of the bar was cracked and shaking with every swing of the hammer. Finally, the last nail was pried loose and the bar tilted up and with some effort was torn away from it’s sixty-year-long mooring.

So if you were wondering what happened to the blog all along these past few weeks, this little renovation project is one reason for the delay in my adding a new entry. The other reason is that during this time my mother-in-law was in the hospital briefly. She is fine. We don’t actually know what is wrong or why it happened.

Onward and upward we strive forth through the sea of tiny Styrofoam bits!

Two (or three) Mighty Mice to save the day!

I Have Lived With Houses

Houses home our best or worst memories.

For those who watch the home improvement shows. I’m running circles around Suzie’s House. Ha!

This past weekend was one which will not be soon forgotten, or repeated. I went to a writing conference at the same time the moving van pulled up to our sweet Victorian cottage to load everything up and move us to the Arts and Crafts home that we’ve been renovating since January. I’d been packing for weeks, and getting material ready for editor and agent review for weeks. And biting my nails. There’s nothing like piling stress on stress. Does wonders for the neck muscles.

Like the characters in my novels, every house renovation jets me into some kind of trouble which seems impossible to get out of. The deeper one digs, the more trouble one unearths.

Foundation work took over a week because the 1910 house was that settled. Plus, the double porches on three sides of the house had to be raised separately. When they raised the back porch, the bottom one fell apart. So it had to be rebuilt to support the top porch. In rebuilding it I had them enclose part of it to create a mud room. Success! Then it rained. Whoops, forgot to waterproof above the sheet rock.

When exposing the chimney flue on the inside (at the kitchen) the builder found that there was NO support beam for the upper floor where it was needed. No wonder the toilet leaked. The upstairs bathroom was caving into the kitchen. I went to flush the toilet the day I didn’t know the sewer line was frozen and the black water shot out, splattered past me and into the tub. Yuck!

Now all toilets flush.

That is huge.

The only thing left is having the air conditioning, the electric and the plumbing pass inspection. Oh, and adding knobs to a few doors.

When we bought the Victorian cottage there was a pot-holed drive way and several street people sleeping under the house or in the shed. We paved the drive, tore up the none-existent sidewalks, and added a fence around the property. The house itself was not livable as the air-conditioning had irreparably broken, which we didn’t know until after we purchased the property. It had limped along until somewhere between signing on the dotted line and getting home warranty insurance.

The Victorian is perfect now. Ready for some fortunate person to purchase it and move in.

The house I grew up in was asbestos shingled, with a white rock roof. No one knew about asbestos then, just knew asbestos made it fire-proof. The shingles were painted daffodil yellow. I remember feeling proud that my house could be seen from a great distance.

Ha. Ha. A huge distance. That house was day-glow before day-glow existed.

There was a crack in the foundation. It was so wide you could see daylight. My brother and I would sit and wait for lizards to crawl in and capture them. To this day I’m crazed if a Palmetto bug skitters too near my feet. This is because for a period of time, after my parents built their bedroom and gave me their old room, I would go to my bed and flip the covers back. There was a Palmetto bug sitting there, waiting for me. It happened again and again. Go in, flip covers, Palmetto bug, scream. Palmetto bugs look like giant cockroaches. I am still afraid.

My grandmother’s house I remember with fondness. I spent a great deal of childhood with my grandmother. There was a painted wood staircase that led to an apartment upstairs. Instead of closet doors there were heavy velvet curtains. My cousins and I would put on plays. I discovered an easy-bake oven one day and burned my fingers.

That house was built in 1889. It didn’t survive Hurricane Carla in 1961. Termites had undermined the beams beneath it and the wind blew it sideways and it crumbled.

My husband and I bought our first house in 1987. It was one of thirty homes out in the middle of a field and across the highway from one of Texas’s finest prison farms. Unwittingly the phone wiring wasn’t sophisticated enough for the phones and so we all shared a party line. This neighborhood wasn’t Mayberry. You could pick up the phone any time day or night and someone would be carrying on a conversation. These people would get abusive when asked to give up some phone time. The first day my oldest went to Kindergarten, the police were searching cars as we left the subdivision. I thought it was a drug raid. As I pulled up the policeman shone his flashlight in my face, like they do on TV. I asked him what was going on. A prisoner had escaped and was seen crossing the highway and slipping over a fence. Shaken I took my son on to school and rushed home to make sure all the doors and windows were locked.

Turned out the prisoner had broken an ankle slipping over the fence and that yard was surrounded by big dogs so he had no where to go. That was two blocks from my house.

Time passed. We raised two kids. The area sprouted five thousand houses.

The p-farm sold to a developer.

We moved farther into the country, where we lived on the edge of a creek. And dealt with banana spiders the size of your hand, water moccasins, and gorgeous sunsets. I miss that house.

We moved downtown beneath the big city skyline to an ultra modern townhouse with a chef-designed kitchen. TOO many stairs in that place. Two weeks after we moved in, Hurricane Ike swept past not a mile from us. The big trees in the neighborhood were uprooted and left higglety-pigglety in the streets.

Felt like renovating a hundred year old house, found one, fixed it and moved in. In this house I learned that street people are important to get to know. There are good ones and bad ones. I got to know Reggie, The Razor, Robinson (former boxer), Cash (a former pimp), Bear (he always wears a clean white shirt, a tie, and a smile, and Reno (don’t trust Reno). I learned that if you pay attention, these are the people who either make your neighborhood safe or make it horrible. Street people know what is going on. They keep watch. They know when a car should or shouldn’t be where it is, etc.

Two years later, meaning now, my husband and I found another hundred-year-old house that needed love. We fixed it (mostly) and moved in.

What have I learned?

First, I don’t think I’ll ever move house on the same day as a conference again. That was silly.

Secondly, making alleys through the boxes isn’t such a terrible thing.

Expected Changes

My blog posts haven’t been regular with all the major changes going on in our family. We expect to move from our  one hundred year old Victorian cottage to our newest project – a one hundred year old Arts and Crafts house that we’ve been renovating.

My art room is overrun with boxes of light fixtures.

Sometimes things don’t go as expected. Sure there are some bumps in the road to a renovated house. For instance, the builder installed the kitchen sink under a window as planned but off-center, which was not planned. The entire cabinet layout had to be ripped out and re-installed to get it right. There are unfinished projects in the cottage where we live. I switched out an outdated bathroom sink and installed a pedestal sink. Perfect! Then painted the bathroom yellow. Not so perfect! With the new light fixtures installed the yellow hurts my eyes. Thankfully it is just paint. Unlike the new drawer pulls in the new old house kitchen which are not placed correctly. This is something that can not be changed without replacing drawer fronts. And replacing drawer fronts mean re-ordering and re-ordering means delays in the work schedule and delays here mean delays in the move-in date. And on and on.

When my daughter graduated from university and then got a job in her field (science) we were very happy for her. And three weeks later she tearfully told us that she was expecting. Her boyfriend told her he had things to do for himself. When pressed for details he texted her that he “wanted out”.

What a jerk.

So moving away from home and getting an apartment with a girlfriend isn’t exactly an option. So we will adapt. We will make room, we will rearrange and celebrate this new expectation.

I’m going to be a grandmother.

That’s an excellent thing.