Tag Archives: home renovation

A Stinky Wicket

IMAG0222As with all renovation projects you must be aware of the pitfalls. Every renovation will have a problem, or several, okay, perhaps hundreds of problems. We have renovated or done partial renovations to five houses so far.  I’m not counting repainting, or updating flooring in houses we fixed to sell and move from. These are houses we changed by gutting and redoing. For a while there, my husband and I actually chose to take on the task of renovating old houses.

Those were the crazy years.

We are down to two renovated houses. The house we live in was built in 1910. It was updated once around 1979. When we purchased it, the two toilets in the house didn’t work. The one wasn’t connected and the other when flushed would shoot the black sewerage out across the room. That was fun.

The old house is quite nice now. We have three new toilets – I should be specific so you don’t think we have spare toilets sitting around.  We added a large master bath upstairs, put a new toilet in the old bath upstairs (a reno-project yet to be), and created a new half-bath downstairs. The bath downstairs is tiny but suited to it’s purpose. I decorated it as if it had been put in in 1910, complete with light fixtures I picked up at Bluebird resale shop. IMAG0225This picture doesn’t do those light fixtures justice. You’ll have to take my word for it, they look like the ones used in the old days.

The other house we have is a rental house. During those aforementioned crazy years we actually bought a couple of houses specifically to rent. To people. I know. Don’t get me started. The two rental houses were in the same neighborhood, which made fixing them a tiny bit more convenient.

Time passed and bills mounted. We got tired of fixing and repairing and replacing with one of the rent houses. The renter could not change a light bulb. We sold it as soon as our renter legged it in the middle of the night. She left us with holes in the walls, broken fixtures, and an oven that took me two days of soaking with grease remover to scrape clean. (I was rather proud of myself after that – it shone.) There was so much damage in the kitchen we did a partial gut and replaced all the lower cabinets, plumbing, and sink. And we did sell it. So now, we have one rent house.

I’ve been loath to sell it because we have such a wonderful renter. Wonderful renters are a rarity.

I was just thinking this past Tuesday morning how nice it was that nothing had broken since the freezer went out  during the big storm. I caught on to the fact that it was de-frosting when I saw the trail of water across the garage floor. I’m so thankful it was in time to save the good stuff. Two pizzas were casualties though.

Tuesday rolled by. That evening the renter called. She was apologetic (she’s such a sweetheart), but her toilets would not flush. Neither of her toilets would flush. (She has five kids. She NEEDS a toilet!!) I was so sorry to hear it, for her sake. I assured her I would call right away to schedule a plumber. He came the next day and found some blockages and removed them. Everything was working when I left. That evening she called because the toilets were blocked again. I called the plumber back.

Unlike the toilets this story is running on too long, do you feel it?

So what will happen? Best case scenario would be that the only thing I have to do is buy a new toilet, because one toilet is refusing all attempts to fix it. Worst case scenario is when the plumber comes back this Tuesday to use a video camera down through the sewer line, he finds something horrible in that 60-year-old pipe and we have to dig up the foundation and the bathroom.

I don’t want to have to sell the rental house. But there is often so much work that needs to be done with these old houses, it’s hard to keep up.

It’s time for a coffee break. coffee

The Difference Four Years Made

Dec. 2010
Dec. 2010

Five years ago in December we bought a house to restore and sell. Then we discovered we would soon be grand parents and we needed a bit bigger place. So our fixer-upper became our home. We moved in May 2011. It’s been four years and what a difference right?

Can you spot the differences?

May 2015
May 2015

In these four years, we made the house habitable. It had been sitting partially touching the soil. We built a three car garage with apartment above. (Because of city regulations, we could not put it where the original car port was, we had to move it seventeen feet from the property line. So, yes, it takes up the entire back yard.) We planted a few trees. Our peach tree is conspicuously missing. It was right in front of the house about twelve feet from the curb. (Someone dug it up and took it in the middle of the night last week.) We added a fountain in the front yard, you can’t see it because it’s behind a tree.  The upstairs french doors were removed and windows added instead. The lattice was removed as it served no purpose that we could see. The bottom porch’s curved pieces of wood were removed because they were rotted. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, the wrap around bit of cedar shingles was replaced with roofing to give a more tailored look.

The house was built in 1910 by an insurance man who lived on LaSalle street. He built the house at about the time he married. The porches have always been the way they are with the Victorian wrap-around with the slim supports and gingerbread on the balcony and the craftsman style supports on the lower porch.

Nell lives a block away. She is 94 years old. She was born in the house she is living in. She used to play on our front porch when she was a little girl because her grandfather and the man who build our house were good friends and would sit and talk and tell stories on our front porch. It’s nice to know someone who has watched our house all these years.

Dad and daughter
Our girl and her father.
The prettiest flower girl, ever.

The other big thing that has changed since we moved in is that our lovely daughter married. Our precious grand girl has a wonderful step-daddy. We are just pleased as the proverbial punch about this.

Not a Complaint, An Affirmation

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...
St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writing: Sandro Botticelli’s St. Augustine in His Cell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago I was at a writing conference. One of the speakers, an esteemed and prominent agent on the West Coast asked this question: What do you have standing between you and a full commitment to writing?


He asked everyone in the audience to stand. Then he asked all who had ten things standing between them and a full-time daily or hourly commitment to writing, and would those please take their seat. A majority sat. He asked those who had five things standing between them and a full daily, hourly, moment-to-moment commitment to writing to take their seat. The majority of the people left standing sat. He asked who, of the few left, had two things that were more important than a writing career to sit. Many more people sat. And then he asked who had one thing that was more important than their writing career to sit. In the end, only one person was left standing out of two hundred. He pointed to that person and said, “That person will be a successful writer.”


Talk about guilt trip.


But let me talk just say something: Life is what it is. When both my children were in college my husband and I had time on our hands. No more sports events to attend, no more Saturdays coordinating the things that needed coordinating for the children to have a great life. We were free. We went for day trips around Texas. We spent our weekend mornings doing – you guessed it – nothing! After the initial shock of leaving the children in Lubbock (Texas Tech), which is nine hours drive away (Yes, still in Texas), we felt liberated. And I had time to write. I wrote. Lots.


It was fun.


Then, a year after my son graduated and came home from college with a good job, he was ensconced in his nice apartment. Things didn’t stay that way. Life is always about change, isn’t it? He decided it would be good to move back home to save money to buy his own home. He came home with his little Chiweiner dog.

Then my daughter sent me an email with pictures of her new puppy. WHAT? Not good. I told her she had to get rid of the puppy. After all, she couldn’t have a puppy while attending school and living in an apartment with other girls. She was sad.


A few days later her dad asked her (on the phone) why she was so sad. She said that I (the mom) had told her to get rid of her puppy. Her dad said, “I didn’t say you had to get rid of it. You can keep it.”


THAT didn’t go over so well with me and here’s why: The puppy that was supposed to be only 45 pounds according to the pound was already 45 pounds at six months. It’s all about the big feet – puppies with big feet grow to be big dogs. And guess what? By Easter, when the puppy was six months old, the roommates had decided they no longer wanted to live with the dog. So the dog came home to live with us. Now here is a run down of the animals we had in the house – a monster puppy, a chiweiner, an ancient chihuahua, and three cats.


Those of you who have puppies know how hard it is to write with a puppy who barks at nothing, needs to pee at weird times, and has a sensitive stomach, ie, throws up stuff for no reason. So in the middle of struggling over the search for just the right word for just the right sentence the dog throws up his breakfast under my computer. Yuck?


This was not such a disaster because I still had time to redirect my thoughts and get back into the “zone” for getting my writing right after I had dealt with the doggie. Besides, the dog adored me so he couldn’t be all bad, right? I soon decided that I had a good dog on my hands although no one else in our circle of friends thought so. They thought I had “lost it” in my desire to keep this mongrel. He was uncontrollable, was sick on the carpet daily, and he had a pee-holding problem. With a big dog these things are big.


About this time my daughter came home to go to college in our city. She moved back in with us also.


Then my father got sick. I spent considerable time at his bedside but it wasn’t much time in the long run. By the time he was diagnosed he was in the end stages of pancreatic cancer. I had twenty-one days between diagnosis and his death to deal with his confusion and with my mother who couldn’t take care of herself. We moved her in with us. Then we had to deal with their house, which they had taken out a loan for and then had nothing to pay back the loan. So it was going to the bank. But we had to clean it out before that. The house was packed with stuff. Lots of stuff. It took several of us, and several months with friends and family, to get it in order and get it emptied.


My mother lived with me for eight months until she was strong enough to live on her own in a senior apartment, which she loved. Now she is in a nursing home because she requires twenty-four-hour care. My parents-in-law we moved down from Arkansas because they were falling and getting sick and needed care. We moved them into an independent living situation very nearby. We spend time with them, helping them out.


My daughter lived with us and went to college nearby. About two weeks after she graduated she told us she was expecting. She got a good job out of college and has an even better job now. I take care of our precious grand girl.


The difference between our aged parents and our little grand girl isn’t very different. The sameness is scary. It brings it home as to what we might expect when we are in our dotage.


Listen folks. Some things are more important than that agent’s idea of what a REAL writer should be doing.


If nothing of mine is traditionally published I still WIN! I have a great family. I love my family and my family loves me. I don’t expect the world cares a burnt peanut about that but that isn’t important. What is important is that my family is healthy and happy.


And I have a great dog.






When in Doubt, Hit it With a Hammer

This week, I came close to hitting something I shouldn’t have with a hammer. Let’s just say for the record, we have all survived. And for the other record, I AM NOT a violent person. Do not read the last post. This has nothing to do with killing turkeys, renovators need not apply.

So the inevitable day of the big move to another house looms. The movers are arriving on the day that I am scheduled to be at a writing conference wooing two agents and two editors.

There is no stress like home renovation stress.

Thankfully, I have the dog going for a spa weekend.

I’m taking a moment between piling things into boxes,  to create a couple of pages of “blurb” for both my completed novels. One down and one to go.

In the middle of that I decided to add a few before and after photos of some of the renovation work to the blog to keep it new. The awful yellow color before I changed it to the pale gray-blue.

The bathroom where I tore out the 1995 sink and added a pedestal sink that matches the original 1905 tub. The tub has been re-enameled so they really do match. Also added a chandelier over the tub for a little “wow” factor. You can see this in the yellow picture. This renovated bit is in the Victorian cottage. We are putting it on the market in a few days.

What about the hammer? I had to make supply runs to Home Depot so that none of the workers (at the arts & crafts renovation) could take any time away from their finish work. Yes, those knobs were in the budget! Errrrr.

In all this last minute work (staining floors and adding doorknobs), no one had called anyone to come get the old 1970’s satellite dish out of the back yard. About twenty feet off the ground and about five feet across, the eyesore was a little more than I could tear apart. So I enticed my son and one of his friends to come over and knock it down by telling them that they could probably get some money for it at the scrap yard. I gathered up what I could find that workers had left, aluminum cans, pieces of pipe, and three bags of insulated wire. By the time they had sheared the satellite dish off the pole, torn the pole from the ground, and cut it all up into manageable pieces, the scrap yard had closed. They wouldn’t accept a dinner invitation for their trouble but did take a little money for their gas. It was satisfying to see that ugly thing take a serious beating.

I am very, very thankful, Son!

So the hammer didn’t come into play, at least at my hands. Though I did knock some things from the top of the dryer when I slammed the door.

Slip-sliding Down the Plumbing Learning Curve

Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...
Image via Wikipedia

It was a cold and blustery morn. Over thirty states were covered in snow today (Wednesday). More snow than normal. Here in the south it was cold, though not nearly as cold as up north. Our wind-chill factor was in the single digits while the temperature hovered in the twenties all day. Unusual for us.

Britt and I went to the new old house to check the pipes. There is no heat working in the house and the project manager had turned off the water and emptied the pipes the night before the big freeze. I didn’t expect any problem.

We walked in and Britt noticed the frozen puddle in the dining room. There were mini-icicles hanging from a ceiling beam above it.

We went upstairs. Britt climbed into the attic. I turned the corner and stepped into the master bath just as a spout of water shot up from the drain pipe where the shower will be. Water spread out and ran beneath the two-by-fours of the framed closet. Britt went downstairs to look for something to mop it up. I heard him yell and ran down. Water streamed down along the ceiling beam in a cascade of water. He scooted the wheelbarrow that was sitting in the living room to catch water. It wasn’t enough. He ran outside and dragged two garbage bins inside. The swath of falling water was growing. The ceiling plaster was sagging in one corner. He took a broom handle and pushed up. Water gushed.

With nothing to wipe up the mess we drove home for some mops. We were gone about twenty minutes. By the time we made it back the water was frozen solid. We had to use a dust pan as a scraper to get it up off the wood floors.

I went upstairs to check the conditions of the second bath. It is the only surviving bathroom of the demolition work. The toilet was disgusting so I flushed it. Not a good move. Brown water shot from the wall behind the toilet, splashed across the floor barely missing me. I heard Britt yelling from downstairs, “What did you do???”

I rushed downstairs and water was pouring from another spot in the kitchen. At about this time frantic calls to the project manager produced the project manager. He came in calm as the morning breeze and told us that the water backed up because the plumbers had had their “pressure” test earlier.

They had left the pressure cuffs (that look much like blood-pressure cuffs) in the pipes. As the water froze and expanded around the cuffs the water pressure pushed them up and out along with the water. And the toilet? It is so old, they knew they needed to replace it and a few pipes around it. That was scheduled for this week.

The freeze just heightened the troubles a little.

So this week the house may get painted on the outside before it freezes again at the end of the week. And the toilet may get replaced.  And because the plumbers passed their inspection we may get some drywall and tile in so that we don’t have flooding from upstairs to down. I’m only hoping we don’t have to deal with any poop-cycles ever again!


Note on the diet: Salads at fast food places have as many calories as the burgers. Go for the chicken sandwiches – for over two hundred fewer calories – as long as the words “extreme” or “deluxe” isn’t part of the sandwich’s description.

Second note: Onion rings have fewer calories than fries.