Happy House-iversary!

One year ago today, we bought ourselves a sweet little fixer-upper.

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Snooort.

It feels like we’ve lived here forever, pouring our blood, sweat, and dollars into this home – but also our love, energy, and attention. Cosmic balance!

I asked Jason last night:  at what point we will have sunk more money into the house than we will ever recoup? For example, if the value of the house is X and the purchase price was Y, is X minus Y our renovation budget? We’re not interested in selling any time soon, but we also recognize that a big four bedroom house (with an upstairs master suite) may not meet our needs for the rest of our lives.

I don’t think there’s a good answer. We got an amazing deal on the house, and we’ve paid for all the renovations in cash. Even if we used the formula above, where list price minus asking price equals renovation budget, we’ve only spent half that amount. In that sense, I feel good about the choices we’ve made so far. And, with any luck, the value of the house will continue to increase over time, which means the reno budget is always usually expanding.

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How do I love thee, house? Let me count the ways:

  1. I love that this house was designed for this particular climate. It has deep porches and an airy crawlspace, which makes the house relatively easy to cool in the summer.
  2. I love, love, love the amount of natural light we get. I frequently forget to turn on the lights when I’m cooking in the kitchen because the windows provide so much illumination.
  3. I love that we were able to move my mom over here; that our guest house has been the perfect accommodation for her. It’s separate but close, and she feels safe there.
  4. I love that we will never, ever, ever run out of projects. Ever.

I don’t miss much about our previous house, but I do miss having alternate “living” spaces. Previously, we had a formal living room, a family room, AND a sun room. Here we have a living room. We use the porch as a second living space, but it would be nice to have an indoor, TV-free area.

We’d planned to take the first year to complete the big-ticket, necessary renovations, and by and large we’ve done that. I think we both hoped to be done painting by now, but no such luck. We just started painting Hollyn’s bedroom a couple of days ago, and the rest of the children’s rooms need addressing.

Next up, we’ll tackle projects that are not strictly necessary, but which will increase our happiness. Remodeling the kitchen is high on our list, as is adding a sound-dampening fence along the Thomasville Road side of the house. Jason would like to add a plunge pool, and as the summer drags on, I’m warming up to the idea.

We are not on a television show, so we’re not on any kind of deadline. I’m comfortable living in an unfinished house, as long as each improvement we make is thoughtful. If it takes us another year to get the house “done” (or rather, “done enough” – a house this old is never done!) I’ll be happy.

I am happy. I’ve loved our first year here.

 

 

 

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The Sweet Smell of…Success!

A couple of months ago, I entered the Midtown Reader’s monthly Story Slam, but ALAS my tale was not chosen. I entered again in June, and my story was selected! Along with three other writers, I read my story (out loud! to strangers!) last Thursday night, and then sat through a Q&A with the audience. It was a ton of fun and I hope to do it again.

Here’s the story I submitted:

I am sitting on the floor outside my mother’s bathroom, a place I have occupied every Sunday evening since I was seven years old, grinding my teeth. Shortly after my dad had just about enough of my mother, she instituted “Sunday Night Spa,” which mostly involved putting on face masks, or playing with her makeup, or French braiding each other’s hair. When I was seven, this was a huge treat. Now that I’m sixteen, not so much. My mother will not allow me to make plans that conflict with Sunday Night Spa, and since I do not share my mother’s overriding interest in her own face, I sit outside the bathroom door while she dyes her hair or plucks her eyebrows or whatever. This is her idea of a generous compromise. Some nights she spends hours watching makeup videos on YouTube while I pray for an asteroid to hit the house. She can tell you all about sheet masks, but can’t identify which political party the President belongs to. Did you know you can contour your toes?, she’ll ask. God, her brows look amazing. 

The soundtrack for these Sunday evenings – and every other evening, for that matter – is a running monologue detailing my mother’s misery and bitterness at finding herself divorced. But in the last few years, the target of her ire has shifted from my father to me. When I finally hit puberty, my head transformed. Suddenly, I looked like my dad in a wig. His nose sprouted from the middle of my face, and my hair became thick, wavy, and unruly. My mother saw this as a calculated affront, like I made my face look this way for the sole purpose of tormenting her.

That’s when my mom started knifing me verbally. “You poor thing,” she’d say, “you got your father’s ugly nose.” Or “Why don’t you let me straighten your hair? It could be pretty like mine.” She offered to get me a plastic surgery when I turn 18 in a couple of years, and got very upset when I declined. The more she insults my father, the prouder I am to look like a dude in a wig. This drives her insane. I mean, more insane. My dad is just a regular guy, and I’m pretty sure the amount of time he thinks about my mother or their marriage is zero. He’s moved on in the last ten years. This also drives her insane. She’s marooned in the past – for her, every day is the day he left. The anger is always that fresh.

Even now, through the bathroom door, she’s offering to get me the same color hair dye so we can match. Remember when we used to wear matching outfits?, she asks. Remember when you loved me best? Remember when Daddy ruined the life we had planned?

She knows that I hate Sunday nights.

She does not know that I have substituted her hair color base for Nair hair remover.

It turns out that I have also had enough of my mother. I’ve had enough of being her therapist, her substitute spouse, her best friend. Over the last few weeks, I have been squirreling away my most prized possessions in my car. I’m 16, so they fit nicely under the piles of clothes and water bottles and books.

I’m going to my dad’s, and I’m not coming back.

In the bathroom, the timer goes off, and my mother turns on the shower. My heart rate picks up speed, my palms slick.

I hear the sharp breath before a scream.

I walk out.

 

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A Tale of Two Closets, Part Deux

Way back in February, we re-arranged one of the closets upstairs so that it faced the master bedroom instead of Tyler’s room. During that process, we removed all the hardware from the inside of the closet, so for the last four months the space has been a large empty box. Super useful.

I asked the carpenter to give us an estimate on building out the inside of the closet. He quoted us a price of SEVENTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS, which horrified me. I was determined to save money by building out the closet ourselves.

I followed some good advice and started by looking at my actual closet needs. (Shocking, I know.) I have quite a few long garments – dresses and a winter coat and maxi skirts – so I knew I needed a few feet of full-length hanging space. I also wanted shelves – both a high shelf for storage and bookcase-type shelves for shoes. I measured how many linear feet of hanging space I’d need, as well as determined ideal shelf depth based on plastic shoe boxes.

Then I grabbed graph paper and a pencil. The closet is big – 39″ deep by 81″ wide – but it’s right on the line between a reach-in closet and a walk-in closet. I decided to use an L-shaped plan, with full-length hanging on the right, shelves in the middle, and a double rod on the left, perpendicular to the back of the closet. I also wanted an L-shaped shelf above all that – 12″ along the back of the closet and 18″ across the width, to accommodate Rubbermaid containers.

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We patched and painted the inside of the closet box (using leftover white paint), made a cut list, and headed to Home Depot. We saved money by using pine instead of cedar, and using thick dowels from the lumber aisle instead of the closet rods in the storage aisle. I wanted to dress up the shelves a little bit, so I picked up an antique white stain, which gives the boards a whitewashed look.

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The instructions tell you to apply the stain liberally, wait 3-5 minutes, then wipe off the excess, but I got better results when I applied the stain with a rag and wiped it off immediately.

For the adjustable shelves, we chose easy-to-install strips and clips.

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It was about this time that Jason made a terrible discovery. I wanted the upper shelf to be at 6’6″, and therefore the bookcase shelves would also need to be that tall. Jason accidentally cut them at 66 inches, which is (alas) not the same thing at all.

We quickly revised the plan to make the shelves float, leaving 12 inches of clear space underneath. Ultimately, I think I like this configuration better – it’s easier to keep clean and creates a more flexible storage space. We floated the shelves by attaching 1×2 boards to the studs in two locations, and screwing the shelves to the boards.

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(Two notes on the above photo: first, the bottom shelf is not stained, so you can see the difference the stain makes; second, we did choose cedar boards for the ends of the hanging rods, which makes the closet smell nice but doesn’t cost a bajillion dollars.)

And now, a word about caulk.

I’d never used it before, but I am a convert. CAULK ALL THE THINGS. It made the project look at least 76% more finished and professional.

Before: Amateurish Gaps

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After: Smooth Like Butter

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Finally, we added LED rope lights around the inside of the door, to provide light to every inch of the closet. During the re-wire, the electricians added a plug and switch just for this purpose. Bless them.

Here’s a panorama of the closet. Not pictured: me, jumping up and down for joy.

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Right side:

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Left side:

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And the best part? The total project cost under $250.

That’s a discount of 86%. And you KNOW how I feel about discounts.

I knew that having my own closet would be awesome, but I wasn’t prepared for how great this project turned out. Every time I flip on the light in there I get a little giggly.

Tee hee.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Materials: June 2017

28. Rabbit Cake, Annie Hartnett. (Library, Book Club Selection) I actually read this in May and forgot to include it in last month’s list. Ooooops. This book reminded me of Tell the Wolves I’m Home, in that it dealt with grief from the perspective of a younger girl with an older sister. This was a thoughtful book – it’s hard to write like a child, to capture the feeling of being young.

29. Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink. (Borrowed from Tyler) This is a weird book – I mean, WEIRD – yet also delightful and filled with unexpectedly beautiful moments. In what was a we-live-in-the-future first for me, Welcome to Night Vale started as a podcast and was later made into a book. It follows a fictional town in the desert where nothing is normal. It’s as though one of The X-Files‘ signature creepy small towns collided with an extraterrestrial location from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I found this book a challenging, but rewarding, read. I find myself thinking about it frequently.

30. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn. (Borrowed) I enjoyed Gone Girl, and needed a bit of a palate cleanser after being immersed in Night Vale, so this fit the bill nicely. I enjoyed this twisty mystery, even if I found it difficult to like a single character.

31. The Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly. (Borrowed) A sweeping WWII novel told from the perspective of three women – two of whom were real people. My only criticism is that one of the three narrators drops out of sight for most of the second half of the book, and I kept waiting for her name to appear on a chapter title. Overall, I thought this was well-written and engaging, and gets bonus points for some awesome French food descriptions.

32. Creating Your Dream Kitchen, Susan Breen. (Library) We’ve known since the day we bought our house that we wanted to completely remodel the kitchen. It was designed by a sadist who didn’t cook – there is zero counter space on either side of the slanty cook top, for example, and the cabinets are cavernous and un-shelved. Anyway, I want to design the new kitchen myself, so obviously the first thing I did was check out a book on the subject. (And pin a bunch of things in Pinterest, duh.) This was a very basic primer, but it did have some good inspiration photos. Alas, on a personally-aggravating note, it also had a bunch of typos. Grrrrrrrr.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 27
Non-Fiction: 5

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I got your letter.

Last weekend I opened a letter, 37 years after it was mailed to me. I found it in a box of my mom’s special treasures – her diplomas, her athletic awards, and this:

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January 22, 1980

Dear Winifred:

You will probably read this letter a long time after I’ve written and mailed it to you. I wanted you to know that your mother and father, your grandparents and your aunts shared with you and with the congregation of Riverside Presbyterian Church in the sacrament of baptism.

It was a very special time for all of us and we were very happy to be together with you as we thanked God for the gift of your life and for your presence with us. You were beautiful and your eyes opened as your father handed you to me. I will always remember seeing your two bright eyes open so wide.

As you will know by the time you read this, your name means “friend of peace.” I pray that God will always help us to know you as a true friend of peace and I pray that peace in Christ will always be yours.

Thank you for giving to me the privilege of sharing in your baptism, and God bless you.

This is an astonishingly beautiful gift to receive during this season of my life. It is almost certain that by the end of the year, all my parents and grandparents will be gone. This fills me with a panicky dread. I don’t think there’s a word for an adult orphan, yet I am gripped by the fears of an orphan – that my side of the holiday dinner table will be empty, all the men and women who shaped me, gone.

But this letter describes a moment when my parents and my grandparents and hundreds of members of  my home church celebrated my tiny new life and promised to be my family. This letter assures me that I belong somewhere, that my tribe extends beyond the walls of my childhood home, that there are men and women who have walked quietly with me my whole life.

I am never alone.

Roland Perdue, thank you so much for taking the time to write me that note all those years ago. Your letter is a treasure.

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Inch by Inch

Memorial Day weekend was, to be honest, bittersweet. Judging by my Instagram feed, 90% of my friends were traveling – relaxing at the beach, or attending my fifteenth college Reunion.

Since travel is not really an option for me right now, we instead filled our weekend with projects.

When we moved in, the upstairs hall had one sassy brass-and-glass fixture in it. The electricians added spots for three more lights – one more in the hall and two in the stairwell.

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Because my middle name is Waffle, it has taken me months to decide what kind of fixtures I wanted up there. Four alike? Two and two? One statement light and three backup singers?

Sunday we went to Lowe’s and vowed not to leave without a bleepity bleep solution. I chose option C, one bigger pendant with three less-amazing pendants.

Ta-da!

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Let’s look a little closer, shall we?

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We used vintage bulbs in both fixtures, which are very trendy right now but can be swapped for different bulbs as soon as HGTV tells me they’re outdated.

We borrowed a 24-foot extension ladder to tackle the staircase.

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Gulp. I am more than a little acrophobic, so I leave all ladder work to Jason. Also all electrical work. Basically, I am the ideas person.

It was very hard to get both stair lights in the same shot, but here’s the idea:

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And up close. I love the fact that the fixture doesn’t interfere with the big beautiful window behind it.

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Inch by inch, we’re building a home.

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Reading Materials: May 2017

23. All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda. (Library) This has been hanging out on my to-read list, and I finally got it from the library. I enjoyed the story a great deal, however (you knew there was a however, right?)…. The book uses a distracting format – the story is told over two weeks, but instead of going from Day 1 to Day 15, we go from Day 15 to Day 1. This is an interesting device, but ultimately I’m not sure it adds enough to be worthwhile. I enjoyed the story, though, and would like to re-read it in the right order to see how it holds up.

24. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson. (Library) WHAT a good book. It dealt with terribly depressing subjects, yet rarely felt gloomy or maudlin. The main character, Ursula Todd, dies and is reborn many times over the course of the book. The author manages to re-tell the same story, over and over, and make it feel fresh with each telling.

25. The Bad Seed, William March. (Library, Book Club Selection) I was looking forward to reading this book as a history lesson – this novel was written in 1954 – but I found myself just as captivated as I would be with a modern thriller. There were definitely moments where it showed its age, but those were brief. I am very glad I got a chance to read this.

26. The Quick, Lauren Owen. (Library) Solidly enjoyable, if a bit slow at first. I wouldn’t say I loved it, but I didn’t hate it, either. It felt a bit loose, or out of focus. It was hard to know who the protagonist of the novel was supposed to be. Spoiler alert: it’s a vampire book, but a subtle one.

27. Margaret the First, Danielle Dutton. (Library) I’m going to be honest here: I don’t remember putting this book on hold, so when I got an e-mail notifying me it was ready to be picked up, I thought What the heck, let’s give it a try. This was foolish. I’d never heard of Margaret Cavendish before this, and quite frankly, learned little of interest about her life. It is as though Margaret herself – known for her eccentricities and social awkwardness – wrote this as an autobiography. It is rambling and, at times, incoherent. I think the audience for this novel is devotees of Margaret Cavendish, people who already see her as an important and unique figure in history, who already know her story. As someone just trying to get a feel for her, or learn about her, this book was a flop.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 23
Non-Fiction: 4

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