practicing hope

Stick with me on this one. It’s going to get a bit spiritual. But no matter your religious beliefs or traditions, I hope you can relate to the theme of this post — hope.

This past weekend marked the first Sunday in Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. To mark the coming of Christ, we light a candle each week of Advent, with the first week signifying hope. That same day I stumbled on an email recommended by my mother-in-law that talked about the season of Advent and the “Time for Practicing Hope.”

Then it hit me. Beyond the never-ending mess, the constant inconvenience, the stress and the anxiety and the worry, there’s always hope. This project is a constant exercise in hope. Hope that the project will go smoothly. Hope that no one will fall off a ladder and die. Hope that we won’t regret any design choices. Hope that the eventual increase in property taxes won’t suck us dry. Hope that it will all turn out okay and someday our home will be back to normal (and preferably be dust-free).

Hope is a powerful thing. It can get you through times far far more challenging than living in a home during a remodel. In this year of increasing global and local uncertainty, hope is what we cling to when we really want to just crawl under the covers and turn off all media. But what’s great about the holiday season is that we get to practice hope all over again. Kids hope that Santa comes. We hope we get our lists crossed off in time. We hope the last-minute Amazon delivery gets here on time. We hope there are no family feuds on Christmas Eve. We hope that joy will appear and that we will remember we are here to love one another and this planet.

We may be getting extra-credit building up our hope muscles with this project, but in some small way I think it will serve us well in the long run when there are far more serious reasons to call on the power of hope.

Oh, and if you think we hope to finish the house this year…we’ve already lost hope on that pipe dream. But end of January is looking better and better.

And there is a silver lining of not being done by Christmas. We are taking a simple approach to the holidays with only a wreath and a half-lit skinny tree as decorations. But look out 2018 – I’m saving up extra tinsel for you.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief view of the progress. Let me know what you think!

 

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the grateful list

I love Christmas, but Thanksgiving is a close second. It’s the last holiday that hasn’t been overtaken by consumerism. There’s no Thanksgiving themed aisle of candy and decorations at the store. We don’t buy gifts or special sweaters to show we’re celebrating. And how cool is it that this holiday is all about being grateful?

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are the top five things I’m grateful for during this house renovation…

1. A sense of humor

Two Porta-potties?

If you can’t laugh at the dust or the 7:30 am hammering on a Saturday, don’t live in your house while it’s being remodeled. Trust me on this. It’s not for everyone. Sometimes we’re laughing just because it’s a better alternative to crying. And sometimes we’re laughing because there are two porta-potties in our driveway. Not one, but two. Who knew that stucco-guys could be so particular about their johns. Brings new meaning to the phrase BYOB (bring your own bathroom).

2. Tradesman that show up and do good work 

Drywall on stilts

We are officially done with drywall. (Yeah!) This guy was here every day for 10 days straight (weekends and evenings included) to get the job done. Sometimes he had a whole crew of cousins and mariachi music with him, sometimes he was solo. I admit that having drywaller houseguests all weekend for two weeks in a row got a little old, but it’s better than the alternative. We’ve heard horror stories of no one showing up to work on a project for a week or so at a time. Not the case here. They are moving pretty fast – even on stilts. They aren’t so good with clean up, but all the trades have done an excellent job so far. That’s all we could ask for.

3. Windows that remind me to enjoy the view

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Bedroom with a view

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Family room full of light

One thing we love about our house is the corner location and all the light we get from the East, South and West. The new addition (on the West side of the house), is full of windows to maximize the sunshine. The result is open and airy and a constant tease at what’s to come when we get to wake up and look out these windows each morning. It’s easy to focus on the mess and the incredible inconvenience of it all, but when the sun shines just right through these windows, we remember that in just a few months we’ll be enjoying the view from the comfort of a new kitchen or bedroom.

4. A chill dog

Rocky chillest dog around

When we started this project, I was most nervous about how Rocky would handle it all. I thought he might bark at all the workers or go stir crazy being in a confined space. Ironically, we’ve been the ones barking at each other (from time to time) and going crazy living in just a few small rooms.

We have no access to our backyard, so Rocky has to go out front to do his business. Every morning at 6:30 we just open the door, he goes pee on the front lawn and comes running back. Except for chasing the mail lady in the rain that one night (what is it about mailmen and dogs?), he is very obedient and comes back in the house like a good boy. He especially loves checking out the workers and the new space and rolling in the dust.

5. Reviving game night

We had to get out of the house last weekend. There was drywalling all day, combined with dust and noise, and it to top it off, it was cold and rainy.  Trifecta of unpleasantness. Lincoln was especially bored, so Dan decided to go get a new game that they could play at Starbucks on Sunday afternoon. Colby and I went along for the ride and to do homework and work-work while the other two played games. The new game of choice? Exploding Kittens.

If you haven’t played Exploding Kittens, it’s now more popular at 602 William than TV. It’s fun. It’s vindictive. It has kittens. The perfect combo. And any time you can play games with your kids that don’t require batteries, you do it. Be grateful they want to spend time with you, it may be short-lived.

Giving thanks this year

Wherever you may be this Thanksgiving, we hope you look around and can see bright spots in your life. The turkeys in power may bring us down, but we still have much to be grateful for. We have a roof over our heads and love in our hearts, and for that we are incredibly thankful.

 

end of the first trimester

Home construction is a lot like a pregnancy. It takes a lot of planning, can cost a lot of money, and causes a lot of pain. But when it’s over, we forget the trauma and are consumed with our beautiful new baby.

It’s been three months since we broke ground, so in pregnancy terms we’ve made it through the first trimester. And while we pray this doesn’t go a full term of nine months, there are probably three solid months to go.

Those aren’t the only similarities. The home remodel small talk we hear at every party or walk around the neighborhood sounds vaguely familiar, too.

When you’re pregnant people say: “You look great. I can hardly tell you’re pregnant. When are you due?”

What you’re thinking: “People lie. And they’re blind. Will this ever be over?”

And when you’re remodeling people say: “It looks great. It’s really coming along. When will you be finished?”

What you’re thinking: “People lie. And they’re blind. Will this ever be over?”

My pregnancies were never difficult. No real morning sickness or serious problems. But I hated not feeling like myself. That’s kind of where I am now. The remodel is not difficult, there are no major problems, but we’re not living like we normally do.

There’s a constant layer of dirt on every surface. There’s no real meal planning and much smaller loads of groceries. We eat yogurt and ice cream out of the cartons to save us from washing another dish. Licking a knife now makes it clean. There’s a microwave and hot plate in the office. There’s a coffee maker and tabletop convection oven in our bathroom. A refrigerator and toaster in our living room. And a mix of clean and dirty dishes in our bathtub.  And did I mention the dirt?

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But just like when you’re a first time parent, the kindness of friends makes all the difference. We’ve had so many lovely dinners at friends’ houses, where we savor real home cooked meals, clean floors and, of course, the best company. We’ve borrowed a kitchen to satisfy a baking itch. And there are offers of doggie play dates and borrowing houses during vacation. Every offer is so appreciated and helps dilute the little frustrations that come with living in a construction zone.

We’ve also embraced the little surprises along the way. From discovering pretty wood detail on the stairs hidden behind drywall and opening up the entryway (our contractor’s brillian idea), to spending more family “together time” (since we’re always sharing the same 300 square foot space). And I love the bursts of creativity when we’re planning where outlets and lighting go, and start imagining how it will all come together. I can see how this might become addicting.

Demo Dan taking down the door

Pretty woodwork hidden behind drywall

So, what will the next few months (or trimester)bring? Things like stucco, installation, and drywall, and then the long process of finishing (floors, tile, lights, cabinets, etc.). That means trying to stay upbeat, overlooking the hassles, and keeping our eyes on the prize. A few holiday distractions will help, too. Then, before we know it, all the pains will be a distant memory and we’ll be enjoying our fresh new old home.

But that’s where the pregnancy comparison ends. Since unlike a new baby, we’ll be when this is through, we’ll be sleeping through the night in our new master suite.

 

 

decisions. decisions. decisions.

Hick’s law is the time it takes for a person to make a decision based on the number of possible choices you have. Increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time. It’s also why busy leaders like Steve Jobs and Barack Obama chose to wear the same outfit every day. Why waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning? Save the decision-making for which features to have on the next iPhone or how to get healthcare reform passed.

It’s not the same as being a major world leader, but when you’re building or remodeling a house, decision fatigue is real. A new set of decisions come at you each day. Some major and some that seem like minutia. How far apart do you want the kitchen light pendants? Which lights should be on each switch? Do you want oil rub bronzed or chrome hinges? It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

But it’s also exhilarating when each decision is made. When you’ve found the perfect _______________ (light, tile, wallpaper). Seeing it all come together is like planning a great dinner menu or putting on a killer outfit. Just slightly more permanent (and expensive and stomach churning).

We’re now at the point when most of the big design decisions have been made. Tile is picked and ordered. Bath fixtures are waiting to be shipped. Boxes of lights are stacking up in the garage. Kitchen cabinets are being built.

Since I can’t wait to see it all in place, I might as well give you a preview. So, here are just a few of my favorite picks so far.

Powder Room Sink 

Antique Style High Back Farm Sink Cast Iron Porcelain Wall Sink, Navy, 24"
Powder Room Wallpaper (Amy Wilder’s prints are fabulous)
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Master Bath Floor (Cement!)
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Master Bedroom Light
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Kitchen Backsplash (and the first item I picked for the house over a year ago)f6dfa4ac94819605e69fb3fe98165816

Kitchen Island Lights (I’m in love with Schoolhouse Electric)
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It’s a great feeling to have all the major decisions checked off the list. Like finishing your Christmas shopping before December 1. Now it’s time to turn the creative juices off for awhile, while we summon all the patience we can muster. 


raze the roof

In 10th grade I was really looking forward to geometry. It seemed more useful and practical than 9th grade algebra. Want to design a building? You need geometry. Decorating a new house? You need geometry. Need to get the Apollo crew back from space? You need geometry (and physics and the help of Katherine Johnson) .

Our big geometry project was assigned in the spring semester. We had to design and build a model house. I had been drawing floor plans on graph paper since I was in single-digits. I loved to create different layouts, add in furniture, and dream of building a house worthy of Architectural Digest. This was my time to shine.

Naively, I chose to build my house out of photo mat board. Each cut was a struggle to keep a straight line while getting the Exacto knife through the thick board. But the slate blue walls and chocolate brown roof were sure to wow the teacher, along with the modern design and innovative floor plan. It was a labor of love. And I was proud of my first architectural masterpiece.

But the roof wouldn’t hold up to rain, and the pitch wouldn’t drain well.  I got a C (or maybe a D…I’ve tried to block it out). My architectural dreams were dashed. Not to mention it killed my GPA that year, along with any future interest in math.

So, when we started to talk roof lines at the house, I glazed over. I just nodded, like a foreigner who doesn’t know the language.

It was a last minute request to fix the roof and ceiling in the stairway leading to the 3rd floor attic bedroom. It’s a great room – the whole width of the house – but to get there you have to stoop all the way over or be under 4 foot 2 inches. It’s wonky. If you’ve been up there, you know. You might even have a scar or a lump as evidence.

With the new addition and roof, we “overbuilt” the old roof. That means there was space between the old roof and new roof that would just be wasted. Or, we could remove the old roof and add a foot of headspace to make a bumpless entry into the attic bedroom. This was the request. It wasn’t on the plan, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to raze and raise the roof.

A quick huddle with the architect, contractor and carpenter and they threw out geometry and engineering. All I cared about was how much will it cost and how long will it take.

The answer? Not much and not long. Although Colby would beg to differ.

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We took the plunge. There were a few days of no roof, no wall and just plastic sheeting separating his bed from the outside. It really was like camping – but with a comfy bed. We are just lucky that the weather has been a dream this whole past month. So, the roof is now raised, but getting walls are a whole other story. In fact, I’ve stopped lying to Colby and now just say that I don’t know when he will get walls again.

I still have a mental block when it comes to geometry and how to make sure the angle of a roof work right. But ironically Colby does geometry daily right now. He just knows better than to ask me for help.

 

 

no complaints

In the last two weeks, we’ve seen the devastating impact of not one, but two, category 5 hurricanes with Harvey and Irma, we’ve watched more political and social division and human tragedy with news of DACA and the earthquake in Mexico, we’ve marked another 9/11 anniversary, the northwest is on fire, and then (then) there’s North Korea.

So when someone asks me how the house project is going, I think – no complaints. Because really, how can I?

Here are some of my non-complaints over the past few weeks. There might be a whole post dedicated to complaints in the future. But not now. Not yet.

As our architect Debra McQueen said, “the house is emerging.” In a week we went from dirt floor to first floor framing. (Hover over each image for a description.)

After another week we now have a full cement basement complete with outdoor stairs, a fully framed first floor with second floor trusses, and a new structural beam to ensure our house doesn’t fall down. We’ve also lost our kitchen, our basement stairs and our foyer floor. Trade offs.

Side note: the small cracks I’d seen growing in my office over the past three years weren’t just the house settling. Apparently an existing beam in the kitchen ceiling wasn’t really doing its job anymore. After 100+ years, it was time to retire it and bring in a modern beam (in blue) that also can be pushed up higher and give us more ceiling height. See, even surprises (and more expense) can’t be complaints. More ceiling height = 🙂

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There are inconveniences. Temporary annoyances. Hassles. Anyone who has been by our house can see that things are not normal. That’s putting it mildly.

But we have a house. We have water. We have electricity (sometimes…and only when the refrigerator and microwave aren’t running at the same time). We have food before us and love between us. So, no complaints here.

And soon, we will have more house to fill with family, friends and love. Something the world needs more of.

letting go

It’s been a milestone week for our family. Not really because of the house project, but because we sent our first born to his first day of high school. And it struck me how the house project and our life are triggering parallel emotions. The ongoing process of letting go.

Just five minutes after seeing my freshman ride down the street to new experiences, new friends, and new challenges, the crew came to tear off the back of our house. When the truck drives up and the sledgehammers come out, you have no choice but to let go. Same as when your 5’10” baby puts on the backpack and doesn’t look back.

We prepared for the week by packing up our kitchen, office, closets, basement and all that stuff that we forgot we had. We tried to think through what we’d need over the next 4 or 5 or 6 months, but then we’d get tired and just dump stuff in boxes willy-nilly. We packed it in every nook and cranny we could find, leaving us Jenga towers of boxes in random places. It’s like the few weeks before moving day, except that a few weeks will be half a year.

IMG_0776The hardest part was to say goodbye (for now) to all the cookbooks, platters, plates and tools we use to cook and share meals with friends and family. A bigger, better place to cook and entertain is a major reason for the remodel, but this will be the longest I’ve ever gone without planning and hosting a dinner party or casual dinner for friends. I feel serious withdrawal coming on. As Summer and Fall turn into the holiday season, I’ll need another way to satisfy the craving to make memories around a table and a meal. And I may need to find a kitchen to rent for my multi-day Christmas cookie bake-a-thon.

So, letting go (not Frozen’s “Let it Go”) is becoming my internal mantra. Sometimes I’m pretty impressed with my ability to look beyond the makeshift kitchen, messy rooms and dusty counters. So much so that Colby was shocked I didn’t have any comment about the clothes on his bedroom floor. I had not been abducted by aliens, but suddenly the clothes on the floor were the least of our challenges. Other times, well, let’s just say that it’s a mantra for a reason — because I need reminding. And when power was out in most of the house for two days, the mantra did me no good. It also didn’t stop me from lecturing the kids to stop their whining and complaining and appreciate all that we have, even without TV or Wifi for a day or so.

Privilege is alive and well at 602 – and so is not always practicing what I preach. I hope this project will have a nice side benefit of building resilience, patience, and gratitude for all of us. You can never have enough of those three.

We did let go of a lot of our house this week. The white office door now opens to nothing. The basement was jackhammered for a full day on Saturday (yes – working on a weekend!) The basement and kitchen walls are plywood. But we still haven’t lost the working part of our kitchen yet — even though it was all packed away in preparation for the demo. The weather continues to cooperate, for which we are extremely thankful.

This coming week will see more transformation as basement floor gets poured and they prepare to frame. And I’ll be anxiously awaiting what we need to prepare to let go of next.

But it won’t be this guy…since Lincoln also started a new school year this week. Grade 4 and his last year of elementary school.

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first impressions

Week one. This isn’t so bad. Workers are friendly and prompt. Demo day(s) are noisy, but bearable (think dentist drill without the drool). We even got a first floor bathroom on day one.

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New first floor bathroom

Things are moving. Fast. So fast that we had a half-day notice to move out of our breakfast room.

It was my first panic-stricken moment of the project. That night we needed to pack for vacation and our niece (+ one) was arriving to stay for a few days at our house during Lollapalooza. We hadn’t even figured out where the table, chairs, sideboard, pictures, dishes, etc. would be going for the next 6 months. But Dan and Colby were quick to get it mostly cleared out before I even got home from work. Luckily they know – “if mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Construction crisis #1 averted.  Continue reading →

calm before the storm

This is our house. Doesn’t it look lovely? Calm. Quiet. Peaceful.

In full disclosure, this photo is six months old. Back when our dreams were somewhere between pencil scrawls on scratch paper and blueprints from our architect. When the sky was the limit and anything was possible. Before permits and construction loans. And of course, the impending purgatory of no kitchen or backyard for more months than I can come to grips with.

It’s a very very fine house. Prime location. Roomy. Corner lot with fabulous light. When we bought it three years ago I was smitten with the screened-in porch, and the promise of cocktails and the ability to freeze time there. (The Lundak Lounge had a lot of good days.)

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We knew we’d want to update the kitchen and needed a first floor powder room (“Yes, there’s no bathroom on the first floor, you have to go up the stairs and use ours.”) But one thing led to another, and if we were going to add a bath and improve the kitchen, why not add a family room, a master bedroom, a basement room. You get the idea.

Over the next 5 or 6 months (ok, I know I’m kidding myself…it will be spring break by the time we’re done with this project), we’ll be ripping off, building up, moving around and making this 108 year old house a modern family home. Feels like we are stepping off the ledge into the unknown, except that we know enough people who’ve done big remodels that we are fully sober, eyes wide open. And we’re still going for it.

But, it’s all new to us. So, why not document it?

So, here’s to the 602 before the chaos starts. (Cue deep breathing.)