It’s a Learning Experience…

Before we got rid of the cable, I had a few favorite channels. Hell, if we could pay, oh, $20-$30 a month and have 10 channels beyond regular free TV, I think I’d sign back up. I don’t even need fancy movie channels (although, if HBO makes A Song of Ice and Fire, I’d be all for it.)

Anyway, one of the shows that used to come on when we came home from work and were fixing dinner was called In a Fix. Well-intentioned people who got in way over their heads with a home improvement project wrote in and got a crew to come down and help. Not simply, “Oh, no, I don’t know how to install a toilet” kinds of problems. More along the lines of “Ten years ago, we ripped the wallpaper off the walls in the bedroom and tore up the floor, then never did anything else.”

I was determined, in our fixer-upper of a house, that that would never happen. Sure, we take our sweet time getting things done because on weekdays, we leave home at 7:00 and don’t get home until nearly 6:30. By the time we get back, painting and scraping is at the bottom of the priority list. Hell, we’re lucky if we have the drive to make dinner some nights. Weekends are for getting all sorts of mundane things done (laundry, cleaning) and social obligations. I’m sure if we bought pizza and beer some Saturday night, I could drag my friends’ asses out and get the basement painted in a matter of hours.

But, there’s also a certain pride in doing the job ourselves, so when we can sneak in some time to work on the bigger projects, we do.

Summer of 2006 was a home improvement hell kind of summer. I didn’t document it in pictures, and now I kind of wish I had so people could see all the work that’s been done in our house. We* have been better about whipping out the camera in the last couple of months, but when you look at the pictures I’m going to stick in here eventually, realize that even the starting point was ten times an improvement on what was there before.

Over the next few days, I’m going to be posting a brief chronicle of Crap We’ve Had to Do to the House in the Last Five Years, so if you don’t have a visual of what once was, you at least get some kind of idea.

Halloween, 2002

We closed on the house less than a month after our wedding. Packed up our condo just after the honeymoon ended and started moving. I remember sitting on the floor in the living room a few nights before passing papers, curled up in a ball of pain from double ear infections and watching the Romney/O’Brien gubernatorial debates on TV (the TV was also on the floor.) It was Monday. The closing was on Thursday. I had to fly to sales conference, ear infections and all, on Saturday. This would pretty much set the theme of my week.

Thursday came and everything went fairly smoothly. I even got to sneak in a doctor’s appointment between closing on selling the condo and closing on buying the house. The man we were buying from was very sick, and in the last few years had done very little by way of upkeep. He was moving in either with his brother or into assisted living. The weekend before, his brother and nieces and nephews had gone to the house to help get things out of there and had asked if it would be okay to leave some things behind. We said okay, as long as there weren’t any personal effects (clothing, pictures, medication).

We close, we get the keys, and go inside to… a fully furnished house. When they asked if they could leave “some” things, I figured on the kitchen table (which they’d listed), maybe a couple of chairs, things like that. Nope. We couldn’t even move our own things in until we’d dragged half of his stuff out into the (also full) garage.

The walls were covered in a film of nicotine. You could see the outlines of where, a week before, there had been a clock and a crucifix. There was a funny smell in the fridge, bad enough that Greg’s mom had tried cleaning it with vinegar in the afternoon, which only served to make it worse. My father and Greg went out at 7:00 to buy a new fridge and a dishwasher, because there was just no salvaging the old fridge – and my new kitchen already had a kind of moldy smell.  The vinegar wasn’t helping.

My mom came over with dinner from a local place when they were gone and we sat there at someone else’s kitchen table – there certainly wasn’t any room for my table – waiting for trick-or-treaters who didn’t come. She was trying to cheer me up, talking about plans for different rooms. The super-strength painkillers I was still taking must have made me come off as gloomier than I really felt.

It was intimidating and depressing, but at the same time, it was our own house. No need to submit plans to the condo association and hope they got approved if we wanted to change something around. Our friends could come over and not have to park in the next-closest friend’s driveway and carpool two miles down the street. I had a backyard. There were no teenagers mouthing off to their parents and tromping up and down the stairs on the other side of the walls (or neighbors who used one of the two community guest parking spaces for his unregistered, broken-down car.)

So, as strange as it was sitting in a kitchen that was a far cry from being mine, eating what would be the first of two months worth of take-out dinners, I was a little giddy, too. The house, I was sure, would look a lot better tomorrow, in daylight, with an army of people cleaning and helping us get rid of stuff. I had ideas for paint colors and how many bookshelves I would need for the room that would be my study. It would be a project – likely a long one.

Changing things in the house was more rewarding than in the condo. There, every new thing we started had to factor in whether it would help when we sold the place. Here, the improvements were for ourselves, not future owners.

At the time, I thought the improvements would be largely cosmetic – take down wood panelling, slap some spackle on the walls, fresh coats of paint on everything, done.

How wrong I was.





*By “we,” I mostly mean Greg.

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