Reflecting

The dawn of a new year inevitably makes you reflect on what you've done with your most recent trip around the sun. It's the most perfect measure of time, a true beginning and end. I try not to give much weight to resolutions and promises and "best of" moments as we count down the clock, but wow, this one really was a doozy. It's hard not to take a deep breath this time and think, "holy shit, we made it." At the start of this year I was motivated, hopeful, working a lot, planning a lot, optimistic we would have a house that could be lived in by August. Haha, oh my god. Well, these past twelve months have given me an extreme dose of patience testing, learning to say no, learning to say, "it's ok," learning to yell. I haven't been very good at these things before.

 

We willed the early winter to go by quickly, to let the ground thaw and temperatures to hover above freezing at night. We waited anxiously to hear good news on our home equity loan application. It was necessary for us to afford working on the house at the rate we wanted. In March I toasted myself with cheap champagne and danced around our apartment kitchen when I received the official email.

In late April, the day before his birthday, my husband was laid off from a great job, one we were staying in the city for. Rug out from under our feet. We cycled wildly through thoughts -- do we move now? Do we stay? If we stay is it for another year...two? We decided to stick to our plan of staying in Boston for one more year with Brooklin still on the horizon for June 2017. And we got to work.

From April to November we did not spend one weekend at our apartment. We went up and down Route 1 to I-95 to I-295 to I-95 to Route 3 to Route 15 to Route 175 late at night and before the sun rose. We sacrificed attending birthday parties and baby showers and spending lazy afternoons at the beach or weekends camping for plaster demolition, wallpaper stripping, lugging hundred year old wood from one spot to the other, sanding, painting, nailing, planning.

We had fun outside of the house too -- we rewarded long days of work with jumping off rope swings into ponds under pink sunset skies. We spent the Fourth of July unplugged on Swans Island, jumping into the frosty ocean from the rocks and swimming to shore, climbing out of the waves with seaweed in my hair. I traveled to northern California for work, went through the redwoods in a big van with an Algerian reggae band. I listened to them sing Bob Marley as we drove past miles and miles of twisting vineyards. We went to Philly and walked through the sweltering center of town with our old roommate, looking at the Liberty Bell through a window reflection because the line was too long. Spent a gray New York City day with a dear friend in a spa drinking wine and talking about everything imaginable - most importantly, remembering her dad and my mom. Traveled from Portland to see Leon Bridges to Provincetown to see Trixie Mattel in the same weekend with my sister. Met my oldest and best friend's first baby when he was four weeks old, already smiling. Walked through trails and marveled over moss and ocean all over the Blue Hill peninsula and Deer Isle. Sat in the kitchen of our house, huddled around a space heater, drinking bloody marys with newfound friends.

These cinematic memories are what got me through the rest of the year. I also got let go from a job, something I was trying part time and thought might be the solution to my career ennui (nope!). I didn't get another job, writing for a hugely reputable design blog, after making it through the first two rounds. I struggled with the stress of renovating a home that represents six generations of my family's history. I beat myself up for not knowing what to do with my life. I procrastinated. I drank a lot of wine, watched a lot of reality TV. I got angry with how long everything takes. I stood in our kitchen, stripped to the studs with no ceiling, and cried while saying, "I hate being in here." I watched my husband build an amazing new career for himself and felt lazy as I admired how intensely hard he works. I felt impotent seeing many close friends go through heart wrenching personal tragedies. I sat in a cubicle with no windows three days a week, battling apathy and boredom at my steady non-profit job. I sobbed with my co-workers on November 9th. I got red with anger and yelled (something I've done maybe three times, ever) while trying to communicate with my husband while planking a ceiling. I felt useless, unmoored, sad. I felt indecisive and frustrated.

It has been hard. It has been tiring. But I feel immense pride for what I have accomplished personally, and what I've accomplished alongside my husband. I feel thankful for the blank slate that will appear before me in a day and a half. I feel thankful for the strife that was peppered in between success this year.

2017 will be a big one. We will be leaving a city we have called home for the past eleven and a half years. We will be moving to a home that we have saved with our own two hands. We'll travel, we'll turn thirty, we'll surely hit huge road bumps. I'll be pushing myself -- to work even harder, to pay attention, to be an activist, to be a good friend, to be a good homeowner and neighbor, to say "no" even more, and to yell at least one or two more times. I'm ready.

A Chat with Trulia

We had a lot of fun talking with Trulia a couple months ago about our house! Take a look below

 

There is also more tidbits from our conversation over on their blog. Here is a taste:

“We’re extremely sentimental people. We’re really proud of the fact that this house has never been sold. It’s always stayed in the family. Everyone in the family recognizes how rare that is. This house basically represents our entire family history of the Days in this town.”

Read the whole thing over at Trulia. Let me know what you think!

Catching Up

Today the weather is a beautiful crisp 60 degrees in Boston, the leaves are starting to change, and it's been a very intense four months since the last time I have written. At that point, the kitchen had been demoed and we were thinking about painting the bathroom. Well, a lot has happened since then... The bathroom was successfully painted a beautiful deep greeny blue - Benjamin Moore's Newburg Green. Small projects like this always give me a little boost, especially when there is lots of project delaying bad news around the corner...

 

It started out great! Our friends joined us up north for a weekend of re-framing in June. We relocated the kitchen window to be centered above our sink with the new kitchen layout, and re-framed the single door opening to one that would fit our freshly ordered sliding patio door.

Upon some of the demo that goes along with that work we discovered more rot in the sill than we were expecting. We knew one side needed repair, but soon discovered that at least 40% of the house's sill would need to be replaced. While this isn't devastating in terms of complexity, it was a little hit to our timeline.

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But, the bigger wrench was realizing how the second floor was pretty under-enforced for today's standards. Rather than joists every 16 inches, they spanned 5 feet in some places. Because we plan on adding a small bathroom, master bedroom, and lounge/office space here it was determined that this all needed to be re-done. While necessary, it was a huge hurtle for us. We are only able to spend weekends at our house in Maine and this kind of work is tedious, arduous, and expensive. We have spent at least six weekends this summer focusing on this issue and working tirelessly to get it wrapped up in a way we can save some of the original ceilings, and expose the beams in the kitchen and dining room area.

Doing work on this part of the house also lead to a big design revelation in the kitchen. I had always been very attached to the mantle on the largest wall in the kitchen, and wanted to keep this architectural feature, as I am trying to save as much original character as I am able. However, in order to reinforce the new floor joists some of this wall needed to be removed. While we started to take down the plaster I realized how much empty space there was behind this wall. We had planned on putting a small, thin pantry in this space, but seeing it all opened up made me realize the huge possibilities we had if the whole wall was out. So, after some deep breaths and letting go of something I'd held on to as a design decision for two years, we carefully removed the mantle.

And what was behind it? Eighteen more square feet of space. This huge hole in the middle of the house accommodated the large original chimney that fed three fireplaces -- one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, and one in the living room. When the fireplaces in the bedroom and kitchen were covered up, and the kitchen was converted to a wood stove only, the original chimney was removed and a smaller one was put in place. But the original footprint remained empty. Now, we'll keep the newer chimney exposed, with it's funky shape, and be able to countersink the refrigerator on one side and add a custom pantry to the other.

Making these kind of choices is so hard for me. I desperately want the house to feel as original as possible, but I also know the needs we have for a modern home are so completely far away from the needs of my ancestors who built the house in 1850. We're making some sacrifices -- small apartment size appliances and no dishwasher -- to keep it as close we can to the original floor plan. And we're keeping crooked doors, roughed up trim, original built in cabinets, original floors, so I have to keep reminding myself we're doing the best we can, and we are saving this house. That's what is most important.

Now that these huge structural things have been done, I think we're FINALLY getting to the fun part. Insulation and dry wall are going up in the kitchen after being gutted since April and ceiling & flooring choices have been made -- we're using 50 year old ship lap from my dad's house for the ceiling and reusing the original floors from the second story in the kitchen and dining room. These creative solutions make me feel really happy and accomplished, and like there is a light that we're really truly getting closer too.

 

It's only September and we have so much we can get to before it gets too chilly to be working in the unheated home. And there are some special surprises coming soon too that I cannot wait to share with you all. I promise it won't be so long before you hear from me again. :) Happy Autumn, everyone!

To Do Lists

We officially received our home equity line of credit! This is a huge relief for us, especially after the process turned out to be so long and stressful. Having a line of credit allows us to quickly get lots of big projects finished - rather than saving for one, spending all our cash, and then saving up for the next. Now that we know we have access to enough funds we've started our to do lists for the summer with the goal of being able to sleep in the house by August. So, what is there to do?  We separated the lists out by room to make it seem a little more digestible. The kitchen/dining room is our biggest problem child, like I discussed a couple months ago. This is the plan:

First, replace the current cabinets. Although I LOVE the way these cabinets look, and am attached to them because they were made by my family, they just don't work for the space anymore and they've gotten pretty wonky from the lack of temperature control in the house. We are going to reconfigure the lay out to accommodate a refrigerator and put in a new/old cast iron sink we rescued from Craigslist ($60 steal!). We won't be replacing the upper cabinets and are going for open shelving instead. We are SO excited that Block Brothers Custom Cabinets is going to do this for us. We met Ben through a friend of a friend, and he has now become a friend of ours. We're so psyched to work with him on this project because he seems just as nostalgic as us, totally understands our vision, and is extremely talented - perfect combo.

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Then we gotta buy some appliances -- a little fridge and an oven, put down some flooring (leaning towards wood floors painted forest green or navy like this), add a back splash (I won the battle on this one, he wanted subway tiles but we're going with penny rounds like this but probably white), put in some lighting, change the single door to french patio doors or a slider to really bring in natural light, and replace the ceiling that was taken down in the dining room (we'll match it to the kitchen ceiling). No sweat.... right? Oh and I forgot to mention tearing out more plaster in the dining room (it's moldy beyond fixing) and replace the walls with sheet rock. Ok, that's it there.

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The other rooms, like the bedroom, have smaller to do lists. We need to put up a new ceiling, fix the plaster and either paint or wallpaper, refinish the floors, and think about putting in either an antique or custom mantle where the old one was removed.

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The bathroom just needs a face lift, like I previously mentioned. A coat of paint, a shower curtain, a bathmat, some wallpaper and maybe a couple shelves and we're good to go.

The living room doesn't need much work either, just refinishing the floors and a coat of paint.... but we can't do that until it's cleared out. That will probably happen once the bedroom and kitchen are closer to being finished (hopefully?) or perhaps we'll stash stuff back upstairs at some point -- we're leaving upstairs for next year.

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The exterior needs some love too -- we need to replace the bulk head doors right away because they've rotted out. The foundation needs some attention too -- there are some holes that need patching. We're hoping to add a deck to the back of the house as well. Once we put the larger doors in the kitchen it'll be the perfect landing spot to look into the backyard and do a little barbecuing.

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In the pictures above you can see the backside of the house. The deck will probably run most of the length of the house with a step tapering to the ground, something like this one below via the Norton Road blog.

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On top of these cosmetic and construction to dos, the other huge piece is updating the heating system and thinking about insulation. The insulation part might wait until next year, but hot water is a must during the summer, especially if we want to stay there, even if we're not heating the house. We're meeting with a plumber on Monday to discuss our options.

Part of the reason we're so gung ho about getting a lot done this year is we're starting to think about actually making the move and living here. In the past when people have asked if we'll move in when it's done we've always said, "No, I don't think so. It's really remote," but in the past month or so we've starting thinking more about it. We've been in the city for almost eleven years, and we're over it to say the least. We're ready for a more simple way of life, and a vegetable garden. It's a big and scary step, but there is so much to look forward to with the idea of living rent-free. We'll be thinking a lot more about it over the next several months, and probably for the next year, but it's starting to seem more like a reality every minute.

I'll be in Maine this coming Saturday and staying for about a week, and I can't wait to fill you in on our to do list progress!