this old house

10 09 2008

We got into home ownership really late in the game.  All of our friends were well past their starter homes and on to bigger and better things – a couple times over.  “You need equity,” they’d chime in all the while my inner voice was wondering why they didn’t want to share some of theirs with us.  Living overseas for those 12 years had us out of the normal cycle of jobs, cars, homes, cottages and boats that many our age were able to afford.  We weren’t exactly in an occupation that rolls in the big bucks.  Frankly, we were too gypsy for it all.  Owning a home at that time seemed like it would tie us down and we had no idea where we’d end up landing.

When it was clear that we’d be Stateside for the next chapter (who knows how long some chapters can be), we begged, borrowed and stole enough for a down payment and jumped head first just after everyone’s adrenaline had been re-corked after all the fun of Y2K.  We never looked at any other property than this one.  It was in a part of town we were familiar with, was old (built in 1905) with tons of character and after living in 20 plus other spaces that weren’t ours  – we could live in just about anything. We did watch “The Money Pit” a night or two after moving in and could already relate.

There are more than enough projects to keep us busy long after the last mortgage payment which might get paid about the time the kids pay off our caskets.  We did determine, however, that it would be a good plan to pace ourselves wisely and tackle one big project a year.  I think before the first hayfever season, we determined that central air was a must and have never regretted that one.

Next came stripping all the quarter-sawn oak woodword on the first floor.  That was a huge undertaking that all the Dr.’s doing.  Then came the plaster walls, not one of them plumb, could not just be painted – they need to be coaxed into color with hours of TLC before a mere drop of pigment got near them.  But I love plaster and wouldn’t have it any other way.  

There is a time of year when that plaster does what it is supposed to do.  Our years overseas taught me that plaster keeps a place cool when it’s hot outside. But with air conditioning there aren’t too many times that I really need it to do that job for me.  The two in between seasons when the furnace/air conditioning has no business running – late spring and early fall – presents the most challenge.  Here in Michigan it is an unofficial test of hardiness and “winter-worthiness” to see how long we can go without turning on the furnace. I heard my neighbor’s on this morning and chortled self-righteously. So our livingroom comes equipped with blankets and sweaters and sweatshirts and socks and various and other sundry cozys.  

Another year our major project was the water heater and we stood at a crossroad:  the American norm or the tried and true European standard on-demand water heater.  That was a no brainer for me…yes, it cost more initially but I knew the real reason they were in every space we ever lived in overseas.

European apartments do not have forced air heating.  They have steam heat – often times controlled by “Central Command” and NOT by the individual owners.  Heat is not turned on until 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon and is turned off at 9 or 10 at night.  It really is quite genius.  During the day, the kids are in school, the husband is at work and the stay at home mom is so busy cleaning and airing out the house – she’d never dream of having the heat on.  And when they wanted to sit quiet in the late afternoon was when everyone was home gathered around the TV – that’s when the gas gods graced heat on the humans.  Sleeping is better in a cold room – so no overnight heat – with the exception of the treat of Christmas Eve when it was left on all night long. It wasn’t long into our first winter there that I discovered the alternate method of restoring warmth to my bones.

During these times of year when I feel chilled and nothing helps – there is only one quick solution…the longest, hottest, most lobster-reddening, pruning shower. That is why we decided to get an on-demand water heater.  And as I stood there today wasting precious water, I heard Billy’s voice in my head repeating the question he’d ask anytime I’d say I was cold, “What are you going to do when winter gets here?”



One response

11 09 2008

If you had to choose the way in which you would die, and your choices were either being burned at the stake or having your head chopped off, which would you pick? I would rather be burned at the stake, because a hot ‘stake’ is always better than a cold ‘chop’!! Nyuk, nyuk. What the hell does this have to do with old houses and hot water, you ask?? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I think.

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