of all the things…

18 02 2009

dsc_00013I knew I was in trouble.  I heard him coming down the stairs to fix himself something for lunch.  With a wide scraper in my hand, down on my knees, I was pulling up linoleum tiles from the kitchen floor.

“Of all the things you COULD be doing…what prompted you to do this NOW?”  There is no right answer to that question. This 100 year old house – a constant work in progress- sometimes just begs for attention.  So I answered honestly…it sounded like the most fun option.  The other options were ironing, sorting through boxes of God-knows-what that I’ve stashed in Best Boy’s room while he’s gone for 10 days, cleaning the attic, basement, garage or any and all closets and on and on.

When we first walked through this house over a decade ago, the kitchen was the one room that I really disliked.  It had gotten an update in the early 70’s that just doesn’t fit the character of the house.  There are plenty of cupboards and space but bottle green laminate countertops with hunter green country themed wallpaper hurt me.  With that make-over came the pièce de résistance of slapping adhesive tiles over a wood floor-maybe just the sub-floor, but wood plank nonetheless.

So, very little by little, I am unearthing a new old kitchen floor. The process isn’t hard…just messy and toxic.  Sounds like my life.  I pry up the tiles with a wide paint scraper.  What is left underneath is so sticky that as I step back, my shoes are cemented to the floor and I inadvertently step out of them. After I pry them loose and put them back on, I dump some gel adhesive remover over the space and spread it out.  That stinks the place up like crazy so doors and windows are cracked.   The directions say to leave it 20 minutes and I leave it for twice that time frame.  Scrape up the goop that looks like what the cat coughs up and re-gel it for another round.  While I wait, I write this, eat a ham sandwich, make a run to the post office and get high from the fumes.

What’s not to love about this project?  Seriously, I think what I like is that it stays.  When I’m done with each little section that I tackle, it’s done.  It’s not like laundry that gets dirty again every time I turn around.  Or like cooking where you make a big effort and are left with nothing to show but people licking their chops.  I can admire my progress and don’t feel like I’m moving backwards.

At this point I’m quite sure that there are plenty of you asking why I don’t just tackle the whole thing at once and be done with it.  The answer is – because I am old.  I got a blister on the heel of my hand from jamming the scraper under the tiles to pry them off. After finishing that little section, my hands and wrists hurt like crazy. By far the best reason for doing it a little at a time is that it gives me the perfect out when I don’t want to do other things and get inspired to continue the fifty tile count down.

Who knows – maybe by this summer I’ll be done and we’ll have the whole thing sanded and refinished.  That would leave us with just eight more rooms and the stairs to do. At least they aren’t covered in sticky goo. Gotta love The Money Pit!

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?”