Sunday, October 12, 2008

Change is Good

Change is Good

You take for granted all the little niceties that are part of your daily life at home with mom & dad. Electricity, a shower, furniture, a TV. We used to be afraid to leave the house with the lights on. One night our dining room light just sort-of fizzed out! We didn’t have a refrigerator as the present electric could not handle the drain of a modern one or of an electric stove either. Until the electricians had finished, we bought our food from the little market down the street, kept it in a cooler and cooked with a hibachi grill-isn’t love grand! Those claw foot tubs sure are pretty until you are getting ready for work and realize you have to take a bath-because you don’t have a shower! Solved that problem pretty quick by buying an old fashioned ring tub enclosure-yes they still sold them at Sears!

The kitchen was our first interior project on a grand scale. It had a hosier cabinet for cabinet and counter space. I used a card table as my center island. I remember using a heat gun to strip paint off the woodwork and feeling a bit woozy till we opened some windows. Lead paint-who knew!?! I asked hubby to hang a plant in front of the window and it nearly brought the ceiling down on top of him. Apparently the tub had been leaking down through the ceiling for years. The plaster was being held in place by the wallpaper-oops! We hired a contractor and with plans in hand proceeded to change them till he had to revise his original estimate. Now we learned to appreciate the kitchen we already had. Once the electrical work was complete we could have a stove and refrigerator. Now that the room had to be gutted for the new kitchen, the refrigerator was in the sitting room and the stove was pushed against the wall in the dining room-unplugged. What were we going to do for a sink-why the bathtub of course-on the second floor!

Like all projects you start out full of enthusiasm. Midway through you are less enthusiastic, less tolerant, and tired of washing dishes in a plastic basin in your tub. You have grilled every meat in every way you know how and are on a first-name basis with your pizza delivery guy. Your backsplash is held up because the tiny, little accent tile you have chosen is still on its way from Italy. You also think it is a great idea to seal the tile yourself-it will save you a hundred dollars. You don’t count on being on your hands and knees for hours with a minute paint brush cleaning the grout lines of dust partials before you brush on the sealant.

Now being a pro at do-it-yourself, I decide to stain and varnish the tongue-in-groove wood ceiling I have chosen. I am half way through before I realize I have been doing things bass-akward, sealing before staining. Anyway the painted white ceiling in the bedroom looks lovely! We wised up a bit and sent the trim to be professionally dipped & stripped. I stripped the doors myself and refinished them. Let’s say it is not my favorite project.

But in the will be even nicer!

Landscaping 101

Landscaping 101-our first year

Did I mention before I used to be a “high maintenance girl”? Getting together with old friends I hadn’t seen in over 25 years this weekend reminded me of my former “princess” self. They remembered coiffed hair & impossibly high heels-spandex pants-(remember we’re talking disco-era here!) & the latest fashions & manicured nails….That person didn’t exist anymore. The hair-do was a ponytail under a cotton bandanna. Spiky, high heels, not on your life-can’t dig a hole in those. Manicured nails-sigh-even with garden gloves there’s dirt & chips & breaks and short, stubby ones help strip off those ribbons of wallpaper.

Every room in this house was wallpapered-ceilings, closets, hallways. It must have been beautiful in its day-the paper in the front bedroom was clusters of lilacs. Being paper, it was fairly easy to coax off with remover and a good, solid putty knife. I still can remember all that warm, grey water running down my arm scraping ceilings! We now only have one room papered-we have painted everything else.

Our first year in the house, we spent cleaning up the years of over-growth in the yard. We did some interior cosmetic work, but our focus was outside. We were garden center regulars. I learned annuals, perennials, herbs, bulbs, rhizomes, shrubs, ground cover. I learned which plants worshiped the sun, and which were shade dwellers. I learned ages old garden advice-“if you plant it one place and it doesn’t grow-move it somewhere else”. I learned the hard way not to plant mint unless you contain it or you will have a garden of-(you guessed it) mint! Plus if it is catnip, you will have every cat in the neighborhood in your yard!

I learned how to determine if it is a weed or a flower-(my husband still has problems with this one). One year he cut my white lilac almost to the ground. It took years to come back. Another year he ripped out my newly planted sweet peas. When I went looking for my asters this fall, he ruefully admitted he gave them a toss, thinking they were weeds.

Thankfully after we cut down the “weed trees” that covered the front yard-tore out the back yard of ivy and pruned shrubs that were the size of trees, we found the garden had “good bones”. The two brothers who originally lived in the house were at one point in the gardening business. We had lovely old fashioned roses, peonies, double daylilies, lilacs, hollies, and yucca. I brought iris, bridal wreath, red hot poker, & hosta from my parent’s house. When our friends tore out a row of hydrangeas, I saved them from the trash truck and brought them home.

Being young with lots of energy, we made garlands and wreathes for our front porch from our own evergreens for Christmas. We hosted our family’s annual Christmas Eve party for the first time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In The End It All Pays Off

I don't want to scare you off, it is not all 60 AMP electric, no heat, brown running water, broken sewer line, waterfall through the balcony roof...I thought I'd show you some "after" pictures so as not to scare you off. As if there were not enough projects already, in 2006 we added an 800+ square foot addition. What are we nuts? Haven't you guessed that already!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Honeymoon is Over...

We moved into the house after a fast but fun three day honeymoon in Cape May, New Jersey. It is still one of our favorite vacation spots and has been since we day-tripped there as teenagers. It also offered so much inspiration for these two "old house virgins". We took pictures of potential color schemes, landscaping, etc. it was going to be a while though before we could give any real attention to decorating.

Our two Moms took charge of house cleaning while we were honeymooning. This was no small task as the house sat empty for six months before we moved in. So we came "home" to a clean house, a bed to sleep in, and a cooler full of drinks-oh and two lawn chairs to sit in. Our friends were happy to help move us in as long as we provided the beer and food on the weekend. In the meantime, hubby borrowed a chainsaw from his Dad, and we cleared the forest otherwise known as our front yard.
Thus I was introduced to "Gardening 101" in a big way-(did I mention I used to be a "High-Maintenance Girl?"). Our front lawn resembled a logging camp when we were finished. I'm sorry now that I didn't take a picture of that one. Three days later when our "movers" arrived, you could actually see the front of the house.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Closing Day

I don't recommend closing on a house the day before you get married. Meet at the courthouse-sign away the rest of your life & first born, meet the carriage driver to arrange specifics, dash to the church for rehearsal, gather up all the participants & out-of-town relatives & try to get them to the rehearsal dinner & through it all-it rains. Not just little showers but thunderstorms & downpours & in the back of your mind is,"if it rains tomorrow-no horse & carriage-non-refundable down-payment", but we won't think about that right now! My fiance & I meet at our "new" house for a quick toast & he gives me a pair of diamond studs to wear on my wedding day-Mr. Romance! The rain has tapered to a steady drizzle-I am still not panicked-positive thoughts. I go back to Mom & Dad's for the pleasant task of writing place cards for the reception-little last minute glitch. I forget about the rain-I am so exhausted sleep overcomes me the minute my head hits the pillow. My last thoughts are-this is my last night in this bed, in this room, in my parents house.

Saturday dawns with sunny skies, so of course the groom has to wash his car. He is almost late for his own wedding. No one is really worried about this, as it is his MO. The church is in the heart of our state capital & hundreds of bikers are blocking the road to the church protesting to repeal the helmut law on the capital steps. Hubby-to-be, already late, but hey that car sure is shiny, explains his situation & those bikers divide like Moses parting the Red Sea. The ceremony was lovely I'm sure-to me it was all a blur. I hitched up my skirt & crawled, as lady-like as possible into my awaiting carriage. We popped the cork on the champagne, finally able to relax & enjoyed a jaunt around the city. The reception was a blast, my parents had to pay the DJ to stay an extra two hours. When we were all getting ready to go home-I thought where exactly were we planning on sleeping. Because of buying the house, we didn't plan a honeymoon. Well, there's always the basement... Hubby being quick on his feet & an idea man at that, called our favorite inn & by fate or coincidence they had one room left at the inn. Problem solved. We crawled up the stairs-lots of them-to our room-at an inn-in a four poster bed-whew-not the basement!

We had a lovely champagne brunch at the inn that next morning & continued on to our impromtue wedding trip to Cape May-again with the old houses! It was all the rest & relaxation I was going to have for a very long time.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Old House Diaries

It was a romantic notion, to buy an old house & fix it up. I had never owned a house before, had very little concept of what it took to "go housekeeping"-as my grandmother called it when she first got married. I had always wanted an old house from the time I was very small. My grandparents lived in a semi-detached American four-square. It had a big grate where the heat came up from the furnace below and a staircase. I used to bounce down it on my behind when i was a child. The house had a porch and an old metal glider swing. It was smack in the middle of Hershey, Pennsylvania & always smelled like chocolate.

My elementary school was within walking distance of our house-a flat-roofed 1950's rancher. Everyday on my way to and from school, I passed a lovely farm with white fencing & rose arbors at the gates. The barn had a little weathervane on top. There were acres & acres of fields with wild roses, cornflowers, Queen Anne's lace, & white field daisies. They had an old horse, he was more of a pet than a saddle horse. I always saved him something from my lunch on the way home. My school friend lived in a great stone mansion-(like all old houses-it needed work). I loved to go there-I was just awestruck. She said the basement smelled & it made scary noises at night. I loved it-it had nooks & crannies - back staircases - a great room with a massive fireplace & a balcony-(the artist that had once owned the house used it for his gallery) - a tragic, romantic history. Yes-I wanted an old house.

I started going to fleamarkets with my Mom when I was about eight. We took comfortable shoes to change into after church. It was at the local drive-in every Sunday morning. I bought old dishes, linens, prints & bric-a-brac-of course for my old house. When I needed extra pocket money, I would relinquish some of my booty to other treasure hunters on their quest at the drive-in fleamarket. My collection outgrew our house, so up it went to my grandmother's attic.

When I met my boyfriend-(now long-suffering husband) in high school, he had no interest in anything old-except when I pointed out its value in simple terms he could understand-spending money. My mother gladly offered him the position of driver to cart me off to the fleamarket with my boxes of dishes, & clothing & knicknacs. As long as I promised him dinner afterward, he was a reluctant, but willing participant. When we became an "item" my tresures spilled into his parents' basement as well-I could now move on to bigger treasures-chairs & hutches-all for my old house. Err, well, our old house.

I was finally bringing him around-our favorite hang-out was along the river by a fabulous old house turned state museum. Wouldn't an old house be lovely I asked? He sighed & nodded his approval. Did he really have a choice? He proposed to me there & appropriately gave me an Edwardian engagement ring. We were on the right track. We planned the wedding in an old church-I'd wear a vintage gown-take photographs on the grounds of the museum-(where we got engaged) & take a carriage ride. All we needed now was the old house.

Armed with the multi-list book-(remember this was before computers) we dashed our realtor though one old house to the other. Exasperated as our search netted not one prospect, she-(the blasphemer) suggested a brand new split level home-ugh! She finally gave us the book to browse through & said, "Give me a call when something looks interesting". She thought that just any old house would do. One evening while my fiance was at work, I earnestly cruised that book. Crusising the multi-list book is only akin to reading the phonebook but with little thumb-sized pictures. I found a picture that looked like the one. All you could see were tall evergreens & a chippendale or carpenter-style porch railing. I was so excited I could barely sleep. I was on a mission. Again, this is before the computer age, so I couldn't "Map Quest" it. I thought-thought-I knew where I was going. I drove around aimlessly till by some miracle of miracles I came to the street I was looking for. Ok-after I passed it. The anticipation was making my spine tingle-and there it was a grand old Victorian, painted entirely white surrounded by trees. When I say surrounded by trees, I mean I couldn't even see the front of the house because of the forest in the front yard. Just as I made my second loop of the property, snowflakes began to fall-was it a sign? Could this be the one?

I drove down to the local HandiMart-(again-no cell phones yet) & called my fiance. I almost shouted, "Get the realtor on the phone". He told me to calm down & breathe-he'd be right on it. I did another loop of the property-(secretly my property) & drove home to tell my parents.
The clock was ticking & time was running out-(we were four months away from our wedding day) with no place to live. Really at this point the basement was looking pretty good. I was this close to my old house. I was on a natural high by the time he showed up after work, but from the look on his face, I was about to crash big time. The house-(my house) was already SOLD. SOLD!?! How could it be sold?! The sign was still on the corner-it still said FOR SALE.
He explained he had talked to the listing agent & there might be a glitch in the sale-we were to sit tight & he would call us if the sale fell through. It did-and the rest as they say is history.

We settled the day before we got married. We took a quick whirl-wind honeymoon & a week later moved in. I finally had my old house!