The home I was trying to build

Another piece of the puzzle of our home has fallen into place. I have underinvested in my health and fitness. Since my day job involves understanding just how badly Type 2 Diabetes messes with the body (and how the best way to deal with it in early stages are those two curse words: diet & exercise), I have been trying to figure out how to exercise more and eat better. During the summer, I’m actually not bad about running. I do 3.5 miles once or twice a week. It’s hardly training for a marathon, but it’s way better than nothing.

But right now the roads are sheets of ice, and yesterday the temperature was 3 degrees…. before wind chill. There are definitely times you can’t go for a run, unless you have a death wish. Even when the temperatures and traction aren’t prohibitive, the sun sets at 4:30 in December. There’s a good half of the year where it’s too dark to safely run after work.

Checking out the new fitness equipment

So after rejiggering our basement laundry room, we got a treadmill. Adam (the hero!) spent the better part of two days after work installing it. Tonight after dinner, I went for a run. It was great – it’s been a while since I ran. And it’s nice and cool down there!

My view right now

Then after the run, I went up to the study to do some yoga. The study is fast becoming everyone’s favorite room in the house. It’s just extremely hang-outable and comfortable. We’re still working on the zones and heating in this house, and this room that used to be the coldest in the house is now very cozy.

Finally, having worked up a great sweat I went up to my beautiful attic bathroom and took a shower (with steam boost!). And I just… really enjoyed the results of all the expense and time that we’ve spent on renovations. It just feels great to be in my home. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

So lovely

Sequential puzzles

I was probably four years old – we were living with my grandparents – and it was Christmas. My parents constructed this cardboard fireplace and mantle for Santa’s sake. And there in my stocking was this little puzzle. It had nine slots for eight sliding blocks in order to make a picture. (I have a vague memory of it being an elephant? Perhaps?) I eagerly scrambled the picture. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to unscramble it. I probably asked my dad to fix it for me 20 times that Christmas. I was amazed at his ability to see this magical solution completely opaque to me. Grownups are so magical.

To this day I have never successfully completed one of those puzzles, although in fairness to me I probably haven’t tried in (cough) thirty years. In the deep depths of my mind I suspect my belief that I’m not particularly good at spatial reasoning puzzles goes back to that sliding, scrambled elephant.

But lately, I’ve felt like I’m in a mega version of that puzzle. We all remember the triumph of the attic renovation. It was the great effort of the past year. But as our new space was finally finished and ordered, it set in motion of a series of cascading effects that are still eating up my weekends.

The laundry room was the biggest one of these. While the attic was the bulk of our project, we also got this idea to convert a second floor linen closet into a laundry room. We carefully measured width & of depth we had plenty. It was certainly tall enough, although not excessively so. We tiled it, plumbed it and put in a gas fixture so we could stack our existing washer and dryer into the space. We hired movers to move it and a plumber to connect the gas. They got the washer in, but couldn’t stack the dryer.

It could not be done. See, there was room for the washer and dryer. But there was no room for a human being to connect said washer and dryer plumbing-wise, and emerge again. The stack couldn’t be pushed back intact because it has a floor drain. You can’t crawl over it, regardless of size. We contemplated opening walls, using flexible hoses, creating ladders to climb out – but finally realized that based on the location of the drain and connections an adult would still be unable to connect everything. We thought of sending Thane in, but the sobering realization the plumbing inspector would need to be able to see the gas line connection to sign off on it was the death knell. There was, alas, no way that we could move our existing stack in. I researched new washers and dryers to see what might possibly fit. There were none. Trust me, we thought through every possible angle.

It seems like it should be possible to stack. It isn’t. This is my all-in-one.

Well, ok. There was one. If we went with a European-style ventless washer-and-dryer all in one combo, it might work. That meant that the venting, the gas line, the high powered electric line (yes, we put in both) were absolutely useless. Plus, it was expensive. We were terribly afraid that it wouldn’t actually dry. The first one we ordered the installers told us that it was impossible to remove the washer without terrible damage. But it didn’t matter anyway since the washer/dryer on the truck was badly damaged. We got a second one, and I made a call to the installation HQ begging them to send me the *good* team. They did (the team not only had no problem with the installation or move, they were incredibly fast – I tipped them well). And wonder of wonders, it works amazingly. It’s hell on the electric bill (between that and the electric car and heated floors in the attic we went from “more efficient than your neighbors” to “holy handgrenades, what are you doing in there?”). But now it’s SO MUCH EASIER to drop in a load of laundry on my way to work and by the time I get home it’s dry. I’ve even started making the kids do their own laundry.

But see, we had plans for the old laundry room. We were going to put a treadmill down there so we had a good exercise option for the winters – and a thing to tell the kids to go do when they needed some exercise in bad weather. We got the tv installed. After careful consideration, we figured if we moved the freezer next to the washer and dryer and got rid of the horrific particle-board cabinet, we would have plenty of space for the treadmill (if it’s not too tall – finger’s crossed).

Linen closet

But to get rid of the cabinet, we needed to move the linens from the downstairs shelves to their eventual destination in our new linen closet. And that required the building of the linen closet. During the holidays, Adam and I dragged the kids to a hardware store and bought gigantic sheets of plywood that we desperately tied to the top of the car in bitter cold. (OK, ADAM tied. I stayed in the car.) Over the next weekend or two, they were carefully measured, cut, and placed into the closet – all by my handy husband. Once the paint had dried, the remaining work fell to me. I cleaned out the closet in what had been our bedroom (now the study) and the basement linens – so we could proceed with the basement.

After several hours of labor

But that brings me to the study. It needed old furniture removed (and I wanted to get it to someone who would use it, not just trash it). Lots of junk needed to be cleaned out. And new furniture (a new standing desk, new chair and new couch) acquired and assembled. I posted free stuff on Facebook and dealt with no-shows. I carefully disassembled old Ikea furniture with Thane’s most excellent help and carried it to the porch.

He’s amazing

Finally, yesterday, I finished completing all the dependencies for the study. The old stuff was cleared out. The new ordered and assembled. I’m thoroughly enjoying writing from the new sleeper sofa.

Our study

You’d think we’re almost done. All we have to do is get the treadmill in the basement and we’re done, right? WRONG! Next up is a hardwood floor in the second and first floors. Once that’s done, we’ll need to repaint the hallway, and then build built in bookcases to replace the particle-board ones we inherited when we were first married and then….

Right. If only I could get my dad to finish this puzzle for me, I swear I’d stop rescrambling it! And if you believe that….

Stiff

This weekend we hosted a very successful Mocksgiving. I’ve hosted a “practice” (or mock) Thanksgiving for 19 straight years now, although I’ve truthfully never actually hosted Thanksgiving. Mocksgiving was the last big thing I needed to get through before life slowed down. A brief litany: camping on Labor Day, two 5ks on back to back weekends, my 40th birthday party, Otherworld (which was amazing – highly recommend), Grey’s birthday, my nephew’s death (weighs greatly on my heart through all of this), apple picking, King Richard’s Faire, finishing and furnishing the attic (huge effort – much Ikea), Adam’s birthday, week long trip to Singapore (plus off timezone prep before and follow up afterwards), Thane’s birthday, Halloween, Carnage gaming convention (full weekend Adam), Mocksgiving. All this while working full time (both of us) and raising two kids. Some of these were logistically challenging. Some of these were emotionally very deep and hard. Some of these were physically exhausting. I’m so grateful to be done, and for a coming few weeks that are massively less scheduled.

We’re also getting to the time of year where I can’t run. I’ve been running for three or so years now. I’m very slow – it’s *great* when I beat an 11 minute mile. I’ve switched up my default course, so now I run about 4 miles on a given run (a bit over a 5k) – I don’t want to go longer. My surgically repaired left knee was telling me at the end of the season that pavement isn’t it’s favorite, but this is the only exercise I’ve been able to stick with and be consistent about. But in winter I can’t really run on weekdays when it gets dark out so early, and pretty soon there will be ice and treacherous footing ahead.

But my body just hurts lately. I’m sore and stiff. I’ve been having constant headaches which, yes, are tension headaches in part. But they’re mostly muscular-skeletal. My C1 and C2 like to go in opposite directions and this gives me headaches. I go to my chiropractor, it gets better for about 2 days and then I move wrong and the headaches come back until my next appointment. UGH. I mean granted I’m over 40, but I don’t approve of constant headaches.

So I decided with the upcoming massive free time (are you skeptical that will happen? It won’t be so much, but it will be better.) to spend a few weeks stretching. The best my troublesome back has ever been (I have a really consistent regimen of massage and chiropractic which is extremely effective which is why you’ve never heard me complain of it) has been when I was doing yoga regularly. That was like for 2 months 10 years ago. We’re talking about getting a treadmill in the basement with our massive game of redo-every-room, but that’s still a while a way. So I’m going to give it a shot – 30 minutes a day of yoga. I’m very curious to see if it helps with the headaches and the back issues and the feeling that if I drop I’ll shatter instead of bounce.

We’ll find out!

And heck, maybe with all this free time I’ll also update the ol’ blog more, and finish my novel, and cook more meals from scratch, and catch up on all my church commitments, and do more local history research, and spend more time with my husband, and finally clean out my junk drawer and ….

Yeah. Let’s stick with the yoga.

Today in ‘struction

For the last 6+ months a regular feature on my social media feeds has been “Today in ‘struction” – where I’d post all the latest pictures of our attic renovation project. Heaven only knows just how many people unfollowed/blocked/muted me. Thanks to everyone who’s still putting up with me.

The project was a very big one, which we knew from the beginning. We thought it might be a 3 month project, but that was optimistic by half. We had a very good general contractor (Ken Menesale of Menesale Builders – happy to provide reference and/or contact info! He did a great job!), but with such a hot market it’s hard to get contractors or subcontractors on a quick schedule. The plan, drafted by one of the partners of SV Design was to take our finished but unheated attic and make it into a master suite, with a super fancy bathroom, walk in closet and this amazing innovation called “insulation”. That extra bath moves our house from 1.5 baths to 2.5 baths – a critical 21st century addition for a 19th century house.

And on Thursday of this week, we’ll be done with this project as scoped. There’s still stuff to do (like moving stuff and curtains etc. etc. etc.). We also need to replace the carpet (that was part of the plan). But for the project as quoted and scoped? Done.

I thought it would be fun to go through and talk a little about each of the rooms and show you the before, down to studs, and the current 99.99% done state!

You can go through full album of all the work here.

The new laundry room
So one of our genius ideas (ok, it was probably Tobin’s – I don’t remember) was to move the laundry from the basement to the 2nd floor, where the laundry is mostly generated. We had this really deep linen closet that ran right next to the plumbing, which is perfect for the job. This room didn’t get pulled down to studs/insulated like the rest. My plan is – once we figure out HOW to get our washer and dryer to the correct floor and hooked up – is to have everyone be responsible for their own laundry. Liberation looms! Thane will never have clean clothes again!

Linen closet before
Laundry room after

The stairs up
One of the additions we made to the project from the initial quote was pulling all this down to the studs in order to insulate it. Not only was it probably the only time that would be possible, we were also worried about ice dams forming from inconsistent temperatures. We also replaced ALL windows in the attic with new construction windows, including this one. There wasn’t previously a light at the base of these stairs – this is much nicer!

Originally

Looking up the stairs

Looking down – I never got around to replacing that valence

To Studs

Looking up

Closeup of the landing
Looking down
Watch your step

Final Version

Looking up

Looking down
From the top – there’s a closet on the left that wasn’t there before

Bedroom
The layout of the bedroom changed a wee bit, but not much. Where there had previously been a weird sink only type bathroom and closet, there is now a wall. That space belongs to the bathroom now. The biggest unknown going in had been in what the ceiling would look like. It was, um, exciting how they’d chosen to rebuild that roof after the fire in the ’40s. There’s a whole roof that was just built over the top of, and there’s this amazing convergence of beams. We were thrilled though to be able to bring the ceiling all the way up to the roof line and add a chandelier. We took out half the beams – the rest are structural. This room gets amazing light and beautiful views.

Before

From the doorway – I actually rather liked the colors in this room

Halogen lamp & entrance to the weird bathroom thingy
The weird bathroom thingy – those are a full closet on the left. Remember this, because it was truly transformed.
School classroom ceiling

To studs

The walls were all uninsulated lathe and plaster

Looking through the walls to what will become the bathroom
The architectural marvel of the roof
Easier to see with the new strapping

There were a total of 5 rats nests found in this attic:

All vermin are now uninvited

Finished

Those windows still take up a whole wall – but now they’re insulated

Head of the bed – the access for the steam shower unit is the small panel on the right
As though I was lying in bed – the globes got broken and I just got new ones. We added hard wired fire alarms to all bedrooms. And the high panel on the right is access to the separate HVAC system we put in the attic & 2nd floor.
Looking at the closet door

Walk in Closet
This is one of my favorite spaces in the house, which was previously entirely unfinished. It’s now a walk in closet, although the height means that dress-length hangers will need to go in the hall closet instead.

Before

There were GIGANTIC nails unprotected in the ceiling and I was always afraid I’d split my skull on one

Adam’s in the weird bathroom
Little doors like this were in a bunch of spots in the crawlspaces – we left one in place in the spot we hid our time capsule in

Finished

Hard to believe it’s the same room

Looking back to the bedroom

Hall closets
This will have my dresses to the right, photo albums & memory boxes in shelves on the left (we’ll be doing all the closet inserts either ourselves or by buying Ikea stuff). The door on the right is one of the last things to be done, and that gives us access to storage space where we can put our big bulky stuff we don’t need often (luggage, Christmas crap etc.)

Surprisingly unuseful closet
I always thought it was weird that there was a light and a switch for this section. It also had the sharp nail issue.

Studs
It’s surprisingly hard to identify what is what in all the pictures of rooms at the stud phase.

Can you make it out?

Finished

This is a lot of closet for New England

No light any more – this looks pretty similar
Goodbye wasted space!

Bathroom
Now for the super exciting transformation. With this bathroom, we moved in a wall (we needed clearance), popped up the ceiling over the bathtub and added in an amazing shower. The shower fills the cavity that was previously that weird pseudo bathroom. To be clear, though, we put in an entirely new plumbing stack from the basement. In fact, the attic has its own power box, water & sewer & HVAC systems – which the laundry room borrows. Anyway, that shower is really hard to photograph, so since it’s not super clear it includes a very large bench, which is heated and long enough to lie down on. In addition to the “regular” shower, there’s also a steam unit which can fill the entire shower full of steam in less than a minute. Finally, the door is tightly sealed so that the steam lingers. Since it’s all also now well insulated, this room will stay warm.

The bathtub overlooks a beautiful borrowed view. It’s about 5 stories above ground level for any neighbors because of how our house is built on the hill. When I’m in it, I can watch the moon rise over my feet.

The vanity was a story. We ordered 7 feet of vanity and our contractor had the old version of our plans that only had six feet. So we were plumbed and set up all wrong for the additional foot. We finally figured that out, then our architect had the genius idea of turning the extra piece into a built in! I’m astonished at the transformation of this room.

Before

This room had no heat

Hard to see, but there’s a little access door to the left of the window

During

The chimney explains that weird bump out

This door was bizarre. Not even Thane was small enough to reach it. This is where we left the time capsule.
What we found in these walls…
That’s the only tiny bit of wall remaining – it’s interior.
We called it the murder shower at this stage

Now – you can’t get me out of there!

We moved in the first possible moment
6 foot vanity…
The shower is really hard to photograph
I’m in love with that backsplash tile

So that’s it! This is the end of ‘struction for this project, and hopefully for our family for a while (well, except for the floors). You may now unmute me and I will return to obsessing about plums and complaining that my kids grow too fast!

Leaving behind the rough

This weekend, we got kicked out of our house. Something about it being a formaldehyde-filled death trap. We have finally gotten to the phase of the attic project where the windows are in, the wiring is done, the plumbing is roughed and the walls are where the walls are going to be. So it was time to insulate the attic for the first time in its 120 year old life. As long as you have the walls and ceiling down to studs, it’s a great opportunity to do it right – floorboards to roofline. But you can’t be in the house for 24 hours after they finish (the off gassing can be dangerous). And it took them two *full* days to do our attic – they still need to clean up & do the fireproof spray paint, despite working from 7 – 6 for two days.

During this period, I’d been planning on getting hotel. It’s a bit annoying to get a hotel in your neighborhood (and expensive when that neighborhood happens to be Boston!) Plus with my folks here, I’d definitely need to get two rooms. But when I was complaining to a neighbor, she generously offered us the use of her house while they were on vacation! It was fantastic, although super weird to come home to your street, park your car in your driveway, and then not go home.

We’re three months into the project. It started in early April, and now it’s nearly July. Despite pretty consistent work, I feel like we’re about halfway there. But perhaps we’re at the beginning of the end? And maybe someday soon my bathtub will no longer be on my front porch? That seems like an impossibility. I really do miss my quiet spaces – both the attic as it was and the porch as it was. I’m also tired of my house being a constant mess. I blame that less on construction than kids. When they leave for summer camp, Imma gonna clean this place thoroughly and enjoy the rare sensation of having it stay – mostly – clean.

MJ Clothing in Lowell

We had a lovely weekend. I loved having my mom and dad here. They took the kids off to Great Wolf Lodge for one of the days of this weekend, letting Adam and I have a lovely evening full of a run & a dinner at the Stones. We watched a lot of World Cup, both with and without the kids. I wish I could take a day off and just watch all the matches! Alas, work is very busy. My mom and I went to an African clothing shop run by a friend of mine (MJ Clothing) and I got to help her pick out an African outfit that is going to be tailored for her. When the new shipment of fabrics comes in, I think I’ll get an outfit for me too!

We finished off that fantastic day at a friends house celebrating the start of summer with a BBQ that somehow ended up with Rock Band – the way the best of parties do.

One of my favorite pictures of our pastor emeritus

Today was a pretty special day, too. It was the Pastor Emeritus service for our beloved pastor of 36 years. I really enjoyed getting to sing in the choir today for the celebration. And it was such a joy to get to show off all our progress to the folks who helped set us on the path.

So what’s up with you?

Ready – set – go!

On a near-monthly basis this year I’ve talked about how we’re JUST ABOUT READY to start our attic renovation project! Just a few weeks! Almost there! Nearly happening!

Well, this time it’s for real. At least, the “please start work now” deposit has been paid, the contract has been signed, the stuff we ordered from the plumbing supply company is in, and we’ve for reals cleared out the linen closet and 95% of the attic. (We need to make a few trips to the storage facility to make it to 100% of the attic.)

We found the floor tile to go with the countertop and backsplash

The project is a big one. We’re totally gutting and putting plumbing into the third floor. We’re replacing all the windows on that floor. We’re making a walk in closet, a bedroom and a nice bathroom. Then on the second floor, we’re putting in a laundry room where once there was a weird deep linen closet. It’s going to be messy, disruptive, expensive and – hopefully – transformative. And it’s really happening!!

Putting down and picking up

I’m finishing some major bodies of work in my life this week. Today is my first day at a new role within my company. It’s a big change – new team, new office building, new industry. I’ve been working towards it for quite a while, and I’m very excited. I spent quite a bit of time doing *both* jobs (which makes you feel like you’re doing neither job well) so the concept of doing just one job has me slightly giddy.

Also, it’s my first day on the new job and I’m currently on a plane heading to a meeting in California. So I think it’s gonna keep me busy.

This weekend also marks the completion of another great task I’ve undertaken. We will be installing our new pastor. (You’re invited by the way. Wear red.) As you have likely heard me complain, I’ve been running the “next step in hiring a new pastor” process for well over two years now. It’s going to be a wonderful thing to get to switch from thinking about what work God wants us to do, to doing the work God wants us to do. It’s going to be a fantastic celebration.

People have been asking me, “So what are you going to do with your free time?”

AHAHAHAHAHAH! You’re so funny, people!

You see, I’ve been pushing off all the things that could be pushed off for quite some time now. But not all things that are pushed off can be ignored indefinitely. At some point you have to actually do some of them. And a few of them are feeling quite urgent now, while others just finally got to the top of the pile.

Chief among the new things I’m starting is – finally – our long-delayed attic project. The money has been saved. The plans have been drawn. The toilet selected. The tile agonized over. The contractor picked. The dumpster arrives next week. Which means that the attic needs to be empty like the week after. Empty empty. And maybe the vast linen closet too, with its mysterious Narnia-like depths. I never thought I was a hoarder, but attempting to clean out my attic is making me think I might have slight hoarder-like tendencies. I’m counting on the strength of last-minute-panic to help me get through it all in the one the day before we have the installation service for our new pastor. Right after I land from my California trip. And rehearse the installation music.

I’m dead meat. I know I’ll make it because I always make it. I’m just not 100% sure how.