Next up on the project docket: Attic Renovation

In some lights it looks  much pinker
In some lights it looks much pinker

The Parker G. Webber house is my home, and I love it. When we bought it in 2007, it had been on the market for over 100 days. There were a lot of good reasons for this. Every room had different wood paneling, and every ceiling had a different paneled drop ceiling. The kitchen was old. There are only 1.5 baths, and the .5 bath has the stairs to the basement it in. There was shag carpet. Best of all, the house was (and is) painted pink. But I fell in love at first sight, paneling and all. We have been chipping away on projects to improve the house ever since. We updated the flooring in the kitchen. We totally redid Thane’s room. We put in a fantastic roof, including all the wood underlying it. We attempted to fix the rotting window frames with paint (and failed). We mostly redid the full bath (except for the tub). We completely redid the dining room. We put a fan in the damp basement. We painted nearly every wall in the entire house. We have left it pink, however.

Oh so shag. And paneling.
Oh so shag. And paneling.

Most of these projects were small in capital (except the roof) and larger in labor. But as the kids get older, we’re finally ready to tackle the biggest of the projects on our extensive Google Keep list of desired projects. We’re ready to turn the partially finished attic into a full master suite.

My to-be walk in closet
My to-be walk in closet

Right now, the attic is a kind of no-man’s land. When we originally bought the house, you still needed a dedicated office for your desktop computing needs. Adam and I also both had hobbies that required desk space… and no access for toddlers. He made terrain and painted miniatures. I stamped cards. The “bonus” room of the attic was perfect for hosting all these activities, while protecting them from the depredations of people who put everything they saw into their mouths. There was also an (unheated) guest room that hosted my mother-in-law or other folks when they came to visit, although there was general complaining about the number of stairs and lack of bathroom on the same floor.

The attic as office space
The attic as office space

But as time went on, and we got laptops and didn’t want to be isolated from our family, the attic fell into disuse. A week or two might go by without going up there. That’s kind of a sad waste of space. It has been much better used lately, since it’s become the home of my brother, but with his new job (yay for him!) he’s getting ready to move out. So we’ll be able to tackle the project as planned.

We dipped our toes into the project plan. We talked to a few contractors. We hired an architect (and dear friend – awfully convenient) to do some designs for us. I created a Pinterest account to keep track of design ideas. Our architect came up with a brilliant plan for the attic. The office becomes our bedroom. We’ll lift up the low ceiling to give it more height. (It’s a joyfully familiar feeling as we talked about the original builder’s choices and wondered just what Parker did for the unusual roofline.) The unfinished attic space will become an extremely spacious walk in closet (now that the bats have been evicted). The weird 1/4 bathroom (just a sink) will be closed off.

The 1/4 bath was primarily used for beverage preparation
The 1/4 bath was primarily used for beverage preparation

The guest room will become a lovely bathroom. This may be the part I’m most excited about. Our initial thought is to do mostly white tile, white wainscot partway up the walls, white wainscot vanity and a deep saturated blue paint above the wainscot. We will (hopefully) have a nice deep clawfoot tub for soaking. And the closed off weird partial bath will become a glorious closed off shower with steam-sauna. (If the budget allows.) We may never leave the attic again.

So anyway, chances are good that’ll take up a goodly number of my thought-cycles over the coming months. If anyone has a great general contractor on tap, I’d love to get recommendations. I’ll be sure to give updates – please let me know if they cross the line into incredibly annoying!

Bathroom inspiration (obviously not an exact plan)
Bathroom inspiration (obviously not an exact plan)

These days are just packed!

I’ve tended autobiographical over philosophical lately – my apologies if you prefer the deep posts. I’m still having deep thoughts, but a lot of them are about work. Many others are about church, and are still… unformed and not ready for sharing. That leaves us with summer, kids and home renovation.

The big news of the week was that we have absolutely 0 insulation in our dining room. One of the first things we did when we bought this house was to hire some people to come in and blow in insulation in our hundred year old walls. They carefully peeled up the aluminum siding (you can still see where – it’s like crumpling paper in that you can never quite make it look like it did), drilled holes in the wood and blew in some insulation. They talked about how we must’ve had nothing in our walls, because they put in way more insulation than they expected.

Welp. I don’t know whether somehow they overlooked the dining room – which has been one of the coldest rooms in our house despite its interior position – or if they were complete fraudy fraudsters, but Adam peeled back one of the lathes in the exterior wall to fix something on a window, and noticed a complete lack of insulation.

The wall, looking down. Those are Adam's fingers.
The wall, looking down. Those are Adam’s fingers.

We debated what to do next: literally plaster over the problem, or do a full demo of the exterior walls. I was all for being an ostrich, but Adam knew this would haunt him forever and so proceeded to demo the walls so we could reinsulate. Or, you know, insulate for the first time.

Fun fact! Drilling holes and adding no insulation does not make the room warmer.
Fun fact! Drilling holes in the wall and adding no insulation does not make the room warmer.

It set us back a week and about $200, but now that room had better be the coziest in the entire house. It’s been caulked and insulated and vapor barriered and dry walled. About an hour ago, Adam and I moved all the leftover drywall, off cuts and insulation to the attic – which is the location of our likely next project. (It was a lot. Also, heavy.)

Very artistic effect.
Very artistic effect.

Now we’re on to the next phase of the project: taping & mudding. (Followed by sanding, sanding and sanding. Also sanding. There are quite a few flaws that have to be addressed.)

While Adam was doing all that, I sometimes helped him when he needed an extra body, but mostly have been doing everything in the house that is not wall-related. On Saturday, I took our two boys plus two boys from the home across the street that is also undergoing extensive renovations (honestly, it’s because our neighborhood is such an amazing place to live that we’d all rather pour money and effort into the houses we have than upgrade to new ones) to Boston to play in a great park. I was thinking how even a year ago, I wouldn’t have dared to go solo with four kids on the T. But these ages – two 6 year olds and two 9 year olds – are so awesome! We had a blast.

The Charles River
The Charles River

It was such a perfect and glorious late August day. The temperature was perfect. The humidity was perfect. The kids were perfect. And the college students had not quite yet descended on the city. We dined that night – outside in the perfect weather – with a good friend who had taken pity on the dining-roomless in the neighborhood.

Other things that happened this weekend included a massive farm share. (I forgot all the melons – and my Farmer Dave bag! – at the pickup. I’m kind of wondering if it was Freudian because what do you do with that many melons?) A bajillion loads of dishes. Most of the laundry. I went shopping for foundationals and ended up with a really cool wizard bathrobe in that super soft material they make things out of this day that feels so great it must cause cancer. A tour of my office (my kids wanted to show off for their friends). Another good friend taking the boys to help prevent video-game related brain-rot. We wrapped it all up with a trip to the beach, where the waves were absolutely amazing and the temperature of both water and air were perfect and they took down the parking cost sign just as we pulled up. I forgot my camera and took no pictures I can share, but here’s one I hope I can engrave in my heart.

Thane is still a little wee for enjoying boogie boarding as much as the rest of us, so he worked for a while on a sand castle, but then got entranced by looking for shells. Good Harbor beach has very few, but what few there were he found. I watched him search, my feet digging into the sandy shore. Just off in the breakers, Adam and Grey were catching wave after wave together, and sharing delighted grins as they fought the waters to get back into position to ride once more. But Thane. He does not walk, that child. He does not run. He dances. He prances. He skips and hops. I watched him move along the shore, eyes sharp for the glint of a buried treasure. He’s stoop to pick it up and then swirl around. He’d sway back and forth as he wandered up the strand. Once his hands were full enough, he’d run back to me. He’d just hit full stride, a satisfied smile on his face from his discovery, when he’d come to a full stop – having spotted something. He’d bend carefully down to pick it up. (Then bend down again to pick up what he dropped the first time he bent down to pick up item A.) Then, treasures obtained, he’d skip across the sand to me, until the next treasure caught his eye in a few paces.

It was so joyful – every movement of his body expressing delight and satisfaction. It was so very Thane. Someday he’ll learn to walk instead of hop, and that day will be a sad one for me.

No greater treasure
No greater treasure

I added more pictures to the renovation album!.

My once and future dining room

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m not allowed to take vacations anymore because when I’m rested I come up with new things to do. We are now in the heart of the dining room adventure. Also known as “dust phase”.

My dining room started like this:

That table has seen a thousand and one dice rolls
That table has seen a thousand and one dice rolls

I like to fancy that it was a good dining room. I’ve served fine meals there – prime rib and pancakes, turkey dinners served with silver, pounds of pie and experimental Indian recipes. After nearly every one of those meals, I’ve cleared that table to have it reset with board games. We have spent hundreds of hours there, together with our friends and family. I cannot fail to be fond of that space.

But as we look a little closer, we begin to see the limitations:

Every room in the house has a different tile of drop ceiling, taking about 9 inches off the height of the rooms.
Every room in the house has a different tile of drop ceiling, taking about 9 inches off the height of the rooms.
The cheap, fake paneling looked better when we painted over it, but it still didn't look what you would call "good".
The cheap, fake paneling looked better when we painted over it, but it still didn’t look what you would call “good”.

Our house was a good deal when we bought it almost 8 years ago, partially because the entire house was in the ’70s style. The bones of the house – built in 1898 – are excellent, the layout is ideal and I really, really love my house. But the list of things that need to be done to improve it is massive. They fall into two main categories – effort and capital. (And then there’s capital under $1000 and over $1000…) While we have plans for some big capital projects (windows, attic renovation, furnace) somehow we had the brilliant idea that a 12 week hiatus in gaming (due to one of our friends doing something cool) was the perfect time for a largely effort, under $1k project.

The room echoed when we moved out the furniture. It felt like we were moving out, with that hollow feeling.

Infinite possibilities
Infinite possibilities

Then we (and by the way, when I say we I generally mean “Adam”) removed the patina of the ’80s to uncover the remnants of the ’40s.

Remnants of the WWII era
Remnants of the WWII era

Clearly they’d had wainscotting. The plaster ceiling was in quite good condition, although the electrical was questionable. The wallpaper was, well, ugly. We found a door that used to connect our dining room to the mud room. In an inexcusable lapse of judgement, the faux paneling and drop ceiling had been put in in 1988 – a decade after the fuel crisis which is the only excuse for such an ugly solution. There was a spraypainted date and initials. One wall carried scribbled names. Several walls had dimensions penciled in. There’s duct tape, plaster and lathe, plywood and gaps around the windows big enough to see daylight through. (This last one explains a lot.)

Graffiti from the last generation
Graffiti from the last generation
The bump out was mostly unnecessary, so we took it down and reframed it. (Again we = Adam)
The bump out was mostly unnecessary, so we took it down and reframed it. (Again we = Adam)
When we made this decision, we didn't quite realize that there was no flooring there... oops.
When we made this decision, we didn’t quite realize that there was no flooring there… oops.
How the kids have been spending the time we're constructing
How the kids have been spending the time we’re constructing
12 ft sheets made mathematical sense, but were very hard to work with
12 ft sheets made mathematical sense, but were very hard to work with

This weekend was a huge one in our plans. Adam took Friday off to work on it. He put in the ceiling strips (acoustically isolating ones, so we hear reduced thumping). Saturday, Adam and I spent the full day working together. The kids played video games from 7 to 7, quite literally. (They loved every minute of it!) We got the ceiling panels up. Today, while I went to church, friends came over and helped Adam get the biggest wall boards in place. We have finished the destruction and entered the (very dusty) construction phase. We still have SO MUCH to do: all the smaller drywall surfaces, tape & mud, sand, prime, paint, trim (trim is so huge). And then the million finishing details… I’d like a nicer light fixture. (Do I go for a chandelier trusting that I’ll actually get AC next year, or stick with the ceiling fan? And can I get a nicer ceiling fan/light fixture?) I’d like to paint one of the walls an accent blue. We’ve gone back and forth considerably on crown molding. We still have many nights and weekends ahead before we move our beloved table back where it belongs, to set a meal in front of friends.

Anyway, you can see all our progress so far in this gallery. I’m looking forward to a triumphal post when the labors are complete. Until then, if I’m less available for social plans than usual… well, this is why.

Drywall man

Why I shouldn’t take vacations

Adam and I were in the car on the long ride up to Canada. (As an aside, Thane is begging to go to Canada for his birthday “just like you and dad did”.) As so often happens when I finally relax and momentarily get off the hamster wheel of my daily life, I started to think. This is a mistake. Because given a good night’s sleep and no immediately pressing pending tasks, I start inventing things we’ll do when I get back. I have some sort of amnesia about how little time I have (especially during the fall).

For your entertainment, here are a few things that I came up with for us to do in that languid week on the Bay of Fundy:

1) Redo the living room
We spent a lot of time talking about what we’ll do with our house. It was built in 1898, and the last major renovation was in the 1970s. That ’70s renovation was… not good. These were not choices I’m glad they made (although it probably kept the house affordable for us). Specifically, almost every room in the first two floors has a drop ceiling and cheap wood paneling. We ripped it out of Thane’s room – a project that Adam took two full weeks (between jobs). We have a Google doc full of all the projects we’d LIKE to do. (The stupid windows. I can’t figure out what we should do. We got three contractors in and they each recommended something different, with estimates between 7k and 20k. So I’m doing the mature thing and ignoring it for another year. Also, I think next year we will put the second full bathroom in the attic and turn it into a master suite.)

But somehow we landed on the brilliant idea that we would renovate the dining room. (I think that is mostly because one of our gamers has a commitment that will make gaming hard for several weeks, so it’s an opportune time.) It sounds simple – we’ll pull down the drop ceiling and the wood paneling (which, in a brilliant design decision doesn’t run all the way to the real ceiling because it was put up the same time as the drop ceiling. We’ll re-drywall the ceiling (or a tin ceiling?! maybe with crown molding?) and walls (there’s likely horsehair plaster back there, and its unlikely to be in good condition). We’ll put the trim back on, prime and paint, and voila! Beautiful dining room! Of course, this involves moving all the furniture in the room, which includes the heaviest stuff in the whole house. (To … somewhere else….) And likely weeks of double shifts for Adam. And we’re not sure how we’ll handle the curves in the archways. But it’ll be great!

2) Invite my brother to come live with us for a while
My brother is wrapping up his current church contract in Denver. While he’s working on discerning his next call, we’re looking forward to having him here for a while. He’s wisely planned his schedule so he should be here shortly after we finish getting the dining room redone. I can’t wait to see him again!

3) Decide once and for all if my children need a piano
We inherited a piano from Adam’s grandmother. I play piano, poorly. But given a choice, I’d rather plan trumpet mediocrely, or guitar poorly. Heck, I might even prefer to play cornetto abysmally. For a long time we hung on to it in that fond hope that one of our sons might be musically inclined. Those sons are now 9 and 6 and it’s put up or play wind instruments time. So I’m thinking of trying a 4 week piano lesson for each of them. At the conclusion of those 4 weeks, we’ll either have a kid who seems actually interested in practicing music, or we’ll get rid of the piano.

4) Chair a church committee
OK, this wasn’t actually a vacation decision, but it did kick off this week. My church is getting ready to do our mission study in preparation for discerning who we are, what God is calling us to do, and who the neighbor is that we should be loving. I’ll be part of that discernment process. I’ve taken a few years off church committees, and this marks my dive back in.

There are a few more things, but those are the high points. I am looking ahead to fall – the busiest time of my year – and trying to figure out what I can do RIGHT NOW in order to save myself having to do it in September/October!

What brilliant ideas did you come up with on your vacation?

Follow Ups

So my last three blog posts (that were more than “Sorry. Busy.”) were on:
1) Bicycles
2) Not having pockets and the smartphone problems therein
3) Camping on Memorial Day

You all had amazing advice, particularly on the phone thing. I have updates to all of these topics (and the one blog post I have an idea about writing requires insane things like “research” and “work” and “advanced planning” and this is my to do list for this weekend):

Not listed: birthday party, soccer party, dinner with friends, church, Thane haircut, watching that tear-jerker new Pixar movie.
Not listed: birthday party, soccer party, dinner with friends, church, Thane haircut, watching that tear-jerker new Pixar movie.

You will note “pictures for blog post” remains suspiciously unchecked. So updates it is.

1) Bicycles
When last updated you, I was on the verge of taking Grey (and myself, for that matter) on our very first actual bike trail. We were graduating from parking lots.

It was awesome!!!

Breakheart has a two mile paved loop trail, with no vehicles. Perfect, I thought. And it was perfect. Grey and I got on our bikes and got going! He did his first downhill, his first uphill. He discovered why we have gears. But Breakheart was wicked hilly and neither one of us could make it up most of them without walking the bikes – which we did. The downhills scared the pants off me, because I have crashed. (I wasn’t 100% convinced that he really understood that he could get hurt doing this.) But we did the loop TWICE and he LOVED it!

The whole week he kept asking to go bikeriding again, and talked non-stop about it. Thane, who had become rather skeptical of this whole bi-cyclical method of transportation, was given a motivation to improve. And improve he did. He really got it! So the next step was clearly to do a whole family bike ride.

Two problems:
1) Adam didn’t have a bike
2) There was no way Thane could do Breakheart Reservation

So…. it was just about Father’s Day. And every dad wants a bike for his celebration, right? Right? That Saturday we kitted out Adam to get ready to riiiiide. And then I went looking for a really nice safe offroad trail and found the Independence Greenway (which is very similar to what our Greenway will be, with a 50″ clearance and 10″ paved section). We figured out how to (kind of) load our bikes into a vehicle and went for a Father’s Day ride.

The family that rides together learns first aid together.

It was super perfect. The trail was exactly the right level of difficulty for beginning riders. (eg. none) We had an amazingly awesome hour together. As we were coming back, Grey was getting fancier with his moves and finally found the limit of the turning radius of the bike. He came down hard. I got to him fast (we’d had the forethought to bring an extensive first aid kit). His elbow looked pretty bad – a fun color of purple, bleeding significantly from three separate scrapes. I figured out it wasn’t broken, but I knew it would still hurt. I bandaged him up, heart in my throat. Once he’d gotten his breath back, I leveled with him.

“Grey, I’m so sorry you got hurt. I know that has to feel badly. The truth of the matter is that sometimes when you ride your bike, you fall off and it hurts a lot. It’s kind of part of being a bike rider.”

“Mom,” he turned his teary face to me, “I have no regrets about being a bike rider. I’m going to get back up and keep riding, even if I get injured.”

My son has not always been an exemplar of resilience in the face of pain or challenge. It might be the thing in life he’ll need to work hardest on. But this day he got back on his bike, arm sticking out awkwardly wrapped in layers of tape, and rode to the end of the trail. He told his father later, “Dad, every time my arm hurts, I feel proud of myself.” Me too, kiddo. Me too.

So bike riding. It seems like it might be a thing for us now.

2) First World Problems
I wrote a really whiny post about how I don’t have pooooooockets in my dresssssses and how am I supposed to carry my phooooooone?!!? You guys gave me very excellent advice. (This might also be the #1 post in several years for having people stop me personally to talk it through with me.)

I ordered about 6 different solutions, and finally settled on an adequate two part strategy:

Case solved
Case solved

The easiest and most efficacious was a simple case with a lanyard. (Lanyard sold separately.) I’ve never used a case before because they’ve been bulky, but this one is very slim and attractive and allows me to carry the phone on my wrist. Problem largely solved.

For no pocket days...
For no pocket days…

I went to Etsy to help me solve the problem with no pocket days and returned almost exactly what I was looking for. Phone holder with clear pocket for ID and lanyard connections. (Lanyard – again – sold separately.) This is more or less what I was trying to articulate. I had thought I could hook it up to the zippy thingy that clips to your clothes, but the phone is too heavy and pulls it out. Other than that, it works fine.

Problem solved.

Well, mostly. I’m due for a new phone upgrade. I really wanted the Galaxy S5 mini for reasons of size and battery life. But Verizon (curse you!) doesn’t carry it. So now I don’t know what I want.

3) Camping on Memorial Day
You’ll be pleased to hear that my update on this is not novella length. Instead I offer you pictures of the occasion! We’re headed out again soon for more adventures!

We cannot get out

Gee, what shall I talk about? Sports I care about are all in a hiatus. I haven’t taken any great hikes lately (for some reason) nor gone on any crazy road trips (for some reason). All I’ve done – in living memory it seems – has been to be at home.

Spotted on my walk to the post office today - Do you see the car?
Spotted on my walk to the post office today – Do you see the car?

I was not designed to stay at home, folks. I think we’re ALL happy that I’m a 21st century woman with major scope for my energy outside these four walls.

But home I’ve been, with my patient husband and two sons. For the first weekend snowstorm, we reveled in the low expectations of a “State of Emergency” blizzard. The second and third snowstorms were lost epic Minecraft marathons. By the time the fourth blizzard came, I needed a better plan. It was time… to improve.

I’m sure your home is perfect in every way – a flawless execution of your design vision, taste, and perfectly fitting antiques picked up on a whim at a charming roadside store on your last drive up the Maine seacoast. MY home is a 120 year old pink colonial whose last major design upgrade came in the ’70s, when the prior owner installed (bad) panelling and (ugly, non-matching) drop ceilings in every room. It’s the kind of house where when you peel up the beige carpet, you find gold sparkly linoleum. (True story.) Although Adam and I have put thousands of dollars into the house, almost all of it has gone into glamorous things like electrical upgrades, a new roof and blown in insulation. (We do know how to live the high life!) We still have the paneling, but at least it’s painted white now? And the drop ceilings? Well. You learn to live with things.

But some of the rooms don’t require a major capital investment to look massively better. They just require attention and work. You know, time. And focus. Those rarest of commodities. (It’s hard to have time and focus during a Minecraft marathon!)

The "before" - I swear I didn't make this look worse for comparison purposes. It really usually looked this way.
The “before” – I swear I didn’t make this look worse for comparison purposes. It really usually looked this way.

Saturday morning, I was barely recovered from my 16 straight hours of sleeping post GI bug. The flakes were scheduled to start their blizzarding in the afternoon, and I knew they’d lock us in place for several days. Everything that had previously been going on that weekend was cancelled. But in my convalescent state, I knew I had 4 or 5 hours in which to do whatever was going to be done outside the home for the weekend.

It was time for … IKEA.

Traffic was light. We got there fast. We checked the boys into Smaland, carefully checking the height. (I swear it was just yesterday I checked to see if they were BIG ENOUGH YET and now Grey is almost TOO BIG. WHAT?!) We had a list, and we got the end table. We checked out the shelving units extensively, cursing my somewhat cursory measurement that morning. “Well, I measured 55″ but I’m sure 57″ will be fine…” We finally both agreed that in our heart of hearts there was one unit we wanted. We wrote down the names and numbers, reclaimed our boys, ate Ikea meatballs, and threaded the Labrynth of Cheap Goods on our way out. (Grey was hilarious. He kept exclaiming how something was so cheap he could buy it. I mean, mom! I could buy that bowl! I could use my allowance and buy that bowl!)

Two able-bodied adults were able to wrangle the flat packs into the cart, then into the car. I tossed several packages of meatballs into the car and peeled out of the parking lot just as the first flakes few.

We managed to get the core put together and the room cleaned out before Adam turned a funny shade of green and disappeared. The next morning, while I was out shoveling for two hours he was putting the drawers together. And when I came back, we had an all new mud room. (*BING*)

The "After" - we do have drawers for that last spot, but that's where the outlet is! I didn't measure that part.
The “After” – we do have drawers for that last spot, but that’s where the outlet is! I didn’t measure that part.

But our frenzy of home improvement was not yet spent! On Monday, we each grimly took a small child into said small children’s bedrooms and asked them whether they actually wanted each and every genre of object in that room. (I mean, it turns out that 98% of my eldest son’s toys are Legos, but still). We wrested order out of the chaos that is the room of a 9 year old. We have piles of books and toys in the hallway, ready to go to new homes. There are actual open surfaces. Amazing.

There are still some things to be done (See also: massive pile of toys and books, realization that potatoes might do better in dark cupboard instead of on top of fridge). But overall our trapped tenure has at least been productive!

Grey's room cleaning was supervised by an authority figure. In a sunbeam.
Grey’s room cleaning was supervised by an authority figure. In a sunbeam.