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?

Top of Mind at the tipping point to summer

1) Bike to Work
This week was “Bike to Work Week”. My employer is big into Bike To Work week, and strongly encourages people to participate. It’s also pretty mellow on the “show up exactly at 9 and leave exactly at 5” scale (as long as your work gets done). So with the near-completion of the Stoneham Greenway, all the way through to Winchester Center, I reckoned just maybe it was time to give it a try. I’m pretty scared of biking in traffic. My sister had an extremely serious biking injury when I was in my early teens. Biking in traffic like a grownup seems terrifying. So I posted to an internal group that I was interested in participating (going from my house to Alewife and taking the T in), but asking for good route advice. I got excellent route advice, a t-shirt with a weird Illuminati-biking theme, the loan of front and back headlights, and a colleague who SHOWED UP AT MY HOUSE AT 8:15 to ride in with me and make sure I felt safe. The mind boggles that people could be so awesome, but it turns out that sometimes they are.

Commuting clothes

It took a surprising amount of mental energy. It also took about 2 hours each way, so that’s unlikely to become a regular thing. I thought a lot about what I was going to do, how I was going to do it, and what I’d do if it didn’t work. It was a really novel experience, and I was interested to see how much my mind was engaged and excited by the novelty of it. I was also surprised and pleased that I wasn’t all that physically wiped out by it (except for mebbe that last hill on the way home). I’ve been in better shape lately – we’ve been running a loop with the bikeway as well which is close to 4 miles and I set a personal record best time & personal record longest run last week.

There was this moment, as I spun through brand-new asphalt on the not-quite-yet-finished bikeway where I really really enjoyed the fact that it exists at all. The community came together and made this thing happen, which was not easy. My first post about it was five years ago. Since then there have been Town Hall Meetings, letters to the editor, phone banking, cleanup days and patient and concerted effort to make it happen. It’s astonishing to think that after so long, the efforts of the good-hearted people of Stoneham are bearing fruit, but here they are!

2) Plums
Speaking of bearing fruit, I’ve been more than a little obsessed with my plums this year. The point at which you’re putting a space heater out for a fruit tree, you have crossed some important line. However, I’m happy to say that they’ve made it the furthest this year in the history of this benighted plum. There are hundreds of tiny little fruits. Most are the size of a lentil, but there are one or two that are the size of really small olives.

I’m excited to learn what disaster can kill fruit at this stage! I’ll let you know.

There are a couple hundred plums, but these are the biggest

3) Attic Renovation
I’ve been getting strong pressure from maternal sources to post an update in the attic situation. Here’s the album where you can watch the whole thing progress. We have the electric & plumbing in, as well as a lot of the framing. Almost all the demo is completed (or was, until we increased scope like the home owners we are). The inspection has been done. There’s a bit of waiting for the next step – we need to put in the new windows, but they’re on order and won’t be ready until early June. We also need to get the HVAC in and all hooked up. We opted to go for a bigger unit so we can drop some cool air in summer down to the 2nd floor and actually get it to be a comfortable temperature – sandwiched between two zones. We also had to put in new hard-wired smoke detectors for the whole house to bring it up to code, and bring in a new electric bank. Once we have HVAC & windows in, we’ll do closed cell insulation from the bottom of the walls to the tip top of the roof. We’ll need to vacate the house then for a day. But that’ll be the biggest tipping point – then we can start doing finish type work like, you know, walls & stuff.

I reckon the project will be done by early August, if I’m lucky.

4)Time with my boys
I got to go to Fenway on Thursday night for the makeup game from Patriot’s day. It was so perfect. The weather was ideal. The game was excellent (and we won). It’s an interesting moment when you learn that your child is really good company. We had good conversations, we were game-watching-compatible. On the walk back to where we parked, he didn’t like how someone had bumped up against me, and then protectively took the spot between me and other people. How quickly we go from protecting them to them feeling protective of us. He’s still not bigger than me, but that will not last long.

Just as I took this picture, the Sox hit a home run

In the same vein, every year for Mother’s Day we go to the Arnold Arboretum for the Lilac Festival. And every year for many the boys have climbed these ponderous birch trees with tempting limbs and I’ve taken their pictures there. This year, we arrived to find a denuded slope. I never thought that the grand trees my boys climbed on would not outlast our Mother’s Day tradition. I will admit tears welled in my eyes. I’m grieved for the magnificent trees that were lost (although I’m sure the arborists did everything in their power to save them). But it was this shocking moment to discover that we are all now old enough for things that were traditions to come to final endings. It’s astonishing enough to have sufficient tenure to parenthood to have traditions in the first place. I feel very unready to have traditions end.

Not quite the same thing

5) Finding my feet again
Every year for Mothers Day I write my mother a letter about how things have been in the past year. Last year I wrote a letter that talked about how overwhelmed I was, especially with huge projects like the pastor search and kicking off the attic project. I added a few things to my tally during the course of the year, the largest of which was probably getting a new job. But slowly slowly slowly, since about January, I’ve been unburying myself from the accumulation of things that needed to be done, and shortening that infinite to do list. Clearing out the attic in preparation for our project was a huge one that I suspect added a lot to my anxiety. Things have been getting crossed off. I’m starting to arrive at a point where I almost feel like I can actually rest without guilt, sometimes. Of course, there’s always more to-do list to go, and I haven’t fulfilled every promise I made for “after we hired a pastor”. But I’m closer, and that’s really reassuring.

So that’s what’s up with me. What’s up with you?

Destroying your house for fun and profit

So the attic project has begun in earnest. It’s a very strange feeling when you leave the house with your attic entirely habitable – the way it was when I first started writing the offer in my head as I walked up those attic stairs for the first time. Then when you come back, the dumpster is half full and the rooms are, in fact, no longer habitable.

Every week night since April 5th we’ve gone up to our attic to watch the progress of the demolition. Walls have come down. Ceilings. Floors have been uncovered and removed. New doors, hidden behind drywall and paint, have been exposed halfway through narrow crawl-spaces. The weird & alien corpse of a HAM radio antenna peaked out from between eaves. Long-hidden girlie mags from the ’50s have seen the light of day for the first time in sixty years. Mysteriously, an abandoned nest was found shocking far into the infrastucture of the house – next to the only inadequate heat vent on the floor.

Having the work done on the third floor has been nice in that it’s not too disruptive to daily life. Other than the gigantic dumpster in the driveway (the envy of the neighborhood), there’s little impact on the rest of the house. The poor cats are getting to spend quality time in the basement during the day. (I feel heartless, moving them from their optimally warm and cushy day time nap locations to the cold cold basement.)

Adam and I have done much of the work to prepare. The selection of tiles feels like a great personal accomplishment. I am granted many gifts in life – taste is not primary among them.

I’m extremely proud of myself that for ONCE I did a good job of taking “before” pictures of the project – possibly due to the 3 or so months that it would be starting “soon”. If you’d like to follow the photographic progress of the project, keep your eyes on this album!

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.

Once again, back to work

For four straight weeks, I’ve had four straight days where I was home. I took a long weekend to prepare for Christmas. Then Christmas. Then New Years. Than the blizzardpocalypse of arctic doom (we worked two days, but from home). I’m really rather looking forward to “leaving the house” and “doing stuff other places”. This time of year, the walls start closing in on you.

One thing we did during this period was change the boys rooms. In preparation for our attic project (which it seems like we’ve been preparing for for years at this point) we have totally gotten rid of our guest room. After long begging, the guest queen bed (which is crazy comfortable) is now Grey’s. The bunk beds that were in his room are now in Thane’s. If we get company while the attic is undergoing construction (and likely afterwards too) they’ll be in Grey’s room and Grey will bunk with his brother.

The boys did a great job of working to clean up and clean out their rooms as part of this. Grey’s is especially cozy right now. Grey also did a fantastic job helping Adam repaint a wall in Thane’s room which had taken significant abuse over the years. The kids have really been great lately, and I’ve thoroughly been enjoying their company!

Thane’s room – with mood lighting

Thane’s room – normal version
Grey’s cozy room
Grey’s room, mood lighting
Meanwhile, up in the attic…