Saturday, May 22, 2010

Home vs. House

Owning a Home is great! Owning a House can really suck sometimes. The challenge these days is to spend enough quality Home time that all the House time and money feels worth it. Both Ellie and I get close to being overwhelmed when we forget this.

Our Home is the place where the our cats sit in the open windows and watch the birds while we take our time waking up and getting out of bed. It's the place where we take an hour to mow the lawn because we're talking with neighbors and drinking a beer. It's the place where the grill going strong and there is a table full of friends enjoying the beautiful day. It's the place where the breeze is gentle and the sunlight is warm. It's the place where all of our cherished odds-and-ends are finally finding their own special place, like our whole life is exhaling and laying back on the purple-velvet couch.

Our House is the place where we can't get internet because the wires are problematic. It's the place where the light-fixture doesn't work. Where the ceiling in the basement needs to come out. Where we discover a new problem every time we fix another. Where we still have unpacked boxes everywhere because the wiring has to be fixed before the walls are painted before the shelves are up before the books have a place to go.

I wish I could take a week or two off of work (still, somehow getting paid, of course) and just get it all done. But as it stands I am doing 8 shows a week (9 next week) down at the Pier, and a reading, and getting ready to leave town for a few months of work in Wisconsin. ...*sigh*...

Still, it is a good lesson in prioritizing and keeping a flexible budget. And there is something inescapably wonderful about working on your own house; it might be stressful and difficult at the time but you know you're transforming it into a home.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Amid the Stress

There are also some quiet, beautiful moments about having the house, hereafter known as the Hathaway House.

It's cottoning season in west Logan Square. There is at least one cottonwood tree in the neighborhood, which has started snowing. The air is thick with swirling white "flakes." Drifts form at the edges of yards, against the spiderwebs of fences and gates. Hathaway is missing several window screens, so the cotton floats in and has gathered in billowing clouds in the corners of each room. In researching the phenomenon online, I read people's complaints, how the cotton smothers other plants, and prevents moisture from reaching them, or likewise traps it, but I can only remember growing up in Kansas, and marvel at a little bit of the Flint Hills filling my new house.

Monday, our new mower arrived, and Tim muscled it through the dense grass- and dandelion-choked backyard, then moved on to the front yard. The front has a small patch of grass, but is mostly dirt waiting for flowers and plants. I sat on the front porch, eating pasta salad out of a mug, on the antique arm chair some past tenant left. The chair is a former beauty queen who has spent too many summers in the sun, and now waits simply for the long-haired black cat who will only curl up when she thinks we're not home. She doesn't know it yet, but she will love us.

I sat on the front porch, eating my pasta salad, and watching Tim do yard work, and neighbors across and down the street leave, come home, laugh, and call out to each other, and I felt belonging settle into my bones.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Turning on the Gas (Putting the "As-Is" in the As-Is Clause, Part 1)

As a renter, I never knew what entailed the gas turn-on. I would just call to have it set up, and when I moved in, I started cooking.

Things are different when you have a rehabbed house where you never really know the full extent of how badly the last owners cut corners. The People's Gas guy, Bob, came over yesterday afternoon. He helped me connect the kitchen stove, then lit the pilot light. Then we went downstairs so he could turn on the water heater. He showed me how the exhaust pipes weren't properly drawing the fumes away, and explained what we needed to do to help with that. We covered up an empty flue hole with tinfoil.

This week, our friend Mo started working on the electrical stuff. If Tim wasn't around, he would explain to me what he was doing and the problems he was encountering. About 5 seconds into his long explanations, my eyes would glaze over. I can't follow most of what is said about electrics. Gas and plumbing, this is a different story. It makes sense. Bob lit a match and held it by a flue to find out if it was drawing air or pumping it out. We unscrewed a pipe and could feel, hear, and smell the gas, and instantly knew what direction it was flowing.

Bob, an older guy who had been working for People's Gas for years, complained a lot about how these days, people cut too many corners in the work they do, and pointed out places where we needed to replace flexible pipe with hard pipe, and where to trim flues to prevent the chimney exhaust from getting clogged. It was stressful to listen to him. I'm all about doing the work well, but our bank account can't always facilitate our desires.

Bob set up the pipe so we could install the gas dryer Tim was getting on Craigslist, and got ready to wrap things up. "Is it normal after you turn on the gas, and we've been testing it, to smell gas like this?" I asked, as we were in the future laundry area. He stopped packing up his tools, took a deep smell, and started unpacking. "No," he said. "That smells like a leak."

We poked around the basement some more, and under the stairwell, found a flexible pipe connected to hard pipe that led outside. Outside? When we went outside, we saw the hard pipe was affixed to the outer wall for about 10-15 feet, then went back into the house. It appeared to insert at the pipe junction for the laundry area. Now why in the world it went outside . . . ?? God only knows. Under the stairwell, there was a valve that was in "shut-off" position. When turned on, we could hear the gas whooshing through the pipes, but couldn't tell exactly where it was going. Two rooms over, in the laundry area, the gas smell was stronger, and we could hear a subsequent whoosh behind the drywall. We took a hammer and knocked down a few square feet of drywall, trying to locate the open pipe.

I think this was outside of Bob's job description, but he was quite a sport, and wielded the hammer well.

We never did locate the open pipe, but it was getting on two hours, and the end of Bob's day. He said repeatedly that he wouldn't be able to turn on the gas for us, and we'd have to call a plumber, and I began to despair. Eventually, we settled on him capping the flow at the valve under the stairs, which cut off supply to the mysterious exit in the wall.

About half an hour later, I was able to do the dishes in warm water. I'm trying not to worry about the mysterious pipes in the wall.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


We've spent the last week prepping the house for work that needs to be done, and the move. Most of the plants are over there, and I am slowly moving the kitchen in. I started painting this weekend, with the help of a good friend. The library is now Deep Blue Sea:

(which looks much more deeply, lusciously navy on the walls) The trim is going to be Silver Leaf (like most of the house)

And I want to put an oatmeal-colored duvet on the futon, with light blue accent pillows and curtain for the closet. This room will have a few low-light lamps, and will be all spa-like and cozy.

The office has an Autumn Fest ceiling:

And Red Pepper walls:

It is Tim's purely New Mexico room. The colors definitely make the already-small room look smaller, but it absolutely glows. I love it!

These are the rooms I have completed thus far. Three coats of blue, and two coats each in the office. Painting is surprisingly exhausting.

The bedroom will be Plum.

Tim was advocating for a tangerine ceiling. He is channeling a New Mexican sunset from this gorgeous watercolor we have from Los Alamos, but the effect, once I painted on a few sample swatches, looks more like:

And, wow. Not the color scheme I want for my bedroom. I'd prefer something softer to go with the Plum: any of the following shades of yellow:

The living room is going to be a green similar to the current color, though with a hint more olive: Grape Leaves. About 7 feet up on the wall, there is a line of white trim, then 2-3 feet more of wall before the ceiling. That top bit of wall will be Corn Husk Green.

Haven't decided on a dining room color yet. Something a little darker golden brown. I wanted it to be my Kansas room, and channel Kansas summers, but I haven't found the perfect thing yet. We have that pretty alcove on one wall. Our painter said we should do that a darker shade for something interesting, and I'm all for it.

The kitchen will be Opulent!

The cabinets are really bright golden-brown wood, and sunshine just pours in, so it will look so gorgeously warm and inviting. I'm going to eventually put some metallic gold and white stencil accents on the wall. Our deep pantry, I want to paint all gold for a little surprise when you peek in there, but Tim is anti-painting the pantry. (I may have to save up for the paint myself and sneak it in when he's gone this summer!)

I've started filling the pantry with canned goods, and the fridge with beer, hummus, and cheese and crackers, so we can spend all day working, and be able to stop for snacks. The coffee pot is over there, too. This afternoon, I brought over the boxes labeled "drawer next to the fridge," "second drawer from the fridge," and "battery drawer," and put them into the new kitchen.

It's incredibly stressful, but more so when I return to the apartment. It's hard to predict the amount of work needed to fully clean and pack it out, and is it really going to be done by May 10? (Official move day, though technically, we don't have to be out of the place until May 12). It still looks like a tornado hit it, and each box I fill doesn't seem to reduce that considerably. I think I worked for3 hours on Saturday night, and I filled 2 boxes. Disheartening. I wish we could afford not just movers, but also packers.