The Car Circus

The last few weeks I find myself giving myself pep talks about getting through this season. Work has been really busy so I spent about two weeks bringing work home and working on the couch for hours most evenings. I can do this for a season, but it wears me out. I start losing sight of myself when this goes on too long and it feels like my life is spiraling out of control. Thankfully this week, while still crazy busy at the office, I’m back to leaving work at work.

I was super excited to get this beast of a pick up truck repaired and picked up from the shop. This was our survey truck at work for a lot of years and then as the economy tanked and we stopped having an in-house survey crew, the truck had some issues and so it has just been sitting there… for years now!! I told my dad I would either fix it up (if it was a worthwhile thing) or sell my CRV and get a pick up for my daily driver. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner but it is time for a pick up truck. I’ve cracked my windshield in the CRV one too many times and right now I need something bigger to haul things with.  My dad got it over to the mechanic and it wasn’t terribly expensive to fix and the mechanic glowed over how good the engine is still on this beast. I don’t want to build up any dreamy illusions — this thing is a beat up truck. Note the bent up hood, the fancy light on top, and if I could describe the musty, sat for years truck smell… 

Last Friday night I had plans with friends and just as I was a few minutes from their house, driving my trusty CRV, the speedometer and all the gauges went to zero and the battery light came on. Uh oh. I’ve driven enough cars to suspect an alternator problem. When I got to the friend’s house, I mentioned to my brother not to leave until we check to see if the car starts– just in case. Leaving there at 10.30 pm, the car did start! But the gauges were all still at zero and the lights got dimmer as I drove toward home. Not a great sign.

Sure enough, mid-intersection, the car died and wouldn’t start again. I called my brother who was minutes ahead of me and he came back to get me. While I’m sitting there, a lady in the intersection across from me rolls down her window “Don’t you hate it when that happens?”  I smiled and agreed and said my brother was just pulling in behind me. As Donal lines his car up with my bumper so we can roll it into a parking lot, just as her light changes, she jumps out of her car, runs across the intersection, hands me a CD and says “In case your CD player is still working!” Uh. Okay? Thanks?

For your edification, here’s a picture of the CD she gave me. And I’m pretty sure the lady running across the intersection is the acclaimed Katie Geddes on the cover. The CD was from 1999 and since my CD player wasn’t working, I have yet to listen to it. I hope it is as amazing as the artwork. Please tell me this stuff happens to other people.

So Donal pushes my car into the Busch’s parking lot, drives me to the office to pick up the recently repaired truck, and then heads home. What a guy!! The next morning he offered to help me get the CRV to the mechanic. So we set out in the beast of a pick up truck with the terrible smell — or at least a smell like it has been sitting for five years. I clearly have some work to do to get this thing smelling better. Thankfully it was the sort of day to drive with the windows down. We get to the CRV and charge it for awhile. Donal runs into the store for muffins and orange juice while I babysit the charging vehicles and move the tile backer board from the CRV into the pick up truck.

We get about 5 minutes up the road before the car dies — just before a busy intersection. So Donal pulls the pick up next to the dead CRV and we set up to jump it, taking up two out of three lanes. Nice. Donal turns on the truck flashers and the awesome strobe light on top as we flag cars around us. We jump the car – twice because it died again when we removed the cables. I probably should have been freaking out more, but it was all kind of funny and oh so very Cousino.

We make it another two miles and have to pull off to charge again. This time Donal jogs up to a nearby hardware store while we’re charging to get a tow strap – just in case. And since we now have a tow strap, this time we made it to the mechanic’s – with the car dying right as I turned into the driveway.

This sounds funny, but as I told Donal, it felt very adult of us to get a car there on our own, without my dad who is usually the car rescuer. Way to Cousino on through that! Clearly my dad has passed on some important life skills and the belief that tow trucks are an unnecessary luxury most of the time.

The good news is that the car is fixable, the bad news is that it is the alternator and battery and oil pump. Bah. There goes my entire tax refund and then some. So I drove the truck for the weekend and I gotta say, the smell not withstanding, I do love the feel of driving a big powerful vehicle. It may not be anything to look at but this thing has a great engine and gets you where you need to go. I’m pretty excited to have a hauler on site for my many and varied hauling needs.


Projects & Varmints

It was a notable weekend over here — again. No — still no raccoon (or other mystery varmint) in the live trap.

Saturday morning I got up thinking how very happy I would be if I got the new bathroom door framed in; by the end of the day, I just desperately wanted to be able to pee indoors. 
I started the morning off with a trip to Lowes to get more 2x4s for the framing, drank a gallon of coffee and was pulling out all the tools I would need.
My dad showed up while I was trying to calculate how to frame a door on a subfloor that sloped over two inches across one doorway.  “I want to open up the rest of this subfloor and see what is going on before we frame that wall.” Um, okay? I just need to have the toilet usable again at the end of this, and I’ve got to serve at Mass this afternoon. “Alright, let’s get going!”  As usual, the deeper you go, the more terrifying things you uncover. I’d removed the tile and backer board previously, but there were layers of subflooring and subfloor framing to get to. And that rotting subfloor around the toilet had to go.
We uncovered some fascinating things:
~Some of the plumbing in the crawl isn’t supported at all or connected to joists, just hanging under there
~The bathroom sink plumbing went through the side of the cabinet and into the plumbing stack — but at some point, rusted out entirely so it was just draining straight into the crawlspace.
~Sure enough, that floor is crazy uneven. It isn’t clear when it sank so much or why (we checked the joists, etc) but it needs to be evened up.
~Incredibly, the tub is level. It can use some additional support and insulation, but we shouldn’t have to move or reinstall it, just add that support and insulation. That’s a win. 
When I left to go set up for Mass, my dad was heading to the store to find new toilet flange and associated parts, saying he’d get the toilet back on if nothing else. Awesome.
When I got home 3 hours later, l was especially glad I’d used the bathroom at church when I found the house empty, some new toilet parts scattered around, but no toilet installed, and no father. Hmmm. I ate dinner and was just mustering the energy to change my clothes and figure out how to get that toilet on when my dad called. They needed me to watch grandpa for a bit and then he’d come back with me and we’d get the toilet back on. Sold! So Grandpa and I ate some dinners and watched some baseball. When my parents got back, my dad and I headed back to my place and then I headed to Lowes for some more parts…


It was 11 pm but we finally got enough of a subfloor to stand on and the toilet plumbed to the finished tile height. #dreamcometrue  Next time we’ll pull it back out, do the plumbing and level the subfloor. Then I can finally tile the floor! 

Let’s recap: I can shower and pee inside – which feels huge all the sudden. There is no sink in the bathroom but the kitchen sink is just a few steps (and no doors) away, I can totally live with that. #fancy We’ve ripped out the rotten subfloor but not leveled the subfloor. That has to happen before I can tile. We’re also going to do some plumbing to put in proper fittings and extend the water for a new outdoor hose bib while the plumbing and inside of the walls are exposed because why ever not?  (And because I’ve been wanting a hose bib closer to my garden and chickens).


Sunday was gorgeous outside. I slept in. Drank coffee. Peed indoors (woooooooo). Took the pups out for a good romp in the yard. Added to my mental list of all the outdoor chores that should be happening right now but aren’t.


I opened the barn up to see if I could see the varmint. I didn’t see the varmint, but I confirmed that it must be in there because it is using one area as a litter box. Eww. I started cleaning up the dried poo while not digging into the shelves to find the varmint because I want my face intact. I was still kind of hoping maybe the varmint has just been here and wasn’t still here — but I wasn’t terribly hopeful. I pulled out some of the outdoor furniture, banging around. Suzie is smelling out everything around there — but there’s a lot of chicken feathers so it isn’t a huge surprise. I should probably build her a ramp up to the shelves so she can scare out a nest of varmints.


Two of my nieces have been begging to come over – I think they were intrigued by the open concept bathroom. They arrived around noon. Lucy immediately took Daisy out for a good romp and some work on her beloved teepee. Jane and I started working on a birthday present for her little sister. Jane sewed bedding for the doll bunk set I’m going to build. I used fabric from my stash and helped with cutting things out and pinning things together. We did summer haircuts for the girls and talked of an “epic” sleepover that needs to happen now that it is warm enough for tent camping. 


When the girls left, I went to put things away and lock up the barn and found some very fresh poo. The varmint is clearly in there. I put the live trap right in front of the bathroom area and put some leftover pizza in it. Fingers crossed. 


Still over here. Still working hard. Starting to despair of ever finishing…

The Situation

Just in case that last episode I shared wasn’t exciting enough,  the plot thickens or grossens (is that a word?). There are moments where I think God is having a chuckle at my expense, and this weekend felt like that.
Saturday I got up and took a trailer load of demo trash to the dump. It was perfectly terrible unloading it because some high school helper I had decided to dump all of my cans of tile shards on top of a trailer load full of drywall, paneling, and garbage bags. Right. There is a reason we never turn our back on the help, even if we explained exactly what we wanted. Sigh. Unloading it was a ROYAL PAIN in the behind and took nearly two hours. While I was at the dump, I got to observe some real characters. Like the old guy with a shiny white truck who came to look after each load of trash was dumped. He clearly thought I had something special but was disappointed in my load. One rickety old pick up that looked like it was on it’s last broken leg with an equally rickety trailer pulled up. The two uncouth looking men start unloading next to me and I look over as half a dozen mice run out from under the trailer toward mine. Eewwwww. It felt like a scene from a horror movie. I did score when a couple pulled up with their remodeling trash. They had four old style solid wood doors and one of the corresponding door frames. Before they threw it, I asked if they minded giving it to me. The lady’s mom went on and on about what nice doors they were and she didn’t understand why her daughter didn’t want them. It worked out nicely for me. So I got those four wood doors and what looks like a brand new sink vanity top and faucet (I’m going to build a new bathroom vanity). Otherwise I got a sore back and got rid of a lot of heavy trash I’ve had in my life for too long.

While I was there, my dad and my brother Emmet showed up to see about the crooked wall — they were there until mid afternoon and was no easy task but … THE CROOKED WALL IS STRAIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This feels huge. And I do mean really terrific, really ‘uge. This means my next step is framing the bathroom wall and putting a door back on my bathroom. First world improvements people.
Where was I? Oh right, the dead chicken saga, because I’m pretty sure the fact that I’m still talking about it means it is officially a saga.  Here it goes.
I am typically in and out of my pole barn a few times a week. In the winter it is less because it is so cold out there. But still, in and out enough to be lived in. Last summer I had made great strides toward having a wood working area and a paint area amidst the storage, but for the winter, the paint area gets filled with patio furniture and lawn/garden stuff.  Once it gets warm again, I’ll move that back outside and have a workspace again. I’ve also spent the last 3 months filling my normal wood working area with pieces that I’ve disassembled out of my house. So the barn is a hot mess right now. I need to build some wood storage, organize the lumber from the house, etc. Anyway, I’ve been out of town a lot in the last couple weeks, so I hadn’t been out there much.


Saturday I ran out to get a tool for my dad and noticed some animal droppings… uh oh. This is bigger than a mouse, the only critter I’ve previously hosted in the barn. There were two boxes knocked down and spilled on the floor from a high shelf. Weird. I didn’t think much of it because CROOKED WALL PROGRESS but after my dad left I was cleaning up and opened one of the big sliding doors. These doors are anything but air tight and latch somewhere in the middle of the door, so the bottom lets in quite a bit of cold air in the winter. Anyway, I open the sliding door and notice an abundance of white chicken feathers along the bottom of the door… and then I notice blood… and some more feathers heading into the barn….


HOLY CRAP DID THAT DARN RACCOON DRAG A CHICKEN CARCASS INTO MY BARN?!?!?!?!? Which probably means there’s a nest of little coons gnawing on that carcass as we speak. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.


I looked briefly and couldn’t see anything obvious. But of course it is probably on one of the high shelves, nested in a box, hidden out of view. And I have absolutely zero interest in coming face to face with a mean Mama Coon. But oh crap oh crap oh crap.


On Sunday I went to TSC and purchased replacement chicks which my dear friends offered to raise alongside their chicks until they were big enough to go outside. Look, fluffy chickens!


My friend Mark is the guy to talk to if you have any sort of animal problem and he sent me home with a big live trap for the coon and offered me a gun. I declined since I don’t really do guns (or haven’t in the past) but currently have at least 4 good friends / brothers with guns standing by if I catch this raccoon. Wish me luck.


In happier news, my crooked wall is fixed. I can officially begin reassembling my house after the longest demolition project ever. Also I’m still completely gaga over this wood clad wall. Eeeeeee. It’s so pretty with the red china cabinet!

Six Eggs a Day

I was getting six eggs a day for the past month or so. All six chickens, each laying an egg a day, like clockwork, all for a few minutes a day to feed and water them and give them a place to live. This, my friends, is living the chicken dream.

Thursday I got home from work, let the dogs out – like I do – and then peeked out to see Daisy chasing a white chicken who was not in the pen. What? There was one white chicken who evaded capture and didn’t get her wing clipped so apparently she’d flown out. Eye roll. Just as I get to the chicken, Suzie also reaches the chicken. Nooooooo. I start shrieking because that’s what one does when your dogs are chasing your escaped chicken. I grabbed Suzie’s collar, but couldn’t also grab Daisy who was now nipping at the escapee (I’m not sure I can say it was gentle nipping but it looked more like she was trying to catch her than kill her — still… 60 lbs of crazy up against 6 lbs of chicken seemed dangerous). I drag Suzie in and Daisy finally leaves the chicken and comes with me at my insistence. I lock both dogs inside and go retrieve the wet, bedraggled chicken from behind the food bin. It is only then I notice that there are no chickens out in the pen to see me. Keep in mind, these chickens really love me and usually all run out to the fence to see me anytime they hear me. I pretend this is because I am just super lovable, but I think it has to do with the fact that I usually have kitchen scraps for them. Potato potahto.
My eye travels the fenced in garden where they’ve been living since fall. Initially I assume they are just in the coop because it is drizzling and has been raining all day. Then I notice a lot of white feathers and follow the trail to the bodies of three dead chickens against the corner of the pen. Uh oh. I look further and see another one further up. 4 dead chickens. One missing. Ugh.  Something got into the pen and killed them and then clearly was trying to find a way to take the carcasses home so three of the chickens heads were pulled through the fence (but the rest of the body got stuck). Ew. It is raining, a light but cold rain.


I get the shovel and start digging. Still wondering about that missing chicken and wondering what killed them. On a whim, I look inside the coop. There, inside the coop, dead, is the missing chicken. Not only did it get killed in there but it is going to be hard to retrieve. Awesome. Thank you, mystery varmint, for your efforts. I’ll spare you the details but I managed to retrieve it by crouching in the doorway and a lot of awkward motions with a large shovel and hey, the head was still somewhat connected (barf).


My best guess is raccoon. While I don’t see them around, I am sure they are not far away. It happened in the middle of a rainy day while the dogs were indoors and I was at work. It only missed the white hen because her wing wasn’t clipped and she flew out somehow. (Go ahead and google “What killed my chicken”).


As I bury the dead chickens, in the rain, the lone white hen pecks about the garden clucking and calling to her friends. Chickens are so dumb. And also really sad when they are alone. I looked at her and thought, “oh hon, you’re a goner. That varmint will undoubtedly be back for you.” Meanwhile I debated if I should give her to my mom to join that flock or what since a single chicken is always an unhappy chicken. I also gave myself brownie points for my no nonsense approach and my lack of dry heaving over the chicken massacre. Way to go Reenie. Getting more heartless by the day.


The next morning, I went out to feed the hen and she was gone without a trace. Clearly the mystery varmint came back for her. Case closed. At least I didn’t have more clean up.


I texted my friend whose children had raised the chicks to share the bad news. I got a hilarious string of texts back from my sweet 10 year old goddaughter who truly loved those birds. In one of my replies, I actually said the words “At least we have our fond memories.”  Yeah. I said that. About chickens.
All in all, I still consider this venture a success. I kept the chickens alive for 11 months and it wasn’t my dogs that killed them. I had farm fresh eggs for about 8 of those months and at the end was up to 6 eggs a day. I was truly living the chicken dream. At least until that egg laden dream came to a bloody and untimely end.

The big guns

Last weekend, my brother Donal, his son CK, and my dad came to help out. The goal was to fix the crooked wall and open up the floor to see why the bathroom door frame is moving. CK wore his safety glasses and “helped” by picking up screws, using my magnet on a stick to collect nails, and chattering about every little thing. Lindsey and the Hobbit picked him up at lunch time which is when the real challenging part began.
My dad wanted to open the floor up first. There’s a huge sag right at the bathroom door frame and we didn’t want to rebuild the door frame with the sag in the floor still. When we opened the floor up, we found a basement jack  in that exact spot. The person who put it in had it resting on a thin landscape block that split in pieces and allowed the floor to sink back down. The advantage is that we had the jack and just had to install it correctly. Donal squeezed down into the crawl and was down there for hours working on the jacking while my dad directed from the top. The 2.5″ inch sag is now .25″ sag which seems quite acceptable. The nice thing was that we could reuse the basement jack from before, resting it on a much sturdier block and adding another brace. It was dirty and time consuming but it is done.
Now I have to figure out how to get the subfloor back where it belongs with the different elevation. We got the joists into the right space just as my dad had to leave… so Donal and I started on the crooked wall but didn’t get far. Still crooked.
As part of this day, we pulled apart the badly framed bathroom door. Not only do I not have a door on the bathroom, there’s also no wall. Mmm hmmm. Mark my words, open concept bathrooms are going to be the next big thing. In the meantime, you might want to pee before you stop by.
Next up:

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy talking about next up since it never works that way. In this case, I’ve only got a couple evenings to work on it this week because of scheduling. And then I’m going to be on a long weekend silent retreat after that… so it could be awhile before we see any real progress… or a door on that bathroom.

Still working over here

I realize I dropped off the planet a few weeks ago, after getting home from a fabulous trip with people I love. Maybe it is because a blow by blow of slow tedious things I’m doing is boring even me. Or maybe it is because I’ve been over scheduled the last few weeks and haven’t spent enough time working on The Project. Or maybe I just thought you deserve a break.

Never fear, The Project goes on. Since I last checked in here, a few things have actually happened:
1. I removed the bathroom tile which took about a week because it was a beast (side note: the subfloor is gross, blackened by an age old toilet leak and needs to be replaced).
2. The trash barricade has moved from the deck to the trailer and I’ve now started Barricade 2.0 on the deck since I haven’t emptied the trailer yet. Getting that stuff out of my life is going to feel huge. I mean really ‘uge. It will be terrific. Really terrific. Everyone thinks it is terrific.
3. I ripped the rest of the drywall off of the crooked wall in the laundry room and the layers of drywall / tile / wallpaper off the crooked wall in the bathroom. It was amazing to rip off what seemed like innocent drywall and find a wall full of plastic tile and revolutionary war wallpaper hiding behind it. AMAZING I tell you. Basically the crooked wall is now only hosting the wood paneling that is planned to stay. My dad says we should be able to straighten it up without removing all the wood (fingers crossed). That fateful morning when he was digging into things to see how hard it is going to be to fix, he said repeatedly, “This isn’t what I was expecting to see…” Why yes, welcome to my shack. It is never what you expect to see. Once you open the walls up, you can see that the wall was crooked before the addition went in, they notched out the joists to accommodate said crookedness instead of fixing it while they had it open! What is wrong with people? Shout out to Chester who helped remove nails and screws while I ripped down layers of bathroom wall, uncovering a time capsule of previous bad decisions.
4. I ordered and picked up two pocket door frames- for the laundry room and sewing room doorways.
5. I cleaned up messes, again and again and again.
Still going…

The Escape

After a month of dusty house demolition and dreary gray winter month of January in Michigan, it was time for a breather. Thankfully I know I will reach this stage and had scored a good deal on a flight before Christmas. The day finally arrived. My friend drove me to the airport very early and I boarded a plane and dozed on and off for a few long boring hours on said plane. I arrived to visit my cousin and her family in sunny Phoenix. Let me say this, a house with four rambunctious and delightful kids (ages 5.5, 4, 4, and 1) makes for a lively and somehow still relaxing weekend. We didn’t “do” a lot, per se, but there wasn’t a dull moment. There were books on the couch, early morning snuggles, lots of entertaining battles and games in the backyard, lively meals, and wonderful conversations with the adults. We went on some nice bike rides, did a project together (with all four kids helping– which is just as efficient as you might imagine) and played some games. We ate fresh grapefruit and oranges and lemons. We saw the sun. We laughed a lot. This is the good stuff in life, the very good stuff.

Just a few funnies, because there were too many to recount them all:

I was talking to Josiah, who will be 6 in April, about something and brought up Geno, my nephew. Josiah knows Geno because we all vacation together every year but I was trying to give him context.

Me: “You remember Geno, right? From Lorien? The big guy with the red hair? Well, I’m his aunt.”

J, puzzled look on his face, “Well you ARE Aunt Weenie!”

Right. I’m basically everyone’s aunt or practically their aunt. No wonder it is confusing when I use that to clarify how I’m connected to people.

I had a proud moment when I managed to convince the kids I was in their game while not moving off the rocking chair on the patio for a good 40 minutes. The way to do this is with convincing imaginary armies. For instance, J tells me he is a flying mouse and I’m the bad guy trying to get him. While not moving from said rocking chair, I issue an order for my army of flying cats to capture him. Racing through the yard, J turns into a flying dog with an army of flying cheetahs. Moments later, he returns and puts his hands out in front of me, “You captured me! You have to take me to the jungle jail (our favorite thing all weekend apparently).”  “Captain!” I called to my invisible captain. “Take this man to prison and make sure he doesn’t escape.” J goes willingly with said invisible captain, only to go tearing by a few minutes later, announcing that he killed my captain and escaped jail. More escaping of flying cat armies ensued,  all from my comfortable and relaxing spot on the rocking chair. Please don’t tell the kids I wasn’t actually physically chasing them the whole time.


The kids love a good story. “Tell us a stowy about me and Abby and you and Suzie and Daisy.” Seeing as they have spent exactly 20 minutes in the company of Suzie and Daisy in their whole life (and it was long ago they don’t even remember it), what they want is an imaginary story of what might be. You can start  with an actual story of some fascinating (or not) thing the dogs do, but then you have to weave the kids into the story. “Tell us a stoooowy!” My favorite was telling them about Stick Day, because now they believe Stick Day at Aunt Weenie’s to be a magical, unforgettable experience, even having never been there. (Muhahahaha)

“Once upon a time, there was an aunt who lived in a little yellow house…”

“AUNT WEENIE,”” they yell in unison. 

“When the snow all melted after a long winter, she went outside and looked around. There were HUNDREDS of sticks on the ground (I’m not making this up). “What am I going to do?” She said. “How will I ever pick up all these sticks by myself?!?!””

The suspense grows. The girls are wide eyed imagining the horror of poor Aunt Weenie faced with such trials. 

“So she invited her favorite kid friends to come over.”


“Yes, and Abby and Lydia were visiting.”


“Josiah and Lydia and Abby and Clara were all there.”

WE WERE THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“First Aunt Reenie had all the kids line up and she divided them into teams.”

And I won?!?!?!?

No I won!

Wahhhh but I want to win! 

Thankfully, the wise Aunt Reenie in the story put all three kids on the same imaginary team.


The story continued … “Aunt Reenie gave each team a blue tarp and said “On your mark… get set… GO!”  She set her timer and all of the kids picked up sticks as fast as they could, putting them onto a big pile on their tarps.”

L: “I picked up sticks SO FAST so I COULD WIN and get socowate (chocolate)” makes her crazy eyes at me – clearly this is the second time she heard this story. 

J: “And I picked up sticks the FASTEST OF ALL!” 

A: “And I was pwetending I was a baby picking up sticks.”

“All of the children picked up sticks as fast as they could. The piles of sticks on the tarps grew larger and larger…”

L: “Bigger than me???” 

“They were even taller than Lydia!”


Aunt Reenie looked very carefully at all the piles of sticks to see which one was the largest.


The children had all picked up a lot of sticks and ALL of the stick piles were very large.

Lydia’s eyes get very wide, nervous for the outcome.

“But in the end, the pile that Geno and Josiah and Ly…”


“The children played in the yard all day and at the end of the day, they made a bonfire with the sticks they had collected, and everyone roasted marshmallows. And that was the magic of stick day.”

With a long sigh, Abby says “I can’t wait for Stick Day.” 

“Me neither,” said Josiah, “I wish Stick Day was today.”

“I LOVE STICK DAY!” said Lydia.

They asked for the Stick Day story several times over the weekend, and with each telling, the magic of the day grew. I do believe Aunt Weenie may be having an impromptu Stick Day in August that coincides with their visit to Michigan.

The third telling when something like this:

“Once upon a time, in a little yellow house…”


“After a long snowy winter, she walked outside…”

STICK DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then it went much as the first and second telling. And in case you’re wondering, Stick Day IS magical.

I convinced Jeremy to do something halfway on the play structure kitchen we built, and gave myself some long overdue half ass points. It might be that I can only encourage that kind of thing on other people’s project, but I’m giving myself the points anyway. (Sorry Jer).

I arrived home late Monday night,  a good friend staying up way too late to get me home. I open the door to excited pups who spent the weekend with two of my cousins, who obviously took good care of them. I’m so thankful I got a few days away from the office, a few days away from the home project, and a few wonderful days with people I love. I am so blessed to have family that are such good friends.

And now on with regularly scheduled winter…

Still projecting, still spiraling… Week 4

My apologies, dear reader, I meant to post this while I was away. But I was so terribly busy being away that I completely forgot.

Week 4: If you are still following along this long project, kudos to you. You have more patience than I do. Or possibly it is more enjoyable from a distance with less dust in your hair. Regardless, here’s what happened in week 4 — not to mention finding myself in week 4!! And worse yet, finding that I’m still doing demo in Week 4!! I never saw that coming… and I think Week 5 will contain even more because PROJECT SPIRAL!!!

Last Monday night I pulled all the staples out of the furring strips on the ceiling. And in the process, began doubting their structural integrity… They just seem not terrible securely on the joists — which is all well and good if you are supporting a bunch of cardboard ceiling tiles, but seems less than ideal if you want to hang a drywall ceiling and have all the seams not crack (like the ones Mr. HA did in the kitchen). Mmm hmm. So I removed all those staples and solved nothing, uncovered more questions and still moving forward, one step at a time.

Standing on the stepladder, yanking a million staples, I decided that DIY home improvement and your success with it is about 25% knowledge / experience / handy skills (and the willingness to acquire the skills you don’t already have) and about 75% your ability to withstand the impossibly tedious, time consuming, and often filthy tasks. Like bashing out tile for two weeks. Or pulling staples out of a ceiling for an hour and a half. Or removing 9,000 screws from a dusty floor. While doing these mind-numbingly boring tasks, you have a lot of time to wonder why you are doing this.

Thankfully, I came to the solid conclusion that I am still glad I’m doing this project which is a good place to land since it is too late to go back. I am pulling out all of these staples myself because I have more time than I have cash piled up, and by doing it myself, it is happening now instead of 5 years from now. Not to mention doing this project now, during the winter, gives me something productive to do with myself rather than sitting under a blanket on the couch hating my life and wishing for spring.  All in all, I’m okay with this trade off. Clearly, I enjoy a challenge and this house provides all of that and more.

I am hoping (fingers crossed) I may be able to get a morning of my dad’s time on Saturday to do the joist bracing and check out the wonky crooked wall and discuss the ceiling furring strip situation.

Tuesday evening I worked later than I prefer and arrived home with zero umpf for anything. I managed to get the drywall removed from the shiplap wall across from the fridge. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this but I LOVE FINDING SHIPLAP IN MY WALLS! It is a very old house with a lot of old house issues but this is definitely one of the perks. Removing the drywall paves the way for possibly straightening that crooked wall this weekend or at least talking about it with the expert. I’ve decided I want to leave the shiplap exposed rather than covering it with new drywall. I haven’t decided if should paint it or just sand it and leave the wood with some stain or varnish. I love the rustic warmth of the wood and am leaning toward just leaving that unpainted. Mmmmm shiplap. I also measured and calculated my next big trip to the Blue store. How many sheets of drywall, how much door trim, etc. Admittedly, this is a moving target still, but it’s nice to have an idea.

I also measured and debated with myself about putting in pocket doors. I’ve always wanted one for the sewing room and I would love them for the laundry room and bathroom as well. Looking at it, the sewing room would be the easiest, followed by the laundry room. The bathroom poses a lot of issues (flooring being very different levels, electrical switches in the way, etc). I think I should leave the bathroom door alone but I might go ahead with the other two. It adds some cost and some complication to the project, but it seems like now is the time if I’m going to do it since the walls are already open. Not to mention I already have the doors – I’ve had them forever, sitting in my barn waiting for the day I finally get to this project (both secondhand, obviously).

Crooked wall between bathroom and laundry room

I had plans out of the house Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings so not much got done. I’m not good at balancing home time and away time. I’ll be home almost every night for a week or two and then gone every night the next week. I suppose that is my way of attempting balance.

Saturday I had to box up some vases and miscellaneous jars to move the red china cabinet in the laundry room so I could access the infamous bathroom window. Time to pull that thing out. It is on the crooked wall I’m fixing so why not remove it while we’re in this thing. I started removing trim, etc to get the window out and then my dad showed up to help me jack up the ceiling. It was simpler than I thought and jacking up the middle (sagging) joist and bracing it on both ends was enough – we didn’t have to do each joist!! My dad couldn’t stay long so after he jacked up the second end so I braced it in the attic and worked on getting that window removed. I was on the schedule to set up for Mass, so I had to cut my workday short. Even so, I’m very happy with the ceiling which is now flat!! And getting that dream-come-true open concept bathroom (sarcasm).




Sunday I pulled the rest of the bead board off the bathroom walls, removed a lot of nails, swept up some things, and spent the rest of the day in more restful pursuits. One of my stops included the Blue Store to scope out the tile offerings there. I will be visiting the other home improvement places over the next couple weeks to decide on new bathroom tile.

That’s right: bathroom tile. I’m going to spiral there. Haven’t done it yet but there are two layers of bathroom tile calling my name… I wanted to leave it (for now), I really did, but I can’t rebuild the bathroom doorway with the floor in the way and the door frame needs rebuilding before the drywall goes in. And if I’m going to be pulling up the bathroom floor, I might go ahead and remove the laundry room tile (the last of the old burger king tile). Again, I was  planning to leave it… but it makes more sense to tile the bathroom and laundry room in the same tile since they are both abutting the kitchen just steps away from each other. Amiright? They are both small spaces and I’m going with pretty cheap, generic tile so it won’t add too much to the project.  Not to mention if some girl is going to learn how to install tile, why not tile the tub surround and two rooms, right?

The Spiral Continues… this is ridiculous.

Week 5 Goals:

  • Show the cousins how to care for the pets
  • Secure hanging wires so no one gets electrocuted
  • Clean the house
  • Find some summer clothes, pack for my trip
  • LONG WEEKEND WITH SOME OF MY FAVORITES IN THE SUN (Yes, I’m more than a little excited)
  • Maybe some bathroom floor demo when I get home but let’s keep our expectations low, shall we?

Week 3

This is the week you think you might need your head checked because the enormity of what you’ve begun starts to sink in. There layer of dust coating everything on the first floor and every time you think about cleaning it, you realize the next thing you do will just add to it. You haven’t done laundry and are three pairs away from a serious underwear crisis. The dishes are piling up. The dogs are desperately needy. And you are way past the point of no return. People who do this on TV or for a living never show you the dark side of DIY… Week 3 into a demo project is definitely the dark side.

Monday evening I worked on removing screws from the tile backer board in the dining room. It was mostly just a slow and frustrating endeavor because most of the screw heads were filled with mortar. Gah. The idea was unscrewing the backer board would mean a cleaner removal, but instead it made for a wasted evening since one or two screws could be unscrewed and the rest couldn’t be no matter how hard I tried. So I started prying up backer board to see how bad it was going to be and then called it a night — too late, as usual.

Tuesday evening I spent with two of my favorite kids. CK (almost 3) asked some important questions about the renovation process: “What is this little ramp for Aunt Reenie?” (Good question, young man, it’s because the King of Half Ass who used to live here added a second layer to the bathroom tile without removing the first so he had to ramp up this tile to meet it). “What are we doing?” His perpetual question. CK liked inspecting the project and feels that it is basically his project since he helped remove drywall (which of course he calls to mind over and over again). He asked a lot of questions about everything and made Daisy nervous with his running through the house. I introduced him to my favorite DIY show, Fixer Upper, and he was excited by the projects, the saws (that match HIS saws), and was bored by the final reveal and the beautiful details that make me drool. I snuggled a small hobbit, we played with the dogs, and enjoyed ourselves. Sometimes you need hobbit snuggles more than you need to rip up more tile.

Wednesday evening: I pried up all of the backer board in the dining room and started on more screw removal. Now that the backer board was gone, I could get more removed with the drill, but a lot of them had to be pried up and or broken off. Slow and tedious but not unpleasant necessarily. Daisy liked it because it wasn’t noisy so she could hang out with me during the screw removal part and lean over to lick my neck whenever she was so inspired. The deck is looking worse by the day – full of demo trash. This thaw is particularly poor timing because it means the yard is a muddy mess and it doesn’t lend itself to driving a trailer or truck up to the deck to take a load to the dump. It kills me but I think next weekend will have to be soon enough for that. In the meantime, I am that klassy neighbor.

Thursday evening: Kitchen tile demo begins. Once I got into it, it became clear that the backer board is different, the grout is different, and the install is different. After I smashed out the first row, I was able to just pry off the tiles, most of them in tact or partially intact. This makes for much faster going than having to smash them all to bits and then shovel it out. I worked for about 4 hours and got about half of the kitchen floor removal done and more bags and boxes of tile bits on the deck.

Friday evening: Dinner with long lost friend and then home to The Project. Let the weekend insanity begin! I nearly finished removing tile from kitchen floor – late into the night. I managed to get the tile and backer board and screws off the floor under the fridge and get the fridge back in it’s place. The tile under the stove and kitchen island were left and the chaos was bad… time to collapse.

Saturday: Daisy and I met Lindsey and CK and a marvelous photographer at a park in Dexter for a “kids and pets” photo shoot. This particular photographer is amazing and I love her work. She was looking for people to shoot kids and pets and offered a couple free images. We thought CK and his Daisy girl would be awesome. CK was kind of a stinker and Daisy did better than I thought and of course, Melanie got some awesome images. It was a quick half hour shoot and a foggy, beautiful drive home on the back roads for Daisy and I.

The weather on Saturday was amazing, getting up to 57 degrees. It meant I could leave the patio door and kitchen window open for most of the day which made the dust situation SO much better while working, not to mention that it smelled (prematurely) like spring, which is like a taste of heave. Daisy spent a lot of the day running around the yard, another high point for any sort of home project. We even saw a glimpse of the sun after over a week without it. It felt amazing.

I got the rest of the tile removed and a good bit of the backer board removed and screws out. My dear friend Karen came by early afternoon, bringing lunch and work gloves. What a babe. In just a couple hours, we moved the stove to remove the flooring from under it and we finished getting all the tile and backer board and screws out. Hooray!!!

We also busted into drywall on the crooked wall by the bathroom. It is wider at the top than the bottom and I really want to shorten this little foot long stub wall that is just in the way. It is supporting a beam up above so I will ask my structural guy for his okay before pulling it out entirely, but I think it will be doable since I only want to remove a small part of it. This wonky little wall had layer upon layer of drywall, plasterboard, wall paper, the works! On the broader face of this wall is some delicious old shiplap. I decided I would have my dad look at the structural part first, but it is quite likely I’ll pull out the shiplap to use elsewhere and re-drywall this wall once we repair the structural oddities. #projectspiral

Karen helped me add to the trash barricade, put boxes of tile on the front porch, and sweep up the mess before heading home to feed her people. She left me in a much better frame of mind from her company and the kitchen in a better state for all of her help.


The demolition part of this project has felt endless. I’m excited to be finally getting to the part where I get to put the place back together (that’s what I’m telling myself anyway).

Saturday night I hung out with some of my lady friends (after a quick project consult for my sister in law who is in the middle of her own project spiral). Sunday I went to Mass, drank a lot of coffee and did some very necessary reclaiming of regular life things. I threw a lot of dusty laundry in, did a lot of sweeping and vacuuming, ran the dishwasher, and cleaned the disgusting bathroom. Naturally as soon as I cleaned the tub (with the last of the tub cleaner), Daisy rolled in mud and poo outside and needed a bath. Suzie already needed a bath so I dirtied my freshly cleaned tub and got two clean dogs out of the deal. All of this made life seem a little more manageable and gives me renewed energy for the remaining parts of this project. (Close your eyes and imagine the smell of clean dogs and clean laundry. A vast improvement in my life).

Let me also just say that I love the People of Craigslist. I myself have benefited from the “free” section of the site (closet doors, wood, etc) so I figured it was worth a try. I had about 300 tiles in good shape and although I was tempted to keep them and use them for paths and edging in my garden, I did not actually want to haul them all to the barn (so very heavy!), store them, trip over them, haul them into the garden, or ever see them again. I posted them free on Craigslist Saturday evening, complete with photos of how not awesome they are (below for your reference). By Sunday morning, 10 different people wanted them. Sunday afternoon a nice couple came to get them all off the porch. The pregnant wife was so excited to use them in her garden and to get them all for free and I was equally happy to have someone haul them away. Booyah. Craigslist win!

Week 4 Goals:
a) Run electrical for outdoor fixtures & plugs
b) Move electrical plugs / switches to their new locations
c) Cut down remaining pieces of studs in living room doorway and figure out how to put in subfloor across the gaping hole
d) Schedule my dad for half a day of joist bracing
e) Jack up ceiling and brace in attic
f) Pull all staples from dining room ceiling furring strips

I saw Jesus

I was grocery shopping on Friday night – a tragically bad time to grocery shop. I’ve noticed I get a little road ragey in the grocery store after work. It is always a bad time because everyone else is there and somehow it is usually when I squeeze it in because it is convenient and on my way home. Tonight was no different.

Anyway, the aisles are filled with all sorts of people: Moms with kids in the cart, dad with the two shrieking kids that he’s taking down the candy aisle to bribe them into submission (no judgment, I almost had to do that for myself), people grabbing three things, people with carts full. And then I passed a guy who looked to be around 50 with an elderly man. As a person who helps care for caregivers, I see these people now in ways I’ve never seen them before.

I have taken my own Grandpa to the store many times (back when Gram needed an hour off in the apartment days). He was always confused and slightly nervous we wouldn’t find anything and cheerfully asking every passerby where to find the (fill in the blank). I wasn’t a caregiver per se, but a team member, an involved family member.  Confused grocery shopping is not for the faint of heart (and it can be a huge stretch for the introvert who doesn’t want to ask every other shopper where to find the milk).

Now when I grocery shop (and everywhere else I go), I see these people. In this case, this guy looked to be taking his elderly father shopping. Dad was confused. Not unpleasant, but it took a long time for him to make decisions. “Dementia,” I thought to myself, “the early stages. I remember those days.” I passed them a few times, and heard the son (presumably) say a couple of times “Didn’t we just get (fill in the blank) when we went shopping yesterday?” “Oh. Maybe we did.” Dad looks at the Oat Bran on the shelf for a long time, looks back at his son and says reluctantly, “I suppose we can put this one back.” He is clearly trying to remember but unable to recall. My heart hurts a little just watching, and the son kindly guides Dad down the next aisle.

These people move me to tears nowadays. These people, the caregivers among us, are the unsung heroes. In days gone past, it was normal to be caring for elderly parents and grandparents in people’s homes. Now it seems to be more normal to put them in a care facility. Don’t get me wrong, I think sometimes a nursing home is the right place for our beloved elderly. What makes me sad though is a cultural shift where we no longer consider them our beloved elderly. We consider them a nuisance. A distraction from our own (more important) lives. Something to work around. As I watch these men shopping together, I can’t help but think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen today.

I am just as guilty as the next guy of always having a to do list a mile long and trying to be super productive. Let me just say from experience, grocery shopping with an elderly relative is anything but productive or efficient. Being part of this tender journey toward the end of life with my grandparents has changed me for the better. I’ve had to learn to slow down to help care for Grandpa, to love on him. It has changed my perspective on what it means to accompany another on their journey at the end of their life. We can’t run from the suffering. We can’t medicate it away. We can’t solve it. We are all frail and our time here is passing. And we are all heading toward our own end — with no way to know what our own end is going to look like. Love is the only answer.

My grandpa hasn’t known my name in a long time but he knows me. He recognizes me as someone who loves him. I have no way of knowing when he won’t recognize me at all any more, but even that doesn’t change the mission.

“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
“Honor your father and your mother (and grandfather and grandmother) that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Exodus 20:12
Today, at the grocery store, I saw Jesus. I saw Him in the son caring for his father. I saw Him in the elderly man who was terribly confused about breakfast cereal. And I saw Jesus in the love between the two of them.
We all know that we live in a fallen world and we see sadness and tragedy around us everywhere we go. But if we look closely, we might just catch a glimpse of Jesus.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8