In the Zone Part IV: Bedroom Knobs and Broomsticks

It didn’t take long after the mudroom floor issues came to light for us to realize we were dealing with something similar in the master bedroom. An addition that was built along the opposite end and other side of the trailer, the master bedroom has two exterior walls that form a corner and span 22 feet and 18 feet, respectively. In that corner sits a portal to hell, I can only surmise, disguised as a fireplace that likely hasn’t worked properly since Elvis Presley paid a surprise visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (It was December 21st, 1970, in case you’re hazy on the date. And Richard Nixon was still president.)

Having spent the better part of five months using that room to prime, paint, and repaint a seemingly endless number of doors, baseboards, and other trim, I was more than a little aware of the slope in that floor well before we discovered the reason behind the mudroom slope. I worried about it a lot and wondered often if we should open it up and have a look at the stringers before we put down carpeting, or if we should at least dig down along on the outside of the walls to see what was going on.

The Jarhead was less familiar with the slope in the master bedroom, having spent the bulk of his time in other parts of the dwelling and performing tasks that didn’t involve brushes and rollers but did require strength, agility and a facility with foul language that I simply hadn’t mastered. But by the time he got around to installing my painstakingly painted doors and trim in that room, even he realized something was off. And since the mudroom issues had come to light by then he, too, was afraid it would be expensive and a major pain in the ass to fix. (I’ve come a long way with my facility with foul language in case you hadn’t noticed.)

Out of respect for our brave men and women who’ve seen actual combat, I won’t equate what we were experiencing with PTSD, but I will go so far as to say we were more than a little gun shy. Having found materials like broom handles and spare siding serving as stringers in the mudroom, we could barely bring ourselves to contemplate what we might encounter next. In fact, after seeing what was holding up (or NOT holding up) the mudroom floor, I would not have been surprised to find tree limbs, discarded shelving, curtain rods, or a bundle of cardboard holding up portions of the floor in that bedroom.

I probably should have pressed the issue before the carpet went in when it was more cost-effective to do so. But I was afraid. How many times, after all, had I thought someone was breaking into the house when in fact the sounds I heard were the furnace starting or the washing machine draining between cycles? How many times had I feared I was having a heart attack or when in fact I merely had to burp? And how many times had I mentally convicted Donald Trump of being a gigantic narcissistic ass only to realize he was actually a gigantic narcissistic ass?

Okay. Bad example.

In any case before I could bring it up, I was forced to ask myself: Am I willing to push the Jarhead to open up the floor simply because it felt wonky? Am I willing to ask him to forego other tasks only to find the walls and floors had been built precisely as they should have been? More importantly, how on earth would I manage to live it down if I was wrong? Did I really want to die on that hill? (Pun fully intended.)

Having read all that, you’ll can probably imagine, what a double-edged sword it was when the Jarhead admitted that the slope of the bedroom floor was probably evidence that the room lacked footings. And how it felt like a guillotine descending above me when he gravely suggested that there was a better than even chance that the same was true with the exterior walls in the den.

Better? Better?? Don’t say better when what you’re saying is much, much worse!

But, with all the other major projects finished and Covid-19 vaccines offering us the chance to reconnect with family and friends we hadn’t seen in over a year, we decided to leave it alone for a while. It’s not as if the room was caving in—at least not as soon as the awning would have, anyway. Plus, with lumber getting scarce and spendy thanks to the ongoing pandemic, it made sense to hold off, stash some cash, and concentrate on finishing the smaller less expensive projects on our list.

Like installing hardware in the exterior door in that very same master bedroom.

Notice I didn’t say ‘replacing’ or ‘fixing.’ This is because there was nothing to fix or replace. For reasons unknown to me at the time, both the knob and deadbolt on the door that led the back deck (which you can clearly see in the before photos above) had been removed at some point after demo began. Which meant that, by the time I started priming, painting, and installing bathroom flooring, cold air had been streaming in through two holes the size of baseball-sized-hailstones for WHO KNOWS how long. And, because the door was binding at the top left and bottom right corners (mostly likely because it was framed without a proper header and was being pulled out of plumb by the wall without proper footings) I could not even pry it open to, say, escape a fire, if that had been my only way out. Which meant I would have to break a window instead, since none of them would open either.

I noticed doorknob problem when I started working on my painting projects in early December 2019, and found myself wondering how it could be that there had been three to six men onsite (including the Jarhead) on any given day since the end of October and despite being smart and skilled in the building trades, not one of them had devised a way to cover the holes and stop the cold air from coming in. It took little old Liberal Arts Annie to figure out you could stuff a bunch of rags in those holes and put an end to this bloody Dickensian misery.

Between you and me and the bedpost, it was meant to be a temporary solution. But days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and so on. I got so used to seeing those rags, I didn’t even notice when the Jarhead installed an actual knob and deadbolt.

Later, when he asked me how I liked the hardware, I thought he meant the matte black knobs and hinges he had put on the interior doors several weeks before and said with a confused shrug that they were great. But since it wasn’t like him to ask my opinion on projects he’d completed that far in the past (because, honestly, it’s not like him to RECALL projects he’s completed that far in the past) I thought maybe HE was having second thoughts about the black knobs. So I asked how he liked them, and soon we were mired in a version of Who’s on First the likes of which would make Abbot and Costello cringe.

Anyway, at some point as I was cropping a picture I had taken of that area I noticed the new hardware on the door in the background and realized WTF he had been talking about. Of course, it had been so long since we’d bought those knobs that I forgot we even had them, and I was so used to the rags being there that I didn’t even notice when they were finally gone.

Which almost makes me almost want to take back some of the things I was thinking when I shoved those rags into those holes that fall.  

Almost.

In the Zone Part III: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Don’t Bother

In this segment, we discuss how to install faux wood plank flooring on your less than perfect mudroom floor.

First:

Go to your local home improvement center, choose a product, and arrange for an agent to come out, measure the area in need of flooring, and calculate an estimate. Wait 3 weeks for the measurement appointment, then wait 3 days for the estimate to come back.

On the 4th day (or the fifth, if you’re feeling generous) call and leave a message inquiring about the estimate. Wait 3 more days, then call again and leave another message. Repeat as necessary.

If/when you get your estimate, head to the store to sign your contract and make payment so they can order your cool new retro black and white sheet vinyl tile.

Wait 1-3 weeks for a call telling you when your product will arrive at the store. When you think you’ve waited long enough, call the store to inquire as to the status of your order. Repeat as necessary.

Once you have confirmed when your product will arrive at the store, schedule your delivery date, and then contact the installation company to set up your installation. Listen with annoyance as they tell you they will not schedule your installation until the product is actually on site, then grumble privately about the draconian policies of the company in question as you hang up the phone.

Briefly weigh the merits of calling back later to say the product is on site against the odds of being caught lying. Then ask yourself, How much do I value my reputation? What happens if the product doesn’t show up before the installers do? How easy will it be to find someone to install it if they get mad and decide they don’t want the job?

The day before your product is to be delivered, receive a call from the home improvement center confirming your delivery window for the next day. Plan to be on site 2 hours before and 2 hours after your 4-hour delivery window. Also, if it works best for your schedule for them to arrive at the early end of your window, plan for them to arrive near the end of your window, and vice versa. That way you won’t be disappointed.

On the day of delivery, avoid coffee, water, and all other liquids (including sunscreen) to reduce the likelihood of being in the bathroom when the delivery truck arrives. Should you feel the need to use the bathroom, weigh the odds of having to cough or sneeze with a full bladder against the repercussions of missing your delivery and waiting another 3 to 14 days for a new delivery date.

Two hours after your delivery window has closed, visit the restroom (if you dare) then call the store for an update on your delivery. Discover to your chagrin, that the product never arrived at the store, and that Lance thought Chad called to tell you they weren’t coming, and Chad thought Lance called to tell you they weren’t coming, and Chad told Christine that Lance told you they weren’t coming, which is why Christine didn’t call you herself.

Reconsider your stance on the draconian nature of the installer’s scheduling policy as you wait on hold to schedule another delivery appointment. Schedule the new delivery appointment for 3 days after the product is allegedly set to arrive at the store. Repeat as necessary.

Then:

When the product is delivered, contact the installer to schedule installation.

Wait 3 weeks for the installation date, then greet the installers, lead them to the mudroom, then go to another area of the house to work on another project while the installers unwrap the cool new black and white sheet vinyl tile and prepare the floor for installation.

Hearing something close to your last name being called, walk back down the hall to the mudroom where the two installers stand looking baffled and somewhat annoyed. Learn that the store didn’t order enough product for your project because of the distance between where the pattern begins and then begins again is longer than usual.

Reconsider the wisdom of trusting your project to a store that doesn’t seem to have its shit together. Take a deep breath and contact the store to order more product.

Wait 3 days for your additional product to come in, followed by 3 more days for an installer to be available. Repeat as necessary.

Arrive at the worksite to discover that the installers who started your project aren’t available, and that that the guy who came in their place looks 80 years old, can barely bend his knees, and coughs like he has Covid-19, which is a strong possibility since it is June of 2020 and what else could it be?

Resolve to work outside that day, even though its 89 thousand degrees in the shade, to avoid contracting Covid-19. Wait three hours, put on a mask, and go back in the house for a bottle of water, and check on the installer’s progress. Try not to look alarmed or disgusted when you find the installer sitting on the floor talking to a representative from the sheet vinyl manufacturer on his cell phone because he can’t figure out where the tile pattern begins and ends, and thus can’t figure out how or where to cut the tile.

Decide that life is too short to put up with this crap, then fire the installer and call the store to cancel your contract and ask for a refund. Laugh maniacally when informed by a flooring rep that they can cancel the contract and refund your installation fees over the phone, but you’ll have to return the tile to the store yourself to get a refund for the material.

While at the store to return the sheet vinyl, choose a faux wood interlocking plank product. Decide that, while it looks more like pictures of wood planks than actual wood planks, it will make a dandy covering for your funhouse floor. Best of all, you can take it home today. In your very own vehicle. And you can stop to use the restroom any time you please.

Finally:

Arrange for a handsome retired marine to install the faux wood plank floor. It may take him a while to get the hang of it, and you may have to feed him cake and listen to a lot of swearing. But at least he’ll get the job done without giving you Covid-19.

In the Zone Part II: Headers and Footings and Stringers, Oh My

Another unexpected casualty of our seemingly endless battle with the knotty ranch was the front porch. Bounded by a broad concrete slab below and an equally broad awning above, this aspect of the property appeared serviceable. That is, it seemed to perform its primary functions, which were to give folks a solid surface on which to walk—or stand, sit, sleep, or even skateboard, for that matter—and to provide shelter from the elements while walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, skateboarding, falling, sustaining a concussion, and waiting for the paramedics.  

Comprised of hunter green metal and supported by five 8 x 8 faded seafoam green posts, the awning itself seemed sturdy, if a bit overengineered, not to mention ugly. Much like the Golden Girls-era ceramic tile living room floor, I wasn’t wild about it, but it was reassuring to know it would function as is, especially given how many other things did not.

So the Jarhead and I decided to delay addressing its aesthetic shortcomings until after we had replaced the roof, repaired the sagging ceilings, and updated the interior; or until one of us inherited a fortune from a heretofore unknown but incredibly generous long lost relative; or until a tornado sucked up the house and dropped it on an unpleasant woman with a penchant for flashy footwear, at which point a bogus wizard or kindly insurance adjuster would help us build another one—whichever came first.

I know that’s a lot to hope for, but we’ve always been the hopeful sort—as evidenced by the fact that we keep buying houses that most people wouldn’t give a second look—but stay with me. The ride gets even wilder.

It was about the time we made the decision to leave the front porch alone that the guys working on the kitchen ceiling discovered, among other things, that the drains were vented into the attic (for a refresher on that list of revelations, check out the previous post, In the Zone.) In the course of investigating those issues, they also realized that the bay window near the kitchen sink had no header, and that the structure inside the awning was literally a sprawling tower of lumber with no cross ties holding it together laterally and was ever-so-slowly pulling apart and flattening out under its own weight. We also learned that to make room for a proper header, the bay window would have to be replaced with a shorter window, and that—perhaps best of all—the structures above the awning were connected to the structures inside the kitchen ceiling, and thus would cost less to repair if we did it all at the same time.

In other words, the fates REALLY wanted us to update that front porch. A few weeks and several sleepless nights later, we had a new and improved front porch with a cheerful white awning, recessed lighting, three—not five—gorgeous cedar tone posts, two swanky storm doors, and one bright, beautiful kitchen window. It may not look that great yet—since its overall mood is still calico cat meets the patchwork puppy—but once we’ve painted the siding and the trim, it should finally pass muster.

That’s the good news. Now for some not-so-good news.

Among the things we had noticed but were either too busy or too deep in denial to look into at first was a disconcerting slope in the mudroom floor. Now, by disconcerting, I don’t mean a golf or tennis ball would roll away if you set it down. I mean, don’t look now but my glutes are getting quite shapely from walking up and down this hill all day long. To put it another way, if the room was just a few feet longer we could have charged kids to slide down it on gunny sacks to raise money to pay for the repairs.

Okay. That may be a bit of an exaggeration. We probably wouldn’t have raised anywhere near enough money to pay for the repairs.

Anyway…

The mudroom itself was built as part of an addition completed sometime between 1970 when the mobile home at the center of this hybrid dwelling was hauled onto the land and 2019 when we bought it, and also served as the laundry room. The addition connected the mobile home portion to the garage and included a bedroom and a cute but oddly shaped bathroom owing to the fact that the house and the garage did not sit parallel to or even close to perpendicular to one another.

When our contractors finished the kitchen and the awning and finally had a chance to look into the mudroom issues, they found that the outer wall had been built without footings, and the windows had been installed without headers. They also found that the idiots and/or crooks who built the addition had gotten frighteningly creative when it came to choosing material for the stringers that support the floor.

Case in point, the wooden rod that had once been the handle of a broom or mop, and the chunks of studs, 1-inch planks, and bits of siding where there should have been 2 x 10 or 2 x 12 boards. Which made me wonder: had they resorted to the broomstick because they’d run out of spare siding, studs, and planks that would span the distance between the walls? Or had they resorted to spare siding, studs, and planks because they had run out of broomsticks? Who can say?

Now you may be asking yourself, why would someone go to all the trouble and expense to build an addition connecting their house to their garage and not protect that investment by doing it properly and/or according to code.

I don’t blame you. We found ourselves asking that very question, as well as several others. Like:

Why would you go to all the time and expense to tear off the roof of a mobile home, build a spacious addition along the entire east side, vault the dining room and living room ceilings, finish them with beautiful knotty pine, and then not bother to make the seams straight, the corners square, or the floors, walls, or doorways level?

And: Why would you go to all the time and expense to put a bazillion windows and glass doors in every room of your house, and then not frame those doors and windows with proper headers to make sure they remain plumb and continue to open and close?

Maybe they were do-it-yourselfers and didn’t know any better. Or perhaps they hired contractors who didn’t know better. Or maybe they hired carpenters who knew better but took short cuts to increase their profit margin. Either way, we had a wall in our mudroom that was sinking, and a floor that belonged in a funhouse.

So, the wall came down, footings went in, and the wall went back up (minus the windows, since new windows cost money) along with a new subfloor, a second HVAC system (since the one in the mechanical room was inadequate to the task) and a couple white shaker cabinets, plus a row of quaint matte black hooks and space for the for the Jarhead’s many pairs of boots.

In case you’re wondering, he doesn’t have a boot fetish. He just buys a new pair here and there and never throws the old ones away.

But that’s not important right now. What is important is that we got the mudroom and porch structure fixed.

Now about that flooring.

Writer’s Blech

That was some break, huh? I mean, I’ve taken a few vacations in my time—a couple from this blog; many more from reality—but 370+ days is pretty ridiculous.

I feel compelled to offer an explanation, although I suspect I am alone in believing one is absolutely necessary. But since you’re here and apparently have some time and/or braincells to kill, please allow me to take a stab at it.

As difficult as it will be, I shall resist the impulse to make up a bunch of crap to make myself seem glamourous, worldly, or socially conscious—like my high school classmate and former best friend Lisa used to do every fall when we went back to school after summer vacation, and everyone wanted to know what everyone else had been up to for the past three months. I had no problem telling people I’d been reading, babysitting, swimming, visiting my grandparents, and fighting with my brothers, but she was not content to admit she had been involved in anything so pedestrian.

I haven’t spoken to her since 1986 (when she gushed about having been accepted into a sorority and asked me how many kids I had as if expecting me to say nine or ten with number eleven on the way) but if I were to call her up now, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her say she’d spent the past year perfecting her Meridional French while quarantining with Sting and Trudie and a few of their friends in Turks and Caicos (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?) or sequestered in some lush and remote location writing the screenplay for a documentary she hopes to make with (insert obscure indy filmmaker name here.) 

To be honest, at this point I’d give almost anything to be able to say I’d spent the past 12 months reading, babysitting, visiting my grandparents, and fighting with my brothers—or even listening to Lisa brag, lie, name drop, or pretend to be an independent filmmaker. Especially since that would mean I had not spent the year avoiding almost everyone—including my children—while washing my groceries and lurching back and forth from wanting to write something that would make people laugh and realizing there wasn’t much about 2020 that didn’t make me want to cry.

Even the election, which appeared to go my way this time around, could not budge my writer’s block. Because the results were not in for what seemed like decades after the polls closed. And when the votes were finally counted, I couldn’t even celebrate or joke about that because first, I am not one to gloat and second, I very much believe in Murphy’s law and I wasn’t going to do one damn thing that might jinx the final electoral college tally. And then came recounts, the legal challenges, that psycho Sydney Powell, as well as Lin ‘I’ve Completely Lost the Plot’ Wood, and the insurrection and—oh never mind. You know what happened. You were there.

In March of 2020, when the Jarhead and I went into lockdown, I was on the verge of writing about our latest renovation project and excited to make fun, as usual, of all the trials and tribulations associated therewith. We had a whole new team of contractors; an entirely different type of house upon which to test our skills and the strength of our marriage; and a completely new set of issues we had never run across before. In short, it should have made for comedy gold.

But instead, the mine went bust. Somehow joking about unreliable contractors, bail-jumping contractors, nonexistent footings and egregious electrical code violations didn’t seem all that amusing. Especially when Covid-19 was literally killing someone every 33 seconds or so. 

Add to that mix the fact that so many people didn’t seem to give a good goddamn. Instead, they were mocking, complaining about or flat-out ignoring mask mandates and attacking anyone who tried to follow or enforce them. Some even called them violations of their civil rights and likened them to being forced to wear the Star of David or a number on their wrist. Wow. What a bunch of drama queens.

As if they were being singled out and mistreated instead of simply being asked to protect the more vulnerable members of their communities. As if wearing a mask is some giant burden. As if surgeons have been wearing them for fun all these years and not for the safety of their patients. As if they don’t wear them for hours at a time during complicated operations without suffocating, all without whining or crying about it. I know. Let’s not confuse the issue with facts.

While we’re on that topic, here are a few points for folks to ponder: If mask mandates violate your constitutional rights, does it not follow that the DNR rules that require the wearing of blaze orange during deer hunting season do the same? And does it not follow that the city ordinances requiring you to cover your junk in public are, by that same logic, unconstitutional?

Seems to me, your righteous indignation is a bit inconsistent and your sudden interest in our beloved constitution a tad convenient. After all, seeing your junk might make me sick, but it probably won’t kill me. Which makes me wonder: if you don’t like laws requiring you to cover your face, how are you remotely okay with laws requiring you to cover your ass?

Perhaps, in addition to flouting the mask mandates, you should also be flouting these other forms of governmental overreach? Perhaps you fellas should skip the pants and underwear next time you head to Lowe’s and march proudly into the store to pick up your wood—I mean, lumber. And maybe you gals should just go topless to the office or the gym. And if someone challenges your right to do so, you can just look them in the eyes (ahem, they’re up here) and give them a quick lesson on constitutional law. What’s the matter? Are you shy?

Perhaps that’s taking things a bit too far. So how about instead you get up a group of people to protest the laws requiring you to wear blaze orange while deer hunting. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just convince your peeps to grab their guns, throw on some camouflage and some doe urine and say, “Screw that shit, man. I’m an American, and ain’t nobody forcing ME to wear orange.”

Now THAT is a protest I can get behind. I will not only support your cause; I’ll go to your rallies and help you spread the word on social media. I will even drive you to your favorite hunting spot and offer you a hearty ‘good luck!’

Okay. I probably won’t say good luck. But I will say this: If plane crashes were killing as many Americans a week as this virus has, these people would be singing a whole different tune. If their own kids or other loved ones were dying from Covid-19 as fast as all those anonymous sick and old people they’ve never met; if they had to work in hazmat suits caring for patients as they lay dying alone, they would not only wear the damn masks but also urge everyone and their brother to stay TF at home. But they aren’t living that reality, so they have the luxury of not giving a damn.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The people who refuse to cover their faces may dress it up to be a constitutional issue but that’s only because they could never say with a straight face that it’s a hardship or a sacrifice. At best, it’s an inconvenience or a nuisance. And don’t let them kid you either. They may say they oppose government overreach but what they’re fighting for is the right to endanger the lives of as many of their fellow citizens as they like. They can tell themselves it’s bigger than that, but they’re full of crap. Because you don’t see them strapping on their assault rifles and marching to the nearest state capitol to protest laws requiring them to wear seatbelts, drive a certain speed, or carry car insurance.

Just like the parents who demanded that teachers and other educators ‘do their effing jobs’ and work in classrooms without the protection of a vaccine but who couldn’t do that ‘effing job’ if their own lives depended on it (as many of them proved with aplomb) their interest lies not in protecting the teachers who typically have to manage 20 to 30 children per hour for 7 hours a day, but in not having to manage their own 2.4 children 24 hours a day. I’m not even going to address the stunning lack of empathy it takes to accuse teachers of not wanting to do their jobs when in fact what they want is simply to not get exposed to a deadly virus and die.

And let us not forget the state and local officials and school board members who insisted that it was okay for teachers and support staff to be up to their elbows in germy kids all day even though they themselves won’t meet in person because they’re not willing to sit in the same room with other adults. Ah, how I love the smell of a double standard in the morning.

The worst part is, if we had done what needed doing for as long as we needed to do it, we would not have nearly half a million dead in the US alone. And we might have been out of the woods already. 

But alas, for some that was too much work. Or maybe it wasn’t as satisfying as belittling the staff at the grocery store when they offer you a mask because you ‘forgot’ yours, or as entertaining as the news reports about hospitals running out of capacity. Or maybe it just wasn’t as much fun as dressing up like Rambo and brandishing weapons that you only fire at helpless deer, glass bottles, paper targets or clay pigeons.

I know. That was a low blow. How could I possibly know for sure that all those deer, bottles, targets and clay pigeons are helpless? I actually I have it on good authority from Eddie Izzard that clay pigeons are in fact fuckers.

Which perfectly illustrates my point: Apart from making fun of these people and devising creative ways to punish their ignorance and/or selfishness, there has not been one ounce of laughter or pleasure to be gleaned from the situation that isn’t, somehow, also painful AF.

And yet it seemed every other writer and humorist on the planet was able to carry on. SNL was still making episodes—albeit from their own homes and in their own clothes. And the late night talk show hosts were all still cracking jokes. They just weren’t doing it in front of a live audience for a while. But they still did it.

So what was my excuse? I had never had a live audience. Or a team of writers. It had always been me and my computer. In my own home and in my own clothes. Or more accurately, pajamas.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I need to change things up a bit. Maybe tomorrow I’ll dig out some of the Jarhead’s cammies and storm around the house ranting to my cat about the Bill of Rights and see if I can make her laugh.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mill Street Blues: Love It or List It, Too

Previously, on Mill Street Blues: Billie and the Jarhead were engaged in a battle with time, aiming to get the porches stripped and stained, the foyer ceiling insulated and replaced, the kitchen pipes to stop freezing, and several other tasks completed before winter temperatures set in and all work that needed to be done above zero degrees Fahrenheit came to a screeching halt.

Adding to the intrigue: a new project.

From the listing details available online, it had all the makings of a great flip: A low price. A great location near lakes, streams, and a gorgeous state park. A generous lot with a large garden plot. An attached two-car garage. A single-level ranch floor plan with two fireplaces and vaulted ceilings.

Sure, there were downsides. Like the floor to ceiling knotty pine walls. And the wall to wall knotty pine ceilings. And the mushrooms growing out from under the baseboards. And the leaky roof. And the saggy kitchen ceiling. And the master bedroom carpet—the color and condition of which brought to mind a black and white movie murder scene.

I take that back, as I would hate to offend fans of black and white movie murders. Let’s just say it was disturbing.

And let’s not forget the light fixtures, which were seemingly everywhere—including places one wouldn’t expect a light fixture to be. Like, say, five to ten inches from another light fixture. And we’re not talking about a set of matching or coordinating fixtures arranged together for stylistic reasons. No. We’re talking about a cluster of crap arranged apparently at random, perhaps by someone with exceptionally odd taste or poor eyesight.

I am not even remotely kidding. Imagine a flush mounted glass ceiling globe hanging just beyond the reach of a five-blade ceiling fan featuring a three-bulb light kit with scalloped glass shades, on the other side of which hung a white metal fixture with three angled spotlights on chrome hinged posts, all located within a 3-foot by 3-foot area in the center of a knotty pine plank kitchen ceiling—which, fun fact, I could touch without standing on my tippy-toes. Whenever I imagine someone working in there, I picture them hunched over like the doctors on M*A*S*H trying to avoid the blades of the helicopters as they raced to evaluate the incoming wounded.

And that was just the kitchen. In almost every room there were three to five light fixtures that were completely different in color, size, style and material. I say almost because one bedroom had just one light fixture. Just one. Now, I have no hard evidence to back up this theory, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this may have been due to the lack of a ceiling—which  had caved in at some point, leaving a large gaping hole above, and a pile of wet wood, insulation, and drywall on the carpet below. I didn’t scour the debris pile for additional light fixtures, but I’m guessing there was at least one more in there.

But for the exception of that bedroom, there was an excess of lighting and an utter lack of theme or sense to its location in every room of the house. So much so that I wondered: Had all these fixtures been acquired, perhaps Grinch-style, from the homes of neighbors while they slept? Or maybe secreted out of a store or factory one piece at a time in a coat or lunchbox over decades like the car in that old song by Johnny Cash? And then hung where they could be admired like a serial killer’s trophies?

Well, we bought it anyway. And almost by accident. After having one offer rejected by the seller three months earlier, and another ignored a month after that, we assumed we would not be flipping Murder Manor this summer or any other. It’s just as well, we thought at the time (ironically, I realize only now.) We had more than enough on our plate as it was. If our offer had been accepted, we reasoned, we may not have the funds to finish the Craftsman and get it on the market by June.

And then, as if to prove fate has a sense of humor, our realtor called to say congratulations. The seller had reconsidered and accepted our offer after all. Which obviously meant that the previous buyers had found something seriously wrong with the place (besides the weird lighting and the scary flooring) and wanted nothing more to do with it. Or the appraiser had found something seriously wrong with the place (besides the missing and saggy ceilings, and the gaping holes in the roof) and the previous buyer’s bank had refused to fund the purchase.

Big deal, we scoffed as we prepared to sign the contract. By then we had renovated so many properties, we were no longer afraid of surprises. In fact, so accustomed were we to bombshell revelations, you couldn’t have shocked us if you’d hidden electrical wire between a sheet of drywall and a layer of mud, handed me a hammer, and told me to hang up a picture.

That may have shocked us six years ago. But it would not have shocked us six weeks ago. Or even six months ago. Now we know to check for wayward wiring before we cut or hammer into anything. Especially when dealing with distressed properties. Ah, life’s teachable moments…

Anyway, even after all of that, it wasn’t long before we were asking ourselves some familiar questions. Like, “Isn’t this a cool layout?” And, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a fireplace again?” And, “Can you imagine sitting here every morning/afternoon/evening and not having to watch the neighbor’s dog do its business while we’re eating breakfast/lunch/dinner?”

So although we had decided in 2018 to love Mill Street, once we saw the potential for Murder Manor to become our Maison D’amour, we were suddenly quite keen to list the wing and gable farmhouse.

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Of course, since deciding to keep the Knotty Ranch, we’ve already received some bad news that, in sum, tells us it won’t be ready to occupy until April 2020. Which is why it somehow looks worse than it did when we bought it six months ago.

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On the upside, that gives us plenty of time to work on all the things I mentioned in the recap, above, as well as everything else we want to do at Mill Street before it goes on the market. We’ve already made some good progress with the kitchen, having gotten the window trim and wine boxes in and ready for painting. We also got the foyer ceiling and window replaced. Just have to paint them now, too, along with the door and the new crown moulding.

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Barring any more unexpected issues, we just might get everything done in time to have a summer off for a change. Guess who won’t be holding her breath.

 

 

 

Mill Street Blues: Posts, Posts, and More Posts

With the Craftsman bungalow finished, it was time to shift focus back to the wing and gable farmhouse. Winter was fast approaching, and our goal was to complete the work that could not be done in the dead of winter, and/or which could not or should not wait until spring.

First up was to finish the repairs to the front porch that had been started over a year ago. We’re not talking about a big project here—like say, transforming a tiny outdoor sitting nook into a ginormous grand veranda. We just wanted to restore the sizable but simple covered porch to its former understated glory.

Of course, even that modest goal was going to involve more than a bit of scraping and a few cans of paint. We knew this because, at various points over the last century, someone (or several someones) had committed egregious crimes against the home which had compromised both its style and its structural integrity.

Case in point: the seven Tuscan Roman columns. Known to some folks as pillars, these huge, hollow, wooden cylinders were doing their job—that is, holding up the roof of the porch without completely blocking out the sun—but they were doing nothing for the home in terms of curb appeal.

Now, personally, I have nothing against Tuscan, Roman, or even Grecian columns, provided they are attached to a structure that:

  • I do not own
  • I do not have to look at every day
  • is located in Tuscany, Rome, or Greece

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate columns, or that columns have no place in Midwestern farmhouse architecture. In fact, with a large covered front porch being one of the hallmarks of the American farmhouse—and with our greatest scientific minds having yet to to invent a roof that can hover over a porch of its own accord (presumably because they’ve been busy working on self-driving cars) columns are—at least for the foreseeable future—a necessity.

But while I appreciate columns for their ability to hold up a roof and add character to a home per se, I can’t get on board with having seven (seven!) giant, cylindrical columns on the porch of this one and a half story wing and gable farmhouse. They simply don’t belong. Just like they wouldn’t belong on the front porch of an adobe ranch, a Quonset hut, a mobile home, or anything short of a bank, a museum, or the Library of Congress.

One notable exception may be a two-story Greek Revival farmhouse, which theoretically would have the height and breadth to pull off columns of that size and scale.  But even then you would typically see something less ornate and grandiose than a full-on Tuscan Roman colonnade. Think six-by-six or four-by-four posts. Or eight-by-eight barn beams.

In fact, I can think of only three reasons to put these enormous Tuscan Roman columns on the porch of a small wing and gable farmhouse:

You’re broke, and said columns are free on Buy and Sell, Facebook Marketplace, or other social media platform (which we know these were not since their existence predates the sharing economy and all social media platforms except papyrus scrolls and stone tablets)

You’re obsessed with the concept of re-purposing, and there is literally NOTHING else you can think of to do with seven spare Tuscan Roman columns than stand them on your front porch (which is unlikely since it would have much easier to lay them on the ground and use them as tunnels for training small animals, or chop them up and use them as fuel for your furnace—the columns, not the small animals)

You live in an isolated area and said columns are the only material at your disposal when you realize your porch needs work (which is also unlikely since there are no less than 16 stores within a 30-minute drive of this dwelling that sell lumber, and about one hundred times that many very tall trees within a 3-minute walk that easily could be cut down and hewn into lumber over five or six days)

Knowing how the Jarhead and I react when one of us wants to do something completely insane with one of our projects (like when he suggested we just repair the columns instead of replacing them and I suggested he stop drinking in the middle of the day; or when I suggested we repair the columns and re-purpose them to build the world’s first and only Tuscan Roman deer stand and he decided to store them just in case he gets bored and decides to build the world’s first and only Tuscan Roman deer stand) I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the decision was made to install these pillars. I imagine the conversation to have gone something like this:

She: Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She: Thanks, baby. And maybe instead of 3 or 4 ordinary porch posts you could  support the roof with seven giant Tuscan Roman columns.

He: Why would we do that?

She: Why, to show the neighbors that we are people of great wealth and taste, of course.

He: That’s a great idea! Let’s go shopping for them right now!

But more likely, it went something like this:

She: Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She (six months later): Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She:  Thanks, baby. I don’t need you to make it too fancy. Just do what you must to keep the roof from caving in.

He (looking up from his newspaper): You bet, honey. Anything you want.

She (six months after that): Baby, the porch is still in pretty rough shape. Could you PLEASE replace those posts before the roof caves in?

He: (sighing): Fine. (Flips to the Classified section. Finds an ad for seven free/cheap Tuscan Roman columns, then picks them up and installs them while wife is out shopping with her friends…

Fortunately, that is not how it went when we commenced work on the porch in 2018. Instead, the seven Tuscan Roman columns came down—along with the PVC railing and the chain link fence—and four simple, square columns went up in their place.

As he was removing the old columns, however, the Jarhead decided (without prompting, I might add) to look under the porch to see why the floor seemed a bit bouncy. Turns out that someone (probably the same someone who installed the pillars) decided to replace the floorboards when they went bad but did NOT replace the rotten stringers that were supposed to be holding them up. Thus, he had to pull off much of the floor and rebuild the underlying structures before he could replace the columns.

And then winter came, so we had to quit before the stairs could be rebuilt and the painting could be done. Finally, in September of 2019, we got back to work on it, as well as the lawn and the landscaping. Several months and countless hours later, we have four nice new six-by-six columns, a new set of stairs, new wooden railings, and a row of little boxwoods lining the front.

 

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The unseasonably wet fall weather is complicating our efforts to get it painted. But once we finish painting, lay the mulch, and get the risers on the stairs—assuming it stops raining before the snow flies—that will be one job down and only fifteen left to finish before it’s too cold to work outside.

Mill Street Blues: Move It or Lose It

After relieving Dude of his responsibilities vis à vis the wing and gable farmhouse, the Jarhead and I found ourselves in a bit of a quandary. A predicament. A veritable pickle, if you will. With our other house having already sold and closing day just weeks away, we needed to kick things into high gear if we didn’t want to spend the winter in a storage facility with our cat and all our worldly possessions.

Although we had finished installing the cabinets and painting most of the walls by then, we still had doors to paint, hardware to clean, two porches to repair, a deck to strip and paint, and a kitchen to finish. On top of all of that, after dismissing Dude, we also had kitchen and dining room flooring to install, interior doors and trim to hang, and some electrical work to finish. We also had a crapload of cleaning to do since the folks on Dude’s crew either had a pathological aversion to putting garbage in the 55 gallon bins we so generously had provided, or were trying to see how much trash they could amass on the floor before I lost my flipping mind.

Meanwhile, as they were NOT throwing away their drink cups, soda cans, and water bottles, they WERE throwing out other items. Like entire strips of original Victorian-era door and window trim and hardware we were saving to reuse. And the original siding that was to have been removed from the OLD east end of the garage before the addition was framed, and which we had expected to have put back on the NEW east end of the garage when the addition was finished.

Fortunately, the Jarhead realized what was happening in time to salvage enough trim and other components to finish the patio doorway to match the rest of the main floor doorways. That meant he had to do something different around the kitchen window and one of the upstairs doors, but at least we were able to preserve the original character in the main living areas. As for the garage siding, it presumably went to building materials heaven. Or the dump. Depending on your religious affiliation.

Meanwhile, as the Jarhead worked on the tasks involving power tools, muscles, and advanced math, I finished the painting, learned how—and how NOT to—install vinyl plank, and arranged for the carpet, counter tops, and appliances to be installed so we could accomplish the modest goal of moving out of the old house in time for the buyer to move in.

We barely made it. That is to say, we got moved out of the old house, but we moved in to the new one under less than ideal circumstances. For example, the counter tops couldn’t be installed until almost two weeks after we moved in. And because we couldn’t install the sink, disposal, and dishwasher without the counters in place, we didn’t have running water in the kitchen for a few more days after that. And because the plumber who was installing the sink, disposal and dishwasher was also installing the washer, dryer, and stove—and because he didn’t want to make two trips to outer Mongolia—we couldn’t cook or do any laundry until then either.

Thankfully, we had a grill to cook on, paper plates to eat on, a bathroom sink to get water from, and enough clothing in our closets that we didn’t have to sneak over to the old house and do laundry while the new owner was sleeping. I’m just kidding, of course. There’s no way I could have gone over there at night without waking up her dogs, and everyone knows I’m afraid of dogs.

Had we known we were going to fall so short of our goal, we definitely would have fired Dude and taken over the project much sooner. As it was, we had to hire a couple guys to work on the doors just to buy the Jarhead enough time for other tasks that absolutely had to be done before winter.

We thought that would bring us back on schedule, but as fall turned to winter, it became clear that the windows all needed to be replaced. And so, the porch repairs got bumped to spring, along with the deck repairs, the garage updates, and grouting the kitchen back splash.

And then, just as we were getting around to doing the winter projects, the foyer ceiling started leaking. And the pipes froze in the kitchen. Evidently Dude and crew forgot to insulate above the foyer when they replaced the ceiling and installed the new roof. And apparently the plumber was unaware that water lines should not be placed against a stone foundation wall. Seems to me that professional roofers and plumbers would have known these things. But then I’m reminded that, although they take money to perform a service, Dude and crew are not professionals.

Needless to say, we were very glad we opted to love this house instead of listing it. I can only imagine the lawsuit we would be facing if we had sold it. I can only imagine the excuses Dude would have to offer if I had bothered to confront him over it. I can only imagine the charges I would be facing and the sentence I would be serving if the Jarhead hadn’t been around to uncork the wine.

Meanwhile, just as I was learning to manage my homicidal tendencies, we found the Craftsman bungalow I mentioned a few posts ago (Mill Street Blues: Love It or List It.) And so, the rest of the interior painting got bumped to the summer, along with cleaning the basement and sorting the garage.

And then, just as we were wrapping up the demo at the Craftsman bungalow, we discovered that it needed a new roof and had bad wiring. And so, because we had to find a roofer and an electrician—and pull permits and meet with inspectors—the reconstruction, drywall, plastering and painting there got bumped to the spring, which meant work there would continue through the summer.

And then, just as, well, you get the picture.

In the end, it took us just under eight months to get the Craftsman on the market, and it sold in two weeks. We’re pleased with how it turned out, and excited for the folks who are buying it.

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Almost a year after moving to Mill Street, we are finally getting around to the work that should have been done fifteen months ago, including insulating the foyer and properly installing the kitchen water lines. With luck, it won’t take fifteen more.

Mill Street Blues: Pros and Cons

We didn’t recognize them as such at the time, but there were a few of clues that renovating the wing and gable farmhouse might be a bad idea.

The first came in the form of the blizzard that hit three days before the previous occupants were scheduled to vacate the premises, forcing them to choose between shoveling 22 inches of snow and walking repeatedly through 22 inches of snow to retrieve all of their belongings. Care to guess which option they chose?

The second clue came in the form of all the crap said occupants left behind—in the basement, in the garage, in the yard, and in the fridge. One might assume they got tired of trudging through the 22 inches of snow they had refused to shovel. Then again, they got the important stuff—like the washer and dryer that, legally speaking, were supposed to stay with the house.

The third clue came in the form of two teenage boys who, two days after we took possession of the house, jabbed all four tires on the dump trailer as it sat in the driveway filled to the brim with several tons of what used to be the roof. Although we took little comfort in learning that the dump trailer was just one of almost 40 vehicles that the little dickens vandalized that night, we took a great deal of comfort in justifying the amount of our restitution claim in court eight months later—and even more pleasure in depositing the check a few weeks after that.

The fourth clue came in the form of a note that was slipped to the Jarhead at a local builder supply store that warned us against working with the sketchy-looking guy who was assigned to hang the new gutters.

Yep. All those signs and still we persisted. Like those idiots in Poltergeist who stayed in their McMansion even after they retrieved Carol Ann from the TV or wherever she was. And the morons in The Amityville Horror who stayed in their Dutch colonial even after the walls started to bleed. And the dumbass nurse in The Skeleton Key who stayed in the plantation home in Terrebonne Parish even after it was clear that the place was replete with bad juju.

Starting to see a common theme? It’s okay to admit that you’re questioning our intelligence. We have questioned it, too. Many, many times.

Like when we looked under the sink and discovered that someone had used an empty tube of lotion and a metal clamp to terminate an old water line. And when we learned that three different plumbers had decided to leave all three generations of water piping in place when it came time to put in the fourth.

And when literally every single gutter on the house began to leak and it became clear that the sketchy gutter guy had much to learn about installing gutters. And when the roofing crew forgot to safeguard the structures around the house before tear-off and the gas meter suddenly had to be replaced.

And when their leader became enmeshed in a feud with the power company after one of their reps had the audacity to suggest that his folks should be a bit more careful in the future. And when he got into an argument with the building inspector and ordered him off the property. And when he called the police when the inspector refused to leave.

Having already racked up more visits from local law enforcement in the eight months since moving to Weyauwega than we had in the entire 8 years we had spent in Oshkosh (where our one and only encounter with the police was the night they mistook the Jarhead for a burglar) I was no longer questioning the wisdom of renovating this house as much as I was questioning whether we’d chosen the right people to help us do it.

That sense continued into the summer as we waited for three weeks for the stairs to be put back together because dude could not find the app that would calculate the run and the rise. In fairness replacing the stairs was added to the scope of work when we realized that the studs and stringers holding them up had been reduced to charcoal by a fire at some point in the distant past. On the other hand, I’m the type of person who would not have taken down the old stairs until I was ready and equipped to put the new ones right back up.

But that’s just me.

Anyway, dude eventually found the app and, eventually, we had stairs. Unfortunately, we then had to wait for the upstairs doorways to be rebuilt. It seems that rebuilding stairs also means bringing them up to code, which means making them less steep and, thus, longer. And making the stairway longer would have left the upstairs bedroom doorways suspended a few feet above the middle of the stairs, which is apparently dangerous and, therefore, not cool. Unless, of course, you’re into strains, sprains, and compound fractures. Which is fine. I’m not one to judge. And I don’t know your life.

I don’t know how much longer we would have waited for the rest of the work to be done after the doorways were framed and drywalled, but I do know this: When we determined that the snow was likely to fly again before dude and company would finish the reconstruction so we could start painting and installing flooring and fixtures, we decided we would rather do the reconstruction ourselves than wait any longer.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I pay someone to build or fix something, I generally expect it to turn out better than if I had built or fixed it myself. Clothing, for example, should look and fit better when I buy it at the store than if I had sewn it myself. I can hem slacks, re-attach buttons, and even make simple things like curtains and blankets, but I SHOP for the clothes I wear because I don’t want to look like the lady who stands at the end of the Walmart parking lot holding a can and a cardboard sign.

Car repair is another example. I could—theoretically—change my own oil, rotate my own tires, and replace my own air filters and spark plugs. But even if I were willing to get all dirty, dusty, greasy and sweaty just to save a few bucks, no doubt I would not do as good a job of tightening my lug nuts and connecting all those grody engine parts to the other grody engine parts as Colton does at my local Tires Plus. (I would have cited a local dealership here, but the last time one of their guys worked on my car they forgot to reconnect the clamps on my engine air filter, and the poor thing shuddered, sputtered, then died as I was heading home. So, there’s at least ONE person in the Fox Valley who isn’t a better mechanic than I am.)

Of course, there are some exceptions. For example, I haven’t found a chef on planet earth that can make bacon and eggs exactly the way I like them. Or guacamole.  But by and large, the people who do stuff for a living should do that stuff better than the rest of us can.

So imagine my surprise when dude had this to say after the Jarhead and I decided our relationship with him had run its course:

Dude: I know we haven’t gotten things done as quickly as you’d have liked, but I hope you’ll keep us in mind for future projects.

Me: I don’t mean to be unkind, but it isn’t just the timeline I’ve had a problem with. To be honest, the quality of the work isn’t quite what we expected.

Dude:  Well, let’s not forget that when we bid the project, it was going to be a flip.

Me: Personally, I would have expected quality work regardless of what we were going to do with the property. I mean, no offense, but when I hire someone to do a job, I expect it to look better than if I had done it myself.

Dude: Well, I never said we were professionals.

And here I thought a professional was someone who performed a service in exchange for money.

Silly me.

 

Mill Street Blues: Love It or List It

When the Jarhead and I finally found our first official ‘flip,’ we thought we knew exactly what to do. Avid fans of HGTV, we had the drill down pat:

Step 1: Demolition. I don’t think I have to explain this, but I will. It means for a few weeks you get to wreck stuff.

Step 2: Identify between 2 and 20 previously undisclosed and expensive issues that will severely disrupt the timeline for your project. Or greatly impact the budget. Or both.

Step 3: Agonize over those problems and their various implications. If necessary, discuss each problem at length—and preferably on camera for all the world to see—with the appropriate expert  and/or your favorite therapist. You might try discussing them with your spouse or business partner, but only if you have no religious or moral objections to the concept of divorce, and don’t mind getting up close and personal with terms like division of assets.

Step 4: Devise a solution to the problem(s.) For most people, this means giving up some pricey element of the design (like, say, custom cabinets) in favor of a more economical one (such as stock cabinets) or giving up a luxury item (for example, that gold-plated coffered ceiling you’ve had your heart set on since 2011) in favor of a necessity (like, say, walls.) For others (like the folks on Flip or Flop) the answer is never to cut one or two custom and/or luxury items from the budget, but rather to ADD three or four more. That way buyers will be so blown away by what they see, they won’t even notice the ridiculous asking price.

Step 5: Put the house back together. Try to do this in the proper order, if possible. For example, it’s best to drill your dryer exhaust vent BEFORE you spray the top of the basement walls with foam insulation. That way you can see where everything is and you won’t accidentally drill through all the fancy new wiring you had the electrician install a few weeks earlier, and you won’t have to stop what you’re doing to run down to the local home improvement center to purchase a junction box so you can get the power back on to the laundry room and finish installing your dryer exhaust vent.

Step 6: Look at the comparable homes that have sold in your neighborhood within the past 6 months, then flip a coin or use a set of dice to choose your sale price. If gambling isn’t in your blood, you can instead hang pieces of paper containing the numbers 0 to 9 in random order on your wall, then put on a blind fold and throw a dart, an ax, or a sauce-covered meatball at the wall five or six times and record the number that you hit each time. The five or six-digit number you wind up with then becomes your sale price. (Note: If at any point you do not hit a number, just keep throwing the dart, ax, or meatball until you hit enough digits to create a five or six-digit number. It doesn’t have to be complicated.)

Step 7:  Put the house on the market. This is best done with the help of a realtor. If you aren’t one and don’t know one, do like we did and simply conceive one. It may require some serious advanced planning, but 30 or so years later, it definitely will be worth it.

Step 8: Cross your fingers and hope to attract a serious buyer. If you’re not superstitious, take up drinking instead. That should get you through the tense moments.

Step 9: Pray that the sale goes through. If you’re not religious, take up drinking instead. If you’ve been drinking all along, send me your address. I’ll come join you.

So as you can see, we knew what we needed to do. And we were ready to do it.

What we didn’t know was how hard it can be to part with a house once you’ve finished it. Or how hard it can be to decide WHETHER to fix it up to love it or fix it up to list it.

The house in question is a 3-bedroom wing and gable farmhouse. Built in 1900 and situated on a corner lot with a 1-car garage, it had somehow escaped our notice for several months despite being located only six blocks from where we lived in and despite having been on the market for the better part of two years. Featuring 18-inch stone foundation walls, 9 ½ foot ceilings, covered porches on the front and back, and all the original doors, brass knobs, latches, and stamped hinges, it had the potential to be a grand home.

But for the clogged kitchen drains and toilet, the lack of a working stove, the interior water damage from ice dams over the foyer, the stained and frayed carpet, the cracked plaster, the insanely steep stairway, the smell of cigarette smoke, the stench of cat pee, the beams that had been compromised by a coal furnace fire in 1960, the beam and other structures that had been compromised by the wayward saw of an unimaginative HVAC installer that same year, and the renters who did everything in their power to make it look as nasty as possible while it was up for sale, the place would have been snatched up and fixed up within days of  hitting the market.

Fortunately for us, the house was so far gone, no one else could see it’s potential. Had it been on the market in May of 2016 instead of July of 2016, we would have bought it instead of the once decrepit 3 bed, 1.5 bath ranch we spent 15 months turning into our forever home.

Thus, before the demo even started, we were asking ourselves: Are we going to fix up this little farmhouse to love it? Or are we going to fix up this little farmhouse to list it?

Or, to put it another way, after working for 15 months to gut and rebuild the decrepit ranch, were we going to love IT? Or list IT?

In the end, of course, it came down to money. With the formerly 3 bed, 1.5 bath ranch now a fully updated 4 bed, 3 bath ranch, it was more house than two soon-to-be empty-nesters needed. And with 4 bed, 3 bath ranches in higher demand than 3-bedroom farmhouses, it was almost a no brainer.

I say almost because, although we now live 3 blocks further the train tracks, the sound of that train passing through town—which it does almost every hour on the hour, all night long—carries further southward than it did eastward. And because Mill Street has no stop signs between Main Street and Clark Street, no one obeys the posted speed limit. And because a surprising number of Weyauwega residents seem to be unfamiliar with that portion of a vehicle’s exhaust system commonly known as a muffler, this house isn’t nearly as quiet as the last one.

Had I known that, we probably still would have sold the ranch and moved here, but we would also have replaced the old sash windows with something that offered better sound proofing.

Fingers crossed that won’t be an issue for the Craftsman bungalow we are rehabbing right now. Also built in 1900, it stands just a block from the railroad tracks in Neenah, which virtually guarantees that in five weeks or so, we won’t be asking ourselves whether to love it, or list it.

Mill Street Blues

It all started innocently enough, as many spectacular disasters do—with an abundance of good intentions and a dearth of interest in doing research and checking references.

The Jarhead and I, having survived multiple military deployments, thirty-two income tax seasons, and five home improvement projects—including one whole house renovation–decided to go into business flipping houses.

It made perfect sense at the time. As the more creative member of the team, I would come up with the designs, choose the furnishings and fixtures, and do the accounting, while he—as the stronger, fitter, and more mechanically inclined member of the team, would be the muscle, the engineer, and the eye-candy.

As with our marriage—ill-advised as some considered it to be back in 1985—we knew it wouldn’t be easy. As with raising children, we knew there would be challenges. As with military deployments, we knew we would need to plan well and be prepared for surprises. And as with income tax returns and other home improvements, we knew there would be tears, heated exchanges, and homicidal ideations. But we also knew that with patience, dedication and—if necessary—copious amounts of alcohol, our business could be a smashing success.

And so, one month after the Jarhead retired, we bought a domain name, created an LLC, acquired a trailer, and started shopping for investment properties. There were other steps involved, as well. I’m just listing the highlights.

You’re welcome.

We didn’t issue a press release—mostly because no one reads the newspaper anymore, but also because we weren’t sure anyone would care that we were going into business, and because we didn’t want to have to admit it later if the endeavor was a colossal failure. But we told a few friends, and word got around.

Those who didn’t hate it, loved the idea. They imagined the Jarhead as a midwestern Tarek El Moussa to my shorter, plumper, and false eyelash-free Christina. Or as a taller, darker, and less excitable Chip Gaines to my shorter, plumper, blonder, and less patient Joanna. Or as a shorter, older, and handsomer Jonathon Scott to my shorter, plumper, blonder, and slightly less masculine Drew. You get the picture—with my apologies.

And just over a year later, here we are—still married—and about to embark on our second flip. There have been ups and downs, setbacks, and surprises, which I hope to cover in future posts.

And even as I joke about spectacular disasters and colossal failures, from my perspective it’s been a mostly positive and highly educational experience. Case in point: I’ve learned how to (and how NOT to) install vinyl flooring.  I’ve also developed new appreciation for people who show up for appointments and meetings on time, and I’ve learned many new words for ordinary household devices.

For example, cabinets that don’t appear level when hung, are pecker-heads.

Screws that won’t turn at the speed or in the direction you want them too, are also pecker-heads.

Cordless drills with lithium batteries that won’t hold a change are quite vexing, and, therefore, are also pecker-heads.

If you type it often enough while watching someone hang kitchen cabinets, your Android keyboard will eventually recognize the word pecker-heads.

Apologies for the blue language. However, if you’re easily offended, you probably shouldn’t be here in the first place.

And for those of you who aren’t easily offended, be sure to tune in next time for Mill Street Blues II: Hunting and Blathering.