In the Zone Part VI: Pause and Effect

What do you get when you cross a two-bedroom mobile home with a poured slab ranch featuring vaulted ceilings and two fireplaces, and nestle it in front of a stand of stately pines?

As the co-owner of just such a combination, I can clearly and emphatically state, that depends.

If the folks combining said structures have the skills, tools, expertise, and supervision to do it properly, you SHOULD get a gorgeous, unique hybrid home you can enjoy for the rest of your days and then pass on to your children, grandchildren, or a qualified buyer when you’re gone.

If, however, the folks combining said structures are unfamiliar with terms like plumb and frost wall; have never seen, owned, or used a level; and/or like to play it fast and loose with building codes, what you get is a big house that photographs well but which up close has more cracks, gaps, crooked lines, and shady weirdness than a cubist portrait of Tucker Carlson painted on a crumbling sidewalk.

If you’ve been following this column—which isn’t difficult since I tend to post at a pace well below that of a high-speed chase—you know which of the two outcomes we’re dealing with at our place. And in case you haven’t been following this column—feel free to catch yourself up. I’ll wait.

Fortunately, we got the pool put in the ground before the foundation issues came to light, or I may not have been able to spend the past two summers acquiring the mother of all sunburns. Then again, maybe I would have, since the Jarhead likes himself a nice sunburn, too. Preferably with a nice cold beer.

If I had needed to plead my case, I would have politely reminded him that his two hunting properties would still outnumber my swimming pools by one, and that his convertibles already outnumber mine by two, since I have none. At that point he would probably have pointed out that they were both pretty old, at which point I would have pointed out that we were too.

We could have played that game for days. Eventually, I would have been forced to play hardball and remind him that my cooking, cleaning, and bookkeeping skills exceed his by a factor too big to calculate, even for people who don’t suck at math, and that without a pool, I might forget everything I had learned about everything, including how to bake a delicious chocolate zucchini cake. (Aren’t hypothetical arguments fun?)

In any case, the pool was a done deal when the foundation issues came to light, at which time—as luck would have it—all other related work had to be put on hold. You can just sense my disappointment, can’t you? I exude it like sunscreen oozes from an overheated tube in the hot summer sun…

Seriously, though. You don’t want to replace even the oldest and crappiest windows with fancy new energy efficient windows only to have them crack when the foundation experts jack up the walls to lay your fancy new concrete blocks. Likewise for the doors, shower tile, and bathtub. Unfortunately, I’ve already tiled the master bathroom floor, so who knows what will happen in there once the excavators have had their fling. Same goes for the new ceiling in the family room.

Anyway, with the windows, doors, decks, and landscaping all off limits, we could only putter around with things that aren’t situated in or just outside rooms where the walls are sinking.

Like the living room fireplace surround, which was covered in soot the likes of which I had never seen. Having never entered into such a battle before, I figured I was going to lose. Big. Still, I wasn’t going to walk away from the fight. Those rocks couldn’t turn out any worse, I figured. Although I knew there was every chance they could. But, to my surprise, they didn’t.

I started with vinegar and a kitchen brush. And I sprayed and scrubbed, and sprayed and scrubbed, and sprayed and scrubbed. For about four hours. Then I let it dry for a day.

The next day, I mixed some Dawn dish detergent with some backing soda, grabbed an old toothbrush, and scrubbed. And scrubbed. And scrubbed. For four more hours. I won’t say I won the battle, but at least I didn’t lose.

After that, I decided to test out the new color scheme we have planned for the exterior after the walls are fixed. Being at least a bit smarter than I look, I tested it on the shortest wall on the place, which is protected on two sides from the insane winds that tear through our yard. This turned out to be a lucky call since—being also somewhat dumber than I look—I decided to start this project in October…

Meanwhile, as you can see from the wider view of the porch, below, the Jarhead replaced the old split rail fence along the driveway with new cedar-toned split rail fencing. Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Who would replace that nice old rustic looking split rail fence? Why, it was doing its job just fine.”

Now personally, I’ve got nothing against weathered split rail fencing myself. Or the mint green lichens that live on it. Or the skinny PVC tubes that the previous owners had used to mount the exterior lights on top of the old fence posts. It’s just that, well, water-stained cedar siding goes much better with cedar-tone fencing than it does weathered gray fencing. Or mint-green lichens. Or PVC tubes.

More importantly, cedar-tone fencing goes much better with gray siding and white trim. Which is what we’ll have when we finish painting the rest of the house. That is, IF we ever finish painting the rest of the house. We still need to find a contractor to fix the foundation, after all, and it doesn’t make any more sense to paint the exterior walls just to have them scraped by backhoes and shovels than it does to replace windows and tile just to have them crack when you jack up your exterior walls.

Anyway, so we’ll keep plugging along on other things.

Like more fencing. Last fall, the Jarhead put up cedar-tone split rail fencing around the garden plot (because cedar-tone fencing goes better than barbwire fencing with cucumber and squash plants and the deer that like to eat them—obviously.) So, this spring he plans to install a gate, put wire fencing on the inside of the cedar-tone fence, and probably do a fair amount of swearing.

As for the fireplace, there’s still work to be done there as well. The plan is to paint the gold trim around the fireplace opening (seen here without the lovely green throw before I went to work on it.)

You may find this hard to believe, but before I started cleaning it, I had asked—nay, begged—the Jarhead to tear down the rock and start over again, and the answer was a resounding “why?” In the *conversation* that ensued I learned that it would cost more to rebuild that rock surround than the time it would take to clean it was worth in US dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, Bitcoin, and even the lowly Russian ruble (that line would have been far less funny if Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine, so thank you Putin, you effing lunatic.)

Ultimately, I was glad we decided to keep it. And there’s absolutely NO way we’re taking it down now. Not after all the time and effort I put into cleaning it. Nope. Unless it falls apart on its own, that baby is staying right where it is.

But we are converting the fireplace itself from wood to electric. And in a recent *conversation* I learned there are solar panels in our future, which I also learned will make the electric fireplace and other appliances more cost effective and ecofriendly.

I am going to do my best to stay positive here, but since nothing in this place ever goes according to plan, I foresee even more swearing in our future.

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.