Sunday, August 13, 2017

Progress At Home

In past months, we’ve been focusing on improving the house, inside and out. This is spurred, as it so often is, by impending visits! We have family coming to Missouri to see the total eclipse this week!

We don’t tend to have houseguests very much—in large part because our house is such a “work in progress.” After living in it for sixteen years, you’d think we’d have gotten it into fair shape, but we do have a few explanations. Okay, excuses.

First, it’s a big house, and it’s easy to keep the public parts rather presentable by using other parts for storage. (Don’t criticize, unless your garage or attic is perfectly clean! By the way, we don’t have an attic, and closet space is minimal by today’s standards.)

Second, we had a good amount of expenses when we first bought the house. Electric upgrades, new roof, repaint the exterior, and more; plus the mortgage payments. That put us into a pattern of working days and nights to keep ahead financially, which left us little energy for patching walls, picking out wallpaper, painting, putting down new flooring. We even fell behind on basic electrical fixes and weeding/landscaping. Having half our front yard infested with hedge bindweed is enough to take the wind out of any gardener’s sails.

And I suppose some people would consider it a crippled work ethic, but we actually do take time for both “big” vacations as well as plenty of small ones—day trips, afternoon excursions, going to dine in another city just for the change of scenery. (As you can tell from this blog.) This is a fundamental choice of ours: yes, our house is generally not very presentable at any given moment—but we intend not to go to our graves, or to hit retirement, without having had lives that balance work and play, output and input, labor and fun.

But we’ve been making up for some of those sins in the past few months. A cool spring, Roundup, and generous use of mulch helped with the landscaping scenario. Some parts are still rather unsightly, but it looks a lot better than last year. I pitted that fast-growing, colorful sweet potato vine–stuff against the hedge bindweed, and it actually seems to be working. Hah!!

Late May:

Middle August:

(I’m still making the rounds of the yard every few weeks with the Roundup, though. I don’t like the idea of herbicides, but I’m sick and tired of pulling weeds manually. And bindweed is like a cancer of the lawn . . . once it has a toehold, has “metastasized,” I doubt you can ever completely get rid of it; instead, just keep it in remission. Make it “feel unwelcome.”)

Mulch hides a multitude of sins.

Our backyard's been looking so good (and the weather's been so mild this summer), we've actually been sitting on the patio and enjoying breakfast or, um, happy hour after work, and feeling that "life is good."

Indoors, we’ve been cleaning and straightening and polishing. Replacing blinds and curtains. Finally putting privacy window film and curtains on our basement windows! Getting rid of stuff. Making guest rooms look like they’re ready for guests!

I’ve patched and primered some of the walls on the third floor (which are made of Celotex, or “Beaverboard,” the 1930 fiberboard equivalent of drywall, with ancient wallpaper over it)—part of what will be a bigger ongoing project, but at least the worst places now look decent.

I called the plumber, who fixed the bathroom sink’s cold-water faucet so that it doesn’t shriek when you turn on the tap, and he replaced the toilet innards (once again) so that it isn’t running and hissing all the time.

I called an electrician, who did three-quarters of a day’s worth of small fix-its that I won’t touch in our old house. Here are some of the tasks that we’ve been wanting to have done, in most cases, for years:

  • Fix the three-way wall switches for the wall-sconce light on the third-floor staircase (a switch at the base, a switch at the top, and a switch on the sconce itself).
  • Check antique sconce in bathroom that flickers when you wiggle the bulb a little.
  • Replace iffy wall switches in the front hall, and the dining room (including an elderly 1970s rheostat that had started turning itself off for no apparent reason).
  • In the kitchen, completely replace the overhead light fixture in the room, and replace the incandescent pull-string fixture over the sink, and repair the pull-string on the small florescent fixture over the sink (which I’d been turning on and off by twirling the florescent tub in its fixture).
  • Replace the light fixture over our front doors.
  • Install a florescent fixture right above our workbench, and added an electrical outlet there, too.

Some of these have been “on my list” for years! It’s amazing how you can get accustomed to life in a hovel. But don’t judge—there’s something in your life that you aren’t paying attention to, too, I’ll betcha.

Of course, I know that our guests would not expect, ask, or wish us to go to any “trouble” about hosting them—but that is not the point, really. We’ve simply been using their visit as a motivation to do many of the kinds of things we’ve wanted to do for a LONG, LONG time. A deadline. An impetus.

And so, from the top . . .

The third-floor sitting area and space for guest to sleep is now actually a place where someone could comfortably sit or sleep. (It’s really nice up there, so high above the street, and with such good breezes.)

And my office is looking much less cluttered than usual.

The second-floor front hall, living room, and dining room are looking respectable again—but these are our “public” rooms, so they usually don’t need a lot of work, besides dusting and vacuuming.

The second-floor sunporch is once again a pleasant place to sit (when it’s not super hot).

The downstairs front bedroom, which in winter turns into a veritable greenhouse of potted plants, is once again habitable by humans (and quite comfortable, I might add).

Sue’s office, in the downstairs living room, is a lot tidier, and we’ve gotten new pinch-pleat sheers and had the drapes dry-cleaned. It’s an amazing improvement. Of course, now this doubles as Lois's apartment, so we're keeping the sheers tucked back away from her needle-like claws. (Wish us luck!)

As mentioned above, the back yard is inviting again, and the front yard is not given over to bindweed and other nightmares this year.

I suppose it's kind of lame that we make our house not be shameful, for once, and then take pictures of it before it gets bombed-out looking again. And there is of course much more we should do—we have 20 rooms in our house, if you count the basement, the bathrooms, and the sunporches. All the rooms are smallish by today’s standards, but they all need something—painting, wallpapering, a new rug—something. But we’ve added appreciably to the “public” portions of the house, and raised our self-esteem in the process.

So there you are—I’m not showing you any “before” pictures, but trust me, these are some major improvements.

Bring on the guests!