The half way house

I’m not really sure what would be considered the half way point on this monumental house project of ours. Was it way back when we restructured the whole thing, gave it a new frame and floor plan? Was it when we spent two months digging out a full basement just so we could jack the whole building up a few inches and put some proper feet under it? Was it before the first or after the second complete wiring of the house? 

The hubby says, on average, that the half way point for most home construction is the sheetrock. Of course, I don’t think that average really counts for our house considering all of the special, extra and unexpected things that came with it, but it is true that a myriad of tiny things still need to be tackled now that the sheetrock has been installed.  

Obviously, there is the painting- lots and lots of painting- priming and cutting in and spraying and rolling and the backbreaking labor that results in 4,000 (4,000!!!) square feet of colored walls and ceilings. But we are nearing the end of that.   

 There is all the extra wiring that now needs to be done- the outlets and light switches and smoke alarms, not to mention (we counted twice, thinking we must be mistaken) the seventy-two (SEVENTY-TWO!) light fixtures that need installation. To be perfectly frank, at this juncture, we are nowhere near being able to afford real light fixtures in numbers that large so if you ever come a visiting in the future, you will probably be greeted with the sight of a lot of naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. We’re taking baby steps here, folks.

But naked or not, we finally got them all installed and today, for the first time ever, instead of searching for a plug at the end of a bewildering tangle of extension cords crisscrossing the house, you can now flip a switch and get some light in return. And you can’t imagine the wonder of a plug in an outlet! Don’t get me started on the marvel of outlets! These are exciting things folks. 

Even more exciting are the two bedrooms. For all intents and purposes, the house is still a construction zone. We are still functioning with one toilet and no other running water. There is no kitchen of any description unless you count the recess in the wall where my fridge will someday go. But last night, Oh Joy! we ditched the trailer for the night and slept in a couple of upstairs bedrooms we had been pushing to get ready.  

    My craft room and my girlie’s room were the first rooms we had painted and we got to thinking that maybe, if we could put a few finishing touches to them, we might just make them habitable. This meant dealing with the floors first, which were really in terrible condition.  

They are original hardwood, but after much consideration, we decided they were too damaged to try and restore. So this meant me and my palm sander got down on our knees and tried to remove as much of the ancient rubbly mess, sheetrock mud and paint residue as possible.    

   
Then lots of shop-vacuuming and damp-mopping and finally, several coats of a good floor paint.  

   
   
Then, there was a little trim to put up and we even managed a few doors.    

    

Eventually, we want the entire upstairs carpeted, but since that isn’t really in the budget right now either, we found some nice carpet remnants and had the edges bound, just to make the floors a little comfier.  (And please disregard the plastic where the windows should be. Be patient. I imagine we might just get those durn windows finished sometime this century.)     
   

But windows aside, some generous folks donated a few used beds to our cause so that by the end of a very exhausting day, we were thankfully able to collapse onto something comfortable.

   
   So now, although I nearly despaired many times along the way, I can finally say, nearly nine years (NINE!) to the day after we purchased this place, we are sleeping in it. 

Of course, we aren’t technically living in it yet. We are still going to be in limbo for a while, trudging back and forth from trailer to house for our water supply and a place to cook our meals. We are now working hard on completing one of the four (FOUR!) bathrooms and the kitchen will be after that, although it might just be a hot plate and a sink for a while. 

All that to say, I think we can safely say that we are past the half way point now, although I’m not sure we will ever be able to call this place truly finished. But isn’t that true of most things in life? What good would heaven be otherwise? 

For today we are grateful- grateful no longer to be seven people sleeping in a thirty foot camper- grateful for a couple of rooms that (when the door is shutting out the rest of the house) actually look mostly completed- grateful for so much support and help from family and loved ones and grateful for a light at the end of the tunnel. (and a light at the end of a switch.)

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A Trailer Tale

Well folks, I know I have already started a book this year, and I’m not giving up on it just yet, but I find that there is another story that is being played out right in front of me in my daily life. I was thinking of keeping you all updated on the progress of our house by putting in a story form. If it proves too much to do, I’ll just stick to posting photos, but I think I’m gonna need this outlet, just to help me feel human through the next several months. So humor me, won’t you?

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Introduction

Yesterday my husband and I, along with our five children, moved out of our tiny house in the Projects. When we first moved into that house five years ago, we told ourselves optimistically that it was a temporary situation until such time as we would finally be in a position to finish the enormous fixer-upper (or money pit, whichever you prefer) that we had purchased years before, when the real estate market was booming and Steve had had a job with good prospects. I suppose that in the big scheme of things, five years might be called temporary, but in the daily grind, it had begun to feel like an eternity as our family of five stretched to six and then seven, and we were still in our small house, still in a terrible neighborhood, and still as far from finishing our big house as ever.

And so, one desperate day, we decided it was time to take a risk and make one last ditch attempt to complete the mammoth task that had been haunting us for so long. We packed up our belongings and moved back across town, almost eight years to the day after we had signed the fateful papers that made us the owners of a four-thousand-square-foot retreat for pigeons, rodents and stray cats.

Now you might think that it would be impossible to downsize seven people from a two bedroom, one bath situation. But once we had fit the bare minimum of our possessions into our new ‘temporary home’ (a trailer we had moved onto our property) we knew we had achieved the impossible. And after we had all five children bedded down for the night for the first time, my husband and I were able to agree with our good friend who had lent us the trailer in saying,

“Congratulations. You now live in a clown car.”

But this ‘clown car’ is sitting in the shadow of a house so large that it could hold a clown convention, if there even is such a thing. And that house is what we hope to make a home of. That house is what we hope will make living in a trailer and roughing it, pioneer style, worthwhile.

Chapter 1

It had taken us several weeks to make a slow transition from our small house to the property, sorting through all of our things, throwing away more junk than I thought possible for such a small space. There was even more junk to be tossed sitting in our big house, where we had been leaving most of our excess stuff for the past seven years. Sometimes, when people ask me about the house, I like to tell them that it is nothing more or less than the most expensive storage unit in the history of the world.
But after several trips to the dump and filling a burn barrel several times over with old, moldy, cardboard boxes (and mouse carcasses) and giving the place a thorough sweeping and shop vacuuming, we made the final move. We locked the door on our tiny house and began our new adventure by pulling into the backyard late on a Wednesday night.

The first thing I noticed as we clambered out of the van was just how dark it was. Not only that, but the stars were so bright that I could see Orion and the Big Dipper (the only two constellations I have ever been able to recognize). As I pointed them out to the boys, I wondered when I had last seen anything but the faintest star or two overhead.
The darkness and the clarity of the stars surprised me a bit, since the house is still well within city limits. But then I remembered our old house, how the building across the street had installed flood lights to keep night time loiterers and thieves away, and how each of those astonishingly harsh lights were pointed directly at our house each night, illuminating our rooms, obliterating the night sky and making midnight trips to the bathroom an eye-watering misery. The quiet darkness of our new yard seemed like a welcome silence after much excessive noise. But it also made it kinda difficult to see.
So I gave my oldest son James a key to the trailer and told him to run ahead and turn some lights on, while we unloaded a few more things. But instead of the beacon lights of our new home appearing, I saw a smaller one bobbing down the hill towards us and an excited voice calling through the darkness,

“Hey mom! Look what I found in the trailer! It’s a super cool lantern! Just follow me and I’ll show you the way!”

I laughed as I followed him, pointing out that we were really living like Laura Ingalls now. He replied that he would rather pretend to be Argus Filch, leading us to Hogwarts. But a more unlikely Hogwarts replica you will never find- the trailer consisting, as it does, of a kitchen/living/dining room space, a very small bathroom with no hot water and no functioning toilet and a ‘master’ bedroom, which is separated from the rest of the ‘house’ by a gray curtain and contains a decent sized bed with just enough space on either side to wedge yourself along and climb in. (Before long, we realized that it was far easier just to fling yourself.)

The real challenge of course, lay in getting all the kids down for bed at once. We soon discovered that if we took the removable kitchen table from off the wall to which it was attached, there was just enough room to fit Caroline’s pack ‘n play. Thankfully we had purchased the smallest portable crib on the market when she was born, so that it would fit into our old bedroom closet. I never imagined we would need to make it fit into a space smaller than that.
Next we found that the bench seat in the living room folded down to make an adequate bed for two moderate-sized bodies and we had brought a small mattress along from our old house, which just fit in the living room area, making bed space for two more boys. So there they all were, tucked in amongst all our unpacked bags and boxes, and ready, at least in theory, for bed.

And then a question came from the hubby, half-jokingly, half-serious-

“Sooo, what’s for dinner, babe?”

The poor guy hadn’t had a bite to eat since lunch, and here it was, ten o’clock in the evening. I had managed to stock some food in the tiny fridge the day before, but as for cooking anything, it appeared that one of the boys was using my box of pans for a pillow. And even if I had been able to make anything, the table had been replaced by a crib, and every available seat had been transformed into sleeping quarters of some kind. Also, the lights had to be off if any sleeping was feasibly to be done. So there was nothing for it but a box of wheat thins and a hunk of Cheddar cheese eaten in the cozy confines of our bedroom.

It was kind of romantic, in a way, and we had a nice chat planning out the next days events. But you didn’t really think that all those kids would just fall asleep like that, did you? We were soon joined by our fourth son, a precocious rascal of a child who has his father wrapped around every one of his fingers. He declared that he was owed a share of our humble meal and unabashedly demanded a handful of crackers. After daddy had generously filled both his hands and told him to avoid making crumbs in the bed (Did I roll my eyes then? Yes I did. ) he started in with his predictable stream of questions.

“So dad,” he began. What you must understand is that if dad is in the room, I might as well be invisible. “Are we weally wivving here now?”

“Yep. This is our new house,” daddy replied.

“Hmmmm. It’s a wot smaller den I thought it would be. How wong will we wiv here? Will we still be here for Chwistmas?”

“I don’t know buddy, we hope not, but we might be.”

“Aaaand what about birfdays?”

“Well, we will be here for some birthdays.”

“Whose birfday is next?”

“Mine!” I replied, and he turned to me as if finally finding me an object of interest.

“Oh! It will be yours? Are you gonna get wots of pwesents?”

“I’m not sure. That’s up to you guys you know.” And then, always curious to see what he will say in response to such questions,
“Are you going to get me something?”

“Yeeeess,” he returned, after some hesitation, “But what do you wike for pwesents?
Maybe you would wike…….some fish?”

“Ummm, well, (snorting back laughter at this ridiculous idea) I don’t really like fish very much.”

“Okay,” he continued, thinking hard, and then as if conferring on me the greatest of favors, “Well, I guess I will only get you one fish den.”

After thanking him graciously, I told him it was time to get back in bed, but his face fell so tragically at this proclamation that I had to laugh. He, however, did not think it was funny, and met my laugh with real tears.

“It’s okay C,” daddy consoled. “You don’t need to be afraid. We’ll be right here.”

“It’s not dat,” he wailed. “It’s dat I have to go to the bafroom!”

Now the trailer has a small toilet, as I said before, but seeing as it isn’t hooked up to the sewer, we won’t be using it. Thankfully, the vast majority of our children are boys, so daddy prepared him to use our default option (a nearby tree). But it soon became apparent that a tree would not suffice, and we would need to make the trek to the toilet.
Now using our other toilet is rather a production. It is located at the back of the big house, and the big house was locked up and in the middle of the night, a lightless void inside.
Christian is afraid of using that toilet, even in the daylight, so I encouraged him to be brave as we put our shoes on and picked up the lantern. This toilet is hooked up to the sewer, but it is not hooked up to the main water line, which means every time we use it, we have to refill the tank with a bucket. I told you we were roughing it. So I let Christian carry the lantern light, hoping it would bolster his mood, while with a bucket in hand daddy headed for the garden hose. Thankfully, I remembered to turn off the alarm before we went in, but even unlocking the creaking door made him whimper.

Bu in spite of all the encouragement we parents could lavish on him, the darkness and the spooky ‘bathroom’ proved too much for his four year old nerves, and after several minutes of his weeping and my cajoling, he ‘pwomised’ that he would never need to use the ‘bafroom’ again, and we were forced to give up.

We sighed as we headed back, re-locking the house and leaving the full bucket by the door in case we needed it again. But by the time we had reached the trailer, Christian had broken his recent promise. I sighed once again, and once again, daddy headed for the garden hose.

There next followed a cold midnight shower, during which I was amazed the entire neighborhood wasn’t awakened by the shrieks. But it was enough to wake the baby, who was also poopy. Half an hour later the small ones, thoroughly cleaned and snuffling back tears, were back in bed and finally drifting off to sleep.

I thought about crying myself for a moment, but I couldn’t summon the energy. And despite all the drama and all the adjustments I knew were ahead of us, I went to bed smiling instead. Deep down I was still glad that we were here- still excited that over the next few weeks, we might just start to see some progress, and overall, relieved that the spirit of adventure in me hadn’t died quite yet.

And I reminded myself, as I knew I would need to over and over again in the coming months, that God was big enough to handle the big things in life (overwhelmingly large house projects) and the little things (the emergency midnight bathroom sagas of a four year old child). Somewhere along the way, I fell asleep.