Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's the little things in life. Like seeing your food.

Today I am ridiculously happy.  Happy is a low threshold for me, which you would understand if you saw my house.  Therefore, the things I am over-the-moon about today are things most normal people take for granted -- because most normal people wouldn't put up with *not* having them as long as I did.

Today I have a light in my kitchen.  On the ceiling.  And it works.  I haven't had a functioning ceiling light in the kitchen for at least 2 years, maybe more.  That hasn't stopped me from flipping the "on" switch nearly every day, and then swearing under my breath when it doesn't work.  Surprise!  It's like the gift that keeps on giving.  The bulb burned out a few years ago, and when we couldn't find a replacement, Victor took it down with the intention to install a new fixture.  That was 2008. 

In the intervening years, I've used a tiny little table lamp on the countertop.  It holds a 40 watt bulb, which has been fine because it's kept me from seeing the ceiling -- or lack thereof.

Today, I also have a kitchen ceiling.  (See what I meant about things you take for granted?).  When our trusty old white Frigidaire finally passed away earlier this year, we bought a fancy-pants stainless french-door fridge.  The new fridge is about the size of my first apartment and would not fit into the old one's space.  We figured: "What the hell -- we're tearing the whole kitchen out in 2 months anyway, so we might as well start now."  We tore the upper cabinet off the wall and threw it away.  We hadn't anticipated there would be no ceiling above the old cabinet.  Whoops.

Did I mention my kitchen also now has baseboards and cove base?  Did I mention I was stupid enough to buy a house *without* kitchen baseboards and cove base in the first place?  Why yes -- yes I am.

So we have now spent 2 days putting lights and ceiling and trim into a kitchen that may all end up in a Dumpster by Thanksgiving.  Cuz I'm fiscally responsible like that.

The other changes were needed whether we stay or go.  We replaced the exquisitely ugly ivory-and-brass ceiling fan in the master bedroom that threatened to decapitate our daughter every time she bounced on the bed.  We reinstalled the basement walls we ripped out in August 2007, when the basement flooded 2 weeks after we moved to the suburbs.  (I figured God was trying to tell us something, but by then it was too late.)  And by week's end, we will have bid adieu to both the vintage blue toilet and the evil clown in the basement tile, the latter of which I had exorcised shortly after moving in. 

So work continued at a frenzied pace here.  I still don't know if we're building or buying -- but at least I can see in my kitchen again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

And that's my life in a nutshell.

Many thanks to the people -- both of you -- who asked why my blog disappeared not long after I started.  Naturally, there is a story behind it.

After four years of discussion, nine months of planning, and six agonizing months of design revision, revision and more revision, The Rehab That Wouldn't Die is finally in construction drawings. Our architect, Saint Kim, has worked crazy hours to get the final drawings done in time to meet the village's September 22 deadline (after which our variance expires and it's back to square one).  Engineering reports are complete, tree removal is scheduled, and I'm feverishly tearing pictures out of shelter magazines to help me pick the perfect finishes.  I can see the finish line ...

we're almost there...

...and then Victor tells me he wants to buy the house down the street instead.

Are you kidding me? Are you F***ING KIDDING ME?!?!

There are times when violence is the only option.  This seems like one of those times. 

And to make matters far worse, there's a chance he may be right. 

The rest of the story:

It seems that construction costs have continued to climb, even as existing home prices have plummeted.  Cost estimates for our project are currently at 35-40% of what we paid for the house in 2007, and we expect it to climb.  At the same time, our favorite house in the neighborhood just went on the market at a discount price.  It has everything we were planning to construct, plus more: a master suite with rooftop deck.  Big bedrooms with big closets.  Professionally landscaped and lit grounds.  And  it's DONE.

That last point is a huge one.  The reality of what we are about to undertake is pretty overwhelming.  Demolition is slated to begin in October, so we are looking at six to nine months of plaster dust, plywood floors and microwave dinners.  December is not the best time to be missing the north face of your house.  What about Christmas? What will be the impact on the kid?  And where will we put the Canine Trash Compactor five days a week for all the months we have contractors in the house? 

So, we are pursuing *both* options.  At the same time.  This week we are hosting a parade of snotty realtors to get an idea of how bad a beating we'll take if we sell.  At the same time, Saint Kim is completing the plans so we will be ready to submit to the village if we decide to stay and build.  And beginning this weekend, we need to stage a massive Hoarders-esque decluttering to prepare for either scenario.

The next four weeks will determine whether we buy or build.  Either way, it's gonna suck.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Strong Like Bull

Today after work I have to return to The Rock Pile.  The Rock Pile is emblematic of the entire rehab experience so far: it's a much bigger project than originally expected, and trying to save money is costing me in the end.

Now anybody who knows me knows I'm a legendary cheapskate.  I can't help it -- I'm part Scottish and part Norwegian -- try finding a cheaper combination than that.  And I *love* a bargain.  So when our architect said another client was about to Craigslist her $9/sq ft bluestone patio pavers for $4/sq ft, I jumped at it.  Hey, that's a lot of money! It's also a lot of bluestone: 400 square feet, to be exact, which is enough to complete a 20'x20' patio. 

At this point it must be noted that, in addition to being cheap, I'm stubborn.  Not in-your-face stubborn, but more passive-aggressive, nod-my-head-and-then-do-what-I-want stubborn.  This is an ugly combination.  So when I decided I wanted that bluestone, it was ON.

I picked a date and rented a U-Haul.  But when the pickup date arrived, the rock-hauling crew failed to materialize.  "Reschedule it," Victor kept telling me -- like he'd never met me before.  Sure, sure, I'll reschedule ... oh look, here I am at the house with a U-Haul!

I'd decided to move it myself.

Never mind that I'm an out-of-shape middle-aged lady with a bad heart.  By God, I was gonna get that stone if it killed me.  In retrospect, that might have been a poor choice of words.

Guess what?  Bluestone is FREAKIN HEAVY.  150-175 pounds per cubic foot, only slightly less than granite.  Know how many cubic feet I was picking up?  66.6.  66.6 cubic feet times 150 pounds equals TEN THOUSAND POUNDS.  (I did not do that calculation until afterward, cuz I'm more stubborn than bright.)

So I show up and the owner looks at me like I'm smoking crack.  "YOU are gonna move it?"  he says incredulously.  "I brought a hand truck," I reply lamely, pointing to my little red toy which clearly is not up to the task.   But as mentioned, I'm stubborn -- really stubborn -- so I started hauling it one piece at a time to the truck.

After a few minutes, the owner (who, I failed to mention, was a ripped bodybuilder type) took pity on me and helped me move it.  I couldn't move the 150 lb pieces, but I was throwing around the 25 and 50 lb pieces pretty good.  After about 20 minutes of this, he says to me, "You're a very determined woman, aren't you?"  

My husband has a different word for it - but I like his better.

After about 45 minutes of loading, we discovered the U-Haul was only rated for 6800 pounds of cargo - so I had to leave the rest and sloooowly drive the truck home.  Now I have to go by The Rock Pile every day this week and pick up half a dozen pieces of the remaining bluestone each trip. 

And the worst part?  We're not installing it til the spring, so after moving it onto the truck and off the truck, we get to move all 10,000 pounds a THIRD TIME to its winter resting place.

But hey, at least I saved a couple thousand bucks. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Green Mile

Today is a momentous day -- momentous in the "holy crap I can't believe how hard this has been and we haven't even STARTED YET" sense.  Today our architect sent us the final conceptual drawings for our house renovation.  For the uninitiated, this means we've finally agreed on what the thing should look like.  Easy, right?  Yeah, not so much.

A little background:

My husband "Victor" (har har) and I lived in Chicago with our young daughter until the year she turned three.  School was just around the corner -- and since the public schools mostly suck in Chicago (sorry, Mr. Mayor), we became part of the Vanishing Four Year Olds phenomenon and moved to the suburbs. 

Before long we found a truly crappy house in an awesome location, and thought "SCORE!  This is what all the real estate guides tell you to buy!"  (Note: the real estate guides are not married to Victor.  More on that in a minute.)  Never mind that this awesomely located house had been sitting on the market for nearly a year when most houses in the area sold in days.  Never mind that the seller's real estate agent had given up and told us to just go knock on the door.  We're fairly dense people.  Zombies could have greeted us at the door and we would have made an offer.  A low-ball offer, but still...

The house itself was a train wreck.  I'll post pictures because you wouldn't believe me if I told you what we saw.  It was so bad that we left 5 minutes into the tour, laughing and shaking our heads.  But, like a bad boyfriend, we just couldn't walk away.  We knew we could change him.

So we bought the piece of crap.

We immediately started sketching up renovation plans, because it was pretty unlivable.  The vintage 1-car garage was too small to pull into, and I could touch the cabinets on both sides as I stood in the center of the galley-sized kitchen.  We agreed that we would start construction right away.

That was four years ago.           

It's hard to explain what's taken so long.  Naturally, I blame Victor.  I fell in love with him for his rock-steady personality.  Unfortunately, rocks aren't known for their speed.  Of course, he could counter by saying I'm impulsive and prone to action over reflection, but that's not true.  OK, it is, but at least we'd have a freakin' garage by now.

Anyway, nine months ago I got tired of thinking about it and went ahead with a request to the village to let us build an attached garage.  The variance request was granted in March, triggering a six-month clock within which we have to be in for our building permit.  AHA!  This will get things jump-started!  Brilliant!

Silly me.
So now we have 7 weeks left in  our six month window, and we haven't started construction drawings yet.  The world's most patient architect has redone the conceptual drawings about four hundred times. We've gone from a simple garage + porch enclosure to garage + new kitchen, family room, mudroom and guest suite with bath.  We've moved the new laundry room to every possible location except the roof, then finally putting it back where she had it in the first place.  And while the process has driven me positively insane, I will grudgingly admit that Victor's question-everything approach has resulted in a much better product.  It also means we will be missing the north face of our house in December.

We now have 7 weeks for the architect to create a complete set of construction drawings, for the civil and structural engineers to produce their reports, for the disappearing tree guys to reappear and cut down 3 trees, and for us to find contractors we haven't pissed off yet. 

Stay tuned.