Day 439: Project time.

It’s early Saturday morning, Delphine is still asleep, and the house is quiet. Dove, our fluffy little indoor cat, provided her usual morning escort from my bedroom to the bathroom and back. I don’t exactly know why she takes this ritual so seriously, but I get the impression that she thinks that squat white porcelain chair is there so I can better reach behind her ears. Whenever I head to the facilities Dove is there like a flagman on a tarmac guiding a plane to a gate. And then the purring starts. She rubs her scent on my legs, offers me her back to pet, and leads me back to my room, flagman style, hopping up on my feather comforter for a luxurious snooze.

It’s project time today. We’ll finish laying vinyl tiles in the kitchen. The ceramic tiles we’re covering have gotten badly cracked over the years. We’re filling in the old grout seams with leveler compound and putting on a coat of adhesive primer. I cut tiles and Delphine eases them into place. Teamwork.

We bought the property from a bank almost five years ago in a foreclosure sale for thirty cents on the dollar. We fell in love with it walking the back woods even before we saw the inside of the house. The bumbling bank had evicted the previous owners and let the property sit empty for two years. Pipes had burst, roof leaks destroyed ceilings and floors, cracked plaster walls let frigid outside air blow in. Another year under the bank’s stewardship and the building would have needed bulldozing. It was exactly what we were looking for.

The first priority was getting a working toilet. The old one was reduced to a pile of porcelain shards in a closet-sized room. I framed out a pantry next to the kitchen, patched holes that let you look out the wall into the backyard, replaced plumbing, ran electric lines, and installed lighting. We had a toilet and sink.

house-livingWatching Delphine and I hoist four by eight foot sheets of drywall over our heads would have made a good sitcom. Red-faced, the two of us would try to hold the sheet  in place on our tippy-toes while I feverishly shot sheet rock screws here and there with an electric screw gun hoping to hit a beam.

We decided to get a little help and found a younger guy (a sixty-five year old French-Canadian fellow who liked to sing while he worked and had been hanging drywall since he was fourteen). With the bad economy he hadn’t found work in months. I had him put up a couple of sheets in the living room and hired him on the spot. He could carry two sheets of drywall at a time and hung more in a day than Delphine and I did in a week. He asked $5 a sheet – the whole house for a lot less than a single trip to the orthopedist.

house-loftThere had been a fire in the barn loft. The floor was iffy, you had to climb a rickety ladder and roll on your back at the top to get up to it, and while the structure was still sound, it just looked depressing. The barn originally housed horses and the loft was used to store hay. I had equipment from my thousand square foot aquarium factory that needed a home and I had different plans for the space.

I built a proper stairway and found a neighborhood kid to help me put down a plywood sub-floor and cover the charred walls. We were fixing up the old gal with common sense, elbow grease, and a ridiculously tiny materials budget.

house-bathThe original bathroom was a mess. There was almost no water pressure, the sink leaked into the wall, and the cast-iron bathtub was unusable.

The new toilet in the pantry was a huge convenience, but we needed a real bathroom. It took me months to figure out how to fit one into the second floor with enough room to still access the attic over the kitchen. Delphine and I took down several walls of horsehair plaster and lathing, I framed new walls, and (CraigsList to the rescue) found a couple of guys to help me install a shower, bathtub, vanity, toilet, and ceramic tile walls and floor.

Not only did doing most of the work ourselves save money, it created a sense of accomplishment that the fanciest contractor-built kitchens and bathrooms couldn’t begin to match. Every cut, every joint, every piece of molding and pipe was infused with a memory that made our homestead uniquely ours.

And now it’s time to go cut some linoleum and make a few more memories.

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