Pondering the piggy

Mike and I watched The Money Pit the other night…he laughed a lot more than I did.

I’ve wondered for a long time if we’re making good decisions about the house. With all the crises du jour — mortgage crisis, Wall Street crisis, election crisis, war-in-Iraq crisis — will we ever see any ROI from all the money we’ve poured into it? Or will life in this old house in fixer-upperhood ultimately be a losing proposition?

Mike’s perspective — one he often conveys to his clients — is that as long as you have to live someplace, you might as well make it what you want to live in. Frankly, I don’t see how we could NOT do the things we’ve been doing. Nothing we’ve done has been over-the-top — no marble floors or gold-plated fixtures. Just much-needed updates and maintenance with some all-purpose beautification thrown in for good measure (because we’re both aesthetic-minded people who care about such things). Much of it done by our own four hands. Our downfall is that the house needed so many things because of long-time neglect…and still has many more to go. (Which confirms what I’ve always believed — you don’t deserve and shouldn’t have a house if you can’t or won’t take care of it.)

Maybe the housing market will never recover to its post-debacle days. Maybe we’ll have bought high only to have to sell low someday. It happens. Or it may happen that we never sell, that this is the only house we ever have, and so we will have been right to fix it up as best we can. The perfect retirement house it’s not — too many steps and too much maintenance — but it’s better than having no place to call our own at all. There are far worse places to spend one’s golden years (a phrase that I suspect will have a new meaning by then — referring to having to work at the golden arches until you’re 80 or so).

Sometimes, you’re wise to hold back, save your pennies, and endure the peeling paint and crumbling facade a while longer. Other times, you just have to say, “damn the torpedos.” I hope this is one of those times — we always seem to be going full steam ahead with projects. Largely because of my need to be in what I consider a beautiful environment, not surrounded by problems that need attention and other people’s poor workmanship or unappealing decor choices. I push for things a lot more than Mike would. I just can’t help it.

These are scary times. We both work in service-type industries — marketing and architecture. It’s easy for our clients to eliminate spending in these areas when money is tight. Makes me wonder if those new golden years won’t be happening sooner than I imagine. I really wish I had spent some time working retail or food service and learned to run a cash register — I’ve a feeling those are skills that will come in handy. Writing schmiting — how about some fries with that?

My old father used to have a saying:
If you make a bad bargain, hug it all the tighter.
~ Abraham Lincoln

If you say it with a French accent…

Our family joke about what they served at that fancy French restaurant…”sore de bree.”

The not-so-funny joke when it’s in your basement…”sewer debris.”

Yes folks, the long-awaited sewer replacement project is finally underway, after wasting 4 months waiting for a no-show plumber and finally finding someone else.

Yesterday — basement trenching, all 15 filthy feet of it on the laundry room side:


Plus another 3×3 hole in the furnace side where the old drain was cemented shut (duh, leaving no place for the water to go in the event the boiler blows off or needs to be drained down, which it has twice so far in the three years we’ve lived here, or the water heater goes belly up, which I’m sure we’re overdue for):

 Today — yard digging:  







The original plan of trying to run new plastic pipe through the old clay tile pipe didn’t pan out, so the plumbers had to dig out all the old pipe, including under the porch. (We ripped out the floorboards and the joists months ago, when we thought this would all be over in a couple weeks.) Talk about threading the needle, as the CAT man had to perch atop the hill, avoid falling backwards, and dig without harming our beautiful Japanese maple — easily the best thing about the house. (One of the plumbers, evidently a tree aficionado, suggested we sell it on eBay for $13,000.)



We were without running water most of the day — thank goodness for Wal-Mart. That minor inconvenience, though, is nothing compared to what our poor plumbers had to deal with — with good humor and considerably less swearing than I could have managed. Gives new meaning to having had a sh*tty day at work. It’s worth every considerable dime we’re paying them (don’t tell Mr. “We Should Just Do It Ourselves” Mike I said that, but even he has to agree with me on this one.)

Now the CAT man is busy trying to refill the hole. Plumbers will be back tomorrow (if they haven’t decided to seek a new line of work) to clean up around the inside holes, re-cement everything, and make a few more plumbing hook-ups we need to accommodate “the world’s smallest powder room” project and a maybe-someday project to add a master bath/laundry room. At least we have running water again.

We were very, very close to having another sewer backup (we’ve had two so far). This all happened in the nick of time.

Just another day in the hood — fixer-upperhood. One of those times when “la vie dans cette vieille maison n’est pas si fantastique” (“life in this old house isn’t so great,” assuming my college French hasn’t failed me).

Ah oui. C’est la vie. C’est la guerre. Et bien sûr — C’est le pew.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today,
at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little,
at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick,
at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful. 
                                                          ~ Buddha


Does that mean progress or just spaghetti sauce? Anyway, we’ve had a busy week (starting last Saturday).

New garage doors are installed — a marathon effort for Mike. The directions advise allowing 12 hours per door for installation for 2 people. Mike did them both himself over 2 long days, along with first reframing the openings so they would fit. Next step is to install the openers (a luxury I used to take for granted) and finish trimming everything out.

garage doors for web Beforegarage floor during  New floor in process
garage doors during  New door going up
garage doors after  Voila!

We also have the new porte cochere pier rebuilt and the new columns in place. Yes, it’s actually straight now, though my picture doesn’t make it look that way. We are blessed to have such a great neighbor who let us have ugly support beams in her lawn for so long — thank you, Chris! Next step is to clean/paint the columns (probably next spring) and get a stucco finish over the concrete block to match the foundation of the house.

leaning pier before   pier removed
Old leaning pier                              Old pier removed

pier in process  New pier in process

new pier in place  Voila!

This about wraps up the outside work for this year. But no worries, next spring the fun begins all over again with a new retaining wall in the back of the driveway, repair of the front porch foundation, and maybe, just maybe, replacing (or tearing down and saying good riddance to) the dilapidated porch roof railings that I detest so much. 

Of course, there’s still PLENTY to do inside over the winter. Did I mention we’ve been remodeling the kitchen for oh, 7 months or so?

It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when
you’re tired, you quit when the gorilla is tired.
                                   ~ Robert Strauss

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