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Home Improvement

So, it's been a funny kind of year. In a strange way, we've sort of rolled back the clock and after years of bike racing and jetting around Europe, we've reinvested ourselves in taking care of this place where we live. You have to understand, unless you're content to live in a bombed out double wide surrounded by garbage, it takes a lot of work to live out here. Things wears things down pretty quickly when your house is in the middle of a field in the middle of the mountains with no erosion barriers, curbs, sidewalks, asphalt, all those things that slow down Nature's need to move things downhill and out to sea. Nobody's going to fix this house or this land for us unless we're ready to shell out some serious money and we're not going to do that on account of we don't have any.

The good news is, or was, this is a pretty well made house. 1997, 2x6 walls, vinyl insulated windows, oak floors (downstairs) and a positively 19th century brick chimney. It's held up well. But we're 16 years into it and I did do quite a bit of bolt-on home improvement over those years. Really, if you stuck in a down-venting Jenn Air range in the middle of your house, you've pretty much done the home improvement version of strapping on a colostomy bag. You've stuck a pipe into the digestive tract of your house and you're going to have to live with it. It does get the job done, but when it starts to fail, well, you get the idea.

I look at the list of broken bits of our home and it's no wonder we had to do something. The stove is insane and needs wedges to keep the oven door closed. The fridge has delivered sewer water from the door and gave up making ice 7 years ago. We're on our second dishwasher and the new one seems to have worked out a deal with detergent manufacturers leaving us no choice but to use detergent that reeks of lemon or some off-brand teenage body spray. The microwave is still going strong so cheers to that!

And the actual house! The cracks, the failing flooring. Years of water damage from my miserable plumbing habit. Three coats of primer and I can still see the water stains in the kitchen ceiling. The upstairs bathroom sink is cracked. The tub is scratched beyond belief (thank you cats). None of the doors latch properly. Oh, and the front porch looks like we stole it from one of our neighbor's aforementioned garbage strewn double-wides.

The porch broke me.

I finally went out and started fixing things. So did Carolyn. We've both spent more time this spring fixing all the broken, overgrown things around us than we have in years. I'm pleased to say we've still got it.  I'm not pleased to say "it" extracts a significantly higher toll than it used to. Carolyn can whip the land back into shape and her work of the last 15 years  really shows. The native plants are thriving. The native grasses she planted are getting the upper hand in a few pars of our field. The trees are tall and  it all looks great. I can still fire the tools up and fix things. A couple of days of work and a fine sheen of wood dust settles on the bicycles in the barn and just for a while the woodworking part of my past holds sway in my life.

But Carolyn's developed a severe skin allergy to grass, which is really bad when you consider we live in the middle of 10 acres of it; and I - well, I'm a programmer now. And I'm 56. And I can't blitz it like a crazed college kid anymore. 8 hours of replacing deck screws on the front porch and I'm more bent over than Carolyn's dad; and at 93, he's really bent over. Part of the bargain of our living here was that I could take care of our home. I did, and I am but I admit, looking back at 15 years of my "I made it through 2/3 of a dozen "This Old House episodes" style of home improvement makes me wish I'd hired someone; or at least finished those "This Old House" episodes.  Really, I'm not sure they ever believed anyone would watch those shows and go "Hey! I can do that!". They never met me.

Our hands our swollen. I have abrasions that don't want to heal. I'm up $600 on the Lowe's card I swore I would never use again. Carolyn's trapped in a strange kind of Hell trying to program drip irrigation control boxes imported from China by illiterate pot heads who decided they could write the user manuals. It's like they got half way through the setup, got paranoid, and then went off to find some snacks.

Anne and Chris came over for dinner last weekend before they headed off to France. Chris and I got a bike ride in and the whole evening and the next morning they both just loved this place. Anne's pretty much family and has spent quite a few years couch surfing here. Much of this house has her hand on it; bowls in the kitchen, the stand mixer, a Venetian glass dish on the stereo cabinet - but this was only Chris' second visit and he can't get over how beautiful it is. The two of them move all the time. We stay put and we've created a home that's soft and comfortable and a bit grubby in all the right ways. I  keep forgetting. We keep forgetting. It's our home. We've lived here longer than any other place. It's beautiful. It's rough around the edges but people who struggle to put a roof over their heads or stay still long enough to enjoy that roof look at this place and see what they imagined home could be. We'll never live this well again.

So, I'll get the stain on the deck, and Carolyn will limb up the volunteer apple tree in the side yard and we'll get it trimmed up for a few more years.

The front porch is looking pretty good for our work. We need to quit a few hours earlier than we did 10 years ago but like I said, we've still got it.

The measure of time is the intersection of what we can't do any longer with what we forgot we did with joy in the past. Carolyn's parents are in their 90's but they still go out in the yard and plant flowers in the spring because that little bit of joy hasn't been forgotten and they haven't quite reached the point where they can't do it. We'll get out there and clean it up.

It's good to remember we haven't forgotten.


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