I showed in a previous post that our living room went through several changes during our first 3 years here. We took it from these:
By now, I felt so exhausted from all the extra work on this room (and every other room) to ever think about doing anything more. This felt perfect! New furniture (thanks, Grandma!) made it feel even cozier. I thought it would stay like this for a long time. That was in 2011. By 2013 Chris was very impatient to fix the room. It was not by any means finished in his view, and he knew what it needed: wainscoting and a new color. Yes, another new color. The nice warm brown didn't flow with the rest of the downstairs, so we needed something brighter. I didn't see any need for this at all, but since all the work fell on his shoulders, I told him to change whatever he wanted. In the fall of 2014, he spent a weekend remodeling the room, and now it looks like this:
Was it worth his time and energy to make this room over again? I have to admit that it was. As always, I saw no need for improvement but later I thanked my lucky stars that Chris can see more potential in a room. This last project was very cheap, with plywood he cut to be wainscoting, an old trim piece above it that he'd never used in a previous room, and leftover paint from the nearby playroom. Ripping the plaster off the wall behind the stove didn't cost a cent, but it sure made it look cool! He was going to paint the lath to match the walls, but decided to keep it natural instead. Now all the rooms here have wainscoting and bright walls. I think we're finished with the living room!!! In five years it has had too many makeovers. Well, I'm finished. Chris will probably be ready to improve it within the year.
All we wanted was a typical single-family home, but the house we bought came with a bonus: a two-story apartment. We decided to use the top floor of it as part of the main house, since we had no desire to be landlords. Managing a rental space wasn't on the horizon for us. We needed to fix our house and move into it!
We had our contractor close over the stairs in the upper room. Voila! We now had an extra bedroom in our house, and a studio apartment below. The apartment spent four years as a storage space. During our many renovations, we needed a place to store displaced furniture and equipment. Along the way, we took out the ceiling (if you look closely above, you'll see the tiles ready to fall on someone's head). This was the dumping ground during projects after our contractor left. It held piles of old boards, flooring, broken segments of baseboard heaters, broken light fixtures and old bricks. I enlisted my siblings to help clean it out as a surprise for Chris in the spring of 2011. After several trips to the dump with our friend's pickup truck, all the construction debris was gone! That summer, the stairs were ripped out.
Then we renovated the main house some more, and it filled up again. We rented a dumpster, but the apartment filled up again! It was also a great place for the crib, double stroller, baby car seat and swing when Madelyn outgrew them. Our big suitcases and other rarely-used belongings ended up in here as well. I avoided going in, because the chaos made me feel discouraged, and I was sure mice and bugs lurked in the piles of stuff.
In 2012, we decided to fix it up. Until then, this was a "maybe someday" project. A project to consider when our house was basically done (which is still a couple years away!). Why spend time, energy and money on this place before OUR part is finished?
But the idea kept nagging at us, and we decided to go for it. My sister could live there, since she had recently graduated high school. Chris planned the project, and estimated that he could do all the work himself for $6,000. Here's the list of what the room needed:
Sheetrock on the walls
New walls to divide rooms
New plumbing (there was none at all)
New front door and interior door
He began work in February 2013. Our fourth child was due June 4, so he had a deadline! Chris planned to do a lot of work during his time off from work when I had the baby. He could be home to take care of the other kids while I rested, and do lots of construction in here, too. It sounded reasonable to us at the time, and worked out well, but in hindsight it seems absolutely crazy. A new baby's arrival is not the typical time to plan big projects!
Everyone thought our budget was much too low. But Chris is a great bargain hunter, and we're blessed to have a shop in town where contractors bring discarded items from homes when they renovate. They have cabinets, sinks, toilets, doors, light fixtures -- everything for houses! Of course, you can't plan on any certain item being there when you meed it, and a lot of it is too worn out.
He planned to buy some basic kitchen cabinets at Home Depot for about $600. We'd get just a few bottom cabinets for now. That would suffice for one person, and we could add top cabinets in a few years. The resale shop just happened to get a large set right when we needed them, and sold it to us for $340! We were going to buy a basic kitchen sink and faucet. Once again, we the shop gave us a great deal: $25 for a wonderful porcelain sink, and $15 for a fancy faucet. We also got a medicine cabinet and wood counters there. We could have gotten a toilet, but decided to splurge on a new one! There's a limit to our bargain hunting.
We got a new shower and bathroom sink, and special apartment-sized refrigerator and stove. They're so cute! Smaller than typical ones, but not absurdly small.
Chris spent his weekends and many evenings in here from February to May. He wired it, put in all the plumbing, installed baseboard heaters...he did everything! This was the guy who didn't own a single tool when we bought this house, and didn't know anything about renovations. Our projects gave him a great education, and there are so many books and websites that teach how to do all these things.
The room began to take shape. He put in pine floor boards, then stained them. He put up a couple of walls, to make the bathroom a separate room. My sister primed and painted the entire space, which was no small feat. She chose great colors!
Finally, by the time Declan was a few weeks old, it was basically finished. The whole process was smooth and easy, and we came in right on budget at $6,000. Now my sister has a great first apartment (with some wonderful landlords), and we have a rental space that can bring in extra money from now on. Here it is before she moved in:
And here's the kitchen! The whole apartment is bright and sunny. It's a great little space, with plenty of room for one person. There's even a nice closet in the bathroom. Chris did a fantastic job!
Our upstairs floors were full of quirks. The wood boards were badly painted, full of needles, and had newspaper stuck to them, as I wrote about here. The downstairs floors gave us a lot more grief, though, and still require more hard work! When we bought the house, we hoped the carpets concealed old fashioned, rustic wood floors. The trouble began when our contractor cut the back door. He found a rotten sill, which meant a LOT more work than planned during this first renovation. Chris and some friends dug a deep trench along the back of the house (no small feat!), and the sill was replaced.
We needed to finish the work soon so we could move in, but got more bad news: the floors in the laundry room and bathroom needed to be replaced as well. Soon those rooms looked like this:
The OTHER rooms needed the work, not these ones! Didn't the inspector say they were fine?! The wall between the rooms was removed, then the floors torn up and everything got new sheetrock. Our bathtub was placed in the front yard so we could use it again, but everything else went into the dumpster. (The bathtub turned into another crazy story for another day.)
We grumbled and complained about more work, more expense, more time before we could move in. Everyone told us (again) that renovations never go as planned. I thought of Mr. Blandings and reminded myself that this was only a small setback. We had nice, new floors and walls now!
We moved on to the other rooms. Chris spent long, long hours chiseling the subfloors off the living room and dining room floors. He worked at a high school 30 minutes from the new house, so after work he hurried to work on the floors and then drove 30 minutes home. The schedule was grueling for both of us, since I was caring for a new baby and two toddlers while trying to pack our apartment. We barely saw each other, and had long ago passed what we thought were the limits of exhaustion.
Finally, the original floors saw daylight again! I loved those floors. People had walked on them 130 years ago! Babies took their first steps here, just as Madelyn would. Chris doesn't possess the rosy-hued glasses I wear, so he called them just plain old. Not beautiful and full of character, but old floors that could use some refinishing. We knew that sanding them would put toxic lead dust into the air, where our babies would breathe it in, so we decided against that. We'd be careful and just seal them.
The floors drank in our water-based polyurethane twice before Chris tried an oil-based poly. That one worked. The floors were finished in almost every room! Their old wooden boards seemed perfect for our family. We never had to worry about scratching them. The kids danced in tap shoes and hit them with toy hammers.
Soon after we moved in, Chris began ripping up the subfloor in the kitchen. This couldn't be put off any longer, because our kids kept getting the plywood subfloors wet, no matter how closely I watched them. The subfloor had dents from sippy cup leaks and drool. Besides that, I cringed every time our 6-month-old's hands touched these floors. Another setback presented itself: these strange, mismatched boards covered a quarter of the room. Looking at them from the basement, Chris realized that someone had merely filled in a hole with old pieces of boxes and scrap wood. More work! My dad and Chris spent a Saturday replacing them with real floorboards that would hold weight. My job that day was keeping our very young kids away from the gaping hole in the floor. The hole cut us off from the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom, so we had to go outside and come in the front door to access that side of the house. It was a very cold November day, which made me see the benefit of not having any potty trained children. For months I'd been trying with no avail to train Asher, but that day I felt grateful that I didn't have to run outside and around the house for potty breaks!
One of the boards in the floor was part of an old shipping box from someone named A. Graham. We mounted it in the kitchen.
In the midst of this hectic day, an elderly couple knocked on the door. The man said that he lived here as a child. His grandmother had lived in the upstairs of the apartment, and his great-grandmother in the downstairs. He came to show his wife this old home, and we were excited to show him. But there was a hole in the floor that day! I asked them to come around to the other door so they could see the rest of the house, but they stared at the hole for a few moments and declined. I assured them that this was the only day we'd have a hole in the floor, so if they were in town tomorrow we could give them a tour. They still declined, and left without telling me anything more about the house. Since we first saw this house, I often said that I wished we could meet a former resident and find out what it was like decades ago. This was my chance, but we scared him away with our hole and loud power tools! The sight of three cranky kids who were corralled in the living room probably helped drive him away, too.
The big lead abatement brought more changes to our floors. After all this painstaking work, the following autumn we had to cover them all! They were poisoning our kids. If we'd only left the subfloor on, we could have bought new floors at first. But no, we had pried up the subfloors, found the hole, polyurethaned everything...all for nothing. The company that did the abatement didn't have very nice laminate floor choices for us, but we picked one we could live with. Now those old floors are slumbering beneath the laminate, and we plan to eventually cover these floors with pine! I hope they'll be done in the next few years, so we can enjoy nice wood floors that won't poison anyone or look like fake wood.
I love days that run smoothly. Checking items off a to-do list gives me a surge of excitement. I also love clean, organized things. Especially if those things are in my own home! I get so much more done, and feel happier doing it, when my house is orderly. That's why this drawer fills my heart with joy:
On the other hand, I can't handle disorderly, unkempt things in my home. Or days that seem full of potholes and speed bumps. Or tasks that remain on my mental to-do list longer than I feel is appropriate. I procrastinate when things are waiting to be done for a long time, or seem hopeless. This dining room cupboard makes me feel unnerved:
I've organized it three times in the past four years, but it always becomes a pit of disarray! Nothing's even right side up anymore. All my neat stacks and rows crumbled into each other. Last year we decided to build new cabinets there, so we can store the less-used kitchen/dining items on nice shelves. Until then, I'll send the kids to fetch things from this one, because I hate opening it.
Lately I've discovered certain things that make my days more likely to be smooth and easy. One is meal planning. Four years ago, a friend told me she saved money doing it, and that it made her evenings easier. Skepticism clouded my view for at least a year. I saw her gliding through it, but doubted that I'd like it. What if the plan called for something that took lots of energy to make, and I felt too tired that day? What if a kid got sick and I didn't have time to make the meal?
Finally, I gave it a whirl. It revolutionized my life! Every day, I knew what I'd make for dinner. I even knew what I'd make in three weeks and two days! (Baked potato night.) I always had the ingredients I needed. The kids' bewitching hour was less formidable because I wasn't stressed or preoccupied. When the day called fore something more labor-intensive like chicken cacciatore, I saved my energy for it and got the kids busy with a good craft or game as I started. Yes, sometimes a cranky kid fell on my feet as I stirred and chopped, wailing about her tribulations. On rare occasions, the day threw me into a huge pothole and by the time I got out I had to rush to make the dinner I'd planned. But 99.5% of the time, meal planning made my life simpler. I even started planning our breakfasts in February!
Next came a cleaning schedule. A few months ago, I came across the idea in an article. Then a few friends mentioned trying them. Someone at church said she's used one for years, and loves it. The same skepticism made me hesitant, but I decided to try it. If meal planning made life simpler, maybe this would too. I could always stop if it was too hard. I worried that I'd be burdened by the weight of mandatory chores, when little kids make life unpredictable. What if we go out for the day and I can't do those chores? What if they're too much, and I don't get other things done?
Again, life was greatly improved by this schedule! By the end of the first week, I was already singing its praises. I felt immense satisfaction as I completed the day's chores. A benefit I never anticipated was that those chores are my only cleaning tasks for the day -- if the sink looks gritty or the floors are dusty, I can leave them for their scheduled day without any guilt! Why didn't I try this years ago?! I don't carry and endless list in my mind of things I should be cleaning now, because I have a list on the wall and I can see the few, manageable things I need to do. The rest doesn't matter at all!
How does this relate to motivation? I realize now, in hindsight, that I've been motivating myself to be more productive and to have a better mindset. I love to be on time, and I especially enjoy being early. Appointments, college papers, church -- I prepare in advance to make sure I'm on time, and being early feels like a big bonus. Recently, I was excited when I did one of the next day's chores a day early. Later, it hit me that it's the same feeling I get when we pull into the doctor's parking lot with a few minutes to spare. Cleaning the kitchen sink becomes a source of excitement rather than drudgery when it's done early! This schedule caters to my love of crossing off completed tasks, and makes my house stay cleaner and more organized. Meal planning touches on the same things.
Now that I see how powerful motivation is in making my life simpler and easier, I want to figure out how to find the right motivation "keys" for my kids. They probably have different ones than I do, and I never gave it any conscious thought until now. I can see the potential here for a winning answer to Anna's nail biting and Asher's self-control. I've been motivating them in different ways their entire lives, but now I'm starting to really focus on their styles.
Our kitchen has changed a lot since we bought this house 4 years ago. This room just keeps getting updated, no matter how finished we think we are! We had to start from scratch in this room, as you can see:
The appliances no longer worked, the counters were cracked, and the cabinets had stains and chips inside and out. We wanted more cabinets and counters, too. Of course, the room looked a whole lot worse before it looked better. The second and third pictures below show the room when we moved in. No stove yet -- we didn't eat any cooked foods for a while!
We love IKEA, and for 3 years we wished we could own one particular showroom kitchen. We loved the white cabinets and the matching dishwasher with the cabinet front on it, we dreamed of having drawers instead of cabinets and all the neat little organizing features IKEA offers. Buying this house gave us the opportunity we'd dreamed about!
When it was all installed, we breathed a sigh of relief.
Then we changed it a few months later! Our ideas about how to use this space kept shifting. At first, we put an IKEA island in the middle of the room. It had shelves in the front, and two tall chairs at the back. Next, we created a little eating nook by removing the chairs and adding a round table against the back. Chris put an L-shaped bench from Target around the table, and it looked great! Here's what that looked like on Valentines Day 2011:
Chris, as usual, saw areas for improvement soon after this change. In 2012, he took out the table and bench when he renovated the downstairs. We bought two more chairs and made the island a seating/workspace area.
The kitchen feels so open an airy! I thought this was perfect. Chris, being the visionary guy that he is, still sees more possibilities. The new plan is to move our entry door down where the window is, put the fridge where the door is and the island where the fridge is! We'll have another cabinet and counter between the new fridge and door places. Also, he wants to make a mudroom outside the new doorway so we have a better place for coats and shoes. That will be wonderful. It'll also mean this room being covered in plastic tarps, filled with sawdust and dirt, and a few days of the kids and I being out of the house all day. Someday we'll do it, when we have the time, money and energy. Right now, Chris is busy with something else: sanding the new beds he built this weekend in the girls' bedroom!
We spent our first winter here longing for insulation. We shivered all winter, and our plaster walls were too cold to touch. In March, we learned that Vermont has a great program that aims to insulate all houses. The heating fuel companies are required to pay into this program, which uses those funds and donations to insulate old Vermont homes. When we got approved by them to be insulated, we were ecstatic!
Everyone driving by could see that we were chilly that winter. To help keep some heat inside, Chris ended up stuffing our doorway with pink insulation! Not very good for curb appeal, but it helped a bit.
Insulating our home definitely transformed our winter days. Our heat no longer rushes outside! But the lovely warmth came at a price: two weeks of torture. No one warned me that I'd feel the such crushing exhaustion and frustration during the insulation process.
Granted, we did this during our initial renovations, and we had children ages 4, 2 and a baby. Two had just been potty trained. We were already tired and overwhelmed from working on the house. Our belongings were here, but not settled in their rightful places. We spent our free time helping with various church groups. I was already beyond tired!
When the men first came to make the big plan, they told us they'd need to make holes in our siding. A 2 inch round hole very couple of feet. Typically, the siding is removed where they need to drill, and afterwards it's put back in place. Our aluminum siding isn't durable enough for that, so we faced a decision. Either they could pull it off and we'd have some warped siding afterwards, or they could drill from indoors, into the walls. To us, that was a no-brainer: walls are easy to patch! The siding is old, but should last a long time. Why mess with something in our house that's actually NOT in need of repair?!
We opened up our house to them, eager for the walls to be filled. They had a tank full of insulation, and a long hose to spray it into the walls. The insulation is recycled paper that's treated with pesticides and insecticides, which seemed like a godsend. It would repel mice and bugs! What could be better?
I planned to stay out of the house for a few days. The kids, as you can see, were very young. Too young to spend days away from home without naps. I needed to buckle all three of them every time we got in the car, and tantrums were still a daily occurrence. But I was ready, I told myself. We'd find things to do, and the insulation would be worth some hard days. Then we came home on the first day.
Insulation was EVERYWHERE. The work men had told us that dust would blow around. They'd given me fair warning. But as I took in the scene, my heart sank. After a tiring day of going places, now I had to clean. With older kids, we could have gotten away with leaving things somewhat dusty. But I had one crawling, and another two who still put toys in their mouths. The pesticide-laden paper dust had to be washed away.
I put Maddie in the playpen, set the other kids on the couch under orders to stay on the couch and not touch anything. (I knew that order would not be followed!) Then I swept the floors. Then I mopped them. I wiped every surface with damp cloths: the counters, tables, chairs, shelves, windowsills, and walls. I was exhausted. And then I made dinner. It was probably sandwiches.
The next day, we went to the library and park. We had another picnic lunch. When we got home in the evening, I knew what was waiting inside. But I still cringed as I saw the dust. There it was, covering every surface. They worked in one room at a time, but the dust rained down in every room. I swept and mopped. I wiped everything. I made dinner. I felt frustrated, knowing that I'd do this again every day.
Our days grew harder as the week wore on. The kids were cranky and tired and wanted to be home. I was cranky and tired and wanted to be home. I had no energy for them. Every night we repeated the cleaning routine, and every night I hated it more. I put sheets over the furniture, but dust found its way under them. The work took longer than planned, of course. Twice as long, to be precise. The men told us they'd never seen a house with absolutely no insulation, and had never spent so long on one house. Lucky us! As they blew insulation into the dining room wall, someone looked out the window and saw it in the yard! We actually had open holes going straight outside!
Finally, after two weeks of this, our walls were full. They did a test to see if the insulation was adequate. A huge fan was put in the back door, and they turned it on. As it sucked air out of our house, a frantic mouse ran out of the kitchen wall, across the counter, and into another wall! Our home was pronounced sufficiently insulated, and the workers left.
Floors are usually very straightforward. Wood, carpet or linoleum are the basic choices. When people buy a new home, their decisions about flooring usually center around what color carpet to choose, or whether to put new tiles in the bathroom.
For us, floors have meant unending work and choices, and more work and then more choices. Buying a house that was built in 1880 by poor mill workers, we expected to find that past owners had cut corners and gotten by with the cheapest solutions. The floors show that like nothing else!
Take the upstairs. We had a linoleum "rug" in the guest room:
When the floors needed new paint, someone along the way decided to simply cover them. (There was another "rug" like this in Asher's room.) When we rolled up this sheet of linoleum and threw it in the dumpster, we had this old flooring:
Something tells me it had been there a long time! Looks like Hazel (the last owner) had painted around the rug when she wanted to spruce up the floors. They had nailed old newspapers under the linoleum, dated from the 1960's. Over the years, the paper melted onto the floorboards. We couldn't get it off.
My kids (ages 3, 1 and baby when we moved here) loved using their tiny fingers to pull needles out of the floors. Obviously, this was not a good pastime for them! We used a strong magnet to pull out the needles that were loose, but new needles kept surfacing when the pressure of our steps forced them out from under the boards. I had bad dreams about our little ones swallowing needles, and knew that we had to do something about this old house quirk!
Now, let's go further into the upstairs. How about these floors? Aren't you jealous?!
These are truly unique. Why is there a strip of old green, spattered floor between the chipping gray floors? Well, we made a hallway when we moved in. Here's a fun fact that we learned as we renovated: our house used to be two houses! In 1880, there was a small two-story house that's now the apartment, master bedroom and bathroom. Someone built another little house soon afterwards, right next to it. That's now our living room and kid bedrooms. A porch was made between them, and later someone decided to turn it into part of the house. That's now our kitchen and guest room! Confusing, but interesting.
Although the three sections of the house had been joined into one building long before we moved in, there were some quirks. When we walked past the kid bedrooms, there was another bedroom (now book room) that opened into the bathroom. The bathroom had another door that led into the upstairs of the apartment (now master bedroom).
We had no desire to deal with the hassle and upkeep of an apartment, and we wanted as much room for ourselves as we could get. When we first renovated before moving in, our contractor changed the doorways for us. Now we have that nice little hallway that takes us past the bathroom rather than through it! (We also got rid of the ugly brown paneling.)
We painted the floor of our master bedroom black, after seeing pictures of black wood floors in magazines. We didn't account for the long drying time black paint requires, though, and after 3 weeks had to move our furniture in. We walked on tacky floors, and saw dirt stuck all over the floor within a week. Not the effect we had envisioned!
Before we fixed that problem, we needed to have a lead abatement. Our lead-covered floors had to be hidden, so we now have laminate floors all through the house. The gray paint is hibernating, as well as the splotches and newspaper and black, dirt-specked floor! Maybe someone will someday peel away the laminate and see it all again.
One day, Chris told me he wanted to tear down the walls in our downstairs. As usual, his idea seemed preposterous to me. He likes to think of new possibilities, and I get attached to the way things are.
I liked the small rooms in our house. Each room had a door so it could be closed off from the others. This is one of those ways our house showed its age. No one had opened up the rooms, even when a family with seven kids lived here. I love old New England houses, and the separate rooms seemed useful -- I envisioned the kids as teenagers, occupied in different rooms, doing different things.
Our wood stove's heat couldn't reach the farther rooms, though, and we didn't like eating in a cold dining room. I decided to trust Chris' judgment and see what it would look like to open things up. We decided not to completely open the rooms, but left parts of the walls to divide them. We (and by we I mean Chris) put in new ceilings at the same time. Our old drop ceilings were stained and cracked, and felt like they would fall in on us.
Of course, a project of this magnitude meant a total disruption of life. When your house looks like this, it's time to take the kids out! For a week in July 2012, Chris worked long hours on this while the kids and I stayed out. All our furniture was crammed into the bedrooms, so we couldn't even hang out upstairs during the day. We spent a lot of time at the library and local parks.
Fortunately, it was a sunny week!
We couldn't use our kitchen at all, so food was a challenge. Could we avoid packaged food at a time like this? We had just avoided packaged food on a week's vacation earlier that month, so I had faith that we could. I spent a couple of weeks storing up food. We had lots of yogurt, bread and muffins ready for us before the kitchen was out of commission. Since it was summer, I bought lots of fruits and veggies, too. The kids loved having picnics for every meal! Sometimes I went to my parents' house to cook some eggs for breakfast or soup for dinner. We managed to get by without resorting to boxes or cans!
Soon we had nice clean ceilings, with recessed lights! It feels like they're higher than before, but they're not. Of course, we love them and wonder how we lived for 3 years with the yucky old ones.
As it turned out, I loved the rooms being open. We switched the playroom and dining room, so now the kitchen flows right into where we eat. It's much more functional! Uncovering the chimney turned out to be a nice bonus. We weren't sure what condition it would be in, or if we'd want it exposed. But it looks beautiful, and helps our house feel more homey. At first we wanted to paint it white, but I'm glad we changed our minds. I love the colors!
The playroom became a cozy dining room:
And the dining room became a playroom:
When Chris told me he wanted to build a garbage bin, I was skeptical. It seemed like a waste of time and money to build something unnecessary when we had so many big projects to do on the house. We had just finished the big downstairs renovation, and now needed to start the apartment soon. Why bother making a bin for the trash can that was just fine on its own?
Then Chris built it, and I loved it. I really loved a garbage bin! That's a sentence I never dreamed I'd write.
It was just so nice looking!
A year later, the inevitable happened. I still thought of the garbage bin as a new item, but to Chris it didn't measure up anymore. He started imagining how great it would be to have a coffee and tea station in our kitchen. Where could we fit it? On top of the garbage bin!
We looked at ideas on pinterest, and he drew up some plans. Then, in the blink of an eye, our garbage bin grew!
We tried a basket under the counter, but didn't like how things all fell together. So Chris built a little drawer, custom made for the grinder and tea supplies. My little jars of herbs are ready to be brewed!
While he was at it, Chris made the little cork board/chalkboard wall nearby. We finally have an easy way to keep track of the daily kid chores. No more tattered paper on the fridge! Someday we'll figure out how we want to finish off that wall going into the playroom, but that's a problem for another day.
The living room is a place to relax, somewhere to sink onto a couch with a good book after a stressful day. A place for the kids to build towns with train sets and Lincoln Logs on a rainy afternoon. Our living room was old. Very old and worn out! It was one of the better rooms when we bought the house, though, and we thought just a touch of TLC would make it a cozy place. Little did we know what awaited us in this room! The wallpaper seemed permanently attached to the walls, even with a steamer and then a special spray-on solution. The subfloor appeared to be just as securely attached, and became a huge frustration to Chris. The people who installed it had nailed it at one-inch intervals, so the pieces couldn't be lifted off easily with a crowbar. Chris worked for long hours after work, pulling out each nail. Finally, the original wood floors and plaster walls were exposed!
Everything in the house had to be removed and packed into a storage unit. It was worth moving out, since we got new floors, doors, trim, windows and stairs. And our kids' blood was almost free of lead just two weeks after moving back in! This work meant we needed to repaint, so we chose a completely different color. The floors which had been so painstakingly uncovered had to be covered again. If we had known about the lead in the floors, we would have put wood on top of those subfloors in the first place!
Next, we decided to see if a wood stove would make our heat affordable. We knew when we bought it that an old, uninsulated house would be drafty. We didn't expect our heat bill for the winter to hit $6,000! After insulating, the next winter it was still almost $4,000. Something had to change, because we couldn't pay that much. While paying so much for heat, we shivered all day with the thermostat in the high 50's as we tried to keep the bills low. We dressed in lots of warm layers, but had noses and hands that felt like ice cubes. A wood stove's warmth sounded great! Chris built a hearth in the unnecessary doorway between the living room and playroom, and we bought a Woodstock soapstone stove that heats our entire house. Now we enjoy our very warm house every winter, for just $1,000 a year. We enjoy warm winter days inside our house, since it can be 85 degrees downstairs when the stove is going, but that's much better than being cold!
In the spring of 2013, my Grandma gave us some furniture. Our very stained Ikea couch and chair went upstairs, and the living room got a new look. There's still work to do in this room (wainscoting and a gallery of old family pictures are two things on the idea list), but it's much nicer than it was just 3 years ago!