Yesterday morning I woke up on a mattress on the floor in the attic of our Detroit house. I rolled over to look at my husband. “We made it,” he said with a little smile. I was too tired to ask him what he meant. But we had made it. Despite the vortex of things conspiring against us getting the house ready to even camp out in — a plumber who left the country, a contractor with a habit of over-promising and under-delivering, a flood in Detroit, a work-stopping back injury Brian sustained the first day on site, and the myriad pains plaguing me — here we were, snug under the eaves with our two dogs. After working from Friday through the following Saturday, we’d collapsed into bed the night before in the most profound state of exhaustion I’ve ever known.
The list of things still to be done hung over me like the bare bulb dangling from the plaster where the electrician busted into our freshly painted plaster (after weeks of “the electric will be done this week” we gave up and painted — and then he showed up) but I allowed myself a few moments to remember what we had accomplished in eight days’ time.
We painted virtually the entire first floor. With help from our energetic 18 year old nephew Nathan, we knocked a lot of that out in one day. Living room, dining room, two of the bedrooms, and the main wall in the kitchen are all freshly coated with ‘Navajo White’ (a lovely shade that hovers between the lightest of celery and moss green shades and creamy white) and the baseboards and trim are renewed with fresh white semi-gloss. The built-ins (and the trim in the third bedroom — or sunroom as we call it, with its five windows) are painted white.
We painted the entire attic apartment. Forget neutral rental appropriate colors. The sleeping nook is Very Purply, the living area is really orange, and the bathroom is hot pink, ceilings included. Ok, the kitchen is navajo white, but I painted the sole cabinet purple.
The hardwood floors the contractor proclaimed ruined? We refinished four of them thanks to the renter in our second floor flat, K, who has loads of experience with home improvement — and who also has a truck. He sanded the rooms, then I swept, shop vacced, mopped, and applied two coats of poly to the living room and all three bedrooms (and pulled the staples left behind by the spectacularly non-motivated crew our contractor provided to rip out the carpet. An exceedingly low point of the week found me lying on the floor in pain from crawling around with screwdriver and pliers pulling up hundreds of stubborn staples, requesting in no uncertain terms that he get the crew back over to finish the @$#*ing job.
With help from K. we put plywood down over the one floor that was not salvageable, ready to be tiled next time we go back. Brian can get excess slate from the plant where he works at a fraction of the cost, so even as insanely expensive as the plywood was ($200!!!) it will still be a bargain for a beautiful floor.
I scraped the years’ worth of blobs of paint off the attic floor (Brian and another nephew, Nick, pulled the carpet up on earlier trip), then swept, shop vacced and mopped till the floor was pristine, and painted the hardwood. I went back the next morning to apply the second coat and found the electrician and his crew busting holes in the plaster. When they finished I did my cleaning all over again and applied the second coat (“seal skin” brown).
We raked, bagged and removed bales and bales of pine needles from the back yard, thanks to my sister-in-law Angela, who busted arse helping us all day on Friday. We also took turns raking the banks of needles on the garage awning – the single hardest workout of the week. With a power washer borrowed from the contractor (who was worried that us girls couldn’t handle it) we blasted the grungy, nasty exterior of the garage. It was like an eraser washing away years of grime!
There’s lots more – every moment of every day, except the five minutes I (sometimes) sat down to cram a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my face – I was painting, scraping, sweeping, cleaning, pulling, pushing, carrying, lifting, climbing, crawling, and/or otherwise working, but those are the biggies. The electric is still not finished, the plumber is in Mexico, and the deck to replace the hazardous, shanty thing up now and the insulation needed to fortify against the breathtaking heat bills are still but a dream. The basement gutting,which we hired out through our contractor, is about 80% complete (and a woman who worked harder than any guy I’ve seen on our job yet completed the immensely hard job of hauling out the junk after the demo crew did their thing).
All things considered, it was a productive week, though I can’t help but be disappointed that we don’t have more done. I’m trying to use this experience as a way to learn to be more patient and accept when things are out of my control (mostly related to our infuriating contractor). I’m not doing so hot so far. But Brian reminded me yesterday of how proud I can feel when I walk through the house and see the things I did. And it was gratifying. My work involves putting words on a piece of paper (or screen) and sending them off. To see a physical change that I brought about with own hands (hands that hurt so bad after a few days, and still, that I cry out when I try to turn a door knob or squeeze a tube of toothpaste) is incredibly empowering and satisfying.
Looking ahead to the work that remains is daunting, but I think I learned last week that I’m up for it. We made it.