After a four month wait, we were quite excited to experience supply chain improvements with a November rather than a February delivery of our Stressless™ recliner. But then came the real challenge – what art to hang where as the seating configuration in that corner of the living room no longer resembled what had been. Having quickly discovered the comfy leisureliness of an afternoon nap, the empty space necessary for the recliner to do its thing – that is recline – simply demanded to be filled. As it turns out, the right piece of art was hanging in the closet.
In September 2006, we drove to Knoxville, Tennessee to celebrate my aunt and uncle’s 50th anniversary. This family occasion also included a visit to the Knoxville Museum of Art located in the World’s Fair Park. With a diverse collection, the museum “focuses on the rich culture, old and new, of the Southern Appalachians” and the museum’s perquisite gallery shop provided an eclectic sampling of local artists’ work. While I had packed appropriately for all of the various anniversary festivities, I found a beautiful woven stole –the perfect wardrobe upgrade for the celebratory dinner. The loosely woven wool shawl includes shimmering gold thread, a trio of silk ribbons running the entire length, and Czech crystal bead embellishments.
Due to its size (21 inches x 96 inches) and its elegant structure, I tended to save it for special occasions like my aunt and uncle’s 50th anniversary, Minnesota’s sesquicentennial celebrations at the Capitol when I presented Governor Pawlenty with two sesquicentennial flags that had flown over the state’s public libraries or library meetings when power dressing sent the correct message. I never imagined my 2006 purchase would offer a complementary color palette in our renovated space, as well as provide an acoustical benefit in a room with a new red birch hardwood floor. The shawl that was safely tucked away amidst layers of tissue paper is now installed as art.
A fundamental question was raised during last week’s sermon. A question appropriate to living our individual lives as we continue to navigate the details of re-gathering amidst viruses and variants (and move into what is predicted to be a virulent flu season) and especially poignant for a welcoming congregation:
Admittedly, in the Hutton household and, I am sure, at your house too in these nearly but not quite post-Covid days some tasks are easier to navigate than others. Some days we find ourselves almost back to a routine that feels comfortable like a well-worn flannel shirt on a cool September day or going to church on Sunday morning. But then we arrive in that sacred space and see smiling masked faces and we must admit it is the same but different.
In the midst of these ambiguous days, Richard and I decided we would add more uncertainty to our daily life. Since July, our house has been in some form of disarray due to three (count them – 3) renovation projects. Just to be clear, all of the work has been undertaken by choice and not a crisis with our nearly 100 year old house – built in 1925 and moved in ’27. All the work is being done so that we might continue to “age gracefully in place.”
Last Sunday’s homiletic imagery of drifting on the water, anchored, but with a shifting shoreline accurately described our days. Carpenters arriving on a date set two months earlier – anchored. Getting a call late Friday that the team of painters and plasterers would arrive early the next week – definitely felt like bobbing on choppy water as we scrambled to move all of the furniture from four rooms, take our eclectic collection of art off the walls, and remove all the electric faceplates.
Knowing our renovations were close to completion but with more work still to be done, I arrived at church last Sunday and felt anchored as we poured our collected water tributes into the large blue bowl and music rang joyfully. Anchored again this morning seeing familiar faces and welcoming new members as we make “a wide arrival”.
Years ago, after my parents had purchased a new portable color-TV, Dad decided he would put the still working black-n-white on the curb. Being Dad, he first made a wooden sign with a white painted background and large block letters spelling, FREE. With the giveaway item and his new sign deposited at the end of the driveway, we sat down for dinner on the screened porch. Within four minutes, we heard a car stop and then drive away, leaving only the sign which, 50+ years later, Mom still uses sometimes.
This morning’s 7am curbside giveaway lasted a tad longer … all of 13 minutes. I bought my “brodhead” rocker with going-away money gifted from my fellow teachers as I moved from being a school librarian in Brodhead, Wisconsin to my first post-MLS1 public library position in Columbus, Georgia. This 1979 purchase was inspired by an Oval Office picture of John F. Kennedy sitting in his Bentwood rocker.
This chair has gone from Wisconsin, to Georgia, to Illinois and, finally, to Minnesota. It is well traveled and well used – but we are ready for a change. With our new red-birch living room floor beautifully installed we are also replacing some of the furniture. We have a Stressless™ leather recliner on order and so I bid adieu to my “brodhead” rocker.
1 University of Wisconsin – Madison, Masters of Library Science
As our renovation project nears completion, we have painters and plasterers working in all but one first floor room. The two rooms (bathroom and upstairs bedroom) which are not getting painted are temporarily storing a large portion of the moved furniture and the safely tucked away art creating a sense of chaos throughout the house. Then, add to this disarray a semantical difference between our expectations and the language of the price quote/work order and this has become the most challenging part of a project that began in May. Through discussion and an upward movement of the price, all has been resolved and the windows, walls and the base board skirting the new red birch floor will look fresh.
The exterior work was completed yesterday. While we still have a white house, Forrest Green has replaced all of the three+ decades of Billybong Blue on the doors and windows, giving us a color combo very reminiscent of my Grandmother’s Vine Street house. The screened back porch (our favorite summer space) sports a white clean-up coat and with today’s gentle breeze and the wind chimes ringing, it has become our hideout from the plaster dust and paint fumes.
As the floor crew removed the scarred maple in prep for the new red birch floor, the smells were reminiscent of time spent in Dad’s workshop helping to steady boards as they passed through the table saw and from an even earlier time when he hand-sawed wood in the garage while I dulled a drill-bit. It was a favorite pastime, sitting on the garage floor, concentrating on a block of wood and carefully turning, turning, turning the crank of the hand drill through a board. He kept one bit just for me as I was imprecise in judging my stopping point and the concrete never budged.
So, too, the renovation sounds evoked memories, although less than melodic, as crowbars wrenched wood and pulled nails screeched. Previously, Richard and I performed the hours and hours of kitchen and bathroom demolition (1987). This time – older, wiser, and financial solvent – we are paying someone to do the dirty work of removing the old and much abused living room flooring that hid for decades under carpet. This week’s old house discoveries included:
An entire section of the original subfloor was never nailed to the floor joists
Maple flooring poorly patched with mystery wood when heat ducts and cold air returns were moved or replaced over time
Bowed living room walls – We have known for years that the wall between the dining room and the living room was out-of-square by nearly two inches which is why, in 1987, the dining room parquet was laid at an angle but now we know that that east and west living room walls are not straight
Electrical wiring tucked under the baseboard on what had once been a front porch as it was quicker than drilling a hole where the electrical outlet was actually located.
All relatively easy fixes or work-a-rounds, although the surprising and definitely not to code location of the electrical wire in the sunroom was discovered when nicked by a power saw which required adding a junction box and new wiring.
Oh the joys of 21st century renovations in a house built in 1925 and moved in 1927! But the new red birch hardwood floor will be beautiful.
With Boston looming large on my calendar, followed by a week at home and then flying to Montréal, (I am still befuddled as to how I have 13 travel days in just one month) I am focused on home-centered tasks; the garden this morning and moving furniture this afternoon to prepare for the new living room floor.
Green beans – picked, blanched and frozen although an evening’s serving size has been set aside to sauté with thyme.
Blueberries – harvested and baked; this time in scones.
Tomatoes – just for eating; and likewise
Peppers – ready for some dish yet to be selected for our summer dining menus.
While Richard used the heat gun, applied citric solvent and scraped years of pigment (thankfully no lead) in preparation for the installation of nine new windows all part of our rennovation projects, I focused on our rain garden. A part of the yard, like mowing, that I had previously identified as Richard’s purview.
With his Parkinson’s Disease (PD) diagnosis last July 23, I made a conscientious decision not to immediately tackle “his” jobs. Rather, to allow him time to navigate what was still comfortably do-able and what was not before I took on a task (or we hired it done.) So last summer went by with very little attention given to our rain garden; that long expanse of ground which replaced the old tarmac driveway. It suffered from overgrown perennials, too few wood chips, and oh so many weeds.
Admittedly, we had never discussed a division of labor however, in my mind, there was a clear delineation. Each summer, while I focused on our square-foot vegetables and 20+ potted plants (the number always varies) I let Richard maintain the rain garden. Come to find out (amazing what a conversation reveals!) that he was unaware of this breakdown in gardening duties. What I had assumed was his preference was actually a simple default location determined by cool morning shade. Recently, following Richard’s wise example, I have started my morning gardening tasks in the shade and the rain garden now presents a bit of order sans so many weeds.
There are times when layers are fun – chocolate cake with ganache filling – and then again when layers prove tedious – decades of paint needing to be removed.
Having received a text alerting us that our new energy efficient replacement windows might arrive in late June rather than mid-August, Richard began the arduous, time consuming task of stripping the trim from around the five large double-hung windows in our sunroom (more aptly dubbed the cloud room as it faces north.) Neither of us can remember why these windows were not stripped with all the others during our 1980s renovations. It may be that we simply got tired and thus opted to skip that important step; applied our choice of color and left the layers of old-people beige, harvest gold and sickly green which eventually checked that newer coat of paint. After stripping so much trim work we should not be surprised when the removal of eight layers of paint reveals subtle wood details but we always are. Now to start fresh with Sherwin Williams Magic Night 1201.
Our house was built in 1925 and moved in ‘27. We are only the second family to live here. In the 1980s, as first time home owners, we undertook a myriad of refurbishing projects. Our after work evenings and nearly every weekend were filled with stripping layers and layers of paint from wood trim or removing layers and layers of nicotine infused wallpaper, so saturated that when dampened the room smelled like an old tavern. For a few years, we tolerated ugly orange shag carpet in the former front bedroom, now our TV room, and then put in hours of scraping the black foam backing that had been glued to the maple hardwood floor. (Who glues down carpet, anyway?!?) For years, the re-telling of that year’s remodeling tasks was the biggest story in our Christmas letter. And then the house was finally ours and we were content for two decades. In 2008, we added the screened porch that is our favorite summertime room, a new garage was built in 2012 and a rain garden replaced the old narrow driveway, and our favorite builder performed a major bathroom facelift just as I was retiring in 2017.
Now, after so many quarantine days, we have decided 2022 will be a year of home projects as we replace the last of the single pane, double hung windows, remove the carpet and lay new hardwood floor in the living room, and re-finish the dining room and kitchen parquet. Unlike the 1987 remodeling when a construction manager organized the sub-contractors, these projects feel sufficiently discrete that we will coordinate the work ourselves. Although, as I continue to wait for a call back from the asbestos abatement expert, (damn that 7 foot x 10 foot section of porch linoleum under the living room carpet!) I am beginning to wonder at the sanity of this decision. I hope these blog posts will help keep me sane.