home sweet home: lee house

It has been about a year since we moved into Pearson House in Walla Walla, Washington. After months of renovation, we moved away — to Kansas, of all places. For the past couple of months, we have lived in a rental home while combing the area to find just the right property to buy. (When I say we combed the area, I am not exaggerating: We visited seventy-two homes and experienced two failed contracts before finding Lee House.) After we had Lee House under contract, we had more waiting to do. We barely made it through those agonizing weeks between having our offer accepted and actually moving in.

We finally took possession last week, on Valentine’s Day. We spent a long, romantic day unloading our belongings into the home and several more very long, romantic days — including my husband’s birthday — getting all our things situated. By “situated,” I mean hauling heavy pieces of furniture and boxes of books in and out of rooms and up and down the stairs. And by “all our things,” I mean only a fraction of our things. Many items are still boxed up in the garage waiting for someone to bring them in and make a place for them.

One of the great things about Lee House is that it’s not a remodeling project, like our other three houses, including the last home we owned in this area. Lee House definitely needs cosmetic work here and there, especially upstairs, but overall it’s in great shape. This is the first time ever that we’ve been able to simply move our things in without having to repaint, remodel, rewire, re-roof or redo anything at all.

That doesn’t mean change isn’t coming. It is. Just not yet. Not for at least a few months. We’re taking winter off with regard to home renovations. (But spring is right around the corner!)

Below are photos of the house as it looks at this moment. The four roof windows on the second level — one of which is shown below — are my favorite feature of the house. I’ve seen two hawks, an eagle and scads of smaller birds through these windows since we’ve moved in.

Living Room One
:: Living Room View One

Living Room Two
:: Living Room View Two

Living Room Three
:: Living Room Cubbies

Dining Room
:: Dining Room

:: Sunroom

kitchen two
:: Kitchen

Bedroom One
:: Master Bedroom

(The pendant light, dated track lighting and the strange brass pole are all items we will be addressing when we begin renovation on this space. The carpet will also be stretched. You can see it wrinkling on the right side of the image above.)

Bedroom Two
:: Master Bedroom

(The pieces of art above the bed won’t really be positioned in this way. We hung them on existing hangers in the wall for now.)

Bedroom Three
:: Master Bedroom Headboard Shelf

Bedroom Four
:: One of the Four Master Bedroom Roof Windows

Bathroom One
:: Master Bathroom Entrance

Bathroom Two
:: Master Bathroom Double Vanity

Bathroom Three
:: Master Bathroom Slate Tilework

Office One
:: My Office

(My husband also has an office, but it’s not presentable at the moment. When I took the photo above, I didn’t realize Beebs was in it. She must have photo-bombed the shot.)

Office Two
:: Office Shelving

(Above, you can see some of the drywall damage we have to address. Every drywall joint on the second floor really needs to be taped and mudded again. A full skim-coat might even be in order. Most likely, somebody DIY’d the drywall work on this level to save money when they should have contracted it out because it wasn’t their area of expertise.)

Office Three
:: More Office Shelving

Office Four
:: Even More Office Shelving

(The tackle boxes in the photo above are poetry emergency kits.)

before and after: guest bedroom

:: Before

:: After

This is actually not quite an “after” shot of our guest bedroom at Pearson House, since we have yet to hang art and add other touches that will really make this room shine. But the bedroom is definitely well on its way to being finished — and it’s a vast improvement over the “before” state in which we found it when we purchased the home a few months ago.

My favorite detail by far in this room (other than Beebs, who’s perched at the foot of the bed) is the salvaged chandelier, which I bought for only $15 at Builders ReSupply Store, located in the small town where my husband and I live. The store is run by the Sustainable Living Center, a nonprofit organization that operates a resource center year-round and provides community events and workshops on a variety of sustainability topics.

I had initially scoped out a lovely — and much more expensive — light fixture for this room, but we went so far over budget that being spendy with lighting simply wasn’t an option. After cleaning this fixture up, I had our electrician make sure it was safe. He gave it the OK and had it hanging in a matter of minutes.

I hope to paint the chandelier at some point to give it new life. Even in its current state, I think it looks quite cheery in this colorful room. This piece is a great reminder that good design comes at all price points, and that — with a little time and creative thinking — you can find fun and funky design elements in unlikely places.

Next up: Finish the home’s master bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, hallway and two bathrooms. No biggie.

home sweet home: caution

:: Caution

I barely set foot in the house this past week, even though there is so much work to do and increasingly less time in which to do that work. Within a matter of days, one unexpected issue after another rose from what were if not calm, at least navigable, waters. Those waves moved toward and over my husband and me. Now we lie on the beach, staring at the detritus left scattered on the shore: little bits of glass and other trash shining in the March sun.

One issue is the house itself. Work has come along much more slowly than anticipated, and at a much higher cost than anticipated. We can’t move in yet, so we have been paying both rent and mortgage for weeks — a pattern that can’t continue (but that will continue at least through March 10, our latest rescheduled move-in date). Because of the unexpected expenses, we’re close to exhausting our savings as well as our options for lines of credit. One more major issue and we might be forced to sell the home before we even move in, or to file for bankruptcy. (My husband doesn’t like for me to say that, but it’s a reality.)

To make matters worse, our landlords tied up our time and energy last week after making the assertion that we did not in fact pay our last month’s rent at the time of move-in and were therefore past due on our rent. After spending hours at the bank, I was able to produce evidence that we had paid that rent up front. I am extremely glad we didn’t believe our landlords and immediately write them a check — which is what I almost did. We would have been out nearly $1,000 more, which we can’t afford.

Then, just a few days ago, our credit card stopped working. We were no longer able to purchase what we needed for the house to complete the repairs. Within a few days, we learned that someone had managed to get our credit card information and was making purchases in California using our card number. That will all get sorted out, but it was terrible timing and definitely added to our financial stress, as well as revealing another aspect of our financial vulnerability.

:: Pressure Gauge

To say the pressure is rising in many areas of our lives would be an understatement. I recently took the personal stress questionnaire and scored a whopping 640. I suspect my husband’s score would be even higher. A healthy level is less than 150. At 640, I have a 75 percent chance of experiencing a major illness or injury in the next few months. I’d actually give it days or weeks, which is why I want to do everything I can to find the release valve or valves as quickly as possible.

:: Something Old, Nothing New

Old things are made well, but they still break. Old houses are filled with old things that might, on the surface, appear fine, but which crumble or snap as soon as you touch them. As I grow older, I fear I am growing less resilient, less able to bend under stress and more likely to break.

Pearson House and I are growing older. If we manage to move into it, and keep it, this house and my husband and I will grow older together.

Days will pass and pass. They will pass like water, though they are air.

Why did I say that? Days are not air. But they feel like air, don’t they, at least some of the time. Other times, they feel like water. For weeks, our days have been water when we were looking for air.

:: The First Step

The first step is the hardest. Who hasn’t heard that saying? It’s not true. All the steps are hard. Beyond the first step is a whole flight of stairs. Personally, I find the step in the middle to be the hardest, when going either up or down is equally draining. This is a time of no-choice, no-release. There is no clear way out.

Perhaps we are on the middle step now. I want to keep going up. But I feel my flight reaction kicking in, the desire to run back down as fast as possible. To what? All safety is an illusion. All destinations carry the potential to trigger further flight. We never arrive where we expect to arrive, and even if we did arrive we might not like the destination, despite having either climbed or descended the stairs to reach that destination.

One way or another, we are always in the middle of the staircase. I mean “we” in the general sense, as well as the specific sense.

:: Box Life

For months, my husband and I have measured our lives in boxes. It’s hard to confront the fact that this is what a life, a life together, amounts to. That a relationship can be boxed up and moved, all evidence erased from its former dwelling. We are erasing traces of those who lived in Pearson House before us, and that is a hard thing to come to terms with. Relationships played out there, developed there, for more than 30 years. What gives us the right to write over those experiences and connections?

We found a photo of a dog who used to live in the house. It’s a sweet photo, probably taken nearly 40 years ago. I named her Oracle Dog and put the photo in a safe place. I ask her questions from time to time. She doesn’t provide answers but instead reminds me that there are only questions.

I feel sad that Oracle Dog is not alive anymore, that the primary occupants of the home are no longer alive. Sometimes, in the house, I feel sad and lonely. Grief comes over me, a feeling radiating from my chest.

:: Emptiness

I really need to go to the house today. I need to work there all day long, until there is only night and bright stars scattered in the sky. Pearson House is finally coming together. And it’s starting to feel like ours, though it’s also starting to feel like it will never be ours.