I made a mess

It was the weekend after Thanksgiving. My husband was in the back working and I was sitting on the couch watching tv. In the corner of my eye was the wood paneling. That wood paneling, behind the bookcases, surrounding the fireplace and most certainly covering two windows. And it was eating me alive. I could think of nothing else. What do the windows look like? Are they broken? Is there glass there? From outside you can see them, painted over. These windows are a classic feature, traditional and must be restored.

So I started picking at it. Innocently I grabbed a blade and thought, I'll just cut out a peep hole, look inside with a flashlight, just to see. It was a small peep hole, about 4x6 and when I looked inside, motherload! Glass! unbroken! I figured, this isn't so bad. Surely, they must have put the paneling up because they were insane and didn't like natural light. I will remove this and surprise my husband with my do-it-yourself enthusiasm.

 So I took my blade and made a neat incision along the length of the bookcases and across the mantel. Hmm, what's this? The wood on the mantel is soft and kind of popping up. Scrape. Scrape. Oh god, termite tunnels.

Need I say more?

I popped off all the upper paneling and discovered the windows were the least of my problems. Yes all molding had been removed to accommodate the paneling, but our molding isn't fancy and can be replicated easily (I'm pretty sure). And I can get paint off of glass, once it warms up outside. But above the mantel, sigh, it all came crumbling down. Dry rot. A lot of it. And some ants. And a breeze. And evidence that termites have come and gone. (And I mean gone because we have termite blasted this house).

This is about when my husband walks in and says, oh jeez, what have you done?

In the end, all dry rot seems to be located above the fireplace. One of our guys (he's actually my dad's guy and childhood friend who promises never to steer us wrong) says it's not so bad. We should remove all dry rot and probably the plaster all along that wall and then reframe, drywall etc. I'll take this opportunity to add some sconces and maybe redesign the mantel and bookshelves. The damage was probably caused by a leak in the roof some time ago that has since been repaired.

In the meantime, I thought it best to winterize the area, then walk away, slowly.


I assume there's some sort of etiquette

On the day we got the keys from our seller she asked if we wouldn't mind holding her mail, that the neighbor would stop by and pick it up. Of course we said, yes, no problem, not a big deal! And the neighbor did stop by one, twice and then... nothing. So, uh, is it cool to toss this now?

I mean, that's a lot of JC Penny catalogs!


The Great Ceiling Cleanse

The second major endeavor before moving in was to tackle the ceiling. I had never seen popcorn quite like this, so thick, so very dirty. It gave me the creeps and I could not imagine sleeping underneath it, anticipating what-have-you sprinkling down over my pillow and into my lungs. Um, no way.

I spent a night or two researching if this was a project we could handle ourselves. But with the age of the house and the potential for asbestos within the popcorn, I was quick to realize this was a job for the pros.

We are lucky, our real estate agent came with a stockade of "guys". "I got a 'guy' who can remove that popcorn" she says. "Oh yeah, what's his number?" And so it was.

He showed up, he brought a couple more "guys" and they knocked it out (safely mind you), smoothed it, sanded it and made an 87 year old ceiling look relatively new.

Luckily the popcorn had never been painted which allows the ceiling to absorb water and be scraped off in nice chunks, versus dust mania. This made removal safer and less costly. NEVER paint a popcorn ceiling you don't love.

Bonus, they even primed it. It's beautiful and glaringly white, making everything else look so dingy. Of course, we have many other projects to complete before we can catch up to these ceilings. At least now I can sleep.


Cats and what they need

We have two cats, Roosevelt and Orange. Roose is twice the size of OJ, half her age, and something of a bully.

Roosevelt. See, total sinister beast.

 And Orange. Why would anyone want to eat her?

So I saw this little house on Moderncat and thought, in addition to the incredible amount of adorable, this could be her perfect sanctuary, a place she could just "be herself."

Alas, with shipping from Canada, this one breaks the budget for cardboard cat houses. But it's inspiration. Maybe I can make it.


Bonus Feature

I'll bet you don't have one of these!

Our house came with a number of wheelchair accessible features — low sinks, tall toilet, and this outdoor elevator. It's a novelty, people make comments when they see it (although no one has asked for a ride). It works, so this isn't just a huge piece of scrap metal we need to dispose of. This is money, baby.


First Things First

After we closed on the house, we did some rent back with our seller then had two weeks before we had to be out of our apartment. With limited time, and both of us working, how to prioritize? It doesn't take a genius to know: remove stinky dirty carpet to reveal beautiful hardwood floors. Just like on tv.

The entire main floor of the house had wall-to-wall textured carpet from the early 80s is my guess. It was everywhere and emoted a pungent smell of someone else's life (and dog). It had to go. So we bought contractor bags, work gloves, masks, a mass quantity of razor blades and our first shop vac. I've always wanted a shop vac of my own, ever since I spent a summer vacuuming my parent's leaky basement, wild teen that I was. Anyway, it looked like this:

The foyer...

Looking from the foyer into the living room. We'll get to that paneling later.

The dining room. Want to bet there was once a built-in cabinet where that useless closet currently resides? I smell the Alameda Flea Market for a hunt.

And this is the hallway dividing the two bedrooms (also carpeted), the bathroom and two hall closets. Hey, that's a lot of doors!

Overall the process was arduous, but getting the carpet itself up was a breeze. Slice, roll, put it in the pile.

Some of the padding chose to stick to the wood and I knew that would be a party cleaning it up. The worst part was the staples and tack strips. I sprained my finger. But whatever, we had wood floors and they aren't in bad shape! Sure, the finish is worn away in traffic areas, there are some pet stains, water stains, gouges, but all in all, quite lovely. And it's starting to smell better in here!

The house has an addition which leads to the basement. It's bonus space and righteous and perfect for our work-at-home lifestyle. But it had carpet too, of course. And when we pulled it back...

ants!!! Gross, gross, more than words. They came out like an explosion and swarmed the entire perimeter. I screamed, flailed my arms about and split. We ran out for bug spray and destroyed, successfully. The floor here is concrete and the room needs a lot of work. But that's later. For now, let's waddle in the glory, shall we?



As of today, we have officially owned this little Oakland house for two months. We've had access for six weeks and have lived in it for 4. To say it was a roller coaster getting here is you know, an understatement.

The East Bay is an anomaly and competition for affordable, rundown, potentially haunted houses is fierce. But our agent was patient and kind and did not scoff at our meager budget. She held our hand through every rejected or ignored offer (there were 6). Until one day, this short sale was just, there, sitting on the market seemingly unnoticed. We entered quietly, hoping not to bring attention to the AMAZING DEAL and BASEMENT and YARD this home possessed. We slipped an offer under the door (not really), crossed our fingers until they bled and braced ourselves for rejection.

But this house was meant to be ours, and now it is.