Wednesday, February 16, 2022

You saw her bathing on the roof...

 Or - the unstoppable force meets the immoveable object....

Today was the day that we moved the big cast iron clawfoot tub from the garage to the upstairs bathroom.

There were a few moments where we debated whether it would be better to just put it out on the roof... and leave it there. You know the Leonard Cohen song....

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you...

Why do so many stations play that as a Christmas song? I've never understood that. But, I digress. As you can see, we made it past the fateful window turn and up the rest of the stairs...

How did the crew manage it? They built a wooden frame around it and attached it to a dolly, which got it up to the first landing where the stairs turn. But then, the space on the landing did not allow for the whole thing to turn and go up the next set of stairs. So, they removed the framing and the dolly, and strong manned it up the last set of steps. We'd seen videos of people using ratchets and winches and such but with the angles in this stairway, it turned out to be that brute force was the only way.

If you have the time for it, you may enjoy this video....worth watching before you try this yourself!

It's been a long haul... we started this project the week of December 28. But that's how things go in an old house. Inevitably you discover things that complicate the path along the way, but a crew with experience will see you through. We are almost to the end! The plumber is here today to install the bathroom fixtures. It turns out somehow when the shower system was sent, it was missing the rainhead fixture, so installing that will have to wait until a replacement arrives. All of the fixtures were ordered from #SignatureHardware and they've been pretty supportive of problems along the way. I've developed a certain patience for the process now.  When we started, I was all about making sure there would be no delays, ordering fixtures, stressing over when they would arrive... but renovation, at least in #thisoldhouse, doesn't seem to go like that. There are days when you make a lot of progress, and then days when it seems like everything is stalled waiting for one certain thing to happen. There is an ebb and flow, and resisting that only leads to stress and unhappiness. If you can embrace the whole process, all of a sudden you realize the crew you are working with has become family. You start baking coffee cake for them and offering a cold drink at the end of a long day. (Ever watch the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun"? It is one of my favorites! ) And this is so much more enjoyable than getting angry over unavoidable delays. Revel in the whole process. Embrace the inconveniences in the name of the anticipated result. And hope the process is indeed helping you grow and that you are not just experiencing some weird version of Stockholm syndrome. I'll leave you for today with this clip from one of my favorite movies ever. 


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Guest House

 The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

by Rumi

It's a quiet day at Laase House. 6 inches of snow have slowed the neighborhood down to a wintery, dreamy state of mind. Jesus and his dad (whose name is also Jesus!) dropped by to help clear my driveway and to let me know that the crew was taking the day off today. Tracking the snow all over the house as they came and went was just going to create a mess. These two guys are so smart, so talented at what they do, and so kind... I will miss them today. But, for the first week day since December 28th or so, I have the house to myself, and the quiet is soothing.  The storm is passing now, I see the sun winking in and out from behind the clouds, and the streets are sloggy (what a great word!)  instead of snow covered. I should probably get myself out there on this lunch break I am taking and shovel the driveway one more time. 

Instead I find myself a little pensive. I've been thinking about this poem for a few days now. Laase House has become the kind of place that seems to attract visitors - that's actually what I intended to happen, and I am glad for it. In spite of the state of disarray and ongoing construction, this is still a beautiful and welcoming home. So with my pondering of the meanings of house, home, visitors - this poem seemed destined to find me.

I love when Joy comes to visit. She's always very welcome - indeed I long for her to visit sometimes, when the hours are weighing dark and heavy and the midnight candle is flickering. But what about those dark thoughts - that quickly recalled sense of shame? Instead of recoiling from them, trying to slam the door in their face and hide from them, I have learned, slowly, to welcome them for who they are. As the poem says, they are guides from beyond. Not meant to harm you or drive you towards dark despair, but meant to guide you towards healing, to a better way of experiencing this world. Instead of hiding, I am learning to meet them with a laugh, face them head on, welcome them in the door and find out why they've been sent to visit me. I have to say that we have had some interesting conversations!

I was very broken for much of my life. I did so many things in my time to make sure I would not end up my life alone, but here I am, with my dogs and my cats and my garden and my visitors.... living alone, and working on my house, which I love, and working on myself. The two seem to go hand in hand. I guess I can at long last say that I also love myself, and that I am worthy of this love. With all my doubts, shame, dark thoughts, I can still say that life is beautiful. And I too am beautiful. It's hard to say that and really believe it, so I will keep saying it until it sticks. I am beautiful. 

I have NEVER in my life said that before. 

Thank you, Laase House, for helping me to understand this. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Happiness is having good people around you!


They are laying the tile on my bathroom floor today. This is a super exciting step, and marks to me the beginning of the end. We are rebuilding now, no longer tearing down and fixing. The end is in sight, and I am looking forward to seeing what the floor looks like at the end of the day!

I was thinking how lucky I am... that with this project, once again my guardian angel has stepped in and blessed this effort. It's going to turn out great. It's a joy to me to look forward to each day of construction, happy in the confidence that if a problem comes up, my contractor and I will work through it together, and there is nothing to really fear. No one is trying to cover anything up. I can sit in my office and focus on MY job, knowing that my team is focusing on THEIR job and will do it well.

My project lead, Jesus, (yes, it IS a comfort to know he is in charge of my renovation! ;-) ) introduced me to the tile setters today. They don't speak a lot of English but are clearly in absolute command of their task, and have worked with enough designers that they can hand hold me through the process of deciding what I want, where. I don't have to worry about their work or check on them every 5 minutes. The mutual trust among team members on this project speaks for itself. They've all worked together before.

I hear of so many homeowners who are not ultimately happy with their contractor team. A friend of mine is having a home custom built - a huge project! The communication between him and his Builder has nearly reached the point of litigation. There is no trust or sense of team work between them, so what should be a once in a lifetime, really exciting project, is a nightmare. Stress loads are through the roof. His contract is forcing him to proceed to buy a house that is not what he wanted or expected. What an awful thing. 

Thinking of this is why I feel so fortunate. Did I just get lucky? Maybe a little? But I think my contractor selection criteria worked well for me.

1. I searched the internet for good reviews of contractors, including sites like Yelp, Facebook and NextDoor. I gave brownie points to contractors who answered home owner questions on social sites in a useful and kind way. This is how I stumbled across Martin Kujawa, (Kujawa Construction) the contractor I eventually chose. He went out of his way to answer questions people had, in a very kind way, without pitching his own services. He gave the impression of being a good person who was just trying to help.

2. After I compiled a list of possible companies. based on my internet search, I called each of them. If they didn't call me back within 24 hours, I crossed them off my list.

3. I did make the mistake of contacting Angi's List for recommended contractors, and as a result had to spend hours blocking text messages and emails as I got completely spammed by their marketing team. The contractors they tried to connect me with were frantic for business in a time when reputable contractors were so busy it was hard to get a call back. I wouldn't try that path again.

4. I asked hard questions that I already knew the answer to, and pushed for low cost estimates when I already had an idea what the project would cost. If a contractor caved and said they could probably get it done for that lower price, I ruled them out. The ones that held firm to the price they (and I) knew was correct impressed me. 

5. It's fine for a contractor to be busy, but if they are so busy that they can't take the time to answer your questions (boy I had a lot of questions) then at least for me, they were not a good fit. The ones who consistently called back quickly and answered my questions intelligently won extra points.

Your mileage may vary, but this process worked really well for me, at least this time. But hey, in spite of it having been time consuming to find the right contractor, I am happy because now I can relax about the construction going on - I have complete faith that the result will be amazing, and each day of work reinforces that. We've had a few things go wrong (those damn joists) - it's an old old house after all - but we've worked, together, through the problems and resolved them all. I already know I will be using this same team for any future projects that come up. What a great feeling! And every time a payment is due, Martin brings me doughnuts. 'Nuff said.

Oh - the floor will be mostly done today .... here's some photos of how it is going...

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Surely you joist!


Since I started on this bathroom renovation in my circa 1900 Victorian home, various people have asked me why I bought #thisoldhouse. I mean, there are always issues in older homes, right? Who knows what has been done to them over the years?

Here's an example of what these well meaning friends were alluding to. 

This photo displays what was revealed when we pulled up the floor so that we could reroute the plumbing to a more sensible configuration than the bathroom currently boasted. Small but interesting backstory.

When I had the home inspected, the inspector specifically pointed out the toilet in the upstairs bathroom. He said the flooring felt "soft" around the toilet and possibly indicated an old unresolved leak. I wanted to replace the toilet anyway, so I shrugged it off as something I would plan to deal with early on. I knew I wanted to renovate the room. Once I had moved in and had time to really check things out, I noticed that the back of the toilet was kind of... leaning back. I was curious why.

Well, here you can see why. Our investigation revealed that not only were pretty much all the joists in the bathroom floor cut away for various iterations of plumbing in a higglety pigglety unsafe way, but behind the toilet, the joist that should be there was completely missing. It was just... gone. Now it was clear why the toilet was leaning back!

Martin, my debonair and extremely knowledgeable GC, was not phased. He'd seen it all before and knew what to do. Jesus, the lead on my project, called in some muscle to help. After consulting with an engineer friend and a quick trip to the supply store, we had about a dozen MLBs (Micro Laminated Boards) that would be sistered to all the existing joists, bringing them up to and essentially well beyond the required by code weight bearing ability needed to support both a living area and a heavy soaking tub.

Project completion delayed by: about 1.5 days (Jesus originally predicted 3 days but to try to stay on schedule called in some additional helpers)

Project cost impacted by: about $3700

As far as I am concerned, it could have been worse. And now when I finally enjoy that well earned soak in my soaking tub, I won't have to be concerned that I might end up in the kitchen.

Here are some more photos from today - oh yes, we are at about day 7 of an expected 20-25 working day project. I called this "the discovery phase". Tomorrow, the plumbing phase begins.

Here you get a glimpse of the old kitchen wallpaper. During a major renovation project about 11 years ago, the homeowners dropped the ceiling in the kitchen to allow for recessed lights - we were able to see the upper part of the old kitchen walls when we opened up the bathroom floor.

The now-sistered joists, ready for action....

You can see the downstairs ceiling is starting to crack in places from the pounding required to get the MLBs in place. Martin and Jesus promise they will fix all these little problems once the renovation upstairs is done.





The Players on this project:

Kujawa Construction, Golden, Colorado

GC and chief shoulder to cry on: Martin Kujawa

The brains of the operation: Jesus Ortiz

Oh yes, lest I forget - Martin explained to me why we love these old houses. It's because the years have brought them to where they exude a visual charm - they have an inhabited soul that sparkles.

That explanation works for me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Make my life like an open fireplace.

 "I say to myself that I shall try to make my life like an open fireplace, so that people may be warmed and cheered by it and so go out themselves to warm and cheer."

George Matthew Adams

A while back I mentioned the gas fireplace that had been cemented shut by some previous owner. Well, a little bit of muscle and I found it could be worked loose and opened again. But even a good servicing couldn't help it. It was 20 years old and not safe to operate anymore, turning itself on and off at a whim and setting the newly supplied batteries to smoking. I wanted to replace the 80's tile and hearth anyway, and had acquired some reproduction antique tile for a new surround. Time for demolition!

Tearing off the ugly new mantel was easy...not sure what I will do with it but it is hanging out on my front porch now. Taking off the tile? A little poking and prying and it looked like it would be happy to come off all in one piece, but what was behind it looked a little scary....

So, I decided to get some help. If there was going to be a big huge ugly hole in my wall, I didn't want to have to deal with it alone.

Enter Martin Kujawa Construction.  Martin is a fascinating character who has been in the construction business for quite some time, and his reassuring demeanor and evident love for old houses won me over. Say hi to Martin! Looks like a bit of a rogue, doesn't he? Good guy though. The kind you'd want to sit around a fire and trade stories with.

Martin sent his awesome team over to rip out the ugly tile and hearth, and the old gas fireplace, to see what we would find. Maybe a look back in history to what had been there originally? We were kind of hoping the old fireplace was mostly intact.

I know it looks a bit of a mess here but - the hundred twenty year old fireplace was still there, but would need a good bit of repair. The question remained - in this day and age in Denver, with air quality as poor as it is, and regulations being what they are - did it make more sense to just reinstall a new gas fireplace, or should we try to take it back to a wood burning phase. 

My environmental conscience and innate practical nature got the best of me and I decided, based on the rather small space that was revealed, to not try for a wood burning function, but instead to replace the gas fireplace with a newer model that would LOOK like an antique coal stove. It would be pretty, and manageable for me as the years march by.

It should be installed sometime before Christmas, I hope. I'll keep you guessing until then what it will look like. Martin and crew have agreed to come back to put up the tile and also the antique mantel I found on Craigslist. It was pulled out of an old house so they could have something more modern. Sad for them, happy for me.

Here's a picture of it not yet installed... 

But you get the idea. Can't wait to finish this project and see the end result...
Oh - if you need a good general contractor reach out to Martin. He's proving to be honest and reliable and good at what he does. That's not so easy to find anymore.

And I found this very cool site for reproduction tile here:

Monday, October 25, 2021

“I would rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” ~ George Washington

 Ecological landscaping. Sustainability. Remember I was talking on and on about those things? I had my first meeting with ThriveLot, and it didn't go as planned. I don't doubt that they are a good company, and their intentions and mission are absolutely what this planet needs. But they are still too new in my area, and I decided I didn't want to be the test project. I would have had to invest about $2k into the planning process before I could even get an idea of the estimated cost of the project. So - I looked around and sure enough, there are several landscaping companies right in my area who have these same principles of sustainability in mind. 

I gave Ecoscapes a call and had a really productive first meeting with the owner, Stephen Shoup (he and his wife JUST had a baby - congratulations to them both!). Their company's passion is to help you grow your own food in their custom built planters and to replace sod lawns with water conserving, native, edible and regenerative xeriscapes. Their proposal and my budget met up nicely, and we agreed to move forward!

Today was Project Kickoff! Here's a few photos of them hard at work installing the planters. We determined the soil was clay dense, with poor drainage and low nutrient content. So, instead of trying to amend the soil in the entire front yard, we will fill the planters with high-tilth, nutrient-dense organic soil/compost. This way, next year's planting will be setup for a quick success. The already existing raised garden has been covered in landscape fabric for an untold number of years... the soil underneath resembles a lunar landscape. We will add soil/compost to that as well, but allow it a year or two to find its way back to health. An already existing irrigation system is being upgraded to provide the right moisture levels for the garden beds so that ultimately, they should use the same amount, if not a lesser amount, of water that was used to maintain the lawn, but produce enough food for both my family and a nearby food pantry to benefit. Pollinator plants will benefit the local insects. It will be tough waiting out the winter to get to see things grow, but I'll be starting seeds as soon as the time is right... 

The beginnings of the drip system and the planter boxes

Hi Stephen!

It's a multi-phase project. The planters will be installed and take the place of much of the lawn. The rest of the lawn will turn into meandering paths and additional in-ground wildlife and pollinator friendly plantings next year, including fruit trees and berry bushes as well as native wildflowers.
They'll dig the post holes to lower the planters into the ground tomorrow.

This is what the soil in the already existing raised bed looks like, after years under the landscape fabric.

The planters are built!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Cuttin' the Rug...

 Cuttin' the Rug...

Slowly, Laase is revealing herself to me. As I work on trimming back the fluff that was added on over the years, and help her get back to her true self, she rewards me with glimpses into the things that made her grand in her day.

Recap: Remember the white carpet?

That's my able assistant, Cody at the top of the stairs!

I have never done much in the way of renovation myself, so I called a floor specialist to see about removing the carpet. As anyone with pets knows, white carpet will look nice for maybe 5 minutes after you clean it, before a cat vomits on it, or the dogs track in dirty footprints from the yard. It really had to go!

The floor specialist confirmed that there were hardwood floors under the carpet, but would not consent to remove the carpet without an additional contract to refinish the floors. I'm more of a look and see kind of gal. I wanted to see what the floors looked like before agreeing to that, especially since it would mean removing myself and the pets from the house for 4 - 5 days while the work was completed.  Total cost for the effort was about $6000.

Next call was to a handyman service to see if I could just hire the labor to pull the carpet and the tack strips. After calls to 3 different services who would not even return my call, I found one! It would be about $3000 worth of labor to spend the day pulling the carpets.

At this point, I started to seriously consider tackling the project myself. How hard could it be? I took a deep breath, and dived in.

I decided to start on the stairs, as there would be no furniture to move, and there was already a corner pulled up to confirm that there was wood under there. The little landing area went pretty easily, and I started to get the hang of how to pull up the tack strips, which the thoughtful carpet installer had seen fit to nail down pretty thoroughly. I worked my way down and .... what???

The area between steps (there must be a term for that) was painted! Ha - I just Googled it. It's called a riser. So, the risers are painted. I wonder how long ago that was done!

Now I was excited! It was like archaeology - digging in and finding something that hadn't been seen in a long time.

I called my friend Eric and rattled on about my discovery. Intrigued, he gave up on his planned bike ride and came over to help.

The carpet was so thoroughly nailed and tacked to the stairs that it required a good bit of strength to pull it loose. I left the stairs to Eric and got to work on the main floor carpet, which was much easier to pull up.  My hope was that I would find the floors to be in good condition without immediate need of major repair or refinishing. Eric was skeptical but, there was only one way to find out.

I started in a corner, and signs were very encouraging. 3/4" fir that looked to be original, and was in super good condition. I used a carpet knife to cut manageable pieces of the carpet, and a hammer and the flat end of an old rock hammer I had, to get the tack strips up.  Eric had some better tools, but the stairs being more of a challenge, I did not try to mooch them from him!

If you take on a job like this, make sure you have some gloves. Those tack strips they use to hold the carpet down? You don't want to work with them with bare hands, trust me on that.

Hey, let's check back in on Eric and the stairs! (Does that sound like the name of a band? )

Such pretty painted steps! I still have about 20,000 staples to pull out, we just ran out of steam yesterday, and I don't need Eric's muscles for that! Then, some Murphy's oil soap I am thinking? They are pretty dirty but I want to clean them carefully so as not to damage the painted sections.

OH - the main floor! It's not totally done - I cut around the heavy furniture, and we will move that another day and pull that carpet, but here is a sneak peek...

That's Hannah modeling our beautiful new/old wood floors for your enjoyment...They need to be gently cleaned, but the finish is good. It looks like they've been under carpet for a long time! No damage, no traffic patterns, no fading really. Just beautiful wood floors that completely change the character of the room.

And Laase House, herself? She's happy to have shed that extra, unneeded layer of wool. She feels happier and lighter and more like her old pretty self. I think the two of us have some fun times ahead. I do know that by doing the work with my own hands, I feel a deeper connection to her. We are partners now - this is becoming more and more a joint venture between her and I. Who knows what treasure we will discover next?

Thursday, September 9, 2021

"When you buy a new house..."

 "When you buy a new house, go slowly though the house. Be polite, introduce yourself, so it can introduce itself to you." ~ "Under the Tuscan Sun" - Frances Mayes

Some people are afraid of old houses. They think there could be ghosts who would not welcome your presence. Floors ready to cave in. Foundations just looking to fail the minute you sign on the dotted line. For me, I think a little common sense along with a pair of wide open eyes and some good advice from a contractor go a long way. 

Laase House seems to be like a friendly old gal with some itches that need to be scratched. She's been revealing her itchy spots to me gradually. There's a wasp nest above one of her curved Victorian  windows that needs dealing with. Some previous owner, for some unknown reason, cemented the gas fireplace fixture onto the hearth so that it can't be opened and serviced, added some glamorous 1980's vintage stone tiles, and replaced what was likely a lovely old mantel with something new that Laase isn't really comfortable with. The master bath is an absolute enigma, with a toilet placed so that when you sit on it, your knees hit the wall, a mirror over the sink that is perfect for inspecting your waistline, and a shelf placed over the sink so that you can hardly use the sink. Behind the bathroom is a secret closet with an old, old door that looks like it's been forgotten for at least a century. I'm interested in all of these things, and willing to take the time to get to the bottom of them. 

I was so excited to plant some flowers in the front yard, and got some pretty echinacea to start with - just a small offering to the small raised garden right by the front door. Something to please the bees and look pretty and let Laase know that I wanted her to look pretty. I found, under the layers of ancient mulch, that landscape fabric had been placed there some long time ago, and the dirt underneath was almost cement like in quality from the lack of any possible interaction with the natural world. I'm not sure the echinacea will be able to thrive there without some serious interventions but they are making a gallant effort.

You'd look sad too if you were trying to grow in this soil!

We have our work cut out for us, Laase and I. She has a lot of talking to do, and I have a lot of listening. But like a shepherd cutting the matted wool off of a sheep that has been too long neglected, we will find our way back to the things that matter, free ourselves from the burden of well intentioned mistakes, and scratch those itches that need scratching.

Thrive Lot is coming on September 17 to get their first look at the land and begin the planning phase for bringing this property back to life. I can't wait! 

Next week, I have a bathroom designer coming to help solve the mystery of the master bath and the secret closet. 

This afternoon, the wasps will be addressed, and hopefully the gas fireplace freed from the cement footings it was given maybe 15 years ago. And did I mention the ancient, stained white carpet that I suspect is hiding the original hardwood floors in the living/dining room? Might get a peek under that later today. Slowly, but with great love and determination, we begin.

The windows behind the fireplace are believed to be original...

Why in the world would you do this?


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

New beginnings in an old house

Laase House. Built in 1900 on a piece of land purchased in 1897 from its original owners, and now a historic landmark in the town of Lakewood,  Colorado. 

I purchased this house in June of 2021, after deciding it was time to come down from the dizzying heights of my little cabin on the road up to Mt. Evans, where the winters were proving too harsh and the summers too full of the danger of wildfires for my comfort level. In another 4 or 5 years I hope to be able to retire. It is time to move closer to town.

I've always had an innate reverence for older homes. I grew up in Cranford, NJ in a house that was built in the 1930's and still had some old antiques from the past lives of former owners stashed in the basement when we moved in. I love the workmanship, the stylish graces that are no longer cost effective to build into a home. I love the sense of history, and the sense of the many lives lived in this refuge over the past hundred and twenty years. When you embrace a home like this, it feels as if it embraces you right back. It knows what it means to be a home. It has experience at sheltering a family. I fell in love with Laase House the minute I saw it.

This is the story, still to evolve, of a dream. A dream of a garden - one might even call it my Secret Garden. I was such a fan of the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett - it spoke to me about regeneration, something unloved and unwanted could seem to be dead, but still be brought back to life.

Laase House, back in its early days, was the main home to a farm that I am told consisted mostly of fruit trees. Gradually it was sub divided and sold off to provide housing for soldiers returning from service to our country overseas. Its gardens were forgotten over the years and replaced by landscaping and landscape fabric that have nearly destroyed the soil. Difficult to maintain grass dies off each year as the summers get hotter and hotter.  Weeds from the drainage ditch in front of the house invade the lawn, such as it is.

It's a grand old house, but it looks sad right now, to me, that nothing really grows here. It wants to be a farmhouse again, it tells me. Old homes tend to speak to me because I am willing to listen, I think.  And I AM listening, and I agree. 

I'm teaming up with a company called Thrive Lot. They specialize in just this thing - getting rid of the non native grass we all seem to love, and bringing a landscape back to nature, to something that is sustainable and gives back, instead of just constantly taking.

One of their Master Growers will be coming here soon to survey the land and see what we can do together to bring it back to its former glory... well maybe not to that, but hopefully to something better, more sustainable, and something that will give back by supporting pollinators, helping to feed people... and simply being beautiful.

As it is, today - summer of 2021

Ditch filled with invasive weeds that migrate to the yard

Home as seen from the street

Barren courtyard and backyard - really need some love back here!

I'll let you all know how it goes - it is going to be a journey, but land is a limited commodity - they're not making much more of it these days. Can this land become fruitful again? Time and sweat will be involved, along with the help of some experts. Let's see how it goes!

You saw her bathing on the roof...

 Or - the unstoppable force meets the immoveable object.... Today was the day that we moved the big cast iron clawfoot tub from the garage t...