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 https://kujawaconstruction.com/

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.

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...