Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Renovation Realities: It's Not All Roses Under the Tuscan Sun

We have officially passed the one year mark of living through our home renovation. If this blog were a sea captain's log, this entry may be the one where a long, arduous journey on a tumultuous sea has taken its toll on the ship and its mates leaving everyone wondering when land will finally appear and how much more they can possibly take cooped up on board. Here, the captain would likely be taking inventory of gains and losses, reflecting on his or her mistakes and challenges over the last year, and hint in the journal's subtext—although ever so subtly—to the real possibility of a mutiny.
   Around May of 2012, the dismantling of our kitchen sent our family of four (and two dogs) packing into our two-room guest house. At first, it was a delightful break from routine. And we were relieved to escape the clamor and dust of the main house. Since we renovated our backyard first, our setup was not altogether primitive. We were freshly squeezing oranges from the trees in those early weeks and enjoying sunny afternoons by the pool. So, at first, it was delightfully reminiscent of camping. I remember even making a sorbet from mint and basil grown in our yard, adapted from a recipe I happened upon in my Under the Tuscan sun book. How blissfully ignorant I was of how long it would really take us to get back into our house. I had visions of making Thanksgiving dinner in our new kitchen. Not even close!
   While our guest house has no kitchen, it does have an outdoor barbecue with a useful side burner. And  early on we moved the big french door refrigerator from the main house to just outside the front door of the guest house. Not pretty, but useful. Unless, of course, you have a late night craving and have to venture out into the dark of night in PJs and bare feet to get a snack. This job I usually leave for my husband, who often delivers a nice selection of cheeses and wine after the kids go to bed.
Certainly most sane people who renovate their homes move into apartments. But, we are trying to save money, of course. Living in our guest house could be potentially saving us thousands, so we have never entertained any other option.
   While the winters in Southern California are nothing like the snowbank-filled winters of my youth growing up in Syracuse, New York, it can still get pretty cold at night. Try washing dishes outside in 40 degree weather. Another job for my husband, who often leaves it for morning when the sun comes out again. And it must be noted that there is quite a bit of rustling heard in the orange trees at night. I heard footsteps on the roof of the guest house the other evening as I lie in bed, so heavy I thought there was a man running across. A very large rat? Racoon? Or chupacabra!
   Christmas in the guest house was another challenge. While we tried to keep gifts to a minimum, the issue of not enough space is always a challenge and readily apparent. If I were to take a snapshot of our main-room at this instant, you'd see cereal and macaroni and cheese boxes stacked up on open shelves, a new-gift guitar messily stashed above the highest book shelf and linens crammed into a box above our only wardrobe, which can never be opened because my son's basket of Christmas toys are sitting in front of it. Having no room to store many clothes in the guest house actually makes the selection of one's daily attire a little bit easier: You just wear the same thing you wore the day before! Unless, of course, your one-year-old smeared his nose, blueberry face and hands all over it, which nine times out of 10 is the case!
   Ah, but how can I be complaining? I know I shouldn't. I am grateful to have a house and the means with which to renovate it. And yet, I must admit, there are times when the doubt sets in and lingers. Did we do the right thing? Should we have made less changes? Why does everything cost so much? Will we ever be able to move back in? Will we have to sell this house when it's all finished because we can't afford it? Why doesn't the electrician ever show up when he says he will and will he ever return? Will be ever be able to stop making runs to Home Depot at 9 O'clock at night?
   The other day—when glancing through some old photographs, my 6-year-old daughter said she really missed our old house. And while I assured her that her new bedroom would be even more wonderful than the last, I couldn't help but to feel a few stabbing pangs of loss for our old house. It wasn't so bad, I thought. While I sometimes used to enter my old purple kitchen with my eyes averted to certain areas that I loathed—the lighting, the old linoleum floor, the tattered back door, an oven from the 60s that smoked...I could go on...what I wouldn't give to be able to cook in there now. To wash dishes and be able to find a glass or bowl when I need one! To have a bath in the old bath tub! To watch TV again! Ah, the good old days when we had a satellite dish and movie channels, which by the way, was removed with the old roof as we decided it wasn't worth hooking back up until we were living in the main house again.
   As I write this, the exterior of our home is now complete. And that is something to be truly grateful for, especially since it has rained quite a bit in these past few weeks. A new roof, new stucco, new stone walls, new rain gutters. It's quite beautiful and while there are little details to still attend to on the outside, such as staining and painting the doors and windows and installing hardware, the lions share—including the most challenging parts of our total reno—are all behind us. My husband, though weary, is tireless and deserves quite a bit of credit for keeping this train full steam ahead. Beyond being the chief engineer of this project who solves unsolvable problems by the minute, he's also the voice of reason and hope—and for that, I am truly most grateful.
   We're working on the inside of the house now. And while we must admit we do get tired of this renovation, we are still excited about getting so close to its finish. Hold onto your hard hats.
   "Ahoy, maties. I think I see land!"

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