I’ll Be on the Porch

Naked beams, no siding.

The last time we visited our porch progress was on December 1st! Well, after all of the excitement of the holidays, the guys got back to working on our screened porch, which was just so much more complicated than I expected. By the time they had finished the interior work, the porch had a roof and a floor, but the posts were unfinished, and the walls were still Tyvek plastic wrap!

The “T” has our peacock motif, with bits of songs and book quotes worked into the colors.

porch-dishesEveryone who asked me about Christmas discovered that my wish list was all about the porch. Our color scheme will allow me to have lots of fun with our last name, so we’re going with a dark wood ceiling, dark wicker furniture, white posts and railings, white cushions, and lots of pops of teal. I picked out a set of outdoor dishware at Pier One, and between gifts and gift cards, I was able to get 8 place settings of the whole thing! They call it turquoise, but I’m saying teal. I also found a teal lantern on clearance. My friend Andrea Pearlstein of BookPearls created this beautiful collage “T” for our wall, and David gave me a tiny peacock table for between the rockers—just big enough for two coffee cups.

We had a few set-backs. Hard to believe that it snowed this year.

The carpenters built up the posts around the porch and gave them the shape I showed them from a picture in Southern Living. I didn’t expect the side trim, but that’s because the Southern Living porch was not screened. Each section of the porch has a separate section of screen, so if there is a tear (oh, no!), we only have to replace that section. side-trim-on-postsThey wrapped the posts in a weather-proof material so that it will look beautiful year after year. After putting new siding on the walls, they started painting. There was so much painting to do!

beginning-stainOne of the most difficult parts of the porch was finding the right stain for the beadboard ceiling. We wanted to match the acacia flooring inside the house, so Greg gave us the Minwax brochure, and then created eight samples from the colors we chose. None of them were right! Most of them looked the same—blackish-brown—with one or two orange boards. Greg agreed that nothing worked, so he took a piece of our floor and an unfinished piece of our ceiling to Sherwin-Williams so that they could create a custom color. Beautiful. However, what a mess to apply! The guys used a sponge to wipe the stain above their heads, and it was watery and ran everywhere. This took several days, and I know they were glad when it was over. Afterward, they coated the ceiling with a semi-gloss, weatherproof sealant. It has swirls of light and dark, just like our floor. Landon then had to paint over the smears on the yellow siding and white trim.

porch-fanWay back when, I had chosen a fan for the porch with tropical leaf blades. However, when the electrician came out to do the first phase of his work, he told me that I would have to have multiple switch boxes on the wall beside the back door if I had all of the floodlights on separate switches and the fan and fan light on separate switches. So, I compromised by putting two of the floodlights on one switch and choosing to get a fan with a remote control, so that there was only one wall switch for it. I had no idea that the original fan was in my garage until the day that the electricians were coming back to install it. It did not have a remote control, just chain pulls hanging down! We had to cancel the electricians for the day and go on a hunt for an appropriate fan. Perhaps it would have been easier in June, but our local home improvement stores did not have outdoor fans with remote controls in stock, even at the warehouse. Amazon came through for me, though. We found one with rattan, leaf-shaped blades that match the wicker rockers. Two-day Prime shipping, and we’re back in business.

outletThe electricians came through and put up the fan, floodlights, and four of the ugliest outlets I have ever seen. This is the building code. They are on these little pipes because they have to be high enough off the floor that if rain hit the floor, it wouldn’t splash onto them, which is actually safe. I’ll have to arrange furniture to hide them. I was hoping to put a glass side table over one of them, but of course, the outlet is higher than the table.

You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a porch door in January.

We had final inspection last week! We failed. The two stairways, one from the porch and one from the new kitchen door, needed adjustment, because the code had recently changed concerning the height of the top and bottom steps. Furthermore, they needed to dig a drain pipe coming out from the breakfast room crawlspace. All that has been done, and all of the piles of lumber and materials have been removed from the yard. finished-empty-porchMason used a backhoe to take away the big rocks and chunks of cement that were dug up when the foundation went in, and then smoothed the yard and spread grass seed and hay. Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of crows hanging around lately, and I think the grass seed may have been devoured. The backhoe is still sitting in the yard, waiting on the final inspection tomorrow.

It’s not work when it’s on the porch.

The weekend weather forecast was so beautiful that I texted Greg on Friday and asked, “Can we put furniture out on the porch, or do we have to wait until after the inspector leaves?” He replied, “Put it out!” So we did, and I have lived out here every minute that I could. Saturday morning, I told David, “I plan to read and write on the porch as much as I can today,” and when I walked outside a couple of hours later, I saw that he had already set up my laptop, ready and waiting for me. Husband of the year.

Sunday morning coffee

We have a long way to go on furnishing the porch, and we have already discovered that we will definitely need blinds, especially when the weather heats up! But the woods behind my house are so peaceful. The peepers are singing, and the barred owls must think it’s spring, since their calls end in long whirr-rr-rrs. And I’ve got a rocking chair, so if you need me, I’ll be on the porch.


Update! We passed inspection! It’s all ours now.

All I Want for Christmas Is a Floor

It was such a relief to get the breakfast room opened up, with sheetrock on the walls. However, we were just weeks from Christmas, and my extended family was due to show up for Christmas dinner at our house. Would we make it? Greg estimated that his crew would be done with the interior of the house by Friday, the 16th. Two major projects had to happen: 1) the new walls had to be primed, and all the walls in the kitchen had to be painted, but even more overwhelmingly, 2) hardwood floor and baseboards had to be installed throughout the entire first floor. Up until now, we had had three types of flooring downstairs. The dining room and powder room had skinny, clear-coated oak hardwood that I had never liked. The living room had carpeting that had been off-white at some point in ancient history, and the kitchen, pantry, and laundry room had vinyl. We decided to leave the vinyl in the laundry room for practical reasons.

Months ago, I had visited the flooring store in Raleigh with the express purpose of choosing a warm, dark, solid hardwood. The salesman had discussed our project with Greg, and had already selected all of the solid hardwoods that fit our budget. I didn’t like any of them. The one that I had imagined was far too red, and besides, I wanted wide planks. The salesman told me what every single contractor I’d interviewed had told me: Don’t buy wide-plank solid hardwood. After a few years, it will warp and “cup,” especially in North Carolina’s humid climate. He showed me a few of his showroom samples that were showing obvious signs of cupping.

So many choices! Always take them home overnight.

He started to talk to me about engineered hardwood, but I stopped him, because I thought it was laminate. “Oh, no!” he protested, “it’s all wood. Let me show you.” He proceeded to show me that engineered hardwood has thin layers of wood going back and forth, with the top layer being the wood you want to see, topped by a finishing layer that protects it from scratches. The alternating directions of the wood layers keep it flat, so that you can get wide planks without warping over the years. I called David to join me, since I was nervous about making such an important decision on my own. As a realtor, David is up on everything about home construction, so I felt confident when he agreed that engineered hardwood was a great choice for us. Suddenly, we had many more options within our budget. After we looked at dozens of samples with no clear winner, the salesman pulled two acacia wood samples out of the Mohawk display, and I fell in love. We still took home a car full of sample boards to live with overnight. It was definitely the acacia. It has a lot of variation in the colors, with knots and interesting markings.

It seemed so long ago that we had chosen the floor that I could barely remember it, and then I woke up one night thinking, “What if it’s been discontinued?” But boxes and boxes of it arrived one day to sit in our house and acclimate over the weekend. Wood flooring has to adjust to the temperature and humidity of your house for a few days so that it does not shift after it is installed. David and I spent the weekend packing up everything on the first floor except for the large furniture, moving it upstairs until the floors were done. On Tuesday, December 13th, the floor started to go down.

The flooring is started! Little did we know that it would be ripped out the next day. The anvil bookcase is here on the left. Even empty, it’s a bear.

I could not wait to get home from work to see it. Since it is dark when I get home, and we had few lights that still worked downstairs, at first I could only see beautiful dark wood over about half of the living room. As I looked, though, I could see ripples on the edges of each piece. In despair, I texted Greg, and he came out the next day, took pictures, and ripped out the entire last day’s work. After a discussion with the manufacturer, they started over, but we had lost a day’s work. At the end of the 14th, we had the living room done, although it was still covered with dust, and the furniture placement was waiting for baseboards and painting.

The living room floor is done! You can almost see it under that white layer!

By the end of the day on Friday, the 16th, when we should have been done, we still had not finished the dining room or kitchen. David and I had to go out of town to care for his mom for the weekend, and our house looked like this:

Empty dining room, living room, and kitchen furniture, unfinished floors, and lots of grime– and we left for the weekend before Christmas.

Exactly one week before Christmas, we had no tree up, no decorations, and no working kitchen. I cannot tell you how quickly the adventure of eating out and ordering take-out gets old. And expensive. It was nice to get out of the house for the weekend, to cook in our niece’s kitchen, visit with David’s mom, and to spend some time at my sister’s house. I had a housekeeper scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, and I had taken a couple of vacation days from work in order to get ready for Christmas. At this point, all we could do was wrap gifts.

Draped cabinets and appliances, primed walls, and the old paint color.

In the midst of the floor emergency the previous week, I had also had twenty-four hours of terror over the kitchen wall color. I am completely insecure about choosing colors, and I had visited Sherwin Williams twice to choose just the right buttery, but cheerful, yellow. The color we had was sunshiny, lemon yellow, and I couldn’t stand it. When Landon put the first of the new color on the pantry walls, it looked exactly the same. When he put a streak or two on the newly primed sheetrock, it looked like mustard. I spent hours on Pinterest and every paint manufacturer’s website that night, and texted Greg in the wee hours with a new paint color. Then, at 7:00 AM, the kitchen looked so nice that I re-texted him and said, “Oh, never mind.” I think he was so stressed about the floor that he barely paid attention.

toilet-doesnt-fitNaturally, unexpected issues cropped up. Since the flooring was a different height, the toilet in the powder room did not fit. It had never fit well, but now it needed a definite adjustment. In the meantime, we were without a toilet downstairs, and I am so glad that I did not notice until we returned Sunday night that our toilet had spent the weekend on the front porch. As Jeff Foxworthy would say, “You might be a redneck….”

On Monday, the crew dove into flooring again, and the electricians arrived. It was thrilling to see the lights that I had chosen finally going up. The hand-blown glass pendants were obviously chosen for the island that I will only see in my dreams until I can save up for Phase 2 of the kitchen reno, the one with cabinets and countertops. I still like them, though. The electricians were amused by the breakfast room chandelier. “It looks like an atom!” It does, and the filament bulbs are extra fun.

3-pendants atom

Then came the dreaded news: we ran out of flooring, and the new flooring had not arrived. I knew that we would need more flooring, since we had ripped out half the living room and ordered more, but we were six days from Christmas and still did not have a floor on the last few feet of the breakfast room. By Tuesday, the walls and baseboards had been painted, and the guys were very helpful about getting all the furniture back in place.

This is a beloved table that we had restored after it had been in a barn on David’s family’s farm for decades. We brought it here in boxes full of large and small pieces. Kudos to Bull Restoration in Raleigh. David has used it as his office table for the last few years. Here Greg and Mason help David to reassemble it after they moved it downstairs.

When the maid arrived Tuesday afternoon, I think she finally understood what I meant by “we’re having some renovations done.” Besides the thick layer of white grit over everything, the toilet in the center of the powder room floor and the lack of a complete floor convinced her. I don’t believe we would have made it without her. She took care of all the basic housework– dusting (lots!), bathrooms, and vacuuming– while David and I hauled boxes up and down the stairs, struggling to get everything back in place. I learned how to use a Bona mop. The plumbers showed up, and Jessica had another bathroom to clean. Tuesday night, our son and his fiancée came over to help us put up the tree and the nativity scene.

The living room, at least, was ready for Santa.

By the time I went back to work on Wednesday, I thought we might make it. Greg texted to say that the floor had arrived. He brought it over to our house to acclimate, and they completed the floor and baseboards by Thursday night. We had a luxurious 48 hours to wrap gifts, cook Christmas dishes, and put on fresh sheets before the family arrived.

The new breakfast room seen from the living room, complete with atom.
I’m glad that I finally have a place to put a favorite picture.
The wider opening to the living room makes hosting a crowd so much easier.

We had a beautiful Christmas with our family. Thank you, Greg and crew!

Tear Down That Wall!

When we last left the inside of our renovation, we had progressed from having an open-air kitchen to a much smaller kitchen with tasteless wall coverings:


For several weeks, the carpenters had been working on the inside of the breakfast area, climbing in and out by a ladder. I had no idea what it looked like, and even had to plan lighting placement with the electrician by drawing on the floorplan. I could rejoice in the new porch, even though it was not finished, but I was getting really tired of eating in the living room. Plus, I was so curious to see our new space!

We knew that several things had to happen before they could tear down the wall separating the work area of the kitchen from the new eating area. The framing had to be completed and inspected, then the electrical and HVAC had to be roughed in and inspected, and finally, the insulation had to be installed and inspected. All of these things had to happen one at a time, so that stretched out the days. Oh, and we had to have windows and a door installed! I was eager for natural light in the kitchen again.

Furthermore, you may have noticed that it is December. Tick, tick, tick. My entire family is coming to our house for Christmas. I was supposed to host Thanksgiving this year, but, obviously, we missed that deadline. I let Greg know about my slowly growing panic, and he decided to move all work to the inside. The weather was iffy, anyway, so there was no use waiting for clear skies to nail up siding, when you could easily be inside tearing up stuff.

In the spirit of Joanna Gaines, I had decided to widen the opening between the kitchen and the living room. I had considered this idea and discarded it until I had a group of people over, and we all hung around the island in the kitchen. No one could walk around on the living room side, and that night, I knew I had to open up the space. This was the first task the carpenters accomplished:

old-opening Here is the old opening at David’s birthday party last year.

The day that they uncovered the wall to widen it, they discovered a problem:

Mason and Greg are thinking, “Hmmm.”

The original builder of the house had put the two-by-fours over the beam, rather than under it. You can see that this is not working out well after fifteen years. We had discovered a similar problem on the outside wall, where the breakfast room will be. Both times, Greg and his guys have had to install a new beam. This is not fun for them, since it requires lots of sweating, and, quite possibly, words I’ve never heard before. But they got it done.

Beam replaced, and Saulo moves on to the next task.
The new cased opening from the living room side.


Finally, one day I came home from work to discover a new back door!


The new triple window!

Once the window and door were in, I knew that the opening would be soon. The next day, the wall was gone!

My first sight of the new space, standing in the living room.
As you can see, I’m standing in the dining room, looking at a room that didn’t exist a couple of months ago.
The next day, a delivery of sheetrock let me know that this ugly, brown insulation would soon be covered up.
It was getting pretty impossible to get around downstairs! Those are the new baseboards running the length of the room.

3-level-floor The floors are disappearing. The vinyl in the kitchen will be replaced, but also the stained, used-to-be-white carpeting in the living room, and even the original hardwood that I never liked.


Dining room hardwood is gone!


The pantry needed to have the popcorn ceiling scraped and hardwood floor installed, so it was packed up very systematically, but unfortunately somewhat permanently, by David. No, we did not drink up all the liquor in the boxes before packing, although it might have helped. This was a very stressful evening. After I went to sleep, David moved on to color-coding and numbering the shelving units in the pantry before removing them, along with the hardware. You can see that the baseboards have already been removed throughout the entire downstairs.

pantry-tags-green pantry-tags-orange

drawers Why clean out the china cabinet and buffet drawers into boxes, when you can just remove the whole drawer and bring it upstairs? Unfortunately, my Christmas wrapping paper is in this closet, so no wrapping for me!second-guest-room

These white chairs will go in the new eating area. The contents of the bookcase cabinets landed in this bedroom, along with the paintings from the walls. The oceans of books already lived here.

Never fear, we will find a way to have coffee, and we will not compromise. Saturday mornings are for freshly-ground French Roast. Shower, sip, brush, all in one convenient place.

imag1078 David’s desk in the family room upstairs: sweeteners, cutting board, laptop, toaster, file folders. We are completely squeezed into this one room.


And here is why we have escaped upstairs: everything is coated in sheetrock dust! But it’s worth it, because when we turn around:

The new addition to the kitchen. Waiting for paint, flooring, and lighting– all happening this week!

This Is Getting Exciting!

In case you were waiting to let me know you’re interested in buying the bay window, it’s gone. Who would have known that there was such a brisk market for bay windows? But it was sold in no time. I’ll show you where the money went very soon.

Really, it’s a breakfast room. It looks much better now.

Our house has a new shape! Soon after my last post, the new kitchen was framed up and closed in. I have no idea what it looks like inside, because they have not made any steps. I think this was premeditated. The carpenters can climb in and out by ladder, but I can only peer upwards through the door opening, which is pretty high off the ground. Finally today, the HVAC person has cut holes out for the vents in the floor. Or so they tell me.

Framing has commenced! It’s starting to look like a porch!

Even more exciting— because I can see it— the porch is completely framed and roofed. We are waiting on the inspector, and then we can wrap the posts in white weatherproof material and add rails, ceiling, and door. Greg was flexible enough to make a spur-of-the-moment change for me. When I came home last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and headed toward the back porch to talk to Mason, a carpenter, the sunset was shining beautifully through the upper triangle under the peak of the roof. I asked Greg whether we could leave the siding off that top portion and just have screen. Today, he figured out how to accommodate the opening, and said yes. So, now my sunsets will all be framed works of art.

Beautiful ceiling rafters! You can see most of my coveted open peak at the end.
Screening is even important under the floor, so that those little critters don’t crawl up onto your feet.
Floor decking almost done!

Inside, the electricians have gotten started. Here is something I never realized before: electricians are messy. They cut through walls and leave a fine layer of sheetrock dust all over everything, and little chunks of sheetrock all over the floor. Here is a sample of their work.

Eventually, they just took the whole wall of sheetrock out. Much more efficient.

However, they have installed some very nice can lights, which I love much more than I expected. They bring the light in the kitchen out to the edges, rather than being concentrated in the middle. The little, hanging squares are where they had to drill through beams to pull the wiring through the ceiling. They assure me that this is temporary.



Tonight when I came home from work, we had reached a milestone that I had been anticipating for ever so long: a porch floor. When David and I stepped out back just after the workers left, it started to rain gently on our new roof. We found some chairs.


Gained a Porch, Lost a Kitchen

Piers appeared. Somehow the inspector slipped on and off our property without being seen, as usual. And then one day, the outline of a porch magically appeared. We have floor joists! As my sister said, though, “Don’t go fixing a drink and trying to sit out there.” It was so exciting, but then I got a call from Greg, and he was on his way to see me.


He arrived with news. He was on his way to a seminar in Las Vegas, but fear not, he would be in constant contact. However, while he was gone, “the guys” were going to remove the bay window. What? I reminded him that he had said that they would frame up and seal in the new outer wall before removing the current wall. Well, apparently the county inspector does not approve of that logical way of doing things. Before they can begin to frame up the walls, all of the floor must be approved, and since the bay juts out into the new floor, it has to be removed so that the new floor joists can be installed and inspected before framing begins.

This is what my kitchen looked like with the bay window:

It’s for sale!

This is what my kitchen looked like without the bay window:

Lots of fresh air! The framing guys are chatty and nice. This is their fourth trip to our house. They were also the demo crew.

This is what passes as an acceptable temporary back wall:

It smells funny, too.

On Friday morning, this government worker was home for Veteran’s Day, and it was 36 degrees outside. The heat was running and running, and although I had on a flannel nightgown, robe, and thick, wooly socks, I was freezing. David tried to light the fireplace, but of course, we were out of propane. While he worked on borrowing a pickup truck to refill the propane tank, I called Greg and left a message offering the opinion that a thin sheet of plywood is fairly useless when it’s this cold, and why are there no workers here on this bright, sunshiny day? Turns out that he was home from his seminar, and although he was quite jetlagged, he showed up in no time with insulation. David showed up with propane at about the same time, and now we are snug as can be in our startlingly ugly kitchen.

I can work with the white and the blue, but I never planned for red in the kitchen. Note how the light fixture is about a foot away from the back wall now.

I’ve been told that the termite guy has also treated the two new areas and left his paper in the inspection box. It’s a little unnerving how many people are coming and going without our ever noticing them. David is home most of the time, but he never sees them!

Monday morning, I’ve been promised, will be the start of framing. Thank goodness, since our kitchen table and chairs are in the middle of the living room. In the meantime, the bay window is for sale!

Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Screened Porch

We had stacks of cinderblocks falling into the moat during the hurricane. Sounds terrifying when you’re waiting for your house to collapse.

Bricks showed up at my house. They looked strange, but since they were all banded up in stacks, I couldn’t really see them until I came home one day to piers in my back yard. Oh, no! The color was all wrong! I called the contractor and had the work stopped before the foundation wall went up. Since no one had ever asked my opinion on the choice of brick, I had no idea who chose them, but this batch was solid burgundy—nothing like the lighter, variegated brick on our house. Greg told us to look at the brick company’s website, and since David and I were stressed out, we decided to use a couple of gift cards and go out to dinner. We sat at the table and stared at our phones like a couple of Millenials. In the end, we agreed on the name of the brick that we were certain was the best match.


And then we paused for Hurricane Matthew.


David, ready to take on nature’s fury in a bathing suit, rain jacket, and slippers. (His Wellington boots were on the front porch.)

We have never seen so much water in our backyard’s 100-year flood plain—which has flooded several times in the fifteen years we’ve been here. Our garden was underwater. Our neighbor’s garden shed was submerged, with just the peak of the roof above water. We were without power for a couple of days, which allowed my husband to practice all of his caveman/ suburban dad camping skills. I can’t complain. Just a few miles away, people lost their homes, and hundreds of roads washed away. Even the interstate was shut down for weeks. We were back up and running in days.

Of course, they don’t make the bricks that we chose anymore. It took a few days, but Greg obtained a sample of the one that we thought was the next-best match. I met him in the driveway at the end of a long day; we walked into the back yard and stopped short. Greg pointed, and I said, “Oh, my gosh!” The burgundy bricks had dried out thoroughly after the flood, and now they were all different colors! The sample bricks looked too orange, and the bricks on the new piers were pretty close to the ones on our house that had been sheltered by the porch before. In other words, these new ones will probably weather to match within a few years. Greg was incredibly patient. He just quietly said, “Yeah, I usually trust the brickmason to pick the right match.” Yeah.

The foundation wall, looking out from the current kitchen window.

SO… the foundation wall went up, and after a few days, David texted me at work and said, “The framers have arrived! They hope to have the subfloor for the porch and the kitchen extension done today!” It was so thrilling. We had entered a new phase of construction! When I came home, there were piles of lumber in the yard! I came around the corner, and there were floor joists on the kitchen extension and… not on the porch. Why? The porch is going to have a peaked roof, and in order to accommodate the roof, we will have to step down onto the porch. Therefore, where the floor of the porch meets the house, it will attach to bricks, rather than wood. Whereas they could bolt the kitchen floor onto the current house, they realized that they couldn’t do that with the porch floor. And so, we need… more piers. That’s right, we’re right back to having three more footers dug, inspected, poured, inspected, and then piers built, inspected, and then we get back to the porch floor.

That red line is where one of the three new piers needs to go.

This morning, pickup trucks pulled up to my house and brickmasons piled out! Unfortunately, I was home sick, so they probably think that I just hang out in a robe all day, but they are getting those new piers up! As a side benefit, I am learning so much Spanish. Before this, I knew “workplace” Spanish, so that I could fill out your name and address and get you a library card, or Pimsleur Spanish, in which I can find my hotel and restaurant and order beer, which is pretty useless, because I don’t like beer. On the other hand, I think “tequila” is already Spanish, so I’ll survive. However, I am now learning the words for “brick” and “access door,” which are not in many introductory courses. I try to limit myself to “Hermosos!” and “Gracias!”, since I have a feeling that I am not the brickmasons’ favorite person. I have, however, already chosen my own paint color for the inside of the kitchen, just in case the painter thinks that he gets to pick.

We Have a Moat

Crumbling piers from the old porch.

In our last episode, dear reader, we left my house naked and embarrassed, the old porch ripped away, bits of plywood exposed, with a long drop from the back door to the ground. The next step, my contractor told me, was to dig footers for the foundation of the new construction. Footers, he said, were the most weather-dependent part of the project.

This is where the footers are supposed to go! But will they get to them before the rain washes the paint away?

And so, after weeks of drought, we entered the rainy season. Every morning, the skies were dark with clouds, and every evening brought storms and showers. I was surprised one afternoon when David texted me at work and said, “We have workers in the back yard.” Even though it was raining at my office, the skies were holding off at home, so they decided to dig while they had a chance. When I arrived, there was a low-boy trailer (now I know all the lingo) parked in front of my house, with the backhoe in the back. It was thrilling. Work was being done! I set about fixing dinner, but when I looked up after a while, I said to David, “It’s starting to get dark, and the truck is gone, but we still have workers here. Are they going to need the guest room?” That’s when he broke it to me: The truck driver had gone to get emergency repair parts, because they had dug right into our brand-new septic line! Yes, the septic line that I wrote about having installed just a few weeks ago! The guys worked a little later than any of us expected that night, but they fixed the septic line and dug holes for the porch footers and a little U-shaped trench where the outer wall of the kitchen will be. Now we needed to have the footers inspected before they could pour the concrete.

It was a tiny respite. The next day was, as Elton John would say, when the rain set in.


Our footers were little ponds, and the trench became a moat guarding the dream of a kitchen. Days and days went by, and dirt began to run off into the holes. The walls of the pits began to collapse. We were going backward.

Then, on one of the endless cloudy mornings, I was sitting in the living room in my nightgown, applying makeup and sipping coffee, as is my usual workday routine. I went to stand up and take my coffee mug into the kitchen at 7:10 AM, when I looked up and saw a strange man just a few feet away, looking right back at me. I didn’t know whether to scream or cheer. As I struggled to make my mad scramble look cool and casual, I scooped up my freshly-ironed shirt and fled upstairs. That day, the workers cut those footers nice and sharp again, and the inspector slid through unobserved sometime later. We were approved.

And wet. Somehow, a week later, concrete was poured into these holes, and the next day it rained cats and dogs. Several inches of water covered the top of the concrete, and I whined to my son that the footers were going to be mud. “Oh, no,” he soothed. “That is a common misconception. Concrete does not actually dry. It cures by an exothermic reaction.” Oh. I taught him, you know. Not that, but I did teach him for eighteen years. Now he teaches me.

Came home to supplies in my wet driveway! My contractor is optimistic!

At this point, we are waiting for another inspection. I have come to understand that the county requires an inspection for every ten minutes of labor. It takes forever, but if this porch collapses, I know who I’m going to hunt down.

The foundation wall and the piers come next! We’re going up!

My Naked House: Step -1

Before we could put a new screened porch on the back of our house, we had to remove the narrow, ugly porch that was already there, and as much as I wanted these beautiful renovations, this was the step that terrified me most. It was so final. Once they start ripping your house away, there’s no going back!

Now that our septic tank was in the right place, our contractor texted me: “Thursday will be demo day.” I had visions of Chip, from Fixer Upper, yelling “Demo Day!!” About halfway through Thursday, David texted me that he had left home for an appointment, and that the guys had arrived and were removing the shingles from the porch roof. Removing the shingles? We weren’t keeping the roof, so why were they being so careful with the shingles? Just remove the whole roof!


By the time I got home, it was raining, and I could see that we still had a porch floor and roof trusses. I began to worry aloud that our contractor didn’t understand the project and was going to try to use our old roof for the new project. My husband assured me that Greg knew what he was doing, and that he was being careful to remove everything by hand in order to keep our house in good shape. “It’s not like HGTV, hon, where they come in with a backhoe and rip the porch off the house.”

Oh. I thought it was.

Anyhow, the porch railings and the plywood over the trusses were gone, so when I walked out to take this picture above, raindrops were falling on my head. It took me a minute to figure that out, since I had walked out onto that porch a thousand times, and I had never been rained on before. Habits are stronger than the evidence before us, I guess.

It was still raining on Friday, so we lived with half a porch for a few days. When I came home from work the following week, there were two guys working in the back yard, and no porch! At all! They were laughing as I came into the back yard with my hand over my mouth, saying, “Oh, my gosh!” over and over, staring at my naked house.


Then I had to ask the question I’d been dreading ever since I had thought about a renovation: “Is everything alright underneath?” At first, they didn’t know what I meant, probably because they don’t watch enough renovation shows on TV. For every hour of HGTV shows like Love It or List It or Property Brothers or Fixer Upper, there are several disasters. Asbestos ceilings, termite infestations, carpenter bees, drain lines that drain under the house, black mold, or electrical systems that are so outdated it’s a wonder the house hasn’t already collapsed in a raging inferno. My realtor husband goes nuts at these plot twists, yelling, “There is no way they would have bought that house without an inspection!” I was ready for the worst.

But no. Everything was fine. Nothing infested except for a wasp’s nest that they had already taken care of. No mold, no moisture, nothing. I even asked whether birds wouldn’t fly into my house through the open bit of roof that they had had to leave over the kitchen bay window, but they said no, of course not. There was a wall behind it. I felt as if a great weight had been lifted. I had dreaded the unknown and had taken a bright flashlight to it, but there were no monsters.

Alrighty then, ready to move on.

So now, my house is naked in the back. I’ve locked the back door from the inside and hidden the key, since it’s a long drop! Good thing, as both of us have walked purposefully to the door in the living room, only to stop at the last minute and say, “Oh!” Habits, again.  I am so eager to see something in the back of my house again! But we have to go down before we go up.

Next step: Footers!

The MEK Memorial Screened Porch: Step -2

The grass is always greenest over the septic tank– until they rip it up!

In the Myers Briggs personality assessment test, I am a J. I’ve taken it three times, and that is by far my strongest personality trait. For those of you who are not clued in to this newfangled way of casting horoscopes, J is for “judging,” although I’m not sure why, and it means that you like schedules. J’s start projects in advance and pace them out. J’s are not spontaneous; they are orderly, and they expect things to be done properly. This can be a problem if, say, you live on earth. However, God is good to me, and has not left me in my boring little world. He married me to a P, the exact opposite trait. P’s are freewheeling, easy-going people, not bothered at all by surprises and procrastination.

The Lord has also given me ample opportunities to develop patience, and home renovation is just the latest on the list. Waiting is very difficult for me, and renovation projects involve a whole lot of waiting. Before we started this, I thought you picked a contractor, told him what you wanted, and he eagerly jumped to it. I am such a dreamer.

First of all, I Googled contractors in my area, and found a bunch of them listed on HomeAdvisor.com. (This is not a recommendation. At all.) I looked at the reviews, and chose four. All of them came out to look at the project for bidding. During this time, we had architectural and engineering drawings done, which took a few more weeks. Then we gave the contractors an opportunity to tighten up their bids. Most of them came back within a few thousand dollars of one another, with just one outlier.

Once we chose Greg, we entered into the Land of Governmental Oversight. I was under the impression that a permit was just a way for the government to get money every time you wanted to do anything to your house. The government is under the impression that you have to pay them money every time you want to do something to your house, and then they get to decide whether or not you can do it. You just think you own your house. We had paid our fees, and everything was chugging along nicely, when a couple of weeks later, just as we were ready to pick up the permit, the inspector said, “What about that septic tank?” Greg told me this on the phone, and of course I argued. “We’re not putting in a bathroom! We’re not even putting in an extra sink! Why do they need to worry about the septic tank?” It turns out that you can’t have a septic tank within five feet of a structure. We had to make an appointment for a septic inspection. After another week went by, Greg and the inspector came out to our house to find our tank, and—you knew it—it was two feet away from our proposed porch footer. (As a side note here, I will interject that “water witching” is a real thing! The inspector found the line by walking with two thin metal rods in his hands. When they turned toward one another, that meant there was water underground. I thought that was just in novels about witches!) Everyone said that the best option would be to move the tank for “only” $2,000.

I snapped, “Forget it. I won’t build the porch, then.” Over the next day or so, I comforted myself with visions of the gorgeous kitchen cabinets I could now buy that I hadn’t been able to afford under the porch plan, and now I would even have extra money sitting in the bank at the end! My husband reminded me that the original goal had been to have space for people to come over, and that I would regret this decision. Greg agreed with him. Men. Teaming up.

They were right, of course. I recalled my longtime dream of sitting on the porch with David after a hot summer day, clouds building up in the late afternoon, breaking into a spectacular thunderstorm, rain beating down on the porch roof, breezes blowing the heat of the day into the cool of the evening. I could never get that out of pretty cabinets.

So, we called the septic company, who fit us into their first available slot: two weeks later. Now, I have had a septic tank for most of my adult life, and it’s rarely been an issue. We compost all of our non-meat food scraps, so we don’t need a garbage disposal, and the system does its thing, and all is well. Now, however, I am extremely knowledgeable about replacing and installing septic tanks.


First, they find the old tank by pushing a rod into the ground until they hit a solid object. Then, the guy with the backhoe digs above the area until the old tank is revealed. After they drain it, they hit it with the backhoe until it breaks and collapses in on itself! This shakes the entire house for about twenty minutes, during which I prayed that our foundation was solid. They fill in the hole with dirt, move to the new location, and dig a huge crater for the new tank, which very much resembles a concrete coffin for an elephant. Afterwards, they hook up the line and bury the new tank.


At the end, they left me with a vast area of red clay where we used to have the nicest grass in the yard. The good news, though, is that I now have a brand-new septic tank that I didn’t need, and it only cost me an additional two thousand dollars! No, wait. I’ll get a grip on my attitude here. The good news is that we can now have a back porch. Yes, that’s it.


Of course, we need to tear off the old one first. Stay tuned!

The Margaret E. Kelly Memorial Screened Porch and Kitchen Extension

Somewhere during the year after my mother passed away and before probate finished watching over her little bit of money, I decided to use my third of the inheritance on something that would have made her deliriously happy: home renovations. My mom loved her house. I can remember living in three of my parents’ houses, the last one for a very short time during college vacations before I got married. Mom went on to build two more houses in rapid succession after my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the second of which she stayed in for almost 20 years.

Every house my parents lived in underwent extensive renovations, usually by my father’s own hands. My sister and I were talking just last week about the resurgence of copper in the kitchen, and we recalled our house in New Jersey, with terra cotta appliances, interior faux brick walls, and copper trim. Oh, yes, it was the ‘70s and colonial times. Mom somehow squeezed 27 eagles into her décor on the first floor alone. My father poured a flagstone patio out back by the pool that led to many a skinned knee when our wet feet slipped on the slick flagstones. Daddy also turned the basement into a prototype Man Cave (he was ahead of his time), with red shag carpeting and black Mediterranean furniture. No one went down there during football games.

The earliest house I remember was in Milledgeville, Georgia, where my mother took such pride in her pink kitchen. In the ‘60s, knotty pine walls and Pepto Bismol pink were all the rage. Mom had a pink stove, pink wall oven, pink sink, and even a pink phone on the wall. In the adjoining family room, she had a pink and black sofa and a black wrought iron table with a pink top and pink ice-cream parlor chairs. You’ve seen the nostalgic ads of housewives wearing starched cotton dresses and heels to mop their floors? That was Mom.

When my sister and I were older, my parents moved to South Carolina, and we both married when they lived in that house. Karen decided that she wanted her reception to be in the back yard. Good thing she had a long engagement, because my father embarked on the patio to end all patios. Working outward from the sunroom he had already added, vast areas of intricate brickwork began to appear, including a dance floor-sized patio, walkways, and brick flower boxes. Daddy loved plants, so he had all kinds of flowers blooming all around the yard. Later, he had a separate garage built, and then turned the old double garage into a study and a bedroom. They never stopped.

In her last house, Mom had to hire contractors to do her renovations, but she never ran out of ideas—or energy. I can remember her in her seventies using a post-hole digger to plant azaleas in the rock-hard clay soil.  She fenced the yard, added more and more hardwood floors, and changed her exterior light fixtures even before I knew that brass was “out.” She had her cabinets redone when they yellowed and kept up the wall colors to more fashionable hues regularly. Her weaknesses, though, were magnolias and fat little naked cherubs. The whole house was infested with them, but she never let them go.

When we came to visit, she looked forward to sitting outside on her back deck, especially in the evenings with my brother. He took the opportunity to have Scotch and a cigar, and Mom took the opportunity to stop moving. It was rare for her to sit down, but the cool of the evening and the companionship of quiet talk could convince her to relax.

Our old, dried-up, useless porch. This will be the exterior “Before” picture.

David and I live in a secluded subdivision out in rural North Carolina. Our yard is full of deer and owls, but we rarely have a chance to enjoy them, because we have no outdoor spaces. The porch on the back of our house has a roof, but only enough space to put three chairs side by side—not the best arrangement for conversation. Inside the house, we only have room for company meals in the dining room. Our kitchen’s eating area is so small and poorly designed that, even with our little table, when someone  pulls out the chair behind the table, it hits the air conditioning register, and if someone pulls out the opposite chair, it hits the island counter, and no one can walk through. We would love to have more folks over to eat with us, so we need space!

An impossible situation!

Last April, we asked several contractors to give us a bid to add a screened porch to our house and to enlarge the eating area of the kitchen. We had hoped to get new kitchen cabinets, as well, but the funds could only go so far. We will be able to put hardwood flooring throughout the downstairs, though, which will be so wonderful, since right we now have developer-cheap hardwood, stained carpet, and worn-out vinyl. It is now early September, and we just started last week! We have had architectural and engineering drawings made, chosen a contractor, and hit some roadblocks, but we’re on our way!

Next time: I’ve learned so much from HGTV, and some of it is wrong!