This is Where I Leave You is one of our favorite movies, and a rare circumstance in which I actually have not read the original book. I cried through a decent portion of our most recent viewing; I realize that doesn’t read like the most enthusiastic endorsement of a film, but it reached me in a way that it hadn’t in the past. And a movie’s ability to do that should be applauded, I think.
So, 2018 has mere hours left, and that’s prompted the expected level of reflection. I realized I have a terrible habit of classifying years. Like, a “bad year,” a “challenging year,” a “good year.” What is that? Why is that?
Because it makes it simpler, is my first guess. But life isn’t simple, and I’d hate to do its intricacy such in an injustice. I’ll stop that. 2018 held many wonderful things, some challenging things, and some terrible things. I could search for reasons for them forever, but outside of understanding cause and effect, what good does that do? I think that’s where a lot of us get hung up, in trying to find reasons, justifications. For some things, there is no satisfactory explanation.
I can’t believe this was six months ago! It feels like yesterday and a hundred years, all at once.
In that short (long?) time, we’ve packed in so many memories. I like to think this old house is smiling at how it’s helped us, and how we’ve helped it. Our friends and family helped me turn 31 (30-ish!); we hosted 14 family members for Thanksgiving; we adopted a second dog; we woke up on Christmas morning and sipped coffee in our PJs. Did I ever imagine we’d be here? Not exactly. But I’m so glad we are.
Here’s a collage – a little “Best Of” for you.
Time to get to work!
North side of house prior to power washing.
Michael spraying the shutters
Me! Painting the Guest Bedroom
My dad, the Master of Cutting In
My mom touching up the corners and edges of the Guest Bedroom
David priming the kitchen cabinets
Michael, Adrian and my dad tearing down the pig barn.
Bill and David pre-drilling the screw holes for the table top.
A family affair, featuring Michael high above our roof
And friends, what do I wish for you in 2019? That you remember to find the sun.
Let me tell you something. My husband is the MVP and the VIP and all the other acronyms meaning best. Because, look at what he did.
It’s my farm table, and there are not enough heart-eyes emojis IN THE WORLD to adequately express my love and adoration. And guys, guess what else. That table up there? You know how it started?
Yep. That old, falling-down, torn-down chicken coop/pig barn is now my MOST BEAUTIFUL AND EXTRAORDINARY FARM TABLE. Sorry not sorry for all of the uppercase letters, because can you blame me? LOOK AT IT. LET YOUR EYES FEAST ON ITS BEAUTIFULNESS.
And I think what initially caused me much stress about the table, actually ended up being my favorite part. We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner last night for my in-laws, and the hope was to have the table ready to go for the event. Technically, it was ready… but it was also being assembled in my dining room while I cooked. But, if that hadn’t been the case, then I wouldn’t have been able to document this:
Maybe I’m corny, but these are the days and the memories, right? My house has truly been a family affair, and I am so grateful.
I write about gratitude a lot. You might be bored. But I think the honesty of my relationship with gratitude – all the times I’ve lost and found it again – is worth documenting. And, you know, maybe helpful.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. That is because my list of favorite things is like this: family, food, wine. So, in my opinion, Thanksgiving is the trifecta of the most wonderful parts of life. Plus, gratitude.
This year, Thanksgiving was a real event. I had four of them! Four Thanksgivings! If that doesn’t summarize all I have to be grateful for – multiple family dinners – then you are not paying attention.
The opportunity to eat and laugh and love with family was especially important to me this go-round. If you frequent my blog, you’ve had a front row seat to the more challenging days of my last few months. There is something else that I haven’t shared here, but I feel is important. And, again, maybe helpful. In June, David and I learned we were expecting. In August, we were not.
I share this now because it is so entwined with my relationship with gratitude. That was a time when I lost it, and it took me a while to find it again. I don’t yet have the firmest hold on it, but the family and friends who have walked me through the darkest days of my life help me remember it all the time. And if you should need someone to walk with you through that grief, anger, confusion, or despair, I can provide an ear, a shoulder, or a hand.
For now, I’ll leave you with a photo of my first ever Thanksgiving turkey, and also a photo of my sweet bubby Wyatt and one of my pets-in-law, Buster.
Well, I’m officially “into my thirties.” I’m now 31. I think the standard societal response is to mourn the passing of your youth, or to run through a checklist to see if you’re measuring up, or whatever. I think I would have fallen victim to that before, but I feel myself pushing pretty hard against it now. Life has been a challenge over the last few months. Sometimes, I’m surprised that I made it through it all. And lately, all I’ve been able to feel is a sense of peace. I’m just happy to be here.
So, about the farm! We made a huge push over the last couple of weeks to tackle some things we’d been putting off. I thought this was because my dearest friend and college roommate was trekking all the way from North Carolina (with husband, toddler, and infant!) to celebrate my birthday. This was true, but little did I know, David was also secretly prepping for a surprise birthday party. Last Saturday, I pulled up to the farm filled with people I love, and I’m still feeling overwhelmed with gratitude.
But you’re here to see the updates, amiright!? So, here we are.
You’re familiar with the dark-and-gloomy kitchen we bought. Wallpaper, dark cabinets, and a fake backsplash were not my cup of tea.
But we pulled wallpaper, painted, tiled, and covered the ugly island. We even replaced and frosted the glass on the cabinet. Still on the to-do list are a new ceiling and light fixtures, a butcher block counter top in the corner, and a little more decorating.
I’m sure you also all remember the living and dining room. If not, let me jog your memory.
And now, here we are! We pulled wallpaper, had the plaster repaired, and painted. We changed out that unique dining room chandelier, and started decorating. The cozy leather furniture was well-loved in my parents’ house for 15 years, and the couch is a Facebook marketplace find. Still to come will be a huge farmhouse table () and some more decorating.
Now, for my favorite space so far: our den. I knew this room had potential from the moment I stepped into it, and it’s just really fun to be right. The den before was dark-and-gloomy (it was kind of the theme in the house).
But we pulled the wallpaper and took down the warped wainscoting. Then we painted, replaced the ceiling fan, and decorated. Some of my favorite features are the antique sewing table we found in the barn (featured in the photo below) and the desk I updated all by myself. This room is the closest to being totally finished. I’m still in search of a standing lamp for the corner, and I’ll continue to cozy-up my desk corner.
I should probably get back to cleaning and laundry-ing and grocery shopping, but I’ll leave you with one more photo. Here’s my sweet sweatshirt-wearing pup, cozied up for a Sunday nap. See you soon, everyone.
Just this afternoon, I caught myself doing it again; I was feeling like we should have better __________, nicer ___________, more ___________. It’s toxic.
Whenever I travel down that rabbit hole, I try to turn to gratitude. By far, the greatest blessing in our lives is our friends and family, and we owe a multitude of people endless thank yous. We truly wouldn’t be where we are without a whole heap of help. I think this post is far overdue, but it’s better late than never.
My parents. Not only did we invade their home for two years, but then they spent their entire summer helping us clean, paint, pull weeds, tear down buildings, and move furniture. They dedicated nearly every weekend to the farm, working in the sun and without air-conditioning. They sprung for supplies, repairs, and fast food lunches; they ran errands, and offered wisdom and commiseration.
David’s parents. They shared resources and contacts, offered advice and funds. They spent days pulling weeds and cleaning gutters. They cleaned and painted and delivered home-cooked deliciousness straight to our door. They allowed us to stumble through their own door after dark, sweaty and exhausted, and always greeted us with dinner and a listening ear.
My grandma. Aside from her infectious interest and excitement, she graciously shared profits from the partial sale of the family farm, which allowed us to fund the purchase of our tractor.
David’s siblings and their spouses. They pulled wallpaper and weeds. They painted rooms and hung cabinet doors, power-washed shutters and mowed the lawn, took down buildings and assembled furniture. They loaded and unloaded all of our belongings, unpacked boxes, arrived early in the morning and stayed until dark. They made sure we never stopped laughing, which I consider to be the only reason I kept (most of) my sanity.
David’s Gettysburg family network. They shared their time, talents, resources, supplies, and enthusiastic support. What a blessing that’s been!
You. Your support, enthusiasm, and encouragement keep us going. When you ask about the farm, or read a post, or tell us not to give up…well, then we don’t. So, thank you.
I’m trying this new thing where I relax. I don’t mean “relax” in the sense of, like, kicking back with a book and a glass of wine. I’m already an expert in that, don’t you worry. I mean, “relax” in the “release” sense. As in, “release my arbitrary timeline of when things should happen and my superficial reasoning for why.” More on that another time.
Guys, the kitchen is looking awesome. We’re not ready for a full reveal, because there are still a few little things to complete, but it’s going to be really beautiful.
Other than the kitchen, we’ve kind of just been puttering around. The name of the game right now is “Pay the bills,” and I’ve put us on a pretty aggressive budget to be debt-free within a year. (I mean, aside from the massive 30-year debt of a house, but whatever. Real estate is an investment, right?)
But a tight budget shouldn’t mean having to give up all the pretty things; it just means being a little more planful. So when I decided that I was changing the color scheme for our den/office area, I got a little creative.
Here are the old throw pillows from the apartment. I’m not going with yellow in this new space, but darn if pillows aren’t expensive. I’m also not a sewer, so, dilemma. But thanks to the interwebs, I found a tutorial on covering pillows WITHOUT SEWING. Miracle of miracles! With new fabric, some Heat ‘n Bond, and my trusty iron, I have pillows that fit my updated color scheme.
Not bad for a Friday night-Saturday morning DIY! If you’re interested, here‘s the blog I used. Stay tuned for when I update a desk I found for $35 (because, budget).
In my last post, I mentioned trying to catch some of the elusive “perspective.” Even though I recognize how important this is, I definitely struggle to do it (as evidenced by my “I’m so over this” theme in other posts).
I think part of what makes me “so over this” is the immediate gratification world we live in. I absolutely play into it, and I knew that about myself before we bought the house; I love to start and finish a project quickly, to have everything perfect immediately. Unfortunately, this particular quality is supported through social media. Look at those Pinterest-perfect homes! Look at that fantastic Instagram vacation! Look at that happy Facebook announcement! If you only went by social media, you’d believe that nothing difficult ever happened to anyone. Life is never messy.
I think that’s why I’ve been so willing to invite you all in on our messiness. As much I fall victim to Pinterest-perfection, I also resent it. We should all feel comfortable to be honest about life’s challenges; it isn’t perfect, and we aren’t doing anyone any favors by pretending it is.
I talked to my grandma yesterday. It was, by far, the best decision I could have made in my current mental and emotional state. That’s because my grandmother is hilarious and strong and generally wonderful, but also because she can always give me a dose of perspective.
She is so excited for me and David. She wanted to know all about what projects we’re working on (“I watch all those Home and Garden shows, you know.”) She told me that we’ve accomplished so much in such a short time (Wasn’t I just complaining about how long it’s been?) and that we shouldn’t worry about things not being perfect (“You’re a young couple. You’re just starting out!”) And, most of all, she continued to emphasize the magnitude of blessings we’ve recently experienced. I used to be pretty good about doing this, too – it was once part of my bedtime routine – but I somehow lost track of it. I think it got buried under “Why isn’t this finished yet?” and “How will we make this work?” and “Why don’t we have more money?” It’s embarrassing, really, how much I’ve forgotten to be thankful.
It’s disconcerting to feel opposing emotions. I know the dichotomy can be too much for some people, leading us to create a “black and white” image of the human experience. Again, super harmful to mental and emotional health – don’t do this. Instead, remember that life can simultaneously stink and be beautiful. Stinky, beautiful, sometimes perfect, most of the time not, life.
So, to sum up:
1. If you are so fortunate as to have a grandmother, call her
2. Don’t be ashamed of the messy, and definitely make sure you talk about it
3. Remember the beauty, too, and definitely make sure you talk about it
I bet that’s probably more than you bargained for when you starting reading a fixer upper blog. Well, I never intended for this to be a “how to” kind of situation anyway. But, I think my next post might feature a before-and-after spread of our kitchen. VERY MUCH EXCITEMENT! Look forward to that soon, guys.
Are you still out there? I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t; you probably thought we weren’t out here, either. I was warned that I might lose all of my readership after being away so long, but please don’t leave me.
Last time we talked, we were heading to the beach. We’d just painted the rest of the house and the kitchen cabinets, and I was feeling pretty proud of our progress. But before I give you the rundown of all we’ve completed since then, I’m going to take a minute for some real talk.
I’m tired of this. Like, so over it. I want to tell you that buying a fixer upper has been just rewarding and energizing, but that would be lying. I also don’t want to only come on here to complain, but I’ve been told that you value my honesty, so here it is.
You know how, at the beginning of each Fixer Upper episode, Jo asks the prospective homeowners if they have guts?
“So, David and Amelia, do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?”
Solid no. Used up all my guts, like back in July, I think. Maybe if Chip and Jo were here to do the work, and I didn’t have to live among chaos while trying to transition my whole career, I could find some guts. I’d gladly consult about whether we want a new HVAC system versus new bathroom tile, or whatever. But I’m just ready for this to be finished, for this to be the home we imagined when we signed our lives away on that stack of papers (which was nearly three months ago, but who’s counting).
Needless to say, things have become exponentially harder now that I’m back to school and we have to incorporate the daily drudgery of real-life living. As an example of what I mean, here’s our last month:
July 29 – August 5: Beach trip
August 6 – 10: Pack up the rest of our belongings, arrange for moving truck
August 11: Moving day!
August 13 – 17: Become school-board approved for my new position, move into my classroom, set up my classroom, have Meet the Teacher Night, attend inservice
August 21: First day of school (WITH STUDENTS)
So, there are still boxes all over my house. The mudroom and dining room still look like Home Depot exploded. Things we planned to have finished (kitchen backsplash, new carpet on stairs, losing the ugly green shades in our bedroom, etc.) are still undone. Turns out, when you come home exhausted, and have to make dinner, clean, and keep up with laundry, the home reno process slows down a bit.
But (there is a but!) whenever I feel too down about the process, or too embarrassed about where we live, I try to take a step back and remember all that we’ve done. Perspective can be elusive, so it’s important to catch some whenever you can.
I’ll give you a rundown of everything we’ve accomplished in the last few weeks. And in order to not bombard you with so much information in the future, I’ll be sure to post more often. (We’re getting internet today, so I can join the 21st century again!)
We’ll start with the outside of the house.
We took down the old pig barn/chicken coop that was on the property. It was a bonding family endeavor, AND we scored some awesome wood that my handy husband will turn into a farm table and some end tables for me. It may have been one of the hottest days of the summer, so we owe endless thanks to my dad and my brothers-in-law for helping us (and by that, I mean helping David) tackle the job. I love looking out the kitchen window with an unobstructed view.
David also uncovered the dairy barn roof, and revealed some more really neat metal; it may leak in a few areas, but we’re not storing anything important in that section yet, and it’s far better than the eyesore of tarps-and-tires. When I’m out in the field with Wyatt, the view of our property is starting to look ALMOST picturesque.
Last weekend, I also tackled the flower beds around the front and side of the house. My parents helped me get them started a few weeks ago, but after being away at the beach (and about 10 gallons of rain) they were lost again. I spent two days pulling weeds, laying down weed block film, and spreading 40 bags (I am not kidding) of topsoil. I plan to plant some azalea bushes in the fall, and then some annuals next spring. For now, we bought hanging baskets of mums ($6 each at Lowe’s!) and some outdoor pillows ($7 each at Home Depot!) to really spruce up the porch. David hung new porch lights (right side up, for anyone who saw the quirky upside down fixtures before) and we have new storm doors on the horizon. Now I don’t cringe when I pull up to our house, which is nice.
Inside has been a little slower, because what’s left to do is more time-and-money intensive. As I mentioned, we are not unpacked. But we’ve prepped some spaces for unpacking!
David battled the cobwebs and general ickiness of our basement and attic, to make them more functional storage spaces. The washer and dryer were covered in filth (who lives like that?) so David spent a considerable amount of time cleaning them before they were used.
He also hung six new ceiling fans, a new dining room chandelier, and changed out virtually every light switch, outlet, and face plate in the house (with the exception of a few, where we’ll need to employ the expertise of his uncle).
I’m still determining how to arrange furniture, where to store stuff in a house with limited closet space, and how to stay on top of the cleaning. (Full disclosure: our 105-year-old house doesn’t have air conditioning, which means the windows are open a lot, which means there’s continual dust and more spiders than I care to count. David and I are engaged in full-on warfare with the cobwebs, but we will not surrender. Stay tuned.)
I had off from school yesterday, so we were able to run a few errands and spend some more time unpacking and cleaning. Today, we’re starting on the backsplash. David has really cool plans for a cabinet area in our kitchen, so I can’t wait to show you how that turns out.
With our extra-long weekend, we’ll also be able to spend some time in Maryland. We’re going to our favorite sushi place, and I’m getting a manicure and pedicure with my mom; both of these events might bring me tears of joy.
Thanks for sticking with me through all of this, you guys. Writing about our journey has been a therapeutic experience for me, and your support and encouragement is why we haven’t given up. Talk to you soon (I really promise).
Well, we haven’t worked ourselves into oblivion, even though sometimes it feels that way. No, we’re still here, and I promise I will keep posting! Things were at a bit of a standstill while we waited for the plasterers to complete their (beautiful, amazing, well-worth-it) work. Plus, we’ve been dealing with some nasty weather; have I mentioned that paint doesn’t like humidity?
But today was a much needed day off. I slept in, made a hearty breakfast, sipped my coffee, read my book… David and I even took the dogs for a long, leisurely walk. It all felt so luxurious. And now, I am here (mentally, physically, and emotionally) for an update! Where to begin?
We’ve made some improvements to the outside of the house, although the going is slow. You may remember that the shutters needed an update. They weren’t exactly the same shade of green as the roof; in fact, they weren’t even all green. See?
This was a massive issue for my neat and orderly brain, so when David’s family rented two lifts earlier this month and generously offered to include us, we jumped on the opportunity. We power washed the house, took down the shutters, primed and painted them, and put them back up. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but the results are . Take a look!
The inside of the house is chugging along, too. The plasterers finished their work, and it’s . They worked quickly and did an outstanding job. Plus, they were just fun to have around. With old homes typically forgotten or even scorned, it was so nice to meet people who appreciate a sturdy home with good character. We’re hoping to paint tomorrow, but here’s a quick look at their craftsmanship.
I know, right!? Unbelievable. Allllllllllll of the heart-eyes-emojis. And I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “That must be all of the updates for now.” But wait – there’s more.
While the plasterers were working downstairs, we finished painting two more bedrooms upstairs. We used Brook Green from Behr for one bedroom, and Light Drizzle from Behr for the other. My parents and I managed to paint both bedrooms in just one Saturday. Go, team!
See, and here’s why I shouldn’t go so long without an update. There’s still more. (I know, the mind boggles at the thought.) David and I started the process we’ve both been dreading. Painting. The. Kitchen. Cabinets.
Here’s a refresher on what the kitchen looked like before, and a little peek at the progress.
We leave for the beach on Sunday, but we should have even more finished before we go. Stay tuned for more progress soon!
Well, here we are, one month after our closing date. In our (determined? excited? naive?) minds, we were supposed to be moved in by now. “Oh, sure, a month of work and we’ll be all set. It’ll be a lot of upfront, but it’ll only be a few weeks.”
As you can imagine, we are not yet “move-in ready.” We are both tired, and I am frequently grumpy. We subsist on granola bars, PB&J, and the occasional fast food. It turns out that old houses can be full of surprises. Who would have thought?
The biggest wrench in our plans has been the plaster. After taking down the wallpaper, the sheer square footage of wall space just seemed to much to tackle ourselves. David is very handy and a fast learner, but we were overwhelmed by skim coating the entire first floor. Not to mention, a beautiful archway in our dining room (original to the house! early 20th century architecture!) was all but falling down, and that kind of plaster work is an art form that eludes us both.
Why not just take down the plaster, right? Slap up some drywall instead, and you’re ready to go. Well, that may very well have been the fastest solution, but (if buying this house gave you any indication) David and I seem to rarely take the easy route. We both felt strongly about preserving this historical aspect of the home, as well as maintaining the beneficial qualities of plaster, like durability and sound resistance. So, we contacted plaster restoration companies in the area and waited for an estimate.
Our instincts about the plaster were instantly confirmed when we met Wayne Little. With over 40 years of plastering experience, he assured us that our walls were in excellent shape, and that he could reconstruct our plaster archway freehand (!!!!). He will skim coat our walls and ceilings on the first floor, preserving our plaster for years to come, and his excitement to get started has been contagious. We love to meet another enthusiastic supporter of old houses!
While Wayne and his partners work downstairs, we’ll tackle other projects. We’re starting to make headway on painting the bedrooms, the staircase, and the upstairs landing. We repainted all of the trim, painted all of the ceilings white (what an unexpected difference that made!) and prepped the rooms for painting the walls.
We stripped the wallpaper from the only bedroom that still had it, and now that room is primed and ready to paint. Thankfully, the upstairs plaster was repaired at some point, and it’s in great shape.
We also painted what will be the master bedroom, using Loft Space from Behr. (Please excuse the ugly fan and atrocious green shades. I’m the process of ordering replacements for both.)
It may seem small, but it’s progress like this that tips my love-hate relationship with the house distinctly to the “love” side. Uncovering its beauty has certainly been an adventure!
This post will be a quick one, but I had to share what I feel is a noticeable improvement to the outside of the house.
We (drum roll, please) took out the bushes! Not all of the bushes, because the boxwoods are lovely. And not really “we,” either, because I didn’t have anything to do with it. My handy husband and brother-in-law tackled them, with only an ax and our small tractor (after taking the necessary precautions, calling every possible utility company, and having our gas line painted and flagged – safety first!)
Here’s what the front of the house looked like before, when it was overwhelmed by the scraggly evergreens:
Not terrible, but we really felt like the tall bushes had become unsightly. Plus, I prefer leaves over needles any day.
But here is the house now!
Now, it looks a little bare at the moment. But I hope it’ll give those cute little boxwoods some room to breathe, and I (naturally) have big plans for lovely flower beds and tractor-rut-free lawn. In a couple of weeks, we’ll have the house power washed and shutters painted. A porch railing is also on our list of to-do’s, and I can’t wait for how that will complete the look. (Plus some hanging flower baskets and a couple of rocking chairs because, you know, farm.)
Signing off for now! Look for another update next week!