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Hello from the other side: our farmhouse renovation

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For the past few months I’ve been AWOL from my blog, and although I’ve posted a few times and alluded to how things were going after we moved from our 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house into a tiny 900 square foot farmhouse, I’ve never gone into detail about what we had to do to get to where we are right now, a few weeks before Christmas in 2015.

As I hang my kitchen cabinets and finally start making progress in getting these boxes out of here, I find Adele’s Hello playing through my head over and over again. Yes, there’s a ton of stuff left to do here. I’m still putting up the ceiling, the bathroom has no walls, and my mattress is still on the floor because I gave away my bed frame, but HELLO, I feel like we’re finally on the other side of this massive, horrendous, farmhouse renovation. Every time I head into a bathroom to shower instead of going to the local swimming pool, I thank GOD for that.

If you think showering at the swimming pool every day is bad, that’s nothing. What we had to do to get to this point will forever make my hair stand on end, but it’s also made me so very grateful for things like walls, running water, and stoves. You might take them for granted. I never will again.

The end of the year, right before Christmas, seems like a good time to recap exactly what went on here for the past 6 months. There’s still a lot wrong (one word: septic), but it’s time to be grateful, not nit picky. So here it is.

In the beginning, there was naivety

In February of 2015 we decided to make an offer on a property located on 12 acres not far from our current home. For lack of a more flowery word, we were enchanted by the place (note: I still am actually. I can’t walk the fields without getting a goofy smile. It’s beautiful). The owner was a nice lady who was vetting the people who came to look at the property, and I believe she told me she had a list of names with her impressions of all the people. She wasn’t planning on letting just anyone buy it.

I can now understand why. She was right, this place is special. Unfortunately this special place included a house that was cute but very, very small, and hadn’t had any updates since the 50’s.

Now I’m all for vintage farmhouse. I’ve gone to the markets, I’m a big fan of the style. But I’ve never wanted one for myself, or at least not a real one. I like drywall and farmhouse touches, not logs for foundation and paper bags for insulation. I still don’t like those things, and you shouldn’t either. If you see them on a farmhouse you’re thinking about buying, either get out your wallet and start throwing your money into the air or run far, far away.

Before we could move into this place we had to move out of ours, and because the dates didn’t work for both the buyer (us) and the seller (the owner of this place), we went and lived in a 35 foot travel trailer for 6 weeks. At the time I thought that was going to be the hardest thing we had to endure this year, but looking back it was actually the most enjoyable. It was like being on vacation for 6 weeks.

In the beginning, there was also cancer

When we made the offer on this place our original plan was that my parents were going to be here when we took possession, helping us sort this place out, do some renos, and get us moved in so we could ride out the winter. Then they were going to sell their house and move out here to live out the rest of their lives. The idea always made me happy, because I knew they’d love living on property rather than in a small town.

My Dad used to be a contractor, and he’s built many, many houses. Despite the fact that this place looked scary and we only had a week left in the travel trailer until we had to move in here, I was confident because I trusted my Dad to help us navigate these crazy waters until the the spring when we were going to build a house up on the hill not far from this house.

Our mantra: ‘We’ll just do enough to get through the winter” sort of flew out the window the day we got the keys. We were wandering around, posting Vine videos (see below, over 60,000 loops. Woot) when I picked up the phone and my Dad, who was supposed to be planning his trip here right that minute, told me he had cancer.

Turns out he didn’t have just one kind of cancer, he had two: bladder and skin cancer. It also turns out, understandably so, that he wasn’t coming out to help anymore. When I got off the phone I felt like I had been punched in the stomach about 10 times, and then someone else lined up behind that person and smacked me upside the head a few more times just for fun. That feeling has stayed there, knotting and twisting my insides for the past 6 months while he’s endured treatment, scary news, and finally, some good news.

How do you describe having that feeling of worry over your parent, worry over the choice you’ve made for your children, and worry that your life will literally never come back out of boxes, all at one time? The only way I can describe it is that it felt like a gaping hole opened up in the earth and I had to be very, very careful I didn’t fall in.

And then there was the Cabela tent

Two things quickly became very clear: on our own we had no idea what we were doing with this house, and two, in one short week we had to send the travel trailer back to where it came from and live in something.

Living in the house didn’t seem like an option. The previous owner had left a lot of stuff behind, and in order to even begin considering moving some of our stuff inside, we had to move hers out. Unfortunately that’s when things started to go south.

Although we had a home inspection on this place and we knew it was as crooked as any farm house (do you know how many people said, Oh just jack it back up, it’s easy? If I had $100 for every one…) has ever been, the home inspection failed to tell us a bunch of things. Maybe if he would have gone under the house and really looked around he would have seen that the foundation was on hollow logs and that was what was causing the house to slope. That information would have been helpful before we cleaned out the 3 bookshelves in one tiny room and found a mouse graveyard that must have come through the long, long crack between the floor and the wall. That crack, caused by the house dropping, was hidden by the bookshelves. You couldn’t see it in a visual inspection from the outside either.

There was a lot of dead stuff inside, and we hadn’t even opened the walls yet. It was very apparent we were not going to be living in this house for awhile, so what does a person do when it’s the height of camping season and even the crappiest travel trailers cost what seems like a million dollars?  I came up with this.

cabela-alaknak-tent copy

This is a Cabela Ultimate Alaknak Tent. It’s the biggest model they have, 12 x 20, and I drove over to Vancouver Island to pick it up one hot night at the end of June. I got the idea from Pinterest when you searched for ‘Glamping.’ Our plan was to live in it for a few weeks while we fixed the house (I’m still laughing so hard about this) and then flip it when we didn’t need it anymore.

When I say this thing is big, I mean massive. It easily held all of our beds, a couch, our TV, computer, and more. I had a wash stand set up in the corner for brushing teeth, and if we had to use the bathroom we went into the house. It was like a little apartment without a real roof or walls, and we actually kind of liked it. After the cramped tube of the travel trailer, it was nice to have space. It was also supposed to be the hottest summer on record, so we were optimistic it would be fun.

And it was sometimes. When someone used to ask us to go camping I’d laugh. I’ve never been a camper, never wanted to camp, don’t want to sleep outside or do all of those things campers do, yet here I was, camping in my own yard and it was OK for the most part. I remember one day it rained like a monsoon was hitting and we were all soaked with no access to laundry and no place to put our wet shoes. I ended up buying a heater and taking turns holding them up, just so they’d dry off.

When the tent went up, so did other tents. When our friends talk about it now, they remember a tent city of sorts. One small canopy tent had all of our clothes in it, put up on racks and shelves. The other shelter had my entire kitchen.

Did I mention I had bought all new appliances before we moved in here? It made sense to buy a shelter to store them, because with no outbuildings and just our packed shipping container, there was no where else for the appliances to go. I set them up in one of those car shelters, put them up on palettes, and then I plugged in my fridge and washing machine. On a long table I set up my Keurig and our microwave. That was my version of glamping, and although I was afraid of leaving my brand new stuff outside because I worried it would get stolen, it was that or put it in storage somewhere. Given how exhausted we were, that wasn’t something we considered.

front-porch-farmhouse

Enter the farmhouse renovation contractor

Once the house was sort of emptied, we got a few contractors in there. Some of them just wanted to cover up the floor with new floor, shimming all the way so it seemed level. Others suggested bead board over the wood paneled walls. Honestly, it was like waking to a nightmare every single day, because no one seemed to get that we didn’t want to live with the potential of mold in a crooked house. Our ‘get through the winter plan’ always involved taking down some walls, insulating, and jacking the house. There was no other option.

That’s when my husband’s friend came in, and we started to get serious about getting this house on solid footing. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but we found someone who had the same idea and they set to taking apart the house so they could put it back together.

My husband is a sales guy, not a contractor, but he gamely put on construction boots and got in there every single day. He’d work for hours on his own job then on the house, and although we were rarely apart we barely saw him. He was always in the house and I was in the tent with the kids, trying to keep them entertained, finding new things for them to do, all the while doing my job too. I don’t remember much about July, and most of August is a blur until one very memorable day when the walls literally came down.

The farm house had three parts: the front cabin built in 1926, the middle built sometime in the late 40’s, and the back part that was added on in the 50’s. The front part was almost finished, and with new windows, new pine boards on the walls, and a solid foundation, I was starting to believe the nightmare was close to being over.

Not so much.

I could hear the grinding sound of a sawzall all the way over in the field, and the crashing of the walls made me run. When I got there, the guys all looked at me in confusion before they stopped cutting. Apparently no one decided to share with me that the walls were 100% rotten in the middle of the house, and they had to come down.

And come down they did, along with, to make this long story short again, the back end of the house with the bathroom. Turns out that was infested with termites. Termites. In Canada. I was in awe.

The part where we went 6 weeks without a bathroom

The only thing worse than having to tear down and rebuild a part of your house on the fly is tearing down and having to rebuild your bathroom. To get rid of the old and usher in the new they had to take everything and shut off the water. The kids and I headed off to a hotel for a week because my optimistic husband thought they’d at least get a toilet back in by that point.

Not to bore you with the details, but it took 6 weeks to that toilet installed. Six long weeks where we got in a port porty, hauled in water for the animals, and pool-hopped to have showers. Have you ever really looked at the floor of a shower at your local pool? I hope for your sake yours isn’t as disgusting as mine. We all showered in bathing suits and flip flops for the entire summer, and when we did go splurge on a hotel, it felt like the ultimate luxury to have a fully functional bathroom for even one night.

Hello wind storm

We knew there were two rooms in the house that were livable, but we had good weather and thought we were OK in the tent until we could fully finish painting. Then we’d move into those two rooms and just live in there until the rest of the house was done. But nature had other plans, and the day we moved out of the tent was the day when the biggest wind storm BC has seen in decades hit.

I’ll say one thing for Cabela tents: they’re solid. That baby didn’t budge during the entire storm, but the shelter over the appliances sure did. I remember hanging on for dear life while the wind kicked up, thinking I was going to go sailing in the air like Dorothy and her little dog. I can laugh now, but at the time it was so scary.

Everything crashed down. All of my dishes and glasses broke, the coffee maker and microwave took a dive, and anything else we had stored in there went out into the wild, blue yonder. I saw mason jars just rolling all over the place, along with some toys and clothes.

By the time all was said and done, everything in the yard was in chaos, but the Cabela and the house were still there. We didn’t lose any trees either, and so many people around here did. We counted our blessings, packed up our beds and everything else, and moved into our farmhouse.

2 months with nothing

Living in two rooms of a house is totally OK as long as you don’t mind constant togetherness, and I didn’t. I still don’t. We all slept cozy and warm in one room and we hung out in the other. The only problem? We didn’t have a bathroom, a kitchen, or laundry.

When the kids went back to school I made lunches on a makeshift kitchen table in the living room. For a long time I was going outside to use the fridge. Seriously. When we finally brought all of the appliances inside the house felt even smaller, and I wasn’t that impressed with the snake that came in under the stove either. Thankfully my cats carried it outside for me and it slithered away before I could drop dead from a heart attack.

All our laundry was done at the laundry mat, which was not that big of a deal. Even with school back in we were still showering at the local pool, and everything I cooked was cooked outside on our BBQ. Thankfully I had the foresight to buy one with a side burner.

One contractor left and another came in, and he worked on the house on his own. Slowly things appeared: a bathtub, sink, stairs into the attic. It was cool to see it all coming together, although it was a long process. With running water in the bathroom I’d do my dishes in buckets on the floor. When the laundry went in, I counted the days of how long it had been since I had access to my own laundry. I think it was something like 180.

All by myself

Sometimes things don’t work out, and when the contractor and I had a difference in opinion, I was on my own fixing the house. Luckily, I like being busy and YouTube is a great resource. I’ve had a swift education in insulating, poly, caulking, tiling, installing floor, and fixing septic issues. I’ve gotten very handy with a drill and I can find a cold draft and stuff insulation in it like nobody’s business.

With my husband in his busy season at work, I’ve done the best I can, and every time I put a glass or a dish away in the IKEA kitchen my wonderful friend and I put together, I’m grateful for that glass, I’m grateful for the pots and pans, and I’m grateful I have a place to put them.

So what’s the moral to this very long story about our farmhouse renovation? To be grateful for your life and to have patience.

I was always an impatient person and this has taught me patience in a way nothing else every could. Even if your pockets are lined with gold, there’s always going to be something you have to wait for when doing a renovation like this. I basically just shut the part of my head off that stressed about timelines and ignored everything except our goal of having a house to live in again.

I couldn’t be more grateful than I am right now. Yes, things are still going wrong. We’ve had a break in on our property and some crazy vandalism. Our water is yellow and it smells, the septic is a nightmare, and I’m still plugging away at the house with the help of a friend of mine.

But the good things are out weighing the bad: my dad is on the mend and cancer-free after 3 surgeries. My kids are starting to feel like this is home again, and every time I see my chickens clucking around the yard, I smile. Plus, I’m starting to resume doing projects that I’ve missed doing, and I have an entire yard full of shiplap and pine boards to play with. If you knew me, you’d know how happy this makes me.

chickens

This was the dream we had for over ten years. The fact we made it happen is nothing short of amazing, and despite the tent (which I sold for almost full price to some very funny guys who wanted to use it as a hunting castle) and the fact that pretty much everything we own has been broken, we’re still here. The house is still here. My family is intact and we’ve made it over to the other side. It’s so nice to be past so much crap.

Now that I’ve shared the entire story, it’s time to look forward instead of back. From now on I’ll be sharing my home projects and what’s happening around the yard on my site. My plan of having a miniature animal farm is starting to hatch, so we have that to look forward as well.

Merry Christmas to anyone who made it through this saga. I’m happy to say goodbye 2015. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out (the year, not you).

 

 

Shelly Wutke

Vancouver Province blogger, Best Buy writer, and Super Hero to my kids. (I can mod Minecraft after all) I like running, writing, and California. Not necessarily in that order.

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One comment

  1. Shelly your getting all the good experiences in life.. Great Story!! Well Told0 Buck.

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