Wednesday, August 31, 2011

House #1 Update

We listed House #1 on Craigslist five days ago, and have gotten quite a lot of emails from people wanting to schedule showings. So far we've shown the place three times, and while all the showings went well, today's second showing in particular was met with a very enthusiastic response. It was so, so rewarding to hear people say, "this place is so cute!" and "I love the paint colors you chose," and "I love this room," and "the upstairs is so cozy," and "the yard is beautiful," and so on. It sort of made it feel like all the work would be well worth it if someone would not only pay us to live there, but would truly enjoy living there and love our little house.

They emailed me tonight and said they'd love to rent the place if we agree to have them as tenants.

We're going to go through with some other showings we had planned for the next few days - mainly because today's prospective tenants have dogs and we'd prefer to have pet-less tenants if possible. (I love animals, but after doing so much work on that house I would hate to have things chewed, clawed, or just smelling like dog.)

But it's a relief to know that someone thinks the house is not only livable, but cute, and cozy, and other wonderful things. And to know that we haven't poured our time and money into this house for nothing. And I don't need to worry anymore the things I've been worrying, like "What if we never find tenants and everyone laughs at us and we end up broke and homeless and living on the street?" You know, normal things everyone worries about from time to time, I'm sure.

I plan on doing a "before and after" sort of post with pictures, but in the meantime I thought I'd post a few snapshots of how things are looking over there right now.

One of the downstairs bedrooms (Nathan and I used this as our master bedroom for the past two years), painted and with a new light fixture with an actual light switch by the door instead of an old fixture with a pull chain:

{Oh, and those electrical outlets? They work now, unlike for the past two years when we plugged in our alarm clock with an extension cord running under the door and out to the music room.}

The upstairs space, with fresh paint and new gray carpet. {It actually has new light fixtures now too, installed after this picture was taken a couple of days ago}:

The upstairs bathroom, which has a new vanity, new cabinet, and new tile floor (which you can't see in this picture), and a coat of gray paint:

The kitchen, with new electrical work throughout and a neutral cream color replacing the slightly odious green the previous owners had selected:

The downstairs bathroom, transformed from turquoise to cream:

Sorry the pictures aren't the best. I just snap a photo with my iPhone from time to time when I think of it. I'll post better ones soon... but I'll also post worse ones -- the pictures of how everything used to look!

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Did you know that the name "Irene" means "peace"? I found that ironic.

The "hurricane" was downgraded to a "tropical storm" by the time she arrived here in Massachusetts. Really, for us, it wasn't anything to write home about. I know many people are suffering a lot of damage and loss, and I feel for them. We were lucky and just had a rainy, windy day with lots of fallen branches and a power outage that only lasted a few hours. The news had really hyped the whole thing up, and lots of people stocked up on water and canned goods, boarded up their windows, etc. We were either too skeptical or too stupid to do any of this, so it's fortunate for us that the storm didn't cause much damage.

Nevertheless, I had "Behold, God the Lord passed by" from Mendelssohn's Elijah stuck in my head all day because of the reference to "a mighty wind."

Behold! God the Lord passed by.
And a mighty wind rent the mountains round,
brake in pieces the rocks, brake them before the Lord:
but yet the Lord was not in the tempest.

Behold! God the Lord passed by.
And the sea was upheaved, and the earth was shaken:
but yet the Lord was not in the earthquake.

And after the earthquake there came a fire:
but yet the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire there came a still small voice:
and in that still voice, onward came the Lord.
(1 Kings, xix. 11, 12.)

A good piece of music for any day, but especially for a day like today.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

$ $ $

As we bought and moved into House #2, we hoped that renting out House #1 would be somewhat profitable in the long run.

Turns out, it already is profitable, even without having tenants yet.

When we tore up the old carpet upstairs, I found $3.27 altogether on the floor beneath it.

So, we're doing pretty well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Of Walls, Paint, and Tears

The house projects continue to be rewarding and sometimes even fun, but the truth is, sometimes they feel like black holes of time, money, energy, and work. They are sucking every minute of our lives away this summer, and occasionally it gets discouraging.

Yesterday I was working on what will be the TV room at our new house. The walls were painted dark, dark brown, and were covered in thick texturing. Ugh. I spent portions of two days sanding the walls with an electric hand sander; they won't be perfectly smooth, but the biggest ridges and bumps of texture are gone. However, some sections of the wall, beneath that dark brown paint, were crumbling away. In fact, perhaps the paint was holding the room together and we just didn't know it. Chunks of mortar were falling in on me from the exterior walls of that room, sometimes exposing the brick behind it. And I knew that if I smoothed those sections over with plaster and then spackle, then their smoothness wouldn't match the slight texturing that was going to be left everywhere else. But getting every wall perfectly smooth is just way too big a project for right now. So I didn't know how to fix everything. I felt discouraged.

I may have even felt sorry for myself for a little while. (I know, poor me, I have two houses.)

I may have even shed a tear.

I must have been a sight to behold, wearing a gas mask and goggles and ear protection as I sanded those walls, covered in plaster dust from head to toe, with tears welling up in my eyes.

You see, I just want to wake up one morning and not have my arms ache from carrying boxes and sanding walls. I want to not have my hands cramp and ache from holding paintbrushes all day, every day. Then, I want to get up and put on something nice to wear, and put on some makeup, and wear my hair down instead of throwing on my paint-covered jeans and a t-shirt and putting my hair in a ponytail. I want to paint my toenails and wear a dress. And I want my house to be organized. I want to not trip over boxes and stub my toe five times a day.

I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I'm so, so tired.

But I pulled myself together and things are moving forward. I'll get those walls finished and painted... I will!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Elaine is a student who started violin lessons with me at the beginning of the summer. With her dedication, sweet smile, and big brown eyes, she won my heart immediately.

But I liked her even more when her dad told me that after her first lesson, she said excitedly, "Dad, how much do you think I should practice? I was thinking at least three times a day."

Thursday, August 18, 2011


the good

played a wedding last weekend where the bride (sister of a student of mine) wanted all Beatles songs for ceremony music. took a "romantic trio walk on the beach" {or so we called it} afterwards with Melissa and Matt. then had Thai food and wine. then sight-read trios at my house until 1:00 am.

sang in church choir for the wedding of a choir member. anthem was C.H.H. Parry's "I Was Glad" (minus the vivat regina of course). yes, just like the royal wedding. had about 45 voices in the choir and we sounded pretty good, if I do say so myself. oh that piece is fun to sing.

{my favorite part starts at 5:30}

went to the neighborhood block party and met our new neighbors. when I arrived, our neighbor glenn put on bob dylan's "sara" in my honor and serenaded me: "sara, oh sara... so easy to look at, so hard to define."

{that song even has violin in it. so perfect... if only bob had spelled my name correctly.}

made my father-in-law's salsa recipe last night and it is yummy.

have been using my spare time {hah! that means from 11 pm to 1 am} to paint the entryway at House #2. the color is so relaxing and I feel happy every time I look at it.

we're having carpet installed in the upstairs bedroom at House #1 tomorrow morning as yet another step towards getting it ready for tenants. I am hopeful that the end is finally in sight. we may be able to pull this whole thing off.

the bad

totally fell down the stairs at House #1 while working on the walls in the stairway last week. why yes, I am very graceful, thank you for noticing.

a regular old bic pen exploded {okay, leaked without explanation} all over my hand yesterday as I was writing in my day planner. oh, and got a spot on the new upholstered chair we just bought. excellent. good thing it came with a warranty that even covers stains. {the chair, not the pen. I don't have any warrantied pens.}

seating auditions for school ensembles are in like two weeks. have I practiced? of course not, but I have done other things, like unpacked five million boxes {literally of course}, spackled and sanded and painted a lot of walls, lugged toilets and vanities around, torn down drywall, and gone to home depot about five million times {again, literally}.

I need to practice my violin and get in the swing of things for my second year of grad school. all I need to do to have a space to practice in is finish tearing down the drywall in my soon-to-be music room, rip out the closet that takes up too much space in there, get new wallboard up, paint the whole thing, and help Nathan select and put in new light fixtures. no big deal.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


You know you've been spackling too many walls lately when you look at your husband's smile and suddenly imagine spreading spackle between all his teeth for a nice, smooth finish.

I'm thinking that after all the work I've been doing on House #1 and House #2 lately, starting my second year of grad school this fall is going to feel like a vacation by comparison.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wallpaper Discoveries

We're back in the Boston area, and work continues on both House #1 and House #2. Mostly on House #1 right now, because we have just a few weeks to try to get it ready to rent. For the past few days I've been painting trim, spackling and sanding walls and ceilings, filling scratched and dented doors with wood putty, and taping walls and repairing sections with joint compound.

Now, I know that most of you are probably thinking how glad you are that you're not in my shoes right now: the owner of not one but two so-called fixer-uppers. I know the majority of people would much prefer to buy a house in great condition and move right in with everything already just so. But I am really enjoying the adventure of fixing our houses.

{I think both our old houses have character.}

House #1, which we bought two years ago and are now preparing to rent out, was built in 1852. In every step of the restoration process we discover bits of her history.

I spent a lot of time yesterday on the walls in the stairway. They're probably in the worst shape of all the walls in the house, with loose bits of plaster that seemed to be held in place only by the many layers of wallpaper and paint that had accumulated over the years. I was working to smooth things out so we could put on a fresh coat of paint, which meant in many places scraping the bubbling and peeling paint, sanding down badly-done lumps of spackling compound, and mending cracks and small holes in the plaster. Look at the layers of history I discovered:

See all those different wallpapers?

And oh, there was more:

So many different papers and paint colors.

"Union made."

Repairing walls is a time-consuming job, but I kind of like doing it. I enjoy wondering about all the people who've lived in this house. Who put up that floral wallpaper? Was it a new homeowner in the 50's or 60's? Someone improving the house looking to sell it? A young couple fixing things up for a new baby?

You may be wondering how bad old walls can really look, and why we can't just paint over everything that's there. Well, they can look pretty bad:

And sometimes you peel away a bit of paint, and a chunk of the plaster wall comes with it:

Speaking of plaster, some of my family members were recently expressing curiosity about horsehair plaster as I told them about the various restoration projects that invariable arise when you buy an old house. Here's a close-up:

I'm having fun with all the projects -- really, I am.

But I'm biting my nails a bit - metaphorically - about how we can possibly finish all this work before the school year insanity begins.

Wish us luck!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Northern CA Trip, Day 5

This morning I got to go spend time with three kids I used to babysit when I was in high school.

Oh wait, they're not kids anymore.

Flannery is 19, Mackenzie is 21, and Keaton is 17!

Also, they're way more to me than just people I babysat... we were friends, even back then when they were little. And their parents were real friends to me, too. Their family meant a lot to me.

I had the best time talking to all of them. I only wish we got to hang out more often.

In the afternoon, we went to see my parents' new property where they'll be building a house.

We strolled around downtown Grass Valley a bit.

{The library! I spent so many hours there when I was a kid.}

We ate kebabs for dinner. Yum.

And then got frozen yogurt with Jonathan, Jenn, Christopher, Stephanie, and Michael.

And ended the evening with a card game with Mom, Dad, and Christopher.

Home to Boston tomorrow.

Why is summer almost over?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Northern CA Trip, Day 4

This morning my Mom and I watched my three nephews while my sister had some time to herself. Mom served the boys a fun lunch of pineapple, cottage cheese, and various fruits and vegetables they could use to make "faces" for their lunches.

Even with a silly pineapple face for a lunch, Thomas prefers to be serious for photos.

Until tickled by his grandmother, that is.

I made the boys my magic banana ice cream for dessert, with peanut butter and chocolate chips tossed in after the frozen bananas had reached a nice soft serve consistency in the food processor. They loved the "ice cream," and Jonathan even asked, "Do you think you could give my mom your recipe for this? I really want her to make it."

While the nephews napped, I designed a new blog header. I guess I was just tired of the old one. I still need to tweak some things in terms of margin alignment and overall color scheme, but I think I like my new header.

In the afternoon we went over to my brother Jonathan and his wife Jenn's new house, where we swam in their pool for several hours. Sadly, I have very few photos, because once I jumped in the pool I didn't want to get out. I did get a picture of Josiah crouched at the water's edge.

After swimming there was a delicious taco dinner prepared by Jenn, and we got to enjoy playing with their cute cats, Nip and Nap (short for Catnip and Catnap).

And when I got home, my evening ended on a humorous note with an email from my brother-in-law Andrew, who wrote:

"It's boring without you around. Nate I can do without. ;)"

Tomorrow is our last day in California!

America vs. Apple

Have you heard the news?

Apple has more liquid cash and marketable securities than the U.S. government right now.

I'm not suggesting that Apple bail out the U.S. government or anything, oh, not at all. We all know that the government would just continue in their poor spending habits and blow through Apple's cash, too.

Instead, I suggest the following:

Apple should buy America. We can become the United States of American Apples. And since Apple has so much money, every American can have a free computer! A free iPhone! A free iPod!

Oh wait... that's the kind of mentality that got us into this situation in the first place.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Northern CA Trip, Day 3

These nephews of mine love taking pictures!

Here's a cute one of Nephew #3, Josiah.

Nathan and I decided we ought to have some pictures, too.

This afternoon, I took Nephew #1, Jonathan, out for frozen yogurt.

Before we left, my Mom asked Jonathan, "Is Uncle Nathan going too, or is just Aunt Sarah taking you?" And he replied, "Just Aunt Sarah, because she is the BEST, and she always dresses the BEST!"

{I guess I've made a favorable impression! At least in the areas that really matter.}

Look at that chocolate face!

This evening, freeze tag was played:

Maggie was loved:

And a frog was caught:

In short, a very good day for three little boys.

{And a slightly tiring one for their Aunt Sarah. I guess my best freeze tag days are already behind me.}

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Northern CA Trip, Day 2: Perspective

In my parents' back yard are two liquid amber trees. I remember when those trees were planted. I remember when I was taller than they were.

Things have changed.

{I think my parents forgot to fertilize me.}

Northern CA Trip, Day 1

Nathan and I have taken a rather last-minute trip out to California to visit my family. My sister Emily is visiting northern CA right now as well, which means I get to see my three nephews.

{Unfortunately, Nephew #2 was napping when I was taking pictures of #1 and #3 today.}

Life in the country is tiring. You might need to kick back and relax in a wheelbarrow.

Or maybe fall asleep over your dinner.