We’re back!

england 1Taking a two week vacation to England in the middle of a major reno is probably not advisable. However, our vacation happened to coincide with our contractor’s knee replacement operation, so it worked out. Monday he is back to work on the house, less than three weeks after his surgery. Those Amish are tough.

While we were gone the electrician and the plumber/heat contractor kept working away. There were a few minor mishaps – the electrician ran some wires across the open loft area in the boys bedroom, and accidentally drilled through some new pipes. The plumber put the drain in for the free standing bathtub so it sits against the wall, instead of coming out into the room, but after moving the tub into place and looking at it I decided it looked just fine. This prompted the plumber to say, “Boy, are you easy to work with.” I told him if having 7 kids hadn’t taught me to just accept things and move on, this house reno certainly had!

While we were gone I decided to put a skylight in the attic – let’s just say I am way more excited about that than Jonas (my contractor) is! I have my eye on the attic apartment as my own personal work space if kids aren’t staying there, so I want it to be nice.

First thing Monday morning I will be stopping by the house to connect with Jonas – we are very close to being ready to put the insulation in and after that comes drywall. Once the drywall is up, we will go from looking like a disaster to looking like something that resembles an actual house – can’t wait!


While the house truly looks much worse now than it did when we bought it (hard to believe), we are making progress. We filled 4 dumpsters with plaster and other materials that were torn out, and at $500 each, dumpsters were a considerable expense. We saved whatever could be re-used, but a houseful of plaster and lath is a lot of material. When I called for the last pick-up the dumpster company joked that I was their Customer of the Month! Awesome…IMG_3475

The new windows are also in, about $12,000 worth of them. All I have to say about windows is that if I ever do another massive reno and the window count is over 30, I will run…..Turns out if you order that many special order windows at Menards, they will actually bring the store manager up to thank you personally. IMG_3546

The front porch has been dismantled and repaired; there was a lot more rotted wood than anticipated. The front porch will be gorgeous, and it should be, because between the stamped concrete and the wood repair, a large portion of our reno budget is there. IMG_3543

The plumber, who is also doing the heat and air, has been busy running ductwork and pipes. The electrician has been installing boxes, and my contractor has been pulling off all of the aluminum siding to prepare for new siding. Once we can get the systems roughed in, and the insulation is installed, then it’s on to drywall, which will really make the house look a lot more livable.

Tomorrow I plan to spend a few hours sweeping up all the debris from the floors. Not sure if this is totally necessary, but it will make me feel better if the house isn’t such a mess. It’s bad enough it has no bathrooms, at least we can have swept floors! I spend a lot of time running to the bathroom at the gas station, especially because I tend to stop by the house before work, so I am washing up and changing into work clothes in their bathroom. I feel guilty about using the bathroom without buying something, so at least they are making quite a few sales off of me!

The attic!

When we bought the house, we knew it had a nice, tall attic.  However, there was no access into the main part of the attic, and the only access was through the back addition.   We could go up the little pull-down access stairs, stick our heads into the space above the addition, and through the rafters, just glimpse the main attic.  However, when the second floor ceilings were pulled out, we had an unobstructed view of the attic, since most of it had no flooring.  This is how we think so many things ended up in the walls; falling off the small floored part of the attic and going down between walls.

As soon as the second floor ceilings were down, my contractor Jonas and I climbed up the access stairs, walked across the floor joists, holding onto the rafters above, and went into the main attic space.  And what a space it was!  

The entire second floor has a tall attic space above it.  Since my plans to turn the second floor over the garage into an apartment for my oldest son fell through, the attic became my new apartment space.  Jonas put down plywood so we had floors and could lay out the space.  We are putting in a full one bedroom apartment.  Then we extended the main staircase up another floor – which made getting into the attic a whole lot easier, but not as much of an adventure as climbing in from the addition was!

The more time I spend up there, the more I think about using it as my escape when I write my dissertation – as long as my oldest isn’t still living there.  This will be an incredible space for guests and long-term adult children moving home for a while.   When you have 7 children, having a separate space for them to stay when they visit becomes a necessity.  Someday there will be grandchildren visiting and having their own bathroom and kitchen will be wonderful.  Yes, this is all part of my master plan to make sure I get to spend lots of time with my future grandchildren! BTW, the guy in the attic is my husband, Mark, who is not as enthusiastic about the attic space as I am. Maybe if I told him it could be his private guitar storage space he might get more excited….. IMG_3492 IMG_3490 IMG_3489 IMG_3488

Adventures in Renovation

back door
So this is what I see when I get to the house today – several areas where people have wiped off the back door to be able to see in the house! I cannot fault people for doing this because I would be doing the exact same thing. There have been very few times that I have been at the house when someone hasn’t stopped by and asked to see it. My contractor said when he stops at the gas station down the street they always want an update on the work. The question I get asked over and over again is, “Will you be having an open house?” Yes! Although at this point, I think we may need to have people enter in shifts. So far I have invited all the neighbors, my co-workers, the former owners, my realtor, and everyone who has sold me something for the house or is working on the house. That’s a whole lot of people.

An update on the old letters I found. Thanks to Ancestry.com and several other sites, I was able to track down Russel’s great-grandson. Turns out anyone with an unusual name, or a name that is spelled differently than the norm, is much easier to trace. All my life I have been annoyed at being Holli with an “i”, but 100 years from now it will be easy for my descendants to distinguish me from the Holly Seaburys. And I happen to know there are at least two other ones, from Facebook messages that clearly aren’t for me. Anyway, I sent an email to Russel’s great-grandson, Dixon, who didn’t think I was a nut job at all (contrary to what my husband believed would happen) and he has been very kind in sharing family details and even sent a picture of Russel in uniform!  I have found quite a bit of information on Russel’s grandfather, William Geiger, who owned the house, and will be sharing it with him.  It’s been incredibly exciting to first find these old letters and then connect with a descendant of Russel.  I am going to get in touch with a contact at Lincoln Life and see if they have archives and maybe I can track down Gertrude and share the letters with her descendants.

The picture on top is Russel in uniform and the one on the bottom is from a Notre Dame archive.  Russel is on the far right and the article is about how he and three friends walked from South Bend to Chicago to see a Notre Dame football game. You can read the article here:  http://www3.nd.edu/~wcawley/corson/walktochicago.htm

Later this week I will post an update on adventures in the attic!  Mark just turned on the TV and the Money Pit is on.  It’s not a sign, it’s not a sign….
russel in uniformrussel downey pic

Letters in the walls….


As my contractor, Jonas, is pulling out all of the plaster in the house, he has been finding some surprising things in the walls.   One of the most exciting finds has been three letters dated from 1914, written from Gertrude (last name unknown) to Russel Downey, while he was at Notre Dame.  Gertrude was working at Lincoln Life and writing to her boyfriend Russel, whose mother Nettie grew up in the house.  I am not sure how the letters came to be in Russel’s grandparent’s house, or why he saved them at all, since he and Gertrude never married.  Maybe Gertrude was the one who got away, or maybe the letters just got shoved aside to be found nearly 100 years later – who knows!  Russel went on to be quite successful, staying in South Bend, and founding the Marquette Lumber Company in 1919, which is still run by his family to this day.  Russel’s parents, Omar and Nettie, moved from Churubusco to South Bend in 1923, and are buried in Churubusco.   I have found many more exciting facts about the previous residents of the house, which I will share later.

I first read these letters with a group of Amish contractors, while we stood on the back porch of the house.  We were taking turns reading snippets to each other – let me tell you the part in one letter where the car Gertrude is riding in breaks an axle and they had to take a horse and buggy home – was about the funniest thing those Amish guys had ever heard!   I have to rank reading letters from 1914 with Amish guys pretty high up on my list of awesome life experiences!  

Tearing Down Our New (Old) House

IMG_3379The past week I have had a few moments of doubt when I look at the destruction I have wrought on our new house….well, what’s left of our new (old) house. When we bought this house, there was never any question about the renovation process – we were doing a gut reno. The electric was from the dawn of electricity, we wanted 2 additional bathrooms, and most of the plaster was falling off the walls. Plus, houses built in 1860 just don’t fit with our modern lifestyle (hello, no laundry room). So walls needed to be moved, a heating and air conditioning system, and the associated ductwork, needed to be added and everything needed to come out of the house. I mean everything.

It’s just that it’s such a shock when you walk in and walls and ceilings are laying on the floor and a crew of Amish workers are busy swinging hammers at what’s left of the walls. There is the moment of, “I am responsible for completely destroying a house. A house I own, that I have now rendered essentially worthless.” But, as scary as this first step is, it’s the first step in the process of making this old house beautiful again. See the pictures of the interior destruction here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29656951@N00/sets/72157634820466824/

Interior Pics

I have had many requests for pictures of the interior of the house, mostly from people who say, “Oh, I’m sure all it needs is a coat of paint.”  Right…..and wiring, plumbing, a kitchen, bathrooms, actual walls…..all that good stuff.  I politely refer to the inside of the house as “distressed”.  This is much nicer than “complete nightmare” which is a lot closer to reality.  However, I do find that the more I am in the house, the more I can overlook its before state and just picture it in its after state.  Check out the pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29656951@N00/



So…..we bought this

Yesterday, we closed on this old beauty.  Ok, so it’s not exactly beautiful in its present state, but after a large sum of money is dumped into it, it will be.   The house was built in 1860, and is a little…..distressed.  By distressed I mean there is no kitchen, working plumbing or electric and it’s kind of stinky.   I first saw the house about two years ago when I was on a bus full of Rotarians (don’t ask) and as we drove through a small town, we stopped, and I looked out the window and saw this gorgeous old house, that was pretty much falling down.  I happened to say that I wanted to renovate a house just like that one (I was about two glasses of wine in at that point) and the woman in front of me turns around and says, “I own that house, I’ll sell it to you.”  After talking to contractors and going back and forth with my husband about whether we should take on a project of this size (clearly the answer is no) we decided to just do it. What’s the worse that could happen? Don’t answer that….And so begins a very expensive whole house renovation….Image