Real Confessions From A Real Fixer Upper

Black mold. Asbestos. A funky sewer stench. A shampoo lid lodged in the shower drain. The head of a tiny babydoll stuck on top of a drain pull. Just the head.

And it was smiling, which means the creepy factor could go both ways.

baby head
A baby head on a faucet. Why?

We found a rattlesnake’s rattle in a cupboard, a horseshoe over the door and a fantastic, old photo of the home’s previous owner, absolutely beaming atop a horse as it reared back.

Home renovations are no joke, although we’ve come up with too many punchlines to count. And, they’re not done in 30 minutes on a dime as the HGTV con suggests. They’re not even done in an hour, as our oldest believed after faithfully watching Fixer Upper for a number of seasons.

We’re on year two. We’re 16 months in, to be exact. And if there has been a theme to this adventure, it’s been a “Well, we didn’t expect that,” kind of thing. It’s also been a “Let’s try it and see what happens,” kind of thing. And, a “You have a (blank) stuck in your (blank)” kind of thing.

There has been blood (see: splinters, pokes from thorny landscaping, scrapes from demo work). There have been late nights, working under flood lights with apologies to the neighbors as we raced the clock to finish concrete forms. There has been an immeasurable volume of sweat, since the 1950s house is in the desert, and the work we’ve been doing has been anything but simply aesthetic. There have been mosquito bites, days of near utter exhaustion, blisters, too many protein bars and trunk picnics to count, and a lot of self-educating.

demo
Back when we decided it needed more than a paint job.

We learned that plumbing is not an exact science, as you might think it would need to be. Just kind of shove it in there, we were told by an old plumber working at Home Depot as we grappled with updating cast iron sewer lines to ABS sewer lines out front.

I learned that the grinder has an on/off switch, and if it isn’t off after the breaker is flipped on, it’ll dance all over the floor like a snake. And it’ll make you scream. I’ve also learned how cool sparks look in slow motion, in the dark.

We learned how to screed, and what it even is. We learned how to jimmy-rig like champs, we learned that my challenged ability to hear doesn’t work out really well when we’re wiring electric from the attic, and we learned that I probably should not quit my day job and start driving a tiny bobcat – even though I’ve never laughed so hard while being scared.

We have also learned a new level of resourcefulness. We’ve done everything ourselves, from the back-breaking demo to raising the foundation to routing the plumbing to scoring cabinets from some lady’s house in Scottsdale.

Which reminds me – we also learned how to occupy two kids for several hours while removing cabinets from a stranger’s kitchen. It took a while.

concrete
Tamping like a pro. Obviously.

We’ve learned to carry band-aids. To avoid black suede work gloves regardless of the price (they turn your hands black once you sweat). That it could take WEEKS to fill a hole that a front-end loader needed just a couple hours to dig out. And, if you leave a toilet out front of your house long enough, someone will take it. Who knew?

toilet
The tempting front yard toilet. Bye, toilet.

We also watched as our kids showed us that they can make something out of nothing, on a moment’s notice. We’ve had a lot of days at that house, where all five kids were tasked with keeping themselves busy or making themselves useful in a place that did not have electricity, much less Wi-Fi. They demo’d, they painted, they peeled wallpaper.

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And then, they played Barbies. Or pizza kitchen. Or spies. Or, they took turns picking olives off the tree in the backyard.

barbies
The entourage.

So, it’s a good thing they are versatile and imaginative. Because, after 16 months we’re starting to rebuild now.

We’re hopeful we learn that a rebuild goes faster than a demo. That there will be fewer surprises, fewer things we feel clueless about, smokin’ hot deals on appliances and more chances to use new power tools and wear goofy outfits.

Because that’s what makes it fun. That, and that dreamy state we find ourselves in when we know how great it’ll be when we’re done.

amazing outfit
The award for “Most Amazing Outfit” so far.