Pretty much since the second I bought and started renovating my house, I’ve felt like I really needed a pick-up truck. At the time, I was driving the same Volkswagen Jetta I’d gotten in high school—a petite and sporty four-door sedan which, I discovered, perfectly accommodated 8-foot lengths of lumber. I loved that car. But soon the time came to replace it, and I was really thinking about a pick-up truck. Basically everyone in my life told me this would be an expensive and regrettable mistake, and I’d be much better off somewhere in the middle between the pick-up fantasy and the teeny Jetta reality, and that’s how I ended up with the very practical and—regionally, at least—extraordinarily popular Subaru Forester. I cannot tell you how many times I have pulled into a parking space and been surrounded by 3 identical Subaru Foresters in the adjacent spots. I lose it all the time in public lots and garages, and one time I tried to drive away in the wrong one because the owner had left it unlocked and parked three spaces behind me on the street. It was the different smell inside that tipped me off to my mistake, and then the car seat. It’s a Very Good Car by all accounts and I don’t blame others for choosing it: it’s comfortable and safe and has leather seats and it can fit a reasonable amount of stuff. And I haul around a lot of stuff. It also has a handy sunroof, demonstrated below.
I’m not sure where it was pointed out to me—probably in the comments on this blog—that this is a great car if you’re, like, a guy who goes back and forth from the city to his country house and does projects on the weekends. And I think that’s probably accurate. The problem is, that’s not me. I still don’t really consider myself a professional contractor but I play one a whole lot of the time, and this is simply not an appropriate vehicle. Firstly, because it has major limitations for what it can fit. Secondly because it’s actually a nice fucking car that should hold some resale value, but using it as a work vehicle means scratches, dents, damage, mess, and major wear and tear. It just does.
To compensate, my brilliant solution was a utility trailer that hitches to the back of the Subaru and gets dragged around. While handy, the thing is a goddamn hazard on wheels. First of all, you essentially become the length of three cars, which is unwieldy and difficult to park and not something you want to drive around any longer than you need to. Secondly, I find it hard to control in reverse, and although my skills have improved immensely, this personal development came at the cost of both corners of the Subaru’s front bumper, a rearview mirror, and a large sheet of molded plastic that ripped off the undercarriage, which evidently is called the engine splash guard, which sounds important. The trailer is big and heavy and a pain to put on and take off of the car, and then it has to be stored somewhere in the backyard where it’s inevitably in the way. One time it bumped a curb and an entire wheel flew off, leaving one end of the axel dragging along the asphalt and spitting up a dramatic display of sparks. Another time, the hitch part wasn’t fully attached when Edwin took off with a couple thousand pounds of concrete, which meant that the trailer was being dragged only by the chains that keep it attached to the car in the event that the hitch fails. Those of us witnessing it outside the car screamed in unison, which prompted him to brake suddenly, which resulted in the trailer violently colliding with the back of my trunk. I have not fixed any of this damage because 1) $$ and 2) something else will just happen again as long as this trailer nuisance is part of my life.
I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. This last event was almost a year ago, and I think this might have been the moment that I resolved, for the thousandth time, to procure a pick-up by the following summer. Which is now. I accepted that this would probably mean owning two cars and made peace with it. I have big and ambitious plans to do a lot of landscaping work—more specifically, hardscaping work—which involves hauling around lots of heavy stuff. I couldn’t face another summer of further trashing my fairly new Subaru, or trying to borrow friends’ trucks, or renting trucks all the time, or relying on deliveries and the slippery timeframes and headaches inherent in that. I just want to be able to do the things I need to do without it being a whole thing.
In case it wasn’t plainly obvious, I am so not a car guy. I don’t know anything about them and I don’t care to learn. I do not know how to change my own oil. I have never jump-started a battery or changed a tire, and I have to be told when it’s time to have the brake pads or tires replaced. It’s not that I’m afraid of driving a stick-shift, more that I am severely disinterested by the entire concept. I find comparing models incredibly tedious and I don’t know what half the words mean. I had to look up the terms “cab” and “bed” and “4×4” and I swear that is backed up by my browser history. It’s just a whole area of culture that I couldn’t possibly care less about.
As it happens, there are many types of pick-up trucks out there. And those shits hold value! Stuff will be like 12 years old and listed for $15,000. Also a lot of them are manual transmission. Also a lot of them don’t drive, but instead are being sold for parts. And sometimes they don’t have a title? There is so much to know. I wanted to spend about a thousand dollars, on a small automatic pick-up that could haul a lot of stuff at once. After extensive research which started and ended with noticing cars around me that looked like maybe something that would fit the bill, I was looking specifically for a Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, or Dodge Dakota. EXCITING, I KNOW. I limited my search to the sketchy wilds of Facebook Marketplace, which seemed like a path of least resistance and a manageably few number of options. I spent about a week checking back whenever I was on the toilet for new listings.
So. I see one that looks decent. Message guy. Guy is a mechanic. Truck runs and drives good. I schedule to go check it out the next day. I check it out. Looks decent. Drives weird. Guy says he knows what’s wrong and he’ll fix it. I come back the next day. He has fixed it. Car still drives weird. Guy realizes he did not in fact fix it but says he can and will. Unsurprisingly I do not understand what the issue is, but am now feeling both wary and invested because I have driven an hour round-trip two days in a row to drive his broken car. I tell him if it is really fixed I will buy it. He insists it will be. I register the car, get the plates, and add it to my insurance policy. I go back for the third time. Car is fixed. It drives like a car. I hand over the money and leave. Half a mile down the road, the Check Engine light comes on. Of course it does.
Admittedly, I felt some immediate buyer’s remorse. I did not want a broken car, and since I’ve never actually had a pick-up, maybe I was vastly over-estimating how much this would really improve my life or even get used. Maybe this was a big stupid waste of time and money.
I took it to a mechanic who had very not-nice things to say about my new car. Something about some part on or above or inside the engine that is probably bad, and that it might make more sense to scrap it than throw good money after bad. A friend recommended a different mechanic so I took it to him. He was rough around the edges but fixed the issue and then didn’t charging me for the work, which…does that happen?! I feel like cars are always a thousand dollars. Whatever is wrong, it will cost a thousand dollars. A few weeks later I remembered that he installed a new battery, so I went back and insisted he at least charge me for that. He’d forgotten he did it but was grateful I didn’t, and now…I think I…have a mechanic?? This is a relief because I think I will be needing him with some frequency. It’s also new for me, and I can’t wait to casually refer to “my mechanic” in conversation. Prior to this, “my mechanic” would have just meant the grumpy guy at Jiffy-Lube trying to upsell me on air filters, but now it’s an actual man named Rob who fixes my car and isn’t a drama queen about it. God bless you, Rob.
AND GOD BLESS THIS TRUCK. OK, so I ended up with a Ford F-150, which is bigger than I was thinking. It has a “regular cab” (2 seats) and an “extended bed” (about 8′ in the back) and it RULES. It has a little less than 100,000 miles on it, and it hails from the distant past of 1997. I think the kids call that vintage! It smells like an ashtray, has no fabric remaining on the ceiling, and has neither a CD player NOR a cassette player—radio only. The windows crank down with a handle and the A/C doesn’t seem to work and it has shitty gas mileage and manual locks and needs new brakes and eventually new tires and it’s MAYBE the best $1,200 I’ve ever spent.
The only radio station I can get to work reliably is the one that plays pop-country music, which feels wildly appropriate because Ford F-150s have got to be the most-referenced automobile in modern country music. Accordingly, I named the car Boondock, which has got to be the most-referenced geographic region in modern country music, aside from “America.”
I love it so much. I’m using it constantly. It takes the complication and headache out of SO MANY THINGS—getting trash to the dump, disposing of brush, hauling lumber and gravel and mulch and concrete and furniture and a pile of beautiful antique doors a flipper ripped out of an old house and left on the side of the road. I feel…I don’t know, empowered? to take on big projects and get some major shit done. It might seem silly but honestly every time I get into it I just feel giddy and grateful that it’s now a part of my life. Maybe I am a car person, after all.
Nah. But I love my beater pick-up and I can’t want to show you what we’ve been up to!
**Addendum: do yourself a favor and don’t buy a car in this manner. Get it looked at by a mechanic first, pay for the CarFax report, maybe even drive more than one before committing. Listen to your mom.
Have you ever seen a problem, thought you could help be part of the solution, and accidentally magnified the problem you set out to solve? I have. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I’ll give you some insight: it feels fucking terrible.
I bought my house in Kingston in the summer of 2013. By that I mean the house that I live in, the one we talk about a lot on this blog as I try (and try, and try, and try) to renovate and restore it inside and out. As anyone who’s renovated an old house with even some level of care will likely tell you, it’s a huge undertaking. It’s a strain on everything—emotions, finances, time, creativity, motivation, muscles, relationships. Your whole life, pretty much.
So I’m 23, and I now own this once-beautiful house in this once-beautiful town. That’s harsh: both the house and the town retain a lot of beauty and much of their original character, but the passage of time has not always been kind. Periods of economic hardship have brought neighborhoods to the brink, and the rebound has often taken the form of absentee landlords picking up houses on the cheap, putting minimal money and care into them, and collecting their rent checks. If my house had needed less work just to get it operational, I have zero doubt that’s exactly what would have happened to it.
If you hear “small city in Upstate New York” and think rolling hills and small town charm, Kingston is likely not what you’re picturing. There’s a slice of that, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s got some grit. It has its problems. It’s not a wealthy city and there aren’t nearly enough jobs. The rent is too damn high. The litter is out of control. There are a lot of houses with a lot of problems. And it’s where I decided, fairly quickly, that I actually wanted to make my life—not commuting between here and Brooklyn, not trying to make ends meet with AirBnB income and constant hustle and jobs I’d never want if not for needing the money to support $22,000 a year in rent. And I saw something here that I wanted to be a part of. Not that Kingston is a problem to be fixed, but it’s a place where one person can get involved, get things off the ground, and make a difference in a tangible way. There’s community. I felt good here. At home here. It’s exciting and a little scary to put all your eggs in one basket that way, but I’ve never regretted it. This is where my life is. And I really want to do right.
Fast-forward 14 months. I’m still in the early renovation stages of my house, trying to figure out this whole how-do-I-make-money-in-this-place-thing. I had…this blog that had the traffic and available content to probably do really well if it were correctly managed. I had…some renovation ability, and the hope that I could convince people pay me to make their houses nice. I had…a home address in a place where houses still sold for the price of a mid-range SUV, and the unique ability to potentially offset renovation costs with sponsors who could provide materials, funds, or ideally both.
Remember what I said about some grit? While my own house is largely surrounded by multi-family apartment houses (some better managed than others), it’s a slightly different story just a couple of blocks down. This block had 3 condemned houses on it…out of 10 total. Of the seven habitable structures, only one was owner-occupied. In the summer, it was routine to look down the street and see the flashing lights of a police siren from my bedroom windows, either speeding toward or parked on that block. The neighbors related stories of hearing gunshots at night that woke up and scared their children.
Tucked into a little 23-foot wide lot was this wee house, set back from the street and obscured completely by overgrowth, with a condemned sign posted on the front door. It had recently been listed for sale by owner online but didn’t have a sign out front or anything, and when the real estate agent didn’t show up for the walk-through, he instructed me to just let myself in. Because the door was unlocked. And oh right, he was in California—a detail you’d think he might have mentioned when setting the appointment in the first place.
Nonetheless, an idea was born. If I could secure some financing to buy it and cover some of the renovation costs, I could use my Powers of Blog to cover various expenses through brand partnerships, which would in turn bring in more income that I could reinvest in the project or use to float myself financially through the several months of not getting a regular paycheck while I dedicated myself to it. At the end, this sweet little house would be nicely renovated on a street where it otherwise likely didn’t stand a chance (which also happens to be RIGHT BY my own house—which couldn’t hurt my own property value). More than that, it would be occupied—and as long as it made reasonable financial sense, by a new owner. This cute, nicely maintained house, now joining the other owner-occupied house (also very nicely maintained) would bolster the whole block—hopefully inspiring other prospective buyers to see the street in a better light and consider giving the other two condemned houses the type of care and attention they deserve. Maybe one of those prospective buyer could be me, doing it all over again. Neighborhood stabilization has to start somewhere, and who was in a more privileged position to get the ball rolling than me? I could be part of a solution.
It seemed like a great idea at the time. Famous last words, if you’ll excuse the cliché.
I made a mistake. I can see that clearly now. In August, I’ll have been living with that mistake for 5 years—an amount of time I couldn’t even fathom when I truly believed I could do this in six months.
What went wrong? A lot went wrong. And as much as I either hated to or couldn’t admit it at the time, a lot of what went wrong was me. It’s kind of the story of my 20s, and weirdly, it’s mostly laid bare in blog format. I’m hoping being aware of it leads to change. That owning these choices—and seeing them as choices rather than things that simply happened—will help prevent me from making similar ones in the future. It’s the kind of personal work I expect to be doing my whole life—but now, as I approach the big THREE-OH (stop laughing, I’m trying to get something off my chest!), I think I’m starting to see it a bit more clearly.
I overcommitted—problem number 1. Thinking I can take on WAY more than I actually can has been a life-long struggle that I used to play off as cute and plucky, but really isn’t anything to be celebrated. All it means is that you’re miserable. All it means is that you’re not doing anything well, including the things that matter the most because there’s just too much going on. I should not have taken responsibility for a second house a year after diving into a huge rehab project of my own. Some people manage this type of thing well, although exactly how remains something of a mystery to me. Having a partner to do it with, I assume, helps enormously—but that’s a lot of pressure to put on a relationship if you’re not both 1,000% into doing this kind of work. We weren’t. And soon we were done, and I was alone—two dogs, two houses, and a single, unreliable and variable income.
Things started out, by most standards on a project like this, fairly well. I tackled the exterior first, in large part to signal to the neighborhood that things were changing for this little eyesore and community hazard. That went mostly well, although we ran out of cooperative weather. We gutted the interior, too, which normally I’d consider overkill but the house had undergone at least one previous renovation and there was next to nothing worth preserving. We re-framed every interior wall according to plans I’d drawn up on the computer, since the layout was also not worth preserving.
Various members of neighborhood were so excited to see something being done, at a very good pace, with this guy—me—at the helm, who really seemed to give a shit. That guy—me—was giving people work. He was friendly with the neighbors, and sympathetic to their understandable dismay over the condition this house had been in for so many years. He’d chat with Miss Margaret from next door while she waited for her ride over to the grocery store or the doctor, and programmed his number into her flip phone with instructions to call if she ever needed anything (she did, once, and he was there in minutes). The pastor of the church down the street was ecstatic about the progress, and soon one of her volunteers was walking through the house, dreaming of buying it and starting her family there when the renovation was complete. One of the owners of the owner-occupied house had her sister by—she was getting older and looking to downsize and be closer to family; it was a perfect fit. The guy who lived below Miss Margaret allowed us the use of his hose at no charge, since there was no running water on site. Someone started dropping off pies from the grocery store—cherry, blueberry, apple—on the front stoop with notes of encouragement.
And then, as quickly as work began, it halted.
I screwed up in myriad ways. I thought I could manage a rag-tag crew who desperately needed the work, and I could not. I placed trust where I absolutely shouldn’t have. I naively put myself, my investment, and my things at risk—luckily, only the things saw any lasting consequences, although having various expensive items you rely on for your livelihood stolen by people you trusted even briefly is a real punch to the gut.
I thought I could make the blog thing work, but I couldn’t. Not at the time, anyway. I didn’t figure out how to make the time to actually create the content that would further increase the traffic that would drive the sponsors that would make the money. I’ve never been a professional blogger and I was, basically, flying by the seat of my pants. I should have asked for help. I should have done…something. I didn’t know where to start, or what kind of help to even enlist. Just having decent site traffic does not a living income make.
Worst of all—and impossible to admit at the time, but easier to stomach now—was that, frankly, I didn’t even really know how to renovate this house. I thought I did. The basic strokes, sure. But let’s remember: I have no formal training in this stuff. I’m self-taught. I was young, and had never taken on an entire home rehab like this—not even my own house qualifies, which I’d barely scratched the surface of anyway. And now I had a completely gutted shell I had to put back together, and I had a really hard time wrapping my mind around all the many, many ins and outs of making that happen. This is, in part, evidenced by my initial design decisions, wherein I didn’t include any plumbing chases despite plopping a bathroom in the center of the second floor. Or thought we’d heat the house with a forced air system, in spite of having no space for ducts or air handlers.
There was a leak in the gas line that took the utility company 8 months to repair because of the winter and the frozen ground. Somehow at the time I couldn’t fathom a way around that—the house was freezing cold, and without a heat system (which will run on the gas), there wasn’t really any reason to move forward with a plumbing rough in, and without that I really shouldn’t have the electricians in, either, and both of those things would hold up insulation and finishing work, and really the flooring should go in between the heat system rough and actually installing the radiators, since I can’t install flooring AROUND a cast iron radiator. And OH RIGHT now I have to source and procure a house-worth of cast iron radiators because I simply will not do baseboard radiators and the fact that forced air isn’t really an option is news to me, and this will hold up the plumbing rough-in because they need to know how big each radiator is to get the pipes in the right place.
So I read up on sizing cast iron radiators (there’s science and math there, it’s not just whatever fits the space best) and gathered them from far and wide. Two came, actually, from a reader. One came from my house. A couple came salvaged. The plumber who was going to do the work disappeared. The house was freezing. My relationship was ending. I was failing at the blog stuff. And this block of time—during which I thought I was going to be working on this house and, hopefully, recouping the money I had into it—was quickly expiring. And I had a shell. With an unfinished exterior, nothing but framing inside, and a collection of antique radiators with no plumber to make them actually do anything.
This entire plan, essentially, hinged on everything going basically right. On me knowing what to do when they didn’t. And it didn’t go right. And I continued to not know. While I had the financing available to renovate the house, I wasn’t making nearly enough to live off of while I did that. And girl’s gotta eat. And pay bills. Adult things. So I took a little freelance job that spring, thinking with the weather back on my side I could totally do this freelance house, continue the more pressing work on my own house, and really dive back into Bluestone. At the very least, I’d make myself a little bit of money from the gig, and at least be able to support my shit through the next phase of work.
That little freelance job turned into the beast that was Olivebridge Cottage.* It was a job we’d budgeted 8 weeks for, and when all was said and done it took almost two years of my life and resulted in, essentially, a brand new house that I was responsible for designing and building. The workload was immense, the pay was not enough, and it took over my life. Finding the time to blog regularly was incredibly hard, and site traffic steadily decreased accordingly. Hell, finding the time for much of anything was incredibly hard—work at my own crazy house slowed to a stand-still, and any illusions I had about being able to work on Bluestone at the same time as this gargantuan project were sorely misplaced. It’s a time thing and a logistical thing and an energy thing. Not enough hours in the day. Various tools are at another jobsite. No energy, mental or physical, to put in long hours at two construction sites everyday. So it sat. And it sat. And it sat.
*The Olivebridge project will come back around on the blog at some point. For now, the owners have respectfully asked me to take down posts about the house, lest it’s unclear to somebody reading about it that all the many problems we uncovered were resolved. I don’t necessarily share the concern but I do respect their wishes—it is their house, and they shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable with what’s out there about it. Blogging is still not my full-time job, and those posts in particular take hours upon hours to put together—which is the same time I have to write other posts that, basically, I’d rather be writing.
One of the other condemned houses got picked up for pennies at auction. In short order all the exterior rot was inelegantly covered in aluminum flashing, some work was undertaken on the inside, a For Rent sign went up in the window, and the newest absentee landlord on the block began collecting his rent checks. And I can’t even say a damn thing about it, because my piece of the block is still just sitting there, waiting. An empty shell.
Eventually, a plumber was successfully enlisted to perform the work of the rough-in. A deposit of 50% on the single biggest line item in the budget was handed over. It should have taken a week, tops. The first day got cut off by some emergency call, if memory serves, but it went well. The next day, he’d be back. That day turned into a week. Which turned into a month. Which eventually turned into 14 months of hounding, and them coming for a few hours, followed by more weeks or months of hounding, until the rough plumbing work was mostly complete and able to be inspected. Then he was unceremoniously let go. That piece of shit.
On the bright side, I love the new plumber. So there’s that.
I didn’t leave the Olivebridge project with a lot in my pocket, and at the tail end of it I all but destroyed my house in a fit of pent-up I-MUST-MAKE-SOME-PROGRESS-ON-THIS-HOVEL-BEFORE-I-LOSE-MY-MIND—another hideous error in judgment and delusion about how much I can pile on in a given period of time, not to mention the money it cost. Olivebridge was brutal. Then what I did to my house was brutal. What this did to my depression-prone brain was brutal. Plumber at Bluestone still being a garbage human. No progress over there. Everything was terrible, and I felt so stuck.
I’ve talked before about the anxiety-avoidance cycle I’m prone to fall into if I’m not careful. And it happened with Bluestone. How it starts:
I begin to look away when I drive by it. I don’t go over nearly enough to tend to the yard, where the weeds grow increasingly thick and tall. I don’t like to go inside, so I don’t. When I walk over, the neighbors ask where I’ve been, or what’s going on, and my answers are unsatisfying at best. I don’t know what to tell them. The time has gotten away from me. And I don’t really know what’s going on.
The guy who used to drop off pies drops notes instead, asking me to call him. He wants to buy it—not even in a predatory way, just in a let-me-take-it-from-here kind of way. He’s disappointed but kind. Everybody is disappointed but kind, really. I tell him honestly how much money has gone into the house, which doesn’t surprise him but does make the price rather high on a property that no bank would approve a loan for. It breaks my heart that I don’t even know what I’d do if he came to me with a check. I don’t want to abandon this project but I also wish it would go away.
I stop by less and less frequently. I look away more and more. My own house still feels terrible. That house, sitting down there, feels like death. It gets broken into during the winter, but I don’t find out until months later from the landlord next door. He is inexplicably nice to me. I would not be this nice to me—not even close. He tells me a lot of people were in the house. He and his son re-secured it so it wouldn’t happen again. He was surprised I didn’t know. Inside, a small fire had been set in a cast iron sink I’d set aside years before—with so much optimism—for the half-bathroom. They’d used lath as kindling. The sink was destroyed but nothing else—a miracle I don’t think is appropriate to describe as “small.”
It was devastating. Imagine if something happened. I sobbed. I felt sick. I’m precisely the problem I set out to solve. It’s a dark, dark feeling. The worst that I’ve ever felt about anything in my life, I’m pretty sure. Every part of me felt awful. And by association, so did Bluestone. It became the physical embodiment of Daniel, The Spectacular Failure. And it’s right. fucking. there. Inescapable. Unavoidable.
Miss Margaret died. I found out from the guy who let us use his hose. I’m quite sure seeing the house next door to her apartment get renovated was not her dying wish, but that she never got to see it reborn still makes me sad. The pastor has moved away, and her volunteer with dreams of a family did buy a house, somewhere else in town, where she now lives with her husband and their new baby. I get the sense she dislikes me now when we pass each other in the grocery store and whatnot, but I could be projecting. Or I could be right, and frankly, she has every right to. Even Methodists have their limits.
The third condemned house sold, a large Victorian divided a few decades ago into four apartments. Now, it will again be four apartments, just altered. They slapped a coat of paint on it, ripped out all the windows, ignored clear structural deficiencies, enclosed a porch, tossed the radiators, and removed the rafter ties so the second floor could be vaulted all the way into the attic space—so basically the roof might collapse with a heavy snowload now. The owner is an “artist” who lives…somewhere else. And, once again, I can’t say a goddamn thing about it, because at their pace he’ll be collecting rent checks before Bluestone has a working toilet, let alone a certificate of occupancy. And it’s my fault.
A year ago, I wrote this post. I wanted 2018 to be better than the prior few years. I needed it to. I needed to figure out how to get myself out of this mess and this cycle—of taking on freelance work I don’t necessarily even want that overtakes my life, of deluding myself into thinking I can do it all at once, of allowing this project—now a hazard unto itself—to get pushed off again and again.
I didn’t solve all my problems in the space of a year. But I was better. I know I was better, in ways measurable and not. I wrapped up one big freelance job, did another, and started a third that didn’t require as much of my time (still far more than I expected and/or quoted for, but that’s a whole other story). I asked for help with managing the blog stuff and, briefly, got some (although that’s also a whole other story, but I’m giving myself some credit for trying). I got my hair cut 10 times, and even though I missed two appointments it was still a personal record. That’s neither here nor there, but it was a 2018 resolution so I’m inclined to mention it.
Mostly, I hunkered the fuck down. I worked my ass off, from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter.
The lion’s share of this ass-that-got-worked-off, admittedly, was closer to home. Specifically, at home. It was a big year for my house—essentially, one of rebuilding. At the start of the year, it felt like ruins. Various spaces were gutted. No laundry. No kitchen. No pantry. Not enough heat. Incomplete exterior work. And just a phenomenal mess—too much stuff in too few rooms, disorganized, and plain dirty. There wasn’t really a choice but to roll up my sleeves and step up my game, so I did. I worked, and worked, and worked, and worked. I reacquainted myself with my own things, trying to remember what I’d loved and valued about them before they became dusty obstacles cluttering my life. I cleaned. I rearranged. I spread out—which sounds weird, since I live here alone, but I still catch myself feeling like this space isn’t entirely mine. Like I have to keep myself contained, small, hidden. I made hundreds of lists. Did I mention I worked a lot? And slowly, but not that slowly all things considered, it started getting better. Creating a laundry space made it easier to really care for my stuff again. Getting the kitchen to a point of basic functionality allowed me to reclaim my living and dining spaces and actually start cooking again. I made some solid progress in the backyard, and spent months wrapping up the restoration of the south and east sides of the house. I constantly had to remind myself that big progress can only be accomplished through a thousand small steps—like building a stone wall, there’s no shortcut. You just have to keep stacking stones on top of other stones. As it happens I also built some stone walls and the metaphor was never far from my mind. That’s all any of it is, really—stacking stones, one by one, on top of other stones until something satisfying emerges.
I got a lot done. I didn’t get Bluestone done, but did get the electrical roughed in, which is another big step toward completion. I took better care of the yard. I stopped turning away when I drove by. I began—for the first time in a long time—to allow myself to think about finishing materials and how I want this house to actually look and feel. It’s looked and felt so bad for so long, but having a clearer picture of the end goal helps.
Something happened several months ago that you may have picked up on, which is that Lowe’s came a-knockin’ with a proposal, basically to do various sponsored projects over the course of several months. While I’ve worked with different brands on sponsored content in the past, I’ve never done anything more than a one-off kind of project—which has always been part of the challenge with monetizing blogging for me, because I might do one sponsored thing and get a decent little paycheck, but I can’t play financial roulette and turn down non-blog work and risk that there may not be a next sponsored thing with a decent little paycheck, so freelance work just ends up feeling more like a sure thing. The trade-off is that it keeps me away from things I’d rather be working on, including working on blog posts and responding to emails from potential sponsors that might make the blog thing actually sustainable. This is why I need help.
But this was Lowe’s—a team of people I’ve worked with on and off in the past, with a retailer that I probably spend the most time and money at of any other in my life (I have the Lowe’s/Synchrony credit card debt to prove it, folks!). I couldn’t ask for a more perfect fit. The way this works—both normally and in this situation—is that the content creator (that’s me!) pitches ideas to the sponsoring brand, they select their favorite ideas and the ones that align best with their budgets and editorial goals, and then I tell them the supplies I need to get it done and those materials are provided. I get paid both in the form of materials (which typically are either things I’d be purchasing anyway, or at least want to) and in the form of actual money for my time doing the project and producing the post and, of course, promoting it through this dog and pony show you see before you.
Anyway. I entered into this agreement with both trepidation and intention. I’ll come back to the intention part. Trepidation for two reasons: whether I was truly up to the task I thought and Lowe’s seemed to think I was up to (I’m trying to be more careful with my commitments, like I said!), and how it would go over with you, my DEAR READER. Because I like you (at least, I assume I do) and of course I want you to like me, and trust that I’m being honest with you, BECAUSE I AM, and this kind of sponsored set-up was a real departure from how I’ve been bopping around in this world for the past 8+ years. Because I know sponsored content is lame sometimes. I’ve skipped over it on other blogs, too. See how cool and relatable I am? I know right.
I think there’s an impression that when bloggers do sponsored content, it’s less real than their un-sponsored content. Or that the blogger is, like, greedily raking in the dollars for putting some dumb thing in their house and taking some photos of it. And while I’m not saying those things don’t happen, I can say this: these projects have been intense. In part because there are still various other things going on in my life, but in part just because all of these sponsored projects have been a ton of work. These bloggers that do this stuff on the reg and still manage 5 posts a week? I literally don’t know how they do it. In typical fashion, I way overshot on pretty much every single project—committing myself to more work than time really should have allowed for, and honestly more than was really necessary to pack into ONE blog post. Even after all this time, I still find it very difficult to predict how a post will actually pan out until I’m writing it, and I worry about it not being enough…and the idea always sounds like less work than it is. Always. Every time. And I wanted to do a really good job. I don’t know what the future holds for that partnership in particular—I would love for it to continue—but either way it’s been an invaluable insight into what pro blogging might look like for me. I’m not really an affiliate-link-the-shit-out-of-everything-on-Wayfair kinda guy, if you haven’t noticed.
The intention part was basically this: that this opportunity, at least for these few months, is maybe the beginning of me crawling out of this tangle of weeds. That this enables me to work on the projects I want/need to work on (BLUESTONE), and provide some stable income so I can, actually, pivot energy and attention onto this blog. Essentially, all I’m saying is the thing we kind of know to be true but forget: that the sponsored content isn’t just the sponsored content; it also supports the un-sponsored content. It’s a huge thing I’ve had a hard time totally grasping for myself all these years (no trouble understanding it for anyone else—what’s with that?), because I feel like I “should” be blogging more simply because I like it—but liking it or not liking it has never been the issue. The issue has always been the time it takes vs. the time I have because I’m wrapped up in all this other stuff.
(OK, sometimes I get dark and spooky and exceptionally anxious for weeks or months that the whole world hates me, and then I also don’t tend to blog. But usually it’s the other thing.)
So. I’m learning how to do this. It’s challenging, but a good kind of challenge. The kind of challenge I actually want.
Many of the projects I proposed were for Bluestone. The projects were selected and approved over time, not all at once, so it was a little hard to predict where I’d be headed next. A couple of projects I initially wanted for Bluestone, but my house ended up being the more practical or reasonable option for various reasons. AND THEN.
Lowe’s approved the Bluestone basement. The basement laundry room! Which is the whole basement, by the way. At first I was like…well that’s a weird way to start this renovation, but it’s actually kind of perfect? It gets me back in there. It’s subterranean, and 200 square feet, and a great little winter project I can do myself with a propane heater and the right supplies. It also started as the most disgusting, terrifying little space, so that makes any improvement feel extra good. Taking on this project prompted me have some of the bad work from the old plumber fixed—just sloppy stuff I probably would have ignored and then regretted ignoring down the line—which lead to wrapping up the un-done work upstairs, and that feels so much better. The electricians also returned for some outstanding items we didn’t need to pass inspection but should have been done. And it’s starting to look like something down there—like something rather nice.
It’s been a very long time since I spent this much time in this little eyesore o’ mine—since the beginning of it all, really. And it’s kind of a strange thing, to go back to a place that you never really left, but look at it with fresh eyes. Look at yourself with fresh eyes. I’m different than I was when I was 24 and had this bad idea. As much as I’ve groaned about this job and that job and stuff I did in my own renovation that made Bluestone feel impossible to really work on, I also learned what I think neuroscientists refer to as a fuckton through those experiences. They have all felt challenging because they were really fucking challenging. And that’s how trial by fire feels. That’s how learning the hard way feels.
And this, I think, is how moving forward feels. I don’t know how to resolve my guilt over the neighbors and probably the answer is that I don’t need to. I can apologize. I can feel guilty about what’s happened because what’s happened has been shitty. I can, at the same time, do what needs to be done to make the future different. And better. I know how to do this now. I’ve done it before—not this exact task, but I’ve done a lot. And I keep doing stuff, and I keep learning stuff, and I am—as of this writing—more capable than I have ever been before of taking this on. You probably are, too, with whatever thing you might have going on. Think about it! Tomorrow, you’ll be more capable. Because we are learning beings that, in spite of our flaws, have made it this fucking far.
One foot in front of the other. One stone on top of the next. That’s all any of it is.
I know it’s only Wednesday, but it’s been one of those weeks, so in lieu of the home renovation content you probably came here for, let’s just look at photos of my cute dogs? Sound alright? Great. I wasn’t actually asking.
It’s been a month since I brought this little guy home, and Mekko and I just adore him. He’s so sweet, hilarious, smart, playful, and all-around just such a good boy! I feel like we really hit the puppy jackpot with him.
Potty training is going pretty well (some days are more successful than others), we’re all sleeping through the night, and a round of dewormers seems to have done the trick for the various intestinal parasites. He’s almost 14 weeks old now, and weighing in at about 16 pounds! Such a big man!
So far his hobbies include playing with his big sister, snuggling, being such a gentleman and also the handsomest boy, sitting on command, laying by the fire, and following me everywhere. He has a newfound interest in shoes that I am trying to discourage. So far he has been minimally destructive and I hope that holds.
It is incredibly difficult to get anything done. Everything he does is v v adorables.
Mostly, this burgeoning partnership between him and Mekko has just been a complete and utter joy to watch. She’s having so much fun with him around, and really seems like a happier—if more exhausted—dog. I really think they’re a good match, which of course is also a relief.
Look at that baby Mekko smile. Look at those nice neck folds.
Watching him develop is such a trip. It happens SO FAST. Little things change with his nose and markings daily. His eyeliner started coming in! There’s a new spot where there wasn’t before! His coat is all nice and shiny now, and very different from Mekko’s—like thicker and with an undercoat. I still think he’s at least half pit bull, but the speculation continues! Should we place bets on his adult weight? The DNA results?
Did I mention the cutest things happen all the time and I can hardly stand it? Because. See above.
Also here, both being very cute. High marks, dogs. Even though he’s practically doubled in size, he still does this thing when he jumps up on the bed, which is like rehearsing few practice leaps that don’t quite get him there, before he makes a bolder leap and kind of pulls himself up like he’s scaling a wall. Jumping on the higher couch or chairs do not seem to present the same challenge. Will report back.
I am not interested in human feet but I love these dog feet. Little toesies.
The other day I color-matched his belly and the color was called “Nice Berry.” Indeed.
He’s so soft. So so soft. With nice stretchy skin and delicious breath.
We—and by “we” I mean “I”—have decided he shall be called Bungee. Like a bungee cord, or a bungee jump. It seems to suit him and he seems to like it. So that is that.
Welcome, Bungee. I hope you like having your picture taken and your face kissed all over.
Well the spoiler is right there in the title, so let’s cut to the chase! A couple of days before Christmas, Mekko and I adopted a puppy! PUPPY!!!! What a joyful, adorable, and sleep-depriving way to ring in the new year!
As many of you likely know, about 14 months ago my little old dog Linus passed away. I took it hard but my other dog, Mekko, didn’t really seem to. They were a funny kind of a pair—Mekko was essentially adopted on a whim one January day in Brooklyn, and Linus arrived by happenstance a few months later when he was found as a stray. The idea that they—a rambunctious young 50-pound pit bull and a geriatric 12-pound white toy breed—might form some kind of special bond was irresistibly adorable, but it never totally came to pass. Mekko was always really gentle with Linus, and I think his sleepy laid-back nature had some calming effect on her, but that was about the extent of it. Instead they settled into a comfortable, arms-reach arrangement that worked for everyone. And while I never regretted keeping Linus for a second, I was always aware that he wasn’t exactly what Mekko might have chosen for a sibling if she had a say in the matter. At various times I even considered getting a third dog better suited to Mekko’s brand of fun, but the idea fizzled among work stress and financial constraints and wanting to avoid appearing like a crazy person intent on dying alone surrounded by a dozen rescue dogs who might then decide to eat my corpse. Do dogs do that? Asking for a friend.
Throughout the last year, I’ve considered bringing the human to dog ratio in this house back up to 1:2. Approaching 9 years old (HOW?!), Mekko is still a bundle of playful energy, but I’m not so delusional that I think that will last forever. She’s technically considered a senior. In the spring and summer of 2018, she successfully underwent treatment for a mast cell tumor, plunging me into the exciting and extraordinarily expensive world of canine oncology. Part of me felt certain that another perfectly-imperfect dog would just drop, fully-formed, into my lap, but when that failed to actuate as the months ticked by I realized I might have to actually do something this time to make it happen. Nothing like a cancer diagnosis for one dog a few months after the death of your other dog to make time feel very limited and precious! I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t get around to this in time for Mekko to still enjoy it.
So first, the goal was summer. Summer was really busy. Then the goal was fall—my birthday is in late September, so that seemed like a fun idea. But that was a really busy time, too, and I slowly started to recognize that what I was waiting for—a prolonged period when the timing felt right, the finances were comfy and work was slow (do these things ever go hand in hand?), and the house was well-prepared—was just not going to happen. There’s never a good time to upend your life, even if the change is relatively minor. The conditions are never just so.
So thinking back on how Mekko and Linus entered my life, it struck me that a little impulsivity when it comes to decisions like this is kind of my modus operandi, and dog-related ones have historically not ended in any form of regret. Thinking about it too much was causing me to psych myself out. I already know how to have a dog. I already know how to have two dogs. This is ridiculous. Enough’s enough.
So I submitted an adoption application to a small local rescue organization. The approval came almost immediately, and to be honest I wasn’t sure I was going to do anything with it. On the night of December 22nd, I planned to spend December 23rd chipping away at house projects.Then I woke up on December 23rd, took Mekko outside, and called the rescue. By noon, I was walking into a room containing 11 wiggly little tiny puppies, a litter freshly transported from a high-kill shelter down in Tennessee (this is super normal on the east coast—the south has an immense spay/neuter/overpopulation problem). They all came running toward me, which I feel bears repeating. ELEVEN. TINY. BABY. PUPPIES. RUNNING. AT. ME. I could have burst into tears, but I still wanted the lady to let me adopt one of them so I controlled myself.
I didn’t tell anyone I was going. I spent about an hour picking up puppies, putting down puppies, snuggling puppies, and watching this huge, varied litter interact, trying to read the tea leaves on their itty bitty personalities to predict which one I thought would get along best with Mekko.
Do you know how hard it is to choose one puppy out of ELEVEN?! Guys. So hard.
A couple stood out, but one of them—black and white with some brindle peeking through, and the most adorable speckled little nose—kept coming back. He was gentle and relatively calm. He sat in my lap on his back while I stroked his little bloated puppy belly. He came when I called him over, and sat down at my feet. I noticed he seemed to be particularly attentive to the woman who runs the rescue, even though he’d only been under her care for a couple of days. He was playful with his litter mates but not totally insane, preferring to participate when engaged but not really instigating. I just had a feeling.
And by 3 in the afternoon, I was introducing Mekko to her new little brother. And my heart grew three sizes that day. The thing you can’t see in this photo is how fast Mekko’s tail was wagging as she sniffed this little guy all over for the first time. She was SO excited. He wasn’t quite sure yet, ha!
Then we went to the pet store and got some supplies, because that kind of advanced planning is, evidently, how we roll. And ya know what? Everything. Turned. Out. Fine. You figure it out. You rise to the occasion. It’s a big deal but a manageable one.
I realized sometime during the car ride home that I actually have no idea what kind of dog he is. I keep asking him but he hasn’t learned to talk yet. The rescue listed the puppies as Lab/Hound mixes, which…sure. I think there’s definitely pit bull in there—which is really what I was looking for and assumed these guys were!—but the rest…who knows! I know there are DNA tests for this nowadays, but I kind of think the not-knowing is fun. Will he be 30 pounds or 80? Only time will tell!
He is settling RIGHT in. Like a lot of puppies with his background, he arrived with an active case of fleas and various intestinal parasites, so we’ve been working on resolving that. Turns out part of that adorable bloated puppy belly was because it was full of worms! How precious! How completely grotesque! Animals, am I right?
And then there’s THIS SHIT RIGHT HERE. He keeps trying to initiate cuddle time with Mekko, whose resolve appears to be waning by the day. Over the past few days they’ve REALLY started playing, and it’s just the cutest most special thing ever. Mekko could obviously devour him in one bite and he’s no match for her in a game of tug (hell, a lot of times I’m no match for her), but she’s so gentle with him and likes to let him selectively win so he comes back for more. She’s teaching him! My heart can’t take it! He’s also been taking good notes on Mekko’s advanced cuddle and napping techniques and really excelling in those areas.
I sort of hate to admit it, but I still haven’t named him! I know, I know. Don’t shame me!! Since he’s been under the weather while the worms, uh, evacuate, I just want to make sure his name fits his personality which is coming out more and more everyday. Also, I think part of the problem settling on a name may stem from having gotten too many opinions while we saw all these people over the holidays. Ha! So like, I got this. It’s not for lack of options. I’m not sure I can handle more options.
So. There’s a new 11 week-old, 11 pound wild animal living in my house, with tiny razor sharp teeth and a very small bladder, and it’s kind of the best. It’s true that puppies are a lot of work with a lot of needs, but I gotta say—while I’d absolutely do the adult dog adoption and the senior dog adoptions again—it feels like a real privilege to get to raise this guy from 10 weeks. I haven’t had a puppy since middle school! The house is absolutely littered with toys, I’m churning out boiled chicken and rice like it’s my job, and have never spent so much time monitoring the frequency and viscosity of poop in my life. And, as I type this, I have a couple of dogs—mydogs—sleeping soundly on both sides of me, occasionally letting out a little snore or dream-twitch to remind me it’s real.
Maybe the timing for that was just right, after all.
If you’re interested in adopting one of the puppy’s litter mates, I think they’re all still available! Go fill out an application at Hollywood Dog Rescue, located in Pine Bush, NY! Liz was a pleasure to work with.
Posted: Nov 5 · Comments: Comments Off on Get Out There!
“Red Lips” is a free sharable graphic by Lisa Congdon for ImVoting.com
Tomorrow is election day. If you’re an American, you probably know this. And surely, I’d assume, you don’t need me to tell you to go out there and vote, but I’m going to do it anyway a) because I don’t want to wake up on Wednesday knowing I didn’t do this one small thing to help spread the word and encourage my fellow citizens to action and b) because my mother might actually murder me if I didn’t do this one small thing to help spread the word and encourage my fellow citizens to action.
Here’s the deal. There are so many issues I could get into, each one deserving of way more discussion than I can reasonably commit to giving on my blog that’s primarily about home renovation. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, or have any powers of deduction to speak of (hi! I’m a New-York-Gay-Jew-Millenial! Nice to meet you, too.), I’m sure you know where I stand on the direction of this country and our past two years of leadership.
To be honest, I’m not !FIRED UP! this time. I remember being !FIRED UP! for past elections. I wish I was, but I’m not, and that’s not how I’m supposed to be feeling, and that failure to feel correctly makes me feel worse. We should be JAZZED, right? Because there IS a lot at stake. Because the outcomes WILL be consequential. Because some of us have been waiting to cast this ballot since November 9, 2016, and the day is finally arriving. Yet…I’m not excited. And maybe I’m not the only one who hasn’t managed to muster the correct feelings for the occasion. I think this is what it is:
I’m angry. I’m anxious. I’m scared. And I’m tired—of day after day seeing/hearing/reading about a new or growing atrocity in my country. I was kind of prepared for the deluge of Bad Stuff I Don’t Like At All—when someone tells you who they are, BELIEVE THEM. All the warnings we needed have always been right there. The part I wasn’t prepared for was my response to the Bad Stuff I Don’t Like At All. I’m pretty sure I’m a person who cares about stuff, sometimes perhaps too deeply, and yet I’ve felt myself becoming numb. I see myself caring less. I never thought I’d watch myself feel so little when confronted with so much: seeing migrant children in concentration camps on American soil, mass shootings, the intentional acceleration of environmental destruction, constant attacks on the free press, attacks on the LGBTQ community, attacks on women and people of color, on our elections, on religious minorities, on common decency and some semblance of mutual respect, just to name a few that come to mind. To feel it all is too much, and so my brain has replaced outrage and devastation for this uncomfortable-comfortable numbness. Because I still need to kind of function like a normal person. Because I still need to wake up in the morning and go about my day and do the things I need to do.
It freaks me out that I’ve learned to care less. That I’ve learned in short order how to put my principles in a box that I can only open when I have time. It freaks me out how quickly learned helplessness takes hold, and that maybe that’s exactly the strategy at work here and maybe it’s working exactly as intended. On me.
I don’t have answers here. It sucks. Maybe it’ll suck less soon. Maybe it’ll suck more, or a lot more. But I know one response that’s absolutely not an answer: not voting. Our hands might feel tied in a great many ways. Our hearts might feel broken and our faith in the system might feel shaken and the whole endeavor might feel pointless. Those are all valid ways to feel. But far from perfect as it may be, it’s all we’ve got. And it only works—or even kind of works—if those who are capable of showing up and doing it, in fact, show up and do it.
So please show up and do it. Don’t expect things to work themselves out. Don’t expect everyone else to take care of it. This is the moment—use it. I’m including some helpful links below to help you out.
To check your voter registration status, click here!
To find your polling location and hours, click here!
To see exactly what will be on your ballot, BallotReady.org is a great place to start! There’s actually more on the ballot this election than I even realized—I know what I’m doing for the House/Senate races, but I’m glad I took a closer look at the state, local, and judicial candidates, as well a ballot measure for my county! Down-ballot races are just as important if not more than the big national ones.