I’m just back in Phoenix after most of a week at the house in Estacada.

We finished none of the things we went there to do. The plan was prep the walls and floors for paint and new flooring.

Instead, we (with a little help from our friends) trimmed the grass around the septic system and in the front of the house, dusted and hosed down many cobwebs and wasp nests from the eaves and soffits, pulled all the carpet, cleaned half of the kitchen really well, partially fixed the washing machine, put out mouse bait, and patched four fist/foot sized holes in one of the bedroom walls and several other holes/cracks in walls around the other rooms. We also put up a new shower curtain and replaced the padded toilet seat with the decent kind of hard and disinfectable seat that should be the only kind allowed on toilets, ever, except in cases of medical need. Also accomplished: internet, expanded security, carpenter ant treatment, septic system looksee by the maintenance guy (it’s probably fine, just needs to be pumped), and a well test for arsenic, nitrates, and coliform (results later this week, I hope). We met two more awesome neighbors and a guy with a cidery in town.

Eclipse shadows on the garage wall Eclipse shadows on the garage wall

I need to write that list out so that I can remember that we did a lot. I need to remember all that because a month ago I told myself that as long as the house had floors and wall paint, I could move in–that everything else could come later. Well, now we are out of time and out of money for any more pre-trips, and that means we will have to move in without floors or wall paint. For the walls, we still have to finish patching holes and then we have to mop them down because they are so dirty, and then primer them with Killz. The floors are more heartbreaking.

First, the appraiser didn’t turn a report in until Wednesday, and the lender and realtor both recommended we not do anything “major” until we knew that the property appraised “as is.” Both of the experts said that pulling up the carpet would count as major, so we had to wait. We’d unofficially heard by Tuesday late afternoon, but by then it was too late to do much. We spent the first two days puttering, taking down tacks and nails and mirrors, being awed by the eclipse, hanging out with Lauren who was visiting from Seattle, and doing small tasks that wouldn’t risk the eye of the appraiser, in case they needed to come back.

Early Wednesday morning, we finally tackled the 45 & 25 year old carpets.

Apparently, under all that odor, skin, and flea ecosystem,¬†was particle board, also known as MDF. At first, we were excited that it didn’t look too damaged in the two back bedrooms we hoped to re-carpet. Once we got into the hallway, however, it looked less good.

Carpet pulling in progress Carpet pulling in progress

A small dog (or two, hard to tell) was allowed to piss on the hallway walls for possibly years. The carpet was stained almost black along the edges and when we pulled it up, everywhere there were staples, the piss had wicked down to the MDF, causing it to swell in little anthill mounds. They crumbled away easily by being scuffed with a shoe-toe or putty knife, and still we thought, okay. Maybe we can dig out the softened stuff, patch it and it’ll be okay. But in the living room, where the roof had leaked, there were blacker ominous spots. Also, more pet-deformed boards in the middle of the of the room (yes, this means exactly what it sounds like). Also, the vinyl floor tiles at the front door threshold and in the dining room were applied with a thick mastic, and while we could pop the tiles without too much grief, getting that adhesive sanded down would have proved very difficult.

So M decided the most sensible plan was to replace about a third of the particle board sheets. They are on top of a very sturdy (according to the inspector) subfloor of 2×6 tongue and groove. It was going to be a pain, but he could at least get it started before we left. My plan was to pull staples from the bedrooms (which were going to be carpeted and so could keep their MDF) and wipe down the walls so I could get a layer of Killz on them in prep for carpet and paint.

Except a bit more research on M’s part (luckily) and he found out that hardwood floors should not under any circumstances be installed over MDF. That anthilling tendency, whenever they get wet means that any leaks (or even unchecked spills) can cause the floorboards above to buckle. We had to return the MDF we bought and reassess.

I was disappointed, and not for the first time that week, a bit hysterical. M briefly suggested we could leave the MDF and just carpet the whole place, except that we have all that flooring and I’d had my heart set on it and goddamn it. Just No. But then, that meant pulling out all the MDF (except in those two bedrooms) and putting in plywood in its place. Because this is all very precision-y and easy to fuck up, the carpets can’t be selected or installed until after the plywood, and we only had one day left at this point.

I tried, on Thursday, to wash the walls in the smallest back bedroom, the one that will be my office until my shed is built, and my sewing room after that. I thought, I will get one room cleaned and Killz. Just one lousy room of the seven (if you count all the spaces as rooms). But every mop pass caused brown streaks. I would mop and sponge and mop, and still there were brown streaks from years of cigarette smoke and dust. I dumped the bucket water out three times for one wall before it got too dark to see what I was doing. Thursday felt so hopeless, y’all.

On Friday, I had to accept that we had no more chances to come out and no more time left to primer the walls or floors before our arrival. We’d have to show up in a couple of weeks, with all of our things and there would be not one single finished or clean surface on which to place them.

I decided, then, to clean the kitchen. The kitchen was depressingly filthy–years of splattered grease, of oily dust, of warped and stained linoleum staple-gunned to the cupboard shelves (??!!), of mouse turds and cobwebs. The stove top was so crusted with crumbs and baked on oil that my first, second, and third pass was with a palette knife and shop-vac. It took me all day, and my fitbit thinks I “worked out” for nine and a half hours, spraying de-greaser and then scrubbing the walls, cupboards, counters, stove-top with first a scotch brite, then a magic eraser and finally a cello sponge. But I managed to get just about half of it is clean enough for us to use for both storage and food prep, without fear.

Cleaning progress, left to right Cleaning progress, left to right

M sanded down all the patches he’d applied in the living room and to the four large holes in the room that will be his office (until his shed is built and the TV room after that). Our friend Steve came out and magic erasered 40+ years of hand ¬†smudges from the door jambs and walls. It is better than nothing and it is progress even if it doesn’t feel like enough progress.

It’s going to be a hard couple of months after move in, and I am worried about my ability to see the long game and stay hopeful. We have nowhere to put a bed or our clothes. I’m worried about the pee-soaked sawdust smell getting into our things before we can paint over it. There are so many things we need to do between move in and winter on top of floors and walls (caulk pretty much the whole house and get the ducts and chimney cleaned and get one giant digger pine that leans ominously over the garage removed). All of the things I want to make the house a home (like a cat and a dog and a living room rug and a freaking dryer) are beyond frivolous at this point. They are not in the budget. Putting our stuff on a moving truck that someone else drives is no longer in the budget. Just two weeks ago, I would hold on to a couple of images in my mind’s eye: one of small river stones in a border around the house foundation, and the other of the deck out front rebuilt and with a chair on it. Those are “maybe next summer” things, now. Maybe further away. I know it will be lovely some day. I’d hoped it would at least be habitable sooner than someday,¬†though.

Some day this deck will be repaired and the house will be painted green and there will be a small border of stones around the outside. Some day this deck will be repaired and the house will be painted green and there will be a small border of stones around the outside.

So, this house is going to teach me about resetting my expectations, I suppose. I’m traditionally slow and angry to do that. I have had to do it a lot, and so I should be better at it than I am. But I suck at being disappointed. I wail and throw tools on the floor and brood, I do all that and then eventually I get to the business of scrubbing a wall. The notary will be over on Monday and I will hand over the down payment then.

Thank you, this week, to Lauren, Steve, Dean, Mike and Kate, who all helped us get something done we couldn’t do on our own, but more importantly, commiserated or cheered our progress. But most important: thank you to M for cutting all that carpet and sticking it out all week.

Categories: House