Monday, August 27, 2007

The One With Endings and Beginnings...

My Goodness.

I certainly never intended to be "quiet" for this long. It took seeing my name on Sully's "absent blogger list" to realize just how long it had been since I had posted here.

We've been busy.


First, we had to wrap up The Divorce.

The quick-n-dirty final on this is that we finally, actually recovered everything of Mom's before it was over - all of her possessions and money - and That Guy is no longer a part of our lives. All I will say here (Forgive me, Kelly, I know how you love the details!) is that I now fully believe that if we had not brought Mom home when we did, she might not be alive today. That Guy was thisclose to facing charges for several "actionable" things we caught him in; it was only his fervent desire to avoid going to court, and his complete willingness to do anything that we wanted to get the divorce done that saved his skinny old ass from landing squarely in jail. Attorney D was actually a bit upset - she had been looking forward to (as she so delicately put it) "tearing him a new one" in court. I'm sure the big, fat check we wrote her helped soothe her disappointment.

To those who say that we should have put him in jail, please remember that my Mom is still recovering - both physically and emotionally - from her tenure as his "wife". Her life for the last decade or so has been more like that of a prisoner of war - or a hostage. To drag her through the anguish and humiliation of a court trial was never really a consideration for us if it could be avoided. Yes, we might have gotten a bit more money out of the old goat, but the toll it would have taken on my Mom would have been too great to justify it. Sadly, I am no longer certain that she will ever fully recover from the damage that he inflicted.

Once the divorce was done, and properly celebrated, we began our next, and current project.


A new house.

You might think that to find a new house, and sell this one would be a simple enough task, but the reality of the situation is that for the last 14 or so years, The Wrench and I have been so focused on Twinks (and her medical problems) that we have pretty much completely neglected the house. We wanted to make the repairs, but the reality of our financial situation was that we were holding the old homestead together with bits of baling wire and duct tape. If you think that is an exaggeration, then let me assure you it is not; like many families faced with catastrophic ongoing medical bills, we have often had to make choices. Choices like "Do we paint the house this year, or get Twinks meds refilled?"

This house has great meaning and memories for us; suffice it to say that when we began seriously discussing the notion of selling it, rather than staying put and fixing everything, I became extremely depressed. In fact, for several days, I couldn't stop crying; every time I opened that squeaky old cupboard door, or looked out in to the back yard at the trees my Dad planted, the tears would start again. But I knew that we had to explore every option, so I dutifully set up appointments to visit model homes, and meet with builders, and we learned about neighborhoods, floor plan options, and spec houses.

And we couldn't find one house that was "right". We found a lot of houses that were OK, a few that we thought we could "make work" for our new-and-improved family, but none that were really right. None of us really wanted to move, but we all felt overwhelmed by the amount of work that we thought this house we loved so much was going to need.

Finally, one night when I couldn't sleep, I sat and drew our existing home's floor plan, then began doodling around with an extension, or an addition. Suddenly, I realized that the reason we couldn't find the perfect house was because we were almost already living in it.

I stayed up all night, drawing and re-drawing, until I had a (very rough but) preliminary floor plan to show to Mom and The Wrench the next morning. Skeptical at first, as they looked closer, they began to see how it could work. The big problem seemed to be the condition of the house - we didn't want to invest a substantial amount of money in this house, or any house that wasn't structurally sound. We realized that we needed a home inspection to find out exactly what needed to be fixed, and exactly how serious our problems with this house were before we proceeded any further.

I was elated; there was a chance - however small - that we might be staying put. I called Attorney A, who is an excellent source for referrals for any kind of service, as he seems to know everyone in the known universe, and he happily provided the name of a "highly reputable" inspector. InspectorMan came early on the day of the appointment, and went straight to work. It took him nearly three hours, but he checked *everything*, and then the next morning delivered two copies of a printed color report that ran about 50 pages.

The house is fine. Everything that The Wrench and I (and Mom ) had been worried about is essentially cosmetic. Structurally speaking, the house and all of it's "systems" are in excellent condition; the worst thing that InspectorMan could say about the house was that it certainly did need some new trim boards and paint, and oh-by-the-way, fix the fence on the west side, too.

Well. Now what are we going to do?

Much discussion ensued - I won't bore you with the details, but after three very intense days of talking through all of the options that we now had at our disposal, we decided to...

Remodel this house.


That sounds simple enough, right?

Wrong. Now we had to call Attorney A again - this time for a referral to a contractor who specializes in remodels. A came through again - this time with a short list of potential remodelers, and an uncharacteristically stern lecture about checking references, and Generally Being Careful. We began by interviewing the three "candidates" on the phone, and quickly began to see that the Number 3 Guy on the list just flat was not interested in our "little" project. It wasn't until much later in the process (when he heard what our budget was going to be through one of the other contractors) that he was suddenly "interested", and suddenly available to talk to us. We had already eliminated him from the list by then.

Number 2 Guy was very nice and knowledgeable, but it was all too obvious to us that what he *really* wanted to do was sell us a shiny new house over by the golf course. After all, he pointed out, we could have whirlpool tubs in every bathroom! And tumbled marble floors! And granite countertops! And who wouldn't want those things? Certainly not you! And, hurry quick! Because all of the choice lots are nearly gone! Don't you want to live in a shiny new house?

Wrong. What we want is our funny, funky little quasi-cottage, with the native stone and clapboard siding. What we want is the rich, warm woodwork that we have in this house - not the cold, shiny white painted trim in the new houses. We didn't care about golf course views - we want to look out in the yard, and see trees that we planted ourselves, and watch the forsythia bloom every spring that Mom started from just a sprig. So, Number 2 Guy - even though he is very nice, and knowledgeable, and we like him just fine - is out.

Number 1 Guy on the little list was the only one left. I couldn't help buy worry - what if we don't like him? What if we have to go crawling back to Numbers 2 or 3? What if - God forbid - he is too busy, or what if -even worse - our project somehow just isn't the kind of thing he does?

No need to worry; Number 1 Guy was able to grasp instantly *why* we wanted to stay here. He looked at my funny little drawings, and saw right away what we were trying to do - and with a few swift strokes of his pen, took my ideas from good to great. He took the time to go through the InspectorMan's report, and then he took the time to walk the house himself - checking to make sure that there would be no surprises down the road. Finally, he sat at our kitchen table with us, and began to lay out how he works, why he does things the way he does. He was friendly, and funny - and most importantly, he "got it"; he understood why this house was so important to us, and he pledged to insure that the addition would be seamless, and would match in fit and finish as exactly as possible, so that no one would ever have to know that it *was* an addition. He left a long sheet of references for us to call - several of them are prominent citizens in our little corner of The Greater Metro. He returns our calls promptly, arrives for meetings on time or early, and has worked out a construction schedule that will allow us to live in the house, even while everything is going on. His references all check out - and the examples of his work that we have seen are excellent as well. In fact, checking around town with people NOT on his list, we still have not been able to find anyone with anything bad to say about him.

He brought the estimate in at exactly the figure that we had been hoping for. And no, we had not disclosed that figure to any of the contractors. And yes, we have set aside an additional 7% above the stated budget for "just in case".

We signed papers with our new ContractorMan (the remodeler formerly known as "Number 1 Guy") last week. Construction will begin in just a few days.

Life is about to get even more interesting around here...


Chuck said...

Hey Thim, glad to see you writing again! But I understand sometimes real life gets in the way of blogging, and it does sound like you have been ultra busy. Glad everything is Settled with the Divorce and you can move on and start the Remodel and looking forward to new things!

Fab Grandma said...

What a lot of stuff on your plate. 1. I went through a divorce myself from a jerk who should have been put in jail for what he did to my family, but, like you, I felt like the sanity of my family was worth more to me than having to go through a trial. I was just releived that he was out of my life and out of the lives of my children.
2. When I got ready to sell my house in 1999, I put it on the market to sell it and had no one interested in 6 months. Not one looker. so, we took it off the market, painted it inside and out, replaced the windows on the front of the house, and put on a new garage door. Then, we put it back on the market in 2000. It went from putting the "for sale" sign in the yard to sitting at the closing table in 10 DAYS. But, unlike you, I did not want to stay in that house. It was draining my finances and holding me back from what I wanted to do with my life. We bought our travel trailer with the equity from the sale of the house, and moved on , literally.

3. remodeling can be a traumatic experience. Take time to relax along the way. I know it will be worth to you when it is all done. Oh, and post a picture of it, will ya?

Kelly said...

Triple yay!

1. You're writing again!
2. Mom's a single gal (with hopefully a NICE alimony? hehehehe!)
3. You're remodeling! Join the PFTD club!

So glad to hear from you again. You have a "spring" in your "voice" that's nice to hear! Hope Twinks is feeling well :)

Suldog said...

I will now happilly remove you from the lax bloggers list, and reinstate you in the very actives!

Glad to hear from you again. It sounds as though, even if you have a lot on your plate, that things are slowing to a pace you can handle.

I totally understand about the desire to stay put. I lived in the same house for 37 years and leaving it was an almost physically painful. I had no choice, though, and you did. Good for you for coming up with THE PLAN!

alpharat said...

Congrats! It sounds like a bad phase is officially over, and you and your family can move toward a new, exciting one.