Five Things I Learned Doing a Home Renovation

We are all moved in!


It was a long haul. A really long haul.

And so, here are my 10 tips for surviving a reno as a relative noob.

1.) Don’t be afraid of the power tools.

No, really. This is absolutely the first thing. My sister-in-law asked if we had to do a lot of research, and while there was some of that (Thank you YouTube and Pinterest), the real learning curve was in learning that the tools will do so much of the work for you, if you just figure out which one is the right one for the job you are doing, and you use it without freaking out. Don’t fear the power tools. Don’t try to do things by hand because you are nervous. Own the tools.

2.) Accept all the help you are offered.

Childcare offers? Take them. Painting? Let someone paint. If someone wants to help? Let them. Know someone who has tools you can borrow? Expertise? Hit them up. Use all the connections you can come up with.

In my opinion, this includes putting your children to work. Or your dog, if at all possible.

You are going to need a team.

3.) Save some energy for moving day and take it easy a few days after move-in.

Look, moving is horrible and taxing under the best of circumstances. After spending weeks and weeks doing hard physical labor, and running 15 and 18 hour days?

It’s worse.

You’re going to need some rest after the marathon. Overdoing it can lead to injury. Possibly permanent damage.


4.) You’re going to generate more trash than you ever imagined.

We produced 4 tons of trash. I don’t mean that metaphorically.

Four tons.

Carpet, for the record? Really heavy. So are cabinets. If you are doing more than one room? Get the big dumpster.


5. It’s worth it!

It’s really bizarre bringing a house back to life. I had a lot of moments where I was totally exhausted: aching, calloused, overheated. But the end result has been amazing.

We have a house! We have a house that isn’t just someone else’s “vision.”

It’s our giant mess!


We really aren’t even close to being “done,” yet, but we are here, living here, in a bit of a construction zone. We still have a list longer than my arm of stuff that needs to be done.

But hey, we’re in!


Every Day is a Marathon

We’ve made a lot of progress on the house.

It’s exhausting.

Even the baby is tired.

Even the baby is tired.

So, it’s been such an around-the-clock project, that this is really the first chance I have had to documents things.

The bathroom has gone from this:


To this:


To this:


It’s almost looking like half a bathroom. Still not toilet, no vanity, no tile, no shower door. But it’s still come a long way.

The hall:


The tile nightmare went on for days. We scraped them off, then we had to sand down to the paper on the sheet rock, which took forever.

We ripped the carpet, installed new lights, and the drywall is started.


It almost looks like a normal hall. Almost.

There’s been some painting where we can do it around the drywall.


The master bedroom is looking alright.

The kid’s room officially went from one long room to two separate rooms.


And, the living room has been totally re-ceiling-ed.


It’s coming along. Moving day is in a few weeks. It feels like we’re very close, while also feeling completely impossible to accomplish.

“Easy Babies”

The baby is 18 months old.  That’s when we started the autism evaluation process with my son.

He wasn’t walking yet. He wasn’t talking.

He was an easy baby.

I mean that. In retrospect, the first time I remember getting the “your kid is a weirdo” look was at a Le Leche League meeting, where I mentioned that he woke up and just played with his hands, instead of crying. He was a super easy baby. Compared to his sister, he was a really easy baby.

He just stayed baby-ish for a really, really long time.

6 years ago.

6 years ago.

I still think of him that easy baby. He’s relatively quiet. He generally follows the rules. He’s a sweetheart.

He’s easy to live with.

He tries. I remember, when he was about five, thinking that he just tries so hard. It was a revelation, in a way–the idea that a parent might actually think a kid tries hard. I feel like I spent my whole life having parents imply I was lazy. But with my son, everything is such a struggle; everything is hard-won. He’s a trooper.  “Try again” was one of his first scripted phrases. The endless, endless “trying again.”

He attempts to get out of cleaning and chores; he avoids homework.

He is absolutely not lazy.

Easy-going as he is, everything is just so difficult for him. It’s difficult on me, because I just don’t know what to expect. There isn’t a milestone chart for this kid. We don’t know what he will be able to do. We have no idea what 12 or 16 or 20 or 35 will look like for him.

Absolutely no idea.

But he was an easy baby.

The baby learned to say “no” today. She says mama and daddy, kitty and doggie, ew, cheese, hi and bye, and juice. She says “wow” at everything that impresses her, and that’s really quite a bit, because pretty much everything is bigger than she is.

No. Very much a no.

A video posted by Veronica Nichols (@vnnichols) on

She walks, she talks. She insists on feeding herself, thank you very much. Her 18 months is not quite the same thing. There isn’t any “will she ever talk?” There isn’t the waiting. The hoping. The worry. It’s just… the normal, milestone things. She up and does them. It’s not a victory that she pretends to read–it’s wonderful to watch a little person learn things, don’t get me wrong. Every little smile is it’s own victory. It just didn’t require a team and state funding. It’s not like climbing a mountain. That hold-your-breath-and-see just isn’t there. I framed the first humanoid stick figure that my son drew, because we didn’t know if he’d ever do it.

I still watch her like a hawk. I watch for deficits, because I have them all memorized.

I worry, but it’s not the same quality of worry.

And, oddly, I feel like I’m missing something. Like, how is it she’s just talking? What is this bizarre sorcery?

How is it that the “hard” baby is doing this all so easily?


Renovation Continues into Week 2

Yesterday morning, my husband said, “We’re running out of stuff to demolish. It’s time to start building.”

And he was right.

We’d pulled off about a mile in baseboards and weird rounded epoxy fake baseboards.


About half the house has this epoxy stuff, sprayed onto 3/4 inch particle board. They only put epoxy coatings in garages these days, so it took a while for us to figure out what the heck this stuff was. There’s glittery epoxy in the kid’s bathroom.


50 year old cork floors.

I took out a doorway, as we’re intending to drywall over it.


Then it was kitchen cabinet removal time.


This was actually super fun to do. Unlike removing ancient 1960’s drapery rods.


It really did make such a difference.

And then?

It was time to actually build something!


This is actually a rebuilding. With the twin doors there, it’s pretty obvious they removed the wall at some point. Maybe. It’s hard to tell. Why remove the wall, but not the door? So confusing.


Wall frame in an afternoon!

And our contractor is building a new deck.

The old deck was so old and decayed that “demo” for it basically just meant taking it apart with your hands. It just came apart.


New deck is not yet done, but my son is super excited for the final results.


We still have to remove the 1966 carpets.

I am a little afraid.

Demo. Parts 1 through 4 of 7000.

We have to scrape the barnacles off.


And, by scrape, I mean, literally. With a scraper. So. Much. Scraping.

The acoustic tiles came down, and with them went a good 30% of the old, musty house smell. I was surprised at what a difference it made, really.

Then it was cork attack.

These things were stuck on with the worlds most horrifying glue.


So we’re all on the same page? This house doesn’t have air conditioning.

It never did.

It was 100 degrees all weekend.

It gets a bit toasty in there.

So, we had to scrape off those tiles.


And, just for googling googlers who might happen to chance upon this?

Removing cork tiles from walls. It is terrible. I feel your pain.

What you need? Is a “reversible blade scraper” on a handle. A sharpish one. It’s amazing. Don’t try it without one. We did one side of the wall in 4 hours, with two people. The next day, we got through 120% of the space, with one person, in one hour. Get the darned scraper.

So, after the tiles, it was time for my husband and a friend to start gutting the rotted out bathroom.


Fungus, subfloor damage. It was a mess.

Now it’s an even bigger mess.


And we have a pile of bathroom.


The house was vacant for 4 years, but so far as I can tell, the woman who lived here was still using the dark terror shower.

She lived here with all the rot, the leaking faucets. She tried to Scotch tape up the ceiling. It’s sort of sad to look at now. We know the back door and some of the windows were replaced about 7 years ago, and the roof was replaced 5 years ago, though the ceiling was never patched.

We actually know quite a lot about the house, because… well. Small town.

It belonged to a local judge and his wife, who had it custom built in 66. They had two kids, boys. At some point in 1979 or 1980, one of the boys was hit by a car, and he spent 15 years in a wheelchair. The wife ended up a physical therapist, and she worked out of her home. The office was equipped with hydrotherapy tubs and whatnot. The whole house is pretty close to ADA compliant, which is why the halls are so wide. I can’t imagine they were widened later, though. Presumably, she was a therapist before the accident.

I know they were religious, and one of then was of Ukranian descent. There are newspapers and Jesus cards left behind. There were grandkids, because the cork has several Cars drawings. They read a lot. There’s an entire library set-up in the basement, with sections marked out with label tape.

I know one of them drank cheap vodka.


We found this hidden in an upper cabinet. Neither my mother-in-law, nor our 60-something realtor recognized the brand at all. We think it’s from the 70’s maybe?

It’s interesting to be in a house that has some history. One of the contractors that gave a quote for the carpets said he’d gone to Cub Scout meetings in the house in the late 60’s. He also said that the carpets were, in fact, original.

So far as we can tell, they never changed anything. We know the paint in the back was up by 1971, because they marked the boys heights on the door frame.


So, I set out to remove wallpaper.

A brief reminder:




I’d never taken wallpaper down.

It’s not super fun, for the record.


It was slow going, so I put the boy to work.

Child labor! He was so proud of that tool belt. His very own tool belt and his very own scraper. Fancy.

Child labor! He was so proud of that tool belt. His very own tool belt and his very own scraper. Fancy.

But, he was not 101% committed.


So, we put the baby to work.


I promise, we thoroughly washed her afterwards.

This was it last night, on day 2.


It should be completely done tomorrow. Which is good, because I am beyond sick of it.