FROM MONEY PIT TO MANSION

Reviving Bricks — You just inherited a dilapidated, crumbling-down grand mansion in the countryside. Assuming money is no issue, what do you do with it?

Author’s Note: It’s obvious to me that most of the responders to this prompt have never tried to renovate and/or restore an old house in the real world. I have. And I would never, ever, under any circumstances want to do it again. No matter how much money I have, I’d rather build something brand new. Old houses are seductive and hide their lethal intent. An old house can kill you. I know.


It helps to start off independently wealthy because odds are you will be poor when you are done.

Start by hiring a dependable contractor. Since the term “dependable contractor” is an oxymoron, you should also get a copy of the movie “The Money Pit.” It may help you survive the days ahead.

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Make sure the electrical system and plumbing are completely replaced. Old houses always need infrastructure upgrades — plumbing and wiring are always bad. Also, install new heating and cooling systems. Put in central air while the place is under construction.

You’ll need a new roof, gutters, leaders. Don’t forget to have the chimneys repointed. Make sure the dampers work, too. Some, if not all, of the windows will need to be replaced. Since money is no object, replace them all with double-hung thermals.

Restore interior moldings and woodwork. Many old homes have beautifully carved woodwork that’s been painted. When restored, it’s magnificent and often made of rare wood such as elm and chestnut. Rip out linoleum to discover the oak floors beneath. Refinish the hardwood.

Replace falling down porches and porticoes. Install new doors and lintels. Get an engineer to check the drainage. Do what you need to do to prevent flooding, especially if you live on a downhill slope. Your insurance won’t cover water damage from rising waters unless you live in a designated flood plain. I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the law, so put in a sump, a pump, drains. Whatever you need to keep your feet dry.

Pave the driveway and walks. Widen them if you live in an area where snowfall is heavy. Make sure your garage is big enough for the cars you own and will own in the future. And while you are at it, buy a garden tractor. You will need it.

If you have a well, replace the pump. Get a full inspection to make sure your water system is healthy. Ditto if you have a septic system. Water and septic are non-negotiable issues. And expensive.

Make sure you obtain all licences and inspections required by local law. You want to live in your house after spending all this time and money, right?

As for the exterior, it depends on the house. Some houses need siding, others paint, masonry repair … and many need a combination of all of these. If you bought an old Victorian — and you are not yet bankrupt — there are specialists who can restore the gingerbread moldings to their original glory.

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Gardens will no doubt need to be replanted and cleared out, patios rebuilt, gazebos restored. I would also want ramps and chair lifts installed. Make your bathrooms senior-friendly. Everyone gets old, even you.

Finally, the kitchen. Have some fun. Get a restaurant-quality range and double oven, a full upright freezer, refrigerator, dishwasher. Install as much cabinetry as a clever kitchen designer can arrange. Remember: No matter how much counter space you include, you will have no more than 14 inches of unoccupied space when you are done adding all the stuff that lives in the kitchen.

Make storage a priority everywhere. Build bookcases, closets and other storage areas everywhere. You cannot have too many closets. Nature abhors a vacuum, so they will all be full immediately.

Ah the splendors of an old house. It will eat you alive, leave you a gibbering wreck on the floor … but you will love that house. With a bit of luck, it will have some friendly ghosts who will love you in return.

MID SUMMER FULL TILT BOOGIE

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The garden is full of lilies and roses. We even have a couple of daisies. Pink and dark red fairy roses are heavy on the bushes.

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This is it, the peak of the season. The spider wort (there isn’t much of it this year, but there are a few stems showing buds) is almost ready to flower.

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This is as good as it will be all season and I have photographic proof!

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If you look carefully, you can see the huge dead rose-bush under the day lilies which are a bit flat from the heavy rains the other day.

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A PIANO BY THE WINDOW

Leftovers – For this week’s writing challenge, shake the dust off something — a clothing item, a post draft, a toy — you haven’t touched in ages, but can’t bring yourself to throw away.


I started playing the piano when I was four and by the time I finished high school, I played pretty well. Well enough to impress a few people, mostly those who weren’t schooled in the finer points of classical music.

I followed through by majoring in music at college where I learned how deficient my music education had been. I had a lot of feeling for music and a deep, abiding love for it. What was missing was solid technique and high-end sight-reading skills. By the end of my sophomore year, it was obvious to everyone — especially me — that my future as a classical pianist would never happen. Being almost good enough in classical piano is not good enough. And so I moved on.

The grand piano my parents gave me was too big for the living room of our first house as well as for the much bigger second house. I gave it a bedroom in our first house, but had no place for it in the colonial we bought next.

I reluctantly sold my piano.

Life happened. I moved to Israel, lived there 9 years, moved back to the states. Moved seven more times in two years. Then, Garry and I married and settled down.

I missed having a piano. Whenever I was in a house with a piano, I would sit and play. Probably that’s why Garry bought me a beautiful electronic piano for my birthday 23 years ago. A tidy little instrument with a big sound and a full 88 key keyboard, it fits snugly under the dining room window and never needs tuning.

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I have played it, forgotten it, then rediscovered it over and over during the decades since it became part of my life.

A couple of years ago, I began to practice again, only to discover that after just a few minutes, shooting pains made me stop. It was arthritis in my hands. I have arthritis almost everywhere and it had gotten worse. Gotten so severe I wouldn’t be able to play unless I had surgery to remove some of the calcification. But other stuff got in the way of getting my hands fixed. The surgery never happened.

The piano lives in front of the dining room window. It needs a more thorough cleaning thank I’ve been able to give it. Sometimes, I swear, I hear it softly calling me. I feel guilty when I look at it. It deserves better than to sit alone gathering dust.

I could sell it, I suppose. But many generations of electronic instruments have come and gone. By modern standards, the piano is almost antique. I don’t think it would be worth much on the market. In any case, why should I sell it when it’s so easy to keep?

If I sold it, I’d never own another. Though I don’t play now, maybe I’ll get my hands fixed one of these days. Then I could play again and my piano will be waiting under the window, bright with sunshine.

You never know. Sometimes life surprises you.