Saturday, October 18, 2008

Construction Zone

I thought I'd do an info dump regarding the big project going on at my house these days, because I have the feeling that I'll be posting more about construction than about books in the coming months. Of course, I won't be able to NOT read during this chaotic and dusty time, but honestly, I'm thinking I may only read one or two books a month for a while. Well, not that I've been writing a ton of reviews, anyway, but that's a different story. ;p  This is kind of a long post, but if you're nosey curious about my little world, read on. Otherwise just skip down to the pictures --you'll get the idea. ;) 

A bit of background regarding our current living arrangements. On December 6, 2006, at age seventy-six, my mother-in-law passed away fairly unexpectedly, the day before she and my father-in-law would have celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. Almost exactly a month prior, she had had open heart surgery to repair a valve, and a double bypass. She recovered very well at first, but then her recovery sort of plateaued. She was complaining about feeling weak, so was being seen by her infectious disease doctor again, who ordered blood work and other tests. Sadly, the following day she collapsed in her home and died in the hospital later that day due to sepsis. She was survived by her husband and her only child--my husband.

My father-in-law was 81 years old at the time of his wife's death and had previously suffered a massive stroke in 2000 that left him fraile and with some permanent memory loss. In addition he has extremely poor vision that started when he was in his late teens and stepped on a land mine in the Philippines while hiding from the Japanese in the mountains with his family during World War II. Since then his vision has been deteriorating significantly over the years, leaving him legally blind throughout his adult life. Essentially, he cannot take care of himself without assistance on account of his deteriorated health as a result of the stroke, his lifetime of near blindness, and his general old age, so we decided to have him come live with us. I just could not, for the life of me, after living eighty-one years, put him in a nursing home to spend his remaining years. A nursing home just wouldn't be a good fit for him. He's a friendly person and is always upbeat, but he's not very social. I think that it's due in part to his poor vision and hearing that he has difficulty interacting with others and also in part to the fact that he just enjoys his own company. So we decided to welcome into our home. Into our small, three bedroom, one bathroom, one living room, one dining room, one non-eat-in kitchen 80+ year old home. I just realized our house is practically the same age as my father-in-law! :)

This is a photograph of my father-in-law on his 83rd birthday this past summer. 

Our house is a great little starter house in a wonderful suburban community with great schools and lots of parks. Perfect for a young family, but the kids are growing up, getting bigger, needing more space and privacy, and when my father-in-law moved in, the house went from cute starter house to an ack!-this-is-so-cramped-help!-I-need-breathing-space house! On the second floor, we have three small bedrooms, each about 10 ft. x 10 ft. and one bathroom about 8 ft. x 10 ft. Thank goodness the bathroom is a decent size, so at least two people can easily be getting ready for bed or school at the same time. But yeah. One toilet. Not counting the new Johnny On The Spot, of course! :) My oldest gave up her room for her grandfather and the girls --ages 9 and 13-- have been sharing a small 10 ft. x 10 ft. room together for almost two years now. In their room is two twin beds with barely three feet between them, one nightstand, one armoire on a wall and one tall chest of drawers in the closet. They're so cramped, but they have been such great sports about it. Our bedroom is called the 'master' bedroom because I think it is closer to 10 ft. x 12 ft. Ha! We have a queen size bed, two small nightstands and one long dresser. I also have a narrow bookshelf behind the door --the best part after the bed. ;) There is about 18 inches clearance around one side and the foot of the bed and maybe four feet between the other side of the bed and our dresser. Very cramped cozy.

So what are we doing to our house? Well, we currently have a total of 1170 sq. ft. of living space and we are adding a whopping 996 sq. ft. to that along with some renovations to our existing space. We are renovating our 1970s kitchen, rebuilding our garage, and off the back of the house, we are adding a family room, a bedroom for my father-in-law, and a full bathroom (handicap accessible... just thinking ahead). I think this will make a world of difference for us not just in terms of space, but in lifestyle as well. Since my father-in-law cannot go up or down the stairs alone or find/prepare/heat up his own food, our freedom to be spontaneous and or to be out of the house for long periods of time is extremely difficult. As it is now, during the day when my husband is at work and the girls are at school, I have these little windows of opportunity to go out on errands, to the gym or what not, when I know my father-in-law won't need to go up or down the stairs. Fortunately for me, he enjoys keeping a consistent daily schedule of naps, meals, walks outside, and reading at his electronic magnifier, so I've been able to predict when he'll need my help and I just go out when I know he'll stay put in one place or another. When he has his own room and bathroom on the first floor, the danger of the stairs will be non-existent, and I'm hoping we can leave a thermos of coffee and lunch on the table for him, and he'll be able to be on his own for longer periods of time during the day. Even if I need to hire someone to come in to take care of him now and then, I'll feel like there will space for the aid to do their thing without being right on top of me, too!

Originally we were only planning on doing this first floor expansion, but everyone kept telling us that we should consider expanding the second floor over this new space. We were afraid a second floor expansion would put us in over our heads financially, but apparently the biggest expense and effort is putting in the new foundation and first floor, and that adding another floor and three more walls above it before you put the roof on is more cost effective at that point. So we looked into it and decided to go for it. Of course, this was nine months ago, and I now wonder if we would still have decided this as confidently given the state of the economy today, but oh well. We'd lose money and sanity if we backtracked now. Thankfully, my father-in-law is generously funding a significant portion of this project with his retirement money, so I think we'll be okay. Better he invest his money into the equity of his son's home than paying for nursing home care, right?

On the second floor, the existing bathroom will be made about a foot or so narrower, which still leaves it a generous 7 ft. x 10 ft., and the extra foot along with two feet or so from our existing master bedroom will be made into a hallway leading to the second floor addition which will be all master bedroom! The remaining space in the existing master bedroom will be made into a narrower bedroom that will gain a bit of length --maybe 2 ft.-- into the new space. The new master bathroom will be an amazing space for me and my husband. We'll have our own bathroom and a big walk in closet with a window in it! That seems so surreal to me after having had a bedroom only a bit bigger than that for the last 12 years. The room will be about 25 ft. x 12 ft. and it will also have an additional 4 ft. x 6 ft. nook that will be a perfect reading corner. I'm already thinking about what kind of bookshelves to get and the chaise lounge I want to put next to the window there. I feel a little guilty about having such a decadent master bedroom like this, but at the same time, I think my husband and I really need it. Taking care of an elderly parent full time is very demanding and challenging, that I think having this little oasis will give us the respite we need to recharge and rejuvenate ourselves, and in turn allow us to be better care givers.

The design phase took a while, as did waiting for the township to approve of our application for the addition and renovation, but now things are finally taking off around here, which is both exciting and scary. I'm so excited I think I decided on the siding, trim, and roofing colors today. Three decisions down, five thousand eight hundred twenty-seven to go!

The project is anticipated to take six or seven months to complete, and for the majority of that time, my husband and I won't have a bedroom (we'll be roughing it in the living room), and I think if my estimations are correct, we won't have a kitchen for Thanksgiving or Christmas!? omgwtf! Think of me as I'll be grilling turkey tenderloins for Thanksgiving and baking Christmas cookies in an EasyBake Oven.

Ready for some pictures? I started a separate blog to document the progress of the construction in pictures, but decided to do it using a different profile than I use for this blog because the purpose of the construction blog is to share our project with a few close friends and my husband's relatives who don't live close by and if I used my happily ever after blog for it, (a) some of them are so NOT computer savvy and they'd just get lost trying to find the actual construction posts here, and (b) I'd have no place to complain about them! LOL! Just kidding! I'll probably post the link to my construction blog here soon as well, but in order to protect the innocent, I first need to photoshop a few of the photographs I posted to blur license plate numbers, our house number, the contractor's name and number, etc. I'll try to do that soon, but in the meantime, I have a few pictures I can share here.

Note: You can click on the photos to view them enlarged.

Before shots of the back of the house, taken in August 2008:
I let my vegetable garden become a haven for beneficial insects this year.  In this picture you can see how the goldenrod pretty much took over. There are also three different kinds of mint, lemon balm, lamb's ears and alpine strawberries in there somewhere. It was pretty, but I'm looking forward to growing vegetables again next summer. 

This is after the demolition, when the foundation is being built:

The cement is being poured into the crawl space foundation. We opted to save ten grand by NOT digging out a full basement:

The new garage is on the left and the living space is on the right where the floor joists are shown. This picture was just taken today.

And that's it so far. On Monday, I think they are laying the plywood for the rough floor and I'm going to do a little walk through with my contractor and the plans to make any last minute adjustments on door and window placement. We're also getting one of those on site Pod storage things delivered on Monday, because we need to empty our attic and basement this week, and probably the master bedroom and kitchen soon, too. So much work, but I'm so very lucky to be able to be doing this addition in the first place, and it's going to be so, so, so worth it in the end. :)


  1. Good for you!! You're doing this for all the right reasons! I've been trying to get me mom to move in with us since my dad's stroke in 2003, but she's one of those "I don't want to be a burden" people (aka Jewish mother). Not realizing that she's a bigger burden to us by living alone and us worrying all the time.

    Your FIL is a lucky man to have you guys.

    And, way jealous of the great house you're gonna have when it's all over!

  2. I think this will be awesome for you and the entire family. :D
    This is one of those big family projects where it'll have tons of headaches, disagreements, short tempers, but ultimately fun and benefits for all.

    It's really nice and considerate to make the downstairs bedroom for your father-in-law. If he's anything like my asian grandparents, then despite being elderly, having health problems, and usually in need of assistence, they still prefer to be able to do certain things themselves. Independent to the bone.

    I think blogs is very much like hanging out with friends. Some things you just don't want family to know. ;)

    You're the coolest and nicest rocket scientist I know. :D

  3. P.S. Your family's very lucky to have you. ^_^

  4. Definitely a better way to spend your fil's retirement than on nursing homes. They charge ridiculous amounts and he would not get the same loving care that he would get from his family. It warms my heart to know you and your husband allow him that peace in your home. A friend of mine tried with her elderly father. But in the end, she really had no choice but to place him back in a nursing home. She is not in the best of health herself and it made it very difficult for her. But I know if she could, he'd still be with her too.

    Almost doubling your living space! That so totally rocks! You may have went through some aggravation to get where you are now, but it'll be so worth it in the end, even if you can't cook normal holiday meals. It makes it even more memorable when you think back on this year! And what's life without those memories :).

  5. Wow, big project there! the results will be wonderful, have fun! :)

  6. Christine:

    It is so wonderful that you have accomodated your father-in-law. He sounds like a delightful gentleman and I'm sure appreciates the fact you and your husband have taken him in.

    Renovations are very stressful, especially when a kitchen is under construction. Our children were little when we last remodeled our kitchen and I took them to stay with a relative for a few days. I find the kitchen is pretty much the centre of family life.

    All the best.

  7. WOW, since the last time I was at your house, aka the fabu b-day party, there has been a lot of process!!
    I am really in awe of you, your hubby and the girls for all they do for your father-in-law. You dedication and love for him really shows. I hope you realize that everything you do is appreciated and you deserve multiple pats on your back :D

  8. Hey Christine, thanks for sharing the story and pics. I'm touched by your father-in-law's story. It's so great that he has your family to take care of him now. You SO deserve a bigger house and yeah, the decadent bedroom. ;-)

  9. Big hurrah! and sending good wishes for smooth sailing.

    You guys so deserve it!

  10. Wow!!! things are really coming along. I am so very excited for you. Your FIL is looking good.

    Hugs and kisses to the family

  11. All the best with the rennovations Christine! It can't be easy living with all that upheaval, especially going into winter.

    And I really admire you and your family. Looking after an elderly or infirm relative isn't easy (speaking from experience).

  12. Very interesting, Christine! It'll be an adventure for the next little while, but so worth it for you. My neighbor did something similar and she's never regretted it. Good luck staying sane!

    And, yes, go get that crockpot :-)

  13. I loved your story about your FIL. I would say that he's lucky to have you all, but I think that everyone in this equation is lucky.

    Judging from the pics-- things look to be going well. Thanks for sharing. :)

  14. Lori :: I hope your mom at least lives close by that you can easily check up on her and help out when she needs it. Does she at least know when to ask for help? My in-laws used to ask for our help with trivial stuff, then NOT call on us for serious issues. It was very frustrating.

    little_alys :: You are so wise for your young years, my friend. I've already been in tears a few times over this project and you're so right about my father-in-law wanting to be as independent as possible. Which I think is absolutely a good thing, but sometimes it interferes with his judgement about what he is truly capable of doing.

    I think blogs is very much like hanging out with friends. Some things you just don't want family to know. ;)

    Isn't that the truth!

    You're the coolest and nicest rocket scientist I know. :D

    Thank you!!! ... but, um... I'm probably the only rocket scientist you know. o_0

  15. Amy C :: I'm so excited to be able to have room for out of town guests looking to tour NYC for a long weekend when this addition is finished. ;)

    Wendy :: Thanks! :)

    Lea :: Thanks for the kind words. I'm going to be lost without my kitchen! I plan on buying a crock pot very soon!

    Katiebabs :: Thanks! By the time you come over again, there may even be a roof over the new space!

  16. Jace :: Thank you so much for validating my need for a decadent bedroom. I can't wait!

    Azteclady :: Thank you!

    Orannia :: Thanks, and yes, it is going to be extra challenging doing this addition when it's so cold. We're switching heating systems, too.... so I don't know how that's going to work out.

    DarlingDiva :: Thanks! :)

    Phyl :: Thank you! Do you have a recommendation for a crock pot? Brand, model type, size, anything? I'm normally very appliance and gadget oriented, but a crock pot is something I've never explored before.

    Brie :: Thank you and I think you're right when you say that everyone in this equation is lucky. :)

    Thank you all for your kind words and encouragement AND for sharing my excitement for this project! You're the best! :)

  17. It looks like there's a lot of work ahead of you all (more than re-finishing the hardwood floors *g*) but in the end, it'll be totally worth it. I mean, you nearly double your space and your FIL will have his own room on the first floor, eliminating the worry about the stairs. That'll help a lot.

    My mother took care of her mother. My grandmother had her room(s) on the second floor in the house, and the stairs were a constant worry later because she still wanted to use them on her own and didn't want to bother others asking for help when she clearly needed assistance. She wanted to be independent. So like you, my mother didn't want to leave the house for longer periods of time.

    Don't feel guilty about your own "decadent" bedroom. When I learned one thing from seeing my mother taking care of her mother, it's that you must not forget yourself, that you need time and space for yourself. You and your husband deserve it.

    Thank you for sharing the story about your FIL and the pictures and all the best for the renovations (and everything else). Always think about what you'll have in a couple of months!

  18. I think the construction is going great!

    I've said it before, but I'll say it again - you are amazing! I think it's wonderful that you all have taken in your FIL and you're children have been so great with all the changes. You've raised them well.

    I also think it's fabulous that you are building your FIL a room of his own where he can be more independent - that's so important!

    The house is gonna be great! (and I'm extremely jealous of what your bedroom will be like after it's done! lol)

  19. OMG your house is so awesome Christine, and with the extra rooms it will be even better. I love that you are taking care of father-in-law. so sweet of you, is not everyone that would do it , he is very lucky indeed.

  20. How exciting! Thanks for putting up some pics. I absolutely love to follow along with home improvement projects.

    *I feel a little guilty about having such a decadent master bedroom like this, but at the same time, I think my husband and I really need it.*

    NEVER feel guilty! You all are doing a wonderful thing being there for your FIL; you and your husband deserve your own little retreat.

    I agree about nursing homes. I think some provide some genuinely loving and special care, but there's no comparison if family is able to be there for an elderly family member in their home.

    Can't wait to see some ore pics! Good luck with everything. :)


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