Thursday, June 2, 2016
I’m on a flight to Tampa, FL to attend AAMI (Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation), the biggest trade show for Fluke Biomedical. Fortuitously, I got a window seat, after swapping places with my associate, who preferred my aisle seat, further back in the plane.
I love being by the window.
Waiting to take-off, my mind wanders back to the scene in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the ape throws a bone into the air and it transitions to a spinning space station. I see the bone morphing into an airplane. How did man go from living in caves, and foraging for food to building magnificent machines that can hold hundreds of passengers, communicate with people on the ground, generate electricity to power the lights and mechanics, and use fuel that’s been pumped from the ground, refined, and then judiciously feed into engines to propel it across a continent (or oceans) within hours?
This trip also marks the end of a chapter in my life. When I return, Rich and I will rent a U-Haul truck, and move the rest of our furniture and belongings from our Kirkland to our Mount Vernon house. We’ll return for a day to clean, and finish up last minute projects, and then the house will be listed. With a shortage of houses in Seattle and the surrounding area, we expect to receive multiple offers, and sign sales papers within a week.
This is what we wanted. This is what we’ve been planning for years, but it comes with mixed feelings, and tears.
In 2007, when we were looking for a house near Microsoft, so I’d have a short commute, there were few on the market, and most were selling for considering more than our budget allowed. We visited 5 or 6 houses, and Rich settled on our Kirkland house after a few hours of looking. I was deeply disappointed, having previously lived in a spacious, recently refurbished house in Round Rock, Texas on 1.7 acres with hardwood and tiles floors throughout, large kitchen, two covered porches, covered second-floor balcony (all with ceiling fans), and many amenities, including a hot tub, creek along the back of the property, electric gates, garden shed, and magnificent dogwood, magnolia, crepe myrtle, and oak trees.
Nevertheless, Rich promised to make many improvements to the Kirkland house. The evening the house closed, and we were handed the keys, we started ripping out the carpet, and strategizing on our initial projects.
Two years after moving, the top floor had lovely bamboo floors, we’d removed the popcorn ceiling, painted every wall off-white, replaced the dingy wooden doors and baseboards with white six-panel doors and white baseboards, replaced most of the dated light fixtures with modern ones, replaced the windows, and added elegant white molding and windows sills.
A few years later, Rich cut a large hole in the kitchen ceiling, adding to large skylights, which allowed light to pour into the kitchen and stream into the living room, and dining room. He also added a kitchen island with butcher block on top, and ample storage below. Additional storage was added with new shelving in several closets. Last year, we added granite counters and stainless steel appliances.
Rich’s next project was to remodel the two upstairs bathrooms, adding tile floors, maple cabinets, chic lighting, new toilets, sinks, and faucets. The master bath took several months because he removed a wall, and made the shower considerably larger with tile from ceiling to floor, and a snazzy glass shower door.
There was a break in remodeling while we cared for my mother, and adjusted to reduced income after Rich was laid-off from IBM, and I struggled to find steady work after leaving Microsoft. However, after purchasing a house in Coupeville on Whidbey Island, and selling our lot in Anacortes the vision for our future was solidified. Instead of building a three-story house on the lot, with its shrinking view of March Point due to fast-growing fir trees, we’d be spending the rest of our “mobile” years in a one-story house with an unobstructed view of the Puget Sound!
The Final Push
While Rich was hoping to start on the final remodeling of our Kirkland house in January 2016, he had to wait until the start of March, after working an additional two months for Microsoft as a contract test engineer. A few weeks into February, he was side-tracked when his step-father Ted passed away, leaving a large estate to deal with, including a house that was “under water” and three mobile homes, each with numerous problems.
In between dealing with lawyers, tenants in the mobile homes, insurance and utility companies, and other issues surrounding his step-father’s estate, he demolished the downstairs of our Kirkland house. The entire time we lived in the house, we scarcely gone downstairs, except to do laundry, and tend to our cat’s needs. The laundry room had a large, grungy sauna, where we’d placed the cats’ food and water, and blankets for sleeping. The laundry room also featured dingy cupboards, and a windows that was partially blocked by our washer and dryer, which were stacked on top of each other to make room for a large litter box.
The rest of the downstairs was a hallway with dark brown panel on one wall, leading into a large family room, also partially paneled with two high windows. In one corner was a 70’s bar with dark brown cupboards, large mirror against the back wall, and glass shelves.
Rich’s first task was to remove everything from the laundry room. The space once occupied by the sauna was cut half, with the back half forming a closet, accessible from the family room. Rich built a wall to form the back of the closet. On the other side of the wall, where the laundry room is located, he added a cluster of cabinets with a counter for sorting clothes. The washer and dryer were then placed against the back wall with a cabinet in-between, opening up the window.
To further bring light into the laundry room, he added white molding around the windows, and a large window sill.
At the front of the laundry room, opposite the new cabinets, he did extensive plumbing and electrical work to create a small vanity with a small-profile toilet, mod lighting, and a dainty mirror.
He also installed a pocket door into the laundry room so there’s no door opening into the laundry, taking up valuable space.
At the end of the hallway, he installed a door, turning the family room into a “suite” complete with a fireplace, and mini kitchen. The former bar has new maple cabinets and small sink with room for a small refrigerator, small microwave or hotplate. Using several types and sizes of tile, he created an attractive backsplash in the mini kitchen.
The flooring in the laundry room, and mini kitchen is an oak-like laminate. The family room, and hallway is now beige carpeting (fast, and somewhat cheap).
Finally, he installed new light fixtures, including bucket lights over the kitchen so there’s plenty of light for cooking.
The resulting house is fantastic! I thoroughly enjoyed the bright kitchen, new counters and appliances, and garden windows, which looks out onto the deck, and backyard, shaded by a large oak and three majestic cedar trees. I relished the wildlife that visits from perky stellar blue jays and bossy crows to humorous squirrels and inquisitive raccoons. We’ve delighted in seeing several litters of raccoon grow from awkward, playful bundles of fur to mature adults who respectfully knock on our French doors, requesting a handful of dog kibble.
Our master bedroom has been restful with a pretty ceiling, tiffany lamps, and shabby chic bedspread and pillows.
Another bedroom was for guests, its walls covered with needlepoint my mother did. A second bedroom, we turned into an office with Rich and I having matching desk. On his side of the office were several computers, along with maritime paintings and instruments on the wall. My side had painting and needlepoint pictures of cats, and trinkets that made me happy like miniature red VW bugs, a Mary Engelbriet daily calendar, small wooden mannequin from my cousin, and inspirational books.
The door of the fourth bedroom was removed, and we turned it into a mini den with futon, TV, and small desk and cabinet for my sewing and art projects. Most of our evenings were spent in this den or our office. It was a cozy gathering spots for humans and felines alike.
The living and dining rooms, of our Kirkland house were off the kitchen with a large picture window in the front, and French doors at the back. To let more light into the house, we replaced the ghastly amber windows over the top and along one side of the front door with clear glass windows with adjustable blinds. The dated front door was replaced with one having a mosaic of different types of glass, some of which created rainbow patterns on the walls when the sunlight shined through the front door.
Nine years after purchasing – and remodeling – our Kirkland house, it became a wonderful, restful oasis.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) are days in the house are down to a few hours. When I return from my Tampa trips, I’ll spend one more short night, before all of the furniture is moved, and what’s left is cleaning.
Sweet in that it will be sold for a substantial amount, and the proceeds used to pay down the mortgage of our Coupeville house to $50,000 or less. Rich relishes the idea of having a very low mortgage on a house we intend to live in for the rest of our lives. And sweet in that Rich is looking forward to ending the push to remodel the house, and list (and sell it) while the market is strong.
Rich is also looking forward to not cleaning off the roof every few weeks because of the never-ending shower of debris from the cedar and maple trees.
Bitter in that it’s been a pleasant house. While not my dream house, it’s been comfortable, convenient, and somewhat free of issues. We’ve enjoyed watching kids sled down the hill in front of the house when it snowed. The yard has been easy to maintain with plenty of flowering bushes and bulbs, including narcissus, daffodils, irises, peonies, hydrangea, and rhododendrons. And Rich has taken pride in the groomed lawns in the front and back.
Our furniture has nicely fit in the house, and our walls hosted our large collection of paintings, needlepoints, and pictures.
I’m not elated about moving to our Mount Vernon house with its 70’s shag rugs and worn-out linoleum floors, old counters and cupboards, and smaller rooms. While most of our furniture and belongings have already been put in storage, we have a cluster of antiques squished in the living rooms, and we’ll need to use every closet to accommodate our clothes. There’s a box of toiletries in the bathtub of one bathroom, many of our canned goods, spices, and other packaged foods are on a shelving unit in the laundry room, and the entire downstairs is housing my collectables, painting, and other framed artwork in boxes… along with furniture, and stuff we never brought to Kirkland!
All-in-all, however, we’re going to have a great summer in Mount Vernon. There will be no need to drive between Kirkland and Mount Vernon or work on pressing home-improvement projects. We fully intend to spend our weekends hiking, biking, kayaking, sightseeing, and simply relaxing.
I’ll continue to work at Fluke Biomedical, until I find a job closer to Whidbey Island (Oak Harbor) or a role that can be done remotely. Rich will spend his days fixing our motor home (the section over the cab got dry rot), painting the trim on the Mount Vernon house (most of the house was painted last summer), repairing the deck, and light refresh projects to get the house ready to rent in 2017.
Our Coupeville house is leased through September; although the tenants could leave earlier. Once they’re gone, we’ll launch back into remodel mode… replacing the carpeting, updating the kitchen… turning the dated bar into display cabinets… and much, much more!
With a bit of luck, we’ll be moving into our “forever” house by October. We’re looking forward to matching rocking chairs, dentures in glasses of Polident, and lamenting where we left our glasses and canes, as we gracefully age-in-place.
Thursday, June 9, 2016
I’m sitting at my PC, having moved to Mount Vernon a few days ago. Rich is staying in Kirkland another few days to finish up a last minute projects. He’s left with a bed, box on a stool with a clock and small lamp, a handful of clothes, desk with his PC and a few other electronics, paper plates and plastic cups, cleaning supplies, and tools in the garage.
The day we rented a Budget Truck, Tuesday, the thermometer climbed to the high 80’s. Fortunately, we didn’t have a lot to move, having packed and placed most of our belongings into storage or the bottom story of our Mount Vernon house. Even so, we need to unpack our clothes, the kitchenware I couldn’t live without (i.e. Cuisinart food processor, Kitchenaid mixer, ceramic casseroles, etc.), office equipment, and much more. Our Mount Vernon house is crammed with furniture, boxes, food from my sizable Kirkland pantry, and of course, closets of clothes.
Today, I returned to work, thinking I’d be taking a bus to work, necessitating I leave at 5:20 every morning, spend 25 minutes driving to a park-n-ride, and 45 minutes traveling to Boeing, then walking a quarter mile to work. However, I bumped into a friend who hooked me up with a vanpool, which will be significantly more pleasant to take, and drives directly to work, starting at 6:55 in the morning.
Moving to the country, and this fall to Whidbey Island, closes a chapter of Rich’s and my life. Suburban living with the traffic, crowds, and constant stress has come to an end. We have sunsets, migrating trumpeter swans, miles of farmland, access to just-picked produce, and weekends of hiking, biking, kayaking, and sightseeing ahead of us.
It’s a great start to the next chapter.
Next Saturday, a retired couple of their daughter will be moving into our future home in Coupeville, on Whidbey Island. It’s bitter-sweet.
At the moment, it’s feeling more bitter than sweet. A few years from now, it’ll be super sweet. Saccharine sweet! Gooey chocolate cake sweet!
Our getting the house was unexpected, and definitely not something we planned on happening.
As many readers may know. When Rich and I lived in Texas, we strategized on how to get back to the Pacific Northwest, having previously lived in Portland, Oregon. Our solution was to purchase a 1.5 acre lot in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island in 2003. Located on a hill, the lot had a view of Padilla Bay and March Point, where at night, the lights of the oil refineries twinkled like a fairyland. During the day, tankers arrived from Alaska, laden with oil, which was pumped to the refineries via large pipes that extended across the bay to the ships.
We’d planned to build our retirement home on the lot, and live happily ever after. However, as time passed the trees started to grow, obscuring our view. Other homeowners were faced with the same diminishing views. Going against the neighborhood covenants, several homeowners chopped down select trees to improve their view. This created friction between other homeowners, most of whom were high enough on the hill so their view wasn’t affected or had purchased a view corridor (i.e. right to cut down trees that blocked their view).
Years ago, Rich and I should have “secretly” chopped down trees that were destined to block our view. Nevertheless, last year, Rich and I had hired an architect to sketch some house plans, based on our vision for the perfect house. It instantly became clear we’d need a three-story house in order to see over the trees. More telling, it would cost at least $500,000 to build a basic house. Landscaping, adding a lengthy driveway, and choosing higher-end interior finishing would add to the costs.
We therefore decided to sell the lot. And starting in the fall of 2014, we would explore houses north of Seattle, up through Bellingham. Rich wanted with a house with a west-facing view of the Puget Sound (preferably the shipping lanes), along with room for our motor home, and preferably in a rural area with few covenants. I wanted a “nice” house with space for a vegetable garden and fruit trees, a fabulous kitchen, and a room where I could do hobbies.
Bike Ride to Nix Island Life
In April, Rich was browsing through Zillow and saw several houses on Whidbey Island. I was against living on Whidbey, which is 35 miles in length, making it the fourth longest and fourth largest island in the contiguous United States. You have two options for getting on and off the island: Drive north to Mount Vernon, head west for 20 miles, and then cross over the Deception Pass Bridge or you can take a short ferry ride from Mukilteo (20 miles or so north of Seattle) to the southern tip of Whidbey. The ferry, however, is usually very crowded with waits between 30 minutes and two hours!
Nevertheless, the houses on Whidbey were appealing with amazing views of the Puget Sound, large lots, and affordably priced, as compared to other waterfront properties in the Seattle and Everett metropolitan areas.
I decided that I was being narrow-minded about Whidbey and Oak Harbor, and agreed to tour the area via bicycle. The first weekend of May, Rich scouted out a route along the waterfront. As we headed up a huge hill, I noticed a “for sale” sign and realized it was one of the houses Rich had shown me on Zillow.
And a few minutes later, we came to another house for sale.
Then it occurred to me, Rich has planned the route to purposely pass by the houses for sale. Sneaky.
The third house we came to had everything we were seeking. It was about an acre in size with room for the motor home and garden. Plus, it had a cool two-level deck with a hot tub on the top deck. It was located on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound, and was 15 years old with a nice kitchen, from what we could see from the window.
Using my cell phone, we left a message for the realtor, and decided to continue our bike ride until she called. Down the road, we stopped at a fourth house, which was out of our price range. However, Rich struck up a conversation with the next door neighbor, who turned out to be a mortgage broker. After indicating we were interested in the house down the street, he made a call to a friend who was a local realtor.
Later in the afternoon, we chatted with the realtor who told us the house we were interested in was under contract; however, if we visiting his office, later that afternoon, he’d be happy to show us a couple of houses in the area.
Because he couldn’t meet for several hours, we decided to grab a quick lunch, drive back to Mount Vernon to drop off our bikes and take care of my mother, and then return to Oak Harbor.
One, Two, Three… Done
The first house we visited was three stories with a master bedroom and bathroom on the top, kitchen and great room in the middle, and two small bedrooms, a bathroom, and small den on the bottom. The house had been beautifully refurbished with hardwood floors, modern light fixtures, soft colors, and attractive window coverings. However, we realized we’d have to significantly downsize since the great room was barely large enough for a small sofa, a couple of chairs, and a dining room table.
In addition, the house was behind a large sand bluff. It was obvious that over the years, acres of sand had built up around the house. The picnic table and benches outside one of the lower bedrooms could no longer be used with the tops of the benches nearly covered with sand.
The second house was down the road in Coupeville. I’d studied the pictures of this house on Zillow and was intrigued by its Asian-influenced design, and a large cupola on the top, which offered a 360-degree of the area.
As we turned the corner, by the Lavender Wind Farm, the house came into view. It was splendid with interesting architecture, sun-bleached wood, and the large oblong cupola, perched on the top of the house. I could hardly wait to get out of the car.
The realtor prefaced our viewing by saying the house was part of an estate. We entered through a side door off the garage, and were greeted by mouse traps on the floor, worn cabinets, and grimy floors. While the kitchen was large, it needed significant work with scruffy oak cabinets, older appliances, and Formica counters. The dinette had a lovely sunroom-like window, but looking at the ceiling, you could see extensive water damage.
While the design of the house was amazing, it was disappointingly in disrepair. Walking to the master bedroom, on the main floor, we passed by a small guest bathroom with a mauve toilet and sink, and matching wallpaper. The master bedroom offered dirty carpet and a dark walk-in closet.
The staircase to the second floor was like the inside of a lighthouse with a circular staircase, and paneled walls. As you descended, you wondered when you’d reach the top. It was claustrophobic and musty. The second floor had two bedrooms (one with a missing window), a large, airy den, which overlooked the dining room below, and a bathroom, which was ghastly. A small door to the right of the toilet was open, and you can see the attic, littered with mouse traps. Excellent selling point!
The circular staircase continue to the cupola, which would have been the house’s third floor. The view was spectacular. You could place a couple of chairs in the cupola and look every direction. However, even though it was cool outside, it was very warm in the cupola. And from the cupola, you could see the many issues with the roof, which was badly in need of immediate repair!
Even though I loved the design of the house, Rich and the realtor labeled it as a “project.” It would cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace the roof, flooring, fixtures, and the many other issues, which plagued the house. Even the greenhouse, attached to the side of the garage was caving in with broken windows and rotted shelves.
The next house we visited was three door down. We’d already pointed out to the realtor that it was out of our price range. However, he insisted we see it. The owners of the house were there and invited us inside. We toured quickly, which was enough time for Rich to decide, “This was the house.”
While I hyperventilated, Rich chatted with the realtor. Monday morning, Rich’s 61st birthday, he worked with mortgage broker, we’d met on Saturday, to put together the papers for the loan. We were immediately pre-approved. That afternoon, Rich made an offer. The owners counter-offered. Rich came back with a number, and they accepted…
…as I continued to hyperventilate.
The next thirty-days flew by with Rich liquidating assets, attending the home inspection, and completing additional paperwork on our finance. With scarcely an issue, the house closed on June 6th. A few days later, we picked up the keys and I got to see the house I’d barely seen earlier.
Welcome to Coupeville
Sometimes “things” happen for a reason. If Rich hadn’t looked on Zillow, and I hadn’t suggested we ride around Whidbey… and if we hadn’t stopped to look at another house where we met the mortgage broker, who connected us that day to a realtor, and if Rich hadn’t been hasty to make an offer two days later, we would have never gotten the house. Because six days after it closed, Rich was laid-off from IBM.
We would have never qualified for a loan with Rich out-of-work, and me working as an independent contractor. And we certainly won’t have considered looking for a house until Rich got another job.
The day we got the keys to the house, a Saturday, we were a bit doubtful about our decision. Once we opened the door, however, and stepped inside, we knew we’d made the right choice. The design of the house is perfect for our lifestyle and future aspirations. It’s one-story with only a few steps to get in and out of the house. It has a two car garage, with a third, taller garage for a small boat,
our kayak… trailer, and Rich’s substantial collection of tools.
I’m thrilled with the laundry room, which will be the location of kitty litter boxes, and cat chow! It has a large master bedroom that looks out over the water, along with two other bedrooms. Plus, it has a nice office off the front door, where Rich and I can work. The kitchen is sizable with a great view, and lots of work space. In addition, it has a built-in desk with bookshelves for cook books.
There’s plenty of space for our furniture and collectibles so I won’t have to figure out what to leave behind.
The best part, however, is outside. Not only is the view spectacular, but there’s lots of room to plant a garden and fruit trees, along with space for a chicken coop (can you say “brown eggs?”). In the backyard, I plan to tear up some of the grass for lavender, salvia, irises, hydrangea, and other sturdy flowering bushes.
For the past few weeks, we’ve watched a parade of ships passes by including Victoria Clipper, cruises ships coming from and going to Seattle, tugboats pulled barges laden with goods, pleasure boat of every size, and commercial vessels.
Overhead, we’ve marveled at the jets from the Naval Air Station and seen countless small Kenmore Air seaplanes, shuttling passengers to-and-from the Puget Sound and Gulf Islands, Canada, and Washington.
We’ve also seen bald eagles swooping across our yard, and out over the bluff, rabbits scurrying between the bushes, quail, doves, and numerous other birds. In the field across from our house, we’ve seen deer, and one evening an owl.
Weighing our Options
While we’d planned to lease out the Coupeville house until we were ready to “move,” we didn’t anticipate having to do so immediately. We were hoping to enjoy the house through the summer. But, with Rich having lost his job, we escalated our plans, and listed the house on Friday, July 5th. Within a day, we have three potential renters.
In addition, the people chosen by the rental agent, wanted to move into the house with two weeks. Eck!
For the past few weeks, Rich and I have been scrambling to make repairs to the house, including cleaning and painting some of the walls, repairing toilets, replacing the range hood, replacing the mailbox, repaired a cabinet door, replaced towel bars, steam cleaning the tile in the kitchen… fixed leaking gutters, and spending half a day trimming overgrown bushes, uncovering stepping stones hidden under layers of sand, removing thistles from the far end of the property, and much more!
The good news is that our house will be leased a month before our first mortgage payment is due. AND the lease covers the mortgage, lawn care, and a touch of the taxes. In the end, the house will cost us a few thousand dollars a year!!
We’re hopefully that we’ll be able to move into the house in a couple of years! In the meanwhile, we’ll be finishing the remodel of our Kirkland house so it can be sold, crossing our fingers that our Anacortes lot sells, and maintaining our Mount Vernon, where my mother lives.
Last weekend, to put most of the finishing touches on the updating/refreshing of my mother’s house in Sherwood, Oregon, in preparation to start leasing it. The odyssey started on Thanksgiving weekend when Rich and I felt it would be best to move my mother to our Mount Vernon house where we could better monitor her care.
We also thought it would be a good time – dead of winter – to tackle dispensing with her household belongings, and clean up the house. She’d always had lots of animals, mostly cats, which did a splendid job of perfuming the floors, walls and cabinets. Nearly every surface had been damaged. Not good.
Previously, I wrote about the work we did from Thanksgiving through mid-January in the post, “Life Happens.” We continue working on the house, usually every weekend, taking off work, and leaving on a Thursday or Friday morning. In February, Rich was at the house three weekends in a row.
Because I had significantly less vacation than Rich, three times I took Amtrak after work, and joined Rich in Portland to work on the house Saturday through Sunday.
While Rich needs to return on Tuesday, March 12th, to oversee having the wood fireplace converted to gas (to prevent renters from dragging wood into the house, forgetting to open the flue, and other wood-burning mishaps), 95% of everything we needed to get done to start leasing the house is now done!
We have contracted with a leasing company who works with people relocating to Portland for Nike, Tektronix, and other local companies. Chances are a professional couple with perhaps a child or two will lease the house… for at least a year. We were told because the house is in such good condition, we can get top dollars, and the renters will be carefully vetted.
Take a look at the before and after pictures. Here’s what we accomplished in the past few months.
Work Done Rich and Julie
- Removed flooring downstairs and part of upstairs, pulled out staples and readied for installation of hardwood and carpeting
- Repaired damaged flooring in two bedrooms
- Painted two coats of Kilz on walls and floors that were damaged by cats
- Repaired damaged dry wall and retextured the bottom of several walls, filled holes from pictures and bumps
- Painted entire inside of house, including several coats on walls that weren’t original white
- Removed outdoor cat run
- Patched the exterior and interior walls where there was a kitty door
- Removed and replaced pocket door
- Trimmed doors throughout house so they’d fit over carpeting and wooden floors
- Built new Formica countertops for master and downstairs bathrooms
- Reset and plumbed bathroom sinks
- Removed and replaced tile in master bathroom (plus, drywall work to replace where tiles were removed)
- Replaced mirrors in upstairs bathrooms
- Painted over-sink medicine chest in downstairs bathroom
- Replaced toilet seat in one bathroom
- Replaced facet in one bathroom
- Cleaned and reinstalled toilet in downstairs bathroom after hardwood floors were installed
- Remove old caulk from bathrooms and re-caulked
- Replace thermostat
- Created tile entryway by front door
- Painted fireplace mantel another color, removed bad grouting, re-grouted, and sealed grout
- Purchased new stove/oven, microwave, and dryer from Sears
- Installed microwave, microwave vent, stove/oven, and refrigerator
- Replaced kitchen sink faucet, plumbed and re-installed garbage disposal
- Thoroughly cleaned all drawers, cupboards, closets
- Cleaned refrigerator and painted rusted areas with appliance paint, and cleaned freezer in garage
- Remove tile in kitchen, repaired (drywall) and painted walls
- Tiled kitchen walls
- Put up cove base molding in kitchen, laundry closet and downstairs bathroom
- Re-installed washer and dryer
- Replaced heat registers
- Added smoke detectors
- Replaced hinges on several doors
- Painted and installed baseboards over carpeting
- Re-keyed all locks (Rich had a short stint as a locksmith decades ago)
- Replaced front door hardware
- Replaced molding around front door, and painted both front-and-back
- Replaced some of the electrical outlets, which were ivory instead of white
- Washed insides of windows
- Wiped down blinds
- Took down and washed light fixtures and fan covers
- Put contact paper in kitchen drawers, bathroom cupboards, etc.
- Washed floors and other surfaces
- Trimmed and tidied yard (very neglected), re-arranged stepping stones and pathways, divided plants, weeded
- Spread 2.5 yards of bark dust
- Spread .5 yards of pea gravel for pathways
- Scrubbed patio and patio cover
- Ordered dumpster to discard refuse such as cat run, old stove, flooring, etc.
- Cleaned out garage
- Made a million trips to Home Depot and Lowes for paint, tile, caulk, tools, dry wall, hardware, etc.
- Shopped at Sears, tile and flooring stores for supplies
Work Done by Contractors
- Installed hardwood floors in kitchen, family room, downstairs bathroom
- Installed carpet in living room, dining from, hallways, and stairs
- Refinished kitchen and bathroom cabinets, along with doors throughout house (amazing work!)
- Installed composite counters in kitchen along with stainless steel sink
- Had roof and driveway pressure washed
- Converted wood fireplace to gas (March 12th)
Other Work Done by Julie and Rich
- Purchased new refrigerator for Kirkland house and moved the one from Kirkland to Mount Vernon house (previously had a small bar refrigerator)
- In early December, rented small moving van, packed furniture, and move my mother to Mount Vernon
- Unpacked moving van, arranged Mount Vernon house to accommodate my mother’s needs, including raised toilet, supplies, food, walker, wheelchair, etc.
- Arranged for Visiting Angels to come twice a day, and monitor weekly
- Purchase groceries and supplies weekly, and monitor usage
- Set up and brought my mother to doctor several times (Rich since I can get the wheelchair down the stairs in Mount Vernon)
- Changed my mother’s medical insurance, address, arranged for paper delivery, cable TV, etc.
People often describe their life as a whirlwind. For the past month, Rich’s and mine have been a whirlwind on caffeine. It started Thanksgiving weekend after visiting my mother in Sherwood, Oregon, (southwest of Portland). In the past, Rich and I had talked about moving her to our house in Mount Vernon. Seeing her health and outlook on life wasn’t improving and frustrated with our inability to easily gauge her health, and subsequently care, we decided to proceed with moving her to Washington.
A few months earlier, after several concerning calls from my mother’s caregivers, we were going to admit her to skilled nursing center. However, we changed our minds after the root of the issue was determined. While she was left food in the evening to eat, she was feeding it to Cyrano (an increasingly obese rat terrier) or throwing it away. As a result, she was eating only a few hundred calories per day, and growing increasingly weak and disoriented.
The solution was to more closely monitor her eating; although, she continued to slip Cyrano food. For instance, one caregiver related heating up two mini hamburgers for my mother to eat. She then went outside to sweep the porch, but watched my mother feed Cyrano the meat. When she went inside, my mother said the meat was delicious, but couldn’t possibly finish the hamburger buns.
This type of behavior went on for months. By Thanksgiving, Rich and I knew we had to do something. For the rest of the weekend, we discussed what we needed to do. In-between, we enjoyed camping in our motor home (with three cats) at Battleground Lake, and Millersylvania State Park. It was going to be our last weekend for a while when we could focus just on ourselves.
The first weekend of December, we decided to purchase a full-size refrigerator for the Mount Vernon house. Since we’d bought the house, seven years earlier, we’d made-do with an itty-bitty bar refrigerator, which holds a few days of food, some condiments, cans of soda, dried up apple, we’d neglected to eat, and a bag of year-old Christmas cookies.
If my mother was going to live in the house, she’d need a larger refrigerator, in particular, one with a freezer for frozen foods. She’s barely cooked for years. And now typically eats frozen waffles, various TV dinners, canned soups, a few fresh vegetables, and an unimaginable amount of Oreos, chocolate, cakes, and cookies. I suspect most of her calories are in the form of sugar.
Saturday morning, we journeyed to the Sears in Mount Vernon and found a nice stainless steel refrigerator. However, it couldn’t be delivered until mid-January… unless we were willing to purchase the floor model and deliver it ourselves.
We had a trailer so we could move the refrigerator, but it occurred to us that we should bring the new refrigerator to our Kirkland house, and move the older refrigerator to Mount Vernon.
We rushed back to our Mount Vernon house, attached the trailer to Rich’s truck, and zoomed back to Sear’s. An hour later, after Rich draped the refrigerator in three drop cloths, and restrained it from every angle with a dozen or more straps; we were on the road to Kirkland.
As Rich freed the refrigerator in the trailer, I unloaded the one in the house. We then used a dolly to wheel the new refrigerator across the lawn, through the backyard, across the deck, and up a handful of steps, through the French doors, and into the kitchen.
I then helped Rich wheel the old refrigerator out of the house. While he secured it in the trailer, I quickly put our food into the new refrigerator and freezer, and made two sandwiches to eat in the road.
By the time we got back to Mount Vernon, it was rainy so we opted to unload the old refrigerator the next day, and spend the rest of the day getting the house ready for my mother. We removed the furniture from the guest bedroom (except for the bed), cleaning out the drawers in the bathroom, re-arranging the closets to accommodate her clothes, linens, etc. and planned how we could install a small dog run for Cyrano with a magnetic pet door.
Sunday morning, while having breakfast at Denny’s, Rich read the instruction manual for our new refrigerator and panicked when he realized that it may have been plugged in, but could still be in demo mode with the lights on, but nothing running!
Fearful our frozen food was turning to mush, and refrigerated food spoiling, we hopped into the car, and drove to Kirkland. An hour later, we discovered the refrigerator had been turned on. Grumble.
Back in Mount Vernon, we surveyed what it would take to get the old refrigerator up a half flight of stairs to the front door and up another half flight into the kitchen. The only option was to take it apart. Rich removed the shelves and drawers, along with the heavy freezer and refrigerator doors.
I was in charge of cleaning. It’s amazing how much gunk can accumulate even if you regularly scrub and clean!
Even with the refrigerator dismantled, it was challenging to pull it up the stairs. Once in place, and put back together, it was exciting to have a full-sized refrigerator, and know we didn’t have to skimp on purchasing and bringing perishable foods to Mount Vernon. In the past, we supplemented the limited capacity of the bar refrigerator with large ice chests.
Tired, but satisfied with our efforts, we drove back to Kirkland, to do some laundry and get ready for the work week!
The Big Move
The first Saturday in December, we got up hours before the roosters crow, had a quick breakfast at McDonald’s, and then drove to Oregon. Our first stop was to pick up a small U-Haul truck, which we’d reserved the week before. Rich loves to drive trucks so I could sense his excitement!
We’d already scoped out the furniture and “stuff” we planned to take from my mother’s house. While I packed up canned and packaged foods, dishes, pots, and cooking utensils, and surveyed what was in her freezer, Rich worked in the garage.
My brother showed up for two hours, which speed up cleaning out the garage, and moving my mother’s bedroom furniture (sans her bed) into the moving truck. I then transitioned to packing linens, clothes, toiletries, pictures, and collectibles.
We took a break for lunch, and then continued until early evening. My mother’s favorite caregiver from Visiting Angels kept her comfortable during the turmoil of packing up her house.
Having eaten a large lunch at McMenamins Sherwood, where we’d met nearly 12 years ago, we grabbed a cup of coffee at 7Eleven for dinner, and then drove to Target, Costco, and Wal-Mart to find a specific walker (we later purchased it online). Our goal was to “waste” time before heading to Camas, Washington to see Rich’s new grandson, Coen Lavelle Lary.
He was barely two weeks old, and after losing weight, due to jaundice, was back up to his birth weight of 7 pounds. Rich held him for over an hour, while I marveled at his full head of black hair, long delicate fingers, and Norman Rockwell-perfect face.
We slide into bed around after 11 o’clock, waking up early the next morning to finish loading the last few items into the U-Haul, get my mother ready, and then start the long drive to Mount Vernon. Rich drove the truck with Cyrano in the front seat. I drove Rich’s Honda Insight with my mother and her two cats, secured in two kitty carriers.
About ten minutes into Washington, Rich called me on his cell phone, and asked if we could keep Cyrano. Wow! That didn’t take long for his feline addiction to move to the right, to a lesser specie, a canine! Of course, I said “Yes.”
Meanwhile, it never stopped raining. The sky never lightened. The road was never dry. We couldn’t have fathomed a drearier day for a lengthy, thoroughly challenging drive… at least for me!
My mother’s short-term memory is about 30 seconds. She asked the same questions, lamented the same issues, and expressed the same anger and observations over-and-over again. Every hour, it grew worse with her convinced her cats were suffering, and that we were moments from our destination.
It took over 4.5 hours to reach Kirkland, having stopped once at Burger King for a late lunch. Because my mother can barely walk, we had to convince her to use the wheelchair, which created the challenge of getting her out of the car, onto the chair, wheeling her into the restaurant, getting her into the bathroom, getting her back outside, and into the car, etc.
And of course, the entire time, the rain never stopped!
Because we planned to be away for another few days, we stopped for twenty minutes at our Kirkland house to feed our cats, empty their kitty litter boxes, and collect the mail.
By the time, we reached Mount Vernon it was dark, cold, and still raining. We got my mother into the wheelchair, and “pulled” her up the front steps of the house, and then up half a flight to main floor. After locking up her cats, we proceeded to unload the U-Haul and set up her bed, dresser, and night stand.
While I unpacked, Rich frequented KFC. We ate more fast food in December than the prior three months!
As a whim, I decided to sort through my mother’s drawers. For the past few years, she’s been hiding food in the drawers so many were full of crumbs, along with greeting cards, articles snipped from publications and newspapers, and other tasty morsels, appealing to silverfish, spiders, and other varmints. In addition, the clothes in many of the drawers were a jumble of socks, tee shirts, sweaters, etc.
While sorting, organizing, and wiping out the drawers, I found over $2,000 in cash. Almost every drawer contained a neatly folded stake of bills!
The next morning, Monday, December 10th, we finished cleaning out the U-Haul and dropped it off at a furniture store in Mount Vernon. We went grocery shopped so my mother had food for the rest of the week, and then meet with the local coordinator for Visiting Angels.
We continued to unpack, hang pictures, and other miscellaneous tasks to get my mother settled, before returning to Kirkland.
Recuperate and Revelations
Instead of going to Mount Vernon on December 14th, as we customarily do on Friday evenings, we opted to stay in Kirkland. When we arrived in Mount Vernon, early Saturday afternoon, my mother was happy to see Cyrano, but was extremely confused, saying she’d lived in Mount Vernon for months, and prior lived in Tarzana, California. Her memory of Sherwood and life in Oregon seemed non-existent.
The reports we received from the Visiting Angels, from the prior four days, wasn’t good. She was angry, confused, and perpetually asking for poison or a knife to slit her wrist.
Her mood improved after eating, and especially after watching movies that evening. Sunday she seemed better, but was still confused thinking we’d had Cyrano for years (and not days) and that she’d been imprisoned in Mount Vernon for weeks.
Since I had Monday, December 24th off, we decided to go back to Sherwood to start tackling the refurbishing of my mother’s house. Unfortunately, Rich had gotten the flu a few days earlier. While still very sick (he had a 103-degree temperature a day earlier), he was determined to make the trip.
As we were preparing to go to bed on Friday night, December 21st, my mother called, screaming, yelling profanities, and claiming we’d dumped her in Mount Vernon, and destroyed her house. She ended the call by calling Rich and I, “Fuckers. Fuckers!”
Gotta’ love dementia!
We both slept fitfully, Rich being still very sick and me disturbed by my mother’s call. Nevertheless, we got up a little later than usual and drove the 3.5 hours to Oregon. We’d expected to find my mother’s house as we’d left it, full of furniture, kitchen and bathroom drawers packed with “stuff,” cupboards half empty, food still in the refrigerator and freezer, everything disheveled as if “someone” had quickly packed what would fit in a small U-Haul. However, when we turned the key in the door, and walked inside, we saw NOTHING. Everything, except for some cleaning supplies was gone. The floors swept. Closets and drawers cleaned out. All the food was gone. Counters wiped.
We also noticed the dryer was gone, but the washer, which was only a few months old, was still there. I immediately called my brother who said he took the dryer (claiming he thought it was a “free-for-all”), several pieces of furniture, and the food in the refrigerator and freezers.
“What happened to everything else,” I inquired.
Evidentially, Deena, a woman who originally met my mother when she was hired to clean her house, and later did a phenomenal job of overseeing my mother’s care and working with the Visiting Angles, had contacted a dozen or so local agencies, who subsequently came and took my mother’s furnishing. Deena then cleaned the entire house, including tossing out the food my brother hadn’t taken.
Even though, it was startling to see EVERYTHING in my mother’s house gone, it enabled us to immediately dive into fixing it up.
Before we began, however, I called Deena and her husband Bruce. In the past, Bruce had helped around my mother’s house, including taking her to doctor’s appointments.
We zipped over to Deena’s and Bruce’s house to borrow back a ladder, step stool, and other items we’d need to do home repairs and additional cleaning. I was thrilled to see her house. She has an amazing collection of Campbell Kids memorabilia and had been using my mother’s sewing machine to sew quilts and pillows. On her walls were needlepoints my mother had made.
It was gratifying to see some of my mother’s items in her house, and to express our appreciation for the work she’d done, not only monitoring my mother’s care, but ensuring her furnishing went to places where they’d be appreciated.
For the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday, Rich and I rolled up our sleeves, or more accurately, pulled on coveralls, and started cleaning, painting, ripping out (cat run), and assessing what needed to be done.
When we left the house on Monday morning, Rich was pleased with our progress. I felt overwhelmed.
We then stopped by Rich’s son’s house to see Coen, who was much bigger, much happier, and much more of a handful than a few weeks earlier. He’s so CUTE, but teeny at around 8 pounds. It was great to see him and his parents for an hour or two, before heading back up north.
We made good time back to Kirkland, but stayed just long enough to care for our cats, toss our dirty clothes in the laundry, and grab items I’d need for cooking. We got to Mount Vernon late in the afternoon, but before settling down, we made a trip to the grocery store for items we needed.
When we got back, I made a pumpkin/yam pie out of a mini pumpkin I’d had since Thanksgiving. I now realize the inside of a pumpkin dries up even though the outside remains the same. Fortunately, I had enough yams to supplement, along with the all-important Cool-Whip for serving.
Dinner for Rich and I was Taco Bell. Tasty, fast, and satisfying. Rich then collapsed in a heap, still sick with a flu/cold.
Christmas morning, I started a sauce with plenty of onions, garlic, celery, ground turkey pork, and spicy sausage, and cans of tomatoes. I then went outside to work in our garden, weeding and trimming, while migratory trumpeter swans flew overhead, honked as they passed. The swans arrive in late November, and stay through February.
When I went back inside to make my mother breakfast, she started harping on how “everyone” had mistreated her, and my father wasn’t loving enough. He worked 6-days a week overseeing his garment factory in downtown Los Angeles, never smoke, drank or lounged in front of the TV, watching sports, but evidentially he wasn’t affectionate enough for my stay-at-home mother. She was only married for 13 years. When I was nine, and my brother was eleven, my father had a fatal heart attack, leaving her a wealthy widow. She regularly crowed about killing off her husband.
I totally lost it, spewing out how she wasn’t a loving person. She boosted how she’d send her kids to school when they were sick. When in my early twenties, I got mononucleosis and was running a 105-degrees, she refused to drive me to a hematologist across town because of the traffic. I had to find a friend.
On a daily basis, she chastised her kids, expecting them to cater to her needs and do the chores that were beneath her… from cleaning house to cooking, yard work, and going places with her… week-after-week-after-week.
Because she didn’t want to make my brother a “mama’s boy,” he was given significantly more freedom to hang out with friends, do homework, and skirt daily chores. I, on the other hand, was told I was going to get married, have kids, and build a mother-in-law apartment. Therefore, there was no need for me to do well in school. Instead of doing homework, I was expected to cook, clean, and spend every evening keeping her company, doing needlework and sewing.
My long suppressed outburst may have been the first time my mother got a true insight into her shortfalls, selfishness, and extreme narcissism. It rolled off her like water on a duck’s back. She claimed that she was stand-offish at my wedding, and didn’t toast us because my mother-in-law and Rich’s children “took over.” It was beyond her how humiliating it was when only three people toasted us: Rich’s mother, and his two children.
Not my mother. Not my brother. And not my brother’s girlfriend.
Growing up, she claimed that she prevented me from dating and spending time with friends to “protect me.” From what I wondered? Having my own life? As a child, she didn’t want me to leave the house – and I certainly couldn’t have friends over to the house – because she didn’t want to worry about where I was. It was easier for her to keep me busy with chores, lonely and extremely depressed at home.
After releasing years of anger, I stormed outside to continue pulling weeds, and digging up alien plants. Rich, of course, was furious at me for not holding my tongue. He said it would have been okay to scream at her if it had the ability to change a thoroughly dreadful childhood and adulthood. But, it didn’t.
After cooling off, I went inside and finished making two large casseroles of lasagna, using the sauce, which had been cooking for hours. We ate the lasagna later that afternoon. I left some for my mother and took the rest home.
I was happy to get back to Kirkland that evening, in a house filled with the things I love… Rich, bratty cats, artwork, collectibles, etc.
Wednesday and Thursday, I happily worked half-days from home! Thursday afternoon, after sending my last email, we loaded up Rich’s truck, tossed Cyrano in the back seat, and headed back down to Portland for a final “push” to work on my mother’s house.
On Friday morning, while I worked from a Motel 6 in Tualatin, Oregon, Rich met with two cabinet refinishing companies. In-between, he tore up flooring and deposited it in a dumpster he’d ordered earlier in the week. His goal was for us to put everything in the dumpster that needed to be tossed so we wouldn’t have to deal with it later. We ended up barely covered the bottom of the dumpster with flooring, baseboards, scrap wood and fencing, a sofa, wooden cabinet, stove/oven, kitchen countertop, tile, and miscellaneous trash.
In the two and a half days we worked on the house, we accomplished:
- Removing the damaged oak laminate flooring, padding, and staples (will replace with real hardwood and carpeting)
- Removing the kitchen counters and ordering snazzy solid surface counters to be installed in February, along with a built-in, stainless steel sink
- Removing tile backsplashes in kitchen and repairing walls
- Taking down the cat run and placing parts in dumpster, and starting to repair interior and exterior walls where there was a doggie door
- Getting quotes to refinish kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and also sanding some woodwork damaged by cats
- Pulling out the range/oven, and in the process, shattering the oven door (very dramatic and unexpected outcome)
- Purchasing large tiles, which Rich will install by the front door.
- Removing baseboards
- Painting Kilz on floors and walls, which had been“perfumed” by cats
- Painting most of the upstairs, except a bathroom, and two large walls in the master bedroom
- Painting most of the downstairs, except the super high “challenging” wall in the living room, going up the stairs, and one bathroom
Because we were determined to get done as much as possible, we grabbed meals on the run, and on both Saturday and Sunday nights, we found ourselves at a Safeway at 8 o’clock, buying packaged salads, sandwiches, and drinks. After all, we’re a classy couple, eating our dinners with plastic forks, while watching TV at a Motel 6…next door to Stars Cabaret.
Sunday afternoon, we locked up the house, happy with our progress, and headed back to Kirkland. The weather was splendid so it was an enjoyable drive with no rain, and all sunshine.
Memorable Start to New Year
On Monday afternoon, the last day of 2012, we drove up to Mount Vernon. My mother was in good spirits, and pleased to see Cyrano, Rich and Lila.
After shopping for the things my mother needed, I made puttanesca. Even though it was super spicy, my mother kept asking for another helping. Rich and I were aghast at how much she ate!
Afterwards, we watched two movies, and could see fireworks in the distance over Burlington. We went to bed, however, a bit before midnight, marking the start of 2013 with our eyes shut.
New Year’s day was splendid. Cold and clear with trumpeter swans overhead, punctuating panoramas of snow-capped mountains. I made a filling breakfast for everyone and made sure my mother had warm clothing, and sensible shoes. She tends to wear moccasins, which don’t provide the support she needs for walking.
Rich eased her down the stairs in her wheelchair, and helped her into the car. It was the first time my mother had been outside since she’d moved to Mount Vernon, and the second trip of any distance that she’s taken in at least 12 months. The longest trip prior was Thanksgiving 2011.
We initially headed northeast to Sedro-Woolly, a small town steeped in lumbering. We then headed west through Burlington, and then Bay View, a cute town on the Puget Sound with a lovely state park where we camped several years ago. Along the way, we pass through farmlands, saw flocks of trumpeter swans, and enjoyed the gorgeous weather.
Continuing west, we crossed the bridge to Fidalgo Island, stopping in Anacortes for peppermint hot chocolate, before driving through Washington Park, and up the steep road to the summit of Mount Erie, the highest point on the island.
While in Anacortes, we stopped to visit our lot, which we plan to build on in another few years. Yes, I know we keeping say this, but we’ve started working with an architect to draw the plans for a three-story, contemporary house with several decks, and large windows for views of the Puget Sound, Mount Baker, and the refineries on March Point. We’re both excited about the prospect of building and moving into the house!
On the way back to Mount Vernon, we stopped at Burger King for hamburgers (veggie burger for me) and fries. While very particular about what she eats, and steeped in the need to always eat healthy foods, my mother has always loved fast food hamburgers.
It was a great start and unexpected start to the New Year… thanks to the weather and Rich’s patience in working with my mother.
In the coming weeks, Rich and I will be returning to Oregon to finish working on my mother’s house. Last weekend, we ordered a new range, and microwave/fan at Sear’s, and have chosen the wooden floors we’ll have installed. This weekend, we’ll pick-out Formica, which Rich will install in two of the bathrooms.
Last week, Rich hired a company to clean the roof and gutter. In early February, kitchen counters will be installed, and the cabinets refinished. There are also lots of small tasks like installing a new fire alarm, door stops, painting the fireplace another color, installed tile backsplashes in the bathroom and above the range, painting and installing new base boards, and and final cleaning of the blinds, light fixtures, and floors.
We’re feeling somewhat optimistic that we’ll be able to start leasing the house in early March!
Several weeks ago, we went to the Seattle Home Show, which featured merchants offering everything from resurfacing bathtubs and counters to landscaping materials, roofing, replacement windows, hot tubs, and garage doors.
Oh, garage doors!
Our stunning 1970’s house in Kirkland came with hunks of warped plywood, inset with amber glass windows, that swung up when opened, clobbering anything in their path. To say that I hated these garage doors would be an understatement. Although, in the grand scheme of necessary home improvements, replacing the garage doors wasn’t high on the list.
One vendor at the Seattle Home Show must have said "something" that compelled Rich to explore the garage doors that he was touting. His prices were very reasonable and the NEXT week, Rich called for a quote. A few weeks later, our hateful garage doors were sawed in half and replaced with fabulous, almond-colored doors with elegant windows.
Check out the before and after pictures. Note, the barfy brown shutters were removed from the front windows when they were replaced last year with double-pane windows. This summer we’re having our house painted in a pale almond with moss green trim. And the shutters, they’re history!
Plus, we’ll be axing the front door and replacing it with a pretty wooden door with inset panels of rectangular glass. I’ve scoped out the door several times at Home Depot several times!