This post is the next in a series of posts I have dubbed “The Firehouse Chronicles.” See all episodes.
The day after our party, Jim begins tearing into electrical in plumbing and building the cabinet boxes for the kitchen. The cabinets arrived a few weeks prior, forklifted into the apparatus bay in large, flat boxes. Each box is hauled to the living room and attic, makeshift assembly stations. I run around with complicated lists, trying to figure out which box holds which cabinet and marking on a plan where each cabinet goes. It’s like IKEA assembly hell on steroids. We should be used to our usual fallacy of assuming that a project will be completed in two weeks, but the summer passes before we’re ready to install the cabinets.
Jim works furiously and is in a constant state of exhaustion. Every outlet, plumbing reconfiguration, and cabinet placement seems to uncover unforeseen issues, leading to new projects. Hooking up the kitchen plumbing means moving other pipes, or updating them. I help where I can – using “Miroslav” (an oscillating tool whose high-pitched whine sounds like a Russian “Niet”) to cut holes in cabinets for electrical outlets. I paint while Jim swears, squished deep inside base cabinets, or high on a ladder working above his head in the ceiling of the floor below. Finally, in late August, the kitchen is ready to receive its countertops. Months prior, I toured a granite and marble warehouse, brushing my fingers across huge cold surfaces. On display was a huge gorgeous slab of Carrera marble, whose surface, when I touched it was like velvet.
On installation day, five Turkish Russians climb out of a Prius to help the two installers who arrived in the truck to unload 700 lb slabs of marble and granite onto the scissor lift, then up and into the kitchen. Once again, we marvel at our luck at having the scissor lift. As Jim presses the button to lift the heaviest slab, the marble for the island, he has to banish two of the guys who have clambered onto the lift for the ride. We have finally found the maximum weight the lift is willing to haul. A few hours later, the counters are in, gleaming in the sunlight taking our breath away.
I have bought faucets and Jim’s provided an instant hot water system, touting its virtues, both of which are ready for the installers to drill holes for. The installers quickly note that the handles from the faucet won’t clear the hot water faucet, something we hadn’t considered. It’s another two weeks before I can exchange the hot water faucet and get the installers back to drill the holes and install them.
In late August, I travel to San Diego to speak at Camp Widow and then fly with Carter to Arizona to help him move into his dorm and begin his freshman year of college. A few weeks later, we all meet in Toronto for my brother’s wedding. Stupidly, I have set late September for move day, so amidst all the traveling, I am also trying to prepare my house for the move and subsequent sale. I have contracted with a stager who wants the house painted a “staging” grey color. He walks around and tells me which pieces of furniture he wants to use for staging and I hire a mover to move the rest. I post many items on NextDoor and take bags and bags of stuff to Goodwill. Slowly, the house begins to empty. I measure couches and tables, working out places for them at the firehouse.
My brother Matt marries his awesome bride, Meg on September 9th and we furiously work to get as much done before flying to Toronto for the wedding. The day before we leave, I scrape paint out of my hair and off my elbows after a mad attempt to paint pantry shelves. I will need places to put things when we move in, only 10 days later.
I spend those 10 days after returning from Toronto dashing from house to house, packing one and cleaning the other. Moving day arrives and things disappear at a furious pace. By 2 pm, boxes and furniture litter the firehouse, the movers paid and gone, so I begin tackling the kitchen unpacking. Later that evening, Jim opens a bottle of Prosecco. We lounge on the gigantic couch that never fit properly at my other house but fits like it was made for the firehouse. We toast, our excitement palatable.
Later that evening, Olivia arrives, bringing the last of her stuff and her cat from the other house. “Kitten,” released from his carrier, slinks around the house, sniffing new smells. Olivia emphatically insists that Kitten not be allowed to go outside so he can become acclimated to his new home. Newly relocated cats are notorious for disappearing after moves in their attempts to return to the old home. Kitten soon disappears upstairs, where he’s in cat heaven, sniffing out all the old rat nests that Jim uncovered (and attempted to fumigate) when the floor and walls were removed relocating various mechanicals. Olivia disappears to her new room, excited to begin unpacking.
Before heading to bed, I let Chloe out to do her business. She disappears into the darkness and I leave the door open a crack for her to come back in. A couple of minutes later, she returns, and I close the door, only then realizing that the door has been open. I freeze. Have I just inadvertently let the cat out? I haven’t seen him go out, so I go upstairs and begin looking. There is no trace of him. I debate telling Olivia, knowing it will not go well. I’m not certain he escaped outside, but neither can I find him.
In the end, I tell her since it seems the right thing to do. Olivia panics, angry and devastated at once. She runs outside, calling his name through tears. Jim and I head to bed, uncertain what we can do, other than to wait for Kitten to return. Lying in bed, we hear what sounds like Kitten feet on the roof. Realizing that an attic window, high up in the eaves, 8 feet above the floor may also be a Kitten escape route, we head to the attic. Jim sets a ladder against to the window and manages to squeeze his torso outside to look at the roof which is incredibly steep and high. He struggles for a few minutes to get free of the window and finally belly-scrapes his way out. He heads downstairs and looks at the roof from outside. There is no sign of Kitten anywhere.
We all eventually go to bed, knowing there is nothing more we can do. Olivia is distraught and angry.
The next morning, I awake early to the sound of a slight scratching from the ceiling above us. Kitten has never left the attic, the hunt for a long-gone rat enemy in full swing.
The next day, I go to my house to meet up with the home stagers, my new nightmare. The original bid has suddenly doubled in price since I failed to notice it didn’t include the movers (which is baffling). They swarm the house, hauling in one awful piece of furniture after another. Items the stager asked me to leave are now discarded and I’m forced to pay my movers to come back a second time. The following day, the stager’s job complete, Jim and I are confronted with a whole roomful of discarded furniture that we haul back to the firehouse on our own.
The end result is a house that seems dark and dreary and is filled with nothing but various seating areas.
The house goes on the market the following day, and I am dismayed by the asking price which is far below what I expected it would be. We hope that a bidding war will inch the price up a little. We set the bid day for a week out, and when it comes, we receive two bids: one for asking price and one for well below asking price. I am stunned. Is the “hot Seattle real estate market” just a media myth? I can’t help feeling emotionally crushed. Was I doing the right thing by selling? Should I have somehow found a way to hang on to the house, even though it had become financially unfeasible? Jim patiently talks me through all the potential scenarios: waiting until the spring; renting; Airbnb-ing. He astutely points out that none of these options would pan out financially, and I’d be taking a risk. The market might soften.
In the end, I accept the asking price offer. It leaves me feeling emotional, but I try not to let it damper my excitement over finally moving into the firehouse.
The first couple of nights, we are freezing, since it is unseasonably cold and we still have no heat. Jim finds himself back on the ladder, dealing with cracked 100-year-old pipes, stringing new piping high in the rafters and once again lamenting his role as head contractor/handyman. But soon the floors are warm for the first time and it is glorious.
We spend the next couple of weeks unpacking and tweaking kitchen drawer placements. We make a couple of trips to IKEA (Jim’s new favorite lunch spot) and I spend my birthday putting together a new set of drawers so I have a place to put all my clothes. It goes a little like this. Jim, finally free of house projects (for now), gives his apparatus bay a museum quality tidy and he becomes little-kid-like in his excitement to finally be home.