One Year Later: An Update…Of Sorts

If there were a contest for laziest Catholic blogger, I’m pretty sure I’d win. It’s been so, so long since my last update, and so, so much has happened, that I’m at a bit of a loss about where to begin.

Probably the best place is with a word of thanks to all of you who offered such kind words of consolation after I wrote about our struggle with infertility and who have been praying for us ever since. At first, I tried so hard to thank everyone individually, but eventually I just got too overwhelmed, by the sheer volume of comments and messages and by life in general, which, if it’s been anything this past year, has indeed been overwhelming.

As some of you know, I’m currently under contract with Emmaus Road to write a book about the house renovations (working title is Don’t Paint the Subway Tile! Lessons in Love, Sin, Gin, and Grace from a Real-Life Fixer Upper). I’ll be starting on it in just a couple weeks, so thoughts about what I want to say are filling up my head. I have lots of those thoughts, but so few are what I had in mind when I originally came up with the book.

Don’t worry, though; the gin recipes haven’t gone anywhere. They’ll still play a supporting role in the book…even a starring role in some parts.

In all seriousness, as you may have guessed, things with the house have just not gone as expected. When we started this whole crazy show last December, I had visions of subway tile and open concept kitchens dancing in my head. I knew we were in for some bumps and bruises and unexpected expenses…but I wasn’t expecting the 20 car pile up that this renovation has become.

We’re 13 months into the renovation now, and projects that I thought would be done in November…and September…and June…and April (of 2017) still remain undone, while our bank account has been bled dry. This is the house where deadlines come to die.

A sampling:















Of course, one of the reasons that our bathroom remains gutted, our fireplaces and china cabinets remain untrimmed, and the entire back of our house remains unheated and unfinished is because other, more pressing projects reared their head and demanded that we do them post haste lest the house collapse, burn down, flood, and rot.

As I have learned the hard way, when you discover that your 90-year-old back addition is in danger of collapsing, because the original builders slapped it on without proper support, ignoring the problem and moving on with the trim work is not an option. When your roof, that you had been assured had several years of life left in it, starts leaking uncontrollably in three different places and destroying your nice new drywall work, finishing up the bedroom fireplace drops down the priority list. And when your bathroom plumbing secretly corrodes underneath the chrome-colored paint, sprayed there by a previous owner to hide the corrosion, allowing it to burst rather than whipping out your credit card to fix the situation is not the wisest choice.

Dave Ramsey would frown upon my entire life right now. However, Dave Ramsey also charges way more than I do to speak at parishes and conferences, so Dave Ramsey has the luxury of frowning. I do not.

Really, the most terrifying things lurk inside the walls of old houses, and my best advice for those of you dreaming of opening them up in some Joanna Gaines inspired fit of madness is “Don’t!!!”

My next best advice is to forget what people say about setting aside a 20 percent contingency. If the house was built after 1950, 20 percent is fine. For every extra decade of age, however, add an additional 10 percent.

For us, each new stage of construction has brought more unexpected expenses, and years of savings have now disappeared into new copper plumbing, LVL beams, gas pipes, and asphalt shingles. I won’t be able to afford curtains or carpet  in the den for another year (or two) and we’re in the process of selling our second car (Subaru Impreza, 40,000 miles, 100,000 mile warranty, $10,800, email me with offers), but at least I can go to sleep at night without worrying that I will wake up in the dining room below. That is something.

I’m sure, though, from an eternal perspective, it’s all good. Living in the House of Unfinished Projects is great fodder for deep thoughts (not necessarily for sobriety, but sometimes that’s overrated…kidding…sort of…), and I’m looking forward to sorting those all out on paper. Plus, unfinished bits aside, the house really is beautiful—so beautiful that I have absolutely no business complaining about a single unfinished project, like zero, zilch, nada business—and, God willing, we’ll have the most visible unfinished bits wrapped up by late Spring. There’s a real urgency to this now, since the only way we’re going to be able to afford to bring our baby home is with a home equity loan, and you can’t get one of those when there are ongoing construction projects in the house.

That’s right, I said “our baby.” As many of you saw on Facebook last week, Chris and I (God-willing) are adopting a newborn later this summer. We are so blessed and so thrilled, and also so shocked! We’d only begun the process of talking to agencies and making decisions about what type of adoption we wanted to pursue, when this situation was pretty much thrown in our lap. We aren’t in the world’s best financial position to adopt a baby right now, but how do you say no to a baby? Especially when you’re 42 and your husband is 49 and some people wait years for a birth mom to pick them. In the end, I’d rather be a mom, in debt to the day I die, than a wealthy but childless writer, so…we said yes.

Someday, I’ll tell the whole story. For now though, we’re really hoping this comes to fruition not only because it involves a cute, cuddly, sweet-smelling image of God, but also because the situation is one we feel good about taking on. The birth mom’s situation is super unstable, however, which makes the adoption itself unstable, and prayers for her, the baby, and us would be appreciated.

Okay, now that I’ve complained, shown you the ugly bits of our ongoing renovation, and shared our news, I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures…which you are very much owed. These aren’t proper Before and After’s, and they’re all just crappy camera shots (because my phone refuses to take good pictures anymore), and taken on cloudy days (because that’s all we have this time of year in Pittsburgh), but they should give you an idea of how far we’ve progressed. It’s far.

Please note: kitchen cabinets, countertops, the refrigerator drawers, light fixtures, dining room table, and sofa, were all purchased in the very early days of the renovation, when I actually thought our estimated budget and time tables for completion were based in reality. There was no going back on those purchases without losing deposits of 50 percent or more. So, please don’t judge their relative niceness in relation to my confessions of debt. Everything else was bought on the super cheap or came with us from the old house. And since last fall, we’ve pretty much stopped buying anything but rice, lentils, and cheap booze. Chris now gets dirty looks when he comes home from the store with orange juice. That stuff is expensive!.

31 thoughts on “One Year Later: An Update…Of Sorts

  1. Heather says:

    Congratulations! I know things will work out as best (I know that’s not super comforting sometimes). But I have a baby-related present with your hopeful tiny addition’s name on it when you want to share it!

      • Emily says:

        Heather, you’re so kind to offer! We have to wait until there’s actual trim up on the windows before we make any decisions. Thank you so much for the offer, though! And I can’t wait to know the baby’s sex so we can decide on a name! Right now it all feels very surreal.

      • Heather says:

        Heck, I’ll come hammer up some trim if that gets you ready for your bundle. Not like I haven’t reno’d my mother’s house, and Pottstown can’t be that far away from you. But I’m sure you will get everything covered in time!

  2. Mary Cervi says:

    Congratulations! The house looks wonderful!! Would you please share what color and brand of paint
    you used on the walls near the gorgeous staircase? Thank you.

    • Emily says:

      Thanks. The paint in the living room, below the stair well is Benjamin Moore Ashwood (mixed in Sherwin Williams Duration). Above the picture rail is Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee (which is two shades lighter than Ashwood), also mixed in Sherwin Williams Duration. The dining room is Halo, which is the shade that falls in between Ashwood and Swiss Coffee. Ashwood and Halo are both very soft, putty colored grays with soft green undertones. Love them to pieces.

      • Mary C. says:

        Thanks for the info regarding the paint. I just haven’t been able to find the right shade…yet. However, this weekend I am planning a trip to the nearest Benjamin Moore paint store! Question: what was your thought process for using the SW Duration paint instead of Benjamin Moore paint? Thanks in advance!!

      • Emily says:

        Happy to help! I really love all my colors. As for the brand, I used Ben Moore in a couple of the upstairs bedrooms and wasn’t as impressed with the coverage. I used Duration in my old house and had been super pleased with it, so decided to switch back to them. Plus, Sherwin Williams gave us a huge discount—way more than Ben Moore…so that pretty much settled it.

  3. Katie H says:

    So many happy thoughts and prayers on the baby and your beautiful home! It will be done, someday – and looks like an amazing place for a new baby to bring so much joy and laughter to for both of you. Wishing you a 2018 filled with easier renovations and more love than you ever knew possible!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Sincere thanks, Emily! I have been waiting so long for a blog update and pics and words from a very gifted Catholic Writer and person. So lovely that these should come on the Feast of St. Francis de Sales. May this great patron of Catholic Writers and Journalists give you inspiration and strength as you begin your book, and may you find ways to write more on this blog (please!) which is so wonderful! God abundantly bless you, Christopher (whose Facebook page is awesome) and the precious birth mother and little soul He has entrusted to your loving care. With Prayers! Rebecca

  5. Apple Hill Cottage says:

    Oh I have so many photos that look like that second one. After 5 1/2 years our bathroom still looks like that. We had to put on a new roof before we could finish the entry. But it looks lovely. Praying you will get much done before fall 🙏

  6. susanwindleydaoust says:

    I congratulated you on the impending adoption already, and will pray for the process. But I just had to add here: I know your old house pain, woman. Ours was built in 1920 (perhaps not as old) but an abundance of those hidden surprises…I’ll be honest, we’ve mostly given up on the details and focus on what keeps the house upright and working. Luckily the layout and space is nice. What you’ve done looks lovely!

  7. Maggie says:

    Congratulations! My mom and I have been praying for you and what you have done so far in the house looks beautiful!

  8. Ree Laughlin says:

    LIFE! Each one of us experiences it so uniquely that I think of Tevya looking up at God, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” Intellectually you know all this will be behind you someday, but there will be other problems. Our faith teaches to enjoy and be greatful for the good moments and plow through the bad ones with hope. That baby is coming home to wonderful parents and a house in progress (great metaphor for God and his children). May you continue to be able to see those glimmers of light that shine on what really matters. Blessings! Your house is absolutely beautiful.

  9. Rita Finn says:

    Emily, your gift with words amazes me.
    I am so happy you gave us an update. Your home is beautiful. You and Chris have actually accomplished so much. The rest will get done.
    Most important is the prayers for the woman and baby who will change your life. Be assured of mine.
    God is good. He has got this.

  10. Jean @ Howling Frog says:

    Wow, the house is being quite the money pit….but it really is lovely. And I am thrilled to hear that you are on your way to adoption; I hope things work out for the best for everybody concerned.

  11. Vicki says:

    It’s no longer a “house,” Emily — it’s a HOME! And a warm, and welcoming one, reflecting commitment, dedication, and hard work (in other words, it seems to be the image of its owners). Most importantly, it will be a loving abode for your little one. May God bless you, Chris, and the baby who will have the great blessing of calling you Mom and Dad.

  12. Renee T says:

    LOVE the kitchen, and the living spaces look great! Prayers for the rest of the process…baby and house…to go smoothly. All according to God’s perfect plan and timing! And, excited about the prospect of another book!

  13. Leyden says:

    Dear friend, I am so grateful to God for his generosity and extraordinary providence. I pray for a smooth adoption of this precious soul.Your home is just gorgeous (as I knew it would be). I hope you are able to once again exercise your gift of hospitality.

  14. Lauren says:

    What do you put in the brown cabinet in the kitchen? Where’s the fridge? I love the cabinet colors and the use of that brown cabinet. That piece is quite the find.

    • Emily says:

      The wood cabinet is my pantry. It holds the microwave and toaster oven, as well as all my dried goods, canned goods, potatoes and onions, etc. It also has a bit of extra barware in it, plus a couple of oversized pots. Those last items will eventually get moved to a cabinet over the fridge…when we can afford to build one. Probably a couple years out. Regardless, it is huge and there is still plenty of unused space in it. When we were pricing cabinets, a full wall of cupboards there for a pantry was going to cost about $6,000…so we scrapped that idea and went hunting for a big armoire instead. It cost a tiny fraction of the price, and helps tie the kitchen in with the dining room, which has a lot of dark wood furniture. I also liked the idea of having some unfitted furniture in the kitchen, since that is typical to the time period of the house. As for the refrigerator, in the island, I have refrigerator drawers, which hold all my prep ingredients–veggies, sauces, some dairy, and, if we’re having a party, whatever I need for that night’s dinner. It makes it so I don’t keep having to fight my way past a crowd to get to the fridge.. The big fridge is in the mudroom, which is on the other side of the sink wall. Basically, you walk through the door into the mudroom (which is right next to the dishwasher) and it’s right there. It takes all of 8 steps to get there from behind the stove. Putting it in the mudroom gave me more room for counter space, and that way I don’t have to look at a huge hulking stainless steel appliance from my dining room. I had the fridge slightly off the kitchen in my old house, too, and liked it that way. Old house kitchens were not made for modern refrigerators and most originally had them on the back porch. I’ve found that sort of copying that idea helps make old kitchens more functional.

  15. Andrea says:

    Oh my gosh, the houses is looking beautiful.

    My sympathies for your struggles with infertility. I’ve been through it. We’ve adopted two little girls now and, oh my, every day I look at them and wonder how God has blessed us. Yet I know when we where struggling with trying to conceive it felt like the world crashing. God has a plan for you, and it’s good.

    I write a similar blog, just started before Christmas, except we’re doing up our home in Normandy, France. I’m starting a blog hop next Friday 9th March. It’s a way to evangelise and nourish our faith, as well as focusing on family. As such faith, family (including home decor) posts are welcome. I’d love it if you’d consider linking up, I’m hoping God will bless it and my intentions behind it. If you want to follow me you’ll get a reminder when it’s on. Either way God bless you, I’ll keep you in my prayers whenever I look at my family.

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