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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Gwenyfar ponders the reality of set backs

Gwenyfar faces some setbacks with renovations of her childhood home but move forward she must and move forward she will.

“So that is why I think my column this week is going to have to be about ‘set backs.’” I summed up the recitation of my day for Jock.

 WORKING THROUGH SET BACKS: Gwenyfar Rohler takes on historic renovation in her childhood home on Market Street, in preparation of opening it as a bed and breakfast in the next two years. Photo by Allison Ballard.

WORKING THROUGH SETBACKS: Gwenyfar Rohler takes on historic renovation in her childhood home on Market Street, in preparation of opening it as a bed and breakfast in the next two years. Photo by Allison Ballard.

“Perseverance, yes!” He adroitly turned the tables on me. “I’m sure there is an appropriate Nelson Mandela quote.”

Or Shakespeare, I thought, flashing to the story about Mandela and the leaders of the ANC passing around a contraband copy of “The Complete Works” while at Robbins Island. “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The brave experience death only once,” from “Julius Caesar,” was particularly important to the group while in prison.

I finally succeeded in getting a bath (on the third try), and after a bit of a soak and some reading of “Good Omens” by Pratchett and Gaimon, I decided to face up to reality, and have the decency to not mention the struggle to free a nation from systematic repression in the same conversation as a plumbing crisis.

But I do think Shakespeare must have experienced the pains of home preservation keenly to have written that line in “Julius Caesar.” He certainly understood the fear of missing a deadline or failing to deliver on a project. I can’t imagine editors have changed that much since 1598.

“So what were you supposed to write about this week?” Jock posited after the bath.

“The Defense Budget,” I answered. “And much like our foreign policy, I am currently experiencing a bit of a set back as far as long-term planning goes. So it is related—just not quite the way I had hoped.”

Jock chuckled and opened a beer. It seemed the only response. Because it is not often I admit a genuine “set back.”

So my day started with me picking a fight with my cousin Austin for no good reason. Because I could. Because Austin is incredibly sweet-natured. Because that is unfortunately what we do with the people we love the most: lash out at them when we don’t mean to. But there I was, picking a fight with him about something that didn’t even make sense. I should have gone home and gone back to bed. Instead, Austin and I continued sanding plaster and doing the next steps of demolition to be ready for the plumber to change the valves in the bathtub.

Prior to noon, we set off a series of small sparks cutting expanded metal behind the plaster to get at the valve—and in turn started a small fire in the closet behind the tub.  (We put it out.)

“I think Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would help,” Austin reasonably suggested, in response to my post-fire hyperventilation.

The table in the Butler’s Pantry is filled with sin: empty growlers from Front Street Brewery, a couple of six packs of some alcoholic fruity drink that appeared out of nowhere, and three large boxes of candy bars.   It is located directly below Austin’s bathtub.  The wall behind the table has been inaccessible for the last year with boxes of books piled in front of it (surprise!), awaiting a move to the bookstore. While Austin served us each Reese’s cups from one the candy boxes, I stared at the newly visible wall that was clearly bowing out, cracking and in some places stained. Brown.

“Austin, I think your drain is leaking. Look!” I pointed.

Sure enough, a few hours later Jock stuck his hand through the soft tissue of the former wall. I pulled out more pieces, and soon we could see the culprit: a crack that turned into a hole in the toilet above.

I do not fear or run from hard work. I knew at the beginning of this project it was going to be a lot. I also live by the code of historic home ownership: “Do not open the wall—you are happier not knowing.”

We are about halfway through an overhaul of the bathroom above the library.  (Hence replacing of the valve for the bathtub.)  I knew I was going to need to do some work to Austin’s bathroom, but I had not budgeted for the project—either financially or with my time—until next year. I wasn’t expecting this kind of damage. To begin with, the interior of the wall is wet to the touch.

I don’t even want to think about with what…

It also means the dust and plaster flying around the kitchen area is going to be a nightmare to contain. To be blunt: This is a set back to moving the house project forward. Not an insurmountable one, but a real one—and an expensive one.

I cried.

I had a drink.

Now, I’m working on a plan.

There always are set backs—and the journey to success is a long one. Somehow, with really concrete things, like the house and the bookstore, I can remember the journey is arduous, fraught, difficult, and lengthy. With the bigger things, like social change, I have a hard time sustaining the fight. I guess it is because it seems so obvious to me that protecting drinking water should be a priority for everyone; thus, I really am flummoxed by politicians who vote not to protect it. And so that remains an ongoing battle: to have clean, protected drinking water in a first-world nation in the 21st century. But I can’t seem to break down that process into manageable pieces.

Yet, I can with the house and the bookstore. So that is what I am going to do.

Fortunately, Jock shares my life and bite-sized pieces philosophy. Of course, his idea of bite-sized pieces is a little different from most people. The average homeowner likely does not consider a bite-sized piece lifting the back corner of a house with bottle jacks to replace beams.
“Really?” He gave me a confused and surprised look when I pointed this out last December during “The Great Laundry Room Rescue Operation” that consumed our winter months.

“No, sweetheart,” I shook my head.

I couldn’t resist adding how even our dogs questioned his sanity when he built them a make-shift bridge to get out the back door—because he removed the floor of the laundry room. (He didn’t remove it so much, as we all gave up the pretense of its existence when the water heater fell through it.)

Austin is going to use a different bathroom (obviously). I’m going to have a long and thoughtful conversation about desired outcomes for the bathrooms. I am baffled that people like showers as much as they do. I mean here we are, looking at a beautiful 120-year-old cast iron bathtub designed to luxuriate, and people want to stand up? Why for gods’ sake? Instead of showers, let’s talk about jacuzzis!

One of the sacrifices will be my dreams of gardens and landscaping this year. The money allocated for that will have to go to addressing my former wall situation.  All of this is manageable. And as Jock points out, it could be worse.

“Can you even imagine how awful this would be if you were working with a contractor?” he grinned. “At least you don’t have that.”

He’s right. Instead of someone who refuses to listen to me but still hands me a bill for work I didn’t want and don’t like, at least I can do this at my own speed. I can stop the project and look at it when I need to, and think about where things are headed. I can ask, “Sweetheart, you remember that brilliant thing you did to make an access panel with the plywood and hex bolts?”

And move forward. Always move forward.

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