All posts by christine

Pie in the Sky Dreams Can Come True

After leaving my first husband and moving back to my home state of Missouri, I had plenty of time on my hands. The year was 1993 and I was just 23 years old. I had found a job, enrolled in college, and a dream began to form as I stayed with my mother in her house in the north part of Kansas City.

It had seemed so impossible in California, but here? Here owning a house was possible. I wrote to the father of my young child and asked him to consider sending her to me. “I want a yard where she can play with her bestest friend and go to the school down the street. I want toys in every corner.”

I poured out my heart and soul, and apparently wanting those simple things made him angry. He wrote back, “Give up your pie in the sky dreams and send me the support I deserve in dollars.”

A month later, he filed for divorce, sole custody, child support and alimony – my hopes for an amicable end to our marriage were crushed and my dreams of a home of my own were put on hold. I returned to California less than six months later, determined to get custody and return to Missouri, a place with a far better standard of living than anything she would have in California.

I returned to San Jose in December of 1993 and I would spend the next three and a half years there, living first in a homeless shelter for three months, until I had a steady job and enough to cover rent in a shabby, one-bedroom apartment in an old, barely maintained 8-plex.

The owners were slum lords. There was no air conditioning, in the winter, the heat was supplied by radiators that began to warm at 8 a.m. in the morning (after I had left for work), were turned off during the day, and then turned on again at 8 p.m., just in time for me to go to bed (yes, even then I was usually an early-to-bed kind of gal).

There were no screens on the windows and there was a serious infestation of beetles from trees outside on the street. A bare lightbulb dangled from the ceiling in the living room, my bathtub dribbled a steady stream of boiling hot water, the wall above the bathtub had collapsed and anytime I took a shower, water ran down inside of the walls. Each winter, the stairs in the basement would swell, cutting off my telephone line. I went through four phones and multiple trips to the pay phone three blocks away trying to fix it, and the landlords tried to refuse to pay for it when the phone company finally did come in and fix it (I took it out of my rent and cited a property code that mandated one working phone line be present in each apartment). I dealt with an onslaught of cockroaches, ants, and even fleas and began to hate my landlords with a passion.

Each day, as I first rode the public transit to work (later I was able to afford a VW Bug that was one year younger than me and broke down at least once per month), and later as I drove to work, I would stare at the tiny bungalows that lined the far side of the street. Formerly homes, but now used mainly as small businesses, I dreamed of one that would have two bedrooms, that I could rent and have fun gardening and fixing up. I dreamed it day and night what I would do if I had that chance. How could I bring value, produce something that was beautiful, welcoming…something that I could call home.

Twenty plus years later, I can say my mind. My first husband was a complete horse’s ass. And I am profoundly grateful that I stopped listening to the idiot, focused on my dreams and when the right opportunities came along, I jumped at them.

It hasn’t been easy. But then again, what good and worthwhile thing is? Dreams take work. They take struggle, sacrifice, sweat and even tears.

I haven’t been standing around waiting for my dreams to come true, I’ve been working hard to make them happen. And with a combination of luck (right place, right time), foresight (seeing a deal and moving on it at just the right time), and tenacity, I see those pie in the sky dreams coming true.

It doesn’t mean I get to sit back and rest on my laurels quite yet. There are still a couple of years (at least) left of sweat, hard work, and out of the box thinking ahead of me – but I see the realization of those dreams every day.

A few weeks ago, exhausted from pulling weeds, moving bricks and fence supplies – I sat down, drank some water and watched my husband work on our front fence. I looked up at the profile of our home, this beautiful brick Victorian that I love so much, and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. My dreams weren’t pie in the sky, they weren’t irrelevant or unrealistic, they were good, honest dreams.

I examined my relationships and realized that the ones I hold close, who I see each day and interact with, they are true, honest ones. They are people I can depend on, who love me as much as I love them, and the others, the fakes, the manipulators, and the disingenuous – they are all gone.

I find myself wanting to say the words “luck” or “blessed” but both seem insufficient. They don’t fully entail the reality – that this has taken thousands of hours of thought, planning, and execution. It has meant aches in places I never knew could ache, slashing our food budget in half, and recognizing that buying used clothes isn’t something I needed to stop doing, but instead continue ad finitum. It isn’t blind luck, it’s hard fucking work. My eldest used to refer to me as being made of Teflon, but the reality is, I made a decision to be Teflon. I refuse to let failure define me. I learn from the mistakes and move on, it is a mind set, not a series of fortunate turns.

I’ve been in the right place at the right time to buy Cottage West, Cottage East, and heck, even the house I live in. But in all of those, it took persistence, no small amount of craftiness, compromise, and skillful (and plenty of not-so-skillful) negotiations.

We make our own luck. To leave it up to anything or anyone else is foolishness.

As I consider yet another opportunity, a lead on someone in the market to offload some commercial real estate, it is partly terrifying, mostly thrilling. I’m not going to say anything more on it, because it in all likelihood might not happen. I have a price in mind, and if the price exceeds that, if the owner is not open to the terms, then I will walk away, recognizing that I have enough right now that I don’t need to take anything else on if the price is not right.

Here’s what I do know. It is absolutely essential that you dream those pie in the sky dreams. And even more importantly, that you act on them.

Get rid of people who try to make you feel insufficient or lacking. Move away from those who treat you with less than love and respect. Go out the door, grab ahold of those dreams and do not let go. Fight for them. Make them happen. Sacrifice, penny pinch, negotiate, and think creatively. Make the “no’s” turn into “yes” and make your pie in the sky dreams come true.

I’m worth it.

And so are you.

How It Is Going-A Progress Update on Cottage West

While we wait for the contractors to finish, we are making enormous progress on the front fence that will eventually encompass the entire front of our three properties. This is the view looking northeast. Cottage East is out of camera range on the far right.

I am really getting excited. I can’t help it, and I wanted to share it all with you!

As the contractor’s work on Cottage West nears the finish line, I know that our work has yet to begin. And I am hoping (fingers crossed) that we can get it all done by the end of July.

The view from the living room into the old dining room/new kitchen. We had the spray foam done two weeks ago.

What’s Left

The contractors are putting the finishing touches on the electrical outlets, and another team is currently putting in drywall.

When everyone is done and cleared out, then our jobs take center stage.

A view from the back of the house, back bedroom looking north into the hallway (bathroom on right) and into the front bedroom beyond.

We need to:

  • Install a tile floor in the bathroom
  • Prime the ceilings and walls
  • Paint the ceilings and walls
  • Install the toilet, sink and bathtub back in the bathroom
  • Install the cabinets, stove and refrigerator into the kitchen
  • Install the washer and dryer in the utility room
  • Fix a part of the ceiling and install paneling in the back porch
  • Layout the furniture, rugs and wall art
  • Add utensils, dishware, and all of the sundry things folks need in a rental/Airbnb
  • Refinish the front door
  • Hang curtains
  • Take photos and begin advertising on Airbnb and get as many reviews (and reservations) as possible

Special Pricing

I will be offering special pricing, with deeply discounted nightly rates for a limited amount of time, in order to fill the calendar and also garner the most possible reviews on Airbnb. I aim to qualify for Super-Host status as soon as possible!

The bathroom in progress…

If you have family or friends who need a comfortable, safe place to stay, I hope you will recommend Cottage West to them. I’ll have more information on how to reserve it on Airbnb once we have finished the work and taken pictures.

I may also offer some “free” nights’ stay to a handful of folks in exchange for honest reviews. More on that soon.

The Almighty Budget

I live and die by two things: my Google calendar, which I rely on to keep track of my cleanings, my family’s busy schedule, and events, and the almighty budget, which is continually in a state of flux, updated as things change in our lives.

The front living room looking at the shared wall of the front bedroom. We only made two changes to the layout of the house. One of them was changing the kitchen into a utility room and combining the kitchen and dining into a slightly bigger room, and the other was removing the doorway from the front bedroom to the living room. You can see the remains of the doorway in this picture. Both bedrooms are small, so having two doors going into the bedroom didn’t make sense. Now it is simply accessed off of the central hallway.

The almighty budget is what I turn to when I want to specifically track how long a debt will last, what our average monthly and yearly payoff rate is, and how to maximize that payoff to make sure we are doing everything we need to do to get out of debt as quickly as possible.

The budget tells me that, if we maintain the rate of debt reduction we are currently doing, we will be debt free, as in mortgage, loan, everything, in ten years.

It also tells me that by mid-2022, we will have saved enough along the way that Cottage East repairs will be completely covered. Not just that, but I built in a six month delay into any potential profits from Cottage East, just as I have for Cottage West.

I don’t expect Cottage West to begin producing any income at all until at least January of 2020. This means that any funds I do make are gravy on top. For Cottage East, with a finish date of mid-2022, I don’t anticipate any income until January of 2023.

I cannot stress enough how important a budget is. It assesses spending, clarifies areas you need to reduce expenses on, and creates a plan of action. In fact, one of the reasons we are able to do as much as we are in the future is because I slashed our food budget in half.

I realized we were spending around $1,200 per month on dining out and groceries. We are both on a weight loss regimen, so we aren’t consuming the amount of food we were and food was being made, only partially consumed, and then going bad and having to be thrown away. So I cut us down to $600 per month in groceries/dining out, and so far, so good. Far less eating out, and we are doing just fine on the reduced budget.

The future is looking bright!

The Next (and Last) Phase of Work for Cottage East For the Year

Some day, heck maybe it will be today, I’ll sit back and wonder WHY I let codes violations bully me into spending money I should have spent on Cottage West getting it functional instead of just trying to make Codes happy.

After all, it is perfectly acceptable for the maniac down the street to have open gaping holes in his roof, for more than six years now. Any time a report is opened on him, it is magically closed again a few months later. Meanwhile, his house degrading, degrades the rest of the neighborhood. Worse, if it continues, it will cause so much damage to the structure that it won’t be able to be saved. It could collapse on him, even kill him, just because Codes goes after the people they think have money while ignoring those who they assume don’t.

Have I mentioned that we have tried to get him a new roof, for free, TWICE? And each time it has ended with him threatening the person who came to assess his house and see if he qualified for the program.

I’ll step off my soapbox, though, and concentrate on what I CAN change, and that is simply the properties we own, namely Cottage East and West, with our own home sandwiched in between.

Now that we have a utility trailer and a big Ford Expedition capable of pulling it, we will be alternating loads of logs (from trees we have had cut down) with construction debris, like what currently occupies the backyard of Cottage East.

As we put the finishing touches on Cottage West, we have one last step for Cottage East – installing a 200 amp box and running power to it, so that we can also install a burglar alarm.

This is important. With an alarm, and monitoring through Alarm Relay, we won’t have to worry about folks breaking into the property and stealing copper wire, doing drugs, or setting fire to the place. This happened to the quadplex behind us. They had just finished work on the electrical system and someone broke in and ended up starting a fire.

Another positive? The rather sloped and lumpy yard will be very smooth right through here by the time they are done!

By the time someone noticed the smoke and called it in, the fire was going at a good clip. It caused significant damage AND the firemen had to hack through the roof. So now it needs a new roof.

Yikes.

Thanks to adding another window (it seemed like a good idea at the time), we couldn’t put the meter where we had planned (something about clearances, et cetera) unless we trenched from the pole to the house. So that extra window? It cost us an extra $2,500 in electrical work.

That’s a deep trench they are digging!

It’s stuff like this that catches you sideways and knocks you off-kilter.

I like to look at the positive side of things, though. So here it is. I don’t ever have to worry about tree branches in the back of Cottage East interfering with our electrical connection.

Right along here, from left to right behind the brush pile (after significant trimming of vegetation) is where the fence will go.

Oh, and I lied. There’s still ONE MORE THING TO DO this year. Build the back fence. So that folks stop cutting through the property and helping themselves to building supplies or trying to kick in our back door.

Between that and the long run of around 200 feet in the front we hope to install, we have so much fence to build!

There’s some rule about wires near windows, so this window being here meant we had to take it all underground. [sigh] Live and learn.

These Dreams I Have…

They take work. They take sweat, pain, and time. So much time.

Sometimes, I feel as if I am running against a ticking clock. How long will my body last working this hard? I push it, harder than I should, and hope desperately that it is enough.

I imagine the day when I can finally, finally sit down and relax. Just a little bit.

Meanwhile, my dreams fill my mind with visions of secret places where flowers bloom, paths take you in unexpected directions, and my patch of urban life is filled with beautiful blooms and sun-dappled corners.

Walk with me, let me show you where we are at and where we hope to go…

On our lower back porch sits a little cast iron table and chairs. I want to paint this with a bright glossy enamel paint. Possibly cherry red, or maybe grass green. Not this year, though. Too many other things to do! I would love to put it in a special, private spot, on top of some pavers. A place where we could have coffee and cake and enjoy our beautiful garden.
Our “dog yard” – it might not look like much, but I spent a good deal of time on it today, clearing brush, digging up unwanted volunteer trees, and pulling weeds. Eventually I imagine a brick footpath from the gate (it’s hard to see, but it’s near the top of the photo, to the left of the greenery) around to the back door.
A few of the trees are too big to dig out. We will need to cut them out. And the fence, how I hope to re-do the pickets on the fence this year. That is AFTER we build the front fence, however. The front fence takes precedence.
A view from the lower back deck looking west. Our property ends at the far edge, just beyond the large cottonwood tree.
The current rendition of the path that goes down from the front alongside the west of the house to the firepit. We will be re-doing it in a herringbone pattern. In the distance you can see Cottage West and beyond that Crazy Dale’s house.
A delicate pink tulip hiding among the iris and daylily plants along with some lovely alliums. I really love alliums, I want to collect a bunch of different varieties.
My eldest made this sign. You can’t see the Est. 2013, but that was when we first bought the house. Even though I’m not keeping the blog, I hesitate at the thought of getting rid of the sign. I love it so!
This beauty made me smile when I saw it. I adore irises. In the coming years, I plan to expand my iris collection to include many different varieties as we expand the flower plantings and shrink the areas to mow.
The plantings along the front path to Cottage West and doing quite well and I am delighted to see what had been a weed-covered, poison-ivy infested jungle become a colorful focal point. It will continue to be improved over the next few years.
I look forward to the day when I’m able to take the board off of the beautiful front door of Cottage West. It is beveled glass. A beautiful, solid door that is original to the house. One contractor is putting the finishing touches on the HVAC and plumbing and then we will have the insulation and drywall guys in. Here I am, crossing my fingers it will all be done this month. Then we begin painting, hanging cabinets in the kitchen, putting in the finishing touches, and making it available on Airbnb, VRBO, and other short-term rental places!
That red trailer there – it might look small in the picture, but that is an all-steel, 5×12 foot trailer that will be used for hauling wood to the Compost Connection, trash to the dump, and eventually we will take the lathe and plaster out in Cottage East, one load at a time and save ourselves a ton of money hauling it in this trailer. Eventually we hope to put in a driveway from the street to at least halfway back into the property here. It would be nice to have some off-street parking.
This is one of our three Asian pear trees. It is still relatively small, they grow slowly, so we will pinch off most of the fruits this year so that it doesn’t get too overloaded. I have begun adding plants to the bases of all of our trees. Eventually I will also train clematis plants into each tree for added visual effect.
It isn’t super-easy to see, but there are approximately six trees here in our mini-orchard. Three Asian pears, two heirloom apples, and a cherry and an apricot. Eventually I hope to increase the plantings so that there will be paths, and plants, and little or nothing to mow in and around the trees. A few more years…!
In the foreground is our asparagus bed. I say this tongue -in-cheek because mostly it is just a mass of wild violets with a few shoots of asparagus! I have been considering doing high raised beds (at least 2-3 feet off of the ground). I will eventually take this bed apart, transplant the wild violets, dig up the asparagus (and plant a crap-ton more) and put it all in the high raised bed. The height will make it easier to weed and I will be able to put good composted dirt into it that will be far richer than the current sandy fill soil we have.
One of the heirloom apple trees. The fruit off of this tree was AMAZING last year! However, it is also still young, so it looks like I need to reduce some of these to a far reduced number or risk the heavy fruit damaging the tree.
These gorgeous little flowers pop up every year in the yard. I love them! I look for them, dig them up, and relocate them to different areas where they won’t be mowed down. I imagine I will be doing this for many years, because there are a lot of them!
At the back of Cottage West are some stairs I put in. We will need to replace these with something different when we install the retaining wall. Dave keeps talking about the retaining wall, which interests him far more than building a front fence, but the retaining wall will wait until this fall, or possibly next year. I recently weeded this patch, but it will soon be full of iris and daylily blooms.
Here is a close-up of one of the columbine. Behind it is the enclosed back porch for Cottage West. We will be installing an a/c unit underneath the porch and then enclosing it with some of the vinyl lattice we purchased. It will be a nice improvement over the current view!
If you look near the tires you can see more of those lovely white flowers. There’s tons of them! They are hardy bulbs, so I’m not particularly worried that the trailer is on them. Bulbs will return year after year.
My “woodland shade garden” – I plan on adding plenty of easy perennials with bright colors – Mexican blanket flower, lupines, and so much more!
Look at this tree. I want a treehouse built in this so bad! The husband is unwilling, however, to tackle it. I fear I must insist. Children need treehouses. So do adult, middle-aged women for that matter.
I know, I know, I said the pond would happen this year. But then there was a fence to build, and an Airbnb to finish prepping, and…and…and…and so it waits.
I believe this is a cherry tree. We have two or three other cherry trees on the property. We planted this one last spring and it is doing well. I hope to overcome the nasty Bermuda grass with a hardy phlox or other more aggressive groundcover. Heck, if I have to, I’ll plant mint. That would do the trick.
I am aggressively planting this area and expanding it each year. In the center of all of those daylilies was the remains of a cottonwood tree we removed a few years ago. The stump had finally disintegrated enough that I was able to add dirt to the middle of it and plant a serviceberry. They are small to medium trees that produce edible berries. It grows slow, but eventually it will be around 15 feet tall.
The west wall of our home. I have been transplanting garlic, catmint, spearmint, iris and daylilies to the base of the wall. The garlic and mint varieties will dissuade ants and mice from entering our house. They actually are repelled by the smell!
This cherry tree is about five years old now and it means business. We will get at least one pie’s worth of berries out of it this year!
Taken from the front sidewalk…this is my canvas. I will fill it with flowers!
The front of our home. I love it. I love living here. I really do!
We have a few more bricks to lay on the front path. And the maple tree is sending down an avalanche of seedlings. I’ll probably end up picking 10,000 maple treelings out of my yard this year! We need to paint these stairs…soon. I hope it will happen this year. But that is what I’ve said for the past two years.
When we first moved in, there was nothing but grass and mud. I can honestly say that I planted every single plant you see here (except for the tree). This now serves as my inventory as I move the bigger plants, the irises, daylilies, columbine and more to various sections of the yard. Now I can dig plenty of these up, divide them, and begin creating layers of flowers that will bloom in every season, and in varying heights.
This old maple tree apparently thinks it is the end times and is determined to cover the world in maple tree seedlings. As I left for the store today I had to turn on my wipers, just to get the six inch deep layer off of my windshield! You can see the Cottage East with its lovely new green skin peeking out behind the tree. In the distance is our neighbors lovely project. I love the blue siding she chose!
There is a path here, although you can barely see it beneath the maple seedlings. It circles the maple tree and winds its way to the gate that goes into the dog yard.
This delicate beauty was the first iris to bloom. It looks white at first glance, but is actually a delicate pale lilac color.
The horseradish is in bloom along the sidewalk that leads towards Cottage East. At Christmas, we dig some up, peel it, and put it in the food processor along with some sour cream, salt and pepper. It is better than anything you can buy in the store!
The walking onion in the background has spread quite well. This area is mainly occupied by my herbs – onions, chives, oregano, comfrey – as well as lamb’s ear, horseradish, and wild violets
Cottage East – we need to replace the front, back and basement doors. When we do, they will be white, steel, and the front door will have a keyless entry that recognizes our fingerprints and allows visitors access via a code we can reprogram whenever we want. We still need to re-do the columns on the front porch and paint the foundation white (it’s currently painted red), and I will continue planting in the side yard. Once we have gutted it down to the studs, I’ll finish out the front yard with a ton of plants that evoke images of English country cottages.
The east wall of Cottage East. We have plenty of brick to move, and the brick pathway will need to be re-done with better weedblock. I hope to see that happen this year. The bricks are where our property ends to the east. Our neighbors plan on installing a vinyl privacy fence. I’m really looking forward to that!
And then there is this big mess. Plenty of broken bricks, and a ton of weeds and invasive plants that need to be dug out. I think that if we double the weekends in this year, work our children like rented mules, and damn near kill ourselves, we might get this all cleaned up this year!
Ignore all that crap and look at the circular bit near the bottom of the picture. If I clear the weeds and the loose bricks, I’ll actually uncover brick stairs going down. This is so cool!
Along the entire back, we need to build a fence to connect with the gate that is there and being walked AROUND by the local n’er do wells. The same ones who tried to kick in the basement door multiple times. This fence we really hope to do this year.
The back porch of Cottage East. So many bricks to move! And lumber, and stuff. The work never ends. The back porch rebuild will not be for a while.
I’m so glad the worker did not get hurt when the newer portion of the porch collapsed. That was scary to come home to. Eventually, we will fix this, but finances will not allow for that for at least another year, possibly two.
This old light was mounted on the old porch. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I really REALLY like it! I am determined to find a place for it. I know it’s silly, but it just looks cool!
A view from my front porch with the turn in the pathway going west underway.
The lamb’s ear, columbine, iris, and hosta plants are all doing well here. As we re-do this section of bricks, I may back them up a bit in order to gain more area for planting around the base of the tree.
A view of a shady part of my side yard. I’ve planted a small tree (invisible, but its there!), along with a few daylily plants to go with the wisteria. Vinca covers the ground well here. I plan to add quite a few more shade-loving plants, and possibly a Japanese maple (they are delicate and small).
A columbine in the base of the old maple tree.
A view of my herb garden in the background.

I hope you have enjoyed a visual recap of our property. We have around an acre in total with three houses and their respective yards. We have been so lucky to be in the right place at the right time and get each of the properties to form a contiguous patch of land.

I look forward to showing you progress as we finish the work on Cottage West and officially open it this year for use as an Airbnb.

I hope that our visitors will enjoy the beauty of our land along with the Cottage West and spread the word far and wide. Historic Northeast Kansas City has its challenges, but it is home. I love living here!

You Beautiful Beast

Cottage East in summer 2017. Brick facade collapsing, roof in need of replacing, and windows broken and missing. The yard was an overgrown jungle in the back.

It has been so hard waiting for this. And now, the day has finally arrived. Cottage East has a new skin to go with those new windows!

The east side of the house in July 2017 – the wall was intact, but it was bulging. Collapse of the bricks on this side seemed imminent.

This old girl is nearly 125 years old. She’s older than the house I’m living in, which was built in 1899.

I wish I could say she’s had an easy life, but honestly, it has been one full of neglect and half fixes.

We pulled the bricks off of the sides ourselves. That 2×4 you see there came in handy. The bricks were merely a facade over a wood frame house. What a mess it was! That was a lot of bricks to clean up and move!

When we settled on the idea of installing vinyl siding, it was after examining each of our options.

Option #1: Put the bricks back onto the house.

When the west side wall of the house collapsed in a shower of bricks, breaking our fence and leaving piles of bricks just sitting on the side of the house, waiting to fall, we quickly realized it was a wood frame with a brick facade. This was just like Cottage West, except Cottage West’s brick facade had been cared for and reinforced with anchors at some point. Cottage East had not had the same luck. Putting the bricks back would have required a stonemason, and that would have been quite costly. Besides, the upper half of the house already had siding, so we decided it would be best to just tear it all off and cover it entirely with siding.

The east side of Cottage East just before the windows were installed.

Option #2: Put aluminum or wood siding on.

We hemmed and hawed about this for a while. Aluminum siding would have been wonderful, but when we called out the guys who did that kind of work, they took one look at Cottage East, with its partially collapsed brick wall and NEVER CONTACTED US BACK. Wood siding was not appealing to me since it meant being a future target for termites and also meant we would have to repaint regularly.

The windows nearly done…

Option #3: Put on vinyl siding, which might mean replacing it in 15-20 years.

I’m a big one for do it once and never again. My mom has vinyl siding on her house and has lived there for over 25 years. So far, so good. So that was the deciding factor for me, especially when it came to price and you know, an actual quote from someone.

A close-up of what the front eaves looked like after the older vinyl siding was stripped off. No wonder it had failed, it was put directly over the old fishscale siding!

We went with Sunshine Windows, who had also done our windows on Cottage East. A nice enough guy, and his price was $13,000 less than a quote from Champion Windows. For that much in savings, I ignored revisionist history and a love of all things “wall and Trump.”

Just don’t talk politics with him, or mention fences (which turned into a diatribe about how we need a wall) and you should be just fine.

After the fishscale siding was removed, you could see the remains of a chimney doing its best to come out (up to the right of the upstairs window). The guys installed 3/4″ insulation board as well.

And in my defense, I’ll say it again – I saved $13,000 by going with this contractor. For that kind of savings, yes, I’ll put up with a little revisionist history and pro-Trump leanings.

The back of the house needed plenty of plywood – this shot was taken before they had put anything in. As you can see, we still have plenty of bricks to turn into walkways!

The windows had arrived and were installed a few weeks ago and I was eager to see the siding come in. I had settled on a green that was close to the color of Cottage West since our neighbor who had bought the next house over and beaten me to a gorgeous shade of blue (I really like that blue and I’m really sad I didn’t have it to choose from but I did promise her I wouldn’t go with blue).

Siding on the lower front of the house as well as part of the west side. I tried to choose a color that matched Cottage West as much as possible.

Still, having both Cottages in this particular green color provided some connection between the two. Now, when I’m homing Airbnb guests in, I’ll just tell them “First green house on right” or “Second green house on right next to large brick house with wraparound porch” – nice and easy to direct.

The back and east side of Cottage East. In the distance you can see the Airstream, our other Airbnb project in progress.

Between that, and a lovely white fence along the front of our entire property (coming soon!), it will all look rather fabulous and welcoming.

Tearing off the old vinyl siding revealed the original fish scale siding beneath and boy, did it look beat up! Still, I wasn’t very surprised that the newer siding looked so bad. After all, they hadn’t even bothered pulling off the old siding, just nailed it up over the original fish scale. I talked with the owner and he assured me that they would take off the old stuff first before putting anything up.

And here she is. Done except for guttering. We will replace her small columns with bigger ones like we have on our house, removing the brick half columns. We will also paint the foundation white and all of the exterior doors white as well.

We did have to intervene at one point, because the crew that was there were working without the guy who did most of the translating. They started to cover up the old siding with the insulating boards and we told them “no” that it all needed to come off.

So that meant more than a day of extra work for them, most likely two. If it means that we have to pay more, so be it. I want the job done right.

The back porch. We will be clearing out all of the extra bricks, cleaning the yard, and eventually we will rebuild the back deck properly. As you can see, the back porch roof has been reinforced and wrapped in siding.

One piece that truly concerned me, as well as the foreman on the job, was the front porch. The porch was attached mainly to the bricks, which were now gone, and the gap in between the roof of the porch and the house was significant, at least 4-6 inches. The foreman kept saying, “I’m not sure what do with this porch” and I kept saying, “Talk to David” (the owner of the company). The owner was the one who talked me into taking the bricks off the front and back, so I figure it’s his problem to figure out how to stabilize the front porch.

After the 3rd rendition of “I’m not sure what to do with this porch” I looked at the foreman and said, “You’ve got me, I don’t do construction, I just pay the bills.”

The east side of Cottage East. Last year we laid these bricks down directly on the ground. We will pull them up, lay down paver base, and put the bricks back. Our neighbors are planning on installing a vinyl privacy fence on the property line. Hooray! A piece of fencing we no longer need to worry about!

Pretty soon after that I heard quite the bustle of activity. They were pulling off rotten wood off of the front porch and delving into the bowed and rotten ceiling – home to generations of squirrels and birds. Shredded newspaper and piles of old grass rained down with every board removed. The local squirrel population were undoubtedly pissed – goodbye winter home!

The view from our easternmost property line looking west towards our house. I hope to plant a nice tree in this triangle shaped front lawn. After we install the fence, I hope to landscape most of the front (no grass!) with a variety of heights of blooming plants and a solar-powered fountain. I’m leaning towards plants that are perennial and also more of the ones you will see in an English garden.

We still need to paint the portions of the front and back porch in white and also paint the foundation which is currently painted red. Once it is all done, it will look fabulous!

It is a labor of love. How do you make a difference? One little bit at a time. One flowering plant and painted door at a time. A walkway, a dream, a piece of garbage cleared from the path. Small steps, they lead to bigger steps and eventually to a dream realized.

We are still years away from being done. My body’s aches and pains remind me that this is work meant for 20 and 30 year olds, not a woman who will be 49 this year and has degenerative hip disease.

But that’s okay. I’ll take my time. A wheelbarrow full of bricks a day, 2-3 more feet of walkway laid each day, brush cleared and burned a little bit at a time.

Progress.

It is so worth it!

Behind the Scenes and Themes

To look at either Cottage West or Cottage East, you wouldn’t think that there was much going on. Outside, with the vestiges of winter still clinging to the vegetation, there is little to betray the massive amount of work that is either taking place, or will be soon underway.

Cottage West in warmer times (they are returning soon, and I’m looking forward to that!).

Cottage West

Inside, out of view, the gas pipes have been run. Next will be the plumbing, electrical and the HVAC.

After that contractor has finished, we will bring in the insulation guy and then we will get a drywall contractor to install our walls, ready for us to paint.

We also have a nice, solid steel door that will be installed off of the back porch.

Then we will handle the work of getting the painting done, the cabinets hung, and the rest of the work that it will take to make it into a welcoming oasis for visitors.

The Cottage East in its current state. We decided we will go ahead and pull the rest of the brick facade off and wrap it all in siding.

Cottage East

We had already put a new roof on, and now it is time for all new windows, siding, and guttering. We will also run a new electric box and install a burglar alarm to prevent any break-in issues.

The windows are going in next week, and the siding and guttering should follow quickly after that. By mid-April Cottage East should be looking spiffy, at least from the outside!

Themes

I’ve mentioned it before, but now I’m definitely going to go through with it! Cottage West will have a distinct eclectic, arts/crafts, and writing vibe. Bright, rich colors on the walls and furniture, plenty of books on a large bookshelf, and some unique artwork on the walls. It’s going to look GREAT!

When it comes to Cottage East, I’ve always felt like it had a lovely English cottage vibe to it. I’ll be adding “leading” to the new windows to give it an Old World feel, as well as dressing the interior in a palette of warm, muted colors.

Basement Studio Apartments

This is several years off, but we might also create two basement apartments that we can either rent out or Airbnb. Since both houses have separate, ground-level entrances to the basements, this could work out well.

Pictures coming soon!

Coming Soon – Cottage West!

Cottage West

Oh the wishing and the washing that has occurred over the past seven months since my last post!

In a nutshell, it goes something like this:

  • New Airbnb rules or not, we are going to at least try turning the cottages into an Airbnb and see how it goes.
  • Three units, not four – one of which will be a rental unit.
  • Work starts…now.

After qualifying for a home improvement loan through our local bank, which we will be signing on later in the week, we now have the funds to complete work on Cottage West and also see that the brickwork is fixed on Cottage East, along with new siding and windows installed by March or April at the latest.

We are currently gathering bids from contractors. By mid-summer, we should have Cottage West open and ready for occupancy. I hope to see Cottage East finished sometime in 2020, possibly later.

Cottage West will have just the one unit, the main floor and the attic above, available for guests. Once we finish out the main level and upstairs of Cottage East, I hope to install a basement apartment in that house as well, giving my dad the autonomy and modicum of independent living he is hoping for. He misses his independence, and I miss having a second bathroom and my front parlor!

The Cottage East in its current state. It has a new roof and the siding, brick work, and new windows will be installed this year.

We are still working on some issues with the Airstream and hope to have that available within the next month or two for rent through Airbnb. Stay tuned, I hope to post updates soon!

Phase One!

The full size bed goes here. Currently it serves as a staging area for the plumbing supplies.

A few weeks ago, I pressed the BUY button and ordered a long list of must have’s for the Airstream…

  • 10″ full size memory foam mattress
  • Nature’s Head composting toilet
  • fire extinguisher
  • dish set
  • smoke/carbon monoxide detector
  • electric space heater w/timer
  • tankless water heater
  • 100′ heated water hose

A nice double sink. Original to the Airstream, we did end up replacing the old faucet with this pretty little thing.

Thanks to the help of a truly talented friend, we know that the propane powered heater works and so does the stove. Hooray!

I still bought the space heater because the original heater works okay but not great, and winters can be cold, so…

My husband has purchased the PEX we need for the plumbing, and we will have just about everything we need to complete Phase One (turning the Airstream into an Airbnb)

I am beyond excited.

My husband removed the original toilet. We will put in a composting toilet which will free us from needing to use a black tank when on the road (or here).

There are cabinet doors to reinstall, everything needs a good cleaning, and in some cases, the wood may need refinishing or painting.

The fabulous vintage fridge is not functional, but that’s okay, we have a mini-fridge and the old fridge can be used as dry storage, a pantry of sorts.

The plan is to hook everything up, lay it all out, and even spend the night there in the camper before “opening for business.”

The little dining area will eventually double as a twin bed as well. We need to cut a piece of wood to be the table and attach it to the metal brackets and stand that can disassemble into a bed at night.

We moved as much as we could out, including a futon thing that was not going to cut it when it came to having Airbnb guests stay there. Instead, we now have a full-size memory foam mattress waiting for things to get a little further along before being unpacked.

The radio keeps us entertained while we work. I bought a CD of Greatest Hits of the 50s to add to the ambience.

I have returned to the idea that each of our Airbnb’s will have a theme. The Airstream was built in 1956, so we are embracing the idea of a 50s, vintage, pin-up look.

Cottage West will represent my love of art and books and have art pieces scattered through it, along with a large selection of books, including a homage to Kansas City’s rich history. The furniture and furnishings will be eclectic and bohemian with a bold use of color throughout the bungalow.

Cottage East will paint a picture of a cottage nestled in the English countryside, complete with all of the modern necessities. The gardens in the front and back will contain fountains, bricks, and plants that are evocative of an English cottage garden.

As we finish each project, we will have an Open House and invite our neighbors and friends to come see the property and hopefully share pictures and special pricing with their friends and family.

Progress might appear to be slow, or even nonexistent at times, but we move forward with the projects one step at a time. It’s a worthwhile endeavor and I am excited for the future!

She Dreams of Airstream…AGAIN

It has a couple of dings. We plan to buff it to a high shine once we have completed the necessary fixes. It is going to shine like new!

It was the simplest of questions that changed my direction. In early fall, my daughter asked, “Mom, could we all take a family vacation next year?” She had visited her grandparents in California for a week, and later, my husband was able to fly out to see his parents over a long four-day weekend. Me? Heck, I was stuck at home.

Her question bounced around in my head for a while as I reviewed our financial goals…

  1. Stabilize Cottage East – get it off of codes violations by installing siding, windows and fixing brickwork
  2. Finish renovating Cottage West and make it into two separate units – a studio in the basement, and a 2 bed, 1 bath bungalow on the main level
  3. Finish renovating Cottage East with the same setup as Cottage East – two separate units.
  4. Renovate the Airstream – use it to travel in on family vacations and Airbnb it when it was not on the road

I looked at our income flow, our savings, and the calendar I had it all plotted out on. It was going to be 4-5 years before the Airstream would have any work done to it. And my daughter, now age twelve, she would be sixteen or seventeen by the time we got the RV on the road.

Nope.

NOPE.

My dreams of us exploring the United States in our Airstream were going to be happening way too late. Kids grow up too fast!

As with most things, my plans change with questions like, “What if…?”

I asked myself, “What if I broke this RV project into three phases?”

  • Phase One: Make it Airbnb worthy
  • Phase Two: Make it roadworthy using the income from having it available on Airbnb
  • Phase Three: Bling it out like a mofo, make even more money on it, and explore the U.S.!

 

And after a few calculations I realized not only was it doable, but I had the funds NOW, funds that will be well invested in something that can also bring me income as soon as January or February.

  • Phase One: Make it Airbnb worthy and begin offering it on Airbnb. From what I can tell, we can earn around $75 per night on it. That price is lower than ANY of the Airstreams currently listed on Airbnb.
  • Phase Two: Make it roadworthy – it needs new tires, and we need someone with know-how to examine the RV’s support structure underneath. We also need to make alterations to my van in order to tow it safely.
  • Phase Three: Solar panels, smart tv, buffing the skin to a high shine, a covered deck outside the RV, and a large pond and waterfall near the firepit for ambiance. In place or on the go, it will look fantastic.

We started by pulling out the blah kitchen faucet, in order to replace it with this…

My husband removed all of the copper pipe, and it was a good thing too. In one spot, someone had drilled a screw right through one piece of pipe, and there were several tape-wrapped breaks in the line. We will replace it all with PEX.

We have a propane tankless water heater to buy and install. As well as a water pump in case we want to take it on the road and store water in a tank underneath the Airstream.

This little 3-in-1 breakfast station is sitting there waiting to be used…

And this arrived last week. I couldn’t wait to plug it in!

I’m going to take the 50s era theme and run with it. I found some fabulous fabric for the curtains as well as seat cushions or pillow covers. The project is challenging in areas, but it has the potential to be an excellent source of income and a great way for us to do some traveling through the United States. I’m so excited!

Then Again, Maybe?

I’m a rather decisive person – but that doesn’t mean that I won’t re-visit decisions and re-evaluate their worth.

And as my husband and I discussed the future front fence, we ran into a bit of a difference in opinion, which led to me questioning whether I really wanted to turn the two properties closest to us into rentals.

The daylilies are looking GREAT this year!

The Cottage West is at the end of our property – a wide open green space on the east side of our home. We have the Airstream parked in the back, plans to finish a large pond in the middle, a shady wildflower garden where a woodpile used to be, and a mini-orchard of fruit trees that are rapidly maturing. And as we discussed the idea of turning the basement of Cottage West into one rental, and the main floor and attic into another – we realized that it would mean that there would, once again, be people moving through our yard.

Our house in the distance (taken earlier this year)

As we discussed the placement of the front fence, we realized that, if we wanted the renters to stay out of our yard, we would have to run a fence down the side of Cottage West, effectively closing off access to our yard.

“I imagined it would be open and we would share the yard,” my husband said, staring at the schematics in my hands.

“Remember how antsy you got when we had our last party and the kids were all beating the crap out of our flowers?” I asked. “Imagine a renter’s child doing that EVERY DAY.”

My husband did not look happy.

Cottage West

And perhaps I’m off-base, but in my mind it makes a certain amount of sense. The kid gets familiar with the yard and thinks nothing of boundaries and futzing with the landlord’s part of things. Whereas with an Airbnb, parents tend to be more watchful, more respectful – they are visiting, not living there.

I could be wrong. Who knows?

But it did get me to thinking. What if we still did the four Airbnb’s in the two properties? I could craft my vision of the Cottage West as an art/writing retreat. I could install the fru-fru chandelier in the bathroom and lay the penny floor sealed with resin. I could furnish the rooms with comfortable, warm colors and create a house that I could comfortably live in myself when I grew old and didn’t want to traipse up and down stairs every day.

I could create that dream of an English countryside cottage with Cottage East. Install the lion’s head fountain, find enough bricks to create the backyard courtyard, and enchant guests with piles of flowers and overstuffed chairs.

And I still dream of that and smile at the thought of creating these beautiful oases here in the city.

So, we might be changing our minds. That’s the long and short of it.

I want to create beauty and be a good neighbor and property owner. One way or the other, rent or Airbnb, that’s the mission – create beauty, improve the neighborhood.