Welcome to our humble commode, officer.

A few weeks ago, on our very first date night after the big move, we ate dinner on the porch and congratulated ourselves over and over: Hooray for us—we made it! We survived our summer in home-improvement hell, followed by the most unpleasant moving day of our lives. Hooray, hooray, hooray!

We went out for a movie at the local Cinemonster, just like normal people—the kind whose days and nights don’t revolve around the drying time of their plastering and painting projects. Finally, we were back in real life, and it felt great.

But then, just as the movie was nearing the end, Dylan’s phone buzzed. A lot. He got up and took the call in the hallway, and a moment later, he stepped back in and motioned for me. My stomach dropped as I thought of our loved ones’ various medical issues and bad driving habits: Oh God. Somebody’s in a coma. Or dying. Or dead.

“Yes. Yes. Okay,” Dylan said on the phone as we speed-walked through the theater lobby. Then he cupped his hand over the receiver and whispered to me, “Our alarm went off at the house.”

Oh. $&%@.

We had been residents of the DIY Mess exactly ONE MONTH, and already we had a break-in????!!! Real life wasn’t looking so great anymore.

In the car on the way home we tortured ourselves: Why did we buy in this neighborhood in the first place—especially given that we KNEW the house had been robbed recently?! Why didn’t we catch a clue when we first learned that it attracts the sort of desperate folks who break into empty houses just to steal a few copper pipes?! We’d shrugged it off, comforted knowing that copper capers are a common conundrum across the city and the country—a sign of our times, we figured….. Oh, what idiots we’d been!

And then Dylan remembered: The security-company folks said that what had tripped the alarm was the motion detector in the living room, which was where we’d placed the item pictured here: a wobbly, slouching party sculpture that I’d gotten Dylan for his birthday the week before. That’s right, we’d sabotaged our own alarm with a smiley faced Balloon Guy.


When we arrived back at the DIY Mess, the cops were parked outside, waiting for us in their cruiser. It was a long walk from our car to their window—surely they’d be pissed, and rightfully so. Our idiocy might’ve taken two of Pittsburgh’s Finest away from an actual emergency.

They told us the place was secure, and we spewed apologies, nervously explaining the Balloon Guy situation. To our relief, they didn’t give us any lectures. They said not to worry, they preferred something dumb like this anyway. We were their last call for the night. Guess they were just glad to be heading home, safe.

Then, the cop in the driver’s seat said, “How do you like the neighborhood? I’m into real estate myself….” So much for real life. We were right back where we started: housing head.

It’s funny how single-minded this obsession can make people. As soon as we shifted into real-estate speak, I was over my concerns for our safety, over the thought that we might’ve inadvertently compromised someone else’s. Now, all I felt was shame over the state of our house. You see, the cops were the very first, non-family guests that we’d had over since the move. I wanted to be READY for that, you know? It wasn’t supposed to look like this:

The plaster wall separating the kitchen and the dining room is all beat to hell—prep work for a doorway we’re gonna put in… someday. In the meantime, we can’t fully resolve the rooms on either side—not the flooring, not the paint, not the trim, nothing. What did the cops THINK of all that naked lath and subflooring?

But that’s nothing compared to the back yard. It’s littered with piles of demo debris, yard waste, and broken bricks that we’ve yet to cart off to the landfill. Throughout the summer, much of our concrete walkway, flowering bushes, and grass got caught in the crossfire through our various paint-sprayer projects. What did the cops THINK when they saw the nuclear winter behind our house, all speckled in eggshell-finish, mint-green paint?

Guess I was still obsessing over all this last week when my good gal pal, C, came over for a tour. “Someday, we’re gonna do this,” I said. “Someday, we’re gonna do that.” “It’ll all look MUCH better AFTER we finish projects X, Y, and Z…..” But like a good gal pal, C told me to wake up and smell the unnecessary apologies. She made me realize that what I should be saying is: “Look what WE did!”

And so. It’s time to think half-full here.

On our meager budget, in just three and a half months, we built floor-to-ceiling custom shelves all the way around the once-unassuming room we now call The Library—and painted it, and trimmed it, AND re-floored it (thanks to M’s generosity and J’s genius). We stripped all the woodwork in all four bedrooms—with a heat gun, on the second floor, in the SUMMERTIME—and excavated FOUR fireplaces. We re-envisioned our 1960s kitchen, repainting the old Geneva metal cabinets, freeing them from those silly bulkheads, AND rearranging them around two beautiful new windows that we installed and trimmed BY OURSELVES!

And so, dammit, I’m not gonna apologize anymore. The fact is: We did all of this and more, and in spite of our idiocy, no one is dead or dying or in a coma. Hooray and knock on wood. A lot. We survived and came home, safe.

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