1846 Homestead Renovation

Fighting the Dark Side of Renovation with Thoreau

Oh! The Irony!

So the cups above are two of my favorite coffee cups and I drink out of one of them most mornings.  The irony of the messages on these cups isn’t lost on me.  In fact, the irony is the primary reason why I love them.  What on earth does a Thoreau quotation about confidence, my perception of perseverance have to do with home renovation?  Please continue, dear reader.

I am a Teacher

I taught was a teacher for several years. Most of my teaching career, I was a gifted and talented program’s teacher and I adored my job.  We did a unit entitled “Simplicity” and in it, we studied the works of Henry David Thoreau.  Lofty, yes.  Appropriate for middle schoolers, again yes (judging from their response to the materials).  I digress… the fact that I got to discuss the Thoreau quote “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you’ve imagined” was always one of the best teaching days of the year.

During the unit, I tried my best to encourage the young students to have dreams and to confidently pursue them.  And to not give up…and how that perseverance would make the difference between their success or failure.  How cool is it to be able to encourage students to find their dreams and with all my wisdom and all my years, be able to tell them how important it is to do this?  Very!  Of course, they thought that I was standing there, mistress of my own destiny.  They believed that I was someone who was “grown” and had reached adulthood.  I had followed my dreams and made them come true.

I Am a Fraud

They were always shocked when I told them that I was a fraud.  I wasn’t “going confidently in the direction of my dreams.”  I wanted (still wanting) to write a book, but was terrified by the rejection and failure I was sure I would encounter.  Wait, what?  Mrs. Burch is afraid of failure?  Yup.  Chronically so and I still struggle with that today.

That was something that I wanted my students to understand.  Fear is just part of life, but it is only a problem when it gets in the way of you following your dreams.  Gird your loins with perseverance and all will be well.  That is what I preached.  My reality is different.

My reality is a laundry list of “what could go wrongs”.  Jerry shakes his head in disbelief when I talk about my fear of failure.  He has asked me when I give all the possible, tragic scenarios playing out in my mind “When has that ever happened?”  That is my reality check.  Those fears are in my head and they serve as stumbling blocks.  I need to ignore them and continue to “go confidently” and to “live the life” he and I have imagined together.  All of a sudden, the renovation worries were testing the lessons I taught (but obviously struggled with) about Thoreau, confidence and perseverance.

The Life We’ve Imagined

Imagined or not, Jerry and I have lived a pretty interesting life.  We have four children.  He was in the Navy for 20 years.  We have lived in 29 houses in 33 years of marriage.  There have been countless times we have amazed our friends (the installation of a white sand beach in our back yard, an English garden installed in a different back yard, longhorn cattle, homemade wine and cheese, and goats to name a few).

Applying Thoreau’s Wisdom

When we decided to purchase and renovate the 1846 Texas Homestead, it seemed like a great idea.  We stepped out and “went confidently in the direction of our dreams” but then I began to wonder if the house and location were the “life we had imagined”.  Certainly, there were aspects of it that were on the money.  Rural location…check.  Family history…check.  Central location for the kids and grandkids…mostly check.  But there is no pizza or Chinese delivery.  As we get older, EMS services will take a while to reach us.  Jerry has a hefty commute two days a week.

One morning, as we were driving over to work on the old house, I started doubting if the house was the right decision.  We had focused on the process of getting the house and then restoring the house.  I was sure Jerry was along for the ride because the house was what I wanted.  But did I really?  What would living there be like?  Was this the life we had imagined?  Was it sustainable?  I wondered if  “we can” was the same as “we should”.

Dang Thoreau

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams…

Was my sudden (but expect, I’m sure) bout of doubt founded or just typical Jana?  How much confidence could I muster?  Would it be enough to overcome this “holy smokes, what have we done?” moment?  I have no idea, because I didn’t keep quiet and rely on myself.  Jerry is my touchstone and I asked him for his perspective.  I knew that he would provide me with a rational, logical answer.  And he did.  Jerry said that he was still confident and that this was the life we had imagined. The house was seemed to be screaming something else.

Overcoming the “Dark Side”

There is a dark side to renovation.

We were willing to take on the house.  However, are not professional carpenters.  We don’t build or renovate houses for a living and that means that we have to learn as we go either by trial and error or watching a YouTube video.  Most of my renovation knowledge was gained by watching shows on television (My favorites are: Fixer Upper, First Time Flippers, Barnyard Builders, Rehab Addict,  and Stone House Revival.)  I usually walked into the house and dreamed about how it would look when we were finished.  One day, all of a sudden, the house showed me the dark side.  The dark side looked like this…

And like this…

You know, basically where we had ripped the guts out of the house in an attempt to renovate it and there didn’t seem like there was enough house left to survive overnight.  Somehow, Thoreau’s quotation made me nervous.  We had stepped out and gone “confidently in the direction of our dreams” but I never imagined that the house would look like this.  And I wondered how on earth we were going to put it back together.  Let’s face it, the “pretty stuff” was going to take forever, and now we practically have to scoop it all up and reassemble.  Whoa.  That is a lot of “dark side”.  If the renovation was ever going to be accomplished, I needed to find comfort and strength in Thoreau’s encouraging words about confidence and perseverance.

Thoreau, Perseverance, and Confidence

Because perseverance is important.  So is confidence.  And so are dreams.  No matter how bad the house looked, I could always see the way it could look.  I’ll be honest with you…when I walked in and realized that there was a gaping hole where the fireplace had been, no floor, and the ceiling was gone, I was stunned.   A “what have we done?” kind of moment hit and I panicked a bit.  But then, my vision cleared and the necessity of what we were doing calmed me.

With a little more time, a lot more work, and that same perseverance, what the house could look like became a reality.  In the renovation process, we channeled Thoreau and went confidently (more or less) in the direction of our dreams and they had come true.  Take a look…

We bought all sorts of tools to help us with the renovation.  Nail guns, paint brushes, bottle jacks, saws…you name it.  But the tools that ensured that the house was completed were Thoreau’s beautiful words about dreams, confidence, and perserverance.  The once “dark side” of renovation has given over to the room pictured above.  It is a dream-come-true kind of room and yes, I am confident about that!

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