Monday, July 9, 2012

Our Neighbors Gave Us Their House

No, we don’t live in a zip code where people own more real estate than they can visit in a year.  But we do live on a street full of families. With kids older than Amelia.  Who outgrow cool stuff right as Amelia grows into it.

When Amelia was a toddler, our neighbors had a block party for all the kids, and the highlight of their backyard was their daughters’ brand-new playhouse.  Amelia was barely walking, and some of our earliest photos of her standing up were taken in that little house, clutching the windowsill for support, all proud and independent.

Fast forward four years. The neighbors’ kids no longer play with the house and they have other plans for the space it occupies.  The house has been neglected for at least a year or two.  Let’s just say it’s become, well, not so fresh.  And the neighbors were wondering how to get rid of it…at the exact moment that Amelia and I walked by their driveway. 

“Hey, do you guys want a playhouse?” 

Five strong neighbors and a few choice curse words later, the house moved across the street, over a fence, and into our yard.  After I retrieved all the pieces that had fallen off in the middle of the road, here’s how it looked:

My husband was not happy about our new real estate acquisition.  Not in my backyard, he grumbled.  It’ll kill the grass.  It’s hideous.  Now getting rid of it will be our problem.  Is it even safe?  I made every case I could think of – the cost savings over buying a new playhouse, the shared experience of restoring it and making it our own, the lessons in responsibility and carpentry this project holds for Amelia, and well, I always wanted a playhouse when I was a kid and never had one, so can’t we please, please, please keep it?

Right on cue, Amelia ran inside, squealed with delight, and that was our closing argument.  We got to work.

This was one of those projects that, in all honesty, was much more exciting to me than it was to Amelia, but I talked her into it.  I’ve long dreamed of building an elaborate treehouse or playhouse together, but my fear of – and lack of – most power tools makes that plan impractical.  This fixer-upper could be our last chance.

First, the house needed a good cleaning.  We removed what may have been a dead animal from the mailbox.  We sprayed away years of cobwebs, dirt, and pollen with the garden hose.  We probably should have used bleach or something, but I didn’t think of that until now.  Anyway, without dirt as a distraction, we assessed the damage:  missing half a door, missing a kitchen sink, missing most hardware, rotted baseboards, broken shelf, faded roof…maybe Jeff had been right. 

But I’d assured my Girl and my Husband that this was a great project, so there was no looking back.  Next we dissected the house, removing anything that looked removeable. 

Since our budget had been grudgingly capped at “as-cheap-as-possible,” we agreed to use up leftover cans of paint and miscellaneous hardware from other projects.  I bought one can of yellow exterior housepaint, but other than that we used what we had.  Amelia’s favorite colors these days include “all the colors of the rainbow,” so we had a plenty to choose from.  She set to work painting – the house, the loose parts, the grass, herself, and everything in between.

Amelia is an exuberant painter, but not a patient one.  She did the first coat and then lost interest.  She was hot, tired, and dirty.  Jeff rolled his eyes and gave her a bath while I kept painting.  The playhouse had unofficially become my project, and I had to finish it.  My pride was on the line.

I wish I could say that this turned out to be the family bonding project I’d envisioned, but it wasn't.  I repaired the broken pieces, replaced missing hardware, and finished the painting.  And I learned that Extreme Playhouse Makeover is too much to ask of a four-year-old. 

But happily, Extreme Playhouse Accessorizing was just Amelia’s speed.  Here’s what we did together:

  • ·      Found and fit the perfect mixing bowl to serve as a kitchen sink
  • ·      Chose the number 4 (her number) as the address and nailed it in
  • ·      Made chalkboards for the outside and drew on them
  • ·      Painted and hung pictures on the inside walls
  • ·      Hung lights for nighttime play
  • ·      Planted flowers
  • ·      Hung sparkly curtains

So, now that the house is ready for play, is it the hottest destination in the neighborhood again?  Um, yes…and no.  It’s hot alright. It's REALLY hot in Charlotte.  Too hot for much of anything in the backyard. So the house is currently vacant, if no longer abandoned.

I can’t wait until fall.  In the meantime, I think I may add a ceiling fan…