Doni’s Old House Remodel: Pushing Toward the Finish Line, With a Lot of Help

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It’s been a rough week, for crying out loud!

This is one of those weeks when I struggle for the right words – aside from profanity – so I’ll rely heavily upon photos.

Last week I shared how Corey, my right-hand handy man, was ordered by a guy from the Contractors State License Board to no longer work for me, or risk fines, jail time and even a jury trial. I am not making this up. I spoke with the CSLB representative and heard those same threats and unfounded accusations with my own ears.

God bless ‘merica.

Corey was ordered by an enforcement member of the CSLB’s fraud team to not work for Doni after someone filed a false claim against Corey.

The CSLB guy drove up from Sacramento (our tax dollars at work), took photos of Corey installing Home Depot’s tiniest bathroom window (busted!) into an existing opening, and accused Corey of being a fraud and acting as an unlicensed contractor, which is complete and total BS.

See how much better I am this week? I’m using acronyms. You’re welcome.

I won’t rehash it here, but you can click here to get up to speed if you missed it last week. The whole stupid ordeal has left me a combination of heartbroken for Corey, outraged at the rat fink who filed a false report, and infuriated at the Contractors State License Board for believing the jerk and preventing Corey’s from earning a living by working for me.

In the meantime, son Joe flew from the Czech Republic to install my cabinets. It was win-win: For the price of an off-season plane ticket (less than $700), I’d get to see Joe and he’d install my cabinets.

Joe, all happy and eager to work, Day 1, before the CSLB sting that removed handyman Corey from the premises.

Corey’s CSLB sting happened the first day Joe showed up to work on the kitchen. Welcome home to California,  Joe.

Cue slow-mo train wreck.

Joe – my youngest kid, this site’s webmaster and creator – is a stand-up guy. He stepped up in a major way to help his mother in her hours of need. I am forever in his debt.

No job was too much for Joe.

Slipping into third person helps keep the angst at bay.

Joe picked up all the dropped balls and heavy labor I would have hired Corey to do.  For example, Joe removed the toilet from the hallway bathroom to prepare the floors for vinyl.

Everything Joe needed to know about toilet removal he learned on the internet.

Joe got under the house to remove debris, as requested by the City of Redding inspector, to prevent termites.

With Joe standing in a hole in the floor, Doni towers over him for the first time since he was a kid.

Joe prepared the floors for vinyl and bamboo with self-leveling concrete.

Special leveling material evens out the bathroom floor.

Joe picked up and hauled building materials.

I also did some stuff I would have hired Corey to do, such as cleaning up construction mess inside the house.

Sometimes, a shovel works better than a broom.

And I pulled the last what I hope to heaven are the last of the nails from the floor. I swear, in 1938 someone had a special nail gun that shot thousands of tiny nails into the carpet edges.

Once again, sister Shelly saved the day.

Shelly Shively paints the second bathroom. (The red stuff is to prepare the walls for tile, which Doni and Shelly plan to do, after they’ve watched some YouTube videos).

Shelly and I are mirror twins, a somewhat rare subset of identical twins. We’re alike in many ways, but completely opposite in others. I love Thai bubble tea, she hates it. She loves kombucha, I hate it. I love Juicy Fruit gum, she hates it. I love roasted beets, she hates them.  I love flan and tapioca, she hates it. When we eat crab, I stockpile mine, wash my hands and then eat my crab, while Shelly eats as she cracks the crab. I get motion sickness, she doesn’t. She’s a swimmer, I like lifting weights. As kids, I liked baby dolls, she liked tortoises. On and on like that we go.

Shelly, who’s an artist, loves to paint. I hate it, probably because I’m not very good at it. So when it came to my doors, I removed all the old paint, which took about a gallon of stripping goop per door. I actually like demo, and then starting from scratch. Speaking of stripping, Joe and I shared a memorable moment in Walmart where we were looking for work clothes on the $3 rack.

I told Joe I just needed a really cheap shirt for stripping, which got a double-take from man shopping nearby. Whatever.

Using paint remover – about 1 gallon per door – Doni was able to strip the 80-year-old doors down to bare wood, which sister Shelly painted white, topped with varnish.

At first, I was so happy to see the bare wood that I vowed to never paint the doors, and just do a light varnish coat.

Doni got the doors down to bare wood, and washed them to prepare for their next life.

But even without paint, the old doors were unevenly discolored and not very pretty. So Shelly went to work and painted the doors. I’m really excited about this, because I’d assumed I’d spend the entire fall and winter refinishing doors. I planned to put up shower curtains in the empty door frames.

Shelly painted the doors that Doni stripped.

We knew there was probably lead paint on the doors, especially on the lower layers, so we wore masks when dealing with the old paint.

Doni and Shelly took precautions when dealing with the disturbed paint on the old doors.

All the while, I was dealing with my own personal issues, such as a case of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which is basically the mother of all vertigo, so severe that the room spins as if you’re drunk (so I’ve heard) out of your mind. It’s an inner ear calamity caused by little wayward crystals that end up in the wrong part of the ear, and gives erroneous signals that basically cause the brain to doubt where the body is. I went to The Rose Center where a physical therapist said I was a classic case, and treated my condition with a head-moving maneuver that coaxed the runaway crystals back to their correct home.

It helped, because I no longer have the world-spinning vertigo, but I still feel slightly off kilter and spacey, especially if I look up and down. Maybe I should practice being less agreeable, and nod less. I’m hoping this is just my body’s way of working through the last gasp of BPPV and eventually I’ll feel more like myself again.

Just as I celebrated being able to turn over in bed without vertigo, something happened that I’ve not dealt with for decades when stressed: Hives, all over my chest. The hives cleared up, but were followed by my old friend TMJ. My jaw only hurt when I spoke, ate or drank. I felt as if were falling apart.

My mouth said, “I’ve got this. I’m doing fine.” My body begged to differ.

It’s been a rough week. Here Doni tries on a Halloween mask at CVS while she shops for anti-itch cream for her hives. This mask aptly reflected Doni’s feelings.

One of the great highlights of the week was having three West Valley football players work for me. It’s an arrangement that’s through the coach, part of fundraising for the school, so it’s not as if I were employing them, but rather, they worked, and I made a donation. The price was $50 per guy for six hours, plus lunch and water.

I love the gorgeous river rocks scattered around my house. They’re everywhere!

I worry that these beautiful smooth stones will become buried when I begin pulling dirt away from the house in an attempt to prevent recurring flooding (that the previous owner claimed on the disclosures to be unaware, which is weird, considering the brick-and-concrete dams built around the vents, dams that did not build themselves).

Look what Corey unearthed beneath brush on the south side of Doni’s house. One vent was nearly 12-inches below ground. Corey broke out the brick and rock dams to reveal the vents and ensure they were covered with wire mesh to prevent rat entry.

But I digress.

The three West Valley football players – all seniors – went on a rock hunt and collected every visible rock. Some of the rocks must have weighed more than 100 pounds.

Note the pile of rocks behind the West Valley football players.

Back inside the house, my original plan was for Joe to start the cabinets immediately, followed by flooring. He’d have plenty of time left to tile the back bathroom tub surround and he and I could shop for the cabinet pulls and knobs which he could also install.

Best laid plans went to hell. We had one delay after another, to the point where we were beginning to wonder if he’d be flying home without ever starting the cabinets.

The kitchen was ready for Joe, finally.

Joe put underlayment atop the subfloor to prepare the kitchen floors for eventual vinyl. But first, the cabinets.

Do you remember what this kitchen looked like after Corey removed the ratty old cabinets? What a mess!

At last, two days before Joe was to leave, all the obstacles were addressed, and Joe began work on the cabinets. He had help from a friend, someone who’d prefer I not mention a name. (See what’s happened? People are afraid to touch my house for fear of the long arm of the CSLB grabbing them.) Thank you, dear bashful helper person. 

The morning we left for Joe’s return trip to San Francisco for his flight back home to the Czech Republic, Joe was up early finishing the last of the cabinet installation in the laundry room. It was no small feat for him to muscle those huge pantry cabinets by himself into place, but what made the project most difficult was the 1938 walls, ceilings and floors were not all level, which required many, many shims to make it all right.

The last thing he did before he left my house was set a level across all the cabinets, awaiting counter tops. All level!

Next comes the flooring, installed by a family member, who, like the cabinet helper, wants to remain out of the spotlight.  The family floor guy had worked (volunteered, unpaid, in case you’re reading, CSLB fraud enforcement team) on the bamboo floors in the living room, hallway and dining room. The kitchen, laundry and front bathroom vinyl had to wait for the cabinet installation, or it would void the warranty.

I love how the bamboo is looking.

Family member who volunteered to install the bamboo admires his handiwork.

Alas, on the day of this column’s publication Joe will be flying home. He did an incredible job, but still feels bad for what’s left undone.

It’s OK. At least I’m living in the house, albeit one without a kitchen sink, or a functioning shower in the back bathroom (waiting for tile), or a functioning toilet in the front bathroom (waiting for flooring) or a washer and dryer, or the range (waiting for flooring), or the under-cabinet lights (waiting for the electrician) or the range exhaust hood. Which reminds me, I still need an opening in the kitchen ceiling for the hood, and then an opening through the attic. Ugh.

And, oh yeah, I still have all my stuff in a container, waiting for me to say the word for delivery. I’ve been without my stuff all summer, and have a hard time remembering what in the world I had that filled an entire steel container from top to bottom. There’s nothing I really miss.

I have my camping cot, which is plenty comfortable. Besides, I’m so tired each night that sleep comes easily. I have my trusty espresso machine.

And I have a shower that works in the front bathroom and a toilet in the back bathroom.

This has been one of the strangest summers of my life, one that has has me bouncing around from place to place. I’ve never eaten so much takeout in my life. And I lost a pound last week. Go figure.

I’m in the home stretch. I just know it. If you know otherwise, keep it to yourself.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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53 Responses

  1. Randall R Smith Randall R Smith says:

    Great story, especially the help from family some of which can’t be reached by the long arm of the CSLB. I remember the original Labor Day estimate as I doubted you might have all the necessary plans and permits by then. The amount and type of work performed has been as extensive as it has been exhaustive. Little wonder your personal systems are telling you about the strain.

    Thanks for sharing this tale. Sister Eileen once told me that Judgement is waiting for evil people. It happens here and comes in a direct amount and timing to the amount of ill given others. This forty year old advice has been shown true on too many occasions to mention. Keep faith and know your following admires and envies your will, stamina and courage.

    • Aw, Randy, you’re a sweetheart. Thank you.

      I won’t spend time wishing for judgement to befall the negative characters in this saga, but I do hope for some justice for Corey, and even a change in the law. That would make all the angst worthwhile.

      And isn’t that the way life goes sometimes; the worst times can eventually lead to the best times, or, at the very least, moments of clarity and growth.

      Hugs to you, Randy.

  2. Avatar cheyenne says:

    Just for the heck of it I googled DIY permits and found there is an actual reality TV show by that name. Reading some of the excerpts sounded just like your house remodel articles.

  3. Avatar CoachBob says:

    I’m still confused: What exactly was the “false” accusation on Corey?

    • Beverly correctly answered your question, but what I’m contending is that I hired Corey to do a series of small projects, paid by the hour, which is totally legal under the CSLB regulations. I won’t list all the things here (you can see examples in the original column).

      The CSLB is saying that once Corey earned an accumulated $500 from me from all those little projects, he was done at my place. Also, the CSLB representative accused Corey, and told me the same thing, that he’d looked inside the house at “all” the work done there and assumed Corey did it, which is flat out wrong. (See the part of the original column where I list the SEVEN different licensed contractors I’ve hired.) There were many things, like installing duct work, that I could have had an unlicensed contractor do (not Corey).

      In fact, a guy friend of mine offered to install my duct system, because he’d done it in his house and said it was easy. But I wanted to do this right, and I know from experience that some people aren’t friends, and they’d love nothing more than to make an example of me. I’m not being paranoid. This is a fact. So I got a licensed contractor (thank you, Phil Carpenter), and he got permits, and all was above board.

      Glad you asked? 😉

      • Avatar CoachBob says:

        lol First, I don’t know who Beverly is and never read a comment. But the whole deal is interesting. CSLB, labor board, they’re all heavy-handed. It’s how they roll. That said, it’s true about the $500 thingie. Example: You hire someone to install a swamp cooler in your window. Cooler costs $495. They can only charge you $5 for their labor (if they’re not licensed). Total job cost means exactly that. Labor and all materials. Anyway, it’s been an interesting ride for you. Don’t envy the misery! Hope all is smoother from here forward.

  4. Cheering you on over here — Go, Doni, go! Congratulations on all the progress — maybe ANEWSCAFE youtube remodeling videos are in your future? 🙂

  5. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Home stretch, Doin’ Doni and Joe and Shelly and unnamed family members and football players. And I’ll add Corey to that list for all the individual jobs he did, none of which exceeded $500. Does that explain it, Coach Bob?

  6. Avatar Bob Ferrari says:

    Did that fireplace get inspected? Most of the old ones have a fair bit of deterioration.

    • LOL, oy! The fireplace! I’m not even going to try it. (I’m not a fan of schlepping fire wood.)

      I’m going to have a little hearth built for sitting, and then plug in an electric fireplace/heater and call it good.

  7. Avatar Gary Solberg says:

    Yay for progress on the house, and for all your helpers.
    Sorry for the personal ailments.

  8. Avatar trek says:

    “It ain’t like all those home remodel shows on TV. ” Congrats on pushing through, closer to the end. Soon you’ll remember why you fell in love with the old house and now your home.

    • You know what? When I drive up and see the front of the house, and walk in the front door, I fall in love with it all over again. I adore this house. I see it as neglected and abused and I’m restoring it and making it a healthy, happy place.

      And man, you are correct that this is NOT like most remodeling shows. They make it look so fast and easy, when it reality, it’s neither.

  9. Avatar Karen C says:

    When you get lemons, make lemonade! That is you Doni…you go girl!

  10. Sure. What’s the alternative? 🙂

  11. Avatar Patricia Bay says:

    Looking good!!!! I hope Corey is doing well. Tell him many people are praying for him.

    • Thank you, Patty. I have told Corey that many people are on his side, but the way in which this CSLB guy dealt with Corey – bullied, really – has done a number on Corey. He’s having a rough time. Your prayers are welcome.

  12. Avatar Ginny says:

    This was your “Long, Hot Summer,” Doni. But I feel there is no way that jerk from Sacramento can legally stop you from hiring Corey or him working for you.

    If the jerk tried, I’d help you financially fight the jerk!


    • Well, although I think you may be right; that the CSLB doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on to truly order Corey from working for me, I wouldn’t want to test it with Corey at risk. It’s not worth it.

  13. Avatar Carol Cowee says:

    Love reading your total journey. You are an amazing, talented woman…what we women won’t do to have our perfect “nest”!

  14. Avatar Tom says:

    Looks good Doni. I can hardly wait to see it. Still miss you in the old hood.

  15. Avatar Brandon says:

    I like the exposed beam! Such a fun project to follow. Can you come to Portland and do this to my old house, please?

  16. Avatar Joanne Gifford says:

    I too enjoy reading about your house remodeling adventures 🙂

    • Brandon, those exposed beams are the brainchild of architect Tyler Hendrickson… and they’re a structural necessity after we shaved away parts of walls.

      The last part – before we can have the final inspection and be done with the permit – requires we veneer the headers and then install a very special bracket. From a distance the headers look cool, but they’re really just a group of 6 by 12’s.

      This will be tricky to make them tie into the bamboo in the dining room and living room, and the wood-look vinyl in the kitchen and laundry. I have to be careful or it could look like too many materials, and like a fun house.
      And like a woman in the middle of hard labor, I cannot EVER imagine remodeling another house!
      You can do it, Brandon! It’s (mostly) fun!

  17. Avatar Alice says:

    Fantastic journey! Thanks for resuscitating one of Redding’s older homes.

  18. Avatar Tammy says:

    Doni, I am so impressed with your drive and determination in face of the huge issues thrown your way! I don’t know when the law was established, but the non-contractor $500 allowance needs to be updated with today’s value. I enjoy reading about all the things you do to make the world a better place.

    • YES, I believe the only humane and sane thing is for the law to change to increase the amount an unlicensed handyman/woman can earn before the long arm of the CSLB can interfere with a person’s right to work and earn a living. I say add another zero, and make it $5,000, not $500.

      • Avatar Louise Hanson says:

        They also should remove the cost of the materials from that amount, as it is the owner who decides on and pays for the materials, not the worker/handyman.

  19. Avatar Melody says:

    Love what the old house is becoming, what a process! One thing jumped out at me in your comparison to your twin, you love lifting weights, that sounds like a change in thought process from when you began your weight loss journey. Good for you. Can’t wait to see the finished house+!

  20. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Somewhere in Sacramento, in a drab state office building, a CSLB functionary is peering at his computer screen and mumbling, “Bashful unpaid helper and shy family member. Volunteer high schoolers. Yeah, sure.” He’s probably fondling his car keys.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      I was thinking a letter telling the CSLB functionary he might consider early retirement rather than firing because numerous people in Redding plan to meet with our with their Senator and Assemblyman over his shoddy treatment of a handyman. Little Caesar indeed. Oh, wait, I forgot. Public employees can’t be fired. Once hired, forever retained.

    • Car keys, Steve? Is that what we’re calling it?

      You made me laugh, Steve. Thanks!

    • Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:


  21. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    …you can buy a CSLB-Detector at OSH, I’ll drive you there !

  22. Avatar Carrie says:

    Still very impressed, and exhausted after reading this. 🙂

  23. Terry Terry says:

    Once again, you inspire us all, Doni!
    Feel the love and support coming to you from your friends and fans. Sending prayers and good wishes to Corey, too.
    Your new home will be a reflection of you- -been through many challenges, and are coming out on the other side, trim, gorgeous and thriving. You go, girl!!

  24. Avatar Gracious Palmer says:

    Dear Doni, Thank you ? for sharing your challenges and escapades. I am empathizing with you as we prepare to sell two of our rentals and empty out a garage. Best wishes for your revitalization and success in your new “digs.” Gracious PS ?? to the Rose Center.

  25. Avatar Gracious Palmer says:

    Two thumbs up to the Rose Center

  26. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    I thought my sister was patronizing me when she said, after I described some disasters at my new home, “Happens to everyone.” I said…”OH? Does it? Tell me about your experiences. She did in such detail that I had to laugh. Why had I never heard these amazing stories? Other people shared stories too when I asked. The best one I heard when the previous owner of a home put paneling over the living room side of a 2 sided electric heater that was used in the bathroom. “I keep smelling smoke Honey. Where can it be coming from?” Finally discovering the problem was not something they shared with everyone! People don’t talk about rodent problems, roof repairs, dry rot, plumbing, electrical issues or frustrations with owning a home. “Everything is just peachy. Thank you for asking!” I have learned so much from your series of articles. You are going to have a home that you can be so proud of.
    (I walked around the corner at CVS and saw a woman walking towards me with that same mask you modeled in your first picture. I was so startled that I broke in to laughter!)

    • Yes, I think part of having a home is also having issues. I know someone who’s an extremely happy renter because the landlord has all the responsibility to fix stuff. Sometimes, I’m envious.

      (And I LOVE that mask. It makes me laugh, too.)

      • Avatar K. Beck says:

        Well…that assumes the person who owns the rental you are living in actually fixes things. That is a huge assumption. If the rent is late there is hell to pay. If there are plumbing problems, something wrong with the furnace, A/C…well, they will get around to fixing it when they get around to fixing it. If, indeed, they ever fix it at all.

  27. Avatar Stephanie Griffin says:

    I have enjoyed so much your narrative of rebuilding “this old house”. You keep me amazed and laughing, except for the dastardly treatment of Corey. I’m so glad I never attempted a major remodel. You are a brave woman indeed!