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

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 A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's 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's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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