Doni’s Old House Remodel: Goodbye Bathroom Curtain, Hello Door

One of my life outlooks is that if there's a room full of shit, there must be a pony in there somewhere. It's a helpful, optimistic way to frame things when life's stresses and pressures pile up.

There were many positive milestones this week at my old house remodel. First, I completely unpacked and dealt with everything delivered by Mobile Me Moving. Everything! All the boxes are unpacked. All of them!

I dispersed of my excess stuff in many ways, one of which included sending an entire carload of things to my booth at Oregon Street Antique Mall, where I'm actually paying a fellow antique mall vendor to sort, price and display everything for me. It's one of those weeks where my spare time is so skimpy that I asked myself my test question, "Is pricing and displaying hundreds of things in my booth the highest and best use of my time?"

No, it wasn't. So I outsourced it.

Second, I posted a request on Facebook to give away free boxes, and away they went. Whoosh!

Third, I found a bunch of names on and Facebook for guys to interview for the last leg of my remodel; the pretty stuff. Finally the pretty stuff!

I hired two awesome guys: Doug, a licensed contractor, for finish work - trim work, hanging doors and windows - and Ken, a handyman, to do anything that required drilling into an interior or exterior wall, which is a big deal with an old house like mine because of all the plaster walls, because it requires a masonry bit. Or many bits.

Also, I am excited to now have four down-light (better for night skies) exterior sensor lights that go on at dusk and go off at sunrise, one for the front porch, one for the back laundry room door and one for the back bedroom exterior door, plus one over the peak of the garage. I really hope they're not so bright that they bother my neighbors, because I love how those lights illuminate all those formerly dark corners around my house.

The next cool thing that happened was I bought a little refrigerator for the back guestroom, which is really like its own little wing, since it was added on in 1950. I call it the Czech Room, because son Joe, his wife and mother-in-law from the Czech Republic will be the room's first guests soon.

I can cram a lot of stuff in my little car, but not a refrigerator.

Doni uses her Kia Soul like a truck whenever possible, such as when she brought home her range vent.

So I asked a friend who has a truck if he could please pick up the refrigerator from Home Depot, where I'd purchased the sweet little appliance the night before. First, I'd had a nice talk with a guy at Home Depot and they promised to have the refrigerator waiting for Dan at customer service, so he wouldn't have to wait for three hours as staff searched for it, which is exactly what happened to one of my handymen at Lowe's a few months back, which was especially distressing since not only did it waste my handyman's time, but I was paying him by the hour.

When friend Dan got the refrigerator to my house and unboxed it, we noticed a crunched place at the bottom of the refrigerator, right about where a forklift might have hoisted it.

Doni's friend points to the crunched place on the refrigerator.

I contacted the store and explained that no way would I ask my friend to return to the store with the refrigerator, only to pick up another one and bring it back to me. Come on, people. He's not my husband.

The store agreed, and we arranged a time for Home Depot to pick up the damaged item and deliver a new refrigerator.

I suggested that this time, maybe they could unbox the appliance at the store, before delivery, and check for damage. Sure, OK, the store representative said.

I am fairly sure my name is on a "special" B list at Home Depot and Lowe's by now. Whatever.

Lo and behold, the same nice guys delivered my second refrigerator who'd been here through at least four returns and calamities at my home, so it was like seeing old friends. This time, though, my delivery friends looked sheepish, and asked if anyone had called me.

No. Why?

They explained that someone had unboxed my new refrigerator at the store, before delivery, as I'd asked. The thing is, they found damage. And what did they do when they found that damage? Why, they loaded the crunched refrigerator on the truck and delivered it to my house anyway.

Damaged refrigerator No. 2, still on the truck, fresh from the store.

Where's that damn pony?

I won't bore you with phone conversations, but suffice to say Home Depot delivered yet a third refrigerator that day, but this time the kindly delivery guy said his dolly wouldn't work, so he carried the refrigerator on his back like a turtle, and did the same for the damaged one that he took away.

Sometimes this remodel feels like something out of a crazy dream.

Third time was a charm. No damage. The thing works. I'm stocking it with Hexagenia and Häagen-Dazs.

One of the high points of the week was my first delivery from Weaver Lumber with all the trim, which means soon I'll have baseboard, door and window trim and crown molding.

And it can't be much longer before Weaver Lumber delivers exterior doors for Doug to install, which will be one of the best days of all. Be gone, ghetto security doors! Gone!

Speaking of doors, one of the most dramatic events this week was saying goodbye to the tension-rod and shower-curtain set-up that's hung in my bathroom doorway since the first week of July when we removed all the 80-year-old doors for refinishing.

This was the only privacy curtain in Doni's entire house, until Wednesday.

Wednesday, Doug installed the bathroom door, which literally almost brought tears to my eyes. I'm serious.

Sometimes a shower curtain is fine for a bathroom closure, but other days it's crucial to have a bathroom with actual wood doors, rather than flimsy fabric. Tuesday was one of those days. Starting at about 7 a.m. I had back-to-back guys at the house either giving bids or working on the house.

I don't know about you, but my body is a finely tuned machine that has a routine, especially when it comes to my - forgive my indiscretion - morning constitution.

That gauzy material and a Scentsy plug-in would be scant comfort with a house full of workers. So I willed myself to postpone my constitution. I imagined toxins swirling through my body during the re-absorption process. I felt lightheaded. More guys arrived and left. Eventually there was still one worker in and out of the house. Clearly, my home was constitutionally unsafe.

During a major remodel, your house belongs to a series of VIPs: drywall workers, electricians, architects, plumbers, HVAC people, floor installers, finish carpenters, laborers, and on and on and on it goes. During a remodel, you, the homeowner, have two jobs: Stay out of the way and burn stacks of money.

It was shortly after I'd put in a load of laundry - during its drain cycle - when I heard the horrifying familiar sounds that only someone who's had a finicky sewer will recognize.

Glug. Glurg. Blub.

I rushed to the hallway bathroom, where, sure enough, the tub and toilet were doing full-on Linda Blair imitations. Then the toilet water disappeared completely, which, I suppose, is preferable to the sewer alternative. But an abruptly waterless toilet is unnatural, and that's disconcerting.

I turned off the water at the tank, just in case. I called Holly Adams at Edgewood Plumbing, my favorite plumbing company, who said she'd have someone out before the day's end.

Of course, it was Halloween. Trick or treat? One trick coming right up.

By then I was in genuine discomfort. The remaining handyman was still on the premises. My sister was here, and she kindly volunteered to spot me so I could use the back bathroom, which has been curtainless since it was tiled last week.

But what if the sewer system failed? Shelly suggested I use the toilet and simply not flush. "Plumbers see worse," she said with the nonchalant air of someone who is free of constitutional issues.

An unflushed toilet was absolutely not an option for me.

I briefly considered going to a neighbor's house, but the imagined scenario just didn't sit well with me.

Hi. I'm Doni, your new neighbor. Would you mind if I borrowed your bathroom for a little while?

Shelly's suggestion No. 2 - so to speak - was to test the toilet with something, like a piece of bread. So I tossed a piece of bread in the toilet and flushed it. Down it swirled without a care in the world. How I envied that little piece of untroubled bread.

Edgewood Plumbing is Doni's favorite plumbing company. It's a family business, and the son came out on Halloween to clean out the sewer line at Doni's house.

I took a risk. I used the bathroom. I flushed. I waited. All was well. Oh happy day. Free at last, free at last.

Edgewood Plumbing arrived before the trick-or-treaters. The diagnosis: tree roots. No biggie. Come on! Since July I've dealt with being homeless and bouncing from place to place. I've encountered vintage live gas lines uncovered outside as I tried to dig down to prevent water from running under the house. I've suffered through electrical interior errors like punctured gas lines and crossed wires and fire shows in the laundry room that melted the dryer hose. I've discovered exterior open air vents buried more than a foot underground. I've dealt with legions of rats - dead and alive - and a raccoon skull in the attic. I've uncovered walls and floors that revealed charred wood and dry rot. I've had my longtime homeowners insurance cancelled because of "yard debris". I've had a completely bogus CSLB sting operation on my favorite handyman at my home, who was threatened with jail time and fines as he installed an $89 bathroom window in its existing opening.

Tree roots in a sewer line? Piece of cake. Pardon me while I take a well-earned drag from my cigarette.

Oh wait. I don't smoke.


Friday will be a great day. Pacific Crest Granite will install the marble kitchen counters. And handyman Ken will finish everything that involves drilling through plaster. Once the counters arrive, I can have the kitchen sink set, and kitchen faucets, garbage disposal and dishwasher connected, which means no more washing dishes in the bathtub.

But Friday is also the day when it might rain. With that in mind, I turn my attention to the courtyard, which I hosed off one evening this week just to spiff the place up, in case an insurance guy showed up for a surprise inspection. Within a few minutes the courtyard flooded, and the flooded water rushed through the ground-level vents and under the house. Yes, the house that I paid dearly to have all new joists replace the rotten ones.

Just hosing off Doni's courtyard for a few minutes caused it to flood, and the water to run beneath the house via the ground-level vents.


I need to deal with this asap. But first, I'm going to take a long, hot bath. With the door closed. Granted, there's no doorknob. That's OK. It gives me something to look forward to.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. 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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34 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    The Winchester Mystery House has nothing on you, Doni. Where’s the pony, indeed. Something I’ve wondered about: since your neighbor asked about the “horrible mold” and since Corey found all the buried dams keeping water out of the crawl space, it would seem that these major infractions should have been disclosed prior to the sale. Do you have recourse? Monetary reimbursement would go far toward all these unplanned expenses you’ve suffered.

  2. Randall Smith says:

    Dan Adams and Family are the best! I called from NYC last summer for a sprinkler minor sprinkler problem.
    Nothing from that distance is minor. They sent someone immediately.

    Maybe November will be the break through month for you. Hope so. Your house fun has to be nearly over, just before the rain.

  3. Ginny says:

    Oh, Doni, you need to sell your time with this home to a movie magnet to put into a movie! I am sure that others will enjoy everything, as your sense of humor provides all of us! Soon all will be perfect, I know…


  4. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    Everything about this series makes me happy that I don’t flip houses for fun and profit.

  5. sue k says:

    Amazing – this whole remodel ordeal. Your writing is superb. Every Thursday I look forward to the next episode. I can’t even begin to imagine going through all that you have dealt with. You are a marvel!!!!
    I agree – this all should be made into a movie. It surely would take the ‘oh, poor me’ out of anyone else who is struggling with remodel projects – or any kind of project that offers huge snags.
    Thanks for your writing AND dynamic spirit.

    • I appreciate your kind words, but I’m not really a marvel. I’m burning the candle at all ends, and my immune system is taxed to the max. I just got over a whopper of a cold, I’ve had hives and TMJ flareups and that stupid vertigo stuff and I just found some forgotten paperwork with an Oct. 23 deadline that was packed away for traffic school. I’m throwing myself on the mercy of the court.

  6. Karen Calanchini says:

    I loved this story. I could relate to parts of it and it brought back humorous events when the house was full of workers. Not so funny at the time, however.

  7. Carrie Dokter says:

    Shaking my head and a smile on my face. I don’t know how you do it!!

  8. Joanne Gifford says:

    Wow Doni , A humorous drama, or something like that 😀

  9. Marilyn Traugott says:

    What Carrie said… I totally agree. The line that comes to mind is ,”Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

  10. Tim says:

    Ouch Doni, sorry to read about the newest issues. If you haven’t already, I’d look into a french drain to keep the foundation dry. Probably the sort of thing that officially requires permits & licensed contractors, but could be done by anyone who can dig a trench and read a level…

    PS: The google streetview photo from 11/2011 shows someone had an above-ground drainage pipe along the uphill side of your home, so someone was obviously aware of drainage issues then.

    • Aww, thanks, George! And thank YOU for helping me with so much: painting the doors, hauling boxes, breaking down boxes. YOU’RE a marvel!

      (This reply is in the wrong spot. It belongs below George’s comment.)

    • For most applications, a French drain would be ideal. But with my house, the exact place I need a French drain is also the location of two sewer clean-outs, the gas line (which is right below the surface) and electrical lines.

      Aside from removing all the vents and blocking those openings – which are needed for crucial ventilation – I’m not sure what the logical solution would be. (Yeah, I knew about the above ground pipe. I hauled it away to the dump because it was trashed.)

  11. George says:

    This is a quote from Sue K, Amazing – this whole remodel ordeal. Your writing is superb. Every Thursday I look forward to the next episode. I can’t even begin to imagine going through all that you have dealt with. You are a marvel!!!! Doni she is so right on. If any of your readers spent a day with you, if they saw all the the things you have had to deal with firsthand I think they would marvel at your accomplishments that much more. I’ve seen it and “it is overwhelming at times” but you always seem to find the positive in it all. NICE JOB Doni, it will all work out in the end.

  12. Louise Hanson says:

    I’m feel sure that you could take all these episodes and turn it into a novel…”(a) humorous drama,” as Joanne suggests. I have enjoyed your writings very much; thank you for keeping my spirits up.

  13. Pamela says:

    I’m sure, since you were raised in the area and went to Cypress too, that you remember how badly Kutras and Garden Tracts flooded. I remember being picked up at Cypress a couple of times by a neighbor with a truck that had a very high axle because a regular car couldn’t rescue us? Not sure if it was the dam or canal or? that alleviated it mostly.
    But in Garden Tract the streets are still about a foot higher in the middle than the gutters.
    Wondering if your house isn’t a natural “sink” that’s developed decades ago. Ugh. All you want is a nice, peaceful little home. It will happen?

    • It’s funny, but I don’t remember the flooding when we were kids. We didn’t have a car, and so we didn’t stray far.

      I don’t think my house is in a natural sink, but rather, I think part of the problem is that my street is on a slight incline, and my house is lower than my southern neighbor, so there’s run-off from the higher elevation.

  14. Janet Tyrrel says:

    Doni…I want to send some “enjoy anewscafe” money, have done before but can’t remember how. Please advise!

  15. Doug Mudford says:

    Your bathroom “issues” hit close to home. I would walk a half mile in the rain to use a public toilet before I would bother a neighbor. I blame my mother.

    Just wanted you to know I purchased two of Corey’s chairs…lots of compliments and interest. One of them was supposed to be a housewarming gift but you scared the pony out of me if anything was delivered to you…so I kept it.

    I should say something soothing to calm you at this point but I got nothing. :1)

    Doug Mudford

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