Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Married Mr. Fix-It

By Robin "Red Hot" Kaye

And that’s not a bad thing. Okay, some times it’s not great either—I’ve been living in a construction site for most of my marriage, but when it comes to fixing things, my man excels.

We live in a hundred year old Victorian farmhouse in Maryland, and when we bought it, I was in Idaho trying to sell our place. Stephen had already moved to Maryland to start his new job, so when I saw the ad for a Victorian, I had him go look at it.

Stephen called me right back all excited. “It needs some work,” he told me, “but nothing I can’t handle. It’s got great bones, ten-foot ceilings, and a turret with a big witches peak.”

To be fair, I probably stopped listening after the turret and the witches peak part. What romance writer doesn’t want to live in a house with a turret? When he started talking builerspeak I most likely zoned out.

The house had five bedrooms, two baths, and was on over a half-acre right on Main Street—perfect. It was also within our price range, which should have given me pause. But all I could see were the ten-foot ceilings and the turret—that is, until we moved in.

Yeah, mistake number one was letting my husband, a cross between “Tim The Tool Man” Taylor and Bob the Builder, buy a house before I saw it.

I had expected a fixer-upper but what this place needed was a can of gasoline and a match!

Stephen opened the door, and the smell of mold was so bad I immediately started wheezing—probably from the combination of mold and shock. He had told me the house needed a new roof, but what he failed to mention was that the roof on our hundred-year-old Victorian, like everything but the bathrooms, was original. When it rained, it rained in the house—literally. It’s pretty bad when the dog goes to the five-gallon buckets that are placed all over the house to catch the rainwater before he checks his own water bowl.

Thankfully, he cleaned the place up, and installed all new appliances in the week and a half I was in Florida picking up the kids. He even surprised me by buying a whole house water filter. I’d have been happy to have one that sat below the kitchen sink, but no, he got the big one. The water filter had to be connected to the plumbing—mistake number two.

When Stephen installed the water filter with more power, the pipe it was supposed to connect to broke because it was so old. He replaced that pipe only to have the next break also. On and on it went until, in the span of two weeks, we had all-new plumbing. The electrical system was the same way.

Now I know replacing all the plumbing and wiring in the house is a lot of work, but really, the lights worked before, and all the toilets flushed—usually. But all I could see was that I was still living in a house where, when it rained you needed an umbrella inside—and no, I’m not exaggerating.

Over the next nine years, we raised and replaced the roof, replaced the heating system, installed all new windows and siding, moved and built two new bathrooms, and remodeled three of the five bedrooms. But the turret, the one room I’d been dreaming about since day one, was left unfinished.

I don’t know how many times I suggested he tackle it, and every time he had an excuse not to—until the day his mother called. She told him she was giving us a bunch of family heirlooms and that he’d better get the turret finished. He started it the next day. I spent nine years begging for him to work on the turret, and all it took was one phone call from his mother.

I would complain, but really, I can’t. He did the most amazing job. He built a tray ceiling in a decagon that mirrored the windows, added a chandelier with an ornate medallion, and rebuilt and refinished the pocket door. The room is almost done except for the hardwood floors…maybe when I get my next royalty check. But I have to say that it’s almost worth it.

I wonder if I can get his mother to call about the kitchen and the dining room?

I'm giving away a copy of my latest book, Wild Thing and a $25 Amazon or Barnes And Noble Gift Certificate to a lucky commenter in the US or CAN only who answers the following questions... Are you handy or married to Mr. Fix it? Would you rather remodel a house or have one built?

Congratulations! Winners from Jana DeLeon's drawings are:
Alison - $25 gift card
amf, Sarah S., and Angela Bount have all won autographed copies of my next Intrigue.
Please contact me through my website and we'll work out the mailing/etc.


Virginia C said...

No "Mr. Fix-It", but quite a few people call me "MacGyver". I fix things with whatever is on hand: paper clips, rubberbands, scotch tape, duct tape, safety pins, plastic bags, milk jugs & etc. I used to work for a man who owned multiple businesses, and he had several handymen in his employ. However, it was up to me to fix the toilet in the office. I did it with two large paper clips and a rubber band. How did I know how to do this? It's the way I fix my toilet at home. Have you ever seen the movie, "The Money Pit", starring Tom Hanks? The first time that I saw that movie, I laughed so hard, and so loud, that my dog started howling. There was a touch of hysteria in my hysterics. My house had been redone via a "block grant", and it was a living nightmare. That was many years ago, and I am still paying for the repairs to the "free" repairs. When it comes down to remodel or newly build, it all depends on who does the work and how it is done. Either way, it's a gamble. People do freaky, unexpected things that are just plain wrong! I loved your post, and your house sounds like a home--a lovely home : )

Cheryl said...

Single mom here so I deal with what comes up and what I can't handle, I rely on my dad and brothers. Growing up I was not happy with 3 brothers and no sister but it sure has come in handy now. So, yeah, I'd rather build than fix it up.

Michele's journey said...

No Mr. Fix it here in fact when we were looking for houses I found one on line and was rading it to him and got to the part that said fixer upper bring your tool belt and he said next. we ended up building brand new and when anything breaks or needs work he tells me to call someone sho do you call to fix your door handle?

Theresa N. said...

I love the picture of your tree. we live in a 100 year old victoria cottage we bought and the first thing we did was replace the roof, surprise surprise they made us pay extra because of the stip pitch of the roof. The second thing we did was replace the heating unit and have air condition installed thank fully our son-in-law does that for a living. Did I forget to mention my Mr. Fix-It is an electric so the first thing he did was replace the panel in our foyer it's really big now don't worry Mrs. Fix-It (me) found a really nice painting to cover it. :)
Theresa N

Jana DeLeon said...

I would rather have a house built and then remodel. And I am Ms. Fixit. If you need a roof or a deck, I'm your girl. If you need a hem in a skirt or a button on a shirt, do NOT call me. I am sooooooo not domestic. :)

The picture is beautiful. So is your office in the turret? Cause that's where I'd be!

krisgils33 said...

I'm heading out to buy a couple boxes of your books so you can get the floors in the turret done!! your house sounds amazing. Hubby and I have owned four houses, and I've definitely come to the conclusion that I like a move-in ready status. The house we're in now is a circa 60's colonial (we're on the other side of DC from you in VA). New roof, new HVAC, new kitchen when we moved in, but the god-awful 60's wallpaper throughout the house almost made me hurl. That was the first thing to go!!!

Anonymous said...

You forgot another option: a sharp stick in the eye! I'd rather build than remodel. When something goes wrong (hot water heater leaking) I stay calm and run for the yellow pages; pleading helps too...

Angela N. Blount (RedPeril) said...

Neither the hubby nor I are handy around the house. We tend to either wait until my Dad (a.k.a The Tool Mann) makes a twice-yearly visit, or we use howstuffworks.com and muddle through with improvisation. Did you know that Pam works almost as well as WD-40? It's true--your hinges will no longer squeak, AND you will smell butter whenever the door opens or closes. >.>

As for the second question... Once upon a time I would have said 'build'...but now that we have done that and suffered at the hands of our neighborhood developer's shoddy choice in contractors, materials, and ethical practices...I say find something affordable with promise, and make it conform to your dream. Home ownership will give you heck, no matter what.

~Angela Blount

Alison said...

I would rather buy a house, neither me or the hubby are very crafty or fixity. Could my new house also be decorated too??? That's another thing I don't think I'm very good at.

Rebekah E. said...

I would rather remodel a house than have a new one build. I think it would be a fun experience. My husband is in the middle of Mr. Fix-it and not. But for the most part he can figure it out. I on the other hand am willing to try but have no knowledge on how to fix things.

Sarah S. said...

I'm some what handy, meaning I can tell the difference between a hammer and a screwdriver, and my husband is the same, but with all the unfinished projects we have in our home I would rather have a house built rather than remodel. We're ok with our limitations.

petite said...

What a wonderful and inspiring post today. What an experience too. My husband is the universal handyman which is extremely helpful and necessary. Whenever there is a problem he fixes it, but he does not do major work such as roofing or renovations. he hires others for the fine work and we would rather that then build.

traveler said...

I was captivated with this house story that seems to be never ending. I have been waiting to have several things done since we moved into our home 16 years ago. Minor things but no time. Getting good and competent and reliable workers is hard. I would buy an older home for sure due to the construction, locale and chaaracter. A good man is hard to find, especially a trusty handyman.

Erin T said...

Oh Robin. My husband is as useless as a three dollar bill. It really is pathetic. He grew up with his parents taking care of everything for him, so he never really learned to do anything for himself. I am the fixer in our house. Nothing major just little projects. I changed the guts in the toilet, put a new latch on the screen door and changed my own locks. He can't cook anything with out using the microwave. I think that's why I enjoyed your Domestic God's series so much, they were my fantasy men, lol.
I love older houses with character. But it would have to be in move in condition or nothing would get fixed.

Robin Kaye said...

@ Virginia - The house definitely is a home and a few parts of it are lovely. The old Victorians have so much character. My DH and I hope to move back to Boise sometime in the next few years and build something from scratch. Knowing him, he'll probably do everything but the framing, drywall, painting, and roof. He'd also act as the general contractor--he still has a lot of friends there in the business so I think it would be great. He's done with remodeling (Thank God!).

@ Cheryl - I don't think I'd mind remodeling if it could be done in a timely manner when I'm not living there. Eleven years is way too long to be sweeping up drywall dust.

@ Michele - Oh Michele, my stepfather was the same way. He had to hire someone to put together the Christmas tree. I think that's why I got good at doing handyman things. Now I work right along side my husband. I'm great at laying tile and taping drywall. I would just call a local handyman/woman--they're great to have on speed dial or ask one of your friend's handy husband. Mine works for beer.

@ Theresa - My husband re-roofed the witches peak while I was at RWA's National conference one year and for the life of me, I can't imagine how he did it. He also raised the roof all by himself. He built the raised roof over the existing 45-degree angle roof and then ripped it out and threw the pieces out the window. He's pretty incredible.

@ Jana - The Turret is the living room--it's the room with the tree. Above that, Stephen opened up the Witches Peak and connected it to the girl's room. It's like a huge Tee-Pee. Stephen put sky lights in so it gets natural light and it's a great place for them to read and hang out with friends. They have a futon couch, a ballet barre, and one of those big round furry cushions from Ikea. I'm still kicking myself for giving up that bedroom--it would have been an awesome office.

@ Krisgills33 - I still have that awful wall paper in the dining room--I keep asking him to just paint the room or something but he doesn't understand why he should do that if he's just going to rip down the walls eventually. I say "Yeah, but in what lifetime?" It's been eleven years of looking at godawful pink flowery wallpaper. I'm ready to take a sledgehammer to it myself!

@ Mary Louise -- Yes, I'm looking forward to having a move-in ready house. I don't think I'd do this again, but then I'll never say never.

@ Angela - I can't imagine having to deal with contractors when you don't know standard practices. My husband's boss, a construction manager who is married to another construction manager built their house and have had nothing but problems. I think the general contractor has to be on the site whenever work is going on. They both had full-time jobs so they got taken advantage of.

@ Alison - I don't know if I'm any good at decorating but I've also lived with hand-me-down furniture so I've never had the opportunity. I'm looking forward to finding out though. I think when we leave for Idaho, I'll only take a few family heirlooms and leave the rest--it's not worth moving.

@ Rebekah - I don't think I'd mind remodeling if I had more than one guy who would work more than nights and weekends. If I could have a crew come in and finish the job in a few weeks, I'd be more than happy to remodel.

Unknown said...

After what we went through with our house I think I would reather build a house then refinish one. My husband is not much on being a Mr. Fix-it. I am more the one to do that them him. He didn't even know how to patch a piece of dry wall when i married so he said. Still want after all these years. We bought a real small house 575 sq ft when we got married and added about a half a house to it. Then remodeled all of the old house. It took years to get this done. Seems like I had to do most of the work. Hubby played like he didn't know how to do anything. Now when anything happens to the house hubby wants to hire everything fixed. We don't have the money to hire everything so I am still stuck trying to fix thing. So next time just build me a new house so I don't have to worry for a while.

Mo said...

When I was 7 my folks bought a 300 year old colonial house that should have been condemed. Every summer we would completely gut one room down to the studs and rebuild it. It was fun when I was young and a wonderful learning experience. However I had had enough of it so when I bought my house it was new contruction.

Robin Kaye said...

@ Sarah - My limitations are increasing--I'm definitely not as patient as I used to be--especially when it comes to drywall dust and ugly wallpaper.

@ Petite - I'm always amazed at what my DH can fix--to be honest, I doubt there's much he can't fix. He kept fixing our dishwasher until finally the motor just died and with all the other problems, it wasn't worth replacing it. When we went to buy a new washer, we saw one that had been returned and a new motherboard installed. It was incredibly cheap, Stephen opened it up, looked inside and smile. "Let's buy it, it's got the same guts as our old one so I'll have replacement parts." I just shook my head.

@ Traveler - That's so true. I was talking to my mother the other day and she told me she'd gotten a Christmas card from our old handyman, Rudy--he's in his late 80's now. When I was in Jr. high school he enclosed a porch at our house and since my stepfather was less than useless, Rudy was always doing something. I think he even remodeled the kitchen. I adored him and used to help him a lot. Mom said he's been reading my books and I swear I blushed for the first time in years. LOL

Erin - LOL I always said my stepfather was a useless as tits on a bull when it came to doing anything around the house. I'm sure your DH has other fine qualities. I'm so glad to hear that you're enjoying the Domestic Gods books. Stephen is a passable cook if I'm not around to do it. His real gift is cleaning through--and he does it all, or used to when the kids were small. Now he has them do a lot of it, and frankly, they're missing his clean gene so their work is not so great, but not bad enough for me to be tempted to do it.

Robin Kaye said...

@ Virginia - Oh boy, I feel your pain!

@ Mo - Wow, I think I would have loved that when I was a kid. But yeah, I'm well over it now too.

Zita said...

I have a house in my head. Unfortunately, I have no money in my wallet. So unless I win the lottery I will remain in my condo doing my little renos and dreaming of the day :-)

Kima said...

My hubby does some fix-it work, but unfortunately he learned from his dad who does whatever it takes to fix it. Never mind that I really don't want visible screws in my ceiling or duct tape on the kitchen faucet! Luckily my BIL is a contractor who is always willing to help do it the right way (AKA able to pass a professional home inspection!) Love the thought of an old well-loved home to fix up but now that we bought a move-in ready home, I doubt that I will ever go back to a fixer-upper. But I was a bit jealous over the thought of your tray ceilings and a turret room!

Glittergirl said...

I am married to a "Mr. Fix-It" "MacGyver" & "Leonardo da Vinci" all in one. I call him my original "Renaissance Man". He can do anything he sets his mind on: build furniture, make jewelry, fix the plumbing, put up house siding...you name it. He won't hire ANYONE to do it for him and so the family ends up "helping". Oh the agony of that. He's a white collar guy by profession who gets his fingernails dirty.

We built our home rather than remodeled. I drafted the plans and we hired a contractor adding our sweat equity here and there. We had a blast but any mistakes are on our heads, lol.

Na said...

I love Home Improvement and still watch the re-runs whenever I come across it. The banter and family dynamics makes it such an entertaining show. I'm not married but I like the idea of being married to a Mr. Fix-It, although I imagine I would need a lot of patience. Fixing things is wonderful but over-fixing things can be irritating. It's just in men's nature to want to fix, but the good thing is when it does work out I can be thankful to have a handy half around.

I tweeted: https://twitter.com/#!/FieryNa/status/156832526864879617

catslady said...

I think I would like to have a house built but that will never happen. Our house was about 13 yrs. old when we bought it and we've been here 36 yrs. Yes, my husband is handy on a lot of things but it takes him forever to get to things unless it's an emergency. He took our gutter down in the back of the house to fix a porch roof that has been plauging us from the beginning and 3 yrs. later it's still there. We had the roof replaced twice and it's still not right so he thinks he can do it himself - yeah, but when (sigh).

Jane said...

I'm not handy at all, but my cousin and her husband are always involved in more than one DIY projects. Her husband built some nice cabinets and shelves for the laundry room.

Anonymous said...

I'm the Ms Fix-It in my house. I have 3 tool bags full of gadgets. I assemble the furniture, make repairs and generally do the grunt work. I also program all of the electronics in the house. I would rather start a house from scratch though.

geishasmom73 AT yahoo DOT com

chey said...

I'm not handy or married to Mr. Fix it. I think I'd rather have a house built than fix one up.

Barbara E. said...

I'm not married, so no Mr. Fix-It. I wish I had one. I can fix some minor things, but I've made sure I have a handyman on speed dial, so he can come and take care of all those little things. I'd love to have a house built, so everything was brand new, that would be so great. I did quite a bit of work to my house when I bought it (not me but people I hired), and since then I haven't had to do much, which is just how I like it.

Bessamy said...

Married to a Mr fixit. Trouble is he fixes everybody elses stuff and ours remains soap. Oh well! Thanks for the chance!

Kristi said...

I am married to Mr. Fix-it. He's really handy with everything from plumbing, to laying carpet to putting up walls.

I would love an old victorian. They have so much charm. He would prefer brand new and modern. Right now we live in a 1950's ranch that I grew up in and it has no charm what so ever.

We were house hunting and I found one that had a turret. I was in love and he thought I was joking. He hated it with a passion.

CrystalGB said...

I am married to a Mr. Fix It. We are always doing home improvement projects. I would rather have a house built. Less stress and labor for me.

Michele L. said...

I guess you could call me "Mr. Fix-it" since I am mechanically inclined. I have even changed a flat tire with the help of my hubby of course! Jacking up a car is rather tiresome!

My hubby, bubbly is really handy so he is a keeper! He even is my warrior when it comes to killing spiders. Can't stand the wiggly things so he gets them for me. Although, sometimes he likes to bat at them instead of squishing it and then they run away. If he is not around, I take a huge fly swatter to them and then gingerly pick up the dead carcass. Yuck!

Fun post!

Robin Kaye said...

@ Zita - I feel your pain. I've got a house in my head, but until we can finish this one and sell it. I'm stuck here. Sigh...

@ Kima - I'd trade the tray ceilings for a new kitchen, mine was last remodeled in the 1940's.

@ Glittergirl - I know what "helping" Mr. Fix it is like. I remember on our first house, I was up on the roof "helping" when my one-year-old son was on the lawn in his pack and play. I'd scamper to the edge of the roof and wave to him every few minutes and then get back to work.

@ Na - It definitely requires patience. And you're right about over-fixing. When Stephen did our roof, I thought it would be just rip off the old and slap on new shingles. Wrong. No, he had to put down new plywood, then two layers of rigid insulation, then more plywood (building the roof up 5 inches, then put on the new shingles and all new trim since he built the roof up 5 inches. Sigh--We have the most energy efficient roof known to man, but we'd have to live here for 20 more years to recoup the cost of material alone.

@ Catslady - Exactly!

@ Jane-Do they work for beer?

@ Stacie - I have my own tool box too. I've always been pretty good at fixing stuff, I have no problem assembling things but if DH is around, I'll let him do it. I'm pretty lazy.

@ Chey - I'm with you!

@ Barbara - Must be nice. DH just went to replace the water heater (that not only heats the water, but the whole house) only to find the one they sent is damaged. Sigh... Here we go again.

@ Bessamy - this sounds like a case of the cobbler's kids having no shoes....

@ Kristi - Mine will be for sale in a few years...How do you feel about moving to Maryland?

@ CrystalGB - I'm with you on that one!

@ Michele - The spider killing is a must, and with my cat, carcass removal is a requirement too. My bengal cat Raja likes to kill things...or paralyze them and then bring them home. I was happy when DH was the one to discover the almost dead opossum in our bath tub.

Robin Kaye said...

Congratulations, Barbara E! You're the winner of a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble Gift Card and a copy of Wild Thing. Just email me your snail mail address and I'll get them right out to you! Robinkayewrites at me dot com.

Sierra said...

It's probably a bit late for me to say something here, but I just find the story so funny! Kudos to his mom! He was able to fix it with her help. Hahaha! I also want to marry somebody who can fix our ceiling, roof and any leaks.

Sierra Nordgren

Elizabeth said...

I’m not sure if the Mr. Fix-it nickname is a sarcastic term at some point because he kinda ruined your plumbing. Haha! But that aside, at least your roof is finally fixed (thanks to his mom)! He did a wonderful job at it too! It’s always good to have a handyman around the house.

Elizabeth Hoffnung

Unknown said...

You really have to be thankful that you have a husband who knows how to fix things. Though he may fail at times, it’s because nobody’s perfect. Anyway, I’m also happy to know that your roof is now fixed. I hope it’ll not cause you any problems in the future.

-Sarai Loftis

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