Five years ago I bought my very first home. The little house that could. It was a time of difficult emotions and painful transition for the kids and I. Blessings among the breakdowns as I “built” a home for my children, and for myself, to grow free and strong.
Our little Cape Cod house had only 1 previous owner, leaving it basically untouched for years. I purchased it “as is.” But as I toured the house, I did not see the weathered, neglected body…alI I visualized was her potential for growth. A “fixer upper.” Fitting, I thought. A new roof, new furnace, and new hot water tank graced the home as soon as I could manage it. Walls came down and hope went in. While she is still a work in progress, she’s ours. She has lived with us through the rehabilitation, as we revived her piece by piece, back to life. The little house that could.
At first, it was a matter of conviction. Providing my family with a stable, safe environment was my number one priority. Then everyone I loved put their handprint on it. My children, my parents, my siblings, my friends…my friends’ parents. When the chips were down, it was not a time for judgement but encouragement. They were (and still are) there for us as we began this new chapter of our lives.
To begin, I ripped out every carpet, pulled out every single staple in the hardwood floors with nothing but my hands and a flathead screwdriver. Melanie, my dearest friend of 20 years, joined in building this little house of love. I dragged the carpet outside, and she cut it up and piled the remnants by the curb. Every self-contained emotion up to this point poured out with every last blood, sweat and tear. We worked diligently while the tears flowed. Melanie has carried me through life on more than one occasion, my first responder. She is.
Then there was the painting….of every single room in the house. Melanie, her mom and I rolled love onto her walls, her moldings, her ceilings. With every stroke, healing and renewal blessed the body of the little house that could. And from her bones, this little house grew and grew with warmth again.
The kitchen…once very loved by the family of 7 that resided in this home for 53 years, was now tired but ready for new life. Rather than taking a sledgehammer to the cabinets, I gently unscrewed every screw and pulled down each cabinet, carefully. All but that stubborn little cabinet above the refrigerator! Blood, sweat, tears. Rebuild, revive, rise. #thoughshebebutlittle
Floors were placed with Melanie and her husband, Luke. Each new cabinet was installed with my mom and Papa Joe. Flower beds were cleaned out and electric was rewired with my Dad, my Ellen and my brother-in-law Dean. Old outlets were traded for new, safer ones. Updated lighting was installed, while I saved the wagon wheel chandelier for a special garden project. A nod to the previous owners. My dad purchased new tools for me…still love my drill and hammer.
Next up was my sister Nicole and my niece Marissa, who aided in the “organization” of the house. My sister knows how to make to-do lists 😉 But really, all I needed was my sis and my niece. No one can make me laugh the way they can. #laughsohardyoucry And the more we laughed together, the more the little house that could flourished with love.
My brother Matthew, my sister-in-law Melissa and their boys visited soon after. All the kids played, while my brother cut and installed all new baseboard molding. He also tackled the job of reframing the old backdoor doorway and finished up the remaining electrical odds and ends. The more the house was filled with love of my family, the more it began to feel like a home.
Embrace your journey. I have used that saying (and hashtag) for the past few years. My friend, Andrea gave me an angel to hang in my new home. It was the very first thing I hung up in the little house that could. And on it….
Yes…embrace the journey.
The rehabilitation of this little house (and all of us) continued over the next few years. Gardens of hope were planted with the kids. We tended to the flowers with the same amount of love as we gave the insides of the home. I watched my grandmother’s flowers from her garden on Long Island, that my Ellen transplanted in my new home, blossom with so much joy that I’ve split the plants 5 times already. Now my grandma’s flowers surrounded every side of the house. Along with my grandmother’s flowers, Rose of Sharon trees from my friend Melanie’s yard and hostas from my friend Richelle’s yard were planted in our gardens of hope. New hope…with Nina, Michael and Lila, my 3 whole hearts. Some bulbs from the previous owners remained and I maintained them as well. Weaving the past with the present. Those flowers whisper stories of times gone by to me, as I delicately trim their withered leaves. Of course, new shrubs and bulbs joined the old timers. Weave, weave, weave the past…grow, grow, grow the present in the gardens of hope.
And yes…sometimes we even tend to the gardens in our jammies. 🙂
Rooms were painted some more and personalized by each one of my children as time passed. Each child colored the walls of their room with tenderness, warmth and affection. Pride swelled, as I put my type A personality away, and allowed my kids the freedom to paint their own rooms. It was theirs. They owned it. Together, we grew the little house that could with so much freedom and love. Flourish, flourish, flourish. Thrive, thrive, thrive.
Then suddenly, the bathroom came crashing down…and, once again, my family was there. In one form or another, we rebuilt the little bathroom together. I pulled down every piece of drywall that was damaged. Blood. Sweat. Tears. I dismantled every single tile around the bathtub wall. Blood. Sweat. Many, many tears…
Papa Joe flew up to the rescue for this project. A plumber, I am not. The flooring was a bear to excavate as well. There were 4 layers of flooring in that little bathroom! So we gutted it to the studs and began again. In went the new tub, the new window, the new floorboards. Then I finished the rest on my own. I taught myself how to drywall. Mud, scrape, sand. The little house that could grew some more. I bought a basic tile cutter and taught myself how to lay the floor tile. More mudding and scraping. I figured out, after Plan A, B, C, and D did not work, how to build a “floating” wall in the linen closet. An air vent ran right through the back of the closet all the way upstairs. Shiplap. Shiplap and 90 degree brackets.
Everything was done on a budget, a single mom/teacher budget. Plus, there were so many more improvements that my friends and family helped grow this little house. It is not perfect. In fact it’s better than perfect. Our home is imperfectly perfect. Every single person I love left their handprints on our home. In every room. Every piece, both inside and outside.
And somehow, in the midst of the battle, little ones were potty trained. Dance competitions were won and recitals were performed. Bicycles were ridden by first timers and the fear of swimming was conquered. First teeth were lost, as well as the last “first” tooth of my oldest. Countless bedtime stories were read, and nighttime songs were softly sung. First in a rocking chair and now they read to me. Seasons and holidays came and went. Birthday cakes brought infectious smiles to faces, as endless candle-blowing wishes were made. Someone even turned 40 in this house. We’ve been through preschool, elementary school and middle school graduations. Even still, somehow, I managed to climb 45 mountains total, run 4 half marathons, finish 1 duathlon and my first ever triathlon. Through the laughter and the tears, the setbacks and the victories, the scraped knees and countless kissed booboos, Life’s memories continued to bloom. Regardless of how big or little the home. Because, at the end of the day, it wasn’t what we had, but how we loved that mattered.
It is not what we have, but how we love that matters. Less…is truly more.
There were days when I didn’t think we were going to make it. I didn’t think I was going to make it. Survival days amidst the triumphant days. Blessings in the middle of the breakdowns. But we did. We rose together, as a family. And still…we rise. There are days even now, where the future overwhelms me so much I cannot breathe. I worry if I’ve given enough…if I’ve worked hard enough…if I’ll have enough financially to continue to support my children.
But when I watched my oldest head off to her first year of high school this past September, I sobbed of course. That was a given. However, as we watched the bus pull away, I whispered to myself, “We made it…“as I held the little ones’ hands. High school. We made it. Triumph. More streaming tears followed.
2012-2013 and 2016-2017 school years
If the mountains have taught me anything, it was this. Stay present in the moment. Whether it is a perfect bluebird day, or a day when the fog is so thick you have to trust in miracles… or even in blizzards where you cannot tell which way is up or down; you always make it through the storm back to solid ground. That present moment is all you have. Nothing is guaranteed, except for the love you have right there and then. Even through the storms we weathered in the little house. In the end, solid ground.
We recently added this wall decal to our family room…and my son looked up at me and said, “It’s ok if it is a little house Mom, it does the job. We sure did fix a lot in this little house.” Out of the mouths of babes. It sure does the job…and then some.
To this day, I am extremely grateful for the love and unconditional support we received from my family and friends. I have grown tremendously because of this journey, and every day I pray a prayer of gratitude and thankfulness for strength, knowledge and humbleness. I am tackling things now that I did not even think I was capable of before. And who knew that checking the basement nightly would be something I would do too! Haha! 😉
Below are just some pictures from the journey so far. My dad, again, was a voice of reason in the beginning. He urged me to take pictures, even though I was running on pure adrenaline at time…afraid if I stopped, I might implode. But he reminded me that someday, when things have settled, I would want those memories of the transformation. He was right. I did.
As I type this now, recounting every moment, every memory…I cannot help but notice that my heart is at peace. No anxiety. No unsettledness. Just peace. The renovation of our home mirrored the renovation of my soul. In the beginning, all of the old, battered insides of hurt, guilt and brokenness were torn down and ripped out to the studs. In time…as each handprint of love was placed upon the regrowth, the acceptance, the healing…my soul grew back into the girl I once knew. The little fighter with freckles that was so full of love and life. Turns out the little house was a fighter too, who believed in the power of victory, miracles and never giving up…ever. We revived each other. The kids, the little house and I. Before we knew it….solid ground.
The little house that could, did. Love does grow best in little houses.
In love we rise (still),
The Little House that Could
And now the inside:
The down bath:
The kids’ rooms:
The beginnings of my oldest’s room (still in progress, but she has furniture now!):