My Year Away. And Back.

Four Years Later, My Sabbatical Continues to Teach Me Things.


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The Adventure Begins!

A few weeks ago, we drove 10 hours to Paducah, KY, checked into our Airbnb, and began what we think we will come to call The Challenge of a Lifetime. As I wrote in my last post, we bought a Big Brick House, basically sight unseen. It was now time to come to terms with that decision.

Gary had seen the house after closing in October. But, for me, this was the first time to open the door, look around, and absorb the enormity of what we had done. I was rendered nearly speechless as our decision started to sink in. What. Were. We. Thinking?

I walked through the carriage house (1,700 square feet), trying to imagine the apartment we would build on the top floor and the workshop Gary would build on the lower floor. Then I walked over to the Big Brick House (4,200 square feet. And, yes, I realize that we’re supposed to be in the “downsizing” stage of our lives.). I paced back and forth trying to make sense of this behemoth we had bought. Then I realized I hadn’t even gone upstairs yet. Once on the second floor, I gazed upward into the attic. It’s possible that I gasped. Thoughts like “You could build a whole gymnasium up there” crossed my mind. Dumbfounded, I walked around the house again. Upstairs. Downstairs. Front. Back. Upstairs. Oh, and did I mention there is a basement?

And then, after about 48 hours, I started to see it. Our house! First, in the apartment, I saw the open concept plan (thank you Property Brothers). I saw me sitting on the porch with my morning coffee. I saw where I’d be baking pies. It took longer over in the Big House, but, there too, I saw the kitchen with the exposed brick walls, the cheery living room with the funky fireplace, the tucked away suite where the hubster and I would escape. And once I saw it, I was ready to attack.

First up, the house needed a bit of cleaning. I started by trying to sweep dirt, spider webs, and unnamed gross things out of the spaces between the joists and the brick walls. I scraped off layers of wallpaper on wall fragments that hadn’t been removed.

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Whew. I’m glad this is not the style today! I think my wallpaper days are over!

The hubster and I loaded the car with items strewn around the house that we knew we wouldn’t be using in the rebuild. An old, but not antique crib. A car full (yes, we completely filled the CR-V) of chandeliers. Off to Goodwill we went.

Now I was getting downright excited.  But this is not to say that things moved quickly or easily. They did not.

First, it was crazy cold outside—and also inside since we don’t have heating yet. It’s not easy working with tools with frozen hands or while wearing fluffy gloves.

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Ripping up floors is invigorating. But doing so in winter clothing is challenging!

Second, learning how things worked in the town took some time. We needed to find out about the trash, start the process of getting building permits, figure out how to pay our taxes, try to get the house reappraised. Getting a library card was fairly simple, but from there it got a little bit nuts. We were late in paying our city taxes because we weren’t sent a bill. We were sent a blank envelope from the city, but nothing else. That took a while to explain (and to successfully argue why we shouldn’t pay a penalty for neglecting to pay our taxes). And, just understanding city taxes took some mental gymnastics. Turns out, you pay half of the taxes for the previous year and half of the taxes for the upcoming year. At the same time. Okay.

Our trash bill is part of our water bill. Uh, okay. Recycling costs extra—and recycling is limited. If we want leaves and small brush to be picked up, that’s part of the trash bill, but you have to call and talk to an actual person to arrange for this—every time. I did this for one bag of leaves and a small pile of brush. The phone conversation took about 10 minutes while I answered all the nice lady’s questions. All the while I’m thinking, well, lots of people have their leaves and brush on the curb. Can’t the leaf guy just pick it up when he drives by? (The answer to this is no. You have to call.)

You get your main building permit in the Fire Prevention Office. And you get your plumbing permit at the County Health Department. The plumbing inspector’s office is just down the hallway where people get their HIV vaccines.

I can report, however, that you do, indeed, get your library card at the library.

The good news is that we ended up spending 12 eventful days working on the Big Brick House and getting to know this community we have decided to join. Our Paducah friend Marcie returned from her London study abroad trip in time to spend a few days with us, introducing us to people we should know, running errands, sharing meals. And laughing as we do every time we are together.

This is just the beginning. The task is unending and will be that way for a long time. But that’s okay. I can see the house in my eyes. It is beautiful. And it is Home!

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I know we have a lot of work ahead of us. But that’s the fun! (Or at least I hope so!)


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We Bought a House.

Yes, we already own two houses. But, well, this one was special.

Driving back to South Carolina after our yearly summer trip to Minnesota to see the kids, we stopped to visit our friend Marcie who lives near Paducah, KY.  And that’s when it hit us. Paducah was exactly half way between our Minneapolis family and our home in SC. If we lived in Paducah, we could drive up to visit the grandkids in one day. And maybe they would even visit us!

With those thoughts swimming in our brains, we took a little stroll down beautiful historic Jefferson Street. And there it was. The Big Brick House. In the front yard was a sign that said “For Sale” but there was no phone number, no name, no information, nothing. Still, we jumped out of the car to take a look.  I clamored up the front steps and peered through one of the three front French doors. Flailing my arms, I turned around screaming “It’s gutted!”

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Here is our Big Brick House!

While not everyone’s dream, for us, this was a miracle. We had often talked about how great it would be if some day we could find a house where the outside was complete, but the inside was a blank slate just waiting for us.  And here it was! But how to get information to find out if it was really for sale, let alone if we could afford it.

During the next several weeks, Marcie tried to find people who knew the owner. We heard the house might be for sale, but, apparently, out of our price range until we sold our beach house. Then we heard that a couple of people had started a bidding war over the house. We could feel the dream vanishing.

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Our Living Room with original fireplace tile made right in Paducah.

We had to do something. So, we put our beach house on the market with plans that the minute it sold, we would head up to Paducah and find the perfect house, if not the Big Brick House, something as exciting. We even connected with a real estate agent.

And then it happened. Our real estate agent found someone who knew the owner. For whatever reason, our agent and the reclusive owner connected and the next thing we knew, there was a chance that we could buy it: The Big Brick House, which also included a carriage house and a three-car garage. We had to act fast. Word had gotten out that the owner might be ready to sell and already someone was lined up to view the house that afternoon. So, we called our realtor and said we would buy the house (even though we hadn’t sold the beach house). Right then. Without actually stepping foot inside. And that’s what we did.

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Can’t you see the possibilities?

T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Home is where one starts from.” That’s what The Big Brick House feels like to us. It seems like our whole remodeling lives have led to this house.  We still can’t quite believe that this worked out. It will take years of work, we know. But we’re ready. As Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” We bought a house. We have begun.