Finding Hidden Treasure In Our House

We bought an old house four years ago. It was built in 1919, at the end of World War I. We spent a year and a half fixing it up and restoring what we could to it’s original charm. We love our old house.

One thing I did not know going into this project though, was all the treasure I would find along the way. You see, when you fix up a house, you’re forced to clean things up and strip things down first before you can restore things.

The attic, for example, was littered with decades of loose junk that had been lost in the rafters and insulation (such as paper trash that animals used to build nests). In cleaning out the attic, I found an old Rolling Stone magazine, some plastic game pieces from board games of the 1960s, and decapitated stuffed animals from the 1950s.

But here are the real treasures:

  • A Willie Mays baseball card from the 1966 Topps set. I found that under some floor boards in a bedroom closet.

  • A full newspaper from the day after the Pearl Harbor bombing in 1941 with the headline “War Declared.” That was folded up and tucked back on a high shelf that you could only reach by a ladder.

  • My favorite, though, was something I found in the rafters of the attic: A World War II love letter that the woman of the house wrote to her husband in October of 1943 while he was on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. I finally tracked down the descendants of the couple who lived in this house (their children lived here too, of course) and was able to transfer the letter to a friend of theirs who will in turn hand deliver it to the family this summer. The local news station even did a story on this.

In my work, I teach and lead children. I can’t help but think of the connection between finding treasures in an old house and finding the hidden treasures in the children we work with. In fact, children are priceless treasures, and they are standing right there in plain sight. But sometimes, we need to dig beneath the surface and notice the hidden gifts, talents, wonders, and stories that these children carry with them. How do we as parents, teachers, and leaders find these things? By patiently spending time with them, giving them attention, and asking them good questions that pique their curiosities about themselves and the world around them. We are surrounded by treasures called children. And with patience, love, and digging, we can discover more and more of their incredible value and grow to appreciate them for the way God made them.

Kitchen Before and After

Before and After #1
Before and After #2

Before and After #3

The rest of these pictures are of the new kitchen.  Enjoy!

If anybody has been wondering where I’ve been for the past three months, I’ve been working 3 jobs: Children’s Pastor, Traveling Juggler, and Kitchen Remodeler.  At last, I am finally down to 2 jobs, the ones I love the most.  The kitchen is done dude.

Now, I did love working on the kitchen (at times), but it was very difficult to “juggle” my schedule to make sure everything got done.  We paid for some services (counters, plumbing, wall removal, drywall) and I did some myself with the generous help of my father (demo, floors, electrical, cabinets, trim, painting, appliances).

The kitchen as we bought the house was a mess.  There was water damage, uneven cabinets, incomplete counters, and no enjoyable “feel” to it.  We put up with that for a year and a half.  Then starting in February, we gutted the kitchen to the studs.  I nearly broke my finger with a miter saw, my wife and baby and I lived with my parents for a month (during the heavy demolition and noise-making), we ate out way too much (thanks, Jason’s Deli), and a few times I worked past midnight (not recommended).

Last night, we had a birthday dinner for Sarah, and the timing was perfect.  I finished the kitchen at about 10am yesterday morning and so the birthday dinner was a great time to have family over and celebrate Sarah and the new kitchen (she was OK with that).  In fact, she is the happiest person of all that it is done and new.  I think Kezzie likes it too!

By the way, in seven years of marriage, this is the first dishwasher we have ever owned.  What a joy to have dinner and then throw those things in the magic washer and find them clean in the morning.  We’ve missed out on so much in this life ๐Ÿ™‚

I say “done”, but there is one final piece: the floors.  We got reclaimed heart pine flooring from Caravatti’s and installed it ourselves (the same mill stamp on the bottom of this reclaimed wood matches the mill stamp on the original wood in the rest of the house).  We are having the floors sanded and refinished next week so that we will have new floors by Friday.  So try to overlook the floors in the pictures.

The builder in me wants to say, “what’s next?”, but I think I’ll take a break from large home projects for now ๐Ÿ™‚

Thank you Jesus, for a wife, a baby, a roof, and a kitchen!

Any De-Clutter Advice?

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about simplicity and the elimination of clutter recently – maybe because the holidays and having a new child are two events that somehow create a mass of “stuff” around the house – and we just had both events happen in our lives recently.

The holidays and our new child are events for which I am very thankful.  And I am very thankful for all the many things with which people bless us.  But with the entrance of new stuff into the house mixed with the reality of limited space, Sarah and I are confronted with the reality that we need to de-clutter old and unused stuff in order to make space for the new.

I have a goal that our net amount of things that come in and out of the house will either be zero or negative.  That means that for every article of clothing we buy or receive, we donate a piece that we haven’t worn in forever (or maybe have never even worn!).  Otherwise, when we’re 80 years old, we’ll have mounds of stuff around the house and we’ll be on the Hoarders TV shows.

I’m a big fan of recycling things, donating things to thrift stores, and re-purposing certain things.  But sometimes it feels like a part-time job just managing stuff and clutter in our own house.

So my questions to everyone out there are these: What works for you?  How do you maintain simplicity with stuff?  How do you determine what leaves the house, when, and to where?  Do you know any good websites or books about de-cluttering and organizing?

When Is "Energy Efficient" Worth It? – GE Heat Pump Hot Water Heater Review

This might bore some of you, but I’m really excited about the new water heater we got for our 1925 fixer-upper in Church Hill.  When we first bought this place back in June 2009, there was an 8-year old 30-gallon hot water heater in the basement that was off-level and had a water line about a foot from the bottom indicating the basement had flooded at one point (probably Hurricane Gaston in 2004).  Furthermore, the heating elements in this cheap water heater were operating very poorly, as Sarah and I could only enjoy about 7 minutes of hot water (max) before it got luke-warm or cold.  That meant 3-minute hot water showers if we showered back-to-back.  We lived like that for over a year.

So we entered the market as very motivated buyers of a new hot water heater.  We explored the affordable models at the big box stores, such as 30, 40, and 50-gallon electric units for anywhere from $220 to $420.  I remember seeing some fancy stainless steel model for over $1500 and scoffing at it thinking that we would never get some silly Cadillac of Hot Water Heaters.

That’s exactly what we ended up buying.

I had researched online all kinds of water heaters – electric, gas, wood-fired units, and tankless.  I went to the library and read Consumer Reports.  I stumbled upon this fancy type called a “heat pump water heater.”  It is a hybrid unit that uses a mix of traditional electric water heating elements and an electric heat pump. Historically, most water heaters have used heating elements to heat the water (extremely inefficient, but it heats nonetheless).  Engineers at GE, Rheem, and other companies have figured out a way to mix in a very efficient way to heat (heat pump) with this traditional method and use the result to heat water.

Consumer Reports noted that of all the new “energy efficient” products out there, these Hybrid Water Heaters are one of best at paying themselves off in energy savings very rapidly.

Take a Toyota Prius or Solar Cells for your roof.  Those things can take decades to pay for themselves in monetary savings, making them less of an economic purchase and more of a “save the earth” purchase.

I found that the Hybrid Water Heaters can be both an economic purchase and they “save the earth” at the same time.  What a concept.  What really makes this work is all the rebates and incentives that come from the state and federal level to help you pay for a Heat Pump Water Heater.  There was also a sale at Lowe’s when I bought it.  Here is how it worked for us:

Retail Price of Water Heater:           $1599.00
Lowe’s 10% Appliance Discount:    ($159.90)
State of Virginia Rebate:                  ($250.00)
Federal Energy Credit:                     ($453.32)
State Sales Tax                                     $71.96
Net Total Cost to Me:                       $807.74

Annual Average Savings in Energy Costs (vs. a traditional 50-gallon electric hot water heater): $290/yr.  For graphs and an overview of this conclusion, go to

$807 divided by $230 is 2 and three quarters.  So this hot water heater will pay for itself in savings in 2 years and 9 months.  Everything we save after that is gravy.

I just got my electric bill after using the unit for a full month.  Though it’s hard to compare to other months’ bills because we’ve only been in the house 18 months and every month has seen changes in upgrades and energy use, I can say that the bill was definitely lower than I expected it to be.  One reason is probably this killer water heater.

The heater has a digital dashboard to select the exact heat of the water (up to 125, I think).  We keep it at 113 and that’s plenty hot enough for us.  I should note here that the water feels just as hot as an electric-only water heater.  You can also select the energy modes (hybrid, traditional, energy efficient, etc.).  You can even select “vacation mode” at the push of a button.  My father-in-law and I installed the thing and the installation was very simple and not any different than a traditional water heater (hot/cold lines and wiring for 220).  There is also an air filter that is simple to remove and wash under water (haven’t had to clean it yet).  A light will turn on for you when it is time to clean the air filter.

I’ve heard and read that some people are concerned about the noise of the appliance.  Since it is a heat pump, it has a motor that runs and it is certainly audible.  We have the unit in our basement laundry area, so the noise doesn’t bother us.  We can sometimes hear it from the first floor when everything else is quiet, but it’s definitely not bothersome.  If anything, it is the sound of extra money in the pocket ๐Ÿ™‚

What are some purchases that you think are worth the up-front cost in order to gain the long-term energy savings?

New Life

I found a bird’s nest in our hanging flower basket on the front porch. Good thing I didn’t take it out – the next day there was an egg in it! And the day after that (which is today), there was another egg. I think it might be a tree swallow or a common grackle. It is small, white, and has some very small black smudges on it (maybe dirt, maybe egg design – I know the grackle has some black smudges on it’s eggs).

Any thoughts on what kind of bird it is? We’ll know soon enough when Mom comes to incubate the eggs. I’ll probably miss the hatching since I’ll be out of town for the next 6 weeks speaking at camps.

The Evolution of The Master Bedroom

Here are some BEFORE, MIDDLE, and AFTER shots (in reverse order above, so the bottom picture is “before”, and so on) of the master bedroom in the new 85-year-old house Sarah and I bought last June. It’s been fun working on it. This is the first major room completion, and it now gives Sarah hope that my work is better than “boy scoutish”, which is what she was afraid of going into this. I still have a ton to learn about DIY home restoration, but I think this first room came out pretty good.

First, we were able to pull this off on a cheap budget. Here are the major costs of the master bedroom (estimated):

Ceiling Fan – $150
Paint and Supplies – $150
Floor Sanding and Refinishing – $250
Electrical Rewiring/Updating – $20
Two Joyner-Made Night Stands – FREE (from scrap wood!)
Misc Supplies (all-purpose compound, nails, etc.) – $25
Period Doors and Hardware – $100
Original Transom and Hardware (ours was missing, so we bought one from a neighbor with the same house dimensions – they didn’t want it) – $45
One happy wife – priceless

The last major piece in the room is the window, which we’ll tackle when we either restore or replace all the windows in the house at once.

We already had all the other furniture to put in the new room, so that brings the total for a nice new master bedroom to $740! Paying people to do all the above would have been in the thousands.

New House Pictures Forthcoming

Since we bought a new house, we have not yet gotten internet in it (which is actually really nice – it saves money and TIME!). That means that pictures of our new place take a little bit of work to post (putting them on a zip drive and taking them to the local library to load and then post for you all). I’ll get around to doing that soon enough. I’ve already replaced a basement window and put up new gutters with my Dad. There are plenty more projects, but “one step at a time.”