Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

J.L. Sousa, Register

You would think that the Courtneys would have had their fill of home improvement projects after living above their garage for more than a year while the back of their house was rebuilt.

We did have our fill. For about six months.

Then Cheryl began sizing up the parts of our house that had escaped the wrecker’s ball. When she compared old with new, the old looked shabby, especially our living room.

This could have been predicted. Paint one room and the adjacent room suddenly cries out for painting too. Every home improvement project should come with this warning.

Objectively, our living room was shabby, although it has some distinguishing features. For one, a rustic, wood-burning fireplace that screamed “mountain cabin.” For another, a wall of exposed redwood boards — some as wide as 20 inches — that were milled in the 1890s by the farmer who built our place.

Not that you’d necessarily notice either feature these days. During the back-of-the-house rebuild, we jammed the living room with furniture, junk and more junk, making it hard to even squeeze through. When we reoccupied the rear quarters, we removed almost none of it. Our home entry had become the equivalent of a self-storage unit.

Which was OK by me. I was happy living exclusively in the new part.

Cheryl had other ideas. In 2018, let’s reclaim our living room for the living, she said.

In November we took stock. Where had all this stuff come from? Most of it we hadn’t seen or used in two years. Was it still needed? Was it even ours?

As a first step, Cheryl asked me to move my car out of the garage for a month. Or maybe many months. There was no telling.

Her plan was to empty the living room in stages, moving nearly everything into my parking bay. How else would we know what we had to work with?.

My car has been enduring frost and rain for a month now. It is not a happy car.

Our plan for the living room made a radical turn in December after the air district declared a dozen no-burn days in a row. A wood-burning stove is useless, Cheryl decided. It has to go.

I did not protest. Schlepping firewood was never my favorite chore. Also, I had come to love the gas-burning fireplace in our addition.

Cheryl apparently shares my love. She wants a gas-fired unit in the living room, too.

This desire has implications. Considerable expense. A city building permit. A contractor. A big hole to be cut through redwood.

So much for the notion that the living room needs only a little freshening up.

Another thing about our living room. Two upright pianos are jammed in there.

How can this be, pray tell?

Cheryl can explain it. One piano she bought three decades ago to teach her kids to tinkle the ivories. The second piano was dumped off by her brother five or 10 years ago. It’s the piano that he and Cheryl had in their childhood home.

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Cheryl hadn’t asked for a second piano. She had her own piano. Her brother delivered it anyway.

The two pianos sit as room bookends. While rarely played, they are exceptionally good at clogging up space.

Also, they weigh a ton. Just try and budge one.

Deciding the fate of these pianos has caused our living room project to bog down. Cheryl can’t decide which piano to get rid of: her own or her mom’s. A Sophie’s choice if ever there were one.

In her weaker moments, Cheryl vows to keep both. They could become her children’s inheritance.

Then there’s the treadmill. We got it free years ago from a woman who never used it and discovered no one would buy it.

Cheryl took it with good intentions, but exercising on a treadmill never really caught on. We turned it into a coat rack.

Last Sunday we rolled it out of the house and left it on our side porch. It was too heavy to get down the stairs and into the garage.

Given the snail’s pace of our unpacking of the living room, removing the treadmill from the house was a small victory. We celebrated by calling it quits until the next weekend.

As for the treadmill, anyone want it? Free?

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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