I had been spending time reading up on what constitutes a "load-bearing" wall. I know what it means to be load-bearing, but how to tell if a wall is or is not an integral part of your house's stability? The more I read, the more certain I became that the wall in question is not actually load-bearing. But at the same time I realized that perhaps the most integral feature of our floor plan might be at risk - all the clues were in front of me - a previous owner had removed a load-bearing wall without ever compensating for such a weakening of structure.
Flashback: The first weekend that we were at the house working, in fact it was the big crawlspace day, a really nice guy pulled up to the house and chatted us up about how he had been interested in the place too. He asked to see the inside and after we showed him around a bit he told us that he was a contractor and if we ever had any questions to just give him a shout.
Back to the present: So I shouted for him. He met us at the house 'round 7, just as we were finishing up our spicey Thai dinner on the porch. Couple of quick questions for him: is this wall load-bearing and was there ever a load-bearing wall between the dining room and living room. Both answers were as I predicted them to be. We could safely remove the wall we want to (between the bathroom and kitchen), and yup, support is needed where once there was a wall and hey look - the top plate that they left, now functioning as a girder, is sagging.
It's amazing when a builder or any other professional tradesmen enters the house. They can just point to things as quickly as they're thinking and rattle off methods and options. He showed us how we could build a couple of temporary walls to hold up the attic while we cut the studs and jack an oak beam into place. He showed us how to remove the other wall and preserve the door frame. What a guy!
So there we had it. A couple of new, completely unexpeected jobs piled on us. Guess we'll be having a nice oak beam milled soon!
We were tired. [Erika here: I don't mind saying that I wasn't just tired, I was weeping. Putting beams in? That sounded about as doable as building a whole new house. But then I got over it. Sure, beams, why not?] All I really had the energy to do was to trace all the water pipes (basement, crawlspace, kitchen, and bathroom) and count up the various connectors that I'll be needing to purchase for the poly to pex upgrade that we've got planned for this weekend.