Friday, October 19, 2012

It's Not About State's Rights: An Argument for Common Core

I did not attend school in just one state. I spent five years in eastern Michigan, two years in Illinois, five years in Wyoming, and two years back in Michigan, this time on the west coast of the state. Growing up I had a decent education, spotty at times, but never consistent. Some schools and states were more rigorous than others, and while I graduated from high school with a 3.9 GPA, I can't say that I was entirely prepared for college. There were gaps, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of those gaps were a result of my inconsistent education for 13 years (if I include preschool). The expectations on me as a student changed with each move, and now as an adult, a parent, and a teacher myself, I wonder if things would have been different had there been consistent expectations across the country.

Every four years politicians pay lip service to the issue of education, promises are made, vague ideas presented, and once the election is over, little changes. This year it appears that the issue of education involves discussion of President Obama's Race to the Top initiative and the implementation of Common Core State Standards, or CCSS. Education is an issue that should not be politically polarizing, yet it is this year, and it appears that it is polarizing because one side doesn't want to admit that the other side MIGHT have a good idea. And that goes for both parties. But current discussion about CCSS, especially from what I'm hearing in Indiana, is primarily political and centers on the antiquated idea that state's rights trump federal reform.

There is a time and a place for the rights of states to take precedence over the federal government. And yes, I do believe that there are certain areas where the federal government is getting too big. There are certain issues about which individual states have a better idea of how things should be run than people in Washington D.C. who are too far removed geographically and ideologically from the issues that face citizens outside of the central East coast. But education is NOT one of these issues. The whole concept of individual state's rights was put into place in the late 18th century in an age where the only way to get news from one state to the next was to travel in wagon or on horseback to get that news across state lines. And the United States of American was formed out of thirteen very different colonies that had their own economies, religious ideologies, and needs. This is not the case in the 21st century. Yes, states still have their own economic ventures and needs based on geographic location and traditional ideals, but we can now travel from coast to coast in a matter of hours, a trip that 150 years ago took 3+ months by wagon, several days by train, to complete. I can Skype my sisters-in-law in Florida and Colorado for free, and my kids can talk to their cousins and aunts in other states and see them, all in real time. Twitter, Facebook, and email all allow me to instantaneously communicate with friends and education colleagues across the country and the world. I no longer have to wait days or weeks to get a letter and then more days or weeks to get a response to my response. Not only that, but we live in a mobile society. People move across state lines all the time, taking with them children who have to abide by new rules in new school systems every time they move. Teachers move across state lines and suddenly have to figure out how what they learned in education programs in one state match up with what is being taught in the new state where they live. And I have had both experiences as a student and teacher. I got my teaching license in Nebraska and have taught in Illinois and Indiana. When I got to Indiana I was suddenly shocked by the difference in expectation by the state, but I shouldn't have been shocked because there shouldn't have been an issue. Had there been common standards I would have had the same experience across all three state lines.

Yes, we need a common curriculum across state lines for the sake of all of our nation's children and teachers. And for all you non-educators out there, state standards to not tell me what to teach or how to teach. I still have a fair amount of freedom in my classroom. Instead, standards tell me what my students need to know and what skills they need to have by the time they leave my classroom. How I do that is up to me. It doesn't limit me, it frees me from the pressure of deciding on my own what they should know. It ensures that I know what my students should know by the time they get to me. Curriculum standards are the checks and balances of the education system.

But for some reason, non-educators (and some educators) don't like that. They don't like that people in Washington, D.C. are determining what our children should know by the time they finish elementary school, or by the time they graduate from high school. And this has led to some in Indiana making claims that CCSS actually waters down our rigid state standards. Clearly they haven't read through all of the standards. After spending yesterday working through the standards as I did curriculum mapping with my department and department head, it became perfectly clear how much more difficult the CCSS are, at least for English. The new Common Core standards require that English students not just demonstrate reading and writing ability, but that they are able to apply those skills to everything that they do. Now the CCSS require students to study rhetoric in both composition and reading, and they are not just reading literature. They are to read non-fiction and apply those non-fiction pieces to the literature they are reading and the writing that they are producing. They are required to read more complex texts than in any state standards that I have seen and they aren't just reading them, they are making connections between all texts and studying purpose and audience with everything they read and write. The requirements for my American Literature students will be more similar to the requirements for my AP Language students, only not quite as complex. The new standards are not easier. They require students to apply their knowledge which will allow them to be better students and citizens. Is it perfect? No, no new educational plan is perfect. Education is not an exact science. Non-educators want to treat it like it is, but it isn't. It is trial and error with the end purpose being better teachers, better methods, better materials, and better educated students. But how do we know CCSS won't work if we aren't willing to give it a try? Not an "I guess I can see how this works" but an "I'm going to dive in with everything I've got to make it work" try. And educators need the support of the non-educator public.

Yes, there are elements of CCSS that give me pause, but I am willing to dive in and see where it goes. I know that things will change, they always do, but how can we see if CCSS will work, flaws and all, if we don't give it a try? I'm willing to do it for me, my students who might cross state lines, my own kids in case we ever leave Indiana, and all of my fellow teachers. What do I want to see others do? Stop making this political. Stop making this about your own personal feelings about government interference. It isn't about you. It's about the kids and those who work with them. If people start to look at education that way, we might actually be able to accomplish real reform.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Unwanted Tenants

Scratch, scratch, thump, thump, thump, thudump.

Not again.

At least, that's what I was thinking last week when I heard that sound over our bedroom two mornings in a row, the sound of an unwanted visitor waking me up at 4 A.M. Then earlier this week, while I was peacefully eating my early morning breakfast, I saw a mouse scurry around the corner of our dining room.

Yep, here we go again.

Our "adventures" with unwanted tenants began immediately after we moved into the house. Actually, it would be safe to say that it started before we even moved into the house.

"Sarah, I think you have some bugs in your drawers." My mother-in-law was helping me clean the long vacated kitchen. I looked into the drawer.

"Mom, those are mouse droppings."

Unfortunately, I was familiar with the signs of those tiny vermin. Two winters in a row we found a couple mice finding their way through our crawl space in Indy into the house. We learned how to go after them but it was not a hunt I relished. This time, we knew what to do. We cleaned the drawers and waited for further signs of mice. None appeared. We filled the drawers and went on with our lives, attacking the many projects that needed completion.

Then, within days of sleeping in the house we started to hear noises coming from the attic. We knew that something at least HAD been in the attic. Two gable vents needed to be replaced, and because of the broken out soffit outside of our office, we knew that a large animal had gotten into the attic and broken through. That soffit was fixed soon after we moved in, but we continued to hear noises in the attic. We put up wood as a temporary fix to one of the gable vents and hoped that the animal was gone, but it wasn't. Apparently we had blocked the animal in the attic. We set a live trap, but it outsmarted us. As summer turned to fall we finally replaced both gable vents, but not without incident. As Jeff was closing the ladder, it snapped, he dropped the ladder and it fell...right through our dining room window. And still we heard the scratch and patter of feet in the attic. We turned our furnace on for the first time and discovered that the 40 year old furnace needed to be replaced. As the technicians worked in our attic (where our furnace is located) they mentioned hearing something running underneath their feet. We heard our tenant through the winter, and then suddenly, the patter of small feet and scratching stopped. We still don't know what happened to him, or her, or it.

But the mice kept coming back. We had our first wave of mice in the fall. We killed all those we could, and then didn't see anymore until spring. Doesn't mean they were gone. All winter long we heard scratching in the ceiling of the family room. We knew they were there, but we couldn't figure out how to get to them. So we would sit in the family room watching T.V. and just listen. Then Jeff took our daughter to Orlando for a spring break trip while he was at a conference and the first evidence of mice reappeared. It was as if spring was their clue to come out of hiding. Seven months pregnant and all alone, I went on a hunt. Over that week my Facebook posts read:

April 5, 2011
  • I have papers to grade, papers to write, and mice to catch. Die mice, die.
  • Got one of the two that I saw this morning. Snap traps work, but EWE!
  • Got two more. I'm not sure whether to be happy that I got rid of three mice or disgusted that there were three mice to get rid of... 
April 6, 2011
  • They are such disgusting creatures. Need to get more traps to make sure I have them all.
  • Body count = five. My husband better appreciate me doing all of this while he's gone.  
April 7, 2011
  • Body count is up to 7. It's gross, but I'm proud of myself for being relentless. 
The mice have never completely gone away. We know that there are several keys to preventing mice in your house. One is a perfectly clean house, and let's be honest, I've never been a stellar housekeeper. Ok, I'm not even close to that. But the other problem is we can't find the entry point. Our house is so big with so many nooks and crannies and that there is no way for us to easily find where these field mice are coming from.

And that brings me to our current issues. We haven't heard anything from the attic in almost a week, but I keep listening for a new tenant. But we caught the mouse. Or at least, we caught A mouse. So I'll keep my eyes open for clues and continue my mantra "the only good mouse is a dead mouse." I will maintain this mantra unless he shows up dressed like Fievel Mousekewitz. I am not a woman to be trifled with. I am a lean, mean, mouse killing machine and I will NOT allow them to gain a foothold in our house. Until the next mouse, goodnight.

Friday, August 31, 2012

True Modern Republican and Christian?

For the last week I have watched the RNC, partially because I feel more than ever the need to be fully informed before I vote in November and partially because I assigned watching both conventions to my AP classes. And as I've watched the convention, and listened to the various commentary surrounding the convention, my personal struggle with American politics continues to grow.

I did not grow up in a particularly political household. My maternal grandmother was a diehard Kennedy Democrat, but my parents, who do regularly exercise their right to vote, raised us with values that most closely resemble those of the Republican party. I have assumed for years, based on occasional discussions at home, that my parents tend to vote Republican. I, however, have desired to consider myself an Independent, mostly because I don't want to be tied down to any particular political party. I agree with different ideas spouted off by members of both parties and try to vote for the individual who I believe will be best for the job at hand, whether it be president, governor, or state representative. I have friends and family members who belong to both parties who I believe ascribe to the ideals of their parties because they believe that those ideals are what will best move this country forward. I respect that, and I'm glad that I live in a country where that is allowed, although I increasingly feel that it is becoming less acceptable. Far too often the media appears to not believe in "agreeing to disagree." Instead, all sides of the media appear to revel in the shouting match that has become American politics while the American people continue to struggle: failing schools, unemployment, skyrocketing student loans, foreclosures, etc. Both sides say they have solutions, but neither side wants to compromise to find a solution, ANY solution.

But recently this hasn't been my biggest struggle. My biggest struggle has been the lack of concern and human compassion that I see plaguing the policies of the Republican party. And it is these policies that I see flying in the face of Biblical truths that I have known since I was a little girl. It is one thing to stand up for the unborn and be against abortion. It is another thing entirely to make seriously misguided and insensitive statements about what happens when a woman is raped and robbed of her power and dignity. Yes, Akin was publicly blasted from all sides by those in his party, but how many of those blasting him had secretly had those thoughts themselves, and might still have those thoughts? It is one thing to say that you believe in education and that a strong education is important to strengthening America. It is another thing entirely to take power away from public school teachers who are desperately trying to educate in a system that keeps getting budgets slashed. It is one thing to say you want to see a healthy nation. It is another thing entirely to refuse to work with the other side to come up with a health plan that will ensure that ALL Americans receive the best health care, saving lives and tax dollars. And most of all, it is one thing to say that you are concerned about the millions of Americans who are out of work. But it is another thing entirely to ignore the widening gap between the richest and the poorest in the United States.

I am no economist, and while I understand and love history, complex numbers are often over my head. I was a good math student, but as I tell my students, I haven't done calculus in 15 years, and they wouldn't want me to help them with it now. I believe in the free market. I believe that people should have the freedom to start their own businesses, build those businesses, and if they are blessed and become wealthy, good for them. They deserve it. I went into teaching because I love English and history and I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I love my job and I love what I do. But I also knew that I would not become rich doing that. No, I would not teach without getting paid, primarily because it takes me away from my kids and that would be a lot of work with no extrinsic reward. If I'm being honest, yes, I believe that teaching professionals should be paid more money for what they do. But success has a lot of definitions, and for me success is a good marriage, healthy, happy kids who grow up into fine Christian adults, and students who find their own success once they leave my classroom because of what they have learned in my classroom. Success should not be about money but instead financial independence and satisfaction with where you are in your life. Unfortunately, this is not the impression I have gotten watching the many speeches coming out of Tampa this week.

There is nothing wrong with wealth, and I don't believe people should get something for nothing. But I do believe in ethical business practices. I do believe that the minimum wage in this country is NOT competitive and people cannot expect working single moms to get off of welfare if they cannot afford both school and daycare with what they are earning. I do believe that health care in this country costs too much (look at a recent bill from the doctor lately?). I do believe that we need regulation to keep businesses and financial institutions in check. And I do believe that the attitude "It's my money and I should be able to do with it what I want so keep your hands off" is not only unethical, but un-Christian. This is not about class warfare. This is about taking care of each other. This is about making sure that people have true equal opportunity. There are a lot of things that are broken in this country, and it is time for Christian Republicans to question the "keep your hands off my money" attitude that appears to be repeated by one Republican politician after another. Jesus said "give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's". Do you think that he agreed with Roman policies? Do you think he liked the way they were running the entire empire? Personally, I don't think he did. But he recognized the need to pay taxes to ensure that the empire ran semi-smoothly. And the early Jewish Christians understood the importance of taking care of each other, many sacrificing wealth because they were Christians and the political environment would not allow them to keep their wealth. No, Christian businessmen do not need to give away all their money, and no, they shouldn't insist on paying a lot more in taxes. But it is time for the Christians in the Republican party to start showing that they have compassion, not just in word, but in policy. It is time for Christians in the Republican party to start demanding that those policies take care of the struggling American people and help them obtain independence, not just force it on them. That is the way to gain the trust and respect of the American people, and possibly win an election.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

At Least the Mortgage is Paid, Right?

At least, this is what Jeff and I have been trying to say to ourselves for the last two years. We knew that a move to another city and attempts to sell our house in a market that was still dropping was going to be difficult. As difficult as it has been for several reasons, we don't regret our move to Fort Wayne. It has been good for both of us professionally, our family has more time together, and God shows us over and over that this is where we are supposed to be. But that doesn't change the fact that our second house still sits in Indianapolis, unsold and currently occupied by a second renter.

Seven years ago we bought what was supposed to be our second starter house when we moved to Indy. We couldn't afford to buy our "dream" house, and so the hope was that we would buy a cheaper house with little money down, avoid spending money on rent that we would never see back, and after five years or so, we would sell our house at a profit and take any other money that we had saved and buy a bigger, nicer house. We figured that by then we would be in great shape financially, we would probably have at least one kid, and we would most likely be quickly outgrowing our small one story, three bedroom, one and a half bath house. And five years later, we were in better shape financially, we did have one kid, and we felt like we were starting to outgrow our house. Then came a job transfer at the same time that the bottom was falling out of the housing market, and no one knew just deep the bottom was. We had to move to another city, so we had to do something with our house.

When we moved to the Fort in the middle of summer, our house was still on the market. We purchased our house here, moved, and left a nearly empty house in Indy. We bought our fixer-upper and continued to make payments in Indy, hoping and praying that the house would be out of our hands soon, but nothing was moving in our neighborhood. Our realtor started looking for renters and we waited for good news. Then we made our first month of double payments (which we would have been doing whether we purchased or rented a house here). Two more months went by and we were still making double payments when we finally found a renter. Finally our mortgage payments were covered, or at least they were covered for 12 months. Once that lease was up the house sat empty for two more months, and when we finally got a good phone call from our realtor with news that our new renters wanted a 15 month lease we were elated. Our mortgage would be covered for longer than a year, and maybe by the time the lease was up the market would have improved enough that we could finally get rid of our house and at the very least break even.

We never heard "boo" from our last renter, besides a couple minor household repairs. I wish I could say that same about the current renters. First the coil on the water heater needed to be replaced. Then a couple months later, the hard water (and the house has really hard water) finally made it clear that the water heater needed to be replaced. We knew that this would need to happen eventually, we were just hoping that the house would be sold before it needed to be done. Most recently we have had several problems with the two and a half year old air conditioner. We got a call last week telling us that it was out and someone from the office had been sent out to see what the problem was to fix it. A fix was apparently made and we got another phone call. It still wasn't working. We insisted on calling the people who installed the HVAC unit and after a series of phone calls and arrangements, they went out there, fixed a leak, and replaced all the coolant that had leaked out. We got another call. It still wasn't working, the tenant was raising a stink and insisted on someone coming out to look at the unit so, going over our head and the head of our realtor, someone was sent out to look at it again and gave the diagnosis of another leak. Angry that there was still a problem, I insisted that the original installers go back out there. After all, we had paid them already and if the problem wasn't fixed then they needed to fix it. Plus, we were seriously concerned that the more people that looked at the unit, the more likely we were to void the warranty. The final diagnosis today? Possible water in the line and a cheap filter that was being sucked into the motor.

Frustrated doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about the situation. Jeff reminds me that I would be upset if the roles were reversed, and possibly, but our tenant was so insistent and kept raising such a stink that there was one unnecessary fix, and with that many people looking at it, we have no way of knowing what the original problem was. And all this during the coolest two weeks of an unbearably hot summer. A period of time where air-conditioning was nice and helpful on a couple days, but not absolutely necessary. Not like when the unit was last replaced. It was January, the coldest week of the winter so far, and not only were we worried about freezing and cracking pipes, but we had a baby who needed a house that was warmer than 45 degrees. Ok, so maybe I'm not being very sympathetic, but I'm frustrated and tired. I'm tired of spending money that doesn't exist on a house that we do not live in and don't intend to live in again. I'm tired of having a second mortgage on our credit report. I'm tired of phone calls that are nothing but bad news. I'm tired of wondering if we bought the wrong house seven years ago or we were just victims of the crash. Jeff has never made much of a secret of the fact that he didn't love our house in Indy. It was much smaller than our first house and didn't have any of the "musts" that we had agreed on. But in five years I put a lot of myself into the house. I painted every room except the smallest bedroom and half bath. We tore out carpet in two rooms and laid down beautiful laminate flooring. We redid a cramped and outdated kitchen. And all those improvements will most likely not mean a thing when we finally sell. At this point I'm just hoping to not owe money when someone else gets to sign the next 30 years of their lives away to own our house. Yes, we have rental income that covers our monthly mortgage payments, but what is it costing us?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Creation of a Mancave: The Beginning

While I never liked the window in the shower of our bathroom, Jeff and I loved the basement in our first house. It really wasn't anything special, but it was the place the two of us and our young dog spent most of our time. In the three years that we lived near Gary, IN, two of which were in our first house, we lived in Indiana and every day I drove towards Chicago to teach on the far south side and Jeff drove the opposite direction to Michigan. We were young and childless and by the time we both crashed at home, we frequently cooked something easy, or probably more often got carry out, and took our food to the basement to eat dinner and relax before crashing in bed long before we do now. Our house had a living room and a dining room that were rarely used. Instead, the table upstairs became storage for my school work and bills and the basement became our dining and living room. We started to devise grand plans for the basement, but we moved away from the house long before we had the time and money to do anything significant with it. But those dreams stuck with Jeff and appeared to haunt him for the five years we lived in our basementless house in Indianapolis. We're from Michigan, and we had both grown up with basements. My parents have never lived in a house without a basement, at least not as far as I remember. And Jeff wanted his man cave, a place where he could put up all his sports memorabilia, have a bar, and just hang out and watch movies and sports and play video games. It would be his space, but to have that in Indy meant either risking flooding due to the high water table or spending considerably more on a house. When we moved to Fort Wayne, a basement was a must on our list. We wouldn't even look at a house if it didn't have a basement. Luckily for us, our 1950s tri-level also has a good-sized, usable basement.

And what a basement it is. Our first glance at the basement was dim. The house did not have electricity, so we had to use flashlights and the flash on our digital camera to get any idea of what the basement looked like. As we became familiar with the house, we used our eyes and anecdotal evidence to figure out what happened down there. At some point, most likely when the power was out, the basement flooded, causing a significant amount of damage to the paneling in the main room and the cabinets in the "utility" room. The carpeting on the stairs going into the basement was disgusting, only this time the damage was due to water instead of cats. The basement was an ugly, scary mess. But like the rest of the house, we saw potential, and Jeff saw the man cave that he so desperately desired.





The only work that we have done in the basement is destruction. The first weekend we moved in Jeff and a friend tore out the cabinets and started on the paneling, trying to get rid of anything with water damage. My dad continued the work on the paneling during a visit to work on the floors in the guest room and what would become the nursery. By the time we moved in, the ceiling tiles, weighed down by the trapped moisture in the basement, covered the floor and were picked up and taken to the trash. In a matter of weeks, most of the damage was out of the basement, a new water softener was installed, and we had a dehumidifier working overtime. Eventually Jeff rigged the dehumidifier to drain directly into the sump pump which meant we never had to worry about emptying it.

For the most part, we have left the basement alone for the last two years, but with the bathroom done, Jeff needs a new project and so he is moving on to the basement while I put the finishing touches on the bathroom and move on to the living room. In the last two weeks he has torn apart the last section of yuckiness that needed to go. The previous owners had put a wall around the water heater and a separate basement furnace. Since we had never seen this before, we weren't sure what to make of it, but I did know that the moldy drywall made me wary enough that I usually didn't encourage people to check out the basement. And while the carpet had come off of the stairs, the tack strips remained, making the stairs not only dangerous, but incredibly dirty. Now Jeff has removed those problem areas, and now the dreaming grows.

Current discussion surrounds what to do about the cedar closet in the corner of the room that will be the entertainment room. I want to rip the closet out and save the cedar for a future bathroom remodel. Jeff wants to turn the closet in the bar, reasoning that with the door we will be able to lock the kids out. I think that it's an awkward placement and I was looking forward to a strip of cabinets, a fridge, a microwave, and countertop that would serve as great entertainment space as well. The picture below shows you what we are working with.








Of course, that is a decision that needs to be made before the more expensive decisions like entertainment system and seating, which is a little further off than Jeff would like (of course, he would like the whole project done tomorrow).  Also to be decided is the fate of the fireplace, which became the master work of some previous occupant, and the now tack-free stairs, which I either want rebuilt or at the very least I would like to see new stair tread.

 

But this work in progress will hopefully see some progress in the next year, and I will blog it all along the way. In the meantime, here is a picture of the pile from the wall surrounding the water heater and basement furnace.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Coming to Terms With Using Daycare: A Working Mother Reflects

It is important to understand my background. I am the oldest of four girls and my mom stayed home with all of us. Growing up I played on my own, with my occasionally willing and available mother, and with neighbor kids when they were available. At least this was my life until I was I was in preschool, where I excitedly got to play with kids my own age. I was one of the only girls in my preschool class, and while I have a few very close girlfriends, I honestly get along better with boys, which I blame on that first year of school when I spent an entire year of preschool playing He-Man and playing He-Man's girl friend, although I don't remember her name. Please notice that "girl" and "friend" are separated by a space. With that upbringing I spent my entire life believing that I would also be a SAHM, gladly doing my duty to raise my large family (at the time I was thinking 4-5 kids) with my husband.

Fast forward nearly 30 years after this initial fantasy started and you will find me a 33-year-old working mother of two, and (dare I say it?) only two. This is not the time and place to discuss the so-called "mommy wars". I'll save that for a particularly irritating day when I can't take the discussion anymore. This is about coming to terms with using childcare, and about getting to where we are now. When I got pregnant with our daughter the discussion was short. I asked my husband whether he wanted me to stay home, he said that it was up me to me and our finances, and after a quick glance at finances, increase in health care, and some self-reflection, I quickly made the decision to keep teaching. Ok, decision made. But now we had to find the right child care for our baby, our precious, desperately desired, baby. It was not a decision I took lightly, and one that left me with a head spinning constantly trying to figure out if I had made the right decision.

Last year when I was discussing plans for babysitters for both of our children, my aunt asked why I would consider taking the kids to a babysitter on days that I was not working, but she was really questioning my decision to work at all. The implication was "you don't want someone else raising your kids." No, no I don't want someone else raising our kids, so let's clear up one misconception about working moms. WE raise our kids. WE get up with them in the middle of the night and, when they are really young, nurse or feed them bottles until they hopefully fall contentedly back asleep. WE lay in bed with them to scare away the monsters. WE clean up their vomit and obsessively check temperatures when they are sick. WE read them the bedtime stories and make sure they brush their teeth. WE make the all important decisions about taking them to church, having them baptized (the most important decision I've made for both of my children in the last three years), and teaching them how to pray. And the list goes on and on. No, for most of us working moms out there we are not there with our kids during the day, but no matter how much we love our jobs (or hate our jobs but do so out of necessity), they are with us all day, every day. I have two pictures of each of my kids and one picture of the two of them together on my desk. And they come up in the strangest discussions in my classes. My son and daughter know that I'm mom and when I pick them up, they are thrilled to see me (or my husband if he is the one who gets to pick them up).

Are there things that I could do better than our caregivers? Maybe, but are there things that our caregivers can do better than me? I personally believe the answer is yes. Years ago Hillary Clinton got a lot of criticism for her statement that "it takes a village to raise a child". People were upset that she appeared to be indicating that parents didn't know best. That parents couldn't raise their children on their own, and maybe that assessment of people's perceptions is wrong. But I don't think that's what she was trying to say. I believe that what she was trying to say is that during the course of the 18 years that our children are with us until they leave for college, or for other adventures, more than parents should take responsibility for developing the whole person that our kids grow up to be. That includes extended family, teachers, pastors, youth workers, counselors, and anyone else who has a significant role in our kids' lives. Some SAHMs are phenomenal. They have found their calling. Not only have they figured out how to make a single income household work in the 21st century, but they do it with an ease and grace that allows their children to flourish. They are the moms that make me feel incredibly guilty every fall when I gladly return to my classroom, eager for adult conversation and the rigors of teaching literature and composition. You see, I'm great at loving my kids. I can snuggle and read Dr. Seuss with the best of them. But at some point during my two month break I know that I need my classroom and my kids need to play with other kids and adults who really appreciate the world of make-believe and 20 questions. Not that I don't enjoy it, but I've learned that there is only so much I can take. Does it take a village? Maybe. Our first babysitter guided this new mom through the first year of our daughter's life, as I worked through my inability to nurse, identified pink eye, and she helped me answer a variety of questions that she, as the mother of three and the caregiver to dozens of kids over the years, could answer immediately instead of me waiting for my mom to answer the phone or an email. When we moved to Fort Wayne, our next caregiver offered a home and playmates for my daughter, as well as friendship during my lonely first year in a new place. When she moved, our next caregiver gave our son the love and attention he needed as we dealt with early teething and what seemed like constantly shifting sleep patterns and worked with our daughter on numbers, colors, and letters in creative ways which sometimes left me astounded. She also struggled with us through a difficult year of potty training our incredibly stubborn little girl. Each of these women have been a huge part of our lives, and I am thankful for everything they have given our family and the love they have given our children.

Now our kids are in a full time daycare, and while I was hesitant to get them out of in-home daycare, this appears to be the best place for our kids until they are both in school. And the last two days I have picked up two very happy, yet very tired, little kids. Our social little girl is surrounded by kids her own age and in a Christian learning environment that will allow her to grow socially and intellectually in ways that I never could. Our little boy is surrounded by kids his own age and in a loving room where he appears to be happy as can be, although he has been exhausted by the time he gets home. One of my biggest parenting decisions has been deciding who will watch and love our kids during the day while my husband and I are working, and we've been blessed with people who love our kids while we are working during the day. And while I'm always working on finding balance, when we get home Jeff and I are raising our kids. We know our kids. We know what they need. And we will always be Mom and Dad. No daytime caregiver can take that away, and none have tried.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Painted Wallpaper Disaster: Our Little Girl's Bedroom

When you are blinded by possibility, sometimes you fail to notice the little things that will make all the difference in your house renovations. Such appears to be my story with the wallpaper in our house. I will get to the wallpaper in the master bedroom, which was actually finished first, later. Today I will discuss the painted wallpaper disaster.

The first time we walked through our house we had our eyes on the big things, such as the disaster of the kitchen, three bathrooms, the future family room, the basement, you get the picture. And as I get caught up on writing about the improvements made on the house in the last two years, and the improvements that we continue to make, this picture will become even clearer. What we didn't pay attention to were the "little" things. Like the fact that the master bedroom and living room had wallpaper and that someone had painted over the wallpaper in the bedroom that would become our daughter's. As offers and negotiations were made we started taking a closer look at the house that we were fighting so hard to get. During one of these walkthroughs, quite late in the game, I discovered that what we originally believed were simply ugly, orange colored walls were much more than that. Underneath the ugly, dirty, orange paint sat wallpaper. This wallpaper had not been primed or prepped in any way for painting. Instead, the previous resident of the room had painted one coat of paint, leaving many places where the tiny late 80s, early 90s flowers poked through. Suddenly, painting our daughter's room did not appear to be as easy as we thought it would be.

The carpet remnant came out of the room with the rest of the carpet in the house, revealing the plywood floor you see in the next picture.

For the record, I HATE wallpaper. Our first home had wallpaper in the kitchen and bathroom, and after spending time on wallpaper removal when we first moved into the house, I swore I would never put wallpaper on walls. And I never have. I have used a border, but I firmly believe that is not the same thing. Of course, I have also not removed the border I have used and will have to cross that bridge when it is time to once again redo our son's bedroom, but until that time I will reserve judgement for wallpaper borders. So I found the discovery of wallpaper in two large rooms and painted wallpaper in a third room a little daunting, terrifying even. The decision I made (and I am still questioning to this day) was the use of texture paint over the painted wallpaper and then painting over that. This would allow the walls to be an even texture, take away the lines that so clearly showed through the current paint, and hopefully give us a bedroom paint job that we could be happy with. With the guest room complete and carpet ordered for the master bedroom and our daughter's bedroom I got started on the texture paint. I really wanted to have the room complete before the carpet was installed. After all, then I wouldn't have to worry about covering the floor. Two hours into my work I had one wall painted. Another two hours of work and I had a second wall painted. My parents and little sister were visiting that weekend so there were many projects going on at the same time. With tired arms and a racing mind trying to figure out how to get the next two walls to go more smoothly, I quit. And the walls sat there, and sat there. Carpet was installed, furniture put into place, blinds placed in the windows, and the room continued to just sit.



Then I found out I was pregnant. More on that funny story later. Suddenly we were in a time crunch. Yes, we needed complete bedrooms that would make our house feel more like home. Yes, our little girl deserved a room that was hers and not just a room that her mom had started working on but never finished. But I had gotten distracted. I do that. After all, right now I'm writing a blog while the kids nap instead of lesson planning or sealing the grout in the nearly finished bathroom. It's an unfortunate family trait that I have inherited from my father's side. We moved, pushed hard right away, and then I started grad classes two days after we moved in. And then fall classes started and I was trying to figure out how to work part time, go to school, and still enjoy the two days a week I stayed at home with my daughter. All excuses I know, but with a baby room to complete now, it was actually a good thing we had procrastinated. Now our daughter's room was going to be a big girl room, the birthday present for the new big sister. Carpet was covered, I finished the texture paint and then moved on to the purple paint. Yes, I chose purple, mostly because I have an aversion to pink after years of having pink in my own rooms. I want my little girl to maintain her girliness, but there is only so much girly I can take.

It did not go smoothly. My pregnant body lost balance on a night when I was so close to finishing the walls and I twisted my ankle falling off of a step ladder. Jeff banned me from the room for the rest of the night. So even though I was motivated, there was still plenty of stop and go on the work I did in the room, but finally the paint was done, the big girl bed (Jeff's old bed, which is actually his father's old bunk bed) was put together and ready for sleep, the curtains installed, and our daughter's room was done. As with all kid's rooms, it will continue to evolve as she gets older, but for now it works for our little princess. And we're happy with that.




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Should I Really Post That? The Current Rhetoric of Social Media

While I have strong political feelings that I willingly share with my husband, close friends, and certain family members, I typically try to stay out of the social media political frenzy. This is for several reasons. First and probably foremost, I am an avoider and people pleaser. I want to keep people happy and more often than not I keep my mouth shut to do so, even if not telling it like it is makes me miserable. I say this as more of a confession than a revelation of a positive personality trait. Quite frankly, while this trait has helped me in the area of self-preservation for years, I consider it one of my main personality flaws. However, this particular personality trait has allowed me to maintain friends of different political affiliations without conflict. Second, I get tired of the virtual shouting match that occurs between the far left and the far right and I have no desire to be a part of it. Third, I believe that it is my duty as a high school teacher to teach my students how to think and research for themselves and come to their own conclusions, and participation in the far left/right debates would make me a hypocrite. I realize that there are fellow teachers out there who disagree, but here it is: I want my students to feel free to make the connections to what they read for class without feeling like I am going to blast them for seeing something that I don't necessarily agree with. I want them to write well-researched, well written argumentative papers on topics that are important to them and take the position they want without worrying about my personal views on legalization of marijuana, doctor assisted suicide, or global climate change. I don't tell them who I vote for and while my personal views may come out in readings I assign for class, I try to avoid verbalizing them. I always tell them that my personal views will not determine their grades, and I work very hard to make sure that happens. However, a very poorly written paper about a topic that I do not agree with does occasionally meet my grading wrath, which is unfortunate for all, especially when it is a topic about which I am well versed. Case in point, the unfortunate college student who wrote a paper praising the success of No Child Left Behind. My entire teaching career has been under NCLB or the aftermath of it and I know way too much about the topic to take a paper with blatant misinformation lightly. But that is all beside the point.

The real point finally came to a head yesterday when I finally commented on a FB friend's post which pictured all previous presidents and the total debt and next to it our current president and the debt he has supposedly accrued in the last three years. We are in the midst of a hotly contested election season, and I am already tired of it. And while posts of these sort were plenty available four years ago, it feels like I see them more and more from FB friends on both sides of the aisle. And people are posting these pictures or cartoons about everything: gun control, gay rights, gay marriage, sanctity of marriage, sanctity of life, taxes, health care, war, the list goes on and on. And I get it. People have strong feelings about topics that affect them. Heck, people have strong feelings about issues that have absolutely no apparent impact on them. But does anyone that passes these things along ever sit down for a couple minutes to consider the rhetoric in some of these posts and the political impact that it is having in our increasingly politically divided climate? Take the above mentioned post. All it really had was pictures and numbers. No explanations about whether that was actual debt or projected debt from programs currently in place. No discussion about the previous two term president and the economic policies, tax code, and wars that Obama inherited (just as there was no discussion from the far left about the role that Clinton played in deregulation that helped lead to the financial collapse that happened under Bush's watch). They were just numbers meant to shock and scare anyone who read that particular post. And thanks to our top notch educational system (of which I am admittedly a part), most people would just look at that and not feel the need to check further. They wouldn't read about the claims to see if they were true. They wouldn't use this as a starting point for intelligent conversation about what needs to be done about the national debt. They would just take the information at face value and pass it along. And this happens every day.

I know that I may be an exception. I have taught Freshman Composition to college students for the last two years and I will be teaching AP Language and Composition for the first time starting in two weeks. Therefore, I teach rhetoric and composition, and the more I teach it, the more I see it. I can't help it. It's everywhere I look. And I feel that I have the duty to share this with my students. To help them see the rhetoric in the writing of others so they can see it in their own writing. But I would also like to see the American public wake up and see it for themselves. I want them to understand that when we pass along half-truths, misinformation, and seriously biased political rhetoric as fact we are participating in the madness that is our current political climate. It's not going to stop unless we stop. I tell my students that a solid argument gives concessions to the other side. A solid argument knows that the other side has a point and perspective worthy of consideration. A solid argument also needs research to back it up. Don't post something unless you are ready to back it up, even if that just means posting articles (but not from The Onion, which is fantastically entertaining but a terrible place to get real information of any kind) instead of pictures and cartoons. Washington won't change until we do. Maybe it's time we started.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Purple People Eater

There is no better way to describe the room that would become our guest room. It is difficult to decide where to start in describing the room. Pictures do it some justice, but not enough. The royal purple walls were spattered in several places with what we believe were beverages. Several places had pink, not white trim, and there is a second closet in the room with a door painted the same royal purple as the walls. The carpet was disgusting, smelly, and when it was pulled out of the room we discovered wood floors that were in much better shape than we could have hoped for. A previous resident believed him or herself enough of an artist that there were a couple pictures drawn around the room, the most noticeable of which is captured in one of the pictures below. In short, the room was a mess, but it became the first bedroom that we touched for a couple reasons. 

1) It appeared that it would be the easiest of the rooms to complete, and we needed something that could be quickly completed so we felt like we successfully completed a project.

2) It was at the end of the hallway and the smallest bedroom, so it was officially going to be the guest room. We had already decided that we were going to buy a king sized bed for our bedroom and use our old bed for the new guest room. In order for us to get things moved in, we really needed to just get the room completed.

3) We had enough people planning to visit and help with the house that we felt like we needed a nice place for our guests to stay as they got dirty and helped with the rest of the house.

So the guest room it was. First, I got to painting. We were reusing our old bed and bedding for the bedroom, so I easily knew what color I wanted for the walls. Luckily, we have a little girl who sleeps late, so I stayed up well past midnight for a couple of nights painting, and repainting walls, trim, doors, and the closet in attempts to get rid of the purple and other oddities in the room. Then my dad came down and helped us refinish the floors using a refinishing system that did not require us to sand the fragile floors down. The final touch in the room was a ceiling fan light, which became even more of a necessity after our air-conditioning died the first time we turned it on (more on our HVAC issues in later posts). There, we had a finished bedroom. A finished bedroom that none of us were using. But at least we had a finished product and we didn't have to feel guilty about where our guests slept. The bedroom became a dumping ground during our 15 month bathroom renovation project, but now that we are close to being finished with that, the bedroom is finally re-emptied of all construction mess and is solely a guest room again. It's nice to have at least one room in the house completely clean and ready to show.

This is probably the best picture to show just how bad the carpeting was throughout the house. 




We loved the royal purple walls and pink trim




Someone believed they were an artist. I used several coats of primer and paint with primer and you can still see those red lips through the paint. It's hidden behind a picture.






And now a soft blue. We used our old comforter and queen sized bed. All ready for guests...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Finding Distractions From the Bathroom

That seems to be the story of our weekend. While I did finish grout on the wall tile and got that much closer to having the bathroom done, we found a couple tasks to distract from getting the walls completely finished.  We have two very old garage door openers. Or at least, we HAD two very old garage door openers, but in the last week, one of them finally quit. We are determined to do things right  and as we have money, replacing things as they quit. That has happened with light fixtures and this weekend that happened with the garage door opener that quit. A Friday night trip to Sears as a family and Jeff was determined to spend Saturday cleaning the garage and putting up the new opener. We were exchanging our dead chain garage door opener for a much quieter belt garage door opener. I watched and played with the kids outside on the playset while Jeff worked all day in the garage. Our son did get to "help" for a little while, and was pretty filthy by the time he came in for a bath. And Jeff really did work on the garage all day. He finally came to bed well after midnight.


But the end result is a new garage door opener, a panel on the outside of the garage, a clean garage, and the truck safely parked where it belongs. And Jeff doesn't feel like he was productive this weekend...



My Saturday distraction came in the form of putting down the remainder of the carpet tiles we had bought for the bedroom floor hallway. I hadn't finished putting the tiles down because I didn't want them to get bathroom construction dirt on them, but with the tiles in the bathroom finally completed, it was time to put them down, more than a year after the original tiles were put down. Now one of my projects is going to be getting the rest of the carpet tiles clean. Our upstairs hallway has been a slight conundrum. I have frequently rethought our decision to not have carpet installed in our hallway in addition to the two bedrooms we had carpet installed in, but at the time we weren't sure what we were going to do with the hallway. Our house has seen a minimum of three additions to the original three bedroom, one bath, two car garage house that it was in the late 1950s. One addition was the dining room. Another more sizable addition included adding a fourth bedroom, a new two car garage, significantly enlarging the master bedroom, and putting in a master bath. The final addition is off of the back of the house which is our office and utility room. The second addition upstairs surprised us with the transition from hardwood (part of the original part of the house) to plywood subfloor. We thought we would have hardwood floors through the whole hallway, only to discover that we had a strange puzzle of subfloor and thin, old hardwood at the end of the hallway. Long after the carpet in the bedrooms was installed we finally decided that the hallway needed carpet, but how? Carpet tiles, available at your local Menard's store. They made the hallway look considerably better, and now we need to buy one last box so that we can fill in the last three pieces. It looks much better than it did, and I wish I had taken pictures of the hallway with the puzzle work before, but you'll just have to trust me. This was one task I could still complete while the kids played in the living room below the stairs.

By the end of the weekend, in addition to these two tasks, the guest room was completely emptied out of everything that did NOT belong in there and, as stated earlier, the grout was redone in the bathroom. Now, if the living room walls would just peel themselves, we would be in great shape.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Pink Monstrosity: The Vanity

Our carefully selected bathroom vanity met with near disaster in the spring of 2011. All of our bathroom items were purchased and safely stored in our garage. Or at least I believed they were safely stored in our garage. Then we had a particularly heavy rain. Heavy rains should never be a problem. Our driveway is sloped towards the house, but we have excellent drains that take care of the rain and it rarely causes huge puddles in front of the house and family room door. UNLESS those drains are plugs by yard debris. On this particular day, they were plugged by yard debris, and a lot of it. By the time I checked outside, we had a small lake in front of our garage doors and our family room door. (We have two front entrances. The main entrance goes up stairs to our living room and the second entrance is ground level leading to the family room, which, according to our best guess, was originally the garage before one of many additions to the house.) Increasingly pregnant, I was not the most nimble, but I rushed into action. I waded through the pouring rain and our new lake to find the drains and started emptying them. Then I noticed how close the water was to the garage doors. It wasn't just touching the garage doors, the water was higher than the garage doors. And behind those garage doors? The leftover stuff from our garage sale and the bathroom stuff. I ran to the garage and discovered that the lake had indeed spilled over into the garage. I called Jeff in a panic. Remember, I was pregnant, and my second pregnancy was much more hormonal than my first. It did not take much to set me off, and not only was I panicing, I was crying, convinced that the hickory vanity and mirror that we had purchased were ruined.

"What do you want me to do," my slightly irritated husband asked.

"I don't know! I don't know what to do! What if everything is ruined?!?!?!"

"Calm down, clean out the drains, find the drain in the garage. I'm off of work in an hour."

Well he's not much help, I remember thinking. I love and adore my son. He and my daughter are the loves of my life. But that pregnancy did me in. And it wasn't just the normal aches and pains that go with multiple pregnancies. My hormones made me borderline impossible to live with. And they did NOT help this particular situation.

I waded through the spillover and found the drain in the garage that was, surprise, clogged. Between that drain and the ones in front of the house I finally got rid of the water. I was dirty and drenched from rain and "lake" water, but by the time Jeff got home we were able to survey the damage. We unpacked the vanity, and while there was some damage just along the bottom, it was otherwise fine and able to dry out. The mirror was also fine. Eventually we moved both into the utility so that we could once again park the truck in the garage. And there they both sat for a year, waiting for their new home to be completed.

When I got home from Bible study last week and discovered that our toilet was done, I decided that it was also time to take the vanity upstairs. It NEEDED to come out of that utility room. I took the plastic wrap off, cleared off the marble top that was sitting on top of the vanity (I am terrible about storing random things on unused, and sometimes used, surfaces), took out the drawers, and Jeff and I carried the vanity out of the first level, outside into the hot, humid night, up the stairs to the front door, and then up more stairs to the main bathroom. I measured the doorway to make sure the vanity would fit, but didn't take into consideration the door in the measurements. Jeff took off the door and we carried in the vanity. While it easily fit into place, finding studs to screw it to the wall was a little more difficult.

With that task complete, we started in with the sink. We needed to install the faucet, drain cover, and then reconnect the whole thing. It was late, and we were trying to make sure that our noise didn't wake up two sleeping children. We succeeded with one, but our son finally woke up and needed to be soothed back to sleep. By the end of the night we were slightly successful. We didn't have the right stuff for the drain, but the water was reconnected, and while we still needed to adhere the sink to the vanity, it was pretty tightly in place.

The next day I took yet another trip to a home improvement store to get the correct drain accessories, only to discover I had no idea what I was looking for and that is was going to have to wait until Jeff could go shopping. We took a Friday night trip to the home improvement stores to get the adhesive caulk and correct drain accessories and only came home with drain accessories, still not the correct kind, because after looking at the adhesive caulk I became convinced that we had that at home. NOPE. Kids got put back into bed, we missed the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, and I headed back out, just before close, to get the right adhesive caulk and cleaner for the bathtub.

When I returned I decided to start on one last late project: the mirror. This was supposed to be a simple task: put the anchors in the wall, then the screws, then hang the mirror. It SHOULD have been done in a matter a minutes and without spousal help. This, however, was not to be. You see, behind our vanity wall sits not one layer of drywall, but two. This makes the typical drywall anchor useless. After putting both heavy duty anchors through the wall and discovering that they weren't going to hold anything because they were not designed for TWO layers, spousal help was required. We had two large holes and needed something that would help us hang a heavy mirror. The final solution? A small washer on top of a bigger washer with a toggle bolt anchor. It worked like a charm.



The next day Jeff discovered we had all the pieces we needed for the drain all along. He just had to clean the workshop to find them. The drain got put back together, we had a working sink, and with the countertop fitting so tightly into its spot that it was nearly impossible to take it out without damaging something, we called the vanity project complete. And it looks fantastic!


Friday, July 27, 2012

Getting Our Piece of the Bailout

In 2008 my husband and I, along with the rest of our fellow Americans, watched with frustration as the big banks spiraled out of control, eventually being granted bailouts that kept them from failing, and then continued to be frustrated as those same banks appeared to be wasting taxpayer money to give the very same individuals who made the decisions that caused the banks to spiral out of control millions of dollars to supposedly "keep talent". We read the articles in the newspaper, magazines, and online, and yes, we faithfully stayed up later than we should have to watch Stewart and Colbert (I do not miss the irony in the fact that as a teacher who teaches rhetoric I prefer their take on the media mess). And then we watched as houses in our working middle class neighborhood went up for sale and then didn't sell.

Our neighbors on one side had their house on the market in 2005 when we moved to Indianapolis just as the bubble started to burst. They had just built their dream home on the north side, closer to work and where they wanted to live, and they finally moved, but the house didn't sell. And it didn't sell. Finally renters moved in, and so started a series of questionable renters and we watched the house fall apart. Eventually the house sat empty, and finally it became a bank owned home that went up for auction. We couldn't blame our neighbors for letting their house go to the bank. They already lived in the house they wanted to live in and were watching their house value drop due to a falling market and bad renters that were destroying the home they had lived in. But we didn't want to stay in our house forever, and we knew that a house selling for less than original market value would not help us sell our house for as much as we needed to when we were ready to upsize.

The house on the other side didn't help our situation. That neighbor was nice enough, but she had been a subject of neighborhood gossip for years, and shortly after we moved in her marriage fell apart, her kids moved out with her husband, and eventually we didn't see her for long stretches. She was apparently living somewhere else and coming back to the house on occasion. The yard became overgrown and the house started falling apart. My husband started jumping the fence between our yards to cut down the overgrowth that spilled over the fence and into our yard. Finally, the house appeared to go to the bank, then to a flipper, and then to a homebuyer, selling well below market value. Both of these houses on either side of ours sold well below original market value. Houses that had been worth $20,000 more than ours in 2005 were now selling for less than what we bought our house for. And then my husband got transferred.

We knew that selling our house would be the biggest logistical problem of the move from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne. The houses on either side were not the only problem. There were a lot of For Sale signs in our neighborhood that weren't moving. And we had maxed out our home equity redoing our kitchen in hopes that it would 1) make living in our small house easier than with the 70s kitchen we had before and 2) help us sell the house when the time came. To make matters worse, our furnace quit in January as we were making plans to take the transfer, money we did not have up front that would suddenly have to come out of even more credit. To be blunt, we had a lot of money invested in a house that was realistically not going to sell for enough money to help us cover all those bills. We went with a realtor who said he could probably get us the money we needed to break even, but the house didn't sell. We kept clearing things out into storage to make the house look less cluttered, the pictures of the house looked great online, but we didn't have the traffic necessary to sell the house. Our house is on the smaller side of those in our old neighborhood, and we were trying to sell it for more than the other houses in our neighborhood that were also on the market. Out of frustration, we switched realtors and started looking for a renter or buyer, whichever came first. A renter didn't move in until November, after we had made double house payments on two houses for three months. Our mortgage was finally covered, but not before spending a lot of money that we may never see again.

We are on our second renter. So far our renters have paid their rent and taken care of our house. In fact, the current renters have gone above and beyond the call of home rentership by making the outside of the house look even better than we lived there. That doesn't mean we are out of the woods. Yes, our mortgage is paid, until our current renter decides to not renew their lease. The last time this happened we went two months without paying that mortgage, two months during which we had to decide whether we were going to continue scraping by to make payments on a house we never intended to live in again or live our lives in a new city in our new home. We knew the potential damage to our financial credit, but it was keep a house we were not living in or keep a house that was home to us, our two children, and our dog. We chose the later. Thankfully, the house was once again rented in January, we were able to catch up on our payments, and the angry phone calls stopped. But we got a good dose of the same reality that millions of people across America have faced in this bad economy. And really, we're one of the lucky ones. At least we found a way to keep the house and our credit safe, but my heart goes out to those who have not been so lucky. There was once a time when I could not understand why people would strip a house that has been foreclosed on. Seriously, wasn't it their fault? They're the ones who stopped making payments. They're the ones who were irresponsible. But no one talks about the people who lost their homes because they were upside down on their loans, because they got transferred, because they lost jobs or had a crisis that suddenly took all the extra money that they had. And after our experience, I have a feeling that this is more common than our government is willing to admit. And yeah, I had a desire to go back into that house and strip the kitchen of everything we had put in there. We did the work, we picked everything out, and I HATED the thought of it just going to the bank.

Yes, we shoulder some of the blame. We made decisions (like maxing out a home equity loan to redo a kitchen) that made our situation worse. And it didn't help that life just kept happening to us. Not only did our furnace in Indy go out, but we discovered the following November that our Fort Wayne furnace, after passing inspection the previous spring, got fried when we tried to turn on the air conditioning in July. That meant another HVAC system, two in less than 12 months. Then our well pump went out, and then we spent two months without rent. Did I mention that I was pregnant with our second baby at the time? We may have made poor decisions in the past, but that didn't stop life from happening to us. It left us thinking "where's our bailout?" We bought into the idea of the American Dream. Buy a house, have a family, your investment will always be safe. Only, our investment wasn't safe. And we live in Indiana. What about those people in California, Nevada, and Florida? They were worse off than us.

So what are we doing about it now? We started the switchover to a new bank and now we're working on a house refinance that will roll a lot of this accrued debt into our mortgage, hopefully freeing up a lot of money so that we can stop living in debt and start living. Have lessons been learned? Yep. But we got into bed with one of the big banks, and locally, the big bank is treating us well. Maybe deep down I really do want to see us get our share of the bailout. If my tax dollars are going to pay for them to pay their higher ups huge amounts, then I want to take advantage of what that allows them to offer me. Do I necessarily like it? No. But it's the closest thing to a bailout that this middle class American family is going to get.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Pink Monstrosity - The Floor Tile

I was useless with the wall tile surrounding the tub and shower, so when we were finally ready for the floor tile, I told Jeff that I could handle it, although I really don't think he was going to let me get out of doing the tile. Honestly, I felt I had to redeem myself in the home improvement arena. Finally one night this summer my husband decided that, with the walls all painted, it was time to tear up the floor to the floorboards to see what we could find underneath. The 60 years of flooring layers were interesting, disgusting, and we were glad to throw the flooring in trash bags and into our trash bin. The next step was figuring out how to fix the floor around the once leaking toilet and then laying down the cement backer for the tile. This included making circle cuts for the toilet and cuts for around the bathtub. My husband told me to measure around the toilet. I did. My husband made a beautiful circle cut with his rotozip circle cutter. We took the board upstairs. Still didn't fit. Apparently I needed to measure the outside of the toilet base, not the inside...oops. So the perfectly cut circle was quickly destroyed to make a bigger hole for the toilet and it finally fit.

The bathroom sat this way for a couple days. We needed to wait for a day when we would have a long enough period of time where my husband could watch the kids and I could permanently stick the tiles to the floor. Before permanent installation, I carefully laid out all the tiles and had my husband make the necessary cuts for the walls, toilet hole (right measurements this time), and the bathtub. The next day he mixed up the remainder of the thinset from the wall tile project and I got to work. Overall, the installation went pretty smoothly. Unfortunately, I ran out of thinset with eight tiles left to go and my husband was sent back to any open home improvement store to get some more. I waited, and finally got the rest of the tiles down, having to make a couple little cuts on two of the last tiles because I got a little off (I was working backwards from the way I initially laid them afterall). Of course, we weren't finished. We still had to wait for it all to dry, and then grout all the tiles for a final seal.

There are many things I didn't realize about bathroom renovations before we started, but I discovered that finding a grout color (besides the simple white that we used on the walls) is yet another difficult decision. Of course if I had been paying attention to the descriptions under the tile when we purchased it, I might have picked the right color right away. In a quick trip to Lowes to get other items needed for the bathroom, we decided to get grout. We had the kids, they were getting grouchy, and I felt rushed to make a decision. On a return trip a couple days later (you would think that after years of home improvement projects we would realize that making a list would lessen the number of trips) I looked at the tile again, only to discover that the manufacturer had a color recommendation and I grabbed that one instead. Yes, it would mean returning the first selection, but at least it would be the "right" color. Then we finally had an evening when I could grout the tile. My husband mixed the grout power and booster together (apparently that lasts longer and then you don't have to seal it) and I got to work with the grouting. As with the walls, it was a longer and harder process than I anticipated, but I was relieved when I was finished. It looks good, and this time I knew to use a dry cloth to "buff" the tile. The final touch was replacing the trim along the walls and the bathroom was ready for fixture install. It was a good feeling. It always is when you complete a project, but to know that our bathroom was almost functional after two years of no use was fantastic.

Top layer


Next layer down


The mess of all layers


New tile with grout


The edge of the doorway


The Pink Monstrosity: The Surprisingly Complicated Toilet

Until you start renovating a bathroom, you don't give much thought to toilets, that is unless you run into problems with the one you have and decide that it need to be replaced. At least, I had never given it much thought. You use toilets from the time you're potty trained until you get old, but when you are suddenly charged with the responsibility of picking a toilet for your own home, it can be surprisingly overwhelming. As of this writing, there are 1129 toilets available on homedepot.com and 1034 on lowes.com. And the toilet "technology" (for lack of a better word) is impressive and therefore daunting.  One can spend anywhere from less than $100 to well over $3000 on their bathroom comode. There is so much to consider for a piece of equipment that welcomes the wastes our bodies spit out.

The discussion over what toilet to select has been going on for a year. We've talked to people, we've read about different varieties, we've looked at the toilet aisle of each of the three major home improvement stores several times as well as the home improvement section of Sam's, but the time had come for installation, and we needed to make a decision. I thought the decision was made, but it wasn't. After traipsing through Lowes with both kids in tow earlier this week, we finally selected a Jacuzzi brand. It looked sleek and it appeared to be the perfect toilet, if there is such a thing, for our kids' bathroom. But then I looked at reviews online and got scared away. I can usually take online reviews with a grain of salt, but there are times you have to take those few bad reviews and consider the possibilities. And consider I did. So yesterday, by myself this time with both kids in tow (after a whole summer I have yet to figure out how stay-at-home moms get ANYTHING done 12 months out of the year) I returned the toilet and headed down the street to Home Depot, getting a slightly cheaper yet better reviewed toilet. And we are trying a dual flush, which will hopefully NOT confuse our guests and children.

The next question for me was "Is my husband going to get this installed while he has the kids alone?" That was answered last night. I got home from Bible study and my first question to my husband was "What do you need help with?" To which he responded "Flush a toilet." Apparently, our daughter had already celebrated the installation by using her new toilet. I guess that installation was easier than selection. So it is done. No going back on it now.