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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Pink Monstrosity: The Walls

There is a lot of reflection I could do on the walls in our bathroom, but that takes digging deep into my memory because the walls were a nearly 12 month project. It appear that drywalling, mudding, and installation of tile on the walls and ceiling have been the most difficult projects to complete in our bathroom. Not that we didn't have ANY idea what we were doing. We remodeled our kitchen in Indy with help from both of our dads, so we understood the mechanics of drywalling and mudding, but lack of experience with tiling, and the less than square walls in our 60 year old bathroom got intimidating. And when our son arrived and the mudding was still not complete, there was very little chance for the project to get done. So tile sat in the garage and then the utility room waiting to be installed. Paint sat in a closet waiting to be put on the walls. And the project never got going. Yes, we were busy. Our children constantly remind us how difficult it is for the two of us to work together on a project with a toddler and baby around. Our daughter does alright keeping busy and out of trouble as long as she is within listening distance, but our son is a completely different story. And since a three-year-old cannot and should not babysit a one-year-old, someone has to watch them while the other one works. It means that ANY project that we start takes longer than before kids. Don't get me wrong; they are absolutely worth it, but it is something us DIYers don't always take into consideration when we start plans for a project.

So how did we get anywhere on our project and why did it take so long? There is a single answer for that: my father-in-law. Anytime my husband would get frustrated with the lack of progress in the bathroom (and that happened frequently enough) he would ask his dad when he wanted to see his grandchildren again. Sure enough, my in-laws would make the trek from Michigan and my mother-in-law would play with our two children while my husband and his father would work on the bathroom. On a couple occasions, he came alone to help us finish the tiling. And our debt to my father-in-law grew. As the last year progressed, I couldn't help feeling guilty for all the time he was spending covered in dry wall mud and thin-set while helping us finish the walls and complete the white tile. The guilt was made worse by every visit when they would arrive at the house only to discover that we had not made any progress since their last visit. My father-in-law spent hours measuring, cutting tile, learning how to effectively put tile on the ceiling (in my defense that was actually his idea), and figuring out exactly how to install that silly corner shelf I insisted on having in the shower. But eventually it got done, and we took over from there.

Near the end of the school year, determined to get something completed before yet another visit, we finally grouted the walls. I can't say the job is quite complete yet. I plan to go back over the walls and fix any problems that might still be there, but it got us that much closer. Of course, as usual, I was frustrated because grouting was another project that took me away from grading that needed to be completed, but I was so glad that we got it done. I just wish that we had read the directions before we started which would have saved me the frustration from trying to figure out how to get our ceramic tile shiny again. Apparently you need to buff it with a clean DRY cloth to get it that way. Yeah, I should have read up on that one first. But with grouting nearly completed, paint on the wall, and the cabinet now white instead of puke purple, the bathroom was looking less like a construction zone and more like a bathroom. Success, however minute, is still success.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Pink Monstrosity: The Window

We bought our first house within two years of marriage, believing that it would benefit us to start making house payments as opposed to paying rent where we were living in Northwest Indiana. In retrospect, it was probably not one of our smarter financial moves, just breaking even when we decided to move to Indianpolis two years later, but we did love that house. Just like the one we live in now, it was quirky, and there were several elements of the house that I enjoyed. The bathroom was not one of them. There were several small things I didn't like about the bathroom, but the biggest problem I had with it was the window in the shower. The house had only one bathroom, so there was nowhere else to take a shower, and the situation was only made worse by the fact that the window was on the front of the house, facing the street. I never spoke about it, but I hated it. I hated the fact that the wood trim continued to warp and peel every time I took a shower. I hated the curtain that prevented people on the street from seeing me taking a shower. And I hated the fact that I never knew what to do with it. Perhaps that is why I reacted so strongly to the presence of the window in the shower of our main bathroom.

With plans to tile the whole bathtub and shower area, something had to be done with the window. We could have left it the way it was and tiled around it, but I had concerns about our eventual teen daughter and guests showering with a window to the outdoors, even if that window only looked onto our backyard. We could have walled it up, but that would have meant spending time and money fixing the siding on the outside of the house. Finally we decided on glass blocks. Or maybe it was I who decided on glass blocks and Jeff just smiled and nodded. Several trips to Menards later, and Jeff finally figured out the best arrangement for our new glass block window. I don't know how many ways you can arrange glass blocks on a store floor, but we tried a lot of options. I felt useless when it came to actual installation, and again, I was very pregnant, so Jeff called up his parents in early May 2011 for another weekend project. By the end of that Saturday we had new and better insulation in our walls and a solid glass block window. Unfortunately, we were still far from having a completed bathroom.

The Pink Monstrosity - The Decision

Apparently in the 1950s, Mamie Eisenhower became the authority on home decorating, at least for women from conservative, Ike loving households. She turned the White House pink, and women across the country followed suit. So begins the story of our main bathroom.

As I have stated, every square inch of our new home either needs to be touched, or has already been touched by us or one of our fathers. We have three full baths, so when we moved into the house, our goal was to get all three bathrooms as functional as possible, and then decide which bathroom we would tackle first. I am hopeless DIY addict, and after watching enough bathroom remodels I started to believe that it couldn't be that hard and that we could do it for few dollars. After working overtime to finish several painting projects (more on that in later posts) Jeff asked which bathroom we should start ripping out. Our Master bath was out because I have grand plans for that one. The family room bathroom, while it looks terribly scary, is actually quite functional and as a result it had become the bathroom for guests and bathing our children, no matter how embarrassingly scary it is. We decided that the main bath, the bathroom that would become our kids' and guest bath, would be our first major project. For financial and time reasons I hesitated to act, but with another baby on the way we felt that it was necessary to have a nicer place for our kids and anyone who came to stay with us.

Finally Jeff just asked "Are we even using the bathroom?"

"No," I replied. The toilet and sink both leaked and we didn't know what other problems lay beneath the surface.

"Then let's just do it."

And so the nearly 60 year old pink tile came down. So did the makeshift shower head and bulkhead. The broken, rust stained toilet came out along with the built-in vanity and old laminate countertop. We left the floor for a later date when we finally were ready to tile and then looked at what was left. We found some less than surprising water damage behind the tiles, and we discovered just how heavy sacks of tile can become. Now, with two months to go before my due date, we made the goal to have the bathroom done before our son was born. Curse our prideful arrogance. My favorite home improvement shows made weekend renovations look so easy, but this was real life. We were two parents of a two-year-old, Jeff was working full time, and I was busy as a grad student and TA. Not to mention the increasing discomfort of my pregnancy. So we purchased the materials and placed everything in the garage, but the next step would be put off until my knowing father-in-law came to the rescue.

Pictures of the bathroom, before we did anything. Note the pink tile and puke purple walls.

The House: The REAL Reason I Started Blogging

I started blogging two years too late, but I guess it is better to start at some point than to never start at all. For years I've needed a writing outlet that would just let me write and write and write, yet I was so busy being "super teacher" that I never took the time for myself. Now I know that I need to do this for me, even if I'm only writing while I catch up on the latest DVR'd HBO show. So why is this two years too late? Because I really NEEDED to start writing this blog two years ago when we moved from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne.

Two years ago I hit the lowest point of my adult life. I had a husband and daughter who loved me, I was healthy, and I was finally starting grad school. However, I didn't want to move. I was happy with my life in Indy, I loved my job, our friends, our church, and I didn't want to relocate and start over. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and financially, I had hit a serious low point and had a difficult time seeing any flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. In the center of all this unhappiness sat our new house. Our big, cheap, fixer-upper of a house. I will probably write more about our "summer home" in Indy that has never sold, and is currently on its second renter, but this is my introduction to our Fort Wayne home.

My husband Jeff grew up in a beautiful old farmhouse that his parents have spent 25 years renovating, moving from room to room one year to the next. Since we started dating, they have started over, now redoing long vacated bedrooms and rooms that have become seriously outdated. I grew up watching This Old House with my father and visiting home shows. Bob Villa was my introduction to reality TV. My dad was always dreaming of what could be, and I caught the fever. While I went through a phase during which I hated old houses, the historian in me learned to love them again. My father likes to remind me of the nine-year-old who threw a temper tantrum because of the old house we bought when our family moved to Illinois. To be honest, that was more about fitting in with my wealthier friends than about hating old architecture. I eventually came around and returned to a growing appreciation for old architecture. This love grew after a semester in Europe where I got to see houses older than the United States. New houses are fantastic, but old houses have character. They have hardwood, built-ins, and no two houses are alike, or at least it seems that way. For years Jeff and I had discussed, rarely seriously, our desire to get a fixer-upper. We were a young couple with dreams that were constantly changing. When we discussed a fixer-upper, I wanted to rehab an old house, possibly a Victorian or Craftsman. Instead, we chanced upon our 1950s oddity.

Once we made the decision to move with Jeff's company to Fort Wayne, we started looking for houses non-stop on Realtor.com. We were constantly sending each other houses while we were at work, discussing them, and then sending them on to our realtor. One day our house showed up on my email as a new listing. I saw it, sent it to Jeff, and we KNEW. It was our house. Our realtor was not so convinced. She had seen the house with former clients and said it was dirty, scary, and she wasn't sure that she wanted to go into the house again. We would not be deterred. We needed to see the house ourselves, so we quickly scheduled a visit to Fort Wayne, called up both of our dads and asked them to come down so that we could get second and third opinions, and check out the foreclosure that would become our new home. Three months and many hoops later the house was ours.

The house was a mess. The parents had left the house in the hands of their teenage children and the house quickly deteriorated into a party house. Neighbors have told us all sorts of horror stories about what went on in the house. By the time we got the house, I couldn't believe that anyone had willingly lived there. Every inch of our huge, nearly 4000 sq ft home needs to be redone. Our first weekend we cleaned what we could so that our one year old daughter would have a place to play, took out every piece of carpet and put it in the dumpster (several cats had turned all the carpet in the house into their personal litterbox), and cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms so that we could "live" in the house. Three days later I started grad school, Jeff started work, and our "adventure" with our house had begun.

During my second semester of grad school I took a non-fiction class during which I became inspired to write a book about our house, but between having another baby and working full time, this book has never transpired. And so I am finally sitting down to write about the move and the house, deciding that a blog might be the best way to do so. I write to remember the experience and ensure that we don't forget how far we've come, and how far we may still need to go to make this our dream home. I write to commiserate with all sorts of people. With those who also found themselves crushed by the housing crisis as they attempted to sell homes in depressed housing markets while also buying new homes in places where they had been relocated. With those idealistic enough to believe that they can change a monstrosity into a thing of beauty, and poor enough to realize that it isn't going to happen as easily or quickly as once imagined. And I write to share our experiences, vent my frustrations, and maybe find answers for our most troubling questions, such as "why put carpeting in a bathroom?" The posts about the house will be scattered, but who knows. Maybe this will eventually become the book I imagined I could write a year ago. In the meantime, enjoy.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Were we really that young?

Christmas break my senior year of college I finally told my parents that my post-student teaching plans in the fall included a December wedding. One of my mother's many arguments against my getting married included "you're too young" to which my father responded "they are the same age we were." Jeff and I have been happily married for over ten years, but those words from my mother took on new meaning this weekend when we watched my husband's cousin and new bride, who are the same age we were when we got married, exchange their vows and join their lives together. I watched the happy couple and their wedding party and one thought kept running in my mind: "They are too young." While I've had other younger cousins, sisters and siblings-in-law, and former students post pictures of their weddings and (gulp!) babies, this hit harder than those events. And maybe it's because I have known Jeff's cousin since he was 8 or 9. He's the same age as my still unmarried baby sister. In my mind, they both are still kids. I remember when Jeff was able to pick his cousins up and I would watch my boyfriend, in the early stages of our relationship, long before I ever decided I could indeed marry him, play football with his younger cousins and know that he would be a great father someday.

We've all heard the statistics; the older you are when you first get married, the more likely you are to have a successful and lasting marriage. It shouldn't be much of a surprise. As we get older we become more established in our careers, become more financially stable, and get to make mistakes figuring out who we are and what we want with our lives without it having a significant impact on a spouse. Doing all of these things with a spouse often complicates or hinders our ability to establish ourselves. Add early kids into the mix and you have a perfect storm of problems that can destroy a young marriage. But it doesn't have to. I know plenty of people (my grandparents included) who have had successful marriages after getting married at a young age, having children young, and then struggling for years financially. They were and are committed to their marriages and have made it through the storms closer and stronger than ever. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen, but I don't believe statistics tell the whole story. Does it have to be about age? Can it instead be about knowing who and what you are (for me that would be a child of God, a wife, a mother, and a teacher, in that particular, albeit very close, order)? Can it also be about having a spouse who understands that for you to grow as a couple you also need to grow as a person, and be given the freedom (with some personal restraint) to do so?

One of my favorite novels is Kate Chopin's The Awakening, a novel about a woman who leaves her husband and small children to find herself, takes on a lover, and then (SPOILER ALERT!!!) finally commits suicide by walking out into the Gulf of Mexico. It is a book that I believe every young woman should read before she gets married, and book I am teaching to my AP students this year. Those who question why a Christian woman who believes in the institution of marriage would ever consider recommending such a novel are missing the point of the book. Unlike many of her feminist contemporaries, Kate Chopin was a happy wife and mother. She relished her role, but she also had a husband who gave her the latitude to write about women who were unhappy in their roles as wives, mothers, or both. She understood the difficulties women in the late 19th and early 20th century faced, and I believe that her message is still important today. Chopin's protagonist is a woman unhappy in her roles because she was never given the opportunity to find herself. Instead, she goes straight from her father's home to her husband's home. When she finally discovers that this is not making her happy, she decides to leave, live on her own, and she finds herself. She doesn't end the novel happy, but at least she tried. Chopin's point was that women needed the opportunity to figure out who and what they were in order for them to be happy in their roles as wives and mothers. And 100 years later, her novel still rings true for men AND women. For us to be satisfied in our roles, we need the freedom to be what God intends us to be. I love my role as wife and mother, but my husband knows (and as the summer winds down this once again has become painfully obvious to us) that for me to be the sane and loving wife and mother I want and need to be, I need to also keep my role as teacher. I treasure the time at home with my children during breaks, but at some point I get restless. I want adult conversation and I want to talk about reading and writing. I don't just want it, I NEED it. Which might be why I decided to start a blog halfway through my summer break. I do not have the balance down to a science, but we keep working on it, believing that it benefits all of us to do so.

My husband and I did not have a typical courtship. We spent the vast majority of our relationship separated by two time zones and three states. Seward, NE to Grand Rapids, MI is a long drive, but we made it work, and we got married immediately after I finished student teaching because we simply could not handle being separated anymore. We missed each other like crazy, but were thankful for the recent explosion of email and then the mainstreaming of cell phones which allowed us to communicate easily. In the meantime, we had time to grow on our own. We had our own friends and activities and I even made the decision to spend a semester in London, three and a half months that convinced me that I actually wanted to marry him. So yes, we were young, but we gave each other the room to at least start figuring out who we were and what we wanted. And while that continues to change as we get older, we are able to support each other through those changes because we understand how important our personal happiness is for the success of our family.

And all this takes me back to this last weekend. Were we really that young? The answer is yes, we were. We were kids embarking on a tremendous adventure that more often resembles the world's largest roller coaster than a lazy river. But were we stupid? No. We've made some stupid mistakes along the way, and we will probably continue to make stupid mistakes along the way, but we are committed to growing together. And my prayer for my newly married cousin-in-law and his bride, as well as my unmarried baby sister, cousins, students and former students, and especially my very young son and daughter, is that they will get married when they are ready for marriage, not just a wedding. That they will trust that God's plans are better than ours and that they don't have to rush it. That they will start figuring out who they are and what they want before they join their lives with another, but that once they have become "one flesh" they will grow together and that their spouse will give them the latitude to grow even when the future is uncertain and scary for the whole family. So God's richest blessings to the newlyweds and all who have recently begun the adventure. It's a fantastic, thrilling, and terrifying ride. Enjoy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Let the Blame Game Begin

I was in college learning how to be a high school English teacher when the tragic shootings occurred at Colombine High School. Suddenly, the world I would be teaching in changed. My students would never know a world without planned lock-down drills. And so many years have passed that my students now see these drills as tedious, pointless, believing that these drills have nothing to do with them and that they are not meant to save their lives in case of a similar event. My students also know nothing about those shootings. When I mention them in class now I get blank stares. These teenagers were toddlers when it happened. In a couple years, my students will not have even been alive when it happened. The names Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold mean nothing to them. But their actions are back in the news as the news pundits are now mistakingly making connections between two tragedies that just happened to take place in two different Denver suburbs twenty minutes away from each other.

In 1999 the music and video game industry came under heavy fire (no pun intended) over the increasingly common glorification of violence in the entertainment industry. There were calls for censorship, more warning labels, and parent groups had "proof" of the serious harm that could come from overexposure to violent media. Discussion increased concerning the desensitization towards violence of America's youth. And let's be honest, kids today can handle a lot more violence on TV, in movies, and in their video games than their parents and grandparents could. They see a lot more and they see it from an earlier age. But I have to challenge the idea that "these kids today" are not sensitive to REAL violence. The very same former students of mine who were most likely lining up long before midnight to see The Dark Knight Rises squirmed, looked away, sometimes cried, and were frequently angered when we did our unit on the Holocaust and genocide following our study of Elie Wiesel's Night. Real violence shocks them. Real violence angers them. They know the difference between fiction and reality. To be honest, I have enjoyed the Batman reboot, not just for the stunning visual and special effects, but for the stellar acting and superb storytelling. And those who have watched the movies and gotten past the big explosions know that Christopher Nolan has dug deep into the human psyche and soul. Heath Ledger's award winning performance as the Joker brilliantly looked into the nature of evil in a sinful world. The first two films have not only entertained, but have forced me to think, something that I find necessary for a film to be considered good. And just like 13 years ago, the media almost immediately went to discussion of the violence in the film, asking if the gunman was possibly acting out a scene from the beginning of the movie.

Blame was also placed on the gun lobby. People asked how two Colorado teenagers were able to get their hands on the arsenal used on their victims. Easterners lacking in knowledge of Western culture had much to say about the need for stricter gun control, but those of us who know better were not surprised by how easily Harris and Klebold got guns. Growing up my family lived in Wyoming for five years. This was after spending eight years in Detroit, living between 7 and 8 Mile, a city where violence is an unfortunate fact of life. When I was in high school it was not uncommon for many of my Wyoming classmates to skip school during hunting season, several of them hunting with their own guns, and many going hunting without "adult" supervision. Once again we have a Colorado shooting and it did not take long for the media to start discussing gun control. I don't pretend to have answers to gun control. There are weapons that no one should have access to, but I don't feel the need to tell people that they cannot have guns in their homes for either protection or hunting, I just don't want them in my house. But people will use this to show, once again, the evils of gun ownership.

The events early this morning in Aurora, Colorado were and are tragic. My heart and prayers go out to those still in the hospitals and those family members and friends mourning the deaths of loved ones. I myself cannot imagine the hurt and anger that I would feel if my son or daughter or sister-in-law (who lives near there) or one of my many Denver area friends had been at that midnight showing. But let's stop the blame game right here and now. It is not the fault of movies, music, or the gun lobby. This was a lone, deranged individual. The news media will continue to do what they are good at. They will bring in psychologists, psychiatrists, eye witnesses, members of the police force, and analyze this event until everyone has a full understanding of what exactly happened and what caused this man to do what he did. But let's leave the victims and witnesses alone. Let's allow these young people, who will NEVER be able to get this experience out of their heads to get the necessary counseling from parents, pastors, and counselors. Let's learn from this event as we always should. But please, let's get out of the blame game. The only people it benefits are the talking heads of both the liberal AND the conservative media.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Best Laid Plans

"The best-laid schemes of mice and men go often awry." Robert Burns

Ok, so I'm no lover of British poetry, and the only reason why I know this quote is because it was the inspiration for the title of one of my favorite novellas, Of Mice and Men, the longest Steinbeck work I have finished reading. Don't judge me. No other Steinbeck novels have been assigned to me for a class and I don't know anyone who has read The Grapes of Wrath for fun. But all this is beside the point.

I am frequently reminded of the truth of Burns' poetic statement. Take today for instance. My husband had to work in Indianapolis for the day, so since it is summer and we have the freedom to do so, the entire family joined him on the trip. I got to see former coworkers, one of my little sisters and my nephew (although it was only for a few minutes), and the kids and I got to visit with close friends for a chunk of the afternoon. The plan was to leave their house in time to pick up my husband and head home to Fort Wayne so that I could leave for Bible study ON TIME, which means before 7:00. That didn't happen. I finally believed that I could make it for the second half of Bible study when our daughter, following in her mother's graceful footsteps, tripped over her own feet and fell headfirst into the wall at the end of the hallway. So much for Bible study. Sure, I could have left my husband to fend for himself and comfort our daughter while also getting our son ready for bed, but my babies needed me and I wasn't leaving. Well, our son needed me while our daughter clung to her daddy for comfort. All this now brings me to this post.

I am a first born. In many areas of my life I am a hopeless perfectionist. Please do not look for evidence of that in my house. The drive for perfection has to stop somewhere and unfortunately that means that I am far from a perfect housekeeper. My dear husband reminds me that he did not marry me for my housekeeping skills, but I know it drives him crazy. It drives me crazy too, but at some point I give up. I'm sure this will be a focus of some future post. But I digress. As a hopeless perfectionist, I am a planner. While some teachers dread planning, I LOVE it. I thrive on it. But that has also meant a life of disappointment, disappointment that goes back years. In fifth grade I was desperate to both cheerlead and play basketball; my mom would only let me play basketball while promising that I would get to do both in sixth grade. Instead, we moved to Wyoming. Sophomore year after two years of planning to be in Jazz choir my Junior year and then discovering I had actually made it into the elite choir, I found out we were moving to Michigan where this would not be an option. And after a lifetime of planning to meet my perfect Lutheran churchworker husband in college and living happily ever after with him, I met this guy right before leaving for my Freshman year. This guy was not my type, and he certainly was NOT going to be a Lutheran churchworker. Less than five years later I married him.

But God laughs at me and then says "see, I know better." Honestly, I'm not a big fan of cheerleaders, although I know some wonderful cheerleading coaches and I have had many lovely students who have participated in the activity/sport. And while I still have many regrets about the last two years of high school, and yeah, maybe I was wallowing in my own misery, the move to Michigan meant a better education, being closer to family, and that guy I met and later married? We happily celebrated ten years of marriage in December.

That brings us to today. Yes, I am disappointed that I did not make it to Bible study. After all, this is the first time in years that I've felt I could do something like this. But was the day a complete bust? Nope. I spent time with friends and my kids, and did get most of my Bible study "homework" completed, and I still learned a considerable amount about myself, my faith walk, the book of James, and (dare I say it) Biblical challenges for certain Fox news pundits. I guess the lesson I learn on a weekly basis is that just because my fantastic plans "go often awry" it does not mean that those plans are a bust, they just need some adjusting. Lesson learned? Probably not.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Have to start somewhere

Here we are three weeks away from returning to school, at least I the teacher am three weeks away from returning to school. The mid-summer slump is strange to me. For years I found myself far less productive than I intended and eager to return after a month of vacation. Now that I have kids, the summer are all the more precious and disappear all the more quickly. I appreciate my summers. I work hard during the school year, often working late into the night, working on weekends, and forcing myself to remember that my kids and husband need my attention as much as my students and studies (since I am also working on my Master's in English). But then summer, sweet summer. Suddenly time to devote to cleaning, organizing ignored rooms, playing with my kids, and yes, planning for the next school year. But those days quickly disappear. I was going to read a book a week. In five weeks I've read three, so I guess I'm only a little off. I was going to work on school work every week, and I still have summer reading assignments that I haven't touched. I truly believed that I could get our house spotless, yet it is anything but. Our main bathroom, now going on its 15th month of renovation, was going to be completed. My next project is working on the grout for the floor tile. We SHOULD be finished with it before I go back to school. Our living room walls were going to be stripped of wallpaper and repainted. That project has been put off so we can finish the bathroom. Our daughter was going to be fully potty trained by now, but I still struggle to understand why my intelligent, imaginative three-year-old refuses to always use the bathroom. At the end of each day I am left to wonder why these projects are not completed, and I find myself praying for more time. But that time is disappearing.

So what do I do? Start a blog. That's right. Instead of working on my many projects I decided to do something entirely for myself. After all, I teach writing, I'm working on my Master's in composition, shouldn't I do my own writing? How can I encourage my students to take risks with their own writing if I don't challenge myself. Here is my challenge: to write at least once a week, but hopefully more. I don't know what I'll write about, but I plan to write, and write, until I don't have anything to write about anymore. Not that I expect that to happen. I've always been more of a writer than a talker, so maybe this is what I need. This is my chance to give myself a little perspective, to get things out and let my voice be heard, even if no one actually reads this. Maybe I will feel a little less frazzled during the school year, and a little more focused. Or at least I can get it out when the pressure gets to be too much. Now I am off to spend some quality time with my kids and get them ready for bed. Maybe then I can complete some of that lesson planning I was talking about...