Greetings Earthling!

Another year comes to a close in these United States, and if you’re like me, it’s been a real hum dinger. Now, as many move to the annual year end discussion/conflict on holiday greetings, I’m hoping we can come together. But, if you’re subscribing to the Mike Huckabee theory, perhaps you’re feeling a bit persecuted by the non-Christian minority. Personally I don’t get it and I remain deeply committed to a more inclusive understanding of the egalitarian freedoms our forefathers and my ancestors fought to establish.

Looking forward, here’s my prayerful wish or wishful prayer for my fellow countrymen and fellow earthlings. May you and all your people thrive, live long and prosper, have a beautiful, joyous, lives full of family, friends, acceptance, peace, forgiveness, purpose, enlightenment, service, gratitude, wonder, health, wealth, wisdom and all those things that make a life well lived.

And if we should meet, what ever your background may be, if you want to offer me greetings, prayers, goodwill or kindness in any form, I hope that I have the attention and intention in that moment to accept it graciously and return something equally meaningful to you.

Unless of course you were being a jackass, in which case, the weight for that is on you, and I still wish you well and hope things come ’round in a way that helps you feel differently soon.

Spartan Existence

So, it’s been over a year since that comment in my last post about the renewed commitment to writing. I actually have been writing quite a lot, but only in my head where no one can read it. I don’t know whether I needed a new topic or whether it was the fear that no one ever reads my posts… I mean literally, not even my family.

What ever it was, I do have a new topic and so let’s see where it goes.

It has been a longtime dream of mine to own an Airstream, but new ones are expensive and old ones are scary. How would I know if I was getting a bargain or a nightmare? But still, I’ve looked at Craigslist ads every now and then for decades. So sometime, I think just over a year ago, I saw a Spartan Travel Trailer made in the 50s in Tulsa, Oklahoma I only found it because it was mis-advertised as an Airstream and it peaked my interest. So, I showed it to Russ and we were both bit. We looked and thought and learned. We looked some more. No, we’re not finished with the renovations on the house, not even close. We looked. We joined Facebook groups. We found great websites and lots of Facebook friendlies. For better or worse, we managed to neutralize the fear. We found an Avion. We went to Hilton Head to look at it. It was scary even for our new found bravery and we like Avions, but they aren’t Spartans and we didn’t think it was a price / condition match. We actually found several things we like. Boles Aero, Vagabond, M Class, and on and on. Trolley tops are really cool and there is some stuff out there that is just so awesome that I never knew existed. Each ad we saw represented a trade off between location, condition, price, brand and whether or not Russ could stand up in it. I had Craigslist alerts set up across the entire south east. Some how I couldn’t stop the Avion query from also giving me the frequent furniture ads by the same name.

I was up one night recently doing the late late night mucking about on the interwebs and I decided it had been some time since I had looked at actual Airstreams. I put in a search and there it was, an ad 15 minutes old for two local Airstreams, only 1 of them was a Spartan. The asking price was within reach and the wording said it was negotiable. This is the begining of something new and wonderful!


Today is the two-year anniversary of the day the house burned. (As it happened, it’s also the anniversary of wedding my ex). So, I’m going to take some time for looking back on what I did right and what I did wrong. And, take time to make time to get back to writing. But I’m only looking back two years to the fire. I’m just writing a post, not a book.

The most important thing I did right was when I decided to settle with the insurance company. I didn’t want a false incentive to rebuild my life “cookie cutter” style, nor to work hard at digging deep for proof of all that I owned. “Cookie cutter” was the adjuster’s phrase. If you choose the “build your house back” option, cost overruns are only covered if you build back exactly as it was. Meaning that if you upgrade to stone counter tops or move a wall, any completely unrelated cost over runs in the basement or drive way are not covered. When you live in a house 23 years, you can’t help but see some things you’d change. I had one of the more modern floor plans for my neighborhood, but the house was more than 30 years old and trends change. It was still not what you would build from scratch for the next 50 years. I moved on and sold the lot. A builder put a spec home there. He did a nice job of building a current home that fit well in an older neighborhood and it sold for a top price. I thought the clean slate was a good result for the neighborhood that I called home longer than any other and I felt good about that.

There are drawbacks to a clean slate though. When you are building back cookie cutter, there are few decisions to make because you already made them. “Same” is the answer to everything and you just watch the contractor to be sure it’s done right. When you do that, moving on in ways unrelated to dwelling and contents moves up in the queue. When everything is a new choice, the layers of choices past aren’t there building the foundation of quick new decisions. A conscious choice to start from scratch is not for the weak at heart. Those decades of layered choices are how you ended up with the life you had, and even though stuff is just stuff, it’s the stuff you use for your life and insurance isn’t designed to improve your life, only to keep you from suffering if the worst happens. The mistakes you make while remaking your home are at your own cost, just like the original ones were. The more unknowns, the more likely it is that there will be mistakes.

The biggest surprise was how long things took. I thought there would be more involved in my rebuild, but things didn’t fall neatly together. There was the unexpected news that we had a seller’s market going on big time. I knew that neighbors weren’t having any trouble selling in my great school district, but I didn’t know just how hard it was to buy. We even went to a neighboring area where the school scores were a couple of percent lower, but finding a home was really tough, a big time sink. I was in that price range that has the most people in it, so well-priced houses were snapped up quickly. Now, I’m driving past houses we looked at nearly daily. I’m glad we didn’t end up in any of them and Russ says the same thing. But, there were complications and delays. We were still looking at back up houses the week before closing in case the deal fell through. I hated to ask to see a house when I had one under contract, closing in a few days, but I really didn’t have confidence in closing and I really didn’t have time to fail. If it hadn’t been for my allergies and that little hint of dog smell left in the carpet I might have jumped ship and be living in the last other house we looked at instead. Of course the irony there is that the house we bought had knock your socks off pet odors, but for that house the cure was to rip out everything and seal it with Zinsser.

The biggest mistake I made might have been having the urge to get on with things and buying before I had a permanent place to be. We had the goal to replace as much as possible through thrift stores and estate sales. It was the only way to get some semblance of the quantity and quality of what we had back. When you appreciate the quality, weight and feel of an antique tool, flimsy short term pressed sheet metal doesn’t cut mustard. We had to buy things when we could find them. They might not be available again. So, in some respects, it wasn’t a mistake to do it that way. And that may just be how it is when replacing a household, but it was definitely the hot spot. The place where it hurt was in the mix. Getting the right house meant getting a fixer because of the market, ours came with delays. We piled stuff on top of stuff inside of stuff and then rearranged stuff so that we could fit in more stuff. The irony being that 5 years from now we might have bought an Airstream (or a Spartan) and chosen not to even have a stationary home. It wasn’t 5 years from now though, it was two years ago. I replaced a lot of hobbies and do it yourself tools, household items and just plain stuff. The pile of stuff FOR the house gets in the way OF the house while we’re working on it, and it gets covered in saw dust too. My son downsized and wanted to fill my basement the day we closed. Life doesn’t stop going on just because we are still really, really disorganized and stressed. Moving stuff to do stuff. Moving stuff to clean it or clean behind it, or to keep from having to clean it. etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We thought after things settled, we might take a long overdue vacation. One where we don’t carry our food and bed on our backs. One where we walk on the beach and sleep in a bed. Russ had an injury in the spring that lasted through the summer. There’s no telling how over due that’s gonna get!

The uncomfortable irony happened when we learned from neighbors that lightening had struck several times in the new neighborhood. So far, it’s been mostly tree damage. The old neighborhood was in a dip and I never worried about tornados. The new neighborhood had several new roofs due to storm damage. I noticed before we bought that several homes had new roofs, but I had guessed it was just the age of the neighborhood. Later a nearby house burned. I was coming home and saw the dreadful black plume. Every turn brought me closer to a home I’d been in for only a short time, and every turn I was unable to tell that the plume was coming from somewhere other than my home. I don’t wish loss on anyone else, but another fire before recovering from the first? I really hoped it wasn’t me. At the same time, I started going through emergency choices in my mind. I listed settling as the best choice I made, but that double edged sword also makes me wonder if it was the worst. The whole thrift replacement idea got me some cool finds, but all that time and gas… there is no reimbursement for that, and I was only able to do it because of my employment gap. I believe that if it ever happened again (please, NO!), I’d go the other route. Rent close by and rebuild. At least if you know where you’re gong to live, it is possible to know if you’re renting nearby when you sign the lease. This time no corporate apartment in an inconvenient area. Get a nearby rental house this time, and rebuild this time. Make it as fast, painless and finished as possible. I’m not sure I regret how I made my lemonade over the past two years, but the litmus test for any choice is “Would you do it again?” Right there in that moment, drawing closer and closer to a plume that could turn out to be my own? The road was long. The answer was “no.” For that house at that time, maybe my decision was right, but I hope I never find out what it would be if it happened again, and I hope you, dear reader, never have more than a passing interest in what your decision might be either.

And, More on Hard Wood

So, the particulars of the flooring salvage on a technical level were this: You rip off any remaining carpet that has been laid on the floors and then you take off the molding, doors and other things that get in the way. You loose a bunch where you start. You have to rip into the tongue and groove somewhere and that’s where you loose a couple, or more likely several rows. Russ got pretty good at minimal loss. He used a big yellow four-foot heavy-duty wrecking bar. He actually used four of them because the first three bent. Manufacturers have made a fine science of using the minimum resources required in production. With this tool, Stanley missed the mark. It was made for our purpose and he used it properly, but they were consistently not up to the job.

When pulling the wood up, it helps to slide the bar in near the nail if it’s not too tight, and to move down with a gentle sliding motion. The trick is not to pull too high, hard or fast. The mighty oak breaks, and then it’s not such a great salvage product. Russ turned out to be great at it and improved with practice. I pulled nails and moved wood.

In a project like this there are always the unexpected problems. We expected to get the house that we were putting the floors in sooner than we did and when that didn’t happen we stored salvage wood from the first demo house on palates at the lot where our old house had been and wood from the second demo house in a garage at the apartment.

Planning is always a cost saver, regardless of whether you are talking monetary costs or any other kind. With demo houses that were on the block and a reno house that had an unpredictable, even questionable closing date, planning was nigh impossible. I had my hands on each board a minimum of 7 times, so anytime we had to move them again from one place to another, I was thinking and talking about efficiency. I’m pretty sure Russ didn’t want to hear that nearly as often as I brought it up. My natural state is pretty Polyanna, but when I’m stressed my strong analytical side can stick like a thorn.

I mentioned the job being bigger than both of us in the last post, and then left it hanging for six weeks before posting this. The truth is, that for most of the second demo house I was certain that the end result would not be worth the hardship we experienced. Russ got sick working in the house, I don’t know if it was heat, stress, or viral. My uncle was nearing the end of his life, and one thing I had usually been able to do in the past was to spend enough time being around for people I care about at important times. No matter where I was I felt like I should be somewhere else.

The choice to do the floors the way we did wasn’t really unusual for us, so it wasn’t just that we were trying to economize after loosing so much in the fire. We are always frugal, always trying to make something beautiful out of nothing and always trying to make environmentally friendly choices. Respecting the resource and salvaging the mass and energy it represents felt good on a fundamental level, but I wouldn’t be fully forthcoming if I didn’t admit cursing that we made those choices more than once during this project.

Many of the things we bought for the future house at a bargain were not reachable because we had amassed quite a store with precious little space to hold it. Things were stacked on top of things, not always by the same person and not labeled, as they would have been if we had the crystal ball that would have let us know that nothing would happen quickly. We had to buy some things again in a rush and at full price. There was a huge bag of paintbrushes that we found at a thrift store and I believe they were stolen out of our garage one day when we failed to notice that the safety tripped and the door didn’t close. It seems such an odd choice of things to take that I wonder if we lost other things that we haven’t missed yet. The lack of organization brought me to my knees on more than one day. Our plan was to organize early and stay organized, but with the delays in getting the house in the first place, then the delays with cleaning and treating the mess left by the owner, we never were able to get out in front of things.

As soon as we got the sealing and prep done, we installed the flooring on the first floor just as we had acquired it, one piece at a time. We’ll do some “how to” articles to, hopefully, save any readers from our mistakes. Russ rented the sander and we didn’t use it. It was not made for someone his height and we were afraid of failing to get it right while at the same time actually damaging his back. We ended up hiring someone to sand and finish the floors. We were glad that we did. We needed the breather and they turned out beautifully. They even ended up being completed on the same time frame.

I like these floors much better than I would like carpet. I can keep them cleaner. I like to look at them better. I appreciate them. As I accumulate new antiques, they will look like they belong on hard wood floors. A fine antique sitting on wall-to-wall carpet really bothers my eye as being out of place. We couldn’t have made a hardwood choice without the salvage component. It’s just too expensive, and we wouldn’t have been preserving a resource. We wouldn’t have gotten the long 12, 16 and 19 foot boards with new materials either. Those long boards are a nice feature that we really enjoy.

I, we, like everything about having the floors. But then there is the telling question. “Would you do it again?” I don’t know. I highly recommend it for others for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, but also, if for no other reason than as a right of passage, or maybe just to truly understand how hard some people work. You know, walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins.

Our experience was mostly good. We were really getting into the first demo house, but the second one was just plain “grin and bear it” work. Doing it gave us enough wood to probably do our upstairs and I’m not at all sure we could have finished the full first floor if we hadn’t done it, but that second house weighed heavily on us. I’m going to love having these floors and I’m going to be glad we did it. The pleasure of living with the floors that we wanted will last and the memories of the unpleasant parts will fade, but to do it again, I’d probably want a much more controllable situation with less uncertainty and less deadline pressure. I’d want an organized base of operation and I it’s likely that I’d be more comfortable downsizing so the project would be smaller. But then I wanted those things for this project too, so for now, I’m just going to take a deep breath and move on to the next project.

Hard Wood

I was cruising Craigslist one day thinking about the thick 1950s knotty pine paneling that a friend of mine ripped out of a flip several years back. I gasped when she told me she threw it away. I thought there might some other renovator out there who had the wherewithal to keep theirs out of the landfill. That’s when I found the Savvy Salvager in Avondale Estates. She was working with a builder who was about to tear down some mid century ranch houses and put up newer ones, connecting people like me with the resources we wanted to rescue/salvage. There was knotty pine AND there were hard wood floors. I had been thinking of installing bamboo floors in the new house to get a look similar to hardwoods without the cost. There is also the fast growth rate of bamboo, making it a quickly renewable resource. Re-use trumps quickly renewable resources though and there’s the lasting beauty of wood. If we ripped it out ourselves, actual vintage hardwood was also the least expensive option. We made an appointment and went down to see the house.

I was definitely willing to do the work to get the knotty pine, so Russ and I talked about the floors. The purchase price for access to the materials was attractive, but the success of our outcome was an unknown, so it was a risk. The closing on the house had become uncertain as well, so there was risk on top of risk. We do a lot of things, but we had never demoed something on this scale, or for re-use. Taking it out carefully so it is both pretty and functional was the newbie challenge.

I thought the floors would be a “Russ” job. I said that I would support him however I could, but that I realized it had to be his decision because he’d be doing the work. Russ took the leap of faith, but the job turned out to be bigger than both of us.

Working in Avondale Estates and with the Savvy Salvager was the fun part. I loved her job and would still like to find someone on my side of town to work with in the same way that she does in her area. There is a small neighborhood radio station “AM 1690 Voice of the Arts”. We bought a battery-operated radio because the power is always turned off in a demo house. We listened to 1690 exclusively and really got into our sense of place. It’s the only station I know that periodically plays a bird call (or a whale call). Travel is one of the great joys in life, and sometimes the best trips are not geographically distant.

Avondale Estates is also the home of Waffle House. Our favorite restaurant in town wasn’t Waffle House though. It was not a franchise, Palookaville, home of the world’s best Corn Dogs and adult only milkshakes. Before my first visit I didn’t even like the idea of a corn dog and I couldn’t imagine a milkshake with alcohol, but we knew we’d eat there often and having a reason to be nearby certainly didn’t dissuade us in our decision to move forward. It turned out to be the only place we ate, our exclusive after demo respite. They are famous for the dogs, but the Cobb Salad with Pine Street Market bacon was pretty sweet. The sandwiches are good too and there’s a thrift store on the other side of the parking lot that had some of the best potential I’ve found to replace some of my lost treasures, or to find replacement home goods that remind me of things lost and the people they once belonged to.

I had more trouble with the paneling than I expected. I had to call Russ in when I didn’t have the strength. It was the survival factor. Anyone can sling a sledge hard enough to break something, but it takes superior controlled strength to disassemble with a carpenter’s crowbar. Most of the paneling came out well, but a few pieces broke. I took the picture below when I came to the place where the bathroom medicine cabinet had been up against the paneling. Have you ever noticed the disposal slit for the old fashioned razors? Well here’s what happens.

When I finished the paneling, I became Russ’ helper. I started taking out nails. They were cut nails, big sturdy nails that look a lot like a horseshoe nail. I hammered them backwards and a few would fall out, but I had to grab most and pull with the claw or pliers. One person told me they used a saws all and left the heads in the boards, but I have the slow cooked mindset of someone who will put thousands of hours in a textile project. Sometimes I think I have a finer sensibility and sometimes I think I should value my time more like other people.

My job expanded. Russ, Avondale Estates, the project, the opportunity to thrift in a different direction on the way, my center of gravity was there. I’m not really sure how much help I was. My skill set and my physical strength were growing, but not nearly fast enough and it wasn’t cost free. I was working at the edge of my capacity, both physically and emotionally. There is no air conditioner in a house without power, no fan either, just stale abandoned house smell…at best. In the original scenario Russ was coming over alone after work most days, but it turned out that I went over while he was at work and we were there together after. It was my choice to expand my role, but the work was hard enough that I still felt like a failure. I did more and felt worse about it. Before it was all over, it morphed into Karen does whatever she feels like she can handle and Russ does all the other stuff. To the outsider it may have looked like I was in charge, but really what happened is that Russ let me do the parts I thought I could handle and then he made sure it all worked.

Our uncertainty about, and our commitment to the project intensified with every drop of sweat, every thick heavy cut nail. We still weren’t sure we would get the house we planned to put these boards in, or how many we needed if we did. The seller shut down access after due diligence. We expected a quick closing, so we hadn’t measured and assessed things the way we would have if we had known we were going to try to make decisions ahead of access. So, with all the unknowns and a need to be working toward something, we took another leap of faith and bit on the floors in a second demo house. The price was higher per square foot on this one though. The wood wasn’t quite as nice either and the demo date was more likely to be an issue. Our Savvy Salvager had been clear at the beginning that demo would not be held up if we didn’t finish, so the stress was on. The weather was warmer for this house and we couldn’t open the key door and windows that would have allowed for the best breeze. Russ and I each experienced a death in the family over this time period and moving forward was an act of unfocused determination, a half minded, single minded one foot in front of the other kind of march.


Our creative arts and re/up-cycling business is called Six Degrees because we really do see everything, in art, science or society (the universe really) as being inextricably connected.

Because the world is connected, because the bell tolls for me (and you), I said a prayer for Dr. Brantley and Ms. Writbol when I read that they were fighting Ebola in Libera and became infected with the disease. When I said that prayer, I had read that they could receive better care if they were flown out of the country, but that was unlikely because it was difficult to find people willing to transfer and accept them. My vague thought of where they might go (should they be allowed to go anywhere) was France or Germany, maybe because Europe is a little closer and some other international situations resulted in preliminary care in Europe before citizens returned to the US. I said that prayer before I learned that they were flying into my back yard.

I’m not doing a lot of reading right now or keeping up with news very well. I don’t know why I came across the article. When I learned that Brantly and Writebol were flying into Dobbins ARB, I thought about my temporary apartment under the runway approach. I can feel the vibration when the C5’s are coming in.

My 6 degrees of separation from a far away situation was quickly halved. When Ebola moves to your city, you very quickly think of how many handshakes are between you and the emergency response workers at Emory and the CDC. The distance shortens in different directions as well. I have friends who are pilots. Now that un-quarantined victims have made it on to international flights, they also have a level of risk that’s higher than it was before. I’ve been keeping up with the news pretty well these last few days. I don’t mind admitting that it has my attention on a different level now that it is so much closer to people I gave birth to.

There has been the occasional good-humored joke, but most of my connections on social media have been fairly quiet about the subject. Perhaps it is close enough to inspire a little loss of speech, or maybe there is some healthy respect for the situation. Maybe it’s more likely that I’ve just filtered my feed to my own personal taste.

On my NPR FB feed, there was an interesting post about Camus’ The Plague. I read the comments. someone accused the author of being over simplistic in their interpretation of Camus’ message. People are so prone to argue about Camus. They put him in categories, like existentialism, where he himself said he did not belong. I’ve only read the English translations, but I troubled myself to get the ones that troubled themselves to be very accurate rather than interpretive and it seems to me that Camus is pretty good at saying just what he means. I’ll come back to that.

It’s been a stressful few weeks. Life has been charging at us from every direction. Yesterday I spent 5 frustrating hours trying to do a ten minute job and then the day just kept on giving. I knew that organization would be crucial to us trying to move into the house quickly, but we’ve been trying so hard to step up the pace that it’s hard to put the time into organization, and the lack thereof is having it’s effect. Trying to learn ten or more new skills in a short period is enough to hold in your brain and there are the complications beyond our control. When someone returns a pneumatic nailer to Home Depot jammed and it goes back out on the floor to be resold still jammed, it is a risk and a delay that cost us another evening of work because the one we chose wasn’t in stock at any of the first three places we checked. We’ve had weeks of similar delays.

But there’s always perspective for anyone who cares to look. As of today, my problem is that I’d like a place to live that’s in the right school district, one that holds my stuff and my people, one that is clean, functional, up to code, has floor coverings and allows me to get back to my 6 Degrees work. You know, first world problems. And while I’m trying to keep all of this in my head and make a little progress I’m distracted by “The Plague”. It’s been a few years since I last read the book, but I found it inspirational, not depressing. Here’s a quote from the NPR post that shows why.

Of course, the answer isn’t always the one we want. But if Camus teaches us anything, it’s that even when tragedy is inevitable we have no choice but to look for that meaning and to find it in one another.
Just when it looks like the plague will destroy the entire city of Oran, it recedes, though not before it’s killed countless residents. Dr. Rieux manages to live through it; several of his friends aren’t so lucky. As Dr. Rieux says, of the plague’s survivors, “For some time, anyhow, they would be happy. They knew now that if there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love.”

To yearn for and sometimes attain human love, that’s what connects us all. Whether your problems are life threatening or just so completely frustrating that you’re at wit’s end, even after the plague, there is the capacity and the desire to love. The world is indeed a beautiful place.


We read a few suggestions on order of operations before starting our home renovations. I liked the one that started with painting the ceilings, then walls and finally addressing the floors. Part of the appeal was never needing to worry too much about where paint fell. I’m a messy painter. That didn’t turn out to be our method though. The floors were an ever blooming cacophony of pet smells, so we were required to start there, and stay there for a while.

Here’s what we did to the floors. First, we found a recycler and took the carpet and padding in. I say “we”, but that mostly means Russ, ’cause he’s the one man wrecking crew with the muscle. I was in charge of getting out the tack strip and all the staples because that was slower more detailed work. I took the tack strip out with a carpenter’s crow bar (Wonderbar, wrecking bar) and started on the staples that held the padding down (it’s okay to laugh) with an office style staple remover. I lasted a surprising amount of time with that little technique, but the remaining chunks of padding jammed it every time and eventually I got over my dislike for wrecking my wrecking bar with little dings and started shoving it at the staples till they came out. It roughed up my tool, but at minimum wage I could have bought several with the money I saved in time.

Russ ripped the floor out of the laundry/mud room. Even though it was vinyl, the room smelled and it had cement board sub-flooring as for tile. It was a real jewel to get it out. I came along after and pulled out the ring shank nails or hammered in the ones that lost their heads. There is a knack to it. As I went along, I figured out that if you are careful to make sure the nail goes all the way in the claw of the hammer as far as it can before yanking, the heads stay on better, and over time more nails were pulled and fewer were hammered in.

With now bare sub-floors, cleaning started. I don’t know if you know this, but, unless you hang around ready with the vacuum, those guys that lay carpet go straight from ripping out to putting the new stuff in with no regard to what’s on the floor. Ever since I learned that, I’ve made sure anyone who lays carpet for me knows that they will need to take a short break ’cause I’ll be there with the vacuum to make a speedy round in the middle. So, it wasn’t a complete surprise, knowing that the previous owner had 3 cats, to find kitty litter clay ground into the sub-flooring. I took a big stiff bristled scrub broom and scrubbed it out. I was a bit surprised to find kitty litter in places like the dining room though. It was everywhere. I can only guess that the kitty litter changed homes from room to room over time.

Russ wasn’t happy to find dozens of razor blades left under the carpet, primarily along the edge where they could cause more problems. Sandy dirt tracks from the dogs had worked through carpet and the padding making their favorite paths obvious. The combination of skin piercing implements with habitat wasn’t the greatest. I had updated my overdue tetanus when I got some deep splinters salvaging floors in Avondale Estates, so new scrapes and piercings were lower risk, but still, quantities of razorblades are a hazard to leave behind for the person who rips the carpet.

After a good scrub and a bunch of research we used some stuff called Odorzyne that we ordered straight from the manufacturer in concentrated form. It was supposed to convert uric acid to something not uric acid. Maybe it does. It was almost miraculous. I applied it with a back pack sprayer like those that landscapers use. It had a perfume that smelled a lot like Odoban and when the perfume faded the pet smells were mostly gone and the big spots on the sub-floor were gone or faded. Before Odorzyme, there were places like the coat closet that seemed to be odor free. But after the application, it became apparent that the “odor free” places were really just lower odor than the places that had been knocking us over. The instructions said to use two applications in tough places and the whole house got two coats. Some painters had suggested going up the walls with primer because of some pet habits. With 3 cats and two dogs it seemed likely that one of them might have had a wall habit, so I made sure to go up several inches. Russ pulled the molding because we’re going to install hardwood floors anyway, so we were able to get that area really well. Afterward we were so happy with the results that it was tempting not to prime. But, knowing that things like that could eek out over time, we were afraid not to. Once the hardwoods were down there would only be regret if we hadn’t taken care of the problem properly.

We pulled out the big guns to be really sure. After more research it turned out to be Zinnser BIN that seemed to be what most remediation professionals use to seal in odors from disasters like flood or fire. It’s some pretty heavy duty stuff. Russ read all the warnings, from comments like “Be sure to use a respirator.” To “A could just feel my brain cells dying with every breath.” The BIN deserves its own article though…

On some levels, I’m a little bit glad that the heavy perfume and overpowering pet smells didn’t signal the red flags they should have for me. I mean I saw the flags, but I just didn’t realize they filled the sky completely. I think I never would have bought the house if I had known how hard it was going to be just to get past the smell of it, and that once we did, there would still be so much work. I do think we’ll be happy with it when all the work is done though, and the pace of repairs will slow sometime… I hope so anyway.


Do you remember the movie with the three-legged dog named tripod? It’s my kind of humor that just goes ahead and calls out any possible elephants in the room to get them out of the way, and you can’t name a dog tripod unless you really love him just the way he is.

I had an experience with the fire that was like the ghost leg that the amputee feels. I was missing my tripod, the photographic kind. I really liked my tripod. It was an old style aluminum tripod that extended to nine feet high, and while it was aluminum, it was made before they started offering titanium alloys and thin walled aluminum tripods, so it was a little on the heavy, clunky side. I could set that baby down and it wasn’t going to tip over. I bought it second hand so long ago that I don’t really remember where, when, or even where I lived at the time, just that it fit me. It was nice and comfortable, like Linus’ blanket.

When everything goes, you think about the things that you really enjoyed having. I missed my tripod. I didn’t think about that I didn’t have any cameras anymore either, though they were much more valuable. I thought about the thing that would be harder to replace because that’s what you want to get back.

I was thinking about it every now and then. It seemed like I should have it, like maybe there was some reason it got saved, but I couldn’t really decide why I felt that way.I chalked it up to irrational feelings and bought another tripod in Goodwill to close the open thought loop. It was nice, but not the good fit I had before. At least it got the thing off my mind.

Some months after I bought my new-old tripod, I was talking to my son. He had borrowed my tripod, the favorite loved tripod that I thought I had lost. He feels the same way about that old thing that I do. If I hadn’t let him use it, it would be gone now. Generosity always pays off because it feels good, but I love it when it pays off in triplicate. I told him to bring it back next time we got together. He gave me a little fake pout and said “All right”.

Before I saw him again, the light bulb that had been dim for maybe six months now, came on. The Nikon, the Sony, the 3 Canons, several Kodaks, both Olympus, the underwater equipment and all the macro and micro lenses and filters and cases were no more. I called my son and said “Hey you know what? I don’t have a camera, so what need do I have for a tripod?” I told him he could keep it until such time as I did have a need.

It’s funny how feelings, like loss, can help you to miss the obvious. I’m looking forward to the time when I move into camera mode. It will be one of the clues that life is getting back to normal, when I can feel the luxury of being able to attend to what kind of camera would best suit my future uses. And when I do, I’ll trade my newer used tripod with my son and get Old Faithful back.

A Rollercoaster Named Overwhelmed

My writing has drifted out to sea in the rush to get the house ready for move in. For over a month, the floors have been a plague and we’ve had to go out of town twice for family funerals, one on each side of the family. We’ve also made other trips for other family obligations. “Hurry up and wait” has gone and any sense of order is just a lofty aspiration. Things bought for the house, the booth or the Etsy stores are scattered about the house like sprinkles poured on heavy by a child. As I am writing, I am thinking of the list of the things that we’ve done over the last month and I’m not really sure how we fit it all in, but I am sure why people are telling both of us we look a little short on sleep. This has been the year when people stopped telling me that I couldn’t possibly have children and a grandchild the ages of mine, and started asking if I qualified for the discount.

These are the times when I really question myself about how it is that I choose to do things, as in- never the easy way, but this time going about things the hard way wasn’t all in choice. A lot of the things that I thought would be the easy, low stress or expedient choices weren’t. It seemed reasonable to expect that buying a house would be less complicated, lower stress and a faster recovery than rebuilding the house we lost, but the housing market in our area is so strange now that it didn’t turn out that way.

There’s enough of a recovery going to keep prices fairly high. The recovery isn’t complete though and people have trouble qualifying for higher end houses they might have bought easily not long ago. That brings them down to my price range. My price range was always where I fit, but right now it’s also a fit for far too many other people. Since the fire, a house in my old neighborhood sold in week and another sold in days.

Almost everything has been just like that, longer, harder, more complicated…it’s really just a fairly standard renovation, with overdue maintenance and an unusually bad pet problem. The trips out of town have even actually helped. We have had time to assess how bad the problem is, how well different treatments have worked, do additional research and get some additional advice. If we had been left to do nothing but work on the house, we wouldn’t have done things as well as we have been able to. But, taking it all on at once has been pretty hard to swallow. It’s that we are trying to do as many things ourselves as we can combined with our little thrifty experiment.

Buying things second hand means getting them when you find them and storing them where you can. We are taking things over in small loads when we go to ease the moving burden, both in gas and in workload. Much of the stuff we have bought is “project” quality. We plan to transform it in some way before we use it. I’m pretty sure our new neighbors may be coming to think of us as the Clampett’s of Beverly Hills. First impressions being what they are… I’m joking of course. We’ve done a lot of yard work and they can tell that we are trying to take the worst house in the neighborhood and transform it into something better.

So there’s another day in the life… My goal for July: A house that we can move into, a writing schedule that’s regular, and enough aerobic exercise to keep my energy levels high and my stress levels low.

Closing a Door and Opening a Window

IMG_20140604_202753The first attempt to close on our house was put off for around a month while the seller got her paperwork in order. The second attempt was delayed because the seller’s moving van arrived just after we did for the final walk through appointment and the movers in it were greeted with “We don’t have enough boxes”. There were signs of packing since before we wrote the offer, but somehow that didn’t translate into finishing the job before either closing date. We gave her another three free days and took off for Memorial Day weekend. We had a nice but brief interlude with a night of primitive camping at a national seashore, a get together with one side of the family and a Memorial Day cookout with the other side. Refreshed and ready, (sort of) Tuesday it was time for the third attempt at closing. Would it be the charm or the strike out?

It was both. We did close, but it was not a happy day for me. The extent of the pet problem had been softened in my mind by the potential of the property and now I had to face the realities that the seller had not. A friend brought congratulatory flowers and surprisingly, they did not wilt on exposure to the house.

Tax records indicate that the seller bought the house as a foreclosure at a steal of a price, but I paid generously considering the condition and the contract said it was to be turned over clean. I didn’t expect spotless, there were too many renovations needed. But, I had mentioned my allergies to her agent in reference to the requirement since she was over the max HOA allowed number of pets and dozens of perfumed odor masking products were not equal to the task of making the place breathable. I break out in varying degrees of bright red welts on contact, so it’s not a euphemism or a cover for repulsion, comparatively small exposures have been known leave me swollen and tearful. We had plenty of cause to re-negotiate at both contract extensions, but I was tired of being unsettled and she (actually, her agent) knew it. I didn’t want to start over and wasn’t sure I had time to. We closed the deal, changed the locks and started to clean up the mess.

The problems were not small though. After leaving the house on the first day (when all we did was move trash off the carpet) I decided to wipe down my phone that had been sitting on the counter and hair came off in sheets like tissue paper.

During the actual final walk through I gave some clearly sentimental items to the agent for her seller and we put a 4-foot cat tree and some other things on the street and let her know they would stay till they were picked up, or till trash day. The seller never seemed to recognize the existence nor extent of her transgressions and she hasn’t stopped calling to ask for things that she didn’t actually leave behind.

The house wasn’t just covered with hair, dander, urine and even some dog food and cat litter, the seller unscrewed things like the bathroom mirror (an appurtenance, i.e. part of the house) while leaving things like a large box of spices. Things were strewn carelessly all over the house, mostly trash. She took appliances that were supposed to stay, even to the point of detaching those that were wired in under the kitchen cabinets, leaving the bare wires hanging. At the same time she left sacks of expensive toiletries. The consistency with which she took things that should have been left and left things that would cost her much more to replace (while costing us to dispose of) was pretty complete.

All that was distressing and I was uncharacteristically overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start and wanted to just leave, but I didn’t. I started to go through things and seek order. That’s when I found it, the thing that distressed me more than all the rest. It was basically a Molotov cocktail. What you see in the picture below is a 5-quart Pennziol jug full of oil (likely used, of unknown vintage) with a paper towel stuffed in the top, not happiness to find for a person who lost her last house to a fire. I took it out to the truck as soon as I photographed it and dropped it at Jiffy lube (the nearest oil change place) on the way home.
I wonder at the risks and carelessness people carry through their lives and how they never seem to have the self awareness to realize that the consequences they experience (if any) were their own making. Made clear by looking at her trash, the seller had plenty of money for expensive luxuries, but she failed to protect her biggest assets. She “couldn’t afford” to treat for termites to avoid potential damage, even when I offered reimbursement for that treatment at closing. Still, as I sat across from her at the closing table, what she talked about most was wanting to visit to the Ritz-Carlton. She liked to tell hoteliers that it was her honeymoon to get free stuff. I’m sure she wanted to escape her mess (and it’s not lost on me where she’s getting the funds to make this potential escape), but her desires and her ethics heightened my frustration having just bought that same mess. Still, I didn’t have the expected difficulty sitting across from her at closing. I giess there were too many new frustrations to replace the old ones. I had a vision of some lower amoeba like form of life that indiscriminately consumes without thought or consideration. She called just now asking for something she thought was in an empty closet, after failing to come get any of the things that were left out for her. I didn’t share my thoughts and I’ll try not to think too much about her overstepping, inconsistencies and lack of manners as I clean her filthy house and catch up on her overdue maintenance. Thankful to be finally moving forward, I’m getting ready to wash the inside, from ceiling to basement and seal it with a fresh coat of clean.