Archive for July, 2014


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.