DIY

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About two weeks ago, I looked into the living room and decided I didn’t like the brick fireplace very much.  My room is starting to come together, first with a light, sky blue paint for the walls, then a salsa red couch, a painting that my maternal grandmother bought years ago and I inherited and re-framed, as well as the rugs and throw pillows.  It’s a north-facing room and I love the way the colors pull the limited outdoor light into the space.

I knew we did not have the time or money to redo the masonry and I’m not a huge fan in most instances of opaque-painted brick (I’ve seen a few examples where it goes right but wasn’t comfortable with the high probability that it would go wrong).  Enter whitewashing: it lightens the brick but leaves the variation and texture intact.  I spent a lot of time browsing DIY and decor blogs and sites, figured out a general plan, and tried to figure out a time to complete the project.

Then, one day, I randomly decided to go ahead and prep the area with tape and tarps.  I’d planned to just do a test strip, but about two hours later, sent Arthur a text message with this picture:

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I may have gotten a wee bit carried away.

So that evening, I finished the brick and painted the first coats on the mantel.  By the end, what had originally looked like this:

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Instead looked like this:

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I’m still figuring out how to arrange everything on the mantel and such, but it really does brighten the room considerably.

It’s weirdly therapeutic to create a space for myself after so many years living in apartments and rentals.  It’s also a huge change to start and finish a project where I have a fair amount of control over the outcome.  I hadn’t realized how much the randomness of infertility treatments and the NICU (and the corresponding lack of control) had messed with my mind over the years.

Taking joy in creation is a wonderful new feeling.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  To read more or participate yourself, head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

 

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Home Improvement

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Well, I certainly didn’t plan to abruptly disappear into cyberspace, but holy heck, that’s what happened.  The short version: we closed on the house and commenced on a huge round of cleaning, painting, flooring, packing, and moving starting in early January.  Having never owned property before, I did not realize that all of this is really a much bigger undertaking that I had thought.

In two months, we have:

  • Replaced almost all of the upstairs flooring (it was ancient carpet, the previous owners had two large dogs and two cats, and we have allergies) and had professionals put in nice, water-resistant laminate
  • Painted three of the bedrooms ourselves to a nice, neutral warm cream color
  • Repainted a bunch of trim/doors in the upstairs ourselves
  • Had the kitchen and living room professionally painted as there were a lot of nooks and crannies that were going to be tough to do well ourselves (both were gray to begin with, which I know is really trendy right now, but it felt depressing to me – so now the kitchen is a very pale creamy yellow and the living room is a light sky blue)
  • Bought area rugs for bedrooms and the living room
  • New sofa and benches for the living room.
  • Installed various curtain rods
  • Packed up our old place
  • Hired and supervised movers for all the heavy furniture (we considered having friends/family help us, but we have a sleeper sofa that is horribly heavy plus a washer and dryer, and decided the risk of one of us throwing out a back was too high)
  • Replaced the dining area chandelier
  • Unpacked most of the bedrooms
  • Bought a guest bed

I love all of it, though!  It’s the first place we’ve lived that actually has felt like mine/ours.  There are a few less “fun” things to get done, such as hiring a handyman to get a little bit of the wooden siding on the front repaired now that the weather allows for it, but we’re making headway on that as well.

These days, we’re in the tough sort of “in-between” phase where we’re living in the new house but still cleaning out bits and pieces from our old apartment (our lease is up at the end of March).  We’re also unpacking and having a lot of those “wait, where is (fill in the blank)?!” moments.

Other than the moving/house, I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandburg’s Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.  I have mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, she has some really good advice about coping with life’s truly horrible moments and shares a lot of her personal story that I found moving and relatable.  On the other hand, it’s also very rah-rah, you can move through this, and kid/parenting heavy.  I found a lot of the advice about coping with an unexpected death like my brother’s good, but I know if I’d read this during my fertility struggles or when I was in the hospital expecting to lose my older daughter any day, I would have found a lot of it really frustrating.  I guess like most advice books, I’m taking what applies to me and leaving the rest.

I’m also finishing up Eve Schaub’s book Year of No Clutter and thoroughly enjoying it so far (though, be warned, near the end there is a chapter on sorting out her daughters’ baby things).  Schaub writes about her “Hell Room” – the largest room in her house that is so cluttered and full of stuff that she can barely get into it and so just closes the door.  As someone who firmly falls on the ‘packrat’ side of the clutter/decluttering continuum, even though I have not reached the point Schaub has, I still can relate to quite a few of the feelings Schaub discusses about dealing with “stuff”.  Schaub’s story about keeping a mummified dead mouse (!) because she wrote about it and now feels attached to it, however, was definitely not one of those moments (I hate, loathe, despise, and otherwise cannot stand dead critters in my living space).  When she talked about craft projects that she saves and never gets to but can’t bear to throw out however…well, my mind went guiltily to my fabric drawer, stuffed with un-finished sewing projects.  Given that we’re in the stage of trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss, though, reading the book has been a bit of a companion in the stress of trying to deal with the “but I might NEED IT SOMEDAY!” moments.

This post is part of Microblog Mondays – if you want to read more posts from other bloggers, head on over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

A Little Overwhelmed

Christmas was a study in contrasts.  The day itself was quite lovely, restful, and calm.  Spending the day at home with my parents, we opened presents.  We relaxed.  I cooked a beef tenderloin and made a chocolate cheesecake that actually turned out beautifully.

The next day, I had plans to go to Arthur’s family in the morning (they live about an hour away from us) so the girls could play with their cousins, then Arthur would join us in the evening after work for gift exchange and time with family.  I arrived at the house, got the girls ushered in, and started talking with the adults.

Arthur’s middle sister MC recently got engaged with a wedding scheduled for the summer.  I knew MC was – naturally – excited about the wedding.  To make conversation, I asked her how things were going and about plans, etc.

I did not expect to be asked to be a bridesmaid.  MC and I have had some conflicts on and off over the last year or two, and I figured that she’d have friends and Arthur’s two other sisters to round out the bridal party.  MC asked if I would sing and if E would be a flower girl.  I told her yes, of course, and then asked if she had picked bridesmaids’ dresses and such.

Socially awkward introverts’ worst nightmare ensued: a smooth sailing, seemingly shallow conversation suddenly pitched into unexpectedly deep waters.  “Well,” MC told me, “SC [Arthur’s oldest sister] is my maid of honor, LC [Arthur’s youngest sister] is going to be a bridesmaid, my friend V, and, well, F.”

F, for the record, is married to Arthur’s brother D, so an in-law like me.  I sucked in a deep breath and tried not to react.  While I hadn’t been expecting to be asked to be a bridesmaid, I also hadn’t expected to be the only female in my generation to be left out of the wedding party.  I smiled, tried to be polite, and left the room a few minutes later with the baby to calm down.

MC followed me.  “Look,” she said, “I hope you’re not too upset about the bridesmaid thing.  I didn’t ask F just because she’s a sister-in-law.”

Ouch.

I’ve been with Arthur for around 20 years at this point, engaged or married for 15 of those years.  I’ve attended MC’s band concerts, events, graduations, and sent things to her at college.  It’s true that we’ve had a few moments in the last couple years – which I fully acknowledge to be partly on me – but to be told, essentially, “well, F is a friend and you…are just my sister in law” felt absolutely devastating.

It’s not even so much not being a bridesmaid.  It’s being close enough to hear all the inside jokes and far enough away to be left out of them.  It’s being the only female of my generation in the family photos that will be dressed differently and obviously not part of the group.  It’s that in Arthur’s family culture, this is a huge, huge slap in the face.

I spent the day trying not to cry.  When Arthur arrived, however, I lost it.  Seven hours of sitting on strong feelings was too much.  Instead of doing what I had planned, which was keeping things quiet and working it out later, I just felt the sobs pouring out of me and I could not bear to cry in front of everyone.  I ran out of the house and drove home, leaving Arthur and the girls to do the gift exchange and come home later.

Sh*t ensued.

It came out that at least three people had known about MC’s plans and had advised her that she would hurt me by making those choices.  Everyone is still insisting that MC didn’t mean to hurt me, that she’s stubborn and not as emotionally aware, but I’m having a hard time believing it.  I mean, MC is absolutely entitled to have whoever she wants in her wedding party, but she needs to own her decisions and not hide behind “oh, I asked you to sing and I never thought you’d be hurt”.

At this point, I’m just trying to take a step back and calm down a little.  There’s a lot of pressure on me to forgive, reconcile, and sing.  Truthfully, while that might be possible eventually, it’s hard to do when it’s all so fresh.

We closed on the house yesterday.  And it is glorious.  I am so, so excited about starting to paint and moving in.  A little overwhelmed, too, honestly.  To add to all of this, a driver rear-ended us yesterday as well, so creating another task.

So that’s how 2017 ended and 2018 is starting.  Lots of good, but plenty of delicate, difficult circumstances thrown in.

New Year, New House

We bought a house.

Not the beautiful old 1926 one.

I got in touch with the city engineer and confirmed the lead service line to the home was most likely intact.  While it’s worth noting that lead service lines are typically covered in scale that helps protect the water, there’s still a risk, especially if something changes with the water.  Arthur and I still, at that point were holding on to the idea of the house, but I went ahead and called the health department to find out what information they had on lead in the area and how to proceed.  The case worker on the other end paused.  Then she said: “Well, we haven’t been to that house.  But we’ve been on that street and there’s definitely lead.”

I listened as she carefully chose her next words.  “Sometimes historic houses aren’t the best for children that are as young as yours.”

The message came through loud and clear.  Don’t do this.

I talked to Arthur.  We emailed the realtor and decided to drop the house from our list.  It’s an amazing house, but there were so many major issues with it (furnace, AC needed replaced, we knew the electricity was probably outdated, and there were several other issues we knew about – all this prior to an inspection) and the lead was the final straw.  It was too much for us to take on at this point.

We started scouring the real estate listings again.  Two houses popped up on our radar in fairly short order.  Both were newer, one a 1986, the other a 1995.  They were in our desired location and we arranged to see both of them in one day.

We liked both houses and spent the rest of the day debating which one to offer on.  One had a daylight basement and the other had a basement but no windows, so we finally decided to offer on the daylight basement house.  Our realtor put in the offer and we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, our realtor called the listing realtor just before the offer was due to expire.  The other realtor was incredibly rude and said that we had offered far too low (reality check: we had offered around 3% under asking price) and they weren’t even going to counter.

“Forget it,” I told our realtor.  “We liked the other house just as much.  We spent the entire evening debating which one to make the offer on.”  No point in trying to work with a seller and listing agent who had no intention of taking us seriously and who, I suspected, could be trouble if the inspection turned up anything of note.

We immediately put in an offer on the other house.  The next morning, our realtor called us.  “Congratulations!” she told us.

The inspection turned up a few minor issues, but overall, it’s a good, solid house according to the inspector.  We’ve got the mortgage arranged.  It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, but we’re cleared to close, and looking forward to doing so just after the new year.  With a few minutes to breathe, now I’m hoping to catch up on my blog reading!

Now we’re onto the fun of picking paint colors and preparing to replace carpets with laminate floors…

Housing Search: The Word ‘Plumbing’ Derives from the Latin Word for ‘Lead’ Edition

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We started looking for a house about a month ago.  It’s a tight market in our area, so we’ve seen about five or six houses in person along with closely watching the online listings and poring over the photos.  And of course, there’s this one house…

I’m sure anyone who has bought real estate is going “okay, where’s the ‘but’ on this statement?”

So, here it is: but it’s a 1926 house that’s priced a little over our current range and needs an entire new HVAC system among other things.

I love old houses.  Love the crown molding, love antiques, love the feel, love hardwood, love how unique old homes look, love bay windows, love the fact that an old house good enough to buy today is built well.  When we started looking, I immediately started checking listings in the historic neighborhood.  We saw the 1926 house and fell hard for it.  It’s gorgeous with big, airy bedrooms, the pretty trim, and as soon as I set foot in it, I was moving in furniture in my head.

Like I said, it’s priced a little above what we want to pay.  However, it’s been on the market for several months, and the sellers are ready to negotiate.  So that hurdle was largely overcome.  Arthur and I started talking about offering.

Then I did some research as we knew the HVAC system needed replaced and during that, discovered a few things about buying an old house.  We knew there would be repairs and remodeling work, which we were willing to do.  We knew we needed a cash reserve for the inevitable things that go wrong, which we could handle.  There’s often asbestos floor tile somewhere (not an issue as long as intact and not disturbed) which we figured we could manage or replace eventually.  We knew we needed to check the electric system (old houses weren’t built to handle modern electronic life), but figured we could manage that as well.

Then I was reading and discovered something we aren’t entirely sure we can handle: lead.

Any house built before 1978 in the USA generally has lead paint somewhere in it – the older the house, the more certain there’s lead paint in it.  Lead paint, I discovered, was used more on ‘nicer’ homes of the era because it has such brilliant colors and durability.  Meaning this gorgeous 1926 house almost assuredly has lead paint.  Apparently, lead paint can be covered and well maintained with few issues.  The problem comes if it’s on friction surfaces like windows and door frames (which can create lead dust when the window is opened or the door is open/closed), if it’s in the soil outside the house from outdoor paint (and tracked in), and/or if you have kids under the age of 6 (who tend to be more susceptible and who put everything in their mouths).

I also learned that the Latin word for “lead” is “plumbum” (hence the chemical symbol for lead) and so lead pipes and plumbing are a concern.  Lead pipes were used in houses, but even more recent copper plumbing can have lead solders.  The high lead solders were banned in 1986 and the amount of allowed lead reduced again in 2014 in the USA.

I dove down the rabbit hole with a vengeance.  Did some digging locally and discovered there’s a good chance the service line (the pipe that connects the house to the water main) could be lead.  Possible there’s still some lead piping in the house, though hard to say without an offer and a thorough inspection.  The windows appear to be original, so there’s a good chance those have lead paint.

We’re debating if we want to deal with this – if we would make an offer and get a lead inspection done and plan on abatement or replacement – or if we should just walk the heck away.  At the moment, I’m making calls to the city to find out if the service line was ever replaced (should be a matter of public record), talking to local lead inspectors, and putting in a call to the pediatrician’s office to get their take on things.

I’m starting to understand why all those home buyers and home owners on the HGTV and home improvement shows all seem to have constantly worried to panicked looks on their faces.  I’m discovering that all houses have issues.  The trick is being aware and picking the issues we feel we can live alongside or change.

If anyone has advice or lives/has lived in an old house, I’m all ears.

Want more Microblog Mondays?  Head over to Stirrup Queens to read more!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

Once Bitten…

Content note: breastfeeding

After my experience trying (and failing) to breastfeed E, I was determined that if I was able to have another baby, I was going to breastfeed.  I tried to set myself up for success when I found out I was expecting M, reading books and purchasing a new, high quality double electric pump (I wore out the motor on the one I used with E).  When M was born, I worked on getting milk supply established, making sure she had a good latch and was feeding well.  I was fortunate my body responded this time, and we were happy.

For the last seven and a half months, everything went well.  M loved breastfeeding.  I had a huge supply.  I froze lots, and ultimately wound up donating to the local milk bank when I overflowed the freezer.  I followed all the new guidelines that stipulated exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months.  I loved breastfeeding and figured we were set.

(You can tell where this is going.)

Then, about two months ago, the first little crack in that rosy picture appeared when, out of nowhere, in the middle of a happy nursing session, my adorable baby smiled up at me…and promptly bit down.  Hard.

M didn’t have any teeth at the time, so while I was startled and it hurt, I just let out a little “ow!” and stared down at her.  She, seemingly oblivious, resumed nursing.  I figured it was a one-off and didn’t think much of it.

Until it happened again.  And again.  And again.  Thanks to no teeth, it didn’t bother me all that much, and eventually M quit, right around the time she got her first tooth.

Then, in late October, M started biting again.  The situation escalated over about a week, culminating with Halloween, where she bit me seven times, including once that drew blood.  I did some research, concluded that I needed to keep a closer eye on her when nursing and watched her latch like a hawk.  She bit me one more time on November 1, then we reached a détente.  M nursed.  I watched.  It was no longer quite the carefree, cuddly experience from before.

The peace held until Tuesday.  M bit me once in the morning.  I unlatched her, set her down, and told her “no” soberly.  The next nursing session went fine.  I went to latch her on for the afternoon session, and M bit.  This time, she drew blood.  I yelped, took her off, waited twenty minutes until I could see her giving hunger cues, then I gingerly started to put her onto the other breast.

Within seconds, I was bleeding again.

Because I am nothing if not persistent, I waited until I saw hunger cues again, about fifteen minutes later, and tried again on the first breast.  Before I knew it, she clamped down, leaving behind a pair of bloody toothmarks.

I called the lactation consultant, who advised that I pump and let myself heal.

I went to nurse M again on Thursday morning, and found myself terrified.  I could not bring myself to put my breast in that mouth, which turned out to be a correct instinct as she bit her bottle over and over.  I went and saw the lactation consultant.  We figured out a few things, but the upshot is, as of today, M screams whenever she sees my breast.  She’s on a nursing strike.

It’s like a lock has sprung open on all those crappy feelings from infertility and prematurity and my inability to breastfeed with E.  A representative sampling: This is why you’re infertile.  You’re a bad mother.  You caused this to happen, you reacted wrong.  You aren’t trying hard enough, anyone can breastfeed.  You gave up too soon with E, you know that you could have gotten her latched eventually.  If you can’t breastfeed M until she’s one, you’ve failed and she’s going to have tons of health problems.

I know these are ridiculous, and also?  Totally untrue.  I also know something else from all the past struggles: I can set myself up for success and do the work, but sometimes, the end result is out of my hands.  The problem is, it’s hard to keep reminding myself of those facts.

I have given M eight months of breastfeeding.  I found ways to bond with E that had nothing to do with nursing.  We are all going to be okay, regardless of the outcome, regardless of if I manage to get her back on the breast, or pump and feed for the next four months, or wind up formula feeding.  In the end, fed is best.

But right now?  The whole thing bites.   

Pondering

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I’ve found myself reading mystery novelist Louise Penny a lot lately.  When the news and the world is horrible and dark, her novels are calming, a refuge of sorts, just like her fictional village Three Pines that can only be found by those who are lost.  Penny’s novels don’t deny the darkness, nor do they minimize or turn away from the ugliness found in human nature.  Penny does, however, present an alternative vision of genuine kindness and deep determination to do right in the face of unspeakable injustice and crimes.

Last week, Loribeth at The Road Less Travelled wrote a lovely piece on how we teach people to suffer (she gives a wonderful answer).  It’s been in my head for the last week because it is such a difficult, pertinent question.

As I was finishing up one of Penny’s novels and reading the acknowledgements section, I was struck by what Penny wrote of her own life during the time she worked on the book: “Michael [her husband] has dementia.  It has progressed, marching through our lives, stomping out his ability to speak, to walk, to remember events and names.  Dementia is a marauder, a thief.  But every hole it drilled has been filled by our friends.  By practical help and emotional support.”

It is the final part of her thanks that took my breath away: “I wrote A Great Reckoning with the peace of mind that comes with knowing I too am safe and loved.  And not alone.”

If I had to give an answer to the question of how to teach suffering, Penny’s words in the face of slowly losing her beloved husband are the best I could manage.  Create community.  Help find a way to let people know that they are safe.  Loved.  Not alone.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you’d like to read more, head on over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for hosting and originating.