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Start your new life by removing old wallpaper

4 Jul

On July 1, Aaron and I spent the first night in our new house. We’ve been working on it since Aaron got back from Paraguay from his second bug safari (as only I call it.) The day after we closed on the house he left the country, so there was no time to start the DIY process. Despite being born to parents who love to fix up a house, I am the last person to initiate a DIY experience: I will be part of the team, but if you leave it to me to lead, I will get overwhelmed quickly and run away. My last experience leading was in my first house, where after painting my cabinets before I moved in, I called in professionals to install my new flooring. When you’re not handy, nor naturally interested in the process, you lose steam fast. I do not have the stamina for home improvement to go it alone.

This time was different, as I am married to a man who has ALL THE TOOLS. And if he doesn’t have one, he will quickly size up the instruments needed and have said tool before I’ve located my painting clothes. Also, Aaron’s enthusiasm is unparalleled. Give that man a project, and he cannot be stopped. Sometimes I have to stop him because we’ve skipped dinner and I get grumpy when this happens and the reason is wallpaper removal.

Our homeowning journey began by getting out-bid for a completely redone house on a lake. Then I had to talk Aaron out of a major fixer-upper (as in needs a new roof, has mold AND termite damage.) But it was 500 square feet bigger than our current house and on deep water, as in you can drive your boat from your backyard TO THE OCEAN. Our hypothetical boat, sure, but the dream was hard to let go for my handy, dreamer husband. The neighborhood was not great, though, close enough to the interstate that you could hear the car noise from the front yard. There were too many negatives for me to volunteer to live in a construction zone.

Then we found it: A modest house on a canal in an idyllic neighborhood near the beach.

View from the backyard:

It’s a canal to nowhere, but it does count as waterfront property in the real estate listing. After the inspection revealed that our old (by Florida standards) 1958 house was in remarkable shape for its age, we realized this was our house. With only cosmetic changes facing us, I was much more at peace with this venture. “Let’s make it pretty” versus “let’s stop it from falling down” sounded much better to me.

Tropical Storm Debby threw us our first structural challenge after she peed on our guest room floor, as Aaron likes to describe it. After so many hard rains fell in a short period of time, some of it leaked into our house forming a sad little puddle. So that’s #1 on the to-do list before the rainy season delivers its next installment.

Battle wallpaper

One of the ugliest parts of the house was the bathroom. I’ve never seen wallpaper on a ceiling until this Mylar delight introduced itself. 

Brings new meaning to that phrase “look, something shiny!”

My first task was to remove this wallpaper to prep for painting. The shiny layer peeled off pretty easily, leaving behind the glue-y undercarriage that held fast to its squatter’s rights. After spending hours trying to scrape it off using water and a putty knife, we finally discovered this stripping gel that made everything go twice as fast. You spray it on really thick and let it soak in, then the paper peels right off. But I started getting spray cramps in my arm, so there was a price. Then we got the concentrate form which you mix with water into a garden sprayer and it goes on like butter. Now I was working at three times the speed, but in messy fashion: the gel drips everywhere: onto the floor, your face, your hair.

I finally got to the actual wall/ceiling:

Next stop was sanding the walls. Just to show you what a DIY idiot I am, I started dreading the laborious process of sanding…by hand…with sandpaper. Aaron then introduced me to the electric sander and that fascination with power tools men have? I GET IT. I felt like I was controlling a rocket that might launch at any moment if I didn’t carefully maneuver it to blast the rough edges off those walls. It was a little scary (as I had to balance on the edge of the tub or sink counter) but also invigorating. It was similar to when I took a self-defense class in college and the adrenaline led me to punch the padded man until my knuckles bled.

After a layer of primer, and three coats of white on the ceiling by Aaron, I painted the walls in the shade of “arctic stone,” which should be spoken with a British accent in my mind.  This was my first attempt at painting anything other than white on white, so I was thrilled.

I’m sparing you the boring photos of white-on-white action (which we did a lot of, particularly doors and trim, and walls that we learned through sanding had hidden wallpaper underneath. We pretended not to notice that. Just keep painting. Just keep painting.)

Aaron cut glass to fit the medicine cabinet nook, which he is building shelves for and will eventually place a mirror-covered door over. I know the flash-in-the-mirror is irritating, but the lavatory is small, and I’m tired.

Next I took on our bedroom–we’ve decided to embrace SoFlo beach living an do it all the way. Bright colors are happening: lime sorbet for the master suite. And by master I mean minor, and by suite I mean efficiency. You know, quaint.

Our bedroom suffered from an unfortunate wallpaper border, which I eventually removed using the magic gel. This photo was taken in the frustration stage (before discovery of the magic gel.)

Here I am after Aaron made me face the camera while painting (I resist posed pictures, but the other action photos are either out of focus or ineligible due to my vanity.)

I know the paint looks yellow here, but I swear in person it looks green.

Our favorite part of this house is the view from our bedroom window. My first two years of teaching I lived on a river, and my bedroom faced the sunrise over the water every morning. It was one of the joys of my time living there, so this feels very full circle (yet much happier.) Here’s the final product after move-in (with minimal unpacking and whatever pillowcases we could find):

See it’s green when it dries, right? Also note the upgrade in blinds, which will be upgraded again (the ones behind the bed will become vertical also to filter more light on those days I don’t have rise at 6:00 am.)

Rising each morning takes courage for some of us. When faced with the laborious process of removing the wallpaper, it often seems too much. Easier to paint over it, to use a “hack” to find a way around it. Eventually this catches up with us, and we are faced with hours and hours of stripping ourselves down to raw. But by finding the tools to remove the often tacky masks we wear, we find our confidence. That shiny exterior we thought was fooling everyone was fooling no one. It was always too much; people were just being polite when they said it was “interesting.”

But it takes time to get to raw, and it happens one day at a time. Sometimes you thought you were painting over paint, but it turns out to be wallpaper. It’s okay. Take it one room at a time.

The Austrian Penpal

17 Sep

Last week I returned to Richmond, VA for a few days to do a final cleaning of my house and to reclaim my car (which I spent all of Monday driving 14 hours in from VA to SoFlo: a drive that is about 300 miles too long).

The weather in Virginia was 70’s-blue-skied happiness. The entire drive once I got deep into the Carolinas: sunshine for miles (and miles and miles and miles). Even the Sunshine State lived up to its name.

Then Tuesday happened. I woke up to the reality of tropical climate during hurricane season. Meet our parking canal:

No, that’s not my car, but a brave soul in an SUV trying to drive through a river. I gasped as I watched this from my balcony. Then promptly snapped a photo.

Here’s my parked car as another nearly hits it trying to navigate the canal:

Our friendly Haitian waste management professional told us one of the ground level apartments in another building had water filling half their apartment. Thank you, second floor!

And that concludes today’s weather segue. And now  I give you the first half of 9/9/10: a day so overstuffed that it needs two posts. I tried it with one post, but even my attention span couldn’t keep up.

Mission: Drive to DC to meet childhood Austrian penpal Sabine for the first time EVER. (Condensed backstory: we wrote back and forth starting in the fourth grade until college, then lost touch. 15 years later she found me on Facebook. A year and some months later she conveniently went on a two week vacation in the US which included a stop in our nation’s capital that overlapped with my return-to-VA-to-clean-my-house mission.)

The Complications: Apparently my Verizon Wireless plan doesn’t allow me to make international calls, but it can receive them from Austrian cell phones. So, super convenient. This thwarted our plan to meet at Potomac Mills just hours after I landed at the Richmond airport, as I missed her first call. Several attempts to call, text, Skype her later, I learned I didn’t have enough Skype credit for transatlantic chat. An awkward conversation with the State Plaza Hotel desk clerk led me to realize I didn’t know Sabine’s husband’s first name (under which the reservation was listed). Bless the kindness of this man, though, he read every German-sounding name on the guest register.

You know when you feel like a stranger is going to do anything to help you? Well, I stopped just shy of giving a “this is one of the moments in the movie when…” speech ala Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the nurse in Magnolia. Luckily, Sabine called again just in time.

Plan B: Have breakfast at Sabine’s hotel Thursday morning before she and her husband begin the drive up to New York and eventually Canada to round out their North American journey.

The Strategy: Leave soul-crushingly early. Washington, DC, according to Forbes Magazine, has the worst traffic in the US. Atlanta comes in second, as its sprawl can’t quite compete with that of Spin City. After consulting with my friend Alex, a home-grown resident of Northern Virginia, I opted to drive to the Franconia Metro station and take the train into the city.

After waking from my friend Carrie’s house at 5:00 am, I was on the road by  5:20 after a gas and coffee stop.

Sidenote: the coffee at 7-11 is now bad again.

I met my share of brake lights on the road, but I arrived in Springfield pretty close to when I expected, though a few minutes behind.  I parked right next to the entrance, thinking this would make it easy to find my car upon returning later that afternoon. Stay tuned for how that went in my next post. The time of metro ride + walk to hotel  was unknown to me and I did not want to have another international missed connection, so I switched into hurry mode. I locked the car door, walked briskly behind the crowd headed for the platform, and dashed inside the station. Within two minutes I’d purchased my fare card and was seated on the departing blue line train. Just as I heard the I’m pretending like I’m covering a sports game announcer note that the next stop was VAAAAN DOOOOORN Street, I realized I didn’t look to see the numbered section of my parked car. This is back when I thought parking near the entrance would save me.

Austria meets America: Sabine and her husband greeted me warmly in the lobby of their hotel. It had been a while since I’d been to Europe, so I found myself caught in the cross hairs of one-kiss-or-two confusion, but they were very gracious. Sabine’s English is quite good which combined nicely with my non-existent German. Danke!

As we sat down for breakfast, Sabine presented me with the first letter I ever wrote to her: it was fashioned on orange construction paper, laden with photos and accented with stickers. I took pictures of the letter, Sabine’s husband took shots of the two of us posing with the letter, and tragically I cannot post them due to a memory card formatting error. [Insert apology to my friend Carrie, whose camera I borrowed to document this encounter after leaving mine in Florida. Her photos were also victims of my HP inexperience. You should probably not let me borrow your camera unless it’s a Canon.]

Sabine and I started writing to each other as children; she lived in the magical land of the Alps. You might be thinking of this:

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music

The hills are alive! But only in America. While many of us associate Austria with amusing children donning clothes made out of curtains singing to escape the Nazis, Sabine never even heard of the musical until college. I love perspective.

Trying to present my life in small town Virginia as interesting proved difficult when I was 8 years old. It took me months to write back after that first letter; I waited until after a trip to Disney World and a big snow gave me something photo worthy. I felt like the snow might help connect us. Wasn’t I cute with that? Strangely, it ended up being my “insignificant” small town that reconnected us 25 years later.

During the 2008 election, Sabine was watching the news in Austria and there was a story on my town saying how Obama probably wouldn’t do well in the area because it was so conservative. (FYI, my county went 68% for McCain). She saw this story and the day following the election she searched and found me in the social networking universe. Almost two years later we met in person for the first time. Sabine said to me at breakfast how big the world seemed when we were kids and how small it has gotten as adults.

I used to resist this change–I preferred hiding inside my private thoughts, my private world. It’s easier, safer, to live inside yourself, but you miss connecting with others, and in the end helping them by sharing your experiences. So something that could’ve been a school project that ended in college, has now turned into what I hope will be lifelong communication. Sabine’s a journalist for a newspaper with the highest circulation in Austria and she brought me Mozart chocolates!

Hopefully when Sabine returns from her vacation she will email her pictures of our meeting and I can post them, because the letter/collage/bad art project is something to behold.

Since I don’t have pictures of my penpal reunion, here are some more of Ramona. Her blog is still inactive:

“I’ve got your wedding present right here!”

Stay tuned for Part II of 9/9/10 with hot topics such as a parking garage and Ikea. Just try and stay away.

This Side Up

1 Sep

It’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post. It feels like 2 years. Since then I got married (more on that later), moved my house into a truck, rode 15 hours with new husband + cat, then moved everything into a 1 bedroom apt in South Florida. Happy honeymoon!

Because of the marriage referenced above, people started calling me Mrs. DIFFERENT LAST NAME. They text it, they write it on cards; my own father called me my first morning as a married woman and I thought to myself does he think he’s calling my mother-in-law? All you married ladies who changed your name: you feel me.

I haven’t legally changed my name yet, just on Facebook. It’s my baby step into stranger-in-a-strange land: Kara, the Florida years.

Back to moving: the one thing I can actually remember from the past week and a half. All of you know what a punch in the face moving is: I will not bore you with this news. What I might be able to offer insight into is the jarring reality of hauling mattresses and other unwieldy items coupled with 15 hours of interstate  immediately following your wedding.

Things got off to a rocky start when my husband sliced into his hand with a pocket knife while trying to open packing supplies (at this point we had loaded one thing onto the truck). He is normally quite skilled with said knife, so this was starting off to be one of those days.

Husband (calmly): Kara?

Me (upstairs boxing up the bedroom): Yes?

Husband (still calmly): I think we need to ….(muffled by music playing)

Me (heading to top of stairs): We need to what?

Husband (calmness slowly dissipating): Go to the emergency room. I cut my hand. I think it’s really bad.

Me (frantically runs downstairs to find husband’s arm/hand covered in blood): Oh, you are not kidding.

In the mad dash out of the house, we didn’t notice the something went terribly wrong at this residence trail of blood left outside and on the door of my house. My brave friend later cleaned this up when she went over to help with packing while we waited for three hours in the emergency room for my husband to get stitched up; don’t worry, he’s projected to heal up nicely.

Think about how helpful it is to have two full-functioning hands when moving. Now picture me with my one-good-handed-husband trying to load furniture onto a truck, already at a 3-hour defecit. It was disheartening to say the least but we took it one box/table/bookshelf at a time. Thank goodness Aaron once conceived of a Lady Gaga Halloween costume for me; as a result, we had a GIANT roll of bubble wrap.

Finally during the desperate last hours, we called more friends in (who called more friends in) and we got the house packed and truck loaded. We got by with a little help from our friends.

The last thing we packed was Ramona, the brave cat. She was already stirred up from being banished to a room after too many sneaking outside to snack on plants escapades while the door was propped open. Even after we released her from her carrier into the cab, we heard long periods of meow, meow, meow, meow, meooooooooooooooow,  MEEEEE OOOOOOWWWWW!

Translation: Why ON EARTH are we moving into a truck?

Eventually she settled in and made herself right at home in a southern North Carolina hotel room that night. The rest of the trip she seemed to trust us, but occasionally she sought refuge beneath the seat during the heavy downpour we drove through. Ramona says safety first:

Here is Aaron driving our Budget truck: he drove the entire trip (my hero!). Please note the bandage covering his moving day wound.

After getting a few winks at the Super 8, we were on the road ALL DAY Friday. I wanted to get excited once we crossed the Florida line, but it’s like running a marathon and celebrating at mile 14. Despite the long haul, we were in fairly good spirits: we were newlyweds after all.

We arrived at our new apartment around midnight. We agreed to unload the truck in the morning and sleep on the sofa bed; we were reveling in how we’d made it through the week still speaking to each other. Still smiling, even.

And then after days of exhaustion, we got into a fight over toilet paper.

I climbed into the precariously packed truck to get towels and sheets (not fast enough for my I just hit the wall husband though). Once I realized the toilet paper was still in the truck, I wanted to go back for that too. He disagreed. I headed out for the truck. He followed me (aka his princess wife who’d like some TP) and jumped in to find it. Because he was better at everything than me.

I felt like he was making me look stupid.

He was convinced I was purposely getting in his way.

I was upset to spend our first night here under such duress.

He was tired.

I took a bath (because we couldn’t find the shower curtain) and afterward we discussed our first real fight. We blamed sleep-deprivation, made peace, and promptly fell asleep on the sofa bed he had moved in before the wedding.

The next morning starting at 8:30 we began unloading the truck with the help of Aaron’s very French colleague and fellow termite researcher (thank heavens for him!). After two hours of sweating, grunting, and stairs, our living room looked like this:

It was too much for Ramona so she covered her eyes:

I was suffocating a bit from the chaos so I cleared a tiny bit of living space:

The rest of the apartment felt like this:

And it looked like this:

At this moment my new husband returned from the grocery store (he was getting us lunch). He asked me to come outside and re-enter the apartment with him. He handed me a dozen roses and lilies and a bottle of wine (and he doesn’t even drink). He looked at me and said  “Kara, this is our first real day in our new home.” I got tears in my eyes and this is what I now look at when I walk into the living room:

After pausing briefly to acknowledge the moment, we celebrated our 1 week anniversary by taking a 4-hour nap on the sofa bed. It was perfect.

Later that night after rearranging furniture and unpacking essentials like the coffee maker (and the coffee), we assembled the bed and slept on our wedding gifted, 500-thread count, Egyptian cotton sheets. Movin’ on up, indeed.


I think like the Urban Dictionary

14 Aug

The first time I arrived in the Ft. Lauderdale airport back in January, there was a giant sign:

“Welcome to South Florida!”

I immediately thought “Welcome to SoFlo!”

I’ve lived in Virginia all my life and never thought of Florida in north and south terms until that moment in the airport. I’d never heard anyone abbreviate it like that, so I thought I was clever, maybe even original.

In the same way people think their bee pun is original when they find out about my fiance’s hobby.

In my delusion, I was ready to recommend a new marketing campaign for South Florida.

Go West, young man?

No, Go SoFlo.

Just look at the name of this blog: I had fallen hard for SOFLO. But not until today did I decide to investigate whether or not anyone else uses this abbreviation I’d never heard before. No surprise to any of you, I’m no original.

Top Google hit was Urban Dictionary. The intriguing part about this is that three entries down is the adjective form of the word, meaning a person who possesses a certain “social fluidity” as a result of spontaneity. It mentions people who are into music, dance, skateboarding. And if you keep reading, it mentions that the line between possessing soflo and con artisty is a fine one. Excellent news.

A few hits down I found Your Resource for Florida Indicators and they actually bagged the URL SoFlo.org. Indicators was such a broad word to me, so it took some reading to figure out what they actually do on this site, but it’s Florida Atlantic University’s bank of resources on the regional economy, etc. It’s intelligent, classy SoFlo. Things are looking up.

Next hit was for the SoFlo Skate Shop in Miami. Grungy font, edgy photos, spray-painted t-shirts? Dude, yes! The web store is “under construction” and directs you to “check us out on MySpace!” This is where you learn that the owner claims to be an 84-yr-old male. FYI, his status is “swinger” and his body type is “excess baggage.” Ladies?

And finally we arrive at SoFlo Apparel, whose mission is to bring the “swagger and attitude of South Florida and the East Coast to the rest of the nation.” Their newest item for 2010 is this electric blue shirt.

And while they take pride in their “extreme sports background,” they do not discriminate. As long as you are “living life to the fullest” and “loving every minute of it,” you too can be a part of the SoFlo family.

And so I remove my cynical hat and you know, chill. After all I can be spontaneous, flirt with adrenaline rushes, dance, and work a room in most social situations. In fact, armed with a little soflo, I might fit right in.

(Especially if I wear that shirt while blasting this Icehouse classic.)

Shredding my memories

7 Aug

I have lived in my house for going on six years. This is (other than my childhood home) the longest I have lived inside any structure. As a kid we moved once when I was 8. From one house in a small town to another house in the same small town. I mostly remember going through stacks of World magazines with my sister in her new room while we waited for the movers (who were my Dad’s poker buddies) to bring in our clothes. Starting in college, moving became part of my life. It went something like this:

Fall 1994: Mom and Dad drive an overly packed Suburban (thanks, neighbors for the lend!) to college. I see Dad tear up through the rear view mirror as we near the campus. (I didn’t see that again until he and I pulled away from his childhood home when we left my grandfather there after my grandmother’s funeral six months later). I’ve officially moved out and even Dad’s choked up. This was going to be different.

Spring 1995: Move out of dorm, sadly leave all my new friends, move back home. Anti-climatic, but no less irritating. Moving = hell.

Rinse and repeat through Spring 1997. This was the year of epic moving. I moved out of my dorm end of exam week  (for one week) then moved into another Summer Leadership dorm. Moved out of said dorm and back home (for one week) and then into my senior year dorm Fall 1997. 4 times moving, one summer. And in case you haven’t done it in awhile, moving sucks. All the boxes and sweating and yelling at your family; it’s enough to make anyone disown you.

Spring-Fall 1998: Graduation! Yay! I’m a real adult! Moving out is triumphant! I’ll miss my friends, but….woohoo! More like boohoo. Enter mild depression for three months, lose 20 lbs. Move again. (Turns out being a real adult blew, and after brief excitement over buying a bed and a dresser, I had to work at the Olive Garden. Neverending pasta bowls still give me nightmares).  Live there for three months and decide to be a teacher, move again to take a job back near hometown working with children under the age of 7 (with plans to return to Richmond).

Summer 1999: Re-enter Richmond with a trailer of my stuff, this time for grad school: I’m going to teach high school English, people! Party time. Real adult was better this time; I was back in school with a plan.

Summer 2000: Move again (two blocks away). One of my two roommates (both with the same name, different spelling) moves out to move in with her boyfriend. The two of us left behind can no longer afford our rent, so we move into a Uhaul and down the street.

Spring 2001: Holding pattern of school is over, need job. Grad school graduation party thrown by parents ends with sadness. Jobless, directionless, but not homeless–have an apartment on my own & sign a lease…but before moving into said apartment, accept job teaching 1 hour away. Move into new apt. in Richmond for 2 months, then move again into house on the Rappahnnock River (well, an apartment inside a giant house). Third summer as real adult = another two moves.

Summer 2002: Wait, no Uhaul truck? Sure, I hate it here, but no moving? Totally worth it.

Summer 2003: Whoa, I lived in one place for two years. SO MUCH CRAP I NEVER THREW AWAY! Without the yearly purge, I was floundering. A trip to Goodwill solved (most) of my mini-hoarding issues. I had 4 closets in that place (storing and forgetting = cake). I moved back to Richmond to take a new an exciting teaching job at a brand new high school! (And I would advise the yearbook, oh shit).

Summer 2004: After a fantastic year of living in the Fan again, I had to um, move again. This time for good reason: I bought my first house! So exciting and yet another moving debacle, but OMG, I’m a homeowner. Debt and responsibility ensue. Game nights, dinner parties, and I ended an 8-yr relationship while living in that house. Real adult x 10.

Summer 2010: It’s six years later and I’m trying desperately to get every little thing out of this house. I have tremendous friends and parents helping me go through an excess of memories. The photos of who I was, the 401K statements of what I could be, and the [insert where my friend tells me to shred all my memories and make new ones]. When you have a townhouse full of memories, you need to buy a shredder. So I did (with Target gift cards). I’ve spent the last week shredding (and unjamming said shredder), but at some point when you’re moving to Florida to start a new life with the love of your life, you don’t want to carry all these burdens with you.

Memories are embedded in my brain; I don’t need physical tokens to feel them, be them. Every step I take is on the heel of a past experience. I once thought that experiencing a fire would help me to separate myself from my possessions. Not that I wished for my house to catch on fire but I did think of the positives of such a tragedy. Then of course I met people who lost everything in a fire and I’m marrying someone who lost most everything to Hurricane Katrina. I am grateful I was not them. But the idea is still the same: as much as I love momentos and pour over them for hours when I find them, memory is deeper.  So I shredded and trashed far more than I thought I might. And it felt good. And then I was strangely emotional about an TV show on hoarding–while I don’t understand the depths of real-life hoarders, I understand the need to hold onto papers, to evidence of your previous life. It feels like you’re disappearing.

Thing is, you’re constantly reappearing in better form. Young Kara held onto everything. Young-at-heart Kara lets go in the physical sense and embraces the adventures lying ahead. Life will keep getting better the more you can release the past into the wind. I like to think of it as a warm breeze that comforts us when we need it, and cools us off when things are too hot. Like in Florida. Thank God above for the breeze or the humidity in SoFlo would knock me over. And ultimately, that’s me. Easy. Breezy.

Memories shredded, but I kept most of the pictures. Sometimes the breeze needs a visual.