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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.

Living in the now isn’t as easy as it looks

21 Dec

Google living in the now and you’ll find a slew of new-age sounding websites, one of which is actually named Radical Happiness, featuring spiritual teacher Gina Lake, author of several “books of awakening,” including

Living in the Now,

Embracing the Now,

(and in case you have anxiety about the now),

What About Now?

I’m not interested in such jarring happiness today, but thank you.

Less likely to recommend a raw food diet is Psychology Today who gives you six steps to the art of Now. I skimmed the article and it gives good advice but while I dabble in obsessing, I’m pretty good at savoring a moment. Actually, I might oversavor. But that’s another post.

I moved onto this UK Guardian article which claims we are happiest when we are present in the moment, not distracted, not daydreaming. According to a  study in the journal Science, we occupy nearly half of our time focusing on something else other than the current thing we are doing.

Except when we’re having sex. Then we give the task 90% of our attention. So even on the road to orgasm, 10% of the time we still get distracted by something else shinier.

And who told me this? Science. And you should believe science because they get paid just to be educated. That ALMOST makes me want to study science. I opted to pay for an education in words and marry science instead. So far it’s working out. As long as I live in THE NOW. Which I’m good at 90% of time.

My brain is a swirling journey of thoughts: sometimes they dart back and forth so quickly that it makes me dizzy; sometimes they meander through a field with some frolicking thrown in, and sometimes they jolt me awake like shock therapy. There is rarely a time when I’m not thinking something. Specifically overanalyzing something.

How it went. What it meant. What I should have said, done, thought; how I should have breathed, uttered, sighed, blinked, fidgeted differently.

This has been a detriment to parts of my life and something I reluctantly admit to having in common with Elizabeth Gilbert. I was finally making peace with this until I went to link to her website. She uses Comic Sans, and italic Comic Sans at that. How am I supposed to take her seriously now? I was so close, Liz, to being on your side. I still have a love/hate relationship with her memoir. Full disclosure: I ate and prayed with Gilbert, but didn’t get around to finishing the love portion, though do plan to this month. It’s only fair.

While I’ve been on the road to recovery from overanalysis for a couple of years now, I still struggle to live in the now as much as I’d like to.  I worry for example when the now will be over. And when it is, how will I adapt? What will I do when the euphoria ends? I’m often so busy preparing myself for the waning of happiness that I forget to consider it might be here to stay. Not every second. Not every day. But for the rest of my life.

Aaron and I get along extremely well. Too well, I feared. I kept waiting for that time when the dream would die. Then we read in The Five Love Languages that the honeymoon period lasts for two years. So we have exactly one year and eight months before we look at each other in disgust and dream of a better life.

Until then I’m pretty sure you hate us.

When we moved from Virginia to Florida, Aaron bought us matching “Virginia is for Lovers” aprons. As if that wasn’t barf-worthy enough, I baked a flippin’ pie.

My first pie: strawberry rhubarb. I don't even recognize myself here: Imposter!

I realize our circumstances are different : we moved 900 miles away from everyone we know. So at first, quite literally, we had only each other. So it was easier to be this gross.

I know plenty of women who define themselves by their food; however, I am not one of them.  I’m competent in the kitchen but if that’s all we’re measuring me by then better-than-average casserole it is!

But humility aside, that pie was damn good.

To keep things in perspective, here is something else that happened once we got married. This was Aaron on our wedding day:

And this was Aaron three months AFTER our wedding:

Do you think he’s trying to tell me something?

Someone’s been embracing too much of the now.

The very day this photo was taken we both got haircuts and Aaron shaved his beard for the first time since the wedding.

Hello, Michael Keaton's doppelganger

Shorter on the sides (Miami style)

The point of all these photos is to show what can happen when you go too far with this idea of “living in the now.”

If you take Aaron’s example, you could become a bear from the 70’s. If you take my example though, living in the now can stress you out. Right now I’m unsettled; I enjoy my new job but it’s tough making a new world for myself after being so deeply entrenched in my old one. If I fixate on the uncertainty of even whether or not I’ll have a job next year, I’ll never get past this. I have to both live in the now (and make it better, bit by bit), and look forward as to not drown in the disassociation one feels after being uprooted from a warm cocoon and thrown into an ice bath. It keeps getting warmer here, but when it’s still chilly I have to imagine the warmth; if I fixate on what happens in the imperfect moments, I’ll never survive.

And you know what Science has to say about survival of the fittest.

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.