Saturday, October 30, 2010

Where I Collide.

"She said in the 3 years since having her son, they'd only been out on maybe 5 dates. I mean...can you even imagine that?"

"Um...have we been out on 5 dates in the past 3 years?"

"...Well....Hm. Maybe you need to take me out more."


The windows are down on one of those perfect Arizona fall evenings when the sun is huge and golden and it almost feels like you're in the middle of some great harvest, and if you close your eyes those weeds in that vacant lot just might be corn. Rows and rows of corn, ready to be harvested for the last time this summer before bedding down for winter.

Not that we bed down for winter. Winter is when we open the windows later in the day and revel in feeling like we need a blanket at night. But first is fall, and with fall comes a sun that blazes golden, making the sky into a copper and  cerulean sundae, just before dipping behind purple mountains. Fall is when the car windows are rolled down and our hair blows in the wind and I look in my rearview mirror and see my son with his wheat-colored mop of hair and his peachy cheeks closing his eyes and turning his face to the outside world. Sucking in the wind through his nose and laughing in pure exhaltation. Even Luca, who can't stand the annoyance of wind in her hair most days, asks to have her window down on evenings like this. The feel-good vibe has taken over the car, and I turn up the radio just as The Clash is playing Should I Stay Or Should I Go and it's like this perfect moment of zen and bliss and life all in one. I turn the radio up and see Rohan in my reariew mirror, bobbing his head like he's on the fringe of a mosh pit and I'm excited he likes the music so I turn it up.

And then from the other 5-point harnessed passenger, I hear a few words I can't quite pick up, so I turn down the radio and ask Luca to repeat what she just said. She babbles for a minute about something unrelated and then I turn the music back up because I am fairly certain Rohan was really into this song, what with the apparent fist-pumping he's doing in the backseat.When Luca calls to me again a minute later, again I turn it down to ask what's up. She wants to make sure I know where I am going (when did she become the mom, anyhow?) and I do, and then I see Rohan shaking his arms to the beat and looking out the window, so I say to him, "You like this, buddy?" because I am just sure he's loving the music.

"Ayuh-pwaaaaane!" he answers back, hands extended and pointing out the window (not moving to the beat of the music) and face turned to the sky to see the plane (not to feel the pure joy of a good song + a fall evening's fresh air).

It's not necessarily that we moms want to lose that piece of ourselves, you know. It's more that between fielding a 3 year old's interrogation and realizing your 19 month old is more into 'ayuh-pwaaaanes!' than The Clash you kind of lose the ability to find the you that used to be. Fortunately, most parents would tell you the change is worthwhile and they don't miss rides alone in the car with their music blaring and the windows down that much. And most of the time, we even mean it. But once in a while....

I try to match his enthusiasm about the plane floating high above us in a twilight sky, and then I turn the music right back up and for a moment I ignore all chatter from the back row as I soak in the wind and the music and the feeling just for a second that the old me still lingers there, under a layer of mom.


This morning's mission was three-fold: laundry, time with the kids, and a clean kitchen. Unfortunately, Rohan's been having A Day all day, so mid-cleaning we took a break to entertain the possibility of a morning nap. It was only 9 a.m. but the beast had woken us at 5 a.m., so it wasn't unreasonable especially given his attitude to think he might want a nap. I took him upstairs and he curled into me and wouldn't let me put him in the crib, so I stood there rocking him. He wanted me to sing, so I sang the first song that came to mind (don't tell me Piano Man isn't the first song that comes to your mind when rocking a baby?), and when the song was over I stood silently rocking him, my right arm supporting his body and my left arm around his back, holding the weight of his heavy head. And from downstairs, where I'd tuned the TV's music stations to 'Reality Bites' I heard this song playing:

And suddenly, I was 31 and 17 at the same time again. I was me, and I was Mama, and I couldn't be happier to house both those people in my skin.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Turns Out, I Still Got It.

We're renovating our offices at work, which ends up meaning we're losing our conference room in favor of two more offices and also we had to work side-by-side with the guys who come in and blow out walls and drywall and paint. And by side-by-side, I mean to say that the fuckers had me pull my furniture from the walls so they could paint 5 feet from me as I attempted to work. So you can see, it's not my fault at all that I spent a good part of the last 10 days of work gossiping with co-workers, Facebooking, and staring into space. It was the paint fumes, I tell ya.

In the process of losing our conference room, we have had to get creative about having lunch together because in an office like ours we all tend to lunch at the same time. We had been gathering around a very small round table for over a week, until the painters were done and we could move the conference table off into a better spot so we could all eat around it again. Which lasted exactly one day, because on the very day we brilliantly realized the table could be moved to acommodate us, we got an email that someone had seen it on Craigslist and wanted to buy it, with cash, that afternoon.

We were eating lunch, musing over what the table would be used for. Probably someone with a business, was the consensus. The table would be moved from our old conference room into theirs. Looking at the table more closely now that it was about to be taken, I said out loud, "I wish I had a dining room. I'd take this table, refinish it, and put it with some interesting thrift store chairs. It would make an awesome dining room table in the right space." The collective group of my co-workers gave me the side eye, so I shrugged and went back to my salad.

Fast forward to that afternoon, and into the office stroll two guys who look to be early to mid twenties. I show them the table, they give me the cash, and I offer them some tools to help disassemble it. I wander back to my office, and on the way there learn that a few of the single girls I work with think one of the boys is cute. There's some discussion about how to flirt with him vs whether he might be married, and I say something about him looking too young to be married. The youngins in the office roll their eyes and inform me he's not young - - - after all, he must be at least 26! The HORRORS! Get that man a Medicaid application stat!!

A little later, one of my co-workers brings the guys back to her office, where they also haul away (gratis) two metal shelving units. She asks them, upon their interest in said very industrial, heavy, and seemingly useless things, whether they might be furnishing a new office.

"No," replies quasi-attractive maybe-26 year old. "I just bought a house, and I thought I'd refinish the conference table and put it in my dining room."

This is where I point out that the 26 year old (tops...I vote closer to 24) had the same grand plan for that table as I. Which means, for anyone too daft to pick up what I'm puttin' down, I am hip. Just when I was feeling old and frumpy and boring, turns out I Still Got It.

Beauty and the Beast

My husband is a high school teacher, and my daughter is in preschool at the early learning center on his campus. Today, the preschool is having a Halloween party, so the kids all got to dress up and at lunchtime the will Trick or Treat in the classrooms of the teachers who have a preschooler on campus as well as in the library.

In honor of that, here's my husband's costume for the day. I'm no makeup pro, but I'm fairly proud of the skeleton face I created for him.

Sadly, he wouldn't let me get in close enough with the face makeup to really color black around his eyes. Oh well.

*P.S.: "I totally freaked out the whole varsity football team. It was awesome."

Meanwhile, Luca changed her mind over and over regarding how she wanted to dress up. Finally, after debating between a pink and purple puppy or a green pig (...I don't know...) she opted to wear a Fairy Princess dress up costume as long as I promised to let her wear makeup too. Presenting, the Beauty to her Daddy's Beastly costume:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Look Who Stepped Into the '00s!

(As in, 2000s.)
(As in, I have a new cell phone.)
(As in, it takes pictures.)
(As in, I can email the pictures to myself.)

Friday, October 22, 2010


"Mama?" she says, as I buckle her carseat so her daddy can take her to preschool.
"Yeah, baby?"
"When I grow up, I want to be a Mommy just like you."
"Oh, I think that would make me very happy!" (It would. Grandkids! Someday. I think seeing my kids as parents will probably be one of the best things I ever experience, should I be so lucky.)
"And maybe...a wrestler too."
(from the other side of the car where he's buckling Rohan into his seat, my husband grins ear to ear)
"I think that's a fabulous plan, Luca."
"Ok, mommy. I love you."
"Love you too, tiger."


Ok, she can totally be whatever she wants when she grows up (please, universe, not a stripper) but I laughed all day about how well my husband's gotten into her head.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Hurts.

*I am straying from my promise not to blog about work related things to share something I wrote tonight that I think needs a wider audience.

I work for a non-profit with an anti-poverty mission, and this week our staff and Board are participating in a Food Stamp Challenge. The goal? Live off $30/week for one week, which is the average benefit per person in Arizona currently. As a contrast, a few of us (myself included) are living off only $21, which is the amount that person now getting $30 would receive if the Feds decide to use Food Stamp money to pay for Child Nutrition programs.

We are blogging daily about our experience. Here is my blog entry for today. I hope, if nothing else, this helps people understand some of the dynamics of trying to live a healthy life on food stamps. And if you're a reader who is curious about all the other experiences being shared on the blog, please leave me a comment and I will get you the link.*

Day 3 (Wednesday)

It turns out, limiting my grocery bill to $21 (and $0.12 in 'discretionary' money out of my own pocket) wasn't the hard part after all. The hard part is reframing how I think about food.

I grew up in a family that did not have a lot of money. We never used food stamps and as far as I know we never accessed the emergency food system (food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens), though my parents made sure all four of their children volunteered at these places on a regular basis. But we were, in the context of the neighborhoods where I spent my afternoons riding a bike down wide streets swathed in a feeling of complete suburban safety, poor.

Once, I wore the same pair of shoes for 8 months after they got two large holes where the upper met the soles. And that was in high school, where I watched my classmates pull into parking spots in brand new F-10s, Grand Cherokees, and Corvettes with THXDAD license plates. To say we were one of the 'poor' families who couldn't afford luxuries and sometimes couldn't even afford things that were more under the 'necessity' column than the 'luxury' column would be a fair assesment. But one thing my parents always prioritized was healthy food.
Oh, sure, we ate our fair share of boxed macaroni and cheese and popsicles during the summer months when we were home alone while our parents worked. And when my mom went out of town, my dad defaulted to scrambled eggs or sloppy joes as those were the only two meals he knew how to make well. But on the whole, our food was...well...whole. Our bodies were nourished with whole grains, eggs fresh from the chickens out back, lean meats, and fresh produce. The only time I remember eating a canned vegetable was at the summer camp where I volunteered as a counselor. My mom used a light hand with salt and butter and other fats, and a heavy hand with vegetables. We tease her lovingly to this day over her pat response to our request for dessert: "There is fruit in the fridge!"

It is to her credit, then, that I was raised knowing what food tastes like. Real, wholesome, fresh and healthy food. I can tell you by smelling the stem if a melon is ripe, I know that tomato slices make a great substitute for banana or apple in a peanut butter sandwich, and I knew well before it was considered forward thinking and sustainable to own chickens exactly how much work they are, how much of a mess they make, and how amazing fresh eggs truly taste.

I also learned, because we were poor, how to stretch a budget. We were the family who needed two shopping carts to carry our haul. With four kids born in five years, and the middle two being boys, our grocery receipts were a mile long. And there, in the cart my mom pushed, was the list to shop from and a filing bin chock full of coupons. We ate goulash at least once a week, mixing the week's leftovers with pasta and cream of whatever-was-on-hand-soup. We only went out once a week, and it was either for pizza or fast food burgers, meaning my parents could take out our family of 6 for around $12. And my mom, amazing cook that she is, would offer one option only at mealtime. If we didn't like it, we were welcome to make a peanut butter (No jelly! Never jelly, as it was added sugar, calories, and money.) sandwich.

There was a time, when I first moved into my own place in college, where I rebelled against the thrifty and healthy eating I was raised to know. I filled my cart with soda, Lucky Charms, pop tarts, macaroni and cheese in the box. I never cooked at home, favoring dinner with friends after work or a meal on campus between classes. It pains me now to think of how much money I wasted inthose carefree years, but I suppose the positive side is that I came back to eating more healthfully on my own. I shudder to think of the kind of judgment my shopping cart would have opened me up to in the grocery line if I'd been pulling out my EBT card to pay for those choices. I shudder to think that anyone would have thought it was ok to judge at all.

And so, when this week started out, I made an effort to shop 'like I always shop'. I shopped the perimeter of the store, choosing fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains without any HFCS, first. Then I supplemented with other items, creating what I thought to be a healthy selection of foods to carry me through the week. And every day, I open the fridge and the pantry, stare at the bags of food for the week, and wonder if it will be enough to get me through. I understand now, without any question, why many people on Nutrition Assistance might be found buying what the collective taxpayer conscience deems to be 'unhealthy' foods. I could have, quite easily, purchased twice the volume of food I did had I shopped the packaged aisles and skipped the fresh produce. It was a choice I made, to try to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, and the trade off is a painful, gnawing hunger that has been a constant companion for me all week.

This morning, my 18 month old son woke hungry. Hungry is sort of his default state, so after a morning snuggle and diaper change, I aim to get a banana into his hands as quickly as possible. It keeps him happy while I make breakfast, but lately one banana isn't enough. Lately, he wants two. Also? He wants those eggs I am scrambling and 12 ounces of milk. And in another hour, he'll take his snack on the back patio, thank you very much. Just this week, he figured out he can open the fridge, so after his first banana, he pulled the door open and pointed to the bunch on the shelf and said, "I want moooore." And so, I laughed at him as I gave him more.
If my family was truly on Nutrition Assistance, I could not have done this. I asked a friend, whose family was on Nutrition Assistance when her children were very young, "How did you do it? When your kids looked up at you and said, 'I want moooore.' what did you do?"

"I hid the food," she told me. "I had to ration it out and hide the rest, and then I would tell them, 'The bananas are all gone. See?' and they knew there was no more." I picture doing that every day - looking into my son's eyes and telling him I am sorry but there is no more - and hoping the food I've hidden is enough to last the week or the month, and I want to cry.

And then I remember, again, how lucky I am that this is just one week for me. That I had the option to let my kids and my husband carry on eating on our normal grocery budget while I experiment with my $21. And I think of the 1.04 million Arizonans for whom there is no choice. And I know that, more often than not, they will have to look into the eyes of someone they love and say, "There is no more."

Monday, October 18, 2010

And We Dance...

(like a wave on the ocean, romance...)

We were cleaning up after our demolition/renovation this past week, Darrick in the kitchen and me in the dining area. He was dusting the things I'd removed from the top of the kitchen cabinets, then we were deciding where they would go: in a box to be packed away, into a cupboard, under the sink, etc etc etc. All I cared about was keeping him from putting them back up on top of the cabinets, which prior to the painting had been littered with all kinds of random shit. Vases. Mason jars and old 1950s bottles. Silver platters, two fine china tea cups, the owner's manuals for our dishwasher and laptop (like...really???). I want to avoid that happening again for as long as possible, so I was semi-overseeing his cleaning and helping him figure out where to put things, since his default in the kitchen seems to be "Leave it on the counter, put it on top of the cabinets, or throw it away."

He's working his way through, and suddenly he holds something out and says, "Can we - should we toss this?". It's a black bag, and though I know where it came from I'm not positive I know what is in it, so I ask just to be sure. Unzipping it, he peeks in and says, "Medela stuff. Pump parts."

Silence between us. In my mind, I'm weighing the what-ifs and wondering if it's silly to keep something like that 'just in case'. I'm also thinking this is the man who, after Rohan was born, told me he was going to get a vasectomy because he was done, done, done. And if we do ever decide to have another baby, couldn't we just buy new parts for the breastpump? Wouldn't we need to buy new parts?

But telling him to toss them? It's sort of like a visual representation of throwing away a dream of mine. Not even a dream, really. More like denying that little bit of my heart and being that tells me we are not done having babies. No matter the logistics: money, space in a small house, sleepless nights and 3 kids (hopefully) in college someday and weddings and cars and first dates and first kisses and first heartbreaks (theirs, mine). No matter, as well, the fact that we have two beautiful and healthy and bright kids already and wanting a third feels like not being full enough of gratitude - of pushing our luck. Even while I was pregnant with Rohan, I had this little voice inside (where does that come from? the heart? the soul? the uterus?) telling me this would not be my last baby.

I don't always feel that way. There are days - weeks, even - when I think to myself that we're a "Two and Through" kind of family. Days when my kids wear me ragged with the running and yelling and playing and wrestling and crying and throwing things and tantrums and attitude. Days, even, when they are the picture of charming, sweet, cherubic little loves. And on either one of those kinds of days I might be found thinking to myself (either because I am worn the hell out OR because I am smitten like only a mom can be) that two is just fine, thank you very much.

So, what do I say about the pump parts? Knowing, as I do, that it's not just about those parts, but about what they represent: Are we done? Can we let this part of our lives be in the past?

And then, he answers for me. "You know what?" he says, setting the bag into my hands. "Why don't you just tuck these away in Rohan's closet for now?"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My world, colored.

For nearly 4 years, we have been living in a house with almost exclusively 'builder white' walls. When we bought this house, the front room (den/office/playroom/weightroom, depending on when you asked) was a sage green, our master bath was aqua and dark brown, the nursery was yellow on 2 walls, with 1 wall of yellow and sage green stripes, and Luca's current room was...horrible. The only room we had changed thus far was Luca's.

To be honest, decorating is something I fantasize about. I watch DIY Network and HGTV any chance I get. I surf home decor and renovation blogs. I steal my mom's Sunset Magazine and drool over the amazing homes and gardens showcased there. But when it comes to actually making a move, I get paralyzed. I have so many ideas and inspirations, and then I worry: Will it look good? Will my husband like it? Will I like it? Is it too trendy? Too out there? Too safe? Too boring? Will I love it? Will I regret it?

So, you can probably imagine that deciding to go from this:

 To this:

Was nervewracking to say the least!!

The color? Eucalyptus Leaf by Behr.

The inspirations? This ceiling light we have in the dining area and this little bowl my kids eat their snacks in every day:

At home, when I looked at the bowl in particular, I saw a robin's egg blue. So I took it to Home Depot, color matched it with the machine, and bought the paint color it suggested.

And then, I came home and went to bed. And the next morning in the bright sunlight streaming in the kitchen windows, it looked green and oddly familiar. Suddenly it hit me, and I turned to my husband and said, "Hey, does this remind you of something?" He answered immediately, "Yep. It's the color in our bathroom." And sure enough, I took the chip up to the master bathroom and held it against the wall, and it was so close to the same it may as well have been identical.

This put me in a quandry of sorts because, to be honest, I like the bathroom color just fine. But from the day we moved in, I had always regarded it with a 'It's a nice color and all, but I never would have picked it myself.'

Hm. Wrong there, I suppose.

Anyhow, I sat on it for over 24 hours, cleaning and prepping but not cracking open the can. And when we woke this morning I asked Darrick to take the kids away for a few hours so I could set to work. Before he left, I planted a seed in his mind: "I've been stalling on painting because I'm not sure I like that color for our kitchen." And he planted a seed back: "That can cost $25 and can't be returned. Just use it." And with that, they were gone and I was left to tape and prep. I ran out of painter's tape when I still had a lot left to do, so I went to grab my keys and go to Home Depot, and while I was there, I couldn't help myself: I picked a new paint color.

And then I sucked it up and put the new paint color back, promising myself that if I hated the one at home, I could come get another color to paint over it. It was a mental back-and-forth for about 15 minutes to get to that point, though, and I left Home Depot more confused than before.

When I got home, I decided to just get to it and stop thinking. But first, I had the most difficult of the prep work to do. I had to climb onto the counters and then onto the fridge so I could tape off this:

I mean, getting above the cabinets was tough enough, but that area above the pantry was (a) super dusty, (b) super deep (probably about 3 feet back), and (c) super claustrophobic. And, also...I mentioned I was standing on the fridge, right? First I had to wipe it down, then after it was dry I had to tape it, and finally I had to paint it by hand (no way I was going to try to manage a roller and tray up there).

And then, there was this:

The lighting is crappy, but basically the transitions on our walls are rounded, which meant I had to tape off the wall on a rounded edge and decide sort of randomly where this color should stop. The great room will have a different wall color, so that will either have to start right where this color stops, or the rounded edge will show some of that old 'builder white' color. I'm not sure what to do about that yet, so if anyone reading this wants to have an opinion on it, please share!

The 'where to tape' dilemma happened in a few places, including the 'pony wall' area you can see here:

You can see the inside/top of that wall I decided to leave the original off-white color, and the outside edge was left that color as well. It was a LOT of taping, and a long reach atop a ladder to paint the tippy top of that support beam.

Once the taping was done, a lot of the kitchen near/above the cabinets was done by hand with a brush. The rest I rolled on. The whole thing, from start of taping to finished painting, took about 4.5 hours. I'm happy I took my time prepping and setting up though, because even though I was unsure of the color, I am so thrilled with how it came out.

Once it was dry, we cleaned and re-hung the horizontal blinds, hung some art, and positioned the kitchen table in a new way. We put the cedar chest we've stored our photo albums in against the main wall to serve as seating, then put the other 3 chairs around the outside. You can see pictures of the chest in this post, but right now it's not much to look at. My mom's offered to help me make the seating pad a bit thicker and make a new cover for it.

I had already purchased almost everything we needed for this project, except the gallon of paint (it actually used less than a gallon), 2 plastic drop cloths, a new roller, a new tray liner, and a new paintbrush. All that added up to roughly $50 after tax, bringing our kitchen makeover/flooring redo total so far to $365. Not too shabby!

We still have baseboards to finish and I am hoping to carry all this momentum a few more weeks and get the cabinets refinished. I also have grand plans to make more storage space while getting rid of a dining room feature we never use, so I will be sure to update as we get more done!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Well, THAT was fun.

After much deliberation and time spent with a surly Home Depot employee discussing our options (oddly, she wasn't amused by our, "So, which step can we skip to save time and money?" type questions), we decided on a stain for our flooring. And then we had to choose which color, which of course I would have happily 'agonized' over for hours or weeks, flipping through samples and taping them to the floor to view them in different lights and at different times of day.

But. If you've met my husband, I'm sure you know how that went. He said, "Pick a color. Just nothing crazy." I suggested a lovely gray-blue.

He laughed at it. Then I pointed to a color called Limestone (looks like this, though this is not it exactly):


Finally, we narrowed it down to 3 tan colors, with the idea being we want to eventually graduate to wood/laminate/Pergo floors which will probably be a light honey oak sort of color. We wanted to choose a floor stain that would eventually be able to translate into a wood color, so that when we choose wall colors that 'go' with the floors, they will still 'go' with wood.  So we narrowed it down to:

Classic Taupe

Light Rattan

Inviting Veranda

And then, um....we didn't get any of those. Instead, I found a color between Inviting Veranda and Light Rattan as we were waiting for someone to mix our two gallons, and we made the split-second decision to switch.

A word about switching colors in the store: it's risky. The light is different than at home, and you're seeing the color in the context of ALL the other colors on that wall, as opposed to in the context of your own home. And so the color we chose (whose name now alludes me) ended up being almost a perfect monochromatic match for this flooring sample right here (this sample is darker than our floor, but the color values are similar and we think that means it's more likely whatever paint we choose for the current floor would look great with this type of floor as well):

The stain is lighter than this, and - to my surprise - matte finish. I wish it was a touch darker than it is, and had some sheen to it, but word on the street is I can add a topcoat if I am so inspired and it will shine that sucker right up.

Before I reveal how the color looked after its second coat, here are some pictures of the process itself. For early demo pictures, check out this post.

 We left off with the sledging of the old tile, and once it was all removed and hauled away and we used a shop vac to clean the dust, we had areas where the thin set was adhered too firmly to the concrete for us to break it off easily. A shop vac can be rented from Home Depot (ours was $17 for 4 hours or $25 for 24 horus), and is your best friend when it comes to cleaning up the mess saltillo tiles leaves. There was so much dust, and we didn't rent the shop vac until day 2 of the demo. We wished we'd spent the money to rent that on day 1, rather than renting the demolition hammer I'll talk about below. Shop vac = excellence.

 Rohan was worried we wouldn't be able to make this work....

This area had a lot of thin set really adhered to the concrete. It seemed that certain areas of the rooms were applied with a heavier hand than others. Additionally, the most trafficked spots seemed to be the ones with the most thin set left, which had us thinking perhaps whomever installed it forgot to back themselves out of the room.

 We're getting there....We rented a tool from Home Depot called the demolition hammer to help us scrape the thin set off the concrete. The tool has an optional scraper attachment you screw in which is about 4-5 inches wide and can be placed at a 60 degree angle to the floor to remove the thin set without damaging the concrete. This angle is really important, as several of the patches you'll see we filled below were made by the tool being used to help break up tiles, and being held at too open an angle. You don't want the end of that sucker to make a direct hit onto your concrete, or it will create a divet. Our dining room area actually has several divets now that we wish we'd have patched with a concrete patch kit before staining. Consider these Lessons Learned.

This cutie passed us the concrete hole-filler, which you use a caulking gun to pipe into cracks, chips, and other areas in need of some love. Supposedly, it's 'self-leveling', but the areas we didn't sweep over with a straight edge are a bit bubbled rather than flush with the rest of the floor. Another Lesson Learned, but not one we feel the need to go back and 'fix' since the stain is a temporary fix until the wood flooring of our dreams is a reality.This filler stays tacky to the touch for about a day, but is waterproof and ok to clean, prime, paint, etc within 3 hours of application.

 Those shiny areas are the spots we 'filled'. As you can see, when we pulled the baseboards out, there was lots of grossness to be found behind them. Ew. We had to use a chisel and mallet to remove a lot of very thick grout that was layed in between the tiles and the drywall, so the edges of our foundation don't exactly look picture perfect. We opted not to worry about it, as the plan is to paint the walls and reposition the baseboards once we give them a fresh coat of paint. We did wash down the baseboard area and vacuum out all the loose particles we could.

The next step was cleaning and etching.The purpose of etching is to create the ideal environment for staining or painting. I was confused, then, that etching was a process using chemicals as opposed to a method of physically making etch marks in the concrete surface. Who knew? We bought a product at Home Depot made by Behr. It worked, I think, though I found myself frustrated by the disconnect between the directions and the reality. You're supposed to apply it to dry concrete with either a plastic watering can or a hard bristled brush. Let it sit for 10-20 minutes without drying, then scrub like hell with said brush, then rinse until there is no product left. First...nothing sits in Arizona on dry concrete for even 5 minutes without starting to dry. Second, they recommend a power washer to spray it down, which is impossible inside. So what happens is we run around like crazy people wetting and scrubbing and re-applying and then dousing with a wet mop we have to rinse after every swipe because if we don't, the residue stays on the mop. Either way, the goal is to get concrete that is porous, rough like sandpaper, and neutral in pH. We don't test the pH and there are two sections we don't even fully etch, but when I get to the step where the primer is applied I can tell where it was etched and where it was not. The difference isn't noticeable now that all is said and done, but those areas just felt different to stain.

After the etched floor was dry (about 8 hours later), I applied a concrete primer. We used one bottle of the etching solution and one can of primer for the whole floor. The primer also dries tacky, but once covered with stain the tackiness is not there. To make staining easier, I let the primer dry for 10 hours, then sweep gently to remove surface debris, all in a pair of clean cotton socks. I have read in several places that cotton socks are the best thing to wear so you don't get shoes stuck to the primer and you don't walk on all this stuff barefoot, and the socks seem to do the trick.
With everyone out of the house, I use a small brush to edge the entire floor, paying special attention to under the cabinets, the edges of the foundation that are exposed but will be covered by baseboards, and anything near doors or carpet. Then, using the same long wooden handle we used to brush on the etching solution, I attach a paint roller and roll the stain onto the floor. I leave a path by the stairs to the front door, go take a hot shower, and come back down an hour later to apply a second thin coat.

Again...with the Arizona's HOT today and we have dry air, so the first thin coat is already dry, even though the can tells me to wait 4-8 hours to reapply. I live on the wild side and reapply anyhow, and the results are perfect.

Before leaving the house for several hours to let this dry without any traffic, I took this picture. The floor dried a bit darker and not as glossy. We came back in 4 hours, and after 8 hours, we moved our couch, a chair, and the TV back inside. Technically, you are supposed to avoid foot traffic for 24 hours and leave furniture off for 72, but this is real life and this is our main living area. Knowing that this stain is our temporary solution, I'm not too concerned about possible damage to the stain that will be hidden by furniture anyhow.

There's still a lot to be done before this transformation can be labeled 'complete' but so far it's really made a huge difference in the whole feel of our house. Our next steps are to paint the walls and baseboards and put the baseboards back in. We will also be sealing the gaps behind the baseboard with silicon to keep out bugs and make sure there isn't moisture (ha ha ha) seeping in through the foundation.

Eventually, the cabinets in the kitchen will be refinished to look a little more up-to-date and bright, and I also want to refinish the countertops. I learned that there is a 'paint' you can use on cheap, crappy countertops like we have, which is much more reasonable than redoing the counters considering we want to sell the house some day and we'd never make back the amount we'd invest on whole new cabinets and counters. As we finish the walls and baseboards, I will update more.

The total cost for this project was much less than I'd feared it would be. We did the demo and hauling of waste ourselves, as well as all the prep and staining, which saved us easily $1-2k.

Sledgehammer, mallet, chisel, etc.: free
Rental demolition hammer: $50/ day x 1 and $30/4 hours x 1 = $80
Scraper tool for demo hammer: $20/4 hours = $20
Three trips to the dump with tiles: $30/each x 2 + 1 free = $60
Rental of shop vac for 24 hours = $25
New mop, extender handle, scrub brush = $24
Paint tray and 2 liners, 1 roller, 2 roller brushes = $17
Clean and Etch Solution = $20
Concrete Primer = $21
Stain: $24/each x 2 = $48

Total: $315

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Decisions, decisions.

After two days of hard pounding with a giant sledgehammer (by him), hauling and hefting and unloading at the dump (by us both), sweeping and shop vac-ing and baseboard removing and cement chipping (by the whole family), we have a clean slate.

Literally. Gray concrete floors, still finely dusted in the last remanents of saltillo powder. Creamy white walls with no pictures or decor.

During naptime, I hit up Home Depot for paint chips and samples of wood laminate flooring and booklets showing the stain and paint colors available for concrete. I have a stack the thickness of the yellow pages on the table next to me, and I'm sitting pretty on the promise of possibilities.

Normally, this sort of thing freezes me in place. I get overwhelmed. I can't make a decision. I want it all: stark white walls and a gray floor with pops of color in the decorations. Warm walls and a warm wooden floor, with silver picture frames and bright photos hung on the walls. Grays, blues, a granny smith apple wall. White cabinets. But right now, I'm seeing the possibilities and I'm loving them.

The first choice, and the biggest, most expensive and most time-consuming one, is to choose flooring. We've narrowed it down (so to speak) to three options.

First, the choice which is simplest to install but probably the most expensive and time-consuming to complete, is wood floors. While I'd love cork or bamboo, I'm on a laminate or Pergo budget.

The second option is probably the easiest and one of the least expensive, but also the least visually insteresting as we'd be keeping it very neutral and it would be monochromatic: painted concrete.

(Source, who ironically posted this photo in an entry about being over their concrete floors)



The final option is to stain the floors, which is still relatively inexpensive, but from all I've read about the process it seems very time intensive. It does, however, seem to give the beautiful marbling and variety in hues I admire in a lot of pictures.



Once we decide on the flooring option, we can choose paint colors that work well with it. I know we will be doing some bright white, inclusing refinishing the baseboards in that color. I'd also like to do our kitchen cabinets in white, but we may opt for something more colorful OR for leaving them alone, depending what we decide on for all the other walls and spaces.

Monday, October 11, 2010

How We're Spending Our Fall Vacation.

Darrick's school (and thus, Luca's) is closed for fall break this week. I have over 200 hours of PTO to use up, so I took the entire week off so we could spend some family time together. Originally, we talked about camping, but I nixed that because I was worried it would be too cold for the kids. Then I was lobbying Darrick for a roadtrip to Albuquerque (because...why not?) and he was less than convinced.

So, rather than camping or road-tripping, we compromised (?) and decided to spend our break doing this:


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