Saturday, September 20, 2008

Extreme Makeover Dropout

Let's just put it out there; saying it like it is, I am an Extreme Makeover Dropout! Is there a 12-step program for this affliction? Ty Pennington would be so disappointed in me. I could never come up with a bed made out of an old race track and hot wheels. Honestly...not that creative. A Martha Stewart clone? Martha would shake her head in shame. Tim Allen's character from Home Improvement is getting closer, but even if he was occasionally a bumbling fool and clueless about stuff, it all worked out at the end of 30 minutes. Generally it takes me 6-8 months at least! My home decorating adventures are more akin to DIY meets Lizzie Borden...with her ax.

Our house is in dire need of home improvement. Adam often asks if we can write Extreme Makeover. It isn't that bad, except for the snarky plumbing problem, electrical issues and seepage in the basement. With Hurricane Ike's aftermath swamping Chicago, our basement seepage is not slight. We actually contemplated turning the basement into an indoor swimming pool. The front lawn was so flooded that we may have an outdoor one as well.

If I had the time and money we could fix the plumbing and electrical, as well as extend the bedrooms over our garage so Adam's room is not the size of a closet. Plus waterproof my mom's bedroom. It tends to leak during heavy rains and power failures. Oh...and the driveway could use some resurfacing. The weeds in the driveway are ridiculous. How many other houses need to mow and weed kill their driveway? Lastly, after the village idiots allowed the condos behind us to build a fence, we have a 3 foot property drop off in the backyard. If it wasn't for the 6 foot weeds blooming back there, it would be problematic for all visiting toddlers and drunken friends. Hmmm...maybe, Adam is on the right track after all. Little did we know upon purchase that it was a fixer upper in disguise.

It looked so cute. It has so much potential. How odd is it that our house mirrors the men I tend to date?

After the deal was done, one of our first clues that we bought a lemon was the puff of smoke and electrical sparks Adam encountered when pulling the string to his bedroom ceiling fan. He stepped out of his room a little jolted stating, "I feel like a french fry!" Then there were the live wires underneath the kitchen cabinets, lights that dim when the garbage disposal turns on, or better yet just turn on or off on their own. The oddest problem though was when we discovered the previous owner duct taped two pipes together. This little problem was not discovered until a couple years down the road when a wall became a bit spongy. Duct tape is not waterproof. Go figure. I'd love to have a conversation with the previous owners, but they are happily retired in North Carolina. Here's hoping that karma is going to do her job.

My life has been hounded by many home improvement projects, starting with my first condo. I actually love the process of playing with home improvement ideas. When showing my real estate clients properties I can always point out the potential in every home. My only wish is that I could afford a Pottery Barn existance. Instead my projects are more Walmart-esque. My home improvement projects are not always fiascoes, BUT they are never perfectly smooth.

When first engaged, we bought a one bedroom condo together. Although the year was 1987, the place was straight out of the early 70's. It was impeccably decorated, but the 70's home decorating style should NEVER be revisited. The condo's kitchen wallpaper looked as if it was actually gold stucco which perfectly matched the gold in the gold, brown, avocado and rust plaid entryway wallpaper. To say it was a hideous color combination is an understatement. Yet, it was impeccably hideous.

We repainted and re-wallpapered and I learned that Oriental rice-paper is extremely expensive. Who knew?! As usual...champagne pocket. We only needed a small amount, the condo was the size of a postage stamp. So, we found a store that had wallpaper remnants. Woo-hoo! Oriental rice paper remnants replaced plaid. I often wondered who besides owners of small condos ever needed wallpaper remnants. It's not like someone living in a normal home is going to wallpaper one half of a wall. No wonder that store eventually went out of busines. Once the condo was painted and wallpapered, I experienced my first decorating fiasco. Well as much of a fiasco as you can have with a postage stamp 1 bedroom condo.

The wallpaper was cream with shades of peach and sage green. We picked out a peachy paint for the living room/dining room combo. Silly me did not realize that paint changes color in sunlight, or lack thereof. My peachy paint was great during the day, but once dusk hit it was more of a pinky/peach which clashed with the severely discounted Oriental wallpaper. Crap!

In our first horrible financial decision, a theme which continued throughout our marriage, we flipped our condo fairly quickly and moved into our townhouse. Soon thereafter I was pregnant with Katrina and was met with the dilemma that every first time mom in a cookie cutter/Stepford Wife townhouse subdivision encounters. Every pregnant woman was measured by her baby's nursery. The poor babies were still floating in cocoon like status, clueless to the fact that their fate was judged and sealed by their Mommy's' decorating tastes. Sadly for Kat, her mom was already a decorating dropout. Every neighbor wanted to see our nursery.

The nursery was a country bunny theme with little country boy and girl bunnies walking with a wagon. I planned on stenciling bunnies all the way around the room. Being a procrastinator to the end, I was fairly along in my final trimester when I started stenciling the walls in the nursery; beginning with the wagon, then overalls, next dresses and finally the bunny heads, ears and hands. Sadly, the color of the bunny heads looked rather cartoon pig pink versus the tan/pink color I envisioned. And my daughter's nursery waited patiently with decapitated bunnies stenciled around the room while I searched for the perfect color. I was petrified that she would be born and brought home to a room of headless bunnies. Hormones and stress do not mix well. I was a basket case over finding the right tannish pinky color for the bunnies. The look of horror on the Stepford Wives faces when they walked into the nursery was almost worth the stress of not finding the perfect bunny color. I'm sure they discussed the nursery behind my back. Hell, they discussed everything behind every ones back. Why should I be any different? In my own sick, warped way, it was rather funny. But eventually the proper bunny color was found and the bunnies got their heads and hands prior to Katrina's birth. But it was close!

Babies, full time jobs, divorce and general life experiences side tracked me from any other home improvement projects for quite a few years. I was too busy to even consider redecorating. One foray into painting Adam's room reduced me to tears. I bought the paint, Mickey Mouse Sorcerer's Apprentice blue and some other Disney lighter blue. I planned to paint when Kat and Adam were with their dad. My eager VanGogh and Picasso were not going to assist me. No how. No way. I knew I was a disaster waiting to happen when painting. With their assistance at 7 & 10, we would have the ceiling and floor painted and nothing on the walls. When I got home from work one night, my mother and children had a "surprise" for me. They painted Adam's room all by themselves. It was a disaster. There was paint everywhere and I sat down on the floor and cried. I was not sure with whom I was angrier. The children who did not follow the guidelines, or the grandparent who did not enforce them. That cured me for about 4 years.

But then last year when Kat graduated from 8th grade and we threw her a graduation party, I had to take home improvement projects seriously. The wallpaper in our bathroom was falling off the walls and I was not about to allow my out-laws to see our home for the first time with wallpaper falling from the ceiling. So, I removed the wallpaper and learned that the wallpaper was covering missing drywall in many places. Again, I looked up at the heavens and asked God, "WHY?!?!?" My easy project was about to take an unexpected turn. There truly are so many unexpected turns in my life.

Not only was there missing drywall, but in other areas, chunks of drywall adhered to the wallpaper upon removal; leaving me to wonder if some of the wallpaper paste included superglue. The nightmare continued with beads of wallpaper paste that refused to come off. So as I mudded, patched and smoothed, my walls would occasionally adopt a pinstripe effect from the superglue-like residual wallpaper paste. Piss me off! I sanded, mudded and finally gave up. The walls were not the smooth canvas I envisioned; meaning I needed to give the paint some type of texture effect. My little wallpaper/paint project was becoming a nightmare and I was more than just a little crabby. To make me loathe the project even more, I stepped backwards against the wet white wall not realizing that my pony tail was about to look as if it had been used as one of my brushes. Great! It was a look. Not the look I generally go for. But...

This bathroom has a lavender tub, toilet and sink. I painted the walls white and planned to give it a texture look of lavender and sage green. So one afternoon, I grabbed a sponge, rags and dry brushes and tried various effects on my wall; constantly painting, wiping off and repainting various colors and styles. I didn't like anything. So, I grabbed my laptop while sitting on the bathroom floor and googled "painting techniques & finishes". There were a ton of ideas. I hated them all. Finally out of complete frustration, I took a paint brush and dotted lavender paint on the walls, swept a dry paint brush over the wet dots. It wasn't a bad look. It was different. The jury was out on a verdict, but I was running out of time. When done, it was OK. Not my favorite, but OK. The sage green was too much, but we had a unique lavender and white bathroom. My Sigma sisters would be so proud.

That same summer, before the party, I also built a reading grotto in front of our house. The idea for the grotto sprung when I parked in our weed infested driveway and saw my daughter sitting on the ground with her back against the garage door. She wanted to read outside, and wanted to know what was happening in the neighborhood. The only place to sit was in the driveway.

With that thought in mind, I attempted our grotto. It too is not perfect. But fifty 50 pound bags of stone later, and too many paving bricks to count, we have a nice little place to sit and read in the summer. Like our driveway, it is fairly weed infested at the moment. The plastic under the stones did not block out the weeds like the packaging promised. I am so home improvement challenged! And so gullible when people tell me it is fool proof. This fool will always be able to prove them wrong.

Always a glutton for punishment, this March we decided that Kat's wallpaper definitely needed to come down. Mine was falling off on its own, so I might as well do two projects at the same time, right? What was I thinking?! It's not like I have anything else to do.

When we moved in, Kat's room was the girly pink room with raspberry sherbet carpet and butterfly wallpaper. Kat is not a girlie girl and HATED the room. We removed the carpet immediately, but the wallpaper remained for 5 years. In her hatred of her butterfly wallpaper, she, with her grandmother's permission, allowed her friends to write on her walls. There were poems, lists, hellos and well wishes, letters and drawings. Think of your high school year book. Now picture it on wallpaper. We initially tried to save some of the more sentimental comments. Eventually, we opted for taking pictures.

Her wallpaper was impossible to remove. Possibly due to all that Sharpie ink. We scored the wallpaper and then Diffed it. After two weeks of trying to chemically remove it, we rented a steamer; removing the majority, but not all. We attempted Dif again and more came off. Many days I came home from work and Kat was using tweezers to remove the specs of wallpaper permanently adhered to the wall. Finally, I just painted over the suckers and tell people it is texture!

Kat is decision challenged, except when it comes to pizza...that she knows...bacon and black olive, please. Ask her to choose between two movies at Blockbuster, or two books at Borders and she is completely incapable. She acts as if it is a life and death decision. Ask her to choose paint colors for her room - Oh! My!! God!!! Do you know how many colors there are at Home Depot and Menards?! Do you realize how many color combinations are possible with Ralph Lauren, Behr, and Pittsburgh Paints? We reviewed them all. Do you know how nearly impossible it was for her to pick colors? Her first thought was blue and lavender which matched her comforter. Then dark plum, with metallic plum stripes. Then it was dark plum and 1 black wall (decorated with a silver metallic moon and gold metallic stars). One day when I got home from work there were samples of red, orange and yellow splashed on her walls. What the hell!? We had been on one side of the color wheel and suddenly...BAM!!...jumped all the way to the opposite side. Did you know there is a difference between purple and plum? There is. Because once we revisited that theme again, we were hit with a plethora of color combinations until she finally chose Grap Surf, Vintage Purple and Moon Rise for her trim.

My paint choices were fairly simple. In Ralph Lauren speak, the colors are Celery and Vera Cruz Suede with Daisy White trim. Painting both rooms simultaneously were a challenge which I have tried to block out of my mind. There are snippets of the nightmare that occasionally flash through my brain; wearing sunglasses while I painted the ceiling to block out paint falling in my eyes (Thank God for Steve and Berry's cheep sunglasses.) Other flashes include Adam painting the accent wall color on an unaccented wall, my realizing that the color I initial wanted for 3 of my 4 walls (Shoreline Blue), was much more Caribbean blue than green/blue requiring a trip to Home Depot covered in paint to pick out the new color of choice - Celery, Maggie doing the best trim job I have ever seen, Kat and Adam are whizzes with a roller brush, Kat's friend Joe unknowingly stepping into lavender paint and then onto hard wood floors. Kat not realizing there was wet paint in the paint tray and dripping paint all the way down the sidewalk and driveway. All in all, painting was the easiest part. It was the wallpaper removal and paint clean up that nearly killed me. The paint project started in March...I just finished decorating my room this week. Yep! 6 Months! Right on schedule.

Adam, now feeling rather left out of the DIY projects, asked if we could paint his room...the color of a wolf. Someone please tell me, what are the colors of a wolf. They are not part of the color wheel I have recently visited. Also, aren't they rather dark for a room the size of a closet? I was leaning towards Shoreline Blue. Hell, we have a full gallon sitting in the garage! Hmmm...

That project will have to wait for a bit. I am not ready for another 6 months of hell. But since his room is the size of a closet, maybe it will only be a 3 month project. It will be finished just in time for Christmas.

On that note, I better go mow my driveway. Bye!

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