A Study in Botanicals

Looking at this photograph, I realize my taste is “square.” I need
to add a few more “twists and turns” to my design aesthetic!

People used to tell my Granny that she should be an interior designer because she did such a beautiful job decorating her own home. She would respond, “I only know what pleases my eye.”

I like that, so I’ve adopted her modest phrase as my personal decorating slogan. Teal ceilings please my eye. So do solid walls of tile. Bizarre? Probably so.

David and I now live in our fourth home (not counting those many months we spent living in hotels), and each new location has given me the opportunity to tweak my decor. I’ve changed some colors and fabrics with each new place, although our main pieces of furniture have remained unchanged.

Our new home has given me a unique challenge. How do David and I, who have transitional-to-contemporary design preferences, live in a house that predates World War I? One answer is symmetry, and it is currently on display in our dining room. I chose to hang 18 classic botanical studies, printed from the 1613 originals, in simple frames but to grand effect.

Once I decided that I “needed” a crop of botanical prints, I discovered I could never afford them in a million years. Small framed prints go for $60 each–and those are the cheap ones! It was time for where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way Amanda to make good on her reputation.

First I found a book of botanicals with enough prints in the right colors to tear out and frame. Besler’s Book of Flowers and Plants fit the bill at $10. That was the easy part.

The hard part was finding frames at a volume discount. I spent months off-and-on searching the internet and stores for them. Finally Hobby Lobby had a 50%-off sale on wood frames that would work…as long as I was willing to attach the saw hooks myself. This made the project markedly more difficult, as hanging the collages evenly now depended on where I put the nails in the wall and if I centered the saw teeth. But at $3 per frame, I couldn’t say no.

I completed this project one day when I needed a break from
tiling the guest bathroom. That’s why there’s a gi-normous bag
of mortar and stacks of tiles on the other end of the table!

Then it was time for innovation: the frames I ordered were larger than the prints, and I absolutely could not afford mats. Remembering the buffered tissue paper I’d ordered when I was archiving my family’s memorabilia, I dug out 18 sheets, folded them in half, and laid them between the prints and the frames’ backboards. For $0, I had a unique look that would preserve my project for years. (Buffered tissue paper takes acid out of inks and paper, meaning my prints shouldn’t yellow over time.)

It took about 4 hours to do the whole project, from tearing out the prints to hanging the frames, and spawned a new personal slogan: “Practice, Precision, Patience.” I’m going to need that one in every room of this house.

Fourth-Day Flood (part 3): Tiles and the Tub Man

Wolf in sheep’s clothing: this beautiful, period-appropriate bath
renovation hid water damage behind cheap unpainted beadboard
and rust under DIY porcelain reglazing.

Maybe the problem was the wall and ceiling color. Both the guest bathroom and the dining room were painted with a drab, flat crimson paint that clashed with everything else in the house…and looked like dried blood.

I see it now: these rooms were ready to make our bank account bleed.

It took 8 months to finish the dining room repairs, and in that time, we still didn’t have a fix for our bathtub.

The first plumber (that genius who had filled the bathtub and reflooded our dining room just “to see what had happened”) said we had a simple problem with seals between the tub and the plumbing. Later when he came to fix it–and the water continued to flow around the pipes after his repair–he informed me that the plumbing was perfect. Instead, we had a hole all the way through the cast iron tub near the drain.

I don’t do anything halfway. While the
tub was in the middle of the room, I
removed the vanity, pulled off all the
beadboard and moldings, repaired the
walls, and tiled floor-to-ceiling.

How do you repair a cast iron tub? I asked around, and the historical society told me about the Bathtub Man. All he does is restore claw foot tubs. It took several weeks to get him out to our house, and when he arrived, he showed me that there was no hole. The problem was the plumbing, not the tub.

So I hired a new plumber–the one the Bathtub Man recommended–and we began 6 more months of imperfect repair after imperfect repair. The plumber would reattach the feet (3 of which had the strange habit of falling off, leaving only 1 foot and the plumbing supporting the tub) and redo the plumbing connections. All would be well for 1 or 2 guests’ showers, and then the feet would start falling off again.

As exasperation gripped everyone involved, I decided to call the Bathtub Man back. Armed with more “symptoms,” he was able to diagnose the problem: 3 of the 4 feet did not fit the tub. They looked as if they fit, but they were actually 1/16th of an inch too small. As a result, the combined weight of the tub, water, and an adult would slowly push the feet out from under the tub, breaking the plumbing seals. He could fix it, but it would require welding nickel onto the iron feet to make them the right shape for the tub. (Sounds like a cheap fix, right? Ugh.)

I went for a classic look: floor-to-
ceiling white subway tile with a 
carrara marble accent.

We had a solution, but we also had a deadline. My sister-in-law and her family were going to move in for 3 weeks while they were between houses. I knew there was no way 4 adults and a child could share our master bath for 3 weeks and continue loving one another!

The Bathtub Man scheduled the 2-day repair. First he would come out, flip over the tub, take measurements, and take the feet back to his shop for welding. While the tub was upside down in the middle of the room, I would tile. Everything. Second he would return the following week to attach the feet and flip the tub. Then I would hire the plumber to come back and reconnect everything. Easy-peasy!

Hiccup 1: When the Bathtub Man flipped over the tub, we discovered the bottom was covered in rust. Mostly surface rust, but some more serious. The renovators had clearly found this tub somewhere, picked out a few feet that looked good, painted the bottom with (I kid you not!) white Krylon, and reglazed the inside themselves with some DIY product…without bothering to remove the drain cover first. Rust, rust, everywhere. I was told to clean and paint the bottom with marine-grade Rustoleum, and the Bathtub Man adjusted his timeline to include some spot reglazing (we just couldn’t afford to redo the whole thing).

Hiccup 2: It takes a long time to lay over 2,000 tiles. I gave myself a week, but it took me almost 4 weeks AND the help of David and Melinda thanks to volume, unlevel walls and floor, and missing insulation. It’s done, and it’s beautiful. And waterproof! But I reinjured my right rotator cuff (torn way back when I was a swimmer), and it will be many months before the pain, swelling, and tingling subside.

Hiccup 3: The plumber couldn’t come out for more than a week after the rest of the repairs had finished, so our family still had to share the master bathroom for awhile. But we love each other!

It’s still a work in progress. I’ve installed a standing shower (upgraded for my tall brother-in-law!), but I still need to repaint the window molding, and I want to change the lighting and mirror so they are proportionate with the 9-foot ceilings. (Right now they are WAY too small and hung too low.) But that will require hiring an electrician…and I’m not ready to wash more blood-money down that tub’s drain!

Fourth-Day Flood (part 2): Baseboards and Brass

For 5 days you couldn’t hear yourself think anywhere in our house
as the industrial fans dried out the walls and ceiling space. The
effected baseboards were removed to be dried and straightened
off-site, but we never saw them again.

If you’ve ever dealt with structural damage–be it from water or termites or what-have-you–then you know that fixing the secondary damage is more costly than eliminating the problem. In the days following the flood, we were led to believe that our biggest headache would be the dining room repair, not the bathroom plumbing itself. (This, of course, would prove incorrect.)

As soon as it started raining from our dining room rafters, I was on the phone with our home warranty company (thoughtfully and thankfully provided by the sellers). Unfortunately, they were worse than worthless. The plumber they made us use recreated the flood the next day, and then declared he could not help because “there might be mold.” The water abatement company they made us hire tried to overcharge us by thousands of dollars and threw away the 110-year-old baseboard moldings they were supposed to dry and straighten off-site. (The baseboards would be the most costly repair: a carpenter had to make a mold and then fabricate them to match the rest of the house.)

The warranty company then refused to pay for ANY repairs; they decided “the plumbing issue was preexisting,” so subsequent damage was not covered by our home warranty. And they didn’t care that it was “their” subcontractors who caused the most expensive damage after the initial flood.

The dining room as it stands today: bright, calm colors, lovely
flowers, and 18 framed-by-me botanical studies. I love how 
the modern color palette emphasizes the centennial architecture.

There we were–just one week after moving into our house–with a huge hole in our ceiling, no baseboards, a nonfunctioning guest bathroom, and mounting bills. And so our house remained for 8 months, until we were able to hire carpenters and painters.

Finally it was time to have some fun! I chose grey-and-teal thermal draperies for the dining room windows then coordinated the room’s paint colors. My mother (and probably everyone else) thought I was crazy when I decided I’d be painting my ceiling teal. Grey walls, teal ceiling, white trim. This was a bold choice because the room can be seen from most angles downstairs.

Less controversial, but equally impactful to my detail-oriented eye, is my continuing restoration of the room’s hardware. This house is FULL of solid brass, unlacquered hardware–door knobs, casement hinges, window latches, you name it!–that have been covered with paint over the decades.

It took me hours to polish each piece, but the
results are gorgeous. I love how the tarnish
remains in the tiny crevices and adds dimension
to the pattern, as it does in my equally beloved
sterlingware!

Until we moved here, I was a vocal brass hater. In our first house, I spent years slowly replacing every monkey-metal doorknob, hinge, and faucet with brushed-nickel fixtures. That cheap yellow metal they produce these days makes me cringe and “colored” my impression of brass. But I’ve done a 180. It thrills my soul that these solid metal beauties are hiding under sloppy DIY projects waiting for me to, quite literally, make them shine again.

I acknowledge that I am strange. I paint ceilings teal, and I LOVE polishing. In college we AOIIs would clean the house once per month, and I was the only person who wanted silver duty. Back then I did it all by hand; this time I had help.

A few weeks before I started this polishing project, David and I bought a nail grinder for Copper that is made by Dremel. I soon realized that the nail grinder could accept almost any Dremel accessory–including polishing wheels! I burned through 30 polishing wheels getting the dining room hardware clean, but the result is worth the time, effort, and cost.

So at the 8-month mark, we had our dining room back. But the upstairs bathroom? Still out of commission with undiagnosed bathtub problems…

Fourth-Day Flood (part 1): the 10,000-foot Perspective

Once the ceiling panels were down, it became obvious
that this had been a long-standing problem. Boards had 
water stains, a beam was rotting out, and the upstairs 
floor was being supported by scrap wood.

Last fall when I wrote about my Hobbit Bath upgrade, I thought I was nearly done with the plumbing issues in our upstairs bathroom–and therefore nearly ready to write a post (or 3) about them.

I was wrong.

Here’s the summary story: Four days after we moved into our 1906 new-to-us home, my best friend had the audacity to take a bath following a day of helping us unpack boxes. When she pulled the plug in the upstairs claw-foot tub, 50 gallons of water flowed around the plumbing, filled the space between the upstairs floor and downstairs ceiling, and rained from the dining room’s coffers for 6 hours.

Sadly our disaster was declared a preexisting condition (in spite of our “clean” home inspection prior to purchase and a joke-of-a-home-warranty), so David and I were left to do several-thousand-dollars-worth of water abatement and repairs. We had no choice…if we wanted to retain our homeowners’ insurance. Ugh.

To summarize a sixteen-month-long investigation: the people who had renovated our house in 2005 did a lot of DIY. Three of the four necessary feet on the claw-foot tub did not fit the tub. So every time the tub filled with water, the feet slipped out from underneath it, cracking the plumbing seals. Then water would flow along the easiest path (around the then-detached plumbing instead of through it) into the ceiling space and destroy the dining room below.

I’m a big fan of silver linings, so in advance of this series of posts I’ll admit that I’m happy with the cosmetic results. The dining room had professional repairs (meaning I got to have a hideous red dining room repainted by not-me) that have since informed my house’s entire decor. The guest bathroom also had professional repairs, in addition to the Amanda-and-David upgrades (it is now waterproof thanks to over 2,000 tiles!).

Stay tuned to read the horror stories and see the beautiful results…

Freeing Our Front Door

Christmas is around the corner, and I’m ready to decorate. I always start with the “outdoor” decorations, which for us are mostly located indoors. I’m that boring person who likes a single candle in each window, a big beautiful wreath on the front door, and not much else. Simple, but appropriate for our 110-year-old, square, red-brick house with 33 wavy-glass, wood windows. (Yes, 33 windows. And they all need to be covered by storms before they rot away!)

I’ve ordered new candles and a big beautiful wreath for my newly restored front door, and I can’t wait to hang it.

I noticed this summer that our front door (and back door and basement door) needed some attention. It had been painted green about 10 years ago, and that paint was failing. I could see layers of other paint beneath the green, and I knew I needed to strip the door for new paint to adhere well and look nice.

I’m getting pretty good at stripping paint. My first project here was restoring a transom window that hangs between our kitchen and mudroom, and it gave me lots of practice with different types of stripping solutions. Based on my window experience, I thought I could strip the front door in about 1 week. It took 3. There were 7 layers of paint and stain to dissolve and scrape before I finally hit wood.

I almost stopped a million times. As each layer fell in sticky clumps on the drop cloth, I’d stand back and consider if the door was good enough to get some fresh paint. It never was good enough, and I’m so glad I didn’t settle. Because I was shocked to discover this door is solid mahogany, and it deserves to be admired every time it opens and closes.

I used marine-grade urethane and a gel stain that matches the color of the interior pocket doors. It’s dark and rich and only took 4 coats to heal and seal the wood. (Stripping is not a gentle process, especially when you’re working on a vertical surface).

I finished the project by affixing an unlacquered brass kickplate to the bottom of the door, replacing the hinges, and polishing the doorknob and backplates. But all that shiny stuff doesn’t compete with the wood door’s tiny dental molding, wavy glass, and intricate woodgrain. The result is beyond my expectations.

I almost wish I hadn’t ordered that wreath. The door it will cover deserves all the attention this year!

"Insight" on Infertility and a Giveaway!

I hope you caught my interview on Miracle Channel’s daily program, Insight. I enjoyed my hour speaking with Paul Arthur and the callers who have been touched by infertility in various ways.

As I mentioned on the episode, I am running a short contest aimed at getting viewers and readers talking about the best ways to encourage friends and loved ones who are struggling with infertility diagnoses. I will send a copy of my book, Barren among the Fruitful, and a “Be Hopeful” necklace to one winner.

To enter the contest, you must do 2 things.

(1) Please answer this question in the comments section below: What do you think is the ideal reaction to a loved one who tells you he or she is struggling to have a child?

AND

(2) click a Rafflecopter giveaway. There you sign in with your Facebook account or email address, check “I commented!”

Good luck!

The Other Pink Ribbon

Have you heard? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As too many women do, I have a significant family history of breast cancer. I even had my own breast-cancer scare a couple of years ago that mercifully ended with a negative biopsy.

I am thankful for the incredible strides researchers and doctors have made in breast cancer research. The disease’s national platform developed by charities, survivors, broadcasters, and NFL players’ shoes has no doubt aided those strides. There are marketing geniuses working for the breast cancer nonprofits…

…and I want to steal them to work for the other pink (and blue) ribbon of October.

What will it take for the infertility epidemic in this country to receive the kind of attention that other ribbon-causes get? Why aren’t these numbers alarming?

  • 40% of women currently in their twenties will suffer some form of infertility.
  • 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
  • 0% of fertility treatments are covered by National health insurance programs.

Infertility is on the rise (for myriad reasons), costs of treatment are on the rise, marriages are breaking up, people are suffering; but no one besides the patients and their loved ones and doctors seems to care.

When will this get consistent national attention?

I observe that the only time infertility gets a soundbite on the news is when a celebrity confesses her (or his) struggle with it. But once that person has successfully started a family, the disease is never mentioned again. Do we all stop caring about other families as soon as our own medical procedure works or the long-awaited adoption comes through?

I want America’s population to know that October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I want people to care more about the dying babies and the families who lose them or can’t create them, than they care about a woman’s right to prevent (with birth control) or kill (with abortions) those babies.

Oh, and how’s this for irony:

All those lumps in my breast were likely caused by years of hormone-based fertility treatments. Turns out the pain of infertility can return years after the treatments have ended.

Small Room, Big Project

If you read Monday’s post, it’s possible you think I’ve been hiding under my covers for 4 months snuggling Copper. There was some of that, sure. But my primary coping mechanism in almost any situation is physical productivity. That’s probably because it gives me (1) the grand illusion that I have control and (2) the satisfaction of a job well done.

Back in January we moved from Denver to Chattanooga, and we bought a 100-year-old arts-and-crafts home. It was renovated “to the studs” about 10 years ago, but a LOT of what you can see was slapped together. Window moldings aren’t joined properly; nothing is caulked; paint combinations are atrocious; there is bead board and flat paint everywhere. I knew all this when we bought it. I thought, Sanding, painting, staining–I can do all of that. I’d like to do all of that! 

But of course, every little project I’ve started has ended up taking about 5-times longer than it should have due to corners cut by the renovators. Here’s one of those stories:

The Hobbit Bathroom

Before

If you’re over 6’1″ tall, you can forget standing up straight in here. Our below-the-stairs half-bathroom comes by it’s nickname honestly.

As I was working on the upstairs bathroom (a project that has been in progress since February and deserves a series of blog posts all its own), I thought, While I have the paint out, I’ll go ahead and hit the walls in the Hobbit bath.

It shouldn’t have taken more than an hour because the room is so small. As far as I could see, the only problems in the Hobbit bath were on the walls. The renovators had used flat paint, so years of hand washing at the pedestal sink had put water stains all over that wall. Yuck.

But as I took down the hardware and plastered over old nail holes, I realized there was a reason flat paint had been used. Flat paint hides imperfections, and these walls were full of imperfections. No one had bothered to sand and smooth the new drywall after it was installed. One coat of flat paint had been slapped directly over the lumps and bumps of mudded tape and gritty drywall dust.

After

I spent an entire day sanding then washing the walls. Next I primed the whole room, including the ceiling. I had not sanded the ceiling because it looked okay aside from the hairspray on it. Primer would cover the hairspray, right?

Little-known fact: hairspray + Kilz = crackle-plaster. With one roll of primer I had the ugliest textured ceiling you could imagine. It took David’s strength to sand that mess and the rest of the ceiling before I could finally paint.

If David ever gets involved in a project, it’s a safe bet that expectations will rise. During an ill-planned trip to Lowe’s the weekend of this disaster, he decided I should tile the wet wall behind the sink. Who was I to say no?

So my 1-hour project became a 4-day project, and I’ve had a total work stoppage on the upstairs bathroom. But the results speak for themselves, and I now have the confidence to tile the entire upstairs bathroom.

I figure that will take me a week, so I better reserve a month!

Surviving Mother’s Day…at the Mall

It was the last Saturday before Christmas, and Daddy needed me to go pick up a pair of earrings at the mall for my mother. It was pouring rain. Cars and people were everywhere. The only way to get a parking place in the mall’s lot was to stalk another shopper to his or her car. (But I’m not particularly stealthy.)

Then I saw it: a free space at the front of an aisle. I said thank you to my 4-wheel drive and whipped into the place backward. I wouldn’t have to park at a Chuck-E-Cheese and hike across a 6-lane road and the entire mall lot to get to one store and make my 30-second transaction.

The car was off, my purse was in my lap, and I was unbuckling when I saw, “Reserved for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers.” I cried ugly tears for 10 minutes then moved my car to the Chuck-E-Cheese.

Why did a fake parking sign instigate my nervous breakdown? I had just suffered my fourth miscarriage, and that sign was taunting me: “Hey, Amanda, you aren’t good enough to park here. Only people who give birth have a right to spend their money here and enjoy the Christmas season.” Yes, that voice was only in my head, and yes, it was amplified by the hormone cocktail saturating my recently-pregnant brain.

Similar events played out around almost every holiday during the 7 years David and I were trying to grow our family. Christmas was bad, but Mother’s Day was always the worst.

Survival Tip 1: Recognize Marketing in Action

When retailers decorate and advertise for Mother’s Day, they intend to play on the customers’ emotions. They want us to feel all sappy and lovey about our mamas so that we spend more money in their stores. Suddenly everything on the rack has “mom in mind.” Clothes, electronics, greeting cards–you name it. You don’t even have to read the signage because the color schemes are all pastel. Stores feel as if they’ve been designed for women.

From the parking lot to the check-out counter, no store is safe. While I would never buy my mother something from a lingerie store, your local pink-and-black retailer of all things lacy has posters reminding husbands to “make her feel like a bombshell.” Sporting goods and outdoor equipment stores suddenly stock everything in sickening shades of pink, “just for mom.” Even car dealerships give free oil changes–and special financing–to “keep mom safe.”

This is the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and it has undoubtedly damaged the loving spirit of the holiday. But don’t let it damage you.

When you are out doing your grocery shopping–or actually buying a gift for your own mom–let the signs remind you how the world sees mothers: as pawns. When you are filled with righteous indignation, make a choice to ignore the gimmicks and truly honor the great women in your life.

So how do you survive the Spring when Mother’s Day propaganda is everywhere you need to be? Comment below with your stories or tips, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace!

New Year, New City

In case you haven’t noticed, I have a type-A personality. I like calendars and schedules and 401(k) plans. I bristle at change and uncertainty. I’m a control freak responsible adult.

I first realized my control problem when David and I were unable to have children. It took seven years for me to “give” my supposed control of our family to God.

David’s birthday party at our church with friends and family.

In 2013 we refinanced our house and committed to serve God from our small home in Murfreesboro, TN. We abandoned thoughts of moving to East Nashville and buying a bigger house to fill with kiddos. We decided we could survive in the suburbs long term (although we are both “city people” who prefer mass transit to long commutes and next-door watering holes to chain restaurants). We found ourselves saying it would take “an act of God” for us to ever leave our church family whom we served faithfully and who edified us consistently. We had found unexpected contentment.

Two months later David’s job required us to leave that house and spend the balance of the year living in hotels all over the country. And while we were gone, the fabric of our Murfreesboro life frayed. God “sent out” our Life Group members: all but 2 families have moved to other time zones. Our church split. We had deaths in our families, cancer scares, and even watched an innocent man go to prison. We wondered why God had chosen that time to take us away when we thought we could have been so much help to everyone we loved.

In 2014 we made the move to Denver. We love Denver. We love the low humidity, absence of mosquitoes, Mountain time zone, 300 days of sunshine, organic lifestyle, Broncos football. And the mountains–oh, the mountains! Our time here has been restorative. Colorado has quickly become home, and there is no place we’d rather be than here.

It may be new to us, but this beauty was built in 1906!

But we are leaving. Today is our last day in our condo. Today we are packing up everything the movers won’t take, and tomorrow we start the 18-hour drive to Chattanooga, TN, where David has accepted a new job. In Chattanooga we will be fulfilling our pre-2013 dream. We’ve purchased a 100-year-old house in an up-and-coming downtown neighborhood. I’ll go back to my homemaker ways (cooking, gardening, volunteering, ladies-lunch-ing). We’re even growing our family! A basset hound puppy will join our party on January 31 when he’s 8 weeks old.

So I think I’m finally done with making plans and trying to control our future. We are starting to see our Denver year as God’s way of preparing us for this move to Chattanooga. What else could it be? No human would move 1.5 hours down I-24 from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga by way of Colorado.

Meet Copper the basset hound. He has “copper pennies” for eyebrows!

God has used our time in Denver to further strengthen our marriage and to solidify our priorities. We haven’t really put down any roots here. We own no property. We were never able to “get plugged in” to a church for various reasons.  When we leave, no one will miss us. And strangely enough that’s a very good thing.

We enter Chattanooga with renewed priorities. We look forward to becoming part of a community and having a healthy faith, healthy home, healthy food, healthy finances, and healthy relationships. We give control of it all to God, knowing He has an unfathomable plan when we let go of our own lives.

But I’ll be hiring the mosquito-control company myself next summer. It’s already on my calendar.