We had some, as they say, “Issues” in my family earlier this year. Many people let many people down in various ways, and circumstances beyond man’s control occurred. Metaphorical bridges were burned by people who should have done better. Friends were lost and gained. The net result is my faith is stronger than it was (which was already strong as it’s ever been), my marriage is on track to be better than ever, our house is better than ever, and I am pretty happy about the way things are headed.
For those who don’t know the details, suffice it to say that my marriage was in bad condition but God, who hears our prayers, has heard me asking pretty much every day “please help us the way You know we need.” Apparently, what we needed was to have our pets all die and our house to become nearly uninhabitable in a very expensive way, to bring us close together again.
Our house was built on ‘expansive clay’ soil which caused seasonal cracks and troubles with doors around the house. We knew it needed to be fixed and that it would be expensive and we didn’t want to pay for it. During the time our marriage was about the worst it’s ever been, God gave us a bit of a push, in the form of catastrophic flooding of our master suite. This is not how our bathroom was, at the beginning of the year:
and the bathroom vanity cabinets were not like this:
But that, apparently, is exactly what we needed. Our bedroom walls didn’t start 2021 looking like this:
…and our bed didn’t have a high-water mark on it from toilet water last year, either:
But God, rich in mercy and willing to get my attention however it needed to be done, got my attention. The foundation of our home shifted so much through the years that the main 4″ waste pipe that went across the entire width of our house underneath – BROKE – in at least 4 places. There was a septic pool under the house. As our home is connected to the municipal sewer, this is not good. We’d had drain problems for a long time, but one stormy night the drain problems got cranked to 11, and water from (mind you FROM) the toilet bowl filled up the bathroom and bedroom to a depth of several inches. Not from the toilet fresh water supply line, clean and potable. Water from the WASTE line. Smelling every bit like a sewer. It soaked the carpet. It soaked the walls. It soaked the furniture. Many pairs of shoes. Dozens of hours of crochet work. A notebook computer* and some paperwork that was on the floor. Soaking in poopy-smelling “Category 3 Water”. Because the house was so off-kilter, it only soaked our bedroom and bathroom, and the worst of it was right where we sleep. It was, as was pointed out to me, an apt metaphor for our relationship.
This was the worst time of my life. Those who know my story will understand that is saying something. It turns out I was ready for it and it helped me more than I would have thought possible, in ways I didn’t know I wanted!
During the next many months, many times, exactly what I had prayed for happened. I don’t mean in general terms. I mean specifically and exactly, right down to the very words that other people said* without any prompting. Many times when I was very very low, songs came on the radio that were exactly what I needed to hear to have hope. Praying for faith for several minutes, and then “you gotta have faith” is coming through the speakers. Praying for something to happen that I knew God has his own designs, and “if it’s meant to be it’ll be/baby just let it be” comes through the speakers. Extremely-specific things like that happened. I started to fix something about me and a coworker asked out of the blue if I’m getting better. Our insurance adjuster took a vacation because we needed a bit more time to hit a certain low point. On the way back up, I ran out of mortar with just enough for the very last tile. God knows what we need exactly, and He saw fit to give us exactly what we needed when we needed it. Thanks be to God.
A month after the disaster, with me out of town and my Darling Wife sleeping on the living room sofa, with all our bedroom furniture stacked up in the dining room, it was rough for her at home too. Her safest place of all was off-limits to her. Her comfort animals were newly deceased from unpreventable illnesses. Her husband was a jerk and not there for support. When she got to the bottom, she too looked upwards.
And then we started talking a bit, and put our heads together so we could rescue our common asset (the house, now borderline uninhabitable). After we started to co-operate so we could figure out how to pay for this mess to be repaired, things started clicking into position as readily as a row of dominoes falling over. After we started working together, the insurance people and the cleanup company finally managed to communicate effectively. Not by coincidence. The cleanup company left heaters and a dehumidifier in our bathroom for a month. Did it dry out the vanity cabinets? No sir, it did not. The cabinets had to come out. Particle board soaking in poo water doesn’t clean up, it falls apart. Literally. Sliding the cabinet on the floor made it collapse. So that had to be replaced. A Rube Goldberg-esque deal now unfolded.
- For the vanity cabinets to come out, the counter top had to be removed. That means the plumbing and sinks as well
- For the counter to come out, the giant wall/mirror had to come out
- For the giant mirror to come out, the light fixture had to come off the wall and the outlet covers had to go as well.
- The walls were soaked in Category III water so they had to get a Flood Cut – 24″ of drywall from the floor up was removed. All the baseboards came out. All the door casing trim came off. All the outlet covers came off.
- The wallpaper couldn’t be repaired, it would have to be replaced – so that came off too.
- The toilet had to be dealt with by the plumbers, so it was removed as well.
- The carpet in the master bedroom had poo water soaked into the pad. Removed
- Carpet tack strips removed
- Furniture in both rooms relocated to the dining room
- Literally all our clothes and everything you would expect to see in a master bedroom, a his-n-hers closet, and a large bathroom – was packed
- The garage was nearly full with boxes of “stuff” and we lived basically out of a couple suitcases worth of clothing, for months.
This left our bedroom with bare concrete floors and uninsulated, unfinished walls. The bathroom had zero usable fixtures, as well as un-insulated, unfinished walls. The bottom of the wall had a little gap, where you could see outside under the siding . . . but at least it was all clean again. The foundation repair went beautifully; the men who worked on it were very pleased. The plumbing repair involved shocking large amounts of dirt on the yard, but the plumbing was fixed and the yard was repaired too. The plumber took pity on DW and fixed a little plumbing leak he found, free of charge, because she took news of that one more thing pretty hard.
They also fixed the drain line in the yard, which as it turns out was clogged solid with roots. There was a little hole in the plug of roots, where I had managed to get a drain snake through a few months prior. Also I found out why the snake kept getting hung up at a certain point in the yard:
The yard line was separated by several inches, as well as offset by the majority of its diameter. This was the quality of work that was found all under the house, which was also repaired. Now our plumbing was in good condition.
But reconstruction work was not happening. In early Summer 2021, all of the region is still in construction from the Great Freeze we had for Valentine’s Day. It was a blessing to get the cleanup finally done and the foundation and plumbing repaired quickly . . . but reconstruction would take three to four months after the contractors got started. Which they had not done, after over a month! Multiple contractors said everything is booked up solid.
*I sat at our dining room table, now in the kitchen, talking to my wife who was slowly warming up to me again. She was realizing that I’m not as bad as it was easy to make me out to be, and I was still in for the long haul. I had been praying for a couple of days, including five minutes before, that she would say (without me mentioning it) that we should do the reconstruction work ourselves instead of hiring it done. She had been talking to everybody getting things lined up and I was not really expecting her to say that. So she did. Because that’s what we needed, when we needed it.
After figuring out how the insurance payment would work, we got to work. The insurance company gave us an initial pile of money and I bought some tools and materials. We all, our three sons, DW and I all pitched in and got the wallpaper off the walls. My boss was kind enough to arrange a low-cost toilet because he knows somebody at a plumbing supply house, and that was installed. I put the walls back together. Insulation first, of course, including tucked up around the pipes in the walls:
The pile of tools and supplies in the master bedroom got a bit large. DW helped with the sheetrock, including carrying that heavy stuff with me. I had #3 and #4 helping patch the sheetrock nail holes once the walls were closed again. And then the feminine dream happened. I realized I wanted DW to have a master suite she thinks is beautiful, instead of just having a box to sleep in . . . and I realized I had almost no preference as to the final finishes and fixtures. She got to go shopping for everything and the insurance company was paying. We had some good talks and some compromises were made, but she mostly got what she wanted.
The light fixture in the bathroom was builder-grade 1980s quality complete with a couple of bulbs that didn’t work and, surprisingly, it was held on to the wall with one (count ’em) screw right into the sheet rock. So that had to be fixed. I cut the wall open and inserted a stud, to which a box was mounted. DW chose a light fixture I was pretty sure would look bad but I went along and bought it. It looks great on the wall, as you’ll see. The brown patches on the wall are torn sheetrock paper. As it turns out, those are a problem you can deal with without pulling the sheetrock down, but it’s a hassle.
Then there was painting. Much climbing of ladders was done, for the painting. The giant mirror over the sink left some spots of glue which tore the paper as above, and the (badly installed) wallpaper everywhere else in the bathroom also tore off more paper with it, so the walls had to be carefully sealed. This is what happens when you remove wallpaper from walls that were not prepared properly when the paper went up:
We decided that wallpaper is Not A Good Thing and we wanted smooth walls. So we sealed and and painted and painted and sealed. And painted. It ended up blindingly white before color was applied. Broken valves were replaced and the tile floor was finished, decades after it was first laid.
The cabinets had been set on the slab originally, so I had to lay tile (scroll up, look at the floor 4 photos up from here). Thanks God, there was spare tile left over by the previous home owner.
Then the cabinets (which I was sure would look bad as we looked at them in the store) went in. It took hours of custom fitting to get the trim on the front to do right. The cabinets were larger than the space they had to go into, and that meant more labor for ol’ me. Then #2 and I spent hours sanding and polishing the old counter top. The plan is to replace it eventually, but for now I wanted it to look nice for DW. Because the plan is to replace the counter, DW and I agreed to get the cheap faucets and it turns out she likes them anyway. It came out “beautiful”.
So that got us a bathroom with working fixtures, which is a pretty hefty upgrade! Attention turned to the bedroom. The walls were previously textured, and for someone who isn’t a drywall guy (me) it would be impossible to match the existing texture. We looked at various options and decided to not spend a thousand dollars on wainscoting. Beadboard is, as it turns out, not free. We looked at rollers to apply custom texture, and techniques using knives and stamps, and couldn’t find something acceptable as a different/accent texture. We looked more and ended up watching a video of a Scotsman who had an accent so thick DW couldn’t even understand him, but he did something cool. Using a wallpaper finishing roller, he made sheet rock joint compound look like wood. It was amazing. DW wanted it. I made it happen for her. Thanks God for making me ‘handy’!
She picked the spacing and I laid the masking tape. It was a team effort. We got to spend a lot of quality time together during this work. I didn’t even know they made 6mm wide masking tape, but I’ve been through rolls of it now LOL
She’s been wanting color in the house for a long time. Now’s the time. She wanted a chair rail on the walls. Now’s the time. She wanted different colors for the walls and the custom texture. We worked on that together, which was fun, and came up with a custom color mixed up while we sat on our (concrete) bedroom floor! She wanted a different trim on the baseboards, which we went back and forth for a while but she ended up getting what she wanted there as well. I wasn’t convinced but I got it and installed it and . . . of course it looked good. She picked out a new towel holder ring and that went in. Here’s the bathroom trimmed and painted in her colors:
and a closeup of the colors in the bedroom, as well as a little detail I thought of for the corner trim:
She came in when I was installing chair rail trim and I held up a bit under the windowsill, to show her how it would look with trim under the window. She said “That looks so gooood!” and then I held up a bit of this to a corner and she did this noisy inhale thing like she was a cartoon and said THAT LOOKS EVEN BETERRRRRR!” so . . . I think she likes it!
Next up was the floor. It was bad. The builders had left overspray and spills of Godknowswhat on all the edges and a big mess of it in the middle of the room as well. The entire bedroom floor must be hand-scraped and sanded, as I didn’t have a grinder. For the next floor I do, I’m going to have a grinder. Here’s a shot of the mess I had to deal with, cleanup already well underway: The edges all looked like the center of the room still looks here.
That patch in the concrete is from the foundation repair. It had to be knocked down and smoothed a little too, which was relatively easy. I ended up with a floor ready to stick to mortar.
Yes mortar. As seldom as we like to do home renovations, and as much disgusting dirt as we saw come out from under the carpet, and as much pet mess as future pets are going to make on the floor, we wanted tile. DW picked a tile I thought would not look good but I went ahead and got it. As it turns out, laying tile is a huge amount of work. As it turns out, DW has a much (much much) better eye for interior design than me. The floor came out okay for me. I look at it and am satisfied with the work. Everybody else so far has declared it to be “beautiful” when they see it.
These pictures were taken as the baseboard was going in. Note that the gigantic pile of tools and supplies was moved to the bathroom for the time being, as the garage was still full of all our stuff in boxes!
She picked a new fan, which I installed
The counter had no backsplash previously and the wall had water damage from that. She picked out this fancy piece for a backsplash and turns out she likes it more than she thought:
She picked new mirrors, which I thought would look terrible but I got and installed and she was right. She thinks they’re beautiful. She picked a new medicine cabinet which I thought would be ugly but as it turns out (notice a pattern yet?) she was right and it looks fine. The new light fixture works with the rest of the finishes she picked. I’m told (by everyone) that this is a beautiful space now. She likes it, though, which was the whole point.
The furniture in the bedroom is all solid wood, no particle board. They tell us that it can be sanded and refinished and be sanitary. The insurance company paid a company thousands of dollars and we ended up with bedroom furniture that looked just the same after the refinishing men had it for a few weeks.
In all of these pictures you have to excuse the mess. We were more in a “Christmas in November” unpacking mode, than “make it pretty for the pictures” mode! The doors still need to be refinished, but thank God we can use our room again!
It was a little bizarre, waking up in our bedroom again after months out of it. It was fantastic to be doing so next to DW. For three months to the day, I had a new hobby. Go to work, go home and stay up late nearly every day working on a half dozen different tradsmens’ jobs. Repeat. Spend all day Saturday and Sunday after church working on the master suite as well. During all this, it was necessary (and nice) to be talking and working with my darling wife, and that was exactly what we needed to patch up our marriage. Thanks be to God for using this house wreck-turned-remodel to turn our relationship into a wreck-turned-remodel! Thanks to our friends and family who supported us and prayed for us As for the people who did us wrong along the way, we’ll be praying for you, too.
by the way
* the notebook computer that was in the water is kill. I opened it up and found the water had infiltrated exactly – and I mean exactly with zero point nothing millimeters – only as far as the very edge of the hard drive’s connector. The hard drive with all its data was perfectly intact and I was able to save all the data. You can’t tell me that happened by chance.