An update, for the family and friends who care

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.

It’s Official:

I now officially have an old house.  I went up to check and see if there were a dead animal on the chimney because there’s an odor by the fireplace, and I saw a handful of shingles were blown off the roof.  So now that I’ve patched my roof with some new, almost-matching-color shingles, my house is officially old.  It’s not as old as I am, but hey we’re not talking about me.

P.S. it would have been good to know in advance that I should wear gloves carrying the old shingle to BigBoxStore to compare to the new shingles…turns out, fiberglass-reinforced shingles leave glass fibers in your skin just like fiberglass attic insulation.  Oh well.

Conversations With Myself

Today after I got home from work, I had some pork chops, ‘taters and rice. Then a big homemade buñuelo*.  Fast forward to nearly-bedtime and I’m hungry. The following amusing-to-me conversation came out of my mouth between the living room and the kitchen:

VFD: My stomach informs me that buñuelos are not enough for a whole supper.
VFD:  (goes into kitchen, sees pan from cooking supper)
VFD: Oh wait, I had supper already!
VFD: Awwwwww yeah, that means it’s time for DESSERT!

*on a related note, the buñuelos took longer to make than usual. One of DW’s friends got a phone call telling her that the friend’s husband up and DIED while they were doing the prep work. So…yeah, the friend stopped making dessert treats and left.

That’s My Little Girl

We are out of beans, chez VFD. I was digging through the pantry in astonishment, trying to find another can of beans. To date, I have never seen our pantry without a can of beans in it, waiting to be heated and eated.

VFD: (from inside the pantry) We’re out of beans?! That’s impossible!
#1: (on the couch, in the living room) That’s impossible!
VFD: You’re impossible!
#1: Your face is impossible!
VFD:  . . .

For the record, neither she, nor I, nor my face are impossible. But what may be impossible, is for her to have a long term relationship with a guy who isn’t VERY quick on his toes, in a verbal sparring contest. I think it can be stated with some authority, the love of sarcastic humor is well established in the latest generation of my bloodline.

Good Boy. Good Thing You Can’t Talk.

VFDDawg #3 got lucky twice today.  He got to eat spaghetti.  Twice.  Not two separate servings.  The same serving, twice.  Dumb dog, he ate a bellyful and a half, yakked it up on the kitchen floor, and left it long enough for DW to see the mess.  She declined to clean it up long enough for the dog to begin to have another go at his meal.  She started being grossed out, but I told her to remember it was just that someone had spilled a bowl of s’getti on the floor.  That worked.   She chilled out again.

Nevermind the dog had spilled it out of his gullet.  He was cleaning it up, so it was okay with me.  But it was a big helping and he had a light stomach.  He couldn’t eat it all at once (again).  DW asked me to clean it up as she was on the way out the door to take a couple of anklebiters somewhere.  I went back to the kitchen, and more of the mess had cleaned itself up.  I moved the furniture that was blocking access to what was left.  Came back a few minutes later and the rest of the spaghetti was gone, along with some old kibble that had snuck under the furniture.

Good boy.

I’d give him a treat but… I think he’s full.

If You Drive Like This, You STINK!

Driving protip: If you can’t see ANY oncoming traffic when trying to cross a 50MPH street, don’t zip out into the lanes at 30MPH.  Slowly ease the nose of your car forward until you can see what’s coming at you, or wait.  Don’t do with this jerk did to me this morning.

My little hot rod will usually come down from the top/right of this scene, then turn right onto the street heading to the top/left of the image.  Usually there is zero traffic here.  Today there was a concrete mixing truck and a concrete pumping truck trying to make my right turn, with a couple of cars behind them.  Decision: I’ll go straight and head on to the next place I can get around this block.  It’s going to be too slow to follow all these trucks and cars down the side street.  There was also a concrete mixing truck in the left-turning lane, also trying to go down this side street.

What I couldn’t see was there was a typical Central Texas driver sitting in the side street, wanting to make a left turn and go up and off the top/right of this picture.  Significantly, the driver of that car could not see ANY oncoming traffic in either direction.  Their view was entirely blocked by huge trucks and piles of stuff on the ground nearby.

So this genius decides to ZOOM across to the other side of the street.  A safe driver would inch out until they could see, or better yet make the right turn and go HALF a block down the road, and make a u-turn where there is a clear sight line.  No, they wanted to go by-god-right-now.  50MPH cross traffic be damned.

This is about where our cars were, the first time we saw each other.  And I’m going 50ish miles/hour here.  If I were much less attentive of a driver, this would have been a T-bone collision.  STRAIGHT into the driver’s door at 50MPH and they might well have died right there.  My whole day and car would both have been ruined.  I could give a [deleted] about killing someone when they deserve it, but I like my car.  They saw me and stopped IN the lane where I was going to be in half a moment. The truck waiting to turn left was farther away than the car suddenly blocking my lane, so I slammed on my brakes and cut left.  Physics declared I didn’t have enough room to stop, and the oncoming lanes were empty so I ditched left again.  I was ready to go up on the curb and empty sidewalk area across the street, but the lanes continued to be empty.

Suddenly, a wild car appears!  They were in the #2 lane or there would have been a nasty crash – me sideways with my passenger side, into the cement mixer to avoid the oncoming car.  But they were in the #2 lane.  I steered right and they steered right and nobody hit anyone.  Thank GOD.  The person who had been coming down the road behind me a couple of seconds ago was now stopped, waiting to see the movie-special-effects explosion of car parts.  As I was reversing into the left turning lane, they waved me into the lane where I had been a moment before.  Thanks, buddy!  Somebody with some courtesy around here yay!  Notably, the dummy who would have caused the collision had made their left turn and was gone.  Took off between the car that almost killed them and the one that almost rear-ended that one, and away like nothing happened.  Jerk.

Total elapsed time: probably 3 seconds.  Enough time for the airbags to deflate, if my car had airbags and I were as bad a driver as the other guy.  It seemed like it took a minute and a half, at the time.

I’ll Be In Town All Week!

DW went into the laundry room and turned off the light.  The garage lights shine through.  She opened the door and switched off those as well.  And slammed the door.*  She came into the lighted living room, saw the lit-up dining room, and three bedrooms and a bathroom, all with their lights on.  And our house is adequately lit by the evening sun, which was streaming in through the windows.  She asked the family (all congregated in the living room), “Why are all these lights on?!”

This seemed like a good question which really should have a good response.  I racked my brains.  Earth Day was last week.  Last week for Earth Day, I frustrated her a little with my mode of celebration – which is of course, leaving lights on unnecessarily.  But that was last week.  I couldn’t say it was Earth Day again!

VFD: It’s Earth Day!
DW: I’ts not Earth Day.
VFD: It’s Earth Day every day!
The Zoo: LOL

*The door has a stiff weather seal around it, and you either have to slam or close gently and push with a shoulder.  Everybody slams the door, or else it stays half-open and you’re air conditioning the whole world!

Eulogium Ante Mortem

As I type this, #2 is out in the garden digging a hole.  VFDDawg #2 is on her way tonight.

When #1 was around kindergarten age, old enough to be trusted not to hurt the dog, she would take the little thing to her bedroom for hours.  They would keep each other company while #1 would read or color or play.  #1 would dress her in cute little dresses of her own design, and ridiculously large bows, also of her own design.  This chihuahua never uttered a protest.  She never was one to growl, never one to snap at a child even when being poked at and her tail pulled, etc.  Even when other dogs would come around, she would bark of course (that’s the Chihuahua way) but she would never bite.

Last year she started losing weight.  She started around nine and a half pounds at full size.  Then from about October last year she kept shrinking.  Skinnier and skinner she’d get but she’s always happy to see the family come home, always wagging the tail and turning little circles waiting to be petted.  Sometimes she runs with one of her rear feet up like it’s hurt (“trigger foot”), but they all do that.  Sometimes she would get closed in the door by a toddler and get half a baby aspirin for a while until she was better.  Sometimes she would poo in the house and nearly be killed on the spot by the mistress.  But she was always such a sweet dog.  She would be your favorite thing in the world, if your favorite thing  happened to be a small, black, fuzzy lap warmer that likes to be scratched on the head but please don’t touch her ears.

And she finally got skinny enough to take to the vet.  Four and a half pounds.  Blood testing showed liver failure.  The smallest steroid pills you ever saw, cut in half, to help with nausea so she would eat.  And she started eating again too – but not putting any weight back on.  You can tell which are her poops in the yard, because they’re almost gray.  Her ears are no-kidding falling apart.  It looks like scabies gone wild on the edges, with chunks missing and the top edge of the ear flap just a raw sore – but it doesn’t itch, stink, or hurt her.  Her liver can’t maintain her skin any more is all.  Her coat lost fur in spots along her spine, then on her hips, and then everywhere in little dry patches.  The skin can’t hold fur any more.  She used to be as strong as any other little rat-dog, and would stand on her hind legs to grab a treat.  But she stopped doing that.  Then sometimes she couldn’t step up six inches to clear the bottom of the door to come back into the house.  You set her down gently and she collapses until she deliberately collects her strength to stand again.  Then she’ll shake herself -not as hard as she used to do- and wag her tail like nothing.

Her spirits remain high through it all.  A happy dog.  Loves attention.  Loves to come around when DW and #1 are on the floor, and get tangled up in their long hair like it was catnip.

And her ribs are showing through her coat.  And her waist is smaller and smaller.  And she has to think about it for a moment before she can come inside from the back yard.  And she doesn’t have any appetite.

This morning she staggers and can’t exit her kennel.  She can’t step up 3″ to get on the patio.  She can barely stay up just to walk straight.

VFD: She’s going.  She’s going Tonight.
#1: Yer gonna kill her?
VFD: Look at her.  Is it a kindness, to let her be like that?
#1: No.

Not So Bad, After All

New readers are encouraged to go read this old post first:

Go ahead.

I’ll wait right here.

It’s worth a few minutes.

All done?

Now we’ve fast-forwarded almost five years. The trees are gone from the culvert behind the house, except near the fences. The grass and weeds have taken root. It’s been raining on-and-off for a few days, and the creek is flowing again. This afternoon, it was muddy but not raining. Perfect for a traipse through the former-woods.


The former trees and a random smattering of the “forest” floor were covered in poison ivy. That’s all gone, replaced by clean grass and wildflowers. A few (already-failing) attempts at erosion control in the stream bed make for interesting play areas. So, today we went on a play walk. It’s less of an “explore” and more of a “play in the crik” but it was good.

Different, but good.