Transformation 2012: Day 10

Today is the end of a 10-day spiritual retreat, in which I focused most of my time and energy on rehabilitating a house, and rehabilitating my soul. I’ve prayed, and poured sweat, and dreamed and … I’m not entirely sure what will come next but I am confident it will be good.

After church and lunch and chores at the Hart house, I went to Lodestone and … spread seed (not photo worthy) and mowed.

The photos do not do justice to the vast expanse of the back yard (I’ve fallen in love and see it as a canvas, ripe for the landscaping that could be).

I now begin a twice-daily watering regimen, trying to maneuver within the bounds of water rationing restrictions. Only the front yard is being beautified. The back…will remain a frontier for my dreams.

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Transformation 2012: Day 9

I spent the day cutting down cedar, specifically the large tree-bushes at either end of the house. We considered cutting them down completely, but after pruning away all of the “bush” and paring them down to “tree,” we decided to leave them in their new trim state.

The final step will be to cut down and level off the stumps that circle the main trunks. Meanwhile, I’m beat up and exhausted. This transformation business is hard work!


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Transformation 2012: Day 8

Today, I went to work on the windows. My goal was not necessarily to make them sparkle, that will come later. My goal was to eliminate the nastiness – dirt, grime, bugs, etc.  The hope is that once all is said and done, a quick clean (water, vinegar, newspaper and elbow-grease) will bring the sparkle without significant (additional) effort.

For today’s effort, I used a bucket with simple green, scrub brush, sponge and washcloth. And elbow grease. On the west end of the house, the previous owner had taped around the exterior with some sort of solar blocking aluminum, and the residual tape/adhesive had to be removed with Krud Kutter and a plastic putty knife.

Here is a close up of a before and after for the window frame in the front bedroom:

There is a fair amount of sparkle that came with the initial cleaning. Now, I’m off to work in the yard. Curb appeal is a critical element in bringing in buyers.

Meanwhile, Mr. H is making good progress with the tile:

Transformation requires deconstruction and reconstruction. In order to get to the end, the glorious finished product, you have to go through a rough middle-ground (the valley) when things look grim. Window-cleaning is messy work. If I walked away in the middle of the effort, it would look worse than when I started. When Mr. H demolishes a bathroom, removing the old tub and sink, removing the plumbing and walls, things look pretty rough. But at some point the situation turns around and it is possible to clearly imagine how things will be.

While I work, I’m imagining how things could be.

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Transformation 2012: Day 7

If I weren’t running a series, I’d have titled today’s post, “Mr. H is the light of my life.” It’s true, you know. We have been working well together as a team, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his uncanny ability to notice that I’m working the dark. He passes through the room where I’m slaving away (mostly over wallpaper, but occasionally other efforts) and turns on the light. It’s a remarkable gift and a source of surprise and gratitude every time he does this for me.

Although I’ve spent a lot of time stripping wallpaper, I can also claim credit for cleaning the cabinet doors (what’s not evident in the “before” photos is the extent of the grease and grime on these doors):

And cleaning the soot off of the fireplace:

Meanwhile, Mr. H has demolished bathrooms and rebuilt them, installing new tubs and tile. Here’s the master bath:

Here’s the guest bath:

Also, he’s created a wine rack and wine glass holder:

I’ve come to appreciate that in this venture, I’m the cheap labor, grateful for the boss who passes through and offers enlightenment.

In the spiritual realm, this is absolutely priceless symbolism for the transformation I’m appreciating, as I scrub and peel and clean, I’m grateful for the wisdom and guidance that comes from above.

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Transformation 2012: Day 6

Today I finished the last of the wallpaper removal at Lodestone, stripping the layers of brown paper from the master bathroom. I quickly learned that I needed to change my ways or accept the consequences; this situation required patience and finesse. An alternative might have been to replace the drywall. Here’s an example of what I found as I peeled back the layers:

It turned out there was significant damage from prior wallpaper removal efforts on these poor battle-scarred walls. Although there were at least 3 or 4 layers of brown paper, I was convinced there’d been another layer that had been removed, including the brown backing, as evidenced by the damaged sheet rock beneath all of the layers of papers. I’m not sure how many rounds of wallpaper came and went over the decades, but I did (eventually) uncover the original paper, a sliver left behind like an archaeological relic:

Ultimately, the technique that worked best was: a light scoring, an application of DIF and an over-spray of water. This encouraged the paper to separate from the sheet rock. But, if the sheet rock became soggy, I had to step away, to allow the two materials an opportunity to meditate on where the paper ended and the wall began. Occasionally, when I believed I’d removed all of the paper, when dry again, a spritz of water revealed bits of brown paper still clinging to the wall.

Between the layers of brown paper backing, I found a half-dozen areas that were thick with drywall mud, from past repairs. All of this material was removed. The walls in this bath area will be taped, floated, textured and painted. I trust that this process will be forgiving, and there will be no indication of this sordid history.

During the hours spent teasing the paper away from the wall, I considered the similarity of this process with the analysis and rehabilitation of the human pysche. Most of us would find that getting to our core, teasing away the layers of protection that we’ve built up during our lives, is a delicate process, not to be rushed. Also, unfortunately, most of our cores are probably wounded, damaged, scarred (likely from some form of mistreatment in our early years). Many will go their whole lives, continuing to add layers, never stopping to remove layers. Removing the layers is painful, tedious and not immediately rewarding. But that’s not to say that once we get there, to our core, and we take the additional time to examine ourselves, we can’t heal and rebuild.

I’m in the process of seeking and finding; peeling, poking and prodding the layers, trying to remove all that’s superficial without inadvertently damaging the core. The transformation will be a renewal from within. It may not be pretty now, but I trust the end result will be beautiful.

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Transformation 2012: Day 5

If you visited yesterday’s post, you’ll see an image of the dining area wall at the end of the day (i.e. the start of the day today). To the uninitiated, it might not look that bad. I dared to feel some optimistic as I began. Even by lunchtime I thought I was making good progress. But for the most part, the effort was all about stripping one tiny piece at a time.

If this looks like shredded wallpaper, it should. This was the product of my efforts. Tedious, very tedious. During the course of my labor, I tried various tools, techniques and chemicals. It all seemed to come down to elbow grease. Also, I was up against a ~30 year old bond, I don’t think a Hogwarts graduate could’ve done much better with a wand and the right potion or spell.

On Saturday, our wall expert (Fernando) will be out to mud, tape/float, etc. the walls, repairing past and new damage. I hope he’s not too horrified by the result of my efforts. As much trouble as I had separating the glued-together layers of paper in the dining area, the master bathroom is looking much, much worse. 

I hope Fernando can work magic. In the master bath, I’ve discovered 4 layers of brown paper, which means that with each redecorating, some effort was made to remove the old paper…at least the printed layer. But the plain brown backing was left behind. I’m sure there was a right way to do this, a method that would have resulted in less tearing, but I’m not sure I had it in me to apply the patience that was needed. That was the one thing lacking my array of tools.

What I did have at my disposal, the weapons of destruction:

Spray water (the most effective. I had a nifty pressure canister, but found the spray bottle shown on top of the ladder to be the most efficient.)
DIF (not effective)
Goo Gone (Painter’s Pal: not its intended purpose but was recommended. Somewhat effective. Strong citrus odor)
Downy (highly recommended, but about as effective as the Goo Gone, though runnier/messier. Also, pick a scent you like – this was the strongest-smelling of all of the chemicals.)
Simple Green (used mostly for removing the residual glue left behind on the paint. Caution: removes latex paint.)

I tried a variety of other products, including rubbing alcohol. In general, I found water to be the least expensive, least smelly, easiest to obtain wallpaper removal product, and it was as effective, if not more so, than the rest of the solutions.

Other tools: plastic putty knives for scraping, a scoring tool, ladder and the clean-up tools. One important lesson I learned was the importance of cleaning up the wet, sticky paper (instead of leaving it on the floor to dry, and creating another opportunity to scrape wallpaper…but this time from the cement floor).

My deep thought for today: in peeling back layers, the oldest is the hardest to remove. Time, patience and a lot of effort are required to gently lift away the covering, to expose the original material. As these walls are being prepped, I’m looking within and rediscovering myself. This is truly a time of transformation.

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Transformation 2012: Day 4

Today, I was back in the wallpaper mines. In the grand scheme of things, removing wallpaper is horrible. Two layers of wallpaper is terrible. Three layers of wallpaper is heinous. A wall-art paneled mural, glued directly to sheet rock, is even worse. What’s worse than heinous? Abominable?

As much as I’d like to see such things banned, it seems paneled murals are still available today (I resisted the urge to include a link, as I don’t want to encourage deviant behavior).

I spent most of today working in the dining area (here’s a view at the end of the day):

Although I groused (to myself) a bit, thinking that I might have better things to do, or there might be better/faster ways to remove the cursed mural, or that a day-laborer might be money well-spent, I ultimately decided that:

  • Removing wallpaper is cheaper than paying for therapy
  • The workout is better (and cheaper) than going to a gym
  • The opportunity for solitude and introspection was priceless

Intermittently, I worked on the bathroom. The wall to the right was relatively easy – one layer of paper that came off without much coaxing. The trim around the ceiling was another story. Hard to reach, gooey, gluey, gummy, gross and resistant to chemicals. The paint peels off more easily than the adhesive, though that might have been the chemicals. In the absence of ventilation, the fumes in this small room were toxic. Tomorrow, I plan to finish with the wallpaper removal (top of the wall in the dining area, remaining trim in guest bathroom, master bath) and I will post a review of the chemicals and tools used, and their relative effectiveness.

For today, my thoughts have been on the challenge of peeling back the layers when the mask is so tightly bonded to the core. In removing the wall-art, I’ve struggled with almost every approach I’ve tried, in an effort to avoid collateral damage.

Despite my efforts, there have been plenty of nicks and scratches left behind on the sheet rock. Fortunately, the painter will come in with his compounds and magic to smooth things over before texturing and painting. The finished product will give no indication of the scars.

That’s how we are, isn’t it? On the surface, all appears well. We smile and nod and move through life without giving away the secrets we hide.

I wonder if the original builder believed the mural would remain in style forever. For eternity. Until the end of time. Or did he think that, should such time arise when a future homeowner might decide to dispense with the art, they could demolish the house. Or the wall? Did he give any consideration for the difficulties that would come with removing the cosmetic layer?

When we create a cosmetic layer to show the world, do we give consideration for the day when that layer may no longer be adequate or appropriate? I know that I’m being transformed, I am peeling away mental layers and looking at my internal sheet rock, chipped and scarred, softened by the processes that are getting me here. Once I’ve been stripped bare, it will be time to rebuild. I trust that the renovation will be rewarding. I am looking forward to the final “reveal.”

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Transformation 2012: Day 3

Today was another day in the process of renewing, reflecting, revitalizing and revealing; peeling back the layers and discovering what’s hidden below the surface. I spent my morning in prayerful retreat, then embarked on a new adventure.

Inspired by Humans of New York, I’ve been itching to explore the Humans of Austin (and perhaps, eventually, the Humans of Texas).

After some wandering about, I (nearly) ran into Chuck and his beautiful Springer Spaniel. He told me of the day in November when she found him, and about several times she’d alerted him to danger or stood up to others in his defense. We chatted for a bit, then I asked, “Do you mind if I take your picture?” This was a major milestone for me, the ice was broken. I was stepping out in my new role as local photographer.

God willing, many trips downtown will follow. I hope to improve in my ability to approach strangers and to capture their essence. I’m seeking God’s grace & glory in the faces of humanity. If today was any indication, this journey will be filled with blessings.

Later, I enjoyed Listen to Your Mother, a compilation of essays and poetry, written and read by local woman on the subject of motherhood. I was impressed by the diversity of the crowd, including the three women (3 generations) seated next to me.  

I bought my ticket on a whim, without regrets (other than, possibly, not getting to meet Ann Imig, the founder of the LTYM. Of course, she lives in Wisconsin, so probably not surprising that she wasn’t in town today). I enjoyed the session and hope to be a presenter next year.

Afterwards, I had to skip the reception (poor planning, didn’t realize there was one), instead I went home, then Mr. H and I drove to Lampasas for an evening service at St. Mary’s church.

 And now, at the end of the day, I reflect on my transformation, including the dangling earrings (that jingled as I walked, like wind chimes) and the french braid (not my usual do). It was liberating to spend the day doing things I don’t usually do. It was challenging to approach strangers and ask to take a photo. It was odd to go to a show by myself. It was different to drive to Lampasas for an evening service, having foregone our usual morning service in Cedar Park.  I’m seeking God in the faces of strangers, but I’m also searching within. Ultimately, I hope to find myself, recognize Christ within me, and rejoice.

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Transformation 2012: Day 2

For reference, I’ve included a “before” image. My 10-day transformation is independent of the work that Mr. H has already completed. Prior to my jumping in to strip wallpaper, he’s already removed tile, modified cabinets, etc.

Yesterday I spent the day stripping wallpaper. Today, I spent the day stripping wallpaper. Wallpaper stripping is an art form. As Mr. H pointed out, this does not, technically speaking, count as “skilled labor.” It is mindless, which is exactly what I need.

While I worked, I daydreamed about tomorrow, a day that will not include wallpaper, but will include Listen To Your Mother. I sang, I prayed, I considered the vicissitudes of life, and I pondered my next artistic endeavor (details to be revealed tomorrow).

NOTE: I found the best technique for removing the wallpaper was to spray water over a 3’X3′ section, let the water soak for a while, repeat. After 5-10 minutes, the layers peel away. (I used a plastic putty knife to assist in peeling/scraping.) I generally alternated between two sections, spraying a section and peeling the other section, then switching. The final step was to remove the glue. I spent about an hour washing the walls of the slimy residue. The concrete was a slippery mess of water, glue and paper strips. Next time I might use a drop cloth for easier floor clean-up.

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Transformation 2012: Day 1

We’re flipping another property, code name: Lodestone.

Today was Day 1 of a 10-day transformation, for the property and for myself. I focused on wallpaper at the house. In the dining area, there was a lovely silver/white textured paper:

After removing the outer layer I discovered a mural:

The mural was a paneled wallpaper (note the small section, removed in the lower right corner, revealing non-textured sheetrock):

In the kitchenette, two to three layers of paper had to be worked through:

At the end of Day 1, I’d made good progress; I’d developed a technique, improving my efficiency and minimizing collateral damage (NOTE: I had nothing to do with the damage at the top right of the door jamb!):

Internally, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m doing for a living, what I’d like to be doing for a living, what I’d like to be doing for fun, how much “living” needs to be sacrificed for the sake of income, etc. How much risk am I willing to take for the sake of satisfaction? Can I live out my faith by taking a leap into the unknown? Or will I cling to safety and miss out on the satisfaction of artistic pursuits?

I pray that these ten days of transformation continue to peel back the masks of past lives to uncover the beauty of potential.

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