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(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

Back when Sherman and I were young DINKs (dual income no kids), Sherman took on a major, major project: making our 1940s house warm. The outside walls were made of stucco and the inside plaster, but they housed no insulation! Add the insult of single-pane casement windows that wouldn’t even shut very well anymore and you’d understand why this house was cold—and bleeding energy. Even though we often kept the thermostat in the low 60s, we still had monthly wintertime energy bills that exceeded $250. We had to keep our windows covered to reduce the drafts just a little bit—even if it meant keeping out the sunshine.

Sherman sleeping under his completed window, 1991

Having more time than sense—sorry, Sherman!—Sherman decided he didn’t want to inject insulation in the walls. No, he would add insulation to the inside of the outside walls (got that?) and then drywall them and then texturize the new walls to match the remaining old ones.

Of course, we didn’t just need new walls—we needed new windows, too. Thank goodness we don’t live in a covenant-controlled neighborhood because our plan was to replace them two or three at a time until we made it all the way around the house. We paid as we went and that way he could work on one room at a time since he really didn’t have that much time—hey, he had work to do and places to go and people to see.

Windows in 1992

Although he was confident he could push out the old windows, he knew enough to hire a trusted “retired” contractor—Jerry, a man who had performed many “miracles” completing projects for Sherman’s father and brothers—to install the new windows while he assisted at his side. He didn’t want to repeat the previous owner’s slightly skewed installations—no, he wanted the accuracy that came from a professional who knew his way around a level. Not only did Jerry provide us with straight windows, but he also created beautiful frames to showcase those windows. Sherman completed the project by staining the wood until it glowed like warm honey.

New blind closed, 2012

And what did I do to that now warm living room/dining room area? I covered up those beautiful windows with long, formal curtains that my mother-in-law paid a seamstress to make out of the material we had chosen and purchased. That made more sense as we anticipated the births of our twins. If I was going to figure out to nurse two babies, I didn’t really need to worry about what the neighbors could and couldn’t see.

Well, those twins are grown now and though the curtains are not worn out, they feel too heavy these days, especially considering the delicious sunshine that can light up these rooms during the winter.

New blind opened, 2012

So we did it—we decided to open up the room by installing Duette blinds we can raise and lower as needed. Though the sun’s path across the room is glorious, we do need some way to control that intense sunshine so that it does not wreak havoc on our furniture and rug.

Now if I can only control myself enough to keep it out when I should. Here comes our sun and I can’t help but want to rest into its warmth like a cat in a window seat, but I have work to do, places to go, and people to see—and furnishings to protect, blah, blah, blah.

Still, I can’t help but think our future’s so bright—you know the lyrics—we’re going to have to wear shades.

May 2010

Sometimes you just have to do things to please yourselves. The interior design people talk about creating good first impressions when people visit your home. I am a fan of that plan, although I do better with it in the theoretical versus the practical. Still I do save the worst clutter for the lower level!

However, this time it’s our turn. We have a detached garage and driveway which means we enter from the back of our home. When I first came to this home after I met Sherman, I noted a lot of the “good bones” in the house. But, that’s not what I thought about the stairwell.

May 2010

No, it was painted with flat, dingy pseudo-white paint that trended toward depressing gray. In all fairness, the whole house had been painted that way as a result of the pipes bursting before Sherman and his brother bought the house. It’s just that in the stairwell that paint was at its worst. The typical late 40s, early 50s tiles showed dirt easily, but had no style. The wall in the middle got in the way of everything anyone tried to move into the house—up or down—but it was a weight-bearing wall and had to remain.

Sherman and Michael had begun remodeling the 1940s home bit by bit from the time they bought it, but it needed a lot of work after forty years of housing one family. Frankly, the stairwell was not a big priority.

Fast forward our marriage and buying out Michael. We continued the work—or you can say the work continued us. Once my brother Scott was visiting and wanted to find “This Old House” to watch on the TV. We just laughed and told him to look around—with what project would he like to help?

Each time we made an update, we covered the depressing flat paint. Updates have been part of the process for almost twenty-five years.

May 2010

Closets added to bedrooms in the basement. New master bedroom and walk-in closet—a luxury in a house of that era—combined from two rooms. Redone kitchen with wood cabinets replacing the metal ones and new flooring installed. Upstairs bathtub converted into shower and all components replaced, with the addition of a tile floor. Rusting metal porch replaced with stucco and flagstone to match home. Downstairs bathroom partitioned out and laundry room carved from previous mother-in-law-style second kitchen. Fencing added that matched the stucco and flagstone. Flooring replaced in family room and two bedrooms downstairs.

And, most recently, we replaced the flooring in the stairwell and finally repaired those walls so beat-up by the years of moving items in and out of the tight landing. Then we finally covered the paint so easily made grimy by three English Springer Spaniels over the years and the hands of small children who grew tall, as well as by one well-defined shoeprint left on the high ceiling by an overly energetic adolescent son.

May 2010

What a project it has been. First we paid a contractor to do all the major work. Oh, the details he covered: removing old tiles, rebuilding steps, adding new flooring, stair-treads, baseboards, and other finishing pieces, adding new handrails, repairing major damage to the wall, and creating new coat hanging stations for our home that has no coat closets. Then Sherman needed to add texture as well as continue making numerous minor patches—including spending time on the flexible ladder to reach the highest and most difficult spots—a big part of why we hadn’t done this work previously.

Finally, this past weekend the walls were prepped enough so that we could apply the pre-painting tape. We started with a primer coat, necessary due to how flat the other paint was, so much so that a person could hardly tell we had spent time scrubbing down the walls. It’s bad when the primer makes a place look infinitely better than the decorative paint applied previously! The next day we added the colorful paint (like butter, as our friend Dawn pointed out) even though it took us until 11:00 p.m.

Sherman had to spend more time on that crazy ladder the next day to install the new light fixture. I painted the interior doors outside during the daylight hours—which worked well except for the fact our current English Springer Spaniel walked through my paint pan—thank goodness that happened outside.

May 2010

What a lot of work for a back door entryway—still, I can’t begin to say how much better it feels returning to something clean, cheerful, and beautiful. We deserve it, even if it took a quarter of a century to get here.

The place is such a work of art to me, especially in comparison to its former incarnation, that I almost hate to add back all the components of our daily life. Then again, daily life is what that space is all about—I am sure our coats and shoes will be decoration enough every day when we open our door and know we have finally made it back to our home, sweet home.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some coats to hang.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

What if things get better? Then what might I do? What might I be able to share with the world?

Those were the thoughts running through my head before I realized I was about to cry. I’m supposed to be jumping for joy. If nothing else, I think I can access a sense of relief. But, of course I also want that joy that follows after relief sets in. It’s just that I just don’t know how to get there.

What if I didn’t always feel there was some urgent and important task to do? What if I could just be? How do I move beyond the firefighter mode?

I think I’ve been writing this same blog post since July 2009, but I have to tell you the fires haven’t really stopped.

Now, many of the fires just might stop—yet I’m not sure I’ve moved far enough on how I’m going to live my life when I get to choose how to do so.

You see, yesterday I had a long, very satisfying conversation with my new insurance champion. Yes, I think the job title/program sounds pretty dorky, but I’ve tried to be a champion for myself without having all the tools, so I’ll take the help, dorky title and all. Lisa said the right things with the right tone. She agreed it was time for me to live in 2010, not 2008 and 2009. Time for me to settle my mom into a better place and time to enjoy the busy last months leading up to my kids’ high school graduation.

And, I don’t know why, but that drove home the hours that can’t be recovered. I try not to dwell there, but that there represents a sometimes overwhelming amount of loss to me. Even if it were just lost hours and not heartbreak and loss of wellbeing, it would be a lot.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Maybe it’s really that this week’s very positive trifecta of the remodeling, moving my mom, and possible resolution with the insurance allowed me a chance to turn my focus to the before and after of my life. Life was always chaotic and crazy here—I personally think that’s kinda’ the way we like it—but with a lot of enjoyable busyness.

Jackson was doing better in school and getting involved in activities, Christiana was getting into the activities she was already in and starting to find her place among friends, I had a book project and was working through more of the ADD challenges, Sherman’s health was improving and he had decent bosses, and we were just getting ready to fix some long term problems around the house, both through maintenance and finding a place for things. Crazy busy, but many positive changes afoot.

Then my mom fell—and we couldn’t pretend her memory problems didn’t exist anymore.

Next came Christiana’s depression.

It’s hard enough watching those you love struggle. But there are so many administrative tasks that go along with illnesses: scheduling and attending medical appointments, medicine management, bill-paying, and driving. And with Mom, I also had to deal with her possessions. Ironically, these types of activities are the opposite of what feeds a person with ADD.

However, what scares me is that crisis and anything that stirs up emotions can also feed a person with ADD—or at least give such a person focus, even if the food is really toxic.

What then if I can choose how to spend my time? What if I can stop rushing? How will I know what to do each day if everything isn’t urgent?

When I saw the gorgeous, partially newly-finished stairs at our main entry, I jokingly asked how I could live if I didn’t expect to see ugliness when I first entered our house.

Turns out my emotional reaction to the insurance champion’s call is really like using different words to ask the very same question.

Maybe if I write this blog post enough, I’ll figure out those what-if’s—or at least mourn the lost hours enough so that I don’t waste future hours by staying in the past. That’s why I didn’t beat myself up for my mostly illogical response to good (great?) news.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

So I’ll finish writing this post—one more time—and get back to doing some of the things I want to do today. And, I’m going to enjoy doing them . . .

because things really are looking up. I acknowledged my pity party when it hit me, but today I’d rather jump for joy. Good thing I’ve had lots of practice over the past year since Christiana, the family photographer, has been having us jump—again and again—in photo shots.

Ready, set, jump!

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