Friday, November 16, 2012

blowing away bob

About a week ago, once we finally got a bedroom together, Nathan said, "We've got to get Le [our next-door neighbor] over here, she is going to be so excited to see the changes." I replied, "a lot of people are going to be excited. People have been watching us and waiting to see what happens to this place. There are a lot of people cheering for us." And we were both blessed by the thought of that.

So, without further adieu, the result of one long month with the Thums (sorry we have been so self-involved and "busy")...

 Outside before...

Outside during...

Outside after...

 Back room (part A) before...

Back room (part A) during...

Back room (part A) after...

 Back room (part B) and ceiling before...

Back room (part B) during...

Back room (part B) after (we moved the laundry so I have a closet now!)...

Back room (part B) ceiling after (tongue & groove wood with solid stain in Caribou by Sherwin Williams)...

Half-bath floor before (super gross linoleum) ...

Half-bath floor after (carrara marble in herringbone pattern, with trim upcycled from the back room)...

More half-bath, just for fun...

New, dual-flush toilet (and deer bust, of course)

utility room before (A.K.A. Nathan's scrap yard)...

Utility room during...

Utility room after (and my new office)...

New laundry with utility sink!

Living room loft before (sans railing and sub-floor)...

Loft during (yes, that is a backpack vacuum)...

Loft after (railing that matches original and lets in a whole lot more light that a drywall knee wall!)...

Upstairs bedroom before...

Upstairs bedroom after (with a door!)...

And the living space is clean, sans random scraps of construction materials...

Bob the appraiser came back earlier this week and he was blown away. With every room he walked into it was like seeing a kid on Christmas morning. He looked at us like a proud papa, congratulating us on a job well done. Granted, we are not "done" and I don't know if we ever will be, but this makes our house feel a whole lot more like home in the meantime. I think I might even find time to do some baking this holiday season. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

veterans day

I'm a little ashamed to admit this but I don't normally give Veterans Day a lot of thought. It's always been more of a bank holiday than anything else to me until this year. I don't know if it is different this time around because of social media and seeing all the photos of armed service men and women or the fact that this woman I only slightly knew in St. Louis lost her veteran son to suicide last week, due in part to his PTSD from war, and how that has haunted me, or both. But I got to thinking about my dad, who is a veteran.

This one year back when I was in college I was vacationing with some family and we went to an Opry in Osage Beach or Branson, which is the Missouri version of a Vegas show only with more hillbillies. I always want to think that those shows are really cheesy or stupid but the fact is that they are always, always entertaining. Anyway, this one particular time we were at an Opry and late in the show I heard my name announced from stage. My dad had told them ahead of time that it was my birthday, even though it was probably August and my birthday is in late September. I was surprised and embarrassed and my dad kind of nudged me smiled and clapped whole-heartedly along with the rest of the crowd who applauded to congratulate me on another year of life. Then, just a moment later, the stars of the show asked all the veterans to stand up as they sang Proud to be an American, or something like it. Lots of people around us stood up tall and accepted applause but Dad just sat there with a half-smile on his face, looking straight ahead and enjoying the show. I nudged him and motioned for him to stand; he did after all serve our country in the Navy for two years in the sixties. But he refused to stand.

Happy Veterans Day and many thanks to all those who have served our country in big or small ways.  Whether you know it or not, you have made a difference and you deserve today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

the (un) perfect setting

I don't know how else to say this without betraying the truth or being too self-incriminating: during the hours before people are coming over to our house, I turn into Medusa. I'm talking full-fledged venomous snakes for hair and looking upon me will turn a person to stone. Really, I do become pretty much the worst version of myself and I'm pretty sure I put the fear of God into my husband. Words that I wouldn't normally say just fly out of my mouth. Words like: "how do I keep finding more dirty clothes at every single turn, do we live in a giant laundry basket?" Or: "would it kill you to throw away a single piece of trash in your entire life?" I regret them almost the instant that I say them and my only saving grace is that my husband has come to accept this alter-ego in me and has the sense to laugh at me, albeit very quietly to himself lest he be turned to stone.

Tonight the two cosmic forces of one of my greatest desires and greatest fears collided and we hosted Young Life club at our church house. We are in the middle of doing all this work, after we have demolished most of our house, and I am not exaggerating when I say that an hour and a half before high school kids came knocking at our door we had to drag our mattress-- the one we sleep on, with all the pillows and disheveled covers-- off the living room floor and into one of our unfinished spaces. Yesterday I told Nathan that I really didn't want all of our clothes in the living room when people came over, and tonight it was a close call. Did I mention that we had to hang the bathroom door about twenty minutes before people came over, so they could have a little privacy? During the dreaded hours before house guests one of our sweet neighbors dropped by to bring us a bottle of sparkling wine and the second thing out of my mouth was to yell at my dog as she strolled out the front door: "get your ass back here. Right. Now. And go to time out." To be fair, the first thing was, "hi, Le." I've got to give myself a little credit.

It turned out to be a pretty awesome night. We have a lot of new Young Life leaders volunteering who bring energy and skill to club and who desire to get to know these high school kids, and this house really is the perfect setting. One of the things Nathan and I have always said about this place is that it was built to be a community space and we mean to keep it that way. A few people came up to Nathan and me throughout the night and said things like, "you really live here?" or "you have the sickest house ever." At one point I told someone that it is a dream and a nightmare and I felt a little bad about that. Sometimes I think I am a little too honest about how difficult it is to turn this space into what we see in our mind's eye. After all, the greatest things in life are often the hardest. We believe this house is a gift from God, even though it has not been handed over on a silver platter.

The other week I heard someone say, "God is for us even more than we are," and I cannot shake those words. It is so true because we would never choose some of these things for ourselves, especially not the things that hurt. Sure, it sounds like a good idea to buy this cool, old church building because think about all the people we can host and how awesome Young Life club will be. But then you move in and you realize that it hardly functions as a house and most days it is too messy to invite anyone over. When we are sitting here in the life that we have built together, looking at tiny houses on Craigslist because that sounds like a pretty good idea at this point, we wonder why we started this process in the first place. The thing is that we may or may not have chosen this for ourselves if we knew what we were getting into, but now that we are here we have no choice but to forge ahead. Because, in all likelihood, this really is the best life for us and this house is the best setting.

This morning I walked into work and my boss opened the door and said in a very cheery voice, "good morning, are you excited about club tonight?" I said, "I would be if I weren't so exhausted," and a moment later my co worker said, "nice bed head, Ashley." We have been staying up late and getting up early-- well, early for us-- just to make things happen and I cannot help but believe that these are the days we will eventually look back on with wonder and gratitude. This is the time for us to make our cameos in the story of what this building means to this community. This is the life we never knew we always wanted.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

decorative storage

You can't change a man. This is a universal fact that too few women choose to embrace, which only leads to disappointment. As someone who was raised by a single dad, I understand this truth all too well. My husband is like my dad in an almost scary way, including their proclivity for accumulating junk.

Nathan and I have been married for just over two years but I have already discovered what will probably be the secret to a long, happy marriage and it can be summed up into two words: decorative storage.

Women must give up the notion that their husbands (at least the messy husbands-- I am told there are some neat ones out there but I think that could also be an urban legend) will stop piling up their stuff in weird and inconvenient places. Nathan used to come home and empty his pockets onto this corner of our kitchen counter top. I am already generally annoyed at how little counter space we have and I hated seeing all of his little pocket things sitting around but instead of trying to get him to change his habit I just bought this little bin with a cute pattern and put it on the shelf just a few inches above his corner of counter space. I told him that I was not expecting him to change what he was doing or where he was putting his things, my only request was that he would put them in something instead of on something. Problem solved. Essentially the same thing happened when I noticed his pattern of throwing his dirty clothes into a pile next to our bed at night. Twenty dollars and a wicker basket later and we have marital bliss.

The last time I posted I wrote about our horribly messy house. Our first problem is that we don't actually have any bedrooms or a garage so pretty much all of our stuff is in weird and inconvenient places. The second problem is that we have to work with my husband's habit of accumulating junk and spreading it out as far as the eye can see.

We have this space outside that is visible pretty much just out of the corner of your eye when you are looking at our front door, which is where we keep our oil tank and barrels that we use for our business in addition to random building supplies and other junk. We can't really do anything about the tank at this point in time because that is our business and we save a lot of money by keeping it on our home property. And, like I said before, you can't change a man so the other junk is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. I have been asking for a solution for a long time because I hate that the sight of it welcomes every person who comes over to our house but it wasn't until Bob the appraiser came over that Nathan realized that it affected not only me but the value of our property as well.

So within a matter of about two days after we decided to bust a move and get our house into working order, I finally got a fence: decorative storage for the out-of-doors.

I absolutely love driving up to our house now because when I see that fence I can say to myself, I don't know what is behind that wall and I don't care. Whatever is inside is for him, but the fence is for me.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The great Oz has spoken.

-The Wizard of Oz, 1939

Saturday, October 6, 2012

unfinished spaces

So my husband and I live in this old church house and I know that sounds really hip and people love seeing the pictures of how it's turning out. The thing is that I don't put all the pictures out there. Sure, I put the ones from the days that we are really productive and stuff is getting done and rooms are changing colors. But the pictures that people don't see are the ones from the days when laundry has piled up for a week and a half, or the ones where my office is a cluttered mess in our living room next to Nathan's old arcade game and my elliptical machine. People don't usually get to see how our "closet" is one metal bar from the hardware store suspended from the exposed ceiling in our back room, which doesn't have any heat and kind of smells like cat pee, by the way. I try to hide the fact that about a third of our entire house is basically one giant garage filled with tools and junk that my husband has collected over the years, and that it's not even as good as a garage because you can't park a car inside of it. And you can't tell from my pictures that the first thing you see when you turn onto New Church Avenue is not necessarily our beautiful building with the stone mast, but it is our 80's model tanker truck up on blocks, piles of scrap metal or old commercial carpet and used oil tanks and barrels. What I'm trying to say is that living in an old church isn't always as sexy as it looks according to my pictures.

This week we had a visit from an appraiser. We are trying to refinance our loan in order to position ourselves better financially, in addition to putting some cash into fixing up the place. I warned our loan officer that we are remodeling and that the house is a little rough around the edges, to say the least. In fact, I think I actually told her that "its guts are hanging out." She was sure it would be fine. We do, after all, have a lot of square footage and the place has really good bones.

So this guy, Bob, came over and he was kind of taken aback. He walked around for a minute with his clipboard in hand and tape measure clipped to his belt. After a few minutes he said something to the effect of: maybe you don't want me to appraise you today. The thing is that we technically don't have any bedrooms. And all those spaces without any ceiling or walls or floors, the ones with electrical conduit hanging out and insulation showing, those don't even count as finished spaces. Because people, at least people in modern day America, don't actually live in those kind of spaces. They are technically uninhabitable. They are worth about 25% of the value of a garage.

I let my husband walk around for a while with Bob so I could escape to the bathroom and cry for a minute. We do have one-and-a-half bathrooms, at least.

So the final word is that we have a zero-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath 2000 (give-or-take) square-foot "dysfunctional" building. Oh, I knew that it was dysfunctional. Earlier in the morning, before Bob came over, I told my husband that most days I just walk around here with my eyes closed and some days, like the ones when people are coming over, I open my eyes. It makes me angry to see what is really going on and a lot of times I wonder how I can move out of my house without also making some kind of statement about our marriage, because our marriage is great and our house is not.

Nathan is learning a lot about living with a woman and how a cluttered environment makes a cluttered mind for me. He is figuring out that even though he would be happy living in a hole somewhere, I would not and that if having a functional and beautiful home is important to me, it must become a priority for him as well. And even though this week we got some tough news, I am so thankful for Bob because he was able to validate my feelings about living in this building in a way that also makes sense to my husband.

Apparently we are not the only people in the world who get into this kind of situation: we have all this vision and this beautiful blank canvas but then we start tearing down walls before we realize that we don't know how to put them back up again. When you find yourself in a big mess it is tempting to think that you are the only people who know what it is like, and you become ashamed of what it must look like to other people. You start to believe that the mess is probably what people see instead of who you are as a person and you fear their judgement, so you'd rather hide behind inspiring pictures of progress and colorful paint.

I am going to post some of the raw pictures but first I will say that after a lot of thinking and talking, Nathan and I have decided to take the next 25 days and really kick butt to create at least two bedrooms and clean up our mess before we call Bob to come back and actually appraise our house. We think we really can do something here and we are too close to turn back now. Plus, it is amazing what Nathan Thum can do when he is under pressure.

In modern Christianity you can hear a lot about living in the mess with people. It's this cliche that means you can throw out all your expectations about relationships being pretty or predictable all the time, because everybody's got baggage and everybody's a sinner. It also means that you can forget about fixing someone or their situation because you can't. All you can do is take a seat with someone inside their mess and just be there with them, and maybe start walking with them if they can eventually manage to get up. And sometimes you are the one who is stuck because, make no mistake, everybody gets a turn.

We, the Thums, are in a mess and I have the pictures to prove it. I don't blame you if you have to look away at some point; I do it all the time and I live here.

Curb appeal??

 Our "closet"

 No, this is not an episode of "Hoarders: Buried Alive."At least I hope not.

 Not so pretty ceilings

 our eclectic mix of building supplies, hobbies and unpacked boxes from the move two years ago. 

 Our loft has a little bit of sub-floor but still no railing. Not exactly "safe." 

 Still no ceiling or floor in the upstairs bedroom

 Nathan's Garage

Monday, September 24, 2012

thirtieth day of thirty years

The thirtieth year of my life: September 24, 2011- September 24, 2012.

They say that thirty is the new twenty, and you will probably hear me say that a lot for a while after today. Trust me when I say that I have thought many times this year about how twenty-nine is, to many people, the ideal age. I don't know of any other age that people lie more frequently about being, except for twenty-one and that is for different reasons. Twenty-nine seems to be the age in our culture that so many people, women especially, want to freeze in time. It is full adulthood without the full effects of aging. I certainly didn't want to let it pass me by without taking a good look at myself on the outside and inside.

This year was, in many ways, just an extension of the year before. I lived life in very much the same way as I did last year-- the same jobs, same community, same home renovation-- and it flew by in the blink of an eye. One of the few changes that happened is that our cat, Max, left our home and we brought a new kitty, Lars, into it.

Several years ago someone very wise once pointed out to me that eternal life wasn't meant to be a reference for the afterlife for those of us who believe. The essence of the word eternal means without beginning or end, and so eternal life is now, just as it always was and will be. So what we do with today really matters for eternity, in the same way that the promises of God's faithfulness are offered to us now and not just after we die.

This thirty day project was meant for me to pause in the present moment, in the midst of the "busyness" that we so often use to excuse ourselves from experiencing gratitude, enjoying simple pleasures or giving to others, and sing the hymn of a life not perfectly but well lived.

Henri Nouwen says this:

Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: 'Thank you for being you.' Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: 'thanks for what you did or said or accomplished.' No, we say: 'Thank you for being born and being among us.' On birthdays we celebrate the present. We do not complain about what happened or speculate what will happen, but we lift someone up and let everyone say: 'we love you.'"

If this project were a book then now, at the end, is when I would write my introduction. I think it would go something like this:

If I possess love it is because I have been loved to no end. If I possess generosity it is because I have received countless gifts. If I possess humility it is because I have been brought low. If I possess strength or beauty it is because God has lifted up my head in due time. I write because the maker of my soul has compelled me to do so and I can only tell the story that was authored for me before one of my days came to be. This is my story, this is my song; it is real, it is raw and it is mine. And this is just the beginning.