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